Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Middle East, WW2 POWs, and Jane Austen

Requiem (Delirium, #3)Requiem by Lauren Oliver

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Apparently, I've given all three books in this series three stars. However, I think each book was better than the one before. Still, these books just weren't my thing.

A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the Struggle for the Mastery of the Middle EastA Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the Struggle for the Mastery of the Middle East by James Barr

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Four stars overall. Some chapters were more like three stars and others were five stars. This was a fairly uneven read. There are a few very dull chapters in this book that don't really need to be entire chapters. For example, the author spends pages and pages on the dispute between the British and the French about the proposed route of the oil pipeline from Mosul to the sea. Britain wants it in Haifa. France wants it in Tripoli. And on and on and on. In the end, guess what??? They split the pipe and it goes to both ports. I just told you in a few sentences what it takes the book a very long slog of a chapter to convey.

A long slog, despite the fact that I am very familiar with the geography of the region treated in this book, and I've read books about several of the main characters or peripheral aspects of this period of history. This book was not difficult to read because it was unfamiliar or a lot of new information. It was difficult to read because dude sometimes didn't know how to advance the story.

Other times, however, the storytelling was stellar. In the end, the book does a really good job explaining how the modern Middle East came to look like it does. It's just atrocious how it all went down. Sykes, for example, took a look at a map of what is now Syria/Lebanon/Iraq/Jordan/Palestine/Israel and proposed drawing a line from the 'e' in 'Acre' to the final 'k' in Kirkuk...and that would be the border dividing the French Mandate from the British one. Yikes.

A quote from Sir John Shaw, the former chief secretary of Palestine, in the final chapter of the book:

"It's not your business or my business, or British business, or [for] anybody else to interfere in other people's countries and tell them how to run it, even to run it well. They must be left to their own salvation."

Georgiana Darcy's Diary: Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice ContinuedGeorgiana Darcy's Diary: Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice Continued by Anna Elliott

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Kindle version of this book is free on

It was fine. I don't really have anything else to say about it.

The House at TynefordThe House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


This might take a while. My damage with this book, beginning with the most egregious issues:

1. The main character, Elise, is absolutely unlikable. Her own family kind of doesn't like her, and it's not in that heart-wrenching, Jacob Have I Loved way where you feel like shaking them and yelling, "she's better than the lot of you, you idiots!!!" No. I don't blame them for not liking her. She whines about her lack of musical talent in an exceptionally musical family. She calls her parents by their first names (sorry, I never got over that, not through the whole book). She doesn't like her sister and then is surprised that her sister doesn't like her.

Outside of her family, Elise continues to be unlikable. I felt like all she ever did was shriek at other people and expect them to help her and save her and love her when she had done nothing to deserve it. For example, her only chance at getting out of soon-to-be-German-occupied Austria is to sign on as a housemaid at an estate in England. Her Austrian housekeeper gives her a treasured English-language housekeeping manual in the hopes that it will help Elise learn both the language and some essential housekeeping skills. If I were her, and my physical safety and well-being depended on my being able to hold down a job in England, you can be dang sure I would be reading that book every single night until I had it memorized. Elise, though? She just tosses it aside. Whatevs, no biggie. She is both stupid AND lazy. UGH.

2. The two central relationships in this book fall flat flat flat. With all her shrieking and being stupid and lazy, I could never figure out her feelings regarding Kit. She was always wavering and stuttering and tripping over her poor English grammar and as a result, I never knew if I was supposed to be rooting for her or not! I get the idea of understated affection, but yeesh, this was like dealing with an annoyingly passive-aggressive friend who expected you to figure out her every whim and emotion just by reading into her sulky moods.

3. Not once, but TWICE in this book, people declare that someone else is dead without having any evidence whatsoever that this is so. They just "know" it, or "feel" it. Not good enough, book.

4. On the other hand, sometimes people in this book just "know" something good is going to happen or "feel" it, against humongous piles of evidence to the contrary. Humongous. Piles. Of evidence.

5. Sometimes things in this book that were written on the page, were not actually happening. This got really annoying, really fast.

6. Can someone please explain to me what was with the novel in the viola? The author herself seems unable to do so. I do not understand a) why Margot was so upset about it; and b) how the pages came to be blank...?

7. The descriptions of the English countryside were lovely. They really were. But there were far, far too many of them. The action of this book moved in fits and starts: something relevant would happen, and then paaaaaaages of nothing. Repeat repeat repeat.

8. Finally, I found this book to be very predictable. From the first time a certain two people met, I knew exactly what was going to happen.

Look, some of these issues might be because I listened to it as an audiobook. Sometimes I get frustrated with audiobooks because they move very slowly when I could be reading the book much quicker. So this book tried my patience more in its audio format than it would have in print. Still, though.

Daddy-Long-Legs (Daddy-Long-Legs, #1)Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a great, quick, uplifting read. You have to forgive it for some antiquated plot elements - talk of socialism and the completely non-creepy use of the nickname "daddy long-legs" for a love interest.

Keeping the CastleKeeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book way more than perhaps I should have. The whole thing reads like a big Jane Austen inside joke. I loved it! I would be tempted to give it five stars but it's not really substantial enough for repeat readings. Still, for a one-time, super-fun read, I highly recommend this book.

Escape From Davao: The Forgotten Story of the Most Daring Prison Break of the Pacific WarEscape From Davao: The Forgotten Story of the Most Daring Prison Break of the Pacific War by John D. Lukacs

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I read 3/4 of this book but today I gave up and I'm calling it a DNF. A book about POWs escaping from Japanese-held Philippines, boring?? Weird, I know. But it totally was! I read several hundred pages, waiting for it to get enthralling, but it just fell flat. I never knew who these people were or where they were or what their changing objectives were. A big old mess. Read Lost in Shangri-la or Unbroken instead.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Tips for dealing with jet lag and kids

Or, to be more precise, tips for dealing with your kids' jet lag. Or your jet lag and you also have kids, who also have jet lag.

