Thursday, September 30, 2010

WE MOVED! the hotel lobby.

The school sent only one driver to get 3 teachers (me, the hubs, and another guy who's been staying at the hotel) and all their luggage. The driver doesn't understand how we could have so much stuff, and he's very upset that he has to call for a minibus to lug all our bags.

So we've made it as far as the hotel lobby...but hey! That's progress.

We can now definitely say that our next post will be from our new apartment. Probably in a week or two, but there will be no complaints from me about that!

Vicariously yours,

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A quick look back...

Well, the last word we heard was that we would be able to move into our newly-painted, newly-furnished apartment tomorrow after work. I've tried to confirm that with my new boss, but she was out sick today, so I'm staying positive and assuming it's still game on for leaving the Gulf Flower Hotel.

I realize that's really just wishful thinking at this point, but just in case things work out in our favor, I thought I'd make one last post before we left the hotel. We recorded our first few moments in Dammam when we arrived on September 13th...and then we promptly lost the cord that connects our video camera to our computer.

Obviously, we found it! And now we share with you the first footage from Saudi Arabia:

If, by some miracle, we do get to move into our apartment tomorrow, we'll have to wait until we get our iqama (residence visa) before we can get internet. I'm sure it comes as no surprise that that will take a little while. So bare with us as we "go dark," as the Mister's mom put it the other night. We'll be back with many more updates soon (and by "soon" I likely mean "tomorrow").

Vicariously yours,

Monday, September 27, 2010

First day of SCHOOL!

Well, today was our first day with students. For me, it was very overwhelming. I've definitely got my work cut out for me, but all my girls seem really sweet and I hope we're going to have a lot of fun.

Every year I have my kids fill out a survey telling me about their interests and fun facts about themselves. This helps to break the ice and allows me a little snapshot of their learning styles and what kinds of books they might like to read and other insights teachers find useful.

One of the questions I asked my girls today was the location of their favorite vacation spot. The typical answer I got to this question back in the States was usually something like "Six Flags" or "Florida" or something pretty domestic like that.

I've created a word cloud of the responses I got today from my girls:

These kids are better travelled than I am! Not that I'm surprised by this fact. I am, of course, insanely jealous.

I also ask my kids what they want to be when they grow up. My most common answer in the States was "I don't know." Here's a word cloud of my Saudi students' responses:

I think it's important to note that I only had two kids say they didn't know.

It's definitely going to be weird to be in a building with so many females, but I think it'll be a fantastic challenge and I can't wait to try all the fun girly tricks I've picked up over the years and I didn't use because I knew my boys would whine.

Vicariouly yours,

Sunday, September 26, 2010

You might like this version better...

Armed with my trusty flipcam and my hijab, I recorded tonight's call to prayer. It's a much better recording this time, and you can really hear how the call kind of sweeps across the city, mosque by mosque. I think it really this is pretty cool part of living in the "Magic Kindgom," as someone we met this weekend called it. I hope you enjoy.

*My apologies to Steven Spielberg for misspelling his name*

Vicarious yours,

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Are you there Allah? It's me, Amber

The Hubbins and I went to church today! Thanks to friends with connections in Aramco, we were able to get on to the Aramco camp (don't call it a compound. or a base. It's a camp. You only make that mistake once.) for Bible study and worship service with the Anglican congregation there. Needless to say it was a long way from our usual worship service back in Brentwood (it lacked a few thousand participants), but it was very nice to be able to connect with a like-minded community that was so warm and welcoming.

**In case you're wondering, Aramco is the Saudi/American oil company that has its own campus where they house their expatriate employees. Once you go through the gates, it's like driving into a movie set of a suburb in northern Florida. The architecture is very Floridian, and they've brought in sod and mature trees. As fun as it was to be in a more "familiar" milieu, I am very happy to not be living on a compound like that. I feel like we're getting a more genuinely Saudi experience. It will be nice to be able to visit Narnia every now and then, though**

It's been a long long time since I attended a small church. I'd forgotten how hard it is to be invisible in a congregation of TWENTY (on a good day). This group was so friendly and immediately made us feel so at home. And there was a potluck lunch after the service!! I was telling the Mister that I don't remember the last time I went to a potluck lunch at church! Oh man the food was sooo good, and sooo completely not like home. There wasn't a single deviled egg or cold pasta salad in the whole place! We had Ghanan stew, Indian rice, an Arabic eggplant dish, and a Thai beef concoction. Oh wow was it so wonderful!

