Sunday, November 20, 2011

Featured Photo: Happy Thanksgiving!

We went shopping for our Thanksgiving food supplies after school today. We found just about everything we needed, even the slippery jellied cranberry sauce. I especially liked the categorization our local grocer decided to use when finding a shelf for the seasonal item.

Vicariously yours,

Thursday, November 17, 2011

It gets lonely out here

Do you know what your parents were like before they started having kids? Have you ever thought about it? Who were their friends? Where did they hang out? Do they still stay in touch with their friends from high school? From college?

One time, when I was a little kid, my family took a road trip to Memphis. I don't remember why Memphis was our destination of choice. In fact, I don't remember a whole lot about that trip. But I do remember us stopping at the house of an old friend of my dad's. This man was my dad's college roommate. I think he even came to my parents' wedding. I had never heard of this guy before in my short life (I think I was 9 or 10 at the time). I can't remember his name, so let's call him Roger.

Roger was a nice guy. He had kids, and they, my sister, and I played in his back yard while my parents caught up with their old friend and his wife. After a while, I was bored. Being the selfish child that I was, I kept asking when we were going to leave. I think at one point my mom said, "Your dad doesn't get to see Roger very often, so we're going to stay a little longer." Or something to that effect.

I remember thinking, "Doesn't see him very often!? I've never even heard of this guy before today! He must not be that important if Daddy doesn't even talk about him any more!"

Now that I'm a grown up and living very far from home, I understand. I'm sure Roger was one of my dad's closest friends in college. The fact that he possibly scored an invitation to my parents' small wedding is an indicator of his position in my dad's young life. But after college they had moved apart. They began families. Staying in touch became a chore.

I'm sure Roger stayed in the back of my dad's mind from time to time. He was probably one of those people that popped into my dad's head and made him think, "I hope Roger's doing well. He was a fun guy."

Living so far away from my hometown means that I am guaranteed to be lots of people's Roger, no matter how much I wish it didn't. It's already starting. Facebook has helped to make the gap between me and friends from high school and college a little bit smaller. But when it comes down to it, maintaining a friendship is hard.

My friends are starting to have babies. I'm not, so I drop off old friends' radars. This would have been the case even if I still lived at home (it's because of the Baby Vortex...but that's a post for a different blog). But because of the fact that I don't run into these friends at church or in the grocery store, the only updates I get are from Facebook statuses and twitpics. Friends that I always thought I would stay in touch with are having major life events and losses, and they don't think of me when they need someone to talk to.

To their kids, I'll be the random lady that just shows up once every few years, if then. I'll be their parents' Roger. One day they'll probably think, "I've never heard of this lady before, so she must not have been very important." I'll be part of their parents' forgotten, pre-family lives.

I don't write all this to have a pity party and be all woe-is-me. In fact, I've been sitting on this blog post for a while because every time I start to write it I can hear my mother's words: "This is the life you chose! Stop complaining."

I realize I chose this life. I knew it wasn't going to be easy when I decided to pursue a career outside of my home bubble. And I'm not complaining. This blog is designed to share my life's experiences with you; you can live vicariously though my adventures. So I'm sharing a huge part of my life with all of you. Maintaining a friendship is hard for any adult. Now I know that choosing to live my dream means I have to put even more effort into keeping my old friendships than the typical twenty-something American.

Vicariously yours,

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Anything but the royal treatment

Back in April, the Mister and I got bumped from our flight back to Saudi when we were connecting through the Amsterdam airport.

Hang on...lemme back up.

Because of the limited number of affordable flights that leave from Saudi Arabia, the Mister and I frequently fly KLM. We fly KLM so much, in fact, that it is the first airline for which we have ever joined the frequent flyer program. We really do enjoy the service of the KLM staff, and have had a pretty pleasant experience travelling with them.

Now, fast forward to April.

We were returning from our vacation in Berlin and "missed" our connection to Dammam. By "missed" I mean immigration took us a while so we were the last people in line for an extremely overcrowded flight on which we had confirmed seats. I'm guessing the kind people of KLM caved under the irate pressure that is an Arab husband and wife team being told they can't have what they want while accompanied by their screaming, rowdy brood.

