Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Abaya - Back in Black

There has been a lot of discussion lately about what women in Saudi Arabia must wear when they are out in public.  That traditionally black cloak worn over her clothing that hides the female form is called the abaya, and lately there have been heated discussions about whether colored abayas should be permitted or not.  My husband has told me that when he was growing up in Jeddah, women did not wear abayas.  Of course women dressed modestly, but they wore what they wished in terms of colors and styles, and they weren't obligated to wear the uniform of the black abaya.  It wasn't really until about the 1990s when religious police began forcing women to wear the abaya in public.

Beige/Taupe/ Black Abaya with Turquoise Trim
But why black, you may ask?  There is really no reason at all for women to wear black.  Somehow it became the only color worn in Saudi Arabia, although there is certainly no rule, law or regulation about the color being only black.  Some religious authorities have thrown fits these past few years with the introduction of colors and embellishments to satisfy women's preferences and individuality. The opposition claims that embellishments and colors attract attention and are not modest.  I guess black is the only color they consider "modest."   The purpose of the abaya is to dress modestly, obscuring the female curves, loosely covering all but the hands and face.  Whether an abaya is black or not shouldn't really matter.  To be forced to wear black in the brutal heat of Saudi Arabia is inhumane.  And unless the government is going to provide black abayas for all the women in Saudi Arabia to wear, how we choose to express ourselves through our abayas should be up to us.  My personal opinion is that men want women to wear black in Saudi Arabia so they will be less inclined to venture out in the heat.  It is a way for men to maintain control and keep women at home because it's just too darn hot to go outside wearing black.

Black Abaya with Pink Camouflage Sleeves
What really bugs me is that people in KSA try to say that women should wear black abayas because of religious teachings.  No where does Islam say that a woman must wear an abaya, and no where does it say that the abaya must be black.  Islam requires both men and women to dress modestly - that's it.  Another thing that bugs me is that according to Islam, men are supposed to lower their gazes and not look at women. So what does it matter what color I am wearing if men aren't supposed to be looking anyway?  Men need to mind their own business and quit trying to control every aspect of women's lives, down to what color she should wear.  It's ridiculous. 

Black Abaya with White Flowers
A disturbing and discouraging article appeared this past week in the Arab News regarding a campaign which has been started at Dammam University opposing colorful abayas.  The article states that "female students are required to abide by the rule of wearing black as a sign of respect to the educational environment."  As if students wearing colors other than black are disrespectful to teachers and other students and that they cannot learn if they are wearing colors.   What I feel is disrespectful is someone trying to dictate to me what color I should wear.  You can read this enlightening blog post written by SaudiWoman a few years ago explaining "Abaya Regulations" and dress code enforcement at schools in Saudi Arabia.

Brown Abaya
I just love how I am always told that there is no compulsion in Islam, however it seems that not only am I forced to wear the abaya, but now they want to go so far as to limit my color choice to black.   So what is it? Compulsion or not?

Currently there is a "survey" on Arab News asking:  Do you think colorful abayas should be avoided? Yes or No?  The poll is running neck and neck.  Personally I don't like the way the survey is worded - it has a negative connotation, insinuating that color should be something  to "avoided."  

Blue Abaya with African Print Sleeves and Back
Don't men have more important things to do than worry about what colors women are wearing? Women are getting killed in car crashes daily here in Saudi Arabia because we are not allowed to drive.  We are at the mercy of incompetent male drivers who drive recklessly, putting everyone in harm's way.  Why isn't more attention paid to this issue instead of what color I am wearing?

Back View of  the Blue Abaya above
Men in Saudi Arabia are allowed to wear pretty much whatever they want to wear - any color, any style of dress.  I've seen men out in public in KSA in attire that I can only describe as suitable for wearing in the privacy of one's own home.  They literally look as if they just crawled out of bed and went out the door. Nobody ever says a word about this.  Maybe it's time we did - especially since women are getting picked on because we don't all want to look the same wearing boring black every single day, while men are permitted to wear bedclothes out in public. I object!

Beige and Brown Abaya with Gold Embroidery
It's bad enough that we have to wear layers of clothing in the sweltering heat of Saudi Arabia.  I'll be damned if I will be forced to wear only black.  I am happy to see colorful abayas now in the shops, and a wider variety of styles and fabrics to choose from. I actually enjoy abaya shopping now.

