Here, most foreigners live on compounds. This is kind of a compromise between the Saudi government and businesses with foreign workers.
The compounds are like terrariums for people – extensive landscaping makes the places look positively green, there are swimming pools and rec centers – I went to one the other day with a racquetball court.
Most compounds don't allow Saudis on, period. They have had too much trouble with them because laws that don't apply to foreigners, apply to them. We've had problems when our taxi drivers are Saudi and they can't drive onto the compound. More than once, we've had to walk.
On compounds, you aren't allowed to wear a hijab or an abaya. They tell you at the gate, when they take your passport, that you must take them off. Women can drive on compounds, and can be seen with men not related to them. All of my dance classes are on compounds, because otherwise the Religious Police would bust in and arrest us all.
It's a strange kind of separation. I met some women who have been living on a compound since they got here and they seemed really oblivious of the restrictions on women here. They never covered their hair, even when out – they hadn't been here long enough to have had a run in with the Religious Police – and they didn't see a problem with getting in random taxis at night. I told them as many horror stories – things that have happened to me or people I live with - as I could to try to get them to take a little more care with their personal safety.
It's like they live in a whole other world.
At some point, it occurred to me that if I was in a compound, I wouldn't have been going through most of the emotional turmoil I've been in, but then I wouldn't really be in the Kingdom.