Friday, August 28, 2009

Greetings friends and family,
Recently in a rather 'down' moment, we Evanses started talking about what we miss from home:
The mountains
Sledding on our hill (Logan - not sure he realizes it is still summer at home)
Northwest microbrews and red wine
Running outside at Greenlake
Family visits

Then we talked about what we are grateful for here:
Friday beach days
The vast array of food at the Marriott buffet
The comfortable beds
Our upcoming trip to London
The pool (for the males in the family)
Daily cleaning of our room and the friendly hotel staff
Indian and Lebanese restaurants
The beach
The kids who are Logan's age and more coming who are Hayden's age
Amazing colleagues and new friends
Did I mention the beach and snorkeling at the reef??

We must remember what we miss, mostly our friends and family, and all that we have to be grateful for!

The photos above show us enjoying room service dinner and play cars at the Mall of Arabia.

Thanks for reading. Jennifer

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Jeddah's "Little India," the Sharafiya District

The smell of fresh chapatti quickly transported me back to the 5th - 7th grade years, when my family lived in New Delhi, India and frequently traveled throughout one of the world's most amazing countries and its largest democracy. Only this time I wasn't in Delhi, where an old, grizzled man in the alley behind our home would happily make me a fresh chapatti while squatting by his modest charcoal-fired stove, all the while chatting away amiably in Hindi, overestimating my mastery of one of the world's most widely spoken languages.
Only last night, the language our hungry group of seven was hearing and seeing everywhere was Malayalam, one of India's other 18 major languages (the most widely spoken, of course, being Hindi), and almost certainly the only language spoken by 35 million people that is such a long palindrome!
The Malayali live almost exclusively in the state of Kerala, on India's SW coast, and the parade of male shopkeepers, shoppers, restauranteurs, and peddlers all about were but a small subset of the 1.5+ million Malayali living in the Gulf States (Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, Oman, Saudi Arabia).
At more than 90%, Kerala has India's highest rate of literacy, along with health and other demographics that are the envy of much of the rest of the country. Yet it also has one of India's highest population densities and, apparently, not enough post-scholastic opportunities for its burgeoning, talented population; hence Jeddah's Sharafiya district and the myriad Keralans in evidence.
Teresa Joseph, our most beloved servant while living in Delhi in the early 7os, was from Kerala; it was her son, Christopher (they were Catholics) who became such a close buddy of mine and who taught me so much about Indian culture (including how to swear fluently in Hindi!).
Our noses soon steered us to the recommended Hill Top Restaurant, where an 8:00 arrival put us at tables just vacated by the Ramadan Iftar crowd (see Jennifer's preceding entry). Soon, towering plates of scrumptious food - chapatti, daal, butter chicken, palaak paneer - that you might find in, say, Goa filled our tables, and we were soon experiencing gustatory reverie and chatting about good times spent in South Asia. Our meal for seven came in at $24 total, a far cry from what KAUST gets charged for any of our meals taken at the hotel!
Afterward, and just as the stores and shops were reopening for their Ramadan evening hours (from around 9:15 pm to midnight, or even until 1 or 2 in the morning in some cases!), we ambled about the teeming streets, purchasing a few odds and ends for that still-hoped-for move to our homes at KAUST.
Just as we were heading to the main thoroughfare and its legion of taxis, we chanced upon an open-air vegetable market. In broken English and meager Arabic, we soon determined from the stall keepers that hardly any of the fruits and vegetables on the many stands came from anywhere near Saudi Arabia - bananas from the Americas, spinach from Sri Lanka, mangoes from India, etc. So used to a farmer's market with its largely indigenous foods and crafts, we were suddenly struck again by the uniqueness of SA. SA's energy costs, apparently low tariffs, and meager supply of agricultural land give its many merchants and traders a fair degree of discretion on selection as they comb the world's trade channels, and this is obvious everywhere, from the fanciest hotels and showrooms to, like this one, the most basic open air stalls.
We hope our next foray out for authentic ethnic cuisine can take us to the Bangladeshi or Pakistani districts, both of which are purported to have similar riches awaiting us, so stay tuned and thanks for reading! David

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Still here ...

Greetings friends and family,
First, I would like to say how much we appreciate the comments many of you are making either on our blog or directly to us via email. We read all the comments and really enjoy knowing that you are reading what we write. We love to hear your comments and questions. So thank you.

