Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Blogs, Blogging, and Bloggers

My fellow blogger, L_Oman of the blog "Culture Shocked" - an American wife and mother who moved her family four years ago to her husband's native country of Oman - has posed a question: Am I the only blogger out there that sometimes thinks of other bloggers?

Not surprisingly, she is not alone.

Blogging here in Saudi Arabia has opened up a whole new world to me, one that I hadn't paid much attention to before I started blogging myself. Originally I began writing my blog for the benefit of my family and friends back home so they wouldn't worry about me and so they could learn and share in my experiences along with me. But as time has passed, more and more total strangers have found my blog and I have become a fan of their blogs as well. What's been really eye opening and remarkable to me is how the worldwide blogging community is so tightly connected and interact with one another. I feel as though I have made so many new cyber-friends that I really do care about, even though we have never met face to face. We may not even know each others' real names or what we look like. We gravitate toward other like-minded bloggers, or those with similar interests, or those who may be in a situation much like our own. Many of us write about our personal lives and experiences, revealing our feelings, intimate thoughts, grievances, and our personalities through our writing. By sharing our lives in this manner with total strangers, a certain bond develops. We may not always agree with one another, but most often we maintain a degree of respect, civility, and diplomacy.

So here's what I find myself thinking about some of my other fellow bloggers...

Aafke, Aafke, Aaafke! What a hoot she is! Her blog "Clouddragon" is imaginative and hilarious and I can't wait to see what tongue-in-cheek words of wisdom she will come up with next. I wish I were as witty as lovable Aafke, and I find myself laughing out loud at her posts. No topic is off limits for this remarkable educated woman. Lately she has even made up her own hysterically rip roaring online Quizzes. A Netherlands native who is an illustrator and artist with a profound interest in Islam, the Arab World and American politics, Aafke has her own horse (sadly another horse of hers passed away earlier this year) and loves to ride, yet is a real girlie-girl at the same time. On top of everything else, she also has her own saddle business! And my son Adam is even hooked on reading her blog - he loves her!

How is Carol of "American Bedu?" She suffered through a major health crisis a few months ago, and I find myself concerned, thinking and praying about her often. American Bedu is a former US diplomat who has traveled and lived all over the world, married a Saudi and now lives in Riyadh. Her blog is chock full of professional and informative interviews and articles on the Kingdom. I admire her immensely and see her as somewhat of a mentor. Anyone who takes a look at her blog will benefit and learn so much about Saudi Arabia.  UPDATE: I'm sorry to report that Carol passed away in 2013. Her blog is still up and serves as a bounty of information about all things Saudi.

I'm always eager to read what Chitra at "Always in the Kitchen" is cooking up. She is an amazing, intelligent woman. She's a mom to half a dozen home schooled kids, and among other things, she grows her own vegetables, raises farm animals, bakes her own bread (and other goodies) and shares her yummy recipes, makes crafts and sells them at the farmers market along with her homemade canned goods from her garden... there is NOTHING this woman cannot do! PLUS, she writes her blog. Chitra must be the most organized person in the world. I don't know how she does it all!

I always wonder what topic Brandy of "American Muslimah Writer" will choose to tackle next. This fellow blogger was raised in Arizona, like me, but she's young enough to be my daughter! She found Islam at 17 and has become a very dedicated and well versed Muslimah. Brandy married a Lebanese guy and moved to the UAE with her little family after living in Lebanon for a while. She constantly writes on a variety of very thought provoking, sometimes humorous, and sometimes serious posts.

Maryam of "My Marrakesh" has a beautiful, artsy blog. Her photos and her text are always delightful and a real treat for the senses. She's a terrific writer and shows us the robust images of the colors, patterns, tastes, and textures that is Morocco. She seems to live an idyllic life in Marrakesh, and sometimes I secretly wish I could trade places with her! Maryam is leaving very soon on a temporary assignment to a place where many bad things have happened, and I hope she stays safe ... I am anxiously awaiting her report when she returns.

