[This is part of the series: 10 Question On Living In Saudi Arabia]
Interview: Jennifer Bailey
Who are you? And when/why did you live in Saudi Arabia? For how long?
My name is Jennifer Janna Bailey. I lived in Saudi Arabia for two years, from Summer 1977 – Summer 1979. I was 5 – 7 years old when we were there.
What town/compound in Saudi Arabia did you live in? What was it like? Paint me a small picture.
I lived in Taif with my parents and older sister. We didn’t live on a compound but we went to school at what was then the Northrup Compound.
We lived in two different places during our two years. The first house was a large villa with a wall, a huge courtyard, and a unused, separate maids’ quarters. The staircase to the bedrooms was marble and had two landings. We had Saudi neighbors on one side and another Army family on the other side. (The Talberts were that family for most of that time. Jennifer and Janice were my older sister’s age, but I do remember us all playing together sometimes.) The Weber family lived there before us. I recall being told they had a lot of kids, so it went to being a house filled with 6 or 8 people to just four. In the back court yard, there was space for a vegetable garden and then up against the wall (and the mountain behind it), space for ornamental gardens. We moved because the owner of the villa wanted it back. I recall it was on a shady street with sidewalks. A prince’s family lived across the street from the Talberts’ and my sister and I played with two of the boys once or twice when we first arrived.
The second place was a much smaller villa that was split into two apartments. We lived on the first floor. I don’t remember who was on the second floor. This second place was less of a neighborhood than the old place. I remember the walls of each villa being separated by a little land. I remember the ruins of some sort of carnival ride across the street. There were no sidewalks and the road may not have been paved.
What are one or two typical scenes from Saudi Arabia that you never encounter any more (You can list more if you want.)?
I imagine the souq as we knew it in the 70s is long gone, and I don’t recall anything like it in the US in my lifetime.
What was available in Saudi Arabia, that you wish was available where you live now?
For twice your current salary, would you go live somewhere in Saudi Arabia with your family today? Why or why not?
I might. It would depend on where and what freedoms I would or would not have as a woman.
What do most people get wrong about Saudi Arabia?
That the weather is nothing but hot. True, it only rained twice that I recall and I still remember Jeddah’s oppressive humidity, but it was perfectly lovely in Taif.
What about Saudi Arabia would you most like to convey to other people that will never go there?
There is no other place like it.
What are two or three of your favorite memories of Saudi Arabia (Or more.)?
In the 78-79 Taif Academy Sundial yearbook, there’s a picture of a group of kids, boys and girls, huddled together, laughing about who knows what. I am one of those kids. We were from England and the Philippines and the US. We were in first grade, but there’s something about it has always reminded me of a bunch of high school kids laughing it up. Forty years later, I still wonder how we all turned out.
Mom bought me a dress in the souq during first grade. It was polyester and probably really gaudy even for the 70s – red with flowers and a pink, green, and white striped turtleneck top. The other girls wouldn’t play with me when they found out where it was from, but that didn’t faze me. It had the best skirt to twirl around! I loved that dress.
I was very aware that it wasn’t as easy to get groceries as in the States. When I was about 6, I remember taking a jar of mayonnaise out of the fridge and the bottom of the jar just sheared off without warning. I didn’t get in trouble, but I felt bad anyway, because I knew you couldn’t just go to the store and get another jar. (Our groceries were flown in from Riyadh or Jeddah for awhile.)
There is a certain light scent of rotting vegetables that reminds me of souq, in a good way. The call to prayer was my alarm clock at the first villa.
We had an orange tabby cat one of my parents found at the airport. We named her Saudia.
There was an 8-track player in our car. The only tape Dad and Mom kept in the car was Carole King’s Tapestry. I know it by heart and will always love it.
In 1977 or ’78, my family explored the Souk Okaz outside Taif one day when we came upon a Bedouin family. My Mom would talk to anyone, even if they didn’t speak the same language. She struck up a conversation through hand gestures and pointing with one of the older family members. The end result was being invited into the tent for chai. Mom gave the oldest woman in the family the little pocket mirror she had in her purse, and Dad was allowed to take a picture of us with some of the kids.
What do you not miss about Saudi Arabia?
Lack of women’s rights.
Anything else you would like to say that I missed? Oh, and from your time in Saudi, do you have a favorite airline? Why was it awesome?
There was an airline that gave kids Playmobil toys durning the flight. I think it was Lufthansa. It was awesome because I got a toy!