Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Little Silver Bike a.k.a. Car-Free for Nearly Four Years


Old and new bikes - all well used
You may, or may not, remember that we were serious bike commuters, David and I, in our pre-children days. I biked to Vashon Island each day to work at The Harbor School, while David biked to Bainbridge Island to teach at Hyla Middle School. (Prior to that he bike commuted to The Overlake School in Redmond and later to Lakeside School.) As mentioned in an earlier blog post, I biked to Seattle University every day for grad school during the winter that we were blessed with 100 Days of Rain in a Row. I didn't dry out that year until mid-July. Once we had children, David continued as a bike commuter, but I ended up driving more due to parenting needs and fewer work hours. We bought a used Subaru Ouback, which I loved, just before Hayden was born, and we sold it just before we moved to Saudi Arabia.

David and Logan fixing LSB - December 2012
Since we have been here, we have been a car-free family for three and a half years now. We bike everywhere, though honestly nothing is farther away on our campus from our house than maybe 4-5 kilometers - in the summer months that feels like a much greater distance due to the heat and humidity. We are currently a family with ten bikes at KAUST, plus one collecting dust in our Seattle attic, one in Portland living with friends, another one in Seattle residing with friends, and one in Colorado waiting for Logan's next visit. Virtually all of these bikes were used when purchased, even David's time trialing bike for the South Africa and Hawaii Ironman races was purchased secondhand from a friend who had just competed in Hawaii the preceding year.

In fact of the ten bikes currently on location here, only three were purchased new. One bike was given to David when he was sponsored by Mark Nobilette as a triathlete in 1985. My old commuting bike was purchased from a Seattle police auction after an earlier bike had been stolen from our Ballard backyard. Logan typically ends up with Hayden's hand-me-downs, which suits him just fine. Hayden's bike, which is used every single day, was purchased new but will eventually probably be Logan's. David's mountain bike was purchased from the same friend who sold him the Ironman bike. I purchased a new mountain bike in Switzerland a few years ago but use it nearly every day. David's Cannondale commuting bike, already used when purchased in Boulder right after we were engaged in 1994, has more than 50,000 cycling miles. Privately, we have all sort of decided that the Cannondale may not leave with us when we go, neither will the police auction purchase, or, sadly, the Little Silver Bike that was given to us by friends for our kids to learn to ride bikes, just as theirs had.

Logan learning to ride in Seattle, 2009
The Little Silver Bike (LSB). This bike was the learning-to-ride bike for the two children of friends of ours - son now in college and daughter a junior in high school. (Coincidentally, this is the same friend who later sold David his time trial bike for South Africa and Hawaii!) The LSB was passed on to other friends, whose two children also learned to ride on that bike and are now each in high school. Eventually, it ended up with us, training wheels and all, and Hayden learned to ride on it. I remember when David took him to West Woodland without the training wheels. David steadied the bike, and Hayden kept asking, "Are you holding on? Are you holding on?" David kept saying he was, though Hayden was across the playground, riding well by then. Hayden moved to a bigger yellow bike, also purchased used (and now living with friends in Seattle), and Logan ultimately got the LSB. We brought it to Saudi Arabia, with training wheels, though Logan was riding it without the trainers shortly after it was unpacked. He now has Hayden's older bike, but both boys like to play on the LSB or use it when their regular bikes have flats that David cannot fix immediately before school. Hayden's gangly legs force his knees into the handle bars, but he seems as content as ever.

Building a fort with bike boxes.
I just bought a new road/race bike from a shop in the UK. After a long and convoluted wait in the Jeddah customs office, plus two car trips (for the bike) to KAUST and back to Jeddah for various customs confusions, my bike is now beautifully assembled by my very competent spouse. Many thanks to Mr. Mohammad from Saudi Post, who called from Riyadh and ultimately persuaded customs to release my bike to be delivered to me at KAUST rather than requiring me to go to Jeddah to collect it myself.

Therefore, three Evans' bikes will probably be donated to others here at KAUST. Sadly, the bikes that will be left behind all have sentimental value, but I am doubtful that we can take them all.

I must confess that we do also have an old rickety and loud motorbike that we bought when we were first here and all of the cycling was occasionally too much for five-year-old Logan. It still works, but we rarely use it any longer. When we need to go to Jeddah, the best deal around is the bus that heads to the hospital and malls each day. We take advantage of that when needed. And, of course, we take a taxi to the airport. Most families here have cars, and that suits their needs well. We just have enjoyed our time without one. Plus - bike boxes make such creative toys!

Hayden biking in Seattle on a bike that now lives with friends.
Thanks for reading, Jennifer

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Mountain-biking in Saudi


Life on a compound can get a little tedious. Each weekend, we wonder, Do we play badminton or go swimming? Do we go to the beach or play tennis? Unless you are really into mall shopping in Jeddah - no, thank you - or searching for carpets and antiques in the souks, life can get rather dull at times. This last weekend, however, we participated in a mountain bike trip to Wadi Haqqaq, which was radically different than our usual relaxing weekend. We left in the early morning darkness, driving with about twelve others to a site where we could begin cycling. Because we have had a bit of rain lately - just a bit - there was actually a thin carpet of green grass stretching under the thorn trees, whose 1-2 inch thorns we carefully. We biked through deep sand that made the bikes come to a standstill, we rode up and down rocky hills, and we arrived at Wadi Haqqaq where the pools of water drew several of the group in for a cooling off - until we felt little nibbles on our toes. It was a nature extravaganza.

Hayden and Logan each biked about twenty hard miles. Because the weather is slightly cooler now and the extreme humidity of the summer has somewhat dissipated, we drank more normal quantities of water and snacked on delicious dates. The group was a diverse mix of nationalities, but most people were far stronger mountain bikers than myself. Nonetheless, the leaders kept us all together, and the follow-car was available with extra water, tools, snacks, and seats for anyone too tired to continue. We all made it the entire way to Mushroom Rock and back, with a slight detour to the swimming hole at the Wadi.

