I miss autumn. I keep thinking about the colors, the brisk air, and the feel of the leaves under my boots. I miss when sweaters are worn out of necessity (and not because your coworkers insist on keeping the air conditioner at 73). Shadows cast on floors are just not the same without those bits of rust and aged gold sprinkled across the path. I want a hot apple cider and cinnamon burning away on the stove, I want the smell of chestnuts and the voice of my mother insisting I try them. I'm not fond of them, I just like what they represent: family sprawled across the coach, plucking them off the pan and peeling away at the chestnuts even though they are a little burnt and much too hot to eat. I don't have a picture of chestnuts, just leaves and flowers and creatures that live in deeper lands.
Mecca is light and purity. There is such a strong remembrance of Allah and equality, the love for other human beings regardless of their ethnicity or race. Supplications recited in circles, the cool ceramic felt beneath your bare feet, the young flying above shoulders and the old whizzing past your ears. You can't even make sense of what you are saying in that moment, but in your heart of hearts you know that you've never felt anything more real. You push away the past and intentions are made for brand new days.
School is out for the summer and I'm sorting through my closet and packing for a one month trip back to Chicago. I can't believe I've lived in Riyadh for a whole year! As I clean out and organize my things, I realized that I had no idea what to bring with me the first time around.
Things you will need as a teacher in Riyadh:
1.) Long skirts!!! Why I thought all of the dressy/business slacks would do me good, I have no idea. I rarely wore them and I regret bringing so many. Almost all schools/universities require teachers to wear long skirts. Forget about the crisp, white collared shirts. One or two should suffice, invest in casual tops or blouses. Depending on where you teach, most teachers will wear graphic tee-shirts with a cardigan or a bolero to cover their upper arms.
2.) Comfortable shoes!!! Why I left my danskos in the states, I'll never know. On my trip back to Chicago I will invest in some born flats, black danskos, and whatever else I can get my hands on! You will need something comfortable to bear the long hours spent on your feet. The comfortable shoes will come in handy maneuvering the large malls during Ramadan. Shopping is one of the few activities available for women here and it is a great excuse to shed some of the pounds you WILL gain here. Flip flops are okay, but no one really wears them out in public here.
3.) Leggings! I love wearing leggings and a tank top under my abaya. I get bored with my abayas quickly, so I don't like to spend too much money on them. The best fabrics in my opinion are forsan, crepe saloona and georgette. Saloona feels the softest and breathes the best. It lasts the longest and it almost has a dark, charcoal color to it. Check out Royal Mall for affordable abayas in Riyadh (180-250 Riyals is my usual price range). They will tighten, shorten, and add snap closures on the spot, free of cost.
4.) Compound clothes and party clothes. Inside the compound there are a lot of activities, like soccer and swimming so there are no limitations on what to wear. If you attend an all female gathering, almost anything is appropriate. The shinier, the better. (Although tights are usually worn under mini-skirts, I've noticed). Weddings are VERY formal, so fancy dresses are sought after. The second floor of Hayat Mall (King Abdel Aziz Road) is filled with affordable, fancy dresses. The price range depends, but the average price is around 600-800 Riyals.
5.) Warm clothes. Desert winters can be very cold, I don't care what anybody says. You will need at least a few sweaters to get you through December and January. A coat can come in handy, especially if you like sitting outside in the evening with friends.
Good luck and happy packing!
I've been to a handful of weddings in Saudi and one thing is for sure: different regions dance to the beat of a (slightly) different drum. However, the similarities between a Najdi (Riyadh, Qassim) wedding and a Hijazi (Jeddah, Mecca, Medinah) wedding are abundant. The main ingredients are the same: a strict separation between men and women; the incredibly delayed arrival of the bride; the long length of the wedding; the SWEETS, coffee, tea and finger food; the magnificence of the banquet hall; the ill-fitting, painted on, bedazzled dresses; the overly white, garish makeup; and the band of female singers and drummers (tagagat) that belt out the same tunes. You get the idea.
All of these things are fine and I'm sure really fun for the Saudi women who attend. The banquet halls are really beautiful, the chocolate is really good and who doesn't love an excuse to dress up and get their hair done? After all, royal blue, swarovski detailed gowns are a nice to change to black, drab abayas. Saudi women are strong and confident enough to wear whatever they want (even if it doesn't really fit or match their body types :-/ ). Why not eat lavish food at 4 a.m.? It's the weekend! The tagagat are playing the beats they know and love, they are surrounded by their family and friends, and the night is young.
I get it. But I just can't get into it. I attended a wedding last night for a couple from a very religious, uptight and strict region called Al Qassim. From the moment I walked in I was strip- searched at the door. Walking into a Saudi wedding with a cell phone is like walking into an airport with a knife. I understand the great distrust of a 3 megapixel camera phone. I promise, I do. There are some immoral, distasteful people who would photograph and perhaps alter the photograph in a despicable way. With that being said, I don't appreciate the harsh manner in which it is confiscated from me. I guess I just don't like that all of the songs sound the same, and I don't like that the women seem to hold back while dancing (despite the lack of male presence). I don't like the idea that the bride comes in after midnight, seemingly missing most of the wedding. When she does come in, she doesn't seem happy.
The bride last night had such a sadness about her and I couldn't help but wonder why? Why was her sister crying (I'm sure they were tears of joy but they just didn't seem like it)? Why didn't her sister hold her train, why were the workers tending to her dress? Why wasn't she smiling? Was she happy? Didn't she want her new husband there? Didn't she want to dance with him at least once to a really cheesy, cringe-worthy love song? So many questions, so many feelings of uneasiness, of misunderstandings on my part. So many whys and how comes at the wedding, in this country.
God knows best.
Taking pictures of pictures and the sampling of hors d'oeuvres is how we live. When the waitress comes around, resist the tarts, eat the shrimp and devour the macarons. When did we get so old? Watching our weight and complaining of aches and searching the internet for sensible shoes. There is nothing sensible about these words.
Sometimes I feel a sudden sadness here and I'm never really able to explain why. Sometimes it's as silly as not being able to fit in my jeans, or the stores that close almost as soon as they open or the weather that reaches past 100 degrees Fahrenheit on an ordinary day. Currently it's most likely my toothache, that pesky pain that gnaws beneath my molars. I'm just so tired of the pain, the heat, the small gut hanging in front of me due to too much coffee and sweets.
This diet is making me cranky. Summer vacation, please hurry.