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..

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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**

5 Best Hangout Spots in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Ever been to a country that has no movie theaters, clubs, or bars? This is Saudi Arabia!  With about 9 out of 10 workers in this country being expats, we must creatively find ways to have fun. If you happen to make it to the capital city of Riyadh, here’s some tips to make this city feel a little more like home…

1) Hike w/ the Hash

Most major cities around the world have Hash House Harriers (HHH), a group of hikers that get together and explore the local terrain. What makes Hashing in Saudi so special, is the differing landscapes of the desert.  With the permission of authorities, it gives foreigners-only the opportunity to mingle freely, sans abaya (black cloak women wear), and build valuable contacts to make life in Riyadh much easier.  The best part is stumbling across unique finds, like desert diamonds, hieroglyphics, or desert roses.  To seal the memory, end your hike next to a campfire, feet in sand, watching the sunset.

*Locations: Changes weekly.
*Price: 10 SAR/week.

2) Hamam at Direm Beauty Center

Basically, during Hamam, an old lady gives you the best bath of your life! You can find everyone from soon-to-be Saudi brides to curious expats getting this treatment done. It can be compared to the body scrubs of Turkey or the jjimjilbangs of South Korea. The entire treatment is done in a wet sauna, where the woman slathers you with mixtures of soap, oil, and mud.  After she removes a layer of your DNA, you may find that you are a shade and a pound lighter. It’s an interesting experience that has you walking away with skin so soft and clean, as if you were just born yesterday.

*Location: Take Exit 5 at China Mart/Carrefour. Make a U-Turn. Then get onto the service road (be careful not to enter the highway on the right). Direm International Instititute de Beaute is a white building on the right.
*Price: 130 SAR

3) Eat at Najd Village

If you want to experience what ancient Saudi Arabia was like, you must visit this restaurant! When you first walk in, the stone walls encase you like an old fortress. Simple rarities here, like the rich color patterns found in the painted doors, gold Arabic antiques, and plush green grass, are a joy to see.  Every group is  given a private eating room with wrap-around floor seating. The meal is started off with the traditional Saudi dates and tea. And then you are served huge dishes that meant to be shared. Here’s one of your few chances to try camel!.. Don’t forget your camera. This restaurant is a unique experience that you may want to capture.

*Directions: On the corner of King Abdullah Rd and Abo Baker Rd. Across from Prince Sultan University
*Prices: range from 10 – 135 SAR

4) “Visit another country” at the Diplomatic Quarters

Similar to compounds, but on a grander scale, the Diplomatic Quarters is an expat’s road to freedom. These mini international neighborhoods are neutral grounds, where foreigners can do various activities that may not be available on the outside. Often, different embassies will throw a festival for any given holiday, have outdoor movie showings, or BBQ’s. For runners who are confined to the “dreadmill”, the greenery of trails is a dreamland.

This picture is from the blog – Shards of China, by Nicholas Kellingley. If you enjoyed it you can find more material here at http://shardsofchina.wordpress.com and you can also follow him on Twitter – @ShardsofChina

5) Shop and Eat at Al Faisaliya Tower

If you’re looking for a fancy night out on the town, you must pay a visit to The Globe restaurant at the top of Al Faisaliya Tower.  Here you can taste a variety of European meals, High Tea, and deserts, at a table that overlooks all of Riyadh. If this doesn’t fit your tastes, step over to Il Terrazo restaurant, an all-you-can eat Brazilian barbeque. This open-air, but misted, restaurant plays music (which is absent in most public places) and is a mixed gender zone. Once the sun sets, step out onto the observation deck for a 360 degree view of the city, with the desert in the background. Then walk off the food, in the expansive mall below.

