Pray and Shway – Updated 5 February 2014

Stan+Laurel

Life living in the desert can ever be described as a)colourless b)monotonous c) straight forward.

From the mutant hour daily get ups at 4.45am before a 90 minute journey in the dark up to the Saudi Border, the day begins and ends in a fog peppered with exhaustion and bewilderment.  I’d be lying if I said that there weren’t recent moments of emotional paralysis where the frustration has seemed engulfing with private tears and public rants more prevalent than before.

Don’t get me wrong: this country is most definitely my home and I love it here. I am grateful each day for the patience and love of my fellow Arabic colleagues who are so encouraging and big hearted in my attempts to chat with them using my few dodgy Arabic phrases. However, my heart truly longs for the day when I can sit and listen properly to their conversations and hear what is really going on in their lives.

I often feel like I resemble Stan Laurel in my many facial expressions during the situations I find myself in where 1 out of every thousand or so words is comprehensible and my limited phrases and words can only get me so far. My eyes frequently twist and turn and my eyebrows definitely move like Jagger. Gormless is most probably the less glamorous word I could use here, but I shall move on as we all know that the power of life and death lies in our tongues and the words we speak, ahem. (See previous postings.) http://biblehub.com/proverbs/18-21.htm

I have attached some of the Stan Laurel moments from the past year below. They are in no way intended to mock anyone or show any disrespect in any way to anyone living or working with me who is from the UAE or the GCC. They are written to share the wonderment of this habitation of the daily bizarre during this particular jigsaw piece of our lives.

It is my sincere wish that these musings a) encourage some who are in similar situations to keep going and to b) make others in far (and not so far) away lands with cream sofas and Starbucks and Malls and shiny pretty things on their doorsteps to think outside their boxes and stop taking things like cream sofas and Starbucks and Malls and shiny pretty things for granted.

But most of all, I want just people to read these postings and smile.

Lord, help us to Pray and Shway.  We are always telling the children to ‘shway shway,’ in order to calm and slow them down. Help us, Lord, to apply this to our own lives and the every day learning experiences and frustrations we find ourselves in. Help us slow down, throw up our prayers and keep going knowing that you are in control and everything will be ok. In your name we pray. Amen.

 

Wednesday 5th February, 2014

So, today in a classroom in a far away land filled with sand, I dropped a piece of paper on the floor. The response from little Wildcat ‘friend’ (who looks like a mini Arab Idol contestant with his HUGE bouffant mullet hair, back combed and hairsprayed, and who often is caught combing his mane whilst sitting in class) was this:

‘Ohhhh sheeetttt!’, both palms up raised heavenward, both shoulders squeezed way up to his ears, face gasping then scrunched up in very, very dramatic way.

So, English obviously spoken at home then. Is my job here done?

(He is 5 but can write the word ‘Butterfly’ without help, so can be forgiven, right? He was also wearing his brown leather jacket zipped up to the neck and when he walks, he has that ‘home boy’ swagger thang going on. Was also caught yesterday jumping from one table to another. Maybe not forgiven, just yet?)

January 27, 2013

Somewhere, somehow, today in another (NB this is not the first) Arabic Lost in Translation Moment, my classroom was interrupted by a gasping Arabic lady asking (too mild a verb, sorry),”Meeez Choood!! Meeeezzzz Chooooodd!! Your daughter eeezz DYYYIIINNNNGGGG????!!! Where weeeeellll you go??!”

Erm, no. Sorry. No daughter and I would like to stay here, please? As I stood there with facial expressions resembling Stan Laurel (he was the skinny, dopey one, right?), about 4 other Arabic ladies, having heard the shrieking from the first lady and obviously concerned about what was going on in the doorway of my tiny classroom, had arrived.

I explained in very broken Arabic that I didn’t have a daughter and so everything was ok, no one was dying and that it was a good day, Mashallah.

However, they began to look even more horrified and I became even more afraid that the first lady was about to collapse.

‘Noooo daughtarrrr??!!’ they all cried in unison, going up way too high at the end of each of their words, eyes popping out of their shaking heads accompanied by much tutting and hands being raised heavenward.

‘No daughter,’ I replied meekly, shaking my head and almost closing my eyes in shame.

‘HAZZZZZBBBAAAANNNNTTT?’ They gasped-their voices becoming louder and much more shrill. Gasping for breath continued.

‘No. No husband,’ I whispered.

Shrieks (of horror?) from all the women now. Much more tutting and grabbing my cheeks and kissing my face, stroking my hair and shouting at each other. Were they blaming my short hair for my marital status? I don’t know. Were they were happy for me? Saddened? Excited about fixing me up with their brothers, cousins, uncles, sheikh friends? I. Don’t. Know. I feel like Stan Laurel. Am glad that the little wild kittens managed to get on with their work in the midst of such theatrics and produced some great pictures and words about aeroplanes (they’ve never seen a train before).

