Sunday, September 27, 2015

Saudi Diamonds

Very early in the morning... just as the sun comes up is the time to find diamonds in the desert.

You have to leave home when it's still dark to get there at just the right time.  As the sun peeks up over the horizon, a glistening stone will stand out among the gray and brown rocks.

This is the Saudi diamond that we collected like sea glass treasure on our Oahu beaches, only much less abundant.

Below… Linda Wagner giving Sean a tutorial.   This was our first morning back after summer vacation.  Our home teachers, the Wagners knew how to seize an opportunity that is rare with teenagers.  The jet lag would have us easily awake at 4:00 a.m.  They knew when and where to take us to make this moment happen.   In life, it's always like this.  Someone cares about you and wants to share with you the treasures they have come to know.  Adding another ring to the ripple effect of shared experience.

To see if you got a good stone that can be polished into a clear, almost diamond like gem stone, you hold it up in the morning sun light and look through it's mass.

Six years ago on Sept. 18, 2009-- this content was placed in my draft folder.  Typical of unpublished drafts, it became one of many ideas that existed in e-storage, depleting the fragile momentum of writing or publishing any new content.   Today, by returning to this region, even a new place, Kuwait, I am refreshed by the circadian rhythm of going forward in time and flooded with memories and feelings that remind me of old trips and the place that I once called home.  As reminders take on a life of their own, it triggered the search for this old post.   I rummaged through dusty files of e-clutter and thanks to tender mercies,  here are a few images in the old draft.  (Last summer I lost 7 years of digital archives in a home robbery.)   What was started then, is now all that there is for this post, which was in itself, a Saudi diamond in the rough.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

"No Problem"

Okay, many of my friends and family have been poking me to actually be the blogger that I said I was going to be.  Stories from Saudi, stories from my summer across America in an RV, and stories about the less than normal life I am living.  So here's a story I started writing back in May when I set off one afternoon on an outing to Ikea with my driver and daughter so we could stock up on loot to take back to Hawaii with us.  Yes, I love Ikea that much that I will carry it across the world to have it in my cozy cottage in Hauula.  Ikea is great for small spaces.  Riyadh has had Ikea for 25 years but it will be another 25 years before Oahu will ever get an Ikea I'm afraid.  

I love Ikea for many reasons.  The designs.  The packing concept (no excessive waste, easy transport.) The inspiring ways to make cozy nests.  The budget friendly items.  The variety.  The easy ways to make a quick, fun improvement to tired spaces.......  Okay, I do realize that within these wonderful gimmicks, Ikea is also a huge influence on the substantial gluttony of consumerism and must- have mentality.  They boast a large selection of medium to low durability lifespan of future landfill items.  But they are bringing joy and style into our homes by innovative designers that make Martha Stewart seem so grandma.  At least Ikea is trying to have a smaller ecological footprint whilst doing so.  (Not to mention making their owner the richest man in the world.  Okay, I did mention it.  But what a great store...... it makes the masses like me happy to have pretty stuff at affordable prices and the owner gets super rich.  That's like a really good concept.)   It does it's job without all of the Walmart baggage so I'm a big Ikea fan.  And for those people who junk their Ikea stuff so quickly, I say that's more you than Ikea.....  I still own some sturdy pieces from my first Ikea experience in Pennsylvania 15 years ago!  

All of that aside, my passion for Ikea is really quite simple.  Comfort!  The store itself has always been a place of comfort for me right down to the comfort food, eye candy designs and a supervised play area for Isabella while I shop.  The compound where I live in Riyadh has a shopping bus with a scheduled Ikea visit about every three weeks.  It's what you plan your life around when you are an expat woman in Riyadh....... The women, the bus schedule, our outings together known as "coffee mornings" (where we get bussed to another expat compound and have a breakfast buffet and shopping vendors with their arabian wares, very much like the Aloha Stadium Swap meet on a smaller scale). Our compound is called Wadi Two so when one of my neighbors was in the hospital and our 'Desperate Housewives' group of Wadi II banded together for a get well visit it just so happened to clash with the Ikea outing. Small panic...... we plan our lives according to this bus schedule since woman are not allowed to drive in the Kingdom. I love my Ikea trips, and I love my neighbors, so what's a desperate housewife to do. "No problem..... of course I chose to go visit Trish. After all there is always Sibichen. He's the driver we regularly hire to take us places like restaurants, church (known as group meetings instead of church), other friends houses, the gold souk, the embassy, the airport..... you know, all of the regular places. He's from Sri Lanka. Even though he is not our private driver, it feels like he is just there for us. He is everyone's favorite.   In the end it will make it more fun to have my own driver instead of going on the compound bus with a time limit.  It is a bit of a kill joy when I have to watch the clock anyway.  I much prefer the endless daydreaming of what I can use where and how I can fit it in my luggage.  This is really a big deal outing for us.  The drive will cost around $40, so that is like going to the water park or the movies, both of which we don't have in Riyadh.  Ikea is the kind of fun that Izzy and I can have together on an outing.  

