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

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.

Marital Advice That Works for Us

Celebrating our ten-year anniversary at home with the children

Celebrating our ten-year anniversary at home with the children

My cousin is getting married today and unfortunately, we can’t be there to attend.  Our newborn is not yet six-weeks old and we’ve had to rework our travel plans accordingly.  In lieu of our absence, we wanted to congratulate the newlyweds and offer ten practices and principles that have really benefited us in our years of marriage.

Be committed to a common aim, purpose, and spiritual path.  There should always be something greater in your life than yourselves and each other.  Your lives should orbit around a constant that is unchanging, not the temporal.

Express gratitude generously for things both big and small.  Everyone wants to feel appreciated, even when they do what’s expected of them.

Be committed to your personal development.  Always set goals for self-improvement and support each other respectively.

Avoid blaming each other and instead work together towards solutions.  Blame is rarely productive but teamwork most often is.

Share new things that you read/learn/think about and be reflective.  Sharpen each other’s intellect and rediscover each other through stimulating conversation and thoughtful introspection.

Value each other’s interests.  Understanding what a person loves or enjoys helps you to better understand them.

Be selfless in your service to each other.  If you are both sincere in your giving, there is no need to keep tabs.  In a healthy relationship, giving and receiving is mutual.

Maintain attractiveness, health, and well-being.  Value your self and spouse enough to take care of yourself both inwardly and outwardly.

Honor each other and your families.  Never tear each other or family members down, in public or private.  Always seek to build, not destroy.  Offer criticism constructively and advice sincerely.

Choose your companions wisely.  Surround yourself with friends that value marriage, fidelity, and family.  Build a community around you that nurtures your marriage and a marriage that nourishes your community.

Our warmest congrats to you both.  We pray that your union is blessed for many years to come.  Welcome to the family, Fiona!

The Five P’s of Preparing for Your Life Abroad

 

Nouakchott, Mauritania


Purpose

When my brother moved abroad more than thirteen years ago, his life seemed like an Indiana Jones adventure.  Unreliable internet access and expensive international calls made communication scarce.  Whenever we did make contact, he would engage us in long and winding tales of the people, places, and circumstances he encountered in the deserts of West Africa.  At that time, moving abroad seemed unimaginable, unpredictable, and risky.  But now, it seems easier to leave your homeland than ever before.  Folks are not only crisscrossing borders with greater ease but also blogging, tweeting, and Facebook-ing the entire journey along the way.  Everyone from Wanderlust Wendy to Computer Geek Gary has found a place for themselves abroad and you can too, with a few steps of preparation before joining the growing community of expatriates.

With seven continents to choose from, it’s hard to know where to begin your life abroad.  There are various languages, cultures, and climates to consider but knowing your personal goal and objective can be a powerful navigator through the sea of choices.  A great starting point would be assessing your finances.  If financial freedom is your goal, you may want to look at destinations where you can earn big and spend little.  Once the “man” is off your back and debt collectors no longer address you on a first name basis, it’s time to look at destinations that have personal or spiritual significance to you.  Many a traveler find their expeditions unexpectedly cut short, so try to prioritize the fulfilling and meaningful experiences that memoirs are made of.  See those sights, make those pilgrimages, and bask in those precious, unforgettable moments.
 
The Door of No Return, Goiree Island, Senegal

Papers

Half-finished degrees do little to secure a respectable income abroad (if earning is your goal).  Once you’ve decided on a course of study, training, or certification, see it through to completion and don’t belittle your accomplishment.  Carry the banners of your hard-earned efforts and keep scanned and hard copies readily available. Even first-aid or scuba diving certificates have helped people secure their dream job abroad. Other important documents might include your birth certificate, background checks, recommendation letters, marriage certificates, name change documents, etc.  Even with e-tickets and mobile check-in, sometimes a printed itinerary can come in handy.
Plans
Flying by the seat of your pants has its place and function but a little planning can save you time and money.  A flexible plan that allows for contingencies can help you keep the ball rolling when you run into roadblocks and brick walls.  If planning is not your spiritual gift, then consider conditional plans like “I will start here unless…” or “I will do this until…”  Sitting back and charting your path will help you move more efficiently and cost-effectively through the land.  Even if the wanderers among us could care less about such formalities, it will certainly assure your more grounded family and friends that you haven’t completely lost it.
 
Sana’a, Yemen
Patience
What you think you possess of patience will not only be tested in your life abroad but also stretched, beaten, and contorted until it sits like a hard-won trophy on your mantle.  I really used to think I was patient, but perpetual frustration in my first destination showed me that there was more left to be acquired.  Challenges in everything from communication and correspondence to health, wealth, and sanity can leave you perplexed and aggravated.  Keep in mind that new experiences are often powerful teachers in the subjects of life, yourself, and your place in this vast world.  When the bewilderment really starts to get to you, take the time to pause, quit beating yourself about the past, and let your purpose guide your next step forward.
Piety
If landing yourself in prison abroad is on your bucket list, then feel free to ignore this piece of advice but for others, please take heed.  Even if sainthood isn’t your aim, a basic sense of good character and upright conduct can be life-saving in the most and stress-saving in the least, as you find your way in a new country.  Expats are not above the law and the rights and freedoms you enjoy in your home country may not travel with you.  If your lifestyle or personal views are illegal or in conflict with the laws and customs of your location and you feel the need to broadcast, publicize, and express them openly, maybe living in such a country would do more harm than good for you.  Drugs, drinking, or delinquency can make ugly turns and blemish not only your record but also your reputation, both socially and professionally.  Save risqué behavior for your own turf, and be on your best behavior when you’re in someone else’s home.  Also, don’t forget to align yourself with the social and spiritual resources needed to be your best you wherever you go.
 
Mecca, Saudi Arabia

This post was originally published at Women of Color Living Abroad.

Vegan Travel 101

by:  eternitysojourner

Vegan Meal on Korean Air Flight
Eating abroad is its own adventure, isn’t it? There are new flavors, new tastes, and new dietary norms to explore. Many adventurers affirm that eating the local or native diet—wherever you are and wherever you may be—is part and parcel of cultural immersion. I completely understand, but my vegan ethic travels with me. With mindful planning and a little research, you can taste your way through almost any destination while keeping your plate animal-free. So, whether you’re a newly-vegan traveler or a newly-traveler vegan, take note of the following tips to keep you well-fed on your journey!
 

Pre-book your flight meal AND confirm in advance.
One of the worst ways to experience your first big trip across the Atlantic is hungry! You can brave your way through a domestic flight with roasted peanuts but an international flight merits a meal. The Vegetarian Meal (VGML) option usually doubles as a vegan and vegetarian meal, so you should be covered there. The VGML may be bland but it’s always edible! If you want more “spice in your life”, select the Asian Vegetarian Meal (AVML), which is pretty much code for “Indian food” (and may include dairy), or the Vegetarian Oriental Meal (VOML), which is code for Chinese or Oriental-style cuisine. When the Asian Veg meal doubles as the Veg Meal, you won’t have to covet the sumptuous curries that your South Asian co-travelers are enjoying.

Don’t forget to confirm and re-confirm your meal. Call three days in advance AND don’t hesitate to ask again during check-in.

Consult the Happy Cow.
Happy Cow is an online vegan/vegetarian dining directory.  You can find “on the ground” info for vegan eating, health food stores, restaurant reviews, etc. that spans the globe. If during your travels, you stumble across a vegetarian or veg-friendly establishment along the way, you can share your findings with other travelers by contacting Happy Cow.

Vegetarian Restaurant in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Research the local cuisine.
Take the time to research regional cuisine and you can almost always come up with at least one vegan dish (or side dish). Visit a locally-available ethnic restaurant before your travels for field research and see what you like or don’t like. When you travel, not only will you have “guideposts” to look for when ordering meals or eating at a host’s home, you can negotiate the balance between tasting the local cuisine and staying purely plant-based. Some of the national vegan foods may be considered common by the locals but that doesn’t mean they’re not tasty! Have you ever tried tempeh in Indonesia, “doubles” in Trinidad, or frijoles in Guatemala? Also, the so-called common food is more likely available at a common price, so non-vegans on a tight budget should consider going green on their next trip! 😉

Comprehend the Culture
If the general cuisine offerings don’t appease you, dig a little deeper and research the religious and socio-philosophical culture of a country. You may find devotees who commit to a cruelty-free diet and will warmly welcome you to “break bread” with them. My husband still recalls the “bomb” mushroom and noodle bowl he shared with Buddhists in their monastery over ten years ago while teaching in China. Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, Hare Krishna, and various forms of Yoga are a few groups that you may be able to share a meal with without joining the flock, if you don’t want to.

Make your way to the market.
In many traditional societies, the market is still the best place for fresh produce and dried staples, like nuts, raisins, dates, etc. These are great allies to keep stashed in your backpack or at your lodging while searching for vegan eateries.

Learn the lingo.
If there’s one statement that every vegan traveling solo should learn in the local dialect of their destination, it should be: “I’m a vegetarian” or “I don’t eat meat”. It’s also really important to understand these statements in context of the culture because I still get offered fish, cheese, and chicken even from my own family members and friends after almost ten years of being vegan! The easiest essential language acquisition route would be to have a list of the names of foods you do or don’t eat, accompanied by very clear facial and body gestures. If you’re stuck in an Indiana Jones encounter, where you’re offered monkey brains, a firm headshake and grasping your stomach and mouth should convey the idea clearly. Also of importance: take the time to learn how to say “please” and “thank you” in the warmest ways possible, so your host or host country doesn’t take offense to your refusal. Informing your host(s) in advance is also a great idea. You’re more likely to enjoy a satisfying meal and your host is more likely to feel satisfied by watching you lick your plate clean. 😉

Special veggie platter prepared by our hosts in Nouakchott, Mauritania

Pack some supplies.
Depending on the length of your stay and circumstances you encounter, it would be wise to pack vitamins, supplements, or snacks to get you through. Vegan protein sources are often the most challenging to find (outside of Asia), so packing protein bars, nut butters, or dairy-free milk powders can help.  Secure adequate sources of calcium, iron, vitamin B-12, and essential fatty acids to keep your health in top shape and your immune system robust.

For the herbivore, omnivore, or veg-curious amongst us, don’t think it impossible to Go Veg! on the road. Not only will the planet thank you, but, as in my experience, your tummy will thank you too! Happy Veggie Travels!

This post was originally published at Women of Color Living Abroad.