Thursday, December 30, 2010

In here, it's always Friday....whatdoesthatevenmean!?

Despite what you might think, Saudi Arabia is full of American influences. I see more GM cars on the road here than I ever did at home--and I used to live just miles away from a Saturn plant! Turn on the TV and most of your choices are in English and are American. They have McDonald's, Burger King, Starbucks, and boy howdy do they love KFC!

So if the Mister and I get a hankerin' for some home goodness, we just go out to eat! We typically eat at American restaurants for two reasons: 1). We know we'll find something on the menu that we'll like, and 2). There's a very very good chance that the staff will speak close-to-fluent English. We're all for experimenting and trying new foods, but on date night, it's just easier to avoid the language barrier.

Last night we went to T.G.I.Fridays. From the exterior, it looks just like a Fridays at home...except that there's a Family Section door and a Single Section it's kind of like two restaurants in one. Plus, if you look just past the building toward the public park that is on the waterfront, you'll see men sitting in plastic chairs and smoking the hookah, a couple on a little rug burning a campfire so they can share a pot of tea, and children running up and down the sea wall, inches from a fall into the Arabian Gulf.

It's just like a Fridays at home!

I got a little chuckle as we walked under the "In here, it's always Friday" sign that hangs over the Family Section door. In the Kingdom, Friday is like Sunday. It's the day of worship. The day you wake up from your afternoon nap and realize you have to go back to work tomorrow. Fridays are not fun and exciting here. The sign should read "In here, it's always Wednesday."

You walk through the door and it's just like a Fridays at home. There are tchotchkes on the wall:

The severs are dressed in stripes with flair and backwards hats. And the menu looks just the same:

Well, sorta. This is actually the placemat. Our server picked up on our Whiteness and gave us English only menus. Everything on the table was in English on one side, and Arabic on the other.

There are a few things that a TGIFridays in Saudi Arabia has that you won't find in America:

Mint lemonade (or, as the receipt said "Lemodade")!! Now, at home, this would be an overpriced drink consisting of nasty Minute Maid yellow stuff with a sprig or two of mint "muddled" at the bottom of the glass. But in Saudi Arabia it's an overpriced drink consisting of fresh, hand-made lemonade which is then put into a blender with a sprig or two of mint and then combined into a heavenly concoction that I love love love!!

They don't even mess with ice! Just the minty, citrusy goodness of the two ingredients having a party in my glass and then all the way into my belly!

Another menu item that I suspect is not available at home:

Ice cream fondue! I'm not sure if this dessert is up for purchase at home, but the fondue craze has just hit Saudi Arabia, and it seems like every restaurant is adding a fondue dish to its menu. Fridays is no exception. We didn't buy it--it's more than $10!!--but it certainly looks yummy!

Last night's date night was a success--the hubbins got a bacon burger (beef bacon), and I got the garlic chicken pasta...just like we would at home. Globalization: hate it or love it, it's alive and well in the Kingdom. We're grateful that Saudi offers us a little taste of home when we need a fix.

Vicariously yours,

We needed a little Christmas

You may think this update is late, but it's just been traveling on Saudi time. So in fact it's a little early.


This year, I was fully prepared for a Christmas filled with tears and homesickness, but for me that was not the case at all! (Moms, the Mister was longing for a tender Tennessee Christmas, so he missed ya'll enough for the both of us.)

I made an effort to incorporate some of our traditions from home so this holiday wouldn't feel so foreign, so--after a very late night run to the grocery store-- on Christmas Eve, I prepared the breakfast casserole. Technically, it was so late it was Christmas morning, but let's not split hairs.

No pork in the Kingdom = no pork sausage, so this is the lamb sausage I used for the breakfast casserole. I tried not to think of this image as I was eating the casserole on Christmas morning. It looked every bit like a skillet full of cat poop as this picture suggests.

I played the role of matriarch this year and got up before everyone else (all one of 'em) and put the breakfast in the oven. The breakfast casserole is a tradition my family started when we stopped going to my grandparents' house for Christmas morning. Other than the sausage, which was hard enough to locate, it's got some pretty easy-to-find ingredients. Eggs, bread, cheese and milk will pretty much be found in any grocery store anywhere in the world.

The hubbins had monkey bread every Christmas morning with his family, so I got to learn how to make monkey bread for the first time this year! In America, this wouldn't be such a difficult task...But we're not in America, now are we? I searched for the canned biscuits that are the actual bread of the monkey bread, but I couldn't find any. Thankfully, the Mister knows about the secret "American refrigerated stuff" aisle, and Christmas was saved! Other typically American items, not so easy to find.

Exhibit A:

This is not brown sugar. It's just sugar that is brown. Like the unrefined cane sugar. Shopping in the Kingdom is fun!

Exhibit B:

Couldn't find the cinnamon powder, so I had to make my own! This is remarkably easier than I ever thought it would be, but I certainly missed the convenience of just opening the cinnamon shaker. Especially while half awake in my pajamas on Christmas morning.

Exhibit C:

The monkey bread has to be cooked in a bundt pan or an angel food cake pan...both are foreign concepts here, apparently. So I had to get creative a make one of my own! We stuck a glass in the middle of our ikea saucepan and hoped for the best! (We wrapped it in aluminum foil in case the heat made it break. Can't have monkey bread with glass shrapnel, now can we?)

It all worked out in the end, and the hubs and I had a little familiarity on Christmas morning.

We invited the housemates over for Christmas breakfast and some games. We read the Christmas story, nommed on some faux sausage, and worked off the calories with a few rounds of Kinect.

It was a really great first Christmas abroad. We were surrounded by great people, and we got to Skype with our family several times. I look forward to making more Christmas traditions that are uniquely ours, as only living abroad can force you to do.

Vicariously yours,

P.S. We bought ourselves a little treat as a Christmas present:

Dr. Pepper is super expensive here, so we don't get to drink it very often!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Let's Walk

Last night was possibly one of the most fun nights I've had since arriving in Saudi Arabia. And I spent it with high schoolers. This is either a sign that I have an unhealthy need to be 18 again, or proof that the students at my school are such cool, interesting creatures and I love hanging out with them. If nothing else, last night proved that teenagers are the same all around the world.

Our hostesses were three 12th-grade girls who are in my colleague's Global Issues class. They are truly remarkable young women with amazing aspirations and insight. Anyway, they took us to this "resort" that is just down the coast from where the Mister and I live. I think at home we would probably call it a country club, because this resort just basically consists of villas and suites that people can buy or rent, there are a few restaurants, a spa, a marina. What makes it so much like a country club is in order to get on to the property, you either have to own a villa, or know a member and be on their frequent visitors list. There is a screening process to become a member and, as one of our hostesses says, "Only fun people are allowed here. The very conservative are not allowed."

It's a Saudi pleasure island!

Abayas and hijab are optional. Teenagers are allowed to mix, within reason. There are jet skis for rent, a women-only beach where the ladies can wear whatever swim wear they want, a water park, and a work-out facility that overlooks the water. It really was an amazing place that felt like a whole different country, but it was right down the road!

So when we arrived, the girls showed us around the center of the resort where all the teenagers hang out. It's this area next to the marina with an ice cream shop, a '50s diner, and a coffee shop.

A "Friends" themed coffee shop. Unfortunately, the only thing Friends-y about it was the fact that it served coffee, and it played episodes on a big flat-panel TV behind the pastries. I was really hoping it would be a replica of the Central Perk, but no luck.

Anyway, the thing to do when one goes to this resort is to walk--promenade, really. The teenagers literally just do laps around this little shopping area while their parents get a table at the patio of one of the restaurants. My colleague and I laughed when the girls told us about this custom, but then I realized that this is just a different version of what teenagers do at home. Instead of a mall, they have this little...area where they can strut their stuff. And because it's in this resort, they can also show off their outfits and cute accessories.

They're technically still not allowed to mingle freely. The boys aren't allowed to stop and flirt with the girls, but they can stop and talk to their cousins or siblings.

So we sat and had dinner on the patio like old folks and then one of the girls asked if we wanted to take a lap. "You bet we do!" was our response.

I have never felt so cool in my life! This is definitely one difference between American teens and Saudi teens. It was so cool and not horrifyingly embarrassing for these girls to be seen with their teachers on a Thursday night. We of course ran in to a lot of my students, and they were thrilled to see me!

At one point, we rounded the corner and a beautiful young lady with sandy brown curly hair exclaimed, "Oh my God! HI! What are you doing here?!" as she kissed my cheeks and hugged me lightly. "Hi! So funny to see you here! How are you?" I responded congenially, and that was it. We were on our way. After she was out of earshot, I admitted to my company that I had no idea who that child was! She wasn't one of my students, and I don't think I've ever seen her in the halls! But she certainly knew me!

Anyway, after we did our lap, we went --wait for it--BOWLING!

This was Sandra's bowling name. The other names were "TheHijabHottie," "KSAKiller," and "Lois Lane."

They only have bowling alleys on the compounds or at resorts like this, so it's an actual treat, not an ironically hipster thing to pretend to enjoy like at home. It was such a small bowling alley, only about 6 lanes, and we were the only people there without children of our own accompanying us, but we had so much fun!

Sandra, my colleague, had the idea to change the "rules" each time we went up to bowl.

