Tuesday, July 26, 2011

My Morning "Arabic" Breakfast

I had just sat down at my desk when I heard the “pssstt” right behind me. I turned around and saw my good friend Omar. “Mr. Evan, we’re having a private breakfast next door” he said in a whisper. My heart jumped because I immediately knew what waited for me. Like one of Pavlov’s dogs, my mouth started to water. The sheer thought of what I was going to participate in was enough to get my salivation glands working over time. It’s not the first time I’ve had the invite, but each time I get the invitation, I relish the opportunity to start my day with my Arabic morning breakfast.

The spread is awesome. It’s not fancy nor is it eye catching, but it’s good. Usually they’ll take regular paper, newspaper or any other large throw away paper and spread it on the floor and then they put the following down on the paper. The food in front of me includes the following:

1) Fresh loaves of khubuz or Arabic bread, meaning pita or any other flat bread

2) Feta or white cheese made from goat milk or ewe's milk

3) A bowl of olives, black and green

4) Labneh, a cream cheese-like strained yogurt

5) Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

6) Peanut Butter, Honey, Melon Jam

7) Hummus

8) Hard boiled eggs

I walk in and offer the salutation, Assalam’Aleikum or “peace be unto you” and they offer back “waleikum’salam or “peace be unto you” and then its followed by some who say “Sabah al heir” or “Good morning” to which I reply, “Sabah al noir” or “Good morning to you too”. I remove my shoes and find a place to plant myself. All the men are sitting on the ground and they immediately make a spot for me and there’s no doubt that I’m the minority. I’m the only non-Muslim in the group as well as the only westerner and non-Arabic speaker. But is this an issue? Nope, they accept me as one of their own. They are wonderful people, and they are a mix of Indian’s, Pakistani’s, Saudi’s and me. I eat the food with my right hand only because my left hand is used for something else that has to do with food, but its cleaning up after the food has taken its course, so you can see why I don’t use my left hand. 

Breakfast with Saudi’s isn’t just about the food, which is wonderful, but it’s about the people and the purpose. To get invited to breakfast means that you are part of the group and that they group see’s you as a part of them. In other words, you’re welcome with them no matter who you are. While Omar is usually the one that comes and get’s me, I can’t let this moment go by without mentioning my good friend Ahmed who is the “leader of the group”. He is a great example of what a manager should do to build team spirit and loyalty. He encourages time together as a team. GREAT guy.

They offer jokes to me and about me, and I get the feeling that they do it because they like me and consider me a friend, I hope. We eat, talk, trade barbs and jokes and maybe even a philosophical question or two about God, religion or politics. As they finish they one by one get up and leave and the process dwindles until there are only Me, Omar, Ahmed and another great guy by the name of Abdulaziz. These men are among many who have made my time here in Saudi Arabia a positive and wonderful experience. They show me what a good Muslim is. They are not what most people would think of when they think of Muslims. These are good God fearing men who are married with children and want what we all want, the best for their family. They don’t want to destroy you and I but they do want to live in peace and harmony with others.

Well as we finish I stay to help clean up and Ahmed say’s to me, “You are a good American” he then smiles and says, “Perhaps it’s because you have Spanish in you which means you have Arabic in you”. I take this as a compliment after he winks at me.

I go back to my desk 45 min later and finally start my day……..My morning Arabic breakfast……..what a great way to start the day.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Weekend in Jordan for Toastmasters.

Winning is cool………..No, winning is VERY cool, but it’s even more cool when you lose to a great and talented competitor who then show’s their character by telling you how good you were and how much your competition scared them. A good win is when you can’t tell who the winner will be because the competition was so tough.

The last four days I spent in Amman, Jordan in a District competition for Toastmasters International in three of the four main areas of competition. I competed in Table Topics which is the art of speaking on your feet, Evaluation Contest as an Evaluator, and finally International Speech Contest. Each one of these was tough and the competitors were talented. There were people representing the following countries: Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE and Oman. And the nationalities represented were from the countries already mentioned plus, the Philippines, India, Pakistan, New Zealand, England, Iraq and the USA. Boy did I have a great experience. My wife calls it my hobby, but I have to admit that it’s more than a hobby to me. I love speaking and I love helping inspire people. Those who know me know I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut, but with luck, I’ll turn that into something constructive as I go along in life.

The people I met were wonderful. I have official invites to go to Lebanon, Qatar, UAE and Bahrain, not to mention coming back to Jordan. I have made some new friends and hope to be able to nourish them and grow them.

On to Jordan!

What a wonderful place. Amman Jordan, is a wonderful city. It has a long history that appeals to all those who are Christian, Muslim or Jew, not to mention almost anyone else.

