Saturday, August 28, 2010

so there i was...enjoying my potato chips...

...when all of a sudden I was struck with the thought that I'm about to be working again very soon. Normally this wouldn't be something that I'd be worried about, yet here I am...really kind of concerned about the year coming up.

I really haven't been thinking about it but Ellyn left today for her own crazy adventure in Cairo and Amber has been napping away the afternoon. So without the distraction of...well, anything, I've been alone with my thoughts. The adjustment of living in Saudi is going to be a challenge in and of itself, but the challenge of teaching in a Saudi school is something that I'm totally overwhelmed by.

As part of my homework for this coming year (yeah, I had homework...) I read a book called Destiny Disrupted which basically explains the way that Arabs and Muslims see history. It's been totally mind blowing, but not for the reasons you would think. Take, for instance, the way that westerners look at world history. It's totally chronological and linear. If I asked my 8th graders at FRA to give me the history of the world really quickly, they would look at me like I was crazy and then go back to texting.

OMG i totly dk!

However, if I posed the question to one of my peers it would probably sound like this: cavemen, fertile crescent, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Middle Ages, Renaissance, exploration & colonization, America, WWI, Depression, WWII, Cold War, and the present.

What's missing (besides most of world history)? Duh. Arabs. The development of the entire Arab & Islamic world has been ignored by westerners in our timeline of world history. I honestly don't think this was a conscious choice. We have traced our western civilization back to the beginning and not really been that concerned with the rest of the world. And in the course of creating a world history curriculum for schools, the priority was learning where the ideals and customs that we utilize in this country come from...and those do not come from the Arab world...or the East Asian world and Africa, for that matter.
SIDE NOTE: Of course you could argue that last point with me, but let's focus on the subject at hand, hmmm?
It's really important to remember that the way that I learned history and more importantly the way that I learned to look at history are based on this idea of education. I needed to learn from whence our customs, ideals, and traditions come from, so we learn about the history that concerns us. This is, in essence, the same thing that goes on in the Middle East with history. But they are obviously concerned with the history that led to the creation of their own civilization, which is totally different.

Countries like the United States which are made up of a plethora of peoples from all places and histories (the great mixing bowl, as Mrs. Blevins calls it) have to face teaching history in a different way. Ignoring the entire Arab, Asian & African worlds in world history is ignoring the kids sitting in the classroom!

So here's the question: How do I address this obvious gap (chasm, really) in our versions of history?

American schools have taken a stab at it...we toss in China, even Babylon into the world history courses in 6th grade. We do Africa in geography...which ends up cramming thousands of years of history into one slide on a powerpoint so that the poor guy teaching can get through their standards by the end of the year. This usually ends poorly. One of my 8th graders from my first year at FRA told her mother that I was moving to Saudi to "teach children in Africa". *sigh* Another one told me, "dude, the city youre moving to has a bad word in it". Yes, Dammam, the third largest city in Saudi has a bad word in it...incorrectly spelled of course. And these are just comments about Saudi! Let's not even touch the simple fact that if you asked most American middle schoolers, they would probably tell you that Africa is a country and that African-Americans live there. But I digress...

After pouring over it, I decided that the best way to approach it is to look at the world as a Venn diagram. Kinda like this:

Because the history of each is linked to the others, but they each have very specific histories to themselves. We have to address each individually, and yet connect them all together. Now the obvious problem do we do this in a year? How do we break it up? Now that...I'm still working out. But I think that this makes the most sense. There is going to be a gap in the way we both approach I say, let's toss both notions of history we have out, and start with a clean slate.

The ultimate pursuit of history is to answer the question: Who are we? I think that chasing that question will take us everywhere we need to go. Who the Saudis are...Who the Americans are...Who we as humans are. I'm excited about the opportunity to do this...but it just makes me nervous, man!

I will now return to my previously scheduled potato chips.

Vicariously yours,

Monday, August 23, 2010

Amsterdam, here we come! a few weeks

So, before we entered the pathetic financial situation we're in now, the Mister and I booked our flights to allow a quick trip to Amsterdam en route to the Big Sandy. It seemed like a good idea at the time. It'd give us a chance to put another European city on our list of sites seen, and give me a chance to walk around uncovered for just a few more days.

I'd been putting off booking our housing because we were on so many other trips, so that was my project for the week. Initially I figured we would stay in a hostel. That was what we were familiar with, and I thought it would be the cheapest way to stay.

Heavens, was I wrong!! The hostels were only moderately cheaper than the hotels, and none of them really stood out as bastions of cleanliness or safety.