I hope that Queen O'DaNile over at "Amreekia min Bab al Sharayah" will be happy in her new marriage to her Egyptian husband and that she will be able to visit her kids who are in America soon. An American Muslimah, she's on her third round of living in Egypt. Queen O'DaNile is a colorful character and she seems like she would be lots of fun to hang with. I wonder how serious she was about the invitation she extended to me to visit her sometime!

A blog written by a friend of mine whom I have actually known since childhood in the small town of Douglas, Arizona, Cheela of "Through Irish Eyes" began her blog when she traveled to the country of her heritage, Ireland. She decided to continue with her blog after her return as it spurred a reawakening in her of the joy of writing. Cheela has experienced many personal losses in the last year, and I am in awe of how she has managed to remain upbeat through it all. She remembers her lost loved ones fondly with touching posts, sharing her many wonderful memories with us. I enjoy reading about her adventures long ago in our hometown and because it takes me back to Douglas and seems to bring me closer to my old home once again.

My friend Marahm is also a very thought provoking author. She and I share a common love for photography, graphic art, and writing. And what a beautiful writer Marahm is. I know that the death of her dad this past year was very difficult for her and I wonder how she is handling this big loss in her life. She lived in Saudi Arabia for many years and I can tell from her posts that she really misses many things about life here. Marahm is such a lady all the time and the way she shares her stories and remembers her past experiences makes me feel as though I was right there along with her.

Please have a look at all these blogs that I have mentioned! You will not be disappointed. And there are so many other blogs that I love as well and faithfully read regularly (so many blogs, too little time!) but was unable to list them here, like "Nzingha's Soapbox," or "SaudiWoman's Weblog."
These blogs are all unique and wonderful in their own right, and contain a tremendous wealth of information and pure entertainment.

So to those bloggers that I have "tagged" here, please post at least five blogs that you read and tell us what you wonder about with them! And that goes for everyone else not listed too!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Safety in Saudi Arabia Scores Low

O ne thing that I have noticed here in Saudi Arabia is the seeming lack of concern for safety and well being of the citizens, children and workers. It has actually been a little shocking to me because I come from the US, where at times it can seem that safety rules and regulations almost go overboard. Saudi Arabia’s safety awareness seems to be at the polar opposite of the US on the scale.
Hardly anybody in this country secures their babies into car seats, except maybe the ex-pat wives, who aren't originally from this country. Honestly I haven't seen one baby in a car seat yet in the whole year that I have been here. Children as well as adults rarely buckle up in cars. It’s not uncommon to see infants sitting on their mothers’ laps in the front seat or for toddlers and older children to be bouncing around the inside of the car having a jolly good time.
As you know, women are not allowed to drive in this country. “For their safety” is the reason I’ve been given. So women have to rely on their husbands, or they might have a driver who is a foreign national, or they must resort to taking taxi cabs, also driven by foreign nationals. In a society so concerned with women being alone with other men where improper behavior might occur, this forbidden driving policy and its solutions, to me, are extremely contradictory. The men drivers here are inconsiderate, constantly honking, rarely courteous, and always on edge because there are no rules and traffic is usually horrendous. They drive the wrong direction on one way streets (and honk at you even though THEY'RE the ones on the wrong side of the street!), park their cars in the middle of the road, and commonly ignore marked lanes, turning two lane streets into excruciatingly tight three or even four lane streets!

And I can't forget to mention many of the younger men drivers in Saudi Arabia who are extremely reckless and endanger themselves, their passengers, and everyone else with their stunts. A big rage here now is something called "drifting" where these crazy drivers get their car going as fast as they possibly can only to swerve the steering wheel, causing the car to start sliding and spinning (imagine an out of control car on an icy road!). Another dangerous but popular practise among the youth here is "sandal racing" which involves the vehicle's passengers holding onto the open doors, skating along on their sandals on the pavement while the vehicle is moving. These guys even have their friends videotape them while performing these stunts and then post them on YouTube!

