Thursday, September 24, 2009


"Courage is the discovery that you may not win, and trying when you know you can lose."
Tom Krause

I've been surprised at some of the emails and comments I've received over the past two years that call me "brave" or that say how "courageous" I am for moving here to Saudi Arabia. Surprised because I've never really considered myself particularly brave or courageous.

But when I read the quote at the top of this post, I began to look at the concept of bravery or courage differently. I have many friends back in the states who would never even consider making a move to a place like Saudi Arabia for any period of time, much less to come here indefinitely, sight unseen.

Living here is not easy for someone raised elsewhere, but it is not altogether miserable either. Crazy as it may sound, I moved here without ever having visited this country before. Sure there is loneliness and boredom and a glaring lack of things to do. It is definitely not for everyone, especially not for females from the West who have been raised in societies where women have equal rights, or where women have freedom of speech and where women can drive and are free to go wherever they want to go, and where she can dress the way she wants to. There are so many sacrifices I have had to make to be here, so many freedoms I used to take for granted in America that I don't have here. It's a totally different culture, a different way of life, different language, different customs, different religion, different attitudes, different foods - heck, just about everything about life here is different from what I had known all my life.

But I am not alone here. There are many other Western women who came here way before I did, who gave up their former lives as well, sacrificed plenty, all for the sake of love. Some of them have been living here for over four decades. Now THOSE women - THEY have courage! I really don't know how they did it. I still can't envision myself being here long term, but it's only been two years.

One thing that makes being here particularly difficult is that I have nothing here that reminds me of my past life, except some precious photos on the computer. But even those only go back as far as the day I finally went digital. The rest of my photos are in storage and I hope at some point to be able to scan them so I will have them too. Another thing that makes my life more lonely for me is my stateside family members' reluctance to get with the program of 21st century technology. We could see each other and speak through the computer on Skype for free every day if we wanted to, but my family members really haven't acquired the proper equipment to do this. So if I want to speak to them, I have to call them long distance. It's expensive and frustrating, when it could be free and easy. And then there's the apartment that we live in here - I don't feel as though it's mine because it's not. I had no input at all regarding it. My mother-in-law purchased it for us and kindly furnished it for us before we arrived, but it's not mine - not my taste, not my style. It's where I live, but it's not MY home.

Yes, I took a big chance moving here. I gave up everything that I thought identified ME and represented ME, a lifetime of possessions and memories and "things" that I had accumulated. I came here with two suitcases and that's it. It's almost as if my life's slate has been wiped clean, free of clutter, free of material things. And if I've learned anything at this point, I guess it's that "things" don't really identify me or say who I am.

The jury is still out on whether this place will ever feel like home to me, and if it never does, well, some will say that I have failed. Even South Florida took an awfully long time to grow on me. But at least I can say that I have tried - and we never know unless we try, do we? In the end, will I have given up everything - for nothing? Either way, I now know in my heart that it actually WAS a brave thing for me to do by moving here, and that I DO have courage. And I should be proud of myself for that. Proud that I am giving this place a chance, standing beside my husband, and keeping my family together - even if there's a chance that it may not work out in the end. And I can live with that.


  1. You are brave and corageous, I'm glad you can accept that. It's often hard to see these characteristics in ourselves until others point them out repeatedly. This is your life, Now, maybe not Later. I sure wish you had your old photos to scan while passing time in SA. Another excellent post Susie. You SHINE!

  2. Susie, you definitely are brave! I think I've mentioned it before - my family nearly moved to Saudi Arabia when I was in elementary school. My dad was offered a four year contract, and I would have come back for high school. As a wee sixth grader, I was frightened by this prospect, as it did not sound very good to me - we apparently would have been living on some British air force base, and my mom was very vocal about her concerns on restrictions of women there. Dad tried to sweeten the pot with the idea that we could take lots of vacations all over the world, but that still wasn't enough. He eventually decided to not sign the contract and we stayed in Canada. I actually had nightmares about living in the KSA!! Perhaps it is the 'hinesight-is-20/20' thing, but I think I missed out on a huge opportunity there. But then...I was perusing teaching jobs worldwide lately and I found one for Jeddah. Would I take it? I would have to think long and hard about it, as it is quite the lifestyle change from what I'm used to. It would be an adventure, nonetheless.

