The Runaway Cart

An amateur flight attendant gazes out of the emergency exit window at the sunset, while sitting in the jumpseat of an E-190 plane. The clouds make formations of mountains and crevices that are a comparatively impressive, but softer Grand Canyon. She’s on initial probation, with two months remaining, and not yet jaded by the view. The first chime signals that her services are needed.

“Okay, honey,” an old colleague drawls, “You wanna be in the front of the cart or back?” The woman starts unlatching bins needed for drink service.

“Front,” she says. The newbie glances down at the woman’s flat-soled shoes and tells herself to take note on that. The girl is ending a long day in mid-heeled pumps. It would be more than difficult to pour drinks while walking backward- with or without turbulence. In her partner’s 40 plus years of experience, she’s acquired many job hacks to make flight attending easier.

Making their way down the narrow aisle with a beverage cart, she is careful of the loose limbs, stray bags, and stretching passengers in their path.

“Watch your foot… Excuse me, watch your elbow…”
She accidentally brushes against a passenger who is startled awake. “I’m so sorry, sir,” the girl says.

The two of them are moving quickly through the chore since there are only sixteen commuters on a 97 maximum capacity flight. As flight attendants, only 10 percent of their training was on customer service. The other 90 percent focused on minute safety detail – from the direction of door handle rotations to which overhead compartment contains the AED defibrillator.

They have been going back and forth from Boston and LaGuardia since sunrise. Finally, they are finishing up the fourth leg of the day and looking forward to the fifth leg back to the Philadelphia base. The girl returns her cart to its cubby and secures the latches and brakes. Stepping into the restroom, she quickly applies the signature red lipstick and adjusts her compression stockings.

A bell chimes, signaling the initial descent. They’re twenty minutes out. Picking up the microphone, she looks at her script.
“As we prepare for landing, be sure your seatback is upright and tray tables are secured. If you have any items to discard, please pass them to us as we come through the aisle.”

Once all trash is collected and stowed, two bells sound to prepare for landing. It is time to take their jump-seats. The senior flight attendant is in the front near the cockpit and newbie straps in, in the back galley. The lights and noise levels dim. She puts her hands palm-up under her thighs, tilts her head back on the rest and does her silent review. “6 exits… 2 over the wings… Okay, now, what are my commands?”

A hefty man in his thirties is sitting in the last row on aircraft right. He will be her able-bodied passenger to assist if there’s an emergency. Before taking the jumpseat, it is the rear attendant’s responsibility to do one final galley check of all cart locks and latches. One step missed…

She looks back at the hefty passenger and catches movement to the right of her gaze. The plane’s descent has jarred loose the 150 to 200-pound beverage cart. She lunges and grips the handle with the tips of her fingers as it creeps out of its compartment. Her seatbelt imprisons her. She fiddles to unlock it with her free hand. Strain shoots up her right arm to her shoulder, then to her neck, as she silently holds on.

She loses her grip and quickly unbuckles out of the jumpseat. The drink cart has made it halfway through the cabin and is picking up speed. None of the passengers seem to notice. The cart goes in a smooth and straight line until it tips forward onto its door.

It slides.

It tumbles twice.

Unlike most plane models, this aisle indents at First Class, putting a passenger seat right in the path of the runaway cart. The longest minute of the young woman’s life is now realized by everyone.

Ultimately, the beverage cart clears 30 rows before making its final destination into the back of seat 3D. Whiplash from this passenger, a man with a bruised elbow, minor damage to a hand-rest, and a completely demolished cart. Almost simultaneously, everyone turns around and questions the flight attendant with their eyes. There is no script in the blue book for this one.

Shakily, she picks up the intercom phone.

“Everyone, please remain calm and seated. Raise your hand if you need a bag of ice.”

Murder She Wrote

crazy kids

This class was a challenge. I bet you can guess which one needed the most attention… — with Ainny, Michael Jackson, Sarah, Peter, Mary, Jason, Jessica, Ryan, Jully and Jenny.

Digging through old essays, I came across these from my former 3rd-grade Korean students.

