A Travellerspoint blog

Ladies that Lunch

sunny 25 °C

My kids are mouth breathers. When they are concentrating on something, which is most of the time given that everything is a learning experience when you're eight months old, they sound like a train gathering steam. It is very amusing. Ben likes tissues and will do just about anything to get hold of a box just so that he can pull all the tissues out - and eat them. Harry likes to talk when he eats, mouth wide open, which leads to some very messy dinnertimes. But they are still the cutest little dudes I know, and spending time with them is awesome.

Today the three of us went to coffee with the UN wives. Appropriately, at the most expensive coffee house in town. I say appropriately because it's a common theme amongst us to hear the conversation "How much?" "Oh really? Was that UN price or local price?". The UN gets paid a lot, and pay too much for pretty much everything as a result. I should add that this isn't localised… it happens everywhere in the world where the UN put money into the local economy. The vacuum that it causes when the UN leaves is actually one of the problems a country has trying to rebuild after conflict. In Lebanon, the small villages along the blue line actually complain about inequality if a poor nation has its soldiers posted in their area because they don't spend as much money as the richer ones. Not a joke.

Since the UN has been in Tyr, the rental price has gone through the roof. It's so bad that it's pushing the locals out of the market. Imagine not being able to afford the rent in your own town. I think there is something very wrong with this, everyone seems to be getting taken for a ride and it can't have a happy ending.

The mix of ladies that turn up at coffee is pretty spectacular. Argentinian, Chilean, Lebanese, Canadian, Indian, Irish, Swiss, Kiwi… they are vibrant, and diverse in their outlook. The only thing that brings us together is the fact our husbands all work for the same company.

When people asked what I was going to 'do' over here before we got to Lebanon, I joked about being a 'Lady that Lunches'. While I wouldn't put myself in quite that category, I DO have a cleaner… but there are some ladies (not those I'm particular friends with actually) who don't work and have full staff to run their houses and children. House keepers, drivers, nannies… the works. It's like the return of the British Empire in India. I do wonder what they DO all day. They must get so bored. I mean, the shopping really isn't THAT good.

There are a number of UN missions here. UNIFIL, one of the biggest, is mandated to have their families here and get extra allowances - including flights home for the whole family - to facilitate this. The other, the one we are part of, isn't. To make it even stranger, UNIFIL is the 'armed' mission (carry weapons, drive around in armored vehicles), while ours isn't. To put that in simple terms, the guys who do the dangerous stuff are allowed to have their families here, but the guys who just watch what's going on and report on it aren't. The whole thing is just weird, and unfortunately, some of the UNIFIL wives tend to make the rest of us feel like second class citizens. Its hilarious. We live the same lives and face the same challenges, and sometimes even live in the same apartment buildings! Money. Gets 'em every time.

I guess the thing that does define me as a Lady that Lunches is that I don't go to work to earn money any more, so I can take a two hour liquid lunch if I want. Obviously the liquid is baby formula, and I'm not the one drinking it. You know the coolest thing about my lunches these days? My boys have just learnt how to hold their own bottles. They kick their legs and wave their bottles around and there is milk everywhere. Sometimes it even goes in their mouths. So freaking cute.

Posted by karicketts 11:22 Comments (1)

The Lemon and the Big Adventure

sunny 24 °C

When H left New Zealand, he had instruction to buy a car in Lebanon when he got settled. There was one main reason why we thought buying was better was hiring, the total cost for a year to hire would be about the same, but if we BOUGHT a car, it would mean we had some return on the investment at the end of the year. A car was necessary to allow me a bit of freedom while H was up the hill, and it allowed me to do the shopping because the supermarkets are out of stroller range. With two small people in tow, you quickly discover things like the shopping aren't that straight forward anymore.

Given that I would be driving the car on dodgy lebanese roads with dodgy lebanese drivers, predominantly alone, there were two simple criteria; we didn't really care what it looked like, but the car must be SAFE, and it must be RELIABLE.

The reason I've hesitated about blogging about this is because the car was sold to us by a Kiwi who was leaving Lebanon as we arrived. And it is a heap of junk. It is worth significantly less than we paid for it (verified by independent sources), and we feel totally ripped off.

The car that was sold to us is a 1989 Jeep Cherokee. There has been a bit of email traffic between the seller, her husband and H asking some quite pointed questions… but her husband swears that he was honest in his dealings with us, and that he sold us a car that was in good condition. His words, verbatim "this car has looked after us well and it should look after you".

