Category Archives: culture

two silly ways riyadh could be better for us.

March 28, 2016

It’s that time of year. The weather is gorgeous here in Saudi Arabia–just warm enough during the day that swimming sounds like fun, but not hot enough that you feel like you’re roasting in an oven when you step outdoors. It’s the kind of weather that makes people sit outside in their hosh and bake in the soothing sun while simultaneously lamenting, “Oh…summer is coming.”

And along with the gorgeous summer weather comes the urge to escape…because there are certain things that you just can’t do here. (At least, not in most places.) A few nights ago, Mr. Mostafa, whose work schedule has been about a thousand shades of crazy lately (you know, he’s an accountant, and it’s “the season”), was tossing around the idea of taking a weekend trip to Bahrain soon for some sun and relaxation (even though we just went–somewhat disastrously–a few months ago). “We’re both so stressed,” he said. “I think we need a little vacation.”

I don’t know if we’ll get around to a Bahrain trip soon. But I understand what he’s saying. And last week, I got a Whatsapp message from a friend here in Riyadh, another American married to a Saudi, letting me know that she and her kids were heading to Dubai for the week. “We haven’t left the country since September,” she said. “We need a break. Husband is going for a business trip. Kids and I are going for the pool.” Complete with laughing face emojis, of course. As though an explanation were actually necessary.

We all get it. Even most Saudis get it. Although I find Saudi Arabia much more livable than most Westerners can believe, we all need breaks from it. On long weekends and school vacations, the causeway that connects Bahrain to Saudi Arabia is jam packed with Saudis crossing the bridge for some time in Bahrain. And every time I get home to Riyadh from a trip to Bahrain or Dubai or someplace like that, I find myself thinking that there are some simple things that Riyadh could change that would probably keep a whole bunch of its own citizens within the borders on weekends and holidays, spending money and pumping up local economies. Obviously, I’m not Saudi, but I am married to one, and I can safely say that there are only a few things that we really notice the loss of whenever we get back. But they are important things.

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meet my brother-in-law!

February 15, 2016

It’s time for the next installment of my series of interviews with my Saudi in-laws! This time I sat down with my brother-in-law, Suleiman. I first met Suleiman when he was maybe 15 or so, and now he’s all grown up and graduating from college this spring! He’s a good kid, and as you could probably glean by reading the interview, he’s the Mostafa who is most serious about the development of my Arabic language skills; he quizzes me constantly and always pushes me to get better, which I appreciate, even when he’s a pain in the butt about it. Like before, I started out by asking him a few basic questions, and then moved on to questions submitted by readers. Here’s what he had to say.

Okay, here we go. Introduce yourself.

Why would I introduce myself? You know me.

You’re not introducing yourself to me, you’re introducing yourself to the readers!

Okay. My name is Suleiman Mostafa. I study industrial engineering at King Saud University in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. I’m 22 years old. I’m single. I’m a full-time student. That’s my life.

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January 17, 2016

My mom left Riyadh on Friday night. She headed back home to the States, after a two-week visit. It was wonderful having her here. For the two days prior to her departure, we both bawled pretty consistently in anticipation of her leaving.

This is one thing that I wish I had understood and been more prepared to deal with before I moved to Saudi Arabia–leaving my mom never gets easier. And it’s just never going to get any easier. I guess I expected that on some level, I’d get used to it. Like, I figured I’d develop some sort of emotional scar tissue that would let me not waste the last two days of my time with her (and other members of my family) on crying jags. I figured I’d be okay after awhile. But I still cry every single time. And so does she. It never gets easier for either of us.

The ironic thing is, and I’m sure I’ve mentioned it more than once here on the blog over the years, is that if I only had a bad relationship with my mom, with my parents, then this negative part of life in a foreign country would be completely eliminated. But I adore my parents. I think they’re the most wonderful parents that God could have given me. I’m grateful for them every day. And I’m also grateful for the incredible technology that we have nowadays that keeps me connected to them–I’m pretty sure I would not have survived this move if there were no such thing as video chatting.

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10 things people say upon learning i live in saudi arabia.

August 5, 2015

When you tell someone you live in Saudi Arabia, their reactions tend to be very different than if you say you live in, like, Nebraska or something. And of course, that’s understandable, especially if you pay any attention to the news. But still, the reactions can sometimes be…well, irritating.

