Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Wordless Wednesday #3

The rain in Bahrain falls mainly... everywhere!  The first time I've ever used one of these here!
The Jenny Evolution

Five Reasons to Revist a Country You've Left

Until this weekend, I've never revisited a country that I've left (excepting the good ol' USA, of course).  The opportunity, or the funding, has never really presented itself.  A couple of years ago, we got a save-the-date to a destination wedding in the DR- I got excited.  But then... they got married somewhere else... or something, because we weren't ever actually invited to the wedding.  But that is another story for another day.  Okay, that really was the story.  There is no more story.  I lied.

The point is, I didn't go to the DR and I haven't been back to China, Kuwait, or Guatemala... until NOW.  So I present to you:

Five Reasons You Should Go Back to a Country You've Left (in no particular order):

1.  Old friends.  This weekend I got to catch up with two of my friends from my KLT days (Kuwait Little Theatre... or That Which Shall Not Be Named... and that is a story).  It was only for an all-too-short hour but it was so wonderful to catch up with people I haven't seen in seven (WHA...?!) years.  And when you meet up with friends like that, friends you haven't seen in so long and have not really had much communication with except through Facebook likes and comments, you worry Will we have anything to talk about?  What if we sit awkwardly, drinking coffee, trying desperately to think of something to say... what if we have nothing to say after all this time?

But we did.  We talked about my kids, our careers, the problems with our schools and theatres and how teaching drama and directing theatre in a Muslim is really, really challenging.  And we laughed and we joked and we caught up as best we could in such a short time, drinking only coffee, and I was left with a smile on my face for the rest of the day.

2.   New friends.  I was going to Kuwait to do a Color Run with L but, in true Kuwaiti fashion, it got cancelled after I had already bought my ticket so... I went anyway.  And I got to catch up with a few new friends who I've met because of L.  It's amazing how the traveling world, especially the international world, brings people together.  You can be friends just because you do the same thing, and a lot of the time, it's enough. 

It's also really helpful if new friends are hysterical, a little sassy and sarcastic, and just fun to be around. 

3. Revisiting the old stomping grounds.  I could not find my apartment building.  There- I've said it.  L and I drove down to Mangaf where I lived for three years and it was so different, so built up, that I couldn't even find where I lived.  Of course, I recognized some big landmarks- the mall, the Hilton, the McDonalds.  I found the building where we used to buy our DVD's, which also had a six-lane bowling alley in the bottom.  I saw the Applebee's where we ate WAY too many dinners.  We went to the mall that was new when I was there- it was a little more run down but still just as crowded and just as sparkly.  It was fun to share memories with someone new.  It was amazing to see how changed it all was.  

4. Remembering why you loved it.  Going back to Kuwait brought back all those memories of meeting the Rugby Star, being in various KLT productions, going to rugby matches, watching the world go by from our Mangaf apartments.  I remembered sand storms and having the bakala deliver ice to parties.  There were sunny days spent at the Hilton pool and cool evenings hanging out at the villas after giving guitar lessons.  Even though I didn't find my apartments, it brought me back to a time when we used to BBQ down by the pool and the RS's favorite weekend pastime- putting a chair in the shallow end of the pool and reading his book in the water. 

5. Remembering why you left.  Truthfully, I wasn't really ready to leave Kuwait when we did.  I really loved my job and my students and the colleagues I was closest to weren't leaving yet.  The Rugby Star was ready to go- he needed to be able to watch sports at a pub and play on grass again.  The funny thing is, once you've decided to go, you do start to notice all the terrible things about the country you're in and by the time you actually get on the plane, you're pretty okay with leaving.  I have glamorized Kuwait in my mind because it was such a happy place.  But, after being there for a weekend, I do remember why it's okay that I moved on.

It was a good weekend with good friends and I'm really happy I got to go.  I don't know if I need to go back again.  But now it makes me more curious to revisit the DR and Shanghai (maybe- for the massages anyway) and, in a couple of years, good ol' Guate.

How do you feel going back to a place that used to be 'home'?

Monday, March 17, 2014

My 30 Most Awesome Life Moments

There have been a lot of awesome life moments for me since I moved overseas... but there were also a lot of awesome moments before I moved.  Today is a bit of a reflection on all things awesome in my life.

So here they are, in no particular order-   

My 30 Most Awesome Life Moments

1. Marrying the Rugby Star
2. Finding out I was pregnant with the Ladybug
3. Having the Ladybug
4. Finding out I was pregnant with Sprout
5. Having Sprout
6. The day Shannon moved into the neighborhood
This was a pretty awesome moment!
7. The day Cuthin brought Jenny home
8. When Sissy used to come sleep in my room
9. The night Sissy stayed up all night with a newborn Ladybug so we could sleep
10. The day I met Cindy in church
11. The day Carol wanted to borrow my blue blue-jean shorts from Goody's
12. While I don't remember the day I met Marissa, pretty much Marissa is an awesome life moment
13. Watching Cuthin and Jenny get married (and almost not singing in the wedding)
14. The day the Rugby Star proposed 
15. Meeting Rachel in the hall
16. Getting cast in Picnic
17. Singing "Fever" to Jim at the Valentine's Cabaret
18. Finding the March 2011 Bump group
19. Getting hired in the DR (because it started this adventure)
20. Getting hired in Kuwait to teach MS/HS Choir (because it was exactly what I wanted to be doing)
21. EMAC- all the festivals
22. Getting hired in Shanghai (because I met Ken and it makes for an amazingly dramatic story)
23. Getting hired in Guatemala (because of Lindsey, Andrea, Darryl)
24. Stepping off the plane every summer
25. Choosing to have a roommate in the DR over living alone
26. Joining AGD
27. Family reunions at Aunt Beverly's
28. Yearly trips to Oklahoma
29. Singing karaoke after work at the bar with the funny name
30. Brenau- not so much the acceptance part because I didn't want to go, but then I did

There have been so many other awesome moments in my life.  This list could really go on and on.  Doing this list has put me in a ridiculously good mood.  It's a good idea to think about those awesome moments every now and again.

