Saturday, November 22, 2008

Like a Sister

M y sister-in-law H is really good about including me in her plans. Spunky H is married to one of Adnan's brothers. She drags me along to most of her activities, like weddings, her family's get togethers, shopping, and other outings. And I must admit I am always eager to go with her because I always have such a good time. I have met most of the women in her extended family, and I find them to be warm, gracious, and oftentimes hilarious. H is very generous with me, constantly bestowing gifts on me and my son Adam.

H comes from an extremely large, wealthy, and well known family here in Jeddah. Her prolific grandfather, the patriarch of the family, had a total of nineteen wives! Not all at once, of course, but as Islam allows, four wives at any one given time. I don't remember the exact count of the number of children he had, but, as you can imagine, it was in the hundreds.

I was astonished one day when H showed me an actual leather bound published book that featured all the male members of the family. Page after page of the various branches of the family as was determined by each of the wives. Page after page of the male offspring of this man, and the offspring of the offspring, each with a photo and a little bio. It was written in Arabic and H explained little tidbits to me as we paged through the book. She knew some of the branches of the family, but not all. Suffice it to say, her actual family count numbers in the thousands.

Recently I accompanied H to a casual family women-only gathering at one of her aunt's homes. It was a beautiful walled villa that housed her aunt on the first floor, and two of her daughters and their families on the 2nd and 3rd floors. Just inside the large foyer, off to one side, there was an elevator. There is always a large mirror and a powder room at the entryway. A table under the mirror is equipped with mints, perfume, a brush, toothpicks, and other useful things of this nature.
In all there were probably about twenty-five women there all together. Many of the ladies there were H's aunts, cousins, or in-laws. At gatherings of this type, the women sit and talk in a large family room. As a new arrival enters the room, she starts to her right and proceeds to greet each woman who is already there by grasping her hands and kissing her cheeks several times while inquiring as to her well being.
The dress for events such as this I would describe as elegantly casual, with the older women usually opting for the traditional long dresses and the younger women wearing more trendy and sexy numbers. Most of the women wear makeup and jewelry too. They were a lively group. More than once the whole room erupted in waves of laughter.

During the hour or so before dinner was served, the hostesses kept coming around with small elegant cups of gahwa (the traditional "coffee"), a variety of juices, and an assortment of baklava, chocolates, and cookies. There was quite a feast in store for the guests, including a yummy seafood dish in a garlic sauce, chicken, stuffed grape leaves, kebabs, sambuseks (stuffed meat pastries), tabouleh, an amazing rice dish, hummus, and a pasta dish in bechamel sauce, and for dessert, rice pudding, flan, and cake.

While we sat there enjoying the evening, I thought I would try to pay H a discreet compliment by telling her that I thought she looked a lot like her beautiful aunt with black hair who was wearing the pretty turquoise blue dress and sat across the room from us. I almost fell off my chair when to my surprise, I heard H say to me under her breath, "I hate her - pick another one!"

One thing I like about hanging out with H is that I never know what to expect from her...


  1. I really love the Saudi gatherings. I had Saudi and Emirati friends while I lived in UAE, and I absolutely loved it. They were like family. I wish we had that here.

  2. H. sounds very amusing company!
    And all that delectable food again! Yummieeee!!!
    Better go and make my dinner now! Not nearly as good as what I've just seen!

  3. What a great window into 'girl time'! The food looks wonderful and I can only imagine the conversations had with so many! I giggled at the comment to 'pick another'! My head spins at all that you experience, Susie! Thank you for sharing it with us state-side!

  4. lol sounds like you have to find out who she likes and doesn't like before the next compliment :) But at least your meeting people and having some great experiences.

    and having 19 wives during his life doesn't shock me.. what does that say about me?? :)

  5. Susie,

    I am so glad that you have your wonderful sister-in-law in your life over in Saudi. I love reading your posts.

  6. Susie
    I just love reading your blog and all the interesting insights that you highlight. Fascinating reads.


  7. Wow, sounds like fun!! I recently went to something like that here in UAE (at my husband's auntie & uncle's villa) and I was blown away at how huge their house was... all the women came in with the black `abaya and shayla and then took it off to show the latest fashions from Paris. But I felt comfortable in my jalabiya from Egypt and kept my hair covered, *LOL*

    And the food was yummmmmmy!!!!!

  8. mashallah everything look so yummy my DREAM to live in that kind of country maybe later inchallah...

  9. Susie, I enjoy your blogs so much, thanks for sharing. Love, Dolores

  10. Hi Umm Travis - Glad I was able to bring back some happy memories for you!

    Hi Aafke - Yes, H is a real hoot. And I bet you're a terrific cook!

    Hi VelvetBrick - The women here really seem to know how to have a good time, despite all the restrictions placed on them!

    Hi Nzingha - I guess having 19 wives was more common back then - I just can't imagine it nowadays!

    Hi Cheela - Thanks so much. And I'm looking forward to next summer when we can have another girls night out again!

    Hi Erin/Good Life - Thanks for stopping by and I'm so glad to hear you're enjoying my blog!

    Hi Always - Indeed it was!

    Hi Aalia - I'm behind on my blog reading - you're in UAE now already? So glad you are enjoying yourself already! Do the men and women mix socially there at functions like that?

    Hi Malizea - Inshallah, one day you will!!!

    Hi Dolores - Thanks so much - I appreciate it.

  11. Part of the reason I love love love my Lebanese family so much are these types of gatherings...somehow in the west we have lost the ability to be as gracious and hospitable as the Arab world can be. Of course, there are exceptions...but those big dinners and gatherings can be so much fun! I have always wondered how they stay slim, as we spend so much time eating!
    I so enjoyed all the great photos...I am hungry now!

  12. hello from the Philippines

    i am searching the net on how is life living in jeddah especially for a foreigner, for my husband accepted a job there and the whole family will be migrating in Jeddah next year im preparing myself and the kids and thank god that i found your blog it helps me alot in the things i must know before going there and things i should look forward too

    Love your pictures and makes me more excited

    thanks again and Bless you and the rest of the family

    will be looking forward for your more entry

  13. Great article about your sister-in-law! She sounds like a wonderful person

  14. Really such a compelling blog. I agree with the other comment-people in the east know how to enjoy good conversation & the company of others. I saw this in Europe when I had the opportunity to know people from Eastern Europe & the former USSR. In the States we are such a consumer culture. Passively we are entertained by prepackaged information: TV, movies, sports. . . . Active entertainment includes: shopping at the mall, playing sports. But this spontaneous interaction, lengthy conversations & unstructured time & the lavish expenditure of time on preparations for the people & things we love--it's not common. But then I assume that these ladies have a lot of time on their hands once their children start being independent after the age of 10 or so. You could write a wonderful book just about these "ladies of lunch" & the details of their lives as evolving. You give us a little of that. This sister with her book. You could go more into that book & the characters there as she describes them. & the story of the woman whose kids you tutor. Of course, these people have their privacy issues. & that's a problem. Your blog is so compelling because I want to know what happens next. It's an evolving story.

  15. Susie- I love the way you bring us right into your experience. What a wonderful sister-in-law you have. I'm sure that's making life in Saudi much more enjoyable. Lee

  16. I enjoyed hearing the story about your sister in-law. She sounds funny and mischievous.

  17. Hi Ajnabiya - The black abayas are very slimming! Many women here are full figured. Those who are very thin are the very young women. I remember when I was alittle girl, my mom used to host get togethers similar to what I am experiencing now. I was supposed to be asleep, and I would get out of bed and sit at the top of the stairs and listen to the conversations and found it all so interesting.

    Hi Anthonette - Welcome! I'm glad to hear that you are finding my blog useful.

    Hi Sandy - Yes, she is - and you are too!!!

    Hi Anonymous - Thanks so much for your positive feedback - it means a lot to me and I really appreciate your input.

    Hi Lee - If I didn't have H in my life here, it would not be as pleasurable for me, that's for sure.

  18. Hi
    Good…….. No I should say very well.
    Blog really containing a meaningful information. Keep it up.

  19. I love reading your blog,especially your photos,they remind us about Jeddah whenever we saw your photos,he missed Jeddah a lot coz we are far far far away from Jeddah.Im glad that you have H as company.

  20. The sauces look delicious. Wish I could taste everything. I love exciting new flavors.

  21. Susie,
    thank you so much for your wonderful stories of life in S.A. I had the opportunity to go to a Saudi 'ladies party' while visiting my niece in Calgary. To my surprise it didn't start untill about 10pm and we left 'early' at 12:30am! What wonderful food we had and more tiny cups of coffee than I could count.My sister lives in Yanbu and has told me many stories about the wonderful weddings and ladies parties she has attended. Reading your blog is like sitting and having a nice cozy chat with my sister about life there. Thank you so much...

  22. Hi Dixie - Thanks for commenting. Yes my SIL H is quite a hoot!

    Hi Canada Immigration - I really appreciate your comment. Glad you stopped by.

    Hi Zara - Hearing how you enjoy my stories and photos of Jeddah really made my day. Thanks!

    Hi Gutsy Writer - I really enjoy trying new foods - I'll try almost anything at least once!

    Hi Karma - Thank you for taking the time to comment on my blog - it made me feel really good to read what you wrote. Thanks!

  23. To have so many wives and children, her grandfather must have been very prosperous, as you suggested! It's interesting that the aunt has daughters and their families living in the building (if I understand correctly) because I thought they would be expected to live among the households of their husbands. It all seems and intricate as the protocol of European royalty.

    I read somewhere that SA currently has one of the highest rates of diabetes in the world (did I learn that from your blog?). All those delicious, simple carbohydrates may contribute, but how could you refuse! (Both by desire and propriety!)