Print Top with Black Skirt Abaya
By the way, the abayas featured in this post all belong to me. I made a few of them myself, and some I bought.  I apologize for the bad quality of the images.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Enchanting Najran - Saudi Arabia

Last month I took a little trip down to the city of Najran, in southern Saudi Arabia near the Yemen border. The fascinating history of the area, the friendly people, along with the varied geography make this place a must-see destination for any expat living in Saudi Arabia.

Najran is nestled in a fertile farming valley surrounded by rocky mountains and rolling deserts. The abundance of date palms adds to the scenic landscapes and provides a visual treat for the eyes. Farming is an important industry in Najran, with fields of crops stretching for miles. The fertile soil is suitable for growing crops such as corn, wheat, zucchini, and a wide variety of fruits like apples, peaches, citrus, and grapes.

Coupled with the distinctive architectural style of the region, Najran is a city that magic carpet dreams are made of. All over Najran, mixed in with the new construction, are the unique old mud and straw houses, some of them in ruins, but many of them not only standing, but still inhabited. Another distinguishing feature of these homes is the decorative white "bride's lace" designs at the roof lines that add unmistakable charm to the buildings.

Our group was invited into one of these modest mud homes by lifelong residents Ahmed, who is in his 80s, and his wife Umm Mohammed. They were gracious hosts, offering us the traditional gahwa (Arabic coffee) and dates which we enjoyed in their sitting room. We toured the home from bottom to top, viewing the fields and mountains from their various rooftop decks about 4 floors up. Because of its close proximity to Yemen, many of Najran's residents are of Yemeni heritage, as are Ahmed and his wife, and the architectural style of the mud homes is also an influence of Yemen.

Camels are everywhere in and around Najran. The camel souq is where camels are bought and sold, along with fresh camel milk. On our excursion outside the city into the desert, we saw many groups of camels that were being trained to compete in races. We were also treated to a Bedouin cookout one perfect evening under the stars at a desert camp, complete with carpets, tents, camel meat, hookahs, and a campfire. The only thing missing was the marshmallows!

A highlight of our trip was a visit to the main souk of Najran which houses a dagger souk. The traditional curved Arab daggers, called khanjar, are offered for sale here, with elegant carved handles made of bone, metal, wood, or plastic. The men of the dagger souk all proudly wore their traditional Arab clothing, accessorized with their khanjars strapped around their waists on a leather belt. Another section of the souk offered products like handmade baskets, jewelry, and clothing.

Men of the dagger souq - Najran, Saudi Arabia

Several of the dagger shopkeepers took turns posing for photos with me. It felt like the paparazzi was around as the others all gathered around us to take photos with their state of the art phones.  I could tell by the frequent laughter that jokes were being made as we posed for pictures. Later I learned that the conversation went something like this:
"Mohammed, you better not let your wife see that picture of you and this woman. She will get jealous."
"You've been thinking of getting a 3rd wife - how about this American?"
"My wives will kill me if I do that!"

Even though people have lived in the Najran area for about 4000 years, it is considered to be a newer and more modern city because of its remarkable growth spurt since the 1970s.  Najran's population now exceeds 250,000.  We toured the historic Emara Palace, built in the 1940s - a fine example and tribute to the distinctive architecture of the region.  Another well known palace in the area, Al-Aan Palace, is built on hilltop and offers spectacular views of the surrounding area, overlooking the oasis of Najran.

Emara Palace - Najran, Saudi Arabia

Interestingly enough in pre-Islamic days, Najran used to be inhabited by predominantly Jews and Christians. There is an old archaeological site in the city that bears the ruins of Al-Okhdood (also spelled Ukhdood).  According to a story in the Q'uran, this is where a disgruntled Jewish king massacred thousands of its residents by burning them alive because they converted to Christianity. Quite a gruesome history.   Rock drawings of animals and cryptic writings are visible all over Al-Okhdood. The site is still in the process of being excavated and to date has produced important historical artifacts, with much more still hoped to be retrieved.

Spectacular scenery and fascinating history aside, what really makes Najran such a memorable place is its people. Warm and welcoming, open and friendly, the people of Najran are hospitable and accommodating.