  3. susie you are a VERY brave and couragous woman!
    you have your husband and your son..and thats the most important. some people consider the value of themself based on what they have accumulated...
    but you have something more prescious.... you have so much love for your husband that you were willing to leave all behind for him...thats beautifull!
    you are such an example to other women who may leave to another country with their spouse....
    you are assimulating into a new culture without loosing identity.

  4. I am just now entering this techno world of blogs and posts. I've been quietly following your blog and I am utterly amazed... amazed! I'm barely contemplating the possibility of moving to Florida (from CA) let alone out of the country. I truly admire your courage and sincerity. I too would be moving for my husband, so yes, I understand the whole notion of trying it if only to say that I tried and that I did it for love and for family. Susie, you are truly amazing and inspiring. May God bless you and your family always.

  5. Your determination to stay with your husband is awesome. Not many women, I think, would be willing to even try such a thing when it involved changing EVERYTHING they were accustomed to. I applaud you.

  6. Yes, I would call what you did courageous. It is hard to give up the familiar. My wife and I spent 2 years apart when my work kept me away from home, before deciding that we had to be together even if that meant pickup up stakes and selling a house we loved. I don't know if where we live now, Memphis TN, will ever feel like home, but at least we are both together.

  7. I was brave 20 years ago; now just too old and stubborn, LOL. And you know, I DID feel brave back then, because I moved at a time before internet and mobile phones were so widely available. The first time I moved to Riyadh, you had to pay bucko bucks just to get a landline! (And of course we did not have the money, so I even went without that!) I remember having to go to public phone booths (much like internet cafes) just to call my family back home every month or so... Ah, yes. Good times.

    What you need is Vonage! If you have DSL it's just like calling family from next door - a US phone number, flat monthly rate, your family can call you by dialing (area code) + number, you use a real phone - I loved my Vonage phone and depended on it so much while I was there last year!!!

    I should be a Vonage spokeswoman, LOL. If you need any help getting a modem to you, let me know and I'll see what I can do from here;o)

    Hang in there, Susie:o) You are a braver (and more patient!) girl than me!!!

  8. Wow! You definitely are brave!
    Some of the things you are describing "professional expats" those shifted every 2 years from one to the next have learned as necessary coping strategies:
    1) bring your photos--get them out of storage if necessary
    2) have your own things with you or decorate/re-decorate to your taste so the place feels like home even if rented for you and furnished by the company (as is often the case)--change it all, especially nicknacks, wall decorations, paint, draperies, throw cushions, furniture coverings, room layouts, room functions etc!
    3) get involved socially with whatever is available to you
    4) find an individual purpose for being there--especially important for the trailing spouse eg a new career (volunteer or paid) a new hobby a new degree at a local uni or via distance learning (eg British online Open University) etc
    5)longdistance communication is a must no matter what it costs--even if you have to buy significant family the equipment and lessons on it as gifts--internet phone is cheaper and better than the real phone eg net2phone from computer to family's home phone (you probably know that already)
    6) remember sociology 101--Emile Durkheim's book "Suicide" and concept of "anomie" ie feeling disconnected from others, isolated in that sense, and fight it!

    You have obviously doing a good job of all this but maybe you could tweak it a little more.

    Feeling "at home" as an immigrant takes years although the feelings evolve--2 years is still early on. 3-5 is more comfortable and 15 is more "homey". You can feel well in a place even if you feel home is elsewhere, and sometimes it isn't until you return "home" that you realize how at home you feel abroad.

    Definitely you are courageous, in love and a good wife and mother. You set the criteria, and you decide whether you've won or not when they are set by you and for you.

    Oh, and I packed as if for 3 weeks of a summer vacation when I moved to Hong Kong. I would have felt worse but I was far from the only one. We all simultaneously planned a long stint and sent certain things, but still arrived with relatively little luggage full of nothing much really. Good thing you can shop in Hong Kong, and Saudi!

    Stay strong, and get help for when you don't!

  9. I can't understand your U.S. family's reluctance to use Skype.

    I love Skype and use it every week. They don't even need to talk or use the video. They can IM chat.

    We, your readers, will pray that they open their hearts to technology, especially Skype! ;-)


  10. I only moved across the country, not across the world. I didn't have to change my entire lifestyle or language. I don't have friends or family to share holidays with, but I do have neighbors sharing the same customs.

