Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Around and around and around...

We got our car on Sunday and decided to head out as a family last night for dinner and grocery shopping. Thank heavens the food was worth the trip, because the hour-long car ride home (which was supposed to only be about 10 minutes) nearly sent me over the edge. Maybe "nearly" is too generous a word.

The restaurant was amazing--the food, the service, the setting. After taking my kids out to dinner for nearly 11 years now in the States, I've gotten used to patrons and servers alike glaring at us as we walk in, regardless of how well behaved the children might be. Good, bad, doesn't matter most of the time. You're still an imposition in a restaurant if you dare bring in your children. Have you noticed that? How once you give birth, you're expected to frequent only McDonald's as a family? I don't mean to imply we should all be taking our kids to quiet little, expensive restaurants, but places where there are highchairs??? Then by all means, I'm going to assume that means my kids are welcome.

But after last night's dinner here, I'm convinced we got even better service because of the kids. This is a very child (and elderly people) friendly society, and the servers were so attentive to us that I almost wanted to hug them in gratitude afterward (if not for the fact that PDA is frowned upon here and even illegal on some levels in many Arabic countries) for reminding me that not everyone cringes at the sight of a child entering their eating establishment. And, as I said, a meal so good I wanted to order it all over again when it was gone didn't hurt the experience either: baba ganoush, hummus, chicken kebab. I'm embarrassed at my pathetic efforts to make any of that now that I've had the real thing.

We went grocery shopping afterward, which wasn't quite as rewarding. No eggs, no butter (just tub margarine), no cumin for crying out loud. And I have to apparently grate my own cinnamon. But I ended up with enough suitable substitutions that I'm going to actually make chocolate chip cookies this afternoon . . . if I can find a neighbor with a cookie sheet.

Then our little night out quickly degenerated into chaos when we headed home. When you get directions here, you need to get directions there and then back again, because inevitably, you can't count on just retracing your steps. They don't have detours here: that would be too helpful. They have diversions, which, in essence, is saying, "Oh, sorry, this road's not open any more. Good luck finding out how to get to where you meant to go. We don't plan to give you any hints." And roads close for construction with no advance warning. none. What's open on your way to dropping your husband off at work may very well be closed when you return home 5 minutes later. Maps are basically printed only so other drivers can laugh at you as you struggle to read them in the dark with your car's interior light on. And street signs? Maybe one in ten streets are labeled, so you drive several blocks out of your way until you realize you missed your turn and need to start all over again with more diversions, more unmarked roads, and more dead ends.

And all the while, the kids were in the back of the car fighting. I keep having these deep, meaningful talks with them about how we're only here for 4 months, how they need to remember how to be each others' best friends, how I need them, for the sake of sanity, to just love each other and enjoy each other's company. Finally, after 45 minutes of listening to nonstop bickering ("stop touching me," "stop humming," "stop acting like you're going to touch me," "stop touching him"), I turned around and yelled at them, telling them I wasn't liking any of them very much at the moment. I'm so proud of the example I set for them of how to just get along and love their family members. Another deep, meaningful moment for us all. Then E promptly fell asleep, so her little brother didn't have anyone else to pick on. S was busy thinking about the friends he was missing, and O got bored. At least the last 15 minutes of the ride were quiet if not pleasant as we finally matched a picture on the map with a small tower at a roundabout and made our way back home sweet home.


Brigid said...

Fascinating. I love reading how their world is so different, yet so similar to ours. I also never had any idea about the wealth per capita -- but then you can't buy butter or eggs. Wild.

Do you have food variety, or is it all hummus and chicken kebabs? Do they have "fast food"?

I can't imagine trying to get around if the roads are constantly being closed. I can't imagine being there at all, really. I hope you're able to post some pics soon.

You mentioned that PDA is illegal there. What else is illegal that we'd bat an eye over?

Bobbie said...

Fast food? Plenty. And just about every place delivers. E was invited to her first birthday party here and it's at Burger King. Each roundabout has an official name and then a nickname. We know where the restaurant is because it's by the "Burger King Roundabout." McDonald's, KFC, and Pizza Hut are other popular places. And yes, there's plenty of variety: Thai, Indian, Italian, etc.

I'm not sure what else is illegal that we'd be surprised about. Hopefully I won't find out the hard way. Traffic fines here, however, are enormous. They were just raised in October in order to make driving conditions better. If you run a yellow light--not even a red--the fine is 10,000QR, which translates to over $3000! Needless to say, traffic incidents are down, but with all the wealth here, some people are willing to rack up those fines if it means they can continue to dominate the roadways.

I'll try to post pictures soon--as soon as I can get Ron's help.