Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


So, blogging must not be my thing, cause I just keep forgetting about it. And I feel like a person shouldn't blog apologies, so I just going to skip ahead and we will instead just celebrate when I do post instead of judging me when I forget to keep you updated--sound fair enough? Ok, moving.

So life has been crazy busy since returning. The week before I returned I came down with the flu in America, and have since recovered 100% only to come down with a cold this week. Although, I would say that I was expecting it since last week when the baby I am living week came down with one. I mean it is only a matter of time then, cause who is going to stay away from a little cutie like Maya to avoid a few sniffles? Oh, yah, in case you didn't know-while I was gone the people who had generously allowed me to stay in their house while they were in America returned. I ran outta time before I left to find a new apt, so they again graciously let me stay here until I found a place again. So in the month that I have been back I have been trying to secure a new apartment--which is not easy when you have a tight budget (around $500 a month) in one of the arguably top 10 most expensive countries in the world, and top 3 in the Middle East! The furnished apts (cause I don't have any furniture anymore)in the area I have lived in the past two years range from $800-$2000 a month from what I have found so far. But I think I found another sweet-hookup with another American family who are also in the States but have left an empty apt. Well, it is not completely empty, they have a Sri Lankan househelper who stays there as well. So if all goes as planned, I will move into their place soon, for close to free! I just have to get used to a whole nother area of town and uh, living with a Sri Lankan househelper!

Anyways, so in the midst of trying to find a place to live, I have been working! Fe shugal kteer! There has been alot to catch up on. After spending 10 days here, readjusting to the country, reading the news daily after the "government collapsed" (which is actually normal), getting over jetlag, and revisiting some clients, I headed to a neighboring country for 7 days of business training! After 7 days there, my boss came back with me to my country and we visited more of my clients for another 5 days and entertained him. Then we sent him back on a plane to America and worked to follow-up with all those visits and get proposals to companies. Now, we are working on our public training offering for March and training to make plans for the Chick-fil-A SERVE team's week in May.

Oh, and in the midst of these travels, I did manage to read the news everyday to know what was going on in the region! Change is in the air! It is amazing how quickly things have been changing lately! In case you missed it: here is a brief synopsis:
- TUNISIA: On January 5 the death of a young man who set himself on fire in despair over unemployment and harassment by officials provided a focus for endemic revolt.

On January 14 President Ben Ali, who had ruled with an iron hand for 23 years, fled the country, which is now ruled by a provisional government. The Tunisian revolution set off shock waves throughout the Arab world and beyond.

- EGYPT: Ten days after the fall of the Tunisian dictatorship widespread unrest broke out in Egypt, which is both the most populous Arab state and a key link in US strategy for the region, notably in support of Israel.

After 18 days of nationwide revolt including strikes and a million-strong march, President Hosni Mubarak left Cairo and handed power to the army on Friday February 11. Mubarak had been in power for almost 30 years.

On Monday the military government called for an end to widespread strikes.

- IRAN: The revolution of 1979 turned Iran into an Islamic republic and made it a key enemy of the United States. In 2009, contested elections sparked a wave of revolts led by two defeated candidates who claimed the poll was rigged.

Although the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad officially welcomed the overthrow of the Mubarak regime in Egypt, security forces have cracked down on protests calling for a similar revolt in Iran. A bystander was reported shot dead during such protests on Monday.

- YEMEN: The fall of the Tunisian and Egyptian regimes have brought a wave of militancy by students against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been in power for 32 years.

Protests and clashes were continuing on Tuesday on Yemen, the poorest of all the Arab states.

- ALGERIA: After winning independence from France in a bitter war in the 1950s, Algeria has been under a state of emergency since the military stepped in to halt elections in 1992.

Since the revolt in Tunisia, its immediate neighbor, the country has seen a wave of protests, partly motivated by unemployment and high food prices. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has been in power since 1999.

- BAHRAIN: Protests in the small Gulf island state, which hosts major US naval facilities, have centered on discontent among its Shia Muslim population, who form a majority but have little representation among the predominantly Sunni elite. Two Shiites died in violence on Monday and Tuesday after calls for protests based on the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt.

- PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES: The fall of the Mubarak regime brought scenes of jubilation in both the Gaza Strip -- which borders Egypt -- and in the West Bank. On Monday, the government of the Palestinian Authority resigned ahead of elections which are seen as a way of boosting its legitimacy in the light of the Arab revolt. However the Hamas movement which controls the Gaza Strip has refused to hold new elections.

- JORDAN: Since early February, several protests have been held in support of the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt and against high food prices. However King Abdullah II, who succeeded his father on the throne in 1999, has opened talks with Islamist opposition.

On Monday the situation in Jordan was complicated by a row with neighboring Israel, after a Jordanian minister described the killer of seven Israeli schoolchildren as a "hero".

- LIBYA: After initially expressing regret at the fall of the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia, which borders Libya, leader Moamer Kadhafi has expressed support for the Arab revolts. On Sunday he called on Palestinian refugees to march on the Palestinian territories.

Meanwhile Libyan groups using the Internet were calling for a "day of rage" in the country on Thursday.(AFP)

And Lebanon, which is known as the most unstable country in the region, went through a PM change about the time of the Tunisia uprising and is still trying to set up a cabinet.

Anyways, so there has not been a dull moment since I returned!

After working so much for the first 2 weeks of February, I was determined to take the weekend off! (I have been known to keep working on projects on the weekends, since my work schedule is flex---but I NEEDED a break) At first I was depressed that all my friends were busy on Saturday, so I would just be spending the time doing nothing but having my own "Office" marathon from the comfort of my bed. (Thanks Tyler for 4 seasons of "The Office!") But then at the last minute everyone called me back! So I had lunch with Natalie, then spent the afternoon with T&B and Jade, then had dinner with Megan! Sunday, a new American friend invited me to an English speaking Anglican church, which I had heard of for the past 2 years, but now visited, cause I felt like I should try to be more like the locals and do Arabic church, but I really enjoyed it and then ended up spending the afternoon with this new friend.

So then, it was back to work on Monday, Valentine's Day--which is actually a national holiday here, for other reasons that have nothing to do with love and everything to do with politics. But on Tuesday, I took the day off for Mohammad's Birthday (the third national holiday in 7 days). A friend Tina, who went to Egypt with me in October (yep! I was there just 4 months ago--when there were no signs of political unrest!)invited me and another American to day-trip with her and then have a meal with her family!

Originally, we were supposed to go see one of the new 7 Wonders of the World with Tina, but not so surprisingly it was closed on the one day we wanted to visit, so we toured a couple of high mountain-top overlooks in the Christian areas of the country. One I had been to before but the other was new--and gorgeous! The second place we visited was actually a nunnery, I believe. Check out the view with this link: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2046144&id=79800981&l=1b40b48fa2 I also bought some fig jam! Figs-something I never really tried till I moved here. Fig Newtons-I never liked, but real figs are quite tasty.

Her mom made up tabbouleh, hummus and then 5 meats! We had kebbeh (traditional ground beef dish (most similar to meatloaf-maybe), jumbo baked shrimp, fried fish fillets, whole grilled fish--as in with the head & tail & all, and another whole fried fish just bigger than a man's finger. It was so nice to meet her family and be in their home.

Okay, so that brings us to today. Whew! Glad to finally get ya caught up! Today was a work day. I was thankful that I could stay home and work today, because it POURED outside all day! And now I gotta get to bed so I can wake up tomorrow to work---well, maybe I have time for one episode of the Office, first! :) night, night!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Top 10 Lessons Learned in the Last 2 Years in the Middle East

Time sure has flown this last month. We hosted a volunteer group from home and then I have been busy trying to finish end-of-the-year work so I can leave on Dec 17 to spend Christmas in America!! I am excited to be "home" for Christmas! At the same time, I am a little nervous about America. I know I am a very different person than I was just 2 years ago! I was going through some of my monthly updates the last 2 years and wow, I was just a little embarrassed about what I used to write in updates, but I guess that is just part of the growing up process where hind vision is 20-20.

Here are some things I know I have learned in the last two years:
10. How to live alone and with some half-crazy strong personality roomies! You know I love you, but ISTJs and ENFPs are very different and I think we can both admit we learned a lot from each other!

9. How to clean mold off walls and couches! Bleach water is a cure-all, unless it is rain season, and then it is an almost lost cause. It is important even in the cold winter to crack windows so your bed/closet/couches get some airflow and don’t breed mold. Mold comes in many colors too!

