amvans's Blog

Musings from a confirmed "Technical Difficulty"

Bird flu can kill you

Several people have suggested I write a book on what it was like to live as an  American woman in the Middle East. I’ve thought about it and it’s tentatively on the bucket list. Until I do, however, I do get the urge sometimes to record some of the more memorable anecdotes. For some bizarre reason (and I’ll not comment on my acceptance or rejection of the decision) we have recently acquired a couple of pigeons. This brought to mind the story of the bird flu and a typical American response to (and the subsequent demise of) a poor helpless pigeon during that time of crisis.

During the height of the bird flu scare, 400 turkeys had dropped dead of bird flu at a farm a few kilometers from home. Being the news junkie I’d become, I knew all about bird flu, for example,  how it migrates with the birds that travel from Asia through Israel to Africa, etc.  So, 400 domestic birds expire within a distance that would not be unreasonable to expect a pigeon to cover;   it is the migratory season and we’re on the path; we have something like 25 free-range chickens  running around and leaving presents all over the yard; I have a 3 year old and a 1 year old, one of whom loves animals of any kind…including chickens;  said child is not very steady on her feet and is frequently crawling about on the ground.  We have all the ingredients for potential disaster: chickens, poop,  young and inquisitive children.

So I come home from work one day during this time and I see that my mother-in-law has captured a pigeon and put it into a cage…on the table outside. My mother-in-law is the sweetest, kindest woman I know and because the pigeon had an injured wing she wanted to help it and keep it safe from the large number of feral cats that also lived on the property.  Of course, I see the pigeon and the first thing that crosses my mind is that the pigeon could have bird flu.  It was the enemy.  At this point in time, my Arabic was pretty limited, so I was reduced to words like “bird”, “not good”, “maybe sick” and the emphatic waving of arms and looking very alarmed. I didn’t know how to tell her about bird flu and the fact that a bunch of turkeys had just succumbed to it.  Regardless, she could tell that I was really upset about the bird and I think when I said something about “sick” she got the gist of it. So she opened the cage and flung that bird so far out into the driveway only a dead cat would have failed to notice it. It was then I saw  it had a broken/injured wing, but by now it was too late. The cats were on to a easy meal and I still wasn’t brave enough to touch that bird, even if I could have reached it in time.

After that, I realized how idiotic and hilarious my behavior must have seemed.   The likelihood that the kids would get stung by a scorpion,  bit by a viper or a rabid animal was probably higher than the probability that we’d all die of bird flu. Nevertheless, I think it was after this episode that I came to understand how easy it is to distract people from real problems with manufactured crisises…at least  it’s a lot easier for me to spot them now.  Fortunately, safe in Colorado, all I have to worry about is West Nile Fever, Lyme Disease, and Bubonic Plague….as long as I don’t end up in the hospital where I’d have to worry about catching the Super Bug.

Messing around when I should be doing my homework

There is no better motivation for accomplishing the least important task on the To-Do list than having a major assignment due in two days and which has not yet been started. I’ve cleaned up all my e mailboxes, updated my Facebook page, subscribed to a few new mailing lists, visited all those “websites you should be wasting time on right now”, “Stumbled” around a bit, read all the news…so the only thing left would be to write pointless drivel no one will ever read on my blog …something like 6 months after the last entry….wasn’t that the last time I had a major project due?

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately about the No Child Left Behind act. The impetus for that was a movie a friend of mine told me I absolutely had to watch “Waiting for Superman”. I got about halfway through before I turned it off. What a waste of a Netflix choice. It started out OK, but as it went on, I started to realize it was pure propaganda for the NCLB. The “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” has a better grip on statistics than that movie. Instead I decided to read “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education”.  Ravitch, who is a former assistant secretary of education makes a very strong case against standardized testing and Choice ( ironically for me…since my kids are choiced in).

