Our Adventures in Sri Lanka

Safaris to spot leopards and elephants, swimming in the Indian Ocean, sipping tea in the mountains, and several more!

Our Nile Cruise

Starting in Cairo, we sailed to Luxor, Edfu, Kom Ombo, and Aswan.

Trouble at Sea: Our Red Sea Dive Trip in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia

The Red Sea is one of the top diving destinations in the world, but Saudi Arabia is a very restrictive country to get into. That alone would have made the trip memorable...but then things went south and the Saudi Coast Guard and a hospital got involved.

Our Expedition to Jordan

Highlights included tracing the steps of Indiana Jones into Petra, following Lawrence of Arabia into Wadi Rum, and floating in the Dead Sea.

Discovering Turkey

We emersed ourselves in Istanbul, explored the white travertines of Pamukkale, and traced history through Laodikeia, Hierolopolis, and Cleopatra's Baths.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Overthinking Time Pressure Anxiety

I'm not sure when I developed an internal need to not be late, but it was a long, long time ago. I found compatible (enabling?) sports and jobs where the mindset is "If you're on time, you're late" like rowing crew and the military. I also have a sneaking suspicion that it might be genetic, since part of my family tree is Swiss (see the Swiss stereotypes about punctuality and "rules are rules" in particular). For me, there is some comfort in knowing exactly when things are going to happen.
Why didn't I bring an umbrella? (Source)
Which is proving to be one of the greatest annoyances about living in Saudi Arabia (at least for me, since I'm allowed to drive). What makes it so bad is that the prayer times are constantly changing, which means that you never know exactly when a store will close for prayer, or when it will reopen. The length of time stores stay closed varies, and sometimes the length of the prayer changes too. Why does this matter? When stores start to close their doors, I don't want to be trapped inside. I'm not claustrophobic, but I've got stuff to get done, y'all.

When I see the curtains coming down, a voice in my head starts talking to me in a way that I can best describe as George Clooney in the opening scene from Gravity. You know the one where he calmly (yet urgently) announces that "We have to go. We have to go, go, go." before everything around him degrades into chaos? If not, watch it here (2:40):
But wait, there's more. I'm also a classic over-thinker. Which really helps me in my job as a Foreign Service Construction Engineer, because there are so many things that have to be considered when building a US Embassy. Unfortunately, it also means that my mind almost never shuts off, and this next video was particularly amusing to me because of the constant stream of mental chatter and the whole bit about leaving the house and "did I turn the oven off." Yeah, it gets annoying towards the end, but really does capture my daily experience.
Now, I don't think I have an anxiety disorder by any means (if you think you might, click that link). I would be more likely to agree that I have some form of hyper-vigilance, which, given the current state of the Middle East where I am living right now, might not be such a bad thing. I couldn't figure out how to fit Joseph Heller's line from Catch-22 that goes "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you" into this paragraph in a way that doesn't make me sound totally irrational, but it should be noted that one of the main reasons my job exists is to provide safe, secure and functional facilities that represent the U.S. government to the host nation and support our staff in the achievement of U.S. foreign policy objectives. And of course, my current project is already a bit infamous for almost the very same the reasons that trigger those anxieties.

I guess that's win-win, right?

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Monday, June 15, 2015

Ramadan & Summer Work Hours in Saudi Arabia

One of the fun challenges of managing a construction project in a foreign country is learning how to anticipate the impact of local labor laws. Saudi Arabia is already infamous for being socially restrictive when it comes to protecting Islamic tradition, so you can imagine how things pretty much come to a screeching halt for the Holy month of Ramadan. Now factor in protective labor laws during the summer months when temperatures regularly exceed 100F (~40C). The schedule you end up with gives you maybe 6 productive hours per day, if you're up early enough.

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To be clear, Ramadan refers to both a month and a month-long religious observance. The month of Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Keep in mind that the Islamic calendar is lunar, so the associated Ramadan holiday seems like it drifts around the solar-based Western calendar. In 2015, Ramadan begins in the evening of Wednesday, June 17 and ends in the evening of Friday, July 17.

In the chart above, I've shown Ramadan in gold and the summer hours in blue. So that doesn't look so bad, right? Well, let's break it down hour by hour:
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Saudi Arabia: So Far, So Good?

We're over two years in to our second tour in the Foreign Service with the US Department of State in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. It's hard...

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