How to Reliably Receive Mail and Packages in Saudi Arabia from Outside

 

aramexI frequently receive emails from readers on how can they safely, securely and reliably receive mail and packages in Saudi Arabia. I have written previously on the problems and challenges of sending and receiving mail in Saudi Arabia:

 

http://americanbedu.com/2007/10/18/saudi-mail-service/

http://americanbedu.com/2007/10/18/new-initiatives-taken-by-the-saudi-post/

 

If one is not fortunate to have an APO (American Post Office) in Saudi Arabia it can be difficult to reliably receive items from the West. In fact, several packages my own family sent to me never did arrive. I’m still waiting after 2.5 years!

However in the meantime I have since learned that there is an alternative – Aramex Shop and Ship. The Aramex Shop and Ship allows you to acquire a U.S. or U.K. mailing address which in turn allows you to enjoy all the benefits of shopping online from US or UK websites as if you are actually living there. This service offers you a personal mailing address in the US and the UK where you can receive your correspondence as well as personal and business packages such as Internet orders, gifts, magazine subscriptions, bank statements and more. Aramex then forwards the mailbox contents to your doorstep back home at very competitive rates, saving you time, effort and money.

Shop and Ship levies a one-time set up fee of US$35 and then charges a fee per shipment thereafter. As an example, a 3 kg package would cost 240 SAR to ship from the US to Saudi Arabia.

 

Saudi Checkpoint: Hurry Up and Cover!

checkpointCheckpoints are a common phenonoma throughout Saudi Arabia. They can be set up for various reasons such as traffic safety – ensuring that drivers are wearing seatbelts; for security – there may be a warning or alert of a security nature resulting in the police setting up checkpoints; for validation – such checkpoints will be in and around the holy cities of Makkah and Medina to ensure individuals entering these cities are eligible to do so. Validation checkpoints are especially predominant during HAJJ season as part of crowd control (and security) confirming that only those who are associated with an official Hajj agency are allowed entry.

Checkpoints are quite common in other places of the world as well but not as prevalent (yet?) in the United States for example. The closest one really encounters to a checkpoint in the United States is when police have decided to make a roadblock usually late on a weekend night and stops cars having drivers take a breathalizer test to ensure they are not driving under the influence of alcohol. I’ve yet to see a security checkpoint in the United States like I have seen and experienced in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.

veilCheckpoints are one of the few places I will willingly hurry up and cover! And by cover, I mean veil so my face is totally obscured. The reason I do this is simply to avoid unneccesary stops and questions while traveling. Okay…what do I mean by that statement? Usually when the police see a Saudi man with an uncovered western woman even if it is a safety checkpoint, validation checkpoint or a security checkpoint, they will typically stop the vehicle and ask that proof be shown of their relationship. However if I throw a veil over my face so my features are not seen, the majority of the time we are simply waived on through the checkpoint without any delay.

Interview with successful Saudi businesswoman and role model, Muna Abu Sulayman

muna-abu-sulyman1It is a real honor for me to be able to ask some candid questions to Muna Abu Sulayman. She is not only a successful Saudi businesswoman but a beautiful role model for Saudi women as well as women the world over. In addition to her responsible position as Executive Director of Kingdom Foundation and reporting to HRH Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, she is also a media personality, UN Goodwill Ambassador and Young Global Leader. And she also manages her diverse careers as a single working mother.

Muna has kindly allowed me to ask her questions to share with readers towards fostering better understanding and relations and additional insights into the life and experiences of a unique Saudi mother and businesswoman.

To begin with Muna, one does not hear too much publicly about single working mothers in Saudi Arabia. How many children do you have? What were their ages when you divorced? Please share how do you manage to juggle your high profile positions and motherhood?

My girls are 15 and 9. So they are now old enough to take care of themselves and each other. So my job as a care giver is less direction and mostly about follow up.but parenting does take up a significant amount of time. It is from the little things like teaching them good manners, social rules, personal bounderies while also trying to ensure that they reach their potential.


