Tag Archives: living abroad

The Women Who Did it

Sometimes during my stay in Riyadh I found myself in situations where no matter where I went, I heard moans, complaints and the excited voices of those who could not stop talking about how they would go home for vacation soon, listing all of the (by Saudi standards inappropriate) things they would do once they got there, in great detail.

I was not so much surprised to find that the vast majority of these complaints came from women. Not that I have never experienced uncomfortable or frustrating moments but still did I feel like the best I could do was just stay calm. I had, after all, chosen life in Riyadh over an unsupervised, carefree bachelorette’s life in Berlin myself for the sake of a new environment and now I had to pull it through for a mere nine months. So what could possibly go wrong?

The more time passed, the more I started thinking that something must be wrong with me. I barely answered a question about my experiences in Saudi when I was already interrupted by the person talking to me, telling me how my positive or neutral impressions must be wrong because there were so many other things I did not consider that were actually bad. Whether these other things played any role in my day-to-day life or whether they were even present as such, given my situation, barely concerned anyone. Only the few negative remarks I decided to voice occasionally were approved of with a nod and an “I told you so.” Since I was brought up in the belief that those older than me are wiser and therefore (almost) always right, there was not really a point in arguing.

So I just stayed seated by my table at someone’s birthday party, absently chewing on my peanuts and sipping ‘Saudi champagne’, while the woman talking to me explained how I could possibly be denied medical help and die if my male relative was not there in order to approve of the doctor examining me (a belief widely spread among westerners for some reason and supported by the one or the other interview with a foreign paramedic working in Riyadh). I still hope she did not see me rolling my eyes at her in annoyance.

Towards the end of my stay however, I did take notice of at least some positive changes in those women, who only a few months ago could do nothing but complain.

“You know what I understood now?” asked a friend of mine as we were talking on Skype, shortly after I had returned home. “I realized that I have to stop complaining and take things as they are. If I cannot find the ingredients I need for baking, I just have to use what I have available instead. Making something else if I have to.  Instead of being upset about shops closing for prayer, I should find a way to get things done around those times”, she said to me among a few other things.

A big concern for all these girls, so it appeared to me, was the fact that as a woman in Saudi you have plenty of time. If you don’t know what to do with all of it, it is not a surprise that you let frustration and anger get the better of you.

I have observed how some women discovered a new hobby and expanded it to professionalism. Starting with baking over photography to showing newcomers around town.  I met a group of eastern European wives of Saudis who, naturally feeling a bit lonely in their new residence, got in touch with other wives like them through social media and joined forces when it came to making time pass faster, be it by going on weekend trips to al Khobar or Jeddah, taking their children to the zoo, visiting art exhibits and whatever else they found.

Others were still floating in a bubble of negativity but nevertheless decided that they will probably never have such a luxurious life again and enjoyed their swimming pools,  sinfully expensive Armani pants and deadly high heels while working on their dissertations, teaching English at school or university or just volunteering where they could.

Reflecting on all the stories that these women shared with me, I would say that even though these activities seem so mundane to those who live them every day outside of Saudi, for the women on site, they are indeed little achievements. I would say that they did it. They somehow figured out how to make it through the day and if they can, I am pretty sure so can you.

What I Miss About the Balkans: Kosova vs. Saudi Arabia

I have now been living in Saudi Arabia for about four months now and just recently, I unconsciously reminded myself of my time in South East Europe.

I originally thought of writing a post on Kosova only for my other blog but then, why not have some parallels drawn to Saudi Arabia? I mean, since I am already there, right?

So here a list of things (again) that I started to miss over the last couple of months.  Now, I also should say that this is NOT a way to complain. I just have realized that experiencing different cultures teaches us something about the appreciation of another. And so here the conclusions I came to:

1. Affordable and available taxis

I sometimes feel like I just have spent too much time in the Balkans where everything is cheaper than in the Kingdom, except for gasoline obviously. Here’s the thing. I do admit that I am pretty much an introvert but sometimes getting outside is not too bad. And so whenever I want to go somewhere here in Riyadh, I need a driver and as I wrote previously, as a woman getting anywhere is quite a hassle. I kind of miss just hailing a cab, using my (way too bad) Albanian to tell the driver where I want to go and get there for       € 3.50 maximum. As absurd as this sounds, but in the end it’s always about the little things in life.

