Friday, July 31, 2009

See Red Sea

Growing up overseas, some of my fondest memories were of family times spent at beaches close to Accra, Ghana, Lagos, Nigeria and, through pictures and stories, the beaches near Karachi, Pakistan, during my first two years. So many of the world's large urban areas are on salt water, including Seattle, the one we just left, and Jeddah, the one we currently call home. Bordering the Red Sea about midway up the western flank of the Arabian Peninsula, Jeddah is an ancient trading port and, even today, remains closely connected to the water which it borders.

Beaches here are largely private and, seemingly, intentionally located quite far from town and prying eyes. The beach we went to today, Silver Sands, was past the airport, itself about a half hour north of town, on a large inlet of the Red Sea. Like all neighboring beaches, ours was about $25 per adult to gain access to, with a fully westernized feel - paddle boats and wind surfers, bikinis and snorkels, palms and sand. The clientele seemed split 50-50 between westerners from all corners and middle easterners mostly from Syria, Jordan and other neighboring Arab countries. The beach staff, like all service workers we've seen so far, were not Saudi, coming instead from places like the Philippines, India, and Bangladesh.

The contrast from our earlier visit (Wednesday night - their "Friday") to a posh mall could not have been more marked; instead of completely covered women, fairly formerly dressed men, and an overarching Saudi feel, the beach seemed familiar, incongruous given the context of urban Jeddah and Saudi culture. We swam, kayaked, snorkeled, and just hung out, doing our best to avoid getting cooked too much by the unrelenting Arabian sun. The water was bath-like, the saline content high, and far out from shore was a man-made break wall, just past which the sea color went from very light aquamarine to equally dark blue, with more tropical fish than you find in many Disney movies. After four hours, refreshed and sun-warm, we were met again by the hotel's bus driver, making our way past the immense airport, with its completely separate terminal just for haj, with another sparkling terminal just for the royal family and seemingly about 10 extra square miles for future expansions.

Thanks for reading. More to come...

Abaya Shopping Part 2

Greetings again. Since it's so hot, over 100 degrees each day, and since I have to wear the abaya each time we go out, it starts to smell a little, shall we say, less fresh. Therefore, we took a taxi yesterday afternoon, after the calls to prayer, to our favorite abaya shop to buy a second one. This time we sipped Pepsi with the owner and his younger brother - and we took a photo.

Continuing to meet many wonderful people and families. Today we met two men from the U.K. who have been here three months - one to set up the entire waterfront/beach area for KAUST and the other as the golf pro.

We are doing well. Both boys are adapting and handling so many things very well. Expectations seem to be high for behavior in general, which is something we support. I confess I miss running outside at Greenlake. More soon. Look for next post on Swimming in the Red Sea.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Abaya Shopping

Greetings all. Our first real outing occurred yesterday afternoon. A hotel driver was asked to take us to the souk, or market, to buy my first abaya. Though it was not far, it took nearly 45 minutes for the Indian driver to maneuver through the traffic where at each intersection cars running through the lights blocked the traffic which had just received the green light. Much honking ensued. Many people (men) stared. Once we finally got to the abaya shop, the Pakistani owner, whose English was sparse, was thrilled to hear that David had been born in Karachi. He was friendly and outgoing, pulling out several abayas for me to try on. Logan chose one he liked. Hayden chose another. In the end, I chose one which both boys liked. It is all black, of course, except for the two rows of silvery blue decorations along the bottom and sleeves. (As requested, we will soon post photographs.) The Marriott van driver also came into the shop to help us negotiate. Eventually, the owner sold us the one I liked for 100 Saudi Riyals (SR), down from 250 because David knows a bit about Pakistan, though we heard later that others in our KAUST group paid only 80. After our purchase, the shop owner really wanted us to join him for drinks of Pepsi, but we decided to head back. Maybe next time ...

Wearing the abaya is actually kind of nice, as I feel more appropriate and less stared at. Some very devout women wear a veil which covers their eyes and face. In the hotel I do not need to wear the abaya, but I do need to wear slacks below the knees and modest tops. I do not need to wear a head scarf or veil, even out of the hotel.