One time we had to sit on the floor and send the ball down the lane. Isn't it funny to see someone in the abaya bowling? Such a fun combination of East and West.

Another time we had to stand backwards and launch the ball.

It was a lot of fun and certainly spiced up a game that these girls probably haven't played since they were in middle school.

After taking another lap or two, and stopping for tea at Friends, we called it a night. We were told that our being sighted at the resort would be all the girls would talk about on Saturday. Too bad we won't be there to bask in the glory of our fame.

Vicariously yours,

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas in the Kingdom

Can you find 5 clues that indicate that this photo was not taken in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?

The hubs and I have decided to take Saturday off from work so we can celebrate Christmas together. It'll be an interesting day as it will be the first Christmas either of us has ever been away from our families. This is also the first Christmas for me in an Islamic country, so it's been an odd holiday season.

Before we arrived in Saudi Arabia, I had visions of a religiously oppressive people who had no idea what the Christian holidays were or how they were celebrated. I was surprised to find that my students and co-workers know a lot more than I gave them credit for. Granted, my girls don't really understand that Santa Claus is not in the Bible and that Jesus wasn't acutally born on December 25th, but they know more about the significance of this holiday than I thought they would.

A couple weeks ago, one of my eighth-grade girls asked me if I was going to be absent on Christmas. "I dunno," I answered, "Probably not. I have to work."

The whole class collectively gasped! "What?! You're not going to be home for Christmas? You're going to work on Christmas?!"

I was baffled that my girls were having much the same reaction that my conservative Christian family members and friends back home had when I told them the same news. I'm pretty sure my kids' understanding of the traditions of Christmas are limited to what they see on the Disney Channel, but it struck me as funny that they were so horrified that I was actually considering working on Christmas Day! ...I'm also pretty sure they have no concept of exactly how long it would take for us to fly home for Christmas and still be back to work on Sunday....

But I digress.

Naturally, a few things are going to be different this year as compared to every other Christmas we've ever had. Here are a few of them:

The weather: This one should go without saying. I'm sitting here in shorts and a t-shirt, getting a sun tan as the afternoon sun beats down through my window. Meanwhile, back at home it feels like 19 degrees Fahrenheit and there's a chance of rain/snow showers tomorrow afternoon. Anyone who has had the miserable pleasure of knowing me in a winter season knows how much I hate to be cold. I am most definitely NOT complaining about this particular change in my Christmas routine.

Decorated houses: When I was a kid, we used to go to my grandparents' house for the days just before and just after Christmas. It was the only time we got to see our grandparents, and now I certainly wish I'd appreciated those visits more. As a kids, however, my siblings and I got bored. Fast. So as a distraction, my parents would pack us all up and we'd drive around and look at the decorated houses! This was a novelty for us because we didn't really decorate our house--I grew up in the woods, literally. You didn't see our house until you were right in front of it. So why decorate it if no one but us is going to see it? After a few years, it became old hat to see houses decorated with lights and later the hideous inflatable things that infest front yards today.

There is none of that over here in Saudi Arabia (obviously I'm not shedding any tears for the lack of a giant inflatable Snoopy in our neighbor's yard). When I was on the Aramco camp a few weeks ago, that little kid that peered out of my Grandaddy's backseat came out again as I drove by an American's house dotted with colored lights and said, "Ooooh! Look at the liiiights!" Perhaps it's a good thing that we aren't drowned in the glow of twinkling beacons of holiday-ness. It makes it that much more special when we finally catch a glimpse of the magic.

Time off from school/work: I keep catching friends and co-workers from home updating their facebooks with things like "Out shopping with the kids" or "Movies and hot chocolate with the family in the middle of the day" and I want to comment saying, "DON'T YOU PEOPLE HAVE TO WORK!?" And then I remember. They don't. It's Christmas break at home, and while I'm still a slave to the 5:15 wake up call, they're sleeping in, going to parties, and generally enjoying time with family.

Working has certainly served as a great distraction from the fact that I won't be with my family on Christmas, and it's definitely bizarre to think that right now I'm on my "Christmas break." At home you call it a "Three Day Weekend."

The gifts under the tree: There are Christmas trees available in the Kingdom--shh, don't tell anybody. It's funny because we heard about this Christmas Black Market from a friend who told us in hushed tones the name of the guy at a store who would lead you to the "back room" where all the Christmas paraphernalia was hidden. We kind of laughed and decided against the cloak and dagger method of spreading holiday cheer. We especially laughed when we found out the dinky little 3 foot Christmas trees were going for $50-80 a pop!

Thanks, but no thanks.

We joked about getting a palm tree and having ourselves a Charlie Brown Christmas tree, but the fact of the matter is that it's not the tree that makes the holiday for us. So we have no tree this year. And we have no presents to put under it.