Amman, Jordan is a hilly, pleasant, green (not in the “green movement” way) city that is open and welcoming to all. I listen to the people and I hear any one of the many languages spoken here which are, Arabic, English, French, Circassian, Levantine Arabic, Chechen, Turkish. If you don’t hear them, you meet people who speak them. I look out my window at the Landmark Hotel and see the ancient contrasted with the modern. There are old dwellings butted up against new buildings and there are satellite dishes on all the rooftops. In the distance I can hear the call to prayer by the Imam at one of the many mosques, but there is an absence of standstill in business that accompanies the call to prayer in the more conservative neighbor of Saudi Arabia.

Here in Amman you also see the contrast of the West meeting the East. It’s a country that is very open and comfortable with its Muslim and Christian roots and openly allows the practice of both. As I go down town, I go to Rainbow Street, a fun little shopping area that give you the feel of the modern and the ancient. If you walk far enough down Rainbow Street, you see the old area where the city began.

The cobble stone roads make for a clip-clop sound as the cars gently roll over the stone, but then you look up and see the huge TV screen outside of a movie theater showing a new release from Hollywood. There’s a small little sitting area where the locals have gathered and there are five guys in their 20’s or 30’s sitting playing the guitar and chatting and there are other locals mixing with tourist. From here there is a lookout point where you can see in the distance some of the scenes of Amman. You can see the Citadel of the Roman fort, and some of the mosques which names I don’t’ recall right now. I go down to one of the local Sheesha or Hookah as it’s known in other parts of the world. I don’t’ smoke, but everyone around me is smoking some Sheesha and enjoying dinner. It seems to have no boundaries between women and men with both participating as a social process. The smoke fills the air as more and more people gather to watch the European Cup between FC Barcelona and Manchester United. Both clubs garner huge fans here in Jordan and watching the game is something most everyone is planning on doing.

The crowds are getting big and I’m getting tired so I flag a taxi and head back to the hotel. It’s only one time, but this one time gave me just enough good results to want to return to Amman sooner rather than later. What a beautiful place.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Its a Cultural Affair!

Al Janadriyah (مهرجان الجنادرية), not easy to say, but easy to understand once you've been there. In the States each state and county usually puts on a County or State fair each year to celebrate the accomplishments made by the residents of the location or even to show off the cool things about the place, well here in Saudi they hold Al-Janadriyah festival to show off the Saudi Culture. You get to visit each corner of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and for a brief period of time the usually very private and closed culture opens up and allows you to see it inside and out. You can take pictures, role video and even ask questions that you might not ask. The intent is to give outsiders a look inside, but as we found from our guide, it also serves to educate Saudi's about their own culture that is slowly being replaced by various influences from around the world.

What a great experience to see how this rich and wonderful culture has developed and evolved over the years. From the traditional Arab war dance to the way that the ingenious Arabs used camels and wells to irigate their crops. Its amazing to me to see how they can turn a dry, barren, aired desert into green lush gardens when they want.

We ate food that we usually wouldn't see and heard and saw things that only increased our love of the people of this land. I couldn't finish this without mentioning our two hosts, Abdullah and Fahad, who not only took us to as many places as possible, but made sure that we were well watched out for. We were truely foreigners in new land, we stuck out like sore thumbs, but the people welcomed us at EVERY turn and wanted to give us a taste of who the Saudi's REALLY are.

Don't believe what you hear in the news or read in the papers. They don't want to behead you. They don't want to force you to be Muslim. They don't want to ruin your way of life. They want you and me to understand them and for them to understand us.

Love it!!! LOVE IT!

Friday, December 3, 2010

2010 a year of learning and growing!

This coming week my experience here in Saudi changes. Since Jan 14, 2010 until now (December 3, 2010), I've been living here without my wife and kids. I haven't been completely alone because I live with two roommates who have been my quasi-family, but as far as having my "own family" here, its been just me. On Wed the 8th of December my wife and kids will join me here in the KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia). Being alone has given me an opportunity to do a lot of thinking, reflecting and growing,  at least I hope I've grown somewhat.

I always knew that my life would eventually end up with me doing some sort of international work, but I never in my wildest dreams thought I'd end up in the Middle east let alone Saudi Arabia. This is truly an interesting land and people. But I'll save that blog for another day.

Over the last year I've experienced some of my life's highest highs and lowest lows, but none of those lows have been worse than the lows of 2009. That's a year I NEVER want to repeat.

