Monday, February 22, 2010

Much Ado About Nothing

Photo Credit: Aldask,

The two week women's boycott of buying lingerie in Saudi Arabia has completed its first week, and I found it interesting that the only newpaper article I could find since the boycott began on February 13th was a negative one in the Arab News titled "'Unmanned' Lingerie Shops Face Problems," that only seemed to be making up excuses in favor of keeping things the same - which means continuing to force women here in Saudi Arabia to purchase their undies from salesMEN. A law was passed here in the desert kingdom several years ago allowing for the hiring of salesWOMEN to work in lingerie shops selling women's undergarments. However not much has happened since the "law" was enacted because it is optional and not mandatory that businesses comply. Historically, women in Saudi Arabia have been restricted from working in many arenas, like sales, because of the strict enforcement of forbidden co-mingling with the opposite sex. Therefore only a very small percentage of females here even work, and those that do are generally only found in the medical or education fields. So Saudi women are put into the uncomfortable position of being forced to purchase intimate apparel such as bras, panties, and sexy lingerie from salesMEN. Is there any other country in the world where men sell these products to women?

Okay, so what's the problem with hiring salesWOMEN for these jobs? Well, for starters, business owners claim that it would just cost too much. If only women are allowed into a shop, shop windows must prevent visibility into the shop. And then the business owners claim that they cannot have window displays which would attract customers if the windows have to be blocked. This seems like an easy enough problem to solve. Why can't the business owners have their attractive window displays and merely hang a curtain behind the display which would prevent people on the outside from seeing customers inside the store? This argument just seems like a very weak excuse that is easily rectified - and the cost of curtains and the hardware is minimal.

Business owners also complain that if they hired salesWOMEN, they would also have to hire a guard for protection to ensure that men stay out of the shop, which is an added expense as well. Which brings me to yet another flimsy excuse for not hiring salesWOMEN in lingerie shops - because of the strict segregation of the sexes here. Men and women are not allowed to mix socially in this society. I personally do not understand what all this hubbub is about - allowing both men and women into a shop at the same time? It happens everywhere in this country anyway. Both men and women shop together in grocery stores and malls. And why is it okay for women to make purchases from salesmen in stores, yet there's a big stink about men purchasing from saleswomen? What's the difference if a man purchases items from a woman, or a woman from a man? There is a certain amount of interaction either way. I just don't get this type of inconsistent reasoning.

Photo Credit: Hassan Ammar/APIntimate apparel business owners who have tried hiring salesWOMEN are also complaining that they've experienced a high turnover rate and that the saleswomen are incompetent. Rubbish! Poppycock! First of all, make it easier for women to get to work in the first place by allowing them to drive. Having to pay for a driver or a taxi unfairly cuts into a woman's salary. Train salesWOMEN to sell undergarments and just watch them flourish. If an uneducated man from Bangladesh can sell women's underwear, then don't try to tell me that a Saudi woman can't do the same thing! Any woman can sell underwear to other women WAY better than ANY man ever could simply because she WEARS these products and men have no clue! Many women in Saudi Arabia are ready, willing, and perfectly able to work. These are just imaginary roadblocks that business owners have come up with in order to keep women out of the work force here.

So to all relevant Saudi business owners, listen up: Women are uncomfortable buying underwear from strange men, plain and simple! Hell, I don't even like purchasing outer garments from men either, for that matter. Get with the program, Saudi Arabia! Stop putting women in embarassing situations like this! Do something about it now. All these lame excuses you are coming up with for why you shouldn't hire salesWOMEN are idiotic. The country is ready for this to happen. It shouldn't even be an issue. This whole nonsensical situation seems to be much ado about absolutely nothing.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day Massacre

