Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Good Sides to Life in Saudi-Arabia

In Finland where I'm currently writing from, this time of year (and for a very long time) it gets really dark, murky and gloomy. I haven't even seen the sun for a few days and I'm already feeling depressed and out of energy. Everything is so expensive and has a tax on it! Just travelling around the country to other cities costs me almost as much as international airfare. Trains, buses and gasoline are ridiculously expensive. I went for coffee and paid 24 euros (117SAR) for a sandwich, coffee and water!
I've only been here for few days but have started to appreciate some things we take for granted in Saudi-Arabia. So I thought I'd compile a list of ten things I like about living in Saudi. Yes, there can be lots of good in Saudi life believe it or not!

1. The sun!
The sun shines by default everyday of the year. It's easy to be in a cheerful mood and to keep energy levels up with so much sunshine. No need for me or the baby to take vit D supplements since we can have it naturally from the sunlight, which is much better anyways! Another thing I enjoy is sunbathing!

2. Inexpensive food
Groceries are so much cheaper in Saudi than for example in Finland or most western countries. Everything except the imported stuff is affordable and good quality. There are countless restaurants to choose from and most are very reasonably priced and eating out won't make a huge cut in your budget. Saudi foods are delicious and available everywhere for cheap prices.

3. The desert
I just love going to the desert and to experience the absolute silence that falls upon you out there. That is where your soul rests. There's always something interesting out there to find and explore and it's so easily accessible.
4. Mosques and athan
Every neighborhood has a mosque or two and they are all look different. It creates a peaceful atmosphere hearing the athan (call for prayer) throughout the day, even inside shops and at the hospital.

5. Tax-free income
This is definitely a big plus too with obvious benefits! Salaries also tend to be on the higher side compared to what expats would earn in their home countries.

6. Untouched places
There are not many places left in the world where tourists can have the entire site to themselves. Saudi has plenty of historic sites, nature reserves and other places around the country that remain unspoiled by mass tourism. There are spectacular World Heritage sites like the tombs in Madain Saleh and ancient city in Najran, virtually empty of visitors. One of my favorites are the pristine beaches you can have all to yourself1 Elsewhere in the world tourists pay $$$ to find such places.

7. Women Only
Sometimes it works for your advantage, especially at the airport! Enables faster security checks, passing men in queues and so on. Ladies branches of banks are a breeze and it's nice to go to the gym or swimming pool and know for sure there's no slimy men lurking around! Also I've noticed as a woman it's perfectly fine to jump the line if there's no female section, nobody will dare protest a woman walking straight up to the counter.

8. Cheap Travel
Travel around Saudi and around the Middle-East is affordable. In the Kingdom the roads are mostly in very good condition and the petrol is almost free making driving around the country easy. Domestic flights and flights to neighboring countries are cheap.

9. Red Sea
I don't live on the coast, but just being so close to the Red Sea and being able to go to the beach or diving so easily makes for one of life's little luxuries. The Saudi side of the coast is still mostly untouched by mass dive tourism and reefs remain healthy and rich in marine life unlike the neighboring Egypt side. Farasan Islands is a paradise that only residents of KSA can currently enjoy.
10. Lack of negative western influences
Not all western influence is negative of course but some I'm glad we don't have to deal with in Saudi! for example, nightclubs, casinos and bars, what good do they really do for society anyway? They only cause trouble, fights, loss of income, deterioration of health, even divorces and one night stands among other things! At least in Saudi you don't have to worry about your spouse going to the nightclub, having a second living room in the pub or gambling all the family savings. (this is not to say such activities don't exist at all in Saudi, they do behind closed doors but not to the same extent).

Also, seeing how some teenage schoolgirls here in Finland were dressed today totally shocked me. They were coming from school, dressed in miniskirts and skimpy outfits (I swear one did not have pants on, just sheer leggings and a T-shirt) in full make-up and false eyelashes. It was -10c out. Seriously? They looked more like working girls than young innocent 13-year olds to me. I was really ad to see this trend that so small girls are thinking that their worth comes from looking like pop stars. That made me feel glad that my daughter won't be exposed to a culture that views this as acceptable and objectifies young girls in this manner. Meaning, she won't be under that kind of peer pressure to dress a certain way and to please boys.

What are your good sides of Saudi life?


Anonymous said...

On the outside, there appears many positive things about KSA. Indeed, there are many positive things. Yet there is equal measure in all things. Take for example the cheap petrol: it is environmentally ruinous! Fuel subsidies mean that consumers are exceptionally wasteful.

And the sunshine is only a positive thing for Europeans. Most other countries in the world get good doses of sun :p

Living in Australia and never having actually visited a desert in my life, I'm actually looking forward to doing activities in Saudi which aren't common in Australia: picnics in the desert, dune buggies, etc.

But I have to say, the natural environment and old way of life in Saudi (such as the traditional village museums) are a big, big positive!

Felicia said...

What a great reminder! People often times forget all of the benefits we have by living here.

When going back to Canada I cringe when filling up the car with gas, and seriously taxes on everything!

Sadiya Merchant said...

d one point i agree completely wid is abt mosques n azaan in saudi.
evrythin els in my understanding has a 'strings attached' footnote to it :)

Heli said...

If you think Finland is expensive, you should visit Norway. I think you'd be shocked! When I travel to Finland almost everything seems so cheap compared to Norway.

Ummaryam said...

Definetly a great reminder of things that are taken advantage of.... last I spoke with my mother who lives in America about gas prices....$3.49...I couldnt believe it....

Pia said...

Sounds like the Finnish teenagers dress like British ones do... Couple of weeks ago I saw one girl wearing just leggings and a short jacket! I started to wonder that when did leggings become trousers? It basically looked if she had worn just tights- it looked really silly to me but maybe I'm too old to understand teenagers ;)

One thing that really worries me raising my child in the UK is the drug problem they have here. Nearly everyone seems to be smoking cannabis and it's much more acceptable to use drugs here than in Finland (at least it was frowned upon when I was growing up in Finland).

Pia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pia said...

Sorry, my comment was twice here, so I deleted the other :-)

Layla said...

y3cob-thanks for the comment and welcome to my blog!
I agree with the point you raised about the fuel! They have never heard of driving in a manner to save petrol here :)

But I disagree about the sunshine only being a positive for europeans! Lots of ppl around the world other than in europe don't get as much sun as we do in Saudi..And I think the arabs should make more use of it since the ME has the highest rates of vit D deficiencies in the world, yet they have the most exposure to sun!

SO are you planning to move here soon?

Layla said...

Felicia-ya but that happens wherever people live, they start to take for granted what they have and long for things they don't have!

Layla said...

Sadiya-lol but what strings would you say are attached to the unspoiled places and cheap travels?

Layla said...

Heli-Oh really! I didn't remember it was so expensive!

Layla said...

ummaryam-yes it's good to remind ourselves every once in a while about these good sides :)

Layla said...

Pia-Exaclty leggings are the new trousers! It looks as if they are walking around in their underwear. I don't get parents! And don't they freeze?

I didn't know cannabis was so popular there, that's alarming! In Finland I guess its the alcohol..its like part of our culture so cannabis will never become as popular.

Soile said...

Aww, now you really made me want to go back to Saudi again (despite of the stories you told the other day...And it was great seeing you again!) :-)

Sylvia said...

Great post! It must be wonderful to have sunshine all year round!

Geez I hope that sandwich was at least very very good, that sounds ludicrously expensive!

Unfortunately yes, the legging-as-pants thing has conquered the world...it looks terrible and I wish it would finally end :D Together with skinny jeans! :D

Steve at the Pub said...

Whoa! It seems the muttawa have infiltrated this blog! Either that or some hardline pentecostal preacher!

"Negative Western Influence" is defined as solely: Nightclubs, pubs, casinos. ("What good do these things do anyway?") *snort*

I have to question your methodology.

"Negative influences" may be better defined as: Illegal narcotics, red light districts, conmen & scam artists, street muggers, ripoff merchants in tourist strips.

Nightclubs, pubs & casinos serve on the other hand are all regulated & monitored legal activities.

One important function they serve is as a pressure release valve & consequently are a calming influence.

The Scandinavian model of binge drinking to excess & extreme may not be ... er... the best example of pub culture.

They are more usually the community meeting place, & the most common reason to enter one is for a relaxing conversation & a few drinks, in a convivial atmosphere.

Layla said...

Steve at the Pub-dude chill there has been no muttawa influence on this blog! As I said SOME of the negative influences..I did not define anything!!

You mention scam artists and street muggers, and ripoff merchants as western influences, I disagree.
First of all, the ones doing these activities in western countries are mostly immigrants. The western countries got these influences from outside.
Second, non western countries such as Egypt,South Africa or Thailand are full of scam artists, ripoff merchants and street muggers. Just because western tourists are the targets it doesn't mean that it's a western influence right?

Anyways thanks for the comment I enjoy reading your thoughts and you're right about the Scandinavian style of pubbing is not the best example. But I still think it's better in the long run and considering all aspects to chill with friends at home than at the pub.