If you are interested in planning a trip to Najran, I highly recommend Mohammad of Najran Tours. He is professional, knowledgeable, and flexible and will tailor your visit to your preferences. Here is the information for Najran Tours:

Mohammad H. Al Mustaneer
Najran Tours.
Reg. No. : 5950026097
Najran, Saudi Arabia
Mob. +966 552 498 012
+966 550 377 715
Facebook page for Najran Tours

Tell him Susie sent you!

I put together a slideshow for you with lots more photos from my trip to Najran.  Enjoy!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Saudi Women Have Fun!

Enjoy this very short video that gives you a glimpse into the lighter side of living in Saudi Arabia. Even though women cannot drive here yet, they can still manage to have fun.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Dona Nobis Pacem - Blogging for Peace in 2014

Dona Nobis Pacem - is Latin for "Grant Us Peace."

I have dreamed of a world of peace for as long as I can remember.  When I was a child in 1950s, I would often have difficulty falling asleep because of all the images swirling around in my head of Nikita Khrushchev threatening to bury me, the Cold War, and the Nuclear Arms Race.  I had nightmares.  It is a scary thing for a child who doesn't understand why everyone just can't get along or why there are wars in the first place.

As the decades passed, my difficulties in falling asleep remained, but what changed were who the Bad Guys were and the different fears.  Like Fidel Castro, the Viet Nam War, the Iran Hostage Crisis, the bombings in Northern Ireland, and the never ending conflicts involving Middle Eastern and African countries.

I still don't claim to understand the motivations or reasons behind all this worldwide turmoil.  But what I do know is that  I choose not to live in fear - and I am already against the next war.  That, for me, will never change.

We must change the world so our children don't have to be afraid, so they don't have nightmares, and so our children can know a World of Peace.

Today, November 4th, bloggers from all around the world are uniting together and Blogging for Peace.  Maybe somehow if enough of us stand up together and say "Enough is Enough" - maybe, just maybe, we can Give Peace a Chance.

Blog4Peace Website

Blog Blast for Peace Facebook Community

Monday, September 29, 2014

Sexualizing Children in Saudi Society

Jenna Al Shammary (photo credit: Saudi Gazette)

Jenna Al-Shammary,  a young Saudi school girl, excitedly dons bright red lipstick for her singing debut performing a Saudi National Day song in a theater play in the conservative city of Hail, Saudi Arabia.  She normally doesn't wear lipstick, but this is a special occasion and she will be on stage in front of an audience of mature adult grown men, many with young daughters of their own.  Her loosely draped long shiny emerald green satin robe is emblazoned with gold Palm trees and the crossed swords of the Saudi flag.  Her long dark hair flows loosely down to her waist, like many of her young Saudi schoolmates.

She is nervous but confident.  Jenna has practiced singing this song over and over again, but the butterflies in her stomach make her anxious that she will flub up the words of the song.

Eleven year old Jenna nails her performance.

But to her family's horror, within days of her performance, all hell seems to break loose and it's all negatively focused on Jenna.  No mention is made of her voice, her singing, her patriotism, her stage presence.  All attention is placed on her physical appearance.  Social media websites criticize her appearance as "immodest," calling her unimaginable names, faulting her parents for allowing such "indecency." After all, she wore red lipstick on stage and did not cover her hair from the men in the audience.  Such shame!

Really?  Is this what Saudi's culture and religion supports and truly believes?  Sexualizing a child?  Publicly criticizing a child?  Calling a child names that would incite a man to want to commit murder if he ever heard those names spoken about his own mother or sister or daughter?

Leave it to the perverted minds in Saudi Arabia to turn a child's innocent song of pride for her country into a tawdry sexualized scandal.   All these idiotic men could focus on was Jenna's sexuality.  This is the sign of a real sickness in this society.  It is truly perverse and unhealthy.  They see women and children merely as sexual objects.  

There is never a valid reason to attack a child in this manner.  An 11 year old should not be made to feel ashamed about her appearance or be made to feel like she is a sex object for men.  After all, it's not like she was dressed up on stage like Lady Gaga or Madonna or even some contestant on Toddlers and Tiaras.  What she wore and how she presented herself was perfectly acceptable in any normal society in this world.   

What's NOT normal is the sick reaction and criticism from a few twisted deranged men in this audience and the perpetual sexualization of women and children in this society.  THAT's what needs to be criticized, not an innocent 11 year old girl.  


