Monday, December 31, 2012

Twelve of Our Most Memorable Moments in 2012

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

As 2012 draws to a close in just hours, here are a few of our favorite moments we experienced. 

 We have enjoyed learning and experiencing Saudi culture. There are times when it is frustrating to the extreme but part of learning about a new culture is accepting it as a whole, good and bad.

 Compound life with amenities such as multiple swimming pools, a water slide, and a wave pool have pretty much rocked. We spent most of our summer in the pool, when we weren't eating birthday cake or suffering through a Saudi summer. Bubba J hated pools and water when we moved to Riyadh, but not plays in the water with confidence and aplomb, hence his fearless and frequent descents down the waterslide.

Our oldest has had a chance to explore aspects of old Saudi culture with some friends. We've enjoyed his pictures and stories of his adventures, including holding a falcon.

I spend my afternoons teaching seventeen young pianists the piano. In December, I held a recital for my young students and was pleased with hard work and performances. It is so rewarding to work with children and watch them develop skills and talents.

We swam outside on Christmas Day. We didn't have to go anywhere to do so. We just walked outside our door and jumped in the pool. Having lived in Wyoming, Utah, Sweden, and New York, this is an unparalleled luxury. Swimming is awesome.

Camels, camels, and more camels. We enjoyed a very interesting day at a camel auction out in the desert where thousands of camels and their owners gathered to buy and sell camels.

My daughter got to see the Sphinx. And we spent a fabulous week in Egypt.

T fulfilled a life-long dream when he recently held a peregrine falcon, an animal he has studied intently for two years.

The desert is spectacular and we have enjoyed our explorations of it in many ways.

We agreed to hamster-sit two hamsters for friends over the summer, but have since obtained ownership for two cute little hamsters. They've been a source of amusement, frustration, lots of messes, and fun. Bubba J in particular adores them.

And finally, we enjoy the luxury of being able to scooter, bike, or rollerblade around the compound without problems!

What would you list as twelve of your greatest moments of 2012?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Egypt Day 4: The Citadel and Mohammed Ali Mosque

I could bore you with an endless notes about the origins and the purpose of the Citadel and Mosque, but I won't. We were hot and sweaty when we arrived at the Citadel. The sun beat mercilessly down on our heads. Before entering the Mosque, we removed our shoes and then stepped into a beautiful open courtyard that was refreshingly cool. I don't know how or why it was so cool, but the temperature was decidedly different inside the walls of the mosque.
After admiring the beautiful tile work and architecture of the courtyard, we went inside the mosque. I know many of my readers have never stepped foot inside a mosque and may never have a chance to do so. So for their benefit, I'll describe the interior of the mosque. It was open and spacious, with no furniture. The floor was covered in Oriental carpets from the 1800's. The carpets were pretty dirty. I'm sure they get cleaned, but dirty seems to be a state in most mosque carpets I've seen over the past year. There was a beautiful chandelier in the center of the room. Doors opened allowing cross-breezes to keep the interior delightfully cool. It was a quiet room, without pictures of saints or religious paraphernalia. The intent of the room is to give many faithful Muslims room to pray. During prayer times, unbelievers are not allowed to enter. But otherwise, anyone is free to visit the mosque.

After enjoying the coolness of the mosque, we walked outside to look out over the city of Cairo. Cairo has an incredibly hazy skyline. Between the smog and the sand, it is hard to see much of the city. But still, we enjoyed looking over the city. As we stared at the landscape, the call for prayer began, with various voices bouncing and echoing off one another. This is a sound that I'll never forget from my time in the Middle East. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

The problem with travel is that. . .

once you start it is really hard to stop. Some people are addicted to extreme sports like rock-climbing, sky-diving, or bungee-jumping. Me? I'm addicted to travel. My heart rate accelerates and excitement bubbles in my veins when I am exploring. I love people watching, listening to the rhythm of foreign languages, and looking at new landscapes or architecture. The world has so much to offer in terms of experiences and I want to have them all. Seriously. 

