To keep up to date with the story so far, please read Part 10 and the previous installments.
I’m not going to bore you all with the day to day life I had during my entire time in Saudi. Most days were relatively boring, what with work taking up much of my time and then home to have dinner and watch television or go on the computer.
The first few weeks at work were a whirlwind of filling out paperwork, getting more medical tests, meeting all the people I needed to know to get stuff done concerning my job and other things, and the tedious task of dealing with the housing department trying to find a place to live. I was told when I got there that the company had no more bachelor apartments on any of their compounds so I would have to live off compound and they showed me around to some places where other staff lived. None of them met the standards stated in my contract and I told them so. I also said that if those standards weren’t met, I would be on the next plane home. I was suddenly shown an apartment right across from Rashid Mall that was run by a Westerner and had mainly Westerners living in it. The apartment wouldn’t have looked out of place in Canada or the UK and for my first 2 years in Saudi, it was home.
I could walk across the street to the mall and grocery store, a bus from work would pick me up and take me to work each day, and the front desk security guys weren’t too bothered about people coming and going and never once asked me to give them the names of people coming over and the numbers of their IDs for reference. As far as Saudi goes, it was pretty easy going. And it was a mixed building with a couple of families, but mainly singles of both sexes. There was a little swimming pool on the roof away from prying eyes, and a restaurant on the ground floor that really only catered to people in the building. Monday night was steak and mashed potato night. And the steak was always done to perfection.
The first month was tough for some obvious reasons – Family and friends are miles away and 9 hours behind you when it comes to telephone calls and Skype conversations. As it was, I was still in the hotel when my 35th birthday came around so I spent it alone at the seafood restaurant on the hotel’s compound. Pong, the waiter who served me most nights, after I dropped a couple hints, brought me over a piece of cake with a solitary candle in it. It was a nice touch considering this type of cake wasn’t available in the buffet choices!
But as the days roll by and you meet some people, you soon discover that the expatriate community in Saudi Arabia (especially in Saudi Arabia) is very tight. When the two ladies who worked with me returned from holidays (they were what is called local hires – wives of men who were in Saudi working for another company and on their husband’s visas. These types of hires are cheaper for companies as there is no cost for immigration and paperwork, plus their salaries are cheaper and they don’t get the same benefits – medical, free flights home, end of service bonus), my social life went from solely joining the hospital running club 3 nights a week to something like this:
Sunday, Monday, Tuesday – Running Club from 8 pm to 9:30
Wednesday – Quiz night or touch rugby depending on the Wednesday
Thursday – A Filipino band would play on one of the larger compounds and I would go and party
Friday – Holy Day, day of rest. I’d grocery shop or go to the mall in the evening.
Saturday – Start of the Saudi work week back then but in the evening I’d go to a pool BBQ on one of the compounds or play touch rugby or soccer.
My social life in the first year was more active than it was back in Canada. Granted, going on dates didn’t happen, but anyone who tells you that they lived a life of chastity and abstinence in Saudi chose that lifestyle. I joined a hashing club that would go run in the desert every second Friday and sometimes have overnight camping trips. Satellite television meant I could watch all the series and movies from home (without censor on most channels). The only real thing missing was a movie theatre (none in Saudi), and the ability to have pork bacon for breakfasts. But once I got my residency permit and then my multiple entry/exit visa so I could come and go from Saudi as often as I wanted to for 6 months, the short drive across to Bahrain offered me movie theatres, bigger malls, bacon for breakfast, real alcohol, and nightclubs where I re-discovered the silky dance moves that made me a legend in my own mind.
This will conclude the overview of how I got to Saudi and what it basically like. From now on I’ll post random articles about individual events or circumstances that I found interesting, challenging, exciting, or weird. And as always, if there is anything you want to know, little or large, opinion or fact, please ask. I will try and answer the question, even in blog form rather than comment, as quickly and honestly as possible.