Saudi Gazette article, "Twitter users slam girl, 11, for ‘immodest’ National Day show"

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Progress Makes Me Happy!

There have been many times living in Saudi Arabia over the past seven years when I have gotten the impression that having fun is forbidden or at least frowned upon, that being happy is not something that people here  aspire to.  While I still get that feeling at times, the past couple of years I have seen a change gently sweeping over the general population of Saudi Arabia. 

A few years ago I couldn't have imagined the excitement I feel now when I see women actually working in the malls and other businesses.  People now seem much more relaxed, much more open.  More Saudi women seem to be dropping their face veils and wearing colorful abayas instead of just drab black.  I see smiles much more frequently than I used to.  Lots of people are into taking selfies - a huge change from the look of paranoia I saw on people's faces when they spied me with my camera in years past.  Even though to outsiders these strides may seem really small, to me I am seeing real social progress.

And it makes me happy!

When I first viewed this video I thought to myself that there is no way this could have happened on a flight in Saudi Arabia just a few years ago.  So in honor of Saudi National Day on September 23rd, enjoy this Saudi version of a flash mob on FlyNas Airlines.  Saudis can be fun-loving people too!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Humanitarian Relief for Syrian Refugees

PLEASE HELP if you can: Humanitarian Relief for Syrian Refugees

A personal friend of mine here in Jeddah will be taking part in the ongoing humanitarian relief for Syrian Refugees by Rita Zawaideh. She will be joining the Salaam Cultural Museum's Medical Mission taking place September 13-19.   She will leave from Jeddah for Amman on September 12 and needs donations of the items listed below for distribution via SCM to Syrian refugees in Jordan.

Tongue depressors
Blood pressure machine
Blood sugar machine and strips
Non-narcotic medications
Disposable Diapers

In addition, below is the wish list for the Malki/Salaam Children’s Center:
Art Supplies
Paper for watercolor
Colored Paper
Music Supplies
Percussion Set
Wooden Blocks
Wooden Puzzles (ages 6-10)
Play dough
Cutout Stencils

To make donations in Jeddah, please contact Samia Ann El-Moslimany at 055-562-3613 or drop off donations at the Photography by Samia Studio.  CLICK HERE for a map of the drop off location.  

If you cannot donate items or if you live somewhere other than Jeddah, please consider making a monetary donation towards this medical mission or the Malki-SCM Children's Center! CLICK HERE to make a monetary donation.

Thank you for any support your can give!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

What is the most truly Muslim country in the world?

The following article was written by Patsy McGarry and is reprinted from The Irish Times, Religion and Beliefs Section, published on June 9, 2014.

Ireland is ‘the most truly Muslim country in the world’ 

Israel is more compliant with the ideals of the Koran than any predominantly Muslim country, according to the study.   

Hossein Askari, Professor at George Washington University

The country in the world most faithful to the values of the Koran is Ireland, according to Hossein Askari, an Iranian-born academic at George Washington University in the US.

The country in the world most faithful to the values of the Koran is Ireland, according to an Iranian-born academic at George Washington University in the US.  Next are Denmark, Sweden and the UK.

In a BBC interview, Hossein Askari, Professor of International Business and International Affairs at George Washington University, said a study by himself and colleague Dr. Scheherazade S Rehman, also rates Israel (27) as being more compliant with the ideals of the Koran than any predominantly Muslim country.

Not a single majority Muslim country made the top 25 and no Arab country is in the top 50.

He said that when their ‘Islamicity index’ was applied only Malaysia (33) and Kuwait (42) featured in its top 50 countries, compared to the US at 15, the Netherlands also at 15, while France is at 17. Saudi Arabia rated 91st, with Qatar at 111th.

In carrying out the study, they applied the ideals of Islam in the areas of a society’s economic achievements, governance, human and political rights, and international relations, he said.

On that index, “Muslim countries do very badly,” he said and accused them of using religion as an instrument of power.

Last November Professor Askari said that “we must emphasize that many countries that profess Islam and are called Islamic are unjust, corrupt, and underdeveloped, and are in fact not ‘Islamic’ by any stretch of the imagination.”

“Looking at an index of Economic Islamicity, or how closely the policies and achievements of countries reflect Islamic economic teachings - Ireland, Denmark, Luxembourg, Sweden, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Singapore, Finland, Norway, and Belgium round up the first 10.”

