JEDDAH: Over the past few decades, Saudi Arabia has been home to many an international expatriate. And like most foreigners who know little about the country before they visit for the first time, they quickly come to learn that you shouldn’t believe everything you hear.
Louise Adam relocated to Saudi Arabia in 1982 to work as a locum dental hygienist at a local public hospital. Now working at a private dental clinic in Riyadh 36 years later, Louise has found a comfortable (and permanent) place for herself in Riyadh.
She lives with her two Pomeranian dogs — Besame and Tallulah — and two cats — Lucy and Fico. In her spare time, she tends to her home garden, which is embellished with distinctly Saudi touches. Beneath shady palm fronds and local flowers, she even has a Bedouin tent in the yard.
Given that most of the population is under the age of 30, Louise has lived in Saudi Arabia longer than most Saudis. She has seen the reign of four Saudi kings, witnessed nearly every major expansion of the city of Riyadh, and experienced Saudi Arabia’s technological and cultural revolutions. “And it still amazes me, when I see the city, how far it’s managed to come in such a short time,” she said. “It makes me so excited to think of where it can go.”
Glenn Lovell, a lawyer, initially relocated to Saudi Arabia for what was supposed to be a two-year period in 2008. However, when that time frame was extended, he asked wife Gaelene to come and join him in Saudi Arabia. The couple have been living in Riyadh since 2010 and have been watching the progression of things in Saudi Arabia with a mix of astonishment and delight.
“One of the things I love about Saudi is that when they decide to change something, they can change it practically overnight,” Gaelene said, “things like the decision to let women drive. It feels like anything can happen in an instant.”
Glenn and Gaelene, passionate travelers and enthusiastic desert explorers, have devoted a fair chunk of their free time to exploring the country. Among their exploits are a visit to the Al-Wahbah Crater, the Mastodon Cave, the Taif Rose Festival, Mada’in Saleh, and other places that Gaelene documents in her blog, “Kiwi Living in Saudi.”
The two of them can often be found wandering off-road into the desert for what they referred to as “a bit of camping,” and don’t seem to be worried about getting lost out there. “No GPS required,” Glenn said, “it’s all instinct.”
Glenn and Gaelene found themselves pleasantly surprised by the sheer generosity that they have been shown while camping outside the city. Glenn recalled the time they came across a Bedouin man in the desert during their search for the Mastodon Cave, who despite not speaking any English, managed to invite them to his house for dinner and to put them up for the night. In the morning, they were escorted to the cave by members of his household.
“And it’s happened more than once,” Gaelene said, “they feed us, ply us with coffee and dates, give us a place to spend the night if we need it. It’s incredible.”
“Saudi people are the most generous, hospitable people I think I’ve ever come across,” Louise said.
With the ban on women driving lifted, Louise is thrilled to be driving herself to and from work and carrying out her own errands. “The future is bright for Saudi women,” she said.
“They’ve got so much potential,” Glenn said. “We have a few young Saudi girls at the office who have really impressed me with their professionalism, their drive and their passion.”
On the subject of Vision 2030, they were keen to offer their perspective on the future of the Kingdom.
“To be able to see those things, to see how much things have changed recently, it’s amazing to witness,” Louise said. “It’s extremely different, but I think it’s a positive kind of different,” Louise said.
“Saudi Arabia is right on the brink of a new age. I can’t wait to see them prove themselves in the next few years.”
Life here, however, has not been without its challenges for the three Kiwis. “It’s not always been easy,” Glenn admitted, “and of course, we’ve seen problems, but for the most part, we do love it here.”
“Absolutely,” Louise added. “After all, none of us would’ve been here this long if we weren’t happy.”
You can follow the Lovells’ adventures on Gaelene’s blog, kiwilivinginsaudi.com.