Monday, January 30, 2012

Bubba J vs. the Ants

My two-year old boy, Bubba J, has been waging a steady war against our minor infestation. The ants have responded in kind. While Bubba J squishes them, the ants crawl on him and bite him. This reduces my poor boy to tears. After one particularly bad skirmish, Bubba J came to me and said, "Naughty ant bite me. Bad boy ant".

I keep reminding him to leave the ants alone, and despite the frequent bites, Bubba J persists in his quest to rid our house of the pesky ants.

I suppose it is time for some adult intervention and something stronger than a shoe.
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Overthinking it-thoughts on hiring help

I hired a maid yesterday (and yes, the term here is maid). Since we arrived in Riyadh, we've fielded up to 10 calls a day from maids looking for work. Yes, word gets around when a new family moves into the compound. The going rate for help is $6.00 an hour for housecleaning or childcare. I've hired "Anna" to come 3 times a week to help with a lot of the heavy cleaning.

But I kind of feel guilty about it. I don't have a problem with people hiring help to clean their homes. I have friends who have help. My mom has a cleaner come in once a week. Really, it's cool. But for me???? Yikes! Am I being lazy? Am I providing yet another opportunity for my kids to be lazy and fail to learn the value of hard work? Or am I doing the right and moral thing by hiring someone? I know I will treat them well and decently, which isn't something that is always guaranteed by other employers.

Input please!

Sunday, January 29, 2012


First, I really have to apologize for the lack of pictures. I really need to get back in the habit of bringing my camera everywhere. I tried to get a picture of the mini-bazaar at the compound yesterday, but only had a few minutes and couldn't find my camera. I'm also sorry that I tend to be so long-winded. I love describing things with words (even if I'm not always adept at description). I hope you don't find it too tedious or torturous to wade through my verbosity. If you do and have some good suggestions about cutting the wordage--let me know. I should also say that I tend to just type and then publish. So the words are really off the cuff. If you want a more polished blog at this juncture, maybe you should look elsewhere.

After the kids finished their assessments at the American School (anxiously awaiting an acceptance decision, but more about that later) we caught a taxi home. I had forgotten that the compound had advertised a mini-bazaar on Saturday. So when I saw the vendors near our villa, I realized that I had caught the tail end of the bazaar. Even though my husband had lunch ready for the kids and I, I couldn't resist taking a peak at the bazaar.

So picture several tables set up in along the sidewalk (almost like a craft fair). Some wares are displayed on the ground, while other things (like clothes) are hanging on portable rods. I don't know if the bazaar was larger earlier in the day, but by the time I got there, there were about 7 vendors. Three of the vendors displayed tables full of jewelry. There was some gold jewelry, but a lot of it featured polished stones of various sizes in necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. I liked what I saw, but I wasn't in the mood for jewelry. Given the state of things in our house, I was on the hunt for practical items.

At the end of the line I found a vendor with pot holders, aprons, and several "touristy items" like ceramic camels and notepads. I bought an apron with a camel on it and a nice-quality pot holder. Both will remind me of Saudi Arabia in the future.

I also found a new abaya. I wanted to have to have abayas because the abayas get so dusty and dirty. The vendor selling the abayas said, "I bring you the latest styles, very nice abayas, very good price". I had to laugh, because I don't consider abayas particularly stylish, but I suppose the Arabic ladies DO consider style when purchasing this item. I bought an abaya with a hood this time. My other abaya comes with a scarf that can be put over my hair if needed. (I will try and get a picture of both so you can see what they look like.)

There was a vendor selling framed daggers and swords. We've seen framed daggers and swords in other homes. They look really cool and I know my husband would love to have one before we leave the Kingdom. But I didn't want to buy the first one I saw and really, he should choose the one he wants. The same vendor also sold beautiful chess sets very similar to the set my BIL bought us from a bazaar in Kuwait when he was deployed.

After looking at the wares, I looked at the last table of beautiful Oriental carpets. The colors and patterns on the rugs are beautiful. The vendor tells me the carpets are handmade out of silk and wool. Hestitantly, I ask the price. $5000 for a small rug. Oh goodness! I can't afford that, but the rugs are SO gorgeous. Maybe someday!

And that's that! I look forward to more bazaar experiences.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Ballet Class

When B and I were looking for homes in Riyadh, I realized that living in a compound with activities for the children was really important to me. We almost chose a villa in a nearby compound but their lack of amenities, despite the lovely villas, caused me to choose a different compound. I'm really happy about our choice. Our villa works well for our family and is both comfortable and functional. But the amenities of the compound really take up our living a notch. (If I'm going to live in a country where I can't drive, where so many things are restricted, I might as well have some fun, even if I'm not exactly soaking up ALL the local culture, right???)

On Thursday (which is like Saturday for all you "Westerners") I happened to meet a neighbor taking her daughters to a ballet class. She gave me the information and A and I promptly followed her to the class. Things are a little less formal here so I hoped the instructor would be willing to let my daughter join her class.

While waiting, I met some other mothers and we chatted, exchanged the basic information (where are you from, how long have you lived here, how many children do you have, etc.). Then the teacher, a Russian lady, arrived. The Russian ballet instructor was unlike any other ballet instructor I have seen. I'm used to seeing lithe, slim teachers dressed in leotards. This teacher was a bit stockier and was dressed in black pants that resembled Genie's pants (in I Dream of Genie) with a loose flowing top over it. Her hair had seen better days and was long and a dry-looking. I admit, I was a bit skeptical of this teacher.

I spoke to the teacher briefly and she agreed to let my daughter try one class and then she would make a decision. Then, she began to dance. It was really a beautiful thing to watch this woman, who on the outside didn't look so beautiful, transform into beauty and grace when she danced. She led the girls through warm-up exercises. A hasn't had so many dance classes so she really didn't know what she was doing, but she kept her eyes and focused on the teacher and did her best. Even though there were younger girls at the class, A was one of the smallest girls there.

After about 20 minutes of warm-up exercises, the teacher turned to me and said, "She confused about some of the positions, but she is flexible. She can stay." The teacher didn't always communicate clearly with her words what she wanted (how I can understand that language barrier, so hard!) but always demonstrated with her body, which was very clear.

I'm so proud of my little A! She really gave her best effort and seemed to enjoy the class. I'm excited that we've found a place for her. And the convenience can't be beat. We have to walk a few yards (versus driving for several miles) to get to class. I can workout in the gym while A takes her lesson. It really works out perfectly.

Prayer Time

(Please note that I am not an expert on Islam. I am just sharing what I have observed in the few days I have been in Riyadh. I'm not providing commentary in any way, shape, or form--simply observation.)

I've long been a huge fan of Elizabeth Peter's Amelia Peabody series. Amelia Peabody, an intrepid Victorian woman meets and marries the eminent archeologist Emerson. The two of them spend winters in Egypt conducting archeological digs. Emerson and Amelia have a son, Ramses, a frightfully audacious child with extraordinary ability in languages. One of my favorite scenes in the series is when Ramses and his parents are talking to a someone who had been rescued after being held in Cairo for several hours. Ramses, in an effort to help pinpoint the location where the victim was held, proceeds to give the prayer calls for the various parts of the city. His parents are horribly astonished at this random and brilliant recanting of this aspect of the city. This anecdote, while completely fictional, has always fascinated and amused me.

But it wasn't until I went to the Middle East that I began to understand the true signficance of the whole anecdote. Muslims pray five times a day. During prayer time, EVERYTHING stops, and, depending on your location, you can hear a variation of this call to prayer. To me it sounds so incredibly foreign and a bit mystical. But neverthless, it is a very real part of my day here. For example, this morning, as I crept downstairs around 5:30 to start breakfast (more about that later) the sounds of the call to prayer drifted through the walls. It was a strange accompaniment to my early morning rising. Just a few days ago, while in the supermarket, an announcement came over the loud speaker telling customers that prayer time was in 20 minutes and that the store would be closing. Fortunately, we were allowed to stay in the store and continue shopping but couldn't check out until the prayer time was over. During prayer time in the store, the call to prayer was broadcast over the store's stereo system. Even while we were on the plane, there was a special area designated for prayer time. Not all passengers utilized it, but some did.

I suppose that there will be times when I find prayer 5 times a day very inconvenient, but for now, I find it an interesting cultural custom.

Friday, January 27, 2012

One More Photo

This picture is taken with the Recreation building at my back. I'm overlooking the entry area of the compound. At night, the fountains, one on each end flow and the palm trees are lit with spotlights at the base pointed to the fronds. It is a cool sight at night. I'll have to try and picture in the evening.
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A few pictures of our compound and villa

Our boxes arrived before we did! I think it is probably the first time in history that has ever happened to anyone. We met some people today who have lived in the Kingdom for 1 year and still haven't gotten their stuff.

This is the front of our villa. We live in a row of villas. They may not look like much on the outside, but the inside is spacious!

Another view of the front of the villa. You can see that B already got out the bikes. The kids have biking and riding their scooters non-stop.

