Saudi Arabia: American Bedu Responds to YOUR Query


Thank you everyone for the feedback on yesterday’s post with questions YOU’D like me to answer for you.  As I go through this transition time of adapting to new medical regimes and side effects, the posts on the blog may be more personal in nature as they are easier to respond and write about at the moment.  Today’s post will likely be historical for I am in a sentimental mood as I write on today’s Father Day.


The question’s I am responding to are:

“ When did you first go to a foreign country? Was it a life goal to serve overseas or just something you picked up later in life?  Do you recall what was most shocking to you when you had your first overseas assignments?  What took the most getting used to? Did you accidentally use your left hand when you should not have? Or other cultural no-nos that you can laugh about now?”

My father was the one who most influenced me in my desire to travel and see the world.  My Dad, a World War II veteran pilot, loved history and travel.  These two loves were also combined with the rare gift of storytelling.  Growing up as a young girl he would bundle up my mom, my four siblings and I into the big old family car and we’d take annual vacations traveling to 4 -6 states within a three week period.  During those travels we’d go to the historical places in those states and my Dad would make that American history come alive again before our eyes.  I remember staring out at an old rocky field one time in Pennsylvania and within minutes I am seeing, feeling, smelling and hearing the battle that took place there.  I could see the soldiers as they hid behind the craggy rocks with the fear on their face, sweat dripping down from their forehead.  That field came alive and I imagined myself as part of that battle during America’s Civil War.  I felt the same when we visited old plantation homes which were part of the Underground Railroad during the times when slaves were wanting to escape their Southern owners and make a new life for themselves in the freedom of the North.


  By the time I was 12 years old I had seen most of the United States to have included spending a summer in Fairbanks, Alaska.  I went salmon fishing, pooled for gold and learned how to play cribbage.  Of course a regular trip with the family was to Titusville, Pennsylvania, just minutes from our family home.  This was where oil had been first discovered.  My Dad so enjoyed sharing Titusville with my late husband, Abdullah!  Perhaps Titusville was the first hint in my life that I would not grow up and remain in Espyville all my life!


My Dad stirred my interest to see the world.  The more I saw of America and then Canada the more I wanted to see of the world itself.  I began to follow and take a keen interest in world events, geography and culture.  I married a man who was in the US Air Force and that spread my wings further over the United States but not yet outside its boundaries.


Now ironically as I was growing up and entering my late teens my peers and I would talk about what we wanted to do or what we wanted to be.  They were always more focused than me with ideals of professions in place or at least knowing what they wanted to study in school.  Me, I could not decide.  There were so many choices!  Of course my Dad told me I was always going to be a Princess for him and for a special man all my life.  With those high expectations I better choose the right path and direction!  My friends kept pressing me for an answer though.  They said I needed to at least get some ideas what I would do until I became a Princess!  One day it hit me, I’d work for the CIA!  That’s what I told my friends and they all laughed. They just could not envision someone from Espyville going off to be some kind of a CIA agent.  Actually, neither did I but it sounded interesting and different.


Moving fast forward my life eventually ended up in the Washington DC area.  By this time I was in my early 20’s.  I’d been invited to a cocktail party.  I’ve never been shy and enjoyed meeting new friends at the party.  I noticed there was an active conversation near the swimming pool so I sauntered over to hear what was capturing this group’s attention.  All the focus was on a woman and she was speaking so eloquently and positively about her employer.  She said words that caught my rapt attention – travel, promotion, challenge, training, education….I crept closer to the group.  When there was a break I held out my hand and introduced myself to the woman.  I complimented her on how refreshing it was to hear such positive remarks of one’s employer and then without meeting a beat, asked her where she worked.  It sounded like my kind of place.


To my surprise, she was a recruiter for the CIA.  We kept in touch and about 13 months later in 1983 I became one of the CIA’s newest hires.  The career was everything she had promised and more.  My first international trip working as a CIA operative was to Geneva, Switzerland.  Working for the CIA a whole new world opened up to me with travel, intrigue, politics, specialized training, experiences and exposures I would never receive anywhere else.  My trip to Switzerland was the first of thousands of trips to various places around the globe.  I was exposed to foods I’d never seen or heard of, ways of life that were far different from the lakeside life of Espyville.  I was not only seeing history in the places to which I traveled, many times I helped formulate history.  However I always remembered my Dad’s lessons to seek and learn and explore.  He taught me to appreciate the differing cultures and not to be judgemental.


