Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Happy Holidays

While most of you are buying candy for Halloween, we here in the Middle East are in the midst of our holiday season. It's the week of Eid al-Adha, an important end to the muslim holiday season that starts with Ramadan which ends in Eid al-Fitr and a month later we have the current Eid holiday.

This holiday commemorates Abraham's sacrifice of Ishmael (we differ on this point) and Allah's provision of a sacrificial lamb in his place. The first morning of the Eid many of our neighbors bought a sheep and slaughtered it. They are then required to give a third to the poor, keep a third and a give a third to friends and neighbors.

Our landlord gave us a portion of their sheep which will have it's home in a stew pot in the near future. The streets and stairwells obviously are a little bloody on a morning with such a holiday.

Everyone is dressed well during this holiday as they are to pray in their best clothes and many of the children are given new clothes as gifts. Children also receive gifts of toys, candy and money from family members and close friends during the four day festivities.

Visiting friends and family is a must during this holiday. Copious amounts of date cookies and Turkish coffee are consumed as everyone stays up late chatting and reveling in holiday cheer.

These are some assorted cookies the neighbors gave us. I couldn't help but get in a festive mood. This resulted in chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter cookies, caramel corn and salsa.

Have I visited my neighbors yet? Nope.

Why? Because I'm a shy person and am not always sure what the cultural protocol is for this holiday. I know it's their holiday season and may not want the goofy foreigner intruding on their holiday season. I am hoping to go see a couple of ladies that are good friends in the next couple of days.

If I don't, I won't have wasted my week off school. The kids and I are enjoying our time of movie marathons, dance offs and baking. Happy Holidays!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Spreckin da Arabic

We're back in Jordan for our second year of language acquisition. I was slightly concerned that our summer away in the States would be detrimental to all that we had gained. In talking to other foreigners and given our own experience taking a break may have actually helped. Summer was all about resting and recharging after a year of busy time in an unfamiliar place. That rest has translated into our brains being given time to organize all the useful words and sentence structures we gained.

I've been delighted to come back to see that I now can understand most of the conversations going on around us without having to concentrate, translate and conjugate each word. This has the added bonus of knowing that we aren't the topic of most conversations that go on around us on the street. Classroom discussion time on issues such as economics, theology and government are much more engaging as all of us are better able to express our opinions in Arabic. Tasks such as giving drivers directions, asking for prices and goods at the store and calling for water aren't the stresser they were last year. Gone are the days of rehearsing a phrase 5 times before I enter the scenario in which I need to use it.

Simply put, everyday tasks have become everyday tasks.

Sermons at church are still a challenge. This is mainly due to the preacher's mixing written Arabic in with spoken Arabic in every message they give. We are gaining an understanding of the written Arabic, but it's coming much more slowly. Written Arabic is also the Arabic used in radio and TV news reports. I do understand the gist of any report I hear now, but the details so far elude me. 

I may sound like a 3rd grader, but it is exciting to be able to read! I'm not just sound out the letters slowly when I sing hymns and look at signs and advertisements.
While the first year of language was a very, very hard task, this is starting to be an exciting adventure once again.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Night Life

There's no way to sugarcoat it. It is hot here in the the city. Whilst we're not a desert exactly we are right next to one that loves to blow its sand our way. So, between the cloudless skies, the hot pavement and the relentless heat, people here have adapted.

P.S. What prompted me to write this was twofold:

1. Everyone here seemed to be so loud late into the night and I was a little flummoxed

2. In Egypt they instituted a 7pm curfew during the latest disturbances. I'm only able to fully appreciate the import and inconvenience of that curfew because of how people live here.

First let me say that fans and A/C do exist here, but A/C can be pricey and fans only push around heated air. Also, the houses are built to minimize the heat inside with high ceilings and lots of windows (obviously a problem in the winter). There also seems to be a fairly consistent breeze blowing through the city on any given day. The inside, while not always extremely cool, is better than walking around outside or sitting in a hot taxi.
Their solution is that, unless absolutely necessary, stay home and sleep in during the cool of the morning.
Get up around 10 or 11 am and have breakfast.
Then there's a nap time.
Get up and eat lunch between 3:30 and 6
Get the family out of the house for errands. Maybe take the kids to the park.
Eat dinner between 8 and 10
Let the kids play outside while you socialize until midnight or so.
Wash, rinse, repeat and stay outta the heat.

Our kids have started school and there's is no way that I would let them stay up past 9 even if it's hot and there are people out socializing. We all just have to learn how to ignore the noise and go to sleep at a reasonable (for us) time. I don't think I appreciated the logic behind their environmental adaptation last year. This year I understand their reason for the differing hours. It's not one our family can do though with our 8-12 and 8-3 school hours.

