Tag Archives: Update

What I’ve Been Up To…

Hi there.

Yes, it’s been a long time.  Longer than I ever would have expected.  When I started this blog, I vowed I would not be “one of those people.”  You know, the ones who start going strong and then suddenly drop off the face of the virtual world.

But, that’s what happened.  Multiple moves, one (very healthy, pleasant, and still ongoing) pregnancy, and a very uncertain future have taken the vast majority of my physical, mental and emotional energy over the past few months.

Still, I’ve come up with a few things worth sharing.  The first (which I only tell you about because it was something new to me) falls into the category of “church potluck casserole.”  That is, it contains canned cream of (anything) soup and some sort of crust on top–often, french-fried onions, but in this case, crumbled crackers.  I thought it absolutely revolting and wrong in so many ways, but Hungry Husband liked it, and so did the people at the homeless shelter.  But I threw the recipe away.  Quickly.  Because canned cream of (anything) soup is not real food.

Church Potluck Casserole

Fortunately, I have had better luck since then.  In the midst of what has been a long and very stormy spring, I have been yearning for summer and light, fresh flavors.  First, I came up with a lovely black bean-based salad.  It’s the sort of thing that does not have a recipe…I just threw in things that reminded me of the Caribbean: black beans, mango, celery, red peppers, red onions, cilantro, lime juice, chili powder, chicken, corn, jalapeno, garlic, cumin.  It is very flexible and tasty.  I took a big bowl to a friend’s graduation party last weekend and the dish was cleaned out rather quickly.

So pretty!

Finally, another recipe-less dish based on one of my favorite marinades: olive oil, lemon juice, cilantro, and garlic.  I whipped up some penne pasta, opened a can of salmon (fresh salmon is way out of our budget right now–boo!) and had Hungry Husband chunk the meat, and turned the marinade ingredients–plus a slab of butter) into a sauce.  When the pasta was ready I threw everything together and voila!  A fresh and flavorful pasta dish that pairs perfectly with sauteed or grilled vegetables.

A perfect pasta for summertime longings

Tonight, I am having Taco Lasagna with Cilantro Lime Cream Sauce (from Sweet Peas and Pumpkins), and I’m secretly glad that Hungry Husband is away for the night, because I may eat the whole pan myself.  Good thing I only made a half recipe!

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Reverse Culture Shock

Hi friends and readers.  Sorry about the disappearing act; I wish I could explain it all, but I have neither the time or the inclination to share everything with the internet world.  Suffice it to say, the past two months have been quite stressful.  Thankfully, (some) things are starting to settle down.

To start with, we are back in America.  This was quite unexpected and has been a very difficult transition for us.  We spent the past few weeks living with my in-laws, who are wonderful people, but it is always stressful for me to not have my own space and be able to nest.  As of this weekend we are finally in our own place, lovingly (and freely) furnished by friends.  I have a kitchen again, which means there will be more recipes forthcoming.

In the meantime, I want to give you all something to read.  I wrote this recently for some of our family members and friends to help them understand a little bit of what it is like to return to one’s home culture after a significant period away.  This is an often-overlooked and unexpected aspect of the expatriate life that is important to be aware of.

Reverse Culture Shock

One of the most difficult aspects of returning to America for people who have spent extended periods of time overseas is dealing with Reverse (Re-entry) Culture Shock.  Although most people generally expect that someone will feel disoriented and uncomfortable when entering a foreign culture, there is little awareness that those same feelings are common and often even stronger when he returns to his home culture.  This has been and continues to be one of the least-understood problems for expatriates when they return to the “home” culture, which, for many, no longer feels like home.

During their time overseas, expatriates experience many changes not just in their environment, but also in their values, attitudes, behaviors, and perspectives, and when they return to their home culture they are faced with the feeling that they no longer understand or fit in to society the way they did before.  It can be difficult to communicate these new ideas and beliefs with family and friends who have not shared the overseas experience and have not gone through the same transformation process; additionally, people in the home culture often do not seem interested in hearing more than superficial details about the expatriate’s time overseas.  Consequently, the transformations experienced by returning expatriates may affect relationships with those closest to them, who don’t necessarily comprehend the subtle changes that have taken place, and may not always accept them.  Expatriates who adjust best and bond most strongly with their overseas community will often have the hardest time returning and adapting to their home culture.

The way in which a expatriate left their overseas context can also play a major role in their home culture re-entry process.  Although most people in the home culture will expect the expatriate to be overjoyed about returning, the expatriate often feels a deep sense of loss and sadness over the people and places they have left.  The expatriate may be experiencing feelings of failure or guilt if he believes that the return to the home culture was unnecessary or somehow against his wishes, or that his work did not turn out as he hoped.  The need to grieve the losses caused by re-entry can also exacerbate the lack of understanding and patience exhibited by family and friends.

Here is a list of some of the most common symptoms of Reverse Culture Shock:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Sleep disorders (insomnia or excessive sleeping)
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Personal/ethical dilemmas
  • Feelings of inferiority
  • Alienation
  • Shyness
  • Trouble making (or reconnecting with) friends
  • Relationship problems
  • Sexual problems
  • Work/academic performance difficulties

The length of time it takes to reintegrate to their home culture varies person to person.  It can be influenced by the amount of time the person spent overseas, the level to which they adapted to and bonded with their overseas culture, the patience and understanding exhibited by family and friends, as well as by situations happening in the foreign community of which the expatriate was part.

Running Out of Gas

Well, friends, it is that time in The AmerArab Life: we are preparing for another transition.  Given the past few years of our lives, you might assume that we have developed the necessary emotional, relational and logistical skills to manage this process relatively smoothly.  After all, in the past five years we have:

  • Gotten married;
  • Changed jobs;
  • Lived in five different countries (two of them more than once);
  • Lived in three different states within the U.S.A.;
  • Lived in 11 houses or apartments for at least two months each (the longest period in any one house being eight months), a one-star Arab hotel for three months, and had eight periods of one month or less stays with friends, family or in temporary housing;
  • Actively studied four dialects of Arabic;
  • Decided to start having children, and are now pregnant.

So, it is time to move again, probably at the end of next week (assuming our visas come through as promised).  However, instead of being the efficient list-making, people-visiting, introspective journal writer that I was at the beginning of this past period of life, I am now a procrastinating, uncaring, celebrity gossip googling zombie.  Do I feel guilty about this?  Definitely.  I spent years teaching college students how to “finish well” in their cross-cultural experiences: push through the fatigue, fight the urge to withdraw, plan events to honor the people you have met.  In the past, I have spent the final days before moving making sure to get pictures taken with all my most important friends, distributing gifts and any possessions I planned to leave behind, visiting my favorite places in the city.

None of this knowledge or past experience is helping me gain any motivation at this point.  I am so tired of moving, starting over, settling down, and saying goodbye, and it has gotten more and more difficult each time.  Honestly, apart from the fact that we chose an apartment and furnished it, there is nothing that makes me feel as though Hillside is my home, which seems like it should make leaving easier—but it’s not.  We came in knowing it was temporary, and have lived that way for the past five months.  We spent six weeks away traveling, never formally studied Arabic, lived without routines or schedules or friends.  The only person I have any sort of relationship with is the landlady, and I don’t even know her name; I just call her the respectful word for “old woman.”  I was supposed to go talk to her today, tell her that we are moving, ask if she wants to buy any of our furniture.  Instead I crawled into bed, felt frustrated by my poor attitude, and decided to wait until sometime when Hungry Husband could go with me.

And to top it all off, the gas tank that fuels the stove started sputtering a few days ago, a sure sign that it is low and will be empty soon.  I have been nursing it since then, praying that it does not run out before we leave, because I don’t want to pay the $15 to replace it for a week’s use.  Fortunately, it doesn’t take much time on the stove to make ramen noodles…

The point is, I am 31 years old.  In six months we are going to have a baby.  My brain’s capacity for learning foreign languages is diminishing rapidly, and my introverted, intimate relationship-oriented personality is spent from years of forming friendships that come to an end before I am able to communicate any of my deep thoughts.  I don’t feel like I have much left in me to keep living this lifestyle.  Please pray that this will be our last move for a long time!

THE CURRENT KITCHEN: OUR HILLSIDE HOME

Friends, I am back.  After days of cleaning, shopping, packing and moving, with minimal cooking and even more minimal internet access (which I have to admit was very freeing at times), we are settled and ready to create a new version of normal.

This is what we started with in the kitchen:

Yes, that is a dried fish head.  It was probably left by one of the stray cats that wander around the rooftops and occasionally try (sometimes succeeding) to enter through our open windows.  Yes, we are considering getting screens; they are on the list of “Things to buy if we are going to live here for more than a few months.”  Other things on the list: a TV, curtains, end tables, and a new front door.

Back to the kitchen: after two days of scrubbing, bleaching, scraping, bleaching, more scraping, and the eventual deposit of appliances and dishes, here is what we have now:

I realize these are not great pictures.  It is hard to get a full view of the kitchen given that it is only about 8 ft. x 8 ft.  Not joking.  Some of you may have noticed that no refrigerator appears in the photos; that’s because it is not in the kitchen, but rather in the “dining room” on the other side of the half wall.  I’m sure that this is shocking, especially for those of you who don’t know us personally, but we are choosing to live amongst a section of the population that most foreigners (as well as the wealthy of this region) will never see.  My kitchen is comparable to that found in the majority of the “average” Arab homes.  Although there are times that I get jealous of my other foreign friends, who live here with kitchens and apartments that are like little slices of America, I am happy with the path that we are on.  This is the place for us.