Reflecting on the year

12/22/14

What a year this has been! I’ve been reflecting on all that has happened lately. I feel quite blessed for all I have right now in my life.

The Year started off with a trip to Beirut, Lebanon in January. This was a trip for my (then) fiancé and I to meet up after being apart for several months. I flew in from the U.S. and he flew in from Saudi. We spent two lovely weeks in Beirut, drinking coffee, eating, exploring the city on foot for the most part. This was also the place where he got on one knee and asked me again, to marry him. It was a great moment in my life, and ours. Maybe one day we can go back to Beirut for another visit.

marryme  beiruterocks ruins ruinss grotto

After the trip in January, I settled back to life in my tiny one room apartment in Indianapolis, Indiana. The next months were both difficult and rewarding as my fiancé and I planned for life together, while being miles apart. It was actually hard work, but it was worth it. We grew closer together and our bond was strengthened from the distance between us. It was also a scary time in our lives, as we were both making choices, we had never made before. I was choosing to live abroad with him once we were married, and he was facing the reality of how his life would change as a married man. He is a fiercely independent person, and I had nothing but two stamps on my passport compared to the over fifty stamps on his. Life was changing in great ways.

Later that winter (March), I received word that my Grandmother wasn’t doing well, and in a rather quick plan, I headed down to Florida for a visit. My younger cousins actually drove up to Indiana to get me! I am so thankful for that time, as it was the last time I got to see her. She passed away in April. The past couple weeks while I have been working on projects, I have really missed her. She was such a creative person, and I’ll always appreciate, and miss her for that.

Also, when I got back from the Florida trip, I started a job at Gannet. Working at The Indianapolis Star doing graphic design was one of a few jobs that I have had in the past that I really enjoyed. I didn’t care much for the hours, as it was a night shift, but the work itself was rather fun. It was actually a job I would go back to if I had the opportunity.

In May I had to make a tough decision regarding my beloved dog Niles. Take him with me wherever I go, or give him up. It took months of back and forth to make the right choice for Niles. In the end a couple had found me through my fiancé and it turned out to be a wonderful match. He (Niles) loves his new family, and they love him. I know I made the right choice to give him stability over constant moving around and possible kennels while we went on trips, but I have never missed an animal as much as I have missed that little guy!

The wedding plans were very much last minute. We kept it small, and got married on the 12th of June along the White River in Indianapolis. I was on cloud nine, and so excited to be able to start my life with this wonderful man who I had actually met on a dating website. There had been countless hours of dreaming between us, and it was finally happening. It was a warm day, but pleasant and it was a bit of a rush as we scrambled to get documents taken care of immediately afterwards in preparation for my visa to move abroad. My in-laws helped us a great deal and organized the food celebration the following day up in Goshen. Once again in a rush, we left that night to go on our honeymoon. We spent the night at the airport in Chicago and landed in Puerto Rico exhausted the next day. Oh, but it was paradise! We rented a small apartment just few steps from a beautiful beach. Our first Airbnb experience was a good one. The apartment was equipped with a small kitchen where we could enjoy cooking our own meals, and relaxing. In June, the tourist population was low, and the temperature was hot, so it was a very chill time. When I think about Puerto Rico now, I dream about maybe one day buying a small villa for a vacation spot or home. My husband and I both share the dream of being near the ocean one day. Puerto Rico has some charm to it, so who knows…

puerto kites

After a couple weeks we headed back to the States, and I dropped my husband off at the airport. He went back to Saudi and I went to my apartment. It felt so strange to be married and living apart, but we had to wait on my visa in order to live together. I stayed busy getting ready to leave, which meant more downsizing. I was also doing my part State side getting documents taken care of, and everything in order for the Embassy to approve all of it. During this time we discovered I was pregnant. We were both so excited, but sadly I lost the baby in August. My apartment lease ended in August as well, so I left my little home with only the items that would fit in the Honda Accord. My family was great and put me on couches or spare beds while I spent the next two months waiting to move to Saudi. It was a good time for me also, because I was able to spend some time with them that I wouldn’t have done if I had still lived in Indianapolis. All these small things that seemed to be a bother, at times, brought me good things as well.

On the 21st of October I got on a plane for Saudi. It was really happening, yet it felt so surreal. I’ve  been here for exactly two months, and I still have days were it feels the same way. Like, What am I doing here? Other times, it just feels normal! And as far as life here since I arrived, please refer to earlier blog posts. Grab a cup of coffee or tea first though.