Jet-lagged in Jordan, 2006
It occurs to me that I have a bit of experience dealing with major jet lag and small children. Considering long-term (not airport transfers) time-zone changes of more than, say, eight hours, Jeremy and I have done the jet-lag thing with children ten times. By the time we go back home in August, it will be eleven times. Here are some tips for coping with jet lag. Note that not all of these tips are meant to improve your experience; sometimes, you just have to deal.

1. Accept that jet lag is going to happen. I know this sounds elementary, but you'd be surprised how often I think, "maybe it won't be that bad this time!" This, despite the fact that every single time we have gone through a major time zone change, it has been BAD. It will never not be bad. The sooner you brace yourself for an awful jet lag experience, the better.

2. That being said, infants can sometimes surprise you with how well they do adjusting to a new time zone. I bring this up because the two times we spent the summer in Jordan, Miriam (age 8 -12 months one year; age 20-24 months the next) was a pretty atrocious sleeper. She kind of treated nighttime like daytime in the US anyway, so it only took a little nudging and adjustment of nursing schedules to get her on the Jordan time zone.

3. To some extent, it will only hurt you to adjust to the time zone faster than your children. If you are efficient about getting yourself to the point where 2am in the new time zone actually feels like 2am instead of 12 noon...well, that's going to suck when your kids still feel like it's the middle of the day instead of the middle of the night and wake you up to tell you so.

4. Your kids' jet lag may affect them in unexpected ways. You may find that your kids don't have an appetite, or that they're getting dehydrated from not drinking during the day, because it feels like night to them and their stomachs aren't up for eating and drinking. They might also have to get up a lot in the night to go to the bathroom, until their digestive systems figure out the new time zone. They will cry more and disobey more and horrify the grandparents with their behavior more, too, because they're grouchy and in an unfamiliar place and it feels like everyone is bothering them and asking them to be alert and play and eat IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FREAKING NIGHT. Consider relaxing your discipline expectations just a little at first...and maybe give the grandparents and cousins a heads up, too.

5. In all of my experience, and in published articles that I've read, jet lag is worse when you are going forward (east) in time. I don't really know why this is. I only know that it is true. When we are coming to the US from the Middle East, I can expect a gentler transition than when we go back home. Going back to the Middle East from the US brings two weeks of jet lag torture.

6. When traveling on long-haul flights with very small children (i.e., those too small to be entertained by in-flight movies), you might be tempted to think that the flight is the hard part and once you get off the plane, everything will be ok. This is true to some extent, but I tend to dread the jet lag more than the, well, jet. You spend half or 2/3 of a day on an airplane with a bunch of strangers who will never see you again. Then you get off the plane in a new time zone and it's just you and the kids. And most of your quality time together will start at about 4 o'clock in the morning.

7. Melatonin. Look it up and ask your kids' doctor. It won't make your kids stay asleep, but it can help them get back to sleep if they wake up in the middle of the night.

8. Audiobooks/podcasts. I always, always load up my iPod shuffle with an audiobook and back episodes of favorite podcasts. Then I keep it under my pillow. If I'm forced to be awake with jet-lagged kids in the middle of the night, or if I'm having trouble sleeping myself, I don't wait for frustration and stress to creep in. I just turn on something to listen to so I'm able to keep calm and quiet in the night even if I technically have to be awake.

In conclusion, jet lag is no fun for anyone, but it does eventually come to an end. If you go into it with realistic expectations, that will help you adjust, and help your kids adjust. For those about to travel long distances over many time zones, I salute you.

Monday, July 29, 2013

American road trip

Jeremy has joined us in the US. As part of our experiment flying into SEA-TAC instead of dog-legging it down to PDX, the girls and I drove up to Seattle to pick him up at the airport. Then we had the pleasure of driving to Idaho Falls via a completely new (to me) route. Instead of going through Boise, we were up north on I-90 through Spokane, Missoula, Butte, and on down to IF. It was a beautiful drive and did not include any Eastern Oregon or post-Boise doldrums or Pocatello we're-almost-there-but-time-is-going-so-slooooooow breakdowns.

Driving through all the beautiful scenery, I tried to soak in our American road trip experience. These efforts were helped along by listening to MoTab's America's Choir album. I've listened to this music dozens of times in the UAE, too, but somehow the wide expanse of the Montana sky amplified the effect of Come, Come, Ye Saints and Bound for the Promised Land and Battle Hymn of the Republic and Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing. It was glorious.

The kids pondered why Montana has a big sky.

They got free, unpolished opals at a random small-town gas station in Spencer, Idaho.

We binged on American road trip food favorites like pepperoni, string cheese, and Fruit by the Foot.

Then, THEN, we drove through a thunder/lightning/rain/hailstorm near Dubois. It was one of the more exotic weather experiences my kids have ever had, if you can believe it. I was glad they could enjoy it. Here's Miriam enjoying the show.

Of course, like most road trips, the best part was when we arrived at our destination, Chez Palmer Grandparents. Let the fun continue.

Friday, July 26, 2013

July 26th, outsourced

Sorry if anyone's Friday morning internet browsing binge habit has been disrupted by my change in time zone. I realize this is going up much later than when I posted it from the UAE!

