Isla and Gaia Isms

A1DB6799-9C8E-4A93-8FA5-BD9DE73C287ACA033F18-13E4-40C8-8B5F-D9C2B838A1F4E1A4AC48-4997-4B20-A8D2-D1947ABA8E00Isla is 3.5 and will be starting school in September (different from her nursery school). If I could, I’d send her to a little outdoor “school” with just a handful of friends, as she thrives most doing her own thing in peaceful, not-too-structured environments. But since that’s not an option, I’m hoping she’ll get on well at her new school. As is, she’s excited about it and knows that once August is over with, it’ll be time. She loves to sing and has a very sweet voice. She likes to improvise with her own lyrics, and loves music. She really feels it. She’s still meandering around between 3 languages, mostly sticking to English and Arabic with some French words thrown in. Oddly, she likes watching kids’ songs on youtube in Italian and Spanish. Maybe she’s most comfortable when she doesn’t fully understand what’s going on?? I’ve never met anyone quite like her.

Gaia (1.5) has joined her sister at the nursery school, and loves it there. She likes all the stimulation and songs and activities. She’s a very quick learner, and likes to boss people around. She makes me laugh all the time. She’s much more verbal than Isla was at this age–probably because she needs to express everything that’s on her mind, whereas Isla keeps her inner world a mystery. I don’t know how we have such opposite girls! They don’t get along too well yet, so when they play together or make each other laugh it makes me want to throw a celebration.

They’re both at fun ages. Here are some funny things they’ve been saying (which just show how different they are).


-“Mama I don’t like sunny days. Wein el shitté, wein?” (Where’s the rain, where? -It doesn’t rain during the summer in Lebanon). “Gaia likes sun. I don’t like sun. Gaia, baddik sunny days?” (Gaia, do you want sunny days? As in, take them all for yourself, I don’t want them.)

-The girls are expecting a (very, very surprise) new sibling. I told Isla the baby is coming in February. “No, Mama, the boy is coming in February.” And then later I went through big things (birthdays, holidays) that happen each month. “And what’s coming in February?” I asked her. Isla responded, “a new carseat!” The very thing I’m least excited about regarding the new baby is what she’s clearly most excited for.

-She loves quietly conversing with the neighborhood cats. They’re not afraid of her because she gives them time to warm up to her. Then she tells them everything on her mind, but I can rarely hear what she’s saying to them because her voice is only slightly higher than a whisper.

-The cats were mewing outside the door. She knows they’re not allowed to come inside. I asked her if they might be hungry and if we should feed them. Isla responded very firmly, “No Mama, they want a maison.” (They want a house.)

-Isla loves getting in some time to play by herself, so sometimes I’ll take Gaia up to visit her grandparents (on the 3rd floor of our building) while Isla “takes care of the maison” and does her own thing.


To me when I’m alone with her: “Mama, what doing?” “Mama, what eating?” (What are you doing, what are you eating?) “Mama, where are you?” “Mama tai!!!!!” (Come). “Mama, what dis?”

-Whenever a commercial comes on if they’re watching a youtube video: “Oh! What happened?”

-If she sees the slightest mark/hole/scratch on anything or if it won’t function: “Oh no! Broken!” (said in complete panic)

-When I tell her it’s bedtime: “No Gaia bedtime. Isla bedtime.”

-When we start playing the song Under Pressure by Queen: “No Unda Pressa!!!!!!! Mamma Mia!!!!!” (She really loves Mamma Mia by Abba and always requests it. She also loves to sing, although her voice is a little more aggressive than her sister’s. She is good at memorizing lyrics!)

-Gaia the Cat Dictator yelling to her subjects: “Stop it!!! Go away!! Come back!! Eat!!! Where going??? Nooo!!! Get down!!!” (They avoid her at all costs.)



It’s been almost over a year since I posted.

Here’s a report:

It’s still raining.  It’s been a soggy, thunderous winter, and here we are in April huddled under our umbrellas.  All day long Gaia sings rain, rain, go away (which sounds more like ray ray gogo way).  When the clouds part for a bit, Isla says, “Look! A sunny day!” And then they close back up and it’s wet again.  But I don’t mind too much, because I know the summer will be pure, uninterrupted sunshine.

The cats are multiplying and two more are pregnant.  They hang about outside our glass windows waiting for the leftovers of our meals: a bit of scrambled eggs, the last of the smoked salmon, a rind of cheese.

