Outside our walls

The restaurant on my compound has re-opened now that most of the fasting in completed so a friend and I went there for dinner last night.  I am again amazed at the courtesy shown here. We ordered our meal and decided to take our drinks outside as there was a nice view from up high where the restaurant is located.  Our waiter then came outdoors and asked if we would like to take our dinner out there. Mind you, there were no tables outside. We said yes so he grabbed another guy, hauled a table and chairs out and then brought out the place settings. Never this level of courtesy have I been shown in the states and I have been to some very nice restaurants. This is just a small, simple restaurant on compound.
I find myself thinking often about some of the negative comments tossed around at home about the middle east. How many people cautioned me against this choice. When the topic of my move came up in conversation, I rarely heard “wow, how exciting!” but instead “oh my gosh, why are you going there?” It is sad how very ignorant or country is to other cultures.
While there are radical Muslims and there have been tragic issues here, that can be said about any most any culture or country. The US proudly boasts our share of crazies. And looking farther back, most all religions have killed in the name of their God, the Catholic church being one of the worst. But, no one cautions about being wary of “those Catholics.” Interestingly enough, many of the people here believe that Muslims and Jews have no issues with each other. They believe that the issues are political, not faith based. It is a hot topic here right now, as is to be expected. Enough of my soapbox!
I went out this morning to take photos of some of the old city outside of the compound. I shot over the walls as I am not yet convinced I want to travel out there on foot. The city proper is safe for a female alone but this is bit outside of my comfort zone. I hope to have the chance to get there, it looks incredible!
Regarding my day to day world, work is great, I am liking my colleagues more and more as I get to know them better. They care immensely for their client and it is easy to see why. He is an incredible young man. So happy and friendly, he is a joy to be around.  I have gone horseback riding a few more times, it has become one of the things I most look forward to in my week.  Additionally, I have started a swimming routine as running is out of the question here due to the heat this time of year. I have a friend who swims and we meet up a few times a week to work out together and I try to make myself go solo the other days…I am pretty slow on my own..swimming is hard work!
I have confirmation that I leave on 4 August for London. It appears that it will be for approximately 3 weeks and then on to Sardinia. I am thrilled as I haven’t been to that piece of Italy yet and hear that it is gorgeous!  I am hoping to get some kiting in while over there.  London isn’t exactly a hardship, either!
This wall surrounds our swimming pool
The lights in the foreground here are around our tennis court

Ramadan

I have mentioned Ramadan impacting my schedule multiple times and thought that I would share a bit about it. I knew little about it before arriving and have learned a crash course in it the past few weeks as it changes the entire dynamics of the culture for a month.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and Muslims observe it by fasting for the month. It is one of the five pillars of Islam and is based on a lunar calendar. It moves forward 11 days every year and the fasting lasts from just before sunup to just after sundown.  This makes for a long day when it falls in July as it has this year. Muslims take no sustenance, including water during this time.  Shortly after sunset, they break their fast and then eat again early morning just before dawn. They also increase prayers during the month and are on their best behavior in terms of not engaging in behavior which is sinful (swearing, arguing.)

Due to not eating during the day and staying up late to eat before dawn, many businesses are closed for most of the day. Restaurants and coffee shops are all closed and many people sleep until about noon. The stores all close about 5:30/6 in preparation for breaking the fast. Restaurants open about 6:45/7. Then stores all re-open at about 10 for all night shopping when people have eaten and have energy. Hence my late night sheet shopping trip!

The month concludes in the holiday of Eid, which is the feast of breaking the fast.  Muslims are not allowed to fast on this day and in fact, usually eat a sweet breakfast (something with dates) before the Eid prayer. Due to Eid happening based on a lunar calendar, we are yet to know exactly when it will be. It should be immediately after the 29th day of the month which is tonight but it may be tomorrow night. It starts shortly after sunset on the first sighting of the crescent moon. If the moon can’t be seen (clouds)  or some other reason, then it is celebrated the next day. So, I will know soon if I have tomorrow off or the following day.

The city is decorated very elaborately as this is a major holiday. Some of my other posts have shown Eid decorations in the malls. I will repost here. Additionally the streets are lined with lighted decorations, buildings have lights and lights are strung in trees. Very similar to our holiday decorations in the states, with different colorways.  The neon purple you see on the trees seems to be a very popular color here. Many of the signs and lights on buildings are done in this.

