20 February 2008
A few years ago, when M and I were setting up our home together, our parents came out to help us move into our first apartment. It was a great time of scraping stickers off new dishes, washing linens and arranging (and re-arranging) furniture. I remember it well.
At one point during the week my Mom and I went to the grocery at the bottom of the hill to stock up the pantry. You know... flour, sugar, cans of soup, pasta, rice, etc. I remember her grabbing a couple small cans of tomato paste. I recall asking her..." "What do you use that for?" "Oh, lots of things!" she said as she tossed it in the cart. She may have listed off a few common uses for it, but if she did... I don't remember any of them.
For at least a year after that, I replayed that exchange in my mind every time I saw those small cans stacked in the back of the pantry between the ramen noodles and the couscous. I think I gave them away when we were packing up the house... never did figure out what I was supposed to use them for.
Well, I have been around the block (you know... 'block' in the larger celestial body sense of the world, um, I mean word) a couple times since then and now I know my stuff. I could tell you what it's used in and I can even give you a bit of 'tomato paste trivia:' Did you know that it's health benefits surpass those of fresh tomatoes? Who would have thought? Anyway, tomato paste is now a staple in my pantry. You might call it the 'Renaissance can" of the canned tomato product family. HA!
19 February 2008
9:40 am, 70 degrees, extra dusty, very windy.
Today's list: pita bread, copy paper, pastry brush.
I pull out the jogging stroller from the corner of the courtyard, give it a few snaps with a rag to get the dust off and strap the baby in. We maneuver around the car and out the gate. A good slam on the gate behind me closes it tight.
I walk toward the market. Most of the way is paved and today there are no dogs growling at us. We walk briskly past the stalls and stands. Plastic shoes on the left; rows of men's shirts and funny baby beds on the right. My eyes are focused straight ahead. I don't glance to meet the stares of all the men who turn to who look at me. Women group near the road and whisper to each other as they watch me walking. I am happy to greet them and give them a chance to pinch a cheek or two on my baby. They repeat "masha Allah, masha Allah..." Little babies (especially little boys, they think) are 'from God.'
There is a lot of dust in the air today and the temperature is unusually cool. Men have their turbans tied around their heads and under their noses. Ladies are wearing parkas. Small children are dressed in puffy suits with hoods. I pass a man on a bicycle balancing a propane tank, watch buckets of tomatoes being unloaded from a pickup truck and pass a restaurant with music blaring from a stereo in dire need of some new speakers. I walk with determination. For some reason, I feel that the purpose in my steps will wordlessly communicate that I am not a visitor in this country. I want those around me to understand that I know my destination... that this is my home too.
I park the stroller outside of the small 'supermarket' and step inside. I greet the owner. I recognize him; he recognizes me. "Mmmnn, khubz ma-fi. Lissa, bus baa9d shweya." Too bad, the pita bread has not been delivered yet. If I want some, I'll have to come back later. I decide pita bread can wait for another day.
We move on dodging parked cars, a large pile of broken tiles and four lanes of traffic to cross the street. The stroller gets parked in front of the small stationary store. The shop has shelves from floor to ceiling. One shelf holds three types of glue-sticks, another displays some overpriced desk sets in dusty boxes, paint brushes hang from a metal spinner, and gaudy wrapping paper is rolled up in the corner. The four men inside spin around to see who walked in and crack a smile at the unusual customer and her small companion. A box of copy paper sits next to the door... that's what I came for. Glad that the owner did not quote me an inflated price, I pull out my wallet. They seemed surprised that I can correctly count out eight pounds of their currency. The paper goes in the basket under the stroller. I was gone as fast as I had come.
Two doors down is the nicest house-goods shop in this part of the city. Here, my arabic does not serve me so well."Fi, uh... pastry-brush?" The lady who always helps me when I am in that store looks at me confused. Eventually she manages to find a couple brushes hanging on hooks. Yup, that's the right thing, but the wrong kind... no thanks. I back the stroller out of the store and we walk a few blocks into the wind. One of the blocks is an impressive parking lot without any cars and I enjoy the ease of pushing the stroller in an open area. I make a mental note that when my son is bigger we could come here to let him run around or maybe kick a ball.
A right turn takes me into the bus station where I am once again watching my steps and path carefully. I walk behind a donkey cart carrying two men and a huge pile of bananas. A rickshaw speeds by and blows it's chirpy horn. Ahead is the hospital and I decide I should see if I can get H properly weighed. I was feeling quite ambitious.
The wide blue gate is opened for me by a guard and a policeman and I enter the hospital compound that is large enough to cover a few city blocks. I ask two ladies for the baby clinic and find it in the direction they point. I lift the large stroller through the small gate and enter the clinic door. The hall is full of women and children. Once again, I am the 'unusual customer'. There was no clear secretary so I stood looking around hoping someone would assist me. A young lady approached me and I tried to explain that I wanted to weigh my son. She understood. I unrealistically expected an electronic infant scale and shouldn't have been surprised when I looked up and saw a 'produce' scale that could have been hanging next to the tomatoes at Kroger. No basket underneath, but a hook instead. She pulls out from a drawer a cloth bag with long straps and two holes in the bottom. I laugh to myself as I place my son in the fabric sack. We put him on the hook and cautiously let go of him to see his weight. He dangles in the bag crooked, head bobbling and arms straight out like a scarecrow. Bless his little heart...
6 3/4 kilos.
I put him back in the stroller and we trace our steps back to the front. "Shucron." I thank the man for holding the gate open for us. It's only a short walk home from here and I hear more "masha allah's" along the way. This short stretch home is more like a hike... with large ditches next to the road and big piles of dirt to ramp. I find myself wishing that velcro walking sandals were culturally appropriate among the women instead of the nice sandals I am wearing. One more turn puts us on our street. I turn the key in the gate and we're home. Once inside, I present Mike with the copy paper he needed and announce H's current weight.
10: 45am, a little more than 70 degrees, still dusty, still windy.
Just another day in the life.
16 February 2008
A psychologist from Stanford said that the greatest predictor for personal happiness in Americans is the amount of close relationships a person has. Not money, or power, or whatever else the world has to offer (although he didn't say it just like that).
I agree. Do you?
I agree. Do you?