Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A New Chapter

The oppressive heat of Jeddah’s concrete jungle is something I did not miss this past summer during my trip to the states. I spent the whole time in the cool and invigorating Pacific Northwest, surrounded by tall evergreens, wild deer and raccoon, and the beautiful waters of the Puget Sound.

I busied myself with physical activities and chores, many of them performed outdoors – activities I am not accustomed to doing in Saudi Arabia because of the suffocating soaring temperatures and because women here just don’t do outside work.

But my main goal this summer though was to get Adam/Captain Kabob settled in to my brother’s home nestled in the forest - he would be staying on to finish his last two years of high school there with them. Several of my friends’ children here in Saudi Arabia have been sent out of the country for high school to boarding schools in Europe or sent to live with family elsewhere around the world, so it’s not that uncommon for “half and half children” to do this. As much as the International Schools here in KSA try to make the high school experience mimic that of back home, for us the issues of transportation, living arrangements, family expectations, and cultural pressures always seemed to impede Adam’s ability to fully immerse himself into the typical Western high school experience here.

Since our move to KSA in the fall of 2007, my husband’s strict parenting style had tightened even more, and I often found myself stuck in the middle of an ongoing battleground between a hard-headed father and his stubborn son. Trying to magically turn a 14-year-old American boy into a typical Saudi teenager was just not possible in Captain Kabob's case, and it took my husband three years to be convinced of that. Before we moved here, my son and I had never set foot in Saudi Arabia, so all Adam had ever known was of his life in the United States. I thought the move would be a great opportunity to expose him to his father’s heritage, language, family, and culture – and it was.

But the reality of the stark differences in our new lives here proved too much for a teenage American boy to handle. Now I’m not saying that life in the US is better than life here in KSA – it boils down to a matter of familiarity. I’m often surprised at the number of people who ask me which is better: life in KSA or life in the US? There are good and not-so-good things about both, but it’s like comparing apples and oranges. It’s really what you are used to that seems to become your preference. In some ways life is easier here in KSA, and in other ways, it is much more difficult - especially for Western women who are not used to the restrictions placed on women here - and also for free-spirited teenagers who are anxious to spread their wings.

The truth is that I was actually scared stiff for Captain Kabob – he was depressed and would often tell me how he hated his life here in KSA. I was afraid that he would make some stupid misguided decision here in this unforgiving place, as hot-headed foolish teenage boys often do worldwide, that might affect him the rest of his life. What we see as normal socializing in the West is considered a "crime" here in this strict Islamic society. Being alone in the company of someone of the opposite sex who is not related to you is a punishable offense here in Saudi Arabia. And contrary to what one might think - considering the stiff penalties for drug and alcohol possession in this country - these temptations are readily available here. As much as I constantly reminded Adam of the dangers, pitfalls, and consequences of these types of things, I still worried constantly that he might make that one stupid decision that could cost him his future. And my concerns only intensified after Captain Kabob was mugged and physically and emotionally hurt in an incident that happened when he foolishly got into a vehicle he mistook for a cab.

So as soon as my husband came to the realization shortly after his heart surgery back in March that it would be better for his own health if he and Adam weren’t living under the same roof, I made plans for Captain Kabob to leave here. My wonderful family has welcomed him with loving arms and he is now attending high school in Washington State. Every chance he gets, he tells me that he now loves his life.

Adam is happy once again, and that is all that really matters. He got his learners permit to drive and took a driver’s ed course this summer with his cousin. There was no way I wanted him driving in Jeddah, where there are no rules, pure testosterone on the road, and every time we get into the car, I feel our lives are at risk. I’m happy to report that he is extremely cautious when behind the wheel and takes driving very seriously. He is making new friends and keeping in touch with his old friends in Saudi Arabia and in Florida. He’s gone to the movies and attended a couple of concerts, things he wasn’t able to do here in KSA because there are none. And I was actually pleasantly surprised the other day when Captain Kabob told me that he missed Saudi Arabia a bit - but that's likely that he just misses me and his dad and his friends.

With Skype, Facebook, and my handy MagicJack, I’m finding that staying in close contact with Adam is easy. He is growing up and spreading his wings. At this point, because of all he’s been through these past three years, I think his maturity level exceeds that of most of his peers. That shy pubescent boy who first set foot in Saudi Arabia as an awkward teen has blossomed into a confident, responsible, and level-headed young man who is perfectly capable of making good choices. I know it's natural for parents to always worry about their kids and I know I always will, but it is a relief not to feel that added dread that my son might have made a reckless misstep here in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia. Adam became a man here in Saudi Arabia, and I know that the experience will shape his life in many good ways in the years to come.

So, it is a new chapter in our lives for both Captain Kabob and me. Only time will tell if the actual distance between us now and the increased loneliness will prove too much for me, but so far I am coping well, as my husband and I readjust to life as empty-nesters. Then again, I’ve just been back here in the "Magic Kingdom" for two weeks, and I’m taking it one day at a time.

To read more about Captain Kabob, please read an interview he gave to my friend Carol on her blog, American Bedu, that was published in October of 2009.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Voice Behind the Veil...

The essay in this post was reprinted from E Islam, a website that strives "to provide general motivational and spiritually enriching articles about Islam and Muslims in general." The author of the article, Khadijah Natalie Arbee, explains her reason for writing about the discourse regarding Muslim women's clothing which has been the topic of discussion for a while now: "In light of the recent bans being pushed by France, Syria, etc., I felt a strong need, as a one of the women being targeted, to speak up. Below is an article that I have compiled, and I pray to Allah Ta’ala that He use it anywhere, and anyhow to enlighten whomever He wills."


By Khadijah Natalie Arbee

Photo Credit: Daily am a Muslim woman.
I wear the niqaab (face veil).

I'm one of those to whom the new law in France would apply.
I'm one of the ones being discussed by politicians, human rights groups and the media.
I'm one of those whom many feel the need to liberate.
I'm one of those you may think is oppressed.
I'm one of those many of you detest the sight of…
I'm one of those whom you may believe is uneducated; one of the ones you may think has no voice.

But I do. So let me speak.

I am not Arab, Asian or even African. I am Australian. No, not 'first generation', 'second generation', or an immigrant. On my mother's side, I'm of French-Canadian descent, and on my father's side; British. I grew up as a Christian, and attended church occasionally. I was in the school swim team, and district netball team. I holidayed with my family in the summer on the Gold Coast, and I'm educated. I have a university degree.

When I was 18 years of age I was introduced to Islam. I studied it, and accepted it a year and a half later. By the time I reached 20, I was wearing the headscarf, and after I married I donned the niqaab.

Because of my husband? No.
My husband did not want me to wear it, although his mother and sister do, and out of respect for his wishes I didn't do so for two years. But I wanted to, and eventually did, and knowing it to be in line with our religion, my husband knew he had no authority to prevent me, and he now greatly admires my strength.

Then, I wore it because of my father? No. He's a catholic.
Because of my brother? Nope, haven't got one.
My uncle? He's an atheist.
Then because of my son? My eldest is only 8 years old. Then why??
Because I want to, that's why.

And seeing as though my niqaab does not hurt anyone, that should be sufficient reason for all of you liberals of a liberal society; I should be able to finish my discussion right here. But although it may be so for any other style of dress, it isn't enough when it comes to niqaab for some reason. You want more. So I will continue.

What makes me want to then? Two things: Faith and experience.

Faith? Yeah, faith. Faith in my Creator, faith in His decisions, faith in Islam. A deep faith. Many wonder at the faith of Muslims, at their conviction and their commitment. It's a faith, that if you are not Muslim, is hard to explain or describe. The scripture of Islam, the Qur'an has scientific miracles in it, such that have captivated scientists globally, leading many to accept Islam. Moreover, the Qur'an has not been changed in over a thousand years, since it was revealed; not one letter moved from its place. I dare say there isn't a religious scripture like it, and this lends a clue as to the root of such faith.

Photo Credit: Ijtihad.orgIn the Qur'an, Allah Ta'ala tells us to cover ourselves, 'so as to be known, but not molested.' So our covering is a protection; a liberation.

Protection, you ask? Liberation? From what?

This is where I move on to my second reason for veiling. Like I said, I grew up in a Western secular society, in true Western secular style. I dressed secular, lived secular, and enjoyed all the 'liberties' of such a society. Did I feel liberated, free? Suffice to say, we were taught we were, so I never thought to think otherwise. It wasn't until I became Muslim, and started covering, that I really felt liberated, and realised, before that I wasn't.

Yet, time and time again we hear it said that we Muslim women are forced to veil, are oppressed; treated by our men folk as nothing more than 'objects.' And that niqaab, burqa, hijab; whatever term you use, is a form of 'imprisonment.'

But what about the imprisonment of anxiety and depression?
What about the imprisonment of anorexia and bulimia?
What about the imprisonment of frequent rigorous exercise routines?
What about the imprisonment of always feeling the need to look like the super-model on the cover of Cosmo, or the pop-singer in the music video?
What about the slavery to fashion?
What about the entrapment of jealousy??

