Interesting things

I wanted to share a fun experience that I had the other day.  I joined up with my client and his staff for a trip to the grocery store and it was different than anything I have ever experienced. Firstly, we were 4 cars and a cast of thousands.  My car carrying myself and my driver, my client’s car with him, his driver, his personal care assistant and  a security guy, the speech language pathologist in his car and an SUV with 4 security guys in it. We pull right up to the front of the grocery store and all get out and head in.  People are falling over themselves to hold the doors open for us.  Then we shop around as a group, pay and head back out to the cars.

My personal shopping experience wasn’t quite as luxurious but it was still much different than in the states. Whereas the Publix baggers offer to help you to your car (in CT they don’t even do that), here they took my jitneys (I had 2 since I was provisioning my house,) loaded everything onto the checkout belt, reloaded them and pushed them outside for me to wait for my driver. Two guys pushed wagons, a third came along to help. When my driver then went to the underground garage, they pushed the carriages back inside and down the escalator then proceeded to load all of my supplies into the car.  I was going to tip them 10 SAR each which is approximately $2.50 USD. My driver said this was too much, tip them 5 SAR each which is about $1.25. I could easily get used to the level of service here! People are much more courteous and helpful than in the states.

I have been exploring my compound a little bit and am pleased with it for the most part.  The pool is gorgeous and the gym is well fitted out.  Additionally, the mini market is fairly well provisioned with necessities plus some fun extras like ice cream and chocolate bars 🙂

The astro turf looks pretty crappy but apparently it keeps the surrounding area cool enough to walk on. Any hard surface gets too hot in our balmy 115 degree daily temp!

This is my front “yard.” I have a tiny patio to the left of the door. A bigger one out back

Security cameras in the office.  That is our gate, it has armed soldiers and a security guy. Plus the barriers. Somewhat intimidating but better safe than sorry, I guess.

This is my client’s schedule during Ramadan. Note the times along the left hand edge. Everything starts and ends later due to the 15 hours of fasting that is being done by the staff members throughout the day. They stay up late and eat because they can’t eat past 3:30 am until they break fast at 6:30 pm.

Moved in

I food shopped and moved into my villa today! I managed to get all of the sheets, towels and dishes washed and put away or on. Additionally the kitchen is done and the coffee pot and vacuum are up and running.  Feeling pretty accomplished considering the directions aren’t in English…or even French or Spanish that maybe I could do something with.

I hope to learn to speak some Arabic while here but don’t even plan to attempt reading or writing! Seeing these letters makes me realize how complex the written language really is. We ask our children with Autism to match letter to letter or to write the letters and can’t always comprehend why that is so difficult. Well, let me tell you…I would be slow and struggling to match Arabic letter to Arabic letter without an error, forget trying to form them!  They all look so similar to me. Which, I assume, is exactly how our letters look to kids with a language or cognitive disability.

On a lighter note, I am really pleased with my job so far.  My colleagues are really friendly, as is my client. My colleagues are an interesting group of people. They are not Saudi’s but are from Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia and the Philippines.  All of them speak Arabic and English and some of them another language as well. My driver is Moroccan and speaks Arabic and French, not so much English.  Between my very limited French, his limited English and lots of hand gestures, we are getting by.

It seems as if I will only be working about 25 hours per week but that will be spread out over six days. I am not complaining.  So far I haven’t really “worked.” I have spent time with and observed my client and his various staff members and will continue to do that for tomorrow, at least. I think I will meet my client’s guardian tomorrow and also determine a proper work schedule. But, possibly not.  Things work at a much slower pace here and not everything happens right as planned.  A favorite phrase is Inshallah, which means “God willing.” It seems to be a euphemism for “it will happen when it happens” and this piece of the world functions this way. An example was yesterday when I asked what time the stores open in the evening in order to plan my linen shopping. I was told “ten o’clock, Inshallah.” So I planned to shop at 10:30, safe bet.

Our August travel plans are still on but now it looks like we will be in London.  I was looking forward to Spain but enjoy London and haven’t been there in years so am not disappointed.  It will be lovely weather compared to our stifling 115 degrees and I will be able to travel around on my own. I do miss my independence and the opportunity to just head out to a restaurant or simply tourist around.

