Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Tuesday Report--Recovery

Recently a friend sent her newsletter. In it she wrote side-by-side columns to express two ways of looking at one expat life. In one she expressed the lonely weariness, and concerns about what she and her family were missing in life. In the other, she looked at the blessings, opportunities and fruit of the same day-to-day experiences. Giving a balance. 

As I tell of plain old Tuesdays I wonder whether my sense of grace and blessing obscures the difficulties and pain. Makes it sound like a fairy tale. In truth, I love this place, the people we live among, and the learning that comes from living outside of country, culture, language, and faith community.  But. 

This Tuesday I woke to kitchen counters laden with dirty dishes from end to end. My night had been restless and so had Curt's. Too much action, too much food, too much energy spent the day before. After some time at my desk and around the time Ayşe arrived to clean, I attacked the mess. First put away clean things from dishwasher and counter top drainers, the first round from the night before. Rinsed more piles of plates, glasses and cutlery for the machine. Ran out of hot water. It was a cloudy, windy day and the solar water system didn't keep up. So I worked on other reshuffling of furniture, candles, toys and laundry, and played with our doggy guest, while the electric backup did its thing. 

Yes, Spa for the Soul has a guest dog these two weeks. Dobby is a tiny bundle of fun and cuddles. He belongs to our last guest. James asked if he could stay while his family makes a trip to Greece. This city high-rise dweller snuffles and woofles his way around our large village garden, covers himself with burrs, escapes the gate to visit passers by and the neighbors, cowers when he sees their chickens, plays with the neighbor boy, barks at magpies, and otherwise revels in country life. While I waited for hot water I put him through his paces: sit, shake, sit pretty, roll over, and fetch. He refuses to play dead for me, and I refuse to give the "kiss" command. 

Water hot, I returned to the dishes. Took awhile, but I found it a relaxing bit of work. My heart was full with images from our Thanksgiving feast the day before. 

One of the things that bemuses me about American expats is the energy so many of us put into recreating aspects of American life. Last Friday my FB page was loaded with images of Christmas trees going up all over Turkey and the Middle East. Thanksgiving photos show gatherings of expats around laden tables to remind themselves of their homeland and to identify with family far away, family that leaves a great hole in the holiday doings. Keeping traditions helps children to know something of life in their passport country, too. Valid practices on so many levels. But not something we've ever been much into.

Thanksgiving Day found Curt and me in different cities. He was invited to the home of new American acquaintances from the language school. I hosted Dobby's owner (and Dobby) for a lentil/cranberry/spinach pilaf with strawberries for dessert. But we had, or could find, most of the elements of a traditional Thanksgiving meal so we decided to host a feast. On Monday. Friday Curt picked up a turkey in the city before he came home. Saturday I cooked the first bits. Sunday was a long day of dessert making--cheesecake, sticky toffee pudding, pecan pie, and two pumpkin pies (which involved first cooking a pumpkin). Monday, well, you can imagine Monday. Turkey, stuffing, brussel sprouts, other veg, salad, mashed potatoes, homemade bread. Table expanded, chairs brought from all over the house, the studio set up for games, table set, candles everywhere. 
The last of the pecans I brought from the US a couple of years ago

Homemade pita bread

Veg saute for the stuffing

Yup, it's a boy. A Turkish turkey, all 7 kilos of him.

Seventeen gathered. Plus two dogs. Dobby had Badem to play with for the day. Twelve Turks, two Brits, and one other American. Two guests we hadn't planned on. Two children in the mix. We were aged five to eighty years old. For once every dish was extraordinary. Congenial guests, good sharing enabled by a guest who is a professional translator, games and conversation. Joy to be together, to share traditions and modify them for this time and place, and to enjoy new traditions we've begun with these dear ones. 
Seventeen together at Spa for the Soul

Along with all that goodness, the challenges of cooking traditional dishes with substitute ingredients, different sizes and shapes of pans, and a newly purchased ($35) electric oven (round, red, holds two big round trays, and has no temperature gauge) that I put outside. The work of it all. The late arrival of the one with the appetizers, and the later arrival of the one with the bread for the appetizers. The unexpected guests that meant there was no place at the table for me. The child upset over the separate table for children. The dogs' water spilled down the stairs by the kids. The guest who is terrified by dogs and panicked each time one came near her. The occasional confusion of our guests at our foreign ways. The games that went on without me while I took care of leftovers and the first round of dishes. Restless sleep.

Since my disastrous sailing trip last May I don't have much stamina. I press hard for some days, and then I am so weary. My mind struggles to process, my body begs for more sleep, for the emptiness of solitaire or FB meandering. Even to read a novel demands energy I'm not sure I have. 

So Tuesday was about recovery. Grateful for a day to do it. Relaxed cleanup while savoring memories. A lunch of leftovers shared with Ayşe. Her deep clean of the kitchen after my work was finished. Time to lay on the couch for a few minutes before going to the neighbor's for afternoon tea, though I still could not summon the energy to eat the börek and sweet she offered. Quiet conversations in Turkish and English. FB posts of Curt's photos.Time to finish the latest Baldacci novel and to play cards with Curt.

This stuff is hard. I go through anxiety, confusion, fear and yes, great weariness. Is it worth it? Do I mind? 

No question it is worth it. Though these days I evaluate my reserves and don't take on as much as often as I once did, this is our "thing." The friendships, the welcome savored by our guests, the sharing of lives, all beyond extravagant price, worthy of extravagant energy.

Do I mind? The work, the weariness, days of labor and then no place to sit at the table, the upheaval to our house, the awkward moments and the sometimes-botched plans? The last minute changes of plan and the stretch to accommodate the unexpected? I love it. I love it all. I love most the unseen guest, I love the way he is experienced in our home, the mystery of his presence. I love to watch and listen and make place and space. I love to celebrate abundance and beauty in simple things like food and conversation. I love the memories, sometimes crazy ones we will laugh together about in days to come.
He is definitely worth it!

And I love the Tuesdays of recovery that make it possible to pick up and go again.


Susan said...

Noting the joy on the face of another and later reflection of the hosted event are definite rewards to entertaining. Introvert that I am, my reserves easily become drained and recovery time is a must. Keep doing what you love and take care of yourself in the process. It's really a beautiful thing.

Jeri Bidinger said...

Thanks, Susan. I'm sure we will. As will you. Bless you, dear one.

Ernist T said...

I remember those days, spent in Jerry's kitchen. There in Abu-Dhabi I was told that most respected guests in US first invited to kitchen, while in our culture they are invited to the living room. This summer my mom planned to demolish some walls in the house, but once I shared that not all the guests (only respectful ones) according to US culture can have access to kitchen - she changed her mind.

Jeri Bidinger said...

So fun to hear from you, Ernist. Yes, for Americans, handing in the kitchen is for real friends. Sitting formally in the living room while the host works in the kitchen is for formal guests that aren't ready to enter into your real life. Current style for new houses is often kitchen, dining room and living room in one "great room" without the formal separation of closed kitchen and guest area. How we would love to have you and yours in our kitchen once again! Blessings on you, dear ones!