Andulus Mall, where I purchased my abayas
Kingdom Centre Mall
The street leading to my compound. There are a lot of these trees and I happen to favor them…not sure exactly what it is that catches me but they make me smile!

Kingdom Centre

Kingdom Centre is a 300 meter high building with a skybridge across the top. Even the elevators to the top are exciting! The literature states that “You are about to take the ride of a lifetime. Your trip to transfer level will last 50 seconds at the end of which you will be at 180 meters above ground level. At this level, you will transfer to a second elevator that will take you to the skybridge. The trip on the second elevator will last less than 40 seconds. The skybridge is an iron structure weighing 300 tons. It is located at 300 meters above ground level.” I visited this last night.

I wouldn’t classify it as the ride of lifetime but the view from the top is fatnastic! You can see the entire city.  I wasn’t allowed to use a real camera but got some good iPhone shots. It is on my list to visit again in the daytime.  Additionally, the whole viewing area is lit up and the colors change so it is incredible from the outside, as well.  It looks like a huge u-shape light and can be seen from a lot of the city as it is so tall. The building contains a mall with stores well beyond my price range. Fun to look!

The traffic moving down below.  Forgive the background noise, it was busy that time of the night in the skybridge
The sign shows the shape of the building well.
The building from a distance
Near distance
Directly underneath
Directly underneath with different lights lit
Sort of a panorama view
Inside the mall
The two major north/south roads of the city, Olaya and King Fahd

Hospitality here

I am constantly impressed by the level of hospitality shown here.  My driver unloads my grocery cart onto the belt, pushes it to the car, unloads groceries into the trunk and then brings them into the house for me when I arrive home. When my colleague and I arrive at the school building, a member of the staff brings us a drinks assortment. Doors are always opened and people are very welcoming and friendly.

I have had to get used to shifting down a few gears but find it to be an incredibly pleasant change from the states where everything often feels rushed. I am able to have great working discussions with my colleagues and really have the opportunity to get to know my client without worrying about billable hours. I had many clients at home who had a team in place and I remember being discouraged that it wasn’t legit for the team to meet and bill hours for that time. How can a team work together without having time to meet, discuss ideas and share successes and failures? Some of our best work came from team meetings and brainstorming sessions. Or even some long phone calls with parents where we bounced ideas back and forth. None of which insurance companies considered legit enough work to pay for.

Here we are are able to meet, share ideas, make plans and then meet again after implementation to discuss what worked and what changes need to be made to keep making progress.  It is a luxury and I could easily get spoiled.

My impending trip to Europe doesn’t hurt, either! We are booked to fly to the UK August 4 and traveling on from there. No dates or locations for future travels yet. I haven’t been to London in ages and am looking forward to being back. Plus some friends will be in the area and I plan to meet up with them. Also looking forward to an opportunity to get some kiting in. I miss the ocean!

Drinks tray at school. I had a full sugar Pepsi for the first time in ages…tasted pretty good, not a habit I want to get into!
Quick vid of blowing sand. I’ve been told it gets much worse.

Enjoying my new country

I got the opportunity to horseback ride last night. What a treat! My client rides and I went along to watch and the trainer asked if I wanted to ride.  I was wearing flip-flops and had leggings on  under my abaya. I pointed out that I wasn’t properly attired and he said he had boots and chaps. I then asked one of my colleagues how this works with the abaya. She laughed at me and said “you don’t wear abaya to ride!” They brought me a hot pink metallic helmet and boots and off I went.

My legs are sooooore today! I haven’t ridden in years and it felt very awkward. My posting was all off and I kept having to correct it. I feel sorry for the poor horses, I know it had to be uncomfortable for them, too. Anyway, they put me on a pretty sparky horse first which was fun. It didn’t take much to get her moving so I did a bunch of trotting around and then tried to canter a few times. She was funny, though, she kept balking when we got to the gate, she apparently would prefer to be in her stall than being ridden. The trainer reminded me to shorten up my reins and use my opposite leg and then I was better able to keep her going where I wanted her to go.

I then got on a different horse. This one was stubborn and I had no authority! I could hardly even get her to walk. The trainer said use my legs more and my voice and he got me a crop.  I was then able to get her walking. He had me get off, he got on, the dang creature trotted immediately! Clearly operator error.  I managed to get her trotting when I got back on and spent the rest of the evening battling to keep her there.  At this point the trainer decided that I should try some jumps. She moved along pretty well when I lined her up for a jump so all I really had to do was get forward and over we went.  I forgot how much fun it could be! The trainer has said he will teach me to ride in exchange for help with his English.  His English isn’t too bad, he gets the short end of the stick in this arrangement!

