I have arrived in Saudi Arabia. Of all the places in the world I haven’t been to yet, I’m here? This isn’t a mistake, nor have I been forced to be here by any means. I married a man who has been a world traveler for over a decade. And now this is where he is working. I will go into the whole process of obtaining the visa later on. Backing up just a little bit…I have arrived by myself in this new place and I expect to see my husband waiting for me when I get through customs. After waiting in line for 20 minutes or so, a Saudi man motions to me and a small handful of other women in line to come forward and go through ahead of others. I breathed a sigh of relief, only to get to the counter and then be told to go sit down. And wait. There was a large number of women already sitting in this area, and there was no place to sit. I was exhausted, but hoped that whatever the issue was, it would be fixed soon. I want to mention that the visa in my passport had my last name misspelled, but they did not mention it to me at the counter. After maybe 5-10 minutes the man motions me back to the counter and hands my passport back to me and tells me I am free to go. What a relief I felt as I then climbed down the stairs from customs and saw my husband for the first time in four months! We stayed in Dammam for a couple days as we tried to get the iqama (the Iqama will be my new residence ID card that shows I am allowed to be here) medical testing and paperwork all in order before heading to our new home two hours away.
Stepping into a very old, and not so very clean hospital I was directed to a room with three chairs and lots of paperwork. A man directly took me to another room where a couple of ladies took one vial of blood and then handed me a cup to get a urine sample. The man then directs a young worker to get out of the bathroom so I can use it. I get that done and then we head up to the third floor for an x-ray. The elevator ride consisted of me and this man who plastered himself face-first against the farthest wall he could find in that small space. He wanted to be as far away from me as possible. Why did I make him feel uncomfortable? Because I was woman?
Then the nurse said it was finished. I was free to go from there. I had never had a medical exam/physical that was so rushed and I believe it was because I was a woman. An American woman who didn’t cover her hair either!
I had my first experience dining out family style. And by family style, I mean we sat in the “family section”. Many restaurants have a family section (if they do not, I don’t believe I can eat there). I could be wrong, but not willing to check yet. It is a walled off area or completely different floor for married couples and their children, or just women by themselves. Some of the tables or booths have the foldable room dividers that you can put up around your table for more privacy. This is for the Saudi women who wear the face covering, and gives them the ability to take it off while they eat without being seen by others. My first morning in Saudi I was sitting at a table for breakfast 8 stories up looking out over the city and I was thankful for the walled partition because the emotion of the new environment, the fact that I had waited four months to get here and now it was my reality choked me up. And I was able to just feel like it was just me and my husband sitting there.
Today we head out and go to our new home in Al Hasa about 2 hours from Dammam. I had to use the squatter toilet at a truck stop along the way. There is a first time for everything! Hike up the abaya, gingerly step through all the shit, and try to get it done. Quickly. Thankfully, my husband was waiting outside and we were able to get some hand sanitizer. I felt so dirty afterwards.
Then we went through two police checkpoints, but were flagged through them both without any hassles or even being stopped. It seems that they don’t really care about westerners much and are looking for someone or something else. No idea what though. The drive is mostly desert and then huge expansive work complexes along the way and then more desert. Arriving in Al Hasa, it felt good with the lights and the foreign sites welcoming me there that night. The streets were busy as it was the weekend and Saudi has a big night life (shopping).
My husband and I venture out to check out one of the malls here. They are huge! And the shops have so many beautiful pieces of clothing. I have not purchased any clothes yet, but the prices at many of the stores are really great compared to some stores in the States. There is an amusement park of sorts in the malls for the families with kids to enjoy with the comfort of air conditioning. It’s pretty cool to people watch and check out the many kinds of abayas that the women wear. Some are very fancy with a tag revealing the name brand and then there are others which are quite modest and just plain. Most women I see here have their face coved as well, showing the very makeup laden eyes. We had gone to the Ikea in Dammam and that was the first place where I saw many western women out shopping without their heads covered. I felt like “whew, I’m not the only one” However, here in Al Hasa, I haven’t really seen any western women yet. I also feel much more noticed here when I am out and about than I did up in Dammam. As far as my personal experience with the abaya goes, I am still having issues with it sometimes. Other times, it’s like putting on my coat to go outdoors on a chilly day out of habit type of thing. Even though it’s hot. Very hot. My abaya does not breathe, and I end up very hot with it on. It makes me feel a little bit like I am hiding myself, which in a way I guess I am, but not by my own choice but by someone else’s rules forced on me. It seems to only prevent someone else from seeing the shape of my body. I wonder if it’s something I will end up being more comfortable with or one day cut it into a bunch of pieces (most likely the latter will happen). I have to be careful not to trip on it when crossing streets, climbing stairs, or pretty much any activity that doesn’t include sitting. All the escalators here have little warning signs about getting it caught in the steps.
