Sunday, April 29, 2012

Let's Be Reasonable!


One of the most ridiculous and unfair “rules” of most retail businesses here in Saudi Arabia is their “return policies.” Some businesses have absolutely NO return policy whatsoever! You buy a product - and if it doesn’t work, or if it doesn’t fit, or if you just changed your mind – well, TOO BAD! There are some businesses that have a return/exchange policy. However, most of the companies that DO have a return policy have a measly three day time frame in which to return or exchange the product.
Now let me put this in the proper perspective for you so you don’t think that I’m on one of my unreasonable rants again. First of all, women in Saudi Arabia are NOT allowed to drive. Let me stress to you how difficult it is for many women in Saudi Arabia to get around due to the transportation issue. This means that she has to get her husband or father to take her shopping in the first place. Or if she’s lucky enough to have a driver, the driver must take her, or she can pay to take a taxi to and from shopping. So she gets the product home and for whatever reason she needs to return it - she has only THREE days maximum to get back to the store (if that is their policy) to return the item, again involving her husband or father or the driver or a taxi. On top of that, the traffic is horrendous, plus store hours aren’t anything like what you might be used to in other parts of the world. Businesses have odd and limited operating hours because they are required to close for the five daily prayer times.

But that’s not all!

There are virtually no female dressing rooms in which to try on women’s clothing inside shops that cater to women. The religious police have banned female changing rooms for a variety of ridiculous reasons, including that it’s sinful for women to be in a state of undress outside the home, or that lecherous, perverted male sale clerks might sexually assault women in the dressing rooms, etc.

At some malls, women purchase the item, and then go into the ladies restroom to try on the clothing. If it doesn’t fit and she wants to try a different size, she must go back to the store, go through an exchange process for a different size and repeat the scenario in the mall’s restrooms, trying on the clothing again. But of course, when you go back to the shop, it may be closed for prayer times, in which case you would have to wait around to make the exchange. But some women are not able to try on the clothing in the restroom before they leave the mall, so these women have to wait until they return home to try on the clothing. If the item doesn’t fit, she must make another trip back to the store to exchange or return it, bothering hubby again or taking another taxi ride and timing the trip so the shop will not be closed for prayers.

I guess I’ve just been spoiled all my life by clothing stores in America that have changing rooms where I can take items that strike my fancy and try them on without any hassle. I’ve also been spoiled by being able to drive myself to and from the malls when the urge strikes me and not have to bother my husband - who hates to shop and hates to drive - to take me. I’ve also been accustomed to stores in the US which are generally open from 9am til 9pm or longer. And I’ve also been spoiled by the liberal return policies of most businesses in America that normally allow at least a 30 to 60 day grace period in which to return an item that I was able to try on there at the store before I bought it, but then later decided I wasn’t really that crazy about in the first place.

Businesses in Saudi Arabia are ripping off their customers, especially their female customers, by their lack of a reasonable return or exchange policy. I, for one, dislike shopping for clothing in Saudi Arabia specifically because of these reasons.
As a side note, however, I must express my delight and approval of the new Saudi law requiring lingerie shops to employ female salesclerks, so no longer are Saudi women forced to purchase their undergarments and sexy lingerie from male salesclerks. That is definitely a step in the right direction!

Now if we could just get these stores to change their unfair business practices of unreasonable return policies…

Sunday, April 22, 2012

"Susie Says" Jeddah Blog Interview


I am so pleased to share with you THIS LINK which is an interview I did with JEDDAH BLOG. In this interview you can learn more about my life in KSA and my feelings about living here, see photos of me and my family, and see a few of my watercolor paintings (one of my passions). I'd like to thank JEDDAH BLOG for this introduction to their readers and the opportunity to express myself through their thoughtful questions.

JEDDAH BLOG focuses on events, organizations, people, businesses, and services in and around Jeddah. They are a wealth of information if you want to know more about what's going on in Jeddah. Please check out JEDDAH BLOG!

CLICK HERE TO GO DIRECTLY TO MY INTERVIEW ON JEDDAH BLOG.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Finding Nemo: Snorkeling in the Red Sea

After living in Saudi Arabia for 4 years, I finally got an opportunity to go out on a boat to the beautiful coral reefs of the Red Sea and go snorkeling. The Red Sea is considered one of the best places in the world to snorkel, and it did not disappoint. I’ve been fortunate to have snorkeled in many places around the globe when I was younger and in the travel business – the Great Barrier Reef, Hawaii, the Caribbean, Mexico, Fiji, Tahiti, to name a few – but I hadn’t been snorkeling in many years. And now at age 60, I wondered if I had the stamina for it.

