Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Saudi Woman Breaks the Law to Save Husband

A few days ago here in Saudi Arabia, a Saudi woman broke the law and in the process saved the life of her husband. What crime could she have possibly committed that actually saved her husband's life? She drove a car. She drove a car 120 km to get her incapacitated diabetic husband to a hospital.



One year ago, another young Saudi woman, 15-year-old Malak Al-Mutairi, was hailed as a hero when she saved the lives of several family members and eight other people as unusually heavy rains caused severe flooding in the city of Jeddah. How did she do it? She drove her family's Jeep to tow disabled vehicles to safety, rescuing people in cars that had been trapped by the floodwaters. But in doing so, she broke the law.

Earlier this year when my husband had heart surgery and couldn't drive, I wrote about the severe handicap placed on my family because of the restrictions placed on me which prevent me from driving here.

I have also written about how it's a daily occurrence to see young boys who aren't even tall enough to see over the steering wheel or reach the brake pedal driving cars here, and no one seems to have a problem with it. It's also no problem for men to drive with babies sitting in their laps and small children jumping around in the moving car - nobody is buckled in. Yet, ask Saudi men why women shouldn't drive here, and most of them will inevitably say it's for the woman's safety. Safety? What a crock! Then why does Saudi Arabia have the highest traffic accident death toll in the world? Could it be because only MEN drive here? Safety, my A$$!

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women from operating motor vehicles. Since there are no public busses that women are allowed to ride either, what this law means is that in order to get around, the women of Saudi Arabia are forced to pay for a driver or to take taxis driven by strange men. Since most Saudi men must work and those who don't work don't really want to chauffeur around the women of the family to all the places they need to go, thousands and thousands of foreign men are brought into the country to drive women around - women who are perfectly capable of driving themselves but are prevented from doing so by the misogynistic law of the land.

Although the issue of women not driving here is not contrary to Islam, the reasons given for why this ban is in effect almost always point back to Islam. However, all other Islamic nations in the world allow women to drive! I'll never forget the words of Saudi Cleric Dr. Abd Al-Aziz Al-Fawzan when he said that the push for women to drive in Saudi Arabia was really a Western conspiracy to corrupt Saudi society, and then he threw in how Western men just simply rape any woman they desire, like it's a normal common occurrence.

Some women want to drive so badly that they will go to extremes to try to do so, from dressing up as men to particpating in reckless high speed races, like many young men here do - sometimes with disastrous results.

A campaign called "We the Women" was begun to promote the case for women driving in Saudi Arabia by a young Saudi woman working on her post-graduate degree in the US. The concept is simple. Promoting open dialogue about the driving issue by encouraging women to print off a blank bubble with the "We the Women" logo on it and write their feelings about not being allowed to drive in their own words, such as "I don't like the back seat" or "Driving shouldn't even be an issue" or "Driving isn't against my religion." Then they are to post it in a public place - shop windows, utility poles, restaurants in hopes of promoting dialogue.

Back in 1990 when the Saudi government finally put a law in the books prohibiting women from driving (prior to this women were denied the right to drive, however there was no actual law on the books), women who drove cars were described as "portents of evil." (What I don't get is why WOMEN driving are considered "portents of evil," while men behind the wheel are not.) At the time, the Saudi Minister of the Interior was quoted as saying, "Women's driving of cars contradicts the sound Islamic attitude of the Saudi citizen, who is jealous about his sacred ideals."

Jealousy? Whatever! These excuses for preventing women from driving here are so feeble it's laughable. Except I'm not laughing. While there are some Saudi men who are secure in their manhood and would like to see women given the right to drive, the truth is that most Saudi men just want to control women here - and letting women drive would give women too much freedom. But putting women in the position of having to break the law in order to save lives? That's just sick and wrong. And until the law is changed or done away with altogether, it just makes Saudi Arabia appear very backward in the eyes of the rest of the world - not that KSA has ever been concerned too much with that image...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It's Not "Lady-Like!"



A
n investigation is underway regarding a shocking and controversial sporting competition that was held recently here in Jeddah. Shocking? Yes - because the event was for females (for shame!) and the event organizers failed to obtain prior approval from the Ministry of Education. Which begs the question: Are male sporting events subject to the same restrictions? Somehow I doubt it. Female sports here in Saudi Arabia are practically non-existent because girls’ athletics are frowned upon by religious clerics and many old-fashioned Saudi men as being “unlady-like,” among other ridiculous reasons.

The illegal and contentious sporting event – thought to be the first of its kind in the Kingdom - was held on December 8th at Effat University and included competition in such unlady-like sports such as swimming, basketball, and badminton for some 200 young high school women representing six different Jeddah girls’ schools.

In the aftermath of the tournament, a member of the Board of Directors of one of the participating schools claims they had received more than 60 “anonymous” complaints about girls participating in sports.




All this commotion comes at the heels of another report out of Iran where a Muslim cleric condemned women’s sports and forbade Iranian females from participating in the Asian Games. He was quoted as saying that women’s sports are a product of the West’s “dirty” culture and should be shunned. I want to know, exactly what is “dirty” about women’s sports?

This is 2010, almost 2011. It is common knowledge in this day and age that regular exercise promotes good health, weight control, and a sense of well-being. Yet for the girls and women of the kingdom, these facts don’t matter and aren’t considered important.

