Anywhere but Saudi Arabia! Experiences of a once reluctant expat


Kathy Cuddihy


When Bechtel offered Sean Cuddihy a transfer to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 1976, his wife Kathy agreed to go along on one condition: that it was only for two years, not a minute longer. This reluctant commitment turned into a 24-year love affair with Saudi Arabia and its people…


The eBook and Kindle versions are available HERE


When Bechtel offered Sean Cuddihy a transfer to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 1976, his wife Kathy agreed to go along on one condition: that it was only for two years, not a minute longer. This reluctant commitment turned into a 24-year love affair with Saudi Arabia and its people.


Kathy’s humorous anecdotes of her adventures and misadventures trace the journey of a country in transition. Never has a nation made so much progress in so short a time. As a trusted journalist and businesswoman, Kathy witnessed, recorded and participated in this spectacular development. From palaces to prisons and mud houses to private jets, Kathy’s perspective is unique and her experiences remarkable.


Told with the wit and stylishness for which the author is well known, Anywhere But Saudi Arabia! is a treasure for all who know and love the Kingdom, and an eye-opener for those with no comprehension of what life was, and is, like for anunconventional non-Muslim woman in a conservative Muslim population.


At times hilarious, at times shocking, but always honest and entertaining, Kathy’s story is infused with deep affection for her adopted country.


Book specifications:
ISBN: 978-0-9567081-3-7
200 x 148 mm Portrait
308 pp softback
Publication: 30th November 2012
The eBook and Kindle versions are available HERE

Read an in-depth interview with Kathy Cuddihy here:
From “Anywhere But” to “Nowhere But” Saudi Arabia: A Conversation with Kathy Cuddihy


Read the expat article in The Telegraph

Additional information

Weight 0.01 kg


  1. Kathy is a candid and eloquent writer who chooses her words carefully to paint the perfect picture which captures her experiences during life in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I highly endorse Kathy’s work as a must read for anyone with an interest or plan to work or live as an expatriate in Saudi Arabia. She walks one easily through the shifting dunes which encompass the beauty and treasures of Saudi Arabia.

  2. …to use the title to Dean Acheson’s memoir on his participation at the State Department in the creation of post-Second World War II world. Kathy Cuddihy, and her husband, Sean, drew a couple cards to fill an inside straight in life, and were not only present, but like Acheson, participated in the creation of the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Like so many of us, when they made their initial decision to go to Saudi Arabia, in 1976, they did not consider themselves lucky. Rather, it was viewed as the ultimate hardship post… as is reflected in the title… “Anywhere but…” Those with the right personalities, and outlook on life, and both of them had those essential ingredients, came to the conclusion, usually towards the end of their second year, with the thought of repatriation in mind, that not only were things not so bad… there was a lot that was positively enjoyable, and would be missed, from having taken that “path less traveled.” So, like others, they made the decision of “…just one more year…”, which, when compounded, spanned almost three decades.

    It is a woman’s perspective on life in the Kingdom, and there is no question that the “d” restrictions, that is, dress, demeanor, and driving, weigh more heavily on the Western woman than the Western man. And it is compounded by that wonderfully fuzzy and gray era on quasi-legal work. Cuddihy was in that sub-set, with the right personality, to rise to the challenge. She decided to explore, and come to terms with the world around her. At some level, it would seem self-evident, but success lay in breaking out of the endless griping and gossiping of the company coffee klatches. She (and her husband) made non-company friends, explored Riyadh, took up tennis, learned Arabic, and even more seemingly bizarre, certainly from the point of view of other members of the compound, sought out Saudi friends. At least since she is a Canadian woman, she was saved from the charge of being in the CIA! Perhaps it is like first love, when the senses are most aware, since Cuddihy seems to have a fondness, and depicts the very earliest days of their stay in Riyadh in the greatest details. Hardships? Well, there were a few, like no fresh milk, electrical outages, and seemingly random supply disruptions that made “hoarders” of so many. But there seems to be a surfeit of remembrances.

    The chief virtue of this book is that it is AUTHENTIC. It rings true in every degree. There is a small cottage industry that pumps out books about the Kingdom that are completely phony, to the same sort of gullible public that would STILL be willing to buy Bernie Madoff paper. A particular bête noir of mine is Finding Nouf, which so many Amazon reviewers find plausible.

