Living Abroad – Week 1

Wow, it’s amazing that we’re officially expatriates now.  The jet lag has passed, the kids are getting back to normal and we’re starting to figure out how to get around here in Saudi Arabia.  For the next few weeks, we’ll be writing a bit of a journal sharing our experiences of adjusting to a new country and culture.

We officially left the US on March 3 and had a 30+ hour flight ahead of us where we would land 2 days later.  To say that it went smoothly would be a massive understatement.  Our only major problem was at our ticketing counter at the first airport.  However, when you have all of the grandparents there to help with the insane amount of stuff you have plus your 3 anxious kids, it’s not too hard to deal with grouchy airline people.  Our first leg of the flight from Salt Lake to Los Angeles was actually the most uncomfortable, but I’ll tell you more about that later ;)  Everything else went more perfectly than I could have imagined!

When we arrived in Jeddah Saudi Arabia, it was almost 4 am, hot, and very humid.  What in the world were we thinking?  Honestly if it felt like that without the sun up, I was quickly doubting my ability to survive here in our new climate.

The Jeddah airport is…well…interesting.  Not only is it an old, dirty airport, but it was PACKED.  Yes, at 4am!  You would have thought this was the busiest time of day to travel :)  In addition to regular residents and people on business, this is the airport that everyone goes through on their pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca.  Instant culture shock!  Not only am I exhausted, but suddenly I’m in a strange airport with thousands of Muslims fully adorned in their pilgrimage clothing, speaking a new language to me.  Thank goodness we had someone meeting us there (who took us to the front of every line and helped us the whole way) or I would have been tempted to hop on the first plane back to the luxury we saw in Dubai!

Once we finally got through customs, drove out to KAUST (where we will be living), and got our housing assignment, it was about 8am – 10pm back home!  Thankfully the kids went right to sleep and stayed that way until after noon.  Andrew and I stayed awake knowing that we needed to get adjusted to the time as quickly as possible.

A typical KAUST street.


We have been incredibly blessed to have wonderful friends right away who have taken such good care of us.  We connected with a few families around Christmas who not only helped us with all of our questions before the move, but instantly helped us when we arrived.  They all pitched in and took us all over that first day helping to stock our cupboards, make doctor arrangements for me, and haul us all over the place since we won’t have a car for a while.

The kids loved that first day and were quite excited about their new surroundings, especially this guy who “finally” got to see the Red Sea.  By dinner time that night, the kids were wasted and quickly fell asleep.  Not to get too excited, they all were up around 1am!  After 2 hours of fighting sleep, Andrew just turned on a movie for them so that at least the two of us could get a little bit of sleep.  After that first night the kids all slept pretty good – PHEW!

Knowing that the next few days would be the hardest, we planned lots of fun activities for the kids.  As much as we could, we kept the kids outside since they typically do better in stressful situations when they’re outdoors!

While Andrew headed to work, the kids an I headed to the beach the next day.  The beach is just a few miles from our house with a bus going right to it from the grocery store.  With lots of excitement, the kids splashed, digged, and swimmed their little hearts out.  The beach not only has lots of chairs and umbrellas (I felt like I was at a resort), but they also have toys for the kids, and lots of inflatables out in the water (like an inflatable trampoline and rock climbing wall).  Not only is the beach really fun for the kids, but there are  lots of little fish in the shallow water and non-stinging jellyfish (Mason tested that out and then caught a few dozen).  I left with 3 exhausted and super happy kids!


Our first Friday (the Saudi Sabbath) was a nice low-key day where we got together with some friends and then wrapped up the day with a perfect family walk on the beach and around the harbor.  I’m thinking that the beach lifestyle will suit us quite nicely!

Saturday (the same as Saturday in the US), we ventured into the big city of Jeddah to get some things for our house.  Although we didn’t need all of the things there right away, we’re hoping to get as settled as possible before baby #4 arrives so the sooner the better.

Scenery on the way to Jeddah

Life at KAUST is definitely not like the rest of Saudi Arabia.  We live in a very western and modern community, where we can pretty much go about life as we would back in the US.  There are not restrictions on women (for driving or dress) so it’s a very pleasant place to be.  Oh, and as the kids kept saying “it looks just like California here”, and it does.

I know black is supposed to be slimming, but this abaya+9-months pregnant isn’t a great combo!

