Monday, December 31, 2012

What Happens When You Vacation BACK to the US from Saudi Arabia?

Image via 
First of all, how was it possible that we all were able to come back to the US for a mini-vacation? We have only been in Saudi Arabia for 6 months. My company was so generous and thoughtful to give me and the kids’ airline tickets to visit the US. During the month of November, I had a bit of a “culture shock” melt down and I think my boss agreed that I just needed a little break to refresh and recharge.

Before we flew out, each family member stated what we needed to stock up on when we got back to the US. Other than being with and enjoying our family, our other mission was to load up on the things that were either too expensive or too hard to find in Saudi.

The “stocking-up” began with my brother taking the kids to Wal-Mart. Not just a regular Super Wal-Mart, but a miniature regular sized small town Wal-Mart. His trip with them took over an hour  2 hours! My brother let them buy whatever they wanted and it was just so funny to see the random things that they chose to buy (based on the things that they must have missed the most).
Our youngest son bought:
·         Chocolate donuts and beef jerkey
·         Angry bird game and watch
·         Trident ice-cream flavored gum –and a
·         12 pack of Capri Sun drinks!

Our daughter bought:
·         US Weekly magazine
·         Press on finger-nails complete with art designs
·         12 pack of HUGS juice drinks –and a
·         Mini-video camera

Our oldest son bought:
·         Beef Jerkey
·         gum and candy
·         A remote control helicopter

While the kids were going crazy at the little Wal-Mart, the hubby and I were hoarding items at the Super Wal-Mart in the next city over.
Here is what we (mostly me) bought:
·         5 boxes of Cold-brew Lipton Iced Tea bags
·         5 tubes of Burt’s Bee’s chapstick
·         5 automatic eye-liners (self-sharpening)
·         My favorite shampoo and conditioner
·         Tomato bouillon cubes
·         Goldfish snacks and Cheez-itz      
·         Chili powder (to make home-ade chili with)
·         Ranch Dressing mix
·         Creamy peanut butter-3 jars
·         Grits (oh, how I missed them!)
·         4 bottles of makeup foundation, powder, eye shadow and lipstick
·         Tampons
·         Saltine crackers
·         Loads of kids Tylenol chewable tablets and chewable Pepto Bismol tablets
·         Socks for the boys

Things I forgot to bring back L  (dang it! why didn’t I think of that while I was there!)
·         Chef Boyardee Ravioli
·         Neosporin
·         Bengeit mix (not available, sadly)
·         Hot Tamales candy
·         Bubble-icious-gum

After our major splurging trip, we made sure to eat at our favorite places throughout the week. We went to: Larry’s BBQ-twice, Cracker Barell, Captain D’s, McDonald’s (for breakfast), IHOP, Chick-fil-A and Olive Garden. Stores we (me) got carried away in were: Old Navy, Bath & Body Works, JCPenny, Dillards, WAL-MART, Target, Barnes & Noble, Michael’s, Kohl’s and several shoe stores.
I was sure to also bring back many children’s books, Beth Moore and Joel Osteen studies, a mini-Christmas tree for each child, new clothes and shoes for the whole family, magazines and my Keurig coffee maker!

Of course there were more high-lights of our trip, but the best ones of all were spending time with friends and family that we hadn’t seen in years!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Wild Monkeys!

It is hard to believe that my family has been in Saudi Arabia for 6 months now! We are lucky to have relatives close by to fill us in on things to do. Life here can get a bit boring. Why? Well, we can’t just walk outside our apartment and go for a walk. We do sometimes, but only when we need to get a snack or a few groceries. (I am notorious for “forgetting” to buy things when we go to the grocery store!) We don’t have the “American” luxuries of our Texas neighborhood, where we had a pool and a playground nearby. Unlike most western expats we live in an apartment instead of a compound.

So, let me get back to why I am writing this blog post today. Well, over the weekend, we had an amazing little adventure…..with monkeys! Before I tell you about the monkeys, let me tell you about the events leading up to it. We left at sunset and drove towards the mountains. It was about a 3 ½ hour trip and my 2 brother in laws and sister in law joined us. The kids rode with them most of the way and gave Sohail and I little break from “he hit me” and “she touched me!” We drove past Taif to a city called Shifa. We stopped for some roasted corn, fresh fruit and our dinner of roasted chicken and rice. 
Then, we checked into a resort that my husband and his brothers had stayed in last year. It was a sweet little villa type home that had a kitchen,a living room, 4 bathrooms and 4 bedrooms. It was not a Hilton, but was nice and clean and we loved it! It had a playground that we played on at night time and we also made a fire. The kids had fun burning wood and making torches! What we loved about our stay was that it was cold. It felt like December in the mountains! We wore sweatshirts and jackets and were freezing! Compared to the daily winter weather of 90 degrees Fahrenheit, this mountain air was amazing!

