Trying to Be Green in Oman

Sustainable Oman

The produce lady sees me coming. She peers from the side of her eye and begins to mumble something. She’s not looking at the color of my skin or the way I’m dressed, because in all honesty, we can pass for cousins. She’s looking at my reusable produce bags and can’t seem to figure them or me out. To me, it doesn’t seem complicated. My produce is bagged. You identify it, weigh it, put a sticker on it and we move on in peace, but no. She does a quick examination wondering if and when I wash my produce bags. Trust me, the bags don’t double as socks or underwear. I thank her and move on.

At the nuts and dried fruits counter, I hand my reusable bulk bag to the clerk and politely make my request. He’s confused but proceeds to weigh my kilo of raw cashews in a plastic bag. I point out my cloth sack again and he clumsily makes the transfer, only for his manager to wrap my cloth bag in a plastic bag stapled shut as proof of purchase.

Vegan Oman

Once I get to the register, the cashier clerk gives me the thumbs up. My eco-attempts are not totally in vain. The bag clerk has no opinion. He takes my reusable shopping bags and fills them quickly. There’s a combination of locally grown produce, imported organic goods, eco-friendly cleaners, a gallon-bottle of white vinegar, plastic bottles of coconut oil, glass jars of nut butter, boxes of almond milk, and a shameless bag of American tortilla chips. Each shopping trip is a tug-of-war between practicality, my conscience, and our budget.  No party ever truly wins, nor are they defeated.

Trying to live sustainably isn’t so easy in some parts of the world. Maybe in Berlin, I can shop at a waste-free supermarket, ride home on a bicycle, and live in a solar-powered home, but Muscat isn’t Berlin. Maybe in Oregon, I can grow my own food, build a tiny home, and barter goods with my neighbors, but Oregon isn’t in Oman. I live in an oil-producing nation with limited public transportation, a negligible recycling industry, and very little environmental awareness. However, life in Oman sustains us in many other ways. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but I do have a generous wish list that I’m willing to work towards seeing fulfilled. Until then, I need to hold myself accountable to rejoining and getting involved with the Environmental Society of Oman. They do great work around animal conservation and environmental preservation, but I would love to see them usher in a new generation that will make sustainable choices more available for us all.

Vegan Oman

 

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Two Years of Nursing, One Week of Weaning

Photo Credit: Mericris Scott

Moulay is two years old now in both the lunar and solar calendar. His solar birthday found us here in New York with family. For his lunar birthday, we were still in Oman and that’s the day we started weaning our little man off of breastmilk. I had hoped that Moulay would end on his own before that point. He had been nursing exclusively at night for about nine months and never asked for milk at naptime or during the day. I assumed we could coast until he was ready to resign, but my side of the breastfeeding relationship was discontented. There was no shortage of milk or energy, just an instinctive feeling that we needed a reorientation in our relationship and that we would both benefit from uninterrupted night sleep.  I knew that Moulay’s diet was varied and robust enough to support him nutritionally without my milk and felt strongly that he was mature enough to be comforted in different ways.

Regardless of age or timing, Moulay’s attachment to night nursing was evidently strong, and I prepared myself to support him through the transition. Urbndervish tried putting Moulay to sleep on weekends but after a few weeks, our guy caught wind of our strategy and resisted. I thought of the dissuasion techniques I read about on mothering forums like applying aloe vera to the nipples or putting band-aids on them, but they seemed dishonest and I wasn’t that desperate–at least not yet. After a sleepless night of contemplation, research, and prayer, I rose the next day with a confident resolve that it was time and that I could love him through this loss.

The first night we changed rooms and I held, sang, and rocked Moulay until he slept. It was about an hour of fussing, whining and dozing until he finally succumbed to sleep. Naturally, I hated hearing him cry, but I heard frustration and disappointment in his voice more than fear or anger. I wasn’t leaving him alone or disappearing suddenly.  I was assuring and comforting him in every way I could. The next night was similar but shorter. The next night, even shorter but eventually, he stopped asking for or looking for milk. At around the seven-day mark, transitioning back into his bed next to his sister’s was a mild setback, possibly because of him associating the space with our nursing time. However, I knew we weren’t going back and so we pressed on.

I was torn about initiating weaning in Oman or during holiday, since I always notice new developmental leaps when we travel. However, for this delicate matter, I thought it best to not have the added pressure of other sleepers in the home and adjusting to time zone changes. This round of weaning wasn’t as easy as it was with Lil’ Z, but I’m learning to stop comparing the two and allow Moulay to shine and thrive in his own unique way.

Teaching Arabic to Our Homeschooling Community

Dolphin Cruise

Following our camping trip in Dubai, we spent two more days in Abu Dhabi with dear and beloved friends. Coincidentally and serendipitously, I wasn’t the only visitor passing through that weekend. Another dear and beloved friend, who I consider to be more of a mentor than a fellow student, was passing through. Before babies and the Arab Spring, we were students together in Hadhramaut, Yemen. She was the very first person I extended my hand to greet on my very first night in the city. Like the first greeting until our most recent, her humility and sincerity has always moved me to reflect on my own spiritual state.

Al Riyam Park

Unlike some of the other students, this special sister was efficient and focused. She was tenacious in her studies and intentional in her socializing. It was a tremendous blessing to see her and her reflection in her children. We chatted and reminisced but mostly reconnected. Meanwhile, the teacher who hosted our modest welcome gathering in the park spoke to me warmly and liberally in Arabic. She later invited all of the attendees to an evening event and called upon both my reunited friend and myself to speak to the entire audience in Arabic. The entire encounter was surprising, and we quietly chuckled about how we were similarly put on the spot to speak back in Yemen many years ago.

Nakhal Fort

Standing in front of those blessed Yemeni and Emirati faces, I shared a bit about my life and how I came to embrace Islam. But more potent than what I shared was what I received. As much as I doubt myself about this fact, it is true—I can speak Arabic. Perfect? No. Native-like? Never. With mistakes?  Yup. But, all of my years of study produced something. I’m not only understood but I understand and with my former colleagues and teachers gazing at me with their good opinion and lofty expectations, I realize that I have more to give to our little community in Muscat than I thought.

Nakhal Fort

Upon my return, I quit skirting around the issue and stepped up to make myself available. Though I would welcome more capable candidates for the task, until they arrive, I believe it’s my purpose to teach Beginner’s Arabic and Qur’an recitation to the children and mothers in our little homeschooling community. So, by the grace of God, that’s what I’m doing and the more I embrace my role, the more I find great resources and support at my disposal.

Farm in Barka

For the younger students, ages 4-7, we’ve started with basic vocabulary groups like colors, shapes, foods, animals, the weather, etc. At some point we introduced songs like Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes and The Days of the Week in Arabic. I even translated “This is the Way We…” to fit into a lovely set of graded story books that can be downloaded on Scribd. I recently discovered Arabic Seeds and that’s a great resource too!

For the older students, ages 8-13, we’re using the tried and true Madinah Islamic University Curriculum with as many extension activities I can come up with like Pictionary, scavenger hunts, charades, drawing maps, writing stories, etc. The pdf version works well for the mothers that I teach, but the Goodword edition is much more appealing.

For those of you interested in starting an Arabic playgroup or class in your homeschooling community, my best advice is to start where you are and with what you have, learn as you go, and have fun! I’m certainly not the fountain of Arabic language I’d like to be, but I do need to honor what my teachers have poured into me by pouring that knowledge into others.

International Book Festival

Cultivating Community for Homeschooling and Life

OmanA constant theme in our life abroad is the search for community. We were very blessed to experience true bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood once upon a time, but eventually those ties frayed as individuals followed their hearts and purposes elsewhere. Before coming to Muscat, the question crept up again and I’m pleased to report that the pursuit has been promising.

Oman

Sunday night, the eve before a national holiday commemorating the birth of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him and his family), three families gathered to remember his life and legacy. We had a vegan-friendly and mostly gluten-free spread while we shared stories, poems, and crafts. Children played, parents chatted and reflected, and it feels like we have a community again—a space where we can share a common aim and respect and be respected for who we are.

Oman

Ultimately, we’re more driven to build a community for our children than our own selves. Urbndervish and I have found contentment in each other’s company, but for Lil’ Z and Moulay, we are intentional about seeking out friendships and connections that are enriching, affirming, and nurturing for them. When living abroad, some communities are formed around nationality or faith. For us as a Muslim, Black, Jamaican/American, and homeschooling/unschooling family we intersect a number of expat communities. Most American expatriate families are connected to diplomatic relations, military work, or church. Even within the homeschooling communities, it’s not unusual to find groups exclusively representing one faith, nationality, or language.

