Ramadan in the Middle East is something that I will always be thankful for; a whole month when everyone everywhere slows down and reflects. All healthy adults fast from food, drink, sex and actively strive to be kinder, more generous and calmer from sunrise to sunset. For financially able adults who cannot physically fast due to health related reasons, they have to feed one poor person each day of the month.
In Saudi Arabia, it’s all about giving. Tents are pitched every few blocks and anyone can come in for a meal at sunset. Charities give out enormous amounts of food and clothing supplies. And on the last day of Ramadan, literally tons of bags of uncooked rice are handed out to the poor.
Within households, Ramadan has its own unique atmosphere. Special Ramadan recipes are prepared. Neighbors exchange dishes just before sunset. And people throw Ramadan themed parties where all the kids get to dress in Saudi traditional clothes and collect little bags of toys and candy.
The whole daily schedule is turned upside down. Work hours are changed with the majority of employers only requiring a maximum of six hour workdays. And then there’s the shopping and build up towards Eid. If you want to avoid the crowds, do not go shopping from 9 pm to 2 am. But if you really want to see the natives in action, that’s the time to hit the malls.
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.
Barack Obama will be the next president of the USA. I know most people around the world are tired of the American elections and there is a sense of weariness because we all thought that it would be like four years ago when the world set their hopes on John Kerry (anyone but Bush thing) and Americans let them down. When I woke up this morning and turned the TV on just when they were announcing Obama coming out on the stage as president-elect, I was shocked and elated. This is definitely going to be a good day. Besides what it means politically both for Americans and the world, this has cultural and ideological meaning for everyone. In Saudi Arabia, people look to the USA as a center of education and progress so when President Clinton got caught with Lewinsky, it had a ripple effect here. People got the message that after all that education and power it all came down to sex. And there was a this wave of womanizing and I believe many upper-middle class men took on second wives because of that negative influence. Then when Bush got elected for a second term after his foreign policy failures, many here thought well the west is definitely just a bunch of racist colonialist crusaders at heart. By voting for Bush they sent the message that there was no remorse for all those tortured Iraqis at Abu Ghraib, for the unAmericanness of Guantanamo Bay and all those dead Iraqi women and children. Some put it down to that lives that are non-white and non Christian had little value to the US. And a sense of bitterness and disappointment in the so-called American values and principles unfurled and suffocated any popularity that the US had pre-Iraq.
Now with Obama elected, no matter what he does in the future I know that racial tensions everywhere have been subdued a little. His background; the time he spent in Muslim Indonesia as a child and his Islamic heritage on his father’s side coupled with his mixed race and his choice of an African American as a spouse is beautiful. Him winning tells humanity that dignity, self-respect, hard-work and qualifications still count and that even though the bumbling fool Bush dubiously won in the beginning, he definitely is not better off for it.
As for what it means for Saudis, it is a cultural shift in the right direction. Saudi did not really believe in the American version of democracy. How could they when all the presidents of the so-called” melting pot” were Anglo. Now they are rubbing their eyes in disbelief rethinking the concept in a way that hopefully will move them out of their passiveness and no point attitude. Tribal differences will matter a little less now. Yes that is how much weight American elections have around the world.
Last week over at Saudijeans a blogger’s meet up was organized but only for males. Of course that’s the only way to do it because otherwise they’ll have a much longer meeting with the muttawa vice patrol. I got a little jealous though so I’ve decided that I’m going to test the waters for a women meet up of bloggers. Women here are notorious for ignoring these kinds of opportunities and even set appointments. Let’s see how this goes. So if you are a blogger writing about Saudi Arabia and happen to be a woman as well, please free up the early evening of November 12th. For further details Email me at saudiwomanblog at gmail dot com with the following:
2- blog link
3- Phone number
Call me paranoid but I will only disclose the location to ladies after verification. Lots of weirdoes to watch out for on both sides of the spectrum; ultra conservative muttawas hell-bent against women and desperate perverts looking for a love interest, so for everyone’s safety we’ll do it my way.