What is your most awesome life moment?  Top five?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Reason I Left

The Move to America

Today's post is the 2nd in an Expat Link-up series by Molly over at The Move to America.  The topic today is ‘The Reason I Left’ – share why you became an expat. What made you choose a particular place or the traveling lifestyle? Has it been what you expected? What did you consider/wish you had considered before you moved? End with three tips that may help people figure out if a big move is for them.

If you've read any of my posts from the Expat Blog Challenge led by Cristin at In an Opal Hearted Country you know why I left.  If you haven't read those other posts, well, you should.  But if you don't have the time, here's a brief recap.

I left because:

1. Kimi made me.
2. I couldn't say no.
3. I really, really had to.

Since I feel like I've covered the why a few times, let's talk about the since it happened.  Was it what I expected?  No.  I had no idea what to expect.  I didn't know the international teaching world existed.  Like a lot of people, I thought 'teaching overseas' meant teaching English in China (which I almost, almost did once).  That's all.  I had no idea that there was a network of international schools covering this great planet.  I couldn't fathom that Americans, Canadians, Australians, South Africans, Kiwis, Chinese, Japanese, Mexicans and more could gather at one school to teach.  And it was impossible to believe that all these people were connected before they met, just because of what they do.

I was also shocked to say the least at the behavior of my fellow teachers.  When I first left home, I went to the DR, along with a whole pack of young, single, rather attractive men and women.  Who liked to surf.  And party.  I will leave it up to your imagination what shenanigans they got up to, but I will say that it changed my views on how my high school history teacher might have been spending his weekends.

Why did I choose to live where I'm living?  The thing about this lifestyle is that, at least for the Rugby Star and me, we don't have a lot of choice in where we go next.  Being a specialist couple, we're not really top of the list for schools so when we recruit, we might have a pick of three places, tops.  And usually only one of those is really desirable... sometimes, not even that (how I ended up in Shanghai).  Once, we literally had nothing.  We went to a job fair, had one interview, and didn't get the job.   We flew back to China with nothing.  Nothing.

Thank the Lord for Facebook. 

What did consider or wish I had considered before I left... nothing really.  I think that if I had thought about it too much more, I might've found a way to chicken out.  This lifestyle has revealed so much to me, about myself and the world.  I would have been an idiot to miss out.

Three Tips- Is Moving Overseas for You?

1. Consider your relationship with your family.  My family often makes me feel guilty for not being home, but I know that deep down, they're proud of me for what I'm doing and who I've become.  Talk to your family- moms and dads, grandparents, siblings- before making a big decision like this.  Help them to understand why you're doing it and what you want out of making a big move like this.  You don't need their permission, but the support is a big plus.

2.  Consider why you want to move overseas.  Are you looking for an adventure for a few years?  Are you hoping to make a career in another country?  Are you escaping the law?  Why exactly are you leaving and what do you hope to accomplish?  Know this before you leave.  It may help you decide where to go.

3.   Consider how brave you are.  If you want an adventure but you're shy or intimidated by new places and faces, consider moving somewhere that will not present you too many challenges to start.  Perhaps a country where your native language is primarily spoken or at least spoken.  Perhaps a city you've visited before or a place where you might have extended family or friends nearby.  Culture shock is a real thing and if you aren't big on big change, start little.  If you're up for anything, heck, pack a bag and move to the Amazon.  Just consider how much change you can handle at one time. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Wordless Wednesday

I did not edit this photo.  Notice the sky is the same color as the sand on the ground. 
Welcome to a sandstorm in Bahrain.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Some Really Good Advice...

The recruiting process for international teachers is hard.  It's a ridiculously long, stressful process that reminds me a lot of Rush (Recruitment) in a sorority.  Will they like me?  Is this school cool?  Will everyone think I'm awesome if I go here?  Why is no one else applying here?  What do they know that I don't?  Can I really live with all these people, day in and day out?

When the Rugby Star and I started recruiting during our third year in Guatemala, we had no idea where we wanted to go but we knew one thing- we needed more money.  Guatemala was beautiful and we made some wonderful friends there.  The campus was sprawling and green, our principal was a dream to work for, the old city made for a great day trip and the mountains and rivers calmed the soul.  But we were broke.  So we made the decision it was time to leave and find a job where we could save money, plan for the future a bit more and not have to count every penny.

We liked the Middle East- it's where we met, we had fond memories.  You make good money.  We decided to put our efforts into getting a job back in the ol' sandbox.

A school in India started poking its' nose around our profiles and resumes.  We got a request for an initial interview.  We researched and talked and thought about it and talked some more.  We had the interview; they wanted another one.  We had another one; they wanted another one.  By the third interview, it was feeling pretty promising.  We had stopped putting out feelers for other schools, had stopped sending our resumes out.  After the fourth interview, I went out and bought the Lonely Planet guide to India.  We had a fifth and then a sixth interview.  The director wanted us to fly to Portland for an interview over Christmas break.  We considered it.  But it was really short notice and the Rugby Star was going to his first NFL game with my dad...

