Friday, March 27, 2009

Wed. March 25 - Lunch with Minika and La Cigale

This morning Lucy and I stayed home while Gennette and Janet went back to their Arabic class. I would have liked to have gone, but I needed to catch up on blogging. It has been very difficult living this life and writing about it. Journal keeping usually isn't this difficult when you don't have big adventures on a daily basis. But writing a soap opera at the same time as living it isn't easy. I did finally get used to using Gennette's computer. It is in Arabic. There is no English on the shift key or the enter key or some other keys. I had to figure it out, and now I'm a pro at using an Arabic computer. When they returned home, Minika took us to lunch. We went to a nearby mall which was very nice. As nice or better than malls in the States. We had salads and bought chocolate desserts to take home. I have discovered a new favorite drink. It is called mint drink. To make it, put fresh lemon juice in water with finely ground up mint leaves. You could add a bit of sugar. All these restaurants serve it. I first had it at the Iranian restaurant we went to. They must ground their mint very finely because it looks like green water when it is served, but it is so delicious. I wish they served free refills. We had a great time, and Minika has definitely become one of my favorite people. Minika was on a lunch break, so she dropped us off at Gennette's and returned to work. Then Gennette discovered that she had given her key to her maid, Conchita, and we were locked out of the house. Conchita was gone taking the neighbor's little girl to a class. So Gennette called a taxi to come get us and take us to meet Conchita to get the house key. As we were driving off in the taxi, she asked him how much it would be. He quoted us 45 riyals each way. I protested and said I would rather wait outside the house than to pay that much. I said that was too much for that taxi ride. He wouldn't back down on the price. About that time Gennette's friend, Dina, called her. Gennette explained our situation, and Dina invited us over. So Gennette told the taxi driver to turn around and take us to Dina's house. Gennette was trying to remember the directions, and we got lost. We were driving in an area where there were lots of large adobe and concrete Arab homes each surrounded by large concrete walls. After a while, it all looks the same. Basically we ended up driving in a circle before we told him just to take us home. It cost us 20 riyals for a taxi ride in a circle!! Dina came to Gennette's house, picked us up and took us to her home. Dina is originally from Iraq. She is educated as an architect, but isn't currently working. She has a 16 year old son. Her husband works with Gennette's husband. We sat and visited for a while, and I was embarrassed a bit because I was nodding off and could hardly stay awake. But we couldn't go home yet because we couldn't get in. Dina offered me to go lay down and sleep. (That's how tired I was!! How embarrassing to be that tired at a stranger's house!!) I declined and forced myself to stay awake. I can't remember the subject we were on when Lucy suggested I tell Dina about the time I vomitted on a blind date. Lucy said, "Karen, tell Dina about some of your dating experiences. Tell her the one about you vomitting in the woods!" Since I have vomitted on two blind dates, I was glad she clarified which one. Sometimes I hate reliving all that, but at the same time, it definitely woke me up. So I told Dina about when a blind date flew me out to Calif., and I drank too much Lava Lizard, and thought I was dying. (Wow, that's a long story made short!!) We laughed and laughed, and then I told her about when I flew upside down in a sail plane over Mt. Timpanogos and vomited again while wearing a parachute. Dina, who has been married for over 20 years, was quite entertained. So by then, we were all wide awake. Dina asked if Lucy and I were "Mormons" and we said yes. Dina is Catholic. She commented to us about the "way Mormons are" which was very complimentary. She thought we were very service oriented, friendly, and helpful to others. She paid us a very high compliment when she said, "All Christians do what you do, but you just do more." Finally, after spending several hours at Dina's house, we went home. Eyad was laughing when he arrived home and we told him about our day. He thought we needed a nice break, and so he took us to La Cigale, a very classy hotel/restaurant in town. Actually, at home he had asked, "Would you like to go get some ice cream?" I pictured us going down to the local neighborhood ice cream shop. So wearing sweat pants with tennis shoes, I was all ready to go to the local shop down the street. I had no idea where he was taking us. This was a reminder of when I wore tennis shoes to the fancy Arab feast at Sunset beach. I need to remember to ask more questions about how to dress when people invite me out. La Cigale had valet parking, revolving glass doors, and three enormous chandeliers lighting the lobby and showing off all the vases of fresh flowers and seating sections.
A little bit different than what I was expecting!! We toured the entire hotel before we even got to the ice cream section. We passed through a very nice restaurant, and through the gift shop and candy shop where candy was displayed all the way up a 20 foot wall. We enjoyed our ice cream at a small table under some real orange trees. There was an entire row of orange trees and therefore, the citrus smell was in the air. All of this was indoors. The ice cream was delicious and matched the ambiance. Before leaving, we took photos in the lobby, posing next to a three foot vase of fresh lavendar flowers. On the way home we laughed reading all the signs on stores. All of the hair salons here are spelled "saloons". Same as in Saudi Arabia. We laughed at how many saloons they had! There was a store called "New Happy Baby". We thought that was better than "Old Sad Baby". Seriously, even though I love the Middle East, I do think they could use some help in marketing. We drove by the downtown skyscrapers and around many round-abouts (those are everywhere versus intersections) and on towards home. Just another day in Doha!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tuesday, March 24 - Waqif Souks