I think I will get the opportunity to head out into the desert later in the week.  I am really looking forward to seeing some of the amazing sand dunes…and scouting out a good sand kiting location! I plan to purchase a sand board upon returning to Riyadh from London and can’t wait to try it out!
 

Home provisioning

I’m halfway into day four here and am settling in somewhat. Firstly, having a driver rather than driving yourself is NOT a hardship! You can’t hop in the car and go somewhere “right this second” but other than that, it is lovely. He drops me at the entrances to places, parks and waits then comes back and scoops me when I call him. 
Plus, the traffic here could give New York City a run for it’s money! And the drivers are equally as aggressive. A favorite tactic here is making a left turn from the right hand lane, across two lanes of traffic! Or vice versa. It is unbelievable! I sat a red light yesterday and the car ahead of us stopped, looked, scooted out into the intersection to wait for a car in the green light lane to go through then proceeded to drive on through himself!
I am still not accustomed, nor will I ever be, to the Ramadan schedule. For background, it is a religious holiday that lasts a month and it moves backward 11 days every year. This year it started June 28 and runs until July 28. A key piece of this is that people fast from just before sun rise to just past sunset. In July here that makes it 15 hours of fasting…and yes, that includes no water! 
So, all of the restaurants are closed until it’s time to break fast at 6:30. Also, people don’t do a whole lot during the day as they aren’t taking nourishment so, the break fast period starts at 6:30 and runs for a few hours then all of the stores open around 10 and stay open until about 2. This had me getting photos and a medical test done at 10:30 on Sunday evening and shopping for sheets from 11pm-1am last night. A whole new world for this not late night girl!
Yesterday morning I provisioned my home. That was a trip in many respects. Firstly, I haven’t provisioned a home since I was just out of college. I simply packed and moved things. So it required some thinking to make sure I had at least the most important things. Add to that negotiating a store equal in size to a super walmart but less organized, in an unfamiliar language, using foreign currency and wearing an abaya. I mention the abaya as a factor since I got it caught in the wagon wheel at one point and lost some time getting it out w/out tearing it. I’m sure I provided comic relief to at least a few people! It took me about 3 hours and I’ve already discovered a few things that I have missed. I am certain there will be more as time goes on. 
I got a chance to connect w/an American expat yesterday who I have been speaking with for the past few weeks. He is a nice guy and has been here for a while so is really knowledgeable which is helpful. 
Today I am scheduled to check out of my hotel and move into my villa. I am looking forward to setting up my home!

This is one of the more well organzied shelves

Prettiest bleach I’ve ever seen!

First official day

My alarm went off at 8:30 this morning and it felt like a rude awakening.  I never sleep this late…but my body thought it was 1:30 am and wasn’t pleased! I have decided that I need to look for an abaya with pockets. I have tried to put things into my pockets multiple times and keep bumping up against the dang thing. I am not sure they make them this way but it is at the top of my list while shopping tomorrow. Additionally, I tripped over it a few more times today. I’m in contact with an expat over here and he sent me this, it is perfect!

I went out this morning with Adnan to see my villa and the school and palace.  The school is beautiful and well equipped. My student has his own kitchen, classrooms, dining area and outside leisure space.
Additionally, I will have an office in the school and there is a staff kitchen and lounge area.  The palace is where my client has his gymnasium, workout room and pool.  It is an incredible place.  Each member of the household has a villa and they are all decorated independently. And the furnishings are a mix between Middle Eastern decor, western styles and very modern styles.  I desperately wanted to take photos but am not certain that is allowed.  I will feel it out as I go.  
I was able to take photos of my villa.  It is quite large and two bedrooms which is great as I have discovered that my parents can come to visit on a tourist visit since I will be a resident here.  We are all pleased by that news and even better that they can room with me.  My villa is quite nice, the compound I’m not sure of yet. It is secure and clean and has a lovely pool and well equipped gym which is pleasing.  But, the rest of it is sort of weird (game room, mini market, hair salon…not sure I will be using any of those) Oh well, the pool and gym are important to me. And the indoor squash court is nice, also. May have to take up a new sport. I think it is similar to racquetball which I enjoy.  
Two extra ticks in the plus column for my villa, it has a back patio and a washer and dryer! After hauling around my laundry and a roll of quarters in college, I said never again. I haven’t lived anywhere since that didn’t have my own. Realtors have laughed at me when I told them that was one of my deal breakers!  
Guest room

Guest en-suite bath, mine is the same. They both have bidets, I didn’t bother capturing that

Upstairs hall way, that is light from the skylight. The whole villa is spacious and filled with natural light. 

