Land of the Free.. :)

My first step outside of Saudi soil, on my way to the U.S., was pure bliss! As you can guess, it didn’t take any time at all to take off my abaya; 1 minute after take-off. The airport is supposed to be a safe zone for clothing, but I was so close to freedom that I wanted to be absolutely sure that I’d have no problem being so “naked” in public. My 1st public outfit in the sight of men, was a conservative top with tights.  It was a slight show of my liberation to reveal some curves, instead of being a shapeless figure behind a black robe. I realized that I wasn’t the only one taking advantage of this moment, as some covered Arab women entered the plane restroom and transformed to high heels and flowing-free hair.. Already, I have received a nice little tan; something that you’d assume was easily achievable in a desert. When I return to Saudi, hopefully, the temperatures will drop out of the 130’s so that I can somewhat enjoy the outdoors of Riyadh again.

Image

My 1st ride home was an admiration of all of the greenery, one of the benefits of living in the country. I’ve never missed so much, the trees and grass that I’m so allergic too. The sky seemed bluer.. and maybe I’m mistaken, but the stark white clouds of the U.S. seemed like another feature absent of Saudi. In a country where the only animals roaming are cats and camels, I was quite happy to see those ‘pests’ that we call squirrels!

My 1st drive, took a little getting used to. I have a ‘heavy foot’ and maybe a few flashbacks of the speed demons who live inside of Saudi taxi drivers. After a little bumper accident, I got the hang of things. I took a few destination-less trips around town, searching for any little changes of my city during my short time away. Nothing changed..

I ate … and I ate. Delicious pork ribs, real Mexican food, Americanized Chinese food, BBQ’d and fried chicken wings. I had a shot of alcohol the1st night without the fear of getting arrested and/or deported.  All of those food rules you grew up with.. eat balanced meals, don’t eat desert before dinner, eat all your veggies… all of that went out the window. After 2 weeks and 7 lbs. later, my stomach was real mad with me! But thankfully, I now have ‘close-to-nothing’ priced gyms, outdoor running, and the largest, most easily available choice of health foods and protein powders to get me back on track.

For my 1st form of public entertainment, I hit up the movie theatre 2 days in a row. And for a week straight, I listened to music, while sipping on my drink of choice at an outdoor bar.

These 2 weeks in the U.S. is going by way too fast. And although I didn’t spend my vacation island and country hopping, and going to big events, these little reminders of why I love U.S. and the people in it, was much appreciated. All the time spent on my momma’s couch was a much needed break. I think I have officially gotten all of these wants out of my system, before serving my last 6 months in Saudi.

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The ‘Post-It’ Note Syndrome

I think we all know a person who is extremely stringent on planning! Not only will they keep a basic calendar of birthdays.. but there’s the daily to-do list, timing of meals and water, and even scheduled times to read certain books and lectures. They wake up from a dream and immediately must write it down, in case it means something. Their purse is crowded with little post-it notes with lists; groceries, money calculations, calories, speed they need to run to finish in ‘x’ amount of time. You may call them an over-planner, a control-freak, excessively attentive to dates. Or take a positive approach of it being far-sighted, methodical, and prepared…

I just described myself. And I’ll say the definition falls somewhere in the middle. There are 3 things that I do to find that challenging balance.

1)   Find out the root to why you’re excessive:

What is the purpose of doing this? If it is to seriously keep you rolling effectively through your day, good. But you do not need to write the grocery list 5 times, especially if you haven’t lost the previous 4. If the total is $1.06 over your expected total, will it really be that big of a deal?

2)   Pick up good management books/podcasts:

*Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, is a great time management book. It teaches you how to make smart moves with limited time, and promotes using outsourcing to save you on the stresses of planning.

*The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, is a Christian-based book, that teaches you how to focus more on God’s plan, instead of solely your own. During the 40 days of reading and journaling, you slowly start to chill out when things don’t quite go your way.

*YouTube podcasts of Jim Rohn, Zig Ziglar, and Brian Tracy. These three, I consider the ‘greats’ of time, money and business management. They’re not all ‘wordy’, either. Their comprehensible lectures are really worth the ITunes buy!

