Monday, April 21, 2008

Paradise Found

My son had the last week off from school. During this time, we had the pleasure of meeting two American women, MM and KY, who are both married to Saudis and have lived here in Arabia for well over 20 years.

How did I get to meet these two lovely women, you ask? We were “virtually” introduced by a fellow blogger, American Bedu (Thank You, AB!), who lives in Riyadh. Even though MM and KY do not blog themselves, they regularly read Middle Eastern blogs and leave comments on them. There is an immense blogging community over here in the Middle East, as well as all over the world, that I hadn’t paid any attention to until we made the decision to move here last year. Blogging has opened up a whole new world to me that I never even realized existed! I am so pleased at the number of cyber friendships I have forged with these fantastic people who all have their own stories to tell. We read each others’ blogs, leave comments on them, share in joys, tragedies, problems, link to each others’ blogs on our blogs, and lend support and share knowledge with one another. It is a welcoming warm community of which I am proud to be a part. This is indeed what the “World Wide Web” is all about!

Anyway, back to the story at hand. We agreed to meet at a local café for breakfast. I was so excited to meet these two ladies that I could hardly sleep the night before! Up to this point, I had only met one other American woman in the entire six months I have been here. MM is a tall statuesque blonde with a quick wit and a no-nonsense approach. She met her husband back in 1975 when she was 19. As I listened to her talk about how she and her husband met and fell in love, I drew many similarities between her story and my own. MM and her husband raised their two children, who are now grown, back and forth between the US and Arabia. KY is a beautiful woman who has a gentle nature and an easy going personality. She met her Saudi husband when she was only 17 in 1979. KY and her husband have three sons, two of whom are now in college in the US. She has a part-time job that affords her a lot of flexibility with her schedule.

MM and KY have been here long enough to know the ropes. They are both comfortable speaking Arabic (Yay! There is hope for me yet!). From them I learned that there are several women’s groups and various local institutions like the Historical Society that women are allowed to join, which was really exciting news for me. There are groups for Saudi wives and British wives that meet monthly, as well as religious study groups, book clubs and cultural groups. Many of the women transplants obviously lead very rewarding and fulfilling lives over here. KY had to leave then to go to work and MM had a salon appointment to get her hair and nails done – she was attending a fashion show later on that evening!

A few days later, MM invited me to go to the beach – actually a private beach club just outside of town. There are several exclusive private beach clubs where foreigners can join and have the freedom to enjoy the outdoors without being bogged down with the strict rules of the culture outside its walls. Since it was Spring Break, I asked if it would be all right if my son tagged along and she said of course but that he would not be able to sit with us at the beach. As we drove out to the place, I recognized the route. It was the same road we take to get my SIL’s country home. The beach club turned out to be in the very same vicinity. It has an unmarked entrance with a guard gate. MM and her husband have been members of this club for several years. When her kids were younger, they had a two bedroom unit, but they downsized to a shower unit, like an efficiency apartment, once her kids were grown. The units are leased on an annual basis. Women can chuck their abayas here and wear modest bathing suits and shorts and relax under the glorious sun without fear of being harassed by the religious police.

This place is gorgeous. The grounds are lush, beautifully landscaped and well maintained. The private beach is secluded with privacy walls standing on peninsulas built up on either side, jutting out into the immense Red Sea. When we arrived in the late morning of this mid-week day, we were the only ones there. We had the entire beach to ourselves. MM told me that if this were a weekend, the place would be packed to the gills. There were hundreds of lounge chairs lined up facing the sea, bright teal blue, green and white beach umbrellas, and wooden slatted walkways over the perfectly combed golden sand. Crabs swiftly jaunted along the beach and the blue sea was a spectacular backdrop for our day of fun. Abundant flowers in shades of lavender, yellow, orange and pink were everywhere along with palm trees, banana trees, bushes and cascading greenery. On one end of the beach was an area where one could obtain small boats, surf boards, boogie boards, life vests and other equipment.

