Blue Abaya » Your Wasta in Saudi Arabia

Masthead header

The historic city of Ad’Diriyah, where the first Saudi State was was established in 1745 (1158H) has been undergoing a huge restoration project since 2011. I for one have been anxiously awaiting for it to finish because I simply love all this place has to offer. Every time I go to Diriyah, there’s something new and exciting to discover. A shady alleyway with a colorful door at the end, an old watch tower or a small stream, lined with perfect shaded picnic spots..You never know what you will find!  So when I heard the news that earlier this month a part of the restoration project had finally been finished and inaugurated by the King, I was thrilled and could not wait to go check it out.  Apparently the newly opened area is called the Al-Bujairi district- the gateway to the historic area of Ad-Diriyah. You can find the directions, map and gps location further below. According to the project management:
“The project is a part of the scheme to develop Diriyah and highlight its cultural value by creating facilities at its main entrance.”

diriya palace ruins

This post is a collaborative Top Ten (5+5) list with blogger Margo Catts, whom I had the pleasure of exploring Diriyah with. Margo happens to be quite an amazing woman and super talented writer. I’m so happy to have known her in person, if only for a short time (she has left on final exit now). We had a blast one morning when the two of us went all “touristy” around Diriyah with our cameras and unfortunate driver. You will begin the virtual sightseeing tour of Riyadh’s very own UNESCO World Heritage site from the below five things to do, and then finish off the virtual Diriyah tour through her blog post here: 10 Things to Do at Historic Diriyah

Ten Things to do in Riyadh

The location of historical Ad’Diriyah is 20 km North West of Riyadh (11 km from city center) on the banks of Wadi Hanifa. The historic area of Ad’Diriyah is divided into two parts by the Wadi Hanifa and additionally into a number of different quarters. The most important ones are:

Turaif Quarter: The main quarter of Ad’Diriyah, where the Al Saud house is situated. The area is located on the South Western mountain, surrounded by a wall overlooking all other quarters.

Ghusaiba Quarter: This was the first Saudi capital up to 1683.

Bujairy Quarter: Located on the Eastern bank of Wadi Hanifa. here you’ll find the mosque, a school, home of Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Wahab and the newly opened Diriyah gateway. GPS coordinates to the roundabout next to the Bujairy plaza: 24.737382 46.575260

Here’s a google earth pic of the area, where you can see the green areas are mostly date farms around Wadi Hanifa and the road which goes down the valley splits the area in two; the Bujairy gateway area and on the opposite side the main historical city area. The actual city is unfortunately still closed from public, although private tours are possible by booking through the Diriyah project management.  The entire Diriyah restoration project is estimated to finish by the end of 2017. In the meanwhile, there’s still plenty of things to see and it’s well worth the visit.historical diriyah map Things to do in Ad ‘Diriyah

1. Explore the new Al Bujairy center.

Enjoy the amazing views to the palace and city ruins, find the old city well, have a picnic by the waterfalls or grab a coffee from one of the cafes. Exploring the Bujairy marketplace and surrounding area feels like stepping back in time, to when this place really was the hub of the city. Lots of shops, cafes, restaurants and businesses are already open and many more will open their doors soon. Most are open after Asr prayers only for the time being. A visitor’s info center, a cultural center and museum will also be opening there in the future.diriyahCollage

diriyah salwa palace2015-05-04_01472015-05-04_0152

diriyah plazadiria market

diriyah museum center

diriyah albujairy gatewaydiriyah old city well2. Door-Gawking and Alley-Wandering.

Ad-Diriyah is a paradise for door enthusiasts like myself. Diriyah is actually one of the places where my inspiration for the ‘Doors of the Magic Kingdom‘ collection began. Margo too, is a self proclaimed door-addict and we had a lot of fun hunting down new doors and finding the matching door and phone cover! Check out Blue Abaya Designs on Instagram for more door phone covers and other Saudi themed souvenirs and gifts. You can also purchase the iPhone and Samsung covers online at Blue Abaya’s Nuvango storefront here.

You will see the tribal patterns of the Najd region repeating themselves in the doors, gates, window shutters and panels scattered around the vast historical area. The geometric patterns, bright colors and the Najdi flower are the most easily recognizable patterns. Watch out for the below pictures huge colorful gate, which is actually a part of an isteraha that can be rented for private occasions.

Wander down one of the shady alleys down on the wadi road for another back in time-travel experience. Walking around the quiet neighborhoods is very therapeutic and makes for a refreshing change from the concrete jungles of Riyadh.

diriyah entrance door

blue abaya design phone coversdiriyah street farm

diriyah wood door

diriyah alleyway

diriyah giant doors3. Visit and see the mosques.

The old, the new and renovated ones. Probably one of the most famous mosques in all of Saudi Arabia is the Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdulwahab mosque, which is located right at the entrance to the historical area next to the Diriyah city walls.  So far the renovation efforts resulted in restoring the mosque where Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulwahab used to be its imam and deliver sermons. Many other mosques can be found around the newly inaugurated Al-Bujairi plaza area such as the restored Al-Dhwaihrah Mosque and the restoration of the Imam Mohammed bin Saud Mosque which is still under way.

diriyah mosque newdiriyah mosque wudu4. Hunt for antiques, art and souvenirs at the plaza.

