My Expat Memories In Saudi Arabia (Part 2 Of 3)

An expatriate or expat is someone who is residing or working in a country that is other than their native country. Previously, I shared my thoughts about my home in Saudi Arabia (Saudi) and the little things that I find memorable. I lived there with my family due to my father’s work as a petroleum engineer, for about 10 years. Now, it’s been five years since I’ve moved back home to Malaysia with my siblings, to pursue our studies in university. Being far away from my Saudi home makes me miss it so much more. I would love to relive those days even if it’s just for a day.

A photo of a desert in Gunan Triangle Desert, Saudi Arabia during Atiqah's expat life there.
This photo was taken in Gunan Triangle Desert in 2014, during my first time camping in the desert. Being in the desert was one of the most mesmerising and peaceful experience for me. As an expat, this was something I was grateful to be a part of.
Photo credit to Atiqah Ghazali

Respecting The Culture Of Saudi Arabia As An Expat

Living as a foreigner in a relatively unknown country as a child can really pique your interest and curiosity. But you never really question why because you know that each place has its own way of doing things. It’s like when you visit someone’s home and if they tell you that you have to take off your shoes, you follow their rules. Because it’s a form of respect when you enter their boundaries. It’s really an eye-opener when you learn about their culture because it helps you to understand them better.

Saudi is a very conservative Muslim country. This includes what people can or can’t wear in public. Whenever we went outside of our home compound, I had to wear a black cloak called an abaya, which covers your body completely. All women, except children, have to wear the abaya when they go out. I had never complained because you can literally wear your pajamas underneath and no one would know! Comfy and covered, who would complain?

Expat Life: A photo of Atiqah and her sibblings in one the parks in Riyadh.
This was taken in 2009 where my younger brother Faris, my younger sister Dina, and I (from left to right) are playing at one of the parks in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. I am also wearing an abaya to follow the rules when going out in Saudi. Look how young we were then!
Photo credit to my father, Mohd Ghazali

The Growth Of My Expat Family In Saudi Arabia

In 2007, we came to Saudi with five members of our family. My parents, seven-year-old brother, eight-year-old sister, and 10-year-old me. Never did I expect that our expat family was going to grow much larger. In April 2010, my baby sister, Maisarah, was born in Saudi. She was the first family member to be born in a foreign country. The birth of Maisarah was the beginning of more colourful and laughter-filled days. Then in December 2011, our baby brother, Firdaus was born, also in Saudi. Maisarah and Firdaus were the cutest duo who constantly kept us amused.

At 14-year-old, I realised that I have a huge responsibility to shoulder, as the oldest sister to take care of my younger siblings. And now that I think about it, I had developed a passion for photography when I started taking photos of my baby siblings. I would never miss a single chance to take pictures of them because I want to show them those captured moments which they may soon forget when they grow up. Now they are just big troublemakers, constantly fighting with each other just like any other siblings. I honestly miss those days when all seven of us were together!

A photo of Atiqah's baby sibblings at the beach.
Taken in 2013, my baby sister Maisarah (right) who was two-year-old then, and my baby brother Firdaus (left), who was one-year-old. They loved the water and beaches so we would always bring them to play in the sand. Many would ask if they were twins from how they would resemble each other when put side-by-side. Don’t grow up so fast!
Photo credit to Atiqah Ghazali

A Community Of Expats

I think what made our life as expats in Saudi easier was largely due to the huge community of expats from different nationalities living in the same compound we called home. We understood each other because we faced the same struggles of having to adapt to living in a foreign country. We connected easily with each other without any discrimination. Through community events such as food fairs, sports fairs, and school events, we slowly learnt about each other’s cultures.

A photo of kite flying in a community gathering in Saudi.
There was a kite festival where people of the community gathered and flew kites until sunset. Held at a cricket field filled with lots of people and food stalls. I had so much fun with my family!
Photo credit to Atiqah Ghazali

At the same time, I was still able to connect with my own roots. There was a community of expat Malaysian families, just like my family. So for every festivity or holiday such as Eid, there would be gatherings at different houses. And it was a tradition that every time we attended a gathering, each family would bring a dish. So at the potluck gathering, there would be a table full of different types of food, mostly our traditional food. Just by remembering the vibes there, the scent of all the aunties’ food and kuih, and people chattering, gives me a warm, cozy feeling of nostalgia. It was home away from home for us.

Expat Life: A photo of a gathering at Atiqah's home with other Malaysian expats.
A gathering held at my house to celebrate my brother and his other Malaysian friends graduating secondary school. The table was full of various kinds of food and desserts!
Photo credit to my father, Mohd Ghazali

Camping In The Desert For The First Time

School played an important part in creating new experiences and empowering me to pursue my dreams today. During my last two years of secondary school, in 2013-2014, I decided to participate in a programme called The Duke of Edinburgh International Award. This is a youth programme that is available all over the world where young people’s achievements outside of academia are recognised and celebrated. This programme required us to fulfill a pre-set number of hours within a period of one-and-a-half years for three categories of activity: Creativity, Physical (Action), and Service. For the physical activity, I participated in the most challenging activity that I had ever done: camping.

It wasn’t just any normal camping because they called it an ‘expedition’. I can’t remember the names of all the places we camped at but they were all in the deserts, a few hours’ drive away from my home in Dhahran. So the teachers would drop us off at the side of the road in teams of three to four, where we had to navigate by ourselves to the camp point. I remember walking a lot with a big and heavy rucksack for hours. We basically spent the weekend in the desert, learning how to navigate by using a compass, map, and dedicated GPS device. Thank goodness it was during the winter season, so it wasn’t as hot. But there is so much more to tell and that can be a story for another day!

Expat: A photo of Atiqah in the desert during the  camping trip for Duke of Edinburgh Program in Saudi Arabia
A photo of me in 2014 during one of the camping sessions with my classmates in Gunan Triangle Desert for the Duke of Edinburgh Programme. Looking back at this picture made me realise how happy I was to be a part of this experience. I mean, smiling broadly with braces…?
Photo credit to Atiqah Ghazali

Mementos Of An Expat Life

Saudi will always be embedded in my fondest childhood memories. Growing up in a foreign country as an expat is a whole new experience for me that I will always be grateful for. I learnt to always grasp any opportunity where I can learn new things and create new memories. As well as to get out of my comfort zones. Participating in The Duke of Edinburgh International Award was one of the achievements that I think changed my life. It’s something I’ll always want to share with others.

A photo of a camping site in Saudi Arabia with tents all around.
The scenery in the desert is something you have to experience yourself because of how peaceful it makes you feel. This photo was taken during my camping expedition after I set up my tent and getting ready to rest. The sunset view was just something I will never forget.
Photo credit to Atiqah Ghazali

Grateful For The Opportunities

I am grateful to my parents for giving me and my siblings the opportunity to live overseas. I will always remember the days in the land of the sand, the people I met, the friends I made, and the places I visited. That is why I love taking photos, to save those memories so that I can look back at them with my family when we are older.

Stay tuned for the next episode where I will share my experience departing Saudi all by myself to return to Malaysia to further my studies. And how I learnt to overcome my struggle to adapt in a new home whilst being far away from home.

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.

3 Replies to “My Expat Memories In Saudi Arabia (Part 2 Of 3)”

  1. Pingback: Third Culture Kid: Leaving Home To A New Home (Part 3 Of 3) - Espoletta

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