I need to warn you that the first part of this entry is not pleasant! The weekend started out like most weekends here. My husband and I always have new energy on Thursday nights since it starts the weekend and we never really know what kind of fun we can have for a couple days. We had a few errands to run before we headed out of town for a trip to Jeddah to attend a wedding. I needed to return a dress that I had decided against, and my husband needed to pick up some clothes that he had dropped off for repairs. The return of the dress went pretty smoothly and I was able to explain that I didn’t want the dress without anyone understanding a word of the other’s language. Then they gave me a credit towards the store and motioned for me to go shopping. I didn’t need anything right away, so I was able to get the cash back after asking a few questions and a few more gestures regarding the credit receipt. Then my husband and I headed to the old town to pick up some alterations. Being a Thursday night here, the streets were bustling with people and cars. I decided to wait in the car for my husband to walk maybe a half block to the shop and back. He left and just a minute went by and I glance over and see this guy who seems to just be “adjusting” himself. I mean, most men at some point or another have to do this…so no big deal. Keep in mind, I am directly in front of a large fish market and there are pedestrians everywhere. I look about and then glance back towards the store front and the same guy mentioned before is there again, looking at me and then I notice he is not “adjusting” himself at all! He is getting himself off, exposing himself, right there while staring at me! I instantly panicked! I locked the doors and instantly grabbed my scarf to “hide” myself. I kept checking the side mirrors to know where the man was, as he kept walking around the truck and around a few other cars in the area. He probably made it around the truck five times before my husband made it back. My husband gets in and asks why I have my scarf on. I didn’t have any words at that time, but my mind was screaming “Go, Go, Go!” I just wanted him to get me out of there! I had never experienced something like that in my life! Even now, I fail to find the words to explain how that sick man made me feel. The things I could have, or should have done flooded me afterwards. In the moment I had sort of froze besides locking the doors. Still now as I recall the experience, I wish I would have been able to jump out of the truck and beat the guy, and leave him in public shame. He deserved it at the least! I just looked up on Google to see find that Pepper spray is legal here for self-defense. Perhaps I should get some. Only a month or so earlier, I had been talking with a friend who had told me that she had heard that some men will act in very inappropriate ways when they see a foreign woman in the flesh. I had been surprised by what she had said, and sort of laughed it off thinking, “wow! Glad that won’t happen to me…” Well, guess what? It did!
I really wish this had not happened to me, or any other woman for that matter, but the sad truth is, there are some sick beings in this world. I am thankful the situation was not worse, and I have learned that if it were to happen again, I need to cause a serious scene and get as much attention as possible. And I will no longer just wait in the truck by myself in areas like that.
Now…on to the better parts of the weekend!
We left the house early on Friday and headed to Dammam Airport for the trip. Morning traffic here is always much calmer. Thankfully there wasn’t an issue with fog that morning. The airport was pretty calm as well, since we were only flying domestic. Getting on the plane was different due to the fact that a quarter of the passengers were men in preparation for Umrah. Umrah is a Muslim pilgrimage to the city of Mecca for Muslims during non-Haj months. From what I have read about it, clothing worn during this time can’t have seams. The men getting on the plane were wearing towels. Just towels. One wrapped around the waist and another over the shoulders. Seeing men dressed in a way that is far less modest from the traditional thobes was very different. I have to say, that after the previous night’s experience, I felt a little grossed out. I couldn’t help it, but I kept it to myself.
About half way through the flight, I look up to see a guy in the row behind us doing CPR on an older gentleman who was passed out. I thought that the plane was turning back at this point to go back to the airport. The flight attendants did a great job keeping the man on oxygen the rest of the flight and we actually ended up flying the rest of the way to Jeddah. Once the plane had landed and the EMT crew was on board, one of the daughters of the man sat down next to my husband and explained to us that her father had recent heart surgeries and that they were not going to get to go on Umrah at this point. She so kindly expressed her concern that she hoped we weren’t late to our own thing, while her own father was on the brink of death. Once again, I was so thankful that the situation was not worse, and that the man seemed to be stable as we got off the plane.