We are busy working, writing, volunteering, and learning.  Isla is occupied with marching to the beat of her own drum, and Gaia is only concerned about having fun and making sure she gets her way.  C and I are their frazzled mischief management team.  Two days a week, we pack ourselves into the car and drive together: first stop; the girls’ garderie, and then onward to Beirut.  We listen to Pillars of the Earth on audio and forget that we are not in twelfth century feudal England, but stuck in Beirut traffic.

Things to look forward to this spring and summer: an Easter visit from C’s sister, brother-in-law and the girls’ cousin who is a year younger than Isla and a year older than Gaia, a trip to Sweden where we’ll be joined by my sisters, a trip to the US, a visit to Lebanon from C’s sister and another cousin at the end of the summer

Things to look forward to in future springs and summers: camping trips, a vacation in Italy, a balcony of our own for enjoying warm mornings and evenings




How not to travel for 17 hours with a 9 month old

Since we are gearing up for a trip to the US at the end of may, this time with a 2 year-old and a 6 month-old, I thought I’d revisit this old post I wrote when I travelled alone with 9 month-old Isla.


Make sure your flight leaves at 2:00am. That way you’ll have to wake up your baby to leave for the airport at 11:00pm, ensuring that her sleep is interrupted and she is off to an exhausted start.


Don’t pack Benadryl, ZzzQuil or any other sleep inducing nectar of the gods for her. They are surely dangerous for so young a child to handle, and you wouldn’t want to jeopardize her health …or give her anything that might possibly help her to fall asleep at all during your journey.


Go by yourself. Insist on going on a solo trip with the baby. Tell yourself that you are a strong independent woman, that this will be an adventure and a challenge, and that you are looking forward to this opportunity to prove yourself. Who needs help? (You. You need help.)


Attach the baby’s pacifier to her clothing using a metal clip. That way, you’ll have to go through the detectors multiple times before you realize why you are both beeping, even after you’ve removed every last scrap of excess clothing and jewelry that is possible without actually walking through naked.


Don’t wear slip on shoes. Make sure to wear shoes that require a bit of elbow grease and a lot of tying and untying to take on and off. While you’re busy with knots, the baby can crawl around on the germ-ridden airport floor, chew on the shoes of the security guard, and bring down the stack of plastic customs containers onto her head.


Order special meals on your flight. Once your baby has finally fallen asleep, the flight attendant will find you and ask in a loud tone if you’re the one who ordered the gluten free meal, thereby waking your baby who will not sleep again for the remaining 14 hours of your trip. To top it off, the gluten free meal is basically made up of small separated portions of flavorless cardboard that no amount of salt and pepper can salvage.


Let your phone fall out of your pocket as you exit your first plane and head into your layover airport. Exit the plane and realize that your stroller is missing. Lug your baby and your carry-ons across the entire airport, and realize only upon arrival at your departure gate that your phone is gone. Consider leaving the baby and the bags behind the help counter and running back to retrieve your phone. Reconsider, and give up hope after much useless begging, pleading, and bribing of the customer service personnel.


Sit next to a professor who has to grade economics term papers for the entire eight hours of your second flight. Your daughter loves a good gnaw on a stack of papers, and she is not easily dissuaded when she is running on a sleep deficit.


Bring the baby into the plane bathroom with you, and place her on the baby-changing tray while you use the toilet. The tray is located above the toilet, so it’ll be fun to try to reach up and hold her in place so she won’t careen into the sink, grab the highly questionable waste from the trash, or fall into the toilet itself. Douse both yourself and the baby in hand sanitizer, which she will want to drink, and repeat the whole process every couple hours.


Breastfeed the baby to keep her calm and help ease the ear pressure at takeoff and landing. She will be distracted by everything around her, and subsequently leave you exposed and subject to disapproving glances every five minutes.


Walk up and down the aisles for the last four hours of the trip while she cries. That way, you’ll allow all the passengers aboard to partake in her unhappiness.


Upon arrival to the United States, make sure you have a suspicious story to tell the border control officers. Your exhaustion will help you look particularly guilty and sweaty as you talk. Yes, you are travelling by yourself from Lebanon. No, your husband is not with you because he is in Turkey. (This sounds mild as I write it now, but believe me I spiraled myself downward the more I spoke as I tried to explain my circumstances while under intense interrogation, and without having slept for 30+ hours.)


