Saturday, December 29, 2012

Very Happy Foreign Holidays

This was our first Christmas season abroad. It was more Christmasy in many ways than it is for us Stateside. Let me explain why.
For an untold number of years my husband's various jobs have kept him from being with us for either Christmas Eve or Christmas day. This year, he was able to join us for both days and all the parties surrounding it. I have gone to Christmas parties in the past without him and hated it. We had two Christmas parties to attend this year. Both had copious amounts of food, singing of carols and a gift exchange. Though they are expensive and uncommon here, both events also featured turkey as the centerpiece, which warmed my dark-meat loving heart! I was also able to feast on the holiday standbys of cranberry sauce, cranberry cake, stuffing, potatoes, gravy and veggies of all kinds. The cinnamon and cumin rice was probably the most unusual dish I had.
Shopping for gifts was different this year. I usually order all the gifts that I can online and get most of the rest from Black Friday sales. This year, I had to go to multiple stores. The Safeway (yes, we have one here, though it's different) was my main stop for presents. The kids got multiple boxes of American cereal. Jason got cereal, corn chips and salsa. Everyone was given American candies that they missed. Many other items (clothes, toys) were bought at the Friday market. The Friday Market is where out of date brand name clothes/shoes come to die. If you're willing to dig through the stalls of small toys you can find some good one for kids as well.
Our wrapping paper this year was cereal boxes wrapped in black plastic bags. I had neither the time nor the know-how to track down wrapping paper this year, so we used what we had. No one minded.
I'm sure some of you assume that the country doesn't celebrate Christmas, but that's far from accurate. Due to the ethnic, indigenous Christian communities and all of the expats, there are Christmas items for sale everywhere starting at the beginning of December. In the more Western parts of the city you can even see small light displays on some balconies. We could find all the trimmings for Christmas we could possibly want, but the prices were pretty ridiculous on some items. Candy canes aren't common here and are 4-5 times as expensive as in the states.
We attending an impossibly long kid's pageant program at our local church. It had all the proud parents with cameras, squirmy little angels and wandering shepherds that any Stateside pageant could hope for.
The government declared Christmas a national holiday this year in the country, so everyone had
the day  off. This is one practice that I love about this culture, they actually rest on their holidays and weekends. Back in the States, the weekends and holidays seem to blend easily into the craziness of every other day. I hate that we seem to have done away with the day of rest in the States. But, every Saturday and holiday here has been about relaxing with family and taking a break from the normal activities. Waking up to quiet streets in this big city is such a nice break.
Back in the States I would bake desserts and deliver them to the neighbors, a personal tradition I continued here. My Muslim neighbors kindly took my treats and brought me inside for a chat before sending me home with cookies or fruit in return. Any "quick" visit in this culture will likely take you more than a 1/2 hour.
Between the parties attended, the soba propane fire burning and the cereal box presents opened, this has been an excellent first foreign Christmas experience.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Outhouse In the House

Those of you who have done some world traveling may be familiar with the toilet pictured in this post. This is the type of toilet which much of the world believes is more sanitary than our American toilets. No heiny's touch anything, hence it must be more sanitary.
When we first moved into our house I thought that the Arabic toilet would be a novelty, something we would rarely use. I'm extremely thankful for this toilet now since we've had intermittent plumbing problems. When this city was built, it was not built with the sewage pipes to handle as many people as it's being asked to handle. The sewage pipe is situated a foot under the pavement and is only 2 inches in diameter. As you can imagine, they can back up easily and, when they back up, the sewage rises to floor level quickly. This makes me very thankful for the tile floors! We've only had to call the plumber once. He "snaked" the sewer with a very long implement and his bare hands. He only charged $21 for the 3 hour service which our neighbors told us was way too much.
I've been to many places in the world (Nicaragua, Turkey, Thailand, Morocco, Ukraine, etc, etc, etc.) where you cannot place toilet paper in the toilet. There's a reason that they're called "waste paper" baskets. So, the small can with the black bag that you see next to the toilet is where all the paper goes. The hose and bucket are for flushing. When finished, you fill up the bucket a couple of time to flush serious business, or hose down the opening for quick business. The boys find this toilet much easier to use than we ladies do. Regardless, we've all perfected our squatting techniques and will be masters of taking care of business on our next camping trip.
I have a love/hate relationship with our regular toilet. Whoever designed the piping caused it to curve up in such a way that #2 has a hard time getting through without really powerful/multiple flushing. Drain opener has become something I always have on hand in case of emergency and I'm very thankful to have our crazy outhouse in the house.

