The Wave

We’ve lived in Alpine now for 8 months. Hard to believe it’s almost been a year. I’m slowly getting used to it. Slowly. It’s so quiet here. Except for the train that rolls through town several times a day. It honks and toots and wails. I don’t mind it anymore. When we first arrived here back in April, I cursed that blaring, echoing horn when it woke me up at 3 a.m. on our first night. “Are you serious?” I hissed, bolting up in bed. Bret mumbled something about how I’d get used to it and then fell back to sleep. I quietly wept and whispered that we’d moved to hell. Lo and behold, Bret was right. Now, I sleep through that train. And during the day, I welcome its blaring, proud cry because it helps break up the long stretches of quiet in this town. That kind of quiet can easily unnerve a city girl like me.

Mostly, I’m adjusting though. I like that it only takes me 3 minutes to get to the grocery store and parking is usually hassle-free. They also don’t have parking meters anywhere in the city limits so parking is not just hassle-free, it’s actually free. I guess there aren’t that many people clamoring to get into those spots. I also like the sense of community I feel here. People know each other. I’ve gone to potlucks with almost all of my neighbors and I see many of the same faces at the grocery store. I don’t know everyone in town but I do feel like people generally keep an eye out for each other.

Admittedly, there are some small town rituals I’m still struggling to adopt.

For example, strangers wave at us. Perfect strangers. We’re driving down the street, let’s say, on our way home and a perfectly normal-looking man or woman in a perfectly normal-looking car passes us on the opposite side of the road, smiles, and waves. Bret always waves back and nods his head while I sit there, at once fascinated and uncomfortable. Why us? I wonder. Why is that person waving at us? Does she wave at everyone?

Bret grew up in the sticks outside Tucson so this kind of behavior is normal to him. “It’s just the way it is in a small town, babe,” he tells me, waving at an elderly man walking his overweight beagle. The man waves back. I half-expect the beagle to wave back too. “Do they wave at every single person they see?” I inquire. Bret shrugs, “Maybe. Or maybe just people they pass on the road.”


I tried to imagine people doing that in Los Angeles. LA is a city of 13 million people. Freeways twist and turn like giant, concrete snakes and there’s less walking and more driving there. I spent a good portion of my life in my car when I lived in LA. I actually thought of it as my little apartment on wheels. I always made sure my car was stocked with snacks, makeup, a hairbrush, bottled water, an emergency first aid kit, a cell phone charger, road flares, and books and magazines in case I ever got stuck waiting somewhere. This was normal. Now that I live in a small town, I’ve come to realize that maybe it’s not so normal to spend that much time in one’s car; common in Los Angeles, perhaps, but not especially healthy.

As for the waving? I don’t think anyone ever waved at me in LA. When I would occasionally take my dog, Ruby, for a hike in Runyon Canyon, people smiled and said hi as they passed me on the trail. Sometimes I would be the one to initiate the greeting if I were feeling especially friendly that day. Sometimes the stranger and I would stop and commiserate about our dogs for a minute or so. It always felt so nice. So connected.

But waving at random people on the street? No way. People kept to themselves. Didn’t make eye contact. Didn’t engage. It’s a crowded place, Los Angeles. It’s hard enough to make it to your destination in under 30 minutes no matter where you’re going. So, there’s no time for waving. The thousands of other people on the road are a hazard at worst, a nuisance at best. Why on earth would one engage in waving at one of them, let alone all of them? Who has that kind of time or patience aside from a parade float queen?

The only time I ever saw a driver in LA personally interact with another driver was to curse him out for violating the rules of the road. I once saw two old men in tennis whites get into a fistfight over a parking spot in Old Town Pasadena. Occasionally you’ll see someone pause to let another person cut in front on a crowded freeway or intersection. And you can almost hear the collective “Awwww” from the other drivers on the road because it’s such a rare and wonderful event. But nobody waves at each other. Not for the hell of it. Not to say hi. Not to acknowledge each other’s existence. It never occurred to me to wave at anyone I didn’t know. It didn’t matter that we were sharing the same air, the same road, and the same city for, quite possibly, years. What happens to the human psyche in a society where we cease to have the time or interest enough to offer a simple hello? Do we become more suspicious? Cautious? Do we lose awareness of ourselves as part of a bigger community? Do our own needs become more important above all else? I don’t know the answer to that. But I do know that the more time that passes here and the more people wave at me, the more a part of the community I feel. The more I sense that my actions affect the lives of those around me. I’m understanding in a much more profound way than I ever understood living in Los Angeles that not only do I matter, but the people in my community matter too.

I still can’t bring myself to wave at strangers, though. I mean, I can reciprocate when someone waves at me first. I’m not a complete asshole. I wave back. I smile. I pretend not to feel totally and utterly awkward. I just haven’t reached the place where I feel comfortable initiating the wave. I never know quite when to wave and to whom. If the Sheriff drives by am I obliged to wave? What about a group of kids walking along the street? Do I wave at them or would that seem creepy? What if seven cars pass me on my way to the grocery store? Am I supposed to wave at all seven, or can I wave at one or two and the others will understand?

If we stay in Alpine long enough I suppose I’ll eventually feel comfortable waving at strangers. Maybe it’ll become second nature. We have this one neighbor named Shirley. She’s about 80 years old with short white hair and she’s just about the nicest person you’ve ever met. Full of energy too. She bounds around, smiling and waving at passersby whenever she’s outside weeding her front yard. She’s 80 and she weeds her own yard! I don’t even weed my yard and I’m 37. Shirley is an inspiration to me. She makes waving at strangers look so natural, so effortless, so un-awkward. I think it all comes from the fact that she doesn’t care how she looks. The kindness just emanates from her and it doesn’t occur to her to think about herself in those moments, let alone how she appears. Why should she? She’s downright lovely. And more importantly, it doesn’t matter. Kindness is beautiful.

So, for all the complaints I have about Alpine (too small, not enough decent restaurants, lack of an ocean), living here is slowly turning me into a nicer person, a humbler person, a person who can see the beauty in strangers stopping to say hello.

Happy Holidays! With love and a wave from West Texas.

Back in the Saddle

We’re back in Jordan. We’ve been here since September 1st. I’ve been meaning to post something to the blog for three weeks but after several attempts and much editing I decided it was best if I was fully recovered from jet lag before posting something for all the world to see. Also, I didn’t want to write through the lens of negativity and anxiety I often feel when I move to a new place. Maybe it’s just me but the initial adjustment period of a move is often overwhelming and rife with cursing.  Therefore, I decided to hold off on publishing anything. Until now.

So, hello!

For those of you not in the loop, we no longer live in Aqaba. We now live in Amman. Same country, different city. Amman is the bustling capital of Jordan (located in the northern part of the country) and it has a population of 4 million. Aqaba is a sleepy seaside community in the south of Jordan with a population of 100,000. We lived in Aqaba last year and while it was fun, by the time we left I was ready for some good food and good shopping. Small towns can be lovely but the ones I prefer have names like Carmel and Mendocino.

When we left Aqaba for summer break back in May, I was so excited to be going home to the U.S. I was also looking forward to moving to Amman upon our return to Jordan in the fall but that felt far far away.

Summer vacation was amazing and cathartic. I haven’t been on vacation in years and certainly not a three-months-long summer vacation. I haven’t experienced that since I was a kid. We went to Tucson to visit my in-laws and Northern California to visit my parents. We spent time in Los Angeles catching up on doctor’s appointments and visiting friends. We went to Carmela, my favorite artisan ice cream shop in Pasadena where they have flavors like strawberry buttermilk, salted caramel, and honey lavender. We went on a road trip through Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana. We went horseback riding, Bret caught trout on a fishing trip in Bozeman and we ate it for dinner. We ate sweet corn on the cob almost daily. It was a real summer. And it was perfect.

***Little side note: I also read two awesome books this summer that I’m recommending. The first is called The Fantasy Bond by Robert Firestone. Read it. It’s amazing. The other is The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence by Rachel Simmons. I recommend this book to every woman (and man) on the planet, even if you don’t have a daughter. You should especially read it if you do have a daughter, but even if you don’t it’s an insightful book that examines the way in which we teach our girls to handle conflict. It’s a book about how to raise (and be) real girls, not “good” girls.

And then, the three months were up and suddenly were in a packing frenzy, stocking up on all the things we were concerned we wouldn’t be able to find in Jordan. Important, big things like my medications and little (but also important) things like pure vanilla extract and organic cotton tampons. In the weeks leading up to our departure, I was anticipating what life would be like in Amman. I’d never really spent much time there. One day, to be exact. Last year, we drove up to Amman to go shopping and then drove back down to Aqaba the very same night. I will never do that again.

But that one hellishly long day did offer me some insight into the Amman experience. I knew we would have ready access to more stuff, I just didn’t know the true extent of it. More significantly, I didn’t really know what it would be like to live in Amman. All I really knew was Aqaba. And despite its deficiencies, I liked it. I loved the Red Sea. I loved how clear blue and small it is. I loved living right on the beach and being able to walk outside our apartment and be mere feet away from the sand and water and tall date palms. I didn’t have any idea what I would love about Amman.

We arrived at the Queen Alia airport and already things felt different. The most obvious being was that we didn’t have to hop on yet another flight after 20 hours of international travel. I was relieved. It’s a short flight from Amman to Aqaba but at the 20-hour mark it aways felt like salt in the wound to have to board yet another plane. Also, Royal Jordanian Airlines could never seem to get our luggage to arrive in Aqaba when we did. Every fucking time they left at least one of our bags (usually mine) behind in Amman. I started to become accustomed to being without my clothes for the first few days in Aqaba.

Not this time. When we arrived in Amman, I chased Abby around the baggage claim area for less than 10 minutes before Bret appeared, sweaty and smiling, our suitcases piled high on a luggage cart. “Got ’em. Let’s go!” I was in mild shock. It had never been this easy before and I had prepared myself for disaster.

We walked out to the curb and were immediately greeted by a driver holding a sign with the word SCOTT printed on it. His name was Mohammad and he spoke English quite well. And he even had Abby’s car seat already waiting in the car. That made my heart swell.

Bret sat in the front seat, Abby was nestled in her car seat, and my sunglasses were still on my head. Life was as it should be and we were off to our new place.

When we arrived at our apartment, the landlady greeted us. The first thing she said in a thick Jordanian accent was, “Where are the dogs?” We explained to her that we had to leave them at home because of the heat embargo at the Tucson Airport. The airlines refuse to fly animals if the weather exceeds 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Tucson in the summer is waaaay hotter than 85 degrees. More like 110. In the shade.

The embargo was news to us as we’d never had to fly with animals before. We had no choice but to leave them behind with my mother-in-law. Now we realize leaving them behind was the best decision for the dogs. One of them, Sophie, has a chronic illness and is allergic to everything while the other dog, Ruby, is a chewer and afraid of people with dark skin. Bringing them here probably wouldn’t have been the right move for them. But our landlady was sincerely disappointed. Apparently, she’s a real dog person and was looking forward to meeting them. Generally speaking, in the Arab world, dogs are just one step above pigs. And pigs are haram (forbidden) in Islam. But there’s this portion of the population here (the progressives) who like and own dogs. They do have veterinarians here as well as pet stores. But generally, the locals have cats or birds as pets rather than dogs. Just a cultural difference. In Mexico, people cuddle with their chickens on the couch and watch soap operas. This is not a stereotype. I’ve witnessed it.

Our apartment is nice. It’s got engineered wood floors which is kind of unusual in Jordan. Mostly, apartments and houses here have tile or marble floors, or sometimes carpeting. Wood is very hard to come by in this region being that it’s a desert. Our apartment in Aqaba had tile floors throughout which made it feel a little cold, a little echo-y. Also, our apartment here is bigger than our joint in Aqaba.

We have 2 bedrooms, 2 1/2 bathrooms, a large living room, dining area, a decent-sized kitchen and a backyard. What we don’t have is the Red Sea right outside our door. And 7 swimming pools at our disposal, which we had in Tala Bay (gated community where we lived in Aqaba). Pros and cons, right?

Amman is much bigger than Aqaba. Not just in terms of population density but geographically too. And while the Dead Sea is a mere 35 minutes away, the Dead Sea is no Red Sea. For starters, there’s nothing in it. It’s so salty that it’s completely devoid of life — no coral, no fish, not even amoeba. Just salt. This means you shouldn’t get the water in your eyes. It also means it’s impossible to be eaten by a shark. Pros and cons.

On the pro side, Amman has more availability of goods and services. There are several large grocery stores with fabulous American and European imports. Things like, Oscar Meyer Thick Cut bacon. This was a very happy day in the Scott household when we discovered Spinney’s has a whole pork section (we call it the haram section). Spinney’s is a big, western-style (by that I mean American or European, not cowboy-themed) grocery store. It’s located in the newest mall in town, called Taj Mall. Taj Mall feels like a slightly smaller (and vertical) Glendale Galleria.

I like Spinneys. I find their produce to be less impressive than the other grocery stores in town but they have a fairly extensive organic and gluten free section. You can also buy things like Stonewall Kitchen brand bruschetta for $17 a jar, if you’re so inclined. On our most recent trip to Spinney’s I found Horizon organic string cheese. Abby loves string cheese and I love organic food. I’m a bourgeois white lady from Los Angeles. What can I say?

The other grocery stores are nice. Cozmo is my favorite. They have things I never thought I would find in Jordan. Things like Bob’s Red Mill coconut flour, fresh blueberries imported from Belgium, and organic, unsulphured dried apricots. I know. This is the shit I care about. But it’s a good store. Miles is another awesome grocery store. It has wood floors, a nice variety of products, and if I squint my eyes I could be at Whole Foods. Miles is located on the basement floor of Mecca Mall, for those of you who live in Amman or plan to visit. They sell a fantastic olive oil liquid hand soap called Dr. Mak. It’s lightly scented with essential oils and it’s made right here in Jordan. It’s a little pricey but good to support a locally made product.

There are also American and European clothing and shoe stores here (Gap, Nine West, Mango, Gymboree, Tape A l’Oeuil). The only problem is that the prices are marked up about 30-40% because of import tax. So, a simple T-shirt at the Gap that would cost about $15 in the U.S. is more like $30 here (this number reflects not only the import tax but also the conversion rate, which is about .71 JOD to $1). I probably won’t be buying many clothes here. Just as well.

There’s this nice kids place called J’Imagine where I’ve taken Abby several times. She loves it. It’s an indoor play place that is quiet and clean and has wooden toys, baby dolls, a pretend city with a grocery store, veterinary office, a restaurant, a doctor’s office, and a fire house. There’s also a large water station with fish, fishing poles, and rubber ducks. Abby loves playing in the water and pushing the various baby dolls around in the stroller. She also likes to play cashier and ring up baskets full of play groceries. Here’s a photo:

Abby fishing at J’Imagine

Abby ringing up the groceries at J’Imagine

I’m glad J’Imagine exists. It’s a tasteful, thoughtful place for kids (and parents) with an atmosphere conducive to imaginative play, rather than forced bells and whistles like Chuck E. Cheese. We’re planning to check out the Children’s Museum this weekend. Hopefully, that will be another place Abby will like to visit.

A couple of things I’m not too thrilled about regarding our new digs:

1) Our apartment has rattan furniture with white upholstery. We have a toddler. This is significant for two reasons. A) Rattan rips easily, and B) Small grayish-brown footprints on the white couch are not as cute as you might think. We’re in the market for some grayish-brown slip-covers.

2) Our fridge is the size of an acorn. Our landlady cheaped out and furnished the kitchen with Fisher-Price Barbie appliances. The oven is literally the size of a breadbox and is not insulated. The first time we used it, the entire kitchen warmed up to about 200 degrees Fahrenheit and the oven itself started steaming. Bret has since disconnected the oven from the gas line and we now use the stove (which has a flat, glass cover) as counter space. We reluctantly decided to shell out the dough for a new oven, which we plan to sell when we leave. It’s a nice Italian model that is sturdy and insulated. It wasn’t as expensive as the German ovens (go figure) but it wasn’t exactly cheap either. Some things I just can’t live without and a decent oven is one of those things.

3) The traffic here is bad. Not only are the drivers batshit crazy, there are many many more of them here than there were in Aqaba. And Amman is laid out in such a ridiculous, Byzantine way that not even those who’ve lived here for years know how to get anywhere, much less give proper directions. Thank god for Google maps.

4) It’s noisy here. Much noisier than Aqaba — at least where we lived in Tala Bay. Most nights, Bret and I sit in the living room after Abby has gone to bed and either work on school stuff, write, or just hang out and try to relax. But the noise of the city feels as though we imported the 405 freeway to Jordan and parked it right outside our apartment. Not so relaxing. Also, the prime minister has a house (or an office?) on our street and his helicopter flies over us at least once a day. We figure it’s his hoo ride — not sure. Either way, it’s loud. And to top off the cacophony of honking horns and helicopter blades, we can hear call to prayer five times a day. And one of those times is at 5 in the morning. Every morning. Sometimes we’re even treated to dueling calls coming from different mosques. They’re just slightly out of sync which gives the already haunting sound a strange echo. Drop in some drum and bass and it would be the perfect comeback single for Enigma.

So, all in all, it’s okay here. I did have one dark day a few weeks ago. The protests in response to that stupid YouTube video were going on and I was nervous. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, then read the fucking news once in awhile. Bret kept reassuring me that we weren’t in any danger and Jordan is a very stable country. He’s right. Our embassy here was being watched by what looked like hundreds of military personnel, and, besides, most of the protesters (only a few hundred in a city of 4 million people) were the radical guys with beards and bad teeth. I don’t say that to be an asshole. We have radical guys with beards and bad teeth in the U.S., too. Interestingly, it’s the bad-toothed, bearded guys who hate each other while the rest of us coexist just fine and get on with the day. I haven’t gotten the stink eye from anyone or rocks thrown at my car (yet) so I’m optimistic that I’m safe here at the moment. Safe enough.

That’s the thing. What we see in the news is never the full picture. I read CNN and the Jordan Times online, among other news outlets, and while there are indeed protests happening throughout the region in response to what was basically a shitty home video, it doesn’t mean everyone in the middle east hates the U.S. Likewise, I remind all of you radical, anti-American types who burn our flag and call our president names, that one crappy video does not speak for or represent an entire country of people. Furthermore, and this is the most ironic part, the crappy YouTube video was made with Egyptian money by an Egyptian Coptic Christian. The bottom line is that people who don’t understand freedom of speech don’t fully get it that the government doesn’t endorse anything and everything its people create. In the U.S. blasphemy is just talk. And talk is cheap.

