Impressionable Youths

I have to say that I’m learning a lot about parenting, living with a family with young children. Some of the funniest moments of being here are because of the kids; it makes me want to re-watch ‘Kids Say the Darndest Things’ just to see that all kids are like this.

Yesterday, I watched all three from the moment they woke up until after lunch. Whew.

Actually, it went about as well as it could have, which means that I was able to feed everyone without discipline, clean up quite a bit before friends arrived, and settle disputes before any injuries were sustained.

The cleaning part was what made me laugh the most.

Without getting input from other kids about American culture, our kids just accept whatever we do as the norm. Which means that any time I start to clean, I will soon have two little shadows following me, asking to help. They think cleaning is so much fun.* The difficult part of letting them help, is knowing that a) another mess could be created in the process, b) an argument is likely to break out over who gets to do what, and c) the baby will likely try to put any trash or dirt in her mouth as soon as you’re not looking.

Other than that, it’s a great opportunity to teach them responsibility, and how to care for their own areas.

The funny part is: a) Moli cleaning the table with the floor brush** and b) Ann shaking the hamster cage to try and make him eat.†

Yes, we’re pet-sitting while some friends are travelling. Our neighbors are taking care of the two kittens. Though I love cats††, I’m glad to not have them here. I think a dog really is best for small kids. They can take the abuse and remain gentle.

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*Well so do I, now, but I didn’t think that when I was a kid.

**Yuck. But thanks for the effort! And here’s a soapy rag, will you please wipe the table, now?

†Which causes the woodshavings to fall all over the place, and probably gives the hamster a heart attack.

††I have to admit to going over to the neighbors’ to have some cat time, in addition to good conversation.

I Love Dessert*

*Um, who doesn’t? … For real? I think you’re fooling yourself; everyone likes sweet things.

I made tiramisu yesterday.**

The details of that sentence were a lot more complicated than it may originally sound.

It all started with a pack of ladyfingers. Simple enough. I can’t say I’ve ever enjoyed them by themselves, but I inevitably think of tiramisu when I see ladyfingers. And still stuck in my ‘I-need-to-bake-or-cook-or-someone-might-die’ phase, I bought the package.

After that, it got quite a bit harder.

Recipe? Who needs a recipe? And who knew there was whipped cream in tiramisu?†

First I started looking for the cheese. Mascarpone, to be exact. But cheese, even just plain cheddar, isn’t exactly easy to find in these parts. I began to despair that I would ever find even the primary ingredient I needed to complete my self-assigned task.

I should probably mention that I started this project in mid-July. It’s the end of September, yes.

Finally, someone mentioned a store that sold mascarpone in bulk. Yay! At least I had an idea of where to look.

Whipped cream? Another hard one. How do you turn fresh milk into cream? And is it possible in your own home without tools?††

Cocoa powder. That ended up being the second ingredient I found – a huge pack of it in a small bakery that occasionally sells baking items. I think I could make another 30 pans of tiramisu with the amount of cocoa I have.

Coffee and espresso – two different ingredients, I must say for those who don’t drink coffee.‡ Coffee – I just bought canned coffee, which is probably a different thing altogether, but by month #2, I just didn’t care.

We finally made it out to the store that does indeed have mascarpone, and also whipping cream (unlike America, this product is actually cream. Un-whipped cream. Just to clarify).

With almost all my ingredients in hand last Sunday, I was determined to make my amateur masterpiece this week.

All I had left to find was espresso.‡‡

And yesterday as I walked around chatting with a friend, she asked me, “Is that coffee shop any good?”

The clouds parted (not really), and I obtained my double espresso. For quite a buck, but hey, I was committed to finishing it!

For two and a half month’s trouble, the actual process of making it was simple (except for realizing that whipping the cream by hand would take a long, long time and it was already past the girls’ bedtime). In thirty minutes I was done, and putting it away in the fridge for the morrow.

It’s not perfect, but for a first try I’m satisfied. And I doubt I’ll do it again until I’m back in America. It was just too much trouble and way too much expense.

