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

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

19 February 2011

Fleeing the Floods

The normal annual rainfall for Jeddah is 54 mm (2.1 inches). On January 26th, however, Jeddah received 114 mm (nearly 4.5 inches) over a four-hour period. This was in addition to the 45 mm we had received ten days earlier. (We even had a full-blown thunderstorm with booming thunder and blazing lightening that sent two kids scrambling into bed with us.) It began raining on Monday evening. Tuesday it rained a little more, so much, in fact, that the school sent out a message saying if you hadn’t sent your kids to school to go ahead and keep them home. Unfortunately for our kids we didn’t get this until they were already at school. Tuesday afternoon brought a lot of rain. It poured and poured, not unlike downpours we would experience in Ohio.

Dano was missing all of this as he was having meetings in Bahrain. Wednesday morning after
a rainy night and collaborating with Dano, we decided to keep the kids home from school. It was only an hour after school started that we received the school's message that all children were being sent home due to the rain. I told the kids they’d had snow days in Ohio, but now they’d be able to say they had a rain day. Here are just a couple of pictures we took from a drive. I'm not sure what they were trying to accomplish by scooping water out with a loader. Dano asked if this wasn't like trying to drain a lake with a spoon?
This is the top of a semi truck. It's hard to image just a couple of days prior to this picture the water was above the underpass.
One of the faults of Jeddah is their drainage systems…they don’t exist. This was one of the problems with the flooding in 2009. We found out Friday evening that the Ministry of Education had canceled school for Saturday. The kids were thrilled to have another day off. By noon on Saturday we learned the Ministry had extended the decree for one-week closure. We also learned about small demonstrations happening in Jeddah. Dano was preparing for a trip to Turkey for meetings. With the kids being out of school for the week, people staging small protests, Cairo being in an uprising on the other side of the sea and Dano leaving us for the week, we decided it might be a good time to distance ourselves from Jeddah for a few days. By midnight Saturday we were headed to the airport to leave for Istanbul. We were very happy to have a bulk head seat with bassinet accommodations for Emily. She slept soundly for a good portion of the trip.
We stayed on the European side of Istanbu
l this time. This was the view of the Bosphorous as we walked each day to and from our little hotel.
I was so happy we had a day to take Dano around. Of all the times he has been to Istanbul, he’s never been to see some of the great sites. The kids and I were happy to
serve as tour guides as the sites were somewhat fresh in our minds. We took him to the Blue Mosque and to the Hagia Sophia.
I think the inside of the Blue Mosque is breathtakingly beautiful. It's hard to comprehend all the hours of work it took to complete such a masterpiece of art that simply cannot be captured on camera.

This time I took the kids around Istanbul by myself. As Dano’s meetings began the next day and we had more sites to see, we grabbed a tax
i from our hotel and headed out to visit the Basilica Cistern, an underground water reservoir built in the 6th century. We thought it would be fun to have our pictures taken. (Dano and I had ours taken when I took him back to the Cistern.)
It’s amazing to think about how much
water this cistern held. It is braced by 336 marble columns neatly arranged in rows. There are also two Medusa heads in the cistern. No one knows for sure why they’re there or where they came from. Some speculation says they were put there to release any evil spirits from the cistern.
The next day we took a cab to the beautiful Dolmabahce Palace. It was built along the European Bosphorus shore during the 19th century and took thirteen years to complete. (Can you tell we were a little chilly that day?)
It remains well-guarded. However, this one was purely for photos. You can't see the large dagger he is holding behind his back. Impressive.
It remains one of the most exquisite palaces in the world.
It is so large it requires a guided tour. Unfortunately they do not allow any photography inside the palace. From the 285 rooms to the 68 bathrooms to the crystal staircase to the 4.5 tonne crystal chandelier, with all the other crystal and gold everywhere it truly is an exquisite palace outfitted for royalty. It is said that 40 tonnes of silver and 14 tonnes of gold were used for the decoration of the palace. The rulers of the Ottoman Empire lived there (intermittently) instead of the Topkapi Palace (which we visited and wrote about in September last year) until the last Ottoman Sultan. Then the first leader of modern-day Turkey, Mustafa Ataturk, resided there until his death on November 10, 1938. All clocks were stopped at 9:05 a.m., the time of his death. I think all of the children thoroughly enjoyed the palace and were each able to share several things they liked about it with Dano (since he didn’t get to see this with us).

