Saturday, February 22, 2014

There's No Taste Like Home...

Day 21: Tastes like home.

Today the girls and I ate a Red Baron pizza for lunch.  For some reason, this does remind me of home.  I think my sister always had these on hand or maybe it's because we've been abel to find them  in most of the countries we've lived in.  It's a quick, easy dinner (or lunch) and it feels very familiar.

But I don't go out looking to buy Red Baron because it reminds me of home.  Looking around my kitchen for inspiration, I have a myriad of things that could remind me of life, pre-traveling.  There is canned tuna- a favorite meal growing up was my mom's tuna salad.  It was a delicious mess of tuna and mayo, spiral pasta and green peas.  There is the inevitable Kraft mac and cheese and sometimes Velveeta though I can't remember a time when I didn't have these in my cabinets so, again, it doesn't take me home (only to a very happy place).  I have a box of grits, and we had the instant kind in the house growing up, but not often.  Grits remind me of Waffle House, which is home but only sorta-kinda.  There are Cheerios, which was one of the only cereals we ever had when I was a young sprout, but I don't get to eat them here because they belong to the Ladybug and the Sprout.

There are new things in my house that have made their way in since meeting and marrying the Rugby
Star (who's new name may be changed to the Recipe Follower, but that's for a different day).  I seem to always have a jar of Bisto gravy mix in the cabinet, along with a box of Paxo stuffing.  There is brown sauce tucked in amongst the oils and breadcrumbs, and there is Branston pickle in my refrigerator.  I know these remind the RS/RF of home and he was elated to find them as a staple here in Bahrain (if you're not aware, Bahrain's expat community is largely British).

There are certain dishes that I make at certain times of the year that remind me of home.  Deviled eggs are a particular favorite, as is potato salad, but I only eat them at Thanksgiving really.  I had a blast from the past a few weeks ago when the RS/RF brought home flake, boxed mashed potatoes for a recipe he was trying (and following).  While I definitely prefer homemade mash, the flaked variety was comforting and time-warped me back to grilled chicken/broccoli/mashed potato night.  But it's not something we keep in the house on a regular basis.

If I'm being honest, a good, old fashioned English dinner is starting to remind me of home.  The in-laws go all out, every Sunday with a roast (or ham or turkey), mashed potatoes, parsnips, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, peas, Yorkshire pudding, and gravy.  If we're there, because the RS requests it, there is stuffing and pigs in blankets, which, in England, are little sausages wrapped in bacon.  For Christmas dinner, add in two sauces and roasted potatoes and there is barely room for us to sit at the table!

We try to do a Sunday roast one a month-ish.  It's a lot of prep work and it means the RS is in the kitchen for most of the day.  But I love sitting down with the in-laws for meals, during Christmas and summer.  They cook for us when they come and visit and it feels all 'proper family time.'  You miss that as an expat.  There's no popping over to Grandma's for lunch or 'I was just driving-by,' visits.  You can't send the kids over to spend the night, just for a teeny-tiny break.  I want it and I miss it and when we have a Sunday roast, here or in England, it feels like home.  It feels like family.  Our family.  My family.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Let's Build a Fort!

Day 22: Something I still haven't seen in my expat country.

Bahrain is a strange little country.  First off, it is little... so very, very little.  I'm not a numbers girl- square miles and all that means nothing to me.  Bahrain is roughly three-to-four times the size of Washington D.C.  So I look at a map and see how tiny Washington D.C. is, relatively speaking and know that yes, even at three-to-four times that size, it's still small.

It's also mostly desert.  If you look at a map, the cities and roads stop at about the middle of the country.  We, living in Riffa Views, are near the edge of civilization, here in the middle.  South of us, nothing but sand (I'm sure there is some stuff but not much).

It seems that there wouldn't be much to see around here, but there is.  The souk is amazing- it's bright and colorful and you can find nuts, spices, fabrics and horrible, horrible plastic toys.  There is a specific area just for gold and, if you want, you can buy coffee mugs that look like this:
They're just for decoration...

