After watching hours of hijab styling tutorials...I still struggled to make my hijab look "authentic." Maybe it was the lack of space in the tiny airplane bathroom, or the constant fear of the long piece of fabric accidentally grazing the disgusting floor, or perhaps it was the lack of sleep. We had just reached Mecca "airspace" and I had reached my 15th hour of sleeplessness. Of course, there was no chance of taking a power nap in my immediate future. We were landing in 40 minutes and I was to de-board the plane and meet my KAUST government representative, go through customs, pick up my bags, and meet my taxi driver for the 1 hour drive to Thuwal.
All was going as planned until I had to get my visa stamped. My KAUST guide led me to the front of line (pissing off the 50 or so equally tired people now behind me). To make matters worse, I could not, for the love of God, get my fingertips in the right angle or position to be scanned on the tiny little fingerprint machine. There was a little light above each finger and if they all turned green, you passed. If they remained orange, you had to try again. So now, I'm not only a Westerner in a poorly done up hijab who has managed to cut everyone in line. I am now the Westerner in a poorly done up hijab who has jacked up finger tips. After 10 minutes and much teasing by all the custom officials, they decided I could just scan my thumbprints and be gone.
My luggage managed the 15 hour flight just fine! Now it's just a matter of meeting my driver and getting to campus. This was a much easier feat.
Saudi Arabia is flat. Like, Nebraska flat. And the highways are lined with trash and unfinished houses and abandoned amusement parks. I look at the drivers on the highway next to me and soon realize that I had forgotten that women can't drive here.
KAUST is a lot like a mirage. We'd been driving for 40 minutes and we go through several security checkpoints and then out of nowhere, this huge city appears out of the desert. Rows and rows of cookie-cutter houses with matching, impeccably kept front yards. My temporary home is a three bedroom townhouse that I share with a Italian woman studying here for her Post Doc. We each get our own room, bathroom, balcony. We share a large living room, dining room, and kitchen. We have a garage but neither of us plan on purchasing a car while on campus. We'll be living here until a one bedroom town house opens up for each of us. I try to charge my phone and suddenly realize I brought the wrong power convertors! Note - for anyone moving to KAUST, purchase the UK 2 prong adaptors regardless of what the travel store manager at Heathrow Terminal 5 says.
I take a shower, unpack, and take a nap before heading to the grocery store. Anyways, the grocery store is the Middle Eastern version of a Safeway, which was the grocery store I used in DC. Tamimi feels like the younger sibling that received all the grocery hand-me-downs from it's older grocery store siblings. Perhaps Safeway had an abundant amount of canned peaches so they shipped them here. All the products from the US have a bright orange tag under it that says "IMPORTED FROM USA." After walking around a few times I realize no other country represented gets such official looking tags.
Well, that's all for now! My first day at work is tomorrow. Stay tuned!