Monday, September 30, 2013

On the Independence of Women Within the Kingdom

In the past week, I read this gem of an article explaining why women in Saudi Arabia cannot and should not drive.  As a mother to five children, with a sixth on the way, who also happens to drive, I suppose this explains why I don't have 10 children after 15 years of marriage. It does not however explain the situation of my friend who has 9 children. Maybe if she had allowed her husband to drive, she might have had twins more than once. (Just as an aside, I think this sheik holds the opinion of the minority, not the majority.)

But I digress. A friend of mine currently living in Riyadh posted the following on her Facebook wall.

"In August, I went to mobily and was not allowed to enter the store to pay my bill as my husband was not with me. On Thursday, I went to mobily and was welcomed into the store as I was chaperoned..... By my SIX YEAR OLD SON. thanks son, I guess I am supposed to take direction from you from now on..... Mmmm... Only in Saudi!"

Mobily is a cell phone provider. 

These two incidents contrasted with my own return to the United States have highlighted a very important aspect of my identity and experience as a woman. In the United States, I have the full atonomy and independence to perform the duties necessary in my role as a mother and wife. In the past three months alone, I have logged hundreds of miles taking my children to doctors and dentists, ensuring their continued health and well-being through these visits. I have been able to do so on my time-frame without relying on taxi drivers or my husband, who is very busy with his job. I have met with school officials and been able to arrange for the academic needs of my children. I have been able to manage finances and other family matters without having to rely on others to help me. In other words, I have been able to arrange my schedule to suit the needs of all the members of our family. My husband and I arrange our schedules, responsibilities, and work for the benefit of all. As such, I feel like we are fully equal partners working together toward a common goal to benefit our family. 

While living in Saudi Arabia, the burdens my husband carried trying to meet these needs of constantly driving, doing all the financial and business transactions, even a bulk of the shopping, in addition to working full-time were enormously stressful. I couldn't alleviate those burdens by sharing in the responsibilities. It was frustrating for both of us. 

There are hundreds of compelling reasons why women should be allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, not the least  that it is immoral and unethical to deny them such a right because they are human beings, not a sub-class of mindless children unable to think or make decisions for themselves. 

Within the context of Saudi culture, where families are paramount, it makes sense to me to appeal to the importance of families and especially of the importance of women to be able to act as matriarchs, leading and serving their families. I believe their ability to do so fully is hampered by the many restrictions on women to act with intelligence, decision, and independence. 

* Fortunately, there are some people who are really addressing the issue with intelligence and good sense. Such as this article.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Time, Places, and Change

My oldest son was recognized for his outstanding work in Student council at the end of the 2012-2013 school year at his international school. It was one of those moments that makes you feel a little dizzy as you realize how much life can change in a few years.

Ten years ago, this boy was three and we lived in Sweden. Our days were filled with going outside, playing in the cold weather, reading stories, and making lots of messes. Ten years later, we were in Saudi Arabia, while my youngest, who is now three, sat on my lap. My youngest plays in the dirt, makes messes, and enjoys the pool.

Where will be in ten years? The mind boggles at the thought. I never imagined living in Saudi Arabia and yet we did and had a grand adventure. Nor did I ever anticipate living in Sweden. What surprises my life has held. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Grocery Stores and Prayer Time

There a few things you should know about shopping in KSA.

1) There are grocery stores in most malls. Kingdom mall doesn't have a grocery store, so don't plan on grabbing milk or any other essentials while you are there.

2) Prayer time happens five times a day and when it starts, everything, and I mean EVERYTHING stops. A few minutes before prayer time, lights go off in the stores and gates come down. There are a few stores which allow you to continue shopping, while others shoo you out the door. They will announce the closing before they close.

When in Carrefour during that time, it was amusing to watch the mad dash the customers made to the checkout stand to purchase their food. If you time it right, you can get in just before they close, shop in peace and quiet (except get your vegetables weighed) and then finish just as the doors open.