Oh, we've bought each other presents. They're just not here. We decided to get ourselves Kinect games for the Xbox, but the ones we want aren't available in the Kingdom yet, and they're too expensive in Bahrain. So we turned to Amazon...which won't ship video games to Saudi Arabia. We've had to get a little crafty with our gift purchasing, but let's just say that Santa's going to be celebrating the Epiphany this year and won't be making his delivery at this house until January.

As for gifts for our family and friends, we did a lot of online shopping and a lot of donating to charities in people's honor. Yes, there are authentically Saudi gifts we want to give, but it'll have to be Christmas in July because we don't trust the Saudi Post to get our gifts to their intended destinations (no offense, Saudi Post).

I'll be sure to report back after the Big Day with a full update on how we spent our time. Until then, ya'll enjoy your carols and hot chocolate and warm holiday goodness.

Vicariously yours,

They really do impress me every now and then.

**WARNING: in order to fully understand this entry, you should be familiar with the short story "There Will Come Soft Rains" by Ray Bradbury. I've linked to a pdf of the story below.**

Today's entry was brought to you buy: The Author Ray. Thanks, Ray Bradbury!

Welp, we finished reading "There Will Come Soft Rains" today in my 7th grade class. It really is a very tough piece for these girls to try to fully understand because their grasp of the figurative aspect of the English language is so underdeveloped. They were troopers and trudged through the tough vocabulary and astonishing imagery for which they had no/limited prior knowledge.

I read the story aloud to the class in an effort to help them comprehend through the tone of the story if nothing else. I did the typical teacher thing and stopped and did think-alouds at the appropriate places. I stopped at the line "One, two, three, four, five voices died" (it's on page 4, about a quarter of the way down the page on the pdf I linked above) and thought aloud, "Five voices died. We heard about 5 people or animals that lived in this house. I wonder if Bradbury counted out these 5 voices so his readers would infer something here."

My teacher friends and fellow literacy nerds will appreciate the light bulbs I saw going off around the room. I watched as one, two, then three faces went from puzzled to enlightened in the course of 5-7 seconds.

"Oooh! I get it!" one of lovelies exclaimed in a hushed and amazed tone.

"What? I don't get it? Tell me," her classmate said, still confused, from across the table.

And then, in one of the most goosebump-inducing moments I've had as a teacher, my darling student explained to her classmate what I hope was Ray Bradbury's intention when he wrote that line (Ray, if you're reading and my class and I have totally misinterpreted your work, please accept our apologies): "There were 4 humans and a dog living in that house, but when the bomb went off, the humans died, and then the dog died because the humans weren't around to keep feeding him. But the house kept 'living' because it hadn't been blown up. So then the house catches on fire, and it's trying to save itself, but it can't. So when the house 'died' it's like the humans finally died too."

I. could. have. cried. I was sooo proud that she was able to make that massive connection, and then to explain it to a classmate! I'm seriously choking up now as I relive the moment sitting at my computer in my office hours later.

For those readers who are not teachers or don't get what I'm talking about, forgive me for this geeked-out blog entry. I just thought I should share that sometimes learning actually does occur in my classroom, and this is one example.

Vicariously yours,

Monday, December 20, 2010

In my seventh-grade class, we're about to start reading Ray Bradbury's "There Will Come Soft Rains." This short story was written in 1950 during the Cold War and is Bradbury's commentary on how he thought nuclear proliferation would affect the world. It's actually a pretty heavy composition for 7th graders, especially 7th graders as naive as my girls. Seriously.

One of them today was wholly convinced that Manhattan was her favorite state in the USA. Given the fact that they are so totally clueless in regards to geography, you can imagine how rusty their history is! I knew I had to do some heavy introducing of the time period in which this story was written in order for it to make any sense to the girls.

So I put together a PowerPoint. About the Cold War. And nuclear weapons and their effects. It was a really jovial task. I tried to make it as attainable as possible without getting into too many scary details.

Their. minds. were. blown. I think the past two days were the first they'd ever even heard about nuclear weapons, Russia, radiation, and atoms. It was so difficult to resist the impulse to turn my class into a history class for a few weeks so they could fully understand everything we were talking about. But I pressed through and explained Hiroshima, Nagasaki, radiation sickness, "Duck and Cover," and other such things that were commonly on the minds of people around the world during the Cold War.

I showed the girls pictures of Hiroshima after the bomb was dropped and explained the things that are alluded to in "There Will Come Soft Rains": the flash, the shock wave, and the fires that can result from a atomic bomb explosion. At one point, I put a picture of a Hiroshima survivor on the screen and we talked about the radiation burns that were all over his arms and torso.

Here's where the title of this entry comes into play, get ready.