*Directions: Major landmark on King Fahd Rd and Olaya St.
*Prices: 100 – 200 SAR for The Globe
200 SAR for Il Terrazo

Don’t Worry… Be Happy

“The Constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.” ~Benjamin Franklin

After last week’s ranting, I figured that it would be appropriate to do an entry on happiness. Yesterday, my co-workers and I attended a social, where we watched an awesome, inspirational documentary, called “The Happy Movie”. It’s one of those topics that everyone searches high and low for, when it’s simply placed right under our noses. Media teaches us that happiness is something that only certain people achieve; the beautiful, the rich, and the famous. However, people of the exact opposite have seemed to have more fulfilling lives. The start of the movie shows a man from India, who wakes early every morning to carry passengers on a rickshaw. He does this physically strenuous job in the beating sun, for hours, while wearing flip-flops .. He comes home to an open-air shack, covered by tarp, with wooden beds and dusty floors (Shadyac, 2002).. While many may not label this as the ideal life, this man was tested to be as happy as the average American. This man had a job, shelter, and a family to come home to. As long as basic needs are met, people are generally happy.

In 2010, studies have shown that the U.S.  was twice as wealthy as we were 50 years ago, but people were still not any happier (Shadyac, 2002). Once basic needs are met, the ranges of happiness between incomes of $5,000 to $50,000 are dramatic. However, happiness from $50,000 to $50 million were not as noticeable. Most of our happiness (50%) is actually genetic. While surprisingly, circumstances like income and social status, ONLY account for 10% of ones happiness. You can control the other 40%. These are done through intentional actions, such as exercise, developing close relationships, and helping others (Shadyac, 2002).  These steps can actually release just as much dopamine (or pleasure sensors) into your brain, as a cocaine high. Don’t use these neurons, and you lose them. This is possibly why you hear of happier people living longer.

In industrial Japan, people are literally working themselves to death.  As families disconnect, and priorities are geared towards money and development, this lethal exhaustion causes “Karoshi” (Shadyac, 2002). However, In Okinawa, Japan, these islanders are said to have the world’s longest living population (Shadyac, 2002). They hold on to traditions and are very connected in their social lives and between generations. This is another factor that promotes long life and happiness.

I personally believe that another intentional action is having a positive attitude, being optimistic, and associating with encouraging crowds. This seems to have a more favorable affect on your future, than money.  This is one area in my life that’s currently being tested. I once watched a movie called “The Secret”, that teaches the Law of Attraction (Byrne, 2006). Its basis was that you achieve what you believe. This movie takes a scientific approach. However, I prefer a more religious view of the theory. Have you ever driven down the rode and passed a police officer, when suddenly you start to get paranoid that you did something wrong? Next thing you know, you’re pulled over for speeding or car tags. While many may label this as a coincidence, “The Secret” would say that basically you gave off the vibe and attracted the following action.

The happiest place in the world is said to be Denmark.  Free education through college, free health care for life, and their co-housing communities allow for families to split all of the daily responsibilities (Shadyac, 2002). Sometimes we undervalue our need for other people.  Especially for the modern American women, we often are taught to be independent.  While there is nothing wrong with learning to do things on your own; none of us came into the world completely alone, as turtles, to raise ourselves. Which is why I believe that, instinctively, no one wants to die alone. Have you ever seen those random people who hold up the “FREE HUGS” signs? As silly as the idea seems, no matter the age, or the grumpiness of the receiver of the hug .. you can’t help but to pull away with a smile. We all need somebody..

In summary, happiness is not all that complicated.

“You were given life; it is your duty (and also your entitlement as a human being) to find something beautiful within life, no matter how slight” (Gilbert, 2006).

 

 

Byrne, R. The Secret. 2006.

Gilbert, E.  Eat, Pray Love. 2006.

Shadyac, T. The Happy Movie. 2002. <http://www.thehappymovie.com/film/&gt;

Optimists Beware!!

Turn away now, if you’re looking for a fuzzy blog entry. This ain’t the one. This is solely for venting… and I invite any others with frustrations with their current country to chime in below.