The next morning we slept past noon and then checked out of the resort. We headed back down the mountain on the ever so winding road! We stopped to see cactus and flowers. And then….we saw WILD MONKEYS! We pulled to the side of the road and saw so many…they were climbing the mountains in packs! There were large daddy monkeys with furry manes and medium sized mommy monkeys with babies either on their backs or stomachs. We decided to feed the monkeys and pulled out some apples and bananas. Several monkeys then jumped on our car. They were so big and my daughter screamed as my little boys laughed hysterically. After the monkeys jumped off our car, we threw the fruit out the window. It was so cute to see them holding the fruit like people do! However,the big daddy monkey kept taking it all and not sharing! We were astonished at such selfish behavior! Oh well. After our fruit was gone, we continued down the spiraling road. A few hours later, in Taif, we stopped at another local fruit stand and bought strawberries, tiny red apples, tangerines and baby bananas!Then, about an hour later we saw more MONKEYS! This time, our little one threw an apple and the daddy monkey caught it! Oh what an adventure!  We then stopped to take pictures of the mountains-we couldn't resist!
To end our adventure, all the kids chanted “we have to go to the bathroom!” So, we found a rest area and my daughter and I endured the “squatty potties” again.  No problem-we are used to it now!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Family Day!

Today, we had a family day at the beach. We arrived about an hour before sunset, where the kids played on a few of the playgrounds lined up in the sand. We saw some locals picnicking near the water. We then bought a kite from a lady who had a makeshift store laid on top of a blanket on the sand. As the sun began to set, the cotton candy vendors emerged and so we bought some (at a quarter a bag!). We ended the night by wasting money on some light up toys for the kids. Total cost-less than $10!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

An American Thanksgiving in Saudi Arabia

One week before Thanksgiving, I searched several super markets and did not find a turkey. Luckily, my brother in law came to the rescue and talked to a very important person. He found out that some turkeys had recently been delivered to Sarawat Store. So, with our three children in tow, we went and bought three turkeys. Thanksgiving Day was on Thursday, the first day of our weekend here (the work week is Saturday-Wednesday and the weekend is Thursday and Friday). After getting off of work Wednesday, I began prepping all the meals. The next day at noon, Sohail and I spiced up the turkeys and began our adventure of cooking. Keep in mind that our German sized oven has no temperature setting. It is run by gas and literally has fire on the top and bottom of the inside of the oven. So, we bought a convection oven that is run on Celsius (even though I have always cooked using Fahrenheit). Then,we borrowed another oven from our sister in law. Each oven had a turkey in it!
By 6 pm our guests arrived: my two brother-in-laws and sister in law from Pakistan, my friend from Australia & her family and my friend from Dubai & her family. Instead of being the common host, I put my guests to work! They were so willing also-the true mark of good friends! Everyone helped do one of the following:  make the mini-apple pies, make fresh whipped cream, decorate the deviled eggs, set the table and more. I couldn’t have pulled it off without their help! In the US I would have had 2-3 days off of work, at least, for preparations.

I must say that the food was absolutely delicious!It was exactly how I would have cooked it in the US. I served cornbread stuffing, green bean casserole, homemade turkey gravy, cranberry sauce, twice baked mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie and apple pie. To top it off, we had Lemon cheesecake from Jade and Strawberry Delight from Farwa. Oops-we forgot to drink our fake wine (sparkling apple juice) from Amena!
The kids fixed each other’s hair and makeup. Cute little baby Adam found every open socket on the wall (sorry Amena) and we adults enjoyed talking about our new lives in Saudi Arabia. It was a night to remember!
I am thankful for new friends!
The happy couple!
The infamous "Turkey 1"
I am thankful for more new friends!
Turkey 2
Turkey 3
Mini Apple Pie-1 for each guest
The Thanksgiving Meal!
The after-party!
Deviled Eggs!
Green Bean Casserole!
Oh no, I forgot to take pictures of everyone else-sorry guys!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Life as a Saudi Woman-What is it Like?

“A Day in the Life of  a Muslim Woman” is a YouTube video that shows a live, casual interview with a Saudi woman. The video outlines her typical day in Saudi Arabia. Several positives and realities are outlined within the video.


Thank you "leanman" for sharing this video on your site! -Andrea

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Culture Shock in Saudi Arabia

Culture shock is defined in Collins American Dictionary as: “the feelings of isolation, rejection, etc, experienced when one culture is brought into sudden contact with another, as when a primitive tribe is confronted by modern civilization.” 

Did you know, that no one is immune to culture shock, no matter our prior travelling experiences? Several stages occur when one is immersed in another culture. The first stage is “the honeymoon phase” where everything seems new and perfect and exciting. I did go through that stage already and it lasted about 2 months. Then, Ramadan happened and that was a bit hard adjusting to having no eating places open for breakfast or lunch (even Starbucks!) I made it through.

