Hidden Encounters With Saudi Women

by Patricia McGregor

Even in our black abayas and scarves it’s obvious that we’re foreigners. Saudi women rarely venture on to the streets. This is a man’s world. I know the women are somewhere and I’m determined to make contact.

photo by Dave G. HouserWe travel in a full- size tour bus; an escort of police cars, with flashing lights, and secret security men, with big guns, drive ahead of and behind us. No one can miss us.

This works to my advantage. Not being allowed to drive, women stare out of their car windows. We make eye contact.

As my face isn’t covered, it’s easy for them to see my smile. All I can see are their eyes smiling back at me. Some women even return my subtle wave. One lifts up the corner of her veil to get a better look.

Thank goodness for malls and washrooms. It’s there that I get my chance. Curious about me, the women initiate conversations as they touch up their makeup. Why I am here, school, their great shoes, my beaded abaya, Canada. We laugh. I have a brief encounter with woman after woman. As a new grandmother, I admire their babies and show pictures of Claire. We smile and a bond forms in spite of the language barrier.

Saudi Arabia is strictly religious, politically a kingdom and male dominated. Interesting, but mostly not memorable.

I’ll never forget the women. Each smile is a charm, each shy wave of the hand an unexpected surprise. Through these women I see the warmth, the humanity and gain lasting memories of their country.



After retiring from teaching Patricia had the opportunity to live the life of her passion - travel. Being a travel journalist, photographer and presenter has kept her busy and taken her on many adventures. Mali and Burkina Faso, Mongolia, driving the Mediterranean coast from Italy to Spain, a trip around the world on a freighter are just a few. A grand daughter has brought new joy to her life. The recent arrival of a second girl and the fostering of a mother and her three kittens keeps her busy. But she still has time to quilt and garden. Not one to ever be totally stopped, Patricia is heading to Newfoundland to visit friends in July and is counting the days when she will be leaning about the spirits and voodoo in West Africa.

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