Throwback post: What Money Can Buy, March 2014

Anyone that knows me will attest that I am not a materialistic person. In fact, my husband has made no secret that this is one of the reasons he chose to marry me. To him, it was something that made me special. His friends were quick to warn him that I would change once I arrived in Saudi Arabia and would soon join the ranks of mall trawling housewives making a hobby of draining their husband’s hard earned money. “Not my wife” he had said -“No way, not me!” I echoed. Then I moved to Saudi Arabia.

I always used to hear that the lifestyle in Saudi Arabia differed completely from that of other countries, a reality that cannot really be prepared for and one that can only be understood once you have lived there. I have found this to be very true. Having been here for about a month and a half now, I’m beginning to figure out what I need to be happy here. They are simple things really; an active social life, a pleasant light-filled home, opportunities to learn new skills and having an area that I can go outside by myself and enjoy the outdoors in peace. In most parts of the world, these needs are easily and inexpensively satisfied but in Saudi, they come with effort and a hefty price tag. To show you what I mean, let’s discuss this further…

An active social life – A major barrier in having an active social life as a woman in Saudi Arabia is the fact that women can’t drive. This is less of a problem if you have your own personal driver but not everyone can afford this and according to government rules, if a woman is unemployed or does not have school-age children then she is not allowed to have her own driver. This leaves you to rely on taxi drivers which can work out ok if you find a good one but if you want to get out frequently this gets expensive. On top of this, some more conservative men are uncomfortable with the women in their life using taxi’s so this isn’t an option for everyone. This then leaves the man of the house as the only provider of transport which means that the women can only go out when he is home which is also the time he will be wanting to relax after a long day at work.

A pleasant, light-filled home – If you are renting and want reasonably sized windows with a view onto something other than a wall or an empty lot then I wish you all the best because in my experience they are few and far between. The Saudi obsession with privacy is very evident in the set-up of most furnished apartments. At one such apartment my husband and I looked at, there was a large tinted window that, for privacy, had been completely covered up with some sort of ugly silver masking tape. Did I mention that the window was tinted…as in no-one can see in… The result was an incredibly depressing, dark and gloomy space that makes you feel like you’re living in a coffin. Considering housewives like myself are stuck inside most of the time due to the aforementioned difficulties involved in getting out and about, most of our time is spent inside so this is a recipe for disaster or more specifically severe vitamin D deficiency (which incidentally both my husband and I already have) and depression. In my case, we could only find one apartment in our desired area that had natural light and street views but staying there took over half of my husband’s salary. This is despite the fact that it is a studio apartment, constantly smells of sewerage and if we want basic services such as new towels or our room being cleaned, we have to ask reception about a million times before they give do it. And when they finally do it they do a terrible job and their towels are stained and smell weird. But it was still better than the alternatives.

Need for an outdoor area to enjoy fresh air in peace – When my husband was apartment shopping, I begged him for one that had its own private roof. Such apartments are unfortunately a rarity so we had to go without. The only other way to have your own private outdoor area is to buy a villa or a house with its own ‘hoash’ (courtyard) but this was and still is out of our budget and most villa’s and houses are way too big for a childless couple like us. With the large size also comes a lot of cleaning because it’s pretty dusty here so things get dirty very quickly. This means that with a big house you either spend most of your time trying to keep on top of the cleaning or you hire a maid to do it for you. And of course we can’t afford a maid right now either. So this leaves me with nowhere for me to, both literally and figuratively, let my hair down and get some much needed vitamin D and fresh air. My husband is an Aramco employee so I do technically have the option of using Aramco’s park area (though of course I wouldn’t be able to uncover there) however this again necessitates having a form of transport because we do not live on Aramco camp grounds.

Opportunities to learn new skills – Here is where Aramco comes to my rescue again, this time with their numerous courses and classes. I have taken advantage of this privilege and signed up for Arabic classes 4 days a week beginning late April. However, once again transport is an issue. We have a taxi driver in mind to take me however, because he is not our personal driver, he can only enter Aramco camp when I am with him which basically means that he can take me to my classes but cannot enter camp grounds to pick me up and take me home. My initial solution was to just walk to the library and hang out there for a few hours until my husband’s lunch break when he could drop me home but the area where the classes are held is not near anywhere that I could hang out and pass time so I am basically stranded. At this point the only solution appears to be that my husband leaves his work to pick me up from class to take me to the compound gates where my taxi will be waiting then the taxi will take me the rest of the way. Yes, he will have to do this 4 days a week until such time as we have our own driver which at this point seems to be quite some time off. And yes, the taxi fares add up to be pretty expensive which is not helping our situation.

