First things first: Happy Belated Birthday to my wonderful big sister Monique!
I wonder how long we would need to live here before we really figure out what works and what doesn’t? The processes of acquiring that knowledge is actually an exciting challenge to me; while a schedule and a sense of normalcy is important to me and especially to the girls, I tend to get bored with monotony and ease. When people ask me why I loved living in Egypt so much, one of my answers is that actually getting around and accomplishing things requires a physical and mental effort. An autopilot existence was impossible, or at least irresponsible. The same applies here, although there is MUCH more at stake. This time, the consequence of not “figuring it out” quickly may be mutiny. My emotional stability and sanity is on the line, this time. And yet, I AM glad for the challenge. For the short run. And as long as it does not damage our family and each of us indefinitely.
And so the challenge continues—the challenge to figure out what works and how to do it, all while maintaining the right balance of challenge/sacrifice and payoff.
I had the occasion to muse on this today when we arrived at our destination and found it closed.
I have mentioned previous visits to J’Imagine. It does not offer the degree of Arabic language and cultural exposure I had once dreamed we would intake daily this summer BUT 1) the girls enjoy it and 2) J’Imagine employs a nice Jordanian college student named Zein who can be corralled into speaking with me/playing with the girls in Arabic. Considering the opportunities for imaginative play—doctor’s office, super market, post office, etc.—I figure this is a great chance for the girls to both exercise their imaginations AND their linguistic muscles.
On each of our previous two visits I have been in the company of American friends and necessarily needed/wanted to spend some of my time chatting with them. Today was to be dedicated solely to playing with the girls in Arabic with the assistance of Zein. Silly me, I did not look up J’Imagine’s status on Face Book which, I now realize, was poor planning on my part. Apparently anyone can change their hours and expect all interested parties to learn about it via FaceBook. This was my first bitter thought when J’Imagine’s owner informed me that the playspot was closed. After calming down a bit, I had to acknowledge that a business has the right to close for whatever reason and cannot possibly notify everyone. I suppose I should be grateful J’Imagine chose to post their change in hours on FaceBook at all. Hmm.
So yes, I found J’Imagine closed for a previously unannounced summer camp. The owner was in the middle of working with a group of kids when she came to the locked door to give me the bad news. She started to close the door when I begged her to let us come in. It had taken over 30 minutes in traffic in a taxi to get there. I knew of nothing else in the area for the girls to do and no convenient way of doing it. I wish wish WISH my Plan B could be simply to stroll about without no goal in mind but just to bump into people and chat with them—what I would have done on previous travels—but clearly such a plan would not go over well with the girls. So I begged the woman to let us into J’Imagine.
And she did, resignedly. Thus I spent the next 1.5 hrs playing with the girls on my own in the back of J’Imagine—no Zein, who was assisting with the camp—and trying to keep them from joining in with the camp kids. I assume they would have been welcome considering the entrance fee is comparable to the price of one day’s worth of camp activities, but I knew that if they did not participate fully then it would be irritating to the woman running it. And I knew they would not stick to the group and neither I nor the camp director could enforce it without causing a fuss. No, I knew I had to keep them in the back where the little imagination rooms are located. And it was fine—a good chance to just play with them. But of course I had to fight back irritation that 1) we spent 30 minutes just to get to a place that was not open and in which we had to tiptoe around in because we pitifully have no other feasible option at that point 2) we spent this time and money for an enjoyable kid-friendly experience but a lonely one for me—no adult conversation, Arabic or otherwise.
So what DOES work? Spending more time in our own neighborhood to reduce travel time? Could the girls start doing a few more unstructured “wanderings”—strolls down streets with the stops at random places for a beverage and chat? This is an activity that would be cheaper, involve less/no taxi time, and ideally involve plenty of Arabic opportunities. If they could be satisfied with such, we could do that in our neighborhood easily enough. I know from experience, though, that after five minutes they start to get into trouble. They do NOT just nicely sit and wait for mom to finish chatting with the store owner. THAT is the major barrier to low-key “wandering” in our neighborhood.
Well, we forge on, trying to figure out what works. We got back to our hotel without much trouble, although the popcorn I bought at J’Imagine ran out after about 1 minute in the taxi and, considering it was now 1:20pm, the girls were hungry. Emi was dying of thirst but cannot figure out the new camelbak water bottle I was bought from the US Embassy after our beloved child’s sized Nalgene was destroyed (snif snif). This made her so angry that she kept throwing it to the ground of the taxi, which made me uninterested in opening the lid and just letting her drink. Oh, I was glad to arrive back to the hotel, get them lunch, and down for naps. And here I am, just as I was yesterday, after only one hour and hearing an angry Aya waking up. This is the second day she has done this! The poor girl is not feeling well. She had another explosion this morning just as bad as the one in the stroller last week. Emi came up to me announced that there was “poop” in her room. Oh, great. I go to see—and see the piles and smears of it where it has come out of Aya’s diaper and followed her very active path. A great deal of it on the floor and bed linens. Lovely. Even more disconcerting was that she managed the soil the last set of clean clothes each girl had (which had been set out in that room). I just took dirty clothes to Abu Manal yesterday so I had very little to work with. Yumi wore a pair of size 2T dirty shorts of Emi’s and Aya wore a pair of Emi’s size 2T pajama bottoms. This is kind of like camping. For a really, really long time.
