Saudi Arabia: Interview with Romance Novelist, Kat Canfield

It is a pleasure for American Bedu to interview one of the followers of the American Bedu blog.  With this interview, readers learn more about Kat Canfield and why she has an interest in Saudi Arabia!

kat canfield

 

Firstly Kat, thank you, for the opportunity to interview you and share about yourself and your background with readers.

I am honored to have you interview me.

Let’s start with some details about you!  Where are you originally from?  Where do you live now?  How long have you been following the American Bedu blog?

I grew up in Ohio, in Amish country. I moved to Florida after we had a blizzard and the temperature on the thermometer was -32 degrees F! For me, even hurricanes were better than that and I lived through several of them.

I lived in Florida for 25 years before moving to Tennessee with my husband.

I found American Bedu while researching for my book. It has been helpful to learn and understand a very different culture.

Please share your background with readers.  How did you end up in law enforcement as your first career?  At what age or what point in your life did you know you wanted to be a police officer?

Law Enforcement found me I think. I had many people who thought I would be good in that field and encouraged me from high school on but I didn’t listen. I worked in Agriculture in Ohio and several businesses when I moved to Fl. Nothing fulfilled me or was I good at. Finally, I decided to prove everyone wrong that I didn’t have what it takes to be a police officer. Well, I proved to myself I really was!! I was thirty one years old and could beat the barely twenties in physical activities, the shooting range, martial arts, etc. I gained respect from my instructors when I could ‘fall down and give me 100’ (yes, pushups, the full military ones). Sorry, I have to brag on that, as several of the male instructors did not think women should be involved in police work, as it took a man. One of those instructors took me aside just before graduation and told me I had changed his mind about women in police work. It was then I realized I could be a role model for other women which is another reason I want to tell your readers about it. I think the American Bedu Blog helps empower the women in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the world who are oppressed. I am all for helping women find their value in the world.

I must also relate this as it has to do with empowering women. I was married briefly in Ohio. I was a battered wife. I got the courage to leave in a time when it was socially unacceptable to do so. Thank God, the laws have change greatly in this area. As a police officer I could help abused women and children get help.

What were some of your most memorable moments when you were on the force?

I have so many memorable moments!! First I must say, read the book as several of them are in there, just the names, and some circumstances are changed to protect identities.

But my most favorite moment is this. I worked as a mounted police officer for eight of my years in police work. Horses are still my first love. One day I was working in the park when a woman and child approached me. The woman asked if her little boy, about seven, could pet the horse. This was a normal thing that happened in the course of the day. The boy was petting the horse and talking to it. I was trying to understand what he was saying to the horse so I asked his mother what he was saying. She was crying! Now I was worried. I asked her what was wrong. She told me her son was autistic and had never spoke a word to anyone before that moment. Now I was crying. The horse had opened up a door for that child. The police horse did that in a lot of instances and is a tool more police departments should utilize.

Did you ever encounter any Saudis while you were an active law enforcement officer?  If so, please share as you are able.

I met many people from everywhere when I lived in Florida. I met Arabs from everywhere in the Middle East. I found them pleasurable and respectful. I probably met more Pakistanis than Saudi. Because all that I knew where very nice people I found it hard to believe so many of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi. I did not want to believe it. We have to remember that a few bad apples does not mean the whole bunch is bad.

You are also a multi-faceted individual.  At what age did you begin to have an interest in writing?

I started writing when I was a child. In high school and college I wrote for the school newspapers and was editor my senior year. I wrote feature articles for the local newspaper and authored many short stories. I just never thought it was that good so didn’t pursue it. However, as a police officer, I had to write, lots and lots or reports. Some of those were short but on more difficult cases they were very long and detailed. I think I improved my skills by writing all those reports! Plus, it gave me experience that found its way into my novels.

What gave you the idea to write a novel about Saudi Arabia?

Well, if you believe in the Ginn or spirits of the desert, it could be said one of them spoke to me. I tried several ideas but this one just felt right so I went with it.

When did you start to have an interest in Saudi Arabia and why?

The book, Arabian Nights. I love that book. I also love Arabian horses, I have owned and ridden them. And then there is Lawrence of Arabia. The country just has a natural romance to it. Every book I have ever read that had something about Saudi Arabia in it is fascinating. If you want to write a romance novel, why not have a character that is from Arabia?

Have you ever traveled to Saudi Arabia and/or personally know some Saudis?  How did you obtain your material about Saudi Arabia for your book?

I have traveled there only in pictures and via the internet. I want to go there very much. I did a lot of research on the country and customs through the internet. I found yours and other blogs about the country that gave me ideas. You actually helped me find books about Saudis that I read like Princess, A True Story of Life Behind the Veil, by Jean Sasson and Ted Dekkers book, Blink of an Eye.

only love twice bookcover

Can you give American Bedu’s a brief synopsis about your first novel, ‘Only Love Twice?’

It is my fantasy. A story of fifty plus year olds. It is Cinderella and her Prince Charming. In this one Prince Charming is a Saudi and Cinderella is American. And if that isn’t enough to keep them apart, he is Muslim and she is a Messianic Jew. I like to use a line from Michael Crichton’s book Jurassic Park, “Life finds a way” to describe it. In this story, Love finds a way.

Did you find it easy or difficult to write a romance novel featuring an American and a Saudi?

I wrote from the heart. (That Ginn again) The man is Saudi but raised in the western world so is not as ‘Muslim’ as the Muslims would like. I took what I learned about Saudi culture to compare the two cultures. I wanted more than just a romance, I wanted to show everyone that two cultures could learn to get along together despite the differences and even learn to love.

What has been the reaction of Saudi’s to your book, ‘Only Love Twice,’ which features a romance between an American Jewish woman and a Saudi man?

I really would like feedback from Saudi readers about the book. I have not to date had any reviews from them. My friends and family that have read it really liked it and asked how I got the idea and how I got the knowledge of the different culture.

How can American Bedu readers obtain their own copy of ‘Only Love Twice?’

The book is available at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and my website, http://www.katcanfield.com.

American Bedu has had the honor of reading ‘Only Love Twice’ and was captivated.  However, I must ask you, is it simply a coincidence that the featured female character resembles you?  After all, she is also a retired police officer and fond of horses.

Great question! It is my fantasy after all. But really, I just found it easier to use some of my experiences to give Madison a personality. Also, many of my friends have asked me to write about my experiences as a police officer. So this was a way to include those stories and weave them as threads in the story. And who is the personality of Saleem? He is the best of every man I know.

Do you have another book in the works about Saudi Arabia?  If so, what can you share?

I am writing a sequel. In it they travel to England and Saudi Arabia. In it there will be more of the differences of cultures and discussions about child brides, arranged marriages, and letting Saudi women drive. I borrowed the visual of one of Susie’s abayas, (Blue Abaya Blog) the one with the hand painted peacock feather on it for several scenes where Madison wears an abaya. (I hope that was ok, Susie?)

I have another completely different characters book working but have not decided if the male character will be Muslim or from a Muslim country. For some reason I find them easier to write about (Must be that Ginn again).

When you are not writing, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I spent two months this winter in Florida training with my instructor and my horse in the pursuit of better dressage; what I called Dressage Boot Camp. I also walk every day, I am up to 6 miles a day which I can do in an hour and 20 minutes, so I move out. If I am not walking or riding I am on the computer reading or writing.

What personal message would you like to convey to the thousands of followers who read American Bedu daily?

Keep an open mind. Listen to the views of others, express your views in a respectful way. I have found other views to be insightful and actually changed my opinion on some things.

Kat, thank you again for the interview.  I wish you all the success with ‘Only Love Twice’ and all future books.

Thank you, Carol, and wish you well and pray for you every day. You are an inspiration!

Saudi Arabia/Yemen/USA: Yemen from the view of an American

Intro: My name is Katherine Abu Hadal and I am an American who has been married to a Yemeni man for nearly 4 years. We lived in Yemen for three years and now we live in the US, and this is a snippet of what life is like in Yemen from my perspective. I really do love Yemen, and I enjoyed life there very much. However, I also want to give you a well-rounded picture of what the advantages and disadvantages are of living there. You can find more about me at http://www.shebayemenifood.com, where I show people how to make Yemeni food in English and Arabic.

yemen 1

http://stevemccurry.com

 

Yemen’s beauty derives from its antiquity and the charm and grace of the people. Old Sana’a, Wadi Hadramout, and Jibla are just a few of the ancient cities which seem to be preserved perfectly in time. The odd-sized steps and the tiny doorways in many of these old homes are details which instantly transport one to another place and time. Yemenis recognize the value of the ancient heritage and these old homes are among the most prized and desirable. Sana’a is also known as Shem (Sam) city; Shem is the son of Noah and he supposedly founded the old city. As often happens, architecture mirrors its people, and the Yemeni people reflect a set of traditional and decorated values. Honor and generosity to guests are some of the highest esteemed values.  This generosity extends not only to fellow Yemenis or Arabs, but is often magnified for those deemed as “foreigners,” usually synonymous with “non-arabs.”

I first traveled to Yemen in 2009 as a student studying Arabic. I can’t say exactly why I wanted to travel to Yemen, other than I wanted to travel off the beaten path of the usual westerner travel agenda. Plus I wanted to learn Arabic and Yemen is (or at least it was at the time) supposedly one of the better countries to go to learn Arabic. Not long after I arrived, I met the man who would later become my husband. We would hang out with friends and slowly we got to know each other. It’s not the usual way for relationships to develop in Yemen, but Esam didn’t (and still doesn’t) care much for rules or societal pressures.

After some time, I just knew Esam was the man for me. He had known from the beginning and he was ecstatic that I had finally realized that too. It took a bit of work convincing each of our families, but I am proud and happy to say that my Mom absolutely adores Esam and his family also loves and respects me a lot.

Yemen is most often in the news for the drone strikes and occasional high-profile terrorist incidents. It’s often portrayed as tribal and lawless, not only by the west but also its gulf neighbors. The word tribe carries a different connotation when translated into Arabic, however, and I will attempt to explain to you a little bit about its meaning as I understand it. Tribes (qabail) are organized political structures in Yemen. They exist alongside and at the same time integrated with the official government which is a Republic. People in Yemen often associate tribal lineage with pride and a high social status. Tribes are very powerful because they have the ability to mobilize many people quickly and they also control financial or other resources. They have certain powers and rules outside the scope of the government. Former president Ali Abdullah Saleh exercised much of his power through tribal lines.   yemeni tribes

As far as how tribal power is exercised, it is neither through dictatorship nor coercion. Instead, it is a mutually beneficial relationship which is subject to change by either party. Tribe members have the responsibility to mobilize for a cause when required by the higher-ups. Tribal leaders, or shaykhs, have the responsibility to mediate between disagreements between tribe members as well as to be generous in hosting social events and feeding the less fortunate. Despite a shaykh’s higher social status, they cannot force tribal members into action if what they are requesting seems unreasonable, and Yemenis, like anyone else, maintain their independence. A north Yemeni who spent many years in Al-Jawf described tribal figures’ limitations in this way, “No shaykh can even tell a child what to do.” (North Yemeni as cited in Koehler-Derrick, 2011)

Not every Yemeni has a favorable opinion of tribes. There are those that associate them with the uneducated and oppressive social structures which keep the powerful in power and others down. They are opposed to these structures which favor social ties, bloodlines, and loyalty over formal education and merit-based rule. A Yemeni in Aden, a former British colony, was quoted in 2009 saying,

“Most of what we have is what the British built when they were here. We haven’t gained anything from unification,” says a former colonel in the PDRY army, voicing a common sentiment as he waves his hand towards a row of bleak buildings. “I would rather have had the British here for 400 years than be ruled by Saleh and the Sanhan [President Saleh’s tribe]…Now everyone who has any power is a northerner,” he says. “The young people here have no chance to find decent jobs because they don’t have the tribal connections required to get them.”  (Horton 2009).

