A Mini-Christmas Story in Saudi Arabia


One morning last week I set out on my own, clad in my black abaya and a black scarf wrapped around my head. That’s how you dress when you’re going to a Saudi neighborhood that doesn’t see many foreigners.

In the spirit of the Christmas story, I was going to be taxed—my name to be counted, my number to be known by a distant oligarchy that owns my mobile phone. They had sent out a decree by SMS earlier this month that all customers must register their phones, or their lines would be cut off.
So glad I packed Wikki Stix in our luggage!

(I’m sure, however, that what they really meant is that so many people have cell phones now that it’s getting hard to place faces with the cell calls they tap, so everybody needs to have their photo ID on file so they can look at your picture while they’re listening to your conversations.)

The walk was a bit awkward since baby Tess came along in the stroller. You never know whether your path will be stroller-friendly in Jeddah—sidewalks are unpredictable. Sometimes they’re too narrow for a stroller, sometimes they’re strewn with rocks or sand, or they’re blocked by decorative trees planted right in the middle of the walkway. They’re more like general guidelines than actual sidewalks. This is the kind of place where you might wish you could trade in your stroller for a humble donkey . . . or something.

After walking for a while, I started to feel oddly grateful for the black scarf over my head. It turns out that black head coverings actually do a good job of shading you from the sun! Things were going my way. I was rolling in karma all morning long:

·         Traffic was light enough that I was able to cross two busy streets (twice each!) at only minimal personal risk to myself and my child.
·         The telecoms store was open when I arrived.
·         There was no line to wait in.
·         Although the computer system was not working, the attendant said my husband was his personal friend, so he could photocopy my ID and SIM card and input the info as soon as the system was running again.
·         At a nearby stationery store, I found six rolls of green tape with which to create a Christmas tree on our living room wall (since we are sans decorations until our main shipment of household goods arrives . . . someday).

I was in such a good mood when I went home, that I turned on some Christmas tunes (thanks, Mormon Channel, for playing them 24/7!) and taped up our Christmas tree. And guess what? The kids thought the tree looked magical—like, in the “Oh my heck, it’s Christmas time!” sense of “magical.” My star was shining that day.