Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Emergency Room Visit #2

"It's only 8:15," I said, to which Bart responded "Bedtime!" (He gets up at 4 or 5 in the morning, or something awful like that.)

"I'm not sleepy," I replied, "but I would like to curl up on the couch with a book and read for awhile."

We were sitting there, pondering our options, when Kyra screamed and the other kids began calling frantically for us.

It seems Kyra had picked up a small wooden box and then dropped it directly on her foot. The toenail popped off - what is it with this family and toenail injuries? - and she was spurting blood everywhere.

We carried her to the van and off I drove with her to the Arab Medical Center ER. (I always pull ER duty because I can't stand to be the one left behind. It's a major part of my mom-ness, that I'm the one there with them, and I cannot stay home when one of my babies goes to the hospital.)

They x-rayed the foot - no broken bones. And, since part of the toenail is still attached to the nailbed, they opted to leave it on rather than surgically remove it. Having gone through surgical toenail removal with our eldest, I can assure you that I was greatly relieved.

So we got lucky. They cleaned the wound and taped up the toe before sending us on our way. I was a little worried because I didn't have a ton of money on me, and overseas, we have to pay cash for these kinds of things. But the grand total for x-rays, exam and wound cleaning was 29 JD - less than $50.

I think my chances of curling up on the couch with a book are pretty much nil at this point in my life.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

So, Donna, How's Your Arabic These Days?

I'm so glad you asked!

I am happy to report that, after weeks of studying, I am finally at the point where I know enough words to start making an ass of myself!

Here are some examples for you.

The word for oil in Arabic is zeit. I knew the car was leaking oil, so when Reda the boab gestured at the car and told me something with the word "zeit" in it, I correctly deduced that he was telling me about the leak.

We got the leak fixed. And the next time I saw Reda, I thought I should tell him. I pointed at the car and said, in stilted Arabic, that there was no oil under the car. At least, I thought that's what I said. But he looked confused. I tried again, slowly, in a mixture of Arabic and English. "Under the saayara," I pointed, "maa zeitoon." And he cracked up.

Zeit is oil. Zeitoon is olive. So I guess I was carefully explaining that there aren't any olives under my car. Which, though technically true, is not quite what I intended to say.

I saw Reda again this past Sunday after my Arabic class. He said "blah blah blah alHafla blah blah?"

"AlHafla..." I repeated, thinking that I knew that word. I said it a few times out loud, slowly, trying to remember what it meant. And I remembered: alHafla is party! He was asking if we were having a party! I was so pleased with myself to have remembered what the word meant that I grinned like an idiot and said "alHafla!!!!! AlHafla!!!!Yes!!! We ARE having an alHafla!!! An alHafla!!!!" I really said it with that many exclamation points.

After some further chitchat, I determined that he wanted to know when the party was so he could make sure the yard was clean. Well, I know the days of the week. They aren't hard really, as they're derived from the numbers one, two, three, etc. So I counted on my fingers as I thought - "Monday, Tuesday Wednesday, Thursday, one, two, three, four" - until I came up with the answer: alarb'aa. Our alHafla is on alarb'aa. Easy peasy, no?

So this morning, Wednesday, there was Reda, scrubbing off the sidewalks and patios. (aside: everyone should have a Reda to help out. He also carried my approximately 3000 pounds of groceries in from the car. I love that man.) Hmmm, I thought. I wonder why he's doing that today when the party is tomorrow? And then he asked when my guests were coming.

Me(in Arabic): Tomorrow.

Reda (also in Arabic. Obviously): But you said alarb'aa. That's today. Wednesday.

Me (thinking): But I counted one-two-three-four. MondayTuesdayWednesdayThursohCRAP! I forgot that they start from Sunday, not Monday. I told him my party was on Wednesday.

Me (out loud, in Arabic): Sorry. It's tomorrow. Thursday. Alhameez, not alarb'aa. I need to study more.

Him (laughing): It's okay, I'll clean again tomorrow.

Him (thinking): This woman is an idiot! An idiot with too many bags of groceries.

