We survived the 26 hour journey with three littles in tow, leaving on Wed, Dec 4th and arriving around Midnight Saudi time on the 6th. Aramco flew us all business class, which made the trip much easier. The kids were a bit restless after about an hour, then Mark pulled out the TV’s from the arm rests and we didn’t here from them again until we got to Saudi. Rhys watched Planes twice in a row. We cleared customs in Dammam in about an hour, which is amazing considering the average time is 3-5 hours. We take it as a sign of good things to come. With our 10 Dish Barrel Boxes, three car seats, and stroller, we were picked up by our friend Mitch and an extra Expedition and headed to our new home in Ras Tanura. Dish barrel boxes, if you aren’t familiar, are the boxes Uhaul sells for packing kitchen dishes in. The box is precisely the dimensions of the largest checked bag allowable before an oversized bag charge. The weight limit for KLM airlines is 70 pounds. They all weighed in at 69. Ras Tanura, our neighborhood, is about a 40 minute drive from the airport in Damman. Aramco’s aviation department is based at the Dammam airport. Mark travels here when he goes to work. When we arrived, we found that our new neighbors and friends had left a pot of homemade soup, fresh cookies, and a Holiday Tree in our home (these trees are very hard to come by, so it was quite a surprise!) Ended up going to sleep around 5:00am with the best intentions of getting on local time, but awoke the next day after dark, around 6:00pm. Locals say it takes about 7 days to recover from the jet lag, and we’ve allowed ourselves a few extra days due to the baby’s schedule. So it’s been about 9 days and we all seem to wake up at approximately appropriate times. LT has had an insatiable appetite since we arrived, and she is up every morning around 5am starving. She drags Mark out of bed begging him to make her breakfast. This morning she ate two eggs, two pieces of toast, and two bowls of cereal. She was hungry 10 minutes later.
Mark started work almost immediately flying the Hawker 900 for Aramco. He has been flying a lot, but comes home every night, which is such a blessing. They tend to fly mostly in-country, and despite some early mornings his schedule has been great. It will calm down even more once he has completed his IOE.
Our house… oh, our house. It’s big — but it’s empty! It comes “fully furnished”, but is minimalist at best. It’s much like living in an extended stay hotel, which makes it a bit hard to cook, but we are getting along on macaroni and grilled cheese sandwiches. Our friends have also been taking care of us, so we eat at their house a lot. There is also a lady on camp that makes Thai food once a week and a “Mexican” restaurant just outside the gate which we have tried. Food is different here, and fresh produce is hard to come by, but we are all adjusting our palates. The food issue is also compounded by the fact that we don’t have a vehicle. We have to walk to the commissary and can only bring back what fits on the stroller and the commissary has limited food available. Once we have a car (after we have been in country 90 days) we will be able to make weekly trips to Khobar or Rahima, the two local towns and shop at the mainstream grocery stores. Mark says they are comparable to US grocers, but have fewer of the brands we unknowingly felt so comfortable with at home. I am anxious to see for myself once I get my ID.
Typically the family arrives together. In our case, Mark arrived about 2 months prior and returned home to pack and travel to Saudi with the family. Because we arrived later, the processing that typically takes place all at once had to be split. Mark was processed as usual, but the kids and I have to be processed as late arrivals. This essentially means that we have to enroll and register for everything separately, but cannot do any of that until I have an ID card. I can’t get an ID card until I get an appointment at the clinic for a blood draw, which requires an ID. Very much chicken-or-the-egg. This is also the hold up for the kids starting school… they each need a TB skin test which they cannot get without me having an ID card, which will enable a physician to be assigned to us which will then allow us to make the appointment for their tests, which will then allow them to start school. Only the school goes on break on the 19th, so it looks like the Parker children just got a nice 10 week long winter break. Everything here takes time, and doesn’t always seem to be the most logical way of doing things, but we will get everything squared away eventually!
So overall first impressions:
Without having been off-compound, because I have no ID to get back in, it feels a lot like living in Florida. We have the beach close by and palm trees in our back yard and it’s sunny. It is definitely a bubble, but the people here have been amazing. There are about 12 kids in our little alcove so lots of bikes and scooters and basketball playing after 3:00pm. Lots of dinners and luncheons and even breakfast parties — they put Dallas socializing to shame here. It’s serious business. I can mostly speak about the ladies on camp and say that they are a wonderful bunch of women who have created quite the support network and have been amazingly welcoming.
Rhys & LT have started soccer practice and will be on the same team this season. Their coach is from Boise of all places! He and his wife have been here for a few years and have 5 children. Their youngest was Ellis’ age when they arrived. There are a lot of other activities like baseball, swim team, a triathlon group, horse riding lessons and arabic classes, so we will have to decide where to concentrate our efforts (outside of all the parties, of course).
Looking forward to the kids starting school, and we have two E-Boxes coming by air that should arrive this week so (eek!) I’ll have a vacuum cleaner! Very exciting times. Missing everyone back home and totally thrown by the 10 hour time difference to the states. Definitely a killer. At least we finally have a telephone that we can receive calls from the states on. More to come as things progress… Lots of love to all of you back in the States! xo