AWB: What are the greatest challenges that you have faced?
One of my biggest challenges has been not having the freedom to just pick up my car keys and go out shopping or to run errands or to a movie whenever I felt like it. There are no movie theaters here since there is strict segregation of the sexes, so any situation where men and women might mix is just simply not allowed. My son and I especially miss going to the movies. I must rely on my husband for so much more now than when I was an independent American woman. Having to depend on my husband to take me everywhere at his discretion is very difficult to swallow. Most women here have drivers, but not me. And since my husband absolutely hates driving here (the traffic is the worst I have ever seen in my life!), going places is just not that easy. Just simply going grocery shopping is a big ordeal since stores here open and close all day long since they are required to by law in observance of the five daily prayer times. So shopping is not really a pleasant experience for me. We are always in a huge rush to get there, grab what we need and get out of there before the store has to close for prayers. I just don’t like shopping like that. I like to take my time and look when I can.
Another major challenge is fighting the boredom of life here. Unless you have hobbies (fortunately I do), I don’t know how any woman would be able to survive here without going crazy. There is nothing for women to do here. Most Saudi women do not work. In fact many of them get their university degrees only to marry, have kids, raise the family, cook and clean (although most women here have maids and nannies, but not me!). The only real “activity” for them to do is shop. That’s why there are so many amazing malls everywhere. But for women who don’t really like shopping, there is literally nothing else to do.
Another challenge is fitting into my role here without losing my own identity. For example, Saudi women do not speak to other men outside the family, and men are not supposed to speak to Saudi women. In fact, women are taught to lower their gaze and totally ignore men. This is just something I can’t bring myself to do. I am a friendly outgoing American and I always will be. I respect this culture and its traditions and find it fascinating, but it is not my own. To me, not saying "Hello" or "Thank you" to another person is rude, while in this culture it's improper. So far I haven't gotten into any real trouble about it, so I will continue to speak.
I think that in order to adjust to the huge change in lifestyle, especially for women, one must be flexible, accepting, adaptable, have a positive attitude, and throw all expectations of life as we knew it out the window. I know that many of my friends back in America would never be able to cope with life here.
AWB: What has surprised you about your new life?
I guess one of the things that has surprised me the most is that not speaking Arabic has not been much of a problem. Everyone here wants to speak English, and it is the required foreign language taught in schools, so this has actually hindered my progress in learning Arabic. Most of the signs are in both English and Arabic.
I have also been pleasantly surprised at how readily and warmly I have been accepted in various social situations, like weddings, or other women’s gatherings, by the Saudi women. They are much more open than I expected and they like to have fun. My husband’s family has embraced my son and me with open arms, and this alone makes a huge impact on our experience here. I am also amazed at how adaptable the Saudis are to modern technology and ideas, however at the same time they maintain their integrity in being so resistant to other Western ideas especially having to do with acceptable behavior and morality.
AWB: What do you like most about Saudi Arabia?
Most of all, I love the people here. They are so warm and hospitable. I like that I feel safe and comfortable here, even though my husband seems a bit paranoid about my safety. As an artist, I love all the sculptures and works of art that Jeddah has. I also like the mix of the ultra-modern and the extremely ancient reflected in the architecture and in the traditions. I love that Saudi Arabia is so family-oriented. And I absolutely love the food!
AWB: Why did you start blogging?
I began writing my blog “Susie’s Big Adventure” solely for the benefit of my family and friends back home, so they would be reassured that I was okay here and so they could share in my adventure. I also realized that many people in the US have these preconceived notions about Saudi Arabia, and I was hoping to give them an insight as to what it is really like here. Many folks back home have no clue how modernized Saudi Arabia really is in many ways. Several people have asked me if we have air conditioning! I could absolutely not survive here without air conditioning. I think that it is important for me to show that even though the culture is very different from America, there are also many similarities. I want to show how very alike the people here are to the people in America in what they want out of life and what is important to them.
Another reason for writing my blog was to keep me busy, as well as giving me a sense of purpose. Writing has always been one of my hobbies. A nice side effect of writing my blog is that it has opened up a whole new world to me that I had never paid any attention to before. I have become “cyber friends” with other bloggers from various countries, even though we have never met face to face.
My passion for photography led me to begin my other blog “Jeddah Daily Photo Journal” a few months later when I started viewing other photo blogs from all over the world. To my knowledge, there was not a daily photo blog from Saudi Arabia, so I took it upon myself to start one. Both blogs keep me very busy – so busy in fact that my husband says I love the computer more than him (which is NOT true!).
I try to write about things that I find interesting about life here. I am not here to bash or criticize or ridicule. I try to be objective and try to avoid topics that will cause too much controversy. I am trying to learn about and understand this mysterious place, and I feel that it deserves my full respect no matter how different things may be from what I have known all my life.
To read Susie's blog, Susie's Big Adventure, and to see what Susie looks like without the hijab, click here.