Sunday, 25 December 2011

Merry Christmas (er, I mean, happy ordinary Sunday)!


Well, today is December 25th, and, sure enough, I made it to this country in time for Christmas…or, rather, I made it here for another typical day in Saudi Arabia. In any case, I’m stopping by for a brief moment to wish you all a safe and wonderfully blessed Christmas! Here in Jeddah, there is no holiday and the religious police have apparently been around making sure no one is publicly celebrating a Christian holiday in this 100% Islamic state!

Despite the policing, I subtly met up for Christmas Eve desserts (I mean, a typical evening out) last evening with someone I consider a good friend. Now that I’ve been here in Jeddah for a week, I finally got to meet DH’s former boss, a lovely American woman married to a Saudi who lives here in Jeddah! To her, thanks so much for the lovely evening out—my first excursion with a Jeddawi friend! We had scrumptious chocolate desserts and sat in the “family” section of the restaurant (where single women, children and families are to sit because of segregation; single men have their own section). It was a relaxing and nice atmosphere to enjoy Christmas Eve.
!Dessert Menu...yummy
Today, DH, of course, had to work (weekends here are Thursday / Friday) and when he finally got home, he had news: the car wouldn’t start when he was about to drive home! We had a quick dinner before he headed back out to figure out how to get a mechanic to the vehicle.

In the meantime, I am putting finishing touches on Christmas / belated Eid dinner! In our own home we’re allowed to celebrate, just as long as we’re discreet about it and not putting trees and lights up in the hallway of our apartment haha I feel like a “real” wife finally, cooking chicken (turkey is outrageously expensive here), stuffing, potatoes, roasting vegetables, and baking cookies for a lovely dinner. We’re looking forward to sitting down to enjoy it at out new kitchen table and chairs! More on our home decorating endeavors soon J
!Our Christmas / belated Eid dinner
!For now, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night 





Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Lucky Day 71!

First of all, a bit of an editorial note: now that I’m in Saudi, my computer has decided to take on Arabic preferences, and all my punctuation keeps moving to the beginning of my sentences haha My apologies for this. I’ll try to figure out how to fix it soon!

Great news!!!
Well, if anyone placed bets on my visa, whoever guessed day 71 is a winner! Yes, dear readers—on Wednesday December 14, 2011 I finally received my Saudi visa! The previous day, I had sent a desperate email to the head of my visa consulting agency, explaining how long I’d been waiting and asking what was going on. How could things possibly be taking so long? The next morning, he emailed me back with the news that my visa was on its way via Purolator, to arrive before 9am on Thursday morning. Alhamdulillah (praise God in Arabic)!
I was sitting at my laptop upstairs, and upon reading the news I literally bounded down about 20 stairs, hitting only 3 of them, yelling “I GOT MY VISA!!!!” I scared my poor cat to near death, and my dad came running… I hugged him and just started crying with relief. Yay!!!

The excitement spreads…
Next, I called my husband who didn’t answer the phone, so I forwarded him the consultant’s email, and then called my soon to be boss having promised to let her know as soon as I received any news.

DH soon called me back and said he nearly began to cry in front of some former students he had been visiting. We were both so HAPPY!!!!! A Christmas miracle, one of my friends says! J I think so!

I didn’t waste any time booking my flight to Jeddah, and after being reassured that my visa would arrive before 9am Thursday morning, I figured it would be safe to book a Thursday night flight. DH’s best man is a travel agent and he was kind enough to book me a great flight on Etihad Airways. I had a longggg stopover in Abu Dhabi, but it was nice to walk around the airport. I put on my abaya to blend in, and got more used to walking around wearing it.
Etihad Airways
In Abu Dhabi I met my first Saudi friend, who had been on my flight from Canada. She’s from Riyadh and is returning home with her husband for a school break. He studies in Canada, and so we got into a conversation about student / accompanying spouse visas for Canada. Inshallah, I will write more about this lovely lady in my forthcoming post on Saudi women.

Life so far
After only 4 days here (and I’m still very jet lagged) I have LOTS to write about! I want to describe life in Jeddah, my first Saudi friend, and my experience at the university medical center where I had my first encounter with a very different way of interacting (or not interacting!) with the opposite sex. In experiencing these things, I have the tendency to see the culture, its people and life through an academic lens lol I don’t know if this is good, but it is, in truth, a big part of what drew me to agree to come to Saudi.
mini Jeddah roundabout at night...
My sociological study…
I have, if you will, a working thesis that I’ve brought along with me to the Kingdom. Every Saudi / Saudi resident I’ve so far met in person agrees with me, so let’s see how true it turns out to be!

Basically, my “argument” is that the Western World has an extremely biased and tainted view about Saudi Arabia—its culture, its women, its religion and its laws. Our conceptions of the Kingdom impede us from recognizing the unique and valuable elements of Saudi society, and many positive values we might benefit from integrating into our own society.  

This is doubtlessly not controversial to most people I’ll meet in the Kingdom, but to readers, family, friends back home, it might be more shocking! What do you think? Has the media perpetuated a particular view of what Saudi Arabia is? How its people interact? What the nation stands for? How women live? Certainly, there will be some elements of our conceptions that are true, but I want to suggest that, for the most part, our ideas about Saudi Arabia are overwhelmingly tainted by media dramatization and propaganda.

Culture shock?
Thus far, I’m holding my breath. Having been here only 4 days, I have had some bits and pieces of culture shock in a couple situations, but I’m trying to learn how to interact, to learn the etiquette and the proper way of doing things here. Inshallah I’ll learn quickly!

Finally, I can acquire experiential knowledge that extends beyond my extensive and long investigated “book knowledge” of this amazing country…the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

I look forward to sharing more of my journey with you all!

All my love from the desert sands of Jeddah…where we have pleasant warm weather, sunshine and no snow!



Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Day 63: Still waiting

Advent: A Time of Joyful Anticipation
Well, I'm just stopping by to thank everyone who's commented and supported me throughout this long waiting period. There are 19 days left until Christmas...and I am now trying to think about waiting for my visa in terms of the "joyful hope" to which this Advent season calls us. 
Second week of Advent
On Sunday at Mass, the readings were about waiting and time. 2 Peter 3: 8-9 relevantly proclaims:

...do not forget this one thing, dear friends: with the Lord, a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance
Good news: my visa's been approved!
I've decided that if God is outside of time, then I should give up my expectation of Him answering my prayers for my visa in MY time; rather, everything will happen in God's own time. The above passage really hit home for me--especially since my visa consultant contacted the Saudi embassy last week and let me know this greatttt news: MY VISA HAS BEEN APPROVED!!!!! Now, my waiting CAN be in joyful anticipation because I know, as with Advent, it's to a definite end! I will be going to Jeddah. It's just a question of when the embassy decides to physically stamp my visa and send it back to me.


I've decided to use this time to perfect the virtue of patience, and to keep trusting in God. As St. Peter suggests, I've let go of time (as much as I can) and am trying to just be


Preparatory Waiting
To anyone else out there reading this and waiting for something--whether it be Christmas day, a visa, being reunited with a spouse or family, or anything at all--consider your own wait a time of preparation. Preparation for the fulfillment of God's plan, for your life, for your future. Inshallah, everything will come into place as it is meant to be. 


I invite you all to wait with me in joyful anticipation for the wonderful future ahead!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Day 50: Finding Peace in the Unknown

Worries...
"Worrying is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere." -Glen Turner
I think that this is quite a fitting quote to begin my entry on 50 days of waiting for my elusive visa. Last week, leading up to the promise of a hopeful day 45 when I would know whether my visa application was accepted or rejected, I was a nervous wreck. I couldn't sleep, I couldn't turn off my thoughts, and I was missing DH so dearly. I kept thinking, "what if my visa is rejected. I will find out my 'fate' any day now." What I didn't realize then is that when I kept worrying (and at the same time saying I was trusting God to bring myself peace), I was working against God's plan for DH and I rather than allowing that plan to play out in God's own perfect way. Passing the 45 day mark of my wait paradoxically brought me peace rather than added anxiety and frustration. How crazy!


You see, praying, "God please allow my visa to arrive by Friday" (the glimmering, hopeful day 45) was doing the opposite of having faith--it was making demands of God that I now recognize were unreasonable! So, when last Friday nothing happened, I finally gave up my anxiety and decided that it's now completely in God's hands. I'm not trying to be all preachy in the least; rather, I'm just giving an idea of how I personally overcame my anxiety over something beyond my control. 


A Shocking Confession (gasp!)
When there was no visa last Friday, then, my visa consultant made a confession (shh! I think's it's supposed to be kept on the low down, but if you're reading this, you're likely interested in what's going on with Canadian visas for Saudi, and it's only fair I let you in on the play by play). 


Around the time I last wrote, she'd informed me that after 30 days she was being notified by the Saudi embassy in Ottawa if visa applications had been rejected, or if there were any problems with applications. After 42-45 days, visas were accordingly consistently arriving back to her with no issue. On Friday, however, the story changed. Sick of "covering up for the embassy," and feeling terrible for DH and I being apart for so long and for giving us false hope about being reunited soon, she confided in me. In reality, the embassy has apparently "lost track" of the dates on which Canadians have been submitting their visa applications. The computer system into which our information is being put is inconsistent. A visa application was returned to my consultant the day I called, after 50+ days of "processing." The embassy said there were documents missing. The "occupation" listed was no longer valid (in the nearly 2 months since this person applied, rules had changed), and this particular individual was forced to reapply, thus commencing yet another 45+ day wait. 


So am I scared? Kind of! I am worried that I won't see my husband until June when his contract finishes. I am concerned that we're getting into debt, that I soon have to begin repaying my student loans, and that only one of us is working. But I'm also trying to trust. Trust that there's something bigger at work in all this. That if I'm supposed to make it to Jeddah to enjoy a beautiful pink sunset with DH that I will get there. And if that's not part of what's supposed to happen, then so be it. I am strong. I will make it through whatever comes my way. 


Time for Plan B?
I have accordingly been applying for college teaching positions in Toronto, and keeping the door open to the possibility that I might be sticking around here. Not that that will necessarily happen--I have to hear back from the embassy sooner or later and know what's happening! But, for the sake of my sanity, I am being proactive and being open to whatever might happen.


There's a certain sense of peace that having foresight brings. Yes, that elusive peace. And the elusive visa. Somehow the elusiveness of both can coexist.


Oh, and I must append this entry with a lovely new development (insert sarcastic tone here)...
I just read a job posting seeking female teachers for Saudi Arabia.  The "European Recruitment Agency" appends the job post with the following:
Unfortunately we are unable to open this vacancy to applicants from Canada as visas are taking up to 90 days to clear through the Canadian Saudi Embassy. Also, the Saudi Government has recently implemented a change in their visa allocation. As of October 2011 we are unable to put forward female candidates aged below 27 or over 60 years of age. Unfortunately we, as a recruitment agency, have no flexibility on this new ruling. Therefore if you do not fall into the correct age bracket (i.e. you are aged between 27–60) please do not apply.


New Additions to Pink Jeddah Sunset
You heard it here first! I've added a couple of tabs up top:
(1) "Further Reading" (http://pinkjeddahsunset.blogspot.com/p/further-reading.html) and 
(2) "News" (http://pinkjeddahsunset.blogspot.com/p/news.html) on recent features on the blog. 


Enjoy!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Day 42: Why We Wait



Update (or lack of an update)
If you've been following my blog, you already know what "day 42" means--my 45 day visa wait (according to the Saudi embassy in Ottawa's time frame) is about to come to a close, inshallah (god willing). I am so incredibly anxious and excited. Anxious that everything will go through and there are no issues with my application, and excited that, any day now, I could be jumping on the next flight to Jeddah!
The elusive Saudi visa
I called my visa consultant yesterday, day 41, to see if she'd heard anything back from the embassy and to get a sense of how long visas are actually taking (since the embassy has said "30 to 45 days" I wondered whether any visas are approved sooner). She said visas are generally arriving back to her around or after day 41. She receives the FedEx delivery of visas daily at 3pm, so who knows...could today be the day my visa is stamped?

I'm trying to not to be too hopeful and be disappointed yet again. The whole process of applying, reapplying, and waiting for this visa has been emotionally exhausting, and has brought me to the point of exasperation more times than I can count. DH and I are trying to keep it together by skyping most days (as we have been doing for over 2 years now), and praying more than ever. Trying to trust in God's timing for our lives brings some peace of mind. That said, my consultant said that the embassy usually lets her know if there are problems with a visa application around the 30 day mark. I hope this means I'm in the clear!

One of my Canadian readers was kind enough to be in touch letting me know about his visa application process. A few weeks ago we were exchanging information and discussing the whole visa / waiting situation. He'd also been packed and ready to go for two months plus by the time his visa was stamped on the 45th day. Shout out to you, Rob, I hope you've made it to KSA safely!! Congrats on making it through the wait!

Political motives underlying visa wait times
If you're reading this, you might be interested in some of the research I've done (and verified with my visa consultant) about WHY Saudi visas for Canadians are so darned complicated. Having little else to do with my time while waiting, I've made it my mission to understand the politics of the 30 to 45 day wait imposed starting September 1, 2011. Why that date? What suddenly changed? What did Canada do to Saudi Arabia that brought them to implement a policy that is not only frustrating but seemingly ridiculous? Exploring all of these reasons has made me so many things--empathetic, frustrated, angry, and more knowledgeable about global politics and the intricate ways they can play out.

I've found four interesting details / developments that relate to the Canada / KSA visa escapade:

(1) Saudi Arabia is not the first to use visa restrictions / inconveniences to get back at Canada. In January 2011, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a country that previously allowed Canadians to travel there without a visa, imposed a fee upwards of $200 for Canadians wishing to enter the country. "Increasingly strained relations between the two countries led to the new restriction on travel. Authorities in the UAE have cited both landing rigths and a lack of reciprocity as bases for the move." (http://www.moveoneinc.com/blog/immigration/enuae-revokes-visa-waiver-privilege-canadian-citizens/). I have no doubt that Saudi Arabia's reasoning for placing Canadians in the current visa situation is similarly politically motivated.
Political red tape.
(2) The recent "Ethical Oil" campaign that hit Oprah's "OWN" channel a couple of months ago, for instance, points to strained relations between Canada and KSA. The Ethical Oil campaign involves a controversial video (below) which suggests that women's rights in KSA are a compelling justification for boycotting Saudi oil--deemed "Saudi conflict oil"--and consuming Canada's oil instead. Watch it here:

Really? "Ethical oil?" How ethical is Canadian oil?

I could write a whole SERIES of blog entries on this topic exploring the endless ways in which this campaign is just so wrong. Wrong to somehow align women's rights with OIL when it's completely obvious that the real motivation is not one of genuine concern for Saudi women (if we even need to be concerned about them in such a flat out, problematically broad way) but about the desire to bolster the sale of Canadian oil in a troubled economic climate. It is beyond frustrating that women's rights are being posited in a way that uses them / us to propagate political and social agendas.

*If there's interest, I might blog on this more in another entry*

In any case, my rant aside, the "Ethical Oil" campaign naturally provoked a response from Saudi Arabia. They responded not only by attempting to censor the commercial from playing on Canadian tv, but by revoking a previously less painful visa application process.

(3) The 30 to 45 day visa wait is also related quite obviously to complaints Saudis have about obtaining their own visas to enter Canada for work, study or travel. It's been known to take literally months (from a month to over six months) for Canada to process Saudi visa requests. Accordingly, by imposing a similar wait on Canadians, Saudi Arabia is trying to push us to relax our own visa policies.

The most obvious evidence of the visa wait as a reactive force comes from the Canadian foreign affairs website that states: "Due to the number of applications we receive, we strongly recommend that you submit your application at least 45 days before your departure date. Processing time may be shorter" (http://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/saudi_arabia-arabie_saoudite/visas/processing-traitement.aspx). The Saudi embassy in Ottawa makes an almost verbatim statement about Canadians wishing to apply for Saudi visas.

I was reading through a forum for Canadian visa applicants, and the stories and conversations are often heart-wrenching. Family members are separated, wives are pregnant abroad waiting to join their husbands in Canada, Saudi students often do not receive their visas in time to begin the school year, etc, etc. This really puts my situation in perspective. Yes, it's frustrating and challenging playing the waiting game and being separated from my husband, but I understand why Saudi Arabia is taking a stand for its citizens in this way. We'd want our government to do the same for us. Unfortunately, many people and families are caught in the middle of political conflict and unrest, having personally done nothing to warrant the horrendously long waits for visas.

(4) Finally, it is worth mentioning that Canada, in an apparent attempt to reconcile, has apologized to Saudi Arabia for delays in processing visas for Saudi nationals. Arab News reported that on October 9, 2011, the Canadian Ambassador to KSA, David Chatterson, issued an official apology to Saudis:
“The Embassy of Canada would like to take this opportunity to apologize for recent delays in issuing visas and for the negative impacts these might have had on Saudi applicants,” said a statement issued by the embassy on Sunday. The Canadian Embassy would like to assure the citizens of Saudi Arabia that it is working hard to reduce visa processing times,” it added."
Unfortunately, over a month later, the apology appears to have had little resonance with the Saudi embassy in Ottawa. We cannot expect changes to happen overnight, of course, but it appears that the prolonged visa wait is being systemically entrenched rather than rectified--the embassy has now noted that new applicants should submit their visa applications with only copies of their passports, and, after 45 days, will send a request for the passport. The stamped passport will be returned 10+ days later.

Could things get worse? Please, please, PLEASE let my application be approved on the first try!!!!!!!

I hope I’ll be able to write by Friday (day 45) with GOOD NEWS! Thanks for your thoughts & prayers, my amazing readers! I look forward to writing to you from Jeddah under a vibrant pink sunset! 

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

"A Wife: The Ultimate Saudi Accessory"

One of my favourite pastimes is reading blogs of others who have been or are in Saudi Arabia. Bloggers provide insightful and interesting commentary about life in the Kingdom that travel guides really don't address. Some blogs are serious, most are critical, and others are downright hilarious!


I recently came across "An Englishman in Saudi Arabia" who spent some time in KSA in 2006 and 2007. He moved to Riyadh (the Saudi capital) and 2 months later his wife's paperwork came through and she joined him there. (Sound familiar?! DH and I are going on two months this week with our wait).


I've been told that my arrival in KSA will bring DH some benefits. Here's a fun blog entry on that topic by "An Englishman in Saudi." He provides a humourous and enlightening take on the Kingdom's family-centered culture.

A Wife: The Ultimate Saudi Accessory
I had to spend two months alone in Riyadh before my wife was able to join me here. I was a lot happier (and less lonely) when she finally arrived. One thing about Saudi then became immediately apparent. It is far better to be a married man in KSA than it is to be a single one.What with immigration, customs and the Saudi queue (maul) I was expecting hassle and delays when my wife and I arrived together at King Khalid International Airport.
When we got to immigration it was packed. Things did not look good. But I didn’t fully appreciate the impact of my new power-accessory. Thanks to having a female on my arm, we waltzed through the very small “Families Only” queue, leaving an army of single men waiting in long lines.When we got to customs the queues were long and they were opening and searching all bags. It did not look good. But thanks to my WIFE 1000™ we were ushered to a separate area, our bags were only X-rayed (not opened), and we were swiftly on our way.
Of course, the same can be said about any restaurant, take away or coffee shop in the city, and (seemingly) any police check point on the roads. When you are married you also get to sit in the family section in restaurants which usually means that you get your own private room / area to eat in.
In KSA, married people have a higher status and singles suffer for it. But the lack of respect for family in the UK has meant high divorce rates and large numbers of children growing up in single-parent families. I wonder which attitude towards the family really causes the most suffering.

Sadly for him, DH has indeed experienced the limitations of not being able to go into the shopping malls so freely as he will be when we go together (the idea is that "single" men will harass poor, unsuspecting female shoppers).
Women shopping in peace. Shiny, fancy Saudi malls!
We women have priority when it comes to shopping securely and safely in KSA!
A sign from a mall in Riyadh where there is a "ladies only" floor in the Kingdom Mall!
In any case, I think we can safely bet that DH will be thrilled to shop freely with his WIFE 1000 lol Really, I jest. Poor DH. Now he will have no excuse to avoid the malls!
My favourite comment on the above blog is from a reader who turns the "oppressed female / advantaged male" dichotomy on its head. He points out all the things men can't have access to unless accompanied by their "female guardian":

DemonEyes said...
you lucky guy youuuuu :D
well as a saudi single:
1- no shopping malls (the only entertainment in this city)(or the japanese resturants in shopping malls) unless you have a female guardian
2-no theme parks without a female guardian
3-no parks without a female guardian
4-no jumping the queue in the supermarket without a female guardian
5-married men get raises alot faster....and i never heard of a single guy being the boss of a married guy.
6-you get treated as a sexually breserked beast by the society and your opinion is worth nothing to married people unless you are married.
just to mention a few :)
Some lucky men in the mall with their "female guardians."
As for us, DH and I have been married for just over 100 days, of which we've spent about 40 together. I am prepared to be an obliging "female guardian" and open DH up to all these new possibilities that he's been unable to experience during his 2 years in Jeddah. I'm also super excited to move into our new apartment in a few weeks, and to embark on married life together in a new and exciting culture! Power to married people!
Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal and his wife Princess Amira al-Taweel. The Will & Kate of Saudi Arabia?!



* * * * * * *
NB: I should mention that one of my readers, another Canadian who has been waiting for his visa to be processed, just informed me he received it exactly 45 days following his application. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this means November 18th will be my lucky day!! Hopefully I will be able to fly out on November 21st and arrive in Jeddah on our 4 "monthiversary."