So, Egyptian people, I understand now why a 7pm curfew would be so hard. Neighbors, I now understand why our hours of eating and sleeping confuse you.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Cell Phones & Internet

Cell phones and their plans are one of the areas of US culture that absolutely do not miss. Having to sign a contract and buy data plans and decide on a phone was a hassle because I'm a phone dinosaur. I want a phone to perform two simple functions: texting and calling people. Beyond that I don't want to do a darn thing with it!

In Jordan there are three major phone/internet companies to choose from. We chose Zain because we heard that it had fairly reliable coverage in our neighborhood. No contract needed to be signed when we bought our basic phones (they cost us around $17) and anytime we need minutes added to our phone we go to any of the dozens of phone stores in our neighborhood and buy a 5 JD scratch card. It usually takes us 2-3 months to text and call enough to use up those 5 JD's. I love that a cell phone is not a major expense here. One feature of cell phones here that's a throwback to the 80s is the inability to leave a voicemail. When you call someone it will not connect if that person is using the phone and will automatically disconnect you after 7 or so rings if no one picks up. I'm not sure why these companies didn't include that function, but I love it because I hate leaving messages. 

We are paying around $30/mo for internet and a landline (it was a special deal Orange had at the time) which overall makes our technology costs really low. One caveat is that we're only allowed to use up to 40 GB/mo and if we go over the rate tacked on is quite high. I know that back in Colorado we would be spending at least 3 times as much for phone and internet, so I'll gladly limit my usage and keep our tech costs low for another year.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Summer Feelings

Sorry for the lack of blogging, but our summer has been a whirlwind of activity. There was a lot of camping which was wonderful. Fishing and swimming desires were fulfilled. The cravings for burgers (specifically elk burgers), steak, pizza, enchiladas, chips & salsa, good ice cream, alcohol, pork products and real milk have also been fulfilled.
We have been able to visit all of our family members and have them all exclaim on how much the kids have grown.
As anticipated, the last two weeks stateside saw my emotions sway toward anticipation and excitement for coming back to Jordan. There's more language to be learned and time spent with neighbors and friends. I had missed the fresh food and simple fare. Eating in the States was hard on my waistline. The way that the US government had so many silly rules governing daily life had started to grate on me. So, it was with happiness that I boarded a plane to enjoy this second half of our overseas adventure.
The travel itself had some slight hiccups, but was overall easy and reminded me once again how close the world seems when one travels by plane.
We have a week to recover from our jet lag before school begins. We slept until noon yesterday and woke up at 4am this morning.
The house is in fine condition after our absence. So far three cockroaches and handful of mosquitos had inhabited our house in our absence. It also looks as though a homeless person may have slept on our porch. Today will be a day of running errands for phone cards, food and other essentials that need replenishing.
Soon you'll see more cultural posts as I fall back into the fun of foreign living!

Wednesday, June 05, 2013


My husband worked for a major airline for 5 years and was given 5 years of standby flight privileges after he took a buyout. So, the only way we can afford to fly to the States for the summer is by flying standby. I think I've written about this process before, but it's a process that can employ a large amount of patience. At any point, we have the possibility of being stuck there for days. So, my husband has to have at least 3 possible flight route options in case one of the flights fill up and there aren't any seats available. So, last weekend our plan A and plan B routes both became nonviable. Saturday night found Jason planning our plan C route for Sunday morning.

Here's how the flight plan shook out:

-4 hour bus ride from Amman to Aqaba
-5 hours in Aqaba in 108 degree weather
-8 hour flight from Aqaba to Brussels
-7 hour layover in Brussels (extremely tired at this point, REALLY wanted to get on a plane)
-got the last 4 first class seats for the 10 hour flight from Brussels to JFK (this is an amazing outcome, so thankful we made in the first flight we tried to get on)
-2 hours in JFK and got the last 4 seats on the 4 hour flight from JFK to Denver.

The whole trip was God's providence and grace because it's not common for us to make it on the first flights we try for AND to get first class. Not deserved or necessary, but we were very thankful for the ease of the trip. Total cost of trip was under $1,500 for all four of us.

Now we are in the mode of jet lag recovery and retraining ourselves to this culture. We catch ourselves wanting to light the stove as if it's run on propane, putting TP in the trash can, climbing in the backseat of the car from only the passenger side and forgetting to buckle our seat belts. We're already missing the fresh food of Jordan. But we're enjoying the pizza, root beer, cereal and milk that we all missed so much.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Surround(ing) Sounds

Our family is family that loves small towns and the wilderness. Coming to a big foreign city is very far outside our preferred living situation. If we could live anywhere in the world, I think it would be the wilderness of Montana. But, here we are in a very full and noisy foreign city. Every city has a cacophony of noise that is part of its daily life.