What have I learned:

I've worked harder than I've ever worked before. I've done new things that I never thought I'd do. I've learned things about my career and myself that I never knew or even imagined. I've gained weight for the first time in 25 yrs. I have a soft mid-section like never before. I have had a full beard for the first time in my life. I've faced professional challenges that have hardened me and at the same time made me stronger and better at my business. I've come to realize that I have a lot to learn in my own progress. I've had to re-examine my faith and my beliefs, and I'm grateful to my friends Steve, Steve, Dan and Sean for making me stop, look, listen and learn. I've seen friends come and go. I've faced some tough conversations that I thought I'd never face. I've come to miss my old training career but I haven't regretted leaving it. I've forgiven people for things they never even knew they did wrong to me and I've forgiven myself for things that were weighing on my shoulders for far too long. I have solidified my love for my adopted hometown of Bellingham, WA and I've come to see my first hometown  of Salt Lake City, UT as a place that I love and cherish but I don't want to go back to. I've become a long term investor in property and at the same time I've pretty much divested myself of most of my life's possession. Actually my wife did most of that, but in the end we don't "own" many "things" anymore. Except for my tool box..........I'm NOT giving that up. :-) I have had the blessing of getting to know a group of people from the Philippines that have shown me the wonderful people that come from the Philippines. Sulpicio De La Cruz is just one of the prime examples. What a wonderful man who has taught me more than you or he could imagine. I've come to realize that I can survive and move forward despite of myself. If you know me, you know I'm somewhat of an immature clown at times and that makes some people think I'm actually younger than I am. They have said, "you need to grow up". LOL

I know like never before that my wonderful partner, best friend, wife, lover, and eternal companion is the best part of my life. The two children that grace our life are truly gifts from God. My belief in God and in certain eternal concepts has been solidified.

Now this journey, is no longer my journey. Its now "our" journey. Mine, Cheryl's, Max's and Olivia's. I was the same age as Max and Olivia when I went to live in South America for the first time and so I know what awaits them. I'm excited, scared, and ready.

2010 has been a great year. I've learned and I've grown. I'm ready and willing to take on 2011.

Bring it on!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Where's the Love?

I recently received a few e-mails that were labled “Important”, “Interesting” or “Must ‎Pass On”. They were from people that I trust and love and I’m 100% sure they were sent ‎with my safety and others safety in mind. These people are not racists or bigots except ‎they, like all of us, have blind spots that they might now know about or understand. I took ‎the content of the emails with a grain of salt because they were somewhat emotionally ‎charged and targeted towards a group of people that I’ve come to know and love. If you ‎can’t figure it out, I’m talk about the Muslims and Saudi people. I want to take a minute ‎and tell you what kinds of people the Saudis are give you a little room for pause. ‎

The 9/11 Hijackers came from Saudi Arabia. Osama Bin Laden is Saudi. The Khobar ‎Tower Bombings were done by Saudis. Does that make all Saudis bad people? NO!!! ‎These people were a radical few that DO NOT represent all of the Saudis. If you believe ‎that they represent all Saudis then you must believe that Tim Mcvey, the Unibomber, ‎George Bush and Barrack Obama represent all Americans in their way of thinking, and ‎the last time I checked, I belive that most Americans believe that Tim McVey was a nut ‎case, the Uni-Bomber is a lone freak and let’s not even talk about George and Barry!‎

Two weeks ago I went and had an evening with a new friend who took me to hang out ‎with some of his friends and watch soccer and eat. You couldn’t find a better group of ‎guys. Young, intelligent, curious, open minded value based, forward thinking and ‎desirous to learn. I had to leave early and they all asked why I wasn’t staying for dinner. ‎They wanted to feed me and wanted to keep talking. We laughed, we talked religion ‎‎(they didn’t call me an infadel or a damed soul), they asked me about my faith they ‎accepted me for who I was and didn’t judge me based on Barry or George. We shared ‎values and ideas about family, life and God. I can tell you we didn’t agree on everything, ‎but they brought me into their home and welcomed me. Who could ask for more?‎

Another example of the wonderful people that I live amongst!‎

I had the opportunity to work with a group of employee’s for a full straight week from ‎every corner of the Kingdom. They were so hungry for good knowledge and they were so ‎ready for the knowledge that when the time came to learn they learned. They didn’t judge ‎the instructor because I was American! They didn’t hate me because I spoke English and ‎no Arabic. They welcomed me into their midst and accepted me and asked me to teach ‎them. They are 100% my equals. I’m not better than them and they are not better than ‎me, but together we are better because of the experience. ‎

I work directly with three Muslims who are the most wonderful example of true God ‎fearing men, who love their families and strive to live a good life. They are very much ‎like us in that they are worried every day about their kids, their spouse, their ability to ‎make a living for them, their future and their eternal progression and more. ‎

