Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Living Abroad Is a Lot Easier Now

Ten years ago, I moved to Sweden with my husband, and two oldest boys. We were students and terribly poor. We brought 8 suitcases filled with most our possessions. I left my books, cookware, and keepsakes in plastic tubs in my parent's garage. We scraped enough money together to buy a computer when we got to Sweden. I was able to get a little mail, occasional letters from friends and family. I was able to call my parents on the phone occasionally. And I had email. I wrote long letters to my friends and family about our adventures and experiences.

In 2005, we bought a digital camera. Suddenly, I could send pictures and videos to my family. It was awesome.

I had access to a few English books from the library. Sometimes, I could get music that I liked on the internet.
Oh my goodness, how times have changed. Do you even realize how much technology has changed in 10 years???????? And can you even imagine how much easier this technology makes life for ex-pats?

Now, in Riyadh, I can use my ipod to call my family through facetime. I can skype friends. I can use the magic jack to make calls to the U.S., free of charge.

Email is still nice, but FB is even faster and more immediate. Heck, I even get FB on my ipod. I can listen to the radio, news, podcasts through the internet whenever I want. It's pretty much awesome.

But we haven't even covered the best invention EVER. The Kindle. Goodness gracious. Do you fully grasp the power of having an entire library in the palm of your hand???????????????? Do you understand what it means to be able to get virtually any book you ever wanted wirelessly, at the touch of a button, in a foreign country that has all kinds of restrictions? Oh, and did I mention that I am obsessive reader and that without books, I shrivel up and die mentally?

Leaving my books wasn't so hard this time.

So thank you technology. I really appreciate you!

Sweden, Saudi Arabia, and how it all meshes together

I'm a bit obsessed with projects. When planning what to pack for our stay in Riyadh, I brought all my scrapbook supplies and a goal to complete my 2007 scrapbook album. 2007 was a banner year in my life. In one year, we visited 11 countries. I've already made 3 albums highlighting different events in 2007--my husband's PhD graduation, our exciting European vacation, and a weekend trip to Amsterdam I took with my friend, Laurel, in honor of our 30th birthdays. (Now, THAT is the way to celebrate turning 30--TRAVEL!!!) We spent 6 weeks in the Middle East at the beginning of the year. And, it was our last year in Sweden.
Here I am, 5 years later, finishing up scrapbooking that amazing year, focusing on all that Sweden meant to me and what I learned from that experience. It's kind of funny to do that in yet another country, having another expat experience.
Before we moved to Riyadh, I corresponded with some ex-pat American women about living in Saudi Arabia. I mentioned to them that I had lived in Sweden for 5 1/2 years, meaning that I had developed some skills that I thought would be useful. I knew that it would be different. I didn't expect Riyadh to be Sweden or the U.S. Most of them ignored my experience and thought it wouldn't be helpful.
But they were wrong. It has been helpful. I think that living in Sweden taught me to be open and surrender to the experience. I know a few ex-pat women, in whatever country they happen to be in, that hold so tightly to where they came from that they never learn to appreciate or even enjoy where they are. They are so intent on finding chocolate chips to make chocolate chip cookies, that they miss trying out Princess cake (a Swedish cake--really worth trying). That's why I try the foreign foods or explore different places. I don't need to always have American food to feel American. I know who I am and where I came from. But I don't mind growing and expanding with knowledge and experiences from other places. I know where I can adapt and what things I need to have to keep me connected to my roots. I hope that I am wise enough to see that what I've gained from living in different countries only expands who and what I am.

Posted by Picasa

Saturday, February 25, 2012


Since we've moved here, there have been a couple of sandstorms, though they've always happened at night. I've seen the aftermath with all the dust and gritty air. Today was the first time I was awake to experience one.
My kids came home from school around 3:30 p.m. I immediately started them on homework because they had Tae Kwan Do at 4:30. While helping my son with his spelling, I happened to look at the window. The day went suddenly from sunny to completely black. It was dark as night. I was stunned. It was only 4:00 p.m. and you could barely see a thing. My oldest son had taken the two youngest children to the indoor playpark. The wind was wild, blowing things around. I felt nervous and scared and wanted all my children at home. I called J and T to help me get the other three kids. I wrapped my scarf around my head while the boys covered up. We ventured outside in the dark. Porch lights glowed eerily in the swirling sand and dust. I could barely see the few yards as I ran to the indoor playground. I had no idea how long the storm would last and thought it would be best if we were all at home. My eldest carried the baby and I carried my daughter. The few yards home seemed to take forever as we pushed through the wind and sand. While it was only a few minutes walking, we were gritty when we got home.
From the safety of our home, we watched the storm blow around the neighborhood. Eventually, the blowing diminished and the light returned.
I sent the boys to Tae Kwan Do as the storm lightly continued. Finally, the storm ended with a drizzling of rain. It was such an odd experience. I was truly grateful for my veil, protecting my eyes, mouth, and nose from the fine, gritty sand. I hope to get pictures next time.

Medical Examination- Oh Boy!