We are still here in our adjoining hotel rooms at the Marriott Jeddah. Everyone is still here as well, but some people have visited their homes today, those whose homes are complete. No one has really moved up yet, but we hope to sometime at the end of August. Inshallah. Since it is now Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, reflection, prayer, and the haj to Mecca for Muslims, our options have narrowed a bit. Because many of us KAUST people are non-Muslims, the Marriott is offering us breakfast and lunch in a small side room each day - or we are welcome to order room service as well. This is so we are not openly eating in front of those who are fasting. One night we opted for room service, enjoying pizza and Caesar salad in our room. It was relaxing and family-centering. We may do that again tonight because it allows us to eat together with just our family, like at home. Nearly every restaurant, store, mall, and office has very unusual hours. They seem to have some hours each day during the daytime, though I am not clear as to what those hours are, then they close for the afternoon, opening again for a meal to break the fast (iftar) or afterwards if they do not serve food. So, IKEA and malls, for example are open from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m., when people like to shop and socialize after their big evening meal. We have to work at 8 a.m. so the idea of going out from 9 - 11 p.m. is not tremendously appealing at the moment. The Marriott hotel offers an amazingly diverse array of food for each evening's iftar such that people and companies make reservations to come here just to dine. We have never seen the hotel as full as during the evening meal. Typically, we have been told, Muslims will break the fast with some tea or water and some dates and dried apricots. They then eat a large meal throughout the evening before heading out to shop or visit friends or family. A colleague went out last night to shop for a car and found the car dealers absolutely packed at midnight. We have learned to greet people with "Ramadan Mubarak" during this time of year.

Ramadan ends with a large feast thirty days after the first day of the lunar month. It is an Islamic holiday, for the final week of Ramadan, so we have a week off of school - before school even starts! We have decided to head to London for that week, to relax and regroup a bit before coming back and actually starting school on September 26. We will spend three nights at a hotel in London and three nights with a family in Surrey with whom I stayed during college for one week. I have not seen Angela and Martin for more than 20 years, though their son Clive did visit me in Vietnam and us in Michigan years ago. I think of this family as 'my English family', and I am so excited to reconnect and introduce my own family to my English family, ironically named the Marriotts.

We also plan to spend Christmas skiing in Austria. We welcome friends and family to join us?! We have rented an apartment in a small village outside of Innsbruck, a location known for its cross country ski trails, as well as downhill skiing. We are totally excited to get to some snow.

Thanks for reading. Jennifer

Thursday, August 20, 2009

House and Ramadan

Some recent photos from the beach, Hayden by the Marriott pool, both boys in a local chocolate shop! Delicious.

I was able to go to Thuwal a few days ago. The houses are coming along. Some are done. Ours and all those on our street are almost done, but the road isn't, so we don't really have full and safe access right now. Even if it was done, we can't/don't want to move yet because we have meetings here, fresh food here, friends here, a pool here, everything we need really. Up on campus there is a mini-mart which has many household items, but no fresh fruits or vegetables yet because no one is really living there yet. There are three small restaurants, a wonderful cafeteria, a great deal of nearly finished construction, and a lot of garbage that has yet to be cleaned up. Though we are pretty upbeat about living in a hotel, it does feel like a never-ending situation at times. (I have actually used two full bars of hotel soap, which is rare for most hotel visitors.) I wonder if we will ever move and, if so, if our homes will have endless problems - water leakage, electricity, wireless ... Inshallah, we will move at the end of August and have a working home. I was able to see one of the two bedroom townhouses and, though ours will be a three-bedroom, it gave me a sense of what it looks like and what is there. We went to IKEA today to buy some items we will need for the house, things that can make it feel more like OUR house and less like a hotel: candles, baskets, throw pillows and blankets for the couch.
Benefit number one of needing an abaya: I went to breakfast and to IKEA in my pajamas today - under my abaya! Pretty comfy actually.

We are off to the beach tomorrow for more swimming and snorkeling. We have made some nice friends and are enjoying a lot of our time. We are getting ready for our own home, as you might imagine, and for school to start and our lives to settle a bit.

Ramadan starts tomorrow, assuming the moon is in view. We will have to be very discreet about eating between 4:45 a.m. and 7 p.m. The hotel is setting up a private place for non-Muslims to have breakfast from 6:30-8:00 a.m. and lunch for one hour starting at noon. It is very disrespectful for anyone to eat or drink in public until after sunset. Stores and offices will have limited hours, and there will be huge iftars from 7:00 p.m. on into late hours. Malls open at 8:00 p.m. and stay open until 2 a.m. Even IKEA has hours such as this starting tomorrow. Ramadan lasts for one full lunar month and ends with a huge festival of Eid thirty days after the start of Ramadan. It's a very popular and exciting time for people of Islamic faith. They fast all day, except for children or people for whom is it not healthy to fast, to practice discipline and inner focus. I would like to fast for a day. I will let you know if I can. Thanks for reading. Jennifer

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Taxis, taxis, everywhere taxis!

Like all the thousands of men driving taxis in Jeddah, this one at first seemed tired and remote, almost like we were a nuisance in his day. Yet, just like so many drivers before, once I started trying to chat with him the veneer wore away and soon we were engaged in a ranging conversation.
We have yet to have a Saudi taxi driver in our three weeks and nearly 50 taxi rides. Indeed, I doubt they exist. What does exist, however, is a demonstrably large need for low-cost rides about town. Recall that women love to shop in SA and that not one of them drives. It's also increasingly clear, given yesterday's labyrinthine process for getting a driver's license, even with our astute Saudi handlers, that many non-Saudi men don't bother to get licenses and certainly wouldn't want to drive a car in SA without one for fear of getting caught. So, to fill this supply-demand chasm is an army of willing drivers, along with the greatest per capita legion of taxis I've ever seen.
Taxis are fleet owned by, presumably, Saudi businessmen; it seems unlikely that, say, a Pakistani driver with a penchant for business would ever be able to own his own fleet. Drivers must have insurance (1700 SR, or about $500, per year), on average fill up the car once per day (20 SR, or about $6, per day, given the 65 cents/gallon for gas), and rent the car (130 SR, or about $40, per day). Each driver is also responsible for any damage to the car which, given Jeddah's driving styles, could amount to considerable sums, and quickly! Many taxis still sport the cover plastic on the seats, and a few still have the foam bumper tags on the doors from shipping! On the plus side, according to our driver from Peshawar, Pakistan, is a daily take home pay of about 150 SR, or about $40.
To achieve this amount a driver needs to work from 8 am until 10:30 pm each day (except Friday, SA's holy day), with some of the busier days going until midnight. They aren't supposed to get out of the car except once briefly in the morning, again later in the afternoon for a quick lunch, and finally again in the early evening. Most drivers have snacks and drinks next to them at all times so as to be constantly on the prowl for business. I'd not be surprised if in the very least caffeine levels are high. It's hard to find a parked taxi in this city at any waking hour.
To a person our drivers have felt little compassion for their Saudi overseers, with many expressing some very strong feelings on this subject. On the other hand, none would have attempted to come to SA weren't the conditions back home particularly poor, their futures especially bleak. To be fair, who knows what prospects would have been like back home, or how they would have been treated?
Pakistani drivers seem to have the upper hand in terms of numbers of taxi drivers in Jeddah, but like many of the basic service jobs in SA, there is broad representation among nations in this huge industry, with many of the men coming from countries with much higher population densities (like Pakistan) and political unrest (like Pakistan) than is the case currently in SA.
Most Pakistani drivers, when told, don't quite know what to make of my improbable Karachi beginnings. Perhaps they think I'm just making conversation. Last night's Peshawar native was quick to explain the sad state of affairs in this large conduit city to Afghanistan, claiming that the Taliban were a bunch of illiterate heretics that had ruined Afghanistan and were in the process of doing the same to Pakistan. Peshawar, he claimed, was nothing like it once had been. His claim was that with increasing numbers of less well-educated people calling the shots, without broader access to better education, especially for girls, the future was bleak. It sort of made me wish we had had Greg Mortensen's THREE CUPS OF TEA translated into Urdu to give him at that juncture, but clearly both men have the same thesis statement, and they aren't alone.
There are also jitneys holding (legally) about two dozen that run up and down the main thoroughfares, clearly the rides of choice for the hundreds of thousands of non-Saudis eking out a living in Jeddah. Their side-doors are constantly open, their stops ad hoc and fleetingly short, just enough time to get another man or two aboard, or a few off. I've yet to see a woman on one of these buses. Like the taxi drivers, the construction workers, the launderers, the cleaners, and the myriad other countless, nameless workers who make Jeddah run reasonably smoothly each day, these men have typically left family at home (our driver last night has a wife and child in Pakistan) and remain in SA for very long periods of time (16 years, for last night's example) in order to send regular remittances back home to pay for all sorts of things in his extended family - medical help for a sick parent, education for a nephew, perhaps a modest home for his family, etc. Obviously, if you're grossing only $40/day and have a number of other expenses besides, you can imagine the cramped quarters these men must live in, the relatively miniscule scale of the monthly amount sent home, etc. Hence, the long stays.
Like all countries, SA is a land of contrasts and contradictions, yet if you dig just a bit beneath the veneer you find incredible humanity; it is this human touch that has been so fun to get to know in our brief time here. Had we been whisked from the airport to a completed campus in order to start our lives at KAUST, we would have missed out on so much, especially the intricate web of humanity that makes this large city tick. We hope to share more of this incredible story in due course. Thanks for reading our blog, David

