Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Sultan

First published February 9, 2010

We live in a neighborhood in Khartoum that is...well, to tell you the truth I have no idea where it is in relationship to the rest of the city. All I know is that a few of the people we work with live within the same vicinity which gives us opportunities to walk the neighborhood.

Sunday was just such a day. We were going to get together with some friends and thought we'd walk to their home about 500 meters away. (Like how I'm talking in "metric" now?) On the way there, we came upon 4 men in the road. 3 were dressed in what we would call normal street clothes and 1 was dressed in a white jalibaya and matching turban.

We immediately recognized the turbaned man as the sheik of the neighborhood. We stopped and greeted him and continued on our way. As we arrived at our friends' house, we paused to talk with two more people. This gave the sheik opportunity to join our group.

John spoke to the sheik again except this time he introduced himself. "My name is John," he said in Arabic making the "J" sound like a French "zh" one.

The sheik responded in English emphasizing the "J" and said, "Your name is 'John.'"

John nodded.

"The name 'John' in Arabic means 'suh-tahn,'" the sheik replied.

John thinking he said "sultan" said, "Oh, that's good."

John's friend also standing in the circle leaned and whispered to him, "He said 'satan' not 'sultan.'"

John looked back at the sheik and changed topics.

We had a good laugh with that one. John's still trying to think of what would have been an appropriate answer to that statement. I told him, "Surely a sultan could think of something clever to say."

Monday, February 17, 2014

New Face, New Place

First published February 15, 2010

Local man eats. From left to right: falafel, greens with lime, fresh bread and fuul.

KIFL is the Korean Institute for Foreign Language and located in the heart of Khartoum, Sudan. (Stick with me this gets complicated...) We, Americans, went to the Korean-owned school to sign up for Arabic classes. (With me so far?) Yes, we did study for a year in Cairo, however, we want to take a few more months of Arabic in Khartoum to help us with the local dialect.

John talked with the director for a bit and left our information with him. Afterward, one of the classes dismissed and we met a young woman named Laura. Laura hailed from New Mexico as a civil engineering student, but had lived in Sudan for over a year. Her warm smile and easy manner made us immediately at ease. We began asking her questions about her experiences here when she offered to show us around. Of course, I was thrilled. Then she asked if we were hungry. We nodded. She popped up and said, "Follow me."

We followed (like ducks in a row) to a little cafe nearby called, "Afrikan." This quaint, CLEAN cafe was preparing morning breakfast (It's around 10:30 am) and locals were gathering at the little tables. Laura ordered for us and we found a spot and waited for the food to arrive.

Soon baskets of goodness were set in front of us: fuul (beans, tomatoes, cheese, spices), fresh baked bread, greens with lime, falafel and amazingly enough a Diet Coke. Laura took the bread and set it in front of her. She then showed us how to pinch a piece of bread using only our right hand. After you have your piece you dip it into the fuul and scoop. It is permissible to use your left hand to tear the bread if needed, but NEVER use your left hand to pass a dish or to give something to someone.

"Why?" you ask. Because the left hand here is used for well...uh, let's just say hygiene purposes. We'll leave it at that. Sooooooo glad I'm not left-handed.

We ate and ate and ate, but couldn't come close to finishing our bowl. Following our delicious meal, we mentioned that we needed to find a store that sold lamps and such. Laura knew just the place. She hopped in the truck with us along with our friends and she expertly navigated us to a store called, "Home Care." As we entered the store, I looked back and realized that Laura had gone on ahead to a bus stop.

I hadn't had a chance to properly thank her, but John did. How grateful I am for new friends who so willingly offer their time, wisdom and experience to help newbies like myself. Makes me want to return the favor in kind with those around me. I wouldn't mind another trip to the cafe anyway.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

First Valentine's Day in Sudan

Emileigh working at Valentine Central…

First published February 16, 2010

There are few indicators in this very tan land that the much-celebrated American holiday of Valentine's Day is even coming. However, if you look closely you may see a dash of red here or a few stuffed bears there...but you do what you can to make things feel festive and special.

Emileigh and Aria have begun working in our company's school as teachers' aides. Emileigh works with the second grade class and Aria the third. As part of their classroom activities, the second grade teacher announced that they would have a Valentine's Day party. She asked the students to write encouraging notes to one another and show their love.

