Saturday, 12 January 2013

Masalama Riyadh

January is no longer in its infancy and our year in the desert is well behind us. We came home on the 17th of December to a crazy time of travelling to Hester's wedding in Vryburg, the never-ending building project at home, sorting out our belongings (those that stayed in the house while we were away, those that came with us, and those that are yet to come with the courier company) and then a last minute, gruelling, fieldwork trip to Marakele.

At last, the inlaws have gone home (boy, is Mieke missing them!), our suitcases are unpacked, we don't have any serious comittments for the rest of this week. Rean and Mieke have taken a walk to the post office, leaving me with a few quiet moments to write.

This is probably my last entry to the blog. I'm going to miss saving up thoughts to write here. I'm also going to miss quite a few other things from my time in Sandland. A suprising one is my vast collection of abayas. Wearing the black robe in public became such a part of my life, and the secondhand souq provided me with glorious collection of abayas with styles and trims for every mood. I left them all there of course, except for my favourite. It has wide flimsy greensleeves style sleeves embroidered with blue, yellow, green and red wool. That brings me to another thing I am going to be dreaming nostalgically about for years to come; the secondhand souq. That, (and camping in the desert) is something every woman should experience if ever she finds herself in that part of the world.

My biggest loss is the social life I managed to carve out amongst the ladies in the compound. I grew up thinking of myself as antisocial and I have never been able to make friends easily. But in Seder Village I was drawn into various social groups. Back home, plopped into my old haunts, I find it difficult to hold onto the me I was in Riyadh. Of course this is not the same place and I will never be that me again because I occupy a different space now, but I hope that I can hold onto some of the growth I was able to achieve in the past year. Here is a sketch of some of the ladies I will miss most:

Cecelia was my neighbour for only a month. Our front doors opened facing one another so we saw each other every day. One afternoon she knocked on my door to come and show me the crazy, bright, pink sequinced ball gown she had bought at the secondhand souq. It looked so beautiful on her! She and Sandy were between microwaves, so she sometimes popped in to heat something in our microwave, passed on a few delicious recipes, showed us how to make paper chain dolls and snowflakes, drew chalk pattern and rainbows with us on our fences, generally listened to my woes and  invited me to gatherings with ladies in her social group.

Grace is such a graceful lady who has inspired me deeply. I had lunch with her after outings on the shopping bus a few times and we had such wonderful long talks about Australian aboriginal issues, faith and personal growth. I almost always saw her with earphones, she loved to fill her life with 'beautiful noise', happy bright music.

Linda and her two daughter, Grace and Hannah and her husband Javier, took in our whole family. The first months of our stay I felt quite out of my depth, especially with Mieke. We were stuck indoors in that tiny shoebox house most of the time,  and it seemed that everyone was frowning at my parenting choices. I was so thankful for being able to talk to Linda about this, and she and her two girls showed me such a beautiful example of what moms and daughters can be together. The whole Cifuentes family also gave us such deep spiritual support. I loved every moment of being their friend!

Liz was the lady who arranged all the teaparties, she knew and was friends with everyone, she was the larger-than-life popular girl on the block, beautiful, an incredible cook and entertainer, fashion guru and mommy extraordinaire. To my great surprise, I found myself slap bang in the middle of her social circle. I really enjoyed dressing up and going to tea at Liz's with the other mommies, Nur, Romana, Danny, Ilgi. We had a fingerpainting day, a musical afternoon, made handprints with our babies, swopped hand-me-downs.

Romana and her little boy, Jibreel, were my and Mieke's best friends during the hot summer months. We spent almost every morning together. This was so precious to me, and Mieke loved her little buddy so much.

Edith came and cleaned our house and played with Mieke a few times a week. I am so thankful for her support when Mieke was sick, and just her general friendship. It was hard saying goodbye to Edith, I miss having her around. Ahmed, the young shop assistant had such a gentle friendship with Mieke, The other mommies who gathered at the pool with their kids in the afternoons, Magda, Adriana, Yani, and so many others were such an important part of our lives.

