Sunday, September 22, 2013

100 Days in KSA: Days 95 - 93

You might notice that the countdown pictures I have to share today aren't technically from Saudi Arabia, they are from Bahrain. While we have less than 100 days left of our year living in Saudi, we certainly won't be spending all of them in the Kingdom. We want to take advantage of our ability to travel as much as possible so hopefully this countdown will include photos from some exciting locations that we will get to check off our bucket list before we head back to the United States in December.

Day 95: The Pork Section at a Grocery Store in Bahrain 
I've mentioned before that the religious laws are a little less strict in Bahrain and we sometimes like to take advantage of our trips across the causeway by indulging in some of the things that we don't have access to in Saudi because they are considered Ḥarām (sinful) in the religion of Islam and Saudi operates under Islamic law. 

Pork is a big no-no in Saudi and even in Bahrain it is only sold in restricted areas and is always very clearly labeled. This photo is of a blocked off section of a grocery store butcher counter where you can buy pork products. And just in case you were wondering, we didn't actually purchase any pork products on this trip to Bahrain but we did have some bacon at the restaurant pictured in the photo on Day 94 below.

Day 94: Ric's Kountry Kitchen in Bahrain
Juffair is a neighborhood in Manama, Bahrain that is known to have a good bit of American influence because of it's proximity to the US Naval Base. Here you can find a ridiculous number of American chain restaurants as seen in this YouTube video made by someone back in 2012. 

But if you truly want a taste of home, this neighborhood is also where you will find Ric's Kountry Kitchen. Ric's advertises itself as "The Best American Food in the Middle East" and I am inclined to agree with their slogan. They have the slogan carved into this great wooden sign that I would love hang over a sofa or in our kitchen when we move back to the States but it's gigantic and sadly not for sale. The food here is so delicious and definitely hits the spot if you are feeling nostalgic for a taste of home. It's American food at its finest: biscuits and gravy, chicken and dumplings, pulled pork, and fried chicken. 

Now I love some biscuits and gravy and they are usually hard to pass up if I see them on the menu, but the last time we visited Ric's for breakfast our friend from the Philippines was with us and she suggested that I try the Pinoy Breakfast. This delicious breakfast came with a Filipino cured pork called Tocino. It. Is. Amazing. It was almost like a really thick sweet bacon but that definitely doesn't sound as appealing as this dish tasted. I found a recipe for making Tocino that I will have to try when we move back home. 

Day 93: The Grand Mosque in Bahrain

This is the Al Fateh Grand Mosque in Manama, Bahrain. We drive past this Mosque on just about every trip to Bahrain and it's quite beautiful. I don't know much about the Grand mosque but it's supposed to be one of the largest mosques in the world and Wikipedia tells me that the dome shown in the photo is the world's largest fiberglass dome. There is a sign outside the mosque that says it's open to visitors and that they offer tours. Ion and I keep meaning to go inside but haven't yet so we are planning to spend a weekend in Bahrain before we leave this part of the world to visit the Grand Mosque along with the National Museum and the Tree of Life. 

Since this post touched a good deal on things related to Islam I wanted to be sure and say that I am by no means a source of any expertise on Islam - I am just reflecting on my experiences as an expat in an Islamic country.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

100 Days in KSA: Day 96

Hello again!

As I mentioned yesterday, I'm a little behind in catching up with the first 10 days of this fun little countdown so I was intending to post a few photos a day to get caught up. That plan quickly flew out the window when I started writing this post and realized that I had to dedicate its entirety to Day 96's photo - the causeway into Bahrain - in order to give proper justice to this stretch of roadway that I've come to love and loath so much. 

Day 96: The King Fahd Causeway

Oh the causeway. How to explain the causeway? We are lucky in that we live near the eastern coast of Saudi which means we have easy, well easy enough, access to the neighboring Kingdom of Bahrain. I say that this is lucky because Bahrain allows us access to some of the freedoms that we can start to miss a bit over here like movie theaters, alcohol, pork products, and not having to wear an abaya when leaving the house (although that last one is much less of an issue for Ion). So needless to say we enjoy crossing over to Bahrain fairly often to enjoy these finer things in life. But sometimes getting to Bahrain can be an adventure in itself.

Since the Kingdom of Bahrain is an island, getting there involves crossing the King Fahd Causeway. The causeway is a series of bridges connecting the two kingdoms with a small island in the center where you drive through a series of immigration and customs booths. Sounds pretty simple right? Well sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't. While it's only about 35 miles between our compound in Saudi to main area we like to visit in Manama, Bahrain, this trip can take anywhere from 45 minutes to upwards of 6 hours. Yes. 6 hours. 