Saturday, December 01, 2012


Just a note on the last post. I realize I haven't explained the process by which our water is heated. We have a water heater in our bathroom that must be turned on before you want to take a shower. In the summer it took about 15 minutes to heat up. Now it takes around 30 minutes before the water is hot enough for a shower. Also, there's only enough water in the tank to cover one shower, so the next showerer has to wait until the tank refills and heats up before they can take their shower.

This also means the only place you can get hot water is in the shower. I know that in more modern houses in the city they have heated water to their sinks. Not in this old building. So, imagine washing your hands and dishes as if you're camping.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Keeping Warm

This seems like the best topic to tackle now as winter is setting in and we're navigating the waters of home heating here.

The first challenge of heating is the home design itself. The floors are cement, covered by tiles, the walls are cement...cement with no insulation. The ceilings are high, 12 feet more or less. The windows are abundant and single pane. The temperature inside and outside the house at any given time of day stay pretty similar. Now, here are your heating options:

-Sobba: a propane heater that is fairly economical, but will only heat one room while it's running

-Electric heaters: heat rooms nicely, but expensive to run. Also, with the electrical current not being constant, it's not advisable to leave it on overnight.

-Kerosene stove: Probably the best way to heat multiple rooms for a length of time.

-Water radiators: Living in a desert where water and electricity are expensive this is one of the priciest options.

-Air conditioner heater: I'm still not clear on the science behind this, but the wall mounted A/C units can blow out warm air in the winter.

Being that we're on a shoestring budget, we have one Sobba heater, one electric heater and heaps of wool socks, slippers, blankets and warm fuzzy coats.
The tile floor is really a killer on these days...I don't take my slippers off unless I'm climbing into bed. We have to keep the water heater turned on more often for showers because it takes the water so much longer to get hot. I think back to winter camping in Colorado and I see many similarities, save for the snow and high altitudes. This will be a post I will have to add to once we're deep into the rainy months of winter.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

You Asked, I Answer

I decided to give you all a chance to tell me what you wanted to know about living here. So, I will answer your questions to the best of my ability. Keep in mind, I've only been here since mid-August, so I'm sure some of these perception based answers will change over time.

How do the locals view us?

The locals view us the same way as most of you would view new foreigners in your neighborhood. You're interested in the different looking family that babbles on in a foreign language. The majority of the neighborhood seem to have gotten used to us and we are being woven into the tapestry of those who walk their streets daily. The local shop owners acknowledge me as a neighbor when I buy groceries in their stores. Some of the other mothers are smiling at me as we pass each other every morning walking our kids to school. This country is a melting pot of years of refugees and foreigners coming and going. Granted, our neighborhood is an older, more established neighborhood, but they still understand the landscape of this country. The extended family that owns and lives in this building are a product of the war in Palestine in the 1948. The patriarch emigrated here as a Palestinian refugee and has firmly and successfully established his family here. There are so many stories around us of families that had to flee and rebuild either recently or many years ago.

Are you making friends with your neighbors?

