Archive for September 2009

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

September 27, 2009

Today is one of those perfect days, the kind of day that goes by too fast. I am very aware that my days in Glencoe are numbered. As excited as I am about the move to our new home, I am sad to leave here. It’s been very good to me and mine.

I have been playing bridge – although not well. My bridge buddies were delighted to hear that we have found other bridge players at KAUST. It’s like we are members of a worldwide community, one that doesn’t care about anything  other than one’s ability to play bridge. That, of course, can be both a positive and a negative. Focus on the positive.

Did I mention before how much I love Skype? Let me say it again. I adore Skype. On Friday last, I was out when Brian called. This time Noel didn’t answer the call – but he called Brian back! When I found out, I wanted to knock on the neighbors’ doors and tell them of the wondrous occurrence. I didn’t so this blog will have to substitute.

All in all, we are doing well. Our flights have been booked and emails exchanged about the many other details of our move. Every day, Noel does something that I have only dreamed he would do. The other day, we were talking about something or other and he quoted a verse from a song to me, and then explained how it was relevant to our conversation. As it was happening, I was saying to myself that I should be writing down what he was saying but I didn’t want to disengage myself from the interaction. Then the phone rang and life intervened and now I can’t remember what we were talking about or the song he quoted. Middle age sneaks up on you like that.



September 24, 2009

Valparaiso – I think the poem is still on the Irish language curriculum in Ireland. If it isn’t, it ought to be. It is code, in Ireland, for dreams of exotic far away places. When the notion of moving to KAUST was first discussed in our household, both my husband and myself spoke about and quoted that old poem. It’s fairly standard fare – a boy watching a ship from far away – Valparaiso – and being tempted to travel there, opting not to, but still as an adult believing that he will someday get to fulfil his dream. (Yes, I know it’s a translation of an English poem. It’s just that it’s the Irish version we all learned in school and that’s the one that is meaningful to us.)

We sat on the comfy couches in the Starbucks in Glencoe (the ones that you have to pounce on as soon as they become free), and spoke about what such a move would entail. We talked about so many things – how the move would impact Noel, how we would have to sell our house (with the newly remodeled kitchen, granite counters, maple cabinetry, stainless steel appliances, but I digress), how I wouldn’t be permitted to drive, how there would be no wine, how we would be giving up a life that we both loved and enjoyed, and on and on and on. We spoke about the issues that concerned us both, we attempted to qualify and quantify the pros and cons,  but we always came back to Valparaiso.

KAUST was born as the vision of King Abdullah and, as a result of his incredible generosity, it has become a reality, moving from concept to concrete in less than a thousand days. There are moments when I am giddy with excitement at the thought of moving there, of being there, of being allowed to be part of such an amazing and ambitious endeavour. Not only do I get to go to Valparaiso, but I get to do so in the company of the people I love most in the world. Not to belabor the point, but we actually get to live in the “cathar bhan”, the white city, and look out every day on the “mara na siochana”, the sea of peace. How great is that?

Watching the Inauguration

September 23, 2009

I watched the inauguration of KAUST via the web today. Truly amazing. To think that two years ago, there was nothing there but sand and sea. The campus is beautiful – actually quite breathtaking. The design concept is truly amazing – nothing left out or overlooked. The way the ‘skin’ on the library glows at night looks almost surreal. The ceremony was visually gorgeous – lots of pomp and circumstance all decked out in Saudi national dress.

I am sorry to have missed it. However, listening to my son talk to his Dad about the ceremony via Skype made up for not being there. Noel remarked to his Dad that he had watched the ceremony, that it looked amazing, and then gave the ultimate accolade “Well done, Dad.” In Noel’s eyes, his Dad can do stuff like that – build entire universities from scratch, leap tall buildings in a single bound etc.

Only the chest X-rays to go now in the array of medical tests. Then I get to make a great bundle and sent it off to the charming and efficient woman who takes care of the visa applications. I will be relieved to have that part of the process completed. It takes up a lot of cognitive space, taking care of these details, and I am not sure that I have that much space to spare.

Tomorrow is a symposium day at KAUST – should be amazing in its own right given the intellectual firepower of those gathered. After that, it will be down to brass tacks, time to roll up the sleeves, and get moving on the work of the university.

Noel’s New Life

September 22, 2009

A week or so ago I wrote about my concerns regarding what my life at KAUST will be like. Basically, I recounted the thoughts that flooded my mind as I lay awake in the middle of the night. I want to slap myself upside the head. My priority and first concern should be what will my son’s life be like. He relies on me and depends on me. It is my job to make sure not just that he is safe and cared for, but also that he is stimulated and challenged, that he develops and grows and becomes all that he can be.

Right now his world is small – home, the local library, the Blockbuster store, a trip to the movies, dinner at a restaurant, pleasant, mundane and routine outings – and always I am close by, translating for him and smoothing his way, as best I can. I need to give some serious thought to what his day to day life will be like, in this new house of wisdom on the shores of the Red Sea. Our hope is that he will be able to attend some classes at the KAUST High School – computer, gym, maybe music or art. We would love for him to be able to go to the library by himself, to browse around the shelves, make his selection and come home. Our dearest wish is for him to have whatever degree of independence and autonomy he is capable of handling.