I’ll say up front I’m no fan of standardized testing. Anyone with experience in experimental design knows how important it is to control for all the variables when designing an experiment of any kind, but the most notoriously challenging (and difficult to repeat) are those that deal with human subjects. As far as I can tell, the standardized tests given to kids in accordance with NCLB measures nothing useful. I know that the results of these tests are a kind of performance evaluation for teachers. But if you measured the number of railroad cars attached to a passing train and divided it by the time of day you’d get the same amount of functional data. I have yet to see any strong evidence that use of these tests help in any way other than to advance the agenda of test and educational instrument producers. If you follow the money trail, they are the ones truly profiting from this arrangement…clearly, students and teachers are not.


Originally Posted by: Marie Vans on Friday, August 18, 2006 at 2:21am

Coming from the US and most recently from Colorado where there are practically no bugs to speak of, one of the issues I’ve had to deal with is my fear of big, disgusting bugs. I’ve seen spiders the size of…. something really big and scary, ants ranging in size between a grain of salt and the diameter of a quarter, scarab beetles (best known for the iridescent green body and typically found as jewelry in the west), praying mantises the length of a BIC pen, among lots of others. But by far the worst are the Sarsou-er, or, as we know them: the cockroach.

These are not the typical cockroach because for one thing they can fly. For another the adults can grow to something like 6 to 8 inches. When you accidentally step on them in dark in your bare feet (which I have done) they pop. They run faster than a mouse and are difficult to catch when they spot you. No matter how clean your house is, some will invariably find their way in and cruise all over the countertops and stove. Just the idea of these things wandering all over places where I put food make me want to sterilize the kitchen with bleach…and I don’t use bleach for any reason. There’s a reason why I love geckos and encourage them to hang out at my place.

These gigantic garbage-eating, germ infested creatures are usually only a problem in the summer when it gets warm. In a typical year we spray once after seeing a couple and for a few days after that we find a few full-grown adults and lots of babies, flat on their backs, trembling legs in the air but unable to escape the cleanup. After that, we don’t usually see any more for the rest of the season.

This year has been very different. We’ve sprayed twice now and still they come. I surprise them in the sink (after which they get a free ride down to the sewer), I find them on the stove, on the curtains, in the bathroom. They’ve suddenly become a major topic of discussion (remember that our favorite hobby is talking) with visitors. It turns out that most people, ourselves included, started seeing them in large numbers right after the war began. They were coming out of the ground all over the place…apparently something never seen before by most people around here. So this begs a question. Did the cockroaches (said to be the only living creature able to survive the worst of conditions, and believed to be the only one that would survive Armageddon) come out because the explosions disturbed them from their underground nests? Or, did they come up thinking there would be lots more to eat?

Ok, so I’ve totally grossed myself out now and I think I should quit there.

Call of the “WeeWow”

Originally Posted by: Marie Vans on Thursday, August 17, 2006 at 3:34am

Things have calmed down considerably around here now, but it is a tense calm and we are all expecting things to flare up again if the international force doesn’t move into Southern Lebanon quickly.

Fortunately, the pause in the shooting allowed us to get back into Haifa so we could renew our eldest daughter’s passport. They’ve changed the rules considerably since the last one (read since 9/11). Now you have to bring the child and a lot of extra paperwork. In addition, if the last passport was issued when the child was a baby, you have to bring in pictures to prove that the child standing in front of the person processing the paperwork is the same one as the baby in the picture. Which is amazing since you have to bring in all the same documents brought in when the first passport was issued. We originally had an appointment on Sunday, but I cancelled that when I realized that Sunday would be the worst day yet in terms of flying rockets. I was right and it was scary enough just staying put in our bathroom, let alone getting into a car and driving toward the areas where all the rockets were falling.

I say get back into Haifa because we did brave the rockets last week to take my 7 month old son to the consulate. We needed to get his American citizenship and passport. Right about the time we got out of town, we heard sirens wailing in all the towns around us. I kept scanning the sky and landscape for rockets…as if it would help to spot one before it landed. More likely I was bracing myself for the resulting heart-attack should I actually spot one. During the visit to the consulate, the sirens were activated twice. Both times, we had to stop what we were doing, grab the baby and run to a shelter which is not on the premises but two houses away. Obviously, we made it back in one piece.

