Friday, May 31, 2013

May 31st, outsourced

The star of one of my favorite documentaries talks about her life since then (spoilers - and shame on you - if you haven't seen Spellbound). [HT Suzanne]

Nine translation mistakes that caused big problems.

I've been hearing about this scary case from friends in Arizona: set Yanira Maldonado free.

This blog post about end of school parent apathy turned up about 15 times on facebook this morning and for good reason: it is HILARIOUS. And so true. Magdalena gets a couple of worksheets of Arabic and English homework every weekend but the folder has been sitting on our bookshelf for a few weeks now, untouched. Because if I send it back to school with her, it will just come back with more to do. Sigh.

I saw this from a few people on facebook, too. This is how NOT to ask "where are you from?"

Exercise: you're doing it wrong. See also. [HT Jeremy]

Portraits generated from the DNA found on litter. Awesome. [HT Jen]

Here's a whole bunch of horrifically sexist ads that wouldn't make the cut today. (Except I think there actually are some pretty bad ones still being made.) (And that "pens for her" product still exists.) [HT Liz]

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Secret Race, etc.

The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All CostsThe Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs by Tyler Hamilton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If the litmus test for predicting enjoyment of The Perfect Mile was being able to identify what event is taking place in its cover image, here are a few for The Secret Race:

1. Do you know what a/the peloton is?
2. When you listen to Yanni, are you reminded of the Tour de France...just a little bit?
3. Can you do a pretty good Phil Ligget impression?

If you answered 'yes' to any or all of the above questions, then boy, do I have the book for YOU. It's The Secret Race.

When you grow up with Craig Walker as your dad - like I did - you spend the Julys of your formative years immersed in the Tour de France - like I did. Greg LeMond, Andy Hampsten, Miguel Indurain, Tyler Hamilton, Jan Ullrich, and yes, Lance Armstrong - these were household names as I was growing up. Reading this book brought back vivid memories of a (kind of odd, now that I think about it) childhood obsession with all things professional cycling.

The sad thing is, we now know that a lot of - OK, pretty much ALL of - those guys were doping to some extent. This book tells that story. But it does it in such a joyful, non-bitter way. Is that even possible? As the reader, I was totally sucked into this world, and it was so great to re-live some of those great racing moments, especially in the Tour de France. You really feel each triumph and each setback described by Hamilton.

This is true even when these triumphs and setbacks are brought to you by EPO, or blood-bagging, or testosterone pills. Those just make the story more interesting and heartbreaking. The point of this book is not to bring down any one individual (ahem, Lance), or even exonerate a different individual (the author, of course). It's just a totally amazing story about elite cyclists and their lives during the mid- to late-1990s and early 2000s.

Give this book a try, even if you have only a glimmer of interest in the topic. If you are a cycling nerd, however, this is a must-read.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go look up Tour de France highlights from the mid-1990s on YouTube.


For Darkness Shows the Stars (For Darkness Shows the Stars, #1)For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What you MUST know about this book: It is a sci-fi/mildly dystopian adaptation of Jane Austen's Persuasion. Yeah.

Other thoughts: Well, Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen, so I figured this book would be either love (it's perfect!) or hate (she ruined it!). Fortunately, it was LOVE. The author has transferred the original story to a new setting and time period (and world, almost). As such, she has necessarily changed some details, some characters, some plot elements, etc. And yet, the spirit of the story remains the same. It really is something to behold.

Just like Persuasion, this book has that exquisitely dull ache of sadness running through it. And sometimes, you just need to read a book with an exquisitely dull ache of sadness running through it.

By the way, this is absolutely a stand-alone book. I had no idea it was part of a series until I logged in to Goodreads to review it.


The Book of Blood and ShadowThe Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book probably deserves more like three stars, but I had so much fun reading it that I'm giving it four. I really could have loved loved loved this book (as much as I loved loved loved the experience of reading it) if only the central mystery had been clearer. But it really fell flat.

So how could I have loved reading a book whose central component basically failed? Well, even if I wasn't always able to follow what exactly was going on with the letters at any given time, I enjoyed being with the characters as they figured it all out. I loved the setting (Prague) and all the Czech used in the book and the way that parts of the mystery were actually figure-out-able (even if it didn't work as a whole, at least not for me). The writing was fantastic in a way that didn't draw attention to itself. It was only after finishing the book that I noticed how much I had appreciated it.

Definitely recommended, at least for the adventure of reading it.


Night RoadNight Road by Kristin Hannah

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Audiobook. I've been working on this one for almost a month.

I can't remember the last time I finished a book and then thought, quite seriously, "what was the point of that book?" That's how I feel about this one. It was nice, and thoughtful, and interesting, but I'm not sure why it is there. I can't even really decide if I liked it. It kind of just exists, independent of anyone's opinion.

I've never read another book like this, so I'm not sure what to make of it. Definitely worth a read, if the blurb sounds interesting to you.


Winterborne (Universe Unbound #1)Winterborne by Augusta Blythe

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I'm too old to be reading books like this. But I mean that as a commentary on the book, not on my age. The best YA books are worthy of an adult's attention. This one, not so much. Amazon always gets me with these "99 cents today only" Kindle books. I've bought a few and they've all been mediocre to middling at best...

...except for Angelfall, which was AWESOME.


The Girl of Fire and Thorns (Fire and Thorns, #1)The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

To enjoy this book, you will need to get over the fact that the main character has a gemstone as a belly button, and it was put there by God on her naming day. Just get over it right now, because that happens pretty much on the first page.

