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Top 10 Best Things About Living in Saudi Arabia

10)  Labor Costs –

Neither Jamie and I are really used to this, but it is a nice lifestyle.  In the US and most other western nations, having a housekeeper, car washer, and gardener would be too much of a cost on the budget.  A couple of families on the compound have a live in maid, which we don’t think we’ll ever get, but certainly seems appealing if you have a few kids.  The men who work on the compound (mainly from Pakistan and India) have regular hours where the take care of maintenance on the compound itself; however, before and after work, they wash cars and do other personal maintenance request you may have.  Just recently, we had a guy build a fence and put in a doggie door for us.  We don’t mind helping these guys out because their service for us pretty much double or triple their monthly salary.

9)  Location for Traveling –

This year wasn’t nearly as busy for our traveling as our 2 years in China, but the area where we are is a great location to see 3 continents.  The only drawback is that the cost of flights are more expensive than they are in southeast Asia, but pretty much everything is more expensive than it is is SE Asia.  This year, we went to Bahrain, Sri Lanka, and Turkey, while I was able to go to Nepal and Jamie to Kenya.  With the birth of our child, it might slow us down a little bit, but we hope that in the years to come, we can take advantage of our location to 3 continents, mainly Europe.

8)  Bahrain –

Bahrain has pork, alcohol, a nightlife, movie theaters, and goods you can’t find in Saudi.  You can’t bring the pork and alcohol back into Saudi, but it has been nice to go over there on the weekends and enjoy these things.  Women can drive and Jamie doesn’t have to wear her abaya.  At a minimum, it takes about 45 minutes to get there if you can get through customs quickly; however, it can take nearly 2 hours if the causeway is busy.  Many people go on early Friday morning to avoid the traffic.  Ric’s Kountry Kitchen has a great breakfast and City Center Mall has been our favorite place to see a movie.  Overall, it is a nice getaway from the bore of Saudi Arabia.