Beards made out of bees. You read that correctly. [HT Suzanne]

Here's a lovely video about Dubai (in support of their World Expo 2020 bid) that highlights some truly awesome things about the UAE. [HT Sana]

In case you ever need a handy reference guide: every meal consumed in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy. Food heaven.

If you find a way to get around the paywall and read this, please do: fifteen years after autism panic, a plague of measles erupts.

Forensic linguistics, doing its job, outing JK Rowling as the author of a new mystery novel.

First they award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar...then they seriously consider holding it in winter. And the football world goes CRAZY.

2013: the year that PG-13 broke. (Brief language warning in the context of discussing movie rating standards.) [HT Eric D. Snider]

In honor of my brother Steven, who just got a job at a Chipotle in NYC and is thus entitled to one free meal a day: there are 655,360 different burrito combinations possible at Chipotle.


In Royal Baby odds and ends: Project Normal Child, a brief history of royal childhoods, and the significance of Kate's new-mommy tummy. I have to say, as trivial as it may seem, I loved that last one. I am sorry that she couldn't leave the hospital in privacy, in sweats, but the fact that she wasn't afraid to show the world that hey, immediately after you have a baby, guess what? You still totally look pregnant. Bravo, Kate.

A day in the life of the target-market female. Hilarious. [HT Liz]

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Reverse culture shock, take 2

Summer: USA Edition is going well so far. This is going to sound strange, but even though it's been a whole year since we were last in the feels like yesterday. I compare this feeling to last year, when the US seemed like a very strange and unfamiliar place after two years away. Almost everything I encountered was full of the wonder of re-acquaintance or the awkwardness of, well, not remembering how to do stuff.

This time around, I've been able to adjust much quicker. However, there have still been a few bumps along the way. The other day I drove through a construction zone. In the UAE, in a construction zone, you're pretty much on your own to navigate a safe path. Detour signs, adjusted lane markers, and human flaggers - you won't find any of those. So in this construction zone near my parents' house, I took matters into my own hands and drove as I would have in the UAE. Well, that didn't go over very well with one of the construction workers, and she let me know. I learned my lesson.

It's still weird to hear perfect American accents coming out of the mouths of all kinds of people. I'm still making a fool out of myself at the grocery store as I stroll through the aisles at a leisurely pace, like the food tourist that I totally am (I bought peanut butter Oreos today). And I'm still enjoying seeing the effect the US has on my kids. All the Gushers I they can eat, OH YEAH. In fact, last week when Jeremy asked the girls what their favorite thing about America was, they agreed: "Lucky charms and the trampoline."


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Dubai rape case controversy

A case involving a Norwegian woman in Dubai who was imprisoned after reporting her rape by a work colleague has been making headlines in the UAE and the US. In case you haven't heard the story, here is a basic run-down of the case from CNN.

A day after that article (and many others, in different news sources and social media sites) ran, the victim was "pardoned" and allowed to leave the UAE.

I've put "pardoned" in quotation marks, but that is quite literally what happened. The woman was charged with (convicted of? It's not clear) consuming alcohol, having sex outside of marriage, and making a false statement to the police (stemming from when she tried to improve her situation by changing her story and claiming that the sex was consensual). When Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum pardoned her of those crimes on Monday, she was free to go.

Guess who else was free to go? Her rapist.

There are so many issues with this case that it's hard to know where to begin. The UAE's The National newspaper has had an interesting series of articles in the past few days that give some perspective.

First, The National points out in an editorial that yes, the UAE needs to take a hard look at how it treats victims of sexual violence. It also highlights a key element of this case, which is that at one point, for whatever ill-advised reason (and it was advised to her; by whom is in dispute), the victim said the sex was consensual, which is a crime in the UAE. That seems to have complicated her situation beyond the awful experience of being arrested in the aftermath of a rape, for consuming alcohol.

Second, The National gives a fuller account of the victim's experiences, and places them in the context of the legal system where they took place.

Lastly, The National explains how Sharia Law is and is not relevant to this case, and explains more about the finer points of rape law in the UAE. Coming from a Western perspective, it's certainly a relief to know that the crime of rape does not have to be established by the witness of four males. However, there is still plenty to be squicked out about, particularly if we are to accept the comments of the legal consultant quoted in the above article. For starters, the consultant seems to imply that a woman can give consent just by being drunk. Um, no. Also, he says that "how...strongly a victim [resists]" can determine whether it was rape or not. I'm not sure that's a benchmark we want to even begin to define.

I'm especially interested in the controversy and East/West divide surrounding this case because it is tangentially related to my thesis. I am studying the experiences of Westerners who come to the UAE to teach English. In my thesis, I discuss the appeal of the UAE to Western teachers because it offers them a style of living that, on the surface, seems to be on par with what they are used to in their home countries.

But there are very real differences between Dubai and, say, London. Sometimes, under the gloss and glare of Dubai's charms, those important distinctions are lost. Those of us who are guests in the UAE - which is to say, most of the population - ignore these fundamental and sometimes quite alarming differences at our peril. Many of us are used to a Western-style treatment of the report of rape, which, while not without its weaknesses and misapplications, at least has a built-in sense of presumed innocence on the part of the victim. As this and other cases show, however, even something that seems so basic to Westerners cannot at all be assumed when you're in the UAE.

By Western standards of justice and legality, what happened to the Norwegian woman in Dubai was truly atrocious - the crime itself, and her treatment by the police afterward. But when you look at the case in its Eastern context, everything turns on its head and it's hard to know what to think. Taking a more benign example, is it fundamentally ridiculous that during Ramadan, I cannot take a drink from a bottle of water during daylight hours in public, including in my own vehicle, without risking someone reporting me to the police? Well, yeah, but so says me and my Western upbringing and life experiences and status as a non-Muslim. It's almost as if there is no right answer...except that the "right answer" in a rape case should never involve the victim being put in jail, not even for a little while, not even if she was drunk when she made the report in a country where being drunk is a crime.