In our building with 8 homes we share a stairwell. Since everything is made of tile and cement everyone in the building knows when and who is going up or down the shared staircase. Also, due to the tile and cement scenario AND the old windows that don't block out sound well, we hear many of the street noises echoing through our house.

We share our garden wall with a furniture repair shop. Many people here have to work very long hours daily to try and make a living and the furniture man is no different. The owner seems to be there from the time we leave for school to 11 at night. There are a couple of young men who help him, so we hear them reupholstering and chatting daily. Many of the stores here have a garage door that protects the store front overnight, so the sound of people closing their garage doors is a common sound in the evening.

Our intersection also has a mechanic's shop where the shabaab (young men) like to hang out during the day. At night, especially on the weekend, they will rev their engines and show off their car maschismo.
The streets in the city are alive nearly all the time, so the sounds of neighbors greeting each other, kids playing soccer in the street or a group of school girls laughing as they walk home is an integral part of the daily soundtrack.
Being at an intersection also means that every time a car passes there is a quick honk of the horn. Car horns are used here all the time as an important part of driving.
You honk if:
-you drive through an intersection
-you see a person who looks like they're thinking about crossing the street
-you see a friend, neighbor, relative
-you see a pretty lady
-you need to ask a fellow driver a question while waiting at a light
-you need to ask a pedestrian a question
-you're celebrating a wedding, graduation, holiday...
-you're at a light too long
-you think another driver is an idiot
This is just a beginner's list of the all the appropriate ways and reasons for using your car horn here. Needless to say, it's a sound we're very used to.

Both the farm trucks and the 2nd hand/scrap metal/recyleable trucks have bull horns mounted on them that you can hear within a 2 block radius. At least 2 of these trucks pass our street on a daily basis.

The call to prayer is a melodic sound heard at least 5 times a day, but they also have a call to the call to prayer sometimes. Also, around noon on Fridays is the sermon. All these are heard from the various mosques that dot the city. When we first arrived, the early morning call would wake us up. But we've acclimated to the point that it no longer wakes us.

Then there's my favorite sound, the sound of the weekend or holiday mornings. Everyone here still observes an actual day of rest on these occasions. The streets are empty, the stores all closed until usually around noon or a little later. I've never lived in a place where everyone fully appreciates and takes the time to rest and be quiet. Maybe this is more valued here because of the general chaos of the day.

Welcome to another noisy day in the city. Nashkurallah!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Since The Break-In

We have yet to move home as the kids are still nervous. Hopefully in the next couple of days we will head back.

We are so grateful for all our friends both here and in the States. Stateside friends and family have been available to let me vent my frustrations and thoughts. Friends here have given my kids the gift of an old iPod and a safe and quiet place to stay until they're ready to go back.

If you weren't already aware, this crime happened just 2 weeks before we need to decide whether it's financially possible and sensible for us to spend another year here learning Arabic. We will make this decision based upon the facts before us and not an emotional response to the last couple of weeks. Hard things (friend's dying, burglary) happen anywhere. Our conviction is that Biblically we are free to choose to stay here or move back to the States. Neither choice is sinful. But, above all we must be wise, both with our resources and with our family.

So, stayed tuned as we decide what is best!

Below is an encouraging quote sent to me by a friend after the burglary. It's long and in older English, but I found it very encouraging. Feel free to guess who wrote it:

"Here we are forcibly reminded of the inestimable felicity of a pious mind. Innumerable are the ills which beset human life, and present death in as many different forms. Not to go beyond ourselves, since the body is a receptacle, nay the nurse, of a thousand diseases, a man cannot move without carrying along with him many forms of destruction. His life is in a manner interwoven with death. For what else can be said where heat and cold bring equal danger?
Then, in what direction soever you turn, all surrounding objects not only may do harm, but almost openly threaten and seem to present immediate death. Go on board a ship, you are but a plank's breadth from death. Mount a horse, the stumbling of a foot endangers your life. Walk along the streets, every tile upon the roofs is a source of danger. If a sharp instrument is in your own hand, or that of a friend, the possible harm is manifest. All the savage beasts you see are so many beings armed for your destruction. Even within a high walled garden, where everything ministers to delight, a serpent will sometimes lurk. Your house, constantly exposed to fire, threatens you with poverty by day, with destruction by night. Your fields, subject to hail, mildew, drought, and other injuries, denounce barrenness, and thereby famine. I say nothing of poison, treachery, robbery, some of which beset us at home, others follow us abroad. Amid these perils, must not man be very miserable, as one who, more dead than alive, with difficulty draws an anxious and feeble breath, just as if a drawn sword were constantly suspended over his neck?
It may be said that these things happen seldom, at least not always, or to all, certainly never all at once. I admit it; but since we are reminded by the example of others, that they may also happen to us, and that our life is not an exception any more than theirs, it is impossible not to fear and dread as if they were to befall us. What can you imagine more grievous than such trepidation? Add that there is something like an insult to God when it is said, that man, the noblest of the creatures, stands exposed to every blind and random stroke of fortune. Here, however, we were only referring to the misery which man should feel, were he placed under the dominion of chance.