I can say that I feel both stronger and weaker than I did two months ago. Sometimes I am surprised by how far I have come, other times by how little. I don’t really know how to express it other than that. My husband and I even closer than before and that friendship, love, and support for each other really keeps us going. We have only been married six months, but only lived together for two. It’s been a fun journey for sure, and we are looking forward to what adventures will happen in the years to come.

I hope that my readers will tell me a little about what this past year has brought them as well in the comments section below. It’s always fun to share in my opinion. And on that note…*high-five* to everyone! We have all had some good and not so good times this year, so let those good times outshine all the bad. Xo – wifeabroad

A fish market pervert, a Saudi wedding, and a few close calls.

12/14/14

I need to warn you that the first part of this entry is not pleasant! The weekend started out like most weekends here. My husband and I always have new energy on Thursday nights since it starts the weekend and we never really know what kind of fun we can have for a couple days. We had a few errands to run before we headed out of town for a trip to Jeddah to attend a wedding. I needed to return a dress that I had decided against, and my husband needed to pick up some clothes that he had dropped off for repairs. The return of the dress went pretty smoothly and I was able to explain that I didn’t want the dress without anyone understanding a word of the other’s language.  Then they gave me a credit towards the store and motioned for me to go shopping. I didn’t need anything right away, so I was able to get the cash back after asking a few questions and a few more gestures regarding the credit receipt. Then my husband and I headed to the old town to pick up some alterations. Being a Thursday night here, the streets were bustling with people and cars. I decided to wait in the car for my husband to walk maybe a half block to the shop and back. He left and just a minute went by and I glance over and see this guy who seems to just be “adjusting” himself. I mean, most men at some point or another have to do this…so no big deal. Keep in mind, I am directly in front of a large fish market and there are pedestrians everywhere. I look about and then glance back towards the store front and the same guy mentioned before is there again, looking at me and then I notice he is not “adjusting” himself at all! He is getting himself off, exposing himself, right there while staring at me! I instantly panicked! I locked the doors and instantly grabbed my scarf to “hide” myself. I kept checking the side mirrors to know where the man was, as he kept walking around the truck and around a few other cars in the area. He probably made it around the truck five times before my husband made it back. My husband gets in and asks why I have my scarf on. I didn’t have any words at that time, but my mind was screaming “Go, Go, Go!” I just wanted him to get me out of there! I had never experienced something like that in my life! Even now, I fail to find the words to explain how that sick man made me feel. The things I could have, or should have done flooded me afterwards. In the moment I had sort of froze besides locking the doors. Still now as I recall the experience, I wish I would have been able to jump out of the truck and beat the guy, and leave him in public shame. He deserved it at the least! I just looked up on Google to see find that Pepper spray is legal here for self-defense. Perhaps I should get some. Only a month or so earlier, I had been talking with a friend who had told me that she had heard that some men will act in very inappropriate ways when they see a foreign woman in the flesh. I had been surprised by what she had said, and sort of laughed it off thinking, “wow! Glad that won’t happen to me…” Well, guess what? It did!

I really wish this had not happened to me, or any other woman for that matter, but the sad truth is, there are some sick beings in this world. I am thankful the situation was not worse, and I have learned that if it were to happen again, I need to cause a serious scene and get as much attention as possible. And I will no longer just wait in the truck by myself in areas like that.

Now…on to the better parts of the weekend!

We left the house early on Friday and headed to Dammam Airport for the trip. Morning traffic here is always much calmer. Thankfully there wasn’t an issue with fog that morning. The airport was pretty calm as well, since we were only flying domestic. Getting on the plane was different due to the fact that a quarter of the passengers were men in preparation for Umrah. Umrah is a Muslim pilgrimage to the city of Mecca for Muslims during non-Haj months. From what I have read about it, clothing worn during this time can’t have seams. The men getting on the plane were wearing towels. Just towels. One wrapped around the waist and another over the shoulders. Seeing men dressed in a way that is far less modest from the traditional thobes was very different. I have to say, that after the previous night’s experience, I felt a little grossed out. I couldn’t help it, but I kept it to myself.
About half way through the flight, I look up to see a guy in the row behind us doing CPR on an older gentleman who was passed out. I thought that the plane was turning back at this point to go back to the airport. The flight attendants did a great job keeping the man on oxygen the rest of the flight and we actually ended up flying the rest of the way to Jeddah. Once the plane had landed and the EMT crew was on board, one of the daughters of the man sat down next to my husband and explained to us that her father had recent heart surgeries and that they were not going to get to go on Umrah at this point. She so kindly expressed her concern that she hoped we weren’t late to our own thing, while her own father was on the brink of death. Once again, I was so thankful that the situation was not worse, and that the man seemed to be stable as we got off the plane.

