Friday, December 14, 2012

Tis the season for quick updates

Greetings all,

It has been some time since we posted any updates so I thought that I would try an do a little bit.

It is funny how even though we are part of a little community it doesn't take long before it seems like you are running at 100 MPH (160 KPH ;-) In addition to swim lessons, this fall Ben and Whitney have both also become very proficient bike riders.KAUST really is a conducive place to learn to ride a bike. You can get to most places on campus in just a few minutes. My office is about 6 minutes ride from my house. The kids are all getting around campus and since we finally tracked a bike down for Barbara. Now she, Whitney, and Ben take rides up to the square on Monday (our hump day here) afternoons when they get out of school early. I think that they each enjoy it greatly.

Caitlynn and CiCi have been elected to the student council in the secondary school and have been very good with their desire to serve. Caitlynn has once again set down the violin and is instead studying the clarinet as part of the school curriculum. Though she had thought that she was going to put the trumpet away, CiCi is once again playing as part of curriculum as well. She thought that it would be difficult with her braces, but she has been able to very well in spite of them.

It is the Christmas season here in Saudi Arabia which means that the weather is much nicer and not much else ;-) That said it is great to be here at KAUST with many people willing to appreciate and share the views of each other. It continues to be a great place to experience. There was recently an article that ran in Science magazine related to KAUST at 3 years old and it painted a picture regarding some of the growing pains that KAUST has experience,and some of the challenges that still lay ahead. Regardless, if we look at it in terms of any 3 year old startup I think that it still is a great choice that we made. In some ways life continues to move by very fast, but in others it is really easy going. It is the first time in a long time that when I leave work, I leave work. There is still lots to do but generally I feel supported to get done what needs done, but to also leave a healthy balance between my work and life.

Next weekend we will get to experience part of that balance as we go to Dubai for our first actual family vacation. As part of the benefits here at KAUST we are entitled to a repatriation visit either home, or another desitnation of our choosing. I became elegible for this benefit at 6 months (which occured on Nevember 27th WOW!), but it is based on a calendar year so I basically have a month to use the 2012 benefit so we are headed to Dubai. Right now our Christmas eve is going to be spent dune bashing and barbequing :-) ( Isn't that how the old Christmas song went "Bashing through the sand, in a 4 wheel drive truck, over the dunes we go, hoping not to get stuck" (I might be remembering the song incorrectly)

Plus while we are over there Barbara and the kids are going to do Ski Lessons at Ski Dubai ( Whitney wants to do ice skating so we are likely going to be working that in as well ( Since it is the Middle East and the weather is going to be a chilly 80 degrees we will also spend some time at the Atlantis Waterpark (were just going to the waterpark and aquarium we can't afford to actually stay there YET ;-)

We are also going to work in some actual cultural stuff to, but that stuff is not as planned out yet (don't need to search out discount tickets for those). The Burj Kalifa, world's tallest building, is on the probable list plus we will take a bus tour of the town to get a better idea of places to visit.

Because it has been so long since we have updated the blog I realize that we have left out some exciting events that we will have to update on such as the kids ride on a camel, our trip to an old castle, some windsurfing, and other memorable events. I will try and put those together in the next couple of days as I know that Christmas and New Years might bring some family and friends around looking to see what we have been up to on the other side of the world.

Suffice it to say until then, Best wishes to all.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Power Grid

I found a new board game to love!  We have had the wonderful privilege of introducing Dominion and Agricola to our friends here in the Middle East.  Honestly, I can't tell if people like us for our charming personalities or just for our games!  It's gotta be the games!  Just recently, a friend returned the favor by bringing over Power Grid.  I had seen this game on and then happened to see it on their shelf.  We tried it with 6 players and 4 of us were newbies.  My only recommendation is fewer players the first time around - it can take awhile.  

The theme is that you have to acquire power plants and then acquire the resources to run them.  Everyone bids against each other to buy the power plants and then with your remaining cash you take turns buying different types of fuel such as coal,oil, uranium, garbage, etc.  The market cost of the fuel varies.  According to the game, wind power doesn't cost anything to run!  Wow! Wouldn't that be nice if it were true!  The winner is the person who powers the most plants the last round of the game.  If you own plants that you can't afford to power - too bad, so sad.  I think I would have liked this game, even if I'd lost!

