Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Widowed in Saudi Arabia - Update


Several years ago in 2009, I brought you the true cautionary tale of a British woman who was widowed in Saudi Arabia.  In the four part series, I detailed the struggles of the woman and her children when her Saudi husband passed away and how her husband's family trapped the woman and her children in Saudi Arabia for ten long years.  

(To read the original four part series, here are the links:  Part One; Part Two; Part Three; and Part Four.)

By late 2010, the family managed to finally escape from the country and I wrote a minor update at that time which focused on the country's male guardianship system.  The seven years since then haven’t been easy for the family, but they have been rebuilding their lives day by day.  I am pleased to now bring you the latest update on this family and their will to survive.  So here, once again, is "Asima," in her own words ...

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How are you an​​d the kids doing? Have they been able to adapt to their new lives?
I’ve been free from Saudi now  for 7 years,  It certainly has been eye opening,  I guess when you’re in the  situation I was in, where you think you will never see freedom again, you cling onto  there being ‘light at the end of the tunnel’. However that’s far from the truth and it’s the beginning of another chapter. It has been hard adjusting. If we had stayed in Saudi, my son would have had a future but my daughter wouldn’t have.  Now the roles are reversed - my daughter has a future, as she was 13 when we escaped from Saudi Arabia, so going to school outside the kingdom has given her an entrance to society, but my son has struggled.



​W​as the adjustment to freedom overwhelming?​ 
Extremely!!! The adjustment was hard.  After 21 years in Saudi (all my adult life), it took me at least 2 years to learn how to be independent again. The children went through numerous rounds of therapy, which my daughter still needs. I have only just begun my own therapy, as I wanted my children sorted first. It showed me that there are very little resources in the West, for the trauma women in my situation go through. I hope in the future, once my book is published, to start a charity to help women. It’s very hard to return to a society that you grew up in as a child but coming from a society that is the total opposite. Even though you look part of that society, you feel you no longer belong. It’s like being caught in 2 worlds. I hope one day to make contacts to start a charity for women with people who understand both cultures and can help women and their kids fit back into society.

What were the biggest challenges you faced?​
When I reached the west I was penniless, with 3 suitcases and my children. We were blessed to find a family lawyer whose services were pro bono, who advised us to change our identities and cut ties to our past lives. This was unbelievably hard to have to deny 21 years of your life, 21 years that shaped you as a person, 21 years of memories and friends.  I guess it was hardest on my son to lose his family name- it was like losing his father all over again.  Next was trying to become financially viable and find a home. I was still unable to sell my home back in Saudi, because of my husband’s family.  However I was blessed with a very close Saudi friend who I gave power of attorney and after a year won the rights to sell my home. The family took their financial share, denying my children their inheritance - funny because their claim to the courts was that they didn’t want us to sell the house as they wanted to protect the kid’s inheritance.



Are you working and doing better financially?
I am working, part time, all the experience I gained in Saudi was worth nothing in the west as the west puts more weight into certification, rather than physical experience. I had to begin back at the bottom and take an apprenticeship course with 18 year old students – but it got my foot in the door of employment. It has been hard the past 7 years trying to be a single mom on part time salary and trying to begin life again.  I certainly would advise any one in my circumstances back in Saudi to make sure they get certification for any work experience they have in Saudi.

What was the biggest surprise​/change to you about the outside world?
Most surprising to me has been how society is more about working to survive, and how closed minded many people are about other cultures. I am blessed that both my children were brought up in a society where your religion and race mean nothing. People couldn’t accept that even though I was British that I didn’t know how things worked.  They saw the same girl that left 21 years ago, but whilst I was physically the same, mentally I was a totally different person - and that’s been a hard barrier to overcome.

How is your social life?
My social life has been in fits and starts.  I was blessed to reconnect with old friends, but truthfully the past 7 years have been about rebuilding our lives, trying to repair the damage to my children and myself from the  trauma  of what happened with my husband’s family. I have found it hard to trust people as a few close friends back in Saudi informed my husband’s family of our planned escape, putting mine and my children’s lives in danger. I do prefer the social life I had in Saudi; it was more active and opened my eyes to the difference between cultures and religions. Socially it was more authentic in Saudi.



