Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Day 50: Finding Peace in the Unknown

"Worrying is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere." -Glen Turner
I think that this is quite a fitting quote to begin my entry on 50 days of waiting for my elusive visa. Last week, leading up to the promise of a hopeful day 45 when I would know whether my visa application was accepted or rejected, I was a nervous wreck. I couldn't sleep, I couldn't turn off my thoughts, and I was missing DH so dearly. I kept thinking, "what if my visa is rejected. I will find out my 'fate' any day now." What I didn't realize then is that when I kept worrying (and at the same time saying I was trusting God to bring myself peace), I was working against God's plan for DH and I rather than allowing that plan to play out in God's own perfect way. Passing the 45 day mark of my wait paradoxically brought me peace rather than added anxiety and frustration. How crazy!

You see, praying, "God please allow my visa to arrive by Friday" (the glimmering, hopeful day 45) was doing the opposite of having faith--it was making demands of God that I now recognize were unreasonable! So, when last Friday nothing happened, I finally gave up my anxiety and decided that it's now completely in God's hands. I'm not trying to be all preachy in the least; rather, I'm just giving an idea of how I personally overcame my anxiety over something beyond my control. 

A Shocking Confession (gasp!)
When there was no visa last Friday, then, my visa consultant made a confession (shh! I think's it's supposed to be kept on the low down, but if you're reading this, you're likely interested in what's going on with Canadian visas for Saudi, and it's only fair I let you in on the play by play). 

Around the time I last wrote, she'd informed me that after 30 days she was being notified by the Saudi embassy in Ottawa if visa applications had been rejected, or if there were any problems with applications. After 42-45 days, visas were accordingly consistently arriving back to her with no issue. On Friday, however, the story changed. Sick of "covering up for the embassy," and feeling terrible for DH and I being apart for so long and for giving us false hope about being reunited soon, she confided in me. In reality, the embassy has apparently "lost track" of the dates on which Canadians have been submitting their visa applications. The computer system into which our information is being put is inconsistent. A visa application was returned to my consultant the day I called, after 50+ days of "processing." The embassy said there were documents missing. The "occupation" listed was no longer valid (in the nearly 2 months since this person applied, rules had changed), and this particular individual was forced to reapply, thus commencing yet another 45+ day wait. 

So am I scared? Kind of! I am worried that I won't see my husband until June when his contract finishes. I am concerned that we're getting into debt, that I soon have to begin repaying my student loans, and that only one of us is working. But I'm also trying to trust. Trust that there's something bigger at work in all this. That if I'm supposed to make it to Jeddah to enjoy a beautiful pink sunset with DH that I will get there. And if that's not part of what's supposed to happen, then so be it. I am strong. I will make it through whatever comes my way. 

Time for Plan B?
I have accordingly been applying for college teaching positions in Toronto, and keeping the door open to the possibility that I might be sticking around here. Not that that will necessarily happen--I have to hear back from the embassy sooner or later and know what's happening! But, for the sake of my sanity, I am being proactive and being open to whatever might happen.

There's a certain sense of peace that having foresight brings. Yes, that elusive peace. And the elusive visa. Somehow the elusiveness of both can coexist.

Oh, and I must append this entry with a lovely new development (insert sarcastic tone here)...
I just read a job posting seeking female teachers for Saudi Arabia.  The "European Recruitment Agency" appends the job post with the following:
Unfortunately we are unable to open this vacancy to applicants from Canada as visas are taking up to 90 days to clear through the Canadian Saudi Embassy. Also, the Saudi Government has recently implemented a change in their visa allocation. As of October 2011 we are unable to put forward female candidates aged below 27 or over 60 years of age. Unfortunately we, as a recruitment agency, have no flexibility on this new ruling. Therefore if you do not fall into the correct age bracket (i.e. you are aged between 27–60) please do not apply.

New Additions to Pink Jeddah Sunset
You heard it here first! I've added a couple of tabs up top:
(1) "Further Reading" ( and 
(2) "News" ( on recent features on the blog. 


Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Day 42: Why We Wait

Update (or lack of an update)
If you've been following my blog, you already know what "day 42" means--my 45 day visa wait (according to the Saudi embassy in Ottawa's time frame) is about to come to a close, inshallah (god willing). I am so incredibly anxious and excited. Anxious that everything will go through and there are no issues with my application, and excited that, any day now, I could be jumping on the next flight to Jeddah!
The elusive Saudi visa
I called my visa consultant yesterday, day 41, to see if she'd heard anything back from the embassy and to get a sense of how long visas are actually taking (since the embassy has said "30 to 45 days" I wondered whether any visas are approved sooner). She said visas are generally arriving back to her around or after day 41. She receives the FedEx delivery of visas daily at 3pm, so who knows...could today be the day my visa is stamped?

