Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Free!


Now that I am in the US, I feel free to write more and free to say the things that I had to be more careful not to talk about, like religion and Christianity. It has been so nice to be back in the Bible Belt in Southern Alabama. It is like a polar opposite from Saudi Arabia. Within a 30 minute drive, I counted 7 churches. There are also as many Christian radio stations as non-Christian ones. Now that it is summer time, Vacation Bible School is being offered at almost every church. It is just wonderful.

In Saudi Arabia, it is against the law to publicly practice (or even discuss) anything other than Islam. Before I went there, I was aware that there were countries where sharing one's belief in Christianity was not always welcomed. I had been to some of those countries. However, in Saudi Arabia, it was not allowed. It is so hard to explain this concept because in any other country in the world, people can freely follow a religion or not. Freedom to believe "whatever" is possible.

I will never forget the moment I joined a "Christians in Saudi Arabia" facebook group. I asked in code words if there were any "meeting places for other believers." I received a few responses saying, "How could you come here and expect to go to church....don't you know that you can't meet with other Christians here-this is a Muslim country....you should just practice your religion in the privacy of your own home-for your own safety and for the safety of your family." Stunned-that's how I felt. Bewildered- that other Christians were too afraid to meet with another. Amazed-that my pursuit of simply meeting other believers would probably not happen.

And it was true. I never did find any church to meet with. I did hear of individuals who met in a small group and I did meet a few Phillipino's who asked me my religion and I told them and they responded that they too had the same beliefs. But that was it-it was just not enough. Having no support group was just no way to live there. I am sure that others have better stories and I hope they do, but this is my story and unfortunately things did not work out the way that I had planned.

I feel truly blessed. God took me through many trials and I did not go crazy (well, maybe once or twice). I hung on for as long as I could and God gave me a way out-safely. I feel like this little bitty town is heaven on Earth! Thanks for reading my ranting and ramblings! What do you think? -Andrea

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Sweeeet Home Alabama!


Nearly two weeks ago, my family left Saudi Arabia. Our adventure was cut short due to problems that had been developing for months with our employers, the countries newly enforced laws and our safety. Although it was sad to say goodbye to our close family members and friends, it was necessary.

Ideally, I would have waited until July, however, I realized that there was no need for me to continue looking for confirmations. I had confirmations and needed to just do it-and I did. I can't argue with God's timing. I have no regrets! Being back in America is absolutely amazing!.

While we were still in Saudi Arabia, everything back in the US just fell into perfect place. A house came onto the market, just weeks before....and it was nearby my parents! This house is just perfect, I must say-it's like it was tailor made just for us. It came with a dishwasher, stove, refrigerator, washer, dryer, nice carpet and perfectly chosen painted walls in each room! We have a huge back yard, front yard and empty lot to the side of us. Most people in the US do have most of the above, but to me, I now think of them as luxuries and blessings! In Saudi Arabia, I washed all the dishes by hand, I hung all the clothes to dry and we had no yard or patch of grass anywhere close to our home!

Just yesterday, we got a new SUV....well, its older than my 2nd and 3rd child....but it looks new! It has new tires, leather interior and is just perfect for us!

This past week, the kids went to VBS and they all made good friends and are so excited to start school with them in the Fall!

We also just adopted 4 cute little orange kittens. They are so tiny and just 5-6 weeks old, so the kids are learning to take care of them and they are giving them so much love. They stay outside and have so much room to play!

I set up our cable, internet, car insurance and other necessary bills. I changed our address and phone number as staying in Alabama will most likely become long term. The kids love it here and appreciate it so much more than I did when I was a child. I am so impressed at how well they have adapted and made new friends so quickly. As a said, everything has fallen into perfect place!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Momma Can't Drive



Most Americans are used to having a car. Usually, it is common to have at least two cars per family-one for dad and one for mom. In Saudi Arabia, it is a bit different. Why? Women are not allowed to drive. So, in Saudi Arabia, most families have one car-one for daddy. If that family is ever so fortunate, they will have another car that is driven exclusively by the family driver. Momma and the kids usually ride with the family driver, while daddy drives his car to work.

Sometimes this becomes a problem. Like today-my daughter's school called me while I was at work and told me that she was sick and that I had to pick her up. I hung up the phone and just sat there-thinking-"How am I going to manage picking her up from school?" I took out my phone and got to work. I called my husband-no answer. He must have been in an important meeting. I called my driver and he is unavailable, because he is also a driver for 3 other clients and is busy driving them for the next two hours. I tell my boss that I have to pick up my daughter. I tell her of my dilemna. She graciously offers me her driver to pick up my daughter. Whew! I was so happy that she did this, because I would have just taken a taxi, however, taxi's are not allowed through the security gate at school.

As me and my boss's driver enter the security gate, to retrieve my sick daughter, the security officer will not let us through. Why? Because we do not have a car pass to enter. I explain that my own driver has a car pass and that this guy is not my driver. He tells me to call the front office to get them to vouch for me coming into the school without a pass. I call. No one picks up the phone. Luckily, I have an old school tuition bill in my purse that I show to "prove" that my daughter goes to school there. What security, right?!! They finally let me through after I pitch a fit.

I pick her up from the nurse and as I'm leaving, security asks for an exit paper! What! I tell them that this is my daughter and that the nurse has the paper....and then I go. All this-just to pick up my sick daughter. I can't imagine what would have happened if a friend or someone else went to try to pick her up. Luckily, my work allowed me to get her!

As we are sitting in the car, my daughter tells me that she's hungry. Right. She did not have lunch. I ask the driver to swing by McDonald's. He says "no," that he has to get back and finish his work. I understand, however, for some reason, I just break down sobbing in the car. My daughter comforts me by rubbing my arm and giving me a hug. When she asks why I'm crying, I decide to be honest with her. I tell her that I am just frustrated because I wanted to be able to pick her up sooner and get her lunch, but I couldn't. Because, in Saudi Arabia-Momma Can't Drive.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Not Allowed


As most people know, Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country ruled by Sharia law. This means that the Muslim holy book, the Qu'ran dictates laws and lifestyles in the kingdom. This applies to Saudi citizens and guests of the country, or expatriate visitors and workers. All are expected to respect Islam, whether one is a Muslim or not. Unlike the United States, other religions are not welcomed or allowed to be practiced publicly. Are there churches or temples here-not at all. Are there makeshift alternate religious meetings held in private homes? Possibly.

Even discussing another religion, can be dangerous. I just came across a newspaper article from the Saudi Gazette about such an event. In the article, an expat discussed Christianity with a Saudi citizen, who then converted to Christianity. This is a big deal here, because converting to another religion is not acceptable or allowed in Islam. The article states that the citizen was "brainwashed" by a fellow Saudi and a Lebanese. They were both sentenced to 2-6 years in jail, as well as "lashes." Could you imagine being in a place where different thoughts are views are not welcomed? Well, that place is here.

Read the exclusive article for yourself here:

http://www.saudigazette.com.sa/index.cfm?method=home.regcon&contentid=20130513165497

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Places I would like to visit in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

After watching the video posted by Saudi Cultural and Tourism Agency [STCA] I wanted to compile a list of places I want to to visit in the Kingdom.



The video really made me think where to go on my weekends and what to do. After a few hours I started creating a list of places I want to see in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Top of my list Mada'in Saleh. 
Madain Saleh (Al-Hijr) dates back to the Nabataeans Civilization considered as on of the very important archaeological site in Saudi Arabia that is called "The Capital of the Monuments" as it contains huge amount of diverse and multifaceted monuments.

Mada'in Saleh by Ronel Quizon (ronelquizon)) on 500px.com
Mada'in Saleh by Ronel Quizon

Second on my list is Edge of the World
Edge of the world, located in Riyadh is a popular destination for trekkers, mountaineers, mountain bikers, and campers. One would easily be amazed with the great shapes and texture of mountains rocks surrounded by desert sand dunes. While positioned on the cliff's edge, you'll get the feeling of standing at the edge of the world.

Edge of the World by Rafael Uy (RafaelUy)) on 500px.com
Edge of the World by Rafael Uy

Third on my list is Jable Qara (Qara Mountians)
Even though I've been there once I would like to take the whole family to the beautiful place. It is a network of crevices in the mountain where the natural light provides amazing mood lighting for small but cozy places in the mountain. The Jabal Qarah is at a distance of 10 KM from Hufu. Hufu is a city in the well known Al Hasa Oasis of the Eastern Region.