Several souvenir & antique stores and art galleries are already open around the Diriyah marketplace area. Many more to be opened in the near future. The AMA Art venue is already open and there is a small coffee shop at the gallery. Check out the AMA Twitter and Instagram for more info!

diriyah antique shopdiriyah bedouin antique jewelry

The AMA Art Gallery in Ad Diriyah

The AMA Art Gallery entrance in Ad Diriyah

Diriyah souk antique shop

5. Eat at the Najd Village restaurant.

This is the third branch of the lovely  Najd Village restaurants which serve traditional Saudi foods. You will be seated on the floor in your own Saudi style majlis or tent, while trying out all the different Najd food specialities at once! Read more about why this restaurant is so amazing here: Al Qarya Najdiya-The Najd Village restaurant.  As an added bonus, the Diriyah branch is overlooking the palace ruins across the wadi, the views are truly incredible. This would be THE place to bring those special Riyadh visitors to. Spend a memorable evening in a one of a kind setting enjoying authentic Saudi food and culture. The restaurant is open daily for both singles and families, 4-10pm
diriyah najd village restaurant doordiriya najd restaurant

Now head over to Margo’s post for more pics and a great history lesson of Diriyah!

If you live in Saudi Arabia chances are you’ve heard the word ‘wasta’ mentioned before. A wasta is a widely used term for a well connected individual in the Arab world. It refers to using one’s influence or connections to getting things done, cutting through bureaucratic red tape, having exceptions made to the rules, or assisting with employment or education opportunities.

The use of wasta (sometimes referred to as vitamin W) is endemic in the Middle East region and particularly in Saudi Arabia. The word wasta translates roughly to “connections” or “influence” and the Arabic origin means “intermediate”. In short, a wasta is a very influential person with good connections who can get things rolling for you.

Although using wasta is a common practice in the Arab world, the phenomenon of ‘who you know’ can be found everywhere in the world. Networking and social connections are forms of “wasta” in every culture. Some societies view using “wasta” as highly unethical, unfair and showing lack of integrity.

My home country Finland is one of these countries where using ‘wasta’ to achieve something is deeply frowned upon. It’s everyone for their own self, independence is highly valued. It would be considered shameful to land a job based solely on your connection, instead of being qualified for the job. This mentality can partly explain Finland’s rank in the corruption studies, where it’s frequently ranked the #1 least corrupt country in the world.

Coming from this background and upbringing then transitioning to the Saudi ‘world of wasta’ has been difficult. I had to accept the fact that wasta is a way of life in Saudi Arabia and the region in general, and that will not go away any time soon. I learned that I don’t have to accept and approve of the concept, but I can learn to deal with and work with the system the best of my capability.

But why is using these connections more widely culturally accepted and practiced in Saudi Arabia, compared to in the western countries?

The reason is because the roots of  the wasta tradition are in tribal family structures. Saudis (and Arabs in general) have stronger social networks, and they will do anything in their power to serve family and friends. Saudis have very strong family ties and it’s not always about the immediate family, but the entire tribe. Moreover, in some cases it might be considered shameful if a Saudi doesn’t become a wasta for the people of their own tribe, even for relatives they’ve never met before.

Wasta can in some instances be more valuable than money and having wasta definitely makes life in Saudi Arabia much easier. It could be said that the wasta “system” is good only for those who are able to utilize it. For those outside of the system it can feel very frustrating and unfair.

That said, wasta in Saudi Arabia can work on all levels of society, just on different scales. Wasta shouldn’t be confused with the actions that come with it. In Saudi Arabia wasta is no doubt used also for the negative things such as favoring unqualified applicants for a job or giving out scholarships to under performing students. On the other hand having an influential wasta can sometimes even save lives.
keep-calm-cause-i-have-wasta-WM

 

Wasta is often used by Saudis to land a place in university or a job in management or other sought after placements. The sad truth is, the person who used wasta to obtain that position often went past many much more qualified candidates. That’s why many Saudi companies have incompetent and unmotivated staff. Because of  influential wasta backing them up, they won’t have to fear loosing their jobs even if they don’t perform very well.

A wasta is sort of like a genie in a bottle, but better. Instead of three wishes you can get as many as you wish!

Watch the clip of the genie VS wasta to understand the power of WASTA 😉

 

  • KrisJanuary 12, 2012 - 11:36 pm

    LOL! I loved your wasta link! My husband has access to some good wasta, but has too much honor to use it for his benefit. I love his honor more than his wasta! lol!ReplyCancel

  • NoorJanuary 13, 2012 - 12:36 am

    Wasta is a funny thing here I did a post about it to awhile ago lol Saudis are something else :pReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJanuary 13, 2012 - 1:56 am

    Definitely a corruptive tool..ReplyCancel

  • MAHARUKHJanuary 13, 2012 - 7:27 am

    in love with dis… do drop time on my blog too…ReplyCancel

  • AngelJanuary 13, 2012 - 7:56 am

    LMAO It is unfortunate that this is what people need to get what they want, whether it be marriage, a job, getting land etc it is very sad indeedReplyCancel

  • LaylahJanuary 13, 2012 - 3:59 pm

    Kris-you’ve got one honorable man! Would he use it in emergency cases though?ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJanuary 13, 2012 - 4:00 pm

    Noor-yes, they are 😀ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJanuary 13, 2012 - 4:01 pm

    Maharukh-thanks for stopping by, nice blog you have :)ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJanuary 13, 2012 - 4:03 pm

    Angel-true, it’s sad and it corrupts society, and it’s also unfair to people who try to do things on their own, have someone with wasta come and take that from you.ReplyCancel

  • KristineJanuary 13, 2012 - 8:15 pm

    I sure do Laylah! He does use it to help other people though.ReplyCancel

  • Abdullah of ArabiaJanuary 17, 2012 - 12:21 am

    I use to think arabia have monopoly over WASTA but in fact recently I found an interesting example of WASTA in the EU.