Things seem to have quieted down this week in terms of the protests. Although, I won’t be surprised if some other incident sparks the crazies and the flag-burning erupts again. It seems that someone is always pissed off about something. I think it’s that they weren’t loved unconditionally as children and they take it out on the world. No injustice is as great as a child rejected by his parents.

But that’s another conversation for another day.

I’m trying to enjoy this time in Amman. Some days, I feel cranky and fearful and I just want to go back to the U.S. But other days, I feel so grateful for this experience. I never thought I’d live in the middle east. For years I was afraid of this entire region and wouldn’t have even contemplated coming here for a visit. And now I live here. And most days, I really like it.

By the way, I’m keeping the name Aqababy even though we’re living in Amman. I’m not sentimental, just lazy. Now that we’re back here in Jordan, I’ll be posting here more often. We’re planning more travels. Stay tuned.


So we’re back in the U.S. for the summer. It’s nice to be here. I’ve already giddily skipped around Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. And Bret has sufficiently stuffed himself with bacon.

It was an interesting and productive 10 months in Aqaba.

Bret finished his first year of teaching at RSICA. I finished my first year teaching middle school drama at Aqaba International School. And Abby turned 2 years old.

We arrived in Tucson a few weeks ago to kick off our a three-month summer vacation. Working in academia has its privileges.

Now that we’ve made the 23-hour trip to and from Jordan a few times, Bret and I have decided that Aqaba is like Narnia. The journey back to the States feels like what we imagine the four Pevensie children felt as they sifted their way back through the wardrobe. Incidentally, there’s also Turkish delight in Aqaba. No White Witch though. And no talking lions.

In other news, when we go back to Jordan in the fall we’ll be moving to Amman rather than returning to our luxury gulag in Aqaba. This is because RSICA has moved to the capital city and while it seems to be a good thing, I’ll miss our little place by the Red Sea.

Or maybe I won’t.

Maybe I’ll look back on our time there with fondness but great relief. Relief that we’re no longer in such a small town with all its quirks and limitations. I do know that I’m looking forward to living in a bigger city. Amman is a fairly modern place. It has a Pinkberry, y’all.

We’ll still visit Aqaba from time to time. Amman is crowded (4 million people), so no doubt we’ll need a place to retreat on weekends. It’s only one hour by plane or three hours by car, albeit a bumpy ride.

And even if I am initially homesick for crazy Aqaba-Narnia, I’ll remind myself of Marianne.

Marianne was a friend of my mother’s when I was growing up. She was a tiny German-Jew who once trained to be a ballerina and was also a mentor for my mother. She would say to mom in times of stress or disappointment, “Life is a series of adjustments.” Marianne was elderly and had lived through many things, including the Holocaust as a teenager, and later, the death of her adult son. If anyone had the right to sum up life so succinctly, it was Marianne. She passed away several years ago but her words have stuck with me, and the older I get the more I understand and appreciate them.

It’s easy to feel adrift when you’re an expat, particularly a newbie. Some of the expats in Aqaba are veterans of this way of life. One expat friend, an American we’ll call Jessica, is married to a German guy who works in the hotel industry. In the last 8 years, they’ve lived in Morocco, Switzerland, Germany, Dubai, and now Jordan. They have no idea where they’ll move next. Every two years or so, her husband gets a new assignment from his employer and they just pick up and go– and start over somewhere else. Jessica has enjoyed her globe-trotting life. She hasn’t always loved the places she’s lived (namely, Dubai) but she managed because she knew it was only temporary.

One of my students at the International School, a bright Romanian girl, has lived all over the world in her 13 years on the planet. She manages to maintain a really positive, upbeat attitude about her constantly shifting life. Even though she’s only 13, I get the sense she already understands that being flexible is much more fun and rewarding than the alternative. It reminds me of the Chinese proverb: “The tree that does not bend with the wind will be broken by the wind.” What’s with all the quotes today?

One of the more difficult things about being an expat, especially a serial one, is that you’re always leaving people and people are always leaving you. I mean, it’s nothing personal. Technically, expats aren’t leaving each other, they’re simply moving on to the next gig. It’s well understood within the expat community that this lifestyle is so itinerant and most of the expats I befriend are really easy-going, but that doesn’t make saying goodbye any easier. It sort of reminds me of the end of summer camp when you have to leave all your friends. You were thrown together for a short period of time, relied on each other for support and kinship (in some cases, even saw each other through pregnancies or other huge life events — although that never happened at summer camp) and then you move on. You’re not sure if you’ll ever see each other again. You vow to keep in touch but there’s an unspoken understanding that you may not. Some of us relocate to strange-sounding places in Africa, some stay put in Aqaba, some move back to our countries of origin. And some move to Amman. Everything is always shifting.

But that’s life, isn’t it? Even when we think we know what to expect, it doesn’t necessarily happen that way. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have expectations or make plans. It just means we have to remember that life is a series of adjustments. Things change. Sometimes things don’t go the way we want them to. Sometimes things work out better than we ever thought they could. Sometimes we win $24 on a pair of Lotto scratchers.

I have one expat friend (we’ll call her Zelda) who is a longtime resident of Aqaba. She’s married to a Jordanian man and owns her own restaurant, so she has no plans to leave Jordan anytime soon. Zelda is often the one “left behind” by other expats. She lamented this a few months ago, incidentally while we were at a going-away brunch for another expat friend (we’ll call her Kim) on her way back to Australia. Zelda said, “It doesn’t get any easier, saying goodbye. You just learn to accept it.” As we toasted Kim’s friendship and wished her luck on her ongoing adventure, I looked down at my bowl of soggy mueseli and felt a pang of sadness. I had only known Kim for a short while but she had become a friend and I would miss her.

But thankfully, we have email and telephones and Skype and Facebook. And of course, airplanes. So, keeping in touch is easier than it’s ever been. There’s nothing quite like sitting across from a friend and laughing together in person, but technology is better than nothing.

Parenthood has also served to remind me that life is ever-shifting, changing, surprising me. I make choices, plans, I hope for the best, and beyond that, the only thing I can do is bend with the wind.


I decided to jump on the Easter bandwagon this year.

Last year, Abby wasn’t even a year old so we didn’t bother. But this year she seemed ready to experience the strange pagan rituals of Easter.

We were planning to have her participate in an egg hunt hosted by a bedouin camp in Wadi Rum. We’d spent a night at the camp during the last few days of my mom’s visit and we thought it would be the perfect way to introduce Abby to the strange and wonderful ritual that is egg hunting. But the morning of the egg hunt the manager at the camp told us they were expecting over 300 people for the hunt and they’d hired a DJ. Uh…no. We hightailed it back to Aqaba. The good news was that Abby didn’t know what she was missing so it was no big deal.

Instead, I home-brewed some vegetable-based dyes (no Paas coloring tablets in Aqaba), boiled a half-dozen eggs, and Abby colored her first Easter eggs. She loved it!

And I had a blast watching her plunk eggs into the jars of colorful liquid. But she wouldn’t leave the eggs alone long enough to let the colors set, so this is what the first batch looked like:

Didn’t matter. She had fun and that was all I cared about. I actually think her favorite part was ripping each egg apart, crushing the shells and mashing the egg yolks into a paste.

Toddler Godzilla!

After our day of coloring and smashing eggs, I decided I wanted to try the vegetable-based dyes again. I had used a variety of ingredients for the first batch. I just experimented with various fruit and vegetables. Here’s what I tried:

Yellow: Ground turmeric
Orange/Brown: Green tea
Pink/Red: Hibiscus tea
Violet: Black currant juice
Pink/Magenta: Pomegranate juice

I also had a small bottle of artificial green food coloring so I used that to make a bright green dye. It was Ba-right. It was also very artificial looking next to the natural dyes.

The first batch of eggs came out so pale because, like I said, they only soaked for a few minutes. I was curious to see what they would look like if they soaked a little longer. Also, I wanted to try some other vegetables like purple cabbage and beets.

My inner Martha Stewart was unleashed.


After Abby went to bed that evening, I did what any tired mother of a toddler would do:

I stayed up late experimenting with egg dyes.

First, I put a head of chopped purple cabbage in a pot with 2 quarts water, 1 tablespoon white vinegar, and 1 tablespoon salt and brought the mixture to a boil. Then, I let it simmer for 30 minutes. Then, I strained the cabbage and reserved the dark purple liquid.

Here’s a picture:

Then, I did the same with two large beets (chopped and peeled) for pink/red dye. And then I tried 6 tablespoons of ground turmeric for yellow dye. Each mixture contained (aside from the aforementioned vegetable or spice) 2 quarts (or 4 cups) of water, 1 tablespoon white vinegar, and 1 tablespoon salt. I brought the beet and turmeric mixtures to a boil and simmered for 30 minutes, just like I did with the cabbage.

Here are more pictures in case you care:

I let the dyes chill in the fridge overnight, along with a fresh batch of hard boiled eggs.

I was a bit too proud of these beauties. They are beautiful though, aren’t they?

Then, I fell asleep with my clothes on.

The following morning, Abby tested the new dyes. But this time, as soon as she dropped the eggs into the bright liquid, I whisked the jars away from her curious little hands and into  the safety of the kitchen. Martha Stewart was in full effect. Abby was okay with it. I told her the eggs needed to take a nap.

Two hours later, this is what we got:

The blue eggs were from the purple cabbage juice, the yellow from the turmeric, and the green one was the artificial food coloring again. I’ve heard kale or spinach both work well for green, but I didn’t have either of those on hand. Something to try next year.

