Making memories in the Arab World | Expat Mama in Saudi Arabia
For our 7th series of our amazing Expat Mamas around the world interview-stories, I am excited to have the chance to feature Abeer— A jetsetter Mama conquering life abroad and making memories together with her husband Aetesam, his son Hamza ( 4 years old) and Azaan (1-year-old) in the land of the liquid gold, the birth place of Islam and Arabs, in the oil-rich magnificent desert–Riyadh, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia!
So how does one Expat Mama braves the desert life, sandstorms and living in modesty in the Land of the Two Holy Mosques? Here’s Abeer’s story of sharing inspiration and everyday life in her happy corner.
Expat Mama Story : Making memories in the Land of Arabs
Abeer is a Muslim Expat Lifestyle Mama Blogger behind This Happy Corner. She was officially baptized into the Blogworld when she starts to become Contributor for the magazine and online Parenting site ExpertParenthood.com with her article “Travelling with the Littles“. She has a degree in Electrical Engineering and worked in the corporate world before she was promoted to become the SuperMom 24/7 of two boys. She’s a fast driver as well as a Crafty Stay at home Mommy. She have a wanderlust for travel , DIY projects and a talented Freelance Photographer.She’s a budding chef with her signature dishes”Traditional Greek Moussaka ” and Spinach Ricotta Cannelloni“.
On Life in Saudi Arabia as an Expat Woman
Although she’s of Muslim faith,life in the Kingdom is different from Abeer’s home country,Pakistan. “Women do not drive, we cover our bodies, we sit in the “Family Section” of restaurants (single or groups of men stay in the “Men Only” sections). We become “dependents”, hereon “sponsored” by our husbands, who are in turn sponsored by their companies, and we cannot leave the country without an exit visa.Thursdays and Fridays are the official weekends. The stifling heat and lack of cultural activities drive people into malls, encouraging endless shopping for clothes that would go under an Abaya anyway. Fitting rooms in boutiques are nonexistent, so taking the same item in different sizes and returning the ill-fitting ones is the shopping norm. There is also a glaring lack of saleswomen – making you chuckle at the paradox of a man helping you select sexy underwear in Saudi. The prayer times become as normalcy. Shops close five times a day during prayer times, sometimes 25 minutes or longer. Grocery shopping can be a very stressful chore because of this.
On incidental way of fitting-in to Arabian lifestyle
Its been a while for us in Riyadh now and we are getting used to the dry desert environment and the cautious set of rules that govern this part of Middle East. There have a been a few surprises and bummer along the way, like the time when we had to sit on the road side and eat our fried chicken as I wasn’t allowed to sit in that restaurant due to a lack of family space.We celebrated Eid here with a nice lunch together at some friends’, drive around the city and amazing fireworks later in the night right next to our place
On being a mother of two Boys
I had my first baby boy and then I took a break from work, always imagining to go back once he is a bit older. After a couple of years, I had my second one and my hands got full of them! I not only got super busy, but I also changed around that time and realized that I never actually want to go back to the corporate world, it was doing nothing for me as a person. Whereas staying home with my boys all day, gave me small windows of time to find out what my real interests in life are. I started capturing my babies and our everyday life and soon photography became a passion. I would stay up late at night for many hours taking up online courses and learning what tricks my camera could do to improve my photos. And then practice on my kids in the light of the day. I discovered my passion for cooking different cuisines, particularly Italian. And I would make the daily dinner my practice session. I started celebrating the everyday life. And then my blog happened, and i started pouring my heart out on it.
On looking back at life in Pakistan
Me and the husband lived 5 long years in Karachi .. It’s where both our kids were born so we will always have a special connection with the city. Karachi is a big, thriving, bustling city full of glamour, political drama and all kinds of highs and lows of life. The people in that region have a street-smartness edge over the people of the rest of the country. They are fast. they are clever. They are always two paces ahead of you.
Our life in Karachi was perfect, but the security situation of the city was the real deal-breaker for us. Two times in one week while all our family was in the car, a gun was pointed at us and our bags etc were snatched. Both times, I had a baby in my arms and we just couldn’t accept this kind of life for us anymore where we can’t guarantee the safety of our kids from street crime. And so we decided to move! My husband started applying for jobs in the Middle East and soon we were on our way here! We do miss Karachi sometimes, too many memories and fun times.
On the exciting and exhilarating road to Expat Life
Living in the Arab Land is very different from back home. The country is dominated by religious rules and the culture is restricting for sure. Women have to wear Abayas whenever they head out and cover themselves properly. Being a muslim, I am totally cool with wearing the Abaya and the hijab although I do feel how restricting that must feel to non-muslim expats. The thing that I really had to work to get my head around was the rule that women CANNOT drive. This was almost a deal-breaker for me as I love to drive and have been quite independent all though my life therefore waiting for husband to take me out every time was a big adjustment. Now that I have lived in the city for a while, I can easily hail a cab and be on my way whenever I want so it’s not so bad after all.