We have a corniche, so to speak.  Apparently, this is a great place to spend a Saturday afternoon- running up and down along the coast, having a picnic, going to the bowling ally and ice-skating rink! There are vendors with sweets and popcorn and horrible, horrible plastic toys.

If you Google 'things to do in Bahrain,' it comes up with a list that says:
1. Bahrain Museum (haven't seen it)
2. The Al-Fatih Mosque (Grand Mosque- seen it)
3. The Lost Paradise of Dilmun (water park- seen it)
4. Go Karting
5. Qalat al Bahrain (Bahrain Fort)
6. Bahrain International Circuit (saw it when I ran the Bahrain Marathon Relay but haven't been to a race)
7. Wahoo Water Park (indoor water park- seen it, haven't been because it's in a mall... seems weird)
8. Bab el-Bahrain souk (been)
9. Al Dar Islands (want to go)
10. Tree of Life (want to go)

That is not the end of the list.  I've seen websites with 100 things to do in Bahrain... so there must be things to do and see if there are all these lists.

Bahrain has forts like England has castles- they're all over the place.  There's one near us, but the area is not particularly nice so I haven't been by myself.  But THE ONE to go to is the Qalat al Bahrain- the Bahrain fort- and I haven't been yet.   From what I understand, it's not particularly baby-friendly, in the way of walls to climb on and fall off so it hasn't seemed like a good idea.  The other thing about the fort is that it is located in the area where most of the protest rallies take place.  There are a lot of burning tires and stopped traffic and, sometimes, maltov cocktails and that does not seem like a good place to take my little babies... or myself.

I really want to go, though- a lot of local photographers use the fort as a backdrop for family pictures and it does look beautiful.  I know friends with small kids have gone, so it's manageable.  We might put it on the list for things to do next weekend... just to start being brave.  I'll probably take my camera.  

Be Afraid... Be Very Afraid

Day 20: The trait I possess that most equipped me for life abroad. OR  The trait I possess that held me back the most. Or both.

The post where Kelli reveals her inner-most insecurities.

I hate looking stupid.  I hate looking like a tourist.

I hate doing things for the first time by myself.

There.  I said it.  I am not brave.  I am not adventurous.  I never wanted the life I'm living.

Even after all these countries, all the moves, I am still not brave.  I'm also not a planner/researcher.  For every move before Bahrain, I hardly knew where the country I was going was located, much less the city (China, I knew- Shanghai, I still have to look for on the map).  I took in what our new faculty coordinators told me and happily got on a plane in August, bound for wherever.  To this day, I only have a relative idea of where other cities and countries are in relation to Shanghai.  I have a basic grasp of the countries in the GCC.  I prefer other people to say, "Hey, let's go to..." and I say, "Okay."  And then they make all the arrangements and itineraries and I happily go where they tell me.  The in-laws are great for this- they want to come visit us and they know what they want to see.  I got to see the Great Wall, Beijing, and the Terra-cotta Warriors because that's what they wanted to see.

Wait, you might thinking- without your in-laws visiting you in Shanghai, you would have not seen the Great Wall?  Of China?  That Great Wall?  Are you serious?

Unfortunately, I am.  I'm telling you- if I have to plan it, it usually won't get planned.  I get nervous to go places without a guide.  I don't like driving off into the great unknown without someone who already knows it.  Most of my adventurers have been had because someone else instigated them.  Or someone invited us along.  Or someone planned it.  Or the school told me I was going.  I have done very little in the way of making my life exciting.

In the rice fields of Yangshou
I researched Bahrain, but only to see what life would be like for a young family, for a toddler.  Let me tell you, there is a lot to do on this island for kids... if you don't work.  If you do, it's a little more limited but still, there are oodles of indoor play areas, lessons, and crafty things for little kids to do.  I was so excited because Guatemala was slightly limited in these areas, at least for someone who didn't speak Spanish and was scared to drive anywhere lest I be lost or shot.  But we still haven't done many of them.  The Ladybug just got signed up for her first music class... because it's in the neighborhood.  It doesn't require me to figure out where to go on my own.  I don't need directions.

