Sunday, November 27, 2011

Floating on the Dead Sea

Over this last Eid al Adha holiday in early November, we headed to Jordan. In a nutshell: what an amazing country! Walking through markets in Amman, people asked where we were from and always answered back, "Welcome to Jordan." One man stopped us, showed us the addresses in Chicago and Miami where family members lived, and insisted on buying us falafel sandwiches at his favorite shop nearby, so enthusiastic was he upon meeting a certifiable American family. We saw men and women driving, shopping, working, walking and talking - together - and we always felt safe and appreciated.

After a first day in Amman, we drove to the Dead Sea, about 30 miles away, with a stop along the way at a place purported to have been the sight on the Jordan River where John the Baptist baptized Jesus Christ. Archeological evidence, written stories, and oral pilgrim accounts have been used to support this hypothesis. Amid careful but discrete security measures, we walked to what remains of the river - now a narrow strip of water - just 25 feet of largely agriculturally-diminished water - separating those of us on the Jordan side from those on the West Bank side. We were most likely at the ceremonial sight of an act that would change the world forever, humbled and awed. At more than 400m below sea level, and more than nine times saturated than the ocean, the Dead Sea has always caused us each to doubt - doubt the idea that people actually can float and read a magazine simultaneously - but it really is true. It is impossible to sink or dive beneath water level. The free mud, and the salty, mineral-rich water in the sea, leave skin feeling smooth and clean. We stayed at one of the few resorts along the sea's banks that allows people to access the beach, but the boys spent much of their time in the swimming pool, playing on the water slides. "Swimming" in the Dead Sea is really just floating; water in the mouth or eyes is to be avoided at all costs!

Next we headed to Petra where, once again, we were amazed and astounded by the rugged, timeless beauty and the raw, exposed history. We had heard that Petra was amazing, but to actually explore its many canyons, hike up its meandering paths, and wander among the beautifully carved rocks was considerably better than we had expected. Like many archeological sites in that part of Jordan, Petra is in fact a fusion of Nabataean, Roman, Byzantine, Crusader, and Islamic cultural legacies. Once a choke point on the historic Silk Road due to its unique geology, Petra had gradually outlived its economic significance as sea trade routes opened up. Camel caravans that had once come through by the hundreds each week, each paying the pricey tax to gain through passage, gradually came less and less often, and with this fall-off went Petra's fortunes. And so for a 1,000 years essentially, what we now know of Petra gradually filled up with sand and was toppled by earthquakes. Only by chance did hardy non-locals in the 1800's hear tell of a fabled city carved into rock in the middle of the mountains, a sight until then secretly guarded by the local Bedouins who lived in that region. The first European to see Petra was fluent in Arabic, dressed as an Arab on pilgrimage, and snuck in by pretending to go in order to perform a sacrifice.  Nearly discovered, he almost didn't make it out. Thankfully, it has gotten a bit less perilous to visit the place today.

From Petra we headed back north, this time taking the Desert Highway, instead of the Dead Sea Highway we had been driving heading south. We spent two final nights in Amman but enjoyed the day in the ancient Roman city of Jerash. This is another outstanding historical site with substantially intact remains of temples to Zeus and Artemis, Hadrian's Arch, a large oval plaza, and a long colonnaded street which once housed a market along its sides. Upon entering the site, we passed the hippodrome (built between the first and third centuries A.D.) and were enticed to watch chariot races and a depiction of the power of the Roman Army.

Overall, it was a wonderful trip with fond memories and much history.

Thanks for reading, Jennifer and David

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A trip to the Afghan Souk

One of the new teachers at school, a woman who - with her family - came from Denver actually, asked if I could organize a trip to the Afghan souk because she had read about it on our blog last year. So a few weeks ago a group of people from school traveled by bus to the Afghan souk in Jeddah. Because of traffic on a Thursday night (like a Saturday night in the West), it took nearly two hours to get to the actual area in Jeddah. The Afghan souk is really a series of shops on a narrow street in an Afghani region of the city. The one way street is always jammed with cars trying to get to someplace else; in addition, there are cars parked helter-skelter on either side of the street - some angle-in front parking and others attempting some form of parallel parking. The "sidewalks" that line the street and are in front of the shops vary in dramatically in height and stability, so 15 women in abayas but no head scarves stepping up and down these sidewalks and swerving into the road when necessary makes for quite a sight, I suppose. The little side streets are mostly dirt, strewn with garbage and roaming mangey cats. At the start of the street was a fruit and vegetable market, set up in carts and temporary tables; the ground was covered with dried fish remains, which we all stepped in on our way back onto the bus at the end of the evening, prompting the driver to ask if anyone had perfume. In this area, we have found two amazing Afghan shops. The first, with just carpets, has doubled in size since I was there two years ago, and is well-lit and comfortable. The Afghan men who run the shop welcomed us into their shop, immediately started helping us with carpets, and offered us sweet tea. These knowledgeable men can swiftly toss carpet after carpet from a 50-carpet stack, describing each and watching for the interest from the customer. They had silk Persian carpets, Islamic prayer carpets, wool carpets, and blended carpets - all handmade, of course. They could describe why one carpet might be more expensive than another by showing us the small knots per inch on the back of the carpet. Nearly everyone in our group enjoyed sweet tea and purchased at least one carpet.

The other shop, the one I have written about before, has an entire front room dedicated to carpets and then several back rooms filled with antique furniture, and some newer renditions, mirrors, carpet-covered ottomans, and random food-serving items from India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. I found an old Indian cherry wood coffee table that I liked. It looks like a intricate small old door set down into a door frame, laid flat, and attached to four legs. A sheet of glass sits above the actual wood table top and is set into the frame. I negotiated the price with one of the owners, and then asked if they could clean the table and get the glass for me. "No problem," they insisted. Next I asked if they could deliver it to me on our campus about 70 kilometers from Jeddah. "No problem," they said. I gave them a card which gave our location in Arabic, their eyebrows went up, and suddenly I realized that it might be a problem. Another man who seemed to be 'in charge' came over and they discussed my situation for a long time. Finally, he turned to me and said, "No problem. But you will have to pay 200 SARs ($56) for the delivery." I said that was fine. On the card with our campus address, I wrote my first name and my cell number. I asked what I should pay him at the time, and he waved his hand, saying, "No problem." I left the store. I was not sure if I would ever see the table, but I hadn't paid any money, so I was not too worried.

art on the coffee table

Three days later, I received cell phone calls while I was in my classroom. I
could not understand the person on the other end of the phone, so I gave my phone to my student, Abdulrahman, and he translated back and forth for me. It turns out that it was one of the Afghan men from the shop, waiting at the gate, with my table! I borrowed a friend's car, drove out to the first gate, apologized for not having an abaya, and went to the visitor center parking lot. There was a small truck with my table. The man lifted the table into the back of my friend's car, refusing any help from me, accepted the payment for the table plus the delivery, and left.

Later our friend delivered the table to our neighbors' garage, since we were not at home, and we reclaimed it finally that evening. It is now one of the main places that Hayden works on homework and Logan works on his many art projects. It reminds me that a person's word can mean so much, a commitment to sell and buy, and to follow through on an agreement. No receipts or papers or agreements in writing were ever considered.