It used to be harder, as we had to find for them all the needed extra curricular activites. Now, they go to schools that have a lot of activities and we no longer have to spend time and money on tutors for art, tennis and so forth…

While they were younger I had only jobs that were either governmental or part time, as I did not want to be too busy or too tired for them. I failed at times, taking on too much, and when I felt stressed out, I would step back.

I am also greatful to the great support net that I have both from my parents, and sisters. They really stepped in when I most needed it.

Have you ever experienced any stigmas or biases against you because of being a Saudi divorcee and single parent? And if so, how have you overcome any of the biases some individuals may hold?


Well, I think there is stigma about divorce in almost all cultures, because there is a break up of a family.

But I think it really depends on how a family handles it. In mine, the divorce was treated as an unfortunate incident.  But one that is not really life changing..it was not seen as a catastrophe by anyone close to me. So, I did not feel like my life changed, or that my family now controlled me. So I was very lucky in having very wise parents, who treated me as an adult.

I guess I deal with so many professional people and have mostly old friends, that I did not feel much biases.

Do you believe Saudi society is becoming more accepting of divorce?


Unfortunately, it is. Which means that we are seeing it now used as a first resort in many instances.

Marriage and divorce are not light matters. There should not be a stigma, but at the same time

It should not be seen as easily breakable work contract…

Was it an issue for you to obtain custody of your children?


My divorce was mostly amicable so we did not go to court. We share custody of the kids through arrangement. But I don’t have any legal paper giving me those rights…and I am not sure how to go about getting them. So far, it has worked, but I does bother me that if I go to get them legally, it might antagonize my ex husband and then, I could jeopardize what I have.

Some divorced women probably feel like they are so alone since the topic is not widely or openly discussed in Saudi Arabia. What advice can you offer them towards garnering support; towards being a single parent; towards building a viable career for themselves while not sacrificing quality with their children?


I cant have a general advice to all women, as the socioeconomic situation differs greatly for many of them. I do think that while you are married, and if you feel that you are on a rock ground, that you need to make sure that you have employable skills….Take courses in English, computer usage, soft work skills if you are not working already.


Also, islam gave us the right to save our income. If you can do that, then do it. Even if it means pinching a bit. It is important to have some sort of nest egg for your exclusive use, as not many men actually give alimony (or Nafka) to the women, and many don’t even give adequate child support.

It is a fact, the poorest segment in western society is single mothers. Some of that problem can mitigated by having a strong economical net, or family support.

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Please share how you became the Executive Director of the Kingdom Foundation? What is your most enjoyable aspect of this position? And what is the most challenging aspect of this position and why?


I love what I do. I love looking at the best way to leverage HRHalwaleed bin Talal’s money to ensure that it is used in the best possible way. There are many challenging aspects of the job. HRH took a chance on me, as I had to learn a lot of the HR and administrative skills on the job in the first 6 months. But, perhaps the most challenging Is making sure that my employees are doing their best, and that they are also being mentored to reach their potential.

I’m sure that many other Saudi women also inspire to obtain prestigious positions with Kingdom Holdings or other known organizations. What advice can you give to them?


My advice to anyone who wants to work in a prestigious position with any company, not just our foundation, is that they should love what they do. I think many people end up doing a job that they don’t really care about or even hate, just because it is there, and they end up slowly killing themselves..

And what about the expat women who come to the Kingdom. Perhaps they arrived in Saudi Arabia as a dependent spouse but had had their own fulfilling career. What tips can you give to them on how they can find viable and meaningful employment?


Finding a job for an expat is more difficult now a days as there is a saudization effort going full ahead, and also an great increase of well educated and professional Saudi women coming back from abroad.

My advice is that if you happen to work for a Saudi company, that you need to be respectful of the Saudis. Sometimes brilliant Expats are stonewalled because they were too eager to help improve how things are run and don’t know the political undercurrents that are going on. Additionally, you really need to know how things get done. Those cups of tea that you keep having, have a purpose, they are establishing a bond

Also, try to learn Arabic esp. if you are going to work with locals grass root organizations or small retailers. It gives you an edge when you are dealing with locals, and it shows respect of the culture. Or, at least have a team member who can speak Arabic fluently. Many people at the lower echelons of the organization feel a bit threatened when it is that if It is a team of foreigners coming in to tell them how to do their jobs..