However. Given the two criteria that I mentioned above (safe and reliable) which were made clear on purchase, and the state of the car that we now own, I am less than convinced. H certainly would not have purchased the car had the seller made clear the extent of the problems the car has - problems that must have been present - there are too many of them and they are not the sort to suddenly 'appear' for them not to have been known about. It's possible the sellers husband didn't know much about cars. Or was oblivious. You would have to have been vacantly oblivious though.

But I'll let you make the judgement yourself… below is a list of the 'issues' we discovered in a very short period after purchase:
- The oil and transmission leak and need constant refilling
- There is a leak in the rear window when it rains
(both these problems were declared when we bought it - although the window was to have been fixed)
- The breaks are unsafe (they were 'completely replaced' two weeks before we bought it apparently. This may be true but they are still spongy and slow to react)
- The aircon had to be re-gassed
- There is a slow air-leak in one tyre which needs to be re-inflated every couple of weeks.
- The is a suspicious smell of petrol inside the car when its been sitting for a day or two
- The battery had a problem with constantly being flat which necessitated its replacement two weeks after we bought it. When this didn't fix the problem, two further visits to the mechanic turned up nothing - until I attacked the engine with electrical tape and wrapped every exposed cable or piece of metal that looked like it might have contact with the battery. It's holding a charge now… don't know how long that will last though.
- Replaced a fuse which had corroded past usefulness, so that the windscreen wipers and sprayer would work
- The cooling system leaks water through the dash into the passenger footwell
- There is a serious problem with the engine overheating when it is idling - this includes moving through slow traffic, which you encounter a lot of in Beirut… which brings me to the amusing tale of our Big Adventure this weekend.

The first time we had the problem with overheating was when we left the motor running after it had been jump-started (for the 6th time in a row) one morning when we were taking a trip to Saida. On this occasion it was one of those scary scenes where there is steam pouring out of your engine - which becomes a large dense cloud when you open the hood. At the time, we had no idea what was wrong, and it wasn't until the problem happened a couple more times that we made the connection with the idling motor.

This weekend, we decided to risk it and take the car to Beirut, with a side trip to Byblos. We had a brilliant time. Mostly. The car made it all the way to Beirut - but when we hit the snarl of saturday traffic past the airport the gimbals started climbing and we had to make an abrupt departure from the motorway to let off some steam. While the hour it took to get watered and moving again made us late for the lunch date we had - at the Hard Rock Cafe no less - it was now apparent that getting home was going to be a bit of a mission. Taking all this into account, we decided that while we were there anyway we might as well get our shopping done (my husband now owns a pink shirt - and he looks HOT in it!) and continue on to Byblos the next day. It was worth it. Byblos is a tourist attraction because it has a very real claim to being the oldest continuously occupied town in the world. It is beautiful, and also has a bit to do with the bible (the name might have given that away).

The trip home was fine until we got off the coast road and hit Beirut traffic again. While we were pulled over in the car-park of a poker-machine joint, right on the side of the motorway, a mechanic named Tony (not kidding) pulled up on a scooter. Turns out this dude turns a dollar zooming in and out of traffic fixing broken cars.

And this is about the point the adventure really began. Tony, builders crack and all, took to the engine using a screwdriver and a couple of pairs of pliers and removed: two bits of hose, a pipe, replaced a component and removed the heat regulator. I should probably add this was over the course of two hours and two separate stops involving copious amounts of steam and many bottles of water. We had run out of cash after paying him $70 cobbled together from the last of our reserve the first time we stopped, so after the second time, when it became apparent it was going to cost us significantly more than that, H disappeared on the back of the scooter with Tony to find an ATM, and the kids and I were left on the side of the motorway just north of Beirut at about 8pm in a car that didn't go, watching all the other cars zoom past and counting the seat-belts being worn in them (grand total: two. None by children).

At that point I noticed H had forgotten his cellphone, which was sitting in the centre console. To be honest, I wasn't convinced I'd see him again alive. So it was a relief when he did turn up about half an hour later - having crossed the six lanes of traffic over the motorway on foot (apparently easier than trying to turn the scooter around, having approached from the other direction). It cost us US $200, the cap of the expansion tank - which Tony lost during stop #1, about 20 litres of water - and the repairs were expedient at best. I'm still not entirely sure if we got ripped off, but I think getting home that night, rather than the next day, was probably worth it.

So there you have the saga of the Lemon car. Let that be a lesson to you all. The irony is that overall I've found the Lebanese to be incredibly honest and forthright in their manner. Seems a shame that we would get dealt a dodgy hand by our fellow countrymen - and have had to come half way across the world to have it happen.

And NOW I'm waiting up, writing blogs while my husband drinks whiskey at the pub, because he forgot his keys when he went out tonight. Sometimes life really does give you lemons.

p.s: My lemonade is that he's still here TO go out. That part of our Lebanese adventure continues to continue...