What are your thoughts on this case?

Monday, July 22, 2013


The other day I had an epiphany of sorts.

I tagged along with my parents and attended a casual group dinner event at Your Home-based Mom's house. I also made the salad we had been assigned to bring. I decided to make fattoush (Lebanese Salad) because it would be different, and because I knew I wouldn't mess it up because I make it all the time at home.

Not messing up the food dish was important to me because YHBM is, like, FAMOUS. I felt so nervous to be bringing my lame, humble food for her (and the guests) to eat. I also kind of felt self-conscious about what I was wearing because she has a fantastic sense of fashion (as does her daughter).

So I spent a while before the dinner being nervous about the food, and my clothes, and the judgment that YHBM was sure to pass on me...and then I realized how ridiculous I was being. I'm sure, so sure, that the wonderful woman who is YHBM does not spend every waking hour "on the job," scrutinizing friends' recipes and passers'-by outfits. So I took a deep breath and relaxed and made the fattoush how I always do and wore what I wanted to.

The epiphany I mentioned earlier came when I finally understood how it is that some people mention to me (in person or by email) that they're "afraid" (or hesitant) to comment on my blog, or write an email to me because they're worried that their grammar isn't perfect. This has always at once surprised me and made me feel horrible. I promise that as snarky as I sometimes (unintentionally) get about grammar or word choice or baby names or spelling, I do not pass judgment on friends OR strangers who communicate with me, in any form, whether earnestly or casually. I do not sit at my computer just waiting to catch out mistakes as they enter my Gmail inbox. Really. I'm sure I've not always maintained the distinction perfectly, but I try to reserve scorn of poor English for the most egregious cases in the most inexcusable contexts. Blog comments and personal emails will never, ever fit that bill.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Plumbing and Oreos and Target

I suppose we'll come up with new things to be reverse-culture-shocked about every time we visit the US, but this time around the theme seems to be plumbing. Upon arrival in Seattle, the girls bumbled around in the airport bathroom for a good while before they figured out how things work.

The toilets flush differently here. In Sharjah (as in much of the Middle East), you flush by pushing a button on top of the toilet, or a button/panel on the wall. In the US, it could be on the side, or it could be a lever, or it could be automatic. And Miriam remarked aloud, "isn't it nice that you can put toilet paper in the toilet here?" (To be clear, you can flush toilet paper at our house and at many public restrooms, but not all.)

The faucets work differently, too. The girls can't figure out the shower at my parents' house, either. But little by little, they're figuring it out.

Speaking of things we've figured out: you can buy mint Oreos, like, at the store here. No more slaving away in the kitchen making them ourselves! That was an exciting - and delicious - discovery for all of us. The sad thing is that I only saw the mint Oreos near the checkout aisle at Target when I was already in line, so it was too late to go to the actual cookie section and look for watermelon Oreos. Next time.

Speaking of Target: I needed a few things there. I got in the car and drove there. I went into the store and found every single thing on my list. Then I bought those things and drove home. It was amazing. USA: so far, so good.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

July 19th, outsourced

It's a very brief Outsourced Friday for you this week. First, I was traveling a lot and not surfing the web (a shame). Second, I left my laptop in Sharjah, along with all the bookmarks I had saved up before Tuesday. Enjoy what little I have for you. Maybe contribute your own in the comments?

Desert refuge: inside the Za'atari refugee camp for displaced Syrians in Jordan (some language warning).

Here are 30 awesome photos from our past. That must have been some snowball fight! [HT Crys]

Have you ever felt like reading about someone's experience having bunion surgery? Well, it's your lucky day! My mom has written up a compelling account of her surgery, recovery, and complications, complete with pictures...that you might not want to look at (fair warning is given, don't worry).

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Airplane MovieWatch Report DXB-SEA 2013

I'm in the USA. First things first: the movies I watched on the 15-hour flight.

The rest of The Imposter. I started this on the way home from Germany a few months ago so I was glad to get to finish it. Crazy story.

The first 25 minutes of Side Effects, until, improbably, my finger brushed the screen and skipped the film forward to the exact moment when the twist was revealed. Seriously, it landed at a scene where the dialogue went something like, "so, character whose true nature has just been discovered, can you explain to me more about how you carried out the events that form the central mystery of this movie, beyond this main element of it, which I have just succinctly described?" It was uncanny. After that, there was no point to watching the movie, so I switched to something else.

That something else being Safe Haven. I only ever watch movies like this on airplanes. It was pretty standard. I continue to not really like movies like this. Which is why I only ever watch them on airplanes.

The first 15 minutes of Beautiful Creatures. Not for me.

The entirety of the German-language film Lore. Note to self: maybe don't watch foreign films on airplanes. It was...good, I guess, but there were a lot of cuts (edits?) and that, plus the constant interruptions from my kids and travel fatigue made this one slightly incomprehensible.

The first 30 minutes of the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Too much going on. I couldn't handle it on a small screen in a cramped space.

Most of the 1996 Romeo + Juliet. I looooooooooved this movie as a teenager, but I haven't seen it since. Still like it.

With my increasingly waning attention span, I turned to TV and watched the first episode of Elementary. It was better than I expected. Jonny Lee Miller (aka Edmund from Mansfield Park) is a gem.

I was about to start the 1972 version of The Poseidon Adventure but I stopped myself because therein lies madness.