Not always, though. There are times when I really don’t mind these phrases, especially when they come from certain people. Like you, lovely blog readers…I have no problem with you commenting and saying something like, “You must be so happy to be home!” The same goes for people I know in real life, who know me well either through social media or in-person interaction. But that’s not what I’m talking about here.

No, these are things that random people I’ve just met often say to my face when they find out where I live.

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meet my sister-in-law.

July 15, 2015

When I posted my interview with Mr. Mostafa a few months ago, I got several messages indicating interest in more interviews from the people in my Saudi family. And to be honest, I had a really fun time conducting the interview, so it’s something that I was interested in continuing, as well. My lovely sister-in-law, Mr. Mostafa’s younger sister, graciously agreed to be my second interview subject. I asked her a few basic interview questions, and then I moved on to interview questions submitted by readers, the answers to which constitute the bulk of the interview. So, without further ado…meet Ms. Mostafa!

Okay, here we go! Introduce yourself.

Um…my name is Wala’a Mostafa. I’m your sister-in-law. I am Saudi, and I studied preschool education in college. I’ve been teaching for five years; this will be my sixth, and I love it. I’m single. I’m 27. And…that’s all.

Okay, so…what do you think about my blog? Do you even read the blog at all?

I do sometimes! I mean, it’s interesting to me as a reader, not as your sister-in-law. It’s interesting to me because it showed these, you know, exciting stages of your life where you left your country and you married a Saudi guy. It was exciting because…like, okay, you had met us before, but you didn’t know how we lived. We didn’t know how we lived! (Laughs) Because, you know, my parents bought the house right before you came here, so we were still adjusting even before you came. So that’s what’s interesting to me about the blog, and you know, you make it seem so cute! When you talk about your daughter and you talk about your in-laws…it makes me feel special!

Well, you are special! Have you ever had a blog or have you ever considered starting one?

No. And no.

If you could meet any famous person, who would you choose?

Adam Rodriguez…but he’s married! So…Adam Rodriguez. It’s still Adam Rodriguez. (Laughs)

Where is your favorite place that you’ve traveled so far?


And why?

Because…I don’t…I don’t know, wallah. I don’t know. Florida was more exciting, and it was so much fun. You know, Disney World…maybe I should have said that! But Chicago is my favorite. It’s really my favorite city.

Where do you want to travel someday that you haven’t traveled so far?

A lot of places! Mostly Asia. Like, Tokyo, Hong Kong, the Philippines…Tokyo is the place I most want to go, I think.


Alright, reader questions!

(Gasps. Deep breaths.)

Are you ready?


Okay. You already answered this a little bit, but I’m going to ask it anyway: what’s your educational background?

We all studied in private schools, my brothers and me. Mine wasn’t fancy, but alhamdulillah, I graduated from it and went to college. I still don’t know why I chose preschool education, but I did, and I’m glad I did, because I’ve been working with kids ever since and I love it.

And you went to a university here in Riyadh.

Yes. King Saud.

Again, you already answered this, but what do you do for a living?

I work in a Montessori school.

Okay. Next question: Saudi women can be very successful in many aspects. Could you mention some of your female friends who have found success?

All my friends.


I would say all my friends. Well, there’s one I know of…she isn’t working. But my cousins especially, I’m proud of them. Not only my cousins here in Riyadh, who work and have their businesses, but also my cousin Shatha, from Jeddah, she’s a jeweler now. Although she studied French translation in college, but…you know…those women do stuff. So I would say, all of my friends.

Who inspires you?

My mom! Wallah, my mom…and…I’d say my best friend, Sara. Because she helped me through a lot of things in my life…you know, like, problems, girl stuff…and I love the way she thinks. I love the way she solves problems.

Okay. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I have no idea! (Laughs) Can I say that?

Of course you can!

I don’t know. I want to be healthy, happy, still enjoying my job, and enjoying my life, day in and day out.

Can’t ask for more than that! Okay, so what do you think of intercultural marriages? And did your views about intercultural marriages change since Saleh married Nicole?

I’m 100% for it, for so many reasons. But the one reason that I really believe in is…even Prophet Muhammad said to go further than your region to find your partner. And I believe it makes your kids smarter because the genes are totally different. And there is a history of…studies and facts that kids whose parents are married from the same family have disorders and genetic problems. So the closer, the more chances it is for you to get diseases. And what do I think about it after you guys got married? Mashallah, I want to get married the way you guys got married. And that’s all I’m going to say. (Laughs)

Would you consider an intercultural marriage yourself?


