Monthly Archives: September 2014

Marhaba from Saudi Arabia

We arrived in Saudi Arabia Sunday night. It was an eight hour flight from Frankfurt with a stop in Kuwait City to deboard passengers and refuel. Most of the plane was emptied during our stop in Kuwait City and we were left with maybe fifty people to continue the journey to Dammam. David and I moved seats to be next to a window so we could see Saudi as we flew in. It was nighttime and we couldn’t see much, but there were these bright orange glowing lights that made such distinct patterns in the cities below. Most of the lights we reckoned to be streets, but as we flew next to the coast, I couldn’t help but wonder what the lights in the Persian Gulf reflected. Were they ships? Oil rigs? It was an exciting journey landing in this foreign country where we will be spending the next two years.

After we exited the plane, we were met by our sponsor, who assisted us in collecting our baggage and made for an easy arrival. After we were loaded into a shuttle and on our way to Dhahran, our sponsor quickly began discussing home, work, schedules, shopping, social activities, etc. Over the course of the last few months, our sponsor has been our point of contact for any questions regarding the move and life over here in Dhahran, she has been extremely helpful, even going so far as to buy groceries for us so we would have some food to eat upon our arrival. Of course, we did not get to sleep until very late that first night.

The following day we were at the work compound early to receive our orientation of each department. It was quite overwhelming as we were introduced to many different people and I soon came to realize I hadn’t remembered any names or faces.

Towards the end of the day, I left with the Community Liaison Officer (CLO) and her daughter to go Abaya shopping. When on the compound (either work or home), I can wear whatever clothing I want and do not have to be covered up with an Abaya. But when anywhere outside of the compounds, I must wear the long black robe and can choose to cover my hair. I was given a loaner Abaya when we arrived at the airport, so I took CLO up on her offer to look for a new one. With my loaner Abaya and wearing a very conservative outfit underneath – long sleeved sweater and pants – we traveled to a downtown area where there are shops and restaurants and pulled up in front a store that had what looked like black curtains in the glass windows. These “black curtains” were actually Abayas for sale hanging from ceiling to floor. The experience was my first time interacting with local men and you can imagine how bizarre it was when I was ushered away from the window after I went to try one on. I thought it would be simple to pull one from the rack and slip it on over my clothes like you would a coat in the department store, but they led me to the back of the store so I wouldn’t be in view of any passers-by outside. Every time I changed out of the Abaya, the clerks averted their eyes and looked in the opposite direction. I decided on one that has some embellishments of threaded designs and gems around the collar and cuffs. The clerk measured me for alterations while I asked for specific requests such as a zipper and shortened length to the robe and sleeves. When he measured my chest, he strained his head and eyes as far away from me as possible and awkwardly wrapped the tape around my back. I know this is part of the culture, but why are there men operating a women’s clothing store if they are so uncomfortable with the female form?

Here I am in my chosen Abaya. Notice all the Abayas hanging around the store.


After I put a deposit down on the Abaya, we got some hummus and falafel to bring home and our drive back offered a glimpse of a Saudi sunset. Dusk is between 4-5PM here since they do not observe Daylight Savings time, so night time comes early. I haven’t been able to catch a full sunset yet since our compound is surrounded by high walls and the scenery outside of it is nothing spectacular, but in the picture below you can see the color of the Saudi sun – bright pink and orange – it is something to see.

Hummus, hummus store, and a Saudi sunset.


hummus store

saudi sunset

On our second full day here, it was conveniently a holiday called Saudi National Day, so we did not have to go to work and complete our orientation – we would have to finish it the following day. It was a much needed day off where we were able to get the home a bit more organized and go grocery shopping and relax. I was able to cook a dinner of chicken, rice, and roasted brussels sprouts – it was absolutely delicious! So far I’ve been able to make a few different meals and have been pleasantly surprised with my ability to improvise our home cooking. Tonight we are having Shawarma poolside (coordinated by our housing compound) and I will attempt to make chocolate chip cookies. I am enjoying all the opportunities to eat Middle Eastern food.

First home cooked meal.


