Friday, December 31, 2010

Christmas Reading

I'm back in baladelba7th! While I was home, I had tons of ideas for good posts that have little to do with my usual complaining and didn't write any of them because I was busy with my post-Christmas reading gluttony.  For me, the days after Christmas are even more exciting than Christmas itself because I get to read all of my Christmas books in a reading feast of a book or two a day.  When I was younger, I felt guilty about reading them all right away, as new books were hard to come by (this was pre-Amazon, and I lived in an area one hour from the nearest bookstore, and that bookstore didn't open until I was in high school anyway).  Once I finished my Christmas reading, I would have no new books until my birthday (thankfully this is in July, so I had two new book occasions a year).  I did make weekly visits to the library, but as you might imagine in a place with no bookstore, the library was not large, and by high school I had read all of the books in the young adult section, most of the mysteries and fiction and had only romance and non-fiction left, which I don't much care for.  So, while I continued to check out books, I was mostly re-reading my favorites, rather than discovering new ones.  Despite this guilt, I always finished my Christmas books within three to four days of Christmas.

Now of course, there is Amazon, and I have a Kindle, which means even in baladelba7th I can get new books to read anytime I want one.  I also have actual incentives to finish my Christmas reading right after Christmas.  One, I don't want to take paper books on the plane to baladelba7th as they will be extra weight coming home.  Second, I don't have as much time to read during the semester as during the holiday.  If I don't finish my books during the holiday, I will read them instead of working during the semester, and this is not a good thing as I do not have the self-control to work for a bit and then read, I will read until I finish the book and just not do my work.  So, a glorious reading fest is a necessity!

That said, I will try to update with my posts about Adventures in Suburban Babyland, the settling question, and more soon!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Travel Highlights

Our flight ended up being delayed 3.5 hours.  This was actually a benefit, as we got to leave our apartment at  8:00 instead of 4:30 am, and it just shortened our layover.  The first leg of the trip was the easiest I've ever experienced, no wait either to check in or go through customs.  The second leg, well, we had a long boarding process and sat on the ground for 1.5 hours on the plane.  Luckily I had some good books.  And it certainly could have been worse.

Other travel highlights included:

The guy in front of me at the duty free store bought 276 Euros of French cheese.  I'm not sure if I'm appalled or envious.  Maybe both.  He then paid for it with a 500 Euro note, which I had never seen before.  Apparently the cashier hadn't either, as he had to call over his supervisor.  Comic confusion ensued when she saw my 7 Euro block of cheese on the counter and thought that I was paying for it with the 500 Euro note.  The cashier clarified the situation.  The supervisor verified that the legitimacy of the note, and the customer went on his way with a large bag of cheese.  

Passing through customs once we finally landed at home, the customs agent asked my husband and I "Oh, you live in baladelba7th--do you speak loghatelba7th?" Normally, this is a question I am happy to answer in the affirmative.  In an encounter with a customs agent, less so.  We reluctantly said yes, fully expecting to be hauled off for further searching and a criminal investigation.  "Oh, you speak loghatelba7th" the customs agent repeated, but this time in loghatelba7th.  "I'm studying it too, it's a wonderful language."

Ironically, although I am terrified at each home customs entry when asked about baladelba7th and loghatelba7th, the only other time I've really been pressed for details was similarly positive.  Four years ago, my bag was randomly searched, and the customs agent pulled out some loghatelba7th movies I'd taken to watch on the plane.

"Do you watch these?" he asked.
"Yes" I mumbled.
"Where do you live?"
"Where in baladelba7th?"
"No, where exactly?
"Ah, ism el-7ayy" I mutter nervously.
"Ism el-7ayy! Wonderful! My grandfather lives there!"

Granted, I'm sure if I actually looked like I was from baladelba7th, or had a foreign accent in my native language, things would be much less pleasant.  Nevertheless, it makes me happy that the questions that scare me the most so often turn out to be rooted in curiosity rather than suspicion.  

