My mind hasn’t been in a good place for a couple of days. It’s been a rough few here in my slice of the Kingdom and I’m really wishing I could still come here and pour it all out like I used to. But this isn’t the same kind of place it used to be. It has evolved from a place that I felt safe and protected and understood to a place where I often times feel exposed and questioned and uncomfortable.

There was a safety that came with anonymity, particularly anonymity from my now ex-husband, that I no longer have.

I wish I could vent and release and move on, because this blogging thing is the greatest therapy I’ve ever discovered. I hate coming here and beating around the bush and speaking vaguely. But oh well.

As of this week I no longer have access to a regular driver. It’s been a test of my patience and perseverance, not to mention an extra expense, but just like any other test I’ve been put through here, it’s taught me a lesson. I’ve realized I’m just about unbreakable in this place. I’ve become a pro at staying on my feet as life hurls lemons my way.

Anyway, I need a favor. As you go about your lives this week, readers, please send some love and positivity and courage and strength my way. I promise to send it back to you.

The Land of Can’t

My grandma has always told me “Can’t never did a thing.” As long as you believe you can do something, as long as you don’t tell yourself that you can’t, you can accomplish just about anything. But sometimes I feel like I’m raising my daughter in the land of can’t. I am hesitant to pass this wisdom onto her here because without a doubt there are a whole host of things we as women can’t do. And when I’m brave enough to set aside the relative comfort of my life, the can’ts and shoudln’ts and shhhh’s that she will continue to be faced with here, that will eventually become normal and accepted by her, terrify me. Terrify is a strong word, but it fits.

I knew my kid would be feisty from the time my pregnancy was confirmed. She did, after all, contain my DNA. She was pre-wired to be bold and opinionated and mouthy. Pregnant mommies know. You just know. I knew from the first little flutter in my tummy that this kid would hit the ground running and that she would always keep me busy.

She cried a lot as a baby and wasn’t content unless she was being held, worn in a sling, or nursing. Or sometimes all three at once. She was demanding and picky about who got to hold her and for how long. She never slept more than a couple hours at a time. There were days I thought I’d never sleep again.

She began to talk earlier than I expected and was speaking in full sentences by the time she was 18 months old. I’ll never forget the first sentence she spoke as we stood in the kitchen of our first little one bedroom apartment, just the two of us. She was in a tshirt and potty training undies and I was still in my work clothes trying to get dinner ready as Happy Feet, her favorite movie, played on the TV. “More juice please,” she asked while handing over her sippy cup, completely serious, like she’d always been talking. I swear she never stopped talking after that.

She has always been goofy and full of energy. Spunky, creative, clever, witty, and sneaky.

When we first moved to Saudi in 2007, she was just over 2 1/2 years old. Even then I worried that a new place and a new language and a new culture would somehow dull her shine. I wondered if her one of a kind personality would translate in Arabic. I wondered if her new family would get to really know her.

My fears about her personality being lost in translation have since been calmed. She is just as goofy in Arabic as she is in English as is evidenced by the interactions with her grandmother. I know when Teta laughs at her antics, something is getting through. But still I worry.

As we finished our tour of the Aquarium at Dubai Mall a couple weeks ago, my daughter, in her green pants and jungle flower tank top, danced and twisted and giggled her way out into the crowded mall. And it made me worry that her tendency to sing and dance and hop and laugh her way through life and hallways and crowds of people will raise irritated eyebrows and elicit disapproving clicks of tongues here in Saudi. Who am I kidding? Those things already happen regularly.

I worry that someday this place and its traditions and expectations will wear her down and that she will no longer be able to find the strength to express herself, to unapologetically enjoy life, or to be who she is meant to be within its borders. I feel like the older she gets, the smaller and tighter the little box that she’s supposed to fit into here gets. That’s an awful feeling as a mother, but I can’t imagine what it might feel like for her as she matures and develops and has to constantly keep herself in cultural check.

Well behaved women seldom make history, and Saudi Arabia seems to be in the business of raising well behaved citizens of all genders, most especially women. You can’t believe THIS, you can’t say THAT, you can’t disobey HIM, you can’t wear THAT, you can’t become THAT, and so on.

The future of this country lies in the hands of its young people, including  my daughter’s and other girls like her. But I worry that she will become just another young woman in this, the land of can’t, who is too afraid, or made just comfortable enough, to have the courage to be herself, to say what she thinks, to speak up for change.

-_-

Remember when I was all stressed out about The Mr. moving to another city for work and being thrust back into solo parenting again? Well, I take it back. It took a little adjustment on my part. Mostly I had to adjust to going to bed embarrassingly early to have the energy to make it through the entire work day followed by an evening of parenting. But once I got used to taking my old ass to bed on time, and once my girl got into the mommy has rules routine, things were great.