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Two months later...and a month to go?

A reason to celebrate!
Well, I just logged onto my blog last night and discovered a reader comment on my last entry! As a first time blogger, seeing that first comment was pretty exciting! lol In any case, it also reminded me that it's been an entire MONTH since I last wrote, so an update is long overdue (though, admittedly, there is not too much to update you on!)
I love comments! :)
The visa saga continues...
Although I initially applied for my visa on September 19th, because of the paperwork error (my name written in the wrong order) I knew I would either have to add a new, corrected, document to my application, or restart it. I didn't think I'd have to restart the entire thing; however, when DH went to the passport office at his work, the passport guy CANCELLED my original sponsorship paper in order to issue me a new one. No one thought to call or check with me or my visa consultant (who said we should have just left it all is it was...) So I had to wait AGAIN for the new sponsorship paper. It came on October 1st, and I had my visa consultant reapply (she had ordered my original visa application and passport to be returned to her from Ottawa). So, my 30 to 45 days wait are now from October 3rd. 
The long-awaited visa authorization slip! (not mine, but  a sample...)
I just called my consultant yesterday to see if people who applied through her at the start of September had waited closer to 30 or 45 days for their visas (since September 1st was when the long wait time was implemented). Alas, applicants from the start of September began to receive their visas this week...which means I am now counting on having mine a month from now, around November 18th. I was realllyyyy hoping I'd have it in two weeks so that DH and I could spend Eid al Adha together in Jeddah, but I guess we'll have to have a belated celebration together. Maybe I will fly in on our 4 month wedding anniversary, November 22nd. Saturday is our 3 month celebration day, and it will be almost 2 months since he left :(
Happy (early!) Eid al Adha!
Life on the home front...
It seems that I'm being called to write something about life while I wait. My sister's cell phone is ringing / playing music (which I assume means ringing?) and she's apparently forgotten it here while she's at school. Poor thing! She must be going crazy in history class without the ability to bbm and text her bffs haha :p (If you're reading this, it's all jks, sis ;) )
Tutor extraordinaire!

I've been passing the time tutoring my sister in English and History (my majors, which she is studying this semester in grade 10). We just finished World War I, and "life on the home front." That topic struck home for me! I've also picked up two other tutoring jobs with some tutoring companies in town. I'm not getting many hours, and to try to reconcile my situation as being "productive" rather than "laziness" on my part, I decided that these two months of waiting are my belated "summer holidays" that I never had. With finishing my master's degree, wedding planning, starting my medical tests and visa application for Saudi Arabia, I experienced more stress and craziness than I can remember enduring before... So now's my change to take it a bit easier. 


Vacation?
The problem, however, is twofold: (1) I do not, for the LIFE of me, know how to relax!!! Especially after the past academic year and all of its insanity (good insanity for the most part, which pushes me to keep the possibility of a PhD on the back burner!) it is impossible to suddenly STOP! Yet, apparently that's what I'm supposed to do lol (2) The other issue is the oh so necessary MONEY thing... I've spent probably close to $1 000 on things connected to moving to Saudi, visa application, medical tests, document notarization, etc, etc and DH and I decided to rent a new apartment in Jeddah closer to where he works (and I might work). Over there, it's pretty standard to have to pay 6 months of rent upfront at signing time. Our new place is gorgeous and located centrally; however, his university doesn't pay our housing allowance until December. Now both our pockets are completely empty until we're reimbursed. 


Plus, we bought an SUV for safety when I'm there. He'd been driving a Civic for the past two years, but there wasn't an air bag on the passenger's side (of course, since women can't drive in Saudi I won't be driving, so that would be my permanent seat lol). After the flooding this past January (see photos here: http://www.arabnews.com/saudiarabia/article243502.ece; video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iAaM7G1wbLI) and DH's near drowning / being stranded in filthy flood water on Jeddah streets because his little car couldn't handle the RIVER or rushing water, we decided to buy something safer. I can just picture me in a flood, trying to swim upstream IN AN ABAYA in streets without sewers... NOT cool! I'm thankful we have a larger vehicle now. Then we won't be stuck like this smaller car (below) in the event of another flood.
Small car in Jeddah flood
Anyways, there's my long-winded explanation for our ongoing expenses in Jeddah. Now that I'm two or three months behind schedule with commencing work, these things that would have been easily affordable are killing us! So...I really can't "enjoy" my downtime knowing that I should be doing something to contribute to our family expenses. 

Oh, Saudi...
DH is so apologetic about me being left behind, but neither of us can do anything and it's obviously not his fault. I just remember our last embrace at Toronto Pearson Airport...and seeing him whiz off in the subway to the next terminal, promising "see you in two weeks!" and how I said "yes!" but was already a bit doubtful that it would be that soon... Anyways, it is what it is, and I know the wait is more than half over. I'm two thirds there: September, October are past. I just need to wait out a couple weeks of November. 



Canadian fall
For now, I'll watch the Canadian summer fade into fall, watch the leaves fall to the ground, sit by the fireplace in the living room, watch evening TV (hmm...maybe I should get into soap operas and daytime tv, too?), tutor here and there, and try to remain gracefully patient before my adventure begins!
The colours of a beautiful Canadian fall...
PS Shout out to all my international readers / viewers!! I love seeing the "feedjit Live Traffic Feed" and seeing where you're all coming from :) I'd love to hear your thoughts, too!

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

"Time is very slow for those who wait..."

