A Letter From Saudi Arabia


Dear Mr. LMN,
Hope you are doing well. How are things at the Academy? I am doing just fine here in Al Arabiyah as Saudiyah1, ever heard that name before? It is just the local short name for Saudi Arabia. It is already a year since I left US and now I am almost half way through the two years that I am spending here. There’s a lot that I want to tell you about my experience so far.
I always wanted to leave Westford for good, but had never imagined that I would someday be doing a job in Saudi Arabia! It all started when I got this new job with the Saudi Arabian Specifications and Standard Organization (SASSO)2. My Uncle has a close friend in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. So one night my uncle asked me if I would like to live for two years in Saudi Arabia, and then he told me about this job opportunity for which they required a qualified engineer in structural architecture. It wasn’t exactly something that I had planned in life, but I always wanted to experience life in a different atmosphere, and this was the perfect opportunity for me to do so… so here I am!
I work in a Water conservation-desalination1 plant in a town called Khumrah which is 30 miles south from Jeddah3. It is a small town with a population a little less than Westford3. Where I live is very close to my work, barely a 5-minute walk from the plant. Since there aren’t many trees around the place I live, it is usually very hot in that area. The average temperature here in Summer is really killing!! Sometimes it gets as high as 94 degrees Fahrenheit in summer, it’s an extreme climate here4! It certainly is a big change from Westford! It makes me sweat a lot, but I have gotten used to that. Even now I still calculate the temperature in Fahrenheit, whereas this country follows the metric system, which is sometimes confusing, but that’s just part of the experience.
But I am really thankful to my uncle, he did give me a lot of tips about staying here. For instance the kind of clothes that I should pack, what vaccinations I should take before leaving other than those required by the Saudi consulate such as the ones for cholera5. So I guess, I was pretty much packed up when I left America.
I live in a small 2 story building, in a 2-bedroom apartment-
building6 with Umar, the son of my Uncle’s friend. The apartment building has no parking lot, there is no reason to have one because not many people in this town own cars for themselves. At first, that really surprised me!
I and Umar have become really close friends now. He too works in the same plant with me. He can speak some English, although he can understand everything I say in English, which is something that I am really thankful for- It’s one of the best things to happen to me. You will not find many English-speaking people here. In only 60% of the population of people 15 years and older can read and write1.
Anways.. so we live on the 2nd floor and there is an Arab family that lives downstairs. The first day, when I arrived at the Jeddah airport, I was amazed by the way the airport is designed, it looks more like the ancient Islamic architecture that I had seen much of in the travel brochures on the flight. It took a while to clear the customs, especially since the import laws here are very strict7. After clearing the customs as soon as I was at the arrival terminal Umar was there to receive me. He recognized me with the help of a photograph that my uncle had mailed to him.
Since I am a Muslim, I had some knowledge of Arabic, from what Iittle I had learnt in Islamic school, but that was twenty years ago!! Anyway, so I greeted Umar, in what I though was an ancient Arabic greeting- “As salaam O Alaiqum”8, he replied by saying “Wa Alaiqum As Salaam”. But later, I discovered that there was nothing ancient about it! It’s the formal