Thursday, May 30, 2013

Two More Steps Back

There are times when I feel that Saudi Arabia has made great strides - especially with regard to women's issues - in the past five years that I have lived here.  And then there are other times when I can only shake my head in disbelief when I see that Saudi Arabia is still a very misogynistic society and with each step forward, the country seems to take two steps back.  

The latest headline coming out of Saudi Arabia that is quite troubling and disturbing concerns a Saudi author named Abdullah Mohammad Al Dawood, who unfortunately has 97,000 followers on Twitter.  He recently tweeted a call to action for Saudi men to sexually assault working women in Saudi Arabia, especially those working in supermarkets. His “logical” explanation is so the women will stop working and stay home where they belong and thus “protect their chastity.”  Al Dawood writes self-help books (God help us!) and has also been called a Saudi cleric in the past.  In fact this is the very same guy who popularized the term “Burqas for Babies” when he made the ridiculous suggestion a while back that baby girls here should be veiled so perverted men won't be tempted to molest them.  He is obsessed with sex - He sees baby girls as sexual objects. 

Abdullah Mohammad Al Dawood (Twitter photo)

So now, on the one hand, he's supposedly "protecting" little girls from perverts, and on the other hand he's calling for their mothers and older sisters to be sexually assaulted.  What kind of world is this guy living in?  Or better yet, as Waleed Al-Khawaji, another Saudi tweeter responded, “What kind of person urges the youth to commit debauchery?”  It seems that Al Dawood’s objections to women working are based on his belief that men and women mixing in the workplace will lead to western-influenced immorality and corruption.

Another disturbing part of this story is that Al Dawood tried to use Islam as the basis for his wicked idea.  He cited an old obscure story about Al Zubair, a famed warrior, who wanted to stop his wife from her habit of leaving home to go pray in the mosque.  Apparently Al Zubair chose to teach his wife a lesson by hiding and attacking her as she walked by on her way to the mosque.  Unaware that her own husband was the attacker, she ran home frightened and swore she would never leave the safety of her own home again.  

Abdullah Mohammad Al Dawood (YouTube/approach channel photo)
By the way, allow me to interject here that this story that Al Dawood cited projects what is to me a very confusing contradiction of Islam.  Clearly Islam forbids anyone from trying to prevent someone else from going to pray in the mosque, while at the same time, saying that it is better for women to pray at home.  I have read texts that say that women should ask their husbands for permission to go pray in the mosque.  Yet if the husband says no, isn’t that actually preventing her from going?  So to me, this is a murky Catch-22 situation, with no clear meaning one way or the other, and one part contradicting the other.  And dear readers, please don't bombard me with your explanations of this and how it makes sense to you.  It will never make sense to me. 

But encouraging men to sexually assault working women?    Right - Let’s molest these women to protect their chastity!  Makes perfect sense to everyone.  Is this really a “religious tactic” that Saudi Arabia wants to use and promote?  Many of the women working in Saudi Arabia are working because they have to work, to help support their families.  Many are divorced, or widowed, or deserted by their husbands and need the income to feed their children.  Many working Saudi women are married and are working to ease the stress on their family’s financial situation.  What do their husbands have to say about this loony bird’s call for men to attack working women?   I honestly can’t recall the last time (if ever) that I heard of a woman being sexually assaulted in a supermarket, yet here is this pervert in Saudi Arabia promoting that very idea.

Men like Al Dawood are doing absolutely nothing for Saudi Arabia's image to the rest of the world and are giving Islam a black eye by spouting absurdities like this.  Sexually assaulting women is a crime.  Inciting men to violate women is a crime.  Abdullah Mohammad Al Dawood should be promptly arrested for promoting violence against women.  And in my opinion, he should be castrated too.  Maybe neutering him will calm him down and he won’t be so obsessed with sex all the time... 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Blogging Community in Mourning

Carol Fleming Al-Ajroush died yesterday, May 27, 2013, at the age of 53 after a valiant and hard fought five-year long battle with breast cancer.  Carol was known in cyber space as "American Bedu," the name of her popular and widely read blog pertaining to Saudi Arabia.

