18 February 2017

Champorado, Domaiti Cheese, Zapote/Sapodilla, and Dosa Batter

I'm still loving Lulu, both for the produce from everywhere and the everything else from everywhere.

Champorado.  I didn't know there was a Filipino version of one of my favorite Mexican drinks, so when I saw it sitting at Lulu, I had to try it.  It's basically a chocolate rice pudding. While it's really nothing like champurrado except that it's chocolate, it was still delicious.

Domiati.  This is an Egyptian cheese, and apparently the generic white cheese of Egypt.  It's fairly soft and salty, of course.  I used it in mutabbaq but it would also be great as the base for a dip.

Zapote.  When I saw this on sale and labeled as sapodilla, I had to try it especially since it seemed vaguely familiar.  After some searching, it turns out it's from the Yucatán which warmed my heart.  I didn't much like it, which is pretty typical for me at tropical fruits, sadly, but having fruit on the counter that originated in the Yucatán was totally worth it.

Dosa batter.  I've made dosas before, but the fermented batter takes more planning than I usually can pull off so when an Indian friend of mine told me they sell dosa batter at Lulu, I was delighted.  I'll get this again.

31 January 2017

The Executive Order

It's been three days now since this thing was signed.  I've written so much about it elsewhere, and anyone who's spent any time reading this blog wouldn't be in doubt about how I feel about it, but I have to say it here too.  The refugee ban is obviously something I care about a great deal, but the immigration ban has hit my family personally.  This truly has been awful.

It is important to remember that this is not normal.  No president has done anything like this in recent memory, and when we have done this in the past, it has only hurt people instead of helping.  There are families separated now on the flimsiest of national security and legal justification.  There are people who have been trying to get visas for a very long time who can't use them. This is only blocking legal immigration or hurting people who have done things the right way.  It is foolish and wrong.

I hope this is really just a 90-day ban on entry for citizens of the seven countries, and a 120-day ban for refugees.  I hope Syrians are allowed back in ASAP.  But Trump has given me no reason to believe that. This is what Trumpism is.  Trump kept his promises. No one should be surprised, most of all those who voted for him.

27 January 2017

Akkawi and Areesh Cheese

Not long after I got here I bought a lot of different local or Middle Eastern cheese.  And then I didn't have time to use it all so I put it in the freezer, but cheese in the freezer isn't so convenient so we didn't get through it quickly and the labels weren't on anymore so we didn't know what we were eating anyway (there was just one we didn't like much).  Anyway, we finished off what was in the freezer and now we're trying a new type of cheese every week or two and keeping track of what it is and what we think.

Akkawi cheese originated in Akko (Acre in English) and it's not as soft as most of the local cheese here.  In fact, it reminded several of us of adobera cheese in Jalisco, although they're really not made the same way.  I'm thinking of using it for queso fundido to see if it's a good substitute.  Oldest son at most of it in his pasta so he loved it. I got a local Saudi version.  Lulu also sells a Syrian version we'll have to try.

Areesh cheese is made from yogurt and is Egyptian. Most of thing things I read said it was like cottage cheese or ricotta, but not what we tried since ours was creamy. Everyone really liked the flavor of this one and we used it in mutabbaq, both a savory version with tomato and a sweet version with honey.

23 January 2017

Six Months In

We've been here six months now. This has been the hardest transition we've had for any move ever and while some of it is Saudi Arabia, not all of it is. But like I did for Guadalajara, here are some of the positives and negatives about living here.

The biggest positive for my daily life is living near a wadi.  Being able to hike and walk along the wadi every day is huge.  There really is nothing like it in the world.

Also, I love the desert.  If you like erosion, you'd love this desert.  And the escarpment. I'm so glad we started exploring it quickly.

I love speaking Arabic again. I love that I don't have to learn a new language.  I love that I can ask questions.  I can earn at least a tiny bit of credibility, which isn't easy to do here, because I speak some Arabic.

Riyadh is a really diverse city.  I talk to people from all over Asia and Africa, my kids hang out with kids from India and the Philippines especially, and we are happily eating our way through lots of different countries, all from right here in Riyadh. 

I love the weather in the winter.  For all the awfulness in the summer, getting months and months of cooler weather is a lifesaver.  There are so many interesting historical and geologic sites around here and the winter is the time to explore them.