So I turned to craigslist....and quickly turned away. We found all kinds of great listings, but if they weren't booked already, they were posted by a scammer, or by someone who would only accept a wire transfer of money. I watch Teen Mom. I saw how Farrah just got suckered out of 3k. Mama don't play that.

Luckily, I found out about a website through a craigslist post that led us to this great guest house.

Isn't it cute!?

This guesthouse is in Karen's backyard. From what I can gather, it's like a carriage house that she doesn't use, so she rents it out. Airbnb (the website linked above) is this really great place where travelers can open their homes to other wandering souls and rent out a room, a couch, a home, an apartment, etc. It was a super easy website to use, and I'm really pleased by the fact that you pay with a credit card on the site and the property manager doesn't get any money until your arrival.

We'll of course keep you posted to let you know if the guest house turns out to be everything Karen claims it to be. I'm sure it'll be great. Even if it's not up to snuff, it'll definitely be more secure than a hostel or hotel because we'll be the only people with access to the house (an especially important detail as we'll be carrying everything we own in our luggage).

In other news, now that we've found lodging, the floodgates have opened and I've booked all kinds of wonderful things for us to do on our trip.

We're going to tour the Anne Frank house (I'm so excited, it's a little wrong), as well as take part in the Heineken Experience. Thanks to TripAdvisor, we found a bike tour of the countryside (about which I could not be more excited), as well as a WWII history walking tour that was VERY highly rated.

All we'll need to worry about after we've arrived is our transportation and finding a grocery store so we can cook our own meals in Karen's guest house.

Hurry up, September 9! I'm getting bored!!

Vicariously yours,

p.s. here are a few other sites that I also used to look for self-catering places to stay:

In the end, you end up paying the same amount as a hotel, but you could end up with an entire apartment/home. Definitely the way to travel, even if it's just for a weekend.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Dear readers, please forgive me. I've neglected to mention the ultimate, most heinous, by far the most annoying thing you could EVER do, especially when traveling:

Put your child on a leash.

"Oh look, he's got a monkey on his back!" "Mommy's got the monkey by the tail!" THIS IS NOT CUTE!!

There are a lot of people in my generation who are poppin' 'em out and as soon as the munchkins start toddling, they slap a leash on! I'm sure I'm going to offend a few people that I know and love by saying this: Putting your child in a leash is a form of parental neglect.

I blame Paris Hilton.

Yes. Paris Hilton

Think about it. Paris starts toting that stupid tea cup chihuahua around, and suddenly everyone needs some sort of living accessory. But the problem with having a little yippy dog is that they wander off. That makes it really hard for you to cross the street, talk on your cell phone, purchase goods, or just have a lunch date when your form of entertainment keeps wandering off!

The solution: Put it on an adorable leash. It'll be able to roam, but not too far, and then you'll be able to maintain your fabulousness AND not be considered a pet abuser.

CHILDREN ARE NOT SMALL DOGS! I cannot express to you how sad it makes me to have to type a sentence like that.

Before you start, I realize that I don't have any children of my own, so I don't really understand the challenges young parents face blah blah blah.

Gag me.

I understand that parenting is a full time job in itself. That realization is precisely why I don't have children of my own. I'm not ready to be a parent. I don't want to have to be a disciplinarian 24/7. I don't want to have to sacrifice time with my friends in favor of teaching my toddler important basic life lessons--such as when mommy tells you to stay put, you stay put.

Freud would have a heyday with this.

There are a few realities of parenthood that I do realize:

-Toddlers are curious. Yep. It's shocking, but literally every day they experience something for the first time, and it's mind blowing. They don't know why that leaf is moving across the sidewalk all by itself, so they need to chase it to find out. They've never seen that strange dog before, and they need to say hello. As a parent, you need to let them be curious. PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT YOUR CHILD IS DOING. Yes. That makes doing normal everyday tasks such a making a deposit at the bank more difficult. But you're a freaking parent. That's the choice you made when you got pregnant. Be a parent and teach them that when mommy finishes with her errand, we'll explore the park/sidewalk/bank lobby as much as possible. But until then, you don't go anywhere no matter how much you squirm. Don't put your kid on a leash so they can wander around in a short radius and you can switch off for a few seconds.

-Toddlers fall down a lot. That's literally why they're called toddlers. The beauty of gravity is that it causes you to fall. Toddlers are learning how to deal with that. So yeah, they might fall down some stairs, or get on some gravel and not know how to compensate. Let 'em fall. They'll get bruises, probably a few nasty cuts. BUT THAT'S OK. Pain is a part of life, and they're too young to remember those boo-boos anyway. Don't put your kid on a leash so you don't have to worry about them falling down and getting hurt.