**TOPIC** Describe the thing that scares you the most and why.

~ I scare devile realy. Devile is very very bad. He come in ours mind and used to bad work. When the people do bad work, that is devile’s do. I’m scared my mom’s stick. When I say bad word, she hit very big power. And I cry loudly.
By: Amy

~I think test paper is very scary. You have good score you don’t have problem. but you very bad score you die to your mom.
By: Bill

~Ghosts are scare. One week ago. I see a Michale Jackson ghost. And I think they feel sad. Because they were died.
By: Andy

~I scared 6-flower. The 6-flower is his nickname. His look like dear. and He was fat. he walk on the floor the floor sound is BIG..he has a small eyes. He’s haed is BIG. Punch!! Boom!! Haha.. The End
By: Chaeliim

~I scared of my class mate bed boys. They are bed. They are hit and attack my friends. They are still anythink, bag,cellphone, water. They are vey bed boys I kill they but they are strong. They are watching bed video. no study. They are control my friends. I’m very scared and angry.
By: Kevin

~ I scared is killer. so I scared lipstick killer and Gang Ho-Soon killer. Why I scared killer? beacause They are kill the peson, so. I scared killer.
By: Cara

 

**I’m surprised “fan death” didn’t make the list!

fan-death

Fan death: The Korean superstition that a running fan in a closed space can suck all the air out of a room causing asphyxiation while you sleep.

The Eighth Wonder

Lists of the Seven Wonders of the World have been constructed from the Ancient Greek Herodotus of 425 BCE to today’s online voters (1). Each of these lists has missed out on the architectural beauty that exists in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Rich in varying textures and usage, its buildings and landscapes include ancient mud-thatched forts neighboring contemporary shopping centers.

Al-Faisaliyah Tower is one of these steel constructions of 30 floors made to resemble a ball-point pen, as the reflective golden globe restaurant rotates at its axis. Pictured on many postcards, Al-Faisaliyah was the tallest building in Saudi Arabia in 2000 (2), allowing its diners to view as far as the deserts through floor to ceiling, triangular panes. A year later, Kingdom Tower, 65-stories of ultra-modern accommodations took its record (2). It places as the world’s third tallest building with a parabolic arch (3).  Its peaks connect on the 99th floor by a sky bridge with panoramic views (4). Out of the three entry levels of luxury shopping, the first is open to general public. While, following cultural practice of gender segregation, the next two floors are reserved solely for female shoppers and staff. Here, one would find skinny jeans from Saks 5th Avenue to go beneath an abaya from Bedoon Essm.

Traveling north through the business district of Olaya and then following highways west to the desert, sculptures of an older medium are found. Built of mud and thatch, the ancient city of Al Diriyah was established in 1744 to serve as a military fortress against the Ottoman Empire (5). Once called ‘Najd’, meaning western-lying area, Diriyah sits on the outskirts of modern-day Riyadh and is the original home of the Saudi royal family (6). The siege of Diriyah, in 1818, caused its rulers to flee the damaged fort and rebuild a new life in Riyadh (5).

After many years of abandonment, a major restoration project started in 2000, keeping with traditional architecture (5). Sites include ceilings made of exposed wooden poles, open air windows of triangular cut-outs, and large dungeon-like doors of blaring geometric designs. In 2010, the Turaif district of Diriyah, which includes Salwa Palace and archeological finds, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site (5). Today, tourists can take part in traditional meals with floor-style seating, at Najd Village (7).

In contrast to the expected browns and beiges of the desert, Diriyah’s grounds are naturally sprinkled with date trees, streams, and greenery. On the edge of Diriyah lies Wadi Hanifa, a valley extending 75 miles from northwest to southeast. Traditional folklore presents a history of fertile farmland, which explains the origin of the city name Riyadh, ‘a garden’. As the capital city quickly expanded, pollution and climate change was found to be the cause of disturbed ecological balance, resulting in drought. While some areas of the wadi still remain dry, Ar-Riyad Development Authority has preserved parts of the wetlands for recreational activities (8).

Riyadh is a place that is often a mystery to those looking in from the outside. Its short history of vast development and the pressures to let things be, has produced a wondrous blend of old and new.

najd village

 

(1) Seven Wonders of the World

http://geography.about.com/od/lists/a/sevenwonders.htm

(2) Al-Faisaliyah Center

http://www.emporis.com/buildings/125879/al-faisaliyah-center-riyadh-saudi-arabia

(3) Kingdom Centre

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom_Centre

(4) Kingdom Tower

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/saudi-arabia/riyadh/sights/architecture/kingdom-tower

