Aramco Brats: Life inside the Kingdom.

By Daniela Duran

Hiraeth (n.) A homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past.

 The most complex question you can ask a third culture kid is “where is home?” Because the truth is that we cannot give you a simple answer. We belong everywhere and nowhere. It is only by spending time getting to know us that we will reveal the places that shaped us, the people we truly miss and the stories that make us who we are.

For me, living in Saudi Arabia was of one of the most exceptional and life-defining experiences. It is the country that when I list among the places I’ve lived, people stop and ask “Saudi Arabia?! What was THAT like?” and my response is always the same “extraordinarily different”. If there is one truth about Saudi Arabia that all expats can agree with is, is that the hardest part of living in KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) is leaving. Saudi Arabia is one of the hardest countries in the world to get a tourist visa especially if you are not Muslim. This means that once expats finish their work assignments and their work visa finishes, they can never (or at least in most cases) go back. It is perhaps this very fact that makes KSA so hard to say goodbye to.

Growing up we always joked that we lived in a “bubble” but it was only until I left that I realised how true that really was. My experience in Saudi was different from what most locals experience or what I myself had experienced anywhere else. I was an ‘Aramco Brat’, a term that we all refrained from using, but admittedly exactly what all of us who have lived within Saudi Aramco camps are. Saudi Aramco is the largest and leading world oil company, and due to the country’s conservative Islamic law, the company created separate gated communities to accommodate foreign workers. Within these closed communities people have access to private schools, hospitals, restaurants, pools and even cinemas (even though cinemas are prohibited by Islamic law inside the kingdom). The strict laws imposed by the Kingdom simply do not apply inside these communities. Women can drive (before it was legal), they can go out without abayas, religious police do not monitor the area and boys and girls are free to share public spaces. Saudi principles are respected but there is flexibility for western culture inside the gates. I lived inside two of these communities, Ras Tanura (3, 200 residents) and Dhahran ( 11,000 residents).

There are certain moments in life that you remember so vividly that you almost feel like you can re-live them. A lot of my experiences in KSA feel that way. For example, ill never forget landing in Saudi and feeling overwhelming fear-both for the unknown and for the little I actually did know about the country. I was used to moving around the world (well as much as one can ever get used to it) but I knew Saudi would be different. I was made well aware of that when I was packing for the move and I was instructed to get a permanent marker to cover the faces of all the actresses on my DVD covers. To top it all off, I landed in KSA on Christmas eve and my 12-year-old self was very confused as to why my family would move to a place where my favourite holiday was not celebrated. The journey from the airport to my new home on December 24th was not one filled with Christmas lights and Christmas carols. It was one with miles and miles of sand until we reached massive gates with an excessive amount of armed security.

There is something intimidating about seeing so much security in front of your new neighbourhood, I mean ARAMCO security does not mess around. ARAMCO is funny that way, it makes you feel safe in a very unconventional almost threating way. In fact, the moment I first entered an Aramco camp, I was no longer identified personally, I was instead my badge number. Aramco monitors their employees and their dependents with badge numbers. I know, it sounds very much like a science fiction type of world. But to me, that’s almost what it was. It was like it was all made belief. After passing the gates you enter an entirely different atmosphere than life outside. It was no longer desert, it was palm trees, a beautiful blue ocean, kids on bikes, signs of a life I was more familiar with.

Getting adjusted to Saudi Arabia is something I don’t think ever really happens. You just get used to living with unusual events constantly occurring to you. Despite living inside the gates, going out of camp was essential. Our trips out of camp consisted mostly of shopping trips or visits to restaurants. It did not take me long to realise that KSA was not just a desert, luxury is a big part of Saudi culture. Its architecture made hospitals and shopping malls look like palaces. Saudi law, however, was very strict and we had to adhere to the regulations. We had to wear abayas that covered our bodies and occasionally head scarfs. It was not uncommon to have Mutawas chasing you and screaming at you for not covering up entirely. It was a crazy culture shock.

Saudi Arabia is a place that is infamous for its lack of freedom, particularly for women. The women’s rights movement has a long way to go and a lot of the kingdom’s laws continue to jeopardize justice and liberty. Nonetheless, when inside the kingdom you start to appreciate the Saudi culture. People may not live following western values, but tradition is strongly valued. Living in Saudi made me grow fond of things far from my culture. I began to appreciate the holy month of Ramadan, of celebrating Eid, and days off school because of shamals (sandstorms). I also learnt to pair hummus with almost anything and yes I even got to do stereotypical stuff like riding camels in the desert. It was never an easy adaptation, but it certainly made me appreciate a different part of the world.

Inside the camp, my life was better than I ever thought it could be. It took me about a day and a half to make friends. Friends that 10 years later I would still be talking to. Everyone was from all different parts of the world, so beautifully diverse and yet also so astonishingly similar. Our greatest similarity was that despite living in a camp with more freedom than outside the gates, we all had very very little to do. This meant we saw A LOT of each other. You know how they say you don’t pick your family? Well, that’s how it felt. 90% of my teenage years consisted of the most common RT activity – cruising. Cruising in Saudi Arabia is pretty legendary. It is when your 13-year-old Lebanese friends steal their dad’s cars and drag all of your friends to listen to music while they drive around the same 4 streets the compound has for hours. I can still hear us jamming to Akon songs pretending we could relate to the absurdity of the lyrics. Cruising for us was liberating, it was a sense of false freedom. We could drive for hours yet reach nowhere. We were always confined by the compound walls… but because we were all together, this somehow always felt okay.

I always believed I was living a normal teenage life but thinking back that’s not quite how it was. School, for example, was a place where your teachers knew everything about you as they were also your neighbours. They could be punishing you one second (anyone remember 7ups?) and then saying “see you at the BBQ Friday” the next.  Setting personal boundaries with anyone was almost impossible which meant that gossip and drama was rampant. To say we didn’t drive each other insane from time to time would be a lie. To deny that we often didn’t wish to get out of the ‘bubble’ and into the ‘real world’ would be a lie. Yet, like all great moments sometimes you don’t realise how great they are until they are gone.=

Another vivid memory I have of living in KSA was staying up to watch the sunrises. We were all way too young to be staying up all night (some of us sneaking out, others not), yet we would sit to appreciate the sunrise at the RT beach. We would talk all night about whatever seemed important to us at the time, but when the sun would rise we would sit together in silence. Saudi sunrises are unforgettable. Something about them makes you feel like you are exactly where you need to be. They make you realise how beautiful the Persian Gulf is, they make you view everything in new light. No one would say it out loud but as the sun would rise we all were very aware that we would forever be attached to this place. It was home and that was beautifully heart-breaking. We knew we were too attached to a place that was not our own. Our routine was always the same. The sun would rise and we would find our way to the dining hall to have our big ‘family’ breakfast where the servers already knew exactly what we wanted. Sleeping was a waste of time and it seemed like no amount of time spent with our friends was ever enough. It’s like by not sleeping we would somehow hold time still.

Eventually, as we grew older, things became more difficult. What we called ‘partying’ was someone with a great music playlist and some SID. SID is a homemade alcohol that you literally had to drink- wait 5 minutes to see if you went blind- then continue. It was not ideal (or safe) but hey, that was the Saudi experience. Drinking was illegal meaning having any form of nightlife was complicated. We couldn’t go on dates because going anywhere outside the compound was illegal (the opposite sex can’t interact unless its family) and anywhere inside the compound was pointless/awkward. Most families chose to send their kids to continue their high school years in boarding schools. As time flew by everyone began going abroad, parents began to retire and in a way, everyone was being forced to move on. We soon realised we could not live in our little bubble forever.

But here is a secret: Aramco Brats never truly move on. We always carry a part of our childhood/teenage years with us. It is what allows us to connect with the rest of the Aramco brats around the world. Its what creates that special bond. Saudi for us is the place where we made friends that we trust with our lives, where we were surrounded by people from all places, races and religions and we cared for each other unconditionally. Saudi is the place where we were raised not only by our parents but our friend’s parents. It is the place that taught us to add “wallah” “ mishwar” “ inshallah” to our vocabulary. It is where our hearts were first broken, but where we met our first loves. Where we experienced loss and grief, but also overflowing happiness. Aramco brats don’t forget Saudi Arabia because no one forgets what teaches them how to love. Saudi taught me how to love not only people, but cultures, and sunrises, and car rides. It made me fall in love with streets and routine.

I left over six years ago, and there is not one day where I don’t miss home.

 

 

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The Day I Decided to Compromise

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When you’re a TCK, it feels like you’ll always have this feeling of restlessness. There’s so much to see and do in this world and yet, whatever you do, it feels like there’s so much more to do.

Your Facebook newsfeed is filled with photos from fellow TCK who you’ve met or gone to school with and now barely talked to. But they seem to have it covered. Perhaps they’ve settled in a country or perhaps they’re going to university somewhere and travel. The kind that make you wonder if there’s more you could add to your (already hectic) life.

Some have settled down and built a family. That can trigger a sense of envy because they’ve finally started growing roots somewhere, with someone.

I’ve reached a strange place where I’m not where I thought I’d be two years ago, but then again, do you ever really know? Yet, I’ve got this feeling I’ve found a place where I seen myself staying for at least another five years.

And the thought is less scary to me now then it used to be.

When I contemplate a situation and try to think long term, I feel like it’s not me thinking, it’s one of the different cultures I’m made up of, that takes the lead. To put it simply, with different cultures, I feel like there’s different futures available.

But I’ve learned to compromise. I’ve learned that it’s okay to be scared and it’s okay to think long term. It’s okay to not have a clear idea of where you’ll be or what you actually want to do.

They say that being a TCK means you’re more able to take a job in any culture, and fit in but the truth is, you’re also more hesitant about what you want to do. Because when it comes to what you actually like doing, it depends on the different countries, the different people you have grown up with.

I’ve learned to compromise. Some activities will remain hobbies, others will become a part of your everyday life. It’s okay to not be able to do everything, see everyone, travel everywhere.

It’s not an obligation that comes with being a TCK. And while that may be obvious for some, I feel like it isn’t for others.

Settling down and compromising is not a TCK failure. It’s a fear but never see it as a failure.

The US Elections

By Jasmine 

*Article was written before the election results 

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On November 9th the United States will finally know whether the infamous business man and TV show host or the pantsuit loving and email misusing Secretary of State will be their next president. For many on the outside it has all been one big comedy fest but for those of us on the inside, it has been quite a frightening journey. This election will be the first one I will experience as a resident of the US. For many years I have lived overseas, only hearing about the election through editorials and news reports. Now, I have a front row seat and man, am I disappointed.

Through these past 6 months or so, I have realized the US has more cracks than I thought, from healthcare deficiencies to racial issues. While I am unable to enter the voting booth due to being one year too young, I still avidly follow the race. It is my future that is on the line, after all.

This presidential election is by far the most modern. Candidates are able to communicate with their prospective voters 24/7 with the use of technology, a mode of communication neither candidate has been able to master. Nevertheless, technology allows perspective voters to be more informed. More viewers have been able to watch all four debates in real time, no matter where they are in the world. I was able to watch all the debates on YouTube and so were all the friends I’ve made overseas. I was able to discuss the events with them the next morning, at the latest.

The candidates are also reaching out to the younger generation through the issues of college tuition, LGBT rights and the economy. These are controversial issues that I am starting to see are tearing the country apart. The country, many call my own.

I have found the differences between myself and my citizenship country are many. While I do share some similarities with the average American teenager, I see beyond their four walls. I see beyond their borders that they have constructed and are planning to construct. I see beyond their hatred and fear of the foreign. I thought by now, the United States would realize that its foundation is diverse and by eliminating it, the US would crumble. Respect and dignity are lacking, characteristics I was taught when I was young that our founding fathers were known for. The America I grew up hearing about turned out to be very different in person.

As TCK’s we have a unique perspective and it would be a shame to waste it. By being a part of our local governments, we are able to share that perspective with others, who may not have been as fortunate to travel the world as we have. If you have the chance to be an avid participant in your country’s government, it is an opportunity not to pass up. Whether or not you feel the impact of your participation, your opinion makes a big difference.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

Child Brides?

By A.E.R

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Child marriage is a human rights violation. Despite laws against it, the practice remains widespread. Bangladesh has one of thee highest rates of child marriages in the world. 52% of girls are married by the age of 18 and 18% by the tender age of 15 according to UNICEF.

Child marriage is the poisonous product of poverty and gender inequality. Child marriages are very popular in rural areas of Bangladesh. Many impoverished parents do it thinking they are securing their daughter’s future by ensuring her husband will take care of her when they are unable to; but in reality- her life is probably about to be in ruins.

Some parents also wed off their daughter at a tender age to prevent rape; unfortunately they don’t realize that by marrying them off young is actually increasing the chance of rape. In most cases, young brides are uneducated or pulled out of their education so that they can assume household responsibilities.

This limits their opportunities, including future employment aspects. Some parents see their daughter as a burden; and dowries simply complicate the issue. Younger brides typically command smaller dowries creating an incentive for parents to marry their daughters off young. Parents in difficult circumstances may also marry their daughters off young as a source of income, which is a reason why despite the act being illegal, it still takes place.

Ending child marriage requires action in many levels. Bangladesh has taken a step forward and now is a member of the South Asian Initiative To End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC) that adopted a regional plan to end child marriages.

The current age to get married in Bangladesh is 18 for women and 21 for men. Despite the debate to lower the legal age for marriage to 16 for woman, it still remains 18. I’m proud of my country and fully support their plans of putting a stop to child marriages.

Lets hope we can lower the rate of child marriages significantly by 2020. Till then, Joy Bangla!

 

Nameless Faces; Countless Stories

By Zoe Norman (written when 36,000 feet in the air between Albania and the UK!)

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You heard about the Romani people; the nameless whose lives are filled with the whispers of hostility and prejudice, peoples eyes skim past them looking the other way. They are unrecognisable faces weaving in and out of colourful bustling crowds at market stalls in Albania where food crackers and laughing carries into the night air, a place filled with excitement and friendship.

Theirs? A story of overbearing loneliness filled with tales of discrimination, abuse and hurt.

You watch the scene, little children with dirty flip-flops and battled teeshirts run in-between cars trying to get money by playing music. They start to chase each other laughing down the dusty road, a small moment of hopeful joy caught in a timeless society where they are shunned at every doorstep. This is all despite the fact you see no difference in their appearance from anyone else , enchanted you look further peering to watch a young women washing car windscreens.

Her body aches with tension as she leans in the sizzling oppressive heat working tirelessly, not even stoping to wipe the forming sweat from her brow.

All this effort is for a mere 40 leke (40 pence) which she receives carelessly as it is shoved at her by the driver, but, as if by magic at this simple gesture, her entire facial face changes. She looks ecstatic as her face turns upwards towards the sky filled with a moment of untouchable joy, for a second she is a person of dignity and purpose. You can not help but give in to the small sad smile playing on your lips as the traffic lurches forward coughing and spluttering as the scene flashes away.

The Roma population in Albania is estimated to be between 60,000 and 10,000 people with a poverty rate of 78%quickly bringing the terrible statistic to light. These people are like us but face a life of discrimination, cast out of work just because of birth and forced to beg on the hot dusty pavement; swarmed by the mass of people towering over them. For all TCK’s it is distressing to say the least, incomprehensible that a single nationality can determine a future which humans have no say in.

Albania has a longways to go for the Roma but on a brighter note slowly but surely this is happening.

As my friend said “we have to live in the moment, be thankful for what we have; as life may be pulled from under our feet” We need to support organisations as global citizens who help the Roma ( http://theideaspartnership.org/wp/) for a brighter, happier and more tolerant future for all.

The Issues With My World

By Steve 

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I do not associate myself with any one particular country. This is not due to rebellion, nor is it a choice I have taken. It is simply the result of being of mixed race and having changed location every three years for my entire life, because my father worked for the Foreign Office. In fact, despite having moved out of my parents house a long time ago, I still continue to float around the planet, temporarily settling in countries before moving on.
Apart from familiarizing myself with both of my parents’ countries, which are Germany and Jordan, in what might have been an attempt to build a national identity, I also took from some of the cultures I was immersed in. A prime example being the UK for instance, in which I spent around 5 years. Accustoming myself quickly meant that I blended in, giving a feel for the host countries, their people, humour, traditions and problems.

Its indeed peculiar, because for a start, nations attempt to hide their problems from visitors, but the more I travelled, the quicker I adapted and the faster those boundaries disappeared, exposing me to the issues people faced everywhere I went. Secondly, due to this facade that people put up, perhaps in order to protect the honour of their country or something of the sort, transparency between even neighbouring countries becomes impossible.
Multiply this habit to a global scale, and looked at objectively, it is arguable that we are are all masked in the disguise of nationalism. This national introversion makes it difficult for countries to truly bond, and it is the people I am talking about, not the governments.

You might have a type of friend, or acquaintance that pretends to be perfect. We’ve all at least run into this type of person that hides their ‘problems’, whilst those around them are clearly aware that something is not going right. Reactions to this are usually twofold, as some jump straight to conclusions labelling this reserved acquaintance pretentious or superficial.

The other type of reaction is a more compassionate one, in response to which the pretentious perfectionist might even warm up. The guard has been dropped and reaction B person gets to see a side of their friend’s perfect problems, which are of course very similar to everyone else’s. Meanwhile reaction person A is completely oblivious to the extent and nature of their acquaintance’s issues, as well as the potential similarity, thus distancing themselves and practically eliminating the potentials of a future bond.

It has come to the extent that countries once under the Ottoman empire for instance, which share extremely similar cultural traditions, are mostly unaware of the similarities of a country that’s almost half way across the globe. Take the example of the Balkans and North Africa. I am not however, suggesting that everyone on the planet is the same, although in a sense we are. What I do suggest, is that the similarities far exceed the differences. This is not even taking into account variables like income, which bond the majority of the planet.

Once more, even in this example there are reasonable differences, but the similarities of the ‘99%’ are greater than the difference between most people and the extremely elite which continue to run this planet, fuelling countries with unnecessary nationalistic ideals, separating them from each other.

Masked in pseudo-identities, nations create walls built out of egotistical materials such as pride and judgement and most importantly fear. Fear of the neighbour, who is just as afraid as you are. It has become so widespread and common that the almost the entire world economy is based on it, because war is profitable, so is religion and it has even found its way into the nice of spirituality. The fear of letting go of your ties to a country, to wars you never fought and to past ideals, to what might happen when you connect with yourself beyond your country, your country’s culture. I am not suggesting we abandon our cultures, but add the part where we are understanding with our neighbours because they ttoo are humans. Only then will we create world peace, through non-judgement, compassion and transparency.