Sunday, November 4, 2012

O MAN!

"We may lose and we may win
though we will never be here again
so open up, I'm climbin' in,
so take it easy" - The Eagles


Last weekend was the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha or Feast of the Sacrifice. This is when they celebrate Ibrahim's (Abraham) obedience to God when he was willing to offer his son Ismail (Ishmael) as a human sacrifice. Then, God showed his mercy by providing a ram for the sacrifice instead.  I won't get into the theology of the symbolism of a blood sacrifice in the first place, or the interesting differences between Islam and Christianity with regards to the chosen son... for us, it was a 4 day weekend. We decided it was a good time to head out to the rocky desert wilderness for some camping.... in Oman.

It is not a little task to consider taking 4 young children (one of them still part-time nursing and unable to converse or be logically reasoned with in the English language) and pack them in a crowded vehicle for a 7-8 hour drive into the middle of nowhere in a foreign country where you have never been.  Daunting. But, with two other families in our caravan, we said "what the heck" and threw caution to the wind. Thanks to both families for leading the way and lending an extra hand with our kids.

We had a great trip.  Of course there were moments of crying and some speed bumps along the way, but overall a good time was had by all.  I don't have the time or energy to write about all the details. Instead, I'll mention a few brief highlights and share some photos.  If you want more in depth coverage, you are in luck.  The other members of our traveling party have also posted to their respective blogs for your enjoyment.

  • You can check out the Palmer's perspective here and here.
  • And the first installment of the MacDonald's here.

(NOTE: If you are reading this blog because of an interest in the Middle East or specifically life in the UAE, you may also enjoy many of the other posts in both the blogs linked above. There lots of good stuff ;)

Wadi Shab

On the first day, after a long fascinating drive, we ended at Wadi Shab a couple hours south of Muscat. The hike was beautiful.  Rugged enough to feel like a good accomplishment, but not too rugged for the kids... as long as a helping hand was nearby.  The scenery was impressive and the pools of water were fun and refreshing without being cold. The hike ended at a fantastic swimming hole with a cool crevice leading through the rocks to a cave with a great waterfall inside.





Church/Muscat

The second day we awoke to the Sabbath on the shores of the Arabian Sea/Indian Ocean. A relatively short drive took us to church in the small branch in Muscat. Our caravan of travelers and several other groups quadrupled the size of the normal congregation. The poor teachers that were used to one or two class members.... The afternoon/evening was spent seeing some of the sights of Muscat.






Jebel Akhdar

A cool hike through some terraced mountainsides with some amazing views. The kids loved the maps painted on rocks and walls as trail markers.







Camping in the Hajar Mountains

Keywords for this night of camping: Wild donkeys, Off road  Rocks for the fire-pit, and COLD. Did I mention it was cold?  We were over 2000 meters up in the mountains.






Sweet Sign

Just Because.



Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sunday... I mean Friday Morning

"Ooh, that's why I'm easy
I'm easy like Sunday morning
That's why I'm easy
I'm easy like Sunday morning" - Lionel Richie


So, the Sabbath is on Friday over here. I don't really have anything to say about it. I just thought I'd share a few pics of the kids while we were getting ready for church on a recent Friday.











Monday, September 24, 2012

First Day of School

"Numbers, letters learn to spell
Nouns and books and show and tell
Play time we will throw the ball
Then back to class through the hall" - Jack Johnson


The HUGE excitement at our house the last few weeks has been focused on the start of school. Abigail and Saylor were literally bursting at the seams they were so excited.