Do it all over again on the way home. Practice makes perfect, and soon you’ll be electing to travel alone with your offspring all the time! LOL. Tell your husband that although you both miss him, you will just have to stay put in the United States until your daughter is five years old and/or volunteers to take a separate flight home.

Thoughts on the Iran Nuclear Deal

(A detour from more typical content to talk about an issue that is important to me)


Earlier this May, President Trump broke the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, better known as the Iran Deal, by pulling out of it.  He has long touted it as “the worst deal ever,” (not to be confused with NAFTA, “the worst trade deal ever”), and so US withdrawal was really no surprise.

His alleged reasons for breaking the agreement were to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and to prevent it from using the money coming in due to lifted sanctions to fund its terrorist proxies in Lebanon and Syria.  However, these reasons don’t hold up.

Iran has passed every single IAEA inspection it has undergone.  For the very first time, the country has allowed it’s nuclear ambitions to be checked by an international party.  If Trump wanted Iran’s continued compliance and halt of nuclear programs, he wouldn’t have left the deal.

The argument that Iran is all the more able to fund extremist groups now that it is no longer bound by sanctions is a little more complicated.  Yes, Iran funds Hezbollah in Lebanon as well as the Syrian regime.  But Hezbollah, although extreme in its rhetoric, is a legitimate political party in Lebanon, and in some instances the group has helped stabilize the country by acting as Lebanon’s sole defense against its ever-rapacious neighbor, Israel.  (This is another topic all together, which I won’t get into here).  As for Iran’s support of the Syrian regime, the US is not really one to criticize.  American foreign policy has shifted sides in Syria between Assad’s brutal authoritarian government and various the rebel groups, which turned out to be mostly Al-Qaeda affiliates instead of Syrian revolutionaries.

If American withdrawal from the Iran Deal were simply about reinstating sanctions to stop funding to these entities, the US would also cut its alliance with Qatar, for example, which supports the Taliban, Al-Qaeda groups, and the Muslim Brotherhood.  And Trump would not have signed a $110 billion dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia last year, which effectively gives the green light for the Kingdom to continue its vicious war in Yemen that targets civilians, schools, hospitals, and infrastructure with zero regard for human rights–or Yemeni lives.  Not incidentally, this is a war against the Iran-supported Houthi group in Yemen.

These examples are all somewhat complex, but my point is that if the US wants to appeal to ethics and moral reasoning, it has a long way to go in order not to sound completely hypocritical.

The question then becomes, what was the real reason behind Trump’s decision?  It’s actually not too tough to decipher.  Trump is simply appeasing the interests of Netanyahu’s Israel and the Israeli lobby (AIPEC) in Washington, which were vehemently against the Iran Deal.  The joint goal of Israel and the Trump regime is to ensure that Iran remains in the public consciousness as a rogue state, a menacing regime, a country on the “axis of evil” that cannot and should not be negotiated with.  The truth is, these depictions are failing to hold up anymore as Iran is willing to participate in negotiations and is slowly becoming a legitimate international partner, and is often, ironically, on the same side as the US.   That is why it is vital for Trump–pressured by Israel–to act quickly.

Shortly after Trump left the JCPOA, he officially moved the United States embassy in Israel from the Israeli capital of Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the city that Palestinians have long considered their own capital.  In doing this, Trump acts as a puppet of Israel, blatantly disregards the rights of Palestinians (over 50 of whom were killed by Israeli Defense Forces during protests), antagonizes the Middle East region, defies international partners and pits Israel against its Muslim neighbors, not least of all, Iran.

Israel has been bombing Syria for months now, and on May 11th, Iran finally responded by firing 20 rockets at Israel in retaliation, which then prompted Israel to fire missiles that took out Iranian infrastructure in Syria and killed over 20 people.  Israel and Iran are escalating toward war on Syrian ground, and this is all the more reason for Israel to secure the US position against Iran.

In the end, it almost seems as though Trump is intentionally irking Iran into all-out war with Israel and into building up its nuclear programs so that he can say “I told you so,” and sign more multi-billion dollar weapons deals in the name of preventative measures.

