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Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The One Where Grace Needed a Wee!!!!!!!!!

So we had been here a few weeks and I had explored all the local area, so time to spread my wings and go further afield! There's a Souq bus that leaves the compound, so I though I'd give it a try! Everyone has told me what great deals you can get from there - me + shopping = HAPPY! LOL!

So 8.30 am, kitted out in Abaya, headscarf, drinks and snacks for the kids and a child attached to each hand! We get on the bus, I haven't a clue where we are going or what we are even going to do when we get there, but ah well it's all good fun!

The bus stopped a few times, thank goodness for sitting at the back otherwise goodness only knows where we would have ended up!!! I waited until the engine actually switched off, and based on a educated guess I presumed we were there! After making ABSOLUTE sure that the driver would be exactly here at the exact time I committed to leaving the bus in a strange place responsible for 2 children!!! OK then!........................

Off we go, having to cross a road, which trust me in this country easier said than done!! But we made it! I see lots of shops but I'm not too sure where this Souq that everyone has spoken about is! After a short walk around and some more dodgy roads I see it!

It was great, loads of stalls, REALLY cheap! And plenty of shopkeepers wanting you to go into their stall! But I was firm and strong, 'no, we are just looking thank you!' with a cute smile from me and the kids and we were fine. That was until I heard those dreaded words...............'Mummy! I need a wee!' coming from my little Grace! Ok then love your timing couldn't be better. We are in a market, in a foreign country, with no public toilets, even if there was I have no clue of the language to even recognise the sign!

Nice and calmly I inform my darling daughter that Mummy will sort it! OMG! HOW?! I scan around the outside of the Souq thinking maybe I could get away with a quick drop and lift behind a car or other inanimate object!! But no! Far too many people and far to bright! So the next best thing a toy shop, not to pee in, merely a distraction device. So I asked Grace whilst we were looking at all the toys I had no intention of buying if she still needed a wee. No mummy! Good Good! Until we left the shop, and again 'Mummy, I need a wee!', Oh man what AM I going to do!

Ok Mummy's on the case! Look for man who looks like he can speak English. Found one! 'Do you speak English' 'Yes, Sister' 'Oh thank god!.... My daughter needs the toilet, a wee, my daughter.........' So imagine this conversation being performed with full dramatic action of signs and actions by a woman in full Abaya and headscarf in a middle of a market full of men! How glamorous! The man with a smirky smile points down the lane. Ok then, can't actually see where a loo could possibly be but we will give it a try. Half way down after listening to huge cackles of laughter the men all start shouting 'Sister, sister!!!' OMG do I dare turn around, what's the worst that can happen, I turned, they are all frantically pointing to a building to my left, with a puzzled look, 'here?!' 'Yes!' Ok then........................

Man behind the counter and another with a gun to his side! Oh great where exactly have I gone! 'Do you speak English?' 'Yes, Sister', OK then do I have to repeat the dramatic interpretation of a child doing a wee again, please no! No I didn't he understood perfectly, however he began to lead us down a very dark alley way under the stairs of this building. Holding the kids hands till we can't feel them anymore I felt it only polite to follow the man with the gun! 'In here' he tells us. Thank goodness it IS a toilet. On closer inspection it's a mans toilet! Of course it is, they wouldn't have a women's toilet, there would be no female staff! So now I am locked under the stairs with my two children and a squat pot! try explaining this to a three year old girl!

'No mummy, I don't want a wee!' 'Oh yes you do!!!!!!' to be damned I have faced public humiliation, followed a man with a gun you WILL pee!! LOL! I explain mummy will hold you,Joey offers to demonstrate how HE can do it! Luckily, I stopped him in time! A little boy and a hole in the ground, isn't really a good combination. So holding Joey above the said hole we demonstrate to Grace that it is OK to pee in here! 'No mummy!!!!' OMG! Am I going to have to show here how to do this! This could be embarrassing! After another five minutes of explaining, pleading and begging, she finally gave in and agreed to let mummy hold her over the hole in the ground! Well what choice did she have? I told her we can either stay here all day, we could leave and wet herself or just wee for mummy! This after all was THE only toilet I was going to attempt!