(5) Ar Riyadh: The Birthplace of a Nation

https://video.search.yahoo.com/video/play;_ylt=A2KLqIERJntWhl8AiLw0nIlQ;_ylu=X3oDMTByNDY3bGRuBHNlYwNzcgRzbGsDdmlkBHZ0aWQDBGdwb3MDNQ–?p=paul+mcdowell+euronews+al+diriyah&vid=3fdcd9b0a2e3ce4bfde85ffe001ca368&turl=http%3A%2F%2Ftse2.mm.bing.net%2Fth%3Fid%3DWN.CX9S6V7P%252fXdRkggK6LumWg%26pid%3D15.1%26h%3D168%26w%3D300%26c%3D7%26rs%3D1&rurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3Daypq3lgP1uA&tit=Arriyadh%3A+The+Birthplace+Of+A+Nation+-+Life&c=4&h=168&w=300&l=301&sigr=11bj5p8j3&sigt=11bdahe5t&sigi=12nl9obgv&age=1413829903&fr2=p%3As%2Cv%3Av&hsimp=yhs-prodege_001&hspart=prodege&type=search_6&vm=p&param4=1270166858&tt=b

(6) About & History

http://www.seekteachers.com/country-info.asp?country_id=18&attribute_id=2165

(7) Najd Village

http://najdvillage.com/#c

(8) Wadi Hanifa

https://www.geocaching.com/seek/cache_details.aspx?wp=GC51R22&title=wadi-hanifah-stair-stepping

Still, In Motion

Three days after Thanksgiving, I am racing against a red mustang to get to the last empty parking space at Club Fitness. Coming from the opposite direction, he loops into the diagonal spot. There are a few ways that I could have shown my disapproval. But I dare not challenge him. He looks as if he lives off of Muscle Milk.

One more lap around and I decide to park a few storefronts down. I’m sure that just before the holidays, I could have ignored these lanes and simply cut through parking spaces.

I use the slight jog through damp weather as a small warm-up for my scheduled 3-miler. But in case the selection of treadmills looked anything like the lot, I start to think of alternative cardio.

Walking into the gym, I’m greeted by “Extended Black Friday” vendors selling handmade trinkets, koozies and perfumes. Tempting. I politely decline.

 

This has been my month of attempted focus. Being still. My greatest challenge to date. By work contract, I have eliminated the option of changing jobs, cities, countries. Good. I’ve got the physical part down. Now, the mental. Being still. It’s a practice of listening to God and to others, and tuning out those subtle selfish desires of being someplace else…in location, in status, in life. Overthinking, when unnecessary. How successful have I been? Well…

Tonight, I blame the vibe in the room. Perhaps it’s the live DJ or everyone feeling good in their new apparel. Or just the crowd, in general. Everyone seems to be part of a pair, probably due to the $10 holiday joining fee. As a single, I missed the memo. Walking to the back, I look down and see newly laid matting. The “new carpet smell” is no challenge to the cologne doused over sweaty gym clothes of the bench presser. That machine wasn’t there before. I try to remember the last time I’ve been here. Why does it even matter? Grab a treadmill.

As predicted, the only cardio left to choose from was the Stairmaster or stationary bike. I go for the Stairmaster, the perfect spot for people-watching. The gym is one of the few places where people are expectedly nosey. A wiry little woman, likely in her 80s, browses the aisles of machines, looking at the picture instructions. I opt to scope out the trainer who turns this knob or clips that bar to convert focus from biceps to triceps. Then there’s that guy, who performs handstands and bear crawls across the gym.

It’s getting hot. Shedding a layer, I drape my jacket over the timer. All of the varying body shapes interest me. On one side of the gym, there’s the one woman who’s found a balance between feminine curves and muscular strength. I look around and many eyes, male and female, unbashfully eye her as she executes a burpee routine notorious for sculpted derrieres. Three machines down, an overly tanned brunette removes a sweat vest, to reveal abs of perfect symmetry… in the winter… after Thanksgiving. Figure competitor, I’m guessing. I pass the next 10 minutes spotting which women are long-distance runners vs. Sprinters. It’s all in the quads. The leg press machine just opened up. Wipe down.

The Crossfit cage is in my new line of eyesight. A brawny guy wearing a slit tank is knocking out pull-ups with simplicity. A back riddled with indentations that would put an anatomy major in awe. He knows this.

“There’s the trapezius muscle. And the latissimus dorsi..”

He drops down, shakes his arms out, turns around and is wearing a firefighter shirt. Makes sense…

There’s someone with a good sense of humor. A shirt saying, “I RUN better than the government”. He’s a marathoner sporting a 26.1 on the back. Then I spot bright orange, across the gym. A fellow Tennessee Vol. I decide to make that my route out the gym. After chatting, I find that he’s not an actual Vol, just lived near Knoxville. Meh…

Only until I’m seated in the car, as the rain hits the windshield, do I realize that zoning out as intended, never happened. “Be Still” fail. Tomorrow, perhaps I’ll try a run. Not my normal traffic-filled route. I need silence. Can I stay motivated without my tunes? Maybe I should leave my phone at home. But how would I track my time?….be_still 5

Immigration Reform: Building Communi-Tea in the Triangle

Church World Service RDU

Today’s post is written by blogger and CWS volunteer Ashley Brown

During the rain-filled weekend, the sun decided to make a special appearance last Friday as women of different nationalities, life experiences, and organizations came together for a common cause: immigration reform.  Colorful table cloths and flowers donned each table in preparation forthe interfaith teaparty and discussiontitled Ruth’s Journey: Building Communi-Tea, moderated byby well-known WRAL-TV news anchor, Renee Chou.  Refugee and immigrant women spoke together with their native born American friends about how they had worked together to improve life here in the Triangle.

Casey Smith, a high school student and CWS volunteer, was first to discuss her work as an English conversation partner for Aline, a

refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo. After being raised in the DRC and then fleeing to Kenya, Aline and her young family are now settling in…

View original post 459 more words

Couch to Marathon Plan!

One-Year of Running Plan

run-encouragement-ecard

One of the most irritating discoveries is to know that you were fully capable of doing something, but now physically unable to do it. That’s me and running. 2011 was my most accomplished year in running, with 2 half marathons (13.1 miles) and a full (26.2 miles).  I anticipated my return to the States, by irrationally signing up for untrained races. You never forget how to ride a bike, they say. Well I’m here to tell you that the same logic doesn’t apply to running. I have forgotten how to breathe, how to push through pain, how to adjust for hills. Today, I get winded after ½ a mile and feel utter exhaustion after 3. My year abroad has temporarily sabotaged my endurance. So, I have to start from scratch to be able to run next year’s Raleigh Rock n’ Roll Marathon (April 13, 2014). http://runrocknroll.competitor.com/Raleigh

I have spent hours looking for the perfect running schedule to get me into marathon shape. And since I couldn’t find a couch to marathon program with more focus on the “couch”, I’ve combined 5 of my favorite workout plans. I’ve adjusted some according to my preferences. Back to back, they add up to a one-year training plan, in hopes to get me to the finish line in 4 hours 30 min. Wish me luck!!

Running With Refugees

Here’s a link to my 3rd published piece!.. and for my favorite non-profit, CWS.  For more information on CWS around the globe, please visit www.cwsglobal.org  🙂

http://cwsrdu.org/2013/04/09/running-with-refugees-a-volunteers-perspective/

RUNNING WITH REFUGEES

The anticipated cheer from the front-runners marked the start of The Great Human Race, in Durham, N.C. In the middle of the pack were our refugees from Chad and Sudan with some Church World Service volunteers. With broad smiles and a runners’ high, they were excited to take part in their first organized 5k race. Holding up the rear, representing with a CWS placard, were our walkers. Our red and yellow shirts showed the urgency of reuniting families escaping turmoil in their native countries.

Out of courtesy, all of the CWS runners started out at the same pace. But it didn’t take long before our two Sudanese men were no longer in eyesight! What’s my excuse not placing in the race? Someone needed to stay behind with our 10-year old from Chad 😉 His name was Job, as in the book in the Bible. With the heaviness of basketball shoes, he asks the question that’s been repeated by kids for decades, “We almost there yet???” Apparently, this spans past culture. With no mile markers to give us hope, I repeated the lie “Yeah, just around the corner… Ok, I think it’s after that building… Soon…” To take our mind off of the finish, we race to the tree, and then to the stop sign, and then the second parked car. Faintly, we hear the band playing in the distance, signaling that the end is near. Just ahead we see Job’s older brother, Janvier, coming back for us. With a few words from his big brother, Job picks up the pace and we challenge each other to a final sprint to the finish line, crossing at 39:40.

