From Jamie's Philippines Pics

We have also had the opportunity to travel to some amazing places in China, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Bali. We have archived all of our travels and living experiences abroad; and if you wish, you can read about our adventures by finding the archives on the right of this page and by checking our Photo Album.

We appreciate all of our family and friends who have stayed in touch and emailed us with encouraging words throughout the year. We hope you will continue to keep us in your thoughts as we continue our adventure of living abroad teaching at an international school. For those who have stumbled upon our site, check out the "About Eric and Jamie" section on the right for more information.

Thanks for checking us out!

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness."
- Mark Twain

"Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends."
- Maya Angelou






Skype: "ericandjamie"



Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer Schedule 2011

For those wanting to know where we'll be this summer.  If you can, find us sometime and we can have some lunch or dinner and catch up...

June 17 - arrive in Atlanta
June 18 - Cartersville (shopping for Jamie's maternity and golfing with dad)
June 19 - July 3 - Panama City Beach with Jamie's family
July 3 - July 6 - South Georgia visiting Jamie's dad
July 7 - July 28 - Trip out West with Eric's family
July 29 - July 31 - Cartersville
July 31 - August 4 - Denver for Jamie's AP training
August 5 - August 12 - Cartersville
August 12 - August 14 - Minneapolis for Eric's graduation
August 15 - August 22 - St. Lucia!!!
August 23 - 28 - Cartersville
August 28 - fly back to Saudi

Top 10 Worst Things About Living in Saudi Arabia

If you read the Top 10 Best Things, Saudi may seem like a great place.  Here are 10 (11) things that might deter you.  Again, we narrowed it to 11...

11)  Driving -

Driving is pretty hectic.  With 4 lanes at a red light, you can easily expect the car in the far right lane to make a left hand turn cutting off 3 other lanes.  You have to be pretty passive aggressive about driving.  You can't just be  defensive because you'll either get run over or never get anywhere.  You also can't be too aggressive or you'll have an accident every day.  Knocking on wood, I haven't been in an accident yet, but once you see the driving, you'll know it is just a matter of time.

Secondly on the topic is the "law" that women cannot driving in the Kingdom.  This is more of a nuisance than anything.  Many women take taxis or the compound bus to get around.  Jamie doesn't care to drive anyway, but it would be nice for her to be able to go out somewhere if she wanted.

10)  Family Sections -

Again, more of a nuisance, but seating in restaurants and public places are divided to segregate the sexes.  Males who are alone cannot sit with women who are not their relatives, so there are "single male" sections and "family sections."  Jamie has more of a problem with this than I do, but we've been asked to leave a certain area that isn't clearly labeled and move to a "family section."

9)  No Alcohol! -

The fact that I have this one at #9 might be surprising.  Neither Jamie and I are big drinkers, but it would be nice to have a drink at a restaurant every now and then.  Many people on compounds all over the kingdom brew, still, or make their own spirits, so you can get a drink if you want.  There is always going over to Bahrain, but that is an hour or more away.  Either way, it is annoying.

8)  No Pork! -

This is one that does get to you after a while.  Bacon, porkchops, pull pork sandwiches are all out of the question while living in KSA.  I have resorted to turkey bacon, which actually isn't that bad and is even better for you, but we sure have missed our pig eating when we are home or in other countries.  Some people smuggle pork into Saudi from Bahrain, but we do not or haven't yet.

7)  No Cultural Interactions -

Saudis stay to themselves and rarely talk to you.  With the boom of western restaurants and stores in Khobar,  living there isn't that much different that suburbia US.  Dress codes are different and it is more "brown," but you can forget you live in a different nation if you really want to think about it.  While living in China, there was never a doubt you were living in China.  Every day, you could go outside and experience China for what it was, both good and bad.  Living in Khobar isn't that cultural experience, and it is something we sorely miss about living in China.  Perhaps if we make friends with some Saudis, things will change, but for not, we miss the feeling of living abroad.

6)  More Expensive -

Electronics are the most noticeable.  A TV can be hundreds of dollars higher.  A PS3 maybe only 100 dollars more.  Our grocery costs are about 25% higher than what they were in the US, but this could be for a couple of different reasons: 1)  overall inflation after 3 years due to the economy and 2)  we buy more imported westerner products.  If we purchase more local stuff, our bill might be lower.  Our car was about the same if not a little cheaper.  Our main comparison though is the overall cost of living difference than what we came to expect in China, which as very inexpensive to live.  Of course, we do save in gas.  Flight out of Dammam or Bahrain can be quite pricey, so you have to book way in advance and even look for deals.  People who have lived in Saudi Arabia for a while and made their money believe that living there is cheap.  I guess if you have lived there a while and banked some money, it does appear that way.  In reality, I disagree, but we'll see in a few years.