The work week runs from Sunday to Thursday, so we finished the week off with a get together at the work compound where the community welcomed us and another family that just arrived. We are finding that there are a lot of social activities to attend which I am looking forward to. Last night we went to a nice steak dinner event at the work compound and on Monday we have a dinner and on Tuesday we have another! I’m sure we will not be lacking in things to do during our time here.

Having been here one week now, Saudi Arabia feels like home. Everyone we’ve met has been friendly and helpful and I am happy that we are finally able to unpack our suitcases. We still do not have internet, but hopefully it will happen within the next few weeks. Until then, I will try to post regularly to the blog to keep family and friends up-to-date with how we are doing. I have more to write but want to keep the posts short, so I will probably be posting a few times a week to help with the back log of information I’ve been storing.

Tonight there is a pink glow to the sky punctuated by a perfect crescent moon. A warm breeze gently blows the date palms. It is exactly how you might imagine a night in Saudi Arabia.

Our Last Month in Numbers

11,784 miles
2000 emails exchanged to coordinate this move
500 thousand pieces of paper
106 degrees in Dhahran
100 daydreams of settling down in CA
101 (and counting) daydreams of traversing the world
50 things I already need to order from online
33 days of travel
25+ customer service representatives
24 hours of insomnia
20 Target runs
18 loads of laundry
15 trips to Petco
10 Coachella Valley sunrises
9 inches of seat space on the airplane thanks to a large Serbian
8.5 more minutes of tolerance for him
8 people shuffling around the aisle for the airplane bathroom
7 months of planning
7 suitcases
6 overflow packages
5 hotels
4 flights
3 countries
3 rental cars
2 ticks
1 wedding
1 dog
0 reservations for the future
2 years of discovery.

A German meal of sausage, potatoes, carrots, and mushrooms at our rest stop in Frankfurt. A piece of my heritage! Albeit a very small piece.

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Pet Travel: Part I

This post has been in the works for a while, and since the subject of pet travel is so extensive, I’ve decided to divide it up into two parts. Part I will include all the travel details that pertain to organizing yourself and Fido for the flight. I have written out our best practices, things that we feel help make the transition smooth for everyone. Part II will be related to all the logistics for importing our Pigpen to both the EU and Saudi Arabia.

While I realize this may not be the most exhilarating topic, it has made up the bulk of our preparations and been a high priority, second only to procurement of our visas and completion of training. It has been a very long process to organize the logistics of getting Pigpen on a plane and into our host country safely, and if there are any readers that happen onto this page in search of info related to transporting a dog in the cargo hold or importing one into the EU or Saudi Arabia from the U.S., then these two posts will hopefully prove useful.

Because of the broad scope of our planning efforts, much of the importation paperwork with the U.S., EU, and Saudi governments was handled by David, while I planned for the airport and “in-flight” procedures. The following info is a result of the notes compiled between the two of us.

In order to acquaint Pigpen with the stresses of air travel, we decided to take him on a roundtrip cross-country flight (on an already planned vacation) which would provide him a kind of “warm-up” to the international flights. In the end, I think this was a useful practice for everyone since it provided us all an opportunity to figure out the idiosyncrasies of this complicated process. Following is an outline of the tricks we learned.

Preparing Fido for the flight:

1) Attaching a water bottle vs. a tray to the crate door. We’ve tested both and while neither is perfect, we feel that the water bottle is the way to go. The tray is far inferior because even if you freeze it, the water will be half melted – if not completely – by the time you reach check in and will have spilled everywhere already soaking your potty pads. Nobody refills this tray once Fido is out of sight, so it’s best to train Fido to use the water bottle since it holds more water and has less chance of giving Fido a bath en route. 1-2 weeks prior to travel, put peanut butter on the nozzle to get him used to its function and purpose. Freeze the bottle overnight or fill it with ice just before arriving at the airport. Also consider taping the top and any attachments to prevent leaking.

2) Reusable and washable potty pads are the most cost effective and absorb well. We like PoochPads which can be found on Amazon.

