Saturday, December 20, 2014

Talia, My Canine Companion

             This past November 21st, Talia (Tally) turned 2 years old! In my past couple of posts, I blogged that pups were found by the base veterinarian. Initially, I was told that Tally was part Saluki. But another fellow blogger, Duncanerd (www.duncan-saudicanaandogs.blogspot.com) dropped me a line and informed me that Talia was actually a Canaan desert dog. After viewing his blog site and seeing his dogs, without a doubt, Tally was indeed Canaan. 

The Canaan breed, originally from Israel, is the oldest dog that dates back to biblical times. The Canaan story is not that much different than the Salukis’. I located a website where you can compare one breed to another (http://www.comparecanines.com/dogs).  According to the website, Canaan shed more than Saluki.  Canaan is more tolerant of other animals, though not tolerant of strangers. Canaan is highly intelligent and has better trainability. They are boisterous and independent compared to the Saluki. Canaan is less susceptible to cancer and eye problems than the Saluki but is prone to hip dysplasia.
  

Tally, in the beginning was very aloof, but has grown to be guarded of strangers and aggressive towards anyone who comes near me. There are only certain people who she will let approach.  She tends to be annoying at times with the barking but she is just protecting her domain. When she is bored, which is often, she commands my attention by pushing her head into my arm so I can massage her. When I am not around and if she can get hold of something, like a pillow or rug, she will destroy it. When I arrive home, the guilt is obvious by her expression that she has gotten into something!  

Tally loves to run so she makes a good jogging companion and she loves to chase and retrieve a ball but will quickly let you know when she’s tired and you can chase the ball yourself!

She has recently made a friend and his name is Choncho! The two, when together, are totally inseparable! Tally has really turned into a great canine companion and protector and as previously posted, she has definitely been a welcome addition to my life.


All the best,

GMarie

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Baboons at Heet Escarpment near Ar Riyadh

              It is Eid Al-Adha in the Kingdom.  Eid (solemn festival) al-Adha (feast of sacrifice) is an Islamic festival to celebrate the willingness of Abraham to follow Allah's command to sacrifice his son Ishmael as an act of obedience to Allah, before Allah intervened to provide him with a ram to sacrifice instead. During the celebration of Eid al-Adha, Muslims commemorate and remember Abraham's trials, by themselves slaughtering an animal such as a sheep, camel or goat. 


 Due to the Muslim holiday, we were off from work for a week, so some of us got together to go feed the baboons on the Heet Escarpment near Ar Riyadh. We brought bananas (of course!) and some fruits and Doritos! The Hamadryas Baboons, native to the southwestern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, live in the canyons and within the folds of the cliffs. The ride was about 20 minutes by highway but the trek up was rough and hilly but well worth the experience.  
             Once we opened the food and start throwing some of it over the cliff to get the primates' attention, it did not take the baboon family very long, with the male dominant in the lead, to discover that there was free food to be devoured. Within a short while we were literally surrounded by at least 20-30 baboons of all sizes! I was a bit apprehensive to move away from the vehicle to get some photos but soon realized that the hungry pack was paying more attention to their dinner that its spectators. Some of the males were horsing around and fighting each other for food while the baby baboons either played or held on tightly to their mamas. But for the most part, the baboons just ate quietly and when there wasn’t any more food, they just hung out until we departed their habitat.


            Another great outing in the Kingdom but remember safety first in your speed while climbing the terrain and use your vehicle as a barrier between your group and the baboons. 

 All the best,

GMarie

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Bowling in Riyadh

Besides shopping, dining out or just simply having a cup of “Joe” at one of the local coffee shops, activities are pretty limited in Riyadh. Riyadh, which is probably one of the strictest of the other Arab countries, prohibits dance clubs, bars, movie theatres or performance venues. Alcohol is banned as well as socialization of genders that are not married. There is always the presence of the Matawa (religious police) who enforce the rules in accordance with the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.

I was a bit surprised to find that Riyadh had bowling alleys. I immediately got a group together to partake in the sport that is enjoyed by millions of people in more than 90 countries worldwide.  We headed to the Intercontinental Hotel (+966 11 465 5000) located on Maather Street, Al Mutamarat in Riyadh. The hotel has a 12-lane bowling alley.  Four of the lanes are segregated from the other lanes and designated as the Family Section. This area permits the women to bowl without an abaya. I am not a big fan of the separation of the genders but, “when in Rome do as the Romans do!” 