The stores I shopped at most were Carrefour, Danube, and Tamimi. Carrefour was a French grocery store. Tamimi falls under the American Safeway brand. I assumed that Danube might be Austrian, but I can't find info about it. There are other stores of course, but these three were my favorites. Tamimi usually carries a good selection of American products at import prices. So if you are looking for an American fix, you should go there first. Carrefour usually satisfied my craving for European foods. I also got a kick out of reading the labels as they reminded me of reading labels in Sweden. Danube was always very clean and well-kept. They also had a good selection of quality dark chocolate.

One of my favorite things to get at the grocery store is cheese pizza, baked in a wood oven. Yummy!

Shopping in KSA was actually pretty painless, unless you were insistent about getting a certain ingredient. I personally learned to just go with the flow of it. I would buy the best looking produce, supplement with a little meat, mostly chicken, and make do. I guess knowing how to substitute ingredients and cook without recipes is really essential.

There are outdoor markets that you can visit. We often saw little stands on the back of trucks on the side of the road selling fresh produce and always watermelons.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

What I Wish I Had Said During the Podcast

Yesterday, I was one of the guests on the Paperclipping Roundtable Podcast. PRT is a wonderful podcast that discusses scrapbooking. They have a great following of listeners around the world. Noell and Izzy Hyman do a great job of creating a consistently interesting podcast that really does educate, entertain, and inspire me.

The podcast I participated was called "Rootless". We discussed the concept of Third Culture Kids (TCK) and how scrapbooking can help highly mobile and transient families deal with the challenges of the lifestyle.

Here are some thoughts I had that I wanted to share.

1) Highly transient families families often experience loss with possessions as their lifestyle doesn't always allow for these things to be carried with them everywhere. Scrapbooking has become a way for me to preserve memories and experiences that I have no other tangible link to.

                                       (Visiting an ancient Roman ampitheatre in Ceaseara, Israel)

I have given away, sold, or thrown away couches, tables, beds, knicknacks, toys, clothes, shoes, heirlooms, kitchen equipment, bikes, bike trailers, strollers, etc. When we moved to Sweden, we pared down our belongings to what could fit into a few suitcases. (I did burden my parents with several boxes of books that have spent many years in storage. I still can't bear to let them go, but I'm realistic enough to realize that may have to discarded at some point.) While living in Sweden, we knew that we would be moving ourselves back to the United States. There would not be a moving company to pack up our belongings to our new home. We did not accumulate things. I didn't buy paintings, decorations, or souvenirs. My memories of our life in Sweden are recorded in our pictures and documented with my scrapbooks. When we lived in Israel, I couldn't afford to buy hardly anything. We did purchase a Christmas Creche made out of olive wood. But otherwise, our pictures and scrapbooks are the only physical link we have to our amazing experiences.

                                        (The view of Riyadh from a hotel room. This picture inspired
                                           the name for this blog.)

Granted I can't lug my scrapbooks around. They often go in storage during our travels. But they are precious enough that I keep them.

2) Scrapbooking often provides much needed perspective to process both the good and bad experiences of expat life.

I scrapped my last year living in Sweden a few years after it had occurred. There is a difference in that scrapbook versus the pages I made while living there. I was much more humble about our experiences. I found I was able to ascribe meaning that I simply couldn't process at the time the events occurred. I imagine I will need a little time and distance to process my Riyadh experiences.

                 (I am still coming to terms with wearing an abaya for 18 months on a daily basis. It was a necessary part of my experience, but one I still don't have the words to fully describe what it was like. It wasn't totally awful, but neither was it totally awesome.)

3) Scrapbooking allows family memories of grand adventures to be preserved. My kids can look back in the albums and remember what their snowsuits looked like in Sweden. They can remember the playgrounds they explored in Israel. They can remember the grocery stores in Saudi Arabia and the color of the desert sand.

4) Creating scrapbook pages helps me deal with the loss of treasured friends as we leave behind friends or are left behind.

5) Scrapbooking helps me emphasize our family stability. Even though we don't always have stability of place, we always have one another.

6) Scrapbooking helps me approach my life as an expat with gratitude, curiousity, wonder, and an open mind. I am so grateful for the experiences and life I lead. I would never trade any of our adventures for a different life. It is MY life and I own it, good and bad.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Luxury of Never Substituting

I stood in the baking aisle, scanning the shelves for Andes mint chips. Finally, I turned to a woman standing beside me and asked, "Have you ever seen mint chocolate chips here?" The woman said she had and proceeded to help me look. After several minutes of carefully looking, it became clear that there were no mint chips to be found. As I considered alternatives, the woman held a bag of walnuts in her hand and asked, "Do you think I could use pecans in place of walnuts in my banana bread?" I assured her that the substitution was fine, when she continued, "You see, I never substitute ingredients in recipes, ever."

Her remark literally stopped me in my tracks. The last several years have been one culinary experiment after another as I have tried to approximate beloved recipes in different countries. In Sweden, we had to make up our own baking powder, because the Swedish baking powder had such a terrible aftertaste. We chopped chocolate in place of chocolate chips. I used creme frache in place of sour cream. I learned to make my own cream soups and bases in lieu of cream of crap canned soup. In Saudi Arabia, I couldn't use pork products, so my beloved Sweet and Sour Pork became Sweet and Sour Chicken for 18 months. Whenever I made scones, I used plain yogurt instead of the sour cream called for in the recipe. I rarely cooked or prepared salads with fresh spinach as it was hard to find.

Living in a foreign country often feels like an endless series of adaptations and substitutions. Sometimes we try and recreate pieces of home with recipes or celebrations. Of course, the flavor is never quite as authentic as we wish. But we still try. And other times, we bend to the inevitable, accept the alternative and make new recipes. My cooking creativity always feels enhanced when living abroad as I learn to adapt to the available ingredients.

And then we bring flavors from our adopted countries home. I can never quite recreate the beautiful food and cuisine centered around the pear so beloved in Sweden. I desperately miss the flavor of Danish chocolate. Sometimes I dream about an authentic Israeli falafel that literally makes me drool. My kids talk about shawarma longingly. I was at a shawarma shop in Boulder, Colorado a couple of weeks ago and shocked the chef when I asked if they put french fries in their shawarma. I miss the delicious flavors of India my friends shared with me. Or the fresh flavors of Korean fare that another friend introduced me to.

It's always a give and take, isn't it? We are always leaving behind something we love and appreciate wherever we may go.

So while I envy the lady in the grocery store the luxury of never having to subsitute ingredients, I feel a little sorry for her as well. She's missed out on some grand culinary adventures. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Camel Beauty Contest

During the month of December thousands of camels and their owners from all over the Middle East gather in the desert about 310 km north of Riyadh for a month-long auction and Camel Beauty Festival. My husband, our five children, two of our friends, and I drove three and a half hours to explore the auction and festival. When we saw thousands of tents pitched in the desert and camels everywhere, we knew we had found the right spot.

Before checking out the camel beauty contest, we first explored the camel auction and souk. The souk was set up on both sides of the desert track and had many tents filled with camel equipment such as saddles, blankets, bridles, herding crops, and bells. There were stalls with necessities like food, water, fuel, and stacks of firewood. Along with the necessities there were stalls with carpets, fur-lined coats and vests, and other typical things you would expect to see at bazaars.

After driving through the souk, we entered the area where camels were penned in and auctions were taking place. I did not need to understand Arabic to recognize the rhythm of an auctioneer calling bids and selling camels. Along the wide desert track, cars full of young men raced along with windows rolled down, playing loud music and shouting welcome at us. Camels were everywhere, penned in makeshift corrals of barbed wire. Some camels were hobbled on the ground. And then there were the herds of camels crossing the road. Some were hobbled on one side so they could not run, while others were free to roam at will. One mammoth white camel was separated from his group by our car. He looked irritated as he tried to poke his head into our open car window. I was amazed at how the camels ignored the chaos of noise, cars, and people with perfect disdain.

