Saudi Arabia: But You’re Educated and Worldly…yet You Went to Saudi Voluntarily?

I received a query recently which made me smile and then decide that instead of answering my friend’s question directly, I’d repost and answer it on the blog.

Her words were…”I cannot understand for a single moment how an educated, worldly woman like you lived in Saudi voluntarily??? Truly. Can you explain that?”

I guess to give American Bedu readers a glimpse of me and my personality, before I ever went to Saudi Arabia I had either lived or traveled to a number of other countries first.  Among these countries was Pakistan.  I lived in Pakistan two different times.  The first time was from 1998 – 2001 and the second was from 2005 to 2006.  Each time I loved Pakistan and all of its hidden beauties, treasures and people.  Pakistan was also where I met the Saudi man who captured my heart forever.

I have found it easy to adapt to new places and cultures.  I try to maintain a positive outlook and see the best of what a place has to offer.  Wherever I have lived I have maximized what I love about a place and minimize what I dislike.  I think with my philosophy I can truly live anywhere and be content.

I knew when I accepted my husband’s proposal of marriage it would mean at some point living in his home country of Saudi Arabia.  That was not a frightening or depressing thought to me at all.  To begin with, I was eager to see where my husband had come from and what had made him into the wonderful man I knew.  I wanted to meet his extended family.  I wanted to experience his cultures and customs as he had experienced mine.

Of course my husband had a lot to do with my easy adaptation to Saudi Arabia.  He never placed any restrictions upon me and encouraged me to explore and learn about life in Saudi Arabia.

Sure…the Kingdom would not be for everyone.  For some, it could be very difficult if not impossible to adapt.  In my case though, I think having lived in other places of the world with unusual customs, it was easy for me to adjust to life in Saudi.

I’ve always enjoyed meeting people and being exposed to new customs, cultures and traditions.  I’ve always loved camels and deserts.  (smile)

I had an active life in Saudi Arabia with my husband, his family and our many friends comprised of both Saudis and expats.  I was blessed to be shown some of the best hospitality and had many many good and unique times.  It was easy for Saudi Arabia to become home.

I will acknowledge that I was in a good position in Saudi Arabia with a good life.  I felt I had the best of both worlds where I could easily cross between the traditional Saudi family life and that of the expatriate community.

It was in Saudi Arabia where I learned the true meaning of sisterhood.  I realized what I had missed in having friendships with women.  Yet as an expat married to a Saudi we also had mixed entertaining too.  My life in Saudi Arabia was as well balanced as when I had lived elsewhere.

As an educated expat I received many professional opportunities in Saudi Arabia that probably would not have come as easily in other countries.

Of course I missed my family a lot.  But at the same time, I was with the man I loved in his home land and he was so proud to share his country with me.  How could I not fall in love with the best of his country, too?

We had our retirement dreams of spending equal time between our two countries.  Yes, my husband also viewed the United States as his second home.  However, life can throw those curve balls and our dreams did not come true as we had planned with my husband taken early from this life on earth.  However I continue to have a warm love for his homeland, his country and my other adopted home, Saudi Arabia.


19 Responses

  1. Home is where you’re happy. My wife, a native born US citizen, who has never traveled outside of the US in her life quite loved Qatar.
    I had retired from the military and took a job as a contractor on US bases, the majority of which was as a information security professional.
    While I was deployed to Qatar in the above capacity, it was as an unaccompanied tour of one year (we always extended year after year).
    So, I had my wife over on an extended visit of three years. 😉
    OK, the company and I had a gentleman’s agreement, where she was my “guest” on my one dime.
    She loved it there, indeed, she loved it there more than in the US, as we with a few gray hairs are respected abroad, whereas in the US, we’re denigrated for our experience and age.
    She LOVED the kind and generous people. People from many, many nations, even the day workers there were welcome as guests (and considering their pay, we frequently gave food to them, with no expectation of reciprocation. I explained to them, I’ve been down and in bad financial conditions, so I appreciated consideration from those who were better off than I, so it was my turn to pass it along).
    Western clothing was overall tolerated quite well in Qatar, an abaya was not required for women to wear.
    Did my wife wear an abaya? Yes, indeed, we have two fine dress ones and some nice, embroidered ones as well. Not because it was required, but as a gesture of respect AND it was cooler to wear rather immodest attire beneath to remain tolerably cool AND respectful of my hosts, for indeed, I and my wife WERE guests in their nation, respect is the hallmark of a good guest.
    It’s called hospitality, something my Sicilian roots taught me well. Indeed, many Sicilian customs hold their roots in Arabic culture, as I learned in my studies of Sicily.
    My wife did not wear anything to cover her hair, save during sandstorms. It wasn’t required there.
    But, our simple gesture of respect was frequently reciprocated by local businesses in “best prices” and even, quite frequently, “family prices”.
    What that meant was, we paid a LOT less than other expats, even when we were making the purchase at the same time.
    Our rule is simple, when visiting a different nation or even meeting a stranger: Respect due a human is given as a right, disrespect is earned by deeds and one should regard a misdeed in the light that one would be wishing if the situation were reversed. After all, we’ve ALL had bad days!

    As for the environment of Qatar… Well, I arrived on 1-August, right after wearing body armor in 110 degree heat for months. It wasn’t bad, just a LOT muggy (it turns out, the last half of July through most of August is humid as a steam room). The winters, they go down to 50 at night, which IS cold for the region. But, the winters are short.
    In the spring through summer, the easiest way to explain it is this: Think of walking out into the breeze from a hair drier. It’s that temperature and wind.
    On the plus side, if one is merely walking around, one doesn’t feel great discomfort, as the breeze instantly evaporates one’s perspiration.
    On the negative side, go inside and you’re instantly drenched, as one continues perspiring for a bit, as the body adjusts to the new environment. BUT, that is educational, as one THEN realizes how much water is being lost by the body and camels we are not!
    So, I didn’t go ANYWHERE without at least a quart of water as a minimum!
    In early spring and fall, NEVER go out and leave your windows open! PERIOD. Unless you enjoy cleaning dust and sand from the room with the empty windows and probably the entire house!

    During our stay in Qatar, our closest friends were a Saudi family and an Iranian family. Our favorite discussions, when relaxing: Religion and politics. 😉
    No kidding, that last was serious. But, never in an adversarial way, in a comparitive way.
    We rather “adopted” the Saudi man, as he was in his early 20’s and had just married. As he was far from home, we advised him well in family matters and things at work (he worked with me on base, as his mother is a US citizen, so he wasn’t considered a foreign national by US military labor requirements).
    When his parents visited from Saudi, we were adopted by their family in return.
    We would consider visiting the Kingdom IF women could drive, but even money, she’d refuse to drive there anyway. It was the concept involved, more than anything, as she could drive in Qatar, but totally refused to drive on the junk yard derby that are called roads there.
    In Qatar, the leading cause of death is traffic accidents. In THAT area, I had an advantage, as I had been given an, erm, “offensive” driving course by the military.

  2. Wxrd1…wow cool storey..thanks for sharing.
    AB…amazing story i love how you mentioned “I think with my philosophy I can truly live anywhere and be content.”
    This is something special..not many have that quality to be able to make any environment a happy one where ever they go. Many people complain about all the negatives and constantly dwell on those things and then wonder why they are so unhappy where they are. Half of the time moving to a new country is basically changing your mind set. The country won’t change for you so change the way you think and the experience could be a whole lots more enjoyable for you and everyone around you.

  3. Mindset is always a plus. However lets face it, so is a certain amount of freedom. That freedom was provided for AB not because of the Saudi Government but because of her education, prior position, a terrific husband, with access to money and expat facilities.

