Winter without a coat

Posted February 2, 2010 by irisheyesksa
Categories: Uncategorized

I haven’t worn a coat yet this winter – abayas don’t really count.  I miss the US and my friends in Chicago but I do not miss the Chicago winters – all that scraping of ice and shovelling of snow. The weather here on the Red Sea is perfect right now and I am enjoying every minute of it although already there are hints of what it will be like later in the year.

We have been busy here at KAUST for the last while – the Winter Enrichment Program has been a big success. The talks and lectures have been great and the visitors have been suitably amazed at the campus and facilities. And make no mistake, it is amazing. Three years ago, there was nothing here but sand and now there is what amounts to a small, very beautiful,  and very high tech city.

I am trying to take advantage of at least some of the many things KAUST has to offer. I am going to the gym practically every day – I don’t really love it but if am to live to be 120, then I need to make an effort to stay fit and healthy. Really, with all the stretching I am doing in the Pilates classes, I should be at least an inch taller by now. Last week, I went to a beach here called Silver Sands – it was gorgeous, white sand and turquoise water. It felt like heaven. Another day, I went into Jeddah and went to a beauty salon with an Irish friend and had a special hair conditioning treatment – lots of fun, and the treatment was nice too. I made the mistake of agreeing to having more “volume” added at the end though – foolishly, I thought this would involve some sort of mousse. Not so, the very nice lady at the hair salon produced her comb and proceeded to back comb my hair. I didn’t have the heart to ask her to stop. I emerged looking like one of the Stepford wives. It’s actually not a bad look for me – I may have to change my opinion about big hair.

I am here three months now – the time has flown by.


Shaping up to be a good year

Posted January 12, 2010 by irisheyesksa
Categories: Uncategorized

It feels like 2010 is shaping up to be a better year than last year. The free fall in housing prices seems to have stopped although everyone’s worry is that the introduction of lots of foreclosure properties will cause a further drop in an already sad market. Human beings, I think, are by nature optimistic though and everyone I talk to seems convinced that the tide has turned. Certainly, in my own family, it is a time to be hopeful and positive – yet another new baby born, healthy and beautiful, and already loved by many. Welcome baby Daniel.

On a more mundane level, things in our household are blessedly normal. We are trying to eat more healthily and to work out regularly. I try to remind myself every evening to go and look at the sun as it sets on the Red Sea and to be grateful for the little things as well as the big stuff. Noel reminded me the other day that he had been very nervous about moving to SA, as he calls Saudi Arabia. I asked him how he felt about it now and he told me that he liked it, that he still misses Chicago and his old house in Glencoe, but that things are pretty good here, in particular he likes the TV channels and the bowling alley. Hooray! When we moved to Glencoe from Evanston, (a distance of perhaps 10 miles), it took him five years to say anything positive about Glencoe. It’s a manifestation of his increasing ability to be flexible that he is able to be positive about our new locale in such a short time – also, it is pretty great here.

KAUST is about to start its Winter Enrichment Program, a series of short courses given by visiting faculty of significant renown. People are gearing up for the influx of visitors. It’s very exciting and lots of fun – at least for those of us who aren’t involved in the huge logistical exercise of moving large numbers of visitors, most of them coming from overseas, in and out of KAUST.

Fingers crossed.

New Year’s Eve

Posted December 31, 2009 by irisheyesksa
Categories: Uncategorized

This will be our first New Year’s Eve in the Kingdom – we will ring in the new year with Saudi champagne ( a mixture of apple juice and Perrier) instead of our usual bottle of nice red wine. The libation and location will be different than in the past but our hopes and dreams for the new year tend to be the same – health (continued or improved) and happiness for family and friends. There is no visible sign here of New Year’s Eve festivities – no party streamers or hats or pictures of clinking champagne glasses anywhere. I don’t really miss it – we always stayed home on New Year’s Eve anyway – but I am aware that it is definitely different.

We spent Christmas in Cairo – a huge Christmas tree and a giant (probably 20ft tall) chocolate covered Santa Claus in the hotel lobby. It’s an amazing city – ancient and interesting but with the scariest traffic I have ever encountered. One takes one’s life in one’s hands crossing the street. The Cairenes drive with great skill and apparent lack of concern for their own safety – what matters is to move forward, to fill the gap in front. My husband asked a cab driver why so many people drive without lights – the guy just shrugged and said “Is Cairo.” We had a great time there. Our hotel room had a balcony that overlooked the Nile and the weather was perfect for sightseeing – sunny and warm but not too hot. We saw the pyramids at Giza and the Sphinx although we declined the opportunity to ride the camels. Camels just aren’t the novelty they used to be. We made Noel a happy camper by spending an afternoon at a huge western style shopping mall. We went to the movies – saw Alvin and the Chipmunks II – and ate McDonalds. A good time was had by all.

New Year’s good wishes – 2010 and 1431 – to all.

