Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A New Chapter

The oppressive heat of Jeddah’s concrete jungle is something I did not miss this past summer during my trip to the states. I spent the whole time in the cool and invigorating Pacific Northwest, surrounded by tall evergreens, wild deer and raccoon, and the beautiful waters of the Puget Sound.

I busied myself with physical activities and chores, many of them performed outdoors – activities I am not accustomed to doing in Saudi Arabia because of the suffocating soaring temperatures and because women here just don’t do outside work.

But my main goal this summer though was to get Adam/Captain Kabob settled in to my brother’s home nestled in the forest - he would be staying on to finish his last two years of high school there with them. Several of my friends’ children here in Saudi Arabia have been sent out of the country for high school to boarding schools in Europe or sent to live with family elsewhere around the world, so it’s not that uncommon for “half and half children” to do this. As much as the International Schools here in KSA try to make the high school experience mimic that of back home, for us the issues of transportation, living arrangements, family expectations, and cultural pressures always seemed to impede Adam’s ability to fully immerse himself into the typical Western high school experience here.

Since our move to KSA in the fall of 2007, my husband’s strict parenting style had tightened even more, and I often found myself stuck in the middle of an ongoing battleground between a hard-headed father and his stubborn son. Trying to magically turn a 14-year-old American boy into a typical Saudi teenager was just not possible in Captain Kabob's case, and it took my husband three years to be convinced of that. Before we moved here, my son and I had never set foot in Saudi Arabia, so all Adam had ever known was of his life in the United States. I thought the move would be a great opportunity to expose him to his father’s heritage, language, family, and culture – and it was.

But the reality of the stark differences in our new lives here proved too much for a teenage American boy to handle. Now I’m not saying that life in the US is better than life here in KSA – it boils down to a matter of familiarity. I’m often surprised at the number of people who ask me which is better: life in KSA or life in the US? There are good and not-so-good things about both, but it’s like comparing apples and oranges. It’s really what you are used to that seems to become your preference. In some ways life is easier here in KSA, and in other ways, it is much more difficult - especially for Western women who are not used to the restrictions placed on women here - and also for free-spirited teenagers who are anxious to spread their wings.

The truth is that I was actually scared stiff for Captain Kabob – he was depressed and would often tell me how he hated his life here in KSA. I was afraid that he would make some stupid misguided decision here in this unforgiving place, as hot-headed foolish teenage boys often do worldwide, that might affect him the rest of his life. What we see as normal socializing in the West is considered a "crime" here in this strict Islamic society. Being alone in the company of someone of the opposite sex who is not related to you is a punishable offense here in Saudi Arabia. And contrary to what one might think - considering the stiff penalties for drug and alcohol possession in this country - these temptations are readily available here. As much as I constantly reminded Adam of the dangers, pitfalls, and consequences of these types of things, I still worried constantly that he might make that one stupid decision that could cost him his future. And my concerns only intensified after Captain Kabob was mugged and physically and emotionally hurt in an incident that happened when he foolishly got into a vehicle he mistook for a cab.

So as soon as my husband came to the realization shortly after his heart surgery back in March that it would be better for his own health if he and Adam weren’t living under the same roof, I made plans for Captain Kabob to leave here. My wonderful family has welcomed him with loving arms and he is now attending high school in Washington State. Every chance he gets, he tells me that he now loves his life.

Adam is happy once again, and that is all that really matters. He got his learners permit to drive and took a driver’s ed course this summer with his cousin. There was no way I wanted him driving in Jeddah, where there are no rules, pure testosterone on the road, and every time we get into the car, I feel our lives are at risk. I’m happy to report that he is extremely cautious when behind the wheel and takes driving very seriously. He is making new friends and keeping in touch with his old friends in Saudi Arabia and in Florida. He’s gone to the movies and attended a couple of concerts, things he wasn’t able to do here in KSA because there are none. And I was actually pleasantly surprised the other day when Captain Kabob told me that he missed Saudi Arabia a bit - but that's likely that he just misses me and his dad and his friends.