In order to get my i.d. card, I had to get a medical examination from a Saudi doctor. Never mind, that I just had the EXACT same medical test, along with various tests performed in the U.S., just so that I could enter the country. I'm not sure of the logic, and, after the visit today, I'm not really convinced that a Saudi doctor is better qualified than an American doctor to determine that I am healthy and am not a carrier of infectious diseases.
We had a bit of trouble finding a clinic that would do the exam. We braved the crazy roads and traffic to get to the clinic only to discover that they didn't do the exam I needed. They directed us to another clinic which accepted me as a patient.
I was ushered into a less than clean examining room where I spoke briefly to the doctor and then he directed me to go behind the curtain and wait on the table. At that point, I asked if I should remove my abaya, but was told to leave it on. He gave me the briefest of examinations and then sent me up to the lab to get some tests done.
When I walked into the lab, I was a bit confused. At a desk sat a large, forbidding African woman, fully dressed in a voluminious abaya with a small child screaming on her lap. The woman perfunctorily shushed her child and then looked at me expectantly. I thought the lady was another patient, but evidently, she was the phlebotomist and the technician. The little girl looked at me quizzically, and went touched my very white skin. Her nose was running profusely. At this point, I wanted to make a desperate run for the exit. I wasn't all that keen on getting poked by a needle in that room. I was directed to another room, with a very old chair that was badly peeling and told to wait.
Because of my lupus, I'm kind of an expert on getting my blood drawn. So I asked if they had a butterfly needle because my veins are small and they move. Getting my blood is difficult. But the phlebotomist said she didn't have that kind of needle. I looked away, gearing myself up for a lot of arm digging. I was pleasantly surprised at how smoothly she executed the move, drawing my blood quickly and efficiently. And she did sanitize my arm before poking the needle in my arm.
Then the directed me to the bathroom to collect a urine and stool sample. I was already prepared with my stool sample and I'm so glad. The bathroom was spartan, no toilet paper, no soap, just a toilet, and a sink. I'm very grateful that I had my own hand sanitizer, but I'm thinking I should start carrying toilet paper with me all the time. (I really should write a post about the bathroom conditions in this country.)
Nothing was overtly bad at the clinic, but I still felt a little uncomfortable with the less than pristine conditions there.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Saudi Arabian Cultural Festival

The Saudi Arabian Cultural Festival is held once a year to celebrate all aspects of Saudi culture. Several people recommended that we attend the festival as it is really worth experiencing. One friend cautioned me, "It is really interesting, but completely chaotic, as all Saudi events are." And she was right.

The festival is about 45 kilometers outside of Riyadh. We drove by the camel market. The above picture isn't great, but if you look closely, you can see the camels in their pens. It was a cloudy day with a lot of sand in the air, so the picture isn't very clear. (That, and a certain two-year old used my camera and had a good time smearing his fingers over the lens. I didn't discover this until the END of the event.)

Things were busy when we reached the festival. There were lots of Saudis walking with their families, exploring the exhibits. There were several vendors selling perfume, honey, and food of all sorts. We were with a Saudi and he encouraged me to try the perfume, but I am terribly allergic to perfume--it makes me sick to my stomach and gives me a headache. When I declined, he said, "this perfume is very special--like nothing you've ever smelled before. " I couldn't make myself try it because I didn't want to feel sick for the rest of the event.

We loved trying the honey. There was honey from Yemen and Oman. They had special couple's honey, which, I gathered contained special ingredients for husbands and wives. I didn't try that honey, I didn't want to be responsible for the consequences!

There was an exhibit with three camels operating a water pump. The camels were hooked up to the water lines and then the camels would walk down the line and then turn around. Naturally, this exhibit had a lot of spectators. Water is incredibly precious in the desert. And displays of water typically demonstrate wealth and prestige. One Saudi man saw my interest in the display and moved, gesturing for me to get move closer to the fence so I could see better. When he saw that I wanted to take pictures, he kept giving me suggestions for good shots. Then he insisted I photograph his son with my kids. He wouldn't let me photograph him, but he didn't mind his children being photographed. We enjoyed seeing the various displays of traditional artisan crafts--of men carving barrels and water troughs out of logs, metal smiths, and basket weavers.

I had read there might be camel races, so we pressed forward looking for the races. Sadly, we didn't get to see a camel race. However, my older three boys were able to ride camels. A was too scared to ride a camel without me and they wouldn't let adults ride. Bubba J wanted to get on, but I didn't think it would be safe, even with W.After the rides, we continued to explore the festival. It was really fun to walk around, to see families enjoying the festival, and to get a closer look at Saudi culture. For Saudis, families are the most important thing and they guard the privacy of their families with great rigor. This was really a special opportunity to see families up close and to interact with Saudis.

There was a lot of food. The Saudis love eating. B and I had decided that we should eat at the festival but then B reminded me that it would be wise to have some anti-diahhrea aids on hand the next day. Fortunately, no one got sick. (I think we all have iron stomachs.) Some of the kids had hot dogs. B and I enjoyed shawerma and falafel.

Our last stop was the cultural museum which featured several exhibits depicting life in the past for Bedouin tribes. We also saw aspects of ship-building. I had no idea Saudis built ships, but evidently they do. We had so much fun exploring the festival.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Questions and Answers

In response to questions I've received recently:

Question: You’ve mentioned that the kids can run free and you don’t have to worry about them. Is there really tight security within the compound?
Answer: We lived in a completely walled compound. The security is very tight to get on the compound. You cannot enter the place without a legitimate reason and you must confirm with the reception who you are and why you are coming. When I invite guests, I have to register them with the reception. Within the compound, there are speed bumps on the roads, and only residents can drive their cars onto the compound. This means there is limited traffic that moves very slowly. My three oldest boys do have free reign on the compound-though I request that they check in with me before going to a friend's house and also to let me know if they are changing locations. I do not let my 5-year old or 2-year old run around without supervision.