I am also infamous for saying I want to do something and then slowly backing out.  I never visited Tikal while we were in Guatemala because the night we were set to leave I wasn't feeling 100% and couldn't fathom spending a night on a bus, bumping up and down mountains at break-necks speeds.  So I missed Tikal.  I stayed home.  The RS went- he said it was amazing.  The pictures looked amazing.  I was mad at myself later.
Guiding our raft down the river

I tried to back out of a trip to Yangshou with my friend, J during our last few weeks in Shanghai.  She wouldn't let me.  We went, we stayed in a miserable, dirty hotel room above a bar.  There were cockroaches the size of my fist and, I swear our room was directly over the drum kit.  J is a traveler, a partier, a meet-new-friends-everywhere-she-goes-er.  I am not.  We had a good time.  We went on a bike tour of the area, which was totally cool and not something I would have done on my own.  We went on an hours-long boat ride to see the Elephant Rock.  We pushed our own raft down the river, stopping at a cafe in the middle of the river.  We saw water buffalo doing whatever it is that water buffalo do.  I'm glad she made me go.

Semuc Champay
S came to visit us in Guatemala and insisted we do fun stuff.  That meant driving eight hours to
 Semuc Champay (we thought it would take three).  She wanted to be a tourist.  We stayed in a hostel which required that we climb a ladder.  We did the tourist-adventure trip which involved swimming in a cave, holding a candle, rope-swinging out into the river, and watching other people jump off of a way-too-high bridge.  Then we climbed the waterfalls of Semuc, took some gorgeous pictures, and headed home.  I'm glad she made me go.

I need to be braver.  I need to embrace this life and take full advantage of it, especially if we're really thinking of moving home in the next ten years.  I need to stop being afraid of looking like a tourist- I am a tourist.  I should do the things that tourists do.  I am lucky because I get to see both sides of the coin- what life is really like in these countries but I should take advantage of seeing the things that are meant to be seen... by tourists.  What good is it to say, "Yeah, I lived in ____, but I never quite got around to seeing ____... because I was scared."
Everybody has a water buffalo... mine is fast but yours is slow...

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

My Accent

Day 19: My Accent

Way-ell (that's well to you non-Southerners)... I didn't really think I had an accent until I went overseas.  And, in fact, I didn't hear for the first time until I heard Kimi talk to her momma on the phone, just before Thanksgiving of my second year in the Dominican Republic.  No one who knows us would argue that Kimi and I have particularly neutral accents- no, they're definitely present in those elongated words and the abundance of y'alls that I sprinkle into every conversation.  My Arabic students think it's funny... meaning they make fun of me every time a 'y'all' pops out.  But I never realized just HOW present those accents were until that fateful Thanksgiving-preparation phone call (insert dramatic music).

This is me and Kimi.  See- I told you I knew her!
 Kimi, who was hosting a traditional Southern Thanksgiving for all of our friends,  called her mom to ask how to cook something and I'm sitting there, half-listening when I suddenly realize she has gone all Steel Magnolias meets Gone With the Wind on me!  I swear, in the midst of confirming how long one should cook a turkey, she threw in at least two, "Well, I do declare's," and three, "Bless her heart's," and maybe, for good measure, just one, "As God as my witness, I will never be hungry again!"

But that might have just been Kimi being dramatic.

The point of my rambling story is that I never really realized I had an accent until I went overseas and everyone didn't have the same accent as me.  And, truthfully, the thing kind of fades away the longer I'm away from home.  But boy howdy, when I talk to mah fam-uh-lee back home, you can bet yawr sweet ass my ak-sent comes out clear and strong!  After I hang up, it's several hours at least before the Southern fades and I stop hearing myself sounding like I just stepped out of the trailer park (not that we live in the trailer park... nor is it wrong TO live in a trailer park... but I'm assuming that's what a lot of people picture when they hear a Southern accent, so I just went with it).

