Monday, August 21, 2017

Head in a Box

On Saturday, we drove an hour and a half south to visit Karak Castle, the largest castle in the Levant (the region of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Palestine, collectively), built by the Crusaders beginning in 1140. 

Elise's advice: Never look directly into a World War I-era cannon. 

Looking over the entrance bridge into the moat. 

It was clear enough on the day we went to see the south end of the Dead Sea. You can just make it out on the horizon in this photo of the back of Peter's peach-colored sun hat. 

In 1176 Raynald of Ch√Ętillon gained possession of Kerak Castle after marrying Stephanie of Milly. From Kerak Castle, Raynald harassed the trade camel trains, built himself a five ship navy, and even attempted an attack on Mecca itself. He was a particularly brutal ruler; Before throwing his enemies from the castle walls to their deaths, he would put their heads in a box, so they wouldn't pass out before crashing to the rocks below. 

At one point, during our visit, a very vocal kitty cat made an appearance. Since he lived in the castle, we assumed it was a prince. Of everyone in the group, it took a special liking to Elise. 

Someone is getting ready for lunch.

In response to Raynald's belligerent actions, Saladin attacked the castle In 1183. He and his army arrived at the exact same time as the marriage of Humphrey IV of Toron and Isabella I of Jerusalem. Isabella send plates of food from the wedding feast down to Saladin, and Saladin agreed not to attack the castle until after the wedding was over. The attack led to a one-year siege after which time everyone got hungry enough to let the castle fall.

After our visit, we had lunch at Kir Heres, right outside the gates of the castle. It was a hunting lodge of some fashion, boasting ostrich steaks, but I'm pretty sure, we had the chicken. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Cutest Seal in the World

Drawing by Peter. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


Married to my dad and having Lebanese in-laws, my mom picked up a phrase or two of Arabic.

Though both Sitti and Jidu spoke Arabic, my dad doesn't beyond a word or two, most notably, "tizu" ("butt" in English), a word used in our family to this day, though not as a term of endearment as my dad has adopted it.

It is interesting to me -- though raised by two Arabic-speaking parents -- my dad didn't learn any Arabic. If he did, he's never let on. He seemed to make a clean break. I won't hypothesize as to why that might be. My dad's middle name is B. Just the initial B. There's not even a period. There's an old family rumor that he had a very Arabic-sounding middle name ("Bushada" is what comes to mind), but that he changed it to just B. Though this rumor is unsubstantiated, and I am hesitant to bring it up with him to account for its veracity.

Besides "tizu", my mom would always say, "Fud-luh!" Usually accompanied by a dismissover wave of her hand. She admitted she used the word incorrectly. She told us it meant welcome in Arabic, but to her it was just "Fud-luh" like "so what", "kiss off", or "who cares".

As in, my mom: "You don't want to go to the volleyball game tonight?"

"No, I think I'll just stay here."

"Okay, then fud-luh!"

Not a very good example, but hopefully, you get the picture.

Elise and I have both started Arabic classes since we moved to Jordan. I take mine at work, while Elise's classes are taught at the language center office conveniently located behind the grocery store across the street from our house. Elise thinks it's better we're not in the same class. She has also conscripted the kids into her language learning, exposing them to lessons online via an app on her phone called Mango.

We're both really enjoying learning Arabic and though it has only been three weeks, I'm surprised how much I am able to say. I know it's not much, but considering how I've heard Arabic is such a difficult language to learn, I'm happy to be able to say anything at all.

I recently learned how to say 'please' when asking for something, but my teacher was quick to clarify there were two kinds of 'pleases'. The other 'please' was used when you are welcoming someone, offering someone something, or, say, if you were to open the door for some and want to say, "Please, after you." This 'please' is pronounced "tfu-dall" when addressing a man, or "tfu-dall-lee" when addressing a woman.

This was my mom's "fud-luh"!

It's really hard to remember to say "fu-dall" instead of "fud-luh" and want to flip someone off.

For my next trick, I need to figure out the origin of the phrase, "Duck-a-licka". Whenever I went to my Auntie Rumsuh's house (Jidu's sister, my dad's aunt), she would pinch our cheek's as hard as she could and say to us, "Duck-a-licka, duck-a-licka, duck-a-licka!"

I'm a little afraid to ask.

Don't Give Milk to a Stray Cat out of a Welcome Kit Bowl

When the kids wake up before we do, they can usually be found in the living room. The apartment is big and laid out similarly to our house in Brazil. There is a family/TV room and the bedrooms on one half of the house and a formal living room on the other. There's nothing in the living room now except the furniture that came with the house, so the kids have taken the few toys they do have -- including Pete's new Lego airport, runways and all -- and spread them out into every corner of the room. We even saved three of the large cardboard boxes our air shipment came in; now, the kids have three of their small cardboard apartments, complete with pillows, blankets, stuffed animals, and books.

Elise is quick to remind them once the rest of our things arrive, the living room will become a living room, and all the toys will go back to the kids' room, but for now, the living room serves well as a place where the kids and go and play quietly while they wait for their parents to wake up. 