Question: Do you have to wear your Abaya when you are outdoors in the compound?

Answer: I only wear my abaya when going out of the compound. Within the compound, even going outdoors, I wear regular western clothing. The compound does restrict access to Saudis and does not allow abayas or the hijab to worn within the compound walls. This is to prevent conflict and also to give westerners some measure of freedom within the compound.

Question:I'd love to know about the school system; at what age do the kids start, are boys and girls separated, do they learn English?

Answer: I am not really sure about the starting age of school for children here. Schools are sex-segregated and teaching is based on the Koran. I do believe there is some level of English instruction. The royal families and wealthy families do send their children to private schools.

Question: Are there preschools?

Answer: I do not know if there are preschools for Saudi children here. Most compounds have preschools for ex-pat children.

Question: Do most women stay at home or are they working?

Answer: I have only seen a handful of women working. There are not female shopkeepers, only male. The women I have seen working are in the medical profession. I believe, though am not completely sure, that access to education and work seems to be dependent on family wealth and status.

Question: Is it really true women aren't allowed to drive?

Answer: Yes, women are restricted from driving. This has been a point of contention in the country, with more fundamental Muslim clerics denouncing the practice as a means to lead women into temptation and also is seen as a step toward western culture, which is seen as a negative influence.

Question: How much ground has western music gained among the youth?

Answer: I hear very little music blaring from cars when we are out. Most of it seems to be Middle Eastern. Though yesterday I saw two young men dressed in thobes and Yankees ballcaps blaring some rap. It was an incongruous sight.

Question:How do young people dress?

Answer: Girls dress in Western clothing until they reach puberty. You can find just about any European or American clothing store in the malls. Girls continue to dress in trendy ways once they hit puberty, (judging by the store displays) but begin the practice of wearing the abaya over the clothing. It isn't unusual though, to see young girls wear the abaya in public. I rarely see children in short-sleeved clothing or shorts. Young men either dress in the thobe--a white robe, with a head-dress or they wear Western clothing. I get the impression that many Saudis wear very trendy and fashionable clothing--though it is always concealed beneath an abaya if one is out in public. I have noticed that young men and men take tremendous care with their appearance, most facial hair is impeccably groomed--though the occasional wild beard does make its appearance.

Thanks for the questions. Please let me know if you have a question and I will address it in a later post.

Questions anyone?

A friend of mine sent me some questions on FB. I thought I'd invite other questions if anyone is wondering about a particular aspect of my life. I'll post my responses in a couple of days. You can post your question in the comment section or send me a PM on Facebook.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Second-hand Souk

Last time I talked about shopping, I confessed my intense dislike for the activity. However, I don't mind shopping as much when there is some cultural merit attached-or I'm shopping for fun things like books, scrapbook stuff or paper. (I'm such a nerd!) I had heard a lot about the Second-hand Souk and thought it had the potential to be an interesting activity. At the very least, I thought I could score some traditional Saudi clothing for my boys--just for fun.
At 9 a.m. Bubba and I got on the shopping bus and introduced ourselves to the other ladies. The group was fun and very chatty--which isn't always the case on the shopping buses. One of the ladies on the bus, a Canadian, had lived in Riyadh twice, and had lived in the country for four years at present. She had some good tips and advice about the souk. She had been to the souk several times and advised that we keep in groups and to cover our hair. Apparently, you are more likely to be bothered by men at this souk if you are alone or have uncovered hair.
I wasn't looking for confrontation and thought it would be in my best interest to keep a low profile. So, for the first time since entering Riyadh, I wrapped my scarf around my head, covering most of my hair in the process. I quickly discovered that you need more than just a good wrapping method. The material kept slipping. I plan on buying a hood the next time I am in a mall--they are just more convenient.
One of the women I met at the Valentine's Dance went with me in the souk. I carried Bubba J in a backpack. I know I looked unusual as I have never seen anyone else in the Kindgom carting their children around in a backpack carrier. I just wanted to keep him close to me while keeping my hands free. Bubba J, with his blonde hair, blue eyes, and incredibly charming smile garnered a lot of attention. Everyone wanted to talk to him. He took this in, as if it were his due, and waved to his loyal subjects, like he was a little king.
I had heard the souk contained a variety of things, but we were dropped off at the clothing section. As I looked around at the other groupings of household items, I realized it probably wouldn't be safe for me to venture on my own to those areas. I'll have to go when my husband can come along. My friend was more interested in the clothes anyway.
Picture, if you will, an open building, with canopies made of sheets covering the stall. The stalls are all carpeted with rugs. Sunlight peeks through the canopies, but the canopies still manage to keep the area relatively cool. At times, the building can get quite dusty.
The stalls are filled with clothing hung on racks. Proprieters sit in the aisle ways, watching customers shop, calling out to shoppers, and keeping an eye on everything. If you approach a stall, you are immediately presented with a multitude of the most hideous dresses that make some of the gaudier Las Vegas style gown seem positively conservative. Sequins aren't just appreciated, they are worshipped on gowns. And the color combinations are a visual assault on the senses. The shopkeepers shove these atrocities in my face as I swipe away the offensive things and firmly say "NO"!
My friend and I wonder around until we find a stall with large racks full of thobes, the traditional dress for men. The stall-keeper helps me find robes, pants, and head-dresses. I pay about $8.00 for each ensemble. Then I find a couple of small abayas for my daughter. I hadn't planned to buy one for her, but she asked for one to wear when I wear mine.
My friend, a woman from Singapore, is skilled at haggling, and talks down prices wherever she goes. Women, heavily veiled, walk around the stalls, perusing the merchandise. Stall-keepers lounge on chairs in the aisles, staring and shouting. There are a relatively few people there, on a weekday. I've heard that it gets very busy and hectic on the weekends.
It was a fascinating experience. I am definitely going to head there if I need to buy clothing for the children--or to find an outrageous costume.

Picture of the Day: Valentine's Dinner/Dance

My husband and I celebrated 14 years of marriage on Valentine's Day this year. Neither of us are particularly sentimental about the holiday, but when we were young and anxious to get married, and students at BYU, Valentine's Day fell on a weekend. It makes a rather convenient date to remember!
We celebrated by going to a big dinner hosted by the compound. Three bands were lined up to play while we ate food from a large buffet. We were fortunate to sit by two other very nice couples and we would have enjoyed the conversation more if the first band hadn't been so loud--not exactly the right atmosphere for romance or friendly conversation. Oh well. We did have a fun evening. The food was good. My husband looked exceptionally handsome that evening. We met some really interesting people. As Anne Elliot says in Persuasion, "My idea of good company is the company of clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company." Truth!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Photo of the Day: Where sheer chaos reigns. . .

Our compound hosts several events to keep residents entertained. I've been keeping up with the events, trying to keep involved so we'll meet people and have fun. When I saw the Mcdonald's evening for children advertised, I figured my kids would be keen to go. I had no idea what awaited us. . .
Around 4 p.m. on Wednesday (our Friday), families started to show up at the main Recreation hall. Kids buzzed to the front on scooters and bikes. Mothers pushed babies in strollers and held toddlers hands. The rush to the basement Arabian room was a bit exciting. Then we entered the room where the under 12 set were getting geared up for some fun.
McDonald's balloons decorated the room. The children quickly began a collecting game where the object was to get as many balloons as possible, regardless if everyone actually got a balloon. I curtailed my children's participation in this competion and directed them to the face-painting table. (I couldn't help but think of my friend in Hong Kong who runs a face-painting business. I wished she was there.) Kids pushed each other around to get the best spot in the line, while the painting artists were incredibly slow and meticulous in their painting.

W waited patiently with Bubba J to get his face-painted. Bubba J sat patiently in this chair, closed his eyes tightly, and didn't move an inch while getting his forehead painted. Just as my oldest was about to sit down to get his face painted, the artists left. W was indignant. He had waited patiently, despite all the hoards of kids who pushed, shoved, and cut in front of him. W was starving and a little cranky from a persistent headache.
I convinced W to stay and get his happy meal. Distributing the meals was equally chaotic and crazy. We ended up getting our meals. The three oldest boys left to eat at home, while I waited with the two younger ones to see one of the McDonald's mascots to appear.
Once the mascot arrived, the little ones ran to her and gave her lots of hugs. Then I finally convinced them to go.

My take-away from the whole event??? My kids were too well-behaved to survive the malestorm of bad manners, little parental intervention, and chaos. I was frustrated at how many children simply refused to wait in line for their turn, but pushed and shoved their way around. Even more astonishing was how many mothers simply watched this behavior without any intervention--verbal or otherwise. There is something to be said about learning how to share, waiting one's turn, and behaving well in public. At least my kids have internalized these lessons.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

In answer to Western Warmth's Question: School

In the KSA, public school is only offered to Saudi children. From what I understand, the education is based on the Koran, and, I believe that the schools are single-sex schools. School is not compulsory. One statistic I read claimed only 60% of children actually attend school. It could be true, given that Saudi children seem to stay up all hours of the night with their parents.

So for an ex-pat family, private schools or homeschooling are the only two options. There are a number of private schools, often based on nationality, though the schools generally don't preclude students based on nationality, rather that school is taught in the national language and follows a national curriculum.

The school my children attend uses English as the language of instruction, though Arabic, French, and Spanish are all taught. It is truly international, with a wide variety of nationalities represented. Arabic children are welcome to attend this particular school, as long as they can meet the requirements--requisite schooling, passing the assessment test, and payment of tuition.

I didn't realize this until I lived in Sweden, but there is an International School system organization which accredits different schools across the world. These schools have to meet certain criteria and it is a big deal to acheive it. Both of the international schools my children attended in Sweden were in the process of becoming certified by this organization.

I think private international schools are a fine alternative for education when the you are staying in a country for a limited period of time, where public schools are not a good option, or when there are particular language challenges. Sure, my kids don't has as much foreign language exposure by attending a public school, but they certainly get an international experience that is unparalleled.

For me, it was an amazing experience to be surrounded by intelligent, educated, and engaged parents of all nationalities. We especially appreciated getting to know Muslim families. My children have grown up with children from all races and nationalities. They've come to see that there are good people everywhere, regardless of one's location.

One time, while in Sweden, my boys came home from the playground, bristling with indignation. Their neighbor, a darling girl from Sri Lanka, was being teased and insulted by another boy on the playground. His insults were of the racial slur variety. My boys quickly defended their friend and said to me, "you should always be nice to people--it doesn't matter what their skin color is."