5)  Pull Tabs -

You know.. the tabs on coke cans that you used to have to pull completely off when you were a kid.  Yeah, Saudi hasn't advanced to the tabs remaining on the can after opening, so what you are left with is a dangerous, sharp metal tab that you have to throw away separately.  I hate it and thought about putting this #1.

4)  Customer Service -

Or lack thereof.  Unless it is a foreign worker, customer service in the Kingdom is practically non-existent.  Calling an Internet service provider can literally make you throw the phone across the room and swear profusely (not that I would know), and the bank is nothing short of a ridiculous experience.  A better example comes when you go to purchase a car.  Saudis who work at the car dealer literally could care less if you purchase a car and will only help you if you go up to them personally and ask as many questions as possible.  Again, if it is a Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, or other foreign worker, things are much better and they will go out of their way to help you.  Saudis, however, has the worse customer service you will ever see.  Now, it isn't that big of a deal, but when you first arrive and have no car, no phone, and no clue of what you are doing, it is frustrating have no help.

3)  Prayer Times -

Muslims are required to pray 5 times per day beginning with the sunrise and ending with the sunset.  The entire country of Saudi Arabia shuts down during prayer times.  Businesses are forced to close their doors, so if you have business to conduct, groceries to buy, or places to go, you'll have to work around the prayer schedule, especially in the afternoons.  Most places of business are fully open after 4:00 pm.  Some stores do not open at all until then, but most are also open for a brief time in the mornings.  We keep a prayer schedule on the refrigerator and in the car console and constantly have to refer to it every time we go out.  The worst thing is to have your groceries in your cart and not make it to check out before prayer.  We have gotten used to going in right before prayer and doing our shopping during prayer, which most grocery stores will allow.  Overall, the prayer times take some time to get used to and impede our day to day life.

2)  Boring -

No alcohol, no movie theaters, no cultural functions, no bowling, skating rinks, nothing...  There are some decent parks, but it is just too dang hot many days to enjoy them, plus the women have to wear abayas (see #1).  We have compound activities that we do (poker, Settlers, pool, work out, walk the dog).  I have been going to Aramco for ultimate frisbee, basketball, and softball.  Some people go to beaches on the weekend or in the desert for camping or digging.  We watch a ton of TV and movies and have caught up on many fantastic shows that we had never watched before.  The only reprieve are the people who become your friends and the ability to go to Bahrain, although it was shut down for some this year due to protesting.  Saudi is a boring, hot place, so you have to find ways to entertain yourself and your family.

1)  Abayas -

This one certainly Jamie's #1, but it is something I loathe about the country.  I call them "oppression shrouds," but women are required to wear them when going out in public.  It is like a long muumu dress that is long sleeved and black (always black).  Some women have abayas that cost thousands of dollars.  Western women are not required to cover their head, but many Saudi women are covered head to toe in black.  Of the Saudi women, 1/2 cover everything but their eyes, and the other half cover their entire face.  Abayas must be loose fitting as to not show the figure of the woman.  They are loose fitting but still hot for the women.  The thing that infuriates me the most is the concept behind it all.  Women in Saudi are not be seen or heard and are regulated to staying at home.  You see women everywhere, but they are always covered, a constant reminder of their 2nd class status.  If I have a daughter, I we will certainly move before she comes of age enough to know what is going on concerning the abaya.  That is how strongly we feel about it and why it is our #1.  Nonetheless, it is what it is and Jamie carries on with it.  Her only positive thing is that she doesn't have to worry about what she wears to town.  She just throws it on before going out.

There you have it. The top 10 (11) worst things about living in Saudi Arabia.  Feel free to let me know what you think.  

Top 10 Best Things About Living in Saudi Arabia

Well, we actually narrowed it down to the top 11.  Nonetheless, here goes...

11)  Labor Costs -

Neither Jamie and I are really used to this, but it is a nice lifestyle.  In the US and most other western nations, having a housekeeper, car washer, and gardener would be too much of a cost on the budget.  A couple of families on the compound have a live in maid, which we don't think we'll ever get, but certainly seems appealing if you have a few kids.  The men who work on the compound (mainly from Pakistan and India) have regular hours where the take care of maintenance on the compound itself; however, before and after work, they wash cars and do other personal maintenance request you may have.  Just recently, we had a guy build a fence and put in a doggie door for us.  We don't mind helping these guys out because their service for us pretty much double or triple their monthly salary.