And I’m so tired by this week that I’m contemplating eating the rest of it in one sitting alongside some leftover fish stew. Sounds appetizing, right? Ugh.

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**It’s as messy as it looks in the picture. I’m not certain, but I think you really do need a sifter to get the cocoa powder on; in trying to cover the mascarpone using a spoon, I overdid it with the cocoa.

†If you did, then you can keep your mouth shut. I never claimed to have a chef’s palate.

††I’m still not sure how to do it from milk, but I did whip my own cream!

‡Like me, for example. But I enjoy coffee-flavored deserts.

‡‡Besides the fact that we don’t drink coffee and not many people here drink coffee, we don’t own a coffee pot. And all the Americans I know here don’t make coffee either. “Can you boil it on the stove?” someone asked. “But what about the coffee grinds?” I asked back. “Oh yeah. I guess not.”

Finally, More Pictures Part 1

As promised a few posts ago, here are more pictures from my photographer friend. That’s right, these are not mine, though I had the pleasure of seeing it all and smelling it all.

Naan being made on the street.

Other than his plastic sandals and the rubber wheels, he could be from 300 years ago, right?*

There’s someone you know, eating yogurt with granulated sugar added in.**

The colors of life here. They really do wear clothes with this many bright and lively patterns and colors. Considering the land itself is brown, brown, brown, it makes a sort of sense. A feast for the eyes. And a fashion sense very different from the western ideal, but still beautiful to my eyes.

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*He wasn’t the only reason I felt as though I’d been transported into a history book. But he’s a good example.

**It was amazingly good. We also had tortilla-like bread with lamb skewers. Plain but tasty meal.

Dancing

Just got home from the ethnic dancing, and I have to say it: everyone needs to learn to dance.

Whatever your style, whatever kind of music, wherever you are, you should dance. Often, even. If you’re terrible at it, you need to dance more.

Besides the fact that it’s: a) fun, b) healthy, and c) confidence-building*, it is an amazing way almost all cultures the world over can use to communicate without words. Just watching these young people** dance explains a lot about their gender beliefs, practices, their pride in their culture, their style (clothing and culture-wise), their celebration of life (even if they don’t realize that’s what they are celebrating), and their complete and utter gracefulness that comes from being secure in who they are.

More and more I realize that trait is missing in America’s young people (I include myself in that designation). It’s not just the “normal” teenage experience; in other cultures there is not this complete question of identity as there is in the US. Is it because we don’t know who we are? I wonder.

Anyways, serious ponderings aside, I had a very deja-vu moment as I watched them dancing. Because they meet outdoors and at night, and have to set up spotlights for any illumination during the dancing, it reminded me strongly of years of swing dancing on Baylor’s campus. After dark. Outside. With spotlights on Fountain mall.

I’m on the other side of the world, and still going to late night dancing meetings.†

The only difference is, girls dance with girls, and guys dance with guys. It’s stranger to see a couple dancing than not. However, even the interactions between dancing partners also strongly reminds me of swing.

I have found my people!!

Okay, not really, but I’m glad to have such a great connection point with the girls to build our relationship upon. Now I’m going to collapse into bed before the littler girls wake me to make Saturday breakfast together.

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*Eventually you just have to get over your own self-consciousness and get out there and move, no matter how awkwardly or uncoordinated-ly you do so.

**I say young people because they’re 5 to 7 years younger than me. Thankfully they don’t hold it against me, and “You look 20!” they say. My genes working for me I guess, thanks Mom and Dad.

†Does this mean I’m predictable? Or just drawn to people who like to dance?

Bread and Life

There’s a kind of bread you can get in this city that works for making pizzas. It’s delicious and simple, and we eat it all the time as a snack*. The mystery bread is naan! Flour, water, salt, a little onion and garlic, and you have something wonderful.

They (those who regularly eat naan) say bread is life. Which makes me consider the interesting juxtaposition that creates with the bread of life.

There are always true things to be found within mankind’s messes. He doesn’t leave us without clues pointing towards himself. The metaphor of bread is just one of many I’ve heard that speaks to something greater underneath. It’s just connecting their ideas and what those ideas are really talking about, and ‘hoping’ that they can see the bridge we’re trying to build.†

But anyways, I can already tell – I’m going to miss eating naan when I go back to the States. Just like I miss eating pasta once a week, or getting good dim sum when I’m up in Dallas. There are other things I miss, of course, but food seems to be a biggie.

I saw the university girls today, and tried to teach them swing dance in exchange for their trying to teach me their cultural dance. I’ll head over later tonight to the big gathering to try in front of hundreds of people.**

Not alone, thank goodness; that would be too much. But still, spectators. During my second time trying this thing.††

Occassionally I’ll see Tibetan monks around the city too, and the interesting thing I’ve learned about them is: they don’t make vows of poverty like Western monks used to (still do?) and their belief system says that if you help someone who is disabled or poor, you’re messing in their karmatic justice and you will be punished for interferring. Pretty sick thinking. So the monks, though they wear the traditional garb, are pretty well off – wearing designer/leather shoes, using the most recent cell phone models, and passing by the beggars. This upsets me perhaps more than it should, but it’s probably upsetting because in the Western world they’re highly regarded as giving up earthly concerns and being benevolent to the less fortunate.

In the end, they’re humans, too and that’s all the explanation I need for why it’s messed up, but still…

I also got a haircut. Picture to soon follow.

9/29:

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*At least we eat it as a snack when someone is in the area to pick it up.

**Joy. Their kind of dancing requires you to be really confident with your moves, and confident I am not when trying out a new skill.

†Speaking of metaphors.

††Was swing dance ever this challenging? I don’t remember.

Cleansing Rain

It’s late Friday night here – almost Saturday morning. And I’m yet again rejoicing that this city experiences an abundance of rain. Though the rainy season is almost over, there is usually still a good 50/50 chance of rain at night.

It’s usually a calming and cleansing sound, but especially so when the sky has been yellow the past few days because of smoke blown in from the country side, where farmers are burning their fields after harvest. It took me two days to figure out why the faint but persistent burning smell was lingering, and also why people who have no allergies were suddenly suffering from allergy symptoms.

Unlike last time, I’m not walking through clouds of smoke, but it’s still a noticeable difference from city smog. I’m hoping for a clear blue sky in the morning after all the rain has captured and drowned the smoke.

My second week of university classes are done (and I’ve had four* classes total). However, to balance out that uneven load, I was able to meet with some friends of a friend who are students, and I am really excited about getting to know them better.

I may have finally figured out the real advantage of continually looking the age of a teenager and/or a college student! It’s much easier to blend in with young single women if you appear to be a peer. Also, since they have little to no interactions with married women outside their own community, they’re much more comfortable with young singles like themselves.**

I’ve now attended several parties (baby shower, wedding shower and birthday parties) and each time heard at least four languages being spoken. Tonight might have been my record – I believe there were six languages. What a small world we live in.

I’ve also met and been charmed by the young women who came to this city for school. They invited me to the cultural dance event they have on a weekly basis, and I went – and danced! Not well, admittedly, but Swing Dance taught me to not be as afraid of looking awkward, clumsy, silly or of trying new things. It was pretty amazing to watch a crowd of young men and women dancing to their traditional music without any prompting from older generations. They value the musical part of their culture and carry it as part of their identity. I think American young people could learn a lot from the way they confidently go out and dance – even if they have no grace or rhythm. It’s okay to be yourself, with all that entails.

And though my trip through their homeland came during a time of high tension, it was impossible to miss the joy and excitement they were expressing through their dancing in my city. I have been encouraged by getting the opportunity to talk and connect with them.

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*Four incomplete classes! One day cancelled and the other was a university orientation during my usual class time.

**This is a reassuring point of my being here, since during our trip out west, I felt the distinct disadvantage of being a single woman in that context and community.