8. Politics. Drama. Instability. Yes, Soldiers on the street with m16s and army tanks are normal to me now. As well as the resistance militia. Hmm, this probably sounds really weird. I have learned the major political players and how to follow what they are saying in the news, and am getting better at keeping the 16 different political parties straight and who is on each side-even as they switch alliances!

7. Dancing. I am the first person to admit that I am a WHITE, BAPTIST girl, who has no dancing or rhythmic abilities what-so-ever. But that is not a legit excuse at parties here, so I have learned to dance, or how to entertain friends by letting them teach me to dance each time. I have had many Arab friends teach me Dabke (more of a village line dance) and Arabic Dancing (lots of hip twisting and wrist rolling).

6. Working for a start-up business is not easy! You don’t just go to work and do the same thing everyday. Each day you analyze what you are doing, and how it could be more effective, or successful. Strategy and vision are vision are very important.

5. Don’t spend 10 days in Cairo. If you want to see the pyramids and mummies, spend one day there, not 10! Don’t eat the food unless you are prepared to get a parasite/food poisoning and be sick for the next 3 weeks. For a wonderful vacation though, the Greek isles are everything you have heard that they are—pristine beaches and cute villages, so relaxing and perfect and with much better food!

4. Wasta: “connections” it all comes down to who you know. Especially as a foreigner, once you make the right relationships you are “in” and have someone who can help you get anything done. I have learned to make wasta and to use wasta from people.

3. My vocabulary has changed, and I don’t just mean I have learned Arabic, which has been a huge learning experience the last 2 years, but the Arabic speaking mindset comes out in my English and in my thought processes now. “Inshallah” (Lord-willing) and “lhumdillia” (thanks to God) come out a lot more. Living here I have learned very well, that I can’t make plans cause they can change so quickly, so plans are always “inshallah” and I give God praise for so many more things that he deserves using “lhumdillia” daily.

2. Flexibility. Like #3, plans are ALWAYS going to change, multiple times. Internet, water, and electricity are not givens, but factors that play into most plans. I recognize so much better now that I am not in-control, and when I thought I was in-control of my life when I lived in the States, that was just an illusion. You never know what each day will bring, but lhumidllia, we have a God who is with us always and never surprised by each new day!

1. The Power of God’s Word. The Word of God transforms lives, and even though it is thousands of years old, it has a fresh teaching everyday. It is also a much better witness than I am. Too many times I can be defensive or try to phrase things so as not to offend people, but the Bible doesn’t do that. It is direct and divides marrow. It is the Words of Life and leads people into the way of righteousness, and transcends all cultures! I have seen the Word of God change my life and the lives of others the last two years-Lhumdillia!

Picture time

Thanksgiving Volunteer Group Pictures:


My friend Maya's engagement party:



Friday, November 12, 2010


OH my goodness! How could I have gotten this far behind in posting to my blog.

It has obviously been a busy time. There is so much to update you on! I spent 10 days in Egypt: click here for pictures. That was probably the worst vacation of my life--not that I have had many bad vacations. But I now understand why there are songs like: "Pharoah, Pharoah, wooah, let my people go!" Thankfully, everyone has said that they can't tell my disappointment by my pictures. Cairo and I just didn't get along. It was dirty, busy, chaotic, left me holding my breath trying to avoid inhaling the air pollution, and then I left Egypt with a parasite that took me over 2 weeks to get rid of! Egypt will be forever remembered in my stomach and not in my heart. So if you ever get the chance to go, do go, but only spend 2 days max in Cairo! The pyramids and mummies are a must see---have to be on your bucket list. But then venture out to Alexandria--never been so excited to visit a library as there! And I hear that Sharm El Sheik is wonderful as well, but unfortunately that part of my trip was cancelled, so I can't speak from personal experience.

Hopefully, I will have time to post more later. But my parents and some friends are headed here for Thanksgiving next week, so I will be a little busy, but that will give me something else to post about, inshallah before I head to the States for Christmas! SO excited about being in the States for a bit. And for Christmas too! If you want to see me while I am there, please make arrangements with my social coordinator, aka my mom! :)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Farm Day: Meat your Milk!

I have learned that blogs on the day of are much more exciting, so here it goes:

Today was Farm Day with the young professionals club I am apart of! And I loved every minute of it. In Oklahoma, the idea of vising a farm would not be all that exciting to me, but living here, I was thrilled to get out of the city and be around something more natural! Oh, how I have changed living here!