Unfortunately, the beet liquid turned the eggs (not pictured) a shade Bret described as “real estate white.” They just looked beige to me. Beige and disappointing. Bummer. I think next time, I’ll leave the skins on? Any advice on that, readers?

And because I’m unable to leave well enough alone, that evening I brewed a few cups of hibiscus tea mixed with white vinegar and salt and dropped the “real estate white” eggs into that mixture. I was hoping the deep red hibiscus tea would turn the eggs pink. Or at least a pale shade of coral. Something spring-y.

And then I got distracted by various things online, the state of my old pedicure, and then passed out in my clothes again. What is wrong with me?

The next morning, I hobbled out to the kitchen and found a glass jar of putrid purple liquid with two very soggy tea bags floating in it. Oops! I had forgotten to remove those goddam hibiscus tea bags! My heart actually jumped a little. Did the eggs turn pink?! After 8 hours, they MUST have, right?

No. They turned black.

The charcoal grey/black one in the front is the hibiscus experiment. It also has a few scratches on it from the metal tongs I used to try and extract it from the jar. Wide-mouth jars are always advisable when dyeing Easter eggs.

Kinda Nightmare Before Easter. And kinda sad that this whole thing became my life’s work for a few days.

I’m planning to hold off on any further dyeing projects until next Easter. I hear onion skins are a good choice as they can make cool swirly patterns on the eggs. We’ll see if I have the patience next year to sit there and remove a bunch of smelly onion skins.

I guess this is what happens when one has children. One starts investing a lot of time and energy into the art of dyeing boiled eggs. It could be worse. I could be dressing up in a plush bunny costume.


Two exciting things happened this past weekend:

1) We saved a pufferfish, and

2) We went to Petra!

I’ll start with the pufferfish story because it’s very uplifting. If you want to skip to the Petra stuff, just scroll down. Lots of pictures!

My mom is in town right now. She’s visiting from California.

She’s a devout grandmother who can’t be away from her granddaughters for very long so she visits us twice a year. Not bad considering she lives 7,000 miles away.

She adores Abby. Who wouldn’t? And Abby adores her right back. Abby calls her Namma and when Namma’s around Bret and I become chopped liver. That’s okay. It gives us more free time.

Mom arrived last Wednesday evening after almost 24 hours of travel. By Thursday morning, despite the brutal jetlag, she was up and ready to party (this is not a drug reference).

Thursday afternoon Abby, Mom, and I took a stroll to the beach. It was a beautiful warm day with a light breeze and just a touch of overcast. The ocean was clear and calm so I let Abby sit at the shoreline and throw rocks in the ocean. This is becoming something of a pastime for her.

Then I heard mom say, “What’s that?” She was pointing to something behind me.

I turned around and saw a beached pufferfish, belly-up, gasping for breath. His eyes were wide and his spiny body was rapidly expanding to the size of a basketball.

Puffers are these odd-looking spotted fish who live in warm waters like the Red Sea. They’re slow swimmers, but can quickly ingest huge amounts of water (or even air) to turn themselves into a ball several times their normal size.

This is what puffers look like when inflated.

If eaten, almost all puffers are toxic to other fish and humans because they contain tetrodotoxin. According to National Geographic: “Tetrodotoxin is up to 1,200 times more poisonous than cyanide. There is enough toxin in one pufferfish to kill 30 adult humans (if ingested), and there is no known antidote.”

Yet, some people consider pufferfish a delicacy because some people are dumb asses.

Back to the rescue story.

I shrieked, “Oh my god, it’s a pufferfish!” I ran over to its spiky, bloated body and tried not to panic. He was going to die if he didn’t get back into the water immediately. For a moment I couldn’t remember if they were poisonous to touch or only if eaten. I stood over him, watching his mouth open and close like an eyelid.

And then I thought of Brad Garrett. He was the voice of Bloat the pufferfish in Pixar’s Finding Nemo. Bloat was one of the nice fish in the tank at the dentist’s office where Nemo is held captive. I’ve seen this movie many, many times and I now have a soft spot for puffers.

I was not going to let Bloat die.

Mom immediately grabbed Abby’s sand shovel and tried to roll the spherical puffer toward the ocean. The tide was out and the rocky shore was filled with nooks and crannies and little tide pools. This made it difficult to roll the puffer smoothly into the water.

Mom managed to get him to the edge of this little rock shelf but couldn’t manage to hoist him up over it. The sea was just on the other side, so it was the last hurdle. He was almost home. But he was running out of time!

Abby was watching the drama, mouth agape, eyes as big as saucers. She occasionally muttered, “I saw a pufferfish.” This is what she’s been saying lately to people she meets: “I saw a pufferfish.”

Aside from Bloat in Finding Nemo, we often see pufferfish nibbling on algae in the marina on our daily walks to the beach. The puffers like to swim right up to the surface, and as the water is very clear we can see them perfectly, their wide-set eyes scanning for food, their spotted fins flipping around. Abby sometimes practices the line in her sleep. “I saw a puffer fish,” she mumbles with closed eyes. It seems Abby has grown quite fond of puffers too.

As I watched mom struggle to lift the panicking, bloated puffer with a plastic kid’s shovel, I decided we were going to save this fish goddamit! I told mom to keep an eye on Abby and I took hold of the shovel. I knelt down and tried to scoop him up. He barely moved. He was a heavy sonofabitch! I kept trying. Finally, I managed to get him over the rock shelf and into the water. Success. He floated into the surf.

He was enormous at this point — bigger than a basketball it seemed. He wasn’t a small puffer to begin with but all blown up he was huge. And stark white against the blue water. Mom, Abby, and I watched anxiously to see if he was moving. He was completely still, his large eyes staring out and he was still upside-down. My heart sank. “Is he dead?” Mom asked.

A pair of German tourists walked up at that moment. They were tall and blond and very curious about what we were doing. They watched the spiky ball bobbing in the water. “Vass is zat?” one of them asked in a thick German accent.

“It’s a pufferfish,” I told them, keeping an eye on Bloat for any sign of movement. I explained to the Germans how we found him washed up on shore, trapped in the small tide pools.

The Germans watched for a moment, fascinated by the strange, bloated fish floating in the sea. After a few moments they moved on, smiling politely as they walked away. Fucking Germans.

And then I saw it. A tail flip.

He was alive! Mom and I shrieked. Bloat was moving! His tail flipped and flapped, his fins flicked back and forth, and his mouth opened and closed as he started to breathe again.

It was such an exciting and happy moment. His swollen body started to deflate, slowly but surely. And as he floated back out to sea, his fins getting more and more animated, I felt very proud.

I saved Bloat.

So, without further ado….Petra!

This is called the Siq. It's a pathway flanked by huge rock formations and it leads to the treasury and other ruins.

These are tombs that were carved into the rocks over 2,000 years ago.

These are more tombs. There were many, many tombs.

Wide view of the tombs and tourists.

Bret took this picture from inside one of the tombs.

The view of the Treasury from the siq.

The Treasury

The Treasury again. Amazing, right?

You can ride these camels. I chose not to because I feel sorry for the camels.


Abby loves flying.

Bedouin soldiers? Not sure, but great outfits!

There were donkeys everywhere. Cute little donkeys.

Here's a little souk where they sold trinkets and postcards and the like.

You can take a horse cart ride to the ruins but it's an awfully bumpy ride. We opted to walk.

I'm very proud of this picture. I think it captures my husband pretty well.

Mom took this picture of a Bedouin sitting on a bench.

Ruins and tombs.

Tombs and more tombs

This is a close-up of the top part of the Treasury.

Here we are, Bret and I, at the end of the day. We were covered in a thin layer of sand.

Here’s a little blurb that I copied directly from Wikipedia. Just a little basic info about the ancient site:

Petra (Greek “πέτρα” (petra), meaning stoneArabic: البتراء, Al-Batrāʾ) is a historical and archaeological city in the Jordaniangovernorate of Ma’an that is famous for its rock cut architecture and water conduit system. Established sometime around the 6th century BC as the capital city of the Nabataeans,[2] it is a symbol of Jordan as well as its most visited tourist attraction.[2] It lies on the slope of Mount Hor[3] in a basin among the mountains which form the eastern flank of Arabah (Wadi Araba), the large valley running from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba. Petra has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985.

The site remained unknown to the Western world until 1812, when it was introduced by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. It was described as “a rose-red city half as old as time” in a Newdigate Prize-winning poem by John William Burgon. UNESCO has described it as “one of the most precious cultural properties of man’s cultural heritage”.[4] Petra was chosen by the BBC as one of “the 40 places you have to see before you die”.


Happy New Year! I realize it’s almost February, but as this is my first post of 2012, I thought it appropriate to start off with a little well-wishing.

By the way, at which point is it ridiculous to wish someone a happy new year? After the first week of January? Once February rolls around? Is it always ridiculous? When does a new year cease to be new?

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about. No, I’m here to talk about one of my least favorite things: jetlag. It sucks balls. And I’ve got a mean case of it right now. So does Abby and so does Bret.

We went back to the States for a month over the holidays and now we’re back in Aqaba. It was a nice trip, full of friends and family and bacon.