There is a more Protestant group on the Aramco camp that has a larger congregation, so we might try that one out next week. I feel a certain sense of fidelity to this group because they were so helpful and nice to us today. But I definitely don't really connect in an Anglican kind of worship, so we might have to find a way to stay connected with both groups.

Vicariously yours,

Thursday, September 23, 2010

happy saudi national day!

I thought I would take a moment away from celebrating, drinking beer, and grilling up some delicious brats in our huge backyard to let you all know what has been going on today in Saudi. Haha, just kidding, we're stuck in the hotel room all day again. Why didn't we decide to go to the mall? Wander the Corniche (road along the beach)? Interesting questions, all, and the answer is equally as interesting.

Today, as I'm sure you're all aware, is the Saudi national day. On September 23rd, 1932 King Abdul Aziz united the various tribes and peoples of a large chunk of the Arabian peninsula into what is today the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. If you were not aware, don't feel ashamed, most Saudis don't really know about it either. The Saudi national day is a new thing. It started about 2 or 3 years ago as a day off and...that's about it. In the states, we're all familiar with what to do with a day off that celebrates an occasion: parades, parties, festive cupcakes...

The cake is hope flavored and the icing is change flavored!

These are all tried and true methods for celebrating...whatever...and this is especially true of celebrating our most awesome of holidays, our independence day (I think Roland Emmerich owes me a nickel for that shout out...).

In Saudi, as I said, it's kind of a new thing. They are still figuring out what to do with a day off and all that celebratory energy. There hasn't been anything that's been organized by the government or cities so...this happens. To save you the time of clicking on the link, some of the younger, more "enthusiastic" Saudis have decided to go around beating up people that aren't Saudi. Awesome. Now you know why we're holed up in the hotel. However, before you get all "well there you have it, those people are savages..." remember that our own early independence day celebrations were...well...about as "enthusiastic". For instance, in 1777, in Portsmouth, NH, a gang of young men ran around the town breaking the windows of Quaker businesses and homes simply because they refused to close their businesses on days celebrating American victories. In 1788, a group of anti-federalists used the holiday as an excuse to march (anti-peacefully as it turns out) on Providence, RI to prevent the celebration of the ratification of the Constitution. In that same year, fights broke out between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists in Allegheny, NY. Granted, this was an argument over a particular issue, but hey, nowadays we would invite disagreeing friends from whatever party to our own fiestas because "what the hell, it's the 4th of July!"

"Enjoy your soy dog, you dirty hippies..." "Thanks you fascist moron!"

I thought it would be interesting for you all to know what's going on with the Saudi national day, but I also thought it would be a good way to look at how far we've come in such a short time. Remember that Saudi is only 78 years old (yes, Dad, I had to use a calculator). Compared to our 234, we've got this thing down...though we did need a couple hundred years to figure it out. I'm certainly not condoning the attacks on expatriates. As an expatriate, I would love to not get attacked. But they were last year and pretty isolated as far as I understand. So as I'm literally locked in my hotel room surfing the interwebs, lamenting my lack of both beer and brats (not to mention beer brats), I'm okay with staying out of their way while they celebrate...and hope that next year, someone has a little bit better plan for how to direct the..."enthusiasm". Now to check and see if they updated Geekologie Same as 10 seconds ago? Sweet.

Vicariously yours,

PS! Look at the Google Saudi Arabia home page today!

Like a woman under cover...literally.

The Mister and I went to the Al Rashid mall today. We have a long weekend this week, and we knew that if we stayed in our hotel room for 3 days, only one of us would come out alive, so we decided to get out.

Saudi culture is very mall-centric. There are no movie theaters, no skating rinks. It's too hot to hang out at the beach during the day, and there's not a single putt-putt course to be found. So for entertainment, the people here shop. We decided to join them today.

As mentioned in a previous post, the call to prayer doesn't stop Saudis from enjoying their mall time. They just blast the call over the P.A. system, and everything comes to a halt for about 20 minutes. We were in the mall today when the 4 o'clock prayers were to begin, so I whipped out my camera and got some footage.

We tried to be sneaky about it because people don't like to have their pictures taken here (not entirely sure why yet...will continue to investigate), so we didn't want to attract too much attention by video taping everything we saw.

As a result, you get a great view of the ceiling of the mall...and of my nostrils. Sorry in advance.


Vicariously yours,

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Insh'allah: The "bless her heart" of Saudi Arabia

Every culture has its little phrases that are unique. In the South, we all know that when one says, "Bless her heart," or "God love 'im" it's not really a compliment, or a blessing.

For those who have been living under a rock for that past 9 years, Saudi Arabia is an Islamic country, and that means most of their colloquialisms involve that religion in some way. The most frequently heard phrase is "Insh'allah."

Directly translated, it means "If God wishes it." But just like "Bless her heart," I've come to find that Insh'allah can also have another meaning: "But don't bet on it."

For example: Our school hasn't yet gotten it's cargo shipment of school supplies from the US. This means that I haven't gotten a stapler, tape (masking or scotch), paper, pens, pencils, or any sort of school supply you would expect to be on hand in a school. While this would normally mean I just needed to pop into the nearest Office Max and stock up, the Hubsy and I are currently dependent on a hired driver to get around town, so errands are exponentially more difficult.

When I asked last Wednesday when the supplies would come in, I was told, "They will be here on Saturday or Sunday, insh'allah."

Guess what hadn't arrived by Saturday or Sunday.

Here are a few examples of insh'allah in action:

"When will I get a copy of my class schedule?"
"You'll have it before the students arrive, insh'allah."

"Can we meet to talk about my discipline plan?"
"Yes, I will come to your room in 5 minutes, insh'allah."

"ALL the bathrooms are being renovated at the same time?! Will they be finished by the time school starts?"

"Don't worry, the meeting will only last a few minutes, insh'allah."

"You will be moved out of the hotel and into your apartment by September 22, insh'allah."

And one for which I hope insh'allah REALLY means insh'allah:

"This will be a successful and great school year, insh'allah."

Vicariously yours,

Friday, September 17, 2010

Grocery shopping. Alternative title: Oh hey! They have (insert brand name here)

The hubs and I went grocery shopping last night, as well as all kinds of other exploring--all thanks to our wonderful Bangladeshi driver Nour (whose name I'm sure I'm misspelling).

It was such a comforting experience because every aisle had familiar food items that we weren't expecting to find so far from home. For example, they have Progresso soup--and anyone who taught on the sixth grade team with me (Lee Shreeve) can testify to my undying love of all things Progresso. They also have those Hormel ComplEats meals, Lays potato chips, and Garnier Fructis hair products (which I use cause they're cheap).

The hilarious find of the night was this beauty:

I don't think we even still have this in the US anymore!

We were also surprised to find that things really cost just about the same as at home, with a few items costing maybe a dollar or two extra.

For example: My shampoo cost SR 14.95. That looks like a shocking number, but when you convert that to US$, it translates to $3.98. If memory serves me correctly, that's the exact same price I used to pay at home.

This is both a blessing and a curse. We exchanged all the money we had to Saudi Riyals before we left. What use did we have for US dollars? We didn't really have ALL that much money before we left, but we were under the assumption that because the exchange was in our favor, some things would be cheaper over here. Now that we know that everyday items are roughly the same cost, budgeting will be super easy...but we've still got about a week and a half before our first paycheck, and the Riyals are disappearing fast.

After we went to Carrefour (that's the name of the "grocery" store here. I use the quotations because it's really like a Sears meets a Wal-Mart meets a Kroger. EVERYTHING in one place!!), Nour was so kind to drive us out to Al-Khobar, the part of town where Hubsy and I will be living once our apartment is ready. Al-Khobar is at the end of the Bahrain bridge, and it's a really really nice part of town! There's all kinds of public art--I can't wait to get our own car so we can drive around and take pictures to show you guys. There are parks along the beaches--which I still haven't seen in the daytime. Insh'allah that will happen soon.

Nour went way above and beyond the call of duty, and he showed us the New Villas, the townhouses the school has purchased and is renovating for the new teachers. This is where the language barrier kicked in because I don't think he understood that we're actually going to be living in the new apartments which are somewhere near the new villas, but it was great nontheless to see our soon-to-be stomping grounds.

THE NEW VILLAS WERE SOOO BEAUTIFUL!! I wanted to take pictures, but they're not really where I'm going to be living, so I thought it would be silly. They have wonderful tile floors, great bedrooms and the kitchens are fantastic! If our new apartment is half as lovely I will be a happy girl.

Nour was so sweet to then drive us through what the Mister and I dubbed the Green Hills of Dammam. It's called the Golden Belt and Green Belt. I cannot even begin to describe to everyone how opulent and amazing these houses were!! Take the McMansions of Brentwood and multiply them by like 5 and you've got an idea of the sizes of these houses! We'll go back in the daytime and take pictures.