7)  Shawarmas –

According to wikipedia, a shawarma is

“an Arab[1][2] sandwich-like wrap of shaved lamb, goat, chicken, turkey, beef, or a mixture thereof. The meat is placed on a spit, and may be grilled for as long as a day. Shawarma is a fast-food staple across the Middle East, Europe and the Caucasus.
Shawarma is eaten with pita breadLavash bread, tabbouleh salad, fattoush salad, taboon bread, tomato and cucumber. Toppings include tahinihummus, pickled turnips and amba.
Shawarma has many variants and names in preparation, serving style, and name. The word shawarma(pronounced /ʃəˈvɑːrmə/) comes from the Turkish word çevirme [tʃeviɾˈme] ‘turning’, though the dish is usually called döner kebab ‘turning kebab’ in Turkish. In Greek, it was formerly called ντονέρ /doner/, and now called gyros ‘turned’; in Armenian, it is “tarna”, literally meaning “to turn”.”
You can get shawarmas just about anywhere, but we have our favorite place downtown at this little hole in the wall.  It seems like every family has their favorite place to get their shawarmas, so it is nice to hear of other places.  We ate the doners in Turkey, but we seems to like the ones on Saudi better.
6)  Availability of Food –
In comparison to China, we can get just about anything we want in Khobar.  Obviously, pork and alcohol are out, but many items are available somewhere.  Tamimi’s (formerly Safeway) is our favorite place to shop due to availability of goods and location.  The prices are at most 15% more than US prices, although some items are the same or even cheaper.  Turkey bacon can be found sporadically.  Tostidos are also a hot item with westerners, so we always stock up if we can.  Cheerios are in and out, so if they are in, I usually buy 3 boxes or so.  Cheese is not as expensive, but fruits, fish, and nuts are very expensive.  Along with groceries, there are a wider variety of western restaurants, although they can be pricey too.  My favorite is Chili’s, although I’m glad there is Burger King and Hardee’s.  We have been to the Macaroni Grille with gift certificates and it is quite good too.
5)  Coworkers and Our Jobs –
Jamie is happy at the high school, and finding her a high school social studies position was one of our main objectives in moving schools.  I have settled in teaching 7th grade math/science at the middle school.  We are both pretty satisfied with our jobs.  We have the opportunity for some professional development opportunities as well as leadership opportunities that we wouldn’t have had in our last school.  ISG is a solid system to work for as a not for profit organization.  We are located right next to the US Consulate, so security is as good as it gets.  Our students for the most part are hardworking, although they have quite a bit of support from home.  The high school where Jamie teaches has 100% of its graduating students go to a university.  We have great and supportive coworkers, many of whom are also our neighbors and friends.  They have made the transition to Saudi Arabia easier.  We hope that we have these friendships for many years to come.
4)  Gas!!!
Not much I can say here other than… 40 cents a gallon, $9 to fill up my Chevy Trailblazer, and just as important, you don’t have to pump your own gas.  Many gas stations additionally give you a couple of tissue boxes if you fill up.
3)  Weather –
This one may shock some people, but the weather where we live is actually pretty amazing 8 months of the year.  During the summer, we aren’t there anyway, so we have to endure the heat during June and September, but the other months are pretty amazing.  Rainfall is less than inch per year and the winter is very mild.  During the winter, you thrown a light jacket in the morning and evening, but wear short sleeves during the day.  The heat is pretty unbearable beginning in May, but the humidity isn’t near where it is other places, so it is actually pretty bearable.  Overall, we’ve enjoyed the weather, despite the heat index in August reaching 146 on some days.
2)  Housing –
Westerners are required to live in a secure, walled compound.  Compounds vary in size and amenities.  Our compound is An Nassim, and overall we have enjoyed our stay there.  This year, we lived on the 2nd and 3rd floor of a 3 story villa.  There was a single lady who lived underneath us.  This next year, however, we have a full 3 story villa, which doubles our living space from last year.  We have a front patio, back patio, and even a grassy fenced back yard.  Many families have decorated their villas so well, it is hard to believe you live in Saudi Arabia.  The villas come furnished.  Some families replace all of the furniture and some keep it the same.  Jamie and I will do our best to make it look and feel like home as much as possible.  Home is where you make it.
Compound life for the most part is quite dull, however, there is a weekly poker night.  Some women get together for yoga, and we play Settlers of Catan every Friday.  About once per month, most people on the compound get together for some sort of pot luck dinner or celebration and Thanksgiving dinner is always prepared.  If you are lucky, you can also go to the Canadian thanksgiving.  If you’ve seen our compound video, you’ll see that we have tennis courts, a pool, and a pretty nice rec center and library.  My largest problem is that there is not a field where kids can play.  We plan on making villa 104 our home for a while, and I can think of worse places to live.
1)  Money –
No one, and I mean no one, moves to Saudi Arabia for the culture, scenery, or weather.  The lifestyle I have described above is what it is for one reason… money.  While we don’t make quite as much as we would in the states, our money is tax free, our housing is paid for, our health care taken care of, and insurance is pretty inexpensive.  Moving to Saudi has pretty much doubled our salary from China if you count the tutoring money.  Tutoring students has been a positive experience overall for us, and it can be quite lucrative.  My tutoring money alone takes care of our living expenses, so it allows for us to send most, if not all, of our money home to the states.  Our school’s package isn’t the best in the Middle East, but it is pretty good overall.

1 Year in the Kingdom

Jamie and I just finished our 1st year living in Saudi Arabia.  For the most part, it was as we expected.

Our first few weeks and months were quite frustrating at time adjusting to prayer schedules, random store hours, no vehicle, inconsistent Internet, and being stuck in Saudi.  The 2nd half of the year was more routine when we bought our vehicle, had a decent Internet connection, and were able to go to Bahrain when we wanted.

We had our trips, but they were not as numerous as our trips when we were in China.  I was able to go to a leadership conference in Kathmandu, Nepal, Jamie went to Istanbul, Turkey for a MUN conference, as well as Kenya for a Habitat for Humanity trip.  We went to Sri Lanka as well as Turkey for our two trips and enjoyed both.