The only problem with all of this- I did not want to move to India.  I still have no desire to live in 
Well, if Oprah went...
India.  From everything we read, from everyone we talked to, it sounded like all of the things I hated about Shanghai, magnified.  People, pollution, noise, traffic, heat, humidity.  The school sounded wonderful; the director told us that people spent weekends at 5-star, all-inclusive resorts to escape the city.  That was promising, but I was also tired of living places where you felt like you couldn't relax unless you left.

He said that the city wasn't incredibly child-friendly.  There weren't really parks or places to go for walks.  Well, I wanted to go for walks.  We couldn't really walk in Guatemala because it wasn't safe.  I wanted a family-friendly place to live. 

Basically, I didn't want to live in India and I knew that.   And I kept saying that to the Rugby Star (who did want to go to India- he thought it would be a great adventure and the school did sound unbelievably amazing).  But the whole process of recruiting is so stressful that you worry- if I turn this job down, will I get another?  What if this is my only chance?

During each interview we had, the director kept stressing the hard parts of living in India.  And at the end of every interview he gave me the best advice I've ever received, whether in recruiting or life in general- Just Think About It.  He kept telling us to really think about it- could we handle living in the place he was describing?  The Rugby Star assured him that we could... but I think he might've sensed my hesitation. 

In the end, we didn't get the job.  He said he wouldn't hire anyone until he met them face-to-face.  We were scheduled to meet him at the recruiting fair we were attending in February but he hired someone at an earlier fair.  Fine by me.  Because I had thought about it.  I'm pretty sure I would not have liked living in India.  Maybe one day I'll visit but it's not a top travel priority.

My advice to those moving overseas (or making any big decisions):

Just Think About It.  Go with your gut.  You know what you can and can't handle.  If it doesn't feel right, it probably isn't.  Don't be afraid to say no- it just means something better is waiting out there for you!

The Time I Didn't Take My Visa to Kuwait

After being hired to go teach in the Dominican Republic, I spent the month I had left in the States preparing for my certification exam, telling everyone I was moving, crying about moving, counting down the days until I moved, and having about six million going-away parties (which was awesome).  The one thing I don't remember having to worry too much about was paperwork.  Except for quickly getting one of those pesky but necessary passports everyone was always going on about.

After 2 1/2 years in the sunny Caribbean, I got hired in the sunny desert.  Preparing to move to Kuwait involved a lot more steps and processes and one of those was getting a visa before I left American soil.  I had to send my much-loved passport off to the Kuwaiti Embassy in Washington, D.C..  This experience in itself was nerve-wracking; after only a few years overseas, I already felt completely lost without my passport in my hands.  I was anxious until the moment I got it back, which was only about two weeks later, if memory serves.  I opened the envelop, hugged took out my passport and saw the big sticker on one of the pages in the middle, disregarded the letter written all in Arabic and threw the envelop under the seat of my car.

Fast forward a month later.  After an exhausting journey traveling from Atlanta to Frankfurt, a seven hour layover in an airport with hardly anything to do and only one restaurant that wasn't McDonald's and then another six hours from Frankfurt to Kuwait, I arrived.  And as we approached customs, someone said, "Everyone get your visas ready."  I smiled and gripped my passport tightly.  But my smile quickly faded as I realized everyone else was holding their passports AND a piece of paper written all in Arabic.

 "What is that?" I nervously asked the guy next to me, a guy who was so totally self-assured in what he was doing that I felt certain he was a returning teacher. 

"That's your visa," Confident Guy replied.

"I don't have one of those," I stammered, panic rising in my chest.

"It came with your passport," he said, eying me suspiciously,  checking to see if he could gauge my level of stupid from the look on my face.

"It's under the seat of my car," I whispered.

Confident Guy, who I later learned WAS a newbie but was also a TCK (Third Culture Kid) took control then and there.  He went up to the customs agent with me.

Let me pause to tell you that Confident Guy was at least a foot and then some taller than me and had a good 70lbs on me.  He was big and loud and had a beard.  He reminded me of a young Santa Claus with his booming voice and cheerful smile.  He immediately inspired confidence- hence the name- camaraderie, and trust.  You believed what he was saying.

"Excuse me, good sir.  This young lady has left her visa in her luggage.  Can we go through and get it and then bring it back over?" he asked of the customs agent.


"I will personally walk over with her and help her find it," he tried again, leaning on the counter.


"You can come, too."


"But it's not in my suitcase," I whispered as we made our way to the luggage belt.

"No worries," he said, my first time hearing that phrase.  "I've got this."
This may or may not be Confident Guy. 
I'm not telling one way or the other.
Also, I don't know who's leg that is...

After my luggage came out, on Confident Guy's instruction, I rifled through my clothes and books, adding a hint of panic as I went along, unable to find the visa that I already knew wasn't there.  Finally, after fifteen minutes of looking and the rest of our group safely on the other side of the s-ray machines, Confident Guy steps in again.

"Listen buddy, we're exhausted and she can't find it.  Is it okay if we just bring it back tomorrow?  After she's had a chance to unpack and get some rest?  It's been a long day, you know?"  He smiled, gave the guy a little eyebrow wriggle and stuck out his hand.  "I'll bring her back tomorrow."

