Friday, October 21, 2011

Oops I Did It Again

You know, maybe I'm not cut out for life in the Foreign Service. Because here's the thing: if you're in the Foreign Service, you have to go to great lengths to meet new people. And I really, really hate meeting new people.

I'm okay if I have a goal in mind. Maybe I'm giving a presentation, or hosting a party, or asking an interviewee questions. But tell me to walk blind into a party, and I break out in hives.

Just last night, for example, I got to steak night (a semi-regular party at the Embassy) later than usual. There weren't any free tables, and I would've up and gone home except that I'd already ordered my food. So I just sort of stood there stupidly, waiting for an empty table to magically appear in front of me. And this is with people I sort of know! So imagine how terrible I am at walking into a party where I know no one.

And that's the set up for today.

Kyra got an invitation to a birthday party, and she was over the moon with excitement about it. I tried a million different ways to talk her out of going, because I was pretty sure I wouldn't know anyone there, but she was determined. So we went, she and I, though I'll admit we were fashionably late.

The party was at a new little play place in Abdoun. When we walked in, it was crazy. There were about 50 kids in attendance, no joke, plus various parents and nannies. You remember what happened last time I went to a Jordanian kid's birthday party? It wasn't pretty. This time, I was determined not to make an ass of myself, though I did plan to stick with my usual casual jeans/t-shirt/nice shoes combination, even though it would likely leave me underdressed.

So we found the place, and went on up, and they asked us to take our shoes off and store them in the cubbies by the door. We did that, and then Kyra took off into the play place, a vast area full of craft rooms, and water tables, and an entire pretend city. I took a deep breath and talked myself into walking into the mommy room.

I was somewhat taken aback by the sheer number of dressed-up Jordanians in the room - I counted about 30 women. And as I stood there in my newly stockinged feet, with my jeans rolled up so they wouldn't drag on the floor, I noticed: not one of those other moms had removed her own shoes. They were all in fancy stilettos and pumps - no need to roll their jeans up. The nannies were all barefoot, like me ( yes, lots of moms brought their nannies to the party, too).

At that point I knew was not going to have a successful party experience, so I slunk out of the mom room and went off to join the nannies and kids.

Things were going okay until one of the moms - whom I know from last year - approached to chit chat. Of course I couldn't hear her - it was too loud and I'm too deaf, so I just kind of did my usual smile-and-nod thing until I realized she was trying to set up a play date between Kyra and her daughter. I'm not quite sure what we agreed on, but it seems she and I agreed on a date of some sort. As we were doing this (?), one of Kyra's teachers wandered by and the mom engaged the teacher in a discussion. I was kind of trapped in between them, and I couldn't hear what they were saying, but I could tell they were speaking Arabic, and they seemed to be including me in the conversation. So I just batted my eyes and tried to look as if I was in complete agreement with whatever they were telling me.

I kept it up for a good 5 minutes before the mom asked me a question, in Arabic. I must've been doing a stellar job of looking as though I was following along, but my cover was blown at that point. Even the smile-and-nod didn't get me back in the conversation. Once again, I found myself slinking away down the hall, looking for a new place to hide.

Oh, but they found me. These moms were so nice, and they were determined to get me into that mom room. One of them beckoned me back in there -apparently they were serving dinner. So I got in line - the only American, barefoot in a sea of well-heeled Jordanians.

I was standing there, clutching my plate and trying to decide what to eat, when the woman in front of me turned to me and said something. But what? It sounded almost like.... French? She repeated herself and yes, I'd found the lone Frenchwoman in the group.

Once we determined that I don't speak French, she switched to English. "I though you were French," she explained, "because French women, we often have such long, thin faces."

Yes, perhaps - but I bet French women wear shoes at parties.

We tried to chat as we got our food, but when I turned to find a table, I discovered there weren't any more seats in the mommy room. I stood there with my plate of tabouleh and watched as my new French friend rejoined the women at her table. No seats there. Kyra's teachers were parked at another table.

There was only one seat left, and it had been recently abandoned by the father of the birthday boy. I wasn't sure if he planned to return to his seat, but I had to sit somewhere. So I walked up to the table and asked the four ladies sitting there if I could join them. They assured me that I could, then returned to their conversation, in Arabic, without introducing themselves.

I know, I know. I should've introduced myself to them first. But by that point I was so desperately miserable that I just sat there and choked down my food. I was vaguely aware that the dad returned to the table, saw me in his seat, and left again. It was all I could do at that point not to burst into tears and run from the building. I nibbled on my food for a few more minutes, then excused myself and left the table. The four women didn't acknowledge my goodbye, engrossed as they were in their conversation. They weren't mean; they weren't rude. They just clearly did not care one bit that I was at their table. And really, why should they? They were all friends; I was the awkward new girl.

Sigh. I really wish I were better at this party thing. You'd think, after all these years in the FS, I'd have it figured out, but I don't. I'm forever wearing the wrong clothes, or taking off my shoes when everyone else leaves theirs on, or sitting in the wrong chair. That's one reason I like blogging. Because even as I tearfully locked myself in the bathroom and texted a friend about my lack of footwear, I thought to myself "yes, but now I have something to blog about!"

I was homesick tonight for America, where, generally speaking, I know the rules and can make it through a kid party with my ego intact. Kyra, however, had an absolute blast. So viewed in that light, the party was a huge success.

Still and all, I have to stand tall and shout it to the rooftops:

God Bless America, home of the brave and land of the drop-off party.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Quick Update For the Grandparents

The house is empty.

Well, as empty as it can be with just 4 kids, 1 dog, 1 cat and 2 parents.

Last weekend our Jerusalem relatives came for their first visit since moving to the Middle East, and it was so fun catching up with them. At the same time, Uncle Sean flew in from Los Angeles, via France, where he'd gone for business (rough life he leads, no?).

We spent a day hiking through Petra - no small feat with 6 little kids in tow. And we spent a few lazy afternoons at the pool. After the Jerusalem folks went back to work, Uncle Sean stayed on to entertain the beasts. It's his talent, and they adore him.

We also took him/ sent him to Mt. Nebo, Jerash, Ajloun and Rainbow Street. And basketball practice, of course.

This past weekend we piled in the car and drove to the Dead Sea. Love that place. We floated and swam and ate and water-slided (water-slid? What's the verb here?). At dinner Aidan ate 2 pieces of steak and a piece of chicken. He asked for more. I got him 2 more steaks and some pasta. He finished that off and said "that steak is good, but it's really filling!" Ummm, duh - anything's filling if you eat four servings worth, kid.

Uncle Sean is winging his way back to LA now, and the kids miss him already - even Ainsley, who couldn't quite remember his name. She kept calling him Uncle Brian. Or "the Red Guy," because of his red t-shirt. But this morning, when she awoke and he was gone, she sighed and said "I lub him, mama."

Still no computer, so still no photos to show you. But my lovely sis-in-law posted some photos of the whole family at Petra, so if you have her blog address, go there to see our smiley family. I'd give a link, but I'm not sure if she wants the extended audience stopping by. And speaking of my sis-in-law, can I tell you how awesome it is to have her in the region? My brother-in-law chose wisely and well, and I couldn't have a more perfect friend if I'd chosen her for myself. I think I won the in-law battle all around.

And now, for my traditional end-of-post:

It's late! I'm tired! Good night!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Road Trip Math

11 Gormans. 2 cars. A 3-hour caravan to Petra, which is, of course, one of the 7 Wonders of the World.

1 son noted with displeasure that 3 trips to Petra in 1 year is 2 trips too many.

A long day, that. But, despite the fact that my kids are becoming completely jaded by our international life style ("Oh, gawd, mom, the Great Wall again? Seriously? That is so boring!"), we all had fun. Tragically, there will be no pictures, as I have no computer upon which to download the photos. Hopefully I can get my sister-in-law to email me a few of hers one day.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Foreign Service Exam, Part 4. Or Maybe 5.

I took the Foreign Service written exam, way back in the dark ages of 1999 or 2000. I passed. But we were in Moscow, and they wanted me to fly to DC for the oral exams the day before Thanksgiving, my personal favorite holiday, so I said no, thank you. I took the written exam again in Kazakhstan. I passed. But have you ever priced a ticket from Almaty to DC? I couldn't afford it, especially when it was likely I'd fail - most people do. So I said no, thanks. I took the Foreign Service exam again, in 2005. I passed. We were in the States at the time, so I decided to go ahead and try the orals, knowing I likely wouldn't pass.

I was three months pregnant with Kyra at the time, not far enough along to show, but far enough along that my pants didn't fit. So I invested in an inexpensive pair of stretchy pants from Old Navy. I looked quite professional, if I do say so myself. That is, until I stood up after the interview section and the stretch kind of de-stretched, causing me to fear I was about to lose my pants. I clutched at them in a weird sort of desperate way that appeared to alarm my examiners, though no more than I'd already alarmed them when I answered one of their interview questions by telling them my family was more important than any job and I'd always put that first, yada yada, in a response that clearly had no place in a job interview. Seriously, what was I thinking?

But, here's the crazy part: I passed the oral exam. I did! And then I passed the Russian exam, and the security clearance check, and the medical exam. I passed them all. So they offered me a job. But, you know, Kyra had just been born at that point, and I couldn't find a nanny whom I adored, and then they informed me that they'd be sending me to Moscow just as soon as I finished A-100, despite the fact that my husband had his onward assignment to Beijing already and so I guess you can guess the last part.

Yep. I said no, thank you. I turned down the job.

But now I'm done having kids, and I'm tired of dead-end EFM jobs, so I decided maybe it's time to take the test again. I registered for the first available test date in Amman, which happened to be today.

"Get a good night's sleep," one pal told me yesterday morning, by way of advice.

And then I checked my voicemail.

Aidan stayed home yesterday with a nasty cough. The call was from him, but when I reached him, he could hardly talk. "I can't breath," he wheezed, so I rushed home to grab him and brought him back to see our Embassy doctor. (Who, by the way? Picture the most Norman Rockwellian doctor you possibly can, and that's our new doc.) The doctor checked him out and sent us to an ENT, not at our usual hospital, but at an entirely new-to-me and not-at-all-easy-to-find hospital. The ENT stuck a camera down Aidan's nose and told us that we were lucky: he didn't have epiglotitis, which would have earned him immediate hospitalization. Instead, he was diagnosed with a severe infection of the larynx, treatable - hopefully - with antibiotics.

Also, he said I needed to sleep near Aidan in the night, because if his breathing became more labored, we'd have to get him back to the hospital right away.

So much for my good night's sleep. But okay, I reasoned, I can do this. Not a problem, to get a bit less sleep.

We went home, ate dinner and started getting ready for bed.

Which is when some nasty bug caught ahold of me. I went from "my stomach kind of hurts" to full-on vomiting within about 30 minutes. I was sick, sick, sick, feverish and throwing up. So I curled up next to Aidan and spent most of the night next to him, awake, nauseous and listening to his raspy little breaths.

This morning we returned to the Embassy for a follow up with the doctor, who also wants us to follow up with the ENT. That's scheduled for tonight at 6. I tried to eat some breakfast, but gave up and went with apple juice instead. Right before the exam was scheduled to start, I gulped down some iced tea in an effort to calm my stomach and stay awake. And I dragged my carcass into that exam room and sat down and plowed through that test.

Now? Now I'm exhausted and still a bit sick. It's almost time to take Aidan to the doctor, so I'm going to get their dinner on and try to eat something myself.

What a day.
Please. Write your own stuff.