Friday, September 23, 2016

My Great Adventure

When I was in Mrs. Dyer's fifth grade class, in 1972
she told us we had a very special opportunity to study an exotic country for the next six weeks:
Saudi Arabia.
We each received a medium sized cardboard box holding several items that were going to help us
learn more about it--I can't recall everything, but I do remember the strand of prayer beads rolling around in the box.
I didn't get to study Saudi Arabia though, because my parents did their annual Let's Split-Up gig
that Spring and I ended up going with my dad and staying at my grandparents house for a few weeks,
completely missing the Saudi Arabian adventure.  I got to keep the box, but never learned what any of it meant--and I mean, I kept that box for a decade with its mysterious beads inside.

On July 9th, I set off for my Grand Adventure from Colorado to Saudi Arabia to visit my daughter, Danielle and her family as they prepared for the birth of their fourth child.  I chronicled the whole trip on Facebook, dragging my friends and family along (virtually) on my journey.
So here's my Facebook account of my Great Adventure:

"Packed and ready for my Great Adventure:
#littlenervous #beatravellernotatourist #lifeisthegreatestadventure#newgrandbabyinSaudi #momzalife #gramzalife"

 Well the first leg of my great adventure has been eventful. My flight from Denver to Dallas started more than 2hours late which put me in Dallas exactly 3 minutes before my connecting flight to Abu Dhabi left. American airlines has put me up for the night in a Hilton, and food vouchers too. Tomorrow I will take a different route: Frankfurt Germany to Damman, Saudi Arabia...arriving on Wednesday afternoon. The waits have been long today, but I have met some very kind people along the way. #nocomplaints#momzalife #gramzalife #mygreatadventure #justgowithit

Today I woke up with a grateful heart and a rested body. Upon reflection I can see little tender mercies so far: the American airlines agent in Dallas was Arabic and so very helpful planning my re-route to Saudi Arabia. He spent over an hour with me trying different routes to my specific needs and was so kind as to even call the hotel shuttle service for me and clearly gave me directions to find it. Another thing is that my SIL, Brad encouraged me to pack a change of clothes in my carry-on --"just in case"--That was brilliant! And this morning I have had a lovely breakfast courtesy American airlines and am feeling ready for my unplanned but Awesome trip to Frankfurt, Germany! This adventure is going pretty well! #mygreatadventure#momzalife #gramzalife #seethegood #tendermercies
Third leg of my great adventure: my luggage is lost. It didn't arrive here in Frankfurt. Also, the Frankfurt airport wins the gold for the most difficult Airport I have ever been through -- their transportation system Skyline is broken, so one must either walk from huge terminal to huge terminal Or make sure to ask the right person how to get from terminal to terminal. Thre A/C is broken is some areas and of Interesting note is that I had a bomb squad (full military attire to include weapons) go through my carry-on every bit, also had to go through Security 4 times AND I was blessed by a Priest when I walked by him a third time with an airport employee; she said, "that priest just blessed you." So I must look like I need Heavenly help, yes? I board for Saudi in a few minutes and the scarf I was going to put on my head is in the lost arriving in Damman will be interesting...of course.

 Whew! Made it! Learned so much in the past three days. Mostly, that great adventures come with little bumps along the way and are worth it. Thanks for your prayers and good thoughts! This is the Persian Gulf out the door of Dani' and Brad's villa.