Our group consisted of at least 20 mostly expats from various countries, like South Africa, Scotland, Lebanon, Iceland, Yemen, and others. Part of the group opted to go scuba diving while the rest of us snorkeled. The entire day trip, operated by a very professional outfit called Desert Sea Divers and which included a hot lunch of biriyani, cold drinks, snacks, and the rental of my snorkeling equipment cost a total of 225 Saudi Riyals, or about $56 US. We set out early in the morning on one of Desert Sea Divers lovely and well maintained boats. Everyone on the boat had to don the requisite orange life vests as we passed through the inlet to the Coast Guard checkpoint that led to the deep blue Red Sea. The women were also able to then remove our abayas and scarves and feel the delightful wind through our hair. Since this group consisted of expats, the gender segregation thing and the abaya thing once we were out in the open waters of the Red Sea were not a concern.

The weather in Jeddah in mid-April was warm and hit a high that day of about 35C. The anticipation was building during the 90 minute boat ride out to the reefs where we would be exploring the wonders of the Red Sea. Along the way, the captain slowed down in one spot where there were dozens of playful dolphins swimming alongside our boat. The astounding creatures put on quite a magnificent show for us, happily leaping out of the water through the air. We all felt sheer delight at seeing these handsome creatures. I was told that we were lucky and that this was a good omen for our trip since dolphins sightings like that don’t always happen that often.

We arrived at the first of three reefs we visited that day, and everyone busied themselves in preparation for entering the glimmering turquoise waters. I was really anxious to get into the water by that point. I jumped in and the seawater felt great. The temperature was just right. But boy, I have to say that the Red Sea is extremely salty!

The snorkeling was absolutely amazing. The colors in the coral reefs ranged from purples to blues and greens and reds and oranges and yellows. There were large areas where the reefs were extremely close to the surface. We were careful not to touch them. The fish were equally as colorful in stripes, dots, two tones, shiny metallics, and half and half. The clownfish we saw, like the ones made famous in the animated movie Finding Nemo, were bright orange, with white and black accents, but like many fish we saw, they appeared to have a mesmerizing neon glow to them. Many of the smaller fish traveled in regimented schools. We also were bedazzled by the sheer numbers of the glittering transparent purple neon jellyfish.

We spent about an hour at the first site before moving on to the second spot, not too far away. I carefully reapplied sunscreen before going into the water again, but unfortunately I forgot about my lower legs which were exposed and I suffered a bad sunburn on them. A few of us daredevils jumped into the water from the top deck. I should have held my nose – I swallowed a big mouthful of the salty seawater and it went up my nose too. The snorkeling here was just as spectacular as the first place. We broke for lunch and enjoyed chatting with each other. It was really a fantastic and diverse group of adventurous people, most of them in the kingdom for work and determined to make the most of their time in Saudi Arabia.

The third reef we explored was called Marble Gardens and was the largest and most outstanding reef of all. One sea creature that we hovered over in wonder looked like a foot long sea cucumber with a snakeskin pattern on its body and a spectacularly crowned head. It was also cool to see the scuba divers below us getting a closer look at the reefs further below us.

With the day nearing its end, we headed back in late afternoon. As we got closer to our port, we were entertained by some Saudi hotdogs on jet skis, who dangerously crisscrossed our boat at high rates of speed and shot into the air like rockets. At least one guy flipped over and he wound up in the water with his jet ski on its side. I wonder how frequently that happens and how many of these guys are injured (or worse) each year.

It was a full day jam-packed with fun, excitement, great people, and incredible sights. I was totally exhausted and slept like a baby last night. The pain I am feeling today on my sunburned legs was well worth the wonderful time I had. I’m already signed up for next month’s outing!

Further Information:

Desert Sea Divers in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

To learn more about why coral reefs are so darn colorful, this National Geographic article is a fascinating and informative read.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

THIS Saudi Princess ROCKS!

Living in Saudi Arabia is not exactly a fairy tale. And for one brave Saudi princess, speaking out for equality, openly discussing the problems of this country, and advocating reforms have turned her into somewhat of a thorn in the side of the Saudi powers that be.

Princess Basma bint Saud bin Abdul Aziz is 47 years old (born in 1965), the youngest child of more than 100 siblings born of Saudi Arabia’s second king, King Saud, who ruled the country during the ten years prior to her birth. Her father was not considered a competent king. His extravagant spending nearly bankrupted the country during its early years. He appointed his inexperienced sons to high government positions and was eventually forced out of office by his half-brother Faisal, who succeeded him.

The princess was only four years old when her father passed away. Her Syrian-born mother raised her in Beirut, Lebanon, until she was ten years old. When war erupted in Lebanon, the family fled to England, where she attended a private girls’ school. Princess Basma also went to college in England before completing two years of higher education in Switzerland. The princess was married to a Saudi man. They are divorced. She is the mother of five children, three of whom currently reside with her in Acton, England.

While she maintains her love, respect and support of the Saudi ruling family of which she is a member, the princess is critical of many conditions and problems Saudi Arabia faces. Her uncle is King Abdullah, the reigning monarch of Saudi Arabia.

In her most recent interview on Outlook, the BBC News Magazine, she listed five of the things she would change about her country, including the constitution, divorce laws, the educational system, social services reform, and male guardianship over women.