3) Keep your “words to live by” handy, when your inner control-freak rears its ugly head. Pick one that you truly believe in (when you’re not stressed). Sometimes this small reminder, is all you need to get back on track… Here’s mine that I go back to, and can always manage to make me smile..

*Listen here:

Or

*Read here:

 

Wear Sunscreen

By Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune

Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’98: Wear sunscreen.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blind side you at 4 PM on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Sing.

Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts. Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.

Floss.

Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.

Stretch.

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.

Get plenty of calcium.

Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for good.

Be nice to your siblings. They’re your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard.

Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.

Travel.

Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble, and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you’ll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.

Don’t mess too much with your hair or by the time you’re 40 it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen.

Sometimes my Students Teach Me

Topic: Jobs

 

“What is teacher major (vocab word) in university?”~Eman

 

“Well, I had 3 majors. French, Forensics, and Diplomacy.” (describing each) ~Me

 

Eman: “So why are you teacher?”..~Eman

 

Then they give me the Saudi “just one moment” sign, before I answer. They argue back and forth in Arabic, and come to the conclusion…

 

 “Teacher, because you are woman..?”~Eman

 

 

At that moment, I felt like crap of all the times I felt my job prospects, coincidences, and paths in life have seemed unfair.. I run into these girls, who are automatically disqualified and have their paths set for them, simply because of their gender. Our current status is more or less our fault.. determined by the moves that we were or were not willing to make in the past. We could’ve studied more to pass a test. Or could have taken an extra course to stay competitive in a job. We can commit to the full plan, to lose the weight. Yes, some things are a crap-shoot.. and simply happens. But today, my girls taught me to be a little more thankful that I’ve at least had a chance.

 

So, here’s to my Eman (future psychologist), Faten (future business woman), Afrah (future teacher), and Bashaer (future professional soccer player)… My few motivated ones, who are such hopeful dreamers to do something different. I pray that your country will see that you have more potential than any man..

 

What learning moment have you had while teaching??

10 Ways to Survive the year in The Kingdom

After announcing my move to Saudi Arabia, I received disapproving shaking of heads, uneasy looks, and plenty of “are you sure??”s. With 15 of the 19 hijackers of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, being Saudi .. I can’t say that I wasn’t a little nervous as well. Movies, like “The Kingdom”, which reenacts the compound bombing of 2003, didn’t help ease anyone’s nerves. So, kidnappings and bombings were what I was looking out for. Little did I know, that these worries are the furthest down on the list. My list is in order, of least often –> often, of what I see foreigners getting deported, arrested, or hassled for.

  1. Negative Talk: Put 100 female teachers together during 6 hours of idle time, and see gossip spread like wildfire. Don’t say anything, unless you don’t mind it shared 10 times over. Voicing your dislike the company can get you fired, if spread to the wrong person. Also, prepare to have your students test you with this question.. “Teacher, do you love our King?”.. The answer is and should always be “Yes”. People have been reported and/or arrested for voicing their opinion otherwise. Thankfully, the Saudi king is actually a good guy and has done quite a bit to advance the Kingdom, making this an easy question to pass.
  1. Contraband: Before you step off the plane and onto Saudi soil, you will see “Illegal drugs = death”. Kind of seems like a late warning, if you ask me.. It’s not like the smugglers can simply turn around. You can find alcohol in a few brave private residences. But getting caught can mean deportation or getting arrested, and possibly receive lashes. Watch “Locked Up Abroad: Saudi Arabia”. Other things not allowed into Saudi, are pork, vanilla extract (it has alcohol in it), and bulk religious items. My Bible was actually confiscated and I had to tuck away my cross.
  1. Gender Mixing: Unrelated men and women are not allowed to gather in this country, except for in a few secure places. I will say that many foreigners have gotten away with this rule. However, it would suck to be the exception.. as one of my friends has spent a few days in jail by doing so. Conservative Saudis are quick to report any suspicions.
  1. Walking Alone: One thing that us foreigners cherish, is the freedom to go wherever you want and however you want. You do not have that freedom here. Walking the streets, in general, is just not done in Riyadh. So a foreign woman walking can bring trouble. Before knowing this, I decided to get a nice workout w/ an hour-long walk home. Fully cloaked from head to toe, I counted 73 honks and 3 men pulling over to offer money. From then on out, I had to put away the “do what I want” “Strong black women”.. I bought a treadmill and took taxis.