Thanks for reading, Jennifer

Friday, October 14, 2011

A traveling suitcase

Dear all,
As David has written about his race, his training, and his reflections on returning to the Ironman after twenty-five years, I will write about the more mundane details of our lives. David successfully flew from Kona to L.A. to JFK and on to Jeddah, arriving on time, meeting the KAUST taxi driver holding a sign with his name, and happily making it home. We were all excited; Hayden was making dinner, and Logan was making a welcome home sign. After hugs David was telling us about the medal he won and some other things he had gotten, and he said, "Oh, maybe I should just go ahead and open my suitcase. I know I have some laundry." (An understatement, to be sure.)

He put the suitcase on the floor and commented on the fact that the handle on our new suitcase was already broken. He unzipped the bag and looked uncomprehendingly at little boy clothes with Spiderman on them. We all stared, afraid to accept that this was not David's suitcase, though it was identical to ours. A bit of a panic. What to do? I tried to get a ride with a friend back to the Jeddah airport, but he had too many other errands, so I arranged a taxi - though it could not go until 2:30 am. Finally, after a meal, David realized that we should both go, return the suitcase, and look for his. We borrowed our neighbors' car and drove back 70 km to Jeddah's Saudi terminal. An hour later and with a lot of help from several men who worked for Saudia Airlines, we had returned a suitcase which was not ours (but which was wanted by a young Spiderboy) and understood that David's suitcase had been tagged with the name of another traveler and had been sent to Brussels! We supplied all the information we could, were given a file number and a phone number, and headed home.

the traveling suitcase
We tried to call American Airlines because the agent in Kona was the one who had mistakenly tagged the bag incorrectly, and the bag had never left the control of that airline, though Saudia was now helping us. We got a clarification that Saudia had submitted correct documentation and was searching for the bag. The phone number, however, had not yet had anyone answer. Sigh. David sent an email to the baggage claim department for American Airlines in the Brussels airport. Did you know such an email existed? A few hours later, he received confirmation that a bag with the correct baggage claim number had been re-routed to Frankfurt and then on to Jeddah. I again called the ghostly number with never an answerer - and received an answer. Yes, his suitcase was in Jeddah at the North Terminal. Wow!

David and Hayden again borrowed a car and went to the Jeddah airport once more, hoping that the baggage claim ticket David had was actually for HIS bag and not someone else's bag. It was correct. The right suitcase was returned to him, and they have just returned home. Truly, despite it all, don't we have so very much to be grateful for?

Thanks for reading, Jennifer

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Kona, Hawaii, Ironman 2011

Everyone competing in Kona has a story, often an amazing one. For some, the road to Kona is paved with personal struggles - the bilateral amputee, the cancer survivor. For others, competing in Kona is the culmination of athletic achievement, the holy grail destination in a very personal endurance sport journey. One person I spoke with had been trying to qualify for Kona for a decade and had finally, thankfully, made it in just a few months ago. Of the nearly 2,000 competitors, almost half were Kona rookies, most were quite young, and all were ambitious.

Having competed at the Hawaii Ironman three times in the mid-'80s, this has been a week of reflection on what was and what is Kona for triathletes. Inevitably, the sport and the resulting race times have changed. While there is no getting around swimming, biking, and running 140.6 miles in a day, the fact that so many are now doing Ironman, and doing it so well, points to the rapidly evolving maturity and popularity of this iteration of endurance athletics. The top athletes of the race's first decade at Kona - Dave Scott and Mark Allen - would, I think, more than hold their own against the top guys today (especially if they could ride the same bikes!). The sheer numbers now participating in the sport have meant more depth and competition, and not just at the pro level but at the age-group levels as well, which brings me to the 50 - 54 male age group. As we inevitably learn, there are physical limits that accompany growing older. What I learned yesterday is that there are an impressive number of guys who are flirting with, and arguably regularly redefining, those limits. Where before there may have been one guy in his early 50's transcending age, today there is a plurality and, well, this makes for a much more interesting race!

crossing the finish line
Going into the race I knew a few things. For one, all triathletes know that times established at qualifier races rarely translate as easily in Kona. For every athlete who establishes a personal best here, there are probably a dozen for whom it's a long, long day. Additionally, Darwinism is alive and well at Kona. While an athlete may have "easily" qualified at one of the more than two dozen races around the globe, there is nothing easy about racing at Kona, even if you happen to have a relatively smooth day. If it's not the choppy surf, it's the sometimes relentless jockeying of a mass swim start with 2,000 folks. If it's not the endless hills of the bike course, it's the punishing winds off of Mona Kea. And if it's not the mid-afternoon heat during the marathon, it's the humidity, the seemingly endlessness of a marathon after the swim and bike. In the end, Kona has a way of letting you know who's boss; your job during the day is to realize that Kona's course holds the trump cards and racers must play by her rules.

My day started at 2:15 am after nearly five hours of sleep. Having learned my lesson from Port Elizabeth, I ate early the night before, consumed only carbohydrates the day before, and was in bed by 7:45 pm. Bob Flanigan, a triathlete from Richmond, VA, happened to also be staying at the same B&B and proved to be tremendously helpful with final preparations. Bob is heavily involved in the sport, with a triathlete coaching business, Central Virginia Endurance, and various other sports commitments, and it was simply fantastic having him here as a resource and now friend. By 4:00 am he was up and we were eating the default race-day oatmeal breakfast and putting on the game face. There was not much conversation at breakfast as both of us were preparing psychologically for battle, with dread and with anticipation.

We left at 4:30, drove as close as we could to the start and walked the three blocks to final check-in, which involved getting our bodies marked with the race numbers, checking our electronic anklets to make sure they weren't duds, getting weighed as part of a study, shedding our casual clothes and belongings and bagging them for later pick up, applying anti-chaffing balms and creams and, not least, putting on that vital sun-bloc, pressurizing our bike tires and re-checking the food and drink we'd stored, going to the bathroom at least one last time and, finally, joining the hordes waiting to get into the swim start venue after the start of the pro field and the singing of the Hawaiian state anthem.

By 6:45 am most age-groupers were in the water, warming up nervous swim muscles, and gradually inching toward the 100m wide start line, now in deep water and much more spread out than it used to be due to this era's larger field sizes (and greater number of Type-A athletes). Exactly at 7 am the cannon went off and, suddenly, the months of training and waiting were over, the big race underway. In '84 I recollect 1250 competitors, with many of them not as well-prepared as many are today. Consequently, if you got off the line relatively smoothly in those days you could jump on the "swimmers' train" and have a fairly uneventful, and fast, first leg. This is not so in today's triathlon world, at least not for the non-pure swimmers of the triathlon world who, like me, don't come from competitive swim backgrounds and have had to learn to swim well as adults. While the first few moments were clean and fast, as all swimmers made a bee-line toward the first course marker off in the distance, a convergence of fast and aggressive swimmers began occurring and, soon, the inevitable bumps, slaps, and kicks of folks trying to be in the same place at the same time began occurring. To be sure, some contact is par for the course in mass swim starts, but stories of tough Kona swims are legion. The difficulty of this year’s swim was perhaps compounded by nastier seas than usual during the week due to the latent effects of an apparently big storm off of New Zealand. With choppier seas than normal and consequent decreased visibility, following another swimmer's toes was tougher and sporadic physical contact perhaps a bit more understandable.

