Tag Archives: life in saudi arabia

Why Do You Write About the Good Things?

Those of you who have been reading my blog might have noticed that the significant majority of my articles on this blog have a positive tone to them.

Considering the fact that I have dedicated this site to live in Saudi Arabia, which is unfortunately not seen in a positive light by many people from the outside, many of my readers probably ask themselves why I am keeping a blog that talks about the positive things of Saudi Arabia rather than the whole injustice and all the other questionable things that are going on there as well.

In fact, one of my relatives who has been to Riyadh, too, asked me this question a couple of days ago after I told her happily about all the positive feedback I am getting from my Saudi and non- Saudi readers.

“You must be very talented”, she said. “I have no idea what good things there are that one could talk about considering Saudi Arabia.”

In order to clear at least some of my possible bias, let me say that I am indeed aware of the fact that there were also things during my stay in the kingdom which I did not like and did not agree with. I am also aware of the fact that certain social norms and laws seem or are very unjust in comparison to what we western people know from our societies.

My contributions on here are not supposed to be some sort of propaganda that sugar-coates literally every single aspect of living in Riyadh. Since some people may think that this is exactly what I am doing, I just want to clarify that this was definitely not the motivation for all this.

But then, some of you may ask, why am I writing down the good things instead of challenging what is not so good?

Three hours after I got on the plane from Frankfurt to Riyadh, I got into a conversation with my neighbor who later on became a good friend of mine. “I am excited about my new life”, I said. “I will finally get to know something new and will have some material to write a book about.” This is where my friend told me to be careful with what I published online while in Saudi Arabia. There are certain things which are not supposed to be discussed, hence freedom of speech is rather limited in this country as some of you may have noticed. Maybe it would have been one of my tasks, as someone reporting from this place, to challenge certain things and point out what is not so good. But given how much of such content is already out there, I really started to ask myself who would read my articles if I would just re-write the horror stories that so many before me, including the official western media, have already published? If people wanted to read about what is bad, there would be no reason for them to read my blog. They could look up all the other websites and books instead, reading what they were expecting to read: How terrible of a society Saudi Arabia is. I would not take anything away from them or deprive them of valuable information by not being pessimistic.

So I needed to choose another perspective under which I would compose my articles, which does NOT mean that what I have been writing about so far was all made up.

I knew that I could just as well have written a whole bunch of stuff about everything I did not like, about everything that made me want to pack my bags and leave for good. I could have chosen to be fully affected by negativity and spend nine months in fear, depression, cynicism and homesickness, ruining my mental health as not too little expats in Saudi choose to do unfortunately. But I did not. I wanted to tell others why it is not the end of the world to live here, taking away at least some of the fear that so many foreigners have.I came to the conclusion that looking for some positive things would be much healthier than pointing my finger at everything bad.

You see, the way we perceive things are all a matter of perspective and a matter of choice. In the case of Saudi Arabia probably even a matter of circumstances. A foreigner will have  a different view and a different story to tell than a domestic worker or a local or someone whose marriage to a local turned into a disaster or an expat stay at home mom who has nothing to do all day than look after her child and stay home. So when you reflect upon all the things I have written over the previous months you should keep in mind that this is the story of my circumstances and they are not universal for everyone.

What also contributed to the way I wrote was the fact that I had something to do every day and that the people around me were good to be with. I was lucky to be a student in Riyadh, going to class every day. I had the opportunity to have contacts with other people, not isolating myself entirely, as some other foreigners choose to do. Had I not have my classes, I would probably have turned into a sad, depressed person because there would have been nothing to keep me busy. If you have nothing to do and don’t know why you should be getting up every day, every country will turn into a horrible place, be it Saudi Arabia, Germany, Iceland…you name it.

And this is exactly why I tried to point out something good about the kingdom. Next time you ask yourself that question, remember that everything is a matter of perspective and circumstances.


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.