Today was another interesting and fabulous day. The day began with us hiring a driver and going to Waqif Souks. These are the shops at the Arab market, full of souvenirs, but also shops selling fabrics, household supplies, jewelry, and much more. It is a very large area with aisles and rows of shops. We started out visiting the spice markets, then proceeded on to all the other colorful markets full of Middle Eastern wares. There were brightly colored scarves of all types displayed at many of the booths. There were shops selling traditional Arab clothing, gold and silver jewelry shops, Bedouin antique shops, and souks selling brightly colored camel blankets and other Middle Eastern blankets. I noticed right off that there were groups of tourists with a group leader holding a sign so they wouldn't get lost and could stay together. That is a major difference between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Anyone could come to Qatar, and since you get the entry visa at the airport, it is not difficult to be a tourist here. Saudi Arabia is not open to tourism. As strange as it seems, I almost found it annoying being around these typical tourists. I don't really consider myself a tourist. I told Lucy the definition of a tourist is "A person who wants to go some place different, but when they get there they complain because it's not like home." I'm not complaining because the whole time we have been on our trip it has seemed like home. We had great living accomodations at the Larsen's house, and since they are living in the same house that was the floorplan of our home in Arabia, then it really did feel like home to me. Gennette's house is very comfortable also. I guess since we aren't staying in hotel rooms night after night, then it doesn't feel like we are tourists. Also since we are familiar with the sights, the culture, and customs and both lived in this atmosphere for 10 years, then it still feels more like home than a vacation in a strange land. We got some wonderful photos today that were typical of the working life here. Goldsmiths and silversmiths were sitting on the floors of their shops using antique, odd looking tools to form their crafts. As one man was sautering the gold, we got the idea that he might possibly repair Lucy's glasses. And for 30 riyals ($8) he did just that. I thought it was quite interesting that we had inquired at a very fancy eye glass store in Khobar and they were unable to do it, and here in this little 8 ft. by 10 ft. room, a little Pakistani man sitting on the floor with his tools did an incredible repair job. He used a very unique, old fashioned drill of which I took a photo. I walked by a group of Arab men sitting outside of their shop visiting. They were sitting in white plastic lawn chairs, and one man had his feet on the chair with his thobe covering this legs. Completely relaxed! I walked up to them and asked them if I could take a picture. They said yes, and after shooting the photo, I walked back and explained to them that I found the Arab culture so refreshing as to how they make the time and find the time for visiting with friends. I know that Americans go out to eat to visit with their friends. I have often commented on why it is that when people want to visit, they always think they have to eat also. I peered into an Arab coffee shop and saw two men sitting on a bench, their legs pulled up under their thobes. They were smoking from a water pipe. In Arabic, a water pipe is called a nargeela. Personally, I call them bongs or hubbly bubblys. I saw very few people smoking cigarettes. Instead, everyone (including women) use these brightly colored water pipes. In the evening, the area was filled with people dining at the outdoor tables of the restaurants and water pipes were at every table. I walked into the coffee shop and inquired about the water pipe. The Arab man explained how it was used, and of course, I asked for his photo. That was another great Kodak moment! Later I told Eyad (Gennette's husband) that even though I don't smoke, I would find it interesting to try it out. He said that you don't have to put tobacco in it. You could also use dried fruits. And of course, there is always the old standby of hashish. Another interesting site which I have never seen before or even heard of was "cupping women". I was walking down a side alley when I saw a sign on a door that said, "Cupping women - working time" and then proceeded to give the days of the week and the times that these cupping women would be there. I thought, "What on earth is a cupping woman??" I was standing there reading this sign when an Arab man passed me. I stopped him, asked him if he spoke English, and then asked, "Could you tell me what a cupping woman is?" He began to explain that it is a woman who is like a doctor and she draws blood to make you healthy. He said something about them exchanging the blood. I thought maybe it was a phlebotomist. Then Lucy walked up, and I told her about this experience. She pointed out the sign high above the door which showed a man's head with a "plunger" type of device stuck to the back of his head. It was actually a glass jar that they heat up and place on a person's body. It creates a suction and creates some health benefit. I think I need to go to google and check it out. We also went to the section where the falcons were. In Arabia, the falcons are used for hunting and for competitions. When I lived in Arabia we had a man in our Stake who took care of the King's falcons. Falcons can sell for as much as 15,000 US dollars. I do have a falcon hood at home, and here we saw the falcons wearing their hoods. As we were weaving among the alleys and aisles looking for the falcon section, we ran across the "paralegals". This was a very small, narrow alleyway lined with booths. Sitting inside each booth was the "paralegal". On the outside of each booth was a sign stating "internet, visa, passport" and "work permits". People who can't write would go to these booths and get their legal paperwork done. Across from the shop where Lucy got her glasses fixed was a little old man with the worst dental situation I've ever seen. I am not trying to be rude because he proved to be a delightful little man who visited in Arabic with Gennette. He would never allow us to take his picture, however, he did insist on dressing me up in an abaya with beautiful veils and let them take my pictures. When he insisted on dressing me in these scarves Lucy and Gennette were standing in the doorway saying, "Oh my gosh Karen, you've been dressed up so many times! We have to go!!", but he insisted, "5 minutes!!" and so we had another dress-up photo session. But this man had teeth of every color, black, white, beige, brown, and shades of each color. I counted at least 6 missing teeth. One thing I have noticed since being back in the Middle East is how "real and down to earth" most people are. They smile genuine, wonderful smiles and don't worry about being self-conscious about their teeth. We visited with a 72 year old pearl diver. He had a shop that sold pearl necklaces, seashells, and other items from the sea. Gennette said that the Emir had given that man this shop space so that he could have his own shop. He had a large sign posted outside of his shop that had pictures of him in his younger days. It was advertising his strength and he was labeled a "body builder". We went inside the shop to meet him. He came outside and did a demonstration for us on diving. We have a picture of him with his nose clip attached to his nose, a weight around his foot, and a basket hanging from his neck which he used to collect the shells. He told us how strong his muscles were and said he sleeps on a bed of nails and sometimes sleeps on glass. Then he took a board that had had nails driven through it, and laying his arm on the extended tips of the nails, he asked Lucy to press very hard on his arm. She pushed as hard as she could, and it didn't hurt him at all. He did have nail marks in his arm afterwards. It was amazing, and I have to admit, I haven't run across too many 72 year old men like this pearl diver in Qatar. About this time, we heard the call to prayer and many of the shops began closing their doors until 4pm when they would reopen. I rounded a corner and came to a large open area with many brightly colored (mainly red) rugs, camel blankets, and other goods. As I tried taking pictures, I discovered that my camera battery was completely dead. I was so frustrated because this happened just as all the shops were closing. Meanwhile, Lucy and Gennette were in a jewelry shop where Lucy purchased a turquoise and coral necklace. I ran back and told them I was going to try to find a place that sold batteries. As I was wandering from shop to shop asking for batteries and showing the merchants my camera batteries, I came to a little shop selling photographs of the way that Qatar looked many years ago. Much to my delight, the Indian shopkeeper sold batteries. I was inside the shop when Lucy and Gennette arrived. They were telling me to come with them to go find lunch. I told them I first had to buy batteries, and so they came in the shop with me. They were looking at these old photographs on display when an Arab man walked in. He was dressed in the long white thobe with diamond cuff links, wore a white gutra on his head, and here in Qatar the egal (black rope on their head to hold on the gutra) has long black tassles hanging down the back. He spoke excellent English. He began talking to us, telling us about the photos, and we followed him into the back of the shop where there was a large room. Red Middle Eastern carpets covered the floor and large cushions covered in Middle Eastern fabrics lined the walls for seating. The walls were displayed with large photographs of the way Qatar looked back in the 1940's. He told us about the history of Qatar, the changes made here over the years, and said that if I had been here 30 or 35 years ago I would have been kidnapped due to my blonde hair. He was so interesting as he told about growing up in Qatar and the history of this little country. Then, as I purchased my batteries and we were discussing where we should eat lunch, he asked us if we would like to go with him to lunch. He had a friend with him, a tall black man from Sudan who lived in China and was working in the import/export business. His name was Mutasim. Evidently, they were friends doing business together. We didn't want to intrude on their business lunch, but at the same time, how many times do you get invited to lunch by an Arab man? From now on, I will call him Sheik, because as we later found out, he was most likely a Sheik there. I do have his real name and email address, but for privacy reasons I will call him Sheik. We began walking towards the restaurant. We had also met a woman, Brigitte, while we were in the Pearl Divers shop. We had invited her to join us for lunch since she was by herself, so it was Gennette, Lucy, myself, Brigitte, and Gennette's friend going to lunch. Brigitte was originally from Switzerland, but currently living in New York and working as a piano technician. A family in Qatar had flown her over there to do a two hour job on their piano. So Mutasim, the Sheik and I were walking together, while Lucy, Gennette, and the others followed. I was hoping they would take a photo from the back with me walking down the street with these 2 men, but I didn't want to turn around and do hand signals and look like an idiot. We went to a very classy restaurant. Above the large dining tables were canopied draped fabrics. As we were seated, I sat next to the Sheik but was very careful not to sit too close. We all ordered hamour (fish) and rice dishes. When they arrived, they were huge. In fact, when the server brought the first plate, I thought he was going to go around the table and dish some out for each person. I had no idea that each person would receive that quantity. The Sheik also had ordered some "unique to Qatar" appetizers. Then for over two hours, us five women sat and listened to this most interesting man. We were highly entertained by his stories. When they served the Arab coffee, he told us that when you drink Arab coffee you do not set your cup down on the table. You hold it in your hand the entire time until you are finished. None of us had it, so it really didn't matter, but it was interesting to learn the Arab rules of etiquette. He explained how they used to use egals (the black rope they wear on their head) to hobble a camel so that he can't stand up. We learned that the Sheik was 45 years old and was married to a woman from Italy. He passed her picture around the table. He was very well traveled throughout the world. He told us a story that touched each of us, actually bringing tears to our eyes. One time he only had 100 riyals in his pocket, and his wife had asked him to bring home some food. As he was on his way home, he spotted a man who was very poor, wearing tattered clothes and asking for a ride. The Sheik gave him a ride, but also in hearing this poor man's plight, he gave him the 100 riyals, all the money he had at that time. He went home and told his wife he hadn't brought any food home.
Two days later a knock came on his door, and it was a man he hadn't seen in a very long time. This man told him that he had been looking for him for 2 years, and that he had come to return to him the 10,000 riyals that this Sheik had loaned him several years before. To hear him tell it was very touching. He spoke with a soft, but commanding voice. We could have listened to him all day, but we were grateful for the hours he did spend with us. That story reminded us all of the scripture about casting your bread upon the waters. As we were leaving and parting ways, we all shook his hand and hugged him, and some of us (not me!) even kissed him on the cheek. I think that was Gennette who was brave enough to do that. When we were leaving the restaurant the people who worked there addressed him as "Sheik". Later we wondered who this man really was that was so kind and gentle, so interesting and wise, and who we shared with one of our favorite days in Doha! As we said goodbye to the Sheik and his friend, the shops were reopening their doors for the late afternoon/evening crowd. We visited some fabric stores, and Lucy bought Bud a thobe to wear around the house. They actually are very comfortable. We came to an area where some veiled Arab women were sitting on the ground prepared to make a special type of Arab bread to sell. We asked if we could take their pictures and they agreed. As Lucy ordered her bread, I was taking pictures of this process. I found it amusing as this woman took the lid off of her green tupperware bowl and dipped her bare hand in the bowl, bringing forth a large handful of batter and plopped it down on the griddle in front of her. I thought of the sanitation laws in the States and I said to myself, "Oh my gosh, she didn't use a plastic glove! That would never fly in the States!" In Las Vegas, I would be appalled if someone did that. But here in the Middle East, out in the open market with all the smells of spices, henna, and incense
floating through the evening air, it didn't bother me one bit. I love the "real life" aspect of this place. I love how the people are not self conscious or embarrassed about sitting on the ground doing their work. I don't feel like I see a lot of shame among the people here. It is just life as they know it. In the area where these ladies were selling their freshly made bread, men with wheelbarrows were wandering around looking for anyone who needed their assistance. Their job was to carry packages or recent purchases in their wheelbarrows. It's basically a "purse taxi". Great idea for those of us with heavy purses!! Most of the wheelbarrows had burlap sacks or other coverings in the bottom. I ran after one man to get a photo of him wheeling a little girl to her car. When I first saw these men with the wheelbarrows, I had been in an alleyway. A little man pushing his wheelbarrow approached me. He only spoke Arabic. He asked me if I wanted his services. I had not seen this before, and as dumb as this sounds, I thought he wanted to give me a ride. LOL Boy, am I glad I didn't sit down in his wheelbarrow. That would have probably been a first for him. We visited with a very nice veiled woman who was selling perfumes and incense. This trip to the Middle East is the first time I have personally visited with so many Arab women. She mentioned about her little boy, and I wondered how these women manage to sell their goods on the streets, and take care of their children. I guess it must be similar to moms in the states who work outside the home. After we were "shopped out", Gennette's husband came and met us. He was hungry for dinner while we were all still full from our feast with the Sheik. We were like a cluck of hens chattering about our day with the Sheik. Eyad enjoyed our enthusiastic stories, and we joined him for dinner at that same restaurant. It was a little embarrassing walking into the same restaurant where we had had lunch, and this time we were with a different man. The same waiters as before greeted us. We commented on how we had brought a different man with us this time. I said to the waiter, "This is Gennette's husband." He asked, "And where is your husband?" I replied, "Oh, I don't have one right now", and he asked, "So, are you free?" I had to laugh at that because I felt like I could have been his mother. Since I wasn't that hungry, I ordered my favorite, tabbouli, Arab bread, and hummus. Tabbouli is finely chopped parsley with onions, tomatoes, and spices. It is great to mix the hummus and tabbouli and eat it with the bread. And I can't forget to mention the Arab dates! We had a wonderful dinner to end our wonderful day at the souks, the Waqif souks where we dined with a Sheik!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Arabic class - Monday March 23rd

Today I attended my first Arabic class. Janet picked us up, and the four of us went to Arabic class. Janet and Gennette attend Arabic class twice a week for two hours each session. They pay 15oo riyals for 2 months. In Qatar, their currency is also in riyals. In Saudi Arabia you take the number of riyals and divide it by 3.74, and in Qatar you take the number of riyals and divide it by 3.65, and that gives you US dollars. Lucy has put my calculator to good use! In this class there were 6 students. Gennette is originally from Costa Rica, Janet is from USA, a girl from England (who reminded us of Mindy McCurry), a boy from Brazil (who is here playing soccer), a guy from India, and a girl from Indonesia. Quite an international group! In class the teacher taught the names of the countries of the world and how to pronounce them in Arabic. There are 21 Arabic speaking countries. I thought of my son Jeff learning Arabic in college, and I have new respect for him taking tests and learning all this. Why does Jeff always learn the languages that don't use the English alphabet? This entry may be boring for some, but I'll teach you some Arabic. Thank you is "shukran", you're welcome is "afwan", How much is it? is "cum hada?" When a woman is talking to a man, she calls him "habibi" which mean "my love". However, when man is talking to a woman, he calls her "habipti". La means "no", and nam means "yes". North is "shamaal" since shamaals (sand storms) come out of the north. South is "januub". East is "sharq". West is "gharb". America is "Amarika". USA is "Al welayat al mutahida." The teacher went around the room and in Arabic asked each person where they were from. When she came to me, I replied, "Ana min Utah fe al welayat al mutahida." Yeah! I said my longest Arabic sentence! After Arabic class Janet took us to the Gold souks. Actually, this is an area of about 200 jewelry shops, some specializing in gold, others in silver, and some in both. I have never seen so many jewelry shops in one area. I had asked Eyad, Gennette's husband if people really bought that much jewelry and he said yes, that it is a huge part of their culture. He said a woman might have lots of jewelry (gold bangles, gold necklaces, gold earrings) and wear it for 5 years or so and then sell it back and replace it. It reminded me of a revolving jewelry wardrobe. Here jewelry is sold by the weight. So when you find earrings or a necklace that you like, they throw it on the scale and figure it from there. We took a taxi home and had some lunch. Then Gennette, Lucy and I spent the entire afternoon talking. We literally sat at Gennette's kitchen table for almost 4 hours and talked. Gennette told us about her life, about raising her sons as they attended Muslim schools, and how they ended up serving LDS missions. We had wonderful conversations! It was like a very long Institute class!!

