I started out asking expat ladies in Jeddah which things they miss from their home country, and which were unavailable in Jeddah. I expected I would get a long list of grocery items in response, but some of the more detailed answers surprised me a great deal. I was also pleasantly surprised by the number of responses I received, and even though I know this’ll make a long blog post, I’d like to include them all.
Pine nuts (chilgozas)
Among the edibles that people missed the most were cottage cheese (their own special local brand), falooda (a type of noodle in the form of a dessert eaten in Pakistan), chilghozay (roasted pine nuts) and ‘andaa shamee burger’ (burger filled with chicken and egg).
Clothing was another item whose absence is felt in Jeddah. In particular ‘lawn’ a very light, breezy material available in the Indian sub-continent and ready-made, quality shalwar qameez (long shirts and pants worn in South-East Asia). A recurring issue with regards to buying clothing here in Saudi Arabia is the absence of fitting rooms for ladies and the difficulty one faces in buying clothes without trying them on first resulting in much time and effort wasted when the ill-fitting clothes have to be returned.
Rehab, an expat from Egypt said she missed “getting out early in the morning on Fridays and Saturdays to the club in marvellous weather at temperatures of about 19°C”.
One of the more moving responses was from Naureen who wrote: “I miss the people-ness of back home, the feel of a house full of humans, peering eyes, helpful hands, encouraging and reprimanding voices. I miss the chaos and the clutter, the disorder, and the synergy that seems to hold it all together miraculously and running forever. I miss the presence of three generations under one roof and the sense of security, continuity and connectedness it brings. I miss unexpected visitors. I miss the frequency and mystery of doorbells. I miss the fact that my child feels eternally loved and at peace and doesn’t need to be ‘entertained’ artificially like he needs to here. I love the luxury of having nature close at hand, my front lawn, my back garden, Model Town Park. Grass, mud, rain in full force, puddle water. I miss the free phone calls to my sister and friends. I miss the feel of seasons, the ruthlessness of extremes. The scorching, unforgiving heat and the chill biting to the bone. I miss the ceremonial ‘baksa-unloading’ (unpacking of suitcases) sequence before each season.”
Understandably, ladies missed being able to drive for the sheer convenience of it, and walking openly in the streets without getting strange glances from strangers.
Mandy, a lady from Canada says, “I miss driving my car, going to the movies and trying on clothes in a store. Getting something home and finding it doesn’t fit or looks awful on is such a pain. Shops being open all day would also be nice. Apart from those things Jeddah has a pretty good variety of goods available. I do find it hard to get good tea here so I have people send it to me or bring it from South Africa, Canada or UK.”
Basant, kite-flying festivities
Qurratulain Sikander who originates from Lahore in Pakistan remembers, “the gol gappas from Liberty Market, Dahi Bhallay from Punjab University Bridge, and of course the Bhel Puri from Chatkhara!!! Sadly none have ever been brought here…and nothing here has been at par of that taste :(. I miss my freedom of owning and driving my own car/ second closet, which was my means of transport and my room outside the house. I miss the wedding season and the Basant (kite-flying) season. The celebrations, dressing up, food, hangama, dancing – nowhere else in the world is it the same!”
“I miss shops being open all day, driving somewhere to get something quickly, walking down streets looking in people’s front gardens and windows! seeing what girls are wearing out and about. BUT only missing it a little bit.” remarked A, a lady who recently moved to Jeddah.
Alina Farhan, who hails from Lahore, Pakistan pines, “I miss the way the air smells in Lahore, like old dried leaves being burnt, like the earth after a sudden downpour, like the car/ motorcycle/ noisy rickshaw exhaust fumes coupled with the motia (jasmine) garlands the little boys at the traffic lights are selling, like when you enter Y-Block Defence and you can smell Packages from miles away, or when you cross McDonalds and you can literally see apple pies and cappuccinos swimming in front of your eyes, like when I reach Ami’s place and the lawn has been watered, or when you enter the house, you know what’s cooking for lunch – chicken pulao (rice) and yellow daal (lentils) and chicken karahi. I miss the sights of Lahore Liberty and the crazy shopping, lawn prints, exhibitions helter skelter, greenery so beautiful it makes your heart sing, flowers during spring. Have you ever been to the flower exhibitions or Defence Club or LUMS during spring? It’s like flower heaven. And then social butterfly type Aunties going around in their Honda’s with sunglasses perched high up their foreheads, picture perfect make-up and clothes, wearing the latest Gul Ahmed, the tongas (horse carts) and the donkey carts on the same road as an Audi. M.M. Alam road’s cafe crazy generation. But above all else I miss my people. One can still get food here. You just need to go to Azizyah and you can get halwa poori and samosay and everything. There’s even a great place for gol gappay and paans but for people there is no substitute.”
Another lady, Amina, wrote the following in response to the things she missed the most in Jeddah: “playing in the rain, the ability to haggle on prices because you speak the same language, shopping because you have try-rooms and don’t have to change 75% of your purchases because you under-estimate your size all the time, and the ability to play and shout and giggle with your kids in a public place without people looking at you.”
A big thank you to all the lovely ladies who took out the time to answer the question posed and articulate their thoughts – you all know who you are!! And thank you to those of you who are regular readers of Jeddah Blog 🙂