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(March 22, 2001, Gazette)

It’s a small world, after all

By Susen Johnson

Abdullah al-GhamdiAbdullah al-Ghamdi

Abdullah al-Ghamdi is a continuing engineering education student taking an advanced diploma in environmental engineering and applied science. A native of Saudi Arabia, where the distinguishing geological characteristic is sand and the temperature this time of year hovers around the 30 degree celsius mark, Mr. al-Ghamdi and his family – wife Sabah and children Haifa (8), Asalah (6), Sara (4), and Mohammed (2) – moved to St. John’s last September.

“When we arrived at the hotel, they told us it was the last day of summer,” he said. He didn’t think they meant it that seriously.

A cell (histo) biologist working in the Saudi Ministry of Defense and Aviation medical services corps, Mr. al-Ghamdi is a native of Jeddah who works in Riyadh. “Riyadh’s a very beautiful city,” he said. “We just have two seasons: summer and spring. There is no cold like this.”

(L-R) Haifa, Sara, Asalah and Mohammed.
The very cold al-Ghamdi children (L-R) Haifa, Sara, Asalah and Mohammed.

Part of a group of Saudi professionals doing the CEE program to assist their employer in creating a new department in environmental engineering, Mr. al-Ghamdi had travelled widely throughout western Europe and the United States before coming to Canada last September. However, not unlike many native Newfoundlanders, he’s a little shocked at the winter here.

“I have never seen weather like this. It’s very difficult,” he said. “In the beginning, we were happy to see the snow for the first time. We had only seen it on tv before that, or in cartoons.”

Ironically, the al-Ghamdi children were disappointed at the lack of snow when they first arrived in the country, and kept asking their dad where it was. And now? “They hate it because it’s too much,” he laughed.

But the similarities don’t end there. Like most Newfoundlanders who move away, Mr. al-Ghamdi doesn’t hesitate to reply when asked what he and his family miss the most about Saudi. “Our relatives,” he said. The 32 year old has six sisters and a brother, and keeps in contact with his mom and dad by phone and e-mail.

Ms. al-Ghamdi comes from a large extended family, too, and might have felt the distance most acutely just two months ago when she gave birth to her fourth daughter, Remaa, at the Health Sciences Centre. However, despite being a stranger in a strange land, Ms. al-Ghamdi was pleased with her birth experience in St. John’s. “It was new for her, but she liked it,” her husband reported.

The al-Ghamdis’ school-age children attend Macdonald Drive Elementary School where, their dad says, they have made many friends. But they miss the more plentiful entertainment opportunities in Saudi Arabia, where malls are more than places of commerce — they’re events.

“In Riyadh, we have more than 50-70 malls,” Mr. al-Ghamdi explained. “There are lots of toylands.”

In response to this, and in a move that’s strikingly similar to that of most of their Newfoundland neighbours, also fed up with the winter, the family is planning a trip for the end of the semester – a trip to Disney World.

Despite the snow, Mr. al-Ghamdi says the family really likes what they’ve seen of the province so far, and particularly the small town atmosphere of St. John’s — which, compared to the 1.1 and 1.5 million people in Jeddah and Riyadh, must seem quite small indeed.

“We like it here,” he said. “The people here have been very nice, very kind to us.”

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