What is worse: poverty, violence or oppression?

In the past ten years I have lived in almost ten different countries around the globe. The past five years have also been particularly challenging because I have not had a steady income. This was also my choice, since I was the one who decided to subject myself to the horrors of doing a PhD.
I somehow ended up in Saudi Arabia, teaching young women who live through much more difficult circumstances than I have had to. Part of the attraction to the job was that I would get to teach marginalised women, as if being a woman in Saudi Arabia is not tough enough &; most women were not rich, were married young, or never had a chance to pursue an education. My reflections in this blog post are my own, and I do not wish to trivialise or make light of anyone&;s suffering, or presume that what I find insufferable is the same as others. There is no objective answer to the question I pose in the title of this post, but to me, there are surprising outcomes in terms of my own privileged existence.
I am privileged because I have a family, a very kind and extended family that includes relatives and good friends. If worse comes to worse I can call on them and I will have help immediately. There were periods during my PhD (like when my parents put a second mortgage on their house to pay the last bit of tuition once my government loans had maxed out) that I really felt like the burden of my choices were too much strain on my family. There were many times when I did not ask for help, and many other occasions when there was not enough time to seek help. These are the situations that I am writing about, so I admit, my experiences are partly due to my own stubbornness and brazenness.
Looking back at each place that I have lived, there are factors that affected my happiness. I find it interesting to try to discern why positive or negative emotions are attached to one place or another. I had good and bad experiences in all places I&;ve lived, yet there are some places that my blood curdles at the thought of returning whilst there are others that I remember fondly, but incredible pain comes to mind almost unconsciously yet immediately. I have indeed surprised myself with these emotions, because it is even confusing to me.
If I had to choose between two cities, London or Jeddah, which would I choose? London. Easy. If I had to answer the question, where were you happiest? London or Jeddah? I find it very difficult to say. I was not happy all of the time in either place. When I am in London, I love it! I come alive, and a smile is almost always on my face. I had much bigger highs in London, but there were also times when I had much more difficult and serious lows in London, and they were all related to stress and poverty.
There is no adequate way to describe the feeling of spending your 20 pound weekly food budget on cheap vegetables at Tesco only to have them go off the very next day. For this reason, I can never eat baked beans again. There were also moments of panic when I found myself far away from home and no way to get there, walking for hours, only to wake up at the crack of dawn the next day to get to a shitty minimum wage job and work like a dog for 11 hours straight. When I couldn&;t handle the poverty, I found better work, which meant more hours and more stress, and my PhD suffered. The cycle of poverty, sickness, job, money, stress, sickness&; I did not cope well with. I hated it. I cried a lot. I felt far more helpless there than I ever did in Jeddah.
In Jeddah, I had no highs, I had very few lows, but I had barely anything there. What would you pick? I led a very comfortable life there in comparison. To finish my thesis it was the perfect place. I had my own two bedroom apartment, all my transportation taken care of, all the money I needed and access to a wonderful grocery store. I was getting paid a full time salary and working less hours than my London &;part-time&; jobs. Once I submitted my thesis, however, the boredom set in pretty quickly. My work environment degraded because I was switched into a different program, and all of the tedious things that seemed rather trivial in the face of a PhD thesis to contend with began taking up most of my energy and it all became quite stressful. Rules kept changing and the instability began to feel intolerable (don&;t ever sign a contract saying you will follow &;rules&; btw, my mistake). But overall, I can&;t say I ever had a moment of stress or panic that refuses to leave my body like those moments I had in London.
Yes, it was terrible to have to go outside in attire that is designed to give you heatstroke, but I was still mobile, I felt safe walking outside, and if you picked the right time of day, it was not too hot to walk. The moment you step on a quiet street, it seems that every man seems to find and follow you in their car, but if you don&;t pay it attention, they go away. I never felt threatened. I could even find a taxi in the middle of the night, and find my way to the 24hr grocery store. I never felt constrained in that sense.
Mobility and freedom are certainly connected. When I lived in Johannesburg, I was not working then either, I had a small travel grant, and money was very tight. It is only safe to take public transportation during the day, and when you want to go out of the house at night time, it means a good 8-25 quid on taxis for return trips. I used to go to a gym with a friend that lived nearby, and the taxi wanted to charge extra to make two stops. I wanted to walk the 500m home and avoid the extra fee, but we would get earfuls of stories of dead bodies getting fished out of the lake, and of course, I begrudgingly paid the extra money. Maybe a sense of fear attracts the violence as well, because it wasn&;t a month later that the two of us were hi-jacked in her car. It is very hard to remember anything nice about a place when something like that happens.
I would even go so far as to say that even in the streets of Montreal, walking home at night, a woman can easily feel more violated and less-&;free&; than in Saudi Arabia. When I ignored a 20s-ish man&;s sexual advances, he yelled at me, he told me I had a fat ass, then continued to tell me that I should only be so lucky to go to bed with him. Why is it so common for this to happen, yet we all just shake our heads and hope it will stop. I have a thick skin, but I was still shaky and quite upset. Far more upset than I&;d ever been in Jeddah. I have so many more of those incredibly awful stories as do most of my friends.
So this is what bothers me. It was shocking even to myself that I chose to go to Saudi Arabia. I was curious about what it was actually like, and of course, there are far too many extreme things that I just cannot agree with or abide by, and so I left, in a rather disrespectful way too (sorry colleagues!). I just despise, however, the extent to which those of us in other places seem to think that life for women or the marginalised in general is so much better or easier in &;our&; countries. It&;s simply not so black and white.
From the outside, it seems so perplexing as to how and why Saudi Arabians do not revolt. Now, I am more perplexed by how and why we are not more revolted by the mundane and everyday poverty and violence that we find in Canada or in the UK.
At the same time, now that I have escaped, I can FINALLY and SAFELY say, free Raif Badawi!! Abaya burning party tomorrow at dusk.