At one point we stopped to see if we could at least touch a camel. Before long, we found ourselves surrounded by young men eager to show us camels and talk to us. Our friend was invited to get on a very cranky camel. Then the camel herder wanted to put my kids on the camel, but they were scared of the hissing, cranky camel. To show us the camel was docile, the herder jumped on its back and stood up while the camel also stood up from the kneeling position. It was amazing! We were as interesting to the group gathered as the camels were to us. They all wanted pictures of us, especially my youngest son with his blonde hair and blue eyes. One cheerful man with yellowed teeth gave my daughter a kiss on the cheek, which made her cry. At the point, I shoved the kids in the car, away from the crowd, and we drove off.

After a short drive, we entered the camel beauty contest where we watched a herding show. A group of white camels would enter the arena following their herder on a black camel. The herder would take the group through their paces, showing the judges how the camels could follow a pattern and work together as a group. We saw three different herds on display. It was interesting and brought to mind cattle shows and rodeos I grew up with in Wyoming.

We joined a large group for lunch and more activities at a large outdoor camping area set up with a large tent with the sand covered with rugs. My kids rode camels while we snacked on different types of dried fruits and buns filled with chocolate. We watched a demonstration of dogs resembling greyhounds that chased a kangaroo rat. My boys’ favorite part of the day was seeing the beautiful peregrine falcon. Falconry in Saudi Arabia is a centuries-old sport and exists to this day. The falcon was graceful, elegant, and poised, tolerating the crowds of people clamoring to touch him. Our day ended with a delicious meal of Saudi traditional dishes eaten outside on a carpet we shared with other families. It was an adventure not to be missed and will rank high on our favorite things we have done in Saudi Arabia. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Catching Up and Moving On

I haven't written in months as our family transitioned from expats living in Saudi Arabia back to living in the United States. Since June I have endured the challenges of the first trimester of pregnancy, moving, closing on a house, unpacking, traveling across the United States to visit family in the west, and driving back to the East Coast to get settled in. My head spins with appointments, schedules, boxes, cooking, home ownership, bills (I have to grapple with those again!), and life in general. It is all good but many times overwhelming.

In trying to transition back to the USA, I haven't thought much about our time in Saudi Arabia. It is a bit of a coping mechanism, but I see gaps in my narrative on my blog--crucial stories that need to be told. So as I wrap up my life in Saudi Arabia and say farewell to my experiences there, I'll be trying to complete those stories to the best of my ability.

I'm so glad we lived in Riyadh. It was challenging but rewarding. Stick with me a bit longer, please, and I will try and share more stories and experiences.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Stereotypes and Living in the Middle East

Many people were worried about us when we announced our plans to move to Saudi Arabia. They feared for our safety and were deeply concerned about us living in a Muslim country. Islam and its faithful followers, Muslims, unfortunately have a bad reputation in the west, especially in the United States.

For the most part, people's concerns turned out to be unfounded. I have felt very safe, other than when driving on the crazy and chaotic streets of Riyadh. The stereotypes about Muslims have also proven to be without foundation. We've met unfailingly kind and generous Muslims in Riyadh. They have shared their religious beliefs with great devotion, but without fanaticism. I have come to deeply respect most tenants of Islam and those who strive to faithfully abide by their beliefs. 

My oldest son has a Saudi friend who attends school with him. This boy is intelligent, thoughtful, kind and decent. As the boys were saying their goodbyes, my son's friend said to him, "Please tell your American friends that not all Arabs or Muslims are terrorists." My heart broke just a little upon hearing that. This young teenager already carries a burden that he will be perceived as a terrorist by people who should understand that fanatics should not define an entire group of people.

Yesterday afternoon while chatting with the father of another son's friend, who happens to be a Pakistani Muslim. He related the following story. While living in a community in Dubai where their family was the only Muslim family in their neighborhood, his son came home and asked, "Dad, are we Muslims?" His father said they were and his son asked, "Are we bad then?"

