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.

Finally

Thursday was a beautiful day. It started off like any other day, except that I was officially on vacation from work. AND I was getting ready to escape to Doha for another incredible weekend (that I’ll write about later). Oh, and also, I was divorced. So Thursday turned out to be not at all like any other day. It was an ending and a beginning all at once.

I knew it would be happening any day. I need to apply for this new residency being granted to mothers of Saudi children that allows them to live in the country without a sponsor. And in order to get this residency quickly, my status needed to change…I needed to be divorced. “This week, Inshallah” was the answer from The Mr. I was looking forward to the divorce day like I imagine most women look forward to their wedding days. I started to tell a few close friends that it would be happening soon, halfway expecting that there would be some sort of hangup and that it would never actually happen. But he came to Riyadh and it was done lickety split.

The Saudi divorce process is much smoother than the Saudi marriage permission process, so that’s good news. No, I probably can’t help you get your application for permission to marry approved, but I can tell your already approved Saudi husband how to divorce you in a day! Easy peasy if you’re a man!

In my head I’d planned a spectacular celebration to mark the end of the special kind of hell I’ve been living in waiting for this divorce, but in reality I just want to quietly and peacefully let it all fade into black like the marriage itself never happened. It doesn’t deserve any fanfare or attention. I’ve already given the marriage much more of my time and energy and soul than it ever probably deserved, so the writing of this post is the final shove off.

Here’s to moving on and away from everything that has been holding me back for so long.

Life Without Music

One of my earliest memories in Saudi Arabia takes place in 2007 when we moved here the first time. I had taken my daughter who was then not quite three years old to play at one of the mini amusement parks inside of a mall. She wanted to ride the carousel but I was hesitant to allow her because I wasn’t allowed to get on with her. One of the nice men working the ride agreed to stand beside her as she sat on her chosen horse and I took my place to wave at her each time she circled around.

There was so much familiarity. Smiling, waving children. The steady breeze created by the rotation of the ride. Horses going up and down. Mirrors on the inside column. But there was something missing. Music. I’d never seen a carousel without music.

After that experience I began to notice the absence of music everywhere we went. Shopping malls and grocery stores and doctors’ offices were silent. The background music in restaurants was provided by screaming children and cutlery scraping against plates.

It wasn’t until we returned to Saudi for the second time several years later that I experienced hearing music in public. It was breakfast, the best meal of the day. The Filipino waiters were all loudly and proudly singing 80s love ballads which is nothing new, except that they were singing along with MUSIC. I became emotional of course and had to explain myself to the waiter.

There are so many quirks about life in Saudi that I’ve grown used to, but this isn’t one of them. I can put my abaya on when a plane lands and climb into the back of a strange man’s car who doesn’t speak my language but will probably try to flirt with me anyhow. I can deal with waiting for a shop to open after prayer and being cut in line when I eventually make it to the cash register. I can handle brutal desert heat and cracking, bleeding skin from the dry air and horrible water. But I know I haven’t grown used to the absence of music because hearing it outside of my home is still the one thing that makes me, without exception, become emotional.

I teared up heading to a Christmas bazaar last weekend when I knew there would be music playing there. I cried crocodile tears the time I arrived at Chicago O’Hare airport and was greeted by a jazz band. Today while scrolling through Instagram I became sniffly about a 10 second video of street musicians.

And what I don’t get is that places surrounding KSA are business as usual when it comes to music. Lebanon: music. Dubai: music. Doha, which is like Saudi Arabia’s little brother: MUSIC. People of all faiths are alive and life is being lived and music is not contributing to anything but the sweetness of life.

Life without music is like a body without a soul. Music adds color to the world and breath to your lungs. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t think of a time in my life that I can define without music. It makes life alive. It absence is deafening.

Things in Saudi change ever so slowly. I know in other cities music in restaurants is the norm. It’s more and more and common here in Riyadh too. So maybe someday life here will be more colorful. Until then I’m thankful for smart phones that allow you to take your own music wherever you go. And I’m thankful for my own place where my daughter and I can play our favorite songs and sing and dance like no one is watching. And I’m grateful that this is a relatively small country and escaping it once in a while is becoming easier for me.

Mommying

The Mr. left for the Eastern Provence three weeks ago and when he did I was terrified. It’s been a long time since I had to be a full time parent. My time with my daughter had been reduced to mornings before school, a quick hug in the afternoons before she went to her two hour Arabic lesson, and weekends. I was no longer responsible for routines and dinners and the crazy amounts of dirty laundry she produces.  Three outfits a day, people! I had grown used to the quiet and having free time for friends and the freedom to make pants an optional item of clothing. But it turns out that single parenting is kind of like riding a bike or swimming. Even if it’s been a while since you’ve done it, it’s not something that you forget.

I also worried about how my daughter would adjust to not having her dad around. He’s now the one who puts her to bed and wrestles with her at night and plays games with her before bed and tells her stories to fall asleep to. In the past when he’s traveled for any length of time, it’s been hard on her emotionally and we’ve had weeks of sobbing and asking when daddy is coming back. But this time has been different. She was bummed for one entire day and then we got on with life and she’s fallen right back into the swing of the mommy routine.

These past three weeks have been AWESOME. I forgot how much fun it is to have my kid around! I forgot how comforting it is to be able to peek into her room at night and see her sleeping peacefully.

We’ve had time for snuggles. We’ve read two books and have moved on to a third during our bedtime reading. We have had time to decorate the house and watch movies and cook food. We had a salon day and shopping time and she’s the coolest kid ever. What I’ve not had time for is friends. I’ve been out on zero coffee meetups with readers and I’ve canceled plans with people left and right because I have zero time. But it’s awesome. I feel so lucky to be her mom and to have this extra time with her.

I’m not sure how long he will be gone and therefore how long I’ll have to enjoy this new routine with my girl, but I’m enjoying every minute of it while it lasts.

32

Today I turned 32.

I’m pretty sure that 31 was one of the best years of my life. I’ve experienced so many things and learned important lessons and have accomplished more than I thought I was capable of. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the people who surround me and embrace me and offer their unconditional love and support.

This year has been radical. I’ve typed this post like 5 times and erased it because I can’t seem to come up with words that adequately express how I feel about this past year and the year I’ve just begun. I’ve officially begun to abuse the word year.

I feel like I have become a grown up this year. Well, kind of. Maybe not. Because adulthood is overrated, isn’t it?

I am 100%, without the slightest doubt or hint of hesitation, OVER my marriage and the man I married. I wish I could explain how much weight that is off my shoulders. How incredibly liberating it feels.

I have finally accepted that I live in Saudi Arabia and I’ve even started to make it work for me. This place is still a total asshole, but I’ve learned the asshole’s ways and can now beat him at his own game most of the time.

I have learned to comfortably say no. I wish I’d learned it about 12 years ago.

I am finally comfortable living alone. There is no noise I cannot investigate and no cockroach I cannot smash on my own.

I am officially financially independent. I thought that would literally never happen as a single woman.

I have learned to allow myself to be loved. I’m sure that might sound ridiculous to some. Loving comes naturally to me, but receiving love has always been a scary thought because what if love leaves. It was easier to push it away and keep it at a distance, but screw that from this point on.

I’m also pretty sure that 32 will be better than 31, so I’m looking forward to the one ahead. Life is great and I’m loving it, you guys. I’m positively giddy.

I’m off to treat myself to another piece of strawberry cake that was generously presented to me by one of my students and binge watch illegally downloaded TV. Happy Birthday to me! Goodnight!