Patiently waiting at the end of the race, were our two speed racers, unfazed by the 3 miles they just polished. What they were more interested in knowing was the winner’s prize. As untimed runners (without a chip), we will never know what place they came in. But I am sure that we may be brewing some future racers!

The race finishes with a block party, and the dancing began as soon as the walkers made their way in. The refugees stood on the side studying the foreign movements the “Cha-Cha slide”, “The Electric slide” and the “Macarena”.  As predicted, dozens of runners jump in for these eternal tunes. As our foreigners nod along to the music, Berthe, Job’s mom, was the life of the party.  All smiles, she made her own dance that was better than the pattern the rest of the world has been following. This race has been such an enjoyable event for us as a group!

So after months of fundraising, I’m sure you’re wondering whether it has paid off.. Thanks to all of the donors and racers, Church World Service has raised $3,990! This means that you all have made it possible to reunite EIGHT more families like Job, Janvier, and Berthe.

If there are any last minute gifts to CWS, please make a check out to CWS-RDU with “Immigration” in the memo line. Checks can be sent to the office at 112 S. Duke Street, Suite 4B, Durham NC 27701.

The Best and Worst Medical Experience in Riyadh

BEST:

After passing an Aramex, Burger King, and Al-Rahji on the left, make the left at the fork in the road. Continue looking left. It's the 2nd or 3rd street across from shopping center. Smile Design is on the side of building, 2nd floor.

After passing an Aramex, Burger King, and Al-Rahji on the left, make the left at the fork in the road. Continue looking left. It’s the 2nd or 3rd street across from shopping center. Smile Design is on the side of building, 2nd floor.

 

Smile Design Dental

Suleymania Square

Mousa bin nuseir street

Riyadh, KSA

http://www.stylishsmile.com

The taxi meter creeps up in Riyals, as I search relentlessly for this dentist office known for its luxuriousness and cheap (insurance free) cleanings. As I make my 3rd tour around Suleymania Square, I’m ready to call it quits, until finally I find

Smile Design peeking from the side of a factory building. Perhaps I was looking for a royal-like exterior, instead of a cluttered side alley with an undefined dark entrance. The elevator doors of the 2nd floor open to a bright, airy lobby that steals all of the customers from the gloomy businesses downstairs. Suddenly, my Nike’s feel unworthy of stepping onto the polished cement floors of purple, glittery swirls. I would normally have thought of purple and glitter as quite gay, but now consider where in my house to put the combination.

Being the first customer since noon prayer, female dentists are just now making their way back in. A stunning receptionist, dressed as if she works for a high-end hotel, sits under an impressive chandelier. She asks in impeccable English of which services I’ll be needing. A simple cleaning doesn’t sound like enough, but I stick with the original plan. I take out a pen in preparation of filling out medical forms. Unexpectantly, my pen was met by her IPad. Portable online applications? Am I so far in the past, to not have seen this coming?

I go to the women’s waiting room and take a seat on the black and white furniture, encased by funky metallic walls. Pink cones and flowers accent the modern corner tables. And rare melodies of Enya play softly, so not to outshine the sounds of the waterfall feature at the entrance. I almost forget that I’m in Saudi, until I flip through fashion magazines with blacked-out faces, arms, and legs, for its modest readers.

The Filipina dentist, who ends every sentence with “Madame”, calls me into her high tech office of rotating chairs and gadgets.  This is nothing like the scary dentist appointments of your childhood. She hands me some earphones and turns on the television mounted to the ceiling above. A nature scenery plays, as she meticulously paid every tooth the same attention, unrushed. When it came time for the rinse, I had a flashback of the bubblegum “SWISH” from my elementary years. She ends every session with a flossing tutorial. Then she finishes off with honest recommendations and is patient with questions. That was the best dental experience ever. Out of the three dentists I’ve visited in this country, Smile Design wins hands-down!

WORST:durrat

 

Durrat Ghronata Medical Complex

Khalid Bin Whalid, Exit 8

(same corner as ROAM market)

Riyadh, KSA

This winter fills my apartment with brutal bouts of viruses and stomach bugs. Only because I can’t make it longer than a 10-minute taxi ride, is why I pay the dreaded visits to Durrat Ghronata up the road. Walking up to the counter, the receptionist glances at the ghastly pale and frail bodies that stand in front of her. Her questions are always short, never sweet. Prepare for the unprepared, as this facility lacks direction and organization.  I am told to go “somewhere” upstairs to sit in one of the three waiting areas, as opposed to the dingy red nurse’s lounge that I waited in last month. I go for the room with a play-set, as I assume that it’s designated solely for women and children. I opt out of the beige couch turned brown, and sit on the bench, conscious not to touch any railings.