While I met a goal that I never consciously thought I’d achieve by working for the CIA, I could not talk about it.  The reason is that I was an under-cover operative meaning that although my ‘true and real employer’ was the CIA I could not disclose that fact for security reasons.  Instead I would tell someone I worked for the Defense Department or State Department or whatever the directives were at the time.  I worked for the CIA until September 2002 when I resigned to begin a new chapter with the love of my life.  That was also when I was brought out from working under cover and while I do not reveal details of the work I performed, I must now disclose the identity of my true employer over the many years.


I guess I am not easy to shock so I do not recall any shocking experiences just having many different experiences.  My greatest faux pas was probably when I told a senior foreign government official I was expensive when I thought I was saying hot in response to a query in the local dialect!  Thankfully though that faux pas created a bond between us of friendship that has lasted over the years.  I’m left handed so I was always using my left hand.  I would speak up and candidly state I did not have coordination of my right hand and did not want to offend.  In closing on reflecting on funny experiences I have to say receiving a camel as a gift was funny and also among the most special!

I have found over all the years that people are truly people underneath whatever dressings or masks that may be in place.  If we drop the pretenses and just be our natural selves, special bonds and friendships are formed.


I hope this post has answered the questions which were asked and probably provided many more answers you never expected to receive!


53 Responses

  1. awesome! I really enjoyed this. Thanks for answering some of our questions! Your dad seemed like a great guy! 🙂

  2. Were you still married to your Flyboy when you joined the CIA? Did you work here in the States or did you go overseas? How old was your son when you went to work for the CIA? Did you take your son with you when you were ‘deployed’?

  3. AB,
    It sounds like you’ve had a very fulfilling, interesting life so far! 🙂 If you don’t mind me asking, what are some of your favorite places out of all the ones you’ve seen? Are there any must-visit places among that you’d recommend to others? Which ones stand out in your mind?

    And also, are there any “life lessons” that you could share with the rest of us? Any words of wisdom or things you think others should be reminded not to take for granted?

  4. hey!! i love reading ur blog! i read it every day it sooo fascinating! i want to work for the CIA!! what shall i do?

  5. Wow, I’ve read your blog for ages and didn’t know you were in the CIA. Is this the first time you’re posting that? As the CIA is rather a large mystery to most Americans, I find it humanizing and cheering to find out you are an alum. You are very respectful of other cultures. I appreciate being represented by someone like that. Thanks for your service.

  6. Wow the CIA, never expected that but it does seem to agree with your nature! 🙂 It sounds as if you truly enjoyed your experiences. I really love NPR; a few months back they had an interview with a married couple that had worked for the CIA for many years. They spoke briefly about their adventures and I believe they even wrote a book. During the discussion I believe the interviewer asked them if they missed the excitement their CIA posts had given them. They did concur that part of them missed the “buzz” but were happy to fulfill that need now in their lives with “extreme sports”! (If you missed that interview maybe you can search for it on their website.)

    One day, your health willing, you will experience adventures again no matter where you work or where you are in the world. Love your blog, take good care of yourself.

  7. Carol,
    I enjoyed this posting and hearing about your noble job with the Agency. As Karen stated, it is very humanzing. I suspect a family rememeber was empoyed there as does everyone else, and it makes me feel 100% better to hear and know someone first hand–it is very healing for me!

  8. Thank you all for the comments and feedback!

    My son was not aware of his mom’s unusual employment for a long time. There was no need for him to know. Many of my family members did not know either; in fact many did not know until after I had left the Agency. My Dad of course knew and was proud.

    The first half of my career I was in the DC area but would travel around the world. Eventually I deployed (once my son was older) and was out in the field 10 consecutive years until my resignation.

    “what are some of your favorite places out of all the ones you’ve seen? Are there any must-visit places among that you’d recommend to others? Which ones stand out in your mind?”

    For me, I fell instantly in love with the “Third World.” I do include Italy in the 3rd world comment although it does depend on which part of Italy one is in. Thailand was captivating. Pakistan is riveting. Nepal is so majestic. I loved being in the heart of nature. My travels took me to the capital cities and sometimes to the most remote of areas. I loved Turkey and visited places in Turkey where there was not yet electricity or running water. What I did find was that the more I saw of the world and its peoples, the more I just wanted to keep seeing.

    “And also, are there any “life lessons” that you could share with the rest of us? Any words of wisdom or things you think others should be reminded not to take for granted?”

    This is a question that I will likely need to work on as a separate post. None of us should ever take life for granted. I think it is good for everyone to broaden their perspectives; push the envelope and occasionally go outside of the comfort zone. Embrace and enjoy life.

  9. Carol…very interesting topics discussed so far. I was wondering if Abdullah was married when you met him…did he remain married even after you married him and did you meet his other wife(wives)? And how does your relationship with his family stand today with you in the states all this time? That would be an interesting post Im sure.

  10. Abdullah had been married before and no; I had never met his first wife. However throughout our marriage he remained a respecting relationship with his children’s mother and her family since they had their history together too. I found it similar to divorced couples in the States where children are involved. Just because a couple divorces it does not mean contact is ceased and more so when there are children. Parents remain parents without being partners.

    I am not in touch as often with Abdullah’s family due to distance and time but we do remain in touch. There will always be the connection of family and love. Family always was of highest importance to both Abdullah and myself.

  11. hmmmm, you didn’t mention whether or not Abdullah was actually divorced from his first wife. Was he?

  12. I love traveling and seeing different countries meeting people and eating different foods!

  13. Bedu,


    Yes that is exactly what I would expect from you, a CIA operative. LOVE IT.
    PLEASE keep up these personal writings, they r so much fun and shocking!

    @Lynn- as far as Abdulla being divorced or not from his first wife is something that I dont think Carol should answer because marriage and divorce amongst Muslims is just soooooooooooo different than non muslims. Or should I say easterners and westerners. Marriages in that part of the world are usually arranged and therefore love or being in love may or may not ever come. So the concept is just totally different and hard to understand if you havnt experienced it.

    But I will say this (and btw I dont know myself if they were divorced) many couples stay ‘married’ and yet are not couples at all for the sake of the children. Abdulla was obviously a very respectable man and I wouldnt be surprised if he still supported his first wife financially even after he fell in love with Carol., and never filed divorce papers nor said I divorce you.

    Now with that being said, can anyone really imagine Carol being in a third wheel type of relationship? I dont think so by what we know of her.

    So Carol even though most of us or all of us will never know Abdullas first wife I just think it would be kind of nice and respectable not to mention her status because people just dont understand. Knowing Arab women she may feel disgraced or hurt whatever the situation was and she is our sister in Islam…

    Just my 2 cents and obviously this is your blog you are free to do as you like.

  14. Thank you for sharing this story it was amazing and made me smile 🙂
    Im still trying to get over my shock of you being a CIA agent though!
    When did you tell Abdullah?Did any of his family know?
    How many countries have you traveled to? Which country or place would you travel to next I’d you could only choose one 🙂

  15. Sorry IF you could

  16. Wow! How interesting and so very different from the lives most of us live. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  17. ‘Marriages in that part of the world are usually arranged and therefore love or being in love may or may not ever come. So the concept is just totally different and hard to understand if you havnt experienced it.’

    Jessica, yes, I understand, there have been post on here about the different kinds of marriages in the Muslim world.

    ‘many couples stay ‘married’ and yet are not couples at all for the sake of the children’

    Yep, that happens all over the world, with all kinds of people doesn’t it?

    ‘Knowing Arab women she may feel disgraced or hurt whatever the situation was and she is our sister in Islam…’

    If that were the case wouldn’t that mean that a sister in Islam wouldn’t want to put a fellow ‘sister’ in that position? But, this post isn’t about polygamy we’ve already been around about that topic on the other posts. LOL

  18. Im thinking some people who frequent this blog havent always paid attention to the actual content…why is it surprising for Carol to say she was in the CIA when it has been mentioned before here. 🙂

    And I ditto Lynn’s last comment.

  19. I agree with Jessica that issues pertaining to intimate family need to remain private. There are doors of Saudi Arabia which must remain closed.

    I have traveled to more than 100 countries. Among my favorites are Turkey, Czech Republic, Pakistan, Costa Rica and Greece. I highly recommend travel through Eastern Europe.

    Since I am limited in my activities right now because of treatment I’m actually in the process of trying to organize my crates of photos. I need to get them all identified and marked with captions before I forget!

    One thing I liked to do during my travels around the world was to have a picture of myself taken in a phone booth. There are so many different kinds of public phone booths around the world and I found these photos made a fun collage of my many journeys.

  20. @ Carol,
    Phone booths…I love the classic British ones. I think the phone booths from the U.K. can and shoulde be a collectors item.
    Likewise, Turkey I think wasone my favorite posting overseas and I hope to return soon. ( A place were East meats West) Greece, I love Greek food, it is my favorite!
    Different etiquites around the world. Recently, in South East Asia, I ate from a banana leaf instead of plate. Upon finshing a meal one is supposed to fold the leaf inwards, turning onw outwards is sign of unhappiness with the meal. I turned it outwards and everyone ask if I was unhappy. No, the meal was great—I felt so embarassed and apologized!!!!

  21. Sometimes by not answering questions we are actually answering them. To me Carol’s reply is very clear, so we should let it be. But one always wonders why?

  22. ‘But one always wonders why?’

    Especially considering that the topic of the different marriages have been brought up before. Is it really fair to talk about and ask others to share when we are not willing to share ourselves? Perhaps it is just a case of you can take the girl out of the CIA but you can’t take the CIA (love of intrigue) out of the girl? LOL

  23. I bet that phone booth collage is cool! You can’t really find phone booths around here anymore. Do you think it is the same everywhere now that there are so many cell phones?

  24. Wow, a CIA agent! It must have been a very interesting job. Is it really like the movies make it out to be?

  25. AB,
    I find it interesting, but not altogether surprising based on what I’ve heard, that you put Italy in with “3rd world” countries. I’ve heard that Turkey is an amazing country to visit. I also do find it interesting that some of your family wasn’t aware of your position until after the fact, but I guess that makes sense.

    Working for the government does sound like a good way to travel the world while gaining experience that one may never get a chance to have. However, I imagine those experiences can be both good and bad? I can see how working for the CIA must have been really tempting for you.

  26. “Is it really fair to talk about and ask others to share when we are not willing to share ourselves?”

    AB only asks for willing participants. She doesn’t pressure anyone to share things they aren’t comfortable with. One of the great things about having your own blog is that you can share or withhold personal information in spite of the commenters request to tell all.

    AB has shared so much personal information with us already it is only natural that we want to learn more about her; however, I can definitely respect her wishes to keep certain areas of her life out of the realm of public scrutiny.

  27. But can CIA people fall in love? How do you trust someone from a foreign country in that situation? Don’t you have to be on guard against that? Did all of your coworkers worry? Sorry, if my questions are naive and I’ve consumed way too many movies.

  28. Having a relationship while working abroad as a CIA operative is a fine balancing act with many checks and balances. Just imagine that there is little privacy in the sense that interactions and development of a relationship must be known and stated. Anyone working in a sensitive position has to be careful and cognizant not to put themselves in a position of compromise or fear of blackmail.

    Working for the CIA had some “Alias” moments but most of the time it was a satisfying feeling of completion and accomplishment. Much of what is achieved will not make the light of day so egotism will not fit in with a CIA career.

    A career with the CIA gave so many great opportunities outside of what I viewed as the perks of the job (travel and experiences). The demands and responsibilities require working well under pressure, quick thinking, strategic thinking, ability to write and express oneself… The job requires the ability to be a team player and also to work independently too. You have to work and make an investment in yourself which ensures reading on the issues you follow, asking questions, training…always know your subject matter. Working for the CIA is not a game even though shows like Alias may make it seem that way. While each action is carefully calculated for an end result it should never be forgotten that a real live human being putting his or her life on the line may very well be facilitating to make things happen. YOU are responsible that that person, their security and their safety.

    I got to see the world with the CIA although a lot of the travel was by myself. I took opportunities wherever I could to take time off while in unique places to continue the habits learned with Dad – see the historical and interesting places of different countries.