Monday, August 17, 2009

Getting a Driver's License

7am yesterday, a decidedly motley, bleary-eyed two dozen or so males, your humble author among them, congregated at the main entrance to the Marriott, intending to get on a shuttle bus we'd been promised the day before for the big event: Getting our driving licenses. As you are well aware, women may not drive in the Kingdom, so, good or bad, eager or begrudging, pretty much every eligible male in the Kaust Schools signed on for the day's grand opportunity. Perhaps as a harbinger to our day, no bus showed for the group and, in due time, we were quickly resorting to our now common practice of breaking up into groups of four and catching the ubiquitous taxis of Jeddah, many of which brake with enthusiasm, often cutting each other off in order to over charge a group of four western men.
SA apparently accepts no other country's driver's license as valid, so even the four Arabic instructors among us, from countries like Jordan, Syria, and Egypt, were along for the ride and, like good Arabs, they were in the lead taxi, the rest of us, in true Formula One style, making a go of keeping up as speeds exceeded 120 kph on the city's roads. The Arabic speakers in the alpha-male driven car had directed their driver to the Licensing Bureau which, at first blush, might be where you'd want to go for a license. Unfortunately, they'd broken the one rule for KAUST employees in Jeddah, which essentially posits that all groups need a handler, and that you'd better not venture out on anything, anywhere, at any time un-chapperoned.
So, after a few minutes of confusion at the licensing spot, we headed to KAUST temporary headquarters, situated in a sleek, uber-modern office building, where we got to flash our nifty security IDs to the smiling guards as we made our way to the fourth floor meeting room for our presumed 8am meeting with our government handler/guide. 8am had become 9am, we were told upon arrival, so many of us spent the next hour attending to the business of copying various letters of employment and pay status for banks, passports and airline tickets for visa applications (in SA you need a visa to both exit and enter the country...), and any other business we could have the great KAUST folks help us with.
Finally, a bit after 9, two Saudi men came in, and so began the process of preparing us for our arrival at the driver's license place. Files were dutifully begun on each of us, replete with six photos per prospective SA driver (photos are a big business here - where do they all end up?), a copy of our employment letter, a copy of our passport, a copy of our current driver's license, and a letter of good standing from our 5th grade teachers (JK!). We then got on the bus, you know, the one that should have met us at 7am, and proceeded to the DoL.
Let's remind ourselves at this juncture, pre-DoL, that each of us had been making observations about driving and drivers in Jeddah and vicinity for the better part of a month, so it was not without trepidation that each of us contemplated taking a driving test on Jeddah's streets at the height of rush hour. Where is Michael Schumacker when you need him, more than one of us probably was wondering?
So, we arrived at the DoL, and rather than giving our files to a person and beginning a series of driving tests, we began what would be the six-hour process of getting in line and waiting, eventually having someone do some small thing to your file, before being directed to another section of the building, whereupon, you guessed it, we were asked to wait in another line.
The eye test was my favorite. We sat in a chair, looked at a mirror and, in so doing, were asked to determine the orientation of a block print E on the chart behind us. Since the first half dozen or so folks in the line were in the room with the person being tested, I noticed that the man testing each hopeful was following the same pattern of symbols for each wannabe driver, thereby making my test especially anticlimactic. In due course, the various papers in our dossier had been initialed, written on, stamped, and folded at least as much as a ten year-old passport of a foreign journalist. But the good part was still to come, because we still had not driven a car!
Finally, we were directed in twos and threes out a side door and motioned to sit in a waiting area along with about three dozen or so others. Of course, to get to this waiting area one had to cross the two-way street replete with, drivers taking the driving test, injecting a bit more excitement into the process with cars going at varying speeds in both directions under an extremely broad range of control parameters. The cars all looked like the taxis we get into each day, though we soon realized that these cars never saw the open road, and that all tests were conducted on the small, closed loop before us. I'm not sure if the testers or tested had been the deciding issue on this one, but given Jeddah's Wild West traffic, it only stands to reason that a higher rate of prospective driver/veteran tester survival is achieved by testing on a compound.
Once the KAUST guys started making their way to the front of the line, a special car appeared adjacent the waiting spot, and we were directed, in fours, to get into the car. The first person got in the driver's seat, put the car in gear, drove out of the spot about twenty five feet while turning to the left and then stopped and got out, whereupon the second person on the list switched places with the driver, put the running car in reverse (no time for seatbelts, blinkers, mirror checking, etc.!), and maneuvered the car back into its original spot. I think I actually drove for eight seconds, and yes, my tester growled at me when I began wasting his time by attempting to put on my seatbelt. One person didn't even drive the car at all and was asked to take driving lessons, while another applied the brake and the accelerator in copious quantities simultaneously, generating a bit more burned rubber to Jeddah's air while making limited progress. I think he passed. I'm guessing my 2008 Toyota had been driven by 12,356 drivers and had 83 miles on it! Don't ask about the brakes and clutch..
Now, with the end in sight, we were asked to wait in yet another line and, just as we were approaching the front, midday prayer started, the windows were shuttered, personnel immediately disappeared, and we were summarily guided out of the air-conditioned, reasonably comfortable waiting room into the now midday heat, where there was nowhere to sit and little shade. Most of us had not eaten since 6:45, if at all, and now, in the early afternoon, and with everything closed, we began parceling out what little water and food we'd collectively made off with much earlier that morning.
Finally, a half hour later, end of prayer meant back to business, which meant getting back in line. Two more lines and two more signatures later (for what I'm not sure...), we made our weary way out the door, our handlers seemingly proud of us for completing the endeavor. When we returned to the bus our driver was nowhere to be seen, so we began hailing taxis, and then, of course, our bus driver suddenly appeared, and we fled the taxis for the bus, leaving upset taxi drivers in our wake. And then we waited, and waited, as apparently a few, who hadn't managed to negotiate the lines and tasks quite as collectively, slowly made a reappearance from the DoL.
Walking back into the cool hotel at 1:45 was a huge relief and, after our now reflexive washing of hands, we quickly wolfed down our lunches before heading to 2 pm meetings. We're told our new SA driving licenses will be brought from the DoL by our handlers today - Inshallah! Of course, then we might have to venture out on Jeddah's roads, but that will be another story.

