Monday, January 31, 2011

On edge

The incident I'm going to blog about seemed to take place entirely within a moment, as if it were made of a series of factors stacked up high that came tumbling down all at once.

Picking up the pieces, I see that in that stack were items such as:

Saturday, January 29, 2011


Image source.

The day before last, after reading my blog post on the Egypt protests, my mom sent me an email saying that thanks to the news in the US, she knew Charlie Sheen had been admitted to the hospital and that more snow was falling in the Northeast, but she didn't know a thing about what was going on in Egypt.

If that is the case for you, please watch Middle East-based news live, here, in English. Don't let the fact that it's Al-Jazeera turn you off, please. This is history being made, and you can watch it as it happens.

If you're on Twitter, you can follow @andrewheiss for the choicest updates on the situation as it progresses.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Flashback Friday: Demonstrations in Damascus

I think Flashback Friday is on its way out. I have wrung my memory dry and I think all the good stories have been told. We had a good run - as far as I can figure, there are 105 original Flashback Friday entries on this blog (one of them was a guest post written by my BIL Scott), and I never missed a Friday.

Here's Flashback Friday #106. I don't think I've posted about these events before on this blog, and I thought it was especially pertinent to do so today, with the protests going on in Egypt. What happened in Syria when we lived there were demonstrations of a very different nature from what is happening in Egypt, but I thought it would still be worth it to share. I am posting this as I originally wrote it down in early March 2005, when it was happening. Background: Rafik Hariri was assassinated in Beirut in February. There was a huge backlash against Syria and its presence in Lebanon, which led to a reciprocal backlash of pro-Syrian sentiment in Damascus.

All the recent happenings in Lebanon have been reported widely in the Western media, and obviously Syria couldn’t help but get dragged into it, too. Even as suspicion focused on Syria as Rafik Hariri’s assassin, and international pressure mounted on Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon, I noticed very little change in our day-to-day life here. Everything stayed the same. Syrians have continued to go about their business as usual.

Until yesterday, I had only noticed one change in Damascus related to the heightened tension in the region. While walking to work last Saturday, I noticed that there were more policemen on the streets. I had hardly thought this was possible, since on any given day there are policemen stationed on every block anyway.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Nothing is secret

Earlier this week, I heard about this incident via Queen Rania's Twitter feed. Basically, someone took a video of a teacher belittling a child in a Jordanian classroom and shared it via social media. It got around to Queen Rania herself on Twitter, who personally investigated and had the teacher removed. A similar incident of teachers intimidating children happened in Syria late last year and gained publicity among the people via Facebook. The government took notice and took action against the misbehaving teachers, which is almost funny because Facebook is banned in Syria.

I mentioned to Jeremy that the time where governments and authority figures could hide their actions on a large scale seems to be over. There are too many people with cell phone video cameras and once you create a hashtag or Facebook group, a video can be all over the place in a matter of minutes.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The new normal

Yesterday afternoon and evening, Miriam and Magdalena had three separate, unstructured, spontaneous play periods. The first was after school at the playground with a Romanian/Iranian girl. After we got home, the girls knocked on our Tunisian neighbor's door and played with their youngest daughter for a while. After dinner, a Nigerian girl from our neighborhood walked by our house and she, Miriam, and Magdalena all ended up playing in the sand together until it was time for bed.

When we moved away from Ithaca, we left behind a wonderful neighborhood where kids ran free outside (whenever the weather allowed) and played with each other all afternoon until one by one, we moms hauled them inside for dinner. I was so afraid we wouldn't find anything like that here. My dad was in town for one of those perfect Ithaca late-summer evenings where a dozen or more children (including my girls) were playing happily in a large field near our apartment. I expressed to him my fear that my kids would never have such good playmates again, expecting to be contradicted. Instead, looking out at the field where a pack of children ages 2-8 ran free as their parents held the babies and chatted and watched from a distance, he agreed: "No, you probably won't find anything like this ever again."