Okay, if yes, would you prefer to marry someone whose culture is very different from yours, like American or French or Korean, or would you prefer someone with a culture that’s a bit closer to yours, like Moroccan or Omani or Somali?

It would be easier for me to get married to a person within my same culture…you know, because of the background, and the way we think. But I know that it’s possible for me to find a person in other regions, like the ones you mentioned before, American and such, that I could click with and I can understand, because of the language we have in common. And because I am open-minded. (Laughs)

Okay, this next one is kind of a big question, so get ready.


I mean, it’s kind of a broad question. What do you think about Saudi men? Culturally, as husbands/brothers/citizens, etc.

I have the perfect answer to that! (Laughs) All men around the world are raised in a certain way. But Saudis are raised more into this way, which is the guy is the very important person in the family, and you know, he inherits the family name, and he makes money, and he will get you a house, and whatever…so they worship the guy, until he becomes so spoiled, and then when he gets married, the girl has to deal with all of this BS. Does that make sense? (Laughs)

It makes perfect sense!

I’m not getting married to a Saudi after this interview. (Laughs.)

Okay, next question. Saudis are very different from family to family, and depending on the area as well.

That’s true! I was going to say that I wasn’t raised in a family that’s like this…but I am. Saleh is still special to them, Suleiman is still their baby, and I’m still the middle child who happens to be a girl; that’s why I’m spoiled. (Laughs) Wallah!

Okay, so what kind of differences do you see from family to family?

Some families are so strict. Some families, they try hard not to differentiate between their kids, but they can’t, because again, it’s a natural thing, I guess not only for Saudis. But you know, it depends on the family. Some families are really strict and they worship the boys, and some families are fine. Some families, they care about their daughters more than their boys.

What things do you wish people from outside Saudi Arabia understood about Saudi Arabia and Saudi life?

A lot! So many, I can’t think of one. (Laughs) First of all, we’re not terrorists. And we’re not as closed as they think we are. And we are not as rich as they think we are. And I mean, yes, women can’t drive, but women can do so many things. Oooh, add this! Me, as a Saudi girl…I don’t know why I’m saying this; it doesn’t really have to do with the question, but…even the stuff that I can’t do, I see many of those things as a benefit. Because I don’t want to look for a parking space, and I don’t want to deal with accidents, and I don’t want to deal with a broken car. So to me, this makes me feel…good, that I can sit back, you know, play with my phone, and a driver does all the work. So, even that…I want them to know this. I want them to see that many of us, we don’t feel like that we don’t have rights. As women and as Saudis.

Okay, but what about, like, traveling outside of the country?

What do you mean?

I mean, like, I remember one time, your mom went to get her passport renewed and they told her to come back with her mahram. And she was really angry about it. I would have been angry, too.

That made me feel even more relieved, because I didn’t have to deal with that mess and paperwork! (Laughs) No, seriously, alhamdulillah, my dad is still alive, so he deals with that stuff for me. When I needed a passport, I woke up the next day with a ready passport. I didn’t have to do anything. But I mean, I’m lucky, because I have such a family. But some ladies, they don’t have a loving dad, or a loving husband, or a caring brother, or a helpful guy in the family, you know? So living in Saudi isn’t fair to everyone. It really isn’t fair to everyone, and I know that. But it’s working fine for me. (Laughs) No, what I mean is, it’s working for many of us. There are things we want to change, we know that, but we are okay. That’s what I want people to know…we are living normally like everyone else. Yes, we don’t have cinema theaters, yes, we can’t drive…but I’m fine with that. We still download movies, we still listen to music…you know, even people download P-O-R-N here. (Laughs)

Okay, what do you like the most about life in Saudi Arabia?

I’m safe. Safety, and living here is so easy and cheap. We don’t have to pay taxes, and food is cheap…I’m not sure about water and electricity, but I think it’s reasonable. Like not crazy expensive. So, living here is easy and safe. You can save a lot of money if you work here. Which, I haven’t…(Laughs) But you can if you want to. I should.

What do you like least about life in Saudi Arabia?

I think the fact that we don’t have movie theaters, wallah. Because everything else, we have. But housing costs…buying a house or renting a house here is crazy expensive.

Yeah, it’s hard because you have to have this huge chunk of money up front, whether you want to rent or buy.

Yes, exactly…I know I sound very dumb when I said movie theaters…

No, not at all! To me, it’s something important, too…I really miss movies. Silly, but…it’s true.

Okay, yes. So, movie theaters…and the fact that houses are more expensive here than what they should be, because, I mean…it’s a desert. (Laughs) Wallah!

