Take a hike

Sometimes you have to get out of the city, just to see how dearly you need to get out of the city.

The husband made it home for an offset sort of weekend, and since we are nearing the end of our school year–and that means soon we will be travelin???????????????????????????????g for the summer and he will be staying here without us–we booked a last-minute stay at a hotel in Muscat and made plans to explore Wadi Shab, a riverbed and gorge a couple hours from Muscat, Oman.

We’ve traveled to Oman a few times, and it’s always a treat. It’s a long enough drive, but the border crossing has become second nature, and the roads are good. This time, we decided to make the trip just the night before, and I had a fridge full of food, so I roasted a chicken and packed a picnic lunch, and we stopped to eat at a riverbed along the roadside, enjoying fresh air, blue skies, bright red dragonflies, and a stillness we just can’t salvage in the capital city, no matter how early in the morning we head out to the seaside.

Muscat is lovely, built in pockets nestled around and among mountains, with a traditional market area at the port. The mountains help us recalibrate our senses of scale and beauty. It’s so good to be reminded of the grand and gorgeous things man just cannot create. And nothing beats a blue sky over a gorge. Another homeschooling parent recommended Wadi Shab as a destination, and when I described the adventure, my husband thought it sounded like just the sort of break our minds needed: driving through mountains to hike, scramble across boulders, and swim up a river at the bottom of a gorge, into a tucked-away, spring-fed pool in a cave at the end of the trail. We knew the swimming part might not work for everyone, but he was game to take us, and the time together is a balm in itself.

We got up early for breakfast at our hotel and were on the road by 8AM, winding through mountains on what can only be described as an excellent road–even if the signage is a little confusing in places, and it’s all so new that our GPS didn’t seem to know where we were, and the roads would not be found on the (now outdated) map of Oman in our glove box. Still, it’s a friendly place, where people are happy to give directions and answer questions, and Omanis seem to take pride in their country, and pleasure in welcoming guests to enjoy it. We drove two hours and stopped at a town called Tiwi, having read this information on some blogs and Web sites. Tiwi is another wadi. We started hiking up that riverbed, at first thinking we were in the right place. Shortly, we came upon some local boys target shooting, various 4x4s carrying swim-trunked tourists in SPF 50+, and villages along the mountainsides. It didn’t take long for us to realize we were on the wrong wadi, so we turned around and headed back to our car, then drove a couple clicks through the village and back down the coast.

This is where it pays to learn Arabic! There is no proper signage inside the village, pointing the way to Wadi Shab. There are enormous signs from the highway (and if someone didn’t drive so fast, he might have time to see them and not miss his exit), but not in the little, rustic villages dotting the seaside. There was, however, graffiti on a bridge, an arrow and the words, “wadi shab,” spray-painted in Arabic on the security railing alongside a hairpin curve. And yes, I was the one who figured it out. As my husband likes to say, if it had been a snake, it would have bitten us on the nose.

At the mouth of the wadi, we parked our car and paid a local far too much money to take us across the water in a small boat, to where the hike begins. We had perfect weather for hiking, overcast and cloudy; thoughts of the forecast rain did add a vague element of danger, as we were hiking a riverbed that would quickly have been inundated.???????????????????????????????

Still, it was beautiful.

The hiking was across varied terrain, from deep, loose gravel to narrow cliffs, with some easier areas where we walked on well-beaten trails and along the sides of irrigation canals. There were spots here and there where someone had planted bananas. In other areas, we clambered over enormous boulders. There were a few spots where we had little jumps to make, and we passed by several blue-green pools where people were diving off cliffs and swimming in the water below. In other places, steps had been built of cement, as though to make the hike more accessible. This was, after all, the site of the Red Bull 2012 Cliff Diving competition.