2.   November 28th and February 17th Celebrations

In Kosovo I have witnessed two major celebrations. The one on November 28th, which is the independece day of Albania and February 17th. which is when Kosova celebrates its independence. Here in Saudi there is also a national day, which is on September 23rd. Unfrtunately I did not get to see anything of that festivity but maybe there hasn’t even been anything public.  The big difference for me as a foreigner however, is the fact that in Kosovo I was more a part of the whole festivities than I could ever be here in the Middle East. That is not even a bad thing but the realization that I won’t be around the NEWBORN sign this year to watch people swing their blue and yellow flags, singing patriotic songs makes me feel very nostalgic. There won’t be even an electricity blackout for 13 hours like last year, where all I could do was spent quality time watching the snow fall by candle light,  while the streetlights were shining outside like nothing ever happened.

3. Multicultural excitement

Have you ever experienced that when you come to a new country and the locals ask you where you are from and as soon as you tell them you are a foreigner (especially German) people get all excited about you? Well, this is pretty much what happens when you travel to the Balkans (beware however,  that if you are German and set foot on Greece, better don’t mention you are German).  Kosovars are all into foreigners, or at least for the most part. Sometimes they treat them like they are the most interesting thing in the world.  Now, if you happen to come across what I would call a “modern” Saudi here in Riyadh, chances are that this person will show a similar type of cuiosity. But speaking in general, it appears to me like the Saudis just endure all the foreigners because they more or less have to.

4. Cheap junk food

That probably sounds very stupid but yes, I miss the times when buying sugary substances was no big deal for my wallet. Sweets are one of the things on my “absolute favorite” list, somewhere between books, travel and intelectual people. These sugary substances are what give me company while I read a book on thursday night or what prevent me from a total panic attack while I am trying to finish up this history paper which is due this week. In Riyadh, as opposed to Kosova, most junk food items are expensive and that mostly because they are being imported from the US. There are of course the heavenly delicious Arabic sweets as well but I always have trouble finding them. You may notice that if you do groceries in Riyadh, there are no prices to be seen on the items, I assume that this is some sort of Saudi business strategy but you won’t believe how many times I actually stood there at the register and did not have enough money with me after all.

5. Albanian and/ or Serbian Weddings 

About two years ago, I got to watch an Albanian wedding right from my balcony. It was a sunny day at the end of August and all of a sudden our already very narrow street was filled with a bunch of incoming cars. Music was playing so loud, that my cat was totally frightened and confused. Women were leaning out of the windows, hitting their tambourines and singing Albanian songs. Albanians are quite clever. Men and women celebrate in two different houses and even in a street that is literally full of cars, they will still find enough space to do the traditional valle Kosovare dance, which is basically going in a circle to traditional music for an undefined amount of time while someone is shooting with  an AK- 47 into the air in the background. Haven’t seen an Arab wedding so far. If I ever do, I’ll make sure to write this down, too.

For the moment, I’ll have to stop here but I will make sure to update this if I have any other ideas. Suggestions always welcome.

 

 

Taste Test Saudi Style

One of the great things about moving countries is that every culture you come across over there, has its own way of doing things. This also seems to apply to my classes at the high school I am attending here.

This week, we were doing a so called “Taste Test” in my IB Business and Management Course. This basically means that once the class has split into groups, each group brought in a product of their choice (same product but from different brands) and let the rest of the class taste it, without them knowing which brand they are trying.

I found this a very interesting approach to teaching students about how to conduct market research.

However, I was even more impressed by my local an non local classmates’s product choice. My group was doing the test on shawarma, which is some sort of heavenly delicious Saudi version of the Turkish doner kebab or the Greek gyros with chicken, garlic, vegetables and fries in it.

Arabian shawarma (saltshaker.net)

So everyone assembled around the presenting group, grabbed a questionnaire and a piece of each product (if there are five brands, everyone gets five pieces. Each piece from one shawarma brand, for example.) and ate it before answering the questions about the product. How did you like it on a scale from 1 to 10? Which brand does each number belog to? etc. I was more than happy about that particular lesson plan for the day, as I had forgotten my lunch bag at home.

