Saturday, December 29, 2007

Medical Care & Medications in Arabia

The third day after I arrived in Saudi Arabia, my ear started hurting really bad. I had a horrible headache and sharp pain in my right ear. By the next day, Adnan had to take me to see a doctor. At about 10pm, we went to the Magrabi Eye and Ear Hospital, a huge, brand new, state-of- the-art, spotlessly clean specialty clinic. The place was really hopping and so crowded with patients, it was incredible. Because it was during Ramadan, the clinic didn’t open until 5pm and would be open til after midnight.

We registered at the front desk and we were then directed to the 2nd floor to the ENT Department. I was told to wait in the women’s waiting room, while Adnan, Adel, and Adam waited down the hall. I was the only woman in the crowded waiting room without a veil covering my face. Of course I was wearing the abaya and had my hair covered. After only about ten minutes, I heard a tiny Indonesian nurse call my name, “Madame Suzan Annie.” I followed the nurse to a nearby examination room. Adnan came in too.

The doctor was a man who spoke very good English. I had to remove the hijab or tarha (head covering) so he could examine my ears. He determined that my right ear was quite inflamed – likely a result from having a slight cold before I left the States, plus the ten take-offs or landings I endured over the five day period prior to leaving America. The doctor wrote me four different prescriptions – an antibiotic, a pain reliever, an antihistamine, and nasal drops. We were in and out of this crowded clinic in well under an hour. I don’t know if we received special service because I was American, but it was excellent service. Plus we were able to instantly have the prescriptions filled at the affiliated pharmacy. The doctor visit cost about $20 US and the four prescriptions cost about $25 US all together. All this with no appointment, no insurance, no co-pay!

It took several weeks for my ear to finally clear up and for my hearing to return to normal, but the pain and headaches were gone pretty quickly after I began the medication.

When I left the States, I brought with me a 3 month supply of the medications I take. I thought I better start trying to see if I can get them here, so we went to a pharmacy with my pill bottles. I was able to get all 4 of them filled on the spot. The total cost was about the same as what my insurance co-pay was back in Florida. People don't have insurance here. So, I got all my medication without seeing a doctor here, without a prescription, and without any insurance! I was amazed. I know that I wouldn't be able to afford the medication back in Florida if I didn't have insurance.

I also have since been to another clinic to have blood drawn. Again the service was stellar, and the place was immaculate. No appointment, no insurance, no problems. In fact, the nurse that took my blood was so good, I didn't feel a thing!

We also had to take my son to yet another clinic and we had amazing service there as well too. This clinic was actually closed (for prayers) when we arrived, but they immediately saw my son, gave him a shot, and then we returned there later when the clinic was open to see the doctor. And another time when my son relapsed, the clinic was closed and no doctor was in, but a guy who works at the clinic actually accompanied us to a nearby pharmacy with my son's file so we could get a refill of the proper medication!

So far I have been really impressed with the medical care here - the service is incredible and the doctors and workers are very knowledgeable. I have no qualms at all about getting sick here!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Live from Jeddah...It's Susie of Arabia!

During the month of August 2007, we were very busy trying to get ready for our upcoming move to Arabia. The decision to not sell the house before we left took a lot of pressure off. A friend of Adnan's would stay in the house, make the payments, and take care of it for us. We sold both vehicles and various household items, mainly through What remained was boxed up and put in the garage.