Camel Races and a Spa - Sunday, March 22nd

Last night Gennette and Eyad picked us up from the airport in Doha.  When I lived in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia I was Gennette's visiting teacher.  She lived at Monopoly Village, a compound across the street from the Souks supermarket.  John and Joella Brown lived there also.  Lucy has known Gennette for over 40 years.  I will let Lucy tell that story of how they met.  Gennette is originally from Costa Rica, while her husband Eyad is from Baghdad, Iraq.  Gennette is very active LDS, and Eyad is Muslim.  They have 2 sons who have served LDS missions, one to England and one to Russia.  They have spent many years working in the Middle East, but they also have a home in Mesa, AZ.  We are loving staying with them.  For me, I am getting to know them both so much better than I did when I lived in Arabia.  Today is British Mother's Day.  First I want to say that as I had mentioned before, in Saudi Arabia the weekend is Thursday and Friday, and Friday is the Sabbath Day.  In Qatar, the weekend is Friday and Saturday, but Friday is still the Sabbath Day, so as Gennette says, "We go to church on Friday and celebrate on Saturday!"  So it should come as no surprise that on a daily basis I am asking people what day of the week it is.  I have never felt so confused as I have the past 2 weeks with our hectic schedule and not getting a "feel" for the day of the week.  Gennette and Eyad picked us up from the airport last night and brought us to their home, which is in a compound consisting of 10 homes.  These are the very large Arab type homes.  The ceilings are all 10-12 feet tall, and the rooms are spacious.  I will have to post photos of this to do it justice.  Lucy and I each have our own private bedroom.  Behind the main house is a small guest house where Conchita, the Filipina housemaid lives.  Each family who lives in this compound works for Bechtel Corp.  Gennette's husband, Eyad, works on the new airport here.  Last night we visited and ate Gennette's homemade carrot and corn soup.  Gennette is a microbiology major and so she loves making up potions, or rather experimenting with recipes.  I told her that I would never think of that combination for a soup, but honestly, I loved it and proved it by having 2 bowls of it.  Then this morning Janet Merkley, Sue Ashcroft came over and we had our visiting teaching meeting.  It doesn't matter what country you are in, there are members of the church all over the world which makes finding friends much easier than if I wasn't LDS.  After we met, Janet took Gennette, Lucy, Tessie (Gennette's Filipina neighbor) and I to the camel races.  The camel racetrack is in Al Sheehaniya, a 30 minute drive west of Doha.  Lucy and I loved this experience.  On the way to the racetrack we passed by ostrich crossing signs and camel crossing signs.  Those seem much more exciting than the deer crossing signs in Utah and Montana.  We also passed by the Emir's palace and learned he had recently taken his 4th wife.  That is the maximum number of wives a Muslim is allowed to have.  One of his wives is Sheikha Mozah who is very intelligent and progressive.  She has established a lot of universities and educational facilities in Qatar. As we were driving along, we passed camels on the side of the road and off in the distance were the Arab tents.  Janet was the perfect tour guide who stopped when we asked (which was often), saying, "Stop!  I've got to get a picture of that!"  Janet told us that if we waved a water bottle or a piece of fruit the camels would come to us.  She said that if you wave a water bottle at a camel they will come to you, take the water bottle in their mouth, tilt their head back and drink, and then return the water bottle.  I thought that was quite fascinating.  As we approached the racetrack we saw a camel crossing sign and a herd of camels wearing brightly colored blankets carrying Arabs wearing gutras and turbans were crossing the road.  Janet pulled over, we got out, and ran to take pictures.  Occasionally Toyota trucks and SUV's would drive by and have to stop at the camel crossing sign while the camels crossed the road.  Since camels were crossing the road from each direction, we decided that must be what "double crossing" meant.  While we were shooting photos I sat on a concrete wall taking pictures when a black SUV police officer drove up.  Having been in Arabia the past two weeks, my heart stopped, and I assumed we were in trouble.  Not so!  He pulled up, rolled down the window, leaned out and said, "You can drive on in the racetrack and get some better photos!"  Wow, this was not the type of police officer we were used to!!  He then stopped his truck, got out, and posed for pictures with us!  You can tell we are definitely NOT in Saudi!!  Then we drove through the gate, all the while taking pictures of the colorfully decorated camels with their drivers.  We noticed how some of the Arabs were not wearing sandals at all, but were barefoot.  Some of the camels were wearing brightly colored pink or yellow crocheted face masks covering their mouth and noses.  Maybe it was to keep the sand out.  I got some good shots of that also.  We were driving along looking at the camels when we came to a group of Arabs sitting on the ground with brightly colored robots in front of them.  Actually, these were battery operated camel whips which had a remote that looked like a remote door opener for a car.  We stopped, got out, took pictures, and they were thrilled for our visit.  They let us hold these "camel whips" and push the button, and I screamed and jumped when the whip started spinning around.  I have an old fashioned camel whip at home and figured that was the only camel whip there was.  I had no idea that modern technology had even entered the world of camel racing!  The reason for these remote controlled camel whips was because using children as jockeys was outlawed in recent years.  Sometimes the children jockeys would fall off the camels and be trampled.  We spent quite some time watching the Arabs practice racing their camels.  Then we left the camel racetrack and headed back to town, deciding NOT to go to "Cholesterol Corner" (the corner where all the fast food restaurants are!), but instead we ate lunch at a very classy Iranian restaurant.  I had never eaten Iranian food before, but of course, I loved it.  I think I love all Middle Eastern food.  Just give me hummus, Arab bread, and tabbouli, and that's a meal for me!  In the restaurant there were Iranian carpets covering the floor and hanging on the walls. They made their fresh bread at a nearby open oven.  We had a wonderful meal, and then Janet took us back to Gennette's home.  Our next surprise came an hour later when Gennette's friend, Minika came and picked us up to take us to The Diplomatic Club.  She has a membership there which costs $3000 a year but is paid for by her company. Minika is originally from Nigeria.  She is about 6 feet tall, has an extremely open, fun, bubbly personality, is very generous and giving, and fills a room with excitement when she enters.   She is living in Doha working for a construction company.  She has a strong personality, which definitely showed as she was driving us around, and when we came to an intersection and an Arab was in the car to the right of us, she put up her hand and said, "Stay!"  Lucy and I laughed at her strong driving approach towards Arab men.  Minika spent most of her life in England and so she has a British accent.  She wanted to take us to spend an afternoon at this health spa.  I told her later that I have never spent a day at a spa in my life.  I've heard of women who have been pampered with such treatment, but never experienced it myself.  After that experience I think I should treat myself to that at least once a year.  We took photos, of course, because no one would believe a spa like this.  The building looked like a palace.  We were scheduled for massages which we badly needed, but we learned that they had 2 massage therapists, however, one of them had been called to go to the palace of the Emir.  Minika was upset when she learned that and said to the staff at the spa, "What do you mean you sent your masseuse to the palace?  Didn't I tell you that we needed both of them?  My money is as good as his!" (Picture a tall, black woman with a British accent and a STRONG personality chastising the staff of The Diplomatic Club!!)   I don't know if the palace of the Emir got the best masseuse, but our masseuse was the best any of us have ever had!!  This little Filipina woman, Cynthia, gave a massage that was a combination of Swedish, Thai, and Shiatsu.   Since there were four of us, she gave 4 massages back to back.  I was first.   I entered a dimly lit room with rose petals scattered across the sheets of the massage table.  With soft background music,  she worked the muscles, stretched the muscles, and bent me every which way possible.   With me laying on my stomach, a towel covering me, she climbed on top and sat on my back and worked her magic.  (I know if my kids are reading this, they are saying, "Mom, that is too kinky.  Much more info than I needed!!")  I was thinking to myself, "Dang!  Why aren't the massage therapists at Massage Envy in St. George, Utah like this?"  I need to find someone like Cynthia in the States!  It was unlike any massage any of us had ever experienced, and we each staggered out of the room like drunken women.  While I was getting this massage, Minika came and knocked on the door, and when Cynthia opened the door, she took a picture!  My first photo during a massage!!  We had the whole day to use the facilities there...the exercise room, the sauna, the steam room, the swimming pool, the lounge with frest fruit juices and dates, and the hot tubs.  After my massage, I went in the room with the hot tubs and soaked in the hot water while visiting with Minika.  I stayed talking with her for hours, especially when I learned that she had walked across hot coals at a Anthony Robbins seminar.  I love Anthony Robbins and have always wanted to attend one of his seminars.  She told me about how it changed her life.  She was very modest about her life, but I learned that she had been a professional athlete in discus throwing in Nigeria and her scholarship due to her skills is what brought her to England.   I told her I love writing, and she said I should write a book about her.  I said I would definitely love that!!
No words can really describe Minika!  Anyway, we went from the hot tub to the sauna to the steam room and back, all the while discussing life, health, motivation and inspirational topics, and since she is LDS and a very strong LDS, I found it fascinating discussing topics with her that I couldn't discuss with just anyone.  She is single right now but has 3 boys.  Minika has been a delight to meet on this journey!  We spent the entire afternoon into the evening at this spa.  Then Gennette's husband met us there after work and we all went to dinner.  Once again, an Arab feast.  I feel as though I have been on a 3 week Arabian cruise!  
This is Lucy:  Karen is so detailed there is nothing much to add but I do remember Minika told us the key to good health is "Water and Greens, Water and Greens, Water and Greens!!!!!!"  BTW Gennette told us that Minika is true royalty.  Her father and grandfather were the leaders of their people in Nigeria.  She is a fascinating person.  She was playing Primary songs on her CD player the first time she picked us up, the next time it was Salsa!  It was British 
Mother's Day and she was delighted when she received a text message from one of her sons in England:  "Mother I love you, Mother I do, Heavenly Father has sent me to you!" (It's a Primary Children's song).
I have known Gennette and her family about 45 years, first met Manuel Thomas, her father, when we lived in the Alma Ward in Mesa.  His family was still in Costa Rica and we sort of "adopted"  him.  It was a great day when he was finally able to bring his wife Adriana, Gennette, Olga, Adrianita and Mayela to the States.  We were one of the first to welcome them and we have been close friends ever since.  Gennette and I were in Saudi Arabia at the same time, but I was never able to visit her in Riyadh and  by the time she moved to Al Khobar we had left Dhahran.  Manuel was the most wonderful man.  He loved to make us laugh and have fun.  Gennette laughs just like he did and has taken over his role of making everyone feel good.  She and Eyad are wonderful hosts.  We thought we would get to Doha and slow down, put up our feet and relax.  Believe me, the whirlwind pace has continued and we are loving it.  Doha is a fascinating place and we will tell you more later.

