Dano, Melissa, Kennedy, Ethan, Erin, Abigail, and Emily

Dano, Melissa, Kennedy, Ethan, Erin, Abigail, and Emily

26 February 2010

The Name Says it All

When a parent has a child a lot of thought goes into naming the child. The same is true for Muslims, especially when it is a son. We have learned that Allah has 99 names. Naturally they reverence these names, but they also proudly display them. They can be found on rugs, silver platters, clocks, plates, anything decorative. Many of the people here carry one of the names of Allah. However, the names often begin with Abdul…sound familiar? I apologize if anyone already knew this, but it was new and interesting to me. Dano decided to ask someone at work about the name Abdul after Ethan spoke of several of his friends named “Abdulrockmon,” as Ethan pronounced it. We all thought that was a really cool sounding name. One of Dano’s friends at work told him it was actually Abdulrahman (the h’s are often said with a guttural emphasis). He told him ‘Abd’ is Arabic for servant and ‘ul’ means ‘of’; so when you combine the two you create Abdul meaning servant of….then they commonly add one of the ninety-nine names of Allah. Abdulrahman’s name means “servant of the all beneficent, the most gracious.” Ethan’s other friend, Abdulaziz’s name means “servant of the all mighty.” One of our driver’s has a son named Muqtadir, (no Abdul) meaning “The Dominant.” So next time you meet someone named Abdul ‘something’ maybe you’d like to ask them if their subsequent name is one of the ninety-nine names of Allah and what it means. I am finding that they are happy to talk about their religion when someone takes an interest (hmmm…who does that sound like?!).

One of the other phrases I have learned since moving here is “Insha’Allah” which technically means “God willing.” It is said all the time! When the pharmacist wouldn’t have my prescription in for two weeks and I asked him if I came back in two weeks he would for sure have it he said, “Yes, Insha’Allah”.” When the network was down at the mall and credit cards were not working (this happens all too frequently) and the store clerk was showing me where the ATM was and I asked him if the network was down if the ATMs would be working he replied, “Sure, Insha’Allah”.” When we went to find little girl size abbayas at the souk where we bought abbayas for me and Kennedy and they didn’t have any we really liked we told them we would be back another time, they smiled and said, “Insha’Allah.” When I was trying to confirm with the driver that he would be outside to pick up me and Abby at 12:00, he told me, “Yes, yes, Insha’Allah”.” Dano had warned me this was way overused and I was beginning to think he was right. People had told me it just means, “I hope so.” After reading about it, I can understand why they believe they should say this. It comes from the Qur’an. One of the verses basically says you should speak of nothing of the future without adding, “So please God!” because nothing is in your power, and by not saying “Insha’Allah” you are not acknowledging Allah’s power in what is to come. While here I have quickly developed an admiration for Muslims’ devotion to their faith (most of them) and gained a fondness for seeing a small group praying together at a gas station or section of the mall during prayer time. However, this is something I have found to be too repetitive and comes too close to using the Lord’s name in vain. Although we know that Heavenly Father is omnipotent we also know that we can take responsibility and accountability for our actions. For me and Dano, we’ve decided that this is one Arabic phrase we will not become accustomed to saying.

While on the subject I will say I was pleasantly surprised by a comment made at an assembly I attended at the school. It was not meant for parents, but not knowing the ‘rules’ of the school and wanting to see Ethan narrate his class’ production for their Key stage assembly I invited myself. After receiving permission from the teacher and some other school authority that I could stay (can you sense my snarkiness) I was politely seated to watch with the other teachers and classes (Years 4-6). At these weekly assemblies they discuss behavior and events and student merits (I promise I am working to put together an entire blog on the school adventure). After the Head of the Prep School strictly encouraged the pupils to make sure they are wearing proper socks and not writing on their hands and then very strongly admonished them that foul mouths would absolutely not be tolerated, the music teacher added that he would like to hear no more taking of the Lord’s name in vain. He finds it very offensive. As he went on about this in a firm but respectful manner, I was shocked but so pleased, trying to remember what kind of school we were at…private but not religiously affiliated…could they do that?!! Well, they did! (I even caught Ethan’s eye as he turned and smiled a big smile at me. This has always been very sensitive to him, too.) He went on to say that just because they hear things on the radio or telly doesn’t make it right to say it and he didn’t want to hear it anymore at school. I couldn’t wait to go up and meet him and tell him how appreciative I was of his mentioning this. I was really so moved. Maybe it’s just because someone was expressing some of my own religious beliefs out in the open, something I haven’t been able to do, except at our closed church setting. However, Ethan’s teacher came right up to me and I missed him. Ethan did, however, talk with him at his next music class. He was very happy Ethan mentioned it.