  1. Drifters: The latest problem with walking (even in groups), is dealing with Drifters. These young teenage drivers make a game out of getting as close to the pedestrians as possible, without hitting them. A few suck at this game, leaving a few of my fellow teachers injured and/or shaken up.
  1. The Muttawa: Also known as the “religious police”. You will often see these guys parading around the mall advising or harrassing (depending on point of view) females. They don’t have the power to arrest or enforce any laws, but being big men yelling in Arabic, is sometimes enough to intimidate a few. Their actual job is to remind people of the cultural and religious rules of Saudi. They usually pick out foreigners to cover their hair. But you may know the Muttawa from the incident of the womens school on fire. They were locked inside of the burning building because they were uncovered, and unpresentable to public. The latest news were Muttawa attempting to kick a women out of the mall for wearing nail polish.         
    http://www.batangastoday.com/saudi-woman-with-nail-polish-refuses-to-leave-hayat-mall-argues-with-religious-police-video/22730/

  1. Taxi drivers: I know I said in #7 that it’s not the safest to walk, and to take a taxi.. but not any ole’ taxi. When you find one that you trust, it’s a smart idea to take his number as your personal driver. In many parts of the world, foreigners (or American women) are stereotyped to all be “easy”. Therefore, some of the younger drivers think it’s ‘cool’ to have an American in the back seat. He’ll whistle to the young drivers at the stoplight next to him, do the money sign (which is the same in every language), and then ask you to smile …. Or you’ll get some drivers who don’t like foreigners at all, and simply get frustrated with your English/broken Arabic  directions and drop you off on a strange corner in the middle of the night. This isn’t an everyday occurrence, but you can see that it’s getting closer to my #1. To avoid all of this, just have a few good drivers handy.
  1. Standing Out: Single foreign females stick out like sore thumbs. First of all, unlike many Saudi women, we don’t have male chaperones. So this kind of makes you a target for unwanted attention. Being alone, having your hair uncovered, even doing a slight jog to get into a closing store will get you stares. When walking outside, covering your hair could eliminate maybe a quarter of the attention. Wearing a niqab can play in your favor too. Basically.. when in Saudi, do as Saudis do.
  1. Words/Topics to Avoid: If you can teach in this city and country, you can teach anywhere. The limitations we have, makes getting your point across quite a challenge at times. If you’ve read one of my previous posts “Things not to say in a Riyadh University”, you’ll see a lengthy list that can easily get any teacher to slip-up. Some students lure you into these topics. And sometimes it’s totally your fault. “Like, duh, what were you thinking, talking about birthdays???”. I’ve accidentally hit these topics a few times. Thankfully, my students love me and let it slide 🙂 Some teachers aren’t so lucky and get reported. This goes on your record, and if done enough could be a reason to be let go.
  1. The unexpected: The #1 thing that I fear in this country, are accidents. Everyday on the way to school we cross a 3-lane, 4-way intersection that has no stoplights. We go over about 10 unmarked speed bumps. The lines to designate the lanes are faded to no avail. There’s a random trough of a bulldozer sitting in the middle of the road. Construction workers lifting an unprotected spin-saw 3 stories, using a rope tied around the handle. Right-laners make left turns. Metal pipes blowing hot steam onto the sidewalks. Jumping over boulders, ditches, and puddles when it hasn’t rained in weeks…All of these things have no warning signs before you reach them. The “Final Destination” series, should have been filmed here.  To sum it up.. Safety is not #1 priority, so constantly be on alert!

The real-life ‘roadrunner’. Ostrich running the streets of Riyadh, a few months ago..

Walk to the Right, Please!

Yesterday, I officially became a “walker” … No, not the infamous zombies of “The Walking Dead”… More like a mall walker, but in a school setting. Something has always irritated me about seeing these ladies circle around Walmart, nicely air-conditioned, never dripping a sweat, stopping to check out the latest sale. The newbies always tend to take up the full aisle, until they’re taught by a pro or get enough irritated glares. I felt that real walkers hit the track, a wooded path, or at least a treadmill. But these mall-walking events just looked like a social hour to me. I wanted to see someone workout so hard, that they’re too tired to talk; too annoyed with their jabber-mouth partner, because she’s throwing off her breathing rhythm; irritated with the one who’s scared to sweat because it’ll turn her pink shirt into red under the armpits. I applauded the mall-walkers who were taking their 1st steps in working out, or even the elderly who needed a controlled environment. But the rest of them, they needed to step it up!

