Whether one is a foreign spouse, a child of a bi-cultural marriage or even a Saudi who has dual citizenship, he or she can not escape the feeling of being caught between two worlds. For each category, there are differing challenges.
In the case of the foreign spouse, who is typically a woman, she is the one expected to make changes and sacrifices. She’ll move to his country and rebuild a new network of friends. If she is fortunate, she’ll also be able to forge close and long lasting relationships with her Saudi family too. Regardless of how well she adapts, she’s still caught between two worlds. When she goes back home to visit family or friends, she’ll find that eventually a chasm develops because of the differences in their lives and the path she has chosen. Family will generally stick with family but sometimes friends change their views. People who do not know her personally may look at her with a lack of understanding on why she would give a known world for one so very different. She may not feel entirely accepted by either world as more years go by.
Similarities can apply to a degree to the children who are the product of a bi-cultural Saudi marriage. In most cases the child is accepted and raised as a Saudi. In other cases, the children may be seen as “half breeds” and picked upon or bullied by cousins and classmates. The non-fiction book, “The Red Sea Bride” characterizes in great detail the challenges a bi-cultural child can face from birth to adulthood. Some children feel they must reject the heritage they have inherited from their mother in order to be accepted into Saudi society.
There are also Saudis who have dual nationality. I have Saudis among my circle of friends who have both Saudi and American passports. I’m not referring to the child of a Saudi man with an American mother but rather the Saudi who was born in the United States of two Saudi parents. One friend in particular is seen as a feminist in Saudi Arabia. She wears a hijab in order to cover her hair but has never covered her face. She is not shy on speaking her mind and at ease in professional groups of mixed gender. The “older” generation in Saudi see her as too forward. Yet when she is in the United States and wearing her hijab with Western clothes she is kept at arms length because she is different in appearance.
In each case I’ve illustrated, these are individuals who are caught between two worlds. I’ve had my own experiences both during and continuing on after Abdullah’s death. For the foreign wife of a Saudi man, it’s as if we are at times viewed with suspicion. Where and to whom do our loyalties lie? This question is either asked or thought by ‘both sides.’
For myself, the experience and knowledge of the challenges these groups encounter, it makes me all the more determined to build bridges of understanding amongst people. We all need to look at each more as individuals rather than see a light skinned woman in a dark skinned land, or an Arabic speaking child with hazel eyes or the woman who is viewed with suspicion because of either how she wears a hijab or where she wears a hijab. Look beyond and just see the person.
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