It has been a great three years in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I never expected I would love this place so much and it would be so hard to leave, but the time has come. So now after three years in Al Ain, UAE, two years in Chevak, Alaska, USA, and three years in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the Stroud family will be moving on to yet another new adventure.
I’ve truly loved our time in the Kingdom and leaving is so bittersweet for me. I know that is probably unexpected coming from a female, Christian, American expat, but it’s very true.
People often wonder what my life has been like living in Saudi Arabia.
I do have to wear an abaya, which is like a judge’s robe, over my regular clothes when I go out in public. I do not have to wear a head cover (hijab) or a face cover (niqab), although the vast majority of women here choose to do so. I rarely head cover and have never worn a niqab, but the times I have covered my head, it was just to blend in, being an introvert, not because anyone has told me to do so. On one hand, I wish women were given the autonomy to choose the abaya or not. However, from a personal perspective, it’s an incredibly efficient and convenient piece of clothing. I do really like pretty much always being ready to go out. There’s been plenty of times that I’ve gone out with just pajamas under my abaya. I don’t think I would have ever tried wearing an abaya if I had not moved to Saudi Arabia. I previously lived for 3 years in the neighboring UAE and never even tried on an abaya.
I have similar feelings about women not being allowed to drive. Obviously, I think women should be allowed to drive, and soon they will be legally allowed to do so in Saudi Arabia! However, from a practical, everyday life point of view, I find it moderately inconvenient having to arrange rides, but I personally would not be interested in driving here anyway. There are plenty of men who are not interested in driving in Riyadh either. Being in a car is by far the most dangerous thing I do here.
Daily life in Saudi Arabia is extremely safe. We live off-compound. So, we don’t live in a gated compound community. I walk to the park. I walk to a neighboring grocery/convenience store. I send my kids to the store by themselves. Our family has also done numerous roadtrips all over KSA. We’ve driven (meaning my husband has driven us!) all over to the Eastern Province. We’ve driven up to Jordan, down most of the western coast, all the way down to the Farasan Islands, which are stunningly beautiful, and we’ve driven up middle through Abha. The only place we really haven’t gone is the empty quarter in the south east region, because the infrastructure was just not there during our time in Saudi Arabia. We’re adventurous, but I’m not interested in running out of gas in the middle of a desert road with no civilization in sight! Everyone we’ve met has been so kind and friendly. Hospitality is alive and well here. So many times people who have just met us, barely speak English (and we speak very little Arabic), invite our family over to their homes. The hospitality of the Middle East is definitely something I will miss!
As far as it being socially isolating here, especially for a woman, I do think that is potentially a very real issue. You really have to be a self-starter in that respect, willing to chat with people very different from yourself, invite people over to your home, and develop your own networks of like minded people, your local tribe. I homeschool and ended up taking over as admin of a local homeschool group when the previous admin was leaving the country. I also hosted homeschool meetings in my home. The vast majority of homeschoolers I’ve met were Egyptian expats, but truly I’ve gotten to know people from all over the world here in Riyadh. I’ve also worked to be involved with the local birth community here (doulas and childbirth educators). I started an FB group for women in Saudi Arabia who want to learn fertility awareness and started teaching fertility awareness classes from my home in Riyadh.
So, personally, I’ve really enjoyed my time and experience in Saudi Arabia. It’s certainly not for everyone. You really do have to separate people from the practices of their government and I’m grateful as an American when people are able to do that for me.