Saturday, July 30, 2011

DCM Bart

At the top of every Embassy food chain is the Ambassador. He's the senior U.S. representative in the country. You stand when he (she) walks in the room, you call him (her!) Mr. Ambassador, you laugh at his (her....) jokes... You get the idea.

The next person down is called the DCM - that's short for "Deputy Chief of Mission." This person is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Embassy. You don't have to stand when he walks in, but you do have to remember your manners.

When the Ambassador is out of the country, the DCM moves up to take over, and his title changes to "Charge d'Affaires," or CDA. When the Ambassador is going to be gone for a long while, the CDA can assign another high-ranking Embassy person to be the Acting DCM, and that person takes over day-to-day operations.

Are you following?

Our Ambassador left post awhile back, but the incoming Ambassador hasn't yet arrived. So the DCM became the CDA, and he assigned a new DCM. Currently, that person is none other than... my husband.

And - get this - he is currently sitting in the Ambassador's office as he goes about his work day.

Needless to say, the guys who work with him have been teasing him relentlessly, trying to ensure that the power doesn't go straight to his head. (To be fair, they would tease him relentlessly even if he weren't the A/DCM - he's definitely the straight man for their jokes, and they have a seriously funny crew in RSO right now.)

Last week, one of the guys convinced a couple of the Marines to dress up and stand guard outside the Ambassador's office, in a show of pomp and circumstance that was guaranteed to mortify my poor husband. A few people got wind of it - something about seeing a pair of armed Marines standing at attention outside the Ambassador's office seems to grab people's attention. So by the time Bart got up the stairs, there was a small crowd waiting to see his reaction.

It was pretty funny. And it is a nice office he has up there. But I think, all in all, he'll be ready to move back to his own office when this gig is over.

Friday, July 29, 2011

King Hussein Mosque

Just the other day, when I lamented the fact that I was fresh out of ideas for blogging, my lovely husband expressed astonishment. He promptly gave me a list of approximately a zillion things about which I haven't yet blogged, then shook his head in dismay. "I should just start my own blog," he said sadly.

Top on his list of things-I-would-have-blogged-about-if-only-I-had-a-blog was a retelling of our trip to the King Hussein Mosque awhile back. How it slipped my mind, I've not a clue. Somehow I thought I already posted something. But here it is - for you and for him (hi, sweetie!).

The King Hussein Mosque sits atop a hill on the west side of town, visible to all, accessible to few. But once a year, the Embassy arranges, though a flurry of diplomatic notes, to get a group of employees in on a tour. We have to go when they aren't holding services, and of course it needs to be at a time when the King and Queen aren't there working (they each have offices in the complex). So they found a day, and we joined a caravan from the Embassy. I was driving, and our car was at the end of the caravan, but not to worry, I boasted, because I totally know my way there.

Not to worry, I said again, when everyone else made it through the stop light before it turned red. I totally know my way there.

I do know my way there. It's right next to the Children's Museum and the Car Museum. What I don't know, apparently, is where the parking lot is.

Whatever. Parking lots are highly overrated, and we found ourselves a curb on the far side of the complex, then explained to the guards that we were joining a group somewhere inside. And, wonder of wonders, they let us in with an ahlan wa sahlan! I told you not to worry.

Now what I didn't photograph (why, oh why?), was the beginning of the tour. We started in the bathroom, and have you ever in your life been on a tour that included the bathrooms? But the bathrooms are important, because Muslims have to do a ritual wash before praying: hands, feet, head, face.... So they have these huge fancy bathrooms with rows of showers and foot baths and all sorts of fancy stuff. Next year. Next year I'll remember to take a picture.

Shay and his friend, below, enjoying the tour. (Yes, Leigh, the caption is above the picture. Got it?)

That's the entrance to the King's office. For some reason, they didn't let us go in.

