Living with intent, social engagement, learning, growing, giving

Postcard 1 from the Arab world – A female solo traveller

If you’ve been following my blog you have noticed by now that throughout the year I get to travel to some interesting places (e.g. Bogota, Bahrain, Quito, Rio). Six weeks ago I spent two weeks in the Americas and upon my return I joyfully plunged into the domestic bliss of life as a wife, mother of two delightful children (5 & 7), friend, sister, daughter, and amateur indoor soccer player. Into those delightful 6 weeks I squeezed:

  • A family trip to the snow with another family;
  • A family trip to see extended family;
  • A family long weekend in Sydney;
  • A family evening at the theatre for a fun human circus/theatre production;
  • Theatre with my husband;
  • long bush walks with my husband on our weekly ‘daytime date’;
  • Many fun meals and a couple of movies with friends;
  • A 10km fun run;
  • 5 games of indoor soccer + training;
  • Gym time;
  • A return to healthy grain and sugar free eating after a few lapses while travelling;
  • 2 interstate trips to make presentations for work, including teaching my first short course;
  • After our darling dog Lily died last year we have been missing having pets so we brought two delightful guinea pigs into our humble home;
  • We minded a dog who peed and pooed all over my Pakistani carpet, ate my children’s dinners off the table and smashed a plate while we weren’t looking, badgered the guinea pigs, barked non-stop whenever we put her outside, but was an absolute delight to have stay with us and by far the most calm and sweet dog I’ve spent time with;
  • Not to mention tonnes of work!
Farewell Sydney!

Farewell Sydney!

On Saturday our tranquil life was shattered when I tore myself away amid floods of tears and flew to Saudi Arabia for a 5-week work trip. I am filled with doubt and regret about leaving my children for such a long time but it was a conscious choice to take on this project and we don’t grow by staying at home wearing the same groove… I have now settled into my life here, with rising before dawn, 9 hours of work, returning directly to my apartment, then a quick walk next door to the supermarket before it closes for prayer time and then directly back to my apartment. I don’t dare venture any further than the supermarket on my own and I’m not allowed to go anywhere with anyone other than a male relative (none of whom are with me).

It seems that all of my reading about the Arab world, e.g. modern history, autobiographies, novels, etc, travel to the Middle East, and studying of Arabic language, has been preparing me for this trip. I’ve never lived alone, nor had restricted mobility or been unable to socialise or exercise so this is a unique experience for me in every sense. I’m finding enjoyment in cooking because I have lots of time and I love the flavours of Arab cuisine, after not listening to music for years I’m enjoying music using Grooveshark, and I’m loving the very warm, sunny weather.

I’ve been trying to craft a blog post where I can share some of my experiences without placing myself at risk. I’ve decided to share some of the minutiae of my highly restricted daily life without details or photos as a protection measure. The safest thing to share then are snippets of conversations like:

  • Today I admired the abaya of a woman sitting near me. I normally don’t speak to women in traditional dress because of the impression of segregation but this time I decided to take a chance and leaned forward to tell her that I thought her abaya was beautiful. She positively glowed and smiled at me and told me where she bought it. After her husband came to collect her, she turned to wave and smile at me. My colleague joked that she would have trouble sleeping tonight after receiving a compliment on her abaya;
  • Yesterday I chatted with a Nepali man who was amazed and delighted when I greeted him in Nepali. We talked about Nepal and then he surprised me by saying that foreigners are coming to Nepal and building big houses but that it’s not the way of the Nepali people who normally have very small homes. He talked about how ugly Kathmandu is. When I mentioned how lovely Bhaktapur, Pashupatinath, and Swayambhunath are, he briefly brightened before returning to his lament. It was refreshing to talk to someone who takes pride in their culture rather than rejecting it in favour of the supersize me attitude of our capitalist meritocracy. It left me thinking warmly of my trip to Nepal with Room to Read and the tiny homes and rustic schools that I visited on that trip;
  • I asked a colleague what I can do while I’m here and he suggested that I read, go to the shopping mall, and leave on weekends;
  • Today I spoke with a Saudi man who said that his wife knows how to drive! She learnt in the USA. He went on to say that women in Saudi Arabia have a very easy life because they get to focus on raising their children and don’t have to worry about driving but instead are dropped off at the door and don’t have to walk 100’s of metres from the carpark to the building in tremendously high temperatures.

The supermarket is well stocked and carries some products that I would buy at home, like some reasonably fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh full cream milk, unsweeted yoghurt (laban), olive oil, and delightful Arab ingredients like fat olives, haloumi, lemons, a stupendous array of dates, and a lovely stand offering a huge range of raw and roasted nuts, spices, like in the Manama souk. As I stood and gazed at the large range of different types of tea I felt foolish for having brought tea with me but  I certainly didn’t see anything to match the extraordinary single-source, Kenyan Duchess Grey tea by Willimanson Tea that my husband very kindly bought for me. I searched for very dark chocolate and was disappointed by the small range, with only one 85% dark chocolate and none of my favourite brands but a very large array of highly sweetened American chocolates fill the shelves.

I expect to be blogging quite often considering the amount of time on my hands but I wonder what I will find to talk about?!


18 comments on “Postcard 1 from the Arab world – A female solo traveller

  1. Andrew
    October 14, 2014

    Let me know when we can skype/facetime.
    Too bad I can’t come visit this time.

  2. Pingback: Postcard 2 from the Arab world – A female solo traveller | strivetoengage

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  4. Pingback: Postcard 3 from the Arab world – A female solo traveller | strivetoengage

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  10. Meg
    October 28, 2014

    Hey ally. I am enjoying imagining your little adventures to the supermarket. I remember living with similar restrictions in some other places and how exciting that little adventure could be. Also wondering if among your reading you have read Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women by Geraldine brooks? It’s been over a decade since I read it but I remember it being a quick lovely read which gave good insights when I first started frequenting the Middle East. Much love, meg

    • strivetoengage
      October 28, 2014

      Hi Meg, Thanks for the comment. Yes I did read that book by Geraldine Brooks about 8 years ago and I really enjoyed it! Thanks for visiting my site.

  11. Pingback: Postcard 10 from the Arab world – A female solo traveller | strivetoengage

  12. Pingback: Postcard 11 from the Arab world – A female solo traveller | strivetoengage

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  16. Pingback: Postcard 15 from the Arab world – A female solo traveller | strivetoengage

  17. Pingback: Connections | strivetoengage

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This entry was posted on October 14, 2014 by in Me, middle east and tagged , , , , , , , , , .
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