    I think it is fair to say I was known as a bit of a maverick and a trailblazer. I had risen quickly through the “ranks” and had some unique accomplishments. I knew I had a good future with the CIA but when I met Abdullah a piece of me was awakened as if it had been asleep for years. My decision to choose love over career surprised many and there were quite a few who were open in their displeasure over my decision. Given I was leaving an elite career to start a new life with a foreign official did not leave any doors opened behind me. However one thing the CIA breeds into its operatives is confidence and I did not doubt my decision.

  29. Thank you so much for sharing with all of us. I do not personally know you but I find that you are a wonderful role model!

    You share so much with us and I am so very thankful for it. We will probably never meet, but I want you to know how much strength you have given me in your example!

  30. @Rosemary – ‘AB only asks for willing participants. She doesn’t pressure anyone to share things they aren’t comfortable with’

    I’m not talking about ‘interviews’ here. I’m talking about the blog itself and comments supposedly being about ‘exchanging ideas and perspectives in order to better understand the world and the people that we share it with’.

  31. @Jessica,
    Marriage and divorce are not as different in the East as in the West- as you believe. The vast majority of women in both places do not like sharing their man. The kids usually never accept it- and in Saudi, taking a second wife is one of the main reasons for divorce. You letter seemed to indicate that in the East it isn’t that big a deal. The women I know that this has happened to- feel their husband has betrayed and cheated on them. I don’t think it is nice to spread the false idea it is sooooooo different.

  32. AB,
    Are you trying to recruit people to the CIA? 😛 j/k j/k

    I really wish I could have gotten the opportunity to meet Abdullah. I imagine that seeing the two of you together was really something special to witness as you both loved each other quite a lot.

  33. I like to encourage individuals to have their goals and their dreams and to keep their mind open.

    @Sandy – I agree with your comment. One of my worse moments in Saudi was being with a woman when she learned her husband had taken another wife. There were no warnings or notices….all of a sudden a marriage announcement. She was told she had to accept his choices or she would lose her children, her home. Those of us who were with her all took turns holding her and crying with her. This was a Saudi woman and her husband chose to take another Saudi wife. What still is hard to fathom is how the man can take multiple wives and truly keep his families separate. The culture helps support a man to have multiple wives with the separation and segregation.

  34. @ Sandy

    Dont know how u got the idea that I implied that second marriage was no big deal. The reality is it happens alot! And because it is a big deal, I suggested maybe not mentioning Abdullas first wives story it is HER story and Carol and Abdullas story is a totally different one.
    I clearly indicated that the way of arriving at marriage (i.e. arranged marriage) is so different, and noone can argue that. The majority (probably 90% or higher) of marriages are arranged in Saudi.
    Not spreading any false ideas.

  35. I just reread, and to me, it seemed you also indicated that the concept of marriage itself was different-making a second marriage not that big a deal. I find marriage here very much the same as in the west. Anyway, thank you for clarifying what you meant. Actually I think the percentage of multiple wives is quite low overall- so I’m not sure I’d say “alot” but I’d certainly say too much- since every single one I’m aware of led to misery and unhappiness- especially of children.

  36. Sandy,

    Im sorry I dont seem to be able to please you with anything I say. I agree with you 100% it brings nothing but pain. Again I stressed in my second post that it IS a big deal. So you are not reading my words as they are written in clear English, perhaps the mentioning itself triggers some difficult emotions in you, it does with me. I am a Muslim and have seen many women go through it and it is perhaps comparable to death of a loved one, as far as emotional pain.
    Sometimes the concept of marriage is different and sometimes love doesnt come in arranged marriages, that is just reality. Even if a woman is not particulary in love with her husband it is still such a blow because it is usually assumed something is wrong with her, and therefore her reputation is tarnished that way. So to some that is more painful or humiliating than the fact that she is now “sharing” her man.
    Again I am a Muslim and now putting some real thought into it, I dont understand how it is allowed for a man to just go out and marry and surprise his first wife/ family!
    I do understand when there wasnt a very intimate relationship within the marriage in the first place and yet the couple have their reasons for staying legally married. Of course a woman is entitled to divorce in Islam if she cant continue in the marriage and if it was me thats just where Id be!

    Have I made myself clear?