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Flying Home

The first time I flew home for the holidays was the first year of my PhD program, as previously I'd always lived either two hours from my home or overseas, in which case I flew home, but on odd dates.  The year before I had acquired quite the airline mileage, and so I achieved some sort of special status that automatically upgraded me to first class, where I got free drinks.  This was quite exciting until I started listening to the conversations of the other passengers ordering free drinks:

"Make it a double.  I'm headed to the family."
"I think three's the charm.  That's just what I need to deal with Aunt Lucy."
"Jack Daniels? Are you preparing to see the family as well?"

Now, I know that plenty of people have unpleasant family experiences.  But all of my fellow passengers? I was in shock.  The thing is that I love visiting my family for the holidays.  We have tasty food, and interesting conversation (we are divided politically, but respectfully), and it's a wonderful break from my normal life.  As I sipped my free Jack and Ginger, I wondered am I the only person excited to see my family? The only one who's been waiting all week to get on this plane for what will be an all-too-short visit? My grad school is supposed to be in a "family-friendly" area, shouldn't liking your family be included in that?

Perhaps this was simply an aberrance (although it happened again the next year), but it made me appreciate my family that much more.  My husband and I are flying from baladelba7th early tomorrow morning to see them for Christmas (I was also clever enough to marry a non-Christian, which means that we always get to go to my family's house for Christmas).   I'm a bit worried about the weather for some of our connections, but am looking forward to my favorite traditions of family dinners, hanging cookies on the Christmas tree, sitting by the fire with a novel, and pie for breakfast.  Most of all, I'm excited to see my family, hear their opinions, argue with them, learn from them and revel in amazement that I'll be drinking eggnog because it's delicious, not because it's necessary to deal with my family.

Monday, December 20, 2010

ma3a salama ya Wordpress

You tempted me with your pretty dashboard and online reviews, then thwarted me with your confusing interface and lack of control over the appearance of my posts.  Every time I requested change, you told me that was only available using your software on my own website.  But I just want a free blog on which I can write about my fieldwork frustrations and snuggly cats without the font size changing every paragraph.

Google, 7abibi, I'm sorry I left and I hope you can forgive my betrayal.  I think you have, as after fleeing back to your domain, I set up a much prettier site in about two minutes.  Ba7ibak 2awi!

So without further ado friends, I apologize for my fickleness, and please update your links to:

Back to Google?

In my previous blogging adventures, I have always used Blogger.  For this blog, I thought a change would be nice, and switched to Wordpress.  How much could it matter after all, I'm just typing words on a screen? Plus, there are all those Blogger to Wordpress posts that kind of remind me of the PC to Mac posts, and I've been a Mac girl all my life.  After spending an inordinate amount of time trying to make all the fonts in my last post the same size (and failing) and making the list single space (successfully, but annoying), I'm tempted to say that there are indeed differences, and I want to go home to Google.  Especially since the chai tea I was making burned while I was doing this, and now I'm boiling baking soda in the pot to remove the burned parts instead of drinking yummy chai.  Wordpress is indeed prettier, but Blogger is easier.  Thoughts?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Aching Calves

I did manage to practice my folk dance in the gym today, and realized that the toll of the last few weeks of research means that I am woefully out of shape.  This evening I went to the local dance studio for a hiphop class followed by a private lesson in a folk dance other than my own.  I really like this type of folk dance; it's kind of like mine, but requires less cardio and strength (at least at my level).  It's also much more compatible with my language interests, and the music is more interesting.  Yet, I just can't see it replacing my folk dance.  Adding maybe, but it could never be a full substitute.

However, the long and the short of the matter is that after a two week hiatus, I danced for three hours.  New and old folk dancing is jumping intensive (probably why I like it) but now my calves are complaining.  Tomorrow, no doubt, my achilles will take the lead, relegating my sore calves to a supporting role.

But, the tight stressball in my stomach that has been constantly with me this semester is quiet.  As is the tightness in my shoulders from hunching over a computer or my Ipod all day (new folk dance involves a lot of shoulder shaking).  I know that dance is the only cure for the stressball, but it's so hard to schedule in when my schedule is crazy and unpredictable.  There are only certain hours when the aerobics room at the gym is free.  If I sign up for a dance class at night, it's likely I will only be able to make a quarter of the classes per month due to meeting participants, and dance classes are not that cheap.  Dancing in my apartment, or the apartment I stay in in medinatelba7r, can be done occasionally, but doing lots of jumping on hard tile floors is a sure recipe for achilles disaster, as well as annoying the downstairs neighbors.

Yet, if I want to make it through the rest of my fieldwork without developing some sort of stressball condition, I am going to have to figure out a way to dance more.  The trick is, how?

Saturday, December 18, 2010


Phase 3 is finally complete.  Well, minus one survey, but it's online and there's not much I can do about it but wait.  I finished the majority of the data collection Monday night and had one last interview yesterday.  Unfortunately, I was also quite sick until about yesterday with a nasty, nasty cold, and wanted to do nothing other than drink tea and snuggle with my warm kitties.  I still have a lingering cough, but no longer feel like sleeping all day.

I did manage to send off an email to my advisor, asking how should proceed now that Phase 3 is complete.  I desperately hope that the response will not be "more of Phase 3" as I'm not sure I can do it.  It's somewhat of a conundrum--I probably do have enough data to write my dissertation, but I don't want to waste time when I'm actually in baladelba7th, as who knows what the future holds and when I'll be able to return.  If I'm lucky enough to actually get an academic job when I graduate, it likely won't be for a while.  Thus, while spending my next five months focusing on writing would be good for actually completing my dissertation on time as well as my stress levels, I don't want to lost a chance to collect more data that I may not have again.  The flip side argument is that if I could actually get a chance to analyze the data, I could plan future collection better, instead of just getting more of the same.

In any case, my plan until I hear from my advisor is data processing and folk dancing.  The focus on the latter was marred today when I went to the gym and they said they couldn't open the aerobics room because there was maintenance.  Of course, in the 2 hours that I was in the gym angrily doing things other than folk dancing, no maintenance entered the room, and that is enough time for me to do my folk dancing routine twice through . . . hanshuf bokra!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

More mindnumbingness

Since I am about halfway through my research project, the grant administrator at my university wants me to submit my receipts to her.  I have spent the last five hours compiling receipts, categorizing them, and taping them onto paper.  This is in spite of the fact that I've been keeping track of my research expenses in a spreadsheet all along.  Even better, most of these are manufactured receipts, because it is simply not possible to get a receipt for say a metro ticket or taxi ride in baladelba7th.  When I asked the grant administrator what I was supposed to do in these situations, she said that I should get a receipt book and have vendors sign it.  This is pure idiocy--no taxi driver or ticket seller in baladelba7th is going to sign a receipt book, even if I could find one here.  I explained to the grant administrator that there is a cultural difference at work--people will not sign receipts here because to them it signifies that they have accepted money (not necessarily for whatever service they provided) and this may be held against them at some point in the future (although it's not clear quite how). She stated again that I needed to have a signed receipt.  I pointed out that I had just explained why I could not get a signed receipt, and since a major goal of the funding organization was cross-cultural understanding, surely they had encountered things like this before? It's not as though I'm the first researcher to ever work in baladelba7th (although it is possible that I'm the first researcher from my school to work here on this particular grant).  So she finally wrote back that I should keep track of my expenses, write out the receipts without signatures, and it's possible that I would still be reimbursed.  So, I may have spent these five hours taping made-up receipts to paper for aught!