So on our trip to Jeddah, we got a real taste of what Saudi is like.  I got to be all dressed in my abaya and the vast desert that surrounds us was quickly visible.  While not quite the third world slums that we had grown accustomed to in Africa, we were surely not in the US.  The outskirts of the city were surrounded by trash and big piles of rubble from demolished buildings.  Not the prettiest sight, but it was reassuring to see some mountains not far off as well (hopefully they hold some adventure for us).

Check out how modest the women’s swimwear has become! Lots of sights like this around!

A few hours of shopping was plenty for all of us, so after a nap in the taxi on the way home (about an hour), we went back to the beach.  This time with Dad around, the older kids went out to the deep areas with the inflatables and went absolutely crazy with Andrew.  I’m not sure who had more fun – the kids or their Dad!

The next few days were filled with trips to the park, the swimming pool and lots of bus rides to explore our new area.  The kids won’t be starting school for a few more days so we’re really taking advantage of the time when I can spend lots of time with them before the baby comes.  The weather has been warm and humid but manageable (in the 80′s) so that has helped our explorations so far.

Honestly, this has been one of those weeks that has felt like a month.  We have been having such a great time and are thrilled that our kids are so happy here in our new home.

So what questions do you have for us?

We’d love to tell you more about it here!

 

13 Comments

  • Kim C. says:

    Wow! Honestly, when I saw the first picture I thought it looked so much like a Mesa, Arizona. Haha. How hot will it get there? I love the abaya! I really don’t feel like wearing anything other than a mumu that last bit of pregnancy anyways so count yourself lucky :) But how do women breastfeeding in those??

    • bringthekids says:

      Yes, it looks a lot like AZ or CA. The abaya is mostly just hot right now since I have to be clothed underneath (mine has snaps that easily come undone). Breastfeeding? Well judging by what I saw at the hospital today, it’s kind of a new thing. There were posters all over trying to scare women into breastfeeding…very different!

  • Judith saunders says:

    Thanks for the informative post! We think about you often and love hearing about your adventure ! Anxious to hear more…….

  • E B says:

    How big is your new place? Is it all new? What day do you have the equivalent of Sunday? Do you worship on Fridays also?

    • bringthekids says:

      Our house is BIG and new. The house is about 4500 sqft. The bad news is that the yard is TINY. So although we don’t need a bigger house, for the sake of having a backyard, we’re moving to an even bigger house after baby arrives. Friday is the equivalent of Sunday in every way!

  • WOW! This is great! I traveled thru Saudi for work in 2007-2008 but without kids! I can’t wait to read more! If you have a chance can you email me privately? I have some more questions about your time there, how you like it etc… Thanks!!!

  • Raeshell Sorensen says:

    This is so fun to read, can’t wait for more. Post more pictures, show is your home, yard, kitchen, etc. Also, tell is about the job and the community. Can’t wait to hear all about it. :)

    • bringthekids says:

      Okay Rae, more pics coming soon. I’ve been super bad at taking pictures since I have had all the kids in tow non-stop!

  • Heidi says:

    Hey Jess!
    SO glad to hear you are doing well! I read your feature on milehighmamas too. I think the reasons you are doing what you are doing are awesome! Just remember to look back on your words on the hard days! I can’t wait to see that little one!
    xoxo

  • Debbie says:

    I loved hearing all about your first week there and seeing the pictures! Thank you very much! The beach there looks awesome and that’s sooo fun that they have water features! How perfect! I bet that will be a great place to spend lots of days as it gets hotter. You look wonderful in the abaya and don’t look as pregnant as you are! Good luck with the doc tomorrow! Thanks for blogging about your adventures there! I look forward to hearing more! :o)

  • Cc says:

    Thank you for your posts, we move to KSA next month and knowing your kids are happy and heathy In Their new life puts my mind at ease. Thank you look forward to your updates x

  • Lisa!! says:

    Jess and Adventurous Averett’s… so glad you are doing great and taking advantage of every single moment. Keep those adventure stories a comin’.

  • Brandi says:

    Hi just ran across your blog and am so excited to keep reading! My husband is about to graduate from ASU with his civil engineering degree and take a job in Saudi Arabia. We (our son and I) will follow him out after I graduate next May. I have been searching for a blog like yours to find out how realistic it is and what it’s really like! Can’t wait to hear more! <3 I will have so many questions!

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