If you've traveled or lived in other countries, do you feel the same way or do you hate traveling? 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas from the Middle East

Merry Christmas to you and yours. While some may find the idea of celebrating this most Christian of holidays far from family and the familar comforts of home sad and lonely, we have had a delightful Christmas season. We are grateful for the friends we've made in such a short time. We are grateful for the opportunity to share music, friendship, food, and laughter with new friends. May this day be one of happiness and peace to you all.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Egypt Day 4: The Ancient Egyptian Museum

In the first book of my favorite mystery series, the Amelia Peabody Emerson series, Amelia meets Emerson for the first time in the museum in Cairo. In The Crocodile on the Sandbank, Emerson, who has a violently explosive temper, chastises Amelia for getting too close to the artifacts, yells at the museum director, and generally makes an enormous scene. It is a hysterically funny scene, not the least of which is a serious concern for the artifacts and history of ancient Egypt being lost through poor conditions and mishandling.

I have a penchant for museums. My children can attest that anywhere there is a museum, they are sure to be dragged to it and forced to endure going through exhibits looking for interesting history treasures. We've breezed through the Louvre, devoured bits of the British Museum, explored tiny Swedish museums, gotten lost in the Metropolitan, and wandered through the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. We are to say the least experienced museum consumers.

Sadly, I do not have photos from the museum because cameras are not allowed inside. But this blog, where a friend of mine is posting photos and journal entries from a trip her grandfather took around the world in 1932, shows a picture of the museum in 1932. Just be sure to scroll down a bit in the entry to see the picture. There are also some wonderful photos of the pyramids, the Citadel, and the Sphinx.

We went through the museum with a guide who whisked us through  at a record-breaking pace. There were certain highlights that she wanted to hit at our request, and time was short. Also, this particular museum is overwhelming just for the sheer number of artifacts on display. While I appreciated seeing so much in such a short time, I missed the enchantment of wandering through displays and coming upon a treasure or artifact that takes your breath away. But I did get to see many of King Tutankhamen's amazing treasures, so I can't really complain.

But first, a word about the general state of the museum. The museum is not in great shape, the air conditioning was dodgy at best, which made me feel concerned about maintaining a good temperature for the artifacts. The labeling system really could be updated, and the security in the museum seemed a little weak. That was terribly disappointing. The museum only charges $10 for admission which is shockingly low. I would have been happy to pay $30 or more for admission, especially if the admission funds would be funneled toward better conditions in the museum.

Some of the highlights are:

1) Walking through the exhibit hall and seeing King Tutankhamen's beds and burial artifacts.
2) Seeing how big the boxes were that contained the mummy--they were massive.
3) Looking at tiny statue of the Pharaoh Khufu for whom the great pyramid of Giza was built.
4) Going through the hall of mummified animals which included mummified, crocodiles, fish, baboons, and cats.
5) Seeing the massive statuary that once graced temples and tombs was really awe-inspiring.

So even though I was annoyed at the poor state of the museum and didn't like being rushed, I still think you should visit the museum if you ever get the chance. If you are a person who enjoys tours, take a tour. But if you really don't like doing tours, then don't take one through the museum. You'll get just as much out of it and perhaps more if you go exploring yourself.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Sweet and the Bitter: An Expat Thanksgiving

Certain holidays merit special attention while living abroad. These holidays remind us of our roots, our families, and places where we belong. Thanksgiving and Independence Day are two essential American holidays that I always make a point of celebrating. Because the Saudi weekend falls on Thursday and Friday, we were able to actually celebrate on Thursday, rather than waiting until Saturday, as we did in Sweden. We invited a large group of friends to join us in eating traditional Thanksgiving foods and sharing friendship and happiness in this foreign land.

My children joined my husband and I as we baked pies, prepared homemade crescent rolls, chopped vegetables, and cooked turkey. It was pleasant work to cook as a family. My husband is a pie experimentalist and enjoys experimenting with fruit and spice combinations. I am a pie traditionalist and chose to make a lemon meringue pie.

On Thursday, our guests arrived and we set up our feast outside by one of the pools. The kids couldn't resist swimming while the adults ate. Some of the kids, including my own Bubba J, ignored the need for bathing suits and waded in the water with their clothes on. The weather was perfect, warm with a bit of a breeze. American music played out of a friend's ipod and speakers. Our friends chatted, sharing interesting stories and anecdotes.

As I visited with my friends, made in such a short time, luxuriated in favorite American treats, and enjoyed the beautiful weather of my temporary country, I felt so happy. I felt so thankful for the many blessings and gifts in my life, my husband, children, warm weather, friendship, family, the internet, delicious food, comforts, and peace. I truly have an amazing life.

