From LaBelle to Jubail…a Born-Again Country Girl on Foreign Soil
My husband and I are temporarily living as residents in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). As our time grows long and weary in this dry, hot desert land, I have a better understanding of the word “foreign.” While growing up in the very small southeast Texas community of LaBelle, I never realized how different a place like Jubail, KSA could be. You see, this is my first time to travel overseas, much less live outside the United States of America. The name of the community in which I was raised is actually interpreted in French as “the girl.” I always thought this was very prophetic because my maiden name is translated “of the woods.” Thus I have always derived from this combination why I am so at home and comfortable being “the girl of the woods.” Not only did I grow up in a very rural and open country atmosphere, I could climb trees, roam through the woods, run with the wind and feel as free as a bird. I could also drive, get a job, shop, swim, boat, fish and become proficient in shooting competition against my three older brothers at the old magnolia tree on the back of our property. I could also partake of and enjoy so many more freedoms…which I realize now, I took for granted. I could attend the Church of my choice and worship my God without thinking twice about it. I could share Jesus with anyone. I could carry and read my Bible in public. I could bow my head in prayer, or lift my voice in praise and sing about the glorious name of Jesus anywhere I pleased. Believe me when I say to you now, I am ashamed to have ever unconsciously taken those freedoms for granted. I have had many hours here to think about all the opportunities given me which I let slip through my fingers. I always thought myself to be very appreciative and when I heard stories like those of Corrie Ten Boom, I knew I had so much to be thankful for yet now I fully realize I still took some things for granted. My Dad and three older brothers served in the Navy, my older son served in the Air Force and I, myself, lived on Randolph AFB while working at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas during the Viet Nam war. I always had the first-hand knowledge and appreciation of those who served, fought and died to preserve my country’s freedom yet it still did not personally touch the depths of my soul until now.
Don’t misunderstand me; I have suffered no hardships whatsoever while living in Saudi Arabia, yet the experience of this culture has served to be a wakeup call from my Father. I was raised in what some refer to as a strict Southern Baptist home and for reasons still unbeknownst to me, while growing up I was not allowed to wear makeup, use hairspray, shave my legs or wear my skirts higher than the knee. I also was forbidden to sew on Sundays or wear long pants to a hospital. Weird huh? I know, but let’s suffice it to say I guess my parents had their own reasons for believing this way. This is before women wearing pants became such a common sight inside our churches, which of course, I was also never allowed to do. My sister and I were also told we could not ride our brothers’ horses because it was not “lady-like.” I’m just giving you a little background here to show you that my growing-up years were very awkward for me and very different from those of my peers. I’ve thought about my growing-up years a lot in comparison to the women of KSA. The fact that the women of Jubail are suppressed is an understatement. Though I grew up with some restrictions that were definitely stricter than those for most girls my age, it has still been very hard for me to fathom the “rules” which apply to adult females here. At the present time, I live in a compound surrounded by a very high, solid concrete wall topped with barbed wire. This wall has one entrance/exit which is guarded with machine guns, by the Arab military. Vehicles are stopped and the driver must be recognizable or the occupants are interrogated and searched as well as their vehicle searched before entering. Long-handled mirrors are waved underneath the vehicle as well. From the outside, the compound resembles that of a prison with the exception of the two-story dwellings in sight above the wall. The compound is protected by three guard posts manned with ak 47s. We live in a western compound, which means we (women) can dress as we please while within the walls; however, outside the compound, we must wear an abaya.
Women aren’t allowed to drive here. If I want it badly enough, I must request a driver to travel across the long bridge to Bahrain in order to purchase pork or bacon. (I dearly miss my maple bacon.) Jobs for women here are found in either schools or hospitals. I had to go to the hospital in order to complete some tests for my iquama which is a residence visa with multiple entry. While I was there, my husband sat in one waiting room…in fact, it was a huge lobby with a coffee service and vending machines, displays, etc. and I had to sit in another waiting room for women only…a small barren room with chairs. While sitting with the other women in this room, an Arab man walked by the doorway and flung his trash in the door on us. I sat in shock as I scanned the room reading the reactions of all the eyes barely seen behind black veils. There were mixed emotions but mainly looks of disgust. I thought to myself, what a waste of otherwise beautiful smiles, personalities, productive individuals and souls who are untouched by the freedom of the Bible and God’s saving grace. Women here are focused on for one thing, that is to further the Islamic population. An Arab male may have up to five wives “provided they are treated equally.”
I dearly miss female camaraderie. I miss smiling at new female acquaintances and having them smile back in return. I miss laughter, giggles and sharing. Needless to say, I do not speak out here. I merely smile and there are only eyes staring at me in return. Father, please forgive me if I’ve failed you. You see, people are beheaded for sharing Christ or the gospel with Muslims here. What a switch for this outgoing Christ follower to stifle herself…and the result is a battle within me which brings tears because I cannot comprehend my choices. However, I do live across the street from a young woman from Venezuela who (before I arrived) taught two Women of Faith Bible Studies within the compound walls. Praise the Lord! For that I am thankful! It is outside the walls of this dry, barren and thirsty land which plague my thoughts as I listen to five prayer calls each day. The muffled chanting over the loud speakers all over Saudi seems to shout confusion for so many lost souls. I drown it out pretending it is an auctioneer at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo! LOL! The only thing I’ve derived from these “prayer calls” is the scheduled practice of prayer itself. By that I mean businesses close their doors and things shut down five times a day for their disciplined praying time. I cannot fathom most Christians shutting down five times in a day in order to honor our Father on our knees with prayer and thanksgiving. This realization speaks to me loudly and reiterates the fact that I have taken my freedoms at home for granted. It seems we are given way more yet we give back way less.
And lastly, the absence of personal protection here is another thing vastly different than I am used to. Back home I teach Hunter Education for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. I am a Texas Youth Hunting Program Huntmaster and I carry a CHL as well. As I previously mentioned, I grew up shooting with my family and was taught firearm safety and respect. Also, where I live in Texas it’s necessary to have a firearm close at hand for rattlesnakes and varmints. Has this been a culture shock for this little Browning-toting female? I dare say that it has! After all, Texas women come from a strong breed! I’ve come to understand though, that it is that very strength from my beloved Texan heritage along with my strength derived from God, first and foremost and also that of my country, the U.S.A., which enables me to carry on and embrace the journey here. Our God is LARGE! I will always cherish the opportunity given me to live in KSA temporarily, in order to renew my very deep appreciation for the freedoms and blessings which many have lived, fought and died to preserve back home. I dearly love and miss my country, The United States of America and my home state of Texas! You are the greatest this side of Heaven!
May God bless all our missionaries and military.
“Be strong and courageous…for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
CAPTURED IN HIS REFLECTION,