Last year I wrote about how the government cracked down on women’s gyms across Saudi Arabia, closing down countless women’s facilities if they were not properly licensed and if they were not affiliated with a hospital, while there are no such restrictions placed on men’s gyms. The closing of these facilities drove up membership costs and made it impossible for many Saudi women to be able to afford going to a gym. And it’s already hard enough for women to try to exercise in this country as it is. Women here are forbidden from swimming (well they can, if they are fully covered), riding bicycles (too provocative as it reveals the female's behind), or playing sports in public. Saudi Arabia has been long criticized for denying Saudi women from particpating in the Olympics and other sporting events.




Physical Education classes in girls’ schools are a very low priority. You won’t believe some of the ludicrous reasons given for why girls shouldn’t be allowed to participate in sports or exercise in school: The female hymen might break during exercise so the girl wouldn’t be considered a virgin anymore. “Good girls” would never disrobe outside their own home, not even to change into gym clothes at school. If girls did disrobe in front of other girls at school, they might get turned on and have nasty thoughts that they may want to act upon. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried!

All this craziness aside, women’s obesity is becoming a major health crisis here in Saudi Arabia, evident in the dramatic increases in diabetes, hypertension, depression, and other weight-related health issues. For the most part, women here lead a very sedentary lifestyle – many don’t even do any physical household chores because they have maids.

This antiquated mindset of restricting women from exercise and sports places Saudi Arabia way behind the times in promoting women’s health and well-being.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Trust in Business

The other evening, my husband and I went out just to walk around at a small local mall here in Jeddah. I like to look at the traditional long dresses that many women wear here, so we went into one of the small dress shops in the mall so I could take a look. Many of the traditional dresses are embroidered, or embellished with beading.

I found three that I liked - and you've heard me complain about this before - but generally there are no dressing rooms here for women to try on clothing.

I've been given many excuses for why there are no dressing rooms for women in clothing shops here in this country, ranging from the problem with women shoplifting clothing by just putting it on underneath their big black abayas, to the potential problem of men sales clerks molesting women who are undressed in the dressing rooms. FYI - there ARE no women sales clerks allowed in Saudi Arabia - don't get me started! Suffice it to say that this country is big on "prevention" when it comes to the matter of women and sex, no matter how remote the possibility of whatever it is that might occur.

Anyway, back to my story... I guess business was rather slow that night, so I figure that this shopkeeper was anxious to make a sale.

What he did next almost floored me.

He took the three dresses off the hangers, folded them nicely and put them in a bag for me. In Arabic he told my husband, "Take the dresses home and let your wife try them on. Keep what she likes and bring back what she doesn't want. Then you just pay me for what you keep."

He took no money.
He didn't ask for my husband's name or phone number.
He didn't make a note of the merchandise that we walked out of the store with.
He didn't request that we bring the money or the items back by any particular date.

I'm still shocked.

Would a scenario like this ever happen where YOU live?

(NOTE: The dresses shown in this post are from Artizara.com)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Interview with Sand Gets In My Eyes

Sand Gets in My Eyes (SGIME) has always been a favorite read of mine since I moved to Saudi Arabia and discovered blogging. She is an American who has lived in Saudi Arabia for eight years and has also lived elsewhere in the Middle East, Australia, and other places. With a background in psychology, her posts are always thoughtful and she tackles highly controversial issues with persuasive aplomb. In October of this year, the SGIME blog was blocked in Saudi Arabia and is still blocked. This means that people within the country cannot access her blog but it is still accessible outside Saudi Arabia. She recently came to the decision to "lay down her pen" after nearly seven years of writing SGIME. Her blog will continue to be available online to the rest of the world, however she plans to discontinue adding new material.

SGIME was kind enough to answer some questions I posed to her...

Susie – What kept you inspired all those years and in what ways was blogging rewarding for you?

SGIME - Susie, I guess it comes down to this – there are (and of course will continue to be) a lot of important issues in Saudi that need to be talked about openly, but for whatever reason, they just aren’t. Maybe there’s too much intentional misinformation out there, maybe they’re taboo, maybe they make people uncomfortable, maybe they’re complicated and complex, maybe they’re one piece of a bigger puzzle, maybe they’re just so confusing and confused that no one wants to take the time to understand them. Maybe people are lazy and unmotivated. Maybe it’s just easier not to talk about them. SGIME was my way of talking about those things, and encouraging others to talk about them, too. I guess you could say I planted seeds and waited for them to take root. When that happened, I got all the inspiration and reward I needed.

Susie - Your blog was blocked by the Saudi government in October and is still blocked. Do you have any personal ideas about why it was blocked?

SGIME - Gosh, I have a lot of ideas, and have gotten some new ones from others who probably know more than I do about such things! Obviously I hit a nerve with someone who had enough wasta to get SGIME blocked. What nerve that was…not sure. I'd recently been reaching out to different people, both inside and outside of the Kingdom for insight into various topics I was covering, and my guess is that was seen as potentially threatening to someone since for awhile the email associated with the blog was also blocked. SGIME had also recently received some heavy press in the States which created a significant spike in readership, and that might have had something to do with it too. One theory I’ve heard a lot is that I was “too relentless” when it came to women’s issues. Not exactly sure what that means or if it is even possible!
The thing is, I always knew there was a fair probability that SGIME would be blocked at some point simply because of the topics I covered and the way I covered them – unvarnished and passionately. I have no regrets.