    When I feel isolated, you give me courage. Don't underestimate what you have done. If it never feels like home, you have not failed. Home is where you feel confortable and familiar. There is not much in SA that resonates these things for you.

    You were a success the minute you packed those bags and got on that plane. You have shown your son that you are willing to support his father and that marriage is compromise. Kudos to you Susie.

  11. Wow, Susie! I absolutely believe that you are courageous for many, many reasons. I admire your spirit and your love of your family. I love the quote!

  12. I have always said I would rather live a life of adventure and disaster than sit quietly and comfortably, dying slowly. You took a leap of faith and that is hard to do at any age. As an immigrant I struggle in a culture that is similar to my own. You not only live in a culture far different from your own but one that removes many liberties you are used to. I commend you for taking those limitations with grace and dignity.

  13. i really admire you positive attitude and realistic approach to life. You are a true inspiration to me...God bless you. Ines from London

  14. Oh you are brave. Thats for sure. I would never have the courage to do what you did. I can so relate with what you mean when you say it's where you live, but it's not your home. It happens. And I hope it's just a phase for you. Wouldn't want you to be unhappy moving to Saudi.

  15. hi susie

    being brave and being courageous is within in ourselves, we just have to discover it if we're going to try something new. nice post!


  16. You are giving me second thoughts. My husband asked if I might be willing to move to his home in Africa for two years and I flatly said no. We visit a month or two each year but that's not the same as moving. Perhaps I might re-think my hard and fast NO!!
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  17. Susie,

    For goodness sake you are courageous and such an amazing women. I have got a motto and it is as follow "It is not how many times you fall but how many times you pick youself up". You are resilant(sp) that is what is important. We never know the outcome of future plans, we just go with the flow, and see waht we have gained from experience.
    I have has blows, as probably people here and everywhere in the world. I always keep my head up high and find out what I am learning from the experience.
    Your blog is creative and interesting and you represent both Saudi and US in such a positive light. We are blessed to have some like you and so is KSA. Perhaps, think for second, that people are learning so much about the KSA because of you---and that should be a feather in your hat.
    Keep up the excellent work!!

  18. I really sympathise with the whole family disinterest in technology thing. My in-laws are in Oz and have no mobile and no computer and refuse to get them. I started a blog thinking it would give them an extra incentive to enter the 21st century, but have resorted to asking my brother-in-law to print out the posts for them and deliver them on good old A4 paper.
    My husband and I are currently debating where we'll settle in a couple of years time once the kids are in secondary school and it's really difficult with home countries on opposite sides of the globe. That you have taken the plunge is truly admirable and something your husband must be enormously grateful for.

  19. Oh Susie,
    You are very courageous and brave for moving there. There are very, very few women that would do what you have done. Love and family are very important and for this, you are a stronger person, and I’m sure your husband and son appreciate and love you more for it.

  20. Hey Susie,

    "Now THOSE women - THEY have courage! I really don't know how they did it. I still can't envision myself being here long term, but it's only been two years."
    It doesn't really matter how long a woman has lived her... it takes a lot of strength and courage for all of us to continue, mashaa Allaah.

    Great blog, mashaa Allaah.
    Hugs, hugs, hugs!

  21. You do have courage and my deepest respect! We will be moving to Kuwait in November, any tips? I am orginally from Michigan. How does one get used to the heat? Blessings to you~

  22. You do have courage and my deepest respect! We will be moving to Kuwait in November, any tips? I am orginally from Michigan. How does one get used to the heat? Blessings to you~

  23. So, what makes u happy in saudi besides ur son & hubby?

  24. Hello there Susie - I pray that you will finally settle down - hopefully it will be easier as you're surrounded by people who love you (and you love them). To make you feel homey - why don't you start decorating your house the way you like it to suit your taste? So you can call it Susie's Home.

  25. Hello Susie,

    I think that your posts illustrate that courage is also about persevering in the midst of challenges.

    You clearly have a lot courage - to travel to a place where you are subjected to many restrictions, where you suspend enjoying most of your freedoms, where the climate is one that can also be oppressive.

    Your husband must be a very special man. You are an amazing person. I hope that all of your perseverance is rewarded with happiness and peace.

