Saturday, September 17, 2011

Life is good!

الحياة الطيبة

Life is so good!. I know we have only been here less than a month but so far life is good.

Our experience in China for the past three years has made this transition to Saudi Arabia a piece of cake. What seems irritating and inconvenient to others here, doesn't seem bad at all. Yes, there are some things that can become frustrating but the difference here is that we can escape to our normal life in the compound. We don't have to live right in the midst of it all.

We have just heard that our Iqama's are ready which means we can now get mobile phones, internet, satellite tv, bank account, and most importantly a car. Once we get these things, life will be even better. It hasn't been too bad without a car. The compound has a van that will take us shopping to either the grocery store or mall four days a week and then Tamimi's (Safeway) has a van that will pick us up twice a week. The help of our neighbors and friends for all the other little errands has made it very convenient and easy to get what we need.

Having our Iqama's also means we can now get the process started to receive our shipment from China. It is supposed to arrive in the next few days but we weren't able to start the paperwork to get it cleared through customs when it arrives until we had our Iqama's. It may still take a few weeks but at least I know I will be seeing our things that we left in China four months ago in the near future.

The Iqama is like a green card in the US. It just shows that we have permission to work here in Saudi Arabia.

We are really loving the simplicity of our lives here. The school doesn't require us to give our entire lives to it. We are asked to offer an after school activity but it is only once a week from 2:30 - 3:30 and they pay you extra for it. Both Gavin and I will be coaching Volleyball starting this week which fulfills our requirement of the after school activities. I will be coaching the MS girls A team and Gavin will be coaching the JV girls team. Practices are only twice a week from 2:30-3:30 but we could have more if we want. Nicole will be trying out for the MS team and Jonny the boys JV team.

On Wednesday night, which is our Friday night here, Gavin and I walked down to Hyper Panda to do some grocery shopping. It is located in a small mall only a few blocks from our house. The mall has a food court so we decided to make it a date and have dinner. The food court had a KFC, Hardy's, Popeyes, a sub shop, fish and chips, an Italian place, Chinese (which we won't have too much), Lebanese food, and of course an Arab place with our favorite Shawarma's. We were able to have a great meal for only $8.00 for the both of us. The food court has two separate eating sections. One is only for men and the other is a family section for men and women. After dinner we just walked around Hyper Panda which is like a Super Walmart back home. We spent about two hours just wandering around seeing what is available here. We are finding that we can find just about everything we need. Most of it is cheaper or just a little more than back home but we don't have to pay sales tax here so it still becomes a bargain.

We left both agreeing that it was a very cheap and pleasant date, something that we would never have been able to do in China. Whenever we wanted to go out to eat in China it became just too much of a hassle. Our choices in China were McDonalds, KFC, cheap Chinese food that would always make Gavin sick, or foo foo expensive restaurants. We would walk around and become frustrated that we either had to pay way too much for crappy food or eat greasy unhealthy McDonalds. Our dinner out here was cheap, good and a very pleasant experience.

Shawarma's have become one or our favorite foods so far here. It is their version of a chicken burrito on flat bread. So instead of going to Taco Bell for bean burritos, we will be heading down to the food court for Shawarma's.

A few weeks ago it was Jonny's 15th birthday. It was only a week after we had gotten here and we felt bad because we weren't able to get out and find him a cool birthday present. We had brought a few things from home to give to him but he really wanted an iPod dock with an alarm clock. We looked here but just couldn't find the right thing for him. On his birthday we decided to take him to the mall and just let him walk around and look for something. He found some really cool Van high tops but of course they didn't have his size. Just as we were leaving the mall we passed a store that sold Apple products and he was able to find the perfect iPod dock with alarm clock and speakers. It was a little more expensive than what we would have paid back home but it was his birthday and we were glad to find exactly what he wanted. He had a great birthday with his friends here swimming and just hanging out.

I can't believe he is already 15.

Like I said, "Life is Good". We don't know why we didn't come here sooner.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Our Villa in An Nassim

After 24 hours of traveling we finally made it to Saudi Arabia. We left Salt Lake at 2:15 pm on August 25 and arrived in Dammam Saudi Arabia at 9:00 pm on August 26. The time difference is 9 hours so that makes nearly 24 hours of travel time. We were a little tired but excited to be here.

Our school arranged for a government agent to meet us at our gate to take us through customs quickly. They had all the new teachers on the same flight from Amsterdam so we had a group of nearly 20 people. After several hours of waiting for the group to clear customs and get our luggage we loaded busses and headed for our new home on the An Nassim compound.