It was literally paradise. My son and I were in awe. We put our beach gear down and while MM and KY settled in to grab a little sun, Adam and I went off to explore the lovely grounds. We proceeded along the slatted path away from the beach, up some wide stairs toward the tucked away villas surrounding the attractive pool area. As we approached, I entered a huge round neatly trimmed hedge area which housed and hid four open air showers. The brilliant turquoise blue pool bottom was speckled with patterns of vivid tiles, which appeared like swimming schools of little brightly multicolored fish. In the center of the enormous curvy shaped pool was a massive rock island with a swim up bar area complete with built in tiled stools for guests to sit on. A rock bridge linked the pool deck to the island and curved above the pool allowing swimmers to swim under it. The sparkling pool was empty and inviting, so my son jumped right in and joyously had the whole pool all to himself, as I happily snapped pictures. After a while we returned to the beach to join our new friends. After another hour or so, a couple showed up and parked themselves at a spot a comfortable distance away from us.

Shortly thereafter, the four of us decided to take a dip in the azure sea. The clear water was a tad chilly and took a bit of gentle persistence in the easy bouncing waves to get used to it. We then heard voices and giggles and looked up. My son was incredulous as a group of young teenage girls with two adult chaperons made their way to the beach. Startled, he whirled around to face me, red faced, and whispered under his breath excitedly, “I don’t believe it! Those girls are from my school!” Unbelievably this gaggle of giggling girls was all from his school and was in his class no less! Adam was shy and embarrassed and kept his back to the girls. Two girls entered the water and we eventually found ourselves within earshot. I finally broke the ice and said hello, and with that Adam turned around to face the girls.

They were surprised and seemed genuinely pleased when they realized who he was. “Adam!” they happily exclaimed, “What are you doing here?” From that point on, they all chatted from a safe distance and laughed. When some of the girls went over and got into an inflatable boat with oars, Adam followed suit and got his own boat. The adults all watched as the kids enjoyed themselves trying to paddle the boats back and forth across the water – they weren’t very good at it!

For Adam, this place was indeed paradise and the day was heaven. He had a fantastic time relishing the boat, the waves, the sun and the sand, and being able to see some friends away from the confines of school. Needless to say, this day was the highlight of his Spring Break!


  1. Surely I must be the first viewer of this chapter of your blog in the western hemisphere! I frequently check my e-mail to see if another chapter has arrived.
    What a delightful experience you must have had. Your detailed accounts of activities is marvelous. I can't wait for the next chapter - whatever it may be.

  2. Hi Susie:
    Wow, the place is amazing. I am glad that you were able to find two
    American ladies that you could speak to and have a place where you
    could semi free from the Saudi' tight religious world. I am sure
    these 2 ladies will be able to teach you the ropes. Most of all I glad Adam had a great time. I will
    think twice when I go to the beach
    now. Love always,

  3. Sounds like a lovely day for both you and Adam. Something you can both treasure always.

  4. What a fabulous day you and Adam had! I went to a private beach when I was living in Al Jubail. It was absolutely marvelous but not near as elegant as the one you went describe.

    It's great that you found these 2 women who can help teach you the ropes of your new life in Saudi.

    Kristie Leigh Maguire

  5. I am glad you have met these ladies!
    I'm sitting here with a smile on my face, somehow when I read your blog the world always turns this warm yellow colour with a slight rosy haze!
    It is so interesting to read all the adventures that you enter in! It really sounds like an amazing paradise!

  6. hi there susie im new to your blog and im lovin it. i can say it will be my newest addcition hehe. great pictures too....take care always of your family.

  7. What an absolutely wonderful experience for you and Adam. I am sure you will enjoy knowing your new friends along with all of your other great experiences!

  8. Hi, Susie, I'm happy for you, because you've met these two women with whom you can develop friendships that will grow, and lead you to more choices for exciting activities in the Kingdom. I know how special these friendships can become. I miss them very much, though I do keep contact via email, and now my blog.

    I can't imagine how a Western woman thrives in the Kingdom without sisterly relationships with women who have embraced similar circumstances.

  9. Hi Susie,

    I have come to enjoy blogging so much and I am looking forward to your blogs. I put your link on my blog. It is so much fun!! I love reading about your adventures!!!

