Letters Home Form the Foundation of ‘Thank God It’s Wednesday”
When Maralyn Doyle’s husband Jack was finishing up his master’s degree at Indiana University in the early 1970s, a recruiter came through for a school in Saudi Arabia.
“That was the only place he got a job offer,” Doyle said. And so, Maralyn, Jack and their young son Alex soon found themselves in the middle of the Saudi desert.
Doyle, who is now retired from the Department of Health and Human Services, frequently wrote letters back home from Saudi Arabia detailing their experiences. Those letters became the foundation of her book, “Thank God It’s Wednesday: An American Family in Saudi Arabia,” which is available on Amazon.com. (The title is a reference to the Saudi workweek, which runs Saturday through Wednesday.)
“It was quite a change to go from Indiana to the desert,” Doyle said. “There were all kinds of things we had to adjust to, and I included those in the letters home.”
Even though they were living on a compound that Doyle said was like a “mini-suburbia,” the change in environment was drastic.
“You had these sand storms, where sand would come through your doors and windows, and you had to sweep it up,” she said. “We had huge cockroaches and scorpions, and there were deadly desert snakes. Having grown up in New England, you just don’t expect to see 2-inch cockroaches with 3-inch antennae.”
And then there were the cultural changes. Though Doyle said the country was less conservative when she was there, there were still many restrictions placed on women.
At a nearby oil company compound, “women would drive on the compound or ride bicycles, which you couldn’t do elsewhere,” she said.
Out in public, Doyle noted, women also needed to be covered up at all times.
“I wouldn’t wear a veil, but I had to wear a long dress,” she said. “The religious police sometimes carried switches and if you were showing off some leg, you’d get switched on the leg.”
Some differences, Doyle noted, just seemed peculiar as an excerpt from early in their days there demonstrates.
“Jack has discovered the format of Arab radio programs, four to five minutes of world news, three minutes of temperatures in Europe and the Middle East in centigrade, then for two minutes, they name all the pharmacies that are open twenty-four hours a day. There must be a rush on something in the middle of the night.”
After several years, Doyle and family returned home for the birth of their second child, Kate, in 1978. The family went back to Saudi Arabia later, but Doyle said that experience on an old military base just wasn’t as interesting as with their first stay. When they came back for good, Doyle went to work at DHHS, where she’d worked before they left; Jack went to work for the Department of Transportation.
Doyle said the experience in Saudi Arabia left her with a yearning to explore new lands.
“It’s kind of a nice feeling when you’re an observer in a country,” she said. “You don’t have the same connection, any skin in the game, as you would when you were back in the states. It certainly left me more international- and broad-minded, tolerant and adventuresome.”
As an example, she said she doesn’t mind staying in cheap hotels anymore.
“We stayed in a one-star hotel in Cairo,” Doyle said. “They had hot water two hours of the day, but you never knew when that was going to be.”
For years, people told Doyle she should turn her letters into a book, but she didn’t sit down to do that until she retired. She held off on publishing the book until she was confronted with a health crisis.
“What pushed me to flip the switch on publishing was that I had cancer, and I didn’t know if I’d be here in a year,” she said. “I figured, what have I got to lose?”
“I’ve been working on this off and on for 10 years, but having that diagnosis made me decide I wanted to get it done one way or the other,” she said.
Doyle said she recently finished 10 months of treatments, and things are looking up.
“The doctors are hopeful and so am I,” she said. “The prognosis is good.”
So far, the book has received positive reviews online, and Doyle even sold out of her print copies. She said she’ll be ordering more, but in the meantime you can get it in print or Kindle format on Amazon.com. In addition to her letters, Doyle also compiled 40 pages of favorite recipes, slightly tweaked depending on availability of ingredients.
If you’d like to get a copy of the book directly from Doyle, she said you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.