This picture is taken from in front of our house and then turned to the left. The wave pool is over there. And notice the palm trees! Lots of those around!
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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Compound Restaurant

We are lucky to have both a cafe and a restaurant just a few feet from our house. Both overlook the wave pool. We enjoyed dinner there yesterday.

Just a quick rundown. Most of the food was good. My fish was a bit dry and overcooked, but the butter sauce was excellent. My dessert, a brownie blast, was a bitter disappointment. B's dinner of chicken curry, fatouch salad, and hummus with arabic bread was delicious. The kids' food was decent. The prices were reasonable and the convenience was fabulous.

I definitely think we will visit the restaurant again, though not too frequently. I'm looking forward to visiting a highly recommended Arabian restaurant in the city and there are plenty of Lebanese restaurants around. I LOVE Lebanese food.

Bubba J ordered the meatballs with mashed potatoes.

A ordered macaroni and cheese. (sigh. . . she was really mad when I told her that I had not brought mac and cheese from the U.S.)

J ordered chicken nuggets with french fries. (I SWEAR I introduce my kids to a wide variety of foods. Perhaps the fact that they rarely get mac & cheese and chicken nuggets informs their choices?)

T ordered pizza with mushrooms.

W and B shared the Fatouch salad, hummous with arabian bread, and chicken curry.

I ordered the fish steak with butter sauce and french fries. I also got the brownie blast for dessert.

Bubba J's meatballs were flavorful and tender (the addition of pork would have made them perfect) served in a delicious tomato sauce. The mashed potatoes were tasty. I didn't try A's mac and cheese but it certainly wasn't from a box. J's chicken nuggets were actually hand-breaded pieces of chicken and looked good. The fries were perfect, crisp and golden on the outside and soft in the middle. T's pizza looked good. B and W's shared meal of the fatouch salad, hummus with bread, and chicken curry was delicious. My fish was a little overdone, but the sauce was wonderful. The fries were perfect and the veggies were tasty. My dessert was a complete failure. The brownie was dry and undersweetened. I don't like overly sweet brownies, but you do need enough sugar to really get the right chocolate flavor.

The service was decent. The staff was helpful. The restaurant was

The Grocery Store

Shopping busses leave our compound twice a day for various malls. Most of the malls have grocery stores so it is pretty easy to get one's shopping done. After checking the schedule and talking to my neighbor, I decided to catch the late afternoon shopping bus to Granada Mall. Granada mall features the Carrefour Grocery Store, which has a good reputation. My oldest son wanted to tag along. And so we caught the shopping bus in the afternoon.

While on the bus, I met some friendly women who recommended that I memorize the license plate of the bus. Sometimes there are more than one bus waiting and so it is helpful to be able to recognize it.

Granada mall is close to my compound, about 15 minutes away. The mall is clean and spacious and boasts many European and American stores. Some clerks were Saudi men but most clerks come from different parts of Asia. Most everyone speaks English so it was pretty easy to get help.

I love going to shopping stores in foreign countries. There is something so authentic about shopping for the necessities of life. You can learn a lot about a different culture through shopping at a local grocery store. I also liked mixing with everyone. Black robed women swished around, pushing carts. You can tell the Western women because they don't cover their hair. It is a little harder to tell the difference between foreign and Saudi men. Some men wear robes or thobes, while others are dressed completely in Western clothes. Regardless of the various styles of dress, we were all after food.

The selection was really wide. I found a nice basic selection of vegetables--nothing too exotic. The squash looked anemic. But the carrots looked very fresh and sweet. The lettuce was dicey, but the tomatoes looked great. The store featured a wide variety of fresh fruits in season and reasonably priced. They also had an entire section of the store dedicated to dried fruits, nuts, grains, whole and ground spices that you could request in various weights. A clerk waited anxiously to help you with your selections. I saw whole white peppercorns. In Sweden, I used white pepper for certain Swedish dishes. It was cool to see the whole peppercorns.

Instead of bringing your vegetables and fruits to be weighed at the checkout stand, you get them weighed by clerks in the produce section. They weigh and label your produce.

The meat section included entire lamb carcasses! They had a variety of organ meats for sale including tripe. I am still trying to figure out what tripe is and how one prepares it. I played it safe by buying chicken and some beef from New Zealand. I am not very experienced cooking lamb so if anyone has lamb recipes they would like to share, let me know.

The cheese counter had a pretty good selection of cheeses. I asked about a large white cheese round that looked good and learned that it was a Hungarian cheese. They gave me a sample. Both W and I both thought it was delicious and ordered a kg of it!

My shopping strategy was to go through each aisle to get an idea of what products they offered. There was a good blend of foreign and local foods. I like to eat local foods as much as possible. I was able to find yeast (yeah!) so I can make bread.

