Remember in the spring when everyone was glued to their computer screens watching a live feed of April the Giraffe and waiting for her to give birth? Now I know what that feels like. Having significantly increased in size and with less than two weeks until my due date, baby watch is in full effect. I feel expectant eyes watching me closely, especially when people hear that I am at 38 weeks.
I hope to not go too much over my due date, otherwise I may also sense the scorn and disbelief that people expressed to poor April. “Are you really pregnant?”
I can promise you, I am really and truly pregnant, and the kicks and jabs I feel from inside are evidence of that.
Lesson Learned: Don’t stare at pregnant ladies. We don’t like it.
There are many cultures around the world that do not treat women very well, but in Central Asia, pregnant women are treated like queens. We are given prime seating, cuts in line, special drinks at coffee shops (decaf), and generally given priority. On one hand, I feel guilty for accepting special privileges, especially when it is a 80 year old man offering you his seat on the bus, but on the other hand, by accepting their kind offers, I am allowing them to serve, give and show kindness- something that many of us look for opportunities to do. So I often take seats offered to me on the bus and the opportunity to go around metal detectors or the short cut in line not to elevate myself but to show gratitude to the giver.
I am grateful that Central Asia peoples value mothers and families. It gives me hope that in the days to come when I am worn out from carrying my baby on the outside, I will still be offered a seat on the bus and a short cut in line.
Lesson Learned: Before I was often stared at because I was a white woman surrounded by brown, but now it is because I look like I stuffed a melon under my shirt.
I frequent a cafe on a quiet, busy street. That seems to be an oxymoron, but if you were here, you would understand. Cars and people are constantly coming and going, and yet the street is small and stays peaceful. This particular street has it’s own ecosystem of sorts- a bazar, shopping center, restaurants and lots of apartments. It’s the kind of street where you can expect to see the same people doing the same thing everyday. The same people pass by the cafe window, and the same patrons come everyday at the same time.
Most days, interesting things do not happen here but every once in a while, something unexpected or at least interesting may pass by. Today a little girl dressed in WWII garb (with the addition of bows in her pigtails) walked holding the arm of her mother. She couldn’t hold her hand because her mother was carrying a tiny cage, just big enough for the guinea pig that it carried. I have seen all kinds of pets here, but that was the first guinea pig.
I am still waiting for something extraordinary to pass by my cafe window, but until then, I will enjoy the quiet busyness that I can observe.
Lesson Learned: Find a familiar place, sit a while and see what there is to see.
Around the world, a lot of expats (people who live outside their native country) live in a wide variety of countries and cultures for a wide variety of reasons. If you have a loved one who is living abroad, here are some communication tips.
- Tell us that you miss us. We miss you too, and we understand that our leaving may have left a glaring hole in your sense of normalcy. In many ways, the separation is harder for you. Know that we left everything that we consider normal and have begun to build an adjacent set of normalcy. This means that for us, there are less glaring holes and more an overall feeling lostness (at times).
- Tell us about your day to day life and funny things that happen to you. Tell us about medical concerns or other important things that happen. Even though we can’t physically be there, we want to be involved.
- Come and visit if you can! Visas, plane travel, taking time off work can all be a pain, but we welcome the opportunity to introduce you to our adjacent life/home.
- Know that holidays won’t be the same. They aren’t the same for us either. Often, we are in places that have no idea what Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day are about, but they are still important to us. Also, gift giving will be different. We won’t always know the perfect present to order off of Amazon, but we try!
- Communicate through any means necessary. We love getting texts, e-mails, facebook messages or skype calls. As technology increases, the world becomes smaller, and we can communicate more easily. Can you believe that 30 years ago, the main way of communicating with someone living abroad was through snail mail?
- Keep asking when we are coming home. Believe me, there are days when we are so ready to hop on a plane and return to normal, but for some of us living abroad, we are setting up another, different home. We have made commitments to work, school or other responsibilities, and most days we want to fulfill them.
- Give a guilt trip. We absolutely hate that we can’t be there for you the way that we were before, and it hurts to be reminded of that fact.
- Assume the worst. Every culture and context is different, but in case you have never traveled, the rest of the world is not as bad as you imagine. There are dangers and stressors that come from living in America that we don’t have to live with, and each place has its own set of troubles. Additionally, even people in poor and remote areas have cell phones. We may not have all of the luxuries and conveniences that you have, but it doesn’t mean that we are living in a cave with a dirt floor.
Overall, stay in communication with your loved ones. Don’t forget us because we don’t forget you, and we can’t wait to be reunited with you.
For those of you living abroad, what do you think? Other tips?
Lesson Learned: Life abroad is rarely as romantic as we thought it would be, but it is the life we chose.
Now that we have been here over a year, we have been able to build some good relationships with local people. Because of this, they are inviting us to their houses, and we are inviting them to our apartment. Unlike hosting our friends in America, hosting in Central Asia is at least a three, usually a 4 course event.
