Friday, September 3, 2010

A Foreigner's Guide to Surviving the Foreign

Having to adapt to a new place is hard. Having to do so all alone is absolutely terrifying. I know veyr well that navigating a place that looks and feels different to you takes a lot of strength, calm, and courage.

Since I have been here in MA, I feel like I have been successful. I have never been here before, and no one in my family has lived here either. One of the reasons I was feeling so damn anxious earlier is because I knew that I didn't know who to call if I ever got lost or...something worse. The truth is, it's really worrying when the people who can help you when you are in trouble are either a) Many miles away or b) acquaintances. I completely understand the uneasiness of being alone. I was very lucky to have good friends help me settle in - but that is not always the case for people first living on their own.

Of course, being in a new place is also extremely exciting! This is your place now. But first, you have to make it yours! Here is my little guide to surviving a new area on your own and doing exactly that. Keep in mind that I am sticking to a place which has a population of people who speak the same language as you.

1. Rely on experience

If you are trying to navigate a place for the first time, think back to any travels that you have had before: have you ever taken a vacation abroad with your friends, family, or by yourself? Have you ever been far away from home for a prolonged amount of time? What precautions did you take? Remember your past experiences; especially the moments where you screwed up. I am going to be the first to tell you that I hate remembering my cringeworthy experiences, but you have to learn from mistakes. You have made them before and they will be made again. Don't worry about it. Just make sure you remember not to repeat them.

If you have never travelled on your own, or have never had to stay in a strange place for too long, don't worry. Listen to other people. They have plenty of stories of their own! Talk to family members and friends about travelling itself (what it is like at an airport, what to expect when sitting on a bus for 6 hours, etc.) and also about how to use public transport in the area that you are going to. Even if they have stories of countries and cities that are not the one you are going to, don't worry - anything they tell you can give you an idea of how to reason with a new place; how to deal with challenges.

2. Understanding public transport means understanding the layout of your city/town

Public transport is a wonderful thing. You spend less money on gas and car maintenance, it is better for the environment, etc. It is also designed to be convenient for people who need to get to important places. Bus and train stops are usually based on landmarks that are used to help people understand where they are in relation to other landmarks.

Do you see where I am going with this? You can use google maps all you want, and drive to each desired location, but the truth is that you will not learn the about the soul of the city unless you understand its places of interest and public transport. Another thing you will learn is the nature of the people who live and breathe the city already - are they courteous, friendly, abrasive, or cold? Of course every person is different, but you'll get a general idea of what people are like in public - something that everyone going to a new place should know.

3. Use the resources around you, including information kiosks and local authorities

If you are extremely proud, introverted, terrified of people, or ashamed of yourself, you just have you grit your teeth and bear it. No one really likes to ask for directions or help, unless they are trying to distract or flirt with whomever they are asking (trust me on this one). However, you will need to do it sometimes. People who are just walking by may have things to do, or may not be willing to help, so if you see someone like a policeman, or someone who works for the transportation authority, asking them might be a better idea.

The reason I say this is because it is their job to help you. No question is a stupid question, I promise. Even if the answer seems obvious to them, so what? You're new here. It's okay. Please throw your pride out of the window and throw a little caution to the wind - if you are lost, or if something bad has happened to you, for the love of God ask for some help.

4. Keep in contact with people who care about you; you might need their help

Now this one is going to make me sound like a douchebag, but hear me out. Your family and friends love you (most of the time). You know who you can trust, and who you can't. You also know who you would immediately take a plane over to whenever they needed you, if you had the money and the means. Because you are sure of who you really appreciate, let them help you in your direst hours.

You darkest times aren't always about being lost or out of money; or anything to do with practical matters. When you go into a brand new place, you will need some kind of emotional support. You cannot do everything on your own.

You are sometimes going to feel very lonely, especially in the first few days or weeks when you don't have any friends in the immediate area. Even if you are a loner like me, sometimes you will want to rant about silly things just like you used to be able to when you had friends or family closer to you physically. Don't let the distance bring you down. There will always be somebody willing to listen to you, if you call the right person.

Sometimes the person who listens to you and is there for you isn't who you think it is. Don't be disappointed by the neglect of whomever you thought it would be - focus on the other person who surprisingly showed a lot of kindness and warmth. Use media you wouldn't normally use, either: Facebook and phone calls don't always work.

5. Write about your worries and fears in a coherent manner

Now you can probably see where I am going, and why I am writing this! You don't have to start a blog in order to write about how you are feeling. In fact, I think it is much better to write to a specific person with whom you feel more comfortable; someone who actually knows you well. If you don't really have that, then a blog might be a good idea - I know it has helped me! Or, perhaps, you could write a note on a social networking site like tumblr or Facebook - even tweeting about things can be therapeutic.

We all hate the narcissistic fools who tweet and Facebook constantly about their stupid woes and their nonexistent problems. However, being alone in a strange place is not a dumb reason to write. In fact, it is one of the best! Even if no one reads it, writing it down in a way that is understandable to you and other people helps you figure out what is really bothering you. The process of writing or rereading it might make you realise a) how small some of your problems are and how easy they are to fix, or b) how badly things are going and how much you need to figure it out now. Realising either of those things for yourself is the key to surviving.

