Saudi Arabia: American Bedu’s Quiet Secret

Dear readers and friends of Carol, here you find Carol’s last article, which she had scheduled a long time in the future. This article illustrates Carol’s great capacity for love and forgiveness.

We miss you Carol.

After careful thought and deliberation I have decided to come out with something I have danced around and never discussed outright.  Why?  Because of my own inner conflicts on the issue.  However, I realize that to be fair to the memory of the man with whom I shared the best times of my life and to his family and heritage, I should speak out.  This may not put me in the most favored of light but as the saying goes, it is what it is. It is part of who I am and my life I had shared with my late husband, Abdullah.

When I first met Abdullah back in the late 1990’s I was under the belief he was separated and in the process of divorce.  After all, we met in Pakistan, he was there alone and if asked, he did not acknowledge that he was married.  Truthfully I also made it very difficult for him to be candid as I was brash and vocal on my views on men who had more than wife.  Besides, at that time, I never imagined we’d have a life or future together.  Yet as time went on and I got to know this kind, caring and compassionate man, I gave him my heart with no holds barred.

Time passed and we discussed marriage.  He chose to be less than direct on the topic of marriage other than he had children with a good woman and whom he respected highly.  The implication was that a divorce had taken place but he would do whatever he could for his children and their mother.  I admired his integrity and loyalty.

It was not until we had been married for more than three years that I learned he had never divorced his first wife.  From a western and emotional perspective I felt abandoned and betrayed.  Yet at the same time, Abdullah was always true to his words and actions.  He never made me feel incomplete or less than loved or his only love for that matter.  He had a relationship similar to many around the world of couples who were divorced and had children in common.  He never spoke against the fine woman who was his first wife.  It was my own insecurities that would make this subject an issue.  Yes; like a whining banshee I would feel some periods of self pity and fear.  Oh how silly I was.

As more time passed I like to say that my eyes opened wider and wiser.  I became aware of intimate family details and especially so how a Saudi woman can lose so much of herself and her own opportunities if there is perceived abandonment or divorce.  Abdullah, showcasing his honor, would never place a woman in such a position.  He wanted her to always have the protection of his name, integrity and family.  She raised his children and raised them so well.

She and I never met, never talked.  There was no need.  Over time I came to realize there was no need for me to feel threatened or insecure.  If anything, one could say I was in the stronger position since I was the one recognized and known as Abdullah’s wife to whom he openly gave his heart and was willing to sacrifice his position in order to merge a life together.

I only have all the more admiration for Abdullah.  He was a man caught in tradition and heritage.  Like me, he never dreamed he’d also find that ‘once in a lifetime love.’  He did not want to lose me and chose to hold back from me until I asked him point blank directly about his marital status.  Even when I did confront him all those years ago, I still see the fear and concern which etched over his face.  He was ready for me to let him go because of my strong abhorrence against the concept of multiple wives in Islam.  But all it took was for me to see his face, his fear, his love and yes, his fear to hope.  I knew… I could not let this man go.  We would move forward and move forward even stronger.  We would learn to dissolve the time which had been lost by my own fears and insecurities.

Don’t say it can’t happen to you.  It can.  It does.  It happened to me.  Don’t be quick to judge or point fingers either.  Don’t blame him.  Don’t blame me.  Don’t blame her.  We all may find ourselves in circumstances beyond which imagined.

My late husband taught me an invaluable life lesson on compassion, honor, integrity and how to accept compromises for less hurt, great gain and immeasurable love.

Saudi Arabia: Living in Saudi Arabia Requires a Tougher Skin

tough skin required


Whether one is an expatriate in Saudi Arabia or a foreigner married to a Saudi, to Saudis you are viewed as a guest in their country.  The majority of Saudis will go out of their way to be hospitable, kind and helpful to the guests.

I had multiple experiences of both Saudi men and women approaching me in grocery stores or department stores wanting to be helpful or simply practice their English.  I had approaches by both men and women and none in an inappropriate manner.  Saudi women were especially kind if I were in an abaya store or in a women’s formal store searching for a gown to wear to a wedding.   They wanted to assist in helping me find the perfect abaya or gown!

However, I also had a few of my own experiences which were not as welcoming.  One experience featured two women who were determined to jump ahead of me in the queue at a shoe store.  These women though were not aware I was not in the shoe store alone.  I was with Mama Moudy, my Saudi mother-in-law.  She let them know in no uncertain terms there actions were rude and uncalled for.  Both the women were quickly apologizing to me!

