03 December 2016

Raghba

Today I went an entire hour's drive outside the city.  That's the furthest I've been from my house since we arrived.

We had something else planned this afternoon so we couldn't do anything that took too long or that might have gotten us into a pickle so we decided to go to see the old mud brick ruins of Raghba. I wasn't able to find a lot of information about the place, but it's supposed to have been around since the mid-1600s.  There used to be watchtower on the west side of the ruins (as recently as a couple of years ago), but it was a heap today. 

You can still go inside the mosque and climb up the minaret to get a view over the ruins.  Don't miss that.  There are also some buildings with some interesting decoration inside.  You could poke around diligently for a couple of hours, but I'd suspect most people wouldn't stay more than an hour at most.

It's easy to get here from Riyadh. Go northwest out of the city on King Khaled Road (535) and just keep on going till you get to Raghba. There are plenty of signs along the way in Arabic and English.  It's about an hour from the time you leave the edge of the city. When you get to the circle at Raghba, the ruins will be to your left.  Turn left at the circle and drive down into them.

These were not the best ruins we have ever seen, but it was so nice to get out and they were interesting enough for an hour's drive.  I loved looking out the window and I learned lots of new Arabic words along the way.





23 November 2016

Old Riyadh

Riyadh has a small old city south of the current center.  Masmak Fort is there, along with some old mud brick homes, a few city gates (the walls no longer exist), and some reconstructed mosques.  There are lots of squares and souqs too, including one of the few souqs with souvenirs and handicrafts.  Not much demand for that here since there are so few tourists, but since it's one of the few places to go, there's not as much competition.   We went to one souq a couple of weeks ago to get some Christmas shopping done and it was fun to be there.

I think there's a lot more poking around to be done in old Riyadh.





22 November 2016

So.  There are some things to not like about Saudi Arabia, but there's a lot I do like.  I'm happy to be here even though the transition has been hard (and even that can largely be blamed on Trump).

I love being back in the Middle East. It's been such a long time since I've been here.  And part of that is speaking Arabic again.  It's so nice to go back to a language I can do something with.  I love my Arabic class.  I love having Arabic all around me.  I love being in a Muslim country again.

I really like our neighborhood.  Now, I'd rather live in a real neighborhood where I could walk to a couple of little grocery stores and stop at the bakery, but since that's not an option, I'm glad we live here in a diverse neighborhood where you don't have to wear an abaya but they're not banned either. The setting is lovely too and I count it as a real blessing that I can bike or walk for miles a day in an interesting place without an abaya or finding someone to give me a ride.

I love seeing and talking to people from all over Africa, Asia, and the Middle East every day.  I love eating food from all over those places too.  I love hearing so many languages when I walk down the street.  I've learned so much already from so many different people.

And finally, there are interesting things to do here.  I'm working on a list and I'm going to start posting about my plans and hopefully we'll be able to start chipping away at the list.


I decided to put my serious concerns about Trump in a different post below on around November 9th, depending on your time zone.  I'll keep adding to that post until he is no longer a risk to the US.

So.  Moving on up here.  Kabsa is everywhere in Saudi Arabia.  It's similar to many of the other rice dishes you can find all over the Middle East and Central and South Asia with meat and spices and maybe some vegetables.  Here, you can go to a kabsa place and get enough food for everyone in the family for less than $10.  There's also plenty of biryani too.  They give you a piece of plastic for you can dump the rice and meat on.  After everyone has eaten, you just gather up the plastic and toss it.  Easy.

We can zip over to one of the real neighborhoods near our house and it's an easy and yummy meal


13 November 2016

The Media Didn't Make Me Do It

There have been several times now in the last few days that people have told me that the media misrepresented Trump or told me to feel a certain way about him.  It's hard to separate Trump from the media because he's so intricately connected with it.  There was also almost no traditional information about Trump like a well-articulated and comprehensive campaign website.  In the end, my opinion was formed by what he told me about himself.

Before Birtherism, I didn't have much of an opinion about the man. He seemed like a rich guy from New York who spent too much time in the tabloids. Not a great recommendation, but hardly the worst things ever.

Then Birtherism happened. I know that didn't bother some people, but the media didn't have to tell me it was a problem. I know in my heart that it is not right that Trump demanded that Barack Obama had to prove his citizenship in a different way than any other past president. Maybe you think that Barack Obama's race was incidental to that, but either way, Trump demanded a different standard and I know that was wrong.

Then Trump announced his candidacy by saying awful things about Mexicans. Again, I know that a lot of people weren't bothered by that, but I was living in Mexico then and I know it was wrong. The media didn't have to tell me that. In fact, I wish they hadn't played it over and over because I hate watching that statement so much. It hurts every time.

Then Trump kept saying things about all sorts of people, mocking them, belittling them. The media made sure we all heard about them, over and over, but they didn't have to tell me it was wrong. I knew for myself.

Then Trump said he would ban Muslims from entering the US. This time, it wasn't just liberals and the media being appalled. The LDS Church, which almost never makes political statements, released a statement against Trump's proposal. Paul Ryan and so many other Republican leaders did too. But even then, I knew in my heart that he was wrong all by myself.

And after all that, he attacked the Khan family. He said a US judge could not do his job because of his Mexican background. And more. I knew he was wrong.

The media did not create a story about Trump as someone who espouses racist and bigoted things. He told me himself.

09 November 2016

You know, I have voted for the losing candidate before.  It's not pleasant but it also wasn't devastating.  Generally it was about policy differences and it's okay if people don't agree on policy.

This is completely different.  Trump wasn't appealing for our votes based on any altruistic or noble principles. If he were truly the voice of Americans who feel overlooked and ignored, he would have a diverse group of supporters because it isn't white men who have been oppressed and abused in the US.  Instead, he told white men to vote for him by blaming everyone who wasn't white for their problems.  Refugees, Mexicans, immigrants, civil rights activists, so many people. It is the blaming and demonizing that I despise.

I have never been so disappointed in the US. 

For now, I'm going to be fighting as hard as I can to make sure refugees are still welcome in the US.  What are you going to do?

ETA that I'm going to make this a spot to write down things that Trump or his cronies have said or done that I think are totally unacceptable. Today is 11.22.2016

Trump has tweeted several times complaining about constitutionally-protected expression and demanded apologies.  He has referred to this expression as "unfair" and "harassment."