Bahrain - Saturday, March 21st

As we left Saudi Arabia, we drove across the causeway towards the island of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf.  Actually, in Arabia they call it the Arabian Gulf.  The rest of the world calls it the Persian Gulf.  There is a causeway connecting Bahrain to Saudi Arabia, and it takes about an hour to get across.  Of course, sometimes, depending on the traffic, the day of the week, the time of day, or possibly even the time of year, it may take as much as 4 to 5 hours to get across.  On this particular day, it was an absolute breeze going across.  We did not have our bags searched, and it was no problem stopping at immigration and customs to get our exit visa for Arabia and our entry visa for Bahrain.  Our flight left at 8:40pm and since we arrived early in Bahrain, Sheik our driver, took us downtown to a great shopping area where we had 50 minutes to explore and take pictures before meeting up with him again.  In April 1991 our family spent 3 weeks in Bahrain where we housesat for a family in our Stake.  Those were my last memories of Bahrain.  We heard that Michael Jackson used to have a home there.  As we entered the island of Bahrain, we could immediately sense the difference between there and Saudi Arabia.  In Bahrain women are allowed to drive.  There is much more freedom of dress, and we went into a photo shop and the woman working there was wearing jeans.  Okay, so you can tell we've been out of reality for a while when we end up looking at each other and saying, "Wow, you better get a picture of that!  That woman is wearing jeans in public!"  (Maybe it's time to come home soon!!)  Not all Arab countries are the same.  We found a wonderful shop that was actually a store/museum for the Bahrain tourists.  We had no money, and so we took pictures and when I publish them on here, we decided to label it: All the things we DIDN'T buy!
However, I did buy 2 postcards.  One is a photo of a man weaving the Bedouin baby cradles out of palm fronds.  I have one of those cradles at home so I thought it was a cool picture to see it being made.  But my other post card was a total surprise!  It is a photo of an old Arab man, squatting on the ground and weaving fish nets.  But the reason I bought it is because I have that very same photo that I personally took years ago, and it is the same man!!  When I saw that postcard, I said, "Oh my gosh, I took this picture!  This is the same man that I photographed years ago!"  His face with the wrinkles, the expression, and the nose is a classic!  His face is one of a kind.  We had so much fun exploring this shop.  I took lots of photos.  Then we left and hurried across the street where we found the souks.  Lucy and I agreed that we would rather shop at the Souks (Arab markets) any day rather than a mall.  I was hurrying thru a narrow alley when I spied an old Arab man sitting on stool selling socks.  That is all he was selling, just a few baskets full of socks.  I took one photo without him knowing, then approached him and asked his permission to take a picture.  He smiled a toothless smile and agreed.  All the men following behind me stopped while I snapped this photo of a sock salesman.  These shops also had colorful fabrics with shiny beads and sequins adorning their windows.  One shop displayed belly dancing outfits, and I took pictures of a black and silver one and a hot pink one.  You can tell we are not in Saudi Arabia anymore!!  As I said, we only had 50 minutes to run around Bahrain, but we laughed as we got back into the van with Sheik when we thought of all the touring and sight-seeing we had done in that short amount of time.  Sheik told us that Bahrain was becoming the next Dubai.  Bahrain had skyscrapers and fabulous architecture.  We drove to the airport where we knew for sure we were not in Saudi Arabia anymore.  Women were working at the counters (you would never see that in Arabia) and the lines were not long, and going thru customs was a breeze.  What a complete difference from the Dammam airport!!  Plus everything was so clean and everyone was so friendly.  As we were going thru passport control, there was a man behind me in line that reminded me of Sam.  He was what Sam would look like if he was an Arab wearing a turban.  Lucy thought he might be Omani as he was on his way to Oman.  The airport in Bahrain had lots of shops, and standing next to one shop was a mannequin of an Arab man wearing a thobe and a gutra.  I happened to be wearing my abaya (I wore it across the causeway) and so I stood beside this mannequin and posed while Lucy took my picture.  An Arab man wearing a thobe walked by and laughed when he saw me.  Later in the airport we saw a shop that sold abayas and had several women mannequins wearing abayas embroidered with brightly colored threads and some of them had rhinestones.  I made the mistake of asking the lady working there if I could take a picture, and she said that wasn't allowed.   We were wanting a photo of me standing next to these mannequins, posing with them.  Lucy and I had a short layover in Bahrain, and so we sat in some seats near some Arab women.  Looking over at one, I noticed she had incredible henna work done on her hands.  I walked over to her, sat down and asked her if she spoke English.  She spoke a little bit.  I asked if I could see her hands, and she proudly showed me her hands decorated with henna, a brownish-orange dye with which Arab women paint designs on their hands.  This was the most intricate designs of henna I have ever seen.  And of course, I took pictures of both sides of both hands.  Later her daughters came over and sat down.   We took pictures of all of them.  As we prepared to board our flight, they searched our luggage and found my large bottles of shampoo and conditioner in my carry-on.  I had completely forgotten about the 3 ounce rule.  The lady looked at it as I explained that I had forgotten that rule, and she put them back in my luggage and waved me on through.  I doubt that would happen in the States.  I wasn't even concerned about that.  I was more concerned about that kilo bag of zatar I had in my purse.  I hoped they didn't think it was something illegal.  She never searched my purse.  We boarded a flight that had originated from London and was going to Doha.  The flight was probably the shortest flight I have ever been on in my life, but it was also the bumpiest, most turbulent plane ride I've ever had.  It was so bad that an Arab woman behind me screamed periodically throughout the flight while her husband tried to comfort her and quiet her.  When we landed and exited, I told the captain, "Thank you for that wild ride!", and he admitted that he was scared himself.   I wasn't worried about crashing, but I did think that crashing in the Persian Gulf after spending 2 weeks in Arabia would be quite the grand exit from this life to the next.  And so we landed in Doha, the capital of Qatar (pronounced "cuttar" by the Arabs).

Massalamah - The Grand Good-bye Sat. March 21st

Today was our last day in Saudi Arabia.  We both had mixed feelings.  It was a bitter-sweet feeling for me, so thrilled I had returned and yet, knowing I had to leave and continue on with life as it is now.  In a way, it was a closure for me.  I still cry sometimes when I think about it.  Those were wonderful years living in Arabia, but everyone's life has changed so much since those days. Lucy and I agreed that the very best thing of all that came from our life there were the friendships we formed and that have lasted through the years.  It was the men who were in my ward in Saudi Arabia who were the pallbearers at Mark's funeral.  Who would have thought it?   I will have to write those thoughts later as I want this to end on a wonderful note.
Lucy and I awoke early, and everything that happened I was thinking, "that's the last time I will hear the birds in Dhahran in the early morning", or this is the last time to do such and such. How did I want to spend my last day there?  I wanted to go walk the streets of Khobar one final time.  (That adds new meaning to the term "streetwalker"!)  Lucy thought I was nuts!!  "Karen, are you kidding?  We have so much to do.  We have to be packed by 4pm because Sheik is coming to pick us up and take us to the airport in Bahrain."   But I packed early that morning, and by 8:30 I was ready to head off to the Aramco bus stop to catch the bus for my final trek into the Arab shopping community that I knew the best.  And at the very last second, Lucy grabbed her purse and said she was coming with me.  Later she confessed that she liked traveling with me because "you're always willing to cram in one more adventure!"  As we sat on the bus, we noticed that we were the only Americans on the bus.  That was different from years ago when we could be guaranteed to run into several friends on each shopping trip.  This time we were amid women from a variety of countries, mostly Saudi women all in abayas.  When we arrived in Khobar, we jumped off the bus at the "Thieves Market".  Sue Alexander had laughed earlier when I mentioned that area, saying that she had never heard that part of Khobar referred to in that way.  The Thieves Market is a section of town (on the right side as you're driving in right before Eve's Jewelry) that has rows of shops with Pakistanis and Indians selling wares of all types - decorated black abayas, rugs, clothes, sandals, tablerunners, electronics, and houseware items.  Doesn't sound too exciting to the average American, I know.  Geez, it almost sounds like Walmart. (minus the abayas!)  But trust me,  the excitement of bargaining with Pakistani shopkeepers for treasures is not an excitement that is found in Walmart!   As we entered the first row of shops we saw an Indian man mopping the tile floors in front of us.  As he saw us coming, he laid his mop down in the middle of the floor and ran off to his shop.  Lucy laughed at the fact that he laid his mop right in the middle of the aisle and ran off.  I'm quite sure she even took of picture of it.  We have taken literally hundreds of pictures!!!  So of course, as we proceeded down the row of shops all the shopkeepers ran to the doors of their shops, yelling at us and beckoning us to enter their stores.  A real shopkeepers competition!!  We entered one shop where we bought some scarves that were beautiful, would make great gifts, and were only 10 riyals each.  I also bought my grandkids a prayer rug. (Allie, keep it a secret till I get home!)  I thought that would be a fun souvenir for them to kneel on and say bedtime prayers.  I have some secret souvenirs that I won't blog about. As we were ready to make our purchase, the shopkeeper tried to sell us some bathtowels.  Lucy and I were stressed on time and money.  We had a certain amount of riyals left and had set aside the amount we needed to pay our driver to take us to the Bahrain airport. Plus we have to always be aware of prayer time. 
      For those of you not familiar with prayer time in the Middle East, let me take a minute to tell you about "prayer time".  Muslims pray 5 times a day.  There is a morning prayer that is usually about 4:30am, depending on the season and the hour of sunrise.  (By the way, the sun in the Middle East rises much earlier than in America.)   Then there is a noon prayer, an afternoon prayer, a prayer at dusk, and then finally an evening prayer.  Every day is a different time for prayers.  There is actually a calender that tells you the exact time (down to the minute) of prayer time for each day and each prayer.  We know it is prayer time because there is a loud call to prayer that is broadcast from all the mosques.  It is an Arab man's deep voice, chanting a testimony regarding Allah.  Translated to English he says, "God is great.  There is no other God but God.  And Mohammed is a prophet of God.  Come for prayer.  Come for success.  God is great."  This is repeated several times.  In the morning prayer they insert one additional line that says, "Prayer is better than sleeping".   In Arabic it is: "Allah hu akbar.  Allah hu akbar.  Allah hu akbar.  Allah hu akbar.  La ellaha illa Allah.  La ellaha illa Allah.  Mohammed Rassoul Allah.  Mohammed Rassoul Allah.  Hayi ala alsalat.  Hayi ala alsalat.  Hayi ala al falah.  Hayi ala al falah.  Al salatu khairun min al naum.  Al salatu khairun min al naum.  (that last sentence means "prayer is better than sleeping.)  Allah hu akbar.  Allah hu akbar."  (This whole prayer was dictated to me and spelled by a Muslim.  I was thrilled to finally have this written down.  My kids always remember the beginning part of it.)  When prayer time is announced, the stores close for the approximately 20 minutes of prayer time.  Then they will reopen.  Years ago when we were shopping for groceries they would flash the lights in the store approximately 5 minutes before prayer time to let us know that we either needed to hurry and check out, or we needed to prepare to leave our carts as we left the store to go stand outside and wait till we could return.  My thoughts about prayer time are that I love hearing the prayer time chants, but I hate the inconvenience it causes in shopping.  In Saudi Arabia everything closes during prayer time.  That is not true in all Arab countries.  As an Iraqi told me, "Saudi is not the norm."  I laughed and said, "In more ways than one!!"   So back to my story - Lucy and I knew we only had less than 2 hours to get everything done before the noon prayer, and then all the stores would be closed for the afternoon and would reopen from about 4pm till 10pm.  But we were leaving Dhahran at 4pm so this was our last morning shopping in Khobar.  I know I seemed a bit agitated when this Pakistani man pulled out bath towels and said, "towels,  towels, you want towels?"  Quite annoyed with our lack of time and all that we wanted to do, I replied, "No, we don't want towels!  We have no more room in our luggage, and we have towels at home!"  So we hurried away from the Thieves Market even though shopkeepers were still begging us to come to their shops.  We had to cross Dhahran Blvd. which an incredibly busy street with 3 lanes of traffic going both directions.  Lucy looked across the street and spotted an old landmark, Eve's Jewelry store.  All of our friends from Arabia will remember Eve's Jewelry.   She said, "Oh Karen, take my picture in front of Eve's Jewelry."  So I got my camera ready, Lucy was in the process of getting herself posed, but before she was completely ready I saw a Pakistani man coming towards us on a bicycle.  I couldn't wait on Lucy; it was a shot I couldn't miss.  So right as he was beside her I flashed my camera.  It was a classic.  Then we crossed the street, running across the street trying to beat the clock on the street light timer.  I was laughing as I hiked up my abaya and made a wild dash across 6 lanes of crazy Arab drivers.  I was looking at the timer counting down the seconds when I turned and saw Lucy still standing there taking pictures.  I yelled, "Run Lucy!  You've got 10 seconds!!"  Lucy ran!!  I knew we looked like two crazy blonde Americans!  We passed by Eve's without going in.  We needed to get some cardboard mailing tubes to put some watercolor prints in to ship home in our suitcases without them getting bent. Lucy needed to see if she could find a place to get her sunglasses repaired that she had broken.  We went back to a shop we had been to previously, and then hailed a taxi to take us to Al Jarir bookstore where we bought our mailing tubes.  After leaving Al Jarir's we went to the old Safeway, now known as Tammimi market.  We were in the back of the store buying a kilo each of zatar, our favorite spice on Arab bread.  Since then we have learned that we could have bought it in the States.  Oh well, I now have a full kilo from Arabia.  Lucy wants to divide it in little bags for gifts.  That's a clever idea.  I wonder how my grandkids will like zatar bread.  While we were deciding which type of zatar to buy, a Pakistani man approached us.  It ended up that he was the same taxi driver that we had had previously when Debbie was with us and the same driver who we handsomely tipped.  He had seen Lucy and I walk in the store, and recognizing us as "big tippers" he followed us.  We told him we didn't need a taxi then.  I am quite certain he was greatly disappointed.  After we bought our zatar, we went to the bakery there and watched (and took step by step photos) as the man baked us fresh Arab bread with cheese and zatar.  We sat outside on a bench and ate our favorite treat.  As we were leaving that area, we spotted Baskin Robbins.  We decided ice cream would be a grand finale for our final Khobar treat.  So we ordered ice cream (and of course took photos of the signs and the man who dished out our ice cream) and ate as we proceeded to walk through Khobar.  We really had nothing else we needed to get (Lucy couldn't find a place to fix her glasses.) and we walked through Khobar taking pictures.  Like I have said before, the amount of photography here has been a huge surprise.  We have seen Arabs, Pakistanis, Indians, and everyone taking pictures.  We even met a man from Cairo who was doing the same. I will be so excited when I get home and get all those pics posted.  Truly, a picture is worth a thousand words!  My only regret is that our Khobar pictures are not "scratch and sniff" pictures!!  That would make our blog complete if we had the smells to go with it!!  As we were walking along I saw an old bicycle leaning against a wall.  It was on a side street that wasn't too busy.  This old bicycle had some Middle Eastern fabric wrapped around the seat with plastic over it, and the rust on it would testify that it wasn't a recent purchase.  I thought of my daughter-in-law Jessica and of the type of "classic", "National Geographic" type of pictures that she takes.  I love unique photographs, and so I stopped, got in the perfect position and took a photo of a Pakistani worker's bicycle leaning against a concrete wall on a backstreet in Arabia.  
