Saturday, March 28, 2009

X-Treme Censorship

The other night I went to a music shop to purchase a few CDs for my son, Adam, AKA Captain Kabob, who just loves music. He comes by his love for music honestly. I have always loved to sing and I like all kinds of music. Listening to music brings me much joy. My hubby used to love music too. He used to love music back when I first met him, back when he says he was "stupid." Stupid for doing sinful things back when he was young and in college, like, among other things, loving music. In fact, he had quite an impressive record collection and could name a lot more of the artists than I could. But as Hubby grew older and "wiser" and got back in touch with his religious side, he realized how "stupid" he had been. So now he thinks that music is a worthless waste of time, and he tries to discourage Capt. Kabob from loving music so much. But the more Hubby puts down music, the more adamant Capt. Kabob is about loving it.

But this post isn't about the confusing issue of how some Muslims believe that music is haram (forbidden) and how other Muslims believe otherwise. This post deals with the censorship that is imposed on all residents of Saudi Arabia.

One of the CDs I got for Capt. Kabob is called "One of the Boys," by a female artist named Katy Perry. Ok, I have to admit here that 16 year old Capt. Kabob thinks Katy Perry is pretty hot, but he really likes her music too. When he opened up the CD, we were both astonished however. I hadn't noticed when I bought it, but the tightly sealed plastic wrap packaging had been removed and had been replaced with a clear plastic resealable envelope-type wrapper. The front cover of the little booklet tucked inside serves as the front of the CD cover. This little booklet insert has photos of the artist, a list of the songs and lyrics, as well as the artistic credits.

This is what the real cover of the CD should have looked like:

And here's what the actual CD cover that I purchased looks like:

Here's what a photo on the INSIDE of the CD booklet should have looked like:

And this is what that same photo actually looks like on the CD I bought:

The back cover had also been doctored as well. Here's what it should have looked like:

And here's what the back cover of the CD I purchased really looks like:

Now those of you who have purchased CDs know how much trouble it is to take that plastic wrap off. And then to remove the front insert and especially removing the back insert from the CD case without breaking the plastic case can be tricky. So what it all boils down to is that the Saudi government is actually paying religious police members of the Committee for the Protection of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CVPVP) to remove the plastic wrap from these CDs, open up the CD cases, remove the front and back inserts, and carefully and painstakingly color in with a marker any photos baring exposed female flesh that is deemed objectionable. Hence, while the general public is protected from such vulgarity, the CVPVP members get to view photos with women's flesh abounding and then get to stroke on colored markers over the exposed women's skin. I wonder what they are thinking or how they feel as they stroke those markers onto the smooth female flesh in the photos. I wonder if it makes them feel good that they are shielding young teenage boys from such crude displays of the nubile female form.

But I also wonder if they are sometimes overcome with desire and cannot control their feelings or actions when they see such immoral things like this day in and day out. After all, they are only men and only human. Certainly seeing all that tempting erotic skin, and coloring in all those feminine body parts must have some kind of perverse effect on these men who have been entrusted with keeping the entire country out of harm's way. These poor men are charged with the monumental task of seeking out sexual connotations in every aspect of life here and turning innocence into filth. It's a dirty disgusting job but somebody has to do it. What supreme sacrifices these noble men make for the sake of their fellow Saudi man!

For further details about the extreme role that this controversial government agency takes in "protecting" the good citizens of Saudi Arabia, read my previous post about the CPVPV. You can read even more by clicking over to an in-depth blog post on the same topic by my fellow blogger Sand Gets in my Eyes, and a very recent accounting of a disturbing incident in Riyadh about how the CPVPV overstep their bounds by another fellow blogger, Saudi Woman.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Under Cover

A   friend of mine, Amber, told me a story about one of her sisters-in-law (SILs), whom I'll call Maha. Amber's and Maha's husbands are brothers.