I'm still getting used to the time zone so I'm not getting enough eating of favorite American delicacies in. I know you're all excited to hear MORE of my thoughts on food since I don't blog about it enough. Yeah, that's it.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Summer in Sharjah: Classic Cars Museum

I do not know, but I have to believe that the existence of the Sharjah Classic Cars Museum is because of the interest and patronage of one of the sheikhs. It has a fantastic collection of old cars and I just can't imagine why else it would exist, unless someone with the necessary money and influence made a point of seeing it established.

We visited the Sharjah Classic Cars Museum last week. Total entry price for our family (two adults, two kids): 10 dhs.

Essentially, the museum is a large room full of cars. There is a loose chronological order to the displayed cars, but really you could roam around the exhibits at will. The only interpretive materials are placards for each car that display the make and model, year, maximum speed, and a short blurb about the car's history (sometimes). You are allowed to get very close to most of the cars, but they do ask that you don't touch them.

 Here is a view of the general splendor.

 This was my favorite car - a Rolls Royce.

Here's an example of the interpretive placards for each car.

The girls enjoyed this museum more than I thought they would. Magdalena loved finding out the maximum speed of each car and noticing how it increased as time went on. Miriam liked figuring out how old the cars were, and relating it to people we knew. Sorry, Grandmas and Grandpas, a lot of old cars were put into context by being the same age as you!

I found this museum interesting even though I am not a big fan of automotive history. Someone with a real interest in cars could probably spend a very long time there on a visit. As it was, we were in and out of there within an hour. A great classic cars museum is not something I'd think to look for in Sharjah, but it is definitely worth a visit!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Inside a fever

Do you remember how it felt to have a fever as a kid? The freaky dreams and the almost-hallucinations and that weird hot-but-cold feeling? I remember lying on my mom's bed when I was sick with fever as a kid and a recurring feverish thing that happened was I always thought I could see a big red eye waiting for me inside her walk-in closet. I still remember what that felt like.

I got a sneak peak at what it feels like for Miriam to have a fever a few weeks ago when she, well, had a fever. She stayed home from church one Friday and while Jeremy dozed, she took pen to paper and wrote down a LOT of stuff. Nine pages of drawings and writings, all feverish. Including this gem [transcript follows]:

"You say 'um' when you are not prepared to speak. When you are nervous you move around. If someone can tell that you need to go potty, you also move around. Let's say that for Christmas I got two (you will need this word later) coloring pages and Majd only got one. She would want 2 too! So she says: I want two too! Or I want a tootoo! (She means she also wants two.)"


Yeah, that's about what a fever is like.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Summer in Sharjah: Aquarium & Maritime Museum

On Wednesday, we continued our tour of Sharjah's indoor cultural attractions with a visit to the Aquarium and, as it turned out, the Maritime Museum.

Sharjah Aquarium
The Sharjah Aquarium probably loses at least some potential visitors to the more glamorous (and accessible) Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo at the Dubai Mall. However, the Sharjah Aquarium is well worth a visit for two reasons. First, the Sharjah version provides a more pleasant visiting experience - it is less crowded with fewer exhibits, and what is on display is more suited to children. They can see and reach everything, and sometimes kids just want to see a lot of cool fish without having to sift through massive amounts of interpretive material. Second, the admission price to the Sharjah Aquarium is much cheaper! The two girls and I visited with a friend and her two kids. Total admission for all six of us was 50dhs ($13.60). The clerk gave us the family ticket rate, which was nice. (We found out later that the same ticket would get us into the Maritime Museum across the way, too.)

The layout of the aquarium is very simple. There seems to be one main tank filled with lots of fish (kind of like the one in Dubai), but you access it in different ways throughout your visit. Sometimes you are looking down on it from an upper viewing platform. Other times you are walking through tunnels underneath it. The main tank is complemented by smaller, specialty tanks that show fish in a certain environment, or different varieties of fish.

At the Sharjah Aquarium, you basically just walk through and look at all the fish. Our kids enjoyed it so much that we went through twice.

When we heard that the same ticket would get us into the Maritime Museum, we walked across the plaza for a visit.

This museum is really well done. Most of it was a little advanced for our kids, but they at least appreciated it on a "here is a room filled with lots of boats and anchors and ropes and sails and pearls" level. To the extent that I was able to spend time reading about the exhibits, I enjoyed learning more about the maritime heritage of the UAE. Just like the aquarium, the Maritime Museum is not too big and its exhibits are not too complicated. It's just one big room full of interesting things to look at, including some really old boats and pearl diving equipment.

Sharjah is known as the most cultural emirate, and so there are lots of museums here that celebrate Emirati heritage. I have been to ten of them now (Heritage Museum, School Museum, Bait al-Naboodah, Art Museum, Islamic Civilization Museum, Aquarium, Discovery Centre, Science Museum, Old Cars Museum, and Maritime Museum) and I have been impressed with every single one of them. Sharjah knows how to do museums well, and they are so cheap to visit!

A post on the Sharjah Old Cars Museum (I've also seen it called the Classic Cars Museum) is coming soon.

Friday, July 12, 2013

July 12th, outsourced

When we went to see Les Miserables in January, at least one scene was noticeably cut. It was interesting to read this article and find out more about why certain things get cut and not others. [HT Ashi]

This is one of those "I saw this in a million places" links...but you really should watch it. It's that clever. How General Authorities Eat Their Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. [I'm giving the HT to my mom since even after seeing it everywhere, I didn't watch it until she sent it to me.]

An airline safety interpreted by Bear Grylls. [HT Suzanne]

Here's an insight into the remittance system of work that is so prevalent here in the UAE.

I'm sorry, but the story of this firefighter (who was one of 19 who died in Yarnell) and his wife is just uplifting and heartbreaking all at once.

