For my readers that may not know, I am a Yemeni-Czech Muslim women who was born and raised in Virginia, USA and recently moved to Dammam Saudi Arabia. to be with my college sweetheart. And if moving to Saudi doesn’t show my love for him, I don’t know what will.
Now some might think:
“Oh my god, Saudi Arabia!! Good LUCK.”
“How are you going to survive?”
“You are so strong”
For the past 8 months I have grown fond of Dammam but what is life without some imperfections?
Let’s just say there are a couple of things need growth…
Prayer is one of the five pillars of Islam and as Muslims we are required to pray five times a day:
Fajr: At dawn
Dhuhur: Early afternoon
Asr: Late afternoon
Maghrib: At sunset
Isha’a: Late in the evening
The Athan is the call to Salat (prayer). Being in Saudi, I am given the privilege to hear the beautiful voices calling out to salat. Their voices echo throughout the streets into the houses of Dammam calling out to Muslims joining them together in the name of Allah. I prefer this much more than listening to it from my phone.
Do you know what’s not so beautiful? That EVERYTHING closes at Athan time. Super markets, malls, restaurants, cafes, gas stations, E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. I promise I’m not alone, locals also voice their opinion about the inconvenience of the athan.
Salat is important, but we should be able to pray at our own convenience.
The interruptions are frustrating because:
- Many of the employees are not Muslim, so they’re just taking advantage of another break
- It wastes SO. MUCH. TIME. Places close for about 45 minutes to an hour (depending on the prayer) Not only is it inefficient, 4 HOURS is WASTED FROM WORK! (Fajr doesn’t apply)
- Employees become lazy
- I had a wedding to get ready for in the evening. Around 3 PM, after finishing my workout, I was walking towards Tamimi SuperMarkets (a 10 minute walk from my place) to get some hair removal cream. As I’m walking, the Imam is articulating the Athan. “Sh*t” I mumbled to myself. I needed to get this ONE item. I arrived to Tamimi, pick up my item and literally walked around the supermarket for about 30 minutes waiting for the employees to come back to the cashiers. WASTE. OF. TIME.
- My husband and I were on our way to Khobar, which is about 30 minutes from Dammam to meet a cousin of mine. We needed to fill gas. FYI: workers pump gas for us like they do in New Jersey, in other words: they pump the gas for you. As soon as we entered the gas station, the athan went off. The worker automatically rejected us! I swear it would not have taken him 5 seconds to assist us. I COULD’VE PUMPED THE GAS MYSELF. AGAIN, waste of time and now we’re late to meet a friend.
- While at LuLu Supermarket on a Sunday we hear an announcement “Lulu will be closing in 15 minutes for Maghreb prayer.” NO JOKE, my husband and I raced against the clock filling our cart. We finally stood in a long line and I forced our groceries onto the belt. I could tell the cashier didn’t want to scan our items, but I DID NOT CARE. I was not willing to STAND and wait 30-45 minutes. Thankfully, we were the last customers before he closed his lane.
So, so frustrating. BUT, thankfully in the near future stores are required to be open during all hours. This may be the best news to come yet. With this change, companies will be more efficient, create more business, and produce more revenue. InshAllah.
Being Yemeni, I have a general understanding of Saudi culture. Back in the US if I were to attend a Yemeni party, it would generally be women only. Arab weddings would be separated by gender Why? Because women that do wear the hijab can be ‘free’ to wear what they like and truly enjoy themselves.
But family gatherings (thanksgiving, family dinners, etc.) would be mixed, cousins intermingling, everybody having a great time. Women in hijab enjoying themselves and being with family.
As time passed by, Arab weddings started to be mixed (in the US), and women in hijab have accommodated by finding stunning gowns to wear.
Here in Dammam, it is not the case*. Any party, wedding, family gathering, you name it, is separated. To some this might be fine or preferred, but for me, not so much.
*It depends on the family. Some families have mixed gatherings while others don’t.
- My husband and I both have some form of social anxiety, and I prefer for him to be by my side at these social events for comfort and support while in Saudi. With the divide between men and women, I can’t be with him. Back in the US, I would always be by my husband’s side whenever we attended events together and I was able to soothe his anxiety.
- Weddings, I can’t even celebrate with my husband or take cute couple photos with him all dressed up. I need an insta pic, you know?
- Even for the simple celebration of children’s birthdays, it’s just a women celebration.*
*Again, these are my personal experiences. Every family/city is different!
