Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

It was heartening to realise how many people were facing the same thing

When Ruth Barrett was pregnant with her third child, her husband Jer moved to Saudi Arabia in search of work. After the baby was born, Ruth and the children joined him, and they now live a very happy life. They are together, which is the most important thing, she writes.

Mon, Dec 5, 2011, 11:15


Ruth and her daughter Róisín

When Ruth Barrett was pregnant with her third child, her husband Jer moved to Saudi Arabia in search of work. After the baby was born, Ruth and the children joined him. They are together now, which is the most important thing, she writes.

We saw it coming. Emigration was inevitable. It was new territory for me but Jer had been through this before. His family who were also engineers had lived in Saudi Arabia and England in the 1980s. They had moved out of necessity. Once again in 2008 and 2009, we saw the entire building industry coming to a standstill. Engineering opportunities were drying up. The economy was in tatters. Politicians were lying and those that weren’t were in denial. The past repeats itself.

We had put away some money to see us through ‘rainy days’ but it was not enough. Not enough to last the length of a recession. Not by a long shot. Our third child was on the way. We could not avoid it any longer. We did a lot of research into moving to different countries, different cities and continents. We weighed up every possible combination of what could work. It was eventually decided Jer would move to Saudi Arabia.

He left on Thursday, September 16th 2010. The day was hard. The week after was worse. I stayed behind with our two children and awaited the birth of our third. We e-mailed and texted a lot. We spoke on Skype. When it worked, it was great. It was a difficult time. It’s hard to be both parents to little children. It’s harder to explain selling out family life for an income; how do you explain that to a child? That was what we were doing, wasn’t it? But what option did we have? Stay at home and worry? Leave our fate in the hands of the government and the bankers? What about our home? How long could the recession last? How long is a piece of string?

RTE News did a short piece with us on ‘couples separated by the economy’. It summed up our experiences in about three minutes. We got many messages from people in the same situation. It was heartening to realise how many people were facing the same thing we were. It was also very sad. There are many emigrant widows in Ireland, each one has a story.

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Our third baby arrived in April. Jer had been in Saudi over six months. He had saved some holidays and spent three weeks at home. We had planned to use this time to re-evaluate our options. It did not take long. We decided that I would join him. While he had been in Riyadh he had done a little research. It was not as unwelcoming as I had supposed. He had gotten to know some families. He put me in contact with some people who had been through it. When I spoke to them most were positive about the move and their experiences. I packed up the house and rented it out. I took a career break from teaching. The children and I joined him in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in July.

Ruth with her husband Jer, daughters Róisín and Ailbhe and son Paul

Life here is completely different to life in Ireland. We live in a compound which is a small secure complex heavily guarded by security. Inside, it is just like living in a holiday village. There is a gym, some swimming pools, a small commercial centre with a little restaurant, a hairdresser, a gift shop and so on. In general western rules apply here. We wear western clothes and we have freedom to move as we wish inside the complex. Life is wonderful for the children. They have made lots of friends. Meeting people is easy as the compound is only about 0.25km2 in size. We are the only Irish family but there are lots of Danish, Swedish, French and a spattering of other nationalities. English is the common language. The majority of families have been here two years, some for as long as five. Their stories echo ours; they are here for a better life.

Outside the complex, life is also different. Once a woman passes through security, she must have an abaya, a long black cloak covering the body from neck to ankle, on. Women are advised not to travel alone. Women are forbidden to drive. The majority of women here do not work outside the home. Culturally, men are dominant. It takes a bit of getting used to.

So far, life is enjoyable. We do miss family, friends and having ‘the craic’. As alcohol is forbidden in Saudi Arabia we also miss the occasional pint or nice glass of wine. However, we are very happy to be together. For us that is the most important thing.