Guest Blog Post: A day in the life of a stay-at-home mom at KAUST

Parents and kids at the KAUST beach.
Photo used with permission, courtesy Marcos Aguilar.
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A few days ago, I posted about being a non-working KAUST spouse. As I was information gathering for the post, I connected with my friend Patricia Ahicart-Vargas to ask her for feedback for my post. Her feedback was superb so I invited her to write a guest blog post describing a typical day for a stay-at-home mom here at KAUST. 

Patricia is originally from Barcelona and arrived at KAUST about 6 months ago. 

Thank you Patricia for including your voice in this space!

 

A day in my life

By Patricia Ahicart-Vargas

When my friends ask me about how I’m feeling being so far away from my family and alone the most part of the day I just smile at them and try to explain what is a “sample” day for me:

It’s 6:30am, time to start my daily routine, I need to wake up and get ready for the beginning of a new day.

To be a stay-at-home-mum could seem an easy thing but, believe me, it’s not.

Before having my breakfast I must change diapers, feed my almost 3 months old daughter, prepare my 2 years old one’s breakfast and have taken the two of them downstairs with the whole stuff I’ll need for the rest of the day ( if I want to save a trip to the upper floor).

I try to take advantage of my situation everyday, dusting and mopping at the beginning together with steam some vegetables for the lunch allows me to go out with the little ones during the morning; we go to the playground where my older one enjoys playing, meets other kids and looks at me with that smile in her face that means happiness… such a great time!

Before going back home sometimes we make a stop at the market to purchase some minor things (yes, minor… did you try to buy with 2 babies? Pushing a stroller while you’re in need of look after of another one baby and trying to carry what you’re purchasing can be just exhausting!)

Fortunately the afternoon is arriving, after more changing diapers, finish cooking, feed the tiny and give lunch to the big one it’s time to nap, for them of course, and to clean the kitchen and the bathroom or do the laundry for me; it’s also true that I use to have my moment then and take a look to the email and facebook and a little chat with my husband.

Around 3pm the next phase is already started, another round of changing diapers, feed my daughters and get them dressed up before going to pick up daddy… when I put everything into the car: babies, stroller, diaper bag with bottles, powder, wipes, change of clothes, pacifiers, toys and bottles, of course, I feel like we can just go for holidays!

We spend some family time having a walk or at some playground, maybe with friends and their kids and, just in a moment, we’re back home again (time flies when you’re enjoying).

On the third round of the day after giving another bottle for the baby we’re ready for bath time. I bath the little one and, while my husband is dressing up her, I bath the big one (we’re a good team!) and, quickly, we’re doing dinner and serving it. Time again for slightly clean the kitchen, put every toy, piece of clothing or any stuff on it’s own place and share precious time with my lovely family before the last round!

Finally the end is near…I put my 2 years old into her pajamas, take her to bed while she’s hugging her favourite doll and give her the sweetest good night kiss that I can ( I love to see her laying on bed so I’ll come after 5 minutes), change little one’s diaper and give her to daddy who’s going to give her a bottle (yes, I married the correct guy!) while I take a warm and very needed shower; everything becomes quite now.

Ok, it’s almost 11pm, it’s been a plenty of tasks day, just like everyday. Now I have some time to talk with my husband, relax and sleep. Hopefully tomorrow will be as good as today or even better.

Being a stay-at-home-mum is such a hard work, you need to set your goals, clarify your priorities, have a plan…your kids are depending on you, they need you and you must be ready for that. Sometimes it’s easier and sometimes is just like hell but, always, really, always, I’m happy. To see my daughters everyday is priceless for me and I feel very lucky for each moment that I’m able to stay with them. Of course I miss my family, a lot! but I have two wonderful babies to care about and I’ll do my best for them.

That’s the moment when I tell my friends how is a “sample” day for me here at KAUST, maybe not so different from any other mum’s day, maybe almost the same for all of those stay-at-home-mums out there and, maybe, the best days of my life.

Being a KAUST Spouse

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Desperate KAUST Wives

One of my first impressions of KAUST was being totally insulted on my first day here. I got my ID card and in big bold letters at the top it said “DEPENDENT”. As someone who considers herself quite IN-dependent, this label made me feel like I’d been slighted. I soon realized there is a (somewhat) logical explanation: As my husband is considered the primary person associated with the university, my status is officially listed as his dependent – meaning I could not be here without his affiliation. It’s not meant to insult the feminists among us, it’s just a poor use of the English language, which is just the way it goes when you operate in English in an non-English-speaking country.

I look back at that and giggle now. Sometimes us westerners get a little too easily offended.

