January is a time for new beginnings, right? Self-improvement and all that. Or, at the very least, it’s a time for making beautiful resolutions that blossom, wither, and die within a few seconds, like Mr. Wilson’s beloved plant in Dennis the Menace.
Of course, healthier eating is one of the more common resolutions, so I’m on a bandwagon there. But what a great bandwagon to be on! However, when January began, I had no particular resolution beyond, “I need to eat healthier.” Vague, boring, unspecific. I had no real motivation to reach that goal; no one has any real motivation to reach vague, boring, unspecific goals. I mean, if the goal was just “eat healthier,” I could easily end up convincing myself that a Bounty bar is the pinnacle of health food (coconut is a fruit, and chocolate is a salad). Off-topic fun fact: my dad thus far refuses to visit Saudi Arabia–mostly, I think, due to practical reasons, such as an aversion to a 14-hour flight, an unwillingness to leave the farm in Missouri, and a notoriously picky palate–he won’t eat anything with any sort of spice beyond salt and pepper, and the only fruits he eats are somehow incorporated into candy. Basically, my dad subsists on Spam, peanut butter, and Ritz crackers (okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but he does love those three foods, and he shares them with the dogs while he snacks on them). He’s always been a pretty adventurous guy in all other aspects of life. He was a paratrooper in the U.S. Army–which means his job in the Army was to jump out of planes. He had his pilot’s license when he was younger. He rides every rollercoaster at Six Flags. He rides horses. He has a motorcycle. He’s always dreamed of owning a Corvette. But when it comes to food, he’s about as adventurous as a red Little Tikes car. A teaspoon of kabsa will never go near his mouth. However, the one Saudi-sourced food that he absolutely cannot pass up is Bounty bars. I wouldn’t dream of leaving Riyadh on a jet plane without carrying in my suitcase the biggest box of Bounty bars that Panda can offer. ‘Cause my dad loves them, and I love my dad.
A few days into the new year, something came across my Twitter timeline about the Whole30 program. I looked into it, and it seemed reasonable, if strict. There was no calorie counting–no counting anything, in fact, and this was a good thing, because nutrition labels in Saudi Arabia are often not as helpful as labels in the States (this is one thing that Mr. Mostafa consistently laments about life in Riyadh, that it’s so much easier to keep track of what you eat in the States because every packaged food has in-depth nutrition information). No tracking. Just eating healthy, nutrient-dense, whole foods, which are, alhamdulillah, plentiful in Riyadh. And when I read about Whole30, I thought, “This is something I could do.”
So I downloaded an app to help keep me on track, and I’m now on my fifth day of the Whole30. No grains, beans, or legumes. No sugars or sweeteners. No dairy. Just unprocessed meats, eggs, fruits, and lots and lots of veggies. (Spices are also allowed.)
It’s going pretty well so far. It feels good to be able to turn away from foods that are complete junk for my body, and to know that what is going in my body is healthy not only for me, but also for Lavender, who still nurses frequently. It’s also good to know that all of the foods that Lavender shares with me are healthy for her, too. (She still eats pretzels and Cheerios, though. I never realized just how many pretzels and Cheerios I eat during the day due to Miss Lavender coming up to me and placing one of her snacks in my mouth. Generous little pumpkin, she is.)
But there is a side effect to the Whole30 that I didn’t totally anticipate.
Last night, I had made plans with a friend to meet her for dinner, along with a few ladies I hadn’t yet met. I was excited about an evening with friends and adult conversation.
Then Mr. Mostafa sent me a text–he wouldn’t be able to pick me up from the dinner. He had received a last-minute text from a busy work colleague/superior, requesting a meeting that evening. After he shared the details, I understood that in the grand scheme of things, his meeting was much more important than my dinner. But that meant texting my friend and telling her that after about a week of assuming that the plan was a go, I couldn’t be there. Because I didn’t have a ride home.
The frustration bubbled over, and I cried. A lot. This problem would not have existed if women were permitted to drive in Saudi Arabia. Yes, there are taxis and car services (like Uber and Careem), but, call me crazy, I’m not keen on the idea of using those services because I can’t use a car seat for Lavender in them. And there is no reason why I shouldn’t be allowed to drive. I’ve actually had my driver’s license for two years longer than my husband has. I learned to drive at an earlier age than he did, too. My American driver’s license would qualify me to drive here…if only I were a dude.