The second stage is “The Honeymoon is Over Phase.” One is inundated with sadness and/or anger. Everything just seems wrong and total opposite of what you are used to. The people and their practices seem strange, transportation practices are odd and hygiene practices become strange.  This is by far the toughest stage. I experienced some moments of sadness, but just a few times. I cried a few times when my oven exploded-twice (Since writing this, I got a small counter top electric oven, to avoid future explosions). I also cried when I locked myself out of my apartment by accident and had to wait an hour to get back in (I've done this once again, since writing this). So, my tears were more of frustration than of sadness and this happened just in certain situations. Next, was being angry and this is the stage that I went through several weeks ago. I was in the mood of blaming difficult situations on the country itself. I was angry that my kids school was not anything like what I expected. I was angry that I am still on a Visit visa (after 4 months)! Also, I was just plain sad and angry about the weight that I am gaining here. On the other hand, sadness emerged when I realized that there is no place near our apartment for children to play at-like parks, sidewalks, etc…

The third phase is the “Negotiation Phase” where one decides to either deal with it all or leave and go back to the country where you began. This is a tough place to be, mentally. It is hard to sleep and hard to be out in the new society. Your mind is filled with constant questioning and decision making. 

“The everything’s ok Stage” is the fourth one. You begin understanding  and accepting the ways of the people. You can communicate with the locals and you don’t feel like an outsider anymore. This stage occurred when I initially arrived to Saudi Arabia.  I felt like I blended in nicely being that most of the people here speak English. Many are from: the Phillipines, Pakistan, Africa and Bangladesh, India, South African, the UK, Australia, and Egypt. On the other hand,  Last month, I ran into a very mean lady who yelled at me because she did not get her order taken before me at Starbucks. I was in line in front of her! This was a shocking incident, to say the least! Also, I had a lady bash me with her shopping cart-twice-and I still don’t know why! Thankfully, I have met some very nice and friendly locals too. The mean ones just tend to stick out more (sadly). So, I guess I can safely say that I have accumulated to the culture by experiencing both negative and positive social actions!

My anger and sadness has luckily passed, although it took over a month. It was during month 4 of living here. Month 5 has amazingly begun and I am mentally doing just fine. I have accepted the culture and learned where not to go when I am in a bad mood. I have also realized that by going shopping in the daylight hours, I see more expats! I have recently had some new opportunities here presented to me. As a result, my spirits have lifted and I am looking forward to our continued future here in Saudi Arabia!         -Andrea

I am now in my 6th month. I am have been in the "negotiating stage" for the last part of month 5 and it has been 2 1/2 weeks of negotiating. How wierd it is to go through this stage. For today, at least, I am over it and past it. I hope this stage doesn't come back. It was very dark and sad. At least twice a day, I made plans of working somewhere else, living somewhere else, and moving somewhere else...anywhere but here! I drove myself crazy making decisions and changing decisions back and forth. I simply could not find a solution for all of my "problems" that I was facing. During this time, in desperation, I talked to my friends and family on the phone, on facebook, and through e-mail....about 15 people total. I felt really crazy and out of my mind...but honestly, getting their perspective and honest advice really helped me. They all gave the same advice as well. "Just stick with this-you can do it-chin up-etc....." I also read ALOT of other expat blogs from Americans living in other countries. So many of them were experiencing the same "culture shock" type feelings. I did not feel crazy anymore-whew! The most important factor that I haven't mentioned yet is that my faith in God has guided me through this. Through daily prayer and reading of the Word, I was able to put some positive thinking into my emotional heart. I kept hearing "wait" and "be patient." It was so hard, but God did bring me over this hump. I feel very humbled now and know that without God as my guide, I would have gone literally-crazy! I am thankful that it didn't happen.


Clipart from:

For your entertainment, check out this video that represents how one feels when moving into a new country: 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Visiting a American-like city, Within the Desert

Yes, after 4 months of living in "Opposite World," as we all call it now, I was ready to take a little break and step back into someplace different that was a little more "Americanized." So, my sweet husband drove me 3 1/2 hours away to a quaint little city called Yanbu. He actually grew up in Yanbu, as a young child and he took us on a family tour through the neighborhood that looked like a little piece of America. I was amazed and thrilled to see cute little houses sitting on green grassy yards. The streets were nicely paved, without potholes. Unlike Jeddah, people obeyed traffic lights, followed the speed limit and stopped at stop signs. Parks and playgrounds sat on the corners of several neighborhoods. For a moment, I felt like I was in Florida as we drove between a long stretch of towering palm trees.

During our day trip, we decided to spend the night in a hotel and believe it or not, we stayed in a Radisson. It was more pricey than we planned, but there were no available rooms elsewhere. This was the end of the Hajj vacation, so we should have known. On the other hand, the cost was about 70% of what we would have paid in Florida for a beach front room.

We awoke to a nice "super-sized" American style breakfast buffet. It was complete with bacon, waffles, fresh fruit, cereal and omelettes. It was so tasty! Not too far away, we could see the beach outside of our window. It was pretty much deserted so we thought we would go for a swim. Being that we were near the industrial part of Yanbu, the beaches had a little grime and slime along the shore. We decided to just stand and look at the water, instead of swim in it! Either way, it was nice to be able to drive our car right up on the sand near the water.

After not swimming at the Beach, we went for a little drive past the shipyard. We saw the import "ports" and a cute little orange tugboat. Next, we happened upon a historical site where old buildings were toppled one on top of the other. The archways of the former doors and windows were strikingly exquisite! The blue, red and green doors were like artwork just sitting there waiting to be discovered. So, once again, I pulled out my trusty iPhone and snapped some photo's of "Old Yanbu."