Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Who Has Four Hours To Spare?

Definitely not my husband. So when he was asked to attend some meetings with a few VIPs down at the port in Aqaba - a four-hour drive away - I'm not entirely certain he was thrilled.

Until, that is, the people he was supposed to meet with offered up their helicopter.

You see, you can only make the drive to-and-from Aqaba in daylight hours, unless you want to risk crashing into a flock of sheep that has been bedded down on the highway for the night. So you have to spend the night - which is kind of crazy if you only have a few hours' worth of meetings and a full day of work back at the Embassy.

Instead of driving, Bart and his colleagues went to the airport and hopped on a police helicopter for the 1 1/4 hour flight - directly over the Dead Sea, straight across Petra, and on to the airport in Aqaba.

I am beyond jealous. How cool would that be, to fly right over Petra?

I wonder if he could convince them to fly the whole family down the next time he has meetings. Though I imagine my kids would find plenty to fight about even with such a quick journey....

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

International Fashion Superstar

A couple of months ago, I had lunch with two of my friends from work. Together, these two women rule over the empire that is the Embassy co-op, restaurant, snack bar and pool. They are arguably the most powerful women at the Embassy, what with their total control over all pork products and margarita mixes that enter the country. You want bacon with that strawberry margarita? Better be nice to them.

So there we were, eating lunch, when one of them mentioned that she was thinking of organizing a fashion show. "It would be fun," she said, "if we could get a representative from every section." I nodded in agreement. "We could have it by the pool," she added. I nodded in agreement. "We would bring in someone to do hair and makeup, and maybe we could bring a photographer, too." I nodded in agreement. "Maybe you could be the representative from the Political section?" she asked. I nodded in agreement.

Did you notice what just happened there? I nodded in agreement. Oh, yes, I did, when what I really meant to do was shake my head vigorously back and forth in a manner that indicated my complete disagreement with her plan.

But, no. She took my head bobbing to mean that I would love to model in her fashion show. The fashion show that I promptly forgot about after lunch.

A few weeks later, she asked me why I missed the fitting. "The fitting?" I repeated slowly, feeling a vaguely troubling sensation in the back of my brain.

"You know, for the fashion show," she said. "It's tomorrow."

I mumbled an apology and felt relieved to have missed the fitting. After all, if I hadn't been fitted, I couldn't possibly be a model, right? Right?

"Wrong," she told me cheerfully. Apparently I was destined to be in this fashion show, unless I could somehow develop a bad case of strep throat in the next 24 hours. I prodded at my lymph nodes hopefully, but nary a one was swollen.

I had nightmares that night. Seriously. Me, in a fashion show? (Jenn D, I can hear you laughing now all the way from Bahrain. Stop it. Stop it now, or you're uninvited to Jordan.) My idea of high fashion is when I switch from a white t-shirt and jeans to, say, a white t-shirt and khaki pants. When I really want to make an impression, I brush my hair. If I can find a brush. So when you think "international fashion model," you don't necessarily picture me.

The dreaded day dawned bright and sunny - perfect weather for a poolside fashion show. My lymph nodes remained unhelpfully healthy, and so I had no choice but to go to work.

Some random guy did crazy things to my hair with a brush and a hairdryer. Another guy slapped on waaay too much make-up: green eyeliner and bright pink lipstick. Then I tossed on a way-too-low-cut gown, poked at my lymph nodes one last time, and stumbled toward the pool for my fashion show debut.

Oh, it was painful. But the pictures came out okay. You can't even see that I was totally and completely broken out in hives in front of all of those people.

Still, I think it's safe to say that my career as an international fashion superstar is over. I'm just not cut out for that kind of thing.

Next time, I'm eating lunch by myself. Just me, a margarita and a BLT.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Fly Up Day

Well, I'm officially old.

Yesterday was the 5th grade Fly Up Ceremony, at which they marked their transition to middle school. Yes, that's right, I have a baby in middle school now. Oh, but it gets worse: did you know he's going to be in the Class of 2018? I'm not sure I was even aware that one could count that high.

The Class of 2018.

The scary thing is, you just know I'm going to blink my eyes and we'll be there already.

Monday, June 13, 2011

time, flying

Another year has flown by somehow. This time last year we were in Seattle, fighting jetlag to stay awake for Kyra's fourth birthday party.

And now? Now she's five. She's taller and skinnier and girlier. She's forgotten all of her Chinese, but she's starting to sing in Arabic as she twirls around in the kitchen. Her favorite color is "dark pink with sparkles."

She's going to start kindergarten - kindergarten! - in the fall, and I'm not sure how to feel about that. Oh, she's clearly ready. But I'm not sure I am. How is it that she's not my baby anymore?

She's stubborn and sneaky and smart - just like her mama. I sense we're going to clash pretty hard a few years from now, so I have to hold on to these years, when I'm still her mommy and not just that pain-in-the-ass woman who tells her she can't wear that out of the house.

We'll celebrate as a family this year, with a pink heart cake topped with pink and purple sparkles. It isn't much to look at - I'm not the best cake decorator - but she took one look and exclaimed "I didn't know that was the cake I wanted, but it is!"

With Shay and Aidan, 5 years ago...
And now...

Sunday, June 12, 2011


It's that time of year again, when families leave post, either for the summer or forever.

School ends a few days hence, and the flights out of here will be full of all of the friends we've made these last ten months.

I ran into one man at the school - not a friend, exactly, but someone I've gotten to know fairly well given his role at the school - whose family is leaving soon, and permanently. They aren't foreign service officers, which makes their situation a bit different from ours.

You see, foreign service officers are told where to go and when, and then again, we're told when it's time to leave. We know we have a brief window of time in each country, and we know when that window is supposed to close from the moment we touch down at the airport for the first time.

For people like this man, teachers and other contract-driven expats, it's different. He had to decide when it was time to go, on his own. And so he decided, earlier this year, that he was done with this place, despite the fact that he had no idea what would come next.

You could see the sadness radiating off his face as we talked, because he doesn't quite know what he's going to. It's different if you have roots in a place, a home somewhere to which you can return. For permanent expats, there is no such place. You leave post, and you hope the place you're going to will have something to offer. You have to pray you're making the right choice. Because really: is it so bad where you are? How do you know when your time is up? And what to do if it is?

Right now, in this current economic climate, the future is uncertain for this type of expat. Will there be a job waiting for you somewhere else? Did you make the right decision, moving your family now, taking them away from what they know, or should you have stayed put for another year?

For this particular gentleman, it's worse, because he grew up overseas. So he has no roots, no place to which he's destined to return. For the first time, he's moving back to America, but he isn't moving home, not really.

And you could see the fear, all the nervousness and the worry, as he twisted his hands and talked about what might await his family in the coming months. They've never lived in America, after all, so this move is a big deal for the whole family. Will it work? He doesn't know.

But he was excited, too, and dreaming about what good things this change could bring. I hope it works out for him and his family. I hope they find their feet in America. I really do.

Friday, June 3, 2011


During the rainy season, Yogi the Giant Schnauzer got a bit, shall we say, overenthusiastic about splashing in the puddles in our back yard. As a result, we had a few holes in the lawn by winter's end.

We - and here you'll think we're completely spoiled, and you'll probably be right - we gave Reda the boab some money, and he went wherever it is you go in Jordan when you need to buy grass seeds and soil. He then returned with said items and proceeded to re-seed the lawn.

(Lest you think we're completely living the life of ease over here, remember this: I had to somehow communicate to Reda, in Arabic, what we needed him to do and when. So I have my own personal gardener, sure, but at the expense of my dignity. You should have seen me out there pantomining digging dogs and growing grass and sunshine. You should've seen me. But I'm glad you didn't.)

So where was I? Oh, yes, snakes. Anyway...

Reda planted the seeds and indicated that it would be at least 10 days before Yogi could go back in the yard. He definitely said 10. But in reality, it was more like 20. Or 1000. It was a loooong time before we could let him back there again.

Finally, though, the big day arrived. Yogi sniffed the new tender blades of grass, testing them with his paws while I stood sternly by. He tried to sneak in a little dig, and was quite disappointed that I wouldn't permit it. Still, glorious day! Yogi was once again free to roll around in the grass, right there on the sunniest patch of lawn.