Incredibly, the area was remarkably clean. Often when people go into the desert for driving or camping, they return with stories of trash strewn everywhere. We generally found little trash, except around water pumping areas and wells.

The trip was definitely another highlight for our lives in the desert, and we hope to go on more such mountain biking excursions. Thanks for reading! Jennifer

Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Friday at Tamimi


Our local grocery store on campus is called Tamimi, though it does have some rather vague connection with Safeway (in the US) because we get Safeway products sometimes, and there is a large Safeway 'S' on the store front.

Though there are some complaints about Tamimi, on this Thanksgiving Day, we should express our gratitude; I am, in fact, grateful for Tamimi. When we first moved to campus, there was no grocery store. At all. For at least two full months, we all ate for free at the campus diner or at the various fast food restaurants in Discovery Square, which is a public square and hanging out part of the campus - it has the post office, bank, Burger King, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf cafe, a shwarma restaurant, Baskin & Robbins, the cinema, a small take-away pizza place, an Arabic food place (which seems to often be closed due to hygienic issues), and an Indian restaurant. Though it sounds like a lot of options, those of us here in the fall of 2009 quickly tired of these choices and of eating our evening meal in the public square with everyone else, every evening. It was fun at first, but, you know, we all started to crave our own cooking within our own homes and family times.

About three years ago, around November of 2009, Tamimi opened. We were thrilled. We no longer had to eat our meals with everyone all of the time, and we no longer had to take a bus to Jeddah to buy food and bring it back in large coolers. I did that on several occasions, and I vividly remember racing out of the mall with a friend who was doing the same thing. Our abayas were flapping around our legs as we ran towards the waiting bus, waving our arms for the driver to wait for us and pushing shopping carts of groceries and our cooler wildly in front of us. I am sure that observers thought we were mad. To this day, we laugh at these memories. Tamimi saved us from certain dementia.

We all soon discovered that Tamimi was temperamental. Sometimes it had goods we planned to buy, and, well, nearly as often, it did not. Sometimes it has Cheerios. Sometimes not. Sometimes weeks go by without Ritz Crackers. For months last year, we could not get any canned pumpkin - though it did seem to arrive just before American Thanksgiving. Often they get packages of frozen bagels, but then everyone buys them, the packages disappear, and there are no more bagels for six months, when they suddenly appear again. Many of us like to have frozen blueberries, but they are purchased within hours of delivery, hoarded into people's freezers, and never seen at Tamimi again. One time two years ago, there were plastic tubs of pasta sauces that many of us recognized from US grocery stores; we called each other and bought out the store's supply in a weekend. It's funny when we plan our meals because we have to have a back-up plan in case key ingredients are gone that week. Hayden has gotten into cooking recently and bought a French cookbook. Unfortunately, many recipes include pork products or various types of spirits - all of which are unavailable. Like the rest of us, he learns to adapt, adjust, and find something similar.

To Tamimi's credit, many more organic products are now available, they have a constant supply of basic food items - like pasta, baking products, olive oil, milk, juice, meat, cheese, vegetables and fruit - so we are certainly not suffering. It is humorous, however. Ooh, I gotta run. Rumor has it Tamimi just got blueberries ...

Happy Thanksgiving. Thank you, Tamimi, for turkeys, potatoes, pumpkin, and squash!

Thanks for reading, Jennifer

Monday, November 19, 2012

Six Hundred Days


We used to live in Seattle, where David and I bike-commuted every day - before we had children - from Ballard to Downtown Seattle so that he could take the Bainbridge Ferry and I could take the Vashon Ferry to the schools we were working in at the time. Prior to that, I had been completing my Masters in Teaching at Seattle University (SU), to which I had also biked daily - including the year during which it rained 100 days in a row. I always arrived at SU soaked to the bone, but I was able to shower and warm up in the locker room before heading to class. Putting on my wet clothes to bike home was extremely unpleasant, but I inevitably warmed up quickly enough, making it safely, though water-logged once again, home to a hot shower. For a bit, we didn't even own a car.

Once we had children, we replaced our old Subaru and bought a much newer Outback. Loved the car but found that, as a mom, I was driving much more. Still, David continued biking and I bike commuted as was practical.

Move ahead several years. We are now in Saudi Arabia, living on the edge of the desert next to the Red Sea. Once again we do not own a car, and all four of us bike to school every day. We bike to the store, to friends' houses, to the cinema, to yoga and badminton, to the golf course, everywhere. Granted, our university compound is not that big. Honestly, I bike maybe 1.5 miles one-way to school each day and, unless we go to the golf course, which might be two miles from our house, that's generally our longest ride at any one time. Plus it never rains, so I always arrive warm and damp (or sweaty) from the heat.

Yesterday there were big rumors of torrential rains expected in Jeddah, which is just 70 km to the south of here. Everyone was really excited. The first year here we had huge rain, and everything flooded: the streets, many houses, the post office, the schools. School was canceled because of the rain and floods, but many people showed up anyway to help clean up. The entire community was untested for severe rains and faced the floods with perseverance and enthusiasm - except for the people whose houses actually caved in from rain. The roof of the then-secondary school didn't drain because the drainage pipes were all filled with rubble, so our assistant principal went to the roof to siphon the water off; students arrived to mop up and clean up; teachers moved books from dripping water in the library and rivulets in their classrooms; kids played and played in the flooded streets. The second year it rained again. Streets flooded and the buildings suffered some, but not as badly as the first year. Still, it was rather exciting. We were at some friends' house when the rain got heavy and started running down their stairs from the large front picture window on the stair landing. We immediately headed home by bike, of course. Eventually, I realized how foolish we were to try to 'ride' home in thigh-deep, so we walked our bikes on the slightly higher sidewalks, also mostly underwater. Again the community came together to enjoy the change and the thrill, to stand in awe at buses stuck in the flooded intersections, and to clean up. Last year it only briefly rained once for a few minutes, not even enough to have water running down the gutters.