All said, I am happy with the focus on faith that is found here. I was talking with a Saudi/Egyptian mom of Erin’s friend and discussing our life and impressions here. Several times through our conversation she told me “Masha’Allah” and finally told me it means “God’s praises be upon you.” It is also used in a congratulatory or appreciative manner and literally means “God has willed it.” We do feel God’s will in our life and are glad He has willed us this great opportunity of living here.

17 February 2010

Happy Birthday, Abigail!

Okay, what kind of mother blogs about another child’s birthday before her own? Pretty lousy, I know. For all of our curious family members, yes, we did celebrate Abby’s birthday. It’s hard to believe she’s two. I had a sad realization the day of her birthday that this was the first birthday for a child that we have ever celebrated without any friends or family. Even last year amidst a snowstorm our dear friends, Elder and Sister Owens, braved their way to come party with us and Abby. They are natives of the White Mountains of Arizona and a little Ohio snow didn’t ever scare them…kind of like Coloradoans. So I concluded that our family is now large enough in number and love to make up for any missing bodies. We ordered pizza (Abby’s favorite food…one of only a few that she eats) from Papa Johns. For those of you wondering, yes, they have the major pizza eateries here. We have tried Little Caesars, Papa Johns, Pizza Hut, and have yet to try Dominoes. Two funny things about the pizza places: first, they don’t refer to it as carry-out, they call it take-away pizza; second, they usually throw in an order of some kind of potato side like Texas fries or tator tots. Not usually what you think of accompanying pizza. Anyhow, after scarfing down three pieces of pizza (when it comes to good pizza that girl can eat) it was time for cake. Abby had helped mix up her cake, as I really can’t do anything without her. She helped with the cleanup, too.

I was a little sad as we went to the store in preparation for the cake and couldn’t find any marshmallows to make the fondant. Apparently they have marshmallows sometimes in certain stores. There are marshmallows similar to those circus peanuts, if you know what I’m talking about …eewww. So, the fondant was not happening. Plan B. I have never been able to get my turquoise/aqua just right and will just have to keep trying. But, it turned out cute and Abby loved it. It tasted really good, too. This is what happens when you clear someone’s plate before they have eaten every crumb and licked every streak of yummy frosting off the plate. We were just trying to get to the gifts. The other sad part about the cake was since we had only been in the country for a few weeks and I had only been to the store a couple of times I was not familiar with the stores. We could not find a number 2 candle anywhere. I was beginning to wonder if they only celebrated birthdays after year 2. (I think I failed to mention the candles on Abdulaziz’s cake were giant sparklers similar to fireworks that would violate fire codes in most buildings!) We had to give up looking and hope she wouldn’t notice. (I have since found where they stock the candles...by the paper products. Why didn't I think to look there?!! We did buy some candles and put them on a leftover piece of cake and sang again:) )

All three of our other children are summer babies, born in non-holiday seasons when I have plenty of time to dream up cakes and gifts. Knowing we were moving and with the bustle of Christmas I went ahead and bought Abby’s birthday gifts when I was buying Christmas gifts…and I can tell you exactly where they are sitting on the shelf in my closet …in Ohio. I even had them in my hot little hands during the packing process. Somehow they just didn’t make it into any of our luggage. So, the night before her birthday we put the kids to bed (thank goodness for an eleven-year-old!) and went out in search of the perfect gifts. Fortunately, for a two-year-old anything is perfect. We did find some fun ones for her, her very own jump rope (you should see her try to jump with her sisters-hilariously spastic), a wooden shape-sorter box, maracas, harmonica, wooden stacking shapes, large ABC magnets, and some little candy gifts from her sisters. As we sang “Happy Birthday” to her, she sang along with us. It was very funny. She still has a hard time remembering she’s two. That’s actually a difficult concept. Why would you be one one day and two the next? Not only that but it’s much easier to hold up one finger than to hold up two…or should I say hold down two with your thumb…and keep your tongue in your mouth at the same time. Too bad I haven’t gotten a picture of that! We are looking forward with great anticipation to see what this year holds for Abby. Hopefully lots more smiles like she has already brought us.

