Friday, October 26, 2012

Daily Life in Syria These Days

We have had much contact from our friends in Syria over the last month. The news is not good. Here is a glimpse of what life looks for them day in and day out.

Sept 18: Another difficulty is added to our life now, since in Syria the mid of September is the time that schools and universities start. But it seems that they won’t now, because thousands of refugees are living in schools and in the university campus, and fighting is still going in many areas in the city! In addition to our fear to send our children out!

Sept 22: We are closing another week with the same situation of fighting in the city, same expensive {food}, at the same time more closed streets for cars, more check points, more very negative expectations about the moment we live and the one will come, because of the new additions to the situation which are Snipers {who are now very famous in many areas over buildings, killing people in many cases with no reason, but killing!} and Mortar shells {which fall randomly killing people. For example last night more than 10 of those mortars, somewhere around our area, which made us awake up till 5.00Am.}

Sept 29: Since last Saturday till Thursday our days went slowly and in danger of Snipers and Mortars. But since Thursday night Friday morning and last night, I can’t tell you how horrible were our nights till morning, and it seems that tonight is the same, the fighting is strong to a point that we were smelling the gunpowder and the smoke of fire. Even now while I am writing this from minute to minute a heavy bomb or explosion shaking our windows!

Oct 6: Since the very big explosion Wednesday morning, I feel so sad and depressed. The same area and square I took my 13 years old son to walk around Tuesday noon, it was a very nice day full of life! I tried to go after the explosion but fighting was still on, isn’t it strange! It was not enough that they sent 2500/Kg of explosives, but they sent fighters at the same time, it is fully crazy. I took my son again Thursday morning to see the destruction, I think “dreadful” is a suitable word to describe the scene. More mortars fell on buildings, streets and people, killing and destroying. More fear in our hearts from strangers who came to live in our area, or even pass through it. More fear of cars, hundreds Kg’s of explosives were in many cars prepared to blow them the same last WEDNESDAY!

Oct 13: I will give you some real examples of how life is like for some of my friends and neighbors:

(family of five persons), who used to be a goldsmith remain without job for more than one year, then he decided to change his career, he rented a shop last April, and now because of fighting in the area he closed his shop for more than 5 weeks!

(family of three persons), who used to have a small truck for his business, but nearly he is closing his second month without using it at all for many reasons, especially Gasoline and safety!

(family of four persons), they are from Iraq, came to Syria few years ago because of the crazy situation there. He is a chemist, but with no job more than four months, since factories are closing!

(single), just finished his BA in physics, his family has a small shop downtown, he tried to use it, but downtown shops open for one day and close for more than three days, and finally, the last blast obliged all shops there to close the whole week!

(single), he used to work in office connecting with car registration authority, he lost his job more than five month ago, when the “opposition” blowup the building. Then he found a printing house, but it closed two month ago because of the very bad situation.

(family of five persons), have a small shop, but nearly empty, because he hasn’t enough money to buy goods, at the same time he is afraid to buy, and no one knows if the war will arrive to his street tomorrow or coming week!

(students) those who are waiting their graduating from the university, and afraid that this will not happen this year.

Oct 25: Today, the rebel army arrived to the street where our home is located, with their cars and weapons , and it seems that a huge fight will start here very soon since the official Syrian army is coming in any second, the free army are making checkpoints. These was a car bomb car last Sunday morning in our area, 5 minutes walking from our home, the situation is not good, in fact Tuesday and Wednesday fighting started very close to us, something like 10-15 minutes walking form our home and church.

Oct 26: Thank you for your prayers which helped us yesterday a lot. My good news about what happened yesterday are two: first that the opposition forces which entered our area and put one of their check points in front of our church, they withdrew after noon, and the second one is that there were no fighting in our area, which mean ourselves as well our properties are safe!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Satisfying International Taste Buds

I love the little reminders I get of the impact living internationally has had on our kids. This week, I observed one example...