These people speak a different language and practice a different religion but they are not ‎that different from us. So here is my challenge to you. Stop watching the news and ‎believing what the the Media or our Government tells us about Muslims. They are good ‎people. Stop reading and then passing on the non-sense that we hear about Muslims and ‎the Middle East. We are falling victim to the same trap that many Saudi’s are falling for. ‎Over here you see people who look at pictures of war, which invovlve mutilated bodies, ‎dead families and much more and they believe that it was/is the US military because that ‎is what the Media tells them. Come on how silly is that. Get out and start making friends ‎with the Muslims you know, greet those from the Middle East with an open heart not a ‎skeptical heart. Let’s help them rescue their own religion that has been hijacked by ‎radicals just like what the Christian fanatics would like to do to us. ‎

For those of you who are saying, “Evan’s gone crazy”, I’m still a proud American. I still ‎love my country, am firm in my faith and yes I’m still conservative in my beliefs and I’m ‎not a Barry follower. LOL, but I’m also getting away from the media that is so ‎calculating and I’m talking about all sides even my favorite media outlets. Wow what an ‎admission. LOL

Well if you are still reading, then you found some sense to what I was saying. I hope to ‎see you again on this blog. ‎


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

You know they always say that you don't value what you have until you are away from it for awhile, and that is true. I learned this week that someone I valued very much has gone away. My cat Truman. He was old, big and wonderful. He was my best furry buddy. I loved that cat because that cat loved me and we had an understanding between the two of us. I loved him because he would cuddle to me no matter what and was always ready to play with me.
It sounds cheesy that a grown man would talk that way about his cat, but Truman was different. He was truly my best little friend. The pain runs deep at his loss, but it is part of life. The only thing I wish is that I could have been there with him when it all ended for him and he went on to the next life. I'm that cheesy guy who given the chance would bury my cat in a carefully chosen plot with a marker. Yup I'm that guy.
Since I couldn't be there with him and since I didn't get to see him one last time, I'm just posting this as a way to aire out my thoughts. I've cried like a little boy the last two nights, much the same way I did when I lost my dog a few years back. But I've got the tears out, so on with life.

Truman, I love you my best little furry buddy. I'll see you again some day with Stein.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Oasis in the Desert

The past few weeks have given me an opportunity to see things and learn about things ‎that I never would have imagined in my life. We are always so caught up in the run of life ‎that we often forget to value the things that are most beautiful and wonderful and that are ‎at our door steps.‎

I recently went to the world’s largest oasis in the desert town of Hofuf in the county of ‎Al-Hasa in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. What a wonderful sight and what a ‎wonderful trip.‎


An oasis is a small fertile or green area in a desert region, usually having a spring or well ‎and often it’s also a place that serves as a refuge, relief or needed/pleasant change from ‎the usual. ‎

As I went around on a tour of Al-Hasa I was able to see things like the Al-Hasa museum, ‎the famous Ibrahim Castle, the Alqarah Mountain, Alhasa National Park, and Alshoaabah ‎Mountain and not to mention I saw more date trees than you could shake a stick at. I ‎toured some private date farms, learned about the Turkish soldiers who stayed in ‎Ibrahim’s castle, saw the age old graffiti that they left on the walls not to mention the ‎prison that they put people in (you don’t want to go there). Our party went to 2 private ‎receptions and was greeted by dignitaries and important people of Al-Hasa and Hofuf. I ‎was a tag along, but still got the royal treatment. ‎

After we went to 2 private farms and I tasted some of the best food I’ve ever had not to ‎mention saw some of the coolest art/decorations that I’ve ever seen. All this at an oasis ‎that pops up in the middle of the desert in Saudi Arabia! This got me thinking. ‎

As I mentioned earlier, an Oasis is a refuge or place to escape. What is the Oasis that you ‎have in your life? ‎

I was talking to my wife the other day and she said that my son was on the deck of the ‎lake by our home just sitting there relaxing and enjoying the afternoon and I thought, ‎‎“he’s in his own little oasis” We often forget that we need a place to escape and to go to ‎when all else around us is driving us goo goo. Al-Hasa is a little oasis in the desert, but ‎you don’t need to come to Saudi to have your own oasis. ‎

The area down south reminded me of Southern Utah and Goblin Valley, Arches National ‎Park area. What a wonderful Oasis that we have there in Utah. I thought of Baker Mtn ‎and the lakes around Whatcom Country in WA. What a wonderful oasis we have in WA. ‎There are so many, I’m just thinking we ought to visit them a bit more often. ‎