December 18, 2006

Happy Hannukah! Feliz Navidad! Happy New Year!

Best holiday wishes to everyone! It has been great to hear from AJ, Sandy, Kristin, Andy, Nirish (indirectly) and Zach that things are going well with you!

Posted by at 1:20 PM

December 15, 2006

photo 'abayas in souk'

Posted by at 10:34 AM

Saudi 29

Saudilogue 29

It’s winter here now. It actually is not only cooler but lower humidity than before.
Currently 75 degrees heading for a high of 87. That’s cooler.

Thursday night a group of us walked along the Corniche (seashore area). Along the sea it
was cooler. It just felt very, very comfortable. Then, zooming around a corner: two kids
wearing mad-bomber hats (pulled down) and winter leather coats. Wow.

So, for folks who laughed at me when I turned heat on in the house when it was down to
63, plus I was wearing two layers of clothes… bodies adjust to all kinds of things.

There was a shooting in town Thursday night. A while ago the Saudi security forces
rounded up 139 Al-Qaeda suspects. I think the gunmen were trying to free some of the
new prisoners. Anyway, two guards at the prison were, alas, killed and the gunmen got

I notice that there is a furor in the US about our Muslim representative wanting to be
sworn in on the Qu’ran. One fellow said no, because Islam is a dangerous religion.
Personally, I think any "holy" book in the hand of a fanatic becomes dangerous.

Students here are watching the Bush vs the world in Iraq with interest. He still doesn’t get
it. After living in the Middle East for over a year, I can tell you some things with
certainty. First, Arabic is a very difficult language. It is subtle and poetic. The same word
can have many meanings and the dialects vary from country to country. The spoken
dialects, that is. Written Arabic is the same in all Arabic countries, however the spoken
Arabic is quite different from written Arabic.

The Sunni/Shia separation is almost as old as Islam itself – and relates to how the
leadership of the faith succeeded. There are some similarities between that schism and the
Reformation in Europe. Remember those wars? Continuing into Northern Ireland to this
very day.

There is much concern here about all the looming civil wars in Lebanon and Gaza. We’ve
had some interesting discussions about Iraq, but probably not as heated as they would be
if I had ever supported the war. Supporting war. Wow, what a concept!

I am staying home over Hajj. Perhaps I can again get into painting and designing.

Music Club continues to be a hit. We only had six or seven people last meeting, but what
they lacked in numbers, is made up by enthusiasm. The harmonica player is a big Dylan
fan. She asked where I was from. Minnesota, says I. Wow. How cool.

Today, one of the faculty members said that she can tell the difference in her students on
Music Club days. They have their guitars, are much more relaxed even though the club
meets after her class. She said she has always wanted to learn how to play. Come one
down, says I. But I can’t read music. Neither can I, says I. Hope bursts forth in her eyes.
Oh, I just love country music. I want to learn how to play it. You, I can help, says I. I
think of the girls who want to play rock riffs. Not I, I know.

Today I realized I have never seen a hitchhiker in Saudi Arabia. I mentioned this to one
of my classes. A sea of blank looks. One student translated in Arabic what a hitchhiker
was. Oh, no, Miss. We don’t do that here.

The weather is noticeably cooler. Almost chilly in the morning. We do not need the air
conditioning on the bus, it is that cool. The mosquitoes aren’t as bad as last year. I
wonder if it is because it is cooler with much less humidity.

I’ve started reading the Qur’an again. I’ve been looking up the verses that pertain to Jesus
and Mary. It sure raises a lot of theological questions. For instance, it talks about the
Archangel Gabriel telling Mary she will have a son, name the son Jesus and that he will
be the messiah. Muslims accept Jesus as the next to the last prophet, Muhammad being
the last prophet. After saying Mohamed, one is supposed to say "peace be unto him",
Muslims also add that after talking about Jesus or Moses "peace be unto them."

The Qur’an is not a history and though I have only read a few chapters, no one has been
killed. I tell you – no smoting.

I keep saying that I do not understand the violence from a non-violent religion – though
one can say the same about all religions. Guess there’s a group in the US now – terrorists
for Jesus…. Unreal. And there were the Crusades, and the Inquisition so no one is

Students in my Editorial and Book Design class are creating a four page newsletter.
Newsletters are unheard of among this age group because there is no mail service in the
country yet (door to door) – due to start in January… anyway, all these things are a
learning experience for me. Each culture takes so much for granted.

I think I told you that any Muslim can attend or pray in any mosque. It never occurred to
them that in Christianity people belong to different denominations, belong to different
churches and that a church would claim exclusive rights to the truth. Within Islam, all
Jews, Christians and Muslims are going to heaven if they have lead good lives, given to
the poor, etc etc, because each group believes in one God.

I was reviewing symbols today with one of my Symbols and Trademarks class. I was
going over the icons on my digital camera – obtained in the US. The envelope on the
camera indicates sending the picture (over the internet). I mentioned this symbol – they
thought it might relate to storage. Bang. It hits me. Since there is no mail service, the idea
of sending something in an envelope is rather foreign to them.

I still say I have learned more than I have taught.
S of A
Me again.

