ROSE AND ZAATAR

A TASTE OF A LIFE IN LEBANON

Month: February, 2014

How many elephants…

When I was little I used to love the absurd riddles known as ‘elephant jokes’. The other day I was reminded of this particular one:

Q: How many elephants will fit into a Mini?

A: Four: Two in the front, two in the back.

when my husband exclaimed, while playing with our daughter:

Quanti elefanti ci sono in questa casa?! How many elephants are there in this house?!

He was in the middle of reading her the recently rediscovered Dear Zoo book, which involves an elephant, as does another favourite Elephant Wellyphant. This was five minutes after watching a video with a dancing elephant, while playing with her safari puzzle, trying to match the animals on screen to the wooden pieces, which is her current obsession- finding things that are the same (from birds to bananas to boots), whether they are real or representations (made of paper or pixels or plastic). Whenever she recognises something and knows where to find another one, it is like she has hit the jackpot and you can almost see her eyes light up and hear the click of connections in her brain, like a mini fruit machine.

But back to the elephant question- there are at least four in this house, but I’m quite sure there are more. And I’m even more sure that our little detective will help us find them, wherever they may be hiding.

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Meanwhile back at home…

Shortly after coming home this morning I realise that several people in the building opposite are looking out of their windows, clearly engrossed in something below. The last time everyone leaned out of their windows like this was to watch a funeral procession and I wonder briefly if it’s somehow connected with the bombing earlier, even though that wouldn’t really make any sense. I can’t see the street from my balcony as the one below juts out and I consider going downstairs to find out what’s happening, to put my mind at rest, but just then, as if reading my thoughts, my friend who lives opposite skype messages me:

The police are outside your building because the ground floor family are having a domestic…you can’t see but someone has thrown all the furniture out of the window… 

The ordinariness of it makes me smile and somehow feel relieved. I am reminded again, how life goes on; how the drama-in all its pettiness and splendour, its grief and beauty- never stops unfolding.

Boom

This morning I leave my mum on grandma duty with the buggy outside the bank. I ask her to hold my pink baby-changing backpack too, explaining that in the last few months, backpacks- even ones that are clearly for babies- are regarded suspiciously and usually searched. I tell her that last week I even had to lift up the blanket I’d draped over the buggy, shielding my sleeping baby from the sun, so that a security guard could be sure I didn’t have a bomb under there. We laugh.

Then while waiting in the bank, I get a text message about the explosion near the Kuwaiti embassy in southern Beirut. I almost shiver and can’t believe that just a few minutes earlier I was outside in the sunshine making light of the city’s security situation.

Hurrying out to find my mum again, I pass a man in army uniform talking animatedly to some other men. He is speaking Arabic, but I feel like I understand him and I know he is talking about what’s just happened. The English words motorcycle and boom are admittedly big clues, but more than that, it’s as though I have somehow tuned into his frequency, and for an instant the language is irrelevant.

As we get on with our morning, as though nothing had happened  – brunch at Cafe Younes, shopping at Idriss supermarket, home in time for nap- I keep thinking about it and how, if you stay here long enough, you tune into the city itself- its buzz, its crackle, its boom-and it’s difficult to tune out again, whether you want to or not.

Happy Valentine’s Day to my husbands!

No Valentine’s cards were exchanged between me and my husband today, just these emails, which made me laugh and remember why I love him.

My email, written at 4.30pm, after a day spent with friends whose husbands also work for international organisations:

Ciao amore, there might not be many taxis today as it’s a pubic holiday, so maybe it’s best to leave a bit earlier if you can… p.s. all the other husbands are already home! 🙂

His response:

Ok, I will do my best.  I look forward to coming home and meeting your other husbands 😉


					

Happy Valentine’s Day

In Lebanon Valentine’s Day is a public holiday, but not for the reasons you might think. Nine years ago, this day, which should belong to lovers, was stolen, hijacked, or to be more precise, car bombed. And ever since, the 14th February has been associated with assassination, instead of love.

Today, some other mamas and I reclaimed the day and decorated heart shaped cookies for the ones we love and are loved by, even if they don’t celebrate Valentine’s day either (for other less drastic reasons than assassination).

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Happy Valentine’s Day Lebanon, 

these hearts are for you,

sweet and unbroken.

Rocky Road

Last week, my journey down the rocky road of sleep deprivation was sweetened with another kind of rocky road- the edible one! Two playdates, one involving a crock pot of hot chocolate and one involving my vegan friend, meant that I found myself dreaming up recipes while trying to get my baby to sleep and have dreams all of her own.

When she finally did, I researched Rocky Road and discovered on Wikipedia that it originated in Australia but there are also British and American versions and the only ingredients common to all three are chocolate (dark or milk) and marshmallows. But as my Australian friend said, with Rocky Road ‘anything goes!’

So I went with that and came up with a vegan and gluten free version, which to my surprise, turned out to be one of my favourite things I’ve ever made. I don’t normally like chocolately things for breakfast (apart from Nutella) but I made an exception for this as I couldn’t wait until mid-morning to try it!

Here is the recipe, adapted from The Cookie Book’s Rocky Road Wedges:

Make 25g popping corn in 15ml of vegetable oil. Leave to cool for about 5 minutes then coat with a tablespoon of maple syrup. When completely cool put into a plastic bag and tap with a rolling pin to break into small pieces.

Stirring frequently, melt 150g dark chocolate with 25g coconut oil in a heatproof bowl over a simmering pan of water. Leave to cool for 2 minutes. Stir in popcorn and 75g dried cranberries (or other dried fruit).

Put mixture into a greased and lined 20cm square tin, and press down firmly into an even layer. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes until set. Take out of tin, remove paper and cut into squares, as big or small as you like!

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The answer

On Monday I finally asked the concierge’s wife where our missing neighbour was. It turns out the answer involved both diabetes and Europe- as apparently he was in Italy, maybe, to have some kind of medical procedure done and he would be back next month. Maybe.

Then the very next day, larger than life, he appeared. I found him sitting in one of the plastic chairs at the front of the building, chatting to the concierge and entertaining the family’s two younger children. He greeted me warmly and told me about the cost of living in Germany (not Italy after all). It was as though he had never left.

I walked away wearing his infectious smile and thinking what a coincidence it was that he returned the very day after I had enquired about him. Or maybe not such a coincidence after all. Sometimes the answer is already there, just waiting for us to be ready to ask the question.

While I was away…

Our neighbourhood is not quite the same as it was when I left Beirut in December. As I settle back into our life here I notice the changes, in all shapes and sizes, some which make me smile, and some which don’t.

  • There is a new Urbanista cafe open at the beginning of Bliss Street, where a friend and I got a huge slice of carrot cake for free on our first visit, to feed our hungry baby birds, and where on our second visit, our daughter discovered she could drink out of a straw, so eager was she to get a taste of the banana, mango and orange smoothie they serve.
  • At our lovely mini-market they now sell organic free range eggs. It’s been more than two weeks so hopefully they are here to stay, unlike the imported maple syrup, which disappeared just when I was addicted!
  • In our other little local shop there have also been some changes. It seems the family who used to be in charge are no longer there, including the teenage boy who would bring up our new gas bottles, almost as big as him, with a spanner in the back pocket of his jeans and a mischievous grin on his baby face. The new people in charge don’t know our little girl’s name, like he did. And the prices have gone up.
  • There is no sign of our  English speaking third-floor neighbour (he of fridge fixing fame) and I haven’t yet plucked up the courage the ask the concierge where he is. When I do, I hope the answer has something to do with Canada or Europe and nothing at all to do with diabetes. I’ll keep you posted…