Babymoon

It came about this summer, through a stressful transition with decisions having to be made about our future, when one day my sweet husband turned the focus off of the unknowns and unto a known fact: I had always dreamed of traveling to Spain together.

So, why not go this fall? He suggested out-of-the-blue. He’d been thinking about it for awhile, even flirted with the idea of making it a surprise. But seeing my emotional state and knowing how I love planning trips, he dropped it on me like the life raft I’d been needing.

Fast forward 2 months– although we had just moved overseas and into a new apartment, 23 weeks pregnant seemed to be the perfect time for a quick get away before our work responsibilities (and my belly) became too heavy. It also happened to be right around our 2 year anniversary. Another great excuse for a romantic excursion!

We started in Barcelona: I’d never been yet had always longed to see Gaudi’s famous Sagrada Familia. But first things first, in order to start the trip off right we dined downtown for a traditional Spanish paella! I had to pass on the sangria for now…

 

There were sites in Barcelona I hadn’t even known we needed to see– the Bunkers was one of them. We climbed towards the heavens, arriving at an overlook of beautiful sea and city. The wind whistling all around us made photo opps and conversion difficult, and as it was all we could do to try and not fly away, I bet our laughter roared louder than the wind!

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Another comical account of our trip were the traffic lights. Not exaggerating- there were intersections every 100 meters, fully outfitted with stoplights. LOOOONG stoplights. If/when we took a wrong turn, we had to drive an hour on one-way streets to get to where we had started. Word of wisdom for all who travel to Barcelona: don’t rent a car.

Eventually we got to where we intended to go, including the Guell Palace where we simply gawked at Gaudi’s architectural genius for hours.

Once outside the city, however, we drove freely without stoplights, worrying only about stopping to pay tolls and savoring bites of gluten free goodies from Pastisserie Jansana.

Our GPS led us straight to the sea. We turned unto cobblestone and into a harbor of twinkle lights reflecting off the glassy water. It was even better than I had imagined.

In the morning, the sun rose over the mountains to reveal the quaintest of towns. Oh Cadaques, you were a dream.

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White-washed buildings. Blue doors. Cappuccinos by the sea.

Cliffside pathways winding their way to the lighthouse. Sunsets and star gazing on rooftops.

I can close my eyes and still smell the salty air…

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But our trip didn’t end there.

We made our way back down Costa Brava and went back in time to a quiet medieval village in Pals where we may have been the only tourists. We ate where the locals ate and frolicked through a maze of stone walls, caring only to be silly and free.

 

Continuing our journey through Girona, we spent our last couple nights in Begur. We wasted time exploring narrow streets and watching waves crash against the coast, idling however we pleased. We befriended spontaneity as this was our last foreseeable chance before the new babe changes our lives forever…

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Captured one final sunset from the castle heights, we held our breaths as bowing rays reflected gold across the countryside. We said hello and goodnight to the rising moon, reluctant to acknowledge the end of our Catalan respite.

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After a summer of crazy and a month of settling into a new life, by taking this time in Spain to pause, love each other, and let life slow down a bit, we finally felt like us again.

The us that I am so thankful for.

The us that is ready to soon grow from two to three!

The Domino Effect

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We’ve all done it, lined-up dominoes centimeters apart to form a giant spiral atop the dining room table or kitchen floor. We held our breath until the last domino was positioned, then with the slightest flick of our finger, we sent the domino tumbling backwards.

Each corresponding domino collided with the one behind it, whirling around the table until what once was a meticulously planned design ended in a flattened mess.

Depending on how many dominoes you used, it may have taken over an hour to set-up, yet when set into motion you watched the whole thing fall on its face within seconds.

Maybe you hadn’t even finished constructing it when your hip bumped against the table, accidentally catalyzing the twirl all too soon.

You may already get where I’m going with this- you’re smart people.

For those of you who still need an ‘ah-ha’…

We make plans, we work hard, we dedicate precious time to things that matter much more than dominoes, but sometimes all it takes is the tiniest shove and you feel like you backslid back to the very beginning of a world you thought you had under control.

When this happens, there’s a tendency for everything you learned along the way to suddenly lose the value it once had. In that moment we focus on the failure and mistakes more than the journey itself.

Maybe you pick up the pieces right away and re-set the dominoes exactly the way they were before- only to have them fall down again.

Maybe you give up entirely, and with one long swoop across the table you shove the pieces back into the box and march it back to the game closet, grumbling about trying to make it work in the first place.

Maybe you put it on pause and distract yourself with other chores, only to find yourself back in that kitchen chair staring at the messy table of flattened dominoes before you.

This past year, my husband and I set off on an adventure, one we thought for sure would stick. We started settling in for the long-run: planting our roots, laying a foundation. We invested in relationships, spent time sharpening our skills in correlating areas of need, and put great effort into stepping out of our comfort zones.

