We arrived safely to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on July 13, 2015. Our travel with Jacqueline and Jonathan went very well – even with seven pieces of checked luggage, a stroller and two car seats!
The kids were great, and we especially enjoyed our rest stop in Frankfurt, Germany – which appears to be the financial hub of the country – where we enjoyed a dinner of wursts and drank beer and remained overnight at the Sheraton attached to the Frankfurt airport.
This rest stop helped to break the trip up and made it very manageable. Finally, on Monday July 13, we flew Lufthansa from Frankfurt to Jeddah, a five hour flight and the home stretch on our journey.
A bit about Jeddah
Now on to Jeddah – we love it! The city is modern, with excellent roads, beautiful buildings, and great amenities. There are numerous skyscrapers, international hotels and other markings of a thoroughly developed city. The city, as one might guess, lacks the beauty of a Paris, as all cities do, but it delivers handily in western conveniences, ease of shopping, and general livability. It is in fact a wonderful place, one I hardly could have imagined existed in Saudi Arabia. I have no regrets having bid on this location. The supermarket we use is far and away better than anything we ever saw in Colombia, and in fact exceeded our expectations. The malls are beautiful as well. I knew Saudi Arabia was a wealthy country, but so far Jeddah has been better than we could ever have expected.
Our home is great. We live on a housing compound called Al-Basateen Village, which contains perhaps one hundred villas. Our home contains three bedrooms, four bathrooms, a spacious living room that flows into a dining room, a modern kitchen, and a small but comfortable backyard that has a half-fence and faces a walkway between some of the housing units. The aspect of our home that perhaps excites me the most is the maid’s quarters – a small room on the ground level –that I will use as a studio space for music, photography, video and art. We anticipate having household help, such as a housekeeper and nanny, but not someone who will remain overnight. Once our household effects arrive, I will set up my studio with my instruments, cameras, computers, recording equipment, canvases and painting materials. It even has a lock – which should keep Jacqueline out and keep my stuff intact!
Our village has one incredibly beautiful and massive pool, and three smaller pools – I use the big one to swim laps in the morning when the weather is cooler and the sun is not so strong. It also contains a nicely appointed gym, a small grocery store, a restaurant, tennis and basketball courts, a playground, a playroom, an astroturf soccer field, maintenance and landscaping staff, and numerous other amenities. Residents seem to be mostly expatriates in Al-Basateen. Security is very good – Saudi Arabia National Guard has fixed posts at the entrance 24/7, and the place is surrounded with tall walls topped by rings of barbed wire. From the outside, it does look a bit imposing, but it is lovely on the inside, and most importantly we feel safe and happy!
The Consulate is a drive of approximately 20 minutes from our residence on a road known as “Tariq El-Melek Abdul Aziz” which translates to King Abdul Aziz Road. This King unified Saudi Arabia in 1932 and is greatly revered here. His sons have continued to rule Saudi Arabia since his death, and his family, known as the Al-Saud (hence the name Saudi Arabia), are the ruling family here. The royal family is very large. The current King, King Salman, took over after his half-brother King Abdullah’s death in January. King Salman will be the last son of King Abdul Aziz to rule Saudi Arabia, because they are all getting old.
Ramadan and Eid
We arrived during the last week of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, during which Muslims fast during the day (they eat before dawn, and then after sunset). Following Ramadan is a weeklong celebration of Eid and the Consulate was scheduled to be closed, so we thought we would have a week off after arriving. I say “scheduled to be closed” because we all worked that entire week preparing for a high-level VIP visit. The purpose of the visit pertained to the recent P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran. (As an aside, and to illustrate the importance of this visit, Saudi Arabia and Iran are the two regional superpowers and they are usually at odds with each other, since Saudi Arabia is a Sunni country and contains the two holiest sites in Islam – Mecca and Medina – and Iran is the strongest Shia country and arguably one of the main threats to Saudi Arabia) . For those map lovers out there, you may be wondering why this visit occurred in Jeddah, and not Riyadh, the capital and seat of government. It is because the King maintains a palace in Jeddah and sometimes spends the summer months here. The King’s Palace grounds were astonishing and vast and not like anything I’ve ever seen.
Michelle and the kids are doing great, and so am I. It is hot here and the sun is quite strong, so during the summer Jacqueline really can’t go to the pool or play in the playground until about 5 or 6 p.m., but we expect it will cool down a bit soon. It’s not unbearable. The breeze from the Red Sea is a nice respite from the heat.
I can go on and on about topics we find fascinating – Saudi culture, the fact that the work force is predominantly third country nationals (i.e. not Saudis), the remarkable fashions of men (thobes and ghutra) and women (abaya, hijab, niqab), the beauty of the Red Sea, the way the call to prayer reverberates through the air five times per day without fail– but I will save that for another time. I also will send pictures soon.
Please be well…We look forward to seeing you soon and also to continuing to share our lovely experience in Saudi Arabia. This will be an amazing tour, both personally for our family and professionally for me – of that I am certain.