Although I knew that I wasn't swimming as well as I might, I was still a bit surprised and dismayed upon exiting the water to see the clock already at 1:05. Oh well, if there's another tidbit all ironman athletes know, it's that the swim rarely decides the race; I took consolation in that as I jogged the requisite path in the transition area through the showers, to the bag pick-up, via the changing tent, and then to the bike. I knew I had prepared well for the bike leg and so, as I set out on the bike course, I strove to get into the rhythm, coaxing the swim muscles to transition into bike engines, reminding myself to be patient and confident.

Again, the sheer number of better athletes, and my slower than expected swim, made for a very crowded bike route, especially through the first half or so of the 112-mile bike course. For a time, it was virtually impossible to be the requisite 7m or more behind any leading cyclist, so you just had to do your best to play by the rules and not put doubt in the mind of any of the many bike referees scurrying about on motorcycles and doing their best to keep the day fair and safe. Upon passing the first of four penalty tents on the bike course, it was clear that many had pressed their luck too much; at least a dozen cyclists were standing in or near the penalty tent, each holding the stopwatch he'd or she'd been handed upon check-in, painfully waiting the four required minutes while standing by their bikes, unable to go to the bathroom, eat or drink as the race unfolded next to them. It must have been frustrating and yet I'm strongly in favor of keeping a no-draft race.

After a few meandering miles around town, the legendary Hawaii ironman bike course is essentially an out and back route across the endless up and down lava, lunar-like ramparts of Mona Kea before angling 19 miles to the west and then north to the turnaround at Havi, very near the northern tip of the Big Island. If the monotony and heat of the lava fields doesn't zap your strength and determination, the final climb to Havi, predictably into brutal head- and cross-winds, can make a mockery of even the strongest of cycling skills. Fortunately, the legs were willing yesterday, and the endless stream of cyclists provided a consistent incentive to keep passing and pushing on. By Havi I knew that I was having a strong leg. I did not know that I had exited the water in 18th place out of 129 in my age group, just as I didn't know that I was going from 18th to 3rd during the bike, but I had a feeling that the stars were aligned and that the result would be helpful. The final 30 miles were tougher. Fewer were the fading cyclists since by now I had apparently caught up with the stronger riders and, I suppose, I was also trying to mentally prepare for what I knew would be a tough run.

The second transition proved once again how tough it is to pretend you're a runner after having biked and swum for 6+ hours! As I hobbled through the required loop around T2 (as the second transition is called), I prayed that it would get easier. I also prayed that a lack of longer mileage runs due to protracted bout of tight achilles in the months leading up to Kona would not preclude a reasonable performance.

Apparently, the run started out well. Dave Lindahl, a longtime training partner from Seattle Nordic skiing days, who'd kindly joined me in support of my efforts here this week, had cleverly volunteered to work at the aid station at miles 1 and 9 on the out and back section of Ali'i Drive of the run course. As runners went by he was able to identify the two guys in my age group ahead of me and let me know how far back I was - about seven minutes, apparently, at mile 1, but then less than two minutes back by mile 9. I tried to relax and get into an easy rhythm. At each aid station I took the cold sponges, then water, the energy drink or cola, and then finally the cup of ice, which I promptly tossed into my race hat and which then provided much needed cooling over the next mile, whereupon I went through the same ritual again.

Although I knew I wasn't running as well as I could, given the lack of mileage and the limited road miles I'd done in preparation - for obvious reasons, Saudi Arabia is primarily a land of treadmill runners (to the extent that anyone runs at all) - I liked my chances and felt encouraged. But then again, in the back of my mind I knew it would eventually be not so much a race of catching those in front but of holding off those faster runners coming from behind. Well, I gave it everything I had, but I was powerless to do anything about the two guys in my age group who went by me after the final turnaround at the Energy Lab, still with eight or so miles to go. I wanted so to stay with them, but I just couldn't, and pretty soon I was doing all that I could to cut my losses and hold on to what I was estimating was a 5th place spot. The final miles seem endless, my body on the verge of throwing in the cards, but somehow I found the energy to keep going and, eventually, I could hear the loudspeaker at the finish line, feel the energy of the huge crowds lining the course. And then there it was, the final 400m or so along Ali-i Drive to the hallowed finish line and then, with reserves from who knows where, my body was summoning up its last milligram of adrenaline and I was somehow gaining speed to the finish, elated to finally be there and under reasonable power. A happier sight cannot be described; I have been fortunate enough to have competed in a lifetime of endurance competitions, and none have forced me to reach down as deeply as did yesterday's race.

So, all things considered, I'm very pleased with how the day went. The four guys who beat me are incredible athletes, and it was truly an honor to pit my abilities against the best in the world and be in the mix at the top of the age group, especially in the latter stages of the race. In the end, having the top five guys within five minutes of each other at the finish line shows how deep and competitive and balanced a field there was out there yesterday in the 50-54 age group. I came to Kona with high ambition and come away with a deep respect for the sport, and especially the age-groupers, happy to have been able to give the day my best with the best.

Special thanks to my wife and boys, without whose support this endeavor never could have occurred. It takes a village to nurture and support a Kona triathlete, and I'm truly grateful to Jennifer, Hayden, and Logan especially for putting up with my antics these past many months. For the rest of you who supported my Kona Quest (and you know who you are), I say "thank you" and hope that one day I can return the favor.

Aloha from Kona,

Friday, September 30, 2011

Kona, Hawaii, Ironman 2011

David has been traveling for nearly 30 hours and is still enroute to Kona, Hawaii, for the 2011 Ironman Championship. I cannot believe how long it takes to travel half-way around the world! Fortunately, the race is not until 8 October, so he will have time to relax and rest after the exhaustive trip.

More details and updates will be posted as the race day nears. Gratefully, David has a good friend arriving in Kona in a few days to join him, support him, and help him hobble around post-race!

More soon! Jennifer

Friday, September 16, 2011

School Year #3

We have just completed the second week of our school year #3! We have a large new international school now, with much larger classes, a spacious foyer, a lovely lunchroom surrounded by windows to the outside, a pool which may open some day, a separate girls' wing for girls who choose the girls' section of our school, and a large auditorium where we can actually hear the person on stage. It's wonderful. The first two days of school included an activity we did in advisory groups called The Amazing Race where each group competed in a school-wide scavenger hunt game in an attempt to have fun and to learn the layout of the school. Now fewer students are lost getting on their way to class, but I am certain that each student - and each teacher - has been lost at least once. It's nice in a way because it was not just the 6th graders, new to our secondary school community, who were lost occasionally, but everyone!

I am pleased to be teaching grade 7 English and humanities again, though I miss my lovely grade 7 students from last year! I pop in to visit them when possible. There has been noticeable maturity among this year's grade 7 group, and we off to a good start. I also teach a grade 6 English section, which is fun as well. David teaches grade 6, grade 7, and a grade 9 section of math, and he, too, is greatly enjoying his classes so far.