Imagine my shock when the lady behind the check-in counter told us that, as compensation for our inconvenience, we could choose to get an 800 Euro travel voucher, or 1000 Euros in cash. EACH. That was a very generous offer! We knew we would be taking more trips in the future, so we opted to plan for our frugal future and went with the travel vouchers instead.

Fast forward again to the past month and a half. One of my best friends is getting married in December, so I used my travel voucher to fly myself back to the States for the blessed event. We're going to Spain to vacation with my family very soon, so we used the Mister's voucher to buy part of his very expensive ticket.

Using the vouchers was a very complicated process. We had to book the tickets over the phone, then mail the vouchers by registered mail (a procedure that, in Saudi Arabia, took us 3 days and $100 to perform), and then wait for the e-tickets to be issued within 10 business days.

We did all that. And waited. Ten days passed. No tickets. Two weeks passed. No tickets. Almost a month passed. Still. no. tickets. Finally I got an email requesting I call the reservation center.

When I called I found out that my credit card company had blocked the transactions because they were 3 large purchases from an international business. How cautious of them. I contacted the credit card company and cleared all that up, then waited for KLM to issue the tickets.

And waited.

And waited.

Our trip to Spain was quickly approaching, so I called KLM again to find out what was going on. They just hadn't gotten around to re-running my credit card, but they'll flag the transaction as "urgent" and I'll have my e-ticket in the next 24 hours.

That was 6 days ago. I've called every day for the past 5 days (even twice on a couple days) and I still don't have my e-ticket. We've gotten the Mister's, so he's good to go to Spain...

Note to self: next time, just take the cash.

Vicariously yours,

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Language Barrier

I've mentioned before my students' propensity for spewing English obscenities with no regard for the fact that their lockers are located DIRECTLY NEXT TO THE ENGLISH DEPARTMENT. As a middle school teacher, I've made peace with the fact that I'm going to have students that use foul language. It's a fact of the adolescent years. I decided a long time ago that as long as they weren't hurling the insults at me or a classmate, or as long as they weren't screaming that kind of language down the hallway or in classroom discussion for all to hear, I just wasn't going to fight that battle. It would be a losing one.

I am a little surprised by how often I hear and understand cuss words among my Saudi students (I'm sure they're using the Arabic ones...I just haven't learned those yet). Thankfully, they pretty much reserve their potty mouths for their frustration with their lockers ("What the hell!? Why won't it open?!") or with their awful use of time ("Shit! I'm late to class!"). Imagine my surprise the other day when I thought a student let a cuss word fly in the middle of class! Here's the situation:

I have a student who gets frequent nosebleeds. I had her last year in the seventh grade and I'm so glad to report that she no longer freaks out and goes into a panic every time the blood appears (seriously, in the winter it's almost a weekly thing, and last year she would have almost a weekly freak out). The other day, she calmly placed her hand over her nose, raised her other hand and said she needed to go take care of it.

"Sure. Grab a tissue from my cart then head to the bathroom." (I'm on a cart this year. Have I mentioned that? A cart.)

The girls are so used to me not allowing them to take a restroom break during my 40 minute class period that they all assumed I was telling her to suck it up and finish the class with blood all over her hands and face. "The soulless white lady's at it again!!"*

*They didn't really say that, but wouldn't it be funny if they had?!

As I was trying to clarify my directions, one of the girls who sits completely across the room from the nosebleeder finally tuned in and figured out that her friend was losing platelets.

"Damn, Nora!" she called out. She didn't quite yell it, but I was standing directly next to her.

"Rebecca!* Seriously?! I'm standing right here," I said, a tone of annoyance in my voice. "I can understand what you said. It's my language."

*not really her name. ...obviously.

Twenty-five very confused faces turned toward me.

"Wha--...I'm sorry? I didn't mean..." she trailed off, looking at her friends to see if they knew what the crazy lady was talking about.

One of my most patient angels with fantastic language skills and a knack for quickly understanding situations said, ", teacher. She said, 'dam.' It's Arabic. It means blood. She was asking if it was blood."

....oops. Open mouth, insert foot.

I apologized personally to the non-foul-mouthed student.

