Carol (USA) and Abdullah (Saudi Arabia)
I met my husband when I was still an American diplomat and posted to Islamabad, Pakistan. He was also in Pakistan with his respective employer. Our courtship ended up spanning over several years and five different countries before we made the decision to merge our separate lives together into one. During the courting and “getting to know one another” period I have wonderful memories of horsebacking riding in the wild mountains of Pakistan with my (then) future husband, riding elephants together in India and enjoying a desert safari in the UAE for starters…
My husband says he realized relatively quickly that he wanted our lives to merge together. Honestly, I knew it too but it took me much longer to be able to acknowledge that fact to myself. When I met him I was very happily single, immersed in my career, had a great job, beautiful supporting family and some wonderful friends. I had to think good and hard about whether I was ready and willing to totally change my life around for an individual from a differing country, different culture and traditions different from my own. I knew that when I said “I do” my life as I knew it would never be the same. I would have to leave my career and to a degree, give up a lot of the independence I was accustomed to.
We took our time and both made sure that we understood how each other thought; what were our respective values and equally important, were they compatible? Unlike many American women and Saudi men who get together we did not meet each other earlier in our lives and in the States or while attending University. We met after having each experienced a number of varying life-changing experiences and very clear on not only what we wanted from life but what we could or could not accept.
Life continues to be a learning experience in communication, cultural distinctions and a deepening of the relationship. On the lighter side, I’ve learned that when he says “shoes-less” he really means barefoot and when I’m stumbling in trying to find the right Arabic words to express myself to my husband or his family, he knows exactly when to step in and save me from making an embarrassing faux pas.
We look out for each other and are constant teachers and examples to each other when it comes to any cultural differences or distinctions. We are both cognizant and always want to step with the right foot forward with each other and with our families. Of course we had to face the usual “What? You’re marrying an American?? Are you going to become an American citizen now?” Or, “How can you think of marrying a Saudi? He’s going to put you in a burka in a palace somewhere and we’ll never see you again!” We’ve learned when to overlook or ignore the skeptics and troublemakers and how to best reassure family members on both sides of customs and cultures that are new and different to them. I’ve learned when it is prudent to be more “Saudi” and in turn he knows when it’s best to be more “American.” Daily we make that transition between East and West and feel like we have adapted the best of each others cultures and customs.
Our life is a continuing love story as well as each day an ongoing chapter. On the political front the US-Saudi relationship may have its ups and downs but on the personal front, I like to believe my husband and I illustrate that US-Saudi relations can be very good indeed!