    In the Wikileaks Wasta said to be wide spread in Greece. Wasta there called (MESON) and this quote from Wikileaks from US embassy in Athens:

    ”Using one’s friends in high places to get something done that otherwise would be impossible — a practice called “meson” — is such a standard practice that it is sometimes difficult for even the most forthright Greek to know where the corruption line exists”

    http://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/02/06ATHENS369.html#

    So Wasta may be had been transmitted to Arabia through the translated Greeks books centuries ago.ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJanuary 18, 2012 - 12:02 pm

    Abdullah of Arabia-thanks for sharing the interesting example, I was not aware of this.ReplyCancel

  • […] than snails in terms of progress of the application. Permissions are given out for those with wasta, money to bribe employees or what it seems just randomly. They have a website with the list of […]ReplyCancel

  • JeanMay 7, 2015 - 1:14 am

    Wasta happens in North America AFTER one has passed the rigorous university exams, multiple job interviews and landed a job.. But wasta or favouritism happens in any culture. In some cultures though it is sadly too embedded and holds back many local people who have struck out courageously and diligently to become better educated, skilled and articulate.

    In my opinion, this will be KSA’s long-term barrier to prevent its own people en masse from evolving to the next level. And those who have immigrated to KSA..

    There are reasons why some immigrants want to live and work in North America forever: get away from widespread wasta that becomes institutionalized. It’s not healthy when it prevents whole groups of talented people from contributing their strongest skills to society.
    Jean recently posted…Cycling and Searching for Sublime Seafood ChowderReplyCancel

  • DeeMay 11, 2015 - 11:15 am

    From Large Scale to Small Scale organizations, there’s always a wasta. It’s quite frustrating that a good and outstanding person gets left behind because of some people who have wasta.

    Even back in the Philippines, wasta’s are mostly the politicians. In the societal view, we call them “Kumpare”ReplyCancel

It’s time for Riyadh’s annual International Book Fair! A grand international book fair will be inaugurated by the Saudi minister of Culture and Information, on Wednesday March 4th 2015. Read on to find out more about the venue, location info, timings and what this exhibition is all about!

“The book fair will feature a bulk of literature, including major titles from South Africa, which is the guest country at the fair this year,” said Ahmed Al-Zahrani, a spokesman at the Ministry of Culture and Information. Al-Zahrani said that the 10-day long “Riyadh Book Fair,” will “offer books of different genres for readers of all age groups.”Besides offering books on discounted rates for children and adults, the fair will encompass a range of events such as counseling sessions and discussions on books, he said.”

The 2015 Book Fair is being held at Riyadh’s International Convention and Exhibition Center (RICEC). For the Google maps location click here.

GPS coordinates of RICEC: 24.7510400, 46.7255270

With over 600,000 books by over 900 publishing houses, represented by 400 exhibitors; the Riyadh International Book Fair is one of the largest cultural festivals in Saudi Arabia. More than two million visitors come each year to find and buy new interesting books and to participate in the cultural program accompanying the exhibition. This year the host country is South Africa.

 haia religious police at saudi book fair

Saudi religious police officers at Riyadh Book Fair

 

The International Book Fair is much more than just stall after stall of books, there’s activities and presentations for both adults and children. Although majority of books are in Arabic language, there’s an English language section and many of the children’s books are in English. They also have educational toys and games for sale. The Saudi ministries also have booths at the Fair and one of the many interesting places to stop by at is the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) booth.Each year, the Riyadh Book Fair sparks controversy among the more conservative Saudis. In the past, groups of religious clerics have protested against allowing women to attend the book fair or to make public speeches. They’re also known for being on the look-out for and wanting to confiscate books which clash with their religious views.

Thankfully in the recent years, women have been allowed to freely participate in the book fair. Nowadays there’s a closed off ‘family section’ where some women are selling books they authored at their own stalls.

The Saudi religious police, the ‘Hai’a’ patrols the fair, on the look-out for banned books. The Haia officers work under the Commission for Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue (CPVPV) and they even have their own stand at the Fair which could be interesting to stop by at. On display, among other things, are items confiscated by the Commission Members. You can find out more about what the Hai’a officers duties are at their stall. You can read more about  here: Meet the Saudi Religious Police

Riyadh’s Book Fair is definitely worth the visit! The best time to go is on weekday mornings when the place is not yet crowded and this is when schools will be visiting so there’s plenty of kids activities.. The Exhibition Center starts getting very crowded in the evenings and the parking lot can be very hard to access because of the traffic, especially around closing time. There are ‘white’ taxis waiting outside the Exhibition Center.

If you take your children, a stroller will come in handy because the exhibition area is huge with many large halls to explore. Take cash with you as payment, there’s an ATM inside the Exhibition Hall, but it can have very long waiting lines. A restaurant and cafeteria are located near the entrance, but both often have long lines during peak hours. There’s an info booth near the entrance where you can ask for a map of the area to have a better understanding of all the things on offer.

Enjoy!!

a child who reads will be an adult who thinks

 

  • J.MohsenMarch 19, 2014 - 11:14 am

    Wish I would have known about this, would have loved to go!ReplyCancel

  • Mohamed Al Saadoon (@burning_phoneix)April 3, 2014 - 2:00 am

    I was surprised Author Services Inc. managed to get a booth. For reference, Author Services is the publishing arm for L Ron Hubbard, the founder of scientology.ReplyCancel

  • KysyyApril 18, 2014 - 12:26 pm

    You wrote about culture shock in one article and how you finally saw that some things are actually in better way in SA compared to Finland. It would be very interesting to read such an article. What is better in/about Saudi society and customs compared to Finland and the other way around?

