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.