My Time in Saudi Arabia

Posted by Tara Foley
October 10, 2007
Tara Foley at the White House

Foreign Affairs Officer Tara Foley works in the Office of WMD Terrorism, Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation. Here Tara shares her impressions of Saudi Arabia... Tara's next post: An American Girl in Riyadh

Late one evening in February, my plane touched down in Riyadh. I was about to begin my first overseas assignment for the Department of State: four months as an Economic Officer at US Embassy Riyadh in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I waited for my luggage, looking around the terminal, trying to imagine what the Kingdom had in store for me, and nervously wondering if it was ok for me to be standing there in my business suit and ponytail. Earlier on the plane, young Saudi women clad in designer jeans, trendy European tops, and flawless makeup had lined up outside the aircraft restrooms, emerging fully draped in black abayas and hijabs, ready for re-entry into the KSA. I wondered how I would fare over the next several months: Would I be successful at my job? What would my personal life be like? One thing I knew, I was excited to begin this new adventure.

The night air was soft and warm; quite a change from the frosty cold winter I had left behind in Washington more than 17 hours before. On the way to the Diplomatic Quarter (the “DQ” neighborhood contains all of the embassies and most diplomatic housing), we drove past glittering Memlika Tower and Faisalya Tower, which comprise the Riyadh skyline. I peppered my embassy sponsor, Diane, with a thousand and one questions, wanting to uncover every last detail I could.

Four months later, my plane landed at Dulles, outside of Washington, DC. In the hours and days afterward, it was my family’s and friends’ turn to pepper me with questions about my time as an American diplomat in Saudi Arabia. Did I like Riyadh? What did I do for work at the Embassy? Was it hard to live and work in a place so different from home? What is the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia really like? How did I feel as an American woman in Saudi? What were the people like: both Saudis and the other Americans living there? I’ll address these questions, and others, in future posts. One thing I can tell you is that my time in Saudi Arabia was one of the most wonderful and most challenging times of my life. I feel fortunate and blessed to have had the opportunity to experience a part of the world that many people will never get to see and, I hope, to have contributed to the good work and strong relationship between our two countries.

Comments

Comments

Darla
|
Oklahoma, USA
October 9, 2007

Darla in Oklahoma writes:
What year was your time in Saudi Arabia and what do you do in DC?

Dipnote Blogger Tara Foley writes:
@ Darla in Oklahoma --
I was in Saudi during February - June of 2007. I'm now back in Washington working in the Office of WMD Terrorism here at our main State Department headquarters. I'm looking forward to sharing more about what I do now in later posts. Thanks for reading!

William
|
Turkey
October 8, 2007

William in Turkey writes:
Hi Tara,
Where are you serving now? I think this blog is great and its nice to read about you there. I'm a former Communications Officer in Diplomatic Service now working Instanbul as Regional Sales Manager and Consultant in software automation with Turkish manufacturers. In the Foreign Sevice, I was assigned to Washington DC, U.S. Embassy Honduras (2yrs) and the U.S. Embassy Zimbabwe (3yrs).

Bob
|
Nebraska, USA
October 8, 2007

Bob in Nebraska writes:
My first visit. I know the journey will be informative.

bruce
|
Massachusetts, USA
October 8, 2007

Bruce in Massachusetts writes:
You left me hanging. I hope future posts are going to appear soon. I have a good friend whose brother works at the moment in Riyadh and he dislikes it there (he is Italian and is a hard to please individual) so I am anxious to hear a more positive side which you seem to have.

Ron
|
North Carolina, USA
October 8, 2007

Ron in North Carolina writes:
Tara: Thank you for taking the time to write on the blog. I would like to hear your opinion of what life as an Arab woman is like, as you see it. You touched on this when you mentioned the women lined up to cover themselves just prior to landing in Saudi Arabia. Surely none of these women could ever hope to reach your level even if they could receive your education. Were you able to drive a car when you were there? Did you need to be escorted by a man? All of these issues must have had a strong impact on your opinion of this nation.

bill
|
Virgin Islands, USA
October 8, 2007

Bill in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands writes:
Hi. Interesting site, first time i have viewed look forward to more.

David
|
California, USA
October 8, 2007

David in California writes:
What this blog needs is a biographical area (perhaps a closed wiki) where each poster could provide as much of a biography as they want. I know that many college students looking forward to graduation would appreciate knowing how people got into the State Department and how they rose to the level they are at.

Dipnote Bloggers write:
@David in California -- Hi David. Currently, the blog has an "About" page that lists brief biographies of the bloggers. We are also creating a wiki, so stay tuned...

Wang
|
China
October 9, 2007

Wang in China writes:
Is it a little difficult for a women like you to live and work in Saudi Arabia, where the women are in lower social class?

Dipnote Blogger Tara Foley writes:
@ Wang in China --
And all those who asked about my experience as a woman living in Saudi Arabia. This will be the topic of a full post in the very near future. This is a hot topic, and almost always the first thing people ask about! I wonder why that is. Is it because the veil is something tangible we can see, to give a name and a shape to all of the other less tangible questions and notions we have about another culture? I wonder... I'll discuss my own thoughts on this issue very soon.

Chanarad
|
Illinois, USA
October 8, 2007

Chanarad in Illinois writes:
This blog idea is quite awesome. My idea of how government works is heavily tainted by hollywood conspirary movies like Bourne Ultimatum ( ;-) ) and it is nice to see the human faces behind our diplomatic work.

As you visit other countires, please observe and comment on the attitude of common people on the streets about united states, positive or negative. We hear the generalization that in those countries where the government is a big ally of the U.S. the people are negative and cynical towards U.S. and vice versa. I would like to know the impressions of people from the diplomatic side of things.

Zach
|
Georgia
October 9, 2007

Zach in Georgia writes:
Tara -

Clearly you are a well-spoken and perceptive person, who looks to be about my own age (mid-20s). My question is in reference to the recent Hollywood film about Saudi Arabia, "The Kingdom."

As someone who has experienced the nuances of Arab culture, how do simplifying, black-and-white, Patriots-versus-Terrorists films like this make you feel? Do you think it is dangerous for the American people to be exposed to this kind of jingoistic Jamie-Foxx-can-solve-our-problems portrayal of the Middle East?

And, without getting you in trouble with your bosses, would you agree that it is exactly this mentality that has (as my Arkansan friends back home would say) 'got us cross-ways' with Arabs in particular and Muslim culture in general?

Dipnote Blogger Tara Foley writes:
@ Zach in Georgia --
I definitely went straight to the multiplex the weekend of "The Kingdom" premiere! I, too, am intrigued by Hollywood's portrayal of the Middle East (not to mention the U.S. government - @ Chanarad in Illinois). I'll look forward to unpacking those ideas further in a future post. Thanks for asking – it's great to hear what readers are interested in learning more about. I am already loving the interactive feature of this site!

michael b.
|
New York, USA
October 9, 2007

Michael in New York writes:
well i was getting anxious to hear of some of your experiences after all the build up. but was disappointed you did not actually say anything!
what did you do over there? what was your social life like?
what was the food you got to try? oh so many more questions.

Gary
|
Thailand
October 9, 2007

Gary in Thailand writes:
Dear Tara,
I am interested to hear about your time in Riyadh. I am a banker and spent six months working with Riyad Bank in 2002/2003. I found the KSA to be quite fascinating and the Saudis in a one-to-one situation to be both charming and hospitable. I was lucky to be based in Sahara Towers in Olaya which housed a mixture of nationalities including many from other middle eastern countries.

Did you have a chance to go to Mad'ain Salah in the north west ? This is the site of the Sabatean tombs carved in the rock similar to those in Petra, as well as many other archaeological treasures from an even earlier era. Also the remains of the old pilgrim railway which in the dry air is remarkably well preserved.
Hope you enjoy being back in Washington and I look forward to reading more about your time in Saudi.

Sam
|
Illinois, USA
October 9, 2007

Sam in Illinois writes:
I'd be interested in reading your future comments on this blog. I went to high school at a British Standard international school in Riyadh in the late 80's/early 90's. Being from the U.S., I felt lack of many freedoms we enjoy here, therefore my feelings of living there were negatively skewed. However, looking back at it now, it was an experience I will always remember. I wouldn't trade those years for anything. The types of cultures, people, nationalities and ethnicities I encountered and befriended in KSA [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] can never be replaced or duplicated.

A lot has changed since then, but from what I hear, little progress has been made in terms of human rights. Please share your observations in this regard.

Shukhrat K.
October 9, 2007

Shukhrat writes:
Hi Tara. My first visit. Interesting site, first time i have viewed look forward to more. I think this blog is great and its nice to read about you there.

Ralph
|
Greece
October 9, 2007

Ralph in Greece writes:
Did the Saudi's tell you anything at the airport because you weren't covered like the Saudi women? I thought I read that Diplomatic missions do not have to follow those rules regarding women covering up? If so, it may be interesting to give details on your experiences and if the religious police ever tried to harass you. Having that diplomatic ID card sure comes in handy. Tell us more, please...

amy
|
California, USA
October 9, 2007

Amy in California writes:
Hi Tara,
I wish to read more about your experience in Saudi Arabia. Please answer all the questions in your last paragraph. I'll be eagerly waiting. Thanks.

Erkan
|
Thailand
October 9, 2007

Erkan in Thailand writes:
As a former foreign service employee of another country it is quite interesting to read the U.S. diplomats' blogs. Congratulations to DoS [Department of State] administration. Thanks..

aziz
|
Malaysia
October 9, 2007

Aziz in Malaysia writes:
It's refreshing to read of a young American diplomat who describes her 4 months overseas in a place like KSA [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] as wonderful and challenging. I live in Malaysia and being a country where Islam is the official religion, we too have sometimes felt the bias of non-Muslims from afar who generalize all Muslim countries as this and that.. We have a vibrant U.S. embassy where they play a very active role in fostering better relationship between our two countries and also for the business community.

The world is a smaller but better place today thanks to the hard work of dedicated diplomats of yesterday, today and I am sure of tomorrow with more people like you Tara.

God bless and may you always use patience and understanding in discharging your heavy responsibilities to God, mankind and country.

Regards.

Dipnote Blogger Tara Foley writes:
@ Aziz in Malaysia --
Thank you for your kind words. Thus far, I've visited a handful of countries in the Muslim world, whether for work, study, or travel. In each place, I've had overwhelmingly positive experiences with the people I've met and the cultures in general. This is not to say it has always been easy! And Saudi at times was not. But "easy" isn't really the point. It's the mutual education we experience when we engage with other cultures that I find so valuable and enjoyable. The challenging aspects, and keeping those in perspective with the positive side of the experience, are all a part of that education. Thanks again and keep reading!

Zeb
|
Florida, USA
October 9, 2007

Zeb in Florida writes:
This is an interesting idea but somewhat of a non sequitur. Ms. Tara Foley mentioned as how the Saudi women changed from western garb into the traditional Shari'a formal clothing that is required of woman appearing in public places by Koranic Law.

The reason I bring this point up is that I have a female friend who was a Navy Orion Maintenance Tech who served in Saudi. She said her year in Saudi was the "pits", because if for any reason that she left the American Base she had to wear the traditional black abayas and hijabs too. Oh and one other think that rankled her "privately" was that she had to leave behind in the US of A any jewelry or paraphernalia that would have identified her as a Jewess.

So Ms. Foley, the truth, did you not also have to don the abaya and hijab also before you disembarked from that airplane to begin your assignment as a Foreign Affairs Officer in Saudi Arabia? This is a Cultural Affairs Question that should be taught in our Public Schools, but unfortunately is not. Cultural humility is not a popular subject in our Nation of late, IMHO.

zhen
|
China
October 9, 2007

Zhen in China writes:
Hi Tara. Although more and more people in both Chinese and American begin to know each other's country, it is still very exciting for me to read a beautiful American Foreign Affairs Officer's blog. Maybe sometimes you will visit China. Best wishes!

James M.
|
United States
October 9, 2007

James in U.S.A. writes:
Dear Ms. Foley,

I would like your thoughts on the Mearsheimer and Walt book (www.israellobbybook.com) about how the pro-Israel lobby (AIPAC, JINSA, PNAC, AEI) pushed US to attack Iraq and has been doing similar to get US to attack Iran next. Do you think that the US will go to war with Iran sooner rather than later in accordance with such (Scott Ritter also conveyed that AIPAC is pushing for US to attack Iran in his 'Target Iran' book - see the following youtube at your convenience)?:

Israel's influence of US policy & the Israeli lobby:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O125hGt9qt4&NR

Even Colin Powell conveyed that the 'JINSA crowd' was/still is in control of the Pentagon (via JINSA/PNAC/AEI associated Dick Cheney whose wife is a fellow up at AEI where PNAC was based as well) for Washington Post correspondent Karen DeYoung's new bio book about him - simply look up 'JINSA/Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs' in the index:

A War for Israel? Colin Powell seems to think so:

http://www.warwithoutend.co.uk/zone0/viewtopic.php?t=61128

Additional about Mearsheimer/Walt via the following URL:

http://www.itszone.co.uk/zone0/viewtopic.php?t=49800

Congresswoman Jane Harman was asked about the Mearsheimer & Walt book during a townhall meeting this past Saturday in West Los Angeles (see the following URL):

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/10/7/184833/326

Respected intelligence author/writer James Bamford discussed the 'A Clean Break'/war for Israel agenda on pages 261-269/321 (http://tinyurl.com/2wltaw) of his 'A Pretext for War' book (the paperback version of 'A Pretext for War' includes an additional section about the ongoing AIPAC espionage case that has mentioned Secretary Rice and David Satterfield who handles Iraq for the State Department and has been associated with the USS Liberty attack cover-up as well - see http://tinyurl.com/2xtjtz - as the pro-Israel biased US media for the most part is not covering this either). Bamford also wrote the following 'Iran: The Next War' article for Rolling Stone magazine which mentions the AIPAC espionage as well:

Iran: The Next War:

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/10962352/iran_the_next_war

AIPAC and the Neocon (War for Israel) agenda (AIPAC espionage case mentioned):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Rf16XjbOUs

The Mearsheimer and Walt book (look up 'CBS News' in the index) and the Bamford 'A Pretext for War' book both convey that US support for Israel's brutal oppression of the Palestinians was a major motivation for the tragic attacks on the World Trade Center in 1993 and on 9/11 (look up 'Israel as a terrorist motivation' in the index of 'A Pretext for War'). The additional section about the AIPAC espionage in the paperback version of 'A Pretext for War' mentions Stephen Green (look his name up in the index) who was a consultant for the FBI because of the various books and articles that he has written to include the following 'Serving Two Flags' piece:

'Serving Two Flags':

http://www.ifamericansknew.org/us_ints/nc-green.html

Colin Powell's former assistant (Lawrence Wilkerson) in the US Army and at the State Department was mentioned in the latest counterpunch.org article by the retired CIA couple (Kathy and Bill Christison):

The Teflon Alliance with Israel (by Kathy and Bill Christison):

http://www.warwithoutend.co.uk/zone0/viewtopic.php?t=79679

Colonel Wilkerson was also mentioned by the Christisons in their recent radio appearance during which they discussed the article (click on the link after accessing the following URL):

http://neoconzionistthreat.blogspot.com

You might also be interested in taking a look at the 'What Motivated the 9/11 Hijackers?' video which is linked at the upper left of the following URL:

The Gorilla in the Room is US Support for Israel

http://representativepress.blogspot.com/2005/08/gorilla-in-room-is-us-su...

SCANDAL: 9/11 Commissioners Bowed to Pressure to Suppress Main Motive for the 9/11 Attacks:

http://representativepress.blogspot.com/2006/09/reviews-of-without-prece...

Additional at the following URL:

http://www.warwithoutend.co.uk/zone0/viewtopic.php?t=39590

THE HIGH COST OF SUBSERVIENCE TO ISRAEL (by Paul Findley):

http://www.itszone.co.uk/zone0/viewtopic.php?t=75908

CBS '60 Minutes' refusing to cover the Mearsheimer and Walt book:

http://www.itszone.co.uk/zone0/viewtopic.php?t=77703

Can I assume that the Israel first crowd at the State Department isn't too happy about the latest article (in the Chicago Tribune) regarding the USS Liberty attack (Ray McGovern's recent piece follows it there) via the following URL?:

http://www.itszone.co.uk/zone0/viewtopic.php?p=392156#392156

Did Mr. Susser finally add Captain Boston's declaration to the historical record?:

http://la.indymedia.org/news/2004/02/103217_comment.php?theme=2

With kindest regards,

James Morris

Thomas
|
Pennsylvania, USA
October 9, 2007

Thomas in Pennsylvania writes:
Ms. Foley's narrative, if continued, is the sort of personal anecdote about what Foreign Service life is actually like that is particularly useful for those interested in pursuing a Foreign Service career. It also has the potential to humanize the work the State Department does in other countries. Both are useful and worthwhile. But as written it is merely a teaser, whetting our appetite and leaving us wanting more. The narrative needs to be much more complete and in-depth. Instead of one long posting, this can go on over time. Indeed I hope this is just the beginning of an episodic tale of Ms. Foley's time in Saudi Arabia. I look forward to the next installment.

Joy
|
South Carolina, USA
October 9, 2007

Joy in South Carolina writes:
Welcome back Tara,

I look forward to your future posts of your detailed trip to Saudi. I lived in Dhahran in 1984. I was young and did not have the opportunity to take in the culture as much as I would have liked. My family and I were pretty much restricted to the miliary base. Next week I will be traveling to a neighboring country of Saudi Arabia and you have inspired me to post a blog upon my return.

joe
|
Indiana, USA
October 9, 2007

Joe in Indiana writes:
Interesting. I'm hooked.

Aili
|
Massachusetts, USA
October 9, 2007

Aili in Massachusetts writes:
I look forward to hearing more stories about your time in Saudi Arabia!

Tim
|
California, USA
October 9, 2007

Tim in California writes:
Intriguing (and well-written) blog. I look forward to more.

Layne
|
Texas, USA
October 9, 2007

Layne in Texas writes:
Tara, I found it interesting that the blog was posted after your time in Saudi Arabia was complete and that it was posted by Frederick Jones and not by you. It would be great to hear some of your answers to the questions that your family and friends peppered you with upon your return. Do you see Saudi Arabia moving toward the type of liberal democracy the President discusses in his National Security Strategy? What do you hope to accomplish with your DIPNOTE? How closely scrutinized are your responses prior to posting? I'm hoping to hear more about your time in Saudi Arabia in the future.

Dipnote Bloggers write:
@ Layne in Texas -- Thanks for pointing out that the blog was posted by Frederick Jones. That's been corrected.

Henry
|
Washington, USA
October 9, 2007

Henry in Canada writes:
Twenty minutes ago, I found this website and ten minutes ago, I sent an email to my daughter, who is working in Shanghai and might be in sleeping now. She is as young as Tara and has a dream of being a Canadian foreign affair officer as like as Tara. However, she is afraid of working in those countries! I believe that she will have something changed when she get her office in the morning.

Thank you Tara, your smile is so nice and warm!

Judy
|
Massachusetts, USA
October 9, 2007

Judy in Massachusetts writes:
Tara, it is truly a wonderful to read about some of the challenges you faced during your time in Saudi Arabia. I've just finished reading "Girls of Riyadh" and it spoke exactly of one of the girls changing into her abaya in the bathroom on the plane as she returned to Saudi Arabia from the US. I'm looking forward to your future postings.

JP3
|
United Kingdom
October 9, 2007

John in U.K writes:
Tara,

Your Dipnote blog is fascinating. I can't wait to hear more t your travels. It sounds like in some ways you were transformed by your experiences in KSA [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia]. Have you ever been interested in serving in the Foreign Service? Will you be going back to KSA soon? If so what is the first thing that you would like to do on your return?

Thanks for sharing your experiences.

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