  10. Salaam Susie,

    Nice story...but its not fair how you folks on the coasts have all the fun!

    Oh well, I guess Riyadh offers us the luxury of dry heat with no humidity. Lucky us!


  11. How wonderful – in every way!

  12. Well I'm glad everybody was properly chaperoned: I allready had visions, of Captain Kabob boarding the enticing vessel filled with pretty ladies.

    I'm glad you had such a good time!

  13. Hi Susie,I always say WOW! when I read your blog.WOW,what an amazing pool!It'wonderful making new friends,pretty neat that you got to meet those ladies in person and get such a nice invitation.
    I'll be glad when it warms up here and we can finally go swimming.
    Your pics sort of make our above ground look a lttle shabby ,LOL
    I wonder what the membership fees would be at a place like that....

  14. I didn't realize that you didn't know other Americans there. I have a friend who came here from Jeddah, and she can give you contacts for some of her friends there. Just e-mail me if you want them.

  15. By the way, I noticed that you have some recommended reading, and I wondered if you'd read Muhammad Asad's "Road to Mecca". And if you like that, you might also like Wilfred Thesiger's "Arabian Sands", which describes his trips through the Empty Quarter (and a lot about Oman). It's fascinating to see how different things were - and not even 100 years ago.

  16. Aaaaah.... it looks and sounds wonderful! We have plenty of sand here in Riyadh but alas no sea! Umm Ibrahim

  17. Hey ex-pat sister!

    Love this post, as always.

    I've been using ChinesePod to work on my pathetic mandarin skills and I just noticed there is also an ArabicPod for Arabis lessons, at I don't know what levels it's meant for, but it made me think of you and your blog. Hope it helps you!


  18. Billie - It's so great having an unwavering fan like you!!!

    Henrie - I guess in Florida I took going to the beach for granted. It feels so much more special here!

    Heather & Abu Sinan - Definitely!

    Kristie - I have been 4 times to the beach now with my new friends and I am thrilled!

    Aafke - Love your description of how you feel reading my blog!

    TravelPhilippines - Welcome! At least reading my blog isn't fattening!!!

    Linda - Adam had a ball. It made me so happy to see him having such a great time.

    Marahm - You are so right about having friendships in a place like this. It is making a huge difference.

    Cheela - I never knew blogging was so much fun either until I tried it. Now I wish I had started a long time ago!

    Brnaeem - I can sympathize... I grew up in Arizona (weather just like Riyadh!)

    CairoGal - Exactly!

    Lucinda - Yes, yes, yes.

    Aafke - For the record, Capt. Kabob kept a proper distance from the lovely young ladies!

    Always - Yearly membership runs 15,000 Saudi Riyals for a locker, up to well over 100,000 Riyals for a 2 bedroom villa.

    Ann - Thanks! I will contact you. And thanks also for the book titles - I'll see if I can get my hands on them!

    Stranger - Hope you don't get so hot there you begin seeing mirages!

    Meg - I'll have to wrestle my son's Ipod away from him - thanks for the tip!

  19. that sounds so beautiful!! when we have gone to jeddah its usually after an umrah or to like recently to drop my mom at the airport-and so we tend not to have much time before we need to get back to madinah. but its nice to know these places are around for the future inshaAllah. Here in madinah..the only water we see is a rare drop or two from the sky..and our faucet sinks! :-) there are private clubs that offer swimming pools for ladies usually rented out for events or something which ive taken the kids to a couple of times.

    but something striked me in your post that i am curious about- i didn't realize there were coed schools anywhere in Saudi!! i guess its just maybe here in madinah that there are none...probably makkah too! segregation starts at first grade & even the couple of international schools we have here.

    your blog is very cool :-) thanks for sharing your insights..

  20. To Suhaa -
    There are not many at all, but a few of the international schools here in Jeddah are co-ed.
    Jeddah is pretty dry too - I came here from Florida where it rains a lot. I am told it's humid here in the summer - I guess I'll find out!
    Thanks for commenting!