Ready? OK. I had a love/like relationship with this book. Most of the time I LOVED it, settling into LIKE for some portions of the story. It reminded me of Princess Academy and Zorro and (if you can believe it) The Book of Mormon. Carson has created a fascinating world that maybe could exist in real life...but also kind of not (see gemstone as belly button, above). I really liked the main character and finding out more about her story at the same time that she did.

And oh, the food in this book. I gained 10 pounds in my imagination just from reading the descriptions.

I happen to think the cover for this book is awful, by the way. Shame.


The Selection (The Selection, #1)The Selection by Kiera Cass

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sooooooo much fun to read. Dangerously so. Yeah, so I don't really buy the larger context of the world this story takes place in, and sometimes it smacks of teenage-girl-wish-fulfillment, and yes, it could be said to be heavily influenced by books like The Hunger Games and Princess Academy and Beauty Queens. But guess what? I TOTALLY LOVED THOSE BOOKS. So there.

And for once, a cover image of a girl in a fancy ball gown is actually an accurate representation of some of the events of the book! That's a first.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Thesis proposal: defended

This is what four copies of my thesis proposal looks like.
I defended my thesis proposal (Intercultural Competence and Classroom Cultural Conflicts) today. Basically, three really smart professors gathered in a conference room and listened to me present my 38-page proposal for twenty minutes. Then came the hard part, where two of those really smart professors dissected key ideas and asked questions I didn't know the answer to and tore apart the slightest weaknesses in my approach. Fortunately, the third really smart professor (my supervisor) was on my side (as is his role) so he advocated for me when necessary. Because otherwise it was like watching my proposal getting torn in two directions - everyone has their way of looking at things and, as my supervisor told me in a whisper just before the defense, you can't please everyone.

Anyway, done. I have some changes to make but the thrust of my research is sound so I can proceed mostly as planned. Data collection begins next week! Then writing writing writing during the summer, and defend the finished thesis in the fall.

By the way, you may recall that when I was deciding what to write a thesis on, I was worried about choosing culture because it is a special kind of research quicksand. That has definitely proved true. Defining culture, and then defining the two cultures I am studying (for now, that's "Western" culture and UAE Arab culture - see how much fun I'm having?), is a sticky, sticky business. But I'm making progress.

Onward!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Things you may have heard about Dubai

Let's take a moment to debunk (or bunk?) some common beliefs about Dubai, held by people who don't live/haven't been here. Note: I don't actually live in Dubai. I live in Sharjah, the next Emirate over. Also, my views will necessarily be colored by the segments of society with which I interact.

Everyone is fabulously wealthy. Everyone. Not true. The Pakistani guys who work 12-hour days at construction jobs to build things like, oh I don't know, the tallest building in the world, are definitely not rich.

But you meant white collar workers, didn't you? In that case, well, still not true. There are people just barely making it here the same way they are elsewhere in the world.

Oh, you meant Emiratis? Still not true. Emiratis from Abu Dhabi are generally very well off. The same is true of Emiratis from Dubai, to a lesser extent. Once you get into Sharjah and the Northern Emirates (Ras al-Khaimah, Omm al-Qawain, Fujairah, and Ajman), though, all bets are off. Despite the very real government-operated support structures in place for locals (housing and salary subsidies, etc.), there is still such a thing as a poor Emirati.

(One factor that might contribute to the idea that everyone here is making it big is the fact that as an expat, you can't be here (legally) unless you are working, or the dependent of someone who is working. And so if you are poor, you are at least working poor, and your job probably provides a rent stipend, etc.)

Dubai is so fake!!! OK, I kind of hate this one. I guess it depends on what you mean by fake. Are there lots of fancy, sometimes whimsically designed buildings? Yes. But they are real structures with real things inside of them and real people live and work there. We have the biggest mall in the world with the biggest indoor aquarium in the world and it's all right next to the tallest building in the world...and those are all real things, and real people are shopping in them and admiring the real sharks and stingrays in them and actually living/working/going to the observation deck in them. Not sure what's fake there.

See also: Dubai is so inauthentic. This one bothers me even more. I do not think that word means what you think it means. Is Dubai unlike other places in the Middle East/Arab World that you might consider to be more "traditionally" Middle Eastern? Absolutely. But it's authentic in its own right. It's true that you will hear Urdu and English as much as you hear Arabic, and that the population is only 15%ish Emirati, but that's...Dubai. It is what it is. Not somewhere else.

The men over there (here) have multiple wives. This one is true, sometimes. I've had a few students who have come from families with more than one mom. I also had a student write a homework assignment about the decision-making process as it applied to his choice to take one wife or two. Thus, one of the oddities of my kids' experience here is that they sometimes make friends with a kid who has two moms...AND a dad.

Dubai has become an empty shell of itself after the economic collapse. This is where I get a little fuzzy because I am not a financial specialist, nor do I hang out with any. However, things don't seem to be as dark as I sometimes hear they are from outside news sources. I know some of the fancy buildings I mentioned above are having trouble finishing construction or finding tenants. But the Dubai Mall, for example, is thriving, which I think was not expected to happen.

There are hardly any Mormons in the UAE. Last year, an old friend found out she was moving to Dubai and she wrote us that she was so excited to be in our ward (geographically based congregation). We had to tell her, um, there are two wards in Abu Dhabi, a ward and a branch in Dubai, a branch in Al Ain, and a ward in Sharjah. So if you live much past Festival City in Dubai, you won't be in our ward. It is a big surprise to a lot of Mormons when they move here and find thriving, diverse congregations, rather than isolated pockets of Americans holding church in their living rooms.