I'm trying to not to be too hopeful and be disappointed yet again. The whole process of applying, reapplying, and waiting for this visa has been emotionally exhausting, and has brought me to the point of exasperation more times than I can count. DH and I are trying to keep it together by skyping most days (as we have been doing for over 2 years now), and praying more than ever. Trying to trust in God's timing for our lives brings some peace of mind. That said, my consultant said that the embassy usually lets her know if there are problems with a visa application around the 30 day mark. I hope this means I'm in the clear!

One of my Canadian readers was kind enough to be in touch letting me know about his visa application process. A few weeks ago we were exchanging information and discussing the whole visa / waiting situation. He'd also been packed and ready to go for two months plus by the time his visa was stamped on the 45th day. Shout out to you, Rob, I hope you've made it to KSA safely!! Congrats on making it through the wait!

Political motives underlying visa wait times
If you're reading this, you might be interested in some of the research I've done (and verified with my visa consultant) about WHY Saudi visas for Canadians are so darned complicated. Having little else to do with my time while waiting, I've made it my mission to understand the politics of the 30 to 45 day wait imposed starting September 1, 2011. Why that date? What suddenly changed? What did Canada do to Saudi Arabia that brought them to implement a policy that is not only frustrating but seemingly ridiculous? Exploring all of these reasons has made me so many things--empathetic, frustrated, angry, and more knowledgeable about global politics and the intricate ways they can play out.

I've found four interesting details / developments that relate to the Canada / KSA visa escapade:

(1) Saudi Arabia is not the first to use visa restrictions / inconveniences to get back at Canada. In January 2011, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a country that previously allowed Canadians to travel there without a visa, imposed a fee upwards of $200 for Canadians wishing to enter the country. "Increasingly strained relations between the two countries led to the new restriction on travel. Authorities in the UAE have cited both landing rigths and a lack of reciprocity as bases for the move." ( I have no doubt that Saudi Arabia's reasoning for placing Canadians in the current visa situation is similarly politically motivated.
Political red tape.
(2) The recent "Ethical Oil" campaign that hit Oprah's "OWN" channel a couple of months ago, for instance, points to strained relations between Canada and KSA. The Ethical Oil campaign involves a controversial video (below) which suggests that women's rights in KSA are a compelling justification for boycotting Saudi oil--deemed "Saudi conflict oil"--and consuming Canada's oil instead. Watch it here:

Really? "Ethical oil?" How ethical is Canadian oil?

I could write a whole SERIES of blog entries on this topic exploring the endless ways in which this campaign is just so wrong. Wrong to somehow align women's rights with OIL when it's completely obvious that the real motivation is not one of genuine concern for Saudi women (if we even need to be concerned about them in such a flat out, problematically broad way) but about the desire to bolster the sale of Canadian oil in a troubled economic climate. It is beyond frustrating that women's rights are being posited in a way that uses them / us to propagate political and social agendas.

*If there's interest, I might blog on this more in another entry*

In any case, my rant aside, the "Ethical Oil" campaign naturally provoked a response from Saudi Arabia. They responded not only by attempting to censor the commercial from playing on Canadian tv, but by revoking a previously less painful visa application process.

(3) The 30 to 45 day visa wait is also related quite obviously to complaints Saudis have about obtaining their own visas to enter Canada for work, study or travel. It's been known to take literally months (from a month to over six months) for Canada to process Saudi visa requests. Accordingly, by imposing a similar wait on Canadians, Saudi Arabia is trying to push us to relax our own visa policies.

The most obvious evidence of the visa wait as a reactive force comes from the Canadian foreign affairs website that states: "Due to the number of applications we receive, we strongly recommend that you submit your application at least 45 days before your departure date. Processing time may be shorter" ( The Saudi embassy in Ottawa makes an almost verbatim statement about Canadians wishing to apply for Saudi visas.

I was reading through a forum for Canadian visa applicants, and the stories and conversations are often heart-wrenching. Family members are separated, wives are pregnant abroad waiting to join their husbands in Canada, Saudi students often do not receive their visas in time to begin the school year, etc, etc. This really puts my situation in perspective. Yes, it's frustrating and challenging playing the waiting game and being separated from my husband, but I understand why Saudi Arabia is taking a stand for its citizens in this way. We'd want our government to do the same for us. Unfortunately, many people and families are caught in the middle of political conflict and unrest, having personally done nothing to warrant the horrendously long waits for visas.

