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.
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.