Monday, July 23, 2012

Swimming Like Little Fish

When we first moved to Riyadh, my two youngest kids were terrified to get in the pool. Really terrified. They would cling to me and sob when we got in the water. My littlest one would shake when the waves started at the wave pool. I honestly felt discouraged about their fear. Here we are, in Riyadh, living on a compound of about 1000 people, with not one, but 5 pools. FIVE pools! And the weather is warm and swim-friendly for 10 months of the year.

They barely agreed to let me step away from them to take this shot.

Eventually, I found some life jackets for both of them at a store. This helped a lot. Soon they were willing to let us get within arm's length of them.

And now, 6 months later, they are little fish. Really! It is amazing.

Bubba J paddles and kicks along with confidence throughout the whole pool. He puts his face in the water, blows bubbles, and jumps in the pool like a pro. My favorite part of his little swimming is how he puts his face and body in the water like a little turtle, paddles like mad, and then lifts his face up and breathes frantically. Really, it is adorable.

And my daughter has grown the most. For a long time, she has clung to her life jacket. But now, with  swimming lessons from her dad, she zips along in the shallow part of the pool, sans life jacket. And she floats! I'm so proud of her.

Now that A and Bubba J are more independent in the water, it makes playing in the pool so much more fun!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Carpet Buying

Virtually every bazaar I've been to has at least one, if not two, carpet dealers. The dealers roll out their carpets, lining them up against walls or outside on sidewalks to showcase their wares. The carpets are beautiful, with gorgeous colors and patterns. But beyond the visual beauty of the carpets, is the stunning feel of the carpets--sometimes soft silk or a silk and wool blend. Of course, you can buy practical wool in gorgeous patterns.

At the last coffee morning of the season, before most expats flee the country in droves, I saw a carpet dealer and decided to stop and look at his carpets. They were so beautiful. And it occurred to me that I have bought very few pieces of furniture or household items in my lifetime. I'm not kidding. We bought a used couch while living in Sweden that we sold or gave away when we moved. We bought beds for everyone when we moved back to the States. I found a beautiful used dining room set. Other than that, most items were given to us. It's time to move beyond hand-me-downs. I've been married for 14 years. We've paid off our debts, are living simply and on a budget, and we have savings. So I decided it was time to buy a carpet.

A funny thing happens though when you make such a big purchase. It is nerve-wracking. After spending some time with the dealer, I wasn't ready to make such a big purchase without my husband. I asked the dealer if we could visit his shop. He has a shop in the Diplomatic Quarter, but he offered to bring a selection of carpets to our villa so we could choose there. We set up an appointment and then I left with a couple of small carpets to try out.

I loved the carpets when I got them home, but they weren't the right size or colors that we wanted. So I waited for our appointment with Mr. Ahmed, carpet dealer. On Tuesday evening, Mr. Ahmed brought a huge truck filled with carpets in 4 different sizes for us to look at. His assistant carried in rolls of carpets and laid them out for us to inspect.

The selection was overwhelming. Most of the carpets were made in Kashmir, Pakistan. Mr. Ahmed and his brothers, come from Pakistan. They travel around Kashmir and buy carpet made by craftsmen in small villages and then import them into Saudi Arabia. All the carpets I looked at were handmade. They came in three different selections: silk, silk/wool, and wool. Then the patterns and colors were exquisite. The intriguing thing about the color patterns is that when you look at the carpet from one direction, it will be dark. Looking at it from the opposite direction, the colors will turn light.

The carpet designs are named after the areas in which the originated. There is the traditional Iranian/Persian design which most of us are familiar with and then there are designs made in small villages around Kashmir. The dealer showed me a small video he took on his cell phone of a man making a carpet. You can't even begin to imagine the time that it takes to make even a small section of the carpet.

After 2 hours of looking through carpets, we decided on two beautiful carpets that we think will last us forever. In our living room, we have a handmade, silk, blue carpet that has a traditional Persian design. And in our bedroom, we have a silk/wool red carpet in a modern design made in Kashmir.

It was such an adventure.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Um, yes, I am alive

So my kids are all home from school for summer break. And you know, I have pretty darn cute kids, even if sometimes they drive me crazy. And since I chose to have the kids in the first place, I was probably already crazy to begin with, so I can't really blame my craziness on the kids. I love summer. I love spending time with my kids and the freedom from strict schedules. I also find that I don't write much in the summer. Those kids take a lot of energy to keep up with, to mediate fights and battles, and to enjoy time together.

