With more than five months of Saudi Arabia in our rearview mirror, we still feel remnants of our time there all around us. We see faces that look familiar, hear voices that remind us of friends past, and taste resemblances in our food that is not as good but transports us back to local flavors that gave us comfort and joy. We still reminisce about life back there and talk about people who had an impact on us. Sometimes it’s hard to comprehend that as quickly as it began, it ended.
I recently saw a picture from one of the first two weeks of our arrival, and I look younger, naive, excited. The past two years did not disappoint.
Maybe it’s because we enjoyed our time so much in Saudi that we signed up for a third year in the Middle East with Baghdad. Sure there were some hard times, but they weren’t enough to make us lose perspective of the day-to-day satisfaction of accomplishing our goal of living overseas and then taking advantage of the travel opportunities.
People want to know what it was like to live in Saudi Arabia and I always tell them that I loved it. They ask about things that they’ve seen on tv about the culture, and most of it is true, but none of it really made as much of a difference in our life there as the people we met.
The most difficult part of Saudi Arabia wasn’t with regard to the local culture. It was with the people who couldn’t hold up to the pressures at work and on the compound. These are the people who are miserable and want everyone else around them to be miserable. Transplant them out of a country that has many restrictions on entertainment, self-expression, mobility, activities, and for a few months of the year, good weather, and place them in paradise, and they will still be the ones to complain about something. Sure I complained. About said limitations listed above and other things. But I also stayed active and tried my best to make friends and have true cultural experiences that I could take home with me. My happiest memories came from opening myself up for opportunities to happen.
Of course, being a “yes person” also meant that I opened myself up to what David and I call “moochers” and after being burned several times, learned when and whom to say no. Make no mistake, being a moocher is quite possibly the worst offense. I can handle the complainers, however, the moochers are no friends of mine. You know the people. The ones who only call you when they need you. Yep, they are rampant in the expat community. Beware.
Aside from the complainers and moochers, Saudi Arabia was one of the best things that we could have done. Learning about a new culture firsthand is the beginning of compassion. The closure of a gap. It’s what makes us not so much as different, but the same. What was hard about life was also what made it special – the people.
Most of all, I miss the friends that I made. The ladies with whom I lunched, joked, and explored. They were willing to take chances at making life better, a lesson I learned almost ten years ago which changed my attitude and gave me hope. Maybe it’s because of the desolate and barren landscape, the loss of freedom, and the tendency to feel isolated that we continued to reach out to one another to look for the amiable hand that was reaching back. It was the shared feeling between all of us that we were in it together
I know Baghdad will be similar, although amplified, and we feel that Saudi was preparing us for this greater challenge.
Just as the California desert calls me home, the Middle East desert calls me back to continue the adventure.