A few little random background tidbits on schools here in the UAE... at least how they apply to us:
  • Expats are not eligible to attend 'public' schools.  
  • So, expats can only attend private schools
  • Tuition for our girls is over $8000 for each girl for the year + application fees, medical fees, books, uniforms and bus-fare
  • Uniforms cost over $300 for each girl. It does include a cap with neck shade (what?)
  • Fortunately, my employer will cover the cost of the tuition (we get to cover the rest)
  • The school is about 4 blocks from our house
  • Bus-fare is about $4000 for the year (ouch! that's $1000 a block) 
  • Walking isn't much of an option because several months of the school year still average a temperature over 100 degrees (at 8am) and the mixture of no sidewalks, no crossing guards, and crazy drivers isn't very safe for 4 year old girls.
  • There are a large variety of curricula to choose from when it comes to private schools in the UAE (American, Australian, British, Filipino, Canadian, etc)
  • The school our girls are attending has a British curriculum, but teaches students from 30+ different countries.
  • All schools are required to teach at least some Arabic
  • Lots of Bags - The girls had to purchase an official school book bag and gym bag. These should not be confused with the also purchased lunch bag or a general purpose school bag/backpack... which is not allowed to have wheels.
  • If you are late picking your kids up from school more than 10 minutes, after 3 times, you will be charged extra fees
  • The school has more security than Ft. Knox. At promptly 7:55am, the doors are closed and locked. If you need to stop at the school for any reason during the day, you must call the office upon arrival and be buzzed in the gate. No cell phone to make the call, no entrance.
I'm sure we will be sharing more random details as the girls settle in and we learn more about the school system. In the meantime, did I mention that the girls were excited. They had to lay out their clothes the night before just ... well, just because they wanted to.


I had to laugh that they even included socks and underwear.

The girls practically shot out of bed and Yvonne had to beg, plead and coerce them to eat breakfast. They wanted to skip that and just put on their uniforms. They were sooooo excited to go. The excitement lasted through picture taking, the drive to school, the walk to the building, more picture taking and then turned to complete nervousness as soon as they had to enter the building. Abigail did cry some giant silent tears when it was time to say goodbye but to her credit she didn't hold on to Yvonne, beg her to stay, or try to come with her. When she picked the girls up later that afternoon they were both all smiles and asking if they could go back again tomorrow.

A few pics of the first day:











Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Istanbul

"So if you've a date in Constantinople
She'll be waiting in Istanbul" - They Might Be Giants



We recently returned from a fun trip to Istanbul. There is a part of me that thinks it would be a good idea (for family history reasons and because a few of you might enjoy it) to blog about each day of the entire trip. BUT, the truth is that to do it justice would just take too much time and energy.

Instead, I'm going to share a few of the highlights and let the photos do the talking.

Our original plan was to spend about half the time in Istanbul and the other half in central Turkey. However, the overnight trains (with sleeping berths) out of Istanbul are currently not running due to maintenance and our other option was a 12+ hour bus ride. We decided a bus ride with four little kids was out of the question and opted to stay in Istanbul for the entire time. We do not regret our decision. Istanbul is a great city and we highly recommend a visit.

One of our goals was to escape the Dubai heat. Well, that didn't really work as planned. Although it was significantly cooler in Istanbul... significantly cooler than 115-120 degrees can still be in the high 90's. Plus,  everywhere you go in Dubai is air conditioned and you basically never go outside. In Istanbul we were outside constantly, walking everywhere we needed to go, and there was never any AC. So, while we beat the head, we were still hot and sweaty the entire time. Every picture we took includes shiny faces and sweaty matted hair.
A few Highlights:
  • The Blue Mosque - a most beautiful building inside and outside. Talon especially loved jumping off every raised platform he could find.
  • The Aya Sofya - I don't think there's too many kids in the world who have played "red light green light" and "mother may I?" inside this ancient and breathtakingly beautiful building.
  • The Basilica Cistern - The kids were fascinated by the story of Medusa and looking for the two carvings of her head in this underground creepy dark place.
  • Istanbul Archaeological Museums - All our kids wanted was to see dead bodies and this place delivered. There were lots of carvings of naked men and they wanted to know "Why did people steal all those men's pants?".
  • The several tombs of Sultans we visited and hearing the girls discuss how we should bury dad here when he dies.
  • The Prince's Islands - We took a tram and a ferry ride to get there. Talon was thrilled to ride the "train" and they loved the big boat as well. We sat by some fun Turkish teenagers that entertained our kids.
  • A Cinderella Ride - The best part of the prince's islands was the horse drawn carriage ride around the island (no cars allowed here only bikes, carriages, and feet). Sheer joy radiated from the girl's faces as they pretended they were just like Cinderella. The driver even let each of the kids sit on the horse beforehand (part of his sales tactic I'm sure and it worked on us)
  • Discovering every park and playground withing reasonable walking distance of our hotel - "reasonable varies depending on if you are an adult or a kid".
  • The sheer number of people who wanted to touch, hug, kiss, photograph and mug on our kids. No one in the US would touch a stranger's kids the way they do in the Middle East.
  • Our kids absolute refusal to look at our or any stranger's camera on request - even when the beautiful Turkish bride asked to be photographed with them. (we were lucky to get this)
  • The joy the kids got out of watching Turkish cartoons before bed every night (even when they couldn't understand a single word)
  • Watching Yvonne try to communicate with a group of Deaf teens she met in the park one afternoon
  • Talon's utter refusal to use a Turkish toilet and holding his pee the ENTIRE day everyday. (you'd think it would've been more a problem for the girls)
  • Splashing in the fountain in Sultanahmet Park and rinsing off in the German fountain next to the Blue Mosque
  • The cobblestone streets and beautiful old buildings
  • Friendly Turkish people
  • Trying new foods - this experience was pretty limited thanks to kids who were not very daring and felt a lot more safe with the security of McDonalds (not to mention their inexpensive ice cream).
  • Yvonne's Turkish Bath - She says "Let just say if you have anything against public nudity and being scrubbed down by a Turkish lady clad only in undies in a room full of other mostly naked women, this isn't for you. I thought it was HEAVENLY!"
  • Lots and lots of TOWERS. The kids were in Rapunzel heaven.