Genetics are awesome. [HT someone...can't remember who, sorry!]

25 things Mormon girls love. I understand a lot of these, but not all - mustaches on sticks? Cupcakes? Really? [HT Scotty]

These may or may not be funny to you. I'm just throwing them out there: Ramadan Memes. [HT Andrew]

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Ramadan and HOT

Look, I get that we live in the Gulf and all, but it was DANG HOT on Tuesday. I left the house at noon to walk to my office (a 7-minute walk) and I immediately felt very weird, kind of like my face was burning off. Later, I checked the temperature and found out it was 48C (118.5F). That explains it! We went swimming that evening and I could not stop saying, to myself and out loud to Jeremy, "oh my gosh it is so hot." It was seriously so hot. The end.

We're on day 2 of Ramadan here in the UAE. Other countries are already on day 3. It depends on which method the country's astronomers use to determine the birth of the new moon. Here in the UAE, they actually have to see the new moon in order to declare the start of Ramadan. Some countries use calculations instead. I realize that sounds very strange - you can read a more in-depth explanation here. Last week, there was a tentative announcement that Ramadan would start on 10 July, but a small chance that it would begin on 9 July (it ended up being 10 July).

So, yeah, we're on day 2. I'm not teaching during summer term, but can you imagine how hard it would be to teach a room full of teenagers and young adults who stayed up all night at food-based gatherings with family and friends and haven't had anything to eat or drink since sunrise? They will be taking summer term finals in the same conditions. Rough.

We went to Matajer (our local shopping center) today and all the food outlets were closed. They will open up after sunset and do plenty of business well into the night. The stores seem eerily quiet since listening to loud music (or muzak, I guess) is not allowed during Ramadan. Instead, many stores pipe Koranic recitations through the speakers.

The girls waited outside yesterday evening to try to hear the cannon boom go off at 7.12pm. The boom signals the end of the period of fasting. Some nights you can hear it better than others. You can also just listen for the Maghrib call to prayer, which is audible from a mosque (or two or three or four) near you.

One final piece of Ramadan news: we love dates all of a sudden. I've never cared for them, not in all my years of living in the Middle East where they are cheap and plentiful and a common offering when you visit someone's home. Last week, we finally gave in to the huge displays of dates on sale for Ramadan and took home a small box of them. You guys, they are SO good. Better than candy. Even 4-year-old Magdalena was eating them and saying, "I just love dates!" That is not normal...but I'll take it.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

The Great Brain and America

Miriam took a break from Harry Potter after finishing book 3. Now she's reading The Great Brain series. I read the first chapter aloud to her and Magdalena so I could explain more about the setting (southern Utah) and the time period (the 1890s) and some of the difficult vocabulary (plumb loco, swindle, whip any kid in town, lick someone in a fight, Indians, etc.).

 In 2013, we are doubly removed from the events of the book - they took place in 1896, which is long ago, and the book itself was published back in 1967. As a result, you have to read the book with two thinking caps on: interpreting the events that took place over 100 years ago and how that fits in with your life experience now; and interpreting those same events through their 1967 interpretation. That makes for tough reading for a 7-year-old, which is partly why I got her started on the first chapter.

Which, by the way, is about the time the author's dad installed the first indoor water closet Adenville had ever seen, and what a spectacle it became. As we read, I found myself pausing almost every paragraph to explain to the girls more about the context for this story. I was enchanted by how much this book was teaching my kids about America, and life in the olden days in general. We talked about what they used before water closets, and why people were concerned that the water closet would stink up the house, and how much a penny used to be worth (that's what The Great Brain charged for admission to see the WC), and the code of honor that existed among small children in those days. This involved such concepts as crybaby, tattletale, mamma's boy, and other gems. I also liked showing them how hard kids worked in those days, and how hard they played.

Also during the course of chapter one, we took a little field trip together to the bathroom. I took the lid off the tank and showed the girls how the flushing mechanism worked. We compared what we could see in our bathroom in 2013 with what the author described in the book about the first indoor water closet in 1896. They were riveted.

A later chapter in The Great Brain told the story of how the author and his Great Brain brother made a "bona fide American boy" out of Basil, a recent Greek immigrant to their town. There's a scene in that chapter where some of the kids in town play cowboys and Indians, with Basil as the unwitting cowboy who gets tied to a tree by the Indians. Then they dance around him and prepare a fire in which it appears they are about to burn him alive. Understandably, Basil, who doesn't speak hardly a lick of English, is terrified by these strange American boys and their strange American games. Wow, did that ever provide tons of discussion fodder for the girls and me. We talked about how it feels to move to a foreign country, and how it takes time to understand the language and how things work and the way kids play. We talked about times when they've felt a little like Basil did, struggling to adapt to a new home in a new country. We also talked about how we can help each other acclimate, or help others who have just moved here. Of course, they were also intrigued by what a "bona fide American boy" consisted of in 1896.

Who knew The Great Brain could teach us so much about our American heritage, and so much about our lives here? In some ways, I feel like the things my kids are learning through these books are the things I picked up through cultural osmosis during my own childhood. I'm glad to have an entertaining way to teach them more about America, since they won't be getting any of that at school here.

Plus, seriously, these books are so great. If you or your kids haven't read them, give them a try.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Summer in Sharjah: Science Museum

Now that school is out and the semester is over and the girls are both over the weird fever-illness that's been going around, I've made a point of taking them to different indoor activities in Sharjah. These are hard to get to during the school/work year because of odd opening hours or traffic concerns, but with our schedules wide open these days, it's the perfect time to get reacquainted with what Sharjah has to offer.

