Category Archives: Eman

Germany from a Saudi Perspective

I was invited by the German Foreign Ministry to spend ten days in Berlin as part of a blogger tour initiative. I’ve never been to Germany before as a tourist, let alone a guest of the government. It was an educational experience in which I learned a lot about Germany and also the countries of the 14 other bloggers who were invited too. read more

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ِA clarification on the previous post

I originally posted this as a comment on the previous post “Drisciminated against by a foreigner in my own country” but I think it’s important that it be a post on its own. This is addressed to all those people who have not lived in Saudi; please refrain from making comments that only showcase your arrogant assumptions. You read things about Saudi, including things on this blog, and then overgeneralize them. Anyone who has lived in Saudi knows that muttawa do not raid classes. They raid mixed gender adult parties especially if alcohol and/or drugs are involved. They have also been known to raid homosexual parties.

Ballet class or any other type of class especially one conducted by a woman and given to little girls in a closed place, i.e. not out in the street, has never ever been raided or even closed down. Yes muttawas do not like the idea of any type of exercise for girls and women but that is ONLY at public schools and colleges.

Private schools and colleges whose student bodies are made up of at least 95% Saudi girls and women have gyms and they have never been raided. Check Kingdom schools, Al Tarbiyah al Namothijya schools, Manarat al Riyadh schools, Prince Sultan University. Heck we even have a national womens basketball team. Somes banks have gym facilities for its Saudi women staff and they have never been raided. All across Riyadh, there are gyms and all types of classes, including ballet, salsa, and pilates. And these gyms are not inside a compound. They have big signs up front and are open to anyone who wants to pay. We even have a Curves gym right off Olaya street. All of them have never been raided. There was some talk in the newspapers that some would be closed until the government organizes a special segment for their inspection and licensing, however I have not heard of any being actually closed.

So now you’re going to say why I went to this lady since there were so many others available. I did so because my daughter went to ballet a couple of years back and didn’t like it. Now she’s a little older I felt that maybe she should give it another try. And not because I want her to be a ballerina but because I thought it would help with her posture. So I was casually looking when a friend by chance recommended this lady and I called her first. Her not allowing my daughter in her class is her loss because I pay just like everyone else plus I have the sweetest little girl ever. Even if she had not said that “Saudis weren’t allowed”, I would still not automatically enroll my daughter. I called her to enquire and I was offended at the principle and not that my daughter would be missing out on anything. I’m going to shop around for a better class, probably someone who teaches in a proper ballet studio instead of moving around from one compound to the other.

Some of the places in Riyadh that cater to mostly Saudi clientele have websites that you can see for yourself, through the miracle of the internet, whatever continent you are on:

Kinetico

Spectrum for Women

Al Manahil

Curves

Luthan

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Discriminated against by a foreigner in my own country

I just had a really frustrating phone call. A friend of mine recommended a ballet instructor for my daughter. She gave me the number and I called to inquire and the lovely British ballet instructor informed me that she could not accept my daughter because we carry Saudi passports. I asked her why and she said that there is a directive that Saudi girls are not allowed to learn ballet. I asked her if she was ever provided with a written directive that Saudi girls weren’t allowed to learn ballet, and she said no that she was verbally instructed. I told her that that is not true and that there are ballet classes at some gyms here in Riyadh. So she changed the story and said that she had instructions that Saudis weren’t allowed on compounds. I told her that I’ve been in compounds. So she again changed the story. This time she had the audacity to say that she can only allow “western” passport holders, not only once but several times. I asked her what to you mean by western? How about Pakistanis? She retracted “oh no, I do allow Pakistanis.” Finally she said that that the compounds that she gave classes at required her to provide copies of the little girls’ passports. That is an outright lie because my son went to a daycare at a compound and never once was I asked to provide a copy of his passport. And then she started bumbling like a fool that in Saudi she has to wear a abaya. I said but that is not determined by your passport, every woman has to wear a abaya.