6. Let yourself be a little overly prepared if you need it

Some of us are worrywarts who freak out at the smallest thing. We are the people who are scared of being lost, losing our keys, getting hassled in a bar, etc. Some of us are completely the opposite - we thrive on adventure, and let our hearts lead the way despite the dangers.

A little something I have learned through various means, usually religious, spiritual, and health-related is that you need to have balance in your life. You cannot let yourself be scared of everything, otherwise you will not get near enough to the water to test it. On the other hand, you should not throw yourself right into the pool if you don't know whether it is empty or not. You need to have the courage to put your toe into the pool to check the temperature (or presence of water!) but the rationality to not take it too far, or do it too fast. If the water isn't there, or it is scalding hot, you need to know when to get yourself away from the pool.

Okay this water/pool analogy is going on for too long. Basically, if you think you need to write down every little direction you read on mapquest, as well as print out a copy of the map with directions, and THEN keep repeating the directions to yourself and constantly checking all three are the same - go ahead. You'll look really silly at every intersection and on the bus, but you know what? At least it is getting you somewhere. After a few times on the same route, you'll get it and you won't need your safety blanket anymore. Safety blankets are not bad at first, but to create another corny analogy, they shouldn't keep you wrapped up for too long.

So, that is all I have to say for my survival guide. I am sure there are many other little things I could tell you: be careful with money, keep a phone on you at all times, etc. but those are things you have probably heard before. I tried to write about things that were just a little less obvious to the new traveller.

I think everyone should go to a foreign place, whether they know the language or not. The language barrier can be a fun and difficult thing to deal with, something I will write about another time. However, even with people who speak the same language, things can still be foreign to you as it is still a complete unknown. For those who fear the unknown, you will find that the best way to eradicate fear of what you don't know is to learn about it. Then, the unknown becomes...well...the known!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Finale: Sandcastles and A Full Closet

My new dresser with random toiletries and ceramic artworks I made for a class previously.

I am here. I'm in Massachusetts. This is my second day and I am content and exhausted.

When I first arrived, I have to admit that my anxiety was at its peak. I tried to mask my fear with laughter and jokes about my journeys with my best friend and his mother (who is indeed also my friend), who helped me settle into my new room in my new apartment. However, there was this terrible pounding in my chest the whole time. I am sure they could see my nervousness and lack of ease, but they were nice enough to be quiet about it and help me out. They are very, very good friends.

We arrived in the area of my new building and I was confronted with the fact that this was my new place to live and thrive. This was the place that I would have to not only get used to, but actually work with in order to get to other places in my life. This new, unfamiliar place was supposed to be my new home base for a while; a new brick in the road.

The first thing I felt when I got into my room was the harsh impact of missing my parents. You know how it goes - when you are with them, you complain and nag and are nagged by them, but when you are apart, it's the hardest thing in the world. When I was speaking to my parents on the phone for the first time since I got here, I burst into tears at hearing my Dad's voice. I was sitting in an ice cream parlour eating a very cold, very sweet crushed ice treat. He sounds naturally melancholic all the time, and when he said he missed me, I realised that he was so far away, and his voice got to me. It really dawned on me that I wasn't even just a phone call away. It slapped me in the face when I thought it was so late at night where he and my mother were, but where I was, the sun was still shining and the heat was still stifling.

That is the biggest difference here - although Saudi is insanely hot, Massachusetts is extremely hot and humid, which is hard for me to deal with, as I am not used to it. I prefer the dryness of Saudi in this way. My hair sticks to my back and no longer has the bouffant appearance it did in Saudi. I think the water I wash my hair with itself is different. The mineral content is not the same. Just like being without my parents is not the same. At least I do not need to drink that much water.

Many things are different; little things that take adjusting. I now have to make sure that no hair goes down the drain in the shower. I also have to schedule 2 times per week that I can do laundry. I have certain weeks of the month where I am in charge of cleaning the kitchen or bathroom. I have a room with a huge, huge closet but no desk whatsoever. I can't play Dragon Age until I figure that one out.

I think I can do this. I feel optimistic despite the change, especially since I had the help of my friends. They helped me so much, I don't know how to thank them. I bought them lunch, but seriously, what the hell is that? Their help means more than lunch - even if I do love food. And yes, I need to stop and say that the food was delicious - it was American-Italian, and for the first time, I ate full garlic cloves on pizza. Actually, they are insanely delicious and not too strong - a pleasant surprise.

I am glad for the help of these wonderful people, and for the kindness and consideration of the house owner. All of them understand just enough about how difficult it can be to move in from very far away into the unknown. The house owner even lent me bedsheets without me even having to ask. I still haven't seen her yet, and my thanks to her are only by email and very briefly over the phone.

If I didn't have these small blessings, right now I would be a wreck. I would be writing about the difficulties of adjustment as well as the sadness of being alone. Right now, I am alone in my room, but I don't feel alone in the world. My friends, and certainly my family, have made this new start a great success.

Some of the little things said by my parents about missing me did bring tears to my eyes. But then, I realise this is the wake up call - they need to know that I am okay, and I need to be genuine by making the most out of everything I have, so that in the end I really am okay. I also need to let them know regularly about the little things in life that I am up to. That is something that I did not do during the period of my undergraduate degree - 3 whole years. It was very, very wrong of me.