 

We hiked about 40 minutes or so before we got to the point in the trail where, if you’re going to make it into the cave, you have to do a little swimming. It was at this point that the kids and I abandoned our packs (and my husband), and began the swim up the ascent. This was for me the most challenging part. I’ve been so spoiled to swimming in seawater here in the Gulf, it was hard work to swim against a current in fresh water. Another family was at the mouth of the cave when we got there, and they were just the encouragement we needed to swim through the tight crevice that leads to the enclosed cliff-diving cave. Admittedly, I sucked some of the exuberant joy from this part by insisting that my kids stay between the rock faces, and not dive beneath, to reach the inside of the cave. I just was not ready to deal with losing a kid under a rock formation in an underwater cave. Not just then, anyway. For a half-second, we considered letting it be and turning around.

I am so glad we didn’t make that mistake.

The three of us swam through the narrow passage and into the cave. It was like being inside a secret. There was a waterfall with a knotted rope, welcoming more adventurous souls to climb up and dive from the top. Our own voices boomed and echoed, and blue and green light floated to the water’s surface from somewhere deep below. Nature possesses magic.

We swam and wondered at it, admittedly a little overwhelmed, and then emerged again with a satisfied gasp-and-sigh. Already we hoped for a chance to visit this place again. And if I did, I would invest in a dry bag, and probably a life vest so that my husband could see the wonder of it too, and maybe snap a couple of photographs. It was breathtaking–which can be an interesting experience while treading water.

Now, we’re back in town, rubbing our sore muscles and finishing up the school year. Next, we’ll start packing for our summer adventures, and then trying to figure out what should come after that. We’re hoping to enroll the kids in school for the coming year, but anyone with students in Abu Dhabi knows the challenges of finding seats in a good school. So, we’re looking at all our options and trying to keep open minds and hearts. I am also planning to go back to school, and my program kicks off in July. Meantime, we’re brushing up our French to prepare for a visit next month, en route to the U.S. Really, it’s back to the grind of city living and the approaching summer heat, schoolwork and business trips and clearing out the freezer and pantry. If we can squeeze in another mini-trip like this, a chance to spend a couple of good days together before the kids and I depart again, it will be wonderful.


Keeping promises

I just found my desk. It’s been here all along, beneath piles of school papers to be graded, odd bits and scraps of notes I scribble down here and there so I won’t forget, receipts that I have to scan and send in for insurance reimbursements, travel planning documents, the headset I use for my language studies, and even a few books.

I’m working on learning to use my phone for more of the good things it can do. I’ve had this phone a year and a half, since I accidentally took a dip in the Gulf with my BlackBerry in my back pocket. (When it comes to rescuing a wet phone, seawater is a whole other animal.) A year and a half. You’d think by now, I’d know some stuff, and I guess I do, but I am starting to use the planning and organizing functions, and getting away from the big, bulky, bound weekly planner that also graces my desk. I love scribbling notes, and that’s why I am lucky to have a Note 2. I have not upgraded to the 3, in spite of the massive ad push here in the Gulf to get people to buy Note 3 and matching a matching watch. (I am waiting for the 4. Word on the street is that it’ll be water-resistant.)

Among the tools you’d think I’d have been playing with all along are such goodies as Bluetooth for transferring files, adding photos and notes to calendar events and tasks, Google doc backups, that kind of thing. Nothing earth shattering, but when all these things come together, it clears clutter. I can’t handle sensory clutter of any kind–crowds, noise, fluorescent lights, traffic, messes–so I feel a lightening.

So imagine this crowd-averse, noise-sensitive, fragile-minded creature in a jostling, heaving crowd of fervent pilgrims. In Medina. In Mecca. It happened, and I’ll do my best to take you for a spin.

We had made an intention to make a pilgrimage when we first learned we would be relocating to the UAE, and yet it was not until well into our third year that we finally came around. The fits of the first year–from spending seven weeks of our very first Dubai summer without the husband/father of the house, to a whole new international school experience, to the realization that it was simply not going to work for us to call Dubai home–were too much. We were all suckerpunched by every experience, every time we turned around, it seemed. We stumbled through that first year, sleepless against roaring AC units and the unbelievably loud muezzin right outside our house. (Before you poo-poo that, consider that this was a pretty consistent news item, the volume of the muezzins’ loudspeakers. We wanted to hear the adhan. We just didn’t want it to perforate our tympanic membranes five times a day.) We made a few tentative connections with a few really great people. But then, work moved us to Abu Dhabi.