    Olisi todella kiva, jos kirjoittaisit tuota asiaa koskevan jutun :)ReplyCancel

    • LaylaApril 22, 2014 - 5:22 pm

      Moikka! kiitos ehdotuksesta! Yes time willing, I would be glad to write such an article :)ReplyCancel

  • […] What is the job description of a muttawa? Muttawas don’t actually have an official job description. There has recently been talk in the media about the importance of having one following some very unpleasant and even violent actions taken by religious policemen. On their official website it is stated their duty is to “preserve Muslim society by guidance and good example”. Muttawa seem to improvise as they go, acting as sort of  performance artists sometimes. Most common duty of a muttawa is telling (sometimes shouting) women to cover their heads or hair. If the women under scrutiny are Saudi they will be asked to cover their faces or eyes depending on how much the woman is already covered. If a muttawa squad encounters a woman and a man together under suspicious conditions, such as riding in the same car or shopping together, they will request to see a marriage license. If the couple does not have it, they will be taken to the station for questioning and interrogation. The police must be present in order for the Hai’a to actually arrest anyone. Their duties also include blacking out haram figures from women’s magazines (cleavage, legs, arms)blacking out women from inflatable swimming pool packages and basically wherever they find pictures of uncovered women. Hai’a might raid stores for haram goods such as music CDs, stuff that resembles crosses or other religious symbols, Barbies without abayas and forbidden books like Harry Potter and Winnie the Pooh which features a piglet! The Horror! The confiscated items are brought on display at the yearly Riyadh International Book Fair. […]ReplyCancel

  • 10 Things To Do In Riyadh During SpringDecember 3, 2014 - 12:52 am

    […] 1. Visit the International Riyadh Book Fair. The fair starts 6th March 2012 and runs through the 16th, open daily from 10 am to 10 pm at the Riyadh International Exhibition Center. There is an English books section, a female only area and an excellent children’s book and activity area. Guide to the Book Fair found here: Riyadh International Book Fair. […]ReplyCancel

  • Terri PlezMarch 12, 2015 - 5:29 am

    Do I need to bring cash or do most vendors take ATM/credit cards?ReplyCancel

    • LaylaMarch 16, 2015 - 4:48 pm

      Sorry Terri didn’t see your reply on time. They do have an ATM there, but there’s long lines! Better take cash.ReplyCancel

Excited to announce Blue Abaya’s recent interview and collaboration with Riyadh’s Radisson Blu Hotel!

 The following is my interview with Radisson Blu hotel in Riyadh which contains some sightseeing & activity tips for newcomers and business travellers to Saudi Arabia’s capital. Read the article based on the interview “An Expat’s Guide to Riyadh by Blue Abaya” on Radisson Blu site here.

 

1) Why did you move to Riyadh and what were your thoughts before going there? How did you prepare?

 

I moved to Riyadh in 2008 to work as a nurse in a large governmental hospital. Prior to arrival in Saudi Arabia I’d been in contact with a few nurses that were already working at the same hospital, and chatting with them was reassuring. Back then there wasn’t much info online and expat blogs were non-existent back then! The recruitment company also gave us material to read through in preparations for the move and dealing with culture shock.

 

2) As an ex-pat, what is your view of Riyadh now compared to perceptions at the outset? How has it changed in recent years?

 

Riyadh has changed so much since then! New buildings, shopping malls and restaurants are literally popping up like mushrooms after the rain. The overall atmosphere and ambience has become more relaxed too. I definitely like the Riyadh of today more in terms of available activities and ways to spend free time.

When I came it was difficult to find women’s gyms and good spas, now there are several top notch places to choose from all over the city.
It’s great to see how much variety there is nowadays in Riyadh when it comes to dining out, there always something new and exciting to try out. Another improvement is local tour companies who have began to cater to the expatriates and foreign visitors by offering city tours and day trips to some very beautiful places just outside of Riyadh.

iloveriyadh

3) What – in your mind, are the absolute must-see attractions in Riyadh for business travellers or holidaymakers, and why?

I think it would be a great idea for the travellers to see both the modern city life as well as the traditions and heritage of Saudi Arabia. For example, combining some attractions from the city center such as the Kingdom Tower SkyBridge, Al Faisaliyah tower and the High Tea at Globe restaurant with a sightseeing tour at UNESCO World Heritage site, Historical Diriyah.

Another must see place is the National Museum, this is one of the best Museums in the entire Middle East and visitors get an excellent introduction to the Arabian Peninsula’s history, culture, geography and religion. The surrounding area of the National Museum, King Abdul Aziz Historical center, has enough attractions and activities to keep the visitors busy for the whole day.

A visit to Riyadh would not be complete without a trip out to the desert. Highly recommended would be visiting either the Red Sand dunes or the spectacular ‘Edge of the World‘ which both offer unforgettable experiences for travellers.

 

4) What are your favourite places to eat in Riyadh and why?

That’s a tough question to answer! There’s simply so many great places. it really depends on what you’re looking for, budget-wise, and who you’re eating out with.

For first time visitors to Riyadh, the Najd village restaurant is a MUST visit! The restaurant which is built as a replica of the traditional mud houses typical to the Najd region, serves delicious Saudi cuisine in private majlis (living rooms). It’s great for groups and families.

Another favorite is the Brazilian restaurant ‘Il Terrazo‘ which is located on a terrace overlooking the Faisaliyah tower. it’s a buffet restaurant with great ambience and food, the best thing is to be able to sit outside with such a lovely view.

Friday Brunches are a popular way to spend Friday afternoon’s in Riyadh. Most of the 5 star hotels offer them but my favorites are the Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons spreads.