Standing Tall by Sohail Chouhan (sohailchouhan)) on 500px.com
Standing Tall by Sohail Chouhan

Fourth on my list is Wahba Crater 
The Wahba Crater is one of the most spectacualr sights in Saudi Arabia. How was the Wahba Crater formed? There are two theories on how the Wahba Crater was made. Most people believe the crater was made by volcanic activity in the form of underground explosion, caused by the hot lava coming int ocontact with the underground water. This cause a massive explosion leaving the crater. The second theor, which has no scientific foundation due to no evidence, there is no trace of shocked quartz or high levevl of iridium, is that was formed by a meteorte. The crater is a 1.3 KM wide circle and the sides are 200 meter high.

al wahba crater by Danyl Lada (anythingbx)) on 500px.com
al wahba crater by Danyl Lada

There are many more places in the Kingdom I would like to visit but for the starters these are it.


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Update:Crackdowns of Expats Working in Saudi Arabia

 Written by: Anonymous in Saudi Arabia
This past month, Labor forces in Saudi Arabia have cracked down on illegal workers. Eyewitnesses have reported to the local newspapers various accounts of situations faced. Many Western expats do not discuss such issues, because of course, it is not affecting them firsthand. For some reason though, even though I am a "Westerner" it is deeply affecting me. To see human rights be diminished is down right sad and wrong. If anything, the least that I can do is make people aware of the reality that thousands of expats are dealing with-right here and right now.
Many expats entered Saudi Arabia on a visit visa or a work visa. Everyone has a story. Usually the salary here is higher than in their home country. Saudi employers may have helped them attain a legal visa to work, and others allowed them to work illegally. In many cases, things go wrong and the Sponsor decides not to pay workers on time, refuses to renew thier work visa/iqama, or holds their passport to prevent them from leaving. Some people living in Saudi Arabia feel that this does not happen. Again, those who feel this way are the ones from Western countries who do not even associate with those from Pakistan, Indian, Bangledesh, Sri Lanka, the Phillipines and many other neighboring countries. Shockingly, when these expats want to return to thier home country, they are not allowed. Can you imagine moving somewhere and feeling that you may not be allowed to leave when you need to?

In order to leave the country, the Sponsor/Employer must first apply for an exit visa or multiple-exit/re-entry visa. These visa’s cannot be applied for by the expat, only the employer. Thus, if the employer chooses not to apply for the Visa, then the worker cannot leave. Some expats visa's expired and employers chose not to renew it. The high fees kept the expat from renewing it and as a result, they were left here illegally. This is quite common and the foreigners continues to work or search for work elsewhere. If he finds work from another employer, he cannot legally be hired, unless the previous employer grants permission. Can you see the predicament that foreigners are put in? Entrapment. Yes, it sounds harsh-but especially to those who are living right now in Saudi Arabia and wondering what to do next.

During the week of April 20, 2013, I drove past the Phillipino Counsolate to see for myself if those expats were truly camping outside. I saw it with my own eyes - hundreds of Phillipino citizens were camping under blue tarps and some were lucky enough to be in tents. The heat has caused children to become ill, as these Phillipino nationals wait to be released to return back to their country. In fact, before last months "Raid", they asked to be repatriated back to the Phillipines. Many of them do not even have their passports due to their employers keeping them. Others do not have a valid iqama to legally work in Saudi Arabia. They want to go home and they are simply waiting to be allowed-all at the mercy of forces in Saudi Arabia.
On April 24, a similar story was posted from yet another media source. Sri Lankins are now gathered below a bridge in Jeddah...waiting to be returned to Sri Lanka. Lucky for them, Saudi Arabia has agreed to send them back, but only at 25 people per day. One can only imagine what it must feel like to have no control over where to stay or where to go. Read more about this situation here: http://www.emirates247.com/news/sri-lanka/saudi-arabia-grants-amnesty-for-thousands-of-sri-lankan-workers-2013-04-23-1.503772

This crackdown is now affecting the local economy. In Dammam, Saudi Arabia one such shop has been forced to increase the cost of their clothing. You can read more about it here: http://www.arabnews.com/news/448854  The Arab news quoted Shoua’ Al-Dheilan, Workshop Committee president, saying: “The price increase is the result of the campaign against laborers who were in violation of their status. This prompted the regular women workers to demand higher wages if the workshop owners wanted them to continue. This in turn increased the cost of a number of services.”