Posted by karicketts 07:00 Archived in Lebanon Comments (4)

This Rock and Roll Lifestyle

sunny 27 °C

I'm living like a rockstar. Last night was the first night since I got home from Turkey that we've had dinner at home. I've come to the conclusion you can't actually maintain this with 8 month old twins, because the most we could manage last night was a DVD in bed early (Cowboys vs. Aliens, actually quite good - for the Daniel Craig factor if nothing else), but it was a nice interlude.

While dinners out with friends are a super way to feel welcomed home and birthdayish, the Lebanese wedding we attended two nights ago needs to be given the limelight for this blog. Most of you won't have been to one, but if you've seen the program "My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding", you probably have a bit of an idea what it was all about. Just replace 'travelers' with 'Lebanese' and 'huge dress' with 'fireworks'.

In essence, it had the same run-sheet as any of the other weddings we've been to. Ceremony, Dinner with Speech and Dancing. Apart from our own, our favorite wedding was held at the Zoo… and this one comes a close third. The bottles of whiskey being put out on the tables as we arrived sold it for H, for me, I think it was the bit when the Groom's father was thrown repeatedly (fireman catch styles) in the air by the posse of the Groom's singleton friends - who, I should add, took up a whole 24 seat trestle table down one side of the reception. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The Ceremony.

The ceremony was held in a VERY old catholic church in the christian quarter here in Tyr. It was lovely. I may have cried a little. Of course, I didn't understand most of it given it was in Arabic. Unfortunately, the bride (who is a Kiwi) doesn't speak much Arabic either. It was probably a little more concerning for her not being able to understand what was going on… they did translate the main bits for her, like the part where they say 'man and wife', which was nice of them. I think I would have been a little worried what I was signing myself up for.

We arrived early. We were, in fact, the first people there. Apparently in Lebanon, when they say 1730 for 1800, what they actually mean is 1800 for 1830. Good to know. The groom (as is tradition) had been OTP since midmorning. As had his groomsman, which made the fact that they arrived by car a little bit concerning. He was a little nervous though, and given this dude is super friendly, has dreads, wears birkenstocks and is usually so laid-back he's almost horizontal I can understand why he needed a bit of help relaxing. Weddings make even the staunchest groom nervous.

Getting there early was actually well worth it, just to see the range of outfits worn by the women. For the last couple of months I've been wandering past the shop windows in fascination at some of the revealing stuff on display. My question about where it ever got worn was answered - it's at christian weddings. The outfits were everything from skinny jeans and boob tube with six inch heels to jade green fishtail ball gown with diamantee detail that was changed for a black spandex knicker-flicker ensemble for the reception. I was astonished. Especially given that the bride had to wear a shawl in the church to cover her exposed shoulders.

After the reception, it is tradition for all the guests to parade through the streets in a convoy beeping their horns and making as much of a spectacle as necessary. My Husband got right into this. So much so he got a bit confused about who he was supposed to be following and we ended up leading part of the convoy a slightly longer way to the reception than anyone had anticipated.

The Reception.

The reception was held in a proper reception facility. It had decorative windmills. The Bride and Groom arrived to the strains of 'conquest of paradise' and a massive display of fireworks… which we could all see from inside thanks to the constant live feed from the two film and three still photographers that was shown on the 10 screens placed strategically around the room.

I mentioned the whiskey before. This is tradition in Lebanon. The reception area was horrified when asked to provide wine and beer on the tables. It's not done here. Spirits or nothing, apparently it looks better. In addition to this, the table was loaded with an ever-changing and constant flow of food. It migrated from flat bread, hummus, tahini, tabuli type food through salads, vegetables, kibbeh and spring rolls to large platters of rice and meat. Yum. There were so many plates of food there was literally no place left on the table for your glass.

When the Bride and Groom were seated on the white satin lounger on the stage at the front, the father of the bride gave his speech. This is not tradition in Lebanon. He kept it short so the Arabic translation didn't have to go on too long. It was amusing having the jokes 'got' twice, first by those that spoke english and them by those that spoke Arabic.

The Bride and Groom then got up for the first dance. There were more fireworks - inside - and lots of smoke. The camera crew had a hard time keeping everything in focus through all the smoke, which by the end of the dance was being supplied by smoke machine, but coped admirably.

Within about ten minutes, the rest of the bridal party were up on the shoulders of the Groom's posse - who by this stage were well through two bottles of whiskey. At some point the tossing of the bridal party began and it was awesome. I've never seen a wedding (actually, a party of any kind) where everyone - young and old - were so into the dancing. The constant feed from the cameras kept those who weren't dancing entertained and the food and drink just kept on coming. It was a spectacularly good time.