For breakfast my favorite is Paul’s on Tahlia street. They are open on Fridays and it’s always a pleasure to be able to enjoy breakfast outside, weather permitting of course. Paul’s has their own bakery shop where you can pick up freshly baked breads, mouth watering cakes, pies and their famous croissants.

 

5) To what extent is there a strong sense of community among westerns in Riyadh, and if I’m a traveller, where would you recommend going to meet other people from the same walks of life?

The western communities tend to be restricted a lot by the compounds where they live in and most people socialize within those circles. Because of the cultural restrictions and laws of KSA, it’s not easy to organize large gatherings among expatriates especially mixed gender crowds.

The Diplomatic Quarter is a good place to start. the ‘DQ’ as locals call it is a gated area where the foreign embassies are located and many westerners live there. The area can be accessed by public and especially westerners should have no trouble getting in.
There are quite a few interesting tourist attractions in the DQ. There are over 30 beautifully landscaped lush gardens in the area, a 20km long nature walking trail which encircles the quarters and provides spectacular views to Wadi Hanifa. The architecture in the Diplomatic Quarter is the work of internationally renowned architects from all over the world, making the area even more appealing to visitors.

 
6) What would be your number one tip for people journeying to Riyadh – if you could only pick one

Come with an open mind and don’t be afraid to explore the city, you won’t regret it!

 

Find More Saudi Arabia Expat Guide’s by Blue Abaya here

To keep up to date with Blue Abaya’s Expat Guides make sure to subscribe with the form below!

  • Margaretha Beverloo SmithFebruary 19, 2015 - 4:21 am

    If you did this interview for the Radisson Blu, I am surprised you didn’t mention their own excellent Japanese Shogun, among the restaurants you recommend. That is one of my favorites! Located on one of their top floors. There is also a very good Italian restaurant up there. Just saying…. :)ReplyCancel

    • LaylaFebruary 19, 2015 - 11:11 am

      haha well, like I said it’s a difficult question as there are way too many favorites, depending on what you’re looking for. I don’t have personal experience from the Shogun yet (not a huge fan of Japanese food) so I don’t feel comfortable endorsing it.ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousFebruary 19, 2015 - 8:35 am

    Congratulations ! Always a big fan and keen follower of your blog .ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousFebruary 19, 2015 - 8:37 am

    Would like to know if any tour / travel agency has any scheduled outing to “Edge of the World”ReplyCancel

  • NasserApril 8, 2015 - 11:54 am

    Great blog thanks for the post :)ReplyCancel

The following is my personal love story from the ‘Magic Kingdom’ of Saudi Arabia. How I met my Saudi Prince post was originally published 2012 on the 4th anniversary of the day I randomly met who I thought was (and is) the most handsome and charming man I ever laid eyes on. I had left Finland to work in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh in a large governmental hospital. The plan was to stay a year, maybe two exploring Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. Saudi Arabia as a country and culture had fascinated me quite some time before I’d made my final decision to take on the challenge of relocating there as a single western woman.

Before I left to KSA some of my friends, family and co-workers used to tease me that I will never come back to Finland if I go to Saudi Arabia. They would jokingly say things like “you’re so pretty an oil Sheikh will surely kidnap you and lock you in his palace” “a rich prince will sweep you off your feet, you’ll move to a palace and have 20 kids with him” and so forth.

My reply to them was: “not in a million years! I would never marry a Saudi guy!”.

Lol and now 7 years later, here I am, married to a Saudi guy and we have 2 kids (at times it does seem like there are in fact 20 of them in the house). So I called this post “Saudi Prince” because of the irony of it all.

Disclaimer: My husband is not from the Saudi royal family and no we don’t live in a palace either. 

how I met my saudi prince

..Exactly four years ago my shift at the Saudi hospital had started out like any other night. The allocated patients kept me busy and life seemed to be rolling on as usual. Little did I know that night would change my life for good.

I was thankful to have my friend “Katherine” working on the same shift, it was always a relief having another westerner and English speaking person to talk to during the night shift. We had again agreed to exchange our patients over to each other to enable a break in the middle of the shift.

The moment that would change my life happened very randomly. I was looking for Katherine to ask her which coffee she wanted from Starbuck’s. It was my turn to fetch that night’s caffeine dose and I was on my way down to the coffee shop. I saw her nurse presence light on in one room and decided to pop my head in quickly.

As I peaked in, Katherine was chatting inside with the patient and his relative. The Euro Cup football match was playing loudly on TV. She excitedly motioned me to enter the room further so curiously I did, at the same time asking what her Starbucks order was going to be.

As I glanced at the patient sitting there on his bed, something strange happened. As if time had stopped, like a missing piece had fallen into its place. A handsome young man looked back at me, equally baffled by the moment. For just a few seconds our eyes met and then both of us shyly looked away. I greeted the men with salaams and smiled. They replied back politely, not even looking at me for long but eyeing the floor or the TV. I had learned by now this was a sign of respect, not disrespect as my own culture would tell me. They did not want to make me feel awkward.

I felt a rush of blood going to my head, I was blushing now. Oh how I hated when that happened! I wanted to leave, but then I felt a certain curiosity of this man who I thought was probably one of the most handsome men I had ever laid eyes on. He had a certain sparkle in his eyes that intrigued me and his smile seemed to light up the room. I didn’t want to leave anymore.

I lingered for a moment, asking about the game on TV. The truth is I knew nothing about football, the only thing I cared about was the Italian football team, for other reasons than their skills. He made a joke about the Italians and we all laughed. I told him I was rooting for Italy and more jokes were thrown around. Secretly I was thinking to myself how the patient actually reminded me of an Italian football player with his long black hair brushed up in a ponytail and his smiling dark chocolate eyes.