How many women waste their hard-earned money, destroy their physical and mental health, expose their bodies to vulnerability, abuse and extortion in order to…… in order to what??

In order to gain approval and praise. Who's approval and praise? Men's.

And yes, it seems even other women too. So it seems non-Muslim women are not only slaves to men, but slaves to society as a whole.

Before you scream your disagreement, which many of you may do as a knee-jerk reaction to being told you're also oppressed, stop and think. Look around you, contemplate society today, and its values, its aspirations, its goals, its direction, its past times, its hobbies….

What good has it done for women to doff more and more clothing?
What good has it done for images of uncovered made-up women to be plastered on every billboard and magazine, on the TV, in the movies, and on the net?
Has it really brought any good for women?

The women in the images may aptly feel good about themselves for a while, but what does it mean for every other woman?

Women who look upon these images usually become anxious, jealous, unsure and critical of themselves, or all of these things. Many men who view them will become aroused, or even unhappy, less satisfied with the partners they already have. What can, and does this lead to?

Cheating, dumping, chastisement, and even harassment of other women, and even children by, men who cannot find a legitimate outlet for their constant arousal. And yes, I can hear some of you: 'then the men must control themselves!' Frankly speaking that argument is well spent, not to mention futile, as most men are, inherently, only able to react to that, the same way a hungry lion would react if thrown a juicy piece of steak, and told not to eat it….

Do the uncovered women captured in these images and industries, or parading around, realise or even care how many young girls are starving, purging and stressing themselves trying to mirror their image? No.

It seems they even take perverse pleasure in it. One barely-dressed singer even boldly and crudely sung recently, 'Don't you wish your girlfriend was hot like me?'

What?! What is this woman and her ilk saying?? What are they implying?? What are they doing to their sisters in humanity??!

Photo Credit: ReutersSo many poor girls, eroding themselves physically and mentally as they watch with jealousy and anxiety their partners ogle singers like this. Have the same thing occur to these women, these 'idols.' Have their partners swoon over another similarly attired, and witness their reaction! And when their daughters are molested by men they themselves, or women like them, have aroused, will they reflect?
Will they act? Will society act?
Yeah, we see it reacting: Ban the burqa!

It just amazes me how many women especially, despise my choice of dress. Yet, would they rather their husband's secretary to be dressed like me or otherwise?
Would they rather the waitress serving the table at their anniversary dinner, be dressed like me or otherwise?
Is it me and my sisters who are turning their husband's head, or attracting their boyfriends??
Is it me and my sisters who have led their daughters to anorexia, or their sons to pornography?
Is it me and my sisters whose bodies and faces solicit their husband's/boyfriend's attention on every corner? Is it me and my sisters who have aroused that man to rape or harass their sisters?

Whose mode of 'dress' is truly oppressive and harmful to women??

So now I've spoken, and although I am one, I speak on behalf of hundreds. I've explained to you that the majority of us have chosen this mode of dress, especially in the West. I have told you that we love it, we want it, and I've exemplified for you the inherent good in it.

So to those of you who really are so concerned about 'liberating' me, then you will listen to what I have said, and let me and my sisters be.

Posted by E ISLAM at 12:23am Thursday, September 16, 2010.

Monday, September 20, 2010

ExPat Blog of the Month

I am so proud to announce that this blog has been selected as "Blog of the Month" on ExPat Blog - an online forum for expatriates living all over the world.

ExPat Blog offers a place for people to connect with other expats and to share our experiences with each other. We can post photos, links to our blogs, ask questions, and join in discussions on the online forums. For people interested in living in another country, there is abundant and vital information posted about many countries around the world, such as living accommodations, health care, cost of living, schools, getting around, and activities.

You can read my interview on ExPat Blog here.

There is quite an interesting and eclectic group of expats who have been previously featured as Expat Blog of the Month, and I hope you will take the time to check out their stories as well.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The 9/11 Teardrop Memorial

I had no clue about this impressive and poignant 9/11 memorial until I received information and photos about it in a recent email. Known as the Teardrop Memorial, it was a gift to America from the country of Russia and is dedicated "To the Struggle Against World Terrorism."

The somber memorial stands across the bay from New York City in an industrial area of Bayonne, New Jersey, within sight of the Statue of Liberty and where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center formerly stood. Apparently it is located in an area amid warehouses that is not that easy to get to and is not very well known as a tourist sight.

Zurab Tsereteli is the prominent Russian artist who designed the bronze sculpture, which stands 100 feet high and weighs 175 tons. The artist conceived the idea for the sculpture as the events unfolded on that very day in 2001. Various sources report that the artist himself foot the bill for the cost of the sculpture, however the country of Russia takes the credit on a plaque attached to the monument.

