Saturday, December 16, 2017

Things I'll miss from Saudi

We're headed back to Washington for our next tour and even though we don't leave until summer, we have already started dreaming of trips to Target, college football Saturdays, and being in the same time zones as our family.  But I have spent the past few days thinking of things about our time in Riyadh that I will miss.

  1. The commute to work.  Without a doubt, you simply cannot beat the commute here in Riyadh.  It only takes me fifteen minutes door to desk walking through a park each day.  In the evening, I am often greeted by the call to prayer echoing in the evening air.  The best part of the short commute is a get to spend so much time with Sara and the boys.
  2. New public artwork in Riyadh.  Throughout the city over the past year, the government has installed a number of public works art projects.  Most of them are beautifying projects along the highways (which are generally very ugly).  My favorite is at a nearby interchange to the DQ they installed about two dozen up lit green metal trees.  They look like a scene out of a Dr. Seuss book.
  3. Winter weather.  The weather is brutal 8 months out of the year.  Super brutal.  But those other four months are fantastic.  We are right in the middle of the wonderful period of wonderful weather with highs in the 70s and brisk morning walks to work.
  4. Riyadh community - since there isn't a whole lot going on here in Riyadh, the community is pretty welcoming and friendly.  We have made some very good friends here and Jack has a wonderful toddler group of friends.
  5. Affordable domestic help.  We have a nanny who helps with childcare and cleans the house.  I love not having to do laundry or clean bathrooms.  It is so much better to spend that time playing with the boys.
  6. Call to prayer.  There is beauty in this daily devout ritual.  When you first arrive, the call feels loud and obtrusive every time you hear it.  Over time, it begins to blend into your day and become a part of the ambiance of life in the Islamic world.  After almost 18 months here, I welcome the lyrical melody of the call.  It brings peace and some comfort.  This time of year, the call for evening prayer generally comes as I walk home from work and see the palm trees and mosque silhouetted in the setting sun.  I will miss it.
  7. Magic trash elves.  In DC, failure to move your trashcan the 3 feet from the front of your house to the edge of the sidewalk would often result in no trash pick-up for a week.  Occasionally, you'd find yourself hunting for a less than full trashcan down the street to deposit the overfull trash bag.   None of that here.  We have a locked outdoor trash room off our car port.  There is another locked door that leads to the street.  Almost once a day, someone comes and empties the trash room.  Just get your HHE and have two tons of paper to dispose - no problem, the trash elves will take it.  Throw a kids birthday party and have five trash bags worth of party trash - trash elves will get rid of it before you even know there is a problem.  Neither Sara nor I have ever seen the garbage men - we don't know when they come... but they are good at their jobs!
There are other things I will surely miss, but this is my first post since January (lot has happened since then), so we'll stop here.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Arabian Nights

One of the coolest aspects of my life and my career is when I get to experience something that most people will never get to do.  I have had snowball fights on erupting volcanoes, I've passed out at Oktoberfest. I've attended a papal funeral and gone SCUBA diving in the Blue Hole.  Last night, Sara and I and some friends of are got to go to a Saudi gala in the middle of the desert, held in honor of, I kid you not, some Arabian horses.  

The whole evening was spectacular.  The event was held out at the desert stables which are home to some very well-bred Champion Arabian horses.   They are show horses, not race horses.  During the day, there was a festival showcasing these horses (which we didn't attend) and this was the gala dinner to conclude the festivities.  The event was under the stars where a dance floor of sorts was built with carpets and some 30 foot palm trees that I am pretty sure were brought in solely for this occasion.  On the dance floor, a bedouin band played and sang throughout the night.  The music was a few drums, a single stringed instrument I had never seen before, and men's voices and clapping.  The 30 member band sang call-and-answer songs that echoed off the surrounding dunes.  On occasion, a few members of the troupe would get up and dance.  Later, more men - guests - joined in the dancing.  Although there were women at the party (probably one out of five guests were women), we never saw any dancing.

In addition to dancing, there was an exhibition of the horses.  Arabian horses are known for being lightening quick for short distances, but not as strong as horses we are used to in America.  I don't really know what I am supposed to be looking for, but these horses were very pretty and powerful.  The highlight of the evening, the highlight of our lives if you ask the announcer was the introduction of EKS Alejandro.  They spun up the hype machine to 11 for this horse.  The intro was so over the top, I assumed we were about to see a horse that was like 30 feet tall or something.  In the end...just a horse.

The man said I would tell the world about the night I saw EKS Alejandro.  Apparently, he was right.
After the horse show, they served the dinner.  Five hundred people converged on a sumptuous buffet 100 feet long, with salads of all sorts, savory pastries and meat pies, fish, meat, rice, stew, lamb on a spit and it was all delicious.  We filled our plates and ate until we were stuffed - all failing miserably to identify our favorite part.  After dinner, we conversed with a pair of Saudi men who sat our table and heard stories about their lives in Saudi, their experiences in America ("what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" translates into Arabic well), and heard stories about their children.  Sadly, this was the first extended conversation I have had with a Saudi, but all the more enjoyable for that fact.

After dinner, the music resumed and they continued to dance long into the night.  We huddled on comfortable couches on the desert sand.  We laughed about EKS Alejandro.  We even had the chance to ride some camels.

Dot: "Hey, I used to just read this blog.  NOW I am in it!"

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