local color

This is one of my favorite parts of our yard — it’s an open-sided structure with a roof of woven, waterproof material.  There’s a similar structure over the front part of the patio where we park the car, but this one is in the corner of our yard.  At this time of year, it’s shady and cool under there until about 11:30 in the morning, and sitting in it I can see our whole L-shaped yard and patio area.  This morning I took both of the kids out there right after breakfast.  Nathaniel lay on a towel kicking his legs while Stephen played with his trucks and we read books.  Stephen and I came back out during Nathaniel’s morning nap and I taught him how to play a very basic version of dominoes.

I’m amazed at how much of a difference it makes in Stephen’s temperament and in the tone of our day for us to have some time outside early on!  In the afternoon Stephen is much more content to play with his toys indoors if he has had some time outside, even if we’re doing the same thing outdoors that we would have done in the living room.  I really want to get some outdoor floor cushions of some sort so we can make the area a more comfortable place to sit, as I plan to spend a lot of time out there!


We’ve been in Amman for almost two weeks now, so we’re past the worst of the jet lag (although not totally out of the woods yet) and starting to get a little bit better idea of what living here will look like.  Rather than waiting until I have the time to write a comprehensive “here’s what’s happened in our lives in the past several months” kind of a post, I figured I would jot down a few of my thoughts about this place in which we’ll be spending the next three years of our lives.

Our apartment rocks.  Seriously.  We have a ground floor, 4-bedroom apartment with a huge living/dining room, separate sitting room, and best of all, OUTSIDE SPACE.  We have a tile patio that runs the length of the apartment, and a small grass yard in the back.  It certainly isn’t one of those huge suburban yards with tons of open grassy space, but its outdoor space that’s ours, and that I don’t have to go down seven stories to get to.  I love it.  Another great thing about this place?  The internal walls are all concrete.  While that makes hanging pictures a little tricky, it means that having the boys in rooms right next to each other is no problem.

Amman is a real, cosmopolitan, international city.  You can get pretty much anything here.  Not that I NEED to have American-brand everything, but believe me it’s nice to have the option.  It’s more than the availability of products, though.  There’s an awesome Children’s Museum here, for instance.  The streets are well-marked (although this is apparently new).  Practically everything is in Arabic and English.  People don’t stare at us as though we have three heads when they hear us speaking English in public.  There are more than two Protestant churches to choose from.  The list goes on.

One thing I do miss about Ankara is the produce markets.  Our grocery bills for the first two weeks have been downright painful.  Part of that is just the expense inherent in starting up a pantry from scratch, but food is also a lot more expensive here.  The basic rule of thumb is that the price tag is the same as it would be in America, but with the exchange rate you’re paying almost 150% of the back-home price.  This is particularly hard to get used to after two years of doing most of our grocery shopping at the farmers’ market near our house where everything was super cheap and amazingly fresh or at a military commissary, where everything was subsidized.  Of course, cooking is one of our primary forms of entertainment, so we’ll just have to find a way to make it work.

Jet lag in a toddler is really miserable.  We’ve been here 12 nights, and of those there have been two in which Stephen wasn’t up and wandering the halls in the middle of the night.  On the really bad nights, it took over 3 hours to get him to go back to sleep, and he screamed, thrashed, and cried the whole time.  On the good nights, we were able to take him to the potty (he still wears diapers at night but “I have to go to the toilet” is his favorite excuse for being out of bed) and get him back to sleep without much fuss.  To be fair to Stephen, he’s dealt with a LOT of change in the past few months, what with getting a new sibling, seeing all our stuff get packed up, hopping from place to place for two months, and then travelling halfway around the world to a new home that doesn’t feel much like home yet.  Any of those things are enough to cause some sleep disturbances in one as young as he is, but that doesn’t make it any more fun at 4am.

In general, the positives definitely outweigh the negatives.  Once our households goods get here and we get unpacked, I think life here is going to be very comfortable and for the most part really fun.  Our belongings are currently here in Amman, so once the Turkish moving company finally makes the promised payment to the Jordanian company, we will be able to set up our home.

On Tuesday, our dryer started making a very loud, very high-pitched, very unnerving noise when I turned it on.  Stephen took great delight in imitating the sound, but I was mostly just irritated that I was going to have to line dry everything in our house until we could get the repairmen here to fix whatever it was making the noise.  Thursday, despite nasty weather and several inches of snow, they braved the treacherous streets in our neighborhood to fix my dryer.  I take back most of the bad things I’ve said about the reliability of embassy repairmen.

Imagine my chagrin, then, when these hard-working, very busy men, who squeezed our repair work in among other preexisting appointments, showed me the cause of the dryer malfunction.  Apparently someone (*cough* Stephen! *cough*) had forcibly inserted one of his books and two collar stays into the lint trap on the front of the dryer, and these items made their way into the vent, where they caused the very loud and very disconcerting noise.  I had noticed Stephen taking the lint trap in and out, but hadn’t thought to make sure he wasn’t putting other items into the conveniently located slot.  Oops.