Our first year in Abu Dhabi was a new experiment, with online school and homeschoolers’ group, and living in an apartment (much too small) for the first time as a family. It was a truncated and busy year, with a late arrival and an early departure. We squeezed in a long weekend visit to Kenya (only five and a half hours by air), drove to Muscat, and focused on doing every possible thing we could right here in Abu Dhabi. While most of what there is to do is still pay-to-play, we’ve found Abu Dhabi more accessible, and built on a scale we’re more comfortable with. Anyway, that year slipped by fast.

Finally this past winter came, and I began to nag. First, I asked where we would go on vacation. But nothing felt really compelling, mostly due to political upheaval in various places. We tossed ideas at the wall and nothing stuck. So then I asked about Umrah. Yeah, he said. We need to do that. We need to do that before we go on a vacation somewhere.

Weeks passed.

Then I began to nag about Umrah, until finally we walked together to an authorized Umrah agent, and put our plan together. We went to the government clinic and got our required vaccinations. Like Hajj, Umrah is not cheap, even if you go on the cheap. We’d wanted to fly, but couldn’t get tickets in the right window of time to coincide with our available time off. So there it was: we were going on the pilgrim bus.

I knew it was going to be very, very different from the travel we’re used to–and if Rick Steves were a mom of two tweens, he’d be me. We do carry-on only. We do Third World. We do public transit. That 1960s Mercedes bush taxi without seatbelts? I breastfed babies in the backseat in 110F from the High Atlas Mountains to Casablanca and flew home wondering what that smell was (turned out it was me).

So we boned up on our pilgrimage knowledge (read some books and Internet) and of course I downloaded an app. We bought the necessary garments and footwear. We packed food–as many vegetables as I could, which turned out to be a smart decision. And we loaded up on the bus with a couple dozen others, singletons and couples and families we would get to know over the next week, on Thursday right after the afternoon prayer.

The bus was, like every single other Umrah bus on the Arabian Peninsula, a former German tour bus. Most of the arm rests were long gone. Some seats reclined. Others sat straight. Few did both. Window seals rattled, the AC blew a sort of mold-scented cigarette-infused dust, and we sat as far forward as we could, in an effort to avoid motion sickness. The trip was slow going for many reasons. We were apparently not able to consolidate stops–bathroom, prayer, snack, mechanical, smokes/tea. Then, at the border, we all disembarked to go through the immigration line…

And here is where I am just going to stop now and say, there is much more to this story. Sometime, when you see me in person, ask about the border stop.

…And then the bus went through some kind of bus-radiology stop, after we unloaded all our bags and everything we had on board. And then we reloaded it. This was some time around dawn–no, a little before. Because I think it was dawn when we stopped for prayer–no, we stopped because there was a gate in the road, and we could not pass through it until the guards showed up. So we stopped and the driver napped until dawn prayer, and we carried on.

The long story short is that we arrived in Medina more than twenty-four hours later. Google would tell you this was a sixteen-hour drive. Just saying. And the things my daughter got to see in bathrooms en route. Also, many prayer rooms along the roadside smell of cat pee, and I am glad that I carry my own soap. And wipes. And enough for others.

We were at this point road-weary and a little punch-drunk, but also intoxicated with the thrill of having finally landed in Medina. We were in a special place, and it really did feel special. Here’s a shot of our little family outside our hotel in Medina. More to come in a later installment. And a lot more photos.

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Most mornings

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As often as I can, I start my day out here. There is a lovely bricked walk, several kilometers of sand beach, and mornings, even with many people, there is a sense of respect for solitude. That disappears closer to noon when others fall out of bed and leave their apartments in search of coffee.
Mornings, the breeze is still cool and the air is lighter, not entirely laden with diesel.
I’ve just stepped out of the loveliest yoga class. Nimita leads us through asanas with intention, whether it is focused more on balance, energy, flexibility or strength. Afterward, they go to breakfast, and I hurry home. Kids waiting.
Weekend has begun.

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Waking up

Hey friends.

I’ve been bad about keeping up here. I owe a couple of big posts, and I will get to them this week. I’m going to tell you all about our pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, share some photos of that.

I also have some stuff to share about the past school year. It’s been a pretty good year of learning for my two, and they are ready for the next challenge, which I’m also going to describe in some detail. Lots going on.

I’ve also made a decision to go back to school. At 40, with kids. Whole shebang. So this should be interesting. I’ll share details of that, too.

All good stuff, mostly. So I’m excited.

But meantime, I have decided to get more interactive with the blog. I’ve been using another outlet in social media to communicate with my tribes, and it has a way of sucking too many hours from the day. The day only has 24. I sleep 7.5 or 8. I really can’t spare what I have been giving Facebook.

So, it’s Friday morning, start of the weekend in UAE, and I am about to dash off on my bike for a yoga class in the park. I’m going to try to share more of the day-to-day here. It is different from my “back home” life, and I think some of you might like to see how things go down here. So here we go. Welcome back to my little experience.


I rose early this morning with more energy than usual, and less reluctance. Finally today, almost three years into our stay on the Arabian Peninsula, we are embarking on Umrah, the lesser pilgrimage of Islam. The opportunity to travel to the holy cities certainly added weight to our decision to make the move here in the first place, and early on we were excited about the prospect. But during that first year, which seemed to be all trough and no crest, the idea of travel to these places fell off our radar. We were down on so many aspects of culture, really struggling to figure out how to navigate, looking for circles of comfort and most often failing. Day-to-day experiences that got me down were things like the entry fee (!) to my local green space, smog, noise, and traffic that wasn’t so much a case of choked roads but of thoughtless, arrogant, and narcissistic drivers. I left the house daily, but only to cross the beach road and walk up and down along the Gulf, removed enough from the noises to reconnect a little with the greater stuff.

The kids were busy with school that year, another exploration that didn’t pan out in the end, but a worthwhile experience. Their 6:30 AM bus rides, uneaten lunches, and hours of homework seemed to indicate–and this turned out to be true–that not a lot of academic growth was taking place, but that they were learning an awful lot about meanness, racism, social class, and consumerism.

That first year included a short trip to Jordan. There, we visited Mt. Nebo, where Moses saw the Holy Land; the grave of Prophet Shu’aib; and the baptism site of Jesus (upon all of them be peace). We visited Roman ruins at Umm Qais in the north, we saw the Dead Sea, we stopped at the Cave of the Sleepers. This was just the dose of eternity and connection we needed, and for months after, we marveled. This helped us carry on.

Our second year, after leaving Dubai and making some big decisions–bringing the kids home to work on school with me was probably the biggest–we took a short trip to Kenya. En route to Maasai Mara Park, with its breathtaking animal life, miraculous rains, and the most succulent and rich-scented earth I could have hoped for, we stopped to ponder the Great Rift Valley. The Garden and the Fall. At that moment it lay itself bare before us, asking for just a moment’s consideration.

The staying, we have found, is something we can only do with generous and appropriate punctuation. This has meant a trip each year–which, let’s be honest, is great. We’re forced, if by the fatigue of the day-to-day, to take advantage of living in an international travel hub. We get out not only to get home and visit family (we do that too, on both continents, each year), but to learn something new. This year, we thought long and hard about where to go. We all still have places on our list that we wish we could see, and frankly, we wouldn’t mind going back to those places we’ve been, but Mecca and Medina have their own magnetism. Finally, this year, the kids are both big enough and tall enough–and maybe worldly enough–that we believe they are ready to walk the seven circles and the seven lengths. Deciding to fund the Hajj of my father-in-law tipped the scale, and I commenced the nagging: this year, we go on Umrah.

It took about two months of that nagging.

See, the husband’s work-and-related-travel schedule can be a fickle thing, so it can be hard to pin him down. This year, thankfully, we have this period, right here, of relative (and I do mean relative) calm, when he can access some of that precious vacation time and cancel those conference calls. It’s a hard thing to learn, how to push hard, firmly enough, without becoming a real nag. Keeping the wishes positive, pulling sometimes instead of pushing. But finally, we took a walk one afternoon to a Hajj/Umrah agent to inquire, and this trip was finally–and suddenly–set in motion.

Our window of opportunity is narrow, so, less than twenty-four hours after visiting the office, we were in the waiting room of the public health office, queued up for shots. For whatever reason, the kids’ bodies hardly noticed the immune system onslaught, but the parents needed almost forty-eight hours to recover. Vaccination certificates in hand, we returned to the agent and booked the tour. Unlike the usual travel experience, there were no glossy pamphlets, so we took to the Internet, researching the to-do lists, packing lists and prep recommendations for Umrah. Happily, I had begun–at my husband’s urging–to read to the kids, an hour each night of Martin Ling’s biography of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). This has prepped them with a lot of information on the history and geography related to the cities and the tribes of the area.

Of course, there was some shopping in preparation for the trip–ihram garments, lots of antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer, food for the trip. Packing, it would seem, is entirely my job, while the kids have been working hard at school assignments, so that we can leave all that entirely behind us and be present in every moment, to the best of our abilities. Bedtimes have been early in an effort to bank the rest, and we’ve been eating home-cooked food and lots of vegetables to support our health–funny, shouldn’t we always be doing these things, anyway?

And today, insha’allah, we embark, with prayers of gratitude for the opportunity, prayers of trust for our safety, and prayers that Allah accept our pilgrimage and use it to draw us into more perfect alignment with the paths He has designed for our destinies.

I hope that I can take some photos, and I hope to record all I can of the trip–more for me than for anyone else, of course–and I will share what I can.

Peace and blessings, friends.

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So I’ll try to make it up to you.

I was absent most of last year.

It was a busy year, and challenging in many ways. My energy went elsewhere and little time or space (in my head and in the world) was left for writing, on a blog or anywhere. So here’s a quick recap in photos.

MomCamelMom and Dad did us the great favor of visiting again during the winter. We had a wonderful two weeks with them, and the weather was pretty well perfect. We took them dune-bashing, and spent days at the beach. We played a lot of cards and board games, too. It’s always a treat to spend time with them, and no one was disappointed.

They brought along with them a very special stuffed monkey, belonging to a cousin whom we miss very, very much. The monkey accompanied us on every adventure, and photographic proof was sent daily to Facebook, where Ben got to travel along vicariously.

ParentsFalconDuring the visit, the city opened the site of the old fort, Qasr al Hosn. They celebrated with a cultural festival that included falcons, salukis (the local dog, bred to serve the Bedouin), camels, dancing and singing, traditional foods and crafts made by locals.

The site is in the center of the city, placing the old fort in sharp contrast to the rising city around it.

We’re always sad when Mom and Dad head back, but we were satisfied that we wore them out pretty well. A successful visit, for sure. They got a break from the extreme cold back home, and we got a welcome interruption to the monotony of urban living and unchanging weather.

 

NaivashaLater, in spring, we took a family trip to Kenya. I won’t bore you with wildlife shots, or photographic evidence of our gluttony at Carnivore.

We were nervous about this trip, actually. I booked it because of a Groupon. For an excellent price, we had a dedicated guide–a former teacher, no less–who really made the trip so much more interesting than sight-seeing. We arrived just days after hotly contested national elections, and were relieved that nothing much happened while we were there. Definitely hope to return there someday.

DiningCarNot long after spring break, we returned to the States for our summer vacation. We rented a shabby little apartment, in an effort to keep from overstaying our welcome with family or friends. Four months is a long time! Still, we tried hard to make the most of every hour together with beloved friends and family. The long days of Ramadan were tough, but we fasted and broke fast with friends, and it was wonderful to be home.

By mid-August, we started our second year of online school. Both kids are taking middle school French, and Noah’s doing Advanced Life Science, but the real challenge for us is balancing the required curricular work with our real life. About two weeks into school, at Baba’s urging, I booked Amtrak tickets out to D.C. Breakfast in the dining car was somewhere in Pennsylvania, I think.

It was a new experience for the kids to travel by rail, and Union Station is an excellent point of entry to the city. Our hotel was about two blocks from there.

BikeDCLike our visit to Kenya, we could have doubled the stay and still wanted more. We rose early and ate big breakfasts, then spent the daytime hours at the Smithsonian museums. Early evenings were nice for visiting memorials and some exploring of the city.

On our final day, we rented bikes and rode the memorial circuit. What a perfect way to see the Capital.

We’re hoping to get back to D.C. for another visit. We’d love to do this one with our American cousins.

D.C. marked the end of our 2013 visit to the U.S. As always, we were sad to go, but ready to be back with Baba and to live as a nuclear family again.

 

EiffelSo we packed up our things, put some stuff into storage and other stuff into a shipment, and headed off to France.

We spent just two full days in Paris. I’d have booked more, but imagine how tired I am at this point: I’d been solo parenting since late May, with the Ramadan fast in there, plus all the schooling, the travel planning, packing/cleaning/shipping/shopping. By the time we arrived in Paris, I was wiped, and as much as I’d love a week to see the city, I am thankful that was not my week.

We did walk the steps to the second-level viewing platform on the Eiffel Tower, though. We had not planned in advance, so lift tickets were out of the question. Frankly, they’d have been wasted on us, anyway. The stairs were just what we needed that day. We used the Metro, got two-day Batobus passes, and stayed at a little old hotel close to the Pantheon. Meryem faced some rough patches, probably due to fatigue, but all in all the kids were amazing.

From Paris, we caught a flight to Casablanca and met up with Baba at the airport. He rented a tiny little car that, even though we each had just a backpack and a carry-on piece, was a tight squeeze. We spent nearly three weeks in Morocco, entirely among family there.

souqThis year’s visit was outcome-focused. We didn’t do any sightseeing, but we did succeed in adding a bathroom to the old ksar house of the kids’ grandparents–no small achievement. There is now running hot water, thanks to a rooftop water tank. There are two toilets, both squat and Western, and a septic tank that meets code. (Yes, there are codes and inspectors, even up there in the High Atlas.)

Of course, we celebrated Eid al Adha with the family, too. So we ate a lot of meat. Unfortunately, we also ate something that didn’t agree with us, and lost nearly a week to the usual intestinal onslaught.

I’m not going to say more about the fleas than this: oh my God, the fleas.

Finally, we also successfully located a wife for one of Baba’s nephews. Actually, in just eight days, we found her, negotiated the terms of the marriage, got the contract written, and planned and executed the wedding itself. The morning after the wedding, we were in a grand taxi en route to the airport.

I flew from Casablanca to Abu Dhabi with a flea in my boot. (I am aware that this violates my own declaration, above.)

And here we are, once again.

Breakwater


Setting up camp: Welcome, 2014.

setting up cots

Getting ready to sleep in the sand

Not to say 2013 was a bad year. We had some good times. The kids and I finished up our first year of online school. With the added flexibility, we were able to explore more of the world than we likely otherwise would have. In 2013, we traveled to Kenya for spring break and stayed at Maasai Mara Park. We traveled back to the States for summer a little earlier than we would have, had the kids been enrolled at a brick-and-mortar school. We never seem to have enough time together with friends and family back home, so the extra weeks came in handy.

After the long summer, we kicked off the school year with a trip, by train, to Washington, D.C. Kids and I spent four days between Smithsonian museums, landmarks and memorials. We rented bikes, enjoyed the food trucks on the Mall, and put on a lot of miles. When we got back, we packed up the apartment we’d rented for the summer and got ready for the big travel, flying first to Paris for a couple of days, and then on to Casablanca where we finally met up with Baba.

This year’s Morocco visit centered around the installation of a bathroom in the kids’ grandparents’ house–the first one like it in the village. There’s no running water yet, so we outfitted the house with a rooftop tank. There’s now hot, running water on demand, a nice thing in the middle of the cold High Atlas winter. Besides that project, of course we celebrated Eid al Adha with family. We didn’t do any sightseeing this year, unfortunately. Maybe next time. But we did manage to pick up some terrible GI stuff and lost nearly a week to illness. Happily, we made it back to the airport just in time to catch our flight to Abu Dhabi, and our luggage (which I’d had shipped) met us at the apartment.

Baba spent the summer months moving us from our old apartment to a new (to us) one, a three-bedroom in a building two doors away from the old tower. It’s great to feel like we have space to live! We got a little crazy last year in a very small two-bedroom. This year, everyone has a bedroom, and I’ve finally got a desk of my own. Brilliant. The kitchen has enough space for a small table. And best of all, there is a feature called a maid’s room, which is like a walk-in closet with its own bare-bones half-bath. Since we don’t employ a maid or housekeeper, this means we have a corner where we can stack the luggage, rather than towering over my bed. A very nice feature. Parking is a nightmare, but it was at the other place, too. That’s just the neighborhood.

We finished first semester of school last week, which has us about two weeks ahead of schedule right now, giving us some cushion, should a travel opportunity come up. We’ve been thinking about ‘Umrah, but to be honest, the current Mers situation has us hesitating. We’ve been looking at other travel opportunities, too, but to be honest, there seems to be so much unrest in so many places, we’re loathe to commit.

So, this morning, being a Sunday, launches the beginning of second semester. I am hopeful that we will finish the curriculum requirements for both kids by mid-May.

That’s the update. Lots of change in the wind. I’ll continue catching up over the next few days.

 


Test

Hey all. Just jumping back in here. Not a lot to say today, but maybe soon.

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The things we learn

This was never intended to be necessarily a homeschool blog, or a travel blog. I meant to use the space as a place to track our progress–for lack of a better word just a quarter into the day’s first cup of coffee–in this expat experience. To follow our evolution from the little hayseeds we were then to the slightly better-equipped rubes we are now.

What I could not have known when launching was how many transitions there would be in such a short time. A long year in Dubai with the kids enrolled in a huge international school, followed by a long summer in Wisconsin, the social demands a balm against the loneliness that had built up, and then a new year (really only eight months) in Abu Dhabi, enrolled in an online school, studying at home, and moving about in the circle of homeschoolers in our new city. From farm to villa to apartment. From a 7-year-old second-grader to an almost 10-year-old young lady, and from a sweet, naive 10-year-old boy to my still-small 12-year-old curmudgeon of a youngster. Kids who have seen the site of Jesus’ baptism and dipped their hands into the Jordan River. Kids who watched a pride of lions devour a cape buffalo during a precious pause in unrest and violence in Kenya. Kids who are beginning to understand human trafficking in ways they never could have imagined on the farm.

They are miles, year and light-years, from mastery of Arabic, but the phrases slip here and there from their lips, worldly little asides, sometimes accompanied by the accidental head-bobble that somehow made its way from India into the branching neurons of their own systems.

French: They are now in their second year of study and claim not to know how to ask for a WC, which we will attempt to remedy this year on our sojourn back to the Arabian Peninsula. A stop next week in Paris, just two days, for sight-seeing, bread-and-cheese eating. Chocolat and café crème. There are more than seven hundred stairs in the Eiffel Tower. Train B3 on the RER connects CDG airport to Luxembourg, the stop closest our hotel. The Pantheon, Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Bastille, because when we wrap up the travel, there is a fourth grade history unit waiting to remind us of the American and French Revolutions. Just a few weeks ago, as school began for Stateside friends and family, there was a trip by train into Washington, DC. The pump will be primed; the places and people will be real.

After we wear ourselves down on old streets, we will jet across Gibraltar and reunite with their father in Casablanca to spend a few weeks on a family visit in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco, where there is a construction project to assess–the retrofit of a WC into an old ksar–and then a family wedding, and then the biggest holiday of our Muslim year, Eid al Adha. We will gorge ourselves on sheep’s liver and heart and skewered meat cooked over wood or charcoal fires, traipsing from house to house, always failing to remember the names, recognize the particular mustaches. A million tiny glasses of unspeakably sweet tea will wash down crumbly cookies and roasted peanuts gone soft in the cool and damp. Autumn rains will wash  blood from the lanes and streets, and by the time the meat is beginning to turn and flies multiply, we will be on our way to the sands.

We will arrive several weeks behind in school, our science and French units flashing red on a school dashboard. We will poke at our jet-lag with afternoon coffee and early sleep. We will scratch at flea bites and swallow yogurt and laban, doing our damnedest to repopulate our intestines with the friends we still always lose to the pathogens of mountain poverty. We will walk to the mosque on Fridays. We will reconnect to the wi-fi. Pump the bike tires. Meet up with the homeschoolers for park day. Sleep in the sun. Eat shawarma. Practice yoga in the park, on the beach. Skype and email and Facebook with loved ones. Send postcards. Be so grateful for the time spent with friends and family on our visits to our homes.

Watch for your postcards. We will be in touch.


Rounding a bend

A quick scan of the progress bars on my kids’ school dashboards proves it: we’re in the final academic quarter. And it is pretty amazing to consider the growth we’ve seen in these two kids since we left Wisconsin again last fall.

There was the two-week visit to Morocco–Roman ruins, Eid al Adha, flash flooding and all–punctuating our first school quarter, and the inauspicious first day in Abu Dhabi with a power failure in the apartment. From there, we certainly have had ups and downs. But the learning has been undeniable.

We’ve read novels, as a family and individually, and participated in monthly book club conversations. Noah’s plowing into pre-algebra and geometry. Both kids are starting to catch on in French, and all three of us have vastly improved our reading in Arabic. Meryem has discovered that she loves history–and that has given me a new angle on encouraging her to read. Both kids are understanding grammar and parts of speech so much more thoroughly, thanks to foreign language studies and some pretty solid grammar materials in their respective curricula. Noah has learned how to research, outline, draft and write a research paper.

But wait! There’s more! There are all these little bits of growth, a budding out, that I see. Meryem scrambles eggs. Noah loads and unloads the dishwasher. Both kids have learned how to rollerblade, and biking is an easy thing. They swim for hours if I let them, and enjoy practicing cartwheels and headstands. Lego, Minecraft, origami. Art workshops and field trips, 3-D movies with friends. Email and texting. Happily, within limits.

They have excitedly hosted a Flat Stanley and a stowaway monkey, as well as their grandparents, on visits in and around Abu Dhabi, enthusiastically planning where to get an ice cream, what to do on the beach, and where to take the grandparents for lunch (neither Monkey nor Flat Stanley was ever hungry). And with Grandma and Grandpa, they picked up cribbage and enjoyed a few other games. In a few weeks, we’ll host another guest, their uncle, and once again the kids are plotting the adventures.

Spring break for us will be at an African wildlife reserve, and then it’s on with the final quarter of this academic year. As much as I would love a long, downhill run toward the hot season in Abu Dhabi, it looks like the schedule will be as demanding as it has been all along. Going back to the school dashboard, it looks like we have a sixth-grade science project coming up soon, along with a third-grade book report and a whole lot of French homework.

I don’t want to get too terribly retrospective a full quarter before the end of the school year, so I’ll stop there. But, while I’m in the mood for a few minutes while the kids navigate their own lessons for a while, there is this whole aspect of homeschooling that I do get. As an online schooler, I don’t plan lessons. I don’t choose curriculum, and I hardly even influence the order of my kids’ subject work on any given day. But I am beside them daily, watching critical thinking as it turns wheels, watching ideas (big and small) take shape in their minds. Observing the incremental acquisition of skills, leading to competence, and pulling them toward mastery.

That’s pretty cool, and I would not have predicted the effect it has had on me.

The excitement of our location has mostly worn off by now, but the thrill of our everyday adventures continues–not because of anything special I am doing, but because even the most mundane-seeming tasks (buying tomatoes, baking a cake, folding laundry) take on weight and meaning when they’re performed in the context of helping a person grow capable and confident, one detail at a time.


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