But the climate really is awful in the summer, and summer is very long here.  Having air conditioners, air purifiers, and humidifiers running constantly is so wasteful, but the place is not livable without them.  It's hard to breathe, it's almost impossible to go outside at any time of day, and it's just miserable.  The year-round average air quality is one of the worst in the world because of the sand in the air. This is not a sustainable location for a city of millions of people.  I am not looking forward to another summer.

There really are so many restrictions here, but there's also flexibility and people often try to work around the restrictions as hospitably as possible. People are so kind and apologetic when I make a mistake and never, ever demanding.  I *still* have never seen the religious police.  I know they're out there, but they haven't intruded on my life yet.  

Also, Riyadh may be diverse, but it's still a boring city.  There are only a couple of historical sites and shopping and lunching are the appointed activities for women who aren't working. I don't like to shop and lunch. Maybe I'll have to start signing up for the expensive tours going out of the city, or hire a driver to take me to mud ruins during the day.

Honestly, it's the summer climate that's the worst here.  I can deal with most anything if I can breathe and go outside.  

Why I March

I suppose it was to be expected that some women wouldn't support the march on Saturday, and that's fine. But I disagree pretty strongly with some of the criticisms I've read today.

This march was about women and women have a lot of different issues they care about. I had friends carrying signs about refugees, religious freedom, human rights, reproductive rights, equality, and so much more. Trying to reduce this to a single issue ignores millions of women's voices (unless that issue is women's rights).

I also had friends marching in solidarity with and for women from all over the world, from Saudi Arabia to Burkina Faso to Kyrgyzstan and India and Mexico and more. They were marching for women to be able to go out without being assaulted, for women to have political representation, for women to have access to education, for women to choose their own clothing and transportation. No matter where they were marching, they were marching for something important.

This wasn't a temper tantrum or a pro-abortion march. This was millions of women all over the world standing up for issues we believe in. The only reason we could even do this is because generations of women before us marched and made their voices heard. This was one of the biggest political events in the history of the world and it mattered, not only for those of us who marched, but for all of the women over so many years who made this possible.

16 January 2017

Ushaiger Heritage Village

Old mud villages are everywhere in Saudi Arabia.  The first restored section of Diriyah should be opening in a few months and if you drive in pretty much any direction, you'll find a town with an old mud section in varying states of dilapidation.  They really weren't abandoned all that long ago but these buildings need constant maintenance so they fall apart quickly.  They're a bit like ghost towns.

It seems that you can go poke around these places whenever you want to and no one minds.  Historical preservation in general isn't a major priority here and no one owns the buildings.  I love going to these so I've been suggesting for a while that we go to Ushaiger because the people there have restored part of their old town and it sounded interesting.  And it was.

There are several museums and restored homes that open for tourists, especially tour groups.  We were there on a weekday morning so nothing was open except the main museum. If you go, try to budget some extra time for tea and chatting with the man running the place.  He loves it.  But other than that, you can wander wherever you like.  There are larger homes, several mosques, squares and courtyards and nicely paved streets, and farms and fields and wells around the edges.  We spent a couple of hours there without seeing everything, but I want to go back with some of the boys because I think they'll like it too.

It's just two hours from Riyadh.  You can go northwest out of the city or down the escarpment and north from the first exit toward Dhurma.  Go one way and return the other.  It's also a nice way to see the escarpment.

In some of the photos below, you can see a restored home with a spot where a fire could be lit inside, plus ruined versions of the same thing.










06 January 2017

Camel Trails and the Escarpment

The Tuwaiq Escarpment runs for about 500 miles down central Saudi Arabia from al-Qassim to the Rub al-Khali.  It's about 20 minutes west of the edge of Riyadh and is pretty sheer near the city.  The first time I saw it was when we were driving out to go four-wheeling and I had no idea it was there.  I love it.

But it's a pretty big impasse if you're trying to get from Riyadh (or Diriyah before Riyadh) to Mecca, and lots of people were trying to do that.  There's a road now, about thirty years old, that zips you up and down, but before that you had to go south toward al-Kharj and then head west to access (I believe) a wadi that cuts through the escarpment (around Dirab - I need to explore this one more). That's a much longer trip on a camel.

So some enterprising people built camel trails down the escarpment.  There are several of them although most have crumbled away.  But the one you can see best, that expats call Camel Trail #1, is actually climbable all the way down and that's what's in the photos below, if you see a trail.  We haven't done the hike yet but I plan to very soon.  It has a bit of a developed area on top with some stone picnic benches and more people go there. The road is also fairly good, except for the washed-out parts.  This one is south of the main road.