13 February 2010

Party of the Year!

Have you ever felt like the life you are living is a simple life? I have those reminders frequently. One of them came this week. Ethan came home from school very excited because 1) he had found his long-lost jumper and 2) he was hiding a really nice trophy under the jumper. He was excited. I was excited for him. I asked him why he got it. He had no clue. He sat down and ran through how his teacher had dismissed about half the class to retrieve their bags to go home. He said he sat there and thought, “Oh no. I’ve got detention. What did I do to get detention?” The girls were sharing in his excitement now and Kennedy assured him the trophy was probably for house points. “That’s the only thing that makes sense,” they thought. There were two rolled up pieces of paper glued inside. We decided to take a picture before he began his homework and open the papers when Dano came home from work. Unfortunately it got too late, the little girls were already in bed and Ethan had to unroll the papers before he headed to bed. The first was a detailed map. I began thinking maybe he’d been asked to participate in some offsite school function. The second was a birthday party invitation for one of his classmates. Kennedy, Ethan, and I just rolled with laughter! We had been so proud. We had taken pictures of Ethan and his mystic trophy. We had put it on display on our bookcase in the living room. It turned out to be an elaborate birthday party invitation!! This is where my world began to get a little smaller. When Dano got home I made sure he shared in the laughter. He looked at it and asked me if I knew who it was. Of course, I didn’t. The last name was the same as one of the compounds we had looked at…I actually thought the invitation was referring to the compound, not the family residence. Dano told me he thought it was the family who owned not only the compound but the largest produce business in Saudi. Over the next few days I noticed their name on billboards around the city. Dano had a coworker, who is a Jeddah native, tell him when he was growing up and kids would ask for something extra or expensive, a parent’s common response would be, “Who do you think we are? The Sharbatlys?” We decided this was going to be a big party.

When we arrived at their home the street was lined with cars and drivers. We parked and Dano and I walked Ethan up to the gate of the very large home. As Dano put it, this party made some county fairs look small. There was a ten foot picture of this nine year old boy in his Ferrari racing suit on the front gate of the home. Even Ethan, who is intimidated by nothing, who is only strangers with the person whom he hasn’t met yet, was a little apprehensive. Fortunately one of his classmates was arriving at the same time. I was able to meet his mother and she filled us in on the party protocol. When we actually walked through the gate I thought the local news crew had been called to cover the birthday. It was only a professional photographer and videographer who were both making rounds. The birthday boy, Abdulaziz, came over and very kindly greeted us and Ethan, had his picture taken with Ethan and went off to play. Their picture was taken under the birthday banner on the front of the house, a mere 12’x20’banner of Abdulaziz again in his Ferrari outfit with a Ferrari. We were now way out of our streamers and balloons league! There was a giant blow-up jumping apparatus. There was a popcorn machine, a cotton candy machine, soda fountains, a hot dog stand, and a shwarma machine. I’m not sure that’s what the latter is called, but a shwarma is a three foot stack of chicken slow-cooked on a spit then served as a sandwich, similar to a gyro. (And you thought Dano was kidding about the county fair comment?) As we looked amongst the adults, hoping to meet Abdulaziz’s parents, Ethan’s Australian friend’s mother told us the parents don’t come out to the party until the last hour or two (it was a four hour party). The nannies and aunties supervise the kids and games. Seeing there were about two adults per child, and Ethan was one of three Caucasian children (easy to pick out) we felt comfortable enough and left.