I love Valentine's Day so I was anxious to help Emileigh create all kinds of paper wonders, but I was relegated to cutting out the hearts. She was having fun, too, you see. They turned out great and the kids had a blast opening their "mailboxes" and reading through their Valentines.
The finished Valentines.  Beautiful!

John and I were invited to go on a Love Boat Cruise on the Nile. We readily agreed and were ushered onto a very nice pontoon boat that had been skillfully decorated with an India theme. 

John looking excited…no, really.

Colorful banners lined the ceiling and Indian food was on the menu. We visited with around 20 other couples as we blissfully sailed down this ancient river.
Love Boat couples...
Some of the couples were chosen to play "The Marriage Game" and were asked questions about their spouse. 
Happy Contestants...
What a hoot to see the men squirm as they tried desperately to figure out the minds of their wives. (Impossible, I think.)
Playing "The Marriage Game"
Afterward, we ate cake and drank tea and spent some time just visiting with each other and discussing our amazement at this new adventure we call "life."
My friend, Jenn's amazing food style!
On Valentine's Evening, Emileigh and Aria invited over some of our friends for an evening for "Sense and Sensibility" (Aria thinks Hugh Grant rocks.) and pizza. John and I made an appearance in time to toast (grape juice, mind you) the day and also coincidentally Chinese New Year as one of them told us.

This Valentine's Day was different from any other. Flowers are few and far between here. I couldn't begin to find a card store and yet I smiled inside to know that I'm surrounded by so many people who know love and show love on a regular basis. 

Happy Love Day, indeed.
Toasting Valentine's Day and Chinese New Year in our home.

PS Before someone asks, John and I did have our picture taken together, however, I haven't received a copy yet. I KNOW you're dying with anticipation...

Monday, February 10, 2014

More Market Mayhem

First published February 18, 2010

My friend, Natalie, gave me a call and asked if I would be interested in going to the fruit and vegetable market. She said that some of the items were in peak season which mean good-looking produce at rock-bottom prices. I was definitely interested.

She picked me up around 10 and we headed toward this open-air extravaganza. Immediately, as we exited the vehicle we were approached by several men pushing wheelbarrows and holding a variety of produce. Natalie totally kept her cool and told one young man that he would be our "official" wheelbarrow guy. She told me that it's easier to just go ahead and hire one so that you won't have to be fending off all the other wheelbarrow pushers (as it were) for the rest of the time.

Her mom was visiting from the States and her two adorable children were with us as well. We made quite a sight entering the market. Four out of the five of us were blonde-headed and blue-eyed. Not that that mattered. I'm thinking they would probably be able to tell that we weren't Sudanese in a several different ways, but I digress.

I told Natalie that I would follow her lead. If she negotiated a price for an amount, I would buy the same amount. I am her "grasshopper." I would learn from the "Sinsay" (I have NO idea how to spell that.) She confidently walked through the market and we went over our list of items that we wanted to purchase. We were looking for strawberries, tomatoes and green beans.

A man approached us carrying a flat of strawberries and the haggling began. Soon another man appeared and we were in a price war. We explained that we wanted MANY strawberries and asked if we would be getting a quantity discount. Of course, this is in Arabic, English and charades. We finally settled on a price and were escorted to the strawberry supplier who just happened to be located on the other side of the market.

Everyone trooped along not mentioning the squishy produce that littered the ground and some aromas which can only be left to the imagination. The strawberries arrived en masse and were promptly deposited into our wheelbarrow. It was beyond full which meant we had to take these back to the van before we could continue anymore shopping. We turned away 2 more wheelbarrow guys who just knew we were going to need backup.

The strawberries were safely tucked away and we were ready for Round 2. Everyone's spirits were still high so we ventured in looking next for green beans. We were told that we could purchase a gigantic bag of them so we kept our eyes peeled. Sure enough we came upon a man who had a sugar bag full of green beans. Natalie haggled and he gave us our price. We were chagrined because we realized he agreed too quickly. Rats. Bet we could have gotten a better price.

Tomatoes were next and I purchased 40 lbs. of them. I see a LOT of spaghetti sauce in my future. The wheelbarrow was once again filling up but not before we added some bananas as well. The children had been doing great and asked for a juicebox. I thought they deserved a medal. I was definitely beginning to feel myself losing my enthusiasm after an hour and a half.

Natalie went to get them something to drink and her mom and I headed down "Egg Row." I tried my best bartering power, but none of them would come down on their prices. "But this is the same price I pay at the supermarket," I said convincingly. One man just shrugged. Another walked away. I wanted to tell them (but didn't have the Arabic vocabulary), "Don't you understand? I can go to a grocery store with a little metal cart and air conditioning on neat little shelves and not step in stuff and PAY THE SAME PRICE?!" However, they were unmoved by it all. I left the eggs with them.

We all met up again and made our way back to the van. One man had been wiping down Natalie's windows and was waiting for his payment. Of course, we didn't ask for this service and the ironic thing is that the cloth he used was completely dry. So she navigated expertly through the last-minute hawkers and ushered us into the vehicle.

As we got in we were surrounded by a bounty of produce. No, I didn't do all the work to get them to harvest, but I sure put in some effort to get them to my house. Natalie took me home and began unloading my share of the purchases. Reality hit. "What was I thinking? Who am I Laura Ingalls? What am I a prairie woman? What am I supposed to do with all of this?"

The strawberries began wilting before my eyes. Good grief. I have a 24 hour window to bleach, rinse, blanch, snap, slice, dice and bag all of this. I immediately grabbed a Diet Coke and began to formulate a plan.

"John, you're on strawberries."
"Emileigh, start snapping."
"Aria, get the Ziplocs."

Operation: Produce Production Line was in action. My goal is to get all these beauties in bags and into the freezer right away. John's goal is to find the most efficient way to cut and measure the strawberries so that they are all consistently bagged for future usage. He was aghast I didn't take on the same enthusiasm for processing. Over the next day and a half we worked until every piece had found a home in our tropicalized freezer. (Fancy name for a freezer that will stay cold for 3 days after the electricity goes out. After 3 days you get to eat a LOT.)

So now we are set for the winter which ironically never truly arrives. It's actually the opposite here. Things become scarce during summer since temperatures can soar to 130 degrees. (No that is a not a type-o.) I'm grateful to be learning this new way of living. For friends who include you in their lives. For simple things like a freezer and electricity.

Now I'm wondering if I'm brave enough to head back for "Lettuce Season." I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

10 Sudan Society Rules

First published February 9, 2010

Ready to go to the market
2 weeks in-country and we're learning a few tips about how the culture works here in Khartoum. Granted, since we're foreigners we could dress however we wanted, but the idea here is to earn their respect and thus a place in their community. So we gladly align ourselves with the following guidelines (for the womenfolk):

1. Wear a headscarf in all public areas.
2. Do not keep prolonged eye contact with men even in conversations.
3. Skirts are to the ankles.
4. Shirts are below the bum and sleeves are passed the elbows. (Sudanese men love elbows.)
5. Never buy tea from the tea lady who sits under the tree.
6. Girls must always outnumber guys in a group 
when in public or sit separately.
7. "Loose hair; loose morals." Hair should be clipped up.
8. Ironing is a must. Wrinkles and sloppiness are not appreciated.
9 The shinier the bling, the better for special occasions.
10. Flip flops are considered bathroom shoes.

Bonus tip:  Never cross your legs.  It's seductive.

Eat your heart out,  Jackie O.!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

I Resolve!

First Published February 3, 2010

A friend of mine recently reminded me of my zeal for New Year’s resolutions. I think the word reminded might be a bit generous—mocked, scoffed, and laughed hysterically would be more accurate.

A few years ago I joined a group of my friends for lunch, to spend some time discussing our goals for the coming year. We talked and ate, then finally settled in for the purpose of the get- together. I retrieved my tote and pulled out my handy-dandy portfolio, complete with my ledger pad and color-coordinated pen. I waited for everyone else to do the same, but no one moved.

One by one, each friend began listing her goals. Some were straightforward things like wanting to read the Bible more. Others included wanting to show more patience with children, and the ever elusive, yet always present goal of losing weight. Target dates were given by which time the goals were to be accomplished.

This is good, I smiled. Now we’ll get into the nuts and bolts of each one. With my ledger pad in hand, I waited for the cue to begin. My friend looked at me and said, “That’s a mighty big notepad you’ve got there, Pam. What’s it for?”