Great adventure highlights:
Luggage location is still undetermined, though the popular thought is that it's still in Dallas.
To get into the country, Saudi has a very long process: once deboarding the plane one has to show a boarding pass and passport, then Everyone Runs to another room -- I had no idea what the rush was to what I thought was Baggage claim. Turned out it is another room with lines for people to show their passport to enter the Kingdom. There were about 12 people in front of the line I got into at first., With easily another 100 already in other lines. I thought it might take a few minutes.
Within 10 minutes or so that room filled up with at least 1000 people, 99% of them men who've come to work in Saudi. I was the only American woman that I could see in the room, standing next to 2 American and 1 British men. That was a tender mercy. There were Muslim families also entering SA for the first time...little ones crying from fatigue and hunger.
I passed crackers that I had brought in my bag, up and down my line to the little one's parents. No matter the language or cultural differences, we all know how to care for children.
I stood in that line for 3 hours. I was so stinkin' tired, but the Londoner had a keen sense of humor and the Louisiana native was kind , so the three of us laughed and encouraged each other along making the frustration of watching the Saudis move like sloths bearable.
I cannot imagine how long the men in that room behind me had to wait until they were moved through. Definitely all through the night.
I tried to think of a similar situation I may have had in the US and the closest is probably the DMV...only we have chairs there and pull paper numbers for service.
We did have a minor bit of excitement when a scuffle happened in the way back of the room. I have no idea what was the cause or solution, but it was over as quickly as it started and officials in thobes handled it quickly.
Brad and his driver were waiting for me in a sea of men once I left baggage claim. There is no Wi-Fi in the airport so I was happy when my phone rang and Brad was on the other end! I had to go to baggage lost and found to report my missing luggage, before leaving the airport. That took another half hour.
I have never seen so many men in my life all in one place. It was weird.
They stared at this old lady with no head scarf like I was an alien. I tried to borrow or buy a head scarf in Frankfurt but to no avail. Turned out not to be a big deal as the officials said nothing about it to me. Instead they asked me about Colorado and one guy told me his favorite place in the USA is Portland Oregon, and suggested I go there sometime. Ha-ha.
We got home around 1:30am.
So that sums up my trip here through today. It is wonderful to be here with Danielle's family. The sacred grandchildren and I played in the Persian Gulf tonight before dinner-- which I think is a great insight into Heavenly Father's plan for our lives! He is so willing to show us an exciting life if we let Him lead the way.
Stay tuned. This great adventure is just beginning.

 Me and my abeya #mygreatadventure #persiangulf #sayyestothedress

 Khobar: I spy with my little eye a McD's and Papa John's...also seen: Dunkin donuts, Popeyes chicken, KFC, Red Lobster, Baskin Robbins, Burger King, apple store, Quiznos, and more.

Grocery shopping at Tamimis in Khobar including American brands, interesting types of regional foods, seeds and dates.
 Seeds of every kind
 Tamimi's grocery store is owned by Safeway, so familiar foods are there too!
 Groceries at Tamimis are varied: desserts, many kinds of soft cheese and cream, and olives galore!
 Lunch in Khobar... delicious! Sliced cooked eggplant with soft burrata cheese over fresh veggies and balsamic vinegar.

Can you guess what this is?

Yesterday we went to Khobar to the hospital where Dani is due to deliver the baby. it was very unique in design. Outside it was a stone fortress but the inside looked like the restaurant called The Rainforest Cafe with fake greenery hanging all over the ceiling and walls and bamboo rods and fan blades, a huge Koi pond and waterfall feature with French Rococo gilded gold painted everything. it was interesting to say the least. one thing the doctors here have in common with western doctors is that they spend about 5 minutes with the patient and the nurses do the rest. 😷. Dani's been scheduled for an induction next week. Today was another new experience:
Friday is a Holy Day in Saudi; it was an excellent day spent with new lovely people who inspired me to appreciate the many blessings I have in life more fully.
I watched the sun rise on the shore of the Persian gulf and felt in awe of this opportunity to be on this side of the world. It never crossed my mind that Heavenly Father would have such a grand surprise for me! Especially in times of hardship, I never imagined that someday I would be in the land of the Old Testament. I have heard the broadcasted call to prayers throughout the day and I wondered why that is a practice of their faith when I realized it is also a practice of mine. We are admonished to "pray always" by our ancient and modern day prophets. While it is clear to see why it was and is essential to pray for sustenance here in this desolate land of eternal sand, I realized that I can be better about praying more often for the protection I need and sustenance I need for my well-being too. And I shouldn't need a loud speaker to remind me from where my blessings come. So many lessons have I learned, I hope I remember them. P.S. tomorrow we are going to the airport hoping that my luggage is there.

