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

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

29 January 2011

Salalah-Nephi’s Harbor

On Thursday morning we left and drove to the ancient city of Sumhuram. It was built around the 3rd century BC and remained one of the most vital trading ports in the region for nearly eight hundred years. It was great to roam through the ruins and see the floor plans they had that depicted living areas, storage areas, work area. (Thank you, Pat and Vanna.)
It sits just up from a harbor. This particular harbor is one that LDS scholars believe is Nephi’s harbor. Again, for those not familiar with the Book of Mormon, a couple of entries ago I mentioned the family of Lehi and the valley of Lemuel. Nephi was also a son of Lehi. After traveling for eight years this family reached a land they called Bountiful. After much research, scholars believe the Dhofar region of Oman is that area. While here, Nephi constructed a ship which would take them to what is now the Americas. These scholars also believe it was in this harbor down from Sumhuram that Nephi built that ship.
Dano and the kids wanted to hike both sides of the harbor’s promontory rocks. We thought it would be best for Abby and Emily not to make the hike as the cliffs are steep at the top. Dano tried to get us as close to the beach as he could. Unfortunately he got us a little too close and we ended up deep in the fine sand. Here the Lister kids would get a lesson in how to get a car out of the sand. We all took a wheel and started digging. Dano got back in, we pushed, and the car lunged forward. We repeated digging, pushing, lunging; digging, pushing, lunging until the car (thankfully) got out of the sand. We had again been in a place where I don’t know where we would have found anyone to help us out.

Abby, Emily, and I walked along the beautiful beach wading in the surf and picking up seashells whilst Dano and the kids hiked up the rock. We also found footprints belonging to a desert cat native to the area which is similar to a lynx. It didn’t take too long before we heard them hollering down to us from atop the rock.
They looked around, snapped some shots, and hiked back down. Can you find me and Abby on the beach?
After hanging out on the beach for a little bit we drove around to the other promontory rock.
As we drove down the gravelly road, that Lister Luck set in again and POP! Out went our back left tire. Thank goodness we had our spare. Dano, Kennedy, and Ethan began to change it only to find the key described in the owner’s manual to release the spare was non-existent. With no way to get the spare down we could only wait for help to come. (I really need to take pictures of these moments of debilitation.)

We walked over and watched a flock of flamingos that inhabits the area during certain times of the year. Who would have thought?
With still more time, Dano and the kids decided to continue with their second climb.
At the top they discussed the story of Laman and Lemuel threatening to throw Nephi from the cliffs. This could have been his view of nature's fury. A little unsettling. (Another reason I didn't care to make the hike with the little girls.)
We have considered ourselves very blessed to have the opportunity to visit these sites which bring the scriptures to life.

We waited two hours for the man from the rental car company to find us. Well, actually Dano had to go to the main road to find him. When he arrived he began to change the tire. Dano told him he needed a key to release the spare tire. He told him no, that was on a different car. We showed him the owner’s manual (with the cover torn off). Sure enough, it belonged to a different model and had just been tossed into the car to claim there was one in it. I think it was the Tootsie Pops that made it more of a jovial situation. How can you be upset about anything when you’re sucking on a Tootsie Pop?
Dano and his assistants secured the tires and we headed home alongside the beach and another Omani sunset. Have I mentioned how beautiful Oman is?

19 January 2011

Salalah – Day 1

We stayed in a beach chalet at a new, beautiful Marriott resort about forty kilometers east of Salalah in the little town of Mirbat. Our villa was right on the Indian Ocean. It was a beautiful, peaceful location. Our family has come to the conclusion that we absolutely love the beach and all its tranquility. Ethan and Abby woke up early to comb the beach for seashells and play in the water.
Our first stop was up the mountainside to see what is purportedly Job’s tomb. Lebanon and Turkey also claim to have a tomb belonging to this great prophet of the Old Testament. A small building has been built over the grave and a mosque has been built next to the building. It was a quiet, reverent spot. We removed our shoes upon entering. You can see from the picture the space was small and mostly occupied by the neatly enshrouded grave. (I was so curious to know what exactly is underneath that green cloth and really wanted to lift it for a peek.) Other notables in the room were a pot of burning frankincense, some intricately engraved verses from the Quran, and a family tree illustrating the origins of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity all stemming back to Abraham.

After visiting with some very nice German tourists we drove back down the mountain. Abigail had
brought an apple with her which she had nearly finished. We told her she could give the remainder to a camel as we had seen many on our drive. We pulled off amongst a fair size caravan of camels. Dano took Abby and they ventured over to find the lucky one who'd get the tasty treat. The first one rejected it. He didn't know what he was missing. The next one smelled it and then to our collective delight, took it and ate it. I'm still not sure if he even chewed it.
He then posed while Dano took s
ome pictures. He just couldn't decide which which was his best side.

