Tag Archives: teaching and traveling

Selected Ramblings: Change in the World

Follow our bicycle journey around the world at www.pedalgogy.net or on Facebook.

Click here for our Vietnam and Cambodia route maps.

The world has changed a lot since the year 2000. Touring the world in this day and age has been remarkably smooth in terms of freedom of movement, crossing borders with electronic visas and booking excursions and flights with just a few clicks (see previous post).

The more I compare my experiences from 18 years ago to now, the more I realise that everything is different. Access to cash is one thing that makes this lifestyle a whole lot easier. No more travellers cheques and wire transfers needed if you have a debit or credit card these days. Communicating with home and personal entertainment and photography has been made a whole lot easier and lighter –  no longer requiring half a backpack for music.

The weather is different. Now I am no expert on climate change but what I do know is that many places can no longer rely on distinct seasons and suffer from extremes. Crops fail, regions burn, wells dry up as rising tides begin to envelope communities. The land has changed too. Nation sized palm oil and soya plantations have caused the loss of habitat and species. Where is all this heading? I think that it is a demand-led problem for which there is a demand-led solution.

As we cycled across Vietnam and Cambodia I was constantly shocked by the images of branding. Especially of disposable goods and their packaging. Desires fulfilled by consumption and waste. Repeat. Where and when did the belief that consumption makes life better and makes us happier take hold in rural Mekong communities? Parts of which are now full of packaging and burning piles of inferior products, replaced by new and ‘better’ ones? Perhaps this behaviour builds ones status, but how and why?

I am sure that the profit incentives of producers in the free market drives awareness of products, and through advertising a desire. However, even in socialist states, symptoms of personal desires expressed through purchases are proudly displayed. Is hedonism human nature? Is it just a mammalian thing to show off?

Partly because of this consumerism, the world looks different. According to the World Trade Organisation, trade of all goods as services increased by around 40% in the first decade of this millennium (WTO, 2012).  The recession put a short hold on that but forecasts still put this decades growth at a similar figure. This means that since I first started travelling on my bike, the world’s output has nearly doubled. I can see it too. Increased trade, improved infrastructure and new technology have been the drivers of Globalisation. I think that these few generations worth of time will be coined as the ‘Age of Trade’ or the time when the worlds markets became a single entity. We live in interesting times which will never be forgotten.

It seems that our insatiable appetite for the consumption of manufactured goods and services is leading us to a tipping point. It is estimated that even now, the  goods we demand, the methods used to supply them and the way in which we choose to demand them, without consideration of the impact they have, means we are consuming more than our planet can currently produce. Some sources calculate that we will need to double output to meet demand by 2050 (UN, 2015). Others claim that this is an exaggeration, suggesting that with our slowing population growth and new processes this disequilibrium could be corrected by 2050 (BioScience). Other sources use eye-catching comparisons such as – “If everybody currently lived like an American then we would need 4.1 Earths. A French person 2.5 (De Chant, 2012).

One thing is for sure – Our current habits have to change. We find ourselves choking and exhausting our world. We must find new ways of production, but vitally, we as consumers must begin to think about the long-game. To demand that businesses then start listening to us by changing our purchasing behaviour. But I fear that without the support of uncorrupted government and military, the temptation of making a quick buck will overpower the needs of our planet.

Well there, I’ve said it, and this was supposed to be a bicycle touring post. I think my point is that there has been so much change in the last 20 years, that I think that in another 20 years, the world may be unrecognisable. I wonder whether travelling will be even easier, or less enjoyable? If the whole world will be more accessible or whether we are destroying adventure and paradise by the scars we are creating on our landscapes.

I say go and explore that last frontiers, feel the buzz of discovery and the spine-tingles by sheer delight at the sites that the world has waiting. Before it’s too late. Earlier I said that this age will be known for trade and Globalisation, I also think that it will be a time in history where the true spirit of travel and adventure was at it’s strongest. If you have any desire to marvel at the wonders of the world, go out and be part of this special time.

Click here for our Vietnam and Cambodia route maps.

Videos of our adventures can be found on our YouTube channel.

Biking Stuff: Rest Days in Saigon

Follow our bicycle journey around the world at www.pedalgogy.net or on Facebook.

Our route only took us through a small section of Vietnam. We cycled from the Xa Mat border with Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh to catch a flight home for Christmas and then rode back into Cambodia at the Ha Tien border. We arrived in Ho Chi Minh a week too early for our flight so had plenty of rest days in this busy city. They say you should write what you know, so instead of a guide to bicycle touring in Vietnam- here’s a guide to rest days in Saigon.