I had a few get togethers with my girlfriends before I left. One night we went to downtown Hollywood, one of our favorite haunts. There were five of us and we had dinner at a Mexican restaurant that we had gone to many times before. When the waiter who was taking our order got to me, he looked at me and said, “I know you – I have seen you on TV, right?” I had no idea what was coming, but having been on TV a couple of times in my life, I decided to go along and smiled and said yes. Then he proceeded to tell me how much he enjoyed my cooking show. Cooking show ? ! ? My girlfriends immediately picked up on this and away we went, pulling this guys leg so far I thought it would snap off. Apparently, he thought I looked enough like Paula Dean that he convinced himself that I was she. Not only that, he also managed to convince all the other employees at the restaurant too. The other waiters kept walking by our table, smiling at me, and the manager came over and introduced herself to me. She even tried to track down a camera so she could have her picture taken with me. The food and drinks were great, as usual, but it took an extraordinarily long time for the bill to come which made me a bit anxious – I just didn’t feel right about fooling the restaurant like this and them giving us a free meal for it. Finally though, to my relief, the bill showed up, we paid, said our goodbyes, and left.
Next we walked down the street and remarkably on the very next block was a Hookah Lounge. My friends were all game for sharing a hookah in honor of my departure. It was a fitting send-off. We sat at an outside table and ordered a hookah with a blend of apple and cherry sheesha. I hadn’t smoked a hookah since the early days of my relationship with Adnan when we were university students back in Arizona. The girls all took their turns, puffing on the huge pipe and passing it around. I was very proud of my somewhat conservative girlfriends. I'm sure it was a little out of their comfort zone. They gave up after only a few puffs, and I didn’t want it going to waste, so I continued puffing away on my own - until I began feeling woozy and nauseous. I excused myself and ran inside to the bathroom. Ughh! What an awful feeling. But I must say that the whole experience made for a truly memorable night that we will always remember.
On August 30th, Adnan and Adam departed for Saudi Arabia. I also left Florida that same morning, however since my visa was not granted yet, I flew to Arizona for a week to visit my daughter and various friends, and then on to Seattle to wait out the rest of the time with my family up in the Pacific Northwest. My men would fly to New York and then connect to a non-stop flight from there to Jeddah. The length of the flight is about 11.5 hours. Later when I spoke with Adam, he told me that there was a big family welcoming committee to greet them at the airport when they arrived in Arabia. It made him feel really good, “Like a rock star!” he said.
I honestly thought it might take months for my visa to be ready, but it ended up taking only a few short weeks. On Monday, October 1st, I flew from Seattle to Ft. Lauderdale. I had to gather some belongings and papers for my trip to Arabia. The next evening I flew from Florida to Washington DC because I had to pick up my visa from the Saudi Embassy. This was a frustrating experience, but one that turned out okay in the end. I managed to get my visa issued that very day, which they had told me over the phone that they could do. I also went to an Islamic Center and got a certificate saying that I was a Muslim. Adnan told me that if I had this, it would make things easier for me in Arabia, so I did.
That night, with visa in hand, I flew from Washington DC to New York. This was, in and of itself, distressing - my flight was canceled so I had to fly into Laguardia instead of JFK, got in 4 hours later than planned, meaning the airport shuttles had already stopped running. Plus my hotel was at JFK so I had to split a cab with another couple - but it all eventually worked out. Even though I was exhausted after this long and stressful day, I was so excited I couldn’t sleep at all in my super comfortable bed at the hotel.
I left the next day, Thursday, October 4, for Arabia on the long non-stop Saudia Airlines flight to Jeddah. It was the last week of Ramadan. Before take-off, the flight attendants came around with meal menus, earphones, pillows, blankets, and a nice toiletry bag containing wet wipes, a sleeping eye mask, slippers, toothbrush, toothpaste, lotion and mouthwash. Within 15 minutes after take-off, we were served drinks and a snack. Since most people on board were fasting for Ramadan, the food service was especially speedy. I ordered the lamb curry with green chile, rice, salad, bread, and shrimp cocktail. The chile was just a thin slice, but boy, was it hot!
Each seat was equipped with a small screen located on the back of the seat in front. There were games one could play, movies to watch or American comedy shows like 2 and a Half Men, Everyone hates Chris, and Seinfeld. Any exposed skin, especially cleavage on women, were blurred out on these shows and there were Arabic sub-titles. There was also religious programming or music to choose from as well.
Most of the women passengers on the flight were dressed in the long black abayas (robe) and black hijabs (head coverings). Some of the men passengers were wearing just the white wrap-around sheet that is worn to Mecca for the religious pilgrimage, and even more men changed into the sheets shortly before the flight arrived at Jeddah. In the very back of the plane in the middle section was a large curtained off area which was about 5 or 6 rows long and 4 seats wide. This was a carpeted prayer area where passengers could pray during the flight. The floors outside the bathrooms were sopping wet because of people washing up before prayers. All Muslims must wash their faces, hands and forearms and the feet prior to praying. I had to ask for new slippers because mine got soaked when I stepped near the bathroom door.
