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

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

13 December 2010

Christmas Letter 2010

Dear Family and Friends,

We hope this finds you all happy and well and that you have already decorated your Christmas tree. Living in a country where Christmas is not celebrated, we were warned against bringing our tree with us or any Christmas decorations as they could be confiscated at customs. Aside from our stockings, we decided not to risk it. But, we really wanted a Christmas tree. So we took my mom’s creative idea, found some wood, cut it and painted it. Our good friend Scott sent us some garland and twinkle lights and we made this simple "Charlie Brown" Christmas tree and decorated it with homemade ornaments. We love it! Even though it’s sunny and in the nineties outside, it feels a little like Christmas inside.

We rang in the new year over the Atlantic Ocean and arrived in Jeddah on January 1st. Dano has
been working here since April 2009. We were happy to finally join him. He is still blessed to work for Greif who formed a joint venture with a Saudi company. Dano is heading up Greif’s end of that joint venture here. It’s a new challenge from which he’s learning. He was a little sad to not participate in any triathlons this year. He was, however, able to ride with several of his friends in Pelatonia, a bike ride in Ohio which raises money for cancer research. He completed the 100-mile leg of the bike ride. He’s already gearing up for his next tri in March.

I have enjoyed this new adventure. It has definitely been an adjustment. Women can’t drive here and must cover whenever they go out. I don’t have to wear an abbaya on the compound nor do I have to cover my head here in Jeddah. To go anywhere I need a driver. Dano has never done so much grocery shopping in his life! He is so good about it, as it has to be late at night and we have enjoyed that extra time together. It still takes time to get used to shopping around the prayer schedule which changes with the sun. I love watching the kids grow and learn. I love hearing them learn Arabic. I appreciate sharing pieces of history with them as we visit wonderful places. I love making cookies each Wednesday (our week is from Saturday to Wednesday) for the kids and their friends. I have loved seeing the sights of Jeddah and the places we have visited.
Kennedy turned twelve this year and is blossoming beautifully. She stands at a graceful 5’5” and is not showing signs of slowing down. She loves to sing in the school choir and has recently given basketball, volleyball, and netball a try. She plays the piano frequently for Friday meetings and played the songs for a children’s program in November and did a super job. She continues to excel in school and has adjusted to the British curriculum well. She has eleven classes including two foreign languages. I don’t know any child who is as self-driven to learn as she is. It’s inspiring and makes her a terrific conversationalist. She relished the opportunity to attend a national youth leadership conference in DC in April. She is a terrific helper at home and can always be counted on to babysit. In her spare time she can still be found reading or knitting.
Ethan is nine and energetic as ever. He is enjoying his fourth grade year. He is excited to be representing his house in the school’s quiz bowl. One student is selected from each year. He especially is enjoying his Dad helping out with after-school basketball and is looking forward to baseball starting in January. He was selected to participate in the British Schools of the Middle East Games which will be held in Cairo in March. He still loves to play the piano especially ones that vary in tempo and volume…the faster and louder the better! I am truly amazed at how fast his fingers really can move! He, Kennedy, and Erin have performed well at school assemblies. Ethan is working on his Bear in Cub Scouts. There are no other cub scouts in Jeddah that we can find so he and I work on it together. When he’s not reading, he still loves to build and create with Legos and has this year found a new fascination with elementary electronic circuitry. Erin is now seven and counting down until she will be baptized. She has had a great start to second grade and has become a super speller and is mastering her multiplication tables and is part way through division. She loves to hold her baby sister and is a great middle child. She, like Kennedy, is missing dance classes but still twirls around the house any time music is playing. When music is not on, she can often be found playing on the piano. She has progressed well and is pleased to be able to play some simplified songs while we sing along. She is a kind and loyal friend. Her teacher informed us she’s always the one who’s helping others with work or understanding problems often before he can; that if they had a head girl in her year, he would select Erin. Erin finds it funny that her friends love her “golden hair,” and, once again donated that golden hair to Locks of Love. She loves to sing and recently finished perfectly knitting a washcloth for Emily. Abigail is nearly three and is still my faithful sidekick. I can’t make cookies, cakes, rolls, or quiche without her. She is the best egg-cracker and beater-licker I know. She is a great block home-builder and can make anyone better with her always-ready doctor’s kit. She loves to read books, especially Clifford and Curious George. She is our funny-bunny and keeps us laughing with her many funny faces and “Abbyisms.” She loves, LOVES her brother and sisters and tries to be like them. Each one of them is becoming quite adept at accompanying our family on the piano. One morning when it was Abby’s turn to pick the song, she got out her xylophone and accompanied the family on her xylophone. It was very sweet and sincere…anything to be one of the big kids. She loves to sit by her baby sister in the car and likes to roll down her window so she can wave to all the guards at the security gates on our compound.
Emily is a typically sweet Lister baby. She is a peaceful baby and is very patient with our chaos. She truly is girl-like already who loves to take baths and get dressed up. Our family loves to watch her smile and listen to her communicate through her grunts and coos. She gets loads of hugs and kisses. She's often called "little Charmin" because she gets squeezed so much. Having a child abroad has been an interesting experience. We've managed to get her Saudi birth certificate and US passport which is saying a lot when you are working with Saudi time frames.

