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