Just as I turned to walk away, a young Saudi drove by with his window down.  Seeing that I had just taken a picture of an old bicycle, he craned his neck out the window at me, and I laughed hysterically when I saw the puzzled look of disbelief on his face.  No doubt that his thoughts were, "You have got to be kidding!!  This crazy American woman just took a picture of a bicycle??"   He drove slowly around the corner, still looking at me and Lucy with that same look of disbelief.  Lucy and I laughed and laughed at how stupid I must have seemed to him.  As we were walking down the street shooting pictures of silly signs, people, buildings, scenes, and shops, I nearly stepped on a dead rat laying on the sidewalk.  I stopped and photographed that, knowing that I really was as insane as this young Arab had thought.  But seriously, I wanted to show what the conditions were where we were walking.  Our best find was when we took a side street and found ourselves on the street with the meat markets.  There were fish markets where we went in and photographed the fish and the workers posed also.  (Now you are really missing out on that not being a "scratch and sniff" photo!!)  The smell of dead fish was horrific. Our favorite find was the mutton shops.  The signs in the windows said, 'fresh mutton'.  But there, hanging upside down in the window were about 8 goats, with no fur or hide on them, but their tails and heads were still on them.  They even had their horns.  Lucy had never seen that in Khobar before.  I had seen that in Dammam years ago only it was beef hanging up with their tails still attached.  Anyway, those goats were about as fresh as you could ask for.  The shopkeepers sat in plastic lawn chairs at the doorways of their shops and let us take pictures.  
There were several shops like this, so we had lots of dead goats to photograph!  Believe me, it was quite the photo session.  We proceeded on and found a spice shop.  We crossed the street to go photograph the spice shop with their bags of spices lining the shop.  The door to the shop was a large, hard, clear plastic sheet that hung in the doorway with a split in the middle.  As I approached the shop, a mutawa'a stepped out.  I stopped and froze in place with my camera hanging discreetly by my side, my hands concealing it.  (A mutawa'a is basically a religious policeman that goes around and enforces the laws of Islam.  They are usually older men with gray beards who wear "high-water" thobes.  I have known them to carry sticks and switch women on the ankles who were wearing dresses that weren't long enough.  I have had them stop me and tell me to cover my head.  One time (a short side story) years ago, I accidently forgot what I was wearing, and our family drove in to Khobar for a quick shopping trip.  I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, but it was short sleeved, and Heaven forbid, but my elbows were showing, plus my figure in a pair of jeans!  As we were leaving the mall a mutawa'a and 3 policemen approached Mark and told him I was no good and for him to take me home.  A man is responsible for his wife's actions, and so you can imagine that Mark was often worried that I would get us kicked out of the country.)  And so, the mutawa'a hurried past us two infidels, and we both ducked through the plastic door, stepped inside the spice shop and breathed a sigh of relief.  We had already decided that if a mutawa'a approached us and reprimanded us for taking photos, that we would ignore him and walk away.  Besides, we were leaving the country in a matter of hours so we weren't terribly worried about being kicked out. 
We took photos in the spice shop and visited with the men from India who were selling spices. 
We stayed a bit longer, just to take in the pungent smells from the open spice baskets. 
Leaving the spice shop, we turned the corner to find Latif Bakery.  There were a number of Middle Eastern nationalities standing near the street sign and sitting on the ground near their trucks.  They took pictures of us, and we took pictures of them.  I told Lucy there is no telling what internet site we could end up on after all types of Middle Eastern men have wanted our pictures.  But they were friendly, wanting to know where we were from, and I am sure they found our blonde hair to be intriquing.  We visited with them, and then hurried off, continuing our Khobar photo shoot.  A surprise we had was raindrops.  That's right, raindrops in Arabia. There wasn't much since we didn't even get wet, but we did see drops on the sidewalk.  Anyway, we continued to walk and shoot pictures through the noon prayer.  After prayer time the shops were closing for the afternoon, and so we flagged down a taxi to get a ride back to Dhahran.  At this point, we had four hours left in Arabia.  Our taxi driver was a delight, and we rolled down our windows and continued flashing our cameras all the way down Dhahran Blvd.  We thought there seemed to be a lot of traffic, more than usual, and our driver told us it was because it was prayer time.  All the stores were closed, so now everyone was on the road.  But we didn't mind the slow traffic because it gave us great opportunities for Kodak moments.  One of our favorite was when Lucy yelled, "Quick Karen!  Get that truck that says Camel Inc."  I turned and quickly and miraculously got the most perfect shot of a large truck that said, "Camel Inc." down the side of it with a picture of a camel on it.  Lucy said she was so glad that we had spent our last day in Khobar on a crazy photo shoot.  Debbie had let us take her car to the ballfield where the buses were, and so when we arrived at the ballfield we got in the car to leave.  I was driving.  It is illegal in Saudi Arabia for women to drive except on the Aramco compound.  As I was backing up, a Pakistani man in an orange jumpsuit came running over, telling us that he had washed our car while we were gone, and now we needed to pay him.  We were a bit irritated because we hadn't requested a car wash, and we were limited on money.  Kind of tricky, don't you think? We paid him, and Lucy commented that every car in the parking lot looked as if they had just been washed.  We visited a Saudi Arabia Heritage Museum that is across the street from the library.  It was so interesting.  It was basically a museum of Aramco and  its history and the history and artifacts of Saudi Arabia.  Then we went to Debbie's and got some items that Sue is bringing back, and in return I am bringing back her jewelry for her, because she and Dave are going on a "Bike and Barge" trip through the Netherlands on their way home to the States.  For those of you who might not know yet, Sue and Dave Alexander are leaving Arabia and moving to American Fork, Utah.  They leave in April.  We went to Sue's and visited with her for a while. Then we returned to Debbie's and made our final preparations.  We took pictures and visited.  Our bags were packed and we were waiting for Sheik, our driver, to pick us up at 4pm.   Then lo and behold, we had the most wonderful grand finale of all!  We were sitting in Debbie's family room when the doorbell rang.  Debbie looked up, and seeing Tex thru the glass door she exclaimed, "Okay ladies, get your cameras ready.  Tex is here!"  Lucy and I both sprang from our seats and yelled, "TEX!!!  Oh my gosh, Tex is here!!!"  Tex is an Arab with a Texas accent!  Everyone who has ever lived in Dhahran knows Tex, and we would bet that most ex-Aramcons have some pot or piece of Bedouin jewelry or rug or some wonderful artifact from Arabia that they purchased from Tex.  I happen to have two large copper pots sitting on top of a large bookcase in my bedroom that came from Tex.  Tex has a great personality, is an absolute delight to listen to, and he makes house calls!  So Tex entered the room, and Lucy and I threw our arms around him, telling him how thrilled we were that we got to see him since we were leaving the Kingdom in 20 minutes.  Tex didn't mind one bit giving each of us a tight hug!  We loved our visit with Tex and will never forget it.  I began asking Tex questions about his life. He told us that his wife had died, and his sons had disowned him because they think he is crazy.  He has no home and lives with friends.  For a living, Tex sells Arab artifacts.  He said he lived in Houston, Texas from the ages of 7 to 14.  He claims that is where he developed his Texas accent.  I lived in Texas for 22 years, and Tex sounds more southern than me.  Right now I would guess that he is in his 60's.  His dad worked for the US Government under Eisenhower.  As he told us about his family not having anything to do with him, it led into a discussion where he began telling us the story of Joseph of Egypt as told in the Koran.  He went on and on, telling us about Joseph and the coat of many colors and relating his life to Joseph's life as far as his family deserting him.  He talked about Abraham and even about Jesus.  Time was passing, and it was only a few minutes till Sheik would arrive.  Then Tex started to sing.  We told him he had a wonderful voice (which was true) and asked him if he would sing to us.  That is a memory that I will never forget. Debbie Larsen, Lucy Shuler, and I sitting in Debbie's house in Dhahran while Tex stood in our midst and sang a song in Arabic.  I loved it!  It was the most relaxing, peaceful feeling as Tex's voice filled the room.  We sat there ever so quietly taking in this moment of this little Arab man, a man without a family,  who had just taught us scripture stories and then gave us our last wish in Arabia, a song in Arabic.  Our time in Arabia could not have ended on a better note! (no pun intended)  As Tex was ending his song, the doorbell rang, and Sheik, our driver had arrived.  We took pictures with Tex, hugged Debbie and expressed our gratitude for her incredible generous hospitality (we could never have done this trip with so much ease and comfort without the Larsens!!) and loaded our baggage into Sheik's van.  And then we took our last drive through Dhahran.  Even as I write this, it is hard not to cry.  I cannot express how much I loved my life there, where I gained some of my greatest friends in my life who shared memories and experiences that no one else on earth can relate to.  We drove through the Aramco security gate, and I turned and took one last picture out the back window.  We drove on, heading towards the border on the causeway leading to Bahrain.  And thus ended one of the greatest vacations, adventures, and memories of my life, a trip to the Magic Kingdom,  the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  

