Starry-Eyed Pragmatist

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I’m Tami Stroud. I’m a stay-at-home mother to six children, ages 14-5. Our family is an American, nomadic, sometimes expat, family originally from Atlanta, Georgia, USA, currently living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. My family and I are Christian. I love chatting about natural learning, natural birth, and natural fertility. I occasionally work as a doula and childbirth educator, but most recently I’m focused on helping women learn to accurately and effectively chart their fertility as their fertility awareness instructor. My husband is the primary income earner for our family. He works in education and is currently the Head of Libraries for a private school group in Riyadh.

My husband and I have come to prioritize living in places that are unique to our native experiences growing up. We want a worldschooling education for our children. Our family started down a worldschooling path shortly after we began homeschooling in 2010 with our first international move to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). We moved from the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, USA to Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, UAE. So far we have traveled back to our Georgia “home base” every summer, but we also like to try to go on a unique travel experience at least once a year outside of where we currently live. Since 2010 our family has grown from four to six children, we have lived in three unique locations, visited 13 US states, and visited 16 countries.

We began to purposefully take a more unschooling approach to our worldschooling path in 2012, during our time in the UAE. We lived in Al Ain, UAE for three years before moving to the remote, Cup’ik Native Alaskan village of Chevak, Alaska, USA. After two years in Chevak we moved Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Now, after three years in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, we are moving on to our next adventure. This time in Tokyo, Japan!

Where abouts in the world are you right now?

We live in the city of Riyadh in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).

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What do you love about this place?

The hospitality is phenomenal. With our family of 8, we are accustomed, as Americans, to people shying away from inviting our whole family over for dinner. It feels overwhelming to lots of people. But in Saudi Arabia, and in the Middle East, in general, it is very common for us to get to chatting with new people and they just invite us (all of us) to dinner, or to join their picnic, etc. It’s a wonderfully hospitable culture.

It’s also very safe. In day to day life I don’t really have any fears of people stealing my stuff or harm coming to my children. It’s a very honest and family oriented place to live.

 

Anything you don’t like?!

Obviously, I don’t like the forced gender segregation restrictions, restrictions on what women can wear, restrictions on women driving, etc. All the usual things that people complain about Saudi Arabia. However, although I do wish there was more freedom of choice, in practical, everyday life, I don’t find the restrictions that burdensome. For example, I don’t really enjoy driving, so the fact that my husband has to drive everywhere is not really a burden to me. It’s been more a burden to him really.

People are often curious about how I have to cover up as a woman in Saudi Arabia. I usually do not wear a head cover (hijab) and I’ve never worn a face cover (niqab). However, I do wear an abaya, which is like a big black robe over my regular clothes, when going out. I actually love wearing my abaya. It is a wonderfully efficient piece of clothing. I never have to worry if I am dressed to go out, because I just throw on my abaya and I am immediately dressed appropriately for the world to see. I have absolutely gone out wearing nothing but pajamas under my abaya! If I thought I could get away with wearing an abaya in the rest of the world without constantly having the conversation about “Why are you dressed that way?!,” I would so wear my abaya all over the world. For me, it’s been a great piece of clothing.

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What are the three most challenging aspects that stand out?

  1. As a woman, even though I don’t like driving, it is a pain to have to schedule a ride every time I want to go somewhere, not to mention trying to do this during the day with six kids when my husband is at work. Also, when you are organizing an event with other women you have to be mindful that they also have to arrange rides as well. So that can mean expecting women to arrive late or leaving early to accommodate the constraints of their ride situation.

  2. Store closing during pray times can also be frustrating. In Saudi Arabia, every store is closed down during the prayer and there are five prayer times during the day. So, you always have to be very mindful of the prayer schedule when you are out running errands or you can end up sitting in a parking lot for 20 minutes while you are waiting for the prayer to be over and the shop to open back up.

  3. Since gender segregation is so common, I have learned to be very upfront when inviting people over for dinner at our home that we do not segregate meals. Men and women will be sitting together for meals in our home. If we are invited to someone else’s home, then we happily comply if they usually gender segrate meals. However, I “warn” people of how we do things in our home, so that they can choose not to have dinner at our home if it is too uncomfortable for them.

  4. Here’s an extra bonus challenge about life in remote, “bush” Alaska, which is very different from life on the road system in Alaska and very, very different from suburban life in the rest of the US:

Groceries are very expensive in remote Alaska. The biggest part of our budget while living in Chevak, Alaska was devoted to groceries. So I became very accustomed to meal planning for a year at a time and figuring out what groceries I can bring back with me after flying back from visiting Georgia, USA for the summer, or even just a short visit to the more “normal” city of Anchorage, Alaska.

One year we went to Aldi’s, which is a discount grocery store in Atlanta, Georgia and bought a whole bunch of canned goods, which we packed in big plastic 18 gallon totes as our airplane luggage. We had to keep all the airplane luggage under 50 lbs each. When our flight arrived for our layover in Anchorage, Alaska we got all of our boxed luggage and repacked it. This time we packed the canned goods into 75 lbs boxes. This is because we were now taking the canned goods to the post office to be mailed from Anchorage, Alaska to Chevak, Alaska, which is significantly cheaper than mailing from Atlanta, Georgia to Chevak, Alaska. So, we repacked all the boxes in the area next to the luggage weighing scale with all six of our kids in the airport.

Then we had to go shopping for perishable goods in Anchorage. This meant I had to calculate how much frozen meat, cheese, etc. I would need for a year. In Anchorage they have butchers you can go to and tell them you want 50 lbs of meat, in 1 lb blocks, frozen for the airplane. This means that they will box up the meat to a quantity that is just under 50 lbs while frozen that you can take on the airplane. Yes, you read that right: so that you can take on the airplane. In Alaska, when flying out to the bush they always ask you if your box needs to be kept frozen or refrigerated on the flight and they have stickers right on the check-in desk to properly label your bag (or plastic tote, as the case may be). I ended up buying items like sugar and flour off of Amazon with an Amazon Prime account (free shipping, but not 2 day shipping, more like 2 weeks), because it was cheaper to do it that way as opposed to the weight cost of carrying a year’s worth of flour and sugar in our luggage. Of all the places I’ve lived and visited, remote, “bush” Alaska has definitely been the most foreign to me!



 

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How’s the food ?!

The food is great! Saudi Arabia has fantastic food for very inexpensive prices. We love biryani. We also often eat fūl and curry, which are also commonly found locally.   

 

Any funny, interesting or daunting experiences along the way?

We were on this long roadtrip in Saudi Arabia. My husband was driving us from the Farasan Islands in southern Saudi Arabia back to Riyadh, which is in central Saudi Arabia. It was very late at night and we decided to take a newer road that had recently been built and was showing up on one of our GPS maps, but not the other. My husband is very diligent about getting gas at almost every opportunity on these long roadtrips, because oftentimes it’s a situation where you don’t know when the next time you will be able to get gas. Well, despite our best efforts we still found ourselves very low on gas in the middle of nowhere Saudi Arabia. We tried to find a number of different gas stations on the various GPS devices we were using, but we kept finding places that were either out of business, closed, or we weren’t sure which of the two it was. Finally, we decided to just find a place to park the car and wait until morning to figure things out. So, we decided to park the car at a gas station that was on this dirt lot that we thought might just be closed and not out of business, but honestly it was really hard to tell. There was a mosque nearby with a light. So, we thought maybe we’ll catch some people going to prayer in the morning. I remember the gas station also had an ice machine that was plugged in and humming along. So, we thought that was a good sign that the gas station is not out of business. Well, we had been parked there for maybe 20 minutes when this Arab guy in traditional Saudi dress drives by us in his pickup truck off into the desert on some desert road. Then we see his truck lights off in the distance turn around and head back towards us. And we’re like “Is this a good thing? I don’t know!” All sorts of awful, stereotypes were running through my head in that moment. The guy parks near us and my husband gets out of our car to meet him. The guy barely speaks English and we don’t really speak any Arabic. I watched my husband and this guy trying to communicate through mostly a series of gesticlar motions. Finally, somehow my husband manages to communicate that we’re out of gas and need to find a gas station.  At first the guy suggests that my husband ride with him to the gas station, but my husband thankfully manages to communicate that he doesn’t want to leave his wife and six children in the middle of nowhere. So, the man gestures for us to follow him in our car, and we hope for the best that we have just enough gas to reach the gas station we assume we are being led to. Amazingly, we make it to a gas station that is a very brightly lit oasis among a dark desert surrounding, but still nowhere to be found on the GPS. My husband thanks the local man in the pickup truck and he drives off, presumably back to whatever he was on his way to do before helping us. This experience is overwhelmingly indicative of the kinds of experiences we have had in the Middle East. People have been so kind and helpful to us in our time here.