Overall, Saudi living isn’t that much different than living in the US.  Exchange churches for mosques, add in prayer times and store closings, get rid of the alcohol, force the women to wear black robes, have very few traffic laws, increase the heat, lower your customer service expectations, add in foreign laborers, and up the security for all housing, and you’d have Saudi Arabia.  Similarities include the restaurants (minus pork and alcohol) and overall the general stuff you can buy.  There is much more you can purchase in Saudi than in China.  Price of gas is about 40 cents a gallon, which is nice, but other products more than make up for it.  Electronics are very expensive and random food items can be double the price.

Our next blog post will be the top 10 best things about living in Saudi Arabia.  It will give you more insight into what we think of living there.

Again, overall, a great experience so far.  We have another year on our contract, and we’ll see what we want to do after that.  We moved into a new villa that has 3 floors, so Griffey is happy because he has more room as well as a fenced in back yard complete with a doggie door.

Check our next post for those top 10.

Jamie’s Trip to Kenya

Well, lots of people are wondering about my trip to Kenya so I’m making a very rare (I think this is only my second) contribution to the blog.

We began with a late night bus trip to Bahrain Airport which involved crossing the border with 41 people (5 chaperones and 36 high school students). We had two groups going to Nairobi so we shared bus and plane rides in and out of the country. The trip started out well, no hiccups at immigration and all five chaperones got bumped up to business class! It was great, I can’t wait to be able to fly business and first class on a regular basis. Too bad that’s light years away. We had a brief layover in Addis Abba, Ethiopia and landed in Nairobi mid-day on Thursday.

There are pictures of our first hotel in Nairobi as well as our hotel in the ravine (complete with mosquito nets for all the beds). Both of the hotels we stayed at were really nice, with great outdoor garden areas to relax in during the afternoon. The food was good in both hotel locations. Kenyan food is very heavy on starches and carbohydrates so pretty much every meal had potatoes, rice, and fried bread as well as a meat dish (usually a stew of some sort). We also had some very good fish dishes while we were there and a slaw dish that I didn’t eat (it had mayonnaise of course, I can’t escape that condiment anywhere in the world).

Nairobi was pretty warm during the day but really comfy at night. In the ravine the temperature didn’t get quite as hot during the day. When we were working there was usually a breeze although it got quite cool in the evenings until mid morning the next day. I had exactly one pair of pants for traveling and no long sleeves so I was chilly.

The first evening in Nairobi we had our Habitat for Humanity orientation with Festus who would be our HfH contact for the trip. We learned about some of the traditional Kenyan housing (mud walls that have to be reworked after the rainy season every year) and the fact that boys in the rural areas move out of their families homes when they are 15. They live in a very small house (called a boy’s house) on their parents’ property until they can afford to build a larger home which often doesn’t happen until after they are married with a few children.

During this meeting, we were also reminded of the violence that had broken out during the last presidential election. The race was very close between two popular candidates (who are now the re-elected president and the new prime minister). Because of the tensions, some groups who were considered outsiders in their villages were attacked and fled. The new government has given stipends to the displaced families who are currently living in tents donated by the UN. With this money, families could rebuild their homes that were destroyed. One group decided to buy the land of their refugee camp and set up a permanent settlement so they pooled all of their stipends. This gave them a safe place to live and work but it left them with no money for actual housing. Habitat and the UN are working together to help this community build brick wall homes for everyone in their group. They have completed about half of the homes so far and our group got to stop and visit the settlement on our way to our actual build site.

We stopped a few times along the way to see a couple of look out points, shop for souvenirs, and take a few pictures. Most of our second day was spent on the road although we did get to visit the two families that we would be working with to get their homes started.

We had a total of two and a half building days. During the first day we dug the foundation of one home and began laying the foundation for another. Part of Habitat is that the families do have to pay off the loan of the building materials and contribute to the building through what is called “sweat equity.” We had locals and the family helping us lay bricks. Ultimately, we built both the foundation and most of the walls for one home. It was an amazing experience that I recommend to everyone. While we weren’t being tourists, and I can’t wait to go back to visit Kenya and do all the touristy things, we really got a great experience because we were working with a family of people. Most people had rudimentary English and of the places I’ve traveled, more people spoke basic English in Kenya than anywhere else. I’m guessing because of imperialism (and they drive on the left side of the road thanks to the Brits).

We did spend one day out on safari in one of the national reserve parks. It was amazing. We got to see lions, rhinos, giraffes, tons of zebra, antelope and deer, and a couple varieties of buffalo. Plus lots of birds. We didn’t see a leopard or an elephant but overall the day was pretty great. There was also a lodge hotel in the reserve itself which is where we ate lunch that day.

Our last day was a travel day as well and we made it from the ravine back to Nairobi. We thought for a while that the other Kenya group wasn’t going to make the flight but they did and we all headed home together.

Our kids had a great time. They were mostly juniors and seniors who were trying to beef up their college applications but I think by the end of our trip that wasn’t their focus anymore. We got to visit two schools and an orphanage which made a huge impact on all of us. We all brought items to donate (clothes, books, and toys) which were gratefully accepted. We also donated some food to the families that we worked with since they had fed all 19 of us everyday. We learned a few Kiswahili words (fundi means expert, and one of our kids got nicknamed junior fundi because he mastered the building process so well) and got to hang out with the family members during morning and afternoon tea. A baby goat was born while we were there (I’ve got some fuzzy pictures as I chased him around the living room) and a few of the young children saw white people for the first time (and were scared to death of us the first couple of days). We also got the chance to go up against a local school in a soccer game (well I took pictures from the sidelines).

Overall it was a trip that I will never forget. The people were great, the scenery was great, and I felt like I really contributed to the effort to give these people a good, sturdy home. Our students were wonderful, hardworking and cheerful, and so generous of themselves the whole week. I can’t wait to take kids on another WOW week trip. There is a lot to be said for the learning experiences that happen through giving beyond the confines of your small school community.

Random Life in Khobar

Life catches up to everyone.  We all get into the same monotonous pattern day after day.  It seems that life here in Saudi can become even more monotonous than even in the U.S.

I have been driving now for over a month.  Driving is not as bad as what people make it out to be. Sure, the drivers here are more careless than in the rule filled US, but as long as you balance your defensive/offensive driving, you’ll be fine.

There are roundabouts here, which I though I would hate.  Actually, I am not sure why more US cities do not have roundabouts.  They keep the flow of traffic moving rather nicely.  I guess it is our rebellion from England despite the fact that we had been an independent nation for over 100 years after cars were invented.

I have been playing in a basketball league at Aramco.  Aramco is the company that controls the oil here in Saudi Arabia.  Way back when the first dug here, they brought in US and other western engineers to run their oil business.  They built this enormous compound (about 12,000 people) that is heavily guarded.  They have actual grass, even a very nice grass golf course on their compound.  There are schools, grocery stores, government building, office building, parks, softball fields, gymnasiums, and plenty of swimming pools there.

You have to know someone to get onto Aramco.  You drive to the gate, tell them why you are there, then go to another parking lot and gate and check in with your drivers license, Iqama (green card), and car registration card.  People riding with you only have to present their Iqama or passport.  The guard then calls the number of the person who you know at Aramco.  This person has to be at their home number (no cell phones).  The guy lets then prints up all names of people wanting in ALWAYS misspelling the names.  It is actually quite funny.

You pass through the gate and drive where you need to go.  I have been going for a basketball league and once per week for Ultimate Frisbee.  I will also go in the Spring for softball.  It keeps my week pretty busy.

Jamie is in Kenya for the week.  I am hoping that she will blog about it when she returns.

We are still playing Settlers of Catan every Friday and sometimes through the week.  A new game introduced by a friend was Dominion, a strategy card game which has caught on.  Darts has also been a hot game to play.

This week, I was finally able to put up some picture frames around the house.  What is funny about that is that there are not any actual pictures in them.  We’ll get to that later when I have time to go print some.  We have a color printer, but I worry about the quality when I print them.

