As Dani and her family ended their summer break tour, it was time to head back to their home on the Persian Gulf.
Her husband returned earlier in the month, so I went along to help her with the kids on the long, long trip back to Saudi.
My trip started in Eugene to Salt Lake City, Utah where I met up with Dani and her kids.
Now, the only drama began here with my luggage. Since my first flight began in Eugene, it was a separate ticket, altho on the same airlines, Delta. When I got to SLC, I asked three different Delta employees to make sure my luggage was transferred along to the next flight leg of my trip to Dammam, Saudi Arabia. I was assured at all instances that it would be, no problem.
My seat partner was 3.5 yo Gracie who is a fabulous little traveler! Her mom packed a travel pouch of treats and toys and that cute Unicorn headband that holds earphones so she could watch kid shows on the plane.
From Salt Lake City our trip took us to Amsterdam, The Netherlands. That's a 10 hour flight, but Gracie did great. Hannah, the youngest of Dani's crew at 2 years old, was a hot mess at times, so I was happy that I was there. Dani's boys, Garrett, 8.5 and Isaac, 7, were happy to sit for hours looking at their tablet games.
The next leg of the trip was Amsterdam to Dammam was 6.5 hours.
We were so tired. I hadn't slept most of the way, to keep alert for Gracie, so I was beat.
It's always great to get off the plane, right?!
My luggage didn't make it.
I filed a lost luggage report with KLM airlines (the Delta partner) and went to Dani's house to assuage the jet lag.
The next morning came sooner than I'd have liked, but Gracie took a spin outside with me.
The Persian Gulf is as I left it two years ago...quiet, blue waters, hot and dusty air.
It wasn't as hot as before, thank goodness, only in the low 100s.
The evening sunsets are amazing and I wish I'd taken more photos of it.
Dani and I had a few trips into town and even one to Bahrain.
The architecture is interesting to me--this is not the only building shaped like this Jetsons-inspired structure. I don't know why they build "up" like this, but there are some truly interesting buildings there.
Bahrain is colorful and vibrant compared to the area of Saudi that Dani lives in. Also, it is more westernized than Saudi and is compared to a "wicked Babylon" because it allows movie theaters, liquor, strip clubs, pork products and such that is prohibited in Saudi. Also, women do not have to wear abeyas! Which made it so much nicer. Dani bought me my own abeya, and I wore it when necessary, but it was nice to take off in Bahrain. I brought it home with me.
Again, there are the Western influences everywhere...restaurants, clothing, autos, etc.
One of the biggest changes to see in Saudi is women in the workplace such as in Internationally-owned retail shops and women drivers.
Pork area designated as such by the "Non-Muslim" signage.
Dani treated me to a delicious Thai food restaurant while in Bahrain as well as a day at a local spa she found called "Diva" which is owned by a Bahrainian and employs Philippine single women to work there. They live in a shared apartment and work together. Such a nice day!
We went to a newer chain of stores called LULU'S...think "Walmart" style and you'll be close!
It has alot of everything--clothing, home goods, and food.
They sell fancy dresses for women and girls, as well as a custom-clothing shop for the whole family.
How cool is that? The fabrics look luxurious, but not practical for daily living, imo. They also have a whole floor full of western clothing for everyone, but I didn't take photos of that. This is where you'll have to imagine Walmart's clothing sections.
Ok and onto food: for being a desert country, they have a ton of produce. Dani says it comes from northern Saudi and around the world.
And thank heavens for recognized brands of salsa!
Camel steaks, anyone?
There's also a retail store called Jarir's that resembles a STAPLES and a Borders book store.
It carries electronics, office and school supplies.
Mosques: There are literally thousands of mosques in Saudi Arabia. Their custom is to build one within walking distance for their citizens. No two look alike, as far as I can tell, but they're easy to spot because of their unique shape on a cityscape. The call to prayer is broadcast outward from the mosques and I still find it interesting.
Dani's part of a group of women who host a Holiday Bazaar to benefit the foreign workers on their compound and asked me to do some artwork to be sold. I did a little bit, and hope to do more and send it along to her before the bazaar in November.
Plus a few more, but you get the idea--Saudi themed art sells at the bazaar.
My last morning on the Persian Gulf. It was a nice day, the humidity was down and Dani said let's go outside for a bit. I'm glad I did.
It is so beautiful. Until I went there two years ago, all I associated with the Persian Gulf was the war.
I imagined it to be exactly opposite of what it is in reality.
My kids return to the states in ten months as their contract ends.
They have mixed emotions about leaving this part of the world.
I'm more grateful than I can say for the opportunity to experience Saudi Arabia for myself.
I cannot say I'd like to live there, I wouldn't for alot of reasons.
But the lessons I've learned there will last a lifetime.
*p.s. I got my luggage back in one piece on Day 7.