It had been a while since I have been bowling but my skill quickly returned and I was able score a 127 and beat the others in Game 1!  I didn’t fare as well in Game 2 but everyone had a good time and looked forward to returning for another evening of fun.






Other than the Intercontinental, a bowling center can be found at the Ritz-Carlton on AlHada Area, Mekkah Road (+966 11 802 8333). Bowling……another fun activity to do in the Kingdom…..Saudi Arabia!


All the best,
GMarie

Monday, June 23, 2014

Kingdom Tower Sky Bridge, Riyadh Saudi Arabia

          I have had many shopping excursions and have eaten countless meals at the Four Seasons Hotel located in the Kingdom Center which is considered the most luxurious building in this region. So after two and a half years of working and living in the “Kingdom, it was time to take a trip to the Sky Bridge located inside the Kingdom Center on the 99th floor! I hear that the Sky Bridge, which is said to be symbolic of Saudi Arabia, has a spectacular view of Riyadh.




          The Sky Bridge sits 918 meter above sea level and overlooks Riyadh. To get to the Sky Bridge, you have to take two elevators. The first elevator takes approximately 50 seconds to reach the 77th floor. At that point, you transfer to a second elevator that will take you directly to the Sky Bridge in less than 40 seconds!  

          There is a sign that says that photography is not allowed, but pretty much after departing the elevator, all you see is folks taking pictures of the breathtaking panorama view of the city! The prices for this excursion that is located on Olaya Street is SAR 35 for adults and SAR 15 for children.
  

          Really…. not a bad price for a spot where you can shop, dine and finish up the evening at the highest point in Riyadh experiencing it’s breathtaking view!


All the best,


GMarie

Monday, May 5, 2014

GMarie's Page Featured Blogger on ExpatsBlog.com

          My blog, GMarie’s Page, is one of the expat interview that is featured this month in the Saudi Arabia section of ExpatsBlog.com!  Take a look!

 American Expat Living in Saudi Arabia - Interview with Gina
Published:
30 Apr at 12 PM



Here's the interview with Gina...
Where are you originally from?
I grew up in Roselle, New Jersey but now make my home in South Pasadena, Florida

In which country and city are you living now?
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

How long have you lived in Saudi Arabia and how long are you planning to stay?
I arrived in Riyadh in September 2011. I am not sure when my employer will transfer me back to the U.S.
Why did you move to Saudi Arabia and what do you do?
I needed a change in my life and always wanted to work abroad. So I searched for jobs, interviewed and was offered a position as a Supply System Analyst.

Did you bring family with you?
No, my daughter is grown and between work and school, her two daughters keep her very busy.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
The information I gathered about Saudi Arabia came predominately from friends who were in the Army or Navy and were on orders here. I knew I needed more information from a civilians’ perspective, so I surfed the internet and found two websites that was very helpful for me:

American Bedu: http://americanbedu.com/
Susie’s big adventure: http://susiesbigadventure.blogspot.com/

Both sites prepared me with enough information for transitioning to the Middle East smoothly and calmed the anxiety that you get when you move to a new place. I had a sponsor from the Army to facilitate with administrative things, but the websites supplemented that.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
The expat community in Riyadh is great! As a liaison for the Saudi Arabian National Guard Hospital contracting department and the U.S. Army contracting department I get to meet a lot of folks from all walks of life.

What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
Besides the typical shopping and dining out, I have experienced the woman only spas (Almutaka) and floors in malls (Kingdom Tower). There are several golf courses; two are 18 holes, bowling at the Intercontinental Hotel, horseback riding at Dirab Stables, diving in Jeddah and horse racing at The King Abdulaziz Track. I miss not being able to go to the beach as often as I used to, but I found I can do that in Jeddah, I also miss going to the movies. But the multimedia library on my compound does a great job of keeping up with the latest movies. Adopt a Saudi Dessert Pup/Dog. I have one which I have had since she was two months old. Talia is now 16 month and is the best companion!

What do you enjoy most about living in Saudi Arabia?
Since women are not allowed to drive in Saudi, I appreciate the drivers that we are provided to take me where I need to go in this heavy traffic and aggressive driving in Riyadh.

How does the cost of living in Saudi Arabia compare to home?
My employer provides for most amenities such as housing and transportation, to name a few.

