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Send a verification email to Attention! I discovered some new favourite foods too.
Why expat life in Saudi Arabia is more fun than you might think
There are many different kinds, but my preferences are the dark, Madina dates, which are not too sweet. The other thing that I got to like was the za'atar — a flavouring mixed from oregano, thyme, salt and sesame, which is smothered on breads and croissants. The local hammour fish is also fantastic. S urprisingly, supermarkets, with brilliant names such as Danube, Manuel and Hyper Panda, sell a vast array of cheap and good local fruit and vegetables, as well as wonderful dates, Red Sea fish, camel milk, and reasonably priced imported meat from Australia and Brazil.
I found Saudi a relatively easy place to live in, but I had already experienced long stints as an expat. I had learnt a lot about patience and dealing with frustration — and through my work at an international school, teaching Saudi students the International Baccalaureate, I learnt a lot about Arab culture.
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But do not take my word for it, there are many expatriates who stay in Saudi for a long time, or even return, and men and women do adjust and enjoy their lives here. Jeddah is a pleasant city to live, with a pleasant climate. There are some excellent compounds, like the one we lived on, which are very comfortable.
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You are free to live life in a very similar style to how you live at home and you are not cooped up in your compound all weekend. Expats enjoy Jeddah because of the sunshine, the swimming pool lifestyle and the safety. For families, particularly with young children, it can be a great adventure. D espite the caution and slow adaptation to embracing tourism — there is still no tourist visa yet — Jeddah is a cosmopolitan city with many nationalities of expats. There are vast contrasts and discrepancies in income and housing, however.
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There are impoverished areas of the city while the swankiest homes are the size of five-star hotels with gardens full of pet tiger cubs and preening peacocks. It is a common sight to see an old Chevy or Lincoln chugging around the streets as well as a new Dodge weaving through the traffic. There is also a thriving Harley Club, which parks up outside Starbucks at weekends. The Harley Club cuts across cultures and is a combination of Arab and Western riders who drive across the magnificent landscape together and share coffee and tales of adventure.
The frustrating aspects of Jeddah, such as the restaurants and shops closing for prayer times and the apparent conservatism and conformism, are really a matter of perspective and mindset. If you embrace and enjoy what is different and new, you will find interest in the same things that perhaps were maddeningly frustrating at first. Saudi might not suit some — but I would certainly consider returning in future. For now though, it is off to Dubai for my family and I, for a different chapter in our love affair with the Middle East.