Oman

Here in Muscat, the gateway to meeting our new friends has been the modest but diverse homeschooling community. Some say we’re only a dozen actively homeschooling families, but regardless of the numbers on Whatsapp groups and Facebook pages, I’m discovering that statistics mean little in this regard. At the end of the day, this elusive concept of community comes down to the people: individuals who participate, connect, and commit to one another again and again. Sometimes I’m nervous. I worry if our children see each other too often, but then again I consider that most children go to school with more or less the same cohort day after day and sometimes year after year.

Oman

Right now, the chemistry is good and I’m praying this honeymoon stage won’t end. I’m excited about the friendships we all are developing. We plan gatherings, field trips, classes, co-ops and camping excursions together. I’m filled with so much hope but, also fear that it may fall apart with only the slightest friction. However, like any community, we can only exist by putting one foot before the other by forgiving when we falter, stretching when we grow, and committing to what we’ve created. While few of us are historically rooted in Oman, I believe there are enough of us who want to build a future here and hold space for more families to join our unorthodox path of home education and life abroad.

Oman

A Long Way Home

Black Traveling Family

It has been a long hiatus. I have written little for the past three months for three reasons: we were in the US visiting our families, Urbndervish left to start a new job and he had to take our laptop with him. Even if I had the laptop, it’s not likely much writing would’ve gotten done without my partner. I’ve been pouring all of my energy into the children- keeping them calm, engaged, and nourished since exiting Turkey, hopping between homes, and adjusting to life without Baba. However, much has changed in the last three weeks. The said Baba has returned and flew us to our new home—a home we never really wanted to leave in the first place and that took two years to return to–Oman. However, instead of returning to the traditional, provincial Nizwa, we disembarked in Muscat, al hamdu lillah (thanks be to God!).

We slipped out of the Sultanate’s embrace two years ago. Knowing that we had to leave Nizwa to expand Lil’ Z’s homeschooling experience, we tried moving to Muscat. Our top choice employer promised an offer that we didn’t receive until days before our scheduled departure. And with no room for negotiation, we turned down the paltry offer on principle and pushed on. While visiting our family that summer, we received word about a position in Morocco and spent the next eight months there awaiting the arrival of our son. We returned to the US for a pre- and post-birth stay of almost six months until taking up the next job offer in Ankara. Ankara was having a particularly rough year which we decided to wrap up on the night of the coup attempt. The very next morning we started the job search once again, and Urbndervish was offered an interview for the very same job he turned down two years prior. However, the offer was much more reasonable, so he accepted it.

Hanging in Brooklyn

In those two years away, it became clear to us that Muscat is the best destination for us. The safety of the country, the character of the people, and the emerging homeschooling community gave us confidence that we could make a home here for a while. Even though we were disappointed about our temporary separation, we knew it was worth it and made the most of it. I lingered behind with the kids in New York until our family visas were ready nearly two months later. It was a challenge being apart so long, but the children and I had a lot of fun ending the summer and entering fall in New York. We hung out with family, had play dates in Brooklyn, took trips to DC and New Jersey, attended my best friend’s wedding and watched the fall foliage change around us. Thankfully, we snuck out before Election Day and the pending winter.

Fresh Flowers

Urbndervish made a crazy overnight trip just to pick us up and fly us over to Oman on the same night of his arrival. We were finally together again and ready to settle into the nest he had been preparing for us. As we traveled, I felt a stir of emotions–sad to leave family, happy to be reunited, and anxious to see if Oman had changed or wasn’t as great as I remembered. Were my rosy memories omitting the challenges, difficulties, and frustrations we faced? Was I forgetting just how odd we were (and are) as an unschooling, vegan, American Muslim family with “crunchy” tendencies? Did Oman still have the charm that won us over years prior? In only a few days, the anxieties evaporated. Finding peace in the shopping mall’s prayer room, hearing Maher Zain belt “Yaa Nabi, salaam alayka” in the supermarket, and sitting on the beach for our first homeschooling meetup with beautiful moms and children from France, America, Kenya, South Africa, and Sri Lanka have all affirmed for me that we are where we’re supposed to be. Additionally, old friends have extended themselves by helping us find our apartment, selling and giving us great furniture and houseware, lending us our old car “Suzi”, and generally being helpful for our inquiries.