And now, I’m one of them ..

If I could, I’d run laps around this city. I’d have my running body back.. and feel totally winded, but satisfied with the effort I put in. I’d carb-load on those Saturday 13-milers, and not feel an inch of guilt about it. Take in all of nature, as I run past muddy lakes, crowded trees, and jittery squirrels. I’d mark off each day on my workout calendar, as I work up to marathon distances. Eat, breathe, and live running!

But, I’m an ESL teacher in the restrictive country of Saudi Arabia. The high today is 120 degrees. People catch taxis to simply cross the street. I must wear a long abaya to my ankles, that would definitely trip me up and send me tumbling into a pile of rubble. To top it off, the abayas are black, soaking up every ray of sunshine. The sight of a woman, a foreign woman, running; they’d think I stole something. And with my lack of Arabic, it’ll be hell trying to explain my way out of that one… So on most days,  I’m confined to the treadmill, and now the hallways of my school.  The bland white walls that make up a total maze, does not liven the senses. I’m wearing that ridiculous combination of work skirts and tennis shoes. And getting awkward glances from students, even though the other teachers spend their free-time playing badmitton and racketball in the corridors.

However, me and my co-worker, with the same love of running, sucked up our pride and hit the halls. After 45 minutes of power walking, or “patrolling the halls”, I felt the pulse of my heartbeat in my legs. My heart rate picked up a beat and we discovered new alleyways of our guarded compound. It was time well spent, that I would have used napping in the lounge. And I no longer have to fool myself into thinking that I’d actually get up at 4:00 in the dreaded morning to hit the treadmill. I was reminded that it’s not always about who can finish first, beating your PR, or hanging another medal. Despite the absence of all that, it was a great workout. Tomorrow, we may tack on some stair climbs, and add a few teachers to our posse.

So here’s my apology to all of the mall-walkers of America, for not taking you guys seriously. I’m sure you have your reasons for your chosen workout, whether it’s to escape pollen, walk on level ground, or for the entertainment of “people watching”. I may join you, one day, when I get back Stateside.



Things NOT to say in a Riyadh university

I was just given my Culture Sensitivity List for this semester’s class…

Basically, if you’re considering teaching in Riyadh, prepare to get creative!

Here are the topics you must either avoid, or proceed with caution:

1) Adopted children and children conceived out of wedlock

2) Alcoholic drinks and intoxicating drinks

3) Birthdays

4) Blended family concepts (e.g. a step-brother/ step-sister living together)

5) Boyfriends or girlfriends

6) Celebrities: actors, actresses, musicians, dancers, etc.

7) Christmas

8) Concerts

9) Dating

10) Dramas

11) Drinking alcohol

12) Drugs and drug abuse

13) Devil and demons

14) Euthanasia

15) Eating pork

16) Fashion

17) Film-making

–turning page–

18) HIV or AIDS

19) Holidays outside the two Islamic holidays

20) Homosexuality

21) Love stories, being in love, falling in love, love at first sight, soulmates

22) Magic, magicians

23) Mental situations, mental diseases, etc.

24) Mixed gender situations (men and women working together, socializing, etc.)

25) Movies: only when talking about a particular movie or when the word movies is used to refer to the cinema

26) Moving out (not living with the family in the same house) at the age of 18

27) Music, musical instruments

28) Neuroticism

29) Partner relationships (unmarried couples)

30) People not dressed properly, e.g. wearing shorts (men or women)

31) Plastic surgeries, physical appearance changes

32) Political topics, elections, etc

33) Professional dancing and dancers

34) Psychologists or psychiatrists

35) Religion

36) Sculpture (human/animal faces)

37) Singing

38) Sexually transmitted diseases

39) Spirits and witchcraft

40) Social networking

41) Superpowers or superheroes

42) Superstitions: beliefs not based on facts/scientific knowledge (crossing fingers for good luck, the number 13, walking under ladders)