Maha is ultra-religious, ultra-conservative, and veils herself. Maha never associates with any of her brothers-in-law (BILs) at family functions. The BILs have never seen her face or heard her voice. Maha runs for cover and hides whenever her BILs are around. In fact, I myself have a SIL like this, as well, so I'm guessing this type of behavior is not that uncommon and it just depends on how the woman was brought up and her own personal feelings and beliefs. I can totally understand and respect that.
Amber and her husband have a home in the US too. Once while they were there in the states, Maha and her husband came to "visit." Many Muslim women will relax a little bit when they are in other countries, choosing to dress conservatively instead of wearing the abaya. But not Maha. She remained totally veiled and would not speak to Amber's husband, left the room if he entered, and wouldn't sit at the same table with him when they ate.

But during their visit, they went out to eat at a public restaurant. Maha even refused to sit at the same table with the rest of the family, so she sat at a table with her back to them.
Since I've been here in Saudi Arabia, I have seen many veiled women in the food courts at malls. Most of them leave their veils on while they eat, which is an amazing feat to me. They lift them out slightly from their faces with one hand and shovel the food in with the other hand underneath their veils. The first time I saw it, I couldn't believe it. But I've seen more and more women here doing this, so now I guess I'm used to it, but I still find it fascinating.

Okay, now I can understand and respect Maha's beliefs and actions up to this point. But here's where it gets really confusing for me.
Once Maha got settled at her separate table, she then took her veil off. Maha spoke to the male waiter without any problem. Maha's face was visible by all other men facing her in the restaurant.

I'm sorry, but I don't get this. Could somebody please try to explain to me why it's okay for Maha to talk to a male waiter, but not her brother-in-law? Why is it okay for the male waiter and other male patrons in the restaurant to see her face and hear her voice, but not her brother-in-law? Is it that Maha considers these strangers less than men? To me, a man is a man is a man. I really don't see the logic at all here, and I would love to try to understand her actions. Is it me, or isn't this being a bit hypocritical?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Big Cyber Hug

THANK YOU! Drum roll, please! Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls ... I WON the Bloggie Award in the Best Asian Blog category of the 2009 Weblog Awards, and it's all thanks to YOU! The Bloggie Awards started back in 2001 and were the first ever awards designed to recognize bloggers for their contributions and achievements on the world wide web. Each year there are major giants in the blogging world nominated for these honors. Familiar names like Google, Flickr, Twitter, The Huffington Post, Perez Hilton, and The Daily Kos were among those nominated this year in the 30 categories. There are no shiny trophies, no new cars, or no big cash prizes given. Recognition is all we get. But heck, for me, just being nominated was thrilling enough! So thank you again - I'm humbled and I still can't believe it. (BIG CYBER HUG for you!)

Please do check out the 2009 Weblog Awards website and take a look at some of the fine blogs that won in their categories. If nothing else, you MUST take a look at the winner of Weblog of the Year, Confessions of a Pioneer Woman. I don't know how she does it! I'm in some really awesome company there! In fact, when I look at some of those blogs, I feel really inferior, like they must have made a mistake or something!

The second exciting thing that happened this week is that I was interviewed by another great website called Women On The Road, a site that offers advice and resources for women who love to travel on their own. This useful website is chockful of tips for safe traveling, packing, accommodations, and travel book recommendations, among many other things. It was established by a woman named Leyla, who has backpacked and lived all over the world and who just can't seem to plant herself for very long in any one place. A seasoned journalist, Leyla shares on her website many of the past stories she has written about developing countries' problems and issues.

So please check out my interview at Women On The Road, and while you're there, see what other interesting articles Leyla has waiting in store for you!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Comparing Apples and Oranges

When I was in the states last summer, I was shocked at the prices for groceries, and I hadn't been gone for that long. Less than a year, in fact. For the most part, prices for fresh produce - which is grown in this part of the world - are very reasonable. Imported products, like coffee and cereal, cost more but I don't think they are too far out of line with what might be paid for similar products in the states.
So I'll let you compare for yourself - how do Saudi grocery prices stack up against prices in your part of the world? I've taken samples from several grocery stores, from mega stores to smaller ones, and a few samples from the outdoor fruit and vegetable market.

For comparison, $1 US equals 3.75 Saudi Riyals (SR), and 1 KG equals 2.2 LB. 