While things were very difficult at first, once I started speaking to other members of my family, things got better gradually. I spoke to my cousin and grandparents in New Jersey, and today I spoke to my sister and my aunt in Chicago. They showed concern for me as any family member would - asking me how I am, how I was feeling, and whether I liked my new area. It may seem like small talk and nothing special, but just knowing that they are at all interested is very meaningful and relieving. I have family, I have a roof over my head, and guess what, everyone? It feels really, really good.

So far, the time I have spent here has been put to use. Some of it is about resting from that long, almost sleepless journey across continents, but some of it is about putting together pieces of my new life. I needed to buy things I don't really think about too much - scissors, markers, envelopes, things like that. Then, there are new home things: bedsheets, air fresheners, cups and plates. I needed cutlery but all I could get was plastic ones - Kohl's only had these $40 sets and the ones in the supermarket were all plastic. In fact, I was FOOLED by Shaw's because they had cutlery in a packet that looked silver at first glance, but were really plastic! How dare they make me believe such lies?

In the end, I have everything I need for now. I have everything I bought above, and this morning I went on my own to a Greek grocer. He sells many things I am familiar with, and the closeness to Arab cuisine makes me feel warm and fuzzy somehow. As usual, the way to my heart truly is through my stomach - I hear it's in my blood. It really pleases me that I can buy hummus, greek yoghurt, feta (if I feel like it ever; I usually dislike it), pita, zatar bread, or any of the many frozen greek foods every day of the week - before 7pm. Everything in the immediate area closes around that time.

So, here I am. I'm sitting on my double bed. I'm leaning up against a wall. I'm looking at my poor excuses for decoration, while wondering what else I can do to make the room my own.

I tied my jingly scarf on the doorknob of my huge, endless closet that was able to fit 2 suitcases and my big green monster.

Like it was when I was leaving Saudi, I am full of mixed feelings. I'm sighing at the thought of eating soft, delicious Saudi lamb. I'm smiling at the prospect of tomorrow - I buy my books for my grad school classes, which is a small thing but a way to learn more about the lay of the land. I will eventually start classes in a program that looks more fascinating the more I learn about it.

I have a bright tomorrow, a wonderful family, and amazing friends. No matter how I feel, adjustment will be made easier with these three things. I am made safer from the desert winds by the shielding hands of my loved ones and the strength to put up my own hands; a strength bred within me from years upon years of constant change - the gypsy life which is in my title.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My Travels, Part Three: Lufthansa to Boston

Ugly Frankfurt airport from outside my airplane window.

On the second flight, from Frankfurt to Boston, I was able to charge my laptop and iPod, which I was so grateful for. I am lucky on this flight yet again because I have two seats all for myself - for a while, I let my computer charge in the comfort of its own Lufthansa seat.

Again, this is a nice plane! I like the Lufthansa business class a lot.

My short legs could not reach anywhere near to where my laptop bag was!

However, the takeoff was one of the worst I have ever experienced, and I think it may have been because I was seated directly behind "the nose" of the plane. It was awkward, shaky, and scary. I love the feeling of takeoff but this time, I couldn't wait for us to be stable!

Soon, it did indeed stabilise and I was left sitting in my seat, staring at the seatbelt sign. For some unknown reason, I was feeling EXTREMELY ill. My head was hurting, my ears were popping, but worst of all: my stomach was CHURNING. My stomach had been misbehaving for a while, but after that takeoff I felt even worse.

I have never, ever, in my memory, vomited on a plane ride. I've never even really felt that queasy. This time was totally different. I went to the bathroom before the seat belt sign turned off for like, the first time ever. Although I am clumsy and awkward as a person, I follow the rules in general. I understand that the plane is still shaky and we need to get the clear before we can move. But, well, DAMN! I felt horrible! I just couldn't find the dumb paper bag they give you to throw up in until I got back from the bathroom.

Oh, just in case you were thinking I spent the first few moments of the flight blowing chunks: no. I didn't throw up. Not even a little! It was a false alarm. However, I felt calmed down after a few seconds, just sitting there.

When I got back to my seat, I tried to silently apologise to the poor flight attendant who was sitting right there, watching me break all the rules. What is up with people seeing me do dumb/wrong things this trip? Anyway, he did try to stop me going to the bathroom but really - he couldn't drag me out of there. I went in anyway. For the rest of the flight, I smiled at him and was SUPER polite. I felt so bad!

I got my menu and looked at the choices I had in front of me. The only interesting thing is that I decided on a vegetarian main course even though I really, really wanted to get the lamb stew with polenta! I need to stop eating meat in general. I had been eating too much of it in Saudi.

Another more interesting thing that I realised was that the word for olive in Spanish is aceituna which is so similar to the Arabic word for olive, zeitoun. I know that Spanish and Arabic share a lot but it always creates a little spark in me when I see a relation.