We successfully purchased jetons (tokens) for the train and got us on the correct train headed back across Istanbul toward our hotel. We managed to stop at a McDonald’s for a treat of a lunch where we had a miserable bathroom incident involving a woman yelling at Kennedy in Turkish and banging on the door because Abby had locked herself in a stall (the only available stall), needed help and there was no toilet paper. I, on the other hand, was dealing with a terrible diaper disaster. Is there a subset of Murphy’s laws that says diaper blowouts will only happen when and where it is the very least convenient? My moment of accomplishment had quickly been squelched and now I just wanted to leave with whatever shred of dignity I had left. I calmed Kennedy down (who also couldn’t wait to vacate Mickey D’s), dealt with a sobbing three-year-old who was thirsty but didn’t want to drink her water because she had put a French fry in it, quickly redressed Emily, tossed her absolutely disgusting diaper in the trash, whispered a sincere apology to whomever had to empty that trash, and rushed out to catch the train back toward our hotel.

We were able to take Dano to visit the Grand Bazaar, a famous maze of souqs in Istanbul.
At one of the souqs we found a great chess set for Ethan from a very nice man named Mustafa.
As we continued strolling through the paths of the Bazaar we were stopped by an Australian man and his daughter who talked to us for a few minutes before a
sking us if we were Mormons. It turns out they were as well. Mormons are everywhere!
It was fun to chat with them for a few minutes and then finish our Grand Bazaar experience.

Luckily for u
s, with Dano’s meetings come his friends. We were so fortunate to be able to see Mr. Griffin (not for long enough...even Erin thought so!)
and to get to spend an evening with Mr. Fischer. In Abby’s opinion, he could come back every week (although she’s sorry for pinching his cheeks).
We ate at a great restaurant with a “back door” exit which took us down through the ruins of one of the ancient castles of Istanbul.

We have decided that we really like Istanbul and all the history that comes along with it. It’s just amazing to walk through the streets and think we are walking where people have been walking for thousands of years and trying to imagine what life was like. I have also decided I am becoming more confident at navigating these great cities with children. Thank goodness I speak the universal language of English…thank goodness English is the universal language.

06 February 2011

Salalah – Day 4

Our final full day in Salalah we spent driving west to a place called Mughsayl in search of an awesome blowhole. It was a nearly two-hour drive through fairly ordinary mountainous desert scenery. As we emerged from the mountains, we once again found the Indian Ocean. We had to stop and capture the beauty. Down the road we met the cousin of the desert camel…the beach camel!
We think they chose the better lifestyle. We decided to get back on the road when we saw the approaching entourage (road hogs!) Actually there are many fatalities in Saudi each year due to hitting camels on the roads. Having now spent time deep in the desert on the unlit roads at night, it can be a little unnerving. They are large like elk, but unlike deer or elk they are slow in movement.

Mughsayl is known for its great blowhole but also has some great rock formations in its mountainside.We walked down and waited to see the water erupt through the rock floor, but the pressure of the water never was substantial enough.
A local couple also visiting the site told us it was too late in the year, that we needed to come during the monsoons. I guess everything great happens during the monsoon season. The kids enjoyed running around the area nonetheless and looking at the interesting rock features, including this one we thought looked like a cougar.

We drove back to play on the beach for a little bit. This was one of the most placid beaches we have found since moving over here. It was beautiful. We regrettably had left our swimsuits at the hotel.
As we walked the beach and waded in the surf, we came across a spot where there was a plethora of tiny crabs in seashells.
The tide would come in and expose them. Then the tide would roll out and if they hadn’t quickly buried themselves, they’d be taken out with the tide only to be washed back in with the next tide for a second chance to dig. Ethan tried a few times to catch one and eventually succeeded. As we are ‘catch and release’ fishermen, he put it back with the rest of the crabs.After some more playing around it was time to make the drive back toward Salalah.
As we were getting back in the car, it was funny to think that we were a mere one hundred and fifty kilometers (ninety miles) from the Yemen border.

We stopped by the Al Hafah souqs to buy some frankincense. Oman is known for their very fine frankincense. Harvesting the resin from the frankincense is an interesting process. It can be burned as incense, used as perfumes and oils, or consumed for health purposes. Frankincense has been traded all over Arabian Peninsula for thousands of years. One cannot read any history of Arabia without reading about the two thousand miles of Frankincense trails from Oman up to the Holy Lands. At one point in history frankincense was considered more valuable than gold. There is evidence of it being traded and taken to the pharaohs of Egypt. The good quality frankincense has a very pleasing aroma. We visited several little shops until we found one we really liked. This woman’s name was Layla. We bought various types of frankincense from her as well as some myrrh.
She also gave us some sandalwood to burn. Kennedy really liked the scent of it. She showed us how some people burn it and let the smoke permeate their clothing to give them a pleasant smell.
I've decided I really like frankincense. Hopefully we bought an ample supply of it. If not, I guess we’ll just have to come back!