The school provides a completely furnished 4 bedroom 3 1/2 bath villa with nearly 3,000 sq feet of space. They stocked our kitchen with some basics and provided us with all our linens, dishes, kitchen ware, and furniture. It's not all exactly what we would choose but it's all free. I've created a little tour of our compound and villa with pictures and as you will see, it looks a little outdated like we time traveled back to the 80's. The Arabs seem to love pale colors on the walls and lots of gold and bling.
This is a picture of the front of our villa. We live in #113. The villas are all three stories and connected like town homes. We plan to add some plants and little touches to our porch to make it seem more welcoming.
When you walk into the villa you enter this sitting/parlor area. I have a huge Chinese banquet table coming from China that will look perfect in this room. This will be my Chinese room with our relics and things from China.
Just right off the sitting/parlor area is a living room. Right now it looks a little bare but again once our shipment comes from China we can add our own little touches. I can't wait to get all our Thai decor and Vietnam things out and on the walls.
This is the formal dining area which will never get used as a dining room. Notice the very 80's light wood furniture...this is par to the villas. Everyone here has this same dining room set.
Next is the kitchen. The exciting part of this room are all the American sized appliances including a dishwasher. That is something we haven't had for three years in China. Love having some of those conveniences back.
This is another view of the kitchen where we have a little eating area and door that goes out to our backyard.
The backyard needs some work. They say that we have a gardener that takes care of it but it doesn't look like they have done much lately. The trees and bushes are overgrown and desperately need trimming. We are so exciting to have a yard though because we promised the kids we would get a dog. Quite a few of our neighbors, which are all teachers at our school, have dogs so we are on the hunt for a friendly addition to our family.
Upstairs on the second floor is a loft area where the TV is currently. Once we get a better and bigger TV, we will move things around downstairs and make the formal dining room into a TV room. The dining room table will be moved in the living room which will become more of a music/sitting room. This room will then become a game room with the x-box and kid stuff.
On the second floor are three of the four bedrooms and two baths. This is the kids bathroom. Again notice the American toilet along with the "butt washer".
This is Vika's room. She has two beds in her room but they only gave us bedding for one of them. We will eventually take the kids to pick out their own bedding and will get extras for the other bed which Rachel will probably use when she comes to visit. The gold lamps really need to go. Like I said it's a time travel back to the 80's, plus the Arabs seem to love gold.
Each or the kids rooms have a huge closet and desk. This house had so much storage and space. More than we know what to do with.
This is Nicole's closet and desk in her room.
Nicole's room has a double bed and plenty of room for a teenager.
The Master bedroom has a huge King size bed, which looks small in this picture because the room is so large. It is called a "super" king which is about the size of a California King. We love huge beds because we need our space. The beds are pretty comfortable, way more comfortable than then beds in China. We have some memory foam bed toppers coming in our shipment so once those get here, it will be perfect. The ceilings in this house are all very tall so it creates a very open feeling.
The master bathroom...
equipped with our American toilet and the European "butt washer".
Upstairs is our laundry area. Again, notice the American sized washer and dryer. No more tiny crappy Chinese size that only fits two pairs of pants and takes two hours to dry clothes.
Jonny's room is on the third floor along with his own bathroom. He also has two beds in his room but only one had bedding.
Part of the third floor is a roof area. We can hang clothes out if we want. It's so hot that they dry way faster than the dryer. Right now it is too hot to enjoy this area but maybe we can find some good use of it. We had a large roof area at our house in China but never did anything with it. Had lots of ideas but it was way too hot. They say in about a month it will start cooling off and will be really nice outside.
This is the view of our compound from our roof. The center area is a circular driveway around the compound with parking in the center and in front of our villas.
Another view of the compound looking towards the guarded gate.

The compound has a club house with a large recreation room. Their are quite a number of kids on the compound and they like to come down here to watch movies. It's a great place for kids to hang out.
The compound has two tennis courts but one is used for basketball,
air hockey and fusball,
ping pong table and pool table,
squash court,
tennis court (but it's a little too hot right now for this),
weight room,
and a swimming pool. The pool has been a favorite spot for us. We come down here just about everyday for a few hours in the evening. We thought the water would be too warm but it actually is just the perfect temperature. The pool is open until late November and then closes for a few months because it gets too cold. Can't imagine that but they say it does get a little chilly in the winter. It will be a lot like Arizona weather which really isn't that cold at all.

