Saudi Arabia: The Place I Call Home (Part 1 Of 3)

I lived in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” Whenever I say that, I tend to see a surprised expression on people. I guess not many would spend most of their childhood in a Middle Eastern country. But the truth is, I’m always flustered whenever someone asks, “Where did you go to school? Where did you live?” I felt hesitant to respond that I had lived overseas before I came home to my native country, Malaysia. I was afraid of what people would think of me and how I barely have memories of my own country. However, I wanted to keep it to myself that home can be perceived differently for each person. So this is a reminiscence of me growing up in the so-called land of sand.

A photo of palm trees along the road with a sunset in the background in Saudi Arabia.
This is a view that I can never get tired of whenever I visit Saudi Arabia. The palm trees lining the roads and the sunset complementing the clear horizon, with no high-rise buildings visible at all.
Image credit to Atiqah Ghazali

Moving To Saudi Arabia

I only remembered permanently staying in Malaysia until I was seven years old. In 2004, we moved to Sudan due to my father’s work, as a petroleum engineer. But after residing there for three years, my father had to relocate to Saudi Arabia (Saudi), and we went along with him! Being 10 years old at the time, all I remembered was being excited to get on the plane and fly.

A photo of the desert in Saudi Arabia from the view of a window plane.
A picture I took during my last visit to Saudi last year, from the aeroplane’s window. I’ve always been amazed at how empty and clean the desert is, especially looking down from the sky.
Image credit to Atiqah Ghazali

My memory is a bit fuzzy from my first impression of Saudi. But what I clearly remembered was the hot and dry climate. You can even taste or smell the sand that’s flying in the air from the hot wind.

But when we drove to the city of Ras Tanura, our first home in Saudi, I couldn’t stop looking outside the window at the never-ending scenery of the desert. And when we arrived at this gated-residential compound, it was as if we were entering into a new dimension. Because beyond the gate, there were so many rows of houses and green lush landscape. There was a school, a hospital, a supermarket, a café and so much more. It was like a little self-contained community where people from different nationalities and ethnicities come together with English as the common language.

A photo of the street of Atiqah's house in Saudi Arabia.
The street where my house was located (on the right) in the residential compound called Dhahran, the second home I moved to in Saudi Arabia. Despite having to relocate, the ambiance and environment were still the same.

The Gems Of Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is not all sand and camels as depicted in the movies. The desert is the main element that makes it up but if you spend more time in it, you can see the sparkles too. I had lived here for about 10 years and there is always something that I found captivating or new. There are always those little things that I call, a gem of Saudi.

1. Diverse Range Of Culture

I studied in an international school for both my primary and secondary education. The perks of going to an international school are meeting new people from all over the world. The best part of it all is learning about the differences that we have but still respecting each other. I had friends from Saudi, Jordan, Australia, Palestine, Germany, Colombia, Venezuela, and more. Whenever I go over to their homes, I would learn a few things about their culture and find their way of life intriguing.

A photo of an International Day at Atiqah's school, Dhahran High School  where they had performances of traditional dances.
International Day is something that I look forward to every year at my secondary school, Dhahran High School because it was the day we wear our traditional clothes and share with each other our cultural dances and food.
Image credit to Atiqah Ghazali

Just like how Malaysia has its traditional food and cuisines, Saudi also has its own unique taste. And I got the opportunity to taste those different cuisines. Nevertheless, I fell in love with something so simple as cheese bread, shawarma, and kabsa, the dishes that will come to my mind when I think of Saudi.

A photo of a traditional Saudi dish  called kabsa, served in a large tray, where everyone sits on the floor and eat together.
My father loves bringing us to this one local restaurant in Saudi where we can eat kabsa, the traditional way. Kabsa is a mixed rice dish with meat and served on a large circular tray where everyone sits on the floor and digs in.
Image credit to Atiqah Ghazali

2. The Beautiful Beaches

You’re probably wondering, why would you want to go to the beach in Saudi Arabia? The answer is you have to because it’s beautiful… but only during the winter season unless you want to get scorched. Yes, Saudi has a winter season, to my surprise as well. But going to the beach during winter is something that my family and I would do each year. We would wake up early in the morning, pack our breakfast to go, bring some chairs and carpets and head off to the beach. No joke, we would spend an entire day at the beach, eating and playing games until sunset. Sometimes, we would even have a barbecue, because my father loves to get creative with his cooking skills!

A photo of one of the beach in Saudi Arabia where Atiqah's sibblings are running around.
The beach is a getaway for us to enjoy the winter season more in Saudi. My little siblings, from the left of the picture, Sarah and Firdaus, love to run around on the sand and play until the sun sets.
Image credit to Atiqah Ghazali

3. When It Rains In Saudi Arabia

It’s very rare to see rain in Saudi Arabia, but when it does rain, it pours. The people of Saudi adore rain so much that I found it intriguing. It’s fascinating to see how something that happens frequently in some countries is perceived differently in another?

It usually rains during the winter, when the sky would usually turn gloomy and dark. But the people would become happy and excited. Rain is something they highly anticipate and appreciate every year. But it can also lead to flooding, hence forcing schools to close. This had actually happened during my secondary years. Since Saudi doesn’t have a proper drainage system to channel excessive rainwater out, roads become flooded. I still remember receiving the news that our school had to close for a week due to the flood. It was so unexpected yet an unforgettable experience for me.

A photo of the rainy weather shown through Atiqah's backyard.
Rainy season in winter is the best thing I could ask for because I would spend hours sitting outside and enjoying that cool breeze and water splashing at my backyard.
Image credit to Atiqah Ghazali

Where Is Your Home Sweet Home?

Home is a very general word that is different for each person. Home could be where the family is or it could be where they were born and raised. But overall, home is where memories are made and remembered when you think of the place. A place you miss and reminisce. A place you long to go back to and relive the good old days. For me, Saudi Arabia is my home sweet home.

A photo of Atiqah's siblings riding their bikes along the side of the houses.
Even after returning back to Malaysia, I still travel to Saudi once a year to visit my family. I would always take my little siblings out to the park with their bikes, while I walk slowly behind them, capturing the moment.
Image credit to Atiqah Ghazali

But having to live miles away from family, relatives, and friends, Facebook becomes so useful during the times when I wanted to connect and share my experiences. It became a hobby of mine to create photo albums of my family and friends so that we can look back at them in the future.

In the next part of the story, I will share some of the most unforgettable memories I’ve had in Saudi Arabia, ranging from when my two baby siblings were born, road trips, to camping in the desert.

Atiqah GHAZALI

About Atiqah GHAZALI

Grew up overseas in a melting pot of global culture to expat parents, Atiqah is well read, and expresses herself best through writing, art and photography. Architect by qualification, but makes a living as an interior designer.

One Reply to “Saudi Arabia: The Place I Call Home (Part 1 Of 3)”

  1. Pingback: A Heritage Road Trip: Malaysia Through An Expat's Eyes - Espoletta

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