On the other hand, some women are simply uncomfortable if there is a man in the room.
Unfortunately, this results in a lack of interaction and communication skills in social and professional situations. This applies to both men and women.
At restaurants, cafes, banks, phone companies, etc., they all have separated entrances. One labeled ‘Singles’ (AKA MEN ONLY),‘Families’, And a few “Women Only” entrances. *
Again, they are accustomed to this and I am slowly starting to get used to it. Or maybe I’m just trying to convince myself.
Do I see this changing any time soon? Not really, but I’m praying!
Let me know in the comments below, how would you feel about separate gatherings.
*In the future, there will no longer be separate entrances. Some restaurants and stores have started already.
Hijab and Abaya
For those that may not know, the hijab is the scarf that women wear to cover their hair and abaya is a cloak that conceals the female body.
Here in Saudi, it is required by law for women to wear both the hijab and abaya at the beginning stages of puberty. On the other hand, The Niqab, which is used to cover the face exposing the eyes, is optional.
Yes, I am Muslim but I don’t wear the hijab or abaya, in general. Why? That is between me and Allah (SWT). Transitioning over to Saudi and having to cover my fashion sense with a solid black cover up was a big change for myself.
Clothes to me were always a way to express myself and with the sudden change from mix and matching my clothes to only one option, I feel that this cloth has stripped my identity away from me.
Of course for many Muslim women, wearing the hijab is apart of their identity . They feel empowered to represent their religion and who they are by resembling it through their hijab and it is something that I’ve always admired and respected from muslim women.
But it’s nice to have a choice. Many locals prefer to not wear the abaya.Who says you can’t dress modestly without the hijab or abaya?
I really hate to do the ‘compare’ game but I can’t help it. American muslims back in the United States who wore the hijab, always dressed in the most stylish and modest clothing, concealing their bodies with colors of deep reds, bright blues, crisp whites, and happy yellows.
Generally, foreigners and expats don’t wear the hijab, just the abaya. What does the future hold? I believe the hijab and abaya will no longer be mandatory. Today, locals are starting to not wear the hijab and having their abayas open, revealing their clothes. Saudi’s neighboring countries (Dubai, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, etc.) have the choice of wearing the hijab and abaya.
Check out this book “Mirror on the Veil: A Collection of Personal Essays on Hijab and Veiling,” that is a collection of essays where Muslim women explain why or why not they don’t wear the hijab.
– I can literally wear anything under the abaya. ANYTHING.
–Hijab covers up bad hair days. lol. (I know that’s not the point)
– The abaya come in a variety of colors, fabrics, patterns, and styles.
-When the weather starts to get hot and humid, I become a waterfall
-I don’t feel like myself (as mentioned above)
-It is difficult to have an open discussion about the hijab as many believe it is a religious duty
But do you know what really ticks me off the MOST? The hijab and abaya is meant to protect women. Make them feel secure. And unfortunately, even if I’m walking solo or with my husband, men still STARE! When I’m alone, cars honk at me with a young man cat-calling at me.
When I’m with my husband, THE DISRESPECT they have to look at me, even when I look back at them they don’t avert their eyes. The audacity they have! It’s just very uncomfortable, rude, and disrespectful to my husband AND their wives.
Islam is a religion where women are meant to feel comfortable, protected and safe. I am thankful that I do feel safe when walking alone. Yet, I feel extremely uncomfortable when men look at me. It’s as if I feel their eyes undressing my abaya, trying to imagine how I look like, what I’m wearing. Thank Allah for my music and headphones to block out these morons.
Unfortunately, sexual harassment is real. Even during Islamic religious duties.
In conclusion, being a female is hard anywhere. Men will stare no matter what. Here, men stare and I’m legit covered from head to toe. I JUST DON’T GET IT.
On April 1st, 2018 I became a pescatarian. No this was not an April Fool’s joke but unfortunately for me, Dammam was a challenging city to start this new health change. Challenge accepted!
Overall, I live a healthy lifestyle. I enjoy making salads, pasta with homemade sauces, a TON of veggies, smoothies, etc.
Saudi food consists of bread, fried foods, and sweets. At every corner you either see a McDonalds, Burger King, a KFC or a Pizza hut, basically any fast food place. Not my happy place. When I’m not in the mood to cook, it is IMPOSSIBLE to find a nice healthy grab and go place such as Cava or SweetGreen (That I MISS SO MUCH).*
As a pescetarian, ordering has been more interesting.