So far we love the compound life. Many of the teachers from our school live here and there are kids all ages here. Jonny, Nicole, and Vika have all made some great friends. We don't have to worry about them because they all just hang out in the compound and have found plenty to do together. They go shoot pool, play ping pong, watch movies, swim, and just have fun.

We don't have a car yet because we have to wait until we get our Iqama's (green card) which should come in a few weeks but we can always find a way to get where we need to go. The school provides a bus from our compound to school each day and back. The compound has a van that will take us anywhere we want to go on certain days and Tamimi's (Safeway) provides a van to transport us twice a week to their store. We are walking distance to a little mall that has a huge grocery store called Hyper Panda with some other shops and a food court that has KFC, Quizmo's, Popeye's Chicken, Starbucks, Baskin Robbins, and some other food chain's. We are about a 10 minute drive to IKEA and another mall that has just about everything in it. We have been very impressed with the availability of products and stores here. It is like living in America but in Saudi Arabia. Things are very Westernized here.

We plan to do some decorating and painting of our villa so we will post pictures as those things happen.

This has been a great move for our family. We heard how much people love living here and now we know why.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Our Fabulous Summer

Well, I have a lot of catching up to do again for the past three months. Someday I'll keep this updated and won't have to post these huge long posts.

Our summer was absolutely awesome full of lots of fun activities.

On our way back from China in June we stopped in Los Angeles to visit Grandpa Jim in Palos Verdes. The one thing that Jonny wanted to do was go to the Staples Center to see where the Lakers play hoping to see someone famous.

The closest they got to seeing someone famous was this statue of Kobe Bryant.

Gavin was able to sit next Chick Hearn and do a little bit of commentary.
We spent most of our time visiting Grandpa Jim and his girlfriend Giselle. We took them up to a park overlooking the ocean in San Pedro.

After a few days in Palos Verdes, California we finally arrived in Utah on June 18.
Our condo near BYU was vacant for the summer so we had a place to stay. These are views from our balcony. We loved waking up to this view each morning. Just south of the condo about 200 yards is a huge water park called Seven Peaks. The annual pass was only $49.99 so we took advantage of that and went at least 5 times a week.

For those people who seem to not understand why we like Utah or America so much rather than China, these are perfect examples. Traffic is light and people know how to drive and stay in their lanes.
The sidewalks are not all torn up with cracks and trenches. They are free of debris and people don't spit, pee, or poop on the sidewalk. Notice no trash and you can actually walk without having to go through obstacles. No bikes with riders ringing their bells for you to move out of the way. The sidewalks are built for people to actually walk on and feel safe.

For Gavin's birthday we went on a motorcycle ride up to Flaming Gorge Dam with my sister Ranell and her husband Mike, and my brother Keith and his wife Steph from Arkansas. It was a beautiful ride through the mountains and just an awesome day with my family. The only down side was we got caught in a thunder and hail storm coming from Vernal to Roosevelt. We had to pull over on the side of the road and wait out the storm. Fortunately it was only a few minutes but those few minutes drenched us. All and all, it was an awesome day.

Now they look like real biker's.
Gavin loves pie so for birthday's we usually have pie instead of cake. The kids decorated the house and had it ready for a little party after we returned from our bike trip.

This was an unusual year with tons of snow in the mountains when we came back. Snowbird Ski Resort was open until July 4th so Gavin was able to get some skiing in. That is one thing we have missed about Utah. It wasn't the best snow but after not having the real stuff for three years, it was still worth it.

We love the lake and take any opportunity we can get to go. Our good friend in our ward in Lakeview, Tommy Deaver, took us out for some time on Deer Creek.

The view is just amazing with tall mountains in the background. Just another reason why we love coming home to Utah each summer.
The water was a little cold which isn't surprising since there was still snow in the mountains but the temperature was hot enough outside that it actually felt good jumping in.
Tubing is always fun and the kids have just as much fun doing this than wake boarding.

Coree's better look with hair flying in her face.
Rachel always has to do some sort of pose or face. Not sure what she was trying to portray here.
Vika loves just about everything and is always the cutie pie.
Another favorite thing and tradition we have is to walk through Provo Canyon on Sunday afternoons. The river was so high this year because of all the snow. Still the most beautiful place on Earth.
and of course Coree and Gavin.