Friday, September 21, 2012

An Unexpected Holiday (Sort of)

Today is Friday and in two days, Saudis will celebrate National Day.  Our schools planned to use tomorrow as a teacher workday, but Wednesday afternoon the King announced that tomorrow would also be a national holiday. For those who have been here awhile, this last minute notice of an additional day off of work came as no surprise.  Apparently, the King can declare a national holiday whenever he chooses!  We may never have days off from school for snow, but we just might might have to miss school for a holiday!  Aw, shucks!

I haven't posted for awhile, so I will quickly catch you up on what the family is doing.  My job as a permanent substitute teacher at the school right across the street has morphed into a job as the receptionist.  The person I am replacing has been transferred to another part of the University, so I will stay working at the front desk for the remainder of my contract.

The kids are really enjoying school here.  In elementary school, all the kids learn Arabic and at the Secondary school they can choose between French and Arabic.  They can be pretty insistent about their rule that places kids in classes based on their ages.  They made an exception for Caitlynn and allowed her to go into 6th grade, but for the rest it is interesting to see how the school meets the kids needs while keeping them in the same grade.  Cici, who has never had a class in French, is placed in a class of students who have completed two years of French just because she is the same age as them.  The teacher then gives her separate assignments and she comes after school occasionally.  The goal is that she will eventually catch up to her same age peers.  In math, she is placed in 8th grade math just because she is the same age as the other 8th grade math students.  The teacher then gives her a 10th grade math book and tells her to work through it at her own pace and to ask him questions when he needs to.  I've asked Cici how she likes this arrangement and she actually doesn't mind.  For her it will be nice to catch up to her friend's level of French and she said they can't really send her to a math class with older kids without really messing up her schedule in all her other classes.  This way, she can do the math at her own pace and still be with her friends. 

For Whitney and Ben, it is a little harder for me to figure out how they adjust the curriculum for kids who are performing above grade level in either some or all of their classes, but it seems they are pretesting each unit and adapting that unit to the needs of the class based on how the kids did on the pretest. 

The concept of "Gifted Education" is not one that crosses international borders and here (as in many places) there is much disagreement about it.  As far as how what they are doing here compares to what gifted advocates such as the NAGC in the US would recommend, there is both good and bad.  In the US, Gifted Education advocates are sometimes very strong in their criticism of US schools that refuse to bend age placement guidelines.  Since they advocate for all gifted kids, they like to keep all options on the table including early entrance into kindergarten, grade acceleration, and dual enrollment in high school/college (among many others).  Most kids, even really smart ones, will never need these options.  But by leaving them on the table schools can use these options when there is a need.  There is no "one size fits all" solution to a child being "bored" at school.  On the good side however, most Gifted Education in the US is built around an enrichment/pullout program philosophy.  Within the pullout program, they attempt to supplement the student's general education with an inquiry based curriculum where the students ask their own questions and learn to discover the answers.  They tend to do more experiments or to create things or learn to solve logic based puzzles.  In an IB program such as ours, this is the standard curriculum for all students, not just the gifted students and not just 1 or 2 days a week.  This actually may be the real reason my kids don't come home asking for "harder math" anymore.  They are enjoying their overall school curriculum a lot more, so there is no longer any reason for them to believe that a harder math class will make school more interesting.

Friday, August 24, 2012

My New Job

I'd been a little discouraged about the job hunt here, because the jobs that I would have liked all had people returning from last year to fill them.  I'd pretty much resigned myself to another year of volunteer work when I got a surprise phone call last Thursday.  A position had opened up in the Early Childhood Center as a permanent substitute.  A permanent substitute is at school every day even if all the teachers are all there.  If someone is absent, then my job is to cover for them.  If I'm not needed in a classroom, apparently there is other work for me to do.

Each grade has two permanent substitutes for that grade per building.  I will be working with grade K2.  Here, they start school at age 3 in grade K1.  Four year olds are in K2.  Five year olds are in K3 and six year olds begin first grade.  K1 thru K2 are in one of two Early Childhood Centers (ECC).  Each teacher has a maximum of 15 kids and a full time assistant.  I actually did not directly apply for this job - my resume was passed to them from someone else.  For me, I would prefer to work in either the library or with older kids, but the hours were good enough at the ECC that I decided to go ahead and do it.  I only have 3 training days where I need to be at school when the kids are not.  