Later in the evening, as I put away leftovers, washed dishes, and cleaned our house, my feelings of gratitude mingled with homesickness. I'm so blessed to have family and friends in many places. But I miss them. I miss my second country, Sweden, and the many friends there who were like family. I miss my childhood home and my parents and sisters. I miss New York, with its breathtaking beauty, as well as our friends. As I feel those twinges of homesickness, I'm reminded that I have led such a remarkable life that I've left bits and pieces of my heart in many places, and that I can claim wonderful friendships in many places.

So how's that for sappy Thanksgiving reflections?

Did your Thanksgiving have elements of sweet and bitter? Did you miss family and friends, while enjoying those who shared the festivities with you? 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Egypt Day 3: An Afternoon Walk

The J.W. Marriott is a beautiful hotel with lovely grounds. We truly enjoyed our walk among the gardens and beautiful flowers.

Egypt Day 3: Rest and Relaxation

After our marathon day of sightseeing, we definitely needed a day off. The J.W. Marriott was the perfect place for some rest and relaxation. I enjoyed lounging on a deck chair while my kids enjoyed the beach and water park.

Sometimes it is really tough enjoying luxury. First world problems.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Streets of Cairo

The streets of Cairo are chaotic, noisy, and full of traffic. The craziness of the traffic didn't really scare me because I've been in Riyadh long enough to cope with insane traffic and bad driving. However, there are elements of Cairo traffic that totally surprised me. I saw more pedestrians walking along highways, off sidewalks, and among cars than is probably good for anyone's life. And then there were the animals. . . sheep, goats, camels, donkey carts, and cattle. Never have I seen so much livestock in such an urban area. It was astounding. The three wheeled taxis made me chuckle. And with that description, I present to you my meager pictures, taken through smudged windows and at a good clip, so the picture quality is poor at best. Nonetheless, I have to share because just words cannot convey what the reality was like.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Day 2: The Carpet School

Near Saqqara is a village with lush vegetation, fertile fields growing food, and a plethora of carpet schools. These schools train young children, especially children of poor families, the skill of making handmade carpets. The schools use buses to pick up the children from their homes. The children spend all day weaving and learning how to make carpets. Then they go home at night. These schools provide poor children with valuable skills so that they can get work as they grow older. The schools also sell the carpets the children make.

We visited one such school where they gave us a demonstration. They let our kids try to weave a bit. It was interesting. The children were absolutely darling. They kept staring at us and watching us, waving at us with big happy smiles. Some of the girls asked us for money, but most of the children just seemed happy that we were there and smiling at them.

Seeing these children working hard to learn a useful skill that would help them support their families was really humbling. I often think that many American children do not even realize the privilege and blessing that it is that they attend public schools for free and that with careful planning and saving, they can also go to university.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Day 2: Saqqara--The Step Pyramid

The Step Pyramid was constructed around  2686 to 2125 BC for the Pharaoh Djoser by Imhotep. It is built in a rectangle, with smaller rectangles placed on each layer. To enter the Pyramid courtyard, you first have to pass through the Funerary Complex of Djoser, a building filled with columns. 

At this point, my children were more interested rolling around in the sand than gazing at the wonders of ancient architecture. Oh well. It had been a long day for them too and they had been remarkably patient about all our sightseeing.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Day 2: Saqqara: Cluster of Noble Tombs

The pyramids and funerary structures at Saqqara aren't nearly as well-preserved as the Giza Pyramids, but they are still fascinating. Saqqara served as the ancient burial ground (or necropolis) for the ancient Egyptian capital, Memphis. The ruins of Memphis are located south of Cairo near a town called Mit Rahina.

We visited a cluster of noble tombs. The first tomb we went into was the tomb of Ga-Kmni from the 6th Dynasty which dates around 2340 B.C.

Many of the reliefs and carvings were missing. We saw many carvings of feet. The tomb was above ground and contained a few chambers. Cameras are not allowed inside because of the potential damage caused by flash. The carvings on the walls are really amazing. There was one room with all these colored pictures of fish and bounteous crops.

The next tomb we went inside was deep in the ground, so we had to descend down a steep tunnel. It was interesting to see both tombs. The tombs in the Valley of Kings in Luxor are more magnificent and breathtaking, but more about that later.