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 WEORITU.org

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.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Current Art Exhibitions Now in Jeddah

Now through February 9th, there are a couple of art events that are open to the public going on for those of you in Jeddah.  I hope that you are able to attend these two exhibitions, which are open each evening from 5:00pm-10:00pm.  Both venues are fairly close to each other off of Tahlia Street, so it is possible to go to both events in one evening.

Artwork on display at Al Khayyat Center for Fine Art (Photo by Vicki Callagan)

The first event called "Art for All and All for Art" is being held at the beautiful and ritzy Al Khayyat Center, which houses such famous upscale designers like Dolce & Gabbana, Etoile, Fendi, Tom Ford, Stella McCartney, Roberto Cavalli, Christian Louboutin, Versace, Valentino, Tory Burch, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren, Armani, and many more.  This place is the Rodeo Drive of Jeddah.   Enter through the "Main Entrance" for the event (across from Louboutin) and take the elevator up to the 3rd floor. 

Here you will be treated to a variety of artworks by an array of amazing artists - sculptures, paintings, collages, photographs, Anime, live demonstrations, and more.  Many of the artists are on hand to talk to about their art.  There are even two incredible Dali sculptures on display.  Interesting and graceful bronze and wooden sculptures by Bahraini artist Fuad Ali Albinfalah are definitely worth a look.

A stylized Dali sculpture of an elephant at Al Khayyat Center
One of the exhibits on display at the Al Khayyat Center is called "Western Women's Journeys in Saudi Arabia" by photographer Abeer Bajandouh, which features photographs and and book of interviews with twelve Western women who are living in Saudi Arabia. And I am one of them! 

I am in front of photo of me holding my US Passport and holding a copy of the book (photo by Vicki Callagan)
The second event is being held nearby at the lovely Saudi Center for Fine Art (, which is located directly behind Noujoud Center from Tahlia Street.  They are closed Friday, but also open in mornings.  Nojoud Center houses Wojooh, Cortefiel, Mango, Adidas, H&M, and other shops.  This exhibition features the works of two artists, Tamara Jones and Awad Abu Salah.  Tamara is an American artist and a personal friend of mine who has been living in Saudi Arabia for the last four years.  She paints and also does amazing digital photography which reflects nature and has a very earthy quality to it.

Artist Tamara Jones in front of two of her paintings on exhibit at Saudi Center for Fine Art

I highly recommend if you are in Jeddah to make the effort to attend these two wonderful exhibitions, running now through February 9th. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Gender Segregation is Insulting!

Few things about life here in Saudi Arabia get me all riled up like the extreme gender segregation does.  It is one of the things that I dislike the most and one of the things that I feel does WAY more harm than good.

In my opinion, gender segregation is largely responsible for many of this country's social problems.  Gender segregation stunts healthy emotional growth.  The high divorce rate can be cited as a problem partially caused by gender segregation.  At puberty young boys and girls are suddenly separated socially from each other and there is no interaction with the opposite sex.  As a result many young people who marry do not know how to communicate, act or behave around the opposite sex.

Photo Credit: RealSociology.edublogs.org

Many young Saudi men are often accused of harassing women - and it's directly due to the way this society is set up with severe gender segregation, plus the lack of accountability for men and their actions.  Instead, this society usually chooses to put the blame on women by punishing them for men not being able to control themselves around fitna-inducing temptresses.

At the university level, young female students often fantasize, become obsessed with, and even fall in love with male professors who conduct classes for women from a remote location via closed circuit television.  I’ve heard many stories about how female students frequently pursue these male professors, who are often married, much older, and not even particularly attractive.

And now the latest issue regarding gender segregation has come about involving two women who were elected to the municipal council in Jeddah.  These women were elected to their positions, just like the men on the council were.  Yet there is an anti-women crusade going on to prevent these women from taking their rightful positions on the council alongside their male colleagues.  

This faction is trying to preclude these duly elected female officials from participating effectively on the council, marginalizing the women by forcing them to sit outside the council chambers, like children who are being punished, instead of full-fledged elected members of the board. 
Seriously? Women in Saudi Arabia achieved a major milestone when they were allowed to vote and run for public office for the first time in their lives in December 2015 - a HUGE step forward for Saudi women.  But now others are trying to prevent them from effectively carrying out their duties.  Gender segregation carried to such an extreme like this is not only insulting to the women, it is extremely insulting to the men on the council who are being perceived as incapable of being trusted or of controlling themselves around a couple of female colleagues and incapable of seeing women as anything other than sexual objects. 

To make matters worse and to exemplify the severity of this extreme gender segregation, the two councilwomen, Lama Al-Suleiman and Rasha Hefzi, have now received death threats for attempting to take their rightful place at the meetings.  Fortunately there has been support for the women from the community, but there are some who oppose them.  
Don’t miss these two articulate opinion pieces recently written by a couple of Saudi women about this very subject:

“Saudi Women’s Work and Challenges in the Council Just Starting” by Maha Akeel

“Women’s Empowerment” by Nabeela Husni Mahjoub

Sunday, January 24, 2016

"The Spirit of Jeddah" 2016

I am happy to share with you this video produced by the US Consulate General of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.  The under five minute video features clips from the city's recently held historical festival "Kunna Kida," which translates to "We were like this" in Arabic and captures the flavor of the festival.  The festival was held in Al Balad, the oldest sector of the city, which began as a small fishing village more than 1400 years ago.

In this delightful video, Jeddawis are on hand to share information about their ancient city, their fascinating culture, and their lives here in Jeddah.  Their spirit shines through and really gives the viewer a true impression of the pride and love these people have for their beloved city.

The narrative is all in Arabic, so for English subtitles, be sure to click on the "CC" option below the video in the lower right of the screen.

Be sure to subscribe to the US Consulate General Jeddah YouTube Channel to keep abreast of their future offerings.  Enjoy!


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Scenes from 2016 Jeddah Historical Festival

The 3rd annual KUNNA KIDA, Arabic for "We were like this," just concluded its ten day run in Jeddah's oldest district, the historic area called Al Balad, which in 2014 was named a UNESECO World Heritage site.  I had a fabulous time the evening I went with a group of about ten friends and two guides (thank you and shout out to Abid and Rawan!).  The historical festival celebrates the history, culture, traditions, and arts of this region.  What was incredible to witness is the joy, the pride, the efforts, and the genuine warmth of the Saudi people who bring this festive event to life and those in attendance whose excitement was palpable.

As soon as we stepped inside the gates, we were transported back in time to a much older Jeddah.  We were greeted and welcomed by joyous Saudi men in traditional clothing who sang and danced for us as we entered.  It was a great kick off to a well planned and executed festival.  There were many booths offering homemade handicrafts available for purchase, refreshments, artifacts on display, and re-enactments depicting various aspects of life in Jeddah from the 1930s - before the oil industry changed the country forever and when Jeddah was just a small fishing village on the Red Sea totally surrounded by high stone walls on all sides. 

Thousands of families attended, many coming from other areas of the country as schools were out of session for a winter break.  Little girls dressed in colorful traditional dresses and wore on their heads the cap-like golden coin ornamental headpieces worn for special occasions. 

It was amazing to see the large variety of handicrafts made by Saudi women.  Among other things, there was even an operetta that was scheduled to be performed for the event - unfortunately I missed it.

The colorful lighting enhanced the beauty of the old buildings as the crowds busily made their way through the narrow streets and walkways.   Some structures were erected specially for the festival and will remain up for about six months before being removed.  I could see many changes in the Al Balad area, including new souvenirs shops and a new library.  Jeddah Our Days of Bliss has been very active in working with the government to rejuvenate the old historic area of the city - and they are doing quite an impressive job.   The Bliss team has also worked as consultants with the festival organizers.   

At the new Jeddah Bliss Library in Al Balad, which was recently opened by Mr. Mansour Al Zamil, I was fortunate to be able to attend a book signing by a female Saudi author and to hear the beautiful singing of a young Saudi man.  Pictured above is Saudi author Maha Oboud Baeshen, signing copies of her book, Our Days of Bliss.  Her novel relays the stories about students who study abroad and return to Jeddah, attending the festival with a different perspective and appreciation for their heritage. It is only available in Arabic at this time.

I also received a copy of the book, The Syrian Jewelry Box by Carina Sue Burns, a world traveler who spent her formative years living in Saudi Arabia. 

The historical re-enactments were amusing, varying from a strict male teacher who demonstrated how boys used to be punished back in the day for misbehaving in school to a slave trader to how mail and ice used to be delivered. 

To see more photos from this year's event, below is my SlideShow about the JEDDAH HISTORICAL FESTIVAL 2016.


Thursday, January 7, 2016

New Yorker Magazine Article: "Sisters-in-Law "

The following is an article which appears in the latest issue (Jan. 11, 2016) of New Yorker Magazine, written by Katherine Zoepf. 

"Sisters in Law"

Saudi women are beginning to know their rights.

The guardianship system gives a woman a legal status resembling that of a minor. Credit Illustration by Eiko Ojala

In September, 2014, Mohra Ferak, twenty-two years old and in her final year at Dar Al-Hekma University, in the Saudi port city of Jeddah, was asked for advice by a woman who had heard that she was studying law. The woman was the principal of a primary school for girls, and she told Ferak that she had grown frustrated by her inability to help children in her charge who had been raped; over the years, there had been many such cases among her students. Regardless of whether the perpetrator was a relative or the family driver, the victim’s parents invariably declined to press charges. A Saudi family’s honor rests, to a considerable degree, on its ability to protect the virginity of its daughters. Parents, fearing ruined marriage prospects, chose silence, which meant that men who had raped girls as young as eight went unpunished, and might act again. And for some of the girls, the principal added, the secrecy only amplified the trauma. She asked Ferak if there was anything that she, as principal, could do to help them.

“I told her, ‘You can go to court and ask the judge to make the proceedings private and save the girl’s reputation,’ ” Ferak recalled one recent afternoon. We were sitting in a modish Lebanese restaurant near the Jeddah corniche, sharing plates of tricornered spinach pastries and stuffed grape leaves across a black butcher-block table. The call to afternoon prayer had sounded several minutes earlier, and the restaurant, in accordance with law, had locked its doors and dimmed the lights. The “family section”—the secluded area for women that restaurants serving both genders must provide, where female diners who cover their faces can eat comfortably—was quiet. Except for a waiter, we had the place to ourselves. Ferak is slight, with a lilting voice and a round, bespectacled face framed by a tightly wound black shayla. Head scarves, which Saudi women typically wear unfastened, have a way of slipping off, and Ferak fidgeted with hers as she described her conversation with the principal, repeatedly tugging it back down into its proper position.

The principal was amazed to learn that Saudi plaintiffs can request closed court proceedings. She began peppering Ferak with legal questions, many of them about how to advise teachers who were in abusive marriages, or whose ex-husbands wouldn’t allow their children to visit. The principal was in her early fifties, which meant that, as a school administrator, she was among the best-educated Saudi women of her generation. Well into the nineteen-eighties, according to UNESCO, fewer than half of Saudi girls between the ages of six and eleven had received any education outside the home. But, Ferak said, it quickly became clear that the woman knew little about the fundamental principles of Saudi law.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Share Your Polygyny Story

Are you in a polygamous marriage?  I would like to invite any woman who is or was in a polygamous marriage to share her story anonymously for an upcoming Marie Claire magazine article.  Your identity will be kept strictly confidential.  You can email your polygamy story to me at:  susieofarabia@gmail.com

Please get your polygyny story in to me as soon as you can.  Thanks! 

I'd also like to remind you (women only) to participate in a short online survey about polygyny for the same upcoming Marie Claire magazine article.  

Participants in the survey can be any woman who is or was married to a Saudi man, or any single Saudi woman.  More SAUDI WOMEN, married or single, are needed to participate in this survey, so please share this with any Saudi women you know.  NON-SAUDI WOMEN and WESTERN WOMEN are also welcome to complete the survey.

The survey is quick, easy, and anonymous.  It literally takes one or two minutes to complete.  No personal details about you are required at all and can be taken in English or in Arabic.    

Deadline for the survey is January 5th, 2016.

CLICK HERE to take the survey in ENGLISH.

CLICK HERE to take the survey in ARABIC.

Marie Claire Magazine is a world renowned women's periodical, which focuses on women's interests like health, beauty, and lifestyle.  It first appeared in France in 1937 and today has many international editions.

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