11. Certainty about God's providence puts joyous trust toward God in our hearts
But when once the light of Divine Providence has illumined the believer's soul, he is relieved and set free, not only from the extreme fear and anxiety which formerly oppressed him, but from all care. For as he justly shudders at the idea of chance, so he can confidently commit himself to God. This, I say, is his comfort, that his heavenly Father so embraces all things under his power—so governs them at will by his nod—so regulates them by his wisdom, that nothing takes place save according to his appointment; that received into his favour, and entrusted to the care of his angels neither fire, nor water, nor sword, can do him harm, except in so far as God their master is pleased to permit. For thus sings the Psalm, "Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust; his truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday" &c. (Ps. 91: 2-6.) Hence the exulting confidence of the saints, "The Lord is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me? The Lord taketh my part with them that help me." "Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear." "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil." (Ps. 118: 6; 27: 3; 23: 4.)

(My note: I thought this was an appropriate place to insert the section from paragraph 5.)
I concede more—that thieves and murderers, and other evil-doers, are instruments of Divine Providence, being employed by the Lord himself to execute the judgements which he has resolved to inflict. But I deny that this forms any excuse for their misdeeds. For how? Will they implicate God in the same iniquity with themselves, or will they cloak their depravity by his righteousness? They cannot exculpate themselves, for their own conscience condemns them: they cannot charge God, since they perceive the whole wickedness in themselves, and nothing in Him save the legitimate use of their wickedness. But it is said he works by their means. And whence, I pray, the fetid odour of a dead body, which has been unconfined and putrefied by the sun's heat? All see that it is excited by the rays of the sun, but no man therefore says that the fetid odour is in them. In the same way, while the matter and guilt of wickedness belongs to the wicked man, why should it be thought that God contracts any impurity in using it at pleasure as his instrument? Have done, then, with that dog-like petulance which may, indeed, bay from a distance at the justice of God, but cannot reach it!

How comes it, I ask, that their confidence never fails, but just that while the world apparently revolves at random, they know that God is every where at work, and feel assured that his work will be their safety? When assailed by the devil and wicked men, were they not confirmed by remembering and meditating on Providence, they should, of necessity, forthwith despond. But when they call to mind that the devil, and the whole train of the ungodly, are, in all directions, held in by the hand of God as with a bridle, so that they can neither conceive any mischief, nor plan what they have conceived, nor how much soever they may have planned, move a single finger to perpetrate, unless in so far as he permits, nay, unless in so far as he commands; that they are not only bound by his fetters, but are even forced to do him service,—when the godly think of all these things they have ample sources of consolation. For, as it belongs to the lord to arm the fury of such foes and turn and destine it at pleasure, so it is his also to determine the measure and the end, so as to prevent them from breaking loose and wantoning as they list. Supported by this conviction,
Paul, who had said in one place that his journey was hindered by Satan, (1 Thess. 2:18,) in another resolves, with the permission of God, to undertake it, (1 Cor. 16:7.) If he had only said that Satan was the obstacle, he might have seemed to give him too much power, as if he were able even to overturn the counsels of God; but now, when he makes God the disposer, on whose permission all journies depend, he shows, that however Satan may contrive, he can accomplish nothing except in so far as He pleases to give the word. For the same reason, David, considering the various turns which human life undergoes as it rolls, and in a manner whirls around, retakes himself to this asylum, "My times are in thy hand," (Ps. 31:15.) He might have said the course of life or time in the singular number, but by times he meant to express, that how unstable soever the condition of man may be, the vicissitudes which are ever and anon taking place are under divine regulation. Hence Rezin and the king of Israel, after they had joined their forces for the destruction of Israel, and seemed torches which had been kindled to destroy and consume the land, are termed by the prophet "smoking fire brands." They could only emit a little smoke, (Is. 7: 4.) So Pharaoh, when he was an object of dread to all by his wealth and strength, and the multitude of his troops, is compared to the largest of beasts, while his troops are compared to fishes; and God declares that he will take both leader and army with his hooks, and drag them whither he pleases, (Ezek. 29: 4.) In one word, not to dwell longer on this, give heed, and you will at once perceive that ignorance of Providence is the greatest of all miseries, and the knowledge of it the highest happiness. "

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Not the Post I was Expecting to Write

Well, this has been an unexpected 24 hours. Our house was burglarized yesterday.
The thieves must have been watching us for awhile because they knew when we were gone. Monday is the day when we are absent from our house the longest. They had 8 hours in which to accomplish their task.

From what we can tell, they tried to pry open the back kitchen door first (the most private door to our house). When that didn't budge, they ripped the Arabic toilet window screen only to discover that it was barred (all our windows have bars). So then they had to move to our garden entrance which, while surrounded by our garden trees, is the most visible. This door obviously gave them trouble as well, but they finally succeeded in prying it open enough to get in.

They were thorough. They went through every room, drawer and suitcase. From the dusting the police did of fingerprints, it's obvious that they wore gloves. Our room was in complete disarray.

But it was an odd burglary for what they didn't take. They left our desktop computer, our passports, credit cards and our Wii. What they took was all very portable and they even took a plastic bag to carry it all in. They took 2 older iPods, the kids' Kindle Fire, our daughter's Nintendo DS, some cash and my husband's Mac.

The Mac is our biggest concern because of all the personal information on it. Hopefully the thieves only desire is to wipe everything from the computer to resell it.

The iPods are old and not much for resale value and the Kindle is completely useless to them since Amazon was able to wipe it and lock it down via internet.

What they took from us is our time, some financially valuable things and our sense of trust and safety in the house we're in. My poor son was very nervous and scared last night. My husband didn't sleep and I'm not sure when any of us will feel safe sleeping in this house again.

Unfortunately this also colors our view of living in a foreign culture. Our neighbors all said this never happens around here to them. I believe the fact that we're foreigners played a part in all this. Everyone that the police interviewed said that they didn't see anything. This is a very busy neighborhood where people are nearly always around and neighbor's routinely watch each other's business from their windows. If this neighborhood can't look out for us, do I want to stay in this house? Do I want to continue this adventure of living in a foreign country?

These are the sort of things you think about in the first 24 hours. For now, the priority is making sure our kids feel safe.

Friday, May 10, 2013


I think I addressed this topic briefly in a previous post, but shopping is different here from what we know Stateside. The exception is the wealthy in this country. The west side of the city has a large amount of malls and stores that are identical to the States. But, for the majority of the people in this city we still rely on the local stores for our daily and weekly fare.

There are certain stores that you will see every few blocks in all neighborhoods because they're vital to the everyday existence of the people

One note: As you read the description of the various stores, remember that all of the stores are the size of a spacious living room, though sometimes smaller.

Dukkan: These are similar in style to convenience stores ( think 7-11) in the States. Each one is individually owned, often by a man who lives in the neighborhood. My local dukkan is two block from my house and is owned by two older gentlemen (we designated it the "Old Man Dukkan"). They carry a variety of staple dried goods, candies, toiletries, some fridge/freezer foods and fresh bread two to three times a day. Unless you have a car or time to head to the large grocery store, this is the place you pop into a couple times a week. Prices are usually very close to the price of goods at the large grocery store, plus you aren't charged an extra small tax that the larger stores charge.

Bread store: These are further apart in neighborhoods. They're busy most often before work as people pick up bread for breakfast and work. They churn out large amounts of white and wheat pita bread which is the staple of every home in the city. They also carry dry biscuits, long pretzels and fresh French loaves of bread. I'd love to visit the bread store more often, but the closest one is 5 blocks from our house.

Coffee Stand: These are truly everywhere and they stand out starkly in the rows of shops. They usually have a distinctive black and red checkered design painted on their exteriors. They hold shiny carafes of strong black tea and the smells of cardamom laced Turkish coffee waft from their open store fronts. In the summer they add a slushy machine to the offerings. There is often an attendant standing in front of the store waiting for a driver to stop and order. Taxi drivers will occasionally stop mid-trip for a caffeine boost, but often offer to buy for their passengers as well.

Snack shop: These are the kids' favorite shops. They're often open after the kids are out of school because they cater to them. Racks of chips, tables of sweets and fridges of pop at very cheap prices make them a very popular place.

Fruit and Vegetable Shop: I have a guy I frequent a block from my house. He has boxes of fruits and veggies on raised wooden tables against the walls. I choose what I want and then take it to his low table that has a money drawer, calculator and scale. He weighs each bag, adds them up on the calculator and takes my proffered coins. While these stores are fairly reasonably priced, there is an even cheaper, easier way to get fruit and veggies.

Farm Trucks: Nearly every day of the week you can hear a voice hollering through a PA system on top of a truck. As it drives closer you can make out the call of, "Come get cucumbers, come get tomatoes, come get potatoes, onions, cabbage, oranges....". These trucks drive in from farms outside the city to sell boxes of goods to the people. If you flag down a truck you are required to buy by the box. The prices are 2 to 5 times cheaper than buying at your local stand. BUT without a freezer you'd better use or give away quickly the 6 pounds of cucumbers you've bought!

While they aren't stores, we have some other very useful kinds of products move through our streets.

Push carts: I'm sure there are varieties I have yet to spot, but our street vendors tend to come in two kinds. Most mornings I wake to the yell of the breakfast sandwich vendor. He will slap together egg, falafel, spices, cheese, yogurt, cucumber, or hummus on a small french loaf for needy breakfasters. The other cart is the trinkets and cotton candy man. I know it's him by the slide whistle he blows.

Propane carts/trucks: Since propane is the way we cook and heat our homes, this man is in high demand. You can hear the tapping of a wrench on a propane bottle if the cart is walking by or an annoying song (think ice cream truck annoying) playing if the propane truck is passing.

Water bottle trucks: These trucks are actually delivery trucks. The city water is not the best, so many people buy coupon books from local water bottle services. We have two bottles which last us about a week. So, once a week I call for the water delivery to come and switch out bottles.

Not sure how well I described these, does this post raise any related questions for you?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

No Time to Post Words

Life has been very busy. I know I haven't blogged in awhile, so here are some pictures. The first three are from the Citadel in Amman. It's a collection of ruins from the various empires that ruled this region over the centuries.

These are a few photos from our time in the Dead Sea. Both events were a part of my friend's visit to Amman.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

31 Years

Today is my 31st birthday and I have been reflecting on my life.

Life has been tremendously fun and interesting over the last 31 years. If it were all to fall apart tomorrow and I were to have nothing but suffering I would have absolutely no reason to complain. I am a decrepit being who has had my eyes opened to the sovereignty of God. God continues to bring me both pleasant and challenging events both internally and externally for His glory. This is by far the utmost reason for my thankfulness. Though despite this more than sufficient gift of grace, He has given me far more common grace than I deserve.

-My childhood was one of ease and enjoyable experiences in the beautiful state of Montana. I was able to grow up well-fed, well-educated with a myriad of modern comforts and conveniences. I had many extracurricular activities, many friends and a great family. And yet, He deemed fit to give me more grace.

-My married life has been one of excitement and joy. I have been given a husband who continues to lead this household in God-honoring ways. Jason is such a supportive and enjoyable husband. I never knew married life would be this great. Through his leadership of this family, we've traveled to many countries, taught the kids a love of God, the outdoors and soccer, and done so much more in our daily life than my routine ways would have given us. I have been given two children whose personalities are so much more fun than I had anticipated. Being a mother has caused me to be less selfish and learn how to teach others. And yet, still more grace.

-God has given me life-long friends that cause me to grow in further knowledge of Him through expositional study of the Bible. He has given us the Nelkins who we can grow old with as best friends. He's given us a church body in Colorado that has taught us why God saw fit to have a church age.

These and so many more graces I have been given by the One who has authority over all things. So, for all this and so much more I am eternally grateful for 31 years.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Not So Far Away

I had the privilege of flying back to the States for a week in January for the funeral of my grandpa. I had a journey of 6,900 miles and 24 hours to reach Colorado where I hopped into a car with my sister and drove for 550 miles and 8 hours to Montana. No, this isn't a math story problem, but I state these numbers because I believe most people think that to be a great distance and time commitment. I suppose it is.

But, after 12 years of traveling to many countries and waiting in many airports, I've gained a perspective that I think few have. The world is a very small place and getting anywhere by plane is really a relatively quick and reasonably priced venture. We've seen friends in 17 or so countries while living on a shoe string income by American standards. We're able to visit relatives in Tennessee and Montana on a fairly regular basis as well. It struck me starkly on the flight back to the States this time because the trip was put together so quickly. Isn't it absolutely amazing that it can take humanity a day and a half to travel around the world to see family?!

From friends and family alike, we still hear amazement and trepidation at the thought of spending time in foreign places. But the reality of the commonality of mankind on this planet has been pushed forward more and more strongly the more we travel. People treat each other much the same for many of the same reasons (depravity and common grace) here as they do in our home state of Colorado. Yes, there are cultural and religious nuances everywhere, but that's exactly what they are. Nuances.

Our lives are in some ways quite long, so spending 10 years or 10 hours living or traveling in a foreign culture doesn't seem like such a long time to me anymore. 

"Come now you who say 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.' Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. INSTEAD, you ought to say, 'If The Lord wills (inshallah) we will live and also do this or that.' But as it is, you boast on your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Therefore to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin." James 4:13-17

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Where's My Brain?

Everyone has stated that this is the toughest semester of the four semesters at our language school. I wholeheartedly agree since in the last two weeks I broke out in tears during grammar class AND had my brain shut down all last week. I've never experienced such a response from my brain before. It literally felt as though so much had been stuffed in there that my brain refused to give me any information I needed and kept demanding that I just take a nap. I have a newfound appreciation for the job of school that my kids experience every day! So, in search of information on why my brain reacted this way, I found this helpful information:

By the time you reach adulthood, learning a foreign language is a struggle – even after you memorize grammar and vocabulary, there's no guarantee that you'll understand a fast-talking native speaker, and when you stop studying for even a month, you seem to forget everything you'd learned.
Children's brains, on the other hand, are hard-wired to let them pick up languages with ease. Plus, a new study finds that even adult brains can re-wire themselves to mimic the brain patterns of native speakers – and this effect is amplified if they study by immersing themselves in a foreign language, rather than sitting in a classroom. And when they were not exposed to the new language for five months, their native-speaker brain patterns actually got stronger.
The new finding contrasts with previous studies, which indicated that similar levels of language learning could be achieved by both studying grammar rules in a classroom setting, or "explicit training," and immersion in the language, or "implicit training," defined as "training that engages…learners with the target language but does not provide any explicit information or direction to search for rules." But these studies failed to examine students' brains.
Researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center and the University of Illinois – Chicago used an artificial 13-word language, Brocanto2, to describe a computer game. While the artificial language's small vocabulary allowed subjects to learn it fairly quickly, its grammar was relatively sophisticated, mimicking the rules of Romance languages while diverging from the participants' native English grammar.
Next, the researchers separated 41 adults, who spoke only English, into two groups at random. One would study Brocanto2 through explicit, and the other through implicit, training. To standardize the brain scans, the participants all had to be right handed.
After studying and practicing the artificial language, the subjects listened to Brocanto2 sentences that were either correct or contained grammatical errors, and they had to press buttons to indicate whether the sentences were "good" or "bad." While participants underwent testing, EEG electrodes monitored the electrical activity on their scalps, which allowed the researchers to build a picture of their brain activity.
While both groups achieved similar proficiency in the artificial language, their brains weren't as evenly matched. Only the brains in the immersion training group processed language like native speakers' brains would. And even after five months of zero exposure to Brocanto2, the brain patterns in both groups only became more similar to those of native speakers.
"The results demonstrate that substantial periods with no [language] exposure are not necessarily detrimental. Rather, benefits may ensue from such periods of time even when there is no [language] exposure. Interestingly, both before and after the delay the implicitly trained group showed more native-like processing than the explicitly trained group, indicating that type of training also affects the attainment of nativelike processing in the brain.
This was an article in from the io9 website:

All this makes me glad that we have this opportunity to immerse ourselves in this culture. Even if it does often make me want to take a nap!

There's another interesting study cited here:

Friday, February 15, 2013

Tawjihi Testing

There's nothing quite so fun as being woken up at 3am by the sound of teenagers cheering, fireworks firing, guns firing into the air and cars honking their horns.

This wasn't a national holiday or protest that caused the noise, but the results of the annual Tawjihi tests. Tawjihi is the general secondary examination in Jordan, and is given by the Ministry of Education annually. Students take the exam after the completing two years of junior high school.  
Exam is a standardized scale for measuring the efficiency of the Kingdom of education. 
To succeed in the Tawjihi test of the student should get more than 50% for each tested material. Upon succeeding, student receives a certificate of high school, and this is the first certificate earned by the student in his school.
It's difficult to find a job without a high school degree. When you get a job, the person who owns a Tawjihi certificate receives a good salary.
Tawjihi Examination tests the ability of the student to enroll in graduate studies such as colleges and universities. It is also decided by the university, which course will be joined by the student what the test results allow him to specialize in. You cannot belong to the university without Tawjihi certificate.
Many parents help their kids prepare for these exams for months and are heavily invested in the outcome as these are the kids that need to take care of them someday. Somehow the ACT and SAT don't seem to hold the same weight as this test in this country does.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Give It To Me Straight Doc

This wasn't a post that I was expecting to write anytime in the near future. Mostly because I didn't expect to see a doctor so soon. But since my aging body betrayed me with an aberration, I decided it was time to track down a doctor.