After a total of 15 minutes, a very hot, flushed and embarrassed mummy left with her two children once again attached to her hands, goodness knows what people must have thought we were doing in there!

We continued a nice little walk around the other shops, away from the Souq, as I was probably well known there by this point and was reassured to find the bus in the same place at the exact time it was supposed to be there. We jumped on before it could go anywhere without us!

Rather frazzled, only two little bags of shopping (shameless!) we arrived back at the compound, where we could go to the toilet at our leisure!

But we survived our little adventure! The shops, the language barrier, miles from home and even the hole in the ground!

Narien my darling this is for you

Friday, 6 November 2009

The One Where I Gained Some Perspective!

OK! So we have been here just over three weeks now and we not only have a TV we also have the internet - so I can spend some quality time on here, putting my three weeks of experiences into perspective.

The view I had of Saudi Arabia (probably similar the that of many other westerners) has completely changed! In the west we tend to believe that most middle eastern countries are very third world, that the people are so enclosed in their own religion and ideas that they have no room or acceptance for anyone else and that they are somewhat lesser valued than ourselves. Well this is absolutely NOT true! In fact very much the opposite! I may have only been here three weeks but I have thrown myself into the deep end in culturally and discovered a beautiful place with wonderful people from all over the world!

I will begin with the abaya. Kate humble notoriously cried on television at the prospect of wearing one for a matter of a few weeks. Deep down this made me very concerned as to how I would deal with this. Would I feel suppressed? Would I loose my identity? And most of all would I be hot?! The answers respectively, no, no and not really!

There is something quite liberating for me coming from the west where people, including myself, are so consumed with fashion, looks, styles and other people's perceptions. We are all the same, but still a little bit different! Yes the abayas are black, but some have beads, colourful stitching, different shaping and even Gucci make them!!! I personally do feel quite feminine in mine, and I find myself looking at others and seeing how nice and different some people's are.

For me, having recovered from an eating disorder, where I was consumed with how I looked and if I looked fat in this or that, and wanted to look slim and feel slim and for other people to think I was slim too, it is great to put an abaya on and know it covers all those motherly bumps and lumps!!!

As for the head scarf, it is absolutely necessary for a westerner to where one. However I often do. If i am in a store shopping where many other westerners shop then maybe I don't. But if I am walking along the street in full view of others then I personally feel more comfortable wearing mine. (Even better if i was too busy to do my hair that morning!)

Most Muslim women, especially Saudi women, wear a full Hijab. I am not sure I could do this. Mainly because I have not been raised with it and also the heat. But I have met many women here who do and for them this is natural and normal. Most of all we should never judge a person on how they dress whether it be in very little or in full veil, every person I am meeting is equal in value and we would all do well to remember this in all walks of life.

The leads me on to the perception that Muslim women, or women here are not valued because they wear an abaya, don't generally work and don't drive. I really don't think this is the case. These women I have met have a belief, a religion, which admirably they follow and believe in. The men are not telling them to wear an abaya to make them feel bad or feel less of a person, to them this is just normal. This is how they have been raised. For it to be a derogatory act, or an act of intentional suppression then I feel it would have to be pre meditated this way, and from what I can see this is simply not the case. The people here seem to live happy lives, that are simply just different to what we are used to. That doesn't make it right or wrong, it makes it their choice.

As for the way I have been treated as a woman. Well I have no complaints! So we can't drive a car or ride in the front! Really does that actually matter in the grand scheme of things? Whilst outside a shopping mall waiting for the compound bus a security guard came out and brought me a chair to sit on! How considerate! When I ordered a taxi, the driver looked after my children in the car whilst I went into a shop, he has lent us a mobile phone until we have Iqama sorted, he took off his shoes before entering my house with ALL my shopping! He also chaperoned me around the supermarket too! He has given me advice on living here and how to be careful and when. This all from a man who lives away from his wife and daughter for most of the year as he is trying to make a better life for them all. Ironically this is a man who is desperate to live in the UK where his wife would be a nurse and he is prepared to do ANY job so that his family can be safe and happy! After all isn't that exactly what we have done by coming here?

