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,

1 comment:

  1. you can always find bacon in the commissary(aramco)*