    All the best to you!


  26. Dear Susie

    I think you have tremendous courage, but then I also feel that it is so important that a family that is happy together, stays together wherever they end up living. I have found that marriage is a compromise, and taking account of your spouse's feelings and needs, is incredibly important, as he would do for you, as has been the case with me.

    I love reading your blog and seeing the photos that you post.

  27. Hi Susie, from south Florida where I live...
    Thanks for the insight into your life and the world in which you now live. The sharing of both are so important.
    You definitely are courageous! but don't let others define who YOU are or dampen your self worth...
    Be who you are and follow your own beautiful heart...
    Be well, be Happy, Pam :)

  28. I've known a few of those "40 year" women, and you are right, they are amazing. Many of them had wonderfully supportive families when they arrived, and that made all the difference.

    It's kind of cool, too, isn't it? What you have done? Courageous - and also adventuresome! :-) It's kind of like amazing exercise for all your brain cells. Actually living inside a new culture stimulates a whole lot of learning, a whole lot of new growth.

    I lived in Tabuk and Riyadh for a short while, and think it helps to be an introvert with a hobby. Do you have any hobbies?

  29. Susie,

    Be patient in yourself. Bravery has everything to do with the heart and determination. Have you ever thought about it another way? How about Saudi women moving to America with their husbands, so they both can further their education? Or the Middle Eastern women with four kids getting on a plane, so that her family can be together under the same roof.

    Every woman has to show courage in some way. Why would you end your marriage of 30 years, just because you do not like living in Saudi Arabia? According to your blog, your husband scaraficed for you many years to give you more freedom. Freedom has nothing to do with driving a car. A woman who is blind cannot drive a car. Freedom is a state of mind.

    Think about the other side of the story for once. Think about the Muslim woman who moves to your western country and is having a hard time.

    Yours Truly,

  30. Susie ,I have lived in Dhahran for 11 years. For heavens sake get Skype!! You will love it! We talk to my husbands mother everyday and it sounds like she is right next door instead of Florida. It only costs about 20$ monthly. I just discovered your blog today so I will spend some time lurking around. If you need a cheap europe fix, get on a plane to Cyprus(Larnaca or Paphos)One hour away and you're in a european country where everybody speaks english. We just got back from there and we will be back!Great sanity break from the magic kingdom.

  31. Susie, I think you've chosen the right path of love and adventure. Change is hard whether we choose it or not but I believe that your experiences will make you even stronger.

  32. Susie, I am pretty new to the blogging community and what a gem I found in your blog. Love it. Honest, real and refreshing. I can't begin to imagine some of the challenges you face living in such a vastly different country - but I love how you try make the best of it and find the quirks that make it worthwhile. And good on you girl for following your heart. Looking forward to your next post!!

  33. I don't think I could have ever done it in Jeddah lol. I just so don't like it there :) But yes we all give up a lot but I've found that you can have an easier way of it if your man cooperates. I never had a driver issue, never was limited on getting out and about, had plenty of things to choose to do (womens groups, coffee mornings ect) and lived an Expat life for the most part. So how one adjusts here is largely dependent on how one lives here.

    I do have a suggestion for your phone calls. Mr. Man picked a Magic Jack that connects to his computer and he calls the US for free. Yes free with a local MO number so anyone can call him locally. I'm gong to the states in December I'll pick one up for you.

    I would also suggest to any woman that has older children.. HOBBY. I know right sounds so well old lol. But finding a hobby and other people that enjoy it really brings about chances to do things and go places. Anything you always wanted to try, now would be the time :)

  34. People tell me I have been "extremely brave" for "surviving" the life Ive lived...both with my father and with the ex...but I dont feel I was brave at the time...I just felt like I had to "get on with it"...I had no other choice. When your choices are taken from you and the only one left is "just get through it" then its not necessarily being brave...its being strong. Hindsight tells me I was strong...even though I didnt always feel like it at the time.

  35. I, for one, think you're brave...period! It was hard enough for me to move from Hawaii to Chicago. You have moved to a different, more repressive country. I just hope everything works out as you would like.

