Saturday, September 24, 2016

Flash Mob, Saudi Style

This video was produced by a large supermarket chain in Saudi Arabia called HyperPanda in honor of Saudi National Day which is celebrated on September 23rd.  Enjoy!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Waad Academy

Waad Academy just opened its doors this past fall to welcome students.  I recently had the chance to tour this impressive state of the art facility located in the Obhur area of the city.  

This new school offers a brand new concept in education here in Jeddah, focusing on turning out well-rounded individuals by feeding the mind, heart and body.  So in addition to academic achievement, Waad’s philosophy incorporates spiritual and physical well-being as well. 

This academy has succeeded in creating a nurturing learning environment, using modern technology, creative designs, and delicious colors which sets it apart from other local schools.  

The main building houses the administrative team, the beautiful and spacious auditorium which accommodates 1000, and the cheerful lunchroom. 
Shooting off from the main building are brilliantly designed wings which provide separate boys and girls campuses, which will eventually serve students from KG2 through Grade 8.  
There is also a beautiful modern library – which is "oh-so-much-more" than just a library.  
One unique and creative feature of the school are its mega slides, which certainly help to make learning more fun at the academy.  
The school's sporting and recreation facilities are extraordinary, including themed outdoor play areas, gymnasiums offering an assortment of indoor activities and sports, basketball and tennis courts, plus a soccer field, running tracks, swimming pool, and a rock climbing wall.
A host of extracurricular activities and a wide variety of after-school programs are also available to students.  There is even a wonderful nursery on site for the children of teachers and administrators.
Waad Academy encourages the involvement of parents in the child’s education and progress and also invites the entire community to participate in planned social and sporting events.    
The attention to detail makes it obvious that years of thought and planning went into the making of this institution.   The future of education in Saudi Arabia is here and now at Waad Academy. 

To learn more about Waad Academy, CLICK HERE.  

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Saudi Society Will Accept Women Driving

I just wrote a guest post about the women's driving issue for the site called SAUDI WOMEN DRIVING, which offers news and thoughts pertaining to the issue of - you guessed it - Saudi women driving.  

I was prompted to write this in response to a recent statement by the man who is a son of the current king of Saudi Arabia and who is also second in line to the Saudi throne, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.  Last week he unveiled Saudi Vision 2030, a comprehensive plan outlining the future course and goals for Saudi Arabia.  A very small part of that plan dealt with the women driving issue, and here is what I have to say about it in my guest post on SAUDI WOMEN DRIVING: 

That's me - driving in Saudi Arabia!

A few days ago Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, second in line to the throne, was quoted as saying, “Saudi society, not the government, will determine whether women will be allowed to drive cars.”

To that I would ask: Exactly how loud does society have to yell in order to be heard? 

Women have been demanding the right to drive here in Saudi Arabia since 1990 when a few dozen women organized and drove in the streets of Riyadh.  They were severely punished – by the government – with the ramifications affecting their lives for many years.  Since then, many other women have driven on their own - and those who were caught have also been arrested and punished.  In fact, women who drive in KSA can now be charged with terrorism, open to the government’s interpretation.  

But wait a minute! If the government isn’t responsible for keeping women from driving in Saudi Arabia and punishing them if they do, then who is?  Society?  Really?

Sunday, April 10, 2016

My Favorite Photo from 2015

I was challenged to choose my favorite photo from last year and write a blog post about it when I came across a website called Social Print Studio and saw some of their favorite photos from 2015.   Social Print Studio is a San Franscisco-based company that creates really cool metal prints and photo books.

I take well over a thousand photos each month - some months I take 3000-5000 photos if I have visited somewhere special - so picking a favorite wasn't an easy task at all.  But I like this epic photo that I chose as my favorite so much that it also graces my photo blog as its header.

My favorite photo from 2015 is one that my husband actually took of me with several young Saudi women at the huge IECHE Education Fair that was held in Saudi Arabia's capital city of Riyadh in April 2015.  This annual fair is attended by thousands of Saudi students and their parents who are searching for the right institution of higher education for their child's chosen field.  The CPVPV (Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, a.k.a. Saudi Arabia's religious police) even has a large booth at the event, trying to recruit new trainees.  The event is open to all and is free.  Hundreds of universities and technical schools from all over the world are represented, trying to attract students to their programs.  It is quite an impressive event.

