Sunday, May 27, 2012

Good Karma on the Red Sea

SCORPION FISH - Photo Credit: MANSOUR FAIRAQ
Since I wrote about my snorkeling adventure out on the Red Sea last month, I have since been out snorkeling two more times.
EXPLORING THE RED SEA - Photo Credit:  TRINA EPSOM
A couple of weeks ago before sunrise my husband and I went out on a boat with our niece’s husband Mohammed and his brother Sultan, so I consider them family, even though in this culture, we are not. The first two spots that we anchored at were fishing spots. We all tried our luck but the fish just didn’t seem to be biting that day.
AMAZING COLORS OF THE RED SEA - Photo Credit: TRINA EPSOM
The third place we went to was a coral reef where I could go snorkeling. The reef was absolutely enormous. While Adnan stayed on the boat hoping to catch some fish, I went into the nice cool turquoise waters to snorkel with Mohammed and Sultan.
CORAL and CLOWNFISH - Photo Credit: TRINA EPSOM
I watched in amazement through my goggles as Sultan swam several meters down to the sea floor and brought up a gigantic sea turtle, just like Crush in Finding Nemo! It was so cool to see him rising to the surface, almost as if in a dance with this splendid creature. Adnan helped him get the sea turtle on to the boat, and then we continued snorkeling. After a while the waves started getting really strong, so I told the guys that I was going to back to the boat, but they still wanted to keep on exploring the sea.
CLOWNFISH SCHOOL IS IN SESSION - Photo Credit: TRINA EPSOM
The shell of the sea turtle had to be about 3 feet long by about 2.5 feet wide. Adnan had set up some big coolers around him to contain him on the boat. I watched the turtle in wonder for a while as Adnan continued in his vain attempt to catch some fish. When I asked what we were going to do with the turtle, Adnan told me that he thought the guys might be planning to kill it for its meat. I was devastated upon hearing this and set about trying to talk Adnan into letting him go.
GIANT SEA TURTLE - Photo Credit:  SUSIE OF ARABIA
Almost two hours had passed and Adnan and I were becoming concerned because we could not see the two brothers snorkeling in the sea. We didn’t have binoculars with us and there was no apparent response at all when we honked the horn of the boat several times. Adnan still hadn’t caught any fish, and I was feeling rather anxious about the possible fate of the huge sea turtle we had board with us. At last Adnan lifted the gentle giant up and tossed him back into the sea. No more than five minutes later, we finally caught a glimpse of the two snorkelers. They had gone around the entire massive reef!
RED SEA SPOTTED STINGRAY - Photo Credit:  MANSOUR FAIRAQ
Feeling much more at ease now that we knew the brothers were all right, Adnan dropped his line back into the sea and within seconds pulled up a nice plump more-than-a-foot-long fish - his first catch of the day! We were astonished when he caught another identical fish as soon as he put his line back into the sea again. All I could say to Adnan was “Good Karma!” The guys were fine when they learned that the turtle was safely back in his watery home, and I got to drive the boat most of the way back to our starting point, which is rather ironic since as a woman I’m not allowed to drive a car here in Saudi Arabia…
CLAM CLOSE-UP - Photo Credit:  TRINA EPSOM
Most of the photos in this post were taken on the third snorkeling trip I went on a week ago. They were taken by two scuba divers in the group – and seeing their beautiful photos has really got me thinking about taking scuba lessons ... hmmmm.
TONS OF FISH!  Photo Credit:  TRINA EPSOM
Click on any photo in this post for an enlarged view.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

An Old Church in Jeddah?