When I couldn’t think of any more excuses to stay in the room I left to fetch the coffee. I kept thinking about the patient and wanted to ask Katherine about him. I felt drawn to go talk to him more. Later that night my chance came when Katherine and I swapped patients for her break.

Katherine had informed her patients she was leaving for an hour and meanwhile nurse “Layla from Finland” would be taking over. As she was leaving she teased me, “he will call you for sure, something tells me he wants to see you again. When you walked into the room it was like something made a “click” sound! I swear I could hear it!”

About five minutes after she left, the call bell rang. Room 42. It’s him! I was nervous to enter and felt my heart racing. The young man asked if he could get a pain killer. Sure, I said and left to check his files. When I returned he thanked me for the medicine and shyly asked a few questions about me.

I was amazed how it felt so easy to talk to him, his English was perfect and I forgot he was even Saudi. It was as if we already knew each other somehow. It became apparent that we had actually lived in the same area in the U.S as kids. What a coincidence! We talked about Finland and at some point I mentioned how we have so many moose there but I couldn’t remember how to say the plural. What was it, perhaps mooses? He laughed and told me it must be meese! To this day I remember that silly joke and how it made us both laugh so hard.  His smile filled my heart with joy.

Thinking back to that day and where I was in my life I realize how fortunate I was meeting this remarkable man. From that night shift, it has been a long, sometimes extremely hard but rewarding journey to where we are now. We have had to overcome so many obstacles on the way.

No one believed in us in the beginning, except us.

Never in a million years did I think something like this would happen to me when I landed on Saudi soil. When I left Finland for Saudi, people used to tease me, you will find a Saudi Prince there, fall in love and stay forever! I told them, in your dreams only! I guess sometimes fairy tales do come true.

 

 

  • ShimshimJune 14, 2012 - 3:06 am

    Layla, you have such a great way with words. I loved your story and how things developed between you – in fact I am now even more intrigued and want to know more! I can see the parallels in your “struggle” to get to where you are now – I am still “struggling”, my other half is working in Riyadh whilst I am working in Indonesia for now – we have been “together” for 4 years too! Maybe next year we will both be in nearer countries! Keep up the good work and thanks for sharing 😉ReplyCancel

    • LaylahJune 15, 2012 - 6:27 pm

      Shimshim-thank you and I hope you will be able to live in the same country with your other half soon!ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJune 14, 2012 - 3:21 am

    Hi laylah, such a sweet story :) have always wondered how you met your significant other in saudi, I guess this answered my question :)

    SirehReplyCancel

    • LaylahJune 15, 2012 - 6:28 pm

      Hi Sireh, thanks and I guess you could say it was totally randomly!ReplyCancel

  • DianaJune 14, 2012 - 3:47 am

    Please, please write some more. What happened after that? Love your blog!ReplyCancel

    • LaylahJune 15, 2012 - 6:29 pm

      Diana-thank you!Ohhh many many things happened after that. Maybe I really should start writing that book, eh?ReplyCancel

  • Mrs GebuJune 14, 2012 - 5:13 am

    It’s so sweet Layla…like a real fairy tale
    Thanks for sharing…ReplyCancel

  • Mrs GebuJune 14, 2012 - 5:13 am

    It’s so sweet Layla…like a real fairy tale
    Thanks for sharing…ReplyCancel

  • sessiJune 14, 2012 - 5:59 am

    Congrats on your anniversary!ReplyCancel

  • IldiJune 14, 2012 - 6:36 am

    Dear Laylah,
    i love your story! ♥♥♥ Wishing you many many happy years and cute kids more around! Finnish princess found love and got love back so far away from home and a different world! 😀 Thank you for sharing lovliest moments from your life.

    Kisses!ReplyCancel

    • LaylahJune 15, 2012 - 6:30 pm

      Thanks Ildi! Never would’ve thought to find love in this country!ReplyCancel

  • Star VogueJune 14, 2012 - 6:43 am

    lovely story may Allah SWT bless all marriages with long lasting love and happiness!
    http://starvogue84.blogspot.comReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJune 14, 2012 - 7:10 am

    Subhanallah!…what a beautiful story i was imagining the entire seen playing in my mind mashallah. Allah make it a long and happy marriage ameen.
    UmmLujaynReplyCancel

  • Muslimah in reverieJune 14, 2012 - 7:19 am

    Aww mashaAllah what a lovely story :). May Allah swt bless your marriage eternally,and place an everlasting love and mercy between you two always!ReplyCancel

  • Umm GamarJune 14, 2012 - 7:32 am

    Salammualaykum Laylah,thanis for sharing with us this story :) Subhanallah,we can never know how or when we will meet our soulmate. I met my Saudi Prince while in university here in Malaysia,he was cousins with a friend of mine and we too immediately ‘clicked’. Now we are blessed with a beautiful princess. Although,as you experienced, the journey to our marriage wasn’t easy,but Allah has willed our union 😉 Laylah, how does his family accept/treat you as a non Saudi wife,may we know?ReplyCancel

    • LaylahJune 15, 2012 - 6:33 pm

      Umm Gamar-yes we can never know when that day comes! They have come to accept me and treat me very well alhamdulillah.ReplyCancel

  • Lady CarrotJune 14, 2012 - 11:30 am

    Very nice story :) wish you guys much much love and happiness inshallahReplyCancel