One day last week, I got up and walked into the living room to find all three kids already awake. Pete is still the early riser, consistently waking first, often before I do unless I get up early to go running. I usually beat Sam and Clementine up, but not this day. All three of them were gathered by the sliding glass door...Sam had spotted a momma cat and her kittens in our small front yard. 

I opened the sliding glass door, so they could get a closer look. In their excitement, they startled the momma kitty and her kittens, and soon all three of them (the cats) were shooed from the patio area on one side of the house to the other, hiding in bushes. 

We had a local stray at our house in India, Jetpack. Out of habit, I went to the kitchen and poured a little bit of milk into one of our bowls and set it out for the cats. Since our household wares hadn't arrived yet and probably won't for at least another month, my office is kind enough to supply all the residences with a few items to get through those first few weeks and months, plates, bowls, silverware, sheets and towels, and basic kitchen appliances included. We had a total of five bowls in the house, one for each of us. 

I didn't think much of the cat or the milk or the bowl much after that. I got ready for work and went to the office. 

An hour or so later, I received a text message from Elise telling me she could kill me for using one of our only bowls to give milk to a flea-ridden, worm-infested stray cat.  

I told her I was sorry. I wasn't thinking and wouldn't do it again. She confiscated the bowl and sent it to quarantine. No one else was allowed to use the bowl lest they, too, become infested with worms. The bowl was set apart from the other bowls on a shelf above the kitchen sink. It was now reserved for the cats. No one else was allowed to use that bowl. 

The next morning, I was in the kitchen, making breakfast when the kids when Elise walked in. "Where's the cat bowl?" she asked. 

It wasn't on the shelf. Our housekeeper, Anna Lynn, had washed the bowl and put it back into rotation. Now, there was no way of knowing of the five bowls which one was the worm-infested cat bowl. 

Elise confiscated all the bowls and forbade everyone from using them. The kids had to eat their morning cereal out of coffee mugs. Resistant to every form of change (ironic considering their entire known universe changes drastically every few years. Perhaps they seek to keep constant the small few things within their sphere of influence they do have some semblance of control over as a result), the kids protested. I felt terrible and told Elise I would get a whole new set of bowls from the office.

I did, and came home that afternoon with a pack of new bowls much to everyone's relief. The lesson here? 

Don't give milk to a stray cat out of one of the welcome kit bowls.  

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Tooth Fairy Lands in Amman

Peter had an adult tooth coming in behind one of his baby teeth. Elise threatened him, telling him he was going to have to go to the dentist this week for fear the baby tooth was impeding the proper placement of the adult tooth. 

As you can see....Pete really didn't want to go to the dentist!

Also, he discovered--much to his delight--the tooth fairy pays one Jordanian Dinar (one JD) per tooth!

Friday Market

Despite strong resistance from the kids, we were able to get them down to Rainbow Street for the Friday market. As usual, though they complain about leaving the house, once they are out, they are the better for it. There are several markets on Friday mornings around Amman, selling local cuisine, foodstuffs, and wares. Rainbow Street is one of the hippest neighborhoods in town, so we were eager to see what local wonders the market withheld. 

The kids were pretty much sold by the bees. Sam was even able to spot the queen bee. (Can you see it in this picture?) The bees were at the stall of a purveyor of local honey. 

Elise and Clementine are not really sunburnt in this picture; they're standing under a red tent. Also, red was the Adidas track suit worn by another of the purveyors. Naturally, she wore a hijab with her bright-red track suit and tennis shoes. 

Elise and the kids were also drawn the gemstones. Elise bought a quartz obelisk and placed an order for a specially-made crystal necklace we're going to pick up next Friday. 


You can see some of the hills in Amman from this photo. The market overlooks downtown and the Citadel, to the right. The Citadel marks the historic center of Amman. With evidence of human civilization dating back as far as the Neolithic period, it is one of the oldest continuously-occupied inhabited places. The Roman Temple of Hercules is in the far right of the frame, and the flag of Jordan, reputedly one of the largest flags in the world, occupies the far left. 

After lunch at Books@Cafe, a bookstore and restaurant just off Rainbow Street, the kids were yearning to go home, while Elise was yearning to continue wandering and take pictures. Then, Sam had to go to the bathroom. The scene was rife with tension, not fun on a hot Friday afternoon in the center of the city, waiting for an Uber to whisk us home. That being said, the highlights definitely outweighed the low. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

Christmas in August

When it became evident our air freight (containing the Legos and most of the kids' other toys) wasn't going to arrive as quickly as I originally thought, I got on Amazon and sprung for some new toys to be shipped to Amman.

Hearing they could come in as short a time as three days from the States, Elise and I were optimistic we would soon have a quick and easy remedy to combat the kids' boredom. 

Unfortunately, though the packages arrived at the receiving point in Washington, D.C. before other packages we ordered and received in a few days, the toys didn't make it here as quickly, and, in fact, ended up arriving a whole week after our air freight. 

At any rate, it was Christmas in August last night in our household. 

Sam had requested battling remote-control spider robots. Here he is, fighting mom on the dinner table. You don't necessarily have to close your eyes to do combat. 

Peter has been obsessed with airplanes since our 10 hour flight on Royal Jordanian airways. The promise of a plane ride is really the only way we got him to Jordan in the first place.