The first mall in Jeddah was built in the early 1980s. By the time I had last visited the Kingdom there were no malls yet in the Eastern Province where I was. I did not have the experience of an Arab shopping mall. 

Since my arrival I have gone to two malls in Jeddah. The Red Sea Mall and the Mall of Arabia. Both are the biggest ones here and I have a preference for the Red Sea Mall as the other is undergoing renovations and had less stores of interest to me. The Mall of Arabia is better for families because it has a large amusement park section on the ground level with rides and games. 

Businesses in Saudi stay open late. With much of the year being very hot, things pretty much spring to life at sunset. Businesses here stay open to midnight or later. During Ramadan restaurants, especially, can stay open until 3 or 4 a.m. This is forcing me into a later pattern than I am used to. I'm generally a morning/day person due to my light sensitivity.

Many international brands are here: H&M, Body Shop, Clarks, DKNY, etc. There are also some European brands such as Boots and Marks & Spencer. I also found the Turkish equivalent of Payless Shoes. There are many stores that are, of course, unfamiliar. 

Being outside KAUST, I must wear an abaya, although I can leave my head uncovered. For the local women, you will see quite the assortment. The liberal women are uncovered, the conservative are completely covered (including face), and the moderates have their hair covered, but not their faces.

Shortly after arrival I experienced a flash from the past as the businesses began to shut down for Prayer Time. Muslims pray five times a day and in the evening there is one at sunset and another a few hours after that. This was the last prayer of the day around 8 p.m. It is best to time dinner for Prayer Time so that you have something to occupy you while shops are closed for 20-45 minutes. 

The food courts are just as varied as the shops. There are Burger King, KFC, McDonald's, Popeye's, Tim Horton's from the west as well as international cuisine options. My first night I opted for Indian and my second night I stumbled across a Yemeni stand. So glad I tried it. 


I had a meat mugalgal, which is a stew that is popular throughout the peninsula. It came with the most fabulous flatbread. It was large, like a platter, and so flaky! It was a carb cheat day because I couldn't resist!

Upon arrival in Saudi I came to realize some of my dresses wouldn't cut it. I have to have things covering to below the elbows and knees. One dress showed my knees and another had too high a slit. This was my goal in the shopping trips, along with some black, low heel shoes.

I entered H&M, gathered an armload of clothes, and then went in search of a Fitting Room. They were all marked 'closed' and finally I had to ask and everyone gave me bewildered stares and said, 'closed!'. It was not until I later talked to people at work that I learned there are few fitting rooms in Saudi. Instead, you purchase the clothes, go to a Ladies' restroom, try them on, and, if necessary, return them. This explained why there was a long return line at the register.

I was on a deadline and ignorant of this fact. Keep in mind that things here are marked in European measurements for the most part. I paid for my items and, luckily, returned home to find that I had picked out my sizes perfectly. Phew!

Returning to the bathroom situation, the first mall had no changing rooms that I saw. Only toilets. It was the second mall that had an area of changing rooms separated from the toilets/hammams. 



For Arabs 'hammam' means bathroom. It was at Mall of Arabia that I encountered my first on this trip. I couldn't find a western toilet and had to go like a native. While there are arguably benefits to this style, I find it rather a pain when you are dealing with abayas that already skirt the floor as it is. Hammams are a lot wetter and so one must take a lot of care gathering up clothes. So glad I wasn't wearing pants that day or I'd have had to deal with pulling down as well as gathering up! The hose you see is present in both toilets and hammams for additional cleaning 'down there', if necessary. 

I no longer have much of a need to go to the malls now that I have what I need, but may still venture to some of the others as it is something to do as a means of entertainment, so to speak. The Red Sea Mall has the first movie theater in Jeddah that only opened recently. It is, not surprisingly, so popular that you must reserve seats as soon as the date opens up. 

I'd much rather shop the streetside shops and markets much like I remember them. This I will do tonight with my Saudi roommate, Azhar, who has agreed to be my guide and translator. That post soon!





For years when people asked me where I was from, I would reply that I grew up in Saudi Arabia. Saudi was home. After all, the majority of my life had been there due to my father working for ARAMCO for 16 years. That was basically my childhood - from first grade through college. It wasn't until I was in my late 30s that I changed my 'home' to Sacramento. 

My father retired in 1987, so my last visit to Saudi had been in the summer of 1986.  Over 30 years ago. I wasn't sure I'd ever get the opportunity to revisit my childhood home since you were only allowed into the country for pilgrimage to Mecca or for employment. It wasn't until 2018 that the Kingdom announced it would allow for tourism. Luckily the company offers a reunion trip every five years and I have my chance.


Then something else fell into my lap - an opportunity to take a three month work assignment on the other side of the country. A friend referred me to a writing position at the King Abdullah University of Science & Technology, otherwise known as KAUST. KAUST is located an hour north of Jeddah along the Red Sea. In very many ways it is just like I grew up, living in a Westernized compound with all the amenities.

When I arrived at the Jeddah airport I was immediately struck by how things changed and also stayed the same. The first difference was Customs. Thirty years ago it meant having every bag opened up and searched through looking for videos, porn, drugs, pork, and alcohol. Today it is just a matter of having your bags x-rayed. Another change, women were operating the x-rays! Still covered, including faces, but employed women, nonetheless.

Outside what hadn't changed was traffic. Still the same muscling into each others' paths with no discipline. Our taxi even got involved in a tap by another vehicle, but not enough to quibble over.

I've been put into a shared apartment with a young Saudi woman. Her name is Azhar and her family lives in Mecca. I'm so grateful to have her as a roommate because she brought a ton of stuff from home. Unfortunately the apartment gives you bare minimum - bath towel, hand towel, small fry pan, kettle, pot, three sets of dishes/silverware and that's about it. Very difficult to cook with no other tools or pans. Azhar has brought everything! She's got spices, cooking tools, even small appliances like toaster and coffee maker. Without her I would have to spend a lot of money outfitting myself or eating out all the time. 




The Beacon
The apartment is like a two-bedroom condo. We each have a bed/bath upstairs and then we share the rest of the apartment downstairs. One difficulty I am having is with the washer/dryer combo. I've actually been interested in one for home (less space), but this one has no instructions and I'm stumped at how to get it to just dry without washing. Like how to fluff up or unwrinkle an item.

The University is international and uses mostly English to communicate and teach classes. There are only about 1000 students, but from the size of the overall property (campus and living areas) it is a small city and has plenty of room for growth. 

The students, apparently, also live in similar apartments to mine. Not so bad considering most US universities have dorms. The faculty live in apartments themselves, or if they are married and/or have children, they have very nice townhouses or detached homes similar to the one I grew up in in Dhahran. Executives live along the shoreline in McMansions. 


Island Rec Center is on the beach

There are schools, a supermarket, a movie theater, and recreation areas. There are two recreation areas with swimming pools and gyms. The gyms are separated as male/female due to the strictness of the country. One rec center has a women's only pool as well, otherwise the pools are 'family' pools and coed. I'm excited to swim laps as much as possible!


faculty style housing
Familiar to my growing up, there are also other things such as a bowling alley, rock climbing wall, yoga, spin class, and snack bars! There are also art, photography, and ceramic classes I could join. 

Separately are a golf center and course as well as a racquet club for tennis, squash, and badminton. 

Somewhat in the center of 'town' is Discovery Square where there are several restaurants, including: Domino's, Tim Horton's, Burger King, Cold Stone, and several others that include Indian, Mideastern, Japanese/Chinese, and Italian.

Getting around is easy because there are several buses that make loops around the compound all day. On weekdays I take the bus to work to the main campus and the Administration building where I am working for Dr. Najah Ashry, VP of Saudi Affairs. She is a very impressive woman and certainly one of the most influential women in the country.


At lunch there is a very large cafeteria that offers many stations such as pasta, salad, deli, pizza, grill, as well as the featured entrees of the day, of which there are about a dozen to choose from. Due to the international nature of KAUST there are always Mideastern, Asian, and Indian selections. The dining hall is extremely large but there is also the lovely outside dining if the weather isn't too bad.

KAUST is something new for me but at the same time so familiar. It's like living in one of the ARAMCO compounds from my youth. That will be next month, though, when I return to the Eastern province to attend the reunion. Meanwhile, more pictures of KAUST...


part of the campus

looking toward the Beacon and Yacht Club

Harbor Walk with student housing

more student housing

out on Beacon point looking back toward campus

Yacht Club
inside the Beacon