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.