-The first three months of Gaia’s life are mostly blurry. They felt impossible, except that I knew they would pass. Even though I prefer when babies can walk and no longer stuff everything inside their mouths and release substances from every orifice, Gaia is still irresistible to me. What stands out about her is that she is always talking and smiling. She doesn’t have her sister’s craving for sleep. I realized that when Isla was a baby, we were mostly quiet together, but with Gaia, I talk and talk and talk because she is a conversationalist. Her attention is riveted to me, she speaks back, and she belly-laughs as though she’s had years of practice.

-Isla started attending a French Montessori daycare a few months ago. She came home exhausted every day for the first couple weeks, and would sleep fifteen hours at night. Now she’s more adjusted and looks forward to it every day. Still, she arrives home tired and cranky and retreats to look at her books and play by herself for several hours to recharge. She’s more of an observer than a speaker, but she has started interspersing French with her English and Arabic vocabulary. She says “merci beaucoup,” “bonjour,” calls her mouth “bouche,” and her hat “chapeau.” She is still most content on her own, or home with us, or out with us on walks. We know she is awake every morning when we hear her turning the pages of her books in her crib. She still rubs her sheet back and forth before she falls asleep and after she just wakes up, a habit she began when she was still a baby.

-Now I have a bit more time to write during the day, so long as Gaia’s unpredictable napping slots into place in the mornings. I’m trying to maximize it.  My desire to finish is the hare and my innate tendency to plod along is the tortoise.  Who will win out?  Note to self: in the future, never ever work on two novels at the same time.

-The weather is warming up and everything is green. Right now the market is full of strawberries, “foul” (fava beans) and fresh peas that we eat straight from the pods, loquats, and pomelos. Gaia likes to suck on cucumbers, and Isla can eat up to seven clementines per day. She has also (finally!!) begun drinking milk again after her yearlong strike.

-There is a cat that has domesticated itself and sneaks into the house whenever we open the door. She is more interested in nuzzling up to us and being petted than she is in drinking the milk or eating the fish bones we leave for her.  She follows Isla around and almost knocks her over when she presses up to her.  Isla gives her hallmark sign of affection: scrunching her face up and placing two fists gently against the cat’s fur and humming softly.  She does this to me, to Gaia, to her father when she’s overwhelmed with emotion.

-Gaia still wakes up around two-four times at night, and I usually feel tired throughout the day.  During the day, feeding her forces me to take a break, and I read on my kindle.  Right now I’m finishing up The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett.  It’s her first novel, and she drove from Tennessee to New York City to deliver it to her editor.  When she arrived, she discovered that she was missing the last 15 pages, so she typed them up from memory in the editor’s office.  Then she drove back home, and by the time she arrived, the novel had been accepted for publication.  I learned that from her memoir Truth and Beauty, so of course I had to read the novel.

-Sometimes I wonder: is it enough to wake up, eat breakfast with my family, drive Isla to nursery, play with Gaia for awhile till her nap, go for a short run if I’m lucky, write a bit before lunch, eat with Cedric, write a bit more (or take care of something else that needs to be done), pick up Isla, clean and play with the girls, bounce Gaia around while she fusses in the evening, eat dinner, bathe the girls with C and get them to sleep, watch something with C and/or fall asleep?  And to repeat this over and over, and to think, these are the days we’ll look back on nostalgically, but to also fear that there is always more I could be doing?



This and that

Well, we’re back in Turkey safe and sound and exhausted.  We booked a 3:35am flight from Beirut to Adana, which is a 2 hour drive from our home, instead of flying to Istanbul and waiting there for four hours before catching a second flight here.  We thought we were being smart, but our flight was delayed for two hours, lines at the Beirut airport were longer than lines at JFK passport control in high season, our check-in attendant was apparently a trainee and had a forty-minute struggle to issue Isla’s lap infant ticket…..and so we didn’t sleep all night and arrived home mid morning.

We’d left a single window cracked open, and all the dust in the neighborhood managed to seep in and settle down nicely over the better half of the house, but poor C had to leave for a meeting almost immediately and I was too tired to do anything about it so we just took a lot of showers and tried not to roll around on the floor.

C took an emergency grocery run because I was in that all too familiar delirious-from-fatigue-and-hunger state, and came back with cheese and yogurt and Turkish sausage and nectarines and bananas .  I spent the rest of the day making such steady progress on the bounty that C felt he had to repeatedly marvel at the obvious: “You’re really pregnant!” Between meals I lounged on the couch and mumbled through the books Isla brought over for me to read to her, getting up only occasionally to rinse down her dusty body.

We’re going through gallons of water.  Either Antakya is far hotter than when we left or I am far more pregnant.  It could be both, but I think it’s the latter.  Also, our home in Lebanon is on the ground floor and has air conditioning.  Our home here is on the 7th floor and does not.  Its redeeming factor is the near-constant wind blowing through the open windows.  In theory, I love the lack of air conditioning on account that the world is so economically unjust and I am on the upper end of the spectrum with clothes for all seasons and no fear of hunger and a life of relative security and legal status wherever I go…it’s good to deal with small discomforts, insignificant as they may be.  Not to mention that AC remains one of the biggest air pollutants.  All this information drips through my brain as quickly as the sweat drips from my body, and in a purely philosophical sense, I am content.  Although if Antakya experiences another 110 degree heat wave like the one we missed while we were in Lebanon, my philosophical inclinations may be prone to shift.

Isla’s room was too hot for her to sleep in, so we brought her to our bedroom, which is breezy and cool at night.  She managed to take up the entire middle portion of the mattress, (how is it that toddlers are just as active during sleep as they are while they’re awake?) but somehow we all slept fairly well.  She woke up sniveling and sneezing.  It wasn’t difficult to ascertain the cause, and so I spent five hours scouring the floors, surfaces, furniture and beds.  It feels good to be able to sit down without immediately morphing into human dust rags.

On a related note, C and I finally got around to dividing up the house work.  We’d sort of been tag-teaming it all along, which isn’t the most efficient (or harmonious) system.  Having a precise list of set chores eliminates a surprising amount of brain space and silent wondering and, occasionally, resentment.

On a less related note, my productivity levels are fragmentary at best.  It’s not even that I am bursting with ideas and lack the impetus to follow through; the ideas themselves are scant.  When I start to wonder what’s become of my brain, I often get distracted mid-thought, because the womb dweller has become partial to the following positions:

da vinci

All that to say, here’s to frequent breaks and tall cool drinks at the ready!  Happy thick-of-summer, Apples!



From Lebanon with love


-The last month in Turkey was a beautiful tailspin of nice long days with my sisters around, a quick flight up to Izmir for a brief getaway in the small coastal town of Cesme, then another week and a half back in Antakya before we all flew up to Istanbul where we met C’s sister and her friend for week of vacation.  I have to admit that our time in Cesme was dampened by my crazy anxiety about whether Isla was getting enough to eat and whether she was taxed and confused by the total lack of routine.  In retrospect, I think I was the one who was taxed and confused, and there came a point when my sisters didn’t really know what to do with me.  Once I recovered most of my sanity, I could enjoy our month together, which was full of walking and hiking, new sites and sights, a few swims in the clear Mediterranean, nose piercings, home cooked meals and, of course, board games.

-C, Isla and I flew directly from Istanbul to Beirut, where we are spending the better half of the month of July.  It’s not a vacation, but it’s a good restful homecoming.  We’re all still missing my sisters, (Isla acted like she had 2 fairy godmothers at her beck and call), so a family reunion with the other side was a good stepping stone to ordinary life after their departure.  We’re glad to be back in our home for a bit with our own car to drive around in (a novelty that wore off quickly once we’d re-experienced the maddening Beirut traffic situation).  During the past month, I think my body tried to forget it was pregnant so that I could partake in all the activity, but then it suddenly remembered once we arrived in Beirut.  I was hit by that sort of brain-fizzing, verge-of-collapse exhaustion for a few days, and when we went to buy a carseat for Isla I found myself first needing to sit down inside one of the display carseats and then make my way quickly to the exit where I began blacking out and vomiting in the parking lot to C’s enormous concern and the shop patrons’ horror.  It lasted for about 10 minutes, but it was enough to convince me to take it easy for the next few days.

-Isla has become quite a pro at traveling simply because she is now–23 plane rides into her short 18 month life–so familiar with the whole routine; the drive to the airport, the wait, the boarding of the plane, the wait, the takeoff, the wait, the landing, the wait, the exit, the drive to whatever destination her can’t-stay-put parents are schlepping her off to next.  We found these magical little homeopathic chamomile tablets that she takes 3 at a time every half hour or so while we fly.  I’m not sure they put her to sleep at all, but they do seem to calm her down or at least give her a treat (a highly suspicious looking, multiple white pill of a treat) to look forward to.  We’re relieved to see that she is doing better on planes, because we’ll be flying back to Antakya via Istanbul, and then back to Lebanon via Istanbul before the new baby is born.  And then she will turn 2 and graduate from inexpensive lap infant status to full-price toddler, and we will really start to feel the burden of our frequent flyer lifestyle.

