As the dark nights and mornings start to draw in and I see what our Saudi friends are up to in the 40+ degree heat and blazing sunshine, there are certain aspect of our expat life I begin to miss…..
1. Waking up to sunshine 350 days of the year. There is something amazing about looking out of the window every morning and seeing the blue sky and sunshine. Never needing to plan an event around what the weather is going to do, being able to go for a walk every evening (we did!) Don’t get me wrong, the summer was bloody hot, I’ll never forget the short cycle to and from nursery at 1pm in the afternoon, in the 50 degree heat, getting back to the villa and actually wanting to vomit because it was that hot. This time of year is just beautiful, there’s an ever so slight chill and freshness to the air that makes you smile first thing in a morning when you breathe it in!
2. Call for prayer. Perversely, the one thing that frustrated me the most whilst there I now actually miss!!!! Not so much everything shutting down for 30 mins 4 times a day (not fun when you’ve just got to the front of the queue in IKEA after already waiting 30mins) but dawn call for prayer could be so beautiful at times, the sun rising over the dusty haze and some of the more tuneful mullahs calling out for prayer was quite serene at times!
3. An all year round tan. It goes without saying, 350 days of sunshine a year = a damn good tan!!
4. Sales. So, on average for your western shops there was a 1/3 mark up on the U.K. price – as much as an expat salary does have its perks, out of principle I could never pay those prices, knowing full well I could buy them 1/3 cheaper in the U.K. that said, the sales were amazing!! At the tale end of a sale it wasn’t uncommon to see all sale items 241, I’ve bought coast dresses before now for £30!! When Saudis do a sale, they DO a sale!!!
5. American retail/fast food. All the American fast food chains were in Saudi. iHop, Baskin Robbins, Five Guys, Hardees, Dairy Queen to name but a few! My absolute favourite place to buy denim was American Eagle Outfitters, they briefly had a store in London but they shut it down last year 😭. I recently went on a holiday to Disney and found one at the outlet mall, needless to say I brought back my body weight in jeans!!! I also had a soft spot for pottery barn, their homeware is just out of this world!!!!!
6. Working at the British Embassy. Not only did I meet one of my now best friends working at Embassy but the kind of people I got to meet, work with and for on a daily basis were just inspirational! Not to mention the vast amount of knowledge I gained about the Middle East and politics! I still read about Saudi daily and make a conscious effort to keep up to date with what’s going on over there, certain things that I read make me wish I was back at the Embassy morning briefings to REALLY find out what was going on, rather than going off a biased tabloid story, but 9 times out of 10 I can give it a pretty good guess!!!!
7. Casual weekends in the UAE. Dubai and Abu Dhabi were just a mere 90 min flight away, your standard expat getaway, just for a couple of nights or so of freedom, bliss!!! Dubai is one of my favourite places in the world, the extravagance and escapism of it all, it’s like a different world!!!
8. Compound life. Some aspects of compound life are fantastic for a young family. A swimming pool and park literally on the doorstep, it was great for Lucas to go swimming any day he wanted and to play on the park every evening, something which we rarely get time to do in our busy U.K. working week. Such luxuries tend to be saved for weekend only nowadays.
9. The short hop to Asia. India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore… to name but a few!!! Those are some of the countries we managed to visit whilst in Saudi. It takes half the time (and a direct flight in most cases) to get all the above places, something that just isn’t as feasible from the U.K. and certainly not with a four year old in tow! There are still so many countries over that side of the world that we didn’t get chance to visit but hopefully as Lucas gets older we will get there!!
10. When your friends become your family. The most special aspect of Saudi expat life is the fact you live on a compound and the people you work with become your friends (in the most part…. 😬) not only that but they become your family when you are out there. You visit each other regularly for dinner, you see each other most days for coffee, play dates, nursery drop offs, you’ve always got someone free for a chat, a catch up or a moan! I made some of the most amazingly special friends out there, most of which are now either back in the U.K. or in the process of moving back. It was the most beautiful experience for Lucas to grow up with such close friends, they became like siblings for him, which is why I think he’s such a sociable and well settled four year old!! I miss a lot of them dearly, we are spread all over the U.K. (and world for the matter) BUT we’ve already managed to visit Scotland, Canada and Germany. Not to mention our regular expat visitors who come and stay over – one even has his own room at ours (Uncle Colin if you are reading this….!!).
I wholeheartedly encourage anyone who may think about working out in Saudi to try it, it’s an experience I will never ever forget and never say never, one day we may be back!!!!