March 27, 2013

Quote from Land of Sand today: Meez Chood, pliz I take pikchar? Your face like kitty kettt…

May 20, 2013

Small child, pointing to her head/hairstyle: Meeez Choood! Looook! Cake!

Me: No, bun.

October 22, 2013

Small lispy, high-pitched Wildcat today, aptly named Essa (translated into English: Jesus), holding door open for me (I am, therefore, already suspicious): Tha-lam-al-ay-koom ha-bee-thee. (Roughly translated: How you doin’ sweetheart, eh?)

Then winks.

I look down at him and say: Imti hamza, Essa? (Aren’t you only five years old, Essa? Should you really be saying that to your teacher?)

Essa: La. Arba. (No. I’m 4). Winks and runs off.

Grrrr.

October 24, 2013

Week starts with car accident which narrowly misses us. Week ends with the little nocturnal Wildcats playing hide and seek in the pitch black outside the apartment despite pot-holes, glass and traffic and I am drinking shiraz from a mug because nowhere out here sells wine glasses, of course. Stay classy, world. No surrender.

November 18, 2013

Today in the Land of Sand everything was going ‘well’ until, whilst attempting to share the genius of drawing different shapes with a collective of non English speaking Wildcat-Bedouin 5 year olds, I managed to slide off the wee green chair I was sitting in. No one noticed until after about a long minute (probably less, who knows in this time-free, shawaya shawaya zone), when I heard a little voice announce to the class, ‘Whirrrr MeEeEeEEEEEzzzzz Choooodddd”. “Here. On the floor, habiti’, I said, raising my hand and lowering my head, wondering how in my 30,000 years of teaching across continents and varying academic establishments it had taken me this long to slide to the floor without alcohol. The Wildcats, for the first time this year, showed no expression. They simply didn’t react. They just looked at me like I was so dumb. So very, very stupid. Yet, each day, I see one of them, at least, attempt a handstand on the carpet before we sing songs or try to pull someone’s nose off their face. Or kick them in the head. Or jump off a table. So, really, Wildcats, game on if you want to get competitive. — eating Dahl which was originally intended to be a lentil soup but I got it wrong.

November 19, 2013

When travelling long distances each day to work, interesting conversations often pop up both as a way to stay awake and as a possible manifestation of the slight insanity which both accompanies and is a pre-requisite to desert living. Today, the topic of conversation included how many more Arab men seem to be taking Asian women as their 4th wives and how some of us had seen more mixed race Arab/Asia children in malls etc.

So far, so shaway. I arrive back into the village I call home and then head off to get my spuds and avocado (which I had been thinking about cooking since about 7am this morning – another survival trick) from the local Lulu’s when who should I see but an Arab man with super curly long hair, a flat cap, khandora, Ray Ban shades and a larger Asian wife. They proceeded to put my potato and avocado into their trolley. ‘Mafi mushukula’, I said, and they gave it back to me.

I then toddle on home and open up the kitchen window and proceed to go out of the flat to the rubbish shoot when I hear a bang. When I get back to the flat, the door has slammed locked shut behind me. I am horrified. I am wearing my pyjama bottoms and my work top. Thankfully, my bra had not been taken off for the night. So, after three trips up and down the stairs to check if Mr Advil (yes, really, as in painkiller brand) or Mr Jamal (yes, really as in Camel) our friendly maintenance men are around, I head off and walk across the lovely green garden outside the 4 apartment blocks, past lots of looks from the dear Muslim ladies and walk towards Mr Jamal, our maintenance man who, thankfully, I see across the car park. “Hazir kabir mushkula, Mr Jamal,” I exclaim.

We head back to the apartment and he knocks on the door of the Jordanian family who live next door and walks into their flat while my neighbour takes this opportunity to comes out into the corridor and starts to ask me about my day as I sit on the floor in my pyjama bottoms and work top, thankful that I am still wearing my bra.

Suddenly my door opens from the inside and Mr Jamal looks down and smiles at me. ‘Helllo Mz Chood techerrrr!” He says with a grin.

I am astounded and ask him how he managed to get into my flat but he doesn’t reply and looks at the ground and shakes his head. He is obviously embarrassed but my neighbour proceeds to explain that Mr Jamal has gone into his flat, stepped out on to the window ledge and WALKED ACROSS THE THIN WINDOW LEDGE to my open kitchen window (the cause of all the nonsense and suction/air vent rubbish in the first place) and let himself into my apartment.

Mr Jamal, at this point has walked off, obviously embarrassed and so I run after him to give him a 5 pack of noodles (all I could find in the flurry of excitement and bewilderment which ensued). I later see him standing across the car park looking towards our apartment block, I hope congratulating himself.