-On the inside, I have reached this point where I am heartbroken whenever I think about Isla losing her place as our one and only baby.  On the one hand, I am excited for her to have a sibling, since the entirety of her circle of friends is made up of adults, but on the other hand, I imagine how it will feel to suddenly lose the full focus of our attention and admiration.  Right now, we’re still obsessed with every last thing she does (“She was talking to her reflection in the drain today!!!  Isn’t our daughter the most hilarious child that ever existed??”  I am exaggerating only a little).  I wonder if we will still be as captivated by her, or if we will suddenly be too tired to enjoy it anymore.  In my mind, I worry that she will be utterly sad and confused and lost, and I can’t bear to think about it.  In theory, I know she will be fine, eventually at least, but theoretical knowledge doesn’t always serve any purpose.

-C is in the middle of an unusual temporary work-from-home situation, and I am growing so inordinately attached to his daily presence that I’m not sure I’ll recover when he’s no longer around.  Right now we’re in this oasis of calm where I can leave Isla in the care of her beloved grandparents for a hefty chunk of the day while I write and C works and we take a lunch break with his parents during Isla’s nap.  It’s very serene, and I’m afraid that when it’s over I’ll turn into this frazzled, frustrated, tired version of myself…soon with a baby to breastfeed every few hours and a toddler to feed and entertain.  I know countless of parents have managed this before, but they are Super Parents, whereas I am just a commoner.

-Regarding the impending human, I am still in the relatively easy 2nd semester.  I do not want this baby to get any ideas from Isla about taking liberties with the due date.  Every day I warn the baby to stay put for three and a half more good long months.  Even though Isla’s early arrival made her delivery easier than I ever could have imagined, and she was thankfully fully healthy, it’s not something I want to play around with.  (Watch me eat my words when I am gargantuan, three weeks overdue, and labor for 30 hours to deliver a monstrous 12 lb child).  Fingers crossed that this one arrives healthy and whole.

-Over and out!


Back home

-We’re back after a short burst of a trip to the US, which was so chock-full of graduations, my brother’s wedding, dinners and a little jaunt up to Massachusetts for a visit to C’s sister and brother-in-law plus a (phenomenal) LP concert, that we barely recovered from our jetlag before packing right back up and making the return flight.  Still, it was so good to be back in New Jersey with everyone, and we were there when spring had really exploded in greenery everywhere.

-Now that we’re home, Isla’s hearty appetite is back, and I think I can tentatively whisper that she seems to be over her horrible two-month-long picky-eater stunt.  She gave up on being a vegetarian, returned to her carnivorous ways, and is thankfully happy to branch back out to a larger array of fruits and vegetables.  I’ve noticed that I’ve been happier and more carefree lately, and realized how anxious I’d become over tiny I’s selective eating.  She’s such a pipsqueak and needs all the nutrients she can get.

-The temperature in Antakya rose while we were gone, but the winds are still strong and constant.  By some miracle, we can open all our windows and never admit a single mosquito!  The wind blows through the house and keeps us from needing air conditioning.  We’ve just had to do a better job at securing some of the overhead lighting.

-Liz and Celine arrive tomorrow!  Knowing that they’ll be here for almost the whole month of June has made leaving NJ so much easier.  They’re currently enduring a seven hour layover in Casablanca airport.  Romantic location, grueling wait time.

-Next week I’ll be halfway through this pregnancy.  I’m still trying out various ways to prepare Isla for the new arrival.  I am hoping she’ll love her new sibling, after she makes it through the initial stages of denial, anger, bargaining and acceptance of course!

-We’re almost in the middle of Ramadan right now, which means that there’s a cannon that goes off around sunset to signal the start of Iftar, dates are sold everywhere, and families stay up late eating together while kids play outside for long hours, and then everyone wakes up early to eat before daybreak.  It’s a month when the days are sleepy and the nights are celebratory; everything slows because so many people are fasting from all food and drink during the day and then sleeping less at night.  C says you can tell who’s truly fasting by their breath.  If you haven’t eaten or drank anything–or chewed any gum–your breath will become stale and rank as the day draws on.  Piety equals bad breath.  I haven’t noticed this much, but what I have observed is that a lot more people are stopping to give money to beggars in the street, which is sort of what Ramadan is supposed to be about.