We celebrated Christmas. At least, our version of it. At my mom’s place in Grass Valley, we all trekked out in the freezing cold to select a Christmas tree. After about 20 minutes of tromping around and debating which one was the most appropriate height and pedigree, we decided on a handsome Doug Fir with long, full branches. Bret had the distinctive honor of cutting it down. By himself. Sorry, babe. Mom and I hightailed it back to the house where it was warm and cozy and coffee and cookies awaited. My stepdad, Gary, videotaped Bret hacking away at the poor Doug Fir.

Once the tree was properly mounted (thanks again, Bret) Mom decorated it with about 100 glass ornaments while Bret scraped the sap from his body. I tried to keep Abby from ripping the ornaments off the tree and biting into them.

In the end, Christmas was very festive and the tree looked lovely but the branches kept poking Bret in the face during dinner. He was so gracious about it. He would gently brush them away and keep eating.

But, again, I digress.

Jetlag. We have it. It sucks.

If you’ve never experienced jetlag, here’s what it’s like:

1) You wake up at midnight, ready to start the day.

2) You’re not sure if you brushed your teeth today. Or was that yesterday? Is today yesterday?

3) You accidentally lock your keys in your car while the engine’s still running and your toddler is strapped in her car seat.

4) You find yourself eating a steak dinner at 3 a.m. and it feels right.

5) It’s 10 a.m. and you’re ready to hit the sack.

6) You catch yourself humming “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley with no memory of how it got stuck in your head in the first place. I RickRolled myself. Without a computer.

7) You find yourself sitting in the dark eating an entire bag of Bugles and a tub of cream cheese. And it tastes amazing.

8) You pass out at two in the afternoon and sleep for 8 hours. Maybe 10.

If you’ve just traveled into a different time zone and you’re experiencing any of the above scenarios, you probably have jetlag. If you have not traveled anywhere at all and you’re experiencing any of the above, you probably have a drinking problem.

It usually takes me a full week to recover from the acute symptoms of jetlag, plus one additional week to feel totally normal again. Abby seems to fully recover in about 10 days. She’s a great little traveler, our girl. I’m so proud of her. She slept 9 of the 11.5 hour flight from Chicago to Amman. But then she was up all night in the hotel room in Amman. Bret and I ordered room service and took showers while Abby watched hours of Egyptian soap operas. She finally passed out at 3 a.m., one hour before our scheduled wake-up call.

I would have taken melatonin if I could. Apparently, it’s amazing. Bret took it when we went home to the States in December and he said it worked like a charm. It’s basically a “natural” sleeping pill that makes you pass out for eight hours whenever you need to sleep. Brilliant!

I decided I would try it on the return trip to Jordan. But first, I did my due diligence. I read the label on the bottle to see if I could take it while breastfeeding. Turns out, no. In fact, my health profile matches every contraindication on the back of the bottle.  Basically, the label should have read: “If your name is Marjie Scott, you’ll die if you take this stuff.” So, I’m just sweating out the jetlag naturally.

Aside from that, it’s actually nice to be back here in Aqaba. Although, I cried on the flight from Chicago to Amman because I was already exhausted and sad to be leaving ready access to Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.

More than anything, I was sad to be leaving my friends and family. It was so nice to see everybody face to face, person to person, in the flesh. I’m grateful for Skype but there’s nothing like being able to sit across from someone and look into her eyes or give him a hug. It was truly uplifting to be home. We didn’t get to see all of our friends because there just wasn’t enough time. We’ll be back in the summer. That’s what I keep reminding myself.

Being in the States was interesting after living in Jordan for almost five months. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. We are so lucky in the United States! We have access to so much variety.

I went into a Starbucks the day after we arrived in Tucson and as I waited for my cappuccino, I heard the guy behind the counter holler, “I have two artisan ham sandwiches for Paula!”

Artisan. Ham. Sandwiches.

Paula, dressed in head-to-toe Coldwater Creek snagged her artisan ham sandwiches and skinny vanilla latte and off she went, her frosty highlights glinting in the sun.

Does Paula know how lucky she is that she can walk into any Starbucks and order not one but TWO artisan ham sandwiches, made to order? Paula, wherever you are, I hope you savored those sandwiches, or at least said a little thank you to the heavens (or your capitalist, democratic country) for them. Because, here’s the thing. Even if you don’t eat ham, or sandwiches, you must appreciate the level of choice we have in the United States of America.

Even if you live in a small town where there is nothing but a windmill and an inbred family next door, you can have just about anything you want shipped to your house!

And the freedom! I felt free to speak my mind without worrying who might be listening. I could wear what I wanted without worrying that I might be offending anyone or sending the wrong message. I only saw an occasional headscarf in the States and it was always worn by an older Muslim woman chewing on pistachios while her younger, westernized family members texted on their smart phones.

The women in the States wear what they want. They go out in public with wet hair. They feel free to  wear sweatpants and tank tops, or fitted dresses and heels. The variety of dress in the States is only restricted by the individual woman’s taste and imagination. This has its own set of disadvantages too, by the way. A sense of decorum is always appreciated.

But the very fact that we are free to have good taste, or not, is so gratifying. Anything less is, quite frankly, soul-crushing. As a woman, as a person, I want to choose the clothes, job, husband, friends, the life that’s right for me. It was nice to be in a place, at least for a little while, that recognizes that.

It was nice to be home.

In the Land of Milk and Blood Tests

“We need to go to the government clinic tomorrow to get your HIV test.”

I looked up from my laptop. Say what?

“For your residency card. They won’t issue one without an HIV test. And a chest X-ray.”

Bret didn’t even look up from his own laptop while he informed me of this.

I groaned.

“It won’t take long,” he assured me. “And it won’t hurt.”

“I’m not worried about it hurting!” I snapped.

And I wasn’t. I don’t mind needles. I’m one of those weirdos who watches the needle poke through my skin and the blood pour into the vial. It’s not that I necessarily dig it. It’s just that it’s interesting to see my own blood. So, yeah, I guess I kinda dig it.

And I certainly wasn’t worried about getting positive results. I’m not exactly high-risk. Plus, I had an HIV test last year and it came back negative. Since I haven’t shot up any heroin lately nor do Bret and I have an open marriage, I figure my HIV results are more than likely status quo.

I groaned because I’m lazy and I don’t like dealing with bureaucracy. I hate the DMV. I thoroughly dislike the post office and filing my taxes. I would even break out in a cold sweat anytime I had to venture into the registrar’s office in college. I have an aversion to paperwork and government issued things. Bureaucracy is always so slow and lumpy and devoid of life. Like a bowl of cold, gray oatmeal.

To make matters worse, Jordan (as a country) is often a little disorganized about these sorts of things.  I’m not sure if it’s because they never sat down to write an official handbook, or they did but no one actually read it. But it seems like in Jordan, there’s a lot of confusion about rules and regulations. Did I say confusion? I meant blatant disregard.

From what I surmise, people make up their own rules here. Especially on the road. Oh my god. The stuff I’ve seen people do on the road here is totally certifiable. On the way into town yesterday, we came upon a group of idiots standing in the middle of the desert highway taking pictures of the ocean. That’s right. They were hanging out in the center of the road snapping pictures. Just standing there, totally oblivious that they were on a HIGHWAY! We narrowly missed them in the Peugot. And they actually looked shocked and irritated to see our car, like we were in their way. Oh sorry, guys, did we screw up your crappy snapshot of the glaring sun? Our bad.

But back to the blood test.

I knew about the HIV test already because Bret had had his blood test about a month ago. One of the administrators at RSICA took him and three of his colleagues to the government clinic.

The HIV test is a requirement to acquire a residency card in Aqaba. A residency card is exactly as it sounds. It’s a card that foreigners (like us) get while we’re living and working in Jordan. It proves that we’re not just loitering but that we actually live here. Residency cards also qualify us to receive discounts on things like entrance fees to Petra. Normally, it costs 40 JD (or, $56) for tourists to tour the ruins, but for residents it only costs 1 JD (or, $1.40). It’s like a driver’s license and KCRW fringe benefits card rolled into one.

“Can’t they just assume that because you don’t have AIDS, I don’t either?” I asked in all seriousness. I wouldn’t be entirely shocked if that were actually permissible here because women are often viewed as extensions of their husbands. Perhaps more in Saudi Arabia or the UAE than in Jordan, but still.

Alas, I had to get my own blood test.

So, the following morning, the Scott family took a little field trip down to the Center for Chest Diseases and Foreign Health. I’m not sure how chest diseases and foreign health got lumped together. It’s not exactly an intuitive pairing. Furthermore, are there really that many diseases of the chest that they require an entire building? Even half a building? Maybe they should open a few smoking cessation buildings in this town. Just a thought.

The Center for Chest Diseases and Foreign Health was hopping when we arrived at 8 a.m. I didn’t think the locals got out of bed before noon, so I was surprised to see so many people. Not surprisingly, most of them were smoking. Good thing they were right there at the Center for Chest Diseases!

The building itself was this crumbling, stucco gulag with a chaotic parking lot. It looked more like event parking in a seedy section of downtown Los Angeles than a medical building. We found a narrow spot to cram the Peugot.

Once inside, we made our way to the second floor. Thankfully, Bret had been there before so he knew where to go. I was still half-asleep as I hadn’t had my coffee yet. I was just following Bret around with a glazed expression. I was hoping this “neutral” face would mask my piss poor attitude. I really didn’t want to be there.

Bret led me to a cashier’s window not unlike the ones at the DMV. This was Window 1. An older Arabic lady wearing hijab was stationed behind the glass. She didn’t even look up at us, and she was talking but it was unclear to whom.