We drove on to Ayn Razat. “Ayn” is Arabic for cave. It wasn’t a huge cave, as the kids were hoping for a spectacular hike, but it was fun, nonetheless and the scenery was nice.
This is the view from the cave.

We visited the site of a very large sinkhole, T
awi Atair. It measures 140 meters by 100 meters and is 211 meters deep. Since I am still familiarizing myself with measuring in meters, that’s the equivalent of a sixty-story building or better yet, imagine the Empire State Building plus another hundred feet. That’s deep! They don’t allow you get very close to the edge so it was hard to get a great shot of the immense depth of this monstrous hole.
The kids loved this towel puppy they found wh
en we returned to our villa. We obviously had a very talented hotel maid and Abby’s puppy had a new friend. However, this required extra towels for our room for the week as no one could bring themselves to unfold the room mascot.

11 January 2011

On to Oman

The day after Christmas we left on our trip to Oman. We had spoken with my parents and other people who have visited Oman so we were really anticipating this trip. We had a three-hour evening flight to Muscat. It was Emily’s first flight and was quite uneventful. Air Oman had a little infant belt that strapped through mine and around her. It was cute at first but then somewhat cumbersome to a little baby who wants to move positions.
I think she was the best little traveler. (And this could quite possibly be the cutest passport picture ever.)There were a few glitches with the rental car which took about two hours to resolve. Ethan didn’t seem to mind. Abby used the time running circles around the chairs and being silly.
As it was nearly midnight and it didn’t seem to be bothering anybody, I tried not to let it bother me.
We were finally assigned a car, stuffed Ethan and Erin in with the luggage, and headed to our hotel.
We all slept soundly…for about six hours and were up by seven. It was so nice to be in a country where Christmas is permissible. We loved the Christmas scene in the hotel lobby.
Muscat was such a beautiful and clean city. I had no idea what to expect. They take such care in their landscaping. I think they could possibly be the petunia capital of the world. They must have millions and millions of petunias. It was hard to not feel happy driving around.

Our first stop was the Grand Mosque, one of the largest mosques in the world. It was inaugurated by the Sultan in 2001.
Unlike the Blue Mosque in Turkey, Kennedy and I had to wear our abayas and be completely covered to enter this mosque. Unfortunately Kennedy and I had forgotten our hijabs (head scarves) at home. Fortunately the tiny shop in the mosque courtyard sold some which were more like one step up from glittered tissue paper; but they allowed us entrance to the mosque.
The mosque was beautifully designed with great attention to detail.
It contains the second largest hand woven rug in the world which you can kind of see here behind the kids. It is made of 1.7 billion knots and took six hundred women four years to complete. Can you imagine the blisters?!
Hanging from the dome in the prayer hall is a very large Swarovski crystal chandelier which weighs eight tonnes and has 600,000 crystals.
Only Dano, Kennedy, and Ethan were able to go in as the age limit is ten (although they kindly allowed Ethan in).
The grounds were also beautiful and peaceful to walk around. We had to be quick, though, as the mosque is only opened to non-Muslims until 11:00 a.m.

We were preparing to venture out for a long drive in the desert (surprise, surprise) to find some great wadis (valleys) to hike through. We suggested to each of the children that they use the bathroom (I know, here we go again...)before we left the mosque. Dano and Ethan headed toward to men’s and Kennedy, Erin, and Abby headed toward the women’s. Abby came out quite quickly and I asked Kennedy if she’d gone. She told me she hadn’t and I asked if there wasn’t a flushing toilet. She told me there was but that Abby didn’t want to use it. What? I explained again that we were headed out to the desert. There would be no potties. It would be a long drive. She should try to go… Nope. So she stood and waited with Emily and me. I stood just people-watching around the courtyard. After only a minute or so I turned to say something to Abby and found her pants down, squatting beside me right there in the courtyard of the Sultan’s mosque. In a mere week she had become a little too comfortable with her outdoor potty usage. I took no time looking to see if anyone was watching or noticed. Luckily I was wearing an abaya. I instinctively flared it out to form a screen, told her this was not the time or the place, and helped her pull up her pants. Thankfully I caught her before she defiled the Grand Mosque.

