It is so difficult to find the time to write on this blog. Aramco has us going to activities full time. It is now 6am on Friday. In Saudi Arabia, the weekend is Thursday and Friday. We always went to work and school from Saturday thru Wednesday. So in the States they say, "TGIF" - Thank God it's Friday....over here they say "TAIW" or Thank Allah it's Wednesday! So today at 10:30 we are going to church here and visit a few friends. Honestly, the only people who live here that I know are Mike and Debbie Larsen (who we are staying with), Sue and Dave Alexander (who are getting ready to move back to Utah next week), Rich and Dora Hunter, and Bill and Cory Connor (who are currently out of Kingdom). I can't think if there is anyone else. I will let you know later. I will write about our adventures of the past 2 days. But I first have to say that after being here for several days now, I know that we lived here during the best times.
It definitely does not have the same feel as it did when we were here. There are way less Americans on camp. In fact, some friends of the Larsen's were visiting the other night. They are both school teachers and the lady who taught kindergarten here said she only had one "Western" kid in her class. The others are from everywhere else...South Africa, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, everywhere else. Her husband who teaches 4th grade said he only had 4 Western (American) kids in his class. That is way different than when we were here and our kids had lots of friends from all over, but most of them were American or Canadian or of course, British (can't forget the Wellington's!!). But camp does have a different "feel" to it, and I can tell that truly we did live here at the best time. The other night Lucy and I were driving around (yes, women can drive on the Aramco compound, but not anywhere else) and we saw several groups of Saudi boys out on the streets at 10pm. That was not common when we were here or security would have approached them and broken up the group.
Okay, now to tell you about Wednesday, our first shopping day back to Khobar. Khobar or "Al-Khobar" as it would properly be called, was the nearby Arab town that all of us would go shopping to the most. When we lived here we had Aramco buses that would take us into town and drop us off and had pick-up points (cause us women couldn't drive into town...it's against the law for women to drive) or we could take taxis into town. So Debbie had volunteered to be the tour guide for all the people who had returned for this reunion (which they announced was about 500 of us!). It was so great going back to Khobar. As we were driving in, off to the left was a very large "Dhahran Mall". There are many new shopping malls here. We are more used to shopping at all the little, individual shops. So the bus dropped us off down near Eve's Jewelry (all my women Aramco friends will know where that is), near the Gold Souks and near where Al-Shula mall used to be. Al-Shula mall burned down several years ago. I went to The Silver Museum to get necklaces for my grand-daughters and others with their names in Arabic. I also saw a wonderful shop across from there and found some beautiful pottery. We went into a fabric store, which has fabulous fabrics and designs. Much better than Joann's Fabrics in the states. No comparison. The man waiting on us was Pakistani. All of the shop keepers are men, whether you are buying jewelry, lingerie, dishes, or whatever. He was so attractive, and Debbie and Lucy said I quite emberrassed him by expressing out loud to him that I thought he was incredibly handsome. They said he blushed shades of red, although I find it hard to believe a Pakistani can blush red. He did let me take pictures of him. He told us that he has a girlfriend from Mexico that he met on the internet and they have been communicating for 2 years but have never met in person. Imagine how modern technology has affected the entire world...a Pakistani working in a fabric store in Khobar, Saudi Arabia is in a "relationship" (although it is only a cyber-relationship) with a girl in Mexico. He said they communicate via web cam. My favorite store that I went to was an antique shop, and for the first time I saw Bedouin tribal masks for sale. These are the veils or masks worn by women. They were brightly colored fabric with holes cut out for the eyes, strings tied to the sides so you can tie them around your head, and they had silver coins, beads, etc attached to them. I bought a really cool framed one and also some framed bedouin jewelry. The shopkeeper once again let me take photos. I have to tell you that is one of the most exciting things about being back ...the freedom to finally take pictures. When we lived here we were so restricted about taking photos in public. Mark was always afraid I was going to get us kicked out of the country. But now it has changed tremendously. I have gotten some great photo shots!! The Arabs will pose for photos, men and women!! I just walked the streets of Khobar taking photos of the shops, the crazy names of stores, the scenery, the locals and they way of life, the people, everything! We ate lunch at a Thai restaurant. Of course, (and my kids will remember this) ...we went upstairs in the restaurant and ate during prayer time. Oh yes, that is another wonderful reminder of life here..prayer time! Prayer time is 5 times a day, and when prayer time occurs the stores close down temporarily for about 20 minutes or so, and you have to wait till after prayer time is over to resume shopping. But if you are in a restaurant during prayer time then you can continue eating. So everyone knows how to work the system by entering the restaurant and ordering right before prayer time so that you aren't wasting time by standing on the streets. There were maybe 30 people on our Khobar trip. Khobar is only open for shopping from about 9am till 12noon, then they close for the afternoon (kind of like Siesta time in Mexico...they are closing during the hottest part of the day) and then reopen from 4pm till 9 or 10pm. So we had to leave on the bus to come home after lunch. We are going back to Khobar on Monday and Tuesday. When we arrived back in Dhahran we went to a fair they were having at the Ad-Diwan building. Oh my gosh, there are so many words I had forgotten, but being back for only a few days, it is all coming back to me now...(That is our theme song of the trip...."It's all coming back to me, all coming back to me, It's all coming back to me now!")
I had forgotten the name of that building, but it is a building on camp (meaning the Aramco compound) where we used to have parties and where I did my craft shows when I used to sell my Santa Clauses here. I wish my kids could have been there. Allie and Lindsay would have loved it...walking around and seeing the local vendors with their crafts and artwork. Two Arab women were painting henna on women's hands and arms. Much better than any tatoo I have ever seen! Of course, we got pictures. We had so much fun there and visited with a beautiful 26 year old Indian girl who was raised in Saudi Arabia and is a fashion designer. Debbie bought some fabric from her, and she is going to make Debbie some clothes. We got her email and information. She dressed me in some fabric like an Indian sari, and Lucy took pictures.
Then we went back to Debbie's and got ready to go to an event/dinner at Sunset beach. They had told us to dress nice-casual (whatever that means) . I did not know what Sunset beach was, and so I figured it was at the beach. Isn't that what you would think? I figured it might be a little chilly out and they told us to prepare for that. So I wore a long skirt with a white blouse and a belt and my jacket. But...thinking it was at the beach, I was debating on which shoes to wear. Should I wear thongs (Flip-flops as my kids call them..."EEK, Mom, Don't Say Thongs! They're Flip Flops!!!) or my low heeled black shoes, or tennis shoes. Those were my 3 choices. So I chose to wear tennis shoes. LOL Now I need to explain that when you go shopping in Saudi Arabia it is not a fashion show. The rules for public dress is basically... DO NOT show boobs, butt, or elbows!! (How's that for stating the facts!!) You have to wear long dresses to your ankles (you would never wear a knee-length dress in public!!), your sleeves have to be past your elbows (NO short sleeves at all!!), and if you did wear pants, then you have to wear tops that cover your hips. So in Khobar I wore my long, black skirt, white blouse, and tennis shoes. I wouldn't go out in public like that in the states, but here it doesn't matter and no one thinks anything about it. So I basically changed skirts, blouses, and kept the tennis shoes. I have always known that it is better to be over-dressed at a party than under-dressed, and boy did I get that lesson reinforced. I was so self-conscious because when I showed up at the event women were very dressed up and NO ONE but me was wearing tennis shoes. LOL I am laughing just thinking about it. Lucy assured me that it was dark, my dress pretty much covered my shoes, and most everyone would be looking at my face and not my feet. Thank goodness I could sit down for dinner and have the tablecloth cover my shoes! And by the way, Sunset Beach is not at the beach. It is a fabulous water park, much more elaborate and fancy than anything in the states. They had tons of round tables seating 8 set up along the water front (a man-made beach), seating for 500 people, an Arab band which I had never seen before, buffet tables of Arab food, the water park for kids was off to the right. But like I said, this was a very upscale water park/event center. So when we walked in, walking down a red carpet aisle, there were Arab boys dressed up in gold thobes greeting us with Saudi coffee pots pouring small cups of coffee and handing them to the guests. (A thobe is the long white dress that the Arab men wear. The agutra is the red and white checked cloth they wear on their heads. However, at formal or nice events like this, they often wear a solid white agutra as a way of dressing up.) We have pics of all of this. They all let us take pics and cameras were flashing everywhere, which like I said, is so unusual, and I have never before seen so much photography going on in this country. Before the dinner started, Lucy had to go to the bathroom. So in true girl-friend fashion, I followed along. (you know how women always go to the bathroom in groups...just a weird woman thing!) So we were standing in line when a Filipina girl approached us and told us we could come with her and she would take us to another bathroom. So she led us to a golf cart by a sign that had an arrow leading to "women's washroom". When we realized we were supposed to ride this golf cart to the bathroom we started laughing so hard. We have a picture of us sitting in the golf cart (tennis shoes and all!) beside the sign that points to the women's washroom. So we rode to the bathroom, laughing all the way. What royal treatment!! Then we had a buffet dinner of Middle Eastern food (which, by the way, we have only eaten Middle Eastern food since being here and honestly, we are getting tired of it already), and they had a program where they talked about the reunion (last time they had one was in 2000) and about the progress of Aramco and Saudi Arabia. Bottom line, oil is no problem here. Mafi Mushcala, meaning "no problem". As we were leaving, I wanted to get my picture made with this Arab band. So two band members were standing there with their instruments, and I asked if I could get my picture made with them. They agreed, and I went and stood between them. Lucy motioned for them to move in closer to me and they refused to budge. Heaven forbid they stand too close to a woman and a blonde American woman at that!! So she took the picture anyway.
Then we rode the buses back to camp. Lucy and I had borrowed the Larsen's car, and so when we arrived back at camp we drove around camp on the way home, remembering the events of our lives here. So that was Wednesday, March 11th in Daharan.