Saudi Arabia: So Many Niqabs to Choose From!

 

I must first preface this post by stating that I rarely covered my head let alone wore a niqab while I was in Saudi Arabia.  There were only a few occasions when it was appropriate for me to wear a niqab.  I wore one but have to confess I did not like the feeling or what to me felt like obscured vision due to the niqab.  The reason that I am writing this particular post is in response to several queries I have had lately about the differing type of niqabs women may choose to wear in Saudi Arabia.  I am not an expert on the subject but will address it to the best of my ability.  I am really counting on those American Bedu readers who do wear the niqab to provide their comments on why they wear a niqab, what style they have chosen and why as well as how easy it is for them to see while wearing the niqab.

The niqab is the accessory which some Muslim women and many women within Saudi Arabia will choose to wear so that their entire face is covered from view with the exception of the eyes.

saudi niqab

blog.sunnahstyle.com

 

The most common style of niqab in Saudi Arabia and the one I wore when necessary is the niqab which covers the face and has a slit in the center for the eyes to show through.  This style of niqab did not necessarily come in a wide variety of sizes and as a result, the one I had fit poorly.  My eyelids and eyelashes would brush or rub against the eye slit and in turn irritated my eyes.  The niqab would either tie in the back around the hijab or in some cases you could secure it with Velcro strips.

newer niqab style

beduionprincess.blogspot

 

Another niqab which was rising in popularity prior to my 2009 departure from Saudi Arabia was the niqab which was worn from the nose down.  This particular niqab left the eyes unimpeded.  Some Saudi women will not wear this type of niqab seeing it as too progressive.  However, younger Saudi women and more open-minded Saudi women who still choose to wear a niqab prefer this version as it is more aesthetically pleasing and comfortable.

beudion niqab

examiner.com

Some women and particularly Saudi beudoin women may prefer the niqab that has a fabric line which separates the eyes.  Needless to say, this niqab would need to fit well for it could be quite annoying if the eye divider did not fall as it should centered between the eyes.

While the traditional niqabs are black, some women are starting to wear niqabs that are in a different color or have some type of decoration or appliqué on them.

But as I stated in the beginning of this post, I need to rely on the experiences of American Bedu readers to share with others on why they wear a niqab, what style they have chosen and why, as well as how easy it is for them to see while wearing the niqab.

Saudi Arabia: Her Bravery Led to a New Life

manal alsharif

patheos.com

 

 

She never sought out attention for herself.  She was a quiet individual but fiercely dedicated to what she believed in.  One of those beliefs was that women should not be controlled by the culture of Saudi Arabia.  She would be the first of the new generation to go out and drive.

If you have not figured it out already, this article is a tribute to Manal Al-Sharif.  Her choosing to drive back in 2011 in Khobar, Saudi Arabia kind of reminds me of the “shot that was heard around the world” during the American Revolutionary War.

Manal’s video of her driving went viral, she was apprehended by the Ministry for the Protection of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Muttawa), she got forced out of her job at Aramco and life has never been the same.

The first time Manal drove, in May 2011, there was little activity or stir.  She drove around Khobar by herself in her Cadillac SUV.  She was not detected or stopped. Yet when the video made of her driving was put up on youtube, it immediately went viral and her name and her daring act became known around the world.  She did not let that attention or the subsequent threats that followed phase her.

Instead, she decided to drive again and with passengers.  She, her brother, his wife and her child took a drive together with Manal again behind the wheel.  All was fine and calm until when stopped at a traffic light she was confronted by the Muttawa.  When Manal asked them outright what law had she broken she was informed while having not violated any legal law, she had violated Saudi custom.  Both she and her brother were apprehended.  Her brother was subsequently released but Manal remained in custody for more than a week until King Abdullah granted a plea made by her father to release her.  Her father promised the King his daughter would never attempt to drive in the Kingdom again.

After her bold actions and attention she was forced out of her job at Aramco.  Manal left Saudi Arabia and created a new life for herself in Dubai where she can legally drive whenever she wants with no worry of apprehension by the Muttawa.  However, Manal paid a price for her brave and historical actions.  She is a divorced woman with a young son.  Her former Saudi husband refuses to allow her son out of the country.  As a result, Manal will travel back to Saudi Arabia whenever she can on weekends to see and spend time with her son.

She has, however, found love again!  After moving to Dubai she eventually married a man from Brazil who was one of her co-workers when she worked at Aramco.  They are very happy and much in love.  Yet, ironically, in order to marry the new love in her life, she had to obtain permission from King Abdullah to marry a foreign man as she wanted her marriage to be legally recognized in Saudi Arabia.

New life old life road sign on background clouds and sunburst.

colourbox.com

 

 

Manal is a young woman from Makkah who came from a conservative but open-minded family.  She looks upon herself as a normal woman wanting to do things, such as driving, that a normal woman would do.  She has shown to the world over and over that she is a strong woman with a resolve of steel for what she believes in.

Manal Al-Sharif is without a doubt a trailblazer.  It may not be there now, but when all woman are legally able to drive in Saudi Arabia, and eventually they will, her name will be cited in the history books.  She is the Rosa Parks of Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia: Can Online Matchmaking Work?

finding love online

yourengagement101.com

 

It’s not surprising that with the plethoria of available social media, more young (and older) Saudis want to take greater control over finding a spouse for themselves.  These Saudis are expressing their interest and requirements in a mate through twitter, online forums, online matchmaking sites, muslim marriage sites and leaving the traditional matchmaker behind.

In addition to mothers, grandmothers, sisters and aunts who will search among their peer groups for possible matches with single loved ones, they may also turn to the traditional matchmaker.  The traditional matchmaker is a Saudi woman whose business is bringing together compatible and suitable men and women for (arranged) marriage.

The traditional matchmaker receives fees for her services, both to engage her initial service and other fees when a couple agrees to a match proposed by her.  She will match up couples for traditional Islamic marriages and she will may also put couples together who are seeking a misyar marriage.  Due to the unique requirements and sensitive details of a misyar marriage, a higher fee is generally charged for this service by the traditional matchmaker.

With Saudi men and women turning to the Internet to find a mate, the traditional matchmaker fears that her role and services performed have started to diminish.

saudis online

kids.britannica.com

 

Saudi citizens reaction to the use of online sites is mixed.  While many Saudis like having greater control in finding and choosing a mate, there remain difficulties in overcoming culture and traditions concerning marriage that have been in place for decades.  In Saudi Arabia, unless it is a misyar marriage, one does not marry a spouse but rather the family and tribe as well.  Many marriages continue to be made within the extended family and tribe.  This is not only for keeping assets and family business within the family but also the most common network of contacts women in the family will use to find a mate for their family member.

Use of online sites do make it easier for the Saudi man to post and find a second wife or a woman willing to engage in a misyar marriage.

This video further discusses the pros and cons of Saudis who are turning to online sites in the hopes of finding a spouse.  Not all Saudis are in favor though of online matchmaking.  In 2011, Saudi Gazette published an article on this topic.  In the article, young Saudis share their experiences with social media towards having interaction with the opposite gender and follow up with what they see as the pros and cons using such media. Saudi women cite their concern about deception on the part of the man that he can make himself into who or whatever he wants to be.

In spite of the valid concerns raised, there have been success stories of young Saudi couples finding love (and marriage) .  One Saudi man did find his wife though online media.  They had an “electronic” courtship which was approved and sanctioned by their parents.

online matchmaking

singleandmuslim.blogspot.com

 

Some of the more popular sites which Saudis (and other Muslims) tend to use for finding a spouse are:

http://matchmaking.dating.lt/profile/step_look.htm.php?sid=1we

http://seo.arablounge.com/matchmaking/Saudi%20Arabia/Saudi%20Arabia/RIYADH

http://www.muslimmatch.com/

http://salaamhearts.com/

On viewing the above sites, it is clear that one has to be careful in their use.  They must think carefully about what they say and how they say it.  Anyone starting a dialogue with someone met online should be careful and always cautious.  There are scammers and those looking to con individuals who prey on the online sites.  These unscrupulous individuals are looking out for themselves and their own venal desires.

stk158045rke

dating-sites.bestreviews.net

 

Online matchmaking it not new, although a new trend to Saudi Arabia.  The Western world has been active with online matchmaking/marriage sites for years.  Following are some of the most popular sites in the Western world.  The same advice on using caution for anyone seeking love and marriage through an online site applies.

