First Anniversary

Posted September 5, 2010 by irisheyesksa
Categories: Uncategorized

Today marks the first anniversary of the start of classes at KAUST. So much has been accomplished in such a short period of time. It has been interesting to watch the new students arrive this year and how they integrate with the returning students. They seem to swagger a little more than last year’s group. I suppose because they have a more senior cohort to impress whereas last year’s group were lonely pioneers. In any case, it’s lovely to see them and watch them learn and adapt.

We have learned a lot ourselves this past year. We have watched our autistic son learn to adapt to a new country and a new culture and we have marveled at his growth and development. He has been anxiously awaiting the arrival of Despicable Me to the KAUST cinema and, his prayers have been answered, – it starts tomorrow. When I told him the good news, he asked me “What about Avatar, the last Airbender?” I explained to him that Avatar had been on earlier in the summer and that he had declined the opportunity to go. “Oh, I really regret that now.”, was his response. A year ago, he would have demanded that I turn back time.

We are almost at the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan. It’s an interesting time to be in the Kingdom. Religion is very much part of the fabric of life here in a way that it is not in other places. The dictates of fasting have an impact on when stores and restaurants open and close and how long the work day is. My Muslim friends have explained to me that while fasting is integral part of Ramadan, it is not the only thing. Self-reflection is also a key component of the whole experience. After Ramadan, we will have Eid al Fitr which is a time of celebration and feasting. It’s a very family oriented time with lots of visiting and calling on friends and extended family.

The weather here has taken a turn for the better, meaning it’s a little cooler than it has been for the last two months. Not a day passed in July and August that I didn’t silently, and sometimes not so silently, give thanks for the miracle of air-conditioning.  It was hot here! Basically, I tell people that it’s like the Chicago winter in reverse and with the added bonus of not having to shovel snow.

So, is there more that remains to be done? You betcha. Is it overwhelming to contemplate at times? Yup, that too. Mostly though, it’s exciting and energizing and just plain amazing. Ramadan Kareem!

New Beginnings

Posted August 4, 2010 by irisheyesksa
Categories: Uncategorized

The new academic year will begin soon. Already, there is a different feel to the campus. There is an urgency in the air that heralds the arrival of new students, faculty, staff, and their families, as well as new and exciting challenges for everyone involved in the audacious endeavor that is KAUST. The rhythm of the footsteps on the marble floors has increased in tempo. People have begun to return from vacations to exotic and not so exotic places, eager to reestablish friendships and make new ones. I love being around campus at the start of a new year. It’s like when you were a kid and got a new notebook where the pages were all clean and fresh and lovely. Speaking of fresh and lovely, in my own family, we have had another addition to the next generation – welcome Bridget Sara.

Our son – who is nineteen and autistic – continues to delight and amaze us. He remarked to me the other day that life is like a mandala because nothing in life is forever and a mandala is drawn in the sand and disappears when the wind blows.  I used to worry that we would never be able to carry on a meaningful conversation. Of course, we would love to broaden his range of interests from the various generations of Power Rangers although we concede that he is, indeed, an expert on his subject. Still, you take what you get and, I have to say, that we are very grateful for what we have.

Our community here at KAUST is almost a year old and much has happened in the last twelve months. We have watched the university open and take its first steps. The differences of culture notwithstanding, life here is pretty much as it is anywhere, the same opportunities for joy and sadness, laughter and tears. We have begun to open our hearts and lives to each other in the manner of friends and we are all strengthened by these communal bonds. The last year has been something of a thrill ride and we are looking forward to more of the same as the second year begins.

The Prodigal Returns

Posted July 8, 2010 by irisheyesksa
Categories: Uncategorized

We didn’t exactly kill the fatted calf but there was much rejoicing in our house when our prodigal pet Cyclone was found. He turned up on a neighbor’s doorstep and they held on to him until I got there – the poor man got himself scratched for his trouble.  However, we are thrilled to have the beastie back. We missed him and worried about him and how he was faring in the hot desert sun. He seems happy to back with us too.

We are just returned from a trip to the Dead Sea. It was wonderful – the scenery was beautiful and the hotel was lovely. More of a resort than a hotel really – several restaurants and pools that looked liked they ended where the Dead Sea began. Swimming in the Dead Sea itself was quite an experience – bobbing about like a cork and trying not to let the water into one’s eyes or mouth. That salt water stings like crazy – the life guards are very patient about helping to rinse out eyes etc. At night, you can see the lights from the opposite shore, Jericho and Jerusalem, according to our waiter – should only be one hour by car, but five hours with all the checkpoints, also according to our waiter.

KAUST is very quiet at this time of year. Most people are away for at least a portion of the summer. The KAUST ladies are staying in touch with each other via email and Facebook – everyone enjoying their vacations but looking forward to returning home to KAUST, maybe even a little surprised that they have missed their new home. It’s been less than a year since KAUST opened its doors but we have become a community, of students, professors, researchers, staff, and families. We’ve come from seventy different countries and we’ve become friends.

First Dates

Posted June 22, 2010 by irisheyesksa
Categories: Uncategorized

It’s nearly 50 degrees C (that’s almost 120 F for the Americans) at KAUST today and yet the hairs on my arms are standing up with the cold – the miracle of air conditioning.  When you step outside the door, you are greeted with a blast of warmth almost like opening an oven door. Thankfully, I am only outside when I choose to be. We bought a car about six weeks ago – a cute little Mazda 3 with all the bells and whistles. (Talk about coming full circle – our very first new car was a Mazda 323, the forerunner of the Mazda 3. ) Although I, as a woman, cannot drive the car when we leave the campus, I am permitted to drive here at KAUST. It had been almost 6 months since I had driven a car and I was nervous getting behind the wheel – took about 30 seconds to get used to it again. It’s great to have the convenience and independence to get around quickly and comfortably – it’s no fun waiting for a bus in the blazing sun! It also makes getting to the gym, the beach, and the golf club that much easier. Tough life I have, huh?

I have  become a yoga devotee. One of the many advantages of living here is the availability and accessibility of exercise classes. The yoga teacher is fantastic – patient, kind, and endlessly helpful. One evening, I realized that fifty percent of the class were from Ireland – we get around!

The first crop of KAUST dates is hanging from the palm trees that line the streets of the campus. The first group of KAUST students have completed their first academic year. Most have left now for the summer. Some will return in the fall to complete master’s degrees or to continue further study and research for PhD’s. Their absence on campus is noticeable – it’s nice to be around eager and enthusiastic young people. They took a risk, that first cohort of students and I suspect that those young people will go far, whatever they decide to do in the future. The road less traveled will make all the difference. New students, faculty, staff, and their families are expected in August. Those of us who are already here await their arrival with anticipation. We are looking forward to introducing them to KAUST and what it has to offer and to sharing what we have learned over the last year. That first crop, though, will always be special.

ABBA and Abayas

Posted April 10, 2010 by irisheyesksa
Categories: Uncategorized

It’s been a month since I last posted a blog entry. Where has the time flown? On the same note, our 24th wedding anniversary was yesterday! How did that happen? It seems like the years go by more quickly as we get older and yet, it seems like a long time ago since I arrived at KAUST although it hasn’t been quite 6 months. Time is elastic, that’s the only explanation.

The last few weeks have been busy. We have been trying to buy a car which has necessitated a couple of trips to Jeddah. We made the mistake of trying to shop in the middle of the afternoon only to discover that all the car showrooms were closed. Buying a car is different here in KSA – no test drive for one thing. However, we have chosen a car and settled on a price. It will be good to have a car now that the weather is getting warmer and it’s less comfortable to be outside.

Recently, I was given the opportunity to speak with students at Dar El Hekma  – a highly regarded women’s college here – who are pursuing degrees in autism. They were taking a class on how autism impacts general family dynamics and I was there to share my “mom” insights. It was a wonderful experience for me – the students were bright, eager, and well prepared, and genuinely interested in learning whatever it was I had to teach. This was all the more impressive when you consider that their first language is not English.