Vicariously yours,

After telling my husband this story, he asked if I checked to make sure the Arabic word for blood actually is "dam."  Cause that would have been the world's most epic case of trolling if the girls tried to play the language barrier card to get away with cussing in my class. In fact, the word for blood is dam (دم).

Friday, October 28, 2011

The world's most useful door

Photos taken in the staircase leading to a shisha restaurant in a nearby compound.

Yes. It was locked.

Vicariously yours,

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

I want my mommy!

I have greatly enjoyed (slowly) getting to know the Arabic language and the idioms and phrases that are used by my students. One that I love is the "yuma*."

"Yuma" is most commonly used as an interjection by my students. For example, last year, in my 7th grade class, we read the teleplay for "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" then we watched the Twilight Zone episode. I had no idea what a hit the old '50s TV show would be! They loved it, and the simple plot lines and language were right on their comprehension levels! So for our reward party days, I downloaded a bunch of episodes and they begged to watch!

I laughed every time the scary pig-faced people were revealed or the creepy guy popped up unexpectedly in the back seat because 5 girls would simultaneously whimper and call out, "YUMA!"

"Yuma" means "Mommy." So when my girls are startled, they call out for their mommies!

I get the mental picture of Daffy Duck suspended in mid-air over a deep ravine or off the edge of a skyscraper, eyes wide staring at the camera for a second and quietly crying "mother" before disappearing from the shot.

I love it.

The Mister says the boys do the same thing. I think it's hilarious.

Vicariously yours,

*No, this is not where the Native Americans of Arizona got the name of the town. This is just the transliteration of the word. 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Sting ain't got nothin' on these desert roses

Did you know that desert roses are a real thing? And they're not flowers at all, but rocks? I DID! And today I finally got to go hunting for some desert roses of my own! Some friends of ours were kind enough to invite us to join them on a jaunt into the desert. We packed a cooler, slathered on some sunscreen and headed out.

We got to ride in the Hummer H3. Saudi Arabia is the only place where a car like this is justifiable.

See the little flag in the middle of the two highways? That's where we were going.

 Our hosts had their trusty guard poodle in the navigator's seat.

Time to get off the road and get into the sand!!

The only thing we saw along the way to the desert roses were little camel and goat farms, power lines, and camels.

 Eventually the rocky path we were following was taken over by dunes and we had to feel our way to the roses. It was a dusty day. The wind has been blowing for the past few days.

"uh...I think it's thatta way."

A little desert oasis! It's like the movies!!

Finally we reached the roses. This is what the desert roses look like. They are the result of the sand crystallizing from the heat and pressure of the desert. They're really cool looking. Some of them look like UFOs. Others are shiny and flat. Others look exactly like a rose. They're just sitting in the sand in the desert, but if you want to find the really big ones, you have to dig.

She dug for the better part of an hour as any number of the men on our excursion "supervised."

Eventually the piles of roses started to appear.

I just loved how they looked like weird space rocks or something. Just hangin' out in the desert.

Of course, it wouldn't be a trip into the desert unless somebody got stuck in the sand!!

We had a great time off-roading our way through Saudi Arabia this afternoon. We got a few pretty desert roses that will be great bookends for our house, and we had a fun time meeting some new people.

Vicariously yours,

(Admit it, you totally have Sting's song stuck in your head now!!)

Party on the roof

This weekend, one of our housemates hosted a little get together on our roof. We've had shindigs like this before and it's always been a fun time. Last night, however, we decided to take it to the next level, Saudi style.

On the way to our house there is a gas station that has a rug stand next to it. We purchased a couple rugs, and some "camel saddle" cushions. Phase one was complete.

Then we went by Saco World (think Lowes meets Wal-Mart) and got some tiki torches and a dart board. Phase two, complete.

Then the Mister went hookah shopping with a colleague. Game. On.

I can't speak for everyone, but I had a great time. It was very chill, the food was good, the hookah was smooth and the conversation was even better. With the weather becoming super nice, I predict a lot more Arabian nights spent on the roof.

One of the camel saddle cushions can be seen behind the Mister. It kind of looks like a saddle (obviously) and you're meant to lounge on it by leaning against it or resting your elbow on it. I didn't find them particularly comfortable, but I'm not a big floor sitter in the first place. Most of our guests seemed to enjoy them. 

