Dano, Melissa, Kennedy, Ethan, Erin, Abigail, and Emily

Dano, Melissa, Kennedy, Ethan, Erin, Abigail, and Emily

29 January 2010

Dining Out

After a morning of shopping and in anticipation of more errands we decided to stop for lunch. There was a Turkish restaurant…apparently my parents’ favorite restaurant in Riyadh was a Turkish one, but I’m just not there yet, plus they didn’t have a playland…so we stopped at the McDonald’s next door. In Saudi, restaurants are segregated into family sections and bachelor sections. Another reason Dano was happy for us to get here: he had been relegated to the bachelor section because he was not accompanied by a family. It apparently is more appropriate for a woman to unveil in front of a married man. Even the windows in the family section are frosted or upstairs so no one can see in from the outside.

By tradition we went out for Mexican food for Dano’s birthday. The only Mexican restaurant we know of is On the Border. We haven't been able to find tortilla chips in the stores here so we were really ready for some good chips and salsa! We arrived immediately after the sunset prayer so we were the first ones there. Thank goodness they had bottomless chips!! After we ordered, Ethan decided it would be good to use the W.C. (water closet) before eating. He asked the waiter where they were and went about it. Then, not surprisingly, one minute later Erin decided that was a good idea. We followed where I’d seen Ethan go. Going down the ramp we met Ethan. As I pointed Erin to the right bathroom I asked Ethan if he’d washed his hands. He confusedly shook his head and kept walking. I called him back and tried to figure out what was going on. He told me he didn’t go to the bathroom. When I asked him why not he responded he didn’t know which was which. Granted they were labeled in Spanish, but I thought he’d get 'Hombres.' He said he did and that he’d gone in and looked around and didn’t see any of those, “you know…those…stand up toilets.”
“Do you mean urinals, Ethan?”
“Are those what you stand up at? Well there weren’t any and I felt really d-u-m-b and came out thinking I was in the wrong one.” First of all, that 'd' word is no less of a bad word in our house even when you spell it! Secondly, Dano later explained that he didn’t seen any urinals because most men wear the white robes and it just wouldn’t be practical. Some of these dad/son chats would just be so helpful if had beforehand!

I stood outside waiting for either child to emerge. Ethan was out first, hands washed this time, and headed back to our table. So I went to check on Erin, who by now had been taking an unusually long time. As I opened the door I was met with loud moanings and cries for “Mooommmy.” I quickly called out to find which stall she was in. (As much potty talk as I do, please don’t ever get the idea that I am obsessed with bathrooms!! That being said…the stalls here in women’s bathrooms are floor to ceiling, again to ensure complete privacy. The public bathrooms we have been in have been very nice marble with wood doors. These doors had exceptional locks, so Erin found out. ) She could not get the lock undone. So helpless. There was no climbing under the door. There was no climbing over the door. Nothing. There was, though, a non-English speaking cleaning lady who had been in there the entire time. (Yea! An audience! ) I rushed into another stall to check out how the lock system worked to attempt talking Erin through turning it. After several fruitless coaxing efforts my silent “audience” appeared with a house key. In my panic I failed to notice there was a little notch on the door lock where perhaps a slotted screwdriver would fit to jimmy a lock open. The cleaning lady didn’t have a screwdriver but she did have a key. “Brilliant!” I thought to myself. She worked at it and worked at it for what seemed like forever until it finally clicked open. Erin practically fell out of the stall and then gave her a hug. I thanked her profusely, hoping she could understand me. I hope she could.

As we left the restaurant, very filled, with our take-home bags (including a stash of chips and container of salsa included by our empathetic waiter) it was now 7:30 in the evening and we were one of only three families. I told Dano that I really hope they make it. Dano chuckled and said, “Are you kidding? They’re doing just fine. They’re the largest On the Border outside the U.S. They’re so popular here that shortly after opening, they had to close down for remodeling to add on to the restaurant. The dinner crowd doesn’t even begin until after Isha (evening prayer).” By 10:00 here the restaurants are packed and remain that way until well after midnight, especially on the weekends, children included. The good news about that is we’ll never have to wait to be seated when we go out to eat at our normal eating time. But what is normal anymore?

20 January 2010

Shopping at the Souks

Thursday morning we went down to old Jeddah (Al Balad district) to visit the souks. The souks are the little shops set up lining the streets. We were mainly going down to look at rugs and abbayas (to build my and Kennedy’s collection so we have a variety of choices when our friends and family come to visit… hint… hint!). We walked around for quite some time around all the souks. I am slowly getting over the fact that we are stared at wherever we go. There are probably a couple hundred different souks lining several different streets and alleys. I was all turned around. I thought I had a good sense of direction…it’s a good thing Dano actually does. (Insert: standing in front of one of the city's ancient gate entrances.)

We didn’t find the rug souk we were hoping to find. We found several machine made rugs but no authentic, handmade rugs. So we went in search of the abbaya souks
. We stopped at a Bangladeshi man’s souk. He was all too anxious to help us (as they all are…some even call out to you.) When Kennedy moseyed to the next rack, he started mumbling to me, “That no good. That no good.” I looked at her realizing that the rack must be someone else’s shop. Oops. We were able to find a couple of nice abbayas, even one for Erin. Then came the bartering. It wasn’t quite as uncomfortable as I thought it would be. Our shopping was finished then because the prayer call began. I think Dano secretly appreciates prayer time because it curtails the shopping excursions…at least puts a limit on them. :)

There was one point wher
e our family split to go around a bus stop and Erin and I went in front. There were four or five Saudi men inside. One of them spoke out “Hello! How are you?” To which I happily (and yet in a stupor) replied, “Hello. Good. How are you? Have a good day.” All the while recalling the coaching I had received about “try not to make eye contact with the men,” and trying to understand and somewhat respect women’s place here (whether I agree with it or not) without offending. Dano, I think seeing my confusion, told me when many English-speaking Saudis see Americans they like to show they speak English; it’s exciting to them. Not only that, but Jeddah is on the more liberal and progressive side of Saudi Arabia which is one reason Kennedy and I do not wear the hijab (head scarf) with our abbayas. Although, all of the local women do, westerners do not. Many also veil their faces with only their eyes showing; some, their entire faces with not even their eyes showing. (Insert: one of the many beautiful sculptures in downtown Jeddah)

As we were walking back
to the car through the maze of streets we were approached by a couple of Saudi men. They eagerly went up to Abby and stroked her cheeks. “Hello, Baby.” She gets that more often than I can count. Then they gave her a small box. It had a vial of perfume. She actually thanked them. They gave one to Kennedy. They turned to give one to Erin who was still holding my hand. She reached for it only to have the man withdraw. She put her hand back. He offered it to her again. She again reached for it only to have him retract a second time with a “Noh.” Knowing Erin was going to be concerned about this, I was trying hard to figure out what was going on, since neither of them spoke much English to tell us what the issue was. I then remembered that I had been told that culturally all things are done with the right hand; the left hand is considered filthy. Quickly I let go of Erin’s right hand and told her to accept it with that hand. It worked! “Shukran!” the girls told the men. They asked Dano, “Where from?” Dano told them, “America. U.S.A.”
“America? OBAMA!!” one of the men cheered and gave Dano an enthusiastic high five. Hooray for America’s political system. (Insert: An elderly man sitting on one of the sculptures was taken with Abby and motioned for her to come over. He then gave her this sprig of mint.)

13 January 2010

Our Compound

We live on a French compound, which only means that the streets have French names (we live on Rue de Paris) and the office phone recording is in French (and that every third boy you meet here is named Alexander). There are several French families but also families from Jordan, Italy, Great Britain, Russia, Switzerland, Lebanon, and America. Our compound is situated a little out of the city center, three blocks from the kids’ school, and about five kilometers from Dano’s office. It is bordered by a thick concrete wall lined with tall wispy green trees. To enter we first zig-zag around four concrete barricades and pass the first guard shack with three guards who manually lift the gate. Then we proceed slowly for about one hundred yards before we turn right. The first night the kids and I couldn’t tell what was in front of us; there was just something large, covered with camouflage netting. When we reached it we could tell it was a carport with a pickup truck with a large machine gun in the back. The machine gun stays manned and pointed at all who enter the compound, twenty-four hours a day. After the turn we drive and enter another guarded gate. Needless to say we feel quite safe on the compound.

The first day we were out, Erin had to use the bathroom (it seems nature calls her frequently). As we were far from home but close to a hotel in which Dano had previously stayed we decided to make it our pitstop. As we pulled up I noticed the same camouflage netted carport and, sure enough, underneath there was a large, manned machine gun. As I’ve seen several around, I think they try to have one at any location that caters to westerners.

The kids ride a compound bus to and from school. They were a little apprehensive at first. There are four buses that all look the same. I guess they didn’t think to look at the different uniforms. The buses go to Jeddah Prep, the British School, French School, and German School.

We are almost latitudinally equal to Hawaii so we have similar plantlife. One of the first trees I noticed was the wonderfully fragrant plumeria tree. There are also bouganvillia bushes everywhere. We have several banana trees on our compound but only a few of them are producing, that I can see. They surround the beautiful compound pool and tennis courts, where we have all had fun playing. Also like Hawaii we have geckos (like this one on our living room door) and other lizards, much to Ethan's delight but Kennedy's horror...she'll come around once he actually catches one! We enjoy the family setting here and look forward to getting to know more families on the compound and our time here.

11 January 2010

A Mosque-erade

I have decided that Utah Mormons have nothing on Saudi Muslims. We joke that there’s a church on every corner in Utah. Here there’s a mosque on at least every block. The Muslims pray five times a day at set times: one beginning before sunrise (what we think is for the extremely devout), one at sunrise, one when the sun is highest in the sky (noonish), one mid-afternoon (complex calculation involving shadows), one at sunset (when the sun dips below the horizon), and the final prayer is at darkness when there is no longer any scattered light. Each salat (prayer time) has its own name that we are learning. During salat (pronounced sah-lah) everything stops. If you are in the middle of shopping, you are given a twenty and then a ten minute notice before prayer to get to the checkout. If you do not make it, you have to wait. Almost all stores are closed during salat. Many stores also shut their doors so you cannot exit during prayer. It’s a real incentive to get going. Then adhan (pronounced ah-than), the prayer call, can be heard. Since there is a mosque on at least every block, the adhan can be heard from wherever you are…even in my bathroom as I’m getting up in the morning. Honestly, though, I told Dano the other day that after only ten days I already know I’m going to miss hearing it when we move. There is something serenely reverent about it…granted it’s no Mormon Tabernacle choir, but it has already become a part of our daily expectation. If you're interested in hearing what it sounds like and what the words to the adhan are, here's a sample. (By the way, I am feeling so very impressed with myself for being able to actually copy and paste a youtube clip! I can now go to bed empowered!)

09 January 2010

We're Here!

We checked into our flight on a cold December 30th evening. Sixteen checked bags, eight hundred pounds of luggage, twelve carry-ons, one stroller, and an hour and a half later we were checked in to a cancelled flight. We went ahead and took a flight to D.C. and spent the night there. Our room was very nice but freezing. I think they had it set at 63. It was so late that we just adjusted the thermostat, bundled up and went to sleep. When we walked in from breakfast the next morning we were hit by the smell of vomit. So that’s why the thermostat had been set so low. When the maid came by I asked her for some Lysol or something that would cover up the smell. She didn’t speak English but did understand my “throw up” hand gestures but misinterpreted what I said. She ran down the hall to her cart thinking one of us had thrown up and brought me back some spray. I sprayed it thinking it was something like what I had asked for. Nope. Shot like a water gun across the room.

The big bonus of a layover in D.C. is it’s where Chris and Jennifer live. They kindly met us at the hotel and we all went over to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. It was one of the museums we had hoped to visit last spring but didn’t have time. If you’ve seen The Transformers movie (which we haven’t), some of it is filmed at the museum. We enjoyed the museum, but for us nothing really compares to the Air Force museum in Dayton. The bonus was getting to spend one more day with Jenny and Chris. And it was a good day.

The plane to Germany was so big! Thanks to Greif we flew business class. I’m not sure our kids will ever be the same in economy. Our family spanned one whole row, the back row, thank goodness. When the flight attendant came around with the warm washcloths Dano and I both tried to get the kids' attention from either sides of the row (we were the anchors) to signal what to do. I’m sure we looked a little silly circling our faces with our hands while they just stared at these warm, wet, limp washcloths they were holding with their thumb and first finger ten inches from their faces. Finally they looked and wiped their faces just in time for the gentleman to bring the tray around for disposal. Ethan, still a little confused by this “special treatment” reached for more washcloths off the tray. “Uh, no” he was told. He made another quick swipe at his face, put his washcloth on the tray, and got back to his movie-the real benefit of overseas flights.

After the movie the kids reclined their very reclining seats and went to sleep. Enter Abby. Up until now she had been just fine in her carseat and quietly sitting with the kids. She was not going to have anything with sleep…no matter how we showed her that everyone else was sleeping. She was very sweet, playful, and funny singing songs and saying multiple prayers beside her airline seat. After two hours the cuteness had to end. Dano walked with her by the bathrooms then I held her while she cried for about twenty minutes (personal apologies to the other passengers would have to come later) before falling asleep. By this time it was about midnight Ohio time. Happy New Year! She tossed and turned and slept on me like a rock for the next two and a half hours while I got about twenty minutes of sleep. Danke schoen, darling.

