Category Archives: expat life

Post Saudi Q&A Part I

When I woke up this morning, I noticed some new notifications in my WordPress app. One of them was a comment on one of my posts by a reader from Australia who had some very interesting questions to me, regarding my life in Saudi Arabia which by now is long over.

Since I love it when people share their thoughts with me on my work and ask me questions, I thought I would share today’s questions and answers with the rest of you.

Thank you very much for the questions and the nice remarks! ūüėČ

 

How did you find the transition between conservative countries and western civilisation? Especially with all the pro-feminists there are today?

Quite frankly, I am not even sure whether I actually noticed that there was a transition going on, even though I am certainly aware of the fact that technically that was the case. I assume that most people would expect me to say that I have experienced a huge culture shock and spent days locked in my room, hiding under the covers and counting the days until I may return home where I can eat pork, drink Gl√ľhwein and wear mini skirts again. I am sorry to disappoint you but no, this actually did not happen.

I guess I can say that the main thing in terms of transition that I noticed was the change of people’s appearance around me. All of a sudden I was surrounded by men in white robes that made me think of dresses and women of whom I could only see the eyes. Since I lived on a compound and went to an international school, the other differences between the conservative Middle East and the West appeared to me later and that in the difference of approaches to social interaction. For more info on that, I suggest you read this post. How did I find the change? I don’t really know. I would say that I found the transition relatively smooth which may be due to the fact that I have been somewhat familiar with conservative Muslims before because of¬†my Muslim friends in Berlin,

In terms of feminists I have to say that this issue has not really affected my view on my new ‘home’ because I have never really dealt with feminism in detail. After all, there are enough other women out there to do it for me. I would not call myself a feminist either. I do not run around saying that men and women should have the exact equal rights or that covering one’s hair is oppressive. For me it isn’t. Period.

All in all I’d say the transition was rather more interesting to observe than it was scary of worrisome. However, once I really arrived in Riyadh, as time passed, the differences between the cultures became very clear and visible.

Do you think that being a woman there was any more or less empowering in context?

The answer yes or no to this question depends on the point of view from which one would answer this. For me as neither Muslim, nor Saudi, nor Arab in general, I would say that it was neither more nor less empowering. It was more a neutral state of being rather than more or less empowering in the big picture. A local woman however, who always wished to live the western way would probably answer this differently. Just so you know.

Now, the longer I sit here typing this, I remember that the only thing that did indeed concern me and that I would call a less empowering thing in context, is the lack of mobility for women in this country. Since I was not allowed to drive (and even if I was, I would never dare to do so on the streets there and I am saying that after learning to drive in the Balkans which is actually quite something!!), it was difficult for me to be spontaneous. I could not just say to myself ‘I want to go and meet up with my Egyptian friend who lives in town’ and do so. I had to arrange a ride before I could go anywhere where I could not get by foot so fast and that was really bothersome at times because getting a ride anywhere takes time and costs quite some money, unless you are brave enough to hail a Saudi cab in the streets and get in there by yourself or your dad or husband or brother or whoever has time to do you the favor.

Many people say that being a woman in Saudi Arabia is difficult because you are being deprived of your rights and all and that people treat you worse than if you were a man. That happened to me only once at the airport when I had to deal with a police officer who probably thought he would rule the world one day or that he already did and I guess if I did not have a man with me that day, I would not have seen my plane ticket again but I must say that this was the only discouraging incident I have experienced in Riyadh as a woman during my nine months of stay. Whether that was just because I am white and not Saudi, I can’t say for sure.

I would even have to say that I have had more WTF moments since I am back living in Germany compared to my time in Saudi (that may be because from now on I have to arrange my life on my own and have to deal with all sorts of things by myself, showing the world that I am a ‘strong and independent woman’ and sh**).

I can say that while I was in Riyadh, I was able to go out for groceries on my own by actually walking down the street, I have been out in town for the spring festival by myself without any terrible incidents and I have been treated nicely by Saudi men and women when I was out to buy something because getting on the compound’s bus and go to the mall by myself was doable, too. For more on such every day niceties see this post¬†. Whether that is more or less empowering in context? You are free to decide but personally I was rather satisfied with my stay in Riyadh.

