Saturday, February 8, 2014

Crash Into Me

Day 8: "I will never get used to..."

If it's all the same to you, I'd like to make a list.  This morning, between making pancakes with the Ladybug and getting the girls ready to go to the animal park- since it was such a nice day and the Rugby Star needed to get some work done- I quickly checked the prompt.  And then, in a very hoighty-toighty expat way, I thought, "Harumph.  There is nothing that I can't get used to.  I am an expat.  I have lived in five countries with five very different cultures.  I laugh in the face of cultural differences.  Ha!  Double ha!"

And then I went to the animal park.  Here begins my list:

1.  I will never get used to strangers wanting to take photos of my kids.  Normally, I don't mind. Most of the time, someone asks me if they can take a picture of one of the girls.  This happens in the grocery store, at the park, walking down the street.  It's weird but, they're always women or girls and really, what are they going to do with a picture of a little kid they don't know?  Today, however, a woman pointed her camera at the Ladybug and clicked her tongue and made kissing noises to get her attention, as though she were one of the animals.  Um.  No.

2.  Fully-covered woman still startle me a bit.  And when I say fully, I mean fully- not even their eyes are showing.  It's unnerving to have no social constructs on which to base an interaction.  Is she looking at me?  Is she smiling?  Who knows?  Once, at the doctor's office, I came out and started looking for the RS and Ladybug.  A fully-covered woman slowly raised her arm and pointed down the hall.  It was very Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come... 

3.  A pelican had flown out of its' habitat.  A large group of children ran towards it, yelling, kicking and screaming.  The pelican was clearly terrified.  Not one adult tried to get them to stop.  I secretly wanted the pelican to bite someone.  Hard.  

4.  Personal space and general politeness- ugh.  I've mentioned it before with regards to China and to Bahrain but children pushed by me to see exhibits, as did their parents.  No one, except my kids, rather passively-aggressively had they been mimicking me, said, "Excuse me."  One kid pushed me as I was holding the Sprout and carrying a camera and diaper bag, into her father who was coming around the other side of me and they both looked at me like I was the crazy one for standing there in that exact spot at that exact moment.  Well, excuse me.  I wanted to see the raccoons, too (hehe- wildlife park).

These things are annoying, yes.  And I will never get used to them.  But the truth is, they're not shocking anymore.  If I'm going to really sit and think of the ONE thing I will truly never get used to in Bahrain, or in many countries that I've lived or visited, it would be the driving.  I have seen some unbelievable accidents in Bahrain and Kuwait.  I've heard the driving is similar in the UAE and many other Arab countries.  Let me paint you a picture:

You're driving at 100km an hour (that's around 60mph for you 'Mericans).  That's the speed limit, so that's what you drive.  Sometimes you edge towards 120km (75mph) but there's this super-annoying 'dinging' sound that your car makes whenever you get to 120 or above.  And really, 100-120 is fast enough.  Then, in your rearview mirror, you see a car barreling towards you, going easily 160 (100mph).  He starts flashing his lights at you, demanding that you move out of his way- clearly wherever he needs to be is much more important than where you need to be... see how fast he's driving?  There is a certain panic that rises in your chest when this starts happening- it's so aggressive and feels very personal.  Oh, I'm not driving fast enough for you?  If you can, you move over.  If you can't, he will almost inevitably weave in and out of traffic like a real-life, deadly game of Frogger or, hell, he'll just drive in the emergency lane, kicking up rocks and dirt, just so as to not have to slow down.

As he passes, eighty percent of the time, you'll notice one-to-eight children piled into the car- not a one in a car seat or using a seatbelt.  The youngest, a tiny baby, is usually sitting in the front seat in the mother's lap.  She's not wearing a seatbelt.  There's one standing in between the seats and several bouncing around in the rest of the vehicle.  

And the driver is probably on the phone.  
original image from

Every time I see this, I want to throw up.  I want to throw up because he could hit me and hurt or kill one of my kids.  He could hit me and more than likely kill several of his children.  He could hit someone else or something and, chances are, his kids aren't going to make it out alive.

In shallah means 'God willing.'  If God wants you to make it to your destination, it does not matter what you do or don't do- you will make it or you won't.  It is unbelievably hard to argue with that, especially being a person of faith.  However... I'm going take every precaution I can to ensure I arrive alive.  And if that means driving like my dad (waaay slower driver than anyone's grandma) in the slow lane, then that's what I'll be doing, flashing headlights be damned.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Hey Good Lookin', What'cha Got Cookin'?