-I wish I had a longer visit in the US, but it’s good to fall back into our regular schedule and feel tethered and grounded again.


Antakya by month

-In January we move into our new home.  It is bright and cheery, and also very cold for a bit until the gas is hooked up.  In the meantime we drag space heaters around with us and wear layers.

We host a Sunday board game afternoon as a housewarming of sorts, and it becomes a tradition.  We alternate between Settlers of Catan and Game of Thrones, with occasional rounds of Jenga.

We drink lots of fresh orange and pomegranate juice, and I buy huge pomegranates every Thursday at the farmer’s market outside our apartment building.  We have a few interesting run-ins with our neighbors, who are all wary of foreigners.  Month by month, we will win them over.  Isla keeps our same-floor neighbors awake one night with her teething, so I appease them with a batch of cookies by way of apology, and it sweetens our relationship.

I turn 30 the day my brother and cousin fly in for a visit.   We have a great time taking them around, eating lots of good food, hiking up steep mountain trails, visiting the archeological museum and playing games at home.  We’re both sad to see them go.

-There is a lot of rain in February.  Still, the views from every side of our home are stunning.  We are on the seventh floor and look out at mountain ranges from every room.  We eat breakfast together in the mornings and head out for a morning walk together; C to work, and me to drop off Isla at her babysitter’s house for a few hours so I can work on my turtle novels.  They are not about turtles, but they move forward as slowly, and probably with more self-doubt.  One stalls and sleeps for awhile.  Sometimes the days stretch out too long, and I feel lost and wonder and scheme about what I want for my life.  There’s a persistent sense that I should be doing something very specific here, and it’s eluding me.  I’ve been feeling this way for a long time now, but I’m a slow learner.

I print out tax forms and take them to the post office, where no one speaks English or Arabic.  The woman at the desk asks me a few questions and I stare at her blankly.  She goes outside and steps into neighboring shops to look for someone who speaks Arabic.  We stop a Syrian pedestrian and he comes into the post office to translate.  All the woman wants to know is whether or not I’d like the package express-mailed.  I start laughing, and the three of us laugh at the effort it took to request standard mailing.  Isla cries impatiently in her stroller.

At night people use coal to heat their homes and shops, and the air is gritty and acrid.  It will all be clear again come spring.  Almost every building here is topped with solar panels, and C laughs at the juxtaposition of such archaic and modern energy sources.

I fly out to Ankara to settle residency permits for Isla and me.  I visit the US Embassy, which proves useless, and then talk with the notary public, a translator’s office, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the US consulate in Adana.  It is an ultimately frustrating trip, which I’ll have to repeat again in March before we finally receive our residencies.

C flies to Istanbul for ten days.  Isla and I try to keep busy at home.  We have guests for dinner, make a few visits, and swim in an indoor pool.  I join a yoga group and book club.  I begin language lessons with one of our Syrian friends for two hours a week.  He coaches me in Arabic, and teaches me some Turkish when I’m feeling ambitious, and I work through the TOEFL practice book with him.  As a bonus, he helps me understand the ins and outs and nuances of what’s happening in Syria.

On somewhat of a whim, I take a pregnancy test at the end of the month and I’m floored when it jumps out positive.  C had been saying as much, but I didn’t think it was possible.  In the nausea and exhaustion of the first three months, my emotions swing back and forth from excitement to fear and anxiety.  How will Isla handle it?  How will I handle it?  Where will the baby be born?  How many batches of cookies will I be making for all the nights we’ll keep our neighbors awake?  When I sing to Isla at night before putting her to sleep, I hold her close and kiss her dark little head.  I add more songs than usual.  I worry and struggle to sleep at night.  Months later, when I begin to feel better and regain my energy, I am less afraid and more full of anticipation.

-Jim and his friend come for a visit in March.  They somehow end up on opposite jetlag schedules.  Jim wakes up early and takes morning walks around the small city.  I join him when I can.  It’s good to have him here.  We eat good food again and take them around.  We visit the first Christian church built into the base of a mountain by St. Peter.  We have a particularly lovely day driving up to Arsuz and Iskandarun with one of our friends here.   We walk by the sea and then eat a spectacular meal prepared at a small family restaurant.  They set a table outside for us on the shore.  We eat shrimp, salad, and grilled fish.

Campaign trucks drive around every few hours blasting songs meant to encourage people to vote yes in the referendum.  They wake Isla from her nap several times until she gets used to it.  Now, the calls to prayer from nearby mosques have become like lullabies for her.  C goes in to check on her one night and comes back to tell me she’s sleeping in the position of prayer.  We laugh when the call to prayer starts, and think she must be becoming devout.

-April weather is perfect.  Everything is green and blooming and breezy.  Lilacs spill out over fences into the streets alongside honeysuckle and gardenia.  I am constantly sniffing the air.  Swallows dip and slide across the sky all day long.  In Isla’s fifteenth month, she learns to walk, becomes a picky vegetable-averse vegetarian eater, and expands her vocabulary to eight nouns, one verb, and one interjection (la2, which is Arabic for no).  She clings to me more than usual.  Luckily for her, Turks are crazy about babies.  When she gets cranky in a restaurant, the waiter takes her around and shows her the trees in the courtyard while we eat.  When I stop in to the small grocery store across the street where everyone knows us, the woman at the register sits Isla on top of the counter with her while I collect the things I come in for.  We learn that Ayla is a Turkish name derived from the word “ay,” which means moon.

We attend an Easter mass at dawn on the day of the referendum vote.  The street is blocked off by security, and our friend meets us to let us into the church.  Armed guards stand on the rooftop.  Candles are lit by a flame carried from Jerusalem through Syria and up into Antakya.  The chanting is in Arabic, Greek and Turkish.  We arrive home and stay in for the day.  The outcome of the vote is no surprise.  The political landscape here and everywhere colors everything, and sometimes I force myself to break from reading the news for a few days.  Too much makes me feel dirty and stale inside.

We walk everywhere and wander around public parks on the weekends snacking on cups of spiced corn sold at stands.  The produce at the farmer’s market no longer offers pomegranates or oranges.  Now it includes apricots, green plums, fresh green almonds, and heaping buckets of wild thyme.  Chickpeas begin to grow, and people of all ages carry around their green stalks and pop the beans off to eat.  We buy birdseed and fill an empty candle on the window ledge.  It only attracts mourning doves, but Isla loves them and so we do too.

-We spend just two thirds of May in Turkey.  It’s 5:30am here now, quiet and cool.  We’ll head out for the airport at mid-morning and take a domestic flight to Istanbul and then fly straight on to JFK.  I haven’t had a direct flight to the US in years, because it’s not an option when flying out of Beirut.  This will be Isla’s sixth international flight (outside the womb and not counting domestic flights).  It will be the first flight for her sibling in utero.  I haven’t quite packed yet.

Poetry Archives: Mary Karr

I read somewhere
that if   pedestrians didn’t break traffic laws to cross
Times Square whenever and by whatever means possible,
the whole city
would stop, it would stop.
Cars would back up to Rhode Island,
an epic gridlock not even a cat
could thread through. It’s not law but the sprawl
of our separate wills that keeps us all flowing. Today I loved
the unprecedented gall
of the piano movers, shoving a roped-up baby grand
up Ninth Avenue before a thunderstorm.
They were a grim and hefty pair, cynical
as any day laborers. They knew what was coming,
the instrument white lacquered, the sky bulging black
as a bad water balloon and in one pinprick instant
it burst. A downpour like a fire hose.
For a few heartbeats, the whole city stalled,
paused, a heart thump, then it all went staccato.
And it was my pleasure to witness a not
insignificant miracle: in one instant every black
umbrella in Hell’s Kitchen opened on cue, everyone
still moving. It was a scene from an unwritten opera,
the sails of some vast armada.
And four old ladies interrupted their own slow progress
to accompany the piano movers.
each holding what might have once been
lace parasols over the grunting men. I passed next
the crowd of pastel ballerinas huddled
under the corner awning,
in line for an open call — stork-limbed, ankles
zigzagged with ribbon, a few passing a lit cigarette
around. The city feeds on beauty, starves
for it, breeds it. Coming home after midnight,
to my deserted block with its famously high
subway-rat count, I heard a tenor exhale pure
longing down the brick canyons, the steaming moon
opened its mouth to drink from on high …
-“A Perfect Mess”