American Bedu is pleased to have the opportunity to interview Linda, an American expatriate who has lived in Tabuk for the past nine years.
First of all, Thanks, Linda, for allowing me this opportunity to ask you a lot of questions!!
Let’s start with a little bit of background. Where are you originally from in the United States? What was it that motivated or interested you in accepting a job in Saudi Arabia?
Where I am from is a hard question? I grew up as a military kid so I’m sort from all over. The last place I lived before Tabuk was Steubenville, Ohio. It is along the Ohio River about 30 miles from Pittsburgh, PA.
Getting married was my motivation. I married an American gentleman who happens to be a contractor with the Royal Saudi Land Forces. When I was doing the paperwork for my initial visa, I had to complete what was basically a job application. The position I applied for was “Wife”. I have the luxury of being a stay home wife.
Prior to your arrival in Saudi Arabia, did you have any contacts with Saudis? How much did you know about Saudi Arabia and its customs?
I didn’t have contact with Saudis but I had access to several colleges. I visited the Eastern Studies departments of the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Melon and Carlow College. I did educate myself as much as I could so there were not a lot of surprises. I knew I would have to wear the abiya and cover my hair. I knew that I would not be driving.
What kind of work do you do in Tabuk?
AS I mentioned, my job in Tabuk is caring for my husband and our dog and 3 cats. In the US, I worked with at-risk kids as a behavior specialist.
How do you feel living in one of the Kingdom’s smaller cities rather than a metropolis like Riyadh or Jeddah?
Living in Tabuk suits me. I’m not a big city kind of girl. We drive to Riyadh once a year for a big shopping spree at Tamimis and I’m good. For th emost part though, I find the big cities too fast, too noisy and too dirty. I feel the same about US cities. They are nice to visit but I don’t want to live there.
What is typical life like in Tabuk?
For me and the other stay home wives, life is quiet.
Do you interact socially with many Saudis?
We really don’t have much opportunity to socially interact with Saudis. Tabuk is an agricultural area and has a large Saudi military presence with both the Saudi Air Force and the Saudi Army.
Since Tabuk is a smaller city, how are expatriate women viewed by locals? How much do you feel it is necessary to cover up?
In the time I have lived here, I have been treated with kindness and respect.
What kind of housing are you, as an expatriate, provided? Do you live on a compound?
We live on a Western compound. It is really four compounds within what we call the Great Wall. Seven companies are represented and we have American, Australians, British and French expats living together. But the numbers are small. There are maybe 150 people on all the compounds. The contracts are smaller now so not as many people are needed and many of the positions are unaccompanied.
Can you share some of your highlights of living nine years in Tabuk?
The highlights..hmmm. I would have to say the travel opportunities. Being only a couple of hours from the Red Sea, we go to snorkel and camp a few times a year. It is an amazing experience. The first time I went, I felt like I was living a National Geographic special. I got to see sea life I had only seen pictures of in books. A bit closer to home, we have what we call the Saudi Grand Canyon. It is beautiful and more astounding because no water was involved in creating it. The canyon has been the work of earthquakes. There are also some pretty interesting rock formations in that area the result of wind erosion. It is just beautiful. We have also traveled to Petra and the area surrounding and to Medin Saleh.
What have been some of the lowlights?
Only one lowlight and I have learned to accept it for now. When I first got here, I was into some redecorating projects and it was hard when I would run out of something to not jump in the car and go to Walmart to get what I needed to finish.
What can you do for entertainment?
Even though we don’t have many of the amenities the larger compounds have like bowling alleys and movie theaters, we make do. We do have a rec center and once a week we have a movie night. We set up a dvd and make popcorn and watch a movie. We also have parties for birthdays and holidays.
We wives had a monthly morning tea where we gather and eat chat. We are two Americans, one Turk, one Morrocan, one Malay and four Filipinas. We each make a dish from our culture.
Is it easy to obtain what you need from the local markets?
This is a loaded question. Supplies seems to come in fits and starts, so when something I like is available, I buy as many as I can and store them. I have stored ricotta cheese in the freezer for a year. When I first got here, there was one market with two locations. Now there are three market chains, Astra, Panda and Zaad so there is now some completion. When there was none, shopping could become a mission if you were looking for a certain item like canned green beans.
What have you missed most from the United States?
Walmart and Lowe’s
Since you have been in Tabuk for 9 years, do you speak Arabic?
Since Tabuk is rather small, there are not the programs for expats the bigger cities have so it was difficult to find someone to teach me. I picked up a few phrases while out and about but not much. Last year, an Egyptian, who works as part of my husband’s company, and his Turkish wife moved to one of the compounds within the Great Wall. She and I became friendly and she agreed to teach me some basic Arabic. I know enough to not embarrass myself shopping and I can get around the airports and hotels fairly decently.
What kind of adjustment/adapting challenges did you face when you had first arrived?
The not having some place to be everyday and what to do with all the ‘down’ time now available to me. Prior to coming to Tabuk I worked 12 to 14 hour shifts at least 5 days a week. So I went from running full speed to STOP. It took me a while to adjust to the slower pace of my life. The upside it I rediscovered things I loved to do but didn’t have time for. I love reading, crafting, gardening, sewing, and cooking and baking.
What advice would you give for other expatriates thinking of coming to a smaller city to work?
Since I don’t have a job outside the home, I really can’t speak to this. What I have seen from others though is most will find a hobby. Being as close as we are to the Red Sea, most everyone who does come here takes diving/snorkeling lessons. I would also suggest making the decision to bloom where you are planted. When I begin to get a bit sticky and fed up, I remember it is my CHOICE to be here.
What are the disadvantages?
Other than not being able to drive, I think the disadvantages are those of any small town anywhere. There just isn’t the availability of some things here that are available in Riyadh or Jeddah
Does a woman require a driver to get out and about in Tabuk?
If you are living in the city limits so to speak, not necessarily, but that is changing. When I arrived there were lots of open spaces and empty places. Those are rapidly being built up. It seems every time I come back from a holiday, some new road or building is going in. I am blessed in my husband’s company provided us with a van twice a week for shopping and the driver will take us anywhere we ask. We do not have an on-call driver, but Hussein is available if we need him with prior notice, such as a doctor appointment or we need to go to the airport and our husband isn’t available.
Is good health care available?
Not so much. The health care facilities here are about 20 years behind the US. I needed blood work done a few years ago and about walked out when the lab tech got a reusable need from the autoclave. This was after spending 20 minutes explaining to the doctor I needed an order for a liver function test because I was starting a new medication. The doctor kept telling me the medication I was taking wasn’t available in Kingdom and I was telling him I was aware of that, which is why I brought year’s supply of it back with me. I get all my female medical done in the US.
How long do you anticipate staying in Tabuk?
Maybe another 2 to 3 years. I will start spending 2 months in the US and 3 months in Kingdom. I am ready for a change.
Many thanks for sharing your answers with American Bedu readers.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to give a different perspective.
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