So you want to work in Saudi Arabia?

Working in Saudi Arabia is a challenging and rewarding experience.  The entire process, from leaving your home country, to arriving here and acclimatizing, then eventually to leaving the kingdom, is stressful and tedious. You will be faced with situations you have never found yourself in before.  Simple details you never knew could be so important or stressful become the center of your universe and you need to use all the coping strategies you have to not let them get to you ie: getting a signature by a critical deadline so you can take a training program abroad (from the head of HR).  Or trying to deal with a situation at home and feeling completely powerless because you are so far away (thank goodness for the support of helpful family members and partners back home).

On the other hand though, when you come to the Kingdom, you will find yourself in a country traveled to by few.  Submerged in a unique and ancient culture which is still largely based on tribal customs and traditions which are misunderstood in the west.  You will work with people from every corner of the world and expand your understanding of many other cultures.  You will learn about a different way of life and how to adjust yourself to fit in with the population of people which you provide services for.  You will grow.  You will find out things about yourself that you may not have noticed if you were in the comfort of your own country surrounded by close friends and family.  You will learn to become friends quickly and how to make a person, who was a complete stranger a month earlier, into someone so close and dear to your heart that you would think you had known them a lifetime.  When you reflect back on your experience, you will discover that you are stronger than you ever thought you were.

The process in a nutshell:

Note: Keep in mind that the process is long, it takes most recruits 6 months from the interview to actually arriving in Saudi.  Don’t give up hope and stay positive!

1) Apply to a recruitment company.  Below are the two main Canadian  companies who I have had the experience of speaking to or working directly with.  They are both excellent options for Canadians.  To find my job, I went through an American company which was more challenging than it needed to be because they were used to visa etc. requirements for Americans which are slightly different than those for Canadians.  At the time I was looking, Helen Ziegler didn’t have any positions available and I had not heard of IHR.  Pulse is a company based out of the UK which a fellow Canadian is currently using, she has been happy with their services thus far.

– International Hospital Recruitment (IHR)

– Helen Ziegler & Associates

– Pulse International (based out of the UK)

2) Be a star in your interview, receive a job offer, and accept.

3) Complete the many visa requirements ***get started as early as possible!!!

– Medical for both your visa and the hospital (you will have every test under the sun).  Your doctor’s registration will have to be verified by the college of physicians and surgeons on one of the two medical forms once it has been completed.

– Copies of the following which have been notarized and then stamped by the department of foreign affairs in Ottawa.  If you live close to Ottawa it is quickest to go directly there.  The actual stamping takes about 10 minutes once you are seen after a 30-60 minute wait.  The department of foreign affairs are only open set hours ever week so plan ahead.  If you don’t live close, you will need to send the documents via post which takes 8 weeks.

a. 2 reference letters

b. Your registration card

c. Any degree you have related to your profession

d. Employment letters from any job you have held once your professional schooling was finished

4) A completed visa application form.

A small photo (smaller than passport sized) needs to be attached to the medical and visa application.  Don’t worry!  Your recruitment company will help you navigate the entire visa process as well as any other requirements.  You will be responsible for all the fees other than the actual visa which the hospital will cover.  The above list will give you an idea of the steps involved however it may have changed since I went through the process a year ago.  It is therefore important to make sure you follow up with your recruitment company regarding all the necessary details.

5) Resign or take a leave from your current job.  It is best not to do either until you have your visa.  As in my case, the visa can take longer than expected.  Once issued, the visa is valid for 3 months which will give you ample time to give the notice your workplace requires.

6) Speak with your accountant, if you have one or do some research regarding non-resident status to avoid paying back the taxes you saved working in a tax free country.  The Canadian revenue agency wants to see that you have cut all ties with Canada.  That means many things such as renting your house to someone who is not your family or friend and canceling any memberships.  You can find lots of information on CRA’s website regarding non-resident status.

7) Once your departure date is established, the hospital will issue you an e-ticket and you will be on your way!

Posted in Expat Life in Saudi Arabia, Finding a Job in KSA and Visa Processing | Leave a comment

A few of my favorite Saudi foods/drinks

Often when traveling or living abroad, people start to miss the food that they eat at home.  Aside from missing Sombat’s yellow curry, I have found that the food in Saudi has kept me content.  Not only do grocery stores carry all the items I normally buy, but the restaurants are varied and quite good.  Below are a few of my favorite foods.  Once I return to Canada, I know that I will miss the things that are only found here.  I would love to be able to share some of these items with friends and family at home but unfortunately, I don’t think chicken will stand the 20 hour journey back to Canada because it could go off or, more realistically, I would eat it!

This chicken is amazing.  I eat it at least once a month, sometimes twice.  It is served with pita, rice, and veggies, delivered well wrapped and piping hot.  Leftovers make a great lunch.  Bubba Khan calls this chicken tikka.  We all call it Khan’s chicken.  An entire chicken is placed on a flame rotisserie for hours.  Once an order is made, it is cut open and finished on charcoal.

There are two types of carrots you can buy, local and Australian (seems far to be eaten in Saudi).  These ones are the local carrots.  They are sweet, crunchy and delicious.  I imagine they are so good because the soil likely has a high sand content which carrots like.  For most of the year they are sold bulk with all the other veggies, then around September, they disappeared and I couldn’t find them anywhere.  I was upset because I eat carrots every day and these ones are particularly good.  A few weeks later they popped up pre-wrapped which made me happy.


The cheese in the middle on the left is halloumi cheese.  It is semi-hard, unripened brined cheese made from a mixture of goats’, sheep, and sometimes also cows’ milk.  It has a high melting point and so can be fried or grilled. Halloumi is set with rennet and is unusual in that no acid or acid-producing bacteriumis used in its preparation.  You have to soak it in water before you eat it.  Restaurants serve it grilled in a salad, I tried grilling it but it did not turn out the same.  I eat it just as it is or make cucumber, tomato, cilantro, balsamic vinegar salad with it.

Unleavened Arabic bread.  It is rolled out and cooked in a wood fire.  It is chewy and delicious.

Peppermint slice.  This is an Australia desert made by my lovely housemate Prue.  She bakes a lot and this bar is one of her specialties.  It is my favorite.  She exited Saudi for good yesterday and left me a huge amount of peppermint essence so I can make it myself.  My grandma Doris makes this square at Christmas but we Canadians call it a mint nanaimo bar. Somehow though, Prue’s tastes different.

Margherita Pizza is an Italian restaurant in Jeddah.  It makes the best pizza I have ever eaten, even better than Italy if you can believe it!  Anytime we to go to dinner, I always suggest we go here.

Blended lemon mint, need I say more!  I don’t know why this drink is not served in every restaurant all over the world.

This pizza like item is apparently from Lebanon but regularly eaten here and served at the cafeteria at work.  The green herb is thyme which is mixed with olive oil and spread over pizza dough like bread.  You can buy the ground thyme mixed with sesame seeds in bulk at the grocery store.  I am going to bring some home.

 

Since beer and alcohol is prohibited in this country, there are many other options.  This drink is a malt beverage that is made with wheat.  It comes in original, which tastes terrible to me, and many other flavors such as cranberry, apple, and pineapple.

 

 

 

 

Al Baik is a restaurant that is only found in Jeddah.  The chicken is famous and the restaurants are always full.  When people leave Jeddah you will see them carrying bags of boxes of Al Baik chicken at the airport, no joke.   Some people say the chiken is the best chicken ever, others say it is just like KFC and they don’t understand what the big deal is.  We ordered it at work a few times and it actually might be (other than Khan’s chicken) the best chicken ever.  It is covered in a crispy coating that is super crunchy.  It comes in spicy and regular.  The spicy has the spice throughout the chicken instead of on top.  Every bite is crunchy, spicy, and full of mouth watering chicken.

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Saudi Arabian Book Reviews

In preparation to come to the Kingdom and since I have been here, I have read many books on Saudi Arabian history and culture.  The books have helped me to  make sense of the country in which I live.

Although Saudi Arabia is changing at a rapid pace and some of the books do not accurately portray the less conservative practices which are in place today, they are extremely valuable resources to understand the foundation of Saudi Arabia and its people.

1) Before I left Canada, I read The Princess Trilogy by Jean Sasson.  These books follow the life and struggles of a feminist, high ranking princess named Sultana.  Her goal is to improve the lives of the women in Saudi Arabia.

Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia by Jean Sasson

Princess Sultana’s Daughter by Jean Sasson

Princess Sultana’s Circle by Jean Sasson

Princess Sultana's Circle

2) Just before I arrived, I read a book about expat life in the Kingdom.  It was helpful to prepare me for, and ease some of my worries, moving to the far away mystical land.

Saudi Arabia Guide for Expats by David Fair and Stephanie Katz

3) I read the following book after I arrived.  It is a light, easy read about the lives of 4 college age women.  It will provide you with an idea of the customs between men and women.  As well as what the younger female generation is up against while having modern hopes and dreams, but living in a country with conservative customs and traditions.

– Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea

Girls of Riyadh.jpg

4) This book was written by a doctor who worked for the Nation Guard Hospital (same hospital I work for) in Riyadh a number of years ago.  I enjoyed reading it because I could recognize and identify with many of the items she discussed.

In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctors Journey in the Kindom                        by Qanta Ahmed

Front Cover

5) I am half way finished reading this book and it is so so good!  I am glad that I, without intention, am reading it now, 10 months into my stay.  As the title indicates, it covers Saudi Arabian history from Muhammad to the present time.  Saudi Arabian history is fascinating with the rise of Islam in the 7th century, the return to pagan customs and idol worship, and then a resurrection of Islamic ideas with Wahhabism in the 18th century, to the founding of the country, alliances with the West as well as Bedouin tribes, and the oil war’s of the 20th century.  In the last 10 months, I have observed and absorbed Saudi life.  This book provides context for, and a historical understanding of, the different and sheltered way of life.

Prophets and Princes: Saudi Arabia from Muhammad to the Present by Mark Weston

Prophets and Princes: Saudi Arabia from Muhammad to the Present (0470182571) cover image

 

Posted in Expat Life in Saudi Arabia, Islam, Saudi Life | 1 Comment

Rain, Babies, and Whirling Dervishes

Mid September, I left Saudi to attend a course in London, England.  Since I am new to working in pediatrics and, between you and me, I feel like I have no idea what I am doing half of the time, I thought it would be wise to attend a course on working wıth the most challenging pediatric population for me, babies.  More specıfıcally babies wıth neurological issues.  For you OTs out there, the course I attended was on Bobath for babies.  It was a full 6 day course which taught about the Bobath concept as well as varıous developmental assessments and therapy approaches that can be used wıth babies.  I learned heaps and am excited that many of the babies I see are followed for a long tıme which means I wıll see them again to trial some of the strategies I have learned.  I also look forward to attempt to bring some of the UK practice standards to the hospital I work at.

The first stop on my trip/course was London, England.  England was the first country I ever traveled to as a young 18 year old.  I was excited to see what London was like 13 years later and to do some of the sightseeing my 18 year old self didn’t care to partake in.  I was shocked to see how different London was than I remembered.  My old self remembered London as a land full of strange things like heavy accents, odd looking taxis, cheese and chutney sandwiches, bizzar phones and phone numbers, and baguette stands in the train station.  After a few days of wandering around, I realized London had not really changed at all (apart from maybe being cleaner because the Olympics were just there), it was me who had changed.  In the last 13 years, I have been fortunate enough to visit 25 countries on six different continents.   As a result, what was once different and strange has become more comfortable to the point where it is not strange at all, it is just different.

After visiting countless FREE art galleries in London, shopping, taking double decker buses in the rain, wandering around having lunches with a friend from Saudi, running in Hyde park, and going on a sightseeing bus tour, off I went to East Finchley to attend the baby Bobath course at the Bobath Centre.   I was able to arrange a home stay for the week with a lovely woman named Marion.  Her house was walking distance from the center which made for a nice start and finish to my day.

Next stop Turkey!

I loved Turkey.  It was an easy place to travel, mostly I think because tourism is a booming industry and I was able to pre-arrange my whole trip from hotels and tours to airport transport.  Also, Turkish people are hospital and friendly.  The guides are top notch and extremely knowledgeable about all aspects of Turkish culture and history.  I saw the major sights in Istanbul and Cappadocia and had a wonderful relaxing time.

My favorite part about Turkey, aside from the amazing food and stunning mosques was a Whirling Dervish show.   I had read about Whirling Dervishes but didn’t realize I could go to see them in Turkey.  This link is to a show I found on youtube.  You can see just how magical the Whirling Dervishes are:

London:

 

 

Bottom 4 pics… I saw so so so much amazing art.

  

 

 

Above right: The street where I stayed in London near Hyde park and Paddington station.

Turkey:

Below: Inside and outside the Blue Mosque.  The mosques in Turkey are absolutely phenomenal.  I could not stop taking picture and staring up and taking pictures then staring up some more.

 

 

Below: Hagia Sophia… originally an Orthodox church which was converted into a mosque when the Ottoman Turks arrived.  Now it is a museum.  You can see both the Orthodox and Muslim dressing on the walls.

 

 

Above: Turkish tiles in Ottoman design.  All the mosques are decorated in tiles in this style.  Left: These alcoves indicate the direction of Mecca.

  

Above left: Turkish ice cream.  Right: Typical female Turkish dress.  Turkey is a secular Muslim country.  Many women were dressed as this lady is in a long coat with a head scarf.  However, many women were also dressed in typical western clothes as well.

Below: Around Istanbul.  Istanbul is a really nice city.  The architecture is stunning, there are domes on everything!  I have never seen anything like it.

 

I spent 2 full days in Istanbul.  The first day was touring the city and many Mosques.  The second I visited the spice market and took a cruise on the Bosphorus which divides the Asian and European sides of Istanbul.  I know, one city is divided by two continents!  Who would have ever thought?

While in Cappadocia, I flew into Kyserie and stayed in Urgup.  The region is full of small towns and volcanic peaks.  The rock is soft, for centuries, people have built their homes in the mountainside. Now, people have moved down into the cities and the caves have been abandoned, protected by UNESCO or converted into cave hotels.

The last day of my trip, I went for a Turkish hammam or bath which was an odd experience because the facilities were mixed!  For a Muslim country, Turkey is really non-conservative.

   

 

 

Above: The amazing land formation and caves which are found all over the Cappadocian region.  In the bottom left picture you can see small little ledges carved into the rock, these are pigeon houses.  The bottom left is of a women collecting pigeon droppings.  The pigeon houses were built to make it easier to collect the goods.  Pigeons droppings were, once upon a time, used to decorate the walls of the caves and are still used as a fertilizer for the fields.

  

Above: Left: A market outside one of the tourists sites.  Right: Traditional Ottoman water carrier.

  

 

Above pictures from the balloon ride which was one of the most special aspects of the trip.  As someone who is scared of heights, I was not convinced a balloon ride was the best activity for me.  Turns out it was a fantastic idea!  The balloon moved slow.  It provided a spectacular view of the area and rock formations.  There were 9 of us plus the pilot in the balloon basket.  We were each in our own compartment of 2-4 people.  I stayed safely glued to the middle of the balloon basket and it was just fine.

I was away from Sept. 20 – Oct. 5.  It felt like I was gone forever.  I had such a nice trip.  It was the perfect balance of professional development, visiting old friends, sight seeing, and relaxing.

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the Arab Fall

As many of you know, there have been protests and anti-US riots all over the Middle East and the world in reaction to the controversial film which is considered blasphemous to Islam.

I received a very concerned email from my mom.  She wanted to know if I was ok and to tell me not to take any risks.  I let her know I am just fine and that I have not noticed any anti-US protest in Jeddah.  I have also not heard of any happening anywhere in the Kingdom.  In fact, I have seen a few news releases that state Saudi Arabia condemns both the film and the violent reactions to the film.

There was an event at the marine house in the US embassy last Thursday.  We kept waiting to hear that it was canceled but it wasn’t.  I was leery about going but figured that the embassy wouldn’t hold the event if there was any risk to their security or to our safety for being on embassy grounds.  Interestingly enough we didn’t see any protests or anything when we were going into the embassy or leaving.  It was business as usual.

The US and Saudi have strong relations.  I am not surprised that there has not been any events in this country.  That being said, censorship is widely used.  There could be protests which are kept quiet and not publicized on the internet.

 

 

Posted in Expat Life in Saudi Arabia, Saudi Life | Leave a comment

Eid fair in Al-Ballad

During Eid there is an Arabic fair in al-Ballad, the old area of Jeddah.  The fair was busy, noisy, dirty, and a lot of fun.  The Arabic fair is the same today as it was decades ago before the city expanded and most of Jeddah still lived in old houses made from coral ‘concrete’ and wood imported from Indonesia.  See the videos below to give you a sense of the atmosphere.

We went on a camel ride when we first arrived.  Left: view from on top of our camel of another camel.  Getting on the camel is a rocky event…there are bars to hang onto for a very good reason.

 

The rides are mostly large swings with platforms to hold many people.  There are no motors, the rides are powered by two men who push the swings.  A third and fourth man stand to the back and front of the swings to ensure the passers by do not walk into the large swinging object as it passes by.  This safety measure was surprising to me given the unsafe heights the swings would reach with many of the riders rising out of their seats, hanging on to the bars for dear life.

 

We also walked around al-Ballad.  I have been there during the day.  It was different experience at night.  Below left the oldest tree in Jeddah beside Nasseef house which has been converted into a museum.  Right: old cannons in the square in front of the museum.  I am not sure of the significance.

 

 

  

 

Above, walking around, looking in the shops and old buildings.  Right: flavored tobacco for shisha.

 

 

 

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Spending my 31st Birthday in KSA

August 25th was my 31st birthday.  My housemate arranged for a friend to come over for dinner on Friday the 24th.  She was going to make a roast.  Just before dinner I was called to the friends house to upload a movie she had for me.  Nothing had been out of the ordinary that day and I thought nothing of it.

To my surprise, when I arrived home two of my other friends who live on the compound were hiding in the dark living room, confetti poppers in hand.  As the lights were turned on and the poppers were popped, I found a house full of balloons and happy birthday decorations.  Impressive to orchestrat in the 20 minutes I was at Drega’s house.

We sat down to a lovely 3 course meal with an amazing mars bar cheesecake for desert.  When I heard we were having the planned roast, I offered to make a pumpkin pie.  Prue had never eaten pumpkin pie and it goes perfectly with a roast.   Had a I known the cheesecake was for us, not for her work, the surprise would have been ruined.  In the end we ate the two deserts.  What a special way to spend a birthday.

   

   

Posted in Expat Life in Saudi Arabia | 6 Comments

Gallivanting during Ramadan

How could I forget the funnest part about Ramadan, other than gallivanting of course!   During this sacred time of the year restaurants offer special services to their guests.  After finishing a lovely Armenian dinner with friends, a young man came over and offered to complete a portrait of us.  We declined and were told it was included in our meal.  Who could pass that up!  We waited patiently all smiling and sitting still when instructed.   This cute picture was the end product, a fun souvenir from spending Ramadan in this special country.

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Eid Mubarak

Eid-ul-Fatr is the first day after Ramadan when fasting has finished.  Eid is an Arabic word meaning “festivity”, while Fiṭr means “breaking the fast”.   The festivities and religious significance are similar to Christmas at home.

The greeting for Eid is Eid Mubarak which translates to ‘may you have a blessed festival’.

There is a specific, longer prayer that occurs on Eid, the first sunrise of the first day after Ramadan is finished.   Carpets and mats were placed in fields around Jeddah to accommodate large groups of people praying.  The mosques recited prayer loud and clear throughout the night and into the morning.

Eid lasts for one week.  Everything is closed on the first day similar to Christmas day.  Outpatient departments at the hospital, administration and banks are closed for the full week.  I am still working covering the inpatient wards.  There was a big push for discharges prior to Eid and many patients are out on passes which means it is very quiet.  We’ve been able to go home early a few days.  I have caught up on some work and not work related reading as well as an upcoming presentation I will give to the physiotherapy interns.

Throughout Ramadan the malls and streets are covered in lights and decorations similar to what is found in Canada during Christmas.   Many deals and bargains are on during Ramadan and the week of Eid as gifts are exchanged.  Prue bought a lovely little camel salt and pepper shaker for me which was so sweet of her.

The first day of Eid we had a potluck at work.  It was fun to mingle and try foods from all over.  Interestingly enough, my delicious (according to me) couscous and roasted veggies was barely eaten.  I guess the Canadian cuisine is boring compared to the wildly flavorful South African food and interesting deserts with cheese on top from the Philippines.

The evening of Eid friends came over for a visit and brought food.  They had been around to visit and share food with others on the compound.  Ramadan and Eid are times of sharing and giving.  I think Prue baked and distributed enough sweets for all of Jeddah!

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Ramadan Kareem

 Ramadan decorations

Ramadan has just finished and Saudi society is currently celebrating Eid-ul-Fitr, shortened to Eid.   The exact start of Ramadan and of Eid depends on the sighting of the new moon.  Ramadan lasts for an entire cycle of the moon.  Eid begins with the first new moon after Ramadan and lasts for 1 week.

Ramadan is the holy month of fasting.  Since I have already discussed fasting in the post on the 5 Pillars of Islam, I will cover life in Saudi during Ramadan.

The greeting for Ramadan is ‘Ramadan Kareem’.  Which basically translates to ‘wishing you a good Ramadan’.

As Saudi Arabia is a Muslim society, work hours at the hospital were adjusted to accommodate those who are fasting.  The nurses worked shifts from 8-8 instead of 7-7 to allow time to break fast before coming into work for the night shift.  Muslim allied health staff, outpatient departments, and administration staff worked reduced hours from 10-4 instead of 8-5.  Non-Muslim staff worked regular hours which proved challenging at times as the interpreters did not start until 10.   The outpatient department slowed down during Ramadan with many clients not showing for their appointments.

The entire city shut down during the day.  The bus brought us to and from the hospital in 30 minutes which is record time.  The main reason for the quick trip and multiple no shows for appointments  is because most people sleep during the day and are awake all night, including children.    The malls and shops adjust their schedule with most not opening until 9:30pm and closing at 3:00am.  I spent a weekend staying up late to shop.  It was heaps of fun to be among the chaos.  As you can imagine, since the city is awake at night, it does not take long for the empty streets to be full of traffic and traffic jams.

The month of Ramadan is a time for prayer, gathering with family, and giving thanks.  Fasting ends at sunset with a meal called ‘iftar’.  This meal is usually introduced with a small serving of dates, juice, and water.  The last meal before sunrise is called ‘sahour’.  These meals occur with gatherings of family and friends.  Christmas or thanksgiving dinner is the best way to compare iftar and sahour however it occurs every day for a month.  You can imagine how crazy the grocery stores are and would be at home if it was Christmas eve every day of the month!

Above: Out with friends for iftar at the Rosewood restaurant on the Corniche.  We arrived just before sunset.  A co-worker told me I have to go out for iftar to experience breaking the fast with a lot of people.  As we walked to our table, I noticed nearly everyone had plates and plates on the table overflowing with food.  We were initially served soup, juice and Arabic coffee.  Dates and water were found on the table.  When I walked back to the buffet about 10 minutes later to get some maza or appetizers seen in the picture below, the overflowing plates of food I initially saw were finished!

One of my good friends in the compound hosted iftar at her house.  When the sunset call to prayer is herd, you can see people open their doors to make sure they are really hearing the call to ensure they don’t break their fast before it is time.

Out gallivanting with friends 🙂  Ramadan is a time for visiting and gathering.  I had too many late nights but it was a lot of fun.

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