Some of the not-so-rosy moments have also surfaced. Plumbing problems, internet issues, and perpetual dust arose, but they are all manageable. Our children still go to bed with full tummies in one of the safest countries in the world and for this, we are abundantly grateful. There are bumps to be smoothed out and some that may never go away, but in the wise words of Mr. Kendrick Lamar, “We gon’ be alright” and I believe so. Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) said it more eloquently in the following translated statement:

Amazing is the affair of the believer; verily his entire affair is good and this is not for one except the believer. When something of good befalls him, he is grateful and that is good for him. When something of harm befalls him, he is patient and that is good for him.

So, it’s really all good, al hamdu lillah.

What We Will and Won’t Miss About Ankara

In the city

I’m not the type to look for signs, but I don’t ignore them either. The recent coup attempt in Turkey may or may not have been a sign, but it certainly caught our attention. As a lone incident, it was an unfortunate shock, but as a climax following series of attacks and incidents in Istanbul and Ankara, it was our cue to exit stage right. Coming here was written for us without a doubt, but staying here doesn’t seem to be. In spite of the hiccups and challenges, our year in Turkey has been an enriching experience. We’ve befriended wonderful people, saw breathtaking vistas and experienced a refined culture of genuine hospitality. We are a bit disappointed about our early departure but definitely not sad. We’ve been traveling long enough to know that some souls never really part and reunions happen in the most unforeseen ways. As nomads, you never know where we’ll turn up or return to, so this is definitely not a goodbye but moreso a “see you later”. While prepping to depart, we’ve been reflecting on the sum total of our stay and came up with the following.

Coast

WHAT WE WILL MISS:

The people: Generally speaking, Turkish people have been refreshingly hospitable to us. Their interest and curiosity about us has always seemed sincere and polite. They are endearing to children, respectful to elders, and welcoming to strangers. Other than being incredible hosts, our Turkish friends have taken cleanliness to a whole other level. At times we felt like they caught crumbs and dust before they even touched the floor and maintained impeccable homes in spite of having young children. This standard might be unattainable for us but it was pretty impressive to witness.

The country: Turkey is a really beautiful country with a variety of landscapes and geographic features. Endless mountain ranges, dense green forests, and the brilliant blue of the Mediterranean Sea are all etched in our minds vividly. Sights of interest are abundant and have been well-maintained and accessible to us. Our only regret is that we didn’t have a chance to see more and that some very religiously significant regions are challenged by instability.

The food: Oh, the food. The simplicity of fresh herbs, cold-pressed olive oil, fresh lemon juice and salt have forever changed our approach to salads. Though we generally don’t love cold foods, we’ve become smitten with a genre of dishes that are slow cooked in olive oil and served cold. Eating seasonally has introduced us to new foods like fresh figs, quinces, celery root, and a variety of vegetables grown locally. Some of our favorite food finds here were black rice, pomegranate syrup, fresh dill, dried organic apricots, and leblebi (dry roasted chickpeas).

Aegean Food

The mosques: I’ve yet to see an unkempt mosque or a substandard women’s prayer hall in Ankara. From large congregational mosques to the tiny prayer rooms in shopping centers, I’ve consistently seen efforts to maintain the beauty, cleanliness, and awe that a place of worship merits.

The fashion: While I can’t describe a traditional, Turkish style of dress, the sisters here definitely have their own flavor and unique expression of modesty. A few years ago, I made a decision to no longer buy clothes that were not designed with my customer profile in mind. So, online shopping in Turkey has been a wonderland for me. I can easily find a wide variety of suitable clothing articles that are fashionable, modest, and affordable.

Domestic production: When shopping, I prefer to buy items from as close to my locality as possible. From toothpaste to clothing to sugar-free jams, I love the plentiful opportunities to support the local economy and region.

Village Pride: Almost everyone I’ve met in Ankara mentions a “back home” where grandparents live, where parents grew up, and where they visit elders for Eid holidays. Even in the supermarkets, there’s an emphasis on foods sourced from a köy, or village, and I’ve grown to equate them with traditional, homemade goodness.