Jason and Joey had their haircut. We were not sure what to expect. Women aren't allowed in there and the guys don't speak any English. It is amazing how one adjusts to this and how body language and tone can speak volumes in any language. For 20 SAR ( less than 3.50 gbp!) they both had their hair cut, the kids were given sweets and treats and one guy even shred his lunch with them, Jason was served tea, and so was I! A man came out from the barbers with a fresh cup of tea for me. Are these the actions of people who have no respect for women? I don't think so!

When we go to the supermarket all our things are packed for us, by men, even our trolleys will be taken downstairs if we wish! I have been in stores here where the staff - all male - have played with my kids, running up and down aisles with them, playing with the merchandise whilst I continue to shop! At first I wasn't sure what to do, shouting the kids to keep them under control, but I have learnt to realise in this short time that children are allowed to be children!

People here adore kids! Alot of the people who work here from other countries have left their children behind, so for them to meet children is so warming for them. Rarely do I sit next to the children on the bus!! They go with the driver or another passenger chatting away. They don't care about colour of skin or language barriers. It must be wonderful being a child. The kids all play in the park, from all over the world, it is beautiful to watch, seeing how they overcome the language problems and how they have so much fun together. After all play is a universal language, we should all give it a go!

Now we get to the people I have met here! People are so amazingly hospitable. I am in ore as to how welcome you are made to feel in other peoples homes. There is never a five minute visit. No way. You are greeted with amazing hospitality, never would you be hungry or thirsty in any one's home. It really is beautiful. Most of our encounters in people's homes here have been with families from Pakistan. First of all we have our neighbours. A lovely family, husband, wife and children. I went there for the first time today. Jason and the kids have been there before. Always you are invited to dinner, you are welcomed into the lounge and given drinks and food and made to feel absolutely welcome. The children played, no language in common yet they all played together. The mother doesn't speak English, yet is so beautiful in her way towards her family and her guests. I find this inspiring. She was totally focused on what we had to say and the children playing. We have graciously accepted the offer for dinner tomorrow evening, as all I have to do now is work out what on earth to wear and what I should take with me!

Another family we have met, Jason has had alot to do with. The dad is here alone with two of the children, the mother is back in Pakistan with the two elder children at university. This must be an amazingly difficult situation for any family, let alone for a culture where family is of utmost importance. Yet this man has invited Jason into his home, and apologised for his hospitality! Bearing in mind he gave Jason food, drinks, snacks, advice! Amazing! This man is working full time as a doctor, missing his wife and raising two children! He has taken Jason out twice to sort out a computer, to buy and then collect, he helped us get Internet access, and has even called to make sure we were ok!

The next family I come to are just divine! I met the mum in the park with her two children. One a baby, who now smiles and comes to me for cuddles! Her English is AMAZING!!! So I can feel totally at ease with talking with her and she gets me! LOL! Her husband got me medicines for the children, she has made us delicious soup! And given me endless advice, information and educated me so much in such a short space of time! A woman I am sure is to be a true friend. I have gained a great understanding and knowledge of so many countries, cultures, religions and more from her. And I have only scratched the surface in my understanding, as I am sure we will all spend most of our lives doing. I love listening to her tell me about Pakistan, her family, things she has read and wants to see. It is wonderful that two people from such different places could begin to have so much in common.

All in all I love it here. I have learnt so much in just three short weeks, even a few Arabic words! And yet I have so much more to learn and appreciate and understand. I will come out of these two years a very different person. I have already begun a wonderful journey of self discovery. And there is so much more to discover about myself, about other people and about the world. And I will love every minute of it I am sure!

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

The One where We Finally Arrived!!!

Well we got here!!!! Have been here almost a week now!

The journey down to the airport went well - the tears began at the airport! When I had to say goodbye to my dad - I honestly thought I would be ok but the lump in my throat took hold and I was in years and Jason was filled up too! Even though we know we shall see these people again it is somewhat different as you have so many miles between you and not only that there are more hurdles to even speak to people when you first move!

The flights were fab - Saudi Airlines were great - we had a lovely escort at Jeddah who got us onto our connecting flight with time to spare! I was kitted out in my abaya - and yet didn't feel at all strange??!!!

We arrived at Abha to be collected and then taken to Iskan 2 - our new home! We knew we would be in a portacabin - and yes it is a portacabin! LOL! But it is ok I suppose - at the end of the day we have come for quality of life - hopefully we won't be in there forever!

We met everyone - they were amazing they have taken us shopping, helped us with all the things we need in the house, advice and the head mistress even babysat when we went shopping for blankets!!!!

Jason began school on Sunday. He is far happier here than back in the UK. The children are better behaved the teachers seem to be far more supportive and he actually gets to teach instead of babysit!

Me and the kids have had a few adventures of our own! We have done the shops a couple of times - ended up needing a taxi at one point to rescue me, but now I have got used to the bus system so today we did it all on our own! And clothes here!!!! OMG! They have a 10 Riyal store - which is less than 2 pound!!!!! Needless to say we shall be shopping there!!! LOL!

The food shopping is amazing - they have melons here bigger than I ever knew even existed! Seriously more than twice the size of our children's head!!!!! and for that - less than 3 quid! Groceries in general are amazingly cheap - a can of coke - 16p!!!!

As for the culture. It is very interesting. We hear the call for prayer 'sallah' (sp!?) 5 times a day and everything shuts down for the Saudi's to pray. This is difficult to get used to - planning your shopping as you could be waiting around in an empty mall for nearly an hour! LOL! Every woman wears their abaya - most with no problem - I personally don't mind, I actually feel quite comfortable! The Muslim women wear their hijabs too, they must be hot!

Many people seem to think that these women are being treated badly by men. I am not sure I haven't been here long enough. But on first reflection I think that the men would have to be intentionally being bad for it to BE bad, these men are just following generations of tradition and religion and know no different nor do the women. I have to say I have been treated with the utmost respect. Today whilst waiting for the bus a security guard came outside and gave me a chair! The taxi driver has given me a phone until Jason gets his iqama, allowing me to text etc a lot cheaper! He has carried my shopping for me, taking off his shoes before coming into the house, British taxi drivers rarely get out of the car! LOL! He also chaperoned me around the supermarket!!!

One thing I do find different is that only men work in these shops etc - Mothercare is a very strange place when it is filled with female tenders!

I have so so much to say about my thoughts on the culture so far but I want to reflect more but I share them. But all in all it is positive!

Me and the children have been swimming and played in the park and I am trying my hand at home schooling!

I am quite home sick at the moment. What doesn't help is the uncertainty about Christmas. Will Jason's iqama be ready for us to travel and will we have the money, due to the delay in getting here we have had to borrow, and yet we still have our mortgage and bills to pay back in the UK!

We shall see!

One step at a time!

There is always a period of adjustment and for me especially this was a huge step to take and I need to remember that. I am happy here, the life is just so much better it is sunny, I can sit outside at 11pm and not be cold! And in general EVERYTHING is calmer! And I know I am more in love now with my family, my husband and myself! That can only be good!


Wednesday, 14 October 2009

The One Where We Were Fianally Leaving!

Well the day has finally arrived!

Oh yes!

We have the visas!!!

After 3 hours I finally managed to book our flights - I think??!!!

We are all packed!

Dad has cooked a lovely breakie to fill our tummies!

We just need baths and a change of clothes and into the car down to Heathrow!

I have sent all my friends messages. And I hope when they read this they will remember and understand how much they all mean to me. I have had some beautiful messages back from them and have printed them off to keep close to me! I am wearing a beautifully engraved bracelet from my adoptive mum and sister! Which I will wear and treasure always!

We are about to embark on THE most exciting and SCARIEST journey of our lives! This time tomorrow we will be in our new house, in our new country, surrounded by new people!!?? What will think of us? What will we think of them? So many questions start running through your mind at a time like this! But the answers...........well we shall soon find out!

I am sure all will be fine. This is an adventure! We have worked hard to get here and sacrificed a lot. And as we begin this journey I will take with me all my friends, memories and grasp my new life with both hands and make the most of every single second! The good and the bad!

So for now it is a little goodbye until we get back online!

I hope you all think of us as often as we think of you!

The One Where We Went To London!

Get a visa and we can book our flights - well that is far easier said than done I can tell you! We have had such conflicting information on how to get our visa. UK visa agencies will say that they HAVE to do them and that us Joe Public cannot - ok then! Yes they will do them for a small fee of £200 - we did them ourselves - free! (except the standard consular fees of course!)

So off we went to London last Friday - and what a wonderful day that was! 5am getting everyone ready by 10.30 we were at the Saudi Embassy, very helpful, friendly and lovely. We can collect Tuesday - so we have the rest of the day to enjoy.

Going for a little walk poor Grace falls asleep whilst walking!!!! So into the nearest cafe for refreshments! 2 hours later, a rested Grace, full tummies and a happy family, where do we go? Buckingham Palace. The kids want to see the Queen. Hmmmm.......well we can show you where she lives! So off we go to the Palace, lots of armed police etc, we knew something was happening. Within the hour Duke of Edinburgh passed in his car waving to the crowd!!! Fabulous we thought and then soon after out comes the Queen, there we are 3 feet away from her! The kids were sooo excited! and mummy managed to get a picture of her arm! Ah well!

After many touristy photos off we trekked to Hamleys. Five floors of absolute chaos, Joey and Grace seemed to LOVE it! So loaded up with transformer toy and peppa pig and an hour later we head off for a gourmet burger! mmmmmm!

Jammed in a packed tube we finally got back to our car in Osterley (which may I add only cost £3.70 for the day!!!!)

Full with Frappe and happy memories we headed up the motorway home with two peacefully sleeping children.

So now things seem to be on the way to working out!

Will we get our visa?

Will there be space on the flight?

Will we pack again in time?!!!!

The day in London reminded me what family is all about. Reminded the great time we can have with our children. And that really at the end of the day that is all that matters!

Friday, 2 October 2009

The One Where We Left Pembrokeshire......Twice!!

No move goes as planned does it?! Well, we were meant to leave Pembrokeshire on Saturday, it was all planned, my dad and aunt coming down to help and for us all to have pictures in front of the house and travel out of Pembrokeshire in a convoy of three cars and one trailer! Was it this idyllic? No, of course not! We did leave on Saturday, minus one car and trailer, no pictures, lots of tears and all in all not as we planned!

Finally we arrived in the Midlands at my dad and aunts house, emotionally battered, tired and in need of a bubble bath! We rested up for the next day ready for me and Jason to return to Pembrokeshire Monday night!

It was midnight by the time we got there, so with a cup of tea we fell into our makeshift bed on the lounge floor!

Tuesday morning - a million things still to do! We didn't stop all day, cleaning, clearing, fixing, delivering and saying goodbye to the house! Desperate to get back to see our babies, we finally left Pembrokeshire, again, at about 6pm!

The journey was somewhat quiet, with a kebab on our laps, I updated my facebook, Jason drove and listened to music, and I got some sleep of sorts in a very cramped space in our very packed car!

We left with very mixed emotions! I know for me, there was difficult reflections from the previous Saturday's events, I was excited to be one step closer to our new adventure, although very sad to be leaving my fantastic friends, I have become very aware as to just how much we need our friends! I was also somewhat anxious, we are very much delving into the unknown for us! We have got rid of many of the constants in our life, our furniture, possessions, cats, car and home - although we can reassure ourselves that the house is still ours and we could return, in reality we know that is unlikely.

We are happy about this move and cannot wait to start our new life, but with every change we make in our lives there is a period of adjustment for everyone. We can be happy about the changes we make but we are only human at the end of the day, and with change we come out of our comfort zone, which in some respects adds to the excitement, it is also a little unsettling.

Moving house is supposed to be one of the most stressful things to do. Well, we have packed and left, and plan to move not only house but country! I think we have all dealt with this amazingly well considering!