Click here for an interactive map of this route.

Some ideas of ways to spend your days off the bike in this city:

Beer

Make good use of your time and check out the craft beer scene. We were surprised by just how many craft breweries and bars there were here. Pasteur St Brewery (try the award-winning Cyclo Imperial Chocolate Stout,) Heart of Darkness (try the Kurtz’s Insane IPA) and Bia Craft were our favourites. These choices are based on rigorous and repeated tasting. 🙂

Bike service

After plenty of beer drinking, a sensible thing to do is to give your bike some TLC. For thorough, professional and fast servicing head to Saigon Bike Shop where Van the Man will see to your bicycle’s every need. He also stocks good quality parts, water bottles etc if you need to stock up.

Food

Cyclists need plenty of fuel and these places certainly gave us that. Quan Ut Ut American Barbecue serves excellent meat with sides like corn bread, mac and cheese and buttered green beans. Not exactly healthy, but delicious. Heart of Darkness serves fancy pub food including burgers and tacos. They have great beer too -kill two birds with one stone! Q Mama Barbecue Buffet – get there early at 5pm. All-you-can-eat buffet with your own grill on the table. Includes cook-your-own crab and other seafood. All-you-can-drink beer, cider and soft drinks. Gets rowdy and competitive for food after about 7pm but you will have it almost all to yourself from 5-6pm. 199,000 dong per person (about 10 dollars).

Transport

Saigon is a big city so consider downloading the Uber app for cab rides. It’s cheaper than other taxis and walking is difficult in Ho Chi Minh. We stayed out in district 8 so we relied heavily on it. Prices vary at peak times but we generally paid about 5 dollars for a 40 minute ride.

Sights

We didn’t do a whole pile of sightseeing – they were “rest” days after all. A day trip to the Mekong Delta is worth a few hours but beware that it is very busy with other tourists. The Cu Chi Tunnels are set in a beautiful part of the countryside but have a dark history.

Some of the recommendations listed above are fairly pricey for a bike touring budget. We felt like rewarding ourselves for hitting 7000 km so we splashed out. There are plenty of cheaper options all over the city and the staples of iced sweet coffee and pho (noodle soup) are on every corner for a couple of dollars.

We definitely felt well rested, watered and fed by the time we got back on the bikes!

Bicycle touring Vietnam

Click here for an interactive map of this route.

Videos of our adventures can be found on our YouTube channel.

An Economist’s Take: Budgeting and Adventure

Follow our bicycle journey around the world at www.pedalgogy.net or on Facebook.

This post is not just for any would-be bike tourer. It considers an issue we could all think about.

We have seen all sorts on this trip so far, literally from feast to famine. The extreme wealth of the flashy supercar-driving Chinese high-fliers, to the maimed and forgotten street beggars in some parts of south-east Asia.

This trip is a real lesson about economic development for an Economics teacher.

For years I have taught middle school Humanities through to first year degree level Economics courses. I try to deliver the topics of Inequality and the Distribution of Wealth in a thoughtful and pragmatic way inside the classroom, but rarely is it ever effectively applied to real life. How can it be, when many of the young minds in the room belong to people from privileged backgrounds? I can share my experiences and things I’ve seen, and maybe even offer some thoughts about how it can be and whether a positive change will ever happen, but it is often the case that students listen but cannot yet hear. We do however excitedly apply lovely abstract formula devised by Lorenz and Kuznets to the reality of human tragedy and ecstasy.

So, I have come to appreciate that the position we are in of having some savings to spend whilst cycling around the world is not a common one, and there certainly is only one way our cash flows these days, and that’s out. We had to be prepared for that. Our reality is that we are in a small minority; to put things into context I always like some cold, hard, sober, emotionless numbers:

71% of the world’s population lives on less than $10 a day (Few Research Center, 2015)

39% of the world’s population does not a bank account (World Bank, 2015).

22% of Brits & Americans have no savings (Telegraph, 2012, MarketWatch, 2015)

64% of Brits & Americans have less than £1000/$1300 in savings accounts (TIM, 2014).

62 people have the same wealth as 50% of humanity (Washington Post, 2016)

It would be easy to say then, that being able to tour the world for two years means we are lucky and blessed. Well, I’m not so sure it’s either of these. We have worked hard to establish our careers, providing reassurance that when we need to earn again, we should be able to find work.

