An American Bedu: Carol Fleming (Al-Ajroush)

Carol’s late husband, Abdullah (rahimahullah), lovingly christened her with the nickname “American Bedu” since she was always on the move around the globe. Her blog by the same name is exceedingly popular, having generated [# of hits] to date. She has published a book titled “Bridges: An Anthology. Despite her battle with breast cancer and the recent death of her beloved husband, Carol is still going strong. And her penchant for writing shows no sign of having abated as evidenced in the below interview. I appreciate the effort and time she took to complete the questions and willingness to share with us some tidbits from her life. Thanks, Carol!


-What is your nationality?  American

-What country do you reside in presently?  USA while undergoing medical treatment.  Prior to that, KSA.

-Are/were you married to a Saudi or non-Saudi?  A Saudi who was the Love of My Life.

-If you live/lived in Saudi Arabia, for how long? 3.5 years and hopefully will return.

-What is your job/hobbies in your country of residence? In Saudi Arabia I wore several hats.  I was a Media Consultant for Saudi Television Channel 2.  In that capacity I hosted special programs and conducted interviews of guests.  I would also participate at times in an analytical capacity due to my background as a former American diplomat.  Additionally I worked at the National Guard Health Affairs, King Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences at the College of Medicine as a Medical Coordinator.  Lastly, I’ve continued to work as an independent international consultant and in this capacity have been a contributing writer to Oasis Magazine, BMI In-Flight Magazine and as well as other projects.

-When and where did you meet your Saudi husband? We were the least likely you’d expect to meet, let alone fall in love and marry.  We met in Pakistan where we were both assigned to our respective embassies as diplomats.

-How long did you know your husband before the marriage took place? 2.5 years.

-How long did your marriage permission take? Two years and in our case due to our backgrounds and positions, we ultimately had to get approval from King Abdullah for our marriage.

-Did his family accept his marriage to you? Why/Why not? Yes, they did.  Thankfully my mother-in-law welcomed me with open arms.  And with her blessing and approval, the rest of the family accepted our marriage.

-Did your family accept your marriage to him? Why/Why not? Yes, they did.  My family wants me to be happy.  They also knew that my eyes were open in regards to the custom, culture and traditions of Saudi Arabia.

-How did you/your husband overcome the resistance (if any) to your marriage? There was no resistance and what broke the ice was during our courtship my husband called my father and mother independently.  He introduced himself to him and told him his intentions were serious and respectful.  And he would be happy to answer any questions or concerns they may have since they had not met him yet.  That gesture on his part won their hearts.

-How are your relations with your family/in-laws now after marrying your husband?  Very good.  Like any family sometimes we’d have challenges or I might feel overwhelmed since my husband has a HUGE family and they all enjoy getting together.  However they let me know in so many ways that they consider me a part of their tribe now!

-What is your advice when a non-Saudi woman meets her potential/future Saudi in-laws? She should be herself as well as respectful and courteous.  I think it is also nice if she can at least greet them in Arabic and say a few phrases in Arabic.  Depending on the family, she might wish to consult with her fiance if it would be appropriate to wear a loose head cover the first time meeting her future father-in-law.

-Do/did you like living in Saudi Arabia? Please explain why you like/liked living in Saudi Arabia and why you don’t/didn’t:  I loved living in Saudi Arabia and as I am in the States right now, missing it a lot.  It easily became a second home for me.  I liked the lifestyle, the culture, the warmth of the Saudi people.  I also felt as an American woman in Saudi Arabia I had more unique opportunities as a woman to grow professionally than compared to the ease of finding similar opportunities in the United States.

-What would you like to see improved in Saudi Arabia? Infrastructure such as transportation and roadways.  But more importantly, educational reform with changes in the curriculum’s and approach to teaching.  I’d like to see more activity in recycling, thinking green and proactive towards CSR.  And as a cancer warrior, there MUST be more programs spreading awareness and education of cancer in Saudi Arabia for men and women.