    I think it might have been a different story without those items. It is definitely a different story if the husband is against his wife leaving the house or having any activities beyond his immediate family.

    So, I am just inclined to say that AB was fortunate enough to have had a position with the US government that afforded her more than local women or women who might have married in less than influential circles and then she later married a Saudi who also had influence.

    I personnally have a difficult time faulting women who want to have autonomy over their person and the basic human right of equality.

    This right over their person and equality should not be deemed a western privilege but instead it should be a human right.

  4. bigstick1, I completely agree. That said, abuse of religion does occur in many nations, to include the US.
    Yes, the US, where several states have forbidden “marital aids” as obscene, based purely upon Christian fundamentalists views that are far from being documented as fact. As an example, a vibrator causes promiscuity and prostitution. There are no facts to support that opinion and plenty to support the converse view.
    Women could not own property when my mother was married, it wasn’t until the 1960’s that she could legally own property. I remember THAT clearly, as she insisted my wife’s name appear on my property deed and she explained why she wanted it.
    Women could not drive in many, many states until living memory.
    So, the US is currently a bit ahead of Saudi, in sociological terms.
    So, we’d condemn others for not growing at our own growth rate and ignore our incredible crime rate and a percentage of population in prison that is only rivaled by totalitarian nations?!
    Indeed, while I was growing up, the, “Heh, women drivers” was commonplace. That made sense, due to the rather recent ability of women to vote, in social terms. After those who used such terms were rapidly voted out of office, it was no longer politically correct to say such things.
    What REALLY steams my clams (I’m being FAR more polite than normal, due to respect for the host of the site), is when I’ve heard US physicians mention female hysterical complaint, again, within my half century of life and in regards to my wife. THAT nonsense was victorian in nature and beyond the pale of scientific! Yet, it’s been said twice in the past quarter century in my presence, upon which I terminated our relationship with the antique science of the practitioner in favor of one who DOES have a scientific view of medicine.
    My mother had ovarian cysts, but was denied a hysterectomy because the only hospital in the local area was Catholic and refused to perform such surgeries, even for cancer, as it was “against God’s will” in sterilizing a woman. That she’d die soon was irrelevant. It was only when ALL federal backing was removed that they complied with US code.

    Meanwhile, let’s consider Islam, even though I do not adhere to that faith, I HAVE studied it, to understand a culture and people I interacted with.
    Aisha, the wife of their prophet, who some hate mongers in the US accuse him of pedophilia, due to the custom of arrainging a marriage of, at the time, minor children, but could NOT be consummated until the women of the husband’s family AND the women of the wife’s family stated clearly she was of age, which is indeed, the age of consent in Kentucky today.
    SHE had, at the time, unheard of freedoms. She spoke with mostly women, due to the culture, but DID on occasion, speak with men not of her family. In Saudi today, that would be unlawful, but Hadith has proved it correct, so Saudi law and current practices are an innovation in faith, which is ALSO forbidden in Islam (innovation in matters of faith).
    And THAT is an argument I’ve used with Iranians, to their chagrin, as I would respond to the objectionable with, “What else could one expect in matters of innovation of faith from the sons of Ali.”
    It left them with things to consider.
    For in truth, Shia v Sunni is Roman Catholic v Protestant in nature. With tons of extra spices added.

  5. Her not able to understand is very right and as far as Pakistan, go NOW and you will see or may not able be to see at all , both are failed state real hell on earth , the centre of Terrorism , where only sex, violence , corruption ,murder and terror rules .

  6. @wzrd1
    very nice comment! it makes a world of difference to have had some kind of interaction with what or who of the topic you are writing about.

  7. @wzrd1

    Much respect!

  8. @Wzrd1

    Thank you for your wonderful comments that still leaves us hope that there still exists tolerance and understanding AND respect for other people, different culture and different faiths. You are a remarkable man, Mashallah.