Even though we never actually met face to face, I counted Carol among my friends.  We shared a few bonds that had drawn us together.  We both married Saudi men, we both moved to Saudi Arabia when we were older, and we both wrote blogs about our lives here.  Over the past few years since I moved to KSA in 2007, Carol became my sounding board and confidante.  When I was going through my "disenchantment period" after the "honeymoon phase" of living here had worn off, I would run my ranting blog posts by Carol first before publishing them to get her valued opinion. We would talk on the phone and exchanged countless emails.  She was so much more diplomatic than I tend to be and always had good advice and words of encouragement and support. 

Amidst her life of illness, turmoil and loss during these past five years, Carol always remained upbeat and positive and never wavered in her mission to bridge the gap of understanding between Saudi culture and the West.  It was her fierce dedication to this mission that I believe may have extended her time here on earth, giving her life a sense of purpose and commitment. 

Carol grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania and worked for the CIA as a spy, under the guise of being an American diplomat.  By the time she met and fell in love with Abdullah Al-Ajroush, a Saudi diplomat, while on assignment in Pakistan, both of them were in their 40s and each had a previous marriage under their belts.  Carol and Abdullah had been married for just a few short blissful years when tragedy struck.  In 2008, within just a few months of each other, both Carol and Abdullah were diagnosed with cancer - he with a rare and very aggressive form of leukemia and she with breast cancer, a disease that had already claimed several of her family members.  In 2009 they both traveled to the USA to continue treatment for their diseases.  Unfortunately they had to be separated during this time because of their illnesses and went to different states to receive their course of treatment.

In February 2010, less than a year and a half after his initial diagnosis, Abdullah succumbed to his illness and Carol was heartbroken.  She never returned to Saudi Arabia.  She continued the fight for her life in North Carolina, close to her only child, son Jon and her two grandsons, becoming an outspoken advocate for finding the cure for cancer and sharing with her readers her journey of becoming a "breast cancer warrior wearing her pink full body armor."  She fought valiantly.

I was in awe of her positive and upbeat attitude and amazed at how quickly she answered emails.  Though at times she required help in fulfilling her daily commitment to blogging, Carol posted every day without fail, oftentimes preparing her posts in advance when she knew she would be out of commission from her exhaustive, energy-zapping treatment.  Her topics covered anything and everything having to do with Saudi Arabia and Islam.  Discussions were lively and often heated.

The American Bedu blog even spawned a marriage between two of her readers and commenters. 

Last summer when my own mother passed away, Carol found the strength to comfort me despite her own precarious health and offered me guidance on how to deal with my grief, as she had done with the loss of her husband.

Carol’s funeral arrangments are as follows:  Services will be held Tuesday, May 28, 2013, at James Funeral Home. The viewing will be at 11:00am, followed by the service at 12:00pm. In lieu of flowers, you may send a donation to Carol's favorite charity, The American Cancer Society, to continue the fight against breast cancer.
James Funeral Home - 10520 Arahova Dr., Huntsville, NC 28078 - Phone 704-584-9004

A casual gathering for all family and friends will be held following the memorial hosted by her dear friends, Ray and Robin. All are welcome at the reception after the service at on May 28th at 2pm at 20420 Island Forest Drive - Cornelius, NC 28031.

Carol will sorely be missed in the blogging community, by her family and her countless friends around the world.  I'd like to close this post with Carol's own words, written in an email to me about some life lessons and advice she wanted to impart, some wonderful words of wisdom from one of the most gracious, giving, and generous women I have ever known....

"First, it really is not worth the time and effort to sweat the small stuff....and believe me, it's pretty easy to discern the wheat from the chaff!
Second, there is nothing more important than dearly loved family and friends.  We love each other warts and all!  (smile) 
Remember to take the time and let the special people in your life know how much your care.  Make sure they know why they are special to you.  Do something spontaneous for them.  Hug them when they least expect it.  Always let them know how much you love them.
Don't save words for tomorrow if you can say them today!
Live each and every day to its fullest and most joyous!"
Rest in peace, sweet Carol. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Update on Carol/American Bedu

Carol Fleming/American Bedu's condition is rapidly deteriorating. 