I'm very busy with 20 hours of school, plus travel time, plus domestic responsibilities and studying. Also, I'm a chicken when it comes to meeting new people. But, I have met one wife in the building and she is great. I've met all the kids that live in the building and every week I think about visiting some of the moms in the building. Bottom line, I haven't manned up enough yet to go knock on a door.
I am making friends with some of the other parents at our language school and the kids' school. Close to us lives a great Dutch family that's in my language class and a family from the US who's kids are in class with our kids and are becoming close friends.

How are you adapting to the food and culture?

The food has been great. The kids are enjoying the fast food:

Shawarma: Shaved chicken or beef, fries and pickles wrapped in warm pita.

Falafel: Fried grain balls with hummus and tomato wrapped in warm pita

Pastries: Cheese, potato, spinach, pizza, ground meat, egg...all stuffed in different breads just a block from us.

Honestly, we can find many Western foods here if we choose, the price is usually 2 to 3 times what it is stateside. The fruits and veggies are plentiful and varied. We have a lot more rice and veggies and much less meat than we had back in Colorado. That's due to what's cheap to make. Ironically popcorn and peanut butter are both fairly cheap and are eaten more here than they were back in the US.

You have to buy your pita bread daily if you want it to taste good. It's cheap and plentiful as it's subsidized by the government. I'm please that I can find wheat pita without too much effort.

As for adapting to the culture, it's been a fairly easy transition since the kids school situation is very similar here. Also, we've been trained to not be surprised by foreign cultures with all our previous global travel. We are all missing snow, mountains and open space though. My guess is that any big city dweller in the States would adapt to this large, noisy city better than I am.

Language barriers?

There will be no meaningful conversations for a long time in Arabic, but I we can have very basic friendly conversations with the language we've learned so far. Also, many of the locals speak very good English, so I may end up finding friends I can really talk to in my native tongue.

How are women in general treated and what are their rights?

The women here are treated quite well. Their rights are the same as everyone else. They are more conservative here. Many women go to college, work a little, get married and then stay home once they start having children. The young men here think it's fine to holler and whistle openly at any women they see in public, covered or otherwise. That's one thing that's been hard to ignore. I feel my gender here more than I did in the States.

Can the women vote and cancel out their husbands vote?

Yes,  yes they can.

How do you worship God when you don't understand the language?

Some of the church services and songs are translated. So, I sing when I can and enjoy the sermon when I can. We often listen to sermons online as a family and study the Word individually. Most of our time spent at the local church is used as language study. Sitting through a sermon is great for training the ear to follow what's being said in Arabic as the text is written in classical Arabic and the pastor preaches in the local dialect. Learning Arabic is a two part process: reading the classical Arabic and speaking spoken Arabic. We're working slowly on both in school.

Hope that answered your question, I enjoyed answering them. If you want clarification or have more questions please ask!

Monday, November 05, 2012

A Day In My Life

I have a longer post I'm working on, but I thought I would give a flavor of how long we spend in transport daily and why you don't hear from me often.

6 am-7:20 Wake up, eat breakfast, pack school lunches and head to a friend's house 2 blocks away where the kids' get a ride to school.

7:30-8:05 Walk from our hill down to the balad and up another hill to our school

8:15-12:15 Arabic classes (three classes total. Two spoken Arabic and one class written Arabic)

12:15-12:45 Walk down to the balad and catch a servees up our hill

12:45-2:00 Study, catch up on housework, shop for food for dinner

2:00-3:45 Walk through the balad to catch a minibus out to the kids' school. Pick up our kids and our friends' kids. Catch a taxi home from the kids' school.

4:00-6:00 Prep dinner, look at kids' schoolwork and homework

6:00-8:00 Clean up from dinner, maybe shower kids, Arabic homework

8:00-10:00 Study and relax with Jason if I'm lucky

Wash, rinse, repeat, 5 days a week.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Hey They're Gonna Sit By You! Another One Rides The Bus

We are still in the process of figuring out the best ways to navigate this city of 3 million. You would think that the internet would be able to guide you to a comprehensive list of the servees and bus routes, but there's is absolutely no hard guide on bus routes, numbers, etc. So, we have learned the old fashioned ways of asking the locals and trying things out to see if it works.