    Her husband, Sean, worked, as an engineer, on two of the major infrastructure projects in the country. For nine years, he worked on the new Riyadh airport, at the time the largest (physical) airport in the world. After a brief period of “exile” working on the new airport project for Hong Kong, they returned to Riyadh, where he was the project manager for the Faisaliyah building, THE signature high-rise, and a defining building of the Riyadh skyline. But his most amazing quality, per Kathy, at least in terms of their relationship, is that he is always right! (Certainly far removed from: “If a husband is alone in the forest, and he speaks, and no one hears it, is he still wrong?”) And in terms of her own work, she was rather famous in the Kingdom for running “Design Arabia,” a “signature” shop in that signature building.

    Quibbles? And they are only that. I think she overstated the danger of making and consuming your own alcohol (p. 70). And I don’t think there was any relationship between events in Iran in 1979, and the taking of the mosque in Mecca (Makkah) in the same year. Two completely separate groups of folks, with entirely different reference frames and motivations. (p. 124)

    And there was the quip that DID resonate: (in referring to the Afghanis who came to Riyadh to sell their carpets) “`Each year I come, sell carpets, get money, go home, buy guns. War is difficult for my people but Afghanis will not surrender. Foreign invaders will not win.'” He referred to the Russian occupation. I wonder if he still comes to Saudi to earn enough to buy guns to rout the latest assailants.”

    An authentic account of life in Riyadh, from the perspective of one energetic expat woman. 5-stars.

  3. American Bedu had the honor to read “Anywhere but Saudi Arabia” in its draft copy and was immediately caught up in the lively story and experiences of Kathy Cuddihy, who was a long time expat in Riyadh. Now the official copy of the book will soon be released and available. I do recommended it as one of the must-reads of life in the Kingdom from an expat’s perspective.

  4. A Rainbow in Every Storm December 20, 2012

    By Pamela Harman

    Kathy Cuddihy’s engaging, fascinating, well written, well documented memoir of her experiences as a Western woman living and working in Saudi Arabia is a must-read for anyone who loves adventure and, like Kathy, is the first to see a rainbow in every storm. Our world today would be a much better place if all of us could embrace cultural differences and social challenges as Kathy does so deftly and with such engaging humor. Kathy Cuddihy was a trail blazer at a time in Saudi Arabian history who touched many lives in a positive way as she forged ahead to prove that we are more alike than different, no matter our race, religion, color or gender. Thank you, Kathy, for sharing your inspiring, informative, and compelling story with others.

  5. Honest Read, December 23, 2012

    By vic and jo

    We enjoyed this book because of it’s honesty regarding life in The Kingdom during the 70s. The author dove in head first to live in a very different culture and find a life for herself and her family. She lived through the best and the worst that Saudi Arabia had to offer with courage and intelligence.

  6. Reviewed by a Once Reluctant Reader, January 10, 2013

    By Kim

    I loved this book! I’m not sure why I read it – perhaps because I am always interested in cultural adjustments, conflicts, different attitudes and ways of living. And, to be honest, I was sure I would not enjoy it. WRONG! Kathy tells an amazing story of her time in Saudi Arabia – from her arrival as a young wife with no children to her departure as a mature woman with grown children. She hobnobs with royalty and admits to social blunders. She was “had” by people she trusted, made friends outside the circles of expats, started and ended businesses, struggled to find trustworthy household staff, and managed to navigate her way into and out of sensitive, and potentially dangerous, situations. She pushes boundaries in a society where limitations for women are the norm. (Kathy’s limitations are ethical and moral, not culturally defined.) Her sense of humor and the ability to laugh at herself is infectious. Kathy created an amazing life for herself, in spite of, not because of, being married to a high profile and highly paid engineer who takes her eccentricities in stride. It is surprising that a woman of such privilege seems so – well – grounded! In many ways, and putting her privilege aside, Kathy is the woman next door, the one we’d all love to have in our neighborhoods! Having said that, she had her challenges (don’t we all?), met them head on, and stayed true to her principles. She’s a mover and a shaker, to be sure. Although this is a story of a female, a wife, a mother, and a business woman in a middle eastern culture, men, also, will appreciate Kathy’s ambition, humor, frustrations, obsessions to “do something,” sensitivity to her husband’s positions, empathy, and – dare I say it – abhorrence – for the restricted roles of women, wives, and daughters in the Saudi culture.

    Kathy’s writing style is smooth, the book is an entertaining read, and, just when you think she’s “done it all,” she manages to surprise us with another idea or adventure. Five stars, to be sure!