With Skype, Facebook, and my handy MagicJack, I’m finding that staying in close contact with Adam is easy. He is growing up and spreading his wings. At this point, because of all he’s been through these past three years, I think his maturity level exceeds that of most of his peers. That shy pubescent boy who first set foot in Saudi Arabia as an awkward teen has blossomed into a confident, responsible, and level-headed young man who is perfectly capable of making good choices. I know it's natural for parents to always worry about their kids and I know I always will, but it is a relief not to feel that added dread that my son might have made a reckless misstep here in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia. Adam became a man here in Saudi Arabia, and I know that the experience will shape his life in many good ways in the years to come.

So, it is a new chapter in our lives for both Captain Kabob and me. Only time will tell if the actual distance between us now and the increased loneliness will prove too much for me, but so far I am coping well, as my husband and I readjust to life as empty-nesters. Then again, I’ve just been back here in the "Magic Kingdom" for two weeks, and I’m taking it one day at a time.

To read more about Captain Kabob, please read an interview he gave to my friend Carol on her blog, American Bedu, that was published in October of 2009.


  1. This seems like a very wise choice Susie. I'm sure you'll all miss each other very much. But it may mean more visits back to the states. Hope hubby is doing OK.

  2. I do hope your new chapter is blessed inshallah

  3. Hey Susie,

    Thats such a sad post, and hopeful at the same time! I really hope it works out for the 3 of you!

  4. You did a very unselfish thing for the happiness of your child. Thank God for all those ways to keep in touch. He is a very good looking young man.

  5. I am happy that your son has once again found happiness... may his life be filled with such moments enshallah :)

  6. I am glad he is thriving in the USA. With Skype available, you can keep up with him. I hope you and your husband will be able to join him permanently.

  7. That is such a wise decision. High schoolers have trouble transitioning in to high school, and then moving high schools even within a city. Many parents who move for professional or personal reasons will leave an older teen behind with family or excellent friends to finish off at their same school, before heading off to college, or uni.

    You and Adam are lucky your family has been so welcoming. Adnan is too, as father-son conflicts usually continue to escalate during the high school years.

    It is wonderful that modern technology helps to keep excellent contact.

    All the best to the whole family!

  8. hi miss susie,aha a new chapter to captain kabob good luck to him and am so happy for him because his lovin life again...

  9. Susie...Your son is a very lucky man, to have a Mom who was willing to look after his welfare even when it meant being separated. For me, it was the best decision you could have made. I can't imagine what it has been like for him the past couple of years. As for his father...their inability to get along was probably based on the extreme changes in lifestyle. It's different when you were not born there. Nice that you can communicate regularly, and I was very happy to read that you were able to come to the states. With your son here, I hope you will return often. The writing is on the wall. I wish you well.

  10. it's good to see new posts from you Susie! thank you:)

    i'm sure Captain Kabob is happy to be back in USA and I wish him all the success :)

    all the best to you Susie as well with everything you do:) you seem to be exactly as my mom who loves to have me home but understands that where I am now it's better for my future.
    take care!

  11. Susie, I think you did a very wise and wonderful thing!!! Adnan also has to be congratulated on letting his son go at this time in all of your lives. It was not an easy choice for either of you I'm sure.

  12. Very wise even if tough decision, Susie!

    Congratulations to you and to your husband, the little bird has finally flown out of the nest! And he looks just like his Baba Bird!

  13. Captain Kabob told me he was very happy to be in Washington :) but it was not fair that you had to go back. :(

    We decided there would be a happy answer for you (Schmoozie) in the future even if we couldn't see it right now.


  14. Susie, I know you will miss your baby but you did the right thing, the selfless thing. By exposing him to Saudi Arabia which is also part his heritage you gave him a love and understanding of your husband's homeland which no textbook or word of mouth could convey. I see great things for his future. Sending you big hugs, it is not easy to have an empty nest.

