Sunday, August 17, 2008

Adam's World

First off, my apologies for being gone from blogging for the past couple of months. I had to extend my trip to the states to take care of some business. We no longer have Internet, phone service or cable at our home there - which was probably just as well since there was so much work to be done and blogging would have only distracted me. I arrived back in Arabia a couple of days ago to the open arms of my husband and my son and to the stifling and oppressive heat of Jeddah in August. Thankfully, all is well and I appreciate the concerns of those of you who may have thought something was wrong due to my lengthy absence.
I realize that, up to now, I haven't written much at all about my son, who is a typical teen. I have purposefully sidestepped around it to give him his space this past year during his adjustment period. We uprooted Adam at age 14 from the only home he had ever known, took him away from his friends, his school, his life. I feel that it has probably been a much more difficult adjustment for him than it has been for me. All in all, I feel that he has handled it like a real champ. Of course he has his moments, and if he had his druthers, his choice of where to live during his teenage years would definitely not be in Saudi Arabia. But he is making the most of it, and I can only hope that one day he will look back on this time of his life as a positive experience he is grateful for and as an opportunity that not many people get.

When we moved to Arabia last fall, Adam entered the country on a temporary Saudi passport. As the son of a Saudi man, he is granted automatic citizenship. Oddly enough, Saudi mothers do not transfer automatic citizenship to their children. My husband thought it would be easier to get him into the country this way (and indeed it was) instead of going through the visa process like I had to do, which delayed my own trip to Arabia for another month after their departure while I awaited approval.

Shortly after they arrived, my husband began the process of applying for Saudi citizenship for Adam. All the paperwork and proper documentation was turned in by November, and then we waited. And waited. And waited. And we are still waiting. Despite my hubby's efforts, nothing has sped up this process. Apparently, he was told, Adam's application has been approved and is just waiting for the signature of the prince in charge of that ministry. And he will sign it only when he is good and ready. Consequently when it came time for our trip back to the states in mid-June, Adam had to remain in Arabia. Since he had entered Saudi Arabia on a temporary Saudi passport, he couldn't very well leave the country on his US passport, since it didn't show that he had ever entered the country in the first place.
 Of course Adam was upset at first about not being able to make the trip back to the US, as was I, but he accepted it. While we were gone, he stayed at the home of one of his uncles, who made sure Adam was comfortable, pampered and kept busy. Adam composed a long wish list of items he wanted me to get him, mostly CDs and DVDs. Some of Adam's taste in music is not readily available in Arabia. When I could get to a computer, Adam and I were in touch by email (he kept adding to his wish list!) and several times we even managed to chat online. I found it amusing that several of my friends in the US, when they learned that Adam hadn't been able to travel with us, asked me if it was because the Saudi government wouldn't allow Adam to leave the country. I guess technically you could say that was the case - bureaucratic red tape -but once we get his documentation back, he will be able to come and go as he pleases. But he is not being kept there against his will or forbidden to leave, like some people might have imagined.

A few months after we arrived in Arabia, I asked Adam how he felt about things, in particular the separation of men and women in society here. Adam told me that he almost felt as if he were being punished for doing something wrong. I thought that was an interesting perspective that I hadn't even considered before. The social situation is awkward for him since he has always hung out with girls and his very best friend back in Florida is a girl. Here in Arabia, this is impossible and most of his girl cousins who are in their teens choose to cover their hair when Adam is around, although I think it is really determined by their parents. For all intents and purposes, any marriageable female is supposed to "cover" in front of any male they could possibly ever marry. This includes cousins and aunts.
My husband has spoken to Adam in Arabic since he was a baby, so Adam has a basic verbal understanding of Arabic, however he had never learned to read or write the language and he has always been shy about speaking it. So when we arrived in Arabia last fall, logic would dictate that Adam would not survive in a public Arabic speaking school. However since his dad is Saudi, we must get special governmental approval for Adam to attend an international English speaking school. This rule only applies to Saudi students, who are expected to go to Saudi schools. Adam had to be tested to prove that he cannot read or write Arabic, and then a government ministry must grant permission for Adam to go to an international school. And we must go through this process every school year. Like the citizenship process, this approval, too, takes forever. Last school year, since Adam was not granted permission to attend school until January, he missed the whole first half of the school year. Plus, he was kept back in 8th grade, which he had already completed in the states.

