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.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Day 2: An Egyptian Restaurant

We enjoyed a delicious lunch at an Egyptian restaurant. We dined outside. The weather while on the warm side, wasn't unbearable. The kids and I enjoyed watched two women make flat bread. The would knead the dough, then shake the bread until it flattened enough, then cook it in an outdoor oven. Egyptian flat bread is delicious--chewy and thick.

We enjoyed our rice pilaf, fresh salads, and grilled meat. A perfect pick-me-up in the middle of a very intense day.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Day 2: The Papyrus Shop

Our guide took us to a papyrus shop where we learned how Egyptians made papyrus. Papyrus is made out of the reed papyrus. It has a triangular shape. The green outer skin is peeled and then the inner white part is thinly sliced. Then the maker rolls or pounds the water out of the papyrus strips, making the strips long and flexible. Then the strips are laid out first vertically, and then a second layer is laid out horizontally. The strips of papyrus are then pressed and dried. Papyrus sheets are surprisingly strong and flexible.

 (An Anhk symbol which means life. This "key" is often shown in heirogylphs.)
This papyrus shop specializes in showing tourists how papyrus is made and then works really hard to sell them papyrus art. And they are good at both.  It wasn't that hard of a sell for us. I thought it would be fun for the kids to get their names written in hieroglyphics in a car-touche. A car-touche is a rounded rectangle where only the Pharaoh's name (and I think that of his wife's) would be written. The kids each chose a piece they liked. I bought a Tree of Life picture that shows a bird going through the stages of life. We had our family names written around the tree.

The salesman was hilarious though in his effort to get us to buy stuff. He kept insisting that he would give us a very good deal because he was our brother--we were like family. It made me chuckle. In the end, he promised us that he like Americans-- I think with the recent problems of Americans in Egypt in mind.

We left with some beautiful art work. While it isn't ancient, it does use ancient techniques.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Day 2: The Sphinx

Miss B was very anxious to see the Sphinx. That was the one thing she said she wanted to see in Egypt. We watched several documentaries on Netflix about the Sphinx and pyramids.

But actually seeing the Sphinx in person was kind of anti-climactic. It was surprisingly-small, dwarfed by the pyramids, and in such bad condition, that I ended up feeling rather sorry for the poor thing. Our pictures look far more impressive than the reality of the poor Sphinx.