So, my friends, as you can see, this leaves us pretty broke. It cost us quite a lot of money to maintain our long distance marriage for those 3 years and then more again to bring me here to Saudi then of course more again when we had our wedding here. We just bought an apartment which was also expensive. We want to do hajj this year inshaAllah (very expensive) because we are hoping to start trying for a baby at the end of this year (also very expensive). And of course I need a driver asap and that is both difficult and expensive considering I do not meet the government’s requirements for the type of woman who can have a driver and on top of that my husband insists on hiring once specific Yemeni man he knows as our driver – a nationality that the government has banned from working as drivers in the kingdom. And yes, we are also in debt.

Honestly, I have no desire to work– I spent long enough working in a job I didn’t much care for back in Australia – however I do want to be able to contribute financially so we can get these money problems behind us quickly and be able to speedily obtain those things we need to improve our quality of life i.e. a driver. Unfortunately, the only real employment opportunity for me here is as an English teacher, an occupation I have absolutely zero desire to engage in. There is the option of running a small business from home and I am playing with an idea in that category but I’m not particularly convinced that the profit will be worth the effort involved and like nearly everything else, it requires the help of a driver.

As you can see, all of this has made me whiny and depressed and bored and demanding and even a little materialistic. But the thing that disturbs me the most is that it has made me ungrateful and impatient. Suddenly I want it all, I want everything I mentioned and more – immediately! I’ve always been big on travel but now that I am so close to the rest of the world (and that I’m going stir crazy here!), I am itching to go on an exotic overseas holiday before we start trying for a baby and I lose even more of my freedom. Of course we can’t afford it and it would be irresponsible to push my husband into doing it. Even if we could afford it, my husband has no annual leave left thanks to the Saudi government making us wait forever for my visa in Australia.

I guess I am having to accept that it’s not just me anymore, I’m really married and there really is a budget and there are responsibilities and you really can’t have it all and you certainly can’t have everything when it suits you. Basically overnight, before I’ve even turned 24, I seem to have morphed into a normal, boring adult and I’m not sure I’m ok with that. I certainly wasn’t prepared for it. I can just hear my mum making her favourite statement from when I was a teenager – “welcome to the real world!” Welcome, indeed!

Throwback post: I am here, March 2014

Well everyone I am here to tell you that miracles do happen. That’s right; I finally made it to the land of sand aka the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia! I have now been here for a bit over a month and am speeding straight through the honeymoon to the ‘now what?’ phase of culture shock. Up until now the whole experience has been very surreal and it’s only now that it’s started to sink in that I actually live here and will quite likely remain here for the rest of my days inshaAllah. And that’s kinda scary.

The thing is, at this point in time I’m not sure what my place is in this country. I am something of a blank slate and that can be exciting but as I write this, it mainly just feels overwhelming. In my worst moments, when I’m being all mopey and dramatic, I feel like I’ve disappeared and don’t really exist anymore. To some extent this is just a continuation of the questions I was struggling with in Australia; what do I want in life? Who do I want to be? How I should go about achieving these things whilst remaining within the limits of my religion and abiding by the rules of the country I now reside in?

Another big question I’ve had to ask myself is ‘what do I need to be happy here?’ The lifestyle here is so unique and different to that found in the West and elsewhere. Factors such as extreme heat, women’s inability to drive and the fact that shops close for substantial periods of time at every prayer time, create a unique situation which ultimately make getting out of the house on a regular basis pretty difficult for women. Some women here will happily stay in their apartments/houses for days, weeks and even months at a time because for better or worse, they are just used to this lifestyle. Needless to say, I am not. I want to go out and meet people, explore the city, have picnics with friends and walk along the corniche without us all having to plan it meticulously the day before like some major military operation. Overall, I want to make the most of living here. And this is why I am convinced that for me to be happy here in the long-term, I need my own driver. Because another thing I have quickly learnt is that to survive here with my sanity intact, I need regular contact with people who are not a) my husband or b) myself and to do that, I need a ride. And I need to get out of those malls and see some nature every once in a while and that, again, requires a ride!

But realistically these needs aren’t always able to be fulfilled. With this big move also came my transition from a full time employee to a full time housewife. I don’t mind keeping house however I would enjoy it much more if I got out during the day and socialised but that isn’t usually how it pans out. People aren’t always able to meet up – they have their own families, other friends, other commitments or maybe they don’t have a ride. And sometimes, it just all seems too hard so I hole up in my apartment feeling kind of sorry for myself, staying up until the early hours of the morning then sleeping half the day. That’s where I’m at right now. According to my expat books, most people go through a period like this but it is nonetheless, a slippery slope. When you have no reason to wake early, you just don’t especially when waking early means having to spend a longer time trying to find ways to kill time until husband gets home from work. These are my excuses anyway. As difficult as this is, I still prefer it to waking up early every day for a job I’m only doing to pass the time – I spent years doing that in Australia and I am determined to not buy into that again. Despite everything I still want to be here.

Throwback post: Saying Goodbye, January 2013

It has been months since I have written here. In truth, I have been holding my breath, too scared to make the ‘announcement’ I needed to make for fear it would invite its destruction. But I have decided to face that superstitious fear and tell it as it is – the end is finally in sight. After over 2 years apart, my husband and I have been told to expect a successful result on our marriage permission application in the coming weeks inshaAllah.

When we were given the expected time frame of 2 months, I was shocked. Incredibly happy, but shocked. I spent the next few weeks expecting a phone call saying there had been a mistake and it would actually take much, much longer or they would not give it to us at all. While it still hasn’t sunk in completely, I seem to have accepted it enough to step onto the emotional rollercoaster that accompanies any major life change.

I’m suddenly overwhelmed with the constant urge to take solitary walks to all the places that have formed the scenery of my life so far, soaking up all the sounds and smells I have taken for granted all these years. Soon there will be no annoying squawking cockatoos ravaging through the garbage bins, no ceaseless trill of cicadas or southerly winds to cool me down in the summer, no more whiffs of lemon tea tree. Every now and again I walk the short distance from my work, down past Darling Harbour and visit the apartment building my husband and I used to live in. I visit it knowing that the magic is gone and only exists in my memories but I go anyway like some demented old person visiting a long dead loved one’s grave. This tendency seems to be mushrooming in recent times. I find myself with the constant urge to visit all the places I anticipate will feature in future nostalgic daydreams. I even have a list of places to visit because there are so many I lose track. So many places to say goodbye to and to imprint in my memory bank to draw upon in the inevitable bouts of homesickness. I need to go for a walk along Cronulla beach where my grandmother used to take me to play when I was little. This stage in my life is certainly a lesson in nostalgia and I have a feeling it is only the beginning. Maybe this is what it’s like being old. Like all silly humans, I know that even with my weird hippy, memory chasing, loving-everything phase I’m going through right now, I will never appreciate it as much as when I am far from it. Strangely, I haven’t yet experienced the same sensation with the people in my life yet. I’m not sure what this says about me but I’m going to wait and see what happens next before I pass any judgements on that one.

And so begins the emotional rollercoaster which I have discovered preludes the start of a new life in Saudi Arabia. This is not helped in the least by the fact that there are assignments to be completed, full time jobs to attend and legal marriage ceremonies to organise and of course, a long distance marriage to maintain. Quite frankly, I’m a mess. And I think I’m turning into a hippy. Then emerge all the memories of my childhood in this little town I call home and yet have been trying to escape for years. I remember lunch times in primary school where if you didn’t wear your hat it was ‘no hat, no play, have a very boring day’ and the teachers made you pick up a hundred gumnuts off the ground as punishment. I remember watching Captain Planet at the next door neighbour’s house and how it always smelt weirdly clean and her dad was always telling us not to touch the walls. I remember all my little girl friends and I at the end of a day of school grabbing mulberries from a tree as we ran down the hill to meet our parents at the bottom and how one day one girl fell on her way down and my mum thought it was me.

All of these memories, this country, everything makes me who I am especially so as I am about to play the role of ‘foreigner’. Now, the challenge is to keep who I am while adapting to my new home, a place so different in nearly every conceivable way to my home country. But it’s exciting because it is a clean slate. It is something my husband and I can create together and that is a beautiful thing.

Throwback post: Hardship, continued, July 2013

I knew from the beginning that marrying my husband, or more accurately, having his government accept the marriage, would involve some hardship. However, I was satisfied that I was marrying him in the right way and for the right reasons, as well as having done my homework so I placed my trust in Allah and rolled with the punches. But at some point, the punches become too strong and too many and they began to wear us down to the point we didn’t think we could get back up again, or even if we should.

Our recent news that our third application for the marriage permission had been rejected was nothing short of soul destroying and was the catalyst for both my husband and I sinking into a very dark period of severe doubt and depression. Even when we found seemingly promising means of assistance elsewhere, we remained cynical – after all, we had been let down before. We learnt the hard way that it doesn’t matter how quickly another couple has gained the permission, even if their personal details are identical to yours, because each case is treated entirely differently based on factors almost completely out of your control.

I became increasingly disappointed in myself and my inability to deal with my frustration without taking it out on my husband or binge eating. Other stresses appeared with uncertainty regarding my accommodation and suddenly finding myself the only ‘single’ girl amongst a group of (mashaAllah) married and pregnant young women.

