20 August 2016

Pandan leaves.  I blended these up with a little water, strained it, and used it in a coconut cake (I just used a white cake and substituted coconut milk for the milk).  Everyone liked the cake. I'm going to try a chicken recipe with them next and in some rice.  They really do smell a lot like jasmine or basmati rice.

Drumsticks.  I sautéed these with mustard seeds, turmeric, chile and salt. I didn't really expect them to be a hit, and they weren't.  They're rather inconvenient to eat or prepare, depending on when you get rid of the peel.  
I've mentioned that I'm loving getting to know all the different expats here, but sometimes not so much.  The other day I spent a few hours with a certain type of expats and it reminded me why there are some groups I steer clear of.  After listening to a couple of hours of complaining, I don't know when I'll dare hang out with that group again.

Now, I get being frustrated dealing with some aspects of life in Saudi Arabia.  The limited transportation options here in particular have a significant negative impact on every woman's quality of life- there is no denying that.  (And no man can understand that, even if he never drives here. Having the choice is what's important.)

But many expat women, particularly white expat women, get a lot of the frustrations smoothed over.  People don't expect us to do everything right and allow us a reasonable amount of straying from cultural norms that many non-white expat women don't get, and certainly not Saudi women.  We have more choices that any other group of women here. So listening to wealthy white expat women complain doesn't really make me feel very sympathetic.  

And it's not just Saudi Arabia where you can't wear shorts and a t-shirt around your neighborhood without a lot of staring or where your opinion will be dismissed because you're a woman, it's a lot of other countries too.  And cultural change comes from within a country.  Expats wearing shorts are definitely not going to change the culture here. Nor are expats telling Saudis they're doing anything else wrong.  Do you know what will change Saudi culture?  Giving Saudis more opportunities to live in other countries (and that's something one party is advocating to end as much as possible).

You have to learn how to live differently in different places, how to interact with another culture, even one you think is very wrong, to learn from it or make a difference in it.  Interacting with another country and culture in the very same way you would with yours is one of the best ways to spend a frustrating few years overseas.

16 August 2016

New things from the grocery store:

Beef pepperoni.  We're trying this on pizza tonight and I hope it's not awful.

Pandan leaves.  These were labeled rambi and it took a bit of searching to figure out what they were.  I haven't yet decided what to do with them.

Stuffed grape leaves.  So these aren't new, but I can get an entire kilo for less than three dollars.  I will certainly not be learning how to make these here.

Banana leaves.  Not new either, but I finally found them today.  They're fresh, just like in Mexico.

Drumsticks.  I seriously doubt these will be popular at my house, but I can't pass up the opportunity to try them.

Cleaning:

Shower doors. I think I have actually found a product that gets rid of hard water soap scum without excessive scrubbing.  I tried everything in Mexico, from imported things to concoctions dipped out of buckets at the tianguis and nothing was really great.  Barkeepers Friend did a good job but I still had to apply, scrub, and rinse.  I've bought a few different things here that haven't really worked either, but today I tried Scrubbing Bubbles.  Silly name, but all I had to do was spray it on, let it sit, wipe (no scrubbing), and rinse with the moveable shower head.  This stuff is my new best friend.

Dusting.  I am, at best, and indifferent duster, but I can't ignore it here.  But even when I do dust, it takes just six hours to look like it needs it again- as in you can write your name in the dust at that point.  That's dusty.  So even though I have dusted more here than anyone I've ever lived, you'd never know it.

Transportation:

It took 2.5 hours today for me to go to the grocery store.  The traffic was slow (I'm done with afternoon grocery trips) and there were four other people in the car so the pickups took a while and we left the grocery store nearly thirty minutes after the appointed time.  But the driver was one of my favorites and we had a nice chat.  He's from Eritrea and he and his wife are expecting their first baby in two months. And did I mention that the baggers here sort your food?  It helps keep things from melting in the heat.

We're coming into the busier driving season with school starting soon so it will be harder to schedule rides.  The driver today confirmed that mid-morning is a good time to go to the store because there's less traffic and it's after the school rush. Hope it works because I don't want to get stuck going in the afternoons.

13 August 2016

I am starting to wonder if two years will be long enough to try all the new ingredients I'm discovering.

I got a coconut shredded the other day. We're trying it in a Keralite mashed potato dish tonight.  We'll also have some spicy chicken and I'll make ghee rice again now that my spices are here.

The driver came into the grocery store with me and showed me some new things.  I have the right fish masala now, which we'll try tomorrow or Monday night, plus curry leaves which I've never bought before. He also made sure I had coconut milk and the right spices, which I do, of course.