We heard from some colleagues about a new Lebanese restaurant that just opened up near the hotel, so we headed there for lunch - just as everything closed for the call to prayers. We came back to the hotel and waited 30 minutes before heading out again. This time the owners, all male members of a Lebanese family, welcomed us into their restaurant and put before us the MOST amazing spread of roast lamb, tabouleh, hummous, pita, and garlicky yogurt we have ever seen. It was delicious - and only about $20 for all four of us. Then we went to the supermarket and discovered many familiar products packaged like at home but with Arabic writing on one side. We also discovered about fifteen different types of dates. In general the people we encounter are either indifferent or, if South Asian, quite friendly. It was very hot and we were exhausted after the half-mile walk back to the hotel because of the heat.

Logan already has a playdate this afternoon with a five year old boy named Adam, whose mother is from Sri Lanka and father is from England. He has also met two other nearly five year olds, Charlotte and Tasha.

Tomorrow, Friday, is like our Sunday, a holy day, so we are all heading to the beach. KAUST School meetings start on Saturday and we get to visit the campus on Monday. Should be a good week. Hope the boys can stay busy. Sure wish we had our Ticket to Ride game! I am not sure that the glitzy Saudi malls would sell games such as that.

Love to all,

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

We have arrived ...

Greetings friends and family...
We arrived in Jeddah late last night - after being bumped up to Business Class on our Air France flight. It was luxurious and relaxing and, at five and a half hours, relatively short compared to the Seattle-Paris flight. We were met by waves of hot, humid air, as expected. As we entered the terminal, we were greeted by a man representing our school, KAUST, who was helpful in steering us gently through the lines of people waiting for passport control. We got to the desk where our passports were studied and photocopied, our fingerprints and photographs taken, and the government officer kindly pretended to take Logan's fingerprints as well, so he would not feel left out. After a time, we were whisked into a large Suburban and driven to the Marriott Hotel in Jeddah where most of the teachers are staying. The entire time we were in Paris, Hayden was noticing how small the cars were and how there were almost no American cars - and certainly no large SUVs. Once we arrived in Jeddah last night, it was a different story. Many American cars. Many large cars. Not quite like Parisian streets!

As we drove from the airport into the city center, we passed many glitzy shopping malls and glass-walled monoliths selling every kind of vehicle imaginable. Even at 10:30 p.m., men could be seen shopping for vehicles of all types. Hayden was particularly excited to see a 'store selling real Ferraris'! The people who have assisted us for KAUST have all been genuinely kind and helpful. One man was explaining to David last night how safe this city is, even for women, and that most women enjoy Jeddah because there is "such good shopping." I am getting the continual idea that shopping is a key activity, particularly for women. In fact, shortly we are heading to one of the many very large malls to buy my abaya, which is a thin black robe-type covering that women wear over their clothes. It does not appear that I must wear a head scarf, but I will let you know. Veils over the face are not required, though I have certainly seen many. The abayas that I saw on some women last night are actually lovely - with delicate stitching and decorations on the sleeves.

We are staying in the lovely Marriott where the buffet is vast with all kinds of food at all hours. This morning's breakfast choices varied from museli to pancakes, doughnuts to personal omelets, cheeses, breads, Corn Puffs, coffee (!), juice and fruit, beef strips and hashbrowns, porridge with hot milk, tabouli salads and yogurts (both fruity and goat's milk types). Our family is sharing two rooms, connected by a door, so the boys each have their own huge comfy bed. We imagine we will actually be living in this hotel with other families for several weeks - until the housing and roads for KAUST are completed enough for the teachers and families to move there. We will begin meetings on Saturday morning, which is like our Monday as the weekends here are Thursday and Friday. Not exactly sure at this point how we will fill the hours and days for the boys in a hotel, but there are several other KAUST families as well, so I think we will figure it out. We may be buying some new games, if possible, and they may be doing a lot of swimming.

