Monday, August 9, 2010

2009: Turkey and Egypt twice - by land by sea

2009 was a great year for travel, with a Spring road-trip in Turkey, a Sept. bare-boat sailing adventure in the Aegean Sea out of Fethiye, Turkey, a Nile Cruise in Dec. and a beach vacation bringing in the New Year in Sharm El Sheik, Egypt on the north tip of the Red Sea.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Bachelor staus is over

I have not written for quite some time, as I have been busy enjoying my family here is SA since August 4th. They arrived in Kingdom on mine and Karen's 18th wedding anniversary. What a wonderful anniversary gift. It has been fun getting Karen and the girls settled into their strange new environment. The transition has been quite smooth without any major hiccups. They seem to be content with our new home. However they unanimously dislike our car - a 2003 Dodge Grand Caravan. So I am shopping for a new vehicle that they will be happy with.

Danielle seems to be quite popular at school and is making many friends. Claire is also making many friends. She is running for a position in the student body. We are thrilled with her ambition. Rachel enjoys school too, and she is receiving substantial acknowledgement for being a gifted artist. Karen has boldly ventured into the community and is building a network of friends and connections. I am enjoying having lots of free time to spend with my family. We go to the pool, the beach, shopping, out to dinner, watch movies on our new HD movie projector, and we travel. We just returned from 10 days in Cyprus, a large island off the south coast of Turkey. The culture is Greek, with a strong British and Turk influence. We spent this vacation adventuring with 2 other Aramco families. It was marvelous. The Mediterranean climate is like a womb. I can understand why people have lived there for over 10,000 years. In contrast, I wonder sometimes why anybody ever settled in SA. Cyprus is lush with citrus, olive, avocado and banana orchards, with the remaining land covered in vineyards. Wine flows more freely than water. The scenery is incredibly diverse with beautiful beaches, rugged shores, and scenic mountains with quaint European style villages. Archeological sites are scattered everywhere, with some impressive ruins and antiquities. We are less than 3 hours flight from Cyprus, and may make it a regular getaway. Our next planned adventure is to return to the States in December to spend 3 weeks visiting family and friends.

Cheers and Peace,

Friday, May 16, 2008

On Service

Living in Saudi Arabia, I often think about cultural differences - not from a perspective of right and wrong, or good and bad, but rather simply as interesting observations. Some attributes transcend culture.

Cultures throughout history generally consider service to others as a noble and dignified pursuit. Religion portrays the act of service as a divine attribute. Ego and individuallity are such strong forces in the human makeup, that acting on behalf of a greater cause than oneself, is considered a magnanimous virtue. My own personal experience corroborates these precepts. I derive profound satisfaction from helping others or making a contribution to a greater social cause. I personally believe that service is the greatest calling in life, and that a life without service is empty and meaningless.

I began to ponder this phenomenan in the context of observations within nature. Notice that honey bees and ants have a very complex and sophisticated social structure that dictates their individual behaviors, and therefore the survival of the species. Each individual organism performs specific tasks within the social structure of the group. Their entire life is devoted to the greater cause of the survival of the group. It is almost as though there is a collective intelligence, or a macro-organism that bounds the social structure. These "service" behaviors are described by biologists as instinct, a mechanistic code in the DNA.

Yet when humans behave in a way that is self sacrificing on behalf of the benefit of others, it is considered to be a divine act. One could postulate that the satisfaction that humans experience from helping others, is actually part of our DNA makeup, or instinct. It makes logical sense that this would be a fundamental survival attribute for the species. Rather than nature verses nurture, I would categorize this argument as divine nature verses biological nature. Food for thought.


On Charity

I was driving along a busy road in Khobar, heading home from a shopping excursion to buy dive gear. When I stopped at a red light, a small framed lady clad in black abaya and hijab, approached my car. My first thought was that she was begging, but that seemed to contradict the cultural norm of Saudi women not interacting with males outside the family. She came to my window and began to gesture. Through the horizontal slit that revealed her eyes, she looked up as if to signify seeking something from above, then she shook her head with an intense look of loss and despair in her eyes.

I thought about the advise I received from social workers when volunteering at the soup kitchen in Denver - never give money to beggars, because it keeps them stuck, rather than encouraging them to rise from their circumstances. I also thought about the pillars of Islam, the 3rd being charity, and that there should be help for these people.

Then the light changed green and I drove on, leaving the woman with the yearning eyes behind. Those eyes burned an image in my brain. That image still follows me. I think, the next time that I encounter a begging woman, I will open my wallet.


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Oman - Harsh Beauty

We left Dubai Saturday morning with 3 - 4WD vehicles and 11 Geoscientists. the Oman boarder is about 2 hours drive/100 km north to the Musandam Peninsula. The Musandam is within an arid mountain belt with very little vegetation, and abrupt elevation relief. We stayed at the Golden Tulip, a dive resort, for 1 night, and spent 2 days on a boat studying exposures along the inaccessible cliff walls that rise from the Straits of Hormuz. The seas were rough at times. The scenery was spectacular. Many small water craft crossed our path, loaded with goods traversing to and from Iran.

We spent the next several days exploring remote canyons accessible via rough 4WD roads, studing the exposures along the canyon walls. The geology was fascinating from the micro fossil assemblages, to the macro depositional environments. We were studying Cretaceous thru Permian section. We were in the field driving and climbing 12 to 14 hours each day, and moved to a different hotel each night. It was a rigorous schedule. After climbing in dusty 100 degree temps each day, I made a beeline for the pool immediately upon arrival to our hotels for a rejuvinating swim. At the Intercontinental in Muscat I managed an evening swim in the Gulf of Oman. The water was warm. Our accomodations varied from 5 stars at the Hatta Fort to 2 star accomodations in a few locations that were off the beaten path. As you can see, the clothing is more colorful in Oman than in Saudi Arabia. The Omani children were selling trinkets. They made a killing off of all of us softies. The girls were asking for sweets, and for pencils for school.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

David Does Dubai ... and Oman

Who woulda thunk that there are big mountains on the Arabian Peninsula. And modern cities filled with spectacular skyscrapers. I ventured out of the routine of camp life in Dhahran on assignment to study the geology of Oman. Our trek started in Dubai, where we rented 3 Hummers for our expedition. We actually reserved 3 Landcruisers, but apparently reservations are not a credible component of this culture. I spent 2 days in Dubai. I was expecting an Arab version of Las Vegas, but I was pleasantly surprised. Dubai has a sort of charm. It is mesmerizing to think that they built this huge city in a few short decades. I started by indulging in some indoor snowboarding at Ski Dubai. Once again, my expectations were exceeded by good powder and a fun slope with a high speed quad chair and Reggae music. The 2 hours of skiing was refreshing with the 100 degree temps outdoors.

I stayed in a luxurious 5 star hotel - the Dusit Thani Dubai. The tallest building in the world - Burj Dubai is viewed from my window. The Thai staff were gracious. I enjoyed and reciprocated the greeting of bowing with hands in prayer at the heart. My second day in Dubai was enjoyed meandering thru the old part of town, with historic walkways and souks with a variety of wares. The meals and buffets at the hotel were fabulous, but one of my favorite meals was a paper bag filled with pokoras - deep fried battered veggies - from the Pakistani vendor in the souk. It was more of a cultural experience. Dubai is split by a creek that is navigable inland and is used for shipping and filled with water taxis. I took a tour of the town by boat.

I did not have time to explore the attractions along the coast with beaches, marinas, and water park. I guess that can be saved my for my next visit, when my family is here with me.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Romancing the Commode, or 3 Lessons Learned

Seafood lasgna is evil. In one fail swoop, I was robbed of my pride, dignity, self respect, well being, and social life. I exxagerate - I am not a prideful person. I became the feeble excuse of a man, chained to the commode, which would become my best friend over the ensuing days. The symptons of food poisoning are unpleasant at best. That night was one of the longest nights of my life. I was suffering from a wretched gut and cold sweats. I terribly wanted and needed to sleep, but I dared not, lest the dreaded accident sneaked up and pounced. I was worn ragged by the morning. I survived the first night of battle against an ominous foe. My only casualty was one pair of underware. Under the circumstances and odds, I thought that I had faired well.

It was more than a day since I had eaten, and liquids passed through on what seemed like a shorcut through the system. Drastic circumstances called for drastic measures. I was not getting better, so I decided that my only chance was to make the dash to the pharmacy. I waited for what seemed like an oportune time, and skulked out to my minivan. When I sat down in the driver's seat, I felt a wave of comfort from the solar radiant energy coming through the window. It was soothing against the cold sweat that I was having. I reclined the seat to relax for just a few minutes. The next thing I remember I was gasping for breath as I was slowly cooking in the van. You have probably heard of the frog that does not hop out of the water if it is gradually heated. I stumbled back to my apartment in a daize. It took every once of will that I could muster to struggle up the stairs, where I collapsed and fainted on the toilet. My best friend. I did not venture out again that day. I ate some yoghurt, hoping it would soothe my stomach, but the evil forces prevailed. The second night was a close facsimile to the first, however I did get a little sleep.

I was walking with Jasmine, my faithful Norwegian Elkhound, along the beach. Suddenly an unsuspecting shamal picked up and filled the air with dust. I picked up the pace of our stroll so that we could make it back to the campsite. It became difficult to see Jasmine, then suddenly she vanished. I ran back looking for her. My only orientation was the wet sand on the beach. Visibilty was about 3 feet. I ran around in a frenzy yelling for my dog. I saw another dog and a cat, which gave me brief relief, but no Jasmine. After awhile the wind subsided and I expanded my search. I found Jasmine on the porch of a beachhouse, chewing on a dog bone while the owner of the bone looked on in sullen dismay. When it comes to food, dog etiquette is quite diverse. Then I awoke once more in a cold sweat, at once glad that I found Jasmine, but also dissapointed that it was only a dream.

The morning of day 3 was met with persisting symptoms. I concluded that once again, my only hope was to make the trek to the pharmacy. This time I did not make the mistake of being seduced by the solor energy. I got on the road immediately and drove the 3 miles to the pharmacy. I went inside and proceeded to look on the shelf for some Pepto-bismal, but could not find anything in that genre of medications. After several minutes, the pharmacist approached me and asked what I was looking for. I shared my embarrassing secret with him and he went behind the counter with the nonchalance of a medical professional, and handed me a pack of Imodium. He said take 2 tablets and you will be fine. My best friend was now the pharmacist. He said that would be 6 riyals. I looked at him funny because the amount did not seem right - 6 riyals is about a buck fifty US. He said what is the matter, and I asked if I heard him correctly and he said yes. I remember buying the same thing in the US for about $20. I checked the product info when I got home and it was the real thing, manufactured in Germany.

This is the evening of day 3 and I am feeling a little better, but still not eating food, other than yoghurt. I must be better by tomorrow because I am invited to go digging for sand roses in the sabkha. This is a classic Saudi adventure.

In retrospect over the past few days, I have learned 3 poignant lessons that I will share with you.
  1. There are dark and terrible forces lurking in Saudi Arabia, that are eager to invade the sanctity of your temple. They are microbial creatures that have evolved over millions of years, with the single purpose of infecting unsuspecting victims. Can you imagine a more dreadful adversary? There is nowhere to run. There is nowhere to hide. They are waiting for you.
  2. The US pharmaceutical industry is pillaging the country (USA). It is amazing that in this glorious information age, that a scam of this magnitude could be perpetrated on the american public, in the open. History will define this as the greatest scam of the 21 century, along with the Bush administration.
  3. Dogs always follow their noses, even in dreams.