There are lots of fancy cars here. Based purely on my own experience driving around in different countries, this one is absolutely comparatively true. I've never seen so many Maseratis in one parking lot in all my life. And that parking lot is the local grocery store. And the Maseratis are driven by 19-year-old Emirati or Saudi boys. Yeah. Replace "Maserati" with any other super fancy luxury car and you get an idea of what it can be like around here sometimes.

Dubai is very safe. Yes, it is. That said, bad stuff does happen here. It's hard to get at actual statistics, but the only sourced data I've seen for the murder rate is 3 per 100,000 people in 1999 (it was 0.78 per 100,000 people in 1998). So I'm not likely to be murdered or raped and my kids are not likely to be kidnapped, but low-level sexual harassment can be commonplace. If I belonged to a certain segment of society, I would be more at risk for crimes to my person as well as being forced into things like the drug trade or prostitution or just being an exploited, under- or non-paid guest worker.

Let's finish up what seems to be a first installment of a few installments on this topic with one last myth (?) about Dubai:

People leave their cars running in the parking lot in summer to keep the AC going. This was one of the weirdest things I heard about the UAE before moving here. And you know what? It does happen. Every once in a while in the student parking lots at AUS, there are cars sitting in the parking lot, driver/passengerless, with the engine running. So there you go.

What have you heard about Dubai?

Monday, May 27, 2013

Other Bridget 2013

It's been almost a year since we checked in with Other Bridget, the woman (women?) who shares my name and whose email address is similar enough to mine that I get lots of emails intended for her.

I was relieved to have a nagging question from the previous installment put to rest: does Other Bridget actually spell her name Briget? The answer is yes. I know this because I was emailed several copies of a flight reservation for Other Bri(d)get's upcoming trip to The Gold Coast in Australia. I hope she doesn't repeat last year's mishap there.

Other Bridget is also selling some land in Kingfisher.

She had a telephone uninstalled from her hallway by Sydney Power House. It cost 132 Australian dollars.

Her daughter had some adorable portraits taken at a photo studio. I could show them to you, because the studio emailed them to me. But I won't.

I received extensively detailed directions to Other Bridget's friend's house in Ballina, New South Wales. Sounds like a nice place and I hope the party was fun!

She spent $527.65 at a pharmacy recently. I know because they emailed me the billing receipt.

For shame, Other Bridget was delinquent in paying $300 to a cleaning service for cleaning her house.

No fair! A friend of Other Bridget was giving away tickets to La Boheme at the Opera House (Sydney?). Justin snatched them up before I could.

I refrained from coordinating via email exchange with a group of preschool moms about the cake they were going to make for the teacher's farewell party. I guess Other Bridget will have to contribute another time.

I was asked to provide a press release from the mayor about the upcoming anti-gun vigil Other Bridget participated in.

How exciting - Other Bridget's daughter (the preschool one? I guess she's growing up) has taken up netball.

Whew! It's been a busy year for Other Bridget. So much going on. I can hardly keep up with my alter ego's life these days. What are your alter egos up to recently? Still checking out boring library books?

Friday, May 24, 2013

May 24th, outsourced

Have you ever wondered about the etymological origins of words related to insults? Wonder no more.

Here are some of the submissions so far to the 2013 National Geographic photo contest. These aren't even finalists (yet), but they are amazing.

How one astute interpreter translated يعني. (HT Anna)

A highly scientific analysis of Ben vs. Noel. From Felicity, duh.

English and Eurovision.

Did you know: abandoned luxury cars are a thing that happens in Dubai. [HT Lisa]

I loved this article: when Hollywood wants good, clean fun, it goes to Mormon country.

Sexual harassment in Egypt: volunteer bodyguards, and a man dresses up as a woman to see what it feels like to be harassed ("I realized that simply walking on the street, for a woman, is such a huge effort, a psychological effort and a bodily effort. It’s like women are besieged." Yeah, that sounds about right).

Conversations with my 2-year-old, episode 1. Can't wait for episode 2. [HT Ashley]

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Grocery store BFF

Jeremy and I have a BFF at the grocery store by our house. His name is Khalid (actually, it isn't, but I'll call him that here) and he's from Syria. We met in the cheese aisle of the store and when I found out he was from Syria, I spoke to him in Syrian Arabic and that was it. BFFs for life. Anytime we go in that store now, Khalid says hi and stops to chat for a bit. He is convinced he saw us years ago in Syria at a certain place where his dad owned a shop. Khalid himself only recently came here from Syria. Who knows if he really saw us. Probably not, but it's fun to wonder.

The reason I say we're BFFs goes beyond just chatting in the cheese aisle every time we're there. Well, one reason we're BFFs actually IS related to cheese. One day, the grocery store had, for the first time, the particular kind of mozzarella that happens to be the only good kind for pizza (unless you prefer a fatty, shiny mass on top of your crust). I told him how happy I was to see it there and he said he would personally make sure that the store kept it in stock, for me. Now, I don't actually know how much power he has over inventory but it was nice to know I had a cheese advocate on my side.

Another time, the store was running a "free item every day" promotion in honor of the anniversary of its opening. I showed up on the afternoon of my usual grocery shopping day and Khalid found me and gave me the free item. They had run out very early in the morning, he told me, and he had put aside one of the items for me. BFFs, I tell you.

