A half hour left in the flight and I made my way to the bathroom to put on my hijab and abaya. As we descended over Riyadh, I kept tugging at my headscarf while ping-ponging between watching Hillary Clinton announce Tim Kaine as her running mate on the live feed on CNN at my seat and glancing out the tiny plane window upon the sea of lights - dimmed by the dust in the air - signalling our arrival. It was by far one of the most surreal moments of my life!
The arrival was simple...pass through customs, get my picture taken, give fingerprints, collect my luggage and greet Dave. This time, our greeting was different with just a smile and a "hello!" as opposed to our traditional hug and kiss session. Friends of ours were gracious enough to give us a ride home and as we drove along the darkened streets, I realized that I was now in my new home...
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
If anyone would have told me two years ago that I would living full-time in the Middle East, I would have laughed. Sure, Dave and I had talked about the idea, but I really didn't think it was possible. And yet, here I am.
We live on a compound with other expats, much like the US Army bases I grew up on. There are pools and play areas, green spaces, a market, tennis courts, and a gym. I've been spending my days doing yoga, walking around, working out, and learning more about compound life. Things do work differently here and I am slowly finding my way, step by step.
It is hot. Like - take-a-hairdryer-blow-it-up-10,000-times-and-aim-the-hot-dry-air-at-your-body-all-day - kind of hot. When the wind stirs up and the dust blows hard, it's challenging to get outside. Thankfully, my walks outside from one space to another are short. Dave has assured me that when things do cool down, I will want my sweaters in the evenings.
And, yes, we brought sweaters. Knowing that we would be traveling from time to time to places that afford us views of ice and snow and breaths of cool, crisp air, we wanted to ensure we had what we needed. While the majority of the small amount of possessions we have are housed in a storage unit back in Canada, we did bring two
I've been off-compound a few times. The shops here are exactly as we have at home and many of the women will take the bus for some time in the malls and shops around the city. There are Burger Kings and Starbucks, Longhorn Steakhouses and Applebee's. These are nestled amongst the local shops adorned with their beautiful script and architecture that continuously remind me that I'm not in Kansas anymore, Toto. There is so much to see and do, it is just a matter of making arrangements as women are not permitted to drive here.
If anyone were to ask how I am feeling about this transition... it is odd. I am in a new home in a new land. I've been so lucky to already have met some amazing people, yet I long (already!) for some of the conveniences of home. I feel privileged to be able to have this experience, and I know it is a choice we made to be here. I'd also say that, as I get older, I do find it more and more challenging to break into community...to make new friends and start over yet again, but hey...this is my life and the path I have chosen to walk! Most of all, Dave and I are so happy to be back together again...life is better this way.
I'm excited to learn and share more, to drop into a sense of community and to re-establish myself in yet another part of the world.