And he told me to get something labeled black tamarind.  I had no idea what it was, but he said it was very good and necessary for meen kari so I bought it and searched online when I got home. Black tamarind didn't find anything useful, but I kept searching and finally realized it was cambodge which my Keralite cookbook calls for often, but I had no idea how to find it (and never would have, without help).  The curry leaves and cambodge are going into the potatoes tonight too.

I also finally found mung bean sprouts.  They're locally grown, which is nice, but they also look homegrown, which means fairly wimpy bean sprouts.  I have a sprouter coming later so I'll probably just sprout them on my own instead of buying them because I can sprout wimpy bean sprouts myself.

I spent most of the day putting stuff away, cleaning air conditioner filters, visiting IKEA, and assembling chairs.  This is one of the advantages of an abaya- even when your clothes really aren't all that clean because you've been doing stuff, you don't have to change, you can just put on an abaya and go.


09 August 2016

New cheeses. But first, there is a creepy amount of processed cheese sold here.  It's a little hard to make sure you're not buying it.  I bought some processed feta at the very beginning, not realizing that was even a possibility, and it was not for us. Soft cheeses are what's typical in this part of the world so soft processed cheeses make sense, I guess. And they keep me on my toes.

Baramily- this is a soft cheese from Egypt.  I am having a hard time finding a description of it, just that it's packaged and sold here.  I found a non-processed version.  Like the other two cheeses I'm writing about, I'll mix stuff in with it to make a dip. It's salty.

German feta- this is a soft feta.  I haven't found a hard one yet but the flavor of this was good.  Salty.

Thalaga- this is another spreadable, salty cheese.  Are we seeing a pattern here?  Yes. I need to come up with some more ideas for soft, salty cheeses that aren't cute little appetizers because we don't eat a lot of those.

Commenting

I promise this isn't a desperate plea for comments, but I think that the commenting might not be working right now.  Or maybe just my mother's isn't.
Another helpful thing about Riyadh's weather, in addition to the cooler winter temperatures, is that it cools off quite a bit at night.  I go outside to work in the garden before the sun is really up and it's in the mid-80s, or at least below 90.  That feels really good in comparison to 115.  In fact, those temperatures have never felt so good before.   A thirty-degree drop in temperature at night makes a huge difference. I can keep up with the yard in thirty minutes a day without any trouble and it's perfectly normal to turn on the lawn trimmer at 6 am here.

And it's only in June, July, and August that the nighttime average temperature is in the 80s.  September and October's are in the 70s, and then you're down to the 50s (or even lower!) for the next five months before it starts warming up again in April and May.  So even though the high temperature is much too hot for six months out of the year, you only get three months of lows in the 80s (and they feel relatively good).  It may be too dusty here to keep the windows open much when it's cooler, but we can at least open them in the mornings for a bit when it's nice outside.

I'm putting this on the win column of my mental chart of reasons to like living in Riyadh (or, at least, why Riyadh isn't as bad as you think it is). 

08 August 2016

Transportation

So, there is one big advantage to being chauffeured about all the time and that's having someone in the car who knows what they're doing.  We don't spend any time lost or confused because all of the drivers provided for us are very experienced.  They can get around the construction and avoid traffic (sometimes) and are just very competent people.

But even better, they can answer all kinds of questions and give their perspective on life on Saudi Arabia.  All are expats* so they know what it's like to transition to a new country.  It's different from asking taxi drivers questions, somehow, even though it seems like it shouldn't be.  Today's driver commented that I ask a lot of questions, but he'd also volunteered to drive me again so he knew what he was getting into.  He explained the colors on the license plates to me.  Yellow is for taxis and blue are commercial vehicles. There are also some older plates that don't have English on them like the current plates do.  The vast majority of cars of newer plates though.  And we saw a car from Yemen.

Something that often comes up is the driving here in Saudi.  Everyone complains about it and I've been asking what makes it so bad here.  One man told me that a big problem is that there are so many inexperienced drivers on the road because drivers are necessary here for many families and it's only expats who work as drivers.  Another unintended negative result of the ban on women driving.

I can't remember if I've mentioned it, but there also a huge amount of construction all over the city because they're building a metro. It's a hassle, and it won't be finished before we leave, but I'll take any inconvenience necessary to make it possible for women to get around the city on their own.  It seems to me that a metro will be a huge change here for women.

And yesterday I discovered that they city government determines school start times, including for private schools.  Only Saudi children can attend local Saudi schools so there are many international schools here, both private and community (and I'm going to start asking the drivers about education here because I have a lot of questions about that, especially for expat children).  With so many private schools, there are major traffic problems in the morning and afternoons because few children can walk to school. So the city staggers start times which means that the Ethiopian schoolkids leave home at 6:10 to get to school at 6:30.  I wasn't happy about how early my kids are going to be picked up, but no complaining anymore.