- I once went to a TGIF in Jubail (a city an hour from Dammam) where I attempted to order a chicken quesadilla without the chicken (cheese quesadilla if you will), they weren’t able to accommodate. Second attempt: a pasta dish without chicken. Again, they weren’t able to accommodate. The waiter feeling overwhelmed offered a dish with shrimp. That would have been great BUT I’m allergic to shrimp. I ended up ordering four cheese pasta. #NoRegrets
- I went to an Asian fast food chain (Oshaki) and ordered Spicy Garlic Noodles with vegetables. What were the vegetables? Green onion. That was it!!! I just laughed it off and enjoyed the delicious insubstantial meal.
A major pro is that the vegetables and fruits here are FRESH. I’ve had the freedom to experiment more with healthy courses for my husband and myself. According to him, I’m a pretty decent chef.
Not only do we not have the option for healthy restaurants, healthy snacks don’t exist here. The only snack you will find me munching on are nuts. If I decide to go to a specific supermarket such as Danube they have many healthy American snacks that I could find at a Trader Joes (another place I miss SO MUCH) but they cost an arm and a leg here.
*Riyadh and Jeddah have more healthy options
I’m just going to let these pictures explain themselves.
The pollution here has opened my eyes to the horrific and disgusting way that people treat their planet. Besides lacking basic knowledge on recycling and how to even dispose of trash, locals aren’t practicing what Islam teaches us on cleanliness. Unfortunately here, I have not seen the efforts of individuals to maintain their neighborhoods or corniche, they simply do not care. TWICE I saw people throw their bottle on the ground when the trash can was LESS THAN 5 METERS FROM THEM! It really boils my blood.
Having a personal driver is a common aspect of Saudi culture due to the fact that women are still unable to drive. Whenever the drivers drop off families for either shopping, eating at a restaurant, going to appointments, etc, the driver leave their cars on emitting an awful amount of smoke into the air.
Public restrooms: filthy. Your eyes water as they see flooding around the unclean toilet, the garbage overflowing with used tissue papers, and the mirrors smeared with I don’t even know what. I make sure to use the restroom at my place before I head out.
The amount of plastic they waste is dreadful. They use it for anything that you can think of from take out boxes to shopping bags. Sometimes they use ONE plastic bag for certain groceries, such as eggs. (Btw, they do this is the US too) I remember buying two items from HyperPanda and they were going to store it away in two separate plastic bags! I told them it was unnecessary and that I would carry the items without the plastic. The cashier looked at me as if I had given him a difficult math problem to solve.
To make things worse, there is NO recycling system here. Sometimes I wonder what century Dammam is living in.
It’s ironic really, because locals care so much about the cleanliness of their house but forget about the suffocating earth surrounding them.
This has really affected me and made me more aware of my plastic use. Seeing plastic or trash as I’m walking or even driving through a neighborhood, the amount of gas emitted as I’m walking into a store, and having to restrain myself from using the public bathroom. And to top it off, no recycling system! If anybody knows how I can start a recycling program, please reach out to me!
Do you want to hear a joke? Public transportation in Saudi Arabia.
On top of women not being able to drive (JUNE 24th, I see you) there is NO public transportation. WHY? No metro, no tram, no buses, NOTHING.
Sure there are car services like Uber and Careem, but that just gets expensive when being used excessively.
One would think if there was no public transportation, pedestrian life would be fantastic. NOT *Borat accent*
I am grateful for Dammam’s corniche. It is spacious, open, and beautiful to walk by the water along with couples and families enjoying themselves in the late evenings. But if one wanted to get from point A to point B, good luck. The sidewalks are so narrow to the point that a group of people have to walk in a single file line. In addition, there aren’t many pedestrian crosswalks. Let’s just say, looking both ways before crossing the street can not be taken lightly.
Will this change? I don’t know but I’ve been praying since October.
My fellow readers, I hope you enjoyed this vent session. I honestly have adapted to the separate gatherings (so proud of myself for overcoming my social anxiety for some events) and wearing the hijab and abaya (might change my mind after the summer heat.) but that’s about it, haha. Can you blame me?
However, seeing the minor changes now I am looking forward to the drastic ones in the future. Saudi will finally be catching up with modern society. Always find the silver lining in every situation.
Any questions or comments, write them down below! Thanks for reading, until next time!
Dans in Dammam