North of the main road, you can try to find at least three more.  We've been to the top and bottom of several of these and I don't think any are still climbable, but we'll keep exploring.  The photos below with the pinnacle are near camel trail 4.  The pinnacle is called Faisal's Pinnacle and you can climb it.  We hoped we could climb part of camel trail four if we got to the bottom, and we had the coordinates for the trail, but I don't think it's possible.   Also, there really aren't a lot of roads along the bottom of the escarpment but it's very interesting to drive down there.  No matter what, standing at the bottom of the escarpment or the view from the top is worth the trip.  If you go along the top, there are fenced-off quarries but camel trail 3 (or the spot marked that but there is not a trail left maybe but hiking down to the edge is very cool) is not fenced.

These are all very conveniently marked on google maps if you want to try finding them yourself. Also, there are geocaches.







05 January 2017

Wadi Mawan

I read about this place a few days ago while I was looking for interesting places to go outside Riyadh.  The photos looked cool and I conceived my husband to drive me out, but I had no idea it would be so wonderful.  The things I'd read talked about bouldering and rock climbing and didn't really focus on the fact that this is a little slot canyon.

It's a little more than an hour south of Riyadh from the edge of the city.  There are several different routes and my favorite is along 5399 rather than 509 or out toward Al Kharj.  After that, the new road toward Howtat Bani Hamim is quick and easy. The slot canyon part of the wadi is about half a kilometer long and maybe 30 feet deep at the most.




04 January 2017

Al Ha'ir

We came back through Al Ha'ir after one of our jaunts into the desert. People who aren't from deserts might say that oases are what they think make deserts livable, and there are some in Saudi Arabia (although many are disappearing because there's so much more demand for water now), but it's really the wadis that matter here.  It's an entirely different world in a wadi and Al Ha'ir is no different.  It was interesting to drive through a mud town that's still being maintained.  

Al Ha'ir also has the dubious honor of having the country's largest maximum security prison nearby.  We drove by on our way out and were trying to decide if it was a military installation designed to keep people out or a prison designed to keep people in.  Here's an interesting article about it.  





03 January 2017

Tuwaiq Escarpment

Saudi Arabia really does get so much better when it's not hot, and since we live on the edge of the city, we can get out of town quickly. Right now, our favorite place is the Tuwaiq Escarpment. We've found several places along the edge that only take 30 minutes to get to and they're perfect for dinner over the fire and some stargazing with the telescope.  

The escarpment is totally fascinating and I'll have more posts about it.







02 January 2017

Diriyah

I've been to Diriyah a couple of times now, near al-Bujairi Square.  It's a UNESCO World Heritage site and undergoing restoration (the first part should be open in April!), but for now, it's still a pleasant and interesting place to visit.  Depending on when you go, there will be lots of picnickers.  There's also a museum and other things I haven't seen yet.  I love poking around to see what we can find and one time I went with a friend and her preschoolers and they enjoyed it too.













31 December 2016

Goodbye 2016

So.  This wasn't the best year ever, mostly because of the five-letter word, but let's focus on the good parts, okay? At least mostly.

Last year's list:
  • Finish Washington DC.  I don't want to have a lot of things I wish I'd done. I'll be back, but it probably won't ever be both as easy as it is right now to see all the things.
  • Have school go well for everyone
  • Get to Saudi by train and ship and not so many planes (at least with a few trains?)
  • Figure out how to live in Riyadh reasonably well by the end of the year
  • ARABIC
  • Moderation in all things 
  • Write something?
This wasn't a long list and I was only moderately successful. DC was great and I feel like we did got as much out of our time there as possible.  I'm certainly not finished, but it was enough this time.  Also, I loved doing the field trips with my son.  

Some of us are getting the hang of Riyadh.  The weather makes a HUGE difference, and so does getting out of the city more often.  We've been having a lot of fun exploring (and I really need to get caught up on those posts). 

I could spend more time on Arabic, but I'm at least taking a class twice a week and I'm moving forward even if it's not very fast.  I have definitely remembered how much I like the language and that makes a difference.


We weren't able to be creative with getting to Saudi because of work schedules, but that turned out to be a wonderful thing because we stopped in Europe and met up with my sister for a day in Germany.  That was one of my favorite things ever and now I want to meet up with all of my sisters and their families in lots of interesting places.  Those almost-24 hours was the best day of the entire year.

