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 The Friday Market is where out of date brand name clothes/shoes come to die.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.