Wednesday, August 30, 2017


It's official! Lulu is a kindergartner!

Elise and I aren't exactly sure what possessed Clementine to put her arm around her friend in the class photo. It doesn't seem to be at the direction of the photographer...unless everyone in her class are really horrible listeners.

The new pool opened this year, and today was Clementine's first swim lesson. Judging from the photo, it went better than when I try to giver her a swim lesson. 

Sam's Arcade

Sam successfully completed his first group project at school. He and a few of his classmates constructed an arcade game out of a cardboard box. Elise had an opportunity to go to the school this afternoon to check it out.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Children's Museum

On Saturday, Elise and I took the kids to the Children's Museum in Amman. It was a lot of fun and really well done. The kids had so much fun, in fact, we ended up buying an annual membership. 

Excavating at a pretend archaeological dig. I didn't get as many pictures as I would have liked, because the kids were moving so fast, racing from one activity to the next!

This is a photo of Sam in the control tower, but afterward, it was Clementine who was directing traffic on the tarmac, at one point, shouting, "There's a unicorn on the runway!!!"

Back to School Pool Party

Thursday evening, after school, my office hosted all the kids for a Back to School Pool Party. Unfortunately, Peter did not make the miraculous recovery we all thought he would; his stomach was still bothering him as Clementine, Sam, and I made to walk over to the party. 


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Shoo Fee Ma Fee

The start of the school year has been nearly as seamless as our move to Jordan. The kids were ready for school; we had been preparing them for this day for the better part of three weeks, if not talking about their new school before we even left Virginia. Elise and I joked that we had bored them to tears for the last three weeks, holing them up in a giant house in a foreign country with no toys, so they had no choice but to be excited for school.

In Falls Church, they each went to a different school. Here, in Jordan, they all three are going to the same school. Clementine was arguably the most excited. She was joining her brothers at the big kids' school. The school day is much longer for her now than it was before, when she was in pre-school from 9-12. Now, her school days goes from 8:00 to 3:00 (though for the first two weeks, she will get out an hour early), a real test of her endurance.

The night following the first day of school, she woke twice, complaining of a pain in her ankle. She was exhausted. This was our little girl, out, all alone, in a big world. The pain in her foot, was largely psychosomatic, I suspect, her body's way of telling her...and pull her back into the protective cocoon of home. I walked her back to her bed the first time she got up and laid with her until she fell back to sleep (I may have fallen asleep in her bed with her). The second time, we sandwiched her between Elise and I, the place her subconscious most wanted to be.

If there were any concerns she was not ready to make the jump to kindergarten, they were quickly dispelled the first few minutes of the first day of school. There was no tearful goodbye. There were no tears at all. She hugged Elise and walked into the classroom without pause. She went straight to the play kitchen set up in the corner of the classroom, only looking back briefly to give a short wave goodbye. We didn't linger. I wanted to, but we had to get Peter and Sam to their classrooms, too.

She rides the bus to school with her brothers, but Elise and I will take turns taking an Uber to the school in the afternoon to pick her up least, until she stays until 3:00, after which time she will ride the bus home, as well. Yesterday, there was a little bit of confusion at pick-up (to put it mildly. Elise used the word 'chaos'). Clementine knew Elise was coming to pick her up, but the teacher was under the impression she was taking the bus home. As Elise described it, Clementine's face showed the tug-of-war between knowing what your are supposed to do and having an adult tell you otherwise. Elise arrived at the school just as the queue of children were filing off to board the bus, Clementine at the end of the line. When Clementine saw Elise walk through the door, her face melted and she burst into tears. Mostly, in relief. Elise had arrived just in time to save another little girl, too, whose mother was also coming to pick her up from mistakenly riding the bus home.

The boys, of course have hit the ground running. Sam and Peter have snack at the same time, at picnic tables outside. On the first two days of school, Sam saw Peter and went to sit with him, so they could have snack together. More than enough to make Elise--and my--hearts happy.