  • Karen KingJune 14, 2012 - 12:15 pm

    Magical! When I interviewed for a writing position with my husband’s company (our week anniversary was yesterday), everyone I met seemed to be impressed with me. I was asked by everyone, have you met David? Turns out my future husband was out that day, home with sick children. So many people mentioned David in that interview, that I knew there was something special about that man. I didn’t meet him until first day on the job, but I felt that same click, too. As we married last week, I remember bowing my head during prayers and thought about your true love. I pray that we are both happy with our princes and our lives forever. God blessed us, and I am so grateful! Thank you for sharing.ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJune 14, 2012 - 1:48 pm

    beautiful story..so sweet mashallah!.
    I am intrigued to know like Umm Gamar how his family accepted/treated you into their family..there are many girls going through similar situations and it will be nice to hear from someone who has experience.
    Your husband as you mentioned spent time in america so his family does that make his family a little less conservative to other saudi families who have never travelled and maybe more open to the option of the “dreaded western wife
    LOL?
    UmmLujaynReplyCancel

    • LaylahJune 15, 2012 - 6:40 pm

      Well I can say that even though they all lived in US they are still very conservative, except for my husband I guess:)ReplyCancel

  • NoorJune 14, 2012 - 2:24 pm

    MashAllah Laylah what a beautiful story and I am so glad you found true love. Its so true we never know when it will happen. If you would have told me as a girl I would marry a Saudi and live here I would have never ever believed it would you lol. Oh I get the married a Saudi prince thing all the time to weird lol.ReplyCancel

    • LaylahJune 15, 2012 - 6:41 pm

      Noor, true I would’ve laughed and not believed as well! Life is full of surprises.ReplyCancel

  • FarooqJune 14, 2012 - 3:39 pm

    thanks for sharing the story Laylah. Remember a movie’s tag line. “Love will find a way” Well it sure did.

    In the words of the great (just kidding ok!) Justin Bieber, “Never say never” lol.

    My wife said she would never have imagined marrying an Indian but here we are 3 yrs this July and still going strong alhamdulillah.ReplyCancel

    • LaylahJune 15, 2012 - 6:45 pm

      Farooq-congrats to you for the upcoming anniversary!ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJune 14, 2012 - 4:06 pm

    Great story Layla. How long after meeting your husband did you become Muslim? Or are you Muslim? If not, would you consider it? Sorry for all the questions, but you have such an interesting life it leaves one wanting to hear more and more.ReplyCancel

  • DianneJune 14, 2012 - 4:15 pm

    Lovely story of how you guys met each other. Speaking of football, Euro2012 is going on right now, and as I type, I’m watching Italy vs Croatia. lol!ReplyCancel

    • LaylahJune 15, 2012 - 6:46 pm

      I’m still rooting for Italy to my husband’s annoyance 😉ReplyCancel

  • ربة منزلJune 14, 2012 - 5:37 pm

    Beautiful story. Made me smile all the way to the end. Starbucks must be your favorite coffee place today :)ReplyCancel

  • AliceJune 14, 2012 - 5:37 pm

    OMG, it’s love from first sight! You’re so lucky Layla! Or should I rather say: you are so BLESSED! Such love is a luxury, does not happen to everyone. I’m happy for you and hope this love will flourish forever!ReplyCancel

    • LaylahJune 15, 2012 - 6:49 pm

      Alice thank you! I don’t believe in love at first sight but it was definitely something at first sight :)ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJune 14, 2012 - 9:56 pm

    oh, thank you, such a lovely story…. please post part 2!ReplyCancel

    • LaylahJune 15, 2012 - 6:49 pm

      there would be probably up to part 200 if I continued the story :)ReplyCancel

  • Steve at the PubJune 15, 2012 - 12:25 am

    Lovely story, very well written. (I’ll take issue with the Italian football team though! I prefer my footballers to have machisimo.)ReplyCancel

    • LaylahJune 15, 2012 - 6:50 pm

      Steve-oh come one! Italians are a “league” of their won hahaReplyCancel

    • Ms. JMarch 26, 2015 - 3:26 am

      Ms. Layla

      Your story inspired me so much! I’m an expat nurse too here in ksa but not like you i think my love story in kinda complicated. I want to share it with you and ask some advice if you dont mind. I really need it from a person that can understand my situation.
      Hoping for your response

      Sincerely Yours,
      Ms.JReplyCancel

  • SoileJune 15, 2012 - 9:15 am

    Great story, you are soooooo lucky!ReplyCancel

    • LaylahJune 15, 2012 - 6:51 pm

      Thanks Soile! You never know who you will meet here 😉ReplyCancel

  • FeliciaJune 15, 2012 - 6:32 pm

    What a beautiful story! Wishing your family all the best with much happiness. When I first seen my prince charming his smile captured me too. Sometimes there is that instant connection that you cannot explain. Love is a beautiful thing!ReplyCancel

  • Madame KissankulmaJune 15, 2012 - 11:03 pm

    Wonderful story, I`m so happy for both of you. You look so comfortable with muslim culture, which I appreciate. Do you speak finnish to your child? I love the way you tell in your blog about Finland but also about good things in Saudi. I hope you and your family all the best!ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJune 16, 2012 - 3:41 am

    Salam Laylah
    I was wondering if u knew the “undertheabaya” blogger and why she decided to go private. A lot of her readers cannot contact her now and it just seems strange that she failed to mention anything or even a reason and won’t accept anyone trying to read her blog either. I didn’t know anyone else who may know of her so thats why I’m asking you..hope you can shed some light on the matter.
    Thanks
    SanaReplyCancel

  • Omani Princess (not Omani...yet)June 17, 2012 - 11:41 am

    lol, loved it. hope to hear more. May Allah protect and bless you both, ameen.ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJune 19, 2012 - 1:16 pm