Today's prompt - Since moving abroad, my pantry looks different because…

The only memory from childhood that my sister and I would 100% agree on is DINNER.  In middle and high school, after 'they' said too much red meat was bad for you, we ate grilled chicken breasts, broccoli, and a side, usually from a box.  Every night.  Except Friday which was pizza night.  I LOVED chicken/broccoli/mac and cheese night.  Second in line was chicken/broccoli/(boxed) mashed potato night.  Chicken/broccoli/white rice night was okay if I could sneak enough butter into my rice.  I hated chicken/broccoli/corn night- it just felt like we were getting cheated out of our boxed starch!  Two vegetables- so unfair!

That's not to say my mom didn't cook other things, but it was chicken/broccoli/boxed starch more nights than it wasn't.

Mac and cheese?  Where??
In the Dominican Republic, my pantry looked pretty much the way it had in my parents home- lots of cereals, mac and cheese (when I could find it), frozen vegetables and chicken.  But I was suddenly an adult, living on my own... so the vegetables didn't get eaten often.  My first kitchen was small and awkward and I honestly don't remember cooking more than frozen pizzas and egg and cheese bagels for breakfast.

The pantry situation improved when I moved in with K the next year.  She was more adventurous than me, food-wise (well, everything-wise really).  There were still a lot of boxed items but we bought more fresh vegetables and fruits... that mostly K ate.  I kept eating eggs, frozen pizzas, and mac and cheese.

That's a Burka-lady pepper shaker
The Great Pantry Transformation really began in Kuwait, after I met the Rugby Star.  He introduced me to homemade curry.  He made mashed potatoes from real potatoes (whaaaaa?) and steamed fresh vegetables.  He did not believe in processed cheese.  Fresh french sticks were the way to go when we needed bread and sometimes, spices and herbs were good things to have on hand.

I was also introduced to Middle Eastern/Lebanese foods while in Kuwait.  I could almost live on things like hummus, falafel, schwarma, and kubbe if I needed to.  

We don't have a true pantry in this house- we have cabinets.  Since meeting the Rugby Star and having the babies, I've wanted to cook more 'from scratch.'  I have baking powder and soda that I use at least once a week.  The Ladybug and I have a Saturday morning pancake tradition- after trying lots of recipes, we've found the one the family loves and it does not involve Bisquik.  I make homemade cookies and cakes.  

And I cook with fresh vegetables.  And I use spices and herbs and I try new recipes.  We've had grilled chicken/broccoli/starch nights in this house.  And I still have a lot of boxes of mac and cheese in my pantry... but I'm okay with that.  

Thursday, February 6, 2014

I'm Looking for Someone to Share in an Adventure...

Prompt: I would/would not move to another country after this.

It's funny you should ask- the Rugby Star and I have been discussing this very matter recently.  In the world of international teaching, you move.  It's just what you do.  You're hard-pressed to find expats who have been at a school for five or more years, unless it's just an awesome, awesome Disneyland of a school.  Most of us, we stay three to four years (if not less) and then pack our bags for greener... or desert-ier pastures.

Me and Cuthin then...
But ever since the Ladybug and then the Sprout came along, this momma has been wanting to go home.  I have the most wonderful best friend of a cousin- he's three months younger than me and I love him dearly.  We have been together since, well, he was born.  We do not agree on anything... at all.  We don't talk politics, we don't talk religion, and we don't talk 'Merica.  We know better.  We do tell funny stories about climbing trees at Mimi's house, exploring the woods behind the stables, riding mini-bikes in the front yard, and our weird step-grandfather who decided that we couldn't sleep in the same room because he didn't know what we'd 'get up to in there.'   Um.  Ewww.

This is Cuthin now and our Mini-Me's
I grew up with Cuthin (that's cousin with a lisp- because being mean little kids, we used to make fun of littlest cuthin for having a lisp- then it stuck) and his little brothers.  And they were the best toys ever.  And I want the Ladybug and Sprout to be best cuthins with their cuthins.  I want them to know their grandparents and aunts and uncles.  I want them to know and be friends with the three kiddos of BFF.

More than anything, I want them to have a HOME.  Because GA is home.  GA is where my sister and my dad live; where Cuthin and his wife (BFF with two kids) are; it's the place I love to be.  It's the place I want to end up. 