I have been pulling some long days by going in early and then tutoring right after school.  Tutoring is something that many people do here.  It is usually for just 1 hour for how many ever days you want.  I do 4 days per week, which is quite a bit, but the money is outstanding. Jamie and live off my tutoring money alone.  It was a pleasant surprise that we were able to do that.

Finally received a bank account and my ATM card.  I now have my check direct deposited so I do not have to go sit at that evil Saudi Hollandi bank any more.  I now sit at a probably just as evil Sabb bank for any banking needs. Banks usually on have about 2 tellers and only one of them will actually do any work.  You have to get a number and wait for the 1 teller to go through all of the people.  I have not been in a bank for less than 45 minutes. This is just to cash a check.  Crazy.

School here is as busy as anywhere.  The school offers a ton of things for the kids to do.  This week, it was Book Fair.  Nice selection as the student order the books, then they bring them in from Bahrain.  Only takes about 2 weeks from what they tell me.  I ordered a Dr. Seuss book I had never heard of called Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You?  I also ordered those Brain Quest trivia questions and an Italian cookbook.

All for now.  I’ll try and talk Jamie into posting sometime about her Habitat for Humanity Kenya trip.  Interestingly, she is sleeping in the Southern Hemisphere and working in the Northern Hemisphere.  I think yesterday she went on a Safari – cool!

I’ll try and take pictures in the next couple of weeks.  It won’t be much to look at, but it might give you an idea of where we live.

Getting Griffey into the Kingdom

Getting Griffey into Saudi Arabia took the customs official here about 15 seconds to look at the paperwork.  That was the easy part.  The hard part came the previous 12 days.  So, how do you get a dog into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from the United States in 12 days?  Here is how I did it…

I first had to obtain an import permit from the Saudi end of things allowing Griffey into the country.  To do this, I went to a local vet here, who I paid to get this permit for me.  I’m not sure it can even be done without the services of a vet.

Secondly, I had to get my school government relations department to write a letter stating that it was OK for the vet to pick up the import permit for me.  This had to be done on the school letterhead and signed by the head of the GR department.  I also had to sign the letter.

Third, Griffey went to the vet to get a clean bill of health and obtain a vaccination record as well as a international health certificate.  I also needed a regular health certificate to send back to the vet in Saudi Arabia so he could finalize the health certificate.  The vet also ended up writing a “Guard Dog Letter” stating that he was in fact used for personal protection purposes.  This is funny for anyone who has ever met Griffey. Saudi Arabia will only allow certain dogs into the country, and even then they have to be for guard dog, hunting, or seeing eye purposes.

Fourth, after obtaining the international health certificate, it needs to be signed and stamped by the following agencies: United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), United States State Department, and finally the Saudi Arabian consulate in Washington DC.

Here is the hard part.  Airlines only honor an international health certificate for 10 days while countries and other agencies will honor it for 30.  If you can get it stamped by all those agencies in 10 days before your flight date, you are good to go.  Unfortunately, Tennessee does not have all of those agencies in their backyard, so it took me getting creative on how to get them all signed within 10 days.

The USDA stamp can be done in 3 business days counting mailing it up to Nashville and back.  The US State Department takes up to 15 business days while the Saudi consulate… well, that is a whole other story as the “sometimes close down for someone’s birthday” as was told to me.

Here is how I did it.  Dad and I drove to Nashville on the same day when Griffey went to the vet and got his international health certificate by the vet.  We took it to the USDA and got it stamped and FedEx it overnight to the Shady Springs Animal Kennel in Baltimore, Maryland, where we had paid a guy to serve as a courier for us.  The next 3 days, he took it to the State Department and the Saudi consulate and had it mailed back to me overnight.

It all came back on the morning of our flight in time.  Griffey was then checked into live cargo on our plane and rode the whole way.  I next saw him on the side of the baggage claim in the Dammam airport nearly 17 hours later.