The best, most expensive (sometimes highly educational) and easiest form of transportation are the taxis. There are two types of taxis you can catch. The silver taxis are swanky and expensive. They have clean and polished interiors and computer screen in the seats for you to pick music. I avoid them because I dislike paying double what I could pay in your average taxi. Your average yellow taxi is reasonably priced (about $3 for the half hour drive from school to our house) and is much easier to catch since they're more common than their silver cousins. As a woman, I ride in the back and have to stick a kid in the front if there's not enough room. I might come off as flirtatious if I were to sit in the front. Culturally, most of the men enjoy interacting with kids and often try to engage them in conversation. Much less frequently will they talk to me beyond getting directions. For my husband, taxi rides can be a good language lesson since many drivers want to know about the foreigner and want to share about their city and culture. I've heard that some male language students will flag down a taxi and ask them to drive them somewhere with the sole aim of practicing their Arabic. Taxi drivers may refuse to take you once you stop them for a ride for a number of reasons:
1. They don't think there will be anyone needing a taxi when they drop you off.
2. It's to a busy part of the city and they don't want to waste time in traffic.

There are a couple of different types of buses that travel around the city. There are large buses with A/C that leave from a couple of central bus stations. The fares are cheap, 50 cents one way. We've only traveled via the large buses once because sometimes it's the same price as a taxi when you're a family of four. My favorite method of transport when there are only one or two of us traveling is the minibus. The minibuses are 40 cents and travel quickly through a set route. There is a minibus service that takes me close to the kids' school and to the west side of town where I can go to the mall or Starbucks. The bonuses for me on the minibuses are the fact that the driver won't take me to the wrong place if I don't speak clearly in Arabic. Also, the men on the bus have to move out of the single seats if a lady needs a seat. Quick, reliable and respectful make it a winner for me.

The third method of transport is something called a servees. This is something that makes A LOT of sense in a hilly city where most people walk. At the bottom of each hill, on a specific street, sits a line of white taxis. These taxis wait until all four seats are filled and then they head up the hill to a specific drop off point. Our home is midway up the servees route, so this is the way that Jason and I come home from school every day as we would hate to have to walk uphill coming and going. The fare is 40 cents per person on the servees.

Even with all these forms of transportation, we're still doing a lot more walking here than we did in the States. You may wonder why we aren't considering buying a car.
1. Unless you have a residency visa you're not allowed to own a car
2. Even with the residency visa, it's costly to buy a car, even if it's used
If you're in a minor fender bender (an extremely common occurrence here) you and the other driver have to determine who's at fault and drive together to the mechanic. If a cop becomes involved, the cop will hold trial on the side of the road and determine who will have to pay a fine AND pay for repairs.
All of that sounds like a colossal hassle on top of everything else we're doing.

J and I were talking today and recognized that we'll have reverse culture shock when it comes to transportation when we get home. We'll wonder why everything is so far away from each other and why we can't flag a taxi down on the main street.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Water Day

The first thing that will help you understand the title of this post is this fact: the city is in a desert.

Deserts do not produce much water.

Building a city with a couple of million people living in it comfortably requires good water management.

The solution this city has implemented is controlling the flow of the water pipes. One day each week the pipes to our neighborhood have the water flowing through them. Each household has water tanks on the roofs of their building to store water that you can use for the rest of your weekly water needs after the pipes are cut off again. Because you don't want to waste the water for the rest of your week, you try to accomplish all the big water activities on the day the pipes are flowing. For us, those big tasks are:
-watering the trees that line our garden.
-mopping all the tiles floors
-cleaning the toilets and tubs
-doing myriads of loads of laundry

Now, factor in being at school from 7-1pm and it creates a very busy day for me on Wednesday if I plan on using the flowing water. When we first moved in, I was very careful with using water for dishes, showers, etc. We've slowly been using more water during the week and haven't run out before water day, so that's good news. We've been told we have 3 cubic meters of water in our tanks every week. I've never had to think about my water usage before, so I don't yet know our average weekly water consumption.