So we started discussing it- when to move home.  When we moved to Bahrain, we hoped that this would be a long-lasting, temporary home- a place we could stay for five-to-ten years.  As of now, that's still a possibility.  But the RS started talking about getting his PhD and going home in 2020.  While that seems like a ridiculously futuristic number, it's not.  It's six years from now.

At first, I smiled.  Then I panicked.  Six years?  SIX YEARS?!  How can I see all the rest of the world in six years?  If we're going home in six years, we have to decide if we want to stay here for those six years or start looking for a new place.  Is Bahrain it?  Are we really done with international teaching after this?  This is our life, all that we know as a couple, as a family.  What will we do when we go home?  Will we be able to get jobs?  What kind of jobs? Will our kids be weird and obnoxious because they've traveled?  Will I be able to make new friends?  Will we have money?  We'll have to pay regular prices for gas again... oh the inhumanity!!

Moving is scary but it's such an adventure.  I love the thrill of each new country, each new school.  Who will we meet?  What fun things will we do?  Will we love it?  Will we hate it?   Moving home will involve a lot of trips to Target... which can be an adventure (how much money will I spend, what cute clothes will I buy, how much time will I waste)... but it's not quite the same.

The short answer to your question is yes, we will move to another country after this.  And even if it's back home, it will probably feel pretty foreign for a while. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Everyday I'm Smugg-a-lin'

Today's post:  I was at the airport when...

Too easy, Cristin.  Too easy.  If you know our family at all, you know we have airport issues.  We arrive at the airport the recommended three hours before any flight, domestic or international because, well, we need it.  I could tell you about the time the Rugby Star had to fill out some international Brit-trying-to-get-into-America card that no one told us about but we didn't have a lap top and the airport didn't have wifi.  Or I could tell you about the time the security people tried to confiscate, not my knitting needles but my yarn, in case I wanted to strangle someone on the plane.  Or how about the time the Rugby Star got whisked off to one of those crazy customs rooms to be interrogated because he had come into America a few too many times.  OR about the time they held our dogs hostage because, again, the Rugby Star was coming in and out of America too often and they suspected our marriage was a sham (I was pregnant with our second child at the time- I really go above and beyond for my Visa-marriages *side-eye*).

Instead, I'll tell you about the time we were pretty sure we were going to to Kuwaiti jail.  As you may or may not know, Kuwait is a dry country- you cannot purchase alcohol of any kind (including real vanilla) or bacon.  Whenever we prepared to head back to Kuwait after summer or Christmas trips, we would make a final stop at a liquor store and pick up a couple bottles of wine or spirits, camouflage them in our bags and keep our fingers crossed that no one went snooping as we went through security.

This particular Christmas, we were packing up after a lovely wintery holiday in England.  About thirty minutes before we planned to leave, the Rugby Star remembers we haven't packed any contraband, so he and his dad run to the store and grab a box of red wine, my favorite.  The RS tosses it into the bag and zips it up, ignoring my suggestions that it should be IN something- a plastic bag, a ziplock, or we should 'water bottle' it as we usually do (this involves filling a plastic water bottle half way with alcohol and then squeezing it flat until all the air is out- that way it doesn't look like a bottle).  "Nope," says he.  "Everything will be fine."

We land in Kuwait, grab our bags off the belt and start to leave.  I'm a couple of steps behind the RS when I notice a trail of red wine following one of our bags.  I panic and run up to him pointing frantically but trying not to draw attention to ourselves (fat chance- quite a few Westerners walked by, bemused to say the least).  The RS also panics and looks around desperately as though the answer of what to do will jump out from anywhere.  It does, in the form of the men's bathroom.

Let me reiterate that alcohol is illegal in Kuwait.  If you're caught, nine times out of ten, nothing happens.  The security guys usually just take it, give you a bit of a sneer and let you go on through.  I'd heard they kept the bottles for themselves or sold them.   On that tenth occasion, however you might get carted off to prison and then your school director has to come bail you out in the middle of the night, in his jammies, not feeling too happy (happened to a friend, not a personal account).

So the RS dashes off to the bathroom, leaving a trail of wine behind him.  I moved as far away from the puddle that had formed while we were deciding what to do and tried to look as shocked as everyone else.  The smell seemed to fill the whole room!