 

Ma’a Salama Riyadh: Last Post Maybe

By the time I am writing this I have already left Riyadh and maybe even for good.

There were quite a few things happening but not as much that I could have written about up until now. Things like the last exams or prom and in the end, graduation.

I must say that  despite all of the differences between life in Riyadh and life anywhere else, I miss Saudi Arabia. I miss the call to pray in the morning, the sun that shines all day long and I miss the time I spent in school.

The day I got back to Berlin, we had about 35 degrees Celsius. That was a nice start, especially since it was relatively warm but it was still possible to breathe. But two hours later rain came down and the sky turned dark. That is how it has been here up until now and my friends here still have trouble understanding how I feel cold outside while everyone else seems to be sweating.

I feel like my stay in Riyadh has given me a lot. Maybe I can’t exactly name all of those things but I still feel like I have changed for the better and that somehow I managed to grow as an individual and as an intellectual, especially with the help of my friends. But even if I am mistaken about these things, at least I can say that my time there has given me nine more interesting and enlightening ¬†months in my entire life and has shown me that I am not as anti social as people always thought I was.

I don’t know for sure whether I miss Saudi Arabia as a whole or if I just miss my memories of it. That seems to be something very common in us. We don’t really miss a place or a person or whatever else there is. Sometimes we just long for the memories we have of it but sometimes we don’t and sometimes we actually want to be back.

That stay abroad was quite educational, too. I have been back in Germany for a little more than a week now and I have spotted what I think were 4 Saudi women in the streets. Now that I know what an abaya is and can recognize Arabic words as them actually being Arabic and not Turkish as I used to believe, I noticed that there are quite some people from Saudi Arabia here in Germany. However, they still can be from another Arab place. Who knows.

And with me leaving Saudi Arabia, I guess that this may be my last post. But honestly, I hope that it won’t be and that in the next weeks and months and years to come, I will still come up with ideas for potential posts.

If you are new to the subject of Saudi Arabia and have any questions or suggestions for articles, fell free to share them with me!

And for now,¬†Ma’a Salama,Riyadh!

On Social Segregation: Beware of the Sections!

Yesterday my mother and I went outside (outside as in “outside the actual compound” YES, my dear people, that is actually doable here…SURPRISE!!!) to get something for lunch. Luckily for us, there are some small places near us that sell (fast) food.

However, since my mother has not been outside very much so far, she had some trouble figuring ut which of the two doors she was supposed to use in order to get inside.

Because Saudi society pays so much attention to gender segregation, it has come up with the concept of having two sections. One for singles and one for families.

So, as in our case, if you want to go and eat outside (that is especially for the fast food places) you have to make sure to go through the right door. The¬†singles section is reserved for men (why don’t they just call it¬†men section¬†then?) while the¬†family section¬†is either for women, single or in groups, or for families.

Now, I don’t think that if you are let’s say a woman and you accidentally open the door to the men’s section, you will cause the apocalypse or something horrible will happen. But I think that would be just awkward and may cause some social discomfort since that would go against cultural norms. Besides, I can imagine that some men, especially the conservative ones, will be very confused seeing a woman in a male space all of a sudden. So let’s not upset men’s testosterone levels, ladies, by always entering either through the door that is tinted, or that says family entrance / section above it.¬†

Dear men, if you want to avoid hysterical screaming of hysterical and confused women, never walk into a place (accidentally or not) that has mostly women in it. They actually do start screaming. I have seen it happen.

Once I had ensured my mother that we had to go through the tinted door, we came to a staircase and went up to the second floor where a man was standing behind a counter in an empty room with some chairs and tables. That was quite a strange sight but I guess here is where the idiom other countries, other customs comes true.

Segregation does not only take place at restaurants though. You can see it in other places, too. The actual elimination of women from male places and vice versa happens at restaurants mostly. If you go to a bank there is one huge main entrance and somewhere around the building there will be a door which says ladies branch  above it but I have never been inside a bank here, so that is all I can say.

Some shops also have a families only board hanging over the entrance. That is mostly for shops that are for women like lingerie or cosmetics etc. An Uzbek man here told me that he wanted to get cosmetics for his wife but was not allowed inside the shop because he was a single male and had no female with him.  What I find very ironic though is the fact that women are allowed inside shops that are for men. Like shops that sell thobes or the Zara branch that sells male clothes (been inside there today and did not get kicked out). I have a feeling that it is the women who are being protected from men and not the other way around.

Sometimes there are also two waiting lines at fast food stands or grocery¬†stores in malls. However, these are disregarded most of the time. ¬†I have seen it several times that men would be standing in line under a board clearly having “women” written on it.

Those of you ladies who are sick and tired of being surrounded by men all the time, I suggest to visit the women’s sections in malls or a whole “ladies mall” all together. Places like¬†Panorama Mall¬†or the Kingdom Tower have a whole floor with shops where only women are allowed and men can’t see anything from the other floors because of the tinted glass all around it. In these places, the women who sell things walk around without abayas.

THAT must be the reason why some¬†VERY¬†desperate men sometimes put on niqab and abaya¬†just so they can sneak in¬†to the women’s floors to look at women in western clothes. That is what I have been told. I have not seen that transformation happen with my own eyes but based on my personal experiences at mixed gatherings I would not be surprised at all if this was actually true.

 

A Little Party Never Killed Nobody: On the Other Purpose of Embassies

Most of us know embassies as places where you get travel documents or where you go if you have a “diplomatic hold up” in another country etc. But have you ever thought about what else an embassy could be useful for? Think for a moment…

Yes, you are absolutely correct! In Saudi Arabia, embassies are also places for social gatherings that sometimes, depending on the level of effort, can be considered a party.

Yesterday, I went to the French embassy in Riyadh. At first I believe that what I was about to attend was a live performance of ABBA’s Mamma Mia!¬†by French artists.¬†So, looking forward to some good music, I was off to the Diplomatic Quarter in Riyadh.

If you want to attend such gatherings at embassies, you need to have the right connections that can get you an entrance ticket and be warned, that this little piece of paper will not necessarily be a cheap one.

For most expats these events at embassies are a chance to dress up and basically “compete” with the others about who looks better that night and whose bag matches the shoes with the highest heels the most. At least that is the impression I get from the women, while men either a.) Try to get themselves a (new) girlfriend or b.) get their hands on alcohol. That may also apply to some women, too by the way. ¬†There is certainly also option c.) according to which some people may really show up for the music entertaining part.

Option c.) however, is not so common. The message this¬†sends is basically the following: Pretty much all adults have reached a point where they cannot have any fun unless there is alcohol involved. In other words, alcohol IS the main source of entertainment for most people here. Whether there are music or a movie at the same time? Let’s be honest, how many people actually care? Isn’t that kind of sad?

What did cheer me up however was the buffet. As many fruits, pastries, little sandwiches and shawarma as you can eat. Oh, and have I mentioned the rose pudding yet? Luckily water was free. After the first half hour I could already feel my satin dress tighten around my upper body.

I learned two lessons that night: strapless dresses are almost impossible to breathe in, especially after you hit the buffet like there is no tomorrow. Shoes with heels, no matter how high they are, are torture instruments, and later on there would be another interesting observation to follow.

But before I get to that, I am sure that most of you will be interested in knowing that it is not only the expatriate community that takes part in these events. I did see a decent amount of Saudis there, too. All with thobe and ghutra and agal. ¬†I guess that the cultural highlight of the night was my observation of a Saudi man kissing a woman on both cheeks. ¬†Don’t believe me? Read again.

After almost two hours of eating and drinking and possibly socializing to music that could possibly make your ear drums explode, the show came on. Even though my company and I were expecting to hear ABBA throughout, it started with French songs which later on turned out to be from the musical Cabaret.

However, the songs were dynamic and catchy and soon, many people started to dance and enjoy themselves while some got so into the dancing, their brandy landed on the ground.