In their ‘Overall Islamicity Index’, a measure that encompasses laws and governance, human and political rights, international relations, and economic factors, “the rankings are much the same: New Zealand, Luxembourg, Ireland, Iceland, Finland, Denmark, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and the Netherlands; and again only Malaysia (38) and Kuwait (48) make it into the top 50 from Muslim countries,” he said.

“If a country, society, or community displays characteristics such as unelected, corrupt, oppressive, and unjust rulers, inequality before the law, unequal opportunities for human development, absence of freedom of choice (including that of religion), opulence alongside poverty, force, and aggression as the instruments of conflict resolution as opposed to dialogue and reconciliation, and, above all, the prevalence of injustice of any kind, it is prima facie evidence that it is not an Islamic community,” he said.

“Islam is, and has been for centuries, the articulation of the universal love of Allah for his creation and for its unity, and all that this implies for all-encompassing human and economic development,” he concluded.

The actual BBC interview is fascinating.  CLICK HERE to listen to part of the BBC interview with Dr. Hossein Askari.  

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Pakistan: Three Women Dead at Hands of Family

My last post relayed the true story of a young pregnant Pakistani woman who was stoned to death a few days ago by her own family members because she married a man of her own choosing and not the cousin that her family had picked out for her.

In light of new information that has surfaced regarding the man she married, I thought an update was in order. 

I, for one, was feeling sympathetic for the 45 year-old widower, Mohammad Iqbal, that 25 year-old Farzana Parveen Iqbal had married.  He had been widowed a few years ago and left with five children to raise, and now with Farzana's death, he became a widower yet again. 

The murdered Farzana Parveen Iqbal
But any sympathy I may have had for this man has been erased since I learned that he himself strangled his first wife to death six years ago because he was in love with Farzana and wanted to marry her.  Basically he himself got away with murder.  In Pakistan, as in several other countries, blood money can be paid or forgiveness can be given by immediate family members of the victim in order to absolve the murderer/killer of guilt.

Initially Iqbal was arrested in 2009 for the murder of his wife, however the charges were dropped when one of his sons forgave him.  What I don't understand is that Iqbal is Muslim, and Islam allows men to marry up to four women at any one time.  Why on earth did he opt to murder the mother of his five children when he legally could have taken on another wife?  Or why didn't he just divorce her?  What kind of Muslim does what he did?  I am sickened by this turn of events.

So far, only Farzana's father has been arrested in her death.  All the other participants in her stoning - about 20 men - have disappeared.

In another cruel twist to this story, Farzana becomes the second daughter in her family to have been murdered by her male relatives in an "honor killing."  Four years ago her sister Rehana was poisoned by her own family when they became disenchanted with the family she had married into - even though it was an arranged marriage, approved by each family.  Rehana's family demanded that she leave her husband, but she refused, so they killed her.

At least many people in Pakistan are outraged and have protested, calling for reform and justice.  

In this sad tale alone, three women are dead at the hands of their own husbands, fathers, and brothers.  This is utterly barbaric and sick behavior that has no basis in religion whatsoever.  What is wrong with these stupid men that they would rather kill their own daughter than to see her happy in marriage?  Why don't these men value the women of their family?  Women deserve better!   Heaven help us all.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Getting Away with Murder

Farzana Parveen Iqbal was a 25 year old Pakistani woman who was excited about her pregnancy and becoming a mother.  Farzana had chosen to wed a 45 year old widower she had fallen in love with, instead of the cousin her family had selected for her to marry. 

Charges were brought against Farzana’s husband, Mohammad Iqbal, who was accused by her family of kidnapping her and forcing her into marriage.  Farzana was on her way to testify in court that she loved her husband and married him willingly. 

As the couple arrived at the Lahore, Pakistan, courthouse on Tuesday, May 27, a crowd gathered around to watch as the pregnant Farzana was stoned with bricks and clubbed to death by several of her male relatives, including her own father and brothers. She died of severe head injuries.

Mohammad Iqbal, right, husband of Farzana Parveen, 25, sits in an ambulance next to the body of his pregnant wife who was stoned to death by her own family in Lahore, Pakistan.(Photo: K.M. Chaudary, AP)

I’m glad I wasn’t born in a place like Pakistan, where an average of 1000 women are murdered every year at the hands of the men in their families defending their “family honor.”  What is even more appalling is the fact that these killings are tolerated and even dismissed by the courts and government of Pakistan.  If men are arrested and tried for these crimes, even if they are found guilty, punishments are often extremely light or non-existent. 

In fact, the way the Pakistani system is set up with regard to murder or accidental deaths, by law the victim’s family can forgive the killers.  This opens up the world of honor killings to abuse.  “The law allows (the family) to nominate someone to do the murder, then forgive him,” in essence allowing the murderers to get away with murder.  Honor killings usually specifically target women or homosexuals.  The broad and flimsy reasons given to justify honor killings range from imagined or real sexual encounters, rape victims, divorce even if the wife is being abused, refusing arranged marriages, to just merely appearing to enjoy oneself in public. 

A family member of the pregnant woman stoned to death by her family wails over her dead body in an ambulance in Lahore, Pakistan. AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary

What kind of a father kills his own daughter because he feels insulted by her choice of husband?  What kind of father would rather kill his own daughter than see her happily married to a man of her own choosing?  Don’t we all, as parents, really only want our children to be happy?  What is wrong with a society that places “perceived family honor” over the happiness or freedom of a woman to live her own life and make her own choices?  

On a final note, Islam denounces honor killings.  It is a patriarchal and cultural practice with no base in religion. 


Saturday, May 3, 2014

Jessica Socling's Story

Reprinted from the Saudi Gazette ...

"My ex-husband abducted the children and took them to Saudi Arabia"

My three children, all under the age of eight, were abducted by my Saudi ex-husband on Nov. 24, 2013 and were taken to Saudi Arabia. When I’m asked in America why I married a man from Saudi Arabia, my response is always the same: “You can’t help who you fall in love with.” But my advice to anyone wishing to marry someone from a different country, a different culture, is to really think about how these differences will impact your marriage.

I always tried to look at the positives. Our children had a unique and beautiful opportunity to get the best of both worlds, expand their horizons and be exposed to the rich cultures of their parents’ heritage.

But I never thought about what would happen if our marriage didn’t work out. When you are in love, it’s hard to think: “What will happen to the children if we get divorced?” No one wants to think of divorce.

I became a Muslim in the summer of 2001. I then met and fell in love with a young Saudi student, and we married early in 2002. I thought, as many young women who are in love thought, that we would be able to handle any conflicts together. We discussed the differences in our backgrounds, but I dismissed any idea that I wouldn’t be able to live with him anywhere, as long as we were together.

I thought I was prepared when I moved to Jeddah in the summer of 2003. I was Muslim, it was a Muslim country. I was committed to my husband and to Islam. But the culture shock crept up on me, as I’m sure it has crept up on many. I became increasingly isolated and lonely.  I felt that I was letting down my husband with my unhappiness, and he acted like he agreed.

Our lives progressed and in the summer of 2012, my husband resigned from his job to accept a scholarship for his master’s degree in the US. I was content. I settled into homeschooling our older two sons. Our youngest son, developmentally delayed due to a congenital defect, was getting all the therapy he needed. I was close to my family. My husband was doing well in school. Our children were shining beacons of beautiful, open, friendly Muslims, better dawah (call to Islam) than I could ever give on my own.

But then, late in October of 2012, my world shattered. My husband came to me with an announcement. He had decided to take a second wife. I was shocked and then outraged when he told me the wedding would take place in five days, to a young woman who had become a Muslim only weeks earlier. I begged, pleaded with my husband not to rush into this marriage. We had been married for nearly 10 years and I did not believe I could live in a polygamous marriage.

We ended up separating. Through the pain of the destruction of my marriage, I wanted only what was best for our children. He assured me that he would always take care of them, that he would stay in America with his new American wife.

But things became increasingly strained between us. I felt that he became more controlling, irrational, and erratic as time went by. It was after I didn’t have enough money to buy groceries for our children and I became fearful of his actions towards me that I sought relief through the courts for child support and an official custody agreement.