  36. Hi Susie,
    I am a fellow Suzie from the U.S., who moved here one month ago from New York City. I'm living at KAUST (nice post about the KAUST inauguration, by the way) with my husband who got a great job opportunity here. We threw caution to the wind and made the big move. I love an adventure, and I'm happy we moved here, and I've only been here a month, but... well, you know. Reading your blog helps give me the courage to see the positive side of things. I checked out your blog before I moved here too, and it encouraged me to write my own blog. Really, its just to keep in touch with family/friends, but if you'd like to check it out, its Anyway, keep up the great posts. I get told the 'you're brave' thing too. And I think we are brave! Keep up the good work on the blog. I enjoy reading it. Suzanne (Suzie) Seldess

  37. Yes, I think you're brave, but choosing to live permanently (?) in such a misogynistic country--I don't know what I think of that decision.

    I see you more as caught between a rock and a hard place. You obviously adore your husband, so going back to a world that (at least more or less) respects women would mean that you would have to leave your husband. It's a tough choice: having a life alone or not having your own life, but being with him.

    I also wonder about your son. Eventually, he will have to become a misogynist, at least outwardly, in order to fit in. I know you wouldn't have brought your daughter here (you said that in answer to a question I asked you a few months ago), but don't you worry about what living in KSA is doing to your son?

    I don't envy you. I just wish you the best.

  38. It's not easy to make such changes and it's about courage and faith. Maybe just taking things one day at a time.
    Are Americans the modern-day nomads?
    I hope your son is well and has a great school year. :)

  39. You absolutely have courage, Susie. I admire you very much! I love the posters like the one you posted about Courage. Have you read any of the sayings by Louise Hay? I just downloaded some of them onto my ipod.

  40. I have to agree with the others regarding courage. I am an expat here in Belgrade, Serbia, where I've lived for over 30 years. I'm a widow now, but my husband was Serbian. This is my home, though I visit the US often. I can't even begin to compare my life with yours, since here, though in some ways a macho society, women do have basic (and more) rights. The thought of giving these up would really make me think. I have a jillion questions for you; if you wish, you can go to my blog and write me through my email contact.

    And for heaven's sake, what's with your relatives that they won't Skype??? That's almost plain mean!

  41. If you wanted to go back to all that was home before, would your husband and son choose to keep your family together and move with you? It is a place that you both called home at one time.

  42. Yes, Susie, I gotta say that you rock.

    I just love the suggestions that people have posted for surviving and thriving in a different and challenging land.

    Some years ago, I moved to Egypt for love, after several years of life together in Europe and North America. My man had worked in Riyadh over a decade or so and kept an office there, so the Saudi mentality was consistently dribbling into his brain.

    Despite love and our commitment to each other, I simply couldn't cope with life in Egypt. Our relationship splintered apart because--of course, this is from my perspective, of course--it seemed to me that every day brought another new restriction, another criticism, another command, another way of Islam narrowing rather than expanding our horizons as a couple.

    I felt that it was a chipping away rather than a building of something new

    So, sadly, I left Egypt and him. Still love him. Still miss him. Just couldn't do it.

    Thank you for sharing your journey with us.

  43. Susie, I recently found your blog and have learned so much! I may very possibly be moving to Saudi in the next few years and reading about your experiences has given me a lot of relief and helped me to make an extremely difficult decision. I truly appreciate the effort you put into writing! I know it will be a huge change for me, and it won't be easy but I love my husband more than I ever thought possible and I know it will be worth it. Thanks again!

  44. Hi Susie,
    I recently moved here (2 months ago) and your post basically summarized how I feel in a nutshell. The apartment we are in is furnished by my inlaws, which is very generous, but it doesn't make me feel at home at all. I constantly mourn taking walks and what home looked like. Sometimes being here feels worth it, because my husband is so much happier here and we have a lot more here, but sometimes it doesn't feel worth it because I feel a loss of identity or as if I have to hide my real self because it is 'unacceptable' here. I hate relying on my husband, and unlike you and your husband, we've only been married a short 3 years and my husband still hasn't realized that I'm a strong willed, free woman that needs an outlet here in his conservative homeland. I can't even think about what I can do here to pass the time, how to meet friends, how to cope. *sigh*

    1. Hi Bridgette - After five years in Jeddah, the place where I live still doesn't feel like it's my home. But at least I have a couch now that I picked out! I wish you all the best. I have messaged you privately.