Those are just a couple of recent examples of my stellar Arabic language skills. I have many more examples, but as you may have deduced, I have an alHafla to prepare for on alhameez, so I'd better get going on my Thanksgiving prep. We have about 30 people to feed, including all of the Marines - which means that if I undercook my turkeys (yes, turkeys - what was I thinking?), I'll seriously undermine the Embassy's security posture. Don't want to give those guys salmonella.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Or, as they say in Jordan, eid al shokra. Just don't quote me on that.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Marine Ball 2010

The hair, people. The hair.

I was a few minutes late to my marathon hair appointment because my husband was at work and I needed to wait for him to come home and take me to the appointment. Yes, that makes us officially old: it's the first time he's ever had to drop me off at my all-day hair appointment.

I walked up those creepy stairs and into Salmon's hair salon, which was... gone. He was sitting by himself, in the middle of a completely torn down apartment, smoking a cigarette. For a minute I thought I might have walked into a really scary episode of 24. But no: it turns out he is renovating his salon and we had to walk down the street to his friend's salon for my appointment.

Along the way, we tried to chat, but his English isn't great and my Arabic... isn't. During my last Arabic class, though, the teacher had told us that our stylists would ask what color our dresses were, so we learned colors. When Salmon asked me something that seemed to have the word "dress" in it, I proudly responded in Arabic "my dress is golden!"

"What?" he said, confused. Apparently he hadn't been asking about the dress after all. After determining that we had no idea what we were saying to one another, but that my dress was definitely golden, we continued our walk in silence.

I learned two things about Jordanian hair salons yesterday. First: everyone smokes. Everyone. Salmon went through at least 6 cigarettes during my appointment, which thankfully only lasted two and a half HOURS. The lady next to me, with the false eyelashes out to here and make-up to match, could not stop blowing smoke in my direction.

People, please. After you spend all that time and money on your hair, do you really want to walk out smelling like an ashtray? Yuck.

The second thing I learned? You are not going to get an American-style up-do, even if you show pictures and explain, in detail, before they start.

I thought Salmon and I both agreed that we would have something simple, a messy bun in the back, maybe, with no high hair on top. But I don't think they know how to do it any other way. He was teasing and combing and spraying and teasing again until my hair was gigantic. "Not too high," I kept telling him, but he was in the zone. He had three assistants stepping in, each with his own curling iron. He dumped a can and a half of hairspray into my hair. All the while a thick fog of cigarette smoke mixed with the hairspray to create a haze, through which I peered into the mirror, hoping against hope he knew what he was doing.

He knew what he was doing, all right. He was building a ski ramp on my head.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, I present: the Marine Ball up-do/Hot Wheels ramp that was my hair yesterday:

The back view:

The side view:

I thought I was going to cry. Really, I know there are worse problems to have in this world, but at the time, I honestly couldn't think of any. My hair was a ski jump. A hairsprayed helmet that smelled like cheap tobacco. And I was almost $100 poorer for it.

I think this was the lowest point in the life of my hair, with the possible exception of the time I decided to save money by dying my own hair in a hotel room, resulting in an orange head of hair that one hairdresser then chopped down to the roots before another one came in and dyed it back to its original color, leaving me with the same boring hair color, but with significantly less hair, and less money, too.

But I digress.

I caught a cab home and called Bart from the front yard. "Let me in," I believe I said, "but don't you DARE laugh at me."

He opened the door and, diplomat that he is, said only "Why didn't you have him do it the way you had it last year?" Before I could ask him if my new up-do made my butt look fat, the puppy came around the corner and started barking at the giant cigarette in the doorway - me. The baby started to cry. And Shay said "You canNOT leave the house looking like that, mom."

At least it was unanimous. I was a train wreck. But what to do?

Bart left for work (another emergency), leaving me alone with my foot-high nightmare.

I contemplated washing my hair and starting over, but there wouldn't be enough time to get all of the hair goo out. So I settled for removing about 60 bobby pins and a couple of rubber bands, then shaking my head around to try to undo the up-do.