With that, we watched our final sunset and sunrise on our Omani vacation. It had been a wonderful vacation with many wonderful memories.

02 February 2011

Salalah – Day 3

We woke up Friday morning and headed off only to find a slight malfunction in our four wheel drive. The only remedy was to exchange it. After this two hour delay we began our drive toward Wadi Darbat.

Outside Salalah there are fruit stands lining the streets. We decided to patronize one. I failed to mention the acres and acres of orchards growing various types of bananas, mangos, coconuts, date palms, and multiple other fruits. The fruit man was kind to let our banana-lover have a sample.
He convinced the others to have a coconut. It was interesting to watch him whack off the top and stick a straw in.
It was also interesting to watch their reaction. They were all very polite though. The general consensus (once we got in the car) : It was okay. Not our favorite. I think we spoiled ones are used to chilled milk and I don’t think he had any chilled coconuts available.
In the monsoon months of July through September the wadis of Oman are green and lush with many waterfalls. Unfortunately we missed that period. We can imagine that was the time of year Lehi’s family arrived which would convincingly have earned this region the name Bountiful. Apparently in this wadi grew many trees used as lumber for building ships. You can see Nephi's harbor here behind the kids.
We drove around the wadi and found many camels. We had come prepared again with apples. Dano tried again to entice some camels. A few turned up their snouts. He convinced one to smell it and once she did, he jammed it in her mouth.
No, I’m kidding, but that’s what it looks like. I was just waiting to catch the picture of him getting spat on in his attempts. I guess camels don’t spit as much as we thought.
She seemed pleased with his offering.Around these camels we drove up to a cave. Unfortunately because I was trying to convince Dano not to make the very steep ascent (the sound of popping tires was just too fresh in my mind) I didn’t get a picture of the open cave. He and the three bigger kids hiked up to the cave. He came down after realizing there was a place to turn around up in the cave. I can’t say enough times how glad I am to have a husband who knows how to drive very well in a variety of conditions. This trip was also a good way to show the kids the importance of learning to drive a stick. We made the steep climb without trouble (although my eyes were mostly closed), but we made it to the top. It was an amazing cave with many crevices, and stalactites and stalagmites forming. There were also smaller caves to be explored. Erin demonstrated from her perch what some of her Egyptian friends have taught her.
As we drove on we saw some beehives tucked under a rock. We had heard about Omani honey and its great value and had kept our eyes out for bees. Omani honey ranks among some of the world’s finest and most expensive. Omanis believe it is a wholesome and nutritious food. I have wondered about that myself as I have many times considered John the Baptist whose food was locusts and wild honey. I’ve wondered if it could have some type of healing or rebuilding effect on our bodies. Some of the Omani apiarists I’ve read about lived beyond one hundred years.
Would you believe as we drove further through the valley we passed by more camels? Ethan thought he’d like to try to feed one. Our girls were a little too chicken. (That’s okay. Their mom was, too. I still think they spit…and not just slime…big loogies! No thanks!) Ethan succeeded and came back elated and saliva-free. Only in Oman would we have seen camels, goats, cows, and donkeys all on the same road. I thought we took a picture of it but couldn’t find it. Cows in Arabia are mostly only found in Oman and we saw a lot of them during our week here. It was like being back in Oklahoma.

There was still some water remaining from the monsoon and some green. There were some trees growing in quite opposing conditions…terrific examples of adversity. I’m not sure how these trees stay alive when their roots are wrapped in and around rocks. They’re just amazing.

We saw these signs anywhere we saw water, except the sea. And everywhere we saw the sign we saw people swimming in the water. Dano thinks with the literacy rate being low perhaps people can’t read the sign which makes me sad. When we got home I looked up bilharziasis. It’s not a pretty disease. Kennedy had to stop my reading aloud when I got to the part of the parasite producing between 300 and 3000 eggs per day and what they fed on. Oh, and wouldn’t you think defecating in the water would be prohibited just because it’s disgusting and not just to control the infection?! As it was New Year’s Eve we had a nice dinner at the hotel and hoped for a fun night of games. However, the men in our family couldn’t make it past about nine o’clock.
Abby conked out sometime around then as well. So, Kennedy, Erin and I rang in the New Year playing a fun, new game Erin got for Christmas called Rat-a-Tat Cat and eating smarties and some coveted candy pumpkins I’ve saved from my Halloween stash. It’s fun to say that for the third time we have begun a new year in a different country. Maybe that’s a new tradition we’ll have. That could prove to be a difficult (and expensive) one to keep…