I am definitely enduring a test of patience. My first instinct, as a lover of literature, and an English grad, is to turn to Shakespeare for sympathy. He says that:


"Time is very slow for those who wait
Very fast for those who are scared
Very long for those who lament
Very short for those who celebrate
But for those who love time is eternal"


Indeed, it is true. Time cannot seem to move any more slowly than it is while I am waiting for my visa. But the good news is I'm in love with my husband, and am trying to focus on the "eternal" nature of time and love! Our time together, whenever that finally arrives, will be lasting!


I have a couple of updates on my visa application process--finally! Good and bad at the same time... DH sent me my paperwork this weekend (Saturday) and I was finally able to actually go to Toronto and apply for my visa on Monday!!! YAY!!! My retired father was kind enough to drive me downtown and joined me in my frantic running around back and forth across the city.


So there is the good news. Bad news? Well, as of September 1, 2011 (and DH and I knew this in advance and were trying to expedite everything to beat the deadline...) visa processing times are between 30 to 45 days. This is a change from the former 5 day timeline! In any case, DH and I were hoping the embassy in Ottawa was just saying this, and not really putting the long wait into effect, but alas, my visa consultant said that I indeed should anticipate at least a month's wait for my passport to be returned with the visa. 
When DH sent my sponsorship papers from the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs, all seemed okay, except that my name was listed with my surname first and given name second. I figured this must be an Arabic thing, since the language reads from right to left. The only things in English on the document were my name and my husband's, so I figured I wasn't an authority to complain about the name thing looking off. Anyways, yesterday, my visa consultant, a Jordanian woman who reads Arabic, pointed out the "error" to me...and it turns out I'm right! *sigh* She said I can try to submit the visa application as it is and see what happens, but if something is wrong, the embassy will likely have me reapply from scratch and wait ANOTHER 30 to 45 days. So, poor DH got up at 5am today to have time before work to go to his workplace's passport office and rectify the papers. He waited 2 hours and the official never showed up in his office! I feel terrible, but neither of us wants to risk having to restart everything (not to mention all the expenses of beginning all my paperwork again!)


All this said, my visa application was submitted yesterday and should arrive in Ottawa today. So the countdown is now on, and I'm waiting for word that my visa has been approved. We're going to send the corrected sponsorship document along once I receive it from Saudi Arabia and try to just add it to my current application. *fingers crossed* it will all work out on the first try!
Of course there were other issues. First, the "travel itinerary" I submitted with my visa application (really, a formality; I'm not supposed to actually book a flight yet) was apparently unreasonable. I'd been instructed to submit an itinerary for a date earlier than 45 days in order to kind of hurry the embassy up...but my consultant said the embassy's been sending back applications requesting more realistic travel dates. So I rushed home from downtown Toronto to send my consultant an updated itinerary for November 6th. 45 days. For a visa. For real.  


Secondly, apparently some of my medical tests need explanation (to me--and my doctor--everything seems straightforward, but you can't reason with the embassy's craziness!) So, I rushed from sending in the new itinerary to the doctor's office where I'd been squeezed in. The doctor said he also saw no issue with my medical test results, but obliged me by writing a note to "clarify" the obvious. 


Anyways, that was my adventure yesterday. I've been reading another blog about the adventures of trying to get into KSA. An Australian woman who went to Riyadh as a scientist at a hospital. It took her 8 months from the time she signed her contract in March 2009 to get her papers, sponsorship and visa in order and actually arrive that November. I guess things are moving along "fast" for me in relative comparison. But really, how absurd is that?! Let me use this as a cautionary tale for any readers out there who would consider a move to KSA: count on the process taking f-o-r-e-v-e-r! If you have one, do not quit your job until you have your visa in hand. Otherwise, anticipate being like me, sitting around your parents' house playing oh so lovely the waiting game.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Inshallah...

The waiting game...
I thought I'd be in Jeddah by now. Or at least have my flight booked. But those of you who have been following the whole convoluted process of my attempt to organize my papers to go know that as soon as the Saudis are involved, no matter how prepared and organized I am, it doesn't matter.

Inshallah, inshallah... (God-willing, God-willing...) My sponsorship papers still aren't ready, and my husband's university (my sponsor) doesn't seem to be in a rush to get them in order. So until they get with it, I can't apply for my visa.

The VISA process so far
So far, I've completed everything I need from my end to process the visa:
* Visa application form
* Taken extra passport photos
* Copy of my husband's residency card (called an "Iqama")
* Marriage documents showing my relationship to sponsor (getting these notarized, translated, legalized and stamped by the Saudi embassy in Ottawa was an adventure in itself!)
* Medical report / medical tests (and had these stamped by the Ontario College of Physicians, legalized and stamped by the Saudi embassy)
* Police clearance report (no, everyone, I do not have a criminal record; no scandals lurking here!)
* Copy of passport validity
* Copy of travel itinerary (expected date of departure: September 22...yah right!)
Paperwork ready to go...
All this work...and nothing! I haven't been blogging as much as I'd hoped I would be...but short of complaining about bureaucratic inefficiencies and crying about how much I miss my husband (again), I haven't much to say.

Oh, Oreo
One piece of bad news that worked to my advantage (kind of): my cat, Oreo, has all his paperwork prepared to come with me; however, his international health certificate is valid for only 30 days after it was prepared and stamped by the embassy. That gives me until September 19th...and there's no way I'll be taking off that soon considering all of the above. So...when my parents realized how much MORE money I'd be spending on having his documents redone, they finally caved in and offered to take him in for the year I'm abroad. I'll miss him, but this sure saves a LOT of stress, money and hassle!

(Slightly severe) Academic withdrawal
On another note, I'm in intense withdrawal from academia. I commented on facebook that this is my first time in 22 years not starting school in September. Yikes! This morning, I really began lamenting this, and started going through readings of courses that I'd be in IF I'd decided to accept admission into a PhD program rather than move abroad. *Sigh* Oh, to be in "Early Modern Households and the Professional Stage" right now. Among other pieces for tomorrow's class, I'd be reading


John Dod and Robert Cleaver, A godlie forme of householde gouernment (1612),
Henry Smith, A preparative to marriage,
William Whately, A bride bush,
and all my other lovely favourite early modern pieces in preparation for plays including Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, and Thomas Heywood's A Woman Killed With Kindness. I so want to be back in school!!! Inshallah (see? It's in my own vocabulary now...) I'll soon be teaching English. Inshallah, inshallah...

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Off to the airport...but not in the air

Airport Sorrows
Tonight I drove my husband to the airport. My visa is not ready because his employer's passport office has been closed over Ramadan. It reopens on September 4th. All this means is that I had to drive him to the airport...and then come back home again alone. And "home" is now back with my parents *sigh* while I wait a couple weeks (hopefully not much longer than that :s) for my paperwork. Then I'll be off to Jeddah...finally!!! For now, I'm without a cell phone (another sigh!) or a car.
On the road again...but not quite yet
It's weird being married and living with my parents again! Eek! Things seem more than a bit backwards and I'm anxious to get going, move to KSA, and start working. (Teaching was probably my favourite part of my master's degree--I was a teaching assistant for an undergrad English course and had the BEST students!). Anyways, all these things (moving, working...) will happen quickly, inshallah, but that's not the Saudi way. The "Saudi way" is slow, slower, and completely stagnant. Visas--until September 1st of this year--have been processed within 5 business days through the embassy in Ottawa, but my visa adviser said they're now warning that visas can take 30 to 45 days to come through. WHAT?!!!? So, needless to say, I'm getting agitated. My husband says the visa office usually exaggerates; after all, Oreo's paperwork was ready in 3 days...and we were told at least 9. So we'll see! Ironic how my cat is ready to go but I'm not.

Long distance love
So, the airport today was bittersweet. My husband will have things ready for me when I arrive and that will be nice...but for now we're apart. Again. After 2 years of being in a long distance relationship. Being together again will be all the sweeter when I make it to Jeddah though, right?   
**Feedback alert**
I will leave you all with a question with which I need HELP!! Any advice on packing within baggage limits?? I have WAY too many clothes and shoes...but don't want to encounter an excess baggage fee my husband just told me he got pegged with. Eek!!!
Packing predicament!

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Traditional Cathedral Wedding in London Ontario - Real Wedding Pictures

Hello, my lovely readers!


Okay, so first of all, my apologies for being away from the blog for what seems like forever... But with the wedding on July 22nd, things were more than a little hectic!!! That said, I now present a special sneak peak into some of our favourite photos from the big day! I've made a "Real Wedding" profile on theknot.com to give other brides inspiration, ideas and to share in the wedding joy! It was a fabulous day (though a tad hot; ask any of our guests!) and we were surrounded by our family and friends.


Click on the link below  for our "Real Wedding" sneak peak!
Traditional Cathedral Wedding, London Ontario


I promise I'll return soon to the blog with updates on my upcoming journey to the Kingdom. Things are shaping up and Inshallah I will be off on September 1st with my husband (& our cat)! For now, I'm off to join him for Iftar dinner (it's Ramadan and he's been fasting all day; I'm not Muslim and haven't been fasting, but I do try to cook for him and join him when he breaks his fast).
Be back soon! xo


PS Two shout outs: First, to Lindsay, my very FIRST official follower!!! And second, to Stacey, who first got me seriously considering going to Saudi Arabia. Can't wait to meet you over there soon!

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Delays and other job offers

I ended my last entry by noting the inefficiencies of Saudi bureaucracy--the HR interviewer of a potential employer who didn't let me know he was rescheduling our Skype interview. Well, I ended up receiving an offer to teach English with that particular company (a private English school in Jeddah), but I think I'm going to wait and see if something more lucrative comes up. (Although I did negotiate the salary he was willing to offer and he bumped up his original offer quite substantially!) I have been a bit annoyed with the university that offered me a job: they won't process my application or make an "official" offer until I actually have my physical degree in hand...and that could be some time, even though I'll be finished my master's degree within a month. I'm trying to be positive about it though, and use this as a learning opportunity that will prepare me for the way Saudis run things. I will undoubtedly run more and more into this kind of bureaucratic red tape before arriving!

This morning, I had a phone call from another university in Riyadh (I'm intentionally leaving out potential employer names right now for anonymity). It was 8am (on a Saturday!), and the director apologized for the early call. Ends up he is from the US, which is really a positive. Westerners have a more familiar way of running things, and I would imagine this would tie into the way (and efficiency with which) my application is processed. I'm consciously trying not to say we have a *better* system because everything I read about effectively adjusting to a new culture emphasizes the importance of being *open* to change and differences. That said, I do think working for an American boss would make the transition to KSA smoother. 
Downtown Riyadh, KSA
The job sounds fantastic, the pay is more than excellent; in fact, we would save nearly twice as much as if we both worked at the university in Jeddah! But there's the catch: the job isn't in Jeddah and that is where my fiancé has settled in. . . and where I've been researching things to do, places to see, cultural traditions. I feel like I already know Jeddah. When my fiancé first moved to KSA and mentioned a possible transfer to Riyadh I was terrified of that possibility. At that point, I knew so little about KSA in general that the thought of him moving to the ultraconservative capital was more than I could handle! The more I learn and read about the country, though--and notably, all this reading is NOT from biased Western sources (more on that in another entry!)--the more open I begin feeling, and comfortable I slowly become with difference. That said, I'm not sure if I'm very informed about Riyadh culture in relation to Jeddah...and I have been looking forward to living in proximity to the Red Sea! 

