Sunday, September 30, 2012

A video of Aleppo

I just have to share this video of Aleppo with you. In August of 2004, we took a bus from Damascus to Lattakia to go see Kazim al-Saher in concert, on the beach. Then we took another bus, from Lattakia to Aleppo. (Note to the world: never do this. Take the train, because the bus is hot and motion-sicky.) On that bus ride, I learned the meaning of khallas, as it was used by a mother to ask her daughter if she was done puking.

This was our first visit to Aleppo. We stayed in a crappy hostel - a favorite pasttime of ours in the Middle East - but had a great time exploring Syria's second city. Here is a short clip from the footage we took on the trip. It starts with a view of Aleppo from the top of the Citadel. After that, there is footage of the old souk, which is right across the street from the Citadel.

I apologize in advance for the headache you might get watching this shaky footage. Syria was a place where you couldn't just casually bust out the video camera. So we often did that thing where you hold it nonchalantly to the side like it's off, but actually you're filming the whole time. Anyway, that's why it's so wobbly.

Enjoy the Aleppo Souq, as was.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Aleppo

I don't even really want to talk about it. That's my way of coping. Just know that this:
is a really horrible thing.

Also horrible - that this place, one of my favorite places in Syria, also seen in these photos of ours from 2004/2005:

now looks like this (image via Hala Gorani's Twitter feed):
The end, UGH.

PS - the Aleppo souq looks/looked like this:
Allow me to be sentimental for a moment and tell you that on the day this photo was taken, I felt Sasha (1.0, aka the baby that was born as Miriam Damascus) move for the first time, right there in the Aleppo souq.

And I guess maybe I do want to talk about it a little. The reason I share these things, these pictures with you is not because I think you won't hear about it anywhere else. I know Syria is all over the news these days. But I want you to know that this is a real place, where real people live, and it's a beautiful place. And what's happening there now is a crying shame.

Friday, September 28, 2012

September 28th, outsourced

"A Vigorous Man" - a poem about Mitt Romney made up of words from a doctor's note.

The luckiest truck driver in Russia. [HT someone...can't remember who, sorry]

A member of the United Reformed Church attended a Mormon worship service. Interesting impressions. [HT Sindi]

A love story in 22 pictures. [HT Sarah]

I think maybe the internet is broken, because this lovely thing happened. [HT a few people on FB]

A taxi driver in Dubai who returned 36,000dhs (almost $10k) left in his cab received a whopping 10dhs ($2.70) as a reward. I think a reward of nothing would have been less insulting...but the dude has a pretty good attitude about it.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sarajevo, the Yukon, the Arctic, Austenland, and YA

The Floor of Heaven: A True Tale of the Last Frontier and the Yukon Gold RushThe Floor of Heaven: A True Tale of the Last Frontier and the Yukon Gold Rush by Howard Blum

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Interesting enough to keep me reading, but only just. The story is very surface-level, with lots of glossed-over periods of history and summarized, paraphrased conversations. I think this could have been a much longer, in-depth book, but for some reason the author chose to only tell one particular strain of a much wider story.

When I was 14, my family went to Alaska and we spent (what seemed to me) a lot of time in Skagway. We also visited Dyea. That really helped me visualize parts of the book, although I was surprised to learn that Soapy Smith was a really bad guy. In Skagway, I remember him being presented to the tourists as kind of a mildly evil, harmless, entertaining henchman.

I remember Dyea being especially affecting, so I was touched to read this reflection on that place by one of the book's main characters, George Carmack:

"On Christmas Eve, surrounded by his loneliness, he recalled an image from the previous summer and began to write: 'But a whispering comes from the tall old spruce/And my soul from the pain is free.' His mind had been yearning, and in its desperation it had found a new destination. He focused on a clear, idyllic picture of the hewn-log trading post in Dyea that looked out on a 'tall old spruce' and an inlet of shimmering blue water. The fine bright beauty of the setting had affected him when he'd first encountered it, and in a burse of sentimental emotion he found himself traveling back to it on Christmas Eve in his poem."


Midnight in AustenlandMidnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars. In her non-YA stuff, Shannon Hale never quite writes the book you think she will. That statement held true for me almost up until the ending of this book. She certainly kept me guessing. This was a book I enjoyed reading and always looked forward to reading, but it was also kind of odd. Still, I think the author would be tons of fun to hang out with and there is something so endearing about anything she writes down on the page, even if it's not exactly my thing, you know?