The kids at Provo Canyon.
Yes, there are times when we can get pouty and bored but it usually doesn't last long.
Thanks to my awesome sister and niece we were able to go to a Real Soccer game. They had an awesome firework show after the game to celebrate the 24th of July.
One rather irritating thing this summer was trying to get our visa's for Saudi. We had a visa company doing this for us back in Washington D.C. who were awesome but the lady who needed to approve our paperwork in the Saudi Embassy was a huge pain....Our passports were stamped with an exit stamp from China but since we are US citizens they didn't stamp our passports when we entered back into the United States. They have never done this when we have returned.

Well, the lady in the Saudi Embassy didn't believe that we were actually in the United States because we didn't have an entry stamp. Where else would we be? She would not approve our paperwork until she had proof that we were here. Even though we had notarized documents from the Provo Police Department giving us clearance, medical reports from our doctor here in the US dated after we returned, lab reports from a hospital in Utah, and various other documents; she did not believe we were actually in the US. HUGE PAIN! So we sent bills we received along with this picture of Gavin holding his Utah drivers license, a recent bill addressed to our Utah address, next to a car with Utah plates, and a date stamped. After this and actually talking to Gavin on the phone, along with another notarized document, she finally accepted the fact that we were actually in the United States and not in outer space.
Our renters moved into our condo August 18th so we had to move out and were homeless for about a week before we left for Saudi. We drove up to Rexburg, Idaho to show Rachel around BYU-I. We did some camping on our way back home. We camped out at the Sand Dunes near Rexburg and rented a few ATV's. It was the funnest time. Jonny is definitely hooked and we plan to do this again next year. Maybe even get our own ATV's. This might be something we can do in Saudi since they have an entire country of sand.
Gavin doing a little bit of hot dogging.

Coree getting a little braver doing donuts.
Jonny LOVED it!
Nicole and Rachel both became sand bunnies.

Vika just liked the park at the campground and was happy just doing this but also had her fun on the ATV's.
Vika even drove one with a little help from Rachel.
After camping at the dunes we stopped at this park near the river in St. Anthony, Idaho. They had a little swimming hole with this slide into the river.
It was a nice little beach and swimming area.
Jonny and Rachel would rather just play on their phones.

They even had a diving board into the river.
Gavin and his perfect dive????
Nicole was a little scared to jump but after lots of persuasion, finally made the plunge.
After a few days in Idaho we headed to the Grand Teton National Park and camped a few days near Jackson Lake. Another beautiful part of the US.

We weren't quite as prepared cooking wise but the foil dinners are always a hit. Doesn't matter where you are, foil dinners and S'mores always taste good.

A little storm came through the Tetons our last night there. It only lasted a few minutes.

We headed home from the Tetons on Sunday morning thinking we were going to be able to spend some time in Roosevelt with Ranell and Mike but ran into a little bit of a problem about 30 miles south of Pinedale, Wyoming. We didn't notice the car was overheated until it had already done some major damage. We pulled over and fortunately had some people stop to help us.

We thought it was just a simple fix of some hoses but couldn't get parts until Monday morning so a State Trooper stopped and called a tow truck for us and helped us get back to Pinedale in a hotel for the night. Pinedale is in the middle of nowhere and expensive because it is a oil town. The tow truck driver helped us get the car back but informed us that it sounded like we had blown the head gasket of the engine. Not good especially in a small oil town. We discovered the next morning that the mechanics were booked for weeks and it was going to cost us $2500.00 to fix.

Our suburban is over ten years old and barely even worth that. It has been a great car and we have loved driving it all over the country for the past 5 years but it just wasn't worth fixing. We were desperate because we had to get back to Provo to get ready to leave to Saudi a few days later. We tried to figure out how to get it back to Provo where we possibly could have gotten it fixed for cheaper or at least sold it for parts but it would have cost us nearly $1,000 with renting a car, towing, hotel, gas, etc. so we just left the car in Pinedale. Sad to leave it but we had no choice.

Gavin's sister in Salt Lake rented a car to pick us up in. Since we had 6 people stranded and a suburban full of camping gear and suitcases, we needed a bigger car than they had. Her son Riley drove five hours out to pick us up on Monday. We said goodbye to our suburban, loaded up the rental and drove back to Provo. Not a great way to end our summer but no big deal. We were leaving to Saudi in a few days and don't need a car until we return next summer.

We love Utah and enjoyed every minute we spent there with family and friends and can't wait to go back next year.