by Nina Sabin - Travel
Welcome to Blog #4
Finally, what I have been leading up to in my first three blogs. What it was like to be expat? An expat is short for expatriate and is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than their native country. In my last blog, Saudi Arabia… Where’s That? I ended eluding to the fact that I was able to correspond with an expat mother from the US. She was a neighbor of John’s future boss at that time. Thanks to the blessing of technology, we were able email each other (remember this was 2001, but technology at the time was still impressive). Also, I mentioned God builds on our experiences; the expat mother shared with me that there was a gymnastic program (what I was currently doing at the YMCA in MA), a place to worship, and children’s programs. She even sent pictures of our new home. Knowing these things helped ours mind and heart be put at ease - this only reiterated this was the right decision and God’s will. She put me in touch with the current owner of the gymnastic program. Soon after I arrived, I was able to work as a coach.
Every expat understands what it is like moving all the way around the world; leaving friends, family, and the comforts of home. When you arrive you have basically the key items in a couple of suitcases and a carry-on. Actually, in 2001, the airlines allowed 2 bags a person, especially business class. Eventually, an air-shipment arrives with some essential items you packed, such as a computer for communicating with the rest of the world. This shipment usually arrives about two weeks after you do – at least this was the case for us. In the meantime, your neighbors begin to become family. The expat mother I mentioned earlier was so caring. When we arrived to our new home, she had left a cooler with muffins and milk; so we would have something to eat for breakfast the next day. She even stopped by around mid-morning to get us up and help us start acclimating to the new time zone...and the HEAT.
When we stepped off the plane, that first night in Saudi Arabia, it was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and humid… and it was 1am!!. We couldn’t image what the next day was going to feel like. Since it was August, one of the hottest and most humid months of the year in Saudi, temperatures could get up to 130 plus degrees. At first, we felt thirsty all the time and we never seemed to be able to drink enough water.
Even though I was dressed conservatively when I arrived at the airport, I was not dressed in an abaya which is what women wear in Saudi over their clothes. It looks like a black robe. Ladies also cover their hair with a scarf called a hijab and cover their face with a veil. Later on I purchased the abaya and wore it when I went off camp. I had a hijab but was not required to wear it. The abaya I wore when I went off camp but the scarf I wore only in remote areas or the capital, Riyadh. More on clothing later.
Now back to our first days in Saudi. As we woke up our second morning, we were escorted by the company’s liaison to buy food from the local market, called the Commissary, on the compound. (We lived on a compound owned by the company. It has about 10,000 people on the camp and is about 22.5 square miles. Each person is assigned a house according to the number of people in your family and your grade code (more on that later).) We walked around the Commissary in a daze due to the jet-lag and newness of the whole situation. It takes a while to get used to living in a new culture, with new surroundings, and new population.
It seemed even harder for us to get used to the new surroundings. One reason was we did not get our sea shipment (all of our belongings to make us feel at home) for four months after we arrived. Usually the seas shipment arrives in three months. Our delay was due to the incidents of September 11, 2001. As you all know it was horrific event, and seeing it from Saudi Arabia after not even living there a month, is indescribable. The other issue that held us back from truly getting used to our surroundings is not getting our ID card to use the facilities until two weeks after we arrived. There was some confusion due to our quick arrival after our visas arrived. God gave us the strength we needed during those beginning weeks and also brought people into our life to help us with the adjustment. In my next blog, I will share more about our expat life and more about living on a compound.