• Tag Archives Ha’il
  • Video Phone a Reality At Last!

    Spring                                                            Bee Hiving Moon

    Technological victory today.  Mary (Singapore at 10:00pm), Mark (Ha’il, Saudi Arabia at 5:00 pm) and myself (Andover 9 am) on the same video call.  Three little screens with our talking heads beaming in real time (or whatever you call time in the instance where all of us are in different times).  Skype premium at $99.00 a year allows for up to ten individuals on one call with no additional charge.  Even when separated by thousands of miles and the International Date Line.

    (screen looks something like the pic above)

    That was my entire nuclear family on one video call.  Remember when video-phones were sci-fi what ifs?  Not any more.  And, there’s no phone.  Nothing but net.

    Over the last year Mark and Mary and I have moved closer together, seeing each other in person last July and now communicating more regularly than we ever have before.

    Mark describes Ha’il as like northern Arizona, Flagstaff/Dine homelands/Grand Canyon/polygamist Mormon country.  Come to think of it Islam allows 4 wives.  Maybe it’s the weather?

    Mary says Singapore is hot.  When asked how hot, she said, “Oh, I never know.  But it’s really hot.  I know that.”  According to Weatherunderground the current temp in Singapore is 81 with a dewpoint of 77.  That last is the kicker.  By contrast it’s 84 in Ha’il with a dewpoint of 14.  Just to be complete it’s 54 here with a dewpoint of  48.   Of course that’s a daytime reading for Andover, a night time reading for Singapore and an early evening reading for Ha’il.

    Both Mary and Mark are at the ends of their terms, with exams and grading and all that fun stuff on the other end of the teacher-student relationship.  Mark has a classroom full of cement workers.  Mary teaches students at Singapore’s National Teacher’s University.   Mom would have been proud.

    Forgot to mention on the call, but I have a tour for ESL students tomorrow.  Both Mary and Mark have ESL backgrounds.

  • A Third of the World Between Sibs

    Winter(?)                                  First Moon of the New Year

    Both sibs have sent photographs recently.  Mary has taken several pictures of elephants in a series placed around Singapore.  They’re part of a fund-raiser to help Southeast Asian elephants.

    Mary lives within short walking distance of the Botanical Gardens of Singapore, a delightful collection of Southeast Asian plants placed on large grounds.  In fact, she used to work there when her university had its campus on the grounds.

    The fund-raiser reminded me of the Charles Schultz cartoon characters St. Paul had up a few years back.

    Singapore is an unusual place, a city-state like days of yore, think Athens, Sparta, Corinth, Rome, Venice.  It refers to itself as the air-conditioned nation.  Mary refers to it as Asia-lite.  I enjoyed my visit there a great deal.

    Mark, on the other hand, is in a much less humid environment, Saudi Arabia.  He is in his fourth month teaching English in Ha’il, a former caravan serai on the pilgrimage route to Mecca.  It sits in the northern third of the Arabian Peninsula, near the center and has some elevation, about 3,000 feet.

    He has settled in there, having taken trips into the desert three times over the last couple of months.  The first time he went dune bashing in motorized vehicles. The second time he  visited a camel breeding operation run by a student, black camels, and in his most recent foray wandered the desert where this photography was taken.

    That puts me in the heart of the North American continent, Mary at the tip end of the Malaysian Peninsula, near Indonesia and Mark in the sands of storied Arabia.  That must be about a third of the way around the world to each sibling.


  • Overseas Ellises

    Samain                               Moon of the Winter Solstice

    Brother Mark has settled in to Ha’il.  So much so that he visited, by their invitation, a group of cyberjournalists who run an online newspaper where he participated in an interview, drank tea, then left after shaking everyone’s hand, apparently a cultural expectation.  He says he has three photos and a youtube clip as a result of the visit, though I’ve not found them yet.

    Sister Mary sent these cute clips of elephants in the air-conditioned nation.

    They’re part of a fund-raiser to support elephants in Southeast Asia.

