The Expat Diaries, Volume II: Riyadh

*crossposted on Musings in the Dark and Black Girl Nerds*

I arrived in Riyadh a month ago to start the next phase in my expat adventures. Of course a lot has happened, but let me see if I can summarize it in a series of points.

1. A large percentage of Saudi men are fine as hell. I mean, gyatdamb!!!  The hottie quotient is as high as the temperature. We’re not supposed to look, but I wear my sunglasses all the time so I can stare a honey down at will. I can’t help it. I’m a healthy hetero woman and the eye-candy is real in these dry, dusty-ass streets.  Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 2.14.24 PMThese men have million-dollar smiles (even the non-millionaires), smooth caramel skin, full lips and facial hair snatched to the gods. When I came through Customs, there were a bunch of smiling, happy clerks greeting me with a hearty “Welcome to Saudi” and laying those spectacular grins on poor little old exhausted me. Four of them surrounded me while I was assisted by one of the grinning clerks and asked me a bunch of questions, which I could barely answer because I’d been traveling for 18+ hours. It was all I could do to return the smiles, but that trip through Customs was the easiest ever. If that’s how they’re greeting women when they come into the country, then LAWD! Other countries should take note.  They're not big on taking pics or having pics taken of them, but I snagged this one off my bank's website.  Trust and believe it is accurate.  Below is another example, but it comes from someone's Pinterest page...yet not a single lie is told.  Imagine seeing this every day and being unable to swoon on cue.  The struggle is REAL.  Saudi is hiding all the sexy.

2. I’m in the desert, so naturally we’re busting the hell out of 110+ degree heat every day. The first two weeks, I was certain I had Satan as a roommate. You need humidifiers in every room, period. I have one, but two more are arriving in my shipment. Even that may not be enough. Dust (or in this case, very fine sand) is everywhere and gets into your home in spite of your best efforts.

3. The place where I’m living…well, let’s just say it wasn’t what I was promised and nowhere near what I’ve heard from people who’ve lived here. The furniture is dated—and I mean 1980s dated. This is what happens when you put unskilled men in charge of compound decor, cause a woman would never trick out an apartment like this. I got a red and green rattan Freddy Krueger striped sofa and loveseat, and one of those big old wood cabinets like my mother used to have that held the TV, the stereo (with the record player) an internal lamp and a fake flower. Y'all know what I'm talking about, especially if you were raised by a Southern mother. My TV is a Samsung straight out of 1990 and the remote doesn’t work. If my fridge isn’t from 1981, then I’ll eat a bowl of dust. Simply put, I’ll be glad when my shipment arrives and I can upgrade all this mess.

My couch looks like his sweater, hand to Jesus.

4. Muslims pray five times a day (Fajr, Dhuhr, Asr, Maghrib, and Isha'a), and each prayer is a half-hour. The call to prayer starts five minutes before the actual prayer and someone actually gets on the mic and calls followers to pray. There's a mosque on every corner. Whatever's going on stops. If you're in certain stores, they will smooth kick you out until prayer is over. Doors close and lock and woe unto you if you've had to secure a driver to take you somewhere and you caught a prayer time. You have to wait and it can get expensive. I downloaded an app so I could schedule around the prayer times. For the most part, I don't do anything until after Isha'a, when all the day's prayers are complete.

5. What is there to do over here? Nothing except eat and go to the mall. That’s it. That’s all. Nothing else. There are no movie theaters, bars, clubs, skating rinks, etc. Women aren't allowed to ride bicycles (not that I would). The good thing is that there is a metric ton of various restaurants on every major strip and a mall at every exit. Most restaurants have two entrances: “Singles” and “Families.” “Singles” means single men. “Families” mean single women and actual families.

Yeah, learned that the hard way. I’m single, so naturally I went to the Singles door and there was a hottie on deck who looked at me and said “No!” He caught a vicious side-eye, complete with a Michael Myers head tilt.   A young man who was going in with his family explained that “families” included single women. My eyes were rolling so hard I thought they were going to fly out of my skull, but I managed to thank the young man as I entered the restaurant. Couldn’t stop sucking my teeth or side-eyeing, though.
 Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 12.04.50 PM

A colleague told me that apparently, the Hyper Panda (a huge grocery store) is the place to be at 10 p.m. He said it was poppin' like the club...except folks bring their children.  Miss me with that.

6. Wearing the abaya? That’s no big for me, as I only need to wear it when I leave the compound. You have to make sure you’re covered when you go into public places, and I wear a scarf around my neck just in case I need to cover my hair. But the Saudi women walk around like the KKK Black Variations; some even wear knit gloves. I don’t know how they do it in this hellacious heat, but it’s their norm, not mine. I don’t plan on being here long enough for it to become my norm. Nope!  Miss me with that, too.

