Saturday, July 30, 2011

We are NOT in Saudi Arabia!

Here's photographic proof of what the Mister, my sister, my brother-in-law and I did today. This is one activity we would most definitely NOT do in Saudi Arabia.

We went down the middle section of the Ocoee River today, just outside Chattanooga. We were riding the rapids, surrounded by green. As you can see in the photos, we had a fantastic time.

Vicariously yours,

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Are you for Riyal!?

I apologize. We have neglected to write possibly the most obvious post for a blog like this. I never considered that this type of information would even be interesting until we returned to the States. One of the most frequently asked questions we've gotten since coming back home is, "What does the money look like?"

DUH! Why didn't I realize that people would want to know that?! I apologize, dear readers for denying you of this little nugget of currency trivia.

Unfortunately, we only have 2 denominations with us in the States, so you get a limited peek at what the Saudi Riyal looks like for right now.

The Fifty

On the back of the 50 note, you see the al-Aqsa mosque, located in the Old City in Jerusalem. It, along with the Dome of the Rock, is part of the Noble Sanctuary. According to a source, the Noble Sanctuary is the third most holy site in Islam.

The back side of the 50 note also has the "Arabic" numerals (so ironic because those numbers are not used in Arabic), the numbers most of us recognize as the 5 and the 0. This comes in handy when there's a long line of people waiting behind you at the cash register and you've got to pretend you know what you're handing the clerk.

This is the front of the 50 note. On this side you find the true Arabic numbers. The circle is the 5 (called "khamsa" in Arabic) and the dot is the zero (called "siffra" in Arabic). Even though you read Arabic letters from right to left, you read the numbers from left to right. It's ridiculously confusing.

On the front you find good ol' Baba Abdullah, as the citizens of Saudi Arabia lovingly call him. King Abdullah has been printed on the Saudi currency since 2007. The mosque pictured next to his smiling face is the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, the other half of the Noble Sanctuary.

The Hundred

Hard to see up against this backdrop, but the 100 riyal note is kind of an orange-pink-purple color. On the back of the note you see the "Arabic" numerals again and the Prophet's Mosque in Medina, the second most holy site in Islam. The Prophet's Mosque was built by Mohammed in 622 AD. Medina was Mohammed's home and the mosque contains his tomb.

It's a pretty impressive place, from what I can tell. I'll never be able to see it in person because non-Muslims are not allowed inside the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

On the front you find the real Arabic numbers. The thing that looks like a 1 is the one (called "wahed" in Arabic) and the two dots are the two zeros. Dear ol' Baba is smiling at you again, and next to him is the green dome at the Prophet's Mosque that marks the Prophet's tomb.

There you have it, at least the start of it. These are the only two Saudi bills we have with us in the States. They'll help us get a taxi back to our house in Saudi when we return in a few weeks. When we return, I'll show you a few of the other denominations and explain the significance of the sites/pictures on each.

Quick fact: The coins in Saudi are called "halalas." It always makes me sing "Deck the Halls" in my head every time I hear the word.

Ha la la la la, la la la la.

Vicariously yours,

Friday, July 22, 2011

I forgot I missed this!

The last few weeks before we left Saudi for our summer vacation, the Mister and I had several discussions about what we couldn't wait to eat/see/do/experience again. I've written a few posts about the things that made the list, but it wasn't until we got back that we fully realized how much we really missed about home.

On the top of my list: HGTV.

Here I sit, on the beautiful Carolina coast...and I'm seriously torn between going out to the beach, or watching another episode of House Hunters or Property Virgins.

I'm a sick puppy.

Vicariously yours,

Reverse culture shock? Not us!

While waiting for our connecting flight in London's Heathrow airport, the Mister and I were discussing whether we were going to have culture shock upon returning to our hometown. The hubbins said he probably would feel a little out of place, but I didn't think so.

I'm glad to report that we really haven't been all wonky--with the exception of a little jet lag. Everything's just as we left it. Our favorite foods are still just as wonderful as it was last year. Driving is still awesome. Wearing shorts in public feels totally natural...even though my ridiculously pale legs aren't so natural at this time of year in the South.