The House by the Dvina: A Russian ChildhoodThe House by the Dvina: A Russian Childhood by Eugenie Fraser

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Little House on the Prairie, revolutionary Russia style. Lots of family members and family traditions and momentous events seen through a child's eyes, all made spellbinding by skillful storytelling and the exotic, far-off (by both time and distance) setting.

Reading this book, I was struck by the thought that Europe used to be a much smaller place, metaphorically speaking. The heads of state were all related to each other and Russian kids went to boarding school in Latvia and Helsinki was practically a suburb of St. Petersburg. Fascinating. I realize this book is completely one-sided but I hope I never find out that her memoir was distorted or manipulated beyond the fact that it was written through the lens of the 1980s. I was so fascinated by this woman's story - when was the last time you heard a native English speaker tell you about the time they starved while the Bolsheviks took over their Arctic village? I thought so.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Watch this show or you'll lower the IQ of whatever street you're on.

BBC's Sherlock has been on my radar for a few months now, but it wasn't until we were in the US this summer that I got a chance to see Season 1, courtesy of my mom and dad. But it was the most backhanded gift ever, because they didn't have Season 2, and I was already HOOKED. Hmph.

Season 2 is available on Netflix now and Jeremy and I finished watching episode 1 last night. And I can't stop thinking about it! I can't believe how smart this show is, and how hilarious, and brilliant the actors are. I hope the last two episodes of Season 2 don't change my opinion (for the worse).

Are you watching this? If not, WHY? Take a look at these two videos for a sampling of what you're missing. They are from the same scene, just cut in half (for copyright reasons?).




What was missing from that video? It's a trick question, because the answer is nothing. Everything is there: humor, acerbic wit, timing, subtlety (check out Watson's head gesture at 0:15-0:17 in the second clip - speaks volumes, doesn't it?), all wrapped up in a poignant little package that almost brought tears to my eyes the first time I saw it.

Be warned: this is definitely a show for adults. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed episode 2.1 even though there was a weird, sexy subplot running through the whole thing.

Now, bring it on: favorite quotes, favorite moments, favorite facial expressions, whatever. All gushing is welcome here.

(In case you're wondering about the post title):

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

My child's childhood

Have you ever stopped to think about the ways in which your child is growing up differently than you did? Certainly because of time, but also perhaps because of place?

The other day, Magdalena brought home a coloring page from school. "It's an Indian koala," she said:
When I was four years old, if I said something was Indian, I probably meant Native American. In Magdalena's childhood, Indian means INDIAN Indian, like, from India. When we were in the US this summer, I talked with the girls about Lewis and Clark and I found the idea of (Native American) Indians very hard to explain. (Note to self: find out if there is a totally clear, PC term these days to use.) To Magdalena, this koala is Indian "because it has really bright colors." Someone was paying attention to the Diwali decorations at Miriam's school last year, I think.

When I was a kid growing up in the Pacific Northwest, where even summer evenings can get chilly, I never once went swimming without also getting freezing cold. My kids, on the other hand, will have memories of going swimming on Christmas Day, and at night all the time, without getting cold.

I have a really distinct memory as a kid of once seeing a field full of grazing llamas. It was something singular and amazing to behold. My kids see camels all the time. It has long since stopped being a big deal. Also in the Not A Big Deal category: the tallest building in the world. I remember as a kid coming through the Sunset Highway tunnel into downtown Portland and announcing, "It's the beautiful world!" When my kids were in Portland this summer, I think their reaction was kind of...meh.

BUT. My kids are in awe of wide expanses of greenery and forest trails and Mormon church buildings that are just down the street. Plus fireworks, parades, and all the blueberries, strawberries, and corn you can eat, straight from the backyard. Oh, and trampolines. You know, stuff that was commonplace when I was a kid.

I wish I could see the world through their eyes sometimes. I catch glimpses of it through overheard conversations with their little friends, or the things Miriam writes at school...or the pictures Magdalena colors.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Relieved

The other night around 8 o'clock I was walking home from class and I heard a disturbing noise. It was dark outside, and I was walking past some shrubbery, and I heard the sound of a man urinating into the bushes, very near me. There are lots of gardeners on campus and I figured it was one of them, taking advantage of the dark and the foliage to do his business. It was unfortunate and extremely awkward that I walked past at that exact moment, even though I couldn't see him (not that I looked for him).