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How did you become a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador for Saudi Arabia? What does this position mean to you? What are the most important aspects in representing Saudi Arabia? Does being known as a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador for Saudi Arabia place extra pressure on you? And if so, how do you manage it? Do you feel like you always need to be “on” as a result?


The UNDP post is one that I am most proud of . I do feel that if used properly, it shows how we can start to influence and have candid discussion on international levels.


You are supposed to be always on as a public figure. It does get draining….but, and I am being honest, I have had too many off days….esp. when you are working over time , or the kids are tired, or you are tired…..so, one tries to manage it as best as one could. But after all, I am human being..and I don’t have a staff of stylists, and support from the industry to help me with my public face…it all depends on me to deliver.

Do you think Saudi Arabia is portrayed accurately and fairly in the global media? And the whole world always seems fascinated and mesmirized by the veiled Saudi woman. Do you think Saudi women in particular are portrayed accurately and fairly in the media? How can Saudi Arabia be better represented globally? What aspects of Saudi culture, customs, traditions or law do you believe need further understanding and promotion by the global media?

That which you don’t know, attracts attention. Veiled woman are an anomaly in the world, a rare breed that seems antithetical to progress and women rights. I personally am not veiled, neither do I believe in the veil as an Islamic cover. However, I do respect it is cultural roots. If a woman chooses to be covered, as many do, I can not value judge her when it does not affect me. Also, the veil has an orientalist connotations of Eastern females over sexualization in western culture. It goes back to how women were viewed from the time of the crusades as the west and east started to interact closely. That compartmentalization of a women being viewed as sexualized and exotic has influenced how we are seen to this day in the west. However, now a days, the added twist is that we are also seen as terrorists…that makes the whole female issue a complicated image that can not be deciphered in 30 second sound bites that we view on TV.

The global media is not interested in portraying the real face of Saudi Arabia. It is interested in promoting a stereotypes for various economical and political reasons. I think it is about time we stop waiting for “the other” to show our real face ,warts and all. We need to actually take control and influence the message and images that comes out of our region.

I admit that we do have major problems in each country. However , for me it is more than females vs. males., more than a question of employment. It is a question of how authoritarian regimes while encouraging progress have actually stemmed it except for its most superficial sense. We need to develop our own view of human rights that are based on Islam and we need to actually apply it.

As for the second part of your question. By reason, tradition and culture evolves. Saudi Arabia has changed. But change and evolution take time…any anthropologist knows this. So we have to be patient while we see where the progress goes….

I understand you are also planning a new business venture. Can you please share what this venture is and your goals and hopes.


I am starting a Hijab fashion business. I do hope to start employing women and other disadvantaged groups to help produce my product. This way, we can encourage economic revitalization for some groups.

Where do you hope to see yourself in five years time?


A business woman working on social entrepernueralship ventures, and human rights.

And where would you like to see the Saudi woman in five years time? What changes would you like to see take place which specifically impact on the Saudi women?


I would like to see the legal structure progress in a way that allows women to work, live their lives without fear. That the beliefe that justice will prevail (esp. in matters of personal law) is something that is taken for granted by our daughters.


The legal system is too complicated and foreboding for most women, and they don’t take refuge in the letter of the law…I do hope that changes as process and procdure and more women friendly courts are created .

Thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions and provide readers of my blog some additional insights and understanding of Saudi women. You are indeed a superb example of a successful Saudi woman and a wonderful role model not only for KSA but for women everywhere!