Still, many of us prefer to refer to ourselves as “spouses” rather than “dependents”. This can be used for either male or female married dependents of KAUST employees. Kids are also considered dependents.

Many KAUST spouses choose to work at KAUST. I won’t get into that option in this post. If you are interested in learning more about those opportunities, talk to your relocation advisor or HR directly.

Others, like I did, choose to work remotely for entities outside of KAUST. Not too many people do this though, ostensibly because remote work is still a bit new to some sectors. Once I got pregnant I decided I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom for awhile.

So, what’s a non-working dependent supposed to do in the middle of the desert in Saudi Arabia?!

“Surely I’ll be bored out of my skull!” – that’s what most of the people I talk to say. And for some, this is true. But, I believe that you create your own reality. If you don’t want to be bored, you must create a life for yourself here.

Here are a few ideas on ways to start:

  • First, make sure you go to the new-spouse orientation. These are great sessions and will introduce you to a lot of information about the services at KAUST, recreation facilities, events, and where to get info about all these things. I had the pleasure to speak briefly at the last one, and really thought it was a great event for new folks to connect and learn.
  • Reach out to your spouse and see if any of his/her colleagues have non-working spouses. You can even do this before you move here to start to learn about their experience here. We’re all new at KAUST – the university is only 5 years old! So, do your best to reach out to existing community members and invite them to a cup of tea and a chance to meet them. Reaching out to people is essential to making friends and creating a tribe/community for yourself here.
  • Read my post on making friends at KAUST
  • Find your niche. Go to the KAUST Wiki and see which online and offline groups appeal to you, and join one. And, if you don’t see one that interests you, create your own!
  • Ask a lot of questions. There is a lot more going on here than is officially communicated. There are many groups that meet unofficially and the only way to find them is to make friends with someone who is participating. This is probably super frustrating for new people (I know it frustrates me to no end, as I am a communicator at heart) but it’s the way things seem to work here.
  • I understand that there will be a new program for new recruits starting soon, where you can try some of the facilities like the golf course, the gym, the library etc as a way to learn about the community and make friends.
  • Create something new! Are you super into something? Like crafting or making robots or eating Jello? There are probably other people here who like those things too. Create a group for your passion and invite people to join you!

UPDATE 19 Feb 2014: I thought of a few more things to add to this list!

  • Learn a new language. There are Arabic and English courses and courses for a few other languages as well. Here is my experience with learning Arabic (which sadly I was not too successful with!). For more information about this, talk to the folks at the Harbor Sports Club reception.
  • Be sure to take a good long look around the Facilities and Community website and Get Active. Making yourself familiar with these sites will help you get involved with all that the community has to offer (note: they are only available on KAUST compound or via VPN).
  • Join the Lens mailing list to get up-to-the-minute info on all things KAUST. To sign up, go to the main Lens page and look on the right navigation for a place to enter your email address. This is also only available on KAUST compound or via VPN.

 

I guess most of my points above are fairly obvious, but perhaps there are some tidbits of help in there.

I also think it’s important to recognize is that we are a small and welcoming community. It must be much harder to be non-working in the big city where you are easily anonymous and forgotten. Here, you run into the same people multiple times in one day. If you are positive and friendly, I think it’s probably hard NOT to make a few friends along the way!

Some people are not ones to “join in”. I really encourage you to drop your preconceived notions about this kind of thing though. There is a lot to do here, and there are a lot of great people to meet. It is up to you to find them.

For me, it took a bit of time, but I now have the most amazing group of friends here. I’m taking care of my child. I am active in my community. I’m studying online to become a doula. I’m writing on my blog. And I am never bored. In fact, even without a job, I’m as busy and fulfilled as I’ve ever been.

 

 

 

How to Help After Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda

News of possibly the strongest storm ever to make landfall has been dominating the news for the last week or so. Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda smashed into the Philippines on November 7 causing widespread devastation. And this, just a few weeks after a major earthquake hit the same area.  I have been deeply affected by the images coming out of the country and am sure many of my readers have too.

There are quite a few Filipinos who live and work here at KAUST. Most have been walking around in a state of shock since the event. Some have lost their homes. Some have lost their loved ones. Some… and this may be the hardest… still haven’t heard anything. My heart breaks just thinking of it.

Photo Courtesy Philippine Red Cross

You can help

Locals know best, so I have been talking to different people from the Philippines over the last few days to see how they suggest we can help. Unfortunately there are loads of scammers out there taking advantage of disasters like this – I’m sharing my findings here so you know about some safe places to donate.