Again, I felt so sad. So I ask you today to challenge the stereotypes you hold dear and consider how they harm others. Remember that are plenty of bad people who do awful things in the name of religion. 
Americans have shot up classrooms, movie theaters, and malls. Priests have molested children. My point is that there are many people who have done terrible things, regardless of their religious affiliation.  Please remember that good people in a religion outnumber the bad. 

 Remember that the next time you see a woman covering her hair with a hijab. Instead of condemning her, why not admire her devotion to her faith. Get to know your Muslim neighbors, ask them about their customs and traditions. You may just discover you have more in common than you think.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Packing and Moving

I find it a great irony in my life that our lives are pretty mobile and yet I really stink at packing. In fact, I despise packing. What tends to happen is that I panic about the amount of stuff we have accumulated and I dream of chucking it all in the bin and live out of a backpack. Which is neither practical or really fun. Ok, maybe it is sort of practical.

Here are some things I've learned about packing.

1) Stuff is just stuff. You can chuck most stuff in the bin and never even miss it. In fact, I think that stuff just weighs us down. We don't need as much as we accumulate. It is easier to keep things clean and organized without so much stuff.

2) I tend to WAY over-buy clothes. My kids have more clothes than they could ever wear. I need to curb this tendency to buy so many clothes. Also, my children have grown a lot this year. I'm trying to hold out on buying new clothes for a couple more months. Unfortunately, my oldest son looks like he wearing capris (or manpries?) when he puts on his pants. He'll live and so will I.

3) Making memories and spending time with friends is more important than sorting through everything. We're making sure to get our goodbyes in.

4) My house is a disaster and I'm learning to accept it and let go. I can't do everything I need to and keep it all clean. I'm very grateful for my helper who cleans three times a week.

5) Moving is stressful no matter how much you prepare for it.

How do you feel about packing and moving? 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Links and Posts about Traveling

Here are some worthwhile reads about traveling with kids.

I wrote this post a few years back about vacationing on a budget with kids. It's definitely worth reading.

Vacation on a Budget

My friend at Handsfullmom has nine children under the age of 15. She wrote this great post about traveling with kids.

Successful Traveling with Kids

Enjoy. If you have read articles dealing with this subject, please link to them in the comments section.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Travel with Kids

In my post about life being a daring adventure, my friend commented about my bravery traveling with my kids. I responded with a lengthy comment which never got saved or posted. Clearly I had a lot to say, so I thought I'd turn it into a full length blog post.

Traveling with kids hasn't been so much an act of bravery as much as it has been a matter of necessity. I rarely have the luxury of family to take my kids. And so they tag along wherever we may go. Here are my best tips about travel with kids.

1) Plan your itinerary with your children in mind.
Kids have different tastes about interesting activities and they certainly have much shorter attention spans. When going to a special place, make sure you include outings that will interest your children. Accept that you won't be able to spend hours and hours staring at a special painting in a museum. Enjoy the energy and enthusiasm kids bring to exploring new sights. You'll appreciate the perspective they bring to the experience. Six years ago I went through a section of the Louvre Museum in Paris with my three-year old son. I let him take the camera and will never forget the perspective he had of the art. I could see how the museum looked through his eyes.

2) Inoculate your kids to travel through shorter expeditions.
I trained my kids to enjoy and behave in museums with short, frequent trips to a small museum in Sweden. This museum had it all with rats in barrels (showing the ship trade in Sweden), the creepiest skeleton of a giant crab, suits of authentic medieval armor,a technical museum that included lots of machines and cannon balls. Trips to this museum were inexpensive and were always a welcome outing when the rain drove us inside one too many days. Something to consider is that many museums today are designed to be more interactive and appealing to kids. Many museums offer a kids trail that includes a fun booklet and worksheet. At the Westminster Abbey, our kids had to find different things in the building, including graffiti marks on the coronation chair. We learned a lot from completing the activity and the kids were thrilled to earn a chocolate gold coin when they successfully completed the treasure hunt. Let your kids get really involved with the different exhibits.
If you like hiking and camping, take your kids on shorter outings so they'll be more prepared to cope with longer stretches of camping. Make sure that you emphasize the adventure and togetherness of the outing.