It is a tradition in the compound, to have a Masalama (farewell) when it is your time to leave. If you don't arrange one, your friends will do it for you. People will come who you didn't even know, but maybe chatted to on the bus once or twice. Well, this is how it was for us. The word of our Masalama spread and quite a few ladies came who I didn't really know. This made me feel that I had really connected at Seder during our year in the desert.

Next week we will start to unpack our boxes which finally arrive tonight. I will try to find spaces for all the nifty Ikea kitchen goodies I accumulated, the piles of toys, and of course, mountains of second-hand clothes.

Masalama Riyadh

Cecilia and Linda at Linda's Christmas party

Fingerpainting with Liz and Charles

Mieke loves Romana and Jibreel

Gonna miss my Abaya

  Friends in the Big Gym

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

A walk along an ancient shore

Apparently this site is not called the 'Edge of the World' but I rather think it should be.

The landscape that I have seen so far has been very flat, with sand dunes on the edge of town, but I had heard of the drop of the escarpment where you can look down into a deep valley. When we received the invitation to go camping with friends, I didn't know that this is where we would be headed!

We drove about an hour out of town, through a wadi which was at first cultivated with stands of palm trees, and then increasingly sparsely populated the further we travelled. Finally we saw only camels and thorn bushes, then we turned off somewhere and came to a stop at the most incredible precipice. The ground was simply littered with fossils of corrals and shells and what the kids told us where the fabled 'Saudi Diamonds'.

Saudi diamonds are quarz crystals that can be cut to look exactly like real diamonds. I have seen these in jewellery. The stories go that they can be picked up in the desert at certain places. Well, we certainly found bucket loads of what I think were quartz crystals. For all we know we can now retire in luxury!

Fossil hunting was certainly a highlight. Once again, we came home with quite a large number of rocks. I wish I could find out more about the natural history of the region and the ancient seabed that has left behind such treasures and beautiful camping spots.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

We were on our way to Turkey when...

Life happens when you're making other plans, they say.

Rean's second bit of annual holiday was to fall over the Eid al-Adha holiday, a week during which the willingness of the prophet ʾIbrāhīm (Abraham) to sacrifice his young first-born son Ismā'īl (Ishmael)a as an act of submission to God's command and his son's acceptance to being sacrificed, is celebrated (Wikipedia). Since we had missed out on our much dreamed of overseas holiday during the first Eid  (Eid al fitr) holiday, we were going to make up for it by going on a holiday to Turkey. I had worked out my pocket money and planned which shopping to do where, which were our must see places, got the guidebooks, travel advice from everyone we knew who had been there, tickets, bookings, transfers, taxis. You get the picture...

Two weeks before we were due to leave Mieke started getting sick. And she got worse and worse. We nebulised, humidified, self medicated, rested, but nothing worked. At last we decided to go look for a doctor. Our medical aid doesn't cover us for the smart 'foreign' english speaking hopsitals. Rean had to wade through lists of local, usually non english speaking hospitals, before we finally found one quite close to us. The doctor who saw us had lived in the States for 16 years, so he spoke english well, and we felt very comfortable with him. He said,'don't worry, she should be better within two days' and gave us paracetamol and ibuprofen syrop to alternate every three hours, day in and day out. But still her fever climbed. By now I had not sleapt for more than three hours a night for about two weeks, and Mieke was really sick. We were really worried about her.

So back to Doctor Basel. He just shook his head and had her admitted to the hospital. The next morning I saw on the breakfast delivery slip that she was diagnosed with pneumonia. It was not a nice experience. They tried six times before they could find a vein to put a drip in. Then to get her to stay still enough to prevent the drip line from pulling out of her foot! That was definitely a challenge.By now we had cancelled our trip and just tried to survive the troubles of the moment.

 Mieke and I spent two whole days and a night there. The antibiotics and whatever else they gave her started to work and Dr Basel felt we could be discharged on wednesday evening. The first leg of our flight to Turkey left at 4am that next morning. Should we go or should we stay? 'Go!' said the doctor, it is a great opportunity, just keep Mieke warm, she should be fine. Hmm, what a choice to make! By now I hadn't sleapt much for three weeks and I was just at the end of my line.