Side note: In case you don’t know, I have years of experience working with international NGOs and have also worked specifically in disaster relief.

Financial Donations

Some say: donate directly. If you know someone who has lost a home or a loved one, they are probably looking for money to rebuild. This is a very good way to help – a direct donation means 100% of the money will go to someone in need – as long as you trust the person you are giving to.

If you want to make a financial donation but don’t know someone personally affected, or prefer to go through official channels, here are three organizations that my Filipino friends suggested:

Sagip Kapamilya Foundation – A friend of mine told me that the local charity Sagip Kapamilya is the best place to donate. It’s run by a local Filipino media outlet and I’m told the name roughly translates as “Save Our Family”. Their mission is to provide food and non-food relief to affected communities of disasters, as well as engage in rehabilitation and disaster risk reduction projects.

The Philippines Red Cross – The Red Cross is one of the major players in international disaster relief and is always a sure way to make your contribution count. My friend Shai Coggins – a Filipino herself and also NGO Expert – outlines her reasons for donating to them in this blog post. I’m also a bit partial to them as I used to work for the American Red Cross and know firsthand the good work they do.

Catholic Relief Services was also recommended.

 

In-Kind

At KAUST
For those of you who live at KAUST, there is a collection being organized for items that can help people rebuild their lives. Do you have extra clothes or blankets? Extra food with a long shelf-life? Extra basic household items? My friend Zaldy is collecting relief goods that will be sent thru the Sagip Kapamilya Foundation which I mentioned above. You can contact him at 0551315694 or 0561273491 to arrange a pick-up of your in-kind donation here at KAUST.

UPDATE Nov 13, 2013: CatIan Montiano is also collecting in-kind donations and is specifically seeking clothes for children and adults (used but clean), blankets, and other things that can be useful for evacuees. You can contact her at 8082792/8026772/0544700260 or catherine[dot]montiano[at]kaust.edu.sa.

Outside KAUST
For those of you outside KAUST, you can also make an in-kind donation via the Sagip Kapamilya Foundation. Send your items to Sagip Kapamilya Warehouse #13 Examiner St. West Triangle Quezon City, Philippines.

Please help if you can. Even a small donation can make a big difference. 

Community Pride: 3 Years of CommBuild

In 2010, Amy Sample Ward had an idea to start an online group for community organizers working on social benefit projects. I soon became an active member and even took the lead organizing role (aka “cat herding”) for a time. 3 years later, this community is well-established and making great strides in helping strengthen communities all around the world.

I encourage you to take a moment to read the 3 year anniversary post by Julia Smith (which I am honored to be quoted in). And if you’re interested in learning more about this community here’s a bit more info on the group and how to get involved.

Visiting the King Abdullah Grand Mosque

Located in the heart of the KAUST compound is its magnificent and ornate mosque, the King Abdullah Grand Mosque. It’s a large and beautiful building which I pass by every day but I had never had the good fortune to see from the inside.

Until the other day! A friend arranged a tour and I was lucky enough to tag along.

One of the students at the university serves as the imam, and makes himself available to the community for tours, questions, and conversations. He patiently led our group through the mosque and explained aspects about the mosque and different prayer customs. He even extended a generous invitation for us  join the Ramadan iftar gatherings at the mosque.

One of the key points he wanted to get across to us was that everyone is welcome to visit the Mosque. He explained how he hopes that every person who lives or works at KAUST will come to visit the mosque no matter what religion they follow. Tours for groups can be arranged quite easily – and this is the preferred visit method for non-muslims. The other thing to note is that it is preferred if women are dressed conservatively – we visited in our abayas.

The mosque is spiritual center of the community that can house 1500 worshipers at any given time. I felt very fortunate to not only see this beautiful space, but to be within it’s walls during the holy month of ramadan. There is certainly something powerful and spiritual about it.

Here are a few pictures that a few of my fellow tour groupies took of the Mosque:

 

 

If you would like to arrange a visit to the mosque, you can email the Imam at ahmad.showail[at]kaust.edu.sa for more info.

 

**Special thanks to the two co-conspirators who helped me in writing this post. Thanks also for letting me use your photos!

Our Second KAUSTiversary!

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A few days ago, on July 11, a friend of ours proudly proclaimed “Happy Kaustiversary” to us. Kevin and I looked at one another and back at her with embarrassment – we had completely forgotten it was the second anniversary of our move to KAUST. I must admit, it is one awesome friend who remembers when you moved!

As I reflect back on the last two years here, I am reminded just how truly lucky we are. This year – like most of the last few years – has been a year of positive change in our lives. The most notable change being the birth of baby Jordan.

In our first KAUSTiversary post, I wrote about a few of the reasons we love living at KAUST – and I still love all those things. As I reflect back on the last 12 months at KAUST a theme emerges in my mind: being the change you want to see in the world.

This year, instead of ignoring or being frustrated by problems in my community, I did my best to create solutions. It’s so empowering to see problems turned into solutions and frustrations turned into opportunities. I love the feeling associated with creating simple solutions and positive change.

There are so many people here at KAUST who want to make this university and the community that supports it as successful as it can be. Thank you to all of you who have worked hard to create a better community for all of us to share.

 

 

A change in weekend

When we moved to Saudi in 2011, one of the fundamental adjustments we needed to make was shifting the rhythm of the week. When we lived in the US and the UK, the weekend was always Saturday and Sunday. In Saudi however, the weekend is observed on Thursday and Friday. This constantly leads to confusion and even after two years of living here, I often say “Saturday” when what I really mean is “Thursday”. In fact, Thursday is now referred to in my house as “fake saturday”. It’s just really hard to get used to a different weekend.

Then, 7 days ago, the Saudi Government announced that the weekend would change throughout the kingdom – and that the change would happen this week! So, with less than a week notice, we are adjusting from a Thursday/Friday weekend to a Friday/Saturday weekend. The government has taken this action to appease businesses who will now have 4 working days in common with the west and all 5 working days in common with most of the other Arab countries. I honestly believe it’s a really practical decision.

We had heard rumors that the government was investigating the change of the weekend and knew that it had been recommended to the government. But, I sort of assumed that a change would happen in a few years. I remember when the digital switchover of television finally happened in the UK. People were given 13 years to plan for this change – and it was only just a change in TV! So, when it was announced that the change in the weekend would happen in less than a week, it was honestly a bit of a shock!

I’m sure this is causing a lot of confusion and changes for quite a few people working in the Kingdom. But, thankfully for us, it means that we get an unexpected 3-day weekend, so we’re rising to the occasion and enjoying the extra time together as a family.

Now… we’ll see how long it takes me to remember what day of the week it is! That could take years :-)

 

Meeting people at KAUST

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As the end of the school year closes, it’s a time of change at KAUST. Many people are departing this time of year and the classifieds listings are going mad with people selling household items. And, just as these people leave, their spots are filled by bright-eyed and enthusiastic new people. This is one of the absolute best parts of living in a University town. There is a constant sense of rejuvenation.

Recently, a new community member named Patrick wrote on one of the KAUST online community groups. He wanted to meet people and put himself out there to see if anyone wanted to meet him. I was impressed with his post, so decided to write a few words about how to meet people at KAUST. Patrick: this post is for you!

One thing that’s really great about living on a compound like this, as I’ve said before, is that nobody is a local, which levels the playing field a bit. Everyone has been here for 4 years or less, and almost everyone seems eager to be inclusive and willing to make new friends and help new recruits out.

Here are a few specific ideas for getting settled-in socially:

Go to lunch with your colleagues

Hopefully your colleagues are cool. Hopefully they’re also thoughtful enough to invite you out to lunch. If they do, GO! You already have something in common with them, and in this small community your coworkers can be your best assent in terms of finding out about things to do and who to meet.

Go to the events

KAUST tends to host several events throughout the year. From big events like the annual Saudi National Day celebration, to smaller events like movie nights on Thuwal Park, these events can be a good opportunity to meet new people and catch up with existing friends.

Find out what’s going on at the gym, golf course, marina, and library

The gym, golf course, marina, and library all host regular events. There are yoga classes, dive trips, language learning classes, and more. Once you arrive, you can learn about all of these opportunities on the Facilities and Community website (website only accessible on compound). These regular events are all either free or cheap and are a great way to meet someone with a similar interest to you.

Join Groups 

There are a variety of Self-Directed Groups and online-community groups to check out. The self-directed groups are special interest groups where people interested in a specific topic meet on a regular basis. There is a pet-owners group, a photography group, a cycle group etc. You can also start your own group if you’re so inclined. The online community groups are a good way to connect with people of similar interests or need. There is a shared taxi group, a place to sell and buy things, a general community conversation group and more.

 

A Final Thought: as this community is so small, you really only need to meet a couple people to start to be part of things. It seems that everyone knows everyone and you’ll soon be in the mix socially if you just get out there and try!

 

Being Pregnant at KAUST

UPDATE: As of October 2013 there is a new service provider for KAUST healthcare services: Dr. Solimon Fakeeh Hospital. Some of the information below is now out of date. Please share your experience in the comments below so others can share/learn!

