Thursday, 20 December 2012

One Year In Saudi!

How time flies...

Assalamu alaikum, everyone!

I just realized that I’ve now been in Saudi Arabia for an entire year! Wow! I flew into Jeddah last year on December 17th, and can’t believe a year has already passed since I was reunited with DH (see two blog entries from when I first arrived here: and here: after over two years of a long-distance engagement, and started a new life here. The past year has been full of adjustments being newly married, in a new country, starting a new job, meeting new friends, etc, etc, but alhamdulillah (“praise God” in Arabic) it’s been an amazing experience and I definitely don’t regret moving here.

There were times—especially in the second six months in Jeddah—that were particularly challenging. Once the ‘newness’ of everything wore off and reality set in, I started to feel the frustration of not being able to drive, the stress of work, and anxiety about starting to repay my huge student loan (in Ontario, Canada, the government gives students a six month grace period after the completion of studies before they have to commence loan repayment...) All of these factors were often overwhelming.

Back to the future...
These days, I’ve been keeping so busy that I haven’t had time to think about “oh, I can’t drive” or “I wish” this or that. I love my job at an all-girls university, and have become more involved in extracurricular activities now that I’m used to teaching and the workload. I started a “Music Club” with a group of girls who love to sing, and we’ve had a blast putting on our first performance at a college event, “Kaleidoscope,” a couple weeks ago. In January, I’ll be working with the Drama Club to put on a performance of The Taming of the Shrew. I spent a whole weekend revising Shakespeare’s script to make it culturally appropriate (sorry, Will, no mention of alcohol [a lot of “ale” and “wine” are dunk in the play....] is permitted!) I can’t wait to start working with my lovely colleague, who I’ll call “M,” and casting the parts!

I’ve also been tutoring three nights a week, and though it’s a busy schedule, I really enjoy working with the grade twelve girl, and her younger sister who is in grade six. They’re both motivated and work hard, which is a refreshing change from some—though not all ;)—of my students in my full-time job. Just last week, one of the students in my writing class came and told me she got 60% on a quiz I’d posted online for the class to complete. I’d told them they could leave class once they finished the quiz, and gave them two chances to attempt the answers. (In our program a 65% is a pass). I suggested that she take advantage of her second chance to write the quiz and asked her if she was aware of her mark in the class (an F). “Yes, miss, I know I’m failing. I don’t want to be in school. It’s okay if I fail.” MAJOR *sigh* from my side. Doesn’t she realize that a good education is worth SO MUCH, and is something that many, many women in Saudi Arabia—and throughout the world, for that matter—don’t have the opportunity to receive?

While hearing this lack of motivation can be frustrating, I have to admit that I was duly warned. Without fail, in every interview I had for various teaching positions in Saudi Arabia, I was asked “how would you deal with students who have no motivation?” Yes, this is definitely an issue!

On the other hand, many of my students are exceptional and have the desire to learn, to work hard, and to take advantage of their classes. They are excited to perfect their English so they can excel in their majors (many will go on to study Business, Interior Design, Speech and Hearing Sciences, the Social Sciences, etc.). Saudi Arabia is a country with so much opportunity!
We know too well how terrible the economy has been—and continues to be—in the Western world. Here in Saudi Arabia, most people cannot comprehend that there aren’t ample job opportunities for someone with my level of education. Their jaws drop every time I tell stories of my friends with master’s degrees working at McDonald’s, Wal-Mart, and other places where we worked to earn an extra buck while we were in high school. I graduated two years ago with my master’s degree, and after being accepted into a PhD program (also in Canada), I declined full funding and offers of admission because the employment situation—even for very highly educated people—is so grim in Canada.

In Saudi Arabia, by contrast, my students can be assured that they will have jobs—and good ones at that! The government, mashallah, is taking extensive steps to ‘Saudize’ the job market. So my task is to encourage these young women to work hard and appreciate the assurance of appealing careers that they will love once they graduate with their bachelor’s degrees.

Where have I been?
Changing the subject a little, I’ve been on a little hiatus from my blog for a number of reasons. Lots of things have been going on since DH and I returned to Jeddah after the summer.