*So far I've talked to people from Yemen, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Eritrea, Ethiopia, India, and the Philippines, if I'm remembering all of them. 

07 August 2016

Things that are going well:

I finally, finally had enough time at the grocery store to feel like things are under control.  There is food in the freezer and the fridge is full (I hate crowded fridges, but sometimes you have to).  And I had enough time get some things from the olive and cheese counter.  Not any olives, of course, but you have to call it that since half the things available are olives, but we tried mish, labnah with chile, and shanklish with freshly-baked flatbread.  Other than Lulu, I like Danube at Hayat Mall because they bake bread there, have a great bulk section, and more peanut butter than Lulu, which makes sense.  I also got some grape leaves and hummus, because I hadn't yet.

The house still isn't bothering me, and we cleaned the whole thing yesterday.  The bathrooms are actually designed to be cleaned, which seems like a no-brainer with bathrooms but still almost never happens.  There are drains in the floors and the bathrooms are slightly sunken so you can spray all over and then squeegee all the war into the drain.  And since there are bidets and removable shower heads in all the bathrooms, you really can spray anywhere. Also, I figured out why it's so convenient to close off half of the downstairs- there's a men's section and a women's section.  We live in the women's side. And I'm loving the line drying. I know it's less than three weeks in, but I'm still hopeful I'll like this house. 

Everyone is less bored.  There is still boredom, but it's not as acute as it was.

Reports on new foods we've tried: 

Jeerakasala rice- this is from southern India and it quite small.  It's often used to make ghee rice.  I made a simpler version, because I didn't have all the right things last week, and just fried the rice in some ghee that I'd already cooked some onions in, then added water and salt and simmered till it was done. Usually you'd add in onions (I didn't add the onions because I only had one and I put it in the chicken instead) and some spices, raisins, and nuts too.  I really liked the rice so we'll enjoy it here because it's not something you can get in most places.

Mish- this is a soft, fermented, salted cheese from Egypt originally.  I think we had a Jordanian version and it had chile in it.  I liked it and it would make a great spread.  We had it with flatbread and dried flatbread chips.

Shanklish- this is a Levantine cheese that's usually covered with za'atar. It's another soft cheese and formed into a ball. I think the version we got was spiced a bit inside.

There's nothing new that's a problem right now.  Just dealing with more moving to a new country things.

04 August 2016

Food.  Anytime we move, finding food for everyone in the house is my main job and it can be really challenging.  Every country has its own set of things to figure out.

My biggest problem right now is adjusting to not going grocery shopping daily, or at least five times a week.  For years (with a few exceptions) I've filled up the pantries or cupboards with staples and then bought produce, meat, and dairy as needed, usually for dinner that night.  No planning ahead, no long shopping trips except for the filling up the pantry part, no food waste because it's always fresh and used within a day at most, and it requires that you get out of the house and get some exercise even on the days when you just want to stay home and away from everything.  For me, there are almost no negatives to shopping frequently although I know it's not for everyone.

But here, that's impossible, at least when it's hot.  I will be able to walk to two small grocery stores when it's cooler, but I can't right now and I can't be chauffeured off to the grocery store every day to buy food for that night.  It's a major adjustment for me and since the pantry still isn't full (because I always, always run out of time at the grocery store), I'm just glad we've eaten dinner every night. I'm working on a better plan and I'll be more organized, but it'll take a little time.

Another challenge is that you can't just run to the store for ice cream for an impromptu party or for something you forgot.  I usually don't keep treats around so we'll be glad when the ice cream maker arrives. And again, it's complicated to go out or order food so we've eaten dinner at home every night.  That's not a problem, but it's nice to not have to cook dinner sometimes, especially right after you move.

I'm beginning to see why there's a full-size freezer in the house.  

But other than that, food here is amazing.  So much fun. It's quite possible that Lulu will be my favorite grocery store I've ever used, anywhere in the world.  It's like going to a Middle Eastern, Asian, American, and European grocery store all in one place.  I can get muesli, bulgur, matta rice, flour tortillas, cardamom pods, cane vinegar, rice noodles, cheddar cheese, golden syrup, and so much more and I still haven't even seen the entire place.  As soon as I get organized, the possibilities are endless.

