The first three months in Saudi Arabia have stretched my senses looking for familiar points of references to filter so many new simulations; and have developed on the other hand my communications instincts to meld with the dozens of languages / dialects using their form of English in the daily mission to truly “be understood”. I soon came to learn that it was question of jumping in looking for the qualities that make us all human. The first experiences remain the most endearing of sorting through the cultural nuances that represents my daily cab drivers, who wants to know where you want to go, and also want to know who you are. On several occasions, my lack of Arabic and the driver’s limited knowledge of English were almost comical, but we are on a campus that has a finite set of streets, so we are off looking for my office building with the help of the driver’s friend on the other end of a cell phone.
So a combination of trust and sheer belief that everything will be fine has shaped my experience thusly. In college, I majored in Intercultural Studies at Trinity College (CT) which essential made me aware of the economic dynamics that likely surround most worlds. However, almost thirty-eight years later, I really understand what the foundational work taught me to appreciate the spectrum of the human experience. One might describe it as tolerance, in the most powerful sense of the word, but curiosity may be more interesting take of what one is really going on in your mind when come to live in area where the prevailing value system differ from yours. Of course, that easily happens in any area when you change cities or neighbors, you actually become an explorer in your own county. Thus, the ability to suspend enough of your familiar life clues, to see and to feel the nuances of another environment, is the first step in a new adventure. The next steps depend on your willingness to take the ride!! Well, I am definitely enjoying the ride.
What are the three things I did expect to find in Saudi Arabia – chocolate, coffee and fruit juice. Starting with the chocolate, I learned a new brand name “Anoosh”. My colleagues greeted me a bowl of chocolate in my two story, one bedroom apartment. I had promised myself, and my doctor, that I would steer clear of chocolate. Well after two pieces of Anoosh chocolate, I forgot all about Godiva chocolate, and I was loss in the best chocolate I had ever had, or so I thought. Over the next month, I came to understand that chocolate eating and sharing is a favor activity in the office. More brands new brands – Patchi, Alibaba, Galaxy as well as Mars bars, M& M peanuts, the list goes on. Chocolate, in combination accompanied with other deserts of all varies and tastes, along with dates, breads can be found in abundance most days in the office area. Saudi Aramco does have a big push for healthy eating, because like other areas of the world, diabetes and high blood pressure can be problems. But as many a Saudi will tell you, cooking and eating consumes a good deal of time. The presence of restaurants chains from United States – McDonalds, KFC, Cinnabon, Krisspy Crème, Ponderosa, and etc. – as well as Lebanese, Chinese and Italian restaurants, large and small, lets you know the population explores and enjoys tastes from around the world. However, your traditional Saudi meal, dominated by rice and chicken/ meat, remains the very tasty staple. There is more I need to learn about the food – seasoning, names, variations and so on – it will be prove to be another adventure. However, I have had a good deal of Lebanese food – hummus, flat bread, and baklava. Fried potatoes slices, French Fries, are another staple.
Coffee is a must. There is the traditional Arabic Coffee or Bedouin Coffee which a clear caffeine drink served in small quantities. The mint tea, which is long standing ingredient of the diet, is delightful. These favors are regularly shared by my office colleagues. The Dhahran Commissary on Aramco Camp (Dhahran) sells instant through roasting beans of coffee from around the world. I opted for an instant brand that I was not familiar; Hintz from Germany, but there was easily dozen to choose from even with the limited stock capacity in commissary. The surprise was the abundance of coffee shops in the cities surrounding the compound and in The King of Bahrain across the causeway. There are Starbucks, Costa, and numbers of local shops where coffee baristas are making the most those distinctive drinks the same they are done in West. The baristas are speaking a mixture of Arabic and English, and by the way, the people seating in the coffee shops are men, because there is separation of seating in shops between men and families which would include women and children. Even the small snack stands in our office areas make
a great cup of coffee to order.
I was asked if I wanted Saudi champagne my first evening out to dinner with two families of four kids. I probably responded with a puzzle look until I realized I was about to be introduced to wonderful world of fresh made fruit juice combinations. Combinations of fruit juices is product of the fact that alcohol is not permitted in the country, but the mastery of mixing fruity tastes is an art form in Saudi Arabia. Strawberry juice has become my new favorite drink of choice, along with thick mango juice with plump. Lemon aide with mint, orange juice, lemon juice and the list goes on with bananas, apples and pomegranate. Now the ideal of meal dominated by a fruit juice drink or as a substitute for coffee is a pleasant thought.
Well to end with the expected, but still astonishing, the desert garden, is beautifully on displace throughout the Aramco Camp. Particularly, along the walking trail that borders the golf course, rolling lawns and lush flowers beds in roadway islands. The pictures attached barely give a sense of the surprising beauty nestled in the sandy landscape.
Next installment – Abayas and the power of the smile!