Any exciting news you'd like to share?​
My daughter was accepted into University and is studying creative writing, taking after her mom. She aims to become a university lecturer once she graduates. She has already been published in a book of short stories and poetry.  It’s nice to see her grow.
I will become 50 in a few months and after 7 hard years struggling; I’m finally starting to achieve a sense of peace, through my therapy.
I have been working hard on publishing my book. I nearly was accepted by a publishing company to publish my book but the deal fell through, because of the actions of my then agent. I have chosen now to go independently, though it’s getting my story out there to the masses. I feel it’s a story that needs to be told, to help other women when making this giant leap into a world unknown. We are blessed now that the internet has opened doors for women to access information about Saudi Arabia, compared to when I went there back in 1990.  
But it’s still extremely hard to be a person of two cultures. We seriously need to help others escaping to settle back, but it’s finding  therapy and networking with others that have been through the  experience and trauma and help from people who understand  both cultures, we need to set up workshops  to help women and their children to integrate into society, to learn how to function in a totally different society. Most importantly to heal again and become a functioning well rounded family.

Is there anything you miss about Saudi Arabia?
I miss so much from Saudi.  It is my adopted home and it has been good to me and my children. Unfortunately there were numerous people (not the country) that caused my situation. Like every country in the world there is good and bad. Unfortunately however, in Saudi when the bad happens, women are left to fend alone and in many cases don’t succeed in reaching freedom with their children.
I miss the simple life.
I miss the authenticity of the people there, how expats joined together as extended families. How people always extended their hands to help others.
I miss Al Baik – lol.
I do still consider Saudi my home.



What do you think of all the changes going on here in KSA?
I’m sad I’m not part of the changes happening but feel an extreme sense of pride. When I first arrived in Saudi Arabia back in 1990, we were told that was the year women would drive.  21 years later still women weren’t granted that, but I’m proud the Prince has allowed women the freedoms that are their right.  It’s amazing to see the changes taking place for women, especially as they have been denied those rights for so long. Women are half the population and a society cannot function when only half its population is active.
I do fear however that Saudi will lose its identity.  I learnt moving back to the West that we have no culture, no identity - we all blend in as one.  Saudi is blessed that it still has its culture, its history, and it should hold onto those. It’s a new beginning for Saudi and I hope they handle the changes gradually.
I am hoping my Book – ‘Shifting Sands’ will open the door between East and West, to give women the tools to be prepared if the worse befalls them. Being married to a Saudi has many pitfalls but also many blessings. I feel communication between the two cultures would prevent a lot of situations arising.  But more importantly, I feel women need support and information, so they will never suffer as my children and I did. It’s a scar that will never full erase, so I hope from our trauma and experience it will help some other mother and her children to find freedom.
Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

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You can follow Asima's blog about her memories of her life in Saudi Arabia called "Shifting Sands" by clicking HERE.


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Along the Road from Jeddah to Yanbu


During our recent road trip from Jeddah to Yanbu for the annual Yanbu Flowers and Gardens Festival (CLICK HERE to see photos of the amazing event), we were treated to some very typical Saudi visual sights along the way.  The drive from Jeddah to Yanbu should take about three and a half hours, but sometimes it takes us as long as eight hours because we like to stop at the interesting sights along the way!

On this trip, desert vendors were out selling their wares in full force - and as it was the height of watermelon season, we saw many watermelon vendors setting up shop on the sides of the highway.


Some of the desert vendors have some pretty sweet set ups for their time out in the heat. Some had erected nearby tents for respite from the sun or to take a nap - some tents are even equipped with air conditioners!  A few had a grill where they could heat up water for tea or even barbecue their lunch if they were so inclined.  Almost all desert vendors are sure to bring along their carpets so they are more comfortable all those hours on the desert floor.  CLICK HERE to see more photos of the watermelon season in Saudi Arabia.