And the guy said yes.  Confident Guy got me into the country, rather illegally, using only his charm and good-nature.

Take a minute to process that- I was let into a country WITHOUT A VISA- people go to jail for trying that nonsense.  And all because of my Confident Friend.

I have since taken every piece of paper I've ever received when moving to a new country, envelops included... because you just never know.  

Have you ever done anything as ridiculous as not taking a visa to a foreign country?  Tell me about it!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

My Love/Hate Relationship with 'The Help'

Since I've moved overseas, I've had a maid.  When I was being 'sold' on moving to the Dominican Republic, Kimi at Las Picharditas informed me that it was the done thing to have someone come and clean your house for you.  And it was cheap.  And they would do a really, really good job.  Sometimes, you could find a maid who liked to cook and then you would have dinner waiting for you when you came home.  Um.  Okay.  Sounds great.  Where do I sign up for that?

When we got the fur-babies in Kuwait, we needed someone to come and walk them during the day and Vivien appeared.  She was magical with the dogs but we lived in a teeny-tiny apartment and didn't really need someone to clean everyday.  So she cleaned three days a week (dog hair) but did the dishes and made the bed every day.  It was only the weekends that we were aware of exactly how much the dogs shed and how lazy and sloth-like we had become in caring for our own home.

In Guatemala, we got our first NANNY.  Obviously we needed one as the Ladybug, at two months old, was hardly capable of taking care of herself while we were at school, advanced though she is.  The dogs were also no help in that area as neither had learned to cook and making bottles was difficult without opposable thumbs.  Andrea came every day at 7am and left promptly at 3:30pm.  She would babysit on a weekend on the rare occasion that we both wanted to go out and I was even brave enough to leave her for an overnight trip once for our farewell weekend.

It was hard to leave the Ladybug everyday but I knew she was safe in Andrea's capable hands.

Here in Bahrain, you not only have a maid, but a live-in maid/nanny is the thing to do.  As far as I know, all houses are built with maid's quarters- ours is on the third floor alongside the washer/dryer.  I wasn't sure how I felt about having a live-in so the first nanny we hired came over each day, just like Andrea.  It was okay at first, though truthfully, she and I never really clicked.  She clearly preferred the Sprout (a teeny-tiny thing) to the Ladybug and was happy to sit holding the Sprout, watching the Food Network while the Ladybug, at 18 months old, tried to amuse herself.

We let her go.

And we hired Luz.  And Luz wanted to live at our house.  So we said okay.  Luz is amazing- she takes care of my kids, feeds my dogs, does my laundry and keeps my house clean.  I can ask her to cook dinner if I know we're going to be late and if the Rugby Star and I both have something to do one night or we want to go out, she's there to babysit.  She clearly adores my kids (probably the Sprout a little more than the Ladybug if I'm being honest, but the Ladybug is a little sassier, so...) and they like her.  She knows a lot of other nannies in the neighborhood and will take the kids out the park in the afternoons to play and burn off some energy.  At night, when we take the girls up for a bath, she sneaks downstairs and cleans up after dinner so that when we're done getting those pickles in bed, we're done for the night.  It's pretty awesome.

The title of this post is My Love/Hate Relationship... and you might be asking, "What in God's name is there to hate?!"  And the truth is, there's only one thing.  And that is simply that I want to be doing the things she's doing with my kids.  Sometimes, depending on when I'm getting home, they'll just be heading out to the park.  I want to grab them both and take them back inside with me or go to the park with them.  But dinner needs to be made.  And they need to socialize.  I could ask Luz to make dinner but, unless she's made it before, it takes much longer to explain everything than if I just do it myself.  Also, I won't lie- it's nice to be alone in the house sometimes.

But that makes me feel guilty.

If she wasn't there, I wouldn't have the choice of dinner or playground- it would clearly be one or the other.  But this is the way it's done in Bahrain.  there isn't really another option, aside from getting another nanny who doesn't live with us, which would just be bad form at this point.  And I like having the option of going out with the Rugby Star whenever I want or popping over for a grown-up play date now and again.  Having a live-in nanny takes a lot (A LOT) of the stress out of my life.

Part of me doesn't mind letting someone else (besides just me and the Rugby Star) help me raise my kids... but clearly the bigger part does. 

The Ladybug had her birthday party this weekend.  Fun was had by all.  Minions were involved.  

Everyone has fun at our house... whether they want to or not!

Good try, Sprout!
Not even a little Despicable!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Five Things I Love About My Expat Life

I've found another link-up... and apparently I'm an expat blogger now.

My friend and fellow blogger (and sometimes running buddy when we aren't feeling too lazy) Becky and I were talking a few weeks ago about being an expat and what it means.  We discussed the quote I mentioned way back in our Expat Blog Challenge run by my friend Cristin at In an Opal Hearted Country- friends will listen to you talk about your expat life for a minute before tuning you out- your real friends will listen for two.

We were talking about how it shouldn't be that hard for non-expats to relate to us.  In general, we're doing exactly the same things, day in and day out, that our friends in the States (or wherever home is) are doing.  A typical day for me involves getting up, getting ready for work, walking to school (which admittedly is pretty different from the long commutes some of my friends have), teaching all day, walking home, hitting up the grocery store, playing with my kids, watching some TV and going to bed.  On the weekends, we might go to the rugby club, a birthday party here and there, the zoo, the water park, or just hang around, playing on the trampoline or playing with the neighbors.