43) Theatre

44) TV shows or programs that discuss inappropriate themes like music, dancing, (American Idol, So you think you can dance, etc)

45) Tobacco and smoking

46) Women driving

**Scratching my lesson plan, before today’s class**

Saudi Women: The Next Generation

Men, religion, and tradition has an upper-hand on how things are run in this country. A lot of topics almost seem pointless to question “why”. It just simply is…

In a previous post, I talked about my goal of raising free-thinkers.. Not to the extreme.. but just enough that the ladies learn to have their own opinions. So far…so good 🙂 In the 2 months that I’ve been here, my classes have gone through 3 projects to develop this. And I’m realizing how much of a new concept this is to many.

      1. Debating: My girls seem to have never been taught to argue their point of view. In a country where 100% of its Arabs have the same religion, where nothing negative can be said about the government, and even no point in debating the dress code.. I can clearly understand why. They had a difficult time with the concept of debating; how it can evolve from its starting point, how it’s not planned out with the opposing team, how you can predict and plan for the other team’s comeback. Although they initially broke all of these rules, at least they came up with, in conjunction, some pretty valid points. What made it a success though, was the teams’ realization that the audience (rest of the classroom), their friends who they could’ve sworn thought the same way as they did, challenged their opinion. This whole time, I assumed the debate would take place in the front of the classroom. This was a pleasant surprise 🙂 The flow was natural.. unscripted.. under control…genuine opinions… and best of all, in English! I’ve done my job, and they made me quite proud 🙂
      2. Problem-Solving: I won’t say that all of the ladies are spoiled… but pretty much! Because many Saudi women don’t work in this country, they are given allowances..some pretty hefty allowances. Ask anyone of them what their hobby is, and the answer is “shopping”. It’s not uncommon to have personal drivers and housekeepers. Heck, I even have one. Therefore, there’s not too many problems that these women have the experience of solving. So we chose broader topics like pollution, obesity, and having too much free time (something they know plenty about). Although solutions were as simple as “recycle”, “exercise”, .. the success was for them to think of more hobbies besides shopping during their free time. The presenters came up with a nice little list. Whether they will do it or not is another question..
      3. Dreaming: I’m a huge dreamer!! These ladies were not. So yesterday, for our storytelling unit, I wanted them to fast-forward 50 years and write their autobiography. This was sort of in the style of a “vision board”. Everything you can possibly want for your life, from your dream job, to the names given to your future children. Here comes the confusion. For a few devout Muslims, dreaming of their future seemed pointless since it’s solely dependent on Allah. As a Christian, I can kind-of understand this. Many folks try to figure out their purpose, and totally skip the One who actually gave you one. It’s like trying to understand a new invention, but asking everyone around you, besides the actual Inventor or the manual… BUT outside of all of this, one can still dream. I don’t believe we’re merely puppets. We were given a brain and motivation for a reason. By the end of the exercise, ALL of the ladies had detailed descriptions of their dream husbands, what they’d teach their children, and how many rooms are in their future homes. They elaborately and passionately expressed their hopes of law school and degrees of political science… Although, there is only one batch of female law graduates in this country, I’m am almost certain that one of mine will be next
      4. Today, marks the graduation date of Saudi women lawyers 🙂
        http://www.alriyadh.com/en/article/644734/print

You live where??? Saudi Arabia?!

I just realized that the entire time that I’ve been writing on Saudi Arabia, I’ve never given a proper introduction about the city I live in, Riyadh… Riyadh is the conservative capital, almost directly in the northern center of the country. Contrary to popular belief, its urban inhabitants do not go to work by camel, nor are they totally ignorant to western ways. The streets are bumper to bumper with foreign taxis who break every driving rule that you’d find in an organized city. Here, you will only find a man behind the wheel, and the occasional 12 year old driving his mother to the mall, which also explains the craziness in the streets.

The Arabs of Riyadh range from Pakistani, to Emirati, to African. There’s a rainbow of complexions, wide variety of hair textures, and all shapes and sizes. I assumed that the personality of Saudis would be very dry, and I blame media for this misconception. However, the college-age crowd that I teach are very giggly and immature. I’ve found most of the older Saudi women to be incredibly friendly and giving. They are all close-knit to their friends and family. And once you’ve made your way into one of these categories, you’re always taken care of.