Our first stop was the Sharjah Science Museum. Whether it's OMSI (Oregon) or the Children's Museum (Amman, Tucson, Portland) or the Sciencenter (Ithaca), everywhere does their science museums a little differently. The Sharjah Science Museum charges children (ages 4+) 5 dhs (about $1.30) and adults 10 dhs ($2.60) for admission. For that price, they could have two exhibits consisting of wooden blocks and an Etch-a-Sketch and it would pretty much already be worth the money.

But no! There is so much to see in the Science Museum, and they change it up every once in a while. There is a good spread of hands-on, interactive activities and they are varied enough in complexity that both my kids enjoy their time there. They have a real human brain preserved in fluid, and put-together-take-apart models of the human digestive system (including a hint of bum crack on the back which amused my children to no end), lots of neat x-rays to look at, optical illusions, a planetarium, fun exercises to test your audio/visual reaction speeds, a voice pitch-changer, a mini hot air balloon on a track, and a pendulum that leaves a sand trail. There is also a dedicated play area for children under the age of 4 stocked with play kitchens, books, and scoot-along toys.

On this most recent visit, they held a science demonstration in the auditorium. The topic was: liquid nitrogen. A scientist (? - I suppose he could have just been a random employee. But he WAS wearing a white jacket) talked about the properties of liquid nitrogen and then showed us what happened when he dipped different objects into a vat of it (rubber ball, rubber band, metal, a flower, a balloon, etc.). It was pretty cool. I think my public safety calibration is out of whack, though, because at one point during the demonstration, the scientist guy walked around the auditorium holding a beaker of liquid nitrogen for us all to feel the outside of (it was very cold). Part of me thought that was so cool to get to see/touch...and the other part of me was terrified that he would trip and spill the open beaker of liquid nitrogen all over some unfortunate kid.

Fortunately, we had a fantastic visit with no untoward incidents involving liquid nitrogen. Sharjah really does have great museums and it's nice to have a chance to visit them during these hot summer days.

Friday, July 05, 2013

July 5th, outsourced

I'm not the only one who has constructed a life for misdirected emails: The life of [HT Andrew]

The decline and fall of the English major (and other subjects in the humanities).

Seriously, do NOT save seats at church. [HT Scotty]

Giving birth the American way (i.e., paying more money for it than anywhere else in the world).

Please please please somebody tell me this article that defends texting and driving is fake. Please. [HT Eric D. Snider]

31 signs you're a third culture kid.

Thanks, Andrew, for reminding me of my favorite 4th of July-related article from The Onion: New study finds 85% of Americans don't know all the dance moves to the national anthem.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Independence Day trifle

While I was grocery shopping on Monday, I noticed that the store had strawberries AND blueberries, both for an acceptable price, both apparently free of mold and other signs of squishiness. This is something that doesn't happen very often. So I bought both, with the intention of making the trifle recipe here, with a few ingredient modifications. The occasion? The Fourth of July, of course!

The thing is, fruit here goes bad very quickly, so we ended up making our red/white/blue trifles on July 2nd instead of July 4th. It's just how it had to be, because there are very few food-related things sadder than spending $5 on a piddly amount of blueberries and having them spoil on you 24 hours later.

To make our trifles more authentic, we invited over Magdalena's British BFF. It was only later that I realized that inviting her to participate in our trifle-making could be seen as being mildly subversive on my part, considering what we are celebrating on Independence Day. But I'm pretty sure they were too excited about fruit + cream + Oreos to notice.

Turns out, trifle doesn't look so pretty when kids assemble it. But that's ok. In our hearts, we knew it was red, white, and blue, even if the layers were indistinguishable in the end.

Happy Fourth of July!

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Getting ready for Ramadan

Ramadan starts next week. The grocery stores are setting up their special Ramadan displays, with great sales on apricot leather, dates, and nuts (traditional break-the-fast snacks). They are also stocking up on food in general, because more food is consumed during this month of fasting than other months of the year.

As this article points out, Ramadan is falling during an especially challenging season this year (the month-long holiday shifts back about ten days each year). The days are very long during July and August, which is relevant because the period of fasting is from sunrise to sunset. Furthermore, the temperatures are hot and humidity is high. This is not a big deal for those who work indoors, but there are plenty of outdoor workers (construction, gardening, etc.) who will be suffering a little extra through this Ramadan and for the next few years until it shifts into a more temperate season. Many businesses shorten their employees' working hours, or shift the hours to fall after the period of fasting, to combat this challenge.

Ramadan will also have an effect on those of us who aren't observing it. Eating or drinking in public (including in your car) is against UAE law during the daily period of fasting. Driving will get a little crazier with all the famished, irritable people behind the wheel. Traffic will come to a frenzied peak in the hour or two before iftar (breaking of the fast at sunset, which falls at around 7.15pm for now), and the roads will be empty for an hour or two after that while everyone is busy eating. Restaurants will be closed during the day, except (maybe) for discreet delivery service. These same restaurants will be open until well into the middle of the night and delivery service will sometimes run until 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning.

Something I've been wondering about for a few years is whether Muslim children form seasonal associations with Islamic holidays at all, since said holidays creep slowly through the calendar to fall at different times every year. You know how Christian kids associate Christmas with winter and snow and December and a break from school, etc.? Well, over the course of a Muslim's life, s/he will have experienced all the Islamic holidays during every possible month of the year, so is it possible for seasonal associations to form?

It turns out: yes! My office mate mentioned off-hand a while ago that she associated Ramadan with winter, because that's when it occurred during her most formative years growing up in Kuwait. So the new clothes and gifts she got for Eid at the end of Ramadan were always cold-weather clothes. Now that she's grown up and Ramadan is during the summertime, she said, it's not quite the same. I find this fascinating. And it's good to have my Ramadan-related question answered at last!

