Monday, December 28, 2009

Western Wife, Saudi Husband

As a result of my last post “Dear Susie…” another Western woman married to a Saudi has given me permission to share her recent emails to me with you. I found it distressing to know that after close to two decades in the Kingdom, she is still not happy living in KSA, and yet at the same time I found it comforting to know that I am not alone in feeling this way. Here is what she has to say…

Iwas so naive when I made the decision to follow my husband here. I had no idea of how life would be for me as a woman, how dependent I would be on my husband, how I wouldn't be able to leave the country without my husband's permission, etc., etc. And my husband did not volunteer any information either. I think he knew I would be hesitant to move to Saudi if I knew too much. My parents have always let me make my own decisions, and I appreciate their trust and confidence in me. But boy oh boy, do I wish they had put up more of a stink with regard to me going off to Saudi Arabia. Back in 1993, there wasn't a lot of info out there about foreign women married to Saudis. I wished I had had access to all that is available now. My eldest daughter has asked me on more than one occasion, "How could you move to a country you knew nothing about?" I tell her it was because I was young, fearless and looking for an adventure. I believe my faith is what has pulled me through all of these years, and perhaps, I'm a lot stronger than I give myself credit for.

I came here, too, with the bare minimum. I gave up so much, and I put my all into building a life here. But the small things that have bothered me over the years have built up into a mountain; and I'm feeling smothered and simply worn out. I'm just taking it one day at a time. Life here isn't intolerable (most days), but I'm itching to find out if there is a possibility it could be better elsewhere.

I may feel happier if my husband would take the children’s and my security a lot more seriously should something happen to him. We don't even own our own home! I do not have Saudi citizenship; but we have filed all the necessary paperwork and my file is pending in Riyadh. I will never leave KSA without having that first. I, too, think I would be happier if we had a driver. But my husband does not want to get one, which is kind of funny because he is absolutely miserable taking us everywhere we need to go. I want to help out, but I can't. I'm tired of having to schedule my outings around his mood or his schedule. Things got a little better when our eldest son got his license, but he's away at college now; and our second son, who can drive, will be leaving at the end of the school year for college as well. I just want to do some things for myself. I'm tired of feeling like a child.

My husband has no interest in living elsewhere. It wouldn't be practical anyway. He can be a much better breadwinner for the family here in his own country than anywhere else. He has no desire to even visit the US anymore. The last time he was there was more than 10 years ago. He does not write, call, email, or do anything to keep in touch with my family which, needless to say, isn't sitting right with me. They are so good to him. My father sends him a birthday package every year, and my husband doesn't even thank him via phone or email. I don't know if he thinks he doesn't have to keep in touch because they aren't Muslim; but I know that their lives just aren't that important to him.

I've tried working (teaching English), but I just didn't like it that much. Besides, juggling a job and family responsibilities was a bit stressful for me. I don't have a maid because that's another thing that my husband doesn't feel is necessary. As long as I'm not working, I don't mind.

Like you, I think spending more time with my family in the States would make me happier. The norm for me has been a trip home in the summer every other year. My husband says he can't afford it more often. We are a one-income family, and I understand. The total time I've spent with my family over the past 17 years comes to 18 months - yes, 1.5 years out of 17. That's not much is it? I've missed out on so much over the years. I'm not even very close to my niece and nephews because of the distance. I thought I would get less homesick the longer I was away, but the total opposite has happened. I went home this past summer, and it was the best visit ever. I reconnected with long-lost high school friends, traveled out West with my parents, visited relation, and just felt so refreshed and alive while there. Every time I step on a plane heading out of Saudi Arabia, I have passive thoughts of not returning; but I always do. And when I get back, it never fails . . . I always feel down. I eventually get over it; but this last time it took a while.

There are a lot of things going on with me. I'm literally caught in between a rock and a hard place. I'm not going to make a rash decision about my future. I'm taking my time . . . trying to think things through carefully. I am definitely going through a midlife crisis. In early 2009, I had a stark awakening. I decided that I deserve to be happy and fulfilled after 21 years of marriage. I have repressed my needs and wants for so long, that they have come out in a fury of rage and anger. My husband is shocked. He's worried he's going to lose me. I just want to climb up on one of the mountains around here and yell out: WHAT ABOUT ME?

All I want to do is think about myself for a change; and because of that everyone thinks I'm being mean and ungrateful. Ahhh, the word "ungrateful" . . . women are so ungrateful, aren't they? I've been told that most of the inhabitants of the hell fire will be women because they are ungrateful to their husbands. But where do you draw the line between being ungrateful and just finally getting fed up with being taken advantage of? When a woman is too complacent, she gets walked all over and her sacrifices are never appreciated. I do not feel like I've achieved much over the past 17 years; and I'm very disappointed in my husband's level of success, especially career-wise. I'm full of anger . . . I'm angry at myself, my husband, my in-laws, the children, my Creator, and especially the Saudi society.

I'm angry at the Saudi society for not providing me opportunities to further my education or work in my field of specialty, for not allowing me to drive, for making me severely dependent on my husband, for making me lose my self-confidence, for placing such high expectations upon me that I now deal with severe anxiety. Do I have the right to blame anyone but myself for my unhappiness? Why can't I just make peace with what Allah has bestowed upon me? My older kids always tell me: "Mom, you just have to make peace with the way things are." Is it because I feel like I've been used and taken advantage of for so long that I don't know what to believe? I truly feel my humble and complacent personality has led me to where I am at the moment. If I had stood up for my needs and wants over the years perhaps my current situation would be better.

So, what I'm getting at is . . . If I'm so unhappy, shouldn't I remove and/or distance myself from the things I feel are making me unhappy? Why do I feel so guilty for wanting to pack up and leave . . . for wanting to try and see if I could find happiness once again? All I know is that I need to resolve the above-issues soon or I'm never going to feel good about myself or others.

I ask myself, "What would I do if I left?" And I can't answer the question. I feel like I'm not capable of finding a job, finding new love, or continuing my education. I have a total lack of self-esteem. It's so frustrating to want to try to start over again but at the same time you don't have the confidence. I blame my husband for my current state because he has not been able to fulfill my needs nor convince me that life in Saudi Arabia is the best for me. Somewhere, somehow . . . I've lost track of how to do and experience the things that make me happy. I know I need to work on my own happiness because if I could be happy and have more self-respect perhaps my marriage would be stronger. I do want to create the happy-go-lucky, light hearted version of myself that my husband first fell in love with.