http://www.match.com/

http://www.eharmony.com/

http://www.christiansingles.com/

 

caution

champion-america.com

 

Someone accessing online sites for the intent of seeking love and marriage are immediately making themselves vulnerable by placing such an intent and desire on cyberspace.  A man or woman should be careful to not reveal too much about their vulnerabilities of loneliness.  It is also safer to use an alias and reveal little about your real name, family, financial status or any assets.  Start slowly and cautiously.  Beware of stalkers in addition to the scammers and cons.  In my opinion, a woman should not use an online site without advising someone she trusts of what she has done.  This is for her protection.  If a man or woman feels that an individual sounds like a compatible candidate for a spouse, validate as much information provided by the person as possible to ensure of their legitimacy and sincere intentions.  Don’t go from corresponding on an online site directly to a personal meeting.  First, correspond through the mechanisms within the site.  Eventually you may wish to chat via Skype where you can start by hearing one another (without video) and then when appropriate (especially for the Muslim world and its customs) have a video chat.  A Muslim woman may want a male beside her at that point such as father, brother or Uncle.  This further reiterates the seriousness of the intent and lets the male suitor know that the woman has male relatives who are looking out for her well being, safety and best interests.

Love and marriage can be found online.  I will acknowledge that back in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s I was a more of a geek and ran a successful bulletin board system (BBS).  These became pretty much obsolete with the introduction of the Internet then followed by other social media sites.  However, while I had my BBS, 3 couples found each other and ultimately got married.  My BBS was not set up in any way as a matchmaking mechanism but some regular participants got to know one another through common interests which were discussed.

Saudi Arabia: It All Comes Down to Ethics and Professionalism

ethics

level343.com

American Bedu is very pleased to read of stricter regulations on copyright violations in addition to consideration of greater opportunities for Saudi women.

Earlier this week an article appeared in Arab News which advised of the Ministry of Culture and Information placing a travel ban on 35 businessmen for violating copyright laws and then failing to pay fines imposed by the Ministry.

The Ministry has also received 870 complaints of copyright violations and has blocked 65 websites in 2012.  This is an excellent step forward that clearly indicates that the Ministry is actively viewing websites and responding to complaints of copyright violation.

copyright thief

btr.michaelkwan.com

What exactly is a copyright violation, the uninitiated and naïve may ask?  According to Wikipedia, a copyright violation or copyright infringement is the unauthorized use of works under copyright such as the right to reproduce, display, distribute without having received permission from the owner of the original material.  American Bedu and several other well known Saudi bloggers experienced having their individual blogs rape and pillaged as an unscrupulous blogger freely chose their original material to repost on another blog.  In fact, material from American Bedu and these other blogs has continued to reappear on a new blog that this blogger created after receiving pressure to close down the original blog which was full of stolen and copyrighted material.

This blogger is a female Muslim expatriate who holds a responsible position as an ER pharmacist at King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh.

kfsh

http://www.akhbaralarab.net

Yet, it is disconcerting to know that this “professional” has demonstrated not only a lack of judgment in regards to copyright violations, but also a lack of discretion on what is appropriate subject matter to openly discuss on her blog.

A pharmacist holds a position where privacy and confidentiality is expected.  Yet she has written posts on her blogs about serving specific patients.  Anyone who has spent any significant time in Saudi Arabia can easily identify the families of whom she has written about on her blog.  She also chose to discuss haram (prohibited) content on her blog such as Saudi female patients who have come to see her for treatment due to intimate encounters, whether they were married yet or not.

indiscrete

phil-are-go.blogspot.com

Her lack of judgment does not speak well for her, the position she holds at King Faisal Specialist hospital or  for the patients who have (mis)placed their trust in her.

Therefore, I am very pleased to learn that Saudi women will soon have additional opportunities to work as pharmacists at commercial pharmacies.  Such opportunities open up more viable employment opportunities for Saudi women and make a significant contribution to the Saudiazation of the work force.  It is further hoped that more positions will open up for female Saudi pharmacists in public and governmental hospitals and clinics too.  These pharmacies are already separated by gender with separate areas for male and female patients. Another thing too, one can count on Saudi women for their discretion.  They are unlikely to share with the world any sensitive details about the female customers or their families who are serviced.

