Leap of faith: A young Saudi Arabian woman embraces destiny...

This post originally appeard in the 50 Women Project blog. Check it out today: www.50womenblog.org. Visit the website at www.50womenproject.org 

The lock to the font door clicked sharply as Noora pushed it open, bounding down the steps into the frigid Qatar morning. Her heart pounded so fiercely she feared it would puncture a hole in her chest. All the years of calculated planning came down to this moment in time. She could not think about anything else.  If she did, she feared her thoughts could force her to turn back. There was no turning back. She was leaving. This was it.

Arriving at the airport, she dug into her bag for the last link to the country and culture ruling her life for so many years- her Saudi Arabian passport. Unknown to airport authorities was her new identity- a French passport tucked discretely in the pelvic region of her pants; hidden from all prying eyes for fear that it would be confiscated and her plan foiled. This was her only ticket out- a possessable promise to a life she prayed for over the past years. She knew in faith he would be waiting for her on the other side of the world, even though she had never physically touched him.

 

She boarded the aircraft; her thoughts rushing yet silenced. Women from Saudi Arabia don’t just do this. They don’t just decide to leave like this. Things don’t work that way in Saudi Arabia.

 

The aircraft lifted off, heading northwest for Paris when suddenly she started laughing. It was a laughter that crawled out of the bottom of her chest, causing her shoulders to quake slightly. She covered her mouth with the damp palm of her hand. What would everyone think when they realized she was gone? She would eventually have to tell them and by that time- she would be a world apart becoming acquainted with him and her new life…

 

I will never forget that email I received. I will always remember the strength in her words and the spirited conviction behind even the “the” in her sentences. I had never before seen her face or heard her voice but I could see her resilient, enduring soul behind that paragraph of black and white text.

The first time Noora and I connected by phone there was an instant bond between us. It was a phantom like sensation- as though we had known each other for years and were picking up where the friendship previously left off. Our fast connection built from our joint abilities to persevere with calculating determination come what may in this life.

Born to a Saudi Arabian father and Iranian mother, Noora lived in France for the first seven years of her life until her family relocated to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Growing up, she attended international schools and vivaciously divulged in any educational opportunities at her grasp. After finishing high school she desired to continue her education at the university level abroad until the day her aspirations were crushed by her father’s refusal. He feared potential suitors would not want to enter a marriage with a woman educated outside of Saudi Arabia. He did not believe in sending a female abroad to study in the absence of a male guardian and hoped Noora would adapt accordingly by marrying a Saudi man.

Yet unbeknownst to him, Noora communicated for years with an American man in the process of converting to Islam and had fallen deeply in love with him. Although they never physically met and conversed strictly via the internet, she knew without a doubt he was her soul mate. After two failed attempts at a meeting, Noora was forced to make a serious decision about her future; a choice ultimately changing the course of her entire life.

In Saudi Arabia, women have severely limited travel options. Escaping the crushing grip of Saudi culture and at times its unjust, misogynistic government was a risky undertaking for any female, often carrying brutal consequences for those caught in the act.

Knowing the potential dangers, Noora worked for years carefully crafting an escape plan, considering every possible option to leave the country. The plan proved challenging because women in Saudi Arabia do not have the luxury of simply purchasing an airline ticket and traveling. Strict laws require that they travel accompanied by a male guardian (father, husband or brother). The male guardian must then sign a legal document which is stamped and approved by proper authorities. These laws apply to every citizen with zero regard to perceived social class or lineage.

Knowing she would never receive her father’s permission to travel, Noora decided she would have to escape on her own. She knew the escape would never be possible from inside the borders of Saudi Arabia and began looking at other feasible options.

She devised a plan to leave from Qatar during a family vacation. She could sneak away from her family as they slept peacefully in the early morning hours. She could travel alone with significantly less issues.

“I’ll never forget the day I secretly booked the airline ticket to France” she told me over the phone. “I knew there was no turning back. I knew I was committed to a new life with my husband. I was doing something very risky, with possibly harsh consequences, but something inside of me was pushing. I could not stay there when every part of me knew the future was miles away in another country”.

One chilled winter morning she departed Qatar- first to France, then to the United States to meet for the first time, the man who would become her husband. The man she loved all these years and waited patiently for. The man she is still married to at present.

“I will never regret that decision as long as I live. I hope my story is an inspiration to women all over the world and that it encourages them to stand up for themselves and their dreams. I never lost faith in meeting him or the life I knew we would have together. I went thorough so many obstacles and I believe that faith is what carried me through. I almost sacrificed the relationship with my entire family. Sometimes we have to make courageous decisions to have what we believe in and they are not always easy”.

After our conversation, Noora and I discovered our birthdays were one day apart. Perhaps this could somehow explain the sense of closeness I share with her. I don’t know how she found me. It’s almost as though she fell from the sky and into my life. I will always be infinitely grateful we connected and that her story is part of “50 Women”.  Women in similar cultures will be nothing but inspired by her bravery, conviction and burning sense of destiny. For Noora’s story is certainly one that must be told…

 

 

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