There are many, many things about living here that are inconvenient, frustrating, irritating, and/or nerve-wracking.  There are really no hard and fast traffic rules, public services are often unreliable, construction and environmental standards frequently disregarded, and urban planning seemingly nonexistent.  (Turkish language fun fact for the day — according to the U.S. ambassador to Turkey’s Turkish language instructor, there is no term for “civil engineering” in Turkish.)  It’s easy to get hung up on the things that can make life here more frustrating and less convenient than what I remember or imagine life to be like back home, and I’m often guilty of complaining about those things, while taking the benefits of living here for granted.  So as part of a general effort to be more positive, I figured I would write a post on one of the things I really do love about living in Turkey — the level of solicitude the Turks typically demonstrate to small children.

When we flew to Istanbul in December, for instance, Danny and I were negotiating the (rather large and somewhat disorganized) Istanbul airport with two rolling carry-on suitcases, a stroller, a backpack, and a toddler.  On the bus from the plane to the terminal, not only did several men offer me (the one who was carrying said toddler) their seats, but one of the men from our flight insisted on carrying my suitcase and the stroller off the bus and into the terminal.  Contrast this with one of my Stateside airport experiences…I was 7 1/2 months pregnant and travelling alone to see my parents, bringing with me a very large suitcase.  When the time came to board the bus for the airport, not only did no one offer to help me get the suitcase onto the bus (not even the driver!), I had to lift the (large and heavy!) suitcase into the luggage racks on the side of the bus by myself.  There were literally men and women standing around trying not to make eye contact with me as I struggled to get the stupid bag onto the bus, I kid you not.

During our January trip to Istanbul, Danny and Stephen and I went to see the fabulous Iran exhibit at the Topkapi Palace museum (this exhibit was, in fact, the impetus for the trip).  Trying to be prepared parents, we had packed a variety of snacks to keep Stephen happy while Danny and I enjoyed the exhibit, including saltines, nuts, Cheerios, raisins, and pine nuts.  Being a typical toddler, at least 1/3 of whatever I gave him to eat ended up in his stroller or on the floor of the museum.  We were a little concerned that the museum employees would be upset about the mess he was making, so we asked one of them if it was okay for us to be feeding him in the museum, and they immediately exclaimed, “of course, he’s a baby!” while staring at us like we were crazy to even ask.

Finally, I love how wherever we go Stephen ends up getting special attention and little treats.  He and I went for a walk this week to pick up some tomatoes from the greengrocer in our neighborhood, and while the grocer was bagging up my tomatoes, he asked me what Stephen liked to eat.  I misunderstood him, thinking he was asking whether Stephen liked tomatoes, and indicated that he did, but the man very politely repeated his question, adding, “does he like pineapple?  Grapes?”  At that point I finally understood the gist of his question and told him that Stephen loved all fruit but especially bananas.  The grocer immediately rushed over to the display of bananas and picked one out for Stephen to eat while I finished shopping.  This scene is repeated pretty much every time we’re in the market, the grocery store, a restaurant, even the butcher keeps little candies and toys that he gives to Stephen when we come in to get meat.  I think the weirdest example was when a guy at the outdoor market offered a raw fresh anchovy to Stephen when he was 9 or 10 months old…we’re still trying to figure that one out.  When we got out to eat, one or more of the waiters will usually entertain Stephen for at least part of our meal.  When he was younger, they would pick him up and walk him around the restaurant (keeping him within our line of sight the whole time), and now that he’s older they’ll play peek-a-boo with him or offer to monitor him closely as he wanders among the tables.

One of the interesting things about living in the middle of such a different culture is seeing how different our perception of what is desirable often is from that of others.  Obviously we know that not everyone shares the current American obsession for lean meat and whole grains, but sometimes the reminders come in funny ways.

We took Danny’s parents up to Ulus to show them the citadel and the little old cobblestone streets and shops and such, and I noticed that outside the spice shop there was a big sack of what looked like whole wheat berries.  I love grinding my own flour for bread, but whole wheat berries are surprisingly hard to come by, even in the States.  When we lived in DC, for instance, the only place close to us that had them was MOM’s.  Even the Whole Foods in Clarendon didn’t carry them in their massive bulk foods section.  I had assumed that the only way I could get whole wheat berries to use for bread baking here was to order them from the States, and you can just imagine the shipping costs on something as heavy as wheat.

When I asked the shopkeeper if the grains in the sack were indeed wheat that could be made into flour, he looked somewhat bemused and noted that they were only for feeding to birds.  He brought me into the shop and showed me a sack of what looked to me like polished wheat grains, and noted that they were the ones to use for flour and cooking for humans.  Upon further questioning he explained that yes, they were the same grains as the ones in the sack outside, but that they had been cleaned and had the nasty outer part removed.  Imagine his confusion when I asked for a kilo of the “bird food” and kept talking to Danny about how I wondered if it was high gluten wheat that would be suitable for bread-baking.

I tried baking some bread with the wheat, using half store-bought whole wheat flour to be on the safe side, and it worked beautifully!  Of course, I did have to pick out some bits of hay and straw before I ground it, but that’s a small price to pay for having freshly ground flour for a tiny fraction of the price I would pay to get it shipped to me.  The whole kilo of wheat cost me 2.50 TL, which works out to 67 cents a pound.  I’m not sure exactly what it costs to buy it in bulk now, but I can’t imagine that it’s more than that.  Sometimes being the crazy Westerner who wants to eat undesirable things like whole wheat and lean meat works to our advantage, since skinless chicken breasts are never sold out and apparently whole wheat can be gotten for the price of bird food.