Yeah, and you have to have a 30% down payment to get a mortgage on a house, no matter what. Like, that’s huge.

Well, I don’t know about that, because alhamdulillah, I’ve never had to buy a house…see, I’m telling you, I’m spoiled. I sound like a spoiled brat! Forget it, it’s just movie theaters. (Laughs)

Okay, you’ve already kind of answered these things, but maybe you have something different to say. So, what do you like and not like about Saudi culture?

A lot of things! I like the…conservativity? Is that a word? (Laughs) But I don’t like the strictness.

Could you explain a little bit more? Because I think, to Americans, if you say conservative/strict, they kind of sound like the same thing. Like, what do you mean by “conservative,” and what do you mean by “strict”?

Conservative, you know, that….hmmm…I have no idea how to explain this. But I’m living it! (Laughs) How can I put that in words? Let’s see…you know the stupid mentality that still exists about people marrying the same tribe? This is what I don’t like about the Saudi culture. That they still believe this…I don’t know how to say it in nice words. These stupid, old ways that make us still think that we have to marry a person within the same tribe, and we can’t just marry anyone. Some guys, even if they’re in love with the girl, they won’t marry her because she’s not from their tribe. And because of the fact that she was talking to them before marrying them. That means, “Oooh, she might do that after I get married to her!” Or, “Who else has she been talking to?” And that’s horrible. But by conservative, I mean, the way I’m living. Because, you know, my parents, they have so many rules that we can’t even break because we don’t want to break them. You know? They gave me their trust, and I don’t want to break it. And this is how people should raise their kids. Show them what’s right and what’s wrong, set some rules and boundaries, and then let them live. Don’t smother them.

Okay, as a teacher, could you describe your school day and the curriculum you teach?

Awwww! Okay, as I told you before, I’ve been teaching for six years, but for the last year I’ve been teaching a Montessori curriculum, and it’s the curriculum I love the most. I work from seven in the morning to two in the afternoon. The kids leave at one-thirty, and they start at eight. I spend four hours with my kids, full-on, and then I have a hour and a half on my own. I teach them English, and I love how Montessori exposes them to every single subject area, in a way that’s not controlling…it’s not, you know, “You have to do this and you have to learn this.” So it’s easy for me and for them. It’s easy for me to teach, and it’s easy for them to learn. And they learn a lot. And I love it. I love the school I work in.

Awesome. Okay, would you ever move to a non-Muslim country?

Yes. But…if I had the choice between a Muslim country and a non-Muslim country to move to, I would choose the Muslim country. Not because I’m, like, closed-minded or anything, but because it would be easier for me to live as a single Muslim girl. And by that, I mean I would love to move to Istanbul. Basically, I just want to move to Istanbul. (Laughs)

As an Arab, do you understand the Qur’an directly, or do you sometimes need to turn to other sources for meaning of words, etc.?

No! I mean, yes, yes, the second one! ‘Cause it’s super fancy words that no one on earth could write or come up with them. But at the same time, they’re easy to be understood. I don’t know how to explain that…because some surahs were sent to Prophet Muhammad when he was in Medina, and some were sent when he was in Mecca. And the people in Mecca were very strict and closed-minded, and were like, “No, we don’t want this religion!” So Allah sent the surahs that are short, you know, with short ayahs and very simple words. And the Medina surahs were more, you know, like Al Baqara, they were these long surahs with a lot of fancy words that you really have to read about to understand them. Plus, in Qur’an, as the way it is with other books, Allah mentioned a lot of stories and miracles that you know, that we should learn from. So yes, I read them from Qur’an, but those specific stories, I try to read them from tafseer or from other explanations. Sometimes I even use Wikipedia to see, you know, how this story was mentioned in Qur’an and the Bible, and other places.

Do you want to get married?

Yeeeee–I don’t know! (Laughs) No, wallah, I don’t know. For this question, you can write yes, no, and I don’t know. (Laughs)

When are you going to get married?

When it’s meant to be.

Good answer. What qualities will you look for in a future husband?

The number one quality is me clicking with him.

Define “click.”

Understanding each other, and…you know sometimes, you don’t click with people. And sometimes you just click with them. You can have love and respect and whatever, but clicking with them is an entirely different thing. I don’t know how to explain “click.” (Laughs)

Define what Lavender means to you.