We tried out a new sitter that night. She is great, but being Shia had to be home by 11pm. This was a bit of a mixed blessing. Leaving early meant missing out on some of the fun, but by that stage I was just about funned out. I really have become a mum.

Meanwhile, back in the real world we are still waiting for confirmation on What Is Happening with the re-deployment. So far its been turned on and off three times. Will keep you posted.

Posted by karicketts 09:18 Archived in Lebanon Comments (0)

Bewilderment

sunny 25 °C

Why did I want to come to ANZAC Cove?

I was asked this yesterday. I found I couldn't answer it with any coherence. My best reply was that I've wanted to be here on ANZAC day for almost twenty years, but I couldn't put into words exactly why.

Having now stood in the cold, still dawn. Listening to the morning birds and looking from the dark ocean up to the menacing, still immovable - even after 100 years - darkness of the Sphinx, I find the best answer I have... is that being there feels relevant.

It's a long way to come to feel relevant. And perhaps I have oversimplified something that is, for me, intensely complex - but if I say that I feel a connection with Gallipoli that I have not felt in any other place in the world apart from home, then maybe it makes more sense. It gives this little New Zealander a broader place to stand in a big world.

The boys that died here left such an indelible stain with their blood. It felt like I should have been able to see more of a sign that they were there. I found myself searching the ground for it as I visited the cemeteries - Lone Pine, Baby 700, The Nek, The Farm, Chunuk Bair - but apart from the surprising amount of earthwork still visible after 100 years, there really isn't anything to see anymore. Not without a spade.

I felt bewilderment that those young men had to come such a long way to die somewhere so nondescript. Just another stretch of brown and scrubby Turkish coast. Being there today I felt that it mustn't have been about the adventure, not at the end, it was about love.

I have felt a little bewildered with a lot of things over the last week. Best foot forward though. This week away has given me the best possible fresh start to be able to deal with the challenges the next few months will throw our way. I have a clear head and a full heart. I'm lucky. I'm doing it for love too, and that makes almost everything o.k.

Posted by karicketts 13:42 Archived in Turkey Comments (1)

Tiles and Trams

sunny 18 °C

There are two things I have been really impressed with in Istanbul.

First; the public transport system. It is cheap, clean and efficient. It gets you everywhere you want to go and it's easy to work out how to use it. Most importantly, its integrated. You can use your Akbil pass on the Bus, the Train, the Tram and the Ferry. New Zealand still hasn't figured that out yet. How shameful.

The second is the fact that Istanbulians actually still use most of the centuries old works-of-art-disguised-as-buildings dotted over their city every day, despite the tourists crawling all over them taking happy snaps. I love it that these jaw-droppingly beautiful things are still so relevant to the people they were built for.

I have had four days of freedom. My legs are aching. I haven't slept so well in months, and that's despite the vagrancies of hostel living where you share a room with 5 other people all on different timetables. I have literally worn out a pair of shoes walking about - and had to sew them back together yesterday in an attempt to make them last the trip.

I think my favorite thing has been the Kyirie Chora. It's a little out of the way so many people don't have it on their 'list', but they should. Its one of the few remaining really old Churches in Istanbul, and it is covered in Mosaic and Fresco - showing, in a dozen different ways, the life and death of Mary and the life of Christ. The photos I took don't do it justice. Not even close. You walk in to the place and can't help but gasp. It shines. Probably helped by the fact most of the mosaic is pieced out in gold.

I have had a number of gasp moments over the last few days. Every mosque I have visited has prompted that response, as has the Basilica Cistern, a fair bit of the Topkapi Palace, and the view from the European fort across the Bosphorus.

I wasn't so impressed with the Anatolian side of Istanbul, but the Ferry ride over was pretty cool. It still freaks me out that the local fishermen power around at about 5 knots in tiny (less than 2m) boats in the middle of a major shipping lane.

Because I could (one Akbil swipe gets your as near or as far as you want to), today I took the tram along the T1 line as far west as it goes. The nice thing about this little trip was that from about half way it ceases to become a novelty for the tourists and becomes a part of life for the locals as they get to and from work, university, or the shops. I discovered a part of Istanbul that is a little bit more real, and watching the local little league tough it out in a game of soccer pretty much made my afternoon - for it's normalcy. Sometimes it's the little things.

I think I am appreciating the little things a bit more at the moment, because we now know that the only thing that will stop my Husband being stolen from me by the UN is something like a significant flood wiping out the middle east. Yeah right. I don't really have the words to comment on how this makes me feel. We're just dealing with it.

Posted by karicketts 10:24 Archived in Turkey Comments (1)

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