Saudi Arabia: Inside the Kingdom

 

This one hour BBC documentary is worth watching towards gaining a better understanding of Saudi Arabia both past and present.  Filmmakers follow HRH Prince Saud bin Abdul Mohsen, Governor of Hail, who in turn shares his daily life along with his views.

The Prince is candid in talking about his relationships with his four wives and about his children and grandchildren.

Viewers will be taken into the majlis and hear the issues and queries presented to the Prince by both men and women who are seeking his assistance or intervention.  We hear the difficulties women face when attempting to receive a divorce from their husband and why a woman needs the Prince to help her obtain a divorce.

This is a must-view video for Saudi watchers and anyone who wishes to gain further insights to the Kingdom.

 

Saudi Arabia: The Call to Culture

It is an honor for American Bedu to feature an exclusive interview with Public Goodwill Ambassador Mohammad Bakhrieba.  Ambassador Bakhrieba is an active youth with a passionate cause to build bridges around the world.  American Bedu readers have the opportunity to learn about Ambassador Bakhieba and his life and how they too can be a build bridger.

 

First of all, thank you very much Ambassador Bakhrieba for this interview!

 

mohammad Bakhrieba

 

Let’s start on sharing where you are from in Saudi Arabia.  What was your life like growing up as a boy in Saudi Arabia?  Who or what influenced you most during your childhood to turn you into the passionate activist of today?

 

Thanks for your time and efforts to engage youth and bridge culture at the best practice. I brought up in Jeddah, Western Area, Mecca State. The city of Jeddah is a multi-cultural city where diverse individuals from different backgrounds enjoy peaceful life.

 

My childhood was a normal childhood, I would rather say, I was such a calm person, I was average in school and literally not active among my pears. I think my turning point was at the university, where I had to face different challenges to either continue my education or to go back home! My first day at the school was discreet mathematics which inspired me to think differently! I believe the logic of discreet mathematics helped me to look at different life aspects from different point of views.

 

What is your professional and educational background? 

 

I have finished my computer science in 2003 and my master of information systems from University of Phoenix in 2012.

 

How did you become a Public Goodwill Ambassador?  What were your duties?  What are some of your most memorable experiences in this capacity?

 

Being an international organizational partner with the WHO, to cultivate health awareness campaigns in collaboration with the local authorities in SA, and under social media specifically I have been chosen as a volunteering Public goodwill ambassador to mobilize the community to take more active role in promoting and reaching the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) defined by the UN.  I had to cultivate and advance the concept of volunteerism and to promot community roles to reach the MDGs. Through arranging logistics and engaging youth in local campaigns in coordination with local authorities. Also, to participate and bridge volunteerism between SA and the global community.

 

How did you become involved in cross-cultural communication and promoting peace?

 

The stereotypes about Saudi Arabia,culture and economics is a usual story  i hear when I travel around the world, and during my participation in WHO events in different countries. The International social innovation competition in Napoli (Naples) – Italy, was a chance to start the project, we had the chance to talk about the culture of Saudi Arabia during the conference, we have felt potential interest from participants who were interested to learn more about Saudi Arabian Culture. Then after, we had talked about Call of Culture as initiative in TEDx Arabia, where production and event management company from Hollywood showed interest to promote CoC activities. We decided to register the project in D.C. as a strategic move to communicate with international community and organizations. The United Nation peace committee looks at CoC as peace motivator and good platform to bring people to common ground of understanding and to promote cultural dialogue.

 

What are some of the biggest challenges encountered in cross-cultural communications and how does one resolve these challenges?

 

Of course, to engage a committed volunteers was the most challenges, we had to develop a special model (6-circles) to sustain CoC activities and projects. When it comes to cultural dialogue, stereotypes are the most challenging issues we face with individuals from diverse cultures. I remember when I was waiting in the bus station and a nice old lady was talking to me after 20 minutes of general dialogue, she asked me: “where are you from?”, “Saudi Arabia”, I replied.  Laughingly she said: “Oh my God, and you didnt kill me yet!!”. This was a good joke for both of us! Another issue was religious differences. Which most likely jump on table of discussion. The best way to resolve differences is to bring discussion to a common ground of understanding that not everything you hear is true! There is always another part of the reality! Discussion and understanding is the way to cultivate peace and trust among people!

