When Jose asked me if I wanted to come to Saudi Arabia 2 years ago, I flat out told him no. I had read and heard a lot of bad things about this country mostly through the news.
Fast forward to today, after a year and four months of living here. While I do have some complaints (unbearable heat, awful traffic in Jeddah, lack of shops in KAUST, etc.) I have slowly been discovering the other side of Saudi, the side that the news doesn’t talk about.
First, I always thought that women here were always treated as inferior, having almost no say in their lives or future That is not true. I have met many Saudi women who are doing their masters or even PhD here in KAUST. Yes, strong and smart Saudi women who will be leading the way in the future of science and technology in this country! What’s even more surprising is that I’ve met at least two Saudi husbands who live in KAUST but work in Jeddah. They moved here because their WIVES wanted to pursue their studies and they (the husbands) were willing to make the sacrifice of traveling up to 2 hours to go to work every day. So while to outsiders it may seem that men dominate the household, in actuality many women have a lot of power as well.
Speaking of women, not all Saudi women are conservative. I’ve seen Saudi women wear regular T-shirt and jeans while walking around KAUST (instead of the full burqa or hijab) and some people have told me that there are Saudis who swim in their bikinis at the private resorts in Jeddah.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the existence of an art community here. I’m taking about art exhibits, rock and jazz bands, open mic nights, dance performances, etc. I’m not talking about KAUST, which is like a bubble of privilege compared to the rest of the country. I’m talking about Jeddah, the real world. Well come to think of it, people do say that Jeddah is the most liberal of all cities in Saudi Arabia.
Many people here are friendly and open-minded. I’ve only met good people here, no hardliners that you hear about on the news. The Saudis I know don’t care about your background or religion; they treat you with love and respect no matter what.
This is actually a place for families. The malls are full of kids rollerblading (this would never be allowed in Taiwan!), Kidzanias, arcades, playgrounds and kid-friendly exhibits. There are TONS of clothing stores for kids, and the restaurants cater to kids as well. There are public parks and festivals (Jeddah Heritage Festival, Taif Rose Festival, etc) that children can enjoy as well. It’s no surprise that the market caters heavily to kids because on average, Saudis have four to five children per family.
So now I’m so glad I came. I got to see a this side of Saudi Arabia that I would never have known from the outside. I’m looking forward to digging deeper into the intricacies of Saudi life.