A nurse suddenly comes with a small clear bottle and asks for a stool sample. Now… public bathrooms gross me out in general, let alone asking me to do #2 in public. After I find the facility’s only bathroom, I realize that it has a water-spray, instead of toilet paper. I know that works for some people, but I just can’t do it. So basically they’re not getting anything from me today. The nurse seems irritated when I come back empty handed. I’m sure she can’t go on command either…

When I finally see the doctor, I give him a run-through of the stomach virus. He asks how long this has been going on; the symptoms. But somehow he misses important questions like “What have you been eating/drinking?” and “Do you have any history of ____?” I offer him the answers to my own questions. In full abaya, he asks me to hop up on the table. Four deep breaths into the stethoscope, three taps on the stomach, he gives  a “Hmmmm” accompanied by a furrowed brow, and he’s done. I am sent to the emergency section for a saline drip and a prescription to keep food down. I’ve never taken a medical course in my life, but something tells me his degree is worth crap.

I’m a little wary of this assigned treatment, as the emergency “room” is simply rows of curtains, literally three steps away from the main lobby. My neighbor, behind a closed curtain, makes an unwelcoming cry of pain. I’m suddenly reminded of military triage where a soldier with a severed leg is treated right next to someone with a concussion.  I assume that I’d have to put on some type of hygienic clothing. However, my nurse tells me to just pull up the sleeve of my abaya. She walks out and I take a look at the surroundings. There are no handles to open the drawers of the old brown desk, adjacent to the bed. Instead, to open, one must pull on the medical silicon tubing that passes through the holes of where the missing knobs should be.  Old, torn floral wallpaper is the setting for the crafty handmade box used to stash needles. Thankfully, they are all wrapped. After being given two vials of saline, I’m immediately sent on my way. Maybe it’s just me, but it’s the temperature of Hell outside, in the dead of winter.  Drugged, I start counting the beads of sweat rolling down my body that somehow avoids getting soaked up by my encroaching black abaya.  Finally, I catch a taxi, but face the next challenge of remembering my destination in Arabic. In desperation, you can always remember a prayer. Mumbling a few “rights” and “lefts”, I’ve never so urgently wanted my bed and my toilet in my whole life. The driver could’ve taken me for all my money, without me knowing. I did not keep food, nor medicine down, that day.. or the next. I found that the saline basically put me to sleep to forget my hunger. Do your life a favor and just stay away from this clinic.

The Saudi Marathon

DSCN3860

“I ran my first overseas marathon!” is item #4 on my Saudi to-do list, that I drafted exactly a year ago from today.

Preparation

Before becoming a runner, I threw around my plans of doing a marathon, as if it was picking out what’s for dinner. Little do some know that cutting a few practice runs short, skipping a few routine stretches, and eating at the wrong time; could not only effect the “big day’s” run, but can leave you handicapped post-race. Preparation means everything to a marathoner. Those 5 months are spent researching Barnes and Nobles, seizing every issue of Runner’s World, contacting strangers for marathon tidbits of success, and staying enthusiastic about this craziness even when you have 16 miles to put in before sun-up. You now obsess over every new gadget, cream, and shoe that could get you across that finish line.

Saudi is a marathon. It wasn’t a quick decision for me to come here. It took the inability to survive off of 3 part-time jobs, declined credit cards, and the approaching end of school loan forbearances, for me to settle on this location. I picked up every Saudi-related book that I could find, from genres of culture, to novels, to Sharia law. I joined every FaceBook group that contained variations of the word “Saudi”, “Expat”, and “ESL”. I made a lot of my friends before even stepping onto a plane. I stashed extra peanut butter crackers; which came in handy when provided with a faulty stove, a lukewarm fridge, a kind loan of 50 SAR ($15ish) from the cleaner, and a 2-day weekend of no direction. I was determined to not let anything throw me off. The lack of preparation is obvious in many of my co-workers, who quit in their 1st month or complain about the things that they could’ve simply found in a book. This was not going to be me!

 Mile 1 to Mile 13.1 / Months 1 to Month 3 of Saudi

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The race begins! 13.1 miles has been touted as the happy medium for many long-distance runners. The band and cheerleaders send us off in high spirits. For the first 3 miles you’re hyped up with a nervous jitter. Yet, you feel pretty confident in your consistent preparation over the past 5 months. Random spectators give you personalized shout-outs thanks to the last-minute decision to masking tape your name on your shirt. Tranquil coffee drinkers look on from the Starbuck’s patio, as runners pass by in decaffeinated insanity. Fellow runners are smiling. Some are in crazy costumes. Some are exerting extra energy by creatively ducking through and around slower clusters. After the 1st three miles of excitement of passing herds, your breathing has come to a comfortable rhythm. You check your watch to see that you’re still on pace. And once you find a calm runner that matches your speed, anxiety lessens. “Just stay with him and I’ll make it!” The scenery is always great the first 13 miles. You get front row seats in people-watching. Traffic is halted at every intersection, making you the star of the hour.  Mile 13 is just around the bend and you know that you’ll get a nice treat at the mid-point water station. You got this!!

The first three months in Saudi are filled with stories of shopping in gold souks, searching for frankincense and myrrh, and hiking Arabian deserts. Your friends and family excitingly wait for your updates, and then passes it to anyone willing to listen. “Yes, my granddaughter’s over there wearing abayas and she has to sit in womens only sections!!”. “Oh wow, really??!” You feel unique. Every new country presents a bit of anxiety, as I look like a confused foreigner not knowing my way home. With practice, I soon have control over my personal drivers and surroundings with yesar (left), yameen (right), and sida (straight).  I find amazement in the stark contrasts of climate. Aerial views show seas hitting deserts, and a clump of trees lost in the center of endless sand. A sandstorm that turns a clear day, bright orange, and then pitch black, welcomes me on my second day. The first rain of the season immediately follows minutes after, that brings out old men smiling like children. Soaking up all the cultural and religious views of those around me, has become a joy to write about. I settle into a job with half the hours and double the pay of Stateside teaching. I hold tight to friends who are on the same pace and mindset as myself.  This is the honeymoon phase.

Miles 13.1 to Mile 20 / Month 3 to Month 8 of Saudi

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The crowds are starting to thin out. The skinny dude in the skimpy runner shorts hasn’t been seen in the past hour, as you start to wonder where you place in the pack. You lose track of your running partner due to shoe-lacing and a porta potty break. You are now entering the desolate backroads and well-manicured residential areas. The race planners must have forgotten about this stretch of the course, as the only entertainment is a juggler and a clown. I hate clowns. By mile 18, smiles start to lessen, everything is starting to ache, and you try not to let the boredom and loneliness get to you. The banana man costume that was a cool idea on Mile 3, now lays on the side of the road at the Mile 20 marker. The countdown begins.

The honeymoon phase of Saudi is over. Some of the friends I entered Saudi with, have called it quits. The exotic souqs are now seen as the American equivalent of a flea market. You are now, “Ashley, you know …______’s daughter… She’s somewhere, I think Iraq? Iran?” The summer months bring along 115 degree, asphyxiating heat that literally scorches your eyes. To avoid the discomfort, I settle for indoor activities, like walking around the countless malls in one square block, that all hold the same thing. Random breezes result in a faulty internet connection, and I lose touch with family for a few days. Due to America’s negative news broadcasts, I hear their worry and frustration on the other end of Skype calls. You are suddenly homesick.

Mile 20 – 25 / Month 8 – Month 11 and 3wks of Saudi

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After the 19th mile, your mind is on each painful step. Even worse is the mental exhaustion. You’ve depleted most of your interesting thoughts.   It slowly tugs at your confidence, making you think back on whether you’ve trained to the best of your ability. Somewhere in between the 20th and 22nd mile, runners pass through a prop of a broken wall. If you’re lucky, you will not hit the utterly exhausting, zombie-like mental state that makes even walking to the finish line an unbearable notion. At this point, you may randomly start crying. Or you may just stand there, shaking your head, as if this would summon your short-circuited brain to send the message, “Pick up your right foot. Good, now your left.” This is called “Hitting the Wall”.

The last three months in Saudi are simply tiresome.  I feel like no one officially completed their contract during my earlier months. And now suddenly, everyone’s leaving me behind.. mapping out their upcoming travels, first meal and alcoholic beverage. This starts the desperate yearning phase, when you begin putting yourself in their shoes. I spent my Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years, in the classroom, as Saudi doesn’t celebrate these holidays. Listening to “Baby its Cold Outside” on a warm Arabian night, while my small potted plant twinkled with smuggled Christmas lights, was the highlight of my winter holiday.  So, January 1st, the countdown calendars start to go up. To keep from standing soullessly in front of the classroom, a few mental health days are in order. You will know when this day comes, as you will have to physically pick up your legs out of the bed. If you sit on the edge longer than 10 minutes, you’ve “hit the wall”.

The last 1.2 miles / The last week in Saudi

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You can’t call the move your making even a proper shuffle. You would make a perfect extra on “The Walking Dead”.  You are drenched in sweat, with chapped lips, sunburned, and chafing in areas that you didn’t know chafed. Suddenly, the crowds that were absent half of the race, are standing on the sides cheering you on and strangely your mental fog clears. They are smiling so much, that you assume that you actually won’t look half bad in your finishing-line photo. This thinking is completely wrong. You look like hell… But, you switch thoughts to all of the months of training, the sacrifices put in, and all of the miles covered. You have made it through! Crossing the finish line was an accomplishment in itself, no matter the timing. Congratulations! For the rest of your life, you hold the title of “marathoner”, even if it’s your last!

The last week in Saudi actually turns out bittersweet. I’ve realize that I’m a much more productive person than before. Those months of boredom, has led me to find a new talent in blogging. It has allowed me to sit and read books that I’ve never had time for. Time and diligence has allowed me to save enough money to return home with zero credit-card debt and start on student loan payments. The homesickness has not only reminded me how much I love my family and friends, but shows how I’ll miss the friends I’ve made in here. My students have given me enough material to keep me laughing for decades. I am thankful to not just know about Saudi’s culture and religion, but also have some understanding behind their practices. This year has taught me how much I do need others, and has brought out some untimely extremes of emotion that I never knew existed. I have officially made it through the year!! Through all of the ups and downs, I will say that it was all worth it. I deserve a freakin’ medal!

A Day in a Saudi Classroom

Assignment 4: Narration (Revision 11/30/15)

“Phones off! Phones in bags! Bags up front!”

‘Phone’ was a word that never needed translation, as these items were affixed to my students palms since Day 1. I’ve never seen such an addiction to social networking in my life, as they type pages of texts to their friends two classes over.

“But Teachuh…” starts the chorus of begging. “Teachuh, dictionary..” says Kahloud, as she points at her only lifeline.

“That must be a very long word you’re typing. I’ll be your dictionary.” She smiles at the sarcasm. In all honesty, it would save me a lot  of hassle if they solely used their phone dictionaries. I never quite understood how every semester I’d end up with high-level books for low-level students. Today’s vocabulary lesson was no exception.

“So, girls, how was your weekend?” I predict the responses to be about shopping and sleeping. Yet, I hope for more.

“I go shopping with my sister” says Hanan. “Sleeping… just”, says Noura.

I then look to my favorite (Yes, I have favorites..). Knowing that she’ll give me a unique response, I repeat the question. “How was your weekend, Sumayah?”

“I do nothing. But today, I see my teacher last semester, and she give me a beer!”

With raised brows, I’m sure that I heard her wrong. You can’t even bring vanilla extract into this country due to its alcohol content. Let alone, a beer!

“Umm, she gave you a what?” I casually ask.

“A beer”, Sumayah says nonchalantly.

Eyes to the sky, I’m searching for all of the words I’ve heard misused over these past two years.

“Can you spell it?”

“B-E-A-R” and then she looks at me like I’m the crazy one for not knowing what a bear is. Of course, I can’t explain the difference between bear and beer. The latter was an “Avoid” topic on the Culture Sensitivity List. So instead we spend 5 minutes doing word repetition, by saying everything we know about bears. They will not leave my class saying that Ms. Ashley taught them about beer.

We then start class with a reading about a man with 13 jobs, one of them being an “Undertaker”. This is a new word that takes every bit of effort, from drawing graves to acting out a funeral. After my performance at the front of the classroom, I get baffled stares. Then suddenly my one 40+-year-old, Amani, proudly shouts out.. “Ahhh, Teacher… Undertaker, like WWE!!” The class must not have seen the slight shaking of my head and lack of confirmation, as they erupted in “Ahhhs” and “ohhhs” of instant understanding.

At the bottom of my lesson plan is a space for notes.

Tomorrow: Phone Dictionaries