I always cook a special meal for our family birthdays. I will ask the birthday person what their special request is and go at it! My son had his 11th birthday this week and I had to chuckle with his request: Red Thai Chicken Curry. Sounded good to me! I chuckled again when I remembered that my daughter had requested Maqlubeh {her favorite Middle Eastern dish} for her birthday meal. 

Thought I'd share the recipes and you can tickle your international taste buds too!

Red Thai Chicken Curry
¼ cup oil
 1 onion, sliced
 3-4 cloves garlic
1 can coconut milk
2 TBS red curry paste
½ cup peanut butter
 1 lb chicken, cooked and cubed
 2 TBS soy sauce
½ red pepper, sliced
1 1/2 cups of broccoli, thawed
1 TBS lemon juice
1 TBS sugar
 2 cups rice

Heat oil in wok or large pan and add onions and garlic. Pour in 1/3 can of coconut milk. Let simmer for 2 minutes. Add curry paste and peanut butter. Simmer. Add chicken and soy sauce. Simmer. Add another 1/3 can of the coconut milk, broccoli and red peppers. Let simmer 5 minutes. Add last 1/3 cup coconut milk and stir. Simmer for 3 minutes. Add sugar and lemon juice to taste. Mix well and serve over rice.

2 medium eggplants
4 potatoes
1 onion
1 lb chicken, diced
2 cups rice (uncooked)
2 TBS seven spice 
olive oil
6 oz. tomato paste

Soak rice in water. Peel & slice eggplant, salt each slice & let sit 1 hour to drain. Peel & slice potatoes and onions. Spread olive oil on large baking sheet & bake potato and onion slices for 20 min. @ 350. Bake eggplant slices for 15 min. on large baking sheet. Meanwhile, spice chicken cubes with seven spice & brown in large pot with oil, then add 1 cup chicken broth, bring to boil to cook the chicken. Remove cooked chicken from pot leaving the broth. Layer baked potato & onion slices in bottom of the pot (that has the chicken broth in it). Layer baked eggplant slices on op of potato/onion slices. Place cooked chicken on top. Drain water from rice & spread the rice on top of the chicken layer. Press all down, pour 2 cups water mixed with tomato paste over top. Bring to boil, then cover and simmer 20 min. To serve, tip pot over on large platter (in Arabic, 'maqlubeh' means 'upside down'). Serve with plain (Greek) yogurt.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Flashback to 2011

Exactly 365 days ago...this was our life. Wowza. Our 12th move in 14 years of marriage.

{It is a good exercise to try to get all your worldly possessions into 17 boxes!}

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Syria Update

Roman ruins in Damascus {photo from our trip in 2004}

Some recent news from our Syrian friends... 
Today started as a terrifying day.
We woke up at 5.45 A.m. because of shooting very close to where we live, then it turned into a real battle, with heavy guns and explosions, and a very loud shouting of Allah wa Akbar – God is big! It remained like this till 9.15, then stopped till 11.00, when they resumed the fight for half an hour.
And it remained calm till now 3.30P.m without knowing the result of the fight. Few minutes ago, I went out to walk around and see what happened, nearly all streets are empty and many thieves stealing furniture of military center close to us! I wrote in the morning on Facebook: It is very unusual to have your morning tea, with the music of “normal” guns and heavy machine guns and the shouting “allah akbar”!!
Then there were many, many days before we heard from them again. We were quite worried, but relieved to hear they are okay!
After 30 days of loosing the internet connection and also the mobile coverage we are able to open the internet suddenly. Today Sunday 9 September 2012. This email is to tell you that we are safe.
And today, we received some more news from him...

During the last month, I kept writing you hoping to have chance to send my mails. Here I’ll summarize what we had in the last month.
Fighting is still strong and heavy and getting closer to our areas. More mortars fell on buildings and churches.