Hayden is settling in to his classes and enjoying more independence as a middle school student in the secondary building. David and I see him little during the day in our big building, but I spot him occasionally in the lunchroom - or in my English class! Logan is loving grade 1. One of his good friends, also from the United States, is again in his class this year, and this has been fun for Logan since there are six sections of grade 1 in our school. Both boys will start soccer again this coming week, Hayden will be continuing with guitar soon, and Logan will begin piano lessons. Hayden is hoping to make the basketball team at the secondary school and has been practicing almost daily, but he's up against all interested boys under 16.

David is wrapping up the intensity of his Ironman training, beginning to shorten some of his workouts and tapering for his upcoming race in Hawaii on 8 October. He will be leaving here in two weeks for his long flight to Kona and the adjustment necessary for a worldwide championship Ironman triathlon. The boys are wondering why Dad takes so many naps!

We are grateful for our steady and fulfilling jobs, the many sports and increasing music options for the boys, the wonderful friendships we are making in this international community, and our continued opportunities for travel. We are also grateful how much time the boys have spent with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and extended family members over the summer. We have many blessings.

Thanks for reading, Jennifer

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Together Again

Recently we took our Eid al Fitr holiday in Italy where we met up with Jennifer's parents and, after a long month apart, Hayden! Mom nearly leapt out of the car before it had come to a complete stop when she saw Hayden sitting on a bench with his grandmother, waiting in a small village in the Piedmont region of Italy. It was a joyous time and a wonderful place to meet up together.

We all first headed with our friends to our their newly purchased, partially renovated - and very liveable - farmhouse in a remote location in Piedmont, surrounded by hills, woods, and stone farmhouses. We helped work on pruning and trimming trees and bushes, Jennifer's dad and our friend Chris both eager to charge up the chainsaw and tractor. We enjoyed local pizza, fresh eggs and cheese, bread from the nearby bakery, fresh milk and yogurt, various meats. Wow. We went into Alba, explored some vineyards and wineries, and generally had a glorious three days. Logan and his friend Charlotte created an art studio in an unfinished part of the farmhouse, complete with painting, canvases, drop clothes, and messes.

Following that we drove to Cinque Terra where we stayed for three nights in an incredible - but hard to find - hotel in the northernmost village of Monterrosso. From there we hiked three kilometers to the next village of Vernazza, ate a lovely
lunch, wandered the shops and watched the boats coming in. A few hours later we hiked another four kilometers to the next village. Each village had narrow, cobblestone paths and streets, small shops, cafes, colorful laundry blowing in the breezes, vibrant umbrellas, and many-flavored gelato shops. From any of the villages, you can catch a train to another village so that you can hike just one way. Visually, Cinque Terra is one of the most appealing places I have ever seen, but the fragrant smells of the flowers, fish, and sea added greatly to the pleasure.We ate fresh seafood and pasta daily and enjoyed local olive oil and the best pesto we have ever had! We were also able to enjoy the sandy beaches open-water swimming in the late August Mediterranean Sea.

After one week in Italy, we boarded the Royal Jordanian flight, via Amman, back to Jeddah with the start of school in mind and wonderful memories of Italy to carry forward.

Thanks for reading. Ciao! Jennifer

Friday, August 12, 2011

Common Language, Optional

A Korean man came to our door yesterday looking for basic tools to borrow by way of explaining that he and his family were our new neighbors. We were immediately excited! After all, we'd returned from summer vacation a bit despondent over having lost two of our former neighbors to larger houses elsewhere on campus. So this man's unexpected visit, along with his news that he had two kids, a boy 7 and a girl 4, was a breath of fresh air, especially for our soon-to-be 7 year-old son. When our new neighbor returned the tools later in the day, he brought his kids with him; unfortunately, Logan was next door (the other way!) with yet another boy his age.

News of the new boy next door proved too much for our amazingly sociable Logan and so, without any introductions or prompting, after breakfast this morning he summarily mentioned that he'd be heading next door to play with the new boy, John. Things must have gone well between them since Logan was gone for awhile. And when he returned, with John now in tow, it was now his chance to share his toys and make the fun.

And that was when I realized that neither boy had a common spoken language, not even a word of one, apparently, but instead were communicating in the universal language of 6 and 7 year-old boys. Which by now meant the two had headed up to Logan's room and its huge tub of legos, had begun assembling the latest in inter-galactic weaponry, and had clearly engineered superb machines given the "boy sounds" (as Jennifer calls them) emanating from the room.
But never a word did I hear, not even a peep, just the familiar engine-like and weapon-ish sounds of our son, peppered with the less familiar but equally impressive utterances of his new friend. After a while, it was time for lunch - only how to communicate this to John? Undeterred, Logan motioned to John to follow him, which he dutifully did, taking him next door to his new home and explaining to his father that it was time for him, Logan, to have lunch, but that maybe next time John could join us. I'm guessing next time will come soon!

Thanks for reading! David

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Colorado. Seattle. London.

We were so busy during our trip to the United States that we didn't have time to update our blog, but we are intent on more frequent updates from now on since many people mentioned reading our blog. Thank you.

After we left Michigan, we headed to Colorado for a just a couple of days, left the boys with Jennifer's parents, flew to Seattle and drove to Vancouver for an IB workshop. We took advantage of the glorious weather and the city of Vancouver by cycling and running in Stanley Park and eating at a variety of amazing restaurants. Upon our return to Seattle, we met the boys at the airport and went to our

Ballard neighborhood to stay in the guest room at our friends' house. Their house is just down the street from our own house and, though it was odd not to be living in our house, we were able to see that it has been very well-cared for both inside and out. Though the Seattle weather was disappointing, we still managed Greenlake runs, bike rides, and some backpacking (cut short due to the rain) in the Cascades where our boys, two of their closest friends, andus parents played Sardines in the boulder field at Lake Dorothy. It was definitely a highlight to return to one of our favorite mountain spots and breathe in the incredibly fragrant smells of the Pacific Northwest woods. We had dinner with friends, enjoyed pizza with many people in Gasworks Park (despite rain and cool temperatures), kayaked on Lake Union, took our kids and their friends to the awesome St. Edwards park where we had a picnic and played frisbee on one of

the first real summer days of Seattle. That day essentially doubled the number of minutes of sunshine for the city's summer 2011!

Next we went to Denver where we celebrated two milestone birthdays - my mom's and David's - which have or will occur this year. Again we reconnected with family and friends, including Jennifer's brother and nephew. One highlight was hiking to the top of Grays Peak at 14,270 feet with my brother, my nephew, Logan, David, and my dad. It was a typically crystal clear day in Colorado and we made it to the car just as the afternoon hail began! Logan was so proud of himself for hiking to the top, even with a broken arm. Finally, we enjoyed real summer weather and lots of outdoor time, running or biking. We relaxed, ate good food, enjoyed the amazing Colorado summer, and saw friends.

Hayden was not with us

because he was blessed with two weeks at Interlochen Center for the Arts where he attended summer camp and spent time with his Michigan grandparents once again. Today he will fly from Michigan to Colorado for the second time this summer and spend the next two and a half weeks with his
Colorado grandparents until we meet up in Italy for the Eid al Fitr holiday. Though we miss him and the house feels empty without him, he will enjoy his time in the States more than the heat and lack of activities here for the moment.