That, to me, was the most powerful thing that came out of their international school experience. My kids didn't just say that because I had talked to them, their experience with people from all over the world really taught them that skin color, ethnic identity, or language differences are surface. People are people. They learned to enjoy differences, rather than shun them.

Picture of the Day: Malls are wasted on me.

Twice a day, shopping buses leave the compound for various malls around Riyadh. One thing you should know about Riyadh is that shopping is a big deal here. There are lots of big malls with lots of great shopping. The sales are supposed to be pretty amazing as well. Usually, there are grocery stores attached to the malls so you can easily shop for most of your basic needs.
(Kingdom Mall is the U-shaped grey ghostly building on the left.)

A neighbor suggested taking the shopping buses for a month to get aquainted with the different malls. I guess it is essential knowledge when you are looking for certain ingredients and things. I thought it was a good idea as I would get out of the compound for a few hours and soak up some local culture/atmosphere. However, I forgot an essential fact about my personality.


I had been in Kingdom mall before but hadn't thoroughly explored it the last time. I remembered that the mall had a lot of designer stores, but hoped that it would also have other things. I was wrong. Prada, Gucci, Pottery Barn for Kids (I do consider it a designer store as the prices as really high), Saks 5th Avenue, etc. lined the walls. I was tempted to stop by Prada, but somehow, wheeling my toddler in a $10 Walmart stroller, while said toddler was munching on McDonald's fries didn't seem right. Though it might have been funny to shock the salesman with my low-brow connections!

I was starving after eating a crappy breakfast of cereal. I enjoyed some delicious falafel rolls and a cinnabon cinnamon roll. Bubba J and I had a great time at Cinnabon, where the workers enjoyed visiting with my little man. He is SO charming and cute and with his blond hair and blue eyes, he really gets a lot of attention.

I did stop by Crabtree and Evelyn, my favorite soap/lotion shop. Forget The Body Shop or Bath and Body works. Crabtree & Evelyn has beautiful and effective products that are subtly scented. After some searching I found the Pharmacy and was able to get some cream that I needed.

But after that, I was done. I looked for a bookstore, hoping to pick up some books on Saudi culture and customs. I had no such luck.

Bubba J fell asleep. I envied him his cosy seat in the stroller, snoozing away, while I sat on a hard bench feeling horrendously bored and wishing that I had brought my Kindle. Yes, I said that I was bored at a mall. But I was. Usually I can entertain myself by people watching, but there wasn't much to observe. The stores didn't really hold all my interest. All I wanted to do was go home and take a nap.

As I waited for the next hour to tick by before the bus came, I decided to look in one more store. This store advertised its clothing as "cheap and chic". The clothes were pretty, but the prices were not. $900 for a skirt, $800 for a pair of shoes, $2000 for a dress. . . um, if that is cheap, I am not even sure I want to see what is expensive.
Then I started to think and got mad. I wonder what Saudi women do to occupy their time. What kind of hobbies do they have? Do they like to read? Do they spend all their time shopping? Because if they do, that's a crappy way to live a life. Yes, shopping is necessary to live and can even be fun, but a life built solely on shopping is pathetic. (This is what happens when I get bored and then philosophical. . . )

And there wasn't even a grocery store to browse. I don't think I'll be returning to Kingdom mall, unless someone comes and visits and wants to hit a designer mall. Hopefully, the next place I visit will be more entertaining.

Picture(s) of the Day: Off to School

Our kids started school on Sunday. It took forever for them to get enrolled and then start. But start they did. And this mamma is very happy. They've been out of school for six weeks (almost an entire summer vacation). We've had some very good times together, but it was time for them to resume their schooling.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Ikea and the Game Table

You may wonder why I write about such mundane, ordinary things. But for me, these are all the little pieces of this foreign experience that I will take with me. And the other part is that my life has lots of mundane, ordinary bits. Sure, I live in a foreign country, and that can be exciting. On the other hand, the demands of taking care of five children do take up a large portion of my day.

Back to Ikea though. After unpacking for a couple of weeks, I was anxious to finish organizing. I knew Ikea would have the things I wanted to finish the house. We arrived at Ikea in the late afternoon. We were planning to eat and then shop. Alas, the restaurant closed just as we arrived for prayer time. Fortunately, you can still shop, so we wandered throughout the store, as is customary when you go to Ikea.

There is something very comforting about the familiarity of Ikea. We loved visiting Ikea in Sweden and New Jersey. Walking through the doors, seeing familar products and great design felt really good.

We buzzed through my list pretty fast. After going through the upper section of the store, prayer time ended, and the restaurant opened. Sadly, Swedish meatballs are not the same without pork. I had to ask for the gravy and lingonsylt (jam) when they were serving the food. Perhaps the local population doesn't care for lingonsylt? We sat in the family section and enjoyed our little booth.

I just realized that I haven't explained seating arrangements in restaurants. Family restaurants have two sections (even two lines): one section is for men only and the other section is for families. Men will join their families in the family section, but will eat in the male section if they are alone or with sons or male friends. Women always eat in the family section. Restaurants sometimes have two lines with a barrier in between. One line is for men and the other is for women. I think men can go in the women's line if they are with their wives.