When I was in Saudi, listening to Arabic music on TV made me realise the link between Spain and Arabic in terms of music. I know very well that Arabs can dance very well to Spanish music, and vice versa. If we look at one of my idols, Shakira, there you go! She blends the Latina and Middle Eastern very well. Hell, it's in her own name! The tie is linguistic, historical, and cultural. When studying Islamic architecture, I was really excited and interested in the Islamic rule in Iberia. It's so fascinating to me, to see the similarities in art - however, I always see that there is a different flair for each. I can't even describe it, but you can definitely tell when something is Spanish and something is Arab when it comes to dress, music, or food, or even the language - it doesn't sound the same.

Wow - I am REALLY digressing from my travels. Or am I? I go off on tangents in my head on the plane because I get bored and restless! I guess my ramblings are as much a part of my travels as the flight and the airports.

There isn't much you can do on a plane. You can rely on in flight entertainment, but that isn't always going to help. Emirates has channels upon channels of movies and TV shows and whatever to watch, but sometimes I look through the list and there is nothing I feel like watching! On this Lufthansa flight, there are a few episodes of things I could watch, but I don't feel like it, AND the movie selection is terrible. The newest in-stale-ment (get it? Hurr hurr) of the Shrek movie franchise? You've gotta be kidding me.

For the last hour and a half of the flight, they showed REALLY cheesy music videos on a central screen. Some were European, some were random like Jack Johnson and Michael Buble. I like those two guys, but I didn't really feel like seeing Johnson surf for a whole video or Michael Buble in the studio. I stuck to the iPod in general.

I could have read a book, but guess what? My only book on the plane was in the overhead bin. Remember what I said about the overhead bin and how I needed Herculean strength to get my case up there? No way in HELL would I get that down!

What I usually ended up doing was writing or playing Plants vs Zombies. OR eating, but come on! They GAVE me the food. I HAVE to eat it*!

I toyed with the idea of trying a fiction piece, but damn, do I suck at writing fiction. My settings and histories are always terrible. Maybe I should write about a real place…but then that might involve some research. Write about a place I know? If anyone from that place reads it, they'll be able to pick out all of my errors! That's supposed to be a good thing, but here's a secret (not really): I am terrified of criticism. That basically means that I need MORE of it because I can't just go living my life with everyone telling me I am perfect. That's living in a delusion.

One thing I actually did write was a whole thing about perfection and praise and how it can destroy a life. Maybe I'll expand on that for another blogpost on another day! I also wrote a very emotional piece related to Mauritius that I am actually SCARED to share. Like really, really scared that people will look at me differently and hate me. Hmmm…that ties in with yet another piece of writing…

Yes, the flight had been spent writing. Nothing else of interest really happened. Oh, that flight attendant who caught me red-handed earlier in my air crime seemed to be COMPLETELY confused by my only drinking water. He finally smiled when I ordered a coffee. What was that about?

Finally, after the flight of rather boring things, where I went 20,000 times to the toilet (what is up with me and the damn airline toilet?) I don't have too much to say about it. I DID eat very nice cake very, very quickly.

See that? Done in less than a minute.
Finally, I arrived in Boston and well...I am here. Tomorrow, you shall be hearing about that. What a long, long day it has


*No I don't.

My Travels, Part Two: Frankfurt, Frankfurt, Frankfurt...

As I did not have internet for a while, I wrote and wrote and wrote to post whenever I had a chance. This is my edited version. I know it rambles, so I apologise in advance!

Blog entry starting at 8:38am Frankfurt time
There is apparently internet in this lounge here in Frankfurt airport, but I can't use it. It's a T Mobile service you have to pay for, which is cool, but it isn't working! I filled out the form for my credit card info, clicked…and got a message saying that I can't pay by credit card right now. Sounds like such bullshit, right?

Then, I decided, "HEY I have a Paypal account I barely use! I can barely use it again, right?" No, I couldn't, because guess what? Signing into Paypal...requires an internet connection. POOF all my dreams of using the internet in this lounge have been shattered! So has my dream of taking a shower. There is a waitlist and uh…I don't think I am going any time soon. Damn Germans and their…ability to make things more efficient!

Anyway, Frankfurt itself as I was flying over it was SO BEAUTIFUL. I wanted to jump out of the plane and into those fluffy looking trees. I love the way everything looks so tiny, like toys, when you fly over land. No matter how many times I do it, it never fails to amuse and amaze me. I think about how cool it would be to pick up one of the trucks between two fingers.

Ugly-ass Frankfurt airport

I am really disappointed with this airport. It's nothing special. It reminds me of the disappointment I felt when I arrived in Vienna's airport back in 2006. Ugh, that is maybe the worst airport ever actually, I don't even know if it is worse than this one! I just know that I didn't like it at all, and when I stepped into Vienna I felt SO annoyed. It was so ugly! Here I kind of felt the same way, especially with this lounge. It's so quiet and dead but it has so many people in it. Everyone is struggling to be quiet.

OF COURSE, that means I HAVE to have the bright lime green case with the faulty wheel that makes a super loud CLACK CLACK CLACK when I pull it. EVERYONE stares at me and again, OF COURSE they stare at me when my hair happens to be greasy, I smell, my breath smells, and my clothes are all rumpled because I slept on the flight.

It's actually pretty hilarious, now that I think about it.

