Sunday, November 22, 2020

Where Are They Now?

A few weeks ago my college alumni page on Facebook featured me in an ongoing series called "Where Are They Now?" - that highlights former students and where their lives have taken them since graduation.  I thought you might enjoy learning a little more about me and my story.    

Where are they now?

She has traveled the world, waited patiently (13 years) to be married to the man of her dreams, had ambitions of becoming a judge, and writes blogs about her experiences in foreign countries.
Susie Johnson Khalil, (1975, AA, Police Science), is the daughter of Trudy Johnson, who served on the founding committee to get Cochise College up and running. She has four brothers: Roy and Gary (both Cochise College alums) and Doug and Barry, and her dream was to eventually become a judge - but Iife took her on a different route.
She truly enjoyed instructors Keith Jackson and Dewey Tally, who made learning about the law, self-defense, crime scene investigations, and analyzing forensics so fascinating – as she says, “long before shows like CSI were on TV.” Art was also an interest of hers. She attributes her appreciation of art to Ray Levra, who showed a true exuberance in teaching.
She was hired by the Douglas Police Department as a dispatcher. She left for a job at Fort Whipple in Prescott, AZ, with the Veterans Administration as their first female Police Officer. She loved being on patrol and out and about. Her routine included duties like directing traffic, patrol, and raising or lowering the flag. And then there were other more memorable moments in the line of duty, like capturing a huge snake on the loose, subduing a hallucinating mental patient, and discovering a dead body in a car in the middle of the night.

Every two weeks the working schedule rotated, making life harder for her as a single working mom. Finding a reliable babysitter to accommodate the shift work was practically impossible back then. So after a couple years of struggling and juggling police work and motherhood in Prescott, she decided to go back to Cochise College with a focus on Journalism and Creative Writing. Instructor Baysol Turner challenged and inspired her.
During this time she was also in charge of Cultural Events at the college, working in Don Fry’s office. She brought in acts like an awesome musician who played a Moog Synthesizer and a fascinating UFO expert. Friends that she remembers hanging out with at Cochise were Pam Halfin Wombles, Debbie Sywassink Hruschka, Robert Clare, Margarita Quinonez Neverman, and Edna Elias Smith.
Susie soon transferred to the University of Arizona, and there she met her future husband. They met shortly after the fall semester began. Adnan, from Saudi Arabia, as Susie describes him, was a “tall exotic handsome hunk with the biggest Afro you ever saw.” He walked in to play pool while she was working in the games room at the Student Union. She was instantly smitten. Within a few short weeks, they were inseparable.
Getting to know Adnan and his Saudi friends instilled an interest in her to learn more about their culture, beliefs, food, passion, humor, and world views. Susie took a job with Braniff Airlines in Houston, and eventually moved back to Tucson and worked for travel agencies. The perks she enjoyed in the travel industry took her to places like Egypt, Australia, Tahiti, and Rio de Janeiro.
Meanwhile Adnan finally was awarded his PhD in Linguistics and Reading in 1989, which meant that he would be going home to Saudi Arabia to try to find work in his field. Once back in Jeddah he looked for work, but to no avail. Even though his government had paid for all those years of schooling and he was highly qualified, they refused to hire him because he was not a native speaker of English – which ended up being her good fortune! Frustrated after looking for work in his field for a whole year, he returned to the USA. They married immediately – she had waited for him for 13 long years and as she says, "I didn’t want to wait another minute!"
Eventually, they decided that perhaps Saudi Arabia would indeed be a good place to live, so they arrived in Jeddah, a captivating city of about 3 million people on the Red Sea coastline. Susie started a blog to share her experiences, to educate others, and it gave her a purpose in her new life. Little did she know that people from all over the world would be interested in her blog posts, and she became a resource for people seeking information, helping many interested in moving to Saudi Arabia to find jobs.
She is the founder of two Facebook groups. One is called “Susie of Arabia” and has over 20,000 members. It’s dedicated to providing information about Saudi Arabia. The other is “Our Hometown - Douglas, Arizona,” for anyone with a connection to Douglas. It’s been a lifeline for her living so far away, keeping her in touch with many old friends and neighbors.
In Susie’s words, “Every day I am thankful for the wonders of the internet and other modern technology. If it weren’t for these things, I don’t know that I could handle living so far away from my family and friends. The question I’m asked most when people find out I live in Saudi Arabia is “Aren’t you afraid?” The truth is that I feel much safer living here than when I am in the U.S. I’m happy living here. My husband is very good to me, spoils me. Moving here has changed my life in countless positive ways. Sure, this country is not perfect – but what place is? My hope is that I’ve helped to change some of the negative perceptions the rest of the world has about this fascinating country and its people.”

Thursday, August 6, 2020

The Birds and Animals Souk of South Jeddah

In Saudi Arabia, there are many specialized souks (markets) for whatever you may be looking for.  There is a big fresh fish market with daily auctions, textile souks for everything from sheets to carpets and fabrics, and there are souks for housewares, gold and jewelry, spices, computers, crafts, and well, just about everything under the sun!

This past week my husband took me to a souk I hadn't ever been to before in the more than twelve years since I have been here in Jeddah - the Live Birds and Animals Souk.  It's a really large souk, encompassing many square blocks of an area far south in Jeddah. My husband wanted to purchase some birds - he was having a craving.

The bird section was actually a little disappointing and it wasn't as well stocked as the times my husband has been there before.  Perhaps it was due to the virus or the fact that it was a few days before a big holiday here, when the main focus is on lambs and goats.  It was also difficult photographing the birds because many were in cages and I had a hard time focusing. 

The bird section offered all kinds of birds, from chickens and roosters to turkeys and pigeons, and many varieties that I didn't know the names of.  There were also bunny rabbits in this area of the souk as well.  Conveniently located in the same area was a butcher, who cleaned the purchased animals for a very reasonable fee, as well as stations selling charcoal and firewood.  My husband bought two pigeons for 15 SR ($4 US) for both, and the fee to have them cleaned was 2 SR each (50 cents US). 

Thousands and thousands of lambs and goats were in the next section of the souk we visited.  Because of the upcoming holiday, Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice, there was an abundance of livestock available, likely imported for this holiday from Europe or Northern Africa.

The Eid al-Adha holiday occurs at the conclusion of the annual Hajj pilgrimage, a huge celebration feast of sharing.  Normally millions of pilgrims travel to Mecca each year for Hajj, however this year due to the virus, only about 1000 pilgrims from within the kingdom were permitted to attend.  All international flights to and from the kingdom have been suspended indefinitelyfor several months now. 

According to Wikipedia, Eid al-Adha "honours the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son Ismael as an act of obedience to God's command. But, before Ibrahim could sacrifice his son, God provided a lamb to sacrifice instead. In commemoration of this intervention, an animal, usually a sheep, is sacrificed ritually. One third of its meat is consumed by the family offering the sacrifice, while the rest is distributed to the poor and needy. Sweets and gifts are given, and extended family are typically visited and welcomed."

Some of the animals available at the souk had remnants of their winter coats visible. For the most part, the animals were separated by types.  Many were "branded" with spray painted symbols on their fur. The cost of a sheep is dependent on its size and type, ranging in price from 800 SR to 2000 SR ($213-$533 US), but is slightly higher during the holidays, priced from 1300-2500 SR ($346-$666 US). 

We also saw camels and cows in the third area of the souk that we visited that day, but we didn't get close enough for me to get any good photos of the cows. Going to this souk was actually a special treat, as my husband and I have still been isolating because of the virus. 

If you are interested in visiting this souk, you can find the location on Google Maps by typing in "Jeddah Birds and Poultry Market" or "Jeddah Cattle Market."  The photo below shows the signs at the entry to the Birds and Animals Souk.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

A Different Ramadan in the Time of CoronaVirus

This summer may be the very first summer I have ever spent in Saudi Arabia.  Since we moved to Jeddah in 2007, I have been fortunate enough to leave here during the brutally hot temperatures of summer.  I usually spend my summers in the beautiful cool Pacific Northwest in Washington State, where temperatures are generally in the 70s.  The older I get, the less tolerant of the heat I am.

I must say that I am not exactly thrilled at the prospect of being here in the severe heat, but as long as our air conditioning works, I'm sure I will be okay.  On the other hand, I certainly don't relish the thought of sitting on an airplane for almost 24 hours in close quarters, next to coughing and sneezing passengers who could potentially infect me with a deadly virus.

As it is, all flights have been indefinitely suspended here in Saudi Arabia, so my travel arrangements for early May have been changed to July, but at this point we cannot be sure if those plans will happen either.  Of course this would be the year when we made plans and bought our tickets in advance, while I generally wait until about a month before we travel to make our arrangements.