Well, it's Valentine's Day again, and the annual banning for sale of all things red , heart-shaped, or construed in any way to be reflective of the holiday is in full swing here in Saudi Arabia. Red roses? Heart shaped boxes of chocolates? Strawberries? Sexy red lingerie or cute pink teddy bears? Any of these traditional Valentine's Day items are forbidden from being bought or sold in the Kingdom starting the week preceding this special day for lovers. These items are available on the black market during this time at gouged up prices of at least double or more what one would normally pay any other time of the year. The religious police have raided businesses and destroyed or confiscated inventory as well as closing down the guilty shops at a hefty cost to the business owners. On the TV news here today, I even saw a crowd of people, including small children, surrounding a man who was burning red teddy bears and heart-shaped boxes of chocolate. The really funny thing is that these items are available here the rest of the year without incident.

The reason for this prohibition is because the religious leaders in Saudi Arabia only support the celebration of two Islamic holidays in this country and any other holiday is forbidden and discouraged. But the religious police here seem to really step up their game in their fight to obliterate the enjoyment of Valentine's Day from the Saudi population, as opposed to other Western holidays.

Their interpretation of Valentine's Day of course has to do with sex because here in Saudi Arabia, in their minds, anything having to do with morality has to do with sex. The religious police are afraid that everyone, married or not, will be out looking for anyone to have sex with - that this is what happens on this day in the West - and their mission is to prevent this from happening. Which is rather funny in a place where men and women are not allowed to socialize together in mixed company anyway. The good people of Saudi Arabia cannot be trusted to behave themselves with the high moral standards that are drilled into them from childhood. So they need religious police here to keep everyone in line.

One of the reasons for the ban on Valentine's Day is because of its Christian origins. But how many people in the West really know the history of Valentine's Day? The truth is that not that many people know or even care. It's a day when we recognize and honor the people we love or who are special to us. And what's wrong with that? The religious police don't want anybody celebrating Christmas or Mother's Day either, but they don't make a big stink about it like they do for Valentine's Day. I get the feeling that many people here resent being treated like children who can't control themselves without the religious police breathing down their necks. In fact many people just react in defiance because of the absurdity of it all, by wearing red accessories or by purchasing red roses when they normally wouldn't. If the religious police didn't make such a big deal about it by having this publicized annual crackdown, to many people here, it would likely be just another day.

I find it ironic that a good intentioned holiday like Valentine's Day is forbidden in this country, while at the same time the women here are put in the uncomfortable position where they are forced to purchase their bras and panties from strange men in lingerie shops. It doesn't make a lot of sense, does it? The women of Saudi Arabia have now organized a two week boycott coinciding with Valentine's Day - rallying against the ridiculous situation of men selling underwear to women. I hope the boycott is a success and sends the message that these crazy confusing contradictions must come to an end... Happy Valentine's Day, Everyone!!!

To read more about Valentine's Day in Saudi Arabia and the boycott against buying women's undergarments going on right now, here are some articles:
Happy Valentine's Day...or Not!
Haia Sees Red Again
Ban Men From Selling Lingerie in KSA by SaudiWoman
Ban the Bra...Salesmen!
Peddling Panties

Friday, February 12, 2010

Fame and Flattery

  few days ago I went into a shop here in Jeddah and the kindly clerk who assisted me recognized me from my blog. I was flattered - and surprised because I don't feel at all famous and I'm not, although Captain Kabob always calls me a ROCK STAR! I feel like I blog quietly in semi-obscurity within the confines of my somewhat gilded cage, so to speak. Writing is an outlet for me, a kind of therapy to help get me through the more difficult aspects of adjusting to life in this strange new world.

I certainly wasn't expecting the young man, himself a fellow blogger known as Mighty Dacz, to dedicate an entire post to me describing our chance meeting and what it meant to him. So I just had to share his lovely post with you and to thank him publicly for his kind words.

Please click over to Mighty Dacz's blog called My Kaleidoscope World and read his account - which made me blush. Thank you, Mighty Dacz - you made my day!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Head Count

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will be taking a census of the entire country in the coming months. This will be the fourth census taken since 1974. The last census which was in 2004 revealed the population of the country to be 22 million, comprised of about 73% Saudi nationals (about 16.5 million), and the rest were expatriates from other countries. In the entire Gulf Coast region, Saudi Arabia is the largest country both in land area and in population, making up a good 60-65% of the populous of the region.

The Kingdom has employed and trained about 40,000 workers to conduct the census. The Saudi government has called upon all Saudi citizens and foreigners to cooperate in providing accurate information to the various questions concerning the demographics, economic and social makeup of all people living here. The census form consists of 59 questions and supposedly takes about 15 minutes to complete. The entire Gulf region is working together to take a joint census in all of the Gulf countries.

I can't really speak for the other Gulf area countries, but I can only imagine what a difficult and challenging task this must be to undertake in a place like Saudi Arabia, especially considering how this society is set up. First of all, I would doubt that there would be any female census takers since women cannot drive and it wouldn't be acceptable for a woman to come calling to a stranger's home, even if she would be on official state business. The working hours here are so irregular because of the five prayer times during each day, that I wonder how these census takers will manage to find men at home to talk to because if the man of the house is not at home when the census takers arrive, the women will not open the door or speak to a strange man. Many men work normally into the evening hours because the working day is chopped up so much to accommodate prayer times.

Another problem I see is that there are no street addresses here in Jeddah, and I think it's the same in the rest of the country. Many streets do not even have names. Logistically speaking, taking a census here must be a nightmare. What about the thousands of Bedouins who still roam the deserts here and don't really have one permanent abode? There are many who still live in tents and move frequently. How can anyone ensure that they will be counted? Yet another questionable issue is the fact that Saudi Arabia has so many poor and uneducated illegal aliens living here. Thousands have come to this country on the pretense of fulfilling their Hajj requirement in Islam and end up staying here permanently and illegally, in hopes of forging a better life than what they had in their own countries. Even though I read that these overstayers need not worry about being caught and sent back to their countries or thrown in jail, I'm sure that most of them will not get this message and would be fearful of answering questions like this. I just don't see how accurate a census can really be here.

I would just love to see the census form: Head of Household; Wife #1 and children; Wife #2 and children; etc. Number of people total in the household, including all wives and children, grandparents, maids, drivers, gatekeepers, nannies, cooks, etc. This could be really interesting...

For more information, here is an Arab News article about the subject.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Prayers for Bedu

Photo Credit:  WanahFong
With great sadness and a heavy heart I have to share with you that my dear friend Carol at American Bedu has suffered the tremendous loss of her beloved husband Abdullah. He passed away yesterday.

The circumstances of their illnesses have kept Carol and Abdullah apart for the past several months, as they both have endured treatments in different states in America. Last week Abdullah flew back to Saudi Arabia from Houston, where doctors had told him there was nothing more they could do for him. Sadly Carol was not able to see him again one last time before he left the states.

Carol still has about two months left of her own treatment and needs all the strength she can muster to face her life without Abdullah.

You can visit her blog and leave your messages of condolence for her there.

Please keep Carol in your prayers.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Marriage and Divorce in KSA

Photo Credit:

Marriages and divorces in Saudi Arabia seem to crop up in the news on a regular basis here, mainly because of the controversies and bizarre natures surrounding many of them - and they are definitely not the norm in the West. In recent weeks three such unions have made headlines here.

But first, a little background on how marriages happen here. In Saudi Arabia, the marriage process differs from that in the West. In the West it is typical for a man and a woman to date for a while, get to know one another, become engaged for a period of time, and then get married. But in Saudi Arabia the process is completely different. Most often the man and woman do not really know each other when they marry. They likely had a nerve-wracking meeting once or twice in the woman’s home with other family members around and if they both liked what they saw, they agreed to marry, based on just those one or two awkward meetings. A marriage contract would then be drawn up and signed - and they are considered officially married. However, they will not actually live together as husband and wife for quite some time until the actual wedding, when the marriage is finally consummated. Most weddings here, by the way, are comprised of two entirely separate functions, one for men guests only and the other for women guests only because men and women are not allowed to mix socially in this country.

The first weird story about a divorce here in Saudi Arabia involved a young man from Qatif when he decided to divorce his young bride after only seven days of marriage. The reason? Because she had her appendix removed. No lie.

The second unusual case is about a young couple, Fatima and Mansoor, who had married happily and had a child together and one on the way. The wife’s half brothers, who had never had much to do with her all of her life, suddenly went to court to have her marriage annulled. On what grounds? Because in this tribal society here in Saudi Arabia, her "concerned" half brothers argued that she had married beneath her class. She was given the option of divorcing her husband or going to prison. Bravely Fatima opted for prison, where her second child was born, and they languished there for several years. Just recently the Supreme Judiciary Council finally ruled that Fatima and Mansoor could remain married. But don’t assume this is an automatic happy ending to this story. Her brothers may decide not to concede just because a judge ruled against them. The primitive and ignorant tribal mentality actually could place Fatima’s life in danger now so her brothers don’t lose face.

The third news article regarding odd marriages and divorces pertained to an 80 year old who had to be convinced by the court that allowing his 12 year old bride a divorce would be the proper thing to do. She's the same age as his GREAT-grandchildren! This case is similar to several that have been in the news here in the past few years. In many instances, the father will literally sell his daughter to pay a debt or to better his own family’s financial situation. But in an even more bizarre twist, just today this same 12 year old girl announced that she would accept her marriage to the 80 year old to show her obediance to her father! You've got to read this!

It comes as no surprise that three of the major causes of divorce in KSA are due to age differences, polygamy, and interference by family. Since men here are allowed up to four wives according to Islam, multiple wives spells trouble for most marriages as many women find the notion quite distasteful. In years past, the concept of love never really entered into the picture in this part of the world. Marriages were always considered a business deal. But times are a-changin’ here in that regard to marriage and the reasons for it. Women seem to be wanting more out of marriage than to just be baby-making machines and sexual objects for their husbands.

Photo Credit: to add just one last interesting tidbit regarding marriages in Saudi Arabia: as you know, most Saudi women veil their faces either completely or with just the eyes visible. So when a man wants to meet a woman about the possibility of marriage, he is allowed to see her one time with her face and hair uncovered. If he likes what he sees, and she approves, a marriage contract will be drawn up. But this can result in the old “Bait and Switch,” whereby if a family has a couple of daughters - one beautiful and the other not so beautiful - the potential mate is introduced to the beautiful daughter. Since he has not much else to go on but looks, he likes what he sees and agrees to marry her. But when the wedding night rolls around months later, the bride that is pawned off on him is actually her homely sister. He is miffed, but then again he only saw her once so he’s not really sure. This way the more beautiful daughter can command an even heftier dowry when she weds than the unattractive one ever could.

And that's how it's sometimes done in Saudi Arabia...

Monday, February 1, 2010

Susie of Arabia Interview on CNN-Go Asia

Thanks to all of you who voted for Susie's Big Adventure for Best Asian Weblog in the 2010 Weblog Awards. The voting concluded January 31st and the winners will be named on an unspecified date sometime in February or March. There is usually an Academy Award type ceremony in Austin, Texas, where the winners are announced at a big techie trade show, but for some reason it seems the plans have changed.

You might be interested to know that I was interviewed by CNN International-Go Asia, along with the other nominees in the Best Asian category and you can read the questions and answers here.

Anyway if you haven't checked out some of the other blogs that were nominated, you really should. With 30 different categories comprised of five nominees in each, there is a wealth of terrific blogs for you to discover. You can click on any of the nominees at the 2010 Weblog Awards site and go right to their blogs.

Thanks again for your support!