I’ve been down in the old part of Jeddah many times, but last week when my husband and I drove down there to go to the fish market, I discovered something new. We were driving along busy Hail Street, passing by a lonely lot, overgrown with weeds and surrounded by office buildings.
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The only structure on the lot was a sad little crumbling building in ruin, amidst the weeds, trash, and broken bottles. Adnan pointed it out to me and said that it was the remains of an old Anglican church. I had read about this church before but had never seen it or noticed it before.
Click on image to enlarge
It stands in the Baghdadiyah District of Jeddah not far from Al-Balad, near Hail and Hamzah Shahatah Streets. Just south of the abandoned unkempt lot where the church is situated is a body of water called Arba’een Lake, where the Jaffali Mosque is located.
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The history of this building is murky, but it is believed to be less than 100 years old, built when Britain supported the Sharif of Mecca in the revolt against the Ottoman Empire in the hopes of achieving Arab independence and creating a Pan-Arab state.  What is clear is that there are many versions as to the history of this building and doubts about whether or not it was ever actually used as a church.
Click on image to enlarge
I’ve read that this church was actually built outside the big walls that encompassed the then small fishing village of Jeddah. The presence of an Anglican church in Saudi Arabia may seem ironic in a land that strictly prohibits the practice of any other religion besides Islam. But there is ample evidence that centuries ago Christians and even Jews used to live peacefully side by side in this country.
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In the 1980s, a 4th Century church was unearthed in the city of Jubail. This other church is believed to be one of the oldest known churches in the entire region. You can see photos of the Jubail Church and read a bit more about it by CLICKING HERE.
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Like many of the old historic buildings in the old part of Jeddah, this old church does not appear to be protected and is certainly not being preserved. I easily walked up to it and could have probably gone inside, but I did not. From archaeological and historical viewpoints, preservation of this site should be made a priority, but that is not likely to happen.
Click on image to enlarge
NOTE: There are questions as to whether or not this building was ever used as a "church."  For more information about the discrepancies, please read the comments below.
Also, please do not use this post to argue about religion or politics. I have posted about this church because I find it interesting and I find a certain beauty in the decaying old buildings of Jeddah. 



Sunday, May 13, 2012

Manal al-Sharif - Oslo Freedom Forum 2012



I've written several posts about Manal al-Sharif, the young Saudi mother who was arrested and jailed last year because she dared to defy the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia. I am pleased to post this video of Manal speaking at the 4th annual Oslo Freedom Forum, which was held in Norway May 7th throught May 9th, 2012.

Manal's 17 minute speech at the forum follows historical events in Saudi Arabia since 1979, the year of her birth. She talks about how these events paralleled her own story of how she evolved from being a brainwashed, indoctrinated extremist into a brave female freedom fighter struggling for Saudi women's rights and dignity. Believing the propaganda, that she was just one of the invisible women of Saudi Arabia, she says, "We were voiceless, we were faceless, and we were nameless."

The change for Manal happened in the year 2000 with the introduction of the internet, which opened up the doors to the outside world for many in her generation of brainwashed youth. She began to question the narrow views she had been taught all her life - about music, about religion, and her phobias about being exposed to the decadence and evils of the West.

It is a very powerful and fascinating speech. I highly recommend that you take the time to listen to this young woman who has become a symbol for the women's rights movement in Saudi Arabia.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Arabia's Next Top Model

Photo Credit:  Nada Hakeem Photography
No, there's not a version of the "Top Model" television show here in Saudi Arabia, but if there were, I wouldn't be surprised if this young lady won. I had the pleasure of meeting Daryna Tkachenko in January at the “Evening at Il Villaggio” event I wrote about on this blog. She is a strikingly beautiful young woman who really stands out in a crowd here in Saudi Arabia.

Daryna is a 22-year-old model/banquet coordinator who was transplanted from the Ukraine to Saudi Arabia when she was four years old. Her father, Vladmir Tkachenko, was an Olympic swimmer who was lured to Saudi Arabia by a lucrative job offer in 1993. Daryna’s mother was also a swimmer as well as a model, and both her parents have been working in KSA as personal fitness trainers for the past ten years. Daryna, who has a sister who also lives in Saudi Arabia, says she comes from a traditional Russian Christian family with lots of cats. She is single but hopes to marry one day soon and start her own family. This talented young lady is fluent in English, Russian, Ukranian, Arabic, and French.

Daryna was kind enough to sit down and answer some questions for me.
Salmon Turban by Sotra.
How and when did you get your start in modeling?
WHEN I WAS FOUR YEARS OLD, MY PARENTS’ FRIENDS NEEDED SOMEONE TO ADVERTISE FOR SAUDIA AIRLINES. I WAS ONE OF THE LUCKY NON-ARAB KIDS TO PASS THE CASTING! EVER SINCE, FRIENDS OF FRIENDS HAVE INVITED ME TO HELP PROMOTE THEIR BRANDS AND I AM ALWAYS THERE TO HELP OUT!