We made one final stop in London on our way back to Saudi Arabia. We hoped four days in one of our favorite
cities would help ease the time transition, but we also saw my English "family" and David's friend from the South Africa Ironman. We visited Covent Garden where David was, once again, roped into a street performer's show, and we finally experienced the London Eye.

We are now back in Saudi Arabia, preparing for a third school
year for KAUST, meeting new faculty, working on the new school building, and reconnecting once again with our amazing colleagues!

Thank you so much to all of our who made the effort to see us during our whirlwind tour of the US. We appreciated the beds, guestrooms, meals, and time offered by so many, and we were so grateful to see so many friends and family members.
Thanks for reading, Jennifer

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Visiting Friends and Family

Since I wrote last time, we have been to West Chester, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia to see David's sister, her husband, and her dog, Tucker. We enjoyed beautiful weather, rural countryside, and amazing gardens at Longwood Gardens, an estate once owned by the du Pont family. Pierre du Pont left the greatest legacy in the gardens, purchasing and protecting forests and plants for all to enjoy. The property was originally purchased by the Peirce family from Willam Penn. They established a working farm and planted an arboretum on the property. In the early 1900s, the land was sold to Pierre du Pont who created much of the gardens that people can
visit today. Prior to his death, the property was turned over to a foundation and now the public can visit this vast and amazing place.

From PA we drove to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where we were met by a long-time friend of David's (and mine!). David and Paul did an intense masters swim workout, and Paul pushed him hard. I think David barely hung on to Paul's heels.

After their early morning swim and a large breakfast, we drove to Traverse City to meet David's parents for lunch at a culinary institute located on the East Bay of Lake Michigan. We enjoyed an amazing lunch at Lobdell's Restaurant, a teaching restaurant for chefs, and were fortunate enough to watch the jets and WWII planes practicing for the Cherry Festival show over the Bay while we ate. We got to have a tour of the incredible kitchens, including the baguette-forming machine, the huge ovens and soup pots, walk-in refrigerator and freezers, and all types of kitchen equipment.

During our stay in Interlochen, we visited the Interlochen Summer Arts Camp where Hayden will be studying piano, instrument exploration, and creative writing for two weeks in August, as well as playing sports and swimming. Neighbors loaned us a pontoon boat which we took out on Duck Lake and enjoyed a cool swim. My favorite activity in the area is running on the forest trails in the woods. It makes me feel like I am floating and not having to work so hard. Finally, we went to a fabulous 4th of July party where we met many wonderful Traverse City and Interlochen folks, including a lovely couple originally from Pakistan, the hosts of the party, their daughter, and

her friends who performed live music for much of the evening. They have formed a band - Yesberger Band - who will be traveling the Midwest and West Coast this summer, with stops in Seattle in July: Check it out. Yesberger Band is playing this summer with Bobby McFerrin and with the Temptations.

We headed to Grand Rapids, truly a lovely large town/small city in Michigan, and stayed with friends, again from Seattle days, who have moved there. Again we got to go boating on a lake and enjoyed grilled (pork) bratwurst, rich coffee, and fresh fruit.

This summer so far has allowed us opportunities to reconnect and reunite with our extended family and friends, many of whom we knew in Seattle or who visited us in Seattle years ago. We have so many highlights and memories already. The boys are enjoying reconnecting with their culture, food, and family and friends as well.

More soon. Thanks for reading, Jennifer

Thursday, June 30, 2011

We are here!

We arrived safely in Boston, found our rental car, and, miraculously, our hotel in Boston, and after a quick bowl of New England clam chowder headed directly to bed. In the morning, we walked around Beacon Hill, ate a nice breakfast, admired the runners in the Boston Commons, took the subway to walk around Harvard, and packed up to drive to Thetford, Vermont, where we stayed with good friends from our Seattle days. Not only do these friends live in Vermont, but other mutual friends have also moved to nearby Norwich as well. Then, much to my surprise, I ran into a good friend from grad school days in Eugene, Oregon, who also lives in Thetford. It was a veritable Northwest reunion of sorts.

The second day in the US, Logan fell off a rope swing and broke his arm, but he was quickly put on the path to healing by efficient doctors and nurses at the Dartmouth Medical Center. I think they were pleased to work on an otherwise healthy and cheerful young boy and did everything they could to keep him happy. He is recovering well!

We all participated, with our friends, in the Thetford Run for History 5K. Though David ran the fastest time, he did not win because he was unable to answer a single question about Thetford's history - even though there were 50 signs with clues and information posted on the course. I guess being the fastest does not always make someone the winner! Logan, despite his cast, walked the entire course with me, and Hayden ran the course, answered some interview questions, and got his picture in the paper the next day: Hayden Evans from Saudi Arabia. Though no Evans won the race, we did win a huge box of organic tomatoes because we traveled the furthest to participate in this historical race!

We have been eating delicious local produce, lots of pork, and picking our own strawberries. In Thetford we went to the local Strawberry Festival at an organic farm and had amazing strawberries on our cereal the next day. It's so nice to connect
with friends and family after two years. It sometimes feels as if we have not been gone that long. Our overseas life feels far away and long ago for now... We are amazed at how green and lush everything is. Logan keeps saying, "America is so green!"

We are now in West Chester, Pennsylvania, visiting family and driving lawn mowing tractors. Tomorrow we head to Michigan!

Thanks for reading, Jennifer

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Nearly there ...

School has finished. Tests were taken, graded, and reported on. Report cards have been written, edited, edited again, and edited one more time - and then emailed to parents. Boxes have been packed and removed from our classrooms, though instead of being moved to our new building, they are now piled up in the gym until the new school is ready for them. Final meetings were held and closing out papers signed. Tearful good-byes were said to those faculty and staff who are leaving us. Bags were packed and taxis took people to the airport. We have stayed around for an additional week to help out with the school library unpacking and some other school projects, but we are counting down our last two days now and are so excited. Hayden keeps a countdown chart on the refrigerator and changes it each morning. Logan just lost another tooth, and the toothfairy found him here in the desert compound, so he was pleased! We have been packing and cleaning and getting ready to be gone for five weeks. Looking forward to seeing many family and friends over the summer.


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Wrapping up the school year

We have been so busy with the end of the school year just two weeks away. Last teaching, final projects and tests, grading and report cards, celebrations and graduation, packing our classrooms and preparing to move to the new and very large international school building ... Many checklists of things to accomplish by June 15.

The boys had their final soccer games last night, which instead of being held in the usual soccer park were held out in the stadium. Lots of soccer was played and watched and cheered. Mostly the parents were a polite bunch, observing and chatting and laughing. One father was ballistic with advice for his young son, maybe six or seven years old, yelling constantly at his son and all of the other kids about what they should do. I am certain none of the kids for whom he was sharing this wisdom were listening, but the other parents on the sidelines suffered through his inane shouting for 30 minutes. Good grief. Give it a rest! Our kids had tons of fun though and were able to say good-bye to their wonderful coach, Alex, who is moving to Indonesia with his wife and daughter after school is finished. Sad. He has been instrumental in the soccer program here, bringing many kids into this amazing sport and helping them improve dramatically.

