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,