Unemployment and economic strife are major problems in Yemen. My husband was from I guess what you might call a middle-class Yemeni family. They were not the richest or the poorest in the neighborhood and they lived comfortably. But middle-class in Yemen also translates to what would be below the poverty level in the US. If we lived in Yemen, there would be no way to really save and get ahead and also be able to travel on that kind of salary. As a foreigner with a degree and who spoke English and Arabic, there are more opportunities for me to find work, but there are still not a lot of jobs which would pay a salary comparable to what I would make in the US.

We know many Yemenis that travel to the gulf countries for work, especially Saudi Arabia. That arrangement has been threatened over the years, however, (the first was after the first gulf war) and now “Saudi Arabia, home to about nine million foreign workers, began the crackdown this year to boost the proportion of Saudi citizens in private sector jobs from the current 10 per cent.” (Gulf news, http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/yemen/yemenis-protest-saudi-deportations-1.1170624). Yemen does not possess the large oil reserves that its neighbors have. The bleak economic outlook combined with an explosive population growth and other factors such as lack of water has many analysts predicting an impending economic disaster for this country of nearly 25 million.

For all the troubles of Yemen, there are still things about it which makes it an easier county to reside in compared to the other gulf countries. I have traveled to Oman and Dubai and I have observed the hierarchy among the people, with westerners, Indians, Asians, foreign Arabs, and local gulf Arabs each in their own class with different rules which apply to them. Interaction between locals and guest workers is limited and can often be prejudiced. I have also read stories of foreigners married to Saudis who face discrimination and are not able to fit into Saudi society. In Yemen, I never once experienced this feeling as a foreigner. I was always welcomed into people’s homes as one of them. I also know many other foreigners (both arabs and non-arabs) who were also treated as such. To my disbelief, some people even mistook me for Yemeni. (Although I think it was a actually a way of being polite and giving a compliment)

yemen woman driving     Secondly, although Yemen is a conservative Muslim country like Saudi Arabia, it does not have the kind of religious policing which is present in Saudi Arabia. Women are allowed to drive in Yemen and many do. There is a social pressure to dress modestly, but I know many western women that don’t cover their hair or wear an abaya when they go out. Yemen is technically a republic which means that it has elections and is a democracy. Although it doesn’t seem to be a fully functioning democracy quite yet, it is one step ahead of the gulf monarchies in achieving a full democracy. People are not afraid to criticize the government or political leaders and there are several active political movements and parties.

Yemen has a sense of fierce independence and a long history which gives the country a kind of security, despite the signs of impending doom which are knocking at its gate. After all, Sana’a is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities of the world. If it has made it through the floods of Noah, I suppose it will make it through today’s challenges.

Below is a recipe for Yemeni shakshuka, which is a popular egg and tomato dish in the Middle East and North Africa. In North Africa, it is usually eaten with poached eggs but in Yemen, it usually has scrambled eggs and is made with green chilis so it is spicy. They also eat a similar shaksuka in Saudi and the gulf countries, but I am not sure exactly how it is different. Served with milk tea and malawah bread or Yemeni roti, it makes the prefect breakfast or quick dinner.

Ingredients

5 eggs

3 plum tomatoes, chopped (or uncooked canned tomato sauce)

1 chopped onion

1 green chili (more or less to taste)

½ tsp. hawaij

2 tablespoons oil

Salt to taste (about ¾ tsp.)

Ground black pepper

 

Directions

1.      Heat oil, onions, chilis, and salt in a pan and cook the onions until they are slightly brown.

2.      Add the chopped tomatoes, hawaij and black pepper and cook until the tomatoes are soft, about 5 minutes.

3.      Lightly beat the eggs and add to the tomatoes. Let the mixture cook until half-way set, about 3 minutes, then stir the mixture slightly to ensure even cooking.

4.      Serve with bread and tea!

 

 

Horton, Michael. (2009). The Christian Science Monitor.  Why Southern Yemen is pushing for secession.  Retrieved November 9 2011 from http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2009/1215/Why-southern-Yemen-is-pushing-for-secession.

 

Koehler-Derrick, Gabriel. (2011). A False Foundation? Tribes and Ungoverned Spaces in Yemen. West Point: Combating Terrorism Center

 

images:

yemeni tribes symbol:  yemenfox.net

 yemen woman driving:  yobserver.com

 

Saudi Arabia: The Artist, Dorothy Boyer, and Her Masterpieces

 

It is an honor for American Bedu to have this rare opportunity to interview artist Dorothy Boyer.

 najdi-wedding-costumedetail

Dorothy, your works of art are not only beautiful and eye-catching, but very diverse as well.  You have created works of art from watercolors, to exquisite murals and even on furniture! Thank you so much for this opportunity to interview you and ask you questions about yourself, your life and your art!

 

To begin with, please share a little bit about yourselves with American Bedu readers.  What nationality are you?  When did you first become interested in art as a career?  When and where did you study?

Thank you for the opportunity to discuss aspects of my art with your American Bedu readers.

I am Scottish.

I do not remember a moment when I was not interested in art, but not always as a career.

Art was well taught at my girls’ school but I did not go on to art school, studying to be a teacher instead.

However I have always painted, and had the opportunity to study the works of master artists in galleries in Scotland. This is where I learned.

I did however take courses in all aspects of restorative work with furniture, and specialist painting later on in London and also took workshops with master watercolourist Charles Reid and Botanical painter Jenny Jowat.  wall-panel2

When one thinks of Saudi Arabia, one does not typically think of an expat artist in its midst.  When did you first arrive in Saudi Arabia?  What was the first piece of art for which you were commissioned in the Kingdom?

I arrived in February 1992 to paint the walls, and columns in a grand villa, and to carry out mural work for a well known Sheik in Jeddah.

 

Since then, how long have you been in the Kingdom and what type of work are you doing there? 

I have been in Jeddah for 21 years, carrying out all kinds of decorative painting, faux finishes, trompe l’oeil murals, teaching and painting my own watercolours, oils and pastels.

 

In your experience, how interested are Saudis in collecting art?  What type of art works seem to appeal to Saudis?  Watercolors?  Oils?  Murals?

For many years Saudis seemed to be interested in having murals, which historically are designed to show the status of the owner.

Collecting oils has always appealed, as homebuilders have sought to furnish and embellish the interiors of their new and improved homes.

There has always been a market here as far as I can tell, for copies of master works, predominantly from the Far East.

But the more educated and enlightened Saudi has always sought works that are original, frequently by artists from neighbouring lands. Many of these artists have studied outside the Kingdom of course, as art was not given a very important place in the school and college curriculum. 

There is now a noticeably strong body of work unfolding, inspired by the ‘Arab Spring’

I notice recently that good watercolours are very well received and indeed my own solo show was a sell out. I certainly have a fan base here!

 Please share what has been your favorite commission in Saudi Arabia and why?

the-dome     What has been your most challenging commission in Saudi and why?

I shall answer the last two questions together

Being asked to paint the fine art work for the Leylaty Conference Hall or Wedding Hall as it used to be known was a huge commission.

I had to paint 24 large panels 2.2x 2mts wide, 6 oval panels, 2x 3.75 x 2.5 panels and a dome about 28 mts high with 8 panels each 5mts x 3mts.

This was to be in the French Baroque style as the interior of the building was to look like a Viennese Opera House.

The challenge was enormous just to get hold of reference materials given that there was no access to the internet at that time and that reference books with any material considered risqué was heavily censored. I devised many ways of getting what I wanted !

I was the only woman working on site of course and that posed some difficulties as well. Climbing down a 90 ft scaffold, donning an abaya, and hailing a taxi home every time I had to go to the bathroom was an interruption I could have done without.

The dome acted as a chimney or funnel for the extreme heat and of course the electrics were not connected till the end of the project—so no a/c.

I had a young friend of my son to help me with the dome. He had graduated from art school and this was his first job. He was motivated, and disciplined in the way that ‘public’ (private) schools in Scotland are famous for. With his help I was able at least to finish the dome in the time required. Once the scaffolding was removed the chandelier fitters from the USA were ready to pounce.

The pressure was huge and the project took 13 months.

Because of this long commitment it was only natural that it became my favourite at the time. It was hard to see it being handed over to chefs, and waiters and managers, people ready to set the whole operation in motion, when all that the building had been about up until then, was carpet fitting, canvas fitting, varnishing, marbling etc.

It was strange to hand over.

But of course I also have had favourite commissions in the UK

old-jeddah   How easy (or not) has it been for you as an artist to become settled and well-recognized in the Kingdom?

As far as becoming settled, I am very adaptable. I would say that is one of my strongest traits.

When one door closes, and many have, I immediately look for another one to open.

I am very focused, disciplined, and passionate about my work.

It was never my intention to become well recognized as an artist in the Kingdom.

Nor am I even now preoccupied with that.

On the other hand my work has been received so well and I have had such good publicity that recognition has been inevitable.

It will never be for me like it is for Saudi artists though.

This is a young country in some ways and the thriving art scene favours its own.

So I am content that my work has been exhibited in London and Shanghai for example and I have received awards from America.

As a renowned artist, what is your favorite medium with which to create art?  Why?

I love the transparency and the light that watercolour affords me when I paint. My work is all about the light.

Of course I also paint in oils and pastels but keep coming back to watercolour, the most difficult of all to master. It is that challenging aspect that keeps drawing me back to keep trying!

It is becoming a much more acceptable medium now amongst collectors. Galleries used to hate it because of freighting works under glass with all the associated problems of damage, insurance etc.

It used to be thought that watercolours were ‘fugitive’ but not now. Most pigments are permanent.

The perception amongst collectors was that watercolour was the second rate citizen and so galleries preferred to handle oils, finding them easier to sell.

It is changing though as shown by the number of recent exhibitions exclusively dedicated to watercolour.

Noteably the Watercolour Biennial in Shanghai. I took part in the second one in 2012 and was one of around 220 paintings selected out of 11,000.

Magazines (The Art of Watercolour) dedicated to this medium are now every bit as exciting as ones embracing oil painting and pastels. Watercolour used to be perceived as the preparatory work for an oil painting. Not any longer.

 

How do you get your inspiration to do so many vastly different pieces of art?

I will paint anything and everything provided the light has played a part.

The light changes ordinary objects into things of great beauty. Sometimes it can be just the light or shadow shapes themselves that are beautiful. Obscure, dull little corners can hold great promise when the sun streams in and that is what turns me on.

 

You also do interior design work and have even given some classes on refurbishing or changing the appearance of existing furniture.  Can you give some examples of what have been some of your favorite “make overs” and why?

I did interior design work and my training made it easier for me to interpret the brief when finding out what clients wished from me as a painter.

I antiqued walls and marbled columns, distressing furniture to match. But I have not practiced interior design in Saudi Arabia and would not want to.

 

There is an impression that most Saudis like to buy new furniture rather than have pieces refurbished or updated.  Do you agree or disagree?  Why?

Yes I agree. Most do not want refurbished pieces.

But I do know of a few who have some rather gorgeous antiques!

Did you ever expect when you arrived in Saudi Arabia that you would come to make it a long-time home?

Never

You’re originally from Scotland, have also lived in Argentina and spent time in London.  How does Saudi Arabia compare?  What has made the Kingdom most special to you?  young-shepherd

It was in Argentina that I had to learn to be so self sufficient –we are talking of the sixties and seventies.

There were electric generators in the estancia houses, no telephone, long distances travelled to buy provisions etc. I learned and I coped.

When I came to Saudi Arabia in the early nineties it was very different from today, in that I was unable to obtain much of the material required to carry out my work, and so I learned to improvise, invent and compromise as I had done in Argentina.

Now of course I can order certain things online and have them delivered here with a carrier.

This facility was not a possibility in the early nineties. Indeed satellite television was forbidden.

Now the world is open via the internet, an opportunity that the young Saudis have embraced this with relish. So they are learning and absorbing, learning also to be discerning, a new concept if you have not had the opportunity before to be so exposed to everything on offer.

They are learning about art from all over the world and importantly finding a voice through their art. That is wonderful.

Although my art is not about political dialogue, (I am well able for that through the spoken word!) I can see that as a vehicle for bringing about awareness, progress and change, albeit slowly, it is an ideal medium.

So I admire the new art of the Middle East.

My work is about making people feel glad when they see it. That is not to say it is a mere representation of what lies in front of me. There is much more to it than that.

Usually a story, a set of circumstances that have led me to choose a particular theme. But then it is about trying to paint as beautifully as I can. Simple!

As far as comparison with Scotland is concerned the common denominator is family and certainly when I was young, faith.

That still holds true for me and my friends at home and I would say the majority of decent people.

My country was shaped by a strict protestant God fearing faith. The values, education and conduct of our people were so influenced. That was how I was brought up.

It was not so difficult to identify with people who had similar values although a different faith.

I can identify with them totally.

The Kingdom has been good to me.

Your paintings show so much intricate detail whether a scene from a souk, an expatriate or a Saudi vendor in action.  How do you capture these details?  Are your subjects aware of your interest in them?  Do you take a photo first and then paint from the photo?  fruitseller-jeddah

I always begin my work with a study from life. This can entail a 3 or 4 hour session in front of the actual subject—if it is a building in the souq.

I have a permit to sit and paint and my architectural studies start as quick watercolours. From this I create my larger paintings at home, in the studio, with the added help of a photo. I frequently return to the site to check on a detail if I need to. It is on these occasions that I have found that whole buildings have disappeared in the space of a week or two. Many of my paintings are of buildings in Jeddah that are no longer there.

Very sad indeed!

If it is a figure, I usually make quick sketches and then take a photo. When they become aware of what I am doing they frequently want to ‘pose’—and this is not what I want!

I have had some hilarious moments with some of the subjects but I do always have to be very careful not to attract unwanted attention—for that can create a problem here.

The painting of the shepherd was started from life but became difficult when the other herdsmen started to press in too close and I could feel a pair of hands firmly pressing my thighs, possibly testing my suitability for market! So a photo was the next step. I returned a few days later to distribute some of the photos to their rightful owners. Interestingly, some of the men were laying claim to the wrong picture of themselves. Either mirrors did not feature large in their chosen lifestyles or it was a form of illiteracy. It was of course a revelation for me.  

The cheeky little black girl in the souq stood still for ages while I drew her. She was fascinated. Poor little mite should really have been at school –not out selling for a living. But then it was a wonderful opportunity for me.

I always purchase something from these kind ‘models’ so that they do not feel short changed!

And no I did not buy a sheep from the shepherd!

In the main, the folk around me, when I take up a painting position, are extremely solicitous, plying me with water to drink and making sure I am alright.

I paint very early in the morning starting before the shops are open –until midday.

I always wear a plain black abaya—nothing eyecatching,  but do not cover my hair. If anyone protests at this –it is usually the women I have found.

 I have felt privileged to record the Old Souq in Jeddah. It has been a huge inspiration for me as an artist and of course I just love crumbling old buildings with a history in the very fabric of their walls.

I am sad that this is a vanishing landscape however, and that future generations will just have to refer to photos, paintings and perhaps a re-creation of what is authentic.

But at least I have played a part in that.

What is a typical week in Saudi Arabia like for you?

I am usually very focused but at the moment quite frantic!

I fly home every 6 weeks to see my mother who will be 100 years old in July inshallah!

I am teaching as well as preparing for an Open House on the 29th and 30th of May with the help of Susan.

I paint on the days I am not teaching, sometimes visiting the souq or arranging a still life in the studio.

I scan my work and upload to my website.

When I am in Spain in the summer however I garden and watch my flowers grow. I paint in the afternoons and enjoy the evenings with my husband.

Where do you hope to see yourself five years from now?

Relaxing I hope! But never far away from my watercolour palette!

You have lived in Saudi Arabia for many years and mix naturally between the Saudi and expatriate community.  What advice do you give to new arrivals to Saudi Arabia on how they can make the best and most enriching time of their Saudi experience?

the-goatherd

Learn something of the background history of the people—history has always fascinated, and in turn local customs. Allow the people to show you their customs and be genuinely interested in the human element of their stories which they will love to tell you.

You can then be ambassadors when you return and help dispel stereotipic myths.

Some things don’t change however, and you are a guest. Remember that.

 

How can interested readers contact you and learn more about your art?

Anyone who is interested in my work can contact me through my website www.dorothyboyer.com where I post blogs and send newsletters.

I am on facebook at DorothyBoyerFineArt and twitter @DBoyerFineArt should anyone wish to follow me!

My representative is Susan Schuster without whose help I would not be able to function! Her email is arabianaccents@yahoo.com

 

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Just to say a big thank you again for giving me the chance to talk to you and thrilled indeed that I can communicate through my art.

 

Thanks again for this interview and sharing with American Bedu readers.

 

Saudi Arabia/USA: Abeer Shares her Experience as a Female Saudi Student in the USA

  • American Bedu is pleased to present this interview with Abeer, a female Saudi student who is studying in the United States.

saudi students usa

menafn.com 

 

 

  • First of all Abeer, thank you for following American Bedu blog and for agreeing to this interview!

 

Thank you so much for the opportunity. It’s an honor to be on your blog!

I want to add that I use your blog as one of my resources to keep myself updated with news about home!

 

  • Let’s begin with a little bit about yourself.  What part of the Kingdom are you from?  Prior to arriving in the United States for studies, what was your educational and professional background?   makkah

I am from Makkah but I have been living in Jeddah for the last 14 years, I usually joke around and tell people I’m from the Highway (Khat Alsaree3!!)

I received my BA and MA in Linguistics from King AbdulAziz University. I started off teaching English in a center during my sophomore year summer break and continued doing that until my graduation. After graduation I worked with Effat University and have been with them ever since until I received the King Abdullah Scholarship through the university. My last post before I left for my PhD was the Enhancement Centers manager in Student Affairs.

  • What made you decide to study specifically in the United States?  Where are you studying?  Was Indiana University your first preference?  Why or why not?

I chose the US and specifically the Midwest because I grew up within the area; my father was doing his PhD in the University of Madison Wisconsin when I was young. I had a wonderful childhood experiencing all the seasons and the Midwest friendliness.

IU   I applied to all the universities in the Midwest that were top in the field I was interested in and I was accepted in one of the four I applied; Indiana University.

 

  • What are you majoring in?  How do you intend to use your higher education on your return to Saudi Arabia?

I am majoring in Higher Education Student Affairs which is part of the School of Education. Currently higher education is a rapidly developing field that governments and economists have taken interest in. The literature points out that there is a need for professionalism in this area and I couldn’t agree more. The economy is in the need for a holistic graduate that can work immediately upon entering the society. It is very important to note the sensitive role that higher ed faculty and staff play in an individual’s life,

Through my work in student affairs I have worked on projects that focus on students extracurricular skills, this helped develop my main research interest which is student adjustment and development. The main goal behind the PhD was to enhance my experience by learning more about theories and practiced methods that I could benefit from and use when I return to work in Saudi Arabia.

  • What have you noticed as the biggest contrasts between educational styles in the United States as compared to Saudi Arabia?

I have noticed that higher education in the US is more of a lifestyle where you live and breathe books, papers, conferences, study groups..etc.  Back home I felt that university to me was a responsibility like a job or basic school where attendance is required but then after 2 or 4 pm, the day is done and other aspects of life take over.

This is more or less enhanced by the fact that higher education is socially considered a turning point for most people in the United States where moving out of the family house into dorms is the norm whereas in Saudi Arabia, unless married, very few leave the state of dependency.

  • How do you find the US education system?  What’s life like for you at a large University?  Was it a big transition adapting to the diversity and having not only other international students but male and female students in your classes?  phd-symbols

I think there is an educational system set for every need and ability. When I was looking for universities I was told by many to choose one in the UK because of the closer distance to Saudi, the fact that the time period to get a PhD is less and that they require no graduate standardized tests. The main reason that I stuck to my decision was that most (if not all) university programs I looked at required a minimum of courses. I felt that especially since I was venturing into a new field that I would need some classes that allowed me to read and research different fields. This was the gap I was looking to fill. I worked in Student affairs for a long time, but I believe that to achieve productive quality work a person must now about all the dynamics of the institute he or she is working in. Knowing what others did in your field will help you see the overall picture and make clearer decisions for the benefit of the whole institution.

Indiana University Bloomington has a fairly large campus with more than 5,941international students.  However I am the only international student in my cohort. I was also the only married female with kids. They were all nice and friendly but it was not easy to relate to anyone. I am on a scholarship and they all have graduate assistantships. I have to go back home immediate after class for my kids and they went out together after work. But it was very comforting to know that we were all there with more or less the same background experience. And we were all from different parts of higher education learning about the other parts together. In regards to dealing with male faculty and students I admit I was a bit timid. I did try something to help me – I gave them a neutral status – hahaha – I de-gendered them all! It was actually a method that worked really well with me. I was already intimidated by being outside my comfort zone I really did not need that extra stress!!

  • What kind of adjustments, if any, have you made while studying in the United States?

single parenting     Plenty! During my first year in the US I was on my own with my two children. My husband stayed behind because of his job. I had many turning points in my life and this certainly was one of the major ones. I had to learn to be available as I could not depend on anyone but myself when it comes to my children and their needs. I learned to budget (!) and compare prices. I wasn’t driving when I first arrived and taking the bus was frightening. I had a bike which I used for the first few months until a rainy day where I was forced to use the number 9 bus – I even called my friends in Saudi to let them know about my 10 minute adventure! It was a journey for me, I have never felt so vulnerable, I learned to ask for help which was very difficult for me. I always had help available: my driver, maid, my mother, sister, grandmother… I was never in need to go out and ask for assistance.

I believe that I have changed and am progressing to a more independent nature. I feel more confident about making my own decisions.  If anything I realized how much I took for granted. I think like anyone I wanted to experience a different life and was keen on leaving my comfort zone and starting my adventure. I am enjoying my adventure but with an added feeling of looking forward towards the ending and returning home.

One of the most important changes that happened to me is on the personal side. My husband and I decided at the beginning that it would be best if he stayed in Saudi while I left with the kids and did my best to finish as soon as possible. It was a difficult decision but we decided to go for it for a year and if it didn’t work out we would have to give up something. That whole academic year was the toughest challenge of my life. I realized the importance of a family being together. I realized that while independence was a gift it did not mean detaching yourself. My children needed their father; I needed my husband’s support. I realized that needing him was not a weakness. I grew up with a lot of feminist books and always wanted to prove that I can exist on my own. I still think it is important to be strong however a partnership cans the best place to derive strength from. My husband has generously left his job and joined us now. He is discovering new interests and working on a non-degree program. I am very blessed

  • What do you see as some of the biggest differences between your life in Saudi Arabia and now as a student in the United States?  Please explain.

My life in Saudi was hectic! I worked long hours, volunteered at my children’s school, participated in social events, always on lookout for new extracurricular activities for the kids, I was always pushing for time for my husband, parents, grandmother, siblings all that while trying to maintain the best acceptable social life I could! It was crazy, I had so many things to do and was home very little.

Now? well Bloomington is a very calm and peaceful place and it kind of rubbed off on me. My children still have their after school activities which is great for them. We have more family time than we ever had before. We have movie nights at home around a fire. We have small Arab gathering almost every other week. My husband and I have peaceful mornings where we go out and walk.

