Thursday, April 28, 2011

Here Comes the Princess Bride, and Other Royal Musings

Sarah at Verdant Voyages is hosting this week's RoundUp, celebrating tomorrow's Royal Wedding. Which really doesn't need to be capitalized, except maybe it does. At least in the eyes of CNN and various other obsessed news outlets. And I will proudly admit loudly that I am obsessing right along with them. Well maybe not obsessing but watching with curiosity and interest.

I find royalty and monarchies fascinating, especially the modern-day incarnations. And the royal family I grew up watching was the Windsors. Prince William and I are only a couple weeks apart in age (he's older), and Princess Diana was all the rage when I was growing up. I remember clearly the day she died and being glued to the news in the days and weeks afterward. I remember my youngest brother, about 7 years old at the time, asking worriedly, "was she the Princess of all the whales?" A completely innocent and easy mistake to make when you're 7.

And I've liked Kate ever since she came onto the scene. I wish the couple all the happiness in the world as they embark on this journey together. And I'm pretty excited that I'm in a close enough time zone and have a weekend day tomorrow to watch the spectacle unfold. I ordered pizza tonight (for the first time since getting here) so I can veg out tomorrow and not have to cook.

My experience with royalty as an adult has been much different than the way I would have envisioned it growing up. I lived for a time in Thailand, where a benevolent monarchy is headed by the world's longest-ruling King. I never met any members of the royal family, though their pictures graced most buildings (and the currency).

Now I live in another kingdom, headed by a large family after whom the country is named. People estimate there are about 10,000 al-Sauds today, including a number of sons and daughters of the original King Abdulaziz. The current King, Abdullah, is flanked by several of his brothers and sons and nephews for top cabinet spots, but he and his cohort are octogenarians and ailing. There's constant chatter about succession here. King Abdullah's sister, Princess Sita, died a few weeks ago, and the country mourned.

I've never met any of the ruling generation of al-Sauds, but I've met many of the next generations, including sons/daughters of previous kings. Direct descendants of King Abdulaziz are referred to as His/Her Royal Highness (HRH), while more distant relatives are His/Her Highness (HH). And yes, it does take some getting used to to greet someone with, "A pleasure to meet you Your Royal Highness So-and-So." Since Saudi names include the names of one's father and, usually, grandfather, it makes it easy to instantly determine whether someone is a royal and an HRH.

The love Saudis have for their king is really something to see. King Abdullah, who has been king since 2005 but was effectively ruling during the last year's of his late brother Fahd's reign. I thank King Abdullah daily for his commitment to education, which makes my job sending Saudi students to the U.S. to study much easier. The number of universities has skyrocketed in the last decade, as has the number of students. And it's easier than ever, financially, for Saudi students to earn degrees in the United States. Many, many of my conversations with people here include a conversation about our alma maters. I love touring schools and seeing the King's commitment play out in real time. It's really amazing. He's a relative reformer and is committed to interfaith dialogue and improving the country's infrastructure.

When King Abdullah was in the U.S. for medical treatment earlier this year, the media reported daily on his health and progress. His return to the Kingdom in February was a sight to behold. I have never seen anything quite like it. A massive clean-up took place, especially in the major streets. Saudi flags lined the streets, hung from every telephone and light pole. Banners, posters, billboards, and signs bearing the King's likeness and well-wishes were plastered everywhere, from restaurant and mall windows to car windows to trees to fences and everything in between. His homecoming merited a public holiday in the Kingdom and was accompanied by a grand speech and announcement of a number of new public benefits. In the midst of the so-called Arab Spring, and even when nascent protests and dissent movements were popping up around the county, King Abdullah's return was, at least outwardly, a full display of nationalism and celebration. I think my favorite banner, which came shortly after the King's return, was a building-sized one hung from an under-construction restaurant. King Abdullah's face featured prominently, and the main text effectively said "No to chaos." On the eve of the King's return, the city's busy streets were filled with shabab (youth) packed into cars and proudly waving flags and wearing all manner of green and shouting and singing. In the foolhardy way youth will display their affections, there were teenagers hanging out of (moving) car windows and sunroofs with flags and green-painted faces. I even saw a rollerblader who was trailing behind a car, holding on to a rope attached to the car. The public pulse was certainly celebratory.

The flags are gone, most of the banners have been taken down, the King is ensconced in Riyadh, and life is mostly back to normal. But for a few weeks, I saw what it would be like to grow up in a monarchy. Even when there's discontent afoot, your king is your king, and you love him. (And while I know it's foolish to generalize and stereotype, I am merely reporting what I saw and heard in very public spheres, which may not be entirely representative.)

And so, tomorrow, I will watch the Royal Wedding. For there will never be another Diana, Princess of W(h)ales, but Princess Catherine represents the new generation, and the world's eyes are on her. Best of luck.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Love and Butterflies

And now for a slightly different post... (written yesterday, but held until I could get the principals to clear on it - a sign I've been working for DoS too long, perhaps?)

When I know good/exciting news, it's very hard for me not to share it with people. Even if it doesn't concern me, I get super excited for people. Pregnancies, births, engagements, marriages, new jobs, new moves, you name it. I love celebrating these milestones. But, it's not always my news to share. The good thing about having friends all over the world is that I can usually find someone completely and totally removed from the situation to share the news with. With the internet, it's so easy to spoil surprises, so I have to be extra careful.

So when I found out more than a week ago that my brother was proposing to his girlfriend yesterday, it was all I could do to keep quiet. So I told my coworkers, who were highly unlikely to speak to J and ruin the surprise. When I saw her Facebook status on Friday night saying she was sick, I was petrified I might have to keep the secret a bit longer. But Z managed to get her to go along with his plan yesterday. I don't know all the details yet, and it's their story to share, but I know it happened at their favorite place - a butterfly sanctuary. I know he had the employees in on it, ready with cameras to capture the moment and butterflies to release at the pivotal time. And I know she said yes!

I was incredibly antsy last night as I stalked Facebook for any sign that it had happened. I was (and am) fighting a GI bug, so every time I got up, I checked online. Finally Z's best friend congratulated him. So I messaged him, not wanting to jump the gun. I wrote, "is it official?" It was an agonizing 30 minutes before he wrote back, "yup!" I immediately called them and talked to both of them and congratulated them. It was so great to hear Z so happy and J so incredibly surprised and shocked and excited. Knowing my tendency to jump the gun, Z cautioned me to wait until they told her mom before saying anything online. Oh well.

Growing up, Z and I did not have a great relationship. (Mom, I know, understatement of the year.) It wasn't until we both were entering adulthood, and particularly when he became a father, that we redefined our relationship. Watching him become an amazing father and both of us falling so in love with his children gave us the foundation we needed to move forward.

A couple of years ago, he met J. Her daughter brought them together initially; it's a very cute story I won't go into here. They were inseparable from the start and never looked back. I think he knew early on he wanted to marry her. But he also knew that combining families was tough, and they both did a great job of making things work for them and their children. It doesn't hurt that the children adore each other and both Z&J.

And our family adores J and her daughter, and same for her family with Z and company. And the families get along with each other, too! It really doesn't get much better than that.

So, I am so excited today to be able to officially welcome my new sister-in-law and niece into our family, even though they've been a part of our lives and hearts for a long time now. It's a very happy Easter for all of us!