Moving to a new country is a little lot like being in a new relationship- it's exciting and wonderful and you can't stop talking about it.  There are butterflies and adventures and 'first times' and you want to photograph everything... at first.  And then, it's just part of life.  Our 'at home' friends think they can't relate anymore because it all sounds so wonderful and so they might stop asking questions.  We also forget that what we're doing is pretty amazing and we get bogged down in the day-to-day of just living.

And then we start complaining.  It's so easy to find a million things that aren't like at home (or my previous country).  There are too many people, not enough people, the island is too small, this city is too big, everything is so expensive, I can't find Doritos, Chinese food doesn't taste like Chinese food, where are the damn black beans, why do I have to drive to a different store and pay $30US for a pound of bacon and DEAR GOD WHY IS IT SO HOT?!?!?

Sometimes it's hard to remember why we do this- why we travel the world, moving every few years, having to learn new languages and customs and rules.  It's too easy to get frustrated and agitated and spend your days longing for Target and reasonably-priced bacon.  So I thought this link-up, led by Amanda at Expat Life with a Double Buggy was a great way to remind myself of all the great things about being an expat.

Expat Life with a Double Buggy

So here's my list of Five Things I Love About My Expat Life:

1. I love the adventure.
Each new country is an adventure- you don't know what you'll find or who you'll meet.  You don't know if you'll love it or hate it or feel sort of indifferent.  When you step off the plane for the first time, you have no idea when you'll be leaving and what memories you'll be taking with you.  It's undeniably exciting.

2. I have changed my views on the world.
There is more to life than my little hometown and I love that I know that now.  I'll never know if I would have been happy enough, content enough if I had stayed home, but I know that I'm really very glad that I didn't.  I have seen so much, done so much and met so many fantastic people who have broadened my scope on life (for all those love-birds out there, read on-I Roam Around, Around, Around). 

3. Airplanes are fun!
I don't know if this comes from the fact that I didn't get on an airplane until I was 17 or not but I love flying!  It's much harder now with the Ladybug and Sprout to pack for and keep track of, but I still like the whole process of traveling.   Airports are exciting, planes are exciting.  Knowing that you're going somewhere, be it back home or to your expat country where people will be happy to see you.  It makes me smile just thinking about it.

4. Vacations can be relaxing.
How can you not love life with that
little face to come home to?
Well, this isn't as true as it used to be, not with a one- and three-year old to amuse... but still, a lot of the pressure is off when we plan vacations.  We can go just to relax.  We get to travel a lot and it's relatively easy and cheap, especially around the Middle East.  This means that sometimes we can take a vacation just to vacate.  We don't have to worry about sight-seeing because we'll probably be back.  We could go spend three days at a hotel in Oman and not leave the hotel.  Or go to Dubai and skip Ski Dubai... this time.

5. It's a Small World After All
The international teaching community is a lot smaller than you think.  It doesn't feel that way when
we're recruiting and battling for jobs, but truthfully, it's a miniscule population of the world... it's just that we're spread out everywhere.  But when you figure out that someone knows someone who knows someone- instant friendships!  Or instant tour-guides.  Or instant places to stay when you visit.  It's an unbelievably wonderful community that you almost have to see to believe.

It's nice to remind myself every now and again why I love the life I'm living.  That's not to say that I forget- it's hard to forget with my two best girls and the Rugby Star smiling at my every day.  But sometimes the frustrations of expat life can get you down.  It's good to take a step back and remember why life is so amazing.

What are five things you love about your life?? 

Where Can I Get Pom-Poms (or Where I Shop)

One of the most fun and often frustrating parts of moving to a new country is figuring out what you can and can't buy... and where to find it.    In the US, we are accustomed to a one-stop shopping experience, especially with the explosion of Super Walmarts and Targets.  What?  I can get groceries, a dress, two pictures frames, a new headlight, a stability ball, a new DVD player, and modge podge all from the same place?  Don't mind if I do!   I'm sure you can also agree that it is easy to find things we didn't know we needed when we step into these palaces of stuff- Omg!  I did not even know they made hummous-scented candles but I totally need one!  And what if, God forbid, Walmart doesn't have the thing you went in for?  Well, then you probably didn't need it that much anyway, because you sure as heck aren't driving to another store- you've already been in Walmart for seven and a half hours, when you just ran out for milk.

The one-stop shop is almost an option here.  We have mega-stores but they are not as convenient as Walmart- one floor is groceries and one floor is household goods and never the two shall meet.  If you go shopping in one, you must pay for your items and then leave them at the counter before going into the upstairs or downstairs part of the same store.   And while the grocery section is pretty good, the household goods section is a bit like K-Mart- kind of cheep and sad.  You are almost guaranteed that they will not have whatever it is you've come for (this week it was no paintbrushes and the trike that I wanted for Ladybug's birthday... it was missing it's pedals... but it was still on the 'showroom' floor... for sale... *side eye*).

Bahrain is a lot like all of the other countries I've lived in where one of the biggest trials is figuring out what food you will have access to at the grocery store.  If you're lucky, you will be able to find all the ingredients you need for whatever you're cooking at Lulu or Gaent.  Except pork.  If you include pork on your list of things to eat, you will have to go to a different store that has a specific section just for pork products.  Many times, however, you'll get four of the five things that you need to make your chicken-a-la-something and, as you go to pick up that last item from the place it usually is, it won't be there (last week, this was cornstarch for me).  So you have to scrap that plan and figure out what you can make with what you have instead. 

I've gotten better at shopping and being prepared for food-related disasters since I first moved to the DR.  Initially I think the shock of what I'd done culture shock was enough that I needed the comfort of food I knew and liked.  So I spent a lot of money buying American brand foods so at least one part of my life still felt like 'home.'  Now, after so many years, it's just part of the adventure of being an expat.  Oh, you want to make Mexican casserole tonight?  Well, sorry- no black beans for you!  Ok, so you'll switch to stuffing meatloaf?  Nope, no stuffing.  Maybe PB&J sandwiches... no peanut butter. 

A man knitting booties in Shanghai
When I lived in Shanghai, I learned to knit.  I learned to knit because Shanghai was completely overwhelming for me and I was not happy in my job, so I spent a lot of time sitting on the couch watching TV.  As time passed, I became restless and unhappy that, after the end of a boring weekend in my apartment, I had completed nothing, done nothing.  Now this didn't spur me to get up and go anywhere- no, I still wanted to sit on the couch, but I wanted to be doing something.  Knitting seemed the obvious answer.  Shanghai was great for knitting.  Old ladies and men sat on street corners just knitting away.  There were little shops filled with gorgeous wools and yarns and, with enough pointing (or my friend M who spoke fluent Mandarin) I could get suggestions for whatever project I was working on.

Since I've started crafting, I've started asking more 'will I be able to get' questions as we prepare to move to a new country.  Yarn, I asked, upon my move to Bahrain.  The answer- a boisterous laugh.  It's the desert... who's sitting around knitting?  So I've had to find fulfillment in other crafty ways. 

Last year, a colleague responded to a school wide email I sent out, asking where I could find felt.  I was certain that the Ladybug needed a felt Christmas tree to make her life complete and I was determined to make her one.  M (a different M) took me to the... school supply store?  I don't even know what to call this place.  In Guatemala, we called it a sh!t shop.  Because it had any and all of the most random sh!t you could think of.  Need some hand lotion?  Check.  How about a baby doll?  Check.  Oh, you need some Smarties- got 'em.  The sh!t shop was like a very miniature, foreign (because you will never find the same thing twice) version of Walmart. 

So this store is like the Bahrain version of the Guatemalan sh!t shop.  Except it's gigantic.  It literally
Need a ball, lanyard or a plastic car?
has anything you could think of in terms of schools supplies.  And crafty supplies.  And paper.  And plastic food.  And magnets.  And felt, and bobble heads and key chains and face paint.  And yesterday I saw a laminating machine.  You have to turn sideways to get down most of the aisles and if someone else is also coming down that aisle, you will have to move into another aisle.  Carrying a basket, which you need because you will find exactly one million things that you NEED, is a recipe for disaster as you will knock something off of some shelf.  There are rarely prices on anything.  The owner adds everything up on a calculator and then gives you a discount.  Once, when I brought some of the newbies, just to show them where it was and what they could get, he gave me a free key chain because I gave him new business.  I don't imagine that happening in Walmart...
Or maybe stencils, canvas, or a book bag?

How about paper? 

It's a super-miniaturized version of Michaels... though much less organized.  Going shopping here is a little like going on a scavenger hunt, really, and everyone loves a scavenger hunt!  The shop is not easy to get to and is actually harder to get home from.  But at least I know where to find felt.  Do I wish that I could have a one-stop shop in Bahrain where I could just get everything I needed at the same time?  Yeah, most of the time.  Is there something to be said for knowing where to find googly eyes when your daughter wants a minion party and getting a free key chain from the sh!t shop owner?  Yeah, most of the time. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Ladybug is Three!

Yesterday on FB, I started to write, "At this time last year, I was waiting to have a baby," or something like that.  It took me a minute to realize that it was this time THREE YEARS AGO.  Oh my goodness, how the time has flown!

If I'm following the Expat Blog Challenge format (and I mostly am), Tuesdays are about blogging.  During February, we looked at our 5th post, thought about what we wished we'd done differently when we started the blog, showed off another blog/blogger we admired, and revisited an old post to say more about it.  Ever-so-briefly, I'm going to revisit a couple of old posts, because Lord knows I've got more to say :)

If you're interested in the Ladybug's birth story or the craziness of getting her passport in Guatemala, feel free to check out this post from March 2011.  It's not too gory or graphic... unless you talk to the Rugby Star who got caught on the wrong side of the c-section sheet! 

At the hospital on her very first day of life
The Ladybug Cometh.   I did not know what I was in for.  Three years later, I am overwhelmed with the amount of love I have for this little girl, even when she is trying my patience to the very edge of sanity.  This morning, she woke up, rolled over (she climbs in bed with us each night, usually around the 2am mark), smiled a sleepy but genuinely happy smile and said, "I love you."  It was all I could do not to eat her alive.  I mean really, just consume her and her sweet little face.  I sang her Happy Birthday and she smiled again and said, "Thank you." 

The Ladybug at three:  She has such a funny personality.  She's moody like her mom, watches TV and movies like her dad, gets angry like... well, probably me again, and laughs outrageously like her sister, Z.  She will chase and tickle the Sprout and then turn around and punch her in the stomach.  She has started singing along to songs on her CD's and in movies and gets unbelievably excited about cheesy pasta.  She likes to dress up now and again and her toys have started having conversations with each other- mostly about snuggles and cheesy pasta, which is adorable.  She doesn't have access to commercials the way some kids do, so she doesn't ask me for stuff and I really had to guess what she might want for her birthday.  She loves running and jumping and has discovered that she can stand up to swing in the big-girl swing. 

