Carol: American Bedu
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Saudi Arabia, etc.
My name is Carol Fleming Al-Ajroush. I am an American originally from the state of Pennsylvania. However I had not spent time in my home state since I was a young girl. Instead I ended up in the Foreign Service where I spent 20 years having the opportunity to travel to more than 100 countries and live abroad. When I was living in Pakistan and working at the US Embassy I met the man who eventually became my husband. He was a career Saudi diplomat. In 2006 we moved to Riyadh.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I’ve always enjoyed writing. In 2006 when I was preparing to move to Saudi Arabia my family encouraged (and helped) me set up a blog so I could share my experiences and observations with them about life in the Kingdom. They then encouraged me to open up my blog to the world. As a result I have been writing daily posts not only about my experiences but also about the customs, culture and traditions of Saudi Arabia.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
That is a tough question! With six years of daily posts it is hard to point out any specific posts because it really depends on the category. I’ve written about the expatriate experience and I’ve also shared what it has been like to be part of a large extended Saudi family. As I think about the question, I would say that my favorite posts have been the ones where I have written about my lovely Saudi mother-in-law, Mama Moudy. She graciously shared many of her own experiences on what it was like to grow up as a woman in Saudi Arabia.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Riyadh differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Since I had spent much of my professional career in Southeast Asia and the Middle East region I did not experience a large degree of culture shock. I was well traveled and knew what to expect. As a former diplomat I am also very adaptable to new places and situations.
However, did life in Riyadh differ from life in America? You bet! As a woman I cannot drive in Saudi Arabia as it is prohibited by law. I also had to dress more conservatively such as wearing the long black robe called an abaya whenever I went out in public. I had to adapt to different operating hours of stores and businesses while remembering that these facilities would close for thirty minutes during each time for prayer. On the other hand, I enjoyed and liked the fact that since I could not drive, I would not only be driven to where I needed to go but I would be both dropped off and collected at the door! Most restaurants and fast food eateries would deliver, making it easy to eat on those nights I might not feel like cooking! Domestic help was readily available and affordable. I was warmly welcomed by Saudis and felt very much at home. In fact, in no time at all Saudi Arabia became a second home.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Saudi Arabia? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
Yes; I was well prepared for life in Saudi Arabia. I made a point of reading all that I could, following forums, asking questions and making many Saudi friends before arriving in the Kingdom.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Let’s see…I was mistaken for a housemaid! My Saudi husband and I were living temporarily at a Saudi community that was gated. The only non-Saudis in the community were domestic workers. My Saudi husband was working one day when I had a doctor’s appointment so a private limo service was collecting me. The limo driver was not allowed on the compound until the security guard called and spoke to someone at the residence. He did not speak any English and my Arabic was still limited at that time. I was able to tell him I needed to go to the hospital for an appointment. However, since I had an accent, the security guard automatically assumed I was a housemaid who was wanting to run off with a foreign driver. The driver was only allowed to come through the gate and collect me after my husband called and spoke to the security guard!
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Saudi Arabia?
Preparation! Preparation! Preparation! There is no reason for any expat to not be informed given today’s technology. Read up on as much as you can about life in the Kingdom. Read the local Saudi papers, read blogs, follow forums! Go with an open mindset that life is going to be different. Remember that as an expat YOU are a guest in the Kingdom and therefore should be respectful of customs which may be different. Last but not least, be flexible and patient. It may take several months to adjust and adapt…and that’s perfectly normal!
How is the expat community in Riyadh? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
Riyadh has an active and large expat community. The expat community is a friendly group offering a wide variety of activities. I think it is very easy to find like-minded people among the expat community. One way to receive an early introduction to the expat community in Riyadh is to join the Yahoo newsgroup firstname.lastname@example.org
How would you summarize your expat life in Saudi Arabia in a single, catchy sentence?
Life as an expat in Riyadh is an ongoing adventure!