After the boys played soccer for an hour each, we came home and Logan ate, bathed, and headed to bed, exhausted. Hayden did the same and then got up a couple of hours later to watch Barcelona play Manchester United; sadly for Hayden, Man United was outplayed!

We are so excited for our trip to the United States in three weeks! We will be able to spend about 5 weeks in the US before returning for another year here.

Thanks for reading! Jennifer

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

South Africa Ironman 2011


David's race report from the
South Africa Ironman race, April 2011
. Inspiring!

The day began in the dark, like so many of life's big climbs and long races. In the preceding days, athletes had reported to race headquarters for their packets, received massages, gotten bikes and helmetsinspected and checked in, turned in their bags for the two transitions, and done any final preparations necessary. You could feel the tension building; if going in to battle can be any analogy, then Port Elizabeth (PE to locals) by Saturday night had the feel of a town about to go to war, and it was not only etched on the faces of the athletes, its putative soldiers, but even apparent in thetight smiles and general nervousness of some of the 40,000 in town to support the 1,700 folks competing. Doing an ironman is a test on so many levels, and we all knew that test was coming eventually, and now it was upon us.
Having had days with blustery weather, scary waves and incredible winds, race day was a treat and obvious relief to all. The water was relatively calm, the best most of us had swum in since arriving in PE, and the wind was a fairly manageable "easterly," which we'd been told would make the bike course fast. It was 19C, cool but not cold, in all about as good as it gets here.
By 6:45 am, bikes had been checked and rechecked, transition bags had been stocked with final essentials, those who wanted to had completed warm-ups, and triathletes were now all assembled in the pen on the beach. I, naturally, got to the start a bit late and had to make my way up through many in the considerable ranks in order to be with the swimmers whose finishing times I felt might best match mine. And then we all listened to the South African national anthem, a beautifully inspiring piece of music and a great send-off for the athletes. Standing there and shaking hands with and wishing luck to those around, most of them South African, you could not but help feel proud of what this amazing nation has so clearly achieved in such a small amount of time since the dismantling of apartheid. I am sure not every eye was dry; being here this week has only underscored how well-founded their pride is for country.
At 7am sharp the gun went off and, suddenly, the moment that so many had been waiting for now. Having 1700 swimmers make a bee line for the first turn buoy 300m off shore is sort of a recipe for bumping and such, but gradually openings occurred, the ranks thinned just enough, and most swimmers seemed to get into rhythms of choice. I felt immediately good, which allowed me to relax and focus on finding fast feet to swim behind, which I mostly did. By the end of the first of two equal 1.2 mile (1.9km) laps, I was feeling great and hanging with what felt like a fast bunch. Running briefly on the beach before entering the water for round two, I took a quick glance at my watch and noticed that I was on a 57 minute pace and became even more excited about how things were going.
But then the cramps started, first in the calves, then inner thighs and feet. They weren't debilitating, but they prevented me from kicking, or kicking with pointed toes, and so I had to fall off the pace in order to salvage the swim. Since arriving at a "certain age" I've noticed the entry of occasional cramping into athletic life, and though race morning and the previous evening I thought I'd followed the usual protocols to help mitigate, the cramps still came. Oh well, my plan was to back off enough in order to avoid getting a huge, race-ending cramp, and this I did. Not a great swimmer anyway, I liken triathlon's swim to a tennis player's modest serve. It gets the ball in play but certainly doesn't win the point.
The swim/bike transition, or T1, was great. I. like all triathletes, had a personal escort in the men's tent, and she very nicely and quickly unpacked my gear bag, got the shoes and helmet and incidentals out, handed them to me, repacked the bag with my swim stuff, and basically made that whole routine vastly less complicated. I'm not known for fast transitions, and this latest race was no exception, so it was a real treat having a person dedicated to helping me get through what often is an arduous, poorly coordinated, sometimes klutzy task on my part.
In Abu Dhabi four weeks back I'd tried attaching my bike cleats to my pedals prior to the race and running sock-footed to the bike and then slipping the shoes on at the beginning of the ride. That wasn't a great success, so at this race I decided to just run/fast walk in my cleats to the bike. You are not allowed to put your bike cleats on in transition anymore, one of the many rules that are different from the mostly non-rule paleolithic era of triathlon in the early and mid '80s when I used to compete seriously.
And then I was off, the body quickly shifting its own gears from swimmer to cyclist, the bike now heading down the coastal road before the one quasi-climbing portion of the 60km (37 miles and change) bike loop, which we would be completing three times. Strong cyclists were everywhere, but gradually I seemed to be moving up relative to most, trying to stay calm, repeating again and again, "it's not about the bike, it's about the run" but then still wanting to ride well and, at times, push pretty hard. Gradually, I began to feel I was having a fairly good ride and that conditions were excellent, which mentally just feeds on itself. While some others seemed to be falling off the pace by lap two and three, and a few of those around me were dinged by the referees buzzing about on motorcycles and had to spend six minutes in one of a number of penalty tents out on the course, I just kept pumping the legs, drinking the fluids, and downing the goos and energy bars I'd brought along or sometimes took from the bevy of volunteers manning a feed zone. As the end of the bike portion approached, my legs still felt surprisingly good, but I backed off the pace a bit since, well, I hadn't actually run 26.2 miles at one go since a Seattle marathon in the last century and was more than a little nervous about the prospect!
T2 was quicker, though only relatively so, and mostly because there are just fewer things to deal with in T2. Again, a compassionate and pro-active volunteer got me up and running far sooner than I would have on my own, and then I was stumbling along those first few minutes, trying to get some semblance of rhythm in the running legs and forcing the body, yet again, to make a huge physiological shift in a nanosecond.
One of the tougher aspects of the race was not knowing where any of my competition was in the 50-54 age group. I'd asked a husband of one of the triathletes competing, whom I'd met at B&B, whether he could stage himself at the exit to T2 and let me know which athletes in the 1280 - 1374 sequence of race numbers came out before me, but during the race I never saw or heard this man on the side of the course. Instead, I had to compete with a bit of gnawing uncertainty, even paranoia, and with no room for error given that there was but one Kona slot for the entire 95-person age group. So, I ran on, never quite sure what was what yet trying to stay steady and strong just in case it came down to the final miles - not that I would have been aware, if this were the case!
The first few miles were rough. I tried to find a rhythm but could tell I'd left quite a bit out on the bike course. Leaving one of the early aid stations, I somehow dislodged my container of electrolyte pills which I was carrying in a back pocket of my tri-suit, and which I'd planned to use every 20 minutes by popping a pill down with water at each aid station spaced 2 to 3km apart. It dropped to the road, and I stopped, turned around and, in leaning over to pick it up, nearly had my left hamstring go into total cramp lock-down. Clearly, I was going to need to be careful. A quick stretch and self-massage, a new resolve to over-hydrate and aggressively take more Powerade, and a gingerly, more cautious return to form ensued, and within a few minutes I was back in the running groove, trying to think positive thoughts and hoping that the hamstring had been an isolated hiccup and not a harbinger.
By the halfway point of the 26 mile or 42km run I began feeling the need to use a bathroom, something that has never happened to me in dozens and dozens of running, cycling, swim, triathlon and other races during 35+ years of competition. But there it was, nature was calling, and so now the focus became finding a port-a-potty. Of course there were none, or folks I asked didn't seem to know where one might be along the course. But then, as things were looking especially grim, I saw three of them just behind an approaching aid station and, once I stopped walking into toilets already in use and actually found my own and was able to go to the bathroom and then get back on the run course, I immediately began feeling better, like I might actually be able to make it. I was wolfing down the coke and Powerade at every aid station by now since the course was now littered with folks cramping up, or worse. At one point a male pro went by me looking smooth and strong and then seemed to hit a brick wall, his face in agony, his hands grasping his right hamstring. Later he went by me again, only to go through the same routine again. Finally, he went by me one last time and I never saw him after. I presume he finished, but a number of pros, and many amateurs, did not. Although I didn't think it was particularly hot (one advantage of living in Saudi Arabia!), many did, and the day did not end well as a result for many. Just in my age group, I believe more than a dozen in the DNF category. Fortunately, this suddenly 50 year-old body hung in there and soon I had 14km, or one lap, to go. It was about then that I began having to reach way down and remind myself that all others were in similar situations, that I'd been through this before, etc. I just read
Unbroken, an amazing and true story about the will to survive, and the ironman has got nothing on what Zamperini, the book's protagonist, had to go through in life! So, I pushed on, knowing that with every step I was getting a bit closer to the finish but still nervous about where I was in the race relative to the others in my group who were in contention for the Kona spot. It was my lowest moment; every long race has one. Or two.
About then a guy a lap behind me came up on me and we began running together, me realizing he was running a pace I thought I could rise up to and then me falling in right behind him and pretending that I had a bungee cord attached to his shorts so that I wouldn't fall back. It was a match made in heaven as Gunnar (his name) literally pulled me around that last lap, even doling out encouraging words now and again since, with slapping feet and wheezing breath, he could clearly tell I was nearing empty and pretty much on auto-pilot.
And then the finish line area downtown came into sight and, suddenly, I was overcome by emotion and tears came. I thought of all the folks, from parents to high school running coach and running teammates, to training buddies later in life, to my ever-supportive family, and to colleagues and friends that all played roles in getting me to that point; it was a very profound moment. The body tried to pretend it was still game, and I picked it up as I neared the finish, pumping my arms and slapping the hands of many who leaned out over the finish chute to congratulate. I knew by the time on the huge finish clock that things had gone well but, still, didn't know how well relative to my homeboys in the 50-54 age group.
It's not a pretty sight after a race and so, more or less in rigor mortis, just the barely living kind, I hobbled over to the massage tent for a wonderful massage and some icing. Then I picked up my bag, which had my phone, and almost immediately received a call from my in-laws, Dee and Doug Pierce who, even though a continent and many time zones away, were the first ones to inform me that I'd prevailed in the age group. I was ecstatic, especially after then calling Jennifer who confirmed the same and sounded as high as a kite.
And now it's over, and I, for one, am looking forward to spending time with my family and taking a breather from training. These past months I've felt that I've had two jobs, one of which is teaching and the other of which is full-time athlete. It will surely be nice taking a bit of time to recharge the batteries before getting back in the hunt in preparation for Kona on October 8.
This opportunity has been the chance of a lifetime, and I know many of you have played significant roles in helping me get to that finish line a few hours back. Well, I'm now hungry (what a surprise!) and breakfast soon will be served at this most excellent B&B (Algoa Bay B&B, if any of you plan to come to PE, which I highly recommend), so I must sign off.