The hookah was a big hit. One of our Saudi guests was kind enough to show us the protocol for sharing the hookah. Who knew I had been passing the pipe all wrong all these years?!

Vicariously yours,


Dear readers, allow me to introduce you to The Money Pit.

We've talked about the maintenance woes of our pathetic little Volvo before, but I don't think you two have ever been properly introduced. Unfortunately, the woes continue with the ol' MP. 

First it started acting up a few months after we purchased this lemon. It would rev oddly and stall out at random times. We took it to get fixed and $870 later, it seemed to be good as new.

Until it started doing it again.

And then the rear passenger side window broke and stayed permanently down. We've mentioned before that the Mister and I are no strangers to the broken window motor. We made do with such an ailment in Nashville, so we just plastic wrapped the window and laughed it off as we shouted our conversations during our morning commutes.

We toughed it out until the end of the school year and resolved ourselves to get the car fixed when we returned from our summer travels.

Six weeks later, we return to the Kingdom, drop another $500 on this lump of worthlessness and we're back on the road. The rear passenger side window has now been permanently propped up, never to be rolled down again.

Everything was going along swimmingly until a couple weeks ago (almost exactly 3 weeks after we got it out of the garage). It has now started revving at odd times like it did before, but the worst part--the insult to our injury--THE REAR DRIVERS SIDE WINDOW IS NOW BROKEN AND STAYING PERMANENTLY DOWN!

AAHH! It's so infuriating! We had just gotten all the dust and sand out of the car and then the freaking other window broke! 

It became comical when today, as we were getting into our car to leave a compound where we had been visiting friends, a cat jumped out of our back seat. She had crawled in there through our open window to take a nap. Here's hoping that's the only desert animal that sets up shop in our back seat!

Curse you, Volvo gods! 

Vicariously yours,

Friday, October 21, 2011

Hiding in the shadows

This, ladies and gentlemen has to be one of the most Saudi moves we ever see on the roads. This guy is hiding in the shadow of the overpass while waiting for the red light to change. He is at the front of the line of traffic, but he's at least 20 feet away from the front of the lane.

Because he wants to wait in the shadow.

Because the sun is hot in Saudi Arabia and he doesn't want to get a drivers tan.*

It's so baffling that in a culture that honks at you the millisecond the light turns green, the drivers will cower in the shadow of an overpass and hold everyone else up. AND NOBODY HONKS AT HIM!? I don't get it.

Vicariously yours,

*both clauses of this sentence are assumptions on my part. Well, the second one is. The sun is hot in Saudi Arabia...although it might not be the reason why this guy is waiting in the shadow for the light to change. ...but it probably is.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Featured Photo: Please Use Other Door

Yes. This is what you think it is. This is a door serving as the walkway to a door. It's hard to see in this picture, but the door is spanning a small ravine that I assume was dug to make way for pipe or wiring or something. This is such a common sight in Saudi Arabia.

Not that it's common to see doors on the ground, but to have a giant ditch in the middle of a sidewalk and a ridiculously narrow "walkway" put down across it is the typical modus operandi around here. I guess the city doesn't provide those steel plates or a temporary walkway like you see in more developed civilized Western places, so the businesses are left on their own to figure out a solution. I dunno, but it definitely provided some laughs for us tonight.

"Let me get the door for you!"

This kind of thing would have totally baffled me last year. Now I just whip out my camera and snap photos because this is the kind of stuff that happens in Saudi Arabia that is so hard to describe.


Vicariously yours,

Thursday, October 13, 2011

No use cryin' over spilled chemicals...

As soon as I walked in to school today, I was asked if it's heard about the gas leak. First it was from my co-workers.

"Amber, did you smell gas on your way to school?" one of the English teachers said with a chuckle. I wasn't in on the joke yet, and it was only 7:13 am, so I just kind of courtesy laughed and continued with taking off my abaya and gearing up for 1st period.

"No, really, there was a gas leak and all the schools in [nearby town] are closed today," she said.

Oh! She wasn't kidding. And that explained why there was so little traffic on the roads this morning! It was all starting to come together now.