It's very new to me to be in a place where water matters so much. The rights to water and the usage of water is of vital importance for this small country and this household.

Does that give you a good idea of what Water day is? Please, ask questions if you need clarification.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

How Do I Explain...

...what it's like here daily? I've had many friends who've lived overseas and they've expressed consternation at the inability to describe their lives to us back home. Well, I'm going to attempt it.

When you move to a new place you have to rent a place and furnish it. To buy furniture here at a reasonable price you head to the “balad” a.k.a. downtown. It’s literally the part of town that is down in the valley between a number of the hills. Along the two streets of the downtown area is a Roman amphitheater and a number of small stores selling a cacophony of different products. There’s an area at one end where a number of small shops sells new and used furniture. You walk past these stores, feigning indifference while trying to assess quality and style. As soon as a shopkeeper notices you showing interest you’re in for some coaxing, cajoling and bargaining. Once you’ve agreed on a price (possibly over some tea) then you hire one of the many drivers hanging around with their trucks. In your limited Arabic you need to direct them to the store (more likely many stores) where you purchased furnishings and then need to get him to your house. Sometimes they feel as though they haven’t been paid enough to actually help you move it in the house and are disgusted that you don’t have people there to help you move it in. 
Even if you do something very Western and purchase your appliances at a Walmart type store, there’s a very good chance that you’ll still haggle about the price and that the credit card machine will not be working that day. You’ll have to try and call your credit card company a half a world away and explain to them that you sent them all the right paperwork and you are REALLY living overseas and to please, please, PLEASE not freeze your credit card every time you use it in a foreign country.
Tired yet?  That’s a brief snapshot of what we did multiple days in a row to get the basic furnishings needed for our place.

Now, let’s talk about lighting. When you move into an unfurnished place, the light fixtures are not included. Luckily, we moved into the neighborhood where many of the light stores are located. The shopkeepers in the Middle East believe that the best placement for their store is right next to the exact same kind of store. So, our area has streets upon streets of light stores.  Over the last week we’ve bought one “fancy” light fixture and two basic fixtures. Since we don’t know any electricians (and wouldn’t know how to direct him to our house or explain what exactly we needed done), J installed the lights himself. No, he’d never done it before and thankfully didn’t electrocute himself in the process.

My guess is that many of my posts in the near future will be trying to give you a taste of the different kind of normal we encounter here.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Now On To the Next Challenge

We didn't get the house we were hoping for in our neighborhood last week, but we did sign a rental contract over the weekend for a different place closer to a family we know.
This place is not a fixer-upper. We still have the task of getting curtains made (no pre-made curtains here), lights installed, all appliances and furnishings bought. This has to be done in the next 10 days while all 4 of us still go to school and do all the things daily that need to be done (food shopping, homework, bathing, cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc.) Needless to say, we're a little tired.
Those of you who know me know that I don't like shopping. If I could order everything I'd ever need to buy off the internet, I would. I'm envisioning some days of hot, grouchy bargaining in the downtown area for cheap furnishings. We'll see what the reality shows here in the coming days.
Off to prep dinner and study for class tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Fried Brain

We started language school today and I suddenly realized that we will be very busy since all 4 of us will be in school. That said, we were hoping that we would have signed a rental contract on a place by now, but all our tea time negotiations were for naught.
So, we're putting an offer forward on a different place tomorrow closer to our school and the kids' school and we'll see what happens.
Small success of yesterday was getting a minibus from the downtown area to the kids' school. There are no bus schedules or guidance posted anywhere, so you have to take your limited talking skills and ask someone. I was very excited to have made it to their school with time to spare. I've also learned directions well enough to direct a taxi driver to the rode near our temporary home.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Let's Talk Housing

I’m not sure where to start with posting.  I guess that I’d first say that this is all going more smoothly than I had anticipated.  We have spotty internet and cell service, the kids have gone to school orientation and we are learning enough words to get a taxi to take us where we need to go. The only problem with taxis is they don’t like to take people to our neighborhood. The hill is steep, the traffic is heavy and they don’t always find a paying customer for their drive out.