Susie - Did the blog blockage play a major role in your decision to stop blogging?

SGIME - Yes, but not in the way most folks would assume! SGIME readership actually went up after the blog was blocked, in large part, I think, because so many people wanted to show their support. A lot of new readers were showing up and those who had been silent, were sending emails and messages of encouragement, which was awful nice!

Getting blocked was an affirmation of sorts that SGIME was seen as an agent of change, which was a good thing, but also meant as the author of the blog, I was no longer “under the radar”, something I’d tried hard to maintain and was (and is) important to me.
But the truth is, getting blocked was one in a growing number of messages that it was time to put SGIME aside.
Jesus Christ is my foundation, and over the past several months, He’d been putting it on my heart that I was spending more time thinking about and learning Islam than about Him and what He had to say about matters. It was negatively impacting everything about me – including my faith, my joy and the sense of peace I depend on. Once I listened to – and accepted – that message, the decision to stop blogging was pretty easy!

Susie - You often wrote about many of the women's social issues in Saudi Arabia which are perceived as problematic by the West. Do you think that mere bloggers can make a difference or have an impact?

SGIME - I think that in Saudi Arabia, the Internet is just about the ONLY thing that can – and does – impact change! The current "rules" don't just separate people, they separate and isolate thoughts and ideas and information. In many ways, the Internet - especially social media like blogs, Facebook and Twitter – makes the "rules" impotent, it breaks through the walls of isolation and puts all those decisions about interaction and relationships and natural curiosity back on the individual. The sad thing is that a lot of Saudis don’t remember a time when those decisions were in their hands, and they don’t have any idea how to make them anymore. There’s a steep learning curve ahead for individuals and the Kingdom, and I’ve no doubt social media will be part of the solution.
But, to the first part of your question, Susie, human dignity shouldn’t be perceived as being the right of some and not others, nor should the denial of human rights be seen as problematic by just one group of people. When one person is denied human dignity, we must all see it as a problem worth tackling, otherwise it is always “someone else’s problem”.

Susie - How much did you find yourself self-editing your posts on controversial issues?

SGIME - I’m a freak when it comes to word choice and tone no matter what I’m writing, and of course that carried over to SGIME. Over the years, I wrote posts about every topic imaginable, no matter how controversial or inflammatory, sensational or biased, and then self-edited as to which posts got published. Several really great posts never saw the light of day!

Susie - Have you ever had any personal interaction with the religious police here in KSA? How do you view their role here?

SGIME - Sure, on several occasions! Hasn’t every woman in KSA- regardless of nationality or religion? I mean seriously, if you wear an abaya, they harass you to cover your head. If you cover your head, they harass you to cover your face. Cover your face and they harass you to cover your eyes! And if you cover everything, they harass you for being in public! To paraphrase Mick Jager, “they can’t get no satisfaction”! For that reason, as well as many, many others – including on religious grounds - I can probably count on two hands the number of times I’ve worn an abaya over the last seven years.
As far as role…I see the religious police as bullying stand-ins for personal responsibility and accountability, as intimidating dispensers of moral compass-by-proxy, if you will. They make the decisions so others don’t have to. Personally, I prefer to make my own, thank you!
I was reading thru the Wikileaks (source: http://wikileaks.de/cable/2009/05/09RIYADH651.html) the other day and came across the following, which I found fascinating, telling and absolutely spot-on when it comes to the issue of religious police:
“ In a meeting with Jeddah CG and XXXXXXXXXXXX, XXXXXXXXXXXX was blunt when asked about SAG efforts in countering extremist thinking. ‘King Abdallah was here,’ he said, pointing around his well-appointed office XXXXXXXXXXXX in Jeddah. ‘He told us that conservative elements in Saudi society do not understand true Islam, and that people needed to be educated’ on the subject. King Abdallah, he said, used a metaphor of a donkey to explain how the religious police use the wrong approach. ‘They take a stick and hit you with it, saying ‘Come donkey, it’s time to pray.’ How does that help people behave like good Muslims?’ XXXXXXXXXXXX quoted the king as saying.”
Yeah, spot-on.

Susie - Child brides, women driving, the guardianship system - why are topics like these so prevalent in your writings?

SGIME - Frankly because they raise my ire! They symbolize what I see as the irrefutable wrong-mindedness of Saudi society and how that society views women: Females are property, and thus can be bought, sold, traded and mistreated with total disregard for their feelings, wishes, dreams or futures. Females are incompetent, incapable, incomplete and irresponsible (although of course, at the same time they are seen as wholly responsible for male morality and behavior). Females cannot be trusted to make reasonable, independent decisions on anything other than accessories and maybe groceries. Females are unwelcome children who should be neither seen nor heard, but instead be isolated and locked away physically, emotionally, socially and intellectually, all the while thankful for and content with whatever crumbs or hand-me-downs they might get.
Saudi will continue to struggle unless and until these views change.

Susie - When you have driven in the West, did you ever feel like you were a “portent of evil” behind the wheel? (NOTE: This term was used in 1990 by the Saudi government and religious conservatives to describe women who drove automobiles within the Kingdom in a rebellious and organized act of civil disobedience. The united women’s action prompted the drafting of an actual law prohibiting women from driving. Prior to that, there was technically no written law on the books although women were still not permitted to drive.)