  • News from Ha’il

    Fall                                                            Full Autumn Moon

    News from Ha’il*.  Mark reports having to leave a restaurant with a friend because it was about to close for prayers.  During prayers many businesses in Saudi Arabia lock customers in so they can continue shopping or eating.  This is at least three times a day, could be more since there are five prayer times.

    He also commented on the number of funeral homes:  0.  Families inter their own dead, then have three days of mourning.

    Likewise:  no cinemas, bars, karaoke places or houses of ill repute.  But, there are Pakistanis, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Bengalis, Philipinos, Brits, Americans, New Zealanders, South Africans.

    The area around Ha’il has very old mountains and looks like Monument Valley or Arizona, he says.

    Interesting to have an embedded informant in the heart of Arabia.  More illuminations to come.


    * Ha’il is largely an agricultural centre, specializing in grains, dates and fruits. A large percentage of the kingdom’s wheat production comes from Ha’il Province, where the area to the northeast, 60 km to 100 km away, consists of irrigated gardens.
    Ha’il is well-connected to other urban centres to the south, by road. Buraydah is 300 km southeast, Riyadh is 640 km southeast and Madina 400 km southwest.
    Modern Ha’il is city of a widespread centre, and numerous parks.

    1836: A local dynasty is established with Ha’il as its centre, by Ibn Rashid. Ha’il thrives from controlling the pilgrimage route across the desert, connecting Mecca and Iraq.
    1891: The Rashidi clan make Ha’il the capital of large parts of Arabia, known as Najd.
    1902: Najd loses Riyadh, but is recognized as a kingdom.
    1908: The Hijaz Railway opens, beginning the decline of Ha’il.
    1921: Following an attack by Ibn Saud, the rulers of Ha’il has to surrender.

  • A Year of Two Springs

    Fall                                                  Full Autumn Moon

    A cool rain and a chilly fall evening with wet gold stuck to the bricks and asphalt, a low cloud cover and darkening twilight skies.

    Though ready to travel there is a sadness in missing the rest of fall, the transition from this still part summer, part cooler season time to the bleaker, barren time of November.  It is a favorite season, the continuing turn toward the Winter Solstice.

    We will leave it behind, first for the warmer, much warmer Western Caribbean, then sweaty Panama and hot Ecuador.  As we move south, we move into spring with milder temperatures, then, in southern Chile among the fjords and glaciers and around Cape Horn, the southern equivalent of the far north, where temperatures will be cooler.  So, for us, 2011 will be a year of two springs.

    And, a shortened fall.

    Meanwhile, Mark in Ha’il, Saudi Arabia faces 97 as a typical daytime high.  Gotta wonder what global warming has in store for the desert kingdom.  Sort of the old petrocarbons coming home to roost.

  • Those New Job Jitters

    Lughnasa                                                               Full Honey Extraction Moon

    Mark has a new job in Ha’il, Saudi Arabia.  He will teach English as a foreign language, as he did so well at AUA in Bangkok for twelve years.  He worked hard over the last five months to recollect himself, to figure out next steps then find a job.  This last he’d focused on hard the last couple of weeks and it got results.

    Kate and I are both happy for him.  He’s “wired” right now, still shifting his mentality from unemployed to suddenly employed and about to undertake a journey from Minnesota, which has begun to slide toward fall and Saudi Arabia, where seasons are much different.

    His word and Mary’s, who’s worked with educational programing in Bahrain, for the culture there is austere, at least from a Western or Southeast Asian perspective.  By austere they mean at least the prohibition on alcohol, unveiled women, internet censorship and the overwhelming presence of Islam and not just any Islam, but an Islam markedly influence by the Wahabi sect, spawn of Islamic extremists like bin Laden.  Also no movies and sharia justice.

    Mark has a German friend who attended a public execution, held on Friday right after prayers.  He found himself shoved to the front of the crowd to experience the scimitar facilitated beheading.

    This will also mean a change for us, a move back into Kate’s retirement, leaning into that more as Mark’s saga here, at least for now, comes to an end.