When the rumors of massive thunder and rain showers came to naught last night and this morning, I must confess that I was deeply disappointed. Not, I hope, because I wanted more damage and destruction, but because the rain, particularly when it's a lot (and even more when school gets canceled for a day), changes the monotony of sameness. It's exciting and refreshing, powerful and exhilarating, reminding us that Mother Nature is all-powerful in the end. David tells me that we are going on or even beyond six hundred days without rain here, other than a few drops which quickly dissipated. I am not hoping for massive floods in Jeddah or on our campus nor do I wish for so much rain that destruction ensues, but I would be thrilled with a real solid rain that cleans the air, washes away the sand and dust, and cleanses our souls. Perhaps it's also time to test the rain-worthiness of our new school building, still untested!

Thanks for reading, Jennifer

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Vienna and Budapest

Budapest - Mom and Logan

Mom and Dad - Budapest
We recently were fortunate enough to celebrate the Eid holiday with a trip to Vienna, Austria, where we met up with my parents to celebrate not only family and time together but each of my parent's birthdays as well. We toured the city's palaces and museums, enjoying frequent stops in cafes to warm up from the cold. One morning, we awoke to a dusting of snow. Once again, we ate wonderful food, including pork and veal, as well as sacher torte and apfel struedel. We went to a former palace called Belvedere and visited an amazing art gallery of pieces collected by members of the Hapsburg family, including Gustav Klimt's "The Kiss." As I stood in awe of this original masterpiece, Logan sauntered away, muttering darkly, "It's just a bunch of scribbles." When I asked him about that, he showed me some squiggles, which from his perspective was about all he had seen. Once I pointed out the faces in the painting, he admitted to seeing the scene but remained unimpressed. This is why art museums have to be limited to an hour or so for the boys.


I confess to being, once again, amazed and impressed by another European city's public transportation system. We traveled all over Vienna, even to and from the airport, without ever using a single car or taxi. The subway system was immaculate, safe, and - of course - on time. We used buses, trams, and even the train system when we also took a day trip to Budapest.

Trying to understand the Hungarian menu

In the gardens of the Schonnbrunn Palace

Budapest was definitely an older city, with a language so unusual and challenging that we could not make sense of any words. People were friendly and engaging, particularly once we left the train station, which seemed like it really needed an influx of investment. We wandered around the city, found an old shopping street, and ended up near the Danube where we saw historical buildings and learned intriguing history about Hungary. We happened upon a lovely cozy restaurant where we enjoyed lunch, Gerloczy Cafe. The maƮtre d' arranged a table for the six of us, made sure we were settled, and sent over a waitress who helped us with the menu, brought us a lovely bottle of Hungarian wine, and taught us how to say 'thank you.'
St Stephen's Cathedral

In Vienna, we explored the Haus of Music, which taught us about many composers who were from or who had spent lots of time in Vienna, and we were truly inspired by the musical atmosphere of the city. Mostly, it was good to spend time with my parents, to laugh about our adventures, and to enjoy new foods and restaurants. Though Hayden and Logan certainly have favorite foods - tacos, pizza, pasta - they are willing to try a wide variety of foods and both have eclectic tastes, ordering pumpkin soup, goat cheese ravioli, and arugula salads. Truly, they are comfortable to try so many types of food!

What an amazing trip. We were so grateful to explore a new city in one of our favorite countries!

Thanks for reading, Jennifer

US Political Scene from Afar

Once again a long time has passed since I last posted anything. Work. Planning. Teaching. Grading. Reporting. Communicating. A myriad of online sites which demand our time as teachers - too many honestly (now that could be a posting in and of itself).

I registered online to vote in the US election in my state of Washington, but the ballot never arrived, either in the mail or in my email inbox, so - with sadness and shame - I admit that I was unable to vote in this most recent election. I am sorry too because there were measures on the ballot in Washington that I would have been thrilled to vote on. Luckily, unlike past years, many of them passed.

From Facebook comments, I have seen friends who are overjoyed with the results and friends who are dismayed. I sense both anger and pleasure. I read about people who have 'unfriended' people because of political postings and/or opinions communicated. I can appreciate that some people are not thrilled that the majority has given Obama a second chance, but I would remind all of some key points:

Be grateful that you can vote and that your voice is heard.
Be amazed that you can complain and disagree without having to hide or without fear of punishment.
Be pleased that we can do it all again in four years.
Realize that the election was clear and the decision did not have to be made by the military or the courts.
Know that you can write what you wish about the candidates and no one will come arrest you in the night.
You may not be happy with the results, but no one died, no one attacked, no one was killed. It was not tragic. It may only have been disappointing.
Be grateful that whether you agree with the President's policies or not, he cannot make decisions alone, he is not a dictator, and no matter who he (or she) is, he must collaborate with others in our country who have also been elected by our own people.
Admit that Obama's success or failure will be partially dependent on both parties working together (or not). Blame can never fall on only one individual or one party.
Be proud that young people voted more than ever before, as did many minority groups.
Be amused by the fact that all of the states that begin with 'New' voted for Obama and all of the states that begin with a direction (North, South, West) voted for Romney.
Don't be hateful and resentful. Our country will rise or fall based on the parties working together. We will not make it if they continue to stymie each other's efforts because of political manipulations.

Personally, I am grateful that Obama has been given four more years. I hope he does some great things in those years, fulfilling promises, compromising when needed (but not too often), and moving our country in the direction that most people seem to want it to go.