What negatives, if any, are there to living in Saudi Arabia?
Saudi Arabia is one of those places where you have to be creative in finding things to do. So, this assignment allows me the time and autonomy to move around Riyadh finding plenty to do and lots of topics to blog.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving to Saudi Arabia, what would it be?
Be patience to the way others do things in their “backyard” which may seem different from where you are from in the world.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
The biggest challenge which I have accepted and adapted to in my work environment is that the Saudis do things in their own time. Americans move so fast at work and in our home environments. If I have a 30 minute meeting with the Saudis, 20 minutes of that time is spent socializing and discussing family or current events. Maybe the last ten minutes, we will go over work issues, maybe not. This has made me slow down and “smell the roses”, sort of speak. We now know each other’s families by name.

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
I will do well because I can adapt to just about any environment.



What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Bring openness to diversity; cultures and languages.
  2. Read up on the Muslim culture, so there isn’t a total shock to what we as Westerners have been either brain-washed or misunderstand about the Arab culture.
  3. Do not be afraid to go out and explore. My blog is proof that you can come here to work and still have fun.
  4. Learn some Arabic….it is impressive to the Saudi that you are at least getting accustomed to their culture.
  5. Bring a good hair moisturizer! The climate is so dry and the water is hard on your hair.
Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
My blog is called GMarie’s Page. My blog is about my transition from the U.S. to working and living in Riyadh Saudi Arabia. I started the blog (August 2011) when I found out I was accepted for my current position in Riyadh Saudi Arabia. I wanted one forum to communicate with my friends and family back home without writing and sending so many emails and uploading pictures. Well it turned into more than just that. Folks can see that even in a place where the perception that women are oppressed and the men treat women like “second class citizens”, I get to show and write about my prospective of my experiences here in the “Kingdom”. I have developed a readership from several countries (i.e. U.S., Germany, Canada, France, Ireland, Russia, UK, India, etc).

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
GMarie’s Page http://gmarieflsblog.blogspot.com/ or at my email, gingii_97@yahoo.com


Sunday, March 30, 2014

The President of the United States Visits Riyadh, Saudi Arabia!

          Today was an exciting day, at least for me, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia!  Names were submitted from two different Army units.  Thirty-five from my unit made the “cut” to go see the President of the United States (POTUS), Barack Obama!



            Imagine the excitement! After two short bus rides, we arrived at the Ritz Carlton, known for its uncompromising luxury and beautiful esthetics. President Obama was in Riyadh to visit His Excellency King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz (Custodian of the two Holy Mosques) to discuss nuclear negotiations with Iran and the Syrian civil war. The Secretary of State, John Kerry was also in attendance.
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           The President was also here to honor Maha Al Muneef, the executive director of the National Family Safety Program. She was selected to receive an award for her empowerment of woman and her campaign against domestic violence in Saudi Arabia.


            I didn't get the opportunity to say all that I had rehearsed if I were given the chance to talk to President Obama, but I did receive a hearty handshake from him………one in which I will never forgot!


All the best,


GMarie



Friday, March 21, 2014

GMarie's Page was Featured Blog in InterNations!

Hello!

            Today was a great day! GMarie’s Page was featured as a recommended expat blog for Riyadh Saudi Arabia at InterNations.org!  My blog was selected for its quality and content.  Take a peek…..
 

Gina: GMarie´s Page

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Riyadh, etc.

I grew up in New Jersey but now make my home in South Pasadena, Florida. I am a U.S. Navy veteran and I have a daughter who is 25 and two grand-daughters; 3 and 4 years old who reside in California. After 20 years of federal service, I decided it was time for a change and started applying for positions overseas. I accepted a position and moved to Riyadh in September 2011.

When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?

Initially, when I started my blog, it was to keep in touch with family and friends and to minimize sending multiple emails and pictures to everyone especially from a place where I consider the internet service to be a bit slow. So a month before I arrived in Saudi (August 2011), I got the idea to blog my experiences from subscribing to other blog sites. Blogging would be the perfect venue to get my information and pictures out to everyone who considered living and working in Riyadh.

Do you have any favorite blogs?

My favorite blog that I keep up with are Susie’s Big Adventure and American Bedu. After blogging about a year, I had the pleasure of interviewing American Bedu’s Carol Fleming-Al Alroush, who has since lost her battle with cancer in May 2013. These two blogs were very informative for me before making my transition to Saudi Arabia.

