Month: May 2014

Living Within the Cloud of Cultural Secrecy

I knew that moving overseas would mean that I would live a life with more questions than answers. I knew that for a very long while, I would ask, “what?!” about 17,000 times in the midst of conversation because I had absolutely no idea what the person was saying to me.  I knew that there would be cultural questions and unknowns as I figured out why, for instance, and old man would pull a hatchet out of his bag and wave it in front of my kids in the hopes they would stop crying. But no amount of training or preparation could have prepared me for one thing.

The End of the Year School Program.

This is year number 3 of my kids attending a local private school, and I have to say that time has not proved itself to make me more culturally understanding. 

School itself always brings about a huge level of unknown. Since my kids go to a school in 2 languages (neither of which I speak), I pretty much know what is happening about 20% of the time. The kids come home singing cute songs and I’m just as proud as I can be, even though I have no idea what they are saying. Case in point: One day, Lydia came home reciting something in Arabic. I had pretty much convinced myself that she was linguist and was quoting some verses from the Quran, when I called a friend and found out that she was actually saying, “Don’t put your finger in your nose.”

All that to say, we are pretty clueless. We really like the school, and the teachers, and our kids are happy and have friends there, so since they are still young, we are happy with that.

But the End of the School Year program is always shrouded in an extra level of secrecy. Every once in a while, in the months leading up to May, I will hear comments or songs here and there about the school program and what may/may not happen, etc. But the real mystery has always been: When will this “program” be held? and Where?!

Let’s take these Year by Year.

Year 1. Lydia was finishing up her 1st year of school, and we found out that she had been selected to introduce her class’ program to everyone. With a microphone. by herself. It made a little bit of sense, because she was the token white, american girl, but still. She had just turned 5. I had been waiting for about a month for the announcement of when this program would be and as the end of the school year came to a close, I was thinking, “surely, I missed the announcement or something.” I kept asking all of my friends if they knew. Nope, not one person. FINALLY, 3 days before the program, we get the announcement. 3 days. My planning mind has a really hard time with that. Not only that, but the announcement came without a time listed. So I asked Lydia’s teacher. Her response, Priceless. “tey brd la hl.” Which translates literally as, “When the situation cools”. Nope, not kidding. It took me a good long while to finally figure out that the program was going to happen outside, so whenever the weather would get cooler that particular evening, the program would start. I tried to get a ball park number, “Maybe like 7 or 8?!” I asked her. Her Response, “Inshallah” If God Wills. Which can also sometimes translate as the polite, non shameful way of saying, “Probably no, but we’ll see.” 

It ended up being a beautiful evening, that started around 9:30 pm.

Year 2. Lydia and Cole were both in a new school this year, and thankfully, May was a pretty normal month. No traveling, meetings, etc. So we could pretty much just sit around and wait to get the announcement so we could plan the rest of our month. Even though this was a new school, we still did not get word of the school program until about 3 days out. AND this year, new school, new routine. The programs were held in the morning. 9 am. Which totally works for a culture where you can say to your boss, “Oh my kid has a school program, and I won’t be in today.” And not one person bats an eye. Thankfully this year I did not have to sift through the cultural cues in order to figure out the time. But there was still some secrecy, of course. There were 2 different rooms for the program, 1 was the classroom, another was the room with the stage. Jay and I basically followed the lead of the other parents for when we were supposed to switch rooms, stand up, sit down and clap (because, again, not understanding a dang thing, but insanely proud!) We would just look at one another and laugh at our cluelessness

That year was a little less eventful, except for the HUGE fight between some moms that included hitting people with chairs, shoes, pulling hair and the police. (Another blog, for another day)

Year 3. This year (actually just this week). I felt a little more prepared for school life. I knew that the program last year was late May, so while I didn’t know a date, I had been just planning on that. I knew that we were going away from the 6-13, but since I had asked the teachers about the program and told them we were going to be gone, I thought for sure we were in the clear this year. I was thinking we would get back into the swing of life and school on the 14th and the kids would be ready and excited for the programs in the next couple of weeks. OF COURSE, I was wrong. We arrived back to our house at 1:30 am and had been debating all night whether or not I would wake the kids for school. It was Wednesday, only a half day, so I thought maybe I would just let them sleep. But I set my alarm just incase I decided to wake up and take them. At 7:15, when my alarm went off, I decided to just wake them up and make them go. It was A PAIN to wake them and they were SO tired, but I have never been so thankful for that voice in my head when we walked up to school and saw all of Lydia’s classmates in beautiful dresses ready for the school program. Seriously?!?! It was 8:10, the program was at 9. I had my hair on top of my head and pretty much still had pajamas on. I drove home as fast as I could, woke Jay up from a deep sleep, got Hannah ready and we were out the door in 30 mins. I also brought Lydia clothes to change into, since we had not really planned on this surprise program when she got dressed in the morning. I felt a little bit better when I found out from the other moms that they had just told them on Monday afternoon that the program was going to be on Wed Am.

My Sweet Girl reciting something. Don’t ask me. I have no idea. But she is awesome at saying it!


I found out later that one of my best friends here had tried to call me 13 times (my phone was dead) because she knew I was totally clueless about this program. Those are the relationships that make this crazy life worth it. The friends that will go out of their way to help because they know you are culturally clueless. 🙂