It seems that every step of the process to get us to Saudi Arabia has taken forever. We faced so many roadblocks and hurdles that I wondered if we would ever arrive. I had visions of our boxes sitting in our empty house in Riyadh, while my husband travelled back and forth for a year. So you'll excuse me if I say that were all surprised when we were able to book our flights and everything worked out. My poor husband has been in transit for the last two weeks moving heaven and earth to finish getting our visas.
On Saturday my BIL drove my children and I to the SLC airport. I was terribly nervous about getting checked-in as my husband had our passports and KSA visas in New York. Our flight was booked as an international flight and required passport and visa verification. After explaining the situtation, I was able to convince the people at Delta to check us in to New York and then we would check-in again in New York. BIG SIGH of relief!
You should have seen the six of us tromp through the airport. I carried Bubba J in a child backpack and pushed my daughter in a stroller. The three oldest boys hauled blankets and backpacks with great efficiency. We each had one bag and then I carried an Ikea bag for the random things that didn't quite fit in the backpacks.
Our first flight was uneventful. It was completely booked and our seating arrangments were a bit odd. A and J sat together on one side, W sat in front of us and T sat behind us. The baby and I sat together. Over the years of traveling, I have decided that most men are terribly polite and helpful to a woman traveling with children. The women. . . not so much. The gentleman who sat beside A and J was very friendly and helpful. He even let my kids play his ipad and watch movies. The man who sat beside me thought my baby was adorable and went out of his way to help in any way possible. W sat between two women and said he enjoyed his conversation with them. T sat between a woman and a man who both ignored him. Bubba J fell asleep for most of the flight and the other kids managed to stay entertained without a lot of trouble. I received several compliments after the flight about the kids. They were amazing!
We met my husband at baggage claim in New York, then ate some lunch and then checked in for the next flight. Our flight to Riyadh was uneventful. The kids enjoyed the personal entertainment screens. They all rested well and ate well. The airline was pretty lax about the seat belt rule so I was able to stretch out and get a bit of sleep. I didn't sleep well because of the wild turbulence that kept bumping me awake and then later, having the baby curl up on me and sleep.
At last, after over 24 hours of traveling, we arrived in Riyadh. The airport was busy, full of lines of people waiting to get through customs. The air had a slightly tinged smell to it. Most of the customs lines were long and filled with men waiting to get passports stamped. We were directed to the family line and then told to move. It was a bit nerve-wracking because the customs officials would wave rather vaguely in one direction and then speak emphatically at us. We had no clue what we were supposed to do. Eventually I was told to go to the head of one line full of men (I felt so guilty for jumping ahead). My picture and fingerprints needed to be taken. The official took several photos of me and then kept disregarding them. I felt like saying, "look, I've been traveling for over 24 hours. I am exhausted and not photogenic at all right now!" Then they had to take my fingerprints which was also difficult. I was tired enough that I was shaking and had a hard time holding my fingers still enough for the scanner to work properly. Finally they got an acceptable picture and fingerprints, but then the system was down. I was told to go sit down and wait. At that point, my husband took the children and gathered all our bags--except two bags which evidently never left New York.
I sat and waited on a bench anxiously keeping my eye on the official who was supposed to finish processing my passport. It was nerve-wracking. I wasn't sure what was going on but hoped that they would finish quickly. I watched the people flow through the lines: young Arab women, wearing abayas, carrying beautiful babies in their arms, western men obviously on business, Arab men in various clothing styles--anywhere from traditional robes to western clothing. Other people waited too--a young women, extremely impatient, who kept speaking to the officials in curt tones. The faint strains of an Arabic song wailed in the background. It was noisy and chaotic. It's hard when you don't understand the language to see the patterns or order in the chaos. Eventually, I was waved over to the desk and given my passport. Another big sigh of relief!
My husband and children had all the luggage collected so we were able to quickly pass through customs and then go outside to wait for our luggage. The night air was cool but not biting. We all admired the lights of the city as we drove through city. I think Riyadh is pretty charming at night. With all the lights and beige colored houses, it kind of reminds me of Las Vegas--without the casino strip. The kids exclaimed over the palm trees The drive was mercifully uneventful and soon we arrived at our compound.
The kids dashed in the house and explored every nook and cranny. The baby found the room under the stairs that links to the bathroom. He keeps running into it and calling it his house. The boys declared the house acceptable and set about dismantling boxes in search of beloved toys.
After a short dinner of ramen noodles, we all climbed into our beds. (Yet another reason why I am in love with my husband! He made sure all the beds were ready for us on his last trip.) Thankfully, we all fell into an exhausted sleep.