This afternoon: I had no idea when I wrote my entry earlier today that the rest of the day would follow a similar theme. After pleasant enough post-quiet time activities I got the girls ready to go. Getting them ready to leave, by the way, is rarely “pleasant” but we all left in a fine enough mood. We headed to the Bird Garden. A side note: back in Herndon I had a love/hate relationship with post-nap outings. As a rule, I like to be out and would rather be in the company of friends in the hours between naps and Nate’s return home. Since starting my master’s degree, however, the only time I have for domestic duties is in the afternoon after naps. That puts a damper on afternoon outings. Add to that the added stress of getting the girls out the door quickly if the said outing has a minimum time requirement (say, a gym visit). While I love afternoon outings I had to start limiting them back in her life in Herndon.
Here we are, though, in a hotel room without much to do and the overall goal (of mine) of having cultural and linguistic encounters. AND we need to eat. So we go out. Today was no different; since the plan is to leave Nate to dine on his own and study, I decided a late late afternoon visit to the Bird Garden would be just the thing. We could return via Abu Manal’s, pick up the laundry, eat at the neighboring “Salsabiil” restaurant, and return home by 7pm. Giving Nate plenty of time to study and us something enjoyable to do.
The walk to the Bird Garden is a workout. 30 minutes uphill. Pushing/carrying three children. I arrived and found it....CLOSED! A sign, posted in Arabic but completely easy to understand, states that Tuesday is the garden’s day off. I let the girls out to stretch their legs and they immediately started to climb all over the high gate barring our entry. Within a minute or so I could see a car parking and a family getting out. I asked Yumi if she wanted to tell them that the park is closed. She prepared herself to meet them. Emi came to stand beside her and I could hear her saying “The park is closed, the park is closed.” Yumi turned to Emi, put her arm around her, and bending over her in a authoritative way said “Emi. You need to speak ARABIC. Say “(insert here “the park is closed” in Arabic).” So cute. And so the girls informed the family of the sad news. Within just another minute more people came. And more. In the thirty minutes we eventually stayed there in front of the park, dozens of people came and went. Several people stayed to chat with us, and as the girls seemed perfectly content to climb on the gate with the other disappointed children, I was able to enjoy a good conversation with them. I caught snatches of what the girls were saying to their fellow climbers and their parents. I overheard Emi saying, in Arabic, “Here is impossible.” This does not make much sense in both English and Arabic but everyone within earshot knew exactly what she was trying to say: “You can’t get in!” I was happy about all of this positive, low-key, spontaneous interaction with Jordanians. Even more pleasing was how several people, in search of a Plan B, asked me for information: “Where is the zoo?” “Are there any other parks near here?” “Where is the Haya Cultural Center?” Could I understand and answer? You bet! That felt great. This reminds me that yesterday I was stopped and asked directions twice by Jordanians, in Arabic. You know you look like you fit in when...
We headed back down the hill to the business center near our hotel. There we met Nate, picked up our laundry, fruits and veggies, and sundries from the shop (oats, yoghurt, cheese, water). We dined on hummus, shawarma, salad, and qalaya (warm salsa). Tasty. And we lingered longer than we should have since the girls were transfixed by the darn movie they always have playing in this restaurant. Today was Superman, and believe me we answered at least 100 questions from Yumi about it during the 20 minutes we sat and ate our meal. Suddenly it was 7:15pm and we had an exhausted Aya who was refusing to eat. Our stroller was now so full of laundry and groceries that both Yumi and Emi had to walk (while I carried Aya). Yumi had been promised (and highly deserved) a “booza walk”; thus, she and Nate dropped me/Aya/Emi off at the hotel and proceeded down the street for some daddy/daughter/sugar time. Getting Aya fed, Emi ready for bed, and all the other pre-bed arrangements took nearly a half an hour. Each night we have to move Aya’s bed into the kitchen, arrange Yumi’s bed on the couch, locate everyone’s water bottle and battery-powered nightlight, move everything out of the front room that Nate/I want into the bedroom...the list goes on. Yumi came back and it was evident by her bad attitude that she was exhausted. It was now past 8pm. We barely squeezed in a family prayer during which no one but me was actually participating. All three girls were crying when we put them to bed but, thankfully, stopped within about 15 minutes. Clearly, we put them to bed an hour too late. I refer back to my opening question...what works and how? It remains to be seen...