Anyway this is the new generation of Western expatriate workers here. Before 9/11, the attitude was very different. People who came here actually cared about making an impact, and getting to know the people of the country. Now so many of them strike me as money-hungry elitist who look down on “the ignorant locals”. When the ballet instructor told me that she has to endure discrimination too because she has to wear a abaya, as a Saudi woman, all I could think is that she has it easy. It’s her choice to stay or leave the country and naturally she wouldn’t be here unless she was being compensated for the inconvenience of wearing a abaya. As a foreigner, all that is required is that she have on this light black cloak when she’s out in public. She doesn’t even have to cover her hair. What about all those Saudi women and girls who are required to wear a heavy, below the ankles tent style abaya with their faces fully covered? And these Saudi girls aren’t here by choice nor are they financially compensated, and at the end of the day they don’t go home to a five star compound where they can walk around freely and enjoy the sun. Really, the ballet instructor is the one with the bad end of the stick? It’s bad enough getting it from the muttawa but when the same people who condemn us for not fighting for our freedom, practice discrimination against us, it gets really frustrating.

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The Times They Are A-Changin’

I’m not one for poetry and all that but couldn’t resist this. Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’ which he wrote as an artist/civil rights activist in 1963. It resonated with me.

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’.
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’.
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’.
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’.
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.

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I shocked a muttawa today

Went to the dentist today, on the elevator going up, I asked the heavily covered mute woman next to me which floor is the dentist’s and her 30ish husband picked up on the fact that I’m Saudi from my dialect. He immediately asked me if I was Saudi:

“أنت سعودية؟”

I said yes as he looked so shocked and tried to stare me into shame while repeating this won’t do.

ما يصير, ما يصير””

I told him me being uncovered is not haram. He predictably said “oh yes it is”. So I said in an intentionally dismissive way that he has no argument:

والله ما عندك سالفة

This infuriated him so much that as he was leaving the elevator he kept looking back and shouting at me:

“إلا عندي سالفة, إلا عندي سالفة”

I half expected him to be waiting for me outside the clinic (and secretly wished he would be). But he wasn’t. I think what got to him was that he was expecting me to meekly say something like “”جزاك الله خير or even for me to take a corner of my hijab and cover my face with it in fear and shame. I guess I surprised him.

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Wish me luck

I’ve been neglecting this blog recently because I’m really busy keeping up with my schoolwork. I’m taking a few courses and let me tell you it’s kind of funny being back in a student’s chair after teaching a few years. Makes me appreciate what my students go through and I think every teacher should have a similar experience every now and then just as a reminder of how tough and stressful it is.

Well I have final exams and a bunch of papers to hand in so until then I don’t believe I’ll be adding anything here. Meanwhile, please check out this new online paper in which I am a staff writer. It has a truly enlightening global perspective and shows a lot of promise.

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I am not a bolger!

I’m a blogger. This is what was written in Arab News today, the leading Saudi English paper in an article about women’s sports clubs here. Another thing that I’m not is a social worker. I’m a lecturer. I teach English as a foreign language and for specific academic purposes.  But what I was really disappointed in was that the writer got my viewpoint all wrong. She asked me what I thought about religious people using the government to close down sports clubs. The issue being that these clubs are increasingly becoming popular with Saudi women. Women only sports clubs have been popping up everywhere and their fees are now within reach of the average woman. They offer aerobic classes, self-defense and even salsa dancing. However they have no legal licensing umbrella because according to the government all forms of exercise are for men only. So the owners of these clubs get a license for a salon or a child activity center and then expand from there. Ultra conservatives are dead against these establishments because they believe that they lead Saudi women to sin through the influence of and interaction with unsavory feminist and sometimes they go as far as lesbian women who work there and frequent the clubs (according to the muttawa sexually repressed wild imagination). Moreover they believe that exercise goes against femininity and that it is an exclusively manly domain.

In the eighties and nineties there weren’t many of these sports clubs around and if one does open, the muttawas would camp outside its doors and harass the owner and workers until it closes down out of frustration. Then these muttawas would preach about the sins that they uncovered and led to their victory in closing the club.  

Now that they are all over the place and extremely high in demand the muttawas logistically cannot take the same approach. So what they are doing is taking a top down approach through bureaucratic nonsense. And that is what I meant by their reaction being natural. I do not support the government in closing them down but I do believe that licensing should be done properly. What the ultra conservatives are doing is futile because its too little, too late. It’s the same thing over and over again with satellite TV, camera cell phones, music stores …etc. The general public demands them too much for these conservatives to be able to stop their spread. And now they are taking on womens sports clubs which will only lead them to be legalized and taken off the black market into the light, just like their other “sinful” predecessors.  

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