Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Ex-Pat Women in Jeddah

The expatriate women’s population here in Jeddah is comprised of a lively group of remarkable, energetic, and talented ladies from all over the world. Some have come here to work, some have accompanied their husbands who came here to work, and some are the wives of Saudis. Many have become Muslims, while others have not. These women have stepped up to take an active role in the community and the welfare of its people as well as people around the globe.
This past week I attended a charity craft bazaar sponsored mostly by expat women to benefit the people of Malawi. The event was held late in the afternoon and into the evening at a lovely villa which is being rented by a group of expat female artists. My husband drove me there, and hanging around outside was a large group of men – drivers for all the women who were inside the gates of the walled villa, where only women were allowed. Outside the gates, I recognized MM’s driver, who cordially asked me if I would take her a bag filled with chilled water bottles. He immediately went over to my husband in the car to introduce himself and shake hands, since his speaking to me is not really “kosher.”
Once inside the walls of the villa, I saw tables set up all along the walls of the courtyard and inside the villa there was even more. Fortunately the weather was pleasant, not too hot, with a gentle breeze. Offerings of clothing, such as one of a kind abayas, hats, and skirts, plus jewelry, sports accessories, and all sorts of arts and crafts, from paintings to quilts to photography to wall hangings, were everywhere. Upstairs was a little cafe area where ladies could sit and chat and enjoy a cup of tea or coffee and indulge in yummy homemade treats. My friend MM’s raffle table ("Everybody wins!") was filled with a large variety of donated items like perfumes and gift certificates and smaller prizes like balls and whistles. All of her prizes were numbered. She charged 10 Riyals for a matching number pick, and every person walked away with something. All the money she took in, she donated to the cause.
The British woman at the next table has been in the kingdom for 28 years. EQ met her husband, a pilot for Saudia Airlines, when she became a Saudia flight attendant. She taught Physical Education in a local school for several years and now is a personal trainer. EQ, along with a group of her friends, was instrumental in accomplishing their vision of establishing the very first children’s library in Jeddah in 2005. It is open 6 days a week and relies on corporate sponsorship, donations and volunteers. The library boasts a collection of over 9000 carefully selected books in both English and Arabic, and even some in French and Spanish, and twice daily held story times guarantee enjoyment for the kids. There are big plans to hopefully open several more children’s libraries throughout the kingdom. I’m just so impressed that these women took these steps to improve the quality of life for the children of Jeddah, but it saddens me that there was no public children’s library at all before that.
I was so excited to meet several artists at the bazaar who rent the villa space, and I hope to return there in the near future to see how the place works. One artist is from Miami and has been here for more than 10 years. She produces amazing wall hangings of photos and collages printed on fabric and then beaded. AA told me that she doesn’t cover her hair, is still Catholic, and that she loves her life here. She has household help and a driver and she is very happy and fulfilled living in Saudi Arabia. Her art business is thriving. Much of her work is done with interior designers.
There are other women here who have organized a couple of informational online groups for expats, where questions can be asked and answered, news articles and other helpful information are shared, or where women can just vent to let off some steam over issues that are bothersome.
One woman, TR, who runs an online group, is a young mother who was widowed and must remain in the kingdom because of her children. She works, is raising her kids alone, and runs a children’s playgroup. I am amazed by her spirit and her ability to make the most out of her situation.
Another ex-pat woman who has been here for about 25 years is a successful photographer and recently held an open house at her studio to show off her work. This woman actually has known my SIL Baheeja for almost 30 years when they met in the States as university students. Her thriving business includes wedding photography and portraits plus commercial.

After spending my first six months here in the caring embrace of my husband’s family and not really meeting any other American women, I feel like I have now spread my wings and a new chapter in this adventure is emerging.


  1. Wow... looks and sounds great! Kinda reminds me of the 'coffee mornings' we have on the compound where there are different vendors selling stuff like abayas, Arabic dresses, jewellry, plants, table cloths etc etc although the big difference is that your was a charity function.

    So good to read that you are finding your own feet and meeting other people apart from family. :-)

  2. Susie, I am so glad you are meeting and getting together with other women who are in the same position you are in. Getting involved in all those different activities will make it sooo much easier to be away from your family here in the USA.
    I am always looking forward to reading your wonderful blogs.
    Love, Sabine

  3. I am so happy you are meeting other expats, Susie. Sounds like you are having a wonderful time. I fondly remember the activities we did at the different western compounds while living in Saudi. I met and made some very dear friends.