What I want to know from leash parents is if they realize how much people are staring at them and judging them. Do you realize you're treating your child like a small animal? You do realize that the message you're sending is that you can't control your kids and you can't be bothered with disciplining them, right?

I was deeply saddened by the ridiculous amount of leash kids we saw throughout our month of traveling. And thus I felt the need to share my rant with you.

Vicariously yours,

Sunday, August 15, 2010

We're baaack!

The Mister and I have returned from our whirlwind month of travel. We now have a little over 3 weeks left in this country, and we plan to stay put as much as possible during that time.

I'd like to think of myself as a tolerant person. I can pretty much roll with the punches. In my old age, I'm getting less and less spontaneous, but I'm working on that. But there were a few things I noticed on our trips these past few weeks that I really just can't put up with anymore. Here are the top 5 things that should be avoided at all costs--especially when traveling.

5. T-shirts with a message. I'm not talking about the Bono-inspired "Save the Whales" kind of messages. I mean the ones that have full sentences that are meant to be snarky, but they're just annoying.

like this beaut. We saw it more times than I'd like to admit while we were traveling.

Granted, there are plenty of baby onesies that have messages like "My mom's hotter than you mom," and some of those can be annoying in their own way, but for the most part they're cute because they're on a baby.

I mean, really. Who wouldn't put this on their baby?

But if you are old enough to form complete, coherent sentences, I don't want to know whether this is your happy face or not. I'm not trying to make you get your flying monkeys, I'm just trying to enjoy my day without having to wonder whether you're really as big a tool as you look or not.

4. Ill-fitting bras. You know what I'm talking about. Mama's a DD, but she's wearing a C, so her cup is literally running over and it is NAS.TY.

you know what I'm talking about

I have seen more tank-top wearing busty ladies who seem to think the phrase "less is more" doesn't apply to the upper chestal region. I guess I can't blame them. What's sexier than the 4 boob look?

3. Inappropriate/gratuitous cell phone conversations in inappropriate places. Call me old-school, but I think that phone conversations should stay private. If you must talk in public, keep your voice down, and keep your conversation short. I don't want to hear all about how crazy drunk you were on your last night in New York as I ride a bus to Washington D.C. I don't need to know what your baby's diaper looked like while I'm buying a sandwich at Publix. There's no need for everyone to know how annoying you think her boyfriend is and how badly she needs to dump him while I'm waiting in line for an amusement park ride. All of those are conversations I was made privy to over the past month.

I'm going to catch flak about this, I just know

Before you jump down my throat, let me clarify: I understand that some people never get to see family, so cell phone conversations are the only conversations they get to have with dear ol' dad from time to time. When the opportunity arises, please answer the call. Just make sure you find yourself a corner away from other people so that we don't all have to hear about how frustrating your doorman is.

Another clarification: I'm not a creeper eavesdropper. I don't go out of my way to listen to people's conversations. All of the conversations I have mentioned were overheard while standing an acceptable distance from the person in front of me, or while being held hostage in a bus/train seat and hurtling down the highway/rails at high speeds.

2. Ignoring posted signs. I've worked with the public before, and I understand how infuriatingly annoying it is to answer a question that can be easily answered by reading the signs posted to avoid having to answer the VERY QUESTION YOU'RE ASKING!! I try to make a point of looking for signs or maps and reading them carefully before asking a question. What can I say. I aim to please.

Obviously, I'm willing to make exceptions.

I cannot tell you how annoying it is for me to have to witness someone dealing with an irate nincompoop who is blaming them for an easily avoided situation.

Lemme give you a for-instance: Universal doesn't allow you to take bags/purses on their rides, so they provide lockers in which you can store your things while you enjoy the thrills. (side note: their lockers are free, where as the lockers at Six Flags are going to cost you, every time. Well done, Universal) It's a pretty handy system. They've made it as easy as possible. There's no key to keep up with, and you can store your bag for the entire day for a fee that isn't ridiculously exorbitant. You just have to follow the directions on the touch screen.

Well apparently that was a little too hard for one fellow thrill seeker. I got to witness her meltdown as she cursed out the poor kid who was manning the door to the locker room. Despite her insistence that there wasn't a single locker available for her to use --"Not a single one, and I think it's ridiculous that you require we use your lockers, but you don't provide enough lockers for people to use!" she said -- as I watched at least 5 people who had just emptied their lockers try to squeeze by.

The very polite and patient Universal worker kindly pointed out what an idiot the woman was, and she was thoroughly embarrassed--though she never apologized for holding up the 10 people waiting in line behind her or for being so rude to the guy. She had, in fact, not followed the directions correctly and had somehow rented two lockers at the same time, so when she tried to rent a third, the system wouldn't let her. This entire episode could have been avoided if she had just READ THE FRIGGIN' SIGNS!!

