Some things that I thought I would miss about home while I am working in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia turned out to be not all that significant. The lack of alcohol doesn't bother me as much as I thought it might. Yes, being able to come home from work and have a beer is always a wonderful, almost magical, thing, but it isn't as necessary as I once believed. Pork products (not only bacon, but also the schnitzel that I make at least once a month) are a little bit harder to do without. Other things that I did not even consider to be important when I hopped on that airplane to leave the States seem to make me yearn to be back in my homeland more than I imagined. Super Bowl Sunday is one of those times.
I was in the Army for over twenty years, so this is not my first time out of the country. I had a good idea what it was going to be like to be separated from family, but every time I leave the States, different things bring my longings for home. This time, it's the Super Bowl.
After retiring from the Army, I discovered that the skill set I had developed during my time of service translated pretty well to a job working in Saudi Arabia helping their National Guard develop training programs. In fact, my skill set seemed to match so well, I did not even go through an interview process. Upon seeing my resume and application, I was offered a position contingent on being able to pass a physical and acquire a visa.
I had seen a company representative at job fairs on two different military posts and had assumed that multiple positions at the company would actually be a pretty good fit for me, but I did have some concerns. There were the obvious family concerns about living in a foreign land while leaving behind my wife, plus our grandchildren. The youngest had her first birthday about a week after I left. I also was not exactly sure that I wanted to expose myself to the Saudi culture, with its very strict adherence to Sharia laws.
There was also the concern about whether I really wanted to take a job helping the Saudi military. Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Usama bin Laden and was home of a majority of the 9-11 hijackers. Looking into it, the kingdom actually has been a pretty decent ally of the U.S. In fact, since being here, it has been Saudi Arabia getting disappointed with the actions of the U.S. in regards to Syria and Iran that have caused most of the diplomatic tensions between the two countries.
Obviously, I took the position, because I am here now. The company I work for has us all living on a single compound that is in many way similar to a military compound. We stay in a walled, limited access compound with our apartments and some recreational facilities inside. The compound is protected with company hired security and is watched by the Saudi Arabia National Guard. The company provides internet access, but limits daily data usage. Cable television is also available, though I have not brought a television. I get my entertainment through websites and movies from the DVD library. Also, thanks to Vonage, I can spend hours a day speaking with my wife back at home, thought the 8 hour time difference means our schedules don't mesh all that well.
Because I live on the compound, the culture shock aspect of the move has been greatly diminished. I have to commute every day through the world's worst traffic (the highway fatality numbers here are well over double, almost 21/2 times that of Texas, which has a similar population), but work with Americans at the office. Generally the only time I venture off the compound otherwise is to go grocery shopping two or three Saturdays a month.
The most frustrating thing about being over here has got to be the time zone difference. About thirty one hours from now, the Super Bowl will be kicking off. I will just be getting up and ready to go to work. Between the early hours we keep at work and the time zone difference, I will probably be on my morning commute for at least a quarter of the game. That's if I can find someplace to watch it online. I really don't care about who wins the game, though either way I want to see a Richard Sherman post game interview. But more than that, even if I were able to sit and watch the game, I would still be missing out on all the commercials.
I know, generally the commercials are a good time for a bathroom break, but this is the Super Bowl. The commercials have become a cultural phenomenon all their own now. Some of the most poignant and impressive uses of any visual medium will be on display for all to see. (You can agree that the Dodge commercial featuring the Paul Harvey "God created a farmer" voiceover and the Budweiser Clydesdale reunion commercial were both vastly more entertaining than Transformers 2 or any episode of Girls.) Except me, because whatever channel shows the Super Bowl over here will not be showing the American commercials.
And where am I supposed to catch the Puppy Bowl? Missing the Puppy Bowl is one of the true outrages of being overseas. Yes, most television events I can do without. The awards shows haven't interested me in twenty years, and I never much cared for basketball, so, for me, missing March Madness matters minimally. I seem to only take the World Series seriously when a Chicago team is playing (so, almost never.) I will be trying to follow the Olympics starting next week, and there are regular series that I can't keep up with now (when does The Walking Dead return?) But missing the Super Bowl and the Puppy Bowl is pretty bleak.
Other than Christmas and my and my wife's shared birthday, there is really no time of the year that I miss being in the States more than this weekend. Of course, I still have quite some time left over here. I know that St. Patrick's Day, my anniversary, and Independence Day are still on the horizon for me. I know that those days will make me long for the States again, but, like the Super Bowl, I wonder what other events will trigger my homesickness.