Visits to Makkah
DH and I are thankful that Jeddah is a short 45 minute drive from the Holy City of Makkah. We try to get away and have little weekend “staycations” (i.e. stay in a hotel somewhere relatively close to home) at least once a month so that we can get away from the rush of everyday life and stop, relax, and rejuvenate. It’s been really making being in Saudi Arabia a rewarding experience. Makkah, a bustling city surrounded by desert and mountains, is an absolutely breathtaking place, and hearing the adhan (call to prayer) in the haram (holiest area) is simply phenomenal. Subhanallah!
On the way to Makkah.

Some beautiful desert scenery.

Getting into the city; view of the Clock Tower in the distance.
The Clock Tower, Makkah, Saudi Arabia
DH and I especially appreciate our little monthly escapes because we’ve both been so busy with planning for something else: possible returns to graduate school!

A return to graduate school?
Since DH was studying for his GMAT for business school admission over the summer, I’ve also been toying with the idea of a return to graduate school myself. I mentioned that I was offered funding and admission for my PhD two years ago, but declined in order to move abroad and experience life and work in Saudi Arabia. I don’t regret this decision, but I really do miss academia and would love, love, love to go back and continue with my research. With a master’s degree, I’m qualified to teach at the university level here in Saudi Arabia, but in Canada, I can only teach at the college level with an MA. I am thinking that with a PhD, even if the university job market is impossible to penetrate, with a PhD in English I would at least be more competitive for college-level faculty positions.
Trinity College Dublin
That said, I spent the better part of the past three months working on external funding applications,  research proposals, contacting potential supervisors, and filling out a million and one annoying “fill in the field” forms on various university websites. Alhamdulillah I’m finished with my Canadian PhD school and funding applications... Now I’m thinking about applying in the UK, too.

On my two-week break in October, DH went to Mecca for Hajj (the pilgrimage that every Muslim who is physically and financially able to perform must complete once in his or her lifetime), and after finishing most of my PhD applications, a friend and I traveled to Dublin, Ireland for the second week of the break.

Naturally, after seeing the sights, I ended up on a university campus (it just happened—I didn’t plan it, I swear!!!) and was able to meet with a couple of potential supervisors at Trinity College Dublin. I love the idea of studying in the UK, especially since my field is early modern British drama. The archives, theatres and resources there cannot compare to what we have in Canada. I’d have to end up applying for travel grants to visit the UK anyways... Unfortunately, though, funding for postgraduate studies in the UK (and Europe in general?) is nothing compared to Canada where I can expect to be offered enough funding to cover my tuition, books, AND living expenses, and possibly even put some money aside. Since I met with a potential supervisor in Dublin, though, I think I’ll go through with my application there and see if I’m offered anything competitive.
The Cliffs of Moher, Ireland
Dublin is truly beautiful, and since I was there toward the end of October, all the shops were setting up their Christmas displays and the cooler weather made me so nostalgic for home. This is my second Christmas away from my family, but it hasn’t been a bad thing so far. In Saudi Arabia, Christmas is just any other day, so it makes me less inclined to sit around feeling like I’m missing out.

A visit home!
Between semesters in January, though, I have a week off. I’m excited that my mom bought me a ticket to fly home for that week so I can visit family! I especially miss my little sister (well, at 16, she’s not so little anymore!) and can’t wait to hang out and enjoy some nice chilly Toronto weather! (I hope I can handle it after Jeddah`s consistent heat!!!)

See you soon...
Thanks for stopping by and reading! It’s always nice to keep in touch with friends and family, and to have visitors from all over the world come to Pink Jeddah Sunset and say hello!

Until next time, Asalamu alaikum!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Living it up in Saudi: The "relaxed" life of working expats!

Back in Saudi Sand!

Well, after a month of being home in Jeddah, I`ve finally found the time to write. What’s driven me (almost forced me because I’m slightly incapacitated...) to write has become somewhat of an opportunity to contemplate life here. Since last night, I’ve had a terrible, terrible stomach ache that simply won’t go away! I left work early this afternoon with the ever-growing sensation of knives stabbing my insides. Not fun. I’ve had stomach problems my whole life; I remember being in grade one and going to a specialist with my mom. No doctor really diagnosed what’s wrong. Considering that the elimination of various foods didn’t point to anything diet-wise, my conclusion is simple. Stress. 

Back to the desert! 
“ Saudi Arabia?!” you may be asking. “Aren’t you in the most laid-back part of the world? Where things take forever to get done, where taking your time is the name of the game?” Well, let’s go back in time a little bit and recall the time when I thought the same way...

What We Expect

Since returning to Jeddah on September 3rd, this past month has flown by in a flurry of, yes, chaos and busyness. When I first moved to Saudi Arabia, I was under the impression that all things in the Kingdom are done in a leisurely, relaxed pace. I was "sold" on the idea that moving here would mean a new lifestyle marked by short workdays, lots of holidays and opportunities to travel, and weekends spent gallivanting around shopping and visiting with friends. 

At his job, DH, who was here for two and a half years before I joined him, comes and goes depending on his class schedule. Some days, he teaches for three hours in the morning and is then free from 11am on! Needless to say, I had some pretty rosy glassed on when I decided to move here!
Commuter train in Toronto
Today at work I was chatting with my wonderful boss, M. She's really sweet and we get along amazingly well, Alhamdulillah (Arabic for praise God!). Years ago, M used to work in Paris. She commuted back and forth from work to home for three hours a day. She took a bus, the train, and was rushed, rushed, rushed with work, family, and life commitments. This is life in the West. I, too, as an undergraduate student, graduate student and an employee often felt simultaneously burdened with so many commitments: extra-curriculars, volunteering, school work, teaching and research assistantships, funding applications, family responsibilities, and later on wedding planning to top it all off! 

And then came the opportunity to move to KSA. "Yes," I thought. "Finally a break. Finally all my hard work, my rushing here and there, my chaotic life will come to a halt." I couldn't wait for a change of pace.   

What We Actually Get!

And then I arrived in Jeddah. The first month was absolutely wonderful. I'd been waiting for months on end for my visa (for that story click here:, and here:, and DH and I, then newlyweds, had spent some torturous time apart (really—it felt like forever) while I waited for sponsorship. I arrived here mid-semester last December, and had to wait until the new term at the end of January to begin teaching. 

In the meantime, DH showed me around my new city, took me for dinner, drove me to the Red Sea Mall, the Red Sea, and showed me a good time. And then I started working.
My first trip to the Red Sea,
December 2011
Reality Sets In

Starting a new job is not easy. Neither is being in a new country. Being newly married isn’t a walk in the park, either! Needless to say, it was a tough, tough year adjusting to all these new things.

Oh, how I resented my husband at the time. (I’m sorry, my love!) My job was (and is) NOT a simple “go in for your classes, then head on home” kind of job. While DH often brought work home, he, as a man who is permitted to drive here, had the “leisure” of being able to drive straight home after work. Even if I finished class at 11am, he taught until 4pm on those days and so I had to wait for him, my DH, my DD (designated driver!).
Wishing I was allowed to drive our car...
Exit/Re-Entry Visas

On top of this, DH had promised that we’d have the chance to travel and “see the world” when I moved here. [Let me pause for a second and draw your attention to something quite *interesting* [insert sarcasm here!!]: Saudi Arabia is the ONLY country in the world where you not only require a visa to ENTER the country, but one to EXIT and RE-ENTER again. A person’s employer / sponsor must issue this document for a person who is not Saudi to leave the country.] So, go figure that when I finally arrived in Jeddah, it was the first year that DH’s workplace stopped allowing employees exit / re-entry visas at any time other than over Hajj Break (the annual pilgrimage to Makkah). Like some large corporations, DH’s university gives long vacations a number of times throughout the year, but no longer allows employees to leave the country. How frustrating!!! Last year, I did end up visiting friends who are teaching in Kuwait, but without DH it just wasn’t the same. This year (actually, in just over two weeks a really good friend of mine and I are traveling to Ireland for our vacation!) I guess it`s not all bad news--at least I can come and go!
No traveling for him... 
Overall, my misconceptions about what it meant to “work” in Saudi Arabia were honestly one of the worst perpetrators of my negativity and consequent attitude about being here. The college where I work isn’t just another “private” college. It’s an internationally-accredited, degree-granting university. The first one in Jeddah to be American accredited, in fact. Accordingly, we have extremely high standards, academic and otherwise, to maintain, and this means that faculty necessarily have to work longer and harder than instructors at other institutions. At the end of the day, though, this is what drew me to my place of work. I had other job offers (I wrote about one of them here:, but my school has so many benefits.
The College!
The garden at work
The Silver Lining

As with other Saudi schools, it’s an all-female environment. Once I’m at work, I can take off my abaya and hijab and wear what are considered, by Canadian standards, “normal” business-casual clothes. OH, THE FREEDOM!!! Seriously, when a man enters the college (to fix something or to give a workshop, etc.), alerts go off over the PA system: “A man is in the building. Please put on your abayas. I repeat: put on your abayas!!!” Sitting at work or teaching in the classroom in an abaya and hijab is definitely not as comfortable as wearing “normal” clothes. I prefer that the men stay away!