Saudi Adventure today included going to the Airport to pick up luggage, bc according to @AmericanAirlines it should be in Dammam. It is not. That's 6 days since I last saw my belongings. If anyone has any ideas on how to track down luggage, I would sure appreciate it. (American airlines has not been one bit helpful. I will never fly AA again.)
After the airport, we went to a large mall. Entering, one had to go through Security first. It is a as good a mall as one would find in the USA...but instead of a fast-food court, there were full restaurants like Western Sizzler, Outback and alot of others. The stores included the ones I photographed; Gap, Timberland, Fossil, as well as Old Navy, Versace, Banana republic, etc. There is a neat home goods store that is a cross between Home Depot and IKEA that I liked alot. The IKEA is actually across the street from the mall. Everything is more expensive than the states, especially American stuff.
There's a huge children's play place that the kids played in-- not cheap. They even charge for adults to watch the kids!
There was the call to prayer while we're there and all shop employees stop working, and doors close until prayer time is over, about 20 minutes. There's even a male and separate female prayer room in the mall and we saw alot of people enter those places. Some actually went in and prayed while others, mostly young people sorta hung out but didn't go to the room to pray. As for clothing, well, under abeyas women can wear anything they want. They don't have to dress modestly at home, just in public. The young adults are more trendy with their haircuts and style.
It was pretty blasted hot today, so my enthusiasm for the abeya waned through out the day. I am not a fan of wearing layers of clothing in the heat.
On a sweet note, total strangers asked if they could take pics or videos of Dani's youngest, Gracie with her blonde hair and blue eyes.ypung and old alike are enchanted by our cutie.
Tomorrow we will make calls to the States about my luggage... I sure hope they find it.

Out for dinner in Khobar:

Saudi Adventure today: First off, my luggage is here!! It arrived and we'll go get it tmrw!😊 Dinner tonight was authentic Indian food at Maharaja which was so so so different than the Indian restaurants in the US. Each booth has a curtain so that women can unveil their faces to eat. Brad asked the server if he could go to the kitchen to watch our butter chicken being prepared and was allowed to. The presentation of food was great, bc it's so colorful. Especially the biryani rice! Orange, yellow and bright red rice with delicate spicy flavor with cilantro, cloves, cinnamon, & cardamom.
Dani and I also went in search of a GNC store; found one but it wasn't open. That's a thing here in Saudi -- shop owners open and close their stores at will. So we went back tonight and it was open.
We also went to a book store, Jarir and found some fun stuff there including toys that had a dress up set for girls of a prayer outfit or a pretend abeya. There was a children's religious book written by a Muslim author about the prophet Job wherein he was told by Allah to lash his wife with grasses, "but gently". ?? Different point of view, definitely.
And lastly, we I took pics of different junk food items bc the packaging is quite bright.
Dani's housekeepers and Nannies are all Philipino and adore her children. Their drivers are Indian and also dote on her children. It makes me feel grateful to know my kids are so well taken care of.
It was in the low 100s today and windy, making the Persian Gulf a bit choppy.

 At the pool tonight with the family. It sits right at the Persian gulf and you can see the dust in the air. Makes for a beautiful sunset though, yeah?

Out and about today in the Royal Commission area. The streets are landscaped and clean, the homes are lovely for the area. On our way to the airport, we passed several camels walking in a line in the desert-- missed photo opportunity for sure! Oh and camels are not the light brown ones we see in US zoos-- their fur is dark brown--we even saw an albino one.
We went to McD's with another expatriate friend of Dani's today so the kids could play-- it is not any better food than in the USA.
We got a weather warning that the temperature is 105 /50% humidity, with a Real Feel of 132o. As the airport security guy said this morning, "America? Welcome!"

My Luggage did arrive, but it was destroyed on the journey. Etihad Airlines had it the whole time. I was not reimbursed for the damages--they lived up to their reputation of not dealing with damaged/lost luggage, and of course, American Airlines passed the buck on that one.  I left it behind for disposal.

Heading to the hospital this morning in Khobar. (3:31am) for a planned induction. So very excited to welcome a new granddaughter to this life! Prayers are so appreciated, my people.

 Introducing Hannah Marie! All 6.13oz of perfection. Mom and baby are doing great.

 Brad was rooming-in with Dani...this is the best the hospital could do. He wasn't complaining though!

A very tired Momma. I love my girl.

My Great Saudi Adventure hit the mark today with the safe arrival of Hannah. It went so well! 
We weren't sure what to expect, but the Rainforest Cafe Hospital is amazing!
We left at 3:30am bc it's an hour and a half away. So we got there around 5:15am. Brad had to pay for the epidural up front--and it's alot less expensive than in the US. 
Dani's medical team was so great-- she was well taken care of -- they brought her some eggs and milk and juice and a cream cheese type of spread with pita bread, plus corn flakes. They don't starve the laboring mom like hospitals in US do. Dani labored and delivered in the same room. Once the prostaglandin was ordered, the pharmacy had to send it up. Oh, and all charting is done by hand on paper and pen. Some of their equipment is dated but worked fine. Her Jordanian doctor visited early, but then he left her in the care of a female Lebanese doctor who was lovely and skillful. Her nurses were from India and Medina, SA.
So labor got started and baby was born within 4 hours. It went smoothly as can be. Coincidentally, one of their good friends was also there to deliver a baby girl and her labor was 2 hours from their arrival. It was a good day at Saad hospital. Dani did great and Brad did too.😁 Thanks for all of your prayers and support! I love my family.

Just a quick FYI: 117o with 50% Humidity outside produces this gorgeous view from the inside of a comfortable A/C'd home.

Bringing Hannah Home:

The boys worked hard to make posters, a cake and decorations for Hannah's Homecoming

Gracie meeting her new sister. She gave Hannah lots of sweet kisses.

 Guess what's over here in Saudi Arabia?!

Brad teaching G. how to play chess

"Family" in Arabic

 Dani's got some amazing support over there in Saudi and these are little Thank You cards I made:

A windy day on the Gulf would be my last day in Saudi:

 There's an artist wall in the Clubhouse that I really liked:

 Wrapping up this Saudi Adventure in two days! Time has flown by! The boys and I hung out at the pool this morning before it got too hot. #110intheshade#notadryheat #gramzalife

At the Rainforest Hospital for a check up:

The last night, Dani & Brad treated me to this Amazing Brazilian restaurant:

Danielle has 2 nannies that come daily to help her out--they're the sweetest, loveliest women you could ever hope to take care of your family when you live so far away. 

 My new friend, Marilou, made this delicious Philipino dish for me to try: "Pansit" & banana pancakes.
And this was really good too!

My Saudi Arabian Adventure is closing as I am waiting at the airport. It is 2am here. This part of the journey, leaving the country, has been completely uneventful. 😁 I have learned so much in 3short weeks... mostly that this faraway land of desert, date trees, camels, and exceedingly hot temps is not what I expected. The citizens are respectful, gracious and welcoming. Their cultural differences, however stark from ours, are not as many as is promulgated in the US. They embrace much of American style and trends. They drive Chevys and Fords, as well as Toyota and Nissan. They wear Nike's and Timberland and other brand names. They listen to American music on the radio -- from Madonna to Justin Bieber (unfortunately😋) and everything in between. They serve their families Corn flakes and Cheerios, pop tarts and Florida orange juice.
Every Saudi and/or Muslim I have met, whether in the airport security stations, at the malls and restaurants, or the many personal drivers that chauffeured us around -- each and every one of them were kind and gracious. They have a regard for America as being a place of excellence in commerce, quality and expressed desires to visit someday.
This is a special place -- caught between ancient practices and modern awareness. As my SIL Brad explained, they are look for God's favor as they built their many mosques, and reverted back to ancient customs, such as wearing the abeya.
I wasn't sure about that abeya to start with-- it's impractical, for sure. But seriously, I came to appreciate what it means and am grateful that I had the chance to wear one while here.
I started looking forward to hearing the daily broadcast prayers. Reminding me to be more purposeful in living my own faith.
The people who live in Dani's world here are a different kind of people-- all are foreigners, from her nannies, housecleaners, drivers, to her ward families, doctors and nurses-- for the most part, they are not Saudi Arabian, but hail from other faraway lands. They've come here to make money to send back home to their families, they smile at the "Saudi way", blending their own traditions with new ones. And truly, they have an air of gratitude to be here, living their lives with a smile. I have been blessed to be in their midst and hope to return. Hopefully in a cooler season.
The next leg of my Great Adventure continues as I meet my good friend from Colorado Springs in Rome, Italy tomorrow. The trip is a gift from Dani and Brad to me and I am so looking forward to it. Pray for my surviving piece of luggage.😊...the journey continues, my people!!

My fifth grade teacher would be impressed.