Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Prayers for Rain

Bism Illah wa as salaamu alaykum wa Rahmat Allah wa Barakatuh.

Two weeks ago we had a national prayer for rain. It is a very powerful thing to witness, and this is my second year to be here for it al hamdul'Illah. For those of you who don't know how it goes, schools will adjust their start times and people will adjust their work times to go to this prayer. All the masaajid hold the prayer and it is held shortly after sunrise.

Subhaan Allah, we pulled up to school as the prayer was going on and I could hear the dua' being made for Allah's forgiveness, mercy, blessings, and of course, rain. It brought tears to my eyes, because this is true tawakkal - total reliance on Allah with the knowledge that only He can bring the relief of rain to dry desert and life to the dead. Subhaan Allah, it is these things that strike me and remind me how fortunate I am to be in a country focused on tawheed. All thanks and praise to Allah, the Perfect Provider of all needs!

Friday, December 24, 2010


Bism Illah wa as salaamu alaykum.

Perhaps people imagine that living in Madinah means praying every day in Masjid an Nabawi and making ziyaarah to the Prophet's grave (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) as often as one likes. Not so! This is the second most important stop for all the hujjaj and umrah visitors, so those places are packed to bursting most of the year. After over one year living here, I still haven't made ziyaarah, Qadr Allah.

Imagine then, the feeling of us residents when all the hujjaj leave. There is a hiatus on umrah visas for a period of 6-8 weeks after the deadline date for the hujjaj to leave and finally there is a chance for us. Today was the first jumu'ah since the hujjaj left. We went for the prayer...and it was so empty we could sit wherever we liked, mashaa'Allah. We could see the beauty and grandeur of the Masjid. We could sit in peace and read surah al Kahf before the prayer. Subhaan Allah, we could just walk up and get a drink of Zamzam water without waiting for anyone ahead of us! These are precious days for us. Days when we can finally enjoy and spend quality time at Masjid an Nabawi and know the peace (sakinah) of Madinah.

I'm hoping that these days will provide me with the opportunity to make ziyaarah. I missed the chance today after Jumu'ah, but inshaa'Allah next week. Then I'll give salaams from all of you dear sisters as well, bi ithn Illah, taala.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Practical Points

BismIllah wa as salaamu alaykum wa Rahmat Allah wa Barakatuh.

I was asked by a dear sister about certain practical issues relating to moving to and living here in Saudi Arabia. The first one I will address is the bathrooms.

Most apartments and the Universities all have standard, upright toilets which one usually sits on. While these are not the norm in perhaps the older buildings and in all the masaajid bathrooms, they are the norm in private accommodation. For information's sake, the floor toilets where one squats to go, are more widespread in public bathrooms and in the masaajid because they are cleaner, don't get backed up easily, and don't pose the risk of disease that the upright ones do. Think about it, when you squat and do your business down a hole, you never have an issue about a clean toilet seat...there is no seat. There is no issue of splashback from the water in the toilet causing impurities on a larger area of your body. and if there isn't water or the toilet doesn't flush, there is nothing to be seen...whereas just one visit to an upright with no flushing and nobody will want to get near it. Although I have noted several people turning their noses up at the squat toilets, never forget that they are much closer to the Sunnah and a healthier option, even if not what we have become used to.

Another question, regarding shower curtains, is that they are available here along with shower rods. Large hypermarkets like Hyperpanda, Carrefour, and Bin Dawood sell them. True, often one will find that the bathrooms are not set up in a way to use a shower curtain, but that is largely due to the fact that bathrooms here are fully tiled and clean up with a squeegy and mop are fast and easy when the floors are wet. However, if you are actually come and have shower curtains anyway, bring them along rather than try to search for them from a limited selection. It is quite possible that there will only be one or two designs to choose from.

As for appliances, there are dual voltage outlets, one is 110V and one is 220V, so for US appliances there is no need for adapters. The plugs are three pin (small, like the US ones) and will also take the 2 pin plugs. If you happen to have some plugs that are different, there are adaptors to be bought everywhere, no problem at all.

As for pets, I don't have any pets and I don't know the procedure in detail. I do know that any animals (pets) being brought into the country must be quarantined for a period of time and it can be a tad expensive to bring them, however, check with the Saudi Embassy on how to handle that inshaa'Allah.

As for bringing vehicles into the country, they cannot be more than 5 years old. If you get a really good deal on a vehicle or have one that is very recent, then it may well be worth it to ship. In Madinah there is a dealer called Family Car that gives 5 year guarantees on the cars (all imported from USA) and is competitive. After all, paying a couple of thousand dollars for shipping adds a lot onto the price of the car and there will be no guarantee.

