Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Guest Post

I'm guest posting over at Modern Molly Mormon about living with lupus. This is an LDS site and I discuss the lessons I've learned from a religious perspective. Please take a look!


Friday, May 25, 2012

Bogged Down: A Desert Adventure

Introduction: Inviting Ourselves Along and Scenery Surprises
Yesterday as we were about to leave to take my son to a school rehearsal, our neighbor popped over for a bit of a chat, where he told us he was headed to the desert in the afternoon with two other families. My husband has been dying to visit the desert, but we haven't yet, so he asked if we could join the expedition. Our neighbor agreed and we planned to get back to the compound by 12 noon.

We packed some food, a lot of water, sunscreen, hats, and long-sleeved shirts and pants for the evening. And we headed out of Riyadh in a caravan of 4 cars. As we drove along, I was surprised by the scenery, with striking peaks that reminded me of the McCullough peaks I used to see near my childhood home. The day was hot and hazy, making the peaks appear almost ghostly.

Part 1: Desert Introduction
After driving for over an hour, we pulled off the main highway and finally found some dunes that weren't crowded with cars or people. The kids jumped out of the car and immediately attacked the dunes, while the mums stood around, abayas whipping about our ankles, and trying to digest the heat. The men got out of the cars and began to deflate the tires a bit, to allow for a greater area for traction. Once they completed that task, we piled back in our cars and set off into the desert and dunes.

I never imagined driving over sand dunes would be so thrilling, but it was. We went up and down the red-colored dunes rapidly. The kids hollered and laughed like they were riding a roller-coaster. My husband totally enjoyed the experience, grinning ear from ear while he drove.

Soon we came to a really great clearing with wonderful dunes surrounding us. We stopped and set up a campsite with umbrellas for shade, a mat to sit on, and lots of chairs. We shed our abayas since we were far away from the road and wouldn't be offending Saudi sensibility. The men got back in the cars to enjoy some more thrills while the children ran up and down the dunes, sliding down the sand, writing in the sand, and digging in the sand. I sat down for a nice chat with the other women. I didn't know all of the women, so I set up about learning more about the other families.

The dunes were magnificent in their harsh beauty. While we were a noisy bunch, the only other sounds came from the wind blowing across the sand. The heat was intense but bearable under the shade and refreshing drinks.

Part 2: Bogged Down and Heat Complications
After a while one of the cars came back and told me that our car was stuck and that the guys were working to pull it down from the dune. I didn't know much about what was going on, only that while trying to go up a particularly steep dune, the car had stopped. (We drive a 4WD Nissan Pathfinder.) There wasn't much I could do and since the men were experienced, I didn't worry too much. Later, the car wouldn't start so the guys decided they needed to try and tow the car to the road, where we would then leave the car until we could get a tow truck out to pick it up, with the other three cars carrying extra passengers back to Riyadh.

We women continued to chat while the children played. Then the wind picked up and blew away our umbrellas. We couldn't properly secure the umbrellas and so built a little wind shelter with a tarp. That was when I started to feel really bad. I began to feel faint and could barely keep my head up. My stomach started rebel and I felt like vomiting. I tried to rest but felt terrible. Fortunately, we had plenty of water and gatorade, so I managed to stay hydrated. I ended up laying down for awhile.

Some of the cars came back and we changed our location, with one car serving as a windbreak. I kept drinking water and gatorade while resting. The kids were amazing, playing with one another and enjoying the sand.

We women focused on keeping the kids protected from the sun and hydrated. I tried to rest so I didn't get worse. And the men worked on pulling the car out of the dunes. The sun started to set and the temperatures started to cool. As the temp went down, I started to feel better. 
We had planned on a barbecue but felt that we had best return to Riyadh. Eventually, they got the car pulled out to the road. We packed the broken car  with non-essential items, loaded up the cars with our family and then returned to Riyadh.
When we returned home, DH worked on finding a tow truck while I de-sanded the kids and got them to bed.