Here's our group, inside the men's section of the mosque. As you can see, the women had to don abayas and cover our heads. The mosque had some abayas to lend us. Mine reeked of cigarettes and was at least 6 inches too long, but it did the trick. There aren't any seats - do you already know this? - they stand or kneel throughout. The whole thing is covered in heavy carpet - you take your shoes off before entering, so it's spotless.

Later in the tour, we women went upstairs to the women's section, but the men weren't allowed, and Bart had the camera, so again: no pictures. The women's section is much smaller, and plainer, and warmer. Apparently this is because most women choose to stay home and watch the services on television rather than drag their kids to mosque - I am so writing to the Pope with the suggestion that we do the same, just as soon as I finish this post.

Also, in case you're wondering why women and men don't pray together: there is a lot of bending and kneeling going on at these services, and if the women are in front, the men will apparently be checking out their butts instead of focusing on their prayers. So the women go in a separate room, and everyone can pray in peace.

Vladi told me I looked like "an old crow." Which, while not the nicest thing I've ever been told, was technically probably true. Here I am (look down, Leigh, look down!), along with another friend, who kindly permitted me to post her picture as long as I did not post her name. She's rocking the hijab, but for some reason didn't want to be google-searchable for the rest of her days. Go figure.

And speaking of rocking the hijab...

Are my girls cute or what? Oh, and their dad isn't bad, either.

Ainsley, contemplating some new evil...

Aidan "Can We Go Now?" Gorman, taking a rest....

And that's it! I've spared my husband from having to start his own blog... at least for another week or so.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Small World

I learned someone's secret today.

It's a small world here in the Foreign Service, and you're forever meeting people who know people whom you know. That's how I learned this bit of information that I could've done without, because it's sad, and it's awful, and I'm not supposed to know it, but now that I do, well, what now? Do I pretend I never heard it when I meet up with this person, a recently acquired friend? Or do I acknowledge it? Do I say, hey, I know, and I'm sorry? And what if it isn't something recent? I don't want to rip open old scars just to make myself feel better.

It's a small world indeed, and not always in a good way. There are loads of newcomers showing up at post: every day I see new faces in the cafeteria and I breathe a sigh of relief: relief that I already have some friends, and I know where the stores are, and I'm past all of that (for the next couple of years, anyway). Some of these people I like already. Others, not so much. Everyone has a different response to the newness, and some people start right out by complaining. Why, people, why? One of my friends here has a self-imposed rule: don't complain until you've been here for six months. Because you can't know whom you're offending when you complain about the school, or the house, or the store. And you don't know how far your complaints will travel. And do you really want to be known for the next three years - or beyond - as the lady who whined about her fireplace? Answer: no. No, you do not. If you can't put a positive spin on it, you need to tread carefully, because in a small community, in which you're the newcomer, there's no way of knowing how far your complaints - no matter how legitimate! - will spread, or how they'll color people's perceptions of you.

We were invited to dinner at the house of another old-timer couple, and we were talking about this problem, of listening to complaints without assuming that the newcomer is a complainer. Someone suggested putting it right in the welcome book: "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. At least not for awhile." Someone else came up with this: "We're a small post, but we're extraordinarily catty."

I can't stop laughing about that one. It isn't true: we're no more or less catty than the folks at the next post. And yet: when you show up in a new place, people look you up and down and make bold stroke assumptions about you. Happy. Boring. Funny. Healthy. Whiny. Drink-y. Dull. I wonder what they assumed about me last year, and how much of it turned out to be true? What did they assume about you?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Crossed Cultural

We were invited to a small rooftop party last night, but when we arrived at the house, we had trouble parking. Apparently there was another huge party at a neighboring house. The road was clogged, with cars double parked and dressed-up people everywhere.

We found a space to park and made our way past the other-party-goers, heading toward our own party.

It was a mix of Jordanians and Americans, which can sometimes produce stuffy, overly-business-like parties. But in this case, all of the invitees were friends of the hosts, so it felt like a real party rather than a business event.

I met a couple of Jordanians and started making small talk. (Aside: one of them went to the same school that my kids currently attend, back when he was a boy. Fun to hear his stories.) We looked down from the roof at the crowds in the street below, still going in and out of the other party.

"That must be quite a party," I commented. "Look at all of those people."

But the Jordanian guest corrected me. "It isn't a party," he said. "Someone has died, and people are offering condolences."

What? How can you tell it's for a dead person, I wondered aloud, and he told me there was a sign in front of the house, in Arabic, that said "with sympathy," or something obvious like that. Obvious, I mean, if you happen to read and write Arabic. Which clearly I don't yet, despite my 4 hours per week in the classroom. Sigh.

He then went on to say it wasn't as big of a gathering as it would have been for a Muslim family - apparently, the deceased was Christian, and their deathbed events aren't quite as large. Somehow, this man was able to tell that it was a Christian family, but I've no idea how.

I saw a crowd and assumed: party.

The Jordanian saw the crowd and understood: Christian wake.

There are so many things that you miss when you're living in a third culture. Things that are obvious to the people around you just fly right over your head sometimes. Every time I start to feel at home in a place, something like this crops up and reminds me: I still haven't a clue how things work around here.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

What I Did For Summer Vacation

While other people are beginning to return to post from vacation already (welcome back, Tiffany and Connie!), I am proud to report that the Gormans have FINALLY made our summer vacation plans. We have become an Embassy-wide joke, what with our total inability to find a vacation that we both agree would be fun and affordable. (But I'd like to see you try to pay for 2+ weeks in hotel rooms with four kids at any destination people might actually want to go. It ain't easy!)

We won't be leaving for awhile yet - Bart has some work that has to be finished here first. But when we do leave, we'll be heading to Germany and Turkey. That's the plan, anyway. It's all on my credit card, so if the universe cooperates, we'll get there soon enough.

Part of me is excited to see something we've never seen before. Part of me is homesick, because this means we really, truly won't be going home to see family this summer. Most of me is just relieved to be done researching "affordable vacations with too many kids."

And speaking of homesick: here's a little problem I've been experiencing lately. As more and more bloggers come online, I find more blogs from places in which we've lived, and it makes me homesick for the places I used to roam. Example: just this morning I found another Moscow blogger, just as she was leaving post. This in addition to Erica's Moscow blog. Despite the title, Rock Star in Dhaka is on her way to Beijing - she hasn't even gotten there and she's already making me miss the dumplings. Kristen is blogging from Armenia. Any Kazakhstan bloggers out there? It's only a matter of time before some blogger moves into my one of my old houses and starts churning out posts from my old office. It's fun to read what other people are doing in places I know, but it also makes me feel curiously homesick - do any of you other bloggers have this little problem?

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Tooth Fairy, International Edition

This tooth fairy thing, it's driving me crazy.

First of all, in a house full of kids, you need to have a stack of small bills at the ready, because you just never know when someone is going to lose a tooth in the middle of dinner.

And then there's the amount: there ought to be some sort of international law, sort of like the Geneva Convention, mandating precisely how much is to be given per tooth, broken down by tooth type (more for a molar?). My kids are constantly asking why little Johnny got twice as much as they did when he lost a tooth. It doesn't seem fair, they reason, for the tooth fairy to give some of the kids so much money - especially when those kids already seem to have lots of ready cash to spend on chewing gum and popsicles. How do I explain this cold-hearted cruelty on the part of the Tooth Fairy? There's just no easy answer. And then again, why does she leave dollars for some kids and dinars for others? Is there some sort of tooth fairy conversion rate, set against international banking standards somehow? Because every kid knows $1 does not equal 1JD.

And did you know that the tooth fairy doesn't even come in some countries?

Yes, well, apparently she doesn't have time for kids in third world countries. Who knew?

As we were packing for the Dead Sea last week, Aidan lost another tooth. He decided to bring it with him, figuring the tooth fairy could find him there. He hid it carefully under his hotel pillow that night. But the tooth fairy forgot to come. I'm guessing she was hanging out late at the hotel spa and just plain forgot, but who knows? Her ways are mysterious, indeed.

The next night, back at home, Aidan put his tooth under his pillow for a second time. I know, because I asked him to show me where it was. Good thing I did, too, because he'd hidden it carefully between the pillows - it's a wonder the tooth fairy was able to find it in the dark later that night.

But she did find it, and she put 1 JD in there when she snuck in - way past her bedtime - to take his tooth.

The next morning, the tooth fairy went to work. Oops, I mean, I went to work. Who knows what the tooth fairy did? Maybe she took a nap. She must've been tired after waiting up half the night for Aidan to go to sleep. You gotta feel sorry for that poor tooth fairy.

When I got home from work that afternoon, I asked Aidan how much the tooth fairy gave him.

"Nothing," he told me. "She took the tooth, but she didn't leave any money."

I was astonished. Of course she left him money. Of this, I had no doubt. So we went into his room and started digging around under pillows and behind headboards, looking for the loot.


All of this searching attracted the attention of our nanny, Maryann. She looked a bit confused when I told her we couldn't find the money that the tooth fairy had left under his pillow. Before she could ask who in the heck the tooth fairy was, I told Aidan we'd look later, after we got home from the pool. I grabbed the towels and we all fled the house, leaving Maryann in the doorway, still scratching her head in confusion.

We swam; we splashed; we forgot all about the trauma of the missing treasure. Until, that is, my phone buzzed, indicating a new text message.

It was from Maryann, and it read "Miss Donna, I looked all over and I found 1 JD under the table by his bed. But I never could find the tooth."

One of these days, when the kids are back in school, I'm going to have to explain the tooth fairy to Maryann.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Back to the Dead Sea

Hey, can you blame us? It's less than an hour away. So when some friends decided to spend the night there over the weekend, we jumped at the chance and went with them. We stayed at the Dead Sea Marriott, which was at 100% capacity, but somehow didn't feel overfull (not a paid ad! I just happen to love it there). (I think perhaps it didn't feel too full because there was a large regional meeting taking place at the hotel, so the people in those rooms weren't all at the pool with 25 screaming children apiece.) (wow! that's a lot of parenthetical statements! and exclamation points!)

This was the view from our hotel room. Nice, huh?

The water slide was the big attraction of the day. See the umbrella way up there? That's the top of the slide. And you can see the bottom of the slide on the right side of the photo. It curves around behind those trees before shooting them out into the pool.

Unfortunately, we didn't get any shots of Shay on the slide. But we did get the other three. That's right: even Ainsley went on the slide. She put her floaties on her arms and slid down, over and over and over. No fear at all, that girl.

And here's a shot of the sunset, also taken from our room. I wasn't there at the time. We scored a couple of free passes to the spa, so while Bart watched the kids, my friend and I hung out in the steam room and the jacuzzi. We missed the sunset, but I'd say we still had fun.

We're back at work in Amman today, where the temperature is hovering right around 100 degrees. I guess summer is really here.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Fourth of July at Embassy Amman

Happy Fourth of July, everyone! Well, technically, our little party took place on the second of July, but you get the idea. First up: the United States Marine Corps. This part always gets the Americans in the crowd choked up a bit.

After the official ceremony, the games began. There were bouncy castles....

And of course there was face painting....

There were games, and popcorn machines, and grilled hot dogs, and even a few Palestinian break dancers. But the highlight of the afternoon had to be the dunk tank. Here you see our very own RSO, taking his turn in the tank. And the line to dunk him! For some reason, the line was quite long. He did a great job in there, even though he had to be freezing.

(And yes, his very own son did dunk him, several times)....

They wrapped up the party with a fireworks display - big, loud and close enough to rain ash down on us all. But no worries - until you've spent a Chinese New Year watching fireworks in Beijing, you don't know the meaning of "scarily close."

And that was that! After the fireworks, the zillion or so guests departed, because the next day was Sunday, which is, of course, a regular work day in Jordan.