We decided to trust the doctor, and uncancelled our cancellations, got home from the hospital at 7pm that evening, put Mieke to bed, packed and went to sleep. At 1:30am we got up and went to the airport. Halfway through the long long cues, Rean told me he hadn't brought our entry/exit visas! We tried to sweet talk them into letting us through without our visas at the emigration counter. They might have done it, but no way would we have been able to get back into the country. So at 5am that morning, we caught a taxi back home. My only though was of overwhelming relief. Now we could all rest and hopefully sleep!

We spent a week just lounging around at home. Mieke slowly got over the illness and her hospital experience. Turkey was just not meant to be at this time of our lives. Fortunately we managed to get some of our money refunded.

We got news two days ago that Rean's contract won't be renewed, so we are coming home around the middle of December. Thoughts of turkish shopping still haunt me. Obviously that is not going to happen any time soon now. But I'm putting it on my bucket list.

But first, a thousand and one other things....

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Camel Chops and Scorpions

While the wheather is favourable, for the next three months or so, we intend to make the most of camping. Thus a single weekend passed before we loaded our gear again. We drove out to the same camping spot with four other families late on thursday afternoon. We put up our tent and dashed for the dunes. The kids, including our little one simply couldn't get enough of sliding down the dune. I think we migh be responsible for a shift in its position.

The approximate coordinates taken from Google Earth are  25°22'48.54"N and  47°18'10.38"E if you want to check it out. Seder Village is our compound.

We had done some shopping before our trip to stock up on edibles. We had to make a dash before the store closed for prayer time and ended up buying camel chops. I didn't read the label, thinking I had taken cow chops. We decided to live on the edge and give it a go (we made sure to pack in enough snacks for incase!). The ladies back home suggested I marinade it with lemon juice, paprika, ginger, garlic and pepper or olive oil sherry (no go in Riyadh!) and Worchester sauce. Shanahz also suggested we feed the camel rosemary twigs a few days before the braai. We'll keep that in mind for next time. I also added a good dolop of coriander.

On the fire it went with great anticipation but I must have done something wrong because the marinade overpowered the meat completely. So we packed it in and put it in a stir fry the next day. It was very tender by then, and the spice mix was delicious. I must admit that I could't tell the difference between camel meat and cow meat after all.

This time we notice such a variety of animal tracks all over our little camp. A lot of movement must have occurred while we were sleeping as they covered our vehicle tracks the next morning. We looked out for scorpions because we had seen some suspicious burrows the previous time. We found one under someone's tent when they packed up. It is a small brownish little thing. You would never see it in the dark. It is something that worries me a bit, out there far away from civilisation, as nobody wears shoes in the thick sand. We also found a sand lizard or ghecko. It runs across the dune and burrows quickly under the sand. If you find fresh tracks you can see where it is hiding and flush it out. Behind our dune was another small depression with a huge burrow, large enough for a mammal, maybe a fox. Some of the tracks we saw looked like mammal tracks to me. Of course my camera's bateries died when I wanted to photograph them for further investigation, but this gives me an expedition to look forward to. Maybe we could get some of the older kids roped in and make an inventory of all the different tracks and try to identify their owners.

There is a scorpion in the middle there somewhere

Since I didn't have the use of my camera I took some photos on my phone and then of course had to finally figure out how to download the. Rean did the figuring out for me, and so I can also post some pictures that I took of the city to give you an idea of our streetscapes.

Why are clandestine pictures of people sleaping so funny?

Mieke loves to wear her Dad's socks

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

A night under the stars

Since I last wrote, much has happened, yet little worth writing about. We spent our ten day Eid holiday back home in South Africa. We needed some medical advice about Mieke's teeth. We ended up spending a morning in hospital while they performed two root canals and two additional repairs on her little baby teeth. Since she doesn't ever eat sweets or drink juice, the jury's still out on the cause of our problem. But it was a huge relief to be able to speak to someone who we could communicate with and have her teeth seen to. The sight of the black nurses who worked at Femina hospital made me want to cry. They are so warm and soft and sassy. We really shouldn't complain about health care in South Africa, we have much to be thankful for!