I looked incredulous. “What's it for? My goals, of course! My hopes. My dreams. My aspirations. Everything that this year could possibly contain is listed in beautiful headings, subheadings, points and subpoints. Where should I begin?”

Everyone at the table now had what I could only describe as severe smirks on their faces. What did I say? I pondered. Surely, they have something similar. I was wrong. Very wrong. Where my friends said things like, “I would like to keep a cleaner house,” I had articulated in great detail what exactly that meant. It looked something like this:

Fully Organized and Beautifully Functional Home that Glistens 
and Glossens Every Moment of the Day

living room
fluffy, soft, perfect carpet
vacuum every other day
cleaned professionally twice a year
Sparkling Furniture
dust every other day
polish once a week
tasteful Decos
keep dusted every other day
rotate items seasonally
dispose of any unnecessary clutter

I could list more, but you get the idea. I had pages of these little beauties. As I read them, the smirks turned to mouths dropped open, to full-bellied laughter, to head-shaking, then back to laughing so hard, one friend had to excuse herself to go to the bathroom.

Was I really that much over the top? I've come to discover that most of the time I am. So the million-dollar question is: “How did the rest of the year go with such lofty ideals?” Some goals were met, but I believe the “lose weight” category may be on the recurring list for years to come.

This year, I’m stepping back a bit and praying for general areas of my life, asking God to lead me day by day. Lists aren’t bad as long as I don’t become a slave to them and allow them to rob me of the joy and purpose that God has for my life in that particular moment. Still, I can’t help but look longingly at my big yellow notepad and sigh.

7 Tips for Setting Goals

1. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Set small goals that are manageable.
2. Talk with a friend or two and see if your goals seem realistic to them. Ask them to provide additional insight.
3. Stagger the start date for some of your goals. Begin some in January, and leave others till summer or fall.
4. Prioritize what is truly important.
5. Plan fun goals as well. This is your life. Make the most of it.
6. Pray and ask the Lord to help you understand His leading.

7. After you write your goals, spend a week praying over them and then move forward.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Silverware Tray

First published January 31, 2010

Our kitchen in Khartoum.
This morning, Emileigh and Aria were invited to go to Nile Valley Academy to be teachers' aides today. They readily agreed as I suspect that they knew another day of organizing and scrubbing the house were to take place...AND they love kids. That left John and I to wander about town with my list of household goods that I am in need of...

We thought we'd find everything we needed at a place called Afra, but alas I was wrong. I did find 2 things on my list and some beautiful bottles of Diet Coke so the trip overall was a success. One of the things on my list was a plastic silverware holder. I didn't think that would be too hard to find and sure enough, I found one complete with an EXPAND-O-TRAY. I don't know why you'd need the tray to expand, but I always have the option. It also included little plastic trays to fit on top in case you had any additional items to stack. Too sweet.

I put all the items up on the conveyor belt and the lady rang them up. The bottle of Diet Coke 1 pound. Not bad. .50 cents in US currency. Then she rang up the silverware tray (insert drumroll and major eyerolling by all of my international compatriots) at 35 Sudanese pounds or $17 US!!! Yes, folks. I, Pam M., just paid $17 for a plastic thing to hold my non-silver silverware. Sigh.

"Well," I told John, "at least it's the DELUXE model."

I got home and started flinging utensils into the compartments. I had already talked myself out of the "I-can't-believe-I-paid-so-much-for-this-and-why-didn't-I-wait-and-ask-for-help-or-put-it-back" dialogue which could easily play out in my head. Instead I was humming and sorting. After I finished I opened up the drawer and put the tray in. It wouldn't fit. The width was fine but the drawer was too short or the tray was too long. Either way it wasn't going in. I removed all the EXPAND-O features and the extra trays, but still no-go. 

I stared long and hard at the drawer and willed the tray to fit, but still nothing. Unbelievable. I looked around the kitchen to see what other options I could possibly have. Not many. I took the two little trays that were to be extra storage and crammed them in the drawer. They fit, but not too easily. I put the utensils in them and stared and my beautiful, amazing silverware tray that is now completely worthless.

Oh, well. Emileigh will be thrilled with a new organizational item for her room. I'm sure in no time she'll have made that $17 purchase worthwhile. Until then, I still have about 9 items to go to finish out my list. I hope John can afford it.