So, a few weeks ago, I was inspired by a blog post on The Kardia and decided that it was time to let my blog readers get to know Mr. Mostafa a little bit better. After all, he is one of the very main characters here, and he’s generally so understanding of how I consistently provide a glimpse into his life through the lens of my own admittedly limited perspective, as each individual’s perspective inevitably is (although I think part of the reason why he’s more chill about my blogging habits than a typical Saudi guy would be is because he’s actually the one who encouraged me to start this blog in the first place. In other words, he created this monster, so he’s got no one to blame but himself. Ha!). So I figured he deserved the chance to speak for himself a bit.
For the basics, I used the interview questions from The Kardia, tweaked a bit to reflect our own cultural foundation. Then I asked questions submitted by readers via Facebook, Twitter, and email, which I lightly edited for length, structure, clarity, etc. where necessary. The result is a very long but meaty interview (but heck, if you expected a short post from me, welcome, ‘cause you’re obviously new here). So, if you’ve made your cup of tea and are settling in for some reading time, here you go: Mr. Mostafa, in his own words!
My name is Saleh bin Mostafa. I was born and raised in Saudi Arabia. My family is originally from Medina. Most of my family members are located in Medina and Jeddah and Mecca. But I was born and raised in Riyadh. Let’s see…I’m a certified public accountant. I guess that’s it.
What do you think about my blog?
I really like your blog, and I think you differentiate yourself from other bloggers by not talking about a specific topic or a specific location or just your personal life. You kind of, you know, merge all of them. Like, you’re basically talking about everything in your experience, but especially in Saudi Arabia as a foreigner, which I believe is what makes your blog unique.
What is your favorite post that I’ve written?
I can’t really recall all the posts right now, but probably one of my favorites, one that drew a smile on my face, is our kitchen…when you wrote about our kitchen. Because I put a lot of effort…you know, it was kind of difficult to design and buy appliances for a very small, teeny-tiny kitchen, like a small fridge that has a freezer, a small washing machine and dryer in the same thing, a small oven, stove, you know…then after you wash the dishes, where are you going to put the dishes away…so yeah, I was kind of proud of myself when I read that post.
Have you ever had a blog, or have you ever considered starting one?
No. I used to hear a lot about blogging when I was in the States, but I never really knew a lot about blogging. I guess I’m not that kind of geeky guy.
Oh, so I’m a geek?
That’s what they say. Bloggers are geeks.
Oh, really? This is news to me. Well, kind of.
I don’t know, haven’t you watched the episode of The Office when they launched the Pyramid? All the bloggers there are geeks.
Hmm…that’s true. Those bloggers were geeks.
Yes. But those aren’t my words, those are Dwight’s words.
If you could meet any famous person, who would you choose?
Any famous person…well, for me, superstars or singers or whatever are not really role models to me. I don’t really have a role model in my life, so…but right now, maybe…I don’t want to say I have a crush, but maybe Taylor Swift…you know, I like her.
Good idea not to say to your wife that you have a crush!
Well yeah, I don’t want to say I have a crush on her, but I like her. I even, you know, I took it so personal when she released her new songs. I was like, “This is not Taylor.” I was totally disappointed. Even after I watched the video, I was extremely disappointed. But then, you know, I started to like the music, so…
So you like to shake it off?
I do, I do.
It’s okay, because, you know…I kinda feel the same way about Bruno Mars. Like, I won’t say I have a crush on him, but…yeah.
Well, I really like Bruno Mars songs, but, you know…I got disappointed in him when I found out that he was doing cocaine. So…
Let’s hope Taylor Swift doesn’t have a similar scandal.
Yeah, I very much hope not.
Tell about a date night gone wrong that we’ve had.
I think you’ve already blogged about the worst one…the date in the States, our first date after Lavi was born. Another one was…I was very excited, it was our first anniversary. I wanted to take you to a special place and have a very fancy date. So I made a reservation at Spazio, at the top of the Kingdom Tower. I wanted to make special arrangements; I told the guy I wanted a special cake and music. And I told him it was our anniversary, everything should be “Happy Anniversary.” Happy first anniversary. Well, after we had our wonderful dinner, I saw the waiters coming with the cake, behind you. And I was disappointed when they started singing “Happy Birthday.” And they wrote on the cake, “Happy Birthday,” too. Then we went to French Corner to grab you some macarons, because you love macarons. Well, when I came back out, the car wouldn’t start. The battery ran out. So I called the driver, he came and we tried to jump the car. But we couldn’t figure out where the battery was on the other car. We finally figured it out, but jumping didn’t work, so I had to go buy a new battery and put it in there in the parking space in front of French Corner. Yeah, it was a cluster.
Okay, so let’s cover all the bases…sports. Who is your favorite football (soccer) team, and why?
I remember before 2002, or let’s say up to 1998, I’m gonna say, I was very crazy about soccer. I could never miss a game of my favorite team. My favorite team, in my heart, was Al Ittihad…which is, you know, the team from Jeddah. But due to the environment and the cultural impact and the kids’ influence…I had to be like everyone else in Riyadh, so Al Hilal became my favorite team. I remember even my bedroom carpet was blue, everything was blue, I wanted everything blue. I still love blue. But the Saudi league really sucks now. After 1998, probably up to 2002, maybe the last time we won the Asian Cup…after that, I stopped caring a lot about soccer, especially in Saudi Arabia.
What is your favorite American sport, and why?
Again, I’m not really much of a sport guy, but if there is any sport that I would like to learn, it’s American football.
Because, you know, it makes sense. I remember when we went to the Springfield Cardinals baseball game, I was totally confused. It didn’t seem like a sport to me. But in American football, there’s a lot of energy, a lot of strength, it goes fast. And you know, in soccer, it takes a lot of special skills. It’s really amazing to watch a player like Ronaldinho or Messi or David Beckham. I believe that’s a special talent that you don’t really see in baseball.
That’s all for the basics. And now, on to the reader questions!
Are there times when you thought it would have been better if Nicole was born a Saudi? If so, when and why?
Yes, sometimes, just because of the language. Sometimes I really want to speak in Arabic. Sometimes it’s kind of difficult to express your feelings in another language. Sometimes I really wish…not that she was born Saudi, but at least that she grew up speaking Arabic. Even before I met Nikki, I used to write a lot of poems in Arabic, and I wanted to share them with her. But it was difficult to share those poems with her, because she wouldn’t understand them. But I’ve always loved writing poems. Whenever I feel mad or sad, or when certain events happen, that was my way of expressing myself. So yeah, I don’t have a blog or anything, but I love poetry. I’m a poetry geek, not a blogging geek. So sometimes, yes, I do wish she spoke Arabic…sometimes when I’m mad, you know, when we are in an argument, or when I try to make a joke…that’s a part of me that I don’t think she knows about me. The other part is…you know, I’m really talented when it comes to imitating accents in Arabic. I used to make my friends laugh. I went to international school, so I had friends from all over the Middle East, and I would be very curious about learning specific words and specific accents. So she doesn’t really understand when I make a joke that uses different words or different accents. I believe this is a part of my personality that she doesn’t know, and she can’t know because one, she’s not Arabic, two, she’s not Saudi, and three, she was not born and raised here.
Are there times when you thought it would have been better if you were born an American? If so, when and why?
Well, I’m really grateful that I was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, for several reasons. One, I had access to excellent higher education, and it was extremely affordable. I didn’t have to pay for college here in Saudi Arabia or grad school in the States. I’ve never had to worry about that. And I’ve never had to worry about anything medical…I have insurance from my employer, but if I didn’t, I could still go to the doctor. My government is supporting the employment of Saudis, so that’s an advantage for me. I don’t have to pay taxes. The cost of living here is extremely cheap compared to the States…well, most places in the States. I don’t feel like, you know, being a different race or having a different color is a very big advantage here, which it absolutely is when you apply for a job in the States. I feel like there is a lot of racism in the States…modern racism, as they say. I’m really glad I was born Saudi. I mean, absolutely, there is racism in Saudi Arabia. Very much racism. But I feel like it is slowly getting better here, where in the States, it’s getting worse. The thing that has really gotten worse here is the Shia/Sunni conflict…it was not so much of an issue before. Lots of my friends in school and college, they were Shia, and we never felt like we were different or anything. But then, you know, things got worse, with the Iraq War, and other things.
Do you read all of Nicole’s blog posts?
Absolutely. I read them all, and I click like…and I don’t click like on a thing unless I really like it. If I read something I don’t like on the blog, I’ll discuss it with my wife…but I almost always press like. So yes, I do read, and when I press like, that means I really do like it. Sometimes I wish Facebook had a dislike button, so I could click it on some things…but like, not her stuff. Wait…what I’m trying to say is that, you know, I’m not being biased when I click like. Being my wife, and being a part of her experience, that doesn’t mean I automatically like everything. I’m just interacting with the blog as a reader. I try not to let my relationship with the blogger influence my opinion.
Do people in your office read the blog? Do they make any comments when they read about you?
Um…I don’t know. I don’t think so. I do share and retweet her posts, especially the ones that I really like, but I don’t really talk about it with my friends. I think that might be a little bit awkward, like if I stood up at my desk and yelled, “Heeeeyyy, follow my wife! She writes awesome!” They would laugh at me. But I follow her on Instagram, and on Twitter, and on Facebook. Everyone knows that she is my wife, that I’m married to an American. So my friends and colleagues probably know about the blog, but no, I’ve never discussed it with my friends or colleagues. But if the asker is trying to say, “Are you ashamed of your wife?”, the answer is I am not ashamed of my wife. I’m extremely proud of my wife, which is why I am always retweeting her and liking and commenting on her stuff on social media.
How do you contribute to or help with the blog?
Well, sometimes I have to take my wife to places, or I have to stop the car at a certain place at a certain moment so she can take a picture. If I don’t stop the car when she tells me to, then I will be in trouble! Sometimes I drive my wife crazy, I forget to understand that she cannot drive here, and she cannot go to places on her own. Aside from that, she doesn’t need my support or my help when it comes to blogging, except sometimes she will ask me, “Can you translate this for me?” “Can you tell me what does this mean?” “Can you give me the spelling of this Arabic word?” But you know, the only way I’m really contributing is by being a male in Saudi Arabia who can drive, and has to have his wife, you know, rely on him to take her to places.
What would you like the blog to be ten years from now?
Well, for me, one of my wishes…I’m not going to say it’s my dream, because it’s not my dream, it’s her dream, but in ten years, I want to be going to book signing parties for her. I want to see her signing her books. So maybe, you know, this blog can be a way to get to that dream for her, to publish books, because I know what writing means to my wife and I know she always wished to become a writer or a photographer. But even though she didn’t go to college for those things, I think she is extremely talented in them.
What do you wish for your wife and your daughter to be ten years from now?
Well, I think I just answered that question for my wife. As for my daughter…you know, I just want her to be happy. Healthy and happy.
Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
Me, ten years from now? Probably just…building my career, pursuing my dreams.
Do you see Lavender turning out to be more like you or her mom?
I hope both. I hope she will benefit from this unique relationship, that she will get the best out of both cultures, and dump the negativity and the trash in both cultures. And I hope that also she will take the best out of both of us.
How do you remain so sweet to your wife?
I’m not so sweet. She knows I’m not so sweet all the time. Sometimes I’m a pain in the butt. Sometimes she is a pain in my butt. But before we were married, we were very close friends. My wife is not only my wife, she is also my best friend, and I believe that is mandatory in the equation of a successful marriage. And you know, every relationship has its ups and downs.
What was one thing that you noticed in Nicole that made you realize she was The One?
This is just one of several things, but I’m just going to mention the funny one: I’ve always had a thing for country music, and I’ve always been insulted here in Saudi Arabia for loving that particular music style. And she was the only person who shared that interest with me. So that was one of the reasons that I felt, you know, the click. But you know, it was also the way she always added positivity to my life. I might be negative sometimes. But she always had that secret of comforting me. And actually, probably also even the disagreements were part of it. Before I got married, I never saw my future wife as someone that would just nod her head whenever I say something. I like discussion and debate. So that’s something I share with my wife.
Have you ever been caught in a situation between your mom and your wife? If so, whose side did you take? (Please take it as a funny question!)
I don’t recall one thing right now, but there were several times, especially, you know, after Lavender was born. But who hasn’t gone through these sort of conflicts, especially after a newborn baby comes into the family? I really don’t take sides. I try to understand my wife’s feelings and discuss that with my mom. Now, I realize that I’m a dumbass who does not understand women, because I thought when you just deliver the message, right away, they will understand and be fine with it. But they will pretend they are fine with it, but a couple of minutes later, or a couple of hours later, they get pissed. So I don’t take sides, but I try to understand and concur with my wife. I try to understand her side, and then go and discuss it with my mom. It has worked so far. Thank goodness, I’ve never been in, like, a really messy situation.
Hypothetically, if you were the king of Saudi Arabia, what would be the first order you pass? What other reforms would you undertake?
That is a tough question. I know what most people would answer, and I know they would want me to answer, “Letting women drive.” But I hope that will happen before I hypothetically become a king. And there is one other very big thing that concerns me: finding a way to diversify our economy, our sources of income. Right now, we are 90% reliant on oil, which is absolutely scary. It means that that we don’t have a really stable economy, in my opinion, because oil is not a renewable resource. So if I were king, I would be investing in other sources of energy, and two…well, I know this is not going to interest your readers, but Saudi Arabia does have a lot of surplus in cash, so why not invest it? Why don’t we have a sovereign wealth fund where, like, we can have investments in several countries and several industries to generate a source of funds to support the day-to-day operations and expenditures, you know? I’m talking like a king who is an accountant. But I guess that makes sense. Probably we need to also look into…like, we are the second highest country when it comes to outgoing international wire transfers, right after the States. Many expats working here are sending so much money out of the country. I think we need to reform the tax laws here in Saudi Arabia. It’s about time to apply income taxes on foreigners…like, you know, in America, foreigners have to pay income taxes. But not all foreigners should get the tax, just specific professions. We need doctors, we need engineers. But there are other professions where I believe we have the human resources and the capability to fill these professions, and again, I’m not talking about foreigners who are poor, like drivers and construction workers. But we need to start applying an income tax because our money is going out of Saudi Arabia. I mean, I don’t blame them, because that’s the only reason many are in Saudi Arabia, you know…they are working for the money. But a part of this money could be invested in supporting our economy, and creating more jobs and opportunities for everyone, and making a better country for the new generations of Saudis, and supporting and building infrastructure. I may sound Republican, but that’s how I feel. But I’m not 100% Republican, because I don’t want poor people to pay the taxes. That’s why there needs to be a threshold. I guess that’s all. But as I mentioned, I hope women will drive by then.
What do you like best about living in Saudi Arabia?
I mentioned that before, in the question about why I am glad and grateful I am Saudi. It’s a very family-oriented place. Probably the only thing I don’t like about Saudi Arabia is that people are nosy here. Sometimes I can’t even have a nice dinner with my wife or going out with my family without people staring at us.
Absolutely, I’ve been to make Umrah several times. Never been to Hajj, but inshallah, I’m planning to perform Hajj with my wife.
Was it difficult for you to convince your parents to let you marry a Western woman? As you know, most Muslims are biased on this topic.
Yes, yes, absolutely. I’m not going to say most Muslims, but let’s say, it’s not going to be about Muslims, it’s about Saudis. Saudi Arabia is not an open culture. It’s not a country where almost everyone is an immigrant, like the States. That’s what makes it difficult. It’s probably one of the only countries where you have to apply for permission to marry a foreigner, which means, you can see that our government, our society, is not giving us the opportunity to get mixed with other cultures. It took me, like, two, three years to slowly convince my parents. And it’s really funny, I just had a disagreement with my wife about raising our kids and how we should help them make the right decisions, but if there’s anything I learned from the experience of marrying a foreigner, it’s that your parents might think that you are going in the wrong path, or you are making the wrong decision, but I’m glad that I proved to them that I did the right thing, it was the right decision. I’m glad that my family really likes my wife now, and they kind of clicked.
Would you prefer for your daughter to marry a Saudi or an American?
As of today, I absolutely prefer for her to marry a Saudi. I can’t handle the idea of not being able to see my grandkids and having to apply for a visa for them to come and visit, because a Saudi woman cannot grant citizenship to her kids, so I absolutely prefer for her to marry a Saudi. That was not a concern for Nikki’s parents, because that’s not the situation in the States; they know that, you know, they would be able to see their grandkids, because Lavender has an American passport, all our kids will have American passports. That’s my only concern. I would like my grandkids to be Saudis. I want them to share my citizenship, my language, my culture, and yes, my religion. But I hope the citizenship thing will change, and at the end, it’s not my decision. I believe it’s my daughter’s…because, you know, this what our religion encourages, it should be the woman’s decision.
Who do you think has it better in Saudi Arabia—men or women? And why?
Men, absolutely. It’s a men-oriented society. It is changing, because you know, Saudi women are showing that they have the ability to do great stuff; a lot of female Saudi scientists and scholars have done great accomplishments and are being acknowledged, both locally and internationally. But yes, most decision-makers are males. But even when you look to the States, which is the most liberal country, the decision-makers are mostly still males, not females. So yeah, it’s slowly changing, but it’s still kinda difficult to be a woman in Saudi Arabia.
Have you ever experienced culture shock? Tell us about it.
Culture shock? Yes, when I first arrived to the States. The driving, the waiting in lines…it was not so much a culture shock, I think, because I really enjoyed the experience. I had always heard about culture shock before I went to the States, but I did not feel it much. I absolutely enjoyed each and every experience. But I almost cried right after I arrived…I was sent to this old building on the campus, it was freaking Memorial Day weekend, everything was closed, I didn’t have a car, I didn’t have internet, I didn’t have a phone yet. I was one of the first people that the scholarship program sent to that university, so there were only a few Saudis there…literally, all the Saudis who were in Springfield, we all fit in one small living room in a duplex. So I felt extremely lonely…I didn’t know where the heck to go. It was hard at first. But I made it.
I assume that since you married a Western woman, you have no problem with Saudi men doing that, but what do you think of Saudi women who marry/have relationships with Western men? And what are the differences in which your society perceives those women vs. men who do the same?
Of course, she has the right. Again, it’s her choice. I don’t really have an opinion about that. But I think, like I said, before making the decision, they really need to consider whether they are okay with her kids not carrying the citizenship, with them being treated differently than their cousins just because their dad is not Saudi. So, you know, again, it’s not my decision, and I don’t have any objection, but Saudi women have more to think about with that than Saudi men do. But you’re asking if the majority of Saudi families would be okay with their daughter marrying someone outside of Saudi Arabia…the answer is absolutely not. Many don’t even want their daughters or their sons to marry outside of the tribe. And there is a cultural double standard…all over the world, there is this idea that “boys will be boys.” Even in America, especially in the Southern states, like…I think your brother got away with many more things than you did. Girls are the ones parents worry about and want to protect. We don’t worry as much about boys. It’s not really fair, but it’s just how it is. And quite frankly, it’s always the boys who get into trouble, not the girls. From what I’ve heard, it’s much easier to raise a girl.
We all know that marrying someone from another culture can be a challenge, and we know it sometimes is for Nicole, but I wonder what the challenges that you have faced are, and what things you see differently than Nicole.
Probably I will have more challenges when my daughter gets older. I don’t know what these challenges will be yet. I don’t know, I hope my wife and I are making it easier for each other to be open-minded and understanding about cultures. I don’t know what life is hiding for us when it comes to raising our children. But I think couples, even if they don’t speak the same language, if they have that click, and if they are open-minded about each other’s culture, origins, background, I think they will not face so much difficulty. My wife has been open-minded, I think I have been open-minded, too. We try.
What do you really think about your mother-in-law?
I really like…wait, she is the one who asked this question, isn’t she? No, I mean, she always comes to our house when we are in Missouri, we always go to her house when we are there. We go out to dinner with her, we hang out together. I think she is a funny, caring person. Sometimes I feel like she takes sides when Nikki and I disagree; I don’t blame her, though. I would take my daughter’s side, too. But I really love my mother-in-law. I think she’s awesome. She’s a tough woman.