Aysh Siddiqua is an Indian expat living in Jeddah. She is a stay-at-home mom to three children and loves to crochet and tat lace. She is also a blogger in Jeddah. She writes about parenting, kids activities and crafts on her blog Jeddah Mom and Twitter page.
Read more about expat life in Saudi Arabia in our Expat Arrivals Saudi Arabia country guide.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I'm from Hyderabad, India.
Q: Where are you currently living?
A: I live in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Q: When did you move here?
A: I'm a second-generation expat. I moved here with my parents when I was six months old. I moved back to India when I was 16 for higher studies. I returned 10 years later as a trailing wife.
Q: Is this your first expat experience?
A: I've been an expat since birth.
Q: Did you move here alone or with a spouse/family?
A: First with my parents. Now, I live with my spouse and three children.
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: I was brought up here because my father is an expat worker. I studied here till high school then went back home (to India) for college and university. I returned in 2005 after getting married, as my husband was working here. I'm a stay-at-home mom.
Living in Jeddah
Q: What do you enjoy most about Jeddah? How would you rate the quality of life compared to your home country?
A: I love the peace here. Some people find it confining but you just can't cross it off that Saudi Arabia is a peaceful country. I also like the fact that the quality of life is good. Most people can afford the good things in life.
Q: Any negative experiences? What do you miss most about home?
A: I miss home definitely. India is India – it's colourful, has beautiful seasons, and is rainy! In Jeddah, when it rains (like once a year!), it floods. I miss the social life and colours of India without a doubt. This is a different country.
Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life here? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: There wasn’t any cultural shock as I was brought up here, so in a way I got used to it growing up. But when I went back to India, I really started noticing what I had been missing out on in my childhood and in my life here in Saudi. This country is different, very quiet and people aren’t that open. I don’t know if it was because I am a people’s person, but I relate more to India. So in a way, it was difficult for me to settle back here after marriage. I had lived in India for 10 years so I had gotten used to that kind of freedom, noise and commotion by then. When I returned, I went to Riyadh first because that was where my husband was working. Riyadh is very different from Jeddah. Here you will find friendlier and more outgoing people. So, yeah… there was a little bit of adjusting to the environment in the initial years.
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? Is there anything particularly expensive or particularly cheap in Saudi Arabia?
A: The quality of life here compared to India is great. There are no taxes, you know. Also, fuel prices are cheap, so everything is cheaper because of that.
Q: How would you rate the public transport in Jeddah?
A: There is hardly any public transport. There are cabs but no buses for women and children. There are private buses if you live in a compound but nothing public. No tubes or trains, except to connect certain cities. I have been on the train from Riyadh to Dammam and it is okay, but I come from a country where it is so easy to move about. We women definitely feel handicapped because of the lack of public transport. We are totally dependent on our men or taxis. Yes, they started allowing women to get their licence now but still, it is a problem.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Jeddah? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: Excellent medical services. You can get the best in the world here. We have personally had some serious illnesses in our family. We have found good doctors and the best treatment available every time. Expat workers and their families get medical insurance so healthcare is more affordable and you get good medical services.
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Jeddah or Saudi Arabia? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: As an Asian, I haven’t felt any safety issue at all. Yes, women should avoid going out alone but compared to back home, I know I am much safer here.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Jeddah? What different options are available for expats?
A: Housing is good. You have the option of living either in apartments or in a compound. A compound is a group of houses or villas in a boundary with or without security. Apartment buildings do have some security too. Every building has at least one caretaker (Haris). Most houses aren’t furnished. You have to buy your own furniture, appliances and air conditioners. You have to pay for the electricity bill as well. Some apartments have a water bill and gas (for cooking) too. It’s the same if you rent in a compound.
There are two things that I don’t like about houses here. One is that there is hardly any storage space and secondly, you don’t get a garden or a backyard. So families are confined within their four walls and have to keep their stuff limited.
Meeting people and making friends
Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there obvious discrimination against any particular groups? Have you ever experienced discrimination in Jeddah?
A: I have always found the locals to be very friendly. I don’t speak much Arabic, but I have found that they are even more accommodating and helpful when you try to speak their language.
Q: Was meeting people and making friends easy? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: It wasn’t easy to make friends. I have tried visiting neighbours and making friends with fellow parents through the hospital where I birthed my children while expecting. I have made friends through the schools my kids go to. But in the beginning, when I didn’t have kids, it was very difficult. Now, I run a popular blog here, so I have communities on Facebook and WhatsApp where we help expat women make connections. There are people who write to me asking me for help with making friendships. So now, with social media, there are groups you can join and you will find almost all kinds of interest-based communities here in Jeddah.
Q: Have you made friends with locals or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends with the locals?
A: I have Saudi and expat friends. I am a very social person, so I mix with everyone. Those who are interested in meeting and networking with Saudi locals, I’d advise that you start closer to home. Start from your workplace, your neighbours and then ask around in groups about events and meetups. I am sure you will find lots of friends.
Family and children
Q: How have you adjusted to your new home? Do you think there are any specific challenges for a trailing spouse?
A: As a trailing wife, it was difficult. I used to work before I got married. Coming here, I felt dependent on my husband. I had to move from city to city with him so I couldn’t get a job myself here. Then we had kids and I was fully staying at home. Trailing wives here feel confined and lonely if they don’t have friends. It is just you and the kids if you have a very young family. So, it is essential that you go out and meet people. Network with fellow mommies and find a support group.
Q: Did your children settle in easily? What were the biggest challenges for them during the move?
A: My children study in a multicultural school. They were born and brought up here so this is the life that they know. I like that they are multilingual and so much more accepting of differences in colour, language and culture here. I feel like it is easier raising children to be global citizens.
Q: What are your favourite family attractions and activities in the city?
A: Oh, the Corniche! It's everybody’s favourite place to be. The malls are nice. Lots of options for good food and shopping. There are some nice theme parks for children. If you want to see a bit of historical old Jeddah then Balad is the place to go with the Souk and old buildings.
Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: You have lots of options for schools here. Many people don’t know that. You can put your child in any curriculum and most schools are multicultural. There are lots of English-speaking, or international, schools as they are called here. Your child will learn at least two if not more languages. Almost all the embassies here have their own school. So you can put your child in a school from your own country. Some people homeschool too. Though there isn’t much support for homeschooling, they follow international homeschooling networks and give external exams. So you have a lot of options.
Q: Is there any advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals to Jeddah or Saudi Arabia?
A: Come with an open mind and heart. This country is fast developing and has lots of opportunities for self-growth. Embrace the adventures and enjoy learning something new every day. The people are very quiet but when you talk to them, you will find that it is only their dress that is different. Inside they are just as fun and friendly if not more.
We have hot HOT summers but you will find that this country is really COOL!
► Interviewed November 2019