(Gasps) The biggest love of my life. I love her more than anyone on earth, more than my little brother, who I love more than anyone in this house. Wallah, Suleiman is my favorite…and Mama, too, of course. I can’t live without her. But Lavender…I would take a bullet for her. I would push her out of the way and be hit by a car for her, I would let a lion kill me…(Laughs) Wallah, this is how much I love her. I would die for this girl. Not drama…I love her more than anything in life. I would give up my life for her. I wouldn’t give up my life for you, I’m sorry. (Laughs)

It’s okay! (Laughs)

Or for Suleiman, who I love more than anyone in this house. But your daughter…to me, she is the biggest love story in my life so far. Wallah, and not just because you’re her mom. If this interview was with some random Saudi girl that Saleh married instead, I would say the same. And can you please write that I love that someone asked that because I’m sure the person who asked that question knows that the answer would be that she is so special to me.

Okay, so your answer to the last question is going to make this next question kind of awkward, but here it is. (Laughs) What makes your relationship with Nicole so special?

I have no idea! (Laughs) See, this is the click thing I was talking about! It’s the click! Subhanallah, we think the same, and alhamdulillah, even though I don’t have a sister, Allah sent you to me. I tell you stuff that other people in the house don’t know. The fact that we both are interested in and love the same stuff, such as education, makes it more special, but that doesn’t affect the click. The click is there. It’s the click. And when Saleh told me, “I want to marry Nicole. What do you think of her?”, I said two things. I said, “Nobody can stand you the way she does,” and I said, “That will make it easy for you, Saleh, because your sister and your wife are best friends.”

Awww, I love that. So, on a related note, the next question is, were you the first one in your family to support your brother when he mentioned getting married to Nicole?

Yes, yes, yes! I was, wallah! I was the first one in the family that he told! So yes, a very big yes! He asked me what I thought about marrying you before he even asked our parents. And I told him, “You know what, I’m sure they’re gonna say no, but I’m gonna fight for you, I will help you, because I know her,” and I knew something huge was about to happen. You know, I stepped back a little bit when it was really intense, when they said no at first, but I was there, and I hugged him, and when he cried I was there for him and I told him, “It will happen.”  I didn’t know when, but then one day Mama came into my room and told me, “Tomorrow we’re going to buy Nicole a ring.” I said, “What?” She said, “Your dad said yes.” And I was like, “Alhamdulillah!”

What’s it like having a sister-in-law from a completely different culture?

That’s a very good question. Again, it makes me feel special, and lucky. Because this goes back to the fact that people getting married from different countries is important, because this…I mean, having you as a sister-in-law made me more open, made me proud, and made me believe that…that the good in heart exists in every single country in the world, not just the one I was raised in. Wallah.

You’re gonna make me cry! Okay, well, here’s a chance to rag on me a little bit: what does your sister-in-law do that you sometimes don’t understand because of the cultural differences?



Wallah, nothing. I consider myself open-minded, but I mean, you are more open-minded than me. But I wouldn’t say that I don’t understand this. You know, like the other day when we were talking about the gay marriage thing, and you were like, “No, it’s okay,” and I was like, “No, it’s against God’s laws!” So I guess maybe there’s that, that you’re more open-minded than me, but it’s not a bad thing. I understand that.

What things would you change about those cultural differences if you could?



Really! Every culture has its differences, and beliefs, and I think that everyone should live together happily, respecting and accepting other cultures.

Maybe you should be President of the United States! (Laughs)

No, no no! It wouldn’t work. The first thing I would do is say no to gay marriage. They can keep marijuana! (Laughs) No, I’m joking. But I wouldn’t be a good president.

Last question: what is a beauty secret that you have?

It would be cheesy if I said, “This yogurt mask I use,” or something like that. (Laughs) Well, I’m in this phase of losing weight, and I feel like I’m failing because I’m trying to focus on so many things at the same time. So…just be easy on yourself. Know your limits. Because I put too much pressure on myself, and I failed. I mean, I succeeded, but then I failed. I tried to fix my skin, my hair, lose weight, and build my career, and all of that all at the same time, and I feel like I failed. So…don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Take one thing at a time. That’s my beauty secret. I’m sure people won’t like that, but you know, that advice is so much more than just, like, “Find your angle,” or “Use this mask,” or whatever…this is lifelong beauty. Set high standards for yourself, but don’t put too much pressure. Wait…you know what? I want to change my beauty secret answer. I want to say, love yourself before anyone else. That’s my answer. Love yourself before anyone else.

Thank you for letting me interview you!

No problem. It was so much fun!