Man, I just want to get on my flight right now. Um, I landed at about 7am and got to the lounge at 8:30am somehow! I am therefore spending only a little less than 4 hours in this boring, drab lounge. Thank GOD it is not longer or I would explode. I hope the shower will take a good amount of time, but then again I would feel bad because I know there are other people waiting on that list. OOF! I was looking forward to getting cleaned up and not stinking horribly!

What I am most amazed by is how quiet it is, and how I have not heard even one announcement for boarding yet. I guess I am just on my own here! Every lounge in the world that I have been to announces the flights that are boarding. Maybe this one does but I sure as hell haven't heard it yet. It isn't very nice, is it? That's it - I am just going to leave early. At like…11:15. It'll take me 20 years to walk all the way to my gate anyhow!
[NOTE AT 9:08AM] I am a douchebag. They made an announcement to get people to board their flight and I am a horrible person.

Ugh…the walk (and air rail ride!) here from the plane was not as bad as Dubai, but it was a long walk after a flight where I only slept for like 2 hours. I'm tired! That's why I am grumpy and want my shower. I also really need that shower because I felt bad for the woman who was feeling me up at the security thing. She REALLY felt me up, too - she must have liked me. Grabbed my breasts and everything. And I mean it - she GRABBED my breasts. Yes, they are real, lady! You could have just asked!

Okay, no, I understand the need, I am just kidding. I was not kidding about feeling bad for her though - she had to touch me all over the place while I STANK. Oof, my stench must have made her leave and privately vomit. I wouldn't blame her. I am so gross right now!

It's such a shame because when I went to the lavatory on the plane I was so please to see that I didn't look as horrible as I usually do. I guess that facial I went to yesterday really helped! It felt great when I was getting it, so it was totally worth it for that alone. Now, all of that is gone - I am gross, gross, GROSS. And did I say I was smelly? I don't think I talked about that enough.

Okay it is 9:37am and I practically ran and jumped like crazy when I heard my name called for a shower. They pronounced my name is "Khadaya" which is always a pretty mispronunciation. Hell, if that were my name, I'd be totally happy. The shower was AMAZING. It was a funny shower that sprayed in my FACE with hot water (I swear it was like Mr. Bean or some cheap comedy movie or something). I thought that I screwed things up because I saw that the water was escaping the shower…but there was a drain right outside which was meant for this kind of thing. Good on Germany for thinking about idiots like me who want to shower in their airports!

Obligatory picture of me in the mirror being grumpy and needing to shower.

I feel SO good right now, so much more energized. Another thing that makes me super happy is the fact that I have a BEAUTIFUL coffee next to me.


I had to take a picture because it is the prettiest thing in this whole airport.

I have written so much here in this Notepad document that I know I will be cutting a lot out of it. I hate it when I ramble and then publish it on my blog, but I love the actual rambling. If anyone I knew were right here and asking me about my flight, I'd be really babbly (is that even a word?) and I'd have so much fun talking about everything that is going on around me. I LOVE talking about airport experiences - the good and the bad. The good usually has to do with food and the bad generally has to do with stuff like crabby passengers, babies or BAD food. Or ugly airports with ugly ugly design.

Okay, I have to explain why I said babies: I HATE BABIES. I hate babies! I hate them as much as Glenn Beck hates Woodrow Wilson ("I hate that guy!") and that make me a horrible human being, I know. But babies are so, so, SO damn annoying. They sing to themselves in their annoying high pitched squeaky voices, they complain and scream and squirm and never do anything their Mom or Dad tells them to. I also think they look like little aliens. I totally looked like an alien when I was a baby, I know!

There is nothing, NOTHING worse than a crying baby on an airplane. NOTHING. There is nothing the parent can do, or the flight attendants, or anyone because that baby is just gonna cry and cry and cry and whine and make high pitched noises. It gets even worse when they are a little older and are starting to babble weird noises and sing irritating little songs or read out every word that they see because they just learned how to read ARGHARGHARGH. Makes me so mad! There should be a NO BABY section, just for me. It'd be a Khadeja section - with its own lavatory. Oh HELL yeah! My dream come true!

I didn't have a baby crying or being irritating on my flight but I have had it before and I am experiencing it right now in Frankfurt. There are babies everywhere at this airport! There was even a line for mothers with babies at the security! What is Frankfurt, Baby capital of the world? Oof! I hope that is only limited to the airport because Frankfurt looked so beautiful and I'd love to visit someday. Then again, if I didn't like the German-ness of Vienna, maybe I really won't like it. It is always worth a try, right?

Oh, by the way, speaking on annoying things - that irritating woman in the Riyadh lounge was on my flight to Frankfurt! Imagine my dismay as I saw her on the damn plane, going to MY lavatory! She was in first class, don't they have their own damn toilet? Hahaha okay, really, I didn't see her again and she didn't bother me. That's such a good thing. I have to admit though that I was terrified that I'd get stuck sitting next to her. That would have been such a nightmare.

On the flight, I did a lot of iPod touch blogging to condense for later. Now that I have limited time on my computer and on the internet, my editing has to go super fast! Let's see what I got:


3:06am Saudi time and I am super duper tired. The Lufthansa plane is SO pretty and the seats and legroom are awesome in this business class! Considering how much cheaper it is than Emirates, I am so happy - and relieved. We are now 840km over ground although I might be wrong because I only just caught that info on the screen. I see that little plane on the diagram. It is right on top of Riyadh.