Just after that, a young guy came up to us, asking if anyone had a pen. Later on he sat down next to me.¬†As I already mentioned in one of my articles called¬†The Albanian Don Juan¬†¬†the question “What time is it?” seems to be a very common conversation starter. Not only among Albanians but also Arabs. The guy, who later on turned out to be Egyptian, asked what time it is and after I showed him my watch, I already hoped he would leave me in peace when in reality, the conversation just started.

“Do you want a drink?”, he asked me and tried to offer me a glass with a liquid and ice in it.

Dear men, ¬†Firstly, if you really want to treat a woman for a drink, then please, get up and buy her the freakin’ drink while she is with you, so she can see how it is made and receive it from the barkeeper. Don’t just show up and offer a random glass. If you do that and the woman is smart enough, I can foreshadow for you that she will not take it. That gesture is pretty much a green light for: That drink is gonna knock you out. Literally.

Secondly, don’t automatically assume that every woman on the planet drinks alcohol. If you want to treat someone for a drink because apparently you like that person at first sight, then ASK what the lady wants to drink first.

You know, many western people complain about the strict social regulations here. Especially the whole idea of a woman having a mahram or male guardian. You know what? For situations like these, I  highly praise Saudi society for that rule! I really do.  I think that at gatherings like these a woman should always have a man with her who looks after her in case a guy like this comes up to her and tries to invite her to another party or get her phone number or even, and here comes the most ridiculous part: invite her to a trip to the desert!

Dear men, seriously??!! You think we will just hop into the car with you in a country like this, barely knowing who you are and let you take us to a desert???¬†Maybe you think that you are trying to be nice here and show us around but honestly…THAT is like the most suspicious thing to offer ever.

The “funny” thing about that incident was that my father was sitting RIGHT THERE next to me ¬†and the guy just kept talking at me, trying to appeal to me somehow, saying how strict my parents must be if they don’t let me party, even though I made clear that these here are my parents. Maybe I should feel sorry for that guy. The social situation in this country seems to make some men so desperate, they forget about any morals there are. Again, maybe he was just trying to be nice but if you just want to be nice, find a more civilized approach than almost hitting on a girl in front of her dad while you know her dad is watching you.

Ladies, in this situation I suggest you keep conservatively modest. If you want to get rid of the guy, say you don’t have your phone with you. You don’t have social networks like Facebook and on the weekends you are busy studying or doing stuff (maybe you even are like me). In the end, the guy will find that you are too quiet and too modest for him and after offering his silly drink to the friend that just danced with you, realizing that she will not take it either, he will eventually leave without a word. I mean, you can also just tell him to go away straight and see what happens but I don’t like to be rude at the first second.

Now, I can imagine that some of you will blame me for what happened, saying that if it wasn’t for my dress and my looks, I would have been fine. Okay, go ahead and think that way if you have to but let me tell you that I was just following the set dress code for the event and that just because I look pretty, like everyone else, that does not mean a grown up ¬†man has to forget about where he is and what social norms are.

The night was not too bad though after all. The food was delicious and in big amounts and we did get to hear some ABBA songs despite the fact that most of them were in French.

 

 

Thoughts From Under the Veil

I assume that this is not a universal rule but one thing I have noticed about people is that it is always easier to make fun of something one has never experienced or something that one does not know (anything) about. If something goes wrong with the joke or someone gets offended, these people think that they can still defend themselves. All they need to do is to say: How was I supposed to know?

That is true. Most people don’t know. Usually¬†because they never tried. But I think that those who actually dare to make serious fun of other cultures and their customs are people of ignorant nature.

As a sequel to my previous article on the issue of adapting to a new culture, I decided to write about wearing niqab as a foreigner in Saudi Arabia.

Now, before all of the complaints and accusations come down on me, I am aware of the fact that my experience is not and most likely will never be, the same as the one of a local woman who covers up because of her belief.  My experiences are the experiences of a white woman putting on a face veil because of where she lives. Whether that is of any value to you or not is your decision.  I am not putting myself into a position to say that I am better or worse than any other woman in this society by doing so because I am none of the above.