He has appointed or is considering a number of highly concerning people as advisers.  The only decent person who has even been floated as SoS is Mitt Romney and he has zero foreign policy experience. The others are far worse.

His chief strategist is Steve Bannon.  He ran the self-proclaimed platform for white nationalism. The best spin you can put on that one is that he's using white nationalism for his political benefit, but he's not a white nationalist himself.  Even that is appalling.  If Obama had tried to appoint as his chief strategist the producer of black nationalist media (even if they were just in it for the money), it would be like this.  How would that have gone over?

I am very worried about the anti-Muslim sentiments of many of his appointees.  I do not have much hope at all that Syrian refugees will be allowed into the US after January 20th.  I don't know about Muslim refugees from other countries. I think visas for people from most of the Middle East are in serious jeopardy.  These people have said that Islam demands them to commit terrorist acts.  They call Islam our enemy.  If Obama had appointed several women who called Christianity our enemy and said that it drives people to kill, how would that have gone over?

Also, the immigration policies several of his people support are far too harsh.  They have defended cities who try to implement statues banning landlords from renting to undocumented people.  There are so many problems with laws like that that I don't even know where to start, but I'm sure it appeals to some people.

Several of these people have either stated that they are okay with waterboarding and worse or that they wouldn't rule it out.  How can they even think that is okay?

The prospective Attorney General does not seem to know the definition of sexual assault and he was not approved to be a judge 30 years ago because of self-admitted blatantly racist statements.  One of the most important responsibilities of the AG is to protect voting rights.  How can anyone not be concerned about that?

Trump has, one time, said "Stop it" to people who are doing mean things in his name.  He hasn't ever bothered trying to separate himself from being connected to white nationalism.

31 October 2016

We went out for a quick evening adventure in the car again.  This time we drove around Wadi Hanifa a bit and decided that there's a lot more exploring to do there. Here's an article about it. http://archive.aramcoworld.com/issue/201201/a.wadi.runs.through.it.htm

On the way home we stopped at a couple of bakeries I'd been curious about near Takhassousi Street.  One turned out to be a tandoor bakery! They said it was Pakistani, but it's probably really Afghani tamis.  Anyway, it was so nice to eat hot tandoor bread again.  You cannot recreate the smell and flavor of tandoor bread any other way.  I need to do more research to find out about the word origin.  The baker had a rolling bread stamp that he zipped over the dough really quickly and the bread baked quickly too.

Also, I'm getting a lot quicker at the grocery store and sometimes I have time to wander around a bit while I'm waiting for the other people in the car.  Today I found the bakery cookies.  There were lots of tasty-looking ones that we'll have to try.  I got some cashew cookies and some Indian salted cumin cookies.  They were amazing.  http://www.cookwithmanali.com/cumin-cookies-jeera-biscuits/

Refugee Blog and Facebook Page

I've created a blog and Facebook page to help get information out about specific things people can do to help refugees.

http://refugeeresettlementassistance.blogspot.com/

https://web.facebook.com/RefugeeResettlementAssistance

If you are interested, I'd appreciate it if you could like the page on Facebook and share it with people who also might benefit from it.  The focus will be on how to help.

30 October 2016

Why I Could Never Vote for Trump

First, a bit more about the emails since they're back in the news after I wrote my last post.  This does not change my vote for Hillary.  We apparently won't even know what is in them before the election and I think it's mostly likely that Hillary will still win. I certainly very much hope so. Even if the worst hopes of House Republicans come true after she wins and these emails describe all the bribes and murders Hillary is supposed to have done, I could live quite happily with the consequence of a Tim Kaine presidency, thank you very much.

Anyway, I've already voted and it was and still is the very easiest election decision I've ever made.  Not because Hillary Clinton is my favorite nominee ever (although I love some of the things she advocates for), but because Trump is the worst major-party nominee I have ever had a choice of voting for. In my mind, Hillary Clinton is so much better than Trump that I cannot not vote for him.  I would vote for almost anyone else over him (and if the other nominee were as bad? I.would.not.vote.) Here's why I think that. 

Announcement.  Hillary Clinton's first campaign speech in June of 2015 talked about her life-long advocacy for children and the many different people she wants to help in the US. Trump announced in June and called Mexicans horrible things (except for some that he "assume[s] are good people.") I was in Mexico when he said those things.  I knew I'd never vote for him, but I also though he'd never get through the primaries because of all of the junk he kept saying.  

Primary debates. Trump has never, in any debate, shown any sort of grasp on policy or an understanding of how the presidency works.  He'd run out the clock without saying anything.  He didn't seem to listen if the topic didn't interest him or specifically involve him.  He'd say he'd do things that the president can't do.  He'd make personal attacks that had nothing to do with anything. He didn't seem to understand terms that presidents should understand.

Interviews. As in the debates, Trump has also shown very little interest in or knowledge about a great many topics that presidents need to know about during interviews.  He says even less than your typical politicians when he's trying to avoid a question.  He managed to completely bungle a question about punishing a woman for getting an abortion and spout a view that no one, not even the most ardent pro-life groups, agree with.  Had he never thought about the topic?   When he was asked about Ukraine, it appeared that he either didn't realize that Crimea is part of Ukraine or that he didn't think Russia was involved there.  Either one is highly concerning in a presidential candidate.  His comments about nuclear proliferation, if they can be taken literally, are terrifying. And if he didn't really mean them, why in the world did he say that he thinks more countries should have nuclear weapons?

That takes me on to two related points - the idea that presidential candidates don't need to know everything and that Trump doesn't seem to be trying to educate himself.  Trump supporters often say that Trump will surround himself with smart people who fill in his gaps in knowledge.  That's great- even Hillary Clinton who is one of the most experienced presidential nominees ever can't know everything and needs good advisers.  But throughout the campaign, Trump has shown very little inclination both hire capable people and take their advice.  His first two campaign managers were not great choices and ended up leaving.  Kellyanne Conway, his current campaign manager is brilliant but she has made it clear that he hasn't taken her advice.  I think Trump could have won this thing if he had listened to her for the last two months of campaigning, but he has proven that he is unwilling to consistently listen when there is a smart person advising him.