    Kristie Leigh Maguire

  4. Amazing art space.Is the space rented out monthly like they do here,or do they run it more like a co-op?

  5. Sounds great. Enjoy making new friends in Saudi. Finally you have found your new niche.

  6. To Stranger -
    I haven't been able to experience compound life here, but I know there are so many things to do there all the time. I was just so thrilled to discover that this type of thing does go on here!

    To Sabine -
    Good to hear from you and thanks!

    To Kristie -
    The women here that I have met are absolutely fabulous - I am in awe!

    To Always -
    I believe that the villa is leased on a yearly basis by possibly two of the women artists, and space is rented out by them maybe monthly or on a sub-lease. The bazaar will be a regular event sponsored there every couple of months or so.

    To Nicole -
    Thanks - art is my thing!

  7. This sounds like a fantastic place to have been! Perhaps next time you can participate with your jewellery!

    How sweet of Adnan, to drive you over there.
    Or not really, since you are at a place where you aren't allowed to drive yourself, so it's his duty.
    But let's give him credit! ;D

  8. To Aafke -
    Yes, we must give my husband credit - he absolutely HATES driving!!!

  9. Susie,

    I am so glad you are meeting other women who share your life. You so deserve that!! I am continually impressed with your positive outlook!! You are awesome!

  10. Susie,

    Family is always so important and al humdillilah that your husband's family has given you such a warm welcome.

    Equally important is also that network of like-minded friends who give friendship and support.

    I am so happy to read this post and see how your circle in the Kingdom continues to expand!

    American Bedu

  11. I was thrilled to read this post. With your incredible artistic talents, I hope you will find an opportunity to share your talents and be part of helping others through a library or some other project - as well as
    join with ex-pats. It gives me joy to know there are women for you to connect with as I find it so important to our being. It looks as though this next chapter is just what you needed - family first, friends next and then a third chapter -focus on you. Best wishes Susie. Pam

  12. Have you heard of the women's basketball teams there? (I just saw this article the other day and thought of you.)

  13. To Cheela -
    Gee whizz, thanks!

    To Bedu -
    I have you to thank for my ever expanding circle of friends here.
    Thanks so much!

    To Pam -
    I think you're right about family, friends, and then me. It's all a process...

    To Ann -
    Yes, I read that article about the women's basketball. I met a woman who fills in here coaching women's basketball from time to time - I think it's terrific!

  14. Susie, thank you for your blog, I am only 1 month in KSA, an American whose husband is working at KAUST. He and I would like to see good craft and also the work of Saudi painters and photographers. We do not know where to go. We have access to a car and my husband has driven us in and out of Jeddah for various outings; of course we also could get a taxi . . . but I seek your suggestions about galleries or places and ways to see truly interesting art and craft, both traditional but also contemporary. Many thanks,

  15. Hi Meredith - Sorry for the delay in this answer - been having major computer problems for a while and trying to catch up now.
    I haven't really been to any art galleries here yet, but here are some ideas:
    ATHR Gallery (Contemporary Art)-
    Darat Safeya Binzagr -
    The Quilting Arts Studio -
    And of course, Jeddah's open air art museum Al-Hamra, and the many sculptures around the city and along the Corniche...
    Hope this helps.

  16. As salam alaikum,this is safoora aslam house wife who lives in jaddah. I Was looking for a site who is organising events in jeddah for womens and i came across ur site and iam so gald to see u and urachivements.Mam I sell Indian designer jewellery and very much interested in knowing different bazaars u organise coz im want to book instal ans paticipate as vendor where ever u organise so mam how do i know ur upcoming events pls let me know best wishes safoora

  17. As salam alaikum,this is safoora aslam house wife who lives in jaddah. I Was looking for a site who is organising events in jeddah for womens and i came across ur site and iam so gald to see u and urachivements.Mam I sell Indian designer jewellery and very much interested in knowing different bazaars u organise coz im want to book instal ans paticipate as vendor where ever u organise so mam how do i know ur upcoming events pls let me know best wishes safoora

  18. I am a woman and am interested in taking a job in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. What kind of obstacles do you forsee for me? This would be a management position in a manufacturing plant.

  19. Brenda - I would suggest that you do research about what obstacles you might face and whether or not there are even job possibilities for you in Jeddah. It's a different world here, however everyone's experiences are different and unique to their situation.