Spiderman lives on, people. He is truly alive and well here in this part of the Land of Sand. And yes, he was wearing a red t shirt.

January 20

Stan Laurel moment #(oh, a thousand and something, at least…)

“Mz Chood! Plizz. You gif me five minute I go uzzarr kless problem zay mik baby in za kless.”

Now, had I been in those hazy, halcyon days of teaching in Slough or glorious inner city London, innit, I might have been more concerned. This, however, is pretty standard Land of Sand daily chat.

Cath’s Chilli Prawns

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Cath’s Chilli Prawns

My good friend, Cath, has sent me her Chili Prawns Recipe (complete with photographic evidence.)

Her recipe sums up her attitude to life:  Keep it simple for the best flavour.

  • Pour enough olive oil in to the pan to coat its base.
  • Add the  2 crushed garlic cloves and chilli flakes to taste.
  • Once the garlic is sizzling and has turned a shade of golden brown, add the prawns.
  • After a few minutes, the prawns will start to brown.
  • It’s now time to add the chunky slices of red and yellow pepper and the slim stalks of asparagus.
  • Stir them around and about until all golden and crispy but still crunchy.

As this dish is fairly hot, the best drink is probably iced water or a chilled Sauvignon Blanc.

Dear Lord, thank you for our daily bread but most importantly, thank you for delicious ingredients found in the sea and in our vegetable patches.

Memories of food (good and bad).

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I’ve never really recovered from the time I ate take away sushi in Singapore and managed to get wasabi in my eye. Fear and loathing set in as a result of such unbearable burning and watering of the eye and I haven’t touched the stuff since.

The same applies to my relationship with octopus. I choked once on the slithery tentacles in an upmarket restaurant in Languedoc whilst on a French exchange as a teenager and now look fearfully towards this particular specimen. I can almost feel the gag in my throat as I write and am reminded of this most distressing of formative teenage moments.

Mushrooms, too, remind me of a time a guy at university sent me a valentine’s card with a mushroom stuck on the cover asking me to be his valentine as I was a ‘Fun-Gal’ to be with. Sure, it made me laugh and I loved the unique approach but there was no chemistry and alas, I had to break up with him shortly afterwards. I am reminded of the breakage of his heart each time I see these slithery items in grocery stores and vegetable stalls throughout the world.

Such is my culinary malaise that I will often reply with a grimace, “Seafood and mushrooms,” when asked for dinner and what I eat and don’t eat.  Mushrooms make me feel guilty. Octopus makes me gag and reminds me of social clumsiness around a sophisticated French dining table. Sushi just hates me.

What a shame! I am most probably missing out on the most exquisite culinary delights in the world yet am letting fear and memory combine to prevent this from happening. And I always, always feel uncomfortable telling people that I really don’t like to eat these things as I love, and am so grateful for, any invitation to eat with others.  I get so excited at the prospect of what topics of conversation will be covered and the people I will watch and learn from. And I  especially enjoy getting dolled up in anticipation of a good evening with friends and acquaintances.

Once bitten, twice shy, is a phrase often associated with a broken relationship but can also be applied to our relationship with food. Memories and emotions associated with mealtimes are powerful tools to prevent us from living in an emotional and healthy state.

How many of us were forced to eat dried up fish on a Friday and now resent Christianity as a result?  Sometimes, it is through facing our fears and gulping down that octopus, mushroom or dried up piece of Friday fish that we regain power over our minds and emotions. Perhaps this is why the good Lord invented Sauvignon Blanc or Merlot to help ease our pain in both the natural and in the emotional?

Not so long ago, whilst staying in a Kibbutz along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, I was offered some tasting looking St Peter’s Fish. Juicy, succulent and smelling great (and without a hint of dryness), I cautiously accepted. The fish was lovingly prepared by a chef and perhaps this attitude towards its preparation combined with the lack of association with a religious ritual had something to do with its tastiness and flavour?  Words can’t describe how delicious that piece of trout was. Unfortunately, it wasn’t from the Sea of Galilee itself, but it certainly has made a difference in my attitude towards eating fish in the future.

It is my prayer today for freedom in our memories and a quiet yet strong healing our hearts and minds and their somewhat unfortunate (and at times overpowering) association with food.

Prayer:  Lord, thank you for the freedom and love that you bring through allowing us to all have our quirks and foibles and attitudes towards food. We thank you for providing us with so much food in this earth to cater for our diverse palates and menus. But most of all, thank you for providing us with new mercies each morning to enable us to walk forwards and forget about the pains associated with food from our past.  Help us and forgive us Lord for the times we have allowed our memories to prevent us from moving onwards. Crush the fear in our hearts with your love. Amen.

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Lamentations+3%3A22-23&version=NIV

Listen to:  Angus & Julia Stone:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDiCXmERp7Y&list=PL3B4CAA77361F7D49