There was one little thing that caught us off guard, though. While driving to our beach vacation, the hubsy and I stopped at a Chik-fil-a (YAY!!!), and found this:

First of all, I have missed real ketchup. The ketchup in Saudi Arabia is too sweet or something. It's just gross and I usually skip it. So I was beyond happy to finally have real Heinz ketchup to dip my waffle fries in. But THIS has got to be one of the best technological advances I've seen in a long time! I can dip my ketchup, or I can squeeze! No need to make a mess! Genius! I immediately got out my new camera and started staging a few shots.

As I was putting the camera back in my purse, the Mister's grandmother, who had been watching me from across the table, cut her eyes toward him and said, "Do they not have ketchup over there in Saudi Arabia?" It made me laugh out loud. Perhaps this was the one moment of reverse culture shock I'll experience this summer.

I had to share.

Vicariously yours,

Dust, be not proud

By now, the silence on this blog has probably led you to conclude that the Mister and I have returned to the States. Your conclusion is correct, and I apologize for the lack of posts. I'll update you on our trip home and what we've been up to this week in another post.

First, I just have to share what we were up to in the hours before we left Saudi Arabia. I've already shown you one step I took to dust-proof our house for the summer. Those close to me know that I hate house chores, and dusting is way up there with the most-avoided cleaning tasks in my world. Therefore, I've covered the large furniture in my house with plastic tarps in an effort to thwart the dust that will inevitably settle over the next few weeks.

Granted, it probably took us longer to tarp everything up than it would have taken me to just dust the house when we return...but that's beside the point right now.

I'm sad to report that the tape on our window sills was already curling and pulling loose before we'd even left Saudi Arabia, so I think I will not regret taking the time to tarp up my house.

Vicariously yours,

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Pizza Pizza

Remember Little Caesars? That pizza place with the vertically challenged Roman guy with the big nose as its mascot? I haven't seen or eaten at one in the United States since I was a kid, and I vaguely remember hearing that the business went under years ago.

Well, Little Caesars is alive and well in The Kingdom, but I hadn't eaten at one since we arrived. I associated Little Caesars with undercooked dough, rubbery cheese and pepperonis that were more grease than meat. I had no desire to revisit those meals, so I abstained.

Until today.

Today was the last day of work for the teachers, and to celebrate a couple colleagues ordered Little Caesars for the English cluster.

"We have mexican, kebab, chili chicken and chicken fajita," said my co-worker who placed the order. I'm sorry, did she say "kebab!?" I thought to myself. I was a little freaked out by the mexican pizza because it looked like someone had draped vermicelli noodles all over the top before closing the box. I was a little freaked out.

BUT OH MY HEAVENS WAS IT SOME GOOD PIZZA!! I was doubtful at first, but h'oh boy am I soo glad my colleagues have opened up this world to me! The Mexican pizza was like a taco, in pizza form. Refried beans, a hint of pico de gallo, lettuce, taco beef and Mexican blend cheese. The kebab pizza had kebab meat, tomato chunks, and this purple looking spice thing that they put on salads (I have yet to learn the name of this stuff but it's yummier than the way I make it sound). The chili chicken and chicken fajita were just as great as they sound.

I immediately whipped out my camera and started taking shots of the few pieces that were left after everyone had gotten their fill. Unfortunately I don't have photographic evidence of the kebab pizza, but I did get a few awkward laughs from my colleagues who were befuddled by the white lady taking pictures of her food like a Japanese tourist.

Yep, I am that girl. I do it all for you, dear readers. Because THIS is what our blog is all about!

Vicariously yours,

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Homeward bound!

The preparations for our departure from the Magic Kingdom have begun. The Mister and I leave in a few days, which means we've got laundry, shopping, cleaning, and packing to do. This evening, between loads of laundry, I took on an endeavor to dust proof our house.

I know that sounds like an exercise in futility. We live in the freakin' desert, and it's been a particularly dusty year so far. But I'm determined to try to stifle the flow of sand particles in my house while I'm on vacation. We are deep cleaning everything and I don't want to have to do it all over again while jet lagged and getting ready for the new school year. So for the next few days, I am a woman on a mission. Dust, don't mess with me.

I brought home a roll of jumbo masking tape and I went to town on the windows. I've covered the sills and cracks in the windows with a layer of the masking tape. I have absolutely no idea if this will work, but it'll at least help me sleep better at night while on vacation thinking that the dust is trying to infiltrate my house and running into a sticky layer of I-don't-think-so!


I feel like I should collect data and publish my findings once we return from summer travel. In the meantime, I've discovered that one roll of the masking tape only covers 2 and a half windows...I'm going to have to make a couple more trips to the store before we leave, but I will not be deterred!

Vicariously yours,

Monday, July 11, 2011

Featured Photo: Girl, cover yourself!

This is the cover of the Xbox Kinect Zumba game. As you can see, it features a muscular lady who is clearly undulating to the beat of a saucy Latin/Hip Hop beat. She's clearly enjoying herself. The packaging is probably aimed at those ladies who would like to have abs that resemble this lady's. But unfortunately this photoshopped photo would probably also catch the eye of a passing Saudi male. So we've got to do something about that...

Sharpie to the rescue! This is a very common sight on Saudi shelves. Workout equipment has the torso and legs of the female models on the packaging scribbled over. That is, as many boxes as they could cover before the marker ran out of ink.

I don't understand...if you're going to scribble over the covers of some of them...why not scribble over the covers of all of them!? Perhaps in this case the guy who was in charge of product modesty got bored, or his shift ended and nobody wanted to take over the menial task of eliminating temptation for the masses.

Vicariously yours,

Stuff Arabs Like #16: SpongeBob SquarePants

It's blurry, but it says I ::heart:: SpongeBob & ...Emo SpongeBob? I don't understand why you would love either of them...especially enough to put it on the back of a blouse!

This might be something just Saudis like, so I apologize to any non-Saudi Arabs reading this and feeling mislabeled. I know this is a popular cartoon in the States, but "popular" doesn't quite do justice to the Saudi obsession with this hyperactive porifera. I literally see SpongeBob SquarePants everywhere. In the mall, in the souq, in the grocery store, in the bookstore, at school, on car bumpers. It's. ridiculous.

So. Annoying.

I've asked my students and co-workers why SpongeBob is so loved here, and I get the same answer as I got in the States: "I dunno. He's just funny. We just like him."

a lot.

I am definitely a bit biased on this matter because I can't stand SpongeBob. His voice, the "plot" of the show, that laugh! Ugh. It drives me absolutely crazy. It's only fitting that I'm now surrounded by that yellow cheese-like smiling block of sponge everywhere I go.

Vicariously yours,

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Featured Photo: Put a bird on it

Tonight, just because we could, the Mister, a housemate and I went to Bahrain. We went to the rugby club to hang out and while there, a man with a little bird walked in. He was a big hit with the kids. Literally. When he first arrived there were a few families there and their kids were so enthralled with the guy and his pet. His name was Ali and he had found the bird as a hatchling and has been raising it for the past year. It was a really friendly, sassy little bird.

Of course, as is always the case, I forgot my camera so the Mister had to save the day with his blackberry. I apologize for the grainy quality of the photos.

Vicariously yours,

Friday, July 8, 2011

End of the Year Reflections

There is a disproportionate amount of me on this blog. To date, I have published 185 entries, and Tyler has published 34. I guess you can tell who's the big talker in my marriage. But what you don't know is that Tyler and I talk all the time. One of the best parts of moving to Saudi Arabia is that Tyler and I spend a LOT of time together, and we've had some awesome conversations. So I've decided to include all of you in one of those conversations. Tonight, between loads of laundry that will soon be going into suitcases, Tyler and I are reflecting on our first year in Saudi Arabia and how is has affected us.

Question: What has this first year in Saudi Arabia taught you to appreciate about the US government?

Tyler: For all of the US government's interfering like taxes, the Patriot Act, and all that, they still leave me alone. I can go wherever I want on the internet in the United States. Once I'm of age, I can go to a bar. If I want to open a business where I only sell alcohol I can. There are restrictions, but there aren't ridiculous moral restrictions on what I can do. The more I think about it, the more I'm glad that the United States is not a theocracy.

Our government realizes that infrastructure is important and spends money on it. They have to pay attention to what the citizens want because we give them permission to rule, basically. And we keep people in office or out of office.

Take for example that gigantic dip in the road out there. If I was back in the US, I could complain to the traffic department or whatever. I can complain and it would matter because I'm a taxpayer. Here, in Saudi, if I complain about it they'd be like, "Well, drive a different way."

