Sunday, May 24, 2009

"No Problem"

Okay, many of my friends and family have been poking me to actually be the blogger that I said I was going to be.  Stories from Saudi, stories from my summer across America in an RV, and stories about the less than normal life I am living.  So here's a story I started writing back in May when I set off one afternoon on an outing to Ikea with my driver and daughter so we could stock up on loot to take back to Hawaii with us.  Yes, I love Ikea that much that I will carry it across the world to have it in my cozy cottage in Hauula.  Ikea is great for small spaces.  Riyadh has had Ikea for 25 years but it will be another 25 years before Oahu will ever get an Ikea I'm afraid.  

I love Ikea for many reasons.  The designs.  The packing concept (no excessive waste, easy transport.) The inspiring ways to make cozy nests.  The budget friendly items.  The variety.  The easy ways to make a quick, fun improvement to tired spaces.......  Okay, I do realize that within these wonderful gimmicks, Ikea is also a huge influence on the substantial gluttony of consumerism and must- have mentality.  They boast a large selection of medium to low durability lifespan of future landfill items.  But they are bringing joy and style into our homes by innovative designers that make Martha Stewart seem so grandma.  At least Ikea is trying to have a smaller ecological footprint whilst doing so.  (Not to mention making their owner the richest man in the world.  Okay, I did mention it.  But what a great store...... it makes the masses like me happy to have pretty stuff at affordable prices and the owner gets super rich.  That's like a really good concept.)   It does it's job without all of the Walmart baggage so I'm a big Ikea fan.  And for those people who junk their Ikea stuff so quickly, I say that's more you than Ikea.....  I still own some sturdy pieces from my first Ikea experience in Pennsylvania 15 years ago!  

All of that aside, my passion for Ikea is really quite simple.  Comfort!  The store itself has always been a place of comfort for me right down to the comfort food, eye candy designs and a supervised play area for Isabella while I shop.  The compound where I live in Riyadh has a shopping bus with a scheduled Ikea visit about every three weeks.  It's what you plan your life around when you are an expat woman in Riyadh....... The women, the bus schedule, our outings together known as "coffee mornings" (where we get bussed to another expat compound and have a breakfast buffet and shopping vendors with their arabian wares, very much like the Aloha Stadium Swap meet on a smaller scale). Our compound is called Wadi Two so when one of my neighbors was in the hospital and our 'Desperate Housewives' group of Wadi II banded together for a get well visit it just so happened to clash with the Ikea outing. Small panic...... we plan our lives according to this bus schedule since woman are not allowed to drive in the Kingdom. I love my Ikea trips, and I love my neighbors, so what's a desperate housewife to do. "No problem..... of course I chose to go visit Trish. After all there is always Sibichen. He's the driver we regularly hire to take us places like restaurants, church (known as group meetings instead of church), other friends houses, the gold souk, the embassy, the airport..... you know, all of the regular places. He's from Sri Lanka. Even though he is not our private driver, it feels like he is just there for us. He is everyone's favorite.   In the end it will make it more fun to have my own driver instead of going on the compound bus with a time limit.  It is a bit of a kill joy when I have to watch the clock anyway.  I much prefer the endless daydreaming of what I can use where and how I can fit it in my luggage.  This is really a big deal outing for us.  The drive will cost around $40, so that is like going to the water park or the movies, both of which we don't have in Riyadh.  Ikea is the kind of fun that Izzy and I can have together on an outing.  

On the drive, Sibichen gets a call from another client that is in a bit of a bind and needs a rescue about 90 minutes away. He tries to find another driver in his network, for this client but no one was available.  Then he requests of me to have me get picked up by another driver when I am done as one would surely become available. My heart sank a little, but of course I am going to oblige.   "No problem", I say, because it is perfectly understandable, but inside my heart was a little broken because I sometimes live a delicate balance of happiness in this fish out of water- 'American woman living in Saudi' life that I live.  At least it is at Ikea.  I will be fine.

In May in the Arabian dessert, it is too hot to wear my black abaya even in the air conditioned car.   Being sneaky, I was not wearing my abaya when Izzy and I got into the back seat since the windows are heavily tinted black and I can be covered without being "covered" until I actually leave the car.  When we arrive at Ikea, I realize I am not ready to leave the car.  I had stuff I was going to leave in the car and I have to put on the Abaya which I must do before I exit the car. Managing all of the snaps and buttons,  fumbling with Izzy and now that I can't leave anything behind in the car,  I begin collecting my previously used Ikea bags that I brought with me intending to have them for reuse (doing my part to minimize my eco footprint).  

I enter the store and the security guard gives me a careful look.  The look was a concerned "where are you going with those bags" look.  I simply explain they are to re use for my new purchases so they would not create waste.  He ushers me to the bag check place and I tell this next guy that I will need them at the register for the purchases.  "No problem", he says, "they have new bags there."  "Yes, I know, but I don't want to waste these bags so I brought them to re use." (In Saudi, trying to recycle is a futile undertaking.  I might as well try to paddle my kayak to California from Oahu, but it's just too hard to give up my environmental views and join the culture of ALL things are disposable.  Especially where the disposing of rubbish is literally everywhere and uncontainable.)  Even though I create a bit of confusion, I patiently try to share the recycle viewpoint with the man and I get to maintain my integrity to my eco footprint.  From this point we move on to the "child check" area.  

The sign in sheet for the play area requires my phone number and not knowing any of the new Saudi numbers in my head,  I now discover that I left my cell phone in Sibichen's car.  Okay, besides the child check in, I am suppose to be contacted by the unknown driver that Sibichen will be sending for us.   This is a bit of a problem.  Regroup. Okay. I'm thinking that, I simply borrow the Ikea phone and call my husband, have him call Sibichen and send him back with my phone since I don't know his phone number and it is only in my phone of course.  Meanwhile, the covered woman, with only her eyes showing has no idea why I am suddenly reluctant to list my phone number on the check in clipboard.  I tell her, "I need to call my husband.  I left my phone in the driver's car and he is gone."  "No problem" she says, and she writes down my husband's phone number that I have pulled from a slip of paper, luckily stashed in my purse.    "One hour"  she says.  "No", I insist, " I need to get in touch with my driver.   I need to borrow a phone. "    "Okay, No problem."  she says again trying to hand me the paper she has just scribbled in arabic that likely says, collect your daughter at this time and we will call you at this number if you don't show up.  At this point, after having just given away my generosity (letting my driver go off for another client)  and my patience (why is recycling such a mysterious concept to a huge population of the world),  I was in short supply of virtues.  

"THIS IS A PROBLEM!  Quit saying NO PROBLEM.  You don't even know what I am saying. I have a problem, and I need to use a phone!   Where is an Ikea phone that I can use?  I have to make a call to my husband now.  I left my phone in the car and my driver is already driving far away.  I don't know the driver's number because it was in my phone."  Only her eyes answered.  She tells a lot with only her eyes as they are the only flesh that are public for her to share.  They were saying, "American women are so funny.  When they talk loud and fast and wave their hands around, it's like watching Seinfeld on TV."  

Turns out that the bag check guy that I confused earlier about recycling my Ikea bags, came to the rescue.  He handed me his cell phone, I got it all sorted out with Norm calling the driver and then calling me back on the borrowed phone.    Sibichen ended up getting someone else to go get the stranded guy and I was back to calm and joyful Ikea shopping knowing he was coming back for me.  Then two hours later, smiling, nice Sibichen meets me at the checkout counter, collects my bags from the bag check for me, where I  re-use them.  My Ikea bliss is back.  We load up on yummy, cheap Ikea shwarmas on our way out.  (Instead of hotdogs, our Ikea serves up the tastiest shwarmas for 2 saudi riyals.  The exchange rate is 3.75 to one American dollar. ) 

Happily loaded with my Ikea loot for Hawaii and six shwarma's to go...... these are the kind of adventures in my Saudi world.  Did you think it was going to sound like a story from Christiane Amanpour?  

Nope. This is just a regular day in my life as a desperate housewife in Wadi II. Here I am with some of the gals after the last coffee morning we went to before summer vacation. We look so Palm Springs, yeah? That's Trish in the middle with the white hat doing so much better after her luxury stay at Kingdom Hospital. Seriously, if you need to be hospitalized and you are not one of the third class labor citizens, you definitely want to participate in the care given in Saudi Hospitals.


  1. Great story. I really do need to come visit you. I'm in the Emirates now and thinking of Syria in September, but I can hop over to Riyadh beforehand.
    Or, come visit us! :)

  2. I love this post, Dolly. You do have an adventurest life out there in Saudi. Glad you've decided to post again.

  3. Loved the story, can't wait till we get to see you again, and hopefully your family!!!

  4. Oh, I love it. You go, girl. You are a great writer and you are finding your voice. I am so excited that we might start hearing about your exciting/interesting and entertaining life. Were you able to figure out the photo posting okay? I love the photos.

    How are you taxes coming? How is the house hunt going? Where are you looking now? I'll write you on Facebook.

    Good job!