SGIME – LOL. The very idea that the absence of a penis makes someone a “portent of evil” (behind the wheel or anywhere else) is absurd and offensive and ignorant and insulting. If I didn’t know people alive today who think that way, I’d say it was laughable. But we all know better.

Susie - Are you hopeful that women in Saudi Arabia will make gains in obtaining their basic human rights?

SGIME - Hope springs eternal! lol Seriously tho, ask a lot of Saudi women and they’ll tell you they already have their basic human rights – which frankly, is what I see as the root cause of the many human rights violations that go on here. (And, contrary to what people say in public, there are a lot of them!)
When more Saudi women believe they deserve their God-given rights than believe they must settle for what men are willing to give them, the women of Saudi Arabia will demand change. That tipping point hasn’t been reached yet, and I’m not convinced it will ever be reached. Too many people have too much invested in maintaining the status quo.

Susie - What will you be doing with all your free time now that you are no longer blogging?

SGIME - I can’t believe how much free time I have! I always have a few writing projects in the hopper, and I’ve been working on a reasonable schedule to finish them up. I’m also putting together a documentary, and brushing up on some of the skills that requires. And, as I mentioned before, I’m going to be spending more time thinking about God and less time thinking about Islam. I’m looking forward to whatever next thing God has planned for me here, and just soaking in all the goodness and light that comes from focusing on the right things.

"We should not permit tolerance to degenerate into indifference." - Margaret Chase Smith

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Life of a Camel Herder


Just a few minutes by car from the busy seaport city of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, are many outposts where the native one-hump dromedary camels live, herded in by rickety barbed wire corrals. Fresh and frothy warm camel’s milk is available for sale (about $5 US per gallon), and for very special occasions, one can also buy whole camels for their lean meat as well (about $1000 US).



However some camels can fetch a much higher price for their great beauty – earlier this year at the famous King Abdul Aziz Festival, the camel beauty contest offered prizes totaling 70 million Saudi Riyals (that’s 14 million Euros).


But this story is about Hussan. He is from Sudan and he is a camel herder. He is a content man with simple needs, not many worries, and very limited means. His cheeks are freshly shaven and his graying mustache and beard are neatly trimmed. He has beautiful white teeth and a ready smile. I have to admit that not all the camel herders I have seen here are as clean and well kempt as Hussan.


Hussan and several other men from Sudan take care of a herd of probably more than a hundred camels altogether. They feed and water the camels every day and milk them on the spot when a customer comes by and requests fresh camel milk, which is arguably a healthier alternative to cow's milk. It is very nutritious, and compared to cow's milk, is higher is Vitamin C and is more easily digested, which makes it better for those who are lactose intolerant. Another interesting fact about camel's milk is that is doesn't curdle! It also has wonderful health benefits, such as controlling diabetes due to its high concentration of insulin and being great for one's skin because its content is so high in fatty acids like lanolin. Camel milk is an important dietary staple for many people in the world.


The camel herders live out in the scorching desert heat with the camels that they tend, in very primitive and simple living arrangements.


Not far from the stately luxurious palaces and the spacious tiled villas of Jeddah is where Hussan and the others live on the outskirts of the city. It is just a few feet from where the camels sleep in their barbed wire corrals. The camel herders’ shelter is built from odd and ends of discarded wood, plastic and canvas tarps, and several large old prayer rugs. If you look closely, you can just barely see part of an old Saudi style bed frame where he sleeps. I saw at least one more bed inside, and there might even be a third. The beds are elevated from the desert sand floor and are covered with old bedding.


The harsh climate of Hussan's humble desert abode must be brutal for him to tolerate especially in summer’s hottest months, yet his warm smile and polite demeanor always greet his customers unfailingly. I saw large water jugs about, but I'm not sure how or where he and the others bathe. I also noticed a large white tent nearby that might possibly be used for their toiletry needs, and there were buildings off in the distance, including a mosque, not too far of a walk away.


Several of these makeshift shaded bunks where the camel herders nap were here and there, crudely built of old pieces of wood and draped with various fabrics and bedding. You can click on the photos to enlarge them, and in this one you can see one of the guys actually napping inside the shaded bunk.


I also saw in the surrounding desert area several pieces of dusty old discarded furniture that the camel herders could use for resting. It's common to see old furniture outside apartment buildings and businesses in the city, where the building caretakers can sit.


The life of a camel herder must be very tough and physically grueling, but from all outward appearances, they all seem very happy to me. There is something to be said for their non-materialistic simple lifestyle without the pressures and trappings of a modern-day existence.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Man After My Own Heart

The religious stranglehold in Saudi Arabia has a very tight grip on the country. It intimidates its citizens from behaving with immoral turpitude, discourages anyone from expressing individuality or from being different, and despises Western values and lifestyles. But from what I can see, these attempts to control people in so many aspects of their lives seem to have the opposite effect on the actual targets. The vast majority of people here in KSA don't really need religious police to keep them in line or make them behave morally because they already are. What the religious police here don't seem to grasp is that a certain percentage of the population is automatically not going to have high morals, is prone to criminal activity, and enjoys being different from everyone else. And they also don't seem to understand that applying all this unnecessary pressure on those who don't really need it is only going to make them resent it, push back, and rebel. Forbidden fruit just tends to make people want it even more. It's simply human nature.