We have enjoyed the travelling opportunities
of living in this area. We have been fortunate to visit parts of Saudi Arabia believed to be where the beginning of our Book of Mormon took place. We have appreciated touring around Jordan and Turkey and look forward to spending the latter part of our Christmas break in Oman. We have been blessed by our association with the Muslims and learning about their Islamic culture. We’re grateful that our family has this unique opportunity. All of our travels and adventures have been recorded in our blog if you’re interested in reading about them.

Though we have no snow, no extended family, no nativities, no Christmas concerts or community events, we have the spirit of Christmas in our home and in our hearts as we celebrate the birth of our Savior. We’re especially grateful for our family and friends and wish you all a happy and white Christmas.

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

11 December 2010

A Blessed Day

Yesterday we blessed Emily. For me and Dano it was a bittersweet day as it is the first time we have blessed a baby without any family present, not even any close friends. But, Emily looked so sweet. She wore the same blessing gown that all three of her sisters wore; the same one that my sister and I wore. It’s a June Melissa Daniels Hansen original.My grandmother made it from the remainder of the material from my mother’s wedding dress. It obviously is very special and I’m so happy to have been able to have so many daughters wear it. My grandmother also knit the yellow blanket Emily is laying on and her father made the tiny turquoise bracelet that we’ve all also worn.I’m sure my grandmother is happy to see her beautiful dress continue to be worn and I’m so grateful to have these precious heirlooms and look forward to my daughters using them for their daughters.

10 December 2010

A Visit to Fake Santa

Our compound was kind enough to throw a big holiday party. They do this for every occasion they can. Saudis like to party and when they party, they party big. Parties are usually all day or all night. This holiday party would, of course, include a visit from Santa. Dano spent the week out of town in Turkey. For some reason I thought if he wasn’t going to be here we should all forgo the visit to Santa. It wasn’t until Wednesday that it occurred to me that Dano does really want us to go to events even when he’s not here.

Abby was excited to see Santa and was practicing her “Ho! Ho! Ho!” I’m not sure if Ethan is just at the age of questioning the magic and realism is setting in or if he still believes and is trying to figure out how Santa is able to make it all work. Ethan had been a little skeptical as to how the Basateen compound could get Santa to come to see just us. Kennedy told him he’s just magical.

“Santa lives forever.” Kennedy told Ethan and Erin.
“No, he’s just like Papa’s age.” replied Erin.
“No. He’s more like a hundred, “ informed Ethan.

Ethan kept insisting Santa wasn’t coming; it was just going to be one of Santa’s helpers. Regardless, we put Emily in the stroller and went over to the pool/commons area. Abby kept calling to the sky, “Santaaa. Saaaaaantaaaaa.”

With the live band and all the people it was quite loud. It bothered Abby a little bit. She held Erin’s hand and the two of them stood in line with Ethan. Kennedy went up to ensure we were on the list to go in to see Santa. It was soon after that I noticed Erin’s two free hands – in other words – no Abigail. I looked around me, the stroller, and each child. No Abby. In all my years as a mother I cannot recall losing a child. I guess it was bound to happen at some point. I tried not to panic as the thought of the man in front of us with the gun in his back pocket, the kids zooming around on fast bikes, the swimming pools, and parking lots filled with visitors flashed through my mind. We rallied and I split the kids up. Ethan and Erin took the courtyard toward the playground. Kennedy went the opposite direction. Eventually they each came back with no success. I sent them off again. After six or seven minutes (which seems like forever when you don’t know where your child is), Erin came around the corner of the building with Abby and a banana. She’d gone home. She had a sudden hankering for a banana and had just left to go home to get one! At the moment, we’d been gone all of five minutes and she needed a banana? It’s not like she had one and put it down while she put on her shoes or had forgotten it on the table. No, she just wanted a banana. We had a little chat about bananas and scared mommies and wandering off and then got back in line to see Santa.