I've put little thought into what I want out of life and more thought into taking care of others. I've spent most of my days taking care of the children, cooking, cleaning and putting the needs of my family before me. I have no outside interests, no career and nothing to fulfill dreams I have. I also feel guilty for wanting to leave this place, as many Muslims would die for the opportunity to live here. I've been told that I have to be thankful and that living in Saudi Arabia is a blessing no matter how difficult it may be. So I'm torn. It just seems so complicated, especially with children in the picture. We have five, ranging from 20 down to 6.

I just can't believe I'm talking about leaving. I never thought it would come to this. For the longest time, I hid my discontentment from our children, but they know now. I would feel incredible guilt for leaving, but it may be the best for all concerned because my unhappiness is just making everyone else miserable. My family back home doesn't know how unhappy I am. I've sugar-coated everything, and they believe I'm content with life here. Maybe I shouldn't have done that, but I don't want them to worry. I think that if I were to approach them about my desire to come home, they would be supportive of me until I could get my feet on the ground.

I have made some small changes over the past year. They may not seem significant to others; but they are making me feel a little better. One, I started taking care of myself better. I joined a gym and started exercising. I've continued to exercise and watch my diet; and I've lost 17 pounds over the past year. It's really lifted my spirits. I've also stopped running around like a chicken with its head cut off, thinking that I have to have everything perfect for my husband and children and that I have to be at their beck and call. I do things when I feel like doing them, how I like doing them, and I have accepted that it won't be the end of the world if they don't get done. When the kids are off to school and DH is at work, I use my mornings however I please. I've just recently started reading novels again and writing poetry. I have a few good friends that I try to see more often.

My new year’s resolution is to find peace of mind. I pray that all of the women in our situation will find happiness and peace of mind.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Dear Susie ...

I hope you don’t mind me emailing you, but I wanted your opinion about my situation. I am a 28-year-old American woman and I met a Saudi guy I really like. The problem is he wants to go back to Jeddah once he's done studying here in the US and he wants me to go back with him. I want to know from your experience if I would survive in his different culture and community. Also, how hard is it to adapt to this new type of culture and living situation? I am also used to working a lot of hours and focusing on my career and my concern is if I did go to Saudi Arabia, I would not be able to find a job since I do not speak Arabic and would lose all the skills I have worked so hard for. Also my other fear is if he was working all the time and gets back into the swing of his normal life there, I will be lonely and just get lost in the shuffle and not be able to find my own thing like I have in America. By the way, I am Catholic and this is obviously a concern for him as he would like to have Muslim children, which I am not opposed to. What would be your suggestion regarding the difference in religions? I would truly appreciate your opinion and answers to my questions. My boyfriend and I are at the point in our relationship that if we break up it is going to be very difficult or impossible for both of us so now we have to deal with the reality of the differences in our cultures and the best way to make it work. Also I didn't mention that him staying here is not an option at all.

Thanks - M

Dear M -

I don't mind at all that you emailed me to ask questions - I wish that years ago there would have been someone I could have asked many of the same questions you have. I'll try to answer as best I can, but my situation may be different from yours and from other women who are in relationships with Saudi men.

I cannot tell you whether or not you will be able to survive in this culture and environment. Many women that I have met have been here for 20, 30 or, incredibly, even more than 40 years. Most of those women have converted to Islam, live in villas where they can spend some time outdoors if they choose, have maids and drivers, have raised their children here, and are able to travel freely. Many of them also work, usually in education or the medical field. As far as not speaking Arabic, I haven’t encountered much a problem with it since just about everyone here speaks some English. In fact if you are a native speaker of English, you would have no problem finding work in a school or tutoring English. Some women have carved out their own niche, in art or photography or such. Obviously I cannot speak for all Western women who married Saudis, but I get the distinct feeling that most of these women would actually prefer to live somewhere else if given the choice - but they have tolerated this place out of love for their spouses and children and have tried to make the best of it. And looking back, if asked if they had a chance to do it over again, would they? I truly think that the majority of women who have married Saudis and moved here would likely say "NO!" - if they were being perfectly honest.

The expat wives of Saudis all have different situations and circumstances. My husband and I lived for thirty years in the states, and the thought that he would ever want to move back to his homeland was far-fetched because that's what he had always led me to believe. The first decade or so of our relationship, my hubby wasn't particularly religious, but that eventually started changing. Even living in the states, there were times when I found it difficult to be married to someone from such a different culture and religion. This was especially noticeable after our son started school. If there was a school function, parent-teacher conference, a band concert, or a sporting event my son was participating in that interfered with prayer times - and almost inevitably they did - I usually ended up going alone and often felt like I was a single parent. Honestly I began to resent it and wasn't happy about it, and I felt cheated for myself and my son. I felt that God shouldn't mind if you did your prayers later if you were attending a function where you were showing support for your own child. But my husband didn't see it that way, and his prayer times almost always won out.

There were other times when I felt cheated, like around holidays that I was used to celebrating. Never being a deeply religious person myself - I consider myself spiritual but shy away from manmade interpretations of religions - what I always enjoyed most about, for example, Christmas, was the fluff and the spirit of the season - the lights, the music, the decorations, the smells, the foods and special treats, hearing from old friends, the generosity toward those less fortunate, the sentimentality of remembering Christmases past, the joy of giving, the smiles on people's faces, the children's excitement in anticipation of the big day. As years went by, my husband withdrew from participating in any of the preparation or the festivities. This applied to other typical holidays too, like Easter, Halloween, or the 4th of July. When we were invited over to friends' homes, if they had a pet dog, my husband would either refuse to go or insist that the dog be locked away. Muslims are taught that dogs are filthy animals, and my husband has been deathly afraid of even the smallest puppy since I have known him. I know that in America some women call themselves "Football Widows," when it's football season, the wives feel like widows because the husbands are totally focused on football games. Well, I started feeling at times like a "Muslim Widow,” for lack of a better term.

