When your shopping can make a difference

When your shopping can make a difference

‘Bu’ arrived in Lebanon at the age of 19 with a simple dream – to dress nicely.  The chance to work seemed to be the first step to fulfilling that dream.  It got her out from under her alcoholic father’s hand and away from the piece of canvas that was her family’s only shelter from the Sri Lankan elements.

A chance to work.  To support her family.  To break the cycle of poverty.  To fulfill her dreams.

Those dreams were dashed when she arrived in Lebanon.  As with many domestic workers, her passport was confiscated upon arrival.  She was never paid for her work, barely fed, and refused all contact with her family.

For a year she lived like this.  And then one day she picked up a phone to call her neighbors back home, hoping to hear a familiar voice, to pass on a message to her family.  When her “madame” found out, she grabbed a kitchen knife, forced Bu against a wall and stabbed her just below the neck.  Fearing for her life, Bu fought back, and is now serving a life-sentence for murder.  She’s been in prison for 19 years.

Bu’s story doesn’t end in a prison cell.  In the midst of the darkness her newfound faith has given her comfort, peace, and hope.

A friend of mine has also helped give Bu a sense of purpose.  She and some other prisoners (both from Lebanon and abroad) have started making soft soled shoes for babies and small toddlers.  Not only is it a source of income – many of these women still have families depending on them – but the act of working, of creating, of doing something worthwhile is life changing for those whose futures seem hopeless.

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Soft soled shoes are actually the only kinds of shoes my kids have worn until they were about 18 months old.  Barefoot is best for early walkers, and these shoes bend and flex like a bare foot would, while protecting little toes from cold hard floors or dirty sidewalks.

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The shoes come in three sizes. Size 1 comes with felt soles and is perfect for a new baby.  Size 2 and 3 have genuine leather soles and fit pre-walkers and walkers.

Shoes are $15 a pair and come with a gift bag.
Pick up is in Hamra or Mansourieh.
To order, contact Steph at arabkiwi@yahoo.com or WhatsApp 009613242914

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An American’s guide to Thanksgiving in Beirut

An American’s guide to Thanksgiving in Beirut

So a few weeks ago I had the brilliant idea of blogging about how to prepare a Thanksgiving meal in Beirut.  This was our 6th Thanksgiving in Lebanon, so I figured I had a pretty good handle on what was available and where.   I was going to talk about how canned pumpkin starts disappearing from the shelves around the end of October, but fresh pumpkins are in season through mid-November.  I was going to tell you that the cranberry sauce is on the top shelf of the baking aisle, just above the chocolate chips and sprinkles at TSC Verdun.  Spinney’s Hazmieh was the best place to get a turkey, as they have a wide range of sizes, though you should plan on spending around $40 if you need one more than 3 kilos.  I was also going to mention the whole display of Thanksgiving foods, including boxes of Stove Top stuffing, in the exotic food aisle at the same Spinneys.

That’s what I was gonna blog about.  I headed to Spinneys Hazmieh to get a picture of the Thanksgiving shelves to include in my post.  And. it. wasn’t. there.  Nor was there any cranberry sauce.  In any of the six grocery stores I visited.  No orange sweet potatoes anywhere either.  The only turkeys we could find were between 3.1 and 3.9 kilos and wouldn’t you know it, cans of pumpkin were literally everywhere.

So, my advice to Americans living in Beirut looking to celebrate a traditional Thanksgiving?

Hoard it.

If you see it on the shelf, even if it is the middle of July, buy it.  Buy it all.

This is not Beirut.  If it was, I'd be in big trouble.
This is not Beirut. If it was, I’d be in big trouble.

In the end, it all turned out more than okay.  A desperate facebook plea led to an exchange of canned pumpkin for cranberries.  I found a guy who told me he had orange sweet potatoes.  I bought three kilos, but discovered that only one was actually orange.  But they still tasted great.