 

Can you give us 3 tips for making it work?

  1. Relax. Things will go awry and mess up your plans. That’s ok, just go with it.

  2. What you think is amazing or awesome about a place will probably not be your child’s most treasured memory of a place. Let your children enjoy a place on their own terms and in their own way.

  3. Many kids do not appreciate long museum visits with lots of historical background. My husband and I love that stuff, but over the years we have become very mindful to incorporate more natural sites or sites that invite very open exploring by children into our travel agendas. Everyone is happier when we do this.


 

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Do you have any financial tips for travelling?

Look for how locals save money: Where do they shop? What do they eat? What kind of housing do similar size families have?

If you’re an expat relocating for a job, then what benefits can your employer include such as flights back to your home country, housing, utilities, visa costs, moving allowance, furniture allowance, etc.? Is this benefit paid in cash, through the school buying it for you, or through reimbursement? It’s important to understand and negotiate those details, because those kinds of benefits can make a big deal in how much take-home pay you actually get to keep and how you budget your money.

If you make money from an internet business, for example, I currently teach online fertility awareness classes, then be sure to research what kind of internet connection and the cost of that connection you can expect to get in your new location. I know it’s tempting to think that cheap high speed internet is everywhere, and it is in most locations, but it would have been extremely expensive (and glitchy) for me to do online video conferencing with the internet packages available to us when we lived in the remote village of Chevak, Alaska, USA. So, wherever you go, you want to make sure the infrastructure is in place for you to maintain your various streams of income.

Homeschooling also saves us a lot of money. Lots of places do not offer a free public education for expats. We prefer homeschooling regardless, but if we had to pay tuition for a private school education for six children, it would get very expensive very quick. Home education is a much more efficient use of our funds.

 

What do you miss, if anything?

There’s always trade-offs no matter where you live. I’ve found there are things I love and miss from every place I’ve lived, as well as things I’m happy to say goodbye to when moving on. In general, living in the desert, I do miss the lush greenery typically found in Georgia, USA, where our family is originally from. I miss meeting with a congregation of Christians (beyond my immediate family) to worship with every Sunday. I miss goofy things like eating at Chick-fil-a, shopping at Target, and ordering things off of Amazon. I certainly miss getting to connect with friends and family back home more often.  

 

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What advice would you give to other Mamas planning on travelling with their tribe?

When you’re out and about exploring a new area take it slow. Don’t try to pack in seeing everything all at once. Things like going to the grocery store, going to the park, visiting a natural sight out in the country, or just driving around are all really cool experiences in a new country. When everything is so new, small experiences have a big impact. It’s really easy to overwhelm the senses and just push yourself towards culture shock in a new location. It’s important to take it slowly and be mindful of keeping familiar comforts with you along the way.

 

Where can we find you?!

My website is Starry-Eyed Pragmatist. I talk about my life, my thoughts, and my passions, which is mostly large family life, a bit of travel and expat life, homeschooling/unschooling/worldschooling, and fertility awareness. If you’re interested in learning about fertility awareness, then you can find more information about the classes I offer here .

I have various social media accounts, but I’m most active on Instagram and Facebook. If you’d like to see travel photos, follow me on Instagram  and if you’d also like to see links around the web that I find interesting, then follow me on Facebook !