A Letter From Saudi Arabia Dear Mr. LMN, Hope you are doing well. How are things at the Academy? I am doing just fine here in Al Arabiyah as Saudiyah1, ever heard that name before? It is just the local short name for Saudi Arabia. It is already a year since I left US and now I am almost half way through the two years that I am spending here. Theres a lot that I want to tell you about my experience so far.
I always wanted to leave Westford for good, but had never imagined that I would someday be doing a job in Saudi Arabia! It all started when I got this new job with the Saudi Arabian Specifications and Standard Organization (SASSO)2. My Uncle has a close friend in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. So one night my uncle asked me if I would like to live for two years in Saudi Arabia, and then he told me about this job opportunity for which they required a qualified engineer in structural architecture. It wasnt exactly something that I had planned in life, but I always wanted to experience life in a different atmosphere, and this was the perfect opportunity for me to do so so here I am! I work in a Water conservation-desalination1 plant in a town called Khumrah which is 30 miles south from Jeddah3. It is a small town with a population a little less than Westford3.
Where I live is very close to my work, barely a 5-minute walk from the plant. Since there arent many trees around the place I live, it is usually very hot in that area. The average temperature here in Summer is really killing!! Sometimes it gets as high as 94 degrees Fahrenheit in summer, its an extreme climate here4! It certainly is a big change from Westford! It makes me sweat a lot, but I have gotten used to that. Even now I still calculate the temperature in Fahrenheit, whereas this country follows the metric system, which is sometimes confusing, but thats just part of the experience. But I am really thankful to my uncle, he did give me a lot of tips about staying here. For instance the kind of clothes that I should pack, what vaccinations I should take before leaving other than those required by the Saudi consulate such as the ones for cholera5.
So I guess, I was pretty much packed up when I left America. I live in a small 2 story building, in a 2-bedroom apartment- building6 with Umar, the son of my Uncles friend. The apartment building has no parking lot, there is no reason to have one because not many people in this town own cars for themselves. At first, that really surprised me! I and Umar have become really close friends now. He too works in the same plant with me.
He can speak some English, although he can understand everything I say in English, which is something that I am really thankful for- Its one of the best things to happen to me. You will not find many English-speaking people here. In only 60% of the population of people 15 years and older can read and write1. Anways. so we live on the 2nd floor and there is an Arab family that lives downstairs.
The first day, when I arrived at the Jeddah airport, I was amazed by the way the airport is designed, it looks more like the ancient Islamic architecture that I had seen much of in the travel brochures on the flight. It took a while to clear the customs, especially since the import laws here are very strict7. After clearing the customs as soon as I was at the arrival terminal Umar was there to receive me. He recognized me with the help of a photograph that my uncle had mailed to him. Since I am a Muslim, I had some knowledge of Arabic, from what Iittle I had learnt in Islamic school, but that was twenty years ago!! Anyway, so I greeted Umar, in what I though was an ancient Arabic greeting- As salaam O Alaiqum8, he replied by saying Wa Alaiqum As Salaam.
But later, I discovered that there was nothing ancient about it! Its the formal way of saying hello to someone, technically speaking, in English it translates to peace be upon you and its part of my Arabic vocabulary now. There are several forms of greeting in Saudi Arabia. The most common one is a handshake, called the salaam with the right hand and the phrase As salaam O Alaiqum Frequently, males follow the greeting by extending the left hand to each others right shoulder and kissing the others right and left cheeks. The form of greeting changes depending upon the person being addressed. When accompanied by a woman wearing a veil, a man would not normally introduce her, and one does not expect to shake hands with her.
The term for Good morning is Sabah al-khair, and for Good evening it is Masah al-khair. A casual hello is Marhaba.3 Its always a good thing to know these phrases, if sometime you get in trouble, they act somewhat similar to the phrase I come in peace in English!!! Anyways. so once Umar found me he jokingly told me that he would have recognized me even without the photo, because of the peculiar dress that I had worn, although I laughed that off, but that was the first time that I felt weird being in a T-shirt and jeans. Most people I had seen were dressed in long clothes that covered them fully. Males dress in a white robe with a flat turban for the head, while women wear veils which cover them fully from head to toe, except the face4.But it isnt like that in every part of Jeddah, or for that matter even the whole country.
Many men prefer wearing western outfits such as shirts and trousers, while some women in cities also wear skirts which are about knee-length. 6 For probably the first time I felt as if I was the odd man out! Anyways. very soon I and Umar were on our way to Khumrah on a hired taxi. It was a bumpy 2 hour drive, mostly because of the bad road conditions, not all roads in Saudi Arabia are like that though1. The hot weather made it even worse for us.
We reached the house, and no sooner had we started unloading the baggage than a gentleman came up and lend us to helping hand. After we were done with the unloading, I thanked him and then Umar introduced us to each other, his name is Khaled Bin Ahmad. He is the tenant of the apartment on the first floor and lives with his wife Asma, a son Ashfaque and a daughter Fatima. Most people have more than 2 children, usually the number of children in each family is 3-41. We are pretty good friends now, his family usually invites me to dinner at their home with Umar.
I love the food here. Saudi dishes are composed mainly of rice with lamb or chicken and are mildly spicy. Kabsah, which is rice and lamb, is a favorite dish throughout the country. Rice is also often served with vegetables and a green salad. Fruit is frequently eaten for dessert, accompanied by Saudi coffee, which is brewed with cardamom. Seafood is popular on the coast, and there are many varieties of fish. Coffee or tea is served before all meals. Buttermilk is also a popular beverage.
In general, food is eaten with the fingers of the right hand only. Bread may be torn with the left hand but is eaten with the right.3 I really had to get used to this habit, at first I was very clumsy breaking the bread, and eating the rice, but now I think I have pretty much learnt the proper way of eating. Khumrah doesnt have many restaurants10. I had once been to one in Jeddah with Umar. Hotel restaurants offer a variety of types of cuisine, including Chinese, Indian, Italian, Japanese, and North American. Traditionally, the main meal of the day is in the mid-afternoon (usually after 2 PM), when children are home from school and parents from work.
But those whose offices remain open in the afternoon now have their main meal in the evening. 4 Conversation is often minimal during the main course of a meal; people prefer to talk before and especially after the meal, while they drink tea or coffee. I generally am very talkative at lunch, but Umar doesnt mind it, he is quite understanding. But when I am Khaled Aqhas home it would be rude to talk while eating. 4 Although I am a Muslim, it is sometimes difficult for me to believe the diversity that exists between an American-Muslim …