My wife (right) and one of our friends while shopping in Al Ballad in Jeddah.
Isn't she cute in her abaya? (Don't worry, Love, I won't suggest that you start wearing it in New York!)
Carissa finally had a chance to come to KSA for a two week visit during the Winter Enrichment Period, and we had a blast! We had dinners and games with friends, shopping in Jeddah, a barbecue in the desert, and lots of fun just hanging out together. Being married at KAUST is not half-bad and Carissa said she wouldn't mind living in the KSA if work or study opportunities keep me here long term.
Unfortunately for me, my best friend returned to New York when classes began last week; she is pursuing a Ph.D. at Cornell.
A word on abayas:
It is not necessary for women to wear abayas at KAUST. While considerate attire is officially encouraged, wearing abayas is purely a matter of personal choice. When traveling outside of the KAUST compound, to Jeddah to go shopping for example, abayas are pretty much required.
Hijab (the head scarf my wife and her friend are wearing) is not mandatory for non-Muslims in Saudi Arabia, but interestingly, the girls elected to cover their blond hair to avoid gawkers in the street. Two girls with uncovered blond hair is a bit of a jaw-dropper in the Kingdom.
In some ways, social sensoring has made Saudis naive and sheltered and interestingly, this is most common argument I have heard for continuing to enforce strict dress codes on women - that the society cannot deal with women in jeans and a t-shirt because it would be sensory overload.
So beautiful and independent-minded wife actually felt more comfortable in Hijab than out of it while we wandered Al Ballad, but friends and family shouldn't expect her to change fasion sense State's-side.