Anyway, now it's the weekend, and the Mister and I are kind of holed up in our hotel room just lesson planning, internet surfing and all around vegging out. We have no car, and Nour was out so late driving us around last night that we feel kind of bad calling him up to work on his weekend as well.

I think it goes without saying we're excited to move into our apartment and get our car so we can reclaim some of our freedom.

In the meantime, we remain

Vicariously yours,

p.s. I've been trying to post a recording of the evening call to prayer, but we can't find the cords the connect our video camera to the computer. So that little tidbit might have to wait until we get into the apartment and can really search through our stuff.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

My first Mutawa

So I went to the mall last night to buy my abaya.

Now when I say "mall" in America, I think we all generally get the mental picture of a two leveled, large-ish building with a food court and maybe a carousel (unless, of course you live in Minnesota).

Seriously, the mall I went to last night makes any mall (even the mall of America) look pathetic. Yes, I've been to the Mall of America and I realize it has an amusement park in the middle of it.

This one did too...and an ice skating rink, and two food courts and it had two airport concourse-wide main aisles with stores on both sides. It. was. huge.

I was so completely blown away by the enormous size of this building, and then I looked at the stores. They're all American. Gap, Hollister, Zara, Mark Spencer, and every possible other kind of store you could ever want.

The most striking image from last night was seeing a Starbucks, and looking at the patrons and they're all in niqabs and thobes. It was such a funny juxtaposition. I wish I could have taken a picture (btw: you'll pretty much only see photos of me and the Mister, the other American teachers and landscapes. Saudi people are "kind of sensitive" about having their pictures taken, according to my new boss).

In addition to my first Saudi mall experience and my first abaya purchase, I had my first Mutawa sighting!

For those who don't know, the mutawa are the religious police in Saudi Arabia. They're essentially like the detention hall monitors. They make sure the women are covered and everyone's following the correct Muslim code. They're famously described in newspapers as the men who go around spray painting women's uncovered toes and hounding couples if they're not supposed to be out alone together.

So here's how it went down.:

It was sundown, so they broadcasted the call to prayer throughout the mall (totally bizarre. You hear the bing boom of a typical P.A. system and then out comes this booming chant, "Allllllllaaaaaaaaaaaaaahh akbar." Very surreal), and all the stores have to close and theoretically everyone's supposed to stop what they're doing and pray. They didn't. Apparently the sundown prayers are kind of do-them-when-you-can-as-long-as-it's-before-you-go-to-bed. So everyone leaves the stores and just sits on the benches and waits.

Well I was with my new boss and she said we should just take the opportunity to window shop and then we could pick out a store to go into once prayers were over. So while we're getting lost in this monstrosity of a mall, a very nice woman in a niqab and abaya stops us and says, "You should know there are mutawa here and if they see her walking around like that [referring to me who was sans covering], she is going to get in trouble and I don't want you to have to get in trouble."

It was so nice of her! She was just looking out for me, and I was grateful for the heads up. So my new boss just says, "Well we're here for the purpose of buying her an abaya, so if they stop us we'll just tell them that," and then we turned to walk away.

Not 20 steps later, my boss goes, "And of course there's one of them walking with a police officer."

I just played it cool, didn't make eye contact and walked with a purpose. He didn't say anything to me, but he did look me up and down. I wasn't scared. I asked my boss what he could have done if he did stop me, and she just said he would make a fuss and that's it. I could tell that she, like most Saudi women, aren't thrilled with having to worry about mutawa in the first place.

I asked her how you can tell if a man is one of the mutawa or not.

"Short thobe, long beard."

Vicariously yours,

Three Words: Surprise Stool Sample

(for those who found us through a google search and just want the nasty details on collecting a stool sample, see this entry.)

So today was our first day of "work," and it was interesting to say the least.

Lemme start from the beginning:

Woke up this morning around 4 am when the first call to prayer began. Conveniently, there's a mosque less than a block away from our hotel, so one of the calls was LOUD and clear. The cool thing about the calls to prayer is that each mosque has its own guy who says the call (he's got a job title, but I can't remember it at the moment), so the mosque down the street will start its call, and then the mosque a few blocks away will start its call a few seconds later, so they kind of go in a round. It's so unique and just...I just can't describe it. We're going to record it soon and post the video so you can experience it too.