We have now set up camp at my dad and Val's and will visit all our friends and family here while we wait 'patiently' for our visas! And this time next week we will know exactly when we are to fly, a matter of days later!

Saying goodbye to Pembrokeshire was hard because part of me will always be there, our first house, where we had our children, where I met some amazing friends and where I fell in love with life again! We shall return, so this is not goodbye, merely see you in a little while!!!!

Thursday, 24 September 2009

The One Where it Got All Emotional!

As we draw near to our departure, I now feel I have become more emotionally attached to the place that we are in!

My wonderful friends have taken me for lunch bearing me with gifts of flowers, balloons and sheep!!!?? I have shared farewell evenings and drinks with my best friend Charlene, Julie has made me laugh and told me how brave I am (I think she may mean daft!). Then tonight my old good friend Lynn graced me with her presence, reminding me of the warmth and love that friends give us.

But the friendship, love and laughs that are shared can still be experienced in this technological age. We have blogs, facebook, email, phone calls, snail-mail and of course flights! All these friends will always be my friends and have made me the person I am now. The people in our lives make an impression, for good and bad. We experience different views, lives and beliefs and even when they are not mutually shared they are respected and that is what is important and that is what keeps friendships alive.

Our house is almost packed, painted and ready for rent. We have packed up our entire lives into eight suitcases! And a few other boxes to store. We will soon close the door on this house and this section of our lives, and while there is a part of me that cries, inside and out, it is with tears of happiness and joy as well as the sad emotion of leaving my friends.

We all need to make decisions and choices in life and these choices can be hard or easy and they can be happy or sad, but in the end they shape us. They shape our lives. They shape the people we are and become. They shape our children's lives and experiences. And never can we look at these choices as being right or wrong, these choices are our choices to be made and it is up to us to make these choices work and take the good from them.

This blog is dedicated to all my friends. With you I have laughed, cried, confided and ranted, struggled and will finally succeed too! And it is because of my friends I am where and who I am today.......


Sunday, 6 September 2009

The One where it All started!

It is September 2009. Jason has secured his job at Tehama school in Saudi! We are currently in a packing frenzy, getting things ready to sell, to store and our things ready to take with us in our eight suitcases and four pieces of hand luggage! This whole experience is becoming somewhat cleansing - getting rid of all the things we don't need and haven't even seen in years! It is a lesson to us and everyone to not be so materialistic in the future. I realise now what the important things in life are - and that's our family. As long as we are happy, safe and secure then that is the most important goal achieved.

This for us is to be a life changing move! Our plan is to travel for the next five or six years and then settle for the children to go to senior school. Once they have settled in their respective lives and careers then me and Jason will continue to travel. We want to see and experience everything we possibly can. To embrace cultures from around the world. To give our children wonderful experiences and memories.

Already this move has educated us in so many ways. We have become experts at the confusion of visas! I have to say the wait for the visa is agonising! As soon as we have the visa we can go - we are just waiting for that date!

The people at the school we are going to have already been fantastic. They have been a great reassurance to us during our long wait! I am really looking forward to meeting all these people that we have spoke to only via email or phone. It seems quite surreal that we are about to move our entire lives and live with a group of people we have never actually met, but I trust our instincts, and we feel that this move will finally change our lives for the better.

We have received some conflicting comments about our move. I believe out of concern rather than criticism. I don't think some people believe we can adjust, more so me as a woman. I have already bought my first Abaya and have no problem in wearing it at all, I am quite excited in a way. And I want to respect the Saudi people's customs, laws and religion. I am a westerner going to their country and I believe the first rule is respect. As for no alcohol, well that I am also strangely looking forward to. To always have a clear head and a clear body. Lets face it alcohol is the root of a lot of our problems and to be in a society where we don't see drunks on the corner of the street or open the newspaper and read the latest story of a drunken brawl or dink drive accident will be refreshing and safe!

All in all we are so excited for this trip for many reasons, this will change our lives forever in a good way. I cannot wait to experience Saudi first hand, their history, culture, religion, landscape, food, way of life - everything!