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!
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 :-)
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.
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!
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!
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!
Our friend Ginger took some wonderful photos of us recently and I love them so much that I wanted to share them here.
Jordan at 1-week old
When Jordan was 8-weeks old my sister and her son came to visit so we took the opportunity to get a few photos with them and my parents:
About the Photographer
Ginger Lisanti is a photographer who lives at KAUST. She focuses on family photography – maternity, newborns, graduation, whole families etc. If you’re interested in having her take your photos, check out Ginger Lisanti Photography on Facebook or email her directly at gingergclisanti [at] gmail [dot] com
I recently had the good pleasure to meet Susie Johnson Kahil – the lady known as “Susie of Arabia” and the driving force behind the blogs Susie’s Big Adventure and Jeddah Daily Photo Journal. Susie spent most of her life in the US and moved to Jeddah with her Saudi husband and their son in 2007. She writes on Susie’s Big Adventure about topics of interest in the country including social issues and current events. The photo journal is updated daily with interesting photos and tidbits. Both blogs are hugely popular for expats here in the kingdom. If you’re living here, moving here, or are just interested in life in Saudi, Susie’s blogs are both great additions to your RSS reader.
oh… and yes… her maiden name is Susan Johnson… which is my mom’s name…. I had to fit that in somehow!
I was recently introduced to Hass Dennaoui, a music advocate who hosts a hip hop radio show on 105.5 FM in Jeddah. He is doing some really interesting work in the Saudi music industry, working to change local perceptions of hip-hop in a socially responsible and culturally appropriate way. We’ve connected several times since our introduction and after Jordan was born he honored us with a shout-out to him on his radio show.
>> CLICK HERE to listen to the shout out. It’s cut right to the spot where he talks about Jordan.
And, if anyone is interested in learning more about his work or tuning into his show check out:
- His website: www.revoltradio.blogspot.com
- Interviews on BBC: https://soundcloud.com/big_hass-1/big-hass-on-bbc-newshour and http://www.theworld.org/2012/10/big-hass-saudi-arabia/
- His talk at TEDXARABIA: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9kGQjVfru7Y