I must say that I am pleased with how seriously the Saudi government has taken this pandemic since the very beginning.  Before the first case was even confirmed here in Saudi Arabia, the government's first action was to halt all religious pilgrims coming into the country.  Because of the religious tourism to Mecca and Medina, two of the holy cities of Islam, the kingdom has had a great deal of experience with travelers from all over the world coming to the country and bringing disease with them. Some Muslims save and plan their entire lives for this once in a lifetime trip to these holy cities, a requirement of Islam. So when the plans have been made and paid for long in advance, and the time for their trip comes, the pilgrims travel here regardless, even if they are very sick and highly contagious.

In addition, the Saudi government has also imposed strict curfews, closed schools and businesses, and even the mosques.  Instead of the five daily calls to prayer instructing people to come to the mosque to pray, the calls now say that it's time for prayer, but pray at home.  This is an unprecedented measure in this ultra religious country.

Ramadan - the holy month when Muslims fast during the daylight hours - will be starting in just a couple days. Ramadan is a very social time for most Saudis, a time when families generally get together to break the day's fast and share meals together.  But this Ramadan will be markedly different.  I'm sure there will be some families that will still get together no matter what, but with the strict curfews in place, police checkpoints to enforce the curfews and residents staying in their districts, and a 10,000 SAR ($2500 US) fine for those disobeying the curfew, I'm guessing most people will not take the chance.

This will actually be my very first entire Ramadan I have spent here in this country.  I've been in Saudi Arabia for part of Ramadan before, but never for the entire time period.  For the most part, the elegant Iftar dinners at homes and restaurants will not happen this year.

Instead, maybe these strange times we are living in will actually make people even more thoughtful.  Maybe we will all make changes for the betterment of this world and the people in it, appreciate what we do have in life to be grateful for, and realize what things in life are really important.  Those are some of the reasons for Ramadan, after all. 

Wishing my Muslim friends and family a reflective and meaningful Ramadan.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

From Florida to Jeddah — Women on the Road

I just realized that I failed to post about an updated interview I did with "Women on the Road" back in March 2018. My original interview was done in about 2010. 

A lot has happened here in Saudi Arabia since I first moved here in 2007, and a lot has happened even since this updated interview 2 short years ago.  To me it's really interesting to realize all the changes that have occurred in just my short blip of time spent living here in Saudi Arabia.  I hope you find it interesting too and that you enjoy reading it!  Here it is - 

A former police officer and travel industry professional, Susie Khalil’s American life changed dramatically in 2007 when she followed her Saudi Arabian husband back to his homeland — where she has lived ever since. Her award-winning blog Susie’s Big Adventure (now Susie of Arabia) was once banned; it sheds some light on life in one of the world’s most closed countries. Around 2010 (give or take a year) Women on the Road interviewed Susie, but updated the interview in 2018. The original 2010 interview is at the bottom of this story.

EDITOR'S NOTE. Since the 2018 update, much has happened in Saudi Arabia: Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated; women have been allowed to drive and in some cases travel without a male guardian; Saudi Arabia now issues tourist visas and is letting foreigners visit. It’s impossible to know how powerful, positive or long-lasting any changes will be, but it is a backdrop against which to view Saudi Arabia.

Susie of Arabia: An Update (March 2018)
It’s been ten years now since I first set foot in Saudi Arabia. Hard to believe because I always said I could never see myself here long term, but somehow that has changed. I love my life in this country. I know it’s not what a lot of people want to hear because of what they believe about Saudi Arabia. But the truth is my husband is very good to me and I consider myself a very lucky woman.  My social life here in Jeddah is far more active and full than when I spend my summers back in the US. There are always things to do and I find myself just as fascinated with this country, its people, and its culture as when I first moved here. I feel very safe and I have wonderful friends from all over the world.

With all the changes that are rapidly happening in this country, this is a very exciting time to be here. Things have been slowly changing for several years, but now things really seem to be picking up speed. The younger generation has had the opportunity to grow up with modern technology, so they have been exposed to the outside world a lot more than previous generations.  They want change. They want more normal lives, like they see in other countries — and the Crown Prince MBS is trying to make that happen. I, and many others here, have great hope that he will succeed and that Saudi Arabia will emerge as the modern and moderate country it seems to want to be, once the dust settles in the next few years. The Crown Prince has the support of the younger generation — and the future of Saudi Arabia is in their hands.