Anyway, it's 4 am, I'm now wide awake, even though I don't have to get up for another 3 hours. It's just me and my thoughts. That can be dangerous. That's when the anxiety starts to rise.

It was like my first day of high school all over again. What should I wear? Will I make friends? Are they going to like me? Will I hate it here?

Anyway, long story short, we get to our respective schools, find out we have more paperwork to file--really not all that shocking--and we need to have passport photos taken as well. So we get a driver to take us to a photo studio.

Here's what's funny: I could have brought photos from the US, and they would have been like any other passport photo--no hijab, hair down, everything normal. But because these photos were being taken in Saudi, I had to be covered. So I had to borrow my new boss's abaya and hijab to go run this errand! It was so bizarre!

Here's what the photo ended up looking like:

Nothing new for those of you who are friends with me on facebook.

So then we're told we have to go to the hospital. We're not entirely sure what for. We were told last night that we had to do some "blood work" as a part of today's paperwork, but we didn't realize we'd be going to a hospital! Keep in mind that the only person affiliated with the school that is traveling with us is our driver--and he's Filipino. He just goes where he's told. Literally.

So we show up at this "hospital" and I'm immediately shoo'd into the "family section" of the waiting area. This is where the women sit. We have no papers, really no idea what we're at the hospital to do, but some man in a thobe told us to sit, so we sat (by "us" I mean me and one of the other female new hires who thankfully speaks fluent Arabic or I never would have made it through the day!). Apparently the authoritative man in the thobe works for the school, so he was telling the nurses at the reception desk what we were there for.

Get this: We were there to give blood samples, urine samples and ANOTHER STOOL SAMPLE!

NOOOOOO **side note: for those wondering how a stool sample works, see this post.**

So after waiting for almost 2 hours, watching all the male new hires go first, but having a great time with my new colleague, I'm brought back to get my blood drawn by a nurse who I'm pretty sure was wearing the same gloves she had on when she started her shift earlier in the day--she definitely didn't change them between me and my colleague.

I'm then given two cups. "One for you-ryine, one for zee othear," the kind Asian nurse tells me.

Thanks, but where am I supposed to go to collect these samples?

I'm pointed to--get this--THE PUBLIC RESTROOM DOWN THE HALL!!

Keep in mind that I'm still wearing the borrowed hijab and abaya. I'm also wearing a floor length skirt that my mother so kindly sewed me before I left. I'm supposed to take all that and my two plastic cups into this teeny tiny bathroom stall and collect my samples to the best of my ability.

I'll spare you the details, but it wasn't pretty.

I can't believe we got sneak attacked by a second stool sample! I thought I was traumatized by the first one! This one was in a dingy Saudi Arabian bathroom and I had NO GLOVES!

I'll stop there.

So yeah. That was my first day at work. Not your typical first day kind of story, but I guess I'm not working your typical kind of job.

In other news, I got my very first abaya and hijab of my own after evening prayers. Aunt Suzanne, the hijab is the head scarf that covers my hair. The abaya is the long black dress. Here's what it looks like:

So what do you think?

The trip to the mall is a whole 'nother post in itself. I'll have to save that for later.

Vicariously yours,

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Quote/unquote Hospitality

Somewhere around the final match of the rugby world cup, right as Matt Damon is declaring that this is the team’s destiny; I realize that we are flying over Iraq. Amber leans over and points out that this will be the closest she will ever get to her father’s hometown. I consider this for a moment, and then get lost in the rest of Invictus.

There are 35 minutes left in the flight. My stomach wis turning somersaults as I grip my entry card. The plane starts its rapid descent. My ears pop. A few rows up, a child starts crying. I sympathize. With 25 minutes left in the flight, my new life in Saudi Arabia is about to start…I feel like crying too. I’m not upset, but I am nervous…and the somersaults are turning into full-on backflips as we get closer to our destination. I am beginning to feel a little overwhelmed.

The plane touches down almost perfectly. I am totally impressed with the Dutch pilot. He got us here early and everything. Meanwhile, I feel like I’m gonna hurl. We step off the plane and immediately, I am brought back to that night in July almost 15 years ago when I did the same thing in Kuwait. The smell of the airport is very…unique. There’s also something very Arab about the d├ęcor: mirrors…geometric shapes. We head over to passport control.