As you can imagine, the first few months Adam spent in Arabia were getting pretty boring for him. There were many radical changes from his old life in America that he had to adapt to. He especially missed his friends who were starting high school without him. Once he started school however, his life greatly improved. He made new friends and since he had been out of school for several months, he actually gained a new found appreciation for education which he never had before. Adam's school put him in the company of other students from all over the world. His teachers are also from all over the world, and his school really reminds us of his old school back in Florida.

With the fall term starting again in just one week, we are still awaiting the approval for him to be allowed to attend the international school again. An administrator of the school just told us that she has only received approvals for 15 students so far out of a total of 114. This whole difficult approval process thing for me makes no sense whatsoever. How could he be expected to attend an Arabic school when he doesn't read or write the language? So why give the parents such a hard time about it? It is obvious that since he was raised in America up to this point, he reads and writes in English. By not granting the permission in a timely fashion, how can keeping him out of school for months on end possibly be to his advantage? The whole situation just seems ludicrous to me. I just don't get it. We are maintaining an optimistic and positive attitude and have already paid his costly tuition for this coming term. So please keep your fingers crossed!
 Back in the states years before, we had had several bad experiences with the coaches when we tried to get Adam interested in sports, so we were all pretty much turned off by it. But in Arabia he has played a variety of sports in PE class and, much to his delight, found that he was actually quite athletic. He even joined the school rugby team with determination, dedication and enthusiasm. As a result, he has lost any remaining baby fat of his youth and has developed into a sturdy young man, almost as tall as his dad. He has to shave regularly and it looks like he will eventually be as hairy as his dad too.

We were very pleased with his last report card of the school year with 5 A's and 3 B's. After all the upheaval in his life during the past year, Adam has adapted remarkably well and we are so proud of him. He now has a maturity he did not possess before and he is a pleasure to be around and hang out with. He has a dramatic flair and is quite adept at doing impressive foreign accents and different voices. And he's funny, constantly making me laugh. He is also a gifted writer and graphic artist and loves music of all kinds. I'm sure whatever he decides to do with his life, he will be successful and accomplished. What more could a parent ask for?

(All photos and graphic art in this post by my son Adam.)


  1. Give Adam two big hugs. One from me and one from Taylor. He's a real trooper.

    To Adam: Nice pics, dude! You have your mom's artistic eye.

  2. Hi, Susie,
    It is so good to hear from you again! I am sorry I missed you in Tucson! I very much enjoyed your most recent blog about Adam. I had often wondered how the transition had been for him.
    Linda K

  3. I am glad that Adam is doing so well. Growing up moving around and changing schools constantly, I know that situation can always be tough. But my parents were always sure to help keep me grounded. It looks like you have done the same for him.

    I love the pictures and work that you are doing Adam. My husband works with art and computers and really liked your work. Keep it up!

  4. Great to see you posting again! I'm sorry we missed each other in Seattle. :(

  5. Hi, Susie!

    It is so good to hear from you again. The news that Adam was not able to make the trip home just hurt my heart! I hope he is happy and I also hope your red tape paper work will soon be rectified and that he can go back to school. Maybe he can make the next trip, or perhaps he will be able to go by himself!

    Adam's art work is wonderful; I know he is a talented young man.

    I hope you will report on the pleasant parts of your trip back to the western hemisphere -- it had to be fun to be back in southern Arizona during the monsoons. Our friends in Douglas say the rains were many and frequent, making everything green.

    I'm sure all your readers look forward to your future blogs as I do.
    Billie Sharp

  6. Excellent and candid post capturing the complexities of life in Saudi for a typical teen from America as well as the ludicricies of the Saudi educational system. Wish you the best in working through the system and that Adam is able to start school on time with his peers. Please keep us updated.