We didn’t do anything personally to affect it, but maybe we were ‘lucky’ to be born in UK and Ireland into caring middle class families. From then on, I think we make our own luck. Are we blessed? Well, this suggests some kind of divine intervention, which doesn’t compute with me. Who is the one that decides if we can or can’t do something that we dream of? Personally, I believe it is us – only us.  Sure it takes some forward planning and self-belief. I prefer brave (maybe a little bit crazy), self-assured and assertive as ways to describe ourselves.

Also, people make excuses far too easily and frequently about why they can’t do things they’ve “Always wanted to do”. Sometime it seems people say it just to exonerate themselves. I don’t understand that. That “could’ve”, “would’ve”, “should’ve” tense. I believe that where there is a will, there’s a way. If ultimately it doesn’t live up to your expectations, well I’ve always thought that it’s better to regret something that you have done, rather than always wonder about how it might have been.

There is never a bad time to go and explore. We have met retired couples touring, single 70 year olds, read of friends who ride the world with their two kids in tow, or their dogs. Those who are battling with sickness, those who just don’t know what they want to do in life, so go out for a ride. I don’t think that you particularly have to have a reason or a cause either. I found out how much I love touring by just giving it a go a few times and have discovered that there is a beguiling beauty to the rhythm and excitement it brings.

Six months into our two year ride now, we have become acutely aware of, and are grateful for:

Freedom of movement – Having EU passports (although for me not much longer) enables us to roam. Sure, visa applications are a hassle, but there are many people in the world we know and love who cannot whimsically cross borders.

Western Privilege – Not really sure what this means, but we certainly have a life of relative comfort back in our home countries. Services that are provided to us as a matter of course are to some, always out of reach.

Health – We should never take this one for granted. Staying fit, eating well, not taking too many risks. Enjoy every day you feel good, and battle when you don’t.

Age – Am I middle-aged? I guess I am, but they are just numbers. Are we always too young for things until we are too old? Rubbish. Don’t be held back thinking about your age. If you can’t help it, then get a younger partner, they’ll keep you young!

So what does all this suggest? ‘Carpe Diem’, would be the obvious thing to conclude, but that’s one hell of a cliché. Perhaps we should all live frivolously? No, that would be irresponsible.

Budget? Yes, but don’t let it suffocate you.

 

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Videos of our adventures can be found on our YouTube channel.

 

 

What is Pedalgogy?

Pedalgogy

Hello! We are Matthew and Niamh, two new bloggers for TIE.

Bicycle touring
Photo Credit: Erik Peterson Photography

Working hard in international schools definitely has its rewards. We are spending our savings on a life-long dream of combining a bicycle ride around the world with an education project. We are enjoying the daily physical challenge of pedalling across all kinds of terrain in all types of weather while raising awareness of Prader Willi Syndrome. The people that we meet and cultures that we learn about along the way give further meaning to this endeavour. Our desire to travel was fuelled by a shared interest in global citizenship. We have previously run a Global Citizens after-school club which enabled us to build the foundations of a story sharing website for children around the world. Our hope is to visit schools along our route to gather more stories and transform this website into a valuable, interactive resource for teachers. Lots more detail can be found at www.pedalgogy.net and www.tedweb.org.Ted Web

We will be blogging about a range of topics including:

1. Tales from the Road

2. Education Project

3. An Economists Take

4. Selected Ramblings

5. Beautiful Places and Moments

6. Lovely Mapping

7. Biking Stuff

8. Hacks and Recipes

9. The Reasons

Bicycle touring

Follow us on our Facebook page: Pedalgogy

Videos from our bicycle travels can be found on our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsG7n5CjPz3zj-muSezAWuA

Looking forward to being part of the TIE community!