3) Prep your kids with information and context so they will understand what they are seeing and enjoy it more.
Before a trip to Philadelphia and Washington D.C. my kids watched an animated series produced by PBS called Liberty Kids portraying the events leading up to and during the Revolutionary War. My kids understood the significance of the Liberty Bell and loved Benjamin Franklin's printing press because they had context to the events which provided meaning to them.
Before our trip to Egypt, my boys read the Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan which cleverly teaches Ancient Egyptian history and mythology through a modern fast-paced storyline that is relevant and interesting. My boys were able to understand the meaning of some of the pictures on the walls of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings. They had so much to discuss and offer as we toured those ancient sites.

4)  Plan food and rest stops carefully.
Nothing ruins a trip like tired, cranky, whiny kids. To avoid this, make sure you get as much as rest as possible. Pack lots of good snacks along the way. Research local restaurants so that you have plenty of options when the crew is ready to eat.

5) Enjoy the special time you have as a family to explore together.
Kids grow up and move away. You won't have many years to travel with them. So enjoy it while you have it. I'll never forget standing in an olive grove in Jerusalem with my young son as we talked about the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I'll never forget the excitement of riding camels with my kids in the shadow of the Giza Pyramids. I'll never forget being surrounded by a crowd of Egyptian kids eager to take my daughter's picture. I'll never forget riding bikes with my boys on the Island of Ven between Sweden and Denmark. I have some wonderful memories to treasure exploring interesting places with my children.

What are your best tips about traveling with kids? What keeps you from traveling with your kids?

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Comparisons: Medical Care

In an effort to finish documenting my life here in Saudi Arabia before we move back to New York (in less than two months!- Gasp!) I thought I'd write a few posts dealing with the differences between our Saudi lifestyle and our New York lifestyle.

Medical Care in New York

Scenario: Two of the five children have fevers and sore throats.

I call our pediatrician's office and they schedule an appointment, usually that day. Office hours are between 9 and 6 p.m. If after hours, I can call the doctor and they will make a suggestion whether to visit urgent care or the E.R or wait it out till the next day. I drive the kids to the appointment where they wait in the waiting room for a few minutes and then see a doctor. The doctor who knows all of our family by our first names, examines the kids, runs some tests, and then gives me a diagnosis. If necessary we are given a prescription. I drive to the local pharmacy to fill the prescription. We go home and dose the children and wait. Children get better and all is well.

Medical Care in Saudi Arabia

Scenario: Two of the five children have fevers and sore throats.

Husband and I debate back and forth the merits of going to the doctor. Toddler is out of his mind cranky and screaming. We have to wait for the right hours to go to the doctor. This means from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Then we have to wait until after 4 p.m. The ER is available if needed. Husband battles traffic for a long while. We arrive at clinic. It is closed. We finally find the ER entrance. We fill out paperwork and then sit and wait. And we wait. Finally, the doctor calls us back and briefly examines the children. The doctor says the illness is not serious and sends us home. Another day of constant tears from the toddler. This time doctor says the child is worse and does some tests. A prescription is written and filled at the pharmacy. Husband drives home the family and feels exhausted by the traffic.

Saudi Arabia does have good health care at times. It's just that it can be uncertain. I never quite know what I'm going to get when we go to the doctor. Also, my husband has to drive us or we have to arrange for the compound taxi service to get us there. And then there's that whole "closed for prayer" thing that really messes with your schedule. And this is why we avoid going to the doctor if possible.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Missing in Action

I haven't been around lately because of two trip to the United States in the past few weeks. It's been insane, fun, wonderful, and exhausting. My beautiful younger sister got married. I was so happy that I could attend her wedding. It was a privilege to witness her marriage to a really good man. I'm sure they will be wonderfully happy.