In the midst of all of this I was forced to face a question I had never thought to consider before – had I made a mistake in marrying my husband? Were all these obstacles blocking the way to my husband a sign from God that we are not supposed to be together? Was this perhaps a cruelly belated answer to the istikhara I prayed when I wanted to marry him all that time ago (astaghfirullah)? Despite my efforts to remain objective in the days when I was considering marriage to my husband, did I still manage to ignore some earlier signs from God which were designed to tell me ‘don’t do it!’? These thoughts nearly destroyed me, my husband and our marriage. Divorce had never been an option for us before so the mere mention of it pushed us even further into hopelessness. I did not want a divorce but I felt that if it was a sign from God than I must do it or risk displeasing Him and being punished for it later on through perhaps a bad experience in Saudi Arabia. And yet I had no idea what I would do with myself if we were to divorce. Almost my entire adult life thus far has revolved around my efforts to be with him. My only lasting passions are Islam and the hope of moving to Saudi Arabia to be his ‘live-in’ wife and inshaAllah the mother of his children.

Alhamdulilah I was given the opportunity to ask a Shaykha I very much respect about my concerns (read: obsession) and her simple answer is something which, as a hardcore worry-wart, benefitted me enormously and which I do not think I will ever forget. Having observed that my concern over the ‘result’ of my istikhara was causing me even more distress than the situation which lead me to have the thoughts in the first place, she asked me how I would feel if I went to someone with a problem and they said to me “don’t worry, leave it with me and I will take care of it”? “Relieved”, I said. “Well”, she smiled, “this is how it should be when you make istikhara – you are leaving it to Allah to take care of”. SubhanAllah. From my understanding of the short discussion which followed, the ‘result’ of an istikhara is not so much a sign or feeling to be interpreted but rather it is what happens when you get advise from good, knowledgeable people about the matter, make a decision based on that, then pray the istikhara and take the action required. Then place your trust in Allah/have tawwakul and trust that whatever Allah allows to happen from that point is truly His will and is what is best for you – that’s it! Pressure officially off, alhamdulilah!

“Or do you think that you will enter Paradise while such [trial] has not yet come to you as came to those who passed on before you? They were touched by poverty and hardship and were shaken until [even their] messenger and those who believed with him said, ‘When is the help of Allah?’ Unquestionably, the help of Allah is near.” [Qur’an, 2:214]

Throwback post: It ain’t over yet, kid , December 2013

 

A lot has been happening in my life since my last post. My husband and I received the exciting news that our marriage permission was ready to be granted to us. Then, on the day my husband went to finalise our permission, I received some decidedly less exciting news – Riyadh was flooded and my husband was unable to find a taxi willing to take him to the Ministry. The next day he managed to make his way into the Ministry only to be told that because processing had taken so long, some of the documents on our file were now expired so he had to fly back to Dammam and get new ones however because of the floods their computer system was down so they couldn’t process our permission for approximately 2 weeks.

I had tried not to get my hopes up about getting the permission because I am so used to things going wrong and being delayed for months for no good reason but I couldn’t help thinking that this really was it. To be so close to achieving a goal after years of pain and frustration, only to have it snatched out of your grasp at the last minute … well, I’m not a big crier but that night I cried hysterically to my mum as she tried but failed to comfort me. It felt like no one could comfort me.

Throughout my marriage permission journey I would often think of the saying that ‘the night is always darkest before the dawn’, that things need to get worse before they get better and I would wonder to myself – surely it can’t get worse than this, surely my dawn must be near? And then it would get a little better, then a little worse – up and down, up and down. As much as I hate to use such a tired cliché – it really has been an emotional rollercoaster and it seems to have become more intense as we come closer and closer to the finish line. I always thought that once things started coming together that it would all happen very quickly but unfortunately this has not been the case. We are still experiencing significant and inexplicable delays at every step of the way.

We received news a while back that we had been granted the marriage permission however to finalise it it would need to be signed off by the Minister of Interior which we were told would be done within 10 days. We were both eager for it to be signed especially as we had already made plans for me to join him in Saudi; I had resigned from my job and organised our Australian legal marriage ceremony and my husband had booked his flight to Australia. 10 days passed and we didn’t receive any news. Every time my husband called he was told it would definitely be signed in another 10 days. By this point my husband had already arrived in Australia and we had performed our marriage ceremony so I was really beginning to panic that they would either delay it for so long that my husband would have to return without me or that they would simply turn around and tell us that we didn’t have the permission after all. Honestly, given our past experiences, none of that seemed far-fetched. But alhamdulilah after a month of waiting we have now received news that our permission is signed. But of course that’s not the end of it. We now have to wait for the Ministry of Interior to send the permission to the Saudi Department of Foreign Affairs which apparently can take some time in itself. Once at the Department of Foreign Affairs it again will likely sit there for some time before it will be sent to the Saudi Embassy in Australia for us to pick up (I just hope to God that they at least don’t give us a hard time and just hand it over!).

I have said goodbye to my friends and we have all our papers ready to give to the embassy in return for my visa but as usual we are at the mercy of the Saudi bureaucrats. My husband remains unable to book his return ticket to Saudi or even tell his employers when he will be able to return because quite frankly it is not in our hands. As it stands we will only be able to book our flights at the last minute when prices will be sky-high. So until that vital piece of paper arrives in Australia, my husband and I are sitting out the Australian summer at my parents home…

Throwback post: Learning to Look Below, October 2013

“Look upon one who is below you in status. In this way you will not look down upon the grace of that God bestowed upon you.” 

(Bukhari and Muslim)

In the course of our difficulties with the marriage permission process, my husband (may Allah reward him) has often reminded me of these wise words of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Despite always having recognised its truth, I never really ‘got’ it to the point that I put it into practice. To me it was no different to that common refrain of ‘first world’ parents – “There are children in Africa who are starving and you refuse to eat your food?!” If I am honest with myself I not only took the many comforts I enjoyed in my life for granted but I felt entitled to these rights and more. As a result, when my ‘right’ to freely live with my husband and start a family was infringed upon, I felt a sense of betrayal, as if I had been cheated out of something which was due to me. This is the problem when we look up or even sideways to those who we deem to have more or a similar (‘normal’) level of blessings as us.      It denies us the ability to appreciate the many blessings we already have in our lives and instead leaves us ungrateful and unhappy.

This lesson is one that I have only just begun to internalise. My recent interest in Muslims wrongfully imprisoned under anti-terrorism laws really brought this hadith home for me. Reading about the desperate plight of those imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, I was surprised to find a number of parallels between my situation and theirs. I saw the sense of overwhelming hopelessness in their dealings with a system which refused to see logic. I saw the depression caused by not knowing when they will see their loved ones again. I saw the soul-destroying disappointment of being told progress was made and then seeing none. I saw the frustration which rose to the point where even the calmest among them lost their sense of control, even to the point of committing suicide. And I saw the guilt when their iman faltered in the face of so much injustice. The difference of course was that their situations were a million times worse than anything I have ever faced in my life thus far. These were men and women who, on top of these feelings, weren’t even sure if they would see their loved ones again and in some cases they had never even met them to begin with (as with British detainee Moazzam Begg who didn’t met his youngest son until he was about 3 years old). These were people who were humiliated, tortured and treated worse than animals for years on end without any hope of release. Indeed they had never been charged with a crime to begin with.

I speak in past tense yet Guantanamo Bay remains open despite Obama’s promises to close it. One well-known detainee who remains in Guantanamo Bay is a Saudi named Shaker Aamer. Incidentally, he is a British resident married to a British woman with whom he has 4 young children. Aamer has never been tried nor has he been convicted. In fact, he was cleared for release by the Bush Administration back in 2007 and then again by the Obama administration in 2010. Yet he remains in Guantanamo Bay, having not seen his family for nearly 12 years as he is not allowed visits except from his lawyers. He is yet to meet the youngest of his 4 young children, a son who was born after his imprisonment. His wife has suffered severe bouts of depression for which she has been hospitalised on numerous occasions. Aamer’s father in law is quoted as saying that “When he was captured, Shaker offered to let my daughter divorce him, but she said, ‘No, I will wait for you.’ She is still waiting.”

From looking at the details of his story we see that there is no rhyme or reason to his situation. It is simply Allah’s will that he remain there. It only follows that for Allah to keep him there a lot of good must be in it whether or not anyone can see it now. Perhaps he and his family will only reap the benefits on the day of Judgment when inshaAllah they are rewarded heavily for bearing this enormous test with sabr. When we view these situations solely through the lens of deen we feel almost jealous of this amazing opportunity these people have to earn such an incredible reward with Allah.

When I see the situations of some of my struggling brothers and sisters in Islam such as these, I have a huge level of respect for them because compared to their trials, mine is nothing but a mere inconvenience. Yet it is common to find that their trials only increased them in iman and taqwa, moulding them into truly amazing, admirable people who are an inspiration to us all.