Family, shopping, and religion make up the life of these people. It’s very simple… and makes me realize how us foreigners strive for so much to keep us happy. Some may say that the Saudi way of life is quite backwards… Yes, it’s very different.. and no, it’s not something I’d like to live in for more than a year.. But, if it’s all that they know, it works for them, and they’re the ones who will be raising their next generations in it.. I guess a passer-by’s opinion of the place, doesn’t count for much.

The religion of Saudi Arabia is Islam. This is seen in everything a Saudi does, from the 5 daily prayers, to throwing an “Inshallah” (Christian equivalent of “Lord Willing”) in their casual conversations. For nearly 30 minutes per prayer call, shops shut down, waiters take a break, and you even get locked into the grocery stores and restaurants. Time is very precious for non-Muslim foreigners here, because of this!

The weather, so far, has been a little iffy. There’s been a weekly rainstorm with the most booming of thunders. Within 15 minutes, the city is flooded, due to the lack of sewers. With the piles of puddles combined with 90+ degree weather, you can imagine our problem with mosquitos. There’s an occasional sandstorm, and it makes for an awesome sight! This is almost always followed by rain, to clean the city and clear the air. Another one of God’s awesome solutions to our problems.

Most of the royal family lives within Riyadh, which plays a part in why it is more conservative compared to the port city of Jeddah. This family is quite extensive, spanning into the thousands since multiple wives and an abundance of children isn’t shunned. It is likely to have a prince or princess in the classroom.

The laws of Riyadh can be quite strict, which is why the city is considered a hardship. Men and women outside of the family, are almost always segregated. Women wear black-based abayas. Coverings may be a little more enforced in comparison to other cities. Music in public is outlawed. The mentioning of pigs and dogs, the picture of a woman’s face, or pop culture references are not allowed in the classroom.

The food is a great mix of the Gulf countries. You can find Saudi kabsa (a mix of meat, rices, and spices), Turkish shawarma (meat wrap w/ veggies and sometimes french fries), and various Yemeni dishes. A lot of dishes include chick peas/hummus and rice. A popular Saudi snack consists of dates (my new fave, but oh so high in sugar!) and Arabic tea. Of course there’s also your Burger King, McDonalds, Applebees, and Krispy Kreme. Two things you will not find in this country is pork and alcohol.


6 Things I Learned from Living Abroad


6) How to distinguish needs from wants

If you’re a fan of the television show “House Hunters”, you will often see potential buyers go through long inventories of things that they need, like a hood over the stove, a jacuzzi to fit 5 people, a shower with a mountain view. I have down-scaled my “must have” list, after some of my travels. The basic American appliances that I have in the U.S. has slowly made it to my list of luxuries. This was realized the moment I arrived in the congested city of Seoul, S. Korea; where there was an odd absence of bathtubs and ovens in apartments. The memories of my spacious country bathroom, was now being compared to the ability to use the bathroom, shower and brush my teeth in the sink.. all at the same time.

Here in Saudi, when someone told me that I’d have to fill my washing machine by pan, pull the machine to a hole in the middle of the floor, drain it, and then hang dry.. I made sure that a conventional washer/dryer unit was added to my list. It’s the simple things that you miss the most, when everything is foreign to you. I no longer will assume that another country’s definition of a “need” and “want” is the equivalent to my own.

5) Your survival instincts come into play

Before leaving the US, I’ve often been asked.. “Do you know anyone out there?” “Can you speak the language?”.. “No?!? Sooo, how are you going to get around??” … You just gotta figure it out! We are all primitively programmed to fight for our survival. I’ve learned this best in Saudi. The 1st three days in the KSA, I lived off of cold pita bread and rice. I saw not one soul who spoke English or could direct me to something familiar. Each day, I inched a little further down my road, counting buildings and turns, so not to get lost. I took down as many taxi numbers as possible, so at least someone could direct me home. I immediately befriended the hotel staff, so that they’d felt comfortable loaning me money if things got tight. Survival! Without a lick of Arabic…. ‘Whatever higher power you believe in’ always seems to work the immediate things out. You can always figure out the details later..