Because of my ready smile, rosy complexion and light hair, I am frequently asked by total strangers here in Saudi Arabia to pose for photos with them.  These young ladies approached me at our booth and asked me if I would mind having my picture taken with them.  Of course I obliged!

Even though the quality of this photo could be a little better, what I love about this photo is that it dispels the notion that Saudi women are oppressed or unapproachable and it shows how really normal they are.

They just dress differently - that's all!

I love how you can actually see their eyes smiling even though you can't see their smiles underneath their veils.

I love that the one young woman is taking a selfie of us - such a typical and normal thing that most people do around the world now, yet it's something that outsiders may not ever imagine Saudi women would do because of the unfortunate misconceptions about them.

I love that these veiled women were as interested in me as I was in them.

I love that they all hugged me afterwards before they went on their way, leaving me with a warm fuzzy feeling that many people may never experience because their hearts and minds are not open to it.

I chose this photo because I love the feelings I get when I see it and how it gives me hope that one day we can all live together in peace and understanding and that we can accept and appreciate one another, differences and all.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Pesticide Deaths in KSA: "It's Allah's Will..."

One day when we left our apartment shortly after to moving to Saudi Arabia, we were engulfed by a thick misty smoke-like fog.  I suddenly couldn't breathe.  I quickly covered my mouth and nose with my scarf.  My husband was furious as he knew all too well what it was.  A resident of the building we lived in had likely called the city or some extermination company to spray for annoying insects and pests. 

On any given day, many parts of the city of Jeddah are consumed with a dense and dangerous haze of insecticides that can send people to the hospital with respiratory problems or worse.  People have reported that some places are fogged with pesticides twice a day (morning and night), others twice a week, and some maybe only twice a year.  

Municipalities in many areas of Saudi Arabia routinely spray insecticides most often without warning.  Entire blocks will suddenly become engulfed in toxic mists of poisonous fumes.  Many people have ended up in the emergency rooms of local hospitals.  A friend of mine recently reported that her entire family fell ill when the Baladiya (municipality) switched from its usual type of insecticide to a different stronger one used to control mosquitoes.  Fortunately the family sought treatment at a hospital emergency room and they are all okay, but others haven't been so lucky.   

Even though there are bans in Saudi Arabia on certain types of pesticides which contain toxic chemicals, in particular aluminum phosphide, products containing it can still be purchased or brought into the country fairly easily.  These particular products are not intended for personal or home use and are frequently sold to untrained civilians who improperly use it inside homes with often times deadly results - and all too often small children are the victims.  

Apparently when humidity or moisture makes contact with aluminum phosphide, a dangerous gas called phosphine is produced.  Symptoms of phosphine poisoning can include difficulty in breathing, dizziness, headache, numbness, lethargy, vomiting, and diarrhea.  Just a few hours of exposure to the toxic gas can result in death within 24 hours.   

I remember reading about the tragic deaths in February 2009 of two young Danish children living in a compound here in Jeddah after inhaling the toxic fumes of an industrial grade pesticide while they slept.  There have been many other similar tragedies.  During a period of about one year and a half between late 2007 to early 2009, more than a dozen deaths occurred in Saudi Arabia, mostly children, from deadly insecticide poisoning.  Two Ethiopian boys died in January 2009.  Two Saudi children in September 2008.  A Filipino woman in October 2007.  An Afghani teenage girl in Jeddah in March 2014.  Three Pakistani children in Madinah in September 2008.  Two Egyptiangirls in August 2007.  An entire Pakistani family of six living in Riyadh died at the hands of their careless upstairs neighbor in July 2007 when he poured toxic pesticide down his drain, poisoning and killing the whole family below.  Countless more have been hospitalized over the years - and it continues to this day.  

The problem of the misuse of aluminum phosphide / phosphine gas is so alarming that a film documentary called “Phosphine” was produced in 2014 with the cooperation of Saudi public health authorities in an attempt to educate the public of the dangers of using this lethal type of toxic substance. I have embedded the film here for you below.  It is in Arabic but with English subtitles. It has been viewed almost 5 million times.  Hopefully it will reach enough people to make a difference so these unnecessary tragedies will be avoided. 

One of the most disturbing themes of the documentary was how the families of the victims were dismissed so easily with the logic that it was God's will that their loved ones died.  This lack of taking responsibility is the prevalent attitude toward death in Saudi Arabia and justifies careless unnecessary deaths when taking small preventative measures would have saved lives.  For example, most people here still do not use seat belts and don't use car seats for babies.  Instead, mamas continue to hold babies in their arms in the front passenger seat and when there is an accident and baby dies because it became a human projectile crashing through the windshield, they say it was God's will.

I realize there are health concerns, what with dengue fever and the Zika virus, and this is why the municipality regularly sprays as a preventative measure, however shouldn’t the public be made aware of what type of chemicals are being used and given proper warnings prior?  Some people have reported their animals dying as a result of spraying.  Simple activities like walking or jogging must be curtailed due to these trucks coming around and spraying.  People can literally taste it in the air!  Some have been suddenly enveloped in the smoky fog while walking to the grocery store.  What are the dangers, the neurological effects, and other health risks after repeated exposure to these chemicals?  Don’t we citizens have a right to know?


Read more about this subject:

Two detained over Basateen poisoning

2 Danish kids die in incident at compound

Afghan girl dies in pesticide poisoning; four hospitalized - March 2014

Editorial 2009 - Pesticide Deaths

Insecticide Kills Again 

Silent killer: Saudi YouTube film "Phosphine" gains over 3.5 million views

Monday, March 14, 2016

Yanbu Flower Festival 2016

The 10th Annual Yanbu Flowers and Gardens Festival is in full swing and is scheduled to end next weekend, unless it is extended as it has been in years past. 
The entrance reminds me of Universal Studios or Epcot Center, with a big globe of flowers with 
"Flower Festival" written around it.
A couple of years ago in 2014, the festival established a new record for the world's largest flower carpet in the world, using millions of colorful blossoms in the process to achieve it. 
Yanbu is just a three hour drive north from Jeddah, so it's easy to make a weekend trip out of it.  
Some visitors manage to do it in one day up and back. 
The festival attracts thousands of visitors every year.  It is well planned and well executed.  
There are sections for food, souvenirs, a recycling exhibit, a mosque, and a play area for children.  
The carpet of flowers area is simply amazing to behold.  
It's hard to believe something like this exists in the desert of Saudi Arabia.  
The above photo shows a display in the recycling exhibit.  Grade-school children participated in making creative recycled art or repurposed useful items.  There is also beautiful recycled garden art and other things like planters and furniture. 
Souvenirs from Holland are available for sale, including live plantings or grow your own gardens.  
One can climb stairways up to several small rolling hills that are covered in flowers and topped with beautiful gazebos.
 The floral display are creative and include hanging plants and water fountains. 
The event can be enjoyed by all - men, women, and children.  
Kudos to the municipality of Yanbu for a job well done, and specifically to the Royal Commission for Yanbu at the Events Garden in Yanbu Industrial City.
Can you believe that this event is free to the public?
Yanbu itself is a wonderful city along the Red Sea and worth visiting. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


Metaphorically speaking, if any group of people in the world epitomizes the West African proverb "Speak softly and carry a big stick," which was popularized by Teddy Roosevelt, it is the women of the GCC countries.

If you have any doubt about the power, the resourcefulness, the drive, or the motivation of Middle Eastern women, then you must watch this video.  It is truly awe-inspiring and quashes any doubts about the quiet strength and determination of Arab women.

Focusing on being positive, the importance of education, and achieving one's goals and dreams, WEORITU is an independent youth initiative promoting female empowerment in the Middle East.  The above video called #WECANDOIT is one of their first projects.

There are plans in 2016 to release the full interviews of the women who participated in the above video, relating their inspiring stories about their achievements and challenges they overcame to make their marks on the world.  

Another undertaking of the group is a photography exhibit called the Inside Out Project, featuring portraits of over 70 amazing Arab women who are making a difference in their communities and setting great examples for the younger generation.  The photo project is part of a world wide art challenge spawned from French artist JR who explains the Inside Out Project in this interesting and inspiring TED Talk, whose mission is to change the world through art.  After watching the video, I can see that he is well on his way to achieving his goal. 

Photo from

In 2014 the group also produced the video #HAPPYQ8 - which features the upbeat world phenomenon song by Pharrell Williams.  

With all the negativity in the world today, I really appreciate this group of motivated young people and their efforts to spread positivity.  If you are in the position where you can contribute monetarily to assist in their mission, PLEASE CLICK HERE.