In Memoriam: Carol Fleming, an American Bedu

Published: May 28, 2013

Share Article

Related Links

Carol Fleming – Al Ajroush

Oct 9, 1959 – May 27, 2013

Carol Fleming
Carol Fleming

We are very saddened to hear of the passing of our good friend Carol Fleming after a long, difficult fight with cancer. Somewhere back in Internet time, SUSRIS and American Bedu, Carol’s unique blog persona that built bridges between Americans and Saudis, became acquainted. As is often the case in the online world people become close friends without ever meeting each other in person. Over the years we would exchange emails and phone calls, ideas and articles to share, swapping interviews with each other and getting to know something of each other’s lives behind the words that glowed on the computer screen. We learned of her unending love for her husband Abdullah, a career Saudi diplomat, who she lost to leukemia in 2010. The earliest news of Carol’s battle with cancer offered a dire prognosis, but her seemingly indomitable character, her self-described “fighting spirit,” her energy apparent in the regular diligence she applied to her blogging, all combined to portray a feeling that everyday was just another day and that there was stuff to get done. Yesterday our dear Carol left us and we convey our deepest sympathy to her family in Saudi Arabia and in America, her friends, her former colleagues from many years of service as an American diplomat and the countless people she touched through her writing and caring about the health of the relationship between Americans and Saudis and their individual wellbeing.

For your consideration we share with you an excerpt from an American Bedu post Carol wrote two years ago as she waged the fight against cancer through the “Relay for Life” campaign; a concise and insightful obituary by Rob Wagner writing for Arab News; and our SUSRIS conversation with Carol from August 2010.

Patrick W. Ryan

Editor-in-Chief, SUSRIS

At SUSRIS we are very happy that in 2006 Carol Fleming built a blog, especially that it was about Saudi Arabia. As you will read in this interview with her she wanted to share her personal experiences in the Kingdom with others. We are richer for her having done so.

The Story of An American Bedu – Carol Fleming

Aug 10, 2010 | SUSRIS

Saudi Arabia: Preparing for the Next Big Battle
American Bedu | March 29, 2011

The subject of this post may seem to infer that with all the unrest continuing in the Arab world that something may be brewing in Saudi Arabia.  No; that is not the topic at all.  This post is an update about me and my ongoing battle with cancer. I recently had some updated tests performed to obtain an update on the status of my Stage IV metastatic breast cancer.  This past week I received the results from my doctor.  The news was not altogether surprising; the cancer has continued to slowly spread though the bones.  I have additional cancer tumors in my back and a tumor has now grown within the bone of my hip.  As a result my treatment regimes will be changed or to be more precise I should say increased.. ..In spite of this news I have to say that I am feeling very well.  Spring is here and I’ve been keeping active with my grandsons, volunteering at the local hospital and just enjoying time in my “mom-cave.”

“I still plan to participate in the Relay for Life in my local area although I’ll likely be bald again at that time!  However, Bedu’s are known for their fighting spirit and I plan to be the biggest pink bedu warrior fighting for myself and for a cure.”

Carol’s recent post continues her efforts to shine light on what is often a private matter that, as she points out, is not usually discussed openly in the Kingdom. Her championing of this battle will undoubtedly result in more people supporting the battle against cancer and becoming aware of how to detect and fight cancer in their own lives. [Saudi Arabia: Breaking Down Cultural Barriers - Apr 3, 2011]

‘American Bedu’ blogger Al-Ajroush dies at 53

Rob L. Wagner | Arab News Staff
Tuesday 28 May 2013

Carol Fleming Al-Ajroush, the popular American blogger who chronicled Saudi society and covered expatriate issues as American Bedu, died yesterday following a battle with breast cancer. She was 53.

American Bedu was widely read in Saudi Arabia and the United States for its insight of the Kingdom through the eyes of Al-Ajroush, an American expat married to a Saudi. Her stories and observations about the lives of expats in a closed and conservative country won legions of followers who respected her frank, but fair commentary on Saudi issues. Al-Ajroush was particularly eloquent in writing about Saudi women’s issues, including the right to seek employment, to drive an automobile and to live full lives.

In addition to her coverage of Saudi issues, she also blogged about breast cancer awareness after she returned to the United States for treatment. She participated in public service campaigns and served as a speaker at cancer awareness events. She was a member of the Lake Norman Breast Cancer Support Group.

Many of her stories of her Saudi experiences were published in “Bridges: An Anthology.” Her work was also published in Oasis Magazine.

Carol Al-Ajroush had been a resident of Charlotte, North Carolina, at the time of her death.

Al-Ajroush was diagnosed with cancer in 2008. Her family had a long history of cancer. In an interview with reporter Amber Shahid for Arab News, she openly discussed her illness.