And did I mention yet that jusay is in all the grocery stores?!  I have no idea which ethnic group eats it or what they do with it or what it's called (since it's almost never labeled, and if it is, it's just labeled chives, and the vegetable man didn't know when I asked him), and it's a lot messier than jusay in Kyrgyzstan or the US, but it's my jusay.  :)
Today's successes:

Signed up for an Arabic class
Found sharp cheddar cheese at a reasonable price
Found a book about Old Diriyah which is a World Heritage site near Riyadh
The driver on the way home told me that I can buy coconut at Lulu and have it opened and grated at the store.  

General successes:

-We have a temporary Internet solution.  I hope that means that the long-term solution isn't pushed off for months, but for now, we have Internet.
-The garden is wonderful.  I'm figuring out the irrigation system and most of the plants were hacked back before we arrived, but they're starting to grow back.  There's papyrus all over; and large trees with white flowers; and maybe, if I'm lucky, bougainvillea; and a big tree in the corner just had a couple of yellow flowers open and it's covered with buds
-The house is still not annoying me yet
-We have had enough to eat every day
-We have enough water to drink
-I never have to use the dryer
-The drivers are an amazing resource, both for rides and for information, despite the missteps below


There are obviously missteps all the time.  We schedule a ride to get something done and it takes much longer than it ought to, but our ride home is leaving; or our request doesn't get on the right paper so a car doesn't arrive and you have to call to have someone else sent out; or I just don't ever have enough time at the grocery store to feel like I'm done. The stuff won't be delivered for a while still even though it's here in Riyadh. You'll notice that most of the missteps have to do with transportation.  I honestly don't know how Saudis put up with this when Saudi women are well-educated and well-employed and many have driven outside of the country.

03 August 2016

Pancit Canton

Since I haven't lived in the Philippines yet and since their food is supposed to be amazing, this seems like the perfect chance to try Filipino cooking since it's easy to find the ingredients here.  We started easy last night with Pancit Canton.  This is totally doable in the US if you have an Asian grocery store.  A regular grocery store might not have the noodles or oyster sauce. This is another good way to use up odds and ends of vegetables in your fridge. It's also a flexible recipe- you can do more or fewer vegetables, whatever protein you want (or not at all), and if your noodle package is a different size, you can adjust the broth accordingly. It's also a really easy one-pot meal. I'm betting we will have this a lot.

A couple of tablespoons of oil
1 chopped onion
Lots of chopped garlic
Lots of chopped vegetables- at least 1.5 cups, and I used lots more*
1 cup or so of protein**
3 cups chicken broth
5 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 pound pancit canton***
Cayenne to taste
Vinegar, lemon, or lime

Sauté the onion in the oil in a large wok, skillet, or pot, depending on what you have, for a couple of minutes, then add any hard vegetables (like carrots) you might be using.  Cook a bit and add the garlic and protein and softer vegetables and stir-fry everything for a few minutes, at least until the protein is cooked if it wasn't already. Add about 2.5 cups broth and the soy sauce and oyster sauce and bring to a boil.  Add the uncooked noodles and work them into the saucy vegetables to cook them.  It's a little tricky at first but you'll get there. It helps to be working in a large cooking vessel.  Keep cooking and stirring until the noodles are done, adding more broth or water if necessary.  Add more soy sauce or oyster sauce if needed, and top with spice and sour.

*I used carrots and red peppers because that's what I had, but you could do green beans, cabbage, broccoli, so many other things.

**I used cooked, shredded chicken. You can use pretty much anything. 

***I bought noodles that were labeled this, but I'm not sure I've seen them labeled this way in the US, at least in areas without a Filipino population.  Look for Chinese wheat noodles- they'll be round and thicker than spaghetti, but not egg noodles or rice noodles.  I've bought them before in the US.

01 August 2016

Cultural and Religious Islamic Clothing

This comes up all the time and since it's part of my life in a way it never has been in the past, or likely will be in the future since almost no Muslim countries have a dress code for women, I'll do a refresher. I tried to find a website to link to that explained everything, but none seemed quite right- they only covered a couple of things, or weren't accurate, or tried to protray non-compulsory clothing as required.  You can try Wikipedia though. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_types_of_sartorial_hijab

First, there is no universally required piece of clothing required for all Muslim women.  The hijab (headscarf, basically, although hijab means "covering" so it doesn't just include head coverings even though it's usually used that way) for women comes closest, and a reasonable number of Muslims think it is required, but there are many Muslim women who don't wear it, or only wear it when they are older, or wear it after going on the Hajj, etc. I also know Muslim families where the older generation doesn't wear it but younger ones do.  In Saudi Arabia the vast majority of hijabs are black, but I do see some expats, especially Filipinas, wearing other colors.  I bought an abaya yesterday and the salesman clearly didn't agree when I told him that I already had a hijab and didn't need another one.  So now I have a black Saudi hijab to add to my collection.  I don't know that I'll ever wear it here.