My husband was able to negotiate a lesser fee with a non-official “taxi” driver to find our hotel from the airport. Turns out, that first driver was the nicest of all the taxi drivers we had while in Jeddah. The Hotel (actually a one bedroom apartment with a living room) was really nice. We took a much needed rest and then headed out to the corniche on the Red Sea to enjoy the setting sun. Our walk took us along a street filled with large sculptures and grassy areas occupied by families enjoying picnics. We weren’t lost, we were exploring! J We ended up walking quite a bit that evening in what seemed to be 95 (F) degree heat and 80% humidity. By the time we decided to get a taxi back to the hotel, we were both drenched in sweat and very thirsty! The kind taxi driver gave us a small bottle of water to drink. We must have looked pretty miserable.
We then got ready for the wedding that evening. It didn’t start until 9:30 P.M. We are usually ready to call it a day by that hour, so this was very outside our normal routine. We got all dressed up and hailed another taxi. We arrived at the wedding, and while my husband knew the groom, I didn’t know a single person there. One of the groom’s friends came out to meet us and show me where to go. There I was left to go inside by myself and attend the wedding, Saudi style. Women in one part of the building, and the men in a completely separate part. I went in and stood in the entrance for a few minutes trying to figure out what to do. I’m pretty sure I was shaking with nervousness. A sister of the groom finally spotted me and told me where to check my abaya (events like this allow the women to be abaya-free, since there are no men around) and where to sit. The hall was decorated and all fancy with tea, Arabic coffee, chocolates, and cookies on the hundred or more tables. My new guide seated me in the front of the room near the stage by myself! Already out of my comfort zone, I really started feeling even more uncomfortable. I tried the Arabic coffee and some chocolates to keep myself busy while more female guests arrived. A cousin of the groom was eventually “sent” over to chat with me for a bit. She was nice and spoke English. I used the word sent, because it was quite obvious to me that since I was the only white girl there, the English speaking relative, was told to go keep my company for a bit. She explained that the groom’s mother would sit by the entrance to the hall and greet guests until maybe two in the morning, that the groom would arrive around three-thirty in the morning and that everyone else would probably not leave until four A.M! We were both quite shy and didn’t really know what to say to each other. She made her escape shortly afterwards, telling me she needed to go speak with her mother. The table where I sat started filling up with other women at that point, all of whom sat at the farthest end from me. I felt like I was being talked about continually, but I couldn’t be sure since I didn’t understand a word they were saying and was quite nervous myself. J Oh how I wanted to not be an obvious white foreigner or crawl under the table! At least I had dressed well for the occasion. A friend here had loaned me a dress to wear, but at the last minute I had decided I wanted to go shopping for a dress of my own. I found a beautiful floor length gown in bright orange. It’s my favorite color and the price for the dress was only 100 riyals. That’s close to twenty-five U.S dollars! It cracks me up that after buying a gown, my husband looked at my cross body purse that I normally carry and said, “You can’t wear that purse with that dress!” I found a great evening bag in navy blue for forty-five riyals. A couple days later, and I am still entertaining the idea of going back to the mall for the same dress in other colors because the price is so affordable.
More women started arriving to the table where I was and even started greeting me. I shook a few hands, told them my name and said nice to meet you, even though none of them told me their own names. They just smiled and greeted me in words I couldn’t understand. After a few of these, I noticed that the women are greeting with hugging and kissing (I was counting the number of kisses on the cheeks as I observed) and in my awkward position I decided that I should at least return the greetings with a little more than a handshake. Oh my, even with the previous counting, you can never tell who will give you one kiss on the cheek or one kiss on one, and three on the other side and so forth! I still don’t know the proper way to greet a Saudi woman! J The variety of dresses was pretty amazing—so many beautiful gowns. The styles ranged from super formal to casual. But all the faces were cloaked in heavy makeup, and even I had put on a little more than I normally would! Out in public I see women every day, covered up, and all you see are eyes. Here I got to see what they look like underneath the abaya and facial coverings. I would say this evening was the closest thing to “real Saudi” so far in my time here.
Dance music started after a bit and the mother of the Groom got on stage along with a couple other relatives to dance, and then a bit later another elderly lady also got up to dance, but other than that, there wasn’t much action going on.
At one point I heard someone at the table say “excuse me”, so I looked over and got an eye-roll and the toss of a head to the side. At this point I was even more nervous, because I in no way intended to give the impression that I was being stuck up! I told myself that while these ladies may have been judging me by what they saw, they didn’t have any idea of who I am, nor do they know that I am honestly just a very uncomfortable stranger who happened to be invited to their space! Maybe they were also a bit nervous like me. I sat there, drinking Arabic coffee for what seemed to be a really long time, looking around the room, smiling at strangers, wondering what it was like for my husband on the other side, and finally grabbed by bag to go use the ladies room. The cousin who had chatted with me earlier stopped me on the way and demanded to know where I was going. I think she thought I was leaving, so I told her the ladies room, and grabbed up my too-long dress so I wouldn’t trip and make an even bigger fool of myself and went to find the ladies toilet. In the ladies room I hiked up my dress even more as to not get it wet on the floors. I was thinking to myself, how do they do this in such fancy dresses without getting them soiled? You see, the floors are always wet in the ladies rooms, and most times, there aren’t any western toilets. Only squatters. The damn squatters. Many times there is actually a bathroom attendant who mops the floors and cleans the bathrooms in the larger public facilities. I just happen to be the type who feels hesitant as to the nature of any wet floors when I am in a bathroom! Perhaps I am stuck up after all. J So there I am, grabbing up my dress and tucking it into the top of my dress to avoid it making contact with the floor, while the chain from my evening bag gets caught in my hair as I try to keep it from also hitting the floor. It would have made anyone laugh to see it!
I was able to comfortably check my phone while taking my break from the festivities and discovered that my husband had sent me a message saying they are finished on the guy’s side! I’m thinking “what? It hasn’t even started over here yet! I feel like I have been here for hours.” He told me he will meet me outside if I want to, so I go retrieved my abaya and I made my escape. I went to a Saudi wedding, but I didn’t stay for the whole thing. Leaving just before midnight, I didn’t lose my slipper on the stairs.
The men had eaten a great feast and had pretty much only talked and drank the same Arabic coffee, while I had sat for an eternity not knowing what to do, how to behave, or what would happen next. No pictures were allowed from my side, but my husband got a few. J I’m glad I went. It was probably the most uncomfortable cultural thing I have ever done, besides moving to Saudi! I was scared, dressed up for a party and yet I couldn’t hang till 4 A.M! I’ll most likely never see any of those faces again, so luckily I shouldn’t have to explain my sudden exit. I had fun explaining the evening to my husband who was a little bummed that I hadn’t at least taken a sketch pad with me to draw what I was seeing (you know, like they do in court rooms that don’t allow cameras). Maybe next time.
The next morning I felt like I had a hangover from all the Arabic coffee that I had consumed combined with dehydration from walking so much. We didn’t get a chance to see much of Jeddah this time around, as it was a short trip, and my husband had to go back to work on Sunday. We packed up our things and got a taxi to head to the airport Saturday morning. This final taxi driver refused to turn on the meter when asked, and seemed very unfriendly. We had a near accident as we came upon another accident, but luckily he was able to slam on the brakes in time to avoid the suddenly stopped car in our lane. I think we came within an inch of the other car, as our driver burned a layer of rubber off of the tires. My husband asked him how long he had lived in Saudi. He was from Bangladesh, and had been here 20 years. When asked if he liked it, he quickly said “No!” I was thinking to myself “there is your sign, man. You have been in the desert for too long. It’s time for you to go home!” We drove up the ramp along the highway and suddenly there are wheelbarrow tires lying everywhere in our lane. A quick swerve was enough that time, and when we topped the ramp there was a man running down the road to get his tires that had fallen from his truck. You never know what you will see here! And that my friends, is my story from this past weekend…
I am so thankful for the adventures, our safety, the fun and laughter we share, and marking the six months of marriage to my husband—together!
Xx0 – wifeabroad