 

 

What exactly is “Call to Culture?”  When and how did it get established?  Whose involved?  Who runs it?  How many individuals and/or groups are affiliated with Call to Culture?

 

Diverse individuals from diverse cultures have very limited understanding about each others’ cultures, it’s a critical point for international community to bring ordinary individuals to a level of understanding and trust where people can co-exist and live peacefully. Social media networks is giving every individual the chance for best practice to advance the life style and to reflect different life aspects at individual and social levels.

 

Call of Culture develops standards and protocols for individuals around the globe to build bridges and advance communication utilizing social media and other media outlets. Developed protocols and standards are implemented on Promoting Saudi Arabia Culture, as a first step and as the knowledge about Saudi Arabia produces black gold is well known, but it is less common to know what and who comprise to our cultures. The idea of a “Call of Culture” is to advocate people to take time and effort for personal and cultural reflection.

 

Coc started in Sep 2011, we have developed the CoC model in a jump-in jump-off approach where contributors can easily support and help CoC. CoC is one year old now, we have successfully affiliated more than 12000 individuals and community leaders in 20 counties, including, Middle East, Europe, America, and Africa.

 

 

How does one define culture?  How does culture differ from traditions and customs? 

 

Wikipedia defines Culture as the way of life of a particular society or group of people, including patterns of thought, beliefs, behavior, customs, traditions, rituals, dress, and language, as well as art, music, and literature. Culture is learned socially.

Traditions and customs are edges of culture, people culture difference according to interpretations of values and daily attitude/behavior, accordingly custom changes with time and as much as it get exposed to different cultures.

 

Which countries cultures do you believe are most diverse from one another and how do these divisions impact communications and understanding?  What commonalities need to exist in order to have effective cross-culture communications?

 

This is an interesting question, first we should agree that culture is dynamic! I believe cities have many immigrants from around the would have the best cultural mix, let’s look at NewYork, Roma and Mecca. Despite all the diversity of the cultures in the city, people from around the world visit these cities to communicate with others for some good reason, at the same time they bring their own cultures along with them. This intercultural movement is in itself a continues generation of new cultures, everyday new thing happen in the city is reflected in the culture. We find people in multi-diversed cultures are more likely to be opened to dialogue with others. And this is what makes a great culture. The more people are opened to others, the more cultural dialogue and cross-culture communication become more effective and realistic.

 

How is Call to Culture specifically helping to both introducing and understand Saudi Arabia’s culture to the world?  On a scale of one to ten with ten being the highest, how do you rate the average global individual’s understanding of Saudi Arabia’s culture?  Please explain your answer.

 

Call of Culture introduced cultural exchange programs in smarter approach. Instead of taking a group of people from one country to another to study their culture and gets back home. CoC reverse the wheel! CoC relies on individuals to advance their culture in three different lines, first, we engage teachers/educators to tech people. Develop media and utilize social media networks, and finally find projects where people from diverse cultures can work together to advance cultural understanding and communication, yet more importantly trust!

Answering your other part of the question, I would say the global individual’s understanding is less than average (5/10) for the Saudi Arabian Culture, of course there are many reasons behind this fact, it lays under media, communication, outreaching and many others. However, we believe the cause if quite genuine and many people have showed interest, we can realize this from the fact CoC success in 12 months of time.

 

How can those who are interested be part of a Call to Culture and help bridge the gaps of misunderstanding?

 

Call of Culture have introduced a CoC map which anyone can adapt it personally and promote it to others around him/her. It doesnt actually take much efforts, we all love to talk and communicate, right? So one may pick and interesting story about a culture, love it and share it out with people. They can utilize social media networks and engage others to talk and start understanding dialogues.

 

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

Yes, its a vision that many people out there agree on. We had enough time of conflict! Its time to promote understanding, but in down-to-up model. Individuals need to have more active role in the community and they can always be. You count! Cultural dialogue is one of the most self satisfaction and vision amplification, try it and you will love it!

 

How can someone contact you or Call to Culture?