When guests arrive, you need to have the table set and filled with snacks, salads, fruits, candies, etc. They usually have at least two different kinds of homemade and often mayo based salads. After the salad course
, usually something small like meat pastries or soup is served. The third course in this part of the world is most often pilov. We have heard locals say they eat pilov sometimes 3 or 4 times a week. The final course includes fruit and/or other deserts. This means locals are usually making a minimum of 4 dishes from scratch. On top of that, everything must be prepared the day of and buying salads from the grocery is considered cheating.
The good in all of this, guests here are honored and valued. You give a guest your very best and it encourages me to be love people well. It also means when I am a guest, I am treated as such, and we are given the best seats in the house.
Lesson Learned: Take some of this back to America. It is a good thing to make people feel special.
In Centra Asia, they don’t do a lot of fried food, but since I am from a Southern State, I definitely do fried food. And being an American, I like hot dogs, but since even in America hot dogs are a sketchy food, I have been hesitant to try them here. This week however, I tried some hot dogs that had the Canadian flag on the package and I turned them into homemade corndogs.
This was a favorite of mine in college. While I realize that most people in America would never have the need of making them “from scratch,” I thought that I might as well share the recipe. I ended up cutting them in half for easier frying and they turned into mini-corndogs.
Lesson Learned: Don’t wait so long to try things.
I recently had the opportunity to go to a concert with a local friend, and let me tell you, it was completely different than I had anticipated. I have heard the more “traditional” Central Asian music, but this was decidedly not traditional. This artist was like the Beyonce of CA. While more modest and less overt in her dance moves, she did descend from the ceiling, changed outfits 7 times and had as many set changes. She bounced from a Roman theme, to NY hiphop, to Indian. Of course, like most concerts here, she lip-synced all of her songs, but she danced along with her sometimes 50 background dancers. Needless to say, even though my language skills are not quite up to par, I was entertained for the entire 2 hour concert.
You may also be interested to know that artists here do 1 series of concerts a year. Meaning, they will do 5 concerts in one week, and that is it. The rest of the year, they record more music, make music videos and perform at weddings (a big dollar business here).
Lesson Learned: Expect the unexpected, and maybe consider a career in music
Living in Central Asia in a drastically different culture means at times my host culture rubs against my home culture. When this happens, I hear Destiny’s Child in my head crying out to let “all the women who are independent throw your hands up…” Sometimes being in a man centered culture can be a major drag, but then I remember that of all the places in the world, we chose to be here. We chose to be in this culture, among these people, and there is beauty in their culture.
Recently I spent the weekend with a local friend and many of her female relatives. These women have been raised in a male dominant culture and yet the beauty and grace with which they serve their families and one another is a humbling thing to behold. Sure, there are times when power and dominance is manipulated not only by males but also by the women with seniority. However, where there is love, the intimacy and relationship women have with one another is a precious thing.
Lesson Learned: Maybe when my American is showing, I need to stop singing “Independent Women” and start putting others above myself. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” (Phil 2:3)
Yes, it is still the beginning of May, but since Spring started at the end of February, it is starting to feel like summer already. We have had a few 90 degree days, but I know it is only bound to get hotter. Before it gets too hot, we are enjoying lots of strawberries, sitting outside under umbrellas and drinking fancy lemonades.
Since strawberries are seasonal, we are buying, eating and preserving as many as we can. In addition to eating them with pancakes and yogurt, I have made strawberry muffins, cake, smoothies, and (Benjamin’s favorite) cookies. The cookies were a surprising hit with our language teacher who tries to eat healthy. With no refined sugars and plenty of oats, we have been eating these cookies for breakfast. Here is the recipe if you are interested: Strawberry Oatmeal Cookies.
In other news, I have been on a Mexican kick this week making beef barbacoa and chicken enchiladas with Spanish rice. I thought getting my Mexican fix would be a laborious process since some of the essential ingredients are not accessible. Fortunately, a local woman has learned to make flour tortillas and sells them at a great price. Also, I brought a lot of spices with me which allows me to make enchilada sauce from scratch. Both turned out great, so if you want those recipes, here they are: Beef Barbacoa and Chicken Enchiladas.
Lesson Learned: Maybe I shouldn’t make really spicy food when it gets hot out.
We woke up Monday morning to find out that the hot water had been shut off to our building and so this meant I skipped a shower on Monday. When Tuesday morning rolled around and we still had no hot water, I felt skipping another shower would be counterproductive for building relationships, and so I bravely faced the inevitable. I quickly realized it was worse than I had anticipated because not having hot water doesn’t mean you get lukewarm but rather ice cold water. I cannot remember taking a colder shower, and I shivered for quite awhile after. While we were hoping this would only last for a few days, it finally ended a week later.
On the other hand, the spring brings fresh fruits, flowers and bicycles for rent. After work and class were over for the day on Tuesday, Benjamin and I tried to end on a good note by enjoying the beautiful weather and getting in some good exercise.
Lesson Learned: A cold shower doesn’t have to determine the outcome of the day.