    Best Regards,
    Carol (American Bedu)

  7. Aww did you go to Tucson? What a shame. I would have loved my mom to stop by and say hello to you. She visited UAE last year and would have loved to chat with someone who's been to the middle east before. Ah well maybe next time ;)
    Welcome back we all missed your great and open blogging posts very much. Life certainly isn't as interesting without your posts here and there.
    Masha'Allah your son is changing radically from that picture you put up before of him. It's amazing these teens years how fast they mature. It's great he's getting into sports now. I'm sure this will quickly gain him even more closely bonded friends whom he can feel more a part of saudi with.
    Oh the burocrazy!!!!!!! ;) its one of the worst things about the middle east is this.Takes everyone millions of years to get things done and puts everyones lives on hold (UNLESS OF COURSE YOU HAVE WASTA-CONNECTIONS!)
    Just keep hanging in thre and I'm sure you'll get used to the system or if not at least you'll always have fodder to blog about ;)
    Adam: You have such a unique oppourtunity that our old friends might never get and be happy you get to be part of two cultures instead of one. You'll learn a million new things that you never even thought possible. You have fabulous art work and you should make a blog yourself about your life trasition and a place to post your work for your friends back home and for your new friends to come. I wish you well in your new life.

  8. Hey Susie..welcome back. Your post hits home with me because Im having a hard time convincing two of my sons(18 and 16) that going to the states will be an adventure for them and a chance at opportunities sorely lacking here. After the upheaval of a very bad divorce...two years of adjusting to the fact that their father is a blackhearted man and no longer in their lives...and now having sent their two sisters on ahead to stay with my sis...Im now working on getting enough money for me and the 3 boys to go as well...but they are balking big time. I feel like I dont want to force them...they are almost grown...but I cant possibly go and leave them behind...16 is not old enough to be on your own...especially as this culture doesnt really accept that sort of thing...but there is no family to leave them with even if I though that was a Im going round in circles trying to figure out what to do next. I dont want to fight with them about this...but I dont want to stay here any longer than I have to...21 years is quite long enough...but then I dont want to force them and tear them away from their country(the girls were less attatched...especially after what happened to them and the backlash from the community via culture)...but then again I feel like they are being rather selfish considering friends etc to be more important than family....oh the selfishness and ego of teens...give me patience....sheesh.

    Anyhow...sorry for the long older sons name is Adam I really felt like you were almost telling what could be my Your son sounds like he is getting along all right...takes after his mom Im sure. Once again...welcome back.

  9. Susie,
    Wow has Adam grown since we last saw him here in Tucson. I know it has to be very hard at times for Adam but he will be just fine. We still talk about our dinner out with him up in the Foothills. We wish him nothing but the best that this life has to offer. We enjoyed your visit with us here in Tucson. Stay safe and happy.

  10. Glad you're back!I couldn't imagine having a teen who would have to deal with the change in cultures.He sounds like an awesome young man.I know you're very proud!

  11. Changes for teenager's can be stressful. "Where do I belong?" I am sure the transition has been difficult. You and your Husband and hubby's family seem to be adding a cushion for him. Glad to hear you and your family are doing fine.


  12. Wonderful segment about Adam. And Adam's photographic work is exciting! Good work, Adam.
    Love you,
    Linda J

  13. I truly enjoyed your blog about Adam. I feel closer to him now. I keep having flashes of his birth---especially when he was crowning. What a remarkable and memorable lifetime experience that was for me. Thank you for the honor. I got to see such a fine human come into this complicated world and he seems to be navigating it quite well.
    I love Adam's graphic art. He certainly got your artistic genes, didn't he? Susie, I hope you know what an incredible person you are. Your journey in this incarnation is an example for all of us.

    Con todo mi carino,

  14. Susie! You're back!!! :D :D :D :D :D

    Great pictures! How nice to hear more of Adam!
    From an unbiased spectator! :)
    If I can get Adam any interesting music in mp3-format, just let me know!

    I hope Adam will be able to get to school as soon as possible! Adam, don't learn too much Arabic for the next years.

  15. You can tell Adam looks like a Sa3oodi *lol* But it sounds like he has adapted well into his new life! Not many guys I know his age could or would do such a thing, including my teeanger brother JayJay. Big ups to Adam!

    Meanwhile Susie, it's good to hear you're safe and back in the Blogosphere :-D

  16. Welcome back, Susie! Thanks for sharing a bit of your family life with us. The kids are such a large part of our lives; please thank Adam for allowing you to tell us something about his first year. I hope his second year will see him blossom into his birthright of an international identity.

  17. Thanks to all of you for your encouraging feedback on Adam's substance and talents. Reading everyone's nice comments has made him feel really good!

