Life and Lexis

Saudi Arabia: Honeymoon to Homesickness

Posted on: December 28, 2012

They say when you first arrive in a place you go through a “honeymoon” phase.  For the first month or so, I was infatuated with everything I saw here. I had arrived in a Muslim country, I thought. Having been raised Muslim in America I felt that I would find it easy to fit in here. I was aware of the way that Saudis practiced though I did not agree with a lot of it. How hard could it be to adjust?

I was intrigued by everything, snapping photos of soda cans and random buildings. The architecture was different, the people were different. All of a sudden my first language, Urdu, became incredibly useful. I had the opportunity to practice my Arabic as well.

Saudi Arabia Date palmsriyadhnightRiyadh at night

My work environment was amazing. We were on an all-female campus that looked more like a resort than a university.  They were paying us a decent amount to sit around for a few hours a day and teach for only three. I was making friends and exploring the new city. There was always a place to pray, whether I was at work or at the mall. People here were laid back and no one was worried about money. I loved teaching, I loved my students. I felt like I had hit the jackpot, I could stay here for years.

Things began to change in October, however, when I realized my visa situation would not permit me to travel home for Eid break. I ended up spending 2 weeks in my apartment, longing to go home to a society where I could travel freely.

You see, in Riyadh, single women don’t really have the freedom of movement. Since I did not have any mahram men with me, I was unable to do much of anything that required leaving the home. I could, of course, take a taxi. Unfortunately, this puts women in an awkward situation where we are forced to trust and depend on men that we don’t know at all. After a few bad experiences with drivers, I realized I was caging myself inside my apartment or only traveling in big groups. It was so different than the way I was used to living at home and quickly began to feel suffocated.

When our one trusted driver turned out to be undeserving of trust, I began to lose the will to put myself in awkward situations to leave the home. I definitely would not be going out alone anymore. My view of Saudi Arabia as a Muslim society began to crumble. I found myself constantly disappointed by the actions of people, and learned that hypocrisy was rampant. Naturally, homesickness ensued. I longed for the ability to get my own car and go where I wanted to go. I longed for freedom and some sense of equality between men and women. Our visa situation did not permit us to leave the country and return, so unfortunately, I began to feel stuck. I had to choose between my career and this wonderful job opportunity or the freedom and comfort of home.

For a few very good reasons, I chose the first.

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