Big girl!
Back in Saudi, the long hot summer is slowly drawing to a close. Schools started and kids steadily flowed back into the compound. The poolside had been crowded by moms and kids, all sharing their summer stories. Mieke has started going to the nursery school on the compound. I'm so proud of her, she's so confident and independant and is starting to put together little sentences.

 Three times a week the kids go to the 'Big Gym', a recreation hall next to the restaurant where they play with balls of all shapes and sizes for an hour. The little tots love to stick balls under their T shirts and make 'babies'. Late one afternoon Mieke and Rean went for a walk and she saw one of our neighbours, a man with a big tummy, walking to the pool. She pointed to his tummy and said 'baby!'. I hope he didn't understand, or if he did, that he had a well developed sense of humour.
Jipee, my first ice cream!
Eugh, tiggers don't like ice cream!
 The cooling weather also allows for other activities to recommence, such as camping. On the spur of the moment we decided to join some friends for a night under the stars. We rushed to a huge camping store and had the most incredible fun choosing camping gear. I really learnt something about the local people there. Camping is really a feature, although not really the domain of women. They sell all their equipment in nicely sewn bags with pockets and zips and velcro, toilet paper bags to hook from the roof of whatever, grill bags, cooler bags of all shapes and sizes, wind shields with matching bags etc etc. Camping carpets, amazing sleeping bags. The list just goes on and on. Guess what you're all getting for christmas!

At 4pm on friday afternoon we jumped in our car and drove out to the dunes. Only about an hour out is a wadi that lies between the gravel plains and the red dunes and here is a sheltered spot where we put up our tents. The kids spent the evening climbing up the dunes and sliding down, and the grownups made a fire and cooked dinner, and chatted, or simply listened to the quiet as I did. It was warm and dreamy, quiet and safe. The next morning we had an early breakfast and then packed up and came back home since it still gets quite hot early in the day.

This is definitely something we're going to be doing often in the coming months. It was wonderful!

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Rainbow Spagetti

As promised, here are some pictures of our Rainbow Spagetti. The pasta stuck to the paper nicely on its own, it wasn't neccessary to use glue. When we were done for the day, I put the remaining pasta in seperate ziploc bags and keep them in the fridge until next time. O yes, and a nice twist is to put glitter in the pasta. It looks beautiful!

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Words in our lives

We got our Iquamas! After seven months of waiting and regular inconvenient travelling, it feels as though we have surely earned them! Now we can apply for a medical aid and get ourselves really settled in. We shouldn't complain though, I heard of a family who have been waiting for two years where for most people the process takes three or four days.

It's getting really hot. As I write the mercury is soaring to 47degrees C in the shade outside my front door. Practically it means that we don't really go out after 8am and before 5pm although we do go to meet the shopping bus at 9am and go to join the nursery school children for a run in the gym hall at 10am. The we walk quickly and go strait there and back, you can really feel the heat melting you bit by bit.

Ramadan started yesterday. For the ladies in the compound this means that shops are only open after 8pm, although we can get groceries during the day. We are all careful not to eat in public, not even drink water in respect of everyone who is fasting.

I thought you might enjoy a few beautiful words that have infiltrated our lives. My favourite is habibi which is arabic for 'child' and is used by the compound ladies with a very specific inflection when their offspring venture into the realm of the disallowed (if you know what I mean). Then there is matapat which is the word used for a speed bump, shukran; thank you,  inshallah; if God wills.

Mieke and I have been trying to get creative with things to keep busy with. There is a wonderful website with incredible activities for little people that is currently our favourite: We recently had a green glitter bath with lost of green glitter, food colouring and different textured toys. I was a bit too cautious with the food colouring though. Next time...

Painted pasta is fun to stick into play dough, and can be sorted into endless variations of kitchen containers. It is also nicely crunchy underfoot and can be used to paint things with if you mix some spit with the pasta.

One of our favourite was a huge big bowl of spagetti. The idea is really to colour it into rainbow colours using food colouring. I just wanted to test out the concept. We'll try rainbow spagetti this week and post a picture!

Four and bran are fun and relatively easy to clean from the floor and furniture. Nice to scoop and sweep with your hands, spoons, brooms and all sorts of things. You can also rub it all over your body without permanent effects.

The littel flour footprints all over the house just melted by heart...