  18. Has Adam thought about creating his own blog? I'm sure many of us would enjoy hearing the views of a teen like him!

  19. Good to see you back. You son's situation is similar to my step-son's situation.

    We sent him back to stay with his father in Jeddah about 8 months ago. He has been in the USA since age 1 1/2.

    I guess he has it a bit easier because he actually speaks Arabic, although at like an 8 year old level even though he is 17.

    He is staying there with his father's family, people he doesnt even know.

    Moves like these are hard on kids.

    Hope to hear more from you soon.

  20. Hi Bedu -
    I have suggested to Adam many times to keep a journal about his life here in Jeddah, but he thinks his anarchist ideas might get him into trouble. I don't know that he could write without commenting about topics that he probably shouldn't stray into. There is lots of other fodder he could chew on, but I think he would feel that he would be holding back and not being true to himself.

    To Abu Sinan -
    I hope your stepson is handling his new life well. It must be tough without his mom and you there with him. At least Adam has both of us, so we feel somewhat like a team. I'll keep your son in my thoughts. Good hearing from you.

  21. Cool-red: I'm so sorry to hear the difficulties you're facing with your sons. Have you tried to get them to talk to local boy teens who have moved from other places to Saudi liek adam and maybe they can talk to your sons and tell them that though things will be different it will be cool and fun. I hope that Allah makes it easy for you and them to adjust well a dn that you wont have to be seperated from them. I'm thinking of you. :)

  22. Hi Susi
    I´m Celia, from Spain. I have lived in Cairo for 5 months and I´ll stay here the next 3 years.
    I found your blog by chance and I really enjoy it, it is very interesting to read about your new life in Arabia.
    In two weeks I´m travelling to Jeddah with my husband. He has to work there for one week and I want to know something about the things I can or I can´t do, what places I can visit and what kind of clothes I have to wear.
    I´ll appreciate if you can give me some information.
    Thank you very much and congratulations for your blog.
    If you prefer you can send me a

  23. It;s good to see you back, and great to hear that your son is adjusting so well. I'm sure it hasn't been easy for him going there at his age, but inshaa'allah it will be a worthwhile experience for him and open new doors, even if others are shut for now.

    Just one little correction: "For all intents and purposes, any marriageable female is supposed to "cover" in front of any male they could possibly ever marry. This includes cousins and aunts."

    It doesn't include aunts; a man is not allowed to marry his aunt, but he is allowed to marry his cousin.

  24. By the way, Susie, do you know the "Adam's World" videos/DVDs? It's a series for English-speaking Muslim children, featuring a puppet named Adam. My children are too old for them now, but we watched them a lot when they were younger, so that's what I thought of when I saw the title of this post, lol.

  25. I've been here too long! lol

    After I wrote that about the aunts (that they aren't marriageable kin to their nephews), I remembered that there are different concepts of "aunt". In this area, only the father's or mother's sister is considered an aunt. (Actually,there's no word for aunt; there's a word for the mother's sister and another for the father's sister.) This "aunt" doesn't have to wear hijab in front of your son, and they can kiss on the cheeks when greeting each other, etc.

    In the U.S., we would also call our uncle's wife an "aunt", but here, that's different. So that kind of an
    "aunt" is supposed to wear hijab in front of your son, and he shouldn't touch her.

    Sorry for any confusion my comment might have caused...

  26. I agree with you that this whole thing of having to get approval from the Saudi government for Saudis to attend international schools in the kingdom is ridiculous.

    I'm half American and half Saudi and the whole permission thing was a major reason why my father (who was a Saudi diplomat) never returned to Saudi while he was still working was because he knew I would never be to survive linguistically in a Saudi school.

    Good luck in your new life in Saudi! After living there for 20 years I've moved to Abu Dhabi and am now thinking of moving to Brazil where my parents live. Life is hard for women in Saudi Arabia, that I know for a fact!

  27. Hi Ann!
    Thanks for clarifying what you said about aunts not having to cover because I have been covering in front of my nephews here because I was told I needed to, and if I didn't have to, I would take it off in a heartbeat!!! (hijab, that is!)
    And yes, my husband had bought some of the Adam's World videos for my son when he was young. But he didn't care much for them - he was more into Power Rangers and Pokemon ... Adam's World just couldn't compete against them!

  28. Hi Rasheed!
    Welcome to my blog and thanks so much for your best wishes. You are truly a citizen of the world. Best of luck to you wherever you decide to live!