Of course it feels like we've lived in sandy Al Khobar longer, but it's only officially two months. Amount that I miss living in Calgary? About zero percent.
Things that I like about living here:
- Mint lemonade and shawarma
- My kindergartener is in class for more than 12 hours/week!
- Unlocked contract-less less expensive mobile phone!
- There's a library. I think that it's a little smaller than the Fish Creek branch that we borrowed from in Calgary, but they have a fantastic selection of magazines and I've made a lot of good finds there!
- I can get on a plane and fly for six hours and land in one of several foreign countries (instead of just the United States – or frankly, I could still be in Canada)
- I get to wear my favourite combination of jeans, hoodies, and sweaters all year long because here, modesty trumps dressing sensibly for the weather 🙂
- This store that we went into to buy a few small gifts at, and walked out having bought a cute little corner desk. I miss having the lovely carpets and decor items that we bought in Bangkok and Saigon with us here, but I think that I could happily decorate my entire apartment from Desert Designs.
Things that could use improvement
- Transportation! A couple of my friends here keep small cars parked in the compound (where it's not actually illegal for women in Saudi Arabia to use their foreign driver's licenses) , and I am quite envious because they can pick their kids up from the elementary school and then drive to the middle school and pick up the other kids and then cruise onwards to the big park after school. If I tried to do that, I'd end up arriving at the elementary school thirty minutes early, and then after I'd collected Sadie from kindergarten, I'd have to wait two hours for a bus to come to take us to the middle school to pick up Madeline, and we wouldn't get home in time to do homework, let alone visit a park! Nothing about that is practical.
- Similarly, location. Life here would probbably be more varied for my family if we lived on the compound and our kids could participate in after-school activities and schedule playdates with their friends.
- Our apartment is one bedroom smaller than promised, and the kitchen is a window-less ugly brown rectangle with a poor layout. Also, my stove is not level! Weird.
- The weather is already approaching intolerable levels of hot (for me), and it's only the beginning of April.
- The women's gyms here have exactly zero squat racks, zero kettle bells, and bar at the bench press station is frequently AWOL.
- The ban on changing rooms in clothing stores keeps me from supporting that particular part of the retail sector.
- Sandstorms aren't fun. Sand somehow gets onto all the surfaces in my apartment, and now I'm kind of panicky that my kids will get stranded at school or on the school buses during one.
- No chai lattes at Starbucks. This is criminal …
- My apartment building does not have enough elevators to deal with the school rush-hour that happens twice every weekday, and dealing with the school rush isn't particularly great for my nerves.
- To be filed under School, Transportation, and Location: My kids have to be up int he morning by 6 am to catch their bus at 6:35. They don't get home until between 3:30 – 3:45 in the afternoon. Madeline has said that she "doesn't have time to have fun anymore" because the hours in-between that and bedtime are taken up completely with homework and dinner. I feel really sad about that.
Things that have surprised me:
- The weather was quite mild when we arrived in February; it was chilly enough to actually need to wear a sweater and long pants
- Don't really miss eating bacon, ham, or any sort of dish with pork, actually, though sometimes I wish that I had a meat to add to the dinner rotation besides beef and chicken.
- Most of the things that I believed about life in Saudi Arabia – as reported by the western media – have to be taken with a grain of salt. Just a few days ago I read an article from the UK that stated something to the nature of, "of course, women in Saudi Arabia can't leave their homes without their male guardian" and I had to close my browser immediately. There'd be a lot of unemployed taxi drivers here if that was actually true.
What's upcoming for Month Three and beyond? We're supposed to be moving into our permanent housing (which won't be on the compound, ugh). Our sea shipment from Calgary should arrive and clear customs, so there will hopefully be a happy reunion with our bedroom and living room furniture. And figuring out where we'll travel for a long weekend in June – Chris's latest suggestion is a resort outside of Abu Dhabi to check out the sand dunes, and I'm already imagining the photos that I'd be able to take.