1. Stopping in the middle of a walkway. I realize that plans change, and you've got to change your trajectory unexpectedly. But if you're going to have to do a 180, or you've got to stop to read a map/text message/batch of directions, MOVE TO THE SIDE and then stop. I lost count of how many people I was broadsided by because they weren't aware of their surroundings.

Oh, excuse me!

And my favorite was when THEY ran into me, I was the one who gets the angry glare! Like it was my fault! If you run into me, apologize and move along, don't give me the stink eye!

Vicariously yours,

Friday, August 6, 2010

We haven't even moved yet and already the lessons learned from this experience are pouring in.

First, the next school we go to has GOT to arrange for our visas themselves. Yes, I realize that most countries aren't going to have a process as drawn-out as the Big Sandy. But I still think that this bit should be left to people who are used to dealing with all the paperwork and ridiculousness.

Second, the next school has GOT to at least reimburse us for our shipping costs! We finally got an address that we can ship our belongings to, so we've started getting estimates.

Third, we need to go into the shipping business!! We've got 5 rubbermaid tubs that we've packed with the essential items: teaching materials, pictures and frames, a couple blankets, etc. I was trying to low-ball it and get an idea of what we're up against, so I got an estimate for 4 tubs. The cheapest for that amount of tubs was over $1,500!!! And that was taking about a month to arrive!! Holy cannoli!!

Any and all donations to our shipping expenses are now welcome!

Vicariously yours,

Monday, August 2, 2010

Ooooh yeah!

We wake up this morning to this tid-bit of fun news: American's Dream of Finally Owning a Smart Phone Slowing Slipping Away.

Alright, so that's not what the headlines read, but they might as well have. We've been purposely waiting to get a CrackBerry because Saudis love their gadgets, and we'd have a great selection of affordable smart phones when we arrive.

So basically, we'll be able to get BlackBerries, but they won't email, message, or browse the they'll be JUST LIKE THE PHONES WE HAVE NOW.


Welp. I guess that's progress

Great news! We DO finally have a visa. of us finally has HIS visa.

Our wonderful friend Matt was finally able to pick up the Mister's visa after 3 attempts. The Mister now has 90 days to enter the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. And get ready for a big shocker: I still don't have my sponsor letters from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Those letters are the last piece I need to send everything to the embassy. I got word from someone at the school that he is working on the letters, and they'll be ready on-wait for it- WEDNESDAY.

The day after we leave Washington D.C. to return home to Nashville.

God's testing me. I can just feel it.

We haven't even started our contract yet and already I'm getting major tests of my patience. If I thought working for the US government was annoyingly bureaucratic, I apparently ain't seen nothin' yet! The message that I keep getting is very clearly, "Calm down, little girl. We'll get to it when we get to it."

What's so frustrating about this whole process is that it's like they've set it up on purpose to that we have to jump through their hoops. Anyone who's ever worked with me knows how much of LOOVE to jump through irrational hoops.

There's the online visa application that we have to submit before the embassy will even look at our paperwork. It seemed simple enough, but we couldn't get our picture down to FOUR KILOBYTES in order to successfully submit the darn thing. I found a forum that said other people having the same problem just had to bite the bullet and pay a visa courier. I called one company to see how much that would cost us: $175 per person!! FOR ONE STEP! Almost $400 for a company to press submit.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is one hoop this show dog would NOT jump through.

Thankfully, I don't have to because we have a wonderful friend with an undergraduate degree in computer programming. And even Matt was stumped at first, but he was able to get the picture to the right size and we could proceed.

We came to DC for the sole purpose of submitting our paperwork in person. Mailing my passport and many other important documents makes me very nervous and I would really prefer to do this transaction face-to-face. We even scheduled this little foray up and down the East coast later in the summer because surely everything would be worked out over there by now!

Once again, "Calm down, little girl. We'll get to it when we get to it."

In happier, less frustrating news, we have a lot of photos from our trip to share with you! I can't wait to get home so we can load them all up!

We spent a few great days in Boston with my sister and brother-in-law. It was so nice to see them, and saying goodbye was very hard. When we arrived in DC, I was hungry and tired, and the Mister asked if I was a little frowny because I was sad to have not had more time with my sis.

"I am sad, but there's never enough time, you know?" I answered. "Even if we'd spent 2 weeks with them, I would be just as sad to say goodbye."

Anyway, we're in DC...pretty much killing time while our friends are working. We leave tomorrow night to go home.

meh, maybe we'll go see a monument or something. You know.

Vicariously yours,