Saudi Arabia: Growing Up Bedu

desert-beduEverytime I get the chance to speak in detail with my beloved mother-in-law, Moudy, I learn more fascinating aspects of life in Saudi Arabia forty plus years back. If you are just new to my blog and unfamiliar with Moudy, you should read this post first which introduces her. Recently based on questions from readers posed from a second post, Moudy described what it was like as a young girl growing up Bedu.

desertfarmMoudy had a happy childhood which started just outside of Najran. She lived on a desert bedu farm with her mother, siblings and extended family. According to Moudy, her mother was a “typical Bedu mother.” She was very loving as well as very self-sufficient. She made all the clothes for Moudy and her siblings. Moudy’s typical dress was a traditional ankle length “Bedu” thobe with buttons and embroidary of a style which was unique to Najran province. Moudy would also wear her long hair in two braids one on either side of her face and no hijjab.

Her favorite pasttimes was when she was able to get together with some of the neighbor girls who were traditional-game-hopscotcharound her same age and they would play a game she called “Five Stones” which is similar to the hopscotch played by young girls all over the world today. One of her most memorable and favorite possessions as a young girl was a cotton doll made by her mother and which Moudy christianed “Bintee” (little girl). She described how she carried Bintee everywhere with her and slept with her at night.

Living on a desert farm meant that Moudy had some small chores she was expected to fulfill. Her family raised goats and she was responsible for feeding the baby goats. She enjoyed tossing the feed to them while calling out “Skalh Skalh, tallee tallee.” (little goat, little goat, come, come) The family relied on the goats for their milk and butter. Moudy’s mother would milk the female adult goats and was always careful to boil the milk carefully before anyone drank it. She also made butter with the goat milk. At periodic times Moudy would accompany her mother to a nearby souk (market) where they would sell goat’s milk and butter.

Moudy never attended any type of school until she was eight years old and by that time she was living in Makkah. For one year she attended a small school for girls where she studied the Quran. No other subjects were studied or offered. She would walk to and from her home to this small school with three other girls who were her same age.

photoshop-heart-brushes-21Moudy led a simple life and a happy secure life. Her beginnings have formed her into a beautiful traditional yet open minded Saudi woman. She always sees the best in everyone. Her face is rarely without a joyful and peaceful smile. And while her age will remain a secret, her voice continues to sound like a spirited young woman.

Which Saudi Women are the Best Role Models and Representatives of Saudi Arabia

saudi-womenWhen one follows the various press articles about Saudi women, certain names will tend to appear more frequently than others. This led me to wondering which women are the best role models and representatives of Saudi Arabia? What does one look for or expect in a role model for a country such as Saudi Arabia which usually is portrayed as a conservative closed Kingdom where the women remain behind veils and closed doors? Therefore for a Saudi women to be considered a successful role model, does that mean she must be conservative? Must she cover? If a Saudi woman chooses to be more outspoken, open and perhaps not cover her head, does that make her a bad role model for the Kingdom? What criteria should a role model of Saudi women have?

In my personal opinion I believe a role model of women in Saudi Arabia should be able to easily cross the divide between East and West towards fostering understanding and know how to present messages that are acceptable and understandable to both sides. This may come as a surprise, but I also believe that a woman who does choose to wear the hijjab (at least) presents a better image of Saudi Arabia than a woman who chooses to go completely uncovered. Why, you ask? Because in order to be a role model for Saudi Arabia one must have also obtained the respect, support and endorsement of those within the Kingdom first before seeking the same from outside. Since the majority of women in Saudi Arabia fully cover their faces, in my view a reasonable compromise would be a role model who wears a hijjab since we know facial expressions can also add much to communications.

A role model for Saudi women should also demonstrate her love, respect and loyalty to her family. She also is an independent woman in that she has demonstrated she can make her own decisions and choices. She is educated and knows the history of her religion, her country and its people. She feels comfortable in being able to address any query that may be posed to her about Saudi women and their traditions and cultures.

