Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Living in Ar@bia

Reading imolie's query in my chatbox, I just realized that people ask me that question a lot. "Is there life in Kh0bar?" (or Jubail, or Riy@dh, or S@udi in general).

So let me tell you a bit about my life in s@udi.

When I first came here, just like any other woman from a country that allows women to work and drive, I was apprehensive.
I wondered how I was going to get around, since I'm so used to driving myself anywhere I wanted to go, anytime I wanted to go. I also wondered whether I was going to feel helpless since I'm so used to being so independent. I wondered whether I was going to feel bored since I heard there's zero entertainment in this country. I wondered if I was going to be able to cope with just doing housework. I wondered if I was going to make new friends, those that can be as close as the ones I had left behind. I wondered whether my kids are gonna enjoy their life here. I wondered how we were going to grow as a family in such a seemingly constrictive environment.

I must admit, the first few months was a little tough.
I had to content with wearing black abaya all the time. My kids had to learn to recognize me by looking at my face, not by looking at my clothes. Not being brave enough to venture out with the bus provided by the compound, I had to wait for my husband to come home before I could go out anywhere. It was summer and it was scorching, so I was sequestered in the house during the day. Then i discovered that they do not have warungs here. Shops do not open all day. They are closed from 12 to 4! Good luck buying anything during the first 30 minutes of prayer times. Some shops literally kick you out!
Our computer had not arrived, we had no internet connection, which made me feel so much more isolated. Some days I felt like I had totally dissapeared off the face of the earth.

Then summer ended, and school sessions for the kids began. I saw their eager faces every morning and it really motivated me for the rest of the day. I listened to their stories about their teachers, their new friends and their activities when they come home from school every day and it re-affirmed why we decided to move here in the first place.

I started taking the compound bus to go shopping. I guess I am lucky that my compound has a very good bus service, I didnt miss driving at all. I just greeted any ladies I find on the bus and ask to follow them. I made a few friends, and I discovered a few new shopping spots. Through my shopping trips, I found out that there are abayas with different patterns (and colored patterns at that) on them, so even in black, you could still distinguish yourself from other black-abaya-clad women.

I found the housework to be bearable, if I don't set my standards too high. tee hee! Since we had already survived with taking care of our house without any help for 2 years prior to moving here, my husband and I already had our duties worked out. Now that my kids are older, they too have been roped in into doing house chores :) They needed motivation of course, so we came up with a star-reward chart: one star can be earned by doing one chore, and the stars can be translated into spending money any time they want.

There is not much entertainment here, but I wasn't really a movie-going, disco-dancing, concert-loving person in M@laysia anyways. Taufik and I love nature, so a drive out of town somewhere would usually suffice. So far we've explored a little bit of the natural wonders that this arid country can offer, and we have not been dissapointed. We've discovered that you can find beauty in anything if you look hard enough.

In my limited travels, I have also accidently found an advantage in living in S@udi instead of any other country in the middle east. Since it is very difficult to get a visa to visit this country, we are considered lucky because we can easily get visas to visit other countries (most of them award it upon entry), whilst people who live in other countries would find it difficult to visit me here.
eh wait, that's not such a good thing, coz that means it's difficult for me to get people to come over! :(

Suprisingly, I also found that living here is also very secure. Because I live in a gated compound and because some of the foreigners here are so paranoid that they warrant an army checkpoint at the gate, I am not scared of letting my kids outside to play every afternoon. I don't worry that they'd get lost. Because alcohol is banned here, I am not afraid that some drunk driver will run over my kids when they're cycling around. Most suprisingly, I am less harrassed here than I was in my home country. Apart from a supermarket worker who tried to pick me up the first week I was here, there hadnt been much harrassment from men. People don't honk or make kissy noises at me when I cross the street. Taxi drivers do not try to chat me up. Maybe arab men are more discerning and I'm not attractive enough for them or something, I do not know, but I do find that refreshing. :)

But I guess the best part of living here is the free-time that we have. Because of the proximity of his office to our home, my husband doesnt have to go through 2 hours of traffic jam to reach us everyday. That leaves him more relaxed and mentally available for the children once he is home.
I, of course, have more free time than my husband. Apart from having more time to write (read: blog) and read (read: blog summore), I also have more free time to explore things that I had not had time to do before. I discovered that I can cook, and that I am pretty creative at it :) I discovered that I can bake, when I would have never even attempted baking before. I discovered that I can sew a little bit. I discovered that I can, actually, do almost anything I want, once I put my mind to it (and once I found the materials for it).

As a family, I think living here has brought us so much closer together. Prior to Izani, I only watched my kids grow up when I came back from work. With Izani, I got to observe every single minute of his progress. It's priceless.
My kids had always been open with us, but them trusting that Taufik and I will always be around for them, to watch them sing, run, perform in plays, recite a poem or receive an award in school, has given them tremendous confidence in themselves, which made them open up even more.

So I guess, the next time someone ask me if there is life in s@udi, my answer would be that life, is whatever you make it, wherever you make it, and so far, we have made a satisfying life here.

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