On the drive, Sibichen gets a call from another client that is in a bit of a bind and needs a rescue about 90 minutes away. He tries to find another driver in his network, for this client but no one was available.  Then he requests of me to have me get picked up by another driver when I am done as one would surely become available. My heart sank a little, but of course I am going to oblige.   "No problem", I say, because it is perfectly understandable, but inside my heart was a little broken because I sometimes live a delicate balance of happiness in this fish out of water- 'American woman living in Saudi' life that I live.  At least it is at Ikea.  I will be fine.

In May in the Arabian dessert, it is too hot to wear my black abaya even in the air conditioned car.   Being sneaky, I was not wearing my abaya when Izzy and I got into the back seat since the windows are heavily tinted black and I can be covered without being "covered" until I actually leave the car.  When we arrive at Ikea, I realize I am not ready to leave the car.  I had stuff I was going to leave in the car and I have to put on the Abaya which I must do before I exit the car. Managing all of the snaps and buttons,  fumbling with Izzy and now that I can't leave anything behind in the car,  I begin collecting my previously used Ikea bags that I brought with me intending to have them for reuse (doing my part to minimize my eco footprint).  

I enter the store and the security guard gives me a careful look.  The look was a concerned "where are you going with those bags" look.  I simply explain they are to re use for my new purchases so they would not create waste.  He ushers me to the bag check place and I tell this next guy that I will need them at the register for the purchases.  "No problem", he says, "they have new bags there."  "Yes, I know, but I don't want to waste these bags so I brought them to re use." (In Saudi, trying to recycle is a futile undertaking.  I might as well try to paddle my kayak to California from Oahu, but it's just too hard to give up my environmental views and join the culture of ALL things are disposable.  Especially where the disposing of rubbish is literally everywhere and uncontainable.)  Even though I create a bit of confusion, I patiently try to share the recycle viewpoint with the man and I get to maintain my integrity to my eco footprint.  From this point we move on to the "child check" area.  

The sign in sheet for the play area requires my phone number and not knowing any of the new Saudi numbers in my head,  I now discover that I left my cell phone in Sibichen's car.  Okay, besides the child check in, I am suppose to be contacted by the unknown driver that Sibichen will be sending for us.   This is a bit of a problem.  Regroup. Okay. I'm thinking that, I simply borrow the Ikea phone and call my husband, have him call Sibichen and send him back with my phone since I don't know his phone number and it is only in my phone of course.  Meanwhile, the covered woman, with only her eyes showing has no idea why I am suddenly reluctant to list my phone number on the check in clipboard.  I tell her, "I need to call my husband.  I left my phone in the driver's car and he is gone."  "No problem" she says, and she writes down my husband's phone number that I have pulled from a slip of paper, luckily stashed in my purse.    "One hour"  she says.  "No", I insist, " I need to get in touch with my driver.   I need to borrow a phone. "    "Okay, No problem."  she says again trying to hand me the paper she has just scribbled in arabic that likely says, collect your daughter at this time and we will call you at this number if you don't show up.  At this point, after having just given away my generosity (letting my driver go off for another client)  and my patience (why is recycling such a mysterious concept to a huge population of the world),  I was in short supply of virtues.  

"THIS IS A PROBLEM!  Quit saying NO PROBLEM.  You don't even know what I am saying. I have a problem, and I need to use a phone!   Where is an Ikea phone that I can use?  I have to make a call to my husband now.  I left my phone in the car and my driver is already driving far away.  I don't know the driver's number because it was in my phone."  Only her eyes answered.  She tells a lot with only her eyes as they are the only flesh that are public for her to share.  They were saying, "American women are so funny.  When they talk loud and fast and wave their hands around, it's like watching Seinfeld on TV."  

Turns out that the bag check guy that I confused earlier about recycling my Ikea bags, came to the rescue.  He handed me his cell phone, I got it all sorted out with Norm calling the driver and then calling me back on the borrowed phone.    Sibichen ended up getting someone else to go get the stranded guy and I was back to calm and joyful Ikea shopping knowing he was coming back for me.  Then two hours later, smiling, nice Sibichen meets me at the checkout counter, collects my bags from the bag check for me, where I  re-use them.  My Ikea bliss is back.  We load up on yummy, cheap Ikea shwarmas on our way out.  (Instead of hotdogs, our Ikea serves up the tastiest shwarmas for 2 saudi riyals.  The exchange rate is 3.75 to one American dollar. ) 

Happily loaded with my Ikea loot for Hawaii and six shwarma's to go...... these are the kind of adventures in my Saudi world.  Did you think it was going to sound like a story from Christiane Amanpour?  

Nope. This is just a regular day in my life as a desperate housewife in Wadi II. Here I am with some of the gals after the last coffee morning we went to before summer vacation. We look so Palm Springs, yeah? That's Trish in the middle with the white hat doing so much better after her luxury stay at Kingdom Hospital. Seriously, if you need to be hospitalized and you are not one of the third class labor citizens, you definitely want to participate in the care given in Saudi Hospitals.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Fat and Happy!