On embracing the Arab Culture
Weather here is scorching hot for most part of the year although it does get pleasant come evening due to desert all around. Which also makes for an extremely dry weather and drastic steps have to be taken to maintain your skin and hair.
The city is home to a number of big and small beautiful parks, lined with elegant and swaying Palm trees. I have had such a crush on these trees that I still look at them like a kid looks at candy.
On the family oriented values of the Saudi locals
One of the things that fascinates me the most is how the Arab culture is so family oriented! Extended families in large groups are always having picnics in parks together. They bring their rugs and chairs, they bring their food and tea, and just plop down on the ground for hours, sharing stories and love, while their kids are busy building sand castles or riding their automated cars/bikes which they always make sure to bring. They come prepared to enjoy the park! Not like us, who often forget to even bring the ball LOL!
A day in the park
I have my own Car!
On “When in Saudi, do as the Arabs do ” norm
The typical Saudi Arabian woman only wears black Abaya and they cover their face. I was told before moving here that although women do wear colored Abayas in rest of the country, but as Riyadh is the capital and hence more strict, here only black Abayas are allowed. Although that is not true now, I have seen many women wearing different colored Abayas around, for me navy blue Abaya with a colored scarf is as bad as i get !
Mall culture is huge here! There are so many of them and I haven’t been to even half of them yet. The Arab women are up to date on their fashion and style. Even hidden under Abayas and Tarhas, you can spot that their eye makeup game is the strongest among all 😉
Malls loaded with every imaginable brand and cafes definitely is a big attraction for everyone here, but sadly for me, my boys (all three of them!) don’t behave well in malls, the younger ones being too hyper active, and the older one (also known as husband) rolls his eyes too many times that i fear they will get stuck inside his head.
On a serious note, I am not a fan of mall culture as I think it just promotes materialism, and one cannot come out of it without spending 10 times more than one intended too. those never-ending sales. those motorized kids cars, those flashing and blaring humongous play areas, and all the stuff that you eat that you never would have eaten had you not stepped inside one. We prefer to take our kids to parks or anything outdoors, it’s better for the pocket and general well-being .
On Muslim’s Salah (prayer) times
One thing worth mentioning over here is that for Muslims, praying five times a day at specific times is compulsory. Here in Saudi Arabia, business closes five times a day whenever prayer time comes. Shops, cafes, everything. It has definitely helped us get more punctual with our prayers. But at the same time, if you are in a shop about to head to pay counter and prayer times comes, it can be slightly annoying cause then you will have to wait for another half an hour or so. In the start we were so bad at it, and would always reach a place when it was already or was about to be closed for prayer, but with time we have up-ed our game and through careful analyzing of prayer time slots, we can usually plan our outings better .
On re-potting the uprooted kids into a new culture
We are lucky that our kids adjust well to a change in environment, house etc and once they were here, they never asked to go back and never gave me a tough time about the new place and new everything. They get super excited in new places so it has been good for them!
After a couple of months, we enrolled our elder one (who is 4) into kindergarten and the experience has been awesome so far! I am in love with his teacher who I believe is really helping him and bringing out his best qualities and polishing his strengths, at the same time, taking care of his weaknesses in a remarkable way. His classmates come from different countries and backgrounds, and i think he will hugely benefit from this exposure to different cultures. I am definitely happy that he has been given this opportunity to study and interact in a foreign country.
On thoughts on Motherhood
Motherhood is cuddling, squeezing and smooching at every chance possible. Motherhood is waking up a little too early and going to bed a little too late… Not to mention the countless wake ups in between. Motherhood is a monster bag filled with diapers, wipes, snacks and toys. Motherhood is the worry, anxiety and stress about every cough, sniffle and sneeze. Motherhood is questioning yourself about every decision, big or small. Is he eating right? is he sleeping enough?
Motherhood is absolutely and undeniably hard. So hard that some days end in tears, some mornings also start with tears.Life with two kids is pretty challenging and messy and chaotic and down-right exhausting, but it’s also everything I have ever wanted.
How do you make an impact as an Expat Mama in your country of residence?
Some of my most precious memories were made during this last year. Believe me when I say that it’s not double the work with two little ones, its FOUR TIMES the work. You have to take care of them individually and also their relationship towards each other in both directions. Its non-stop, never-ending and it makes you longingly look back on your single baby days. But I still won’t have it any other way. If I am given the chance to do it all over again, I would maybe have them closer in age but not further apart. The joy of it all trumps the hardships any day by miles.
And this is the kind of impact I wanted to be remembered–touching the lives of my sons, shaping them for their future, and I, myself being transformed into a better version of being a wife, mother, sister, friend that I could ever be –and best of all, being the woman who chose the HAPPY CORNER of this so-called Life!
Thank you so much Abeer for this wonderful interview. Good luck and best wishes for your next Expat Mama adventures!
P.S All the photos in this post is courtesy of Abeer and her personal property. Should you wish to use it , please do inform her as courtesy.