Sadly, I neglected to get a picture with the two of us. ?But I did manage to get a nice picture with my Mom, whom I absolutely adore.

Then I popped back to Saudi Arabia to hug and kiss my kids and spend a few days with my family. We farmed our four older children out to friends while my husband, youngest son, and I went to New York for a house-hunting trip. We lived in NY for four years before moving to Saudi Arabia. My husband's company sent us to Saudi Arabia and now want us to return to the USA .

Because of our wonderful expat package we were able to save a lot of money, allowing us to finally be in a position to buy a home. And in a few days, that's what we did. We haven't closed, but things are progressing well and we should be in our home (OUR HOME!) in a couple of months.

We've lived a nomadic existence for many years and have never been in a position to buy a home. It feels so adult to make this big step. We've saved and prepared for this and are thrilled that it has finally happened for our family.

The next two months I will concentrate on finishing up entries for this blog, trying to pack in all our amazing Saudi experiences. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Sword Dancing and a Bit about Wedding and Marriage Customs

Sword Dancing is a unique and interesting aspect of Saudi culture and is only performed by men. I thought this article with its brief video clip gave a good overview of the practice and place in Saudi society. I've been told that these sword dances are performed at weddings. Which brings me to another interesting aspect of Saudi culture--not necessarily unique to Saudis as other countries in the Middle East follow the same custom.

The wedding reception is held for men and women separately. The men have their party with the bridegroom and the women have their party with the bride. At some point, the bridegroom comes and takes his bride away and the parties end.

Many Saudi marriages are semi-arranged, with the parents vetting and choosing a selection of potential mates for their children. Family alliances and tribal connections are carefully considered. The bride or groom do have a say in whom they wish to marry and can veto selections from their parents. When a couple is married, the woman still maintains absolute control over any assets and money she brings to the marriage. Divorce is allowed--though I believe it is easier for a man to obtain a divorce than for a woman. If a woman divorces, she returns to her family. She still has the possibility of marrying again without stigma.

Please check out the article and video clip. It is a brief interesting read about a fascinating cultural practice.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Life Is a Either a Daring Adventure or Nothing

I recently discovered this quote featured on a scrapbook page. It struck me as the thread that pulls together my life. The full quote is from Helen Keller and says,

 "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure." 

Isn't that brilliant and true? Today I pulled out some pictures of our trip to Egypt and starting creating a scrapbook album. I realized that I was starting to sound redundant describing some trips I've taken in the last 10 years as "the trip of a lifetime". And yet so many of my trips have felt that way. When I visit a place I try to experience it as if I will never travel there again. Even if I have been there several times, I still approach it that way. It is such a satisfying way to explore and travel--adding a piquancy and urgency to the experience. 
I don't want to go someplace and feel regret for what I couldn't or didn't see. I want to feel content and full with what I have done. I think I've succeeded. 

(My kids have a sense of humor when they take pictures, like this one at Karnak Temple in Luxor.)

How do you live life with a daring sense of adventure? I think you need to approach life with a relentless and insatiable curiosity. You must have an openness to ask questions and a willingness to experience new things. I personally feel completely invigorated and renewed. 

Must you reserve this adventure for foreign climes? Hardly. I was recently in Kentucky attending my sister's wedding. We were in a part of Kentucky I knew little about and I discovered there was so much to do. I'm sad I couldn't explore more because of the wedding, but it is now on my list of places to explore. Yes, I put a small town in Kentucky on my list of destinations. That's the beauty of our world--we have such diversity and history that there are very few places that don't warrant a little time spent exploring and reflecting on what they have to offer. 

How do you approach life with a daring sense of adventure? If you don't feel that sense of adventure, what holds you back? Tell me about a dream destination and why it is a place you want to visit.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Janadriyah Culture Festival

The Janadriyah Culture Festival is held once a year and celebrates the heritage and culture of all the provinces of Saudi Arabia. We attended last year in February and had a fabulous time. If it is possible, we enjoyed ourselves even more this time.

