A year has passed since I arrived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, my home for the next four year if all goes to plan.
I can’t believe how my perception has changed in regards to the Middle East, and in particular Saudi Arabia during only of my one year living here. At one point I didn’t think I would last a whole year and now I don’t want to leave for another ten.
Nancy Paton at the Edge of the World in Saudi Arabia
Yes that’s right. There are many things that I don’t agree with however unexpectedly there are many things that I do agree with and have come to appreciate, admire and love. How I have grown and changed over this last year in Riyadh is amazing.
I am so grateful to this country and its beautiful people for opening up my eyes and learning so many wonderful things that I had never learnt before or that I had lost along the way whilst living in the western world.
Nancy Paton at the Ritz in Riyadh
When you decide to move countries, continents and cultures, your mind drifts off to the land that awaits. Everything revolves around the adventure hat lies ahead. As the clock ticks, you read more books on all topics that are relevant to your new home, you listen to the news and start building up an idea of what it will be like but of course, as with every idea, it is just an idea, reality is always different and of course nothing like what you expected it to be like.
Riyadh Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia the home of Mecca and Medina, the Kingdom where no tourists are allowed to enter, where the royals (over 2000 of them) live like kings due to its oil rich land, the land where women are covered and aren’t allowed to drive. Who would have thought I would be moving there and planning to stay for the next 5 years of my life?
Nancy Paton in the old town of Riyadh
I guess growing up in a Middle Eastern Community might explain the fasciations I always had with the culture. I had always dreamt of living on this continent however to move to Saudi Arabia, which from everything one reads is completely different to who I am and what I believe in, so many rules, so many regulations, how was I going to survive in this mysterious country?
Boarding my flight I expected to see women completely covered up and I sure didn’t expect to see any other western women. Why would a western woman go to a country where so much is restricted for a women?
However I was wrong, the plane was like any other, many women, from all age groups dressed like any other westerner.
Maybe it isn’t as different as I thought it would be, maybe when I land it would feel like when I landed in Manhattan or in London to start my new life there, but the reality of where I was heading hit when we crossed into the Saudi Arabian airspace. Alcohol stopped being served and the line to the toilet was packed with women. Each time a women came out she was covered either in just the Abaya or entirely from head to toe.
Riyadh Saudi Arabia
Over the weeks I got accustom to seeing four different types of clothed women and this is the best way to describe there dress style: There are the bat women who are completely covered, the ninjas who show their eyes, the penguins who show their faces and the expats who show there whole head. I say this with genuine respect for all these women as over the year I have been here, I have been blessed to have talked too many of them and to have grown very fond of the women in Saudi Arabia.
I met many of these women in the compound that I spend most of my time in, through my husband who works only with Saudis, at work, whilst attending events but also by just simply waking around in the malls and being approached by them.
Nancy Paton and Family in Riyadh Saudi Arabia
I have been approached numerous times by women asking me about my hair and where I had got it done. It is an amazing experience trying to have a conversation in half Arabic and half English about hair and not being able to see the person that you are speaking too as they are covered by a black cloth.
My imagination runs wild. Does she have blond hair or is it more extreme like purple or blue? I have been so impressed that they had the confidence to come up to me and to make conversation. But I guess just as I am intrigued about them and their culture they are intrigued about me.
A couple of these ladies asked me to head to the bathroom to that they could take off their headscarf and low and behold they have had blond hair like me, and a couple of them had even blue contact lenses. We might be different on the outside but on the inside we are all the same.
Nancy Paton Shopping in Riyadh
Before I got to Saudi Arabia I was warned about the religious police and all the rules and regulations that I had to abide by. I was afraid of what Saudis would be like, however I have found Saudis to be the most humble and caring people I have met, especially when it comes to family and I have been really blessed to have had such positive first year, in my new home town, Riyadh.
Nancy Paton in a Riyadh Starbucks
Yes I have to wear an Abaya, I have a separate section to men, I can’t drive and I can’t drink alcohol however I have gotten use to these differences and actually like them. The Abaya is comfortable, I never liked driving or going places on my own therefore it’s nice to have to wait for my husband before I go shopping or to have to wait for my driver to drop me off and pick me up from an outing with friends. When it comes to the no alcohol rule, I am on a 24 hours, 7 days a week detox and it feels great!
When in Saudi we eat healthily and play sport regularly. Yes I do miss the occasional glass of wine with dinner however boy do I enjoy it so much more when on holidays, which we take often. As a rule you must take a few days break for every 6 weeks you spend in the sand pit, otherwise you may forget what goes on in the world and retreat further into your bubble.
The thing that I respect most about the culture in Saudi is the way they respect the family unit. Saudis value family above all and now that I have my own little family, I see how important that is. You want to be there for your family and you want them there for you! Family is more important than work and play. It is what brings love and joy into ones life and should be respected above all.
Richard has never had any issues with work when he has had to take me to the hospital or something had to be done for the family. They expect you to leave work and to help your family. There is no need to take a sick day or a day out of your holidays. Time can be taken off if one needs to go and help the family and it isn’t only for immediate family members it is also for distant relatives.
One takes a full day off to go to a funeral and there are no questions asked. Friday is the day you spend with the family, with all the family congregating in one family members house to enjoy quality time and a prayer together.
Nancy Paton going out in Riyadh with her Mum
What seemed strange for many of my family and friends was that I live in a compound. Compound living provides the perfect environment for bringing up a child. Beyond the wall he experiences a culture and lifestyle that is different to any other in the world but inside the wall he is free to run around and enjoy outside activities like nowhere else in the world.
Tennis, swimming, basketball, badminton, squash, yoga, dance, bowling you name it, it’s all inside the compound and we can do it 24 hours a days 7 days a week as the weather and lifestyle here permits this.
The compound is huge and when walking inside, it doesn’t feel like four walls enclose us, because in many parts of the compound, you can’t ever see a wall. We basically live in a small village, that is if you call 3000 people a small village, and having living in a city all my life living in a village was something new and scary for my at first but now that i have done it, I could never live in a city again.
I love the peace and quiet. I love knowing all my neighbours. My community. I love that we all help one another in every possible way that we can.
Nancy Paton entering her compound
Recently political matters beyond our wall are a bit worrying, as it’s become a bit chaotic out there, so who knows if we will be allowed to stay for another 4 years.
Yes it would be nice too stay however only if it is safe. War has broken out all around us. Syria is gone, Libya is gone, Iraq is gone, and Lebanon, Iran and Israel/ Palestine seem to be on a course with only one foreseeable outcome, a fight to the end whatever amount of blood is shed. If things stay like this, it’s only a matter of time before it reaches us. The major threat for us is ISIS. Hopefully they won’t make it into Saudi however there are many rumours that they’re already here.
Recent events in Saudi have also left an impression that there might be some trouble up ahead for us expats and many expats have added their embassy number on speed dial. Hopefully we won’t need to use it and these rumours are all but rumours, however its better to be safe then sorry in the GCC, especially right now.
Fingers crossed we can go back to the life that we are accustomed too here very soon.