I’m not much of a night-owl usually, but during this past month I have been staying up well past 1:00am (and still getting up at 5:00am) It’s very hot here this time of year so we must sleep with the windows open if we want any chance of breathing and to hear the sirens from the next town over. I realized that things get very quiet around midnight. The dominant form of noise around here is the automobile. During the day, you can’t even hear the birds sing because it is so loud. In general, Israel is very loud place and if you want to escape the noise, getting up at 4:30 or 5:00 is your best bet. But, with the war, people weren’t going out much and so most cars were off the road by midnight. The silence was eerie. It was possible to hear the sound of muffled explosions that I believe were at the border or maybe inside Lebanon.

But the strangest sound of all was the call of the “Weewow”. Weewow is Arabic for jackal. I have been here almost 8 years and I have never heard it before, although I’ve seen many as road-kill over the years. In the high-pitched mournful howling, I heard the tragedy of Lebanon, the loss of so many children, the destruction of the environment both here and in Lebanon, the senselessness of it all. I heard the question “Why?”. I heard the lamentations of all the living creatures whose lives have been destroyed or adversely affected. One lonely jackal, probably driven from her home in the Northern forests by the fires and noise of war, and looking for another weewow with which to grieve.

Of empty gas tanks or….Not

Originally Posted by: Marie Vans on Wednesday, August 9, 2006 at 1:22am

Three days after “The Doctor Visit” I’ve recovered enough to look at the whole thing objectively and maybe with a little humor. As I said before, fear is a powerful emotion and its ability to affect the mind is amazing.

As I was driving to the doctor on Sunday, under fire, I glanced down at my gas gauge and instead of seeing it as it really was, I saw it as I did a few days before, almost empty. In fact, to my eyes it WAS empty because it was all the way over to the right with no more room to go down. I realized I had no phone and I started to panic over the thought that the car would run out of gas on the street. That we would be exposed to flying ball-bearings. I was relieved to get to the doctor’s office without running out of gas, but in the back of my mind, I was obsessing on how we would get to the gas station before running out and how we’d be sitting ducks in the car at the gas station. On the way back, I kept looking at the gauge and wondering why I wasn’t getting a red warning light, but dismissed that because the car is old and perhaps the warning light no longer functioned properly. Keep in mind that I probably looked at the gas gauge at least 100 times. I was so relieved to get to the gas station and I told the guy to fill it up. After a moment, I realized he was having problems with the gas pump. I looked down at the gauge and saw it…this time as it was in reality…completely full. My husband had filled it up in the days between the last time I drove and Sunday. How embarrassing is that? The poor gas station attendant was convinced his gas pump was broken.

We live right across the street from the gas station and all the people who work there are part of the same family that own it. Their house is right next door to the station. They are friends of our family. We go to their weddings and they come to ours. So it’s not like I’ll never see this guy again. I’m sure this incident will make me the butt of jokes for many years to come. Actually, that doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is how easily I saw truth as the opposite of reality under the influence of fear. I am not a person with much power outside the circle of my family, but it makes you think about the people who are. And that’s the frightening thing.


Originally Posted by: Marie Vans on Monday, August 7, 2006 at 2:33am

Fear is THE original emotion. It is the basis for everything that is going on in this hole-ly land. How you deal with fear makes the difference between life and death.

Never in my life have I thought I’d be in this situation. Making potentially life-threatening decisions every day, sometimes 2 or 3. Last night is an example. My daughter has had a raging ear infection now for a week. The doctor had put her on 2 different antibiotics and yet it was getting worse. The pain-killer, which can only be administered every 6 hours, quits working after 2 hours. The child literally screams until she can get more painkiller.