The incredible piece of art was shipped to America in six pieces and was erected under Tsereteli's supervision by a crew of Russian artisans. The memorial was unveiled in a ceremony on September 11, 2006.

There are nine pathways that lead to the sculpture, and the base has eleven sides. Engraved on the base of the sculpture are the thousands of names of those who perished in the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001.

The body of the design resembles a tall tower and in its center is a large jagged tear with the shiny teardrop dangling down the middle. Made of nickel-plated stainless steel, the teardrop itself weighs four tons and is 40 feet in length and it goes without saying that the tear represents the immense sadness felt around the world on that fateful day. The materials for the teardrop were reportedly obtained from a secret Russian aircraft-building military factory.

Interestingly enough, the idea for this memorial was rejected by Jersey City, as local artists there objected by saying that it was “an insensitive, self-aggrandizing piece of pompousness by one of the world’s blatant self-promoters.”

At its dedication in 2006, President Bill Clinton said, "I would like to thank the people of Russia for this gift of solidarity in the war on terror. I thank my friend Zurab Tsereteli for his ability to catch the feelings that cannot be expressed by words." I would have to agree.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

As Time Goes By

Photo Credit: SL Rasch GmbH ∙ Special and Lightweight Structures ∙ Institute for Scientific Architecture
This year the world's largest clock began ticking in Mecca just in time for Ramadan. It towers prominently over the holy city and is visible for a distance of 18 miles! Two million green and white LED lights illuminate the clock's four faces, which make the time visible from every direction - a glitzy display rivaling the glow of Vegas, Baby - and in the process, losing the spirituality and reverence of the place. A portion of these lights will flash at five different times during each day to signal prayer times for Muslims.
Photo Credit: SL Rasch GmbH ∙ Special and Lightweight Structures ∙ Institute for Scientific Architecture
The giant ticker is part of an enormous government-funded complex which includes hotels, conference centers, and shopping malls. In comparison to London's Big Ben, the new Mecca clock, soaring almost 2000 feet into the sky, resembles the pitting of David against Goliath. At that height, it is believed that the Royal Mecca Clock Tower becomes the world's second tallest building. Big Ben only reaches the paltry height of 316 feet, and while its faces measure 23 feet across, each face of the colossal Mecca timepiece flaunts a diameter of 151 feet.
Photo Credit: SL Rasch GmbH ∙ Special and Lightweight Structures ∙ Institute for Scientific Architecture
Knowing the exact time is a key element of Islam, since the five daily prayers are called at precise pre-set times which vary by a few minutes every day. The dates of Ramadan are also very precise and are calculated by the sighting of the sliver of the new crescent moon (called "hilal") to mark the beginning and the end of the month of fasting.
Photo Credit: SL Rasch GmbH ∙ Special and Lightweight Structures ∙ Institute for Scientific Architecture
Of course the construction of this gargantuan timepiece is not without controversy. It is no secret that the intention behind building a clock of this magnitude is to try to convince the rest of the world that Mecca is "the true center of the earth," and as such should replace Greenwich Mean Time as the world's standard time. GMT (now called UTC/Coordinated Universal Time) has been around since before 1850 and was arbitrarily accepted by the rest of the world well over 100 years ago, mainly because a standard time was needed and Britain's standing as the world's leading maritime power at the time won out.
Photo Credit: SL Rasch GmbH ∙ Special and Lightweight Structures ∙ Institute for Scientific Architecture
Islamic scholars and scientists are basing their reasoning on the claim that Mecca apparently has no magnetic force, deducing that Mecca must be the center of the world. Some of their assertions seem somewhat far-fetched and even arrogant: that Neil Armstrong actually proved that Mecca is the center of the world (and that there was a conspiracy to mysteriously remove this information from the internet); and that because there is no magnetic pull in Mecca, "people live longer" (really, how can this be proved?), "are healthier," and "get charged with energy," according to Abdel-Baset al-Sayyed, an Arab scientist at the Egyptian National Research Center.
Photo Credit: SL Rasch GmbH ∙ Special and Lightweight Structures ∙ Institute for Scientific Architecture
Since non-Muslims are not allowed in Mecca, will never get to see this big clock in person, and therefore will not be able to substantiate any of these claims, it is highly doubtful that the rest of the world will have any interest at all in wanting to adopt Mecca Time to replace GMT.
Photo Credit: SL Rasch GmbH ∙ Special and Lightweight Structures ∙ Institute for Scientific Architecture