We shared custody in the US, and negotiated the terms of an Islamic parenting plan, a contract, that scheduled travel to Saudi Arabia during the school holidays. This custody agreement was nearly done by the fall of 2013. He made every indication that he agreed with the arrangements. And then the worst night of my life happened. The children were supposed be dropped off at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 24, after a regular visit to their father and new stepmother. But he never showed up. I texted, called, desperate to find the boys, with no response. I called hospitals, police, as I was worried about an accident. It was hours later that I found out that my children had left on a Saudi Airlines flight at 5:55 p.m. I literally fell to the floor in fear and grief. My children, who had never spent more than a night away from me, were gone. I had loved them and cared for them before they were even born. I had only ever wanted to do what was right for them. And they were stolen from me.

No one wants to think about divorce, about what will happen if their partner doesn’t honor the mother of his children and doesn’t respect the right of young children to remain with their mother. My children have been kept from me for six months. I have been trying, from the day they were taken, to either get them back, or get to them in Saudi Arabia. My ex-husband has refused mediation attempts. I have been trying to find help in any way possible.

The US government has filed kidnapping charges against my ex-husband and his new wife, who was recently arrested and charged with assisting in the kidnapping while traveling back to the US. Even more recently, I had a meeting with the Saudi Consulate in the US and I’m hoping for the best.

But meanwhile, the children live without their mother. They do not wake up to me making them breakfast. We do not take walks through the yard and learn about the things that live there. We do not sit together and read stories of the Prophets and Islamic poetry. We do not snuggle up at night before bed, reading and talking about our days. My house, once full of love and laughter, is quiet and empty.

Jessica Socling, USA

Note from Susie: 
Unfortunately Jessica's story is not as uncommon as we would like to believe.  I get emails from women all over the world asking for advice because they are in love with Saudi men, and their families are unaccepting or worried about the relationship with a Saudi.  It is important to understand the possibilities of what could happen before you get involved too deeply with a Saudi man. What makes marriage to a Saudi man even more risky is the lack of governmental support if things go sour and the man absconds with the children to his homeland.  The issue of taking a 2nd wife always looms overhead and most often results in the breakup of the first marriage, or at the very least, a very profound adverse effect on it.  Any woman considering marriage to a Saudi man should think long and hard about it first.  Don't be a fool and think that this couldn't happen to you.  I have seen it happen too many times here in Saudi Arabia - and there is absolutely no guarantee that you are immune.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Souvenirs from Saudi Arabia

Every time I travel back to the states from Saudi Arabia, I try to take souvenirs with me to give to family and friends.  I have taken dozens of "niqabs" (face veils) for my girlfriends, the red and white checked scarves that Saudi men wear here called "shemagh," prayer beads, and a variety of colorful prayer rugs.

I've also purchased oud (strongly scented oils used as perfumes) and these little scented cubes that are nice to put in bathrooms or in drawers. Surprisingly I was able to find Christmas ornaments last year that were painted carved wooden camels.

It's not that easy to find souvenirs here in Saudi Arabia like it is in other places around the world that cater to tourists.  And that could be because Saudi Arabia only really allows religious tourism.

I like to try to find items that have Arabic writing on them or images that are typically Arab, but like I said, it's not that easy.  Even finding T-shirts related to Saudi Arabia is difficult.  I also like to try to find things that are useful and not just dust collectors, and since I am always on a budget, I try to find reasonably priced items as well.

Here are some of the souvenirs that I have found here in Saudi Arabia ...

More expensive than most gifts that I usually purchase, this beautiful decoupaged wooden keepsake box with a map of Saudi Arabia on it was filled with a variety of high end dates.

Miniature Yemeni homes made of clay.

Playing cards with the Kings and Jacks wearing Middle Eastern headgear, and the Queens wearing face veils. 

Henna design templates.


Gold coin face veils generally worn by brides or for special occasions.

Starbucks coffee mugs

Purses with Arabic calligraphy - I asked my husband if it said anything in particular, to which he jokingly replied, "It says that whoever buys this purse is an idiot."

Cheenko - popular old time serving pieces

Polo shirts by Kalimah Brand.  They also have an interesting variety of Arab themed T-shirts

Kalimah Brand ladies long sleeved T-shirt with the shemagh (red and white checked) design incorporated into it

Scarves with Arabic designs and letters by Kalimah Brand

Teapots and housegoods

Decorative inlaid teapot


Fabrics with metal embellishments

Arab salt and pepper shakers - also comes as piggy banks

Refrigerator magnet

Refrigerator magnet

Refrigerator Magnet

Notepad / Shopping list