When The Atlantic endorsed Clinton a few weeks ago, one of the most damning statements against Trump was "he appears not to read."  Now, reading is not the only way to educate oneself, but Trump has shown no evidence that he is any better versed now on important topics than he was a year ago.  If you don't know what the nuclear triad is in a debate, you find out and make sure you can talk about it competently later.  You learn about the conflict in Ukraine.  You figure out what the limits on the president are. And so many other things.

He does seem to have learned to not talk about things he doesn't know about, which made the real debates a little tricky for him, but earlier he spouted a lot of ideas that simply aren't acceptable.

I'm still horrified that he proposed banning Muslims from entering the US.  Yes, he has apparently softened his position, but the statement is still on his website and he refuses to give details about which countries would be affected by his proposed ban and whether everyone from that country would be banned or just Muslims (which would still make it a religious test).

I'm still horrified that he proposed killing the families of terrorists.

I'm still horrified that he would even consider bringing back waterboarding, much less anything else.

And even when he does seem to have a position that appears to have been thought through, he's still really short on detail or understanding how the details would work in the real world.  His plan to get Mexico to pay for the wall would have a seriously negative impact on Mexico-US relations.  We know he's supposed to be pro-life, but his only suggestion is stacking the Supreme Court and that hasn't worked for 40 years.  I have no idea how he's going to make things better for veterans.  And he'll renegotiate trade deals, but what does that mean?  All of them?  Will he  be personally involved in the negotiations?  And what about tariffs?  Does he fully recognize the negative impacts those can have? I'm not at all convinced that he does.  And how in the world can you propose spending increases based on your projections that the economy will have "tremendous growth"?

He tells us we must vote for him because only he can fix the problems he sees in the US even though he cannot tell us how he would fix those problems.  It's the typical strongman appeal.  He also almost never appeals to our better selves, but demonizes people who aren't like him to stoke fears in his supporters.  Immigrants, especially Mexicans and refugees, are the problem.  Muslims are making us less safe.  America used to be great, apparently when it was whiter.  The media is corrupt and out to get him and his supporters.  China is the enemy because it's all about money.  There is almost no altruistic reason to vote for him.

And then I just plain old don't like a lot of the things he says.  Black lives do matter.  Guns are not my thing and I want schools to remain gun-free zones.  Immigration is what has made this country great and I am very opposed to deportation.  I am not a populist or anything like unto it. Cutting taxes for the wealthy is not my thing either.  Climate change is real and it will have serious impacts on all of our lives, but especially people in other countries with few resources to mitigate those consequences and we need to prepare for that. I think the EPA should stay. Stop-and-frisk is wrong, wrong, wrong. What would Putin do is not a wise guiding principle.  A free press is vital in our country.  Eminent domain should be used carefully.

How about temperament?  Yeah, right.

The very few times we've seen him try to do something presidential or altruistic haven't been very encouraging either.  When he raised money for veterans, he illegally used his own foundation to accept the donations and didn't donate his promised million until he was hounded by the press.  Then when he finally made the donation, he admonished the press for hounding him rather than praising him.  His trip to Mexico was not handled well, but he said it was successful because someone in Mexico was kicked out of the government afterward.  Trump, that is not a sign of a stellar diplomatic mission.

And he's continued to attack people in rather awful ways and say things I think are appalling.

I'm still horrified that he even talked about the Khan family after the convention, much less attacked them in any way.  There was absolutely no point in doing so and it was just plain mean.

I'm still horrified that he said a judge who ruled against him didn't like him because the judge was Mexican-American.  Like Paul Ryan said, that's the textbook definition of racism.

I'm still horrified that he threatened to sue all of the women who had accused him of sexual assault after he bragged about sexually assaulting people.

I'm still horrified that he would dismiss bragging about sexual assault as "locker room talk."

And my final reason?  He has lied about the refugee vetting process throughout the campaign.  Straight out lied.  And he is using those lies to make people in the US scared of refugees.  The president does have the power to set the number of refugees entering the country.  Last month he even threatened to deport Syrian refugees. 

I can *only* vote for the person who will keep him from being the President of the United States.  For me, anything else would be immoral.

28 October 2016

Hillary's Negatives

I wrote a bit ago about why I'm supporting Hillary Clinton instead of just voting against Donald Trump.  I mentioned at the end that you have to be able to live with the negatives of whatever candidate you choose and that includes my vote for Hillary Clinton.  This is going to be about why I can live with her negatives, especially when so many people see her has being even worse that Trump.  This will be a very long post because people dislike so many things about her.

I changed my mind about Hillary in 2007 and 2008.  I grew up in a very conservative area where the Clintons were hated in the 90s.  I certainly did not vote for Bill Clinton in 1996 - that would have been unthinkable.  But in 2007 I knew I was beyond finished with the Republican Party so I needed to look at Hillary and Obama and I was surprised to discover that I actually liked a lot of things about Hillary Clinton and that many of my previous assumptions about her were wrong.

She was pilloried early on in Utah in 1992 when she said that she didn't want to stay home to bake cookies and have teas.  Everyone reported this as an anti-SAHM thing, but she wasn't asked about being a mother, she was asked about being a political wife.  Wives of male politicians and other government officials have very often been expected to fulfill certain unpaid traditionally female roles like baking cookies and having teas.  Why should a wife host teas because her husband is a governor?  Why is it okay to require a SAHM political wife to take time from her children to do these things?Why should she quit her job because her husband is a governor (especially since being a governor isn't necessarily stable or lucrative employment?)? We need wives in these positions to challenge these assumptions instead of everyone hating wives who do that.

And then the investigations began.  So many investigations.  Millions of dollars in investigations.  Either Hillary Clinton is the most brilliant criminal ever who has been able to cover her tracks for a long list of crimes, including bribing and murdering people who get too close to the truth, or she's really hasn't done all of the things she's been accused of.  I think she's smart, but I don't think anyone is that smart.  I'll go with the exonerations for all the different investigations.

Then there are the more recent anti-woman accusations, including her defense of a child rapist and allegations that she threatened women accusing her husband of assault.  First, it is a good thing that even people accused of the most horrible crimes get decent legal representation.  That isn't a job attorneys enjoy, but it must be done and it's part of being an attorney.  I think it's undemocratic to criticize her for doing that.  For the second, I looked up how she threatened these women.  While I believe that the women accusing Bill are likely not making up their stories and that they did feel threatened, I haven't been able to find any credible evidence that Hillary Clinton threatened them in any way.  Did she enable Bill Clinton?  Maybe, as much as any other woman victimized by her cheating husband.  (For this one, you also have to compare her to Trump.  His threatening to sue all the women who've accused him of assault makes his attacks on Hillary quite inappropriate.)

