Travels – Diary of a Serial Expat http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com Travel is something you ARE not something you do Fri, 23 Nov 2018 17:09:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/wp-content/uploads/logo-2-161x150.png Travels – Diary of a Serial Expat http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com 32 32 68156955 Tourism in Saudi – Jizan and the Farasan Islands http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/tourism-saudi-farasan-islands/ http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/tourism-saudi-farasan-islands/#comments Fri, 23 Nov 2018 17:07:53 +0000 http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/?p=3960 This is the final part of our Saudi Road Trip After leaving Jeddah for Baha (part 1) and an amazing mountain cable car ride in Abha (part 2), we finally arrived in Jizan for the last part of our road trip. Our ultimate goal was the Farasan Islands, a group of islands in the south […]

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This is the final part of our Saudi Road Trip

After leaving Jeddah for Baha (part 1) and an amazing mountain cable car ride in Abha (part 2), we finally arrived in Jizan for the last part of our road trip. Our ultimate goal was the Farasan Islands, a group of islands in the south of Saudi Arabia, close to the Yemeni border, which is quite famous among the expat community in Saudi, but fairly unknown to the rest of the world. Having seen some pictures online of impossibly turquoise waters, we wanted to see for ourselves this little Saudi gem.

farasan Islands
My son just can’t stop looking at the water as we arrive on the island #nofilter

How to get there?

From the city of Jizan, getting to Farasan Island is really quite simple: you take a ferry and cross over in a little more than an hour to reach the main island.

With and without a car:

If you don’t have a car and plan to cross on foot, all you have to do is get to the Ferry Departure Terminal in the port of Jizan (Click HERE for the google pin).

If you do have a car and would like to cross with it, you will FIRST NEED A TICKET from the ticket issue center which is located… well… not on the port like we’d imagine but a little further inside the city. It took us a LOOOOOOONG time to find someone who knew anything about anything regarding tickets. You’d think people at the ferry terminal would know about ferry tickets, don’t you? Well they don’t! We have been sent to pretty much everywhere in Jizan before we finally found the right place.

Anyway, let me save you a few precious hours. Here is the Google Map pin for the Farzan Ticket Issue Center.

The best part?

Getting on board the ferry for the Farasan Islands, with or without a car, is COMPLETELY FREE FOR EVERYONE! Yeah 🙂

farasan Islands
Notice board from the Ticket Issue Center in Jizan

Where to stay?

In Jizan:

If you plan to take an early morning ferry to the Farasan Islands, you may want to spend the night in Jizan. That’s what we did and we picked the Beauty Rayan Hotel 2. It’s an apart’hotel where we rented a family flat (2 bed 2 bath) for one night. It’s very close to the main road coming from the north, so it’s easy to find even if you arrive late at night like we did. It is also very close to the ferry departure terminal; only about 5 minutes drive. Perfect.

In the Farasan Islands:

Don’t be fooled by the online listings. On the English web, you’ll find basically TWO hotels listed for the Farasan Islands and those are both expensive and usually fully booked. We didn’t use any of them, we just drove around a bit and found some rooms for the night in a small hotel. Nothing fancy (really not) but clean, and it had a good shower to clean up after the beach. Also the people at the front desk were super helpful and even drew us a map of the island to find everything we wanted.

farasan Islands farasan Islands farasan Islands

Is it safe?

You may be wondering about how safe it is to travel to and stay in Jizan. It is indeed very near the Yemeni border: a place that is currently (2018) the scene of fights between Saudi Arabia and Yemen. And there has been incidents in Jizan. However, we figured, loads of people (Saudi and expats) are still LIVING there so passing through shouldn’t be more dangerous for us than it is for all those people. Having said that, in the current climate, it is always advisable to ask around a bit before you head down there.

Headaches with a capital H

Everything sounds easy and beautiful so far? Now for the major HEADACHE! As many expats in Saudi can testify, there is no such thing as an easy encounter with any kind of administration. It’s always messy, long, and troublesome… and that’s on a good day. Well, getting a ticket to take our car onto the ferry was far from easy. Definitely long and tiresome, and it ended up messing up the final part of our road trip big time!

As I said, the crossing is free of charge but certainly not free from troubles. First we had to FIND the right place to get a ticket. A big step since most people seem to have never heard of it. When we did find it, we had to waiiiiiiiiiiiit. A long time, before we could talk to someone. Then that someone was busy drinking his morning tea and chatting so we waited some more. Only to be told that we had to wait to talk to someone at another desk! We waited some more and were then told: “you need to book a car ticket one week in advance“. Not so fast! There is no way to do this online or by phone. The lovely people of the ferry company reckon people should travel to Jizan one week before they expect to cross over to the Farasan Islands.

Sounds impractical? It is. But we found out there is another way. You can go with your car to the ferry departure terminal and join a queue of passengers without tickets. Once they start boarding cars, ticket holders go first and if there are some spaces left after that, they will start boarding non-ticket-holding vehicles. Fortunately, since it is a FREE service, there are actually quite a lot of no-show and a few dozen cars can usually get on the ferry without a ticket. On our way to the Farasan Islands, we actually managed to board the first ferry we queued for.

But the headache wasn’t over. We were advised to book a return ticket from the ticket issue center on the island as soon as we’d land there. You know, so we could board at the time we wanted for the return crossing. So as soon as we arrived on the island, we went looking for the ticket issue center. And yep, you can guess, wasn’t easy. And no, it’s nowhere near the ferry terminal so here is the map pin to save you some time. By the time we found the office, it was prayer time so we had to wait about 30 minutes for it to re-open, then about an hour more waiting to talk to someone…. and guess what? It was all for nothing as we were told that since we hadn’t booked a ticket to come to the Farasan Islands, then we couldn’t book a ticket to leave. We’d have to do the queuing again when we wanted to leave.

After all that, we were left with only a couple of hours before sunset to enjoy the beach! And the next morning, we didn’t catch the first ferry so the waiting time at the departure terminal was really long (especially with young children). OMG the Headaches!

Is it worth it?

That’s a valid question and I guess it depends on your level of patience. I certainly wish we had known what we learnt the hard way. In fact, we did try to get all those details but there was nothing online to help. A few expat blogs provided some partial info on the Farasan Islands as well as extremely enticing pictures but that’s about it.

farasan Islands
We had the beach to ourselves. Not a single other person!

The Farasan Islands is like a postcard destination really and I wish we had had more time there: not only for the beach but also to explore the whole island as there are some ancient villages to check out and many activities you can do with enough time. I would definitely like to go again. If only to see those impossibly turquoise waters again.

farasan Islands
One more, just can’t get over that turquoise

In the end, tourism in Saudi Arabia is worth it but very frustrating at the moment. The country has finally re-allowed tourist visas in 2018 and it is investing billions to create new cities for tourists as well as bank on its Red Sea coastline and numerous islands to attract visitors. The sites of Saudi Arabia are incredible and are sure to amaze even the most experienced world travelers. But at the moment there is a serious lack of online and offline infrastructure to cater for tourists. There is barely any information available. Everything has to be gathered, crumb by crumb from unofficial sources and it is a long and unreliable process. If Saudi Arabia wants to turn to tourism to diversify its economy, it will have to address those issues as well as conduct massive training in customer service/relations.

I guess it will happen eventually…. time will tell.

 

What do you think of the Farasan Islands? Does this make you want to visit Saudi Arabia?

 

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Tourism in Saudi – Abha and the Saouda Region http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/tourism-in-saudi-abha/ http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/tourism-in-saudi-abha/#comments Thu, 01 Nov 2018 15:38:56 +0000 http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/?p=3923 This is part 2 of our road trip from Jeddah to the Farasan Islands in the south of Saudi Arabia. While it is possible to simply fly from Jeddah to Jizan and then cross over by ferry to the island, we decided to take 4 days to do the trip by car and stop over […]

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This is part 2 of our road trip from Jeddah to the Farasan Islands in the south of Saudi Arabia. While it is possible to simply fly from Jeddah to Jizan and then cross over by ferry to the island, we decided to take 4 days to do the trip by car and stop over a few places to see if tourism in Saudi Arabia is really possible. On the first day of our road trip,  we left Jeddah and drove more than 300 km to check out Dhee Ayn and the Baha Region. We spent the night with some friends and left early in the morning to reach Abha and the Saouda* Region (* on the English web, you may want to check out other possible spellings such as Sawda, Sawdah, Sooda… It means “black” in Arabic).

Since we had already booked accommodation in Jizan to spend the night, and due to spending more time on the mountain road than initially planned, we had to limit ourselves to basically one activity: a mountain cable car experience. Just so you know, there are actually more than one place to take a cable car in Abha. We opted for the Saouda region cable car because it was supposed to be the longest and the most spectacular.

How to get there?

You can check out the Google map pins for directions from where you are. You will notice there are two pins: one for each end of the cable car ride. You can start either from the station at the top of the mountain or you can start from down in the valley.

We drove from Baha via the scenic mountain road, also called “Tunnel Road” because you need to drive through more than 20 tunnels, pretty much one after the other as the road makes it way from the top of one mountain to the top of another one. Absolutely spectacular!

Abha saudi arabia
One of the many tunnels on the road to Abha

Abha saudi arabia
Believe it or not theses are stretches of road you see suspended on the mountain side

Saouda Cable Car

We arrived at the station at the top of the mountain. There is a small car park near the entrance as well as places where you can buy fast food and water. Prices in the picture below are accurate as of August 2017.

Abha saudi arabia
Cable car station at the top of the mountain

The waiting time to get into the cable car wasn’t very long even though it was the summer holidays. You can also book a whole car to yourself if you are willing to buy off all the seats.

Abha saudi arabia
From the cable car boarding station

Down in the valley, there are a few shops, some outlets for food and picnic areas. However, the choice of food is extremely limited and the waiting time is quite long. You may want to plan a picnic instead. There is also a place where you can book a tour of Abha and some museums but we didn’t have time for that.

Abha saudi arabia
Cable car station in the valley

Cable car station at the top of the mountain
View from the picnic area in the valley

Is it worth it?

Ohhhh YES! The cable car ride is absolutely amazing. The ride down will give you some incredible views of the mountain ranges and during our ride  back up, we actually rode INTO THE CLOUDS. The children were totally mesmerized. Before that we had the chance the spot some animals on the side of the mountain such as mountain goats and all kinds of big and small birds. Really interesting.