4) At the same time, you’re never truly alone

There’s 100 English teachers on my campus. All of them came with the same expectations (or lack thereof). All with the same frustrations. All having the same questions… Outside of the school, there is the occasional English speaker; the taxi driver from Pakistan who wants to practice through conversation, the Filipina nurse who understands your homesickness, the Saudi woman who wants to soak up all things American. You start to realize that maybe running off to a new country, a new job, and a new culture… is not such a new idea.

3) You Start to Define Yourself

There are so many titles that one can take on these days.. Democrat/Republican, Gay/Straight, Christian/Atheist. However, quite a few people have a hard time defining why they feel so strongly about these titles. When you live in a country that challenges these labels, you start to see where on the spectrum you fall. Plus, you’ll have a firm example to back it up. Being in a conservative, Islamic country makes me realize how much of a liberal Christian I am.

2) Life should not be all that stressful

There’s a time to work, and there’s a time to play. As an ESL teacher abroad, you finally have ample time to pick up a new hobby, start and finish a book, choose whether or not you want to have a social life, or even be random and attend a ‘camel beauty contest’… As an expat, in general, you have a totally different itinerary from the tourists. Somehow, I’ve managed to experience various activities from having a few cookouts in the middle of an Arabian desert, to digging for fossilized seashells and desert diamonds (http://www.ehow.com/info_8127431_desert-diamonds.html). You no longer check out the city on someone else’s schedule and course. You tend to make your own fun, and it ends up being a way more interesting story to tell.

1) See life through someone else’s eyes

Yesterday, I was watching a music video on MTV. The American singer spent the whole video in a swimsuit. There was no pool, ocean, or water of any kind present. This sorta bugs me. It is one of the reasons why my greetings in Korea often came to “So, can you sing or dance like Beyonce?” or “Are you Obama’s sister?” And they are dead serious, in asking! In Saudi, out of the 5-10 English channels, these were also the American examples portrayed to a conservative country. I have seen some coverings to the extreme (women not showing an inch of the body, including eyes). Under these all-black coverings, I’ve always imagined two types of women: one who was very timid, or someone expressionless. Going against the stereotype, my students, the ladies under the veil, are some of the most outspoken, confident and dramatic girls I’ve ever met..

The Abaya

The first question I’m asked by family and friends after they found out where I was going.. “Do you have to cover up??”… Yes, I do have to, wherever a man is present. In the KSA, women can only be uncovered around other women, her husband, and their family. So basically, all of these clothes I brought for whatever occasion will never be seen accept at work (my all-women’s university) and when I am in foreign-friendly areas (desert hikes and compounds).

The abaya is a long cloak, that is traditionally all-black. But you will often find today’s abayas with different material, designs, colors and sparkles on the sleeves and the base. As a non-muslim foreigner, this robe is the only strict requirement to wear in public. The niqab, is a piece that covers the face, besides the eyes. I am not required to wear this. However, it seems to be quite helpful during this sandstorm season. Covering your hair with a scarf or hijab, is less enforced for non-muslims, but I’m sure you’re more respected if you don’t go against the grain. Everyone carries a scarf just in case they are approached by the muttawa, the religious police.

There’s always going to be a fuss about it. But as extreme and restrictive the abaya may seem to some, it’s quite easy to get used to. Out of all of the factors that contribute to daily stress, this attire is the least of my worries. Yet, is the main thing people want to know about. The language and the segregation, is the big adjustment! My roommate actually remains covered behind the locked doors of our apartment, which probably makes me look like a heathen in my loungewear. I’ve seen some pretty cute abayas.. and I already own 4 (3 I’m in the process of getting altered) and a 5th one being designed. I’m thinking about putting a modern/Latin spin to it 🙂 ..

In the compound, I was actually ordered to remove my abaya.. In public.. It almost felt like they asked me to remove my shirt. Last week, I went out into the desert “uncovered” and even though it felt GREAT for the sun to hit my skin..Strangly, for a second, I felt naked in front of all of the western men. Of course I got over that though, and enjoyed the rare moment. But this lets me know that perhaps the Saudi women, who have been covered all of their lives vs. my two weeks, welcome this conservative attire.. instead of seeing it as a command. Through their perspective, being uncovered in public is kind of like that question, “have you ever dreamed that you were naked on stage?”