On my return trip to KAUST from Dar El Hekma, I decided that I would take advantage of the fact that I had a car and a driver and do some shopping. I decided that I would buy another abaya since the one I have is getting a little grubby and tired, so off I went to an abaya shop, all by my myself. Not the smartest thing I have ever done. The measuring process was a bit more personal than I had bargained for and it seemed to be necessary to measure several times. I was very uncomfortable with the whole deal but while I was waiting to pay for the garment something very nice happened. A veiled lady came into the shop with her little girl. She sized up the situation in the blink of any eye, said something in a sharp tone to the abaya guy and then turned to me, and said to me, in English, that she loved my hairstyle and where had I gotten it done. Women are good to one another.

The KAUST ladies are also trying to be supportive of one another, and to contribute to building a friendly and integrated community. We had our second ‘ladies only’ dance party – this one had an ABBA theme. Most of the ladies there were young enough to have first encountered ABBA through the Mama Mia ABBA revival. For me, it was a walk down memory lane. I knew all of the words to some of the songs and at least some of the words to all of the songs. I had flashbacks of my father dancing round the kitchen, waving a tea towel and singing “you are older now Fernando, for many years I haven’t seen a rifle in your hand.” It really wasn’t cool to like ABBA when I was a teenager – and if you were sort of geeky and nerdy, you desperately wanted to be cool, (although secretly I wanted to be Agnetha, ‘the blonde one’), – but memories of all that cool, head banging rock have been wiped away while ABBA – sweet to the point of being saccharine, but with great dance rhythms – remains burned into my brain.

Our community here continues to grow and improve. Our beach is open every day now and the yacht club and marina are supposed to open in a few weeks. Already, one can walk in front of the yacht club and admire the view over the harbor and the large art pieces that have been erected there. It’s really quite spectacular. Life at KAUST continues to be good.

Meanwhile back at the campus…

Posted March 10, 2010 by irisheyesksa
Categories: Uncategorized

We returned this morning from our trip to Ireland. We had a wonderful time. Everything went off smoothly thanks to luck, a little advance planning, and the very nice staff at the Ardilaun Hotel. All of our flights were on time and we made every connection. Sometimes, ‘the breaks is with ya’. I don’t think we have ever had an easier trip. I have become a big fan of British Airways – of course it helped that the plane was practically empty and we could all stretch out and sleep, which we did.

We pigged out, literally and figuratively, while in Ireland – rashers and sausages at least once every day, and many lovely bottles of wine, mostly courtesy of my father-in-law. Even the weather was obliging – while it was bitterly cold, it didn’t rain once. I quite enjoyed walking briskly, all bundled up and able to see my breath. Still, it’s nice to be back where the constant is sunshine. We had a family get together that was lovely – it’s good to get together for something other than weddings and funerals. The function that provided the excuse for our trip was great. It’s a wonderful thing to see someone you care about be celebrated in a way that’s meaningful to them.

So now we’re back at the campus – we were delighted at how eager we were to return. There were packages waiting for Noel when we got back – the FedEx guys had held them for us while we were away. Today, when we went to the FedEx office to pick them up, the guy had seen us coming across the square and had already disappeared into the back to get them before we even stepped into the office. Definitely, we have settled in.

Homeward Bound

Posted February 28, 2010 by irisheyesksa
Categories: Uncategorized

In a couple of days, we get to pay a visit home. We will see our families and friends, mooch around Galway for a little bit, and revisit some old haunts. We are really looking forward to it. Noel remarked that he wouldn’t need his ID badge in Ireland because everyone there already knew his name and knew who his dad was. I wanted to hum the theme from Cheers but, alas, humming is forbidden in our house. He told me that he is looking forward to seeing his grandparents, shopping in Smyths, and going to Xtravision. He is already packed, i.e., he has selected the DVDs that he will bring, has charged up the portable DVD player, his IPOD, and his Nintendo DS.

Meanwhile, here at KAUST, the swimming pools and the beach have opened. The pools are beautiful and it has now been sorted out so that everyone has access while still guaranteeing privacy to those who want it. I haven’t made it to the beach yet as it has only been open one day so far but I understand it’s gorgeous. However, I have added “pool time” to my gym visits. Somehow, access to these facilities has lifted everyone’s spirits and there’s an almost festive atmosphere about the place.

So, time to dig out what winter woollies we still possess and get ready for our trip. It’s funny to think that we are going to Ireland and not crossing the Atlantic. It doesn’t matter from what direction we approach though, it’s still home.