Next, Benghazi.  This one happened after 2008, obviously, but it's another example of how an intense investigation didn't turn up anything.  I am especially bothered by this one because the State Department often does not have the budget it needs to carry out its mission and blaming that on the Secretary of State is ludicrous when Congress appropriates funds.  Also, I know a woman whose husband is a Benghazi survivor.  It was a horrible event and many things were mishandled up and down the line, but she in no way feels that the blame can or should be placed on Hillary as squarely as Congressional Republicans seem to want to.  She is a Hillary supporter and that says something to me. I am not willing to blame Hillary for Benghazi any more than I am willing to blame Powell or Rice or Albright for deaths of diplomats and US government employees under their watch.

The Clinton Foundation.  If anyone can show me actual evidence that she did something wrong here instead of insinuations, I would be happy to listen.  

And then the emails.  I think she made a serious mistake using one email address through a private server.  But I also believe the FBI is a credible organization that investigated her properly and concluded that even though she was incredibly stupid, and she was, that she certainly was not doing anything criminal.  I also appreciate that she has apologized.  This is her biggest negative in my mind and it might have been enough for me to not vote for her if she had been running against a competent opponent. But she's not, and I cannot figure out why Republicans nominated Trump when they hate Hillary so much.

Anyway, those are a lot of the biggest negatives people see in Hillary Clinton.  There's also the fact that she's been around forever and that she's old and that she's part of the political elite.  She is unwilling to explain a lot of her sketchy-looking actions in a clear and reasonable way to the media which would help resolve issues more quickly.  And she's a politician through and through.  I'm not sure we could have had the first woman major-party nominee not be a lifelong politician with all the baggage that entails.  No woman could be taken seriously as a candidate with Trump's credentials, for example.  Hillary has to be eminently qualified and completely politified (new word) to get where she is.

Another set of negatives for some people are her policies.  Obviously, if you've always voted Republican, you're not going to like a lot of her policies.  That's why we have parties.  But let me talk about the main issue that people use to try to make it sound like Trump is the only option for conservatives: Abortion.

I, like pretty much all Americans, do not like abortion. I think it's immoral. There's really not a pro-abortion lobby and Hillary Clinton isn't pro abortion.  She doesn't say it now, but the best statement I've ever heard about abortion is to make it legal, safe, and rare and that's what I look for when I'm deciding what candidate to support.

First, the legal and safe part. We can't ban abortion outright.  It is a necessary procedure in some cases.  I personally know a woman who had to terminate a pregnancy just a week before her baby was viable because neither she nor her baby would have survived until then.  It was the most terrible decision of her life, but I am so grateful she had the choice.  Even though it wasn't a moral decision because her baby died, I think it was the right decision and that it would have been immoral to have her die too.

As much as I dislike abortion, I do not think it is moral to force a woman to create life.  It is a process that has an major impact on her for the rest of her life and is not something any woman should be forced to do without her consent.  While I cannot envision any situation where I would ever terminate a pregnancy, I would be furious to not be able to make my own choice to continue the pregnancy if I had been raped.  I think it is immoral to not allow abortion in the case of rape or non-consent to sex. One of the main argument that the pro-life movement makes is that the women did have a choice about whether she got pregnant, but in too many cases for a lot more reasons than the way most people think of rape, women are not truly consenting to sex and all its consequences.

And no matter whether I agree with the reason a woman gets an abortion or not, I never want her to undergo an unsafe procedure.  Never.

Now for the rare part.  This is what really matters. I want to vote for a candidate who proposes concrete ideas unrelated to overturning Roe v Wade (which is the *only* thing Trump has proposed) to reduce the number of abortions.

I think the two most important questions here are why abortion rates have been dropping steadily for 25 years and why women choose to have an abortion.

There is a lot of good evidence that the main reason abortion rates have dropped is because access to affordable birth control has been constantly improving over the last 25 years.  There is no doubt that contraception is the best way to avoid abortion.  If you believe that birth control isn't moral then that doesn't help you, but in my mind there is no doubt that birth control is muchly much much better than abortion. I want to vote for a candidate who wants to make it easier to access birth control.

Looking at the reasons why women do have abortions is also very important to reducing them.  We can't tackle the problem until we know why people are having abortions. The numbers I'm using here are taken from this study done between 2008 and 2010.  Most women listed more than one reason why she got an abortion, but these are the major influences.

40% cited finances
36% cited timing (usually that she didn't feel ready or the pregnancy wasn't planned)
31% cited concerns related to her partner
29% cited a need to focus on her other children
20% cited future plans
19% said they weren't emotionally prepared to have a baby (which is obviously tied in with timing above)
12% cited health reasons, either for the mother or baby
12% didn't think they could provide a good life for their baby

First off, it's easy to see how birth control could continue to lower abortion rates because so many women said the timing was bad or something related to that.  Next, I will vote for people who want better financial support for mothers so they feel they can afford to have a baby.  I think it is appalling that the pro-life movement has spent so much money and energy on legal solutions rather than legislation that helps women become more financially stable.  There are so many benefits to that, not just reducing abortions.  I believe it is immoral that there is so much income inequality in the US that any woman feels she cannot afford to continue a pregnancy.  Women need to feel they have access to decent and affordable health care, to affordable child care, and to education so they can get a job that will support her family.

The majority of abortions would never happen if women felt financially secure and had better access to birth control.  These are two real things we can fix.  Republicans have been promising for decades that they'll overturn Roe and it has not happened.  I don't think it's likely to happen anytime soon even if Trump were elected, and like I said above, that's his only idea for reducing abortion.

Reducing abortion is an issue I think about when deciding who to vote for and I believe a Hillary Clinton presidency would reduce abortions more than a Trump presidency.

24 October 2016

After three months, including six weeks with the car sitting in the garage, we finally have our Saudi license plates so we can drive. Well, so my husband can drive me around.  Last night we went out after dinner to poke around a bit.