A niqab is the face covering with a slit for the eyes. Only a small minority of Muslims think it is required, although a very large majority of those that do live here in Saudi Arabia.  I see niqabis all the time, every day, everywhere, unless I'm in a place that's just for expats (especially Filipinas).  There's also a bushiyya which completely covers the face with mesh or sheer fabric. I very rarely see that, including here.

Here in Saudi, abayas are pretty much mandatory.  They're not absolutely required, but you'll stick out quite a bit without one (even in a car, sometimes, although I've certainly ridden in cars without one because what is anyone going to do?) so most women just wear one because part of the point is to not stand out.  Abayas are long, black robes and do not include a head or face covering.  Some pull over your head, others snap up the front which makes them easier to take off.  They don't technically have to be black, but again, there's the sticking out part. Obviously this is a cultural piece of clothing here since an abaya in Saudi does not mean the wearer is Muslim.

Burqas are another regional piece of clothing from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and northern India.  A similar outfit called a paranja (they were made of horsehair and were heavy) used to be worn in Central Asia until the Soviets thankfully banned them. Burqas usually completely cover a person, head to toe, although some might allow a slit for the eyes.  If you're talking about a burqa, you're talking about the robe and head covering so it is different from an abaya which is only the robe.  

The chador is traditional in Iran and covers everything but the face.

A dupatta is an Indian and Pakistani scarf that is very much part of the culture for many people from that region.  I see them for sale here.

Hot Capitals

There are ten world capitals with average annual high temperatures that are higher than Riyadh's, mostly within a few degrees of Riyadh.  But almost none of them get the cooler temperatures in the winter than Riyadh gets, including capitals with lower annual high temperatures.  I'd rather have the extremes the Riyadh gets, even though it's pretty miserable right now, because then you get cooler weather in the winter.

This list has the average annual high, then the highest monthly average, then the lowest, then humidity.  If the humidity is over 50%, I consider that humid.


Khartoum- 37.1/98.7, 41.9/107.4 (May), 30.7/87.3 (January), not very humid most of the year
Niamey- 36.2/97.1, 40.9/105.6 (April), 32.5/90.5 (January), humid June-October
N'Djamena- 35.8/96.4, 41/105.8 (April), 31.6/88.9 (August), humid June-September
Bamako- 35/95, 39.6/103.3 (April), 31.1/88 (August), humid May-October
Ouagadougou- 34.8/94.6, 39.3/102.7 (April), 31.1/88 (August), humid May-October
Juba- 34.5/94.1, 37.9/100.2 (February), 31.1/88 (July), humid except in the winter
Kuwait- 34.3/93.8, 46.9/116.4 (August), 19.5/67.1 (January), humid October-April
Djibouti- 33.9/93.1, 41.7/107.1 (July), 28.7/83.7 (January), humid almost all year
Panama City- 33.8/92.8, 35.4/95.7 (April), 32.6/90.7 (October), humid all the time, but less in the spring
Muscat- 33.3/92, 40.4/104.7 (June), 25.5/77.9 (January), fairly humid most of the year
Riyadh- 33.1/91.6, 43.5/110.3 (August), 20.2/68.4 (January), low humidity all year
Abu Dhabi- 33.1/91.6, 42.9/109.2 (August), 24.1/75.4 (January), humid all year
Abuja- 33/91.5, 36.9/98.4 (March), 28.9/84 (August), humid during the summer rainy season
Port-au-Prince- 32.8/91.2, 35/95 (summer), 31/88 (winter), humid all year
Doha- 32.7/90.9, 41.5/106.7 (July), 21.7/71.1 (January), humid almost all year
Bangkok- 32.7/90.9, 35.4/95.7 (April), 31.7/89.1 (December), always humid

Kuwait does get a little cooler in the winter than Riyadh, but since it's more humid, I'll still take Riyadh out of these top 15 capitals.

31 July 2016

I wish I'd known before we came here that a combination of the weather, local laws, employer policies, and our travel plans would combine to make these first few weeks here astonishingly boring.  We're doing pretty well considering what we're working with, but I'm not sure how long we can make it.  If I'd known, I'd have mailed some games and activities before we left, but it's too late now.

It's possible we'll get a sort-of real internet connection soon (and I can't even tell you what had to happen to get the data we're using now) and that would make a huge difference.  We're also hoping that the older boys can start volunteering somewhere soon.  And the stuff and the real Internet connection will happen sometime.  It's all temporary.

I also don't know how much I can use the driving service here and I don't want to cause problems, but I also have a lot of things I need to get done.  Like I said earlier, I was able to get a lot done right at the beginning but there are other pieces that take more time and it's hard when you have to make returns, when it takes three different steps to get a cell phone set up, and when we're working around prayers.  I can't wait for the bicycles to arrive so I can at least get around the neighborhood without needing a ride.  

Our neighbors loaned us some games and DVDs, I was able to get more ebooks for the middle son, the oldest has claimed the cellular data we do have, and I was able to check out some cookbooks from the library so I can plan some meals with the new ingredients I have.  I've been waking up early (not on purpose) so I can get the laundry hung early and work on the garden a bit.  We've played Happy Moldova Day! a million times.  I can go to the mall and walk there for a little exercise.  I'm going to do some school things with the youngest this week (although that's tricky without any books, computers, or paper).

I think that today I'll try to get my own abaya.  I'm thinking I'll get two- a basic pullover for regular outings and one that's nicer and easy to take off.  But we shall see. 

29 July 2016

I'm still amazed every time I go to the grocery store at what I can find, especially for a reasonable price.  I've hardly looked for anything since I just wander around different stores and find stuff I need.  But I am getting to the point where I'll actually need to start trying to find some certain things like tofu. 

The employer, like a lot of employers here, provides us with transportation.  Drivers here are generally from Asia and Africa and there is plenty of time to chat. I've learned how to pronounce Eritrea and Kerala correctly, confirmed that Lulu is the grocery store for me (next I need to ask about little roadside places), and am trying to keep track of when babies are due.  It is very odd to be chauffeured about and to have to plan ahead when I leave the house.  I am looking forward to the bicycles arriving and cooler temperatures so I'm not so dependent on a driver (and who knows how often you can ask for a ride before they tell you it's too much).

Also, in a major success, I found the medication I need at the pharmacy.  Yes, I could have it mailed, but it's a bigger hassle to do that than to go to the pharmacy, plus I prefer to buy locally if at all possible, and medication costs so much less outside the US that I can't justify buying it there when I have another option.  I'm feeling good about this one.

I have spoken pretty much zero Arabic since arriving here, except with my husband when the boys are listening and we need them to not hear for a minute.  It's sort of fun to have people assume I don't understand them, but it's also very hard to practice. Even reading signs while I'm riding in the car, which I've always done everywhere to practice, is hard because almost everything is in English and Arabic and it takes a lot of concentration to ignore the English and just read the Arabic.

The Internet is still a problem because of an odd combination of circumstances.  I'm hoping for a temporary solution in a few days that will at least allow us to have a connection that works all of the time, although a slow one (but still 120 times faster than what we had in Kyrgyzstan the first time, so it's just slow for 2016 which is doable). Mostly, we need something to do because we're stuck at home and we packed our suitcases over six weeks ago and entertainment in Riyadh wasn't on our checklist.

I knew that having a Sunday-Thursday workweek would be weird.  I have to think every day about what day it is and how that day fits in with the rest of the week.  I'm sure I'll get used to it, but right now, the weekend comes quickly which isn't a bad thing.

This house has a Dyson vacuum.  I'm not sure if it's just here while we're waiting for our stuff, but it's a cool vacuum, and since I'd never actually buy one, it's fun to use it.

I think the humidifiers make a big difference, or my body adjusted to Utah dryness and so Riyadh dryness isn't too much worse.  

We've been trying some new greens from the grocery store.  Last night we ate gerger and I can't remember the name of what we had before that and I couldn't check because no internet.  This no internet thing has been tricky with the food shopping.  Also, there are mangoes here.  Egyptian, Yemeni, Pakistani, and more.  I like this. I doubt mango season is as long here as in Mexico though.


26 July 2016

I really liked Paris, but if I were planning a trip there (instead of having a layover scheduled there by the employer), I wouldn't take my children, I wouldn't get a car, and I wouldn't do anything else besides Paris because there is plenty to do there. The boys did like seeing the Eiffel Tower and we ate great food, but they much preferred Germany and Austria.  It would also be so much fun to live there for a couple of years- I kept thinking about doing a Paris history class like we did DC.  

Germany was wonderful too.  Meeting up with my sister for a bit was the best part of the whole trip and I loved seeing their family.  I wish we could have spent more time together.  We also saw lots of castles in Germany.  The oldest didn't like the over-the-top ones like Linderhof and Neuschwanstein, but he did like Landstuhl, Lichtenstein, and several others. And breakfast at the place we stayed in Mannheim was so very delicious. Also, my boys now love spätzle. 

Austria was everyone's favorite though.  We stayed in Ehrwald and went hiking, rode up the Zugspitz, did alpine slides, and went on the Highline which was very much worth doing.  It was just so lovely to be in the mountains and have it be cool and pleasant and green. I want to meet up there with all of my sisters and my mother. Also, we bought local Tyrol groceries and especially loved the muesli in yogurt.