From e-mails I’ve received, I guess I forgot to mention Thanksgiving. Over 60 people
this year and truly a compound-wide event. We had a great time. Somehow we scored
three turkeys. The toughest one was a butterball, by the way. And they were small by my
let’s have a feast standard. 2 12s and 1 15. So, I cooked two, Maggie cooked one,
Stuffing and gravy from me, also. I invited everyone on the compound, but the workers
didn’t feel comfortable eating with the rest of us, so when the crowd had cleared out, they
all dashed in for a plate of food. Reham and I fixed huge plates for the security guards
and the army guys.

I am disappointed that King Abdullah of Saudi wants the US to stay to restore order. I’ve
heard the government doesn’t want a Shiite Iraq on its border – particularly if they fear a
genocide against Sunis.

Have a super Christmas. I’ll probably write before then. And, I’ll try to attach the other
photos I tried last time.


Posted by at 10:20 AM

December 1, 2006

Saudi 28

Saudi 28

An amazing couple of weeks, folks.

First, Saudi Arabia will have door to door mail service here after the first of the year.
Each house has been assigned a number somehow related to global positioning. Many of
the streets here do not have names and none have house numbers. I think I told you that
the fire brigade had a hard time finding the Dean’s house when a fire broke out in the
kitchen. This will eventually create a new phase in Jeddah – junk mail. Since there is no
mail service, there are no flyers mailed to anyone. As shopping is a major pursuit here,
now large malls and retailers can access the community.

We were able to partake in a market survey for a new magazine targeting young women
in the Middle East. I think we can continue this relationship with this company in the UK.
Though many of you think I am in danger here, Saudi Arabia is a very politically stable
country. Much of the middle East publishing business has been located in Lebanon. Alas,
that country is in tough shape, soon to be in worse shape as the Shiite – Sunni
confrontation continues in that country. If the local censors back off a bit, I can see
printing companies comihng here, particularly since we are now graduating Saudi
designers who can continue the Saudization plan here.

As you may know, many jobs here are held by foreigners. Saudi Arabia wants Saudis to
eventually hold these positions, thus educating Saudis so they can replace us is very
important. Saudi women have a better reputation for having a strong work ethic, so right
now there is a female hiring preference. Yay, Team.

So, we had our Thanksgiving celebration – a major meal held in the recreation room on
the compound. Probably had 60 plus people! We cooked three turkeys, I made lots of
filling balls which were a touch too dark, crumb…. Started a serious smolder in my
stove… 15 pounds of mashed potatoes and there was little left in the way of food. I am
tired today because I was on my feet all day yesterday chopping bread, etc.

I started a Music Club at the request of the student affairs office. I expected maybe 15
ladies to join. Over 100 have said they want to join. Many have guitars they have had for
years and not been able to play. So, we had our first meeting. 20 students turned up the
first meeting. I made up a survey and a first guitar lesson. Quite a few students brought
their guitars. So, I taught them a G chord and a down strum on the count of three. The
students were thrilled. One student was shaking from excitement being that close to a
guitar. Then I gave her mine to learn a G chord.

In 1990, you could not buy a guitar in Jeddah. Jeddah is the most liberal city here. Now
you can buy guitars and music is not completely banned. There are bands which play at
small clubs.

The students sat in rapt attention (unheard of) as I talked about music, guitar action and
how we would proceed. They want to meet twice a week. I said maybe once a week
considering my teaching schedule.

Few of you probably know I play a guitar. I’ve been a closet player for years…. My stage
fright has gone away, I notice. I taught myself how to play when I was 12. I am unable to
read music – rather dislexic with it, but have learned through chord charts, tableture and
picking patterns how to play folk music, rhythm and blues and lighter rock and rolls.
Honestly have not learned a new song in 20 years and rarely played at home. I know,
however, that when a person gives another the basics of playing a guitar, they move
themselves into the music they want to play. But they need a start, the basics and some
transpositional theory…. Wow.

So, ironically, it may be that the gift I give my student is not graphic design, but music.
And, as often happens, the gift to me is having to play in front of people on the fly which
meant I didn’t have time to panic, I just sang.

Office politics are awful. I focus on teaching and the music club. One of the Vice-Deans
is organizing a talent show for spring. This is all ground breaking stuff. All forms of
entertainment are banned in Mecca women’s college, 40 miles away.

Hope you call had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I miss you all lovingly. I probably won’t
be back in the states until Aug 10 or 11 because of the 330 day rule – so the ten extra
days I stayed have to come off the end. But I will get there.

Day one of music club included 7 guitars. The second meeting included new members
and 16 guitars. To have 16 students with a down beat and major strumming on a G chord
and me singing Michael Row the Boat Ashore is a first in the Kingdom. Wow. As the
group continued, one girl showed another one how to play the theme from the Godfather,
one note at a time to another student. Good stuff, I say.

One student brought her harmonica and asked if I knew Blowin’ in the Wind. Life is

I was able to attend a tour of Balad (old Jeddah) yesterday with official tour guides so we
could take photos.
More later,

S of a

Posted by at 7:43 AM