Finally he comes back and reports that there was only a pinprick hole- it must've been laying just at the edge of the bag so that it was leaking directly out onto the ground.  "I contemplated trying to drink the whole thing," he says.  "It seems like such a waste."  Had had, in fact, dumped the whole bag down the toilet.


We made it out of the airport without incident, despite reeking of red wine.  I don't know if no one was paying attention or they didn't care or they were pretending not to know what red wine smelled like, but no one even batted an eye.  To this day, I wonder if we could have just turned the bag around so the hole was at the top, risked a couple of wine stains on some clothes, and gotten through... better safe than sorry, I suppose.
Me and the Rugby Star when we were just babies, not even married yet!

Monday, February 3, 2014

R-E-F-L-E-C-T Find Out What It Means To Me...

Today's prompt - Look at the 5th post you ever wrote on this blog. In hindsight, what do you think about your frame of mind and your style of writing?

The 5th post on this blog was made on May 12, 2010.  I had just lost my mother that January and was deeply entrenched in finishing my Masters in Music Education.  I don't know if I had a frame of mind at the time.

That particular post is nothing but an apology for not writing.  I don't think you can find a particular style in it- it doesn't sound 'like me,' in my opinion.

I started this blog as a way to deal with the grief of losing my mother.  Without going into too much very personal detail, ours was a complicated relationship.  We never got the chance to work through our issues with each other before she died.   But no matter what obstacles stood in the way of the perfect mother-daughter relationship, we always had one thing in common- reading.  My mother instilled a love of reading in me so deeply that I cannot go to sleep without a book on the bedside table.  In the 'olden' days, pre-Kindle, I spent most of my summer money and suitcase space (and weight) on books.  I would buy 10-15 books at a time and pack them into my bags as carefully as a set of fine china.  English language books were not easy to come by in the Dominican Republic, Kuwait, or China.  Or if they were easy to find, they were unbelievably expensive.  They were also rarely the types of books I enjoyed; hence the need for my back-breaking struggle to cart half of Barnes and Noble across the globe.  I am grateful for the Kindle, so, so grateful.  I have space in my suitcases for clothes and toiletries.  I do not have to choose between underwear and books anymore.  I can read whenever, wherever I want.  Yes, I love to hold a real book in my hands.  But I also love that I can carry my library with me now, in one tiny, hand-held device. 

Look at those sassy girls!
When I find myself getting to the end of a book, I honestly feel slightly panicked if there is not another at the ready.  And I imagine my mom felt this way, too.  There were always library books lying around the house.  She read most evenings and always had something with a bookmark tucked neatly beside her recliner.  On vacations, she had a bag full of books, the same as me.  It was something we shared, a bond, a love.

I introduced her to Harry Potter.  She scoffed.  Then she fell in love.  Reading Harry Potter and then going to see the movies with my mom are some of my favorite and my best memories of her.   That she never got to see them all saddens me more than you know.

Wow... that escalated quickly.

I started this blog to 'write my book.'  That's what my mom was always telling me to do.  She loved my stories and was my biggest fan when it came to writing.  I wanted to write a book to honor her memory, to honor her love for me.   I got off track.  I got off track quickly.  But I am still working on the book, just not as publicly.  It will happen... eventually.

It's hard to claim a frame of mind when you've lost your mother.  You have a new frame of mind.  You are a different person.  Ooh look, I've gone and made myself cry.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

There's No Place Like... Home?

Blog Post Challenge: A photo challenge- something reminds you of home

I'm going all rogue here and choosing two things.  They are, in a sense, rather nontraditional reminders of home.  I present my camera and my phone.

When I met my Rugby Star in 2005, I had already spent two and a half years in the sunny Caribbean and a year in Kuwait.  It was an amazing adventure that I had done (mostly) on my own. And, like any first-time traveler off on an adventure, I bought and bought and bought from those countries- no one back home had seen the likes of handmade t-shirt rugs being crafted on the side of the road (wait, was that one of my sorority shirts?), the colorful paintings of fruits and oceans, Turkish rugs made from grain sacks used a hundred years ago, camel everything, photos of mosques and beautiful Middle Eastern women, covered head-to-toe except for their heavily make-uped eyes.  By the time I met the Rugby Star, there was hardly room in my little apartment for him to sit, much less put any of his own things.