Part 3: Recovery and Hospitality

The security guys at our compound helped us find a tow truck willing to go out of Riyadh to retrieve our car. DH and our neighbor made sure they had the right coordinates and map to find the car. He called a co-worker from Saudi Arabia who is really fluent in English to help translate for the driver. 

But it wasn't so easy to find the car. DH said between the language problems and the dark, it took them a long time. Finally, the driver said he was almost out of gas. About that point, they came across a camp of Saudi men--a family reunion of sorts. DH went and talked to them and discovered that several of the young men spoke English very well. Not only did they speak English well, but they were incredibly eager to help my husband find our car. They took him around in their car and drove around until they found it. Once they recovered the vehicle, the Saudis insisted on taking lots of pictures with my husband. Such amazing hospitality. DH was so grateful to these young men who were kind and very helpful. Without their help, they wouldn't have recovered the car that night. 

Our car is waiting to go the shop. I'm hoping it will only need minor repairs.

Part 4: The moral of the story

Be prepared! We traveled with experienced people who were well-prepared. When we broke down, thanks to our traveling companions, we had the resources to extricate ourselves from a tough situation. I didn't feel scared or stressed because I knew we were prepared. We had enough water and food that we knew all would be taken care of. And next time, I'm bringing a tent, just in case the wind decides to kick up and blow away our umbrellas. 

And yes, we are planning to return. The desert is so beautiful and my kids can't get enough of the sand.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Time to stop isolating myself. . .

I have been blessed/cursed with the ability to enjoy the company of myself. When I was a kid, I would invite friends over and then get tired of playing and just go off by myself. When my sisters and I played our epic wagon train game where we pretended to cross the plains like pioneers, I would get bored with the game about half-way through and dramatically engineer my own tragic death, thus ensuring a smooth exit from the game. Then I would lock myself in my room and read or do a project I was thinking about.

It really is a blessing to be able to keep myself entertained and happy without needing people all the time. But it is also a curse. I've been kind of isolating myself in my villa--not from fear of going out or shyness. I like people and I like exploring. I also happen to enjoy quiet time and working on my favorite projects like scrapbooking.

So I think I'm going to make a list of things I want to do and see and start tackling it.

If you lived in a foreign country, would you explore all the time, stay at home, do both and why?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Cooking in KSA