Guilty as charged.  I AM becoming fat and I AM joining the cyber world of Mommy Bloggers.  I have been a perfectionist for as long as I can remember and with all of the inspiring, awesome blogs out there, and my interest in having a much more interesting journal than I have been 'not' keeping, my perfectionist mind thought, okay, someday I would like to do that. Someday, when I can use a camera like Picasso used his paint brush; and  someday when I can write like Barbara Kingsolver; and someday when I have a live-in maid and don't have to drive my kids around all day, I will start blogging.  Me and my excuses are always butting heads on the topic and since I have nurtured my excuses to great strength and health, they always win.  But then I got clever.  Today, I realized something about happiness, accomplishments and expectations.  Picaso and Kingsolver have talent that I can aspire to for the rest of my life and I will still be found wanting.  Right now is actually an opportunity.  Yikes, that sounded so guru.  I'm not saying that in every moment there is a new opportunity.  I'm really not a guru.  But at this point, something is new.  I have a new type of freedom.  I now live in Saudi Arabia where compared to America, the "freedoms for women" are considerably limited.  After five weeks of assimilating into my new life, I have found that one woman's boundaries are another woman's wings.  Suddenly today, after being inspired by my favorite dummy while catching up at, I saw the glass half full in my life!  I was so motivated to get my blog/journal started that I decided to call out my excuses for a staring contest.  Blinker loses all.  And I actually won! 

It's because of my new opportunities that don't exist in my counterpart life in Hawaii where life responsibilities are typically my ball and chain.  Opportunities = Women here in the Kingdom are not allowed to drive and each villa comes with two servant rooms.  My cooking skills are about as smooth as a 100 grit piece of sandpaper.  With that texture in mind, and the bag of lemons that every western woman gets handed before she leaves the arrivals terminal at the airport, combined with the actual head to toe black robe known as the abaya…. imagine what kind of lemonade I have been stirring up. 

My daughter gets picked up and dropped off door to door to her Kindergarten.  My boys are doing independent study at home for now (and if they do decide to go to the American School, they will get door to door service also.)  When I do go out for shopping, the driver enjoys carrying all of the bags to the car and into the kitchen where the maid likes to help put it all away, rinsed and stocked in the fridge. That's right peeps, as of  last week, we have a cheerful little lady from Sri Lanka who ccupies the live-in quarters on the fourth floor of our villa.  My biggest adjustment has been stocking the house with enough groceries to keep her from running out of things to cook for us.  She loves to cook for us.  Okay, before anyone starts throwing tomatoes at me, it's not like she is Rachel Ray.  I have to show her how to do it first but she actually picks up fast and loves this work and is always smiling about it!  The thing that keeps me smiling is that real home cooking = lots of cleaning up in the kitchen and she likes to do ALL of that too!  Let's face it peeps.  When there are three plus meals a day, everyday, it is not going to be an ambition for too many people in the western world of X generation women who "stay at home".  

So today, when I had that staring contest with my excuses about not having time to keep a "journal";  I was coming from a whole new place.  First slowly and then the pace quickened and my fixated trance began.  I stared and stared and stared and the excuses blinked first!  As I leaped from my chair to strut around in my eighties style victory dance, my daughter woke up from her nap and the excuses said, "AH HA! Not so fast missy!" But then her Dad came home from work and the maid had the dinner ready, so we enjoyed the luxury of doing scripture reading at the dinner table and resembled something like the family in the flip chart during missionary discussions.  After all of that wonderful feeling of fulfillment, I sat back down at my computer to write about how fat and happy I am becoming!  But then my daughter came along and wanted help with her puzzles and then her homework and then I started feeling that sense of competition for what I should be doing with my time and my love and nurturing of my excuses began again.  But then content filled Dad sitting in the family room watching soccer with our soccer enthusiastic son, after having come home to a hot meal and a complaint free wife, came along and took her out for a nice walk around the compound for some fresh, warm desert air.  I sharply gave a quick glare over my left shoulder at those excuses and they blinked so fast this time.  As I looked back my eye caught that glass still sitting there on the table half full.  I smiled and the gentle tap, tap, tapping began.  And low and behold, a few determined hours later, I felt a bit of accomplishment.   Wanna see?

Here's what the table looked like a few hours ago. 

  Two places set for Mac Books and five for dinner.  That's right.  Dinner was made with just a few instructions while I continued tapping away on the keyboard.  And looky looky at what was made from scratch....Maid in the home = home maid fries! 

Florence Henderson would have been proud.  But don’t tell her we don’t use Wesson. (It’s all about EVOO and Rachel Ray - the new face of home cooking for regular folk like me.)      

And look how nicely she chopped up the veggies for the salad.  No need for Quisen Art  in the middle east since an eager job seeker is hoping for a safe employment opp.

More evidence about how fat and happy I am becoming!  

This is the day that I daringly took off my abaya in front of men in the desert and sped away on the quad with my daughter, pretending  I didn't know what Haram! Haram! meant.