It is worthwhile to get your eyes tested before coming. However, there is no problem getting great glasses, contacts, daily wear, colors, etc. here. In fact, opticians are plentiful...just make sure you know your prescription, otherwise you need to go to a doctor to get a new one.

Okay, that's about it for now. Hope that helps a little.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Established Blogs on Living and Working in Saudi Arabia

Bism Illah wa as salaamu alaykum.

Here is  a list of wonderful blogs that are all about living and working in Saudi Arabia.

Working in Saudi Arabia  Excellent resource for all those labor, immigration, and practical questions that are hard to find reliable answers to, mashaa'Allah.

Desert Diaries Making Hijrah and Living in Jeddah

Hijrah to Allah  A blog by a sister who has made hijrah to different places and now is in Saudi Arabia. She posts information about lesser known jobs, mashaa'Allah, and is open to questions.

Moments in Madinah This blog covered a span of about a year, as the sister and her family left last summer. It proved quite helpful to us, mashaa'Allah. It hasn't been updated in 11 months, since they left Madinah.

Guide to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia This hasn't been updated in  3 years, so the information, in some cases, is outdated.

This should keep you all busy and answer many of the questions you have far better than me. Enjoy!

Taxi Fares and The Roads

Bism Allah wa as salaamu alaykum.

Almost every car and pick-up truck is a taxi in Madinah. There are marked taxis also, but they don't often pick you up. Just hold out your hand and someone will pull over to find out where you want to go. They may ask you to give them directions, but if you're paying they'll take you.

Anywhere within Madinah should cost no more than SR10 unless you are going at a very busy time or are very far away and they know you aren't local, when it may be SR15. No more.

Driving in Madinah is akin to taking your life in your hands on a roller coaster in the wild, wild, west. No, I am not fact it is an understatement. Cars do not pay attention to lanes, will swish and swerve in front of anyone and will turn left from the fifth lane on the right which is only for right turns in front of every other car. It is stressful, unpleasant, and wipes out any thoughts of a pleasure drive. That said, it is much easier to get on with life and function with children, etc. with a car. We bought a used minivan after 4 months here, and it was a huge blessing. 
Don't be surprised to see toddlers hanging out of car windows, fathers driving with babies on their laps, and little boys that look around 12 driving their mothers around. Elementary school age children are left to run the shops and child car seats are nowhere to be seen.

Housing in Madinah

Bism Allah wa as salaamu alaykum.

Location, location, location!

There are two sections of Madinah: inside the Haram area and outside. The area within the Haram is for Muslims only. No non-Muslims are allowed to live there. That is a big incentive for Muslims to live within the Haram boundaries. The area outside of the Haram tends to be further away from the big stores, malls, and supermarkets. It is also where you can get incredible deals on accommodation. However, what we learned is that it pays to ask around. Real estate agents may take you to nice places, but the SR500-1000 service fee is hefty. They do not secure the best deal for you either, as it isn't in their best interest. However, many buildings can be found by simply walking around and looking for empty air-conditioner holes and signs saying in Arabic, lil ajaar (for rent). In addition, once you ask around, people will inform you of all manner of apartments available in their area, which is usually the best way to find something nice, inexpensive, and avoid any service fee.

An example of prices and accommodation is this. The Aziziyah area, outside the Haram but close to Taibah University and the Islamic University of Madinah, is abounding with new construction. DH saw an apartment that was palatial with 6 bedrooms, 3 or 4 bathrooms, self contained maid's quarters, kitchen, a couple of living rooms, and high quality finishing for SR 25,000 per year. It was more rooms than we even knew what to do with, but was a serious consideration if we were to settle for a place outside the Haram. The location was the biggest drawback for us. For a large family however, who planned to get a vehicle quickly, it would be incredible. A two bedroom apartment in the same building cost just SR 16,000. For beautiful accommodation at low prices, this is a great area. It is peaceful, there are enough shops to get groceries, fresh bread, clothing, and household items, and it is less polluted.

Within the Haram, a two bedroom apartment which could be made into a three bedroom by converting one of the sitting rooms, was being offered for SR25,000 with everything to be bought – even the kitchen sink. However, spacious apartments between 2-4 bedroom are easy to find, and there is a choice around the SR 20,000 – 29,000 range that would suit most.

Compared to the UK, rooms and homes are bigger. Floors are tiled, so cleaning is easy. Utility costs are low and if you live in an apartment, then you won't have to pay a water bill.

Our Arrival and First Days

Bism Allah wa as salaamu alaykum.

The long haul flight from Dulles Airport to Jeddah was wonderful – comfortable, enjoyable, and relaxing. The confusion of Jeddah airport was the first taste of the disorganized chaos of “the system” here. Once through it all, we sat waiting for our flight to Madinah, knowing it was all nearly over. Of course, good things are always laced with those extra tests. Despite all the calls to the employer's staff, nobody was there to pick us up. A few more calls and a 20-30 minute wait and the man arrived, speaking no English, to take us to the temporary accommodation. He was driving a RAV4, which was quite interesting when considering we are a family of 6 with 16 pieces of luggage. I sat in the back with the four children, with luggage looming over our headrests. Needless to say, my arm was up straining to keep it from falling on the children's heads.

Several phone calls later, DH understood he should go out and catch a taxi to work in the morning. In the meantime, we made up makeshift beds with bare mattresses, pillows, and one blanket each. DH went out to get something to eat, 2 chickens, 2 big bags of tasty rice, arugula, onion, and chopped salad, for about US$ 9. Masha'Allah, that was dinner for two days.

The first day at work for DH was wonderful, and every day since has been a pleasure wa al hamdu l'Illah. Wonderful brothers, helpful support, and the unfolding of The Perfect Plan have all ensued. Our arrival in late October meant we enjoyed much milder temperatures and lovely, balmy evenings. Our timing meant we were given an offer of an apartment fully equipped in the most ideal location imaginable for just SR22,000 per year. A huge saving for us, and a beautiful home, for far less than if we'd found something within the housing budget and had to equip it ourselves. The funds we took with us were exactly enough to cover the upfront money needed before the payments were issued from the employer.

The next issue, the schools for the children, also was placed in front of us. A few minutes of online activity and a message from the Hijrah to Madinah Yahoo Group said that Al-Fusha Girls' School needed native English speakers to teach English curriculum ESL books. The school was what we wanted, teaching and speaking only fus-ha Arabic. I called and ended up with a deal that all the girls could attend the school and our son attend the boys school for the school allowance provided by the employer and I could work there teaching. That meant I would be there to see how the girls got on the first year and would see first hand how the teaching was. Subhaan Allah! How many thanks can we give to our Perfect Provider?

The Long Road to Madinah

Bism Allah wa as salaamu alaykum.

Where does one begin? The thrill of being offered a position at teaching in Madinah al Munawarrah? The long seeming wait until summer when the departure should take place?

Well, DH was offered a teaching position in March 2009 after being interviewed at the TESOL convention in Denver, Colorado. Money well spent and greatly rewarded, al hamdu l'Illah! We started planning what we would do leading up to our expected departure in August.

However, as time proceeded, nothing came through about visas or anything and we took it into our own hands to get our medicals finished by the end of June/early July. By August, we started getting correspondence asking a for information to prepare visas, but Ramadan hindered the process greatly.
After finally getting our visa letter and rushing down to the Saudi Embassy in Washington DC, we were shocked to be told that we were not allowed to go as a family, only my husband could travel. Fortunately, we thought about all the correspondence and DH called his employer to check. “No!” they said, “you are all supposed to come together.” This began a battle between one woman in the Saudi Embassy and all the applicants for family visas to Saudi universities.

The time for the University to open came and went. The time for classes to start came and went. The time for the children's school to start came and went. But, subhaan Allah! The commencement of classes was postponed because there were so many teachers facing problems and not yet in the Kingdom. The children's school was delayed two weeks, so they wouldn't miss as much as originally thought. The house was taking longer to get sorted out than we thought it would. All these things were blessings and signs of Allah's Perfect Plan.

It took four weeks, couriered letters to the Ambassador, Consul, and Cultural Affairs Mission and a great deal of patience and stress to finally get an edict that all families are allowed to travel with the employee and the backlog of rejected visa applications be dealt with. After over a month planning to leave within 5 days of receiving our visas, we received the call. Our visas were ready on Wednesday, October 14th and we made the bookings on Thursday October 15th for the tickets being paid for by the employer. Friday October 16th we made the booking for the two youngest girls and Fed-Ex delivered our passports and papers all stamped by the Saudi Embassy. We spent the next 48 hours in a state of sleepless frenzy, finalizing bags, clearing out the house, putting all the things to be stored together, and organizing final arrangements with friends. By Allah's Mercy, we made it to Dulles Airport on Sunday October 18th to catch our flight. We were finally going to Saudi Arabia.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Cost of Things

Bism Illah wa as salaamu alaykum.

We struggled to get any idea of the cost of day to day items and also household and electronic goods prior to coming to Madinah. Now, we have found a few websites for shops here that give a good idea of what is available and at what price.

Extra Electronics:
Like a Best Buy - large electronic store

Jarir Bookstore:

Sells everything from books, laptops, phones, and craft supplies.

Big hypermarket selling food, clothes, housewares, appliances, and electronic goods.

Big hypermarket selling food, clothes, housewares, appliances, and electronic goods.

These give a very good idea of general prices here and make it easier to make informed decisions about what to bring and what to buy here, as well as formulate a budget for food and household sundries. If you are not brand conscious and simply like nice clothes and matching sets, then clothes are very cheap here, mashaa'Allah. Cotton skirt sets for my daughters, which standardly consist of a long skirt, a t-shirt, sometimes a little matching bolero jacket, and handbag will cost around SAR 20-30, equivalent to $5.00 - $7.50 or UK pounds 4.00 - 6.00. There are lovely denim peasant skirts with beads and embroidery, all manner of designs, colors, etc. Boys' thobes range from SAR 15 to 70, depending on material.

What you need to get to Saudi Arabia/Madinah

Bism Illah wa as salaamu alaykum.

To live and work professionally in Saudi Arabia, the best chance of getting work is to aim for the teaching profession or nursing.

I don't have experience about nursing, but I do know that a Bachelors Degree in nursing is the best way to get a decent job. Bear in mind, however, that there are people from many countries that will come here with the same qualifications for lower salaries. Therefore, someone from the USA, UK, or Canada may struggle to find a decent paying position in nursing because qualified nurses from the Philippines, India, and similar countries will come for a much lower salary.

As for the teaching angle, at minimum, a Bachelors Degree in a given subject is needed. One of the biggest areas where jobs are most available is teaching English as a Second Language (ESL). There is such a big demand that not only do the universities hire directly, there are companies that hire teachers and them supply them on contract to the universities as well. To teach ESL at a university as a direct hire, at present, one needs a Bachelors Degree and a TEFL, TESOL, CELTA, or DELTA Certificate with at least one year teaching experience. The more longer the  teaching experience you have, the better your pay scale.

To get a position that is more secure and better paid, a Masters Degree and more experience is preferred. However, there is a good chance that the MA will have to be in ESL or Linguistics in the future to ensure you are retained.

Contract companies that hire people and then provide them to different universities and institutions often have lower requirements. They sometimes take people with less than a BA, as long as they have an Associates Degree and good TEFL experience. This is an option well worth exploring.

To teach a different subject in a university, one must have either a Masters or a Doctorate in their subject/field. It is easy to see what qualifications are required for each position as they are listed on the job vacancy notice.

To teach in Madinah, one needs to look at Taibah University. Simply go to the website, click on the job opportunities and see the large variety of jobs available. To teach in Jeddah, go to the King Abdul Aziz University website. Basically search for the university in the area you would like to live, and be flexible because if you get a job in Taif, it is only 45 minutes away from Makkah.

One cannot just come and visit and try to find a job. It is possible to job hunt while on an Umrah trip, but the procedure is such that you will be hired from your country of residence and all visas and travel protocol and procedures must be done from there through the Saudi Embassy. Your employer will be bringing you into the country to work.

Okay, that is the beginning of this subject. I hope to post some other blogs, which are very helpful for people trying to live and work in Saudi Arabia, inshaa'Allah.

Barak Allahu feek!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What's Fun in Saudi?

BismIllah wa as salaamu alaykum.

For some reason, when people think of Saudi Arabia, the concept of women in black niqabs not allowed to drive comes up. There is no association with freedom or fun. Well, let me burst those stereotypical bubbles with some realities about life in Saudi Arabia.

Just about every mall I've been in has an indoor amusement park, arcade, and food court inside. No, I don't mean a couple of rides you put a coin in, I mean full fledged carousels, bumper cars, monorails, rollercoasters, and the like. The one opposite us has an ice-skating rink as well. For SAR 20 (that's about $5.25) children can skate to their heart's content...and that includes the skate rental. Some have rock-climbing walls, others roller skating. There are also arcade games aplenty. Within that area are stands selling popcorn in a variety of flavours, nachos, and an assortment of other typical snack foods. Just next to the amusement area is the full food court. Of course, there are plenty of bathrooms, plenty of wudhu stations, and a beautiful prayer area - one for men and one for women. Family fun an every convenience at your fingertips.

Outdoor amusement parks are easily found and scattered around Madinah and all cities. They are usually open in the evenings, after Asr, and have all manner of rides and attractions. Some have parks with grassy areas, etc. beside them. There are water-themed parks and ones with just regular rides.

Istarahas are rentable villas/facilities that come with or without pools. The most common have two large, separate sitting rooms, a full kitchen including stove and refrigerator, and three or four bathrooms with showers. They will have at least one pool, and often a smaller one for young children. Some have grassy areas, swings, a trampoline, or similar. They vary in price, but we have rented one for SAR 500, which is around $125 for 12 hours. It had the standard two sitting rooms with big TVs, a large adult pool, a nice sized children's pool, a fully equipped kitchen with dishes, pots, pans, and a water cooler with a complimentary bottle of water for it, and nice grassy areas with trees so we could sit and eat outside. Another that was more expensive (SAR 800/US$ 200) had two separate sides, joinable by opening the gates between them. It was new, with very fancy sitting rooms, large screen tv's, a full-sized trampoline, a nice two-sided bench swing, a kiddie pool, a 5 foot deep adult pool, and plenty of outdoor patio area. There was a supply of clean, large area rugs to put down wherever we chose, as well as patio furniture.

We split the cost between four families and go every two or three weeks, which works out at just SAR 100-150 per family (US$ 25-40). It could be taken just for a family, but we prefer that the women take it during the day and the men take it for the evening. That way, everyone has a break and fun with friends. Of course, as families we rent istarahas whenever we like.

Then there is the beach. Well, there is no beach in Madinah, but there is Yanbu just 2.5 hours down the road, or Jeddah 4 hours away. Yanbu has a public beach with beautiful sand and a long, shallow area for wading in the Red Sea. The beach has playground areas every 200 yards, free shaded cabanas, masaajid every 500 yards, and amusement parks at one end. There are restaurants nearby, with a particularly good on selling fish freshly caught. One chooses the fish they want and then it is cleaned, seasoned, and fried to crispy perfection in a huge vat of hot oil. A variety of rices can be selected to accompany it, with condiments coming along as part of the package. A large fish to feed a family of 6, along with rice and condiments, comes to around SAR 85 (US$ 20).  Ice cream trucks drive along the beach every 5 minutes, along with coffee vendors, popcorn and other snacks. Around asr time, pony rides and carriage rides are available and four wheelers can be seen riding up and down the beach. There is also King Malik Fahad Park in Yanbu Sinaya, which has a man-made beach, a pond, boats, a beautiful green park and grassy areas, and a selection of fast food and restaurants nearby. There is a selection of resorts, lovely luxury hotels with their own private facilities and some with beach access, that can be stayed in for a vacation/weekend away.

The drive from Madina to Yanbu is stunning, with mountains of every color along the way, turning into smooth sand dunes about three quarter's along the way. One can see the foot prints of the people who climbed the dunes...something free for anyone who wants to take up the challenge and enjoy the view from up high. Others have climbed some of the lower mountains.

Jeddah beach/corniche has similar features, including a four wheeler/jet ski rental service, small kiosks selling beach related items, and some beach-side cafes.

Of course, everywhere is a potential eating out experience with family sections to accommodate niqaabis. These are private compartments or rooms with curtains, screens, or doors, so that the family can eat in privacy and we can lift our niqabs and eat comfortably.

These are just a few things we do for fun in Saudi Arabia. As we discover more, I will describe the experiences, inshaa'Allah. Truly we have the best of both worlds: recreation and Islam! Al hamdu l'Illahi Rabb il aal ameen!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Here we are!

BismIllah wa as salaamu alaykum wa Rahmat Allah wa Barakatuh.

We are a family of six who, by the Blessing and Mercy of Allah, moved to Madinah Munawwarah on October 19th, 2009. Here we are, 5 months later, finding our feet and just starting to get around a bit.

We struggled to find information on life here prior to coming. In fact, it was through a few blogs and some friends that we managed to get what limited information we had when we arrived. No question, it would have been a huge help and preparation if we had known more before coming. So, here it is...the blog on living in Madinah to assist anyone who is trying to find out more specific details. We had to find an apartment, we had to buy a vehicle, we had to seek out healthy foods, clothes, household items, etc. This has put us in a position to inform others of the reality of this blessed place.

If you have questions, please don't hesistate to ask and we will do our best to answer. I will say that we are not immigration specialists. We went through a messy procedure to get our visas and had to sweat and struggle at Jeddah airport to enter the country and transfer flights to get to Madinah. We do not know all the ins and outs of visit visas or how different companies do things, etc. However, if you want to know about housing, cost of living, what to expect, and other things pertaining to moving and living here, then ask away.