Life in Saudi Arabia for an Indian expat can be a confusing blend of Eastern and Western lifestyle. When i arrived here three years back, i had little or almost no knowledge of lifestyle here, except the fact that i was supposed to wear an abaya when going out. Indians here are a closed community to the native Arabs and its true the other way too. In all the three years spent here, i have not uttered more than a friendly 'Salam' to the native women whom i saw in washrooms. People live as separate islands here,according to nationality. Indians mostly occupy cheaper apartments than their Western counter parts who live happily in guarded Compounds. A villa in a compound can cost anything above 60,000 SAR, whereas a flat can come as low as 15,000 SAR per year in our city. Dreading the high costs, Indians mostly settle in such flats.
Life for the womenfolk can be gruelling, a day ideally starts at 4 am for one of my flat mate. She has three school going children who leave home by 7 am and her husband leaves by the same time with packed lunch after finishing his breakfast. Zeenath is someone who is a real bee, buzzing with activity any time you goto her home, washing, cleaning or cooking. She sleeps by 10 am and wakes up by 2 pm when the children arrive. Her house is spotlessly clean, and i envy her and her children who help maintain orderliness. My house is always a planned mess, especially with my two little ones who keep throwing used tissues and misplacing everything. Most women are like Zeenath here, their entire clock revolves around the man of the house and the children. Women have nothing else to do, rather than cleaning and cooking. I have not come across any maids in Indian households here, except Geetha. She is a successful entrepreneur here, she is a beautician who earns more by mere word of mouth and patronage of other Indian women who generally dont goto Saudi salons.
Noushad is a mother of two who has come here after 15 years of married life to be with her husband. Her two sons are back in India, both studying. Her husband manages a rent a car and so his duty timings can be real trouble. In her case, she wakes up anytime her husband has to leave and sleeps anytime he is away. Walking and other physical exercises outside home is a big NO NO here, women can walk in the confines of home. I too started enthusiastically by buying a mechanised treadmill, sports shoes, attire et all. As months passed on, so did my interest in running at home. Now my treadmill is the most ideal clothesline to dry my bed spreads and towels. I did not lose weight nor my treadmill lose its sheen and shine.
Outings with family are possible only on week ends, as women are not permitted to drive here. We need our husbands to chauffer us everywhere, be it week end shopping, urgent hospital trips or a visit to the beach. Socialising is simply not that easy for families, it can be better if we can arrange get togethers with colleagues. In our flats, there are three Tamil families and we have seldom had family get togethers. But as women, we three make it a point to meet once everyday, our mornings are usually spent in sipping ginger tea and chatting away merrily. Beyond this, socialising is simply not possible here. If our world revolves around our family and children, we can manage. For those party animals and socialising people, there is not much fun. Is it looking bleak? No. Western values have not spread here, but vanities have! Watch the roads, all you can see are Hummers, Volkswagens, BMWs and Mercs flashing by. Its a nice pastime to count the Humvees on a drive! All American food chains do brisk business, Pizza Hut, Dominos, KFC, Mac, Chilis, Applebees, Burger King, Dunkin Donuts, Taco Hut- anything under the sun. You name it, Dammam has that restaurant. And cosmetics...God there are malls selling tonnes and tonnes of them, creams, lotions, soaps, sprays. And as for perfumes, there are entire streets selling them, leave alone the malls. Chanel, Bulgari, Baccarat, Hermes, Poison, and then signature brands- J Lo, Brit Spears, Paris, the list is endless.
And then comes watches and jewellery- Estee Lauder, Rolex, Chrono Swiss, Cartier,DKNY...You can get anything you like, all you need is a pot of gold! Considering the cost factor, most Indian families dont venture out so easily, but for occasional month beginning purchases. What makes the women tick here is probably the Muslim lifestyle, prayers and all. Their day typically starts at Fajr and ends at Isha Salahs. For the others, it is a cocooned life, some day we might emerge a beautiful butterfly and spread our wings to fly back to our home, India.