Then last night, I was there with Miriam to pick up some things to celebrate Magdalena's graduation from KG2 (yes, they do that here, too). Khalid was there, in the cheese aisle. We chatted for a minute and when I said we were getting some treats for Miriam's younger sister, he disappeared for a minute. He came back with some ice cream bars for us. For free.

Every time we go there and see him, it feels a little bit like Syria - a place where you stop and chat with the storekeeper, who keeps things in stock just for you, and gives treats to your kids anytime he sees them. It's a great feeling.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Happy with school

As you may recall, two years ago when I was shopping for a school for Miriam, I ended up choosing the road less traveled. And truly, it has made all the difference. Last year (her first year at the school) was a great year - she learned and grew so much. This year has been even better, which I couldn't have dared hope for. So much of a good "school" actually depends on a good teacher. And Miriam got quite the gem this year. Of course, the supporting infrastructure of the school is important, too, and I am quite happy with the experience we've had for the last two years.

In the fall, Magdalena will attend the same school as Miriam, so I'll have two children there (huzzah for coordinated schedules!). Every spring, we parents get to talking about schools again and when asked, I am always happy to share how pleased we are with Miriam's school. But I'm also careful to couch my opinion in terms of what's best for our family. That's what I learned two years ago, the first time around.

That said, consider this: when we signed Miriam up for this school two years ago, I didn't know a single soul who currently sent their kids there. This year, I could easily name half a dozen families in the neighborhood who will be sending their kids there next year. Some of this may actually be due to my own word-of-mouth efforts, but I think it goes to show something else: this school fills a need in the community.

Before this school, there was one school where almost all the Westerners sent their kids, and a different school where nearly all the Arabs/Iranians/Pakistanis sent their kids. As I wrote about in the post linked above, this was sometimes a source of division in the community because the lines were so clearly drawn.

I just love what I am seeing this year: parents of all nationalities sending their kids to this one school. I don't know if the school, when its founding principles were being drawn up, consciously recognized what a need there was for an institution of learning that would welcome all nationalities, but that is the niche it is filling. And I am so happy to be a part of it.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Two stores that changed my life

OK, one of them is more than one store.

1. Carrefour Al Juraina, and, by extension, Matajer Al Juraina. They opened this shopping center in our area last summer and it has changed my life. There are four Matajer shopping centers open now in Sharjah, and their model of operation is that they are small shopping centers located in communities. Before Matajer, I made a pilgrimage to either Ajman or Dubai once a week to buy groceries. It was a time-consuming and exhausting ordeal, in part because of the distance but also because the grocery stores at large shopping centers (aka malls, and that's where the grocery stores are located in this country - they're not stand-alone structures, generally) are HUMONGOUS. There was just no way to be efficient about shopping because the stores themselves were so big. Even if you had a well-organized list and were quick about it...it still wasn't quick.

The Carrefour at Matajer, on the other hand, is somewhere between a 7-11 and a Macey's in size. Not too big, not too small. Sometimes they don't have everything I need, but the fact that I can get my weekly grocery shopping done and be home within an hour is something I am grateful for on a regular basis. Plus, there are lots of other little shops in there, too. Basically, I love Matajer and yes, a grocery store opening up nearby has changed my life. It's true.

2. Decathlon. I have no idea if this is a store in the US or not. I believe it is a French store originally. Before Decathlon, there was virtually no place in Dubai or the Northern Emirates where you could reliably find decent quality and reasonably priced sporting goods. Ballet shoes, leotards, swimsuits, life jackets, hand weights, nice exercise clothes, athletic shoes, snorkel gear, camping gear, etc. - it was hit or miss. Maybe you could find it at Sun and Sand Sports. Maybe not. Maybe you could find it at Ace Hardware (yes, we have one here, but it's different than in the US). But maybe not. And if you could find it, it was probably prohibitively expensive or not quite what you needed, and you'd just have to make do.

With the arrival of Decathlon (about a year ago), all that has changed. Decathlon has everything. They also have a store brand, so you can often find quality sporting goods for a very good price. In past years, I remember stressing about having to find a new swimsuit + board shorts because I left mine in a changing room in Oman, and worrying that Miriam was growing out of her ballet shoes and I'd have to drop a fortune on a new pair if we couldn't hold on until we got to the US, or literally wearing holes in the one pair of long exercise pants I owned because I didn't feel like spending the equivalent of $50 on a new pair. Those days are over, hooray! Thanks to Decathlon.

On another note, it's interesting to realize that we've lived here long enough that a definite sense of "before" and "after" is emerging. We've lived here long enough to witness a lot of change. When we moved here, the old-timers enjoyed telling us stories about what things used to be like here. Now we've got a few stories of our own. And I promise some of them are more interesting than "in the old days, you couldn't even buy a sleeping bag in Dubai!"

Friday, May 17, 2013

May 17, outsourced

This is my new favorite mental exercise. Palmer family rules are that you can't use any outside source to figure it out - only your brain and the scene in front of you. My high score is 13K-something, and in one round, I was able to correctly distinguish between a Japanese garden in Japan and the Japanese garden in Portland (it was the one in Portland). [HT Matt]

Don't judge a Book of Mormon by its cover. Really interesting article about missionaries turning the Book of Mormon musical into an opportunity to teach. [HT Susanne]

I'm sure you all heard the news about Angelina Jolie. Take the time to read her original Op-ed in the NYT. Bravo.

Cherry season in Aleppo - normal life goes on despite the war in Syria.

Life goes on in Gaza, too, with KFC deliveries being smuggled in through a tunnel.

On a lighter note: 21 kids who sold out their parents. "I love you more than cow," indeed.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

What Miriam reads

The university library at AUS is a wonderful thing, but it is not a place where my kids can load up on tons of books to read (fiction for children is not a university library's niche). Sometimes we check out non-fiction books from there, and I think the time is coming when Miriam could enjoy some of the graded readers they have, but in general, we're on our own for books.

Fortunately, both girls have access to their libraries at school. Miriam can check out one book a week. She sometimes asks the librarian for guidance, but for the most part, she chooses her own books and I let her. I do wish she could check out more than one book a week because she's often able to read the book twice over by the time library day comes around again, but we're grateful for what we have.

Here are the books that tend to emerge from her backpack on Sundays (her library day) after school.

My Secret Unicorn. The title says it all. I like these books, too. The writing is quality, there are a few simple pictures throughout to keep things interesting, and it's a series so she always has something to look forward to. Plus, what 7-year-old girl doesn't wish she a) had a pony; and b) that that pony was secretly a unicorn? Win/win.

Seahorses. This one (and the others in the 3- or 4-book series) are slightly above Miriam's level - more words on the page, more complex writing, and no pictures - but she plows through them anyway. Good for her. I think the librarian recommended this one.

The Rainbow Magic books. I am ever-so-slightly UGH about these. First, there are about a million of them. Seriously, they never go away. Second, they are a little too easy for Miriam. She can toss one off in a day. And third, the stories don't have any oomph to them. But she's the one reading them, not me, so whatever.

Miriam also reads quite a few books from the Oxford Reading Tree series, which is what the British schools here (including my kids' British schools) use to teach literacy skills. Miriam is at Stage 13 or thereabouts, which means there are quite a few non-fiction books for her to read. I really like these books and there is enough variety that she's always learning or reading about something new.

We often read these together, but Miriam also likes to read them on her own on road trips or other long periods of quiet activity: Usborne Illustrated books. I can hardly overstate how much I like these books. I am often wary of collections of stories because either the writing is crap or the illustrations are crap or both. Usborne has managed to put together a lovely series of books that introduce my kids to age-appropriate versions of stories from all kinds of times and places, all beautifully illustrated. For example, one of the girls' favorites is A Midsummer Night's Dream. Seriously! The writing in these books is smart, but easy to follow. Miriam can read them on her own, but both she and Magdalena enjoy having the stories read aloud to them. Plus, these books tend to feature the "real" versions of fairy tales and such. It's a nice contrast to some of the saccharine Disney treatments...even if it is ever so slightly odd to end a bedtime story with "and then the little mermaid DIED." Our pattern so far has been to get the girls each one of these books every Christmas, but I might want to pick up the pace because they are so great.

What books do your kids choose to read from the library, school or otherwise?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Impossible

I watched The Impossible on the plane ride home from Germany last month. I was alarmed by how much I liked it. Airplane movies are not really something you ever like, you know? It's even more surprising considering that you might think The Impossible is a movie that needs a big screen and surround sound to really make an impact. It's a quasi-disaster movie after all, right?

Wrong. The Impossible is a story of a family, first and foremost. If you watch this movie because you want to see amazing scenes of the tsunami hitting the beach, well, you will get some of that but you will also be missing the point. This is a movie that goes small almost every time you would expect it to go big. I'm reminded of a scene midway through the movie. A young boy is sitting around a makeshift fire with other displaced survivors, including a very old woman. They talk together about what has happened and their missing family members, among other things, and at one point, referring to the stars whose light he can still see shining, the boy says, quietly, "They're all dead, aren't they?" In 99 out of a 100 other movies, you would expect the music to swell and the woman to lose her composure and start sobbing and the movie would make it totally obvious that oh my gosh, how TRAGIC, that boy is talking about his family and not even the stars!!!

Instead, The Impossible does...none of those things. Thinking back on that scene, I'm not sure the boy was talking about his family. But the movie leaves that open for you to think about and decide. There are plenty of other scenes like this - they go small when you think they'll go big - but I don't want to ruin anything by describing them.

The movie's subtlety is helped along immensely by the fantastic acting on the part of everyone. Naomi Watts is ostensibly the star of the movie, but I thought the actor who played her oldest son really stole the show. And the younger brothers are amazing, too!

However, this movie is rated PG-13 for a reason. The version I saw on the plane was pretty smooth, and I figured that not much had been cut out. When I watched the unedited version with Jeremy, though, I realized that there were a few graphic (though not gratuitous) moments that had been removed from the airplane edit. I am making sure to mention this because I recommended this movie to my SIL before I saw the full version and I may have told her that there was nothing very scary in it. That is, uh, not true of the unedited version, mmmkay? Just so you know.

Still, this is one of the most uplifting and life-affirming movies I've watched in a long time. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Dibba vs. Khassab

There's a little chunk of Oman isolated beyond the borders of the UAE. It's called Musandam, and a very popular activity to do there is to take a half-day or day-long dhow "cruise" to admire the fjords and the turquoise water and, if you're lucky, the dolphins. Musandam has two main ports: Khassab, on the north end, and Dibba, on the south.

In January 2012, we took a dhow cruise out of Khassab. Last weekend (ahhhhh I love taking Saturdays off), we took one out of Dibba. I was curious beforehand how the experiences would compare, but I didn't find much online. So for your education, here is a comparison of a dhow cruise in Khassab vs. a dhow cruise in Dibba. Unfortunately, I could not control for all variables. We were in Khassab in January (it was cold) and in Dibba in May (it was hot). Some of the differences might be because of that. Who knows?

Price. Our boat ride in Khassab cost less than the one in Dibba, but the one in Dibba was about an hour longer and included lunch and more activities (more on that later). However, there might have been more activities on the Khassab boat if it had been warm outside. Also, the Khassab boat ride may have been cheaper, but we had to pay for an Omani visa to get there. More on that later, too.

Getting there. The drive to Dibba is SO MUCH EASIER. It's shorter, but more importantly, it's less stressful and you don't have to pay to cross a proper border. That is, if you get a note from your boat company allowing you to do so - foreigners aren't usually allowed to cross into Oman at Dibba. It was such a relief to not have to battle Ras al Khaimah traffic or a tedious border crossing or narrow mountain roads, which is what you have to battle through on the way to Khassab. Just zip zip through Al Dhaid and Masafi and you're there. Wonderful.

Boat. The boats were roughly equivalent, but the Dibba one was juuuuust a little bit nicer. Nicer WC, nicer seating on the upper deck, etc. But in the essentials, they were the same. One advantage of the Khassab dhow was that it was virtually empty: there were six of us and then our Korean friends, and that's it. The dhow in Dibba was quite a bit more crowded, but again, that could be because of the difference in season.

Activities. The cruise out of Dibba had way more activities. Swimming, banana boat rides, a stop near a beach, fishing, snorkeling, etc. However, in January 2012 in Khassab, I remember them saying that we could swim if we wanted to, and I think we even put down anchor near a beach, but it was just so cold that we didn't do it. I think it's safe to assume that the same activities would be on offer in Khassab during the warmer months.

Scenery. Khassab is much more picturesque. You wind in and out of the fjords and the mountains are very dramatic next to the turquoise water. Dibba was beautiful, but in a more average way.

Food. The dhow in Khassab was stocked with better drinks (bottled water and a variety of pop). Dibba only had water cups and fake juice. Still, there was plenty of it. Both boats offered fruit and biscuits. The Dibba cruise included lunch which, honestly, I didn't think was that good. I mean, it's a freaking boat. It's not going to be gourmet. Personally, I would prefer to pay less and bring my own food. But it was fine.

Overall. Well, it depends on what you want to get out of a Musandam dhow cruise. If you want striking scenery and a pleasant trip through the fjords, it's worth suffering through the border crossing to get to Khassab. If you just want to spend a day on a boat in pleasant scenery, or you don't want to hassle with a longer drive, Dibba is great. It should be noted that even with all the fun we had in Dibba this weekend, Miriam still expressed her disappointment that we didn't see any dolphins there. Such is the childhood metric of a good time, I suppose.

dolphins in Khassab

Monday, May 13, 2013

What happened last Wednesday

Last week, a former student returned to campus and got in an argument with the AUS imam (the worship leader of the mosque). During the course of this altercation, the former student stabbed the imam. The student then tried to get away in his car, but he was chased by police, who force-crashed him off the side of the road and took him into custody. The imam's injuries were not life-threatening.

The crashed car surrounded by police cars is what I saw as I left spinning class that day. I tried to get home another way, but campus was locked down. They closed all the gates - no one could get in or out. I eventually found a route home and immediately tried to find out what was going on. So of course I checked Twitter and Facebook.

Facebook was mum but Twitter told me all kinds of crazy things. The imam had been stabbed - no, SHOT - no, he was dead! And the suspect was still at large! No, the suspect had been shot! He was on the run near the men's dorms! Etc. etc. When I saw the complete hyperbole and complete lack of actual knowledge, I logged off for a while and decided to come back later when the dust had settled. When it did, there was a nice, brief statement from AUS on their Facebook page that gave the correct details as you see them in the first paragraph of this post (and in this news story).

An additional element of this story came out a few days later when it was said that the suspect suffers from bipolar disorder. If you think mental illness is stigmatized in the US...well, you're right. But you can't imagine how badly it is stigmatized here. It's hardly even a real thing that is recognized or acknowledged, let alone treated. The prevailing attitude seems to be that as long as you don't diagnose it, it doesn't exist (the same holds true for certain learning disabilities or behavioral issues, which causes trouble in the schools because certain kids can't get the help they desperately need). Things are changing for the better, but this young man who attacked this community's religious leader has a long road ahead of him.

It's very strange to think that in such a safe society, such a (relatively, for this area) violent thing could have happened practically in our neighborhood. In general, the student body seems to have been quite alarmed by it. Things are back to normal now - the imam went back to work later the same day - and I hope things stay nice and quiet, the way they have been for so many years.
photo credit: AUS Islamic Club

Friday, May 10, 2013

May 10th, outsourced

It brings me great sadness to have to tell you that the Emirati who was so handsome that Saudi Arabia deported him...wasn't. Here's the real, totally BORING, story. [HT Shannon]

It brings me great pleasure to share with you the inevitable auto-tune of Charles Ramsey's epic interview: Dead Giveaway. I read an article in The Atlantic yesterday sniffing that we shouldn't be laughing at these videos just because dude is a poor black man. Um, I think approximately nobody is laughing at these videos for that reason. We are laughing at them because dude is AWESOME. And genuine. And great in front of a camera. [HT Scotty]

Above is our recent attempt at Vadering. The perfect activity for a certain 4.5-year-old who is obsessed with Star Wars right now (Magdalena). [HT Jessie]

The world is not without good people. I guarantee this is the most feel-good dashcam video out of Russia that you've ever seen. [HT Amanda]

Here's a sampling of what historical figures would look like today.

