Life and Lexis

Saudi Arabia: Arriving

Posted on: December 28, 2012

I left America on August 15th, having promised myself that I would keep writing and document all that has happened in my time here. Unfortunately, I have been much to busy adjusting, socializing and working to do so. I’m going to try — though it may be impossible — to summarize all that has happened in the past few months.

Leaving Home
Leaving America was probably one of the craziest things I have ever done in my life, though I didn’t realize how crazy it was at the time. I had decided not to think too much as I was leaving my family at the airport, in case I talked myself out of taking this giant leap. Surprisingly, I didn’t even shed a tear and I wasn’t thinking much of anything as I left. I wasn’t thinking about how far I was going or how long I would be gone, I just gave everyone a hug and walked away. I don’t know how I did it, but I did. And that’s probably the only reason I was able to leave the people I love and the comfort of home.

Saudi Arabia

After 18 long, boring hours, and a quick stop over in Frankfurt, I was finally in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The first few hours in the country were incredibly overwhelming. One of the first things I realized was that men here look at women differently. There was almost always a weird smile on their face, something I noticed when I gave my passport to the man at the counter at King Khaled Airport. I learned quickly not to smile back at them. Something that was a polite gesture at home meant something completely different here. In a society this segregated, gender relations were something that you had to be very careful about.

When I arrived at the baggage claim, I was taken aback by the sight of women cloaked head to toe. I had thought I dressed conservatively until I realized I was one of the few women who had my face showing, apart from some obviously western looking women. Almost all the men were wearing white thobes and red checkered shimaaghs on their heads. I saw a fat man walk by in a thobe and aviator sunglasses. Three cloaked women followed behind him. “Where have I come?” I thought to myself, I was suddenly afraid for the first time.
I picked up my bags from the baggage claim. “barra! barra!” a man shouted at me. I swung around and saw a short Indian man yelling at me in Arabic. I knew what he was saying, but for some reason I didn’t care to use my broken Arabic just yet. “English?” I asked. He nodded and gestured outside.

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I was overtaken by a wave of dry heat. It must have been well over 100 degrees. I later realized I had undershot by about 15 degrees. The smell of dust filled the air.  A young boy approached me with dates and water. Ramadan. I had almost forgotten, It was time for iftaar. 

I was luckier than a lot of the other teachers in that I had a few people I kind of  knew in the area. My father’s friends picked me up from the airport. A company car took all of us to my new accommodation.

My new place was small but spacious. A kitchen, queen sized bed, living area and flat screen TV. An upgrade from my college living, I was satisfied. I settled in and met a few of the other teachers. I was expecting to be the youngest in a job like this, but was pleasantly surprised when I was greeted by young, energetic faces… majority of which were from England.

Arwa, from England, said to me “ooooh, you’re American. I love your accent!” This was
something that would take time to get used to. I always knew that Americans were fascinated by British accents, but never realized it was the other way around as well.

Mary, also from England, quickly became my big sister in Saudi Arabia. She was always there to help and was perhaps one of the most generous and kind people I have met in all of my life.
There were at least 15 of us in the building at the time. I realized I had arrived pretty early and had a few weeks to get acclimated to the place.

I spent my first Eid in Saudi Arabia with who I soon began to refer to as my “relatives.”  They were a pleasant family who had moved 2 years ago from America. They treated me as their own and their house quickly became a home away from home. It was nice to have a little bit of normalcy and someone who cared about me in this new country.

In Saudi Arabia they pray Eid Salah just after Fajr. There is a great deal of diversity in this country, and it quickly became one of the things I love most about living here. Women and children hand out sweets and money to one another. There is a general feeling of love and unity among people.

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Minaret on Eid morning

Rooftops in Riyadh
One of my favorite things quickly became spending time on the rooftop of our building. It is something that I wish I could do in the States. You feel as if there is nothing between you and the sky, the stars are clearly visible and the night air is fresh.
Riyadh is a very well lit city and from the rooftop of our building you could really take in the sight. Many times, we teachers had rooftop dinners and rooftop barbecues, followed by rooftop dancing. My favorite thing, however, was being on the roof when it was silent and suddenly all the surrounding mosques would begin the call to prayer. In just seconds the sky would be filled with the call coming from all sides:
God is Great. God is Great. There is no God but God.

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