When I was growing up in Saudi Arabia in the 70s and 80s, we did not wear abayas. We went shopping in Khobar with the understanding that our legs and shoulders must be covered. We would even go in jeans. It wasn't until the 80s, after the Ayatollah Khomeini rose to power in Iran and the 1979 uprisings in Qatif and Mecca, that the Kingdom started to go back to more conservative ways. By the time my parents retired in 1987, we were going to Khobar in thobes, although not abayas.

In the spring of 2018, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said that it was no longer a requirement for women to wear abayas or cover their heads. 

“The laws are very clear and stipulated in the laws of sharia: that women wear decent, respectful clothing, like men,” the Prince said. “This, however, does not particularly specify a black abaya or a black head cover. The decision is entirely left for women to decide what type of decent and respectful attire she chooses to wear.”

With the Kingdom looking forward to tourism, that's another big reason not to wear abayas. Female tourists will not be enthusiastic about wearing that extra layer. In my opinion, it's in the best interest of the country to get locals used to foreigners not wearing them.

before I stopped wearing one
So why are so many women, particularly expats, still wearing the abaya when they don't have to?

There is definitely no problem with an expat choosing to wear an abaya out of respect to the Saudis and Islam. More power to them. And abayas are convenient in some ways. They cover you up if you have a problem with body image or lack fashion. Sometimes it is a matter of laziness. You can throw on an abaya and just be in underwear underneath. In many ways, it can be similar to lounging about in your pajamas all day.

When I came to Jeddah for my three month contract, I bought a modern, cream, zip-up abaya with pockets. I also bought a thobe. When I arrived, I sort of felt guilt-tripped into buying a more traditional, loose, black/blue one. Once I realized they were no longer required, I stopped wearing them.

I do wear my thobes into town because they fit the conservative, loose, covering criteria to still be respectfully dressed, but I don't wear an abaya over them. I also have loose Cambodian harem pants with a long sleeve top that I wear. I've even gone to Thuwal in jeans. Again, no abaya.

by Skna Hassan
By the way, when did the black abaya even come into being? I tried to research it and can't find any indication of when it started being the black tent version. Black has been around for a while, but keep in mind, that for centuries the women wore traditional, tribal attire that was long and covering, but still colorful and decorative. You can see many examples at the Al Tayabet Museum in Jeddah (picture at top). Also in the artwork of Skna Hassan, who traveled the Kingdom to research the attire.

Yet my abaya revolt doesn't stop the urge to want to buy another abaya. They have changed so much over the years that they can be quite the fashion statement. Colors, fabrics, trims all make for more interesting abayas. It's been hard to resist buying another, but I'm back to the U.S. and they would just end up tucked at the back of my closet. Pointless.

So don't wear them if you don't want to! Especially when it's hot! Who needs another layer?!
I'm calling this a diary but it's actually more like a food log. Instead of daily entries in a diary, I'm giving you an overall log of all the wonderful Arab foods I tried on my trip to Saudi Arabia.

As I child I wasn't exposed to all these wonderful treats except for maybe some baklava and Turkish delight. It also turns out that the Eastern province seems to have less diverse and interesting food (to me, anyway) than the Hijaz (western) region where I was on this trip.

FYI, often used below is...
Kashta - clotted cream flavored with rose water


Mammoul - cookies with date filling

Logaymat - donut hole-like pastries served sweet or savory depending on the toppings chosen

Mann al-Sama (manna from heaven) - candy nougat of nuts

Barazek - eggless sesame seed cookie

Basbousa - semolina cake soaked in sugar syrup

Esh al Saray - AKA Rich Man's Bread- toasted bread in rose water sugar syrup with kashta

Halawat al-Jubn - semolina-cheese dough rolled and filled w/ kashta

Madlouka - orange blossom syrup soaked semolina cake topped with kashta and nuts

Mafroukeh-syrup soaked semolina-pistachio cake with kashta and pistachios

Nammora - phyllo dough with kashta

Booza - ice cream, sometimes referring to...

Turkish ice cream - stretchy ice cream 

 Om Ali - (mother of Ali) a pudding using leftover bread shreds

Kunefe - made with either cheese or clotted cream in the center of shredded pastry, grilled, then pour over sugar syrup

 Kunefe being grilled in special plates

 Arika - torn up bread and dates soaked in honey, topped with cream, cereal, and cheese

Sahlep - warm, creamy milk drink that is thickened w/ sahlep (orchid root), with mastic, rose water, pistachios

Qatayaf - dumpling filled with cheese

Qara’ ‘Asali - middle eastern pumpkin pie w/o a crust


 Maklobat eggplant - Rice with eggplants and meat, served with yogurt

 Shoshkash kebab - Grilled seasoned fine minced lamb served with pepper paste, peppered parsley, tomato & pomegranate molasses

Fatet makdous - crispy roasted flat bread pieces topped with layers of eggplant and saucy minced meat with a yogurt, garlic sauce

Shish barak - Syrian style raviolis in a yogurt sauce

 Buraik - filled with ground meat and chopped hard boiled egg

Lamb madini -lamb and rice

 Chicken Saleeg - rice is risotto-like

 Meat mulgalgal - a meat stew of meat, fresh tomatoes, onions and green pepper fried with spices

Chicken bukhari - chicken and rice

Fatteh - Pita chip pieces, chick peas, tahini, sumac, parsley, Olive oil, walnuts.