Your SA Chauffeur, David

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Snorkeling in the Red Sea

Greetings all,
Yesterday, as planned, we went to the beach where we always go. It's a private beach, as I said, so we can swim and play in our swimsuits, without abayas until we return back to the hotel. It's lovely. The boys were so happy, playing in the sand, swimming to the island, and playing with other kids and rafts and paddle boats. A whole group of kids rented a paddle boat that they peddled around on, acting like it was a great big ferry picking up kids and then letting them leap off into the balmy, salty water. Hayden is a strong swimmer, and becoming more so, and Logan has learned an amazing style of swimming using a dolphin kick to propel forward quickly and then lift his head to grab a breath of air. He's really getting it and gaining strength and confidence. To give him a bit more security, in the ocean he uses 'water wings' on his arms, but in the pool now he does not really need them because there is always an adult pretty close by and he can swim the entire width of the pool.

David and I and another friend rented a kayak and paddled out to the reef which actually has created the sort of inlet where we swim and have the beach. At the reef, we are really IN the Red Sea. We bought new snorkel equipment and so we were able to swim around and dive down a little to see all kinds of incredibly vibrant fish in various bright colors. I think we found Nemo even! It was a stellar day, with sun, sand, 105 degree temps (typical for every day), and relaxation. The beach time was followed by the huge Marriott buffet once again - including this time sushi, apple pie with ice cream, and tacos. It's pretty amazing. Hayden was in heaven with five tacos and a chocolate ice cream sundae, including chocolate sprinkles and powdered sugar (!). Gratefully, he's an active boy!

Since we have received our resident permits, called iqamas, we can now open a bank account, which we did today. Tomorrow David is going to attempt to get his driver's license and we are going to pay for our tickets to London in September. Busy details and exciting times.

Look for more details soon. Thanks for reading!


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Old Jeddah and KAUST Updates

Hello all,
Since Thursday is the first day of the weekend, we slept late and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast from our familiar Marriott buffet. Afterwards, we headed with some friends to the old souk in the oldest part of Jeddah (photos attached) where we saw shops with abayas and thobes (Saudi dress for men), shoes, jewelry, cheap plastic toys, sunglasses and watches, fresh juices, inexpensive clothes, scarves ... As we strolled through the souk, my friend Gayani and I came across some very different and very beautiful abayas. I saw one that I particularly liked and, with Hayden's encouragement, I bought a third - and final! - abaya. We returned to our favorite kids' shop and bought second Saudi Arabian football club jerseys for each boy; Logan's is even in Arabic. As we go through the markets, we try out our limited Arabic, greeting people, asking how they are, asking their names, asking how much something costs. We receive huge smiles and quick Arabic responses in return, but when an Arabic response from a shopkeeper elicits only a blank stare on my part, he laughs and repeats himself in English. Again, nearly all of the shopkeepers we have met are Pakistani, Indian, or Egyptian - and they seem to be very friendly, especially when we are buying things from their shop.
We moved into another part of the souk, which is in the oldest part of Jeddah where some buildings are 500 years old at least. Here we found shops with huge burlap bags filled with various types of loose teas, spices, nuts and seeds, and things that we could not really explain. It was fascinating and beautiful, fun and HOT - simply incredible. I found a shop where a man from the southern most part of India was selling stunning, soft cotton/wool scarves from Kashmir. David chatted with him since he had been to the places the man described in India, and the shopkeeper brought out stools for the children to sit down on. The scarves were 35 riyals each and when I easily got him to agree to two scarves for 50 riyals, I figured he was probably asking far too much in the beginning. Oh well. I ended up with two lovely scarves (for about $13), perfect for staying cozy on cold airplanes and in frigid restaurants. David and I love that kind of outing and exploring, and despite the heat and some moments of whining from the boys, I think they actually have fun too. Hayden even bargained with a gentleman for a purchase of a new watch.

In the background, I hear the call to prayer once again. I love the sound and can determine that some voices to prayer are more pleasant to listen to than others.

As we finished our week of meetings and training for the International Baccalaureate program our school is orienting itself towards, the powers that be conveyed the information that school will not open on September 5 as originally planned but will open after Ramadan on September 26 instead. Too much of the building is not quite ready and we will only just be moving to our homes and settling in - Inshallah - at the end of August. Our scheduled move-in date is August 31, and we have seen a map posted with everyone's assigned homes clearly marked. Our neighbors have two boys that our kids have already gotten to know, who are close in age to Hayden and Logan. Other friends are just down the street or across another street. We are all fairly close to each other because they are moving us all to the parts of the campus that will be done, an area called the Blue Zone. We had anticipated this change so it did not really come as a shock. Living in the hotel is not ideal, certainly, but neither is it terrible. It's a lovely hotel with helpful staff and a central location, plus most of us are together here so the community building has been wonderful; although I have noticed people taking off for dinner more often as we tire of the buffet day-after-day! The biggest challenge for most of us with kids is keeping them actively engaged and involved and busy in a city which is mostly about shopping. There are no parks, as far as we can tell, so the Friday beach day and the hotel pool are huge for us. The child care provided by the hotel is basically babysitting by three kind women with no experience teaching children or working with children over two or three years old. It has not, to say the least, been ideal. Many of us are working on some new solutions, including outings to a local children's gym with basketball, climbing wall, and other activities and hiring a teacher to come and plan activities with the kids who are between four/five and nine. It is an ongoing issue that causes some stress for everyone.