So, 2017.  It will be an eventful year no matter what.  Some of these are inevitable, others are hopes.

Oldest child graduates from high school and second child ready to go in 2018
Line up an amazing place to move next
Student loans paid off
Do something good for our 20th anniversary 
No moves
Travel more 
Jerusalem 
Do a big refugee project
Figure out other good ways to oppose Trump
Lots of histories and history
Explore Saudi and try new food
Buy a condo?


20 December 2016

Sandstorm

The top photo is normal sandiness in the air, the bottom is moderate sandstorm.


I have things to post about but we have to get organized with the photos.

There's Diriyah, Wadi Hanifa, the Tuwaiq Escarpment, Batha market, and some more things.  Hopefully all the photos can be gathered into one place and we can find the camera so they all get taken from one place again.

03 December 2016

Raghba

Today I went an entire hour's drive outside the city.  That's the furthest I've been from my house since we arrived.

We had something else planned this afternoon so we couldn't do anything that took too long or that might have gotten us into a pickle so we decided to go to see the old mud brick ruins of Raghba. I wasn't able to find a lot of information about the place, but it's supposed to have been around since the mid-1600s.  There used to be watchtower on the west side of the ruins (as recently as a couple of years ago), but it was a heap today. 

You can still go inside the mosque and climb up the minaret to get a view over the ruins.  Don't miss that.  There are also some buildings with some interesting decoration inside.  You could poke around diligently for a couple of hours, but I'd suspect most people wouldn't stay more than an hour at most.

It's easy to get here from Riyadh. Go northwest out of the city on King Khaled Road (535) and just keep on going till you get to Raghba. There are plenty of signs along the way in Arabic and English.  It's about an hour from the time you leave the edge of the city. When you get to the circle at Raghba, the ruins will be to your left.  Turn left at the circle and drive down into them.

These were not the best ruins we have ever seen, but it was so nice to get out and they were interesting enough for an hour's drive.  I loved looking out the window and I learned lots of new Arabic words along the way.





23 November 2016

Old Riyadh

Riyadh has a small old city south of the current center.  Masmak Fort is there, along with some old mud brick homes, a few city gates (the walls no longer exist), and some reconstructed mosques.  There are lots of squares and souqs too, including one of the few souqs with souvenirs and handicrafts.  Not much demand for that here since there are so few tourists, but since it's one of the few places to go, there's not as much competition.   We went to one souq a couple of weeks ago to get some Christmas shopping done and it was fun to be there.

I think there's a lot more poking around to be done in old Riyadh.





22 November 2016

So.  There are some things to not like about Saudi Arabia, but there's a lot I do like.  I'm happy to be here even though the transition has been hard (and even that can largely be blamed on Trump).

I love being back in the Middle East. It's been such a long time since I've been here.  And part of that is speaking Arabic again.  It's so nice to go back to a language I can do something with.  I love my Arabic class.  I love having Arabic all around me.  I love being in a Muslim country again.

I really like our neighborhood.  Now, I'd rather live in a real neighborhood where I could walk to a couple of little grocery stores and stop at the bakery, but since that's not an option, I'm glad we live here in a diverse neighborhood where you don't have to wear an abaya but they're not banned either. The setting is lovely too and I count it as a real blessing that I can bike or walk for miles a day in an interesting place without an abaya or finding someone to give me a ride.

I love seeing and talking to people from all over Africa, Asia, and the Middle East every day.  I love eating food from all over those places too.  I love hearing so many languages when I walk down the street.  I've learned so much already from so many different people.

And finally, there are interesting things to do here.  I'm working on a list and I'm going to start posting about my plans and hopefully we'll be able to start chipping away at the list.


I decided to put my serious concerns about Trump in a different post below on around November 9th, depending on your time zone.  I'll keep adding to that post until he is no longer a risk to the US.

So.  Moving on up here.  Kabsa is everywhere in Saudi Arabia.  It's similar to many of the other rice dishes you can find all over the Middle East and Central and South Asia with meat and spices and maybe some vegetables.  Here, you can go to a kabsa place and get enough food for everyone in the family for less than $10.  There's also plenty of biryani too.  They give you a piece of plastic for you can dump the rice and meat on.  After everyone has eaten, you just gather up the plastic and toss it.  Easy.

