Thursday, 23 May 2013

My Last Two Months in Saudi Arabia

News, news and more news...

I've been debating about how--or even whether--to write this post, but now that everything is official, I suppose that now is as good a time as any to share some bittersweet news. My sister suggested I entitle this post "after a long visit to Saudi Land, I'm coming back" but that doesn't quite fit my more serious tone (thanks for the suggestion, though, sis!).
Breaking News!!

The first piece of news (that you've probably guessed by now) is that I'm moving back to Canada (Toronto, specifically) in a month and a half. This is bittersweet because DH is staying in Jeddah for another year, so it will be back to long distance love for us. I'll probably get to come back to visit him over the Christmas break...which means six months before I see him after I leave for Toronto in July. I'm obviously torn up about this, so why, you ask, have I decided to move back to Canada without him? Why don't I stay in Saudi with him?

A mosque in Jeddah
Why, why why?

Is it so unbearable in Saudi Arabia that I just HAVE to get out of here?? Is wearing an abaya and headscarf too stifling hot that I've decided to call it quits? Is it THAT terrible being a ‘suppressed’ and subjugated woman out here in the desert? Is not being able to drive making me mad? Well, the last point is probably 75% accurate, but the women I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, teaching and working with have shown me time and again that there’s no more oppression of women here than there is in many other parts of the world (at least among the women that I know. This, admittedly, is a somewhat selective demographic). As for the abaya, I've become very accustomed to the covering up in black part of life here, and, in fact, I quite enjoy the freedom of leaving the house without worrying what I'm wearing under my abaya (although this isn't the case when I'm going to work because, of course, in an all-female workplace, I take off my abaya and wear professional attire).
An abaya and hijab: not as hot as they look!(Source:
So if it's not life here, then why am I up and leaving DH? Well, back in the fall, if you recall from here:, I was applying for my PhD in Canada. I applied to a number of schools and found out this past February that I was accepted everywhere, including at the University of Toronto, where I was absolutely positively sure I wouldn't be accepted (it has the BEST English Department in the country for my field, early modern drama). Accordingly, after MUCH deliberation, negotiation of funding packages, and stress about leaving my husband and amazing job here in Jeddah, I decided that I simply couldn't turn down a five year, fully funded PhD in English at the University of Toronto. I decided that it's now or never!

Back to Graduate School!

So I will be leaving DH in the hot sandy desert in early July to spend some time with my family before moving back to Toronto in August. I've found a great place to live (in my old apartment building in the vibrant Annex neighbourhood where I lived while doing my BA). The location is perfect--literally across the road from campus, and a 5 minute walk to the English Department building.

The Jackman Humanities Building (where the Department of English is housed).
It's exciting to be going back to school, especially since being in Saudi Arabia has opened up a lot of doors for me in terms of helping me have a clearer focus for my dissertation. I'm thrilled that I have the opportunity to embark on a research project that energizes and inspires me. Living in Saudi Arabia has given me insight, knowledge, and personal experience about what it's like to be a woman in a place that is literally a different world. I have been fortunate to have met people from so many diverse walks of life, religious beliefs, life experiences, and ways of thinking, and this has definitely challenged and influenced the way I myself think! I'm looking forward to applying my unique intercultural experience to my work back in graduate school.

The University of Toronto
Goodbye's the Saddest Word

I'm quoting a Celine Dion song with this subtitle, I couldn't resist (video here:, but, really, I can't stand goodbyes! I prefer "see you soon" and "talk to you on skype" to the more somber "goodbye." Of course, my family is happy I'm moving back to Canada, but I am so sad to be leaving DH and my wonderful, amazing colleagues and students at the college here in Jeddah. Really, teaching here has taught me so much, and though it's non-stop, busy and stressful at times (well, I shouldn't lie--most of the time!), I love it and am passionate about teaching at the post-secondary level. My colleagues have become close friends, and it saddens me to leave. So I'm instead saying "see you soon" because once I finish my PhD, DH and I would consider coming back to Saudi Arabia. Who knows, though, what the future will bring? It's full of exciting possibilities, though for now, we have to be apart and follow our own educational and career paths.

Meeting the Parents!

On a completely unrelated note, a few weeks ago I finally--for the first time--got to meet DH's parents! They came to visit us from Bangladesh for three weeks. We were still working our hectic schedules during their visit, and since it was "term time" I was swamped with marking final papers and preparing final exams, but we made the most of their three weeks in Saudi Arabia. We met them at the airport a few Wednesdays ago after work (the equivalent of Friday night in the Western world since our weekends are Thursday and Friday). That evening they made the one hour drive to Makkah, and the next day we joined them there and stayed the night. They went for Umrah (a small pilgrimage) on Wednesday, and then we spent Thursday and Friday together. Since they weren't able to come to our wedding because it was in Canada, they gave me some beautiful bridal jewelry as a belated wedding gift. In addition, DH's two sisters gave me some beautiful Bangladeshi saris. I now need to find an Indian friend who is getting married so I can have occasion to wear these beautiful clothes!!!

Jeddah Airport Arrivals
The next weekend, we met DH's parents in Madinah, which is about 4 and a half hours north west of Jeddah. We hired a driver so that DH didn't have to handle that long drive all by himself (since I'm not allowed to drive here!) It was a long trip in the middle of the night, but well worth the drive! Madinah is the city where the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) died, and his grave is in what is known as "The Prophet's Mosque." Our time in Madinah was relaxing and breathtaking.

The Prophet's Mosque, Madinah, Saudi Arabia
Madinah, Saudi Arabia
Madinah, Saudi Arabia
A Mosque in Madinah
A Mosque in Madinah
Outside the Prophet's Mosque
After the weekend there, DH and I, along with his parents, came back to Jeddah. We had to work on Saturday (i.e. Monday), and his mom greeted us each evening with delicious home-cooked Bangladeshi food. Mmm! Chicken curries, rice (lots and lots of rice), and so many yummy treats! I wish I had time to cook such wonderful meals, but, alas, work is always beckoning.
Highway landscape between Madinah and Jeddah
The long drive back to Jeddah.
All in all, it was a wonderful visit, and I'm so glad that I finally got the chance to meet DH's wonderful parents. If it wasn't so expensive, we would love to plan a trip to Bangladesh ourselves to meet his whole family (he has two sisters and each has two children. Yep! I'm a proud aunt!)

Finishing Up the Semester

After DH's parents left, this past week was super busy with final exams, marking, and working on the tedious task of compiling course files for each course I taught this past term. Thankfully, I finished almost everything and got my exams and final grades in by the deadline.

This weekend is the calm before another storm; on Saturday, the summer semester begins and I`ll be teaching my final two courses before moving back to Canada in July. Most of my colleagues will be traveling after the next week or two, so it will be sad to part. The college will feel much emptier without all of them during my last semester here.

Speaking of my colleagues, they really are so wonderful. Last weekend, they threw me a surprise going-away lunch and gave me a heartfelt card and a beautiful Coach bag! I am so blessed to have met and worked with such wonderful, kind, generous ladies over the past two years. I will definitely stop in to visit them all when I`m here in December!!!
My new Coach bag--it even matches my BLOG!
Thank you, colleagues!!!
Until next time...

I suppose that`s all my news for now. As usual, I`ve taken awhile between posts, but I end up overcompensating with lengthy pieces! I guess that`s just my blogging style!

The next month will be filled, I`m sure, with lots of commotion at work, and with packing and preparing for my big move back to Canada. I was invited to one of my students`weddings that will take place in a couple of weeks, so if I make it out to that, I will definitely dedicate a post to my experience of a Saudi wedding!! If I go, I will have to get very dressed up (hair, make-up, ballgown)--probably even more than I did for my own wedding!!!

Anyways, hope that you, my dear readers, are all well...and if you`re one of my Toronto friends reading, SEE YOU SOON!!!!

Asalam alakium!

Julie xoxo

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