AN IRANIAN IN SAUDI ARABIA
By Lobat Asadi
Saudi Arabia is a harsh climate. Saudis are educated, but live private lives, as though it is a shame they have fun. For years they have struggled to survive in the desert. Their ancestors had no water, little food, and had to invade other tribes and please local Sheikhs with flattering poems and gifts in order to feed themselves in a land that seems to only grow sand after grain of sand. Today Saudis take care of their families with fierce devotion and love that we could all learn from. The family is first in a good Saudi society, and the rest of the world, a distant blur.
As an American-Iranian living in Saudi Arabia, I see things differently than a Saudi, or as an American. Ironically, the American community has made no effort to get to know me, nor have they welcomed me into their isolated world of high salaries and luxurious compounds that their employers offer them as attractive benefits to live in the barren land of sand and dry heat. Although I have met many North Americans, not once has someone invited me out for coffee or to their home to meet their family. Its as clear as day that anyone who moves to Saudi Arabia suffers a culture shock, as this is a land like no other. Instead, I see some apprehension and shock in their face, that I am married to a Saudi. Interesting, as these Americans live and breath Saudi Arabia on a daily basis, still the stereotypes and arrogant American attitude lives. This American style arrogance may have been the very attitude that continues to feed the acts of terror against them in Riyadh. Having said that, nothing as cruel and violent as a shameless act of bloodshed can be justified. The same American fear-based arrogance reminds me of when I lived in the US, and people would ask me where I was from – based upon my unusual name, not my unusual accent, and when I would reply with pride “Iran,” they would acknowledge silently that their relationship with me would only go so far. That’s if they knew where Iran was.
Saudi Arabians are welcoming to me, when I meet them from the family circle, or from my work as a teacher. But they don’t reveal much, and they don’t let anything slip out that may put their reputation at stake. The reality is I don’t care! I care about a simple “Saba Al Kheir”? or “Good Morning” and a quiet smile or apology when they ram into me with the family fleet at the shopping mall. What is done behind the high walls of their villas and palaces isn’t something I think about. However, what is done when I have been waiting inline before they walk into the store, is.
However, the Iranians in Saudi Arabia have saved me. No matter from where each hails, Canada, America or directly off the Tehranian boat, they have taken me in like a mother cat takes her young, by the scruff of the neck.
There are about 50 Iranians or so living in Saudi Arabia, some I am told prefer to not associate with other Iranians, but ironically, the community knows where they live and work. I met one Iranian by sheer accident, as I was registering at the local American school to teach as a substitute English teacher, substitute to a Japanese ESL teacher that is, you see sadly this is what my life has been reduced to. I was referred to the Asadiâ family, as I am an Asadi, how can another Asadi live in Riyadh and we didn’t even know it? In an instant I felt ashamed at my isolation, why didn’t I know the Asadis? So I called them, we went to dinner the next weekend, I went to their friends house the next night who then introduced me to his landlord as the new tenant who will be moving into his compound. He introduced me the same night to an Iranian lady, the wife of the Lebanese Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, who promptly made several phone calls and invited me over to dinner the next night with an Iranian doctor, the mother of a young Iranian IT guy who lives in Riyadh with his newly wed wife. After 8 months of isolation with my Persian cats and husband, I am the talk of the Iranian town, in Riyadh anyway.
I once tried to escape being Iranian; it was a hindrance when I was a kid. I mean there was the hostage crisis, the revolution, the anti American blabbering on TV, and much more. I was 3 when I left Iran, but apparently I am still Iranian. I make embarrassing mistakes when I speak Farsi, but I am still a recognizable Iranian. I am married to a Saudi, and I have an American nationality, but I am still Iranian. I don’t know if I can ever escape it, and thank god I didn’t try for too long, save during that teenaged rebellion, because once again, being Iranian has saved my life. You can use your roots to lift you up or you can let them pull you down, that’s what my Scottish Godfather taught me. Although Iran has failed the children of the revolution, being Persian has never let me down, for very long anyway.
Lobat Asadi is a guest contributor for PersianMirror from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.