My husband was able to negotiate a lesser fee with a non-official “taxi” driver to find our hotel from the airport. Turns out, that first driver was the nicest of all the taxi drivers we had while in Jeddah. The Hotel (actually a one bedroom apartment with a living room) was really nice. We took a much needed rest and then headed out to the corniche on the Red Sea to enjoy the setting sun. Our walk took us along a street filled with large sculptures and grassy areas occupied by families enjoying picnics. We weren’t lost, we were exploring! J We ended up walking quite a bit that evening in what seemed to be 95 (F) degree heat and 80% humidity.  By the time we decided to get a taxi back to the hotel, we were both drenched in sweat and very thirsty! The kind taxi driver gave us a small bottle of water to drink. We must have looked pretty miserable.

We then got ready for the wedding that evening. It didn’t start until 9:30 P.M. We are usually ready to call it a day by that hour, so this was very outside our normal routine. We got all dressed up and hailed another taxi. We arrived at the wedding, and while my husband knew the groom, I didn’t know a single person there. One of the groom’s friends came out to meet us and show me where to go. There I was left to go inside by myself and attend the wedding, Saudi style. Women in one part of the building, and the men in a completely separate part. I went in and stood in the entrance for a few minutes trying to figure out what to do. I’m pretty sure I was shaking with nervousness.  A sister of the groom finally spotted me and told me where to check my abaya (events like this allow the women to be abaya-free, since there are no men around) and where to sit. The hall was decorated and all fancy with tea, Arabic coffee, chocolates, and cookies on the hundred or more tables. My new guide seated me in the front of the room near the stage by myself! Already out of my comfort zone, I really started feeling even more uncomfortable. I tried the Arabic coffee and some chocolates to keep myself busy while more female guests arrived. A cousin of the groom was eventually “sent” over to chat with me for a bit. She was nice and spoke English. I used the word sent, because it was quite obvious to me that since I was the only white girl there, the English speaking relative, was told to go keep my company for a bit. She explained that the groom’s mother would sit by the entrance to the hall and greet guests until maybe two in the morning, that the groom would arrive around three-thirty in the morning and that everyone else would probably not leave until four A.M! We were both quite shy and didn’t really know what to say to each other. She made her escape shortly afterwards, telling me she needed to go speak with her mother. The table where I sat started filling up with other women at that point, all of whom sat at the farthest end from me. I felt like I was being talked about continually, but I couldn’t be sure since I didn’t understand a word they were saying and was quite nervous myself. J Oh how I wanted to not be an obvious white foreigner or crawl under the table! At least I had dressed well for the occasion. A friend here had loaned me a dress to wear, but at the last minute I had decided I wanted to go shopping for a dress of my own. I found a beautiful floor length gown in bright orange. It’s my favorite color and the price for the dress was only 100 riyals. That’s close to twenty-five U.S dollars! It cracks me up that after buying a gown, my husband looked at my cross body purse that I normally carry and said, “You can’t wear that purse with that dress!” I found a great evening bag in navy blue for forty-five riyals.  A couple days later, and I am still entertaining the idea of going back to the mall for the same dress in other colors because the price is so affordable.

More women started arriving to the table where I was and even started greeting me. I shook a few hands, told them my name and said nice to meet you, even though none of them told me their own names. They just smiled and greeted me in words I couldn’t understand. After a few of these, I noticed that the women are greeting with hugging and kissing (I was counting the number of kisses on the cheeks as I observed) and in my awkward position I decided that I should at least return the greetings with a little more than a handshake. Oh my, even with the previous counting, you can never tell who will give you one kiss on the cheek or one kiss on one, and three on the other side and so forth! I still don’t know the proper way to greet a Saudi woman! J The variety of dresses was pretty amazing—so many beautiful gowns. The styles ranged from super formal to casual. But all the faces were cloaked in heavy makeup, and even I had put on a little more than I normally would! Out in public I see women every day, covered up, and all you see are eyes. Here I got to see what they look like underneath the abaya and facial coverings. I would say this evening was the closest thing to “real Saudi” so far in my time here.