This is the food aisle with fast food options. Exploring the province areas yielded more authentic and interesting food options.

We all found the military tent very interesting. This very friendly soldier spoke to us and demonstrated these robots. He was very engaging and wanted to really interact with people.

There was a shooting booth with a pistol shooting rubber bullets. The soldiers helped each of my children shoot at a target. Imagine my surprise when they invited me to take a turn. I wonder if they let Saudi women shoot.

This man was carving stone into designs and pictures. He was using another stone to do the work. This was a section demonstrating traditional Saudi handicrafts.

Even though Riyadh is a modern city, the culture is never far from its roots as a desert people. Livestock and farming were important means to feed people.

This was a fun booth showing traditional wooden toys.

This man was making different types of sling shots. My kids now own slingshots of their own. I couldn't resist.

This tent shows a traditional desert campsite. The rugs and cushions make it very comfortable.

You can't see it very well from this picture, but there is a very lean hunting dog, a saddle, and two falcons tied to their perches.

This man was playing this wailing instrument. He moved the bow across the strings to make an interesting sound.

This cow was drinking milk from its own udder. I had no idea that it was even possible, but this cow was extremely flexible and determined. The picture doesn't show it very well, but I promise I saw the cow sucking on its own teats.

I love the colorful saddles and blankets for the camels.

The muttawa were out in force patrolling the area like never before. I ran into more muttawa in 3 hours than I have in the entirety of my stay in Riyadh. Each time they asked my husband to make me cover. Lovely, right?? I ended up covering my hair for much of the time. I asked a Saudi lady to help me do it as it is kind of tricky. She was sweet, laughing as she helped me. It isn't my favorite look, but certainly something different and unique to the area.

We were lucky to catch a performance of sword dancing. These men marked the time with their feet and swords to a drum beat and some music. There were two lines of men facing one another. My son informed me that it was a military dance intended to hype the men up before battle. It also is formal and has controlled movements.

Here are some of the dancers taking a break. Saudi men wear white thobes and these checked head coverings in every day life. In the winter they wear heavier robes in grey and brown . Some men wear white shawls, but I think the red-checked coverings are more common.

Another obligatory camel picture. . .

My eldest and youngest are too cute for words. Notice the wall  pattern. Cool, right?

Just a picture of the market.

Not the best picture, I know, but here is a display of some traditional handicrafts.

A typical room with a fireplace, coffee karafes, rugs, and cushions. The bread in the foreground is baked on coals. It is hollow in the middle and filled with a sweet filling like cinnamon or honey.

This was a freestyle sword dance. The men leaped around the stage and were much more animated. After the dance I was walking away smiling when a Saudi lady called to me and said, "You look happy. You like it here?" I replied that I was happy and enjoying the cultural festival very much. We spoke to many people, both men and women. My daughter and youngest son practiced saying "Ana ismy ______" which means "My name is _____________" in Arabic. This charmed many people. I'm just glad my kids are willing to be open and talk to people.

A boat exhibit at the marketplace.

This was in the Mecca section. I'd really like to get a metal tea set with the tiny cups.

I just liked this scene with this man and the tea/coffee karafes and the bread. My husband calls the sandals "Jesus" sandals. Most of the men wear these when it is warm.

I had some henna art done by a lady walking around doing art on the spot. My daughter also had some done. It is very pretty. The kids found swords and daggers and begged to buy them. It was hilarious to see my daughter wearing an abaya (I found a cute one to buy her) with a fake dagger wrapped around her waist. At any moment she'd whip out the dagger and attack. This is what happens when you have four brothers!

Despite the muttawa, we had a really lovely time. I love interacting with the Saudis. They answered our questions, smiled at our children, and welcomed us to their country. 

If you have a chance, make sure you go to the festival. It closes on April 17th.