My number one reason for loving to live outside the US is exploring a new place, but that is so hard to do here.  Transportation obviously makes things dicey, but I also stick out and there is nothing I can do about it.  Even if I wore a niqab, it would look very strange for me to be with an American man.  Any other headcovering, or not using one at all, is also very noticeable but at least I can walk with my husband that way. However, sticking out here just means you're stared at which is saying a lot.

The biggest problem is that there are so few acceptable things for women to do here. Malls and shopping are always an option, but neither of us much like malls or shopping.  You can go to a restaurant, but we're street food people, not restaurant people.  The street food/fast Arabic food places here don't usually allow women in them (although they often have a window in the glass front of the building where women can order without going inside but then you need to find a place to eat).  Or you can go to private events.

So last night we drove around a bit in Yemeni neighborhood and then parked and walked down the street for a while.  There were carpentry places and upholstery shops and little grocery stores and places with couches inside whose purpose I know not and lots of places to eat.  My husband went in one to get a grilled meat kebab and we found a couple of places where we want to try getting kabsa to bring home for lunch or dinner.  There were falafel and ful places but I didn't see any shawarma last night.  And there was a mutabbaq place too.  I'd had plenty for dinner since it was pancit canton so I didn't want to eat anything, but at the very least I think we can try eating different things around the city even if we have to sit in the car to eat.  Maybe I'll try to rope my husband into a street food of Riyadh project.  I'd have to have his complete cooperation to do that since he'd have to drive the car and deal with the food in most places but it literally is all I can think of to do in the evenings that doesn't involving shopping or socializing with other people.

It was really nice to get out.

14 October 2016

Syrian Refugees and Why We Must Welcome Them (and not be scared)

As the election season is finally winding down, I’ve been very concerned about the amount of misinformation about Syrian refugees that has been said during the campaigns. After a number of different online discussions about this, I had to sit down and type this whole thing out.  



What is a refugee?


The term “refugee” can be used in a couple of different ways.  Its broadest meaning is someone who has been forced to flee their home because of persecution, war, natural disaster, etc.  However, it also has a narrower definition when talking about refugees entering the US.  A person is considered a refugee if they have fled their country for similar reasons listed above and have been formally recognized as a refugee by the UN.  They are defined and protected in international law and have very specific rules regarding their movement.  Most refugees return home when the conflict ends, and most of the rest stay in their host country permanently.  Fewer than one percent of refugees apply for resettlement in a third country. http://www.unrefugees.org/what-is-a-refugee/


What is an asylee?


While asylees might sound a lot like refugees when the word is used informally, they actually have a very different legal status.  UN-defined refugees cannot enter the US as asylees and must go through the regular refugee process. An asylee is someone who arrives in another country and asks for asylum.  Asylees have a very different entry process than refugees. https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/refugees-asylum/asylum/affirmative-asylum-process


What is the process for entering the US as a refugee?  


Basically, a refugee who cannot return home and whose host country cannot accommodate her permanently can apply for resettlement.  The UN chooses which country would be the best fit for her based on the requirements of the country and begins the process of gathering data and documents.  The UN has extensive experience working with refugees since the end of WWII and is used to processing people who have little documentation, something that is common to many refugees, although Syrian refugees generally have more documentation than most refugee populations. If the US is selected as a place for the refugee to resettle, the vetting and screening begins. Syrian refugees get additional review from DHS that other refugees don’t have to go through after Congress voted to increase the vetting at the end of 2015.  Background checks, fingerprinting, medical screening, and interviews all happen over the course of many months.  https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/11/20/infographic-screening-process-refugee-entry-united-states


How many Syrian refugees are in the US?


Up until fiscal year 2016, very few Syrians had gone through the entire process and entered the US. President Obama raised the quota of Syrian refugees that we would accept to 10,000 for FY 2016.  That goal was met and Obama is setting FY 2017’s quota at 110,000. The president has unilateral control over the number of refugees allowed into the US from any given country.


How many Syrian refugees does Hillary Clinton want to allow into the US?  How many does Trump want to allow in?


At the end of 2015 Hillary Clinton proposed raising the number to 65,000. However, as mentioned above, Obama’s current FY 2017 proposal is 110,000.  Hillary Clinton hasn’t updated her proposal to my knowledge.  In the VP debate, Mike Pence stated “Donald Trump and I are committed to suspending the Syrian refugee program...” so we can assume that Trump would allow zero Syrian refugees into the US.


Why shouldn’t we require more vetting for Syrian refugees?  Wouldn’t that keep us safer?


The main reason is that it would make it more difficult for people who need help to enter the US without any proven national security benefit. Congress already mandated extra screening for Syrian refugees at the end of last year. People in the US have not been in danger because of refugees in the past, even when there were less restrictive vetting processes in place.  When those less restrictive rules were in place, we accepted Afghan, Somali, Palestinian, and Iraqi refugees and Americans were not put in danger as a result.  The system has worked and is working.  Nearly 785,000 refugees have been admitted to the US since 2001 and only about about 12 “have been arrested or removed from the US due to terrorism concerns that existed prior to their resettlement in the US.” That is a very acceptable level of risk. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2015/11/19/the-viral-claim-that-not-one-refugee-resettled-since-911-has-been-arrested-on-domestic-terrorism-charges/


Weren’t the Tsarnaev brothers refugees?  And Ahmad Khan Rahami?

The Tsarnaev brothers were asylees, not refugees.  I cannot find out whether Rahami was a refugee.  In both cases, the boys/men were radicalized in the US and were US citizens. Vetting obviously cannot predict future risk, especially in small children.


Haven’t some Syrian refugees been admitted without all the vetting they’re supposed to get?


No.  Because of the delays that the Congress-mandated additional vetting for Syrian refugees caused, in early summer of 2016 more refugee officers were sent to interview applicants to help speed up the process so that all 10,000 refugees would be processed before the end of September 2016.  The refugees still had their required screening, including the extra screening.


Didn’t FBI Director James Comey say that the US cannot vet Syrian refugees?


There has been a lot of reporting that Comey doesn’t think the vetting process is safe, but that is not true.  While Comey obviously stated that he personally cannot ensure that there is no risk associated with any given refugee, he has stated that the vetting process has improved dramatically and that he believes it is adequate.  Also, several other agencies besides the FBI vet all Syrian refugees, including extra vetting only applied to Syrians.  There are no guarantees but there are many, many safeguards.


Isn’t it Barack Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s fault that we have this Syrian refugee crisis?


This is a misrepresentation of the situation in Syria.  While President Obama may have been able to do more to end the conflict in Syria, it is impossible to know what the results of any foreign intervention might have been.  Also, there are many actors in the Middle East and all might share in the blame in different ways, including George W. Bush.  But the bulk of the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the Assad regime and trying to blame this on Obama and Hillary Clinton is not reasonable.


Why don’t we create safe zones for refugees inside Syria?


It would be very difficult to ensure the safety of the millions of people living in the safe zones, plus provide food, shelter, clothing, and employment for all of those people.  It would require a significant military and financial commitment. Our efforts would be better spent on resolving the conflict in Syria so people can return home and on welcoming those who cannot return home.  


Why don’t Arab/Muslim countries take in the refugees?


This is a common charge that completely misrepresents the refugee population in the Middle East.  Nearly all Syrian refugees are currently living in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Turkey. All except Turkey are Arab countries (Turkey is Turkish with an unrelated language) and all are Muslim-majority, although Lebanon has a significant Christian minority.  It is simply incorrect to state that Muslim and Arab countries aren’t doing their part.  However, it is very true that some Muslim countries aren’t allowing Syrian refugees to be resettled in their countries, including the wealthy Gulf countries.  But there are enough Syrian refugees who need resettlement that the US would still need to accept refugees even if every wealthy Muslim country accepted refugees.


Why should we take in these people?


The most important reason is because they are human beings who need help.  The US also has a moral obligation to help Syrian refugees because of our historical involvement in the Middle East. From a national security perspective, it is very important that we do all we can to relieve the pressure on Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey as they host millions of Syrian refugees.  These four countries are all in somewhat precarious political and financial situations and the influx of so many refugees has contributed to their instability.  Resettling refugees might help make neighboring countries’ situations less difficult.


Why should we spend our limited resources on refugees?


Besides our moral obligation, the US is among the wealthiest countries in the world.  We do have the resources to help refugees.  It is also very important to remember that 56 percent of the world’s refugees are hosted in 10 countries with a combined GDP of less than 2.5 percent of global GDP.  If these countries are doing so much with so little, we can certainly share some of our resources. http://www.amnestyusa.org/research/reports/tackling-the-global-refugee-crisis-from-shirking-to-sharing-responsibility

There are no absolute promises that any person in the US or applying to enter the US will never commit an act of terrorism, no matter their race, religion, or nationality. Welcoming refugees obviously does involve some level of risk. However, the actual risk has been proven to be so low as to be almost non-existent. Instead of directing our energy toward shutting down the Syrian refugee program, we should make it possible to welcome more refugees.


11 October 2016

Can we have a civics lesson here?

The American Mormon Republican world doesn't like Trump.  It never did, but it finally got disgusted enough to do something about it (better late than never, I guess). But it also really, really doesn't like Hillary Clinton.  So what's an American Mormon Republican supposed to do?

One suggestion that keeps getting presented as a realistic strategy is to vote third party.  And this is the first part of the civics lesson because this is tilting at windmills.*   The idea is that, somehow, both Trump and Hillary Clinton don't get to 270 and someone like Evan McMullin wins Utah.  In that case, the election would go to the House where each state would get one vote and they'd choose between Clinton, Trump, and whoever else got the most electoral college votes.  Then, for some unknown reason, the House chooses the person who came in third.

First, having any third-party candidate win a state is extremely difficult.  It hasn't happened in 48 years and there is no polling that indicates that it will happen this year.  But let's say it does and that Evan McMullin wins 6 electors in Utah.

The trouble is, that doesn't help because Hillary Clinton is well on her way to winning 270 electors.  Her losing a reliably red state is meaningless in her electoral count because she's certainly not expecting to win Utah no matter what.  To not get to 270, she would need to lose almost every single swing state to Trump (or someone else, but see the first point), but she's polling ahead in most of those states.  For this strategy to work, not only does someone like McMullin have to win Utah, he also needs to come up with a way to make sure Trump wins everything else in play.  But let's say that happens too (we're obviously entering an alternate reality at this point) and McMullin gets 6 votes, Hillary gets 269, and Trump gets 263.

The vote then goes to the House where they choose between the top three people to get electoral college votes.  Like I said above, each state gets one vote.  For the McMullin strategy to work, he would need to convince 26 states to vote for him, a person that almost no USian has ever heard of, who only won 6 votes out of 538, and who got a tiny percentage of the popular vote.  Sure, the one state/one vote rule greatly favors a Republican in that case, but why in the world would the House pick McMullin?  I honestly don't know what the House would do, but it's certainly not likely that they'd pick an entirely unknown person with absolutely no mandate behind him except their own.

I just had to say this once more so I quit saying it on Facebook because any Republican who votes for anyone besides Trump is smart in my book.  Friends don't let friends vote for Trump.

Finally, there is a reason why we have two major parties in the US and that is our constitutionally- mandated election system.  Since we only have one round of voting and since we have a first past the post system, it is nearly impossible to have more than two major parties.  Voting third party has worked less than a handful of times in over 200 years.  If you want that to change, we need to change the constitution. It's not the parties and it's not the primaries that cause this.  It's the constitution.

*To be clear, I do not think a third-party vote is wasted if the voter has thought about the issues and chosen a candidate they are satisfied with. Vote for someone whose policies you like and whose negatives you can live with. Just be prepared for disappointment if you don't choose one of the major party candidates.

02 October 2016

Why I Am Voting for Hillary Clinton and Not Just Against Trump

1.  Because I want a president who believes and supports this:

"The United States has made empowering women and girls a cornerstone of our foreign policy, because women's equality is not just a moral issue, it's not just a humanitarian issue, it is not just a fairness issue; it is a security issue. It is a prosperity issue and it is a peace issue. ... Give women equal rights, and entire nations are more stable and secure. Deny women equal rights, and the instability of nations is almost certain. The subjugation of women is, therefore, a threat to the common security of our world and to the national security of our country."

2. Because I want a president who will welcome refugees to this country.  I am not a single-issue voter, but if I were, this would be it.  Refugees must be welcome in this country.

