Settling In


As we are all settling in, we just celebrated the half birthday of our littlest Aramco Brat.  Ellis now has his parents all to himself during the day, so we celebrated his 6 month milestone with a nice morning walk along the beach, then a quick stop at the commissary to pick up schwarmas for his brother & sister for lunch.  Ellis is what you might call a “thriving child” and blows all the other babies out of the water when it comes to gaining weight.  No official weigh-ins recently, but the kid is definitely going to be a linebacker.  He sits up for short periods of time all by himself, and has had a trial run with solid foods including sweet potatoes, bananas, mangoes, and kiwi.  He is unimpressed with all of them.  His biggest accomplishment as of late is the growing of hair on his crooked little head.  He’s managed to fill in his old-man hair, so his cul-de-sac male pattern baldness is a bit less noticeable these days.  Still no teeth.  His sleeping pattern is erratic, although we’ve had a decent run the past week or so.  He is capable of about 6 hours straight at night, but tends to be inconsistent at best.  His naps during the day are becoming somewhat regular, but he likes to keep us on our toes.  In this regard, he is very different than his older siblings, who were on a very clear sleep schedule.  Maybe now that he’s officially 6 months old things will start to self-regulate…

Our days have been very calm.  Our shipment won’t be here until March, so until then we have rental Aramco furniture, lots of tile, and white walls.  We’re working on choosing paint colors, (but if you know me) it could be awhile before we commit.  Today after getting the kids off to school, I made a latte, read a book while I got a pedicure, came home and got the boys to go for a walk on the beach, then came home and met the kids for lunch.  Ellis is down for a nap now, and I will be meeting some of the ladies on camp for afternoon coffee.  Mark will go into work for a meeting around 4:00, so after I meet the kids school bus we will head to soccer practice – LT at 4:00 & Rhys at 5:00.  Lucky for me, one of the ladies on camp is making enchilada dinners tonight, so we placed our order over the weekend, and will pick up dinner after soccer, come home & eat and then it’s reading, bath, and bedtime!  We do have restaurants here on camp but they are nothing spectacular.  A lot of women will cook food from their native countries and you can buy it, so you get a night of “take-out”.  Thai, Mexican, Seafood… it’s always a nice change.  And then it’s movie night for the ladies, so I’ll be headed out after Mark gets home from work.  Just another day in RT!

Finally… Back to School!




The Parker children were officially out of school for 6 weeks during our move.  We left Boise December 4th, and because of the Aramco Runaround, they didn’t get to start school before they let out here for Winter Break.  So, on January 12th both of the older kids got to start school.  And they did great!  Rhys started first grade with Miss Power and seems to be doing very well.  He is a bit behind curriculum-wise, so we are working to get him caught up, but I think we will manage.  LT, however, was placed in a K4 (pre-k) class and was significantly underwhelmed.  I think her exact words included, “lots of baby toys, none of the kids know how to share, and they don’t even have chapter books!”  We went and spoke to the school where everyone was very much on the side of “let’s get here where she belongs, regardless of her age” so she spent the week being pulled out of class and tested.  The following Monday (Sunday was a holiday here) we got a call saying that despite the fact that we are going to be gone for 4 weeks of this trimester, they would like to move her up to a kindergarten class!  She takes after her daddy – very smart little girl.  This is great for a couple of reasons.  She will be full-day, as opposed to her previous schedule of 12:45 – 3:30, which meant she spent the entire morning asking me how much longer till she could go to school… and she will be with older kids, whom she tends to get along better with.  It also means I have a big part of my day to spend with the baby, and he really has been neglected lately (um, never)… and Mark.  The kids also ride the bus to and from school, and home for lunch, so this way their schedules are synced up as opposed to overlapping.  It’s going to make the day a bit smoother for everyone.  It’s seems a bit odd to have your kids come all the way home for lunch, but with Mark not flying a whole lot right now, it’s nice to have the whole family together for a nice hot lunch every day.  The buses here are Mercedes Benz Buses, each complete with it’s own bus monitor and they all wear their seat belts.  It’s pretty darn amazing – especially considering our compound is only about 3 square miles!  I just can’t stop myself from quoting Ron White every morning as the bus pulls up…”Mercedes Benzzzzzz!”

Go Dolphins!

Go Dolphins!


New teachers

What, Wear, & How

(***This post was written December 16th***)  So we unexpectedly got my ID!  A couple of stars must have aligned, as we hit many stumbling blocks the day before, but it came through.  If you know my husband, this won’t surprise you – but the day after I was approved, he was making plans.  He got a ride into Rahima, the local town, and rented a car.  Then we all loaded up to go to Kohbar for our first off-compound outing.  45 minutes later we were at… IKEA!!!  Due to the last minute nature of our trip, I wasn’t entirely prepared.  I had read that Western women didn’t have to wear traditional Muslim garb, just to dress modestly.  So I followed that advice and guess what?  Those authors have obviously never been to Saudi Arabia.

I was the only woman not in an abaya.  Really.  The ONLY ONE.

And just for a bit more embarrassment, we stopped for lunch before we started our shopping.  As our entourage entered the restaurant (3 kids, stroller, Western woman blonde hair and all…) we were very suddenly and with much gusto escorted back OUT of the restaurant.  We had inadvertently gone in the “singles” side, which is where all the single males dine.  We regrouped and ate on the “family” side where we fit it only slightly better.

A brief synopsis of Saudi garb:  Saudi Women do not wear burqas, they wear abayas, which are long, black ankle-length lightweight cloaks that cover their clothing. They also wear the hijab, which is the scarf that covers their hair, neck, and very often face.  This is the most common outfit you’ll see at the mall:

Common Muslim Women's Wear in Saudi

Common Muslim Women’s Wear in Saudi

So after lunch we walked over to IKEA and did some shopping.  And although I didn’t have on an abaya, most people were very friendly.  We even caught some Saudi women taking pictures of Ellis in his stroller.  I guess those blue eyes are somewhat of a novelty in these parts.  And not to worry, he was a total ham for them and seemed to enjoy the extra attention.

So we then ventured over to the Mall of Dhahran which is more than I would have expected when I thought “Mall” & “Saudi Arabia”.  There’s about every store you can think of… Pottery Barn, Limited, Michael Kors, Coach, plus all the European stores I’m not familiar with (yet).  It is huge.  Unfortunately, we didn’t go into any of the stores!  When we arrived, it was prayer time so everything was shut down.  This happens six times a day (approximate times for today were:  5:04am, 6:26am, 11:41am, 2:36pm, 4:55pm, and 6:18pm) and brings the world to a halt.  There is a very loud Call To Prayer that you can hear no matter where you are in the country – inside or out.  So an Immam (spiritual leader) will start singing to tell everyone to head to the mosque. It sounds like this:

All the stores empty out and close their gates.  So we stopped at a Starbucks to wait it out where we were promptly asked to leave — again.  We had walked into the regular Starbucks, which is, of course, the all male Starbucks.  We had to search out the family Starbucks, which has opaque glass (so men won’t see the women eating or drinking if they take their covering off).  We managed to order a round of hot chocolates just before they closed for prayer and waited for everything to re-open.  Nice that they allow you to sit inside the Starbucks while they are closed for prayer.  Lights out, registers off, see you in 25!!

Have to get used to looking twice before we enter!

Have to get used to looking twice before we enter!

When the lights came back on, we went abaya shopping.  There are many stores that carry only abayas and we found a very sweet lady to help us find the perfect one.  I went with all black with a bit of embellishment, but you can go over the top if you want to.  Amazing what you can spend on these things.  Saudi’s wear all black, but other women can get pretty fancy.  It is a little hard to wrap my head around the dichotomy of the mall.  On one hand, all the women are fully covered and extremely modest and on the other is all the Western fashion and materialism.  As one reviewer of the mall put it, “The primary aspect of interest to me, as a newly-arrived US expat, was in seeing the bizarre contrast between the Western fashions on display in the store windows–mostly oriented toward women–and the parade of abaya-clad shoppers. (There seems to be some fundamental dissonance in Saudi culture that will need to be worked out over time–a simultaneous fascination with and rejection of Western styles and values.)”  It is, indeed, very strange.

Here’s a short video on the experience of purchasing an abaya.  You can also see what the dress shop woman is wearing, which is very typical:

We stopped in SACOWorld, which is a little like a Wal-Mart and grabbed a couple of things and then the kids were done.  The mall is so big, it just wore their little feet out.  So we made the drive back to Ras Tanura.  Overall, a very successful first day out!