  • What are you missing most about Saudi Arabia?  What are you enjoying most while studying in the United States?  grandmother love

I miss my family, my grandmother lived close by to me and I visited her as frequently as possible. Her windows bring in a beautiful breeze even on the hottest days. She would tell me stories or talk about a soap she was watching. I miss her tremendously.

I miss my sisters!!!

In general I miss the social life and the easiness of becoming part of a social circle. I feel that I am experiencing this alienation because I am a foreigner here and every time I meet someone I take time to introduce myself and my background not that I don’t enjoy that but I do miss the familiarity. On the other hand I have more time to myself and my small family. I have been able to explore my own individuality; I make my decisions without too many outside factors influencing my opinion. In the end there are two things that are very important to me now; my family and my studies.

  • What do you think will be the biggest adjustments for you when you complete your US studies and return to Saudi Arabia?

I have been through this adjustment process when I was young, this was when my father received his PhD and we returned to Makkah. It was not easy and it was a tough road, but with support and understanding from my parents I was able to face the differences. But when I think about it now and how it will be after I return, I don’t feel any fear.  I am actually thinking on how I can keep some of the independent lifestyle I have here. In your blog you mentioned the washing machines and the dependency on maids. I laughed thinking if I could depend on myself and have my home all to myself; that would be amazing.

I don’t fear people reaction much. I think this is attributed to the fact that Saudi’s (in Jeddah specifically) have a more understand view of cultural and social differences. I have been criticized of being an optimist when it comes to my view of Saudi. But I truly believe that we have developed and moved forward and will work to make a better life for each other. Lots of disasters and difficulties in the society have led to self-initiated changes. That’s the spark that we needed and through education ourselves we must work on bettering ourselves for the sake of bettering our society.

  • Naturally I must ask, since you are a female student, (a) are you accompanied by a mahrem while in the US and (b) do you drive while you are in the United States?

car keys   I was accompanied by my husband when I first arrived; he did go back but visited every couple of months. After convincing my family my younger brother joined me for a short while, he was accepted in a university in the US and the UK but believe it or not he returned to Saudi because he could never feel at home anywhere else.

In regards to driving I was very scared of the whole experience and as soon as I got to Bloomington I was sent the booklet and some helpful hints for the writing test! I guess the ladies were excited on introducing me to driving. I took my time though and after I passed the test I needed to wait six months before I took my driving test because I had no previous license which was fine for me I was not looking forward to driving during rain or on icy roads. Once my husband was here he found me a driving instructor (saying that he couldn’t do it and that I needed someone with more professional teaching skills, I think he was just afraid I would use his car to learn!!) anyway I passed the test and received my license within three weeks. I do have to say that I still ask my husband to drive me everywhere (Saudi habit) and I only drive when I absolutely have to. I walk most of the time – I don’t get to do that back home so I try to enjoy myself as much as I can.

 

  • Do you feel like you have been accepted and warmly welcomed as a Saudi student in the United States?  Why or why not?  hoosiers

Bloomington is a funny place in Indiana. It is the most culturally diverse town in Indiana. I think that everyone here is more or less accepted and free to be themselves.

Before I came to the B-town I emailed a lot of people! I reached out to a moms group which helped me in locating the best schools. The department’s assistant was great in introducing me to the right people.  Everyone that I talked to was really helpful. When I got here my advisor did a great job in welcoming me and gaining my trust, he works with many international students and I think my fears were things that he worked with before. He was my rock.

I have lovely Kuwait neighbors who have been wonderful and supportive.

As a Saudi student I must admit that I did not find much support from the Saudi society. After all I was without my husband so they really didn’t know I was there. Once I became familiar with my surrounding, I would go up to Saudi students that looked new and would ask them if I could help them in anyway. I met and made friends with a lot of Saudi’s that way. I think that was how one day I woke up to find myself nominated as the Saudi Club president! I declined though because I didn’t want anything to take me away from my kids and studies – I was hardly able to juggle those two things.

  • Has it been easy to make friends with non-Saudis and non-Arabs?

I can’t say it was easy and I can’t say it was hard. I am a very social person and tend to say Salam to people I meet and introduce myself. At the beginning I kept to myself and my Kuwaiti neighbor was probably the only person I knew. I then started to meet moms of my children’s friends which was a great thing. They were there for me and I am very grateful to them. I have made many friends after that as I gained confidence and became more adjusted. My husband and I joined many social groups which increased our social circle. 

  • How has your lifestyle or customs changed, if any, while being a student in the United States?

Like I mentioned before I am very much relaxed now, I have my studies and my small family to take care of. I take every day as it comes. I don’t plan much. I feel as though I am on vacation sometimes!! This does not apply to the end of semesters by the way!

  • Please share a few of your favorite experiences as a Saudi student in the United States.

us-saudi-flags   I am very happy to be representing my country. I love clarifying misunderstandings and sharing experiences. Listening to others and realizing how we are all more or less the same. I once heard someone say that we are all foreigners. That is such a true statement.

One event I can remember was when I was asked to give a presentation about Saudi Arabia during the Saudi national day. I was never so proud of being a Saudi more than that day. I started of the presentation with the national anthem, everyone joined. The proud faces and enthusiastic voices were very moving.

 

  • What have been some of the challenges you have faced since being in the United States?  How have you overcome these challenges?

One of the things that I still struggle with is my hijab. People are curious and I find it difficult to handle all the staring and turning of heads. I don’t know if I have overcome it completely but I can say that I am more confident as time goes by. The most difficult part of the challenge knows that I am being judged according to my appearance. I wear my hijabs different every time just so that I leave people guessing which can actually be fun. People now come up and ask my husband and I where we are from. We get very interesting guesses!

  • What advice do you have for other Saudi students and especially female students who are studying abroad?  How can they make their educational experience the most positive?

Get to know the people around you. Learn from them. Do not isolate yourselves and allow different people to come in contact with you. I have seen students that spend more than a year in the US and still struggle with communicating and adjusting. Join clubs, volunteer, go to study groups, learn about others talk about yourself. Most important be simple. Do not worry about your typos, or how you might be understood or what one would think of you if you did something. And as I always tell my brothers have fun but be careful!

Being abroad is an opportunity to gain new experiences and learn more about you. Don’t waste it!

  • Have you been to the United States before?  What is your view of Americans as compared to Saudis?  Is it true Americans are more open but Saudis are more hospitable?

I grew up in the midwest and spent a few vacations there after we returned to live in Saudi.

 Americans and Saudis are different like any other culture is different to another. I even feel the Gulf States are very different to an extent too. However I do feel there is a more simplicity to the American Culture in comparison to the perfection that I see many Saudis seek. I would relate that theory to the openness and hospitality issue. I found both cultures display the same generosity and warmth but with varying degrees. Americans are more honest about their priorities and value their time and schedule. Surprising them with a visit would not be suggested. Saudi people on the other hand would cancel their appointments and call for catering even if it was a difficult time.

  • How supportive has your family been about you studying abroad?  family first

First of all I am very blessed to have the support of my father and husband when it came to my career. From the time my father told me that I was a good writer and I shouldn’t waste my time in a science major I knew that he always took my happiness seriously. When I received my scholarship he encouraged me to apply to universities and go ahead with the process, “You never know what will happen just go ahead and do it!”Alhamdulliah I did. My husband has been my support from day one. He never let me miss an opportunity. I am thankful for having him in my life. My family has always been a supporter of education in fact my mother will be finished with her qualification exams soon! Go Mama!! I am very blessed Mashala.

My husband and I are working hard on helping each other study after all we are the working kind where after the kids sleep it means its grownup time and we go out, socialize or just watch a movie. Now we have to help each other find quiet time and take turns putting the kids to sleep when the other has a deadline. Its great education for us!!

  • How do you feel studying abroad and specifically in America has changed you?

I have matured and I like to think that I am more careful and perceptive about my decisions. I give myself more time to think and rationalize and I allow myself to make mistakes and learn from them. I know I am being very theoretical, I am after all studying for a degree in Philosophy!!

  • Is there anything additional you’d like to share?

I care very much about student development and understand the importance of adjustment. I believe that a happy student is a successful student. I would be very happy to help as much as I can student that are facing difficulties with their surroundings and in need of assistance.

  • Thanks again for this interview and I wish you all the best in your studies and future endeavors.

 

Thank you so much for this opportunity. I have to say that I loved answering your questions more than writing my papers!

 

 positive

 

 

For the number of international students at IUB:

(2012) Another record year for international student enrollment reported at Indiana University. Retrieved from: http://newsinfo.iu.edu/news/page/normal/23098.html

 

IU Image:  projectformica.blogspot.com

PHD image: distance-learning-college-guide.com

single parenting image:  buzzle.com

grandmother image:  papercuts.blogs.splitcoaststamps.com

car keys image: plazaautomotive.com

IU Hoosiers image: coolspotters.com

Family First image: familiesfirstcolorado.org

Be positive image: lifereflexology.blogspot.com

 

 

 

Saudi Arabia: Interview with a Saudi Foreign Wife

February is known as a month for love and romance.  As a result, American Bedu has featured multiple interivews with individuals who have their own special connections to Saudi Arabia.  These interviews are always a popular topic of discussion.  With today’s posting, American Bedu has the pleasure to interview an American woman who has married a Saudi man.  Due to sensitivities associated with her story, she is not identified by name.

 

Thank you for reaching out to American Bedu and offering to share your story and journey.

love and marriage

yumigawa.deviantart.com

It’s my esteemed pleasure to share my story with you. I’ve been following your blog from time to time for several years now.

To begin with, please share with American Bedu readers a little bit about yourself.  What part of the States are you from?  What was your upbringing like? 

I grew up in a small town in New Jersey a commuter suburb to New York City. I had a really troubled relationship with my parents. It led to me leaving to live with my grandmother, who then died after I got into college. After college when I had nowhere to go but home since I couldn’t find a job, I came to them. I even helped them move from one house to another and many other things since I was muslim at that point and had a better understanding of respect for parents. They had the same problems that they had with me when I was a younger. One day, after a minor altercation with my dad, he just told me to get out of the house and never come back. I spent about 4 months homeless, refused to get married until I had gotten at least some kind of job. Anyhow, that’s another story.

Did you ever imagine yourself meeting and falling in love with a man who came from a differing culture, country and religion?

When I got into college, I had pretty much given up on men after being picked on a lot and turned down by guys throughout high school. Not only that, but my university was quite dangerous, and I had been sexually assaulted not only at my university job, but also in the dorm laundry room and by a classmate. I really was not looking to be in any type of romantic relationship with a man. I was even turned off of marriage even further since I had been working in the center where they had English language classes for international students and a few guys had targeted me as a potential wife. I had at least two stalkers that I can remember. One even tried to get me into his car to go to the mosque to get married so he could get a green card!! (I have no clue how he could have forced me to marry him had he actually gotten me there.)

saudi love

sarooony.deviantart.com

How did you and your Saudi meet one another?  How long from your initial meeting did you both realize that you had feelings which were stronger than a mere friendship?

By the time I had actually met him I had already converted to Islam and was speaking Arabic fluently. It’s actually a funny story (only for me) how we met. You see, I had met this girl online who had similar interests in Arabic, and Saudi Arabia. I had by that time met a lot of Saudis at my school, and was getting somewhat interested in their culture, and I was also learning specific dialects from the country. She had been telling me about this guy that she knew online that was soooooo perfect.

“He doesn’t go out with girls, he’s so religious…” The more she told me about him, the more interested I became. She was also really infatuated with him. I felt I knew a little bit better about the Saudi culture and its language though; I was definitely a better match. I was probably hearing about him for months, so I’d ask different questions about him, getting to know a little more about him.

He seemed like my ideal guy. I told her one day that she should put us in a conference chat so I could see that he is ‘really real.’ When I talked to him the first time he was really polite with me speaking in Modern Standard Arabic. I wouldn’t speak English with him at all. I wanted him to know that my language was good in hopes of enticing him to like me. (I already knew I liked him before this point.)

