Compound Life


This has been a week of adjustment and settling into a new way of life. In the last week, Iíve acquired a new job, a new apartment, a new city and country in which to live, and a cat.

First, they have Starbucks. Do you know what you call an Iced Venti Americano here in Saudi Arabia (my drink of choice)? The answer will be at the end of the blog entry.

The first couple of days I was wiped out, having to come home the first day after work and take a nap. I took from Sunday to Wednesday before I could sleep through the night, without waking up wide-awake at 3am. But, on Thursday, I managed to sleep until the alarm clock woke me. On Friday, I was sleeping hard when I got a call from home. But, thatís okay; I like the caller.

The workweek here starts on Saturday and goes until about noon on Thursday. Itís becoming more common for companies to allow their employees to take off all day Thursday, but we work directly for the Saudi government; so, we donít get that extra half-day. So, itís a 44-hour workweek, which is all right. The scheduled workday is from 8am Ė 4pm, with no allowance for lunch. An hour for lunch is supposed to cost you an extra hour of work. Of course, everyone takes lunch and still leaves at 4pm.

Time here is on the 24-hour clock, which I much prefer to the 12-hour clock common in the United States. The 24-hour clock, which is used by countries throughout the world, is certain and unequivocal Ė you never have to wonder whether itís morning or afternoon. I drive Cristina mad sometimes because sheíll pick up my watch, or Iíll refer to the time, and itís always in 24-hour time.

Living on the compound is exactly like living on a military base Ė just a bigger room, and I donít have to salute anyone. Plus, I have a kitchen, which I didnít have as an enlisted man in the Navy. But, thereís the compound store, which is just a convenience store with more stuff crammed into a small space. A dry cleaners/laundry sits across the porch way from the mini-mart. Around the corner, thereís a set of shops including a jewelry store, a gift/tailor shop, and a pizza/Mediterranean bread place. I havenít checked out any of them, yet; but I am sure thatís soon to come. Thereís a restaurant that serves pretty fair food, and is cheap Ė a daily special that costs 20 Saudi Riyals ($5.33), and itís way more food than I can eat. Across the indoor concourse from the restaurant, thereís a little Subway. Yep, Subway Ė a little kiosk that makes many of the same subs that they make in the United States. I havenít eaten there, yet; however, I am told that their version is far drier than the American sandwich. Iíll check it out and see. Near the Subway is a coffee shop where they make the normal coffee drinks one might expect.

One of the more interesting things for me is the evening ritual where a large group of folks, mostly Lebanese and Eastern European, gather around the outdoor swimming pool each evening. They sit poolside and talk and smoke cigarettes and smoke flavored tobacco in hookahsÖthe burning coals sitting is trays atop the glass basins filled with water. I donít smoke, but part of me wants to try one of those. They drink coffee or fruit flavored drinks that I donít recognize and wile away the evening hours. I am told that a similar scene unfolds in downtown Riyadh each evening. A very Middle Eastern activity.

They fog for bugs here each Tuesday, something that Americans rarely see anymore. I started out for the dry cleaners the other day, but went right back into the apartment for about Ĺ hour when I saw this tiny Japanese pick-up, loaded up with insecticide and machinery, belching out a thick, foul smelling cloud of fumes. I wonder what kind of bugs theyíre out to kill.

Thereís a gymnasium, a lap pool, a family swimming pool, and numerous Jacuzzis across the compound. Near the indoor lap pool, there are saunas and steam baths. I am starting a swimming regimen this coming Monday, and Iíll swim laps each evening, Monday through Friday. (Saturday and Sunday are for laundry and cleaning the bathroom Ė fun, huh?) I love to swim, and I havenít had an opportunity like this in quite a number of years.

We get a bunch of satellite channels for television viewing. I havenít sorted through them all, yet. However, I have witnessed Russian TV, Japanese TV, Italian, French, Greek, and British TV. Of course thereís American TV (from a couple of seasons ago), a litany of movies, Arabic TV (some shows, but mostly information and news), Indian shows (which are fun to watch even if I donít understand them)ÖCNN and BBC. So, I stay informed, actually knowing a good many things this past week before those in the United States knew.

Oh yeah…they call an Iced Venti Americano…get this…an Iced Venti Americano. The joke may be lost on some, but it’s there.

Cristina said that sheís telling everyone that Iíve gone into Navy mode, and that I am adapting well. Sheís right about the Navy mode; itís what I have in my repertoire of experience. Still, I miss my animals. I miss my mountain home. I miss my wife. Itís going to be a long year, but weíll get to the other side.

Copyright, Greg Hubbard, 2006.


2 thoughts on “Compound Life

  1. FAL is a midlist compound. Folks who come expecting the luxurious digs of some of the top compounds may be disappointed. However, I find it pleasant enough. If you’ve been in the military, it’ll remind you of a military base.

    The apartments are clean, if a little worn, but not so worn as to make you feel uncomfortable (at least for me). The buildings could use a new coat of paint, but that is more due to the savagery of wind and sand than neglect. If you have maintenance issues, you may have to submit a request 2 or 3 times; however, on other days, they’re at the door by the time you get off the phone. Of course, that depends on the seriousness of the issue, too. You just have to be patient.

    There is a little store where you can buy the necessities – like a 7-Eleven, but with a lot more stuff. Once you learn your way around Riyadh, and get used to the driving, you’ll buy less and less there, but you’ll still need to drop in there from time to time. The guys that run it are pretty nice.

    The restaurant is pretty fair – not great, but not a bad place to eat once in awhile. Prices are pretty good, too.

    The athletic facilities are pretty good, too. There is an excellent indoor lap pool that I use regularly, and there is an outdoor pool within the are that houses the restaurant and shops. There is a family pool, too, that is shielded from view. Near the indoor pool, there are jacuzzis, a steam room, and a sauna.

    There are some shops including a jewelry store and a tailor/gift shop. A friend of mine was sold a piece of jewelry that turned out to be fake, so I would approach that store with caution. He also was disappointed in the tailor shop’s work. But, the barber did a good job on me, and the pizza shop is rumored to be pretty good. There’s a rug shop, but I have not been in it. The dry cleaners/laundry has always done a good job on my shirts, but you may find a less expensive place in town.

    The one thing that I don’t like is the laundry facility. I think they’re pretty dirty, myself, but they’re the only game in town. Personal idiosyncracy, perhaps.

    One of the things that takes some getting used to is the currency. Spending 40SR on something seems like a lot because you’re used to U.S. $. However, remember that you have to get to $37.50SR before you’ve even reached $10.00. You can roughly figure the conversion by dividing by four and adding about 10%. That’ll get you in the ballpark.

    The lack of humidity may get to a Virginian. Coming from Oregon, I found it a bit of an adjustment. Just think Las Vegas without the casinos.

    As I said, it’s a midlist compound. More than bearable.

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