I have lots of things to write about: our visit to Najd Restaurant, which serve traditional Saudi food, an experience worth sharing, buying two beautiful rugs from a carpet dealer from Pakistan, funny things about KSA, how my two youngest children have totally overcome their fear of the water and swim like fish now, and life in general.

However, my time at the computer is limited, with at least one kid hovering over my shoulder while I try and write. That is pretty annoying. My kids are doing an online summer school program on the computer just to keep up with their school skills. It's great and they don't mind getting on the computer to do the work. But that means four people have to spend substantial time on the computer. And by the time I sit down, I'm so tired I can hardly think.

Oh and did I mention that I am not sleeping well and have been getting headaches almost daily? That kind of saps my mental energy, leaving me little creative writing interest. I've been meaning to post several more recipes to my food blog as well, but that is falling by the wayside at the moment.

So please don't give up on me. I will get back to more regular posts, when things are more conducive to thoughtful writing.

In the meantime, enjoy your summer. I am enjoying mine (despite the headaches).

Monday, July 9, 2012

How to Adapt to Living Abroad: Part 1

One comment I frequently get from family, friends, and acquaintances about living abroad is that I must be so brave. Honestly, the comment puzzles me because I don't feel particularly brave. Granted, I enjoy living in different countries. I find it exciting and stimulating. But I also think that there are skills you can develop to help you enjoy the experience. Here are some of the skills I think are essential to not only survive in a foreign country, but thrive.

1) Accept that life will be different in a foreign country.
I know it sounds silly to say that because you probably all know that. But understanding that on an intellectual level is not the same as accepting it. Life in a foreign country does not have to be the same as your home country to be good. You will experience differences all the time. You have a choice when you acknowledge those differences. You can allow those differences to oppress you or you can acknowledge them, adjust to them, and move on with your life.

2) Accept that you can dislike (even hate) things about the foreign country, but still enjoy living there.
There were things that drove me crazy about Sweden. But I loved living there. The same can be said for Saudi Arabia. There are some things that disturb me deeply. But regardless of those issues, I still like Saudi Arabia. I guess I can still enjoy life in Saudi Arabia because I know my time here isn't permanent.

3) Take the opportunity to explore the country, learn some history, and learn some of the culture.
You need context when you live in a foreign country. Cultural practices which can be very baffling make more sense when given context. For instance, while I don't love wearing the abaya, understanding the context behind it--religious, historical, and cultural, at least gives me some background. Sometimes things about Saudi culture seems so contradictory and confusing. It helps me immensely when I place those confusing things in the scope of the short history of the nation of Saudi Arabia (which is actually a relatively new country--though a very old culture.) Consider this: in your own country there are things that would be difficult to understand if you didn't already know the context. You have to learn the context when you live in another country.

4) Try the local foods.
You don't have to try everything, and you most certainly don't even to have to like what you try, but do TRY some of the local foods. Local foods actually tell a lot about a country's history and culture. For example, many of the food traditions in Sweden stem from religious practices during the Middle Ages. When Sweden changed from Catholicism to the Lutheran church, they still retained many of the food traditions. When I eat pea soup with pancakes on Thursday, I'm actually eating a bit of history and culture. The same can be said for food in Saudi Arabia. The food reflects the agriculture, trading, and historical practices of the region. Even the food in the U.S. reflects interesting things about our culture: the multi-cultural nature of the country, historical practices that stemmed from huge social changes following World War 2, and the role that big corporations play in our diet.
So consider trying the local food as a means to understand the culture better.

I'll continue this series in later posts.

What skills have you developed traveling or living abroad? What do you think is essential to not only surviving but thriving in a different country?

Friday, July 6, 2012

Celebrating Independence Day- Bahrain Style

First, we start off with a decadently, indulgent breakfast of a pound of real pork bacon. Yes, you read that right. You can buy bacon in Bahrain. I honestly wept at this sight. 
 Then we headed to Wahoo the Water Park where we swam, slid down waterslides, and played until we were exhausted.

 We enjoyed thick, juicy American-style hamburgers at Fuddruckers, and capped off our evening by watching the last Lord of the Rings movie.