I unfortunately didn't get any time to shop, even though I knew exactly what I wanted.  I suppose I'll have to order some German Christmas ornaments online which won't be the same at all. I wish we'd had more time but, like I said, we weren't really in control of the timing or where we were flying to.

It just was so very easy to travel in Europe.  Also, the flights to and from there were amazingly good.  I slept for most of the ten-hour flight to Paris and so did the youngest (which is why I was able to). And then we were upgraded on the flight to Riyadh.  I had no idea how much better premium economy is.  It was almost fun. But I forgot that I had the kitchen knives in the bag I was traveling around Europe with and didn't move them to the checked luggage so they were confiscated at the airport. So sad.

24 July 2016

First post from Riyadh

So, we've been in Riyadh for two days.  This will be a very long post because I have plenty of time to write it this afternoon.

Yes, it's hot.  But it's cool inside and I wouldn't be outside in Virginia right now either.  I'd rather go outside in a dry 110 degrees than a humid 90 degrees anyway. August is the hottest month here so we'll check off an August right away which isn't a bad thing.  The time zone here is an hour earlier than it ought to be and gets dark around seven and the sun comes up before six.  I love having darkness start sooner because even though it's still hot, it's mentally much cooler.  The bedrooms all have room-darkening curtains already installed so the early sunrise isn't a problem and I don't hear the dawn prayers. We also have a couple of humidifiers and air purifiers.  The air purifiers are there for the dust in the air.  It's been breezy in the afternoons and quite hazy, although it makes it look cooler which I like. 

No, I can't drive.  We don't have a car right now so the no driving for me thing actually is helpful because the employer provides transportation.  In most places, you're on your own for transportation.  I've been able to get more done in the first couple of days than I usually am when I arrive in a new country.  It is obviously inconvenient to be entirely dependent on someone else transporting me around.  There isn't even anything walkable near me, although when it's cooler my walkable range will expand a lot. Also, I'm planning on doing a lot of biking in my neighborhood because it's the only mode of transportation I'm allowed and I plan to use it.

Yes, I have to wear an abaya whenever I'm not my neighborhood.  I take a scarf with me too but I've never worn it.  I will generally only wear one if I am asked to (and the husband has been instructed not to tell me to put it on if someone tells him to tell me to do that) unless it's in a place where I would have chosen to wear a scarf in another Middle Eastern country (can't say a Muslim country since I never ever wore one in Kyrgyzstan). I have a large collection of scarves from lots of different countries and I like to take one along.  So far I've used one from Kyrgyzstan (with felt trim); a rebozo from Mexico City; and a silk thing from Kuwait that I bought in the US a few weeks ago from an organization that donates the proceeds to refugees resettling in Sweden. The abaya is black and not particularly cool, but it's also lightweight and I don't have to wear much under it if I don't want to.  It's actually not bad although I obviously wouldn't ever choose to wear it if I didn't have to.  The scarves make a huge difference in my attitude about the abaya. I am sure I will have much more to post about this over the next two years (or afterward).

No, it's not illegal to be a Christian here or attend church services.  However, just because it's legal, it doesn't mean it's easy since there are people here with a reasonable amount of authority who don't agree with that particular law.  Getting around that mostly involves not being obvious about what you're doing.

Yes, there are certain food items you can't buy here.  This bothers me a lot less than your typical Western expat because I don't drink alcohol and I don't really care that much about pork products and rarely buy them no matter where I am.  And there is plenty of other good food here.

Yes, the stores close during prayers, but if you're already in a large store, they don't shoo you out.  You can't check out or get your vegetables weighed, but you can keep on shopping.  The prayer closings would be a much bigger problem for people whose schedules are busier than mine, but for people like me?  I still can't figure out why everyone kept warning me about prayer closings, particularly since there is a long chunk of time in the morning between dawn and noon prayers and the stores open around 9 or 10. Also, there are plenty of prayer apps so you can plan ahead.  They seem to start warning you to check out soon about twenty minutes ahead of time.

I think that covers the negative things that people immediately think about for Riyadh.  I am sure that most will get very oppressive at times (to varying degrees), but I don't think any of them are awful right now. I'm sure we'll keep discovering quirks about getting things done here.  My husband was looking for clothes yesterday but couldn't try them on because the religious police had closed the dressing rooms during the sale the store was having.  He had to buy the clothes, go to the bathroom and try them on, and then return the clothes if they didn't fit.  It was quite a process but he did end up with clothes that fit.

