Sunday, August 30, 2009

Why Haven't These Caught On in America?

Toilets are an interesting phenomenon around the world. In my travels I've come to see that toilets can vary widely in design and how they are used. I think we've all been in filthy disgusting toilets, when there was absolutely no other option, where we were afraid to make contact with any surface for fear of catching something deadly. And then there are those beautiful spic and span bathrooms that looked so clean you'd swear you could almost eat off the floor, although I wouldn't recommend it. In the states, people are used to the comfortable flip down seat, that flips up for men to use while standing up. I saw my first bidet in a hotel in England and I wasn't exactly quite sure how to use the thing. In Germany, I was surprised when I had no choice at the time but to use a public facility that basically seemed like an open can with no seat on it at all. Even those compact toilets in airplanes are design wonders which fit in that small space, but at least they have a seat and that loud sonic swoosh when you flush. And here in Saudi Arabia was my first exposure to squatting toilets that are essentially a hole in the floor. Attempting to use one of those while wearing an abaya with long pants underneath requires some acrobatic abilities, but that's another story. Now don't go thinking that all toilets here are holes in the floor because they're not. I've seen many sparkling clean ultra modern toilets here that are equipped like no toilets I've ever seen in the states.

And that's why it surprises me that one simple wonderful thing that almost all toilets here in Saudi Arabia have hasn't caught on in the states. What is it, you ask? It's a plain old spray hose attachment that you can clean with after you've done your business. Before I met my husband, like many Americans, I used to just use toilet paper. But I learned from him how lovely it is to actually clean yourself with water. Because we didn't have one of those nifty spray hoses, we would keep a garden watering can nearby to use and just fill it with water from the sink. If you think about it, it's so much more refreshing and hygenic. And a few sheets of toilet paper is really all you need to dry off. Every couple of years or so, a part of the hose might start leaking, so you simply replace the entire hose with a new one that can be purchased at discount places along the lines of Big Lots or such. I like it much better than the bidet itself - we have two bidets in our home, and I use it to wash off my feet!

It seems like this spray hose should be easy enough to install, as long as there is a separate available water line, otherwise you would need some plumbing expertise. In Florida, my husband jury-rigged his own contraption onto our toilets. Instead of a spray hose, a small metal spray head was used, attached to copper tubing and affixed inside the toilet bowl, like a little mini fountain. He also installed an off/on handle that we could turn when we wanted to use it. It was much more complicated than these fantastic spray hoses, and it looked wierd, was harder to keep clean, and not as efficient, but it served its purpose.

I just don't understand why these remarkable easy-to-use toilet hoses haven't sprung up everywhere in America. It's one thing I truly miss when I travel back to the states!

For more interesting information about bathroom habits and equipment around the world, visit Toilets of the World.

And here's a website that sells the wonderful handheld bidet sprayers,

Friday, August 28, 2009

Can You Help?

I 've become friends with a fellow blogger - an American woman who has lived in the Middle East for over two decades - who needs financial help right now. She goes by the name of Cool Red and I have been fortunate to be a fan of her blog for a couple of years now. Her words have made me cry at times, and other times she has had me rolling on the floor laughing. She's an excellent writer and she has had plenty of material in her life's experiences.

Cool Red's life has not been easy in the Middle East. She is now divorced from her abusive husband. Consequently she has really struggled financially to make ends meet. Now she and her children want to move back to America. Back to her home, to be reunited with her family. Two of her kids are already in America. Three are with her here in the Gulf. She needs money to purchase four airline tickets. Can you help with a donation? If enough people would just show her a little compassion and generosity during this holy month of Ramadan, we could help make this happen.

Please, if there is any way you can make a contribution, please do! You can read Cool Red's post "It's Over People...The Fat Lady Has Sung" to learn more about her plight. And she has an easy PayPal link on the top right of her blog - all you have to do is click on where it says DONATE.

Thank you for your help!