Then with just one bump, somewhere in the middle of our spiral, one of our domino pieces tottered over. The results were messy, but not completely ruined, and from our side it looked we could line them up again.

So we tried. And tried. And tried again.

But each and every time, the dominos kept getting bumped. Not only forwards, but backwards as well. Causing us to ask the question: “How long should we keep trying?”

We finally put the dominoes away and looked at the clean table. I guess it was time to start something new…

Beautiful things take time.

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Sometimes it’s only when you run away for awhile that you’re able to understand what it is exactly that you had to run away from.

This happened to my husband and I a couple months ago when we hopped on a plane to get out of the city for 5 days. As soon as we rose out of the smog-laden city and emerged into a clear, blue sky, we suddenly realized how trapped we had been feeling.

It became obvious to us that our coping mechanisms for city living are not where they need to be. Although we gave ourselves 5 days to go to the beach, explore ancient ruins, and climb mountains, we weren’t at all ready to get on the plane back home.

Don’t get me wrong, we LOVE what we do. Our culture shock isn’t necessarily from living in another country, but it derives from the stresses of terrible traffic at all hours of the day, minimal greenery, and nowhere to go to be alone due to the 6,530 people (roughly) populating every square mile.

To anyone that asks us, we’ll admit that it’s been tough figuring out how to take care of ourselves in order to be healthy and thrive. Especially when we’re in a place that seems to strip us of energy before we even start to work…

On one of the days during our much needed get-away, we decided to rent a car and go check out a waterfall. What we found was better than we’d imagined it would be. The waterfall wasn’t extraordinarily huge nor was it in the middle of a tropical rainforest, but it was a sight for our city-sore eyes.

After we’d been delightfully refreshed by the waterfall sprays, we found a giant tree root and plopped ourselves in front of the waterfall. We sat there, mesmerized as the waterfall gently collided into the crystal bay of calm turquoise before us.

I wanted to sit there forever. I think my husband felt the same way. Emotions began to blur my vision, so I gave-in and let a few tears escape. The silence was softly broken as I heard my husband praying beside me. I let a few more tears fall and leaned my head on his shoulder.

A little bit later, he spoke up, “See the rough edges? This waterfall was probably created over the years as the river cut into the rock, eventually creating the crevice you see now.”

Beautiful things take time.

While our life may feel extremely messy, exhausting, and out of our control, the fact of the matter is that the current cuts and bruises we’re experiencing is quite possibly the only way for deeper beauty to be made.

So as we run back to what we ran away from, we do so fully aware of the hardships we’ll face, but we also run back with patience for ourselves, grace for every situation, and trust in God for His perfect timing.

We continued to sit in front of the waterfall for a couple more minutes, breathing in all we could of the sacred moment. It took all our strength to get up, but eventually we were able to tear ourselves away, and we started the climb back to the parking lot.

 

 

 

 

Our Flower Friend

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Every day on the way home I pass a small flower shop. Because I live in a cement jungle, I tend to gravitate towards anything that grows. Since this city is seriously lacking in the color green, whenever I walk by the shop, I make it a point to breathe in the freshly produced oxygen from the plants displayed outside the door.

Usually I’m in a hurry, but all it takes is one quick whiff to remind me of the sweet fragrance of my Creator before I continue on my way to face the people and the traffic.

When I got sick on Thanksgiving day, my husband ran to the store for some juice and crackers, but when he returned he also carried with him two small trees and a beautiful bouquet of fresh stems.

Nature is healing, and I don’t think humanity can live without it. Scientifically, we can’t survive with out it. In all his genius, God didn’t only give us creation so just we could live, but also for our enjoyment. While the atmosphere around us does indeed allow us to breathe, it also beckons us to stop, admire, and find peace.

The flower shop owner’s name means “patience.”

He’s been in the same small shop for 30 years now, so he’s seen the city develop from farmland and animals to busy street and underground trains. He said one of the reasons he’s stuck around is to remind people of the beauty that once was, and that one of the reasons people are so stressed out is because they forget.

They forget to stop and smell the fresh blooms, to catch butterflies, to sit in the sun.

But his shop remains as a symbol, waiting patiently for the world to remember the Creator and creation. To stop working overtime. To spend time outdoors. To bring sweet fragrances into their homes and onto their balconies.

Balconies much like this one…

Thank you, dear flower friend, for your wise words and your beautiful flowers.

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To Women Living as Expats: it’s Okay to be Rude Sometimes

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Since moving overseas I’ve had many experiences I wish hadn’t happened. But they did.

Were they my fault? No.

Could I have prevented them from happening? Perhaps, though doubtful.

What emotions did I feel after they happened? Shame. Guilt.

But did I do anything wrong? No.