Thanks for reading,

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Four-Wheeling in the Desert


Thanks to the King's generosity and national pride, we have a four-day weekend in honor of Saudi National Day, which is today, Sunday, 23 September 2012. Since Thursday and Friday are our regular weekend, we ended up with Saturday and Sunday added on as well. It's glorious! Truly. Except for this one long weekend, we do not have any other long weekends throughout the year, so this is greatly enjoyed and appreciated.

One of our colleagues organized a desert four-wheeling trip, so we joined in. We all met at the Visitor's Center, got on a large bus, and headed towards Jeddah. As we approached the airport, we veered on the ring road to the east side of the city and ultimately headed onto the road in the direction of Mecca, though we were not going that far, of course. As non-Muslims, none of us would have been allowed to enter the city of Mecca anyway. The trip was organized by a hip Saudi man - a Saudi version of a friendly and engaging Harley dude - and so he directed the bus towards the desert site of the jeeps.

 Water was handed around, and we all piled into about 15 Jeeps. Sandy and breezy, hot and humid, we snaked out into the dunes. The drivers excelled at racing up and down the sand dunes, showing off the beautifully desolate landscape, stopping in several key spots for photos, and swinging by a Bedouin camp with goats and camels.
Hayden and Mazin, our driver
The drivers, all certified drivers for desert four-wheeling, do this on the weekends as their hobbies. They all had other jobs during the week, and other cars for those jobs as well. One driver is a bank analyst, for example, and drove a Nissan Maxima to his bank job.

Logan and William
We finished our trip after the sun had set and the darkness was coming on. Nearly everyone in our group was a teacher with his or her family, so we all knew each other and there were many kids. We sprawled on carpets on the sand, waiting for grilled chicken, flat bread, and cole slaw salad and drinking cold water and soda. It was a glorious day and an incredible way to spend one day of our long weekend!

Though, admittedly, it's not exactly an environmentally friendly way to enjoy the desert, the drivers all had a certain pride in their desert and in keeping the more remote areas cleaner than the garbage ubiquitously strewn across the landscapes near the highways.

Logan sliding down the sand

Thanks for reading, as always! Back to work tomorrow!


Friday, September 14, 2012

International Students


We have just finished our second full week of school - and I would say that we are off to a great start this year. One of the most interesting aspects of our school, other than our amazing colleagues, is our students. The variations on their life experiences speak to true internationalism. In classes of 6th and 7th graders, I have or have had such vast diversity among my students - those who are from England but have lived mostly in Saudi Arabia, an Indian student born in Saudi Arabia, an Egyptian student from Canada, a Pakistani girl from Manchester (who speaks strongly like a girl from Manchester), American students, Filipino students, Saudi students who have lived in the States or the UK, a French boy born in the US, an Egyptian student from Austria who speaks a mixture of German and Arabic and heavily German-accented English, a German girl from Sweden, Palestinian students from Jordan and Canada, a Canadian girl who has lived in Indonesia, Moscow and now Saudi Arabia, Canadian students born and raised in Dubai. I have a student from Korea and one from South Africa, several from Singapore and from Malaysia, a Russian-American and Indian-Saudi, a Fijian-Australian and an Egyptian-American ... the list goes on and on. In our grade 7 humanities class, I ask students to share where they were born and where they have lived - and I learn fascinating stories about their lives this way. It makes me realize that these kids, though they do feel they have a home country or two, do not necessarily feel they have to live in those home countries. They are global citizens who will be able to live wherever they choose. And, typical, of middle school students, they are funny and amused easily, eager to learn and play, willing to play 'thumbs up seven up' when five minutes of class remain, and - increasingly for our school - excited about reading (especially the 6th graders!).

Thanks for reading. More to come ...


Sunday, September 2, 2012

End of Summer Updates


Summer was so full and busy that I sort of got lost in trying to keep up with the blog observations and comments. We loved Mallorca. It was rich and diverse, friendly and lovely. We ate wonderful food and enjoyed tasty Mallorcan wine, we played in the sea and the pool, we rented bikes and rode the entire bike trail near the sea of Palma, we explored Palma, Soller, and Valldemosa. We ended with evenings in front of the TV watching the Olympics and appreciating BBC's commentary and lack of advertising. I realized that I did not tire of watching the Olympics this year because we did not have to endure endless and tedious American advertising, interruptions, and the ethnocentric focus on American athletes. When we returned to Saudi Arabia and watched the AlJazeera coverage, we appreciated the continuous Olympic sport coverage on several channels all day with English-speaking announcers and - once again - no advertising. Fabulous!

For the last week and a half of our Mallorca summer Hayden and a close friend of mine from college days joined us. While David continued his studies, we continued to explore and play in the lovely blue water.

After David's program, our family headed to Menorca, another Ballearic Island. I expected it to be virtually the same, and I could not have been more wrong. It looked and felt different. Lower hills, fewer people, less busy, more Spanish. We spent an entire day at the beach and later at the pool with friends who used to live here on our same compound. Great chance to catch up since they have moved back to Bath, England. In Menorca we rented kayaks and paddled around, walked around a touristy/fishing village called Fornells, and enjoyed our rental car explorations.

Finally, after three days, we headed to Barcelona. I expected it to be a little edgy and dirty, and - again - could not have been more wrong. It was clean and beautiful, neighborhood-like, and impressive. We had allowed only three days in Barcelona, but I could have stayed much longer. We managed the crowds of La Rambla, explored the city some by tourist bus so that we could see more of it, and found some enticing small neighborhood restaurants. I hope to return to Barcelona to actually explore the stunning main Cathedral and La Familia Cathedral.