When we returned to pick Ethan up the magic show was concluding on the front veranda. Ethan was watching from the jumping apparatus. As we watched him we noticed he had made a new friend, a darling little Saudi girl. They had really hit it off and were having a great time. We mingled with some more parents and were approached by Abdulaziz’s father. Dano very much impressed him with his traditional Arabic greeting of a son’s father. They spoke of education, the U.S., business…he was one of the kindest, most gracious, unpretentious men, who, we found out, doesn’t own the produce business. We think that must be a brother. This Sharbatly brother owns the Porsche/Audi/Volkswagen/Ferrari dealerships, boat dealerships, and yacht marinas. Oh, well that explains the Ferrari theme. As he and Dano spoke about the economic downturn he was so quick to say, “You make money, but your money doesn’t make you. If you don’t have your family and good health, nothing else matters.” I truly believe he meant it. He made sure we were comfortable and had everything to eat and drink and then they came to get him for the cake. We followed everyone around to the back terrace where I thought they’d have a nice pool. No, they had a miniature go-cart track set up with three race cars. Ethan had really enjoyed that part of the party. There was an even larger banner; one that covered the entire back of the house. They sang “Happy Birthday” for about ten minutes…really…I think they took as many pictures as are taken at a wedding. The cake was larger than most wedding cakes. It was incredible. I just stared at it wondering how many pounds it weighed and how on earth they were going to eat all of that! By this time, Ethan was pooped out. We Listers, in our simple life, do not know how to party it up past about ten o’clock. We give our all until then. We met Ethan’s friend, Nowal, who is Abdulaziz’s cousin. Unfortunately she does not go to the same school so I don’t know if Ethan will see her again. As we were heading out the door, Mr. Sharbatly took Ethan’s arm and hollered something in Arabic across the courtyard. He had not received his party favor. Mr. Sharbatly handed him a Ferrari bag filled with Ferrari pencils, stickers, and other goodies. I’m not sure if Ethan will ever use the bag or if it will just be a prized possession.

As we loaded a tired Ethan into the car, thinking our children are now living in a world where they’re going to think they’re poor; where swimming and Mom’s “awesome” cakes (not to mention streamers and balloons!) are no longer a sufficient birthday party, we had underestimated Ethan. The only thing Ethan had to say besides what a great time he had was, “I wonder what his bedroom looks like.” What a great kid. What a great host. What great experiences. What a great, simple life.

07 February 2010

My Fragmented Life

I have been doing my best to try to converse with people here (other than at church or with compound residents) but am finding it is just difficult. Between spending my day with a two-year-old and trying daily to communicate with people who speak limited to very limited English I have been forced to speak mainly in fragments. Not only that but I think I am creating a subcultural linguistic trait. Canadians are known for ending their sentences with “eh.” (I miss you, Cindy!!) Well, I have noticed I have begun to end my sentences with either “Okay?” or “Yes?” “You fix phone, okay?” “I buy fruit here, yes?” “I come back one hour, okay?” However, my affirmatives got me a fix the other day. Someone came to work on the air conditioner at 7:45 (they’re very prompt here). I didn’t know Dano had arranged it so I looked, not only my “morning best” but a little taken off-guard as well. The worker said, “Fix air conditioner.” I think I just replied with a “Uhhh. Okaaayyy. What air conditioner?” (each room has it’s own with it’s own controls…very nice). He asked, “Now? Come back afternoon?” I just told him, “No, now fine.” He then proceeded to get on his bicycle (they all ride their bicycles around the compound to jobs). Confused I again said, “No, no, now okay.” He kindly said, “Okay, afternoon” and rode off, leaving me standing on the porch wondering “What just happened here?” My pajamas are cute and I had at least brushed my hair. Dano later told me I used a negative first in the sentence before confirmation so he only got the “no now” part. Ohhhh. Didn’t think of that.

To help bridge some of the tiny gaps I have decided to try to learn a few key phrases in several of the languages here. I started yesterday with the carpenter who came to hang some towel racks. When he was leaving I told him thank you and asked him how he says thank you. (“How do you say thank you?”) He just stared at me. I wondered then if he thought I was asking him to say thank you. “Quick, Melissa, fix it! Fix it!”… “What language you speak?” Nope. That didn’t do it. Ummm. I didn’t dare ask him about his tongue. That could really be weird! Ummm. “Where you from?” He responded, “Aslam.” I only knew this was his name because I had seen it printed in marker on his bicycle. “Your name Aslam?” to which he nodded. I then tried, “What your country?”
“Oh, Pakistan.” Then, for the life of me, I could not remember what language Dano told me Pakistanis speak! I just stood there feeling foolish knowing it would come to me and he would be so impressed. No. Nothing. He was heading to the door. I gave up thinking and just told him, “Shukran.” He left probably both confused and unimpressed.