No. In most of the scenarios there was nothing I could have done differently to stop the experience from happening.

From day one in my new middle eastern city, the bronzed-zippy-Californian-friendly college girl disappeared and in her place was a dark-haired, eyes-straight-ahead, talk-to-me-and-I-give-you-an-icy-stare seriously rude woman.

Gone were the generous smiles and chatty small-talker. If you saw me on the street, you would hardly recognize me.

Why the sudden personality change? I realized that in this country, anything short of looking mean would only bring me unwanted and unsolicited attention.

Yet despite my efforts to be invisible, I am still a woman.

I am a woman living in a patriarchal society.

While the culture has gone through significant breakthroughs regarding equality and embracing modern women in the business world, its roots of male domination go deep.

I’ve had to report multiple incidents to my husband about being touched inappropriately while out by myself.

What’s even more frustrating is that it happens in the light of day without any invitation whatsoever. I could be walking down a sidewalk, riding the train, or waiting at the bus stop minding my own business, and then suddenly be a target for someone’s un-controlled advance.

I’ve stepped on feet, thrown hands away, and elbowed men in the gut. I’ve yelled shameful words and called attention to their disgraceful actions. But whats done is done, and they run away without any real punishment for their crime.

What’s worse is that it’s accepted.

I’ve seen men slapping and hitting their wives in a public park, spitting on them and being rough. The passer-byers just keep passing by. They won’t get involved in a man “controlling” his property.

Before I knew better, if I man started talking to me and touching on the arm, if it seemed innocent enough I would tolerate it for awhile for fear of being rude. I know several other girls who’ve told me the same story. They didn’t want to be mean because they didn’t know if it was normal or not.

Unless the man is related to you, it’s not.

In this culture, the only reason a man touches you is to gage how far he can go.

The man knows he shouldn’t be doing it; local women wouldn’t tolerate a touch from a stranger for an instant.

Don’t even let him start.

If a man says he’ll show you which stop to get off of at the bus, tsk at him and move far away to show how disinterested you are. Don’t give him any reason to start a conversation with you. Some men will jump at any excuse to be invited into your space.

But know this: even if you do your best to send stay-away-from-me signals, you’re still a woman– a foreign women who will be seen as prime material to be taken advantage of.

If it happens, holler and shame the heck out of them. Please feel free to even take your shoe off and hit them with it.

Most importantly, know that it wasn’t your fault. The feelings of guilt and shame do not belong to you; you did nothing wrong.

Go home, confide to your husband or roommate, have them pray for you and give you a hug.

Then remember, next time you go out, it’s more than okay to be rude sometimes.

A Communal Commotion

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There was a bit of excitement on the first floor of the apartment complex as two Americans opened their door to let a rush of smoke billow out into the hallway.

These foreigners (or ‘ya-ban-jihs’ as locals call them) had semi-spiked their neighbors’ curiosity when they moved in about 7 months ago, but as time passed, their newness wore off and the locals kept politely to themselves.

However, as smoke started pouring into their apartment, not knowing who to call, the Americans ran across to the neighbors and knocked on their door.

The old woman opened the door, saw the smoke, and yelled “fire fire!”

Old-man-to-the-rescue pulled on his pants, threw on a winter coat, and stepped over into the young couples’ threshold. They pointed him to the busted breaker, smoldering with putrid smoke. Alarmed, he ordered the American boy to run to the the basement and get the doorman.

The boy leaped down the steps two at a time.

After turning the main electricity off, the boy quickly returned with the doorman. Thankfully the smoke started to slow from its steady stream to a whispy leak.

While all this was happening, the upstairs tenants came downstairs complaining of a bad smell and saw the commotion. Cell phones came out, questions were thrown at them, and noses began to poke.

“What did you do? Why does it stink?” The worried neighbors insisted on knowing what was happening.
“Nothing! We were eating dinner and all of a sudden our house started to fill with smoke and smell bad. But don’t worry, the doorman is helping us.” The blonde woman reassured the covered woman that the situation was under control.

Still, just in case, the man whose wife had been interrogating the blonde dialed the doorman to make sure. Then together they devised a plan for the electrician to come fix the yabancis’ problem in the morning. He left only to come back a minute later, advising the kids to put their meat on the chilly balcony outside so it wouldn’t go bad.

The apartment still wreaked like a dead rodent. As the foreigners were deciding what to do next, the neighbors graciously asked them to come over for tea. The old man and woman weren’t upset for being bothered late at night. In fact, it seemed that they enjoyed being able to help this young couple and wanted the evening to continue.

The couple was welcomed in, greeted with kisses, and ushered straight into the living room where they were presented with a table of dishes filled with nuts and dried fruits. They were asked whether they preferred their tea in a glass or a mug.

“Eat more, eat more.” The wrinkly face smiled and gestured towards the table.