The lapcat however, is very happy, because he spent every second of the five hours in my lap, except when I kicked him out to make lunch and he followed me into the kitchen and discovered that I had neglected to properly cover the leftover popcorn, one of his favorite snacks.  He polished off a few kernels and then returned happily to my lap.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Celebrating with the sniffles

Phase 3 is complete in medinatelba7r, and shockingly, there were no last minute changes.  Alas, instead of celebrating, I have come down with a nasty cold, exacerbated by the cold and stormy weather in medinatelba7r.  While I am not the type to stay home in bed with the slightest sniffle, I also try not to do silly things like stand outside in the pouring freezing rain wearing only a light sweater when I can feel a cold coming on.  Alas, I also put fieldwork above my health, and thus I did just that several times over the last few days before getting on the cold late night train home.  I don't quite have the energy to describe how awful it was, but let's just say that it involved cold drafts, shrieking passengers, being too congested to sleep, and taking an hour longer than normal due to flooding.  Not surprisingly, I feel awful today, but must press on to complete Phase 3 in elmedina elkabeera.  Luckily, I could spend most of the day in bed with a snuggly cat, and strong cold medicine is rather more readily available in baladelba7th than at home.

Friday, December 10, 2010


I'm getting on the train to medinatelba7r later tonight. Theoreticaly, this will be my last trip there for Phase 3, although as usual that is subject to change.  I'm nervous and excited at the same time to be done with this phase.  On the one hand, I'd like my time to be a little more under my control, and to spend less time scheduling research activities. On the other hand, I'm going to have to spend a lot more time in transcription hell once it's over (although I did request a foot pedal as a holiday gift).

My plan for this morning was to clean my apartment, which suffers from a perpetual dust problem.  However, the lapcat has taken up residence on my lap, and shows no signs of moving.  He's also far too cute to disturb for something I dislike as much as cleaning.   Guess I'll just have to spend some more time on the internet!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Chop and dye?

Now that the end is in sight and I'm not permanently stressed out about Phase 3 of my research, my mind is free to worry about other things, most recently my hair.  My hair is very long (to my waist) primarily because I am lazy and hate getting my hair cut, although I don't mind trimming it at home.  I usually wear it in a French braid or bun which keeps it out of the way.

However, every 3-4 years I get sick of it being so long and chop it all off.  I'm at this point now, particularly as the highly chlorinated water in baladelba7th makes the ends really dry no matter how much conditioner and oil I use.  I used to donate it to Locks of Love, but then I found out they were kind of a shady and disorganized organization.  If I'm not donating it anywhere of course, I could just chop off 6-8 inches rather than 11-13.  Perhaps moderation is the way to go.

Then there is the issue of dying it.  My life in baladelba7th would be infinitely easier if I had darker hair.  However, I have a number of concerns with dying my hair darker.  First and foremost is that my eyebrows and eyelashes are so light they are pretty much invisible.  This is okay with light hair, but I think would look freaky with dark hair.  So I would either have to dye them, which means scary chemicals next to my eyes, or wear makeup all the time, which I know will never happen, even if it is to prevent me from looking freaky.  I'd also have to actually reapply it throughout the day, and that is even less likely to happen.  The second problem with dying my hair is that I'm pretty sure having light roots will make me look like I'm going bald.  And if I can't handle going to the salon every two months or so, I'm definitely going to have a lot of roots showing. Then there is the whole issue of returning to my original hair color, which would require more dying and then the patience to have it grow out.

Yet if I'm going to do it, it's now or never, as there's no point in dying my hair at home, and I'll only be in baladelba7th for another six months.  Decisions, decisions.


Monday, December 6, 2010

2uT fiil 2aTr!

Believe it or not, I have two positive posts in a row! Today, all my appointments were met, and I got a number of other things accomplished.  This brings me much closer to done.  Then, on the train home, I sat next to a supercute cat! It was white and fluffy and soft, with huge sweet blue eyes and a very calm personality (it was also deaf, which probably made it calmer, given that baladelba7th tends to be noisy).  I have seen mice on the train before, running around the seats, but never a cat.  Even better, it was with a woman, which meant that I got to read my loghatelba7th book and talk to her and her cat without any sketchiness or requests for my phone number at the end of the journey.  I also gave my participants (and the woman with the cat) homemade 7alawiyat I made, which they quite appreciated.  With great difficulty, I have also refrained from ending every sentence in this post with an exclamation point.  Yay!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Surprisingly Satisfactory

I had to catch an early morning train to medinatelba7r today, which of course meant I didn't sleep much last night as I was stressed out about oversleeping and missing the train.  This is pretty normal when I catch an early train, but usually I can sleep on the train.  This time, however, my stomach stressball was so active that I couldn't sleep, all I could think about was how I'm so close to the end of Phase Three, but have so much left to accomplish in it, will I really be able to pull it all off? Then I went straight from the train station into interviews on not enough caffeine, and my digital recorder refused to work.