At first I was startled and dismayed at his honesty, but upon further reflection, I think he's right. I doubt we will ever find that amazing mix of little playmates in such close proximity again. But here in Sharjah, little by little, we are discovering our new normal, and it looks a lot like yesterday did. It might not be quite the same as it was in Ithaca, but I am so glad to have found it, even if it took a little time.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sleep disturbances

Two nights ago, I slept all the way from when I went to bed until when I intended to wake up in the morning, with no interruptions from children at any time during that period. It was amazingly restorative and also singularly disorienting. When I woke up, I couldn't remember where I was or why it was light outside. Sleeping through the night just isn't something that happens very often at our house (my kids hate sleep, remember?). Because even when babies (or kids, as the case may be) "sleep through the night," they don't. Not really. What we mean is, the baby/kid sleeps through the night - except for all those times he/she doesn't.

And in our house at least, even with "only" two kids, it's astounding what can disturb your sleep, via your children. There's no apparent pattern to their night wakings that can be identified and then remedied. Sometimes it's Miriam. Sometimes it's Magdalena. Sometimes it's a bad dream. Sometimes it's a bug bite that itches. Sometimes it's Miriam with a cough. Sometimes it's Magdalena with a stuffy nose. Sometimes Magdalena has to go potty and all parents who have recently gone through potty training know you can never say no to that, no matter what time it is. And sometimes, I have no idea what wakes them up. All I know is that - to take a recent example - it's ten o'clock at night and Magdalena just came sauntering into our bedroom wearing her pajamas and flip-flops, ready to go somewhere.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Sharjah public decency rules

I stumbled across Sharjah's rules of public decency yesterday when I was poking around a municipal website looking for a way to check traffic fines online. I was already familiar with these rules from second-hand sources like the university's welcome packet, but this was the first time I read them at their source.

For your consideration, I have excerpted a few highlights from the pamphlet. Check them out (my comments in italics):

Men's Dress Code
Indecent Dress or Behavior:
- Very short pants in public or commercial places like malls and public offices.
- Chest nudity. (This is my new favorite term.)
- Ezar in public places (Ezar is the local Emirate male underwear). (No, I don't know what Ezar is so I can't explain further. Sorry.)

Women's Dress Code
Indecent Dress:
- Clothing that exposes the stomach and back.
- Short clothing above the knee.
- Tight and transparent clothing that describes the body. (Again, I love the term "describes" in this context.)

Rules Regarding Public Beaches
Beaches are among the public places that people use for their leisure activities like swimming, or enjoying the scenery. Thus, it is important to make these places enjoyable and liked, so that people will not hesitate to use them. Therefore, all swimmers should wear conservative swimwear that is acceptable to the culture in Sharjah.

Do not wear swimwear in streets or other public places.

Ladies Areas
For social and cultural considerations, women have their own private areas that are not to be used by men. (Did anyone else's brain come screeching to a halt after reading that sentence and then go back to read it again because it COULD NOT POSSIBLY have meant what you thought it did the first time around? No? Just me? Oh.) To protect their privacy, and to avoid nuisance, men are not allowed to visit these "Ladies Only" places, except in acceptable circumstances, in accordance with society's norms and culture.

A Man and a Woman Illegally Alone
It is not allowed for a man and a woman who are not connected by a legally acceptable relationship to be alone in public places or in suspicious times or circumstances.

All in all, it's a very sensible set of rules, don't you think? What gets me is that these rules of public decency are absolutely enforceable - by Sharjah city employees, security officers, building guards, and the police. These are more than just guidelines. And really, when you think about it, they're only slightly stricter than the rules at the BYU, so it's hardly an adjustment at all to follow them.

I'll have to talk to Jeremy about his constant chest nudity, though.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Flashback Friday: Afraid of spiders

It's funny how even if you're married to someone, that doesn't mean you know everything about them. I mean, sure, after over a year of marriage, Jeremy knew I was "afraid" of spiders, but who isn't?

He didn't get it. I was, and am, AFRAID OF SPIDERS. I cannot abide them. I hate them when they're inside my house and although I would like to let them be when they're minding their own business outside of my house, I hate them there, too. I can't touch them, I can't look at them, I can't think about them, and I most definitely cannot take a joke about them. Which is what Jeremy didn't know when he set up the following prank for me.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A perfect storm (of kids fussing)

A couple of weeks ago, I was so sick that it was all I could do to lie on the floor and hope that the girls would ignore me and get to playing nicely so I could wallow in misery. Of course that's not what happened. Moms NEVER get a sick day.