The final news for this installment is that we FINALLY bought a cell phone. We won't need it often, probably, but it was seeming like we will need one for our family. We actually bought one that can work worldwide, which will be helpful. If you think you are interested in my cell number, please email me. I am not anticipating many calls!

Thanks for reading. Off to the beach tomorrow, as typical on Fridays, with our new snorkel gear!


Monday, August 10, 2009

A Birthday in Jeddah

Greetings friends and family,

We are now living in the Marriott with almost 70 of our colleagues, many of whom are working couples where each person will be teaching for KAUST Schools. Quite a few of our faculty have children, at least one couple is pregnant, and some have babies. In some cases, couples are not here yet with their children who are with friends or grandparents until later this month. In another case, a family has one son here, one daughter in college, and one son in boarding school in the U.S. Several families with pets and some members of the administrative team are living in a separate compound where pets are allowed and abayas are not required until you leave the compound. We visited some friends who are living on a compound, sat out by the pool in shorts, swam as a family (which we cannot do at the hotel since the pool is visible from many of the hotel room windows), and ordered pizza for dinner. It was a refreshing change from the hotel. However, living in the hotel gives those us here a real sense of family with our colleagues, I think.

Everyone seemed to know that yesterday was my birthday, and I received many hugs and wishes in the morning when I went down to breakfast. One friend gave me a gift bag and when I opened it I found it filled with lovely soaps, shampoos, lotions, and body washes - all from the hotel! We laughed so much. Another friend gave me a product from the Body Shop - where we had gone shopping for something I needed the day before - for which I had loaned her money to buy. Since mine was the first KAUST School birthday, which I actually share with another Arabic female teacher from Jordan, everyone made it truly a celebration. The entire faculty sang to us in English and then Arabic and every time I got up to participate in the discussion, someone would say, "Let her do what she wants, it's her birthday!" Later, a couple, who is expecting their first baby in February, offered to watch the boys, take them swimming, and take them to dinner, so we could go out to dinner. We took them up on the idea and found a Japanese restaurant to try. Since we often go out to Musashi's for sushi (in Seattle) for my birthday, it seemed perfect. The restaurant turned out to be very formal and stiff, with relatively poor service, expensive food, and mediocre sushi - but we had fun nonetheless being out on the town on a DATE! I guess it's one of the 'most famous Japanese restaurants in Jeddah', but we wouldn't go again. However, as we left, the taxi drove right by a sushi restaurant that looked JUST like the kind of sushi place we - and perhaps you all - might imagine, so we figure we will try that one in a couple of weeks. It's all about exploring and investigating, trying and sometimes failing or succeeding, learning new things, meeting people - an adventure!

When we got back to the hotel, we met our kids in the hotel restaurant and sat down to join them and many other people who were eating dinner. After a bit, David and the waitstaff came out with a beautifully made and decorated chocolate cake and one candle! Everyone sang again, and we shared the cake with all the kids and some adults who wanted some. Rima, the other August 9 birthday person, was sitting right next to us, so she had cake with us too. I like her already! She has two daughters - five and ten - so perhaps our kids will meet and play together.

Though usually a birthday is a simple affair - dinner at a favorite restaurant - yesterday turned out to be very fun and celebratory. I also had brought cards mailed to us early at home from family and I opened those yesterday, as well as reading all the email wishes! Thanks to all.

We will try to post more photos soon. I am just tired of photos of me in black! The woman in the photo above with the veil was so friendly and was hilarious trying to give us directions to a place we were looking for. Her English was excellent and she was very 'jolly.' Thanks for reading, Jennifer

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Beef Ham

Conversation at the breakfast table with Logan:

"Mommy, I thought you said there was no ham in Saudi Arabia."
"There isn't any ham in Saudi Arabia."
"But I just ordered ham for my omelet," responds Logan.
"Well, that's actually beef-ham," Mommy tries to explain.
Logan responds, "I wonder what animal makes beef ham. Is that the same as lamb?"

Later we did what many good Saudi families do on the Friday afternoons (the end of the weekend), we went to the mall! Many families, many kids, women with full face coverings, no face coverings, partial coverings. Married couples walking arm-in-arm. We looked in many
shops, bought some flip-flops, and had lunch. Guess what Hayden chose? McDonalds!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Greetings friends and family,
We just enjoyed another great day at the beach. Friday is equivalent to a Sunday in many parts of the world, so we typically go to the beach on buses from the Marriott hotel. Today about 45 people from our KAUST faculty went together. We snorkeled and swam, tried to remain cool in 106 degrees, played with peddle boats, rented kayaks and paddled out to the reef (David and friends). It was awesome. It's a day that everyone seems to really like! It's nice to get out of the hotel, throw off the abayas, run around in swimsuits, and avoid meetings.