Adapting to this new life and new culture has definitely been an exciting learning experience, which is not to say that it has been easy. I honestly think that moving here is much easier for Western women who are NOT married to Saudis and who come here to work for a specific time frame, live in compounds where activities abound, and have very busy and full lives, with many more opportunities to enjoy all that this place has to offer than I have had. Life inside the compound walls is much like life in the West. There are parties, sports, classes, more freedom for women to participate in sports and to form friendships, and a sense of community that you just don't automatically get outside those walls. But on the flip side, many of them have never been inside a Saudi home and they don't develop friendships with Saudis, so even though they are living in Saudi Arabia, they are in reality living in this little protected bubble and not really experiencing living in "the real Saudi Arabia." Being married to a Saudi and living in an apartment building or a villa is a whole different story. I haven't really been able to join clubs and develop friendships with many ex-pats whether they live in compounds or not because of my transportation limitations. I have to rely on my husband to take me where and when I want to go, and you can imagine what a problem that can be. And everything revolves around prayer times - everything comes to a halt then and every business shuts down for prayer times. When you live out among Saudi society, it is so very different from the Western way of life because the Saudis are so very private and men and women do not mix socially. This is one of the worst things for me that I dislike about being here. To come from an open society like America, and then suddenly you are expected not to speak to men, to dress like a nun and cover your hair, and where you can socialize only with women, and you are not free to come and go as you please... it almost feels at times like you are in a prison of sorts.

For me, there are very few activities, few friends, and lots of boredom. I have described my life now as just an empty shell of what it was before moving here. There are days on end when I don't see the light of day because I am stuck in this flat with nothing to do, nowhere to go and no one to take me anyway. Not being able to just go outside for a walk or to get some fresh air or to work in the garden is a big problem for me because of where we live. Doing things here on the spur of the moment is not an option any more. Fortunately I have a friend who invites me to do things with her once in a while, and she usually is able to send her driver to pick me up and take me back, so I don't have to ask my husband for transportation. One of my hobbies is photography - I would love to be able to just go out when I want to and take photos, but I can't. Usually I have to settle for trying to capture photos from a car zooming by, so for every one good shot I get, there are at least 50 that are just too blurry to use. Thank God for digital technology! In the more than two years that I have been here, my husband has taken me out specifically to take photos on maybe three or four occasions, not nearly enough to satisfy my desires. Even then though, I always feel rushed because of the bad traffic or because it will soon be prayer time, and there are many areas of the city I have not had the chance to photograph yet.

The first few months after arriving here, my husband went out quite frequently in the evenings several times a week, often until 2 or 3 am. That has tapered off to where now he might only go out like that once or twice a month. I don't really mind, as long as I am able to spend time with my own friends also maybe once or twice a month too. We are both older and not into partying like we used to when we were younger. I do feel lonely many times and I do feel that I am lost in the shuffle and left out. When I first arrived here, I guess I was somewhat of a new novelty and I was constantly invited by various family members or other women to do things with them. But now I guess the novelty has worn off and life has become a humdrum routine with far fewer invitations. I don't feel sorry for myself and I am glad that I have hobbies and interests that I can keep myself busy with, but for me there is just not that much to do outside or inside these walls and it gets old. If I were younger, I would probably be demanding more and having hissy fits over the general lack of activities and boredom. I love my husband's family here and they have been very good to my son and me, but when the only outings we go on just about are to visit family all the time, that too gets old.

As far as my son being raised as a Muslim, I am not opposed to my son being a Muslim, as my husband wishes. But this is his department and his responsibility. My husband started taking Adam to Islamic classes in the states when he was younger, but that didn't last long. Consequently my son doesn't embrace the faith wholeheartedly like my husband would prefer. The Saudi schools here indoctrinate the students into Islam. So from an early age, the kids learn about the religion and are totally receptive to it. But taking an American teenager who has no real understanding of the religion and plopping him down in Saudi Arabia and expecting him to just swim with the fishes doesn't work. If you're planning on embracing Islam and giving up your religion, I'm sure that will make your husband and his family happy. Good luck with that. But I would recommend doing it before coming to Saudi Arabia. The Saudis' version of Islam is not how Islam is practiced in most other Muslim countries.

Many of the Saudi men who take Western women as their wives change once they get back to the Kingdom. My husband has gotten much more jealous and protective of me since we moved here. And he has gotten much more conservative and thinks that the way things are done here is the law of the land and should not be questioned or challenged - a far cry from his rebellious youth when we first met. Despite having spent thirty years in America, now he seems to be even more conservative than many men who have been in Arabia all their lives! I don’t know if he is just trying to overcompensate for being away for so long, to prove to his family and friends that he is still just as Saudi as he ever was or what. I was a very independent woman in the states and now he often makes me feel like I cannot do anything on my own without his approval or direction. This is not the same man I married.

I remember what it was like to be that young and idealistic, madly in love and feeling that I would follow him to the ends of the earth, if need be, just so we could be together. That no matter where we were, we were in love and we would be happy and nothing else mattered. But the reality is that it takes a whole lot more than love for a relationship to survive, especially in this country. And now, I find myself asking, “Why couldn’t he have been from almost any other country in the world besides Saudi Arabia? Why not Morocco, or Italy, or Australia?” Things would have been so much easier…

I think one of the hardest things to do is to maintain who you are and to be true to yourself once you move here. You will be expected to change and adapt to life here, but losing your identity - those things that make you YOU - is a mistake that I think many Western women who come here make. The way I feel is, if my husband had wanted a Saudi wife, he could have easily married one. Instead he fell in love with me, and just because I am now living on another continent, doesn't change me inside as to who I am. It is very difficult to maintain respect and appreciation for this totally different culture and way of life when there are things you may not agree with or understand. And sometimes it's hard to find the right words so you don't sound like you're complaining or criticizing or offending. I try my best to understand the way they do things here, but it is not easy because it doesn't always make sense.

I hope this has helped. I have tried to be as open and honest as I possibly can. It's no bed of roses coming here. I don't know that there is any one perfect place to live - there are pros and cons to everyplace I guess. It took me a long time to adjust to life in South Florida too - and many people consider that place paradise!

Good Luck to you in whatever the future holds for you.
Best Wishes and Warmest Regards -

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Plea From the Heart

A lthough I may not be a huge fan of organized religion per se, I DO believe in the power of prayer and in miracles. This post is a personal plea from my heart for your prayers for a very special person I greatly admire. The world of my friend and fellow blogger, Carol, who is known in blogging circles as American Bedu, has been turned upside down by illness. But ironically enough, not only is Carol now fighting her second battle with breast cancer in so many years, her husband Abdullah is also in the fight of his life against leukemia.