The real news of the Ikea excursion is that we found the perfect game table. We had looked for a game table that was a bar table, but large enough to accomodate a big game--like Samurai Swords. (B and the boys love playing these epic games. We wanted a table that we could set up and leave without being destroyed by little hands.) We found the perfect table, but it was really WAY over budget. We decided to wait and save up.

After we had made our way through the store, I mentioned that I wanted to look in the bargain section. W found the table we had wanted at a huge discount. There were a couple of scratches on the surface, but nothing major. We were thrilled. The discounted table was below the price we had budgeted and so we purchased it. Somehow, my husband managed to fit everything in the trunk, yet another reason why he is a genius.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Destination: Junk Souk

This is where I'm going on Wednesday. I'm so excited. I will be bringing my camera and promise to take pictures if I can. http://americanbedu.com/2008/10/21/haraj-bin-gassem-the-hidden-secret-of-riyadh-saudi-arabia/


A word about pictures: there are some restrictions about taking photos in public places. So far I've played it safe by not taking pictures. I'll take my camera on Wednesday and hope to avoid problems.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Picture(s) of the day: Mini-market

Probably a hundred feet from my back door is a little mini-mart. It may be small, but it is suprisingly well-stocked, great for those milk runs. The store has a decent selection of canned goods, fresh fruits and vegetables, frozen meats, dairy products, medicine, magazines, candy, cookies, crackers, chips, drinks, cleaning supplies, diapers, etc. The prices are not exorbitantly high and it is very, very convenient.

And, if we are ever desperate for boxed macaroni and cheese--the Shoprite brand should take care of any cravings. (Anyone else notice the shoprite brand???? I was surprised! Are there shoprites in the western part of the U.S. or is it an eastern store?)


Minty lemonade. Where have you been all my life? Ah, I see, you have been lurking on a compound in Saudi Arabia. Well, I'm glad we've been introduced.

(Take a freshly peeled lemon, add a handful of fresh mint leaves, some sugar and a pinch of cardamon, water, and ice. Blend to perfection. Pour into a tall glass. Sip. Enjoy.)


And, you are welcome.

Friday, February 10, 2012

A picture a day: The Abaya

I'm not much of a photographer. I really only take pictures to put in my scrapbook. In case you haven't noticed, I'm more of a writer. BUT, pictures do capture a lot. So I'm going to try and take a picture or two once a day and post them, so you can get a sense of what it is like to be an expat woman living in KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia).

The Abaya

I've written about the abaya, but some of you may not have a clue what it looks like. An abaya is a long, black robe, with long sleeves. It is hot, despite the thin fabric. It is shapeless. I feel like Harry Potter without ANY cool powers like magic. And it is part of my life here.

I know my picture isn't the greatest. You can't see that the abaya goes down to my ankles. This particular abaya has a hood that I can put over my head if I need or want to cover my hair. Saudi women wear abayas like this. I've never seen a Saudi woman without a hijab (a head covering). There are many Saudi women who will wear half veils, covering their nose and mouth. Some veils cover the forehead, nose, mouth, and cheeks, with small slits for eyes. And other veils completely cover the face (no slits or anything).

I personally can't imagine wearing a veil all the time. I find it challenging enough to put on a hot, black abaya over my street clothes in a desert country. Though, in theory, I could be wearing a bathing suit underneath and no one would be the wiser.

One way to distinguish foreign women is that we don't wear a head covering or veil. You can be approached by religious police and be "invited" to cover your hair. This hasn't happened to me, but it is a good practice to have a scarf or hood available at all times when out in public. I've been told by many people that Riyadh, the country's capital, is much more conservative than the rest of the kingdom. Women in other cities can even wear colored abayas. (Wow! So liberal!) Girls who haven't reached puberty generally don't wear abayas. But I have seen little girls wearing abayas. Yesterday, at the mall, my daughter asked if I would get her an abaya. When I asked her why, she said she wanted to look like me.

I don't know all the reasons why Saudi women wear the abaya. I don't care to comment on it until I do have more information.

I do know that no one wears short sleeves here or shorts. I remembered this yesterday when at the mall and realized that my three of my kids were wearing short-sleeved shirts. I think they were the only kids in the entire mall so dressed. When my husband first started going to KSA for business trips, he quickly realized that his short-sleeved shirts were inappropriate. We were able to find him some clothing that would work well in a desert environment but also not offend anyone. Some Saudi men wear robes and head coverings. Others are very stylish in their western clothes.

One thing that I find particularly strange about women wearing the abaya is seeing the clothing displayed in shops. There are a lot of designer shops with very western clothes. Including clothes that would be, according to these modesty standards I hear so much about here, very immodest. I find the contrast interesting. Perhaps in this case, the abaya allows the women to dress as they please without offending the general population or the law.

ETA: Western compounds generally restrict the wearing of abayas on site. I live on a western compound and am free from the restriction in most of my daily life. However, when I go outside the compound walls I always wear the abaya.
ETA: While I don't love wearing an abaya, I get that it is an important religious and cultural custom. I primarily despise wearing a BLACK robe. Black abayas are neither practical nor particularly kind in this desert country where temperatures routinely soar above 100 degrees Farenheit.

I'm sure to post more about the subject, but for now, that's all I've got!