So they ate more.

It was a typical conversation of who are you and where did you grow up, what do you like about Turkey and what food do you cook… They exchanged favorite recipes and suggested places to go on walks in the city.

The Americans went to bed that night grateful for the turn of events and for the helpful community God placed them in. They praised the Lord for their safety and that nothing worse had happened.

The Way Things Work

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When moving your whole life to another country, what it really means is you get to start over from scratch.
Your old bank accounts, electric company, gas company, water company… none of those work anymore. The convenient online setup options, nope, those don’t exist. Your name isn’t on anything yet. Nobody knows you. You don’t know anybody. You also don’t know how anything works.

So, first things first, establish yourself. Apply for residency in the country.

They way things usually work, in order to apply for residency, you need an address to apply with.

It would seem, then, that finding an apartment is first on the list.

Actually, before you’re able to call any realtors, you need to register your phone. But before you can register your phone you need a tax number. So you go to the tax office, get a tax number, pay the tax, then go set it up with the Cell Company.

Now you can call the realtors.

And the apartment hunt begins…

Once you have your apartment, the utilities need to be transferred over as well. How does one go about doing that? You take your sorry self all the way to the perspective Gas, Electric, and Water company offices, take a number, and stand (or sit if you’re lucky to find a chair) for an hour in a hot waiting room.

Your number blinks on the screen. In your best attempt, you extend your rental agreement and indicate you moved to a new place and therefore need to set up the utility. ” Of course,” they reply. “May I see your residence permit?”

In fragmented sentences, you explain how you just moved to the country and don’t have a residence permit yet, but are in the process of applying for one. “Can you just use my passport?”

“No, I am sorry, we cannot do it without your permit.”

You leave the office, feeling both defeated and confused.

This can’t be right. You need an address to put on your permit application. How are you supposed to have an address if the utilities can’t be set up, because you need a permit to do so? Do you just live in an apartment without any heat or water for three months until your permit appointment?

Fortunately, your landlord empathizes with your dilemma and agrees to keep the utilities under his name until you receive your residence permit. “But don’t tell anyone,” he says, “because I’m not supposed to be doing this.”

Believe me, your secret is safe.

Next on the list, with your house taken care of, you can apply for your permit.

After filling nearly everything out, it asks you for your local health insurance information. Pause. You go to the bank and apply for the cheapest health insurance they offer. Yes, the bank. Weird, I know.

Unpause. You fill in your health insurance and click submit. It tells you your appointment date, 3 months from today. It also sends you a list of everything you need to bring with to your appointment, including a bank statement proving sufficient wages. Back to the bank we go.

The first two banks say you need a resident’s permit in order to sign up for a bank account. You gawk strangely at them because you need a bank statement in order to get your resident’s permit… Can you sense the frustration???

Well, third time’s the charm. Finally, at a third bank, they process you through no problem. But they do need for you to notarize your rental agreement for legitimate reasons.

You follow the red signs on the street for the notary and hand them your contract, explaining your need. “I’m sorry, ” they say. “You need to go to the tax office first and pay the house tax. This needed to be done within 15 days of signing the contract, but you’re too late. Go pay the tax then come back.”

At the tax office, nobody understands what needed to be done. They send you to 3 different floors before getting what you needed.

Back at the notary office, you hand them the tax receipt and they start making faces and tsks and call for backup. The manager hustles over and tells you the tax is too small. You didn’t pay enough. You need to go back and pay more.

“Will you write a note explaining what they need to do? We don’t know what we need.”

So she writes a note and attaches it. “But you have to wait until tomorrow. Everything is closed now.”

You head over to another notary office just to see if they say the same thing. They confirm: “You need to pay more tax.”

“You need you need you need…” Sheesh. All this for opening a bank account…

In the morning you head back over to the tax office. They read the note and consult with each other. Their conclusion: “No, this is not correct. You don’t need to pay any tax for the neighborhood you live in.” They also write a note back to the notary, explaining everything.

You take the note and head to a notary closer to the tax office in case you had to return again. This noter doesn’t even blink. Before you know it, your papers are stamped. Glad to see everyone’s on the same page…. not! Oh well. Relieved, you head back to the bank one final time.

Handing them your notarized documents, they finalize your new bank account. The only thing left is to transfer adequate wages and get a back statement for your permit. This also takes time and effort with your employer, who eventually agrees to give you an advance in order to show sufficient funds.

Next stop, the courthouse. The courthouse? The courthouse.

There you will get a translation and notary of your marriage certificate to prove your marriage in the country you’re applying residency. Which is necessary because all the other documents happen to be in your husband’s name, so you better be able to prove that you’re linked, or else!

Are you exhausted yet? I know I am.

Even so, this is just a small glimpse into the way things work around here. And this is literally just the beginning.