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It's Not What You Think

An American Woman in Saudi Arabia

Sabeeha Rehman

Biography & Autobiography / Cultural, Ethnic & Regional / Arab & Middle Eastern

From the author of Threading My Prayer Rug, an eye-opening view of life in Saudi Arabia.
It’s Not What You Think is a wry, incisive account of working in Saudi Arabia that offers insight into that insular patriarchal society, what is so attractive to expatriates living there, and what was contradictory or confining about it for a naturalized American who is a woman and a Muslim. A hospital executive in New Jersey, Sabeeha relocated with her oncologist husband to Riyadh, the most conservative city in the country, intending to remain two years. They ended up staying for six. Her book takes the reader on a journey of discovery that mirrors her own.
Offered an influential position at Riyadh’s most prestigious hospital, she first has to obtain her husband’s permission to work. In public spaces, she quickly encounters the morality police but also learns the freedom of the abaya. Salesmen staff the lingerie department. Women in Riyadh do not work in public places, yet they hold positions of authority within corporate culture; and outside Riyadh, she discovers that women-owned-and-operated businesses flourish, and Bedouin women could drive in the desert decades before Riyadh’s ban was relaxed. Through Sabeeha’s eyes, we see how Saudi and Western expat cultures coexist within the boundaries of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” how traditions define the identity of the Saudi nation, and how to discern what is “culturally appropriate” versus what is required legally. As she dons pilgrim’s garb, we join her on the hajj, to discover the intensity and spiritual high of the devout.
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