The bottom line though is both the good and bad experiences between expatriates and Saudis can go both ways.  Rather than risk a public altercation, it’s better to have thick skin and pay no mind when someone does something less than socially acceptable.  Expatriates are each individual Ambassadors of their respective countries and Saudis are also representatives of their country too.  We each choose what kind of impression we want to leave with one another.

Of course, if either an expatriate or a Saudi has taken an action that goes beyond just mere rudeness or sarcasm, the wronged party should seek restitution through the proper channels.  While doing so, an expatriate should also remember that Saudis have WASTA, meaning the ability to use influence or contacts.  That does not mean an expatriate who has been wronged can’t seek restitution, but the manner in which it is done must be in conformity with the culture.

If an expatriate chooses to go public about an incident and sites places, names, and individuals where a Saudi was in the wrong, that Saudi and/or its institution will lose face.  A point will have been made but maybe at the jeopardy of the expatriate, especially if the Saudi has WASTA.

If an expatriate goes public and states facts without identifying specific individuals or organizations but at the same time letting it be known that more specifics are available, this does give an opportunity of face saving and also setting things right in a more amicable and satisfactory fashion.

All expatriates in the Kingdom are sponsored by either an individual Saudi or a Saudi organization.  As a result, there is much more pressure on the expatriates to abide by the customs and traditions of the Kingdom.  And don’t forget, the expatriate is also the guest…but guests can be asked to leave.

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, and my website,

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, where I show people how to make Yemeni food in English and Arabic.

yemen 1


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, 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.


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



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


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



yemeni tribes symbol:

 yemen woman driving:


Saudi Arabia: A Direct Route to Making or Breaking Friendships



Few details have emerged about a recent case of marriage but the details that are known are enough to raise eyebrows.  A Saudi teacher told the man who proposed marriage to her she would only accept his proposal if her married two of her colleagues (and friends) at the same time.

The prospective groom was initially taken aback and seemed inclined to reject her conditions.  But under pressure from relatives and friends, he acquiesced and married all three women .

After the marriage, he ensconced each bride in her own apartment within the same apartment building, allowing easy access to each other.

Polygamy is allowed within Islam and under certain conditions set out in the Quran, a man may have up to four wives.

However, in spite of being good friends, I wonder at the wisdom of three young women living in close proximity to one another and also working at the same facility while sharing the same husband is really a good idea.  No matter how hard a man may try to be equal to all women in reality this rarely works.  Even the Quran states how difficult it is for a man to be equal in time and feelings let alone material provisions when he has more than one wife.

In this case, I believe I feel sorry for the man and think the three female friends made a huge mistake in all marrying the same man.  I see these conditions as prime for deteriorating the existing friendships between the women.

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.


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?


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?


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 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


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: Too Handsome for the Festival

handsome emirati


Saudi Arabia’s annual Janadriyah festival held in Riyadh is THE cultural event for the Kingdom.  It is the annual cultural festival which showcases the traditions and customs of each Province within the Kingdom.  It is the best event that is produced and held in the Kingdom and provides the best image of Saudi Arabia.

Layla of Blue Abaya blog recently wrote a post on the top ten things to do at the Janadriyah festival.  In addition to having this post on her blog, it was also published in “Destination Riyadh.”

Janadriyah, unlike a Saudi wedding, is NOT the place to go to see and be seen.  People come to Janadriyah to experience the best of Saudi Arabia’s culture, customs, tradition and heritage.  They go to sample the delicious foods from the differing regions of the Kingdom.  They go to see traditional Saudi dances performed.  They go to both see and learn how some of Saudi Arabia’s unique crafts are fabricated.  They’re too busy with the festival itself to stop and stare at the other people around them.  In addition, in Saudi culture, it is considered rude and inappropriate if one were to stare at someone else, especially if they were of the opposite sex and unrelated.

Therefore, it truly comes as surprise to learn that representatives (Muttawa) of the Commission for the Protection of Virtue and Prevention of Vice had three men from the Emirates ejected (polite term for thrown out) of the Festival.  According to the Muttawa, the men were “too handsome” and as a result were a distraction.  Worse yet, in the view of the oh-so-wise Muttawa, female visitors at Janadriyah would “fall” for them and although not stated, implied their sensibility would be overcome by the sheer handsomeness of the Emirati men.



Does it make you wonder about the sensibility and perhaps gender preference of the Muttawa?  Whose right is it to determine whether one is too handsome or too beautiful?  And doesn’t that go against the Saudi culture and tradition of paying too close attention to someone to whom one is not related?


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