There is nothing more frightening than having to make a decision to take your young child outside under fire, but that is what I had to do. I could not bear the pain of my child. Something was very wrong and I would brave the falling rockets if I could get some relief for her. As I was driving, the sirens could be clearly heard from the next town over. I continued, driving as fast as I could (which was possible because there was NOBODY on the road) and when we got to the doctor’s office, we ran to the door. The sirens were still screaming. We tried the door, but it was locked. Fortunately, the doctor lives above his office, so we tried the doorbell. While waiting for an answer, I heard 5 or 6 very loud explosions. I cowered in the doorway of the office, shielding my daughter with my body and all the time praying for the door to open and the rockets to pass over. I am sure none of this escaped my daughter.

Finally after ringing the bell frantically a few times, a woman, the wife, answered the door. I told her I had made an appointment with the Doctor. He was not yet home, but she would let us wait in the waiting room. When he finally arrived, he gave the prognosis. She must go to the hospital now. Over the heart-wrenching cries of objections and “I want my Mama”, I had to let her go with my husband while I sat at home with the other 2 children. For 3 hours I sat, unable to do anything but listen for sirens and pray they would stop long enough for my husband to get to the hospital and back. For something that would normally be routine in normal times, I am so grateful that they arrived home safely and today my daughter has all but forgotten the pain.

I found out later that the bombs we heard fell in Haifa. In an Arab neighborhood. About 2 houses away from the house my niece and her husband lived in before coming here to stay with her parents. My nephew knew the people who were killed. I think now, if you count the number of civilian deaths, more than half would be Arab, even though they comprise 20% of the population. I am so torn between the grief I feel for the lost lives (on both sides) and the relief and gratefulness I feel that my family is still intact and relatively well.

Back to my original thought. Fear. It breeds hatred and I can surely understand that now. The hatred is palatable here now. Try reading the so-called left-leaning internet paper, Haaretz. Whenever an Arab disagrees with the political situation or complains about the rampant discrimination, they are called traitors and calls for deportation of all Israeli Arabs are voiced. They think that people like myself and my family should be deported to Southern Lebanon. And not just from people inside Israel. Many come from all over the world. I think to myself, hey, that’s my family you are talking about. If we supposedly live in a Democracy, why is that only Arabs are not allowed to voice opposition to this war? I pay taxes (and lots more than the average Israeli too) and those taxes pay for health care, defense, and lots of other social services. But these people who would have us “transferred” think we don’t deserve them. They think these services are “hand-outs”. They think that if we get these services (which I pay for) we should fall into line and support everything the government does. While Israeli Arabs are bullied into silence, Israel’s savior, Bush is slapping China around for not allowing free speech. An Arab MK was stabbed last week for saying something against the war and I would be willing to bet, that they won’t be able to find the people who did it.

Sometimes I get so angry reading the incredibly racist things these people say that I have to respond. But it doesn’t make ME feel any better. My rose-colored glasses have been shattered beyond repair. I have to fight not to become racist myself because there is so much of it out there directed at me and my family. I understand what it feels like to be hated because I’m not in the right club. I understand what it feels like to be treated like an animal. My life and my children’s lives are not worth more than a dog’s. (Apologies to all animal-lovers.) If it weren’t for the fact that most Arabs here are so tied to their homes and land, I’d say, for the sake of their children to leave. That is what I’m trying to do. But I’m not tied to the land like my husband and his family. They have no where else to go, I can come home, but they are already home. And I want to get my children out before they too become grounded and tied to this crazy place.

A Record Number

Originally Posted by: Marie Vans on Thursday, August 3, 2006 at 5:00am

So yesterday a record number of rockets fell from skies into our Holy Land. It was obvious a record would be set by mid-morning when for at least 3 hours it sounded like the 4th of July in Wyoming (where fireworks are legal). Breakfast in the bathtub is a really convenient thing. Kids dropping food all over the place? Just rinse out the tub. I was beginning to think it was time to hook up the tv and drag in a couch. Fortunately, I have wireless and I could monitor all the dis-information from there.