-Do you think you should change anything about yourself in order to fit into Saudi society?  That is truly up to each individual and the situation.  I believe a person can be adaptable without losing their true spirit and personality.  If one tries to “morph” themselves into a Saudi woman, it probably won’t work and they will be unhappy.

-What do you think about the abaya and is/was it a problem for you to wear it? The abaya has never been my favorite garment as I have always walked with a long stride.  I compromised in that I wore it when it was necessary to do so and would wear a lab coat or long coat/sweater when I could do so.

-Does/did your Saudi husband help you with the house chores?  Oh yes he did.  He was always wonderful in that regards.  Even with a housemaid, there were some tasks we would do together as we preferred to do so.  In America we had a true partnership and routine and even take turns cooking.

-What do you think non-Saudis should know about Saudi women? That they are indeed individuals with unique personalities in spite of perhaps being seen shrouded in black. There are many Saudi women who are educated and strong-willed. However a non-Saudi may not have the opportunity to become close friends with a Saudi woman unless there has been a marriage into the family or a non-Saudi may work with a Saudi woman. Many Saudi women are very careful about traditions and face and unlikely to take any action which could be contradictory to family values.

-Do/did you feel trapped in Saudi Arabia or do you feel comfortable living in the country?  I was very comfortable.  It really depends on the circumstances which brings one to Saudi, where one lives in Saudi and what one can be exposed to while in Saudi which forms each person’s impression of the country.  I was fortunate to part of a well known and respected family with a husband who had a very good position.  As a result, we had a lifestyle in Riyadh which allowed us to daily make the transition between traditional Saudi and Western life.

-Would you take Saudi citizenship? Why/why not?  There are many benefits to Saudi citizenship and especially if the couple plan to stay in Saudi Arabia and if there are children.

-Do you think a non-Saudi woman can be happy in Saudi Arabia?  Yes.  I strongly believe that a lot pertaining to happiness is outlook and state of mind.  One can be miserable in Paradise if allowed.  Each place in Saudi Arabia offers activities, treasures to discover and abilities to form unique friendship.

-Do you think you would be willing/able to live in Saudi Arabia alone? Why/Why not? Yes, I could.  I have a strong network in Saudi and would feel comfortable.  I am fortunate to have Saudi family and a great network of expat friends too.

-Do you think a non-Saudi woman would have any problems living alone in Saudi Arabia? There may be some problems when things need to be fixed or get done and there is not a man around to facilitate.  I know some women who are living alone in Saudi.  Most are in compounds but a few live in a private villa.  They manage and do fine.

-What advice would you give a non-Saudi considering marriage to a Saudi?  Make sure you have excellent communication.  Confirm he has told his family his intentions.  Confirm that he is acquiring approval.  It is not worth the risk in marrying before the approval.  Many women have simply been left behind and have not seen their husbands in years.  Don’t let your emotions rule over the reality that Saudi Arabia requires marriage approval and it is a man’s world in Saudi.  If married life is expected to take place in Saudi Arabia don’t go in blind.  Be aware women cannot drive, if in the event of divorce, men receive custody of the children and the foreign spouse usually has to leave the country.  The majority of non-Saudi/Saudi marriages fail and much is due to issues with extended families (they will be a daily part of life); inability to adapt; the husband transforms to a traditional and conservative Saudi and is very different from the man outside of the Kingdom; he may have already had a wife; he may choose or be pressured by family to also take a Saudi wife.  In sum, discuss all issues.

-You can use this space to say anything else you would like: I’m honored to be interviewed on your blog, Tara.  And I’m glad there is a blog like yours which focuses on the very sensitive and important issue of marriage approval.  And I’d like to say for anyone that wants a more generalized and wider perspective of Saudi to visit my blog at American Bedu.

-Do you want to use your real name, be anonymous or use a nickname? Carol Fleming (Al-Ajroush) is fine.

Photo Credit: 

Linh Ngan
Texan Saudi America


Published by

Tara Umm Omar

American married to a Saudi.

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