UPDATE: 3SEP09 - Cool Red has been experiencing some problems with ehr blog, but it is up and running again. She is almost to her goal!!! Just a few more contributions and she'll be on her way home.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Mugged in Saudi Arabia

M y teenaged son, Adam, also known as Captain Kabob, was mugged on the streets of Jeddah last night - ironically the night before the start of Ramadan, the holiest month of the year for Muslims. He made a bad decision and mistakenly got into a car he thought was a taxi and he was taken for a ride, robbed and shoved out of the moving vehicle. He was fortunate. He could have been more seriously injured than he was, beaten up or sexually assaulted or even killed. And the thugs only got away with his mobile phone, when they could have taken his backpack which had his computer in it or his brand new 16 Gig IPOD he got in the states this summer. He was indeed lucky.

Adam has taken taxis here in Jeddah before and he has had very good experiences. My husband and I agreed to let him go to a friend's home to spend Friday night. It would be his last opportunity to do this before his school starts on Sunday. He packed up his clothes, toothbrush, and his computer into his school backpack and headed out the door around 6pm, before dark. Taxis are abundant here in Jeddah since women cannot drive themselves, and one always comes around within minutes if you are walking along the street.

A dark car pulled up alongside Adam. The warning signs were there that should have tipped my son off that something was just not right. The car did not have the identifying TAXI light on top of the car, but it had some gold lettering on the outside that Adam could not read. The car had TWO young Yemenese men inside who told him they operated as a taxi and they could take him where he needed to go. Adam said "No!" and continued walking. The car caught up with him and somehow those thugs talked him into getting into the car with them. My big, hairy teenage son, who has always been taught by me since he was a small child to be careful and not to get into cars with strangers, accepted their made up tale about being a taxi and got into the car!

Now Adam hasn't wanted to talk much about the incident since it happened, so I'm not exactly sure how it all went down. Adam made a phone call to his friend to tell him that he was on his way. When Adam hung up, one of the thugs asked to see his phone, so Adam handed it over. Now Adam's phone admittedly was much nicer than the cheap phones my husband and I have, but it was not the most expensive by far, plus it was two years old. Then before he knew it, Adam was being forced, pushed and kicked out of the moving car. He tumbled out onto the street, and luckily his backpack came with him - the computer was not damaged, thank goodness. A woman in the car behind saw the whole thing and told her son to stop and assist Adam. The kind young man brought Adam home. He was bleeding and had scraped both elbows and had abrasions on his back, and his wrist was swollen and hurting. We immediately took Adam to a clinic to have him cleaned up and to have his wrist checked. It was not broken, just badly sprained. His wrist was wrapped up and Adam was given a shot and a couple of prescriptions. We also called to have the service on his phone disconnected.

My husband was horrified that something like this could happen to our son here in Jeddah. Crime is a lot lower here than in the states, mostly because of the swift and severe punishments that are handed out, if one is caught and convicted. But this shows that we are not immune to bad things happening to us here, or anywhere. There are some pretty bad people out there. I'm just thankful that Adam is okay and that all they took from him was phone. Now we'll just have to work on his bruised ego...

P.S. - I must add that a week ago, my phone fell out of my pocket while I was in a taxi here in Jeddah. When I realized it was missing, we called my number and the taxi driver answered the phone. My husband gave him directions to our home and he drove all the way to deliver my phone. When my husband tried to give him a reward, the man didn't want to accept the money, but my husband insisted. There are plenty of good people here in Jeddah.

UPDATE: Aug. 29 we took Adam to a bone specialist because he was complaining about the pain in his hand, and sure enough, the metacarpal V bone is fractured. For now he will not have a cast, but if the pain persists, he will.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ramadan Kareem

R amadan will be starting very soon. That's the month out of every year when all Muslims fast from sunrise until sundown. Because it is so difficult to fast during the daytime in the extreme heat of Saudi Arabia, many people here reverse their days and nights, sleeping much of the day and staying up all night. They will usually eat a meal at 4am or so before the sun comes up, go to bed after the early morning prayer, and that meal will hold them until sundown, when the fast can be broken again.