Now, granted, in my view, this was a totally legit reason for me to be upset. There was no reason for me to miss the dinner. And I wouldn’t have missed it if I only I possessed testicles instead of ovaries. It’s infuriating.
That being said, at this point, it’s not an altogether unsurprising or unexpected occurrence. I’ve been here for almost three years–it’s not the first time I’ve missed a gathering due to transportation issues, and it won’t be the last, especially since we currently live with my in-laws, and thus we don’t have the space to employ our own driver right now. (I keep hoping that by the time we move into our own house, the law will have changed to allow me to drive and we won’t need a driver. A girl can dream.) It’s just a kind of normal. A particular kind of normal that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world. And even though it was indeed frustrating, there was no immediate reason for me to get really, super angry about it; it wasn’t anyone’s fault. Except maybe King Abdullah.
But I didn’t care. I was mad. And I cried. And I let Mr. Mostafa know how angry I was.
When he got home, he went downstairs to his mom’s kitchen and busied himself. Then he texted me and said, “Come down. I made you dinner.”
Lavender and I went down. He had cooked me a steak and a baked potato. “Since you couldn’t go out to dinner,” he explained.
I sat down and ate.
“I think it might be a little bit tough,” he said apologetically. “I’ve never cooked a steak in the oven before.”
I said nothing.
After I finished dinner and we went back upstairs, I still wasn’t happy, and it was obvious.
“Honey, I hate seeing you unhappy,” Mr. Mostafa said. “Please talk to me about what’s bothering you.”
“You don’t know what it’s like to live this way,” I growled. “I’m sick of having to ask every time I want to do anything. I’m not a goddamn child. I’m an adult and I can’t even leave my house without having to ask someone. I didn’t have to ask this much when I was 16 and I just got my driver’s license. I shouldn’t have to ask you to take me places. I shouldn’t have to ask your mom if I can take the driver. I shouldn’t have to ask. I’m not used to it. It’s not how I grew up. It’s not normal to me. And it’s not fair.”
“The steak sucked, huh?” he said ruefully.
“Yes, the steak sucked,” I snapped.
“I’m sorry, honey. I know it’s frustrating.”
“No, you don’t. You have no idea how frustrating it is.”
He sighed deeply. “I know. You’re right. I can say I do, but I don’t. But what do you want me to do? Do you want to move to another country? Do you want me to send you and Lavi to live somewhere else? I know guys with American wives who have done that. I hate it, but if it will make you happy, we can do it. I can come to you when I have vacation time and you and Lavi can come to see me sometimes. Not a divorce, but living apart. Where you can drive. If that will make you happy.”
That kind of jolted me out of my anger spiral, because my answer to that proposition was instinctive and immediate. No. Not just no, but hell, no. I mean, as Lavender gets older, I know that Mr. Mostafa and I will be spending at least a month out of the year apart, so Lavender can spend plenty of time in the States during the summers, with her American family. But that temporary annual separation is a compromise we want to make for the sake of having well-rounded bicultural kids. And I know Saudi/non-Saudi couples who live in that sort of indefinite separation–still happily married, but living in different countries, for various reasons, and it works for them. But they all have much more valid reasons than, “I’m pissed because I didn’t get to go to dinner on Tahlia Street last night.”
I was still depressed, though. Sad. I texted a friend, with whom I have a standing Thursday morning date to take our little ones out to a park or other place where they can run and play and have fun (she has a driver, so she picks Lavender and me up). I explained what was going on, and then said I think I’ll sit out this week’s outing. I explained that I’m tired of feeling like a flake and a mooch, always because of transportation.
She, as always, had words of comfort and wisdom. “We’ve all been there,” she reminded me. Then she pointed out something that hadn’t occurred to me: my sadness and frustration, while catalyzed by a very valid reason, might be exacerbated by sugar withdrawal, as a result of the Whole30. And she could tell me this from firsthand experience, having completed the Whole30 last year.
I Googled it. She was right.
The next morning, she texted me, to check on me. I assured her that all was well, that I was okay. She informed me that she was sending her driver over with some things for me. When the bag arrived, I found, among other things, baggies of banana chips and apple-cinnamon chips that she had made in her food dehydrator, as well as a baggie of kale chips (oh, kale chips. Where have you been all my life?). I cried. Again.
Well, there you go.