When it was our turn we entered the tent and sure enough, it was most definitely one of Santa’s helpers – a Filipino helper! (with black Converse hi-tops and a square pillow tummy.) Ethan and Erin were very kind and didn’t say anything while they had their picture taken. Perhaps they didn’t know what to say. They did get out a thank you and Merry Christmas. Abby lost her “Ho! Ho! Ho!” and stuck to me like a sticky candy cane (hence her absence in the picture).

When we got back home Erin told Ethan he was right about it being one of Santa’s helpers because it was a fake Santa. I’m glad my kids could talk through this one together and come up with their own explanation because I did not want to be left trying to explain how Santa can change ethnicities.

06 December 2010

Parent/Teacher Bodyguards

We concluded our fall parent/teacher conferences last week with Kennedy’s meetings. We enjoyed visiting with Ethan and Erin’s teachers but find it difficult in the British system to fully understand where our children are in terms of progress. We’re so accustomed to placements and levels. If I understand correctly, the only report card either of them receives will be at the end of the year. They have standardized testing that is administered at the end of the school year but the results seemed to be somewhat vague to me. Perhaps it is because I’m not yet familiar with their levels of achievement. We were told in the beginning that in the British system, Preparatory and Grammar schools were for the top five percent of students. That has sufficed for me and I know they are receiving a great education though somewhat different from what we are accustomed.

For Kennedy, we attend all her parent teacher conferences in one evening. That is saying something since she has eleven classes. They have a very organized and effective way of conducting these conferences that I think most schools could benefit from. The kids have a form and they sign up their parents for five minute intervals with each teacher (or with which ever teacher the parents want to visit). Kennedy did this over two or three days’ time and gave us the form on parent/teacher conference day. We go to the school gymnasium where all of the teachers are set up around the gym, each at a little table. They sit on one side of the table and on the other side are eight chairs, two set up at the table for talking with the teacher and six for waiting. You merely rotate amongst the teachers according to the schedule your child and teacher have arranged. It has been so wonderful to have the conferences set up in this manner and not have to run all around a middle school from one classroom to another, waiting outside, missing a conference because another one ran over….if your schedule is off you are free to catch another teacher on your list and come back to that teacher. It’s just a great set up. Perhaps next time I’ll take my camera and get a picture. Surprisingly it’s not noisy and quite organized and everyone is respectful regarding time.

Now, when we showed up we were running nearly late (surprise, surprise). I did note, as we walked in to the courtyard, that there were two cars, fancy Mercedes no less, parked there. I noticed because there are never cars parked in the courtyard. I didn’t think much of it, though. We were running a tad behind. I was focused. I also noted about eight men in thobes loitering in the courtyard area. Again, just noted, briefly thought their wives were having the conferences, but gave no second thought. As soon as we cleared the courtyard Dano asked if I saw the man by the Mercedes. I kind of shrugged, thinking, “And?”
“And did you see what he had on?”
“A thobe?”
“He had a gun under his arm.”
“You didn’t see his double holster?”
“No. I saw the Mercedes.”
Laughingly, “Seriously, Melissa. You need to be aware of your surroundings.”
“I saw the Mercedes.”

After Erin’s conference I insisted we cut back around to the entrance of the courtyard instead of through so I could catch a glimpse of his pistols. Sure enough, there they were, prominently displayed and looking quite ominous. He was definitely not just a driver. We quickly came to the conclusion that a member of the royal family must be there. We knew that there are some royals who go to the kids’ school, most likely grandchildren or great-grandchildren, we’ve just not ever seen them at anything before. Again, I was a little upset that I didn’t have my camera. Dano ardently assured me they would not have allowed me to take a picture or been pleased had they caught me taking one.

We saw the members of the royal family at the parent teacher conference. They were dressed much like everyone else and seem to be normal people. It did make me think about when the Obamas go to parent teacher conferences. I’m sure the secret service agents have guns but do they display them so obviously? Then again, guns would be more readily accessible from inside a suit than inside a thobe.

Interesting final note, as we were leaving, they were still there. We were the only ones walking out. I noticed (I was paying keen attention now!) that they were no longer just standing around. As we got closer one of the only two men standing by the cars said something. Then all of the men emerged from the cars. They just stood there as we walked by. I turned around to see if the royal family was behind us, but nope, nobody. Dano and I could not figure out why they had to get out of the car when we came by. I don’t think it was because we looked threatening. I don’t know if it was out of respect or mere protocol. Again, another experience that would never happen in Ohio.