Friday, July 30, 2010

The Anti-Freedom

Some people that I have met on my journeys (especially those living in the United States...) have never gone further than a few hours away from their home base. Let me tell you now that these people have every right to stay within a certain distance of their home if they so desire, and other people actually have little or no choice BUT to stay near their homes for more devastating reasons, but I do not wish to have their life. I need to travel, it is something within my circuitry, and it lives within the blood being transported within my veins. It clings onto each cell like haemoglobin*.

Having said that, dear LORD is it difficult to travel in and out of places sometimes! It's extremely different to leave or enter Saudi Arabia, as many people who have lived/tried to live here know. This is because of two pieces of documentation that need to be settled, and you need money, wasta (influence/favours) and a lot of patience. Oh man, patience isn't a virtue here, it is an absolute necessity.

I do not work here in Riyadh; I am just a dependant who lives under her parents. This means that leaving the country, especially as a woman, SUCKS. Getting in is another very similar story. Let me explain to you the craziness that you need to go through as a foreigner. As a note, I'd like to say that I do NOT understand the ins and outs of these processes. They do not make much sense to me! They truly wish to make everyone's lives more and more difficult here. That's the best reason I can think of, sometimes. I guess it is really about national security, but damn, it's ridiculous.

First of all, to live/work here, you need to have an iqama. An iqama is like a national ID and it is not allowed to leave the country. Everywhere I go, I need to have my iqama with me. If I don't have it, and a government official or someone who is a part of the religious police force here can get me into serious trouble.

Second of all, in order to exit, enter, or have permission to exit and enter several times during a one year period, you need to have a visa - the one that I have currently is a one year exit re-entry visa. Sounds nice and poetic, doesn't it?! It means that within one year of leaving, I can enter the country within one year. This is a piece of paper that is stapled into your passport. It looks really ghetto and whenever you go to a different country, they open it up and look at it with a complete "what the fuck" expression on their face. It looks really shoddy, but it is official. You just have to tell

Here's the third and funny part: in order to get you a visa, you need to surrender to the office a passport, your iqama, and other things that I didn't bother to ask my Dad about. Do you realise what this means? I don't think you do yet, so here's a little breakdown:

a. You need your iqama to go anywhere. When they take it away for their strange black magic visa-granting rituals, guess what? I can't go anywhere. They give one letter to a family that states something along the lines of "These people are being processed for visas, sooooo they don't have their iqamas. It's totally cool, man. Salaaaaaamu-alaikum, brutha!" Well, no, they don't talk like my Islamic bruthas**. I wish they did; Saudi Arabia would be a much easier place to live in.
Also, you cannot leave the city of Riyadh, where the visa is being issued. Awwww, my dreams of getting my awesome driver to take me to Dammam are ruined (for now)!

b. If there is one letter for the whole family, then I cannot go anywhere without my father (as the letter is in his possession). Even if my Dad said "Heyyyy take this letter and go to Faisaliah mall and have a BALL, my dear! My treat!!***" It would suck for him, because what if he randomly needs to go somewhere and needs his iqama, like in an emergency?
Also, what if that letter gets lost? Ohhhhh man. Don't even talk about that.

c. This whole process takes weeks. IF you have wasta, I mean. If you don't, haaaahahahaha! Good luck, yaar****! This means weeks (or more) of complete dependence on whoever ends up holding that letter.

d. No passport? I freak out without knowing where my passport is. For me, it's like a wallet, cell phone, iPod, or laptop - whenever I travel, these are the things I NEED by my side! I constantly heck my bags to make sure all of these things are in there, safe and secure. Knowing these strange guys have their paws all over my passport is personally irritating! Also, they put a big ugly orange sticker on my passport and it looks bad. :( In combination with the ghetto stapling, this SUCKS! My passport must look SO suspicious, and with my Muslim first name, strange "ethnic" looks, I don't need any more of that while travelling!

e. When I say everyone in the family, including all dependants with residency, need to be there, they ALL need to be there. Hence my visiting Riyadh every summer whether I liked it or not. I usually had to be there for at least 3 weeks. Although I didn't mind going back to Riyadh during the summer, I wish I had a choice. I remember being extremely angry and resentful for the decision of the summer already being made for me by a country that wasn't even mine. Damn.

Oh, LORD. Now, another thing they have added to this process is that they need to have proof I am leaving for a year to go study. Apparently, if I feel like spending a year in the steppes of Mongolia, finding spiritual peace, TOO BAD! I need a letter from some official something something that I am going to an institution to study. My acceptance letter to the university I am going to counts, and I also needed to show some kind of school ID, which would help. Uh, let's see: I am about to start a NEW school, in a NEW place, and they expect me to already have my ID card? Do these people understand how schools work? You only get IDs and all that fancy stuff when you get there. Wow. I gave them my old school ID just in case that helped, but I think that letter was enough.

Lastly, you have to pay. Because I have not gone to the office myself (since I am a dependent) and I have not asked my Dad, I had to look it up on this site and it says 500 riyals for a multiple exit re-entry visa, which is about $133. The single exit re-entry visa is 200 riyals ($53 ish).

Wow! Most of the time, people have trouble only getting into a country for study or work or whatnot, now Saudi, of course, has to take it one miserable step beyond. It's as difficult to get out as it is to get it. Nice job, guys! If you want to stress me out more, give me a call! I have a whole list of things that might help!

Uggggh all of this is giving me a HEADACHE!

Okay, I think it is obvious that this whole visa thing is stressing me out. If I do not get this visa stuff settled, I cannot go to graduate school. Within these past weeks, I have found and paid a deposit on an apartment in Cambridge, MA, where my new university is going to be. I have also become extremely excited at the prospect of starting a new program in Intercultural Relations*****, something I am very passionate about. How on this Earth will I deal with it if Saudi Arabia forces me to stay, now? Finally, after all these days of worrying, I have made a decision to leave by the end of August, but what if destiny has something else in store for me? I only pray that my destiny is not in the hands of a government that seems to dislike making things easy for me.

Like I said earlier, you really, really need to have patience here. Everything is done at a snail's pace, and I heard someone say one that if someone is too insistent, the people supposed to be helping you will back off and say, "when things have calmed down, then we will continue the process." You have to just sit back and let them do their thing, otherwise you could make it much worse. I don't have any power or say in these matters pertaining to my visa, which makes it all the more frustrating, but I have to just deal. There is no other choice right now. It should be okay, from what I have heard, but these past few days have been getting to me.

On the bright side: at least I have more of a path in my life, now! I have more of a plan than I did when I started this here thing. I hope that this plan works out for the best, whatever the best for me is. That said, I'd really like to get to Massachusetts! I'm pretty excited.

*Or should I say oxyhaemoglobin? Thank you, Biology class at Le Bocage!

**Muslim-American bros from the black community in or around NYC are some of the funniest, coolest, and entertaining people I have ever been around. Salaam and chill, y'all! You know I'm a sista. And you know I suck at what you call "dark chocolate muslimah talk" so I'll stop now.

*** I wish! My Dad is awesome and does take me shopping a lot, every weekend actually (because our supermarket is part of a mall that I loooove) but if I could go on a Faisaliah centre shopping spree I'd LOVE to have the retail therapy. And the chance to go somewhere I haven't been in a while.

**** In my recent bouts of insanity due to being stuck in my villa, I have been injecting Mauritian creole and Bollywood phrases into my everyday speech and writing. Dekho, I've been alone with my multilingual thoughts, dakor? [yaar = friend; dekho = look; dakor = okay/alright]

***** Damn, all these footnotes! But really, I know - me doing Intercultural Relations? I seem so annoyed with some places in the world (like Riyadh sometimes), how will I deal? Hmmmm I should write about that some time...


  1. Well, first of all, I think your annoyance with certain places could come in handy if you play your cards right. If people want to go to Saudi Arabia, you can be completely honest with them and warn them about what they're getting into. If they're coming from there, you can commiserate.

    Secondly - are you basically saying that if you wanted to permanently relocate in a place other than Saudi Arabia, your whole family would have to do so also because you are a dependent?

  2. I will always love and hate allll the countries I have lived in. It's kind of a thing. I think everyone does it to an extent, well, at least people who aren't kidding themselves. No country is completely horrible or completely perfect. I will always give my advice whenever it is needed.

    Well it's a little more complicated than that. What I would have to do, if I wanted to live somewhere else, is go to Saudi, cancel my one year visa, and then apply for an exit visa. It would allow me to exit the country. If I wanted to go back to Saudi, for a visit or anything else, I'd have to go to NYC and apply for an entry visa. I'd also need some documentation from my father; he'd need to sponsor me. It is not impossible, but it takes time. Right now, things are settled for me to go to MA with my one year visa. When I am done with my Master's I am probably going to go to Saudi, and cancel that visa, get an exit visa, then leave for good.

  3. Anna: OR I would just stay in the US because my one year visa would just expire. I think that would work, too. However, if my parents want their visas renewed, they would have to wait until the year was up. That's not very convenient, so I'd probably go to Saudi to get it cancelled.