We’ve focused our time before school starts on finding a good and reasonably priced place to live…the furnished place we’re in now is more expensive than finding a good unfurnished place. Unfurnished here means you are renting a place with walls and doors. The previous You have to buy and wire the light fixtures, hot water heater, get curtains, stove and fridge. In our case, the place we want was vacant for 6 months. This means it became the place for garbage to be tossed and windows to be smashed. So, we had a friend of a friend do a walk through with us today and give us an estimate of the cost of repairs. At the end of the walkthrough, you sit down with the neighbor showing the flat, he serves you soda, you talk about the minutae involved with plumbing and water spots and how much repairs will take off your rent monthly. This conversation takes an hour and a half. This is the way things are done here and luckily through our other travels I was prepared for this sort of back and forth. So, the next step is for the friend of the friend to talk to the landlord and see if he’s willing to take the cost of repairs out of the monthly rent and also to lower our overall rent. Hopefully we’ll know if it’s ours to take on by next week.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

We're Here

We haven't gotten an internet connection at our house yet, so my posting will be sparse until we have it.

The travel itself would have gone smoothly if we hadn't run into 2 separate airline supervisors for 2 different airlines who decided to be hosers about baggage. US Airways skimmed us unjustly for a couple of hundred dollars in illogical baggage fees. We thought it would be the only travel hurdle until we got to JFK and a super for our airline to J wanted more money in unjust baggage fees. Granted, we don't have bribery fees in the US, but what these airlines were doing was just as pointless and unjust. Luckily the 2nd airline super left and the other ticket agents rightly didn't charge us for bags.

Thankfully all 16 (that's not a typo) bags (checked and carry-on) made it intact and we were able to flop into our furnished rental apartment by 8pm Wednesday. Ramadan was happening, so we were unable to eat in public during the day. This meant that many of our neighbors were up very late our first couple of days eating and enjoying their break from fasting at night.

Our temporary apartment has been glorious, to be able to settle down into a semblance of normalcy has been a great stress reliever. We have gotten phones, basic household items and the Wii hooked up. My next desire is to get internet since I'm feeling cut off from the world without it. School signups are happening this week and we need to decide whether we'll continue to rent this furnished apartment or rent an unfurnished apartment. Unfurnished would be cheaper, but here it requires us to furnish everything meaning cabinets, curtains, stove, fridge, heat, etc. Unfurnished literally means you're renting the walls/rooms and must come up with the rest. I've been told it's cheap to furnish a place, but I admit I'm skeptical.

A surprise for me was to be taken to the west side of town to Safeway! They had many western goods which I hadn't expected to see. Granted they're expensive, but I was very pleased to find cheddar cheese, wheat bread and Clorox wipes available in the country!

I'm absolutely loving our local corner store. The owner has a nice selection, speaks a little English and looks like the Arab version of Albert Einstein.

Sorry this is ramble, I'm a little tired. Until next post.

Monday, August 13, 2012

All the Bags Are Packed...

...and we're almost ready to go. We took a break from the packing madness and went on a 4 day camping trip with our church to the San Juan mountains.

I recommend this method of moving to everyone! It took me a couple of hours to start relaxing, but once I did it was glorious. The food, landscape and company were the perfect balm for my wigged out heart.

We came back yesterday evening and I'm looking at everything with fresh eyes so I can make this final packing push.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

At A Low Point

We started packing bags yesterday and I started to crumble.