Jeddah almost becomes a ghost town during the daytime. I remember when I first arrived here in October of 2007 - there was one more week remaining of Ramadan. It was 11am on a weekday, and seeing the wide, totally empty streets of this city with millions of inhabitants was a little shocking to me. Where was everyone, I wondered? There was no traffic to speak of and businesses were closed up - there was no sign of life anywhere.

During Ramadan, many businesses will close during most of the day, opening up in the late afternoon and staying open until the wee hours of the morning. It's still pretty hot here now in Saudi Arabia, and for outdoor workers, going without food and drink during the day can be brutal and quite dangerous.

Families often get together during Ramadan to share in meals. There are special drinks and foods that are traditionally prepared and served. Many Muslims traditionally break the fast at sundown with dates and buttermilk, go to pray, and then enjoy a big feast. Another common thing that happens is that furniture, carpets, tables, lighting, and household accessories will be switched around from one room to another to give the appearance of new furnishings. Or accessories might be purchased in a different color scheme to alter the look of a room. In the weeks prior to Ramadan, supermarkets and shopping malls spruce themselves up and prepare for the frenzy of the Ramadan shopping season - similar to the Christmas holidays in the states. During Ramadan, it is not unusual to see vehicles out at 2am for shopping, packed with entire families from grandmas down to cranky babies.

Those who are not Muslim, yet are living or working in Saudi Arabia, are expected to be considerate and not eat in the presence of those who are fasting. Not only are food and drink abstained from during the daylight hours of this month, but so are other pleasures as well, such as smoking and sex, and people are also supposed to refrain from feeling anger, bad language, and gossip. It is also a time of year when family and friends reach out and reconnect, even if they haven't for quite some time - similar to the annual sending of holiday greeting cards in December. Greetings of "Ramadan Kareem" or "Ramadan Mubarak" (meaning "Happy Ramadan") are exchanged.

The whole point of fasting during Ramadan is to feel closer to God and to empathise with the hunger that those less fortunate than you may feel every day. Poor people are sought out and given gifts of food, clothing, and cash. Charity is an important aspect of Ramadan.

Ramadan begins and ends with the sighting of the new moon - it's all very scientific. And when the new moon is sighted to mark the end of Ramadan's monthlong fasting, there is a big celebration when families go to the mosques early in the morning and join together afterwards to eat breakfast. Children are given gifts and there are more family get-togethers for several days. So as this new moon of Ramadan approaches, I want to wish everyone Ramadan Kareem, and may you have peace and happiness in your life, now and always.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Things We Do For Love

A   few short days ago, I was sitting outside on the deck of my brother's home in America's lovely Pacific Northwest enjoying the cool summer breeze caressing my face. His home has a beautiful view of the shimmering blue waters of Colvos Passage and beyond that sits the lush tree-covered Vashon Island. Several sailboats glided aimlessly before me, across the sparkling expanse of water under the warming sun and the puffy-fluffy clouds. A bald eagle was surveying the landscape from his position on a branch up in a nearby tree, frequenting one of his favorite perches. Flowers in every color of the rainbow seemingly smiled at me from the garden. A family of raccoons, the mother with her four babies, plodded along near the bushes on the side of the grassy plain in the backyard, while two of the house cats intently watched their every move not far from me on the deck. A couple of deer appeared and attempted to nibble off the rosebuds from my sister-in-law's bushes, but she had outsmarted them with a special netting deterrent. Once they realized there were no tasty rosebuds to be devoured, they made their way through the bushes and out of sight. Colorful birds of yellows, blues and reds visited the seed-filled bird feeder situated off to the side of the deck. It was a beautiful, peaceful and perfect day.

As I was digesting all the beauty and tranquility of the nature around me, I couldn't help but think that in a couple of days I would be leaving this little piece of heaven on earth to go back to a place that feels like an oppressive oven and where I have to dress almost completely covered in black from head to toe. To a country where I cannot drive and don't have the freedom to come and go as I please. Where I have no place to enjoy the outdoors because of our living situation and because it's too hot anyway. Into an environment of massive cement buildings, and dust, and pollution. Where my life is boring more often than not, and the restrictions placed on me, as a woman, limit my creativity and my quality of life. Far away from my own family who have repeatedly told me that I am welcome back with them whenever I want. Where my son cannot enjoy himself in doing normal American things like camping, or going to concerts or the movies, and innocently goofing off with the opposite gender.

I had to think to myself that I must be crazy to be leaving this paradise to return to a male dominated and strictly religious society like Saudi Arabia. I just knew I needed to go back though, back to my husband, the love of my life for the last thirty-two years. He warmly greeted us at the airport with a smile on his face that told me how much he had missed my son and me in our absence. We came home to an apartment that was spic and span - and we have no maid like most families here do. A huge basket full of many of my favorite things - like chocolates, perfumes, bubble bath, and cashews - awaited me. And when I told him I wanted to try to lose some weight for my upcoming high school reunion, he said, "No, don't. I like you just the way you are." These are little things, I know, but it's the little things that mean a lot.

Am I miserable living in this desert kingdom? No. Is Saudi Arabia my first choice of where I want to live in this world? No. But for now, this is where I belong, beside my husband, the man I have loved for more than thirty years. The man who stole my heart so many years ago with his goodness and kindness and generosity. Ah, yes, the things we do for love.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Plastic Surgery in Saudi Arabia

I slam is more than just a religion - it is a way of life. For just about any situation you might find yourself in, Islam has answers on how to handle it. Let's take, for example, plastic surgery. One might assume that plastic surgery might be "haram" (forbidden) because it alters the physical appearance of how God made us. After all, Muslim women are not even allowed to pluck their eyebrows because it changes the look of what God gave them. You might recall that I wrote an earlier post about women's beauty in Arabia, in which I talked about how women who pluck their eyebrows are cursed in Islam. I still don't pretend to understand the reasoning for why plucking is haram while dying the eyebrows a lighter color is permitted. To me both of these options are temporary fixes which don't permanently alter a woman's appearance.

That's why it surprised me recently when I read that three years ago religious leaders and plastic surgeons in Saudi Arabia arrived at an Islamic ruling which says that plastic surgery is permitted. Of course there are guidelines that must be followed, and choosing to have plastic surgery performed merely for one's vanity is not supposed to be acceptable. So what exactly makes plastic surgery acceptable? If someone has been disfigured in an accident, plastic surgery is allowable. If someone has a feature, like a huge bent nose, which causes the person distress or embarrassment, she can have that feature fixed to her liking. And if a woman has uncommonly tiny breasts, it would be allowed for her to go under the knife to have implants put in to make them larger.

But with the numbers of plastic surgeries skyrocketing in Saudi Arabia, I cannot help but wonder how many plastic surgeries are being done that fall under the realm of vanity. Just a few short years ago, the number of plastic surgery centers could probably be counted on one hand. Today the competition is fierce in the country. The most popular procedures performed on women in the kingdom are nose jobs, liposuction, and breast augmentations. Men go in to get nose jobs and hair implants. From the sounds of it, the rise in plastic surgeries seems to have more to do with vanity than anything else. I read about one woman who is thinking about having more than twenty different procedures done to her, from her breasts to her lips, from her bottom to her nose. She wants parts of her body to look like certain personalities she has seen on television or in the movies. It sounded as though she is striving for unattainable perfection.

I personally am all for people feeling good about themselves. But in a society where vanity and obsessing about one's looks is frowned upon stemming from religious reasons, it just becomes another one of those blurry contradictory areas that I find so difficult to understand here. Women here in KSA seem to be feeding into the idea that they believe about Western women - that women are merely sex objects. Can the women in Saudi Arabia really believe that about themselves, despite all the measures in place to supposedly prevent that image? Like the severe segregation of men and women, the shrouding of the female form, and the covering of the hair. I thought all those things were supposed to prevent a woman here from feeling like a sexual object ... so wouldn't getting plastic surgery directly contradict the religion and make it seem somewhat hypocritical?

For more information about this topic, click HERE.