One of the greatest aspects of living here so far is the amazing people we have met who will be our teaching colleagues. They are from all over the world, are like-minded in many ways, are willing to explore and try new adventures, speak various languages, love spending time with children, and - often out of necessity - have pretty good senses of humor. Yesterday several of us, with our kids, went to walk along a boardwalk of sorts, called the Corniche. At one part of it, which we never did see, is the highest fountain in the world. Unfortunately, we typically are ready to go out and explore after breakfast and morning prayer times, say around 10:30 a.m., but this happens to approach some of the hottest time of the day. When we really need to go is after 5:00 p.m. when prayer times are over until around 7 p.m., stores re-open after the hot afternoon hours, and the temperatures begin to cool down a bit. We headed to the Corniche yesterday at the HOT time. We walked along for quite a long time in the sun, until we were basically dripping. We dodged into an upscale tea shop which seemed very modern and sophisticated. We ordered fruit smoothies, just before prayer times were called, and chilled out, literally and figuratively. The photo above is Logan and Hayden, with their new friend Adam, standing by one of the many sculptures along the water front.

Progress at KAUST campus is coming along at a fast pace with laborers working all night long every day of the week. However, it's not going to be ready as early as everyone thought, so we will probably live in the Marriott hotel together until the end of August. It's not terrible - in fact, many aspects are wonderful - meals, laundry, Internet, cleaning included - but it's not like having your own home, of course. The funny thing is that school starts in the middle of Ramadan, so after two weeks of school, we have 10 days off. We are hoping to do some traveling in September. Thanks for reading, Jennifer


King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, located 90 km (about 60 miles) north of Jeddah, was conceived early in the King's now five-year rule and began as a formal idea three years and 22 days ago. Construction began just two years ago. Like Jeddah, KAUST is on the Red Sea, and, at 14 sq. mi., has an area that rivals many a city's. Unfortunately, unlike Jeddah, it hasn't had nearly 2500 years to achieve its present state, which is in part why its present state isn't nearly as far along as many had hoped. It seems that Rome, and KAUST, can't be built in a day.

So on Monday, ready or not, we were given a tour of our present/future campus, and after traveling along the coastal highway for the better part of an hour we made the left turn toward the Red Sea. Ahead, shimmering in the distance, beckoning us, was a campus far larger than I'd imagined, but before we actually drove into the academic nucleus of the campus we made our way past an almost unending sea of mobile homes, each housing possibly a dozen or so of the 42,000 workers dedicating themselves 24/7 to the idea that is rapidly becoming KAUST. Just like a plane that lands and then spends the next 15 minutes taxiing to a far-off gate, we KAUST Schools faculty spent a similar amount of time meandering our way around an extensive campus road system, the nexus of the campus very gradually coming into better focus. Huge research buildings, vast recreation facilities, robust administrative offices, and vast avenues and pedestrian ways interconnected in an almost Versaillesesque manner, at least some possessing the outward appearance of being completed. Workers were spread across the landscape like ants, each working in sweltering Arabian August. Not one of the workers is Saudi; most are from Bangladesh, Philippines, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka. Remittances back to one's home country, just from KAUST, must be significant!

Once off the buses and cooled off in a plush meeting room, we were treated to the remarks of a number of top-level Saudi KAUST executives , one of whom was as inspiring and well-spoken as any speaker I've heard in quite awhile. I'm hoping to get an audio file of his remarks; if so, I will attach them in a future blog. Most interestingly for me, in his speech he referred to his meeting with the King in which the King took a look back a millennium to a time when the Arab world was dominant, ascendant, in many ways the primary repository of scientific and mathematical thought at its House of Wisdom in Baghdad. As I've told many an algebra student over the years, not only do we owe the Arabic speaking world our thanks for the name algebra (and algorithm), while nothing much was happening in western Europe between the fall of the Roman Empire and the Reformation, Arabs were at the clearinghouse of Chinese, Indian, and previous Greek advances in math and science, with Baghdad happy to extend academic invites to all intellectual heavyweights, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or gender. This apotheosis lasted nearly 400 years, a very long time by anyone's yardstick, and it is a renaissance of this kind of cutting-edge all-inclusive academic vitality that the King most clearly wants via KAUST. Yes, the campus won't be completed on time, and yes, it may be awhile before all of it is fully completed as planned, but the genesis is well underway, and it is very exciting to be a part of such a huge and potentially meaningful endeavor.