Peter had his first swim class yesterday. The school has a brand new, six-lane, 25-meter indoor pool. I'm jealous. We received some conflicting information regarding swim class. Not only do they need flip-flops and a sweatshirt in the event there is a fire drill during swim class, they also need a swim cap if their hair is past their ears. The first email we received stated the kids needed a swim cap if their hair was past their collar. In any event, Peter's hair is now past his ears and his collar. His mother gave him the option of wearing a swim cap or getting a haircut, and even though I convinced them I wore a cap when I did triathlons and was on swim team, Peter opted for the haircut. Which makes me a little sad. His surfer-hair was growing on me.

I had written earlier about my own transition having seams. I was having trouble understanding why this transition seemed more difficult for me than either the move to Brazil or India. I was here, but I didn't feel like I was here, really. It was like a dream. I attribute that to how fast everything happened. I think I wrote, too, about feeling as though we were in Virginia one day and Amman, Jordan the next, and I think I have identified the difference--at least for me--between this move and the moves to Brazil and India.

I had language training before we went to Brazil and India. I took six months of Portuguese before moving to Brazil and almost nine months of Tamil before moving to India. For me, this is more than time spent learning a language. It is six or nine months of extended mental preparation to live in another country. Elise and the kids never had this. There lives went on as usual. The kids went to school, and Elise worked, while I prepared linguistically, culturally, and logistically to live in another country, time I did not get this go around.

A month in, I can say things are definitely getting better. The kinks are working themselves out. It no longer feels like a dream. The kids will have Arabic class almost every day. Elise and I are also both taking Arabic twice a week. My grandparents are from Lebanon. Growing up, my dad used to take us every Sunday afternoon to cook-outs at the Lebanese-Syrian Club off of Forest Hill Blvd. in West Palm Beach. If we didn't go there, we always had dinner at Sitti's house, where she fed us kibe, sfeeha, Syrian bread, and tabouli. Every three years, starting in the mid-80's, the extended Shalhoub family (my grandmother had five sisters and one brother) get together--either in Boston or West Palm--for a giant family reunion. This place had been such a large part of my life...but in a very tangential or peripheral way. Yes, it was a part of who I was, but not part of my personal experience. Until now. And I can take a certain pride now that I am incorporating the experience, as well. Taking advantage of an opportunity many others who attend the Shalhoub reunion may never get.

Being here adds another level of richness and complexity to the kids, to me, to Elise, to her work, and to our relationship.

Even now, already, I can ask Elise, "Shoo fee ma fee? (What's up?)"

"Sa fee wa fee. (Nuthin' much.)"

As pão de queijo, capoeira, dosa and idlis are now part of our collective unconscious, so, too, will hummus and pita and Arabic lessons become part of our family history.

Elise recently told the story of a local guard that sees her coming (even though she can slip through a more pedestrian way) and opens the automobile arm for her and cheers as she runs under it like it's a finish line as she return home from the gym. She wrote, "I'm falling in love with another country. I'll be broken after this, too. I can already feel that." I am beginning to feel the same way.

Elise, the kids, and I walked to the neighborhood pet store to look at kittens and bunny rabbits. The man who worked there brought lettuce to the kids for them to feed to the rabbits as I practiced a few very broken phrases of my extremely novice Arabic out on him. A few minutes later, as we were leaving, we stopped so the kids could admire the canaries in the bird cages outside, and he offered me a cigarette. I regret not having accepted.

Last night, I was standing on the curb waiting for the pizza delivery man. Pizza delivery is not yet the exact science it is the States, but it is also not nearly the heart-wrenching, scream-at-the-heavens frustration it is in India. It falls somewhere in the middle, but does still call for standing on the curb to make sure the delivery driver can find your apartment building. As I was standing on the corner, the gendarmerie posted to our corner struck up a conversation with me. I don't speak much Arabic, and he didn't speak any English. It was a short conversation, but at the end of it, he offered me a rock candy from his front shirt pocket.

Today, on the Uber ride to the kids' school to pick up Peter who had fallen mysteriously ill with a stomach ache, the driver motioned to the dashboard and said--as we pulled away from the curb--"From now on, this car is yours. You may adjust anything you like."

Yes, I will be broken, too. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

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 Châtillon 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.