If you want the costs for such a process, I can get it for you.  I can also give you the names and numbers and addresses of the specific people who helped me out.  It did cost considerably less than getting him in and out of China, so that is a plus.

Griffey is safe and sound here and enjoying the compound life.

NESA Leasdership Conference in Kathmandu, Nepal

By default, I was able to take a trip to Kathmandu for a leadership conference. Middle school teachers were asked if anyone wanted to go to the conference. No one responded, so we were asked again. Finally, after a 3rd attempt by administration, I submitted a slight interest in attending. I knew I would be busy, but thought it would be a good experience.

The school provides some money for professional development funds, but Jamie and I had hoped to use that money on tuition. However, trip to Nepal sounds pretty appealing at this point, and I think it’ll be a good experience for me.

A van picked us up from our villa at 3:00 am and we took a 35 minute flight to Doha, Qatar. After a 2 hour layover, we were on our way to Kathmandu, Nepal. Upon landing, it was a pretty quick line through customs, the hassle of dealing with dozens of guys asking you if you need a taxi, and then a ride through the crazy streets of Kathmandu to our hotel, Radisson, near the center of the city.

We dropped our bags off and headed out immediately downtown to meet our superintendent at a nice little restaurant called Fire and Ice, complete with cold beverages and a great pizza. A fairly long day, but we walked back to our hotel where I completely crashed.

Today was the first full day of sessions for the conference, but our hotel was about a 20 minute ride to the Hyatt, which was a bit of a hassle, but something we dealt with.

Each day of the conference, we basically had a morning speaker followed by 2 – 2 hour sessions. The first and second day of the conference dealt with grading and grade reporting, while the last 2 days focused on instruction. They served us a marvelous buffet lunch each day with some Nepalese and Indian dishes. NESA brought in some pretty big names in the educational research community with Jay McTighe, Charlotte Danielson, Thomas Guskey, and Art Costa all leading sessions and making keynote addresses.

After the conference each day, we usually went out to see some of the sites of Kathmandu. We didn’t have a ton of daylight hours, but enough to go to a few places.

The first day, we walked from the Hyatt to the Baudu Stupa, a Buddhist stupa, and quite extraordinary. There were locals and tourist walking around clockwise and spinning the prayer wheels. Around the stupa was a variety of shops where you could buy all sorts of souvenirs if you so desired.

Dinner that night was catered by our conference at the Hyatt with a variety of finger foods and free drinks. Great conversation and times were held by all.

One the 2nd day after the conference, a colleague and I went to Pasupati, a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction. We were not allowed to go into the temple, but were able to visit and witness the live cremation of bodies. Funeral pyres were built of wood and the bodies were wrapped in white cloth and burned in 7 different pyres, historically representing the 7 levels of the caste system. The ashes and any remaining body parts were then thrown into the river along with flowers and other items the family offered. The river, the Bagmati, flows into the sacred Ganges River, so it is considered sacred in Nepal.

We went back to Thamel to do some shopping along with dinner at a place called Roadhouse, which had some pretty tasty pork. My shopping included Northface coats, singing bowls – READ HERE, prayer wheels – READ HERE, baby yak shawls, and pashmina scarves.

After the conference on the 3rd day, NESA took us to Bakhtapur, a town about a 45 minute bus ride from Kathmandu. The city greeted us as we participated in pretty much a “parade.” I called it the “parade of white people” as the locals lined the streets and watched us walk by. We wound through the old streets of the city before finally ending in a city square where a dinner was prepared for us as we watch some local costumed dancing. We were also able to see a “living goddess” take her reign. This young girl is raised from birth to become a living goddess when she reaches a certain age and serves until she reaches puberty.

On our 4th and last night after the conference, a few of the guys ended up in Thamel once again and hung out downtown, walked the streets, and shopped for our wives before finally meeting up with the whole school to eat at Everest Steakhouse, where they prepared some delicious filet mignon for us all. I turned in early that night and packed up because we were leaving early then next morning.