Further Reading

Books

Enemy Combatant by Moazzam Begg

For God and country by James Yee

The Guantanamo Lawyers edited by Mark Denbeaux and Jonathan Hafetz

 

Websites

www.cageprisoners.com

Helping Households under great stress http://www.hhugs.org.uk/

http://saveshaker.org/

http://www.timefortaubah.com/

http://www.freetarek.com/

Throwback post: Lugaimat and the Perfect Arab Wife, March 2013

The blue and white banners were up and the annual Sydney Greek Festival was upon us once more. As with all the cultural festivals which regularly take place in Darling Harbour, serious planning is required to avoid a full scale pig-out. But none of that mattered when I saw them. There they were, those perfectly golden balls, speared with little toothpicks, gleaming with honey and christened with a sprinkling of cinnamon. Loukomades –so, we meet again.

It was at the same festival 3 years ago that the mere sight of Loukomades sent my husband surfing on a wave of nostalgia. Its Arab twin, Lugaimat or Luqmat al-Qadi, is a Ramadan favourite in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East. Deep fried balls of dough, they are soft and airy on the inside with a thick, crunchy outside saturated in either rich, sticky honey or syrup. With a quick call to his buddies, half the Saudi student population in Sydney were soon at Darling Harbour enjoying their own tubs of warm Lugaimat and reminiscing about that crazy country they simultaneously loved and hated but were nonetheless obliged to return to.

After that night, I resolved to learn how to cook the perfect Lugaimat. At the time, I thought it was merely to impress my husband and his friends by being able to, like the Arab wives, send a nice dessert along to the boys’ regular gatherings where they often talked and drank Arabic coffee until the early hours of the morning. But I now see it for what it really was – an attempt to defeat my ever-present, imaginary rival: the ‘perfect’ Arab wife. Call it competitiveness or just plain insecurity but I felt I needed to prove that, though I may not be Arab, I could not only do anything an Arab wife could do, I could do it better.

Unfortunately, that was wishful thinking. I didn’t have the first clue about how to run a home, even a tiny one like ours, and even if I had known I was far too lazy to act on it. That year living together in Sydney was fraught with more culinary disasters than any kitchen should ever be exposed to so I shouldn’t have been surprised when what were supposed to be effortlessly spherical little treats came out looking like deformed elephants. Not to mention that the texture was all wrong – doughy on the inside and tough on the outside.

After numerous failed attempts, I gave up. My husband couldn’t care less, but it had never really been about him. It was about proving to myself and others that, despite being Australian, I was a wife worthy of a Saudi man. I’ve since realised, albeit at a painfully slow rate, that if he had wanted this so-called ‘perfect’ Arab wife, he could easily have found her or at least someone more closely resembling her, in Saudi Arabia. It would have been a pleasing arrangement for both his government and his family. But he didn’t want that for himself, in fact he wanted something quite different, something only someone like me could offer. So while I still silently compete and compare myself with the no doubt non-existent ‘perfect’ Arab wife, I’m learning to appreciate myself for the things that make me different from her because it was for that that my husband married me.

Throwback post: Walk like a Khaleeji, June 2013

Another short trip to see my husband is fast coming to its dreaded close. Despite being our fifth such trip, it is significant in that it is our first trip together to the Middle East. Being desperate to see one another after a rough few months, we did something very few people would recommend and spent 2 weeks in Dubai at the beginning of the scorching Arab summer. Granted, it took a long time to convince my husband to allow us to meet in the Gulf at all due to his total aversion to it (too hot and too little to do – his words, not mine) but although there was some truth in his complaints, it still proved to be a valuable experience. Half of Saudi Arabia and a sizeable portion of other Gulfies/Khaleeji’s even did us the honour of joining us in our mall-hopping and food court feeding frenzies, providing me with many satisfying and educational hours of people-watching. The natural result of this however was the re-emergence of my unfortunate tendency to put Khaleeji women on a pedestal which inevitably leaves me feeling like a massively incapable dork.

One of the ways this came to the fore was through the hijab. Having become a ‘full time’ hijabi the day prior to my departure for Dubai, I was still in the heart of the storm they call ‘hijab styling.’ This meant that in my first few days of the trip I spent at least one incredibly frustrating hour in front of the mirror wrapping and unwrapping, pinning and unpinning and pricking my fingers countless times until I was satisfied that all that needed to be covered was covered and I looked somewhat presentable. But at some point throughout the subsequent outing my careful emulation of the oh-so-chic chin-covering khaleeji style would rebel against me, often partly unravelling and hanging at all sorts of awkward angles, or as in one particularly unnerving incident, falling to reveal a zigzag of pins, their sharp ends pointing skyward from the top of my head making me look like some sort of bizarre Muslim hedgehog. To add insult to injury, all this takes place while I am surrounded by Khaleeji women who all seem to have mastered the art of effortlessly and seemingly pinlessly (yes, it warrants a new word) wrapping the black shayla scarf so that it perfectly frames their face and falls in glamorous drapes at their neck.