Bret patted my shoulder and announced, “My wife needs a blood test and chest x-ray.” I looked around the room. The place was swarming with Arabs. Many of them leered at us, which did nothing to improve my mood.

Cashier Lady gave me a cursory glance.

I offered her a half-hearted grimace. I didn’t mean to. I meant to smile, but for some reason all I could muster was a grimace. I really need coffee in the morning.

At Window 1, we paid the 30-dinar fee for the two tests. Then, Cashier Lady (who was still talking and it was still unclear to whom) gave us a piece of paper with Arabic writing all over it. Neither Bret nor I were sure what this paper said. It could’ve said anything. Perhaps something official or perhaps it read, “Take more money from these jackasses.”

We took this piece of paper to Table 1.5. Not even a window, just a guy sitting at a folding card table.

We were instructed to give him a quarter dinar and he handed us what appeared to be a postage stamp. No explanation. Just take the stamp and move along. I was hoping the stamp was for some sort of raffle. Bret told me that was unlikely. Oh, Bret. Where’s your sense of whimsy?

I think someone (Bret maybe?) affixed the postage stamp/raffle ticket to the piece of paper with Arabic writing and we were off to Door Number 2. Without actually looking at the paper, the guy at Door Number 2 took it out of my hands and handed it to a lady wearing rubber gloves at Door Number 3.

I was ushered through Door Number 3 and told to sit at what appeared to be a school desk from the 1950’s. It was one of those desks with the metal chair attached. I placed my arm on the desk and rolled up my sleeve. Miss Rubber Gloves told me to make a fist. Then without even swabbing the area with alcohol, she stuck the needle into my vein. She drew some blood and then handed me a piece of cotton she’d pulled from a giant ball of cotton next to her. She didn’t offer a Band-aid or even a piece of tape to keep the cotton in place. It kept slipping down my arm and I got blood on my shirt.

From there, I was hustled down to Door Number 6. Not sure why we skipped Doors 4 and 5.

At Door Number 6, I was summoned into a room by a young woman who turned out to be the x-ray technician. She looked more like a web designer. All black clothes and hipster glasses.  She told me to stand in front of the giant machine. I complied. Then, she stood next to me for a moment. “Pregnant?” she asked. I didn’t know what to say. As far as I knew I wasn’t pregnant, but what if I was? I’m not on the pill and well….you get the picture.

“I don’t know. I don’t think I’m pregnant,” I said.  The technician paused for a moment and then shrugged. “Okay,” she said and stepped out of the room.

“Finished!” I heard her shout seconds later.

All rightey then.

After the chest x-ray we wandered around in the hallway until a small, but surprisingly stern Arabic woman looked at us and said, “Halas!” This means “enough” in Arabic. Basically, she was telling us to get the hell out of her building. She had chest diseases to attend to.

So, we left. Turns out there was no raffle.

My results were ready for pickup a few days later. We returned to the Center for Chest Diseases and Foreign Health. The parking lot was a zoo, so I stayed in the car while Bret went inside the building.  He returned all of two minutes later clutching a piece of paper. I was eager to see the results. Do I have tuberculosis?!

He slipped the paper into his messenger bag and hopped into the driver’s seat.

“Well?” I asked.

“Don’t know,” Bret said, buckling his seat belt.

“What do you mean you don’t know,” I said, a little unnerved.

“I mean I don’t know,” he said, “It’s all in Arabic.”

EILAT Part One

By the end of our first week in Aqaba, Bret and I decided it was time to take a trip to Eilat. Eilat is an Israeli resort town just across the Red Sea from Aqaba. The Red Sea is not that wide, so we can see Eilat quite clearly from the beach just outside our apartment. We can also see Egypt. Back in Pasadena, we were lucky to have a hazy view of downtown from the freeway.

Our reasons for going to Eilat were twofold: 1) We needed certain baby-proofing supplies that the shops in Aqaba don’t sell (like, baby gates) and 2) I hungered for a taste of western culture after a week of Arab overload. The chadors, the call to prayer, the dead goats. It was a lot to digest in only a week; to say nothing of all that Snack Maamoul. Eilat has an Imax, a Gap and lots of frozen yogurt places. Also, I was craving a bagel.

So, after much deliberation, we decided to cross the border.

It’s important that I explain the reason for our deliberation. As you probably know, there’s basically a war going on between Israel and almost every other nation in the region. It’s a war that spans thousands of years and, from what I understand, involves territory. I’m no expert on the topic but essentially many Arab countries don’t recognize Israel as a nation. So, if we try to enter say, Syria, with an Israeli stamp in our passports, Syria may turn us away and literally not let us enter.

The only Arab nation with a peace treaty with Israel is Jordan.

Frankly, I have no desire to visit most of the countries in this region. At least, not right now. Iran is no place for a foul-mouthed female like me. Iraq is out of the question. Syria is knee-deep in civil strife, so I’ll pass. And Libya is a total mess. Also, Saudi Arabia doesn’t recognize me as a human being, so I don’t want to go there. Yemen and Oman? Nope and nope. The only Arab nations I’d consider at this point are Egypt, Lebanon, Kuwait, and Dubai. I’m really hip on touring Jordan though. There are some amazing places to see here: Petra, Wadi Rum (vast desert), Jerash, the forest in Ajloun and of course the capital city of Amman.

We were advised by several well-traveled friends that if we wish to tour other Arab nations (i.e. Lebanon, Kuwait), we should acquire a second passport for travel to Israel. The only place to get that second passport is the U.S. embassy in Amman. Back in the States, we couldn’t get a second passport. I tried and failed. Earlier this summer, after our passports had arrived in the mail, I went to the post office to inquire about applying for a second passport. The pasty woman behind the counter shouted, “Are you a diplomat?! You can only get a second passport if you’re a diplomat! So, are you a DIPLOMAT?!” Everyone in the post office (it was crowded that day) stopped and stared at me. I felt my face turn red. I cleared my throat, and muttered, “Um…I, uh…no. I’m not a diplomat.” She pursed her thin lips and, helmet hair lacquered firmly in place, she shook her head. “You can only have one passport at a time, ma’am. Unless you’re a diplomat.” Then she shooed me away with a wave of her fake nails, which were a depressing shade of coral. I turned and walked out of the post office, humiliated by a Gary Larson cartoon.

But back to the deliberation. Bret and I discussed our options. We could just wait to go to Israel until we get the second passports. Well…. but we really need that baby gate and some frozen yogurt. Maybe if we drive up to Amman, the malls there would have the baby gate we’re looking for? But would they have frozen yogurt? Plus, Amman to Aqaba and back is kind of a long drive (3 1/2 hours each way) for the baby (me) and could get costly if we tire and decide to stay overnight. But if we go to Amman we could get those extra passports at the embassy. Hmmm….. but what about the frozen yogurt? We literally debated this for hours.

Finally, we decided it was best to just cross the border and worry about the second passport issue later. So, off we went to Israel in search of baby gates.

Marty (remember him?) had already informed us that we wouldn’t be able to drive our rental car across the border into Eilat because it wouldn’t be covered by insurance. Bret did some digging online and found out that we could park our car at the border and then walk across. And then, there would be a bus that would take us into the city center. Perfect!

We packed up the diaper bag and umbrella stroller and set out for Israel. In the back of my mind lurked the frightening thought that we would be victims of a terrorist attack while in Eilat. I imagined a bomb going off on the bus or in the mall. Body parts and frozen yogurt toppings flying everywhere. I shoved that image into the far corner of my mind and begged my imagination to stop with the worst case scenarios. We’re going to be okay, I told myself. We’re traveling with a baby, so everything was going to be peachy.

An hour later, after several wrong turns and a discussion about whether or not to forget it and just build a baby gate out of palm fronds, we finally found the border. The border is this desolate area with watchtowers and guards carrying automatic rifles. It’s also flanked by two oases of lush palm trees, which I found kind of odd. All this stark desert and then…a beautifully manicured forest of trees.

We parked in the lot and got out of the car. It was HOT. Oh my god, was it hot. It was so hot, my insides were sweating and while I was sure I was breathing, I couldn’t tell if I was actually getting any oxygen. As Bret buckled Abby into her stroller, I looked up at the striking Jordanian flag dancing in the wind. Black, red and green. And just beyond a series of metal gates, I could see the Israeli flag. It didn’t seem to be flapping, although given the wind that day, it must have been.

I stared at that blue Star of David for a moment. I associate that symbol with pride and solidarity. It dawned on me, as I prepared to cross into Israel for the first time, that for many people (especially in this part of the world), that symbol represents the enemy.

As we crossed the parking lot, I spotted a donkey beside a large dumpster. He was nosing through stray bits of garbage on the ground. He glanced up at us and then went back to his trash heap. “Look, babe!” I said, in an excited stage whisper,” A donkey!” “Don’t point,” Bret reminded me gently. I lowered my arm and glanced around. No one saw me. That donkey was something else though. If I hadn’t been so concerned with keeping my cool, I would have snapped some pictures. I’ve never seen a donkey eating trash at a Middle Eastern border crossing before, OKAY?

We arrived at the first gate. A lone Jordanian guard wearing army fatigues and a machine gun asked to see our passports. Bret produced them from his pocket and after careful inspection, the guard waved us on to the next gate. By the way, we had to pay 18 JD in exit tax. That’s right. 18 JD (or $25) just to leave the country! We didn’t even get a goodie bag. What a racket.