The Promise of Life

To commemorate the September 7 Independence of Brazil, the American School of Brasilia (EAB) held a celebratory assembly today with teachers, parents, and all of EAB’s students, ranging from 3 to 18 years of age. The auditorium was abuzz with anticipation and the attendees were not disappointed by the presentations, which were mostly led by students. It was an impressive display and homage to our host country, Brazil. Brazil Independence EAB’s mission and motto highlight the importance of a culturally diverse school that cultivates citizenship and celebrates diversity. Of paramount importance are the inclusion, study, and celebration of Brazil’s culture as a key element of Brazil’s educational program. In fact, for the countries we have the privilege to call “home,” it is our responsibility to learn as much as we can about the local languages and customs of our hosts. EAB’s mission underscores how our school takes this responsibility very seriously. In the spirit of celebrating September 7, the following is a brief personal narrative about my own relationship with Brazil. I have had the honor of living in Brazil since the year 2000 and am deeply grateful for the opportunity to both learn from Brazilians and experience the richness and diversity associated with Brazilian culture. Shortly after arriving in Brazil, I committed to learning more about Brazilian culture, in addition to overcoming a personal inhibition, through a decision to take ballroom dance lessons with Espaço de Dança Andrei Udiloff. The process of learning to dance Samba de Gafieira, which I can assure you was not an easy assignment for my instructor, was both profound and rewarding. The classes opened a unique window into Brazilian culture, language, history, art, and music. Among the rich array of traditional Brazilian music, I was struck by Tom Jobim’s Águas de Março, which has continued to be my favorite Brazilian song to this day. If you are not familiar with the song, the following is a captivating rendition by Elis Regina. In addition to a stirring musical production, Águas de Março’s lyrics also resonate with the challenges of our daily lives. Based on my very amateur interpretation, the metaphor of Águas de Março represents a seemingly endless march forward, requiring us to overcome both the minor and significant challenges associated with daily lives. This metaphor seems apropos when applied to the onward progression of the student learning process and educational program development at EAB, in addition to the macro challenge of overall school improvement and the imperative to continue advancing education for all in Brazil and around the world. Águas de Março also reflects the eternal optimism often found in Brazilian culture through the repeated reference to the “promise of life.” As educators and parents, it is this “promise of life” that motivates and inspires us to be the very best parents and educators we can be for our children and students. It is also one of the many reasons why I am so appreciative and grateful for the opportunity to live in Brasilia and to call Brazil my home.

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Profile: I am currently working as the Head of School at the American School of Brasilia and publish a weekly blog at www.barrydequanne.com.

Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY-ND 2.0) flickr photo by Antonio Thomas: https://www.flickr.com/photos/antoniothomas/4676898983

Promise of Life

Enriching Opportunities in International Education

Being an international educator yields tremendous professional opportunities that can enrich your teaching.  Living and working in the U.S., professional development opportunities were limited to whatever the school sponsored at the school.  Many teachers received additional professional development by working on advanced degrees or paying out of pocket to go to a training or conference at a nearby university.  In the 7 years I taught in Georgia, I received only a handful of professional development opportunities outside working on my master’s and doctorate degrees. One of these was AP Government training, which was a wonderful experience.

Since Jamie and I have taught internationally, we have had the pleasure of working at schools who have provided us with meaningful professional development opportunities.  Our school systems have both hosted conferences and brought in educational specialist like Virginia Rojas, Martin Skelton, and John Almarode.  We have also had the opportunities to attend regional professional development opportunities in Bahrain, Kathmandu, Nepal, Dubai, UAE, Muscat, Oman, and Bangkok, Thailand for various conferences. Large names like Tom Guskey, Ken O’Connor, Jay McTighe, Leanne Jung, and Lucy Calkins have all been speakers and presenters at these conferences.  Just recently, I served on a Middle States Association accreditation team, which was the best professional development I have ever had.  I play on attending an accreditation team chair training on Philadelphia this summer.  Jamie has traveled to Denver and Tampa for AP training in Psychology and Economics, respectively. She will also attend a conference training in Houston this summer for training in the Schaffer writing method.

Most of this is paid for by the school.  We receive professional development funds each year that we can apply to conferences or post graduate work. On several occasions, we have received these trips for no cost because we are leaders on committees.

In addition to professional development opportunities, we also have travel opportunities with the students.  Jamie has attended the TIMUN conference in Istanbul, Turkey two times in three years with her high school students as well as sponsored student study trips to Kenya and Bali.  I have taken my middle school students on study trips to South Korea and Prague and Budapest.

Additionally, we travel in Kingdom to places like Riyadh and Jeddah for various school events like honor band/choir, MUN, and sports teams.  These opportunities just don’t happen back home where many school systems won’t allow student field trip to leave the county.

We are already planning next year where we will sponsor study trips as well as travel for various staff development trainings. Of course, these trainings and conferences are in addition to our normal vacation times.  This year for vacation, we have traveled to France, USA, and Thailand.  Next year, we plan on visiting Spain, Germany, Jordan, and some other destination to be determined.

Granted, this is all due because of money.  These are private schools that offer their students and teachers amazing opportunities, but one would be remiss if they didn’t take advantage of these opportunities.

Top 10 Best Things About Living in Saudi Arabia

10)  Labor Costs –

Neither Jamie and I are really used to this, but it is a nice lifestyle.  In the US and most other western nations, having a housekeeper, car washer, and gardener would be too much of a cost on the budget.  A couple of families on the compound have a live in maid, which we don’t think we’ll ever get, but certainly seems appealing if you have a few kids.  The men who work on the compound (mainly from Pakistan and India) have regular hours where the take care of maintenance on the compound itself; however, before and after work, they wash cars and do other personal maintenance request you may have.  Just recently, we had a guy build a fence and put in a doggie door for us.  We don’t mind helping these guys out because their service for us pretty much double or triple their monthly salary.

9)  Location for Traveling –

This year wasn’t nearly as busy for our traveling as our 2 years in China, but the area where we are is a great location to see 3 continents.  The only drawback is that the cost of flights are more expensive than they are in southeast Asia, but pretty much everything is more expensive than it is is SE Asia.  This year, we went to Bahrain, Sri Lanka, and Turkey, while I was able to go to Nepal and Jamie to Kenya.  With the birth of our child, it might slow us down a little bit, but we hope that in the years to come, we can take advantage of our location to 3 continents, mainly Europe.

8)  Bahrain –

Bahrain has pork, alcohol, a nightlife, movie theaters, and goods you can’t find in Saudi.  You can’t bring the pork and alcohol back into Saudi, but it has been nice to go over there on the weekends and enjoy these things.  Women can drive and Jamie doesn’t have to wear her abaya.  At a minimum, it takes about 45 minutes to get there if you can get through customs quickly; however, it can take nearly 2 hours if the causeway is busy.  Many people go on early Friday morning to avoid the traffic.  Ric’s Kountry Kitchen has a great breakfast and City Center Mall has been our favorite place to see a movie.  Overall, it is a nice getaway from the bore of Saudi Arabia.

7)  Shawarmas –

According to wikipedia, a shawarma is

“an Arab[1][2] sandwich-like wrap of shaved lamb, goat, chicken, turkey, beef, or a mixture thereof. The meat is placed on a spit, and may be grilled for as long as a day. Shawarma is a fast-food staple across the Middle East, Europe and the Caucasus.
Shawarma is eaten with pita breadLavash bread, tabbouleh salad, fattoush salad, taboon bread, tomato and cucumber. Toppings include tahinihummus, pickled turnips and amba.
Shawarma has many variants and names in preparation, serving style, and name. The word shawarma(pronounced /ʃəˈvɑːrmə/) comes from the Turkish word çevirme [tʃeviɾˈme] ‘turning’, though the dish is usually called döner kebab ‘turning kebab’ in Turkish. In Greek, it was formerly called ντονέρ /doner/, and now called gyros ‘turned’; in Armenian, it is “tarna”, literally meaning “to turn”.”
You can get shawarmas just about anywhere, but we have our favorite place downtown at this little hole in the wall.  It seems like every family has their favorite place to get their shawarmas, so it is nice to hear of other places.  We ate the doners in Turkey, but we seems to like the ones on Saudi better.
6)  Availability of Food –
In comparison to China, we can get just about anything we want in Khobar.  Obviously, pork and alcohol are out, but many items are available somewhere.  Tamimi’s (formerly Safeway) is our favorite place to shop due to availability of goods and location.  The prices are at most 15% more than US prices, although some items are the same or even cheaper.  Turkey bacon can be found sporadically.  Tostidos are also a hot item with westerners, so we always stock up if we can.  Cheerios are in and out, so if they are in, I usually buy 3 boxes or so.  Cheese is not as expensive, but fruits, fish, and nuts are very expensive.  Along with groceries, there are a wider variety of western restaurants, although they can be pricey too.  My favorite is Chili’s, although I’m glad there is Burger King and Hardee’s.  We have been to the Macaroni Grille with gift certificates and it is quite good too.
5)  Coworkers and Our Jobs –
Jamie is happy at the high school, and finding her a high school social studies position was one of our main objectives in moving schools.  I have settled in teaching 7th grade math/science at the middle school.  We are both pretty satisfied with our jobs.  We have the opportunity for some professional development opportunities as well as leadership opportunities that we wouldn’t have had in our last school.  ISG is a solid system to work for as a not for profit organization.  We are located right next to the US Consulate, so security is as good as it gets.  Our students for the most part are hardworking, although they have quite a bit of support from home.  The high school where Jamie teaches has 100% of its graduating students go to a university.  We have great and supportive coworkers, many of whom are also our neighbors and friends.  They have made the transition to Saudi Arabia easier.  We hope that we have these friendships for many years to come.
4)  Gas!!!
Not much I can say here other than… 40 cents a gallon, $9 to fill up my Chevy Trailblazer, and just as important, you don’t have to pump your own gas.  Many gas stations additionally give you a couple of tissue boxes if you fill up.
3)  Weather –
This one may shock some people, but the weather where we live is actually pretty amazing 8 months of the year.  During the summer, we aren’t there anyway, so we have to endure the heat during June and September, but the other months are pretty amazing.  Rainfall is less than inch per year and the winter is very mild.  During the winter, you thrown a light jacket in the morning and evening, but wear short sleeves during the day.  The heat is pretty unbearable beginning in May, but the humidity isn’t near where it is other places, so it is actually pretty bearable.  Overall, we’ve enjoyed the weather, despite the heat index in August reaching 146 on some days.
2)  Housing –
Westerners are required to live in a secure, walled compound.  Compounds vary in size and amenities.  Our compound is An Nassim, and overall we have enjoyed our stay there.  This year, we lived on the 2nd and 3rd floor of a 3 story villa.  There was a single lady who lived underneath us.  This next year, however, we have a full 3 story villa, which doubles our living space from last year.  We have a front patio, back patio, and even a grassy fenced back yard.  Many families have decorated their villas so well, it is hard to believe you live in Saudi Arabia.  The villas come furnished.  Some families replace all of the furniture and some keep it the same.  Jamie and I will do our best to make it look and feel like home as much as possible.  Home is where you make it.
Compound life for the most part is quite dull, however, there is a weekly poker night.  Some women get together for yoga, and we play Settlers of Catan every Friday.  About once per month, most people on the compound get together for some sort of pot luck dinner or celebration and Thanksgiving dinner is always prepared.  If you are lucky, you can also go to the Canadian thanksgiving.  If you’ve seen our compound video, you’ll see that we have tennis courts, a pool, and a pretty nice rec center and library.  My largest problem is that there is not a field where kids can play.  We plan on making villa 104 our home for a while, and I can think of worse places to live.
1)  Money –
No one, and I mean no one, moves to Saudi Arabia for the culture, scenery, or weather.  The lifestyle I have described above is what it is for one reason… money.  While we don’t make quite as much as we would in the states, our money is tax free, our housing is paid for, our health care taken care of, and insurance is pretty inexpensive.  Moving to Saudi has pretty much doubled our salary from China if you count the tutoring money.  Tutoring students has been a positive experience overall for us, and it can be quite lucrative.  My tutoring money alone takes care of our living expenses, so it allows for us to send most, if not all, of our money home to the states.  Our school’s package isn’t the best in the Middle East, but it is pretty good overall.

1 Year in the Kingdom

Jamie and I just finished our 1st year living in Saudi Arabia.  For the most part, it was as we expected.

Our first few weeks and months were quite frustrating at time adjusting to prayer schedules, random store hours, no vehicle, inconsistent Internet, and being stuck in Saudi.  The 2nd half of the year was more routine when we bought our vehicle, had a decent Internet connection, and were able to go to Bahrain when we wanted.

We had our trips, but they were not as numerous as our trips when we were in China.  I was able to go to a leadership conference in Kathmandu, Nepal, Jamie went to Istanbul, Turkey for a MUN conference, as well as Kenya for a Habitat for Humanity trip.  We went to Sri Lanka as well as Turkey for our two trips and enjoyed both.

Overall, Saudi living isn’t that much different than living in the US.  Exchange churches for mosques, add in prayer times and store closings, get rid of the alcohol, force the women to wear black robes, have very few traffic laws, increase the heat, lower your customer service expectations, add in foreign laborers, and up the security for all housing, and you’d have Saudi Arabia.  Similarities include the restaurants (minus pork and alcohol) and overall the general stuff you can buy.  There is much more you can purchase in Saudi than in China.  Price of gas is about 40 cents a gallon, which is nice, but other products more than make up for it.  Electronics are very expensive and random food items can be double the price.

Our next blog post will be the top 10 best things about living in Saudi Arabia.  It will give you more insight into what we think of living there.