Thanks for reading, David

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

An Outing to the Oldest Jeddah Souk

Today we were fortunate to have a trip to the oldest souk (market) in Jeddah where we walked down covered alley ways lined with shops selling electronic equipment, shoes, women's clothing, toys, children's clothing, mobile phone repair service, freshly squeezed juices, watches, gold, abayas, jewelry ... It was very hot, particularly in a long flowing black abaya, but I think the men in the group were nearly as sweaty - perhaps it just showed more. We went into a shop, directed by Logan, that sold children's clothing, and we ended up buying Hayden and Logan each a soccer jersey and matching soccer warm-ups for two different soccer teams from the Kingdom. They look fantastic, and Logan ended up wearing his for the rest of the day. The men, who are in fact pretty much the only people we have any contact with, immediately warm up to the boys, especially Logan who is so friendly and outgoing. Men pat him gently on the head, greet him with a hello, or even kiss his head; they then reach out to greet and shake hands with Hayden. Hayden and Logan are each learning to say 'thank you' in Arabic. It is such a different experience living abroad with children because of the warmth we receive as a result. Since men cannot touch me or shake hands, they usually smile and nod their heads. Now, what continues to amaze me is that we have met or encountered few Saudis. In the shops, everyone seems to be Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, Egyptian, or Syrian. We bought freshly made mango juice and strawberry juice from an Egyptian man today, who was so excited that he invited the boys to the rear of his shop to show them how he got the juice from the sugar cane in this huge machine. We love talking to the merchants, when possible, and taking photos, with permission. I must admit that I have a hard time approaching or talking to any women because they are so covered - often the entire face, including their eyes, are covered - and I guess I assume that it is partially to avoid being approached. I hope that when we move to campus we will have the opportunity to meet and get to know Saudi families. It is expected that 30-40% of our students will be Saudi.

Driving in Jeddah seems to be rather frightful. My dad and my brother would be particularly interested to watch the roads and driving 'techniques.' When a light turns red, cars simply continue to drive through the intersection until eventually they seem to agree to cease. Then the cars with the green light begin heading into the intersection, some going straight and some turning left across traffic. Regularly, I see people turn left from the furthest righthand lane, while the drivers intending to go straight simply veer around. Incredibly, honking while driving is not as common as one would expect. In VietNam, for example, people just generally drive while honking continuously. Here it seems people honk only when REALLY necessary, though under these conditions, I have not determined what constitutes really necessary.

Hayden and Logan are adapting so well. I have heard Hayden having conversations with other faculty members who engage with him in discussions about sports in the United States. I pretend not to notice, so that he does not feel that I am 'watching' him, and he converses so well. One day, a fellow faculty member introduced himself to Hayden who gave his name as well and then said, "It's nice to meet you." Wow. One issue for the boys may be that they are going to expect the kind of food every day that we are given here - which just isn't going to be possible! The hotel food, though varied and vast in its options, is getting old, so we are beginning to plan trips to various restaurants around Jeddah in the coming weeks. Don't tell Hayden, but we discovered a Mexican restaurant we are going to try soon!

By the way, if you are interested in seeing our campus or reading more about the King's goals and what KAUST is all about, please see the website: You can find a link to our school as well, since much of the website is about the graduate university, and the website is really thorough. You might enjoy it.

All for now. Thanks for reading. Jennifer

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Life in the Marriott

Greetings once again. Many of you have asked about our hotel life. We have two adjoining rooms for our family, and we have actually been able to unpack a bit. There is a restaurant here with a HUGE buffet spread for every meal. Our breakfasts and dinners are included; we are on our own for lunch. Through colleagues we have discovered a newly opened and amazing little Lebanese restaurant two blocks from hotel. We have started having lunch there when KAUST does not cover it. On weekends, which are Thursday and Friday, lunches are included for us - and the buffet is even bigger than usual. Hayden was even lucky to discover tacos on Friday, and I found some crepes! I think the hotel draws wealthy Saudis to come and enjoy Friday buffet brunch (similar to our Sunday brunches), so the offerings are vast!

We have no kitchen in our rooms, nor laundry facilities (it is a hotel after all), but laundry is included for us here, as well as Internet service. The staff who clean the rooms - all South Asian men - and who run the restaurant - again South Asian men and a Lebanese manager - are all so friendly and tell us frequently that they really like working for the Marriott. I guess they feel well-treated and tend to appreciate working here.

We began work today - orientation really. We met most all of the other teachers and staff members, and their families, for the KAUST Schools. It was a phenomenally interesting, diverse, and dynamic group of people. It seemed every other person either was Australian or from Seattle at some point in their background, which became a bit of a standing joke. We felt really fortunate to be working with such amazing people - funny, professional, experienced in overseas teaching, passionate about travel and personal interests ... Since we are nearly all living at the hotel, we are getting to know one another quite well. We were issued our official KAUST IDs today as well. On Monday we get to travel by bus to the campus to see the progress and have additional meetings there. It should be interesting! During the weekdays (Saturday-Wednesday) when we have work and planning and meetings, all of the kids are cared for by some hotel "babysitters" where they do art projects and watch cartoons. We parents are trying to come up with some other activities and have been buying toys and games for the kids to do. Some of the older high school kids have been helping out as well, and one of the boys took Hayden down to the pool to swim and play table tennis for part of the day. It seems to be working out well, but four weeks of hotel time might get a bit long!

There is a lovely pool here at the hotel, but Saudi law prohibits any women from swimming in it, except girls under eight years old. Similarly, there is also a lovely workout room - again only for the men. We have found that there is a small workout room (without windows) for women, and I have started running on the treadmills there.

We are managing with humor and companionship with the other faculty and staff - and really having fun so far, though we will be ready to move to our houses and campus - whenever that may be!

Thanks for reading. Love to all - Jennifer