We returned to KAUST, worked and prepared for school for 7 days, and then Eid holiday came around. We flew to Italy, spent three days with friends who have a home in the Piedmont region and then took the train to Venice. Wow. That's sums it up. Wow. We rented an apartment in San Basilio so we were just a bit out of the hustle and bustle of the San Marco and its narrow streets. Our apartment was in a quiet Venetian neighborhood with an incredible little restaurant just behind the apartment in a small plaza. We admired the flower-box windows and the shutters and the canals and boats and the shops and cafes. We were lucky to end up in the Bell Tower in San Marco plaza just as the bells were tolling 2 p.m. Pretty outstanding.

I have realized lately that in emails, Facebook, and blogs, I frequently write about or comment on amazing foods we eat when we travel. I think sometimes it must seem as though we have some fetish with foods, but really it's because the food in other places is so fresh and tasty. We get plenty of healthy food options here (we are hardly starving), but since the food comes a long way - almost none of it is grown locally - it just does not taste that flavorful. In both Spain and Italy this summer, the fruits tasted the way they are supposed to taste. I recently bought nectarines at the supermarket at KAUST and, although they looked good and I thought they would ripen, they just went from unripe to rotten. It was so disappointing. From my travels and time in Europe, I am beginning to understand the motivation for food movements around the world - the idea that food should be in season and should come from some place nearby makes a huge difference in taste. Even in Seattle we could get out-of-season fruits in the winter but they never tasted very good. I get it. In Europe you generally get the options that are available and seasonal. Though that might be fewer choices in the market or grocery store, the foods taste so much better and fresher.

School is back in session. We have just started The KAUST School's fourth year. Wow! Lots of great new teachers and students. More to come ...

Thanks for reading, Jennifer

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Mercat d'Oliver, Mallorca

Yesterday, Logan and I explored this large market in Palma, the main city of Mallorca. We had heard about it from a guy in our apartment building, so we took the bus to the area and walked about until we found the market. From the outside, it's a large yellow-colored building, with small windows up towards the ceiling. It does not look like much. We went in to discover one of the most immaculate and interesting fish markets we have ever seen. There were rows and rows and rows of fish sellers, filleting fish and skinning fish. We saw skinned and cleaned rays, smaller sharks, massive tuna, tiny sardines, and a gazillion other types of fish that we didn't know the names for. It was so clean and intriguing to watch. People came in to buy exactly what they wanted - for their home or restaurant, presumably. In another section of the market, we found glorious displays of colorful fruits and vegetables, cheeses, olives, nuts, wines, baskets, cured pork and pork legs, sides of beef, eggs, chickens. It was the most immaculate market I have ever seen. We exhausted ourselves taking photos. The funniest thing we saw was bacon-wrapped dates, coming from Saudi Arabia where dates grow to a place where they take a similar product and ensconce it in finely sliced pork product. We had a good chuckle over that.

From the market we bought sushi to eat in the square and from there, we  proceeded through the old section of Palma with its narrow winding lanes, free from cars and filled with shops, cafes, restaurants, and gelato stands. I felt like we could eat our way through Palma, but we were selective and waited for what looked like the perfect gelato!

Mallorca, very popular with Brits and Germans, is less well-known among Americans. English seems to be spoken by many, but I find my years and years of junior high and high school Spanish coming back in a flash. Even all of those verb conjugations make sense to me. I cannot really produce great sentences or paragraphs of spoken Spanish, but I find that I understand a great deal and - except for the random sentence in Thai - I feel pretty good about that. With several months here, I might really be able to communicate with great efficiency.

While David is in class each day until about 1:30, Logan and I swim, play at the beach, explore different sections of the island nearby, shop for groceries, and generally enjoy our free time. We love to jump from the large rocks near our apartment into the salty and wavy sea, and we all spent an evening listening to an incredible orchestra play Mozart and Beethoven in the Bellver Castle. What a wonderful spot for live music!

We are thoroughly enjoying our time here. It's culturally rich, stimulating and incredibly beautiful. The view from our apartment ...

Thanks for reading,

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Longer than a 36-Hour Day

We are now in Mallorca, Spain – an island in the Mediterranean which has an airport that is the 3rd largest in Spain, David read recently. We have an incredible apartment – well, a fine two bedroom, two bathroom apartment with a small kitchen – and an amazing view of the Mediterranean Sea and the pool in the complex. The apartment was recommended by friends from KAUST who have actually stayed here in previous years. We are pleased! David’s teaching program began yesterday, so we had a day to adjust, get groceries, enjoy the pool and beach, jump from the rocks into the aqua sea, and catch up on sleep!

We had a wonderful visit to the United States. We flew first to Minneapolis to catch a shuttle to Carleton College in order to attend David’s 30 college reunion. When we arrived in the dark and pouring rain, Hayden’s first comment was, “How come there isn’t a wall around this college?” A testament, I guess, to living in a perpetually walled compound in Saudi Arabia.

We flew to Traverse City to visit David’s parents in Interlochen, Michigan, and to celebrate his father’s significant birthday in September by going to Mackinac Island for one night at the Iriquois Hotel right by the water. David’s folks took David and me there eighteen years ago when we were first engaged and I first met them. We biked around the island on its 8.2 mile loop and explored the fort on the island.

At the last minute I decided it was possible to attend my 25th reunion at Principia College. Hayden encouraged me, after seeing the large 25th reunion group at David’s reunion, so I flew to St. Louis where my parents met me at the airport – also in town for my mom’s 50th reunion from the same college. At first none of my friends or classmates were there, and I felt for awhile like a kid at my parents’ event, but eventually friends of mine who now live in St. Louis arrived, and I was able to connect with several people I knew in college. At David’s reunion, we ran in a 5k Fun Run, and I ran in one at Principia too – though I got lost and ran less than the 5k loop. Others got lost and ran more than 5k, so I guess it all averaged out okay.

On Sunday, I got up early, caught a shuttle back to the airport in St. Louis, flew to Chicago, and then on to Traverse City, where David, Logan, David’s sister and her husband picked me up. We went home to the Interlochen house, ate lunch, packed, did a quick load of laundry, returned to the airport (this time with David and Logan) and flew back to Chicago a mere five hours after I had been there! Hayden avoided this flight because he’s staying in Interlochen to attend the Summer Arts Camp for three weeks where he will focus on creative writing, sports, classical guitar, and ceramics – amid ice cream, ultimate Frisbee games, and cabin fun.

After arriving in Chicago for the second time in one day, we ate a quick salad, and caught our flight to Munich and then on to Palma, Mallorca! It was an incredibly long day, with the added flight from St. Louis, but all went smoothly and our bags, much to our delight, actually showed up as well. Isn’t that truly amazing? You hand over your bags to a stranger in an airport and then many hours later, they tumble down a conveyor belt in the very airport in which you have just arrived, continents away from the departure city. No one told us in the Palma airport that if the bags originated from an airport outside of the European Union, they would arrive on a separate belt than everyone else’s, but David wandered around and found them, going around and around. We were eternally grateful as we really needed showers, clean clothes, and some teeth brushing!

Thanks for reading! Cheers - and hasta la vista! Jennifer

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A 36 Hour Day

We are now in the United States - for ten days! It was quite a journey to get here. After 36 hours from door-to-bed on Thursday, we are feeling much refreshed today. The campus here at Carleton is, of course, lush, fragrant, and beautiful. We are relishing the change of sights for the eyes, tastes for the tongue, and smells for the nose, and a return to - what is for us - a familiar culture. Wow. The boys were particularly excited with the morning breakfast buffet - bacon, fresh fruit, bacon, pastries. Did I mention bacon?

The phenomenon of travel never ceases to amaze. That we could depart Jeddah at 2 am on Thursday and arrive in Minneapolis some 30+ hours later on Thursday evening is pretty amazing - and confusing. We left our house at 10 pm on Wednesday night and arrived in the dorm room at Carleton a bit before 6 am (Jeddah time) on Friday morning. It's so confusing. You get in this weird mental 'travel mode' where you watch the movies on the plane and stand and walk around and try to sleep if
possible - and you avoid thinking about the time where you originated, the time at your destination, or how long the flight might take. When you arrive at the next airport, which - except in the case of the Jeddah airport - looks an awful lot like the last airport, you find your next gate, some good food and drink, and plunk down to wait for the next step in the journey. Again, trying to avoid too much thought. Last night I started to fall asleep and I was trying to recall our 36-hour day, but for the longest time I could literally not remember the time in Frankfurt. I finally did but it was vague and fuzzy. People here ask me what time is it in Jeddah, and I tell them I honestly don't know. I just try not to pay attention because if I immediately try to live like I am in this time zone, it helps a lot - plus no naps!

Jeddah to Frankfurt, wait three hours, eat, struggle to get confirmation on the next flight (finally did!), Frankfurt to Chicago. Tried to sleep. Watched three movies. Ate a bit. Stood and stretched in the back for a long time ... Arrived in Chicago just as flight was due to leave. Went through US Customs, collected bags, rechecked bags, got reconfirmed on a new flight three hours later (which was then an
hour late leaving), sat down to eat another, surprisingly good, meal - fresh salads, pizza, caprese, wine Airport food has really changed! Waited. Wandered. Waited. Wandered. Looked at books. Bought one for Logan. Finally, finally boarded airplane, finally left. I slept the entire 65 minutes until the flight was so rough I woke up. Arrived in Minneapolis. Collected bags. Found Carleton desk but shuttle bus was not due to leave for two hours. More waiting. More coffee and snacks at Starbucks. Waiting.
Waiting. Left. Arrived. Dark and rainy. Walked in the rain to the dorm. Made beds. Took showers. Collapsed. Barely able to function any longer. Boys did not - I mean, did NOT - complain one time! Incredible. As always, grateful to have arrived safely and with all bags.

We have attended reunion meals, chatted with former classmates of David's, run a 5k fun run, enjoyed the Reunion Convocation, which was stellar, and truly relaxed for the first time in a while. Vacation!

We head to Michigan on Sunday to visit David's parents, travel to Mackinac Island for a night, run in the incredible northern Michigan woods, and get Hayden set up at Interlochen Summer Camp. We will be there for a week.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

End of Year Three!

Greetings all,
We finished Year Three on Wednesday. Students received yearbooks and requested signatures, classes ended, grades were completed ... some seniors cried! It was momentously celebrated by many probably in a variety of ways. Hayden finished 6th grade and his first year of secondary school; Logan completed 1st grade. We had a relaxing weekend with no reports to write, no essays or tests to grade; we headed to the beach and enjoyed time with friends.

Logan's Piano Recital
Today, the first day of the final and student-free week for teachers, Hayden joined a golf clinic and Logan played with his good friend, Charlotte. David and I headed to an all-school meeting in our school's auditorium. After the brief meeting, we headed back to our classrooms - along with our colleagues - to review all of the grade reports submitted by all teachers for our advisees. About five minutes into this valuable and culminating review process, the fire alarm blurted out its piercing warning and an announcement in both Arabic and English. After so many false alarms this year, nearly every teacher and administrator stayed in his or her classroom/office, trying to work. Finally, another American colleague came to my room and ushered me out of the building. Reluctantly - more due to the incessant noise than the concern over an emergency - adults left the building, gathering in the 40 degree heat, in the shade of the basketball court. Many, many minutes later, the fire marshall declared that the alarm had been triggered by humidity in the building from an open window. Now, let me explain that our building in the morning is often 18 - 19 degrees Celsius, so individuals - myself included - open the window to let in enough warmth to actually not have frozen fingers. Apparently, someone had done this. The alarm was ultimately shut off, but it took another 30-40 minutes to actually shut off the automatic voice announcing an unexpected emergency and directing everyone outside without using escalators or elevators (which we don't have). Everyone returned to their classrooms, trying to edit grade reports with the unstoppable voice ringing through the halls and classrooms. Sigh. It felt a bit like Year One - though, blessedly, no students were on campus.