Again, overall, a great experience so far.  We have another year on our contract, and we’ll see what we want to do after that.  We moved into a new villa that has 3 floors, so Griffey is happy because he has more room as well as a fenced in back yard complete with a doggie door.

Check our next post for those top 10.

Jamie’s Trip to Kenya

Well, lots of people are wondering about my trip to Kenya so I’m making a very rare (I think this is only my second) contribution to the blog.

We began with a late night bus trip to Bahrain Airport which involved crossing the border with 41 people (5 chaperones and 36 high school students). We had two groups going to Nairobi so we shared bus and plane rides in and out of the country. The trip started out well, no hiccups at immigration and all five chaperones got bumped up to business class! It was great, I can’t wait to be able to fly business and first class on a regular basis. Too bad that’s light years away. We had a brief layover in Addis Abba, Ethiopia and landed in Nairobi mid-day on Thursday.

There are pictures of our first hotel in Nairobi as well as our hotel in the ravine (complete with mosquito nets for all the beds). Both of the hotels we stayed at were really nice, with great outdoor garden areas to relax in during the afternoon. The food was good in both hotel locations. Kenyan food is very heavy on starches and carbohydrates so pretty much every meal had potatoes, rice, and fried bread as well as a meat dish (usually a stew of some sort). We also had some very good fish dishes while we were there and a slaw dish that I didn’t eat (it had mayonnaise of course, I can’t escape that condiment anywhere in the world).

Nairobi was pretty warm during the day but really comfy at night. In the ravine the temperature didn’t get quite as hot during the day. When we were working there was usually a breeze although it got quite cool in the evenings until mid morning the next day. I had exactly one pair of pants for traveling and no long sleeves so I was chilly.

The first evening in Nairobi we had our Habitat for Humanity orientation with Festus who would be our HfH contact for the trip. We learned about some of the traditional Kenyan housing (mud walls that have to be reworked after the rainy season every year) and the fact that boys in the rural areas move out of their families homes when they are 15. They live in a very small house (called a boy’s house) on their parents’ property until they can afford to build a larger home which often doesn’t happen until after they are married with a few children.

During this meeting, we were also reminded of the violence that had broken out during the last presidential election. The race was very close between two popular candidates (who are now the re-elected president and the new prime minister). Because of the tensions, some groups who were considered outsiders in their villages were attacked and fled. The new government has given stipends to the displaced families who are currently living in tents donated by the UN. With this money, families could rebuild their homes that were destroyed. One group decided to buy the land of their refugee camp and set up a permanent settlement so they pooled all of their stipends. This gave them a safe place to live and work but it left them with no money for actual housing. Habitat and the UN are working together to help this community build brick wall homes for everyone in their group. They have completed about half of the homes so far and our group got to stop and visit the settlement on our way to our actual build site.

We stopped a few times along the way to see a couple of look out points, shop for souvenirs, and take a few pictures. Most of our second day was spent on the road although we did get to visit the two families that we would be working with to get their homes started.

We had a total of two and a half building days. During the first day we dug the foundation of one home and began laying the foundation for another. Part of Habitat is that the families do have to pay off the loan of the building materials and contribute to the building through what is called “sweat equity.” We had locals and the family helping us lay bricks. Ultimately, we built both the foundation and most of the walls for one home. It was an amazing experience that I recommend to everyone. While we weren’t being tourists, and I can’t wait to go back to visit Kenya and do all the touristy things, we really got a great experience because we were working with a family of people. Most people had rudimentary English and of the places I’ve traveled, more people spoke basic English in Kenya than anywhere else. I’m guessing because of imperialism (and they drive on the left side of the road thanks to the Brits).

We did spend one day out on safari in one of the national reserve parks. It was amazing. We got to see lions, rhinos, giraffes, tons of zebra, antelope and deer, and a couple varieties of buffalo. Plus lots of birds. We didn’t see a leopard or an elephant but overall the day was pretty great. There was also a lodge hotel in the reserve itself which is where we ate lunch that day.

Our last day was a travel day as well and we made it from the ravine back to Nairobi. We thought for a while that the other Kenya group wasn’t going to make the flight but they did and we all headed home together.

