All non Saudi women married to Saudi men fall under the banner of ‘foreign wives’. However, the reality is that this label draws together women from a huge variety of backgrounds. For instance, some are born and raised in Saudi, while others have some Saudi blood but grew up outside KSA. Some have been expats in the country for years and a large amount met their Saudis while they were studying overseas.
This last group are perhaps feared the most because they usually have never set foot in Saudi Arabia and probably never will until they relocate there permanently. This detail makes them especially unpredictable and many questions are raised about their ability to adapt. How will she handle losing her independence and being thrust into a culture so different from her own? Will she become bored, lonely and depressed? Will it become too much for her and send her running with the children back to her home country? If she is not Muslim, will she really be able to raise her children as Muslims? What problems will she cause for us?
Her nationality or more specifically, lack of Saudi nationality comes with a prescribed fate in the eyes of many. This often even happens amongst other foreign wives whose own experiences on this path has roughened their outlook, making them cautious and even outright pessimistic. It is almost expected that, for most foreign wives, somewhere down the line their life will become characterised by a resignation to misery and extreme isolation, serious marital problems followed by messy divorces and of course child custody issues resulting in the children being taken from the mother (if she hasn’t already managed to escape the country with them). Anthing less is a pleasant surprise.
The ironic thing is that while these questions are being posed and morbid fates imagined, the ‘foreign wife’ is not able to defend herself or present her case. And she should be able to because we are human beings, with all the complexity and diversity that entails and we are not all going to fit under the one label and all that it implies. We are not all the same and only Allah knows what our fate will be.
Some of us are from the East, others from the West. Some of us are young and naive, others mature and worldly. Some of us are educated, others never finished school. Some of us willingly made the move to KSA, others did so begrudgingly. Some of us are career minded, others family oriented. Some of us can be happy anywhere, others can be depressed anywhere. Some are Muslim, others are not. Some have been married before, others have not. Some are well travelled, others have never left their state. But like prisoners, we are stripped of our own garments at the door and given the one uniform to wear. We are all perceived to be the same, even while we are not.
Despite the immense diversity found amongst foreign wives, there is one thing we all seem to have in common: we all simply want to make a good life with the one we love, whether in Saudi Arabia or if possible, outside of it. Contrary to popular opinion, our life’s mission is not to send Saudi women into spinsterhood by stealing their men and their nationality, nor is it to dilute precious Saudi blood or sabotage prior engagements to cousins. In short, we are not out to shake up the status quo. Yet, we are punished for daring to take what, by some peoples view, is not ours, and to step into and struggle to make a life in a world which is not our own. All because we are not a member of that elite club which some are born into and others spend years trying to enter. Even if Saudi nationality is eventually obtained, she will forever be a ‘foreign wife’.