Twenty-four hours passed. I left Bart in charge of the kids and escaped to the grocery store. (Moms out there: is there anything more wonderful than a grocery store run without your kids in tow? Bart always asks why I take so long, and the truth is, I like to stand in the produce section and revel in the silence.)

So where was I again? Oh, right, the snake.

Now here is where my narrative gets somewhat fuzzy. You see, I wasn't there when Reda the boab showed up at the door with some guys from Amman Municipality, telling Bart that Yogi the Giant Schnauzer was once again banned from the back yard. So I only have Bart's word for what happened. But the government seems to think he's a trustworthy guy, so we're going to go with his version of events.

It seems that Reda the boab found a snake in the back yard. A big snake? Perhaps. A poisonous snake? Perhaps. But who knows? Bart doesn't have time to study Arabic, and these guys don't have a reason to study English. It was only through some phone translation help from a colleague that it was even determined that the guys were hunting a snake. "And where there are snakes, there will be scorpions," is a line that was apparently bandied about.

So the city was putting poison in our yard to kill the snake. And Yogi the dog was not allowed to go back there for a week.

Poor Yogi. And poor Snakie! Seriously, did they have to kill it? It probably wasn't even capable of hurting a person.

At least this is what I told my wonderfully patient language teacher, Ghadeer, when I asked her the word for snake the very next day (it's haiya, or حية, which you can remember because it's sort of like the sound you might make if you were to chop a snake in two. You're welcome.). And I said, "What a shame, poor snakie." Ghadeer assured me that there are some obscenely poisonous snakes in Jordan, black snakes, so if this is what they found, they were right to kill it.

But what are the chances it was a poisonous black snake? Well, I know the word for black in Arabic - it was one of the first words I memorized because it sounds just like a swear word if you pronounce it the way I do: asswad. How great is that word? I use it all the time in traffic.

But I digress.

I saw Reda that afternoon, so I asked "Shou lawn haiya?" What color is the snake?

His response: "asswad." Which either means the snake is black, or he was insulting me. Assuming the former, gulp.

It appears our beautiful new un-dug-up lawn is a festering pit of poisonous asswad snakes. And you know what they say: where there are snakes, there will be scorpions.

Unfortunately, this is where our story ends. Did our heroine chop the snake in two with her own bare hands (haiya!)? Was Yogi the Giant Schnauzer ever allowed to resume his second-favorite activity, digging up the lawn? Is the snake even now lurking in the bushes, waiting to sink his fangs into our unsuspecting toes? Or was he caught and disposed of while our heroine was stuck at work, entering passport numbers into a vast government database?

Dear readers, I just don't know. I suppose it would have been smart to find out whether the snake was ever caught before I started this blog post. But, you know, I wasn't eager to go pantomine poisonous-snake-death-throes for the entertainment of the boab, who potentially already thinks I'm an asswad. So for now, let's just leave the poor grandparents hanging. And if I should happen to see Reda wander past the kitchen window with a giant snake carcass dangling from his shoulders, I'll let you know.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Yesterday, Reda the boab stopped by the kitchen window with a ladder on his shoulders, asking for a dish of some sort. I gave him a big tupperware container, and he continued into our back yard.

A few minutes later, he returned with my tupperware, and it was full of this:
Apparently we have an eskadinia tree in our back yard. Never heard of eskadinia? Neither had I. That's one of the things I love about the Foreign Service - at each new post there are new foods to try, strange fruits to sample. In Armenia we had a pomegranate tree in our back yard, and fresh mulberries at the market down the road. In Moscow I developed an obsession with pickled garlic stems. Kazakhstan, strangely enough, had an amazing Korean market, where I learned to love kim chee. (I never did try those rooster heads, though.) China - oh, how I miss the food in China. I could go on about the dragon fruit and the pea shoots and the odd little melons whose name I never learned.

Here we have eskadinia. After a bit of research, I discovered that the English name for these little guys is "loquat." They're sort of like apricots that have been cross-bred with mangos and tangerines. Not as soft or sweet as an apricot, less dense than a mango, with a sour orange-y undertone. Delicious.
Please. Write your own stuff.