September 23, 2012


It was brought to my attention yesterday that some of you do not know what we are home now. We are. And have been since Wednesday. Thank you for your love and prayers.

I've heard bits and pieces about the 9/11 US Embassy attack in Libya, which happened while we were at Ferrari World riding the 150 mph roller coaster. No one there mentioned it. Or cheered. Or formed a mob. 

I took the opportunity on September 10th to take a desert driving class from a driving school in Dubai. Not only was the experience amazing and educational, but it also afforded me a chance to spend all day with an Arab Muslim named Rafiq. As a fellow driving instructor and my teacher, we built a relationship of trust while driving up and down dunes and learning how to get unstuck when I tried to break the laws of gravity....which opened the door to some great conversation. I asked him all sorts of questions about driving in the sand, as well as questions on women, culture, religion and even terrorists. 

Rafiq told me that if I just read the Koran then all my questions would be answered. I'm not sure about that, especially since there are as many varieties of Muslims as there are Christians...but I was interested to know his thoughts on Muslim extremists. He wasn't familiar with that term. I explained. He hadn't realized we called them Muslim at all since their actions are totally against the Koran. Hmmm. Good point. Rafiq and most other Muslims (he knows) do not share the violent views or terrorist acts of al-Qaeda.

What I like most about travel is getting a small glimpse into the lives of others. There are wonderful people all over the world. They have names. They have faces. They have families. They suffer loss. And grieve. We're not so different.
Lanterns for Evan's Angel Day

September 13, 2012

Arab Women And Me: We're Not So Different

I was pretty nervous to travel to the Middle East as a woman.

Me at the Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, UAE
 Years ago, I saw Not Without My Daughter about an American woman, her Iranian husband and daughter going to visit his family in Iran. She ends up having to smuggle her daughter out of the country because her husband was using Islamic law against her. The movie affected me so deeply that I never dated any Arab men. I didn't want the same situation to ever happen to me.

Have you read 1000 Splendid SunsIt's about the experience of two women in Afghanistan who are married to the same oppressive man. They didn't get along at first but soon enough they find friendship in each other. Their intricately woven tale raised the question within me about how far I'd go to get personal freedom.

We also have an Iranian family friend who is very kind and generous, an excellent chef (prepared the feast of Persian food at Tymon's and my wedding reception) and a cunning businessman with a fiery temper. Not seeing eye to eye with my parents on some of their business dealings left smoke coming from my mother's ears (sometimes for days) after one of their meetings. 

Currently, I follow a blog about Saudi women who are fighting for the right to drive. They are being jailed for their civil disobedience.

Bottom line, Arab men are strong willed and if they live in an Islamic country then men's rights supersede women's rights...which becomes important when there is a disagreement. While this viewpoint may be have some truth to it, I'm also convinced that it is short-sighted. 

Even though I know that our Iranian friend married an Iranian woman with a Master's degree, in my mind Arab women were uneducated...that's part of the oppression, after all. The men force their women to wear a burqa (the black garment that covers everything except the eyes and hands) as a part of the power play. So imagine my surprise when I'm in a shop and a woman in full burqa dress speaks to me in English. With a good accent. She welcomed me to the United Arab Emerites and answered a question I had about cardamom. 

Even though I know Tymon has a couple of colleagues in Bahrain who are women, in my mind Arab women didn't work outside the home. Imagine my surprise when I found out the person I was corresponding to via email about a desert driving class is a woman. Not being familiar with English names, she addressed me as John in one email. Me, not being familiar with Arab names, assumed she was a man...and worried that I might not be able to take the class if "he" knew my gender.

My thoughts on what it must be like to be an Arab woman don't even make sense to me. Women walk down the street in their burqas while texting on their phones. The malls are full of clothing that you would see in any non-Islamic nation.

One of Tymon's colleagues wears modest clothing (covers everything but the head, hands and feet) with a head scarf to cover her hair. This woman is attached to her phones - all three of them, traveled to UAE without her husband and earns a decent living. She loves her husband and isn't bothered by his insistence that she not cut her hair. 

Tymon's other female Arab colleague chooses not to wear a head scarf at all. She's also separated from her husband and gets to see her children on the weekends (she was transferred to Abu Dhabi from Bahrain as the UAE is expanding and the company needed her there). 

I asked my tour guide at the Grand Mosque what she wore under her abaya (long robe). A tee-shirt and jeans. She also said she has a college friend who sometimes wears an abaya and sometimes not. When she asked her about it, her friend admitted that she wears an abaya when she runs out of clothes to wear...reminds me of me when I wore skirts to school if i neglected to do my laundry. 

I asked her if she knew how to drive. Yes, she does. I asked her why men wore white robes and women wore black. I'd mislead you if I didn't admit that I wanted her to say it was because men hated women and wanted them to be the hottest they possibly anyone would really say that. And why do only men get to pray in the main room of the mosques while women had a small room to the side? Because women are not asked to come to the mosque to pray 5 times a day. Only men are. Thus they need a larger space. I should've asked why they don't pray together. Doh!

I want to talk with these women more. To understand their struggles and joys. These women don't view themselves as oppressed. And neither should I. Is everything perfect in their world? No. It's not in mine, either. Like them, I get unsolicited advice on how to best live my life. I cannot judge or "help" another culture based on my own skewed perceptions of it. These Arab women and me? Yeah, we're not so different.

September 8, 2012

Midnight Drama: Ransacking The House

I planned to sleep the night before our ten year anniversary trip. Instead I watched my husband in a burst of energy and frustration tear the house apart. He worked late that night, trying to wrap up each detail in preparation for two weeks of meetings and vacation in Abu Dhabi and London.

It was midnight before we realized we had a problem. When pulling together our travel documents, Tymon's passport wasn't where it should be. I knew that a couple of days before, but since he had asked me for my passport to make a copy of it, I unfortunately assumed he was in possession of his.

So the ransacking of our home ensued. I'd like to think we left no corner or stack of papers unsearched, but the fact remains that this passport still hasn't made an appearance. Perhaps it doesn't want to be found. Or maybe we need a lesson in humility. 

Tymon only asked me once why I hadn't said anything about his passport not being with mine. He wasn't blaming me. Just pleading to understand. I racked my brain to remember any detail I could that could guide our search. 

I knelt down and prayed with faith for help. Tymon felt too weak to join me. We were asking for a miracle. One that needed to be answered immediately. And in a very specific way. I knew Heavenly Father would guide us. 

We've put a lot of preparation into this trip. Tymon with meeting and presentation details. Me with family considerations and travel arrangements. We are grateful for our family and friends who so graciously responded to our request to care for our children. Without them life would be a lot more difficult than it already is. With them, we are richly blessed. Our boys are fully prepared to help with chores. They promised to be on their best behavior. Angels. Yes, Heavenly Father will definitely help us carry out our plans.

Tymon went to bed about two in the morning. He hadn't packed yet. Nor had I for that matter. But my suitcase was out and my undies in it. So already it was better than my last trip. That time I brought everything except undergarments. And a swim suit. Why is it that the smallest details are the most important? 

We had planned to leave the house about 8:30am. Despair is not an emotion I'm familiar with. Not until I saw the resignation on Tymon's face. And the slump in his posture as he fell into bed. This could cost him his job. No, we're not getting out of this one on our own. We need help. Now.

Remember that time when Tymon's grandfather died? Probably not, since it was around the time I first started blogging. Here's the short version. Tymon wanted to fly to Canada to go to the funeral. I would have been home alone. Well not alone. I had four boys under four with me. I was pregnant with Jocelyn. I probably had something going on with work since I didn't suggest we all go. I did ask Tymon take Jett. He was a busy bot under two and could fly free. 

Driving across the Canadian border needs no passport...but flying does. So, I got an appointment at the Seattle Passport Agency to get Jett a passport. Somehow with funerals, exceptions are made and documents can be made quickly. It was maybe an hour and a half from the time we entered and exited the building, with passport in hand. 

Hoping the same could work for Tymon and he could get an appointment first thing in the morning, I called the US State Department's 24-hour line. I hung up after hearing the first available time was September 11th. This won't do.

So, if we can't do it on our own, then surely we know someone who knows someone that can help. Nope. My Facebook plea for anyone with State Department connections yielded no results...probably because I was making it at a time of day when the entire United States is asleep. Everyone but me. The mother looking forward to a trip with just her husband and no kids.

At times when decision making becomes important, I like to consider options with the formula: If X , then Y (with Y equaling the worst thing that could happen). For me, Y meant going on Tymon's business trip without Tymon. But I was still going. We have too much money into my non-refundable plane ticket to not go. Bottom line, we need a passport.

The State Department opens at 8 am for us to talk with a real person. Eastern time. Yes! That buys us a few extra hours. I quietly told Tymon as he lay in bed. With no other options, he set his alarm for 5am. 

I started packing the rest of my things...stopping here and there to organize a new stack of stuff I hadn't gone through yet. Still no passport. 

Five o'clock came. Tymon had a dream that we found the passport. The weight lifted off him and he felt relief and peace. We were praying a prayer of gratitude when the alarm went off. The negative feelings came rushing down on him. As I put my arms around him and he shared his dream, I felt impressed that we should offer that same prayer. Just because it hadn't happened yet, doesn't mean that we shouldn't be grateful for it in advance. 

We got out of bed. A promising start when hope has dwindled.

Talking to the State Department was less than ideal. The lady advised against Tymon going to the office for a standby appointment. Someone would need to miss their appointment for them to squeeze him in. But she did put him on the cancellations list. 

Tymon packed his bags. Graeden and Elliott woke up. In a last ditch effort to find the passport we offered them $10 if they could find it in the two minutes before Tymon left. They couldn't. I upped it to $20. Tymon left the house just before 7am to try standby. We had no other option. 

Sometimes we must take one step into the darkness before we see the light. A State Department representative called Tymon just before 8 and told him to get down there. Traffic was bad. It's a good thing he was already halfway there. 

I dropped off the boys and took Kira to her new home and drove to my office. Having been 26+ hours without sleep, driving was dangerous and I struggled to keep my eyes open and mind alert. My brother drove me to the airport, a kindness that I'm convinced saved my life...and maybe the lives of others I would have hit had I fallen asleep at the wheel.

There are a few more details that worked out miraculously with his application. Long story shorter, Tymon was on the road, passport in hand by 10:30am. Our flight leaves at 11:40. I got text updates throughout the morning from Tymon. The timing made me nervous. Parking, checking luggage, long security lines.

I thought I'd be okay traveling alone. My anxiety proved it otherwise. I've never been to the Middle East. The many women in that part of the world who are struggling with basic inequalities weighs heavy on my mind. Even though United Arab Emerites is not as strict as Saudi Arabia and I don't need to wear a head scarf or burqa, the unknown is frightening to me.

We met up a few minutes before boarding. Never fully believing he'd make our flight until he was at the gate. A true miracle. One that needed specific timing.  One that relied on the goodwill of government workers who hear sob stories everyday and ignore them. One that we thanked God for before it happened.

I'm grateful for hope. And having the courage to act despite the probability that there wouldn't physically be enough time to accomplish what we really needed. 

We haven't always gotten the miracles we sought. But this day, we did. Heavenly Father hears our prayers. He knows our needs before we realize them ourselves. He started answering this one before we asked. So it's really not so unusual to thank Him in advance.

Read Tymon's story here.
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