Layla said...

Soile-it was great seeing you too!

Layla said...

Sylvia-I have the same wishes! I hate leggings they've always just looked like long underpants to me lol

Anonymous said...

Hi Layla, hope you're enjoying your time home. I find it interesting that you mentioned about the vit d deficiency rate being among the highest in saudi. Is it because of the abaya? Doctors in the UK did report that muslim women there have insufficient vit d exposure especially due to hijab and coverings but I suppose it is expected since in winter we don't get much sun. A fraction (not sure the percentage) of women gave birth to babies with rickets. But in Saudi too? Do the doctors there make suggestions for the women to spend a fraction of time a day under the sun? Should not be a problem since the Saudis live in fortress-like homes (correct me if I am wrong). Having not enough sun exposure is a problem, not only for congenital rickets, but depressions among the women. Just a thought.
Thanks for this post. Excellant as always.

Anonymous said...

@Steve at the Pub
With all due respect, but that is your personal opinion. Not all people share the same values and find drinking, gambling and sexual promiscuity something "positive" in the society. One can find many, many other things that can work as "pressure release valve & consequently are a calming influence." as you put it. =)


Anonymous said...

Don't Saudi women take of their abaya's in their own back-yard? I find it strange that so many of them suffer from vitimin D defeciency while living in such a sunny country.All the women in my family wear niqab, but we do get sun. I guess their culture will not allow them to take it of on empty beaches or at picnics when there are no strangers around.

Layla said...

Sireh-Sorry for the late reply! Yes majority of Saudi women have vit D deficiency because of the covering and because thy dont fo out side at all in the daylight. they don't want to get tanned. Also not all homes have backyards, or they find it too hot, or there is nothing to do outside, just a concrete "box". Women who live in apartment buildings have it the worst! Saudi style homes sometimes don't even have windows that allow sunlight in!
I am lucky to at least have a balcony where I can suntan and swim with the baby and get my daily vit D intake from :)

Anonymous said...

I love your blog!

kisses from Buenos Aires,


Layla said...

Thank you Loli!

Anonymous said...

This is a great list! My husband is just starting a job in KSA; the kids and I will be joining him when we have our visas. So we're just at the beginning! Hearing positives to life there is always welcome. Could I share the link to this page on my blog? It would be wonderful to share this happy list with our family and friends.

Layla said...

Hi Kelsisands! Sure you can!

Anonymous said...

Great list and great blog! Good point about women only and the security lines at the airport. And conditions for women are improving very much - Saudi Arabia sent a female athlete to the Olympics. And make sure you check out Haifaa al-Mansour's film: http://www.sauditrades.com/2012/09/04/haifaa-al-mansour-defies-the-odds/

Anonymous said...

Hello Leylah.
You have a nice thing going here - interesting, personal and entertaining blog. You seem like a lovely person but maybe you are looking at Saudi Arabia through a rose-tinted lense this time?
Obviously petrol is cheap in Saudi because it is just coming out from under the ground and no one really seems to care about the environmental impact of the exterme consumerism that is the hallmark of all life in this country.
Also, food in a restaurant is of course very cheap when it is prepared by expat workers who are paid next to nothing and lack many basic human rights. The food itself is not very expensive, I agree, but in later years the prices have been increasing along with the rest of the world.
Also, a country that relies solely on its mineral wealth and has no system of collecting or administering taxes is not a brilliant idea. The whole idea of being a country or nation is defined by people working together and then paying taxes for everyone's common good - schools, hospitals, roads, universities etc. Everything that you are proud of in Finland is the result of these taxes. By paying taxes the peoples of a country show responsibility and solidarity and will be more involved in improving their country for themselves and future generations. What will happen to Saudi Arabia when the oil dries out?? I guess none of us who can read this will be alive to witness that day and as you pointed in one of your other posts - in Saudi Arabia no one cares...
All the best to you and I hope that you manage to combine the best of both of your worlds in your lovely children.

Nestii said...

Wow! For me, living in Poland these pictures are amazing! You are lucky! In my coutry is snow everywhere now!

Anonymous said...

Great article, I am always happy to read what positives there are to a country we may think of as only having negatives. I would actually like to visit Saudi Arabia one day though who knows how plausable that really is.

I will say though, I can't imagine living in a place with no bars etc. I see your point about them being negative influences but in Italy people enjoy a spritz or mojito on any given night in the piazza and there doesn't seem to be that many negative consequences ;) but to each their own.

I also love living in a place that you can soak in the sun, it really does make you happier!