We also saw lots of sheep grazing in the rain fed patches of green, being tended to by shepherds.  Sheep are raised in Saudi Arabia to provide lamb, the most preferred meat for Muslim holidays.





Other desert vendors sold pottery or other items.  My husband likes to haggle with them about their asking prices - a talent he acquired growing up in Jeddah at a time when haggling was commonplace.


Then we started seeing the camel crossing signs.  I have to tell you, in all our drives along this road, this time we saw more camels along the freeway than any other time before.  I was in camel heaven!














We even saw a large herd of the more rare white camels.  It was pretty exciting to see so many white camels all at once like that.  And the baby camels were so cute!





 




I've heard some people say that the drive between Jeddah and Yanbu is boring and there's nothing to see.  I totally disagree!

Monday, March 12, 2018

Yanbu Flower Festival 2018

The 12th annual Yanbu Flowers and Gardens Festival is a spectacular event going on now through March 25th.  It is open daily from 4-11pm.  It's also open in the mornings to just walk around the gardens and pools, but the vendors are not there during the day.  Over the past three consecutive years that I have gone, it has just gotten bigger and better with each year.  The event is extremely well organized, managed and run, so I take my hat off to the Royal Commission for Yanbu for a job well done. 

This post has more photos than I usually post, but I had a hard time deciding between more than 1200 photos I took during our visit to Yanbu the weekend the festival opened.


There are two main entrances (like in the above photo) which are easy to spot.  Just follow the crowds!  I love the geometric grass designs in the abundant paved areas - and I love the lights at the top of the many palm trees all over the festival.


The mix of colors and variety of plantings, the hills and mounds of thousands of colorful flowers - it is all so visually stunning that it's clear to see all the time, effort, and expense put into this event.






The addition of water features the past couple of years has made a huge visual impact.  There are beautiful large pools of water, fountains, and streams over a large portion of the festival.








Children's activities and enjoyment hasn't been forgotten either.  A huge entertainment area is a welcome addition for lots of family fun.






There is also a lovely Garden Center where a large variety of flowering desert plants and shrubs can be purchased and learned about. 






This year the Recycling Exhibit featured huge fish made of plastic bottles, which were really cute and designed nicely.


All over the Flower Festival are various structures covered in flowers, like archways, buildings, columns, gazebos, and many other shapes.  There are walking paths everywhere, as well as beautiful water features like fountains, pools, and streams throughout the huge festival area.










A new added twist was the section where more than two dozen artists painted lovely colorful works of art, live in front of admiring festival goers.  The artists' paintings will be entered in a competition related to the participation of the Saudi team in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. I hope this art competition will continue in years to come, as they were quite talented and their works were spectacular.


Even though the weekends at the event are quite crowded, the venue is very spacious and doesn't feel overcrowded.  There is also plenty of free parking for attendees.  Oh - and did I mention that the event itself extends free admission to all as well? Yup, it's free!


I love the palm trees everywhere as the backdrop for the colorful mounds of flowers.




This is one of the main entrances illuminated after dark - such a grand entrance.


There were many more vendors this year with many different items for sales - ranging from fresh flowers and stuffed animals to rose water and key chains.  There was even a lawn furniture area and gardening designs.


Plenty of spaces to sit and relax are available where one can enjoy the beautiful surroundings or people watching, plus a large area with picnic tables and an on sight mosque.  There are also plenty of nice new restrooms conveniently located throughout the festival as well.




The Food Court area is near the east entrance and pool area.  Walking on the bridges over the pools is a very popular choice for families to do together.


If you live in Saudi Arabia and have not yet attended the Yanbu Flowers and Gardens Festival, I highly recommend it.  It's one of the best festivals in the country.

"Hello!" from me, Susie of Arabia, at the Yanbu Flower Festival. Don't miss it!  Running now through March 25th.