Everything Will Be Okay
2018……What. A. Year. The most challenging year I have faced yet.
A year where I was challenged mentally.
A year where I reached my lowest point.
A year of lessons.
I was officially living in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, away from everything that felt familiar. The move was yet another moment of change in my life, an ultimate test that I was willing to face.
Some of my family members gave me fair warnings of the drastic changes I may face in a country different from the comfort of my home in Virginia. Others, clouded my mind with negative thoughts of how they could never do what I was about to embark on. Most of my friends couldn’t understand the change that I was willing to endure. They claimed I wouldn’t be happy, my freedom would be taken away from me, you name it. Despite hearing all of their comments, I tried to stay positive. I knew it would be hard, especially since nobody seemed to have my back nor encourage the big move, but more importantly I knew that I was strong.
“It’s ok if you can’t drive, you can depend on Hamood.”
“Ah, the hijab and abaya won’t be a problem. Plus, you can be comfortable with wearing ANYTHING under it.”
“I’ll be able to find a job, make friends, keep myself busy.”
“Saudi Arabia is literally in the middle geographically, traveling is going to be amazing!!”
“You got this.”
Or at least I thought I did.
Reality hit me hard.
In 2018 I lost myself and my independence. I felt trapped wanting to please others to feel accepted. All at the price of letting myself go.
The Inevitable Path of Losing Myself:
I Got Scammed
Soon after arriving to Saudi, a lot of my family and friends knew that I was offered a ‘job’ at an international school. But a lot of them don’t know what really happened. The director who hired me seemed enthusiastic and encouraging. He acted like a motivational speaker, smiling bright, sharing a vision that he had in his mind, speaking with such admiration. My job for 3 months would be to mentor aspiring elementary teachers on Teaching Methods and English skills. Then, if I enjoyed it, I would continue to teach full-time once the ‘school’ opened. (red flag number 1). I was of course beyond excited and proud of myself for landing a job so quickly. Along with another female coworker, as well as a male coworker who had been working at the school for about 2 months already. Even as I walked in the hallways, I could see other potential teachers hoping to land a job at this ‘prestigious’ school.
Two and a half months went by with many red flags waving at my face, including not getting paid. I would ask week after week but received a mundane response of, ‘the director will come this Thursday’ or ‘the check will be in next week.’ But to be honest, I didn’t care about the money. I loved my students, seeing how determined they were, their eagerness to learn, watching them take notes, hands raising into the air to ask questions; their enthusiasm with presentations at the end of the week where they would bring in traditional snacks such as ma’amool (cookies stuffed with dates), grape leaves, and other homemade goods. My students are what got me through the deceit.
Towards the end of the 3rd month, one of the ‘administration’ staff notified us that we would have a break of two weeks to sort out transportation issues. I was excited to to take time off to relax and refocus for a fresh start.
Two weeks passed by and I received an email saying the school would resume schedule the following week. I had a bad feeling inside but I ignored it, telling myself that everything will be ok.
Soon enough, I received an email from one of my students saying that the school was a scam. I was later sent another message from a different student saying how the male coworker who worked before me ALSO didn’t get paid. It felt as if someone had laughed at my positive attitude, someone laughed at my fortune to land a job soon after arriving in Saudi, someone wanted me to feel a sinking feeling drowning to the pit of my stomach. I had finally accepted the truth.
To make matters worse, students paid a certain amount of money for the English classes which were given to the ‘director.’ The money was never returned and the students lost their chance at a promised guaranteed job.
I now felt as it was my obligation to inform eager students that all of this was a lie. Many of them relied on this for future income, quitting their other jobs in hopes of becoming a teacher. Telling my students the horrible news, my heart ached as I received many outrageous and saddened messages. Many of us had an instinctive feeling about the scam but we simply ignored it. At the end of it all, we all felt used by this ‘director’ who we later found out HAS a criminal record and is still out there.
My motivation after that was shattered.
For about a month I was devastated, stayed at home all day, and lost myself.