Fethiye

WHAT WE WON’T MISS:

The politics: We’re totally over the politics, the tension, and the drama. It was frustrating at times to be misunderstood when our everyday choices about diet, faith practice, and dress were seen as political statements or stances. We are on the side of piety, integrity, and humanity, wherever it is represented.

Learning Turkish: Learning the language hasn’t been easy but was essential for our day-to-day survival in Ankara. Yes, there are many words from Arabic, even French and English, but Turkish grammar was burying us alive. We absolutely loved our Turkish teacher, but we’re glad to not go any deeper down that rabbit hole for now.

The social culture: Being a fairly liberal capital, smoking and drinking are quite common in Ankara. We especially hated seeing people smoke so liberally around children or drunk in public. Similarly, the very secularized expression of Islam that we regularly encountered here lacked the soul of the faith that captured our hearts over a decade ago. The religious community here seemingly functions here as a minority, though being in a Muslim-majority country. Again, Twilight Zone experiences were common for us.

Time to go

Reflecting on Our First Ramadan in Ankara

Made at our pre-Ramadan party with friends.

This Ramadan has been challenging and it has nothing to do with hunger, thirst, or heat. There is something intangible missing—namely that collective common spirit that I’m accustomed to feeling in either the wider consciousness of a Muslim country or the intentional consciousness of a dedicated minority. Still trying to figure out how to comprehend life in secular Muslim Turkey, being here feels like its own dimension. I see signs of Ramadan—donation requests, iftar buffets, Ramazan pide breads for sale—but I can’t feel it. Seemingly more the exception than the default, fasting feels like a secret only shared with an unknown few. Obviously, fasting is a very personal act of devotion that need not be publicized, but when you’re invited for lunch or offered food and drink in the middle of the day, it starts to feel a bit like the Twilight Zone.

A first attempt and a new addition to our Ramadan home decorations.

Lil’ Z is taking gymnastics lessons at a great academy that happens to be housed in a large shopping mall. If she wasn’t enjoying and progressing well in the class, I would find a way out of frequenting my least favorite destination four times a week. I thought the usual shopping mall annoyances might be turned down a notch for Ramadan, but it was business as usual. Diners, coffee drinkers, and smokers were doing what they always do, but one particular young lady really made me pause. While waiting at a bus stop, she came supported by two young women at her side. Because she put no weight on her bent legs, I immediately thought she sprained her ankle or was injured. But when her friends attempted to sit her up, I realized that she was passing in and out of consciousness. Her head dropped and eyes rolled back. Drool ran from her lips quicker than her friends could open their moist towelette packets to clean it. Though her entourage seemed calm and collected, I had to intervene, fearful that her condition was worse than they perceived. I thought that perhaps her blood sugar was low from fasting or she was severely dehydrated but, to my shock, one of the young men told me in unmistakable English, “She is drunk.” Having lived in a college town for eight years, I’ve seen drunk before—loud drunk, belligerent drunk, staggering drunk. But on the verge of black out drunk in daylight–I’ve never seen. Again my mind goes back to Ramadan.

Ramadan Calendar 2016

Many of the irreligious Turkish friends I’ve met here have made reference to a grandparent who prays. I can understand that a person may consciously reject a choice for themselves, but there seems to be this total unawareness and disconnect from the lives their forefathers lived only two generations prior. Yes, there are many religious Turks as well, but I’m disappointed by how seemingly clueless young people are about Islam. Almost as if a cloud of amnesia descended a few decades ago that reduced Islam to not eating pork and calling God “Allah”, which I hear often. “Ma sha’ Allah” when seeing a cute child, “in sha’ Allah” when speaking of future happenings, or, my favorite, “Allah Allah” for any reason ranging from a spill to a near car accident. I see beautiful mosques all over the city, amazing modest clothing lines, prayer beads for sale in the streets, but I can’t seem to access what Islam means here in Turkey, or at least in Ankara. It’s a discussion I’d like to have, but being religious seems to be tied with supporting a particular political party, so those conversations are muted for fear that an innocent inquiry will turn into a partisan debate.

Mama makes a Ramadan sign too!