The two days prior to our record-setting day, all was quiet due to the cease-fire. Quiet here at least. Apparently the bad guys weren’t actually observing the cease-fire, they were just taking the opportunity to regroup instead of firing off rockets. Hmm. So I guess you can still call them terrorists for not having good intentions. But, fortunately for us, the results are the same. Not being a military sort myself, I’m a bit confused on the technicalities of a cease-fire. My ignorant, peace-loving brain told me that a cease-fire should apply to all sides that are firing. But apparently this was a different kind of a cease-fire. One side ceases-fire on civilian populations while the other side ceases fire unless it perceives a threat that needs to be fired upon. It was so quiet around here the day before yesterday that I almost went to the store. I chickened out and sent the old man instead. He’s way more braver than I and I’m still paranoid about that rocket that has my name on it.

In actuality, it’s really boring around here. Very little is moving but there has been a 100-fold increase in talk. In our town, the great pastime is talking. Forget reading, forget making model airplanes or even shopping. People want to move around from house to house and talk. Fortunately for me, I don’t speak the language very well. I used to sit and listen to people talk for hours and imagine they were talking about really interesting things like politics or world peace or something. But as time goes on and I understand more and more, I came to realize that they are being people like everyone else in the world and just talking about the neighbors, the latest scandals, and infirmities.

I’ll say another thing this was has led to…the cleanest house I’ve ever had. I don’t vacuum much because I can’t hear the sirens from the next town, (also I only have 2 small carpets) but I do a lot of putting things away, sweeping and dish washing. The need to exercise control over something is overwhelming, and I guess the only thing I can control, being stuck in the house, is level of cleanliness. I sure hope this sudden urge to perform the domestic arts goes away with the release from house arrest and my poor house can go back to its usual totally dis-organized and needing-to-be-cleaned state. I have way better things to be doing (and controlling).

Dodging Rockets

Originally Posted: Marie Vans on Wednesday, August 2, 2006 at 3:38am

Ok, so it’s been more than a year since I posted to my own blog. How pathetic is that? I guess now I really need to rant, being even more of a non-person than I was before…having been lowered to the position of “Technical difficultly”.

Sitting here, only to jump up every few nanoseconds to run for cover from rockets raining down from the north, I wonder if any of the incoming have my name written on them or at least something written by Lebanese children similar to the darling messages sent by Israeli children on missiles dropped on the Lebanese children.

As a technical difficulty, myself, my family, my neighbors, and everyone else in our town are not deemed worthy of shelters or even warnings of any kind. One day last week, I saw on the internet, 4 hours after the fact, that we were apparently warned to take cover because someone had some intelligence (if you could call it that) that rockets were going to hit somewhere around here. I wonder who was told. I guess they forgot to pass the intelligence on to those of us who might be affected (i.e. anyone living in this town) because no one I knew heard anything about it. Maybe they told the Mayor, who promptly took cover and forgot to pass the message on. Fortunately for the majority of us around here who have brains, we took cover anyway because the explosions were just a little bit too loud to mistake for the slamming of car doors or illegal fireworks.

We rely on the goodness of neighboring towns, whose inhabitants are much higher on the critically important list. Because of their stature and level of importance they have fully functional sirens and actual warnings of incoming rockets. When the wind is blowing in the right direction, we can actually hear these sirens before the explosions. Many times, however, we hear the explosions and then, after hushing the terrified children, strain to hear if there are any sirens calling from the direction of the critically important. Otherwise, the terrifying sounds could just be one of those idiot kids who has somehow got ahold of illegal fireworks or a very large truck literally bouncing its way through our town with the hope that no rockets will fall here.

Unfortunately, our town has not even risen to the important distinction of Human Shields. Those areas which have this label are lucky in that, while still inhabited by the technically difficult, they are completely surrounded by areas containing critically important inhabitants. Therefore, when the rockets do start falling near those areas, the technically difficult get much louder warnings, the sirens being in much closer proximity.