I didn’t want to tell my family, I didn’t want them to worry from miles away. I wanted them to believe that I was OK, making the best of my Saudi life. Mommy and Baba/any family/friends that didn’t know, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry for not telling you but it’s all ok now, I promise. 🙂
Silver lining: It kept me busy and distracted my first couple of months. I met amazing, strong and determined women. Many now are working at elementary schools and I could not be MORE proud. Even if it took some time to let the wounds heal, we all became stronger. Lesson learned.
I arrived to Saudi September 24th, 2017 and two days later a miracle happened. They announced that women would FINALLY be able to drive in start of June 2018. I was excited for this milestone in Saudi where only men took to the roads. But more selfishly, I was happy for myself thanking Allah for watching over me and helping me adapt to Saudi culture. I only had to wait 8 months.
8 months felt like forever. Honestly, in the beginning it was fine. It felt nice, to be driven to places, feeling like an important socialite riding around just like the modern day princess.
But as time went on, it got exhausting. I had to consistently depend on others. Every task I needed to do was no longer on my time but my husband’s or a driver’s time.
It also didn’t help that I couldn’t walk short distances for a quick errand. Dammam lacked any sort of path for pedestrians to walk. With narrow sidewalks (if any) and cars not willing to wait for you to cross the street, I felt like I was walking amongst a death trap. Even my private tutoring wasn’t liberating enough. I would be stuck at home until late in the afternoon, feeling as if my day wasted away.
Being stuck at home triggered a lot of heavy emotions for me. I had numerous mental breakdowns, slept all day to make the pain go away and not face reality. Believing that if I just kept my eyes closed, I wouldn’t have to face the fact that I couldn’t escape the pit that I sunk into. Time was my enemy, idle hours passed and I didn’t know what to do with myself. Netflix burned my eyes and food lacked taste. I had too much time in the day that unfortunately I didn’t know how to utilize it. All the self-love that I have been practicing the past couple of years, went down the drain.
I wallowed in my self-pity, feeling bad for myself. It went dark for a while and I didn’t know how to get myself out.
Being unable to travel independently within my new home city, either by foot, public transportation or by driving myself had already drained the feeling of freedom out of my body. So when I found out that I wasn’t able to travel outside of Saudi Arabia, I felt crushed. Traveling has been in rooted in myself at a young age. My dad would plan a various number of trips for my younger sister and I, where we explored the different bites of parisian goods, took in views of sunsets in Berlin, or hiking up waterfalls in humid rainforest of Puerto Rico. All of that being take away from me felt as if I was imprisoned. This was all due to the fact the my “special” Saudi passport exit visa needed to be renewed yearly but had expired sometime in December.
The exhaustion that my husband and I went through to renew my passport was a total nightmare. While I felt hopeless and drained, we didn’t give up. Maybe my life takes a liking for the drama, because by the will of Allah, I was granted an emergency exit visa four days before traveling to Vietnam.
Not being able to travel was triggering onto an already defeated mind.
Silver lining: Driving:- WOMEN CAN DRIVE NOW AND THIS HAS BEEN THE MOST LIBERATING AND AMAZING FEELING IN THE WHOLE WORLD. Saudi has become live-able for me, despite the heart palpitations daily due to crazy drivers, I am SO happy that I can drive. The taste of freedom never felt so good! My followers, don’t take things for granted!!
Silver lining: Travel:- Travel is still an issue but luckily I can travel within Saudi. I recently went to Jeddah twice to see family & friends and that has been amazing, relaxing, and eye-opening on its own. I am very thankful, being through the chaos that I have, I realized that there is always a solution to ANY problem.
Pleasing/caring About Others Opinions
Where do I even start?
For those of you who don’t know me, I am a Muslim that doesn’t wear the hijab. Coming to Saudi I wore it out of respect to the culture as well as my in-laws. In addition to the lack of covering my hair, I post videos and pictures on public outlets where many Saudi women don’t. This is all in a difference of two cultures.