Kathmandu and Nepal is definitely a place I’ll go back, especially with Jamie or even other family members. Next time, I would like to do some sort of flyover of Mt. Everest or particularly a hiking trek into the countryside toward Everest.

Nice people despite such a poor, hectic, and quite dirty town. A huge contrast from Saudi Arabia, and as I type this, I am making my descent on the plane back into Saudi.

Car Shopping in the Kingdom

I obtained my Saudi Arabia drivers license the other day. The school arranged all of the paper work, but I had to go to the hospital to obtain a blood type test and an eye test. It was simple enough, but all of the things at the hospital are sort of ala carte. You pay for each procedure at different desks. Somewhat frustrating but I’ll look by it.

Later, a friend took me to some dealerships to start my search for a new car. Since I’ll be the only one driving it, Jamie has pretty much left it to me. I think we’ll go for a small SUV and probably buy new. Our school gives us a 2 year no interest loan and simply deducts the amount from our account each month. Nice and most everyone takes advantage of that deal.

We go into a few new car showrooms, Hyundia, Jeep, Chevy, and walked around looking for my perfect car. Unfortunately, like everything else in Saudi, it seems the workers could care less if you ever purchase a car from them and didn’t even stand up or look our way when we entered. Imagine going into any dealership in the US and being ignored? Strange…

My car search continues, and I’ll be in full purchase mode when I return from Nepal.

First Holiday in Saudi Arabia

Since we couldn’t go anywhere, it wasn’t much of a holiday, but we still enjoyed ourselves nonetheless. Jamie and I took this week to buy some things needed for our villa including some much needed kitchen items as well as a not so much needed rather than wanted new TV and surround sound system. I’m happy with both the kitchen items and the audio/video equipment.

Not many people on the compound left for this break since it was so close to the beginning of the year, so there were lots of compound activities. At times, it seemed as though we were bombarded with requests of things to do, place to go, etc. The compound next door to us is an old BAE compound complete with its own restaurant and beverage facility. We are invited over there occasionally to partake in the fish and chips and frosty beverages, which is a nice outing because it is not like you can go “out” here in Saudi.

Other activities this week have included rides to town and stores. This may not seem like a big deal, but when you do not have a car, you have to rely on either a) the compound bus which only goes at certain times during the week b) a taxi which is fine but can get pricey or c) a neighbor who offers or you simply ask. Fortunately, we have been paired with a buddy couple who have been very generous, but everyone has been very nice to give us lifts when needed. With the end of Ramadan a few days ago, the stores are now on regular schedule. By regular schedule, I mean they open at what we would call normal hours, but remember, they still close for prayer times, which are becoming closer and closer together as the days become shorter. This can be hectic when scheduling your shopping times.

There of course have been a couple of poker nights and yoga classes and I went to the driving range in the desert again, but Jamie and I have both enjoyed learning how to play Settlers of Catan, a simulation board game which can be very addicting. It is a big hit here on the compound and a few people even have the expansion packs. A bit nerdy, but very fun.

The weather has been cooling down, especially in the morning. This morning was the first one where I actually ran outside. A loop in our compound is .23 miles, so a little over 4 times around becomes a mile. It gets a bit monotonous running around, but not as bad as running on a treadmill, plus I can vary my speeds easier. A few people play tennis and basketball and we have some decent courts here, so I’m looking forward to playing soon as the temperature cools even more.

Jamie and I have worked on our dissertations a little bit this week, although not as much as what we should have. I am right in the middle of Chapter 4 (of 5), while Jamie is rewriting her Chapters 1 – 3.

Our big news this week was the great flight deal we received for Christmas break, so we’ll be coming home. We haven’t made it home for Christmas since moving overseas, so we are excited and I believe our families are too.

Have a great weekend, but it’ll be the start of the week for us!

TAIW – Thank Allah It’s Wednesday

Ironically, the have the restaurant here… T.G.I.F, but it doesn’t really true here as you have your first workday on Saturday. We’ve changed it around as TAIW.

We’ve had a busy week here with school in full blown session, lots of compound activities, and trying to rest in the process.