It is pitch black outside. When we took off Riyadh was a thousand orange lights. Is this the last time? I don't know now.

Anyway, I like this plane. I can't wait to see the lavatory! Yeah - that is what I look at, the damn toilet! What I really wanna do is see my exhausted FACE. I must look hideous right now!

I put on quite a show when I was getting settled - my huge lime green case (which all the attendants commented on) took the strength of the Hulk to get up into the overhead bin. Everyone was staring to see if I would topple over, I swear. If I were them, I would too! I didn't topple over though - I got it in there and when I got switched to a better seat (OH YEAH) I took it down and then wrestled it back to another bin! Hell yeah!

Ooooooh it's snack time!

Actually this was NOT a part of snack time but pre-snack time. It was lemon juice - with MINT. Much better.
3:22am and they just served the guy nearest to me red wine. Portuguese, I think. Well, whaddaya know? I thought that wasn't allowed on flights to or from Saudi!

I had canapes and coffee and a walnut pastry thing. The canapes were good: block of salmon, one with chicken breast, strawberry and olive (I think) and then roast beef and orange [NOTE: I was super wrong about what these things were!!! I looked at the menu and the "beef" was DUCK and the chicken was something else. Oops!] The walnut pastry [NOTE: It was BACLAVA, my favourite thing I just couldn't remember what the hell it was called in my insomniac state] was SO GOOD with that coffee!

Oooooh okay now we are over Al-Kuwait or something and nearing Tel Aviv. Woooo it is 3:31 and I should really be getting some sleep, dawg! [NOTE: Dawg? REALLY?]

Ok for reals [NOTE: Again - REALLY?] it is 3:41 and I don't wanna sleep juuuuuuust yet. Might just listen to music for a little while.


And from there, I just went to sleep. It took me a long time, but I eventually was able to find a good position. When I woke up, I ate the best muesli in the WORLD. I have never had such good muesli ever. It was creamy and sweet - and best of all, there were no raisins!

Now, I must really go. My laptop battery is dying and my internet time is running out. More of my travels will be revealed after I finally arrive in Boston. It is 10:52am and I will probably leave this lounge in 30 minutes or so.

Monday, August 30, 2010

My Travels, Part One: Riyadh Airport Musings

I have always wanted to blog while I travelled. Something interesting always happens, so I regret it when it isn't written to help me reminisce. This time, I shall not err! I am going to write!

Right now, I am in Riyadh's international airport, in their First and Business class lounge. It's not too big, and uses orange cafe lighting in oranges and reds. It's very, very warm. It also has a very distinct smell which I believe is air freshener, but it is kind of smoky and it burns my nose.

I am travelling on a Lufthansa flight which will board in approximately 1 1/2 hours. I am travelling via Frankfurt to Boston's Logan International Airport. As this is Riyadh, I have only one thing to say...

I am so BORED!

There is really nothing to do here! But you know, it is always the same in every airport. Where could I go with my bulky laptop bag and even bulkier lime green carry on luggage? And yes - it IS lime green because a) I love bright colours and b) it's so easy to spot. If someone ever tries to steal my bag, I can tell the airport officials and random bystanders that my bag is lime green - it can't be missed! It also has a turtle on it. All I need to say is "lime green with a turtle on it" and BAM! That bag is caught!

Okay, okay, I am smart in choosing my bags, but only for the sake of fashion and superficial things like that - honestly, I just liked the colour. My Mom gave me the second reason, assuming that I had chosen this particular case for that reason. My eyes widened and I said "Oooohhhhh yeah that IS a good thing, isn't it?" It's like that cartoon lightbulb finally went off in my head.

As I was saying, there is not much you can really do in an airport, especially a small lounge. All I can do is sit around and listen or watch people without looking too much like a spy or a weirdo. I listen to people, too - right now some woman is yelling about the tables being too dirty or something. I always cringe when someone is being loud and demanding in public. She's still ranting about something else now - oh, she's mad about there not being labels in the food area. All I can think is...woman, you are in RIYADH, what do you expect? Go sit down and stop yelling at the poor guys who have no control over any of this!

In Dubai's airport, which I have gone to numerous times in transit, the lounge is bigger and prettier and you have a little more space for yourself, but that's even more annoying - there is so much walking. Oh Lord. And all the places in between are not even worth it! I used to love it when I was younger because of all the lights and shiny thing, but after a few times I realised that it was all razzmatazz and no substance. Yes, there is a UFO shaped light that emits smoke, but there is only so many times you can stare at it before you go crazy. But I do have to admit in the lounges, it is a lot more comfortable to wait for the flight. I tend to just sit around and use the internet, but I can do it while drinking juices and eating delicious foods.

The Riyadh airport's food selection (of COURSE I need to talk about food again!) by comparison isn't really that good. I just ate a very buttery salami and cheese sandwich that would have made my parents squeal with disgust. I'm not even sure that it was salami! It was some kind of luncheon meat - I hope that wasn't a bad idea for my stomach! As I said to my friends on facebook: I am just getting ready for the garbage that will enter my system in the US, of course. Oh, that just reminded me of the sad fact that a lot of the great food I ate is no more! I need to change the subject from food before I get too depressed.

Ah! I just thought of something to take my mind off of food - I am going to Frankfurt airport for about 6 hours or so (I think). I'm pretty excited because I have never been to that airport before. My very little grasp of German might help me there, but I highly doubt it since Germans speak very good English anyway. I might still try, just to give me a new opportunity to embarrass myself.

I get very excited at the idea of a new airport. I can't wait to compare it to everything else! I also get excited at the idea of seeing a new country. I have never actually been to Germany, the country of my Dad's dreams. He loves German, and Germany (although I think that Austria might almost be tied for first place), and has always reminded us of the fact for as far back as I can remember. I kind of wish I was forced to spend a day or two there just so I could have a lonesome holiday and let my Dad know whether I liked it or not - not the kind I had in Saudi, of course. This holiday was...well...

Oh, Saudi...if you readers think that all of this excitement is taking away the feelings I mentioned in my last entry, think again. I don't want to think about it, but there is a slight ache right in my chest and at the risk of sounding like a Bollywood movie, I can't deny it. I have decided, in the car on the way here, that I am going to miss it here and that it will be a big shame if I don't come back. I am going to miss my parents so much, and Mr. F too. I tried to laugh and smile on the way to the airport, and I am truly happy to leave, but the truth is that I don't feel 100% happy about leaving.

Sitting here in this little lounge, I still feel like I have some kind of unfinished business. I keep on checking my bags, rifling through all of my things...but everything I can think of that I need is here. I gave Mr. F my US contact information, I told my parents I would miss them, and I looked around my room for random stuff I might be able to slide into either of my suitcases or bags.

There is nothing. I'm here, and I am leaving it all behind. I am so anxious and scared about grad school right now as well, so there is this witch's brew of emotions churning in my stomach. I am so, so, so excited about starting a new life and being in a different place other than Saudi, I am so nervous about travelling, I am so frightened by grad school, and I am worried about my new living arrangements with so many new people I don't know - everyone is a stranger in this new place I am going to live in.

Before this post gets super depressing, I need to tell you that I am sitting here feeling all bubbly, but with a bit of a heavy heart. I am not crying my eyes out, or throwing myself at the mirrored wall (this lounge has some ritzy elements!) but I am feeling the effects of departure. I guess it is always very hard to leave what is familiar and go to a new place. However, there is definitely a part of me that is optimistic and raring to go!

I am going to take a deep breath, get another sandwich, and play some Plants vs. Zombies. That should calm me down! If only I could finish my Dragon Age game...naaaah. Too much of a hassle finding that mouse in my overpacked bag!

Next time I will be blogging from Frankfurt, hopefully, if they have a place with internet! If not, I will type up my post and put it online when I have a chance to when I get to the US.

P.S. That naggy woman is back...and she is rifling through all the food again. I wonder what she will find to complain about next?

To Leave Saudi: Turn, Turn, Turn

NOTE: I apologise for the BIZARRE spacing that Blogspot is forcing on me. No matter what I do, the spacing is weird. Know that I tried my very best to even things out, to no avail! Curses!

To everything - turn, turn, turn
There is a season - turn, turn, turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven

I'm so anxious. I haven't been able to sleep properly for days, I'm constantly eating and regaining all those pounds, and I have an upset stomach that never seems to get better.

I'm leaving Riyadh today.

What I mean is, I am leaving Riyadh tonight. Very, very late tonight. I'm taking a plane and finally going back to the US to continue my life, or something. It is the end of my period of stagnation! I should rejoice!

But was this really stagnation, or was there anything useful in this time? Did I really get to reflect and learn anything? Did I really lose any pounds to regain? Did I prepare myself at all for the very difficult journey ahead?

I do not have an answer yet, to any of those questions!

The best thing about being here in the summer is that time stood extremely still. I didn't need to think about anything except how to pass each coming day; what to eat, watch on TV, do on the internet, books to read...

The first few weeks were different, because I had to make decisions: will I be going to graduate school yet? Will I be staying in Saudi Arabia for longer to apply to different schools? Am I happy with my life? In the end, I answered the first two questions with a Yes and a No. The last question can't just be answered like that. I'm still thinking about it.

In some ways, I am leaving tonight with more questions than answers. I've learned new things about Saudi Arabia and allowed myself to be exposed to what certain people living outside and in Saudi think. All of this mostly happened on the internet through other blogs and news articles, but I have never been as informed about some of the goings on in Saudi than I am now. No way am I an expert, but my online self-education has made me more aware. Maybe that is why I am so full of questions!

A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones
A time to gather stones together

The greatest thing I have learned this summer is that I am not the saviour of Saudi Arabia. I am not a superhero who can make disappear all of the problems and issues that exist over here. What I can do, in the end, is read and write about what I think. When I do that, I am supporting people who can do what I cannot. In the end, I have realised that I am not a person to cause any political change or unrest in this country, mostly due to a very, very simple thing:

This is not my country. I do not belong here. I may appreciate and love some of the things, but I cannot begin to understand what Saudis and non-Saudis go through in this country because I don't work here. I have come here three summers without a scratch, because I have been forced to avoid all dangers. I am one of the luckiest people who has ever been to Riyadh! Other people either have the time of their life at places I will never be able to visit, and yet another group will be miserable because they have their dignity stripped from them.