A reader recently asked:
  • I am curious, what is like cooking in a foreign country? Can you find the ingredients you are used to using? Do you make many local dishes? How do your kids handle the Saudi cuisine when you do eat it?
    I'm so glad you asked this question. I really enjoy cooking. And I think that one way to learn about a country is by eating local food and enjoying the food traditions and customs. When we lived in Sweden, I wrote a paper about the food traditions there for one of my Swedish classes. My professor didn't even know some of the stuff I had learned about Sweden's unique food traditions.
    So I am incredibly interested in food traditions and cultures wherever I go. I'm also lucky that I have a pretty strong stomach. I enjoy eating the food very much in the Kingdom. Going to the grocery store is always an adventure. A visit to the bakery and cheese counter always fascinates me. My kids love watching the puffy rounds of arabic bread rotate on the conveyor belt and then bagged, hot and fresh for shoppers. For about 25 cents, I can take home 6 rounds of Arabic bread. We love it with hummus. 
    I have learned from previous experience how to make most of the foods I love from scratch. I make my own bread, cakes, cookies, tortillas, soups, etc. I have also learned how to cook well without recipes. This skill has been a life-saver. I grew up using canned cream of mushroom/chicken/celery soups in certain dishes I made. I couldn't find those soups in Sweden, so I learned how to make my own sauces and now I can't ever go back to condensed cream of crap. In Sweden, I learned to make most of my favorite treats like lussekatter, meatballs, semlor, Swedish oven pancakes, etc. So I can enjoy those foods wherever I may be.
    Here in Saudi Arabia, a lot of food is imported from Europe and the U.S. I was so surprised to find so many American products lining the shelves at the grocery stores. However, since we lived  in Sweden for such a long time, we don't really have a dependence on a lot of American products. My kids never developed a taste for many quintessential American products like cereal, granola bars, Kraft mac and cheese, peanut butter, American cheese/velveeta, etc. However, we have developed tastes for European products like this amazing cherry juice from Austria, special granola bars from France, and cereals from the UK which have dark chocolate shavings. We are really going to suffer going back to the U.S.
    I do most of my grocery shopping on the perimeters though, focusing on the available produce and meats. I don't really shop from a list for my produce, preferring to buy what looks and smells fresh. I buy fresh chicken, frozen fish, and some beef. Pork products are forbidden in the kingdom--which makes me sad because I love pork chops, bacon, ham, pork roasts, etc. I buy ground beef only rarely because it has a funny smell that I don't like. We eat meat sparingly, incorporating a little bit into our meals. I make a lot of salads, both fruit and vegetables, dressed simply. With fruit salad, I like to drizzle some orange juice and a little sugar on the fruit. I make a simple dressing for salad out of fresh squeezed lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper. 
    I used to buy frozen veggies in the U.S. for vegetable side dishes. However, the quality of frozen vegetables in KSA is really poor, so I simply do not buy frozen vegetables--with the exception of spinach. I can't always find fresh spinach and the frozen spinach is actually pretty decent. 
    (This is a camel burger. I didn't take the picture, but I have had a camel burger, which was very tasty.)
    My children are pretty adaptable eaters. They are used to my home-cooked meals and eat pretty willingly. They are willing, for the most part, to try different foods. Some of the Saudi Arabia cuisine we eat suits them perfectly. We haven't eaten a lot of authentic Saudi Arabian cuisine because it isn't served in very many places. There are a few places that we go. One restaurant is supposed to really do authentic Saudi food really well, but we haven't gone yet. I promise a post on that place because it is supposed to be really great. I haven't made many local dishes because I don't know how to prepare them. I really need to pick up a cookbook so I can start!
    I will write about the restaurants in the area later because they deserve their own post. I'm also compiling pictures of different fast food places I see in the Kingdom.
    Any more questions about food?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Colonialism and World History

(Please don't run away from this post. It may not be terribly exciting but it does speak about things I'm learning.)

Sorry, I've been absent of late. I haven't had good blog fodder and my brain is kind of dull right now. I'm working on it. But the writing is slow and tedious right now.

I went to a lecture last night that blew my mind away. But first a little background. I used to look at history as compartmentalized. You study state history, then U.S. history, then dabble a bit in World history and that's that. I've always enjoyed history as it fascinates me, but have really only looked at it in pieces. But the more I learn about world history and the more I travel, I realize that looking at history in a compartmentalized fashion is incredibly blind and yes, stupid. Yes, it is good to learn about details, but looking at the big picture allows you to make connections about things that you would never understand if you only looked at the details.

I also like to look at history through the lens of literature. Authors write within context and especially when they write about their contemporary life, you get a glimpse into the reality of daily life. My last year at university, I took a Post-Colonial literature class that pretty much changed the way I looked at the world. I read books about Africa, India, even the U.S., through the lens of Post-colonial criticism and suddenly my perspective as a middle-class girl, growing up in a small town in Wyoming, seemed incredibly narrow.

Fast forward to yesterday (after 10+ years of travel and different countries) and I can see greater implications of the imperialistic policies of France and England. And I'm going to bold in saying that Colonialism--that stuff that happened between 1700 and 1918--with both France and England has created the situation of violence, volatile and unstable governments, and even Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East. Yep, that's right, I'm blaming the western world for what is happening in the Middle East right now. A lot of people often blame the U.S. for what is going on right now. And certainly they should shoulder a portion of the blame. But you need to look back further and look at the colonialism of England and France, and then the fallout and re-creation of boundaries following World War I. A big fat mess. A mess that no one wants to own, but is pretty much destroying a lot of lives in this part of the world.

What do you think about the colonialism of Europe? What do you think about what happened in the Middle East following World War I? Do you have answers for the challenges faced by the Arab countries in the Middle East?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Book and Podcast Recommendation

I listened to this podcast today. In an interview with Leonard Lopate from NPR's WNYC, author Sadakat Kadri discusses his recent book, Heaven on Earth: A Journey Through Shari'a Law from the Deserts of Ancient Arabia to the Streets of the Modern Muslim World.

The podcast was fascinating with the author discussing what Shari'a law is and how he came to study the subject and write a book about it. If I wasn't living in KSA, I don't know if I would have been as interested, but definitely living in the Kingdom has sparked my interest.

I've already ordered the book on my Kindle. When I finish reading it, I'll be sure to share my review.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Am I Crazy?

Summer is just around the corner. Summer break is a mere 6 weeks away for my children. And we are planning on staying in Riyadh. When I ask friends what their summer plans are, most reply that they are headed back to their home countries.

I'm starting to get a little worried. I'm not worried about the weather. Yes, it will be incredibly hot, but we have air conditioning and will adjust our outdoor activities to the evenings. And we've got those pools. They may steam during the daytime, but I'm sure they are lovely at night.

I'm mostly worried about the mass exodus of expats from the compounds. A lot of dads will be around, but the kids are headed for the hills with their mothers. And that leaves me with 5 kids and few playmates. . .

Oh well, we'll get through it somehow.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

In a Strange Land

I sit on my son's bed, folding the last of the laundry and tucking it into drawers, when the call of the afternoon prayer rings through the air. Usually, I ignore the undulating tones, not understanding the words sung, inviting the faithful to prayer. But I stop to listen, still not understanding the words, but definitely understanding the intent behind the call to prayer.

Life is different here, strange even. Something as simple as running errands to buy groceries is complicated by the 5 different prayers throughout the day. Going out to dinner in the evening is especially challenging, trying to time it just right. We try to go right after the 4th prayer and hopefully find a place before the last prayer begins.

People go out at night, late at night, with young children. Yesterday, some friends and I went to Dairy Queen around 9:30 p.m. for ice cream. The streets busy with rushing cars, parking was chaotic and creative, and the noise was pulsing--not from music, but from the sounds of people chattering. As we waited for a booth to become available, other families poured in the door, with many young children. And as we left around 10:30 p.m., we saw more families, with lots of kids come in. I have a hard time seeing such little kids being carted around late at night. But so it is here. Families dine very late.

The roads are filled with aggressive drivers oblivious to traffic safety rules. Three lanes of traffic become five during particularly busy times. Beeping horns and squealing tires fill the air. I've seen things that could make your hair stand on end. The only place I've ever been, driving-wise, that even compares, is Utah. (Sorry guys, there is a lot to love about Utah, but the traffic is not one of them.)

I could go on about the strangeness and differences, but I can also tell you that it is a place I'm adapting to. I'm starting to get used to the prayer call. I'm learning to time my shopping and eating expeditions at the right time. I'm trying to ignore the traffic. And I'm okay. Yes, it is different here, and will always be. But I'm starting to enjoy it.

I like seeing the palm trees, especially down the road where the trees are all lit up at night. I like seeing camels in trucks and then super-expensive sports cars parked casually in the middle of the road. I like going out and having people smile at my kids and ask for pictures. I really like the yummy food I get to eat. I even enjoy the heat, which is blessedly free from humidity.

As I continue to explore this strange land, I look forward to experiencing new things and developing a wider world-view. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Blogger and Wordpress Suck

This post has nothing to do with Saudi Arabia and everything to do with two blog sites.

I am truly grateful for the opportunity to blog. I love being able to share my thoughts and get feedback from readers. And blogging is free. I love that my posts stay on the internet forever. How cool is that? Blogging is my journal. 

But lately, Blogger and Wordpress suck.

Why Blogger sucks:
1. I cannot use blogger without using Google Chrome. I don't like being forced to change my browser. And my kids messed with my computer so sometimes I can't find the Google Chrome icon. So yesterday, I wanted to post, but couldn't find the icon. So no posting for me.
2. Typing in weird words to finish a comment. . . I don't know about you but when I comment on blogger, I hate trying to type in those stupid words they give you. Most of the time I can't even read them.
3. I think the Blogger templates are ugly. Yes, I know you can change the templates, but I don't know how to do that and I don't want to take the time to learn. 
4. I hate how Blogger messes with my paragraphs and spacing.Seriously annoying.