By the time the plane landed, I had been able to sleep for only one hour of this very long flight – I guess I was just too excited to sleep.
I arrived in Saudi Arabia two weeks before my 56th birthday. My flight landed in Jeddah at 9am that Friday morning in early October. From the air, Jeddah is huge and spread out. It appears very brown, with not much greenery. The climate is very warm and dry with very little annual rainfall. We deplaned on stairs, not a jet way, and boarded a tram to the terminal. It was only 9am, but it was already quite warm. I had dressed conservatively but comfortably for the flight, and before I deplaned, I put a scarf on my head to cover my hair.
When I walked into the Baggage Claim area, there were at least twenty guys waiting around with luggage carts eagerly trying to assist the passengers. Adnan had warned me about them. They were very pushy and aggressive, and one just latched onto me. He got my bags off the carousel and then we proceeded to Immigration. I got right through and then it was on to Customs, where every bag was scanned through a large X-ray machine. I didn’t see one bag opened up for inspection. There were so many items I had decided not to bring with me because I didn’t want to take a chance that they would be confiscated, and here it turns out that I could have brought virtually anything with me! Darn! Then we walked to the passenger pickup area where I searched the crowd for a familiar face. I was greeted by Adnan, Adam and Adnan’s brother Adel. They were all dressed in the traditional white dresses men wear called thobes and wore the red and white checkered headgear. My Arabian welcoming committee was much smaller than Adam’s had been because I arrived during Ramadan, when most people stay up all night to eat and then sleep during the day so they don’t feel as much hunger or thirst. So my arrival took the back seat to their sleep!
I couldn’t believe I was in Arabia after all these years. It was something I had never imagined.
Adnan was excited and proud to show me our new vehicle. It is a champagne colored Toyota Fortuner, a make of SUV not sold in the US. The protective plastic was still on the seats, headrests, and visors. There was practically no traffic at all on the drive from the airport to our house. Remember this was a Friday, late morning, in a city of about 2 million people! But because it was Ramadan, most businesses were closed and most people were at home sleeping. Driving through the streets, I was reminded of Mexico, just by the style of the buildings and the way they are arranged. The building we live in is a cube shape, as many of the dwellings there are. There are about 4-5 floors. There are two large open tiled lobby areas with fountains connected by the area where the elevators and the stairway are. The two elevators are small and can accommodate maybe four squeezed in adults at a time. We live on the 1st floor above the lobby, so we usually use the stairs for the exercise. Half of the entire first floor is our apartment and the other half belongs to Adnan’s mom, Tata.
Our new home is spacious and uncluttered and comfortable. I have photos of our new home posted online at:
One evening shortly within the first week of my arrival, we accompanied Adel’s family out to the Corniche, the boulevard and large paved boardwalk which stretches for miles along the Red Sea where many of the expensive hotels are and also contains many of Jeddah’s famous sculptures. There are also many shaded areas with benches. We arrived just before sunset for a seaside evening picnic. Sundown during Ramadan is when the fast is broken, so the meal is called breakfast. There were 13 of us altogether, including three small children and three maids. The maids did all the work of carrying everything from the vehicles and setting it all up. They spread out three large Persian carpets under a huge umbrella on the concrete, just steps from the Red Sea. We watched as the sun set and at the same time we heard the call to prayer from the utterly gorgeous nearby Fatima Mosque, which juts out on a small peninsula and at high tide appears to be floating in the Red Sea when the tide is in. By the time we left, it had ebbed and you could see the support posts underneath it. They all prayed and then we ate – a very typical Middle Eastern meal of dates, hummus, sambuseks (meat eggrolls), salad, and rice. There was a pleasant breeze coming off of the Red Sea which felt great, especially wearing the abaya and hijab. I really didn’t feel hot at all. Then we drove through a nearby district with really beautiful walled villas that were just gorgeous.
Another evening we all went to a huge new beautiful shopping mall, called Roshan Mall. It had a large play area for kids, which was a small amusement park with various rides. There are not many activities for Arabian women and children aside from shopping, so all the malls I have seen have a huge play area. The stores looked just like the stores in America, and there was a large food court too. Among others, there was Baskin Robbins, McDonalds, Burger King, and a huge store similar to Super Target called Hyper Panda. Just the customers look different, that’s all! The women are covered in black from head to toe and most are veiled and most of the men are dressed in their white thobes and head-dresses.