We can zip over to one of the real neighborhoods near our house and it's an easy and yummy meal


13 November 2016

The Media Didn't Make Me Do It

There have been several times now in the last few days that people have told me that the media misrepresented Trump or told me to feel a certain way about him.  It's hard to separate Trump from the media because he's so intricately connected with it.  There was also almost no traditional information about Trump like a well-articulated and comprehensive campaign website.  In the end, my opinion was formed by what he told me about himself.

Before Birtherism, I didn't have much of an opinion about the man. He seemed like a rich guy from New York who spent too much time in the tabloids. Not a great recommendation, but hardly the worst things ever.

Then Birtherism happened. I know that didn't bother some people, but the media didn't have to tell me it was a problem. I know in my heart that it is not right that Trump demanded that Barack Obama had to prove his citizenship in a different way than any other past president. Maybe you think that Barack Obama's race was incidental to that, but either way, Trump demanded a different standard and I know that was wrong.

Then Trump announced his candidacy by saying awful things about Mexicans. Again, I know that a lot of people weren't bothered by that, but I was living in Mexico then and I know it was wrong. The media didn't have to tell me that. In fact, I wish they hadn't played it over and over because I hate watching that statement so much. It hurts every time.

Then Trump kept saying things about all sorts of people, mocking them, belittling them. The media made sure we all heard about them, over and over, but they didn't have to tell me it was wrong. I knew for myself.

Then Trump said he would ban Muslims from entering the US. This time, it wasn't just liberals and the media being appalled. The LDS Church, which almost never makes political statements, released a statement against Trump's proposal. Paul Ryan and so many other Republican leaders did too. But even then, I knew in my heart that he was wrong all by myself.

And after all that, he attacked the Khan family. He said a US judge could not do his job because of his Mexican background. And more. I knew he was wrong.

The media did not create a story about Trump as someone who espouses racist and bigoted things. He told me himself.

09 November 2016

You know, I have voted for the losing candidate before.  It's not pleasant but it also wasn't devastating.  Generally it was about policy differences and it's okay if people don't agree on policy.

This is completely different.  Trump wasn't appealing for our votes based on any altruistic or noble principles. If he were truly the voice of Americans who feel overlooked and ignored, he would have a diverse group of supporters because it isn't white men who have been oppressed and abused in the US.  Instead, he told white men to vote for him by blaming everyone who wasn't white for their problems.  Refugees, Mexicans, immigrants, civil rights activists, so many people. It is the blaming and demonizing that I despise.

I have never been so disappointed in the US. 

For now, I'm going to be fighting as hard as I can to make sure refugees are still welcome in the US.  What are you going to do?

ETA that I'm going to make this a spot to write down things that Trump or his cronies have said or done that I think are totally unacceptable. Today is 11.22.2016

Trump has tweeted several times complaining about constitutionally-protected expression and demanded apologies.  He has referred to this expression as "unfair" and "harassment."

He has appointed or is considering a number of highly concerning people as advisers.  The only decent person who has even been floated as SoS is Mitt Romney and he has zero foreign policy experience. The others are far worse.

His chief strategist is Steve Bannon.  He ran the self-proclaimed platform for white nationalism. The best spin you can put on that one is that he's using white nationalism for his political benefit, but he's not a white nationalist himself.  Even that is appalling.  If Obama had tried to appoint as his chief strategist the producer of black nationalist media (even if they were just in it for the money), it would be like this.  How would that have gone over?

I am very worried about the anti-Muslim sentiments of many of his appointees.  I do not have much hope at all that Syrian refugees will be allowed into the US after January 20th.  I don't know about Muslim refugees from other countries. I think visas for people from most of the Middle East are in serious jeopardy.  These people have said that Islam demands them to commit terrorist acts.  They call Islam our enemy.  If Obama had appointed several women who called Christianity our enemy and said that it drives people to kill, how would that have gone over?

Also, the immigration policies several of his people support are far too harsh.  They have defended cities who try to implement statues banning landlords from renting to undocumented people.  There are so many problems with laws like that that I don't even know where to start, but I'm sure it appeals to some people.

Several of these people have either stated that they are okay with waterboarding and worse or that they wouldn't rule it out.  How can they even think that is okay?

The prospective Attorney General does not seem to know the definition of sexual assault and he was not approved to be a judge 30 years ago because of self-admitted blatantly racist statements.  One of the most important responsibilities of the AG is to protect voting rights.  How can anyone not be concerned about that?

Trump has, one time, said "Stop it" to people who are doing mean things in his name.  He hasn't ever bothered trying to separate himself from being connected to white nationalism.