To everything - turn, turn, turn
There is a season - turn, turn, turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven

But what do I really know? In the end, I don't really know how to help people in need here because I don't live here often enough, nor do I socialise with many people. In fact, I only sort of socialised with one, and that was over the phone! On top of that, I am not even a Saudi. The change needs to come from Saudis themselves, and Saudi women in particular. They are the ones who can create the most change. The last thing they need is a foreigner barging in and telling them what to do. That creates a backlash, not change.

The truth is, there are more capable Saudis who can do more to help their country, and they already are and will. I am not good at political change at all. When it comes to human rights, the rights of the child, joblessness, religious bastardisation, I am not even knowledgeable about world standards! I know what is wrong, but what model is right? I cannot dictate what Saudi Arabia's model should be. That is up to the people who actually live, work, and breathe this country. 

If I could do anything, I wouldn't touch policies or government. I have to admit there are times when I'd like to put up my own signs and do my own protests, but guess what? I'd be doing it alone. I'd be mocked for being that foolish foreign girl who doesn't understand anything and they would be absolutely right. If I knew any better, I'd know that public demonstrations here mostly lead to arrests. I don't know what to even protest for: as I said, I know the problems (and not even to their full extent!) but I do not know what the solutions are.

A time of war, a time of peace
A time of love, a time of hate
A time you may embrace
A time to refrain from embracing

There are people who definitely know what to rally for. There are a lot of people who know Riyadh and Saudi back to front and know the culture and society much better. These are the people, men and women, who will end up making the most of the country while still staying true to its spirit. The optimistic thing is that they have a rather progressive King who seems to be mostly on their side, and from my point of view that means a lot. There are still fatwas by random dudes, but even the Royal family is putting them down.

I am not World Police. Even if I were a foreign government, I still have no right to go barge into any country. It is really because of foreign involvement from the West that so much resistance to change has happened in the Middle East. I know what is done is done, so I think I am going to be one less (half)Westerner who tries to impose my beliefs in the future. I know many people in the US and other Western nations also want to help but the best help anyone from there can do is just take a step back and let the experts do the job. We are not the experts. As much as I want and desire change, I can't get it the way that Westerners know how because things are different here than what we all know and understand. And for the sake of diversity and richness of our cultural planet, I commend that.

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep

I have said the same thing over and over, I apologise, but the truth is that I feel so helpless about certain issues that really touch my heart that I can't really deal with the frustration, even though I am leaving soon. It is in fact due to my departure that I feel even more irritated with myself and my relationship to the political world. I'm just packing my bags and leaving. That is what I have always done, whether it is my choice or not. Maybe all of what I said before is just my way of trying to cope with the fact that I actually can't do anything.

Every time I think that, I remember how much of a stranger I am to this place even though I lived here when younger, and I came here every summer for 3 years. I have residency here but I am no resident. That is why it is a good thing that I made no crazy rash decisions for anyone else. Whatever I feel like doing, how can I ever follow through? In the end, I will always have to leave.

I wish sometimes that I could really follow through, especially for people like Mr. F. There are others like him who are only tied to this country for money, and they are in great need of it back home. If I could do one good thing for this country, it'd be getting him or someone like him a job somewhere else where they are appreciated and respected. Is there even such a place? 

I know there are some people from the Indian sub-continent who are depressed and angry here. Some of them feel they are the subject of constant racism; that they are treated as inferior. They do their jobs as best as they possibly can with only a promise of money they cannot earn back in their home country. They would go back and continue their lives with their families if they could.

To everything - turn, turn, turn
There is a season - turn, turn, turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven

To me, it's not about women's rights or religion. It's about giving poorer foreigners back their pride. They deserve it because they are the most worthy of praise and yet they get nothing. I know how dramatic it sounds, but every summer and every time I would go back to college it would eat at my soul. I would have dreams of these men and their faces. They were not crying out for my help, but I always felt afterwards that I begged for their forgiveness. I'm so sorry, workers of Saudi, that I have no power to get you out of your positions. I don't even have a job of my own.

Before I get too crazy and emotional, I want to say that one of the best things about Saudi this summer was this blog. Even though I didn't always write things of substance and I rattle on for ages, I loved doing this for myself and the people who read what I wrote. Right now, I feel like I got through the summer in a much more productive and enlightened way than usual. I have regained the drive to write, and that means so much to me. I'm not writing only for academic purposes anymore. I never thought that day would come!

What will happen? I am not the Gypsy in the Desert anymore after tonight, am I? Well, not physically. But in the end, I will always be in the desert. In my mind, I am always alone, watching the rest of the world. I am standing in a sandstorm that constantly beats at me, I am shielding my eyes from the sharp cutting particles and cupping my hands over my ears from the dirt. Things like this don't change. No matter where I am, I'm always in the desert. It just isn't the desert of Saudi Arabia.

A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time to love, a time to hate
A time of peace, I swear it's not too late!