  15. I know you will miss him Susie, but it's good to let him experience for himself.

    Good luck to your family.

  16. *teary eyed* what a touching post ur the best mom

  17. I don't know what happens to most Arab men when they move back home after living outside of their country for a very long time. It's like they lose their outer skin and become reborn to someone you don't know. Whether or not it's from the ole "honor" pressure or they realize that they suddenly have been gifted with a whole lotta absolute power over lives all a sudden, but they just seem to forget that someone who wasn't raised in their culture can't just change themselves overnight. Especially when there seems to not be any reward for giving up most self autonomy for someone telling you what to do all the time with not much explanation that makes sense. Too just tell someone that you have to do this because we've always done this or it's our culture is not fair. To me, father should have regularly explained in great detail and prepared son for the reasons for the changes in lifestyle. The other item is it seems like once home all ability for empathy and understanding how the changes don't make sense seem to fly out the window.

    I, too, have been worried about that one mistake in such an unforgiving world. You made the correct choice. And as others have said, thank God for all the technology that allows you to all but be there in person. Imagine doing this thiry years ago with only letters and occasional expensive, short phone calls.

    Please keep us posted.

  18. Susie - though I dont know you and as a male cant imagine your life you are remarkable in your quiet achievments. Perhaps you will look back at this one and say - thats the one that outshone all others

  19. Hi Susie! Not an easy decision for you I'm sure, but a good one for Adam. I'm happy to hear that Captain Kabob is enjoying life in Washington. What a beautiful place to live! I miss you, Adam and Adnan =)

    Hope you're doing well!


  20. It's really not easy being separated from your only child, particularly (IMHO) when there is a close mother/son relationship. I don't think I'll ever forget saying goodbye to my own son(only child) not knowing when I would see him again. It was heart-breaking, but the right decision, as he had the chance to progress in his life & I got the opportunity to join my husband in another country after living almost separate lives for nearly a decade.
    In my opinion, your husband has paved the way in saving what could have been a very strained relationship, between himself & Adam. By letting Adam 'go', he's virtually guaranteed a happier life for his son.
    I'm sure you will suffer a bit of the 'empty nest' syndrome for a while Susie, but with your regular contact, I'm sure you'll still be as big a part of Adams life as you were when he was still at home :-)

    I wish you all the very best.

  21. you are so stunning.
    your husband & son, so handsome.
    truly a lovely family.

    best of luck to you all.

  22. hello Susie, first of all your son is very handsome second of all i bloghop from jeks misadventures to here and third of all I think now Adam knows what is right from wrong and he can tell people having been in a strick country like KSA with its difference in USA and that he is privelege too to have freedom he did not get in saudi. I think that he will value that a lot.

  23. your an amazing mother, for putting your child 1st!
    im sure it will be tough being away from him...but it looks like you have the comminucation covered :)

  24. A Canadian ReaderOct 1, 2010, 2:52:00 AM

    What a wonderful gift you have given your son: the gift of freedom.

    I am sad that you are still in prison, no matter how gilded it may sometimes seem.

    Get out, Susie. You deserve more than this.

  25. You are a lovely family, Susie. Mashallah each one of you is more striking than the other!

  26. It sounds like the best decision for all of you. And as you say, living in different countries is not like it used to be. In two years it´s our turn - my oldest son will move to my home country to study, as the education system in this country is below pari. Of course we will miss him, but you need to let your kids go for their sake. I got inspired by you and your brave attitude - thanks for sharing! Love from Greece

  27. What a handsome young man! I am sure he will be very successful in whatever he decides to do. I really think that kids who are "half and half" like you said, (and I have two myself!) have a very unique perspective on life and have a lot to offer one day in the job market as well as in life in general.
    God bless, I am sure you miss him!

  28. I can't add to what I've read here in the comments, but I agree with your decision, and I'm glad your husband saw the good in it, also.
    Adam is a fine looking young man. I am sure your assessment of his character and abilities is correct and I wish him well.

  29. Hi Susie,

    It's really not our place to judge the decisions your family makes, but I do have to say that I think you made the right choice here, even if it is a painful one for you. I have been following your blog for a long time and really appreciate your honesty. Because of your honesty, we got to see you all grow and watch this whole scenario play out. So it is with all that in mind that I admit that I was a little happy when I read this entry. I feel for you and your husband, but I am so happy for Adam. I don't think Saudi Arabia is the right place for him and he'll be much happier in the States. I know in my heart it will all work out for all of you and that Adam will flourish into a wonderful young man (he's already pretty cool). All the best to you all.

    Ps. Sorry for the long comment but I liked this entry a lot

  30. I'm so happy for Adam! Big hug to you Susie!

  31. Susie,

    What can I say that hasn't been said? I agree with one of the commenters above about your "quiet achievements." I love your posts and the example you set. Adam will do well, and he'll get to know your family better than before. He'll turn out to be as remarkable as his parents! Thank you for sharing this, and very best wishes to you all.

  32. A decision made in the best interest of the child is always a good one, Susie. The fostering of a child’s independence is what a parent must do for the good of both.

    I must admit that I have been waiting for this, so it was no surprise. The question now is how long you will be able to hold out in your gilded cage?

    I read a number of blogs from Saudi and the Gulf. Sorry to say, that living in KSA sounds like a horror story. There are so few positives that anyone, native or expatriate, ever posts. So many things that are considered normal, natural and acceptable in most other parts of the world appear to be a “crime” in Saudi. Thank goodness that your son never did anything out of innocence that could have ruined his life and even yours.

    Perhaps by living a more normal life in the West your son can gain some perspective on his heritage? Who knows what he will choose after university? After all, he has the advantage of being a male.

    Good luck to you!

  33. Well, having a boy made things alot easier for your husband to send your kid back home...I am sure have your kid been a girl things would have been much different and I doubt it very much if your husband would have agreed to send her home by yourself.

    Another things, I would like to add things are not as bad in Saudi Arabia as people think it is, sure it's a very strict country, but people cope and teenager and adults can get away with a lot of things, provided they know their way around. and to the commentator above who reffered to Saudi Arabia as "a Prison', you're way off, and you're talking about things you know nothing about, so you go ahead and enjoy your freedom and we will gladly enjoy our "prison"...

  34. Thanks for all of your supportive comments - forgive me for not responding to each one individually. I've been sick this past week and I'm not up to it, but I do greatly appreciate reading them. Some of you had me in tears...

    For Anonymous @ 1:07Pm - I myself have described life here at times as a gilded prison of sorts. I spend so much of my time alone here in this flat; there are literally weeks at a time when I do not leave the building. So yes, I feel describing my life here much of the time as a prison is fairly accurate. I have also said that my life here is not miserable, but it's really not where I would choose to live. I find life here very boring, restrictive for me as a woman, and unfulfilling. So the commenter you were referring to was writing in reference to what I myself have said before.

  35. Good for you Susie! I know it is hard to leave Adam, but it is best for him right now. Please continue to give us news about your handsome son!

  36. I am responding to Anonymous above.

    You say: “people cope and teenager and adults get away with a lot of things, provided they know their way around”

    Why should anyone have to try to get away with things that are basic human rights? Why are adult women treated like idiot children in KSA, while men are presumed to be savage barbarians who cannot control themselves if they see a woman’s hair, hands or ankles? Why is it that outside of KSA this is not as much of a problem while in the non Muslim world men and women being free, working, playing and worshiping side by side is a non issue. Why do you suppose the great majority of humanity doesn’t need to put their women into prisons?

    The civilized world considers being forced to wear a black sack, not being able to leave one’s home to shop, study or work, not being able to drive and not being able to enjoy the company of both genders as the taking away of women’s and men’s human rights and placing women into a prison.