  7. Bloom where you’re planted!, January 14, 2013

    By Patrice Slattery

    The stories in this book brought back to memory my own four year experience in Riyadh in the mid ’80s. While not subject to the medieval challenges of 1976, Riyadh, I can attest to the author’s authenticity in her depictions of life during the period my family and I were there. The reader will appreciate the author’s forthright opinions expressed with razor sharp wit as she draws you in and keeps you reading her daily struggles and strategies for coping with life in a culture hugely antithetical to her own. She and her husband share a zest for adventure which is positively contagious! Their ability to open their minds and hearts to the varied lifestyles and people around them rewards them with a richness of friendship and experience that few expats find in the Middle East. With a sense of fun and a determination to penetrate the barriers of language and culture the author has proven even with regard to Saudi Arabia, as Pamela Harman put it, “that we are more alike than different, no matter one’s race, religion, color or gender.” Well written, fun and inspiring!

  8. The world would benefit with having more people like Kathy Cuddihy, January 28, 2013

    By Seamus Walsh

    The first time I met Kathy Cuddihy was when I sat beside her on a flight from Dublin to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris on August 15th, 1982. We chatted and she told me about her life in Saudi Arabia. After we disembarked in Paris she invited me to visit her and her husband, Sean, at their summer cottage on Bantry Bay in Ireland. That journey and invitation was the beginning of a very rich friendship for me that lasts till today.
    I have often thought about that first meeting with absolute amazement that she should connect with a complete stranger, as I was, and then invite me into a friendship that prospers after more than 30 years.
    But after reading her seventh book, Anywhere But Saudi Arabia, the mystery was solved. She has an instinct and gift for making friends across the widest spectrum that one can imagine. And she doesn’t just connect with people who resemble her, but is at ease with people and cultures very different from her own, while still holding to her own deep-seated values, and yet accepting of those very different from hers.
    A vignette in her book made all that clear to me where she writes:
    “It’s not natural. OK, it’s not unnatural, but it’s definitely not healthy.”…”What on earth are you talking about? What’s not healthy?” says Sean…”Our life,” I said in frustration. We’re cloistered behind walls where our neighbors are your work colleagues and our social circle doesn’t extend beyond the borders of Bechtel. It’s …I don’t know…it’s incestuous. I feel trapped. I feel like I have to be a good little company wife or it will hinder your chances of promotion. I need space to be me, not Sean’s wife. My independent, unconventional nature feels stifled.”(page 87)
    That personality with a deep curiosity and love for the unexpected widened her horizon and enriched her life. And on top of that she has the rare gift of being able to write about the adventures and misadventures of this exciting life. Anywhere But Saudi Arabia is the perfect example of all of this. She writes with wit and warmth about her years there, and so many of the stories she writes about in Saudi culture are gems to be savored. You’ll love Kathy, and might very well wish to be more like her after reading Anywhere But Saudi Arabia.

  9. Memories of Another Expat, January 28, 2013

    Alison M. Clay Duboff

    Having lived in the Magic Kingdom for 3 years with my daughter and husband, and knowing the author I just HAD to get this book ASAP! It not only lived up to my expectations but far exceeded it. Kathy’s book brought a flood of wonderful memories, ones that I’d forgotten and ones that are as vivid as ever, 12 years later.
    Kathy brought me right back with her words. There were a few amazing surprises however which I wont share here so that the other readers may enjoy.
    If you’ve ever lived in Saudi, or have contemplated a job transfer there, you MUST get this book right away.

  10. More like survival in saudi Arabia, 28 Jan 2013

    By Elaine

    An absorbing, enlightening and most enjoyable book. Kathy’s exploits, adventures and survival techniques deserve the utmost respect and admiration.
    I feel that I have learnt so much about living in Saudi in the late 70’s. A place so culturally adrift from European life at that time.
    A very worthy addition to my collection of world travel books.

  11. A brilliant overview – 31 Jan 2013

    By Pete

    My wife and i live in Tabuk,close to the red sea and Jordan boarder. Life here is very close to life as it was in Ryhad. A fantastic insight for anybody thinking of working here in Saudi.

  12. Amazing – February 12, 2013

    By L. Kelly

    I was thrilled to read Kathy’s Arabian tale! Her detailed description brought back very precious memories that would be easy to forget. It reads like a fiction book but was completely factual. I especially appreciated her honest exposure of the remarkable nature of the Saudi people. Thanks Kathy.

  13. A Sparkling Edition – February 3, 2013

    By Thomas B. Stevenson

    A sparkling edition, Anywhere But Saudi Arabia!, gives readers an honest-to goodness look at life in the Kingdom over a twenty-four year period. Kathy Cuddihy is unafraid of breaking rules and pushing boundaries in her newly adopted home. She provides intimate details about social life and growing tensions regarding social change in a region few foreigners get to know. A talented writer, she uses humor, optimism, and above all her curious nature to tackle problems and find solutions all documented within the pages of this well-written book.

Add a review