We also miss the "thrill" of a huge back to school shopping spree.  They buy all the supplies except for ones that we might personally choose for our kids such as organizers, backpacks, etc.  I start work tomorrow  (Saturday)  and the kids start school on Tuesday.  We're expecting an exciting week!

You Might Be an Expat use a turn signal!

A couple of weeks ago, we finally completed the nerve racking task of buying a car in Saudi!  Here at KAUST there is free public transportation with buses arriving at each stop every 15 minutes.  Inexpensive taxi service and shuttle buses to Jeddah make it almost unnecessary to own a vehicle at KAUST.  Again, that's almost!  Carrying groceries home for a family of six, missing buses when trying to get to playdates, traveling to Jeddah for orthodontist appointments (Oh, by the way Cici gets braces this week!)  and trying to shop in Jeddah for a family of six all made it a lot more enticing to purchase a car.

Purchasing a car in a country full of death defying drivers poses the challenge of finding a reasonably priced, used vehicle that was in reasonably good condition. Kent was fortunate enough to have a friend at work who is Saudi who helped negotiate the price and arrange for a mechanical inspection before we got it.  Even then, the Ford Explorer (minivan's are hard to find here) we ended up buying didn't have any seat belts on the 3rd row seat and we didn't realize that until after Kent bought it and brought it home.  We are still trying to find out how to get the seat belts installed.  People here don't always wear seat belts.  I've seen mothers bouncing their babies in the front seat on a highway where people can't agree on whether there are 3 or 4 lanes of high speed traffic.  (Traffic lane markings are just considered road decor here!)

Paying for the car was interesting because they don't do financing here the way they do in the states.  Some people take a suitcase full of cash to pay for their car, but we didn't like that idea.  Kent's friend help him figure out how to wire the money to pay for the car and then Kent had to go back to Jeddah to pick it up when the cash was recieved. 

Last night as we were driving back from Jeddah we came up with a new take on Jeff Foxworthy's "you might be a redneck if" jokes.  We call them "You might be an Expat if..." jokes and the first one was inspired by the fact that some drivers here see a turn signal as a sign that tells the driver behind you, "I'm getting ready to slow down a little so you better hurry up and pass me and cut me off so you can get where you are going before you are highly inconvenienced by a slight reduction in your speed!"  But, hey - we're expats - we use turn signals!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Is it safe?!?!?

One of the great things about coming to the Middle East is to find out how many people care about you. One of the downsides is the fact that you find this out because they are going to worry about you. Sadly I think that Barbara bears the brunt of this. People assume that I am the crazy husband dragging his family (though they are the one who had to talk me into this ;-) into this "dangerous" place so in efforts to empathize they feel no qualms about sharing their concerns.

So I want to take a minute and set the record straight. We are VERY safe!! (though as the previous post indicates, I lose some of the moral high ground if we ask "is driving safe?" ;-)

For starters lets start with the fact that I live in a FORT! I have been in a gated community before, but never one where they had guards with a 50-caliber machine gun mounted in the back of a truck and national guards on permanent duty :-) Our fort is 35 square kilometer with a beach, palm trees, wind surfing, diving, snorkeling, modern air conditioned (and lots of it!!!), a great K-12 school, rec center, Burger King, 2 grocery stores, and a whole host of other amenities. To get to my house involves two checkpoints with armed guards and "protective weaponry". No ID? NO ENTRY FOR YOU!!! Now there are obviously two ways to look at this. The first being "even the Saudi's think it is dangerous" and so they put up all of this protection. The alternative is that they understand that this perception exists and this needs to be ameliorated if they want to get top quality people (or even people like myself ;-). Though I believe that it is more than likely a mix of the two, I tend towards the alternative.

When it comes to family friendly, KAUST is helping to write the book. We live across the street from a park, we are half a mile from the Red Sea, I can walk to my office in 20 minutes, when school starts I am told that we will have kids running out of our ____________________ (insert appropriate descriptor for all over the place). After work I had a flat on my bicycle and had a person bring me a tire patch and help put it on tonight, just because I saw him as I was walking the bike home.I just had a friend come back from the states and bring me some things that I wanted. When it comes down to great people, KAUST gets them.