From the mosque we headed out west of Muscat to find a couple of wadis (valleys). After driving for a couple of hours we reached Wadi Tiwi. We were surprised to see so many families picnicking along the riverbanks. We drove for about twenty kilometers up a very steep, narrow road passing several tiny villages with homes made of stone typical of what you’d find in a third world country. It really was a fascinating drive alongside a beautiful canyon with great rock formations. We got out to take in the scenic moment…and allow the kids to satisfy their climbing urges.
We next drove to Wadi Shab. We didn’t get very deep in this valley as the waters are still too deep to drive through. There weren’t any places to change into our swimsuits so we didn’t wade down and across. It looks easy enough to cross, but what you can’t tell is it very quickly gets waist-deep. However, if we were to have done so, there are great caves at the end of this wadi. The water is such a beautiful turquoise.
We drove on toward Sur passing through Qalhat. We briefly stopped to see the sole remaining building of this once prosperous port. Qalhat was founded in 1100 AD. An earthquake hit the town in the 15th century and then it was ransacked by the Portuguese in 1508 leaving only this demolished mausoleum. Archaeologists have begun research on the site so it was roped off. Very cool ruins.
Sur is a nostalgic little city noted for its ship building. It was also a port where much trading was done. For these two reasons it was outfitted with many forts.We watched the sun set behind the Eastern Hajjar mountains. We visited a park where they have displayed the last dhow (boat) built.
These shipbuilders originally built boats of teak wood that contained no metal (ie no nails). The kids enjoyed experimenting on the boats.
The next day was rainy so we skipped our boat ride and went straight to the souqs. Some of the souqs were closed due to flooding. We sloshed our way through some of the other souqs and found some great treasures to suit each of our fancies. Here is a little glimpse of a couple shops we liked. I think we’re really getting the souq-shopping-bug. It’s quite fun to peruse these tiny establishments.

After shopping we zipped back to the Muscat airport to catch a flight down to Salalah (isn’t that fun to say?).

We just thought this was a funny sign. What is it for? No Honking as the Neanderthal Crosses the Road?!

08 January 2011

Christmas and a Tradition Kept

We woke up Christmas morning and Santa had made it through the desert to find our home. Erin had informed us that one of her friends had informed her that here where there are no fireplaces people leave a key in the front door for Santa to use. We teased them about all the thieves out there-to which it was suggested we hide the key under the mat and leave a note on the door hinting where to find the key…for all the honest thieves? Alas, this is precisely what we did. Our villa is adjacent to the security gate so we thought we’d be okay. All was well and everyone was quite pleased with what Santa left.

This year we had no Christmas parties to go to, no Christmas concerts to attend. We did no caroling. We didn’t decorate a nature’s Christmas tree and read The Night Tree. There were no bell ringers to give coins to. We weren’t able to make gingerbread houses. There were no angel trees, clothing drives, or food pantries to give to. We had nowhere to drive around to see Christmas lights. There were no Toys for Tots drop-off locations. These are just some of the traditions we missed this year. However, since I was a young girl our family has always had cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. For many years now we have also taken cinnamon rolls to our local firemen on Christmas morning before opening our presents. We have loved this tradition. When we arrived in Saudi early last January and realized we would probably have to abandon this tradition, we were quite sad. First of all, there are virtually no fire stations. Second, they would not appreciate receiving sweets for Christmas the way our firemen had. I thought about this from time to time. About October I recalled Dano mentioning he’d learned there were Marines at the Jeddah U.S. Consulate. That was the answer I’d been hoping for. Dano made the necessary contacts and we were warmly welcomed Christmas morning. We visited with just a few of the Marines stationed here. We we excited to hear there was one from Columbus, but he had had night duty and was sleeping. They were so friendly and kind. The kids loved talking with them and the special coins the Marines gave them. We have a special place in our hearts for those who protect our country and keep us safe. This was a terrific substitution for our wonderful firemen and allowed us to keep one of our favorite Christmas traditions.

When we returned home, the kids had a great time opening their presents.

I think Kennedy loves her collection of Lois Lowry books.
Abby gives a cheer for Ethan’s book (which he finished in two days).
Erin contemplates what she’ll write first with her lettering and stencil book.
Abby just can’t believe it all. Christmas is magical.

04 January 2011

Valley of Lemuel Trek

With a few days left before Christmas and adventure in our blood we loaded the family in the car for a long car trip up north. We had been attempting to make this little trip a couple of times previously, but as time has repeatedly shown, traveling in Saudi Arabia is not like traveling in the USA. You don’t necessarily just jump in your car for a spontaneous road trip. We were wanting to go deep in the desert this time, in search of the Valley of Lemuel. I know there are several who read this blog who may not know what the Valley of Lemuel is so I will briefly explain. In the days when Zedekiah was king of Judah and Jeremiah was one of the prophets we read about in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles and Jeremiah, we believe that one of those ‘other prophets’ mentioned was a man named Lehi. When Zedekiah refused to repent and was warned that Jerusalem would be destroyed, the prophets left Jerusalem, including Lehi who took his family down through Arabia, across the southern Arabian coast and sailed to what is now South America. It is the record of this group of people that we have as The Book of Mormon. Lemuel was one of the sons of Lehi. I also made mention of this prophet in our visit to Al Ula and Mada’in Saleh last March. We were excited to visit the area where this first family of the Book of Mormon had some of their beginning travels.