BEEF KNUCKLE: 1 KG costs 39.90 SR, which equals 2.2 LB costing $10.64 US. So in this photo, we have 2.07 KG costing 70.17 SR, which translates to 4.8 LB costing $18.71 US.

GROUND BEEF: 1 KG costs 17.95 SR, which equals 2.2 LB costing $4.78 US.

CUBED BEEF: 1 KG costs 19.95 SR, which equals 2.2 LB costing $5.32 US.

CHICKEN: One whole, uncooked, costs 5 - 7 SR, which equals $1.33 - $1.86 US.

FRESH PARROT FISH: 1 KG costs 16.95 SR, which equals 2.2 LB costing $4.52 US.

TILAPIA: 1 KG cost 12.95 SR, which equals 2.2 LB costing $3.45 US.

SEAFOOD COCKTAIL: Ready to cook seafood mix of shrimp, crab, calamari, etc., plus some veggies, 1 KG costs 30 SR, which equals 2.2 LB costing $8 US.
TOMATOES: 8 medium, weighing .725 KG, costs 4.31 SR, which equals 1.6 LB at $1.15 US. (1 KG costs 5.95 SR which equals 2.2 LB for $1.58 US.)

HOT PEPPERS: 1 KG costs 6.25 SR, which equals 2.2 LB costing $1.66 US.

LONG HOT PEPPERS: 1 KG cost 8.50 SR, which equals 2.2 LB costing $2.26.
CHERRY TOMATOES: One carton costs 4 SR, which equals $1.06 US.

BELL PEPPERS: 1 KG costs 13.95 SR, which equals 2.2 LB costing $3.72 US.

GERMAN STYLE BREAD: One Round Loaf about 8 inches across costs 3.95 SR, which equals $1.05 US.

6 INCH SUB SANDWICH BREAD: Package of 6 costs .75 SR, which equals $.20 US.

SESAME BREAD: One Loaf, about 8 inches across costs 1 SR, which equals $.26 US.

REGULAR SLICED BREAD: One Loaf costs 1.5 SR, which equals $.40 US.

DATE BREAD: Individual serving (size of a Large Croissant), with date filling and topped with sesame seeds costs 1 SR, which equals $.26 US.

FLOUR TORTILLAS: Package of 12, medium size, costs 1.95 SR, which equals $.52 US.

DATES: Stuffed with Almonds and topped with Sesame Seeds, approximately 60 count, weighing .558 KG, costs 19.50 SR, which equals 1.22 LB costing $5.20 US.

POTATOES: 1 KG costs 4.75 SR, which equals 2.2 LB costing $1.26 US.

GREEN ONIONS: 1 Large Bunch costs 1 SR, which equals $.26 US.

PEARS: Box of 20 costs 12 SR, which equals $3.20 US.

APPLES: 1 KG costs 4.50 SR, which equals 2.2 LB costing $1.20 US.

GRAPEFRUIT: 1 KG costs 4.95 SR, which equals 2.2 LB costing $1.32 US.

LEMONS: 1 KG costs 6.95 SR, which equals 2.2 LB costing $1.85 US.

TANGERINES: One Crate costs 10 SR, which equals $2.66 US.

INSTANT COFFEE: Store brand, medium size, costs 15.95 SR, which equals $4.25 US.

RADISHES: 2 Large Bunches costs 2 SR, which equals $.53 US.

ONIONS: 1 KG costs 2 SR, which equals 2.2 LB costing $.53 US.

BROCCOLI: 1 KG costs 6.25 SR, which equals 2.2 LB costing $1.66 US.

DILL, CILANTRO, ETC: Huge Bunch for 1 SR, which equals $.26 US.

EGGS: CARTON OF 30 large costs 14 SR, which equals $3.73 US.

WHOLE MILK: 2 Liter Bottle costs 7 SR, which equals $1.86 US.

BUTTER: Single Stick costs 3 SR ($.80 US); Double Stick costs 5 SR, which equals $1.33 US.

YOGURT: 1 with Fruit costs 1 SR, which equals $.26 US.

KRAFT SINGLES CHEESE: Package of 24 slices costs 14.95 SR, which equals $3.98 US.

GARLIC: Bag of 19 Garlic Heads costs 3 SR, which equals $.80 US.