Amber: I miss the infrastructure too. I hate the fact that for the first few months, we had no idea what the emergency phone number is here and that if we ever needed to call 999, it would take for freakin' ever for the ambulance to find us. Partly because the person on the other end of the line wouldn't speak English but mostly because we don't have street names and addresses here! How would I tell them how to find me!? "Go a little more left. I can hear the sirens, so you must be close!" Meanwhile I'm bleeding out.

AND they don't enforce any laws here, as far as I can tell. The cops keep their lights flashing all the time, so no one pays attention to them when they're going down the highway. They even to the "bwoop bwoop" thing with their sirens for no reason, so when they turn them on in an actual emergency no one takes it seriously. That means that every time we get in the car it's like a demolition derby with people doing whatever the heck they want and the cops don't stop them. And when we get upset about it, people are like, "Why are you so uptight!?"

Question: What has this first year in Saudi Arabia led you to wish the US government did differently?

Tyler: Education. It's like how you always say you're so annoyed that you only speak one language. I feel like Americans should be bi-lingual at the very least because Lord knows the rest of the world is trilingual. I'm annoyed that most Americans don't know anything about the rest of the world. We're so America-centric that we just don't know enough about world cultures. I know that now schools are trying to do better, but we've gotta get on that. Our government needs to focus on education and stop just talking about it.

Amber: Anything else?

Tyler: We do a lot of good stuff in the world, but we don't get any credit for it. Every time there's some kind of horrific natural disaster in the world, who gives a ton of money? Usually the United States. They mobilized an entire part of the Navy to help in Japan. Immediately. My point is yeah, we should care about what people think, but people will only focus on the bad stuff we do and not the good stuff about our country.

Amber: So what does that have to do with the question? What do you wish our government did differently?

Tyler: ...I guess nothing. Just education, I guess.

Amber: What about all the foreign relations stuff?

Tyler: Our blog's not about all that stuff.

Amber: Good point.

Question: What from Saudi Arabia will you miss during your summer travel?

Tyler: Um. Cheap everything. Like my haircut's super cheap--20 riyal which is like $6 and that's with a shave and everything. If I want street food it's so much cheaper than in the States. Like that fried chicken we had the other day. That was 17 riyal for both of us. That's $4.50. That's super cheap. All the shawarma is cheap and you can get a ton of it.


That's about it, though. I'm not going to miss much else.

Amber: I'm going to miss the food. I know we can get Arabic food in States, but it just doesn't taste right. Like you know how real Japanese sushi taste SOO much better than what you can get anywhere else?

Tyler: [interrupting] Have you ever had real Japanese sushi?

Amber: [continuing] least that's what I've been told. I feel that way about the tabouli, hummus, kebabs and shawarma here.

And I'll miss the Indian food my co-workers bring to school every day. That's stuff yumm.y.

...hey where'd you go?

Tyler: [from the kitchen] I'm making a sandwich.

Question: What will you make sure to bring back with you from the States at the end of the summer?

Tyler: My running shoes. My hats--my bald spot is burning real bad here. And, uh...there's a bunch of other stuff too, but I've forgotten all of it.

Amber: I'm going bring my teaching stuff. There are no parent-teacher stores here so I'm out of luck when it comes to materials.

I'm going to bring a ridiculous amount of tampons back with me.

I wish we could bring our framed artwork back, but it won't fit in our suitcase and I don't trust any postal services to actually get it delivered successfully.

Tyler: [clearly half-listening] Yeah. My running stuff and my hats. Like my lumbar pack and my other pair of shoes.

Amber: That's it? That's all you miss from home?

Tyler: Of stuff that I can bring back with me? Yeah. I miss everything, but I can't bring it back with me. What, you mean like a rolled up copy of the Declaration of Independence? I can get that off the internet!

Amber: I want to bring our wedding album and scrapbook back. Facebook photo albums just aren't cutting it.

Tyler: whatever.

Question: What item did you think you wouldn't be able to find in Saudi but it turns out that you can?

Tyler: Lots of food items, like those Nature Valley granola bars. I was expecting not to have these things and it wasn't going to be a big deal. So I was surprised to find them here and it was like, "Oh. Ok." I mean, it's not like I was thinking "I'm gonna miss those granola bars," but when we went to the grocery store and saw them on the shelf it was nice to find.

What I mean is I didn't know what I would and wouldn't be able to get as far as food items are concerned but it turns out we can pretty much shop like normal, minus the bacon.

Amber: Not that we were going to be looking for it, but I was surprised to find all the American chains. Holiday Inn, Banana Republic, Chilis, Applebee's. I guess I was expecting to literally be in a desert of unfamiliar things, but it turns out there's a LOT more America here than most people expect.

Question: What it did you think you would find in Saudi, but it turns out you can't?

Tyler: Tortilla chips.

Amber: books. And camels. Ok, camels on every street corner. That I can ride.

Tyler: ...You thought you would find that here?

Amber: no. I'm just kidding. But I was under the impression that there would be books.

Question: What don't you miss about American culture?

Tyler: Things like Wal-Mart. There's kind of this notion in the American psyche that's like, "I should be able to buy everything I want in the same place." The idea of the specialty shop is not dead here, and it kind of is in the United States.

Amber: Oh. I kind of miss Wal-Mart. I miss being about to get everything in the same place...

Tyler: Well yeah, I mean, me too! When we get your 15 thousand packs of tampons, where do you think we're going to get them?! It's either going to be Costco or Wal-Mart! I just think it's gotten a little out of hand.

Amber: I don't miss the prescription drug commercials. I know that's totally random, but yeah. They just clog up TV at home.

Tyler: That's a good point. I hate those things.

Question: What do you miss about American culture?

Tyler: honestly, it's not one thing that I miss. It's American culture itself. I would love to see a commercial in English that wasn't dubbed. It would be nice to watch something on TV that was geared towards me again. It's hard to explain.


Jogging. In the United States, people see joggers and don't immediately think, "Hey, I'm going to mess with that guy." Exercising is a normal thing at home, it's not like, "Look at that maniac running!"

Amber: At least you can go running outside.

Tyler: touche.

Amber: I miss people holding doors for other people. I miss making eye contact with strangers and not immediately having to look away for fear of being thought of as a hussy. It's not like I was making eyes with everyone I saw at home, but I kept my eyes level and if I accidentally made eye contact with someone, I would give a little smile and nod. You know, to indicate that I'm not a creeper and I'm not trying to undress you with my eyes. I'm just looking straight ahead and you happened to walk through my line of vision.

But here I feel like I always need to look down or at anywhere but people's faces.

Tyler: Yeah, and I can kiss you in public or we could hold hands and flirt and people wouldn't think anything about it.

Amber: ...And when I do accidentally make eye contact here, I give my knee-jerk reaction of a smile and nod and immediately, if it's a dude, I get the creepy eyebrow raise and puckered lips that suggests he wants a secret tryst. Or if it's a woman...ok, I'll usually get a small smile out of her. But she quickly looks away like she's done something wrong.

What do you like most about Saudi Arabian culture?

Tyler: That is a tough [long pause] One thing I like about Saudi Arabian culture--and I envy them for this--is that they have the ability to just talk to anybody. Ok, so I went to that pastry place next to our school. And I wanted cheese with garlic, and I got cheese with olives. I thought it really isn't that big a deal and I need to get going so I'll just take them and go. But an Arab would have been like "Fix it. Now. And I expect it in the next 2 minutes."

Amber: So you mean they complain?

Tyler: No, it's that they don't care. They'll go talk to anybody. I dunno. It's hard to explain. No...erase all that.

Amber: The whole thing?

Tyler: Yeah.

Amber: No.

Tyler: What I mean is it's a talking culture. Arabs like to talk.

Amber: So you mean that an American in a restaurant would probably just take the wrong order and say, "eh, I'll make do," but a Saudi speaks up and gets his order right?

Tyler: Yeah. Part of me really wants to do that. Part of me wants to be like, "Send this crap back to the kitchen!" But I'm not a jerk like that. But I also want to eat what I ordered. So I envy that that kind of behavior is normal here.

Amber: I guess that's a good point. But I kind of feel like what's the big deal, you know? Unless you have a deadly food allergy, just suck it up! Or at least be a nice person about it.

Tyler: So what do you like?

Amber: The call to prayer. I think it's a unique aspect of living in this part of the world. I like that it's become such a normal part of our day that hearing it is like background noise. At first it was loud and startling, but now it's just like...a phone ringing or something...

What do you hate most about Saudi Arabian culture?

Tyler: The call to prayer. When everything shuts down and you can't do anything for 20 minutes.