    Loved your story! Thank you for sharing! It's so romantic! Francesca from Ottawa, CanadaReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJune 23, 2012 - 9:32 pm

    You have a great love story, I love it…!!!..Where do you live now? In Saudi Arabia or Finland ? How many children do you have ? Wish you the best !ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJune 23, 2012 - 9:33 pm

    You have a great love story !!!ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJune 23, 2012 - 9:36 pm

    Great love storyReplyCancel

  • Afsal_ AlifJune 24, 2012 - 10:50 am

    felt like reading Romeo & Juliet…..love @ first sight….Seems like the Indian love epic (Laila & Majnu ). I wish I too have such a wonderful & fascinating experience in the near future……!!ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJune 29, 2012 - 1:10 pm

    That’s so sweet :-) I wish I could meet a Saudi like thisReplyCancel

  • MishaJuly 2, 2012 - 5:44 pm

    Mashallah you are lucky to have met someone so sweet, and its quite a story to tell your kids :-). You certainly ahve a way with words, you painted quite a picture, I love reading your posts, especially the ones where you share personal stories, they really draw you in, and we as readers feel ike that we know though we’ve never met…enjoy your summer holidays in Finland.xxxReplyCancel

  • InetaJuly 16, 2012 - 6:09 pm

    This is an amazing story! Thank you so much for sharing it!ReplyCancel

  • sarahSeptember 18, 2012 - 9:20 pm

    THAT IS SO SWEET.
    I am a hopelessly romantic 19 yearold, and your story made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
    I have read your entire blog, and have enjoyed it very very much. Please don’t stop posting. Ignore the haters and the copycats, they are only a drop in the sea, there are so many more people who love and appreciate your work and your awesome sense of humor!
    Hugs from Canada <3333ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousNovember 17, 2012 - 4:23 am

    I LOVE this story! so happy for you. may God bless your lives together, in this world and in Heaven! much love to you from a sister in Ottawa, canada.ReplyCancel

  • AnonymousJanuary 29, 2013 - 8:22 am

    Wow, unsure how I came across your blog and ended up reading this. I wish I fell in love with a woman this way. It’s so beautiful. I guess for some dreams as such come true, for others they remain just dreams.. God bless your entire family for always and preserve your love till you reach paradise and forever.ReplyCancel

  • LaylaJanuary 31, 2013 - 12:00 pm

    Thank you all for the kind words and wishes!ReplyCancel

  • Mohammed AhmedFebruary 11, 2013 - 10:17 am

    Mrs. Layla…You are really lucky….May God Bless You…. BothReplyCancel

  • Louise GFebruary 14, 2013 - 11:16 am

    I just discovered your blog, and I love it (so fairy tales are true ?!) … As a major in arabic studies I’m an avid reader of anything regarding the arab world, and your blog looks like on of the best about Saudi Arabia, a country that I find fascinating for different reasons.
    So thank you for your blog that I’ll be following with interest !
    ReplyCancel

  • drtaherJune 13, 2013 - 11:15 pm

    Dear Laylah,

    What a great story! I have heard of so many doctor-nurse stories (my own marriage is one of those) but this story of nurse-patient is unique and so entertaining! May you always stay happy with your dream prince. and may your blog continue to enlighten us in the same way as it has been doing for the past several years.

    = Dr. TaherReplyCancel

  • AnonymousOctober 12, 2013 - 3:27 am

    How I Met My Saudi Prince | Blue AbayaReplyCancel

  • […] Surprisingly there are countless love stories that started in Magic Kingdom..So many of my friends found love here. It’s actually quite ironic that of all places in the world, these couples met in the Saudi Kingdom. I compiled a list of short love stories from Saudi-Arabia. Read our love story here. […]ReplyCancel

  • SwanAugust 30, 2014 - 11:50 am

    I want to see your family pics, can I? where?ReplyCancel

  • AbbeygSeptember 25, 2014 - 12:36 pm

    Sooooo romantic! I just started reading your blog and I cant stop! Im a fan!ReplyCancel

  • Dee MangalinoNovember 3, 2014 - 11:23 am

    Hello,

    This is my second time commenting on your blog. I love your posts. It’s a good-read and I keep learning from you.

    I love your story, something worth to share. Your story can enlighten couples who are currently having the same situation you had before. You maybe like a living proof of a saying “against all odds”

    Please don’t stop blogging.

    More power to you and may Allah bless you and your family. :)ReplyCancel

    • LaylaNovember 4, 2014 - 3:37 pm

      Thank you Dee! I hope our story can give hope to those who feel that the entire world is against them succeeding!ReplyCancel

  • sheikJanuary 11, 2015 - 9:34 pm

    can I get married to Ksa girls there?? I am from India.. will they get married to Indians??ReplyCancel

  • AmanFebruary 12, 2015 - 8:41 am

    Pleas Please, tell us more. What happened next?? dying to hear more….ReplyCancel

  • AmandaFebruary 23, 2015 - 8:07 pm

    I just want to mention I am nebwie to blogging and absolutely savored you’re page. Probably I’m going to bookmark your site . You amazingly have tremendous article content. Bless you for sharing with us your web page.ReplyCancel

  • Deirdre ThompsonMarch 10, 2015 - 10:05 am

    l would love to visit Dubai one day , happy for you layla and good on youm !ReplyCancel

  • […] I’m a Finnish medical professional who moved to Saudi-Arabia four years ago for a position in a large government hospital. Originally the plan was to come for one year and then go back home, but you never know where life will lead you! Read what happened to me in this post: How I met my Saudi Prince […]ReplyCancel