I have heard western people make fun of the niqab and abaya for so long, that I started to feel sorry for the women here, even though most of them may not know what the others are saying. So, my main objective was to try and respect¬†local norms by dressing what in this country is considered modestly as well as prove all of those wrong who, in a mean way, make fun of the way that Muslim women here dress. Bottom line is: If I can adapt, then why can’t the rest of the expats?¬†I am, after all, not from Saudi Arabia but from Europe, hence I would be expected to join the joking but I chose not to. I am not even saying you have to go all the way into this. Just stop complaining about the basic things that are asked from you, please.

At this point, most people will ask me: But WHY are you doing this? You know that you don’t have to! So why?

Well, that’s exactly it. I actually do not have to cover my face up to my eyes. I can do that a couple of times every time I am among Saudis and if I decide that I don’t like it, I can just take it off and pretend the whole thing never happened. A Saudi¬†woman however, would probably not have this choice and because I know what advantage I and other western women have in that aspect, I was even more encouraged to put on my niqab as a try. Temporarily of course.

Covering up is not difficult, once you learn it, it does not take up too much of your precious time and it does not hurt you physically. So, give me a good reason why someone should not at least try and do what others do? That is of course, unless you are Saudi and think that it is disrespectful for non Muslims to dress like one, in which case I want to apologize in advance. Disrespect was never the intention but the contrary. If any of my readers are Saudi women but disagree with the veil, then I respect that opinion just the same.

As I pointed out, hiding your face behind a veil, especially if you live in a country where a significant majority of women do this, is not as horrifying as western people think it is (given the fact that there is always the option to take it off again if you are white). At least for me it wasn’t too bad and am I not just a human being like the rest of you? Surely, black is not the best color to wear outside at such high temperatures, but personally for me, that was the only obstacle I faced¬†in putting on a face veil.

The most spread rumor about the niqab is that women who wear one apparently can’t see a thing. If you happen to be one of those people, then I have a huge surprise for you. If a woman wears a niqab that leaves her eyes free (and that is the one the rumors are about, too), she can see totally fine. Just as she would if her face was not covered. My niqab met at the very border of my glasses above and below and I was still able to see everything¬†clearly.

I tied up everything at the back of my head, placed the pins where they belonged and looked at myself in the mirror. It was quite a strange feeling at first. But not because I felt too uncomfortable about it.

When I was a little child, I saw women every now and then who would have everything covered, except for their eyes. Since I was small and the women taller than me and mostly all in dark color, I could not help but be afraid of them. And now here I was and what looked back at me out of the mirror, was one of my childhood fears. I have , at least visually become what I was afraid of. That is, if you ask me, an ironic coincidence and interesting feeling.

I did not feel uncomfortable while walking around the mall. I did not feel oppressed or anything of that sort. The world was not about to end. I was exactly like the majority of the women around me and nobody looked at me like I belong into the zoo. Men did not turn around after me like they usually would if my face or even parts of my neck were visible. After three years in South East Europe, where inappropriate comments about my appearance from men no matter what I was wearing were daily routine, that was a very relieving experience. Nobody asked questions. Nobody accused me of being dressed immodestly, hence not a single religious police officer had a reason to approach me and tell me what is right and what is wrong. I was left alone and theoretically just belonged into the crowd like everyone else.

I remember back when I had to wear a uniform to school in order to look modest and professional, some of my female teachers thought that the idea of professionalism in clothing did not apply to them and some showed up every day like they were just about to take their purse and go party at the club across the road. I do not know too sure about my peers but I was nearly offended by that behavior. I was ( and still am) young and pretty, too. Why did I have to look like a sack of potato, while some of the staff were showing off what nice curves they had? Did I not have the right to be pretty, too?

With that in mind, I felt good about the fact that due to the way I was dressed, I was not offending anyone who believed in modest clothes. Every time I am in school now and see a covered up woman walking to the cafeteria, while I pass by in my leggings and heels, I do feel pretty bad, to be honest.

So I think that just for the sake of respect and not to make those uncomfortable who would be, it is worth it to adapt to rules. It does not have to be the full cover but at least do the best you can. There will always be some people who appreciate that and is that not an awesome feeling to have, when someone appreciates something you do?

Things That You Thought Are Banned in Saudi Arabia But Actually Aren’t

things banned in saudi

Some people think that Saudi Arabia is a place where things go backwards, meaning that people live like they did in ancient times. That may be true for some things which I probably should not be discussing on here but one of the things that contribute to this general opinion are the things that are (supposedly) banned in this country and to which this post is dedicated.

At the very beginning, I also believed that a lot of the things listed would not be available in Riyadh but that was because I have never been there before and I had nobody whom I could have asked in advance. So, once I arrived in Riyadh and spent some time in town, I was positively surprised and everything did not seem as “ancient” as I thought it would.

For those of you who are wondering, here is a list of the things that most people think are banned here, but they actually aren’t. Or at least not literally. For that, I will base myself on this list, which seems to be the most recent one I found and some other things I heard of.

1. Socializing between men and women:¬†Okay, I must admit that THERE ARE LIMITATIONS on that aspect but it is not as terrible as most of you imagine, which is why I put it on the list. It’s not like men and women who are not relatives never communicate and just literally ignore each other. If you do groceries, you may end up talking to a person of opposite gender, especially if you bargain over the price of something. You will also end up communicating with people when you need to ask for directions. It can also happen that your spouse and you (or whomever you are with in this country) go out together with colleagues. In the end, you would certainly not show affection to someone in public like you would do in the west, but that does not mean that you will never ever talk to someone of the opposite gender, who is not related to you during your stay here.

2. Cats and dogs: That is total nonsense! I can imagine that this has been forbidden maybe 5-10 years ago but not now. I got my cat with me into the kingdom without any trouble and I know that there are pet shops in Riyadh that sell animals. True, some or even most Saudis may not be big fans of cats and dogs but that does not mean that they are literally banned here. If you can buy dog and cat food in this place, then the animals will certainly be allowed here.

3. Smartphones:¬†Nonsense again. Smartphones and fancy technology (cameras and other stuff) are all over the place here. People are crazy about the newest technological items. Having an Iphone in this country is absolutely nothing spectacular. Almost everybody has one and they don’t only use it to make calls. Saudis take pictures all the time. Especially women. Riyadh is so far the first place I have seen where you can charge your gadgets in parks, at special stations.

 

4. Women moving around freely:¬†It is true that a woman needs a man’s permission to travel on her own, but as of actually moving from A to B within town, that is not legally forbidden for single women. Surely that depends on your husband’s or any other guardian’s character and whether he personally trusts you or not. However, don’t think that as a woman, and especially as an expat, you are not allowed to go to town on your own. If you want to and your guardian doesn’t mind or maybe even doesn’t care, you may do so. Feel free to read more about that here.¬†¬†

5. Women at work:¬†Same as for #4, women will need the permission of their guardian in order to go to work. However, it is wrong to think that women don’t work here at all. As for what I have seen, women work mostly in shops, schools or in hospitals. The fields may be limited but it is a start. Women here also receive higher education if allowed so by their guardian. ¬†So, I would say that more and more opportunities arise for women to develop and prove themselves intellectually. Some men are even in favor of their wives working, especially when they have big families.

6. Dolls: No need to disappoint your children! In Saudi Arabia, dolls can be found in any store that sells toys. And not only can you find dolls that are dressed modestly, meaning there are dolls in abayas and hijabs, but you can also buy the good old Barbie and other dolls. All no big deal.

7. Books and movies:¬†Yes, movie theaters are forbidden indeed but that does not mean that you don’t get to watch any western movies at all. My TV at home for example, shows all sorts of movies from the west and there is no censorship at all. That may be a little different when you try to download certain types of movies but generally, you can download lots of stuff here. As of for books, you can get a lot of English books here. Just go to a place like¬†Jarir Book Store¬†and you will see what I mean. I have seen books by Dan Brown, Danielle Steel, Nicholas Sparks etc. All available. There are even libraries here, believe it or not. I don’t know whether the books in there are in English, Arabic or both, but I think that libraries are a good start towards encouraging the usage of books, aren’t they?

Excuse Me, Are You One of Us?

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.