One of my girls cocked her head to one side, kind of furrowed her brows, and slowly raised her hand to ask a question. It was clear she had a doozy of a query brewing in that noggin.

"Teacher, the shock wave--the blast--is that what makes his" she trailed off as she pulled the outer corners of her eyes to make them look the same as the bomb survivor's hooded peepers.

I was at once struck by the potentially racist comment this child was making, then dumbfounded at the realization that I was pretty sure she was seriously asking the question. I think she legitimately thought the blast from the nuclear bomb was so strong that it had made the eyes of the people of Japan go slanted.

" No, the man in the picture is Japanese. Japanese people are Asian and that's a physical attribute of Asians. They are born with slanted eyes." It was the best answer I could come up with without getting into the details of basic genetics.

"But we are Asian and our eyes don't look like that," another one of my darlings piped up.

Touche, my dear. Touche. I didn't have much of an answer to that one.

Vicariously yours,

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Saddest Place on Earth

The hubs and I had two colleagues and their kids over for lunch today. Afterwards, they decided to go ride camels down at the beach, the Mister and I decided to come along. Our guests had mentioned this animal beach before. They described it as a place where you would pay a guy to ride his camel, and there were little Shetland ponies and 4 wheelers and things like that for hire as well. It sounded like one of those parking lot "fairs" that pop up in Wal-Mart parking lots at home. It sounded a little redneck, but harmless.

This little guy was so funny juxtaposed next to a giant camel.

Boy were we wrong! First of all, this mish-mash of "entertainment" is literally on the beach. The sand is so packed down and polluted with horse apples and car oil that it looks like asphalt, but it's not. There's not really an entrance, so much as a break in the palm trees where you pull off the highway and into the sand while the cars behind you whiz by at 80 miles an hour.

Notice the winter thobe on the horse wrangler. The dark colors come out when the "cold" weather arrives.

We should have known that, since we are in the Arab world, there would be no sort of organization to the whole mess of animals and ATVs. There were teenagers speeding through the crowd in their SUVs, weaving past scared horses and children. People were parked anywhere they wanted and in any formation they wanted. There was a little roped off area for the miniature 4 wheelers and their pre-school drivers, but if you wanted to ride one of the mini ponies, you just needed to yell angrily at the wrangler and he'd trod over with his horse and his camel (they were sort of a package deal) and you'd negotiate the price for a 3 minute ride. There were guys driving these metal buggy/farm trailer...things; some with Arabic music whining quietly from the front bench, their niqabed and thobed passengers giggling gleefully.

All the while, the drivers were hanging out the side yelling at their friends as they passed in buggies going the opposite direction. If you were in the way, you were plumb out of luck!

While I could see how this whole scenario of visual and olfactory over stimulation would be fun for kids, the Mister and I just found it to be incredibly depressing. The animals looked so sad, and the beach was covered in litter and filth.


I think our colleagues were a little disappointed that the hubs and I didn't hop right on the camel after they got off with their kids, but neither of us really wanted to take part in this whole scene. I couldn't help but wonder where these poor animals were kept when they weren't being paraded back and forth between SUVs and squealing children.

I'm sure there are places where one can ride a camel without feeling like you're crushing the poor thing's dreams with every step. We just haven't found those places yet. When we do, we'll ride the camels and take lots and lots of pictures.

Till then, we remain

Vicariously yours,

Thursday, December 16, 2010

in which arabs never cease to amaze me.

I mean, honestly, you think you know a guy.

Recently, my co-teacher in Geography's father passed away. Unfortunately it was very sudden and he was gone from school for about two weeks. During this time I covered his classes in addition to my own. Needless to say it was pretty intense. I had probably one or two planning periods out of nine and any teacher knows that is not easy. Add to this that the kids were in substitute mode.
SIDENOTE: In light of Amber's last post, I should probably apologize to every substitute teacher I ever had right now. To quote former President Clinton, "I feel your pain..." (the hand gesture is implied, of course)

Wow, it is really not hard to find sketchy pictures of SNL Clinton on the internet...

Substitute mode is pretty horrible. The kids never stop talking, usually do exactly the opposite of what you request, and any attempt to advance the curriculum is met with a defense that would make the Russians jealous. So I was understandably nervous of how they would act for my colleague when he returned. The poor man had lost his father and then he was going to have to deal with some horrible punk kids when he got back...

...but then he got back. And they were everything you could have asked for. Every kid came in and immediately offered their condolences and, as is their custom, kissed him on the top of the head. During class? Not a peep. They all took notes and followed along with the lesson. Not a few of the students, but Every. Single. One. I tried to not let my mouth hang open as I watched this serenity of the classroom, but I was in awe.