Monday, July 01, 2013

Modesty in the Middle East

Soooooooooo much has been written on the topic of "modesty" - that awful word that means different things to different people - and the best of what has been written is more interesting and lucid than anything I could add to the conversation. Therefore, I'm going to try to keep this post to my particular context of being a Westerner and a Mormon living in a very conservative part of the Middle East. For the more interesting and lucid posts I mentioned above, take a look at:

THAT WORD [Bloggity Blog]
Undoing Shoulder and Knee Obsession in Mormon Kids [Feminist Mormon Housewives]
BYU's Honor Code and Hostile Environment Sexual Harassment [By Common Consent]
Men, Sex, and Modesty [By Common Consent]

Recently, something brought this post from two years ago (Too Much Skin) to mind and I wondered if, at this point, I disagree with myself. Or at least the "myself" of two years ago. To sum up in case you don't feel like re-reading, two years ago I wrote about women wearing fantastically inappropriate swimwear to the Atlantis waterpark in Dubai. I briefly resented them for reminding my husband of what key areas of some women's bodies still look like that his own wife's do not, but that wasn't the point. My point was that I fundamentally did not understand the mindset of these women, dressing the way they did in a country like this, where, in Sharjah at least, swimsuits for women are forbidden and shoulders and knees must be covered, by law.

It was - and is - easy for me to get preachy on this topic, in this specific context, because regardless of any law on Sharjah's books, I already dress that way. I already keep my shoulders and knees covered. So it requires more of an effort for me to understand where others are coming from. I have years of experience being hard-core ogled and verbally/sexually harassed in the Middle East, and I have also been groped - once. Those experiences were (and are, to the extent that they still happen) so humiliating and made me feel so powerless that for me, covering up more rather than less has been my best - and sometimes only - recourse.

As I wrote here, however, sometimes, harassers gonna harass.

Once, walking home from the grocery store in Cairo, a man sidled up next to me and said simply - not even bothering to whisper - "Sex?" 
At the time, I was walking briskly with a sense of purpose, avoiding eye contact, and I was dressed in loose jeans and a butt-covering, non-form-fitting shirt with long sleeves. I was doing everything right to avoid being harassed. And it was meaningless. I was powerless. I can never unhear what he said and I can never unfeel the gross insult to my integrity.

So why does it even matter how we dress, if we can do everything right and still be subjected to treatment like what happened to me in Cairo? I don't know. But it does make it easier to err on the side of saying "one-piece swimsuits [or knee-length shorts, or shirts with sleeves, or whatever] for all!" and feel good about it. But I don't, anymore. For me, dressing conservatively (is that a better word than "modest"?) will probably always be what I do, because of religious commitments I've made and because of my own life experiences. However, here are some other reasons I dress the way I do:

- because my Muslim friends and neighbors and professors and co-workers respect me more when I do
- because I don't want to stand in front of my students feeling like they're paying more attention to my body than my message
- because this is an extremely conservative country and it's just the respectful thing to do
- because to some extent, it cuts down on casual, passer-by sexual harassment
- because it's the law
- because it can be refreshing to break the stereotype that all Western women dress a certain way
- because I have ugly knees anyway
- because I wouldn't look good in a bikini anyway

Some of those reasons are personal. Some of them are meant to shape what others think of me. Some I probably shouldn't care about. Some are more defensible than others. Some are completely ridiculous. But that's the paradigm I'm operating in. And it's my own. I can't presume to thrust it upon others the same way I can't presume that everyone has had the same life experiences as I have.

OK, so do I disagree with myself from two years ago, or not? Actually, not really. I absolutely believe that ideas of modesty are cultural constructs and can differ, and that there is nothing inherently evil in knees and shoulders, and that those who are not Muslim (or not Mormon) have no obligation to adhere to any dress code that approaches the level of a serious religious commitment, and that yes, in theory, a woman should be able to walk into a room in a see-through dress and be taken seriously for her thoughts and ideas rather than have them ignored in favor of looking at her body. BUT. In conservative societies such as the one in which I currently live, I believe in being respectful of the host culture. In other words, I believe it's more about respect than about values or skin or repression or submission or religion.

Also, for better or worse, dressing modestly in the Middle East is something that has been deeply ingrained in me. A few months ago at a park in Dubai on a beautiful, warm, winter day, a Western friend of mine asked me why I was wearing jeans instead of shorts. I was caught off guard and said something about my ugly knees, mentioned above. But the truth is, I wouldn't dream of wearing shorts out and about in the UAE. That's just me. If I had worn shorts or even a tame sleeveless top (for whatever reason) when we lived in Damascus, people would have thought I was a prostitute. And maybe some women would be fine walking around, all confident in their personal knowledge that they are not, in fact, prostitutes, and genuinely not caring that everyone around them believed they were. But I am not one of those women. Heck, even as modestly as I did dress in Damascus, people still sometimes took me for a prostitute, just because I was Western and that's the reputation we have (which may be related to the way Westerners dress, which creates a vicious circle that breaks my brain if I think too much about it). So I don't wear shorts around town here because I didn't wear them in Egypt and I didn't wear them in Jordan and I didn't wear them in Syria. Because that's just the way I roll. And that doesn't necessarily mean that I think that's the way YOU should roll if you live here. But if you do, maybe you're doing it out of respect for the host culture, in which case, SOLIDARITY.

Two peripheral topics to this post that I'd like to bring up sometime: Muslim issues with modesty, and Muslim attitudes toward the modesty of children. Both very interesting things. Both for another time.


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