See the little orange ones in there??
See the little orange ones in there??

And the turkey…  well, I’ll allow Ruby to let you know how the turkey was…

due to rainy weather and ridiculous upload times, this video is currently unavailable

No football to watch, but we had a great lunch with fun friends, and even if I’d never found the cranberries and ALL the potatoes were white, we still have so much to be thankful for.

Hope your holiday was just as full as ours!

Hoarders

Hoarders

Living overseas has turned me into a bit of a hoarder.

You can actually get almost anything (food-wise) here in Lebanon… if you are willing to pay.  I’ve blogged about that several times before.

Another weird phenomenon I’ve discovered is the case of the disappearing applesauce (or pumpkin or oatmeal or….)  When you see something on the shelf of the grocery store, there is no guarantee that it will be there next week – or ever again for that matter.  So I’ve learned that when you see it, you buy it… even if you don’t need it right away.  I’ve been known to buy all 6 cans of black beans off the shelf, all the Tazo chai tea mix, and 2 big cartons of whole oats every week until they are gone.

I think stores here get a shipment of random things – maybe excess from stores in the States, France or Australia, who knows.  But they put them on the shelf til they are sold and then that’s it.  They never get those products again.

My latest find?  Virgin coconut oil.  This is a staple in our clean eating home but I haven’t been able to find it yet in Lebanon.  (There are two organic food stores that I know of in our area.  One didn’t have it, haven’t made it to the other.)  I popped into a grocery store to pick something up and saw four jars just hanging out, waiting to be bought.  Like any good hoarder, I bought three of them.  :)

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Caleb and I were laughing last time we were in the States at how hard it is to fight the hoarding tendency while walking through the aisles of Target or Harris Teeter.  We have to keep reminding ourselves that if we might someday need or want (insert any product here), we can wait and buy it when we actually need it… because it will more than likely still be there!  :)

The Sheet Saga

The Sheet Saga

Isla did a great job sleeping in a “big girl bed” (i.e. mattress on the floor) while we were in Germany.  Ruby is rolling like crazy and trying to crawl, so the bassinet just wasn’t working anymore.  She needed the crib.  So we finally made the switch… or at least we’ve been trying to!

In our room, the sheets, mattress and bed frame are all different sizes.  It’s so annoying, but whatever, we make it work.  But we knew it was something we wanted to pay attention to when getting Isla’s new bed.

After weeks of searching, we finally found a little shop that will make Isla’s bed for a reasonable price.  We asked for the measurements, and were a little surprised, but the gal told us it was the standard size.  So next we went to a shop near our house that sells sheets (and more importantly, pink and purple sheets, because that’s what Isla wants) to check if they have that size before we bought a mattress.   “Yes, of course,” the salesgirl told Caleb, “we can make any size you need!”   So it was off to buy a mattress.  Apparently you can get a mattress made in any size, but the man at the mattress store told us that the size we needed was the standard size.  Great!  He even had mattress pad covers in that exact size.

So, now time to actually go buy the sheets.  Back to the store that told us they have them.  Pink and purple, Isla is so excited!  But, nope.  They don’t actually have sheets in the size we need.  They have sheets much bigger that we can just “tuck in.”  So we try another store.  Nope.  And another.  Nope.  And another.  Nope again.  The problem is, most of the sheets we are finding are imported from France, and France has a different standard size mattress than the mattress we bought and were told was standard size here in Lebanon.

So I tried another store and found purple sheets.. made in Lebanon!  Surely if they are made in Lebanon, they will fit the standard Lebanese bed, right?  Nope.  Lebanese sheets are made to fit French beds, apparently.  Makes perfect sense.

So, still no sheets on Isla’s new bed.   These are the times I really miss going to one story (Target! Ikea!) where you can buy a bed, mattress and sheets in one shot, take them all home that day (we waited four days for the mattress to arrive and are still waiting for the bed we bought ten days ago), and….imagine this…. they all fit!

All we need now is a Target

All we need now is a Target

These signs have been up in the Beirut Souks for a few months now.

When I first saw them, I nearly cried I was so excited.  Then I realized that this is Lebanon, where a box of Special K now costs $14.  So if the Gap is on the expensive side in the States, there is no way I can afford to shop there in Beirut.

A few days later I discovered that American Eagle is now open on Hamra Street and Express is opening soon right next door.  AE’s prices were actually fairly reasonable, but not nearly as good as H&M which is just across the street.  I’m sure Express will be crazy expensive… I don’t know which is worse – not having the stores or having them but knowing you are paying twice as much as you would be in the States.

If we could just get a Target… but I don’t see that happening anytime soon, as we can’t even get access to Target.com.  It’s blocked in Lebanon for some reason!?!

And while I’m ordering, I’d like a Taco Bell and an Ikea as well, please.

Avocado, please!

Avocado, please!

Although I really really really miss Target and Harris Teeter, there is something really nice about the neighborhood market.  We have two little shops right across the street from us that we visit often.  (Almost three – they are opening up a butcher shop soon – yay!)  We have the “dukan,” where we get water, juice, phone cards, and the occasional ice cream bar.  There is also a fruit and vegetable stand, where we can get anything that’s in season for a pretty good price.  It’s convenient, for sure, to realize you forgot to get onions at the store and only have to run across the street to get some, but it’s also really nice because it definitely has a small town neighborhood feel.

The other day I wanted some avocados, but the vegetable guy didn’t have any.  “They aren’t really in season and people aren’t buying them now,” he said, “but I have pineapple!”  I told him no, thanks, I wanted the avocado to feed the baby, and she can’t have pineapple yet, but no worries.  He apologized profusely and I went on my way.  The next day Caleb was down there picking something up, and the guy mentioned again how sorry he was that he didn’t have avocados for “the wife,” but to come back tomorrow and he’d get us some.  Caleb said just a few, one or two is all we need, and sure enough, the next day he had a whole case-full for us.  And only $2 for a kilo – not a bad price.

So, how’d the avocado go over with Isla?  You can be the judge of that!

posted by: nicolette

customer service that really boosts sales

customer service that really boosts sales

There have been a couple times in my life where I’ve gone into a store looking for something, but when I have questions or need help, either there is not a salesperson in sight or the one I do find is rude and totally unhelpful.  Generally it leaves me in a huge conundrum.  Should I leave based on principle or buy this thing that I really want/need regardless of the lousy customer service shown me?  Whichever one I decide, I usually am walking out the store kicking myself.

Here, I don’t have that problem.  The pendulum has swung to the other end of the spectrum, and yet I still find myself walking out of stores kicking myself.

Our neighbors who we really like just had a baby a few days ago.  If you know me at all, you know how much I love shopping for baby clothes, and I’ll take any excuse I can get!  So I went looking for a little outfit for baby Karim… thinking I’d get something in the 6-12 months range for this summer.  Our language teacher told me about a little store close by that has good clothes and good deals, so I started there.

I went in and started browsing, but, just like in every store in Beirut, I started feeling really uncomfortable with the saleslady literally breathing over my shoulder.  So,  I told her our friends had a baby boy and I wanted to buy him something, but not something very small that he could wear after some months.  She then proceeded to pull off every piece of clothing from the racks and describe each one to me in great deal… what material, where it was made (a very important detail here), what size, and on and on and on.

She was super helpful.  Customer service out the wazoo.  Problem was, I really didn’t like any of the clothes.  But I felt so bad that she was waiting on me hand and foot and I felt bad about just leaving her with her entire stock off the hangers on the counter and not even buying anything…

So I bought something.  Winter pajamas for 0-3 months.  Exactly what I did NOT want.

Although she had absolutely no idea, whatever “customer service training” she had taken really worked on me.

posted by: nicolette