(4) Finally, it is worth mentioning that Canada, in an apparent attempt to reconcile, has apologized to Saudi Arabia for delays in processing visas for Saudi nationals. Arab News reported that on October 9, 2011, the Canadian Ambassador to KSA, David Chatterson, issued an official apology to Saudis:
“The Embassy of Canada would like to take this opportunity to apologize for recent delays in issuing visas and for the negative impacts these might have had on Saudi applicants,” said a statement issued by the embassy on Sunday. The Canadian Embassy would like to assure the citizens of Saudi Arabia that it is working hard to reduce visa processing times,” it added."
Unfortunately, over a month later, the apology appears to have had little resonance with the Saudi embassy in Ottawa. We cannot expect changes to happen overnight, of course, but it appears that the prolonged visa wait is being systemically entrenched rather than rectified--the embassy has now noted that new applicants should submit their visa applications with only copies of their passports, and, after 45 days, will send a request for the passport. The stamped passport will be returned 10+ days later.

Could things get worse? Please, please, PLEASE let my application be approved on the first try!!!!!!!

I hope I’ll be able to write by Friday (day 45) with GOOD NEWS! Thanks for your thoughts & prayers, my amazing readers! I look forward to writing to you from Jeddah under a vibrant pink sunset! 

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

"A Wife: The Ultimate Saudi Accessory"

One of my favourite pastimes is reading blogs of others who have been or are in Saudi Arabia. Bloggers provide insightful and interesting commentary about life in the Kingdom that travel guides really don't address. Some blogs are serious, most are critical, and others are downright hilarious!

I recently came across "An Englishman in Saudi Arabia" who spent some time in KSA in 2006 and 2007. He moved to Riyadh (the Saudi capital) and 2 months later his wife's paperwork came through and she joined him there. (Sound familiar?! DH and I are going on two months this week with our wait).

I've been told that my arrival in KSA will bring DH some benefits. Here's a fun blog entry on that topic by "An Englishman in Saudi." He provides a humourous and enlightening take on the Kingdom's family-centered culture.

A Wife: The Ultimate Saudi Accessory
I had to spend two months alone in Riyadh before my wife was able to join me here. I was a lot happier (and less lonely) when she finally arrived. One thing about Saudi then became immediately apparent. It is far better to be a married man in KSA than it is to be a single one.What with immigration, customs and the Saudi queue (maul) I was expecting hassle and delays when my wife and I arrived together at King Khalid International Airport.
When we got to immigration it was packed. Things did not look good. But I didn’t fully appreciate the impact of my new power-accessory. Thanks to having a female on my arm, we waltzed through the very small “Families Only” queue, leaving an army of single men waiting in long lines.When we got to customs the queues were long and they were opening and searching all bags. It did not look good. But thanks to my WIFE 1000™ we were ushered to a separate area, our bags were only X-rayed (not opened), and we were swiftly on our way.
Of course, the same can be said about any restaurant, take away or coffee shop in the city, and (seemingly) any police check point on the roads. When you are married you also get to sit in the family section in restaurants which usually means that you get your own private room / area to eat in.
In KSA, married people have a higher status and singles suffer for it. But the lack of respect for family in the UK has meant high divorce rates and large numbers of children growing up in single-parent families. I wonder which attitude towards the family really causes the most suffering.

Sadly for him, DH has indeed experienced the limitations of not being able to go into the shopping malls so freely as he will be when we go together (the idea is that "single" men will harass poor, unsuspecting female shoppers).
Women shopping in peace. Shiny, fancy Saudi malls!
We women have priority when it comes to shopping securely and safely in KSA!
A sign from a mall in Riyadh where there is a "ladies only" floor in the Kingdom Mall!
In any case, I think we can safely bet that DH will be thrilled to shop freely with his WIFE 1000 lol Really, I jest. Poor DH. Now he will have no excuse to avoid the malls!
My favourite comment on the above blog is from a reader who turns the "oppressed female / advantaged male" dichotomy on its head. He points out all the things men can't have access to unless accompanied by their "female guardian":

DemonEyes said...
you lucky guy youuuuu :D
well as a saudi single:
1- no shopping malls (the only entertainment in this city)(or the japanese resturants in shopping malls) unless you have a female guardian
2-no theme parks without a female guardian
3-no parks without a female guardian
4-no jumping the queue in the supermarket without a female guardian
5-married men get raises alot faster....and i never heard of a single guy being the boss of a married guy.
6-you get treated as a sexually breserked beast by the society and your opinion is worth nothing to married people unless you are married.
just to mention a few :)
Some lucky men in the mall with their "female guardians."
As for us, DH and I have been married for just over 100 days, of which we've spent about 40 together. I am prepared to be an obliging "female guardian" and open DH up to all these new possibilities that he's been unable to experience during his 2 years in Jeddah. I'm also super excited to move into our new apartment in a few weeks, and to embark on married life together in a new and exciting culture! Power to married people!
Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal and his wife Princess Amira al-Taweel. The Will & Kate of Saudi Arabia?!

* * * * * * *
NB: I should mention that one of my readers, another Canadian who has been waiting for his visa to be processed, just informed me he received it exactly 45 days following his application. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this means November 18th will be my lucky day!! Hopefully I will be able to fly out on November 21st and arrive in Jeddah on our 4 "monthiversary."