I think that I’m slowly, and sometimes almost imperceptibly, taking off the layers of Saudi Arabia.
There is, of course, the obvious: I no longer have to wear an abaya; I no longer wear the hijab that I wore because I wanted to respect the culture and cover my head (I also didn’t want the Mutawaa yelling at me).
I’m uncovering and discarding the mental layers that had almost unconsciously cloaked me.
I can talk about religion without those within earshot becoming offended. I don’t have to monitor my environment to make sure the religious police, or a fundamentalist Muslim, will overhear what I’m saying. Realistically, I’m in Texas and there are a lot of fundamentalist and born again Christians here, but not everyone is, and not everyone is touting the benefits of Christianity. No one has yet given me a Bible. By week two of arriving in Riyadh, I had at least four copies of the Quran.
I don’t have to hear the call to prayer at 4:30 a.m. and groggily try to sleep for another hour before getting up for work.
The stores are open all day. If I’m inside and shopping, I don’t have to rush through my shopping because prayer time is coming up, or schedule my shopping time around prayer.
I can drive myself wherever I want to go. I’m no longer dependent on a driver to take me and pick me up.
I can sit in a public place with men: airport waiting rooms and restaurants, bus stations and snack bars. I don’t have to worry that I’ll be kicked out of a restaurant because it only serves men.
I work with men and women.
I work Monday through Friday, not Sunday through Thursday (although that really wasn’t bad; after all, five days is five days).
I have to say that I found it interesting that at a recent staff meeting at my new job, the women sat at one table, and the men at another. Of course I commented about the voluntary segregation. But it was voluntary and this soon shifted.
I am again dealing with racism, but I’m much less offended by it now. And, being in Saudi Arabia reinforced my belief that racism is artificial. Being there reinforced my belief that racism is a practice of the ignorant, and a tool of the wealthy. Class divisions of any kind are artificial. We are all human.
I can talk with my family without having to wait until 7 a.m. and hope that they’re available. I no longer have an international calling plan on my cell phone.
The internet is reliable and consistent.
And, I’m paying sales tax – what can you do? Freedom has a price tag, but so does restriction. I’ll pay the price here in the USA – at least for a while.