Hayden's Guitar Recital
Though each teacher is happy to be heading into vacation, I admit to missing my wonderful 7th grade students, just as I did last year. They are, again, a wonderful group of 11-13 year olds from Malaysia, Jordan, Canada, the Philippines, India, United States, Russia, South Africa, Egypt/Austria who read every book I asked of them, who struggled to engage in meaningful discussions on themes of books, who learned how to write five paragraph essays (remember those?), who took spelling quizzes, learned to punctuate and paragraph dialogues, tried to recognize run-on sentences, played Taboo, and made me laugh and smile and appreciate them every day. Teaching middle school kids is demanding, challenging, humorous, never tedious, and always satisfying as we see their development and growth, sometimes despite themselves! I am lucky to know these kids - and to have a summer to prepare for the next group!

We head to the US in four days, attend David's college reunion, visit David's family in Michigan, celebrate David's father's 80th birthday in September, get Hayden settled at Interlochen Summer Camp and then head to Mallorca, Spain, for David's summer teaching program.

Thanks for reading!


Monday, May 14, 2012

A Year of Rejection

In some ways, life overseas often includes some elements of confusion, but lately those confused moments have led directly to rejection. First off, we are allowed to choose one professional development option per year to attend or do online, and we are reimbursed a set amount of money towards that PD. Often if we travel, the costs are higher than what we actually get reimbursed, but the reimbursement is helpful and shows commitment to our professionally developing selves. This year I found the perfect workshop in Abu Dhabi that I was excited to attend; it was about Adolescent Literacy, which is exactly my interest. With the new processes in place this 2011-12 school year, I girded myself for a several step process, got rejected once because I had handwritten a form that needed to be completed on my computer, and attached a litany of documents - hotel cost (anticipated), workshop fees (expected), and flight cost (estimated). I was not allowed to pay for any of these items or make any deposits, which was rather tricky as the hotel and airlines were not willing to hold the room and seat for long. After a couple of hours of collecting, scanning, and finding the necessary documents, I submitted all to a person-in-the-know for these types of activities. She was pleased with my efforts and thought all was well. I hesitated to actually purchase the flight, however. A week passed and it was now three days until I was supposed to travel. When asked, I was not sure if I was traveling out of the country for the weekend or not. Finally, I got word that my request had been rejected since I had already purchased the plane tickets. (I had not.) With the-person-in-the-know, I went through all documents and found not a single confirmation of anything. As it turns out, while waiting for approval, the workshop had filled, the flights were sold out, and the hotel had no rooms left. I will try again next year...

Since our son broke his arm in the United States last year, we have been trying to collect the required documents from the hospital in New Hampshire and the clinic in Colorado where his arm was set and re-casted over the course of the summer. Upon our return from the US, I completed the requisite insurance forms and submitted the insurance documents that the hospital and clinic had provided us. Claim was rejected until all of the hospital invoices and doctors' notes could be supplied. I called the hospital. They were willing to mail everything I needed to a US address and, no, they could not send them in an email. The documents were mailed and eventually forwarded on to us through someone heading to the US who was able to bring them back. I supplied all the documents again. No, it was still not enough. I explained that I was supplying all of the documents that the hospital had, including the invoice that showed we had paid. After many many weeks, the insurance company reluctantly agreed to reimburse us about two-thirds of the amount spent on the doctors and care received.

Unfortunately, we started receiving an entirely second set of bills, which I thought were simply mistaken until I called and found out the second set was to cover the costs of the medicines and services actually supplied in the emergency room. The bill was slightly more than the original bill. At first I refused to pay, but then thought again that I actually might hope to return state-side someday, so after a few months of payments I was able to pay the second bill. I again sought to gather documents needed to submit to my illustrious insurance institution. It took awhile to actually get an itemized invoice which also showed we had paid the bill in full. I finally submitted all of the documents, with a letter, copies of all of the first invoices and doctors' notes, and a spreadsheet showing all expenses paid. After several weeks, nothing happened - until one night I received a phone call from a man stating that my claim had been rejected. Click. He hung up. Literally. I contacted the insurance representative at our campus, and they agreed to look into it. I provided them copies as well. Today, I received an email that - though it didn't reject our claim outright - offered us such a pittance that it may have been a rejection. We have not even been reimbursed half of our costs from our insurance company. Now, it is true that medical care in the US is outrageously expensive and few patients would ever have to pay what Americans pay for health care; nonetheless, I cannot imagine that Saudi Arabia's expenses are less than half as expensive. I was told the claim was rejected because it had been more than the 180 days allowed, but truth be told at least one third of those days we were still in the US, another third we were waiting for insurance to communicate. Rejection again.

Another benefit of working here is that we get plane tickets to return to our home country once per year or we can request cash in lieu of those tickets and we can travel where we want to. There is a somewhat simple process we must go through to request funds for this benefit. I recently submitted copies of our tickets and followed - or thought I followed - the steps listed for this request. After about a week, I received a terse, auto-generated email from a computer that I was not able to respond angrily to announcing that my request had been rejected. No idea why. Now I am going through emails and the human contact channels to determine how to rectify this problem. More rejection just means more delay and more work to solve the confusion.

My last major rejection of late was when I applied for new Saudi visas for David and myself. I was emailed the form, I dutifully completed it on the computer, I sought the requisite signatures, and I went to the appropriate offices to collect the final signature. As I handed my form to the HR guy, he said, "I don't think this is the right form."