I love having my girl here, even if she does require ridiculous amounts of food. Even if she does require me to do three times the usual amount of laundry. And yes, even if she does wake me at the crack of dawn on the weekends. The stability of having one house and one set of rules to follow have led to improvements in her behavior and a reduction in emotional outbursts.

So of course he’s moving back next weekend. -_- And of course I’m stressed about another change.

I’m less than thrilled, and not just for selfish reasons. I mean, even though his distance makes my life much less stressful, his return is somewhat of a bonus for me. I really do cherish my quiet time and it’ll be nice to be able to squeeze in friends during the week. But I’m worried that going back to back and forth shared parenting will put some major bumps back into the road for my daughter.

This solo detour helped me to recognize that maybe co-parenting without a schedule puts too much pressure on my daughter. And that maybe I screwed myself out of valuable parenting time by being so agreeable. And that maybe scheduled parenting time can be a good thing. And I’m worried that there’s nothing I can do about it.

I’ll miss our routine. I’ll miss eating dinner with her and reading to her in her bed each night. I’ll even miss having to collect her barbies from the bathtub each night. I know she’ll be just down the road, but I will miss her.

I haven’t been writing much lately, I know. I’m still around and I still have things to say, it’s just that most of the things I have to say can either get me into trouble with the government or the ex husband and I’m trying to keep myself out of most varieties of trouble. So please hang in here with me as I sift through my thoughts about my new life to find the ones I can share with you.

As many of you know I received my new residence permit recently. One of the many benefits of said permit is that I no longer have or need a sponsor to live in Saudi. And since I no longer have a sponsor, I no longer need anyone’s permission to exit and re enter the country.

I tested out this exciting new deal last weekend when I took my daughter to Dubai for her 10th birthday celebration. I signed onto my account with the Ministry of Interior, clicked a few buttons, and within 10 seconds I had printed myself MY OWN exit re entry permit. Seriously.

The ease of this process caused me to wonder why getting this valuable slip of paper from The Mr. all the times before was always such a hassle. Nagging and begging and “we’ll see” and worrying that he wouldn’t give it to me in time…or at all. The last time he issued one for me I jokingly mentioned checking to make sure it wasn’t actually a “final exit” paper he was giving me. He (jokingly?) let me know he could change it at any time, even after I left. That sense of insecurity is now gone. And it is priceless.

Although not much has changed in my daily life since the divorce and new status, the mental relief I feel is unbelievable. I feel like I’m living a totally new life and it is difficult to even recognize the life I was living before as being my own. I can’t believe that I’ve come through so much, but I am happy to be coming out the other side.

Who Will Marry Moudi

In Saudi Arabia, people are obsessed with the idea of spinsterhood. A woman in her late 20s who is unmarried is seen as as problem to be solved. How do we save these women?! How do we solve this “problem”? Men, particularly those who are present in the Saudi media, are in a tizzy about what to do about these poor women who have no one to take care of them and who will be an eventual drain  and burden on society

As I was sorting books to be entered into the new library system at work that has taken over my life I came across a book titled Who Will Marry Maisie. It’s about a rat named Maisie who goes to her father to tell him that she wants to marry a rat named Little Rat. But her father says Little Rat isn’t good enough for her…she must marry the strongest in the land and sets out to find the perfect mate for his daughter.

Despite the sense of panic in the media, Saudi women in their late 20s and early 30s are busy being highly educated and finding ways to be independent despite all of the odds stacked against them by their culture. Many of these women either see no need for marriage if they can take care of themselves, are not interested in getting married until their educations are complete or their careers are established, or cannot marry a man of their choosing and therefore choose to remain indefinitely single.

We also have the problem of women who want to get married not being “allowed” to do so by their male guardians contributing to this supposed problem of spinsterhood. Women in their 40s and above who have chosen perfectly suitable men. Preventing a woman from getting married is supposedly a crime here, but rarely are women lucky enough or brave enough to go to the courts to get their rights.

At the end of the book, after Maisie’s father has gone through the list of what he thinks are the strongest and best suited grooms for his daughter, he finds out that Little Rat is indeed the best candidate. The one who Maisie chose to begin with, with her own (let’s assume for the purpose of this blog) adult, educated, independent female mind, is indeed the person she should marry.

So who will marry Moudi, the average adult, educated, Saudi female? How about we try letting Moudi decide that! Let her choose if, when, how, and who she will marry…or not marry.

Thanks but no thanks for the concern, men. As women…women from all parts of the world and all religious and cultural backgrounds…we are perfectly capable. We don’t need saving or rescuing. We can drive ourselves. We can make choices for ourselves. We can support ourselves. We can decide for ourselves. On all matters. 

I know I’m dreaming here but when will the powers that be in this place see that putting the control over women’s lives into their own hands would solve this so called problem of spinsters in Saudi, as well as many others?

Saudi Wives: How to Apply for Permanent Residency

I’m almost (relatively) free, you guys.

Recently it was announced in the newspaper that the government was officially ready to accept applications for a whole new kind of residency status for the mothers of Saudi children. With this new residency, any woman who is or was married to a Saudi man legally (with government permission) and was the mother of his child(ren) would be allowed to live in Saudi Arabia without the need of a sponsor. Meaning women like myself, or those whose husbands have died, is able to stay in the country without having to jump through any hoops. Additionally, we are allowed to legally work, we will be granted free government healthcare, and we will have access to free government education.

I can’t even explain how groundbreaking this is. When I came back here 3 1/2 years ago, I never dreamed of something like this. Once the possibility of obtaining the citizenship was made nearly unobtainable, I thought I only had two option: to stay married to The Mr. or to marry someone else. But this…this new option…is a miracle.

So in comes my fantastic employer and the friendliest HR girl this side of the world to help me get myself situated. HRG called to get the rundown on what I needed to apply for the new residency and the first requirement was that the current residency permit has to expire, or…my status had to change. Meaning married needed to become “divorced” or “widowed” and since divorce was the quickest option, and since I’ve been waiting to be divorced like a little kid waits to hear Santa’s reindeer go click click click on Christmas Eve, I started the tried and true method of getting shit done with The Mr: I nagged him to death. Within a few days of near constant prodding, I was riding high in single city.

Next it was off to the court to collect my copy of the divorce certificate. Apparently, a guy cannot just insist that he will give his new ex-wife a copy of the certificate and be trusted. Because apparently divorcing your wife and just forgetting to tell her about it is a thing here. So the court will call you and let you know you’ve been given the boot and you will go and collect your own transfer of ownership.

I had to cover my face to enter the court. This is an act I am adamantly opposed to performing, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I flipped the end of my scarf over my head and cautiously navigated the crowded hallways of the courthouse. My eldest sister in law came along (against her will) for moral support and, although equally irritated with having to cover her face, came through on the support deal. I was so grateful…because we were the ONLY two women in the joint. I have to say that it was a surreal experience being able to see men looking at me…looking through me…without them being able to see who I was. It also struck me as odd that in the one place that confirming your identity would be necessary, a place where you’ve come to collect legal documents of vital importance, is the one place where your identity must be concealed. I signed where the man pointed and collected my certificate and it was over in less than 5 minutes.

Later that day I took myself, by myself, to a branch office of the infamous Jawazat, the office that handles passports, ID cards, and the like. I took all the documents that HRG said I’d need and was determined that my crappy Arabic skills would be juuuust fine. I waited, confused as could be, in a room full of people getting their fingerprints taken where one lonesome woman was working. It became clear to me that perhaps I’d gotten myself in over my head when no one could understand what the hell I was talking about when I repeatedly told them I was there to apply for a new iqama, or residency card. A frustrated call to my ex husband for translation assistance revealed to me that my time at the branch office had been wasted. Only the main branch was taking applications. I walked out of the office and down the hall toward the food court of the mall the office was located in and tears started streaming down my cheeks. I called B in an effort to make them stop, but they became worse when I tried to tell her what was wrong. I bought myself a cinnamon roll, grabbed some extra napkins, and thanked God that Saudi Arabia is a place that has curtained public seating. I closed the red velvet curtain and quietly sobbed into my cinnamon roll for an hour.

The next day at work, HRG, in the voice of an angel, was like  “I told you I’d go with you!” and insisted that we take some time during the following work day to get it sorted out at the main Jawazat branch. I agreed enthusiastically and brought my papers along the next day.

I was totally intimidated when we pulled up outside the building. I expected to fight through huge crowds of pushy women and to be lazily greeted by women who could really care less about being helpful or polite. Hey, don’t blame me, the Saudi government doesn’t have the greatest reputation behind it. HRG and I were both surprised by the helpfulness and efficiency of the women working in Jawazat that morning.

We were directed to a window where a  lady gave us a handwritten list of required paperwork to be submitted. There was only one list, so we were asked to take a picture of it for our reference, then we went to the seating area to organize ourselves and my paperwork. Once we had everything filled out and ready to go, we went back up to the window to turn it in. The woman working asked for each item one at a time, taking time to look it over and compare it with the original copies I’d brought along. I was given a small slip of paper and told to follow up at the same office if I hadn’t heard anything in a month and we were sent on our way.

I can’t explain the sense of relief that I felt that day. One step closer to independence in Saudi Arabia. And an enormous step forward for the rights of a select category of women in this country. HRG asked me on the way back to work if I thought that the rights for Saudi women like her would also improve someday. I can only hope they will. I hope that this step in granting rights to the mothers of Saudi children is the first in many for improving the rights of women across the country.

For those of you who are also mothers of Saudi children and are here to read about how to apply for this iqama for yourselves, please see the detailed step-by-step process below. Do not waste time! Apply as soon as you can. You know how quickly rules can change here, so take this chance while it is available to you.

Please remember that you cannot apply for the new iqama until your current iqama is due to expire unless your status has changed. It will be a waste of your time and energy to try to apply before you’re eligible.

Documents needed (originals and copies of everything):
Marriage certificate with ministry approval for your marriage
Translation of marriage certificate if it is not in Arabic
Divorce certificate (Death certificate if you are a widow)
Current iqama
Family card
Birth certificates for all of your children
National ID for your husband
Your passport(s) (current and, if available, the passport you entered KSA with)
Passport style picture for the new iqama
Blank white paper to be used for writing a letter to the Minister of Interior
Plenty of working pens…we had 4, all of which quit on us! Be prepared.
A letter from your husband stating his approval for you to receive the new iqama*

If you do not have the documents listed above…even one of them…you will be asked to return when you have it. *The exception goes to the letter from the husband. This item was waived for me, presumably because I’d been divorced. It’s better if you come with it anyhow, even if it is a letter from your ex husband, just to be safe.
I didn’t have a copy of my passport with me, and it took a LOT of convincing from HRG for the woman to have mercy on us and make us a copy. BE PREAPARED.

Unless you are a native level speaker/reader/writer of the Arabic language, you will 100% for sure need a helpful translator to go along with you. There are two applications to be filled out in Arabic. You will also need to write a formal letter to the Minister detailing the paperwork you are turning in and formally requesting the new residency. Seriously, do not try to go it alone. You’ll need help.

I will update this post once I actually receive the new iqama. Please feel free to ask any questions that I may not have already answered above. And please, PLEASE share this with any wife of a Saudi or mother of Saudi children that you know, even if she is not still married. This information is priceless!

Transport Troubles

Transportation is one of the major issues that I, and a lot of women like me, still face here in Saudi. It is such a basic thing…to get from point A to point B…but crossing the distance between two points remains one of the most problematic issues in the lives of so many people.

This city is huge. It’s not easy to get around even if you do have a ride. Many people have the fortunate ability to employ private drivers (who they must pay, feed, house, and provide a car for), but I, like many others, do not have the means to afford such a luxury. So I rely on two methods: favors and taxis. Taxis are alright if you can breathe deep enough to get past the awkwardness of sitting in a strange man’s car while he stares you down through the rearview mirror. And if you can breathe shallow enough for those times you climb into the car of a man who is dealing with some body odor issues.

I had plans this morning. Not world-changingly important plans, but important to me plans. For two days I arrange plan and remind the powers that be that I have some place to be at a certain time…and can I please use the driver. Can we please work it out so that I can get out of my house and socialize with my kid, the kid who is (rightly so) not allowed to accompany me in a taxi? PLEASE?

I ready myself and my kid, the one who now has to wear an abaya because her nine year old body has begun to attract stares. I’m now involuntarily a part of a collective of people who are training her to believe that her body is a problem and I hate it. I put on my own abaya in preparation to leave. The garment that I am forced to wear here. The garment that conceals not only the shape of my body, but my individuality and therefore my identity. We are now just members of the herd as we hike our hems and carefully descend the three flights of stairs to exit our building.

And we are excited. We are going to meet new friends and there will be breakfast and we are hungry. But there is no driver. The one I carefully and considerately arranged for has been reassigned to more important tasks this morning. And I’m forced once again to make apologies to friends for being obscenely late…if I even make it at all.

We hike our hems once more and climb the 44 stairs to our apartment and tears overcome me. I normally don’t let my kid see me cry, but she should know I’m human today. She should know these are the frustrated tears of a woman in Saudi Arabia. She’ll be a woman someday too. She may cry the same tears one day as she sits fully dressed and prepped for some party or function she’s been looking forward to that she doesn’t have a ride to.

It may all seem so trivial. And maybe in the moment it is. But day after day of the same tiny, trivial, seemingly insignificant inconveniences has a way of slowly grinding away at my sanity in the same way that the wind ever so slowly changes mountains into dust. I’m crumbling.

These days go on to be like any normal days in Saudi as usual. The tiny, trivial, seemingly insignificant inconveniences are slowly but surely accepted by the masses–and even by me–as just a part of the package that is life here. But some days I remember how effortless life used to be and suddenly it’s like I can’t breathe here.

It feels silly to keep on beating the “let women drive” horse because the “it’s going to happen soon” rumor has been going around since the 90s from what I hear. I think about how life for me and so many others could be instantly made so much easier and this nonsense ban, which can apparently now see those who attempt to defy the ban tried as TERRORISTS, is infuriating. It is ridiculous. I just hope if my daughter must continue to live here until she’s of age to drive that it will be a distant memory that we can laugh about.