Saturday, January 1, 2011

Have You Ever Seen the Rain?


You don't realize how much you miss it until you live somewhere where it almost never rains.

In Jeddah, rain now is synonymous with death, destruction, and frustration and causes widespread panic.  In November 2009, floods devastated the city, killing more than 120 and stranding thousands.  The government was slow to react, but the people of Jeddah filled that void with a volunteer effort that has birthed an entire movement here and throughout Saudi Arabia.  I've met lots of volunteers, and every conversation references the floods of 2009.  The tragedy was something of a turning point, and it's quite amazing to see what has come out of such a dark period.

Last Wednesday, I watched from my office as the sky darkened.  Distant rumblings of thunder grew closer.  And then, all of a sudden, down came the rain.  This wasn't the five minutes of a few droplets we had a few weeks ago.  This was a true downpour and thunderstorm.  My colleagues and I were giddy, rushing to the windows and doors to feel the rain and take pictures.

Within a few minutes, though, the flat landscape became waterlogged.  One of our entrances was blocked by flooding.  Parents started receiving calls that schools were closing.  The traffic sounds became more frantic, and more people got on the roads to try and get home.  We received word of leaks in our events hall and had to cancel an afternoon event.  In the excitement, a colleague and I decided to go out for lunch.  We drove, as we thought we'd go a bit farther afield.  We ended up literally across the street; the streets were flooded and jammed, and it was easier to stay close.  In some places it was just a couple inches of water on the road, but there were people wading through with water up to their mid-calf.  After just 30 minutes of rain. 

Getting back to work was a nightmare.  It took us 80 minutes.  I heard similar stories from other colleagues who ventured out.  It's all relative.  In Thailand, during monsoon season, the roads occasionally flooded up to the car doors, but we always kept driving.  While people canoed past us.  But here, with rain barely over the bottom rim of the tire, the panic and phobia caused massive traffic jams. 

Driving home several hours later was better, but the roads were still saturated.  And with predictions of another storm with up to an inch of precipitation the next day, people were visibly shaken.  Parking lots had turned into lakes.  Side streets were canals.  Swimming pools were now filled with brown water. 

Things were better by the time we went out to dinner that night.  But people still seemed freaked.  As I walked home from the shuttle stop, lightning flashed in the distance.

I woke up on Thursday to winds lashing my windows.  I opened the curtains to see driving rain and another thunderstorm.  I settled in for a gray day at home.  The rain didn't last as long as predicted, and it cleared up by mid-afternoon.  I ventured out after the last prayer Thursday night to try to pay my internet bill.  The first two branches were closed, presumably due to weather.  The third was open, but packed.  The roads were still flooded, impassable in some places.  Cars were stuck in a number of places.  It was quite a sight.  Even after a full day of dry weather, the roads didn't drain all that much, as I noted Friday night.  Last night, while at the Consulate, I passed by Hattie's burial site.  I was a little worried it would be flooded, but luckily it is on slightly higher ground. 

One local news outlet, Arab News, has a couple of good reads in English, complete with pictures here and here.  There's also an interesting editorial here

Luckily I don't have the same worries about flooding that most of the city's residents have, but I sympathize with their plight after seeing how bad things could get only after just a little rain.  Definitely a cultural learning experience...

Friday, December 31, 2010

State Department Blog RoundUp

On the last day of 2010, it's only fitting to reflect on the year that was and look forward to 2011.  Here's wishing that, wherever you are in the world, you're celebrating the new year with family and friends.  

Here’s a look at how the Foreign Service Blogosphere is ringing in the new year... 

I’ll start it off with my own post.  2010 had its ups and downs, but I’m so happy to be where I am, and I am excited for a new year of (mis?)adventures!

Just US is taking full advantage of living in Israel and getting more in touch with her spirituality.  

Pulling Stakes, with her usual dose of wit and wisdom, tells her family’s 2010 story in numbers.  Kate, you deserve some new shoes after a year of barf!

Small Bits has had a tumultuous 2010 but is excited about savoring each moment of the next year.  (She is also doing a very ambitious RoundUp in a couple of weeks - don't forget to submit and check back!)

Beyond the Cornfields
has a poignant reflection not just on 2010 but on her family’s journey in the Foreign Service. She has some great advice for those of you just starting this adventure.  

Sass and Sweet
is savoring a holiday at home with family, before heading to Beirut and a more complicated trip home for the holidays. 

Crafty Foreign Service is hosting the second-annual Foreign Service Swap.  (Information and instructions on her page.)  I’ve already signed up, and you should too! What a great way to meet new people and learn about a new place. 

You Can’t Get There From Here shows us the hilarious highlights of Rosetta Stone.  The commentary is genius; I’m still laughing out loud. 

Four Globetrotters has a New Years Resolution based on past experience – triathlons should
only be undertaken after careful consideration.  Oh, and training.  

Two Crabs is famous!  Check out their post to find out how.  

Linsey at Rambles and Ruminations, who is hosting next week’s Round-Up, made a beautiful photo tribute to 2010.  Her family had awesome adventures on three continents!  

Wife-Mommy-Woman also did a wonderful photo tribute.  Next year will include another face in the photos! 

Life in the Land of the Long White Cloud reflects on his and his family’s many life events in 2010.  As usual, his way with words and beautiful tributes to the people in his life make it a great read.

The Dinoia Family had a furry houseguest this week, and the whole family agrees puppies are a whole lot of work!

Global Geraghtys had an exciting 2010 and are eagerly anticipating the adventures to come in 2011. 

Kim at Scrivners has many reasons to be excited about 2011 (and continues to be ever-poetic and a wonderful photographer).  

Here’s hoping A Daring Adventure feels better soon so she can enjoy family time in Florida.  

Life in Jerusalem finally made it to the beach after having to spend an extra day at home playing video games because of the snow.  

Bfiles, who starts A-100 next week, quickly learned that flexibility is key, after a blizzard canceled her packout!  Good luck Bfiles, it sounds like you have things well under control. 

What Were We Thinking? celebrated their first Christmas in Tijuana; Lisa managed to keep her husband’s present a surprise for several weeks and several thousand miles – impressive!

Kitty Non Grata has a new work Blackberry; she’s a little uncertain about what this means for her free time.  

Looking for Geckos proves that a picture (or two) is truly worth a thousand words.

Don’t forget to submit a post for next week’s RoundUp at Rambles and Ruminations, and sign up to host a week at A Daring Adventure.  (It’s painless and fun, I promise!)

And with that, Happy New Year!!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Times, They Are a-Changin'

I am hosting the State Department Blog RoundUp this week, with the predictable theme of reflecting on 2010 and looking ahead to 2011.  I am not big on making New Years resolutions, but I am very good at reflecting and pondering.

This year has been a roller-coaster of emotions, with some wonderful highs and tragic lows, interspersed with less dramatic ebbs and flows.

Now that I think about it, the weather I've experienced this year has also had highs, lows, and weird in betweens.  I was in DC for two blizzards (and two wonderful weeks of several days with no work) and then in Saudi Arabia for August and September.  With a few weeks of NH winter and months of DC summer thrown in for fun.  Today, it rained for about 30 minutes, and the city came to a complete standstill.  It took me 80 minutes to drive (well, ride) a block and a half. 

In June, we celebrated my grandmother's 90th birthday with a huge family reunion and party.  It was three days of laughter and great food and lots of hugs and story-telling.  Grandma became a great-great-grandmother a few weeks later, which I consider pretty awesome.  To have five generations of family living at the same time is quite an impressive feat. 

In July, we bid farewell to my other grandmother.  As devastating as her death was, I am thankful I was able to say goodbye and support my father during that difficult time. 

August was a tough month.  I moved to Saudi Arabia and immediately, and tragically, lost my beloved Hattie.  I know I mention it a lot, but my life changed so dramatically and needlessly at that time that it's a vivid punctuation in the year.  Two weeks later I welcomed two beautiful kittens into my life.  It may have been too soon, emotionally, but they've become an important (and cuddly!) part of my life.  They're perfect.

This was the year that I truly began my dream career, as a diplomat.  I spent much of 2009 in training, but nothing compares to actually being overseas and knowing I'm serving my country.  It's a source of pride for me, and sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure it's not a dream.  I absolutely, truly love my job, even at its low points.  Not everyone can say that.  

I've met many amazing people this year.  The Foreign Service family is truly a global community, and it's nice to have that network and support system.  Plus my job enables me to meet fascinating people on a daily basis.  And I have a place to stay in some pretty awesome places on every continent...  (I promise to reciprocate when I'm posted somewhere with a vibrant tourism industry.)

After a few years of not traveling much, I finally got back into the swing of things.  I had a great time in WA with my mom and brother in April, my first time to the Pacific Northwest.  I'll be back, definitely.  I visited two new countries (Saudi Arabia, Egypt), in a region that's totally new to me.  I look forward to exploring it more in the next two years.  Mom and I had an awesome musical journey to Forth Worth, TX and started a new tradition, following Lyle Lovett around the country.  Not to mention the many trips up and down the I-95 corridor and out to WV, and a pleasant winter weekend in VA Beach. 

So what will 2011 bring?  Lots more travel, starting with a January trip to Israel to meet some beautiful babies and see some awesome people :-).  At least a couple family weddings, where we'll (officially) welcome some pretty awesome people into the clan.  New challenges, opportunities, and experiences at work.  I'm trying not to look too far ahead, but I get to bid again next summer, so the anticipation is building.  I fall in love with a new potential post every month or so.  (Today's find:  Asmara.  Look it up.)

The last few days of the year are always filled with a frisson of anticipation for the new year.  I'll ring in 2011 with friends and colleagues (and then maybe wake up early the next morning to skype-celebrate it with my family as well).

One thing's for certain:  I will continue to torture my cats for my own entertainment.  Right now they're wearing ruffled collars with jingle bells.  Because the box of Christmas presents I ordered them (myself?) just arrived.  To be fair, I used to dress Hattie up in ridiculous things as well.  That's a tradition that will never change.  And sometimes, it's good to have some stability.  Especially in a career/lifestyle that's so dependent on frequent and drastic change. 

And on that poignant thought, I'll end.

Happy New Year!

(Please continue to submit your posts for the RoundUp!)