Catching Up

So I've been really lax with posts lately--not for lack of fodder, but I've been so frightfully busy, and my kids are STILL out of school. Miraculously, they start tomorrow. Which reminds me, the story of getting them into school would blow your mind. Seriously. While it doesn't rival the epic story of our journey to actually move to KSA, it certainly has its moments. I am dying to post about it, but I'm already in a bit of a tenuous position with the school and don't dare jeopardize anything.
I apologize for the hodge podge nature of this post. But in the interest of time. . . .
* After all my qualms, I hired a cleaning lady. She started coming this week--three times a week, two hours a day. I have no qualms anymore. NONE! She's really terrific and terribly efficient. But then, she's not dealing with kids and parenting while cleaning. It is amazing how quickly one can complete a task if you are solely focused on it. She likes the kids, especially my youngest. Yesterday, I had her watch the two youngest children (the house was spotless) while I prepared a lesson for church. B took the three oldest children to the store to purchase school supplies. Can you imagine TWO whole hours without any interruption? My lesson preparation went well and I felt great.
*I've tried really hard to stay on top of water-drinking. But alas, I've had a headache for days that I can't quite kick. I don't think it is a dehydration issue anymore. I felt really lousy yesterday afternoon.
*A went to a glamour birthday party yesterday and had a wonderful time. I enjoyed the adult conversation and watch my girl have fun with other girls.
* After the party, B picked us up and we went to the mall for dinner. Had a lot of fun. And I found a digital piano!!!! http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/840558-REG/Roland_RP_301_SB_RP_301_SuperNATURAL_Piano.html
Eventually, I would like an acoustic piano. But at this stage in my life, and with our moving frequency, a digital piano (with a full keyboard and weighted keys) fits our needs and our budget. We pick up the piano tomorrow. Can't wait to get it.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


I'm not great at playing with my kids. It's terrible, but it is true. My husband does a wonderful job playing with the children, yet another reason why he is such a tremendous father. At home, there are so many distractions like meals that must be cooked, dishes that must be washed, floors that are sticky that need attention. And then there are the electronic distractions like FB or email. And then there is the challenge of the swing shift--the dreaded hours between 3 and 8 where you frantically rush to get dinner prepared while small children hang off your legs crying, while older children ask for help with spelling words, or you are begging a child to finish the next math problem. It's a frazzling, stressful, hectic, awful time of the day.

The last few days, I've started taking the two youngest kids out to play an hour or so before bedtime. I try not to take a book or magazine to read. I push Bubba J on the swing for as long as he wants. "Go faster, Momma!" he'll urge me. Or I'll help A build a house with the giant foam blocks. Both kids love jumping in the ball pit. I like seeing their smiles as they run around. (And the part, I don't tell them? Playing wears them out and helps them get ready for bed!)

I'm surprised how leaving our home to play for an hour makes such a difference in my mood. I'm no longer snapping at them when they beg for one more story. They don't resist me when it is time to lay down. All in all, it is a rejuvenating, refreshing period of the day. So I think I'm going to make it a part of our daily routine.
Posted by Picasa

Settling in

Unpacking and setting up a home aren't exactly thrilling. But seven crates of boxes did arrive at our house a few weeks ago, and unpacked, they must be, otherwise living on a daily basis won't be nearly as comfortable. I don't mind living in a minimalist way, but having a few more essential kitchen tools goes a long way toward more efficiency in the kitchen. Having all my scrapbook supplies at hand isn't really necessary to my well-being, but it sure makes life a lot more pleasant. And while the kids are forced to be more creative without a lot of toy options, they tend to fight less when there are few more toys from which to choose.

And having one's home organized is far more pleasant that constantly rummaging in boxes hoping you actually remembered to pack that needed item. Of course, the needed item never seems to surface until the next day, AFTER you've given up!

I completed unpacking all our boxes last week. This week has been all about organization. After a trip to Ikea, I was able to finish setting up all the rooms. I'm thrilled! And our house looks great. I don't have a lot of knick-knacks lying around and so it may look austere to some, but everything feels fine.

My kids were happy to have their rooms more organized--well, maybe not the little ones. I found this little bin train in their room last night while getting them ready for bed!
Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Jet Lag

Wow! I have been busy. I'm behind on posting. And there is so much I want to write about.

Jet lag is something with which, unfortunately, I am too familar. There is always a point in traveling where I am so exhausted that I am shaking and can't form a coherent thought or sentence to save my life.
I hit that point when I was in the airport in Riyadh, waiting for my passport to be stamped. It took an inordinate amount of time to get my fingerprints taken because I was shaking so badly. My husband, in an earlier visit, had the foresight to make sure all our beds were ready. (Bless that man!)
I think I slept better that first night in our new home than I had in months. The year leading up to this adventure was incredibly stressful. My husband traveled frequently and with little warning. He would call me one day and tell me he would have to make a trip and then be gone in two days. We were a year behind in our assignment placement and so he had to make frequent trips to Saudi Arabia.
When my husband is gone from home, I don't sleep well. I'm not afraid of being alone in the house, but I can't relax without him by my side. So I went months suffering from sleep deprivation. (Sounds like being a new mom, doesn't it? Sadly, I didn't have a darling infant to make the sleep deprivation worthwhile.) At one point, my doctor prescribed some sleep medication for me because I was experiencing frequent migraines with occular effects.
And then there was the stress. I don't think you can even begin to imagine what the entire process was like. Unfortunately, our company really didn't know what they were doing in the visa process. They delayed procedures that should have been done months ago. My poor husband ended up doing most of the work to get our assignment approved and the visa process completed. We would cross one hurdle and then be faced immediately with another.
We said many earnest prayers. We fasted. We did everything we could, but still the process dragged along. The day of our flight was fraught with its own challenges. So when we FINALLY safely landed in the Kingdom, the only thing we felt was complete relief.
We were together again. My husband wouldn't have to travel. We had our house and our stuff had arrived so we could unpack. So, for the first time in months, the stress and tension was gone.
I think my kids struggled with it for a bit, but they would hang out in their beds and not bother us.
I think that was the first and only time I have ever escaped jet lag. Funny, isn't it???