But he did bring his own things... and then we acquired more things.  We traveled around the region buying more paintings, more rugs, more brick-a-brack to remind us of our adventures.  And then we packed it all up and shipped it to Shanghai where, you can imagine, there was A LOT of stuff to buy.  'Ancient' Chinese stools, scrolls, tiny Terracotta Warriors, furniture, more paintings and just the general stuff you accumulate as you live.

Then we packed it all up and shipped it to Guatemala.  Rinse, lather, repeat.

It was at this point we got a little tired of our stuff.  We had stopped being amazing by the traditional (tourist) artifacts in each new place we lived or visited.  We made the grown-up decision to take everything home and leave it in Georgia.  We would start anew in Bahrain.

So we landed in Bahrain the way we arrived in our first teaching posts- with a couple of suitcases (we also had two dogs and a kid... things that were not present when we started).  I didn't bring any picture frames or the Christmas ornaments or any of the red rugs that had been in every bedroom I'd lived in since Kuwait.  We brought only what we needed to keep the Ladybug mildly amused until we could buy her more stuff and our clothes.

And I brought my camera.  At the time, it was filled with summer photos- beautiful friends with gorgeous babies, hugs, smiles, laughter and the warm Georgia sunshine.  I took more photos and shared them with my family 'back home,' and they did the same.  In time, I got myself one of those new-fangled iPhones and now I can take a picture whenever and share it immediately.  Whenever I'm missing my kids while I'm at school, I can pull out my phone and see them or hear them.  When I travel, the Rugby Star can text me cute pictures of what they're doing while I'm gone.

And when I'm really, truly homesick, missing the changing leaves or the spring or just being able to jump in the car and visit my sister  or my dad or my BFF's or my family, there is always texting.  I can shoot off a quick, "Hey, how's it going" to any number of people and, if it's not the middle of the night, I get a quick reply back.  Sister and the Ladybug send silly face texts back and forth.  BFF with three babies sends videos of her kids doing adorable things like giggling and dancing in truck beds.  BFF with two kids sends 'I miss you' messages and photos of the destruction her little one is capable of creating.

It makes me feel like I'm home.

So no, I'm not cuddling my phone or my camera.  But they are constantly with me and they remind me that, even though 'home' is a bunch-of-thousand miles away, it's not really so far. 

Not All Those Who Wander...

Not all those who wander are lost- JRR Tolkien

There is a fairly prevalent idea that runs through the international teaching community- we're all running away from something.  This is probably one of the more true statements I've ever come across in my life.  Why else would people pack up their homes, lives, kids and fur babies, ship all their most treasured worldly possessions and head off into the great unknown?  We say goodbye to family and friends, we sell houses, cars, furniture.  We rent out properties, stuff everything that wasn't deemed worthy into a storage locker and say, "See you next Christmas/Spring Break/Summer!"  There are tears, long hugs, promises to email.  We watch our nieces and nephews and grandkids grow up on Facebook and count the hours to figure out when we can Skype. 

We spend two or more years settling into our new 'home,' meeting new friends, figuring out the street vendors you can trust and the ones who will give you Guatemalan Gut Rot.  We learn to grocery shop like the locals and 'splurge' on Doritos and Kraft Dinner when they are available.  We try to blend in to our new cultures while often clinging to those who are also from 'home.'  We learn to love or hate our new country.  Our children are born in these countries, often with funny or harrowing tales of hospitals that 'you have to see to believe.' 

And then, we sell off all of our new possessions and do it all again in two or three or five or ten years. 

And why?  Well, we are all running from something.  Me, I was running from a fear of the future.  I was lost after college and the opportunity to have someone point me in ANY direction came in the form of my friend Kimi and a job in the Dominican Republic.  But I did find myself on this journey- I figured out who I was, who I wanted to be, what I wanted and where I wanted to go.  And when it was time to go home and MP said, "Why, what's waiting for you there?" I had no answer. 

So I kept wandering.  But trust me, I am not lost.  I found a home with my husband and kids.  In wandering over this great big world, I've found friends I would never have met.  My eyes and heart have been opened in ways I never could have imagined. 

I was lost.  And many of my friends and colleagues from around the world may still be lost.  But most of us continue to run- whether it's to or from, it's hard to say.  But I can almost guarantee that most of us know where we are and where we're going. 

Here's a picture of me and Cristin.  We were under a tree after eating pizza.  No one was lost then!