As I started this post, I remarked that when doing searches on prominent Saudi women (and not those within the Royal family) certain names appear more than others. I’m including them below with links which provide additional information about them and their backgrounds.

wajeha-al-huwaider Wajeha al-Huwaider is a Saudi female activist from the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. She is not afraid to speak out on issues she believes deserve global attention and need change. She made international news last year during the anniversary of when the Saudi women took to the streets during the first Gulf War by making a video of herself driving in an isolated area as she speaks promoting womens rights and driving in Saudi Arabia.


muna-abu-sulyman Muna Abu Suliyman is the Executive Director of the Kingdom Foundation. In addition to this prestigious position she also is a media personality, UN Goodwill Ambassador and Young Global Leader. She has a full schedule as well as being an active single parent.


madeha25_Madehja Alajroush is a multi-faceted and talented Saudi female. She is a proponent for womens rights, businesswoman, professional photographer and psychotherapist. She also gained notoriety as being one of the women who dared to drive on the streets of Riyadh in 1991.


raja-al-sanie Rajaa al-Sanie gained instant global recognition with the publication of her first novel “The Girls of Riyadh” where she breaks the taboo of silence and writes how girls and guys meet up in the conservative Kingdom. Although this book and its characters are a work of fiction it is in fact based on facts of how members of the opposite sex can meet up and engage in relationships. Rajaa is usually viewed either as a hero for speaking out and writing on the controversial subject of dating and relationships or she is veiwed with disdain as promoting anti-Islamic practices.


heba-fatami Heba Fatani is the Corporate Communications Director of Kingdom Holdings. This is a position of high responsibility and challenge which requires one to be articulate, poised and able to work under pressure.


I would like to see this post as a work in progress where the names I have cited only touch the tip of the iceberg of women who serve as role models for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I wish to see your own nominations and why. As well as discusses the pros, cons and merits of the women who I have cited in this post.

The Foreign Wife of a Saudi: Always an Outsider

outsider-markersSad but true, no matter how long a Saudi and his foreign wife are married, she will always be viewed to a degree as an “outsider” and not included or accepted the same as a Saudi wife. The family will likely treat her politely but never with the same sense of belonging. She will be expected to be more independent. While the females of the Saudi family will be protected and coddled and not have to worry about having their needs met, the foreign wife will be expected to take care of herself, likely find her own transport and be responsible for her needs.

It goes without saying that a foreign wife and particularly Western wife of a Saudi in Saudi Arabia will need a thick skin. Hopefully she will have a supporting husband who will stick up for her and watch out for her particularly in regards to familial pressures. But at the same time, the Saudi man will usually defer to his mother’s wishes and desires even if they happen to be against the interests of the foreign wife.

Saudi families not only expect the foreign wife to take care of herself but to be there for any family issues, problems or support. She must be careful so she is not viewed and used as a substitute for the housemaid. It is a double-edged sword. On one hand the foreign wife will want to show her love to her new Saudi family and reach out to them whether it will be serving them tea or bringing them special dishes but it is a fine line where it goes from the foreign wife showing her love to the Saudi family expecting her to take care of all details and messes.

I do not want to imply that this is the case in every marriage between a Saudi man and a Western wife but based on findings, it does seem to by the most typical.

Saudi Arabia and Appreciation of Freedom and Democracy

It really was not until living here in Saudi Arabia that the value of growing up in America with its freedom and democracy hit home. I don’t think many Americans fully appreciate the freedoms and liberties they have simply by being an American citizen until they find themselves in a place which has limited freedoms and democracy. I’m not complaining about living in Saudi Arabia at all but simply highlighting the distinctions.

In America (and elsewhere in the democratic world) one takes freedom of speech for granted. However in Saudi Arabia both the Saudis and expats are careful on what they say and to whom and how they may express themselves. Saying the wrong words to the wrong audience can have negative repurcussions. Also in America one takes for granted to dress as one pleases. To a degree this happens in Saudi Arabia but few “push the envelope” in that women will wear the abaya in public places and men will not wear shorts above the knees even if the temperature is over 45 degrees C.

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Religious freedom is also taken for granted in the United States. Whereas religious freedom is prohibited in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia does not permit religious freedom and bans all visible forms of non-Muslim worship.

In a democratic environment one is accustomed to elections to public and high positions and having the ability through legislator and various public interest groups for positive change to occur. Saudi Arabia held its first ever public elections in 2005 with its municipal elections. Saudi analysts remain mixed on whether these elections are a true indication of the introduction of democratic processes in Saudi Arabia. And of course only men were allowed to vote in those elections as well.

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