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Random thoughts about my life right now

* Holy Mackeral, it is DRY here in the kingdom. I feel like a shriveled mummy unless I constantly consume water. I've woken up with dehydration headaches a few times, so I've taken to drinking a couple of bottles of water before bed. Yes, I have to get up a few times in the night to go to the bathroom (but I'm kind of used to that--hello (!) I have five kids, so I'm not exactly a stranger to uninterrupted sleep nor am I a stranger to frequent night potty breaks) but I'll take that any day over the headaches.

*Woke up yesterday to the aftermath of a night sandstorm. There was sand EVERYWHERE. The sky was all hazy and the air was gritty. The kids didn't play outside until the afternoon because the air was bad.

*I only have a few boxes left to finish unpacking. My kids' rooms need organizing but I am saving that until I go to Ikea to get some plastic sorting bins.

*I'm chilling in my pjs today because I can and when I finish this post, I am going to work on my scrapbooks. YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!
* Yesterday at our "social gathering" I heard a guy speak about Lehi's route through the desert and posited its location in Saudi Arabia. It was cool to see pictures of wadis and real streams in the desert. I would like to visit those places (not sure if I buy the guy's theory) but am not willing to possibly be thrown in jail to do so. Some of the sites are ancient sites and claim to have some Mosaic ties and so are protected. So if you try to go to a possible Mount Sinai site, you have to go through guards and walls to do it. NOT WILLING TO LANGUISH IN A SAUDI JAIL FOR AN ALLEGED BIBLICAL SITE!!!!!!!!!!!!

*I made my yummy chocolate cake yesterday and it was awesome. It was a fabulous way to end my fast. http://tiffanynofrillscookingblog.blogspot.com/2011/11/homemade-chocolate-cake.html

*Crunchy oat cluster cereal with dark chocolate shavings is delicious and a much better way to a get a chocolate fix than say American chocolate crap cereal.

*I suffer from a food fixation. You can tell a lot about a culture by the food it eats. For example, Swedish food doesn't have a lot of spices in it. Spices are only meant to really bring out the genuine flavor of the potato or fish or whatever. Kind of like the Swedes themselves. They like quality and the genuine article.

* Bubba J is a Terrible Two-year old tyrant.

* I hope Bubba J's head survives our tile floor. The score in Bubba J vs the Tile Floor: Bubba J: 0 Tile Floor: 4 Sadly, my little guy looks like he has been thumped one two many times when in reality, every single bruise and bump comes from some nasty spills.

* B and I went out to dinner on Wednesday (which is like Friday) where I had an incredible Morrocan dish. Chicken couscous with cinnamon, onions and raisins. It was SO rich but so delicious.
*We finally bought a water cooler!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I'm thrilled to have fresh, cold, safe water to drink. We've been buying large jugs of water and then storing them in the fridge. Nothing beats the convenience of a water cooler on the counter. And if you ask why we have a water cooler on our counter, may I remind you that I have a two-year old toddler tyrant?

* Riyadh has an interesting blend of shops and restaurants that look like dives and then these really sophisticated skyscrapers with interesting designs.

*I have yet to eat any falafel. That is just wrong, my friends.

* My kids were FINALLY accepted into school. Now we just have to hurry up IBM to pay tuition and then they can go back to school.

* Finally, there are those little moments that make me glad to be a mom. Watching my five children get into a light sabre battle was one of those little moments.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


If you ever have read a blog from an expat woman living in Saudi Arabia, they tend to complain about boredom a lot. (For the record, boredom has never been a problem for me, wherever I am.) And to be fair, it isn't easy. A woman's personal freedom is seriously curtailed here. You can't drive, you have to wear a hot black robe when you go shopping, and your rights are really limited. American women are used to being able to function independently. So I get the complaints, really, I do.

But dude, (I'm in that kind of mood, forgive me) I've spent the last 13 years of my life living on a compound of one, taking care of my family. As much as I LOVE being a mom, it can be very isolating, especially when you have a succession of small people taking up your time, and demanding your total attention.

So, living on a compound with four swimming pools within walking distance, having a grocery store mere steps away from my door, enjoying warm weather (I know, I know, it will get hot as Hades here, but I'm going to enjoy what it is right now and avoid dreading what it will become.), being able to walk to a cafe or restaurant, hanging out with other women of all nationalities, having activities like ballet and karate available to the kids, and letting my kids roam free without a lot of worry, is pretty much my current definition of heaven.

And if these amenities dull in time, I'm sure my Kindle full of books or my scrapbook obsession will provide additional entertainment.

And hello(!) it is the first of February and the kids went swimming. How cool is that?

If I get bored, I promise to let you know. In the meantime, I need to go have some fun.

Posted by Picasa