As with any reality in the outer world, I’m forced to look inward. Whether fasting as one in a small crowd or one in a million, I need to peer through the fog of my confusion to see the lesson awaiting me, the Teacher beckoning me, and the service demanding me. Ramadan is not something happening to me but rather within me. For more than a decade, even with its challenges, Ramadan is the internal housecleaning that I look forward to every year. Both in and outside of Ramadan, fasting heightens my awareness of God, refines my inner vision, and tempers my connection to the temporal world. As with Islam in general, it’s such a treasure that I hate to see people forfeit or belittle. Our little family is doing what we can to keep our own Ramadan fire aflame because I can’t rely on others here to fan it. With about half of the month left, I have to seek out some virtual love to pull through this month of mercy, so I can end with the cleansing and spiritual recommitment that I always find awaiting me in its last days.

Adjusting to Ankara: Myths and Realities

Ankara

Turkey is our fifth country of residence since living abroad.  As with our past moves, there’s something fascinating to me about that very first ride from the airport to the place you will call home. From the time those sliding doors open from the safety of the airport lobby to the mystery of the world beyond it, there’s an initial impression, energy, and vibe. I watch it all—the landscapes, the people, the signs—as closely as my jetlagged eyes will allow, seeking something familiar or a point of reference to orient myself around. With time, all of those initial mental snapshots start to become landmarks in a maze and then later an organized grid. The streets I walk and places I know so well now were once disorienting, but now they are my home.

It’s hard to say if our adjustment went quickly or slowly, but all I know is that right now the weeks seem to be flying. We are settled in our apartment and neighborhood, we’ve picked up some Turkish along the way, and we have a good sense about what the city has to offer. By no means are we expert expats but we know where we are, what we’ve experienced, and what we expect for the duration of our stay. We’ve had some interesting surprises since coming—some based on our own expectations and others based on the experiences of others or what we’ve read online. However, there are a few things we’ve learned for ourselves and we hope it will help the next family in transit.

Prayer Space

Myth: Turkey is similar to other parts of the Middle East. 

Reality: Not all of Turkey. Yes, the mosques are present and the call to prayer is heard, but none of that means you won’t see what would be considered very taboo in other parts of the Muslim world. For example, open homosexuality, public displays of affection, tattoos, drinking, smoking, etc.

Myth: Finding vegan food will be easy.

Reality: We were heartbroken when we discovered that a common vegetarian dish, lentil soup, may be prepared with animal stock. Hummus and baba ghanoush are not as common as Turkish restaurants abroad led us to believe. So, we have to be a bit more focused in our pursuit by seeking out Ege (Aegean), ev yemekleri (homecooked foods), vegan 0r veg-friendly eateries.

Aegean Food

Myth: If you have a residency permit, you can leave your passport at home.

Reality: Some transactions at the bank, post office, or a notary will still require your passport or a copy. Getting an ikamet residency can be arduous but it is necessary and will make sure you’re lawfully abiding in the land.

Myth: It will be great to receive care packages from abroad.

Reality: Receiving packages has been mostly a nightmare for us because of customs rules, fees, etc. We recently had to opt for a package to be destroyed because the paperwork to retrieve it from customs was worth more than the package itself. We’ve learned the hard way and now know not to request any cosmetics or food products. Books from Amazon UK, on the other hand, arrive easily as long as they’re not worth more than 75 – 100 Euros.

Myth: Mail order makes life convenient.

Reality: Not always. In the winter, mail order produce was a dream come true. I sat home, cozy and warm with the kids, while farm fresh produce came to my front door. It’s hard to predict when deliveries will come and you don’t always receive a SMS message in advance, so you can be left waiting all day long. If for whatever reason you miss a delivery, retrieving it can be a pain without a car.

Myth: Turkish people love children.

Reality: Turkish people really, really love children. Almost like good luck charms, it’s hard for most of them to pass a child without a smile, rub on the face, or kiss on the cheek. And, if your children look anything like our chocolate bunnies, beware! They may well want to eat your kids or at least take their picture.

Myth: In Ankara, Turkey’s capital city, English should be easy to come by.

Reality: Oh no! Even in official offices, you may not find a single English speaker, so get started on your Turkish as soon as possible or make friends who can help by translating.

Myth: You can receive money transfers easily.

Reality: Make sure the sender uses Western Union and uses your complete name (inclusive of your middle name), so it perfectly matches your passport ID.

