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,