Now, if the point of coming to this country was to understand these people better, then yeah I think I'm doing that. But I realize it's coming slowly. Last night we met a guy who'd lived in KSA for 30 years! I asked how he had done it, and he simply said, "It grows on ya..." I think I can see why. I'm constantly impressed with the level of respect that the students have for customs despite their blatant disregard for school rules and procedures. The disconnect between these dual personalities of my students is something I'm constantly confused by. Then again, little things like watching the students being very sympathetic to a hurting teacher...maybe Saudi is growing on me, anyway.

Vicariously yours,

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My apologies to Madam Rau.

Like every other American high school graduate, I was required to take a language in order to get my diploma. I enjoy the eclair and Beauty and the Beast was a personal favorite as a kid, so I decided to take French as my language of choice in high school.

I really did enjoy the classes. Because French has the same roots as English, it helped me understand my own language a lot better. I felt very exotic repeating phrases such as, "Where is the restroom?" and "Are you my driver?" But I was honest with myself. I was never going to use the language outside of the 4 required semesters. I just needed these classes to graduate, so I just did the bare minimum. Surely the teacher understood that.

I would just like to go on record and publicly apologize to my high school French teacher for being such a punk. Madam Rau, you were a great teacher, and I sorely regret not applying myself to my studies more when I had the chance. But most of all, I apologize for making you feel like you were completely wasting your time and that your choice of career was a foolish one. Because that's certainly how I feel sometimes when I work with some of my students.

For example: Amber says, "Class, we're going to work on these vocabulary words this week and you'll have a test on them on Wednesday."

The students respond, "Whaat!? Oh no, teacher! Please! Teacher please we have a math test that day. We need to study for the math test. Please teacher please! We have so much to do!"

Amber hears, "Look, lady, I'm only in this class because I have to be! I'm not actually interested in learning this language. Just be a good girl and give me the A I need and I won't bother you with completed assignments and all that mess."

Amber says, "It'll be easy. I've spent hours creating resources like games and research-based manipulatives that'll help you retain the information without having to work that much at home! Come on! It'll be fun."

The students respond, "But teacher we never use the workbooks. Why don't you do like our other teachers and just give us book assignments and let us work alone in class?" **This was literally a complaint I had from a student**

Amber hears, "Woman, you've got to get it straight. We just want to get the grade, finish the work, and then just sit and talk. In Arabic. So just put your little games and kinesthetic activities away and start boring us to death!"

It's so frustrating because I can kind of sympathize with the kids, but I also know how much I regret not really mastering another language! Granted, these girls already speak English leaps and bounds better than I ever spoke French, but golly does it ever make me feel like I'm toiling in vain trying to conquer these girls' literacy issues!

So students, if any of you are listening, at least pretend to be interested. Study for the tests. Don't complain when your language teacher puts in a little effort in the classroom. Because every time you complain, a little piece of her soul dies.

Vicariously yours,

Sunday, December 12, 2010

I'm a little intimidated by the food here

If ever the Mister and I need a reminder that we are living in a foreign country, we just need to head to the grocery store. Granted, there are a lot of familiar objects like Ritz crackers and ramen noodles, but there are SO many new things, every time we go grocery shopping, it's like walking down the Silk Road with friggin' Marco Polo! There are spices I never knew existed, lots of new smells, and not a single Rice a Roni or Hamburger Helper in the whole joint!

We shop at a grocery store that caters more to the Indian/Bangladeshi/Filipino expats of Saudi Arabia rather than actual Saudis, so not everything we see is unique to Saudi Arabia. But boy is it still weird!

Case in point:

I spotted this freakish fruit in our first few trips to the grocery store, and I really wanted to buy it...but I was too intimidated. I didn't know if you peel it, boil it, juice it, or all three! I wasn't sure which parts were edible and/or tasty. So I just watched in envy as the Thai, Filipino and Indonesian grocery patrons snatched these bad boys up.

Then the newest addition to the English staff--who had lived in Indonesia for two years and enjoyed the mangosteen frequently--introduced me to the odd fruit.

As you can see, this fruit has very little in common with the mango. In fact, in all my extensive research (read: scanning the wikipedia article), I couldn't find any relationship between the mango and the mangosteen.

Anyway, you're probably wondering how you go about eating this bad boy. Lemme show you.

There's kind of a hard shell, which you punch through with your thumb.

Then you kinda dig down a little bit and pull the bright pink, juicy rind away from the fruit.

The white part is the edible part. It's in sections, like an albino mandarin orange encapsulated in a fleshy pink crust. It's really really juicy.

I kind of tastes like really highly concentrated mixed fruit Kool-Aid. It's very very sweet, so it's a good thing the edible part is so small.

So there you have it folks, a food item that I'd never experienced until coming to Saudi Arabia.