There are so many little things we need to get done today in order to go camping that I'm getting the sense of drowning in a sea of moving chores.

I logically recognize that this is all easy in relation to being held hostage or climbing Everest. But emotionally I haven't been tried in the fires of having to power through things often. Elk butchering days and the church debacle would be the closest comparisons.

Poor J and the kids are being absolutely wonderful, thankfully there's just one of me with my type A tendencies!

Hope I can hold it together better today and power through!

Saturday, August 04, 2012

A Time to Keep And a Time to Throw Away

We are nearing the end of the household insanity. Walls and drawers are getting wiped. The majority of our furniture has disappeared. We're keeping only what we're packing, storing or throwing away by Tuesday. Thankfully we have camping stuff still, so we're making due with sleeping on cots and air mattresses.

The couple overseas already has found two possible apartments for us and Jason is watching loads to see when there are most seats for flying standby.

Someone asked me the other day if I'm stressing about finding an apartment and furniture when we get to J. I realized that I've embraced the mentality of today having enough troubles of its own, I haven't even considered all we need to do when we actually get there.

So, we are almost there.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Good Times Are Coming?

This whole packing and tossing things will end?
I'm amazed at how the emotions can override the logic of a situation. I logically know that there will be an end to this process by August 10th, but that doesn't stop my emotions from treating this as a mentally exhausting hurdle with an unknown end.

I've experienced this with elk butchering every fall and with the infancy of my two kids.

How do you get Logic to talk Emotion off the ledge?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mentally Fried

That's me, the one in the workout clothes, sifting through our worldly goods. Putting value on some and realizing how much detrius we have.
Eight checked bags and four roller bags will contain the sum of what we deem worthy to keep. That and we'll be having some friends hold onto a couple of bins and beds we want to save.
I'm glad we have started getting rid of our things three weeks out from leaving because I'm finding it easiest to make a couple of sweeps through each room. There are things I'm not ready to part with, that by the last week will probably be passed on, but I'm not ready to part with it this week.
How much do we think we need??? That's what I've been asking myself. Obviously there is so much in this lower middle class house that are wants not needs if I can walk away from them so easily.
Congratulations if you made it to the end of this stream of fried consciousness post. Do you want some of our stuff??/

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Is It Really Time???!!!

As you long time readers know, this has been a crazy 3 or so years. We lost our church home, were church nomads and finally came to rest at a stupendous Body a little over a year ago. In the midst of all the church shuffling, we've been slowly raising the funds to move to Jordan and study Arabic. As of last week, it looks like all the funding has come in!

And now begins my internal panic as I'm looking down the barrel of spending my time until mid-August getting logistical things accomplished. I'm trying to start going through rooms now, but it's difficult to decide what to not throw away yet. I'm having a hard time believing this is truly finally happening, so I won't begin going through rooms in real earnest until the last week of July.

What would you store if you knew you might be back in the US in two years?

Friday, June 01, 2012

Ukrainean Funfest

I am nearing the end of an adventure visiting my friend in Rivne, Ukraine. 

Last time I was here, it was winter and bitterly cold. As a result, I was surprised to see how lush and green the land is around my friend's house. She informed me that Ukraine was considered the Bread basket of the Soviet era. Everyone has a garden plot that they tend lovingly and intentionally because they often depend on their plots for many of their vegetables and possibly some of their income. In a truly foreign twist, many of them seem to find the most comfortable way to garden is in their boxers and bras. Is this any different than those in our country that find it sensible to garden in their swimsuit or trunks? 

I have been able to spend two evening meals eating with local families. The first family had their Russian sister also visiting who taught me the find Russian art of toasting elaborately and often while eating. Needless to say, her tongue was loosened soon after we started to ask us our views on politics and to give us hers in return. The second meal was an open house birthday celebration where the mother in law gave us a beautiful bouquet from her lush garden. Both of the homes were sized for modesty and usefulness. When you don't have space to waste, you learn how to make do and use well the space you have. Kitchens double as living rooms and living rooms double as bed rooms and all this is perfectly normal in this part of the world.