3-course meals for 2 at the IMC

Before we moved here, I remember scouring the internet to find info about having a baby in Saudi or at KAUST. I wanted to know if I would have options and if it was safe. I wanted to know if it would fit my philosophies and if I would look back and be happy that I had a kid here. I remember searching and finding pretty much nothing that would ease my fears or at least make me feel more informed. It wasn’t until I arrived here and started talking with new parents that I started to understand what it’s like. So, this blog post is for the former me… and for all the people out there that are searching like I was!

Being pregnant and having a baby at KAUST is like having a baby in the West. We have good, highly-trained medical professionals and safe facilities. My grandmother had a baby in India in the 1950s and before I moved here I wondered if there would be similarities. Let me be clear: my experience was nothing like hers.

Here are a few questions I had before we moved here, and some answers for you:

Is KAUST a good place to sart a family?
KAUST is a great place to start a family – and a lot of people are! There are currently 120-something women pregnant out of the approximately 5000 people who live at KAUST. Pregnant women are well supported – there is a clinic here on the compound where you can have most of your prenatal check-ups. There is a full-time OB (and she’s lovely!) and a 24-hour emergency room and ambulance.

How far is the nearest hospital? Is it any good?
As I said before, there is a clinic on the compound. This is good for check-ups, blood work, ultrasounds etc. Babys are not delivered here (except in the case of emergency) rather they are transferred by ambulance to the International Medical Center in Jeddah. The IMC is about 1.5 hours away (depending on traffic). This is a bit farther than I liked being from the hospital and I did worry about complications. The IMC is a very good hospital – it’s new, with good highly-trained doctors, and friendly, helpful nurses.

What is it like to deliver at the IMC?
I had mixed feelings. I always felt very safe, and in case of emergency, I’m sure they would have gotten me through just fine. They also had very good service – it was like staying in a 5-star hotel. I had my own room with a pull-out couch for my husband, and they brought us (both) extravagant 3-course meals. I had a normal delivery and it was standard to stay for two full days – I think you stay longer if there are complications/c-section. The nurses were helpful and everyone seemed to take excellent care of my baby. They didn’t give my baby a bottle, and took him away to the nursery for about 2-hours a day to get him checked by the pediatrician (I would have liked him to not be gone so long, though).

The downside for me was that, as crunchy granola kind of girl, I wanted to have a crunchy granola kind of birth. I would have liked to given birth in a tub with soft music and a doula by my side. There really aren’t options like this. I was only given the option to have a standard hospital birth – no tub, no doula, no soft music… heck, I didn’t even have a birthing ball (actually I brought my own, but the baby came so quickly I didn’t get a chance to use it!).

I did still have my heart set on a natural birth. I didn’t want an IV or drugs, or medical interventions. This was definitely a problem for the delivering doctor. She simply couldn’t understand why I didn’t want an epidural and seemed very concerned that I would want to put myself through “unnecessary pain”. I absolutely insisted on skipping the pain and induction meds, though I did give in and take some breaths of nitros oxide near the end. but the doctor did get her way and do some minor medical interventions which I told her I was really hoping not to have. In the end, she convinced me that they were “medically necessary” and I gave her permission… though I still have my doubts about how necessary they really were.

So, overall it was a good, safe experience. It just wasn’t the birth I’d gone for if I had been given more options.

What’s it like to be a new parent at KAUST?
There are tons of young families for a good reason – it’s a safe, easy place to raise kids. It’s hard to find organic foods and good quality baby products (the baby food is pure sugar and there aren’t really any options for green-diapering). There are a few mommy-groups which you can join, as well. Also, you can bring kids anywhere, which is a huge help.  KAUST is not well-equipped for feeding and diapering. Good luck finding a changing table in most buildings, and If you’re planning to breastfeed in public, I’d just be careful not to show too much (err.. any?) skin. I tend to bring a (pumped) bottle with me when I go out on compound or in Jeddah. That said, I understand that you can breastfeed in the women’s prayer rooms all over Jeddah.

On the subject of breastfeeding, Is there a La Leche League rep nearby?
Yes! La Leche League is an international nonprofit that helps support women who are breastfeeding. While there is not (yet!) a LLL group at KAUST, there is a rep and a group that meets in Jeddah. If you are struggling to breastfeed, you should really get in touch. For more info go to: http://www.llli.org/saudiarabia.html

 

…Well, with my mommy-brain those are the only questions I can think of for now. Do you have any questions about being/becoming a parent here? Post it in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer!