Sunday, October 31, 2010

Friday, October 29, 2010

A big difference between 12pm and 2pm!

Today I went on a little excursion that started with a taxi drive from the mall to the Grand Mosque. My driver being from Nepal, had no reservations in taking me there, nor alternative site seeing suggestions for a sunny Friday morning in this primarily Muslim region. When I say "primarily" I really mean that I am not a Muslim, and everyone else here is. The Grand Mosque is the 8th largest one in the world and is the largest in UAE. So naturally, any Muslim in the area that can go to the Mosque during Friday morning prayer....does. Me and about 5,000 Muslims decided to visit the Mosque today. When I got there I was amazed at how big it was and how many Muslims kept pouring into the complex. I started to walk into the main courtyard (you know, like you walk like you know what you're doing and so people think you really do) and I was immediately spotted as a "high potential to be a non Muslim." I guess my fair skin and huge camera around my neck didn't help my charade. I "thought" I was told that prayer time is only for Muslims until 12, and that I had to wait outside the courtyard. Well, it was only 11:50AM so I had no problems walking around for a few minutes. Meanwhile hundreds and hundreds of men continued to pour in. Finally, at a few minutes past noon, I decided to put my camera in the bag and try to blend in. I found myself in the giant sandal covered courtyard. At one end of the courtyard was the main prayer hall that seemed to be everyone's destination, so before they entered, they ALL took off their sandals. There were thousands of sandals. I decided to risk a jaunt, crossing the courtyard in front of the main doors to see if I could get a peek inside....I couldn't. After passing the door I headed back up the other side of the courtyard, which was kind of intimidating. I was the only white non-Muslim camera carrying American walking upstream against hundreds of Arab Muslims. It was actually really amazing to see it. It was very much like Temple Square during conference. I decided to just stand by one of the pillars on the perimeter for a while just to watch everyone come in (and stare at me as they passed). I risked a few more pictures until my curiosity got to be too strong. I built up the courage to ask one of the guys directing the foot traffic if I had to be Muslim to enter into the prayer hall. He chuckled a little and said yes. Slightly disappointed, I returned to my pillar. 10 minutes and 2,000 passers by later, a security guard came running toward me from a distance....I stood my ground. "Excuse me, are you Muslim?" he asked. I thought for a split second to make sure and replied, "Umm, no." He promptly told me that this was Muslim prayer time and that I had to leave, while kind of pulling me out of the courtyard. Apparently I didn't understand my first conversation at the Grand Mosque, prayer time goes until 2PM....not 12PM! I didn't get to see inside the Mosque, but I got to see what I felt would leave a lasting impression. My friend from Nepal was waiting for me back at the parking lot, and we headed back to a place I felt much much more in my element: the mall.

Friday, October 22, 2010

French Fries and Ghutras

When people travel the world they tend to explore cultures and places to satisfy curiosity, and to expand their knowledge and understanding of others. When I travel the world, I look for Burger King and a movie theater!

My first week at the Schlumberger Middle East Learning Center (MLC) has been organized chaos. The best way I can describe where I'm staying and what I'm doing is to say that it's just like the MTC. I am in a 6 week course with 15 other people (from Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Poland, Mexico, Ireland, India, and more). I am one of two Americans and we both happen to be Mormon! We all wake up, eat breakfast in the cafeteria, go to class from 8 to noon, eat lunch in the cafeteria, go to class from 1 to 5, then go to dinner in the cafeteria.....together. The primary purpose of the class is to teach us a specific data processing computer program. I get to stay in a single room which is quite nice, although I have yet to figure out what this is for....

Typical meal...

Tuesday was a day off so we were all able to leave the MLC compound. Yes, it literally is a compound with guards at the entrance and a 15 foot wall going around the MASSIVE complex. The shuttle took us to the upscale Marina Mall, from there people went to tour the Grand Mosque, the Emirati Palace, and the beach......I toured the mall. It had tons of great stores, but even more interesting people. Everywhere you look there are immigrant workers (primarily Indian and Filipino I believe) ready to clean, guard, fix, wash, hold the door, check you out, or anything else. I never saw one native Emerati worker. However, there were plenty of Emerati's shopping for Louis Vuitton bags, Gucci Sunglasses, and Rolex watches. Men and woman Arabs were never seen together unless they were husband and wife. The accessorized women would be seen walking the mall and the men would all be hanging out at the water fountain. Of course, all of this people watching made me very hungry, so I decided to scout out the food court. To my delight, Burger King was the main attraction. Yes it had the longest lines, and the most noble of customers (some of which could probably buy up the entire fast-food chain). Burger King is like the LDS church, it's the same no matter where you are in the world. You can never go wrong with a few french fries, especially after having lamb 3 meals a day for a week! I topped the day off with a good movie at the mall with a bunch of guys in Thobes and that's what I call traveling the world.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


The world felt extra huge today.

One week down, five to go.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Hamburger Walks into a Bar...

...and the bartender says, "Sorry, we don't serve food here."

Here's what happened when Esmé heard this joke:

She loves hamburger jokes!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Pure Gold

The first thing you need to know about us is that we're broke.
These things aren't cheap:

The second thing you need to know is that I have only one piece of real gold in my jewelry collection:

The chain is not gold, but the little bar is. Gleaned from the earth by Roo himself sometime in the late eighties or early nineties. They used to let kids pan for gold at Knott's Berry Farm. So while the other children rode roller coasters and ate cotton candy, Roo was busy increasing his net worth by panning for gold. He scrupulously collected and saved every fleck of gold he could find and, along with some of his mother's old rings, had it all melted down and made into this little gold bar, which he gave to me.