Over the years, I've had a few ELL students tell me that they can't understand me when I give instructions.  The other night, at my creative writers group, I got told to slow down when sharing my landscape description because the room, made up of Brits, Indians, and Arabs, could not understand what I was saying.  I was baffled.  I'm Southern- we're not known for doing anything particularly quickly, especially talking.  And really, who were they to talk?  I couldn't really understand them either.  It made for an interesting night, to say the least.

I love my accent.  I love talking to my friends and family in Georgia and hearing the soft Southern cadence.  The ups and downs, the long vowels and longer words remind me of home.  I can travel back, ever so quickly, when I hear that first 'hay-eeeeee!' from a friend or relative.  Suddenly, I'm at Aunt Beverly's lake house in the summer, surrounded by my mom's family, drinking sweet tea, sneaking deviled eggs, and hoping Aunt Cyndi brought her pineapple casserole.  Life slows down with that accent.  It becomes more simple.  It becomes sweeter.

One of my best friends here in Bahrain is from Texas and I particularly love that when she drinks, her accent gets thicker.  Consequently, when she drinks, MY accent gets thicker because I sort of naturally follow her speech patterns.  When we get together to fuss about a hard day or an unruly student (or significant other *ahem*) both of our Southern accents are strong and clear.  It feels homey.  It feels safe.

This might be why I like country music. 

If you're wondering, the Ladybug sounds like a hot Southern mess most of the time.  But, just to be hysterical and keep us on our toes, she says to-MAH-to, not to-MAY-to.  I blame it on Charlie and Lola.  And I love it.   The Sprout is still just 'diggling' along but I'm certain both of their accents will be fairly neutral.  I wish they could sound like proper little English girls like their big sis and say things like, "Pardon me?" and "might I have a spot of tea?"  (I'm just kidding.  Z has never said that... but I wish she would.)

And, if you're curious, the RS had an accent when I met him.  It's practically gone.  Most people, even fellow English-persons don't know he's from England until he tells them!  What is the point of marrying an Englishman if he doesn't sound like Colin Firth, I ask you?  I mean, really now! 

Shame, Shame, Shame

Day 18: Another blog I admire.

Um.  Am I allowed to admit that I don't really read blogs?  I mean, come on.  It's hard enough finding the time to LIVE my own life right now, much less squeezing in the time to read a blog by someone who is a better writer/more organized/takes better pictures/is funnier/has 250-10,000 followers or anything else that might make one feel jealous because one doesn't seem to have the time to do any of those things.  I feel like there should be some sort of extension period on time for mothers- an extra hour or two a day- so you can get your own stuff done and you don't have to take away from time with your family.  That extra hour could come when the kids are asleep, that's fine.  And some days you could use it TO sleep.  Or to write.  Or take pictures.

Or read other people's blogs.  

There are only two that I read consistently (I'm so sorry- this prompt has made me realize that I sort of expect people to be reading and commenting on my blog but I'm not reciprocating.  I have no excuse except to say that I literally haven't had the time in months... or in two years, 11 months and two weeks, to be exact.  I am going to change my selfish ways.  I hereby swear in front of y'all that I'll read your blog if you're already reading mine.  And I'll leave comments).  

I read Cristin's blog about her move to Australia.  I've never been to Australia and I really want to go which is one reason I really like reading her posts.  More than that though, Cristin is hysterical and I'm invested in her happiness.  She is my friend.  I admire her for doing something brave- moving across the world.  And you may think that's funny coming from me, but when I move, I already have a job and a home and I know someone is meeting me at the airport with a fist-full of money to help me get settled in.  I don't have to figure out much on my own in those first couple of weeks- someone picks me up, takes me to the store, and takes me home.  Someone shows me which are the good restaurants and which to avoid.  I'm told where I can take the kids to play or when not to drive because it's busy or what I can expect life to be like on a holiday.  Cristin just up and moved to Australia.  I don't know if anyone picked her up from the airport.

I also read Bre'onna's blog.  Bre makes me laugh.  She's a friend I have from my mommy board on Facebook.  Our (oldest) kids are about the same age.  She takes amazing pictures of her doll-baby and makes me laugh with her stories of mommy-hood, planning a wedding, and writing.  She's got a lot happening on her blog- I think she might be quite important in the Houston-blog market... and I know her.  And I like her.  And I really, really think our kids could be friends if we lived closer.  I already know we could be IRL friends.  I think we are.

So yeah, I have shamed myself.  I'm going to go read some blogs now.  Feel free to comment below with links to your own favorites, if you want.  Or just comment and tell me how great I am.  I'm feeling fat today. 
Here's a picture of The Sprout with a biscuit,
sunglasses and some cars.  That makes me feel better.

Monday, February 17, 2014

I Roam Around, Around, Around

Day 17: Today's is a photo post - Something I never would have seen if I’d stayed home.

How has it already been seven years?!
Easy-peasy, I thought when I read today's prompt.  And then I realized it wasn't.  Because the answer is fairly obvious- I wouldn't have seen ANY of the stuff I've seen if I never left home.  I wouldn't have seen the Dead Sea, Petra, the mountains of Guatemala, the beaches of the DR, the skyscrapers (and pollution) of Shanghai or the Great Wall.  I would not have seen the pyramids of Giza.   

In the post from Day 13 I meant to write about my crippling fear of change, so I'll attack that now.  It's funny to think how scary 'change' is, now and then.  Going to college at Brenau Women's College was arguably one of the best decisions I've ever been forced to make (that's a story for another time).  I love the beautiful campus, my sorority house full of silly, serious, amazing women, the traditions, the expectations, and the fact that I always felt comfortable going to class in my jammies... because there were no boys.  But every summer, when it came time to pack my bags and drive the 90 minutes back to Gainesville, I cried.  Never mind that I didn't really have many friends in my hometown anymore.  Never mind that my mother and I were often completely sick of each other.  Never mind that I craved the freedoms of 'living on my own,' after a summer in my childhood bedroom.  Nope, none of that mattered.  I had to change my current living arrangements and it upset me.

The same thing happened each summer as I packed to head home.

After college, I was terrified of getting a 'real' job, so I started waitressing at Logan's Roadhouse in my hometown.  And I kept on waitressing at Logan's Roadhouse in my hometown, even after I moved to Atlanta.  Because that would have been too much change.  I hardly spent any time in that Atlanta house.  I preferred to drive 30 minutes back to D'ville and hang out... at home.  The home I had just moved out of.

I wasn't moving to the Dominican Republic, even after talking with Kimi (you should read her blog!) and then the director of the school; not after scheduling an interview in New Orleans and driving out there with my dad and having a three-hour interview.  Nope, I was going to wait until I got home then politely ignore the emails and phone calls from Mr. Director until he went away.  But, deep down, I suspect he knew that because he asked me to make a decision right there.  In front of him.  Then he told me to go get my dad.  And I had to make that decision in front of both of them.

And Southern girls do not say no.

So I said yes.  And initiated the BIGGEST change I had ever even considered experiencing.  And it was terrifying- so terrifying that I didn't sleep for about a month before I left.  I kept waiting for someone to tell me I couldn't go, I shouldn't go.  I wasn't born to be a traveler- I (thought) could be happy staying in D'ville, teaching choir at my old high school, going to the same Wal-Mart, the same Target, the same mall for Christmas pictures.  I would drive to Atlanta for the occasional show at The Fox and then drive to Destin for vacation every couple of years.

Change was never meant to be such a big part of my life.  But change I did and I do, every time we pack up to head to another country.  And all of that change has meant that I have seen unbelievable sites.  But the best things I've seen, that I never would have seen if I hadn't left home are these two cuties:
Because if I had never left home, I never would have seen this man.  And he has been the best thing I've ever seen. 
Thanks Ashley Kaye Photography

Okay, I cheated a little bit... so sue me. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Like Strawberry Wine...