3. Because I want a president who sees immigrants as a significant part of what has made this country great.

"Hillary has been committed to the immigrant rights community throughout her career. As president, she will work to fix our broken immigration system and stay true to our fundamental American values: that we are a nation of immigrants, and we treat those who come to our country with dignity and respect—and that we embrace immigrants, not denigrate them."

4. Because I want a president who has spent her life advocating for women and children.

5. Because I want a president who is capable, qualified, experienced, knowledgeable, and reasoned.  I agree with President Obama that there has never been a man or woman more qualified to serve as president. 

6. Because I want a president who supports common-sense gun control, who is concerned about climate change and the very real sociopolitical impacts it will have on all of our lives, and who knows that Black Lives Matter.

7. Because I want a president whose negatives I can live with.  In any election, you're voting for someone you don't agree with entirely (unless you're voting for yourself).  While there are always positions from any candidate that you don't support, I do think that you are ratifying the negative positions and characteristics of a candidate, or at least saying you can live with them. There are things I don't like about Hillary Clinton, but I can live with them.  

29 September 2016

I have been so very tired since moving here, mostly because I cannot get enough sleep no matter what I try- I always wake up before I've hit eight hours.  It doesn't matter if I exercised a lot the day before, if I was exhausted the day before, if I wore a mask over my eyes and ear plugs, if I go to bed at 9 or at 11, whatever.  It's also not helping that the dusty air is bothering me a lot more than I expected it would.  Pollution and pollen have never bothered me, but the dust is hard for me to breathe in.

Yesterday was the worst of all and I had to use all of my energy to get the grocery shopping done because I have no flexibility on that point and if I didn't go, I wouldn't have another chance for days.  I couldn't go on a bike ride and I didn't go to Arabic because I couldn't bike there and couldn't imagine saying anything coherent even in English.  Getting up to the third floor to work on the laundry was almost not doable. It was awful.  

But last night I finally came closer to eight hours of sleep and I feel so much better today.  I woke up with the alarm which I've kept setting even though this is the first time in two months that I've needed it because I have faith that someday I will need it again all the time.  It's still been an up and down day, like days always are when you're trying to adjust to a new place, but it's so much easier to deal with the problems when you're not so very tired. I even felt like blogging today, as you can see.

We borrowed some extension cords yesterday so I could finish trimming the lawn.  There are no outlets outside for some unknown reason and the weed whacker is 110 so it has to plug into a transformer, and the extension cord isn't long enough to get all of the grass.  I did as much as I could a couple of weeks ago, but there's one chunk in particular that's pretty shaggy, as it would be after two months.  But most of the extension cords were two-pronged instead of three so I couldn't use them, then a power strip blew out when I plugged it into the transformer (and I am very glad it was just a power strip and not a blender) so I only ended up with about 3 feet more range.  Then the trimmer spool exploded.  So I have now ordered more spools and a long extension cord because getting to the store that would have that kind of stuff isn't on the schedule for at least the next ten days.  

But I did go to the pharmacy (I can always schedule a trip for medical reasons), signed up for our absentee ballots even though Utah is going to give its electoral votes to the worst presidential candidate in living memory, went on a bike ride between getting people out the door, moved my computer into another room where I get to choose how cluttered the space is or is not, and it was only 77 degrees outside this morning at our house.  

14,000 Saudi women signed a petition earlier this week demanding the end of guardianship here.  I am lucky that I don't have to worry about this (and a lot of other things that Saudi women have to deal with, and expats with browner skin than mine because white privilege is even more noticeable here than just about anywhere else I've lived), but it is high time it ended.  The religious decision makers have made various statements about this recently, from showing some willingness to at least change the rules somewhat to saying that ending guardianship would be the end of Saudi society, so I very much hope this goes somewhere.

I also have a long post in me about why I am voting for Hillary Clinton, and not just voting against Donald Trump.

Going on a bike ride in the morning has been so lovely.  I can ride on an interesting trail and squeeze in a ride between pickups for the people leaving.  It's a lot cooler now in the mornings than when I first got here, but bike rides are so much more pleasant than walking when it's hot.  Soon it will be cool enough in the morning that I'll be able to go on a walk.

Also, I see lots of couples here holding hands or touching each other. Including Saudi couples.  I still have never, ever seen the religious police.  

That was a very eclectic post.

18 September 2016

History of the Church in Mexico

I think I've mentioned the newish LDS lessons on the history of the church in Mexico.  These were apparently commissioned by the Mexico area and were written in Spanish for members of the church in Mexico by an American scholar/missionary (maybe someday there will be a set of lessons written by a Mexican scholar).

It appears that not all of the lessons are on the lds.org Spanish website (that website is clearly not updated as often as it should be), but they are on the sud.org website.

I have never seen an English translation so you either need to read Spanish, or, even better, call a Mexican in your ward who speaks English also to teach these lessons as an alternative Sunday School class for a couple of months.  Learning about the history of the church in other countries is very worthwhile and church history in Mexico has some important and overlooked events, especially regarding the Third Convention.  

The stuff arrived.  We thought it wouldn't come till this week, after Eid al-Adha, but in a surprise move, it came at the beginning of the holiday.  That worked out really well since we couldn't go anywhere and didn't have much to do.  Getting the house put together was lovely.

We had the movers unpack for us for the first time.  I will never do that again. I know some people love it. but it took longer overall to get everything put away.  I much prefer opening one box at a time, putting each thing away, and then moving onto the next box.  No one digs through the stuff, things stay somewhat organized, and there's just a stack of boxes sitting there when you need a break instead of a room filled with junk.  I'd always had a suspicion that it wouldn't work for me, and now I know.

I have done a lot of exciting things since the stuff came.  I've gone a bike ride every day, which means I've left the house when I chose to and came home when I chose to and went where I felt like. I was in control of my own wheeled vehicle. I got some things done without calling for a ride. I love it.

I made tortillas and chapatis with the tortilla press.  It was so good to eat tacos again.  We had them on the 16th, of course, with rajas and crema, chicken, salsa, pickled vegetables, and frijoles.  

We've also made ice cream three times.  You can't get mint extract here but we tried steeping real mint in the hot mixture while it was cooling down and it worked really well.  We've also used coconut milk because that's super quick, although several of my children didn't like plain coconut milk which is sad.  Just with cocoa. 

I'll spiralize some carrots for dinner tonight.  I still haven't used the molcajete or pasta maker yet.

