It brings great delight for me to say that, as of today, (my family and) I have lived one year in Saudi Arabia! What could possibly be a better way to celebrate than to walk down Memory Lane and recall the past events, right?
I have lived when the car felt like an incinerator and I have lived when the car felt like a refrigerator,
I have lived when the toilet was a bit too warm I’d sweat and I have lived when the toilet was a bit too cool I’d shiver,
I have lived when the temperature was as high as 52 degrees and I have lived when the temperature was as low as 1 degrees,
I have lived when the water was scorching hot and I have lived when the water was freezing cold,
I have lived when the sun rose as early as 4:50 in the morning and I have lived when the sun set as late as 6:45 in the evening,
I have lived when the sun rose as late as 6:35 in the morning and I have lived when the sun set as early 5:00 in the evening,
I have seen the desert when it was plain and empty and I have seen the desert when it was spotted with desert shrubs and oases,
I have seen the rocky mountains of Al Hada when it was nothing more but rocks and dry land and I have seen the rocky mountains of Al Hada when I couldn’t see it.
On this day last year (10/2/2015), my family and I arrived at King Khalid International Airport. This event marked the beginning of another new chapter in our lives, especially mine. Until this very moment, what an interesting chapter it is! I have since used about every paper I could find – including tissues – to write down the numerous events that I have experienced in Saudi Arabia.
I realized that the quality of our lives has slightly improved ever since we moved here. However, economically speaking, there are certain trade-offs I had (and still have) to deal with in order to obtain the things I have now. For example, having access to quality food and an abundance of affordable chocolates meant leaving my friends and most of the delicious Malaysian food behind. In addition, it meant not being able to buy a comb of bananas at the night market. Besides that, leaving the humidity of Malaysia meant rarely going outside in peace because here, you can never leave the house without being honked at.
I feel safer here. I mean, how is it not safe when there are drive-through ATMs scattered throughout the city? But to be frank, there were also times when I didn’t feel safe such as during the outbreak of the Yemeni Civil War that happened in early 2015. I remember hearing jets fly low above us and afterwards, I would wait for the series of explosions to follow. Thankfully, that never happened. Other than that, I only fell ill once during the past year. No, I neither went vegan nor completely deprived myself of sugar for twelve months in order to reach this stage of health. Since I have seen none of it in Saudi Arabia (and it is unlikely for me to not spot it because the sky here is clear most of the time), did the absence of chemtrails contribute to my well-being here? Perhaps. For those wondering how I got sick that one time, it was a result of being in the harsh sunlight whilst performing Hajj.
Living in this country has certainly exposed me to the culture and routines of the Saudis – which I find interesting. Ignoring the fact that it might not always be pleasant, it’s nice to see and experience an unfamiliar environment. Here are some interesting facts about Saudi Arabia and its people:
- They perform the five prayers on time. This particular behaviour impresses me. As soon as the call for prayer sounds, shopkeepers temporarily close their shops until the prayer ends. Usually at places where there are many shops, the mosques will be full of people. Besides mosques, they also perform their prayers on sidewalks and on the side of the highway. When they pray, they pray together – this includes at the small mosques along the highway.
- They appear to be very helpful. Most of the conversations I had with the people I just encountered ends with this phrase: If you need anything, just let me know.
- They are generous. At university, I noticed many students print one slide per page of the PowerPoint presentations that our lecturer provides. Some go even further by printing coloured slides! Besides that, most of their generosity can be seen during the month of Ramadan through different kinds of acts of charity such as sponsoring iftar and donating money to the needy.
- They speak English well (do note that this is different from having good knowledge in English). I have been through many situations where the reader says another unrelated word when he couldn’t pronounce a complex word. Still, A+ for effort and confidence! I believe the lack of these two qualities are the reasons why my fellow Malaysians (including myself) are still struggling to speak English eloquently.
- Saudis are the embodiment of a night owl. In other countries, the day is the day and the night is the night but here, it is the other way around! Life begins after the sun sets when it is much cooler to go outside: shops typically close at midnight and weddings don’t end until a couple of hours before dawn. And don’t be surprised if you see a group of people having a picnic at 1:00 AM – it’s totally normal!
When I first heard about my parents’ plans to move to Saudi Arabia, I pictured myself living in intense heat all year round and ugly buildings with hardly any windows. I even Googled “Saudi Arabia” but it did very little help to change that perception – which I admit was very narrow-minded of me. In fact, Saudi Arabia has more to offer other than just the heat and desert. There’s so much of this country that I want to see and I hope to share my future discoveries and adventures with the people living beyond the borders of this country. Although most of the things I mentioned earlier are true, I really enjoy living in Riyadh and despite my reluctance to move to this country a year ago, the only place I want to call home now is Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It is truly a privilege to be able to live here.
So here’s to many more years in this place.