Welcome to The Kingdom

A 6-hour plane ride is all it takes to change your life radically. We finally flew from Paris to Bahrain. I won’t go into the details but Lila hurtled up and down the aisles, pulling blankets off sleeping businessmen and picking scraps of dirt off the floor and putting them in her mouth. By the time we landed in Bahrain late that evening I was close to a breakdown. Then Julien showed up and we had more road to cover, the two-hour drive to Saudi Arabia.

Theoretically it takes two hours to cross the border from Bahrain to Saudi, but Thursday evening is the worst time to do so. Weekends in Saudi fall on Thursdays and Fridays (in Qatar it was Fridays and Saturdays), and a lot of people flee to neighbouring, freedom-loving Bahrain to get their fill of movies, alcohol, pork, and the pleasure of walking around in public without the abaya (for women).

At the border I had to get my fingerprinting done, and for the first time that humid evening I had to put on my abaya. The feeling was weird – I had of course tried it on several times (I brought mine from Qatar, which I’d purchased for a desert party where we all had to wear the traditional Qatari costumes) – but this time I had to wear it and it made all the difference in the world. I felt like I was melting into the background. And in Saudi, if you’re a woman, this could actually be a good thing.

Anyway, we’re now living in a compound in Jubail. It’s wild. There are barracks at the entrance equipped with machine guns, armed guards, barbed wire. Once you get through the three security checks, you enter a different world. A little fountain greets you. There are trees all around. It’s like a set of Desperate Housewives – matching houses, front porches, backyards with a barbeque set, the works. There is a grocery store, two Olympic-size pools, tennis and squash courts, a gym, a restaurant, a library, a park. It’s the entire world in a little bubble in the desert.  There is a bus that drops off and picks up women to different places in the city – the fish market, the malls, the big grocery chains, and even McDonald’s – but it follows a strict schedule and I haven’t dared to take it yet.

So many things to get used to. Women can’t drive here. Women cannot venture outside without their husbands or a male family member, and when outside they must wear the abaya (Sidenote: Qatari women wore abayas, but theirs were figure-hugging and almost sexy, cut and fitted to a flattering shape. Saudi abayas hide the shape of the body, no matter how old you are. And about 90% of the women here cover their faces). There is no alcohol, only fake alcoholic drinks which as expected taste like shit (In Qatar, we had alcohol licenses and an alcohol shop in the middle of the desert – sounds like heaven right now.) There are no cinemas. Public places close five times a day during prayer time – last week we were at Ikea lining up at the cashier when the call of prayer sounded, and everything closed down; we waited 30 minutes for the prayer to end before things picked up again.

Also, there’s no music. At the mall, I was aware that apart from the sound of talking, we could only hear the water from the fountain splashing about. Not even muzak in the elevator. How weird is that!

A new friend of mine who lived here for 8 years reassured me that it usually takes around 3 months before getting used to life in the Kingdom. So do stick around. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Currently listening to:
Hundred Little Reasons
Hundred Little Reasons

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *