When I first met Mr. Mostafa, I started reading everything I could find about Saudi Arabia. One of the first blogs I stumbled upon was American Bedu, written by Carol Fleming Al-Ajroush, an American former CIA officer who met, fell in love with, and married a Saudi diplomat. They lived together in Pakistan before settling in Riyadh. In 2008, Carol’s husband, Abdullah, was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. In the same year, Carol, who had previously been diagnosed with breast cancer but had been in remission, found out that her own cancer had relapsed. Abdullah passed away in 2010. Carol is still battling her metastasized cancer.
I have such a fondness for Carol and Abdullah and their story. In the earliest days of my relationship with my now-husband, before we were even engaged, and long before I started writing my own blog (or at least, my own public blog), I remember that I sent Carol an email expressing my admiration of the American Bedu blog and telling her all about my story with my own Saudi. When you fall in love with a Saudi, you find yourself pouring your heart out to anyone in a remotely similar boat because there really isn’t anyone who can truly understand except other women married to Saudis. Sure, you talk to your friends as much as you can, and my mom was always destined to be my confidante, no matter where my husband ended up coming from. But truly, there are so many things, culturally and otherwise, that other Americans (or even non-Saudis) just don’t get. Not that they don’t want to, in many cases; they just can’t relate. And that’s okay.
When I sent Carol my email, I remember that she responded so graciously. I’m sure she read my rambles, rolled her eyes, and thought, “Oh, great, yet another American girl who thinks her fly-by-night Saudi is the one,” but she didn’t respond to me that way at all. She thanked me for writing to her and wished me and Saleh the very best in the future. We didn’t become instant pen-pals or anything, but I continued to read the American Bedu blog, to learn from her, and to be thankful that she was writing. We eventually became Facebook friends, and earlier this year she interviewed me on American Bedu.
I have never met her in person, but I have never forgotten how kind she was to me in that first email. From that alone I learned what a special person she is.
Carol has been very open with her readers throughout her long and difficult fight against cancer. Yesterday, I read on the American Bedu Facebook page that Carol is now in liver failure and is likely going into hospice care. My heart became so unbearably heavy at this news.
And of course, there nothing I can do except pray for Carol…for a miraculous cure, and if that isn’t possible, then for peace and comfort, and for a joyous reunion with her beloved Abdullah on the other side. So that’s what I am doing.
Aside from prayer, the only thing I can think to do is write. A few weeks ago, Carol shared a blog post on American Bedu about how her Saudi mother-in-law came to love Carol’s sweet cats, Max, Tripod, and Saheba. I just loved this post, and on Carol’s Facebook page, I commented that her adorable story made me want to write about how Andy has grown on my own Saudi in-laws. She responded, “I can’t wait to read that post!” So for Carol, here it is.
Andy is one of the topics I’m most commonly asked about–how I got him, how I got him to Riyadh, and what it’s like living with a dog in Riyadh. To read my posts about Andy and Parker, you’d probably think that I’ve been a dog lover for my entire life. Not true. I’ve never hated dogs, exactly, but I’m allergic to most of them…so, as a species, it took them a long time to really grow on me. I grew up around animals–horses, cows, dogs, cats. My dad has always been something of a Dr. Doolittle, and he always says that he gets along best with animals and kids–it’s adults who screw the world up. He’s also one of the very few men in our area of southern Missouri that doesn’t hunt. So I was certainly raised to love animals. Still, my parents never had a dog in the house until I was seventeen years old, and even then my mom joked that they got her because I was moving out to go to college. I didn’t mind dogs, per se, but I never really wanted one of my own.
But by the time I was 23, all of my closest friends had dogs. In other circles of friends our age, the trend might have been to have babies, but at the time, none of us were married or in any other way positioned to have a kid, so I suspect our collective trend toward dog ownership was a vent of maternal instincts that we weren’t prepared to express in a conventional way.
After watching my friends throw doggy birthday parties and bring home doggy Thanksgiving dinners from Three Dog Bakery and otherwise become totally wrapped up in their new role as furbaby mothers, I began to think that having a dog might be a nice thing, after all. I was also getting ready to move into a house alone, so I thought that it would be smart to have a dog, for my safety. I started researching hypoallergenic dog breeds and decided that I wanted a Labradoodle.
Although I was not excited about the idea of buying a dog from a breeder, the fact is that there aren’t a lot of Labradoodles available for rescue. On one hand, that’s a good thing, of course. On the other hand, that left me with no other option than to go to a breeder. After I had finally found a breeder whose prices I could afford (seven hours away), I contacted them, chose my Parker from the pictures of available puppies (it was very easy–I saw him and knew he was mine immediately. He was five weeks old at the time, and I didn’t get to bring him home until he was 9 weeks old. When I saw him, I emailed the breeder and said, “That’s him.” She emailed me back, “He is so sweet; a very affectionate pup.” I don’t think she knew how right she was), and started collecting puppy supplies.
As I simultaneously prepared to move and prepared to bring Parker home, I began to think that maybe it would be good for him to have a sibling. At the time, I was a full-time grad student and a full-time elementary school teacher, and I was teaching in a school that required a two-hour round trip commute every day…and I already felt guilty for bringing Parker home into that situation–a single mother, and a very busy single mother, at that. I knew that Parker would be spending a lot of time home alone, and well, I didn’t want him to be totally alone.
So I started looking into adopting a Yorkshire Terrier puppy. My roommate at the time had a Yorkie named Lucy, and I thought that Lucy was just adorable–not to mention, she didn’t make me sneeze. So I knew a Yorkie would work for me. I got on Petfinder and found that there were two tiny male Yorkie pups available for rescue in my area. I contacted the rescue and found out that these two puppies had been born at the rescue. Their mother, who had spent her life as a breeding dog in a puppy mill, had been pulled out of that puppy mill situation, ill and pregnant. Once in the rescue, she had six puppies, only two of whom survived–Andy and his brother. Shortly after giving birth, she died, as well.
After submitting my application, with my vet reference, to the rescue, I was thrilled when the lady in charge called me and invited me to come and meet the two puppies and choose which one I would like to adopt. When she brought them both out, I sat on the floor so I could play with them and get to know them.
It turned out that “getting to know them” was about a twenty-second process. When she put the two pups down on the floor, one immediately began darting all around the room, sniffing, exploring. The other walked right up to me, climbed into my lap, curled up, sighed, and looked up at me as if to say, “Okay, you found me. Now what do we do?”
And that’s how I met Andy.
This is Andy as a baby, about six weeks old. The picture is fuzzy because it was taken with a camera phone in 2007.
Our first year together–Parker, Andy, and me–was a chaotic process of getting to know one another, and for me, learning to become totally unfazed by poop, pee, vomit, and the destruction of my belongings (which, now that I think about it, was probably very good preparation for parenting). Parker was hyper and crazy as a puppy, so we went to puppy school. Andy couldn’t yank my arm out of the socket on a leash like Parker could, but what he lacked in brute strength he made up for with his jaws. He chewed everything. Who would have guessed that such a tiny creature could leave such destruction in his wake? He chewed through the straps of two of my backpacks. In the middle of the night, he tugged my Palm Treo smartphone (which was cutting edge then, man) off the nightstand by its charging cord, dragged it under the bed, and reduced it to shards of plastic and metal, which I stepped on when I got out of bed the next morning. And he really, really loved gnawing on books. Some dogs can’t resist shoes; for Andy, it was books.
What can I say? He’s my baby, alright.
Still, after our first year together, after a year of being pooped on and puked on and snuggled and licked and jumped on, we were bonded. I was a completely neurotic dog mom and proud of it. My dogs were my world. Then I met Saleh, and things got complicated.
When I met Saleh, he, like most Saudis, wasn’t fond of dogs, and the dogs became a sticking point for us. He refused to eat at my house because the dogs were there. He would not touch the dogs. He would not interact with the dogs. It took him three months just to pet Andy on the head, and even longer for him to touch Parker. I say that he hated the dogs, but he corrects me now, saying that it’s not that he hated them–he was just scared of them and didn’t want to admit it. I spent my second year as a dog mother completely torn between them and the man who would become my husband.
But that changed eventually. When he saw how being torn between him and my dogs was really wearing me down, he started spending more time around them. Slowly, he began to see their personalities; he started to understand what made me love them. I’m grateful that Mr. Mostafa was able to get past his fear, because otherwise, I’m afraid we would not have worked out in the end.
Over the next few years, I became a single parent no longer. Once Saleh loosened up with them, Andy and Parker fell in love with Saleh, too, and this is partly how I came to know that he had, in Saudi terms, “a white heart.” I watched Saleh go from despising all dogs to cooking doggy kabsa for Parker, sharing pizza with Andy, rushing Andy to the emergency vet hospital in the middle of the night for an upset tummy, and giving me instructions on how to make Parker’s “favorite meal” when Parker cut his paw and had to have five stitches while Saleh was in Riyadh and we were in the States. He also went through a year where he learned to be unfazed by poop, pee, and vomit (although by this time, Andy had outgrown his chewing phase). We became our own little family.
When Andy arrived in Riyadh, more transition was necessary. Obviously, Andy was a bit freaked out by the change. He had to learn to do his bathroom business on tile instead of grass. For the first two weeks, he barked (or, as my Saudi in-laws described it, “how-howed”) whenever he was left alone in the apartment.
Although I’m sure they wanted to tear their hair out during those noisy weeks, my in-laws were patient. And they did their best to accept Andy, even though dogs were certainly not something they were used to.
This is my father-in-law petting Andy for the first time, right after my mom, Andy, and I got to Riyadh in November of last year. It was really one of the most adorable things I’ve ever seen. It looked like he was so nervous, and wasn’t even quite sure how to pet a dog. But he was pleased to discover that, as he told me after I took this picture, that, “Andy is very kind.”
To be honest, even now, dogs are still not something my in-laws are used to. They will pet him, but licking is, of course, a no-no. They will talk to him (“Hello, Andy!”) and laugh at his antics, but they mostly are not snuggly and hands-on with him the way many Americans are with dogs. Still, they regard him as a member of the little family, and Andy loves them, especially when they share their food with him (which they do often). He spends most of his time with me and Saleh in the apartment, but whenever we go downstairs to sit outside in the hosh, if we don’t bring Andy, someone will inevitably grill us as to why we left him upstairs by himself and will send one of us back up to get him so he can enjoy some time outside in the hosh, too.
Despite my in-laws’ cultural discomfort with dogs, they know how much I love Andy, and how much Andy loves me, and for that I am always grateful. My mother-in-law loves her cats, and so, as she told me, she understands what it’s like to feel like a pet is your baby. Once, when I got home after a few hours away, my sister-in-law saw how excited Andy became, and she said, “He loves you so much! I wish my cats did that for me when I got home!” They have adjusted to Andy, and Andy has adjusted to Riyadh.
Last night, my mother-in-law came up to our apartment to visit. She had heard Andy barking at me earlier in the day, and as she petted him, she asked, “Why Andy was how-howing?” I explained that I had been eating watermelon, and Andy loves watermelon. He was trying to get me to share. She just laughed.
But a few minutes after she left, there was a knock on the door. On the other side was my sister-in-law, carrying a huge plate of watermelon that her mom had sent up for us.
It’s true that there are no dog parks, or doggy bakeries, or PetSmarts in Riyadh. But I think it’s safe to say that despite the general cultural aversion to dogs, especially indoor dogs, that surrounds us here, Andy and I are taken care of very well in Riyadh. We are loved, and we have watermelon. What else is there, really?