Day 16:  Respond: “It is a bitter-sweet thing, knowing two cultures. Once you leave your birthplace nothing is ever the same.” ― Sarah Turnbull

When I was in college, I used to walk around pretending to have a (very bad, Mary Poppins-esque) British accent.  I think I did it some nights when I worked at Logan's as well, hoping it would get me bigger tips.

People probably just thought I was weird.

I have already touched on viewing your homeland through the lens of an expat's camera on Day Nine, so it's not really necessary to do it again.  But I can easily respond to the quote above- it is unbelievably bitter-sweet.

I have loved something about each of the countries I have lived in- the beautiful beaches of the Dominican Republic, the friendliness of the Arabs in Kuwait and Bahrain, the delicious food and massages in China and the beautiful mountains of Guatemala (and the pan con frijoles... am I right, L?).  But the only other country I've been in that makes me question my need to go home to the US is... drum roll please... merry ol' England.  Yep, you heard me rightI have never lived in England, I've never even been for more than three weeks at a time, but I love it.  I love everything about it.  I love the rolling countryside and the rainy afternoons.  I love pub food and walking into town, just to get out of the house.  God help me, I love British food (though some of it could use just a pinch more salt...).  I love the accents and the row houses and the freezing cold beaches and umbrellas and Tesco and parks and mothers with strollers everywhere you look.

The Rugby Star's parents live about 2 1/2 hours from Heathrow.  I have never read a book on the drive home- I'm too busy looking out the window, taking in the pastures and clouds and windmills (I'm also usually sleeping because we normally have been on a plane for six-to-nine hours prior to climbing into the car).  

I feel just as happy to touch down in London as I do in Atlanta.  I feel just as sad to say goodbye.

It is easy to picture myself holed up in a room overlooking the sea on a sunny summer day, pounding away at my typewriter (yep, in my picture-perfect vision, I'm working on a typewriter, but truthfully, it would be a lap top), churning out the next Great American Novel.  I would stop for lunch and walk down to the pub, have a pint or a glass of wine with my butter chicken or bacon butty and then head back to work, happy, a little sunkissed and smelling the sea on the afternoon breeze.  *This little fantasy is brought to you by the town of Cornwall on the South Western coast of England.*

The inlaws are wonderful people and they love my kids like only a grandparent can.  They would move the earth for them... and for us.  They already have- more than once.  And there in lies the 'bitter-sweet.'  Family on both sides of the pond.  I want desperately for my children to know their families.  I grew up with all my dad's family in Tulsa- we got to see them once a year.  I love them, I cherish them, but I haven't seen them in so, so long (my fault, completely).  There are connections I'm missing, friendships that aren't being maintained.  Heck, I'm not even sure how many kids one of my cousins has!

One wouldn't think, would one, that English culture is so different from American- we speak the same language, after all (the language THEY invented, the Rugby Star likes to remind me).  But I can assure you- it is night and day.   First off, as a rule, the English are not as enamored with our accents as we are with theirs, so go ahead and accept that.  Second, for the most part, walking is such a part of their every day.  I cannot tell you how many times I've been laughed at for thinking we're getting in the car to go somewhere, whether it's cold, hot, raining or snowing.    And they just go for walks.  In the clothes they're wearing.  No one has to change into work out clothes or put on their trainers.  They're just like, "Hey, let's go for a walk."  And then they do.  English television is wonderfully dramatic and also a little silly.   The country itself is so family friendly.  Now that's not to say that America isn't... it's just a different friendly. It's kid-centered and outside-y and it's just a happy place for me.

Selfishly, I want to be with my family.  Selfishly, I want to be in England.  It's as easy to live in neither country as it is hard to be away from both.  But I honestly cannot see myself NOT living in England at some point...

Oh really, what's a girl to do?