I like to ask my nieces and nephews about school. A nephew of mine, who is a really smart kid in a public boys middle school here in Jeddah, tells me that he really dislikes (he actually uses the word "hate") his school. Why? Because he attends an older school and he says it is disgustingly filthy, especially in the area where they pray in the school. His stomach turns and his face scrunches up at the thought of kneeling down and putting his hands and his face down on the filthy carpets there. I think one of the reasons for a problem like this existing in some of the schools here is that women (mothers) are not allowed into the boys' schools. My sister-in-law has NEVER set foot inside my nephew's school. If it is as filthy as my nephew says, I'll bet the presence of women in the school would undoubtedly turn this problem around. Every time I ask him about school, it's always the same answer. I'm getting to where I avoid the subject with him now. None of my other nieces and nephews ever complain about this issue, but none of them go to this same school that he goes to either. Fortunately my son's school here welcomes parents as volunteers and so did his school back in Florida. I think this type of policy can make a huge difference in the cleanliness of a school.
As far as laborers go, many workers generally dress in traditional Pakistani style clothing, which consists of lightweight cotton, very loose fitting long pants and a loose fitting long shirt that reaches to the knees or longer. Most workers who are more likely to wear an actual uniform generally work indoors in shops. I’ve seen welders with no safety goggles and heavy equipment operators wearing open toed sandals.

Many outdoor workers do not even wear hats to protect themselves from the sun, although some do wear baseball caps or the large traditional scarf which could easily get caught or tangled up in equipment. You never see hard hats, or gloves, or safety shoes on the laborers, and employers don't provide safety equipment or insurance for the workers. During Ramadan, many hard laborers, like in construction for example, work at night in very poorly lit construction sites.
Women must wear abayas here, which are floor length black cloaks. I find that I have to be extra careful when I am pushing the cart when we are grocery shopping because the hem of my abaya constantly gets caught in the wheels of the shopping cart. This happens so frequently to me while shopping that I try not to push the cart around anymore, if I can help it. The vast majority of women here also wear veils which can obstruct vision and cause them to trip or lose their footing.
A very controversial news item that occurred several years ago within the kingdom involved the religious police preventing teenage girls from escaping a fire at their middle school because they weren’t properly attired in full Islamic dress with their hair covered. About fifteen girls perished in the blaze because their hair wasn’t covered! We have religious police here in Saudi Arabia who are more concerned with a girl’s hair showing than for her life. What about their safety, their lives? Covered hair is more important? I just cannot relate to this type of thinking at all. Ok, getting a little off topic here, but a religious leader here also recently called for the deaths of TV satellite station owners who air immoral programs that might corrupt this society. The religious leaders here are quick to condemn, but they would be out of a job if only people here could actually be trusted to act responsibly themselves without being constantly reminded and goaded into leading such “moral” lives. It seems to me that there are much more pressing problems and issues that they should be concerned with rather than jamming desired, proper, and acceptable moral conduct down the throats of the citizenry here.
 Many products sold here are of poor quality and would be banned for not meeting safety regulations in the states. A prime example of this is electrical extension cords. I was vacuuming today and the extension cord I was using literally melted. Luckily it melted on the tile floor and not on the carpet! This was about the fourth one in one year that has done this. I think it’s great that we have both 110 and 220 electricity, but I for one would be willing to pay more for a well made higher quality product that would last and be safe at the same time. By the way, my vacuum cleaner was plugged in to 110, so plugging it in to the wrong voltage wasn't the problem! The wires inside the melted plastic cord were hot to the touch for a good fifteen minutes after I unplugged the darn thing!

Prescription medications can be purchased over the counter without a doctor’s prescription or supervision. In many ways I like this – it certainly is much cheaper than paying for a doctor’s visit, not to mention paying for insurance, which most people do not have here. However, I do realize the dangers that could arise in people taking medicine on their own or taking multiple medications without consulting a doctor first or being monitored afterward. There is no regulation going on here that I can see.
During the month of Ramadan, in old downtown Jeddah, there is an empty lot where someone sets up a free carnival ride for the children. It is built of mainly old metal pipes and it has sandbags in place anchoring the legs from rising into the air while the ride is operating. The ride’s seats are like small open benches facing each other and of course there are not seat belts, yet it operates like a small Ferris wheel. When I look at it, I think it is an accident waiting to happen. It appears dangerous and unsafe and there is no way I would let my child ride on it, free or not!
 Smoking is another area of safety and concern for me here. There are so many men who smoke. Not only do they smoke the strong tobacco in the hookah water pipes, but most of them also have a very bad cigarette habit as well. Certainly they MUST have heard about the dangerous effects smoking has on their health. Yet they continue to smoke and they just don't seem to care who gets their second hand smoke either. Their children see them smoking and of course, they will grow up to be smokers too. There seems to be a total lack of concern about this. I have no idea about the rate of lung cancer here, but I would not be surprised if it is much higher than countries where smoking is discouraged.

I shudder to imagine the many health code violations that some restaurants and street vendors would be cited for if they were located in the states. Now I’m not saying the US is perfect, because I don’t think it is, but there are safety rules and health regulations in place for good reasons, and here in Saudi Arabia, there just don’t seem to be any at all. Don't get me wrong - many restaurants look so clean that you could eat off the floor, but there are others that we have just walked right out of or have had our meal and said we will never go back there again. Of course, this has happened in the states to us too, but at least there was an agency we could call to report the violations and get a little satisfaction that way.

On a much larger scale, I’ve read some scary articles about the dangers of pollution in the Red Sea. The beautiful coral reefs and bountiful sea life are in danger because of oil industry pollutants. Because the Red Sea is a fairly small body of water, it is especially at risk for contamination, which threatens the wildlife and decreases the ecosystem’s ability to sustain itself. In addition to oil pollution, these problems are also compounded due to unregulated commerce, fishing, and tourism, and out of control and unregulated industrial growth and development.
 I’ve also read articles concerned about the safety of the drinking water in Jeddah. Currently Jeddah is the world’s largest producer of desalinized water. Rapid growth in population has caused major problems because the city has no modern sewage system. Many septic tanks and many water supply tanks are suffering from hazardous leakage and this is just not good. A tainted water supply would most certainly spell disaster in this city on the Red Sea.

There are many other little safety issues which I see here every day, but I guess that's enough to chew on for now. I wish the people here seemed to care about it, and then maybe the government would take some action. But things are status quo here and the people are resistant to change, even if it might make their lives better and safer. So, I’ll just keep my eyes and ears open and hope I stay safe here in Saudi Arabia!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

How I Met My Prince

I t was the fall of 1977 as I skipped down the stairs into the basement of the Student Union. The semester had just begun and I was one of thousands of students at the busy beehive of higher education called the University of Arizona in Tucson. Already in my mid-20s, I was making a career change from law enforcement to journalism. While taking a full course load, I had also landed a part-time job right there on campus to help pay for my living expenses – working in the games room, where many students killed time in between classes to meet friends, release tension, socialize, and have some fun. My job there entailed overseeing about 50 pool tables, several dozen pin ball machines, and other games that students could rent out. It was really convenient and easy for me to attend classes and then just walk over to another building right there on campus for my four hour shift working in the Student Union several days a week. Not knowing many people there either, the job gave me a way of meeting new students and making friends.
The afternoon shifts were usually extremely busy. On those days, the time would pass by very quickly, and sometimes it was such a madhouse, I could hardly wait to get out of there. The evening shifts were usually much slower and quieter, giving me a chance to do my homework if I was lucky. Many of the students who came into the games room were foreign students, and I couldn’t help but notice that a large percentage of them were young Middle Eastern men. They had wierd and wonderful sounding names that I had never heard before and some of them had thick accents that were very difficult for me to understand. Many of them were short in stature with small scrawny frames and dressed in tidy polyester dress shirts and pants. Definitely not my type. I always went for guys with solid frames who were at least as tall as me and weighed more than me. However, coming from a small town on the Mexican border and with no previous exposure to Arab men at all, I was intrigued. I found most of them polite, some of them funny, and a few of them even attractive. But ALL of them seemed to smoke cigarettes, which was a real turn-off for me.
 Adnan had just arrived in the United States to continue with his studies, working on his Masters Degree in English as a Second Language and Linguistics. The very first time I laid eyes on him down in the games room, the attraction I felt was overwhelmingly strong and immediate. He was wearing bell-bottom jeans (so IN at the time!) and a long sleeved woven cotton shirt with his sleeves rolled up. The top two buttons were undone so that a tiny crop of his manly dark chest hair peeked out. Adnan had absolutely the biggest afro you ever saw and a full black beard. His eyes were dark brown and sultry, yet danced with a mischievious twinkle. At almost six feet tall and with strong broad shoulders, Adnan seemed older and more mature than the other Arab students I had seen. He looked mysterious, very masculine, strikingly different, and extremely intriguing. The effect he had on me was surprising. I felt flustered and practically weak at the knees just at the sight of him.

Adnan came into the games room almost daily to play pool. I discovered what his name was because whenever anyone wanted to rent a pool table, he had to leave his ID at the check-out counter where I worked. Even Adnan's name sounded exotic and exciting to me. I was definitely interested, and I felt strongly that I wanted to get to know this tall-dark-and-handsome mysterious stranger.
There was just one little tiny itsy bitsy teensy weensy insignificant problem. Every single time he came in to play pool, Adnan was accompanied by an attractive petite blond, whom I secretly named Miss Priss. Was she his girlfriend? She had an adorable perfect figure (like I always wanted but would never have) and cascading golden curls that tumbled down her back. I would watch them together on the sly. She always appeared bored. They never touched each other or flirted or really even smiled at each other. I decided that I hated her and her perfect little body and her flowing blond tresses. She never ever spoke to me. Adnan did speak to me, but always in a very business like manner, and he never made any small talk with me. He never really seemed to notice me because Miss Priss was always around.

One night several weeks into the term while I was working the evening shift, Adnan came in to play pool. Lo and behold, THIS time Miss Priss was nowhere in sight! THIS time he was there to play pool with another guy. So, I decided to seize the opportunity – Carpe Diem! This was my big chance to try to make an impression, to make this oblivious guy who made my heart flutter notice me. As I handed them the rack of colorful pool balls, I assigned the two young Arab men to the pool table closest to me, just a few short yards away from the large counter where I worked. Lucky for me, it was a very slow night in the games room. Miraculously Adnan and I occasionally made eye contact and exchanged a couple of brief smiles while he played. But what could I do to really make him notice me, to make myself stand out? Trying to be charming or cute was out of the question - when he was around, he made me feel tongue-tied. So as Adnan and his friend played pool, I hatched a plan. I decided to draw a sketch of Adnan. So I got out a piece of blank paper and a pencil and began drawing him.

When Adnan and his buddy finished playing pool, they approached the desk to return the rack of balls and pay. I presented Adnan with the sketch I had made of him, saying simply, "I made this for you." It had actually turned out to be a pretty good likeness of him - although admittedly, he was fairly easy to draw since the sketch consisted mostly of his big curly afro and beard!
 Adnan's eyes flashed at the sketch and then to me and then back to the sketch, at first a little confused, and then with the realization of what I had done. Flattered and humbled by the attention I obviously had shown him, he was visibly taken aback and duly impressed. And for the first time in all those weeks, I felt that he actually looked at me. He saw ME, not just the girl who worked in the gamesroom. I still remember the exact words he spoke as he thanked me for the sketch: "This will be framed!" Without missing a beat, he then asked if I played pool, and we made a date to meet at the Student Union to play the following afternoon. My heart was pounding wildly and I felt like I had just hit a home run, but I contained myself and acted cool until he and his friend left. Mission accomplished - I had gotten that tall-dark-and-handsome stranger to notice me!

I was so anxious about our date, I must have changed outfits a dozen times before I settled on a pair of cream colored jeans and a purple sweater. I applied minimal fresh faced make-up, tossed my hair, and I was out the door, arriving promptly on time for our first date. But to my surprise, Hassan, the friend he had played pool with the night before, also showed up. However, it was okay because it actually helped ease the tension I was feeling and made me more relaxed and not so nervous. We laughed and talked while we played pool, and I discovered that Adnan had a great sense of humor, one of the most important qualities I look for in a man. I learned my first Arabic words that day, "Darba helwa!" which means "Good shot!" I found Adnan to be very likable and easy to be around. My nervousness at the thought of being near him quickly vanished. He was smart and witty, and I thought he was very handsome, of course. He was the whole package. And I was smitten.

The following week after I drew his picture was my 26th birthday. Adnan invited me to his tiny efficiency apartment for a birthday party. I had no idea what to expect. Again I became nervous about what to wear and I fussed about styling my hair. I decided to wear a fairly simple brown faux suede sleeveless dress with narrow cream colored lace and brown satin ribbon adorning the fitted bodice and straps. My shoulder length blonde hair was flowing loosely, with soft gentle curls framing my face. I kept my makeup to a minimum, and in the end, I was quite happy with my appearance that night.
I arrived at the appointed time and as I knocked on the door, the butterflies in my stomach were fluttering like mad. I had the feeling that this night would be a very special one, and I wasn't disappointed. He opened the door and welcomed me warmly with a big hug, a huge smile on his face and those twinkling chocolate brown eyes. He was wearing a neatly pressed red and white striped cotton shirt with a crisp white collar and the sleeves rolled up and brown dress pants. He looked amazingly handsome and sexy. I melted.

The birthday party turned out to be a party for just the two of us, although he had arranged for his friend Hassan to come over and act as the photographer and take pictures for a while. His stereo lightly played typical 70s music, like the Bee Gees, Donna Summer, Kool and the Gang, Barry White, and Irene Cara. The small but tidy space was decorated with a few streamers and balloons and lit candles were set about the room for mood lighting. Spicy incense was sweetly burning. The table was adorned with a cheerful tablecloth and offered an assortment of goodies like cashews, chips, pretzels, veggies with dip, other munchies and delectable chocolate truffles. Plus a birthday cake and ice cream - all that, just for the two of us!
 I was undeniably blown away and swept off my feet. I felt so comfortable around him. He was charming, intelligent, handsome, and fun to be with. Never in my life had anyone gone out of his way like that to impress me as he had done. He had thought of everything, attended to every little detail in planning the perfect evening. Throughout the night, we talked, danced, nibbled, laughed, and played backgammon. And the icing on the cake was that I discovered what a fabulously amazing kisser he was that night. It was a magical and enchanting evening ... like a fairy tale. I didn't want it to end. That very night, I fell in love with Adnan, although I didn't let him know for a while.

And that was the beginning of what was to be our twelve-year long courtship. Yes, you heard it right! Twelve long years before we finally tied the knot! True to his word, Adnan framed the drawing I had made of him and we still have it to this day - it is part of our history together, what initially brought us together in the first place.

Oh! And remember that gorgeous blond, Miss Priss, who used to come into the games room with Adnan to play pool? Adnan told me that they were just friends, that she was actually the girlfriend of another friend of his. He was apparently just keeping Miss Priss company and babysitting/watching over her for his buddy while he was in class. I don't know how true that story was, but I just let the matter drop since the Miss Priss no longer came around anymore once I entered Adnan's life. And that was enough for me!

Over the years when people have learned that my significant other is from Saudi Arabia, often the very first question I will inevitably be asked has been if he is a prince. My answer has always been a resounding, "Yes! He is a Prince ... Among Men!" Adnan is MY prince, and I feel like a very lucky woman, indeed.

Friday, September 5, 2008


I  hate shopping here in Saudi Arabia. All right, maybe the word “hate” is a little strong, but I for one, just speaking from my own personal experiences, really do not find shopping here nearly as enjoyable as I always did back in the states. There are many reasons why.

First of all, probably the main reason I don’t like shopping here is because of my husband. Now don’t get me wrong, Adnan is a great guy. But he has pretty much always hated shopping. And now that we are here in Saudi Arabia, it is a very stressful ordeal for him to go through. He’s always in a rush to get out of there once we arrive (more on that later), and I hate being rushed especially when I’m shopping. I like to take my time and I enjoy looking at things. Not that I have to buy everything I see, but I just like to look.

Now Adnan actually didn’t always used to be like that, so anti-shopping, I mean. In fact when we first met, he used to make it really fun. I remember one time when we were at a large department store, I tried on a pair of jeans and came out of the dressing room to get his opinion. When I returned to the dressing room, the pants I had worn into the store were missing, so I ended up having to purchase a new pair of jeans since I couldn’t very well leave the store in my underwear. My overly dramatic husband ranted and raved to the poor salesgirl, “What kind of a place is this? You steal a person’s clothes so they are forced to buy new ones? Get me the manager!” Yes, it turned out that Adnan was in cahoots with the salesgirl, and my old pants eventually showed up again, and it was all quite hysterical at the time. But see, he USED to be fun to shop with!

The second reason I hate shopping here has to be the traffic. Most of the time, it is nerve-wracking driving anywhere in Jeddah. Of course my husband has to drive me, since he brought me to the ONLY country in the world (that I know of) where women are not allowed to drive. The stress endured while driving in this crazy traffic is off the charts. The traffic here is absolutely horrendous. Right now is Ramadan, and traffic is much lighter earlier in the day until around 3pm. So my husband prefers to do any shopping during a two hour window of time between the mid-day prayer and the mid-afternoon prayer. However many shops are not open at all during the day until later, especially now that it’s Ramadan. The shopping and traffic are busiest after the final prayer of the day, which is now after 8:30pm. So with everyone and their mother out then, it’s bumper to bumper traffic jams until well past 2am. Entire families are out and about shopping at this time, from elderly grandmothers down to little babies and toddlers. It’s crazy. The stores are extremely crowded and it’s difficult to find parking spaces too.

Another reason I hate shopping here in Saudi Arabia is because of the store hours. All shops must close during prayer times. There are five prayers a day. The first prayer of the day is so early, it doesn’t really disrupt most business schedules. The other four prayers are at mid-day, mid-afternoon, late afternoon, and early evening. Many businesses just close all afternoon, instead of opening and closing several times during the day. Then they stay open until at least midnight or later. During Ramadan the shops stay open later to accommodate all the late night shoppers. The closing of the shops for prayers is why my husband is always in a rush when we are shopping. The stores will literally kick shoppers out of the stores, or some just lock shoppers in so they can’t get out. I guess I have had a difficult time adjusting to the crazy store hours here in Saudi Arabia.

With Ramadan upon us, we are hungry and thirsty during the day when we fast until sundown. This includes my husband’s approximately two hour shopping window in the early afternoon, plus the souks are largely in the open air. The heat is brutal and along with that comes sweat dripping off shoppers and workers alike, not to mention some pretty foul odors of everyone involved in the shopping experience. Bargaining in the souks, my husband will walk around in the heat to ten different vendors, all carrying identical items, just to bicker the price down another ten riyals (US $2.50). Adnan makes me feel like I should settle for something less expensive that I don’t really like, and then I’m at the point where I just don’t care anymore. Then he grudgingly buys me what I really wanted in the place. Adnan insists that the prices are much cheaper at the souks rather than the new large super stores (similar to Super Target) that are air conditioned. But my feeling is that even if we would pay a little more, there is a lot to be said about shopping in air conditioned comfort during the really hot months especially when we are hungry and thirsty, and that would be my choice. During the winter months and when it’s not Ramadan, it really isn’t so bad shopping in the souks.

All right, I admit I have never been particularly fond of grocery shopping since I’m not the greatest cook in the world. My expertise definitely lies in the eating part! You can find just about anything you want - or at least a reasonable substitute for - in the groceries and vegetable markets here, but there are some items that are scarce and very difficult to find. Short of going to several different markets, which my husband refuses to do, to satisfy my gastronomic desires, we end up grocery shopping at only one store, which may not have everything I may want. Like sour cream, for example. The Arabs simply do not use sour cream. They use some products that are similar, but they are NOT sour cream. I know that there are a few shops here that carry real sour cream, but we don’t do our regular shopping at those places, so I do without sour cream. Okay, okay, I know I probably shouldn’t have it anyway, but still, sometimes I would just like to have some sour cream - is that so wrong? Another thing about grocery shopping here is that in some things, there is just not a wide variety to choose from like I am used to. The health conscious diet hasn’t caught on here like in America and finding low fat items is very difficult. Plus if you’re counting carbs or calories, many products do not list this information on the packaging.

One of the reasons I hate shopping for clothes here is because in most places there are no dressing rooms to try clothes on. And since women are not allowed to work in shops (with a few exceptions, women are only allowed to work along side of men in the medical field), the sales clerks here are all foreign men. Now, I have asked in several shops why there are no dressing rooms for women to try clothes on and I have been given two entirely different explanations. One reason given is that there has been a problem with theft because women’s abayas make it easy to hide things underneath. The other reason is so that there will be no hanky panky going on. You see, in this sexually obsessed/oppressed society where men and women are not allowed to date or mix socially, every precaution is taken, every conceivable possibility is thwarted, to prevent men and women from hooking up. If this is the case, the “no dressing rooms” policy was probably born out of fear that the sex starved sales clerks and the lusty female shoppers might act inappropriately behind closed curtains. This is a country where everyone is assumed to be so immoral and unable to control themselves that there is a need for religious police to keep everyone in line. Anyway, as a result of all this, I find that I don't personally enjoy shopping for clothing here in Saudi Arabia as much as I do elsewhere, since I prefer to be able to try things on first before I buy. Also, many of the smaller shops do not accept returns either, so not being able to try on or return it later if it doesn’t fit is a real turn off for me.

Another problem with shopping is that there are no marked prices in the souks, so to find out a price, you must ask the attendant. When I shop, I like to pick up an item, look at the price tag, and then either put it back or decide to buy it. Probably no big deal. But when I have to ask the price for every single item I might be interested in, I lose interest in purchasing anything. And the souks are so expertly crowded with products, it’s hard to find what you might be looking for, so again you must ask. The attendants are usually helpful and eager to serve, but I hate having to ask for help every time I go into a shop. I enjoy finding things myself and discovering new items on my own, not with a sales clerk right behind me every step of the way.

Since I implicated my husband as the main reason I don’t like shopping here, I guess it’s only fair that I’m truthful about my son and put him on this list too. Adam constantly whines about the intolerable heat, the unpleasant and pungent odors of the souks, about how he’s going to faint any minute because he‘s thirsty and hungry, or begs us to buy him yet another totally useless but expensive item that he doesn’t need. Regarding the heat, I tell him to imagine wearing a long black cloak and covering his hair and neck too! But things get even worse when my hubby has had enough of my son’s whining. I can’t stand being around either one of them when this happens. Heaven help me.

I decided to write this post because of a particularly bad shopping experience yesterday that frazzled me. So you've now seen a different side of me. The real Susie has been exposed! But I honestly think if these minor problems that I’ve cited could somehow be fixed, then shopping here in Arabia would be a much more pleasurable experience for me. There are bargains to be had, that is for sure!