People would judge me if I didn’t wear the hijab. People DID judge me. Generally, I’m the type of person that could care LESS about what others thought about me. But here, it was different. Even if my hijab wasn’t on properly, I received an overwhelmingly numerous condescending stares. Again, every city is different, where Dammam is more conservative. Khobar or Jeddah I could get away with not wearing the hijab.
Negative thoughts clouded my head:
“What am I doing wrong?”
“Am I a bad Muslim?”
I started to question my self-worth.
So I continued wearing the hijab, I continued to care about what other people thought of myself – what I wore, how I acted, my presentation. Along with physically being trapped my mind felt suffocated. I was not myself. I’ve come to the terms that I couldn’t fake it anymore.
I started a blog hoping I would be able to escape my reality and share it with others as a coping mechanism. When starting my blog, I didn’t post any images or videos of myself to please my in-laws. But it wasn’t me – I found it difficult to connect with my readers on a more personal level.
On top of that I knew the dangers of your mind seeking validation from numbers with social media: numbers of views, likes on posts, etc. I started comparing numeric figures, content, how their instagram page were aesthetically pleasing – telling myself that my blog and instagram are boring, my writing sucks, and nobody cares for my content. I still thought this even though I was getting massive positive feedback; despite the low numbers of views and likes.
With all of this, it has affected and fed my negative thoughts about my blogging. On top of comparing myself to others and constantly being unsatisfied with the number of views; I wanted to post on my instagram story videos of myself talking to my followers to form a connection. But because I cared too much about what other people thought, I didn’t do it, to satisfy OTHERS. I realize that there are many women and men out there who are able to post and share anonymously, but it’s not my style.
It was a facade that I thought I could keep up with. I let it get the best of me. I didn’t believe in myself anymore and my creativity, so I gave up.
But I couldn’t.
I wasn’t about to continue blogging and not be honest with myself, because who will?
Silver lining: I solely wear the hijab in front of my in-laws out of respect. Other than that, I don’t. AlhamduAllah there’s no haya’a (religious police)anymore. So, if I’m walking out in public, going grocery shopping, you’ll be able to spot me in a heartbeat: young woman with no hijab, abaya opened with a cute outfit, feeling more confident than ever.
I am a good Muslim. I am loved. I am me.
2018 also came with a lot of good:
- My husband proving to to be the amazing rock that he is in my life
- Tutoring adorable and witty students
- Traveled to Vietnam
- Reunited with my family and friends back in the states
- Read two amazing books about self-love: You Are a Badass & The Four Agreements
- I have an amazing cousin & family friends who live about 20 mins away from me
- Found spots that sparked happiness at different corniches and cafes
- My 1 year yoga anniversary! Yoga has been my savior this past year
- Regained my independence
- There is no haya’a (religious police)
- 3 amazing cats in my life
2018, you were pretty rough, but I learned that there is always a silver-lining to ANY situation. After some self-reflection, my first year living in Saudi I was focusing too much on the negatives, and trying to adapt to multiple changes at once; it consumed me. I completely lost myself in a pit of self-doubt. But I grew and learned to face obstacles one at a time, and faced these challenges & fears; only to welcome and find a better version of myself.
This year I have learned and gained so much knowledge that I can’t wait to use my STRENGTHS and POSITIVE ENERGY in 2019.
2019…the year of FOCUS.
Focus on my goals.
Focus on becoming a better version of ME.
Focus on creating & maintaining a more positive lifestyle.
Always remember, you are not alone. Those negative chatters in your mind, ignore them. They are your enemy that are slowly bringing you down. Be strong, unapologetically you, and be patient on life’s journey. It will all fall into place.
My fellow readers, I hope that this reflection of mine will give you a peek into a different side of a girl who always puts on a smile while struggling to adjust herself in a new home. I believe that it is important to share the good as well as the downs in your life.
Let me know in the comments below how was your 2018? What are your goals for 2019? Have any questions? Keep in touch 🙂
Dans in Dammam
Edited by: Kutoof Alwazir