Well, today I was walking TO class at about 5 o'clock and I heard the same disturbing noise! This time, it was daylight, so I took the risk of glancing over in that direction because really, what are the odds of walking in on a guy peeing in public twice within a few days? To my very great relief, I saw the source of the noise - a malfunctioning sprinkler that was sending a small, arched stream of water into a shallow puddle near the bushes. It's so nice to know that I didn't actually walk near a dude peeing. Isn't it?

In other news:

1. Did you know we mostly call Magdalena by the Arabic diminutive of her name, Majd? Well, we do. The other day she was practicing writing it at church and the lady behind us (new to the congregation) later came up to her and told "Maud" that she was doing a great job writing her name. Don't worry, I corrected her...the next week, when she called her "Maud" again. I realize Majd is a difficult and unwieldy nickname for non-Arabic speakers, but Maud is possibly worse.

2. You people have got to stop thinking that white girls all look alike to some degree. In the space of six days, I was told I look like Angelina Jolie (hahahahahahahahaha, thank you, naive Iranian teenager at the beach), Hilary Swank, and Kylie Minogue. The latter two are repeats. I'll take it...I guess? I'll be honest, I'm not too keen on the Hilary Swank one.


Friday, September 21, 2012

September 21st, outsourced

I don't know what's cooler: that the cast of The West Wing got together to make this ad, or that I got to hear what "Bridget" sounds like when they say it. [HT Andrew]

Remember Caine's Arcade? Here's Part 2. [HT Kathy/Katie]

A British soldier had a baby while on duty in Afghanistan.

The school year in Syria has begun.

"I know it can be challenging to wake each morning, covered in your own feces and refuse, and get back out there on the streets to beg for spare change and food scraps, always one step from dying right there in an alley." The Onion at its best. [HT Eric D. Snider]

Is lying in bed with your eyes closed as restorative as sleep?

Thirteen powerful images of what Newsweek called "Muslim Rage." [HT Andrew]

I read this last Friday afternoon and I can't believe I successfully waited a whole week to share it with you: Adaptation Deathmatch - Pride & Prejudice. Such a fun read!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Profanity and kids' names

How's this for random?

1. Swear words I would use, if I were the kind of person to swear. By the way, I am not the kind of person to swear. It has never been a challenge for me and I can honestly say that I have never cursed in my life. So I can say without the risk of tempting myself that if I were ever to swear, it would be to say, as an exclamation, "hot damn." Don't you love that expression? I love that expression. Also: the word "bastard." Such a versatile term. You can use it to joke, you can use it to be serious. The closest polite word is "rascal" but it doesn't carry the same heft.

2. Baby names I used to not like but which have grown on me. Don't read on if you don't want to find out that I used to not like your kid's name.

Halen (for a boy). When I first heard it, I thought, "whaaa?" Now, I mean it when I say that Halen is a really cool name and I love it.

Britannia (for an American girl, born in Britain). Again, I thought it was weird at first (I know, says me, mother of two children with place-derived middle names), but really, Britannia is quite possibly the perfect tribute name for a baby born in the UK. Don't you think?

Abish. I'm not a huge fan of Book of Mormon names in general but Abish is a rock star name for a girl, once you warm up to it. I know a little Abish here and she even lives up to the name.

I know I have more of these, but I am too afraid of offending people. Also, I can't remember them right now.

Anyone want to chime in on #1 or #2? And yes, I realize that I've just given you license to tell me that you don't like my kids' names. Bring it on.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Meet my wife

Perhaps you've been wondering how that's all working out for us, thinking about hiring a housekeeper. Spoiler alert: she's here, and she's awesome. But boy howdy, was it a job getting her here. I hardly know where to begin.

When I last left you, we had a woman in mind to hire. It was the best possible situation - she had been the nanny of a friend of ours, so we were mildly acquainted with her. In fact, when I first met her months and months ago, I thought, "If we were the kind of people who hired a housekeeper, I would want her to be like this lady." Her employer (our friend) moved away from the UAE a while ago and their nanny was back in the Philippines, without a job and very much wanting one. It was a perfect match, in other words.