Abha saudi Arabic
View from inside the cable car during the ride down

I wish we could have stayed longer in Abha and explore the city and go to its famous market but there simply wasn’t any time. We left Abha straight after the cable car ride and made our way to Jizan. But not before being caught in a rainstorm. Yep, big black clouds, heavy rain, slippery roads, even hailstones… Be extremely careful as the road is a spindly narrow mountain road and it requires caution to drive in a downpour. We actually saw a couple of accidents on the way down. Even if it is not raining, you’ll still have to drive very slowly.

On the bright side, once we were safely down the mountain, the valley was “breathing” from the rain and we were treated to some unexpected scenes of dark green valleys. Unexpected because this is not what you first think about when you travel through Saudi Arabia. Check out some of the videos I made:

Saudi - Green Valley near Abha Saudi - Arid Desert 360 degrees view from the mountain top Moutain view top Rainstorm - not much of a view

We arrived safely in Jizan later that day. We had booked an apart’hotel not too far from the ferry departure port as we wanted to make an early start for the Farasan Islands. And boy did we need an early start. We had no idea that the last leg of our journey had quite a few more surprises for us…

baha saudi arabia

Have you been to Abha? What did you do? What would you recommend?

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Tourism in Saudi – Dhee Ayn in the Baha Region http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/saudi-tourism-dhee-ayn-baha-region/ http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/saudi-tourism-dhee-ayn-baha-region/#comments Mon, 11 Sep 2017 16:39:48 +0000 http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/?p=3873 Did someone actually say “Tourism in Saudi”? Is that even possible? Yes it is true that the country has been closed to tourists for many years but it is starting to open up…. Really! Visit visas are even available now! And believe it or not, Saudi Arabia is a country with many hidden secrets and […]

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Did someone actually say “Tourism in Saudi”? Is that even possible? Yes it is true that the country has been closed to tourists for many years but it is starting to open up…. Really! Visit visas are even available now! And believe it or not, Saudi Arabia is a country with many hidden secrets and Dhee Ayn is one of them.

Dhee Ayn
Inside the ancient village

Over the last vacation, we decided to  finally explore this country and we opted for a road trip. Our main objective was to reach the Farasan Islands but as it is so far from Jeddah, we thought we would make use of the pit stops we would necessarily have to make to discover more than just one place. One of the planned pit stops was Dhee Ayn or the Marble Village as it is sometimes referred to. I chose this spot quite at random really. We had been invited to spend the night at a friend’s house near Baha and I simply looked on google maps for something interesting to see before we would arrive at our first destination. And I am very glad I picked Dhee Ayn. It turned out to be an incredible place, in many ways.

How to get to Dhee Ayn?

Let’s start with the location. Click HERE to access the google map pin and get some driving instructions from where you are. From Jeddah,  we followed the coastal highway –Route 5- to Mudhaylif, then the mountain road –Route 246- all the way to Dhee Ayn. This is the fastest and shortest way and it is very easy to get there this way. The other option via Route 15 may be more scenic but it is much longer. Also during the Hajj season, the roads around Makkah are blocked and you will have to make an even lengthier detour.

Dhee Ayn
Road 246 leading to Dhee Ayn is a mountain road.

What is Dhee Ayn?

Dhee Ayn is basically an old traditional Saudi village with houses built of flat stones using an ancient technique that required pretty much no mortar or cement. What makes Dhee Ayn even more interesting is that the entire village has been preserved! This is really unique because most, if not all, of the ancient village structures of Saudi Arabia have long since disappeared. Ancient houses and old villages have been destroyed to make room for newer constructions or have been left to crumble down. In fact, as you keep driving towards Baha, you will see many remains of old watch towers, houses and walls.

Only the people of Dhee Ayn seem to have understood the importance of preserving their history, their ancient craftsmanship, and some memories of time long gone. They all agreed to not only keep, but maintain all the old houses as well as the luxuriant gardens below the village in which they still grow bananas, lemons and basil among other things.

Dhee Ayn
Let’s start exploring. Up we go…

Is it worth it?

Totally. It is worth the long and tiring drive. It is totally worth the small entry fee. It is totally worth the leg cramps you’ll get from climbing to the top of the village. It is worth it big time! Just check out some of the pictures I took.

Dhee Ayn
Last bend before you arrive in the village. The view over the “Marble Village” is amazing.
Dhee Ayn
You start the climb into the village from the car park. A small hut offers cold bottles of water for sale. You WILL need them.
Dhee Ayn
View over the luxuriant gardens of palm trees, banana tress, lemon trees and aromatic herbs. The new village is visible in the distance.
Dhee Ayn
Visitors are allowed inside the ancient houses.

I also made these videos:

Baha Region (3) Baha Region (11) Baha Region (15) Dhee Ayn (2) Dhee Ayn (1)

After we finished walking around the village, climbed up to the highest house, went down to check out the two small waterfalls and the lush gardens, we stopped to picnic. They have set up some family size picnic “huts” with a clever car park space right next to each hut and a central playground area for children. The little huts are clean and shaded. Perfect picnic spot.

Dhee Ayn
Car park and picnic area

After that we went back on the road to our friend’s house near Baha. This time we took the scenic mountain road. Very long and difficult drive but OH MY GOD we were treated to the most spectacular views. Panoramic mountain scenes at every bend. We kept oooohhhhing and ahhhhhing all the way. The whole area around Baha is amazing and the road itself is worth the trip.

Dhee Ayn
View from the top of the mountain road on the way to Baha.
Dhee Ayn
Baboons live in those mountains and they often come to the side of the road hoping to get food.

We arrived late at our friend’s house and were received with the legendary Saudi hospitality. We were made to feel right at home and the whole family came to meet us. They even took us for a drive around the area. They knew the history of every small village and family. They showed us what we would have missed on our own. If you are lucky enough to know someone in the area, try to get an invite. It won’t be hard as it seems to be in the nature of Saudis to make people feel like welcomed guests. This would give you a different view of things and will make your trip even more amazing.

The next day, we left our hosts to continue our road trip. They recommended we keep following the scenic mountain road down. They call it the tunnel road because there are more than 20 tunnels. The road is spectacular but also dangerous in some places and it is better to avoid driving there at night, especially if you are new to the area and/or not used to mountain roads and their very sharp curves. We reached Abha a few hours later and there too, some surprises were waiting for us. But that’s another story…

Would you consider visiting Dhee Ayn? What else is on your Saudi bucket list? Let us know in the comments.

Click on the banners to read about the rest of our trip:

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Expat and Muslim in India http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/expat-and-muslim-in-india/ http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/expat-and-muslim-in-india/#comments Sat, 29 Oct 2016 15:23:48 +0000 http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/?p=3522 India is notoriously difficult to define or understand, so perhaps more than in other reviews, this piece is a reflection on my experiences rather than an overall judgment of the nation. India is, in theory, a pluralistic, democratic and secular state where the population is overwhelmingly Hindu, but at least 14% are Muslim. This may […]

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India is notoriously difficult to define or understand, so perhaps more than in other reviews, this piece is a reflection on my experiences rather than an overall judgment of the nation.

India is, in theory, a pluralistic, democratic and secular state where the population is overwhelmingly Hindu, but at least 14% are Muslim. This may sound like a small percentage, but with an overall population estimated at around 1.2 billion, this means around 180 million Muslims. Not surprisingly, Muslims feature heavily in the national psyche, and some of India’s most famous icons (such as the Taj Mahal) were built by Muslims.

expat and muslim in india
Taj Mahal, Agra

Islam in India

Islam was first introduced to India in the 7th century AD, when Arab merchants intrigued the locals of southern India with their faith. In the 8th Century Arab invaders crashed into the northwest of India, in the area now known as Sindh, a province of Pakistan. These two events (and the histories that followed) shaped the experience of Islam in India today; in the south, people see Islam as being woven into the local fabric of life, a sense of ‘adopted’ religion, while in the north, it’s not uncommon to hear of Islam referred to as somehow foreign, and ‘forced’ upon the locals.

Whatever the perception, Islam is undoubtedly central to the idea of the modern Indian identity. Gandhi himself is known to have taken inspiration from, and to have held admiration for the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him) and many of his family. One of India’s scheduled languages, Urdu, is a kind of Persianised Hindi, written in a modified Arabic script to aid recitation of the Quran for young learners. Music and films often lovingly hark back to the lavish, cultured Mughal Empire, the Muslim dynasty that ruled parts India for centuries.

No discussion of Islam in India would be complete without mentioning Sufism, the mystical practice of Islam, that largely aided the spread of Islam in the region. Sufi practice was quickly adopted by many, perhaps due to its parallels with existing Indian philosophy and spiritual practice.

India has also been the crucible for much Sufi thought, and thousands of shrines exist to pay tribute to these spiritual philosophers. In such a diverse and broad community, it’s inevitable that other groups would emerge, including Bohra, Khoja and Ahmadiyya, all with their own understanding of Islamic teachings.

Expat and Muslim in India

Being expat in India (particularly a white-skinned expat) is an identity unto itself – I was afforded special treatment while there, and religion was never really part of the discussion. I guess it was assumed that I must have been living a lavish life where God played no large role.

I occasionally had to explain to people that I was Muslim, or that my Hindi was inflected with certain Arabic words because it wasn’t Hindi at all – it was Urdu, the language of Muslim India. The reactions I would get were usually accepting, but uninterested. I got the feeling that was the general feeling towards Muslims from non-Muslims; “it’s fine to be Muslim, but I’m not, so no need to talk about it!” On one occasion I was told to say the Hindi “danyavad” for thank you, instead of the Urdu “shukriya”, because “this is India, and we hate Muslims”, but this was on just one occasion, and it didn’t escalate into anything more. I wonder if he would have said that, had he known I’m Muslim.

Additionally, there seems to be an assumption in some quarters that a white Muslim is simply a typical foreigner going on a temporary spiritual experience while on holidays (like so many do). I got this feeling from some people (who thought Islam was my “interest”), including men at mosques, who talked to me like they had “seen it all before”.

On the whole though, my experience of being expat and Muslim in India was one of being left alone, to “do my thing”, and not given much attention other than for the fact that I was a white-skinned foreigner.

Jama Masjid seen from Meena Bazaar, Delhi
Jama Masjid seen from Meena Bazaar, Delhi

Being Muslim in India is…

I often hear various slogans expressed about Muslims in India; “they’re free”, “they’re just as Indian as anyone else”, “they’re persecuted”, “they’re restricted”, “they’re oppressed”. All of them are true to some extent, however the level of acceptance or oppression seems to depend on a variety of elements, including level of society, level of education, region, city, part of the city, and the political climate of the time. Very occasionally discrimination flares into violence, although considering the demographics, this is less of an occurrence than the media would have us believe.

Sometimes India could be the easiest place on earth to be Muslim, because the number of Muslims and the lack of government diktat on religion allows each person to explore the religion themselves. Halal food is widely available and religious holidays like Eid are protected and celebrated. However, without the backing of a community, Muslims may find themselves discriminated against in Hindu-dominated areas.

On balance, it’s safe to say that being Muslim in India is a widely varied and complex experience, and there is probably one different definition for each Indian Muslim that exists.

 

[su_note note_color=”#007f9c” text_color=”white” radius=”0″]Thank you very much Tim for sharing your experience and helping us understand the Islamic culture of India a little better. To find out more about Tim’s expat experiences, travels and awesome photography, go over to his blog Urban Duniya. [/su_note]

 

More Expat and Muslim stories HERE.  I would love to hear about other countries, so if you’d like to share your experience as an expat and Muslim get in touch right now!

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The One True Universal Language http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/the-one-true-universal-language/ http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/the-one-true-universal-language/#comments Sun, 14 Aug 2016 13:31:08 +0000 http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/?p=3446 Is childhood the best universal language in the world? I spent a few weeks in France this summer to visit my family and to catch up with my best friends from university. It’s been many years since we met up and we now all have kids in toe. While I never worried about the kids […]

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Is childhood the best universal language in the world?

I spent a few weeks in France this summer to visit my family and to catch up with my best friends from university. It’s been many years since we met up and we now all have kids in toe.

While I never worried about the kids getting along or finding a way to communicate despite a language barrier (my kids speak English and only a few words of French) I was truly impressed by how easily those kids managed to spend so much time together and never appear to have a problem getting through to each other.

Every time, the same thing happened: the would observe each other for a few minutes then before you knew it they’d act like they had always been friends and language wasn’t even an issue at all. Without realizing it, my kids would soon be shouting out words in French while their new friends would call after them in English, all of them naturally mimicking the words, expressions and intonations of the others. Even more amazing: they could speak the other language without a hint of an accent!

universal language of children
I guess little talk is needed in that situation

And then as my friends and I were chatting, it hit me: Kids are kids! No matter where they are born, where they grow up or what language they speak. They have no problem understanding each other because they have the same games, the same desires to play and explore, the same curiosity, the same apprehensions, they throw the same tantrums, and break the same rules. Of course we all raise our kids differently but parents are parents and kids are kids. Simple as that!

Children seem to understand each other because they look at life and the world around them with the same eyes. To any child in the world, a football is to be kicked, a bike is to be ridden, sweeties are to be shared and enjoyed. You don’t need to speak the same language to play with building blocks, racing cars, dolls… Children understand each other despite the language because they can pretty much anticipate the other child’s reaction to the game or the situation, like when we took the children to the zoo. Not exactly hard to interpret what the others are saying when they see the lion, or when we come close to the playground. Childhood really is a form of universal language.

universal language of children
At the zoo.
universal language of children
Inside the lemur enclosure.
universal language of children
Animals and children understand each others too.

And so while my friends and I reminisced the past, shared our present and planned our future, our lovely children played together, oblivious that there was such a big barrier between them.

Or is it such a big deal? Is language really a ‘barrier’? Or is it only an issue  for self-conscious adults?

I think it’s time we take a leaf out of our kids’ book and stop making life difficult: we adults are so similar to other adults, just as our kids are to other kids. We parents complain about the same stupid things our kids do. We who work full time understand the stress of the professional environment. We who love to travel can easily share the excitement of discovering a new place… no matter what language we speak…

Think of the possibilities if we stopped worrying about our differences and started to simply be together: language is only a barrier in our mind.

What if we stopped calling it a ‘barrier’… would we still struggle?

Do you agree? What would you say is the best universal language?

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I’m not a photographer and it’s OK http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/im-not-photographer-ok/ http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/im-not-photographer-ok/#comments Sun, 07 Feb 2016 13:43:47 +0000 http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/?p=3138 I’m a mother, a teacher, a blogger and quite a few other things, but I’m not a photographer. I do like clicking away on my phone and keeping pictures as souvenirs. I do love showing readers of this blog what my life as an expat is like, but I’m not a photographer. I did try […]

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I’m a mother, a teacher, a blogger and quite a few other things, but I’m not a photographer.

I do like clicking away on my phone and keeping pictures as souvenirs. I do love showing readers of this blog what my life as an expat is like, but I’m not a photographer.

I did try to become better at it: I bought my first camera, a digital point and shoot but still… quite a big step from my regular camera of choice: my Blackberry 5mp camera. I even tried to take online classes to learn how to use my new camera and compose pictures but that’s not for me. Too technical, too boring sorry, can’t be bothered.

Then I heard about photoshop and softwares to make pictures look amazing, and I did try a few. Spent hours working on my raw shots to make them look spectacular and the results were quite good really. But you know what? I can’t be bothered anymore with those either…. Too much time, efforts, headaches and frustrations. It has even stopped me from putting online thousands of pictures I wanted to show you. It’s crazy. And. It’s not worth it!

I’m not a photographer!

And you know what? It’s OK. I’ve decided it’s OK to not be good at it.

I do like many of the pictures I took over the years. I love looking at them and having all the memories and emotions come right back to the surface. I love showing you guys the good, the bad and the ugly of my expat life.

So my pictures will never make the cover of National Geographic? It’s OK.

I’ve decided not to be ashamed of my pictures anymore. They are what they are and what I always wanted them to be: a raw, direct and uncompromising glimpse of real life as an expat.

I’m not a photographer… still, I got loads of pictures I’m proud of. What do you think?

Balad, jeddah
Jeddah old city
Naseef house, balad, jeddah
Roof top view in Jeddah old city
tunisia tourism
Salt flats, South Tunisia
canal du midi, France, UNESCO
Slow boat ride on the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Canal du Midi, France
tunisia tourism
Salt Flats, South Tunisia
London, Camden
New constructions reflected in an older building, London, UK
Camden (5)
Different styles of architectures in London, UK
saudi arabia mecca
A real life picture of Mecca, with its hundreds of cranes
tripoli, libya
Sea view in Tripoli, Libya
tripoli
Tripoli, sea view
tripoli
Tripoli Towers, Tripoli, Libya
Egypt, cairo, citadel
View over Cairo, Egypt from the Citadel
Egypt, cairo, Nile
Sunset over the Nile from a traditional Egyptian river boat
Black Mountain region, France
View from a mountain top in France. The Mediterranean Sea (which is 70 km away) can be seen as a thin ray of light in the background.
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
My very first picture of the Kabaa in Mecca
London Eye
View of the London Eye, London
London Eye
View over London, UK from the top of the London Eye.
Hammamet, tunisia
A narrow alleyway in Hammamet old Medina, Tunisia
Hammamet, Tunisia
Little hidden gem off the main road, Hammamet
Hammamet, Tunisia
Empty beaches, Turquoise waters, Hammamet
tunisia, mosque
Inside a small road side mosque, south Tunisia
Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Masjid al Haraam
One of my favorite picture of Mecca, Saudi Arabia
IMG_20150722_123745
Inside Masjid Al Nabawi, Madinah, Saudi Arabia
mecca, masjid al haraam, saudi arabia
Praying just in front of the Ka’baa in the Holy Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia

 

These are probably my favorite pictures ever. While the technique is probably lousy, I’m hoping something of the moment and the emotions felt can transpire. And if it does, then that’s enough for me. So get ready for more pictures and less fuss.

After all, I’m not a photographer, right?

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Expat & Muslim in Iran http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/expat-and-muslim-in-iran/ http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/expat-and-muslim-in-iran/#comments Tue, 26 Jan 2016 14:39:46 +0000 http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/?p=3020   Iran is one of only a handful of countries around the world that declares itself a fully-fledged Islamic republic. Not surprisingly, simply naming itself an Islamic republic doesn’t make Iran a utopia for Muslims, despite the ‘idea’ of Islam being infused through the government organs.   While under sharia law, Iran differs from many […]

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Iran is one of only a handful of countries around the world that declares itself a fully-fledged Islamic republic. Not surprisingly, simply naming itself an Islamic republic doesn’t make Iran a utopia for Muslims, despite the ‘idea’ of Islam being infused through the government organs.

Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Isfahan

 

While under sharia law, Iran differs from many other Muslim nations (and, arguably, from others’ understandings of sharia law) for various reasons. Pressures of a relatively educated, diverse and liberal populace, generational changes and international politicking all result in inconsistently evolved legal and social systems, which are simultaneously way ahead and far behind other countries in the region.

Iran also has a long, rich non-Islamic and pre-Islamic history of which it is justifiably proud.

 

Islam in Iran

Iran is about 97% Muslim, of which about 90% is Shia and the remaining 7% Sunni. Therefore, to a large number of Muslims around the world, the Islam which is practiced in Iran may seem rather unfamiliar. Even among Shia Muslims, there are differences between what is practiced in Iran and in other countries.

Islam in Iran is noticeably politicised and reactionary. Iran became an Islamic republic after the 1979 revolution in which the strictly secular and modernising Shah (king) was swept aside. It seems that what followed the revolution was as much an effort to institute Islam in an official manner, as it was to undo the ‘Westernisation’ that the shah had implemented. Conversely, many of today’s youth are non-religious and take a dim view of practicing Muslims – but this seems to be more of a reaction to government policies (which of course all bear the ‘Islamic’ banner) than an outright rejection of Islam. Above all, however, respect remains for Iran’s pre-Islamic culture. In such a reactionary environment, in which history, politics and religion are all muddled together, what it means to be a Muslim in Iran is a dynamic, but confused concept.

Shia tradition runs deep in Iran_ the Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad

 

Expat and Muslim in Iran

Being an expat in Iran, I was swamped with hospitality and open invitations to come home for dinner! For the most part, Iranians love foreigners, and that includes Americans too. In fact some people I met seemed slightly disappointed when I revealed I’m not American! It is said that “absence makes the heart grow fonder”, and the absence of large numbers of foreigners, especially Americans, in Iran seem to have made Iranians very fond of them indeed!

Being an expat and Muslim in Iran is another matter. Because of the reactionary nature of Iranian politics and society, many educated Iranians would rather have religion left out of the conversation; they consider it a ‘dampener’ on what was otherwise a developing friendship. Many educated Iranians seemed to expect me to drink, party and live an otherwise “Western” lifestyle, and were visibly disappointed if I declined to take part. (Again: reactionary – in Iran, it seems, you’re either a debaucherous Westerner or a stone-age Mullah.)

Muslim values seem much closer to the hearts of people in other sections of society, however, and faith is genuinely appreciated and practiced.

Regardless of who you’re speaking to, you will nearly always be treated with respect as a guest in the nation – and in Iran that’s an experience vivid enough to cut through all of the socio-political white noise. Iranians, I can honestly say, are some of the kindest and most intelligent people I’ve ever encountered on my travels.

 

Being Muslim in Iran is…

Muslims in Iran will find their faith confirmed, reinforced, challenged and possibly even dismissed by members of society, but never disrespected. At a practical level, Iran being an Islamic republic, one never needs to worry about finding halal meat or taking time off for prayers. Sometimes the constant government preaching about “Islamic” policies becomes irksome, but you’ll never be alone in thinking so.

Overall, being expat and Muslim in Iran is an easy, if thought-provoking experience – keep an open mind, and enter the multilayered Islamic Republic of Iran.

 

Thank you Tim for sharing your experience with us.

If you don’t know Tim’s work, you should head over to Urban Duniya, his own lifestyle blog about all things expat, travel and cultures. He is also a great photographer and his blog is sure to inspire you.

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I’m off to Tunisia, no Matter What! http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/going-sousse-tunisia/ http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/going-sousse-tunisia/#comments Fri, 24 Jul 2015 10:14:41 +0000 http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/?p=2052 I love Tunisia. If you’ve been following this blog, you know one of my purpose is to shed light on Tunisia and show the world what fantastic opportunities this little country has to offer to travellers and explorers of all kinds. Well, Tunisia is very much in the news these days, unfortunately it’s for all the wrong […]

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I love Tunisia. If you’ve been following this blog, you know one of my purpose is to shed light on Tunisia and show the world what fantastic opportunities this little country has to offer to travellers and explorers of all kinds.

Well, Tunisia is very much in the news these days, unfortunately it’s for all the wrong reasons. Even since some nutters decided to open fire on tourists killing 38 people in Sousse, Tunisia, medias all over the world have been talking about how dangerous Tunisia is, Airlines and Tour Operators have cancelled flights and holidays deals and tourists have pretty much fled the country.

Sousse, Tunisia
Tourists queuing to leave Tunisia at Enfidha Airport after the attack in Sousse. – Photo Credit

Already back in March (2015) an explosion had killed a group of tourists in the capital city Tunis.

As a result of those attacks, the Tunisian people is suffering from yet another blow to their main (if not only) source of income. Tunisian people are poor people, life is very hard most of the time and summer is for many the only chance to get some decent income and make ends meet, feed their family and pay bills. No only that but the government has now declared the “state of emergency” in all the country so once again the Tunisian people find itself living a restricted life, under closer surveillance and everything else this measure entails.

Now what?

Well I’m gonna tell you what is going to happen. I’ve seen it all before with my very eyes. Back in the summer of 2012 (shortly after the Arab Spring Movement started in Tunisia, all over North Africa and the Middle East) I travelled to Tunisia from the UK… in an empty plane! I talked a lot with the plane crew and they knew the season was over, ruined and that Tunisia was doomed financially for at least a few years.

Sousse, Tunisia
Hotels in Sousse and all over Tunisia are now empty. Photo Credit: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP

The same is going to happen again. The summer season is completely ruined this year and in the future Tunisia will struggle to rebuild trust and re-start its tourism-lead economy. In the meantime what of the hundred thousands of people who depend on tourists to make a living? I’m not talking about Airlines and big hotels, I’m talking about street vendors, small restaurant owners, local guides…? Tunisia is not like the UK, there is no welfare money to fall back on! Those are going to suffer. BIG TIME!

So what can you do, you ask? Well for a start, read and share this post, and any other post intended to help Tunisia rebuild that all-important trust with holiday makers. If you had planned on going to Tunisia please don’t cancel. And you if are going to Tunisia like me (I’ll be there soon) take the time to talk to the people, eat in their restaurants, buy their souvenirs and show them YOU CARE.

For people in Tunisia it’s not all about money, it’s also about people! We must do what we can to show people in Tunisia that we KNOW they are not responsible for those terrible acts. Many reports have now surfaced since the attacks, about how Tunisians did everything they could to protect tourists, from shielding them and making a human chain around hotels to throwing projectile onto the attackers and even running after him at great personal risk.

These days there is another country which makes the headlines: Greece and its failed economy. Ever since Greece made the news, blogs and social medias have been full of reports of people flocking to Greece and its pretty islands to “help the economy and the Greek people” (can you tell I’m slightly skeptical on all those people’s real intentions?).

While millions rush to Greece to make the most of the low prices and wonderful beaches, how many will remember Tunisia and the Tunisian people?

I’m heading to Tunisia tomorrow, I’m taking some measures of precautions for when I am in Tunis, especially at the airport but other than that I plan to enjoy a relaxing holiday, spend time with my family (in-laws) and set the first step in motion to make Tunisia my future home.

What about you? Will you share this post? Will you help?

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I Love Expat Life & I Love Holidays! http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/life-in-saudi-arabia-holidays/ http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/life-in-saudi-arabia-holidays/#comments Thu, 16 Jul 2015 12:49:50 +0000 http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/?p=2939 What do you do for your holidays when you’re an expat? I mean aren’t we technically already on holidays, since we’re abroad and living in the sunshine all year long, surrounded by palm trees with the beach nearby? To be honest living in Jeddah feels a lot like being on holidays. I’ve been trying to […]

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What do you do for your holidays when you’re an expat? I mean aren’t we technically already on holidays, since we’re abroad and living in the sunshine all year long, surrounded by palm trees with the beach nearby?

To be honest living in Jeddah feels a lot like being on holidays. I’ve been trying to describe what living in a compound feels like to my family and friends back home and the closest I can explain is by comparing it to living in a holiday village.

Life in Saudi arabia

Where I live at the moment (my employer provides me and my family with free housing on their compound) looks like a gigantic holiday village. It’s self contained for one and it’s got everything you need so you don’t actually have to get out unless you want to.

Then there is the Jeddah weather, awesome weather, summer all year round with temperatures between 35 and 40 degrees Celsius at the moment (July 2015).

There are some swimming pools in the compound to cool us down, hundreds of ACed shopping malls not far to while away the hottest hours and spend our hard earned salaries.

life in saudi arabia
When daily life looks like you’re on holidays.

And just look at the place! With the clear blue sky, the palm trees everywhere… it’s hard to feel like I’m going to work when I walk to my office in the morning. And at night when I look over the roof tops from my windows, I am still totally overwhelmed by the view of those rocky mountains.

life in saudi arabia
Walking to work or relaxing outdoors – Hard to tell, isn’t it?

Still, summer is the time for holidays so let’s talk holiday plans then. Life in Saudi Arabia has a lot to offer for a family like mine which is why we decided to spend the majority of our holidays in Jeddah. From here we have made quite a few days trips to Mecca and we plan to visit Madinah next, maybe next week.

After that it’s finally time for the “real” holidays as we are flying to Tunisia. If you’ve been reading this blog a while you know that Tunisia is my favourite country in the world and that we have been travelling to Tunisia for our holidays for years. But this year, our holidays are gonna be much more than just holidays…

holidays in Tunisia

A few years back (flashback) my husband and I started dreaming of Tunisia, not just for quick visits during the holidays but as the place we loved the most on this Earth and where we could see ourselves settling down.

This is Gabes, where my husband is from and where most of his family lives:

life in saudi arabia Tunisia in pictures life in saudi arabia

Well, thanks to our life in Saudi Arabia and the big fat salaries they are paying us here to teach English, we have managed to save enough money to build our dream house. It’s hard even for me to truly comprehend how fast it all went. All it took was 10 months of savings the best part of 2 salaries to afford to build a house from scratch. Can you believe it? Sometimes it feels insane! In the UK we were struggling to make ends meet, we couldn’t afford to dream let alone make our dreams happen, all the while leaving a very comfortable life.

And now, on our very first holidays since we signed a contract in Saudi, we are going back to Tunisia with enough cash (yep cash, no mortgage) in hands to start the construction of the house of our dreams.

This is terribly exciting, exhilarating and a little overwhelming. I feel (almost) like a grown up now with that whole building-a-house thing, and there will be challenges ahead of course and grown up decisions to make…

So this holidays, besides the family reunions, delicious food and trips to the beach, there will be meetings with some architects, the construction team, we’re gonna be talking budget and deadlines and materials, floor plans, planning permission and a lot of other things, which up until now I had only ever heard of and wasn’t sure what they meant.

So here we are, about to embark on yet another incredible adventure and once again the line seems blurred between our daily lives and our holidays. I don’t want to throw a big fat “I love my life” and rub it in your face so I’ll just say that I’m very grateful that the life choices we’ve made a few years back are allowing us to live life to the fullest and make our dream come true.

What are your plans this summer? Tell us about what you’re doing and where you’re going? Any exciting change coming your way?

 

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London: Love at (not) First Sight http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/london-pictures-buildings/ http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/london-pictures-buildings/#comments Sun, 12 Jul 2015 21:45:39 +0000 http://www.diaryofaserialexpat.com/?p=2915 London, UK. The first time you either love it or hate it. The second time you can allow it to grow on you. For me love wasn’t at first sight, I have always hated London. Then last year, two things happened: I was forced to live in London for 2 months without any job or […]

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London, UK.

The first time you either love it or hate it. The second time you can allow it to grow on you. For me love wasn’t at first sight, I have always hated London.

Then last year, two things happened: I was forced to live in London for 2 months without any job or activity to keep me busy and I had just bought my first ever camera (a small Panasonic Point and Shoot).

So, camera in hand every day I went out, I started to observe things around me, shooting everything in sight without too much worry about how I was doing it. Let’s face it, I’m rubbish at taking pictures but as the saying goes “practice makes perfect” so I just took pictures of everything.

I’ve compiled a few of the best shot of the kind of creative, interesting, quirky architecture that caught my eye (and my lens) in London.

Looking through the pictures and looking back over my time in London it slowly dawned on me why people can be crazy in love with London.

So what do you think? Love it or hate it? Tell me about your relationship with London.

 

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