  37. @Jessica,
    I think you misread my response. I only meant on rereading your intitial post that it still came across differently than your explanation. And then I thanked you for clarifying what you meant. I only disagree that maybe it doesn’t happen alot.

    Personally, I don’t think it is religiously valid for the most part these second marriages. It was pretty clearly connected to war widows/orphans- so it’s not really something that happens often these days.

  38. What a wonderful post. You are a true role model. I love hearing about your travels.

    What is the hardest language you ever tried to learn or speak some of (that you did not end up mastering), if any?

  39. Jessica, I got from your initial post that according to the muslim women divorce is different, second marriages are different, and according to you discussing them to outsiders is not a good idea as ”they” won’t understand the true ”muslim” feeling about marriage and divorce.
    I also had the impression that you implied that Muslim women think and feel differently when their husband needs a chance of booty.

    So if that was not at all what you meant you need to rethink your choice of words.

  40. I believe Arabic or Chinese are among the most difficult of languages. I’d say Chinese more so than Arabic since the language is made up of so many characters.

  41. […] Posts Saudi Arabia: American Bedu Responds to YOUR QuerySaudi Arabia: Graduations Form Closer Ties in the US-Saudi RelationshipSaudi Arabia: Removing the […]

  42. @ Sandy,
    didnt misread your response, was just extremely tired and irritated remembering what 2 of my good friends have gone through, Im sorry and thank you for thanking me, lol.

    lol why is it that I need to rethink my words because you got that impression? Your always looking for a can of worms to rip open (or so I got the impression in which case should I ask you to rethink just about every post you have ever put up on this blog?)

    I dont have to rethink my choice of words for any reason, least of all because YOU thought I meant something. I mean this with no harm, but take it any way you want, which I GET THE IMPRESSION is your usual habit!

  43. Jessica, Sandy and Aafke aren’t the only ones that got that impression from your words so, yeah, you might want to rethink your choice of words. That is, IF you want people to understand what you are really trying to say. Just sayin’….

    Don’t you ever wonder why Allah and his messenger would allow something that causes so much pain that even someone who isn’t involved in a plural marriage would get so irritated just remembering what friends had gone through with it?

  44. Yeah i’ll pass, I dont want to rethink my words, thanks for the suggestion though.

  45. @Lynn, I don’t know where the thread went- but on the driving thread where I got all snarky with you- I want you to know that I really did think you started it- but now realize you really think I started it. Anyway, I have no beef with you at all, and I’ll try to remember to clarify things in the future before I react. So I’m sorry for my role in it, and I hope you won’t bear a grudge.

  46. No worries Sandy, I try not to hold grudges but it can be difficult at times as I’m such an angry, bitter woman. 😉

  47. It’s easy to get misunderstandings on line. That’s why you have to choose your words carefully, and be ready to chill.

    Of course if your writing says something completely opposite of what you actually mean you might want to enroll in a ”Clear Writing Class” before commenting online.

  48. @Lynn – That’s what I said. NOW you admit it??? 😛 But truthfully- while I will go off on people in person sometimes-I clarify things first. I didn’t in this case, and I should have, it would have saved a lot of time and trouble. Actually you strike me (not unlike myself) as simply having a low BS threshold.

    @Aafke. Absolutely! If I find a significant portion of my audience has heard something I didn’t mean to say, time for a redo.

  49. Sandy, it’s just that I never realized it before and I have you to thank for that. Here I had been thinking I was just a bitch but now I understand WHY. 🙂 But you are absolutely correct that I have a low BS threshold. I like people to be clear on what they are trying to say so that we don’t have to guess at the ‘real’ meaning behind their words.

  50. lots of mind readers on here

  51. Jessica, that a good one, especially as you apparently expect people to be able to read your first comment and then using our 6th sense filter out the actual meaning of it, even if that was completely different from what was written.

    Come on! Either admit that your writings skills were completely off on that comment, or admit that what you wrote was grossly unrealistic, but stop being so aggressive about it.

  52. @Lynn, I’m glad I was so helpful 0:)
    Seriously though- to be clear -I am sorry I said that.

  53. I didn’t have any problems understanding what Jessica was trying to say at the beginning, but maybe that’s just me…

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