At the next gate, a pair of Jordanian guards, also wearing fatigues and machine guns, sized us up and checked to make sure we had paid that exit tax. One of the guards waved his hand at us, “Passport.” He had a thick, black mustache that looked like a caterpillar sleeping on his upper lip. Bret, ever-prepared, promptly handed over our passports. A side note: Abby’s passport is ridiculously cute. Have you ever seen a baby passport? It looks like an adult passport until you get to the photo. In Abby’s picture, she’s wearing a blue dress from Tea Collection and a huge grin. Her hazel eyes sparkle and she has the longest lashes you’ve ever seen. I don’t know how any border guard could refuse her entry, even if she had a Star of David tattooed on her bicep.

So, Mr. Caterpillar Lip inspected our passports while the other guard, who looked kind of like Squiggy from Laverne and Shirley, made cutesy noises at Abby. Watching a camouflaged Squiggy with an automatic weapon engage in baby talk is fucking surreal. That one deserved the F word, Mom.

Mr. Caterpillar Lip then asked where we were from. “Los Angeles,” I smiled, adjusting my shades. He ignored me and looked at Bret. “California. Los Angeles,” Bret said, wiping the sweat from his brow. Mr. Caterpillar Lip nodded and continued inspecting our passports. “It’s hot today, huh?” I asked, trying to make conversation. My feet were melting so I was hoping to speed things along. Mr. Caterpillar Lip still wouldn’t look at me.

I glanced at Squiggy, who was now pinching Abby’s cheeks. I didn’t really want him touching her but I was a little intimidated by the machine gun. I also wondered if maybe he and Mr. Caterpillar Lip literally couldn’t see me. Women are sometimes invisible here. Mr. Caterpillar Lip, still clutching our passports looked at Bret, and said, “I am Bedouin.” “You’re a Bedouin?” Bret asked, sounding genuinely impressed. I can tell when he’s full of shit, and he really was interested that this guy was a Bedouin. The Bedouin are a nomadic tribe of Arabic desert-dwellers who used to raise camels but now raise either sheep or no animals at all. Some keep a camel or two for the tourists who want a picture of themselves riding a camel.

Finally, Mr. Bedouin Caterpillar Lip gave us our passports back and waved us on our way. Squiggy looked genuinely sad to see Abby go. We were instructed to walk across what is known as No Man’s Land, which is this eerie stretch of lawless asphalt where you’re not in Jordan but not in Israel either. One false move and the guard at either watchtower could (and would) shoot you.

It was really really hot out there and our flimsy umbrella stroller had no sunshade. I felt bad for Abby, whose hair was matted with sweat and her cheeks were getting redder by the second. I gave her some cold water and moved as quickly, and inconspicuously, as I could across No Man’s Land.

I could see the Star of David up ahead, welcoming us to Israel….

A Few Updates

Okay, so the following is a list of updates on how we’re doing here. Overall, things are good. We’ve adjusted fully to the time-change and we’re more or less on a regular sleep schedule. I’m still not used to the heat though. Every time I go outside I freak out a little, as though I didn’t see it coming. “Jesus, it’s hot! What the…god, it’s so hot!”

Actually, the weather has cooled a bit over the past few days. It’s now 120 degrees Fahrenheit, rather than 160. Okay, that’s an exaggeration but I could still probably fry an egg on the pavement outside. It just might take a little longer than it did a few days ago.

By the way, I hope you all enjoyed Bret’s guest post from last week. I found it quite thought-provoking and I’ve asked him to elaborate on his topic, so look for more from Professor Scott. That’s what his students call him. Professor Scott. Adorable.

Okay, onto the updates:

1) Another jar of Nutella bites the dust. Okay, two jars. All right, three. Nutella (a.k.a. Satan) is banned from our household for a long time. At least until October.

2) Abby is full-on walking now. She toddles around our apartment and outside on the lawn. She can get on and off the couch by herself and if you ask her what her name is, she’ll tell you, “Abby.” It’s awesome and we try not to pimp her into saying it more than a couple times a day.

3) It’s nearing the end of Ramadan here in Arab country, and that can only mean one thing. That’s right, party people: Eid al ftr! For all of you non-muslims, no I did not misspell that. Eid (rhymes with “seed”) is basically a big, weeklong party celebrating the end of Ramadan. It’s a well-earned celebration, if you ask me. Fasting for a month is no easy feat. I mean, sure you can eat and drink after sundown, but if the sun rises at 6 a.m. and sets at 7:45 p.m., that’s almost 14 hours with no food or beverage.

I wonder if people lose a lot of weight during Ramadan. Probably not. They probably stuff themselves come sundown. I know I would. Screw that. I wouldn’t even make it to sundown. I have to eat every two hours or I shrivel up and die.

Anyway, so Eid (remember: rhymes with “tweed”) is a huge deal here as far as holidays go. It’s the equivalent of Christmas in the States. Families get together and sit around and eat and talk and eat and drink coffee. And eat. Children receive presents from relatives but they don’t get giant stockings filled with useless junk and candy canes. Nor does the family decorate a dead tree with glass balls and popcorn strings. And instead of eating a glazed pig or a turkey with bread crumbs stuffed up its butt, they prepare a dish called Mansaaf, which is lamb simmered in a yogurt sauce. I know, weird, right?

Apparently, every single hotel room in Aqaba (that’s 2,500 rooms total, mind you) books up with revelers during Eid (rhymes with “creed”). People even camp on the beach in little pup tents. All the restaurants here get really busy and people crowd the streets smoking and drinking non-alcoholic drinks. It’s like New Orleans during Mardi Gras, but with no booze and nobody flashes their tits  for plastic beads. I know. Bummer. Why no booze, you ask? Well, alcohol is forbidden in the Islamic religion. There is alcohol in Jordan. It’s not illegal to drink here and plenty of people do. It’s just frowned upon by uber religious types. Same with eating pork. It’s available here (although not as widely as alcohol) but it’s not commonly eaten. They’ll smoke cigarettes around children and babies though. Apparently, it’s not frowned upon to give your kids a jump start on lung cancer.

As a result of this impending Eid (rhymes with “bead”) holiday, daily life in Aqaba has been a smidge nuttier than usual. For example, Bret and I went to Safeway yesterday and it was like the Wednesday before Thanksgiving in the U.S. Grandmas were throwing punches over the last head of cabbage, there were shopping cart traffic jams and all-out brawls over parking spaces. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but only a little. Point is, things are revving up here and I’m not happy about it. Apparently, Tala Bay turns into a giant Euro-trash party during Eid (rhymes with “peed”). Tourists (mostly Germans and Russians) basically take over our quiet resort to stoke their tans and blast their horrible taste in music.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

4) I’m still working on my post about Eilat. It’s turning out to be a little bit epic, so it’s taken me longer than I thought to write it. Also, I’ve divided it into two posts so I’ll post the first part in the next day or so. I know you’re super anxious to read it. I’m super anxious to finish it.

5) I’ve made a friend here! She’s an expat from England (we’ll call her Dee, although that’s not her real name) and she has a 2-year-old son. Abby and I have hung out with them twice now. In fact, her son kissed Abby on the cheek the other day and Abby burst out laughing (in a joyous, not scornful way). It was incredibly cute. My daughter just had her first kiss. And she’s only 1.

It’s been nice to connect with another mom here, especially a native English-speaker. I like it in Aqaba. Our apartment is starting to feel like home. I’ve been able to find most of the foods I like, even if I do have to go to 16 different stores to get them. But it’s the people back home I miss the most. My friends and fellow moms. It’s important for women to spend time with other women, laughing, bonding, sharing tips on child-rearing, and of course, having pillow fights in our underwear. I’m glad to have met Dee and her lovely little boy. We’ll be spending more time with them soon.

So, there you have it. I hope you feel enlightened. I’m going to go work on that Eilat post now.

The Pier

To start with, I’m offering fair warning to my mom: there may be curse words in the coming paragraphs.

Now, down to business.

I’m terrified of sharks. I don’t know what it is about them. Maybe it’s the fact that they’re heartless eating machines, or maybe it’s their cold dead eyes, or maybe it’s that creepy song that comes on every time they’re around. You know the one. John Williams wrote it.

It could also be the fact that they do things like rip people’s legs off or in some cases, SWALLOW THEM WHOLE.

Call me crazy, but sharks are friggin’ scary.

I promised my mother I’d at least cut down on the cursing in these blog posts, so I’m testing out words like effin’ and friggin’ and darn. I’ll still use the word cunt, though. I have to hold my ground on something.

Anyway, so sharks.

Bret likes to remind me that humans aren’t in the shark food chain. To that I say: Ha! Spiders aren’t in my food chain, but I’m really good at killing them. I used to be all sensitive and just try to shoo the spiders outside with a Dixie cup. But now that I have a baby, I’m like a honey badger. I get that rolled up newspaper or shoe and squish. Game over. Honey badger doesn’t give a sh*t!

So, even if I’m not considered a delicacy in the shark community, it wouldn’t take much for a 6-footer to do some serious damage to my bod. And yeah, I have a little cellulite, but I’ve grown quite accustomed to my bod. I’d like to keep it. Intact.

I’ve done some research on sharks, and the general consensus is that sharks don’t actually target humans, rather they often mistake us for an injured fish, or a seal. We’re apparently not very graceful in the water by a shark’s standards. To a shark, even Michael Phelps looks like a spastic tuna. Plus, sharks have really bad eyesight and they investigate things by biting them (kind of like toddlers).