We were about halfway through shopping when an announcement came on saying that the store would be closing for in 20 minutes for prayer time. I went back to the cheese counter because the clerk spoke English very well and asked him if I had to leave and he told me that I could stay in the store and continue shopping but had to wait until prayer time was over to purchase my items.

W and I found the things we needed and then waited until prayer was over. We joined the masses of people waiting to check out. I couldn't ascertain any logic in which line to choose. Some people stood in lines where the stand number was lit while others waited in lines where the stand number was dark. I saw another Western woman and stood behind her. I started talking to her and she said that you just guess which line to join and hope that a clerk will show up.

We picked the right line and checked out pretty quickly, though I fumbled with the money again. Then we went outside to find the bus. When we got outside, a man with a Carrefour shirt on offered to take the cart for us. At first I thought it was okay, since he had on a uniform. But then he started running. At the moment, I thought, "he's stealing our groceries". I chased after him, contemplating tackling techniques when he slowed down and asked where my driver was. I explained to him that I was on a bus and then showed him where I thought the bus was parked. He took my cart to the bus and helped me load the groceries. In the end, it was okay, but there was a moment when I thought I would have to take drastic action!

I feel pretty confident in handling myself on the shopping bus and in the mall again. I am going to try and go to the different malls so I can get a feel for the best places to shop.

The Shocking Truth

"Mom!!!! The slide is open and the wave pool is on! Can we please go swimming, please?" T bursts in the door, shouting his request through the house.

I look outside and while it is a sunny 65 degrees, the water doesn't entice me at all unless it were a hot tub. I am in the middle of trying to prepare lunch and my husband kindly offers to take the four older children swimming while the baby sleeps and I cook.

In a matter of minutes, the children are dressed in bathing suits and have burst out the door, running toward the wave pool and waterslide. The boys climb up the stairs of the slide, eager to tackle it after longing for days to try it out! W reaches the top, sits down and realizes that the water is very, very cold. As he slides down, he concentrates on keeping upright, avoiding the icy water on his back. As he reaches the end, and begins a free fall down to the pool, he begins to rethink his whole strategy and then plunges into the frigid water. T rapidly follows, experiencing the same second thoughts. Only J analyzes the water situation and tactfully retreats from the slide. Within a few minutes, all of the children have decided that the water is too cold.

I don't think I'll be getting many more requests to swim until the weather gets warmer!

Foreign Exchange

Money, money, money. . . When we lived in Sweden, I spent a good deal of time in stores mentally reviewing the exchange rate and doing a lot of mental math. Our last year in Sweden we were able to spend 6 weeks in another country and I just about blew up my brain trying to deal with the exchange rates for 3 countries. When we moved back to the U.S. it took me a good year to stop converting U.S. dollars to the Swedish krona. Now, I am back at it again, but this time I don't have a very good handle on the exchange rate. I have no clue how much money I am spending and it is a little nerve-wracking. I need to spend time really looking at the money so I don't have to fumble with the cash when I have to pay. I am sure I will get used to it, but it is a tricky thing.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

The last two days we have been so busy unpacking and recovering from our trip. I'm sorry to say that I don't have pictures of things right now. I really am trying to get my bedroom in a state that I can live with. In the meantime, here is a quick rundown of some of the highlights (and lowlights) of of the last two days.

The Good
* Discovering the grocery store just a few steps away--the prices are decent and the food selection is fair. Great in a pinch and when I am not quite ready to venture out.
* Finding my toiletries quickly--making my shower that much more pleasant.
* The kids are reveling in their freedom to explore and play without a parent hovering over every move.
* Discovering that the Magic Jack does work well.
* Mango Juice!
* Nice weather--not terribly warm, but definitely not cold.
* Meeting neighbors.

The Bad
* Realizing that I left my ipod charger and phone charger on the airplane.
* We need to replenish our food and I'm busy.
* Bubba J got hit by the swing and has a big fat lip.
* A few random ants. (I hate ants!)

The Ugly
* I think we may have fried my computer by plugging it into the wrong outlet.
* The grocery store clerk asked my kids to leave after they bugged him while buying candy. (Will have to review ettiquete and behavior with them!)
* The internet crashed.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A word about privacy

I have decided to keep this blog open to the public, but I do want to keep my identity private. Many of you who read this blog know me personally, but some don't. I will be using just one initial per person and this is just a reference.

2 year old boy: Bubba J
5-year old girl: A
8-year old boy: J
10-year old boy: T
12-year old boy: W

Me: Tiffany
Husband: B

Travel, Transfers, and Turbulence

It seems that every step of the process to get us to Saudi Arabia has taken forever. We faced so many roadblocks and hurdles that I wondered if we would ever arrive. I had visions of our boxes sitting in our empty house in Riyadh, while my husband travelled back and forth for a year. So you'll excuse me if I say that were all surprised when we were able to book our flights and everything worked out. My poor husband has been in transit for the last two weeks moving heaven and earth to finish getting our visas.

On Saturday my BIL drove my children and I to the SLC airport. I was terribly nervous about getting checked-in as my husband had our passports and KSA visas in New York. Our flight was booked as an international flight and required passport and visa verification. After explaining the situtation, I was able to convince the people at Delta to check us in to New York and then we would check-in again in New York. BIG SIGH of relief!

You should have seen the six of us tromp through the airport. I carried Bubba J in a child backpack and pushed my daughter in a stroller. The three oldest boys hauled blankets and backpacks with great efficiency. We each had one bag and then I carried an Ikea bag for the random things that didn't quite fit in the backpacks.

Our first flight was uneventful. It was completely booked and our seating arrangments were a bit odd. A and J sat together on one side, W sat in front of us and T sat behind us. The baby and I sat together. Over the years of traveling, I have decided that most men are terribly polite and helpful to a woman traveling with children. The women. . . not so much. The gentleman who sat beside A and J was very friendly and helpful. He even let my kids play his ipad and watch movies. The man who sat beside me thought my baby was adorable and went out of his way to help in any way possible. W sat between two women and said he enjoyed his conversation with them. T sat between a woman and a man who both ignored him. Bubba J fell asleep for most of the flight and the other kids managed to stay entertained without a lot of trouble. I received several compliments after the flight about the kids. They were amazing!

We met my husband at baggage claim in New York, then ate some lunch and then checked in for the next flight. Our flight to Riyadh was uneventful. The kids enjoyed the personal entertainment screens. They all rested well and ate well. The airline was pretty lax about the seat belt rule so I was able to stretch out and get a bit of sleep. I didn't sleep well because of the wild turbulence that kept bumping me awake and then later, having the baby curl up on me and sleep.

At last, after over 24 hours of traveling, we arrived in Riyadh. The airport was busy, full of lines of people waiting to get through customs. The air had a slightly tinged smell to it. Most of the customs lines were long and filled with men waiting to get passports stamped. We were directed to the family line and then told to move. It was a bit nerve-wracking because the customs officials would wave rather vaguely in one direction and then speak emphatically at us. We had no clue what we were supposed to do. Eventually I was told to go to the head of one line full of men (I felt so guilty for jumping ahead). My picture and fingerprints needed to be taken. The official took several photos of me and then kept disregarding them. I felt like saying, "look, I've been traveling for over 24 hours. I am exhausted and not photogenic at all right now!" Then they had to take my fingerprints which was also difficult. I was tired enough that I was shaking and had a hard time holding my fingers still enough for the scanner to work properly. Finally they got an acceptable picture and fingerprints, but then the system was down. I was told to go sit down and wait. At that point, my husband took the children and gathered all our bags--except two bags which evidently never left New York.

I sat and waited on a bench anxiously keeping my eye on the official who was supposed to finish processing my passport. It was nerve-wracking. I wasn't sure what was going on but hoped that they would finish quickly. I watched the people flow through the lines: young Arab women, wearing abayas, carrying beautiful babies in their arms, western men obviously on business, Arab men in various clothing styles--anywhere from traditional robes to western clothing. Other people waited too--a young women, extremely impatient, who kept speaking to the officials in curt tones. The faint strains of an Arabic song wailed in the background. It was noisy and chaotic. It's hard when you don't understand the language to see the patterns or order in the chaos. Eventually, I was waved over to the desk and given my passport. Another big sigh of relief!

My husband and children had all the luggage collected so we were able to quickly pass through customs and then go outside to wait for our luggage. The night air was cool but not biting. We all admired the lights of the city as we drove through city. I think Riyadh is pretty charming at night. With all the lights and beige colored houses, it kind of reminds me of Las Vegas--without the casino strip. The kids exclaimed over the palm trees The drive was mercifully uneventful and soon we arrived at our compound.

The kids dashed in the house and explored every nook and cranny. The baby found the room under the stairs that links to the bathroom. He keeps running into it and calling it his house. The boys declared the house acceptable and set about dismantling boxes in search of beloved toys.

After a short dinner of ramen noodles, we all climbed into our beds. (Yet another reason why I am in love with my husband! He made sure all the beds were ready for us on his last trip.) Thankfully, we all fell into an exhausted sleep.