So this was advertised to the club as a once in a lifetime opportunity to milk a cow! (Please hold back your laughing till later, all of you from Oklahoma and Texas!) Even though, I grew up in Oklahoma and have been on farms/ranches before, I had yet to milk a cow, and always thought it would be fun. Plus as said before I was excited for an opportunity to get out of the city (that I do love!), but the valley and fresh air are so nice! Even more than all this was I was excited to see my friends be on a farm. This group of friends are definitely all pretty much city people. Most drive BMWs and wear name brands even more expensive than the ones that people in Tahlequah drive to Tulsa to buy! They like luxury and I have never seen them "rough it." And when things are not up to their standards, they clearly make it known. Thankfully, almost miraculously, God has given me favor in their eyes as the cute American girl who tries to speak Arabic!

So the night before (because why would you tell people where/when to meet until the night before?--it can change many times and you are always waiting to hear from someone else---a lesson I have learned more than once!) I got a text saying to meet at 8am in the parking lot of a local shopping center. So (Finally learning!) I left my house at 8:10 and arrived at the parking lot before 8:20--and was amazed that I was not the first one there, but I was not the last one either! We waited till 8:50 for everyone to arrive. Even the thought of just saying you are left behind if you are not somewhere on time is rude here! So from the parking lot we caravan-ed along with a hired bus for the day. I will spare you the details of the trip to the farm--let's just say we stopped over 6 times for varying reasons (picking up more people-this one alone was at least 3 times, stopping for water, stopping for breakfast--even though the first thing on the agenda when we arrived was snacks, and stopping to wait for the bus to catch up). It was after 11am when we finally arrived at the farm! The schedule had us arriving at 9:30!

Driving into the farm, we passed two fields of hashesh. This country is actually famous for its grass, and this valley is full of it. A large portion of their income is made from the grass. Continuing the drive into the farm everyone was greeted with the smell of.......a farm! This was a first for many of the 40 people of the group! Let's just say that MANY complaints/comments were made. I saw one girl spraying air freshner/body spray outside her car! Even over an hour later, I saw a girl still fighting a gagging reflex! Seriously, people!

Anyways, so we were educated about the process this dairy farm of 55 cows was going through to become the first official organic dairy farm in the country, and about the ethical slaughter of animals. The farm proprietor said for religious reason (according to the Bible and Quran), you are not allowed to kill cows in front of other cows and a few other dont's I have already forgotten--never heard this before. It is also against the law, although there is only one place that slaughters humanely in this country according to this proprietor. And then for the sake of the cows who she said actually cry when they are distressed and see another cow killed!

Next we painted the outside of the (Barn?-best word I can think of.) It was a concrete building where they milk the cows on the bottom floor and a family lives on the 2nd floor. Hay is stored on the open rooftop. This was fun! The group got really creative--or stole picture of cows on the internet the night before of cows they thought were cute to paint! There was a cow drinking chocolate milk that I am sure I have seen before. A cow in overalls and then one of my friends, who had been to the training that Chick-fil-A did last year had the 3-cow logo of Chick-fil-A cows holding up the "Eat Mor Chiken" signs that were going to be changed to "eat more veggies," or "drink organic milk." We ran out of time to get the Chick-fil-A cows on the barn. Someone did ask about copyright issues on that one, but I highly doubt that the American company that has no overseas locations would care about a random barn in the middle of a valley in the middle east having their logo painted on a barn.

After painting, we were brought lunch around 3PM-tawouk sandwiches (chicken kebab sandwiches in pita bread), and then it was milking time! The cows gathered around the barn door desperate to be milked. They led them in and feed them as they waited their turns to be milked by the 2 portable machines they had. Then a few at a time, we each got a turn to go and milk a cow! It was fun and not that hard! (Hopefully this newly acquired life skill will help me on the Amazing Race in 2012! haha)

Then it was group picture time. They love to take pictures here! And they love to pose for pictures and have their pictures taken, and are quick to tell you that you have to delete a picture if it is not flattering. This was annoying at first, but after posing for a few pics myself today, I think it may have rubbed off on me---forgive me if I am a vain picture taker in the States!