So, if a shark wanted to confirm that the slightly-expired milk had indeed turned sour, the shark would take a huge bite out of the carton. And that poor carton would bleed to death.

So, while sharks don’t necessarily want to eat us, sometimes they just do, accidentally, while investigating. “Oopsie. My bad, Marj. Didn’t mean to bite your face off. By the way, welcome to Jordan! I recommend the dates.”

Yeah, I can’t negotiate with a fish. It’s not as if I can be like, “Hey, you dumb-ass, blind-ass shark, I’m not a fat-ass seal, so back the heck off!”  And then the shark would be like, “Did you just say Heck?” What’re you 12?” And I’d say, “No, I’m 34, but my Mom asked me cut back on the cursing.” The shark would then say, “Fair enough.” And then he’d swim away.

No, that’ s not how it would go down.

More than likely, it would be a sneak attack from behind. I  would get bitten in half and then bleed to death in the crystal blue water while some a-hole tourist snapped blurry pictures of the sunset behind me.

And that is NOT how I want to go down.

Why am I telling you all of this? Well, we live at the beach here in Aqaba. I’ve never lived this close to the beach before, so it’s a new thing for me. We have the option of swimming in the ocean every day, if we feel like it. All we have to do is walk outside our apartment, saunter past our mammoth swimming pool (seriously, it’s bigger than the Atlantic), walk two feet and we’ll be on the beach. That’s no exaggeration, even though it sounds like one. Kind of like a shark that’s 30 feet in length. Sounds like an exaggeration but, in fact, quite possible.


There’s this pier at the beach. It extends about 50 yards out from shore. The first time we visited our beach (you like that? Our beach) we saw a group of Israeli tourists in Speedos jumping off the pier and screaming at each other in Hebrew. I thought they were having a knife fight, but it turns out that’s just how Israelis talk.

We knew they were Israeli because we met them the day before at the Jordan/Israel border crossing and they told us they were from Haifa. One of the guys had a squiggly design shaved into the side of his hair. It looked like something Vanilla Ice sported back in the early 90’s They also wore lots of bling; oversized gold crosses around their necks to be precise. I assumed they weren’t Jewish. They were, however, super friendly. They were all over Abby at the border, pinching her cheeks and playing peek-a-boo with her. It helped make the whole border-crossing experience much more pleasant. For more on this, see my post entitled “Eilat.”

So, there they were, the Christian Israeli rappers, jumping off the pier, yelling and hollering and having a grand old time. I admit, they made hurling oneself off a rickety, barnacled pier look pretty enticing. Bret took one look at them and said, “I want to do that.” (Bret wants me to note that by “do that,” I mean, “jump off the pier,” not “wear a speedo and a hip-hop size gold cross.”)

And so Bret waited until the Israeli posse had retired to the hotel bar nearby, then he walked across the pier and without hesitation, jumped. Just like that. SPLASH!

Abby and I watched him safely from the pier above. I stared at the blue water and imagined a pair of megalodon jaws ascending from the depths, a dorsal fin breaking the surface and with one single-

“Oh, this is awesome, babe!” Bret interrupted the horror film playing out in my mind, “I think you’re really going to like it.” He splashed and kicked and I thought of the injured tuna. Bret is no Michael Phelps.

“Oh yeah?” I asked, smiling sweetly. He looked up at me from the water and said, “Yeah.”

“It looks amazing,” I said, not entirely lying. It did look amazing. In truth, I wanted more than anything to have the courage to jump off that goddam pier. The sun was golden in the background, the warm wind was whispering through my hair, the water looked so inviting. And yet, I was afraid. Afraid of getting eaten.

I’m such a chicken. And I’m even afraid of chickens! The chicken, afraid of chickens. This is no joke. For those of you who know me know that I have a debilitating fear of ground birds: chickens, turkeys, peacocks, ostriches. Emus are the worst. Now you know that I’m afraid of sharks, which are like the emus of the sea.

Bret floated in the ocean for a few more minutes, oohing and aahing the whole time and I stood there on the pier feeling like a giant weenie. Abby watched her dad luxuriate in the water below. I wondered what she was thinking. Was she worried about sharks too? Probably not. She’s too young and blissfully unaware of that goddam John Williams score.

I watched the sun sink behind the horizon and thought about jumping off the pier. I wanted to be free, to let go, and hurl my body into the water like an Israeli rapper. I was thinner in this fantasy, and tanner too. But more importantly, I was unafraid. I was happy and calm. I knew everything would be okay. I would dive in, feeling the warm saltwater envelop my cellulite-free body. I would swim in the sea without fear. And then, I would climb back onto the pier, exhilarated and unscathed, ready to jump back in.

Why couldn’t it happen like that?

Finally, Bret climbed up the ladder on the backside of the pier and pulled himself onto the platform. Abby and I walked over and greeted his dripping body with a towel. He gave me a wide grin as he dried himself off. I handed him his glasses.

“Daddy!” Abby shouted with glee. “Abby!” Bret shouted back. Abby smiled and stuck out her tongue.

Yeah, yeah adorable. But then, Bret turned to me and said:

“You should try it, babe. You’d love it.”

My heart started pounding. No I wouldn’t!!! I’d hate it. I’d hear that goddam John Williams score in my head and I’d poop in my bathing suit. Poop is not a bad word, Mom.

Anyway, I’d poop and then have a heart attack. And then I’d get ripped in half by a shark. No way am I jumping off that effing pier! Let the Israeli Christian rap group be Mr. Dumbass Blindass shark’s buffet! I’ll stay nice and alive up here on the rickety pier, thank you very much!

“I’m okay,” I shrugged, adjusting my shades. I was trying to be cool.

“C’mon, babe. It’s not that high up, actually. And the water’s perfect!”

Yeah, neither of those things would prevent me from jumping in anyway. It’s that little shark thing.

I shook my head, “Nah, I’m okay.”

Bret smiled. He knew.

“Sharks don’t come this close to shore.” That’s when I broke, like a levy.

“That’s not true!” I shouted. I paused and pulled myself together for the sake of our daughter. “Sharks can kill people in less than 4 feet of water. And bull sharks can live in rivers! Did you know that? There are even sharks in the Potomac? Isn’t that awful?”

Bret is so sweet. So patient. He smiled and touched my shoulder.

“Shark attacks are so rare, babe. They almost never happen.” I knew he was right, but what if I was the one in a million? He assured me I’d be safe. There’s that goddam word again. Safe. Who among us is truly safe?

“I won’t let it happen,” Bret said, cleaning the water from his ears.

How could you protect me from a thirty-foot Great White with a taste for human flesh?” I scoffed. He laughed. “You’ll be fine,” he assured me. “Sharks don’t want to eat you. And remember when you went scuba diving in Catalina? Or when you dove into the roiling waves at Huntington Beach?” I nodded, and wondered how I’d managed to do either of those things. Was that really me back then?

So we stood on that pier for another five minutes and Bret kept pressuring me to jump off but I refused. “I’m not ready yet,” I said. I stressed the word “yet” but I didn’t know if I’d ever be ready. I just figured if he thought I would jump at some point, he would stop badgering me. Besides, maybe if I actually took baby steps, maybe I could actually take the leap. Someday.

Instead of jumping off the pier that evening, I waded up to my thighs just offshore. It was nice. The beach here is kind of rocky and I kept losing my flip flops in the water. They just floated up to the surface and I grabbed them and slipped them back on. There are really no waves on our beach so it kind of feels like you’re swimming in a lake. But it’s really salty. So salty in fact, it’s almost impossible to sink. It’s like a salty bathtub. With sharks. And Israelis.

Abby LOVED being in the ocean. Bret held her and together they swam out in waist-deep water. She giggled and splashed and clapped her hands. I loved watching her having so much fun. Her joy made me forget my own fear. How I wish I could be so brave.

But to Abby, it wasn’t necessarily bravery. She was just enjoying the moment. And in that moment, she was in her father’s arms, playing in the water. Her mother was standing nearby cheering her on. Everything was fine. Everything was good.

Later, as we strolled back home through the sand, I promised myself I would go swimming everyday. And little by little, I’d eventually work up enough courage to jump off the pier. My hands are shaking even as I write this. I don’t want to jump off that pier. I don’t want to put myself in what I perceive to be harm’s way. What if the one time I dive into the water is the one time a shark happens to be shopping for some human? What if he bites me? What if I die?

WhatifWhatifWhatif?! What if an asteroid hits the planet tonight? What if I slip on a banana peel and break my neck?  What if I slip on a banana hammock and break my neck? So many what ifs, why worry about them? They probably won’t ever come to pass.

So, my plan is to work up enough courage to jump off that pier before I leave Jordan. Even if it takes me six months, I’m going to do it. I’m also going to put on a brave face every time I set foot into the ocean.

And yes, I did just read about that poor British man who was mauled by a Great White in the Seychelles. I’m very sad for his widow and his family and friends. But there will always be some one-in-a-million story in the news just waiting to frighten me into avoiding life.

For my daughter’s sake, I want to be brave. I want to face my fear with courage and strength. I want her to see that life is full of risks but we must take them anyway (calculated ones, at least). I’ll do it for Abby because I want her to hurl herself into life with joy and abandon. And even though she will one day be aware that sharks live in the ocean, she won’t let that keep her from diving in.