"Are you being serious? There's a gas leak? Like gas? Natural gas?" I asked in quick succession, eyebrows raised.

"I don't know. It was a gas of some sort. Chlorine, I think. A chemical factory exploded."

"Oh my gosh? Was anyone hurt?"

"I don't know, but I hope we get out of school!"

Obviously, in times of crisis, teachers focus on the important things. I laughed awkwardly again and continued to get ready for first period. The halls were at their normal level of chaos, so I wasn't sure if news of the mysterious gas leak had reached the students yet.

Then I walked into the 7th grade hallway.

As soon as I turned the corner I was verbally attacked with: "TEACHER THERE'S TRANSBOUNDARY POLLUTION IN [A DIFFERENT NEARBY TOWN THAN BEFORE]!!!"

Can you tell what our first unit in social studies has been about? I'm just so dang proud.

Another angel came running up, "TEACHER! There was a fire in Aramco! We aren't having school today!"

You've got to give her points for creativity, considering that she was sharing this news with me in the middle of the school hallway. Meanwhile, my confusion was mounting. I'd heard three different reports of three different incidents happening in three different places. What exactly was going on!? And why was everyone yelling!?

I laughed as another student tried to play the "I'm too scared of the mystery danger to learn today" card and told her that she better get her scared little butt to first period on time or I'd give her something to be afraid of...ok, those weren't my exact words but you get the idea.

I returned to the English cluster because it was now 7:18 and I was a little more awake and could process the news. Here was the initial report: there was a gas leak of some sort at a chemical plant in a nearby town and all of the schools in the surrounding area were closed, but not us. The gas was not natural gas, but it could have been chlorine or possibly nitrogen. Neither of those gasses sounded particularly deadly, but apparently someone was spreading the rumor that if the nitrogen mixed with the hydrogen in the air, it could be horrifically dangerous.

The jury's still out on the scientific validity of this claim.

Teacher friends will sympathize with how annoying my first period class was.

My Saudi friends will not be surprised to learn that we didn't make it past 3rd period today.

I had just finished the first part of my block period with my 9th graders when the PA system beeped and an announcement was made in Arabic telling everyone to stay inside.'s fall in Saudi's still a good 90 degrees during the day. It wasn't exactly a let's-have-class-outside kind of day.

Immediately afterwards, a student came to my door and asked if she could make an announcement: "GO HOME!" she happily declared! I explained to my ecstatic students that we weren't going anywhere until an adult came with some information.

Welp, approximately 2 seconds later, an adult came to the room and said that if you have your mobile phone, you should call your parents and tell them to come pick you up.

I've never seen so many Blackberries appear from thin air so quickly!! It's a miracle how technology that's not allowed in the classroom can materialize in your pocket right when you need it.

I'm still a little confused how "Stay inside" turned to "Go stand outside and wait for your driver to arrive to pick you up and go home." But you know, that's why they don't put me in charge.

Eventually we did get some actual information: A chemical plant in a nearby city had had a chemical spill sometime last night. Civil Defense originally thought they could get things contained before having to disrupt the school day, but that didn't prove to be the case. They had sent out a message to close schools and "cut out from work early" is the kind of news that travels fast in Saudi Arabia.

The Mister and I got home and enjoyed a mid-morning nap.

Never a dull moment.

Vicariously yours,

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Bonfires have been replaced by hookahs

It's almost Halloween, which means it's bonfire and smores season in the States. I LOVE Halloween and I'm sad to be missing out on the hayrides, trick-or-treaters and fun parties that I enjoy so much.

It struck me as funny today when I walked out of school to almost 100 degree weather and commented to a coworker how nice it was outside. ...On October 5th. Almost 100 degrees.

The same thought popped into my head as I ran some laundry out to the dryer a few minutes ago. Here's the current temperature:

I guess it's like fall in Miami...only with dust. And a LOT less skin.

Here's what I'm missing back at home today:

Warm days and cool nights, how I miss thee!

I'll be singing a different tune when it's December and I'm still wearing shorts under my abaya and North America's getting pelted by snow. I will say that I do love a Saudi winter. In the meantime, I'm a touch homesick for burnt marshmallow and beautiful foliage.

Vicariously yours,