Temporarily giving up on my hijab styling abilities, I moved on to the rest of my outfit. As much as I loathe shopping I did not want to pass up the rare opportunity to buy a relatively cheap and classy Khaleeji style abaya while in Dubai so when we came across displays of abayas in Old Dubai I braved the inevitable pushy sales act and had a look. Consistent with my past experiences of shopping in the Middle East and Arab areas elsewhere, 99% of the abayas on display were covered in gaudy details such as huge colourful frills and lace and/or plastered in copious amounts of sequins and diamantes. Miraculously, I managed to find a black abaya with marginally acceptable levels of bling (read: black diamantes) and bought the size the Pakistani salesman’s alleged years of experience dictated would fit me. The first time I actually tried on the abaya was the next day when I wore it out, only to discover that, although it was technically the ‘right’ size, it was far from the fashionably long style favoured by the face-painted khaleeji fashionistas who slowly tottered on sky high heels through the malls, their coifs jutting out the front of their shaylas. Instead, it completely exposed the black socks and bulky black and purple Target joggers I wore underneath resulting in my bearing an alarming resemblance to a particularly sporty Turkish grandmother – not quite what I was going for.

If my outfit didn’t give me away as a total rookie to the urban Khaleeji scene, my complete lack of insider knowledge of prayer room etiquette did. My first encounter involved me walking in to the mall prayer room only to realise that without other people praying I had no idea how to figure out where the mihrab (direction for prayer i.e. Makkah) was. Not wanting to expose my ignorance, instead of asking one of the sisters for help I simply panicked and made a quick exit. I met my husband outside where I proceeded to have a nervous breakdown which swiftly morphed into a tantrum whereupon I refused ever to enter that accursed room again and insisted on a hasty return to our hotel room. This unsavoury incident resulted in husband letting me in on the valuable insider knowledge that the area with the narrowest triangle of carpet is the space from where the imam leads the prayer and is therefore an indication of the mihrab (prayer direction). With this newfound know-how I slowly became more comfortable with praying outside the home until an unfortunate deviation from the normal carpet pattern at the prayer rooms of the Emirates Palace threw me off and I had to face my fears and ask the 2 khaleeji girls lounging around on the carpet where the mihrab was. Naturally I assumed the giggles which followed as I prayed were aimed at me, the silly white girl who thought she was Muslim but didn’t even know how to find the mihrab. I wanted to tell them that where I’m from it is very difficult to find a proper place to pray so I usually have to pray in places like fitting rooms in clothing stores where there is definitely no indication for the mihrab so I am unaccustomed to using a proper musalla. But I kept that to myself because even I know I am just hopelessly neurotic…

Throwback post: A little bit of truth, September 2013

I was planning on writing this post once everything had ‘sorted itself out’ and I could talk about everything in the detached way that is possible with past tense and not have to risk having my vulnerability violated, but I think it’s time to get real. Muslim spoken word artist Mark Gonzales stated in a facebook status “who is better situated to remedy a social pain, than those who have walked with the wounds of exclusion & experimentation, misdiagnosis & demonization, yet still managed to emerge from the other side alive? Our society is ill. We are the remedy.” I think it’s a bit premature to classify myself as one who has emerged out of this thing alive, but I will certainly bare my wounds from this particular battle, not to gain anyone’s pity or sympathy or be dramatic for the sake of it, but because I know I am not the first nor the last person to struggle with issues like these and I truly hope that one day this post will give someone out there some comfort when they need it most.

But first, an update… my husband and I are now onto our fourth application for the marriage permission and our second ‘helper’. We were hooked up with this person in the lead up to Ramadan which meant we were unable to begin working with him until after Eid al Fitr. But then the night before husband was due to go to Riyadh to submit our new application, it was delayed by another week. When we finally submitted it, I was a nervous wreck but everyone was optimistic that we would get the permission easily and quickly so we waited to receive our number which would indicate that the application was in the system. This usually takes 5 days max. So we waited. And waited, and…nothing. After over a week we were concerned and incredibly frustrated, so our guy looked into it and discovered that, although the application was assigned a number, some bright spark had not passed on the application i.e. it was just gathering dust on some government workers desk. So this round of waiting that we are currently enduring is to to hear back as to whether or not the application has now gone to the right place. And of course that takes more time – now do you realise how this process has taken nearly 3 years? I am going insane.