After these difficulties though, things went surprisingly well.  I had an extra recorder, my participants didn't cancel, and I have my schedule figured out for almost the entire rest of Phase 3 (Yes, it is 100% likely to change.  But still, it satisfies my planning anxiety to have something).

I also finished my conference powerpoint, and sent it off.  The talk I'm giving at this conference is based on the preliminary results of data I collected last year, and I shared some of it with some of my participants today.  They were really excited about it, and that made me feel really good, because I felt like someone really cared about my research (other than me) and that it does contribute to something other than my personal academic career and the knowledge of other academics.  If I can help change what I'm researching for the better, then the personal stress is worth it.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The varying forms of mindlessness

I am in one of those fields that depending on who you talk to bemoans the inroads fluffy relativism has made on the scientific method, or condemns the evil (post-)positivists and their neo-colonial plots, or simply prides itself on mixed method approaches.  The upshot of which is that being mostly in the latter category, I find myself wrestling with both quantitative and qualitative analyses. Both of these have their mindless data prepping steps; for the quantitative data it's organizing the data such that it can be meaningfully read by SPSS, for the qualitative data it's transcribing interviews.  These are both mindless and boring activities, at least in their initial stages.  Yet for some reason, I can get really into the quantitative manipulations, focusing entirely on the spreadsheet and being very disgruntled when I have to do anything else.    Transcription, on the other hand, makes me want to jump up after ten minutes and do anything else, even washing dishes, or hanging laundry, or all sorts of other odious cleaning tasks I normally hate.  I don't understand the difference.  It's not as though transcription is harder (if anything it's easier), and it's not as if organizing numbers in a spreadsheet is fun.  So how can I completely lose myself in one sort of mindlessness and fail so utterly at concentrating on the other?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Conference Time

I'm presenting at a conference in medinatelba7r in just over a week.  When I signed up for this conference, it seemed like a great idea--my grad program likes us to present at 1-2 conferences a year, and I wouldn't have to travel much for this one.  But, this means I have to analyze some sort of data, and I just don't have time.  However, I also hate half-assed presentations that are clearly written at the last minute and waste the attendees' time.  So I have to find some time somewhere.  Then again, I'm also the very last presenter on the last day of the conference, and I suspect that the quality of many of the papers will not be particularly high.  Laziness beckons . . .

On an interesting linguistic note, although this conference is about loghtatelba7th, we were told that our presentations had to be in English, because not all attendees would speak loghatelba7th.  I was sort of sad, because I had thought this would be a good opportunity to give a presentation in loghatelba7th.  It also makes me angry and frustrated that you can give a presentation on loghatelba7th without speaking it, even though this happens all the time, and not just with loghatelba7th.

On another interesting linguistic note, there are different conference fees for residents and non-residents of baladelba7th.  Since I have a residence visa, I registered as a resident.  I then got an email from the conference organizer saying "I am afraid resident of baladelba7th means loghatelba7th speaking and affiliated with a  university in baladelba7th." The implication of this being that I could not possibly speak loghatelba7th (based on my name I guess).  So I wrote a rather snide email back in loghatelba7th pointing out that I did in fact speak it and also that I am affiliated with a university here, as this is necessary for my research.  I ended up getting the resident fee, but I'm still annoyed at the organizer.

Perhaps for my presentation I'll give it in English, but leave the loghatelba7th quotes untranslated? Of course this means I need to analyze some data to find quotes to include, and when am I going to do that when I want to spend my precious free time reading blogs and snuggling with cats?