Sometimes, when the sun is shining and you are on vacation, you decide to grab your stuff, finally put on that swim suit again and go finish that English reading assignment by the pool. But as it so happens, you end up doing something completely different instead.
I did manage to get my things together and make it down to the pool, but just as I lied down and tried to continue reading Top Girls, I heard Russian being spoken, which happens to be my native language. I hesitated for a bit, but when some of the women got off the table and passed by me, probably on their way somewhere, I looked up and said “Dobry den!” cheerfully, which is Russian for “Good afternoon”.
One of the women stopped, looked at me with surprised eyes and asked, “You speak Russian?!” and then she added something that is a very typical Russian expression which people use when they want to make sure that the person in front of them is their countryman/ woman. She asked: “Are you one of us?”
I nodded happily and she encouraged me to join their table. After a little bit more hesitation, I got up and walked over to the table. The other ladies seemed to be overly happy when they realized that I was “one of them” and within seconds we were already introducing each other. To my surprise I learned that some of them were from Belarus just like me. Apparently I am not as lonely here as I thought.
“You are lucky to live on a compound”, a woman from Ukraine said to me, noticing that I was dressed in my swim suit and not in regular clothes like them, since they came over for the coffee morning sales.
“Why? Don’t you all live on compounds, too?”
“No, we live in houses in town.”
“So…your husbands are Saudi?”, I asked with a tiny trace of disbelief in my voice.
All of them confirmed that, that was the case. I asked them how they find it, I personally never met a westerner, or in this case east European, who is married to a Saudi so I got myself into something interesting indeed.
“It’s great”, one of them said. “They are just like our men after all”. At this point I should note that every time a Russian or Ukrainian person refers to something or someone as theirs or ours, he or she means that it is Russian or Ukrainian or generally east European, or “just like east European” in this case.
Then, all of a sudden, there was one of those moments that are extremely amusing to me, but at the same time they leave me speechless. Kind of.
The Belarusian woman turned to me and asked: “So, what’s your husband’s nationality then? I assume since you live here in Riyadh, he’s Saudi.”
I do have to admit that this is generally a legitimate question to ask a foreign woman in this country. I mean, why else would a woman be here, right? But even though I totally understand that, all I could do was shake my head slowly, with confusion written in capital letters on my forehead, trying very hard not to laugh hysterically.
And here comes the best part:
“How old do you think I am? Honestly. I don’t have any issues with age or anything. Just curious about what you think”, I answered.
The woman looked at me for a little bit (not knowing anything about me, except for my name), and then said: “Hhm I am pretty sure you must be 30 or something”.
That is actually what she said. I kid you not she did. Thirty. I am scared to think how I will look like once I actually turn 30. When I told her my actual age, she swore to me she said that because of the hat I was wearing. Apparently.
Now, I can imagine that some people will wonder why I am actually writing all this down. See, the aim of this blog is to show that life in Saudi Arabia is not as terrifying as most of us believe it is. So there I was, sitting with my country people, listening to their stories and honestly they sounded very happy to me and this time the positive impression does not come from me alone.
They go out together, they travel and some of them even work here. The Ukrainian lady noticed my sceptical tone when I asked how she found it to be married to a local and said it was just fine really. “There’s our Harley standing outside of the compound”, she added. Even in Saudi Arabia women get to sit on motorbikes. They obviously don’t drive them by themselves but at least they kind of own them.
Some of them wish to live on a compound, where you can walk around uncovered and go to the gym and to the pool and that is all understandable, but honestly, they just seemed to me like any other east European married woman would. We were just sitting there, talking about all kinds of stuff. About Russian food, datchas (this is how we call houses and land that we own on the country side), vegetable gardens and here and there I heard a familiar cuss word. Because in Russian language we just happen to casually use them here and there.
What can I say? It’s a small world. And life can be beautiful anywhere on the planet. Just as a Lebanese lady told me yesterday (who was also convinced that I must be married and surprised to find that I am not), life here can be interesting. You just have to make it interesting.