Myth: All you need is a SIM card to use your phone from abroad.

Reality: You must register your phone by paying a fee at the bank, receiving an e-password from the post office, and then completing your registration on a Turkish website within a couple of months. Our first attempt was unsuccessful, so we have to start the process all over again or buy a Turkish phone.

Myth: You can buy train tickets at the post office or a travel agent, according to the internet.

Reality: Nope. The website says you can but…nope. If you don’t succeed in buying tickets online, go to the train station.  My friend teased me saying that Turks never trust what the internet says.  Lesson learned.

Picking Wild Herbs in Ankara

Heading to the River

As much as I consider myself an environmentalist and lover of the planet, I’ve had very limited contact with the outdoors. I grew up in New York City and can navigate urban terrains much better than the woods. How to camp, start a fire, and identify edible plants are enviable skills that we’ve yet to cultivate, but we’re trying to expose our little ones to as much of nature as we can.

Holding on for the ride

Two weekends ago, our outdoorsy plans were cancelled at the last minute. Our itinerary included picking wild nettle and dandelions in an open field. Instead of traveling almost four hours to our destination, a similar opportunity arose in Tahtacıörencik, a village about an hour and a half from Ankara’s city center. Our hosts, a lovely family of four, invited us for a nature walk where we would collect and identify wild herbs, explore the village, and share a potluck meal.

Our day started in the town’s city center where we converged around tea and simit bread while waiting for the group to assemble. Before moving on, we paid a visit to a small shop where a traditional snack called leblebi is made locally. The three-day preparation process involves many stages of shelling, roasting and sifting chickpeas. The shopkeeper is the last of his kind in town and we were glad to offer our patronage. From here, we stopped once more for an orientation and then continued to an open field by a running stream.

Identifying Insects

Before our host began picking and describing the various herbs around us, he clearly explained to us that he was not a certified herbalist and may not be able to answer all of our inquiries. However, he made one very clever point that really stuck with me—it’s better to know a handful of herbs really well and know how to use them when you need them.

Local fruit boiled for winter tea

That was such a great comfort to me because I could hardly follow the Turkish names of the new and unfamiliar herbs, but when their functions were described, a comparable herb often came to mind and I was reminded once again just how bountiful the gifts of the earth are and even moreso the Gift-Giver.

Shepherd's Purse

After picking, eating, and touching a variety of plants, it was time to sit for our potluck lunch. Around us were signs of the community and farm that is yet to be—a cozy yurt, a bare wooden shed, a portable toilet seat, and a big tent where children played robustly.

Toilet seat

I appreciate our hosts’ vision to return to a simpler, harmonious existence through the tools of permaculture, community building, and small-scale farming. They are reaching out through Helpx and Workaway for volunteers who can help build their ecological farm and cottage homes. In an earlier season of my life, I would’ve jumped at such an opportunity, but I’m glad to know that we can return and visit whenever we need to reconnect to the earth and unplug from the city.

Outdoor Shed

Why We Live Abroad

Landscaping

It’s a sunny day in Ankara. After a week of peering through a cold cloud of fog from our apartment window, the frosted trees now glisten in the sunshine. Our home is abundantly warm and the neighborhood serene. With the exception of weekends and holidays, both national and Islamic, Urbndervish walks ten minutes to his office and prepares for class. His students, mostly Turkish, respect him and render him the regard due of an educator. His employer compensates him well based on his merit and experience, not race or gender. One income alone suffices our family here, so I’m available to stay home with Lil’ Z and Moulay.

Puzzled

When we do venture out to the store or around town, we usually see only a handful of other people of color, but it isn’t a big deal. We are not negatively harassed or profiled because of race or ethnicity. It is correctly assumed, however, that we are not Turkish, but we are still embraced warmly and helped hospitably. Our children are kissed, hugged, stroked, and given candies like all other children here. Younger children call my daughter abla, which means “big sister”, as they would call any other older girl. People find Moulay’s curly locks and Lil’ Z’s kinky hair curious, but the curiosity is sincere, not fetishism or disgust.

At the mall

I’m not an expert at cultural analysis or the politics of migration, but what I do know very well is the feeling of being welcomed and I experience it regularly outside of the borders of my homeland. Some people find this assertion absurd and implicitly or explicitly ask us the recurring question “Why?!?” We field those questions as they arise in personal conversations, but after reading this article about the higher quality of life that people of color experience in Norway, we thought it time to share our reasons for migrating too.