Daily life is getting difficult more and more: more closed streets, more dangerous streets, Bread is in better situation than before, especially if you are willing to pay more. Gasoline and Diesel and cooking gas, is the same. As well if you are willing to pay for example 5$ to 1 litter of gasoline instead of 1$, and as I told you before it is 70-100$ for cooking gas instead of 10$!
Kidnapping: it’s getting so dangerous to go out of the city are more and more, and kidnapping is a great business now, and in general, no use of paying to release the kidnapped ones, because they will return them, dead, in more than one piece, raped or they inject him by Diesel injection!

Way to the airport: two weeks ago, I went through the city to the airport, it was my first time to pass by the areas that are under the rebels, it was very sad to see the city divided, buildings destroyed, streets in big damage. On my way, there were three check points: Syrian Army, Muslim forces and Kurdish militants!
I always find the anniversary of Sept 11th very hard, as most do. It is the day my homeland was attacked 'from the outside'. I can't imagine how it must feel to be living through an attack 'from the inside' like our dear friends. 

To read the other Syria updates, go here and here

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

First Impressions

First Impressions is a series of posts about one extraordinary person's first impressions of the United States. To read about how he got to the States, go here. To read all the posts in the series, go here.


The day finally came, and we moved him in to his dorm last week.

It was one of those happy/sad moments in life...I was so excited for all the adventures that await him at school, but was sad to drop him off and drive away. My mommy heart skipped a beat. 

The university hung a Jordanian flag in his honor to welcome him as a new international student. That made us all feel really proud!!

Ok! Enough of the sappy-ness of the drop off of our first kid to college. Now on to a few quotes from the enormous list of insightful and often hilarious observations since his arrival. We have so enjoyed seeing our culture through his eyes.  
"The amount of green I see where I am now is more than the amount of desert in the whole country where I came from. Just the back yard feels like a jungle to me!"

Leaving the desert...
landing in the jungle.

 "Cars are actually stopping whenever they see a stop sign, and giving signals when they want to go left or right, not acting like they are Chuck Norris and trying to go through other cars without crashing in to them and pretending that they can go through them like a phantom."
Image from Jordan Times


 "I have noticed there are no cats on the streets. Are there any cats in the US?"
For a full dissertation on trashy cats...go here.


And one of my favorite quotes:
"Americans spend a lot of money. Everyday."
And there you have an astute summary of America: beautiful, rule oriented, rich, animal lovers.

    Sunday, August 19, 2012

    When History Repeats Itself

    Our family had an experience this week where history repeated itself. It happened at the zoo.

    Way back in 2005, we took the kids to a zoo right outside Amman. Going to a zoo in a developing country is quite different than going to a zoo in America. Most the animals in the zoo in Jordan were sick or 'deranged' animals that had been left behind from the Russian traveling zoos that passed through the country. Zoology is not offered at the local universities, so the people running the zoo are, uh, just people running a zoo.

    So, when my small boy walked past the bear exhibit {the angry, hungry, deranged bear in a cement block cage} the bear decided to roar at the top of his lungs and rear up on his legs so the small boy could see how small he was compared to a big, angry, hungry, deranged bear standing on hind legs.

    Fast forward to 2012. I took the kids to the zoo this past week and while going past the bear cage, my small daughter got to see how small she was compared to bear up on his hind legs.

    Except this time it was all clean, cute, cuddly, nice and safe. 

    We did, however have a very strange zoo experience that you would have thought should have happened in a developing country with deranged animals. One I would never expect to have seen in real life  mostly because I have seen this scene play out between the characters in Madagascar...a cartoon.

    We approached the chimpanzee enclosure. One of the chimpanzees was right in front, making some great monkey faces and sounds. He seemed to be quite pleased with himself.

    More and more people were gathering around as he carried on. He then bent down and picked up a piece of poop. Strange, I know. Picking up the poop just made him more charged up. He was starting to dance around and do the typical 'jumping, scratching the armpits' dance that monkey's are stereotypically known to do.