Although I worked so much last year—and in fact I’ve been teaching two extra classes this semester because we’re waiting for another faculty member to receive her visa; I’ve also taken up a tutoring position three nights a week—this year is much better. At the college, we have lots of extra-curriculars, events and activities. Last year I taught piano lessons to Saudi students, and this year a colleague and I have started the Drama and Music Club. We’ll put on a production each semester and get the girls involved in the fine arts.

The college also has English and Arabic Journalism Clubs, a Mock UN Club (that won something last year in a competition at Harvard!), sports clubs, and basketball, badminton, and dance teams, just to name a few! It’s a bustling, busy place.
The atrium where the Club Fair was today!
Champion Sports Room
We offer majors including Law, Business, Fashion and Interior Design, Architecture, Arabic, the Social Sciences, and many others. Graduates have gone on to complete master’s degrees and PhDs in America, Canada and Europe. I’m really and truly proud to be part of the community where I work. Yes, I work a lot of long, hours, but what teacher doesn’t (okay, maybe there are *some*...)?

And I Wouldn’t Change a Thing!
(...except for my stomach ache lol)

At the end of the day, most of my students are hard-working, honest and respectful young women who have solid goals, plans and ambitions they can’t wait to embark on! We have fantastic discussions about social issues, women’s rights, and the ongoing rapid changes—especially in women’s education, as I’ve described above—in this rapidly-developing country. I’m thrilled to be a part of this amazingly inspiring social change in Saudi Arabia, and am honoured to spend so much time with this strong, determined generation of Arab women.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Back to the Desert!

Goodbye Toronto...Hello London!

Good morning, my lovely readers! It's been some time since I posted and I thought I should pop in and say a little something before DH and I head back to the desert. It's been a wonderfully glorious summer in Toronto. I've caught up with friends and family; I've laughed, I've cried, and I've come out on top... ready to tackle another year in Saudi Arabia!

One of my favourite things about Toronto is the beautiful waterfront. I've enjoyed afternoon walks along the Woodbine Beach boardwalk, dipping my feet in the warm water, and soaking up the sunshine on my skin. There are stunning nature trails and paved pathways along Lake Ontario, and I've thoroughly enjoyed checking out new pathways and sights every day.

Here are some of my favourite photos from the Beaches:
Waves crashing up on the shore: Lake Ontario

The boardwalk at Woodbine Beach <3

I didn't surf, but it looked like lots of fun!

One of the "recreation trails" I explored. 
I got up to the family cottage only once...and, go figure, it was on a rainy day! But I took advantage of the time by catching up on some leisurely (!!) reading (yes, the leisurely part is shocking after all my time in grad school!), and having a great visit with my mom and dad. The last morning up north the rain stopped, and my dad and I were lucky to enjoy a canoe ride like old times. It's so peaceful on the water.

Off We Go...

I've spent the last week or so feeling a mixture of emotions: sad to leave Toronto, family, and friends, but excited for all the good things this year will bring. For those of you who know me well, I really don't enjoy change. I'm actually terrified of it. And somehow I ended up on this crazy, life-changing adventure! As challenging and crazy as life can be abroad, I don't regret my time in KSA for a second.

In anticipation of my return to Jeddah, I've decided to make a list of all the things I'm eagerly anticipating about this coming year abroad. So, without further ado...

My Top 10 List for 2012-2013

1. Our 2 day stopover in London, England

I've never been to England, and DH had a stopover there years ago and didn't get to see much. We've both been talking about taking a trip to London, and I wasn't sure it would happen. Then his university booked our flights back and gave us a 24 hour stopover in London! Needless to say, we're both pretty excited! I wonder if the Olympic rings will still be hanging from London Bridge...
London Bridge
2. Returning to Jeddah...WITH DH!!!

This is something that brings me a particularly noteworthy thrill: I already have my Saudi residency, and I'm not going to be sitting around waiting for an indefinite amount of time waiting for a visa (like my 75 day wait last fall). Yay! My husband and I, after so many months and years apart in the past, finally have a predictable future: together!!!
Back to Jeddah!
3. Going back to Work!

Another thing that I'm definitely not taking for granted is having a stable job, given the Canadian / US / European (heck, most of the world's) economic situation. To top it off, not only am I so blessed with a job, but I love, love, love my colleagues and where I work. I'm excited to return with all the energy, vigor, and passion in me!
4.  Unending Summer!

A big part of what's making returning to Jeddah easier is the progressively cooler weather Toronto hands us each day. DH and I have taken to having our morning coffee on the balcony and it's actually becoming almost too cold to sit out. If I wanted to stay in Toronto, it wouldn't be the same as the glorious summer we've just enjoyed anyways. So, off to Jeddah's sunshine and pleasant winter weather.
Al Hamra, the winter!!!
5. Walking

I love to walk. I will walk for hours just taking in the scenery, people, breathing in the beautiful air... I do love Canadian falls. The air is so crisp, it's breezy, and it feels like a new beginning (I guess this part is usually associated with spring, but given that September marks the start of the academic year, it's always been a beginning for me!)

When I first moved to Jeddah, I anticipated not being able to walk outside. Why? First, it can get SO hot. Second, wearing an abaya, I wasn't the most graceful at first, and I didn't think a brisk walk would be ideal given that I'd probably trip. So the first item on my "to do" list when I moved there was to purchase a treadmill.

Okay, so in this photo walking looks quite glorified...I just don't have a photo of the "other" walking area I described lol I guess I could walk here, too, though. :)
Since living there for 7 months, however, I've realized that people DO walk outside. In fact, some men even run! DH and I found this "walking area" (sidewalks are, by the way, a bit of a novelty) on our way home from work. People walk briskly, jog, run, or even stroll along. Some people are out at noon (which, quite frankly, I don't know how it's possible when it's so hot!) but the busiest time is the evening and night time once it cools down a bit. I have yet to join the walking crowd out there, but this is something I'm looking forward to giving a try. It will beat staring at the wall while on my treadmill at home. Let's just see if I can handle the heat!

6. Sunshine

In Toronto, I love the summer. I love the fall. But I'm not a huge fan of the winter and early spring. I find it hard to keep motivated and positive when the days are so short and the sunshine isn't too prevalent. In Jeddah, we have sunshine all year round!!! This is definitely something I'm looking forward to as family and friends prepare for another Canadian winter!
7. Weekends!

I've been a student most of my life... No, ALL of my life, and something else I love is having weekends. Granted, many weekends I bring marking home, but there's a greater sense of freedom in having at least an entire day off! No worrying about upcoming proposals, papers, exams, seminars or readings. Just some leisurely marking, and time. Time to read. Time to work out. Time to cook. Time (and some money!) to go shopping...

And the topic of weekends leads me to #8:

8. Trips!

In Saudi, we're close to a lot of often unexplored (or unfrequented by most traveling westerners) cities and countries. Within Saudi itself there is lots to explore. A difficult country for which to get a visa, DH and I hope to explore more of KSA before we leave. Makkah, Taif, and maybe Riyadh are among some cities we hope to see.
Living in Saudi Arabia also brings the advantage that we're closer to lots of other travel spots that, from Canada, are a long, tiring journey. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) -- I want to visit a friend in Dubai on Hajj break, inshallah -- Kuwait where a good friend and her husband are living and working (I went last March and hope to go again this year), and Jordan. Everyone raves about the historic sights and natural beauty there. Unfortunately, I doubt we'll be able to see all these places, but I'm excited to see where the coming year will lead us!

9. Makkah!

Makkah (or Mecca) is Islam's holiest city, the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and the home of the Kaaba (see photo below). DH and I took an overnight trip to Makkah before the summer and it was such an amazing experience. Only a 45 minute drive from Jeddah, we'll inshallah take monthly weekend getaways and stay in Makkah, relax, and pray.
The Kaaba in Makkah
10. Lifestyle

In Saudi Arabia, although I, as a woman, am not permitted to drive, the lifestyle is much more laid back. I work a lot, but it's possible to take time out to relax, unwind and enjoy a good quality of life. Food in Jeddah is cheap, gas is even cheaper, shopping is amazing, and I have some wonderful friends who I can't wait to see when I return in a few days (British "S" and Saudi / American "A" you know who you are!!)
This is some Indian food we had in TO; however, in Jeddah, you would pay a fraction of what we paid for this ($35), and get this (takeout) for probably $5.
Off I Go...
DH and I fly out of Toronto tonight, and can't wait for our time in London. Then, it's off to Jeddah where I have no doubt that it's going to be an amazing year. I can't wait to share my stories and experiences with you on Pink Jeddah Sunset.

Salam alaikum...and see you all soon!

Friday, 20 July 2012

Ramadan Mubarak!

Ramadan begins...
Today marks the first day of this year's Ramadan (the Islamic month of prayer and fasting).... So, to everyone fasting and celebrating throughout this sacred month--wherever you are in the world--Ramadan Kareem!

Crescent moon: it's Ramadan!

Home sweet home!

DH and I made it safely to Toronto last week and we're both back up and at 'em, having overcome our jet lag pretty well now. The first week here I had a pretty yucky cold, but alhamdulillah I'm feeling much better now. Already, our time home has been full of fun times and busyness. My 16-year-old sister's come to Toronto a couple times from just east of the city to visit. Our condo is really close to a GO train (commuter train that goes from the suburbs to downtown Toronto) station, so she's able to hop on and then I can meet her easily. My second night here, we went to a concert for her belated birthday present (Train with lead singer Pat Monaghan). Train is her favourite band, and she managed to get backstage passes to MEET the band!!! She was more than ecstatic and I was happy to be a part of this kick off to summer fun!

Train performing at the Sony Center, Toronto

Living the life
I've been catching up with friends, eating too much sushi (but how can I not!?), and visiting out of town family. DH has been studying away to write the GMAT exam for admission to an MBA (master of business administration) program, so I've been free to run about here and there. We spend evenings together enjoying the amazing weather (we can actually enjoy the outdoors here unlike in nearly-uninhabitable summer Jeddah! lol), going for evening walks, and enjoying breakfasts and dinners on the balcony. It's just like a cottage retreat out back, although the condo (facing the other side) is right on the streetcar line.

A view from our much green!

Looking for a foster home for Oreo... Anyone?
Being back in Canada is wonderful, but on the downside, when I visited my parents, my cat, Oreo, who I left here, is extremely angry with me! (Yes, I'm aware I sound like a cat lady, attributing these feelings and emotions to my little ball of fur, but I KNOW him, really I do!!) The first time he sniffed my hand, he ran away from me...but yesterday he finally let me pet him and he even purred a little. The current task, however, is to find him a new adoptive home for the next 10 months. Two of my brothers moved back in with my parents. They have a cat, too, and my dad said one is more than enough... So, any Toronto or GTA-based readers who want to foster Oreo for a few months while I'm away? Send me a message or comment on this entry if you're interested. :)
My handsome, well-behaved, playful Oreo!

One more year?
Speaking of the 10 month time frame...DH and I have reached a pretty sure decision about our time in KSA. He's been there for over three years now (where the time went I don't know!) and although I'm enjoying the experience and have learned so, so much, because of his MBA, we will inshallah be moving back to Toronto for at least two years (the program's duration) while he finishes the degree. I'm a little sad about the move, although we will still have a year back in Jeddah. I've made such amazing friends, and LOVE my work and colleagues. There's so much unknown back in Canada with the economy still being quite shaky, and jobs still difficult to come by. Nothing is for sure, but hopefully once DH completes his MBA we can return to Jeddah. Or, who knows, I'll go back to school for my PhD? I'd so love that!
Applying for an MBA...

With more money, we can live a much better life in KSA. Part of our decision to move is pretty simple: women can't drive. As I mentioned in a previous post (see here:, this was something I was completely aware of when I decided to move to Saudi, but a rule that neither DH or I realized would affect us with such gravity on a day to day basis. Since I can't get behind the wheel, and a full-time driver is quite expensive (especially when our goal is to SAVE money in Saudi!), it is really frustrating and trying to be immobilized. DH is an "indoor" kind of person who is happy to stay at home for probably a whole week (lol!!) without going out. I, on the other hand, go crazy after spending the better part of a full day in the house. On weekends, once I clean the house and get some cooking and laundry done, I'm itching to get out, visit friends, go shopping, or just do something--anything!!--that involves escaping the four walls of the apartment (well, to be fair, I guess we have more than four walls...but you get the picture). My dad jokes that DH and I are like my grandparents who have the same preferences: BonneMaman loves getting out and can't sit still, and Grandad loves sitting inside and reading the days away. Going out isn't his priority, just like my DH. My grandparents have been married for over 50 years, so of course these differences can work, but in KSA it's another story when I can't come and go easily on my own. That's been quite a source of frustration for us this past year, and it's something that we don't want to have to continue to face right now. 

One year anniversary!
The 22nd of July marks our one year wedding anniversary. Wow! Yes, family and friends who cautioned us, spending our very first year of marriage in foreign country--and Saudi Arabia at that!--has been quite challenging! I'm not complaining--I truly value the experience and look forward to our next year in Jeddah--but it's more than either of us thinks we're able to manage at the moment. With his school situation pointing us back to Toronto, too, it seems like the best move, for the time being, to return to Canada.

First year of marriage...

I can't help but think of how true this line is, though: "Make plans, and God laughs." So maybe we'll end up staying in Saudi. Or somewhere else. Only time will tell! For now, though, we're looking forward to the rest of the summer in Toronto, and to catching up with everyone here! :)

Thanks for reading...and Ramadan Mubarak to you all!!!

Ramadan Mubarak!

Monday, 9 July 2012

Off to Toronto!

I can't believe how fast the past month has flown by! DH and I decided to stay in Jeddah a bit longer and work the summer semester, so only now are we flying home. We leave this evening, and I thought I should pop in and say hello and give a little update!
Upon arriving in Toronto Tuesday afternoon, we'll be staying in a subletted condo in Toronto's beautiful, bright Beaches neighbourhood, and we're looking forward to enjoying the milder Toronto summer weather! It's been at least 40 degrees here in Jeddah each day, and on top of that it's super humid (I'm used to humidity in Toronto, but Jeddah's humid climate on top of the heat is something I've never experienced before!)

I just finished packing and now must go and clear out the fridge. I hear DH in the kitchen starting to tackle that mission. I'd better go lend him a hand.

I'll try to update my you on my latest adventures (including a little road trip to Makkah) once I'm over my jet lag. For now, happy summer, enjoy the sunshine, and keep smiling!!

Salam alaikum,

Julie :) 

Friday, 8 June 2012

Thinking About Moving to KSA? My Experience and Advice!

 Setting the Stage: What's KSA Really Like?

If you're a reader of my blog, you're either a friend, family member, or someone who was searching to learn about life in Saudi Arabia. Perhaps you're even considering moving here! I know that when I was thinking about coming, I went through a long and complicated decision-making process. It included reading a LOT of articles, travel guides, and --most importantly--blogs!! Blogs, I found, give the "real" on the ground experience of life in KSA. Rather than reading "educated" or "researched" speculations about the country and culture, blogs provide a more realistic perspective that show the good with the bad in a usually more balanced, less biased way than, say, an article about the "poor, oppressed women" in Saudi Arabia.
Do you think I'm oppressed? Think again!
Being here, I find answers and make discoveries about the "REAL" Saudi Arabia every single day. When I was deciding to come, I was scared, nervous, hesitant, and very unsure. Are women really really as oppressed as the Western media makes them out to be? How would it be to be a Christian woman here? What would it be like to cover when it's SO HOT out? (This is, after all, the desert!) What about not being able to drive? Being dependent on my "male guardian"? Not being able to leave the country without my husband's permission? Question after question. 
Moving to Saudi?

The Real Thing: Not What Anyone Told Me!
I was surprised that when I moved here I really didn't experience culture shock. I guess I was over-prepared! Additionally, the things that I thought would be a HUGE deal (for instance, covering) aren't even bothersome, while things that I didn't think I would mind are at times overwhelmingly aggravating (such as not being able to drive. Turns out it's a BIG deal, especially in a city like Jeddah where there is NO semblance of a transportation system. And I'm used to Toronto's amazing TTC / metro).

Advice: should I move?
I was inspired to post this entry when a woman who is part of a Yahoo group in which I'm a member (shout out to "Expats in Saudi Arabia"!) asked the following question:

I'll be moving to SA with my family in about one month. I'm feeling very rotten about not being able to leave unless my "sponsor" gets me an exit visa. Please tell me there is an easy way for me to get out of the country when I want to do so.

I'm 26 years old and single; both my parents got job offers in Riyadh, and since they're still paying for my education, I've got to tag along. I will be living in SA with a dependent visa under one of my parents. My plan is to finish my education, save some money teaching, and leave the first chance I get.

I need to assess whether I should go or not. If it's going to make me a depressed wreck then I have to make some decisions.