Mosque atop supermarket

Practice of Faith

So, if it’s not obvious by now, we’re a Muslim family—a brown one, at that. We’re not ethnically Muslim (well, if we knew our pre-slavery history, we very well could be) but rather people of African descent who embraced Islam as our way of life as adults. Our respective decisions were very personal and significant in our lives, hence practicing our faith—not just believing in it—is important to us. Having mosques and prayer spaces abundantly accessible, as well as restrictions on alcohol, drug consumption, and other social ills that we disapprove of makes our lives easier. We are not criminalized or victimized because of our faith, nor do we have to trip over ourselves to disarm the prejudice of others or absolve ourselves from atrocities that we neither committed nor condoned.

City Logo

Safety

In all of the countries we’ve lived in, the incidence of gun violence, mass shootings, and violent crimes in general is negligible. Similarly, crimes that target children, Muslims, or people of color are uncommon in these places too. Going out at night is not a cause of fear or anxiety.  However, during our last extended stay in the United States, the very real possibility of being harassed or harmed because of race and religion became a more vivid reality. If Urbndervish was late returning home from the mosque or the supermarket, the fear that he might have been stopped or harassed unjustly be a police officer was a legitimate possibility. Also, the incidence of hate crimes against Muslim women has become more prevalent as well. Wanton racial and religious profiling without abandon persists and keeps hitting uncomfortably closer to home.

Che

Higher Quality of Life

As an English instructor, Urbndervish has been able to provide a better life for us overseas than he would have in the United States. Most of his positions in the last five years have provided our housing, airfare, and health insurance. Additionally, his single income suffices to not only make ends meet but provide us with an enjoyable quality of life where we actually have time to spend together, a budget to travel together, and savings instead of debts to put aside for the future. Saving more than we spend on a monthly basis was impossible for us even when we were both working professionals in the United States. The documentary Professors in Poverty  addresses how American educators struggle to make fair wages in greater detail.

Juice Bars

Global citizenship

The added benefit to our life abroad is the enrichment that comes from seeing just how vast the world is and feeling empowered to know that we have a rightful place in it. Granted, we are very, very blessed and privileged to have degrees, diplomas, and passports that are respected in most parts of the world. We have an opportunity to leave a land that seems to have left us a long ago. Yes, there is work to do be done as agents of change and cultural transformers, but this is true anywhere and everywhere we find ourselves. Where one finds their purpose and peace is a very personal matter. We know and have read of other families of color who found home in Costa Rica, Indonesia, Ghana or the Netherlands. Whether permanently or temporarily, travel and migration teaches us and our children about other cultures, countries and ways of life firsthand. Similarly, it communicates that the planet is our home and we need not be held hostage to any one corner of it.

Park

More Quality Time with Family

A very lucrative trade-off for us is that even though we live further away from our extended family, we actually have more uninterrupted time to spend with them during our summer holidays. While living in the United States, we juggled two weeks of vacation and a handful of national and religious holidays to split between our scattered families. Since living abroad, we’ve had five to eight weeks of annual leave every summer, so we can enjoy uninterrupted days and weeks with our family. Yes, we miss some of the large family gatherings, but we do our best to compensate by making our time together rich in substance and not just cultural symbolism. We also have weekly video chats and phone calls with our folks.

Robot Girl

Conclusion

For the last seven years, our choice to live abroad has not been about fleeing or running based on fear, but rather doing what the human race has done for millennia—migrate. Whether it’s across town or across a continent, every individual has the God-given right to move freely to where they feel best supported in the pursuit of their ambitions and quality of life. Of course, there are legitimate financial and political challenges that hinder migration, so we don’t take this opportunity lightly. Nor are we so committed to any nation that we would stay in spite of it no longer serving our interests. We are global citizens, living our lives, seeing the world and exploring to find a place where our souls fit best.

Kocatepe Mosque

…they will be asked by the angels: “What (state) were you in?” They will answer: “We were oppressed in the land.” And the angels will say: “Was not God’s earth large enough for you to migrate?”  -Holy Qur’an, Chapter 4, Verse 97