There was enough hairspray in there that I was then able to salvage the hair somewhat by pulling it back in my usual ponytail and sticking a few of the pins in it to make it look like a bun.

I made Shay take some pictures so I could see if it was presentable. Here it is: the final hairstyle.

Now today, I will have to spend some serious time with a tub of coconut oil, trying to de-tangle this rat's nest on my head.

We were supposed to leave for the Ball at 5:30. Bart didn't get home from work until 5, at which time I got in the car with Shay and raced to drop him off for a sleepover. I got home again at 5:20, with just enough time to zip into a dress, toss on some heels, give some quick instructions to the sitter, help Bart find some cuff links, take the baby seats out of the van and go.

But we made it to the Ball. And you'd never know, looking at our smiling faces, that just a few minutes before we got there, we were running around frantically, me smelling of cigarettes and Bart reeling from stress.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Mt. Nebo

Something about having a new puppy makes it very, very difficult to blog.

We did manage to lock him in his crate and escape to Mt. Nebo for a few hours. You might remember Mt. Nebo from your Bible stories - that's the mountain that God led Moses to in order to give Moses a view of the Promised Land. Christians and Jews believe Moses died on that mountain without ever reaching the Promised Land.

On a clear day, you can see Jerusalem. But of course it wasn't clear the day we went. All the same, it was kind of cool to stand up on that mountain and just gaze down at the brown hills below.

Here the kids are standing in front of the Abu Badd, a rock that was used as a reinforced door at a nearby Byzantine monastery.

What Moses saw:

Here's an old mosaic floor, roped off and roofed in to protect it from the elements and the tourists.

Our daughter might be the first person to walk on it in hundreds of years. Bart had to jump the rope line and haul her away.

I love this map. It shows the distance and direction to places like Bethlehem and Jericho.

When we first arrived at Mt. Nebo, we saw this Franciscan monk speaking with a construction worker. I was trying to explain to Shay what, exactly, a Franciscan monk is. Awhile later, Kyra asked me, "mom, was that God talking to the worker?" Apparently she understood our talk about this being holy ground, where God and Moses communicated, but she took it one step further. She thought the monk was God himself. And I have to admit: if I were casting someone in the role of God, I might well choose this monk. He had that wise and kind look about him.

On our way home, we got briefly lost in the nearby town of Madaba. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to explore - that puppy was back home, waiting patiently in his crate. But we'll be back.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Talented Salmon, Part Two

Last year, for the first time, I had my hair done for the Marine Ball, and it was fun to have a fancy hair-do.

Well, the Marine Ball is coming up again this Friday, and I thought it would be nice to get an up-do again. So I called up the Talented Salmon.

I want to get my hair done for a party on the 19th, I told him.

Yes, yes, of course, he agreed. You come on the 19th! We will do highlights! And hairstyle! And make-up! And manicure and pedicure!

Ummm, well, no highlights, thanks ( because you never know about getting highlights the first time, and I don't want to look like a skunk). Also, I told him, no make-up.

No make-up?, he repeated, and I couldn't tell if he was offended or astonished. But then who will do your make-up?

I can do it myself, I explained. I just need an up-do. And a pedicure would be nice.

Okay, he agreed. Up-do. Pedicure. AND manicure. You come to my salon at 12.

But Samman, I said, I'd prefer 4 o'clock. 12 seems a bit early.

4 o'clock?, he repeated.

Yes, I affirmed. 4 o'clock.

Okay, he said, 4 o'clock. You come to my salon at 12 o'clock, we finish by 4 o'clock.


So it appears, if we understood each other correctly, that the Talented Salmon is going to spend FOUR hours getting me ready for the Marine Ball this Friday.

And I am very, very afraid.


Happy Eid, everyone! The kids are home all week, so we need to come up with activities to keep them (and Yogi) busy. But no, we won't be slaughtering a sheep.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Poor Barbie. What kind of sick creature would do something like that to her hands?

Meet Yogi, our latest mistake. I mean, the newest member of our family.