To read her opinions on these matters with a link to listen to her actual interview, click here.

In the past, Princess Basma has been critical of Shariah Law and the country’s famed religious police force, describing them as being dangerous for Saudi society.

She has also voiced her dismay with the ineptitude of the government ministers and the absence of responsibility among Saudi Arabia’s wealthiest citizens and the excessive disparity of the distribution of wealth.

Princess Basma also came out against Saudi Arabia’s intervention in last year’s Arab Spring in Bahrain, while supporting KSA’s actions in Yemen.

In a society where women are raised as second class citizens, to believe that women are inferior to men, and basically not to be seen or heard, Princess Basma has chosen to speak out about these vital issues at great risk to her personal safety. I can only admire and applaud her for her bravery. Princess Basma ROCKS!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Screening of HOME: The Aramco Brats Story

The Jeddah Cultural Exchange Center (JCEC) was the site of a recent screening of the 90 minute film documentary “HOME: The Aramco Brats Story.” The movie is comprised of a series of interviews which were filmed over a period of several years. Aramco is the Arabian American Oil Company. Aramco Brats are the children of expat workers who helped develop Saudi Arabia’s oil industry. The company's personnel and their families who lived and grew up in Saudi Arabia hold a big reunion every two years, and the interviews for the documentary were conducted at these reunions during the past decade. The project was the brainchild of three Aramco Brats who were all born and raised in Saudi Arabia. After the events of 9/11 they felt it was their obligation to tell their stories about this place they call "Home," the country of Saudi Arabia and its people that they love and respect.

What struck me about the movie was what a perfectly ordinary existence these families of Aramco had living in Saudi Arabia, while at the same time they were afforded extraordinary opportunities and privileges they would not have had if they had not accepted the challenge to move to Saudi Arabia. In many ways, they got to live the best of both worlds. Those interviewed included men and women who spent their childhoods in Saudi Arabia. Some of them were sent to boarding schools in Europe during their high school years. They fondly remembered their carefree lives with the wondrous desert as their never-ending playground and the Persian Gulf as their swimming pool. Some had moved to KSA as early as the 1930s, which must have been quite an exciting adventure. They all feel that their experiences in Saudi Arabia have given them a much broader world view and an understanding of the culture, the religion, and the Saudi people that most folks don’t have. With opportunities to travel to other countries and learn about many cultures, one woman who was interviewed said she feels that she is a citizen of the world and not just one particular place.

One of my favorite stories revealed in this documentary was the hilarious tale of two young boys many decades ago who heard the King was in town. While their mothers played bridge, they found their way over to the compound where the King was staying but were turned away by guards at the gate. Not to be discouraged, they returned a short while later, dressed in full cowboy attire complete with red cowboy hats and toy guns in holsters. At the gate, they whipped out their guns and demanded an audience with the King. This time they were allowed in. The King was charmed by their presence and spent a good half an hour enjoying the company of the young boys. Before the boys left, the King gave them each a leather pouch with ten solid gold coins inside, which even back then was worth a small fortune. The boys immediately headed over to the local candy shop and emptied their coins onto the counter. The surprised shopkeeper gave them the entire contents of the store which they hauled back to the Aramco compound and shared with their friends.

The movie was shown outdoors under the stars on the rooftop of the JCEC building. The weather was absolutely lovely with a slight breeze that at times caused the screen to ripple. The sixty attendees were quite a diverse group of expats who all seemed to enjoy the chance to meet other expats and to view a movie screening in this land where there are no movie theaters. Men and women were seated on opposite sides of the aisle from each other in accordance with the gender segregation policy followed in Saudi Arabia.

I am very happy to be a part of the "Jeddah Brats," sponsors of this event, including the JCEC, Arabian Jewel, and Nomad Arabia. Plans are in the works for future joint events like this one, so stay tuned.

(Photos courtesy of JCEC)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

HOME: The Aramco Brats Story




Home: The Aramco Brats Story is a 90 minute documentary film made by three young American men who were born and raised in Saudi Arabia. Their goal in making the film was to set the record straight about the country they grew up in and lovingly still call home, even though they no longer reside in Saudi Arabia. They were inspired after 9/11 happened to let the world know the real truth about the country of Saudi Arabia, the Saudi people and their religion. They wanted to dispel the assumptions and misconceptions that many people around the world were all too willing to believe.

A showing of this very special film is being offered at the Jeddah Cultural Exchange Center next Wednesday, April 4th at 7pm for expats in Jeddah. Seating is limited and reservations are required. Refreshments will be provided. I am proud and excited to be one of the presenters of this event, along with the Jeddah Cultural Exchange Center, Jeddah's Heart, Arabian Jewel, and Nomad Arabia.

If you are an expat in Jeddah and are interested in attending this event, email me at: susieofarabia@gmail.com and I will send you an invitation with information about how you can reserve your seat.

If you are not in Jeddah, you can still see the movie by ordering your own copy. Click here for more information.