I am a lot happier with this house than I thought I'd be. I'm sure it will find ways to annoy me in the future, especially since it's so big, but it just feels so much more livable than the house we had in Mexico.  There are rugs on the floor in most of the house so it will be so much easier to clean.  There's a huge freezer.  There's a clothesline on the roof!  The downstairs is crazy huge but it's laid out so we can entirely close off half of it.  There are wardrobes everywhere.  The garden has lovely flowering bushes. There's a courtyard which will be lovely in the winter.  It's been lived in so the tile in the kitchen is cracked and the door jambs and corners are dinged up. It has room-darkening curtains.  The furniture isn't brand new and we can move the extra parts into the closed-off part of the house.  Some of the bathrooms don't have showers with glass doors so they're much easier to clean.  There are lots and lots of kitchen counters.  It has Middle Eastern stonework on lots of the windows. 

Like I said above, I've been able to get a lot of shopping done so far.  I think I will love grocery shopping here.  I have never seen stores with such a huge variety of ingredients from so many parts of the world at such affordable prices.  There are still things I will need to make myself (mostly Mexican food, but it's really not any worse than DC was) but there are so many options here.  I probably should apologize to my family right now.  Also, I'm going to have to learn to cook some Philippino dishes.

There are lots of different grocery stores here rather than a few large chains like you usually see in the US. I've been to Lulu, Danube, and Euromarché so far and will probably go out again tomorrow. Danube had a lot of Saudis shopping there and had an amazing bulk section that I didn't have enough time to explore. It was beautiful. Lulu was bigger and there were so many Philippinos and south Asians there.  Almost no one had their heads covered unlike at Danube where most of the women were wearing niqabs. The rice sections in all of these stores is pretty much the happiest thing ever.  I got to Euromarché not long after it opened and it was rather quiet and almost no women were in the entire building.  In Danube all of the cashiers were Saudi women in niqabs and in Lulu they were all Saudi men.

The biggest problem right now is the internet.  It's a long story, apparently, but there is no end in sight for getting it at home.  We are working off hot spots with the cell phones for now.  It also appears that our shipment of stuff that was supposed to get here quickly won't be so quick and we really have very little entertainment in our suitcase because we wanted to have fewer suitcases to drag around.  School doesn't start for a few more weeks so it's entirely possible that everyone will go crazy very soon. But at least we won't starve to deal.

20 July 2016

Our too-short Europe visit is almost over.  We did meet up with my sister in Mannheim where we at good food and explored together before they went on to Switzerland and we went to Austria.  We stayed in Tyrol and had a lovely time in the mountains.  It was so nice.

The Alps are amazingly beautiful.  The climate obviously helps keep everything green and lovely, but they're also not very tall mountains so the valleys are below the tree line.  In Kyrgyzstan, the mountains are much, much taller and the mountain valleys often don't have trees in addition to Kyrgyzstan's being much drier.

It was nice to stay in a place with a kitchen because going grocery shopping is one of my favorite things to do in other countries. We have eaten a lot of spaetzle.  Also, I made sure we stopped for döner yesterday.

15 July 2016

So I haven't blogged in a really long time because we're doing the longest move ever and it's still not over.  But today I am sitting in a little German city on the French border and I'll see my sister this afternoon so it's a good day.

We were in Paris yesterday and the previous afternoon.  The Louvre was free and relatively uncrowded yesterday.  We saw the Mona Lisa for my husband, the Egypt stuff for my youngest, and the Code of Hammurabi for me and my middle son.  I loved the Persian section too.  The Lego store for oldest was closed but it's always fun to look in the windows.  I got to see Notre Dame and the Arc de Triomphe.  And we went to the Catacombes.  And rode the Metro.  It was a pleasant surprise that there were parts in elevated tracks so it was so much fun to ride around.  I love Paris public transportation.

I had a few specific Paris things I wanted to do.  I told everyone we were eating crepes and ham and cheese baguettes at the Eiffel Tower and after some resistance (why, child?) everyone agreed that the food was perfect. Then I found a bakery with a line and since I knew that meant fresh baguettes, we went in to buy a couple and the family approved of those too, especially with cheese.  And we had the best croissants for breakfast.  Most places were closed for the holiday yesterday, but we ate a delicious lunch at a cafe and everyone was delighted with their food.  Oldest loved buying warm baguettes and good cheese in the gas stations on the drive to Germany.  Even gas station food in France is delicious.

The rental car wouldn't start yesterday so after a three-hour delay we finally were able to leave Paris which got us to our hotel really late last night, but I'm trying to not stress over its torpedoing my jet lag recovery program. Most of the family is at the Lego store right now.  Of course.