There is a sign that says “no smoking” in both Arabic and English. There is a man smoking next to it. We wait in a line. Amber asks if this is the right line. I say, “I think so…” She pauses, “You just picked the one with all the white people in it, didn’t you?” “Yeah,” I say. We switch to the line that says “foreign citizens”. It is our turn. The young man in the green beret behind the desk looks…bored. I can just barely sound out his name from his name tag: Abdullah. Abdullah types on the keypad as if it had said something about his mother. He calls out to another officer and makes a thumbs down gesture. I tense up. Amber glances at me. He had run out of ink…just needed a refill. We get fingerprints and photos taken…but honestly, how many photos do they need? We’ve already given them 3 a piece. We’re allowed to pass through. “Khalass,” Abdullah says, with a dismissive gesture.

We collect our bags and walk out to meet the school welcome committee. They are all very helpful and very, very kind. My new boss is a grandfatherly sort of man who when we ask, tells us with arms opened wide, that he founded the school with Amber's new boss and has been there for 34 years. Our apartment is not ready yet and won’t be ready for another week. We’ll be living in a hotel. The elevator takes an absurd amount of time to arrive.

The drive from the airport is longer than I thought. The man driving is amazingly careful for an Arab driver…which leads me to believe that he is not actually Arab. Amber and I are lost in thought. We finally made it. This is totally different than anywhere we have been before. The desert stretches for miles in each direction. We crest a hill and see our new home, a thin string of lights on the horizon. I think of Las Vegas. Amber and I hold hands for the rest of the car ride.

It seems that driving in the city demands a kind of aggression that only Bostonians or New Yorkers could muster. There is construction everywhere. The lines on the road seem more like suggestions than rules. A wildly painted Toyota truck passes us. The driver is talking on the cell phone as he flies down the road. Just like in the US.

The driver refuses to let me help him with the bags. It seems like it’s frustrating him that I keep picking one up and carrying it. I even get an eye roll for holding the door open. “Sorry,” I mumble. The hotel itself is hot. The air feels heavy. I feel the first prickle of sweat on my forehead. The gentlemen from the school make the arrangements with the front desk. I glimpse the name of the hotel on the register: Gulf Flower Hotel; our home for the next week or so. The school gives us a fruit basket and a bag of snacks. Mr. Fawzi makes the quotation marks with his fingers. “Hospitality…” he says. We’re grateful for it.

Our room is small. “It’s like everything here is stuck in the 1970s…” Amber says. What can only be described as the strongest window unit in the world makes the room cool and comfortable. Sleep is in order, and it comes quickly.

I am awakened in the morning by the call to prayer. Its haunting tone does not allow me to return to sleep. It’s 4:30 am. I lay awake. The saying “we’re not in Kansas anymore” does not adequately describe our situation. I have to wait 3 hours before I can get up. But I’m ready now. I want to get to the school and get started. However, I need to stay in bed and try to sleep. The call to prayer ends and I roll over to try and get back to sleep. I can’t help thinking that the adventure we had set out to find was right outside the door. Waiting.

Vicariously yours,

Monday, September 13, 2010

It all changes in 24 hours

At this time tomorrow, we will be arriving at our new home in Saudi Arabia. The Mister and I have been in odd moods all day and I think it's because we're both a little nervous/scared about what we've gotten ourselves into. The emotions really run the gamut of total elation to utter fear.

In other news, I think I've officially become co-dependent. The roles were reversed today and I was the sleepy head, so I laid down for a nap while the Mister went to have the Heineken Experience. Normally this wouldn't have been a big deal, but we're in a strange city without cell phones and completely lack the ability to pronounce the name of the street on which we're staying, much less the last names of our hosts...if something had happened to him, I would have been totally screwed.

Of course, that thought didn't cross my mind as he kissed me goodbye. I was already fading into dreamland. But when I woke up at 4:30, and then Hubbins wasn't back by 4:45, our appointed time...I had to fight off the panic. I knew that he probably was just running late. It's Sunday, so the trams don't run as often, so he probably had to walk all the way back. Then it got to be 4:55, and we were supposed to be leaving for the Anne Frank house by 5:00. I was seriously having to talk myself off the ledge of going out searching for my Mister or calling the Scotland Yard or something.

Of course, he was just running a little late. He showed up at 5:01 exactly. But I quickly told him that we would not be playing that game again.

Sorry Hubsy. I'm stickin' to you like glue.

Meanwhile, I've really enjoyed staying in this gardenhouse. will be our method of finding travel lodging from now on. We haven't had to worry about our luggage at all, and we can sleep soundly away from street noise and loud neighbors.