Saturday, March 21, 2009

just some thoughts

Aghhh...I know there are people following this blog and some are asking `'where are the pictures'
i am going to get those posted after we return.  Realistically it will be the first week of `April.. i am going to catch up on this.  I told Lucy it is like having a job while on vacation.  Plus we flew to Doha yesterday...and i will write and explain all that.  hoping to do it tonight.  I am having a bit of a difficult time because I am typing on an Arabic computer.  It doesn't have `''enter'  printed on it, or anything i will get this figured to read everything and know what `i'm doing....but hang in there...more is coming...and it is so wonderful you won't want to miss it...we are leaving now for the camel races....will write so much sorry i can't keep up on a daily basis....but i am taking notes and photos....will finish up a lot of this tonight...right now it is 9am, karen

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Khobar and Farewell dinner - Tues. March 17th

Today is Tuesday, March 17th. I had to take out my cell phone and look at a calendar to figure that out. I am completely turned around here. This morning I got up (I usually wake up at 6 or 6:30am everyday) and went on a walk/run down Memory Lane. I left Debbie's house at Abu Ali and went around the corner on Safaniya. I think that Barbara Schoenholtz lived around there. Then I came to Arabian Gulf Rd. I followed that down to Al Hasa and crossing Al Hasa, I entered Hofuf Drive by the Morrison's house. Going right, I continued down Hofuf, passing the Daveline's house, passing by Al Qara where the Ashton's lived, passing by Ain Dar and the Burnell's house, and came to Ghawar. I turned left and stood and looked at my old home. The tree in the front yard has grown tremendously and is way higher than the 2 story roof. They have grass in front, whereas we had rocks. I turned and looked at the homes where Peter and Liz Naber lived, and where Ralph and Barbara Bush lived. I thought about if those trees or houses could talk and all the stories they could tell. They would recount all the days that Ryan and Jeff and Trevor rode their Hot Cycles down the street, cruising at high speeds from one driveway to another. They would tell about the times that I would lay down with Ryan to take a nap, and while reading him a story I would be the one to fall asleep. Then he would quietly climb over me, sneak out of the house, and run over to Trevor's house to play. One day they played with matches, and Ryan got burned. I can't remember the lie he told me when I questioned him about how he got burned. They would tell about me holding on to the back of Allison's bicycle to help with balance as I ran along behind her when she was learning to ride a 2-wheel bicycle. They would tell about Lindsay running across the street to play with Adria and maybe we would finally discover the mystery of who stole Lindsay's brand new battery-operated, pink Barbie car that she got for Christmas. Those homes saw the snowball fight we had in Arabia one time (maybe the only snowball fight in the history of Saudi Arabia!) when we rented a snowcone machine and all the kids from miles around came over to eat snowcones and have a snowball fight. After standing there, noticing the changes and realizing how much things had changed, I moved on. As I came to the end of Ghawar I saw an empty house and thought, "Hey, there's an empty house our family could move into!", and then I thought of how our family had changed over the years, and I realized I had temporarily, for a split second, been stuck in 1994. Then I thought, "Our family couldn't move into that house. It has changed too much. Mark is gone, and I can't live here without him having work here. Allison can't live here because she has Kory and four kids. Ryan can't live here because he is married to Jessica and lives in Oregon. Jeff can't live here because he is in college and all over the world. Lindsay can't live here because she is married to Brady and they have their own life." And suddenly I realized that none of us could live here anymore. So I turned left onto Mubarraz where the McCurry's used to live. I walked down passing by the home that Clark and Charlene Price lived in, and where Terry and Sheila Ray lived. I can remember so plainly saying to Jeff, "C'mon, it's time to go to preschool", and off we would go, walking down Mubarraz, holding hands, heading off to Ms. Gabby's preschool. As I came to the end of Mubarraz and approached Hofuf, I realized that if I turned right I would be going to Shedgum where I could visit the Dobson's, the Olsen's, and at the end of the street I could definitely be guaranteed some laughs at the Wellington's. I thought of the time that Sandy Olsen and I dressed up in abayas and went out at night and teepeed the Wellington's home for Guy Fawlkes Day (a British holiday). I still have pictures of Roger Olsen putting the stuffing in our Guy Fawlkes dummy that we hung from a tree in front of the Wellington's house. I'm laughing right now as I'm recalling this. Mark was disgusted with me for being a Relief Society President who would go teepee someone's house dressed in an Arab ababya. (Hey, I had to have a disguise, and how better to sneak around in the dark to avoid Security than to dress in an abaya!!) He told me that if we got caught by Security that he would deny he knew me. I told him that wouldn't fly too well when the Security officers questioned him about all the family photos that I was in. So I turned left and went down Hofuf to Al Hasa. As I walked down Al Hasa I passed the back of Sharon Fenn's home and knew if I turned left I could go visit Barbara Kenworthy. But I continued on to Debbie's house on Abu Ali. It was actually a wonderful walk down Memory Lane, but I realize that life has moved on for all of us families that were here, and we truly formed wonderful memories and friendships while we were all here. I arrived back at Debbie's, and Lucy, Debbie, and I were sitting in her family room talking when we spontaneously decided to go to Khobar. We called a taxi, grabbed our abayas, and took off for Khobar. I loved the spontaniety of it all. We told the taxi driver to take us to Prince Bandar street, which is in the center of the women's section. He took a different security gate out of the Aramco compound, but that allowed us to pass by the Golden Ghetto, the section where the wealthy Saudis live. Lucy said that her husband, Bud, always said that a prerequesite for living here in Arabia was taking a course called "Creative Reality 101". You have to be create your own reality here. (Debbie says the local expatriates now refer to this as the "Magic Kingdom." On the way into Khobar I noticed that the sky has had so much sand in it since we've been here. It's not as blue as it is in Saint George or Vegas. But I remember when we lived here the sky was so blue with not one cloud. We arrived at Bandar Street and stopped at a fabric store. This was not like Joanne's Fabrics or any other fabric store you have ever seen in your life. This truly was "The Mother of All Fabric Stores!!!!" (I use that expression because I remember how during the Gulf War (1990-91) Saddam said this was going to be the "mother of all wars"...just an expression I've always referred to.) Lucy and I took photos of the fabrics because a picture is worth a thousand words, and no words can describe this. These fabrics were from Italy and Switzerland. For a woman who loves fashion designing, it was heaven to me. I swooned over all the details in the fabrics, the beads, appliques, and handwork and dreamed of all the fabulous skirts, dresses, and jackets I could design using these fabrics. It was the ultimate in bling! We looked at fabrics that were 4000 riyals a meter! Do you understand that is basically $1,066.00 a yard!! So the Saudi shopkeeper told us that is was 4000SR a meter, but with the discount we could get it for only 3000 riyals. ($800 a yard) Wow, what a discount! Over here the shopkeepers always say, "But for you, a special discount." I told Lucy there must have been a high markup for them to discount 1000 riyals. But honestly, I have never seen fabrics like this before in my life! For anyone who likes to sew, it was the ultimate! In the store windows, they don't sew clothes out of these fabrics, but instead they drape it around the mannequin in ways that give ideas for creative uses. It actually looks like dresses, but really it is draped and pinned to look like they are sewed. I just can't express in words how overwhelmed I am with the fabric stores here. I would LOVE to have access to such a place in the States. Then we went to another fabric store (a simplified version from the previous one) for Debbie to get some fabric. Then we had 30 mintues till prayer call and so we grabbed another taxi and headed over to some other shops closer to the Corniche Road. After going into those shops, we had 10 minutes till prayer time. So we grabbed another taxi and went to Chili's for lunch. Yes, this is the same Chili's restaurant that exists in the states. At all these restaurants there are two entrances. One is labeled "Family Section" where families and couples and women eat. The other entrance is labeled "Singles Section" where single men eat. Everytime I almost go into the "Singles Section" because I keep thinking it refers to my marital status, and since I am single, I should be eating in the Singles Section, right? Actually, I have to eat in the "Family Section" because of being a woman. So we ordered lunch and shortly after, a Saudi couple came in. They sat at a table next to us, and the waiter grabbed a large folding screen (wooden folding screens with fabric on them) and set it up between us and the Saudi couple. Later another couple came in, and they did the same thing. I asked Debbie, "Why don't they let all the Saudi couples eat together and see each other and put up a screen and isolate us?" She said, "Because we don't care if anyone sees us!" That makes sense. The food was great, although the buffalo wings were so spicy, that when we took them home to Mike (Debbie's husband) even he couldn't hardly eat them. We left Chili's and crossed the wide, busy highway that separated us from Safeway (Tammimi Market). Debbie and I found a break in the traffic, and I lifted my abaya so I wouldn't trip and ran across the highway. We looked back and Lucy was still standing there taking pictures. We yelled at her to hurry and run or she would be a grease spot with a camera sitting on it in the middle of the road. We knew that the cars would not slow down for us, and if we did get run over by a car, once again, Enshallah, it was God's will for us to be killed if we didn't get out of the way. Lucy and I went inside Safeway while Debbie grabbed us a taxi. Things were looking pretty spiffy in there. They even had a garden dept. Lucy tooks some pics and then we went out to get the taxi. We had a wonderful taxi driver, an older man from Pakistan who spoke wonderful English. He told us that he had spent 20 years in Pakistan driving a bus, and then he had spent 25 years in Saudi Arabia driving a taxi. For all American men who have driven here, I think they would all agree that driving a taxi in Saudi for 25 years would seem like a death sentence. He said he had a wife and 2 children in Pakistan, and he got to go home and see them every two years and would spend 3 months there. So think of that...he sees his wife and children for 3 months every 2 years! We asked him if the driving was worse here or in Pakistan, and he said it was much more dangerous here. He was telling us that the street cleaners here make 400-450 riyals a month. ($106 a month!) The street cleaners are men from Pakistan or India who wear orange jumpsuits and sweep the streets. Some of them may be gardners also. Their rent is 600 riyals for one room for 2 people. It was heart-breaking hearing the circumstances of their lives, and when we arrived home we gave him much more money than the ride cost. That night we had a Reunion Farewell dinner. It was held at a large building on the Corniche road in Khobar. I will have to say that I have not ever shaken hands with so many Arab men in my life. They were lined up to shake our hands and welcome us as we got off the bus. We rode on the bus with Carol Hudson, a lady that used to be a first grade teacher here. At the event, I saw Lorraine Callom, who was a 3rd or 4th grade teacher, and I know that one of my kids had her for a teacher. I mentioned my kids to her and she said she remembered me. (I think it was Jeff who had her for a teacher.) Lucy met up with Bud's old boss, an Arab man who was so nice and kind and visited with us a lot. I had my picture taken with several Arab men and they gave me their business cards, saying to contact them if there was ever anything we needed. The meal (rather, the BANQUET!) consisted of lamb, rice, hummus, Arab bread, potatoes, many types of fruit, desserts, salads of all types, and vegetables. The banquet tables were stretched out across the room and laden with foods of all types. Lucy sat at a table with some friends, and I decided to be bold, add some excitement to life, and and so I ventured off and sat right next to a Saudi man I had met. There was only one other American at our table. I figured that would be an interesting group to have dinner with. It didn't really pan out as I had planned. The man who I sat next to was one of the local Saudi business men who hosted the dinner, but he visited with me a little, then when I got up to go to the buffet line, he got up and left and never came back. I didn't know if it was that he wanted to sit elsewhere or if he didn't want to be seen sitting next to a single, blonde American woman. So during the meal, I turned to the Saudi to my right and asked him if he still worked for Aramco, to which he replied, "I don't speak English." I wondered if he was lying to me because I found it very odd that a Saudi man his age (young) did not speak English. Anyway, it turned out that my dinner companions were very boring, and so I looked over a few tables away to see what was going on at Lucy's table. I figured it had to be better than my table, so I picked up my purse and changed tables. Then we had a presention where Ali Baluchi was speaking and several people spoke about the reunion, the history of Aramco, and the advances being made in the industry. In true "Smith fashion", I pulled out my mirror to check my teeth. In our family, I think Allison, Lindsay and I all have issues about whether we have food in our teeth after a meal, and we always check for that. Oh my gosh, I looked in my hand mirror and saw that I had a small piece of sheep stuck in my teeth. Yikes! I thought, "Oh my gosh, I have got to do something. I can't have anymore pictures taken if I have sheep in my front teeth, and I can't talk to anyone." So very discreetly, I fished around in my purse (all the while the Arabs are up front speaking) and found my dental floss. I thought how wonderful it is to be a woman and be able to carry dental floss in a purse. I don't know any men who carry dental floss in their pockets. Most men would just look for some nearby toothpicks. So very discreetly, and I do mean very discreetly, I managed to floss my teeth without anyone seeing me. I thought of my son Ryan and could hear how he would feel about me doing that. But my gosh, what's a woman to do at a public Arab feast when she's got sheep stuck in her teeth? There's a first time for everything, right? But I have to say that I have decided that I like sheep better than beef. After the program, before boarding the Aramco buses back to Dhahran, Lucy and I went into the bathroom. It was the nicest public bathroom in the Middle East that I have ever seen. (Yes, we took pics!) I opened one stall and saw a hammam, an Eastern toilet. It's basically a hole in the ground with a nearby waterhose. It shocked me for a second because I haven't seen one in a long time, and when I opened the stall door I was totally expecting to see a Western toilet. But a few stalls down I found a Western toilet, which of course, is the one I chose. Another was St. Patrick's Day. Here they call it Leprechan Day - no way would you want a holiday with the word "Saint" in it! Also, I forgot to include something I found funny. On Friday when we were attending Relief Society, the person conducting asked if anyone had anything to offer for a "Good News Moment". In the States, they usually have a "good news moment" where women will say things like, "I have a new grandbaby", or "My daughter just got married". So, here in Arabia (you've already figured out things are a bit different here) a lady said, "I am so excited. I just found Crisco the other day", and then she proceeded to tell everyone where they could get Crisco. Ah, the simple things of life that we take so for granted in America!! and back to my story...So we came back to Dhahran, exhausted from another day in Arabia. Lucy: The Al Seef Center where this Farewell Dinner was held is located on Corniche Road very near LeMeridien Hotel. What a grand place! Huge rooms, huge doors, huge chandeliers. I got to visit with some Loss Prevention people, including Younis, who is now retired and lives in Saihat, but was Bud's Loss Prevention Manager when we lived here. He is very friendly and so gracious. He has three daughters who are all MD's and two grand daughters who are becoming doctors. We got photos with him and Dick and Jean Ebner, Tina Light and her family. We had run into Jean earlier, but hadn't seen Dick because he had taken his grandsons camping in the desert the first few days. Later, talking to Jim Anderson on the phone I learned that he was their camping guide. Again, small world!

