Sunday, February 26, 2012

Things to Love About Post - Jeddah Edition

I've been back in Jeddah for more than two weeks now and am enjoying being back in a routine.  The jet lag of three trans-Atlantic trips of 6,000+ miles/22+ hours in three weeks, combined with finally relaxing after two weeks of an emotional roller coaster meant that I was exhausted for most of the first week back.  I timed things so that I'd have one day of work followed by a full weekend, which I think enabled me to get through the next five days at work.  And then I luxuriated in a three-day weekend without plans, followed by just a four day work week.  I'm finally shaking the cold that I got right before coming back to KSA the first time, but I've been super prone to gastro problems (TMI, I know), which started after my mom's aneurysm news and is clearly stress-related but just doesn't seem to get any better.  But it all boils down to being super tired all the time and sleeping most of the weekends. 

My mom is recovering slowly but surely, which is frustrating for her but truly amazing from a medical standpoint.  She's even likely to go back to work in the next few weeks!  Her scar is healing nicely, and they did a pretty good job sparing as much hair as possible. 

I am heading into the last few months at post, which seems quite unreal.  I truly feel like I just got here.  Even though I think I'm having another bout of culture shock, as little things like traffic and prayer times are starting to get on my nerves more than they were a few months ago.  I chalk it up to a normal pattern of adjustment, especially after an extended period in the States.

So in an effort to counteract that, I'm taking Jill up on the optional talking point for this week's FS Blog Round-Up (FSBRU):  things that make you happy at your current post. 

I think the three Saudi posts are ones that some people love to hate.  The harsh climate, the differing cultural and social norms, the restrictions on what many Americans consider normal parts of life, etc.  But I think that's just an easy or convenient way to approach things.  The truth is, living in Saudi Arabia is nothing like what I expected.  At all.  And, yes, there are restrictions and different social norms and fewer cultural outlets a la America.  And yes, it gets really, really hot and humid.  But, when it comes down to it, you can have a really high standard of living here.  So here are some things to love about Jeddah.  (Note:  I do not want to downplay the stress of adjusting to living in a very different and restrictive cultural/social environment, especially for a single female.  But this post isn't about that.)

First of all, you can get just about anything here.  Aside from the obvious things you're all going to point out.  I mean besides those.  But you walk into a grocery or department store here, and you might as well be in America.  The aisles are well-stocked with familiar brands, there are never shortages of food staples, and the prices aren't outrageous.  You can get decent-quality fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, seafood, and dairy products.  The few things I can't find regularly - ricotta cheese, crumbled feta, ginger ale - are not really a big deal, and it makes me oh so excited when I do find them.  Appliances, electronics, home goods, and clothes are in similarly abundant supply.  There's both 110 and 220 volt outlets and appliances, so no need to worry about which to choose. 

On that note, the electricity is stable.  I don't even think we have voltage fluctuations all that often, if at all.  I think last year the power was out for three hours during one day.  And that was it.  Similar with water - even though it's a desert climate, the city desalinates enough water for its inhabitants, and I never have to worry about water supply in my home.  And I pay to have drinking water delivered to my door.  Consistently, reliably, timely.

There's reasonably priced household help.  It's the norm here.  Most people I know have someone at least part-time to help clean.  I have an amazing housekeeper who comes twice a week and every day when I travel (for the cats).  People have drivers (especially women - a necessity), cooks, nannies, gardeners, etc.  Salaries are higher than in other parts of the world, but it's still affordable.  And totally worth it, in my opinion. 

Jeddah has awesome restaurants.  Not only does it have just about every American fast-food and family chain restaurant in existence (if that's your thing), there are really awesome stand-alone, hotel, and local chain restaurants.  You can get pretty much any type of ethnic food you can imagine here, most of it decent and some really good.  It goes without saying you can get great Middle Eastern food in Jeddah :-).  For a price - most restaurants are a bit pricey, especially if they cater to an expat crowd.  Friday brunch at the nicest hotels in town can run you $80 a head.  But you can also have a great two-three course meal with fresh juices for about $15-20.  Most meals out average about $25-40 a person in the more upscale/trendy restaurants. 

Almost all the roads are paved, and the main thoroughfares are in pretty good shape.  There are traffic lights at all major intersections (even if they aren't always well-timed).  This is something many posts cannot claim, and I don't take it for granted (even though I can't drive - but I spend an awful lot of time riding in backseats of vans, and paved roads do in fact make a difference!). 

Since Jeddah is such a hub for travelers coming to perform Hajj or Umrah, there are always lots of flights in and out.  To some pretty off-the-beaten-track places sometimes.  Which is great for traveling and exploring.  And a lot of the time the prices are pretty decent.  I mean, when I had my emergency trip back to the States last month, I bought my ticket less than 15 hours before traveling and still got it for about $800 R/T.  You have to book well in advance for popular destinations and during busy seasons, but that's fine.  Especially for a perpetual planner like me :-).

Perhaps Jeddah's greatest draw is the Red Sea.  We are located right on a gorgeous body of water teeming with exciting marine life.  There are wonderful private beaches where, for a fee, you feel like you're in the Caribbean for a day.  Plus, you can go to the beach year-round, and the water is always warm enough for swimming.  It's occasionally too warm!  Water sports are big here, particularly diving.  Which I fully admit I have not taken enough advantage of.  That's entirely my loss. 

It's sunny about 362 out of 365 days a year.  Yes, sometimes that sun is blisteringly hot, but it's still sunshine.  And the air quality is decent.  Not perfect, but pretty good.  Some people complain about it; I don't notice a problem most days.  Yes, the pollutants from the desalination plants are visible, but, really, it doesn't even compare to a lot of super polluted cities worldwide. 

Perhaps my favorite thing about Jeddah (and key in my bidding strategy) is the abundance of palm trees!  Sure, they're date palms and not my absolute favorite coconut palms, but they're still pretty and everywhere and make me feel calm.

Lastly - I'm getting the opportunity to live for two years in a country that's completely foreign (pun intended) to most Americans, a place where very few people ever get to visit.  And it's a proving to be a fascinating two years!