Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Date Market

I'll be writing about this outing for the Women's Skills Bureau. I don't think I can include pictures for the newsletter, so I'll post my date market pictures here.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Gratuitous Camel Pictures

I have NO idea why, but I have this thing for camels. Here are some camels I encountered on our most recent desert expedition.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Searching for the Edge of the World: Part 1

Yes, I am aware that it is 2012 and we know the world is round. The Edge of the World is an amazing place in Saudi Arabia. Blue Abaya wrote a great post with pictures about this amazing site. Saudi National Day was on September 23rd and the King decreed that we should have Saturday off as well. (I know, Saturday and Sunday are the weekend, right? Well, in Saudi Arabia, our weekend is on Thursday and Friday).

When you have a four-day weekend, you have to do something fun, right? Of course! Fortunately, ex-pats are wonderfully flexible and spontaneous. We asked some friends if they had plans on Saturday and they said they were open to suggestions. We decided to find the Edge of the World together.

From experience, we've learned that going to the desert in a group is wise. Within a few minutes, we had a group of families willing and able to go to the desert. On Saturday, we met at a mall, where I stared at the never-ending construction taking place around Riyadh. Once all the cars were gathered, we were off, headed north out of Riyadh.

We drove past some tent cities. There aren't really tent cities but there are a lot of old, run-down tents gathered in small sections of the desert. If you've ever been on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, you find that the two areas are very similar.

Eventually, we passed the tent villages and came to a  small village. After driving through the village, we passed a plantation of date palms and fields with green crops growing. We even passed two men on a donkey cart, being pulled by a donkey.

Once past the fields, things were pretty deserted. We drove for awhile and then turned off the main road onto a dirt/gravel/sand track. At this point, the men started to grin and show off a bit. I don't know why, but men really get a kick out of driving on roads like this. The kids loved the bumpy track and enjoyed bumping along.

Soon we started to see camels grazing around Acacia trees. A camel herder riding a donkey wandered around, keeping an eye on the camels, and, I imagine, the strange foreigners who kept gawking at his camels.

I enjoyed looking at the trees and vegetation, sparse as it was. The ground was hard and rocky in places, and then in other places was like gravel quicksand.

Our caravan found a track, drove down it until we found that the track was washed out. While we all had four-wheel drive vehicles, we simply couldn't get past some of the barriers. So we turned around and tried a second path, which led nowhere. Finally a third path looked interesting.

We drove along a very hard track where the landscape was completely barren without even the slightest bit of scrub brush. After driving this track for a while, we stopped and assessed our situation. We hadn't found the destination, but everyone was hungry. We set up rugs and blankets on the hard, rocky surface that was totally exposed to the sun and wind. There wasn't anything available for shade. The kids were happy to be out of the car.

After lunch, we decided to explore the area for a bit. There was a path down a cliff that looked promising. My kids tromped down the path with their dad. They are pretty intrepid explorers. T found several fossils. In fact, the whole area was very interesting. T gave us a lecture (he is SO his mother's child) about water and wind erosion and claimed that the area showed evidence of water erosion. 

Following this short hike, we decided we had better go back home and try looking for the Edge of the World another day. 

On our drive back, my husband noticed that one of the cars was leaking something, which turned out to be transmission fluid. One of the other cars towed the car with the leaking fluid while we drove ahead to the small village to find out if they had a mechanic available to look at the car. We found a garage and they found a hole in the transmission. 

While we waited for them to patch the transmission, the women and I chatted. Pretty soon all these men started walking around, staring at us because our hair was uncovered. We caused quite a stir. One of the little boys had to go to the bathroom, so his dad took him to the garage bathroom.  Facilities can be SO primitive here and this place was really bad. This sounds awful, but it is even worse because a lot of immigrants with horrible hygiene work at these places. Now imagine the most disgusting bathroom you've ever encountered at a gas station, and then imagine it 100 times worse. These toilets are holes in the floor with a place for your feet. The floors are disgusting with all sorts of yucky stuff on the ground. 

So this little boy couldn't hold it anymore and goes in this bathroom. On the way home, he decided to LICK his shoe. Who knows why a boy of 5 decides to lick his shoe following a visit to a really foul toilet facility, but he did. The next day he was SO sick, with a fever and everything. 

Finally, the car got fixed and we drove to my husband's outdoor office where we women availed ourselves of more modern toilet facilities. Then it was back home to Riyadh.

We later learned from a friend who had been several times to the Edge of the World that the path has changed and even he couldn't find it. I wonder if the authorities have decided to close off the path for visitor access.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Remembering September 11, 2001

I have never written about this day before. Not even last year, when it was the ten-year anniversary of the tragedy, and I lived in New York. I'm writing this for my children, so they will know what it was like to hear the news, see the footage, and how it felt. There are historic moments, both good and bad, that are personal and powerful, which have a collective effect upon a nation or a country. This was one such moment.

On September 11, 2001, I was 24 years old and had been married to my husband for 3 1/2 years. We lived in Provo, Utah (395. N 800 W.) I had graduated from Brigham Young University 2 years earlier. My husband was attending graduate school at BYU. My oldest son was 23 months old and my second son was 2 months old. My house was a disaster that morning. I had been neglecting my household chores, but woke up that morning determined to tackle the mess of dishes in my kitchen and make some order in my house. I was listening to a book on tape, washing dishes, while my baby lay in a bouncer and my toddler was playing around my feet.

The phone rang, interrupting my work. I stopped my tape, and answered the phone. "Hello," I answered.

"Tiffany, this is Christina. Turn on the TV now. Someone is attacking America," my friend practically barked this across the lines.

Stunned, I wasn't sure how to respond to this news. I turned on the television and watched the footage unveiling on the TV. It was shocking and horrifying to watch the World Trade Center Towers collapse, to see the smoke billowing from the tragedy, and later to learn of the attack on the Pentagon, and another plane crashing.

I trembled in fear at the horrific vision unfolding before me on the television. It was not a blockbuster film but reality. My children felt my fear and were both fussy and clingy for the rest of the day. The TV stayed on all day so I wouldn't miss any news.

My husband had been at school all day, and as we were poor college students and cell phones were an unnecessary luxury, I couldn't contact him. Two of my sisters were also at school at BYU. I was scared and worried.

One of my dearest friends lived in New York City and her husband worked for a financial company. I had no idea if he had an office in those buildings. So I started to call her, but the circuits were busy. Eventually, I was able to reach her and learned that, to my relief, that both she and her husband were okay.

That evening, my husband and I invited my sisters and their rommates over to our home to watch the news, eat dinner, and regroup.

Over the next few weeks, we scoured the news for information and learned more details of what happened. I attended Memorial Services given by churches. Sometimes I would take my little boys outside and noticed how a plane passing overhead would make my heart start pounding.

Nearly a month later after the attacks I was watching LDS General Conference, while President Gordon B. Hinckley was speaking and he interrupted his talk with a note that was passed to him and said that the United States military had launched an offensive against Afghanistan.

And thus began a period of wars that haven't ceased in the Middle East for eleven years. I had no idea then how much of my life would actually connect with the Middle East. In the days following 9/11 patriotic fervor was at a fever pitch. Flags were flown at homes. Patriotic music blared from homes and cars. And we all tried to make sense of it. Ugly attacks were perpetrated against Muslims across the United States.

I was troubled by the attacks, hoping that surely while they are zealots and fanatics in every religion, we shouldn't define religion based on the nut jobs. But I didn't know any Muslims personally.

A year later, we moved to Sweden, and throughout our 5 1/2 years in the country, we met several Muslim families, mostly families that had come to Sweden to study or to escape violence and government instability in their home countries. This move was the first of many. Now, in Saudi Arabia, we are again learning more and experiencing Muslim culture in a completely different way. Through these experiences, I've discovered that the actions of a few fanatics definitely shouldn't define an entire religion or the millions of Muslims in the world.

I've changed a lot since that fateful day 11 years ago. I didn't see all the complexities and conflict in the world  as I do now.

As I reflect on that day, I feel sorrow for the men and women who died. I honor the heroes who risked their lives to save others. I marvel at the generosity of New Yorkers and their amazing capacity to unite and work together to help each other. I sorrow at the eleven years that our country has spent at war in the Middle East. And I keep hoping that we can end all these conflicts with one another and achieve peace.
For more images about September 11, 2011, you can go here

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Silent Auction for Displaced Ethiopian Maids

A few months ago, I reconnected with a former classmate of mine. Jamie and I attended High School together in Wyoming. I rode the bus and went to church with two of her cousins. It has been a pleasure to reconnect with Jamie through FB. She is currently living in Kuwait so we like to swap experiences about living in the Middle East.

Jamie has a big heart and a wonderful desire to share her faith. Her posts about loving God and trying to be a better wife and mother always inspire me. Jamie is also anxiously engaged in good works.

She, with some other women living in Kuwait, have organized a charity auction to help Displaced Ethiopian Maids in Kuwait. I have donated three scrapbooks that I have made. You can find the Silent Auction page here.

Want to donate or participate? Go to the FB page and look at the items available for auction. You can also donate money without bidding on items.