We left the farm about 5:20 and I was all the way home by 7:00--a much faster ride without any stops!

It really was a great day!

For pictures, click here:

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Where am I?

Friday night is the start of Eid of Fitr, a 2 day holiday celebrating the end of Ramadan, so the Muslim half of town closes down. This holiday is a very important family holiday, so I had planned on not being able to see many friends, and just staying at home (needed to catch up on work and clean the house anyway.) A colleague who knows I am American and not Muslim still asked me if I was going to spend time with family in my village? Seriously? I must fit in better than I think.

So half the town is closed while families are visiting each other. My Armenian friend who lives here (but whose family has homes in Cyprus, Lebanon, Armenia and the UAE that I know of) calls and invites me out for drinks. She is Armenian Orthodox so not celebrating Eid. A friend of her sister’s from the UAE is visiting and she needs to show him around—he is from Sweden, but has lived and worked in Abu Dhabi with my Armenian friend’s sister for the last 1.5 years. She is planning to take him to my favorite city. I had only been there during the day, and loved the small quaint sea port, ancient Crusader’s Castle and souk market. And this would be a chance to get out during the Eid and hang out with a good friend, so I was in.

The nightlife in this town was great! The cobblestone streets of the souk are filled with bars, couches, and stylish chairs at night! Bar right after bar each blasting their own techno/electronic/pop music dj-ed mix down through the cobblestone alleys where souvenirs are sold during the day. Just to get through you had to weave your way through the couches, chairs, and people, lots of people, while watching your step to not trip on a rock that had fallen out of place.

We had a very nice dinner at an expensive restaurant overlooking the castle. For some reason, the wait staff looked like pirates with black bandanas and shirts for the men and the women in low cut red blouses white bandanas—even my friend who has lived here for many years couldn’t figure out what style of “native” dress this was. But the food was great. The fattouch and hummus were a spin off the traditional but very tasty—and it is hard to improve on 1000+ year old traditional foods like fattouch and hummus. The Armenian and the Swede tried the dark house beer, then a red wine with the meal. So to not offend by toasting with my water, I ordered a Pepsi. And of course my Armenian friend insisted on paying for dinner. Hospitality is not lost by this hostess. We finished dinner around 11.

Then we wandered the streets till we found the first bar they wanted to stop in. We didn’t really go in, there is no “in” because everyone is sitting out on the cobblestone streets under the stars framed by the old buildings with French styled architecture. We were there for an hour when the Swede paid the waiter before we could object. Okay, so I have to pick up the tab at the next place—so far I have gotten a free meal and a free fruit punch, I made a mental note.

About 12, after walking the streets for several minutes trying to decide what place had the best music, of course defined by a standard very different than my own. It had been noted that the American was not such a big fan of techno/electronic music, but preferred country music, which you can’t find here. We found a small place with 4 tables next to the entrance of the souk. It was kind of far from the center of the party that I am sure the Swede was longing for, but I appreciated the nice fresh salt water breeze. As they sat drinking their local beers out of longneck green glass bottles, and I sipped my bottled water with a lime wedge, the Swede commented on the old rock arch over the street with a small statute of the Virgin Mary. Oh, how we have disgraced this place! What would the Saints have thought if they could see what we have turned this place into, he exclaimed sipping his beer. My Armenian friend agreed and added that right next to the Virgin Mary is a tattoo parlor. But of course these thoughts were passing and the next topic was the gay club in the capital city that had been recommended to the Swede as a joke—the Armenian’s eyes widened and she burst out laughing. She had been once just to see what it was all about, and quickly recounted the story as best she can between fits of laughter. Then it happened—Johnny Cash was mixed into the electronic music! “I Walk the Line” for a whole 30 seconds! The Swede and Armenian eyes immediately turned to the American who instantly mouthed the words and slapped her knee! We really did find the place with the best music—and the Swede and Armenian each heard some of their favorite songs too, like “Sex on the Beach” and “When Love Takes Over.” I took the bill from our third and final stop of the night. I gave the bartender a $50 bill and got $40 back in change but in the local currency, not USD.

We left the quaint sea port city, turned nightlife hub around 1:30 and made it home just after 2:00AM.

So where am I? Where do I live? Where could a Christine, Peter, and Laura have such a night? Seriously, where could all of this exist at the same time? Who knew such a place even existed? God where have you brought me?