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?

     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

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.”    

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.                                                                                                                                                                 

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.

     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.


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