Vicariously yours,

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Name Game

Working in an inner city school, I always had creative and interesting names on my rosters. Parents combined their two names into one (appropriate considering the whole process of conception), so I had kids with names like "Jacwelynarius" or "Jimesha" or "Juantanya." There were often creative uses of the apostrophe or poetic license taken with the long "e" sound (it could be spell "ee" or "i" or "ea" or "ye" or "yy" or "y". the possibilities were endless)

When I was first handed my roster in Saudi Arabia, I was a little intimidated by the names that had the uniquely Arabic phonemes. For example, the "gh" sound might be transliterated a "gh," but it's actually a glottal sound that has absolutely no equal in the English language. Thus, saying names with the "gh" sound elicits snickers from my student.

After practicing the pronunciation of my students names and getting as close to correct as I could, I found out that just about all Arabic names have a meaning behind them. Like a real meaning, not a sentimental meaning. I love that fact and it makes my students even more beautiful. I get a mental picture each time I call out a name in class.

I've created a word cloud of my students' first names. You'll see a few familiar ones on there, but they are not pronounced the way you think. Arabs roll their Rs, so "Rhonda" sounds much more beautiful over here than at home. If there is an A in a name, it's pronounced "ah" not "ay." So "Nadeen" is so much more sophisticated sounding, in my humble opinion.

Anyway, here's the word cloud. Enjoy.

Vicariously yours,

p.s. I create my word clouds using wordle. I ::heart:: wordle

You know you live in a country run by men when...

It should come as no surprise that women are slightly inferior in the minds of Saudi men. Women do not hold a position of power in any form of government, are restricted as to what jobs they can have, and their faces are even pixelated out of advertisement billboards and posters.

totally stole this picture from a housemate's facebook album. Thanks, Charles!

Sometimes, the lack of the feminine is so painfully obvious. First of all, unless you are shopping at a store that is owned by a Western corporation like Mango or H&M, you're shopping at a store that is completely owned, operated, and staffed by Saudi men. Their buyers are men, and they certainly don't go to Fashion Week to find what will be the hot new trend for their female patrons. No, no. These are men who wear white thobes and red gutras every day. They buy the cheapest items, and they buy them in 50 different colors, presumably to save time and money. That means there is a LOT of polyester going on over here! If I don't want to spend $60 on a long skirt for work, I can buy one for about $20...but it's going to be polyester, pleated, and too long. I have yet to buy a skirt that is properly long (they have to be floor length, but the store owners just get them with raw edges so you have to take them to a tailor to be hemmed). ONLY in a store owned by a man would this happen!

Secondly, the window displays and curb appeal is clearly catered to men. Some windows in the malls are done nicely, but I think that's because they have corporate guides for how the window should be designed. Otherwise, you're looking at a window that a chocker block stuffed full of ...well, ANYTHING! Toy stores only display the back sides of their shelves. Electronics stores will show you discarded cell phone boxes, computers that are only meant to be used for parts (and most of them have those parts just hanging out), and the occasional Apple sticker on the glass door. The clothing stores will hang a dress on a mannequin, then attach fishing wire to the side seams, which then gets attached to a suction cup attached to the window and pull the skirt out. One can assume they do this so you can get the full effect of the pattern on the fabric, but it only makes the dress look like an undesirable tent. Only a man would think this is a good idea.

Construction sites are left in shambles every night. There's no tidying up your work place so the neighbors don't have to run over your discarded nails and broken glass.

Business and directional signs are scrawled out in Sharpie marker on a piece of scrap wood or heavy cardboard, and the English --when present-- is not spell checked.

Buildings often have guards, and these guards need a place to sit while on duty. Instead of giving him a nice desk with a rolly chair or something like that, the Saudi men have just plopped an old section of a couch or a torn up armchair on the sidewalk. So not aesthetically pleasing.

Instead of getting decals for their work trucks or company vehicles, the Saudi men just rough out a stencil and spray paint their company logo on, often with the shadows of the stencil's outside border.

When the Bangladeshi street cleaners glean their way through the mounds and mounds of litter on the side of the road, they will cull out the recyclables and leave them for the city pick up...and by "leave them" I mean it quite literally. They just leave the cans in little piles on the side of the road like a little aluminum monster took a dump on the curb. Only a man would think this is acceptable. A woman would have a cute little box or receptacle of some sort for the recyclables to go.

There are so many other examples of the extreme lack of the female touch on this country...but I'll save that for another day.

Vicariously yours,

Parent/teacher conferences in Arabia: What they don't teach you in college

I distinctly remember having a few college class sessions about how to conduct a parent/teacher conference and I've applied those lessons in my classroom each time PTC day has rolled around. Professors told me to 1. lead with something positive, even if it's hard to think of 2. have an anecdote or two about the student, it makes the parents feel like you pay attention to their student 3. break the negative news and immediately follow up with how you, the student, and the parents can fix it 4. don't let the parents commandeer the conference with rants and/or verbal threats. Stay cool.