Dance music started after a bit and the mother of the Groom got on stage along with a couple other relatives to dance, and then a bit later another elderly lady also got up to dance, but other than that, there wasn’t much action going on.

At one point I heard someone at the table say “excuse me”, so I looked over and got an eye-roll and the toss of a head to the side. At this point I was even more nervous, because I in no way intended to give the impression that I was being stuck up! I told myself that while these ladies may have been judging me by what they saw, they didn’t have any idea of who I am, nor do they know that I am honestly just a very uncomfortable stranger who happened to be invited to their space!  Maybe they were also a bit nervous like me.  I sat there, drinking Arabic coffee for what seemed to be a really long time, looking around the room, smiling at strangers, wondering what it was like for my husband on the other side, and finally grabbed by bag to go use the ladies room. The cousin who had chatted with me earlier stopped me on the way and demanded to know where I was going. I think she thought I was leaving, so I told her the ladies room, and grabbed up my too-long dress so I wouldn’t trip and make an even bigger fool of myself and went to find the ladies toilet. In the ladies room I hiked up my dress even more as to not get it wet on the floors. I was thinking to myself, how do they do this in such fancy dresses without getting them soiled?  You see, the floors are always wet in the ladies rooms, and most times, there aren’t any western toilets.  Only squatters. The damn squatters. Many times there is actually a bathroom attendant who mops the floors and cleans the bathrooms in the larger public facilities. I just happen to be the type who feels hesitant as to the nature of any wet floors when I am in a bathroom! Perhaps I am stuck up after all. J So there I am, grabbing up my dress and tucking it into the top of my dress to avoid it making contact with the floor, while the chain from my evening bag gets caught in my hair as I try to keep it from also hitting the floor. It would have made anyone laugh to see it!

I was able to comfortably check my phone while taking my break from the festivities and discovered that my husband had sent me a message saying they are finished on the guy’s side! I’m thinking “what? It hasn’t even started over here yet! I feel like I have been here for hours.” He told me he will meet me outside if I want to, so I go retrieved my abaya and I made my escape. I went to a Saudi wedding, but I didn’t stay for the whole thing. Leaving just before midnight, I didn’t lose my slipper on the stairs.

The men had eaten a great feast and had pretty much only talked and drank the same Arabic coffee, while I had sat for an eternity not knowing what to do, how to behave, or what would happen next. No pictures were allowed from my side, but my husband got a few. J I’m glad I went. It was probably the most uncomfortable cultural thing I have ever done, besides moving to Saudi! I was scared, dressed up for a party and yet I couldn’t hang till 4 A.M! I’ll most likely never see any of those faces again, so luckily I shouldn’t have to explain my sudden exit. I had fun explaining the evening to my husband who was a little bummed that I hadn’t at least taken a sketch pad with me to draw what I was seeing (you know, like they do in court rooms that don’t allow cameras). Maybe next time.

The next morning I felt like I had a hangover from all the Arabic coffee that I had consumed combined with dehydration from walking so much. We didn’t get a chance to see much of Jeddah this time around, as it was a short trip, and my husband had to go back to work on Sunday. We packed up our things and got a taxi to head to the airport Saturday morning. This final taxi driver refused to turn on the meter when asked, and seemed very unfriendly. We had a near accident as we came upon another accident, but luckily he was able to slam on the brakes in time to avoid the suddenly stopped car in our lane. I think we came within an inch of the other car, as our driver burned a layer of rubber off of the tires. My husband asked him how long he had lived in Saudi. He was from Bangladesh, and had been here 20 years. When asked if he liked it, he quickly said “No!” I was thinking to myself “there is your sign, man. You have been in the desert for too long. It’s time for you to go home!” We drove up the ramp along the highway and suddenly there are wheelbarrow tires lying everywhere in our lane. A quick swerve was enough that time, and when we topped the ramp there was a man running down the road to get his tires that had fallen from his truck. You never know what you will see here! And that my friends, is my story from this past weekend…

I am so thankful for the adventures, our safety, the fun and laughter we share, and marking the six months of marriage to my husband—together!

Xx0 – wifeabroad

It’s nice to get away

12/7/14

On Friday, my husband and I were headed to Dammam to visit some people we know there. I was in a mood and wasn’t feeling up to it. My husband however, was overly excited. He had asked me to go with him the night before and I had finally agreed. Once in Dammam, we ended up paying a toll and I had mentioned that it was strange because I had never remembered paying a toll the other times we had gone up there. Then about two more minutes of driving I notice that we are now driving in a completely new area that I have never seen. We were on the causeway headed across the Persian Gulf. My husband now tells me that we are not visiting friends, but instead we are going to Bahrain for the weekend. I love how he was able to keep the secret and surprise me. I didn’t have my passport or resident card in my possession yet, but he had gone and picked them up the night before, he had packed a bag, had told me to wear comfortable shoes, and had even avoided my confusion the night before when I couldn’t find a pair of pants that I had wanted to wear the night before. Turns out they were missing, because he had packed them.
I was excited now, to get out of Saudi for a weekend and see a new country. When we arrived at the point of customs, my husband informed me that I would probably need to go to the ladies room at one point, since it would take a few hours to get through. So I got out of the truck and crossed about eight lanes of traffic, then back over to find him further up in line. He was right though, it took us two and a half hours to get through all the check points. That is a lot of people crossing the border! Once, we got through four of the five points, the abaya was taken off! I had worn a sweater and it was approaching 90 degrees (F) that day. And the sun was hitting my side of the car the whole time. The sweater was needed though once the sun went down, as its chilly here at night this time of year.

We made our first stop at McDonald’s for a quick lunch. There is something quite delicious about McDonald’s French fries when you are overseas. 🙂  Our second stop was at a place called Trader Vic’s.  In order to get there, the streets leading up to it were quite filled with military, tanks, and guns. We went through a vehicle x-ray machine and the car was inspected. They were definitely protecting some important people in the area! Trader Vic’s was a welcomed stop for me, the place was heavily decorated for Christmas, and the outdoor seating area with ocean view was awesome. There we enjoyed our first beer on the island for about 15 US dollars each. It was worth it.
Saw a few familiar faces of some people we knew from our home city in Saudi, so we joined up with them for some drinks at an Irish bar. Even ran into some new faces (for me, friends of my husband that I had not met yet). We also enjoyed a plate of bacon! Bacon in Bahrain runs about ten dollars a pound!
The architecture in Bahrain is amazing, the art museums will call me back, and the freedom was a nice respite. I think after almost two months here in the desert, the trip was well worth it. Since we only were in Bahrain for a short time, and there wasn’t much exploring done, I am looking forward to more trips. Looks like the place is just booming with things to see and do.

CAM00046World Trade Center in Bahrain

On Saturday we enjoyed a nice breakfast with more bacon and then headed out of Bahrain only to realize some of the main roads was shut off from traffic. Come to find out, Challenge Bahrain Triathlon was going on, which caused quite a bit of traffic issues on the Island. Thankful my husband had been here numerous times, so we were able to get out with his navigation skills! It may have included him driving over a sidewalk to get out of the bumper to bumper traffic at one time! To get back to Saudi the border crossing only took about 18 minutes vs. the 2.5 it get out. And even though it’s nice to get away, it was also nice to come back home.

Xxo – wifeabroad

Now to find a dress

12/3/14

This week it has felt like fall temps back in the States. I never really knew that 60 some degrees (F) could feel so chilly! 🙂

Anyway, the latest news here is that I finally have my resident card and now waiting on my multiple exit visas so that I can travel outside of the country and back. (fifteen minutes later I got a call that the visas are done!)

My husband and I were invited to a wedding here in Saudi next weekend. And so now I have the chance to experience what a Saudi wedding is like. I’m actually quite nervous about it. I think because I don’t know anyone there, and won’t have my husband by my side. Saudi weddings are segregated and are a huge deal here. The future wife (who I have not met) messaged me last night and told me “not to be nervous, it’s the same as any wedding anywhere in the world. And don’t forget my dress.” 🙂

And that point reminds me of a recent experience in a dress store. I walked in and began looking around and a store clerk, who was trying to be helpful brought out a dress for me that he thought I would like. I took one look and I hope the look of shock was clear on my face for the whole store to see. I thought to myself, who do you think I am?! This dress was so immodest and trashy my mouth just dropped! This red thing with all these vertical slits in it was NOT my thing!

I have done a few searches on Saudi weddings, and from what I have found, this is a place where women really dress up! And many future brides are chosen by mothers at the gatherings. So the pressure to look nice (only need to impress my husband) is on! It will definitely be a cultural experience for sure!

The flight tickets are booked, so I will have a story to tell later on… -wifeabroad