The second group had brought in pizza, that the students seemed to be excited about the most. Another group had cookies, home made ones included, while another one offered us potato chips. The most hilarious group was the very last one, which chose NON alcoholic beer as their product. I mean it’s not like you could get any other kind of beer in this country, so technically there is nothing to worry about but I still found that choice a very interesting one, given the fact that it was for a school project.

I have tried three versions of non alcoholic beer that day and I must say that I was fairly satisfied with it. It still tastes like beer and not even too bad. For all beer drinkers out there: In the end, it is better than nothing.

To conclude this post for today, I have one advice for teachers who struggle with getting their studens interested in doing projects:

Dear paedagogues, all you have to do is to include food in your assignment and everybody is more than willing to complete it. Seriously.

Jordan Calling!

DSC02843

A few days after my arrival in Saudi, I searched the internet for Arabic proverbs, proverb and quotes addict that I am.

The proverb that I stumbled upon on someone’s Tumblr account was: “Who lives sees, but who travels, sees more.”

As I travelled to Jordan a while ago, I agreed with this proverb more than ever. Maybe even more than with some Friedrich Nietzsche quotes.

Many people prefer going somewhere fancy over vacation. Places like Paris or Monaco. I am not trying to say that there is anything wrong with visiting modern and luxurious places, but unfortunately I have gotten to know way too many people who consider this sort of vacation the only one worth going on. That I find a tremendous pity.

Jordan has so much to offer to those who come there.

DSC02827

It starts with the location itself. I have spent some time  in Madaba, a small town some 30 and a little something kilometers from the capital Amman.

It was a rather small place and visibly not as wealthy as Riyadh or Dubai, with all its old buildings that could really use a restoration, the streets full of plastic bags and the nomads along the streets. But to me this was exactly THE thing that made this place so interesting. It was simple but this simplicity seemed to have its own story, as opposed to places with luxury hotels that are all the same, except for the prices that are higher than the sky scrapers in New York City.

The street right next to my hotel was full of souvenir shops. One set up neatly next to the other one, the various, colorful items catching the eye of the passing tourists.

Madaba is famous for its mosaics, that make up the majority of souvenir items, followed by Dead Sea products.

The people in Madaba were very friendly and warm hearted. Sometimes I would even forget that the reason for their obvious kindness, was the wish to sell some of their stuff to me.  In every shop that I went into, I was offered some very delicious but a little too strong tea, smelling of  overwhelming sweetness and various herbs.

Once I had accepted and finished my tea, the salesman was very willing to sell me my purchases with a discount of 10 Jordanian Dinars, which is close to 10 Euros.

With my souvenirs packed and the remaining sweet taste of tea in my mouth, I was on the way into the desert and from there to the Jordan river.

Forget about capacious shopping malls and spa resorts. All a person needs to relax and really find oneself, is a beautiful place with picturesque landscapes. Landscapes, such as the ones that Jordan has to offer. I have never felt as relaxed and inspired as in the moment of observing the mountains and the desert of Madaba and what would a visit to Jordan be without washing your feet in the Jordan river?

Later that day I went out for dinner in one of the restaurants. The place was full of people in a great mood. As I passed by a table with formally dressed gentlemen at it, one of them looked at me and said, or better yelled with laughter: “Order whatever you want! It’s on the house!” I knew that he didn’t mean it but one could feel the contagious good mood in the air. The room was full of laughter, traditional Jordanian music and the smell of shisha smoke overlapped with the scent of my chicken and Jordanian bread dish.

People in Jordan are way more open than the ones in Saudi, as I found out later. When I walked down the street at the end of the day, two teenage girls leaned out of the window of a passing Jeep and shouted: “Welcome to Jordan!“ in my direction, their voices young and cheerful, their hands waving at me. I couldn’t resist and smiled back.

Life is such an amazing thing. All we have to do is to look at it from the right perspective and even the poorest and simplest places will turn into fascinating destinations.

DSC02736

DSC02835 DSC02719 DSC02680 DSC02678