    I know plenty about it because I know many people who live in Saudi. Every woman I know hates all the dehumanizing restrictions, including being forced to wear the veil. Susie isn’t too fond of the whole thing either as she has said many times. Not being able to leave one’s home for weeks at a time is being imprisoned in my book. Having laws against normal human behavior such as gender mixing is simply ridiculous and self defeating. Anonymous has already stated that people do everything to get around these laws. Arabs are notorious for harassing and being disrespectful to women, much more so than other men. Why? Because of the self-defeating laws that restrict normal human interaction.

    Anyone who “enjoys” being so restricted and unproductive has some serious problems!

    Muslims are even attempting the same things in the UK:

    British schools where girls must wear the Islamic veil

    Hundreds of girls are bring [sic] forced by British schools to wear the Islamic veil

    ..."It is very sad in 21st century Britain that three schools are effectively forcing girls as young as 11 to hide their faces,"...

    Explaining the school's ethos, Madani's website says: "If we oppose the lifestyle of the west then it does not seem sensible that the teachers and the system, which represents that lifestyle, should educate our children."


    There is nothing wrong with the lifestyle of the West! There is however, a great deal wrong with sexualizing prepubescent girls and forcing them into second class citizenship via a black sack.

    Why are these people living in the West if they oppose the lifestyle?

    And Muslims wonder why they can't get any respect when they advocate primitive tribal customs that have no place in religion or the modern world.

  37. it looks so happy this people...congratulations

  38. You should rename your son "Captain Kadash".

    Kadash = كَدَش = afro.

  39. Hi Susie,
    You are one remarkable woman and I am proud to know you. The best to you and to Adam. May his happiness spread to everyone he meets. You made a tough decision but time will tell and I am sure that it will all be positive.
    Jessie (Tucson, AZ)

  40. What a handsome young man he is, Susie. You have so much to be proud of and happy for. Thank goodness everything is better for your son.

  41. Mariana
    your comment is very offensive, you judge my religion and my culture by your own standards, who are you to make that judgment.
    I might not agree with your way of life but do I claim that you have"serious problems"???


  42. I hope he has settled down and enjoying his studies Susie. It's a hard decision to make sending the kids off to study but a decision I have also had to make. :)

  43. Susie, I am so impressed with you!!! You are the best mother, ever : ) You listened to your son and acted accordingly. Yay, for you, your husband and Adam!

    I am so glad tohear he is enjoying Washington. I hope it is just what he needed.

  44. Susie, I'd read this post before but hadn't commented. I'm so proud you made this decision which must have been a heart break, but which was a sound thing to do.

    I know this experience won't loosen your family ties but help you all grow.

    Adam's double culture is a wonderful asset - the only problem he might have in the short term is to find friends who are as mature as him because few will have had such a rich life experience.

    But I am certain he will grow to a wonderful young man. Wishing you all well, take care.

  45. And dear Susie, you mentioned you'd been sick last week so I hope you're feeling better now.

  46. Thinking about it again, I tend to agree with Mariana - how long will you hold on in KSA now that Adam's gone back home? What's in it for you? I'm sure this is a question you're asking yourself every day... and there's no easy answer.
    Supporting thoughts to you, Susie.

  47. I'm crying, that's what I will going face in the future too to free my only offspring and let him fly but then I remember that I was too move out from home at the same age as captain Kaboob to pursue my study in other town.I'm turn out ok so I think your captain will be ok too.GBU.

  48. Interesting how my family is in the exact opposite position, my younger brother who is the same age as your son hates being in the US and wants to go back to saudi where he says is a lot more fun, with a lot more to do.

    its just so interesting that your son wanted to move to washington to be happier and my brother wants to go back to jeddah from washington to be happier.

    It shows you how perspective and experience can change an opinion on something, even though the places are exactly the same 2 people can see them totally opposite, and nobody could convince otherwise.