You know that lifelong question… “Would you chase money or happiness?” On this one assignment, I decided to tough it out and see what it’s like to go after the money.. I read up on the possible extent of unhappiness I’d come across here: the treatment of different hierarchies, as told by the book “The Princess”, inequality of women, from the book “Inside the Kingdom”. I read into the Sharia law, to see what exactly I can and cannot do. With the laws on coverings, proselytizing, selling drugs, mingling with opposite sex.. I knew that all of these were a “no go”, and there’s no point in sparking a rebellion about it. These books, were in the point of view of Saudis. Therefore, I knew that some, but not all of it would apply to me, since foreigner aren’t held to the exact standard. So, then I checked out Expat Guides, Facebook message boards; people who I assumed could paint a perfect picture of what life is like here… But I’ve come to realize that there is not ONE straight story. Talk to one expat who is contracted with a business, and likely he is making double your salary. The one working for in the Diplomatic Quarters has his family to keep him sane. The nurses, live on their own compound. So, I decided then find some teachers.. and realized the difference based on university. Work at one, and you may walk the large campus grounds, uncovered, and with enjoyment of the pool. If you’re a male teacher, you take your breaks at the campus gym and automatically have a higher salary. And then there’s mine… I’ll just say that we have none of the luxuries mentioned above.

Compounds: Most expats in Riyadh live in compounds. I do not. Now, my apartment is not wretched by any means, thanks to me opting to find my on arrangements. However, I must step out my door as a Saudi. I must cover-up, walk with someone, and the language outside that building is Arabic. Compounds, on the other hand; they are secured with thick tall walls, barbed wire, and armed guards.. the inside of most of these forts are mini Americas. It’s a nice step into normalcy after a day out in the streets. Where almost everyone, no matter their background, understands English. Anything that you were told that you would never find in Saudi.. it’s here. Included in these living quarters are pools, fusion restaurants, salons, skating rinks or bowling alleys, courts/gyms, mixing and mingling.. and weirdly the one that I miss the most.. grass! Yes, I said “grass”. I know it sounds simple, but hear me out. I’ve found living in a city that lacks a color palette outside of brown and beige, to be somewhat of an eye-sore. Imagine, never being able to kick off your shoes outdoors. Or how nice it is to sit on something outside other than stone. Or just have your senses livened a little. Even though I’m allergic to it, I stood in grass yesterday.. for a long time.. with my little group of teachers. And for a good while, none of us said a single word.. it wasn’t an awkward silence, because I’m sure we were all thinking of home. It was midnight, while we sat in a lounge chair, with music in the background. This was the 2nd time in 3 months, that I have felt breeze touch my skin, without an abaya (cloak) blocking it.. It’s the simple things, you know… We played ping-pong, pool, air-hockey; a little entertainment, that we can’t find anywhere on the outside. We walked around the grounds, without a guardian. And I’m thinking, outside of these walls, I would’ve definitely gotten harassed for doing the exact same things. “Women shouldn’t be out this late”.. “We shouldn’t play music in public” “Shouldn’t commune with men”.. “And the women are ‘uncovered’”?? I’ve lucked out this semester with awesome classes, so my girls have not really been the issue. It’s just having my most freedoms, big and small, taken away from me, that has been a huge adjustment.

A teacher in Korea asked me the other day, to compare there to Saudi. It’s such a stark contrast, that you’ll only do harm to yourself by reliving the memory. Living among the people, in Korea, was welcoming and quite easy. What you say, your public acts, and your beliefs were all your business. And even if you decided to share, it wouldn’t get you deported or killed. There are other things that I’d like to vent about, but maybe this isn’t the place. I will say that this country is like no other. Therefore, you can’t quite fully prepare for it.

