Thursday, January 19, 2017

Running on the Wadi

In general, Saudi Arabia is ugly.  There is no color, everything is covered in dust.  Nothing grows without irrigation.  Trash is everywhere.  Unfinished construction abounds.  Compared to the rest of the city, the DQ is actually, sort of, pretty.  The crown jewel of the Diplomatic Quarter is the Wadi.  The Wadi is a 5 mile path around the DQ.  It mostly clings to the edge of the cliffsides that form the primary border of the DQ.

It is a great place to go running.  The last few mornings, I have made my way out at sunrise to go running on the path.  The temperature has been perfect for a jog - a little chilly, but not cold.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

New Year, New Goals

Last year, I chose a word that would be my mantra for the year.  The word I chose for 2016 was "support."  This word proved tp be prophetic for 2016, but not in the way that I imagined at the beginning of the year.  With all of the changes my family was scheduled to go through, I imagined that I would need to be very supportive of my wife, my son, and our families as we moved halfway across the world to Saudi Arabia.  I was the only one who had done this before and I thought, hoped, expected that my experience would help me support my family.

For the first half of the year, that may have been true.  But on July 1, last year, my world was torn apart with the sudden death of my mother.  Instead of being the rock supporting Sara and Jack in the sea of changes, I was thrust into the current grasping for aid and support.  I found it in the arms of my wonderful wife and the smile of my amazing son.  Sara was always there by my side to keep me going.  She was there to listen when I needed to talk or to cry or simply needed a hug.  Instead of me getting Jack out of bed every day, Jack helped me get out of bed every day.  His daily achievements - rolling over, crawling, walking, talking, learning "touchdown", saying "Dada" or now, "Nana".  These are the things that kept me going.  Jack didn't know, couldn't know that I just wanted to crawl into bed and stay there all day.  He wouldn't let me.

Let's start with a look back at 2016 goals and how I did -
  • Pass my Arabic exam with a 2/2 or better (I need a 2/1)
    • I took my test a week after my mom's death.  I managed a 2/1+; short of my goal, but more than I needed.  I'll take it.
  • Move to Saudi Arabia
    • Obviously, we did this one.
  • Train for and complete a triathlon before July (sprint triathlon)
    • Perhaps my best success of the year.  This was NOT easy.  I had to really work to get the swimming and biking parts down.  The race itself was kind of a mess with my tire problems, but I finished and finished faster than I expected.
  • Watch at least two sun rises and two sunsets
    • My favorite annual goal, completed again for 2016.
  • Weigh 175 lbs or less (losing about 20 more pounds)
    • Did not succeed here.  I got down to around 192 lbs in February and was steady in the 190s into the summer.  After my mom's death and the move, I put on weight and went back above 200.  I ended the year at my heaviest in a while at 208.  I have failed with exercise since we moved here.
  • Visit at least 3 new countries
    • Failed again - only new country in 2016 was Saudi Arabia.  I expected that we would have done some regional travel during the year, but instead we went to Europe and to America.
  • Skype with Jacks grandparents once a week
    • More or less succeeded with this one.  We didn't hit every week, but we did a lot of skyping.
  • Visit with Jacks grandparents at least twice
    • This is the most heartbreaking.  My mom didn't see Jack again after we returned back to DC in January.  We had plans to see her the week after her death in Omaha, but she never made it.  We did visit Nanu four times in 2016 and we saw Omi at least four times too.
  • Post on this blog at least twice a month (this post counts for January)
    • Yeah, that did not happen.  This blog is not dead, but it is clearly on its last legs.  For 2016, I am hoping for a post every two months.  Maybe.

For 2017, I have more modest goals and hopes.  Perhaps its the inherited pessimism from the end of 2016, but my word for 2017 is "survive."  Survive having two kids under two.  Survive a Saudi summer.  Survive the bidding process.  Survive toddler jet lag.  Survive my busy work schedule.

As for goals, here is what is on tap for 2017.

  • Have a healthy baby boy
  • Get promoted at work
  • Visit two new countries
  • Watch at least two sunrises and two sunsets
  • Get a "good" new  post during bidding season
  • Weigh 185 lbs or less by end of year.
  • Work out 3x/week for at least 30 minutes
  • Run a race of at least 10k/6 miles or more

Saturday, October 22, 2016

A day at the beach

In addition to the Embassy in Riyadh, the United States has two consulates in Saudi Arabia.  One is in the oil rich Eastern Province on the Persian Gulf in a city named Dharan.  The second is in the historical and commercial city of Jeddah, located on the Red Sea.  Jeddah is a sea port and the closest major city to the pilgrimage cities of Medina and Mecca.  Due to a staff shortage in the Consular Section in Jeddah, I volunteered to spend two weeks there in October helping them out.  Sara and Jack decided to join me.

The worst thing about Jeddah is how effing humid it is.  When we got off the plane we started sweating immediately.  As hot as it is in Riyadh, you don't sweat all that much unless you spend significant time in the sun.  Not in Jeddah - just boiling hot.

The best part about Jeddah is the sea.  The coast line is pretty and expansive.  They have an aquarium that Jack and Sara went to.  They have the world's largest fountain (take that Fountain Hills, AZ) and, of course, they have beaches.  The first question any Westerner asks about going to the beach in Saudi Arabia is "do women have to wear burkinis?"  The answer depends on what beach you are going to.  We passed by a few public beaches and we saw few women on the beach and the women we saw were just wearing regular burkas in the water.

But the real highlight in Jeddah are the private beaches.  These beaches are secluded, private, beaches that only admit foreigners (no Saudis allowed).  They allow western beach wear for both men and women.  In addition to the pristine white sand beach and the ocean, they had beach chairs, a lawn for sports, a nice pool, a bar (still no booze) and a restaurant.  You had to pay about $40/adult to get in, but the price was totally worth it.  We went with another family that I knew from language training who are posted in Jeddah and we had a great time.

* As an aside, we had a lost in translation experience on our beach day.  We wanted to have a place that Jack could nap while we were at the beach, so I booked a (not-cheap) room at the hotel attached to the club -- or so I thought.  The hotel I booked was a different hotel a mile away with a similar sounding name.  This hotel was a disaster - it was dirty, there were no towels, no crib, our neighbors were loud with kids screaming outside until 2 (I'm so old).  The hotel was technically on the beach, but this beach dirty and the water had trash in it.  Not what I thought I was getting when I booked the hotel.
World's tallest water fountain

Sunset at the private beach club

Our impromptu "crib" when the hotel didn't have one

This was not the nice beach