7. Dating? You don’t. Flirting? You bet not (get caught, at least). And it’s not even like that’s something I considered or would consider. But this place is bringing out all my latent tendencies to misbehave. You can’t dance in public (and that includes bobbing your head and tapping your feet, which is almost instinctive when you catch that beat). Coming from someone who used to break it down regularly in the grocery store, this is almost like a death sentence.
So I am compelled to do everything that's considered illegal, even if I don't normally do those things.

There is a lot about this world that I simply don't understand.  We were told prior to arriving that we could not bring any paintings or pictures of people or animals, as it's considered idol worship and violates the Q'uran...but as soon as you step into King Khaled Airport, you see a giant picture of King Salman and his homies.  And they're everywhere!  Dafuq??? You ain't gotta lie, Craig!  I gave up my dolphins for this!!!

In spite of the above, I’m doing all right. I’ll be even better when my shipment arrives. When I can make this villa my home, I’ll be good. I’m a homebody anyway, so this is really important to me. I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how single women have managed to stay here for more than two years. I look at them like they’re out of their minds  because I simply don't get how a single woman can thrive in a place where you can't even look at a single man, much less date him (forget sex altogether), but they’ve found ways to make it work. Attending embassy parties and events, and knowing the right people make a difference, but I’m not in that loop yet.  Not even close.

There’s more to come, but this is all I have for right now. Send love my way, cause I’m going to need it. This place ain't Shanghai, but I'm here for reasons bigger than me, so I'll deal.

I'll deal.

I'll deal.


  1. Yeah, I heard this country is rough. People will get married and divorced for the sole purpose of hooking up b/c there is no dating culture. However you can definitely find some fun. Just gotta be in the right place and meet the right people. I think a lot of people suggest going to the US Embassy.

    1. I've heard the same thing. One guy told me how a friend of his married his wife out sexual desperation and soon as he got what he wanted from his wife..he ran. What a shame.

    2. People will get married and divorced for the sole purpose of hooking up b/c there is no dating culture.

      You'd think the Powers That Be would take a hint when folks are getting THAT desperate.

    3. Yes but I'm sure it doesn't tarnish the man's reputation so apparently no one is getting hurt in the process lol. Of course in a nation like that, or almost any patriarchal nation, prior sex partners or a divorce are a serious ding to a woman's reputation.

  2. You know how most little kids have fascinating imaginations about things and i was no different from doing it. As a child, I wanted to go..maybe even live in ..Saudi Arabia, I guess...because of the I Dream Of Genie..lol..( though Barbara Eden's actual home was Iraq. Saudi is a fascinating looking country. Those malls..makes me want to go shopping there and about those guys..my god..I'm trying to understand how you are surviving in the sea of good looking men? I mean, when I was in religion class, I went to an immigrant mosque where I am and man..just looking at those Arab and Asian Indian men was already tempting enough.

    Years ago, there was a couple of blogs I would read of expat women living in Saudi and how they faired there. One example was Umm Adam: Soliloques Of A Stranger. She was a Black woman who, along with her husband, made the decision of moving to Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, the last that I've seen her blog was in 2012 and she was more focused on lice preventing measures,but she had a good site.

    Saudi is anomaly. Seemingly, their technology it up there,but it's a highly restrictive country. When my uncle was in Desert Storm and was sent to Saudi, he told me that not only Saudi women not only couldn't walk around the country without a male escort,but American female soldiers couldn't walk without a male soldier and like you just said, there are no movie theaters there..not even Saudi made movies..wow! and how women aren't allowed to drive,though there have been protests against it.But that's Saudi and their laws.

    1. Barbara Eden's actual home was Iraq?

    2. No Barbara is from the states,but her character's...at least she was found in a bottle in the Persian Gulf. In several of episodes, Larry Hagman's character, Tony, is more specific, by saying he found her in Baghdad,which is in Iraq.

  3. Oh man, I couldn't live in such a restrictive environment! But maybe the bright side is that your in a prime position to travel to European, African, and Asian countries for a relatively cheap price? How do you even make friends in such an environment? Are people generally friendly? All I have are questions lol. As M said Saudi really is an anomaly.

  4. My heart also goes out to those 300 plus people who was killed during Hajj.

  5. As someone who lives practically naked during the summer months here in the states being covered neck to toe in that heat would be brutal. How are you doing now? Is it still difficult to socialize?


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