Now back to safety. It seems in a country that has public executions on a regular basis, that there are not as many people who want to commit crimes (or they just have better criminals here not sure which). According to the United Nations, I have a 1 in 20,000 chance of being murdered in the US, here it is 1/5 of that or 1 in 100,000 ( In 2007, Saudi had 256 murders throughout the WHOLE country. In 2010, Chicago had 419 ( So just on the raw numbers I am almost twice as safe in Saudi than in Chicago ;-)

The people are very much like in America in terms of there a great people and there are jerks!!! One friend had a guy that he didn't even know, practically demand that he try some of his food. The one risk with this is if you share food with a Saudi you are practically friends for life. This guy sent our friend a text in the middle of the same night asking when they were going to get together and hang out.

In the end I am to the point that when I am asked "do you feel safe?" I feel like the granny who was pulled over and as part of the traffic stop asked if she had any weapons in the car. When she replied that she had a 38 in her purse, 45 in the glovebox, and a Glock under the seat, the officer asked "what are you afraid of" to which she replied "Not a darn thing!!!"

Am I safe at KAUST? You bet!!!

Best wishes to all,


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Fun at the Park

Today, I told the kids they had to get used to the 105 F (41 C) temperatures- because as far as I can tell, it won't be much better till October - so they headed out across the street to the park.  The playground area has a sandy base which is perfect if you have sand toys and water.  We had neither.  Next to the playground, however, is a school and in the school yard is a wonderful play area built on a more rubbery surface with a tent-like covering that stretches across the whole area.  The shaded area was perfect.  Until after they had taken a trip or two down the slide.  My nice, clean kids were now coated with a layer of desert dust the play equipment had acquired!

A couple of workers were in the school yard and came over with a hose offering to wash the play equipment down for us.  We readily agreed.  The fun began with toes testing the water as it flowed from the hose laying on the ground.  Then one of the workers picked up the hose and sprayed the roof over the slide and the water dispersed like rain.  Caitlynn and Ben raced up the steps to catch the spray as is came down.  Soon the workers were aiming the hose directly at the kids who squealed in delight.  Of course the slides had to be washed too, and what better way to do it than with a couple of kids zooming down while the workers aimed the hose straight down the slide!  (I could be mistaken, but I think the workers were having just as much fun as the kids!)

Perhaps it's not too hot to play outside.  If you're in the shade.  In a park. And happen to have some fun-loving  workers with a water hose nearby!

Thursday, July 26, 2012


Before we came, we were advised by a few people that Kent had met that the kids and I should stay in the US until after the month of Ramadan.  Well, we're here and now we really understand why!  For Muslims, this is a special time of year when they fast from sunrise to sunset.  It is also a month of celebration for what they have and of charitable giving to those who may not have as much.  Because of the fast during daytime hours, most stores are closed until just before the fast breaks and daytime work hours are sometimes reduced or postponed into the late evening hours.  For example, one of the AC units that cools our house had a compressor that quit working.  The workers showed up one night with the new compressor at 7pm, informed us that they had to go eat, and came back to work a few hours later.  They worked until 2am!  Activities last night at Discovery Square (our market area) didn't even begin until 10pm and the malls in Jeddah are closed all day and open all night!  A lot of expats here leave the compound during Ramadan, so there are not a lot of people here.  Since we're new and trying to meet people, that's a little tough.

In addition to Ramadan, it is hot and humid here so people are just not outside during the day.  I'm writing this at 11pm and it is still 33 degrees Celsius (equal to 91 degrees Fahrenheit).  My weather app says it "feels like 41 degrees Celsius" - or almost 106 degrees!  Ben, Whitney, and Caitlynn all went to "summer camp" at the recreation center this past week mainly so they would have a chance to meet and play with other kids - a plan that worked out well.

We are enjoying it here, though, despite the heat and unusual hours that people keep this time of year.  Kent took me out for a Sunset Cruise on the Red Sea for my birthday.  It was just a short 1 hour cruise with a small group, but it is really was beautiful.  A couple of people in the group are divers and they both told us they had seen dolphins on some of their diving expeditions.  Tonight, for a family night out we went to the rec center and some of us played on the climbing wall while others tried to master ping pong and pool.  I beat Kent in pool the very first time I played him!  (Kent - you are not allowed to comment on that game!)  He creamed me the second time though - I don't even think I got a single ball in a pocket!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

First Week for Barbara and the Kids

Although Kent has been here since the end of May, the kids and I just arrived this week.  We left Phoenix, AZ on a Wednesday morning and flew to Chicago where we transferred to Etihad Airways, flew to Abudabi and then on to Jeddah.  Etihad was equipped with personal TV screens on the back of each seat.  The kids could each choose their own movies (The Lorax was the most popular choice), watch TV shows or play a variety of games using the controller attached to the seat.  Total airplane time was 20 hours plus another 10 hours in layovers.  Adding to that the travel time to the airport in Phoenix and the from Jeddah to our new home at KAUST - it was a VERY long trip!  At least we didn't travel by boat - the stuff we sent by boat May 15th has still not arrived!

The kids finally sleep at night again and play during the day.  Last night, we enjoyed a fun family night of bowling and eating out at the square.  They give free bowling instruction if you ask them and the price per game and for shoes is super cheap.  It's 2 Riyals per game and if you divide that by the exchange rate of 3.75 it comes out to be 53 cents a game.  The shoes are only 3 Riyals - still under a US dollar.  Burger King has the standard fair.  Yes, my kids are still ordering chicken strips even after all this traveling.  The ice cream cones are 1 Riyal - or a little over a quarter in American money.  It makes a pretty cheap family night!

Kent and I were brave enough to eat a little different.  Here, the "fast food" staples are "shawarma" and "martabak".  The spelling of these foods can vary.  Shawarma has thinly sliced meat wrapped in pita bread with veggies and sauce.  I had one on the way home from Jeddah the other day and found it a little dry.  I imagine it's like hamburgers in the US though - there's probably a lot of variation in the way they are prepared and in the way they taste.  I'll have to try it again.  Martabak is sort of like a stuffed pancake.  The dough is rolled round and paper thin and it can be stuffed with all kinds of foods.  For dinner I had a chicken martabak which turned out to be a little milder than Kent's lamb.  For dessert we had banana martabak, which I had previously tried on my trip home from Jeddah.  The banana martabak tastes a lot like banana bread and custard.  Neither Kent or I were completely enamored with the chicken or lamb versions, but I really like the banana one.  Check out the left sidebar if you're interested in seeing how these foods are made.

My shopping trip to Jeddah was a little disappointing.  I was hoping to find a few home goods such as coat hangers, bathroom items, and a mattress topper (my bed came with an EXTRA firm mattress - I thought I was sleeping on the box springs!)  I found the prices high and the selection low and if I had to do it over again I would bring more of these items with me.  Shower curtains, toothbrush holders, soap dispensers, bath room rugs and such are all inexpensive with tons of variety in the US, but here they are cheap in appearance but not in price.  Traffic in Jeddah is insane.  I wouldn't drive there even if I could!  At the supermarket on campus  today, I noticed a large sign reminding drivers that a red traffic light means to stop - always!  Apparently drivers here consider it just a suggestion!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Licensed to drive, Hitting the Saudi Trifecta

Another great week has past here in the Kingdom (Saudi Arabia that is, not to be confused with the Magical Kingdom which I am sure would have some sort of trademark infringement ;-). From the few bits of communication that I had with Tennessee, it sounds like the family reunion was a great success. I think that Barbara and the kids are now on their way for their westward adventure that will culminate with them joining me at KAUST in the middle of July.

On the local front, because of the inherent amounts of hassle and bureaucracy that come with things I used to take for granted, I continue to celebrate seemingly inconsequential milestones. This week's? Getting a driving license :-)

I went into the adventure with the anticipation that there would be mind-numbing bureaucracy, ambiguous expectations, and poor customer service. I am glad to report that I once again hit the trifecta, but since my expectations were so low I could smile about it and mumble my new favoriate phrase from the movie Madagascar, "just smile and wave boys, just smile and wave"

I was fortunate to have someone to warn me so I was sort of prepared. We met at Government Affairs at KAUST and then had to arrange your own transport to the licensing place north of campus about 45 km. I had already lined up a car and driver (320 SAR/ ~$85USD) and was able to help out a guy so we split the car which was nice. Once we got to Rabigh our first order of business was to get a green folder. I already had one, but since this was the one that our GA rep suggested, and it was only 2 SAR (~0.53 USD) I got one. This worked out because it had some posts for holding paper and it was what was expected.

Next we go to the clinic for our driving physical (60 SAR, ~$16 USD). This consisted of a blood test and an eye exam. The blood test was one that I actually could have studied for. It went like this, "Do you know your blood type?", "A positive", "now go up stairs to the eye exam". (I just hope that I remembered right ;-) Now it is my belief the eye exam is not simply a test to see if you can read signs, but it also tests your ability to follow vague directions, your willingness to wander aimlessly, and even a bit of Latin. As we walk up the stairs there are no helpful signs (in any language) to assist us with our quest. I just happened to see a door down a hallway that said "ophtha office".

