It’s been just over a year that we’ve been living in KSA. It is hard to believe, the time has gone by so fast. (FYI, we are returning to the U.S. at the end of this year.) We have always said it takes a full year to really settle in. You need to experience all of the seasons, each part of the year, to understand how it all comes together, how things are connected. You need a year to get to know the territory, to develop true relationships with the people at work and in your community, to feel comfortable. After a year you no longer need to anticipate what is coming next, you now know how it all fits together. But there will always be some surprises, some unexpected events, this will keep you on your toes .
I read once that the life of an expat is unique, unusual. One needs to be adventuress, willing to step out of your comfort zone, interested in exploring and trying new things. Interested in visiting areas of the world that are very different from anything you have ever experienced. You need to be able to completely uproot yourself, leaving behind family and friends, a comfortable life and plunge yourself into the unknown. This is the life of an expat.
In this particular assignment we have made more trips returning home. And we would stay 3 to 4 weeks at a time. This is much more then we have ever done with our other overseas assignments. It feels like we are moving back and forth between lives. It’s like we live two separate lives, being two different people at once, split between two places. We have two homes, two different sets of friends, living in two very different cultures, two very different environments. Living a double life? We have never experienced this before. But it seems to be very typical of many of the folks living here. There seems to be a need to escape from here, even for a week, to experience something different, to get refreshed. This is especial so during the hot summer months, when it is impossible to spend any time outdoors.
This assignment has been the most unusual, more difficult and for us the most adventurous. We have been transplanted into a world which we do not fit into, which is really sort of hostile. I am not saying this in a negative way but it is most unusual. For example, when you go to the mall and look around, you see many of the same stores you would see in any other mall across the U.S. But the men are dressed in white thobes with red head scarves and the women are wearing black abayas and a burka covering their head and face. Pinch me, is this real?
Because of the security issues of this region and the cultural differences “we” (speaking from a spouses view point)are kept very isolated. We live on guarded compounds, tucked away, out of site from the rest of the community we live in. We have our own life on the compound. We leave the compound and go into another world, to do what we need to do and then return back to the compound. It is not like there is much to explore in the towns where we live. Plus we ALWAYS have to think about being safe. We are dependent on drivers to take us to work, school, shopping, just about anywhere. As expats it is up to us to create our own community, our own activities, our own events. We travel between compounds to socialize, attend programs, classes etc. It is up to the spouses to seek out a social life. In Saudi there is NO cultural activities, no radios stations, concerts or any type of music, no movie theaters, no museums, exhibits, galleries, nothing culturally. We all understand this and we all seem to adapt. That is key in surviving and/or thriving when living in this area.
We recently had a compund wide dinner celebrating three years of Dow folks moving to Saudi Arabia and living in Sunrise compound. Those first few folks pioneered the way for the rest of us, they were the guinea pigs going into unchartered territory. Now there are over 500 Dow people including employees and their families who make Saudi Arabia their home. The dinner recognized the folks who arrived during the first year. Many are still here but many have also moved on to Jubail. Jubail is an hour+ north of Al Khobar where the Sadara plant is being built. As the site is getting closer to completion more and more of the Dow employees are moving to Jubail vs. traveling an hour+ to the plant every day. It also has taken several years to build new compounds around Jubail for these folks to live in.
Dow Chemical has made it there priority in keeping us safe. They have also organized many events to bring their employees and spouse together. Besides specific events on the compounds, Dow has hosted companywide events to establish a Dow/Sadara community. Dow sponsors quarterly meetings, plus programs on security, safety and health. Every 6 to 8 weeks there is a spouses program, with site visits, speakers, lunches etc. Dow has done a good job in working closely with each compound making sure there employees and families are comfortable and safe.
We also said goodbye to two couples at the dinner. As the plant nears completion some of the folks who arrived very early on, who were tasked with developing the infrastructure and laying the ground work for building the plant are now moving on. Their jobs are now coming to an end.
Goodbyes are another part of the expat life. After spending the past 2 to 3 years working, living, socializing and traveling together it is now time to say goodbye. There always seems to be people coming and going on these types of projects. At the end of this year there will be a lot of turnover. The folks assigned to building the plant will soon turn it over to the newer arrivals who will operate the plant and produce the products. Saying goodbye is a difficult part of being an expat. Many of the spouse that I have spoken to here have said that one of the best parts of living here is meeting all of the wonderful people, meeting people from all across the world. For most of us we have never had the opportunity to become friends with so many people of different nationalities, from so many different back grounds. This in its self has been a highlight. And now we will say goodbye.
One couple from the Netherlands left their home 34 years ago and never looked back. They have lived in South Africa, the Middle East, and in Europe. He is retiring? There plan is to spend 3 months in Cypress where they have a home, travel from Amsterdam on a container ship for 30 days ending up in Malaysia by midsummer and spend the rest of the year exploring that part of the world. His wife was very outgoing and helped out in the local international school. For the other couple, this was there very first time away from the U.S. They are selling everything, renting an apartment in Chicago, something they always wanted to do, and are planning to travel for the next year. His wife offered yoga and exercise classes each week.
Both of these couples had a big presences at their job and on the compound. Both were very social, getting folks together for barbeques, camp fires on the beach and organizing outings for our compound. They will be missed. This is the life of an expat!