3) Prior to your arrival at the airport, figure out where the closest Pet Relief Areas are to your terminal both at the origin and destination of your flight, doing so will save you some aggravation during your travel since every airport has their own way of handling this. LAX had closed down their two Pet Relief Areas close to our terminal, so I had to take Pigpen out to a dirt planter for his potty break. If you can, train Fido to go on command, such as, “Go potty!”

4) Tip any airport attendants who seem to be paying special attention to Fido’s needs. At Reagan National Airport, there was a very kind airport employee who told us he would personally look after Pigpen and deliver him to the plane. We made sure to give him a tip for his courteous service.

5) Alerting the flight crew of your pet on board is a good way of keeping everyone on the same page. I notify both the crew at the gate while I’m waiting to board and the attendants on the plane once I’m seated. Let them know that you are waiting for some kind of receipt or confirmation that Fido has successfully boarded the plane. Each airline has their own way of handling this, we’ve had good experiences flying with Alaska Airlines and Lufthansa.

6) Keeping a water bottle or travel dish handy for last minute “watering” and after flight rehydration is important. Even though we’ve trained Pigpen to drink from the water bottle, I’m not sure if he uses it while in-flight, so I make sure to give him water close enough to check-in time and as soon as we pick him up from Oversized Baggage.

7) Visit the airport and airline in person to check everything out, talk to the counter person about crate size regulations, breed restrictions, necessary paperwork, etc. It’s nice to get a visual of what the terminal looks like and to create a game plan for your travel day to help ease the stress. We also took Pigpen on these excursions so he could get used to the surroundings and all the hustle and bustle. This is also a good opportunity to see where the closest Pet Relief Area is.

8) Make sure your pet kennel is TSA and airline specific compliant. Crates need to have a metal door, breathing holes on all sides, metal nuts (there is a specific variety), and depending on if you’re flying internationally (and again, on the airline), Fido will need to have three inches of head space while sitting up and be able to comfortably stand and turn around.

9) Affix to the crate a sheet of paper with a pet description and your flight and contact information, as well as a picture or two of Fido, less anyone should forget where he’s going.

10) Zip tie the crate door shut once he is cleared by TSA for travel – you don’t want Fido getting out of his crate and chewing up important power cords in the cargo hold causing an emergency landing. True story!! Thankfully, not our Pigpen and none of our flights though. Phew. On that note, it is also important to make sure Fido is crate trained before your flight. Get him used to the crate for long hours at a time a month prior to travel. Pigpen has been sleeping in his crate since we got him, so it is a very safe and comfortable space for him.

11) Allot yourself enough time at the airport to check in – if you are thinking it will take two hours to get organized, give yourself three; if you think three hours, then give yourself four. The whole process will undoubtedly take longer than you’ve planned, so it’s best to overestimate rather than under.

12) Create a “Refresh Kit” and keep it easily accessible in the luggage. Include paper towels, disinfectant wipes, puppy wipes, a few trash bags, treats, travel dog bowl (they make collapsible ones) or a travel dog water bottle, and some dog food if it will be time for feeding once you are reunited.

13) Don’t sedate Fido. Even though it is climate-controlled, dogs need to be able to self-regulate their body temperatures in the cargo hold in case it gets too hot or too cold. Rather, you can give him some medication that will make him drowsy, we’ve been using 5mg of Hycodan for each flight (Pigpen is 22lbs). Other things you can do to make Fido comfortable: include an old shirt in the crate that has your familiar scent on it, an old chew toy, and wrap him up in a Thundershirt. For more about this, we recommend referring to the International Air Transport Association website, which discusses the dangers of pet sedation.

If this is the kind of topic that is of interest to you, stay tuned for “Pet Travel: Part Two” – it’s in the works as this goes to press.

Pigpen found his European doppleganger! This three year old beagle named “Bacon” is actually Swiss and living in Germany with his German parents. They were at the airport on their way to a vacation in the U.S. and Bacon was traveling with them. We had a blast comparing notes on the two who looked uncannily alike. Bacon was a mirror image of Pigpen’s older self!

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Traveling is tough work.

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