Keeping these two facts in mind, it wouldn't be unreasonable to find us on a Monday evening in a tiny store whose sign promises "We buy gold!"

Undignified? Maybe. Unreasonable? Unfortunately not.

We were both curious to find out how much the gold was worth. I know selling a sentimental gift for cash is pretty desperate, but until sentimentality can pay my hospital bills it's gonna have to hit the road to make way for cold, hard cash. So with this in mind, we strolled into our local grocery store which housed a tiny, gold buying office, fully confident that we were going to come out of there with at least, like, thirty bucks.

As we walked into the store, another customer was already sitting at the counter conversing with the gold man. They both looked up to see us and the customer--an elderly Asian woman--moved over to let us do our business with the gold man. This place was about as big as a generously portioned elevator, so Roo and I and the baby in her carrier spanned nearly the entire store. We hand the gold guy, let's call him the Prospector, the necklace, then we realize the lady customer is still there. Standing right next to us. Close enough that the sight of her crooked, drawn-on eyebrows and exaggerated magenta lip line elicited an involuntary "Gah!". She stood surveying our transaction. Then caught sight of Esmé.

Lady [excited as if she'd only heard of babies but has never actually seen one]: Ahhhh! You have baby?

Roo: Yes

Lady: Oh so cuuuuuute!

Prospector [hands back the necklace]: Its not gold.

Lady [taking both of Esmé's feet in her hands and proceeding to bounce them up and down]: Is boy?

Annie to Prospector: We know the chain isn't gold, but the little bar is.

Roo to Lady: No, she's a girl.

Lady [loudly, as if making a general announcement to us all]: He has hair like boy.

The prospector takes the necklace back, performs this test to prove to me that the chain isn't gold and says: yep, that chain sure ain't gold.

Lady: I mean, She has hair like boy. I have boy so...[she nods]

Roo: Uh...

The Prospector explains the procedure for telling what carat of gold the bar is and starts rubbing the bar on this black slate thing, but we're too distracted by our lady friend who is still bouncing both of Esmé's feet and has now started making kissing sounds at her, like you do to get a puppy to come to you.

Lady to Esmé: Hello! [Kiss kiss] Hello! [kiss kiss]Hello! [kiss kiss] Hello! [kiss kiss]

Prospector holds up his testing slate: So you tell me which one it is.

Roo: Huh? I missed what you were explaining.

Lady: Hello! [kiss kiss] Hello! [kiss kiss] Hello! [kiss kiss]

Prospector: It's the ten carat. Yeah, you've got ten carat gold here. Let me go find out how much we can get for it.

He's gone for a few minutes during which time all that happens is: Hello! [kiss kiss] Hello! [kiss kiss] Still bouncing the baby's feet.

Roo tells me with his eyes that he's going to slap this woman in the face and I'm afraid he's serious so we trade places, making me a buffer between him and our lady friend.

Lady: Hello! [kiss kiss]

Prospector: I can give you twenty five bucks for it.

Roo: No thanks. Let's go!

Lady (remember, she had a heavy Asian accent): Is no gol?

Annie: No, she is a girl.

Lady [pointing to the necklace]: No! Is no gol?

Annie: Oh, uh, no--it is gold, we just want to keep it. (Why am I explaining this to you?)

And then our lady friend contributed the most valuable thought of the evening:

[Pointing to Esmé] Well, this is your pure gol! She is pure gol!

Yes, indeed.

Upon leaving, Roo noted that the gold could've been worth $1000 and he still would've refused just so he could get away from the lady, that she made him feel cold inside.

So despite having spent the strangest ten minutes of the week with the painted face lady and the prospector, and while still being poor, we did learn a valuable lesson--what we lack in actual gold we make up for in 'pure gol':

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Good Decision

About a week before moving to Houston, Roo's mom asked if we would be willing to take Papa (Roo's grandfather) dinner one night and spend the evening with him. We were right in the midst of moving chaos, organizing schedules and flights and trucks, packing up boxes, de-junking, making almost daily trips to the University of Utah so Roo could finalize his thesis, going to the pediatrician and the veterinarian, constantly changing diapers--in short, we were really busy. My initial reaction to the request, I'm ashamed to say, was that we were way too swamped to do it. Not only did we live forty minutes away, but we had an infant and enough stress to warrant a regrettable but legitimate, "sorry, but we can't."

However, I just couldn't bring myself to say no. When Roo asked if we should go, I decided to say 'yes'. And that was the best decision.

So that evening all three of us made the drive to Salt Lake, bought Papa his favorite clam chowder from Red Robin, and settled in at his home for dinner. Papa was in good spirits. He ate his chowder and asked us how we were. We told him about our plans for moving while we fed the baby and played with her on the living room carpet. He was thrilled just to watch Esmé--it seemed everything about her delighted him. While Papa watched Fox News, we looked at old photos of the family and all the places Papa had been during his 86 years. After a few hours, it was time to go home. But before leaving, we took this picture of us all:

That was last time any of us would see Papa living. He passed away September 29th after a short illness.

We were able to return to Utah for his funeral. During the service, one of his granddaughters remarked how Papa always made her feel special, beautiful. Though I was one of the newest members of Papa's large clan, and didn't know Papa as well as most anyone else at the funeral, I cannot forget how he did the same for me--whenever he'd see us, he would, without fail, comment that Roo had "filled out" quite a bit (which always made me laugh) and he would tell me I looked pretty. It's a small thing to say, but an important one, for me.

We will miss Papa. But I am so profoundly glad that we took the time that evening to see, serve, and say goodbye to Papa for the last time.