MACARONI: Package weighing 500 G costs 3.95 SR, which equals 1.1 LB costing $1.05 US.

BANANAS: Large bunch of 8 costs 2 SR, which equals $.53 US.

FRESH FIGS: Box of 25 costs 10 SR, which equals $2.66 US.

TUNA FISH: Small Can, average price is 4 SR, which equals $1.06 US.

CEREAL, Small Box costs 13.50 SR ($3.60 US), Large 32.50 SR ($8.66 US).

DREAM WHIP: Package with 2 packets costs 4.25 SR, which equals $1.13 US.

BETTY CROCKER CREME CARAMEL MIX: One Box costs 2.50 SR, which equals $.66 US.

OFF BRAND CREME CARAMEL MIX: One Box costs 1.50 SR, which equals $.40 US.

VANILLA: 15 G powder packet costs 2.95 SR, which equals $.78 US.

BAKERY CAKE, MEDIUM: costs 29.95 SR, which equals $7.98 US.

BAKERY CAKE, LARGE: costs 39.95 SR, which equals $10.65 US.

BAKERY CAKE, LARGE: Gateau with Fruit Topping costs 44.95 SR, which equals $11.98 US.

PASTRIES: Fancy single serving costs 1.95 SR, which equals $.52 US.

9 LIVES CAT FOOD: 6 small cans costs 13.95 SR, which equals $3.72 US.

TROPICAL FISH FOOD: Large costs 24.95 SR, which equals $6.65 US.

GOLDFISH FOOD: Small costs 12.95, Large costs 21.95 SR, which equals $3.45 - 5.85 US.

REPTILE FOOD: 29.95 SR, which equals $7.98 US.

HARTZ SHAMPOO FOR CATS: costs 29.95 SR, which equals $7.98 US.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Riding Horses in Arabia

A  lthough there are many things that women cannot do here in Saudi Arabia, horseback riding is not one of them. Private equestrian centers are places where women are free to take off their abayas and uncover their hair. I would imagine that this is not something that most Saudi women take advantage of because there are men workers all around, but it is more an activity that Western women and their children might likely do. Actually there is a passage in the Q'uran that specifically directs Muslims to teach children how to swim, shoot a bow and arrow, and ride a horse. Whether or not all Muslims follow this directive is unclear. A couple of days ago, my son Adam took his first horseback riding lesson at an equestrian ranch not far from our home. Amidst all the frenzied development taking place here in Jeddah, there remain pockets of desert and relatively underdeveloped areas. Our district of the city is a fast paced growth area, but not too far from where we live are vast desert expanses. We veered off the freeway exit through a stretch of winding road lined with hundreds of junk yards containing wrecked cars.
We arrived at the privately owned Trio Ranch at 8:30am while the temperatures were still quite comfortable. It was established in 1989 by an Italian businesswoman and caters mostly to young people. The 22-hectare sports complex is a large dusty facility which doesn't offer much shade, but has a comfortable clubhouse serving refreshments, several arenas where horses are trained and lessons are conducted, plus facilities for other sports including golf and tennis. Trio Ranch is fully staffed. All in all, there had to be at least fifty well cared for horses. There is even a swimming pool for the horses when the temperatures get too hot that the horses walk down into to cool off.

The ranch offers annual memberships which allow for reduced rate riding lessons. An annual membership is 1000 riyals ($250 US) which brings the rate for a half hour group lesson down to as low as 55 riyals (which is less than $13 US). Non-members are charged 150 riyals for a private lesson (less than $40 US). If you just want to ride a pony without any instruction, you can do that too.

Adam hadn't really ever ridden a horse before, and I must say, he was a natural. Just watching him riding around the arena, he looked like he had been doing it for years. I could see by the big smile on his face that he was thoroughly enjoying himself. But even though he's in pretty good shape from playing rugby, he's been complaining about how sore his back and thighs are from riding for the past couple of days. We're going to have to get Adam some riding boots and proper pants too.
There are several other places in Jeddah where people can ride horses. From what I've read, a large equestrian center is being constructed in a more central location of the city. Who knows, maybe one of these days, I'll even try it myself!