Tell us about the ways your new life in Riyadh differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?

There are several things that make my life different from back home. Besides the typical shopping and dining out, I have experienced the woman only spas (Almutaka) and woman only floors in malls (Kingdom Tower). I miss not being able to go to the beach as often as I used to, but I found I can do that in Jeddah. I also miss going to the movies, but our library on the compound in which I live does a great job of keeping up with the latest movies. I also notice the stares I received around town. So I asked my friend, who is Jordanian what she thought it was. She said, two things; my hair (I wear mid-back length dreadlocks) and just being uncovered. So, I cover up in town now, just to blend in and take away some of the attention. I would say that the biggest culture shock would be the separation of the genders. Single women have to sit in the family section of a restaurant, wearing an abaya everywhere I go around town, and the enforcement of store closures during pray times, to name a few. Women are not allowed to drive here but we have drivers that take us just about anywhere we want to go. So, with the traffic in Riyadh, not driving is not such a bad deal.

Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Riyadh? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?

Based on the information I received from other expats, reading the information on the two website’s mentioned above and becoming well informed about the Arab culture, I believed I was totally ready to make the transition to Saudi.

Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?

The incident that comes to mind was when I first arrived at Riyadh Airport. When my flight arrived in Riyadh, I got on line right behind a male who was in front of me on the plane. The “needle scratched the record”! The whole place had an awkward silence!! I immediately realized that I had gotten on the wrong line and was not where I was supposed to be as a female; all the way to the right with all of the others. With several dirty looks in my direction, I hurried to the right line. When it was my turn to approach the customs desk, I handed the officer my passport and visa then began to inform him that my sponsor was waiting for me past the baggage area, he cut me off and told me to, “Go sit down!” I guess that was my punishment for forgetting my place as a woman in the Kingdom! They say the duration of a child who is being chastised with “time-out” is based on age, so I figured 51 minutes in time-out would be way too long for a punishment. So after about 15 minutes, which much apprehension and my heart beating quickly, I approached the desk again. This time, I quickly told the officer that my sponsor sent me an email that he was waiting for me, that I work for the U.S. Government and that I was on a Diplomatic visa. He gave me the once over, stamped my passport and sent me on my way. Scary stuff!

Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Riyadh?
  • Bring a good hair moisturizer! The climate is so dry and the water is hard on your hair.
  • Bring openness to diversity; different cultures and languages.
  • Be patience to the way others do things which may seem different from where you are from.

How is the expat community in Riyadh? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?

The expat community in Riyadh is great! As a liaison for the Saudi Arabian National Guard Hospital contracting department and the U.S. Army contracting department I get to meet a lot of like-minded people from all walks of life. Saudi Arabia is one of those places where you have to be creative in finding things to do. So, this assignment allows me the time and autonomy to move around Riyadh finding plenty of topics to blog about and receive instruction by pros and near pros in the game of golf.

How would you summarize your expat life in Riyadh in a single, catchy sentence?

Catch me and my adventures on my blog called GMarie’s Page!
 
             I love my day job and I love sharing my views, observations and experiences abroad. To sum is all up, Confucius says, “If you chose a job you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life!” 

To read other expat adventures, please check out InterNations’ website at:
http://www.internations.org/guide/saudi-arabia/riyadh/recommended-expat-blogs-riyadh-15948



All the best,
GMarie
 
           

Friday, March 7, 2014

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

                 I traveled to Dubai from Florida twice; 2005 and 2006. I remember there being “more cars than road”,lots of people scurrying around town ….fabulous architecture and the best shopping! Eight years later, Dubai is more cosmopolitan, has more fabulous architectures, a metro system and who would have believed that I am now living and working a little more than an hour flight from Dubai (“City of Gold”)! 

            Dubai, along with Abu Dhabi, the capital city, and five other emirates make up the United Arab Emirates. The other emirates are Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm. The UAE colors are red (sacrifice), green (prosperity), black (dignity) and white (purity).  


          Dubai, which sits on the Arabian Desert, bordering nearby Oman to the east and Saud Arabia  to the South, is known for the world’s largest dancing fountain, the Burj al-Arab, Burj Khalifa, the tallest building and the Palm Islands which is the largest artificial islands. 

 

            Dubai is the perfect weekend getaway to break from the “ordinary” with its fine dining, night clubs, and for those of us living in a “dry” region such as Riyadh and would like to partake in a bit of libation, this is the place!   Dubai, synonymous with shopping, can please any purse or wallet holder, especially during shopping season (January-February and July-August) where the sales are absolutely the best! 

            The Fairmont Dubai hotel was my choice to stay. I did not want to be too far from what was going on but also didn’t want the “party” to be so close to “home”. The Fairmont Dubai is a 5-star property that is very well maintained and located minutes from the Metro stations, airport and Dubai Mall. The rooms and bathrooms are modern, clean and spacious and there is a spectacular scenic view of the city.

            Within minutes after the flight and arriving at the hotel in about fifteen minute by cab (by a woman driver!), the first stop was the The Spa @ Fairmount Dubai. The spa was very luxurious with curved ceilings, sculptured walls, and large pillars….kind of like the Roman emperor era. The men and woman facilities are segregated but each offering similar spa treatments and ambiance.  I opted for the treatment called the “Time Zone” which is a 90 minute invigorating massage followed by a 30 minute facial. Now I was rejuvenated for whatever the evening would offer!


            The Fairmount had several restaurants that offered an assortment of yummy entrĂ©es. The choice for the evening was a place called Spectrum on One. But on Thursdays it is called Dupper, which means dinner and supper combined. The restaurant’s concept has eight cooking stations with cuisines from Japan, Middle East, China, Europe, Thailand and India, endless cocktails and a DJ. 350 AED (Emirati Dirham) seems like a lot, but truly worth the money!  
           




            The Dubai Mall, the largest in the area, was the selection for the day. There are over 1200 shops (mid and high end), an indoor aquarium and an ice skating rink. I had my sights set on the Louis Vuitton store!
   

           Before departing the mall after five hours of shopping and carousing each level…..yes, you heard right, five hours!, we came upon an event that was sponsored by Beauty Connection Spa.   The Beauty Connection, a day spa located in Dubai, had over 100 manicurists at the mall to try and set a new Guinness World Record for the most nails filed and polished in eight hours. The manicurists were to file and polish 50,000 nails to beat the previous record (previous record was 2572 mini-manicures) that was set by Priceline and Sally Hansen in 2011. All proceeds went to Rashid Centre for Disabled. Although the shopping wreaked havoc on the purse, it made my trip to Dubai worthwhile!
 


            Most cities have some type of touring agenda. Well in Dubai, there is the Big Bus Tour. The tour uses the hop-on, hop-off approach. When you see some structure or venue that is interesting, you hop off and can take the next bus when you are finished exploring. The tour has earphones with recorded commentary about sites along the route. The Big Bus is, I believe, the best way to see most of Dubai in a short period of time. We embarked the bus at the Wafi mall. The Wafi Mall is a mall influenced by Egyptian architecture, mosaic carvings, sculptures and multiple pillars….very nice!

            On  the tour, we passed by the Dubai World Trade Center, a business complex that houses various events and exhibitions and the Jumeirah Mosque which is considered the most attractive in Dubai with its interior that is decorated in  Arabic calligraphy.

             Next on the route was the Burj Al Arab, considered to be the only 7-star hotel in the world, is structured on a man-made island.  Each suite come with its own private butler and the hotel has an underwater seafood restaurant!   


              The Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest structure (828 meters and 160 floors), was completed in 2010 and was next on the route. This construction that dominates the Dubai skyline has nine hotels and towers over the entrance of the Dubai Mall. For a spectacular view of the city, Burj Khalifa’s has viewing decks. 


            A familiar structure, if you have ever been to the Bahamas is the Atlantis on the Palm. This construction stretches almost a mile into the Arabian Gulf and is located on the Palms. The Palms is the three largest artificial islands in the world. When I visited Dubai in 2005, these islands were well under construction. Each island is shaped like a palm leaf. To see is to believe, that these are man-made!
  





          There is way too much to see and do in Dubai in just three days. If I had more time, I would have went and checked out the Global Village. The Global Village is open late November to late February.  Each country set up a small village and has replicas, food and such so that you can experience those regions as though you have travelled there. 




             Dubai definitely met all of my expectations; quick getaway, fun, relaxing and as, you see…..I did not have to wear an ABAYA!!!


All the best,

GMarie