I also went to the dentist while I was here. I'm always surprised at how cheap medical/dental services are overseas. For $40 I was able to get two cavities taken care of by a very professional, albeit slightly old school, dentist. Why in the world does America allow the crazy insurance scheme continue instead of opening it up for competitive prices?

Twelve days is much too long to be away from my husband and kids. Thankfully both the Amsterdam airport and Warsaw airport had free wi-fi available. With Skype on my iPod I have been less sad as I'm able to see their sweet faces and scold them if needed.

On Monday I will be taking a 3 hour train ride to Lviv, Ukraine and then a 5 hour plane ride to Amsterdam. I am hopeful that trying to fly standby out of Amsterdam at the beginning of summer won't cause me to have to spend multiple days waiting in the Amsterdam airport, but we will see.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Smart Travel Supplies

All of our world travel has caused me to become a smart and light packer. Through trial and error I've come up with a list of what I believe are long travel essentials. I see decadent travel lists in magazines often, but this list is for the rest of us.

Let's first address clothing. Make sure that you know what clothing is culturally appropriate. They can already tell you're the goofy foreigner, so try not to stick out like a sore clothing thumb. A coat can come in handy anytime of the year while traveling. You can use it as a blanket, pillow or object to block out light while sleeping. A scarf for ladies can also be useful for covering necklines that are too low or as a light blanket to ward off the chilly air in the plane.
After learning the inner of airlines, I'm shocked that any checked baggage ever makes it to its destination at the same time as the passenger! So, always bring at least one full change of clothes in your carry on.

Since luggage is often lost, accidentally torn open or otherwise treated with no TLC, never pack anything of value in checked luggage. If you can't toss your luggage across your yard and have your luggage stay intact, then don't expect it to last long in the metal underbelly of a plane. Again, no meds, breakables, valuables, electronics in checked baggage unless you're prepared for its possible loss.

Think about how big of a carry on you might want to bring. Make sure it's a bag or backpack that you don't mind running with through a large, crowded airport. Bring a water bottle and fill it up as soon as you can after you clear security. Flying is dehydrating, so you'll be more comfortable if you consciously hydrate. Melatonin, tylenol pm or other OTC sleep aids are great for overseas trips. Melatonin may help your body adapt more quickly to a new time zone if you take it as you fly to your destination.
Flying and sleeping are not compatible and I've found some things that make my overseas flight sleeping a little more comfortable. Bring a couple of blow up camping pillows to cushion you from a hard seat or arm rest. A neck pillow can also help keep you from slouching onto your neighbor. A light blanket, coat or scarf is also great to help you feel more cozy which in turn might help you relax enough to get some sleep.

As for entertainment and navigation overseas, and iPod can be your best friend. There are translation apps that can help you have phrases available if you don't know the language. You can save maps of the area you're going to for reference when you arrive as well.  If you have a long layover, can't sleep, or need to look like you don't care about your surrounding and certainly aren't lost thank you very much, then you can stick your headphones on and tune out on something that's familiar. I load mine with free TV shows, some movies and entertaining podcasts. I would also recommend getting a couple exercise routines (pilates, yoga) that you can do anywhere to help an achy back or tight shoulders. I also recommend an e-reader to keep your packing light. Most libraries are now loaning e-books, so check a couple out before you leave on your trip. Any mindless game like Sudoku, crosswords and the like can keep you occupied while you have to have your devices off during take off and landing.

Because I'm a mom, I have always traveled with a large bag of snacks. Here's some of our favorites:
-Trail mix
-Granola bars
-baby carrots
-red pepper
-bagel w/ crm cheese
-candy bars
-string cheese
-pumpkin seeds

Most of this I see as common sense, but some of it may be new to you and I hope you find it useful.
Anything I've missed?