    It was right after I snapped this photo above, that I decided to switch my camera from photo to video mode. This monkey was getting down and I needed to get it on video! But, in the split second that I was flipping the buttons, that coo-coo chimp flung his poo right up in to the crowd! We screamed, he fell over laughing, and my son grabbed my arm and said "mom, we gotta get out of here!"

    That is when I decided two things:
    1. I should not be so critical of the deranged animals kept in a developing country's zoo.
    2. I did not evolve from monkeys because throwing poo at people and laughing about it has never crossed my mind.

    Quite a day. And this was the zoo trip right after we found out my son needed glasses {ostensibly so he could better see poo flying at him} and had his 8 stitches removed from his leg by an evidently inexperienced PA who missed my former ER nurse husband had to finish the job when we got home.

    And I thought life in America would be relatively boring.

    Monday, August 13, 2012

    Iftar in America

    We were invited to join some friends at their iftar last weekend and it was quite a night!

    First, some definitions {copied right from wikipedia}:

    Ramadan {Arabic: رمضان‎} is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar; Muslims worldwide observe this as a month of fasting. This annual observance is regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The month lasts 29–30 days based on the visual sightings of the crescent moon. While fasting from dawn until sunset, Muslims refrain from consuming food, drinking liquids and sexual relations.

    Iftar {Arabic: إفطار‎}, refers to the evening meal when Muslims break their fast during the Islamic month of Ramadan. Iftar is one of the religious observances of Ramadan and is often done as a community, with people gathering to break their fast together. Iftar is done right after Maghrib (sunset) time.

    Now, the opening scene:

    We were invited in and joined the crowd that was already gathering. A few guys were working on setting up a new TV that had recently arrived. One guy introduced them all like this:

    I'm Tunisian, that guy is Egyptian, this guy is Syrian, but was raised in Kuwait, this one is Palestinian, that guy is Iraqi, but lived in Jordan and this guy is Jordanian. We have been trying to decide what to watch on TV for the last 15 minutes and can't agree on anything. We may have to call Kofi Annan.

    That is when I knew we were in for a fantastic night. 

    We waited for the sun to set {which is quite late when Ramadan is during the summer!}. 

    And then, dug in to the amazing food!

    We lined up and cut into an entire lamb...

    accompanied by all the traditional delicious side dishes...

    I lost count, but I believe we met around 50 new people. {And a little girl that went 'shopping' in our shoe pile that accumulated by the front door and adopted my daughters flip flops for the remainder of the night.}

    After way to much food and wonderful conversations with people from all around the world, we walked away with big smiles and full bellies, having been reminded of all the delightful and quirky things we love about the Middle Eastern culture!

    Thursday, August 9, 2012

    Tangible Hope

    In 2009, while still living in the Middle East, we were introduced to an extraordinary kid. To stand back and look into his life, it sure seemed he had a lot of strikes against him. Ethnic minority, religious minority, single mother, disabled sister, absent father, low income. Frankly, very little reason for hope. What made this kid extraordinary was his zest for life, outlook of hope and expression of real dreams he had for his future. My husband and I had the privilege of getting to know him well over the last three years as he interned with my husband, tutored our kids in Arabic and karate {he is a black belt!} and as we championed him to finish well in high school.

    Well, his story only got better as he dared to dream big and apply to colleges in the States. He studied hard for his English language testing, SAT, and worked hard to save money. He applied, he wrote essays, he researched, and we all prayed. In early March he received amazing news that he was awarded a full ride scholarship to the very prestigious Hope College! {he forwarded the acceptance email from the college on to us with one simple question..."Is this a spam email?"} Sometimes, your 'dreams come true' are hard to believe!

    These are some of my favorite quotes out of the essays he wrote as he applied to this school:

    I was born in an Arab country and have lived in the Middle East all my life.  I’ve been through many tests regarding my faith both in living among people with a much different religion and temptations to immoral habits and thought patterns. During my childhood my mother has always been my shield and been my guide in the path of God.  She never gave up in planting seeds of faith that she always hoped would grow into my own relationship with God.

    My mother, sister and I have been experiencing very challenging situations physically, mentally and emotionally in which without our faith in God we would have fallen from the weight that we have been carrying through these years. And thanks to him, we never slept hungry, never hated ourselves or others and kept our hopes high towards the future.
    After I started being more independent and mature, I realized life has a bright side. Unfortunately, there are many people in this world that look in the empty half of the cup, not realizing that life is worth living and that God created every person in this world for a purpose.  As an expression of my faith, I have started to feel fulfilled whenever I help a person put a smile back on their face, to help them find hope.  Faith is the motivation required to show as many people as possible their great value in this world, make them realize that God is always watching over them and taking care of them through this life as he did for me.
    I would love to talk about the country I come from, the culture and the Jordanian community. Also because of some media sources telling about the terror side of Middle East, my voice and story can be some positive media that will tell the other side of the story.  I can help decrease the thoughts about Middle Easterners being primitive, violent or disrespectful and encourage those I meet to embrace and nurture racial, ethnic, cultural, and geographic diversity.

    Well, last week, having left his birth country for the first time on his first trip traveling on an airplane, he arrived to the States. He has started writing down all his experiences and we are excited to share some of them on this blog. It is always interesting {and hilarious} how someone from the outside sees American culture!

    Hope. Something amazing can happen if you hold on to it!

    Saturday, August 4, 2012

    More Prayers for Syria

    My blogging has been a bit silent this week. Syria weighs heavy on our hearts. Here is the most recent update we have received from our dear friends...
    {to read the first update, go here}.

    August 4th - Hope my email finds you well. Your emails and phone calls were real encouraging. I wrote this mail Wednesday night, but since that time till now, Friday noon, we hadn’t any internet access or cell phone coverage! This night (Friday night – Saturday morning) was the worse since 10 days! Very heavy explosions and sound of fighting not far from our home, by strong machine guns. The situation is still the same as for the centre of fights and also the same in the other safe areas. What is very new is that one of the main tribes or maybe more than one tribe (originally from Aleppo) decided to fight with the army of the government against the oppositions who are nearly from the same background.

    On Monday and Tuesday I went downtown again and  noticed that the people got used to the new situation, and the bakeries are working little bit more than the past few days. More streets are closed, and in addition to gas for cooking and gasoline for cars, a lack in Oxygen  for medical use start to be noticed.

    Let me explain the fear of the Christians here in Aleppo, it’s not only that they are not armed but they are afraid that the scenario in Homs (another city in the middle of Syria) could be repeated here. Because what happened there was that when the fights nearly came to its end in Bab Omar (an area there) the fundamental armed groups ran away towards the Christian area and forced some families to leave there apartments and the other families ran away from their fear, until now we have hundreds of Christian families out of their houses which is the same as the Iraqi scenario.

    Please keep us in your prayers.

    Monday, July 30, 2012

    Prayers for Syria

    In 2004, our family spent three weeks touring Syria with a Syrian family who are dear friends of ours. It was such a fascinating trip {and quite the adventure}!

    We crossed in to Syria from the Jordan border, traveled up to Damascus, further north to Sednaya, Maalula, and as far north as Aleppo. Syria is a beautiful country, has wonderful food, some amazing historical sights, and a very slow and simple way of life. We were the first Americans to visit the tiny village where our friends were from. As we entered the village, we were taken from house to house, introduced, and invited in for tea and sweets. It was an amazing show of hospitality, took all night long and became the night that I drank the most tea in my life!

    Here are some other trip highlights:

    Hamidiya Souk in the Old City, Damascus. This market lays on the old Roman street that would have lead to the Roman Temple of Jupiter. A market has been on this land since Roman times!

    Beautiful rug seller in the Old City markets.

    Amazing tile and gold inside the Umayyad Mosque.

    Inside the Convent of Our Lady in the tiny village of Sednaya, one of the last few places that still speaks Aramaic.

    Toward the end of our trip, we spent time in Aleppo, a northern city and is Syria's 2nd largest city. We visited Aleppo because our friends had lived in this city before they moved to Jordan and much of their family was still in Aleppo. We had a great week meeting and visiting their family, whom became very dear to us. We have stayed in touch with them since the trip!

    The city of Aleppo looking from the hills of the medieval Citadel at the city center.

    The street our friends family home was on.

    As has been reported this week, Aleppo has been under heavy fire. We have been in touch with our dear friends and it has brought this sad situation so close to home for us. Here are excerpts from the emails we have been receiving from them this past week...

    July 24th - For the first time we cancelled our ladies meeting because of the very bad night we had, and uncertain expectations for today.Would you please keep praying for people in our city, and especially Christians, who have no place to run away from the city if the situation will go worse: the way to Turkey is closed and no Christian villages around the city!

    July 27th - Thank you for your encouraging words and prayers. Monday and Tuesday nights were very very bad in Aleppo, hearing the sounds of heavy weapons were horrifying.
    Wednesday and Thursday (yesterday) the fighting continued, but not like in the beginning.
    Now it is Friday morning, the day started as a hot day, in temperature and sound of battle. The last two days, the city was nearly closed, and this is the second day without bread! (nearly all bakeries were closed). This is our 5th day with out gasoline, and gas for cooking now around 70$ instead of 10$!! Of course if you can find it. We still have water and electricity. We start to see dozens of families in public gardens and some schools. Hope this Friday will go easily and peacefully.

    July 29th - It was encouraging to read your emails and know about the huge number of people are praying for us and for my country. Till now there are no changes in the center of fights. Yesterday and today I went downtown walking through the streets, the city is still closed and hills of rubbish are spread everywhere except in some streets where they started cleaning up the rubbish. As for bakeries, few are opened but hundreds of people are waiting their turn and fighting for bread, where you need between 5 to 10 hours to buy 2 kgs of bread ! And as a gift a guy from my church brought me today 2 kgs of bread since we are out of bread at home ! So u can imagine the gifts we are giving each other’s these days. Today, Sunday Morning, it was nice to hear some church bells ringing announcing the beginning of prayers. We still have electricity and water which is a great blessing. One of the very tragic situations is seeing people with some of their stuff on the sidewalks of the streets and in public gardens wondering what to do or where to go because they lost their houses or ran away because of the fights. Please keep praying for us, we are really in need.

    Friday, July 27, 2012

    Let The Games Begin!

    I just saw the Queen of England parachute out of a helicopter!

    It is a good thing our family had such a proper celebration in preparation for the opening ceremonies. We tried to honor the great traditions of England...I do think the Queen would have been proud.

     We started with fish and chips...

    Then enjoyed some scones with English tea...

     Then we settled in for the Opening Ceremonies...

     Enjoy the Olympics...we sure live in a fascinating world!

    {I am most thankful for Mr. Bean at this moment...that was hilarious!}

    Sunday, July 22, 2012

    London...Here We Come!

    No, we don't have a trip to London planned in our future {boo}, but we are going to London in our minds for the next month during the Olympics!

    We spent three weeks in London in 2010 and fell in love with the city and unique British culture. You can read all about our highlights here.

    In the mean time, I am planning a proper British meal and celebration for our family during the opening night of the Olympics that will transport us to London without all the hassle of international flights!

    What are you doing to enjoy the Olympics this year?

    {If I only had my Mary Lou Retton American flag leotard from the 1980's, my celebration would truly be complete.}

    Wednesday, July 18, 2012

    "The Apricot Lady is Blogging Again!"

    That is not what my son is screaming...but this picture just cracks me up. He was celebrating his last day of school and came screaming off the bus. Entertaining.

    But I really am dusting off Apricots Today and will blog again.

    Let's laugh together! 

    {Hop on over to my new pages About the Author and About the Blog to see what the plans are for this happy little place on the world wide web.}