Some Early Observations

Well, I’ve made it through the first week. And he saw that it was good. Here are just a few observations thrown together while sitting in the KFUPM “Mall”, with the evening call to prayer, Isha’a, echoing around me. I’m here at the mall to use the wifi and watch some BPL football/soccer. This is mostly a student-oriented mall; a faculty/staff mall is nearing completion. Here, there’s a giant-screen TV that is nearly always showing some soccer match or other. There is a small market with necessities and treats, some coffee/tea shops, a bank, a barber shop, a sports clothing store, a travel agency, four bowling lanes, ATMs from a variety of banks, food kiosks, and a handful of familiar and not so familiar fast-food storefronts. Student mailboxes are here, and outside is a drive-thru Dunkin’ Donuts.


Shots of KFUPM Mall.

Last night was my first night in my new house, after having spent the previous nights in the cushy confines of the Le Meridien hotel in Al Khobar. Accordingly, over the past week, I’ve been making numerous trips and spending my Riyals at IKEA, Saco World (the KSA answer to The Home Depot or Lowe’s), and three different supermarkets that I like. Today, I found the Sultan Garden Center and bought a nice plant – I’m thinking I’ll be back there a bunch.

The weekend here is Friday and Saturday. From the sound of it on Thursday night, the evening before the weekend in Al Khobar is for cruising fast and loud cars and motorcycles along the Corniche road that runs along the Gulf. The lead shot is of a mosque along the Corniche.

Friday morning is a time of worship, and nothing save for some eateries and markets is open until about 2:00 PM. Friday afternoon and evening are bustling, with a note to self to never again go to IKEA on Friday evening. Think of it like Whole Foods in Boulder on a Saturday afternoon before a holiday. Shopping carts strewn everywhere, screaming kids, pushy parents, and a general lack of self awareness of one’s place in three-dimensional space.

I’ve been to the Mall of Dhahran several times (Saco World is an anchor), and it’s a massive, glitzy mall with lots of high-end stores, a wide variety of Western, Middle Eastern, and Far Eastern restaurants, and with just about every ‘murican fast-food place you can think of splayed around a food court – Popeye’s, yup: McDonald’s and Burger King, of course: Charley’s Philly Cheesesteaks, yeah: along with what is in the photo below, yep.


It is what you think it is…

Prayer time is interesting and something that will take some getting used to, but thanks to my iPhone “MuslimPro” app, I keep track of the times fairly well. There happens to be a small mosque a stone’s throw from my place on campus, meaning the early morning Fajr call to prayer did not go unnoticed while I was sleeping this morning. I’ve been in stores several times during prayer and some things happen and other things do not.  For example, in IKEA, there’s an announcement about 10 minutes before the call, with a reminder that the store will be closing and with the location of the men’s and women’s prayer rooms within the store. Once the call starts, some people head to pray, while others simply keep on shopping. The typical crowd thins a bit as folks head to pray – the registers are closed down and store employees are not available to help you. Then there’s an announcement for employees to return to their stations, followed a few minutes later by an announcement that store is back open. I was in a grocery store yesterday during prayer and one of the registers remained open and working, but nobody was manning the counters (deli, meat, seafood, etc.). Apparently, sometimes, prayer directives are given (see below). I read the story last night in the Arab News, and lo and behold, it sprinkled for about 4 minutes early this morning.  Huh.


I think more prayers are in order.

Driving. Now just about everyone who had been to KSA prior to me getting here warned me about the driving. Crazy, they said! Death-defying, they said! Don’t even think of it, they warned! So, of course, I rented a car for a month on the first day…  I like driving challenges. Since being here, and upon hearing that I’ve been driving all over the map, my colleagues all ask if it’s frightening out there on the roads. No doubt there’s a degree of chaos on the roads, and some guys really suck at driving (or at least at making good driving decisions). I say “guys”, because women can’t drive here. So NO ONE gets to place the blame for poor driving habits on the women. Nope, the guys own this.

So, is it a frightening, white-knuckle, pee-inducing experience out on the roads? Pshaw. I drove in Providence RI for four years… There are definitely some consistent bad-driving idiosyncrasies here, but most I’ve been able to identify and deal with. U-turns are a necessity, and that definitely slows things down, especially when three lanes of cars are simultaneously trying to make the same u-turn onto a 2-lane return street. Turn signals are optional, but lane drift gives you a hint about what is about to happen. One of the strange things (but I’m sure it’s done to decrease traffic accidents) is that at signaled 4-way intersections, each of the four spokes has their own turn at going, with the other three spokes just sitting there and waiting (i.e., the oncoming traffic does not flow). This means that wait times for lights at major intersections can last 4 or 5 minutes. There are large digital timers that show the count down until it is your turn, so I’m not exaggerating on the wait times. Invariably, as soon as the light finally changes, horns start honking to get everyone moving (I kind of like this, ha!). I guess a certain intensity builds when you pull up to a light and there’s still 224 seconds remaining for you to go.

Last couple thoughts this evening. I saw the campus doctor who reviewed my medical stuff on Thursday afternoon. He signed off on my forms and then I went to the medical administration and they loudly stamped my forms. Apparently, this means that I’m approved for my Iqama card. Although I haven’t completely figured out the next step (and apparently, there are new procedures), but I really think I’ll get my card early in the week.

I spent a good chunk of the morning today in the new college building, working on a syllabus and putting some PowerPoint slides together. There is still plenty of installation, finishing, and cleaning that is being done, and I was probably the only non-laborer in the building. That is, until my Dean walked in (checking up on building progress). So, looks like I scored some points this morning.

Finally, here’s a collection of comfort condiments that I’ve been accruing (plus a bunch of various local and subcontinent spices). I’m heading home now to make a chicken tikka masala from scratch, along with biryani rice and a salad.


The likelihood of my survival has increased.


2 thoughts on “Some Early Observations

  1. I will take any hints you have for cooking on an electric stove. On Monday I leave my gas stove behind, boo-hoo. Loving the blog, keep it up, we are with you in spirit my friend.


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