“My grandmother, aunts and cousin died of breast cancer,” she said. “My cousin was only 31 years old and she had two young children. These thoughts ran through my mind when I learned of my diagnosis. By the time I reached my 40s, however, I guess I naively considered myself safe.”

A native of Espyville, Pennsylvania, Al-Ajroush was born on Oct. 9, 1959. She graduated from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Following graduation, she served as an American diplomat for 20 years, including an assignment in Pakistan where she met her husband, Saudi diplomat Abdullah Othman Al-Ajroush. They moved to Saudi Arabia in 2006 after a long courtship in several countries. She resigned her post to get married.

Abdullah Al-Ajroush died in 2010. She is survived by a son, Jon Carmichael; a brother, Michael C. Lebhaft; and a nephew, Matthew Joseph Wells.

Source: Arab News

The Story of an American Bedu – Carol Fleming
Aug 10, 2010 | SUSRIS

Editor’s Note:

There are moments of revelation we all recall. For me one was in a conversation I had in 1995 when someone used the phrase “search engine.” It wasn’t clear in the context of the discussion what it referred to and not wanting to appear “uncool” I didn’t question its meaning but tried to figure it out myself. However it was some time before I discovered the answer. I suppose I could have “Googled” the word but that service wouldn’t become popular until about five years later. So it was with the term “Weblog,” and its offspring “Blog” and “Blogosphere.” The words dribbled out in discussions about the Internet but it took time to discover their meaning and indeed their function and relevance. The word itself, “blog,” appears to have been coined in 1999 by Peter Merholz who rephrased “weblog,” born around 1997, into “we blog.” By 2006 the 50 millionth blog was noted by Technorati, with 175,000 new ones each day. A year later there were 112 million blogs. No one seems to have come up with a solid number since then. We now appreciate the impact bloggers have had in many spheres including shaping social and political developments.

At SUSRIS we are very happy that in 2006 Carol Fleming built a blog, especially that it was about Saudi Arabia. As you will read in this interview with her she wanted to share her personal experiences in the Kingdom with others. We are richer for her having done so. Her blog, called “American Bedu” is one of a number of efforts in English by bloggers based in the Kingdom which have helped many regular visitors and web surfers learn things about Saudi Arabia they would not get from the mainstream media and other sources. In addition to her prolific writing about life there, Carol has attracted a vigorous following of correspondents who, through the “American Bedu” comment sections, exchange perspectives on the issues of the day and the articles posted on the blog.

We were glad to receive Carol’s request for an interview about SUSRIS to share with her “American Bedu” readers. We thought it would be a good idea to swap interviews – Carol’s interview about SUSRIS in exchange for our interview about her blog, “American Bedu.” Both are being published simultaneously today; you can find our answers to Carol’s questions about SUSRIS on www.AmericanBedu.com. Thank you, Carol, for taking the initiative to exchange interviews and for your work bringing us your stories and insights about an “American Bedu.”

The Story of an American Bedu:
A Conversation with Carol Fleming

SUSRIS: Tell us about American Bedu which you began in 2006, back in blogging’s prehistoric times. Yours a blog in the traditional sense but its focus is a very special niche. How would you describe it?

Carol Fleming: Since 2006, American Bedu is a niche blog which focuses on Saudi Arabia. I write daily articles which cover a wide spectrum about the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its culture, customs and traditions. In addition I share my own personal experiences as an expatriate married to a Saudi man and having a large extended Saudi family.

Besides my own experiences there are some particular posts regular readers of my blog look forward to each month. These posts include:

  • Monthly Saudi Fun Quiz. (10 trivia questions each month where you can test your knowledge of Saudi Arabia)
  • Monthly Saudi Arabic (monthly post introducing useful Arabic words and phrases commonly used in Saudi Arabia)
  • Monthly Use Your Saudi Imagination (I will begin a story involving Saudi Arabia or a Saudi and YOU get to provide the ending)
  • Monthly Saudi Travel (each month I will showcase a new destination within Saudi Arabia whether it be a city, a village, an Island, a desert. Saudi has many many hidden treasures to discover)
  • Monthly Saudi Recipe (each month I’ll identify and provide YOU with step-by-step instructions on how to prepare some of the favorite and traditional dishes of Saudi Arabia)
  • Interviews (each month I have 1-2 interviews from expats and Saudis who either are in Saudi Arabia or Saudis who are presently outside of the Kingdom or from followers of my blog to discover more of their interests in Saudi Arabia)

SUSRIS: The name, “American Bedu.” How did that come about?

Fleming: It was an easy and natural decision to name my blog “American Bedu.” After my Saudi husband and I had married, we finally made it to the small village where I had been raised in Northwestern Pennsylvania. On seeing the road sign which said “Village of Espyville Station” my husband quipped, “Only Bedu’s come from the village so that makes you my American Bedu.” The name stayed ever since that memorable day.

SUSRIS: You come to the world of blogging as a former American foreign service officer. Can you give us a snapshot of your 20 years as a diplomat and how is shapes the experiences you share on the blog?

Fleming: I had a dynamic career which I loved that took me to more than 100 different countries. My job and the international travel exposed me to many differing customs, cultures, traditions and foods. It seemed the more I traveled, the more I wanted to get out and see more, learn more. In addition, as a foreign service officer I met many individuals at all levels in life from heads of state, heads of corporations, scientists, academicians and regular people with many of the same common interests and goals of people everywhere.

As a diplomat it was imperative for me to know, learn and understand about the countries in which I traveled, lived and worked. I had to be aware and able to speak knowledgably of the issues of strategic importance within a country and what that also meant vis-à-vis bilateral relations with the United States and other key countries.

However, a diplomat must also be a good and effective communicator; whether in verbal or non-verbal conversations and discussions.

My tenure as a diplomat has helped me as a blogger to write effectively and always choose my words with care. My diverse cultural experiences help me to understand differing cultures, customs and traditions from both an Eastern and a Western perspective. This is important when attempting to bridge rather than divide those who may have opposing views. It is okay to agree to disagree with understanding and grace.

SUSRIS: Did you have a purpose in mind when you started blogging beyond providing a forum for your experiences?

Fleming: American Bedu was originally created as a medium for me to share my experiences of Saudi Arabia with my American family via MySpace. However I quickly changed my mind on keeping the blog closed to a small audience and instead opened it to the world. Saudi Arabia as a country and Saudis as people are often misunderstood by the outside world. The majority of what is found in the mainstream media about Saudi Arabia is negative, rightly or wrongly. Saudi Arabia has many faces and I attempt to share its many faces with the followers of my blog.

SUSRIS: As an American woman who married a Saudi and lived in the Kingdom you obviously have insights into life and culture there, which you have generously shared via American Bedu. What is your reaction when you see Americans who have little firsthand experience in the Kingdom speaking as supposed authorities about Saudi Arabia?

Fleming: I cringe!!! Thankfully I crossed that invisible line between East and West each and every day within the Kingdom due to being an expatriate and married to a Saudi with a large extended family having relatives across the country. Too few expatriates have the intimate firsthand experience of being truly immersed in Saudi culture and life. An expatriate may be able to speak on what it is like to be an expatriate but not have the expertise to speak with authority on Saudi Arabia itself. I consider myself a case in point; I’ve had more than the average experience and interaction with Saudis yet would hesitate to call myself an expert. When I write an article on my blog I make sure to state whether I am sharing personal opinion and if not, follow through with sourcing details.

SUSRIS: On the blog you note that your “posts are reflective of Saudi Arabia which is a land of shifting sands with contrasts and contradictions.” How so, in the case of your posts?

Fleming: For many of the do-not’s about Saudi Arabia, there is usually a do.

Women may be told that they cannot use public transportation such as taxis.
Women may be told that they cannot go out shopping by themselves.
Women may be told that they must always cover their head or their eyes.

All of the above are fallacies. Women can use taxis but with caution. Women can go out shopping by themselves throughout the Kingdom. Unless in the holy cities of Makkah, Medina or an isolated conservative area, (foreign) women are not required to cover their head, let alone their eyes!

There are marriage restrictions in place for Saudis whose positions are in certain categories such as Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Military in that a Saudi cannot marry a foreigner. Yet exceptions can and have been made. My marriage was one such exception.

An expatriate may be told that life in the Kingdom will be dull, boring and limited with few to any Western amenities. Yet in my own view, I believe there are numerous choices of activities in which to engage and many similar to those from the West and others which are more unique.

So in other words, just like a book should not be judged by its cover, Saudi Arabia and its shifting sands should not be automatically wiped away like dust! Dig and look into the sands themselves and other treasures may appear.

SUSRIS: The AmericanBedu blog comments section is a very lively clearinghouse for a variety of topics mostly in the area of relationships and family issues. Do you have a particular philosophical approach to being an American-Saudi “Dear Abby”?

Fleming: As an American-Saudi “Dear Abby” I wish to give the readers of American Bedu a comfortable forum where they can pose specific questions on any aspect of Saudi Arabia. I have promised to always answer candidly and to the best of my knowledge. If I do not know an answer I will ensure to consult with someone who is in a position to answer with knowledge.

SUSRIS: In 2008 Fouad al-Farhan, a popular blogger in the Kingdom, was detained by Saudi authorities for “violating rules not related to state security,” according to the Interior Ministry. Can you talk about the environment for expression there and the ups and downs of blogging in an area where the rules are not always clear-cut?

Fleming: I believe the rules are pretty clear cut. One needs to be very careful if speaking, discussing or writing about the Royal Family and religious issues. The Kingdom is a Monarchy and Islamic (sharia’ah) law prevails. If a blogger is perceived as crossing an invisible line which is damaging or threatening to either the Royal Family or Islam itself, that blogger may find his or her site shut down. A Saudi blogger, such as Fouad al-Farhan, would be detained and questioned. An expatriate blogger could find him or herself in a hot seat with their sponsor. On the other hand, I believe there is greater tolerance for bloggers and others in the Kingdom to express their views on reform and rights, particularly in regards to Saudi women. Terrorism, extremism and root causes of such are allowable topics yet likely monitored. Arabic blogs by Saudis would likely receive more scrutiny than blogs written by expatriates since it would be presumed that an Arabic blog by a Saudi would be more likely to have an internal agenda.

SUSRIS: You have occasionally taken on cultural and social prerogatives in the Kingdom, questioning the status quo. As you put it in one post, “I’m well known for saying exactly what I think.” Were there any issues in particular that struck a chord with you or were there any issues you raised that resulted in serious push back. How well has saying what you think in American Bedu gone over in the Kingdom?

Fleming: I like this question! Saying what I think or saying hard words that need to be said always result in dynamic dialogues in the comments section. Addressing sensitive issues such as the impact of segregation; what is the composition of an extremist and why; interviews with men or women engaged in polygamy; odds of a successful bi-cultural relationship with a Saudi; perception of the disabled in the Kingdom; why must she also wear socks and black gloves too; are among topics which have created much controversy and diverse perspectives. The jury would likely be divided on how well some of my candidness has gone over in the Kingdom. As a result, I try to be fair that with every controversial post, I would likely follow up with a benign yet educating post. If all I were to write were articles which are perceived as bucking the status quo, then my blog could mistakenly be perceived as Saudi-bashing which is not the case nor intent.

SUSRIS: You have openly talked about the loss of your husband in February after his battle with leukemia and we share our condolences with you, as have many of American Bedu’s readers. You also recently talked frankly, especially for the benefit of Saudi women, about your current battle with breast cancer. Your blog postings suggest you were helped through these travails by the words and deeds of some of your readers and by your Saudi family, your in-laws. Can you share with us your reflections?

Fleming: I am passionate in wanting to educate all who will listen about cancer whether as a patient, caregiver or simply someone whose life has been affected or touched by someone battling cancer. There is one guarantee in life. Once born, at some point you will die. Yet when one looks or knows about someone with cancer, that individual, that cancer warrior, may automatically be written off as dead in the mind, as soon as the verdict is delivered. However the simple truth is, none of us know when, where or how we will die. Furthermore, fewer will die if women regularly conduct self-exams and have annual mammograms instead of waiting until it is too late to be treated due to fear or a stigma of being viewed as defective or imperfect. By sharing my story and that of my belated husband, I hoped for it to touch others and help them understand the importance of education, awareness and compassion to reach out. Little did I realize how prophetic that hope would be to me personally! The outpouring of support from family, extended family and friends has helped me tremendously to have faith, courage and strength to keep fighting against this disease. I will never forget how my own Saudi mother-in-law traveled from Makkah to Riyadh when she learned I would require a mastectomy. She insisted on being my caregiver and stayed in the hospital with me looking after me. She does not speak English yet we not only had no difficulties in understanding each other but we created a special bond between us during that period which will not be broken. When I was in Houston as the caregiver for my husband during his battle with leukemia, a regular American Bedu follower from the Netherlands traveled to Houston and helped me out with all I had to manage. She cooked, she cleaned, she did laundry so that I could have those additional precious hours with my husband. Speaking out about my and my husband’s cancer has provided me with ongoing blessings which illustrate the best in people regardless of location, nationality or faith.

SUSRIS: What was the highlight of your American Bedu blogging experience?

Fleming: The first and foremost highlight has been the people who have entered my life thanks to American Bedu.
Individuals come to American Bedu to learn and/or debate! However I also try to present a comfortable atmosphere of sharing. This atmosphere in turn has led to many friendships and bonds.

A group of American Bedu followers on learning that I have been separated from my two cats for the past 18 months due to cancer initiated a project “Bring Carol’s Cats Home.” In three days they raised the necessary funds for me to be reunited with my cats of 13 years!

My blog has raised a greater awareness of the day-to-day realities of everyday life in the Kingdom. As a result, it has changed perceptions of Saudi Arabia in that the Kingdom is not a hotbed of terrorists and every Saudi lives in a tent, rides a camel and has an oil well in the backyard. Readers hear from expatriates and Saudis from all walks of life and learn that there are many more similarities than differences.

The daily highlight for me is the opportunity to share experiences about Saudi Arabia, the land of my beloved husband and my other home. I guess my husband knew exactly what he was talking about when he christened me his ‘American Bedu’ for I felt totally at home from when my feet first curled themselves into the Saudi sand.

Check out American Bedu at: www.AmericanBedu.com

Related Material: