Every expat kid who grew up in Saudi Arabia developed an uncanny ability to turn anything into entertainment – from mere necessity
29 September 2016| Last updated on 3 September 2017
Perhaps nowadays it's a bit different – with the proliferation of smart phones, the Internet, and games like Pokemon-Go (although I believe that app is not available in Saudi) – but when I was making waves in the country we had to be resourceful and creative.
Here are six things expat kids do in Saudi Arabia – from every generation.
Although most of our parents wouldn’t let us drive off of the compounds (and as you may know, women legally can’t), that didn’t stop us from enjoying the 1950s tradition of cruising.
In fact, some of us drove much earlier than our home countries would’ve allowed (I cruised around in my dad’s car, famously known as ‘the red blur,’ when I was just 13). Every kid who grew up in Saudi has fond memories of packing 6-7 people in a 5-person car to ‘cruise’ around the compounds; with the windows down, and the radio blaring some Edward Maya (or whatever kids listen to nowadays).
These drives include stops to the compound commissary, friend’s houses and popular hangout spots, like the soccer pitch.
Go to the pool
Pools are a staple of any kid’s life in Saudi Arabia. They are a necessary, manufactured oasis in one of the biggest deserts on earth, and a welcomed relief after a hot day at school. Almost every compound had a pool – although some were better than others. They were the focal point for birthday parties, sleepovers, summer vacations, and Wednesday afternoons.
Play sports at school
Most international schools have a sports program, and hold tournaments around the country for middle and high school students. If you’re an American however, don’t get too excited about your kid potentially playing American football in Saudi. Soccer and cricket are actually two of the biggest sports in international schools. Some compounds, specifically ARAMCO-Dhahran also had swim teams and little leagues for baseball as well. The ARAMCO-Dhahran team actually made it to the Little League World Series in 2008 - 2010!
Go to the mall
For most of the year, hanging out outside is unbearable due to the heat therefore the mall is a prime location. There are generally two types of malls in Saudi – the “family” mall where families, including single women and kids, can go and the “singles” mall where single men are allowed to go (as well as everyone else). Usually, young women like myself preferred to go to the “family” mall in order to avoid the “muttawa,” and enjoy a bit more “freedom” of movement.
SEE ALSO: 8 fun facts about Saudi Arabia
Every mall outing was in fact a bit of a logistical nightmare, as we’d have to not only organize rides, but also figure out if we were dressed appropriately, and if we would get kicked out. As teenagers though, we were used to challenging authority and the system, so it was no big deal.
Technically movie theaters do not exist in Saudi, but some compounds have their own “mini” theaters they use to show “new” movies (usually months after its initial release). The kids, who lived on the east coast near Bahrain, would beg their parents to take them across the causeway into the tiny island nation to watch movies there. If that didn't work, they could also have movie nights at someone’s house – usually enjoying a pirated copy of a recent Hollywood blockbuster bought downtown in the souk. Ignoring, of course, the brief interruption every now and again by a shadow walking in front of the camera.
Make (stupid) videos
My friends were the kings of this pastime, and the tradition still carries on today. Explaining this wouldn’t be as good as actually seeing it, so here’s an example.
About the Author
Victoria is a trained historian and political scientist, as well as an aspiring writer and photographer. She holds a masters degree in Global Affairs from the University of Toronto, and currently works as a Content Coordinator with MaRS Discovery District. As a third-culture-kid who grew up in Saudi Arabia, she hopes to use her academic background to educate people about the world through creative means. Her blog Safar, features the stories of TCKs and expats, as well as commentary on travel, politics and culture.