My life here is weird. I hear heavy artillery most nights around 9 p.m. Drones fly overhead on a regular basis, and the helicopters fly so low that they always stop conversation. But the war zone part of this life isn’t the only “abnormal” thing about it. Here are a few others:
We eat meals on the floor, every single meal of the day. I honestly can’t even remember the last meal that I ate at a table. It was probably in the capitol when we were there last month. I do like eating at tables, but our house just doesn’t really have a room to accommodate one. We even bought a table last spring in hopes that we would just figure something out. We haven’t. But, locals eat on the floor all the time, so it’s not a big deal. Also, my kitchen is outside. Not literally stove-in-the-dirt outside, but in a building completely separate from my house. This is also pretty common here because it gets so crazy hot that nobody wants the heat of their cooking adding more heat to their already-sweltering abode. This has kept me from my bad habit of late night snacking.
My husband has not met a single one of my friends. Not one. Here, men and women are totally segregated except within their families. In fact, men don’t even talk to each other about their wives. Instead of saying “How’s your wife?” they say “How are your children?” Yep, women get lumped in with the kids. However, there is a huge double-standard here. Because I’m a foreign woman, it’s somehow acceptable for my friends’ husbands and brothers to see and talk with me. When Levi and I go to a family’s home for a meal, we are immediately ushered into separate rooms upon arrival. The ladies of the family don’t dare step foot into the mens’ dining room, but one or two of the men of the family will almost always step into the ladies room to meet Laila and me. But, I won’t complain about this. When it’s late and we are away from home, Laila is going to have a meltdown. The men are a great transit service for Laila to get to Daddy.
Have you ever told a chubby baby “You’re so cute I could eat you up!” Ok… no? Maybe that’s just me, then. Well, I actually see my friends biting the cheeks of toddlers and babies. Yep. Smooch, SMOOCH, CHOMP. Not hard or anything, just a little love bite. I think it’s precious, actually. They’ll also pinch their cheeks and then kiss the fingers that did the pinching. Maybe that’s a good way to get your Xs and Os when you’ve got a virus or something.
Long pants, long shirts, long sleeves, burqa, and rockin’ hot shoes. Yes, it’s ALL about the shoes. They may be covered head to ankle, but local ladies’ feet are almost always looking fabulous, albeit covered with red henna. I’ve own some of the local style shoes, and they’re AWFUL. Granted, I’m really not a fan of heels, but I will wear the comfortable kind on occasion. Theirs are the tight, blister-giving, acrylic kind that kind of remind me of a grown-up rendition of the jelly shoes that I wore when I was a kid.
The other day when I was at my neighbors’ house, we were casually sitting around and drinking tea. One of my friends, I’ll call her “Abbi,” said “Hey Betsy, watch this.” She called over her 5-ish (maybe 6) year old daughter, and then pulled out her breast. Her daughter promptly started suckling. Don’t get me wrong, I realize there are plenty of people who nurse their kids way past toddlerhood (or much older). I’ve been to plenty of countries where that’s the norm. It doesn’t make it feel any less… well, awkward. Either way, those kids are actually receiving nutrients from their mothers. When I asked Abbi if she was still lactating (this daughter is the youngest), she said “No, but she thinks she’s a baby.” Er, ok. We’ll just chalk that up to a “We’re friends, so this is fine” moment.