Please stay in touch. It's great to hear from people, even just telling us about life at home! Great to hear how warm Seattle has been.

Monday, July 27, 2009

We love Paris

Greetings! Here we are in Paris, trying to adjust to being awake during nighttime in Seattle and sleeping during daytime, but it's coming along and we are doing well. Paris is such a wonderfully exciting and vibrant city. We are so grateful to be here for a few days before we head to a place which will be far less familiar.

We went to the Champs Elysees yesterday as we had hoped to watch the final day of the Tour de France. The crowds were intense, but the energy was exciting and contagious. I have to confess that it's so much easier to watch such an event on t.v. though. We were standing behind several other rows of people and each time the cyclists came around on their lap, everyone seemed to stretch higher onto their toes and to surge forward. All I really saw was the tops of some colorful helmets flying past. I could not determine any individual riders, even the yellow jersey was not possible to distinguish from where I was standing. Hayden, however, was able to get up to the front where the barriers were, thanks to the helpfulness of another fan, and he got to see much better than any of us, though even he acknowledged that the riders just zoomed right by so quickly. He took a short video which is amazing because it shows the perspective of all the people who attend such an event - blurred colors of cyclists. David was certainly caught up in the enthusiasm of the event, as we all were, and was thrilled to have been able to physically be there once. Just towards the end, we retired to a nearby bar which had a large screen t.v. tuned, of course, to what was occurring just outside. We were able to watch the sprint finish and the awards ceremony. After it all seemed over, we headed outside for a relatively short walk to the Eiffel Tower, but the crowds were still hanging around the Champs Elysees for some reason. Not sure why.

The Eiffel Tower, stunning as always, was adequately impressive to the boys. We planned to go up in the elevator, but it was just getting too late, so we hope to try that today. Being in Paris with the boys has been truly a joy. They handle all the walking so well, enjoy our efforts at figuring out the Metro, and have been willing to try new foods. They each have tried some words in French, much to the pleasure of restaurant servers. I have been proud of their adaptability in a new country. It's probably good we started here, to give them a sense of a different country which, really, is not so different from our own, before we head to a much more different Arabic country. During the summers in Paris, there is a long section of the road parallel to the Seine River which is closed to cars and open only to pedestrians and cyclists. On our first day here, we explored this area which has sandy 'beaches' set up for kids to play, a swimming pool, a ropes course (which Logan took advantage of), beach chairs, fountains, ice cream stands ... all in an attempt to offer something to Parisian families here during the summer.

We plan to spend a week or two next summer here in Paris, hopefully renting an apartment. It would sure be fun to have friends meet us here! Hint.

Off to breakfast. One can never tire of excellent coffee and baguettes. Love to all. We will write again after we arrive in Jeddah. We hear that we will be housed at the Marriott for some weeks until the KAUST housing is ready for the teachers. We are looking forward to actually unpacking. We have been living out of suitcases since June 20.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Here we go ...

Greetings all,
We have finally finished packing up our belongings, taking many items to Goodwill or the dump (!), storing things in our storage unit or in our attic, and cleaning our house. We have completed so many tasks over the last week and a half. Thank God for friends who have invited us for dinner, taken food we had left, and let us stay in their house for the last three days when our beds and house were no longer livable for us. Many people have called, emailed, or stopped by to say hello or to offer what they could. Several friends loaned us cars. Several strangers bought furniture we no longer wanted. Another couple of friends joined us for our final (for now!) backpacking trip to Lake Dorothy and some wonderful friends let their son join us on our outing! Friends. Thanks so much for all! We could not have done this without the assistance of others. Currently, we are staying in the wonderfully clean and organized home of some friends who are not even here to see our suitcases spread all over their living room. Thank you!

We head off to Paris tomorrow and hope to watch the end of the Tour on Sunday. Go Astana! We will head to Jeddah on July 28 where, we have been told, we will live in the Marriott Hotel for at least three weeks while the houses and roads are completed on campus. Hopefully there is a hotel and some kind of cleaning service because we have been cleaning like crazy! We understand that we should have access to email and Skype, though it can be sketchy. We also have learned that Jennifer will need an abaya soon after arriving in Jeddah. We will let you all know how that goes.