10)  Location for Traveling -

This year wasn't nearly as busy for our traveling as our 2 years in China, but the area where we are is a great location to see 3 continents.  The only drawback is that the cost of flights are more expensive than they are in southeast Asia, but pretty much everything is more expensive than it is is SE Asia.  This year, we went to Bahrain, Sri Lanka, and Turkey, while I was able to go to Nepal and Jamie to Kenya.  With the birth of our child, it might slow us down a little bit, but we hope that in the years to come, we can take advantage of our location to 3 continents, mainly Europe.

9)  Bahrain -

Bahrain has pork, alcohol, a nightlife, movie theaters, and goods you can't find in Saudi.  You can't bring the pork and alcohol back into Saudi, but it has been nice to go over there on the weekends and enjoy these things.  Women can drive and Jamie doesn't have to wear her abaya.  At a minimum, it takes about 45 minutes to get there if you can get through customs quickly; however, it can take nearly 2 hours if the causeway is busy.  Many people go on early Friday morning to avoid the traffic.  Ric's Kountry Kitchen has a great breakfast and City Center Mall has been our favorite place to see a movie.  Overall, it is a nice getaway from the bore of Saudi Arabia.

8)  Shawarmas -

According to wikipedia, a shawarma is

"an Arab[1][2] sandwich-like wrap of shaved lamb, goat, chicken, turkey, beef, or a mixture thereof. The meat is placed on a spit, and may be grilled for as long as a day. Shawarma is a fast-food staple across the Middle East, Europe and the Caucasus.
Shawarma is eaten with pita breadLavash bread, tabbouleh salad, fattoush salad, taboon bread, tomato and cucumber. Toppings include tahinihummus, pickled turnips and amba.
Shawarma has many variants and names in preparation, serving style, and name. The word shawarma(pronounced /ʃəˈvɑːrmə/) comes from the Turkish word çevirme [tʃeviɾˈme] 'turning', though the dish is usually called döner kebab 'turning kebab' in Turkish. In Greek, it was formerly called ντονέρ /doner/, and now called gyros 'turned'; in Armenian, it is "tarna", literally meaning "to turn"."

You can get shawarmas just about anywhere, but we have our favorite place downtown at this little hole in the wall.  It seems like every family has their favorite place to get their shawarmas, so it is nice to hear of other places.  We ate the doners in Turkey, but we seems to like the ones on Saudi better.  

7)  Availability of Food - 

In comparison to China, we can get just about anything we want in Khobar.  Obviously, pork and alcohol are out, but many items are available somewhere.  Tamimi's (formerly Safeway) is our favorite place to shop due to availability of goods and location.  The prices are at most 15% more than US prices, although some items are the same or even cheaper.  Turkey bacon can be found sporadically.  Tostidos are also a hot item with westerners, so we always stock up if we can.  Cheerios are in and out, so if they are in, I usually buy 3 boxes or so.  Cheese is not as expensive, but fruits, fish, and nuts are very expensive.  Along with groceries, there are a wider variety of western restaurants, although they can be pricey too.  My favorite is Chili's, although I'm glad there is Burger King and Hardee's.  We have been to the Macaroni Grille with gift certificates and it is quite good too.  

6)  Coworkers and Our Jobs - 

Jamie is happy at the high school, and finding her a high school social studies position was one of our main objectives in moving schools.  I have settled in teaching 7th grade math/science at the middle school.  We are both pretty satisfied with our jobs.  We have the opportunity for some professional development opportunities as well as leadership opportunities that we wouldn't have had in our last school.  ISG is a solid system to work for as a not for profit organization.  We are located right next to the US Consulate, so security is as good as it gets.  Our students for the most part are hardworking, although they have quite a bit of support from home.  The high school where Jamie teaches has 100% of its graduating students go to a university.  We have great and supportive coworkers, many of whom are also our neighbors and friends.  They have made the transition to Saudi Arabia easier.  We hope that we have these friendships for many years to come.  

5)  Gas!!!

Not much I can say here other than... 40 cents a gallon, $9 to fill up my Chevy Trailblazer, and just as important, you don't have to pump your own gas.  Many gas stations additionally give you a couple of tissue boxes if you fill up.