One downside is the fact that Amsterdam is crazy humid, and Europeans don't do air conditioning in the warm months. That means it is as humid inside as it is outside. Especially in a drafty garden house. Our towels haven't been dry since we took our first shower. Our clothes feel a little moist when we first put them on. It feels like I've been suffering massive night sweats every time I roll over in bed. These really are all minor problems, but I will say one perk of arriving in KSA is that we will finally be completely dry for the first time in a few days.

It'll be a while before we have internet hooked up in our new apartment, so farewell for now friends and family. Thank you for all the support.

Vicariously yours,

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Just a few quick shots of Amsterdam

We just got back from a bike tour of the countryside and it was WONDERFUL! We couldn't ask for better weather, the tour guide was great, and every where we looked there were breathtaking landscapes. At one point I said to the Mister that I could totally see why Rembrandt did so many landscapes. His entire world was like an oil painting. Staggeringly beautiful.

Here are a few of my favorite shots. Of course more will be posted on Facebook soon.

It's like this whole stinkin' city was designed to be a postcard

There are more bike paths than there are roads. It was sooo nice.

We stopped at this windmill that was built in 1632.

You know we had to get one of these shots.

I forced Tyler to take this one.

Vicariously yours,

Amber (can't find my picture!)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Must. Stay. Awake.

Welp, we've arrived in Amsterdam. So far, from what we've seen of the city, it's beautiful.

Granted, all we've seen is what was out the window on our taxi ride to the apartment where we're staying...but beautiful none the less.

Now, considering that it's 1:47 pm here, and 6:47 am at home, we really shouldn't go to sleep, even though that's what our bodies are so desperately asking for right now. We've promised each other that we will battle the jet lag together and stick it out and not go to sleep until it's the proper time for sleep in Amsterdam.

If we were on a live feed of our bedroom right now, you'd hear the Mister snoring. No one said we were bastions of will power.

...meanwhile, does anyone know how to make it so that our computer remembers that we speak English, even though the internet connection we're on doesn't speak English? Cause when I just spellchecked myself, this is what Google said I'd misspelled:

...and I still don't know if I spelled bastion correctly.

Anyway, we're going to be taking lots of pictures (thankfully, I did remember to pack the camera charger), and soaking up as much of Western civilization as possible in the next few days.

Thanks for all the encouraging words and addresses! Keep 'em comin'! I feel postcard fever coming on.

Vicariously yours,

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Things that are currently swirling through my head at 1 AM the morning before we leave the country

Did I pack the camera charger?

I can't forget to go buy a lesson planning book tomorrow.

I really should be sleeping. Or reading.

Don't forget to pack the Tylenol PM for the flight.

What are the chances that our taxi driver will get us to where we're staying in one try? I should learn how to pronounce the address in Dutch.

I can never remember if people in the Netherlands speak Danish or Dutch....

Don't forget to fill out the life insurance forms.

Must make a deposit in the bank tomorrow.

Where is the camera charger? Did I pack it already? I should check.

Did I pack enough underwear?

CRAP. We didn't empty the dryer of the last load of laundry! And of course all the suitcases are closed...

Wonder if there's underwear in that load.

If it's cold in Amsterdam, we're screwed.

Seriously, I need to check on this camera charger situation...

We cannot forget to buy converters and adapters tomorrow. I should add that to the to-do list.

Let's face it, that to-do list is really just a guideline.

I should consider going to bed soon.

I hope I don't have horrific jet lag.

It's currently 9 in the morning in Saudi Arabia.

That's so weird.

It's Thursday, so it's the weekend, so everybody's probably sleeping in.

I should probably go to sleep.

I wonder if the car has enough gas for all the things I have to do tomorrow.

If we forget the camera charger, I'll be so upset.

Wait, if I make a deposit tomorrow, we won't have any cash...but we won't be in the country for long!!

Oh my gosh I'm leaving the country tomorrow I can't wait I'm so excited I could pee my pants.

Ooh..I kinda do need to pee.

Did I pack a book to read?
Wait, I'm sleeping in the plane, not reading.

Must sleep on plane.

Can't forget to upload the Glee CDs onto my iPod.

I'm going to miss Glee.

I'm 90% sure I put the camera charger in the carry-on. In fact I'm sure I did.

I still need to check.

Vicariously yours,

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

i will always love you like a long goodbye.