I never thought of myself as a bad person before. I’m nicey nice; I smile a lot, I’m sensitive to people’s feelings, but recently I have become this bitter, twisted person with a disturbing amount of pent-up rage and jealousy. My jaw and shoulders are constantly tensed to the point of pain (not to mention it’s not a terribly attractive look). I’m prone to snapping at my poor unsuspecting husband (may Allah reward him for his patience) and going on passionate and expletive filled tirades about the corruption and lack of morals that seems to be rampant in Arab governance. Basically, I’m like a bratty child throwing tantrums because all the other kids have what I want so why can’t I have it and, and, and… it’s just not fair!

The problem is that I lack healthy coping methods. I suffered from clinical depression as a teenager and went through periods where I was suicidal. At that time my main ‘coping methods’ were self-harm and binge-eating. Now that I am Muslim, I no longer consider suicide or self-harm to be options because they are major sins, so I am left with binge eating which sure, is not exactly halal but in my twisted logic it seems more acceptable.

Earlier this year I dropped 2 dress sizes through ‘healthy’ (i.e. highly restrictive) eating and regular exercise and as often happens when people lose weight, I received compliments left, right and centre as if I had achieved something amazing though I had not even been overweight to begin with. Then things got difficult with our marriage permission rubbish and I drifted back to my former sedentary lifestyle and stress eating. And it is yet to stop, not that I haven’t tried or wanted to end it but I literally feel I can’t handle everything that is happening right now without gorging myself on junk food every night. It’s not even food I enjoy or really want to eat, it’s just another form of self-harm to treat myself like a garbage dump. Even the fact that I am putting on weight gives me some sick sense of satisfaction because now my pain is ‘manifest’…yeah, I know it’s messed up but we’re talking truth, remember? Just to put things in perspective, at the start of the year I bought a beautiful wedding dress in preparation for our legal Australian marriage ceremony (because we were told we would have the permission ‘shortly’ *rolls eyes*). I am now dangerously close to having to buy a new dress.

I started seeing a psychologist to try and overcome these problems and develop healthy coping skills but unfortunately it was a very disappointing experience. Amongst other things, I didn’t feel like my problems were being taken seriously because they weren’t ‘severe’ enough i.e. I was able to get out of bed every morning therefore I was alright. This is annoying when the very reason I went there was to ensure it didn’t get to that point. Then there was the forgetting of vital details of my story. This lead to irritating statements like this; “hey, you haven’t been apart from your husband that long..” “uh, actually it’s been nearly 3 years now” “Oh, I thought it had been 1 year…”. And then the killer “there’s not much you can do, just keep being patient”. Ok, I know you’re probably thinking ‘what’s wrong with that statement?’ After all, it’s the truth, there’s very little I can do except be patient. But the thing is that accepting this fact is a huge struggle. Feeling completely powerless is not easy or pleasant especially when it’s not just one issue you feel this way about but your whole life.

Thankfully, my work keeps me very busy during the week but, come the dreaded weekend, I lack the motivation to leave my bed for anything other than loading up on my poison of choice aka food. So I just sit in bed all weekend on my laptop achieving nothing and feeling incredibly lonely and crap about myself and my life and everything else. This is pretty much how it goes every night after work as well. If I’m honest with myself, I know that part of the reason I isolate and torture myself like this is because I want to ‘kill time’ until my husband and I can be together and my ‘real’ life can begin. I know that’s dangerous thinking but it has proved a very difficult thought to rid myself of.

Obviously, my iman isn’t in the best shape. If my iman was stronger I would deal with this in a much better way but unfortunately it’s gone down with the rest of the ship so to speak. And that’s the worst part because without Allah I am nothing and have nothing. I need Him.

What’s up

It’s my second year here in Saudi and I am now mummy to a beautiful baby girl alhamdulilah (say mashaAllah tabarakAllah guys!) and- call me crazy – itching to give her a baby brother or sister. Not much else is going on here kids because let’s be honest, Saudi is not the most exciting place in the world to live. But Alhamdulilah I’m here, I’m with my husband and my daughter and for that I am very grateful.

One thing I do need to say to you guys though is that this blog once had its own domain but I let that expire only later realising that I have now lost all of the posts I wrote while using that domain. I am sure there is a simple solution but I’m not that tech savvy and let’s be honest, I can’t be bothered with all that. I want those posts to be available for my visitors who are in the same position I was back when I wrote them so that they can inshaAllah help in some way even if just to provide comfort to one who thinks they are alone in their situation. Luckily for me I saved many of them if not all of them in Word documents on my laptop so I plan to repost those and annoy the pants of all of you who already read them. Yeah, sorry about that.

Will I start posting again? Maybe, because quite frankly summers in Saudi are boooooring and make me all annoying and introspective so I may choose to subject you to some of those ramblings but if not, just know that I’m most likely chilling with my favourite girl and avoiding all forms of housework. Yep, don’t lose hope guys – life does get better haha.

Until next time inshaAllah.

Salams!