Scottish-born and lifelong expat Doreen M. Cumberford shares a double purpose in Life in the Camel Lane: first to reflect on and share her experience of living abroad, and second to distill the important life lessons and rewards that such a life offers.
Based largely on her two decades as a part of the Aramco corporation community, 15 years of it in Saudi Arabia, Cumberford’s book is part instructional and inspirational guide to living abroad and part memoir, along with cases and anecdotes from friends and colleagues. Cumberford both aims to record her experiences and to “help people create global-hearted lives filled with travel, purpose, and vision.”
The author offers an interesting account of a European-American woman living in Saudi Arabia, which ranges from discussing daily life — i.e., the perks and challenges of wearing an abaya (women’s full covering), shopping for groceries and visiting gender-segregated shopping malls and restaurants— to emotional challenges, such as to transitioning from a professional working woman to fulltime mother and support spouse in the Aramco gated complex.
Her personal experiences, such as when she and her husband decided to learn the art of falconry, a pastime taboo for women, are the book’s most compelling parts. Here, her writing comes to life and her lessons are inherent. Similarly potent is her chapter recounting living in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War and before and after 9/11.
However, the flow between lessons and insights, memoir vignettes, and case studies from other expats, is frustratingly choppy and disjointed. Moreover, Cumberford’s lessons are repeated more often than necessary, while her memoir vignettes are often too brief and general, explaining outcomes more than bringing readers into the scenes to discover them with her.
Revision to address these issues would greatly improve the book. Still, Cumberford portrays a little-known culture and way of life, and her enthusiasm for expat living may intrigue those seeking guidance and inspiration to leap into a global adventure of their own.
Also available as an ebook.