A Blog from Amman, Jordan, Online Since 2004.

…then and now

What an odd feeling it is to be driven around the streets and highways of Riyadh after years from when I last lived there, and after a life spent mostly in those streets.

~ One ~
… from a route taken twice a day for most of my life
I wish I can stop by Starbucks Tahlia, only a few meters away from home, so that I can get a cold glass of icy Frappacino to wake me up before I get to school. It’s only 6:15. Why the hell do they start school so early? Why can’t it start at 8:00 like half the earth? Losers.
The road to Manarat is really long and quite arid. I always loved the part where we go over the bridge that overlooks the Village Planning Ministry thing- it looks like a palm tree forest from above. Most of the rest of the road is really boring. There’s that white building with a huge black sign that reminds me of the Kabaa, and there’s Al-Juraisi Group(?) that always makes me wonder if the Apple box I remember from when I was a kid was just real or just a made up memory.
I’m still sleepy. I hate the fact that they always make the math classes really early in the morning, I can’t get math for the life of me when with my full mental abilities let alone a half-asleep brain.

Hello street. You look so familiar, but do I really know you? You’re so perfectly formed, so beautifully done. The cars driving over you are so big and pretty, and the system is intricate. I think I would like to drive my baby blue 1300 CC Mitsubishi Lancer over your asphalt, but that’s not possible eh? I know these buildings so well, I used to count them, but I never noticed the signs, I never noticed the colors, I never noticed the plethora of classical revival and art noveu architecture. Not that I knew what those were then… How amazing it is how a building you’ve driven past almost every single day for 15 years looks so different when the knowledge is different.

~ Two ~
… from a favorite pastime
I know I look nervous and edgy, and I keep pulling up the scarf over my head and looking out for bearded men with their short white tobes. Mama keeps telling me to not worry, there are no Matwaa’, and if there are, all I need to do is start blabbering in English and they’ll go away. I’m still quite nervous. I think I have a fullfledged Mutawaa‘-phobia, but seriously, how the hell can anyone not when they love going into the whole “3areyaton-fasedaton-faseqaton” tirade. No matter… I love how shiny and bright everything is in the malls! I love the colors and the branding and the creativity. It’s so pretty all of it..

I check for Mutawaa’s again. My mother tells me to stop being panicky and to not put the scarf up. I don’t know how to deal with the scarf. I put it around my neck like I wear wool scarves in Amman’s cold winter; it’s not wool though, it’s soft, and it keeps slipping and falling off and I keep wrapping it around my neck again and again. Stay put. How do people deal with these things?
The mall is much smaller than I remember, although very, very shiny and beautifully designed. It’s all in the details…

~ Three ~
… yummy, yummy, in my tummy
I love this place cause it feels more “natural” than all the other places in town. The families are, as my mother would say, “min jama3etna”, which pretty much means that they’re Levantines- the women with their hair and faces uncovered, the men in their pants and tshirts, and the too-maye3-sounding accents flying around (comes when Levantine accents are a minority of “Eish” and “Shu” among a much coarser one). We have made it a habit to come to Fuddruckers every Friday for so many years now.

Fuddruckers is fantastic. I just came from Amman last night but I already feel like I need to be around people whose accents I understand. We sit at a table behind the stairs, and it’s ok, I don’t need to see people today, I’m going back home in a few days and all I need to do is go to Mecca Mall to see all the people I want to see. Interestingly this year, and this is something that was never around before, Saudi teenage females are not covering their faces like they used to, although the older women still do. I even saw a Saudi woman of around 17 whose hair isn’t even covered! I’ve never seen that before. Ever.

My trip to Riyadh was relaxing. I shopped so much and I even got to tan. I had Baskin Robbins and went to the 99th floor of Riyadh’s highest building to stare at Riyadh laid out flat beneath me under the glass.

The best part about the trip though was the quality time I got to spend with my mother and father, who spoiled me to death :)

My earliest memories in Riyadh start in a little apartment in Sleimaneyeh in the late 80’s and as far as today stands, end in the living room of a little studio apartment in a compound by the airport, discussing Pope Benedict with my amazingly wonderful parents (whose political opinions are quite different from my own). Love you two :)

hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh 451


On being an airhead


Compulsory Picture-Taking Sharefest


  1. this is one of ur best posts ever.. i love Kuwait the same way you love ksa in.. i mean, i grew up there.. and they still have stuff that we don’t have in amman

  2. Ziad D.

    The way your captured that photo with the glass and blurred photo of your parents is very touching. At first it doesn’t come out at you as a picture within a picture effect, but rather as a memory fished from one’s head. It is awesome, I think this rivals some of Sabri Hakim’s better work :). I wish I could home to visit. ~sigh
    Great to hear you had a pleasant time in Saudi Roba… :)

  3.’s really niceee… i liked it…i i ididnt want the lines to end :( but every thing has an end..keep the good work..say hi to ur bros..tell them Saud says hii ..hasans friend….and can i add this thing to a group that i run …i would like them to share this good writings

  4. Tim N.

    ‘min jama3etna’ – It’s such a reassuring and comforting message that makes you incredibly at ease with those you’re about to meet. And really the only reason why there’s so much sense of reassurance is because of the trust and credibility you have for the person who carried that message. I can still hear the whispers of my mother saying it.

    It appears from the small things you had to say, and the charming picture, that your parent’s story is one of those rare stories found in this day and age… Glad you saw them (in the atmosphere you’ve known them longest in), and I’m equally glad to have you back :)

  5. Well Roba, you managed to keep me away from work for some time… and almost get ‎fired :D‎

    I sometimes used to take a drive south and have a round in the area where I spent my ‎childhood and part of my teenage… just as you described, things are the same as they ‎were, but I saw everything from a different view and have the feeling that those things ‎had changed!‎

    As finally I got a “legal” access to Fudruckers families section, I now know what do you ‎mean ;)‎
    Well Roba, you managed to keep me away from work for some time… and almost get ‎fired :D‎

    I sometimes used to take a drive south and have a round in the area where I spent my ‎childhood and part of my teenage… just as you described, things are the same as they ‎were, but I saw everything from a different view and have the feeling that those things ‎had changed!‎

    As finally I got a “legal” access to Fudruckers families section, I now know what do you ‎mean ;)‎

  6. Habibty Roba …
    Welcome home .. I am glad that you had a good time and got the chance to remember and live all these nice things again ..

    You have a great writing style .. me loves so much :)

  7. sim

    oh’ve opened the flood gates and have allowed nostalgia to kick in..

    just as a side note: fuddruckers pancakes suck!

  8. zikrayat ayyam sa3eedeh la7zat b3eedeh 3al alb areebeh …

    welcome back Roobee :)

  9. A nice one Roba.. read it all.
    It brings back a lot of memories (the good ones).

  10. rami

    i luved it. i think ur blog is one of the best. 3anjad ishi birfa3-irras…

    u r really talented (kitabiyyan wa fotografiyyan). keep up the good work.

    p.s the “3areyaton-fasedaton-faseqaton” thingy is hilarious. allah yihdeehum ….lal-mutawwi3een ….lol

  11. Chapter thalatheh
    Section ithnain
    line thalatheh
    word 1
    Ghalta matba3iyyeh willa magsoodah??
    azonn binfa3 3al wijhain ..(tagreeban!)
    bass golt alfitt intibahh il jihatt il mas2ooleh..

  12. Abu Shreek, thanks for the heads up!

  13. mish bainatna…

  14. ana faroo7a al 7lwah, tikita tikita

    You know, this is exactly how I felt (save for the muttawa bit LOL) going back to Mclean, VA this summer. With me it was a bajillion times more dramatic though, the last time I’d seen the house and town I grew up in was about 6 or 7 years ago, so you can imagine just how nostalgic we all got. Memories of school, the embassy, “jama3tna” hehe, or as we liked to call them ” ta’3a6oo, feeh s3oodyeen”.

    I kid, I kid.

    Interestingly enough, though, most of the Saudis we ran into were ex-diplomats as well. Talk about nostalgia (and some very awkward situations, ps)

    And, I agree. Knowing what you know now, the way you look at everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING changes. As we recounted happenings and shared anecdotes, for example, I began to notice that the life I once considered “normal” was exceedingly spoiled and (get this) positively unreligious. Life in the embassy was like the the ultimate Saudi dream. You got your dose of saudiness sans the all too familiar wahabi bullcrap saudis in the motherland have to endure. And now that I see this, I feel I can slightly humanize or perhaps understand (humanize is too big a word) why most of the Saudis who’ve ever lived that life came out the way they did; nothing short of spoiled brats. It still amazes me how we didn’t, though. er.. I like to think we didn’t. I personally think it’s mama and her shibshiba :-D Anyway, love, I digress. Sorry.

    Seriously, I loved this post, very beautifully written, roobs. I still can’t believe I didn’t get to see you this time.

  15. Moey, thanks!

    Ziad, thanks a lot, that’s a great description of the picture :)

    Saud, haha, I will be publishing a group of photos of Hasan later. Ta7sheesh Hasan. Sure, you can do whatever you want.

    Tim, isn’t it? It’s quite amazing how much familiarity affects perceptions. It’s all in the details.. thanks :)

    Hani, hehe, sorry! How’s your wife dealing in Riyadh? Is she enjoying it?

    Khalidah, thanks babe :)

    Sim, I’ve never tried their pancakes! Do you still visit Riyadh?

    Bakka, that’s one hell of a rhyming sentence :P thanks )

    Ccee, thanks a lot :) You used to live in the Gulf?

    Rami, thanks. and hehe, the “3areyaton-fasedaton-faseqaton” sucks when you’re the one hearing the bullshit :P

    Faroo7a, did you go with your family or by yourself? It’s always nice to visit all these places you grew up in.. Interesting that I spent so much more time in Riyadh than you did :) Is that how you knew Azra? From VA?

  16. To be honest… she is having a very difficult time trying not to hate the city… or at least be ok with it!!!!

    Still waiting for the results!

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