Carol traveled all over the world in her profession as a foreign diplomat for more than 20 years – an occupation she gave up when she decided to marry Abdullah, who was also a career diplomat. It was the second marriage for both of them. They each have grown children. A few short years ago, the newlyweds settled happily in Saudi Arabia’s capital city of Riyadh with their cats, and Carol took a job with a big university hospital. Through her informative, objective, and popular blog, Carol has admirably led the way in sharing the wonders and secrets of Saudi Arabia with the rest of the world.

Carol’s health crisis began less than two years ago when she was diagnosed with breast cancer after detecting a lump herself through self-examination. She underwent a mastectomy, reconstructive surgery, and took a regimen of aggressive cancer-fighting drugs here in Saudi Arabia. Carol wrote in depth about this intimately personal experience in a candid post on her blog back in July of 2008.

It was while she was in remission that her husband himself was diagnosed with acute myloid leukemia, a form of cancer that affects the blood. Currently they are both receiving aggressive medical treatments in the United States. Due to the nature of their illnesses and the prescribed chemotherapy treatments, Carol and Abdullah are now being treated in separate cities and staying with family members who have lovingly stepped up to assist with their care. The couple does talk to each other daily on Skype, but imagine how difficult it must be for them to not be physically together during this time and to try to be supportive from afar as their individual treatment regimens ravage their own immune systems. Carol’s pretty blond hair is now gone. She is bald from the chemotherapy – a common side effect.

You can read a very detailed account of the health crisis Carol and her husband are facing right now on a recent post she wrote on American Bedu.

I would like to ask you all to please keep Carol and Abdullah in your thoughts and prayers.

For those of you who would like to take it a step further, I know that receiving your comments, cards, or emails of support and best wishes would make a world of difference in Carol’s life right now.

And to any of you who feel compelled to do even more for this courageous woman, a pretty scarf or a unique hat to keep her now bald head warm, or a good book (she LOVES to read!) would definitely brighten her day and lift her spirits! Be creative!

You can email Carol at:
to get her mailing address if you wish to physically send flowers, scarves, hats, books, or other goodies to her.

Thank you for showing Carol that you care.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Divorce Saudi-Style

Divorce is one of those things, like many in Saudi Arabia, which is exceedingly easy for men to obtain, but quite difficult for women to achieve. When a Saudi man wants a divorce, all he is required to do is to simply say “I divorce you” three times in front of a couple of witnesses (male, of course). However when a woman initiates the divorce in this country, she is required to go through the legal process in court before a male judge, and prove her case, which may or may not result in her desired outcome. Also, for the divorce to be granted, the woman is almost always required to repay the full amount of the dowry paid to her or her family when she was originally married, which could be a considerable amount, and even though she may have been married for many years.

A recent case which made the news here involved a 20-something-year-old young woman who was pressured by her family into marrying an old man in his 80s who already had three wives. The old man had offered to pay a dowry of 50,000 Saudi Riyals (about $13,000 US) to help out her financially strapped family, plus he promised to provide her with her own home – a promise he failed to keep. She had even withdrawn from her educational pursuits at a university in order to get married. So even though the octogenarian lied to his young wife by making empty promises, she cannot get a divorce from him until she repays the dowry, which her family has already spent. In the meantime, the young woman is miserable being married to a dirty old man and has no legal recourse.

A bizarre Saudi divorce case came to light in the spring of 2009 when a Saudi court upheld the divorce of a man who actually texted his wife on her mobile phone that he was divorcing her. Because the darling man had immediately notified two of his friends who were at his wedding as to how he had just divorced his wife via text messaging, the court accepted the manner in which the man chose to divorce his wife and found it perfectly legal and adequate.

Earlier this year a Saudi cleric came out and said that it’s perfectly acceptable, according to Islam, that girls as young as ten can be married, and even added that “those who think she's too young are wrong and they are being unfair to her.” Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh’s comments came in the wake of the ensuing uproar caused when a Saudi judge failed to annul the marriage of an 8-year-old girl to a 47-year-old man. The marriage was arranged by the girl’s father as a way of settling a debt, a fairly common practice among less educated tribes in Saudi Arabia. The outrage sparked by this decision eventually helped get the case assigned to another judge who granted the annulment, but only after the father admitted that perhaps the marriage wasn’t legal in the first place.

So, if Islam says that a woman’s permission is legally required for marriage, how can a father here basically sell his underage daughter into marriage and this act still be considered acceptable according to Islam?

Years ago typical arranged Saudi marriages had a fairly low divorce rate - although this doesn’t necessarily mean happy marriages, since Saudi men are legally allowed up to four wives, and Saudi women have a much more difficult time obtaining divorces than men. Nowadays the divorce rate in Saudi Arabia has increased so alarmingly that it is not all that far behind that of the United States. Some of the possible reasons for this upsurge include polygamy, abuse, age differences, family interference, not religious enough, not responsible enough, or not generous enough, when in fact it could have everything to do with men who are unable to deal with the now educated women of Saudi Arabia.

To read more on this topic, a recent post by Achelois - Raw and Uncut called "The Virgin Bride's New Tricks" discusses a new phenomenon sweeping the Arab world, and Eman over at the SaudiWoman blog posted her excellent take on the realities of Saudi divorce a few months ago.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Susie of Arabia Interviewed on GHADA'S WORLD

I 'm pleased to announce that I have been interviewed on a fellow blogger's blog called Ghada's World.

Ghada's World is a relatively new blog written by a young American Muslimah convert who lives in Utah. That alone makes Ghada's World very interesting.

Ghada has published a variety of other interviews with women on her blog as well as writing about some of her own life experiences.

I thought she asked me some pretty tough questions that really made me stop to think - and that's a good thing!

So click on over to Ghada's World to read my interview!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

When It Rains, It Pours!

A n unbelievable downpouring of rain showers fell in Jeddah yesterday over a period of several hours, wreaking havoc on this normally very dry city and the surrounding area.

I woke up to dark heavy clouds and the rare sound of ominous thunder. I have never seen it rain here like this in the two years I have lived here. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I had seen it "rain" here before, and I would have called it sprinkles not rain.
Since it rains so rarely here, Jeddah is not equipped to handle the flash flooding that comes with this type of heavy rainfall. There is no where for the water to go so the streets become like raging rivers.

Yesterday I would estimate in some areas that the water was at least three feet deep. Hundreds of vehicles were disabled and stranded and some passengers even required helicopter rescue.
I read this article in the Arab News reporting that at least 24 people died as a result of the flooding, but an updated article places the death toll now at more than 75. I saw children and grown men getting drenched out in the rain and wading into the waters.
Many of the main thoroughfares in Jeddah have curbed center road dividers separating several lanes of traffic, and then another set of curbed dividers for the service access roads. In many areas that I saw, these dividers were totally immersed underwater, creating a dangerous situation for vehicles trying to navigate their way through.
Some hotdog drivers (remember women are not allowed to drive here in Saudi Arabia) were weaving through the high waters at unsafe speeds, trying to create big waves to disrupt other safe-minded drivers who were not so daring, while others lent a helping hand to those who needed it.
Here in Jeddah, it is not unusual to see vehicles driving on the wrong side of divided streets, but yesterday it was even more common as drivers attempted to avoid deeper waters on one side of the street or the other.
Arab News photo by Adnan MahdaliIronically this heavy rainfall coincided with the first day of Hajj, the religious pilgrimage to Makkah where millions of visitors descend upon this area of the world. Most of them enter the country through Jeddah, as Makkah is just a one hour drive away. Aside from some Hajjis being stranded due to the heavy rains, the pilgrims in Makkah surprisingly managed to go about their religious rituals relatively unaffected by the inclement weather.
Businesses experienced loss of sales, schools were closed early, and there were heavy traffic delays and electrical outages. I lived through many hurricane seasons in South Florida, and this episode in Jeddah would rival the amount of rainfall received in that area of the world, just without the high winds.

UPDATE: An Arab News report on November 28th says that as many as 350 people are still unaccounted for and hundreds of others' homes were destroyed by the floods.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Family's Struggle with Autism

4-yr-old Sinan

With the U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving coming up in just a couple of days, it's a good time to reflect on those things we are thankful for, like having healthy and happy children.

Fellow bloggers, Abu Sinan and Manal, are the parents of two beautiful little boys, Sinan and Sayf.

Four-year-old Sinan has been diagnosed with a severe form of Autism called PDD - Pervasive Developmental Delay. Treatment and therapy for this condition is expensive and many expenses are not covered by insurance.

This family needs your help to help pay for the expensive out-of-pocket costs for therapy necessary to help little Sinan.

Please read more about their plight on Abu Sinan's blog, where they have set up an easy PayPal account for donations. There is also a video there of beautiful little Sinan that you can watch. Getting Sinan the help he needs in at this point in his life is crucial.

If you are at all in a position where you can help this family out with a donation, I would urge you to do so.

And be thankful if you were blessed with healthy children this Thanksgiving...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Child's Custody

10-yr-old Adam Jones

When divorce is involved, in the vast majority of child custody cases in the Middle East, custody of the children is almost always granted to the father. But what about when divorce is not the issue, but instead the father dies? One would think that the mother of the children would get custody of her own kids, right? Not necessarily so, especially in the Middle East.

One case that has made international headlines recently is the case of Adam, whose mother is British and whose Qatari father passed away in 2005. In early October of this year, Rebecca Jones, Adam's mother, was talked into visiting her deceased husband's family in Qatar with her ten-year-old son Adam. The boy was a virtual stranger to the family, having lived in Bahrain most of his life. But what was supposed to be a family visit has turned into a family's desperate fight over the custody of Adam. The Qatari family promptly kidnapped the child and Adam's 77-year-old grandmother has now been awarded custody by a Qatari court.

This family did not rip him away from his mother out of love or concern for him at all. Some reports have indicated that his Qatari family's motivations are based on the child's inheritance. Apparently Adam will come into a large amount of money when he turns 18. Adam doesn't even speak Arabic and his grandmother doesn't speak English.

The boy, like many children of Western women and Middle Eastern men, holds dual citizenship - both British and Qatari. Rebecca's deceased husband's brother, Fahad Al-Madhaiki, whom she trusted, tricked Rebecca into signing a document written in Arabic, that in effect allowed the family to challenge her parental rights to Adam. Rebecca, who has remarried and lives in Bahrain, has been denied visitation by her dead husband's family. To make matters worse, Adam suffers from a condition called dyspraxia, which affects developmental motor skills such as balance and coordination.

Social workers who met with Adam to ensure that he was in good shape told Rebecca that Adam is unaware of the custody battle and was told by his abductors that he is being kept out of his home in Bahrain because of the swine flu.

Human rights groups have condemned the Qatari court's ruling, and Rebecca has received lots of support from around the world, especially from her son's British school in Bahrain.
Adam Jones and his mom RebeccaIf you are on Facebook, you can sign up to the group "Return Adam to his Family in Bahrain." Rebecca recently posted the following on her Facebook group on November 18:

"Dear Friends, The minors affairs authority asked us to come to their office for a meeting today. They called Fahad the uncle who took my son and asked him to come in to talk about the fact that I had not seen my son for nearly 7 weeks and this was a violation of my rights as a mother. To see this person sitting acros...s the table for me was very difficult after what he has done but I tried to stay calm because they warned me if I became angry they would not be able to mediate and negotiate a visit to my son. Anyway to cut a long story short after two hours of negotiations he agreed for me to see my son for a few hours at 5pm. I was overwhelmed with joy at the prospect of seeing him, however it was short lived. Ten minutes after I left to prepare for my visit with Adam the minors affairs called me to say that Fahad had called and changed his mind and the visit was off. Truely heartbreaking. Rebecca."

How can this Qatari family, in all good faith, steal this child from his mother, deny her visitation, and think that what they are doing is in the best interest of this child?

For more information about the plight of Adam and Rebecca:

British Woman Claims Son Kidnapped by Grandparents in Qatar

Social Workers Win Access to Adam

ITN Video Interview with Adam's mom Rebecca Jones

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Where is the HONOR?

Noor Almaleki

Noor Almaleki was a beautiful 20-year-old woman who always had a thousand watt smile on her face. She had high hopes for her future, wanted to get a college education and have a career. But that was not to be. Noor was of Iraqi descent but was raised in Arizona since she was a young child. The older she got, the more Noor's father, Faleh Almaleki, got upset at how Westernized she had become. He forced her to quit her job at a fast food restaurant and tried controlling every aspect of her life. She rebelled. Noor just wanted to be what in America would be considered normal. Her father secretly arranged for her to marry a total stranger, an Iraqi man she did not know, and tricked her into going to Iraq. Once there, her dad said she couldn't return to the states unless she married the man. So she did, and she returned to Arizona without her husband. And then Noor fell in love with another man. The young lovers moved in together. Her father was furious that she had brought such dishonor to the family by her immoral actions.

So furious that he killed her by running her over with his Jeep.

Once he had committed this incomprehensible crime against his own daughter, Faleh Almaleki attempted to flee from the US on a flight to London. Upon arrival in England, he was refused entry and was immediately deported back to the United States, where he was promptly arrested. Faleh Almaleki has allegedly admitted to killing his daughter, reasoning that she had brought shame on the family.

Faleh Almaleki intentionally ran over his daughter Noor with a Jeep and killed her"Different cultures, different values. One thing to one culture does not make sense to another culture," said Peter-Ali Almaleki, explaining why his father mowed down his sister Noor in a government parking lot in Peoria, Arizona, killing her.

Peter-Ali's statement is definitely true. I certainly don't understand how murdering one's own daughter is acceptable in some societies when it is believed that she has brought shame on the family with what they perceive to be immoral behavior. How can family honor be more important than a family member's life? What honor is there in killing your own daughter?

Are we not expected to follow the laws of the land that we are in when we travel or live in other countries? Why then does this father knowingly disobey US law and then flee like a coward? Most honor killings are carried out by a male family member against a close female relative. However honor killings directed at men are becoming more common when it is believed that the male family member is gay. It is estimated that an average of 5000 honor killings occur worldwide every year.

Human Rights Watch defines "honor killings" as follows:

Honor crimes are acts of violence, usually murder, committed by male family members against female family members, who are held to have brought dishonor upon the family. A woman can be targeted by individuals within her family for a variety of reasons, including: refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, being the victim of a sexual assault, seeking a divorce — even from an abusive husband — or allegedly committing adultery. The mere perception that a woman has behaved in a way that "dishonors" her family is sufficient to trigger an attack on her life.

Murdered sisters Sarah and Amina SaidOn New Years Day of 2008 in Texas, an Egyptian man shot and killed both of his teenage daughters, Sarah and Amina Said, when he discovered that they had boyfriends. Last year a young Saudi woman was killed by her father for chatting on Facebook with a man. Recently in Pakistan several young girls were buried alive when they refused to enter into arranged marriages and expressed their desires to marry men of their choice. Sixteen year old Aqsa Parvez was strangled and beaten to death by her own father in Canada over her refusal to wear the hijab, the scarf many Muslim women wear to cover their hair in public. And in a bizarre twist on honor killings, an Iraqi woman was arrested for orchestrating the rapes of some 80 women, shaming them so that she could recruit them into becoming martyrs, suicide bombers whose actions would free them and their families from the shame of their rapes that SHE had arranged in the first place. Other women have been killed for wanting a divorce, for flirting, or just for wearing makeup. Many times her murderer is never charged with any crime, and oftentimes, if they are, the maximum sentence will be six measly months in jail.

But what really surprises the hell out of me is the reaction - and many times the LACK of reaction - from the communities involved when honor killings occur. When mourners at Sarah and Amina's funeral were told by their imam that "all living things are destined to die," as if to just shrug off their deaths as a natural process, and were told by another religious cleric that parents need to work to keep their families strong - they are missing the opportunity to decry and discourage this type of misogynistic behavior and, in reality, are condoning it. I know that Islam does not condone honor killings, but there is no denying that there is a recurring pattern here that honor killings are mainly committed by Muslims against Muslim women.

Yaser Said is wanted for murdering his daughtersThe killer of Sarah and Amina Said - their father Yaser Said - is still on the run. It is believed that he absconded to Egypt right after killing his daughters. Until men around the world stop trying to control every aspect of their women family members' lives, treating them like children who are unable to make decisions for themselves, telling them how they should dress and behave, or who they should marry, or where they can or cannot go - until men allow women to make their own decisions about their own lives, women like Noor, and Sarah, and Amina will continue to be murdered by the very men who are supposed to love them and protect them. How many more innocent young women must die before this archaic and barbaric practise stops? I concede that immorality is rampant in the West, but killing a child for not wanting to wear a scarf on her head is way worse than any immoral behavior I can think of.

When honor killings occur, does the rest of the community REALLY look upon it as having restored the family's honor? Do any of them view it as wrong? Or do people actually believe that these murders are justified? I don't understand how cultures can claim that their religions are peaceful and say that killing another human being is wrong, and then all these senseless crazy murders like this keep happening. The men of these families have appointed themselves judge and executioner in these cases, but doesn't their religion tell them NOT to judge others? There is something very wrong with the man who would rather KILL his own child than to have her live her life exposing her hair, or having a boyfriend, or marrying for love. I just don't understand this mentality...

UPDATE: 23NOV2009 - Faleh Hassan Almaleki, Noor's father, has pleaded Not Guilty in court to charges of Aggravated Assault. He's been on suicide watch in jail which caused his hearing to be delayed twice. It is expected that he will be charged with more serious offenses since Noor died.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Peace, Tolerance and Compassion

The big story coming out of Kent, Connecticut, this past week has to do with a grieving father pitted against town officials over the wording for a proposed memorial to the man's son who perished in the World Trade Center terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.

Peter Gadiel lost his 23 year old son James on that fateful day. James was an employee of Cantor Fitzgerald which had its offices on the 103rd floor of Manhattan's World Trade Center in New York City. For several years now, James' hometown of Kent, CT., has been wanting to remember and honor him with a plaque to pay tribute to his memory. And this is where things get sticky. Peter Gadiel is insistant that the wording on the plaque should specifically state that James was "murdered by Muslim terrorists." Fortunately the City of Kent town officials have balked at Mr. Gadiel's request.

I certainly understand and sympathize with Mr. Gadiel's grief, however I feel that his request is misguided. I also find it offensive, racist, indecent, unfairly prejudicial, inflammatory, and hurtful toward the millions of peace-loving Muslims in our world. This issue is about so much more than just political correctness. Labeling an entire group of people based on the actions of just a few renegades only serves to perpetuate hate. And perpetuating hate is not something that the USA (or any country, for that matter) needs to be doing. Understanding different cultures, respecting other religions, and tolerating those who are different from ourselves is key. We must teach our children these important lessons so that they hopefully might grow up to live in a world of peace, tolerance and compassion. Don't we ALL want this for our children?

I realize this is a touchy subject with very strong emotions attached, but I was shocked at the amount of insulting and hateful comments I read on several websites. I will not publish any comments that I find offensive, uncivilized or insulting toward Muslims.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


You may have read on the news recently about the loose-lipped Saudi man in his 30s who is in deep doodoo for dishing about his illustrious sex life on a Lebanese satellite television channel. Mazen Abdul-Jawad appeared on an LBC program called "Bold Red Line" that was first broadcast in mid-July of 2009 and was aired in Saudi Arabia. But what you may not have heard or read about is how Saudi Arabia has again managed to point the finger of blame for this incident at women. "Crimes" pertaining to sex (like rape) in Saudi Arabia often equally fault the woman, even though women are unidentifiable and completely obscured in black wash-and-wear tents when out in public, yet they are still widely perceived as seductive temptresses by Saudi men. Islam forbids dating and pre-marital sex, and speaking about sexual escapades publicly is considered promoting sinful behavior and moral corruption. Yes, talking about your sex life in public in Saudi Arabia is a horrible crime.

Bragging on the show about his first sexual encounter at age fourteen with a young Saudi neighbor girl, the foolish Abdul-Jawad also described his ability to pick up other Saudi women using Bluetooth technology and even showcased his tacky love nest of a bedroom - complete with a bordeaux red colored bedspread accesorized with condoms and sex toys - to the cameras, explaining that it was the place where "everything happens." As a result of his interview, hundreds of offended puritanical Saudis filed complaints against him, one even going so far as to call for his execution. Ironically enough, LBC (Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation), the satellite television channel that broadcast this offensive program, is owned by a member of the Saudi royal family, billionaire Prince Al Waleed bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz.

Unlike the judicial system in the USA which can literally drag on for years and years, justice is swift and harsh in Saudi Arabia. In just a mere three months from the time Abdul-Jawad committed his immoral offenses, this unfortunate and unwise man has already been tried and convicted for his crimes. He has now been sentenced to a jaw-dropping five years in prison and 1000 lashes, plus after his release from prison, he will also be restricted from leaving the country for another five years as well as forbidden from discussing his saga.

Abdul-Jawad did not go down alone for these crimes. Recently sentenced to two years in prison and 300 lashes each were three of his friends who also appeared on the same program with Abdul-Jawad.

But the blame did not stop there. Most recently, a young Saudi female journalist received a flogging sentence of 60 lashes for her part in the production end of the broadcast. Twenty-two year old Rozanna Al-Yami maintains that she had no direct involvement at all in Abdul-Jawad's show. Her crime was simply working for LBC and the fact that the company did not have the proper licensing and documentation to operate within Saudi Arabia. Ms. Al-Yami claims she was not even aware that LBC was unlicensed. Apparently another female employee of LBC has also been arrested, but details of her case are sketchy at this point.

So far, it appears as though no other LBC employees have been arrested or charged with any crimes. So why are these two female employees being singled out? What about the actual reporter/interviewer, the producer, and the camera crew? Certainly there were many other LBC employees who were actually more directly involved in the production of this program than Ms. Al-Yami.

I also read that in a popular local Arabic newspaper, many commenters named Al-Yami responded to the story, defending their family name and denying and rejecting the female journalist by the same name as a member of their tribe. Others criticized and shamed her for not covering her hair and face properly. These commenters were more concerned with their family name being tarnished than the fact that a young working Saudi woman has been railroaded by the male chauvinistic system which consistently places blame and punishment unfairly on women. Funny how Saudi men manage to keep their testerone in check when they travel outside their country, but when in Saudi the men are not expected to be able to control themselves around women. Consequently Saudi women are shielded and protected from other men (like wearing black cloaks and veils, forced segregation of the sexes, requiring permission from male guardians to go to school, travel, work, etc) but still are usually partially blamed if they are raped, having that "she had it coming/she was asking for it" mentality.

What I find crazy is that in Saudi Arabia we can view shows like "Sex and the City" and "Nip/Tuck" on satellite TV. I guess these shows are okay because they portray the decadent West as nasty purveyors of sex and indulgence, but a show like the LBC one which has caused such an uproar just shows how deeply in denial the Saudis are about the existence of consensual sex happening in their own country between unmarried individuals. As long as people keep quiet about it, it must not exist, but don't dare talk about it in the open - they just don't want to hear it. Obviously Abdul-Jawad is not the only man in Saudi Arabia to have experienced sex outside of marriage.

I would seriously advise Jerry Springer's show guests not to set foot in Saudi Arabia if they value their life and freedom, not that they would be allowed in anyway ...

UPDATE: Journalist Rozanna Al-Yami has received a royal pardon and her case has sparked demands for the reviewing of cases involving journalists detained in media-related offences. For more information, please read this Arab News article.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

My Perfect Wedding

When I was a young girl, I never really dreamed about having a big church wedding like many girls do. I don't know why. Maybe it was because I was never a real frilly girlie-girl, growing up as the only girl in a household of four lively brothers. I guess I was more of a tom-boy than anything, always trying to keep up with my brothers to prevent them from teasing me too much, although teasing me was part of their daily sustenance, much like breathing, sleeping, and sunshine. All my life, I have always marched to my own drum, and I guess some would say that I have often taken more unconventional paths than most.

Susie and AdnanI had met my future husband Adnan when we were students at the university (see my previous post called How I Met My Prince), as many couples do. From the start he had been honest with me about how he would return to his native country of Saudi Arabia after he completed his studies, would marry a Saudi girl, raise his family and live out his life there. I had fallen fast and hard for him, but I accepted what he had told me and appreciated his honesty, although deep in the corners of my mind, I secretly hoped that he would eventually realize that he loved me so much that he couldn't possibly live without me. I knew that my happily-ever-after scenario was not likely to happen though, and it was not something that I let myself dwell on or believe. I tried to take it just one day at a time, being thankful for whatever time we did have together. And each one-day-at-a-time ultimately turned into twelve long years. Whether he had intended to or not, Adnan had become a member of my family, was always included in family functions, and our names were always spoken together as one: Susie and Adnan, or Adnan and Susie.

When Adnan finally finished his studies and earned his PhD, it was a bittersweet occasion for me. I was happy for him that he had achieved his goal, but I also knew that our time together - twelve years - was nearing its end. Indeed he left Arizona and returned to Saudi Arabia as he had always said he would. But a strange thing happened. He wasn't able to land a job in his field. Frustrated and disappointed, he returned to the states six months later for a visit, and I picked him up at the airport. As soon as we arrived at my house, Adnan swept me up in his arms and he proposed to me! I was flabbergasted and bursting with joy. I had never really allowed myself to dream or to believe until that moment that we might actually have a future together. He again returned back to Arabia, continued looking for work, and made plans to return to visit me once more in Arizona that December. Adnan arrived one week before Christmas, and we immediately decided to get married right away, with no pre-planning. Since most of my immediate family would be flying in from all over the USA to spend the holidays at my mom's house in my small hometown on the Mexican border in Arizona, we decided to have a surprise wedding.

Susie and AdnanWhen I called my mom to tell her of our sudden plans to marry a couple days before Christmas, she was thrilled and sprung into action. After a twelve-year long courtship, Adnan and I gave my wonderful mother just five days to organize and plan a wedding which was to take place at her house two days before Christmas. Plus on top of all that, she had a houseful of out-of-town guests to contend with! My mom was an amazingly good sport about the whole thing and took it all in stride. After all, she had raised my brothers and me all by herself after my dad passed away when I was eleven. She could certainly handle all the details of a last minute wedding right before Christmas. All I really had to do was get my dress and a suit for Adnan.

With only five days to stage an entire wedding in the middle of the winter holiday season, there was, of course no time to send out formal invitations. So, the wedding guests were all invited by word of mouth and phone calls. My mom's home was already decorated for the holidays, so the wedding theme was a logical no brainer. There was no time for me to get upset about any wedding plans that might have gone awry, no time to fret over those little minute details that drive some brides nuts. My mom ordered a beautiful three-tier cake from the local supermarket, as well as party platters of hors d’oeuvres. A family friend was enlisted to take photos of the event, and one of my brothers volunteered to video-tape our wedding and reception. My brothers' wives and my nieces attended to the decorations, elaborately utilizing the colors of red and white for the poinsettias, linens, netting and bows, in keeping with the holiday theme. The entire wedding cost a paltry $500. But in my eyes, it couldn't have turned out any nicer.

Susie and Adnan on their wedding daySome friends changed their holiday plans and made the two hour drive from Tucson down to my hometown so they could celebrate our special day with us. Several of my childhood friends were also able to come, since they too happened to be home for the holidays. And the congregation from the church I attended since I was a little girl was invited in a special announcement during the church services that morning.

That freezing December day almost two decades ago was one of the coldest days ever. But even the bitter cold couldn't put a damper on the festivities that day when seventy-five of my friends and relatives gathered at my mom’s home, crammed into her warm and cozy living room and were witness to something we all had thought we would never see - my marriage to the love of my life Adnan. And with my mom’s twinkling Christmas tree as the backdrop, we said our vows to each other. I can tell you, there were not many dry eyes in the place. The only things that could have possibly made that day any better than it was would have been if my one brother who was on active duty in Desert Storm could have been there, and also if Adnan could have had some of his family there. Aside from that, it was flawless. It was truly a joyous day. The day was so surreal because I had never really let myself believe for one minute it would ever happen. There was so little time to prepare for it that nothing could have possibly gone wrong - it was totally stress-free. How many brides can say that? Everything went off without a hitch. My wedding day was perfect for me.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Stoning of Soraya M

The Stoning of Soraya M is a powerful movie based on a best-selling book that leaves the viewer in utter disbelief that something like this true story could actually happen in real life. That supposedly pious men can get away with such barbaric behavior and not be held accountable for bringing about the demise and the death of an innocent woman in a male dominated Islamic country is beyond comprehension.

Soraya has been married for twenty years to her abusive jerk of a husband. Together they have four children, two sons and two daughters. The sons are obviously favored by the father who teaches his sons that it is a man's world and that women are much lesser creatures that should be treated like servants. In Islam men are allowed up to four wives, as long as each wife is treated equally. But since her husband cannot afford to support two wives and he doesn't want to pay her alimony, he decides he just wants to be rid of Soraya, no matter what it takes. Since Soraya refuses to give her husband a divorce so he can marry the 14 year old girl that he fancies, he hatches a plan to falsely accuse her of adultery.

The men of the small dusty remote Iranian village in the desolate mountains of Iran go along with his evil plot to destroy his wife, falsely accusing her of adultery, holding a mock trial, and convicting her based on the word of a man who was threatened with death if he did not cooperate. The story is eerily reminiscent of the Salem witch trials, where the actions of a few provoke maniacal mob mentality into the masses against one of their own. Even Soraya's own father took part in the proceedings and denounced her publicly once she was convicted and sentenced to death by stoning. The movie is graphic and the scenes where Soraya is stoned to death are very difficult to watch. She suffers a horrendous, agonizing death.

It will come as no surprise that the book which tells Soraya's story, written by the French journalist of Iranian descent, Freidoune Sahebjam, was banned in Iran because it portrays the Iranian legal system in such a negative light. The Stoning of Soraya M is an important and extraordinary story that needed to be told.

Thankfully Soraya's story is NOT the norm for Muslim marriages. But what IS the norm about her story is that most Muslim marriages are not an equal partnership, instead deferring the power in the relationship to the man, and consequently, blame for any problems in the marriage on the woman. Men tend to wear the pants in the family in many marriages around the world - I'm not saying that this is unique to Islamic marriages. But it does seem as though in Islamic countries, women are always guilty or wrong, and men are always innocent or right. For example, when a woman is raped in an Islamic country, generally she is believed to have brought it on herself so she will be punished, while the man is often thought to be justified in his actions. Honor killings always target females and are committed by male relatives. Female children are still sold by their own fathers to perverted old men, oftentimes to settle a debt or to give the family a financial boost. Sometimes Shariah law can appear to be unfair, unjust, inhumane, or violent to women or girls.

The Muslim world still seems to have a long way to go in the area of women's rights...

For more information, please read an in-depth post about The Stoning of Soraya at the blog Sand Gets in My Eyes.