American Southwest Family Vacation

We followed historic Route 66 on our way to see the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, the Painted Desert, plus much more in New Mexico and Arizona.

End of Tour Summary: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Here are our stories from two and a half years of living in Saudi Arabia while exploring the region.

Excursions to Oman

On two different trips, we strolled Muscat, hiked Wadi Shab, and sailed a dhow through the fjords of Musandam.

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.

Our Adventures in Sri Lanka

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

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

R & R in Florida

We took our Rest and Recuperation (R&R) leave to get away from hot and humid Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and spent part of it in hot and humid Florida. But at least in Florida it rains often enough to keep the temperature down.
Florida locals
While we live next to the Red Sea and can go to one of the "Western Beaches", they still don't compare with the white sand beaches of the Florida Panhandle.

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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Eid al-Fitr in al Balad

During Ramadan, the daily fast is broken nightly with an Iftar. When the month of Ramadan ends, there is a multi-day celebration called Eid al-Fitr or the "Feast of Breaking the Fast" to mark the end of Ramadan. Since everything closes down like the West between Christmas and New Year's, a lot of people leave town during Eid. Those that stay can go to the old town (al Balad) to enjoy some of the Eid festivities and give the greeting "Eid Mubarak."
The buildings in al Balad are in the traditional Hijazi style, which I find fascinating for a number of reasons (check that link for the details). During this time of year, the houses are also decorated with thousands of lights.
RRR attempts to blend in.
A map of al-Balad
Boys in traditional Hijazi headdress
 One of the most interesting things I learned while researching this festival was how significantly different the people in this part of Saudi Arabia (the Hejazi) are from the rest of the country (the Najdi). This article compares several aspects where the Hejazi and Najdi differ, but the big take away is that Saudi Arabia isn't as culturally homogeneous as most of us would initially think.
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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

R & R in Canada

The nice thing about R&R travel with the Foreign Service is that you can go anywhere in the world, as opposed to the mandatory Home Leave which requires you to stay within the borders of the US to "stay connected" to American Culture. We also try to stay connected to Kacey's Canadian family, but Greg couldn't make it this year.
Picking Strawberries
The girls are in their "I love horses" phase, and we try to encourage them whenever we can.

One of many breeds & costumes on display
Timeless
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Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Realities of Foreign Service Life for Families with Young Children

There are lots of great reasons for a family to join the Foreign Service, including all the opportunities the kids will get to experience from a very young age. There's a lot to the concept of being a "Third Culture Kid," which is why there's a book about it. Actually, there's more than just a book. If you've never heard of "TCK," watch these videos so you know what I'm talking about. But the primary focus of this post is on the Pre-kindergarten kids (and their parents).

The miniature Model UN
I think it's safe to say that having young children (ages 0-6) can be a challenge anywhere in the world. But the point that I'm going to expand on is that it can be quite a bit tougher for expats overseas who are outside the local culture and still developing the local safety net that is often taken for granted when you've lived in a place for a while. While I don't qualify as a TCK because I resided within the US for my entire childhood, I did end up moving across the country several times and was immersed in various American sub-cultures (four, according to the map below). 
And while I think that helps me fully appreciate the richness of American culture, I did often feel like an outsider looking in. Our kids, however, are in for an entirely different experience. 

By definition, living abroad makes you an expat, though being in the US Foreign Service has some perks over being an expat without diplomatic status (but there are lots of similarities between the two groups). And, likewise, there are some cases where the non-government expats get a better deal. For instance,
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Wednesday, July 01, 2015

My First Iftar Experience

During the holy month of Ramadan, most Muslims participate in fasting from dawn to dusk. Exactly when depends on which sect, but it's the act of breaking the fast--Iftar--which is what's significant. In case you were wondering, Sunnis break fast at the call to evening prayer (Maghrib), while Shia break fast slightly later, after the evening prayer. As luck would have it, I was invited to participate in an iftar sponsored by the Jeddah Cultural Exchange Company (JCEC) which was hosted by a well-known businessman (and founder/chairman of JCEC). It had a rather interesting guest list (here's a link to one of their blogs), and the overall group demographics worked out to roughly 40% relatives of the host and 60% expats. So, yeah, I'm going a little outside my element on this one. Our hosts were very gracious and welcoming, and really set a positive tone for the whole night's experience.
Our Iftar meal
Now, I feel like I should point out something else about Iftar that I didn't know (and there was a lot that I didn't know): Even though the month of Ramadan is ~30 days, there are really only about 10 days in the middle of the month when you are likely to be invited to be a guest at iftar. That's because, as it was explained to me by our host, the first 10 days are for family, the next 10 are for guests, and the last 10 are for focusing on the tenets (aka the Five Pillars) of Islam. Which is to say that there is a very narrow window of opportunity, so if you are ever invited: Go!
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End Of Tour Summary: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

We spent two and a half years in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on our second tour in the Foreign Service with the US Department of State. As you migh...

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