Our apartment here is a new construction. It has two baths, and two bedrooms, and to me it’s the perfect size for just the two of us. We are slowly making it our own here in the city. I love it. I didn’t expect it to be so nice and comfortable. And I am happy we have western toilets in our home! A little surprise to me was when I met a man who introduced himself to us as the owner of the building. “Actually my wife owns this building” he said. “I own the one next to it.”
I’m really thankful to have a husband who is cautious behind the wheel. The traffic here is in one word, crazy! You never know what kind of traffic law from the states will be broken at any one moment. It’s basically lawless driving. We even saw a child driving today. An eight year old child! While in a roundabout, and on the outside lane, four lanes in there might be someone who wants to make a right hand turn out of it. Like, right now, don’t look, just go. I personally wouldn’t want to be behind the wheel here at all! And if you don’t know, it would be forbidden anyway for me to drive here.
A lot of the streets are really interesting. You don’t just go down a street and see all these different types of stores. Depending on the street, it could be an all jewelry street, all tires street, all ladies clothing street, all home décor street, all dishes and cook wear street or who knows what else. The list goes on. It’s strange to me to see shop after shop of the same types of merchandise in a row.
I had a little fun shopping today. This was my second time going out during the day while my husband is at work. Yes, I do go out in public by myself, even if it still makes me a little nervous. How else can I adapt to a place if I don’t try? So try I will. I had told my husband that I needed to return an item that I had bought and he explained to me that it might be difficult here to do that. I had wanted him to help me with it, but he didn’t and I then knew that I would have to then get over my small fear of having an issue returning an item. Part of my fear is that I can’t explain myself very well if the person doesn’t speak English. I exchanged the item without an issue. Basically I handed him the bag and told him I didn’t need it. He said no problem and motioned for me to go shopping for something else. The guy had asked me for my phone number as part of the transaction. I didn’t have one so he asked me for my husband’s number. I think I should carry that with me from now on, along with my sacred paperwork that proves I am indeed allowed to be here. After the exchange was done he said “wait, I have gift for you” and he gave me an insulated shopping bag that I can use for cold groceries. Honestly, I left that store feeling good over something that may seem so tiny to some. I then went to a local fabric store that is just two blocks from my house (it may become a habit 🙂 ) and got two meters of fabric for 5 US Dollars! Yet again, I had to convey that I needed to know the price per meter and tell him how many meters I wanted. He pulled out a calculator to type in the numbers so that we both understood. The funny thing was when I said yes to him I also said si. Ha! As if he is going to understand Spanish.
My husband and I have really had a great first week together here. It has not been without challenges, nor has it been without a lot of laughter. Sometimes it is all you can do in a situation, just laugh! We are constantly learning new things here. We lost water in the apartment two days in a row. Turns out someone had a running toilet which must have emptied the tank on the roof. After a couple days though, the water pressure on the shower is fantastic! I am a little bit of a shower snob. I like good pressure and I like heat. I’m very thankful for both right now.
Our vehicle also broke down this week. Just days after the cracked water pump was said to be the issue, and was fixed. In the middle of three lanes of traffic I jumped over the center console and turned the wheel to avoid hitting traffic, as my husband pushed it out of the road. A couple Saudi men also jumped in to help after a few minutes. Then another Saudi pulled over and tried to help diagnose the problem. Needless to say the car has sat in that spot for a few days now. At one point we walked back to the car to see if it would start up and it didn’t. My husband then wrote in the dust on the window “Just married. My car is broke and so am I” then he drew a heart around it and we had a good laugh.
We have discussed getting a washing machine and I mentioned that we should probably get permission from the owners about installing it. So a text message was sent and the owner said we can do whatever we want with the place, he then immediately sent over the super to get the job done last night at 9pm. Oops! There was a lack of communication there on our part as we didn’t mean to have him send someone straight away. Another lesson learned. And, also a pleasant surprise that some things will be taken care of immediately here. This is not always the case!