We drove ten hours up to the town of Tabuk. That is a long drive in the states. In the open desert, it’s a reallllly long drive. There was only a little grumbling and I think we were asked only eight times, “When are we going to be there?” The next morning we met a guide, prearranged by a colleague of Dano’s. His name was Abu Naif (pronounced ‘knife’) which means Father of Naif. It is very common in the Arab culture for fathers to take on the name of their son. So here Dano would be known as Abu Ethan.

I knew it was going to be an interesting experience as he spoke no English. He and a translator met Dano in the hotel lobby so Dano could show them the coordinates of the locations we wanted to visit. He knew the desert area very well but it took a little persuasion on Dano’s part to convince him to take us where we wanted to go. He was coming along mostly for our safety. We drove two hours west of Tabuk. It was an incredible drive. The landscape was so interesting. One might think we were driving through southern Utah though this is the area shown as Midian on Old Testament maps. Dano did make mention, though, that he could see how it would be punishment for the children of Israel to have to wander this area for forty years. Unfortunately these pictures don't capture the vibrant colors of the rock.
Abu Naif pointed out some more Nebataen tombs similar to the ones we saw in Mada’in Saleh. He also pointed out what is believed to be the well of Jethro where Moses met his wife. We drove on up the coast of the Red Sea. Along the way (it had been a two hour drive thus far) Abby needed to use the potty. I know, I know….here comes another potty story. We stopped at a gas station that also housed several stores. We thought one of the doors might lead to a bathroom. Mind you, we were really out in the desert now where there is virtually no English and we were a real spectacle. We pulled out our Arabic dictionary and Dano went from “shop” to shop asking about a toilet. He came back with no luck. He tromped through some dirty area as some local workers carefully watched and then gave us the thumbs up. He had found their local bathroom. I got Abby out of the car and she, Kennedy, and I ventured off to find relief. She had not-to-date had any success using a “squatty potty.” They are very common here. They are just holes in the floor that you squat over (and hope you hit it and not your shoes!). These bathrooms were the worst smelling bathrooms we have ever encountered…anywhere. We opened a stall and just stared for a moment at the hole in the floor and the, uhh, excrement around it. (sorry, no pictures.) Abby looked at it, turned around and RAN out crying, “I don’t need to go anymore!”

We got back in the car and headed on up the coast toward the town of Maqnah. We reached an area where Abu Naif went to speak with the coast guard to get approval for us to continue. At this point Abby could hold it no longer. We drove the car up a hill where there was a large rock we could go behind. I decided I was just going to have to teach her the outdoor way. As we got out Kennedy heard a hissing sound…no, not a snake (thank goodness!)…a deflating tire. Dano quickly backed the car down the hill in hopes our guide would be able to find us. Abby took some persuading but eventually was successful. She ran down the rocky mountain with her arms pumping in the air calling, “Daddy! I did it! I did it!”

Dano, Abu Naif and Kennedy got the tire changed with some supervision from a couple coast guard officers and we were back on our way. We entered the valley at the end where it opens up to the Red Sea. It was a very impressive valley with extremely tall granite walls. We could clearly see why they would be described as “”firm and steadfast, and immovable.”We also saw what could be the river Lehi compared Laman, another son, to; water that runs through this desert valley even through the driest, rainless seasons…”continually running.”

Our family enjoyed climbing around inside this beautiful valley area.
It was here that our guide decided he’d done enough and asked for his payment. We still had not gone to the entrance of the valley but decided we could make a go of it without him. We backtracked to the town of Al Bada. We had received GPS coordinates from my dad and his friend who had made this trip a few years ago. We were able to plug these in and follow them out into the empty desert to find the entrance to the valley. (I did recall Dano saying at one point one should not be in the desert alone.) We drove about five more miles and then left the dirt road.