Tomorrow is the official celebration. It should be a bit stuffier - not a dunk tank in sight, I'd bet.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Stupid Threats Moms Make

So there we were, at the Embassy Fourth of July party, which was open to all American and local employees and family members. The girls were in the pool, but the hijab-to-bikini ratio was not working in my favor, so I opted to stay dressed and poolside.

Ainsley decided to jump into the pool without looking first, and she landed smack on top of another little girl, who had to be pulled, crying and sputtering, out of the pool.

I made sure the other girl was okay, and then turned my stern mom voice on her.

Ainsley, I said, we never jump without looking. That's dangerous. You need to apologize to that little girl.

No, said Ainsley, as she floated on her back toward the middle of the pool.

This obviously infuriated me, and I told her to get out, now.

No, she said again.

Ainsley, I said, aware that approximately 40,000 eyes were glued on our little scene, you come here right now.

No response.

Ainsley. If I have to put on my swim suit and come in there to get you, I promise you will be in big, big, BIG trouble.

No response.

One, I counted.

Two, I counted.

I marched over to the tables and retrieved my suit from the swim bag, hoping this would clue her in that I was serious.

Ainsley, I said. Come. Here. Now.

No response.

And with that, my fate was sealed. The 40,000 eyes waited and watched, wondering if I would follow through on my stupid, stupid threat. Ainsley floated serenely. I stormed off to the locker room and threw on my suit - no cover-up or towel, because I hadn't thought this plan through, obviously. I stormed back out, past the hijab-clad locals, past the 20-something Peace Corps volunteers, past the appalled colleagues, and jumped into the deep end with no thought to hair or make-up.

It's hard to tow a 3-year-old to shore when she doesn't want to go. But I managed to throw her out of the pool, and then I carried her, kicking and screaming, all the way across the pool deck to our table - conveniently located between two hijab-full tables of Jordanian families.

Ainsley screamed while I dried off and thought about what other non-embarrassing threat I might have better employed. None came to mind.

A lifeguard approached.

You know, he told me, gesturing toward the rescue rings and hooks hanging all around the pool, the next time you have to pull her out, we can just use one of those.

Happy Fourth of July, everyone. I'll try to post pictures of our Embassy event shortly. You'll especially love the action shots of the RSO in the dunk tank.

Friday, July 1, 2011

My Brush With Royalty

Our Air Force friends threw a party to say goodbye to outgoing military folks and welcome some new people. They had something like 140 people at their house - and here I stress when I have 20!

Somehow we snagged a coveted invite, so we stopped by their house on the appointed evening, ready to mingle. Usually I hate these kinds of events, because I rarely know anybody, and with my terrible hearing, I really can't understand a word of what's being said around me. But this was different - it was at the house of one of my most favorite families, and there were tons of people there whom I knew. About every second person there was a general or a colonel or something, so I admit to feeling a bit under-accomplished.

I grabbed a glass of wine and started to chit chat with some people I recognized, pausing to greet new people who approached. When one such gentleman joined our group, I stuck out my hand and said "hey, I'm Donna," or something like that. "Nice to meet you," he replied, and then shook hands with someone else in our group. At that point, Bart leaned over and whispered "you just shook hands with a prince."

Wha-? Turns out he was the King's brother.

I had no idea. Aren't princes supposed to wear crowns or something, in order to distinguish themselves from the commonfolk? Or at least, you know, get lots of naughty photos of themselves placed in People Magazine so we can spot them in real life?

So: after almost a year here, I finally met my first royal person, and it totally counts even if I didn't technically know he was royalty. Shay met one of the princesses last fall, and I had an opportunity to meet another princess, but the meeting conflicted with one child's medical appointment, so I had to decline. Bart hasn't met the Queen, but he has seen her at the Embassy, so he's checked that royal box. (For the record, he told me she "looked really good, especially considering she's had four kids." Yes he did. I was not amused.) No King sightings for any of us yet, but who knows?

So, in sum: one prince, one princess, and one Queen on our royal bingo card. And it only took 10 months.

Please. Write your own stuff.