When we arrived at the airport in Frankfurt Erin desperately needed to go to the bathroom. We rushed with all of our carry-ons to the Lufthansa lounge, checked in and headed for the sign with the women. There were only three stalls. One door was opened but the toilet was clogged…Erin groaned. The other two doors were closed so we waited…and waited. Having never been to Germany I can’t speak for all of the bathrooms but these stall doors are like bedroom doors where you can’t peek under to see if anyone is in them. With Erin now doing the “potty dance” I began to strain to listen for any kind of noise indicating anyone in the stalls. Then a woman walked in, stood there beside us, spoke something in a language to which I had no clue how to respond other than hoping she understood my English (yeah, right). She was assertive enough to just go ahead and push the stall door open. Yup. Sure enough. We had been there alone the whole time. Just me and dancing Erin. We then quickly proceeded to the third unoccupied stall. Erin did her business, I did my motherly business of flushing with the foot, and we both stood there and stared as the toilet made this whooshing noise and a mechanical arm came out of the wall and the toilet seat began rotating with a loud urrrurrrurrr. I thought of the toilet seats in the Chicago airport that have automatic seat protectors and assumed they must just have different technology here and they’d run out of tissue. After we had a bite and rested for a moment Erin was all too excited to take Kennedy on a trip to the bathroom to see these “cool toilet seats.” When they returned to tell Ethan about them, Kennedy made the intellectual guess that the arm sprayed antibacterial sanitizer on the seat (well, that would make more sense). Then Erin burst out “Oh good ‘cause before I was thinking ‘Oh great! The lady before me tinkled all over the seat.’” Much needed family laughter ensued.

After a much-needed nap in the airport lounge we boarded the plane to Jeddah. It was an even nicer plane, if that’s possible. Abby slept for four hours, making up for the previous flight. We watched the moon rise over the Red Sea. It was amazingly beautiful. Arriving in Jeddah we were met with ‘Mr. Dano’ signs. We were able to bypass customs and immigration and were taken to a lounge area where our passports were stamped, fingerprints scanned, pictures taken (after a whole day with no shower and airplane hair…I was thrilled…and they couldn’t even speak English well enough to get my jokes about it), and carry-ons searched. Dano’s co-workers arranged for our luggage to be picked up and delivered so we were just taken straight to our villa where, after the kids checked out “our awesome new home,” they slept for about the next twelve hours.

The kids began school at Jeddah Prep and Grammar on Monday, January 4. It is a British/Dutch International School. Let me first say I love the school uniform idea! Theirs may not be my first choice in uniforms (Erin looks like a darling little nursemaid) but I am loving not hearing “I don’t know what to wear today!” I also am enjoying them all being on the same bus and same campus, going to and coming from school at the same time. They are making friends from many different countries. They are enjoying the challenges of learning a new curriculum. Farce! But I am enjoying watching them be challenged and meeting these challenges head on, with no complaining. But, that’s this week. Ask me again next week.

Friday is the holy day in the Muslim culture so it’s the day we also go to church. Because Christianity is not recognized in Saudi Arabia we meet in small, inconspicuous groups. Our church has rented a villa in Jeddah in which a family lives. They set up for church each Thursday night in their living room/dining room. When we arrived we rang the bell to the courtyard and announced our family via the intercom. There’s a small pool in the courtyard, common in many private residences. How many other church buildings have their own pool?! We entered the home, hung up our abayas and sat down for sacrament meeting. There are about 45 people in our congregation/ward. There are a few Americans but most of the people are Filipinos. There was one time they jested with Dano that they were planning to teach the lesson in Tagalog but since he was there they had to teach in English! The kids had primary upstairs in one of the bedrooms. There are only a few children, less than a dozen, and only a couple of nursery age children so Abby is part of the primary…much to her delight. She was a little sad when Kennedy had to go to class and she had to stay with her class…until someone produced Oreos! (Kennedy who?) We had Relief Society (the women’s class) in another bedroom. They’re good-sized bedrooms, perhaps 12x12 (that’s in feet…I haven’t gotten the meters down yet). When it was time to sing the opening song, I was a little curious how the eight of us would sound. They have a clavinova but no one was playing and overly-cautious me didn’t jump in and volunteer. Actually they move so quickly there’s no time. When we began singing, those eight sisters sounded like a choir of forty angels! I could sing as heartily as I wanted to. It was heavenly! Who needs a clavinova? After classes as we came down the beautiful staircase we were greeted by a man who just said, “I take picture of you send home Phillipines?” He just wanted a picture of us. The kids were a little confused but smiled graciously. Dano and Ethan took off their ties. Kennedy and I donned our abayas and we left as unassuming as we came, as if nothing had happened. This is a completely different church environment, one like I’ve never experienced, but the teachings are the same and the spirit is just as strong…the gospel is true in Saudi Arabia, too.