Also: Disney villains re-drawn as good-looking. [HT Sarah]

On a related note, Merida from Brave re-drawn as...a sexpot??? What fresh madness is this, Disney? [HT Liz]

Terrifying vintage work safety posters from The Netherlands. YIKES.

Margaret Ruth Groening's obituary. Read it to realize who she was. [HT Suzanne]

Wow, amazing photos of places that actually exist! [HT Suzanne]

I LOVE THIS: Take a book, switch the gender of the author, and design a new cover. The results are sooooo awesome. I can't choose a favorite, but maybe...Lord of the Flies? Or Stardust? [HT Steven]

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

How is it going with our live-in housekeeper?

We've had our live-in housekeeper/nanny for eight months now. I haven't blogged about it as much as I thought I would. It's harder than you'd think to blog about someone who lives in your home, even when funny misunderstandings happen. For example, I found out recently that maybe one of the reasons my kids love toast so much is because when Carol makes it for them, she puts on butter, sugar, AND cinnamon-sugar (which I'm guessing she doesn't realize has sugar in it). Or there was the time I asked Carol to chop some vegetables (including an onion) for a recipe we've made lots of times, that I assumed she could make in her sleep. Only, earlier in the day, I had washed out the bowl I keep the onions in and so there were a bunch of onions sitting on a different counter in the kitchen, and when I walked in later...they had ALL been chopped. All of them. Our fridge smelled like onions for a WHILE. Anyway, stuff like that. Some of it is ha-ha funny but some of it is more exasperating.

So it's harder than you'd think to blog about this stuff, and it's also harder than you'd think to have a live-in housekeeper/nanny. Actually, we knew before we hired one that it would be challenging on a few levels, which is partly why it took us two years to work ourselves up to the idea. Here's an update on two of the major pros and cons of having a live-in housekeeper/nanny. You can see how sometimes the pros are also cons.

She is here all the time. Is that a pro or a con? You decide. For us introverts, this can be a major challenge.  But for us busy parents who both have jobs, this is a blessing. Anytime we need to run out the door for a meeting or run upstairs to the majlis to get some work done, she's there to take over with the kids. But, again, anytime we want to just hang out in our underwear or eat all uncivilized-like on the living room couch...she's there. (Unless it's Friday, her day off, in which case we can do whatever we want, woohoo!)

We are giving someone a job. It's great to pat ourselves on the back for hiring someone legally and paying her well, and know that she is providing for her extended family back home. Really, it is. However, this feeling is sometimes a burden. She is responsible for supporting her family...and we are responsible for supporting her. When there's an emergency back home and Carol needs more money, she comes to US. And we are not heartless. But it's hard to be both an employer and a humanitarian. Those are two very different roles and you can't very well straddle the line between them and run a tight ship at home at the same time. At least not in my experience.

That's how it's going with our live-in housekeeper these days. Pros are sometimes cons, and vice-versa. Some days you don't know what you'd do without her, and other days you feel like doing everything yourself so you don't have to give detailed instructions for once. Never a dull moment.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

A 7-Hour Difference

A few weeks ago, AUS hosted a special screening of A 7-Hour Difference, the first Jordanian film to be directed by a woman. You can view the trailer below.



Let me first say that the film is much better - and a little deeper - than the trailer suggests. When we went to the screening (at which the director was present, neat!), I was mostly there for the cultural experience rather than to really enjoy the movie. The director herself talked down our expectations, presenting A 7-Hour Difference more as a student film since it was the entire cast and crew's first effort at filmmaking, and it was done on a very low budget.

But I ended up totally enjoying the movie! The audience was so great to experience the film with. We were with mostly Muslim Arabs, and then a few foreigners like us sprinkled in there. The Arabs/Muslims all laughed at some parts, us Westerners laughed at others, and other times we overlapped. This is a film that gets culture - and cultural humor - right, on both sides. It would have been easy for the director to villainize the American boyfriend or grossly misrepresent American ignorance or insensitivity, but for the most part, it was a fair portrayal of general American culture. And that made the film a lot of fun to watch, as an American. It's always fun to have a peek at what other cultures think of you.

This film's greatest value lies in the issues it will have you thinking about after the fact. I don't want to spoil anything, because I happen to really like the ending and the way it was portrayed. But the whole walk home, Jeremy and I were talking about the issues the film raised and the context in which the events of the film happened.

I wish everyone could replicate the experience of watching the film with an auditorium full of young Arab single adults, some of whom have been (or are) in Dalia's exact position. But if you just watch it on your own, I think you'll find that you gain some insight into Muslim Arab culture, particularly (upper class) Jordanian culture, in an easy-to-digest way.

Well done, Deema Amr, and I hope the film gets the wider distribution it deserves.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Cleaning the church

I hope I can write this post sensitively. I've shied away from it for a few weeks but I think it bears discussing.

Last month, our family's turn came up to clean the church villa. The timing was awful - it was the first week back after Spring Break and while yes, every week is "busy," that particular week was "BUSY." It took us most of the week just to figure out a 2- to 3-hour block of time where we could even make it to the church building  We finally figured out a plan to go on a Wednesday afternoon (church is on Friday). But even then, we failed, since at the last minute I remembered I had a department meeting during that same time period. In the end, we met up with the other assigned family at the church a little earlier than planned and between the 10 of us (four adults and six small children, ha ha), we got the job done.

Now. Here comes the sensitive part. I have no problem cleaning the church if I believe it is my duty as a member, that it's on par with the level of service I do every Friday when I teach the children's class or play the piano. That is sacred, important work, and I have agreed to do it. If cleaning the church building falls into that category, then the time it takes out of my week and the stress it causes for my family aren't issues, because the importance of the work is paramount.

But if cleaning the church is not sacred, important work, then I DO have a problem with being assigned to do it. For the above-mentioned stress and time hassle, yes, but also for more important reasons.

Considering where we live, and the structure of the economy here, it "costs" far, far more for my husband and me to clean the church (if we were charging what we get paid at work instead of volunteering our time) than it would for us to pay a housekeeper or similar individual to do it. Probably several times over. And not only that: said person could even be a member of the congregation. S/he could be someone who desperately needs more work, or a little extra money to send home. But right now, the way things are done, that person needs to sit at home and forego the opportunity to earn money so that my husband and I can have the opportunity to clean the church.

Which, again, if that is my duty as a member of this church, I don't have a problem with it. I'll do it, and I have done it, with a smile.

But in case you can't tell, I've thought about it and come to the conclusion that I'm pretty sure cleaning the church is just...cleaning the church. It's something that needs to be done every week and God doesn't care who does it. In places where the cost of domestic labor is high (like the US and much of Europe, I'd guess), it makes more sense that the members of the church are responsible for cleaning it on Saturdays or whenever. But here, where there are people almost literally begging for a chance to earn extra cash (doing jobs like cleaning houses!), including people (probably - I'm not privy to all the congregation business) who also attend our church - that system doesn't make sense.

What do you think? Feel free to call me to repentance in the comments. Maybe I need it.

Friday, May 03, 2013

May 3rd, outsourced

We kid because we love: a highly scientific analysis of the Catching Fire trailer.

Carjack victim recounts his harrowing night. What a story. [HT Andrew]

Iranian hijab propaganda billboards (no, I did not just pull those words randomly out of a hat).

Have a look at Saudi Arabia's first domestic violence awareness ad.

The jocular present: have you ever found it odd that English tells jokes in the present tense ("a man walks into a bar")?

14 hairless cats that look like Vladimir Putin.

Utah is both English-only...and a huge proponent of bilingual education.

Here is a world map showing people internally displaced (refugees in their own country) by violence and conflict.

Therapy llamas are SO underused!! Tell me you didn't feel better just from looking at the pictures of the llamas doing their jobs. [HT Liz]

Alternate Disney film titles. A fun game might be to hear the alternate title first and try to guess the original film. Stockholm Syndrome, anyone? Change For Your Man? [HT Liz]

On adoption: adoptees shouldn't have to use facebook to find their birth parents; and the dark, sad side of domestic adoption. [HT Bryce]

Remember American Girl dolls? I never owned one (my sister had Felicity), but I slavered over the catalogs and books and the idea of owning one as much as any other adolescent girl back in the day. Well, I just found out that they've retired the old, historical dolls and now have new, totally LAME dolls. See also this ranting article that I totally agree with.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Graduation and names

I turned in my application for graduation the other day. Did you know, out of all the degrees Jeremy and I have (or almost have, and to be honest, it's mostly Jeremy - BA and almost-MA for me; BA, 2 MAs, and PhD for Jeremy), we have never once walked in or even attended any of our graduation ceremonies? (Except Jeremy says he was in the graduation ceremony for his Associates Degree (?) at Rick's College back in the day.) So this graduation for me is symbolic of all the ones we've missed, I suppose.

Anyway, on the application, it asked for my First Name, Father/Middle Name, Grandfather Name, and Family Name. What gives? - you might be asking. Well, the university is operating on the regional practice of people here taking their father's first name and grandfather's first name as middle names, followed by their family name (that's last name to us Americans). So a girl named Nora with a father named Ahmad and a grandfather named Abdullah, and family name Shamsi, would be named Nora Ahmad Abdullah Shamsi. Yes, even though Ahmad and Abdullah are both boys' names. And when Nora gets married, she won't change her name at all. Some people have many, many more middle names - as many of their grandfathers and great-grandfathers as they can remember, or at least fit on the page.

In any case, I was just happy to have four clear blanks in which to write my four names.

However, then the graduation registrar lady called. First, she wanted to make sure that my names as I listed them matched my passport (they do). Then she said that they only allow three of those names to actually be read at the ceremony. So which three of my four names did I choose??? It was an on-the-spot decision...but I chose to be Bridget Walker Palmer for the ceremony.

And you guys, that is the beauty of having kept all of my names, even after I got married (actually after I had Miriam, which is when I got around to legally adding "Palmer" to my name). If I want to be regular old Bridget Palmer, I can be. If I want to be Sister Palmer at church or Mrs. Palmer socially or at work, I can. But Maureen and Walker are still there and I can break them out any time I want, for example, in my official signature or what I put on professional or MA work - Bridget M. W. Palmer. There's no need to mess with hyphens. The IRS is the only entity that has ever specifically even asked if Walker is a middle name or a last name (for them, I made it a last name). My name is whatever I want it to be, because I still have all my options right there in front of me.

I know there used to be (is?) a practice of not giving girls middle names, in part because maybe it would complicate things when they got married. I understand this, even as I disagree with it. I submit for your consideration these little-known facts:

- You can keep your maiden name after you get married and still go by your husband's last name socially. Really! I did this for four years and no one ever noticed or cared.

- You can add your married last name after your maiden name - without a hyphen, if that scares you for some reason - and it works just fine.

Anyway, just some thoughts brought on by a graduation application. I'm happy to be  BMWP on my MA diploma and BWP at the ceremony.

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