Well, there's the recap.  We had a lot of fun, even though it was hot and sweaty and the kids reminded us often that they do not like walking "so far". If you want photo overload, you can check out a bunch of adventure here: https://plus.google.com/photos/105900843158334459530/albums/5778314651184600529?banner=pwa


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Getting Stronger

"Well, I'm on my way
I don't know where I'm going
But I'm on my way
I'm takin my time but I don't know where" - Paul Simon


The kids are growing.  Abigail and Saylor will start school the beginning of September.  Talon thinks he's ready too.






Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Independence Day at Dreamland

"Helter skelter in a summer swelter
The birds flew off with a fallout shelter" - Don McLean


We asked the kids what they wanted to do to celebrate the 4th of July. Fortunately, they are still young enough that they aren't expecting fireworks. Those are pretty hard to come by over here. The kids unanimously declared that they wanted to go to a "water playground." You can probably guess what that means... a water slide park. 

Now, in the US, a water park may be one of the last places you want to be on the 4th.  Everyone and the dog will be there and you will likely spend more time waiting in line for the slides than actually in the water. We hoped the crowds wouldn't be quite so big. So, we called up some friends and headed to Dreamland Water Adventure Park with a carload of kids excited for some wet and wild times.

On the way, we got to share the road with something you won't see much in the US on the 4th:






We arrived at the park about the time that they opened.  I think we were the third car in the parking lot. We went in, changed clothes, and made our way to the kid pool area.  There may have been 2 other kids.  Lets just say, we did NOT have to worry about crowds.  In fact, we never had to wait in a single line all day long.  We had just about every slide, ride, and pool pretty much to ourselves. We did have to wait a couple times at the top of a slide (notice I didn't say in a line), but just for the workers to start the water running down the slide. Nice.

What wasn't quite as nice, and may have contributed a little to the low numbers in the park was the heat. When we first arrived, it wasn't too bad.... probably around 100 degrees.  The water felt nice. It only took about 1/2 hour before things started heating up. The walkways, sidewalks, stairs... anything that wasn't in the water was too HOT to walk on. We had to wear slippers (flip flops for you non Hawaiians ;) everywhere. Even a couple steps and your feet were literally getting burnt. The rides were great, but a little different because you were holding shoes in your hands the entire way down (apparently it is against safety policy to wear them on your feet in the slides).  By mid-day, the temps were around 115 degrees and the water was probably close to 90. The kids were having fun, but that kind of heat takes a lot out of you. Luckily, we found some cave pools where the water was significantly cooler and made that our home base.

In the end, we made it until sometime between 4-5 o'clock.... pretty much the entire day with the park mostly to ourselves. It was a lot of fun and the kids had a blast.  They even went on some of the 'grown-up' slides. A few tears were shed that we couldn't stay longer, but those same eyes were closed and fast asleep practically before we got out of the parking lot.



Abigail

Saylor
video