Credit: AFP File Sheikh Ahmed Al-GhamdiThat's why I was so excited to read the latest quotes from the controversial head of Mecca's religious police, Sheikh Ahmed al-Ghamdi, who spoke in Jeddah this past week to a group of women attending a conference on "Women's Participation in National Development." The issue of women and their employment in various capacities in the kingdom was the hottest topic discussed because of all the unreasonable restrictions imposed on working women by the religious faction.

Not only does this moderate and sensible religious figurehead object to the ban on women driving here, he also believes that there is nothing wrong with “ikhtilat,” which is the gender mixing of men and women, in public and social situations. Gender segregation strongly contributes to the belief by religious fanatics that women should not be employed in countless positions here. In defense of his opinion, Sheikh Al-Ghamdi states that Islam "orders a woman to cover her body to allow her to participate in social life, not to prevent her from doing so." Braaah-Vo!

Many of the hard line religious rulings seem to be aimed at keeping the women of the kingdom at home, barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, and totally under the control of her legally requisite male guardian, which virtually makes her dependent on a man for her entire life. Saudi women who are lucky enough to have a decent male guardian don't really have a problem with this guardianship system; however there are many women who are abused and taken advantage of by this system in many ways and have no legal recourse.

Sheikh Al BarrakStrict gender segregation is a Saudi Islamic policy that has been challenged by Al-Ghamdi before. Earlier this year when Al-Ghamdi declared that there is nothing in Islam that prohibits men and women from mixing at work or in school, the religious backlash caused such an uproar that it was reported that he had been relieved of his duties as chief of Mecca operations of the religious police. But within days, the outspoken Al-Ghamdi was back in and it was business as usual.

In the meantime, an overzealous religious cleric, Sheikh Abdulrahman al-Barrak, called for a death "fatwa" (religious ruling) to anyone who promotes men and women in KSA working or attending school together. This was a huge blunder on Al-Barrak's part since his statement intimated that King Abdullah's revolutionary vision of KAUST, a new advanced studies university outside of Jeddah where men and women work and attend classes together, was worthy of the death penalty. So while the forward thinking Sheikh Al-Ghamdi was reinstated, the bumbling Sheikh Al-Barrak's website was blocked and he was in hot water.

Criticism for Al-Barrak's death fatwa came from many sources, including from a wildly popular Middle Eastern poetry contest television program (comparable to American Idol, but with poetry instead of singing). The viewing public witnessed a female Saudi contestant, Hissa Halal, rebuff the craziness of some of the country's fatwas, using the word "evil" to describe them. She was quoted as saying, “I’m against ikhtilat that leads to social flaws and immorality, but ikhtilat in workplaces and conferences and symposiums and that doesn’t impinge on the dignity of men or women or on morals is harmless and should not be forbidden.”

Image of Rosie the Riveter, Photoshopped by Susie of ArabiaPrincess Adela bint Abdullah, one of King Abdullah's daughters, has also spoken out about the need for allowing more women to hold normal jobs in the country's work force. She said recently that "Women's participation (in the workforce) is behind expectation. A society cannot walk with a limping leg."

Saudi society depends heavily on imported foreign workers to drive around the half of the population here that is deprived of the right to drive. This alone represents a huge “limping leg” for the society and the economy here. Saudis also rely on imported foreign workers to perform much of the sales-related, office, and menial labor jobs that most Saudi men consider beneath them and that Saudi women are denied. This society has crippled itself by being so totally dependent on foreign labor that it will not be able to function on its own without it. And denying women the right to work isn’t helping matters either. Any way you look at it, economically speaking, KSA is headed for disaster if the employment situation doesn’t change and that means allowing its women to take their rightful places as productive members of this society. And there is nothing about this that is against Islam and its values.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Children's Day Care in Jeddah

Children's day care is not that easy to find here in Saudi Arabia. Many families employ foreign domestic help as maids or nannies, and not that many women work here - so there is not the demand for day care here like there is in the states where both parents often work. There are usually child care facilities available in Western compounds where working expats live or at schools where a large percentage of employed women work.



Mommy Deb's Day Care is a new business that opened in Jeddah recently. It is centrally located in Salamah District, close to Madina Road and near the Casablanca Hotel. The normal daycare hours are from 7am until 3pm every day except Friday, with additional care and services available into the evenings. The facility provides care for children of all ages, including infants.

Other services provided are tutoring and English conversation classes for school age kids and adult women with flexible hours daily after school and into the evening. Children can enjoy activities such as reading, painting, singing, dress-up, building blocks, or other imaginitive play.

Mommy Deb has lived in Jeddah on and off for the past 30 years, but steadily for the last 14 years. She has raised six children of her own and has babysat since she was a teenager.

Mommy Deb also has lots of teaching experience too, having taught Kindgarten through 12th grades throughout the years. Aside from her natural motherly instincts, she has also taken a training course to become a certified daycare provider in the states.

For rates or more information, please contact Mommy Deb at 059-167-7161 or email her at: MommyDeb'sDayCareIS@gmail.com

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hajj 2010 - The Big Picture by Boston.com

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Hassan Ammar
Don't miss these amazing and interesting photos of Hajj 2010, which is happening right now in Saudi Arabia. The sheer masses of religious pilgrims is overwhelming.
CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS OF HAJJ 2010 - The Big Picture - Boston.com

All Aboard!

