Monday, October 31, 2016

American Birthday with National Style

Some American friends of ours here had a birthday picnic for their daughter.  She has several national friends whom she invited, along with their mothers and siblings.  

In addition to her national friends, her American friends were invited, too.  

People here rarely celebrate birthdays.  In fact, I've talked to some who don't even know their birthdays.  It was like this in Africa, too, because of lack of birth certificates and such, but here, I think it's just because it's not a big deal.

However, the family did the birthday in the style of the picnics they have here.  The only difference was the abundance of the color pink.

I also think that in America if we are invited to a birthday party, we bring a gift, and that's about it.

But here, the girls brought gifts for their friend, and the mothers brought dishes and dishes of food.

My friend, who was hosting the gig, had a ton of food already, but these ladies contributed with even more deserts, a potato dish, a pasta dish, dolma, and an assortment of pastries.

My one big story about the day has to do with Keira.  It was the first time I'd taken her to the park after being potty-trained.

When she needed to go, we walked to the public bathrooms, but she wasn't having it.

One look at the squatty, and she said, "No, Mommy."   Granted, it was pretty nasty, but nothing like I saw in Africa.  So we walked around where I knew there was a Western toilet.  It was pretty sketchy, too.

This girl has never used shady convenience store restrooms in America.  I guess she's used to Buckee's, etc.  Anyway, my one child born in Africa does not like squatties.  She cries even when she sees a clean one (like at a friend's house).

Anyway, in pure country girl fashion, we went behind the bathrooms, and she was completely fine squatting and going in the grass. 

That's about it for excitement.  

I pushed Keira on the swings for a good 30 minutes and visited with a girl from Ghana who is a nanny over here.  Caleb played soccer with some other boys and had a good time; however, you can't tell it by this picture which I snagged of him while waiting for the prayer to be said to start the feasting.

This is what a young boy must feel like at a teenage girl party. :)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Four years of Keira

Keira with Reveille IX

On October 2nd, it was the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah.  It also happened to be the first day of the Arabic calendar (or so I understood), so the kids got a holiday from school.

They didn't particularly care which holiday it was, they were just glad to know they could sleep in on a Sunday.

I'm still not used to a school/work week being Sunday through Thursday, but something about it does make it seem to go a lot faster than a Monday through Friday schedule.

We also have a new Hump Day - Tuesday.  Those GEICO camel commercials would have to be re-done over here.

Anyway, we wish the holiday had been a few days later, on October 5th, because this was the first time the kids missed getting to celebrate a sibling's birthday.

We all reminisced about that morning in Nairobi, Kenya, when she was born,

and her three birthdays since.


We got up early to eat chocolate chip pancakes (Keira's request) and open her presents.

There was no way I was going to make her wait all day :)

She had seen these plastic shoes with a plastic make-up kit at the grocery store, and she just HAD to have them for her birthday.

Can you see how only two of her toes fit into these tiny shoes?  Yet somehow, she manages to click around in them quite often.

Doug and I took her to the food court in the mall to meet some little friends for lunch, then we played in the mall "jungle gym" (which Keira calls Alakazoo) and rode the horse around for 15 minutes.

Our sweet language helper remembered that today was Keira's birthday, and he and his wife brought over a banana cake.

Kylie made two cookie cakes after school and decorated them with Keira's favorite color.

We invited 3 little American girls and their mommy, plus another mother and daughter that we have known since way back in Africa.  Through the little girls, word got out to our neighbor that we were having a "party," so I went over and gave her mother, Jasmine, a proper invite.

I'm so glad that that turn of events happened the way they did.  Keira had really wanted a party where we only spoke "English," but she had a great time with the little girls.  The 3 spoke English to her, and if she needed to know something from the other, they translated.

The older people (teens and up) had a good time laughing and practicing language, and sweet Doug sat there as the only man, taking it all in.

Keira loves Pringle's "spicy chips," so when a friend brought her these goodies, she declared to everyone that the whole can was hers.

She took it out in just a few days.

We had so much cake left, we felt it was the perfect opportunity to return our neighbor's dishes this week full of sweet stuff for their whole family.

Keira in her new footie-pajamas.

And taking her baby for a ride in a taxi.

She's a pretty sweet girl that I'm blessed to spend my days with now that the big ones are in school. 

I made a list for her birthday of over 50 things that she likes or enjoys and it is long and varied. 

She really does enjoy life...and selfies.