Friday, April 15, 2011


Over spring break week, we stayed here to work most of the week and then David headed to South Africa to compete in the South African Ironman (more posts to follow on that ...), and I took the boys for a long weekend to Muscat, Oman. Grounded in Islam, Omanis remain genuinely open to others, quick to smile, friendly and willing to offer help if needed. Sure in themselves, they are not threatened by differences.

Muscat, the capital city, has well-maintained parks, beautiful gardens, palm-tree lines streets, and clean streets. People generally follow road rules and drive safely. We enjoyed swimming in the pools at the hotel, eating a variety of foods, wandering through the Muttrah souk and bargaining for items - Omani caps, frankincense and sandalwood, cotton tops, and
other interesting items. We also visited the Grand Mosque, just ten years old and one of the most beautiful mosques I have ever seen: peaceful and graceful with intricate patterns adorning the interior ceiling of the main prayer hall.

We took one day and went on a day trip with a guide to Wadi Shab, stopping at a fish market on the way. A wadi is like a southwest canyon that fills with rushing water when there's a rainstorm. The walls of the wadi rose high above the rocky terrain on the canyon floor. There were small pools of water and lush palm trees scattered throughout. We hiked up about 2 kilometers over large gravel and then larger boulders. As we got to the end of wadi, we were walking along the canyon bottom which clearly showed evidence of having been the river bottom a long time ago. We stashed our backpack and shoes and swam through clear water pools to an end cavern with a crevice wide enough above the water's level for just our heads to fit through. Inching through about two feet of narrow rock,

we entered a smaller, stunning pool of water with a waterfall on one side. Truly, it was breathtaking and amazing. Well worth the trip! For a interesting perspective on Oman, read this editorial from the New York Times as well as the comments that follow the editorial:

Oman is surely
a lovely country. Thanks for reading, Jennifer

Friday, February 25, 2011

The 2011 KAUST Bike Race from Hayden

Greetings, friends and family,

Yesterday, the 2011 KAUST Bike race took place. Once again my speedy dad won the race. However, the adult bike race wasn't the only thing that happened yesterday. There was also a six and under race, that my brother competed in, and a ten to twelve year old race, that I competed in. Logan started out in about the 5th row of kids at the start line and ended up to be the winner. When the race was over, Logan hadn't even broken a sweat. I was not so lucky. I had to do two giant laps, instead of one small one. I had to race kids two years older than I. I had to race in the hottest part of the day. I also had to win. So, that's what I did. I still was not as lucky as Logan though. When I got done I was dripping with sweat and could barely walk. I then collected my medal, shook hands with the president of KAUST, and drank about five big bottles of water.

I guess it wasn't that bad though, because as soon as I got done I played ultimate frisbee for two hours. Ultimate frisbee was really fun. I scored a few points. Finally, we went to the yacht club and had an okay dinner. The view was great. Thanks for reading!

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Weekend Outing

Yesterday we rented a car and drove to Jeddah. It's not too expensive to rent a sedan-type car for a day, and, since we don't own a car, we thought we might do it once a month. In 19 months, we have rented a car maybe three times. Driving to Jeddah is far and increasingly we find that, except for Starbucks coffee, we can get a lot of the foods and other items we need right here on campus. I always feel a low level of constant stress when we go to Jeddah as we try to accomplish many things in a short period of time. With traffic, fast flying cars on the highway, and the occasional driver heading the wrong direction on streets, getting around can be challenging. Busy long highways sometimes go a mile or more without an intersection or break in the median forcing drivers to frequently drive far past their destination simply to make a u-turn and head back to where they need to be. With beautiful walled homes and glamorous malls, I have never been able to figure out the justification for the vast heaps of construction rubble, neatly piled like small pyramids, across large swaths of the city's otherwise empty land.