Photo Credit: Arab News

This year many of the religious pilgrims performing Hajj are using the brand new Makkah Metro rail system. Although in this its inaugural year, only 170,000 pilgrims will be transported via the system, in the future it is expected to be able to transport 2 million pilgrims during Hajj, covering a distance totaling 18 km and traveling at speeds from 80 to 120 km per hour. This rail, also known as the Mashair Railway, will greatly alleviate traffic congestion and parking problems, in addition to minimizing pollution and reducing accidents. It is being hailed as a major improvement in the efficiency of the Hajj experience in convenience, safety, comfort, and time.





The rail links Makkah with three different Islamic holy sites in the area that play a major role in performing the rites of Hajj. The total cost is estimated to be 6.5 billion Saudi riyals ($1.73 billion in US dollars) and should be able to accommodate 72,000 pilgrims each hour as they complete the various required steps in the Hajj process. About 20 per cent of the passengers at full capacity will be able to sit while being transported, while the rest will stand. The railway system is expected to be completed and fully operational by the next Hajj season in 2011.



Photo Credit: Arab NewsThere have been some issues and controversies that have come up in the process of building this new railway system. A British firm is claiming that the plans for the Makkah Metro were designed by them and were subsequently stolen and used for the project by a Chinese firm that was awarded the construction contract. Several non-Muslim Chinese engineers were deported after being caught in the holy city of Makkah, renowned for being a place that only Muslims are allowed to enter. Criticism also comes from some Muslims who feel that the railway system takes away much of the personal effort that pilgrims used to be required to make to perform Hajj, that limiting its use this first year to only Arab Muslims (Saudis and other GCC countries only) is unfair and discriminatory, and also that the cost of the fare – 250 SR ($66 US) for the entire four days of Hajj – is a rip-off considering the short distances traveled on the rail.



Photo Credit: Arab NewsA much bigger railway project, called the Haramain High Speed Rail (also referred to as the Western Railway), is also underway in Saudi Arabia and in the future it is expected to revolutionize travel between the two holiest cities of Islam – Makkah and Medina. The bustling seaport of Jeddah has always been the main point at which most pilgrims enter the country due to its close location to both Makkah and Medina. The Western Railway will also connect to Jeddah’s airport, tremendously easing the transportation of millions of religious pilgrims every year between the holy cities. The total distance to be covered by the project will be 444 km (276 miles) and will offer high speed electric trains traveling at 320 km an hour. It is projected to accommodate 3 million travelers each year, eliminating the need for the use of tens of thousands of busses and other vehicles that currently carry the pilgrims to and fro.



Photo Credit: Mustafa Ozer/AFP/Getty ImagesThe new railway system, along with the construction this past year of the magnificent gigantic Makkah Clock Tower and the development of many new high-rise luxury hotels and apartments which have sprung up surrounding the famous Kaaba Stone, ushers in a new era of comfort, lavishness, and effortlessness for Muslims fulfilling their religious obligation of performing Hajj at least once in their lifetime. Never before have Muslims had such a wide spectrum of modern options and conveniences available to them which might make their Hajj encounter more comparable to the atmosphere of a trip to Disneyland rather than the somber and physically grueling religious rituals of centuries past.


Here are some related articles to the Makkah Metro and Hajj:
1. Mecca Makeover: How the Hajj Has Become Big Business for Saudi Arabia
2. Mashair Railway Set For Historic Opening
3. Test Ride on Makkah Metro on Aug. 1
4. Pilgrim transportation geared like well-oiled machine: Prince Khaled
5. Returning Hajis find Makkah a city transformed
6. Makkah Metro Carries 66,000 Pilgrims on First Day

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Her Eyes Are Too Sexy!

Photo Credit: The Daily Telegraph
Saudi Woman wrote a post about a disturbing incident that happened a few days ago in Ha'il, a very conservative agricultural province in Saudi Arabia:
"The Commision for Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue, (PVPV), has done it again. On Thursday in Ha’il, a region North West of Riyadh, a PVPV member was scouting this very conservative area for vice to prevent. He saw a woman shopping with a man and felt that her eyes (the only part of her that was showing) were too seductive and starting shouting orders at her to cover her eyes. According to her husband, he says that he heard this muttawa behind him shouting and paid him no mind until he realized that the PVPV member was addressing his wife. He turned around and told him to mind his own business. Then insults were exchanged until the PVPV member pulled out a knife and slashed the husband’s arm and stabbed him in the back, puncturing his lungs. So far, so terrible but we could at least say that this PVPV member would be rejected and held at arms length by the commission. First day the report came out, the spokesperson, sheikh Mutlaq Al Nabit claimed that they still don’t have the details of what happened except that there was an attack on the PVPV and that was followed by an altercation and the PVPV member has not admitted that he had stabbed the citizen. The next day another report came out from the same spokesperson, Shiekh Al Nabit claiming that PVPV members have every right to order women to cover their eyes if they are seductive, seditious and could push a man to sin. He also denied that the commission gave permission to the PVPV member to get into a fight and carry a weapon and claimed that all PVPV members are responsible and deserving of trust."