After this meeting, I kept in touch with him but I never spoke with him by voice or even saw his picture. I just wanted to know his personality because I care about these things the most. Now, at the time we had met we were in summer breaks from school. I was about to go into my senior year and he was going into his junior year of university. I asked him to help me with my language, so we would watch Arabic cartoon series together in YouTube. I would write ‘Ready??? Play!!!’ to make sure that we both were at the same exact second each time. I felt really close to him. It wasn’t until I had gotten back to the university for a few months where I gave him a missed call in Skype. I wanted him to think it was a mistake, but he actually called me back. Then I answered and heard his voice for the first time, and I liked it a lot. Within a few weeks, I requested him to send me his picture. I had totally been thinking he was short with a big, black, curly hair atop his head and a cute potbelly (since he said he likes to eat a lot). I was totally wrong. His picture literally took my breath away. He was tall, balding handsomely and built.  It wasn’t soon until I started wanting to tell him “I love you.” I think he felt that coming with my playful, “I….., I……., I……” He said that we shouldn’t say that, we aren’t married. I said, “Why aren’t we married?”

I told him I knew already about the whole ‘it’s not allowed’ thing, but are we really just going to not get married? We married (islamically) by phone, kind of as an engagement. Then, we could continue our chatting to the romantic level.

 

How much did you know about Saudi Arabia as a country and Saudi’s as a people prior to meeting the man who became your husband?

I can’t say that I knew more than he knows about his own country, but I could place people into which city(ies) they were from by listening to them speaking or by their face, clothing style or other. I had done my reading.

What part of the Kingdom is your husband from?  What kind of an upbringing did he have?  Would you describe him as open or traditional or conservative?

My husband is from the Eastern region of Saudi Arabia (sharqia). He is also a Shia (I am also). His father died when he was 2 or younger and his mother died when she was 17. The thing about his upbringing has a lot to do with the death of his father.

The story was that his father, a successful businessman who owned a bit of land, was having some pain in his leg. His (evil and jealous, but trusted) brother decided to take him to a public hospital. He died of mysterious reasons. The next thing that happened on the day that he died as told by his mother. His evil uncle went into their house into his father’s private room and closed the door. He took everything of theirs, and left them with nothing. As much as she complained, his family did not want to burn bridges with each other by getting into the problem. She tried to get aid from the government but they would give her nothing stating that her late husband was a ‘businessman.’  She was forced to bring up three children with no means in a very small house. It gave him a lot of reasons to respect women, one of the things that I admire about him. He cares deeply for the rights of women. 15 years later, she also died from mysterious reasons. Sometimes we think that she had completely tired herself out from the stress of living in such poverty.

I would say that he is open-minded.

When and how did he propose to you?  Was his family aware of you before he proposed or that the two of you married?

We agreed to get married. His family knew nothing about it when we married (technically got engaged) on the phone like that, but some months before we got married on government papers (in the US), he called his brothers to let them know he had found someone and see what they thought. He let me talk to them. They really liked me, especially because I was a convert and probably more because I spoke their language and they could identify with that.

civil marriage

clarkcountynv.gov

I understand that you and your husband are married.  Please share some details of your wedding with American Bedu readers.  Did you have a civil, church or Islamic wedding ceremony?  (or combination!)  Did you have a large wedding?  What kind of a dress did you wear?  Who stood up with you?

We had a civil wedding. We went to city hall in New York City, got our marriage license and then asked them to allow us to marry on the same day instead of having to wait another day; they allowed us. Then we proceeded back to the court and looked around for someone to be our witness. I just wore regular everyday clothes that I was normally wearing around that time. My black abaya and black scarf.

How long have the two of you been married?  How confident are you that you know all you need to know about your husband?  Please explain your answer.

We have been married almost three years now, not counting the engagement.  I’ve known him for 4.5 years. I think I know more about him than he knows about himself. He relies on me for everything. I really have no idea where he would be without me. I also wonder where I would be without him.

What does your husband do in the United States?  Do the two of you plan to remain in the United States?  Do you want to travel to Saudi Arabia?  Why or why not?

Well, he got dismissed from his graduate program. That was really sad news for us, but he is definitely going to try again. He is desperately trying to find a job. He’s had several interviews and a few offers so far but some are in other states and I will not be able to leave with him, as I am in my last semester of graduate school and working two jobs at the same time.

Do you ever fear that your husband will return or have to return to Saudi Arabia without you?  How does that make you feel? 

I used to fear that a lot, especially because we had no money to apply for permanent resident status. I finally got some money together last summer and we started it with a lawyer. We were really worried about the financial sponsor portion of the application, but I have really good news…. Our lawyer fought for us to count his scholarship salary as my income. It was slightly complicated to do that, but if any of your readers are attempting this, you can have them contact me, and I can tell them how to do this.

Do you know his family?  Do you know how to contact them and feel that you can reach out to them at any time?

I know some of his family personally and most of them by reputation. I am definitely more than welcome to call them anytime. He has one aunt who sticks on me like molasses. She constantly calls me wanting to chat, and chat, and chat…. His brothers really like me a lot. One of them once called at 3 am to ask me how to spell ‘gergis’ (craigslist). They get a lot of help from me with English (so they had better not complain!). But sometimes some miscommunications happen between me and them and I end up being mad at them for some reasons.

parenthood

dishesinthesink.com

I understand that you and your husband are also parents!  How has parenthood changed your lives and your relationship?

Parenthood changed our lives a lot. We don’t get the time to talk like we used to. I kind of feel more like roommates right now. I’m co-sleeping with my one-year old daughter, and I’m not going to stop until we get into a bigger place, so he either sleeps at the end of the bed or on the couch, because we don’t have the money to buy a bigger bed. Lots of things are going to change when either I graduate or he gets a job.

Do you want your child to have Saudi citizenship?  Why or why not?

I’d like her to have anything that she is entitled too. If she can get some benefits from being a Saudi citizen such as a college scholarship and such, I’d REALLY love that for her!

How do you feel your life has changed by marrying a Saudi?

At first, I had to be really secretive about this relationship. So it cost me a lot of friendships. I had agreed to be silent about this marriage, but it was really hard in the long run. Many of my friends who I miss never knew I got married and had a baby, and if I tell them now, they will be so mad at me for not telling them.

What was your family’s reaction to your decision to marry a Saudi?  Are they supportive?  Are they okay if you decide to make a future life in Saudi Arabia?

Because my parents and I had so many problems, by the time I had gotten married I had already cut ties with them for a while.

When my dad got prostate cancer I reconnected with them for a short while, but it was pretty hard to maintain a good relationship. I cut ties again after a fight with my mom. Now just three days ago, she was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer, so I am back in touch with her. We should be having a visit soon. She really likes my husband. I’m not sure about her specific reasons, but she never ‘didn’t like’ him.

If we had decided to move to anywhere in the world, I honestly feel that it wouldn’t affect her feelings at all given our relationship.

There are many women who meet and fall in love with a Saudi while he is abroad.  What advice can you give to these women?  How can they know their Saudi is serious (if they are wanting a committed relationship with him)?  What are the ‘red flags’ a foreign woman should watch out for if she becomes involved with a Saudi?

I can tell you only from experience from knowing a few other women who married Saudis here in the US.

If he is hiding any type of information from you such as financial information, family information etc, beware.

If he spends more time with his friends than you, beware.

If none of his friends know about you or only a select few, beware.

If he has a lot of girls on his facebook, or numbers in his phone and he is one of the traditional types, I’d be suspicious.

Sometimes they might hide girls’ numbers under men’s names in their phones, if they are calling a specific guy really often you might want to investigate or ask how that guy is doing.

Are there any more details you’d like to share about your relationship and marriage?  Any additional advice?

Advice: marry someone who respects you.

American Bedu wishes you all the very best and happiness!  Thank you again for this interview.

Saudi Arabia: The Story of a Saudi Bi-Cultural Woman

It’s a pleasure for American Bedu to have the opportunity to interview Sahar and have her perspectives as a Saudi female growing up in the Kingdom.

 

Thanks, Sahar, for allowing me to interview you and taking the time to answer these questions!

 Flag-Pins-Thailand-Saudi-Arabia

crossed-flag-pins.com

Let’s begin with a little bit about yourself.  I understand that you are a Saudi national, but what is your family’s background?  Are both your mother and father Saudi citizens?

Am a first born of Thai-Saudi couple , my father is a Saudi nation and my mother is a Thai national 

What has it been like for you growing up in Saudi Arabia but with a non-Saudi mother?  Have you ever felt at any time that you were not viewed as a Saudi?  Were you ever treated or received differently by your Saudi peers?

Yeas sometime when I was young since I used to be really weak at Arabic language and some of the life style are very different in my family than other one and (am sorry to say that) but when I was child I was trying to avoid any topic about my mom side , now as people are more open minded and more educated it became much more better   

Can you share with readers what a usual week is like for you.  Would you describe your life as a typical traditional Saudi life?  Why or why not?

It actually hard to say but I would say it not typical traditional Saudi life but it have a lot of traditional aspects since we live with my grandmother , as I said before the live style was so different from other , any one live in a multicultural family would understand that beginning from the perspective family to the food style are in way or other are different , sometime I view something as obvious and normally but others view it as strange or rather unique.

Where in the Kingdom is home for you?  Do you live with your parents or are you married?  riyadh houses

Riyadh is the home that embraced my memory , yeah I live with my mom and my grandmother ( from father side ) since my father passed away 

Speaking of marriage, if you are married, was your marriage arranged through your family?  If you are not married, do you expect or want your family to arrange your marriage?  Why or why not?

I think an arrange marriage is the obvious choice I see right now but I prefer if it was one I choose who have the same experience that I had

Do you consider yourself 100 per cent Saudi?

No

Do you travel often to Thailand to spend time with your Thai side of the family?

I was born and raised until the age of 5 after that we come to live with my father in Saudi since that we didn’t go back until recently and we are planning on doing regular visits  

People who never have the chance to hear from a Saudi woman often have many questions about them.  I’d like to ask you a few of the most common…

 

What do you like to do for fun and entertainment?

Gathering with family or friends, going out for shopping or restaurant sometime going camping in the winter

What kind of fashions do you like?  Do you listen to music?  If so, what kind?

I like more of cute or classic fashion and mostly I go with my own fashion – something that make feel comfortable- , in term of music I like soft rock or anything that have guitar in it 

traditional dress     How do you dress when you are out in public?  Ie, abaya, hijab and /or niqab?  Do you choose to dress differently if you are out of the Kingdom?  Why or why not?

abaya, hijab would be what I go with usually but when am with my father’s family they always ask me to go with niqab and I do so  , out of the kingdom I choose not to wear hijab but I dress modestly .

What are your views on Saudi women now being part of the Shura council?

It’s a good thing to make women part of that as everything need to even part to work well and I hope it lead us to better future .

What do you think are the most important issues for a Saudi woman and why?

That they are so dependent on men in most of the thing , they need to have more power in decision making .

On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest priority, how important is it for women to drive in Saudi Arabia?  Please explain your answer.

7 , some women doesn’t have a male that could drive them around and other have different way to go that one male can’t drive then all in so in the end they need to use a driver with much of people can’t afford  , why it is the 7 and not higher ?! because there is other face that are part of the problem and could solve the problem which is the lack of good or at all public transportation . 

Are you in favor of the mahrem system?  Is it in the woman’s best interest that she have a male mahrem?

In some case a think it is good thing but mostly people here misuse this system to have overall control of the women

Do you think many Saudi women who are not married have contact with men to whom they are not related?  Why or why not?  If so, how?

yeah there is , as for why not really sure but most of the case I have acquaintance with are teenage and want to try love as any other teenage in the world or it is just out of curiosity toward the other sex .

What are the top five places and things to do you think an expatriate or any visitor to Saudi Arabia should do?

makkah     if they are Muslim I would say the two holy city , if not there in some historical place in different part of Saudi most of them are in north and south but we have national museum in Riyadh and Old al-drayah when you can see the traditional old house of Saudi , the following link of some good site I have passed by I hope it come to help :

http://blueabaya.blogspot.com/2012/01/ten-amazing-places-to-visit-in-saudi.html

http://travelling-around-the-earth.blogspot.com/2011/01/top-tourist-attraction-places-in-saudi.html

http://www.hziegler.com/articles/historical-ancient-sites-in-ksa.html

 

In your view, do you think there is a wide gulf of understanding between East and West?  Why or why not?

Yeas the lack of information or I must say the correct information from both side and the way that the media present the other mislead a lot of people who do not try to look more and understand more about the other side

How can people of differing faiths, customs and way of life build better bridges of understanding with Saudis?

In my humble opinion if we want to understand other we should not view them in subjective way nether view them in our prospective we should view them in an abstract way  , we should ask more and try harder to go to their cultural root and understand it as culture make deep effect in people behavior and action .

Are there any additional questions or comments you’d like to add?

That was really good and interesting

I hope to read more of your good article and looking forward to read something about multicultural or multinational family of Saudi  

Thank you, Sahar.  It’s been a pleasure and honor to have the opportunity to ask you these questions.

It have been honor for me too to be a part of your site and if you need any further information in the future don’t hesitate to email me 

Saudi Arabia: Noorah’s Story

The relationship between a foreign woman and a Saudi man is always a topic of hot discussion.  Even more so, if they have married and made it to the Kingdom.  American Bedu is honored to interview Noorah, a non Saudi woman who met, married a Saudi and is now living in the Kingdom with her husband.  Here is her story….

 love saudi style

zazzle.com

 

Prior to meeting your husband, did you ever envision that you would meet and marry someone from a different country, culture or religion?

I never envisioned myself married to a someone not sharing the same traditions,culture and religion as I.

 

By way of background, where are you originally from?  What kind of background do you have such as what religion were you raised, where you went to school and what you studied?

My grandfather was a Portuguese Jew, who married a Mexican women and adapted her religion (Catholicism). Both my parents are   Mexican. I am from San Diego, California and majored in Child Development.

Now of course, we all want to hear just how you and your Saudi husband first met!  Everyone loves a love story.  What was your first reaction upon meeting him?  What kind of a courtship did you have?  When did you know he was The One?   cafe lu lu

I met my husband at this hip coffee shop called Cafe LuLu on 4/19/93 it was destiny all the way. I was suppose to meet some friends from Prague, and bumped into my husband…we spoke for hours getting to know each other, exchanged phone numbers and courted over the phone for about a month. After the month passed I introduced him to my family and told them I had taken some courses in school with him (parents were pretty strict and meeting him in a coffee shop would not be ok). We fell in Love instantly, and I just knew he was the one.

How much did you know about Saudis or Saudi Arabia before you met him?  Do you feel like he was a good teacher in educating and sensitizing you about Saudi’s culture, customs and traditions?

I knew absolutely nothing about KSA. We were taught our senior year about OPEC, that was pretty much it. My husband comes from a very good family, and has always been proud of it..he is open minded but still very traditional and very spiritual, I believe he was the perfect tool in introducing me to Islam and his wonderful traditions and customs.

 

When did you first meet or speak to any of his family?  What was their reaction on learning he had fallen in love with a non-Saudi?

We were always around the shebab(guys), most of them were his cousins..thank God they liked me and encouraged us to marry. When I was 20 and my husband 24, he had to leave back to KSA to fix his I20, it was a Thursday 1/95 and just blurted out and asked me to marry him before his flight on Saturday..we went to the Mosque the next evening and married, I returned home and could not believe I had just married without no one knowing (till this day my family does not know). He returned to KSA for about 5 months, I studied about his country and religion..after two months I took my Shahada at Masjid Abu Bakr in SD,CA. When my husband called me to see how I was doing, I greeted him with the Sallaam, he was in tears. Amazingly a week later his family was suggesting him to marry before he returned to the US, he told them he was married and as I like to say “all hell broke loose”(lol). His mother (allahya hum a) asked if I was muslim, he said “yes”, she asked him to call me and they all congratulated me. We had a wedding on July 29,1995 

 

How easy was it for you and your husband to ultimately receive the approval?  Were there any challenges?  Did it take a long time?

As for govermental approval we had no problems, he was asked for our marriage,birth and shahada certificates. It took about 3 months in total.

When did you and your husband move to the Kingdom?  Were you able to travel together or did he have to go before you?  What part of the Kingdom do you call home?

Our first visit to the Kingdom was in May of 97, we stayed in Riyadh for 9 months. We returned in 2001 with our first born Hessa and stayed for about 8 months. We finally moved to Riyadh in September of 2005.

riyadh skyline     What were your initial thoughts and impressions of life in Saudi?  Was it easy or difficult to adjust?  What changes did you have to make in your lifestyle?  Do you know Arabic?

My initial thoughts of the kingdom was it was tremendously boring. Coming from San diego, beaches, bays and ports..I had to make quite an adjustment. I took me about a year to adjust and make friends.

I am an optimistic person, so I never felt my life here was a challenge. I have always found the good in everything here. I am well aware one’s thoughts are a persons garden..you can choose to plant flowers or weeds? I choose to plant lovely flowers!! I did learn to speak Arabic and as for changing my lifestyle I did not. If anything I tweaked it. I am more subtle and formal with my husbands family and I have a group of foreign friends married to Saudis as well, and we mix with together.

 

When and why did you choose to change your Western name?

I never changed my name legally, my husband’s mother could not pronounce Norma so she insisted in calling me Noorah, which I loved, so I kept it.

 

What is your typical routine like in the Kingdom?  Are you working?

I have domestic help in the home, so I do not raise a finger in tidying up, but I do love cooking. I am the one who makes the breakfast, lunch and sometimes dinner (if we don’t order out). Lunch is the main meal in a Saudi home, so I take pride in having variety. Our dinner is always light. When the children are in school, I go out for coffee with my friends come back by noon to cook lunch, kids are picked up at school by me..return to eat and do homework. We usually go to the Diplomat Quarter so the children can ride bikes, come home and wait for my husband to return home from work. Kids are off to bed by 8:30 and my husband and I sometimes go out for a bite, or visit his elder family members. Weekends are always spent very busy (lots of social events).

Have you seen any kind of changes in your husband since living in Saudi such as in his personality or demeanor? 

Have not seen any changes in my husband’s demeanor, obvioulsy we are constantly maturing but nothing alarming. He is still a sweet spiritual loving husband.

Have you been able to make many friends in Saudi?  Are your friends primarily Saudis or expatriates?  How did you meet?  How often do you interact with your in-laws?  What do you all do together?  saudi family 1

My husband comes from a huge family, and he the youngest of 15 children. He is the age of some of his nephews and nieces. This has helped me a lot in the sense that I have many people my age around me but with the respect of being their aunty.  As I mentioned before I also made friends with a large group of Latina and Americans married to Saudi, they are my family here in the Kingdom. My husband family gathers for dinner or just women with children to socialize. As for my group of friends we gather at least 3 times a week. We celebrate birthdays, halloween, x-mas and so forth..many pot lucks!!

 

Can you share your views and experiences on having and raising children in the Kingdom.  How many children do you have?  Where were they born?  Who was with you when they were born?

I have four children in total. Two girls 13, 10 and two boys 9 and 3. All of my children were born in the states, with the exception of the last one. I found that raising children in the Kingdom is ideal. This country is very family oriented, from play structures in restaurants, to theme parks in the malls. As for values and morals, I can’t complain. I am proud of being a mother to these beautiful Saudi children. My husband was present at all my births, he actually cut all the umbilical cords.

 

Do you have any fears or qualms on raising your children in the Kingdom?  What do you see as the benefits your children receive at being raised in Saudi Arabia?

I have absolutely no concerns for my children being raised here, if anything they have family security, stability and most important a strong religious foundation.

 

What are the top five things you enjoy most about living in Saudi Arabia? 

Five top things: family security, food, inexpensive living, near many travel destinations (europe, india..) culture

 

What do you wish Saudi Arabia had that is presently not available and why?

I will say Riyadh needs to focus on more outdoor activities and facilities as Jeddah has.

 

san-francisco-beaches-pictures     What have you missed the most about home and why?

I have missed the beaches!

How often do you return to your home country?  Has any of your family come to visit you in the Kingdom?

I try to go home every summer and visit my family. My family has come to visit me in Dubai.

 

You are one of the few who have married their Saudi –and- made it to the Kingdom to live.  There are so many Western women who have relationships with Saudi students.  Many of them believe that their Saudi is “The ONE” and sincere.  What advice can you offer them?

Always be very honest with your needs and wants. 

 

Do you think most Saudi men who are students in the United States are as sincere as they claim to Western women?  Why or why not?

I think they are sincere with their feelings, standing up to their family is a whole other subject.

What are the five most important things a Western woman must know about her Saudi if she believes he is ‘The One?’

Saudi man is very traditional, protective, proud, god fearing and stubborn(lol)

 

If any young lady finds herself married to a Saudi, always be true to who you are, and try to learn and incorporate both of your traditions and values in one. Do not lose yourself, this is why he chose you in the first place.

 

I want to thank you for this interview and wish you all the best and for a continued life filled with happiness!

Saudi Arabia: Interview with Saudi wife, Nicole – Part II

saudi airlines

 

When did you and your husband move to Riyadh?  Were you able to travel together or did he have to go before you?

We spent two years together when Saleh was in the States, studying. After that, he went back to Riyadh, and we had to spend two years apart, which was so difficult. It made it somewhat easier knowing that we would have had to spend those two years apart in any case, as I had to finish my classes for my PhD, but it was still really hard. Thank God for Skype, BlackBerry Messenger, and MagicJack! In our first year apart, Saleh got a job, got himself set up to marry, and then approached his parents and eventually got their permission to marry me. We were able to visit each other in that first year, but in the second year apart, we didn’t get to see each other at all. But we got the permission and got everything arranged for me to move to Riyadh. After eleven months without seeing each other, Saleh came back to the States to get me. J We got all of the American marriage paperwork taken care of, and we spent a week with my family. Then we spent another week in Washington, D.C., getting my visa from the embassy. Finally, we flew to Riyadh together!

What were your initial thoughts and impressions of life in Saudi?  Was it easy or difficult to adjust?  What changes did you have to make in your lifestyle?  Do you know Arabic?

There were definitely adjustments to make! J But my initial impression of Saudi Arabia was, “Well, it’s really not as bad as everyone makes it sound.” (My mom’s first reaction when she visited Riyadh back in November was, “It looks just like Las Vegas…but you know, without the casinos!” That got a lot of laughs from my in-laws.) I expected to live in fear all the time, and that hasn’t been the case at all. But without question, the most difficult adjustment has been not being able to drive. It drives me nuts that I have to call my husband to bring me home this or that from the store, or that I have to ask him to take me to do something. Most of the time he’s good about making sure I get where I want or need to go, but you know, he works outside of the house all day, so when he gets home, I know he wants to relax and not have to shuttle his wife around in the crazy Riyadh traffic. Sometimes I go places with the family driver with my mother-in-law or my sister-in-law, but even then, we have to call him and wait until he gets ready and brings the car around. Always waiting on a man. It’s so different from what I’m used to, being able to hop in the car and just take off. It’s frustrating to Saleh sometimes, as well; he often comments, “I just wish you could drive here.” In the States, he got used to being able to just hand the wheel over to me on a road trip, having me pick up something from the grocery store, or having me drive myself to meet my friends for breakfast. So it’s been an adjustment for him, too.

I don’t know Arabic, other than the basics—counting to 10, random words and phrases I pick up by listening and observing, and of course, swear words, which I learned from hearing my husband yell at Riyadh drivers and from hearing my mother-in-law yell at the cats. J Once I got really mad at my husband and yelled an Arabic obscenity at him (which I shall not share here). I had no idea what it meant at the time, but his eyes got huge and he said, “That is awful! Where did you learn that??” I had to tell him, “From listening to you!” That was probably a good lesson for him to learn prior to parenthood. J I do know the alphabet and can read slowly, kind of like a Saudi kindergartner. J But the difference between me and a Saudi kindergartner is that once they read the words, they comprehend what they are reading, and I mostly don’t. But I very much want to learn, and I love listening to my in-laws speak Arabic. I try to encourage my husband to speak to me in Arabic, as well. I tend to try to read Arabic signs while Saleh is driving, and the other day I sounded out a big word on an all-Arabic sign (no English translations), and I was amazed at myself when I realized I had read the word “falafel”! All by myself! Again…like a Saudi kindergartner. J

What is your typical routine like in Riyadh?  Are you working?

I teach online, so I work at home. And although I’ve finished all of the actual classes for my doctoral program, I’m still working on the second part of the PhD process, which involves writing…lots and lots of writing. J I’m determined to finish and graduate by the end of this year. So my typical day consists of researching, reading, and writing…with some housework, cooking, and crafting thrown in. Sometimes I go downstairs at lunchtime and eat with my in-laws. When Saleh gets home in the evening, sometimes we will go out and do grocery shopping or run some other errands. On the weekends, we usually go out and about…to a restaurant for lunch or dinner, to one of Riyadh’s many, many malls to shop or just walk around, to a park, or something like that. There’s so much I want to see, so on the weekends, I’m always bugging him, “Let’s go someplace!” J

no pda   Have you seen any kind of changes in your husband since living in Saudi such as in his personality or demeanor? 

The only change I saw in him was his reluctance to show any sort of affection toward me in front of his family when I first arrived. In front of my family, and in public in the States, he would hold my hand, put his arm around me, kiss my forehead or cheek occasionally, that kind of thing. But of course, in Saudi Arabia, PDA is a major no-no. I mean, married couples will hold hands or the wife will hold her husband’s arm sometimes, but that’s it. No kissing at all between married couples, even just on the forehead or cheek. I honestly didn’t expect any sort of affection in public here, but it stung a little bit that he seemed to become standoffish to me when we were just in front of his family. It was especially frustrating because behind closed doors, he would transform back into the sweet Saleh I know and love! I talked to him about it, told him that it was really bothering me, and he was like, “I’m sorry—this is all new for me! I’ve never been with my wife around my family before!” He loosened up after that, though. He’ll hold my hand in front of his family now. J

Have you been able to make many friends in Saudi?  Are your friends primarily Saudis or expatriates?  How did you meet?  How often do you interact with your in-laws?  What do you all do together?

Thanks to Facebook, I had several lovely ladies to meet when I finally got to Riyadh! J Most of my friends here are other Western women married to Saudis. Sometimes I spend time with my sister-in-law and her coworkers, who are a mix of Saudis and expats, or with my husband’s cousins and extended family members, who are, of course, all Saudis.

I see my immediate in-laws—my mother-in-law, father-in-law, sister-in-law, and brother-in-law—all the time; I live with them! My husband and I have our own apartment on the top floor of their house, but we do live with my in-laws. We usually all eat lunch together on Fridays. Sometimes we sit outside at night in the hosh (the walled courtyard that surrounds the house) when the weather is nice. My sister-in-law often comes upstairs to sit and chat with me. Sometimes I go shopping with my mother-in-law. Every once in awhile my sister-in-law, brother-in-law, and I (and sometimes Saleh, if we can convince him to join) will break out a board game and play (we like Sequence). J

I understand Congratulations are in order!  How do you feel about giving birth in Saudi Arabia?  Will anyone from your family be able to come and be with you during that time?  sonogram

I’ve heard horror stories about giving birth in Saudi Arabia, but I’ve just as many horror stories about giving birth in the States. (It seems that when it comes to birth stories, like so many things, the worst ones get shared the most!) So at this point, I’m not nervous about where I’m going to give birth, I’m just nervous in general about it. But hey, I am woman, hear me roar, and all that. J I know I can do it!

My mom is hopefully going to be here for the birth, and then she will stay with us for about a month after the baby is born. I’m so looking forward to having her here, although I wish the rest of my friends and family in the States could be here, too. We’ve been trying to convince my dad to come to Riyadh during that time as well, at least for a week or two…but aside from being reluctant to leave the farm, he’s not too keen on the idea of a 14-hour flight. I haven’t given up hope yet, though!

Are you nervous or apprehensive in any way about raising a daughter in Saudi Arabia?  Do you fear or want her to be a typical Saudi girl?

I don’t want my daughter to be a typical any kind of girl! J I’m nervous and apprehensive about raising a child, period, but not because she’s a girl. If she’s anything like her dad (or like her mom, I suppose), she will be a stubborn little cookie. I have no doubt that she will find a way to become who and what she wants to be in this world. So no, I don’t fear her becoming a “typical Saudi girl,” nor do I particularly want that for her. I just want her to be whoever she is meant to be.

You are one of the few who have married their Saudi –and- made it to the Kingdom to live.  There are so many Western women who have relationships with Saudi students.  Many of them believe that their Saudi is “The ONE” and sincere.  What advice can you offer them?

I feel like it’s really difficult for me to tell other Western women to just move on from their Saudis when their hearts are telling them to do otherwise—I would be a hypocrite if I did. J My main piece of advice—which holds true for all women, but especially for a woman in love with a Saudi—is to take care of yourself first. Don’t lose sight of your goals—don’t let a future with your Saudi become your only goal, because if that’s all you have, it won’t be worth it. Make sure your Saudi supports the dreams you have for yourself, rather than encouraging you to change them to be with him. I know that falling in love can be like a whirlwind and it may feel like it would be worth it to do whatever it takes to be together, but if he’s not willing to respect and support your goals before you get married, he certainly won’t afterward.

Saleh and I met as graduate students; I was a full-time elementary school ESL teacher while I was in grad school at Missouri State, and Saleh had worked for a year in his field before he decided to pursue his MBA in the States. But I know that a lot of young women meet their Saudis as undergrads. For a woman considering marriage to a Saudi, especially if moving to the Kingdom is a possibility, it is so important that she finishes her degree and gets some work experience under her belt before she makes the move. When she moves to the Kingdom on a spousal visa, her iqama, her legal status as a resident in the Kingdom, will depend on her husband’s sponsorship. Should the marriage go bad and the divorce become ugly, he unfortunately has the ability to revoke her iqama and send her right back to her home country—without her children. If she doesn’t have a degree, she has no chance of getting a job here in the Kingdom, and thus she has no chance of getting an employer-sponsored iqama…and no chance of staying with her children. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the man won’t do his best to prevent his ex-wife from seeing the children, even if she does manage to stay in the Kingdom…but although Saudi Arabia’s system in many ways facilitates them, awful situations involving custody can happen anywhere in the world. The best advice I can give is trust in Allah, but tie up your camel, as we say.

Do you think most Saudi men who are students in the United States are as sincere as they claim to Western women?  Why or why not?

I’m sure that many Saudi men are just like many Western men; they want to hook up, and they’ll say whatever they need to say (or hide whatever they need to hide) to make it happen. Like my dad says, “I know how young guys think; I used to be one.” But when it comes to Saudi men/boys, the difference is the culture behind them. Western men don’t have their moms waiting back home to choose their wives (and they don’t live in a culture where polygamy is legal). Western men have been hanging around girls their whole lives and can choose to date whomever they please, and the same goes for Western women. So honestly, most of the time, a lot less flowery language, a lot less surface chivalry, a lot less effort goes into it when a Western man woos a Western woman. It just isn’t necessary, and a lot of the time, dating is not one torrid love affair after another, but a lukewarm process of trying people on to see how they fit. So when a guy goes full out with all of the Prince Charming stuff, we, as Western women, are somewhat trained to believe, “Whoa, this guy is serious about me.” If we’re not interested, there’s kind of that, “Wow, he’s a really sweet guy…but no.” And if we have any reciprocal feelings for him at all, it’s not a far leap to end up at the conclusion, “He must be The One.” Meanwhile, Saudi guys have spent most of their lives separated from women. It takes effort and risk to interact with girls in Saudi Arabia, and it’s a major risk for the girl. And the guys have to make that risk worth it for the girls. So they’ve learned to use as a default setting when pursuing a girl the signals we Western women take seriously. And thus when they meet a Western woman they are interested in, they do what their upbringing has trained them to do in the presence of a Saudi girl they want to know; they offer up those signals that we as Western women have been culturally conditioned not to ignore. Meanwhile, I think that Saudi women have been trained, to an extent, to expect that flowery language, that chivalry, that effort from even the most mildly interested suitor…or to even roll their eyes at it if they’re not interested in the chase. So I think it’s not so much an insincerity epidemic among Saudi men as it is a perfect storm of cultural miscues—although I’m sure there are plenty of Saudi guys who get to the States and take advantage of that when they realize, “Hey, my skills really work on the girls over here!” And of course, once a Western woman is very serious about a guy and believes he is The One, our culture is such that she may do things with him that a Saudi girl would rarely, if ever, do with a guy before she married him. And then the Saudi guy may lose respect for the Western woman, because in his mind, hey, if it was that “easy” for him, who else has it been that easy for? And even if he doesn’t think that and does truly love and respect the woman, there’s always the significant chance that his parents will refuse the match, and the Saudi man who will defy his parents, especially his mother, is about as common as the Saudi woman who will sleep with her boyfriend before she marries him. So he may end up back in Saudi Arabia, never seeing his Western woman again, regardless of how much he had hoped and prayed it would work out. And I thus I get how some Saudi men arrive at the obviously erroneous conclusion that all Western women are easy and disposable, and how some Western women arrive at the equally erroneous conclusion that all Saudi men are creeps and liars.

What are the five most important things a Western woman must know about her Saudi if she believes he is ‘The One?’

I always hate to give “rules” about what makes a relationship between a Saudi and a non-Saudi work, because there are always exceptions, of course, and I’ve known of Saudi couples who shared culture, religion, etc., did everything “right,” yet the marriage imploded spectacularly within a year. On the other hand, I know of Saudi/non-Saudi couples that have started out “wrong” in every way, and have been married for decades. That being said, off the top of my head, I can think of three important things a Western woman should know about her Saudi, based on my own experiences and observations.

  1. Know about his family, and don’t be shy about insisting that he let his family know something—anything—about you, even if it’s just, “Oh, I’m in a study group with this really smart girl who’s better than me at math.” Personally, I believe that if he’s serious, he should be willing to make your existence known to his family in at least some small way before he approaches them to get their approval to marry you. Learn as much as you can about his family. How many brothers and sisters does he have, what are their names, what order are they in? Do the men and the women sit together? Do his mom and sisters wear niqab? What does his dad do? Are any of his siblings married? Did they find their spouses in the traditional Saudi way? Nieces, nephews? In American culture, we have this idea of “leave and cleave”—that is, when you get married, you’re leaving your family to start a new one with your spouse. But it’s important to remember that in Saudi Arabia, family is paramount. When you marry a Saudi, you are in effect marrying his family. In all likelihood, you’re joining his family and adding to it, not breaking away. Learn as much about them—and their expectations—as you can.
  2. Know what he wants for his life and his children. Talk about everything. Talk about polygamy. Talk about what he would do if his daughter grew up and chose not to cover when outside of the Kingdom. Talk about what he would do if his son—or his daughter—came home wanting to marry a Westerner. Talk about what he thinks about letting his daughter go abroad alone to study. Talk about what you want in your marriage contract. Getting these difficult conversations out of the way won’t guarantee that there won’t be more in the future; there will always be more. But it will help you better understand your deep compatibility, and how well the two of you can communicate when the topic gets tangly. It should give you a clue of what you are in for in the future. Some of these conversations may be easy, but most of them won’t be. Even if your Saudi is one of the most “liberal” Saudis (although I hate using that term in this context), there will still be fundamental cultural differences that you will need to work out, differences you may not even be aware of until you’re knee-deep in what you thought was an entirely different topic. Discuss your most fundamental beliefs and ideals, and find out which ones you can agree to disagree on, and which ones are deal-breakers. I would guess that if these conversations aren’t difficult, then he’s just saying what you want to hear, and he’s probably not serious.
  3. Know what kind of Muslim he is. Of course, religion does not automatically make someone a good person, and in my opinion, many elements of Saudi Arabia’s interpretation of Islam have a lot more to do with cultural precedent than with sound religious doctrine. But that being said, if he avoids the masjid like the plague, drinks, parties, has female friends, lets you hang out with him and his buddies…well, these are all things he can’t (and probably wouldn’t be willing) to do in Saudi Arabia, so you’re likely looking at a guy who is going to completely transform into someone you don’t recognize as soon as your plane lands in the Kingdom.

I understand you also have created your own blog!  What is it called and when did you start it?

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It’s called The Same Rainbow’s End, at http://thesamerainbowsend.com. I started it in May 2011, about a year before I moved to Saudi Arabia. Now it’s mostly just about my life here in the Kingdom, although sometimes I go on rants about politics, society, or education. J I love photography, so I post pictures there occasionally. And I also love to cook, so there’s an occasional recipe there, too. But I’m definitely still learning at both of those things. J

In closing, is there anything else you’d like to say to American Bedu readers?

It feels like I’ve rambled on and on and on, so if you’ve actually read all the way to this point, thank you very much for taking the time to do so! J

I want to thank you for this interview and wish you all the best on upcoming parenthood and for a continued life filled with happiness!

Thank you so much for asking me for an interview, Carol; as a longtime American Bedu reader, I am honored. And I wish you the very best, as well!

Saudi Arabia: Interview with Saudi wife, Nicole Part I of II

The relationship between a foreign woman and a Saudi man is always a topic of hot discussion.  Even more so, if they have married and made it to the Kingdom.  American Bedu is honored to interview Nicole, an American woman who met, married a Saudi and is now living in Riyadh where they are expecting their first baby.  Here is her story….

 east meets west

Prior to meeting your husband, did you ever envision that you would meet and marry someone from a different country, culture or religion?

I had considered it, but mostly in a joking way…like wouldn’t it be awesome to fall in love with a tall, handsome Italian man and live in a stone farmhouse in the Tuscan countryside and grow olives! But that’s obviously not how it was meant to happen. J

By way of background, where are you originally from? What kind of background do you have such as what religion were you raised, where you went to school and what you studied?

missouri map      I’m originally from a very tiny town (200 people!) in southern Missouri. I was mostly raised Catholic. I went to the University of Missouri (in Columbia, Missouri) for undergrad, where I graduated with a double major in history and English. I then went to Missouri State University (in Springfield, Missouri) and graduated with master’s degrees in English and education. After that, I moved to Manhattan, Kansas to pursue a PhD in education at Kansas State University.

Now of course, we all want to hear just how you and your Saudi husband first met!  Everyone loves a love story.  What was your first reaction upon meeting him?  What kind of a courtship did you have?  When did you know he was The One?

We met at Missouri State University. I was observing a summer course

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in the English Language Institute (ELI), which is where international students study English before they begin their degree programs. He was going to start his MBA in the coming academic year, and he was in a high-level English course that summer. It sounds incredibly cheesy, but I knew he was The One from the first time I saw him. Not in a love-at-first-sight kind of way, but more in an “I’ve known that guy all my life” kind of way. J When I first saw him, I thought I knew him already; I was sure that I’d seen him before. A couple of semesters before that, I’d volunteered with the ELI as a requirement for a class. So when I saw him that summer, I thought, “Oh, I remember him.” But he’d just arrived in the States about a month before.

We didn’t talk until a few weeks after that. I thought he was adorable, but I was too shy to talk to him, and I probably never would have on my own. There were several other Saudi guys in the class, and one afternoon after class, some of them struck up a conversation with me about music (the songs I liked, the types of music I listened to, etc.). Saleh was hanging around with them, but he didn’t say anything. As I was about to make my exit, he finally spoke up. He said, “I have a question and I think you might know the answer.”    cowboy hat

For some reason, I braced myself for a cheesy pick-up line. Then he continued, “Do you know where I can buy a cowboy hat here?” He was so serious about it, too! I couldn’t help it; I burst out laughing at him, and he looked like a kicked puppy. It turned out he loved country music and always watched country music videos when he was in Saudi Arabia; all the singers wore cowboy hats, so he wanted one, too. I love country music as well, since I’m from “the country,” and I was so surprised that this Saudi kid actually knew who Tim McGraw was. We started jabbering to each other right there, and we’ve been pretty much inseparable ever since.                                                                                                                                                                           rawstory.com

How much did you know about Saudis or Saudi Arabia before you met him?  Do you feel like he was a good teacher in educating and sensitizing you about Saudi’s culture, customs and traditions?

I knew almost nothing about Saudi Arabia or Saudis before I met him. Any mention of Saudi Arabia brought to mind memories from when I was a little girl of hearing about the Gulf War on the news and from the grown-ups. Arabic looked like dots and squiggles to me. I knew just the basics about Islam, that Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet, not God or the son of God, and that “Allah” is just the Arabic word for “God.” That was the extent of my knowledge until I met Saleh.

I think that he was an excellent teacher, for the most part. He told me about the gender separation, about marriage customs, about all of that very early on. In the beginning, we had lots of discussions about religion, but as I began to be interested in learning more about Islam, he backed away from discussing religion with me; he said he didn’t want to influence me and that I had to make my choices about religion on my own and for myself. I learned a lot about the details of Saudi life by reading blogs and such—especially American Bedu! J But there was never a time when I discovered that he was conveniently leaving out some crucially important detail about his culture and where he comes from.

When did you first meet or speak to any of his family?  What was their reaction on learning he had fallen in love with an American?

His family knew I existed from the very beginning; less than a month after meeting him, I was Facebook friends with his sister and had his mother’s number saved in my phone, and she had mine. She would text me occasionally, especially if she was unable to reach Saleh for some reason. A little over a year after we first met, his mother, brother, and sister came to the States to visit; that is when I met them for the first time in person. (I didn’t meet his dad until I moved to Riyadh, although I did Skype with him after we were married in the States.) His mom brought me my first abaya as a gift. J They met my mom, as well.

Although his family liked me and knew I was in his life, Saleh did have to convince his parents that I was the right choice for him to marry. I remember that when my mother and I went out to dinner with Saleh and his family during that first visit, my now mother-in-law mentioned that as soon as Saleh got back to Riyadh, she was going to start looking for a wife for him. I had to blink back tears; to me, it felt like she was essentially saying, “I like you and all, but not for a daughter-in-law!” We were convinced that once Saleh approached his family for permission to marry me, his mom would be the major opponent to the marriage. But surprisingly enough, once Saleh finally talked to her about it (this was a few years later), she readily agreed to the match! It was my father-in-law that really needed convincing, and we had anticipated that he would be the easy one. J But thankfully, Saleh was respectful but persistent, and once they agreed and everything was in place, they welcomed me with open arms. I couldn’t ask for more wonderful in-laws, American or Saudi.

At what point did you become aware of the governmental approval process in order to be legally recognized as his wife by the Saudi government?

Saleh was very open with me from the beginning about the need for government permission to marry a foreigner, and about not being allowed to get married to a foreigner while on a government scholarship. I didn’t know the details about what was required to get the permission, and truth be told, he didn’t really, either; he had never imagined that he would end up wanting to marry a foreigner. Like I mentioned before, I learned a lot by reading blogs.

approval acquired     How easy was it for you and your husband to ultimately receive the approval?  Were there any challenges?  Did it take a long time?

We were so scared to begin the process. We had heard that it was nearly impossible to obtain, and we didn’t have high hopes. The short version of the story is that through a friend, Saleh found out about the majlis hours of a prince in Riyadh. After he submitted the application and all the required paperwork to the Ministry of the Interior, he wrote a letter to the prince explaining our situation and asking for him to approve our file. Then he waited to see the prince. He waited for hours and hours over two days. On the first day, he waited for about seven hours before a representative of the prince showed up and informed all the people waiting in line that the prince would be unable to come that evening. The next day, Saleh went back and waited for about nine hours. He was finally was able to see the prince for about two minutes, during which time he gave him the letter and talked to him about our situation. After that, all we could do was wait, and we had no clue if the prince would decide to help us or if he would throw our letter in the garbage. Saleh was applying to PhD programs in the States so he could come back to me when we found out that our permission had been approved and our file was on its way to the Saudi embassy in Washington, D.C.! Miraculously, the whole process only took about a month. It went very fast for us, truth be told, and we didn’t spend a cent (or a halala) on wasta. We were so thrilled and so grateful. Even now, around the house, we refer to that prince as “our prince.” J If there is a story about him in the news, Saleh will start telling me about it by saying, “Hey, did you hear that our prince…?”

 

Part two of Nicole’s interview and her move to Saudi continue with tomorrow’s post.

Saudi Arabia: American Bedu Interviews

interview

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American Bedu interviews with various individuals have always been popular posts on the blog.  All interviews have a connection to Saudi Arabia and each individual interviewed is provided a unique set of questions based on who they are and where they are.

American Bedu interviews includes interviews with Saudi nationals both in and outside the Kingdom, with expatriates who have married a Saudi, with expatriates who are living in the Kingdom and also with many individuals who have a vested interest in the Kingdom whether they live there or have traveled there.

I always welcome the opportunity to interview someone and have their story shared.  I’m sensitive to who is interviewed and whether it is most appropriate for them to not be identified by their name due to their circumstances, identity or situation.  I spend time and foresight in preparing the interview questions.

I want to continue have this blog supplemented with interviews but I also have an appeal to make to anyone who has offered to be interviewed.  Follow through.  If you agree to an interview and I take the time to draft specific questions, then answer them.  If any questions are uncomfortable or too personal, let me know.  We can work it out.  However, please do not simply disappear in to the cyber-sphere after receiving interview questions.  If you have changed your mine, give me the courtesy of letting me know.

I’ll be candid.  As my battle with cancer continues I daily battle different side effects which make it more challenging for me to maintain the blog, to include writing and providing informative posts.  I have neuropathy which is a typical side effect and causes numbing and tingling of the hands and feet.  It impacts on my ability and time to type a post…or interview questions.  I am also challenged by “chemo brain” where at times my mind goes to mush impacting on my ability to write timely or eloquently.  I’m asking readers to work with me, especially those who have agreed to an interview.  If you are not sincere when agreeing to an interview, then tell me and let me save my time and effort for someone else.

Now above being said, if any reader wishes to share their story such as marriage to a Saudi; a relationship with a Saudi; experiences living or working in Saudi Arabia; or are a Saudi man and woman and willing to share your perspectives and experiences, let me know.  It is these kind of interviews which allow us to understand and build bridges between East and West.

The way I conduct the interviews is through email correspondence.  I compile unique questions for the candidate to answer and then return to me again via email. All questions asked are flexible and can be modified or deleted.

If you are new to American Bedu and would like to review earlier interviews, they can easily be found by scrolling down to the category box on the blog and select ‘interview.’

For anyone (sincerely) interested in being interviewed, you may email me directly at admin@americanbedu.com

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