Happy birthday, Keira!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Dance Party in the Middle East

On September 24, an American boy, about Caleb's age, had a dance party for his birthday.  His family really likes the show "So you think you can dance," and they modeled it a little bit after that, or so I'm told.  We've never seen that show.

Three full families were invited.  Mom's, dad's, and all the kids.  We were each given instructions to study a list of dances and come prepared to perform each of them.

Rules: Each family member had to dance at least 2 times and at least 2 people from my family had to perform each one.  Each family had 30 seconds to a minute to do each dance.  We scored each other on ability, effort, entertainment value, and knowledge of the dance.

We have two girls that take ballet, but besides that, I would not say we are a family of dancers.  Kylie, Karis and I looked up all the dances on Youtube, because we had no idea how to do some of them.

If you would liked to be entertained sometime, type a search into Youtube, "How do you do ______" and name a dance.

For example, this link will take you to an interesting fella who taught us how to do the "Mashed Potato."

And "Oh my goodness!"  This girl taught us how to do "The Cabbage Patch."  We laughed SO hard.

Here is our list: 
The Mashed Potato
The Twist
The Robot
The Cabbage Patch
The Running Man
The 2-step
The Macarena
The Hammer
Little Teapot
Hoedown Throwdown

We promised that there would be no pictures taken (we looked pretty silly), but I did take one.  It was of my family, and I thought it would be okay to share.  We were doing our "freestyle."  I did not participate in this one.

Doug and the girls are doing the "reach back, grab your ankle and pump" dance, and Caleb is attempting the robot.

Doug and I decided afterward, that we should have taught our kids the Schottish and "Cotton-Eyed Joe" and combined it with the "Chicken," which they already know, and given the audience a South Texas experience.

Scores really weren't calculated, and even though they said our family won, I would beg to differ.  One family color-coordinated their clothes and had some planned out choreography, and one family really worked on all of their members learning most of the dances.

It was fun, and definitely something to remember, even though we all agreed that what happened there, stays there.  No photographic or video proof that I did any of those things.


Sunday, October 16, 2016

"Almost the First Day of Fall" Picnic

On September 20, the week after the sacrifice holiday, four American ladies in my neighborhood (me being one of them), were invited to a picnic.

We thought it was just going to be us and our kids with our neighbor and her kids, so we each prepared a dessert and got our kids ready to go.

RIGHT before we got in vehicles to leave, we got wind of how big this picnic was going to be.

It was my neighbor and her kids; her sisters and their kids; her husband's sister and her kids; her nephew's new wife; her daughter-in-law; her daughter-in-law's sisters and mother; friends; those friends mothers and sisters, etc.

You get the picture.

We were clueless.

Our desserts might have been a little too little.

All the  teenage girls took off for a walk in the park while we ladies visited.

I had met most of them before at other picnics or graduations or teas, but there were also many new faces.  All in all, at the end of the night, there were over 40 ladies there, and even a handful of men showed up for a meal.

Today's language was slow for me.  I couldn't understand some of the ladies well (because I'm probably lacking some key verbs that I don't know yet), but when I was eavesdropping on conversations around me, I could pick up things here and there that I understood.

After telling about my kids and my family, mostly I sat quietly, smiled and listened to those around me.  A lot of them actually talk about you while you are sitting right in front of them, so it's like a game to try to figure out what they are saying about you.  It doesn't bother me.  They don't do it secretively.  They both look at you and smile while they converse about you.

I really think they want me to understand, but sometimes, I just can't.

Believe it or not, my language IS getting better.  My taxi rides are getting more and more communicative.  I can say more at the vegetable stand, and I can now understand how much money they are telling me something costs instead of handing them a wad of cash and just waiting for the correct change.  

It turns out that it wasn't just a dessert party.  We had dolma for dinner, naan, vegetables, and all kinds of things from all the different ladies.

It was kind of like our own personal food festival.

It was hard to get pictures for you because...darkness.  I did however manage to get pictures of what was parked directly in front of me, albeit, not good, quality pictures.

Clean up went quickly with lots of hands. Then we sat around and ate popcorn and nuts.

In the park there are small snack stands and small restaurants scattered throughout.  We happened to be right next to one that had some yard lights and loud music.

The teenagers thought it was a perfect opportunity to get up and dance, and it looks like the little ones joined in, too.

Karis is in a white long-sleeved shirt, looking away; Kylie is the blur third from the left, crammed in between two girls; and Keira is in the foreground, wearing polka dots.

 I can't tell you how much it warms my heart that my girls always have a good time at these picnics.  They are usually up for anything.