 

Call of Culture is on the most famous social media netowrks one may google our name and find us in facebook, twitter and youtube. CoC recieves email communicaiton through: [email protected]

 

www.facebook.com/callofculture

www.twitter.com/callofculture_

www.youtube.com/callofculture

 

Thank you again for this interview and sharing the importance of cross-cultural communications and bridging gaps.

Saudi Arabia: GMarie, An Expat Who is Making the Most of Her Stay in the Kingdom

Questions for Gina

 

It is a pleasure for American Bedu to have the opportunity to interview Gina, an extraordinary American in Riyadh who is thriving on life in the Kingdom!

 

Gina, first of all, thank you for the interview. 

 

Would you please share a little bit about yourself with American Bedu readers such as where you are from and what you do.

I grew up in New Jersey but now make my home in South Pasadena, Florida. I am a U.S. Navy disabled veteran and I have a daughter who is 23 and two grand-daughters; 2 ½ year old and 15 months old. 

How long have you been in Riyadh and what brought you to the Kingdom?

I arrived in Riyadh in September 2011. I was working for Veteran Affairs in Orlando Florida and accepted a Supply Systems Analyst position with the U.S. Army here in Riyadh.

What prompted you to apply for a job in the Kingdom?  Curiosity?  Adventure?  Desire to live in the Middle East?

I was always curious about what it would be like working abroad and experiencing other cultures. I have friends who are in the military or retired that had served in this region, enjoyed what the Middle East had to offer, so they supported my decision.

What did you know about Saudi Arabia prior to your arrival?  How did you obtain your information?  Did your expectations of Riyadh and Saudi Arabia meet or surpass the reality?  Why or why not?

The information I gathered about Saudi Arabia came predominately from friends who were in the Army or Navy and were on orders here. I knew I needed more information from a civilians’ perspective, so I surfed the internet and found two websites that was very helpful for me:

American Bedu:     http://americanbedu.com/

Susie’s big adventure:    http://susiesbigadventure.blogspot.com/

Both sites prepared me with enough information for transitioning to the Middle East smoothly and stabled my anxiety that you get when you move to a new place. I had a sponsor from the Army to facilitate with administrative things, but the websites supplemented that.

Please share some of your favorite experiences you have had since arriving in the Kingdom.

A few of my favorite experiences:

   1. I learned how to play golf. I initially started receiving instruction from my friend JW on the driving range. I heard JW was a pretty good golfer (72) so I asked him if he didn’t mind teaching me how to hit the ball properly and teach me the game. I paid for lessons at Dirab Golf Club here in Riyadh. My instructor was from Korea and his name is Ivan, who is one of the best golfers in Riyadh. I am fortunate I had him as my instructor in the beginning stages of learning the game of golf.

2. I visited one of the woman only spots called Altamutaka Woman’s Spa. This is a “freedom” in Saudi to be abaya-less outside of the base. I then realized that my question was answered as to who in the world is wearing this high fashion when you go to the malls in Saudi Arabia if all women were covered head to toe?! Inside this spa, under the abayas the woman were wearing all of the latest fashions! The place was beautiful! There was artwork on every wall, a music library, and a wall as tall as the four levels of the spa that had water cascading down it. There was also a fitness center, hair and nail salon and showrooms with designer clothing to purchase and daycare center!

 

3. My friend Bruce came to visit me in Riyadh!  Bruce and his wife Florence were my neighbors in Florida but have recently moved to Capetown, South Africa to set up their new chiropractic practice.
My receiving visitors here at Eskan are not easy task. As soon as I knew Bruce was coming, I contacted our security folks on my compound to find out what he required in order to gain access to this military compound. I was informed that he would need a copy of his Passport and igama to be sign in. He soon found out just how many restrictions I had, not just being a woman in Saudi but also as far as receiving guests.

I had to find an Arabic interpreter on post to translate to Bruce’s cab driver how to get to Eskan Village and had to get a male, my friend JW to sign Bruce in at the gate with the Saudi Army then once through, the Air Force guards as well, Bruce was finally able to come on post! I had a spaghetti dinner with my homemade sauce prepared which made all of the “red tape’ Bruce had to go through, worth the trip.

 

Have you had any embarrassing experience or faux pas that you’d care to share so that others could avoid the same?