 I thought that sounds like ophthalmologist, let's see. We were met by a nice young lady who directed us back down the hall to a waiting area. In the waiting area some of the people had numbers so we went back down in search of such a thing for ourselves. When we were unsuccessful, we asked the woman and she said we didn't need them. After a little while we were led back down the hall where she took each of us into the doctors office, flashed some letters on the wall, and then had us leave the paperwork with the doctor. After a few minutes she brought it back and we headed in search of a doctor in the ER who had to sign and stamp our papers.

From here we went out to the driving facility a few miles away. First we had to get our English driver's licensed translated into Arabic (90 SAR/ $24USD) He was in this little shack across from the actual testing facility and kept pretty busy, but I think he gave everyone the best customer service of the whole adventure. We then paid our license fee (I took the 5 year option @ 240 SAR/ ~$64USD) and headed across the street to window #4 (which was of course empty). Fortunately one of our merry band was already in a different line so we lined up behind him. Once we got to the front we found out that we needed to get a stamp from the windows behind us, so we did and came back.

Then we had to go out for our test drive. There are already about a dozen people when I get there and only 2 cars driving around the middle of the facility and it looked pretty extensive, but they just kept driving. Finally a couple of officers came out and started to get in a couple of other cars. One asked who knew how to drive stick and instantly his car was full before I could get to it. Fortunately they drove one lap and it was my turn. We got in with a guy who said he could drive stick (because there was still a number of people waiting to drive the automatic), but after he stalled it twice trying to start out the officer made him get out and I jumped behind the wheel. We buckled up drove 20 yards, and he said good, now pull over. We played a little Chinese fire drill, and by the time we finished the lap all 3 of use had passed the test.

Now it is about noon and I am thinking that we might make it out before dhuhr (the prayer after midday). We get inside and there is no line  My Muslim Pro app (a must for any logistical considerations in KSA) tells me dhuhr is going to happen a 12:22 so we have about 20 minutes. What do I find when I get to the window? That's right, NOONE! For the next 20 minutes I am anxiously hoping that we will see this officer and he can take our forms. And then we see him with about 3 minutes to spare. As expected, he tells me to sit down until after prayers (just smile and wave boys, just smile and wave). Fortunately there is a cafeteria next door and I was able to get a couple of CHEAP sandwiches (2 SAR).

After prayers, our would be benefactor sits patiently in his chair drinking his coffee and to his credit our line of people didn't bother him a bit. I decided to sit down in a different area that is a bit cooler, but away from the window. After a few minutes one of my traveling buddies comes in and says that the network crashed. Finally about 2:00 we get his final stamp (sidenote: this paper had 7 stamps when it was done, not to mention the signatures that didn't have a stamp) and are then told that the license will be ready tomorrow. KAUST Government Affairs will pick it up and send me an email to come pick it up. So I should probably get it tomorrow or Sunday.

Green Folder: 2 SAR
"Physical": 60 SAR
Translation: 90 SAR
5 year License: 240 SAR
Driver and car: 320 SAR
Winning the Saudi Trifecta: PRICELESS!!

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Saudi Day

What a Saudi kind of day!

It started out with my first trip to Jeddah to get some things for the house, and mainly my first Jeddah experience. Jeddah is about 3.5 million people and the metropolitan location that you go to get those things that you just can't find in the local area. My friend was trying to confirm a cruise to Egypt that he is planning to take in a few weeks so he offered to take me along and I was glad to go. He sent me a message that he would be ready to go around 9:15, so after a a quick run through a community garage sale (didn't really find anything) I met up with him and another friend from work and we headed on the adventure that started out in true Saudi style.

When he had picked up the Tahoe at the rental agency they requested that he get an updated sticker at the security gate. Now me, I would sort of think that is the kind of thing car rental company would usually do that rather than clients, but many things are unique for me, so I wasn't to surprised. So we did so and headed to Jeddah.

The trip there was pretty uneventful, but you could feel that defensive driving is important. On the cool side I did see a couple of herds of camels with a couple running along side the road at one point. So we get into Jeddah and the irony of me not being able to drive because I don't have a Saudi license yet seems kind of humorous (I guess they will be quizzing me on things such as not using turn signals or making sure that I understand solid white and yellow lines alongside the road are simply optional).