I'm U.S Citizen currently living in Malaysia. My parents are Muslim; father is Egyptian. My father already has the whole Arab culture thing going (wear the hijab, don't sit with men), which I've learned to deal with quite well through the years. But a whole country of it, I don't know.

I'd appreciate some input to help me make a decision on what to do.
What's Saudi really like?
Here's my reply.

I saw your question and thought I'd add in my two cents. I'm a Canadian female, 27 years old, and thought we might have similar experiences in KSA given our similar demographic. I live in Jeddah, however, and I'm sure that would make a difference in terms of my notes about daily life.

My husband moved to KSA a few years ago, and last fall I finally decided to join him. Here, even if a woman is on her own visa, she has to have her husband's (or guardian's / father's) permission to leave the country. That REALLY irked me at the beginning, too, and I read a number of stories about daughters / women being "trapped" in KSA because their husbands or fathers had denied them permission to leave. My mother, in particular, was big on warning me that my husband would "trap" me in KSA. She was sure she'd never see me again.

An American friend who lives here and is married to a Saudi gave me the best advice on this concern. She said that as long as you completely trust your husband (in your case your father...) then you shouldn't worry about this regulation. So, do you trust that your father would give you the freedom to come and go? It's not an issue at all to get an exit / re-rentry visa as others have pointed out; the issue is unfortunately our guardian's "permission."
The turning point in my decision to come was based on my friend's advice, which I took. I completely trust my husband, and he has signed for me to travel a couple of times now. It's no issue.

The Things I Wasn't Ready For...
The BIG issues (at least for me) are things I COMPLETELY overlooked and didn't think would matter when I was deciding whether or not to move here. That's to say the things that drive me crazy are the day to day frustrations and inconveniences of being a woman in this country. The biggest thing? I naively thought that not being allowed to drive wouldn't bother me. How wrong I was!! If you're at all like me and enjoy going out, shopping, having the ease of coming and going at your leisure (even to grab some groceries or have a quick coffee with a girlfriend), then this will definitely be an adjustment for you in Saudi. 
The frustration of not being able to drive...
Would you be living on a compound? Or in the city? We live in an apartment in the city, which gives us a nice cultural experience in Jeddah, but it means I don't have the shopping trips on the compound bus, or the collegiality with other women who'd live nearby on the compound. 

This fall we plan to get a driver once we come back from holidays. This was my biggest dissatisfaction so far, and if I could have got out on my own, been able to meet up with friends, and had a general freedom of movement that having a driver would bring, it would have made my first 6 months here a LOT easier. I don't know any Arabic, and my husband isn't comfortable with the idea of me taking cabs alone. There's nothing fun about waiting for an "approved driver" my husband knows for 4 hours in a mall the keeps closing for prayer when I just want to be back home!
The best advice I can give: get a driver!!!! 
Sooo....after all this detail (sorry it's so long lol) I'd say that if you'd be living in a compound, you'd live a pretty "normal" life and have a pool, gym, friends nearby, transportation... and it would probably be just fine. If you'd be living in the city, negotiate with your parents to get a driver. It would make life in Riyadh manageable. Definitely different and a BIG change, but it wouldn't be so bad if you had a way around. Trust me, even if the man in your life (father, husband, brother) says he'd LOVE to drive you around, after a month or so he'll stop enjoying the traffic jams, shopping waiting, and being your chauffeur. 

The Verdict is In!
Overall, Saudi is a unique experience that many Westerners never have. It's definitely something that will contribute to your personality!! I don't regret moving here, and most of the time I'm pretty happy :)
Good luck and all the best in making this big decision! Feel free to ask any other questions...and let me know what you decide!!

Back to You, my Readers...
So...what about you? Are you reading my blog as a way to help you make the decision about whether to move to KSA? Are there any questions you still have that I didn't address? 
from abaya...
to swimsuit!!

Wherever you are, and whatever your situation, have a fun and safe summer...and enjoy the heat!!! For my part, I'm looking forward to some "cool" Toronto weather (i.e. nothing over 30 degrees most of the time!) and some warm evenings. (Here in Jeddah we're lucky if it stays below 40 degrees in the day + humidity. At night, the temperature goes down to only about 25 or 27 degrees. Yikes!!)

DH and I will be flying into Toronto on July 10th. We're looking forward to enjoying a summer sublet in the city. I, for one, await the day I can soak up the sun sans abaya

Keep smiling,

Julie :)