Did you take any modeling, makeup, or fashion courses or have special training to be a model?
NO SPECIAL TRAINING – NOTHING BUT LEARNED BEHAVIOR. MOM WAS A PROFESSIONAL MODEL BACK IN THE 1990’S.

Have you ever modeled outside KSA?
NO, I HAVE NEVER HAVE MODELED OUTSIDE OF KSA.

Have you ever thought about acting?
YES, ACTING ALWAYS SOUNDED LIKE AN INTERESTING OPTION.
Photo credit:  Mokhtar Chahine
Do you have to exercise regularly to keep fit for modeling?
NOT AT ALL – I ONLY RECENTLY JOINED THE GYM. THE MAIN REASON FOR THAT WAS MY BLUE-BLOODED STATE – AFTER A 10 HOUR DAY OF ZERO MOVEMENT, ONE LOSES FEELING IN HER LEGS.

Do you watch what you eat or are you one of those lucky people who can eat whatever she wants and not have to worry about gaining weight?
I AM ONE OF THOSE KIDS OF ATHELETES WHO INHERITED GOOD GENES. I EAT NON-STOP :D

Tell me about your education.
FROM KINDERGARDEN TO HIGH SCHOOL I STUDIED IN KSA. I FINISHED UNIVERSITY AND BUSINESS SCHOOL IN UKRAINE.

Photo credit:  The Passionates

How often do you get to visit the Ukraine?
NOW THAT I WORK, I BARELY VISIT. I USED TO TRAVEL THERE EVERY SUMMER WITH FAMILY WHEN I WAS GROWING UP.

What other countries have you visited?
UNFORTUNATELY I HAVEN’T TRAVELED ALL THAT MUCH HONESTLY. I HAVE BEEN TO UKRAINE, RUSSIA, PARIS, TURKEY, AND MOROCCO.

Photo credit:  The Passionates

What countries would you like to visit that you haven’t yet been to?
ENGLAND - EVERYONE SEEMS TO HAVE BEEN & SEEN IT ALREADY.

Tell me about your job at the Movenpick Resort.
I WORK FULL TIME AND AM NOW A COMMUNICATION AND BANQUET COORDINATOR, SO I HANDLE TWO DEPARTMENTS. MY DUTIES INCLUDE MAINLY COORDINATING AND COMMUNICATING THE GUESTS’ REQUESTS TO THE CHEF AND THE BANQUET STAFF FOR MEETINGS AND OUTSIDE CATERING EVENTS, PLUS MEDIA AND PR FOR PRESS RELEASES, ETC.

What are your favorite foods?
UKRAINIAN DISHES ARE MY FAVORITE. WHEN I AM IN SAUDI, I ENJOY ARABIAN DISHES (RICE WITH CHICKEN OR LAMB, HOMMOS.

Photo credit:  Ala'a Kutbi

What do you like to do in your spare time here in Jeddah?
IN MY SPARE TIME I LIKE TO VISIT FRIENDS. OUR GATHERINGS MAINLY TAKE PLACE IN COMPOUNDS, WHERE WE FEEL FREE TO WATCH MOVIES OR SIT & CHAT IN A LIVING ROOM WITH SNACKS, PLAYSTATION, AND NICE MUSIC IN THE BACKGROUND.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you like to live?
I WOULD LIKE TO LIVE IN JEDDAH, MY HOME IN THE DESERT . I DON’T SEE MYSELF BEING AS COMFORTABLE ANYWHERE ELSE.

Do you think that living in KSA has affected the person that you are today? If so, in what ways?
ABSOLUTELY! I WOULD SAY I AM ONLY UKRAINIAN ON THE OUTSIDE. FROM HOW I ACT TO HOW I DRESS TO HOW I SPEAK AT TIMES, GROWING UP IN SAUDI SHAPED ME, AND I AM BLESSED TO HAVE BEEN BROUGHT UP HERE.

Photo credit:  Reem Bajabaa

Women's status in KSA is a frequent topic of news reports - what are your feelings about this and are there changes you would like to see happen in this country?
BEING FEATURED IN THE NEWS MYSELF, I SEE FREEDOM EVOLVE – BUT THE MENTALITY OF MOST WILL ONLY BE PASSED ON TO THE NEXT GENERATIONS. I THEREFORE DON’T FORECAST MUCH CHANGE FOR FEMALES IN KSA.