This past September 25th, I have been in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for a year. This year has been adventurous yet challenging but the cultural differences, language barriers and the extreme climate, I believe, have not been as much of an obstacle as I originally thought it would be.
My first attempt at putting together a blog to chronicle my experiences in Saudi was in August 22, 2011. My first posting read as follows:
“After working 17 years for the Feds in the US (with a 4-year stint in the Navy), I began to wonder how would it be to work across the pond. I applied and accepted a position abroad. In September, begins my new life and career at 49 (almost half a century!) in Riyadh Saudi Arabia.
I leave behind (temporarily) an adult daughter, two Grand-daughters and an array of good friends and family. I am sure I will learn a lot about the Arab culture but mainly…….about myself”.
From the point of receiving a call from Major General Turner, welcoming me, I have logged a total of 64 blog posts of my personal views, observations and experiences on life in Saudi Arabia.
My adventure began with buying a couple of abayas, receiving my ticket, visa and multiple immunizations; nine to be exact! I took the Oath of Office for my new appointment and spent the last week on U.S. soil visiting with friends and family. I departed Orlando, Florida on September 25, 2011. I spent a whole day in Instanbul, Turkey because the flight was delayed and my luggage was misplaced and no one spoke English! There began my first realization that regardless what part of the world you are in and regardless whether you speak the language, survival instincts kick in and you will find some way to communicate. Finally at 2:30 a.m. on September 27th, I arrived in the “Kingdom”, Saudi Arabia!
The rest of month transitioned me into the Saudi’s way of life with a trip to Panorama Mall, Clock Tower and Danube Hypermarket to name a few. I also learned that one U.S. Dollar equals 3.75 Riyals. The currency sort of reminded me of Monopoly money! I met so many folks in the first month, but the most memorable was Ms. Jean, the Post Exchange manager. As soon as my sponsor introduced us, she instantly gave me a big hug and said "Welcome to the Kingdom!"
I began observing many things around me such as the melodic sounds of the Muslims praying that rang throughout Riyadh, several times a day. I found out that I had a dual role. Not only would I work on base but I would be working closely with the Saudis at King Fahad National Guard Hospital. It was a strange feeling at first but with their approving eyes and warm smiles all focused on me, the Saudis instantly made me feel at home and like a part of their team. I also ate my first Saudi breakfast which consisted of pickled vegetables, falafel (deep fried ball or patty made from ground chickpeas and/or fava beans), pies filled with feta cheese, hummus, fava beans and qawah (coffee).
The base had their official functions such as Sports Day which promoted sportsmanship and camaraderie, the Thanksgiving luncheon and the Memorial Ceremony that memorialized the explosion in Riyadh on November 13th that severed the lives of eight people, including an enlisted soldier.
Since I knew I would be in the “Kingdom for at least a year, I asked my friend Ablah to teach me some basic Arabic words and phrases to help me around Riyadh. In the evening I was receiving beginner instruction in the gentleman’s game of golf by Jay. Frustrating enough with the compound security, my Floridian neighbor and friend, Bruce, who is a doctor in Jeddah, came to visit me on one of my weekends off. I experienced my first rainy day on November 26. So, the misconception that the desert is only hot and dry with relentless heat is not all true. Back in the State, my favorite couple, Adrian and Tookie celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary and I lost two loved ones, Julia Debose and Edwin Callwood; may they rest in peace.
I really started getting around Riyadh with my co-worker Cherryl. We visited Le Gourmet, the King Abdul-Aziz Racetrack and I also started taking golf lessons and horseback riding lesson at Dirab Golf and Country Club. 2011 ended with an New Year’s Eve festival.
The base had their annual CAPSA festivities where we dressed up in Arabic clothing, and experiencing the “flavor” of Arabian flair and food. I also fell into the routine of going bi-weekly to a woman-only spa called Almultaka’s. You just cannot be in Riyadh and not play golf at Riyadh Greens; one of two 18-holes grassed golf courses in the area. Never losing the flare for exploration, I checked out the Nail Shop and the Paper Room which is not your ordinary stationary store both located in the Kingdom Center. I also visited the Middle East’s popular Saudi Arabian electronic store chain called Jarir Bookstore. It reminded me of Best Buys in the U.S.
Besides learning how to make Shawarmas at Ablah’ house, I visited the luxurious and lavish Ritz Carlton located on Mekkah Road near the Diplomatic Quarters in Riyadh. On the Memorial Day weekend, I flew to Jeddah and wrote a blog about the infamous body of water called the Red Sea. After that nostalgic experience, my day finished with a bite to eat at Caffe Aroma located on Corniche Road. The spring ended and the summer kicked off with a dinner to commemorate the Army’s 237th birthday on June 14th.
Finally, after nine months of being in the “Kingdom” and I went on vacation! The first stop on my trip and an item on my “bucket list” was beautiful Cape Town South Africa! I was awestruck by the scenic Chapman Peak Drive, Table Mountain, the Cape of Good Hope, the humorous penguins on Boulder Beach and the clever baboons around Scarborough Beach. Family and friends were also the high point of this trip. So I caught up with them in New Jersey, Florida, San Diego and San Francisco. I traveled to all of these places in just three weeks but what a renewal of the mind and spirit!
I have really enjoyed the Saudi culture and all that it has offered the year I have lived here. As a Westerner, I had several pre-conceived notions that were cultivated by what is reported by the media about the Arab people, their religion and customs. I thought I was well versed based on my experiences back home with my neighbors who are Muslims but I realized now that I was blinded about most of the culture, but now I’ve observed it and have a better understanding and respect for their way of life. The day to day interaction with my co-worker Ablah assisted in my understanding and perceptions. We constantly had daily unbiased talks about each other’s believes and values which I believe torn down most of the barriers (i.e. religion, prejudices).
I wrote in my first blog post that I would learn a lot about the Arab culture and about myself. Well, I have. I am now equipped with forbearance for others’ differences (i.e. religion, language barriers, culture), patience for the pace that others have and will always move to and regardless of where I am in this enormous world “People are the same where ever you go, there is good and bad in everyone. If only we could live together in perfect harmony, learn to give each other what we need to survive together alive” (Ebony & Ivory by Steve Wonder and Paul McCartney).
This experience has been invaluable, one of which I will never forget and enjoyed sharing every moment of it through GMarie’s Page.
As-salaam Alaeikum (Peace be on to you) and thanks for reading!
All the best,