Please remember that this is a very good cause. I was given the following information when I decided to participate in the auction.

The Salvation Army has a villa (house) that houses runaway Ethiopian maids. Typically these maids would stay at the Ethiopian embassy but because there are already close to 500 maids residing there this house takes as much of the overflow as they can. Typically they have 30-40 women at the house. They all have different stories, such as abuse, rape, no pay, unfavorable working conditions and the list goes on.

Unfortunately when they come to work in Kuwait they are basically sold by an agency to a Kuwaiti for 500KD and the Kuwaiti gets the maids' passport and agrees to pay her 40kd ($145) a month. With this money she has to buy her own toiletries, food and any other things. Not to mention she will be sending half of that money to help support her family in Ethiopia where inflation is at 300% or so frown These maids take care of the children (Kuwaitis like to make babies), cook, clean, and do whatever else they are told. 

When the maid runs away it is without her passport so even if she just wanted to leave Kuwait she can not. What happens then is the maids Kuwaiti employer goes and files with the Kuwait government that the maid has run away and then can even file further complaints against this maid. If the maid is found by the police she will be taken to jail and forced to sit in a cell with a 100 other people, 1 toilet and very little food and she may even suffer abuse at the hands of the police. She could be there for months before they finally deport her. When the maids go to embassy then the embassy takes them in and they begin the long process of helping the maid either get back home or get her passport from her former employer so that she can seek employment elsewhere. This is where the Salvation Army comes in and helps with the overflow of these women. Again the process is long and the maid is without pay and goes home without a dime! (This info was given on FB from Lianna Moder).

These are the 3 scrapbooks I made and donated. If you can help and want to participate just go to the FB auction page and either donate or bid. Best wishes!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Spreading Some Love

When I lived in Sweden, I didn't have Facebook. I was leery and resistant to try it. I ended up getting an account after realizing that I would most likely have more contact with my sisters and relatives, and friends, through FB than without it. Apparently, I'm too verbose. Pithy FB status updates seems to work better for most people than reading my lengthy emails and posts.

I love having FB while living in KSA because I have a connection of friends throughout the world to share funny stories, cute pictures, food pictures, political rants, or funny links. FB has also become a place to share griefs and sorrows.

At this time, among my FB friends, one has lost her beloved husband of 7 years, another was recently diagnosed with cancer, one mourns the loss of her brother-in-law who died a year ago, while yet another grieves the loss of her mother, one relative is in remission from cancer and is grateful that she is alive, yet another worries about moving back to the U.S. and hopes that her future will be okay. There are many more stories that I could share.

As these people have generously shared these deeply personal experiences without whining, I've been moved by their challenges. I'm humbled by what they face and how they are facing their challenges. Sadly, I'm so far away that I can't offer much beyond verbal support.

So here's what I plan to do, as I think of my friends going through hard times. First, I'm going to remember to be more appreciative and loving toward my husband. Second, I'm going to soften my tone and words with my children, remembering that they are learning and failure is inevitable--and ok. And third, I'll be writing little notes to friends sharing my gratitude for them. I don't have the time to write each friend, but if your name shows up in my feed, I'll be sending you something.

I challenge you to think of some simple ways you can spread some love in the lives of your family and friends.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Time for Questions

Do you have any questions for me? Look through my archives and see if anything jumps out at you. Post your questions here and I will dedicate a post to answering them.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Adjusting the Schedule

One thing I experience repeatedly as a mother is that just as soon as you get your schedule/routine figured out and everyone adjusts to it, things have to change. I think it is important for mothers to organize schedules and routines in their homes. I know I always cope/function better with my family if I'm organized and my children follow a predictable routine. Part of the reason staying at home works for me so well is that I have the flexibility to adapt our routines and schedules to meet the needs of our family.

We had a nice, easy routine for the summer. It was fun--wait, I did not say that. We SUFFERED through our routine and summer. Now that my kids are back in school, our routine has changed, and I'm floundering a bit, trying to get my bearings. Which means that at the moment, I'm trolling the internet, ignoring certain household responsibilities, and just enjoying the relative peace and quiet of my home.

Soon there will be a flurry of activities, like  coffee mornings, or expeditions to the Princess Souk, desert explorations, , and school events. So this blog will be picking up the pace again. I will also begin teaching a music class to a local preschool once a week as well as contributing a short piece to a local monthly newsletter. I'm looking forward to all of this.

I am also glad that my friends have returned from their vacations. I do manage, quite nicely, to keep myself entertained and happy with my family and hobbies. But it is nice to be able to visit and socialize with friends again!

How does the beginning of school change your life and schedule? Does it take you time to adjust to the new routine?