When I first decided to write about my experiences in Saudi Arabia, I imagined that my first post would occur AFTER I was settled into my new flat with my hubby. I imagined that surely the novelty of it all would instantly evoke dormant thoughts and new emotions. While still true, I now know that when you make that decision to move there is so much to ponder and record before the passport is even stamped.
The decision to move across the world with my husband was ultimately between the two of us. However, we both come from Arab backgrounds from the Levant, so naturally everyone we know—family and friends alike—had an opinion or two (or five) about the move. The most surprising and frustrating comments came from the Arab American women, who scoffed at me when I told them I’m going to live there. Ironically, it was the ‘hijabi’ Muslim Americans who spoke negatively about being forced to wear an ‘abaya (a long, loose fitting, black garment that conceals the figure of a woman) and the hijab/veil (a scarf that is wrapped around the head to conceal the hair and neck). That does not seem to bother me as much as it does them (though it does make packing my bags terribly difficult). They cannot, finally, understand how I can move so far away from my family.
Most of the women I referred to are friends of my mother and they immigrated to America (leaving behind their families) in the late 80s/ early 90s. They cannot understand why I would willingly go to a country that would strip me of my rights as a woman—those very rights they worked so hard to achieve in America. They now work when they never imagined they could back home, they take classes to advance their careers, they balance work and family and finally, they learned how to drive.
Everyone, of course, is entitled to his or her opinion. I respect and support that. The frustrating part, however, is almost all of the opinions thrown my way—whether I cared to hear them or not—were NOT based on a lived experience. None of those women actually stepped foot in Riyadh. Like most of the perceptions people in America have of KSA, their opinions are based on stereotypes.
It is just time for me to make my own move and write about life in Riyadh the way I experience it, other people’s opinions and stereotypes aside.