The ship is safest when it’s in port, but that’s not what ships were built for.
― Paulo Coelho

Heat, Humidity & Sand

Many people presume that all of Saudi Arabia is an arid desert. But Dammam is on the East coast of KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia), across the water from Bahrain and northwest of Qatar, so it actually gets plenty of humidity. Today for example, I woke up to 78% humidity. But only 1% chance of rain!
Extra humid my first morning here, after a cyclone in Oman!

When I first arrived, temperatures were in the high 90s during the day, but they have already dropped down to low 90s, and will continue to drop for the next couple of months. I’m soooo happy that we didn’t get here in July, when the temperatures can get to 120. I was a bit nervous, as in Thailand two years ago the heat knocked me out for a couple of weeks. But I’m happy to report I’ve adapted pretty quickly, and I’m already calling 80 “nice and cool.” That said, I take my daily walks first thing in the morning, and at dusk. At night, we’ve been able to open the sliding window in our apartment and get a little “real air.” (Air conditioning generally runs 24/7 here, though we turn ours off for a few hours here and there, if only for a break from the noise).

The sand is its own weather condition. Here’s a car in a nearby lot, that doesn’t receive the daily washing that many of the car owners on the compound pay for:

What to Wear, KSA edition

Here on the compound, I can wear western clothing, i.e. a t-shirt and shorts or yoga pants. So that’s what I wear most of the time. When I was preparing to come here, I bought an abaya, a long gown that goes from neck to ankles, and fully covers my arms.

Adrian’s mom was kind enough to hem the abaya to my height.
The tennis shoes plus dress look is pure vintage Polly 1979.

I put the abaya in my carry-on backpack to change into on the plane, and I was pretty apprehensive about getting the timing right, in terms of when I would be expected to be attired in non-Western wear. But I noticed that the few other non-Saudi women on the flight were wearing a couple variations of long pants and long sweaters or jackets, so I chanced it and wore my zipped-up jacket and jeans, and no one batted an eye in the passport line.

When we’ve gone to the nearby malls (by Uber to anything farther than a few blocks), I’ve worn the abaya, just to try to blend in a bit. But I do not in fact blend in because I do not have my hair covered. It is not now expected of “Western women” which includes women from Asia or Africa as well. The Asian women have been my fashion guides — my first weekend I bought a track suit, after seeing several variations of that as more casual wear. But last weekend I found three long tops that I can mix and match with my pants. I wear a t-shirt under them so that I’m not showing much of a neckline.

Sunset in a park on the Persian Gulf. As you see, the sleeves don’t go all the way to my wrists, which I noticed on outfits I saw other non-Saudi women wearing, so decided it was OK!

If I didn’t have to wear anything under the abaya, I can see how it would feel cooler than pants and long-sleeve shirts. But I have felt hotter than I wanted to feel when walking around in the middle of the day in multiple layers. And yes, that’s been annoying as I pass Western men strolling around in t-shirts and shorts anywhere.

Children seem to be able to wear whatever they want, though most teenage girls wear headscarves, and the older they are, the darker their clothing, in a gradient leading them to the black robes. I would say that 95% of the Saudi women over age 16 I see are wearing either a full burqa (with a veil over the face), or an abaya with a black niqab (and the Saudi style covers more of the face than those in other Arab countries) or black scarf. It is considered extremely rude to take photos of women here (though I’m pretty sure a couple of women were taking photos of me in the park last week :)) so I will just share a news photo that is accurate:

Under those robes, based on what I’ve seen in the women’s clothing stores, they may be wearing the height of fashion! It actually took many stores to find my non-abaya outfits, as everything on the racks was short-sleeve European styles. Some women do wear a splash of color in their robes, and I have seen non-Saudi Muslims wearing gorgeous colorful outfits and scarves. I look forward to seeing whether there is more variety in Riyadh or Jeddah, and for sure when I travel outside the KSA.

Until next time, مَعَ ٱلسَّلَامَة (‎maʿas-salaama) = farewell, or literally “with peace/safety”

The sand takes over any piece of land that is not developed: