Saturday, August 18, 2007


Ok, I'm an adult. I watch Disney Channel movies. Is that so wrong? I get tired of 30 channels of Law and Order at night, or whatever the current adult themed drama is. I get tired of the reality shows and the game shows. TV for adults is either too adult, or too lame for me. So, I've been channel surfing with Disney. It's about my speed. I was actually planning to watch Disney tonight, the opening weekend of High School Musical II. Here's my reason. It was filmed in my hometown of St. George (in Southern Utah). My boys and I stayed up late watching all those disney kids prancing around my old turf - hanging out on the golf course, running through the sprinklers, watching the stars at night (no trees in the way), hiking (or in their case bouncing) on the red sandstone. Doing all the things I used to do as a kid when I lived there. It was such a tremendous feeling of deja vu. I found myself getting homesick right then for the place - well, not necessarily just for the place, for the whole experience- being there as a kid, with a whole life ahead of me. That was the place where I met and fell in love with my husband. He's in a lot of those memories too, and I really miss him. (Or obviously I would have some better things to be doing at night than watching the Disney channel).
And I've been thinking about my own kids. Right now my boys think of texas as home, because that's where they lived the longest. My daughter thinks of this place as home. She was only one when we moved from Texas. We're planning another move after the first of the year. My boys are already upset about it. My oldest, TJ had a horrible day yesterday. He was plain old mean to everyone - his friends were furious with him. When I asked him what in the world was up with him he cried and cried. It took him a while to catch his breath and tell me that his missed his friend (the one who moved back to Kuwait), and that he didn't want to move away from here. He wanted all our friends to stay here, permanently, too.
So, seeing this movie tonight, with all my memories - I guess that was the first time I really wondered how our military lifestyle and its frequent moves might feel to my kids. Maybe it will be more difficult for them than I thought it would be. I mean, we make friends and watch them leave with regularity. We'll do our own leaving soon - relocating to a new state for only a year, then on to somewhere else. Sure, they get to meet so many people, see so much of the country, but maybe it isn't all good. Kids like stability, predictability, and those words aren't in the Army dictionary. Will they be ok? Will this be bad for them, in a permanent, life-changing way? I sure hope not.
The good news is that the Army family is only so big. We'll run into people we know wherever we go. In fact, our next door neighbors may follow us to our new duty station just a few months behind us. That made all the difference to TJ - knowing his friends would be there too. So maybe he won't really have one "home", or place, where he grew up. But maybe his big (Army) family will be enough. I hope so.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

International life in a rural setting

Tomorrow morning our Kuwaiti friends are leaving here to return home. It's an interesting thing, striking up a friendship with people when there is very little common language involved - but somehow it has worked. Maybe some aspects of friendship don't need much shared language. It was my brother's idea to write about it.
So, it all started with a game of Uno. That part you know. It's ironic to me that during the same time that my husband is in Iraq, immersed in this culture, we get neighbors from Kuwait. How strange is that? These past two months have felt like some wierd split parallel universe - an American in the Middle East, and the Middle East comes to America. However it happened, It's provided Tracy and I with more common knowledge to use in our discussions about Middle Eastern politics and culture. He shares some Arabic phrases for me to use with our neighbors, I tell him what it's like to attend a segregated dinner party. It's also turned simple neighborhood birthday parties into something resembling a UN Summit meeting. There are at least 3 different languages and often as many as 5 nationalities present (Poland, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, India, and us). I'm becoming skilled at pantomime and pidgeon English. It's stressful, at times. I don't want to risk offending my new friends by not accepting their food or drink, but I don't drink coffee or caffeinated tea (I'm Mormon) but how do you explain this to an Arabic woman in full burqua who brings her china tea set to the party to share her gingered coffee with us? Who doesn't speak English? I didn't even try. I just took the miniature tea cup and thanked her. It is very strange to see the Arabic women here - completely robed, having picnics at the park. It's not what you would think of when you think US Army.....
So, about a week ago, our Kuwaiti neighbors invited me and the kids over for dinner. This was the third time at least they've fed us - wonderful baked chicken and rice with raisins, stuffed grape leaves, tabouli. When my mom and stepdad flew out to visit, they insisted on making dinner for us all - but the flight was late, and they ended up just sending the food over late at night for us to eat in the morning. The first dinner party I attended should have prepared me a little for the most recent. While there were mainly Americans there - soldiers and wives, there were also many Middle Eastern men there. After dinner, the men made a circle with their chairs and brought out these tower pipes (my husband knows what these are called, I don't). My oldest son cheerfully went about trying to convince each of the men of the hazzards of smoking until I could drag him away to play with his friends. The women sat on the outskirts, kind of misplaced and forgotten. It felt very strange. So at this most recent party, my children and I were the only Americans who attended. After getting some strange looks when I sat down outside in the chairs set up there, I was ushered in by the older girls to one of the bedrooms in the house, where some appetizers and coffee were placed on a rug in the middle of the floor. The women came in, closed the door, took off their veils, said their prayers individually on a small rug. My children wandered in and out, even the boys (which I was told was OK since they were only children.) How weird that it should matter. It was difficult for me, because it was a school night, and the time was getting on - by the time we were served our own food it was past nine o'clock. I tried to wander in and out myself to keep better track of the kids, but one of the girls always came to fetch me - "Come, Miss Lisa, Come." I really wasn't quite sure how the kids were going to be taken care of or watched (and was thankful for very good neighbors who I'm sure were close by). We ate the same food as the men, just from completely separate dishes, and after the men were done eating - all closed in by ourselves in our segregated room. The Arabic women were clearly comfortable with this. They chatted with me and with each other. My Kuwaiti friend told them all I was "sister, sister". It's similar to "Army family" - how we think of our close friends and neighbors here. I didn't stay long because I really had to get my kids in bed. After they settled down for the night I had plenty to think about. The experience was pretty far outside my comfort zone because what it means to be a woman in this culture is so practically different. As shy as I can be, I didn't like feeling so invisible. I understand modesty, I really do, but I don't understand the burqua. And I have serious concerns that when you are invisible as a woman, you are at risk for being mistreated. If you want some fictional but probably pretty true to life pictures of this risk, read "A Thousand Splendid Suns" by Khaled Hosseini. It's a story about two women in Afghanistan during the many years of recent conflict. On reason I have loved my Kuwaiti friends is that I can tell they love each other. The father treats the mother and children well, they are happy. The children are well-mannered and kind. They are good to my kids when mine don't deserve it. But I worry about their two beautiful daughters. Will their husbands be as kind and good? What will their life be like? Maybe I am concerned for nothing - this is what they know, how they understand life to work. Maybe living differently would make them uncomfortable. I don't know.
So, how did I wind up with Arabic friends, who are so different from me? I may not understand their definition of modesty, but I do understand the desire to be a faithful wife and loving mother. I know what it is like to leave your friends and move somewhere where you are a stranger (even though I've only done this in America). I understand wanting to broaden the horizons of my children by exposing them to new people and places. And part of me knows that our country and culture is not always well received by our Middle Eastern friends. Why not try a little harder to dispell any American myths they may have. Maybe this is a baby step toward peace. I'm happy with baby steps. I'm also eternally grateful that my daughter will grow up an American.