Shopping at KAUST

Posted December 7, 2009 by irisheyesksa
Categories: Uncategorized

Today was a great day – the supermarket opened. It is gorgeous – gleaming floors and smiling cashiers and baggers. I never thought I could wax lyrical about a supermarket but this one deserves it. Truly, it’s a work of art. It’s got a great fresh meat department and a very nice deli section. The bakery section is to die for. With my sweet tooth, I could do without the temptation but the desserts are good to just look at and admire.  Noel and I were there when they cut the opening ribbon and we may have been the first customers through the checkout. Noel is a little disappointed that they don’t have a toy/game/dvd section. I, on the other hand, am not at all disappointed at this deficiency.

It’s been almost three years to the day since my nephew, Alan Cunniffe, was killed. He was a supermarket guy, like his father before him. I thought of him today as I walked around that brand new Tamimi – I think he would have loved it and have had all sorts of questions about profit margins and footfall in the store. He was an enthusiastic, bright, and good natured young man who always tried to do the right thing. The loss of him still breaks my heart. I can only imagine how it is for his mother and his brothers and sisters. They, too, are in my thoughts today.

Moving Forward

Posted November 25, 2009 by irisheyesksa
Categories: Uncategorized

We are moving forward – it’s hard, but doable. We need to forget about the handball and the seeming blindness of referees.  We need to get on with it. It’s disappointing though – we had high hopes of watching Ireland participate in the World Cup in 2010 – and this time in a part of the world that recognizes soccer as the game of games. However, ain’t gonna happen so might as well quit whingeing about it.

We got our ID Badges – finally, after much ‘toing and froing’. It’s amazing how much more comfortable I feel now that I’m officially official. Our temporary ID cards caused a sufficient number of raised eyebrows that it had begun to be an issue. Even making an appointment to have your hair cut requires a badge number. So I am very pleased to have one. Of course, now that I do, I have to carry it with me everywhere I go – one more thing to add to list of things that cannot be done without. Coming back from Jeddah last night, we were both amused to watch Noel present his ID badge at the various security checkpoints. He is definitely learning to adapt.

We were awoken in the wee hours to the sound of rain – lots of it – pounding on the balcony. By the time the storm had abated, a couple of inches of rain had fallen. We were lucky – just a few leaks and nothing that couldn’t be quickly mopped up. However, some people weren’t so lucky and had some major flooding and water damage. I was prepared for sand storms but an excess of rain is something I was not prepared to have to deal with in Saudi Arabia. The storm was quite beautiful to watch though, awesome even – the raindrops were big and fat and warm – not at all like what I am used to.


Settling In

Posted November 21, 2009 by irisheyesksa
Categories: Uncategorized

We are, indeed, settling in. We have become accustomed to checking the prayer times when we go to the mall so we know when the stores will be opening/closing. We have figured out the layout of the Red Sea Mall and can now find the Starbucks with ease. Last night we were there and Noel requested that we go to a store called Tokyo Games. We looked at one another in total mystification. Did such a store exist, we wondered? Of course it did – and it was filled with the kind of stuff that Noel loves best. We hadn’t even noticed  the store even though we must have passed it  on previous visits to the mall. To each, his own, I suppose.

Thus far, I have encountered only kindness here. People make room for us at their table at the food court or beckon us over when they are about to leave. We haven’t, as yet, had to deal with parking at the mall. It will be interesting to see how that plays out here.  (It must sound like we spend all our time at the mall, but that’s where our lives intersect with the broader Saudi society. KAUST is a world unto itself – lots of intense people with very high IQs. It’s rare air and has a very similar vibe to what I recall from Caltech.)

Very soon, I will have been here for a month. I really don’t know where the time has gone. The weather is perfect here right now, warm but not too hot as long as you avoid midday. I could get used to this.

Starting to feel more like home.

Posted November 11, 2009 by irisheyesksa
Categories: Uncategorized

The house is beginning to feel a little more like home – untidy is certainly a start. Noel’s stuff is beginning to take over the family room just like in our former home. You have to be careful, when you sit on the couch, to check for hidden objects lurking among the cushions – a PS3 remote control is not a comfortable thing to sit on. I cooked an actual dinner yesterday – was delicious. I may have to do this on a regular basis. The trick is to prepare stuff that can survive reheating.

The community is changing by the minute – the beauty salon opened yesterday – going for a mani/pedi today. Prices are comparable with Glencoe! However, it is local and accessible and I don’t have to hire a car/driver to get there. Next week, I will try them for a haircut – the real acid test. The community library opens today – gorgeous facility that overlooks the water, has a coffee bar downstairs, and lots of comfy chairs to sit in. Very chic but very user friendly. I can’t wait and I think Noel is going to love it. I’ve already spoken to the librarian there to alert her to Noel’s special needs. She was lovely and I think she – like every librarian we have ever met – will love him. You see, he doesn’t go into the library and request something the way most of us do, by paraphrasing the title and telling the poor, unfortunate individual behind the desk that the author was John something that  starts with S, I think. When Noel goes to the library to request something, he has the exact title, the correct author and, occasionally, even the publisher.

We are here two weeks now. It feels a lot more familiar than a place where I have only spent two weeks. Probably because it’s a universityand university campuses have a shared sense of purpose that transcends location.