She likes building sand castles, coloring and painting.  She really likes crafts and sensory stuff and is finally using the felt projects I spent hours cutting out almost a year ago.  She loves books and reading and chooses to sleep with books over toys many nights.  When she stays up late, I catch her reading in bed, versus playing. 

She says "I love you" a million times a day. 

And I know that three is going to be hard.  It's already started, truthfully.  The tantrums have gotten epic, comparatively.  The screaming is so loud I have to cover my ears and she can go from loving to hateful in 2.2 seconds.  But we'll make it.  We'll figure it out.  Other people have made it out of three alive... I'm sure we will too!

Happy Birthday sweet girl! 

My First Linkup- The Unexpected Challenge

‘The Unexpected Challenge’ – share something that you had not expected that was a challenge to overcome (it can be a positive or negative challenge). You can share how you dealt with it, or are still trying to – anything that you want to write about. End with three tips on how best to face an unexpected challenge whilst living abroad.

I have mentioned before that I have a terrible, somewhat irrational (somewhat not) fear of getting lost.  This fear is multiplied when I live in a country where I don't speak the local language fluently, like Guatemala and China.  Living in Bahrain has helped quell that fear... a little.  It's an island so, unlike Guatemala, there's no danger of driving off into the night and ending up in Mexico.  And pretty much everyone speaks some English at least, which is particularly helpful as my Arabic is... lacking is a nice word.  I know when I go out exploring in Bahrain that, should I get turned around, I'm either going to end up at the entrance to the Saudi Causeway, which I am not allowed to cross or in the ocean.  In either case, I can turn around and, following the numerous signs to the BIC (Bahrain International Circuit- the F1 track), I can find my way home. 

But the fact is, Bahrain, like all many of the countries I've lived in, does not believe in street names and signs in the same way we do in America.  I love street signs.  LOVE them.  I panic when I can't figure out what road I'm on or if I'm meant to turn here or there no matter where I am.  Of course, in the States, I can just ask someone.   And while I can ask someone in Bahrain, usually without language restrictions, their ability to explain how to get where I'm going using phrases like, 'turn left at the palm tree, drive across the sand, then when you see the beige building look right," is entirely unhelpful.

Case in point: a couple of weeks ago, some students asked me to come watch their show jumping competition and I thought, "Hey, the Ladybug and Sprout might like that," so I agreed to go.  Then I set about trying to figure out how to get there. 

Google Maps works in Bahrain, as long as someone has already entered the name of the place you're trying to go.  There are street numbers but I'm not sure anyone really knows them and I've never really seen them marked, so they don't seem to serve much of a purpose.  I put in Twin Palms Riding Centre into Google Maps- no go.  I asked the girls if they could tell me how to get there... "Our drivers take us."  Not helpful.  So I went to the website.  These are the directions: 

From Manama: Take the Saar turn off Sheikh Kalifa bin Salman Highway onto Avenue 13, at the T junction turn right, driving past St Christophers Junior School. Turn left and follow the road up to where it becomes desert, carry straight on along the desert track and you will find TPRC straight ahead of you.

I'd like to tell you that was the first time I've gotten directions that told me to drive into the desert, but that would be a lie.  Twice now, when trying to buy something off the Bahrain version of Craigslist, I've had to cross the desert to get to people's apartments.  Twice now, they've had to come out to meet me somewhere and let me follow them home.  Directions like these don't work for me.  I need roads and signs and landmarks.  I need a kind voice telling me to turn left now. 

It's been the same in almost every country I've lived in.  The DR and Shanghai were slightly easier for me as a traveler/explorer because we mostly relied on taxis which was great except if they didn't know where they were going.  Kuwait and Bahrain have been better because of the language factor and because they basically have two big roads and once you're on them, you'll eventually end up where you're trying to go.  But the cities are confusing and roads are going one way and then they're not and you can easily get lost back in the small barrios if you're not careful.  Guatemala was a whole different beast and I still get nervous thinking about the times we got lost, mostly because of the danger factor.  

I get uneasy when I'm asked to go somewhere new.  Not having road signs or street names is a major
Turn left at the second camel on your right
challenge for me and not one I'm likely to overcome.  All I can do is continue to explore and become more familiar with my surroundings so that when someone tells me to cross the desert, past the apartments and the camels then turn half-right onto a bit of a track, I won't be so freaked out.

Three Tips on How Best to Face an Unexpected Challenge Abroad:

1.  Stay calm.   You can't figure anything out if you're panicking.  This goes for everything from driving to picking out what may or may not be ketchup when you first move to China.
2.  Phone a friend.  If you know someone who can help, call them.  Veterans (usually) love helping newbies, at least in my experience.
3.  Ask lots and lots of questions.  Try to understand if the challenge you're facing is just a challenge for you or is it challenging for everyone.  Then you can ask for advice on how to deal with it. 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Mark Twain and Dennis Leary, Together for One Night Only

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.  Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be aquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." - Mark Twain

A thousand years ago (okay, more like twelve) if you had asked me my thoughts on traveling, I would have said something along the lines of, "Yeah, of course I want to travel!  I want to go to Italy and England and Paris.  Maybe Russia in the summer... because I took two years of Russian in high school so, you know, I'm pretty fluent.  And I'd like to go on a cruise, maybe to the Bahamas.  And probably the Grand Canyon and New York.  That's good, I think."

