Well, I've been in Jeddah for a month now. I've experienced some highs and lows, as is to be expected, and I'm seeing glimpses of the trough of cultural adjustment on the continuum, though I am still in the honeymoon phase. I had such a tragic entrance to Saudi that I wonder if my continuum will be different than usual. I miss Hattie every day, some days painfully so, perhaps partly because living with the kittens is so different from living with my very well-adjusted, calm dog. My daily routine is very different as I don't have to schedule walks and ensure I'm not gone from home too long. Living abroad this time is different, also, because I still have a lot of the creature comforts of home (US mail, US work environment, logistical assistance) and because I have internet at home. While it's not the best or fastest internet, it still allows me to skype and call home and watch Netflix.
The two things that are starting to irritate me, signaling a downward phase of cultural adjustment, are the abaya and not being able to drive. I've experimented a couple times not wearing the abaya (or wearing it open, or tying it around my waist) with no problems, though I'll have to continue to test the waters. As for not driving, it's hard. Even though I can almost always get a driver and car to go anywhere I need to when I want to go, there's less spontaneity in my life these days. Every little trip requires at least some forethought and planning. I also miss being alone in the car; that's always been where I've done a lot of thinking and reflecting. There's nothing I can do about it, and I'll make the most of it and come to a happy medium, but I expected the novelty of having a driver to last a bit longer. I'm not complaining, just commenting. I knew what I was in for, but it's a bit more of a pain than I anticipated.
Interestingly, because my work life contains a lot of long-range planning, two years seems very short. In the past when I've lived abroad, six months feels like it could stretch out for years, but now I'm actually wondering how I'll manage to schedule vacations... I'll manage, of course, but there's just so much to think about and plan for.
Today is day three of a nine-day vacation for Eid al-Fitr. Ramadan is finally over, so I am getting a glimpse now of 'real' Saudi Arabia, not the modified Ramadan version. You're allowed to eat and drink during the daytime, stores and restaurants have normal hours, and people are coming back from long summer holidays. I received my residency permit and exit visa right before Eid, which means I can now leave the country; I do wish, though, that I'd known ahead of time I'd have travel availability so I could have planned a trip. Oh well. There will be plenty of opportunity to travel over the next two years.
I am making the most of the holiday and getting back into one of my favorite hobbies - diving! I got certified in South Africa several years ago, but the last couple years have been devoid of any diving. I did a quick refresher course the other day and then did a day-long boat trip with three dives yesterday. Tomorrow is a half-day trip with two dives, and I may go for another day later in the week if I'm feeling up to it. The diving here is wonderful, though at least for the few dives I've been on, it's not quite as spectacular as I thought it would be. I think in some lesser-traveled places the coral will be more vibrant. Or maybe diving French Polynesia spoiled me for life... Still, I can't complain. Abundant, accessible reefs with ample sea life, as well as many wrecks are all in easy reach. Yesterday I saw a giant puffer fish and a blue-spotted sting ray, along with dozens of beautiful tropical fish species. I am a sucker for rays, so I was thrilled.
The dive conditions are wonderful. I'm going through a company that was recommended to me by colleagues, and it has surpassed expectations. The staff, crews, and instructors are professional, courteous, accommodating, and encouraging; the dive boats are well-equipped; the rental gear is in good shape; prices are reasonable; and the atmosphere is relaxed and fun. The water is amazingly warm, almost hot, and a wetsuit isn't necessary. The water is beautiful, though visibility is poorer than I would have expected.
My kittens finally have names - Griffin (gray) and Callaghan (white). Their lives have not changed a bit since this happened, of course. I just don't feel like a bad pet owner anymore. We're settling in to a nice routine, though I am still frustrated at not being able to keep them off of surfaces like tables and counters. I need to get a water gun... They're happy, cuddly, playful, and furry, so life is good.
Anyway, time to get a good night's sleep before another boat adventure. I love living next to the water again. Maybe over the next two years I'll progress from pasty white to slightly less white. A tan is too much to ask of my sensitive skin, I think, and the price of getting one (horrific sunburns) is too high. So SPF 85+ for me it is!