So Jerry is driving along and taking it all in stride, but he is not actually 100% sure where we are headed. He had Googled the location and thought that he had it down, but it didn't work out quite that way. We drove around a number of areas that we thought it was supposed to be, but no luck. After awhile (and some spicy chicken from a great little chain) Jerry decided it wasn't worth it and will work with the travel agent here on campus.

We then started to head back to KAUST with the intent to stop off at a SOCO store (like the illegitimate spawn of Dollar General and Lowe's). Not really high end stuff, mostly housewares and outdoor rec., but SOME reasonably priced stuff. I bought a dust mop and some other stuff and headed out the door. We next went to grocery store that is in the same mall, but they don't open the gate to the hall so you have to go clear out and come back in on the other end of the building. In this store I found a dust mop for about 25% of the price and some other things like camel steak (at a later date I will tell you how that comes out). We leave and head back to SOCO to return my high priced dust mop.

The return wasn't as bad as I had expected, with the only difference being that you have to get an invoice and then take it to a cash register to actually get your money. I mean who doesn't feel ripped off if you only got to stand in ONE line. Fortunate for me the register that I went to only had 5's so he couldn't give me the refund and I got to stand in a 3rd line (I know your jealous, but that is how I roll). While I am waiting in my 2nd line I see one of the guys come in and I assume he is looking for me since he heads to the customer service counter. I get his attention so that he knows I am standing in a different line. He tells me that someone had just backed into the truck an he was trying to get a police officer to come fill out a report.

I finish up my line standing and go out to see what is going on. A few people standing around waiting on the cops and a suburban bashed into us and the car next to us.

We're the silver one
After a few more phone calls we find out that the police aren't coming. The guy who backs into us acted like he was drunk, (which is interesting in a country without booze). He decides he has been there long enough and proceeds to drive off. He about aces the ATM that is near us and takes off. We stick around for a bit and finally call the rental place and they are alright with us just bringing it back since we have a number of pictures.

Once on campus, things start to go the other Saudi way. I get invited over to visit a family that is KAUST. On my way over there I get some shots of the Red Sea and campus.

Red Sea looking through the harbor out to the Red Sea

The canal that separates "the Island" from the mainland

Looking across the beach towards the Red Sea

 Looking across the beach towards the Red Sea

Looking across the beach towards the Red Sea

Red Sea sunset

Following these shots I met up at Discovery Square and had some good dinner and conversation.

The irony of Saudi Arabia was truly on display. It included large portions of bureaucracy but ended with fantastic views and great people. I think the pluses definitely outweigh the minuses and I really am going to enjoy it here.

Best wishes to all,

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Quick tour around campus

All right it is time for some site seeing. It was about 110 F (or 44 as they like to call it here ;-), so these are from when I first arrived and have not had time to post UNTIL NOW. The first stop on any tour of KAUST has to focus on "the Beacon". This is an amazing structure with multicolored lights at night. It really is the focus of the harbor and amazing to see.

KAUST Beacon

Next on the tour we have little jelly fish. This is only a picture of one, but later on we came near a pier and there were dozens. It was about the size of a salad or dinner plate. I am told that their sting shouldn't give you any trouble, but I have seen Finding Nemo and am not ready to take the chance ;-) Representing with some Tennessee Orange for the friends back at Tech (sure I only bought it because it was on the clearance rack, but still :-)

KAUST and the Jellys dude!!!
Now we will take a little detour for some liquid refreshment from the past. I mean really when was the last time that you saw a pull tab on a can of soda? Another funny thing is that they don't have diet soda, they have "light".

Coke Light, 80's style
The final destination will be to the office. Our desks are located around the perimeter of this wide open space. Very amazing architecturally, but I do miss having a door (or even a wall for that matter ;-)

Well that is about all for now.

Best wishes,


Friday, June 1, 2012

When the Sabbath isn't Sunday

It's funny as I close out my first official week at KAUST I have been able to adjust to most things a lot easier than I had expected. I am told that it isn't usually this hot and humid (about 110F/~43C) , this early in the year (I guess my pattern of bringing weather extremes in my wake continues ;-). Fortunately, this has not been as bad as I had expected and I am adjusting well.