I was running these guidelines through my head as the first of my mothers walked through my classroom door (since we're an Islamic school, the dads can't come to the conferences for their daughters, only the mothers). I went into my schpeal, saying good things, breaking the bad news (which really isn't all that bad), yadda yadda yadda, and I could tell that my first mom had kinda glazed over and was looking at me like, "Why are you still talking?"

I quickly figured out that they just wanted to hear the first bit: "Your daughter is a pleasure to have in my class." Some asked if there were areas for her to improve and I got the typical "That'll change" with an "insh'allah" added at the end. After that they were ready to go. Khalass. Why does this white lady keep telling me stories about my kid? I gots other places to go!

There were a few exceptions, and of course a few awkward moments.

A mother and her two daughters sat down in front of me and I commented, "You all look so much alike, it's like I'm talking to three copies of the same woman!" and the mother laughed and said, "Well, my husband looks a lot like me, so...." (for those who don't know why that's funny/awkward: Arabs marry their cousins, and marrying your first cousin is not as rare as some would like to think. So the gene pools are pretty shallow over here)

A few weeks ago I had a phone conversation with a heavily accented mother who proudly proclaimed "I am not like the other Saudi mothers. I want my daughter to have homework. More homework! Homework just for my daughter, no one else!" She was very passionate about putting her daughter to work...which was ironic because her daughter rarely had homework ready on time.

Anyway, I got to meet that mother face to face, and I found that her message had not changed. This time I was prepared for it when she passionately declared, "I want you to boosh my daughter. Boosh her and boosh her. She needs a boosh every day."

When I first heard this "boosh" word during my phone conversation with this mom, I was slightly taken aback. I wasn't even sure that her request was legal in this country! It took me a few minutes to realize she was saying "Push her" as in "challenge her." There is no "P" sound in Arabic, so Arabs substitute the closest thing they have: the b.

This time, I was more than a little tempted to reply, "I'll be sure to boosh her every day."

All in all, I was very happy to meet the mothers of my girls. I was greatly encouraged by how many of them were happy to have me here and teaching their daughters. I hope I live up to their expectations before this school year is over.

Vicariously yours,

in which "yeah, i live in saudi"

I have started about 5 or 6 posts in the last month or so but just haven't had the energy or desire to finish them. They are all very about TV, one about doing everyday errands, etc. Amber has been encouraging me to "write a blog post or people will stop reading!" So to hold off your exodus, because I'm posting, already.

I think the biggest reason that I couldn't finish a post was because I don't think it's that exotic. I was totally stoked to write these big blog entries about all this stuff I'd been doing because it was all new to me. But I have now lived in Saudi for awhile now...and it's getting to be normal.

That's right. I'm starting to feel at home here in KSA. This is just where I live. Sure, every once in awhile I have that "oh crap, I'm in another country moment" but mostly the awe has really faded. I say this as I eat Poppadums ("An Indian Gourmet Snack Perfect for Today's International Lifestyle"...says so on the Pringles-esque tube) dipped in homemade hummus that I got at our grocery store, LuLu. It has been totally strange to sit and think about the stuff that is now the norm. I have always been amazed at how able to adapt humans are...but this is ridiculous.

Some examples:

1. I was awakened yesterday morning in that "woke up in the middle of a dream and have no idea what's going on" haze by the call to prayer. I literally rolled over and said out loud, "What IS that!?" Amber looked at me like I was crazy and said..."'s the've heard it a million times..." A little later, I realized it wasn't that the actual call to prayer woke me was because the muezzin was different. That means that I've grown so used to the way the other guy does the Athan that the new guy threw me off. WHAT!?

2. A couple of mornings ago, a car drove by me on the shoulder and missed my side mirror by MAYBE an inch. I didn't even blink. WHY AM I USED TO THAT!?

3. I have a shawarma guy, a barber, a computer repair guy, an oil change guy, a shiisha "bar", and a grocery store. These guys are the only guys I will go to for their respective errands. I am turning into an Alwahab.

And these are just a few things that I've noticed right off the top of my head.

I have my days where I don't like it here. I have my days where I am amazed that I live in a country like this. But most days I'm just going to work, getting on facebook...normal.

Before I left, my Dad and I were talking about living abroad as an adult. He said something like, "You'll go to the grocery store and it'll be really crazy...but after a month or so, it's just going to the grocery store." Well said, Dad. Well said...

...have I mentioned that my grocery store is covered in neon lights and adorned with two pyramids?

Vicariously yours,