Again, it is disheartening to hear the newspaper dab foreign workers as being “in violation of their status.” They have no choice and now that they are being forced to fix their status, they are being denied. So, what is the solution? For some, the only solution is to return to their home country. For many, the question remains-how?

Additional Articles (to affirm that this is really happening) http://www.saudigazette.com.sa/index.cfm?method=home.regcon&contentid=20130421162259








Interviews with Residents in Jeddah:

1.      Akhbar, who works in the car industry put in his resignation letter to his company-3 months ago! They have refused him to leave until he finds a replacement for his company.

2.      Ana, a Phillipino national comes to the Phillipino Counsolate daily. She continues to ask them to send her home. Her Visa/Iqama to work as a house maid expired and her sponsor refused to renew it. She has her passport, but no way of leaving, due to not being able to afford the financial fines accrued as being an “over-stayer.”

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Say "Hi" to Dubai


When I began planning our family trip to Dubai, Iwas happy to learn of Passion Tours via Hello Travel (an online travel agent site). I knew nothing aboutattractions or appropriate activities for my 3 children, photographer husband and shop-o-holic me! Their recommendation meant a great deal to me and so after looking at several tourism companies, I chose Passion as a result of great communication, good price quotes and professionalism.
We stayed in Dubai for 4 nights and 3 days and were able to experience a dhow cruise, city tour and Desert Safari. All tours, as well as airport arrival, included pick-up (transfers) and drop-off. We did not have to arrange any transportation at all and I really appreciated that. We only took a taxi and the metro once, on the hours that we were not wrapped up in our tours. All vehicles were new and clean vans that fit our family comfortably.
I asked him to find a hotel near the Gold Souk and very close to the Metro station and he did. We stayed in the Flora Grand Hotel and the station was one block away! Breakfast was included in our package and we were pleased with it. The hotel was lovely and was very clean. The staff all spoke very good English and responded to our needs immediately. Our family of 5 all felt very comfortable there. We even took the Metro to the Mall. It was about 6 stops away, but it only cost 6.50 AED and kept us out of traffic!
Our first tour was the dhow cruise on Dubai Creek.We arrived around 7pm and enjoyed  a dinner buffet. The entertainment was good and we enjoyed seeing all the buildings at night as well as the other dhow boats cruising by.
The next day, we took a private city tour. Our tour guide spoke very good English and gave us a brief history of each place. He showed us: The Kings Palace, Atlantis, Burj Kalifa, and Gold Souk. At the end of our tour, we stayed at the Gold Souk and shopped our hearts away. It was so much fun as we were able to get very inexpensive souvenirs.
Later that afternoon, we were picked up for the Desert Safari. This by far was everyone’s favorite! The desert safari company was absolutely superb! The driver was very professional and drove on those sand dunes with such ease and enjoyment! The food at the desert camp was the best on our Dubai trip. My daughter and I had our hands painted with henna, my husband smoked the hubbly bubbly “shisha,” and our sons “sand boarded”down the sand dunes!

Our last day was filled with our own schedule. We stayed at the Dubai Mall and took the children to “Build-A-Bear Workshop” where they were able to make their own stuffed animals and purchase bear sized clothing for them! They also enjoyed the Aquarium and the huge candy store. We had dinner at Texas Roadhouse (yum!) and then ended our evening at the mall’s movie theater. What a wonderful trip we had, and all thanks to the coordination of Kirin and his team at Passion Tourism. I recommend his company to anyone living in or near the Middle East and planning tot ravel to Dubai. Vacation should be stress-free, right?

Regards,
Andrea
Looking at the Burj Kalifa

Looking upon the Burj Kalifa

Desert Safari - Part 1- Quad Bike Riding!

Twisty building in Jumeriah

Peacocks outside the King's Quarters

Burj Al Arab


Traditional Dance performed on the dhow cruise

dhow Cruise at night
 
If you are looking for a great travel agent for the Dubai area, feel free to contact Passion Tourism who I highly recommend the team at Passion Tourism!

Dubai Office:Room no: 508, Star Line building, Rigga road, Deira
Dubai, U. A. E, Mobile no: 00971(0)567746650 (24Hrs assistance)
Head office:Room no: 2, Illikal Parambu, R.S.A.C Road, Vytila P.O
Cochin 19, Kerala, India, P.O Box no: 682019
Mobile no: 0091(0)9745 543 533 (24Hrs assistance)
sales@passiontourism.com