One day we drove down to Old Jeddah, which is southwest from where we live, about a 45 minute drive away in good traffic. Many of the buildings are over 500 years old or more. I was surprised to see many poor women and children there begging for money. Arabia has its poor people too. This is proving to be a land of many contrasts and contradictions. I saw the area in Old Jeddah where Adnan was born (his grandmother’s house), and the old house where he grew up, that his mom still owns and is trying to sell. I saw where Adnan went to elementary school and where his dad is buried. The streets were narrow and crowded with parked cars and pedestrians and the hustling and bustling of activity, and the traffic was a nightmare. It’s almost comical seeing the bumper to bumper traffic with all men drivers talking on cell phones and dressed in their traditional garb behind the wheel of the latest models of SUVs or other expensive cars, honking constantly.
We parked and walked into Bab Makkah (means Gate to Mecca), an enormous outdoor open air market meandering down one closed-to-traffic street for blocks on end. Bab Makkah has many shops and street vendors selling all sorts of food items, cooked or uncooked, like dry goods, olives, dates, fresh produce, and meats like lamb and chicken. There are many other items for sale as well, like clothing, shoes, watches and other jewelry, luggage, toys, sports equipment, and just about anything you can name. The place was incredibly interesting, but also very hot with that black abaya on! It was almost surreal. At times, I felt transported way back in time to Biblical days, until I was jolted back to reality by the nearby honking traffic. There is a link to an album with my first photos of Arabia in the left hand column of my blog. This album contains some photos of the market.
I can honestly see why women aren’t allowed to drive here, especially in a place like Jeddah. It is absolute madness! There is no way I would ever WANT to drive here. First of all, there is virtually no traffic enforcement to speak of. (Adnan calls it "freedom!") In heavy traffic, cars are bumper to bumper, literally inches apart with far too many narrow misses for my blood pressure! Drivers totally disregard any semblance of traffic lanes, and they have to be very aggressive. Going the wrong direction on a clearly marked one way street is common. Even on divided streets with a median down the middle, it is not unusual to encounter cars going both directions on each side of the median. Many times cars will turn left from the far right lane in front of all the other lanes of traffic! One time on a busy street, we saw a car ahead of us go into reverse, backing his way through the lanes of oncoming traffic! It is absolutely crazy. Half of the time I have to cover my eyes because it is so nerve wracking. Amazingly there are very few accidents which I find astonishing. Somehow it works.
I kept bugging Adnan to get me a map of Jeddah, and finally one day his brother Adel pulled over while we were driving and bought me a map. The only problem was – it was all written in Arabic, so it really didn’t do me much good. I finally got a map in English, so I am trying to learn my way around, although when you're not the driver, it is harder to pay attention to the streets and how to get somewhere. And there is always something interesting that catches my eye and distracts me.
So far, I have found that the language barrier really is a non-issue. Almost everyone speaks some English and many people speak it very well. It is taught in the schools here. I haven't felt it is a problem at all, but it has made me lazier about trying to learn Arabic! The pronunciation is difficult with many guttural sounds that are not used in English. I did get a good laugh out of everyone one day shortly after my arrival, when instead of saying, “I need the bathroom,” I said, “I am a bathroom!” I still get kidded about that. Another thing that makes it a difficult language to learn is that inanimate objects are male or female, as in Spanish. But in Arabic this affects the verb form that ones uses. Adnan's family has been really good about making Adam and me feel included, but there are times when they tend to speak more in Arabic and I don't have a clue what they are talking about. I can pick up a few words here and there, so sometimes I can figure out what they are talking about, but many times I can't.
I have been in Arabia for almost three months now, and so far the experience has been incredibly interesting. Granted, marrying a man from an entirely different culture and religion is not an easy thing to do - and making it work is even harder. The decision to leave my country, my family, my home, my religion, and many of my freedoms was not an easy one to make. What has made the transition easier is how warmly my son and I have been welcomed into Adnan's family. Their generosity is overwhelming. The people here are warm and friendly, and women here are treated with great respect. My husband has become more relaxed and seems more content to be back home now. It is plain to see how well-loved and respected my husband is here. Our lives have definitely slowed down in Arabia. My son has probably had a harder time making the adjustment than I have - he is, after all, a teenager. But he is coping and hopefully he will look back on this time as a great experience and opportunity in his life.
I have a lot more to tell you, but I will save that for my next episodes, which hopefully will post sooner than it took me to get this done! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Countdown

All of you have moved at one point or another in your lives, so you know what I have been going through these past few weeks. It is such a huge undertaking dismantling a home after 14 years of living in it and pretty overwhelming. Since we will be taking very few items with us to our new home in Jeddah, I am faced with what to get rid of, what is most sentimental to me, and what I feel I can't live without that I may not be able to acquire in Arabia. Adnan tells me that everything that we need should be available over there, so I am taking his word for it.

Looking through all of our belongings, it is easy to see what I value the most. Photos would have to be on top of my list. And since photography is one of my passions, I have TONS of photos. I realize I won't be able to take ALL the photos with us, so I am having to sort through them carefully. I have been busy making sure I have the last few years photos on CDs, which will be much easier to take with me. The rest will remain in the States boxed up.

Also at the top of my list is movies, however strict censorship is alive and well in Arabia. Adnan has told me to be careful in this area because if the movie has bad language, is sexy or immoral or indecent, it will not be allowed into the country. By the way, there are no movie theaters in Arabia. This will be an adjustment for both Adam and me as we are both big movie buffs. We will be able to have satellite TV though, so hopefully we will be able to still see our movies on TV - maybe not as soon as they come out, but... well, we'll just have to see how that goes. Hmmm...I wonder what TV shows we will be able to view there as well.

Books would also have to be near the top of my list. This presents a problem because of the amount of space that books take up and their weight and also because of the censorship. I have so many books on painting and I know I can't possibly take them all with me. Adnan has his books too. We really have some weeding through to do. Plus there are my old school yearbooks and Adam's too.

And then of course there are my paints and all the equipment that goes with it. I know I can purchase painting supplies over in Arabia, but I just hate to part with all of it.

We had planned on selling the house before we leave, but now we have decided that since the market is slow right now, we will wait. A close friend will live in the house for the next year or so, take care of it and make the payments. This will leave our options open too, just in case. Plus it lifted the enormous pressure off of us to get the house sold in a slow market. We can feel comfortable leaving some things in the house, instead of feeling like everything must be disposed of. We did have the entire kitchen redone recently, had a new garage door installed, and we have been painting and fixing things up around the house so it is in tip top shape when we leave. Hopefully in a year or two the market will have picked up again and we will sell the house then.

When we made the decision to move out of the U.S. a few months ago, I had shared this news with only my family and very few of my friends and co-workers. When I decided that the time had come to inform all my other friends and acquaintances, I released the first edition of my blog. So far the reaction to the news of our moving to Saudi Arabia has been overwhelmingly positive. Many friends have reacted with almost as much enthusiasm as I have for our adventure. Some have expressed excitement, mixed with a little apprehension and maybe even a little fear. Others have been very supportive, while some have been so shocked that they are literally speechless. I have also been pleasantly surprised at the number of like-spirited souls who have even asked about the possibility of coming over to visit us once we get settled. Everyone I have heard from, except for one, has graciously wished us their best. Some people I have yet to hear from. And then there have been a few who have just blurted out, "ARE YOU CRAZY?"

I don't it crazy to follow the man I love half way around the world to experience his culture and be accepted into his family? I realize I don't speak the language and my lifestyle will drastically change from what I am used to. But I think most people have misconceptions and are misinformed and uneducated about what Saudi Arabia is really like and what its people are really like, too. There is a fear of the unknown that a lot of people have of the Middle East. I doubt that anyone who asked if I am crazy has ever had a friend or known anyone personally from the Middle East. The people are warm, friendly, honest, decent, sincere, and have very high morals. Contrary to the propaganda Americans have been fed by the right wing news media, Moslems do not hate Americans and our freedom. They simply do not like our foreign policies, and frankly, neither do I. So, if anyone wants to call me crazy, go ahead. I am not afraid of change or new experiences in my life.

In fact, there are many changes that I look forward to in Arabia. I look forward to a simpler life with far less stress. I look forward to living in a place where modesty is required and vulgarity is forbidden, where children can be children and they are not exposed to adult issues and behaviors too early in life. I anticipate being treated with courtesy and respect by others - I guess I have lived in South Florida too long where it is normal for salespeople to treat customers rudely, indifferently, or just simply ignore them! It was definitely culture shock when I made the move from Arizona to South Florida 14 years ago. I knew I would never get used to how I was treated in stores or while driving on the roads. Don't get me wrong - I have managed to make some wonderful friends here and I will miss them immensely, but I can't imagine myself missing South Florida itself.

Getting back to the one person who chose not to wish us well in our new life: I have been friends with his wife for about 25 years. His wife and I used to work together back in Tucson and we were also roommates for a time as well - long before she ever met her future husband. During my visits back to Arizona since our move to Florida, I have always made the effort to see her. However it has always been disappointing for me because as soon as I drive up, her husband suddenly appears, and he completely dominates the conversation. I have always thought he was an obnoxious, pompous ass. My girlfriend has seemingly become a distant shadow of the person she used to be since she met this man and barely even speaks anymore when he is around. He also has polar opposite political views than I and is intolerant of people who disagree with him. This is the exact verbatim email response that I received from him:

"Please remove me from your list. I have very strong feelings that need not be discussed with you. I will inform A****** (his wife) of your decision. Please don't write anymore, I don't want to have my e-mail associated with you or Adnan."

My impression is that he is living in fear of Big Brother watching his every move and that he feels Adnan and I are traitors to this country, maybe even terrorists ourselves. But he had neither the decency nor the grace to at least wish us well in our new venture.

I know that not all of my friends agree with my political views. But isn't that what our country is all about? We have the right - and the duty - to question things we don't agree with. I must admit that I am extremely disappointed in this country right now. I feel that we have lost many of the freedoms we have always had and have taken for granted for far too long. I also feel that the current administration has driven this country down a road that is very treacherous and harmful to many of its citizens. And our children will have to be paying for the mistakes of this administration's policies for many years to come.

We think we have freedom here, but do we really? We are forced by law to pay for things like insurance, for example. Is this freedom? Just try making a claim - the insurance companies gladly accept your premiums and keep getting richer and richer, but when it comes time for them to settle your claim, they try every way they know how to get out of paying you. And then they raise your premiums or cancel your policy. Have you ever sat down and figured out how much you have actually paid in over the years for health insurance? We figured ours out the other day, and Adnan has paid in over $250,000 in 14 years. Our claims have - at the most - come to maybe $20,000 in all those years. There is something really wrong here. Add your premiums up - you will be astounded.

Anyway, my family and I have reservations to depart on August 30. As of today, less than two weeks away, I still have not been issued my documentation to enter Saudi Arabia. It is looking like Adnan and Adam may have to go on ahead without me and I will remain in the U.S. until my paperwork is approved. I am disappointed that I may not get to travel over there with them. I am so anxious to go - I can hardly wait! Until next time....

Monday, May 7, 2007

The Final Decision

Our decision to pick up and move to Saudi Arabia - my husband's homeland - was not made hastily or without debate. Rather, it has been years in the making. There are numerous reasons for our decision. Honestly, us moving to Arabia was something I never thought would happen! But after thirty years here in the U.S., my husband's wish is to return home. He has come to realize that all those ideological reasons for why he left Arabia in the first place maybe weren't so bad after all. And that the once-upon-a-time fairy-tale world of the United States of America - "land of the free, home of the brave" - just really doesn't exist anymore and has its own fair share of major flaws, like dirty politics, corrupt government, rampant crime, and a morally bankrupt society.

Adnan came to America as a college student. It was 1977. We met within the first couple of weeks after his arrival. For me, it was love at first sight. He had a huge afro, strong broad shoulders, a crop of chest hair peek-a-booing out from the collar of his shirt, bell bottom jeans, and dark, mysterious - yet twinkling - eyes. Physical attraction aside, I fell for the person inside. He was warm, strong, intelligent, honest, funny, thoughtful, and romantic. He treated me with respect and consideration, and he always made me laugh. He wrote poems for me! My family was fond of him too. For me, he was "the one."