The more I stew about this incident, the madder I get. Women here in KSA must wear black tents when they appear in public, and their hair and necks are also covered. The only visible parts of a female allowed in public here are the face and the hands. A high percentage of Saudi women also wear a veil over their faces, and some even add black gloves. But even at that, some men here don't seem to be able to control themselves, and it is always the women's fault for that. There has even been discussion about women covering one eye and only having one eye visible because seeing two eyes peeking out from behind a black veil is too much for some men to bear - and apparently this PVPV guy is one of them. Believe me, it's hard enough navigating my way around wearing a big full length tent - you have no idea how many times I have stepped on the hem and tripped going up stairs while carrying groceries! If I had to cover one eye too, forget it!

Another thing is that in public, both men and women are supposed to lower their gazes and not look directly at a member of the opposite sex - so why was this guy looking at her in the first place? He still finds a married woman's eyes too sexy when she is minding her own business, wearing a veil and a tent, AND accompanied by her husband? This guy is really sick - and out of control!
Credit: Polyp Cartoon
But I tried discussing this with my husband and got even further distressed. He was of the opinion that the husband in this case should have told his wife to cover her eyes and cooperate with the outlandish order of the religious police guy. My hubby told me that if we were ever in that situation, he would tell me to cover and we would then immediately remove ourselves from the situation. He feels that he is old and feeble now since his heart surgery and doesn't want to get into any fights, no matter how unfair the situation is. Ok, I understand that, especially if you don't know that the erratic psycho has a hidden knife and is chomping at the bit to stab someone who is unarmed and innocent. But my feeling is that this would be letting this unreasonable, irrational, sex-obsessed bully win - and this would only give him the green light to continue intimidating law abiding people this way.

When in the world are Saudi men ever going to be held responsible for their actions and control themselves around women, instead of blaming and punishing women for every little nasty thought they have? And when is the PVPV going to stop making excuses for their out-of-control employees who are no more than sex-crazed thugs who like to exert and abuse whatever authority they are given? I am totally disgusted.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Is There Halloween in Saudi Arabia?


For the vast majority of the country, the answer to that question would have to be NO! Halloween would be seen as having evil roots, the work of the devil, plus the fact that frivilous and fun activities seem to be forbidden or at least frowned upon here. Western holidays are not celebrated, and there are only two holidays recognized here at all - and both of them, not surprisingly, are religious. I haven't actually heard or read that Halloween is technically banned here though, not like Valentine's Day is - which I have written about before.

I'm sure there are Halloween parties and possibly even trick-or-treating within the confines of the residential compounds for foreign workers here. And until this year, I didn't think it was a holiday that was celebrated among Saudis. But it seems that through the wonders of the internet, some Saudis have learned about Halloween and want to dress up in costumes, celebrate, and have their own parties.

I was recently invited to tag along with H (one of my SIL's) to a party at her relative's house, but I had no idea it was going to be a costume party until H and her 6-year-old son got into our car and I saw that the boy was dressed up in a Sponge Bob costume. When we arrived at the party, the villa's gates were decorated with spider webs, witches, pumpkins, and big spiders, and inside there were balloons, bats, and ghosts and other elaborate orange and black Halloween decorations.

The party guests were mostly fun-loving teenage girls and a few were younger, about 30 in all. There were also maybe three little boys, under age 10. They were dressed up in costumes from princesses to punk rockers to puppies. One of my favorites was a girl of about 10 dressed up like a Saudi man in the white thobe and red and white checkered scarf - she had a black beard and moustache painted onto her face plus her eyebrows were heavily painted into a big unibrow. I thought she was adorable.

But the absolute best costume was worn by my hilarious SIL H. After we arrived, she went into the bathroom to change. She put on a loose pink housedress with big brown polka dots all over it and wrapped her head up in a white scarf. Then she put on these thick Coke bottle glasses with round black plastic frames, gnarly rotten fake teeth protruded from her mouth, and she had tucked large bulbous sprigs of some type of fragrant green herb into the arms of the eyeglasses which stuck out on each side of her head - apparently this is something traditional that old Yemenese women do to smell good, but it looks rather odd. As the finishing touch, she added a huge balloon under the skirt of her dress in the back - it was one of the funniest costumes I have ever seen.

There was a female DJ who played dance music ranging from Western hip hop to current Middle Eastern hits and the girls had a blast dancing in the large living room turned into a dance floor where the furniture had been mostly removed. The adult women spent most of the time upstairs chatting and laughing and smoking sheesha. I was asked about Halloween traditions so I told them everything I could think of. Next year I'm going to make them a Haunted House and have them bobbing for apples!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Pink Ribbon Earns KSA Place in History

Photo Credit Rania Rezek

Women in Saudi Arabia made history last night, shattering the existing Guinness Book of World Records in the formation of the largest human pink ribbon chain emphasizing global awareness in the battle against breast cancer.

I don't know if the rest of the world actually realizes or appreciates what a seemingly impossible feat this really was to achieve in such a deeply cultured, strictly religious, and male-dominated society like Saudi Arabia where women are hidden behind black drapes when out in public. KSA has a reputation for being known as a place where women should not be seen or heard from, where women must have a legal male guardian all their lives, and where the rights of women are seen by the rest of the world as being limited, antiquated, and oppressed.