Now, let me start off by saying we do have international health insurance and I could have searched their network for doctors. But, I've learned in my world travels, that many places have very affordable health care and that usually friends can recommend trusted doctors. So, I called a nice lady doctor of a friend and made an appointment for later that day. The Russian doctor was very kind and asked all the questions one expects from a doctor. She soon determined that I ought to go get an ultrasound and mammogram done and called an office she knew to see if I could go up there. So, 45 minutes later I'm having those procedures performed by a good Jordanian doctor who is also very competent and thorough.
The next day, I stopped by the radiologist's office and picked up his report and my films and went back to my primary doctor. She read the report, gave me advice and sent me on my way.

Total time spent dealing with doctor and radiologist: 2 hours
Travel time to appointments: 3 hours
Cost of primary doctor visit: $14
Cost of radiology visit and films: $98
Not having to deal with a bloated and complicated medical and health insurance system: priceless

These are all private(not state) doctors and the quality of care and equipment was just as good as one would get stateside. In past overseas trips, both Jason and I have gone to the dentist for the same reason of good care at a fraction of the cost.

Will I end up using our international health care plan while we're here? That remains to be seen. But I'm very pleased with my limited experience of cash for services rendered.

P.S. My health issue turned out to be benign just so you know.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Spoiled by Heated Housing

It is just as I feared, by being in heated housing in Ukraine I've become unaccustomed to the chill in our home. Granted, it's been an abnormally cold week. The country had 2 days of deluging rain followed by 2 days of snow. This country is ill-equipped to handle snow. There were flooded streets and blocked drains.
On a positive note, the water reservoirs are already at 45% of their needed levels in contrast to 18% as of last year. So, everyone is glad for the moisture, but the cold is not good for any of us. These houses aren't built for this cold as I've stated in previous posts. We are on our third night of being able to see our breath in our bedrooms. All of our time at home is spent in the inner living room that has no wall to the outdoors and has the heater on constantly. The heater merely takes the edge off the cold, not really warming the rooms. I'm currently wearing 4 layers of shirts, wool socks and slippers. You don't dare touch the tile floor with a bare foot as it is painfully cold. The electric heating pads and tights we bought in Ukraine have become vital for nightly comfort. We are wishing we had 0 degree sleeping bags for the kid's to sleep in. Thankfully the cold season is very short. So, wrap an extra blanket around your shoulders and think of us over here in the chilly desert.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

You Came to the Ukraine

Time is flying by since we arrived at our foreign home. The addition of school has left us little time to catch our breath. We are finally catching our breath.
All four of us started our school break on December 21st. On December 30th, we hopped on a plane to Ukraine. We are at the 6 month mark on our visa and are required to leave the country for at least a day to start  a new 6 month visa process. The cheapest option for us was an overnight trip to Egypt by bus and ferry and cheap means around $1,000 for a family of four. When we realized that a trip to Ukraine to visit our best friends for 10 days was not much more expensive we decided that was the better option. This trip was also a surprise for our friend's daughter's birthday. After a 3 hour plane ride and a 3 hour car ride, we reached our friends.
We've experienced some mild culture shock as Ukraine is miles away from what we're used to in Jordan. The fact that they live in houses...actual houses with insulation and painted exteriors was the first thing we noticed. The landscape is rolling hills, snow, trees and farmland. Much like North Dakota and nothing like our desert home. There are buildings and floors made of wood and floors are heated. The snow and cold air made all four of us cheer as we left the airport.  The advertisements on the billboards are much more scantily clad than we're used to and the people walk close together in mixed company and are fine with invading other's personal space. The headscarves have been replaced by fur hats and puffy coats. Also, the's a very big section of the grocery stores. Vodka seems to come in an endless amount of brands.
The never-ending hot water, heated housing and insulated walls are a delight to us all. It's something I will bitterly miss when I get home and huddle close to the sobba for warmth.
The kids are able to spend their time sledding, snowball fighting, playing board games, ice skating and freely enjoying their time with their friends. It's been a wonderful way to catch our breath and one we get to enjoy until January 10th.

It's not helping me practice my Arabic though and I'm trying to be diligent in studying a little every day. I've gained so much understanding in the language and am desperate not to lose ground.