 Caleb also ran around, played soccer, and then ended up at one of the restaurant tables with some friends playing Yu-gi-oh.  (It's basically a card battle game that I don't understand).

All the Americans left before everyone else because it was a school night, and at this point, the local kids still hadn't started school.

It was a great way to celebrate the start of a new school year and the fact that the summer heat was over and fall had arrived. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Food Festival

The high school students, where Kylie attends, were asked if they wanted to volunteer with a local food festival to raise money for refugees in IDP camps.

Kylie was excited to help, so she left early in the afternoon to catch the bus at the school, get her shirt, and help set up before it all started.

When we arrived later, it was dusk, and the traffic was a bit crazy. 

The festival took place during the last religious holiday we had here, and so everyone was out enjoying parks and the cooler evening air.

FYI, those gondola-type cars travel from one park to another park, riding over a third park, which is the one we were going to be in.

When we got there, Kylie was near the front of the serving line, smiling and ready to go.

The line was quite long.

This wasn't even the entire line (I got this picture off of facebook), but you can see Kylie's red hair on the far left.

Kylie also happened to be standing where they placed the prettiest trays of food, so cameras were focused on her area for the first part of the evening (until she switched places and started serving rice).

Pretty, right?

When the speaking part of the program was over, they told us we could get in line for food.

But there was no plan.

We got in "line," but were slowly pushed back by all the people who chose to go straight to the front.

When chaos ensued, an organizer from the food festival came over and tried to tell people to get in a single file line.

Not happening.

However, we did manage to separate men on the left and women and children on the right.

When I got closer to the front (after an hour), some ladies that I had been conversing with pulled me  (and the four kids I was watching) to the paying area at the front.  If they hadn't helped me out, I might never have gotten food.   Doug was on the boys side of the line for at least another 30 minutes.

I think we both didn't want to be "pushy Americans," trying to get our way, so we just let what happened, happen.

Here's the line from my point of view.

That should not have taken an hour, right?

Kylie was still smiling when I finally made it to the front.

Combined, over 60 families and restaurants donated food to the cause.  It was a great opportunity for me to try some things that I was curious about.

The line is in the background, under the red and yellow tents.  

When we got our food, festival organizers came to us because they felt awful there were no seats left.

No problem, one of the ingenious ladies we came with had brought a blanket, and it was big enough for a lot of us to sit on.

And Karis and Keira enjoyed their cuisine.

The major news station for the area posted this picture on their website with the article about the festival.

And Kylie's school posted some pictures on facebook thanking the kids for their hard work.

Definitely a cultural experience and one I'm glad we were able to participate in because we found out about it through the school.

Yeah for a night in the park!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Shakespeare in the Middle East

I have had the pleasure of twice being invited to a certain restaurant in the city, both times for brunch.

It's a chain restaurant that, believe it or not, began in UAE.  

Restaurants are normally not the place I would choose to pull out my camera, but I was pretty stunned when I first walked in.  

It's called Shakespeare & Co., and there are over 32 locations, and EACH ONE has a different color scheme, different furniture and decorations, and different atmosphere.

Although, after scanning through pictures of all of the others, I think we have the prettiest one.

Wow, huh?  Considering the dust and cement-gray I see every day, this was quite an feast for the eyes.

I liked the lights inside the picture frames.

All the attention to detail.

My Lebanese breakfast choice.

Chairs of all shapes, sizes, and colors.

Framed photographs in the light alcove above.

And along the ceiling.

Dinnerware on sconces.

And, oh, Karis liked her chocolate crepe, too.

Kylie and Karis checking out the upstairs.

And Kylie took this picture because she like the painting on the stairs.

I hope people frequent this place often, so it gets enough business to stick around.

Both of my trips here were for birthday parties.  The second time, the celebrated individual was an 18-year old girl.

Kylie painted this canvas for her.  Pretty cool, huh?

After the amazing breakfast, all the teenagers went to the birthday girl's house to paint some more.

She had chosen the same palette of colors for everyone that would match her dorm room next year (I never thought that far ahead!).  She wanted all the girls to paint a canvas that she could take with her to remember them by.

Here's Kylie working on hers.

And the finished product.

Karis and the birthday girl (among others) have a soft spot for Converse, so Karis painted this.

Here are all of the finished creations.

I thought they did a fabulous job!

Thank you, Father, for providing my girls with friends here and for allowing a dreamy restaurant (with an English menu) to be available to us in this dry and weary land.

You are good...even down to the little things!