If anyone really wants to know the specific details of how we got Carol (that's her name) into the country, you can ask. Briefly (hahahahaha, because the process was anything but), it involved a few trips to the Philippine consulate in Dubai, a ton (a TON) of paperwork and forms and passport-sized photos, some fees, and a one-way ticket from Manila to here. Once she arrived, Carol and I spent a few hours a day for almost a week at our local center of bureaucracy, where I alternately took a number, waited my turn, filled out forms, handed over documents, and threw specific amounts of money at specific cashiers at the appropriate times. It was kind of like a scavenger hunt. A scavenger hunt where I had to pay someone every time I checked something off my list. I now have a stack of papers in my possession (and a whole sheath of fee receipts) that are almost complete - I just have to hand them off to immigration for the final residence visa issuance. And pay another fee.

(Just for a time check: we decided to go forward with hiring a housekeeper in mid-June. She arrived in the UAE at the end of August. The paperwork isn't finished yet. Hiring someone directly and legally definitely takes longer than any other route.)

In the meantime, Carol is settling in to our house, and we are settling into her presence in our house. It's been a bit of an adjustment, but basically, it's like having my very own wife, except we pay her. Please don't read into my use of the word "wife" any complicated assessment of the value placed on housework by society, or my deeply held opinions on the roles of women in the home, or how much laundry SUCKS. All I mean is that I have my very own woman to help me make dinner and clean up the juice that Magdalena spilled and hand wash the school uniforms and help get things sorted out when we come home from the beach and we're all at once sandy and tired and wet and sunscreen-y and hungry, RIGHT NOW. Like I've been doing all by myself for years and years. And now I have someone to help - someone who happens to be a mother of three grown children, by the way, so lady knows what she's doing.

Wow, so much more I could say. Stay tuned.

Monday, September 17, 2012

First days of school

Miriam started Grade 2 earlier this month. She's at the same school as last year, but her classroom is upstairs now - such a big girl! I will miss her Grade 1 classroom that opened up right onto the outdoor common area, but I guess they have to keep those rooms for the little ones. Her teacher is from Scotland and has quite the accent, plus FABULOUS handwriting. I know that is a weird thing to notice, but I can't help it. Elementary school teachers so often have lovely handwriting.

The Ministry of Education made some changes to the school system over the summer (start and end dates, timings, etc.), so Miriam's school day is now 50 minutes longer than it was last year. At first I wasn't too happy about that, but it turns out that Miriam's school, at least, is filling in a lot of the extra time with "activities." Last week Miriam brought home a list of 30+ activities that she could sign up to participate in for the last hour of school a few times a week. My impression is that each teacher at the school volunteered a skill or hobby for the activity hour and that the kids will switch classrooms according to what they signed up for. Miriam chose dance, French music/singing, and performing arts. The longer school days are still not my favorite thing, but in a way it is a blessing for Miriam to be doing some "extracurricular" (even if they are technically still at school) activities without having to pack a bag or get in the car or adhere to odd schedules that don't work for our family. She goes to school, then she comes home and she's DONE. Hallelujah.

Magdalena will go to Miriam's school next year for Grade 1. For now, she's at the same school as last year, in KG2, with the same teacher (from Iraq) and same classroom that Miriam had. So the first day of school yesterday had no surprises. I think she's enjoying being one of the big kids at school (KG2 is the highest grade there). I'm enjoying the fact that for one more year, she can ride her bike or scooter to school and be in a very small class with a calm, low-key environment and a fantastic daily Arabic program. It's the perfect fit for us.

Last year I remember being so nervous about Miriam's new school and sending Magdalena to KG1. This year it was a much smoother beginning to the school year, and it was wonderful.

Friday, September 14, 2012

September 14th, outsourced

I kind of think candy-corn Oreos would be disgusting...but I also kind of want to try them.

I had heard bits and pieces of this story - involving Iceland, a war bride, professional genealogists, and a really bad dude - over the years, but here it is all wrapped up and in one place. [HT Suzanne]

I discovered this blog while searching for iconic images of the siege of Sarajevo. Pretty neat stuff.

A template for every awful political discussion you've ever witnessed on Facebook. [HT Bryce]

I cannot even tell you how much I LOVED this photo album of Barbie and Ken's wedding. [HT Jessie]

C-section vs. epidural vs. "natural" - I found the end of this article to be haunting.

Boys' names have kind of stayed the same over the years. Girls' names...not so much. [HT Kathy]

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Islamic weekend

In most of the Arab world, business runs according to the Islamic Sunday-Thursday workweek, with a Friday-Saturday weekend and a Friday Sabbath. (Exceptions to this rule include Turkey and Lebanon, which operate on a Saturday-Sunday weekend with a Sunday Sabbath.) I used to like the Islamic weekend more than the American one, for the following reasons.

1. You get a really meaningful Sabbath day. It's an immediate rest from the busy workweek because it comes right on the heels of Thursday (Friday, American style). Plus, the next day, Saturday, isn't a workday, so you can really kick back and enjoy the Sabbath on Friday because it has a nice cushion after it.

2. Then, Saturday is nice because you can use it to get ready for the workweek if you want. Do homework, go shopping, whatever it is you need to do before heading into another week.

However, there are some disadvantages to the Islamic weekend. Namely,

1. It's almost impossible to take any kind of overnight trip on the weekend. You could head out after work on Thursday, but then what about church on the Sabbath? The only other available weekend night to spend away is Friday night, and depending on your Sabbath observance policies, that may or may not be OK.

2. Saturday sometimes kind of sucks. You spend the whole day knowing that you have to go back to work the next day so that takes some fun out of almost anything you do. You certainly can't stay out very late.

I think what I miss the most about the American weekend is the existence of a day that is pure FUN, i.e., Saturday. You can go camping (or whatever) on Friday night, sleep in on Saturday, go on an adventure or just laze the day away, and still have a whole day (Sunday) to get back into the swing of things in time for Monday. That is not possible with the Islamic weekend, and it's why I think I would like the American weekend better if I let myself.

However, since we live with the reality of a Friday-Saturday weekend, I really try to embrace it. I love how the Friday-Saturday weekend really highlights the Sabbath: Friday afternoons are my favorite part of the week. Sunday afternoon in the US doesn't compare because you have that pesky Monday coming up with all its attendant cares.

Have you ever given much thought to the days of the week and the ways in which the activities of your life revolve around them? Here's a parting thought: with the Islamic weekend, we say stuff like "that class is on Sunday/Tuesday/Thursday" a lot. Or just "Monday/Wednesday," without the Friday part. People sometimes ask me if we call it "Friday School" at church (instead of Sunday School), and I think the answer is that we don't. But we do call it "Fast Friday," or at least our family does. I think it has a nice ring to it.

PS - As recently as 2006, the UAE observed a Thursday-Friday weekend, which, WOAH. I'm glad they changed it, because it is hard enough being out of sync with the rest of the world for two extra days each week (Friday because it's my Sabbath, and Sunday because it's theirs). I guess what would be really ideal - the best of both worlds - would be a Thursday-Friday-Saturday weekend. OH YEAH.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Bokashi experiment

We don't have a garbage disposal here in Sharjah, which, to be honest, is kind of a pain. If you grew up with a garbage disposal, you know what I mean. If you've never been without one, have you ever stopped to think about how nice it is to be able to wash bits and pieces of food right into the sink, especially when you're dealing with awkward solid/liquid combos like breakfast cereal in milk, or soup with vegetable chunks? If starving children in Africa aren't enough incentive to clean your plate or bowl, the thought of having to fish out chunks of cornflakes with your bare hand and dump them into the trash might be.

Even so, I always felt bad throwing food into the trash can. I'm not just talking about table scraps - consider all the food refuse you produce in a day: orange peels, onion rinds, bread crusts, egg shells, etc. We tried a compost pile for a while, in several ways, but it's so hot here that the pile just kind of sat there and sweated, and we were worried that the stuff could be an attraction for small animals.

Enter the Bokashi bin. I'm not sure where Jeremy heard of it, and I'm not going to go into the details in my own words (here's a Wikipedia blurb if you care to read more), but suffice it to say that this indoor system of composting was invented by the Japanese. OF COURSE. Throughout the day, we throw our peels, rinds, crusts, shells, scraps, whatever into a bowl on the counter. At the end of the day, or every other day, we add the scraps to the Bokashi bin and compress it with a re-purposed potato masher. Then we sprinkle it with a layer of Bokashi bran.

Here is our bin, untucked from its home under the sink, with the Bokashi bran in the background:

And here is what the inside of the bin looks like, with a few weeks' worth of kitchen scraps happily moldering away (I don't think it's literally mold. I can't remember what the white stuff is, but if it is mold, it's the good kind).
Kind of gross, right? Well, a little. The bin has a very tight lid so I never smell a thing unless I open it to add more scraps. Even then, the smell isn't of rot or decay or spoilage - it's more like...yeast, or beer. It's not like I want to go around smelling it all day, but it's not as disgusting as you might think.

Oh, and the liquid you drain from the Bokashi bin every few days can be used to clean your drains (?) and, in a diluted form, feed your plants.

Has anyone else tried this Bokashi stuff? We can't pronounce our Bokashi experiment a success yet (we have to wait a few weeks to bury the stuff under the soil in the garden) but it definitely feels good to be putting our food scraps to good use.

Monday, September 10, 2012

RIP, Nigel the GPS

I am seriously broken up over the sudden death of our beloved GPS, Nigel, who gave up the ghost early Wednesday morning. He served us well for almost four years and was chock full of our favorite places and otherwise unfindable personalized locations. It is a fact that I sometimes took Nigel in my hands and zoomed out from the UAE, scrolled over to the US, and zoomed in on the favorites saved there. Most of the US showed up on Nigel as an unpersonalized white mass, but there were clusters of favorites in upstate NY and on the East Coast. Somewhere near the middle of the white mass, there were dots for the place in Nauvoo where we camped, and our friend's house in Nebraska where we stayed on both of our cross-country drives. Near the West Coast, Nigel's map was populated with saved locations in Arizona, Utah, Idaho, California, and Oregon. It was This Is Your Life, GPS style.

Closer to home, if I zoomed back in on the Gulf, I could peruse our favorite ad-hoc camping sites in Oman, or the minutiae of our lives here in Sharjah - this clinic, that tailor, a few grocery stores: "close co-op," "New Carrefour," "Corniche Roastery."

I know I can have those favorites on the new GPS because I backed up the file (but not so recently that we aren't losing some data), but it won't be the same without Nigel as the guardian of them.

Nigel stood by my side when I was late to my first day of training for my WAHM job. He made us laugh by mispronouncing things all the time. He guided us straight into Lake Champlain that one time. I will miss his authoritative-yet-ingratiating voice, and the way he took it like a man when we complained that he was guiding us astray, tossing off only a slightly offended and exasperated "recalculating."

Nigel was accompanied in death by the pricey Middle East/North Africa map update I purchased for him almost a year ago, which, according to Garmin, "can only be associated with one device." We'll see about that.

The truth is, I would take Nigel back indefinitely if I could, even if it meant forgoing the excitement of shopping for a new model. New models aren't Nigel. We brought home a Garmin Nuvi 40 this afternoon, fresh off the rack from Carrefour, and I can hardly look at it without narrowing my eyes at the skeezy newcomer.

Maybe giving it a name will help. So far, all I've got is Nigel 2.0, which doesn't roll off the tongue quickly enough to be used when under navigation duress. Jeremy wants an Arabic name since the native habitat of this GPS (aka the pre-loaded map) is Arabia. I could still go British. Whatever the language, the name must exude equal parts confidence and nerdiness; a little bit subservience with a dash of moxie. Any suggestions?

Sunday, September 09, 2012

My favorite street signs

By no means is this a comprehensive list. I certainly don't have photos of all my favorite street signs. I deeply regret not taking a picture of the signs along the highway in Syria that said, in English, "Please Make Light Speed" (which is actually a roughly correct, if overly literal, translation from the Arabic for "Reduce Speed").

In Syria, we also used to giggle at the many, many different English spellings of Syrian towns and villages on directional signs. My favorite was Homs (spelled properly like so). You could just picture the highway sign assembly guy, puzzling over the letters he'd received: H O M S. And then, because Arabic isn't as picky about vowels as English, sounding out some possibilities: "Homs...Hmos..." We saw HMOS on the signs plenty often.

Very close to my home here in Sharjah, we have this gem, which is juuuust on the quaint side of offensive.

Straight-up offensive is the sign on Airport Road directing drivers to (something like) "Home for Old Folks." Hahahahahahahaha.

My most recent favorite is this one, at a construction area here on campus:
Ahh, "Labor At Work." Doesn't it just make you smile? Just as with HMOS, I love to imagine the thinking behind this. Perhaps they meant "Laborer" at work but the -er didn't come through strongly enough over the phone, or between accents, or however the instructions were delivered. And why didn't they just say "Men At Work"? I know you can't do that in the US anymore, but it's certainly true about construction sites in this country. In any case, it's a very stilted phrasing. Or is it a command? "Labor at work!!!" It's so open to interpretation. I love it.

Friday, September 07, 2012

September 7th, outsourced

I find this so inexplicable: in Saudi Arabia, starting soon, "taxi drivers will be banned from random passenger pickups at various locations, from airports and hospitals to shopping malls and offices, as well as transport stations." Let us know how that works for you, Saudi!

Dude forgot Harrison Ford in [SPOILER ALERT] What Lies Beneath. That movie totally played on us banking that HF was the good guy.

In Paralympics news: classification of disability, and a photo round-up.

The thinking behind The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure.

:(.

I'll, uh, let the headline say it: Woman shoots and decapitates rapist and dumps his severed head in the village square. [HT Eric D. Snider]

Did you used to read like this? I used to read like this.

How do you read books now?

Ooh, the new Kindles!

This guy explains pretty well why I waited to watch both seasons of Downton Abbey properly on iTunes.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

NSFW

I'm going to be very oblique about the whos and wheres, but a community online buy/sell bulletin board that Jeremy and I check recently had a post advertising a television and sound system for sale. Everything was right there in the ad: a name and contact number, as well as the prices, brands, sizes, descriptions, and photos of each component of the system.

Here's one of the photos in the ad, aka the part that gets NSFW (it has been edited to be safe for this blog, at least):

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Back in the UAE

Things I've noticed in the past week, settling in:

1. My driving skills have taken a hit. I remember consciously toning down the aggression while I was in the US but I need to get it back, FAST.

2. Grocery shopping is out to get me. In support of my new intention to shop at a much smaller, much closer grocery store (because grocery shopping sucks the life out of me), I went to the Spinney's in Mirdif and stocked up on one particular item that no one else sells so I won't have to go there again for a long time. Then I went to Carrefour and saw the same thing there, for the very first time, for half the price. Smart shopping FAIL.

3. But yeah, there is this new little shopping center in the community and I am really excited to do my shopping there instead of having to drive all the way to Ajman or Mirdif. I'm sure the small grocery store there won't have everything, all the time, but not even the big markets do so I'm determined to just deal with it.

4. Jet lag going east is AWFUL. A few days last week, we were getting up for the day at 2, 3, 4am. And a nap doesn't solve anything, either. You either sleep too long and undo any progress you've made, or wake up not knowing who/where/why you are. Or both.

5. It's good to be home! One of the first things the girls requested upon arrival was a dance party. We even went on iTunes and bought five American songs that we heard all summer so we can retain our nationality in good faith.

6. It's also nice to finally know what day of the week it is. The Islamic work week (Sunday-Thursday, with a Friday/Saturday weekend) takes a lot of getting used to. So it was really hard to become un-used to it this summer in the US. I swear to you, most of the time there I did not know what day it was. It's nice to go to church on Fridays again.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Easy, breezy, 15.25 hours

Emirates provides a lot of kid swag, and snacks, too!
Our most recent trip home to the UAE was the simplest yet. We had a scant 45-minute hop from Portland to Seattle, then a direct Seattle-Dubai flight that was only 14.5 hours. That was it. We were home. Even after it happened, I couldn't believe how easy it was. When you're used to three-leg flights that tour lazily through the US east coast and then the farthest reaches of Europe before deigning to touch down in the Middle East, or even two-leg flights that, while only two legs, require a 12+-hour layover at JFK/Newark, 15.25 hours of flight time is a DREAM. We were on the road, doorstep to doorstep, for 19 hours, people, which is a new record AND even includes the stop at Costco in Aloha for Jeremy to return a pack of socks. God bless Emirates Airlines, specifically their new Seattle-Dubai route.

Of course, while you're on the plane, 14.5 hours is nothing to sneeze at. The flight was full, unfortunately, which should be against the law for long-haul economy travel. There has to be something unsafe about that many people in that small of a space for that long of a time. The one good thing about flying with children (haha, seriously, the ONE) is that you get to block out more space for your family. There may be four of us, but at least we had four seats to "spread out" in, you know what I mean? We could climb over each other to go to the bathroom and put a kid on the floor to sleep and pick off each other's food and doze on each other's shoulders. The best part, though were the personal video screens packed with hours and hours of time-passing movies and TV shows. The girls were like zombies, staring at those things. And that was fine with me.

Now it's just a matter of settling back into our real lives. Our American summer already seems like a dream - so carefree and yet action-packed, filled with my favorite people and places and foods. Even if the summer itself is over, I can still feel its re-energizing effects. It was good to get out and spend a few weeks in a change of scenery. We've got a few more days to get back into the groove and then it's go-go-go until semester break in January. Sigh.

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