When I arrived in Riyadh, I got on line right behind a male who was in front of me on the plane, the “needle scratched the record”! The whole place had an awkward silence!! I immediately realized that I had gotten on the wrong line and was not where I was supposed to be as a female; all the way to the right with all of the others. With several dirty looks in my direction, I hurried to the right line.

When it was my turn to approached the customs desk, I handed the officer my passport and visa then began to inform him that my sponsor was waiting for me pass the baggage area, he cut me off and told me to, “Go sit down!” I guess that was my punishment for forgetting my place as a woman in the Kingdom!

 

They say the duration of a child who is being chastised with “time-out” is based on age, so I figured 49 minutes in time-out would be way to long for a punishment. So after about 15 minutes, which much apprehension and my heart beating quickly, approached the desk again. This time, I quickly told the officer that my sponsor sent me an email that he was waiting for me, that I work for the U.S. Government and that I was on a Diplomatic visa. He gave me the once over, stamped my passport and sent me on my way. Scary stuff!

 

As a single African-American female in Riyadh, how easy has it been for you to get out and about?

One of the things that have and is a good point with being with the U.S. Army, I can dispatch a vehicle and driver and go anywhere in Riyadh. We must always follow the two-man rule, so with the driver (who counts as the second person) or another female, if I go to the mall, it is easy for me to get around Riyadh. One of the things I notice was the stares I received around town. So I asked my friend, Ablah, what she thought it was. She said, two things; my hair (I wear mid-back length dreadlocks) and just being uncovered. So, I cover out in town now, just to blend in and take away some of the attention.

Have you had the opportunity to meet and interact with Saudis?  Please share how your interactions have been on both a professional and personal basis.

I found out that other than working at my office at Eskan Village, I also have a desk at National Guard Health Affairs King Abdul Aziz Medical Hospital.  My customer is the National Guard Health Affairs (NGHA) contracting department. I am the liaison between my department and NGHA Contracting.


All of the men in the Contracting department wore white thawbs, ghutras and aqals.  The women are in black abayas, jilbab and a boshiyas.  At first, I felt like an outsider but my sponsor ensured everyone, as he introduced me, that I came well equipped with the qualifications to do a very good job for them.  With their approving eyes and assumingly warm smiles all focused on me, they instantly made me feel at home and like a part of their team! It was surreal to be in the same place where Saudi Arabia’s King is seen by his private physician, the CEO of NGHA, with whom I work for.

 

Have you made Saudi friends with whom you can travel or visit at each other’s homes? 

My friends in Saudi are Ablah, my unit’s secretary and CherryI. Ablah and her family are Jordanians and have lived in Riyadh over 30 years. Cherryl and her husbands are originally from Guyana but have lived in Riyadh for almost 16 years. Cherryl is a local hire as the Recreations Supervisor here on Eskan and her husband is with one of the oil companies. I have been invited to both their homes; Ablah lives out in town and Cherryl lives on a compound.

 

 

I understand that you also have an office at the National Guard Health Affairs.  What are your impressions of NGHA as compared to medical facilities in the United States?  What are the primary differences?

The medical facilities where I work at NGHA, I believe is “state of the art” considering this is the facility the King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz utilizes besides receiving care in the United States for back surgery last October. As a Supply Systems Analyst, I review the purchases of medical equipment for the NGHA before it is purchased by U.S. Army Contracting and all of the purchases are typically comparable equipment in which I purchased for Veteran Affairs in the U.S. Recently, I visited the facility that the U.S. Army civilians use called, Specialized Medical Center (SMC) for golf elbow. These facilities were just as nice and equipped with modern equipment like NGHA. My doctor, which put me at ease, in a new environment, did his internship at Veteran Affairs in Little Rock Arkansas. He is from Yemen.

What do you hope to achieve and accomplish during your stay in Saudi Arabia? 

Saudi Arabia is one of those places where you have to be creative in finding things to do. So, this assignment enables me to receive plenty of on-line training in my field of Contracting, allows me the time and autonomy to move around Riyadh finding plenty of topics to blog and receive instruction by pros and near pros in the game of golf.

 

Which places do you wish to visit while you are in Saudi Arabia?

I would like to visit Jeddah to visit the Red Sea and Dammam to visit the Arabian Sea.

How easy has the transition been for you to adapt to the life and culture in Saudi Arabia?  Please explain your answer.

The transition and adaption to life in Riyadh was virtually easy for me.  

Do you feel that there are more or less activities available in which to participate compared to what you expected?

   Besides the typical shopping and dining out, I have experienced, more so than others here at Eskan Village,  that Riyadh have a lot to offer such as the woman only spas (Almutaka) and floors in malls (Kingdom Tower). There is several golf courses; two are 18 holes, bowling at the Intercontinental Hotel, horseback riding at Dirab Stables, diving in Jeddah and horse racing at The King Abdulaziz Track. I miss not being able to go to the beach as often as I used to, but I found I can do that Jeddah, I also miss going to the movies. But the multimedia library on Eskan does a great job of keeping up with the latest movies.

What has been the most challenging adaption for you and why.

The biggest challenge which I have accepted and adapted to in my work environment is that the Saudi do things in their own time. Americans move so fast at work and in our home environments. If I have a 30 minute meeting with the Saudi, 20 minutes of that time is spent socializing and discussing family or current events. Maybe the last ten minutes, we will go over work issues, maybe not. This has made me slow down and “smell the roses”, sort of speak. We now know each other’s families by name.

Do you think it makes a difference to be “an official expat” as compared to a “corporate/business expat” in Riyadh? 

I have not been experienced a difference in being an official expat and corporate expat.

 

Do you have any special advice for an African American or woman of color in Saudi Arabia? (whether she is American or not)

I have had several woman (i.e. military, official expats) contact me through my blog asking questions about things to do, but mainly about places to get their hair braided, acrylic nails, etc. I always advise the woman to either send a box of hair care products that they currently use until they get familiar with what Riyadh has to offer. I tell them to read up on the Muslim culture, so there isn’t a total shock to what we as Westerners have been either brain-washed or misunderstand about the Arab culture. I also tell them to not be afraid to go out and explore. My blog is proof that you can come here to work and still have fun. Recently, I had an Air Force Sergeant who was assigned a sponsor to assist with her transition to Riyadh from Washington D.C. She wrote the sponsor several times with no response later to find out that he was sent temporarily assigned to the States. Once she contacted me through my blog, I got in touch with someone I knew from her command and let them know they had a service person that was on orders, waiting for directions to transition. Her command was happy to that I made the connection.  I am glad that I was able to assist her.

 

Are you missing anything special from the States (not counting family and friends!) that you are unable to find in Saudi Arabia?

Other that visiting the beach as much as I did in the U.S., I have everything I need and have gained (i.e. friendships, camaraderie). So I do not feel I am missing anything, I am just a phone call or email away from family and friends in the U.S.

What do you think was the most important item you brought with you to Riyadh?

The most important item I brought to Riyadh is a good hair moisturizer! The climate is so dry and the water is hard on your hair. Importantly, I also brought openness to diversity; different cultures, languages and patience to the ways others do things different than Westerners.

I realize you live on a compound.  If you had a choice would you still elect to live on a compound?  Why or why not?

Living on the compound is mandatory working for the U.S. Army. But if I had my choice, I would not. I love to socialize with different people and cultures, and “living” outside the compound walls would allow that.

     Last but not least, please share with readers about your blog.  When did you start it?  What is its focus?  What is the URL?

My blog is called GMarie’s Page. My blog is about my transition from the U.S. to working and living in Riyadh Saudi Arabia. I started the blog (August 2011) when I found out I was accepted for my current position with the U.S. Army in Riyadh Saudi Arabia. I wanted one forum to communicate with my friends and family back home without writing and sending so many emails and uploading pictures with a slow internet service. Well it turned into more than just that. Folks can see that even in a place where the perception that women are oppressed and  the men treat women like “second class citizens”, I get to show and write about my prospective of my experiences here in the “Kingdom”.  I have developed a readership from several countries (i.e. U.S., Germany, Canada, France, Ireland, Russia, UK, India, etc). The URL is: http://gmarieflsblog.blogspot.com/

 

Thank you again, Gina, for taking your time and participating in this interview.  I wish you a wonderful time in the land of shifting sands and hidden treasures!

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