Please keep her in your thoughts and prayers as she leaves this world to join her beloved Abdullah.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Update on American Bedu

I've written about my friend and fellow blogger, Carol Fleming Al-Ajroush, "American Bedu," many times.    American Bedu is the most widely read blog about Saudi Arabia, with her daily posts providing invaluable information, interviews, and advice about the country, the culture, and its people.

Carol worked for the US government in a highly classified capacity, under the guise of being an American diplomat, when in actuality, she worked for the CIA as an American spy.  But when cupid's arrow struck her in the heart, she chucked her intelligence career to be with the love of her life, a Saudi career diplomat, Abdullah Al-Ajroush.  Carol moved to Abdullah's native Saudi Arabia with him to live happily ever after.  She began writing her renowned blog American Bedu and settled into wedded bliss in this rugged land rich in history and mystery. Her unique story is being revealed in a soon-to-be-released documentary about her life.  

But their fairy tale ending was short-lived.  After just a few short years, both Carol and Abdullah were diagnosed with cancer in 2008 - she with breast cancer and he with a very rare and aggressive form of acute leukemia.  They both fought their diseases valiantly, but Abdullah lost his battle in February of 2010.  Carol picked up the pieces of her shattered life and has pressed on, but I am very sad to report that right now it appears as though her breast cancer is winning.

Carol's prognosis is dismal.  She does not have much time left here on this earth and requires round the clock care.  AND THIS IS WHERE YOU COME IN.  You can help.  You can help by contributing to a fund set up for Carol to provide this costly care for her in her final days.  Please donate if you can.  She has given so much of herself and never faltered in her mission to bridge the gap in understanding the Muslim world and Saudi Arabia.  Please show her how much she has been appreciated by all of us by making a donation.  Thank you.


You might enjoy reading ...
My interview on American Bedu

My son Adam's interview on American Bedu

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Jeddah Art Restoration Project Video

I've published many photos of Jeddah's amazing sculptures and lamented about their deteriorating condition due to the harsh elements here in Jeddah.  Previously I reported that the Jeddah Restoration Project was underway and now it is nearing its completion.  It has been an extensive undertaking which was done in phases.  The project has been mainly funded by charitable donations under the leadership of the Abdul Lateef Jameel Community Initiatives organization. The above video provides an update on the progress of the Restoration Project and shows some of Jeddah's unique sculptures.

I also wrote THIS ARTICLE about Jeddah's sculptures for Selamta Magazine, Ethiopian Airlines in flight magazine in the September-October 2012 issue.

Arab News article:  Restoration of Jeddah's public art to transform city into open-air museum

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Saudi Arabia: Janadriyah Cultural Festival 2013

Janadriyah is the name of the yearly festival held in Saudi Arabia's capital city of Riyadh celebrating Saudi Arabia's heritage and culture.  This year the festival attracted a record high six million visitors during the month of April - and I was one of them!  Originally starting out as a camel race many years ago, the festival has grown in its 26th year to include a variety of attractions that focus on entertainment, education, history, and culture.  Many of Saudi's provinces and ministries of the kingdom are represented in the two week long celebration, as well as some other Middle Eastern countries, plus an invited guest country.  Artisans give demonstrations of their traditional crafts, like basket weaving and woodworking, and festival attendees can enjoy traditional dancing and singing too.

What I enjoyed most about Janadriyah was seeing so many thousands of Saudi families relaxed and having a good time.  The women were especially in a joyous mood and many of them wore floral headbands or festive gold coin face veils.  One women even wore a bright multi-colored mohawk wig that she made. 

I'd like to extend my special thanks to Laylah, my fellow blogger and friend, and her husband ,who took me along with them to Janadriyah this year.  Laylah writes an amazing blog called Blue Abaya and I hope you'll check it out. 

I hope you enjoy this slideshow of photos from JANADRIYAH 2013 ...

Here are some other articles and photos about the Janadriyah Festival:

Blue Abaya: Expats Guide to Janadriyah

Blue Abaya: Why I love Janadriyah

Blue Abaya: Top Ten Things to do at Janadriyah 

Arab News: A Record 6 Million Visit Janadriyah Festival

Splendid Arabia: Janadriyah and the Festival of Heritage

Arab News:  Traditional handmade headbands set trend at Janadriyah Festival