Why Wordpress sucks:
1. I had a wordpress blog "A Stranger Here" where I wrote for 4 years. I lost my password and had to reset it.  But the darn thing didn't accept my password, so I had to make it so complicated I couldn't remember it. And when I tried to record hints on my computer so I would remember it, it was so obscure that I couldn't remember it. So now I can't add to my blog. I'll have to reset my password and the problems will start over again.
2. Because of the password problem, I can't comment on Wordpress blogs anymore, because they request your wordpress password to post the comment. I suppose I could get a new email address to fix that problem.
3. I really hate the password thing. It is making my life difficult.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Driving through Riyadh

 I thought the colors were interesting on this Mosque as the typical mosques in Riyadh are beige-colored. They blend in really well with the sand. This mosque with white and teal was different, but pretty.
 This building was beside the mosque. I'm not sure what its function is, or if it is even related to the mosque, but again, the coloring of the building stood out to me here.
 Another building beside the unusual mosque--there were about 5 or 6 buildings in a row, all white with blue accents.
This building cracked me up with the giant water drop made out of glass stuck to the side of the building.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Indian Ladies Party

Living on a compound is like living in a mini-UN. There are people from all over the world, staying in one place. My children play with kids from India, Japan, Korea, Scotland, England, Singapore, and the U.S. I personally love meeting women from different countries. Last Sunday, I was invited to a Ladies Only Indian Party.

I didn't really have time to put together a costume, but went anticipating some fun. I was greeted by a room full of women from our compound dressed beautifully in Indian Saris. Everyone was laughing and talking. We had ordered Indian take-out food and shared our dishes with one another. I had a dal dish that was really great, along with grilled stuffed mushrooms. I enjoyed trying other dishes as well. The naan was yummy, as usual.

After we ate, my friend turned on some Indian music and then insisted on everyone dancing. I love dancing, though I'm terribly awkward at it. Some ladies were quite shy, but after a couple of songs, everyone relaxed and enjoyed the dancing.

I had a great time chatting with my friends, eating the yummy food, and dancing. I can't wait for more get- togethers.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The neighborhood hot spot

I suppose it was inevitable, with five kids, that our house would become a hotspot for the neighborhood kids. We have kids knocking on our door all the time after school asking for playdates. It's fun. We've always enjoyed having people over, but it is particularly fun when it is the younger set. This aspect of our lives in Riyadh is a definite plus.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


I woke up this morning with a headache somewhere behind my right eyeball. It's not to terrible, but the tension from coping with the headache leaves me a little weak. My usual buoyant spirits don't always kick in during those moments. My undoing came while listening to country music and going through a cookbook to compile my grocery list.
Then I felt like crying. I miss pork. I miss bacon. I might just kill for a pork chop. A good 200 pages in the cookbook are completely useless to me. Then the songs I was listening to only added to the homesickness. I miss home. But where is home?
I miss Wyoming, my home state. I miss the mountains, the space, the wild, rugged beauty of the land. I miss my family. I miss eating a  good steak.

I miss Sweden. I miss biking with my kids. I miss the green. I miss the playgrounds. I miss the history and culture. And gosh, how I miss my friends there. I miss the food like meatballs, lingonsylt, paron saft, and the chocolate.

I miss New York. I really miss the Hudson River, Bear Mountain Bridge, the green trees everywhere. I miss NYC with the museums and cool culture. I really miss my friends. I miss sausage and peppers. I really miss the good ice cream.

So yes, I do get lonely and homesick for my homes. I really miss my family and friends.
On the plus side, isn't it cool that I have lived in so many wonderful places that I have grown to love?

When we move from Riyadh, I know I am going to miss the food, having 5 swimming pools within a few yards of my home, lots of playmates for my kids, a close cafe, mint lemonade, and camels.

Do you ever get homesick for more than one place or am I just weird?