Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

The Power of Words

I’m slow with the whole blogging thing. It’s taken me this long to figure out “link.” But I persist. I want to share with you two particular websites that give you the power of using the exact, most descriptive word or phrase.

A Word a Day has over 600,000 subscribers in every country of the world. Originally started as a labor of love, AWAD now has books and interviews. You can subscribe to get a daily e-mail with a new word, its meaning and its origin. Every week has a theme – last week it was Talk Like a Pirate! AWAD is fun, and a great tool for learning.

The site has a big list of words and phrases that aren’t what they appear to be, like “pussyfoot”. We use phrases all the time that we don’t know why we use – this site tells you where the phrases and words originated, and how they should be used.

If you have not yet downloaded Google Earth, it is free, and it is fantastic. Kuwait is now so hi res that you can see a tiny little person in a swimming pool. Take a look, and start discovering the power of Geography!

September 26, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Get Out of Jail Free Card

Who could be whispering my name?

I was in the Jarir bookstore, on my way to the airport after a three week visit to Saudi Arabia. My husband wanted me to get a feel for the place before moving there to be with him. To my surprise, I really liked Saudi Arabia, what little I had seen of it. And I really wanted to be with my husband. But who could be calling my name?

“I can’t believe it! Is that you, teacher?”

I turned to see a traditionally garbed man, whom I instantly recognized as my former student in classes I had taught back in the US.

“Khalid! Khalid! I am so glad to see you!” I exclaimed, and I was. Khalid was one of my very best students, before he disappeared from classes. He was bright, he studied hard, and from time to time, he would even practice hard and tell a joke in English. He was a student any teacher would remember. He had more maturity than the other students, who treated him with respect, but he also had a delightful sense of humor.

Instantly, my husband and two other men who had come with us to the bookstore were standing between Khalid and me. I knew they were protecting me, so I quickly explained who Khalid was, and introduced him to the men with me.

“You remembered my name!” he said with an astonished look.

“Of course!” I assured him, “You were one of my best students. I missed you when you left.”

“Truly God works in mysterious ways,” Khalid looked dazed. “I never dreamed I would see you again, and here you are, in my country.”

We had to leave. Khalid gave me his card, and asked that I call so his mother could invite me for tea. I told him I wouldn’t be back for a couple months, and he said he was hoping to start legal studies in London in January.

In the car, my husband and the other two guys were cracking up, slapping their knees, almost howling with laughter. I was annoyed; what was so funny about my running into an old friend?

“He’s a muttawa!” they exclaimed, continuing their cackles, “You’re friend is a muttawa!”

The muttawa, the religious police in Saudi Arabia, are kind of the boogeyman, and we scare one another telling Muttawa stories. The problem is that you never know what new rules are going to go into effect, or what old rules they will begin enforcing. Our embassy guidance, for example, was that we were NOT to cover our hair, that it was a choice made by Moslem women, but not a requirement for non-Moslem women. We were also told to carry a scarf and not to argue if a muttawa told us to cover our hair, but to cover, and to take it off again when out of sight.

We were told that if our abaya was too short, a muttawa might hit our legs with sticks. We were told not to laugh, and to keep our eyes lowered to the ground to avoid problems. We were told that sometimes you might be arrested and not even know what you were being arrested for, and to always carry your cell phone with the embassy number on speed dial. In short, we lived in terror of arbitrary powers of the dreaded muttawa.

“Khalid is muttawa?” I couldn’t believe my ears. My husband explained how you could identify muttawa, the short robes, the lack of egal, the sandals, and that Khalid had probably broken the rules he was in Jarir to enforce by having spoken to me.

I never saw Khalid again, not in the Jarir bookstore, not anywhere. I am guessing by the time I returned to live in Riyadh, he was in London studying. But I often think of his amazement, and my own, in that one-time encounter. I often think, as he said, that “God works in mysterious ways.” I wish him well.

For me, I was never again terrified of the Muttawa. Khalid was muttawa, and he was a good man. I carried Khalid’s card with me, and figured if ever I was arrested (never even came close) that I would tell them to call Khalid, and he would help me. I thought of it as my “Get out of Jail Free” card.

Going back to the Locard Exchange Principal . . . knowing Khalid as a student and as a person made a difference to me. It colored my ideas about the muttawa, made me less afraid. If the Locard Exchange Principal works on a social and spiritual level, I wonder if knowing me has colored his perceptions?

September 26, 2006 Posted by | Adventure, Communication, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Locard Exchange Principal, Middle East, Random Musings, Saudi Arabia, Spiritual, Travel, Uncategorized | 11 Comments