Logistically speaking, the odds were against us. Since females are prohibited from driving here in the "Magic Kingdom," what that means is that every single woman who participated in the event - except those who may have been close enough to walk to the site - was driven to the venue by a man.


Organizing and pulling off a stunt like this was a daunting task in a country where mass gatherings are discouraged and where men and women mingling together in public places is strictly forbidden. There were no men allowed inside the Ministry of Education Sports Stadium, which had never before been used to host an event for women. In fact I was told by an event organizer that the management of the stadium had initially refused to open the stadium for women. A call from higher powers quickly corrected that issue and the management was on board. Other male protesters in law enforcement and city government who voiced their objections were also quashed, and their objections turned into offers of assistance and support.


I also learned that the religious authorities were in a tizzy (no surprise here) over the fact that women would be gathering together like this en masse. However, at every turn the objectors were overruled. The event's organizers had gone through all the proper channels, followed protocol, received approvals and official documents from every required governmental agency, and had the full support of the government to proceed with this monumental occasion. In fact, if it weren't for the major clout backing this event, women in Saudi Arabia would likely have never been able to pull it off. The clout I'm speaking of responsible for the conception and implementation of this ground-breaking event was Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan and the Zahra Breast Cancer Association of which she is a founding member.


I had the honor and privilege of meeting Princess Reema at the event last night and was taken aback when she thanked me for the post I had written announcing this event and told me she reads my blog! I awkwardly apologized for sometimes complaining about things here in KSA and lamely joked with her that there wasn't much else for me to do here. She was very gracious, charming and regal, while at the same time being so very normal and approachable - exactly the way I imagine a princess should be.

We arrived at the stadium shortly after 5pm, when the gates were opened. There was already quite a large crowd of women, with more and more arriving with every passing minute. Once inside the gate, there was a table where we had to obtain ticket stubs in order to then go to another table to get our pink hooded ponchos which were provided free of charge to all attendees. Because of the enormous crowd of women, this process took at least half an hour. There were also a variety of booths for sponsors, including Zahra Breast Cancer Association, Al Bidayah Breastfeeding Resource and Women's Awareness Center, and Avon. Free bottled water was also available.


For weeks beforehand, the old stadium was readied for the event. The bathrooms were renovated and the hole-in-the-ground toilets were replaced with regular seated toilets. I'm guessing that there are only men's toilets at the facility since women had historically never been allowed to attend any events held there before this because of this society's strict gender segregation policies. The grassy field was watered and tended to and was perfectly manicured. I can't recall ever seeing that much grass in one place here in Saudi Arabia since I've been here! The VIP section in the center was furnished with nice padded chairs for special guests (including me!), and there were beautiful large throne-like chairs where the princesses in attendance were seated.

The daytime temperature had reached an irritable and stifling 100F (37C) and the humidity was a muggy 70%. Needless to say, that stadium was packed with a lot of uncomfortable sweaty women who were anxious and excited to come together for a common cause despite the weather conditions. Every single woman had to be counted by the Guinness representative before she was allowed to do the Avon Walk for the Cure on the track around the grassy field, which had been carefully marked into the pattern shaped into the large breast cancer awareness ribbon. I was part of the first group of 100 to be counted and to begin the journey around the track. As we passed the grandstands where thousands of women were seated, waiting for their turns to be counted, the women began cheering and waving and singing the Saudi national anthem. Excitement was in the air - it was phenomenal and very uplifting.


Estimates were that there were about 6000 women total in attendance, however some were unable to stay the entire time due to transportation issues. The crowd was made up of not just Saudi women, but included expats from many countries around the world including the USA, England, Europe, and many Asian and African countries. I met young women from at least two local international schools who were tranported there by the busfuls. I also met women who had flown in from Riyadh just for this event and others who had driven from Mecca and Taif. Even in the sweltering heat and in the midst of only females, some of the women who came still felt compelled to wear their face veils because of all the cameras around.

There were also hundreds of volunteers who assisted in so many ways to make the event a success. It took well over an hour for the ribbon formation to take shape and be filled in. Those of us who were first on the field began to sit on the grass. We were already all hot, sticky, and sweaty anyway, so it wasn't like we were concerned about getting a little grass, insects, or dirt on us at that point! And actually sitting on the grass made me cool down a little bit. Slowly the sea of women dressed in pink ponchos united for a cause became the symbol for Breast Cancer Awareness. The exact official count has not yet been released by Guinness, however it is clear that Saudi Arabia exceeded the German record of 3640 participants set in 2007.


The heat, the humidity, the crowds, the pushing, the waiting, the standing, the discomfort, the sweating - was it all worth it? YES!!!

This was an historic achievement in so many ways for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I think it shows that Saudi Arabia wants to be an active and integral part of the modern global community. I also feel that it indicates that Saudi Arabia doesn't want to be perceived as that strange and oppressive country that many people around the world fear or criticize because it has always been such a mystery. I think this event also shows that the royal family and many people of Saudi Arabia want the country to progress and are not afraid of change if it's for the good of the country. I hope I'm right!

At any rate, I am proud to say that I was there; I was part of it.



Arab News article "Saudi Pink Ribbon Breaks Guinness Record."

Saudi Gazette article "Kingdom Breaks World Record."

Click here for the Guinness Website article and awesome photos about another breast cancer awareness record that was broken on October 1st.