Twelve years later, I've been to so many places, that I needed to have pages added to my first passport.  Then I needed to get that passport renewed before it expired because they wouldn't add any more pages.  I have been to (in as particular order as I can, just to help me remember): the Dominican Republic, Canada, Mexico, Kuwait, Lebanon, Jordan, the UAE (Dubai and Abu Dhabi), Oman, Egypt, Qatar, England, France, China, Germany, Spain, Indonesia (Bali), Guatemala, El Salvador, and Sri Lanka.   You might be thinking, "Wow, she's a well-traveled lady."  Or you could be thinking, "Stop showing off."  And it does seem like a lot of countries... until you consider that there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 189-196 countries in the world, depending on who you ask.  And I've been to nineteen.  Twenty if we count 'Merica (let's count it- I like round numbers).

**Edited to add Turkey and Singapore- the Rugby Star reminded me!  So I'm up to twenty-two... still a nice, round number.**

Being able to travel has been an amazing experience in my life.  I have stepped (ever so slightly) outside of my comfort zone and seen parts of the world that I couldn't locate on a map I had never even considered visiting.  Here's an embarrassing tidbit- when I went to Jordan on a school trip back in 2006(ish), I didn't know what Petra was.  I wasn't 100% sure what the big deal about the Dead Sea was.  I was like Sherlock, not knowing that the earth travels around the sun.  

Better than the sights I've seen, however, is the way my life has changed because of my travels.   I wasn't a stereotypical Southern before I left.  I won't go too far into my political views or religious beliefs, but suffice it to say, I've always been rather open-minded and a bit too liberal for certain family members.  I don't think any of that would have changed if I had never left.  But because I got to experience life outside of Georgia, I think I am even more tolerant, more understanding that I might have been otherwise.  

This makes me mad.   It makes me mad because I saw it posted on Facebook and some of the comments were so ignorant that I wanted to throw my computer at the wall while roaring a Hulk-like roar, albeit girlier.  Someone commented that women wearing the face veil frightened children.  Frightened them?  It's not frightening.  Not if you don't teach your children to be afraid.  It is religious freedom at its' most obvious.  My girls aren't afraid.  The Sprout stares at anyone who talks to her and then waves happily, covered or not.  The Ladybug is in a bit of a shy stage so she typically hides from strangers, but she hides equally from everyone.  I've mentioned that the women who completely cover, even their eyes, can be disconcerting, but it's not scary.  Don't teach your children to be afraid (or hate) and they won't.  Simple as that.

But, the proposition, which may or may not be law by now, actually makes me really angry for another reason.   Not because of the people who are afraid or ignorant intolerant, but because of the extremists who have used the veil as a means to wreak havoc, cause panic, chaos, death and destruction.  I am angry at those who have taken a symbol of the Muslim world and turned it into something to be afraid of.  I am angry that Muslim women are being targeted and discriminated against because of the extremists.  

Many Muslim women choose to cover.   It is part of who they are, part of what they identify with as a woman, as a Muslim.  Imagine being told you must shave your head because people with hair have been causing chaos in the world.  Or now you have to stop wearing pants because people with pants are the ones who make the bombs.  

Travel.  Leave your little corner of the earth and see that Muslim women are not scary, covered or otherwise.  See that poverty exists in ways you can't imagine and that some of those people who are the poorest are the happiest.  Experience life outside of your spot, your comfort zone.  Step back from stereotypes, learn from one another, embrace life and all those in it.  There's a lot out there to learn, folks.  And you won't learn it on a bus tour of Italy or on a cruise ship to the Bahamas.  

Feel free to debate with me, if you'd like but don't be hateful.  I understand the safety issues behind having women uncover their faces, I do.  I'm not raging against the machine of government, more against the people who have caused this to be an issue.  

Day 2: I needed warm because I have a sore throat.  Yep, that's steam rising off my apple-cinnamon oatmeal.  Mmmm!

As NKOTB Once Asked...

... Where do I go from here?

The February Expat Blog Challenge is over.  Technically, I didn't 'win,' as I missed one day of blogging due to scheduling difficulties (i.e. I had way too much to do and too many small people demanding my attention).  But I really, really enjoyed the challenge and I feel like I have set myself up with a positive writing habit that I'd like to continue.  Plus, I'm pretty sure you loved it and want to read more as well... am I right?  Am I right?

So where do I go from here?  I'm going to make a list because I like making lists and then checking things off that list.

1.  I'm doing a photo-a-day challenge for March.  I'll post my photos here, just for funsies.
2.  I'm going to follow the layout of the blog challenge and continue to explore my life as an expat.
3.  I'm going to be more adventurous so that my life as an expat is more exciting.  Grocery store- not exciting.  Watching tanks, police cars and some sort of giant bus assemble on the side of the highway, more exciting.
4.  I'm going to work on my novel in my free time.
5.  I'm going to continue to read the blogs from the people I met in the blog challenge and work to make my own blog more... better.

This was the plan we had for February.  I like the idea of a theme for each day of the week.  Starting tomorrow, I'll stick with:

Sunday- Quotes
Monday- Photo Prompts
Tuesday- On Blogging
Wednesday- For Fun
Thursday- Expat Life
Friday- Food Fridays
Saturday- Where I Live

Today, I'll show you a picture of my watch because that's the first photo for my March Photo-A-Day Challenge.

The prompt says 'clock' and I know that this is technically not a clock...
but apparently we don't own a clock.  So, there's that...