Confessions of a Saudi Diva Part 2: My hometown – Al Khobar

al khobarI started this series after five years and seven months of being saudi and living in Dubai.  As such, I’m constantly being asked about my country and culture. I hope that you will find these posts insightful and interesting and possibly funny at times!

The good news is, once I’m done writing all of my life story and the history of the background that I come from, the next time someone asks me why I’m not wearing an Abayah, I can simply hand them a business card and ask them to check my blog 🙂

Al Khobar

Yesterday’s post was centered around the topic of the national dress code for Saudi women, and why I’m not observing it while living in Dubai. I was glad to receive both positive and negative feedback on that post. It’s always good to hear from readers, as it means that my thoughts and views are attracting attention and creating some sort of debate.

Today’s post is a brief summary about my hometown – Al Khobar. That’s the name of the city where I grew up in Saudi Arabia.

In the Eastern Province

Al Khobar is a large city located in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. This makes me a big city girl, and I’m proud to say that. Al Khobar is only an hour’s drive from Bahrain. There’s a causeway (bridge) connecting the two countries (Saudi Arabia and Bahrain). The city is home to Saudi Aramco – the world’s largest crude oil company and supplier. You can read more about Saudi Aramco here.

Saudi Aramco has its own residential compound, which is too big to be called a compound really, It’s more like a city within a city. There are roads, villas, parks, recreation facilities, supermarkets, restaurants, horse stables, and schools. The company’s camp is located in the same city where I used to live. The roads and landscaping are similar to a U.S. city. So despite the fact that we’re still inside Saudi Arabia, the residential camp (where the main company’s offices are located as well) looks and feels like a mini America 🙂 Read more about Saudi Aramco Camp.

The company employs a huge number of both highly qualified Saudi nationals and Western Expats. I used to work there for a few years as a contractor employee, but I’ll leave that for another post 🙂

Interesting Facts

Since there are a lot of Western expats from all parts of the world working in Saudi Aramco, we (the original residents of Al Khobar) are lucky to be exposed to and to mix with other nationalities on a regular basis. Of course, most of those expats are living in the camp with their families. That’s why, inside the camp, we have all sorts of cool facilities. Also, the rules that are observed outside the camp aren’t applicable inside it 🙂

Inside Saudi Aramco’s camp, women can drive. Yes, believe it or not! they are allowed to drive their cars and it can come in handy. As the camp is huge and more like a city as I explained earlier.

Another rule that doesn’t apply to women inside the camp is the Abayah rule! Women don’t have to wear the Abayah inside the residential compound (unless they choose to themselves). This rule applies to both Saudi nationals and Westerners. I will explain more about this in a future post.

Local Theater

One thing that many people find surprising is that us – the residents of Al Khobar and Dhahran – are lucky enough to experience a movie theater! There’s a movie theater with a projector screen inside the camp! In my teen years, we used to head there for a cool movie night out. Whether it was a romantic comedy starring Drew Barrymore or the latest Angelina Jolie flick, Aramco cinema has it playing in its cozy and homely movie theater! I can never forget the scene of little Saudi boys dancing to a movie soundtrack when it came up in the middle of the movie. Yes, they made the movie experience quite an interesting one 🙂

So while the rest of the country’s population (from all the big cities) would flock to neighboring Bahrain on weekends, the residents of Al Khobar and Dhahran had the luxury and great privilege of watching the latest blockbusters in their own local theater! Of course I must explain that access to the camp and its cinema is restricted to the residents, company employees and their families. Getting into the camp or using the facilities isn’t open to everyone, and has its strict policies. That’s another future post topic 🙂

So you can be your own boss if you’re a woman living inside Saudi Aramco’s camp. You can drive, dress to your heart’s desire, and even go to the movies with your mates or partner. I think the movies showing at Saudi Aramco’s cinema weren’t even censored. The ones playing in Bahrain cinemas were highly censored though. That, I can remember clearly as movies become too short to watch…

A Cosmopolitan City

What I find interesting is the fact that I have been exposed to more nationalities and Westerners throughout my life than most of my Western and expat friends in Dubai. I think that’s mainly because of Saudi Aramco and the city of Al Khobar. It truly is a cosmopolitan city. We have big malls, coffee shop chains, high street stores, International restaurant outlets, and many other franchise concepts. The only difference is that while I might be sipping on a Starbucks coffee in my black Abayah and head scarf, while having a chat with my cousin in my hometown, I would be doing the same thing in Dubai while writing a blog post on my laptop and wearing a pair of denim jeans and a T-shirt 🙂

I’ll be writing more things about my background and the lifestyle in my hometown in Saudi in future posts…

I will end the post by saying that while I’m a ’90s girl who still enjoys that era’s music, I was mostly listening to Western music while living in Saudi. Be it urban, R&B and hip-hop on the local radio station (we had a radio station for the city). I don’t recall any presenters though. It was mainly streaming music from American radio stations.

American pop-rock, soul, funk, jazz, or even country music, were some of the music genres that I listened to on the local radio. Not forgetting Radio Bahrain – which played a lot of UK garage – that still brings back great memories to me.

I’ll end the post here. I would like to add that I will be taking your questions in the future. Once I’ve written a few posts and I run out of topics 🙂

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