Friday, October 29, 2010

Flashback Friday: Blood, guts, and spinach

Refried Flashback Friday, in honor of Halloween: Blood, guts, and spinach, originally published 30 October 2009.

On this very night, five years ago, along this very stretch of road in a dense fog just like this, I was smitten with the worst case of food poisoning I've ever had.

OK, actually, it was not this very night - it was closer toward the end of November. And it was in Syria, not America, though it was kind of cold, if not exactly foggy. But one thing is for sure, and that is that I've never had food poisoning as bad as I did that time. In honor of Halloween, I'm going to tell you a tale of horror, a tale of midnight surprises, a tale of wild rides through crowded, foreign streets and of needles seeking a vein. It is a tale, my friends, of spinach gone terribly, disgustingly bad. Get ready.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

NaBloPoMo is coming up!

Are you in?

Thirty posts in 30 days, every day in November.

Start a blog just for the occasion.

Revive your dormant blog.

Enjoy the challenge even if you already blog often.

Mix it up with new features (Flashback Friday? Wordless Wednesday? Thankful Thursday? You get the idea).

And don't miss a day.

Coming soon to Bridget of Arabia on Monday, 1 November!

Who's with me?

(To get an idea of what this is all about, check out 2008's intro and roundup, and 2009's intro and roundup.)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sometimes it's nice to have a mom instead of be one.

When I had The Throw-Up Sickness back in September (the night before the Warrior Dash), I was, as you can imagine, pretty miserable. The vomiting started in the middle of our camping trip at the Oregon coast. Not only did I have to miss out on hiking the sand dunes at Cape Kiwanda and enjoying ice cream at the Tillamook Cheese Factory, but I had to spend the night in the campsite bathroom. UGH. At least there was a bathroom, though, right?

One of the things about being a mom is that you have to take care of yourself. Well, if you're lucky. More often than not you don't even get to take care of yourself because you are busy caring for other, tinier people. Even when you're throwing up. Although it was bad timing last month in the sense that the throw-ups made their appearance during our camping trip, it was brilliant timing in the sense that my mom was there.

After 10 years away from home, away from a place where it was another person's job to take care of me during times of vomit and gastrointestinal distress, I had my mom with me. It was a grim few hours during the night in that camp bathroom by myself (only occasionally disturbed by (and probably disturbing) fellow campers), but when morning came, so did my mom. She tucked me into a bench near the shower stalls and brought me a pillow to rest my head on instead of my trusty Cornell hoodie. She brought me a cup of beverage and a cool washcloth for my forehead. She drew the shower curtain in front of my little bench so I didn't have to explain myself to every camper who came traipsing in the bathroom. As miserable as I was, having someone take care of me really made a difference.

I've had some time to mull this experience over today, as I lay on the couch, not feeling well. (No, I'm not pregnant, thanks.) Once again, my mom happens to be in town. She gave up a day of sight-seeing and adventures to take care of my girls. She took Miriam to school and fed Magdalena some lunch and took them to the playground, all so I can (hopefully) be back on my feet tomorrow and ready for a fantastic outing.

Like I said, sometimes it's nice to have a mom instead of be one.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Action-packed weekend

My parents (aka Grandma and Grandpa Walker) are in town. We made them do boring stuff with us like set up a wireless network in our house and get my driver's license, but we also did some pretty fun things. Aaaaaand for some reason the pictures are out of order. Let's pretend that makes it even more fun.

We drove through the Business Bay area of Dubai, which tends to remind me somewhat of what a futuristic colony in outer space would look like.

We went to the Museum of Islamic Civilization in Sharjah. Aside from the obvious favorites like the Egyptian Museum or that one in Istanbul, this is the best museum in the Middle East I've ever been to. Uncluttered, interesting, informative, and well presented - it was lovely. They had a small exhibit on the hijab style of dress, with examples of innovative, modest clothing (see hijab swimsuit, above).

In Utah I used to see cell phone towers disguised as fir trees. Here, they hide them as super tall palm trees.

This is as close as you can get to the Burj al-Arab without paying 80 bucks to eat breakfast there (or a few thousand to spend the night). Trust me, that building is bigger than it looks.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Flashback Friday: Things that go knock in the night

Spent the day in Al Ain. Here's some refried Flashback Friday for you in honor of Halloween. Originally published October 31, 2008.

In honor of Halloween, today's Flashback Friday is a spooky tale of terror and danger. Well, kind of. Not a lot of scary things have happened to me in my life, for which I am grateful, but it certainly would have made for a more haunting Flashback Friday.

I considered telling you about the time when I was 13 or 14, watching Lady in White at night, at home, by myself. Why I was doing that, I have no idea. But I got to the part in the movie where we're finding out who the bad guy is, and it's an extremely tense moment, if you know what I mean, which is that I was cowering in fear on the couch. So I paused the VHS tape, picked up the phone, and called my brother Blair, who was out with friends. I just needed to hear another human voice besides the psychopath killer's voice coming from my television. I talked to Blair for a few minutes, started feeling a little better, hung up the phone, took a deep breath, and then was scared out of my wits when THE VIDEO SUDDENLY STARTED PLAYING AGAIN at the absolute scariest scene of the movie, complete with a loud soundtrack screech of violins. EEEEEEEEEEK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Don't tell the feminists.

I don't know quite where to begin this post. What do I tell you first?

That I applied for a UAE driver's license today, and was required to produce a letter from my husband telling the Traffic Safety department that he gave his consent for them to issue me one?

That Jeremy figured out last night that the Arabic instructions on the brownie mix box are conjugated as if addressing a woman (when usually instructions assume a man)?

Or that in the eyes of the UAE I am officially, irrevocably a housewife by profession, as declared by my new residence visa?

Honestly, I am amused more than offended at all of the above. We are not in Kansas anymore, after all.

(Just don't tell them that's my maiden name WHICH I KEPT, thank you very much, right there on the residence visa. Mwahahahahahaha.)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Our reward for putting up with bureaucracy

I've never been able to figure out if the United States really doesn't have as much ridiculous bureaucracy as other countries we've lived or if it's just that I've never had to experience the worst of it since I am a US citizen. I mean, the DMV is generally a nightmare and figuring out tax forms can be entertaining sometimes, but otherwise it doesn't seem to be nearly as bad as it could be.

Bureaucracy is on my mind lately because we've been mucking through it for months before we even arrived here. To even be allowed to enter the country (as a potential employed resident, not a tourist), we had to submit 12 passport photos (each) (including our tiny children), various forms that asked seemingly irrelevant questions like where Jeremy's dad works or what his mother's maiden name is, medical records, and authenticated copies of multiple documents.

Monday, October 18, 2010

One of the weirdest things I've seen in the Middle East

Living in Syria as a young, blonde white woman with no cute kids around to distract everyone, I got a lot of attention. Not just from giggling schoolgirls wanting to have their picture taken with me, but from the young (and older) men, too. One night after work I was waiting on a street corner to catch a service (minibus) home. Unfortunately, the best place to catch this particular service was right in front of some heavily guarded...something. I never found out what it was but it had something to do with the military. There were always dudes in camo wielding kalashnikovs, loitering outside the fence.

As I stood there that evening, dressed so absurdly modestly in my butt-covering long-sleeved shirt and non-form-fitting pants, I tried to ignore all the catcalls and kissy noises being aimed at me from those gun-toting guards. I just needed to wait there long enough to catch my service and then I wouldn't have to put up with their taunts anymore.

Then my service pulled up, and guess what? It was full of men. There was one seat left, amid the horde of males. I could get on the service and spend the whole ride home being stared at and surrounded by men, or I could continue to wait on that corner and put up with a few more minutes of harassment from those leering guards.

What would you have done?

Personally, I got on the service. It was ever so slightly the lesser of two annoying evils.

What I'm trying to say is that living in the Middle East as an obviously foreign woman sometimes feels a bit like going jogging through a construction site wearing nothing but short shorts and a sports bra. Which brings me to something we saw on Saturday while out and about in Dubai: an obviously foreign woman going jogging wearing nothing but short shorts and a sports bra.

(I post this picture not out of mean-spiritedness but out of sheer incredulity.)

Dear lady, it is bad enough without ACTUALLY running around like that. I can't believe I saw this in a country where, if it weren't for all us dang foreigners, abaya and niqab would be the norm. Definitely one of the weirdest things I've seen in the Middle East, and I include in that assessment that one time I saw two guys wearing ladies' wigs at City Mall in Damascus.

That is all.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Flashback Friday: In which I am not as brave as my octogenarian great-aunt

This was a post I wrote before the advent of Flashback Friday. It was originally published on November 2, 2007, and I want to repeat it today in honor of the Halloween season that is approaching.

Here is the story of one of the scarier things that has happened to me.

It was the summer of 2003. Jeremy and I had been married for a little over a year and a half, and we were living in American Fork, Utah, while he finished up his MA at the BYU. Specifically, we were living in the basement apartment of my great aunt and uncle's house, a beautiful, gigantic (but older) house just south of the Mount Timpanogos Temple.

At that point, in all our 20 months of marriage, Jeremy and I had spent only one night apart - and that had been just a few weeks earlier at a scouting campout. Shortly after that, when he attended a conference in Middlebury, I found myself spending a week at home in AF. ALONE.

I don't consider myself a scaredy cat in the technical sense of the word. I think my main problem is that my imagination is too vivid. And despite my worst fears, the first two nights without Jeremy went by without incident.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

More UAE observations

I'm sure I'll look back on this list in a few months and understand these things better, but for now, here are some observations on the way things go here in the UAE.

Wow, do they ever know how to do malls here. They shouldn't even be called malls. I know this sounds crazy but the malls here are almost like community centers. I want to write a whole post about it. We went to Sahara Centre in Sharjah last week because it was the only place in three emirates that hadn't depleted their stock of a certain iPhone for a certain someone. It was a Thursday night - the start of the weekend - and the families were out in full force. There's a small indoor amusement park/arcade there (really!) but instead of it being all skeezy and grimy and teenager-make-out-y, it was...wholesome. Packs of well behaved 10-year-olds were roaming the arcade, playing nicely on video games. Families with younger children were riding the more gentle roller coasters. And the place was spotless. Again, wow.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Everyday life

I feel like we've gotten a little ahead of ourselves on this blog. I've written quite a bit about adventures and oddities but not so much of the basic background information.

We live on campus in faculty housing. There are cul-de-sacs and lanes and grassy roundabouts and - my personal favorite - wide, attractively cobblestoned sidewalks with raised crosswalks so you don't even have to step off the curb to cross the street (anyone who's ever pushed a stroller understands). In the campus "neighborhood," there are playgrounds and a pool and a kids' pool and a gym and fitness classes and rainbows and bunnies - well, you get the idea.

The house/villa/townhome that the university allotted to us is the nicest place I've ever personally lived. Now, maybe that's not saying a whole lot, but still. We have three bedrooms, a guest room, and four bathrooms. Of course there is a living room and a dining area and a kitchen and we actually turned the under-stairs storage area into a playroom. We also have big front and back patios. The back yard is currently a giant sandbox but it will be grass "soon."

Monday, October 11, 2010

The incredible journey of a piano

A few weeks ago, our shipment of personal goods arrived. It was like Christmas morning for the girls, delving into each bin to get reacquainted with clothes and fun things they hadn't seen for four months. And it finally put an end to Miriam's daily requests for her My Little Ponies, which requests had lasted all summer long. Lucky her, they were in the first bin we opened.

However, there were a couple of items that were not in any bin we opened. I think we got rid of a few things by accident. I can't find my cookbooks (well, just the one) anywhere. And my special Pampered Chef mini spatula is nowhere to be found. Although I might have left that in Egypt, which means it's probably gallivanting around Garbage City by now.

The one thing in our shipment I was really worried about, however, was our piano, aka our one concession to impractical materialism. We took a risk in sending it here, not just because it could have been damaged beyond repair on the journey over, but because it operates only on 120V power.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Flashback Friday: Technology of the past

Jeremy fulfilled the great dream of his life yesterday by purchasing an iPhone. I haven't had a lot of time to look at it yet, but so far that thing is like magic to me. Pure magic. I don't understand how it is possible for it to exist and do all the things that it can do. I better stick with my predictive text Nokia flip-phone until I do.

It got me thinking: as amazing as the iPhone is right here, right now, wouldn't it have been even more mind-boggling ten years ago? Here are some technologies from my childhood and young adult years that seemed so cutting edge at the time but have since become commonplace or even obsolete.

Computers. We had a computer in my house growing up for as long as I can remember. It was one of those really boxy computers with a small black screen that could only show green pixellated text. It ran MS-DOS and you had to type in stuff like C: and chk dsk and Run and all kinds of jibberish. Still, I thought it was super high tech (and for its time, I'm sure it was) because it had a touch-sensitive screen. Interesting that while the touch-screen thing went passé for a while, it's back now in a big way with these fancy smartphones.

And don't even get me started on laptops. I got my first laptop when I left for the BYU in 1999 and I thought it was the sleekest, trimmest computing machine there was. I got another look at it about five years after I stopped using it and then it seemed like a hunk of thick plastic with a tiny screen.

Texting. When I was in Japan in 2000, my host sister had a cell phone. No big deal; we had those in America, too. But she could do this fancy thing where she pressed the keys to generate text and then sent that text - almost like an email!! - to the recipient. I thought it was soooo neat. It was called texting, and it hit the States a year or two later. And now you're behind the times if you're still doing the key-pressing thing. It's all about QWERTY keyboards. Sigh.

Cell phones. Remember what they used to look like?

Enough said.

Speaking of cell phones, remember car phones? Somewhere on I-90 near Syracuse there was an old road sign saying you that to report an accident, you could dial a certain number on your CAR PHONE. What is this, 1991?

When I was a freshman or sophomore in high school, we learned about Tamagotchi in Japanese class. We all eagerly awaited the day when they would come to America. And then we went and bought some. I thought they were pretty smart but now they seem so low-tech.

Finally, when I was in kindergarten I remember my older brothers having a watch that you could play Super Mario Brothers on. Did this really exist? It seems too strange for me to have made up.

Hooray for obsolete and now useless technology!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Working out in Sharjah

Never in my whole life have I ever taken a class at a gym. It's just not how I roll. In general, I prefer to exercise alone. It's a time to reflect and think and ponder and maybe even listen to some music. But when I found out that the university offers free fitness classes for faculty and their families, I thought maybe I would give it a try. You know, step outside my comfort zone and meet new people and get some exercise in the bargain.

The first class I went to was a spinning class. I was a little afraid at first because I've heard spinning is brutal. And dear goodness, it really was. The worst part was that the sorest part of me was my butt from sitting on that seat for an hour. Yeesh. But the BEST part was that the spinning instructor is from northern England. She kept barking out commands like "Yuv got ta feeel it in yer lehgs!" and "Pooooosh!!!" It was brilliant. And a great workout.

A few days later, I took an aerobics class. It was for women only, in a separate part of the gym with no windows. I showed up a little early so I got to see how one by one, the veiled and abaya-d women walked in the room and stripped down to their exercise attire. And wow, did they ever know how to move it. I could hardly keep up with them. The aerobics instructor is the most unlikely creature - a Syrian lady from Homs. I never imagined a Homsi teaching aerobics in the UAE. Her instructions were a mix of phrases in Arabic and English and yelling "Yalla!"

And the music! Did you know that you can re-mix Omm Kolthoum, Kazim as-Saher, and Fairouz into really intense aerobics music? YOU CAN.

When class was over, the veiled women slipped their hijabs on over their sweat-drenched hair, wrapped their abayas around their hot pink tank tops and tight pants, and stepped back out into the world, with only their athletic shoes visible to give any hint of what they'd been up to.

I may still be a solitary exerciser at heart, but I can definitely get used to this.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Culturally insensitive things I've done lately

This is not my first time to the Middle East, and yet I still occasionally do really stupid things that are really only excusable if you're a novice 'round these parts. I'm blaming lingering jet lag or the heat or the humidity or the combination of the last two. Did you know that iGoogle Weather sometimes thinks it's raining here when really it's probably just the 100% humidity that tripped their rain sensors? I know, right?

Egregious Cultural Error #1 (for background, please consult the fourth bullet under the "Points of Etiquette" section here). I met the (Muslim) mom of one of Miriam's classmates for the first time yesterday. She offered her hand to shake and since I was carrying a bunch of hud with my right hand, I stuck out my left. Even as I was doing it, it was like it was happening in slow motion. My mind was yelling, "Nooooooo!!!!" even as my body kept on going. The mom didn't say anything about it but I'm pretty sure I at worst disgusted her and at best amused her with my insensitivity.  Please oh please let it be the latter.

Egregious Cultural Error #2. We live on campus at the university. Not only are a lot of our fellow residents from the West, but those who aren't are Westernized to at least some degree. So one day I wore a skirt that went to just below my knees. I would never have done this in any other Middle Eastern country we've lived in, but it was hot, and I figured I'd just be on campus all day anyway, so what's the big deal? Then I went to a grocery store in Sharjah. Like, regular Sharjah, not on campus. Before I went, I didn't even stop to remember that I was wearing what to the locals was a scandalous length of skirt. Let's just say that one of the ways you know you're doing it wrong is when you are the most immodestly dressed woman around. That was me that night, with my below-the-knee skirt and short-sleeved t-shirt. Heck, I was practically the only one with my entire face showing. Ugh, the humiliation.