Nashville has been my home for 10 years. It is the longest I have lived anywhere and will probably remain that way. Not only has Nashville been the place in which I've resided, but it has been my home. This coming from an Air Force brat is kind of a big deal. I have a home...and I'm leaving that home on Thursday.

I spent tonight with a couple of the closest friends I've made here. All of them from Sewanee, and say what you will about that, but I literally teared up on the way home. I would love to regale you with fantastical descriptions of these friends that are, of course, well deserved but I think I would leave something out, and the fact that I just left them makes me too emotional to do them justice.

But no, this post is about my city, my home.

One of Ellyn's friends, I don't know who, put the song "Nashville" by David Mead on a mix that was in her car when I was driving it tonight. I'm not really sure if the song's about leaving Nashville or coming home to it, but I listened to it on repeat while I drove around tonight. I kept coming back to the last line in the song... "I will always love you like a long goodbye." That really truly is the way I feel about leaving this place.

I've never really had to leave home before. Firstly, because I didn't really have one. I have moved every three years for basically my entire life. And secondly, because I went to college about an hour and a half away from here...then promptly moved back. So now that I am going off to teach overseas, I am leaving home for the very first time. I think that's a good thing, though...don't misunderstand. But I love Nashville.

I love lower Broad. I love the Titans. I love Karl Dean. I love country music (seriously.). I love the Flying Saucer. I love the neighborhoods. I love the hipsters in East Nashville. I love the weird restaurants that think they're in Portland. I love Baja Burrito. I love how Old Hickory Blvd. is one road, but really is like 10 different ones. I love how all the roads have 3 different names, but are all actually the same road. I love Brentwood High. I love Vaughn's Gap. I love that the Parthenon is made of concrete. I love that you can drive 20 minutes in any direction and end up in the country. I love the Ryman. I love that my AP English teacher sang for the Opry. I love that my friends came here from all over and all of them love it. I love the name Nashthrill. I love the Batman building. I love the concerts on the river.

I've spent so much of my life here and it's hard to think of how I'm going to be anywhere else. Am I the same Tyler taken out of the context of this city? I think I'll always be the same guy...but shaped by the city that I've lived in and loved for 10 years of my life. Nashville, you will forever be my home...and I will always love you like a long goodbye.

Vicariously yours,

Monday, September 6, 2010

the weather and other interesting things

Ladies, Gentlemen, Clint...

I've been thinking a lot about how everyday life is going to be in Saudi. I keep coming back to the weather. In Nashville, it's a balmy 59 at night in early September. In Saudi, we're looking at 84 at like 3 AM. We're almost in hoodie weather in middle Tennessee. I suddenly don't think I've packed enough shorts.

But then again, if I remember correctly, winter on the Arabian peninsula was fantastic. It got sweaterish cool and that was about where it stopped. I always think of Sewanee in February when I think of the worst of winter weather. I remember thinking, "good grief, if it would have just stayed October temperature it would be perfect." Fortunately for me...that's about what I have to look forward to. The average low in the dead of winter is about 65. I'm pretty excited about that. I'm not gonna lie...great weather is something that I have come to really love about fall in Tennessee. The absolute worst time of the year here has to be February. During my freshman year of college, I had a series of 3 weeks where there was NO SUN. Clouds literally the entire time. Nothing brings on the seasonal affect disorder like no sun and cold, rainy weather.

However, Saudi will be different because there will be sun. Now, there will be some oddities that are very specific to the area we're in. Like sandstorms. Not like Plant Earth sandstorms...but just the ones that turn the sky orange. Like this...

Pictured: Khaled

I'm totally ready to have that be the weirdest weather thing that I have to deal with. I'm certainly not the type to be excited about digging my car out of 3 feet of snow. Like this...

Pictured: Raina's Saturn

Weather is something that I haven't really thought a whole lot about outside of, "wow, Saudi, huh? gonna be hot there, right?"'s gonna be hot. Also, the sky is blue...who'd of thunk. As we count down the days (there are 4 of them) until we get to the big sandy, I get more and more thoughtful about the regular stuff that we're going to deal with. Weather's just what I'm thinking about now.

Vicariously yours,

Sunday, September 5, 2010

womp womp

A common question we've been getting is, "Are your parents going to come visit you while you're in Saudi Arabia?"

Previously our answer has been, "Well, it's really difficult to get a tourist visa in Saudi Arabia, so probably not."

But now, our answer can only be, "No."

womp. womp.

In other news: WE LEAVE ON THURSDAY!!!

Vicariously yours,