Master room

Master room

Guest room

Dining area. Apparently I am going to host parties

Washer/Dryer to the right just out of the photo

Living room, is open to the dining area and there is a patio out through that large door

My entertainment center

Finally in KSA

I was beginning to think that I would never get here! My visa came via fed-ex Friday morning which was in due time for me to make my 8:30 pm flight out of JFK. Unfortunately, my colleague’s visa did not arrive in time so he doesn’t fly until Sunday evening, getting him here on Monday afternoon.

The plane was a 777-300ER which seats 386 passengers. Of which I was one of two white folks. The other one being male, which is easier by default here! I got a few looks…by every person walking down the aisle. Upon landing I lined up in the very long customs line that said first time visitors.  An employee asked to see my passport and then wandered off with it. I followed him as I didn’t want my passport to disappear and he directed a bunch of human traffic into the lines ahead of me. I wasn’t overly impressed but just kept smiling.  He then looked at my visa and asked if I was a first time visitor…duh, was my thought process, but I bit my tongue, smiled, said yes.  He then directed me to the line that said diplomats and only had two people in it. Yay!

As I was in the short line, this all happened quickly and I headed off to collect my luggage. In this next room I saw two gentlemen immediately head my way, I aimed in their direction and met my contact, Adnan. We have been communicating electronically for months and it was nice to finally speak face to face.

As I am a single female, my sponsor must sign me out of the airport. Adnan has lived in KSA for 32 years but, as he is not a Saudi, he wasn’t able to sign me out! Our driver fulfilled this role for me. At this point, I put on the abaya that they had brought for me and we headed to the hotel.

Hotel is a Marriot so pretty standard. But, I have to wear the abaya when outside of my room. I have almost walked out of the room without it twice.  I get halfway out the door and think, darn, gotta get the robe!  It is going to take some getting used to. I tend to trip on the hem as it is quite long. This is due to it being designed to ensure that ones ankles don’t peek out.

I tour my villa tomorrow, I’m looking forward to it. I will post photos when I have them.  If anyone is interested, the website for the housing compound is http://villasrosasco.com/   It looks pretty nice.  I will have a two bedroom villa which will be perfect when my parents come to visit.

On the less positive side, I keep looking for my tiny dog. It is going to be a long year without her…

Lighter note

My visa arrived via fed-ex this morning at 10:30 and I’m headed to the airport for an 8:30 flight. Close call! I’m pleased to finally begin my adventure. Unfortunately, my colleague’s did not arrive in time and he will join me on Sunday. 

I have been informed that I will be met at the airport with an abaya. That should make it real! I will then spend a few nights in a hotel while I provision my apartment. Can’t wait to see my lodgings. I will post photos upon arrival.
My tiny dog is riding with me to the airport, may be some tears leaving her behind.

Patience is a virtue…

But it sure isn’t mine! Still no visa and I’m booked on a flight Tuesday 8 July. I think my contact in KSA is going to rebook me for 11 July as we probably won’t get the visa in time due to the holiday. 

I am going a bit stir crazy in CT. It is great to see family and friends but it doesn’t really feel like a holiday, it is more of a holding pattern. Would be preferable to do that in my own home with my comfy bed, and my car, and a windy beach…lol, first world problems! 
On the good news front is that my Global Entry application finally got approved and I can do the interview at JFK just before flying out. I’m pleased as I was beginning to think that it wasn’t going to come through in time. 
I’ve had the opportunity to see some of the best friends a girl can have. The friends that you don’t speak with all the time but pick right up where you left off when you get the chance to catch up. Mike, Ed and Lara I am lucky to have you in my life. And this delay will allow me to see Leslie who is currently on holiday in Spain. Plus a few extra days of snuggles with my nephew is certainly not a hardship!