Our kids had a great time. They were mostly juniors and seniors who were trying to beef up their college applications but I think by the end of our trip that wasn’t their focus anymore. We got to visit two schools and an orphanage which made a huge impact on all of us. We all brought items to donate (clothes, books, and toys) which were gratefully accepted. We also donated some food to the families that we worked with since they had fed all 19 of us everyday. We learned a few Kiswahili words (fundi means expert, and one of our kids got nicknamed junior fundi because he mastered the building process so well) and got to hang out with the family members during morning and afternoon tea. A baby goat was born while we were there (I’ve got some fuzzy pictures as I chased him around the living room) and a few of the young children saw white people for the first time (and were scared to death of us the first couple of days). We also got the chance to go up against a local school in a soccer game (well I took pictures from the sidelines).

Overall it was a trip that I will never forget. The people were great, the scenery was great, and I felt like I really contributed to the effort to give these people a good, sturdy home. Our students were wonderful, hardworking and cheerful, and so generous of themselves the whole week. I can’t wait to take kids on another WOW week trip. There is a lot to be said for the learning experiences that happen through giving beyond the confines of your small school community.

Random Life in Khobar

Life catches up to everyone.  We all get into the same monotonous pattern day after day.  It seems that life here in Saudi can become even more monotonous than even in the U.S.

I have been driving now for over a month.  Driving is not as bad as what people make it out to be. Sure, the drivers here are more careless than in the rule filled US, but as long as you balance your defensive/offensive driving, you’ll be fine.

There are roundabouts here, which I though I would hate.  Actually, I am not sure why more US cities do not have roundabouts.  They keep the flow of traffic moving rather nicely.  I guess it is our rebellion from England despite the fact that we had been an independent nation for over 100 years after cars were invented.

I have been playing in a basketball league at Aramco.  Aramco is the company that controls the oil here in Saudi Arabia.  Way back when the first dug here, they brought in US and other western engineers to run their oil business.  They built this enormous compound (about 12,000 people) that is heavily guarded.  They have actual grass, even a very nice grass golf course on their compound.  There are schools, grocery stores, government building, office building, parks, softball fields, gymnasiums, and plenty of swimming pools there.

You have to know someone to get onto Aramco.  You drive to the gate, tell them why you are there, then go to another parking lot and gate and check in with your drivers license, Iqama (green card), and car registration card.  People riding with you only have to present their Iqama or passport.  The guard then calls the number of the person who you know at Aramco.  This person has to be at their home number (no cell phones).  The guy lets then prints up all names of people wanting in ALWAYS misspelling the names.  It is actually quite funny.

You pass through the gate and drive where you need to go.  I have been going for a basketball league and once per week for Ultimate Frisbee.  I will also go in the Spring for softball.  It keeps my week pretty busy.

Jamie is in Kenya for the week.  I am hoping that she will blog about it when she returns.

We are still playing Settlers of Catan every Friday and sometimes through the week.  A new game introduced by a friend was Dominion, a strategy card game which has caught on.  Darts has also been a hot game to play.

This week, I was finally able to put up some picture frames around the house.  What is funny about that is that there are not any actual pictures in them.  We’ll get to that later when I have time to go print some.  We have a color printer, but I worry about the quality when I print them.

I have been pulling some long days by going in early and then tutoring right after school.  Tutoring is something that many people do here.  It is usually for just 1 hour for how many ever days you want.  I do 4 days per week, which is quite a bit, but the money is outstanding. Jamie and live off my tutoring money alone.  It was a pleasant surprise that we were able to do that.

Finally received a bank account and my ATM card.  I now have my check direct deposited so I do not have to go sit at that evil Saudi Hollandi bank any more.  I now sit at a probably just as evil Sabb bank for any banking needs. Banks usually on have about 2 tellers and only one of them will actually do any work.  You have to get a number and wait for the 1 teller to go through all of the people.  I have not been in a bank for less than 45 minutes. This is just to cash a check.  Crazy.

School here is as busy as anywhere.  The school offers a ton of things for the kids to do.  This week, it was Book Fair.  Nice selection as the student order the books, then they bring them in from Bahrain.  Only takes about 2 weeks from what they tell me.  I ordered a Dr. Seuss book I had never heard of called Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You?  I also ordered those Brain Quest trivia questions and an Italian cookbook.

All for now.  I’ll try and talk Jamie into posting sometime about her Habitat for Humanity Kenya trip.  Interestingly, she is sleeping in the Southern Hemisphere and working in the Northern Hemisphere.  I think yesterday she went on a Safari – cool!

I’ll try and take pictures in the next couple of weeks.  It won’t be much to look at, but it might give you an idea of where we live.