The simple explanation for this is traffic. You can sometimes plan ahead for traffic based on the time of day or day of the week but other times it's completely unpredictable. For example, we went across last Thursday, which is the start of the weekend over here (weekends = Friday and Saturday) so traffic was heavy, as expected. Generally if we are traveling to Bahrain on a Thursday we have to try and leave as fast as possible after work to make it across in anything less than 2 hours and this trip took us just about two and a half hours. Then when we went across again on Monday expecting lighter traffic since it wasn't the weekend but we still ended up sitting on the causeway for over two hours going into Bahrain. On the bright side, customs only took us 15 minutes on the way home. Basically you never know what you're going to see until you get there. In the photo below you can see the that line is continuous between immigration booths - this was a heavy traffic day.

You may be thinking that this has been a long post about bridges and lines, which is true, and while long lines aren't my favorite thing in the world they aren't what makes the causeway experience so crazy. While the photo above looks very orderly it is incredibly deceiving. When we are on the causeway I am often thankful that I'm not driving because it can be pure chaos. Some lines move quickly, some lines don't move at all. Some cars get searched thoroughly at customs and some cars just get waved through. If lines aren't moving quickly enough, drivers will lay on their horns and it becomes a musical of sorts. You have to stay on your toes because if there is even the tiniest gap between you and the car ahead of you, someone will quickly attempt to cut you off. And sometimes there aren't lines at all, just a huge cluster of cars all 'pushing' their way to the front. Imagine Wal-Mart on Black Friday but with cars. 

A coworker of Ion's found this video that illustrates the causeway experience much better than I could ever explain it. Although steering wheels aren't on the right side of cars here like they are in the video. 

The causeway can be a frustrating and sometimes hilarious experience but it just makes that celebratory drink on the other side that much more worth it. And as crazy as the drive can be, being able to cross an international border on a Monday night for dinner and a drink is a pretty unique experience (at least for us) and we've certainly enjoyed racking up the passport stamps going back and forth.

Cheers and safe driving!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

100 Days in KSA: Days 100 - 97

As most of you know (because the majority of the people who read this and they are likely all related to me), I live in the Middle East. In Saudi Arabia to be exact. I moved here with my husband right after we got married almost a year ago and it has been quite the big adventure. Obviously, I haven't done much writing about this journey while we've been here but we recently hit the 100 day mark before we move back to the US and I wanted to make an effort to capture the craziness of this life we are temporality getting to experience. 

On a whim, I started a little project on Instagram where I try and post a photo that captures some part of our life everyday for the last 100 days we are overseas. I've been hashtagging (is that a word now?) these snapshots #100daysinKSA (KSA = Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) and I thought I might also share these photos on the long neglected blog with a little more explanation. 

These photos are definitely an exciting countdown of the days left until we get back to Denver (where we can have wine and bacon and not have to watch football games at 4:00am), but they are also an effort to remember and appreciate the wild ride that comes with life as an expat. It will certainly be bittersweet when this countdown comes to a close but there is a whole lot of fun to be had between now and then!

Day 100: A tree outside our house. 
That's it. Exciting huh? I snapped this while walking back from the gym and while it's certainly not the most exciting picture in this countdown, it's something I see everyday and is how I got started with this little project. There is beauty in this desert but sometimes you have to look a little harder to find it. 

Day 99: My Abaya - quite the fashion statement, no?
I didn't realize this was blurry until I enlarged it here, sorry about that. Anyway, this is my outfit of assignment anytime I leave the compound here in Saudi Arabia. If you saw this on Instagram you probably noticed my reference to Hogwarts because this getup always makes me feel like I need a wand or a broomstick. It does make things simple when picking out clothes but when the temperatures are upwards of 115F it's not exactly the most breezy outfit.

Day 98: Gigantic chandelier in our house.
This picture does not even do this ridiculous light fixture justice. It's about 6 feet across and hangs above a curved staircase and the ceiling above is painted with lovely blue clouds. This in itself isn't really that interesting, although I kind of like how this picture turned out, but in comparison to the rest of our house here the chandelier is quite comical. We live in the large villas shown in the picture on day 97 below and while we have a fancy painted ceiling and dramatic lighting, there is little to no space in any of the bathrooms and the kitchen is just as small as the bathrooms. I will have to do a house tour sometime soon to better demonstrate this hilarity but for now just take my word for it. 

Day 97: Our compound.
We live here. Despite the hilarious proportions and decorations in our house that I described above, it's overall a pretty nice place to live. The best thing that I can think of to compare it to in the US would be a small college campus. We live in one of the villas shown here but the compound actually includes a large number of apartments, some green space, a pool, two gyms, a restaurant, and a small conveinience store. While this view certainly isn't bad and the amenities are quite nice, sometimes I do go a little stir crazy sometimes when I'm stuck here all day (you know, because it's illegal for me to drive myself).

Today is actually day 91 of this countdown but i'm a little behind in deciding to post these pictures to the blog so I'll catch things up in small batches. Hopefully you will find these little snapshots of our life interesting and I'd love to hear if there is anything specific you would like to see!