Before I knew it, Magdalena had "stolen" a coloring page of dubious origin that ostensibly belonged to Miriam. That might not have been such a big deal except that Miriam was super overtired and ready for something to wail dramatically about. The stolen coloring page fit the bill quite nicely.

(PS, "Majd" is our nickname for Magdalena.)

When I took this video (clandestinely), I expected it to be a portrait of what a "sick day" (hahahahahahahahaha) for a mom looked like. But I think it illustrates a few other principles, namely:

1. The sheer ability of a second child to just NOT. CARE.

2. The faith of a two-year-old that a blankie can solve any problem.

3. The state of dishevelment your kids reach when you are unable to dress them and comb their hair.

4. The temerity a mom can sometimes have to laugh at her kids saying hilarious things in their tiny anger (I lost it at the "you're going to give it to me, or I'm going to take it" line and you can hear me try to stifle my laughter).

5. The way a kid can get reeeeeeeally worked up about something small if she puts her mind to it.

And finally,

6. The absolute importance of hugs. I can manage that. Even when I'm sick.

(No, not pregnant sick, just the regular kind. Thanks.)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Book Review: Columbine, by Dave Cullen

The shootings at Columbine High School happened in late April of 1999, when I was 17. The shooters were high school seniors a month or two away from graduating, just like me. At the time, much was made of the fact that the student body size and makeup, neighborhood setting, and even architectural design of Columbine High School were a lot like our own high school. Of course, my fellow students and I didn't need to seek out similarities with Columbine to be able to feel a profound sense of horror and sadness at the events that took place there. It was just all the more eerie to know that it happened at a school just like ours.

Monday, January 17, 2011

(Literal) School shopping, round 2

Here are the results of my school visits, as promised in Round 1. Again, I'm redacting the names of the schools (except one) for privacy reasons.

School S. The frontrunner. Even though this is the closest school, it turns out it isn't particularly convenient to get to. It's one of those situations where you can see it right there, but since left turns aren't allowed you have perform the funkiest series of U-turns imaginable (in a queue of other school parents doing the same thing, no less).

The facilities there are ok, but a bit faded. The tuition is sky-high compared to everywhere else (almost twice as much in some cases) but we don't pay it, so it's not a consideration. The surroundings are a bit blah - it's right on a main road surrounded by a lot of construction sites but that second part describes about three-fourths of Sharjah and Dubai, so.

Status: Application already submitted.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sisterhood of the mandatory blood test

In order to get a residence visa for the UAE, you have to go to an official clinic and have your blood drawn and an x-ray taken of your chest (please don't remind me of my most embarrassing moment, thanks). You have to do this for your initial residence visa and then every three years as you renew that visa.

Back in October, the university set up a bus to the official clinic for all the faculty spouses and dependents (over age 18) who needed either a brand-new residence visa, or a renewal of the visa. I hopped onto the bus with everyone else. Almost all the people there were complete strangers to me. I sat next to the one person I knew - a woman I'd met a week or two before at an orientation activity.

When we got to the clinic, we all got off the bus and went inside to wait in a series of lines, separated by gender. Conversation among the women proceeded in fits and starts. It began as that most awkward kind of chit-chat, the kind where the substance is nothing more than those surface-level getting-to-know-you questions and everyone kind of takes turns answering them.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Flashback Friday: Never badmouth Hezbollah

Refried Flashback Friday, originally published 18 December 2008. This was my very first FF about the Middle East.

The late fall of 2004 found us living in Damascus. Ramadan had just come to an end. Ramadan is an oddly festive yet stressful time of year, what with the businesses closing early, people fasting all day, socializing (and maybe working) into the night, waking up before dawn to get in a good meal, and doing it all over again the next day. At the end of it all, there is a three-day holiday called Eid al-Fitr. Everything in the city shuts down so that people can celebrate the conclusion of the month of fasting.

Jeremy and I both had a few days off of school and work, so we decided to take a trip to northern Lebanon to visit the ruins of Baalbek. In addition to being a modern-day town that serves as the seat of the Hezbollah political party (or terrorist organization, depending on your point of view), it is also the location of some spectacular ruins that we had been looking forward to exploring.

We spent the night in Beirut at a friend's house and left semi-early the next morning for Baalbek. We shared the taxi ride with an elderly Lebanese woman who was going to a small town 20km short of Baalbek. She was happy to engage in light conversation with us during the ride, but after Jeremy made a teensy-tiny joke about Hezbollah, all the lightness in her mood disappeared. She immediately launched into a stern lecture on the importance of not saying anything bad about Hezbollah while we were in the area. We reached her village just as she was winding down with her important advice, and she got out of the taxi, wishing us good luck on our visit.

In order to get back to the main highway, the taxi had to wind through the small town with we two Americans being the only remaining passengers. The mood in the taxi was pleasant again, until I took a look outside the window at our surroundings and realized I was the only unveiled woman in the town, on top of being the only foreigner. This has really only happened a couple of times during all the time I've spent in the Middle East - once in a friend's neighborhood in Aleppo where every girl above the age of 7 or 8 was veiled, and another time or two in various remote areas. I was glad to at least be inside of the taxi and not walking around outside on the streets where I might have attracted a lot of attention.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Doctors and dentists

We're still getting the hang of the medical and dental care here in the UAE. It takes a little getting used to. We had our first dental appointments a few weeks ago and they were scheduled for 6.30pm. I had forgotten that in the Middle East, dentists (and sometimes doctors) work in the mornings and evenings only, and skip the afternoons - say, 9-1ish and then 5-9pm. It felt so weirdly unwholesome to be going to a dentist appointment when it was dark outside. And yet, it  got the job done. Beyond our expectations, in fact. Jeremy had a small problem with a tooth (part of it, um, fell off) and when he asked the dentist about it I'm sure expected a brief examination and then an additional appointment at a later time to take care of it. Instead, she just shaped it up right then and there. Done.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


I shouldn't have written yesterday's post. If I did insist on writing it, I should have left it at the first and last lines:

For all I didn't like living there so much, I am saddened to see Tucson in the national spotlight for such unsavory reasons.

Much-maligned [by me, on this blog] former home, I weep [sad, sympathetic tears] for you.

The message I meant to send is that there is so much more going on in Tucson than a supposed return to "the Wild West" or whatever the news is calling it. There are other issues at work, so deep-seated and complex that they cannot be reduced to being symbolized entirely and solely by a crazy person shooting a politician in a grocery store parking lot. The laundry list of issues I mentioned in my previous post (and the NYT article I linked to, "Shooting casts a harsh spotlight on Arizona's unique politics") was meant to illustrate that, not serve as further punches to a city that is already reeling from a massive blow. Not at all.

Monday, January 10, 2011

On Tucson

You know, for all I didn't like living there so much, I am saddened to see Tucson in the national spotlight for such  unsavory reasons. And that was even before the attempted assassination of Gabrielle Giffords. Tucson can't do anything right these days, it seems. There was the controversial immigration law from a few months ago. More recently, a Latino literature class at Tucson High School was declared illegal.

There are also the little things, like how the speed-trap cameras in Tucson don't recognize license plates from Mexico (and there are a lot of those driving around) and are thus unable to issue tickets to those drivers.

Or how other cities in colder climates bus in their homeless people to Tucson when the winter comes, which was just so fun for those of us who lived there (I swear this is true).

Or the way the city is so divided between white and Hispanic. Don't believe me? Check out this map of census data (source). All you need to know is that green is white and yellow is Hispanic.

Then, of course, there are the bitter, lingering conflicts in Tucson over health care for illegal immigrants as well as immigrants who are rescued/apprehended after almost dying in the desert during an unlawful attempt for the border. University Medical Center, specifically - the same hospital that is trying to save Giffords' life - bears the brunt of those controversial costs.

Anyway, my point is that there are a lot of things going on in Tucson and the attempted assassination of one of its politicians is especially tragic. So sad.

Much-maligned former home, I weep for you.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Flashback Friday: A close encounter with a bear

Refried Flashback Friday: A close encounter with a bear, originally published 29 November 2008. The associated photo was lost in The Incident so I stole one from Kristen's blog to fill the gap.