After a long day of soccer games and errands, we headed back home to KAUST but, since we had a car for a few more hours, we decided to drive beyond home to the King Abdullah Economic City where there were, apparently, some newly opened restaurants. We exited the highway, drove through a gate that resembled a makeover of the Arc de Triomphe, thanked the friendly guard, and proceeded another 15 kilometers through barren land lined by palm trees and a simple hedge. We eventually came to a beautiful apartment building where we saw some cars parked. We too parked our car and were amazed to walk down a gorgeous sandy beach - the sand recently brought in from elsewhere - in front of a lovely waterfront walkway lined with several restaurants and lots of outdoor seating. We walked all the way past the buildings, through remnants of construction, and to the section of the beachfront where villas had been built in a V-shape configuration opening toward the Red Sea. The reddish-brown color of the villas reminded me of an Arizona resort. On the water, a long pier has been built that leads directly to the coral reef drop off. On either side of the pier is a small swimming area where the coral seems to have been cleared out,with steps down to beckoning sea. It was stunning and we had visions of returning some time for an afternoon/evening swim or snorkel. Hayden saw a large sting ray slowly swimming over the rocks, only to disappear lazily into the dark blue depths of the swimming area. Hmmmmm.

We picked up shells, enjoyed a long beach walk and a lovely Lebanese dinner on the waterfront before winding our way back to the road which ultimately brought us home. We have heard that construction at the economic city is on pause as many of the builders have been brought into KAUST for work, and it is clear that much of the economic city is ready for occupants and building completion, but the apartment buildings that are finished are beautiful, the waterfront is nicely designed, and the restaurants are happy to serve!

Thanks for reading. Jennifer

Friday, February 11, 2011

Jeddah rivals Seattle in rain

Strange but true: from late December through late January Jeddah probably had more rainfall than Seattle. Even though December is often the cruelest, wettest month in Seattle, with January often not that much better, Jeddah has been more than holding its own this year. During our winter break away in Austria, Jeddah had three rainstorms, one of them big enough to flood much of the city (and, temporarily at least, portions of KAUST). Then, a few weeks after returning to KAUST, we had another huge rainfall, this one wreaking even more havoc in Jeddah and again testing KAUST's limits on drainage.

Fortunately, the engineers at KAUST did their homework after last year's also big flooding. Although we had our own temporary version of the Great Lakes on campus, the storm drains worked overtime, the water diversions held, and soon campus was pretty much back to normal. Jeddah was not so lucky; KAUST coordinated a humanitarian effort to help those most adversely affected, with even our school playing a helpful role.

While Seattle is synonymous with rain, far fewer folks would associate Saudi Arabia with the wet stuff. Given this, a few images from the past weeks might attach a bit of humor to what was otherwise a very tough week for many in these parts.
  • Biking across a bridge that had the biggest puddle, a lake really, even though the bridge straddled water. Huh?
  • During the worst torrents, looking over at manicured shrubs and noticing that they were receiving their pre-programmed watering. Nothing like a double dose of water! "Excuse me, sir, it's time to wake up for your sleeping pill."
  • Biking to dinner in a downpour, which we hoped would end, and basically needing a kayak to get home after the rain's intensity only grew. Logan's bike at one point was below water level. And he was still riding. This prompted pulse increases in both parents. It was then that we abandoned the roads and just went for high ground.
  • January is often synonymous with snow days for US school kids. Not so here, where students miss school because of heavy rain. Which makes sense when you think about it if you're receiving more than 100% of your annual rainfall in the space of a few hours.
So, amazing to say this from Saudi Arabia, but we don't need anymore rain, at least not for awhile. Fortunately, there's none forecasted. And I mean FOREcasted. Now, true to form, it could well not rain for another ten months. At all!

Thanks for reading,

Friday, January 21, 2011

The 2011 Fun Run from Hayden

Yesterday, the 2011 KAUST Fun Run occurred. Once again my speedy dad won, however, the person in second was very fast too. At the end of the race everyone had to go around the track once. The person who was leading at the time, for some reason, did not know this fact. As soon as he got onto the track he slowed down, thinking the race was over. My dad, who was right behind him, quickly whizzed around him and won the race again. Fortunately, the guy in second was the same man that my dad passed on the track. The person in third was a high school boy from New Jersey. He is one of the best runners on campus, and only in tenth grade. Logan is the real exciting part in this story. First, Logan probably hopped about 100 yards in the kiddie sack race. Then, he decided that he wasn't tired at all and that he wanted to do the 5 kilometer race. He started out at a really fast pace and kept it that way for about half the race. Then, at the first water station, he took a 2 or 3 minute water break and watched about 50 people run by him. I was one of those people. When I finished the race I sat down with a bottle of water and waited for Logan. I didn't have to wait long. About 2 minutes later, Logan came running across the finish line. Surprisingly, Logan beat about 5 of my friends who were doing the race. We then waited for Mom, who was about 3 minutes behind. We waited around for the awards ceremony. Then, tired and hungry, we biked (slowly) back to our house. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Campus Rain 2011

It has been nearly a month since we last posted on our blog. Since then, we have had a glorious holiday of snow, cold, snow, cafes, Christmas festivities, and skiing in Austria - with safe travel all around. We were so fortunate to be able to stay again in our favorite apartment in Seefeld!

We have been back for a full week and today were going to start our second week when emails came through saying that school was closed for students today. Why? Rain. Last night's incredible rain. Last year when we had these intense rains, we had equally intense flooding both inside and outside. This year our house was nearly all dry and the roads, though flooded with thigh-deep water last night, gradually drained throughout the night and were nearly dry this morning.

It is ironic to be a Seattle family whose wettest bike ride occurred in Saudi Arabia. We managed to bike to our friends' house for dinner in the rain and the puddles. We took extra clothing to change when we got there. After a lovely Greek dinner and a wonderful evening, we figured we needed to brave the weather to head home to check on our own house, just as water started cascading down our friends' inside stairwell. We thought there was a lull in the rain, but it picked up as we biked the 1-2 kilometers home. The puddles we had ridden through had, in the two hours we had been at their house, turned into small lakes. We were able to make it across the road, through a slightly higher parking lot, across another lake-like road, and up onto a less flooded sidewalk. We made it safely home, threw all clothes in the wash, and took hot showers. (You never know exactly what kind of water you are riding through!)

Although many of the lakes had drained or been pumped during the night, the electricity was still out in the elementary school and school was, as a result, canceled for safety reasons for today. In Seattle, we had school closure once for what our neighbor termed "cold sidewalk day." Snow that was anticipated did not come until the next day, but school was closed prematurely. Then, of course, it had to be closed again when the actual snow did arrive. Last year here, we had major rain and floods right before an Eid holiday and school was closed because no one could safely get through, the drains did not drain, and the schools were very leaky and wet.

The sun is out now, so hopefully all will dry out and the rains will move elsewhere. Thanks for reading, Jennifer