Our Yukon should have been able to take it, but a quarter of a mile after leaving the path I heard another fizzling sound. Surely this couldn’t happen twice, and yet… Dano carefully backed it up onto the dirt road and we hoped someone would come by. We only needed to wait a few minutes and some bedouins drove by. We did our best to ask in Arabic about tire…Al Bada… He repeated and drove off. Guess he didn’t understand. The wait began. I would have taken a picture of our situation but I didn’t think Dano was in the mood yet. He was feeling badly that we were stuck alone in the desert miles from a tiny town and the sun would be setting soon.
(This is the view west from our car.)
Fortunately our kids are great kids. Kennedy, Ethan, and Erin enjoyed climbing the rocks. (Those two little dots on the top are our kids.)Abby enjoyed running around and picking up rocks and Emily was just peacefully content. We were also blessed to have brought lots of water and snacks. After a couple of hours of no one driving by, Dano decided he ought to just start walking to town with the tire. He took his cell phone and left us the satellite phone and GPS coordinates. About twenty minutes later a truck drove up with him in the back. These two Bedouin men had driven by and picked him up. They took our tire to town to get it fixed, refusing to let Dano come, telling us he should stay with his family…at least that’s what I think their hand gestures and Arabic meant.

We watched the sun set and the full moon rise. It was a beautiful, clear night in the desert. We enjoyed looking at stars, picking out constellations, and watching satellites. We waited two and a half hours for them to come back. As Dano worked on the tire, they were quite pleased with the little Arabic our kids spoke to them. I couldn’t tell if they were amused or frustrated with my little Arabic dictionary as I was trying to figure out how to say, “Come. Follow. Town. ATM. We pay you for tire.” Unfortunately our guide had taken all of our cash earlier that day before he deserted us.

It was while I was trying to talk to one of the men that Abby excitedly declared nature was calling again. I told her to wait just a minute and I’d take her over behind the rock we’d designated as the bathroom. I kept trying to get the man to understand what I meant by “cash.” Then here comes Abby waddling between us with her pants down around her ankles. Normally I would laugh (I am right now), but in a country where women have to cover from head to toe I wasn’t sure what these very nice Bedouin men would think of this so I quickly scooped her up and ran to our “rock potty” where she was all too eager to “go” again. She had apparently kicked her fear of going in the desert. When finished she ran out again pumping her fists, “I did it again, Daddy!”

Dano, Kennedy, and Ethan finished the tire and we all repeatedly and graciously thanked these two wonderful men. Again we asked them to follow and hoped they understood. We loaded in the car to head out of our four hour desert stay. Nnnrrrrr. Nnnnrrrrr. How do you replicate the sound of a dead car? Hmmm. How could we be so lucky, you ask? I have no idea!! We literally sat there in disbelief. We had done nothing that would have drained the engine. Nothing. Did I mention it was a beautiful starry night? Seriously, again we were very blessed that these two nice men had not just taken off and were still there. From what I could see, they weren’t even rolling their eyes at us. This was a rental car and had no jumper cables, nor had we brought any. They didn’t have any either. They motioned to wait and they’d come back. We waited…what else could we do? Dano did recall something a family friend taught him to push-start a car with an automatic transmission. Seeing it was on a very slight decline we decided it was worth a try. He and I rocked the car back and forth, back and forth with Kennedy at the wheel. She did a great job until she drove us into the bank. We couldn’t just leave it there. I could just imagine the looks of bewilderment on the Bedouin men’s faces of “How did these crazy Americans get the car over there into the bank?” We now needed another pusher and a different driver. We put Ethan at the wheel and Kennedy was relegated to pushing. We stood at the hood of the car and rocked it back and forth, back and forth until it was somewhat back on the dirt road. Dano told Ethan to pull hard to the right and we pushed from behind. After a few pushes we got it rolling and Dano ran and jumped in to put it in ‘drive.’ Well, cars aren’t made the same these days and the push-starting idea didn’t work. Now we would just have confused Bedouin men wondering how our car got a couple hundred yards from where they had left us.

They returned after an hour with some light gauge electrical wire they held with their hands onto the battery posts. They had to gun the engine of their truck a few times just to get enough juice going through the wires. I think Dano thought they were very brave. I think he wanted to get out of the desert. I think he didn’t want to second-guess a man with a large jambiya (Arab knife). Hallelujah! It worked. These men led us back to the town of Al Bada. They refused payment and even offered for us to come to their house to sleep. We so very graciously thanked them again, and after five hours our prayers were answered and we were on our way. They
were our angels. They never left us and we are so grateful. They do have Dano’s cell phone number so I hope our paths cross again someday so we can somehow repay their kindness. It was a good lesson to us to be charitable and watchful of those in need. (by the way, we don’t have a picture with them because, if I haven’t mentioned it before, taking pictures of Arabs is a sensitive thing; they don’t all like having their picture taken and I didn’t want to risk offending them)