    @ Carol

    Your story and whenever you mention your late husband, I could feel your love for him and his homeland. You are an amazing woman Mashallah and you brought tears to my eyes, yet again 🙂

  9. @carol – a LOT of people have asked me th exact same question . Why i – an educated,professional would willingly subject myself to saudi. Like you i did it because i wanted F to have a chance to live close to his parents and homeland. we didn’t stay for long but we enjoyed the time there. I felt very bad for the women who lived under restrictions and i fully agree that i was fine because my husband was very open and didnt set any limits on me. I worked and had a car and driver at my disposal and freedom to do as i pleased.

    If women from elsewhere are moving there, I’d say take a look at your partner and decide, if he restricts you then your life is hell with law on his side. so it totally depends on the relationship .

    My field raised a few eyebrows.. women in urology had yet to catch up there 🙂

  10. I love your attitude, Carol!

  11. And a quote here from Alice Walker …
    I think we have to own the fears that we have of each other, and then, in some practical way, some daily way, figure out how to see people differently than the way we were brought up to.

    Carol, it’s always nice to read your stories. People can always adapt if they open their minds and hearts.

    Wzrd1, I like how you compare issues in the USA to KSA. The latest statistics posted on International Women’s Day about the most progressive and best countries for women puts the USA way, way down on the list.

  12. @Wzrd – thank you for sharing your experience and views. My niece has lived in Qatar for 10 years now and just loves it. I enjoyed my visits there too.

    Really, when it comes down to basics, it truly is about attitude. Attitude can make the difference between adapting or not. Attitude can make the difference between tolerance or not. Attitude can make the difference in whether we communicate well or not.

  13. People who travel do so because they want to engage with the world. Traveling is good for the soul. Only the most open-minded, open-hearted people embrace the idea of living in foreign lands; these are the romantic pioneers of new understanding, travelers of the cross-cultural bridge.

  14. @AB

    I think your relationship worked, at least in part, because you weren’t 2 young kids. When I read horror stories, it is typically about relatively young Western women meeting young Saudi men. The men are experiencing life without the short leash that is Saudi culture and the women are experience the joy of meeting someone from a different world. I think you were also lucky in that you met a Saudi outside of a Western environment so he was more like himself. (I am sure his personal character was a big difference, but that is not something that is easy to codify.)

  15. @Jerry – I agree with you. My late husband and I had many life experiences before we met and fell in love, as well as being older. I do believe that made a difference on the success of our marriage and merge of cultures as compared to the younger generation who meet as you described.

  16. Global perspective, true love, respect, compassion, objectivity, creativity, fairness, honesty, pride, adaptabilty, bravery, integrity.. . all of the these things make me love reading your posts. It is reassuring to read there are others out there with a carefree attitude to love their family and others regardless of where life may take them. Please stay healthy and radiant in body and spirit. You inspire us more than you know. I read your posts every night to my family.

  17. Wzrd1:

    I agree with your assessment even within the US. However. I stand by my statement that:

    “This right over their person and equality should not be deemed a western privilege but instead it should be a human right.”

    Believe me I am all for push ing religions out hospitals, public sphere and politics.

    I am an advocated for not giving tax money to churches and to take away their tax exemptions.

    As far as anything of the story of Muhammad, it actually can be used both ways and both have a point and both can justify their standing based upon the fairytale hadith.

    However, my accessment based upon archeology and historical evidence. Muhammad never lived nor any of the fairytale wives.

    It is make believe.

  18. Lovely response to a really derogatory question.

  19. As North Americans/Westerners, we tend to think of our part of the world as being the center of the universe. Consequently, we tend to be culturally and/or economically chauvinistic, wondering how or why anyone else would not not want to live how or where we do. The best decision of my life – which also got me the most bewildered stares and questions from friends and coworkers – was my decision to move to Malaysia to join my Malaysian wife here, rather than to have her relocate to Canada to join me there. Life, in most respects, is much easier here and QUALITY OF LIFE is infinitely better as well…

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