As I related this to a few of Dano’s friends from work who are Pakistani (who, by the way, speak Urdu) they just chuckled. They taught me that Urdu is a blend of the Arabic, Turkish, and Persian languages and that if you understand Arabic, you understand Urdu and if you can read Arabic, you can read Urdu…and vice-versa. For example ‘thank you’ is ‘shukria.’ Very close to Arabic. So now I just need to find out how to say ‘Hello’ and ‘Good-bye’ in Urdu and (in case of emergency) ‘I really hope I didn’t offend you.’

Nearly everyone understands ‘Hello’ and ‘Good Morning’ in English which is good for Abby since she says it to everyone she sees. The other morning we had to take care of some business at the reception. As we entered she told the window washer good morning. He said, “Morning, baby” back to her. We took care of our business and headed out, told the window washer, “Bye-bye” and proceeded to the door. I pushed and pushed and it didn’t budge. I thought he surely wouldn’t lock the door when he wasn’t even cleaning it yet. I slid to the other end of the door and pushed some more. I just knew he was watching me and I was sure at any moment he would come over and unlock the door. He didn’t. I mumbled something to Abby…doesn’t it always seem to make you feel a little less foolish when you have a child with you? After I pushed some more I stepped back thinking we’d quietly just go out the back door. As I did so, I saw the larger-than-life letters P-U-L-L! Oh, great! Who’s the one with English barriers now? Then I chuckled and muttered something under my breath to Abby about her mom being a ding-dong, put my head down and hustled out.

We ran out the next day to get a birthday cake for Dano; it’s hard to surprise someone when they have to drive you to get it, but oh well, he was happy to do it and we were rushing to get to Baskin Robbins before prayer time. Knowing we were within a few minutes I hopped out while Dano went to park and get Abby out. I ran up to the door and pulled the door. It was locked. I knew we were cutting it close, but they had locked it five minutes early. I was a little bugged and pulled again. I could see a man getting ice cream and two workers. I pulled at the other door but to no avail. At that point I noticed the men looking at me. I don’t know if I was annoyed or embarrassed. I thought it was either look up and give them a pathetic look and maybe they’d open the door… or give up and run with whatever dignity I had left…there are plenty of other Baskin Robbins in the city. No. I reeeealllly wanted Dano to have his birthday cake! I looked up with a slightly pleading look. I caught the eyes of the other customer who made a pushing gesture with his hands. Oh, dangit! Surely this couldn’t happen to me two days in a row. Yep. The door wasn’t locked. It pushed in. I’m sure they were all laughing, at least on the inside, at the crazy American lady who can’t even open a door. That’s okay because I know what I looked like and it was indeed laughable, but I didn’t care because I was about to get an ice cream cake with chocolate icing. That fixes everything! (Later in the car Dano was still reeling from my display. Come to think of it, I bet he was watching the whole thing from a few yards away, snickering! Nevertheless, he explained that most places here you’ll find the doors push in to enter and pull to leave; opposite of what we do in the states. I’m not sure if it’s a safety code in the U.S., but it makes more sense if you need to get out quicker, you push the door!) Thank goodness Abby was there. The ice cream men were quite taken with her. She got a free scoop of cotton candy ice cream. The young men were from Sri Lanka and Nepal. Had I been thinking, I would have asked them what their native languages are and how to say ‘thank you.’ Next time. When we go back. And I’ll remember: Push.

05 February 2010

Potty Post Script

After publishing my last post, my sister e-mailed me the following. I told her I was going to blog it, out of compassion for Erin. She didn’t respond so I accepted that as her approval (although not all of her e-mails have been getting through…). This took place about nine years ago when she and my brother were working at the U.S. embassy in Riyadh one summer during college. Keep in mind, for those of you who know her, and for those of you who don’t, she’s a well-read, well-spoken, intellectual, accomplished woman who thankfully has a great sense of humor. From the words of Jennifer:

“You can tell Erin I got trapped in the bathroom the first time I used one in a Saudi restaurant. However, the cleaning lady, instead of helping me, just closed the outside door so other patrons couldn't hear me banging on the wall. By the time mom came in looking for me, I figured out the lock and came tumbling out!"

What I hadn’t included previously was Erin had locked herself in our villa bathroom within five minutes the first night in Jeddah…with the key on her side. Hopefully, though, this has not discouraged any potential visitors from coming! Don’t let this scare you away! I can always hold the door (cracked) for you like Erin insists I do for her now.