Also, if we move to Riyadh, my fiancé would have to find a different job. He's already comfortable working at the university where he currently is, and I guess we'll have to have a lot of discussion about which place is the best for both of us. 
Eastern Saudi Arabia - close to fun gulf counties!
On a more positive note about Riyadh, it is super close to Kuwait, where my fiancé and I enjoyed some time this past February, and where a dear friend of mine and her husband will be (probably a 5 or 6 hour drive). It's also close to Bahrain, where many Westerners go for weekends where there is more freedom (there, women don't have to wear the abaya [the long black cloak we must wear in public in KSA], and there are movie theatres, and men and women can mix more freely). Also, Riyadh is closer to Dubai, where we'd love to visit!

I'm going to end for now with a bit of a Carrie Bradshaw-like musing (I can just hear her say this in Sex and the City lol): what is ultimately more important--money, or familiarity and comfort?

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Jeddah on my mind...

Welcome to "Pink Jeddah Sunset!"
I'm writing this evening to give a bit of background on this blog, my reasons for writing, and some quick facts about where I'm moving with my husband-to-be this fall: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (KSA). I've decided to call the blog "Pink Jeddah Sunset" because I love pink (really, I LOVE it!) and, well, Jeddah is self-explanatory! One of the things I'm very much looking forward to about being there is being able to walk along the corniche by the Red Sea at sunset, so there you go! 
Jeddah Corniche
Why Jeddah?
As I mentioned in my previous post, my fiancé is currently working in Jeddah. Jeddah is a the second largest city in KSA and is located on the Red Sea. It's the most liberal cosmopolitan city in Saudi Arabia because of its ports, which seem to have opened it up more to the West than other more conservative cities. It's been called the "Vegas" of Saudi Arabia, but I am well aware that is a VERY relative thing!!! 
Map of Saudi Arabia * Jeddah
My soon to be husband has been in Jeddah since October 2009, and we've been engaged long distance since last February. He'll be back in Canada for the summer and we're getting married on July 22 before moving to Jeddah together at the beginning of September, Inshallah (Arabic for "God willing," as the Arabs say!) We're super excited to finally be together again (we dated in Toronto, Canada for a year and half before he moved abroad). This subject, our move to KSA, is the real subject of my blog and the reason I thought I would start one! Since I'll be on the other side of the world, I figured "Pink Jeddah Sunset" would be a nice way to share my / our experiences in the Middle East with friends and family back home in Canada. 


A bit of background on us and KSA
I am in the process of sorting out a job at a Jeddah university to teach English (and put my master's degree in English to some use). While my husband-to-be works in the men's branch of the same university, I would be teaching in the ladies' branch. You see, if you're not familiar with Saudi Arabia, this may be a surprise: everything is segregated--from high schools, universities, restaurants, coffee shops, etc, etc! There are religious police, called the "muttawa" who enforce the gender segregation. Jeddah, though, from what I hear and have so far learned, is more laid back. I'm not completely sure what to expect, but I'm not too concerned. As a married woman (wow, that feels so cool to say...since we'll be married when we go) my husband and I will be in the family section of restaurants and other places that enforce the gender division. For now, since he's there alone, when he goes out to a restaurant, he has to go into the single men's section. Apparently the mall security even monitors who can enter malls. The amazingly luxurious, spacious, theme-park shopping centres are one of the few places that single woman can roam free from single men. Married men, as long as they're with their wives, generally have no trouble getting into the malls though. So we should be doing lots of shopping! lol
McDonalds: family section; single men's section
At the moment, other than trying to finish my MA before our wedding, I'm working like crazy to make all the wedding plans perfect. I'm also about to start figuring out how to bring my cat, Oreo aka Ophelius, along to Jeddah. I can't bear to leave him here and not see him, and I'm anticipating a wild adjustment when we move. It would be nice to have Oreo with us for the time we're abroad. So, in addition to all the paperwork for my moving to KSA, Oreo will need what I'm sure will be lots of his own documents and health checks. *fingers crossed* that it will all work out... but in KSA, nothing goes smoothly. I even had an interview where the head of HR took a "day off" and didn't bother to let me know we'd have to reschedule the interview. My fiancé took that story as an opportunity to "welcome" me to Saudi Arabia: this is how things are done! 
Ophelius!

Our Wedding Website



Well, this is my first post to the blog! How exciting! Somehow, I'm not surprised that I'm writing as a procrastination strategy from some research I'm supposed to be doing. I'm in the midst of writing a chapter on the Renaissance boy actor in productions of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. Once I finish this in June I will be DONE my master's degree!


Back to the topic of this entry: my fiancé and I are getting married in 57 days! I'm posting the link to our wedding website <3 He's still in Jeddah finishing up his teaching term at the moment while I'm trying to motivate myself to finish my master's research project. He'll be home on July 1st--Canada Day--and I want to be finished my work by then!


Wish me luck! xo


www.theknot.com/ourwedding/JuliePrior&KhalidTaufiq