There was just one little kink...from the start, Adnan had been totally up front and honest with me about returning to Arabia to live his life after he finished school. So I never allowed myself to dream of a future with him in it. But I knew he was the love of my life, and I felt that whatever time we did have together while he was in America would be better spent with him than without him. So we lived every day, every week, every month, in the moment. Those weeks and months turned into years, and all the while, he was working on his Ph.D at the university. Finally, at the end of 1989, he was awarded his degree. He went back to Arabia and tried for a year to secure a job in his field. He kept in touch with me, and during a visit back to the U.S. that next summer, he asked me to marry him.

It took over twelve years for him to commit to me, but he finally did. Partly due to his disenchantment with the government in his homeland, partly because he was unable to secure a job in Arabia (after the government paid for his schooling here in the States for a dozen years), and - I like to think - partly because he realized that he just couldn't live his life without me in it, we wed in 1990. He eventually was offered a teaching position with a college in South Florida.

We have been in South Florida since 1993. It's really the only home my son has ever known - we moved here when he was just a baby.

Living on a teacher's salary and with me only working part-time, we have struggled financially. A recent failed business venture with my ex-best friend left us in debt like never before. The hurricane season of 2005 caused our homeowner's insurance premium to skyrocket. And now with gas prices at an all-time high, it only makes financial sense for us to move to Saudi Arabia. Imagine a land where there are no taxes to pay and no insurance premiums. There, we will live in a much larger home (it has 4 bathrooms!) than we have in Florida, rent free! (courtesy of my husband's mom.) Just the thought of not having a mortgage any more delights me. My husband feels that within five years, we will be set financially, something that is an impossibility if we continue to stay in the States.

Financial reasons aside, the state of American politics is also another factor in our decision to make the move to Arabia. We both feel that most Americans have been getting the short end of the stick since Bush stole the presidency in 2000. I haven't felt good about the way things have been going here and I hate the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness that gets worse, it seems, each month. We don't agree with our government's foreign policies, lack of commitment to the working class, ever-rising costs for insurance, medical care, etc. We have reached a point where we feel we will never be able to get ahead. The rich keep getting richer, and the poor keep getting crapped on. I could go on and on, but I will refrain for now... but you understand the gist of what I am saying, don't you? And whether you agree with me or not, this is how we feel and it is a major reason for our decision to leave America.

Now hold on, I know what you are all thinking - does Susie really know what she is getting herself into? Hasn't she seen that movie "Not Without my Daughter"? It's going to be such a big culture shock for a free-spirited American woman! Why, women are treated as second class citizens there and have no rights!

Let me just say that I appreciate your concern and understand your apprehension. I am fully aware of what to expect. Yes, I know that I will not be allowed to drive. I will not have a "job" there. Women are very limited in work they are allowed to do, plus I do not speak Arabic, so that limits my job prospects even further. Men and women in Arabia are not allowed to mix socially or in business. I have many hobbies that I will be able to pursue, like painting, photography, and, of course, writing. I will cover my hair with a hijab and will have to dress modestly whenever I go out. And when I do go out, I must be accompanied by my husband. Besides religion, family life is the most important thing in Arabian society. I already know most of my husband's immediate family. I can also tell you that in my experience, there are very few Arabian women who would want to trade places with any American woman. They are very happy and fulfilled in their lives and are very well appreciated and taken care of.

I look forward to getting to know my husband's family better and experiencing the closeness of family. I am glad that my son will finally be able to get to know his aunts and uncles and cousins that he has never even met, that he will become fluent in Arabic, and that he will be able to learn firsthand about the faraway and exotic land his father came from. For the past 14 years we have been here in Florida, far away from my family, and it has been difficult. My daughter is in Arizona, my mom and two brothers in the Seattle area, and my two other brothers in Utah and Indiana. I have hated that our family is so spread out. For us all to get together for a reunion every few years is a major undertaking.

My husband has given it his best shot here for thirty years. He is ready to go home. My place, as his wife, is with my husband. He has been a good provider, a good father, and a good husband. I am up for the challenge and I am - and always have been - very flexible. I really and truly believe that this will be a good move for our family. And who knows? Maybe this will turn out to be just another case of "the grass is always greener on the other side." Maybe we will come to appreciate the USA again, from afar. But we will never know unless we try, will we? All I know is that I am ready for a change - and what a change this will be!

I plan to document our move, planned for late summer 2007, and our new life in Arabia here in this blog. So stay tuned for future installments of "Susie's Big Adventure!" And I hope you will wish us the best and keep us in your prayers.