I’m writing this entry because, perhaps I was a little naïve and optimistic, coming into this one. We get so wrapped up, into one thing that we want (whether it’s money or a lifestyle).. that forget that there’s a downside to everything that you get yourself into. And then we start lashing out at loved ones, when their “I told you so” comes true. I’m not one to easily quit, so I will stick it out for the year.. but I will need to do a little attitude adjustment. Although, I have had great moments and have learned tons (if you want to read about those, check out the other posts)…but it would only be fair if I presented the negatives, as well.

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.


Is This What Armageddon Will Look Like?

Today has been an eventful day.. As I was heading out to the desert for a hike there was a light sandstorm, followed by a blinding rainfall. It’s flooded every week I’ve been here, so far. The weather had turned our convoy around, which was upsetting since I needed a break from the city. One of the old ladies in my car says, “Here… have some chocolate”. To my surprise, Vodka-filled chocolate. These sneaky Irish.. That didn’t quite make my day as she hoped, but thankfully my friend in a car far ahead called me about the perfect weather at the meeting point. 

This hike was at the Graffiti Rocks, an archaeological event that I’ve been looking forward to. So after relaying the phone call and casting a vote.. we turned back around and gave the weather another try. Once we arrived, it was absolutely gorgeous! The sky was the clearest blue, that I’ve seen so far here. Not a cloud visible in the sky, yet the sun was not beaming strong at all. These trips are the highlights of my weekend, being able to congregate with foreigners from all corners of the world, hearing all the languages. All the women can’t strip off their abayas fast enough. All the kids can’t wait to break out in a run.

The landscape this week was different than the other locations. Instead of the rocky ground, that pounds your joints by the end of the hour hike.. this one was black rocky mountains, sitting on top of a soft red, beachy sand. Beautiful contrast. For these grounds, you have to venture out a little further from the city.

It was a difficult climb, so the smartest move is to step on the same secure rock as the previous climber. From a distance we’d probably resemble a trail of different colored ants. At the top of the mountain, we find many mounds of rocks, which happens to be ancient tombs. I guess that’s easier piling rock, instead of digging 6ft in this terrain.

We leisurely work our way down the hill with a Spaniard family behind us, which gives my roommate and co-teacher the opportunity to practice their Spanish, and for me to ease-drop on the French clique in front of us. I hate the amount of French language I’ve lost along the years. At the bottom there’s long, flat sandy ground. Enough to make a runner break out into a sprint. I told my crew to go on ahead a little, solely for this purpose. It was short run, but sweet.

We come to a rest stop, where water and oranges are waiting. This is where we got our first glimpse at hieroglyphics. I interpret it to be a man riding on a camel. Then, directly above some fool defaced the rocks w/ initials. How in the world can someone be so naïve to add their modern marks to an ancient site, I have no idea! But it sorta pissed the anthropologist within me. We climb up another difficult hill to see graffiti of camel, antelope and maybe some sort of bird.. along with perhaps an ancient language that actually looks like Korean. Awesome finds!!

Hash Guy is at the bottom of the hill cooking sausages for 200 hungry hikers. The line goes through the parking lot. Some families are out on their beach towels and lawn chairs, around their private campfires. You look up and see the ship-shaped kite blowing, with the clear blue sky in the background… Then, we hear a yell… Some guy’s telling everyone to get down from the rocks and start packing up. We look to the left, and there’s a HUGE sandstorm coming over the hills. Imagine the movie “Twister”…

Everyone’s taking pictures and videos.. I’m one of these crazy ones, who wait til the last moment as well. So we jump into the car, and the storm basically chases us. The cloud looks so thick, that you could imagine the thing picking up our car and everything in its path. We decide to sit it out on the side of the highway for an hour, while the entire sky goes black. It eventually clears a little, and we start inching our way back to the city. By the way, I’m now typing this in the car, as we drive 10mph. Needless to say, it has been quite an interesting day.

Update: So apparently the storm traveled the 100km (60ish miles) to the city..I had my apt cleaned RIGHT BEFORE I left… Spotless! And I return to a thin layer of red dust on literally everything! Grr

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..