Don’t get me wrong. I feel for those thousands upon thousands of inhabitants who must live in shelters for days on end. Or even for the refugees who have had to leave their homes and flee south. At least we don’t have that problem. We have a bathroom, which is convenient because, well, you know. You get stuck in the bathroom for days on end, you need a bathroom. Of course, we don’t sleep in there, that would be disgusting. We take our chances and sleep in the next safest room in the house…the room that is farthest away from the gas station right across the street. Imagine for yourself what might happen if a rocket landed there…because I don’t want to.

I guess that’s about it for today. Gotta run to the bathroom with the kids, the barrage is continuing…..

–Anna Mabsulta

P.S. Anna MishMabsulta issa!

“David Copperfield” – A Return to Dicksonian Economy

Originally posted by: Marie Vans on Monday, June 13, 2005 at 1:28am

What the heck is going on? A few weeks back a draconian bill was passed that basically puts the unlucky American who lost a job or has large medical bills out on the street, while United is allowed to stiff its loyal employees (and 9/11 widows) on retirement benefits.

Bush is trying to change Social Security so it pays out less to retirees and more to Wall Street, and yet major companies are allowed to default (without consequence) on retirement obligations. The only losers here are the American people. (But not the rich ones.) These guys are taking us back 100 years to the Dicksonian era. The Repubs used to emphasize a return to Donna Reed and Leave it to Beaver. Now they seem to want to roll time back even further to 20th century England. Perhaps it’s time to re-read “Bleak House”, “David Copperfield”, and “Little Dorrit” to get a feel for what life in America would be like for the average person if these totally heartless people running the country get their way.

Isn’t it interesting how Bush et. al. stress that Americans should take more responsibility for their lives (i.e. total ownership society) while at the same time allow large corporations to walk away from their own responsibilities?

Where’s the outrage????????


My First Blog

Originally Posted: by Marie Vans on Sunday, June 12, 2005 at 5:01am

I finally made the big leap into blog-ville. I’ve been thinking about it for a while because I need a place to vent. I’ve read too many blogs by other people and I figure it’s my turn.

I ‘m an American living in an unnamed Middle Eastern country. I ‘m not a citizen of the country in which I live with my husband and three children, all of whom are citizens. I will never be a citizen. Not that I can’t, it’s just that I won’t. Not interested. Getting citizenship won’t change my 3rd class treatment, as my husband will testify. It’s my little way of protesting.

So, you ask, why are you living there? It’s not that I’m a sucker for punishment, although sometimes a certain amount of satisfaction comes from being both a victim and being right. No, the simple reason is that my husband’s family is here and, quite frankly, when raising young children, nothing beats the myriad of ready-made babysitters than those that inevitably come with a large family. In America, where extended family means a minimum of an hour’s drive to see Grandma, the supply of instant help is quite limited and in my case, non-existent. I want my children to grow up with REAL family values. Where people are more important than time and money. (Not the kind where we all shake hands with our neighbors in church on Sunday and then run over each other in the parking lot in a mad dash to get on to the next scheduled thing.) We may not have an 80-foot RV or 4 cars (nor could we afford the gas) but at least I know my children are being looked after by people who love them.

Living where I do has turned me into a political animal. You simply cannot live here and live in la-la land like a lot of American couch-potatoes. You really do have to be on your toes. Gotta keep those passports and important papers ready. Just in case. (Yes, paranoid and SO American!) I probably read 10 international news site everyday along with several blogs and other alternative news sources. My favorites list is a mess. It’s a miracle I get any work done at all.

I take risks. I can’t find a decent bookstore or library anywhere around here so I order all my stuff from Amazon. I’m worried Big Brother is taking note of all my purchases. Don’t do much, after all, I’m a non-person. Read Michael Moore, David Corn and Noam Chomsky. But worried. Will I end up on the no-fly list? I don’t exactly agree with much of anything coming out of the White House these days. OK. I’ll admit it. I don’t agree with anything and I’m suspicious of everything they say.

So that’s my first blog. Mostly I’ll just vent about the injustice of it all.


hey, where’s the spell check anyway?????