Egregious Cultural Error #3. OK, would you believe me if I told you that the above error actually happened twice? Same skirt, even. I went straight from a university women's club social gathering to Ajman City Centre (not as conservative as Sharjah, but still). As soon as we arrived I realized what I was wearing and rolled my eyes at my (really, uncharacteristic for me, I promise) mistake. I hitched down (is that a term?) my skirt as best as I could but I still got a few looks. HOWEVER, I will have you know that I was NOT the most immodestly dressed woman there. I gave a little internal shout for joy when I saw a Southeast Asian woman wearing a fantastically inappropriate dress (short, sleeveless, low-cut, and sparkly gold). AND she was holding hands with her husband. Obviously she didn't see the sign about no overt displays of affection. So there.

Egregious Cultural Error #4. I still haven't figured out what the face-kissing routine is here. In Syria, it was one side, other side, and then back to the first side. In Jordan, they repeated the second side instead of going back to the first. Here, it seems like you can get away with only one kiss on one side? Maybe? This situation is disastrous if you mess it up so I really need to figure it out. So far I haven't become good enough friends with anyone that we are engaging in the face-kiss practice, so I have a little time.

Egregious Cultural Error #5. I always considered myself an especially sympathetic listener when it came to understanding people's non-native English. I mean, it's literally my job. I get paid to listen to non-native English speakers and then evaluate their skills. And yet, there are some people here who "speak" "English" and I cannot for the life of me understand them. I think I will develop a better ear over time but aye caramba, it is embarrassing to have to ask someone to repeat themselves four or five times.

(And I'm talking about people who do not speak Arabic so we don't have that to fall back on.)

What are your best and most culturally insensitive mistakes?

Monday, October 04, 2010

Weekend there vs. here

Our weekends here are Friday and Saturday. Sunday is a regular work day, the first day of the week. It takes a little getting used to. There are definitely pros and cons to being skewed from the schedule most of the world follows.

Pros:
- Our day of rest comes right after the busy workweek so I feel like I appreciate and take advantage of it more.
- The day after the Sabbath is a play day, so there's no sneaky business stuff creeping in that Friday night.
- My WAHM workload is highest on Wednesdays and Sundays. In the US, I was basically missing out on half of my potential wages. Here, Sunday is fair game. Woohoo!

Cons:
- The Fri/Sat thing plus the time difference means that if I need to do business with any institution in the US, there are very small windows of opportunity for me to do so. Yesterday (Sunday) morning I got all responsible and sat down at the computer to take care of a few loathsome bank tasks that I've put off one too many times. Then I realized that not for a further 36 hours or so would those banks actually be open. Dang. Motivation FAIL.
- I will probably never, ever be able to keep from saying "Sunday School." Sigh. "Sabbath School" and even "Friday School" just don't have the same ring or hundreds of years of tradition behind them.
- It's all well and good to have Saturday as the play day but I have to say it does put a damper on your fun to know that the next day is a work day.

Somehow I've got off track of the point of this post, which was, if I recall correctly, to say that my church's annual worldwide meeting (General Conference for those in the know) was this last weekend - the western world's weekend - and we're doing our best to catch up on watching it. We'll watch it as a congregation in a week or two. In the US and in most of the other places we've been, we watched it more or less live even though overseas (and in Ithaca, now that I think about it) it meant hanging out at church until after dark to catch all the talks. Here, we would have had to stay up all night until 6 in the morning on a work day to watch it live. Obviously that didn't happen.

Here are my favorite two talks of the first session (Saturday morning; we watched it on Saturday night). Before you watch Elder Uchtdorf's talk, you have to know that he always, always tells some story about being a pilot and flying airplanes. Also, I can't recall ever seeing something as dramatic (ha) as his coughing fit happen at General Conference, which is really saying something. Namely, that nothing dramatic ever happens at conference.


And I loved following along (although not in real time, sadly) with By Common Consent's coverage.

Did you enjoy your weekend?

Friday, October 01, 2010

Flashback Friday: More hotel stories

Last week I told you about a particularly abhorrent motel "adventure" from my childhood. Here's a walk through some other singular hotel/motel/hostel experiences (but not overnight train rides or staying at friends'/distant relatives' houses).

Tokyo, Japan, 2000. I was on a study abroad in Kyoto with the BYU and along with my host family, I took a trip to the Tokyo LDS temple. We stayed in the temple hostel, which was basically two big rooms that were separated by gender and filled with stacks of bunk beds. The hostel was fantastic accommodation until one of the Japanese ladies started snoring SO LOUD in the middle of the night. All the other polite Japanese ladies were woken up along with me, but they were all too nice to do anything about it. So they nominated me, the brash American, to go wake her up to stop her snoring. Have you ever thought it would be a great test of your foreign language skills to have to wake up a complete stranger in the middle of the night and ask her in a polite manner to stop snoring? Been there, done that. And didn't get much sleep until afterward.

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