Time for last laundry and dinner at the Barking Dog Alehouse. Yeah! Then off to bed.

We will be in touch! Love, J.D.H.L

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Two Weeks to Go ...

With just two weeks to go, I am reminded of the question people ask us most often: "Are you excited?" It's not that we are not excited, I supposed, it's just that that is not really the word that I would choose. After three wonderful weeks of vacation with friends and family, we are now back and feeling a bit overwhelmed by all that remains to be done. I am also looking ahead with anticipation, anxiety, enthusiasm, nervousness, and excitement. It's a lot to take on - moving one's family. It's so very different from the days when I could pack myself up and move to Asia without much thought.

Another question: "What do the kids think?" Our children, ages four and three-quarters and nine, are probably feeling mixed feelings as well. Logan is just happy to be where we are, wherever that might be, and I think he's excited. Hayden is more concerned about leaving his friends. He has a wonderful group of friends right here near our house, and he is sad to leave them. Understandably. I think he's also excited to travel and to see more of the world. He studied Egypt at school last year and is quite interested in traveling there as well.

"What about your house?" We have kept and rented out our house to a couple. We hope they enjoy our home as much as we have - and will when we return.

"What have you learned so far?" A lot of things, but mostly so far I have learned that even though I purge excess 'stuff' frequently, it is so easy to have just TOO much stuff. I am happy to clear out and live more simply, but boy it's hard because stuff just keeps appearing somehow.

More questions again soon. Thanks for reading, Jennifer

Thursday, July 9, 2009

How we got to this point ...

Greetings all!
As we have traveled to see friends and family over the last three weeks, it has become clear to us that a bit of information about how we got here and where we are headed might be helpful.

Since we met, David and I have thought about teaching overseas. Never before has the timing seemed right. Either one of us was working in a job we were not ready to leave or we had a baby or young child which prevented us from feeling that we could both work full-time. Last fall, we completed applications for International Schools Services (ISS) and in February we headed to San Francisco to enjoy one of our favorite cities and to attend an ISS teacher recruitment conference. We had agreed that we would look at schools in Asia, Central or South America, or Europe, but we did not find schools that had jobs available for each of us. Many jobs we had seen online had been filled already or were no longer available because some teachers had decided not to return to an uncertain job future in the United States. We were sought out by the representatives from KAUST (King Abdullah University for Science and Technology) because we are a couple and we love to teach middle school. After several hours of questions and answers with the school representatives, we left S.F. with an offer and several days to make a decision. We decided it would be exciting to be in the Middle East, to learn about a part of the world that many of us have preconceived ideas about, and to be part of a start up K-12 school on the campus of the first graduate-level university for science and technology in Saudi Arabia. Ultimately, we feel it will be an adventure for our children and for us to attend school and work in a new country. We have committed to two years.

In the meantime, we have rented our house, sold our car, packed up air freight and sea freight shipments, visited our parents and siblings and their families, reconnected with many friends, taken loads of clothes and books and whatever else a household accumulates to Goodwill, and tried to prepare ourselves for this next chapter. Please share our blog with friends who might be interested. Comment if you like. We look forward to hearing from you.

We leave for Paris from Seattle on July 24. We will arrive in Paris on July 25 and will, incredibly, be able to be in Paris for the final day of the Tour de France! We fly to Jeddah on July 28 and understand that we will be in a hotel in Jeddah with the other faculty members and their families until August 13 when our houses and offices will be ready. Our house there will be furnished and supplied with kitchen needs and linens, so we are taking our clothing, books, bikes and scooters, rollerblades and roller skis, football, soccer ball, baseball and mitt, skateboard, winter ski clothing (in case we get to get away to some cooler place for some winter skiing), photos, our computer and some DVDs. Somehow I suspect we will return from the Kingdom and wonder why we felt we needed to store all those boxes in the attic!

Jennifer Evans