Monday, March 22, 2010

Muslim Male Humor - Just Not Funny...

My hubby has been having some health complaints lately so I made him go in to go the doctor. The doctor we usually go to is Syrian but he doesn't speak much English, so when we go, Adnan always has to interpret for me to tell me what the doctor is saying or asking.

I sat there while the doctor talked to Adnan, checked him over, ran an EKG, looked at the results, and talked to Adnan some more. This doctor obviously likes my husband a lot and vice versa. At one point the doctor said something to my husband in Arabic and they both burst out laughing - I mean REALLY laughing, like that knee slapping, good ole boy kind of laughing. Adnan looked at me and told me that he would fill me in later. I figured it had to be something related to sex, as almost everything in this place seems to be...

We walked to the lab down the hall from the doctor's office and my husband had some blood drawn. Later that evening we were supposed to go back for the results of the blood test. When we were driving home, I asked Adnan what was so funny in the doctor's office. He said "Oh nothing," but I persisted and finally got him to tell me the reason for their big outburst of laughter. With this medical issue that my husband has, the doctor has told him not to do anything too strenuous or too physical for the time being - get my drift? - and then the doctor chimed in with, "You weren't planning on marrying another one, were you?" N-yuck, n-yuck, n-yuck! (knee slap) Ha, ha, ha...! (For anyone who isn't aware, Muslim men are allowed four wives according to Islam.)

Needless to say, I failed to see the humor. I told Adnan that I thought it was unprofessional, rude and insensitive for the doctor to say that with me sitting right there. The doctor knew that I didn't understand him. Would he have said that if I were Saudi or if I spoke Arabic?

So when we went back later that evening to get the test results, we sat down in the doctor's office. He looked over the test results and talked to my husband a bit, and then my husband looked at me and said, "Whew! He says I'm going to live!" The doctor then started to write out a prescription for my husband and seemed to have a problem remembering my hubby's name, calling him Abdul-Rahman.

I picked up on this mistake without my husband having to translate, so I told my husband, "Well, maybe YOU'RE not the one who's going to live after all. Maybe Abdul-Rahman is!" When Adnan translated what I had said to the doctor, I never saw anyone turn so bright red in my life! He blubbered all over himself going overboard trying to reassure Adnan that those were indeed his test results. Good ole boys indeed... hmmmm.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

In the News

Sometimes there are days when the news just all seems so far out there, and today struck me as one of those days. Here is a rundown to some oddball, hard to believe, or head-shaking news stories (with their links) that I read today coming out of Saudi Arabia... and just remember, I didn't make this stuff up!

Wife in Coma, Man Remarries - He Hopes She'll Understand

Saudi Man Arrested in Gas Station Murder - Killed Over a Box of Tissues

'Wrong Trousers' Man Gets Bail - Religious Police Said Pants Were Unacceptable

You Know You Are in Jeddah When... - A Stark Look at What's Wrong with This City

Why Should Saudi Maids Be a Tough Pill to Swallow? - Op-Ed Piece by Sabria S Jawhar

And this last one is a report from 2007 that I came upon while researching the above article about Saudi Maids...

Two Maids If Two Wives: New Saudi Law - Conditions Set For Hiring Maids and Drivers

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Day at THE SPA

Photo Courtesy of The Spa by Clarins, Jeddah
One of my friends just signed up for a year’s membership at an exclusive women’s spa and health facility here in Jeddah - and Lucky Me! I was invited there as her guest recently. The Spa by Clarins is located along Jeddah’s Corniche, on the top floor of the regally opulent Qasr Al Sharq Hotel, which is part of the Waldorf-Astoria Collection. Just walking through the glass doors on the ground floor of this lavish hotel, you can feel the decadence in the attention to detail: the gold accents and the gleaming polished marble; the sumptuous fabrics, dark rich leather, and luxurious carpets; the winding staircase carpeted in red; and the glittering crystal chandeliers – there’s even one that rises up from the ground floor and seems to never end when looking up. It must be made of more than million individual crystals.

I was told that this hotel was originally built for a prince who was unhappy with the outcome, so it was sold and turned into this indulgent hotel overlooking the Red Sea. Indeed the several separate areas making up the lobby on the ground floor are quite cozy, and feel more like someone’s home rather than a hotel lobby. It’s hard to imagine that this magical place would have evoked someone’s displeasure.
UPDATE: And now I've heard from someone close to the designer of the building that it was built for a prince and his wives, but by the time it was completed, the place was actually too small for his quickly multiplying family. So the prince donated it to the government as a VIP facility instead.

Security is tight for The Spa to ensure every woman’s safety and privacy. The Spa is beautifully decorated in a peaceful Asian theme. Each guest is assigned a locker which contains a plush white robe and slippers to use while there. The crown jewel of The Spa is the Aquamedic pool. It is equipped with jets designed to massage you while in the pool. Above the pool is an enormous skylight surrounded by a gorgeous iridescent tile mosaic in several shades of blue which evokes calming waters.
Photo Courtesy of The Spa by Clarins, Jeddah
We arrived just in time to participate in the water aerobics class which began with a 15 minute warm-up of stretching and balancing on the deck of the pool. It felt great to finally enter the pool. There were only four of us taking the class so it was a very nice atmosphere and a more intimate experience, which I really liked. Yanni, the drill sergeant instructor, was very attentive and careful to ensure that everyone performed the exercises correctly. When the class was over, I was exhausted, but in a good way!

We sat down at a table off to the side of the swimming pool where we were served a healthy lunch that we had ordered before the class. The floor to ceiling windows next to our table offered an amazing panoramic view of the Red Sea and the Corniche below. Sitting there with our wet hair and in our bathing suits covered by the white robes, feeling worn out relaxed from the workout, and enjoying the lovely view – for the first time since I arrived here, I felt like I was not in Saudi Arabia anymore.
Photo Courtesy of The Spa by Clarins, Jeddah
After we finished eating, we took a little tour of the facilities. It is a full service spa, offering the ultimate in pampering and relaxation. There is a Steam Room, a Whirlpool, a Sauna, Showers, and of course The Gym, which looks out onto the pool area. Other services include footbaths, therapeutic massages, facials, exfoliation, body wraps, pedicures and manicures. All products used are by Clarins, and the products are also available for retail as well.
Photo Courtesy of The Spa by Clarins, Jeddah
There are several Spa Membership Packages available, ranging from one month to three, six or twelve months, as well as Spa Day Packages. In addition to the use of the facilities, packages can include credits and discounts on Spa treatments and Food and Beverages, guest vouchers, and overnight stays on the premises in the Qasr Al Sharq Hotel. Gift certificates are also available. The Spa is open every day of the week from 10AM until 11PM. For reservations or more information, just call The SPA by Clarins in Jeddah at 659-9999, ext. 7960, or visit their websites:
For the QASR AL SHARQ HOTEL, click here.
For THE SPA BY CLARINS, click here.
For The Spa by Clarins - Facebook Group, click here.

Thanks to the helpful Assistant Manager Christina of The Spa for providing the photos of the actual spa area. And thanks to my wonderful friend (you know who you are!) for inviting me to tag along in the first place. I had a fabulous time!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Open Mouth, Insert Foot

Photo Credit:, of US Pres Obama with King Abdullah

Acouple of weeks ago, one of the religious leaders here in Saudi Arabia declared a fatwa (a religious ruling) which demands the death penalty for people in the Kingdom who condone or promote gender mixing within the country. In particular, Sheikh Abdul-Rahman al-Barrak, 77, denounced men and women working together because it would encourage "sight of what is forbidden, and forbidden talk between men and women." With the opening last fall of KAUST (the innovative King Abdullah University of Sciences and Technology), where the progressive King's vision came to fruition in a place where highly educated men and women work and attend classes together, it appears as though this Sheikh is taking aim at the King himself. Not a very smart thing to do. Especially in view of the fact that last October the King took the action of promptly firing a top Islamic cleric after he spouted off against the mixing of the sexes at KAUST.

The Sheikh's website,, has been blocked from viewing now within the country. But allegedly, using modern technology to his advantage, he merely opened up under another website.

Sheikh Abdulrahman al BarrakThere has been a backlash of objections from many people here who want to see progress and change in this ultra-conservative religious country, with fellow blogger Ahmed al-Omran of SaudiJeans calling the Sheikh a "caveman" and Saudi female blogger Eman al-Nafjan of SaudiWoman condemning Al-Barrak as "the last living member of the traditional, misogynist eighties rat pack of sheikhdom" and aptly branding his type of barbaric thinking as "Gender Apartheid."

However, about thirty other conservative clerics rushed to Al-Barrak's defense by signing a petition upholding their support of his ruling in favor of strict gender segregation.

The greatest fear among these religious scholars is that mixing of the sexes socially here in Saudi Arabia, in the work force, or in education will result in rampant fornication and other immoral behavior. Here are a couple of more quotes from Al-Barrak taken from this Reuters article: "Whoever allows this mixing ... allows forbidden things, and whoever allows them is an infidel, and this means defection from Islam ... Either he retracts or he must be killed ... because he disavows and does not observe the Sharia ... Anyone who accepts that his daughter, sister or wife works with men or attends mixed-gender schooling cares little about his honour, and this is a type of pimping."    Really? This guy is actually calling Saudi men who allow their female relatives to work or attend school side by side with other unrelated men PIMPS!!!

This photo taken in Kuwait, not Saudi ArabiaFor those of you who read my blog regularly, you know that one of the things that I really dislike about living here is the gender segregation. Going to a family function, or a wedding, or some other kind of party where there are only women allowed or where I am separated from my husband and my son upon arrival is not my idea of fun. It's okay once in a while, but time after time after time, it gets really old for me. I admit it - I enjoy being in the company of BOTH men and women! And the fact that people here cannot be trusted on their own to conduct themselves with the utmost of decorum and virtue - despite all the morality that is drilled into them from birth - so much so that there is a need for religious police to enforce strict moral codes and punish those who do not adhere to the rules - is just beyond my comprehension.

Muslims in other parts of the world seem to successfully incorporate living and working amongst the opposite sex without much trouble or fanfare. Why can't it be that simple here in Saudi Arabia? It's more than just religion at play here - it is deeply engrained in the culture, and there is a long way to go to bring this country into the 21st century with regard to its social limitations on both men and women (but mostly on women). The people here have been brainwashed by so many lop-sided images about the decadent and immoral West that there is a mentality of great fear for change or opening up this society to more freedom. My take on the whole situation is that the social restrictions placed on the people here are extremely insulting to the Saudis and make the assumption that the Saudi people simply cannot control their animalistic urges and conduct themselves accordingly. The Saudi people are better than that. All they need is a chance to prove it.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

HACKED! A True Story

Image Credit:

The past few days have not been very good ones. Someone out there - more than likely a total stranger - tried to wreak as much havoc on me as he possibly could. He hacked into my computer and took over my personal email accounts as well as my Facebook account and pretended to be me online. As a result, I've decided to post about it to help others avoid this from happening to them or to fall for such a scam. I had no idea what to do initially since my online security had never been compromised before. But I quickly figured out what I needed to do, even though finding the information about how to go about it wasn't really that easy.

I actually had made it easy for The Hacker to do his dirty deeds - I went the lazy and careless route and hadn't changed my passwords for quite a while and actually used the same password for many of my accounts, just to make it easier for myself - which actually made it a lot easier for The Hacker. So recommendation #1 is change your passwords frequently and don't use the same password for your accounts. And don't make it something easy that a Hacker can figure out from any personal information you have posted online. Also the longer the password, the better, and mix it up with numbers and letters. And for heavens sake, don't store any of your passwords on your computer!

Image Credit: Hacker sent out bogus emails to everyone on my contact list, making up an absurd hifalootin' story about how I was stranded in London, had been robbed at GUNPOINT, and needed money to get back home. Lucky for me, I have smart friends who didn't buy into this ridiculous tale; and if they had a thought that it might in any way be true, they asked The Hacker questions to verify my identity. Questions like: Where or when did we meet? What is my father's middle name? At what company did we used to work together? These are questions that only I would have known and that isn't information that I had put out there online somewhere. If you are contacted like this, protect yourself by verifying the identity of the person who has contacted you to ensure that it is the person you think it is. A true friend would only appreciate this and not at all be insulted by being asked questions to confirm their identity. Once I regained control of my accounts, I removed a lot of the personal information I had stored online, like my children's names, my phone numbers, etc. I have ensured that my security questions are up to date and that the questions are something that only I would know and that there is only one possible answer for, in case - heaven forbid - one day I really am in a tough situation and I am upset and can't really think straight.

Now think about this for a moment: think about all the private information you have in saved emails or out there on Facebook that a stranger could use to pretend to be you if he had the chance! I am trying to go through old emails now that I really don't need anymore and delete them, and at the same time, I am trying to regain my email address book, one by one because The Hacker deleted all my email contacts! Once I regained control of my account, I realized that The Hacker was also having any new emails forwarded to another email address - I didn't even know I could do that! He also tried to delete all email messages between himself and the people on my list that he contacted, so I couldn't see what he had done. Another thing he did on Facebook was to change my birthday - I don't know why, but he did.

Image Credit: you receive an email like this from someone on your email list, just stop and think to yourself... If this story were true, would this person really be contacting me, of all people, like this? In truth, I would have turned to my family personally and not in a generic sounding email. I think most of us would. Honestly, there are some people on my email list that I have never actually even met in person - I have many cyber-friends that I have befriended online - and I wouldn't approach them about sending me money if I were in a situation like this. So an important thing to remember is to use your common sense and don't immediately think a story is true just because it appears to have come from a friend.

Image Credit: tip-off that someone is trying to rip you off is in the grammar and spelling of the emails or chats that you receive. When I read through some of the chats and emails that The Hacker had written, it was obvious to anyone who knows me that it was not me just by the way he wrote. I am a native speaker of English and The Hacker obviously isn't. Sure I make mistakes here and there when I am typing fast, but a typo is far different from bad grammar and improper sentence formation. Would I sign off an email to my mother with "Regards - Susie"? And wouldn't my relatives and friends know ahead of time if I were taking a trip to London? The Hacker also stupidly told people to send the money to "me" via Western Union and to send it using my "exact name" on my passport. He provided my name but he assumed incorrectly that this is how my name appears on my passport, and anyone who really knows me would have known that this was wrong. Again, using your common sense is key.

Current anti-virus software is a must, although it didn't help me this time. Run virus scans frequently. I was online myself when I got hacked and was immediately called on the phone by a friend - Thanks, Veeds! - who had just received this strange email from me. So I found out about it pretty quickly. But in all honesty, previously I often would carelessly leave my computer unattended and online for extended periods. Now I make sure that I disconnect my computer from the internet when I am not using it, so there is no chance of penetration by a Hacker. I am also limiting my online time.

Image Credit: I'm sorry I had to write this post at all. I hate the thought that the rest of us have to share this beautiful world of ours with scumbags like Hackers. But in today's world, it is reality, and if this post will help anyone from falling victim to an online scam or getting hacked, then I will be happy. If any of you have any more good advice on how to protect yourself online, please feel free to add it in comments.

For more information about protecting yourself online, here are a few good websites I found with some sound advice:

Top Ten Passwords You Should Never Use

UNC Information Technology Services

How To Protect Yourself Against Hackers

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


My personal Gmail and my Facebook accounts have been hacked and someone is impersonating me online. If you receive any emails from me that sound suspicious, ask for money, or use poor grammar and spelling - it is NOT me!!!

I'm trying to straighten this out but since I cannot access my personal email right now, I wanted to get the word out.

Tour of Al-Balad

I recently had the pleasure of being part of an organized group tour of Al-Balad, the oldest historic part of Jeddah, which is a must see for any visitor to the area for its architectural delights, colorful souks, and fascinating history. We met in the late afternoon one February day outside the landmark Naseef House, which is perhaps the most famous as well as the youngest structure in this area. The group tour was organized by the International Muslims in Jeddah and I’m estimating that there were between 50-60 expats in attendance, a diverse mix of different nationalities, and at least a dozen extremely well-behaved children tagging along.

Our tour guide was Mr. Sami Nawaf, a lively, interesting, and knowledgeable fellow, who himself grew up in Al Balad. An engineer and the Director of the Historic Area Preservation Department, Sami is able to provide personal firsthand accounts of what life was like in Jeddah, before the big oil boom of the 1970s changed it into a sprawling modern city that it is today.

Our group strolled through the narrow winding streets, many of them closed to traffic, with Sami pointing out architectural details or historical tidbits which brought this ancient place to life. Sami pointed out the once buried 500 year old aqueduct which was excavated a few years ago and supplied fresh water to the fishing village of Jeddah from nearby mountains.

One of the most beautiful and interesting features of Al Balad is the architectural feature of the wooden latticed window coverings called rawasheen, which appears on just about every building in Al Balad, affording privacy as well as air movement inside for the inhabitants of the dwellings.

Many are painted brown or blue, and a few are painted green. Some are falling apart and others have been replaced. Many buildings have been destroyed by fire too, due to faulty electrical hookups, and indeed, dozens of unsightly and dangerous electrical wires can be seen running everywhere.

On some of the crumbling buildings which are hundreds of years old, it was easy to see the methods of construction, but the sad truth is that much of this historic area of Jeddah is decaying and not much is being done to preserve it. The structures are all made from local materials abundant in the area – coral, seashells, and clay – except for the wood which was imported from places like Africa and Indonesia. In fact the coral and seashell bricks are actually visible in some of the decaying walls that are now exposed. Most of the buildings in this area were built several stories high, which afforded shade to people walking down on the narrow streets below, and also allowed the buildings inhabitants to go up to the rooftops and enjoy the cooler breezes coming off the Red Sea. Many of these huge old homes were built for wealthy merchants by laborers and artisans who came to Saudi Arabia from foreign lands for the religious pilgrimage called the Hajj and ended up just staying to live here.

Our group returned back to Naseef House and climbed the several flights of stairs up to the rooftop, just in time for us to be treated to a stunning sunset and to hear the chorus of the calls to prayers by the 36 neighboring mosques. I had never heard anything quite like this before. Adhans from every direction, each of them calling for the prayers in their own unique style - it was amazing!

We watched as the lights of the city began to glow below from our perch which gave us a bird’s eye panoramic view, and the pink and blue hues of the sky deepened with every passing minute. It was a magical experience. I felt fortunate to have been a part of this group because every time I have been down to Al Balad, the Naseef House has been closed, so I was extremely happy that I finally got to go inside. But to be on the rooftop at sundown and hear the Adhans' calls for the Maghreb prayer was such a special treat that I could have never imagined an experience like that.

On the highest part of the rooftop was an open air porch with Bedouin style cushions around the perimeter for seating and red carpets covering the floor. It was here that we were served tea and bottled water and given a chance to relax and visit with the other members of the group. We then made our way back down the wide stairways - built wide enough to accommodate a camel carrying supplies up to the top floors - exploring various rooms at the different levels, until we reached the main floor, where we all gathered for a delightful and informative lecture given by Sami, complete with a fascinating slide show. It was such a pleasure to be part of this warm and friendly group, and I look forward to our next outing.

Old Jeddah, Al-Balad: To see more photos of this area, please visit my slideshow of Al-Balad.