I Survived Jeddah Drivers


I've officially reached my three week mark living in Saudi Arabia.  The KAUST community is great, and I'm happy to report that I will be leaving my temporary housing for a permanent set-up:  me and two other girls will be living in an insanely spacious four-bedroom townhouse. (Sometimes I wonder if it’s a mirage.)  It’ll be nice to finally unpack and start making KAUST feel more like home. There's an IKEA close-by the compound (still not used to saying that) and hopefully I can purchase a few household items that will make the place feel like it’s mine.  Before I left the US, I sold about 150 pound of clothes (only wish I was kidding) that I hoarded over the past few years.  I only brought two suitcases with  me and I don't plan on bringing anything else over.  Otherwise, it's nice just to have a few treasured books and photos of friends.  I remember when I moved to college in Cambridge I got the award for “most boxes brought from home.”  I was only 45 minutes away so I have no clue why I decided to pack up every single thing I owned.  Regardless, it feels great to walk into a clutter lessroom, and picking up after myself takes a mere five minutesinstead of five hours.  It's the little things in life, people.

KAUST is 14 square miles and I have finally found my way around its four areas: the Gardens, the Harbor, the Island, and the Campus.  I found the barber shop to get my "undercut" touched up (that was a fun experience and they tried to shoo meto the women's salon but my pleading finally won them over.) I've spent time wandering around the Beacon on the waterfront, an awesome “lighthouse” and symbol of the university, that’s a staggering 10 stories tall.  But-shame on this East Coast girl - I have yet to hit the beach!  And what a beach it is, poised in the Red Sea with some of the world’s best scuba diving, I'm told.  Luckily, I have two years and 49 weeks to go.  I'm hoping to buy a bicycle since I'll be living farther from work in the new digs.  Though, I'm really tempted to get a scooter.  (From Italy, of course.)

So far, I've left the compound twice.  Once to go to King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) for a Salvador Dali exhibit; the first time the artist's work has been shown in the Kingdom.  All the pieces were flown in from a collection in Switzerland.  The art nut that I am enjoyed the eccentricity of Dali works in this environment.  Surreal, to say the least.  The trip to KAEC was just a 20 minute drive and it's about 10% built.  It's amazing to see all of these incredibly planned cities literally spring up from desert. 

Dress designed by Yahya for Princess Diana

Dress designed by Yahya for Princess Diana

The second time out of KAUST was to visit a haute-couture designer, Yahya, who was born in Saudi and studied fashion in Milan. (Those who know me know I’m a slave to fashion.) The trip to Jeddah was also quite the experience.  I'm not sure who is in charge of urban planning, but the different architectural styles are a complete mishmash of half-built and abandoned storefronts, huge mansions surrounded by equally huge walls, and skyscrapers.  Not to mention, I couldn't turn 90 degrees without seeing a US fast-food franchise.  FYI:  Pizza Hut is Pizza Inn in Saudi.  If there really was a Pizza Inn here?  I'd check in!  Forever.

Now, I know that driving is a touchy subject in Saudi Arabia and it's only allowable for men outside KAUST to be behind the wheel.  But driving in Jeddah, and realizing A) painted line dividers are completely ignored; B)  U-turns on major, bustling highways are routine; and C) Saudi has an incredibly high accident rate - makes me never, ever, ever WANT to drive here. But, part of me does imagine a world in which only women drive and, in that world, traffic jams and accidents don't happen because we're so nice.  (Who am I kidding?)

Well, that is my little rant for now.  A quick PS, I bought tickets home to see my little sister graduate college and I am SO excited to visit family and friends in DC.

PSS, I am planning a trip to Oslo in July so recommendations are very appreciated.