He's just three months old. So little! So tiny! But not for long. He's a giant schnauzer. That's right: Giant. As in, not miniature or standard. Giant. Yes, it's true. My husband is officially certifiable. He chose the dog. I merely stood by, prepared to I-told-you-so him some time down the road.

And while he may look all cute and innocent in this picture, you should know this: he ate that Barbie's hands.

And that's not all he's eaten. Several other Barbies lost their appendages and had to be disposed of deep in the garbage can when no one was looking. He's eaten Legos, crayons and blocks. He's even eaten my computer cable. Twice. He ate one of my high heels after the girls took it out of my closet. He's chewed up pretty much everything he's found on the floor - except his expensive imported rawhide bones.

But he's made the kids very, very happy. They haven't even had time to notice their missing toys, so busy are they chasing him around.

I'm sure you'll be hearing lots more about Yogi soon. Unless he manages to eat my computer.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

More Soccer Stories

Soccer season is almost over (insert sigh of relief here), and incredibly, both boys' teams are first in their age groups. Funny how when they're winning, they find the game so much more exciting.

I've been kind of mildly complaining about Shay's team all season, just because, well, because I can. Aidan's team mom is totally on the ball: she comes to every practice, even bringing a first aid kit with her; she texts us weekly with game times; she collected money for the coach's gift.

Shay's team mom, on the other hand, has been totally AWOL. I've received nary a text. I've never met the lady. Don't even know who she is.

Last weekend, Aidan's team mom texted the game time. But I still needed to find out when Shay's team was playing, so I found the original team email in my in-box and scrolled down to try to find the schedule.

Since we're nearing the end of the season, I had to scroll waaay down to find the date. And that's when I saw something new.

Right at the end, after the season schedule, it says, right there, in 10-point Times New Roman:

"Team Mum: Donna Gorman"

Yes, so. That mom I've been griping about? I guess everyone else on the team has been complaining about her, too. Except they probably know who she is: Me.

I was pretty embarrassed at first, and then I just got angry. Seriously, who does that? They just made me the team mom and didn't bother to ask me? I guess I was supposed to know enough to scroll to the bottom on day one. And that's another thing: I am the ONLY foreign mom on the whole team. Did they choose me because they thought I wouldn't complain? Because the other moms refused to do it? Why would they choose the only lady who is so brand new in town that she didn't even show up for soccer sign ups? And then, when I didn't do anything related to my newly-appointed position, you'd think maybe someone would've dropped me a line to make sure I was alive over here.

So I'm a leeetle bit irritated with the whole of organized soccer in Amman. (Though I did notice this weekend that all of the team moms have fancy red shirts - I'm sorely tempted to go ask the coach where my shirt is, just for kicks.)

While at soccer this weekend, I decided to buy one of those cheese bread sandwich things that I posted about recently. I looked quite fetching in a t-shirt, jeans and clogs. I placed my order and stood there salivating, when suddenly something bit me behind my left knee, underneath my jeans. I howled in pain and started clutching at my pants.

The pain got worse by the second, and I couldn't shake out whatever creature was in there. It was all I could do not to rip off my pants right there in the line. Instead, I grabbed my knee and galloped awkwardly to the bathroom, where I pulled off my jeans and shook them inside out. Whatever had bitten me was no longer there, but I had a bloody red mark about half the size of a pencil eraser behind my knee, which was absolutely throbbing.

I hobbled back to the sandwich stand to pay for my food, and then went back into the spectator stands, where a colleague - whose wife is also a team mom, albeit one who isn't shirking her duties - found the team ice pack and let me use it on my poor leg, while everyone gathered around and played "guess what bit Donna?" Tick? Scorpion? Wasp?

Now, 36 hours later, I have a warm, swollen red spot about the size of a hand where I was bitten by the mystery beast. It itches and hurts all at once. Cortizone hasn't helped. Neither has Benadryl. So I guess I might limp over to the Medical Unit tomorrow and see if they can put me out of my misery.

I think it's safe to say that I'll be the happiest woman alive when soccer season is finally over.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Election Day Dinner

Yesterday was election day in Jordan, and it was a national holiday.

Bart had some visitors in town, so we planned a dinner party for some of his colleagues.

First, though, he had to go to work for a few hours, to catch up on some outstanding projects. So, while he worked, I cooked. Shay had a sleepover pal, so the boys were happily engaged all morning, freeing me to get a lot accomplished.

My first clue that something was amiss: I got a call from the sleepover mom, asking if her son could stay awhile longer. It seems an election-related riot had broken out just down the street from her house, a few minutes' drive from us, so she'd been instructed to shut the windows and stay inside. Just when I was talking to her, I got a text message through the Embassy's emergency system, warning about the riot.

Was I worried about rioters down the street? No, I wasn't. Instead, I was worried that my husband wouldn't make it home in time to help with the party. I'm a Big Picture Thinker like that.

He did make it home eventually, and he was able to help out. Of course, not two minutes before the first guests walked in, he was called about some more rioting, this time near the kids' school, so he spent the first half hour of the party tucked away in the kitchen, working the phone.

A new emergency message went out, advising people to stay home for the evening. Too late: we already had about 30 guests, plus their kids, in our house.

I know my mom is going to ask, so here's the menu: salsa, chips and guacamole. Sherise's bean and cheese enchiladas. Jen's "Best Damn Chicken Enchiladas East of (insert your country here)", shredded beef, Mexican rice, black beans, whole wheat tortillas and salad.

There were almost no leftovers. On to dessert, during which we plowed through a double batch of brownies, a dozen cupcakes baked by one of the child guests, a box of fig candies and homemade caramel. Yes, Shannon over at Cyberbones, already well-known for her ability to make ricotta cheese from scratch, shared her caramel recipe with me, and dang if it isn't so good. It all disappeared as well (except for maybe just a couple of pieces I set aside for my breakfast).

So there you have it. As far as I know, all of our guests made it home without running into any rioters. And I've no idea who won the election. But at least soon they'll take down the 30 million-ish election posters that are currently lining the streets of Amman. And caramels are really, really good for breakfast.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Hostage Situation

I finally did it.

I bought my new computer.

That's right. I figured I'd been talking about it for a year, and it was finally time to put words into action. I bought a Mac! Go me!

I bought it a month ago. And I waited impatiently for it to arrive.

The first hint that something was terribly wrong came from Shannon at Cyberbones. Did you know her husband bought her a Kindle for her birthday? Go husband! But it never arrived. After some sleuthing, he discovered that the State Department was no longer allowing any items with lithium batteries (Kindles, computers, cameras...) to be shipped in the pouch. It seems there was some sort of plane crash in which a fire was caused by a lithium battery. So now no one wants to ship them.

I checked with my mail room. No, they told me, there was no policy change. My computer should be arriving shortly.

A few days later, a cable went out worldwide. It went something like this:

STATE 001112

1. The good news is, we have your computer here in our gigantic mail warehouse.
2. However, we regret to inform you that your computer cannot be shipped to post.
3. Write to us at youllneverseeyourcomputeragain@state.gov and we'll try to help you figure out what to do.


The cable might not have been worded exactly like that - I'm paraphrasing here. But you get the idea.

So I wrote to the good folks at youwastedyourmoney@state.gov, and sent them my tracking number. The responded within minutes - minutes! - providing me with a screen shot that showed that my computer is, indeed, being kept in their warehouse.

Thanks so much, I responded, but can you please tell me what the next steps are? Will you be returning my computer to the sender so I can get a refund? Will you readdress it so it comes to me through the DPO? Please advise.

They never answered. So I sent them another message. And another. And another. Still no response from leaveabagofmoneyunderatreeifueverhopetoseeyourcomputeraliveagain@state.gov.

So here I sit. I have no shiny new Apple computer. Yet the money has been spent - my credit card seems to think I have a new computer. Sadly, it is being held captive against its will, and there appears to be nothing I can do except wait for the guys over at wannagoforacoffeebreak@state.gov to tell me what to do.


What a disaster.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Arabian Night

Last night the school held an "Arabian Night" fundraiser, in which the kids performed dances from various countries in the Middle East. At least, I think that's what the kids did, but it was all in Arabic, so I can't actually be sure.

Shay's class danced the dabka. He needed to wear a traditional dishdasheh, which I of course put off buying until the last possible minute, at which point a kind neighbor offered to lend us one. (Note to the school: if this is really a fundraiser, why not just sell the dishdash-outfits to the kids at a mark-up? Trust me: I'd rather pay you double than try to find the "Giant Fabric Market" downtown.) (Note to other random readers: if I misspelled dishdasheh or dabka, cut me some slack, would ya? I'm trying...)

Right before it was time to leave for the performance, and I mean right before as in grab-your-keys-and-head-for-the-door, Shay announced that he was supposed to wear black dress shoes with his outfit. Ummmm... even if his old dress shoes still fit, which I doubt, there's no way I'm digging through the closet when it's already time to go.

Note the fancy shoes, below:

And here they are, doing the dabka:

After the various student groups got up and performed, a "real" dance troupe came out to finish off the show. They were pretty good - pretty loud, too. But wait - isn't that one guy playing a bagpipe? I didn't know there were Jordanian bagpipe players. The pictures are kind of blurry because it's dark and they're spinning around and I'm no Daring Adventure or Beyond the Cornfields.

My son is ten. So when he saw this hanging on the wall by the stage, he insisted I take a picture.

They followed the performance with a buffet, but it was late and the kids were tired, so we grabbed a few falafel and then headed home to order a pizza.

And that was our night!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Learning Arabic

I've had two Arabic classes so far, and boy-oh-boy has she covered a lot of information already. My homework sheet on the first day consisted of sentences like "You all need to go to bed early because tomorrow you will fly to Egypt," and "They don't think that they'll eat that food again," and "Let's take the kids to a party tonight!" So that would be: past, present and future tenses. Prepositions. Plural nouns and adjectives. Negative sentences. Masculine and feminine genders. Place names. And so on. After one hour of class.

Do you think I have some catching up to do?

There were 20 such sentences, and I am pleased to report that I was able to write all 20 in perfect English! In Arabic, eh, not so much. (Hey, FSO Hopeful: if I start posting my homework here, maybe you can do it for me???).

The good news is, I could do all of those sentences, if asked, in Russian. Probably in Chinese, too. And that gives me hope - if I learned them in the past, I will surely learn them again in Arabic - eventually. Right? Right?

But, oh, the studying I have ahead of me!

I decided to try out some new phrases on the boab. I said, very slowly, "I... am... stu..dy..ing... Arabic."

He replied "Great! You blankblank and blahhhhh and I blankityblankblank."

I thought for a minute, and then I answered "I... am... stu..dy..ing... Arabic."

So as you can see, I've made some real progress already.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Happy Halloween

This year, we had Derek Jeter, Commander Cody, Belle and a mermaid.

They did an amazing job of hosting trick-or-treat at the Embassy. The entire first floor was transformed into a trick-or-treat walk, with each section decorating a portion of the way. I expected people to tape bats on their doors and call it a day, but no. There was a spooky section, a funny section - people went all out on the decorating, and even when I was in a part of the Embassy with which I'm familiar, I had trouble recognizing where I was. One section made a mini haunted house in their little portion of the hallway. Another section constructed a giant maze of moving boxes outside.

Next we went to the parking lot, where people decorated cars for trunk-or-treat. And after that, we went to the Embassy pool, where a pizza and pasta buffet was served.

Aidan said it was "the best Halloween ever."

We went home after dinner and did candy experiments with some of the loot. But there's still an awful lot to eat.

So Happy Halloween, everyone! But tell me this: how did it get to be November already?

Oh, and p.s.: Kyra's super-short bangs in the photo below? Yes, well. She did that herself, just a couple of days ago. Apparently, she didn't want her hair in her eyes. Nice.

Please. Write your own stuff.