Amber: Yeah, and it's different for every store! Like the grocery store near the school shuts down 30 minutes before the athan [the call to prayer] and then stays closed for 30 minutes during prayer. That means those workers get an HOUR break at least 3 times during their shifts! But other stores only close for like 10 minutes.

Tyler: and it would be a different matter if everybody went to pray. But they all just stand outside the door and wait for the time to pray to end. I know it's not any of my business but it's like, "Hey! This is it! This is your time to go pray! This is your call!"

[pauses, thinking]

And inevitably prayer is right when you need to go do something!

Question: What is the thing about living in Saudi Arabia that will be most difficult to describe to people back home?

Tyler: From the moment the shock of moving to Saudi Arabia went away, I've felt like I've had a weight on my shoulders. You kind of forget that it's there until you leave. For example, when we went to Berlin, I was like, "This is nice!" [editor's note: Tyler did the little shoulder shake, swivel hips thing that is the universal sign for relaxation. Also the universal sign for "I'm in a hot tub." You know the one] You can feel it as we're taking off. It's like, "Ahhh..." Maybe it's because I'm getting a break from school...but I think it's because we're leaving Saudi Arabia. Even when we go to Bahrain I just feel lighter.

Amber: Is that because you feel unsafe in Saudi Arabia?

Tyler: no. I feel extremely safe here. But it's that I have to be so cautious about what I say and what I do here. You just get tired of having to do it constantly. Of having to be so aware of yourself.

Amber: It's like you can't relax.

Tyler: Exactly. When we're in our house it's fine. But when we go grocery shopping or go to school it's like a constant ....oppression? I just feel constantly self conscious. I have to be so cautious all the time.

Amber: Cautious of what? Of offending people?

Tyler: That's part of it. Offending people or... you know...we were so used to being lovey-dovey to each other but here we don't want to piss off the mutawa. I dunno. I just constantly have to be careful about how I say things. You can't ever say the word "Israel." It's not like I'm always talking about it, but I do say it once in a while. And I can't say too many positive things about the United States or I'll be called a colonizer.

[It should be noted that by this point Tyler has gotten tired of our little game and he has started playing on his xbox.]

Question: Do you feel that working here has made you a better person?

Tyler: [pauses. kills a few guys. thinking] Maybe more patient? I dunno how to explain it. No is the short answer, I guess. I think I've learned things about myself by living here...

Amber: But you don't think it's made you a better person.

Tyler: As a whole I don't think I'm going to be a better person as a result of this, but it has changed little things. I've learned things about myself that I didn't expect.

Amber: Like what?

Tyler: I didn't know that I still need to work on my temper.
[At this point, it's important to note that my husband is not, and has never ever been violent towards me in any way. The "temper" he is referring to is the occasional blinding anger he gets when playing video games and, recently, while driving in Saudi Arabia.]

Amber: You mean your road rage?

Tyler: Yeah, I thought I had a good handle on my temper but I've still got a lot of work to do. So there's that.

I've also learned that it's not impossible to re-discipline yourself. I used to be a hardcore runner and I thought I'd never get it back. When I was in Nashville I thought I was going to be fat and lazy for the rest of my life. But I've gotten a bit of it back. I've learned you can actually teach yourself to do things a different ways even though you're 27, 28.

Amber: You're 27.

Tyler: That is true.

At this point in the conversation, Tyler needed to go to the gate to let one of the neighbors in, and I got distracted with my laundry, and we both got a little hungry so the conversation kind of dropped off. But that's a little peek into my living room on a Friday night. We go back to work tomorrow for our last week of work in Saudi Arabia! ...well, until September when school starts again....

Vicariously yours,


I had an outstanding day yesterday! As an end of the year celebration, 2 of the ladies in my PLC (professional learning community. It's like a support group for teachers) told me and Sandra to keep our day open and plan to go somewhere on July 7. They also told me to bring a swimsuit. I figured the surprise involved a pool in some way, but I couldn't have guessed what they had up their sleeves!

They picked me up and, after a few more stops, we headed to the Sheraton in a nearby city. I was led downstairs to the spa--I liked where this was going--and I figured I was getting surprised with a day of lounging by the hotel's ladies-only pool. As I signed the guest log, the receptionist said, "And would you like to lounge by the pool before your massage?"