While I can convince myself that the move will broaden his horizons and essentially force development and change, I worry that the actual community we are moving to is small  and that Noel’s world will be even more limited than it is now. The challenge for me and my husband will be to capitalize on the unique nature of the community – academics are typically tolerant of quirks and eccentricities, and I have found them to be generally kind as well –  so as to foster Noel’s increasing sense of himself as a person. I understand that there is a bowling alley on campus so maybe the three of us will finally learn to bowl. There is a rec center with state of the art gym equipment and personal trainers – the family plan is for the three of us to work out together a couple of times a week. I have been told that there is a horse riding center in Jeddah that offers special lessons to youngsters with special needs. Maybe mother and son will learn to ride horses together. Now that would be kinda cool.

Somethin’ in a Sunday

September 20, 2009

I think it was Kris Kristofferson who sang about that Sunday mornin’ sidewalk and the loneliness of Sundays. There’ s some truth to it , no doubt. As a child, Sunday meant Mass, roast beef, apple tart, and the hurried completion of homework for school the next day. I was sometimes allowed to stay up late to watch the Sunday night movie offering on RTE. I remember that the first Sunday movie I was allowed to watch was Three Coins in the Fountain. My Dad was away – Finner camp, I think – and the film was a favorite of my mother’s and I think she wanted company while she watched it. After my mother passed away, Sunday often involved making sandwiches for my father and brothers to take to Gaelic football and hurling matches. Not too much in common with what Kris was singing about and yet, the song resonated with me. Which certainly doesn’t make me special – it touched a chord with a lot of people, most of whom have never been, and have no intention of ever being,  ‘stoned’. I suppose it’s because Sundays typically allow us to pause and think, to reflect not just on where we are and where we’re going, but who our travelling companions are.

I have been married to my lovely husband Brian for twenty-three years. We met at a dance in the Tennis Club when I was twenty-one and he was twenty-two. We thought we knew it all. But then, that’s what you’re supposed to think when you’re twenty-something. One thing that I am still certain of though is that I couldn’t ask for a better friend and fellow traveller. When the chips are down – and they’ve been down more than once – he has always been there. We’ve even survived being bridge partners. Our son Noel is eighteen and very much part of the fabric of our lives. The three of us are a good team.

Soon, we will be together again. Living at KAUST in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will undoubtedly be different than anywhere we have ever lived before. Even Sunday won’t be Sunday as we understand it, as their weekend is Thursday and Friday. Still, no matter where we are, some things will always be constant.

Anxiety Antidote

September 19, 2009

Answers and information are a great antidote for anxiety. I have learned that the king size beds are 70 inches wide – 2 inches less than their American counterparts – that the minimart has most things although not a huge selection, and that for now getting my hair cut will involve a trip somewhere or other – Jeddah at the very least.

Strangers have reached out and offered advice and information and help – it’s been truly heartwarming. In the meantime, I need to get my rear in gear and get together whatever needs to be gotten together. We are almost through with the medical tests – we are healthy and happy and delighted to be done with that part of the adventure.

And adventure it is. In a few days, we will be able to watch a live webcast of the KAUST inauguration ceremony. It promises to be amazing and I can’t wait to see it. I also can’t wait to participate in – even if only peripherally – what comes after that – the building of a community.

What will my life be like at KAUST?

September 17, 2009

How will I do my grocery shopping?  Who will cut my hair? Will we need a car, a driver? Will my king size duvet cover fit the king size duvet there? These and questions like these are racing through my head for the last day or so. What I am really wondering is what will my life be like at KAUST? In many ways, I expect it will be like nothing I have imagined or can imagine and in other ways, it will be more or less as I have imagined. The uncertainty lies in what activity will fall in which category.

Like most Westerners who move to Saudi Arabia, I am concerned about inadvertently offending someone. It’s a culture that is unlike anything I have ever known and I worry that, with my native Irish chattiness and my learned American casualness, I will unintentionally offend/scandalize the locals. Making eye contact with people you don’t know is, apparently, not done. At least, according  to what I’ve read. But then, not everything you read is reliable, particularly on the internet. I am sure I will figure it out as I go along. My particular concern is how will my son fare? Will we be able to protect him there the way we have here? Individuals with autism don’t figure social stuff out the way neurotypical people do. They need to be taught these things explicitly. I just hope I can learn enough quickly enough, that I can teach him enough.

I am old enough to know that nothing in life is certain – apart from death and taxes (and in Saudi Arabia, even the tax thing not so much). This phase is tough though – we are leaving but we haven’t started to pack. We are moving to a place that is changing by the minute. This is what makes it exciting. This is what makes it different. This is also what makes me reach for the Pepto Bismol.