I only posted pictures where my back was straight and my hands were low and close…They weren’t all like that, haha!
This was the horse that moved
This was the one that didn’t
Kind of far away but you get the idea. My colleague took this vid of me, you can hear him laugh at the end when I cheer for myself after jumping!
Following are a few photos of the city at night.  I took most of them from a moving car so they aren’t the best. Hope to get more soon but am still not accustomed to this late night schedule so am not going out much at night. I would prefer evenings which will happen in less than a week when Ramadan is over. The city is starting to decorate for Eid, which is the big holiday that ends Ramadan. It is fun to see the decorations start going up.
Our classroom
Eid decorations in the mall
Not sure what this building is but I like the line of lights up the side of it
There are huge amounts of construction all over the city, it is expanding at in incredible rate. Including he installation of a metro system
That building in the backgound with the u shape lit up is a skybridge, on my list of things to do

Shopping mall

I went to the mall last night. As I don’t much like malls at home, this was a milestone for me. I have heard how busy they get here, especially in the evening during Ramadan. But, I needed a backup abaya and wanted one that was a little shorter and more my style than the one provided for me upon my arrival. So I scheduled my driver for 10 pm and off we went.  We went to the Andalus mall as one of my colleagues recommended it for abayas.  It was huge! Parking was virtually non-existent due to the busy time of the night that we went but my driver always finds something!

I feel very fortunate that he is so helpful. He escorted me to the elevator and up to the correct floor from the parking garage and then pointed me towards an abaya shop. He then waits until I call him to come back and find me! I wanted to shop around a bit but took much longer than I expected in the abaya shop.  The choices for a relatively simply black robe are mind boggling.  They vary in style from very decorated to very simple. Bling seems to be very popular here and many of them have some form of beads and sequins.  Additionally there was lace and embroidery and everything in between.  Although most abayas are black, the embellishments are in every color of the rainbow. Some of them very ornate. They also make ones that are a more streamlined and ones that have a drawstring type tie in the front for a better fit.  I prefer a simpler look and was aiming for the most light weight garments I could find. That being said, I had a ball trying on a ton of different ones!

The store I went in was small but the walls were completely lined with racks of abayas, plus racks in the center of the store. They have a mirror behind one of the racks and I was told that I could take off my current abaya back there to try on new ones.  I was pleased that they shop women were so friendly as I wasn’t aware of the social mores of abaya shopping nor the sizing and they were patient and helpful.  I got a lot of feedback from the shop women and they would have an opinion on each one I tried on and then bring me another option to try.  I felt comfortable asking them how short I could go without getting into risky territory and they advised me on this.

One of my favorite abayas was too short which was disappointing. The store will tailor any abaya to fit through any number of custom options but making longer wasn’t one of them, unfortunately.  They will shorten hems or sleeves, take in seams and make sleeves narrower at a customer request. It is an incredible customer service experience. I had two women and one guy helping me. They seemed to get a kick out of my lack of experience.  I imagine stories of my naivete provided comic relief to their family that evening.

We had quite a moment at one point when I opened up an abaya to try it on and a lizard was hanging on for dear life inside it.  I don’t get too nervous about them but didn’t really want him to hop on me and didn’t know what to do with him, either.  Plus I had my abaya off so I couldn’t walk out to the front of the store to get help. I just started laughing at the silliness of the whole thing and one of the ladies came back to check on me. I showed her the lizard and she screamed so the guy came running to save the day.  He took the abaya and the lizard and returned a minute later with the abaya sans critter.  I ended up purchasing that one.

In the end I purchased two abayas as I couldn’t decide between them.  I got one with beautiful lace, bell sleeves and a drawstring tie at the front and then one that has blue and black embroidery all over the yoke and on the cuffs, plus a line of blue trim down each side of the front.

Hard to capture in photos but the lace on this one is really pretty and I like the drawstring front and bell sleeves. So unlike anything I would ever wear in the states. That is what makes it fun
That is NOT my unmade bed in the background, it is my guest room and I haven’t finished putting the sheets on. I am able to get farther away from the mirror in there to take a full length photo. I don’t have a full length mirror here.
This one is much more my style. It is very simple and elegant. The fit is a bit trimmer than my old one and the embroidery is gorgeous. It is all black embroidery surrounding the royal blue satin insets on the yoke and sleeves. Then just lines of blue trim down the front and above the embroidery on the sleeves.

Saturday adventures

I hiked on Saturday, as well, to a different spot with completely different terrain. We went down into an escarpment where there are fresh water pools that you can jump into most of the year. It is a bit too late in the summer for that right now. The pools were mostly dried up and the water was not an inviting color. But, I will get back there after it rains.

This was with a different group of people. There were 4 of them and they have all been here over a year, some for many years. They are here as families so it was really interesting to speak to them. They have a wealth of knowledge about the country and lifestyle for expats here.  Additionally, I found my in for the Hash House Harriers! This is an international  running group that you have to be an expat to join. And here, you need a sponsor.  So, I’m pleased to have made that connection. Probably won’t start until after I return from Europe.

Since these people all live on different complexes and have been here for a while, I asked if anyone knew any fake blond girls and, if so, could they get me the name/number of their hairdresser.  One person jumped right in to tell me that the hairdresser at the Arizona compound is supposed to be good, lots of girls use him. I am sure he won’t be my Julija but at least I shouldn’t have to worry about my hair falling out from over bleaching!

We are scheduled to leave for London in 10 days…although, the date and location seem to be forever changing! I am looking forward to a trip. I have been told that we will stay in a hotel there as they don’t have a house. Should be a pretty nice way to spend a month. Our food is covered, whether we eat room service, hotel resto or out at a resto. We just submit receipts. Life isn’t hard here! I just have to remember that I am not on holiday and try to eat healthy. It is difficult for me to order the healthy choice when I have a menu of lovely things in front of me!

I have been getting in good workouts every day but miss CrossFit. Our gym is really well equipped with Nautilus machines but not as well with free weights. We have a full set of dumb bells and one barbell with a few plates.  It works with some creativity. I brought my jump rope and I think I will start adding some pool work, although I hate swimming for exercise. It is too much work!!! I had a funny moment this week. I haven’t been getting in my regular workouts for a few weeks as I have been traveling so I expected to be a bit out of shape. But, I have been racking weights and wondering how I could have lost sooo much strength in such a short time.  I finally realized this morning that the weights here are in Kilos! They are a bit more than double pounds. Made me feel much better about my fitness, but killed all confidence in my intellectual ability! What a dunce…

Look Florida folks, we have coral too! I found out that this country used to be underwater. Apparently you can find fossilized shark teeth, as well.

This is hard to see but the triangle in the middle is a camel camp
The city in the background is Riyadh…home

Friends and explorations

I have met two different groups of people here so far. Guys are important to meet as they are allowed to drive! Both groups are up for adventure and I have had a lovely weekend. It felt very much like a weekend at home and every so often I would remember where I was and have a surreal moment.

The first group are here working with the Saudi National Guard.  They came over Thursday night (weekend here is Friday and Saturday) and brought me a grill so we barbequed and got acquainted. 

On Friday I went out to the sand dunes to the east of the city to scout out good spots for sand kiting. I hiked up to the top of the dunes and then ran/slid down them.  It is incredible how much higher they are than the photos do justice.  The wind was blowing solidly (sand was blowing, my kiter friends will understand the value of that!) and I ended up with sand in everything. I poured piles of it out of my shoes and then still had a solid layer in my socks.  You can imagine how much was in my hair, eyes and ears.  I had a very sandy and sweaty abaya. I washed it today but need to get a second one to enter into the rotation soon.  The dunes are incredible. They are constantly shifting sands and are a lot higher than they appear.  Plus, there are false summits due to the weird perspective out there. So just as you think you are at the top, there is a higher one immediately behind it.  There were a few places where the dunes got so steep and the sand was so loose that we had to climb on all fours!

Lots of piles of garbage and construction debris around the city
Checkpoint at edge of city, they don’t appear to actually check for anything, but I imagine they could lock the city down very quickly if they chose to
Camels are frequent sights here
Trying to provide some perspective on the height of the dunes
Alex on top
Jesus almost there
Walking the ridgeline
The haze is blowing sand
Layer of sand in my sock
Those specks are us on the ridgeline
The guys at the bottom, you can see how much our feet sink in
Again, the specks are us, at the summit