Ah, Girls' Camp. For as much as I didn't enjoy my time there, it sure is a good source of Flashback Friday stories. (I'm not the only one who thinks so, either - my friend Kristen wrote about Girls' Camp and the Cootie Ghetto a few weeks ago.)

Today I'm going to tell you about the time I was at Girls' Camp and got chased by a bear. It was the summer of 1997, and it was the year my friends and I had all been waiting for - we were finally counselors. No more mandatory craft activities, classes, or scheduled time for showering. Instead, we were paired up and put in charge of half a dozen 12- and 13-year-old girls, and they had to do all the required stuff. My fellow counselors and I spent our time decorating our cabins, sleeping when the girls were gone, and raiding the cafeteria kitchen for snacks after the girls were in bed.

Ready to rule camp as counselors, at last!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Baby name time capsule

YOU GUYS. Remember when I said that when I was a kid I made a list of all the baby names I liked? And how I wished I had the actual list so I could embarrass myself more completely?

WELL. I found the list. I was doing a backup of my computer on our external hard drive the other day and I started wandering around its myriad subfolders and I found it. Specifically, I found it under Bridget Stuff\Docs\OLD\old.

I think what is truly amazing is how many of the names I remembered correctly off the top of my head when I wrote that last post.

Now here are some more, pulled straight from my precious name lists (I had a separate list for girls and boys, and they are too long to reprint in their entireties here).

The truly terrible:

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Movies of note from 2010

This is not an exhaustive list of everything I watched in 2010. It might not even be all my favorites. I don't keep track of the movies I watch so this is just what I happen to remember liking as I write this post right now.

(Here are movies of note from 2007, 2008, and 2009.)

The Count of Monte Cristo. No, not that one. THIS ONE:
Jeremy saw this sitting on the university library shelf and brought it home. It was so brilliantly campy that we had to watch every episode. Indeed, we looked forward to it, especially the part in the opening credits where Gerard  Depardieu comes busting out of the ocean surf holding a crucifix. That said, there were some glaring deficiencies in this version, like how everyone seemed to be too old, or how the movie skipped over the entire first part, or how some of the acting was really, really bad, or how it was in French, or how Gerard Depardieu was in it. But still, we enjoyed it. A LOT.

Monday, January 03, 2011

2010 Stats

Here are some blog stats for your review/entertainment (2009 stats here).

My Adventures in Ithaca (January - May), My Adventures in Egypt (May - August), Bridget of Arabia (September - December) 2010 Stats

Total posts: 253

Total number of comments: 2039

  • Average number of comments per post: 8
  • Number of posts with no comments: 4, 3 of which were reprints of old Flashback Fridays.
  • Highest number of comments on one post: 46
Number of subscribers (Google Reader only, I don't know how to find out anything else): 142

Sunday, January 02, 2011

2010 Book Stats

Here are some interesting (?) stats about the books I read in 2010.

The books I read in 2010 were:

62% fiction.

38% non-fiction (obviously).

Furthermore, 67% of the fiction was Young Adult.

On the whole, 42% of all the books I read were Young Adult.

22% of the books were non-first-time reads.

14% of this year's reading list were books that Jeremy also read this year.

I also (nerd alert!) made a chart to show my reading patterns over the year. I didn't take too much time to finesse it, but you get the idea.

The times I read the most books were when Jeremy was out of town or when we were staying with family members who tended to the basic needs of my small children on my behalf. It occurred to me the other day that perhaps these family members think I always ignore my kids to read. The truth is that I only ignore my kids to read when said family members are around to fill the void created by my absence.

(OK, it is possible that there are other times I ignore my kids to read, especially if reading a book at the park while the girls play counts as "ignoring." Does it?)

The reality of reading while also being a mom is more like this:

That's me, my mouth full of gingerbread cookie, reading Nothing to Envy in the kitchen while I wait eight minutes for the oven timer to go off for the next batch. The kids are in the dining room, busy eating their gingerbread cookies. Thanks for catching me by surprise when taking this picture, Jeremy.

Sometimes I feel bad that I get to read more books than Jeremy. It is the blessing and curse of being a SAHM, I suppose. On the one hand, I have resigned myself to catching a few pages in between sibling spats and "mom, I need help wiping!" moments. On the other hand, reading books is my way of continuing to learn new things, stretching my mind, and engaging with the world.


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