Sunday, April 10, 2016

My Favorite Photo from 2015

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

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

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

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

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

They just dress differently - that's all!

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 1, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Read more about this subject:

Two detained over Basateen poisoning

2 Danish kids die in incident at compound

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

Editorial 2009 - Pesticide Deaths

Insecticide Kills Again 

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