It's nice to have everyone back to school and work today.  

05 September 2016

Mutabbaq, Again

I made mutabbaq again a few nights ago.  This time I use roumy cheese in some of them, just the cheese, which was really easy.  I chopped up some green onions and tomatoes for some more of them.  The mixture should be green with a little red, and just add some salt, nothing else.  That one was amazing.  And I did some with chicken and potato.

Saute lots of garlic in some olive oil, then add about 2 diced potatoes.  You can microwave them a bit first to move things a lot, but you're mostly cooking them in the pan, not the microwave.  Cook the potatoes till they're just tender, or not quite tender, and add some cooked shredded chicken, feta, salt, spice, chopped fresh mint, and enough yogurt so it isn't dry.

I baked some and pan-fried some.  I preferred the baked ones (I brushed them with a bit of oil and baked them at 200/400 for about 20 minutes till they were golden brown), but everyone else liked the fried ones.  It was nice to have both.

We'll certainly have these again and try new fillings, but these three fillings were all amazing.

01 September 2016

Mexico, Immigration, Trump


So, nothing new from Trump's speech yesterday.  But still, hearing his immigration plan all at once, with all the asides, made me sick.  Teleprompter Trump would have been better. I don't want to live in the America that Trump wants to create.

This morning I read an email from an LDS missionary living in Southern California in a largely Iraqi neighborhood.  He sees Islamophobia and anti-immigrant abuse too frequently. He wrote about stopping a man who was loudly verbally abusing an older Iraqi woman on the street, getting threatened with a knife when he stepped in, and then helping her carry her groceries home when the man ran away.  I'm so glad he did that, but angry that he had to. 

The speech had the usual misrepresention and spin, which is normal and easily looked over.  But it also had some things that are factually untrue and policy proposals that are unacceptable in my mind. Throughout the speech it's often hard to tell sometimes which group of people Trump is referring to.  Sometimes he lumps all foreign-born people together, whether they're US citizens, green card holders, or undocumented; he seems to consider anyone who wasn't born in the US as an immigrant even if they're only in the US temporarily (being an immigrant means you are intending to settle in a new country permanently); sometimes he's talking about refugees who have a very different entry process than anyone else who enters the US; etc.  This lack of clarity isn't particularly surprising though.

First, I completely and thoroughly reject the idea that the point of our immigration system is to make life better for US citizens (and I don't think Trump sees increased diversity as one of those ways to make life better for US citizens). Our immigration system is to allow people from all over the world to move to the US and to improve everyone's lives, both the people born in the US or anywhere else in the world. Nearly all of my ancestors who immigrated to the US after it was an independent country didn't look that great on paper (except they were white) but I'm glad they were allowed to enter, obviously. America First is not an immigration system I can ever support.

Second, I have a serious problem with Trump's continuing to pit minorities in the US against immigrants.  This is also part of his America First rhetoric- trying to make people believe that immigration hurts the US rather than creating it (and I think we are still creating the US). Also, immigrants are humans and as important and worthy of respect as any US-born US citizen.  I care about immigrant families whose legal status makes their lives difficult. And people who cross the border illegally are not fish, so it is not acceptable to refer to them in fishing terms.

Third, Trump continues to lie about the refugee entry process into the US.  There are a lot of lies and spin out there in politics, but this should not be acceptable.

Fourth, Mexico is not going to pay for the wall.  Peña Nieto has made that clear.  Trump's plan to get Mexico to pay for it would have significant diplomatic repercussions if he tried to implement it.

Fifth, Trump is awfully fuzzy with his math throughout the speech.  I'm looking for a good fact-checker to explain why I say this.

Sixth, this extreme vetting is concerning and vague.  Trump did list some ideological differences he would screen for (too bad there are already US-born citizens who wouldn't pass his test because Americans are allowed freedom to have offensive opinions), but the point for anyone, citizen or not, is not belief, it's about agreeing to be subject to US law.  That is the only ideological test I am interested in, and immigrants already do agree to that.  Also, this is the main time when Trump lumps all foreign-born people living in the US together.  He made his attitude clear about foreign-born citizens when he disparaged Judge Curiel.

Seventh, I am absolutely opposed to complete bans of people entering the US from certain countries.  No country, not Mexico, not Syria, not Libya, not one country has an entire population that should be viewed with that level of suspicion by a US president.

Eighth, look forward to long lines when leaving the US so your passport can be checked by CBP.

Ninth, his statistic that 62% of households headed by an undocumented individual get some type of welfare benefits neglected to mention that the report he was quoting from said that the majority of those households get those benefits for their citizen family members.  It is obviously legal for US citizens to get welfare benefits.

Finally, I really disliked how he talked about immigrants and immigration at the end of his speech.  Assimilation and limiting immigration are conversations from one hundred years ago and we have moved far beyond that. I am also extremely opposed to the idea of only allowing immigrants who are already financially self-sufficient. Immigration from all over the world and from all sorts of demographics is a good thing for the US.

31 August 2016

Flatbread and Stuff

One of my favorite dinners to make is the local grain/bread/noodle choice plus stuff.  In Mexico, that meant tortillas and stuff.  In Kyrgyzstan, laghman and stuff.  In the US, it's rice and stuff (not that rice is really at that American, but I can always get big bags of jasmine rice there).  The stuff is protein, vegetables, and sauces, and then everyone can choose what they want to eat.  It's an easy way to feed lots of people who have different food preferences, and if you're sticking with the local flatbread/grain/noodle/whatever, you have a choice of making it or buying it.  Because one should never buy tortillas outside Mexico or a good Mexican grocery store, or pita in the US unless you watched the person make it, and the same goes for naan.  I won't make any rules about laghman because no one is mass producing it anywhere in the world that I know of.

Anyway.  The current version is flatbread and stuff.  I can make hummus, tabbouli, buy flatbread and something new to try from the deli, and we often have labnah balls too and grape leaves. And zaatar chicken, because my children all love it and it's the easiest thing ever to make.  And I have a list of things to make because it's easy to get all the right ingredients here. Everyone is happy with this meal because no one has to eat everything.  Also, no one else much likes tabbouli so I get it all and making enough tabbouli for one is quick and easy.  

It's been a long time, relatively speaking, since we've had much Middle Eastern food and it's so good to have it again all the time.