Monday, March 16th - Khobar with Debbie and Lucy AND an evening alone in Khobar

Today is Monday, March 16th. Debbie, Lucy and I decided to go into Khobar and spend the morning exploring the shops. We called a driver, Sheik Jr., the nephew to Sheik our driver who picked us up at the airport. He took us to Latif Bakery, where they sell cheese bread. Actually, they sell a number of different types of Arab breads with spices or cheeses or other toppings. We walked into the Family Section, past the tables, into the back where we poked our heads thru a window to give our order to the cook. The cook was an Arab man holding a long wooden stick with a flat end that looked like a paddle and held the flattened bread. He formed the dough, placed it on the flattened end of the stick, and stuck it inside an open oven of fire. I poked my head around inside the window to get a better look at what was going on and also to take pictures of this whole process. I had zatar bread, which was flattened Arab bread with a mixture of Middle Eastern spices on it. I actually loved it. Debbie got Arab bread with zatar, cheese, and labneh (which is a more solid form of buttermilk). Lucy got the cheesy bread with labneh. Lucy says the best combination is cheese, labneh, and zatar. Later Lucy got labneh all over the bottom of her abaya, and I got a picture of her cleaning labneh off her abaya in a Khobar alley. What a mess! After that Debbie needed to get a iron and so Sheik dropped us off, and while Debbie went into a household store, I found a fabulous shop that sold beads, ribbons, and sewing supplies. I wished I could find a place like that in St. George. Then we went to some other shops, the Silver Museum where we picked up our orders, and then we went to a wonderful shop where there were lots of "blingy" tablerunners, and Arab souvenirs of all types. The little Pakistani man had us follow him up some very steep stairs in the back to the 2nd floor. There we found bedouin jewelry, scarves, tablerunners, and other treasures. A rocking camel (versus a rocking horse) stood in the middle of the room. I had gotten 2 blingy tablerunners (for those who don't know, "Blingy" means shiny and glitzy...Lucy said she learned that word from me.) the night before, and Lucy loved them. Debbie had shown us how she bought them and cut them up and used them to make Christmas stockings. I don't plan on doing that, but I think they make great centerpeices. I asked this shopkeeper what he had that was from Arabia and I laughed at his reply. "The only thing made in Saudi Arabia is oil and sand." How true!! I found a black fabric with old silver coins sewn on it laying behind the counter on a stool. I reached over and picked it up to see what it was. I had never seen anything like it and was told it was a headdress from Yemen. It was a black, hooded fabric with all types of silver (not shiny!) beads, coins, and trinkets of all kinds sewn all over it. I tried it on, and Lucy took my picture. Then this little Pakistani called me over to show me Christmas tree skirts. Imagine that in Arabia! One had camels sewn all over it. Another had bells on it. In this store was the first time I have seen Santas for sale. The Santas were like the stacking dolls sold in Russia. We had fun exploring all the treasures for sale. Prayer time was approaching and so we hailed a taxi that took us over to the beach (Corniche Road). We saw Chili's restaurant, TGI Friday's, Applebee's, Starbucks, Burger King, and McDonalds. None of that was here when I lived here 15 years ago. Lucy got out of the cab to go check out Tony Roma's for us, and when she returned she said, "Oh my gosh! There's a terrible smell by Tony Roma's that smells like they haven't changed the cooking oil since they opened!" I had to laugh as smells are an important part of visiting the Middle East. There is the smell of the exhaust fumes from the Aramco buses, the smells of Henna, the smells of spices, body odor from the men who labor outside all day, bread baking in open ovens, smells of Thai food, and the smell of urine in alleys and empty lots. Our taxi driver then took us over to McDonalds where we took photos. I noticed a sign with the website of I haven't checked it out yet. That is another huge difference in being here. When we lived here before we didn't have the internet or cell phones. Now there are shops everywhere advertising internet and cell phone services. Anyway, so while we were parked at McDonalds we went inside to order ice cream. I walked in McDonalds, looked around, took some pictures, and then turned around to leave. I couldn't get the door open. I read the sign that said "push", and I pushed and pushed. I went over to another door that said "pull", and I pulled and pulled. I kept trying, wondering what was wrong. How was it that I had just walked in a couple of minutes ago, and now I couldn't get out? I turned around to the Filipinos at the counter and said, "Help! I can't get out!" A Pakistani man walked over, and I could sense that he was a bit frustrated with me. He said, "Madam, we lock the doors during prayer time." I had completely forgotten about prayer time. I said, "I know, but I don't want to be stuck in McDonald's during prayer time. Can you please just let me out?" So he took me to a side door and opened it with the key. I hurried out with my ice cream, grateful to be outside during prayer time. I thought of the humor of it all. Think how crazy that sentence would sound in the States - "Help! I don't want to be stuck in McDonald's during prayer time!" Only in the Middle East!! As we left McDonalds and headed thru Khobar, I noticed an Arab squatting in his thobe (the long white dress the men wear) and talking on his cell phone. I thought, "what an oxymoron!!" A total conflict of culture! I have wondered how the Middle Eastern people spend so much time squatting. My legs would have the circulation cut off, and I would have my feet go to sleep. I hate that sensation. Or I would topple over after being in a squatting position for too long. Or I would get stuck and not be able to stand up. I would have to have someone slowly unbend me. I wondered how they have enough glucosamine in their systems to handle all that. Maybe they get so used to squatting over a hammam (an eastern toilet) from early childhood that their bodies just get used to it. However they do it, they have to be admired for their ability to squat for such long periods of time. We drove home down Pepsi Cola Road - a road named by the Americans for the Pepsi Cola Bottling Company at the end of the road. When we got home we sat outside in Debbie's front yard and reminisced about our times of living here. It was fun recalling the life we used to know and laughing about memories with friends. I was waiting on a lady from Ras Tanura to come by and bring me a watercolor print of the "women's souk" that I had ordered. Finally they stopped by, I got my watercolor print, and then they told me they were going to Khobar and asked if I wanted to go along and get that framed here. It would cost less than in the states, and so I jumped at the chance. I grabbed my abaya, threw it on, grabbed my purse, and headed off to Khobar. I used to almost never wear abayas when I lived here before, but actually I am quite learning to like this new style of dress. Like I have said before, the abayas have become quite the fashion statement here. But more than that, it is so convenient to not be concerned about what you're wearing and just grab a long black robe to throw over your clothes and head into town. It certainly makes getting dressed much easier and eliminates the age-old question of "What shall I wear?" They dropped me off at the Al-Rashid Mall, which didn't exist when we lived here. How shall I ever begin to describe this mall? It was huge! It was basically shaped like a gigantic octopus, having a central section of the mall which was 3 stories tall and then appendages or shopping corridors expanding outwards. I have been to the Mall of America in Minneapolis and to the mall in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. This mall was the "mother of all malls" for Khobar. We would have LOVED it if we had had that when we lived here. I was looking for the Arabian Gallery to take my print to to be framed. I walked and looked and asked directions for about 45 minutes before I finally found the place. A nice Indian man helped me pick out the best matting and frame for my picture. I was looking at other prints in his shop when I heard the call to prayer sounding throughout the mall. Dang! Okay, I don't mean to sound disrespectful to Muslims, but having lived without prayer call for the past 15 years, I am finding it to be a real inconvenience. All the stores close for the 20 minutes of prayer so whatever you are doing, you stop and come back 20 minutes later. That's why we always try to find a restaurant right before prayer time and use that time to eat. So he told me he would be back in 20 minutes. So as he was locking the door to his store, I wandered off down the mall and found a bench to sit on during prayer time. An Arab women wearing the abaya and veil was sitting there. I sat down next to her, and turning to her I asked if she spoke English. She said yes. So I explained about getting this print framed at this store and asked if she thought that was the best place, was the price the best price in town, and did they do the best work. She said that was the best choice in town. So then I proceeded to have the longest and most intimate conversation with a woman behind a veil that I have ever had. All I could see was her eyes. I asked her about her life and found out she was 30 years old, had 2 kids ages 5 and 3, and was married to a Chemical Engineer who worked for Aramco who was 35 years old. I asked her about her arranged marriage (since of course dating is not allowed here) and she told me she saw her husband for the first time one month before her marriage. Thinking about this marriage being arranged, I asked her if she was happily married. (I knew when I told my daughters about this, they would just die that I was so personal with an Arab woman who was a stranger to me!) She told me she was not happily married. I asked her why she wasn't happy, and she told me, "because my husband drinks too much". That was not the answer I was expecting because alcohol is illegal in Saudi Arabia. With a shocked expression on my face I asked, "He drinks too much alcohol?" She said yes, that he goes to Bahrain every weekend and drinks. (Bahrain is an island in the Persian Gulf that is connected to Saudi Arabia by a causeway. Lucy and I are flying out of Bahrain on Sat. night.) He either goes by himself or with his friends. Rarely does he take her. She said she doesn't like to see him drink. She even told me that she is concerned that he may be sleeping with other women in Bahrain or maybe even sleeping with women who are dancers. I thought of years ago when Mark and I were in Bahrain sitting in the lobby of a very nice hotel watching the Arab men taking Filipina girls up to their rooms. I felt sad for this woman behind the veil. She said, "But what can I do? I have 2 small children, and in my country it would be very bad to get a divorce. There is nothing I can do." She's right. There is not a lot she can do about her situation. I asked her if he treated her well and she said that he did. He was very kind to her, gave her money, and was kind to her and her children. Later when I told Lucy and Debbie about this conversation we had our own conversation about the plight of many women here. There has been progress made over the past years, but still there is much sadness, control and abuse that goes on here. When prayer time was over, she went her way, and I hailed a taxi and told the driver I wanted to go to the women's section of town. I told him, "Take me to Prince Bandar street or King Khalid - either one." He asked me the address, and I said it didn't matter. Just drop me off somewhere around those streets. I am sure that was an odd request as he was expecting a specific store or address. So as we were driving down Dhahran Blvd. he asked me if I wanted to go to the Corniche (the beach). I told him no, that I wanted to go shopping in the women's section. It was dark outside at this time, and I certainly didn't want to find myself at the beach with a young Saudi man.   I told him that I didn't want to go to the beach, but to take me to the women's section of town.  He dropped me off around Bandar street.  I wandered around looking at different shops, then made my way over to the area of town where Debbie had taken us.  I wandered into a shop owned by a man from Afhganistan.  He had wonderful, colorful Afghani dresses.  They are very brightly colored with beads sewn all over the bodice and very full skirts.  Often the skirt, the bodice, and the sleeves are out of different fabrics.  They are heavy cotton and with all the beadwork and designs, they are usually very heavy in weight.  He had some Afghani belts with old coins hanging down from them.  He also sold items that were very representatious of Saudi Arabia such as the Saudi tea pots, copper pots, and rugs.  I bought a goat whip from him, telling him it was for my grandson.  I could imagine that Jagger might like that, but when I told him it was for my grandson, he thought I meant that I was buying it to whip my grandson.  He said, "Oh, that is good.  Your grandson needs that."  I said, "Oh, I'm not buying it to whip my grandson.  I'm buying it for him to play with and hope that he doesn't whip his brother and sisters with it."  He replied, "No, it is okay.  Sometimes kids need to be whipped with this."  I told him I would never do that.  While I was in his shop he asked me if I wanted some mint tea.  I asked, "It's just mine tea?", thinking that it was herbal tea.  So I thought, 'why not?  I love herb teas", and so I said yes.  He gave me a small cup. (Arab tea cups are very small, not like American coffee cups.)  I drank it and loved it.  I actually wanted more but didn't want to seem like a pig.  I asked him where he got it and told him that I loved  it.  He pointed out the back door down an alley and told me he got it from a little shop down there.  A small teapot costs one riyal, about 27 cents.  After I downed the little cup of tea, he told me it had nicotine in it.  I was glad I wasn't drinking when he said that, or I would have choked on the tea.  I asked, "Nicotine?  You mean like what is in cigarettes?"  He said yes, and I told him that I didn't smoke and normally did not put nicotine in my body.  I may seem naive, but I have never heard of tea with nicotine in it.   Caffeine yes, but not nicotine.  Suddenly I wondered how it would affect me.  Then my thoughts went crazy, and I found myself thinking thoughts like, 'What if this guy drugs me?  What if I get dizzy and pass out and I am at his mercy?  What if I have adverse side effects while I'm wandering Khobar alone?"  He seemed very nice, and he had told me about his life and family here.  Anyway, I purchased a few souvenirs for others and then got out of there before I really was drugged and mugged.  I had taken a few pictures, but at this time it was dark outside, and as I wandered the streets I realized that I was one of the very women walking around, and probably the only one walking alone.  The streets and alleys of Khobar were filled with men from a variety of countries, Filipinos, Pakistanis, Indians, Arabs, and some westerners.  As I was walking along a nice looking older Pakistani man approached me and asked me to come to his shop.  So I followed him down the sidewalk and entered a carpet store, filled with Middle Eastern carpets. The dominating color of most was red, however, there were carpets of all types, sizes, shapes, and colors.  I moaned and said, "Oh no, I don't want a carpet."  I didn't want to waste my time in a carpet store.  I do love Middle Eastern carpets, but felt I couldn't afford that in money or weight in my luggage.  Long story short, I spent the rest of the evening in his shop, learning about the carpets,  sitting on the floor with him and feeling the different fibers, and selecting which ones I liked the best.  I called Sue Alexander (on his cell phone) and discussed carpets with her and then let the man talk to her.  And so, just like in timeshare sales where no one comes in to buy,  I followed him out of the store while he carried my purchase.  He told me to follow him because he wanted to give me a gift.  I followed him right into a store I had been in previously where I had met the very nice looking Pakistani worker than I had complimented and made him blush.  I was a bit embarrassed as I unknowingly walked in and saw him standing there.  They told me to select any scarf I wanted as a free gift.  Then the young man and I visited.  He is only 25 years old.  I laughed and told him I could be his mother.  He said he thought I was  38.  He asked for my email address.  I felt that was rather harmless and so I obliged.  Then the older man (closer to my age) walked with me down the street and hailed a taxi for me.  I rode back to Aramco, thinking what a fun, adventurous, unexpected night it happened to be for me.  When I arrived back at Debbie's, Lucy said she had been on the floor of the breakfast room praying for my safe return.  She said she was so worried about me, and after I left and the evening progressed, she had begun to think they were crazy to let me go into Khobar by myself.  I never felt worried or unsafe, and even though 15 years has passed, I still felt as comfortable shopping by myself in a world of dark strangers as I did back in 1994.