"It was the one I was sent," I brilliantly replied, knowing all along that he must be right. I returned to the first floor of the building to actually submit the form, and I was promptly told, "This is not the correct form."

"Can I just fill out a new one and attach it to that one with all of the signatures?" I naively asked.

"No. You must start again. Didn't you notice that it was the wrong form?"

Rejected once again. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

World Music, truly

A world in which a boy with a black African, Kenyan father and a caucasian American mother, who grows up in Indonesia, and later Hawaii, and who goes on against tremendous - some would say improbable - odds to become president of the United States is a world that is increasingly transcends national boundaries. Whether a Boeing plane with parts from twenty countries manufactured in five nations, or, say, genome research simultaneously advanced by a team spread across a dozen time zones, the mixing and matching of people and ideas is profound, permanent.

Especially in places like KAUST, with inhabitants literally from all around this oblate sphere we live on, heterogeneity is often the norm rather than the exception. This diversity was on full display yesterday at a delightful music recital for many of the campus's younger musicians. Practically each performer was a rainbow coalition. At one performance an English boy with a Sri Lankan mother was playing Sweet Home Alabama, a hit by a decidedly southern white American rock band. In another performance, an Indian girl was accompanied by her Chinese teacher while playing music composed during a cold German winter long ago. Mind you, all this was occurring on a compound in Saudi Arabia, a land not necessarily known for its music.

Music, indeed, helps guide the way in this blurring of national boundaries and stand-alone identities. When I ask my students what they listen to, their answers often span continents, centuries, and genres.  While they may not be listening to fusion music per se, their myriad musical tastes defy simple, convenient definition. The internet allows them to virtually experience much more diversity than in previous generations, and they seem comfortable in this tech panoply. If music is the most human of expressions - the art that can touch us most deeply - then it's safe to say that fundamental expressions of humanity are alive and well in many of youngsters here.

Thanks for reading,

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Trip to Colorado

We just got back a few days ago from a glorious trip to Colorado. We enjoyed sunny, summer-like weather in the 80s and cool, Colorado spring-like weather in the 40s which included sleet and snow. We had a chance to spend the weekend in Winter Park, skiing in the spring conditions - firm in the morning and slushy in the afternoon. I have never come quickly down a firm, almost icy, slope to soupy, slushy snow that makes you jerk along and almost come to a stop sometimes. Spring skiing! We saw teenagers skiing in shorts, tank tops, and bikini tops. I tried skiing in shorts once in college and got the worst scrape up my leg when I fell in the icy snow. We all have to try it out to learn, I suppose. We also got to take bike rides and run outside in the sunshine. Staying with my parents was relaxing. Good food. Many games of Ticket to Ride. Some shopping. Lots of time playing with their Shih Tzu, Lucy.

Lufthansa is a golden airline. The travel from door-to-door was about 24 hours, which is rather excessive for a week trip, but the airline made the travel smooth and easy. We had good service and even some decent food.

We did some shopping while in Denver. Both boys needed new shoes and some jeans. After all was said and done, we needed a new suitcase as well. With a one hour layover in Frankfurt, I was not sure our suitcases would make the transition. We traveled with carry-on bags only enroute to Denver to avoid the problem of missing bags, but on our return we could no longer manage that. After the nearly one hour wait in the Jeddah airport passport control line, we were so pleased to find our four suitcases just sliding onto the baggage claim carousel. Now we are home. Back to our classes. Nine weeks to go until we break for the summer...

Thanks for reading,

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Cycling races and travel plans

Some weeks ago the recreation group organized cycling races again for all who were interested. There were kids' races and adult races on a beautiful weekend morning. Logan won his race - again - and Hayden was second in his division. David won the adult race, but other friends were close by this time, as David is not training nearly as much as he was last year at this time when the South Africa Ironman was just weeks away.

We are not keeping up with this blog nearly as much as before. It's hard to know who the audience is, and I find that disconcerting. If I know that friends and family are reading, I will write stories a certain way. When I know that strangers read the blog, since it's related to the university campus where we live, it makes me write differently and share less, I guess.

It has been a long haul since the winter vacation. Though many people do not have vacations every three or four months, we do not have even any three-day weekends or breaks at all between official 'vacations'. Teaching is such an amazing job, and I am grateful to have discovered it for my career; however, it is thoroughly exhausting and draining trying to be 'on' every day for students. We are excited to have spring vacation starting on Thursday. We will fly to the United States for a week in Colorado where we hope to go skiing, despite the unseasonably warm temperatures there, and to enjoy different scenery, food, and family. All a welcome respite.

The boys are doing well. Hayden just finished basketball season, culminating in an overnight trip to Dammam for a tournament. His team is young and relatively inexperienced, but they came away winning three games and feeling quite proud. Now Hayden is playing badminton and continuing the study of guitar. Logan plays soccer and tennis, both of which he enjoys immensely. Logan just likes to play any sport and even wrote a book called "All About Sports" with photos of him playing and learning sports as diverse as skiing and ripstick, swimming and soccer. Can't imagine where these athletic genes come from!

Thanks for reading though I am not actually sure if anyone reads this. Our updates have been so sporadic and sparse. With our lingering stay in Saudi Arabia, we hear less from people at home as well. Lives move on and are busy.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

International Week

We celebrated International Week at our school this week, culminating today in an International Parade with students and their families representing countries as diverse as the United Arab Emirates, China, South Korea, Canada, Malaysia, Uruguay, Ukraine, Chile, United States, Australia, Germany, France, Finland, South Africa, Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, India, United Kingdom, and, of course, Saudi Arabia. It was a wonderful celebratory week with various foods cooked and brought by families, ethnic foods at lunch (including tortilla "crepes" with chicken), chocolates for Valentine's Day, and country anthems played each morning.

Thanks for reading, Jennifer