Then there is the jet lag that everyone talked about. Again this has not been bad. I think that this may have had more to do with the fact that my last 48 hours in the states accounted for about 3 hours sleep, with only 2 more on the plane from DC to Jeddah. It seems that the cure for jet lag is extreme exhaustion.

So it would seem to be smooth sailing if I have already knocked out my two greatest concerns, right? WRONG!!! I can't get used to the week/ weekend. This was best epitomized this morning (Friday) when I received a phone call that my ride to Church was waiting in the driveway. This turned out to be problematic since the call had woken me up :-( So I sent them on their way and was thinking how did I miss my alarm, and then it hit me, I SET IT FOR SUNDAY!!! I have been using my tablet as my alarm clock, and it has worked very well. So I set it last night when I went to bed, heck I even named it "Sunday Alarm" Once I realized what had happened I fixed the alarm, and renamed it "Friday alarm"

I was fortunate that yesterday I was able to meet most of the members that are here at KAUST and was able to have dinner on the square with them and get to know them better. I even went and helped one family move some furniture. A true quorum activity ;-) Downside being that one of the families will be moving back to the States here in the next couple of weeks, and another family will be leaving until the end of August. Regardless, I think they are going to be a great group of people, I just wished that I had been able to go to church with them today :-(

I am sure at some point I will get this all worked through, but it sure is annoying for now.

Best wishes,


Check out this picture that one of people sent me from his morning run.

Picture of the KAUST Beacon at day break

Monday, May 28, 2012

4 Bedroom House at Kaust and the Nieghborhood

So my first day at KAUST was really a good start, but the family wants some pictures of the neighborhood first so lets start with that. Unfortunately due to some technical difficulties and paperwork, I will have to give a more though review of my trip and start at KAUST another day (probably tomorrow ;-)

Park across the street from our house. Our house is on the left about 4 houses up.

From the Park

Across the street. Yeah those are our palm trees ;-)

Looking back at the park from the porch.


2nd floor deck area off of what will be the room that shares two kids room

2nd floor deck area off of what will be the room that shares two kids room

View of park from Kid's Balcony

View of one of the schools from the kid's balcony

View of the front yard from the kid's balcony

Kids Bed Room (they are all very similar)

Kid's Bath. Each bedroom has its own Bathroom
Master bedroom deck (but I'm not bitter :-(

Back yard from master bed room Deck

Other side of yard
Sorry no pictures of Master Bedroom. I will try and get some after I get it cleaned up (you know boys with no adult supervision ;-) That about does it for now. It is pushing 01:00 in the Kingdom and I am beat. Nite nite and best wishes.


Saturday, May 26, 2012


Kent left at 5:30 this morning and is currently halfway between here and Jeddah.  The kids and I took Granny to the airport in Nashville today and had a wonderful stop at Centennial Park. Check out the travel page for more info about Nashville's Parthenon and be sure to check out the slide show to the left for pictures of the kids at the park.  Notice how I'm not in any of them?  It's because Whitney got tired of wearing her pretty pink headband with hearts all over it, so I wore it for her!  I can't have the kids taking a picture of me in that!

Monday, May 21, 2012


This Friday, Kent finally leaves for Saudi Arabia.  The movers were here on Saturday and hauled away everything that will be sent by boat.  We've sold most of the big furniture, the van, and lots of household stuff.  The kids and I will be here one more month and then the rest of our things will be shipped out by plane.  After that shipment leaves, the kids and I will go to the Walker Family Reunion, then travel to Idaho to see the Clawson side of the family and eventually make our way down to Cottonwood, Arizona to see Kent's mom before we leave the country. 

Tomorrow is the last day of school for the kids, so the biggest challenge will be.....

what are 4 kids going to do for a month when virtually all of their stuff is somewhere out there in the middle of the ocean?! 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


They say there are three reason's people might leave their friends, family, and all that is familiar and move to the hot, deserts of Saudi Arabia.  Some say it's the money.  They say you'll get rich.  And if not rich, then maybe debt free.  Some say it's the adventure.  Travel the world.  Learn another language.  If not now, then when?  But then some say it's neither.  Some say you've got something to hide.

So, why would I go?  If I said money, would you think I was greedy?  If I said the adventure, would you thing I was irresponsible?  What if I said I had something to hide?

Well, if I had something to hide, I wouldn't be posting it on this silly blog now, would I?!!