4)  Weather - 

This one may shock some people, but the weather where we live is actually pretty amazing 8 months of the year.  During the summer, we aren't there anyway, so we have to endure the heat during June and September, but the other months are pretty amazing.  Rainfall is less than inch per year and the winter is very mild.  During the winter, you thrown a light jacket in the morning and evening, but wear short sleeves during the day.  The heat is pretty unbearable beginning in May, but the humidity isn't near where it is other places, so it is actually pretty bearable.  Overall, we've enjoyed the weather, despite the heat index in August reaching 146 on some days.  

3)  Housing - 

Westerners are required to live in a secure, walled compound.  Compounds vary in size and amenities.  Our compound is An Nassim, and overall we have enjoyed our stay there.  This year, we lived on the 2nd and 3rd floor of a 3 story villa.  There was a single lady who lived underneath us.  This next year, however, we have a full 3 story villa, which doubles our living space from last year.  We have a front patio, back patio, and even a grassy fenced back yard.  Many families have decorated their villas so well, it is hard to believe you live in Saudi Arabia.  The villas come furnished.  Some families replace all of the furniture and some keep it the same.  Jamie and I will do our best to make it look and feel like home as much as possible.  Home is where you make it.  

Compound life for the most part is quite dull, however, there is a weekly poker night.  Some women get together for yoga, and we play Settlers of Catan every Friday.  About once per month, most people on the compound get together for some sort of pot luck dinner or celebration and Thanksgiving dinner is always prepared.  If you are lucky, you can also go to the Canadian thanksgiving.  If you've seen our compound video, you'll see that we have tennis courts, a pool, and a pretty nice rec center and library.  My largest problem is that there is not a field where kids can play.  We plan on making villa 104 our home for a while, and I can think of worse places to live.  

2)  Money - 

No one, and I mean no one, moves to Saudi Arabia for the culture, scenery, or weather.  The lifestyle I have described above is what it is for one reason... money.  While we don't make quite as much as we would in the states, our money is tax free, our housing is paid for, our health care taken care of, and insurance is pretty inexpensive.  Moving to Saudi has pretty much doubled our salary from China if you count the tutoring money.  Tutoring students has been a positive experience overall for us, and it can be quite lucrative.  My tutoring money alone takes care of our living expenses, so it allows for us to send most, if not all, of our money home to the states.  Our school's package isn't the best in the Middle East, but it is pretty good overall.  

1)  Leaving Saudi Arabia - 

Overall, the best thing about living in Saudi Arabia is when you get to leave Saudi Arabia.  See our Top 10 Worst Things About Living in Saudi Arabia to see why this is #1.  Whether it is coming home for winter break, going on vacation in Turkey, or going to Bahrain for the day, leaving Saudi Arabia is what everyone eventually wants to do.  While it is a fine place to live for now and even start a family, we'll be just fine whenever we do leave the country for good.  We'll probably never look back despite all of these wonderful things I have listed above.  

Saturday, June 18, 2011

1 Year in the Kingdom

Jamie and I just finished our 1st year living in Saudi Arabia.  For the most part, it was as we expected.

Our first few weeks and months were quite frustrating at time adjusting to prayer schedules, random store hours, no vehicle, inconsistent Internet, and being stuck in Saudi.  The 2nd half of the year was more routine when we bought our vehicle, had a decent Internet connection, and were able to go to Bahrain when we wanted.

We had our trips, but they were not as numerous as our trips when we were in China.  I was able to go to a leadership conference in Kathmandu, Nepal, Jamie went to Istanbul, Turkey for a MUN conference, as well as Kenya for a Habitat for Humanity trip.  We went to Sri Lanka as well as Turkey for our two trips and enjoyed both.

Overall, Saudi living isn't that much different than living in the US.  Exchange churches for mosques, add in prayer times and store closings, get rid of the alcohol, force the women to wear black robes, have very few traffic laws, increase the heat, lower your customer service expectations, add in foreign laborers, and up the security for all housing, and you'd have Saudi Arabia.  Similarities include the restaurants (minus pork and alcohol) and overall the general stuff you can buy.  There is much more you can purchase in Saudi than in China.  Price of gas is about 40 cents a gallon, which is nice, but other products more than make up for it.  Electronics are very expensive and random food items can be double the price.

Our next blog post will be the top 10 best things about living in Saudi Arabia as well as the top 10 worst things about living there.  It will give you more insight into what we think of living there.

Again, overall, a great experience so far.  We have another year on our contract, and we'll see what we want to do after that.  We moved into a new villa that has 3 floors, so Griffey is happy because he has more room as well as a fenced in back yard complete with a doggie door.

Check our next posts for those top 10s. 

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