I WAS GETTING A MASSAGE!!! I looked at my PLC teammate, the brains behind this little scheme, and immediately started crying. A day at the spa was exactly what I need after a school year like the one I had. I didn't know a spa like this existed in the area and I can't afford a massage at home. I was so grateful for the chance to just be pampered. I am so blessed to get to work with these ladies. My cup runneth over.

We decided to sit by the pool for a bit before our massage, but it wasn't quite what I expected. This spa is women-only, which makes sense given the culture. After I had changed into my swimsuit, I was led to the "aquaria." It had a small lap pool, a steam room, a sauna, an aroma heat room (where they burned herbs to create a cleansing mist), and a lacorium (I think that's what it was called) where you get to sit on heated lounge chairs and relax. Oh! And there was an ice grotto, which is exactly what it sounds like.

The funny part is this whole thing was inside. We were in the basement of the hotel. It was very odd to sit on cushioned pool loungers next to a really nice infinity pool, and look up to see a blue ceiling with little blinking LED lights simulating the night sky.

Only in Saudi Arabia.

Another thing that I thought was interesting was the Saudi ladies' swimwear. I'd like to think I wear a pretty conservative swim suit; it's a halter swim-dress two piece with a top that goes just over my hips. Very retro and it offers what I thought was maximum coverage in an age with string bikinis. It was very odd to find that I was the most scantily clad woman in the room! The Saudi ladies wore swim dresses, but under them they wore biker-short-esque swim pants that came down to the knee.

If that wasn't their suit of choice, they wore a bikni top (or a bra), a tank top, and board shorts. The latter outfit appeared to be the outfit of choice for the teen crowd.

I found this to be very interesting. These ladies were in a women-only pool. If a man was going to try to come into this spa, he was going to have to walk through three doors and get past the receptionist desk. And even then he'd have to find the right door to get to the pool. There was no way a man was going to walk by. So why were they dressing so conservatively here?

Maybe this is what they wear when they travel on vacation? Or are they so conservative that they feel the need to cover their bodies even in front of other women? I was perplexed.

But that didn't really matter all that much because I was so freaking relaxed after my massage! I vote I make it a tradition to end EVERY school year with a spa day!

Vicariously yours,

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Saudi Souq

Souq (سوق ) is the Arabic word for market. When people hear about souqs, they get mental images of Aladdin or the Khan al Khalili in Cairo: dusty narrow alleyways with fabric awnings covering a rustic storefront selling handmade crafts, fabrics, and food. Such is not the case, as far as I've experienced, in Saudi Arabia. There are some traditional souqs in the villages outside the cities, but the kind of souqs I've visited in the area where I live have been relatively modern. Still plenty of alleyways, but the storefronts resemble a strip mall more than a flea market.

After work the other day, I went to a souq with Sandra and Mona to shop for gifts for friends. Here are a few shots from the day.

The most common stores in a Saudi souq like this: gold store and abaya shops. This is an example of the typical jewelry store window display.

This one was slightly understated and chic. ...As chic as a necklace that would give Mr. T a run for his money can be.

An example of what one of the alleyways in this souq looks like. Not Aladdin-esque at all, don't you think? Keep in mind that it's totally open on each end. You can't tell it very well from this shot, but at the end of the walkway are a few steps to take you back out onto the main sidewalk of the souq.

I sneaked this quick, mullet-hunt-style shot of Sandra so we could document the shirt in the upper left of the background. We were perplexed by this fashion. Who would wear this shirt? Would she be wearing anything under it, or just let it all hang out? Is the shirt on the mannequin backwards? This is a typical selection of what can be found in the stores here. A clear example of the fact that the buyer for this store is a man.

One of the main sidewalks of the souq. The orange cooler and stuff around it is a little stand selling candy, drinks, hijabs, niqabs, and other shawls. There are a bunch of these all up and down the sidewalks in this souq. The black lump just past the orange cooler is the woman who owns (or at least runs) the stand.

There are tons of formal dress shops in this souq. Saudis don't just wear a nice outfit to weddings. They dress to the nines! A dress like this is an example of a dress a Saudi guest might wear to wedding festivities. This was one of the classier and least tacky options.

Another side alley in this souq.

Look how they spelled "necklace!"

I didn't get to find all the gifts I was looking for, but I had an great time with Sandra and Mona looking at the dresses and laughing at the window displays. I'm excited to return to Saudi at the end of the summer so I can keep hanging out with these great ladies.

Vicariously yours,