Let me first say that we are still really enjoying living here. The temperature, or at least the humidity, has dropped off a little bit and going outside at least becomes bearable. Our villa is coming together nicely as we purchase small items to fill it out. We purchased a new printer that can print some photos, so we’ll be adding some photos and frames around the villa to make it look a little homier.

Last weekend, we were hosted by our friends next door to a delicious pancake breakfast. We then had some brunch of scones and other Kiwi snacks with some other friends a few villas down. This seems to be the thing to do with the newbies here, and Jamie and I have already discussed having a good southern meal for our compound friends some day.

Our kitchen is coming together nicely as we purchase small items to help us in there. We still haven’t purchase dishes. We received 4 plates, forks, spoons, etc when we arrived, but it is getting old washing the same 4 things over and over again. Our trip to IKEA last weekend came up empty on something we liked, so we’ll try another home store somewhere. There are only a dozen in the city, so it shouldn’t be too hard.

Tamimi’s, which is like Safeway back home, drives to our compound to take us to the store. Jamie and I have used this before and it might be something we do often from now on. It is very convenient. There is also a compound bus that leaves 3 days per week and takes us pretty much wherever we need to go. This is also a great option to get us out of the compound so we can shop. Of course, all of these procedures will change once we get a vehicle, but it is nice to know we have the option.

On Monday night, we went to the compound next door for “night out.” The compound next to us is the BAE (British Aerospace) compound. BAE is HUGE around here and employs probably hundreds of people. They are actually building a super compound outside the city, so Las Dunas will be vacant. We are hoping we can move in there as the facilities are nicer. They have a “pub” inside their compound, so we were able to go over there for some drinks as well as take home some. Good food of fish and chips were delivered and we overall had a wonderful time with our co-workers and new friends. Since Saudi has really no nightlife, this is just another example of the type of activities one can do here. It isn’t much, but it is fun.

Tuesday nights are poker nights here on the compound and apparently have been for years. I participate and really enjoy it. When the weather cools, people also play bocche, tennis, and of course more of the pool. I have done OK at poker, but there is always room for improvement. A group of ladies went for yoga on another compound, but Jamie didn’t participate.

Wednesday night, we had a pot luck meal for the newbies on the compound. There is actually a small compound committee that organizes these events and I believe they organized Thanksgiving meals, Christmas dinners, and other holiday festivities for those who want to participate. It was a good showing last night and we enjoyed it. Great food. Props to the single male who made the pizza spaghetti!

Since everything comes to life during Ramadan at night, I was driven around by a nice family to purchase some necessary items like a vacuum cleaner, surge protectors, and other things necessary for our villa. We have a shipment still coming in from China that will round out our belongings, but so far so good here.

Hope everyone enjoys there weekend.

Tuesdays are poker nights here on the compound.

Golfing

A new colleague and neighbor of mine found a driving range and desert golf course about 30 minute drive outside the city.  He had been previously and was telling me about it, so I just had to go.

As you will see from the picture, it really does seem as though it is out in the middle of the desert.  Well… it is.  There are some sort of warehouses around where we were and plenty of electrical lines, but for the most part, it was all sand, sand, sand.

My first impression was of the quite funny sign that told all ladies to make sure they had “male protection.”  Women can play out there with no problem and even do not have to wear an abaya, but do have to wear long sleeves and pants.  No one was playing today, but my friend tells me that women do play out there.  The South Koreans who live in Saudi love to play golf.

We arrived and as you can see from the pictures, it is a small 2 shack operation, but with a solid cover for driving range balls, a small putting “brown,” and even some mats thrown down so you can hit on the range.  The yardage is marked accordingly.  There is actually 18 holes on that course complete with rules and everything.  Apparently, you purchase your own little square piece of artificial turf, drive the ball down the lightly packed fairway, and then try and your ball on the finely packed “brown” (green).  Walking only.

We only hit about 50 balls each, but we will definitely go back when the weather cools down.  Not a bad rate to play either, and it will certainly be an experience.

Welcome to the Kingdom!