I’ve lived in the US as a child, pre 9/11 in Kansas. And in such a “redneck” part of the country, my family and I were subjected to some racial incidents, the most memorable of which is a man spitting on my father’s BMW after finding out the owner was Arab. Another that really sticks out is one time I was doing my business in a bathroom stall and I called something out in Arabic to my sister. So the lady in the stall next to me stood on the toilet, grabbed me by the hair and started screaming insults at me. I was only about 10 at the time. Her boyfriend or whatever had to rush in and pry her away. It turns out she had one too many beers and blamed me for her brother’s death in Lebanon. I also remember my art teacher at school who had to have other teachers come in and convince her to treat me like a human being in conversations that were within my earshot. I guess they thought I was too young to understand. Or my mother at a convenience store being harassed by two farmer looking guys for speaking in Arabic. All of this before 9/11, so logically it must be worse now.
It wasn’t all bad or otherwise we would have left before my father finished his studies. The US is fantastic both for study and tourism. The way I see it, it’s a win-win situation. We get the benefits of the great higher education system and have fun at tourist sights and go back home at the end of the day. We pay our way throughout. And I have never known a Saudi to immigrate to a western country. And yet you still get these little incidents. It’s as if every Saudi is a member of the higher royal family or maybe some Americans think that we are secretly a democracy and all Saudis have a voice in their country’s policies.
Anyway my little dilemma is that I am currently in the US and I have my kids in tow too. Naturally we sometimes get the “where are you from” question from people like store clerks or park bench neighbors. So far, I’ve answered truthfully. But I am considering teaching my kids to say something like Turkey, although I hate the thought of oking lying. Maybe, I’ll just stick to the truth.
I have been tagged twice! From Ahmed al Omran for 6 quirks and from Susie for 10 hopes. So here are the rules for the six quirks:
- 1. Link the person(s) who tagged you.
- 2. Mention the rules on your blog.
- 3. Tell about 6 unspectacular quirks of yours.
- 4. Tag 6 following bloggers by linking them.
- 5. Leave a comment on each of the tagged bloggers’ blogs letting them know they’ve been tagged.
My six quirks are:
- 1- The sound of cracking knuckles makes me cringe and just the thought of it right now is giving me a queasy feeling. Funny thing is too many people like to crack the knuckles of their fingers and neck and it’s so horrible.
- 2- Even though the people whose opinion counts in my life i.e. husband, parents and siblings always urge me to blow dry my hair straight, I don’t. My daughter calls it “filfil hair” and doesn’t like it either. I, on the other hand, truly love my crazy “shabby” and curly hair. And on the special occasions that I do get it done, I feel uncomfortable.
- 3- I cannot fall asleep until I have read something… anything. On the rare nights when I have to spend the night away from home and don’t have a book with me, I resort to reading the backs of lotion bottles, tissue boxes and flyers.
- 4- I am obsessed with washing my hands, especially when I am preparing food. I wash them several times throughout the cooking process, just in case I touched a door handle or anything else that might transmit germs.
- 5- I am a purse quality tester. I buy one purse, usually oversized and use it every day to carry my office stuff, mommy stuff and the usual purse stuff from morning to night until it literally falls apart. So far I have found that GAP leather bags appeal to my taste and last the longest.
- 6- I don’t go to bed until I am falling from exhaustion and I promise myself every night that I’ll get up in the wee hours of the morning to complete whatever was interrupted by my exhaustion. And the next morning I only wake up in time to prepare myself and the kids for the day.
And for the six quirks I tag:
1-Susie of “Susie’s Big Adventure”
2- Nora at http://nora.urjwans.com/
3- Ghada at http://ghadagee.blogspot.com/
4- Hning at http://hningswara.blogspot.com/
5- Suha at http://suhaa.myminaret.com/
Now the hopes tag:
1. On your blog, post the Rules & 10 things you have HOPE for in your life.
2. LINK Tag to 5 people (we want hope to spread to people!) and LINK the person who tagged you.
3. Comment/Notify the 5 People they’ve been tagged.
The ten things I have hope for in my life:
- 1- Self-sufficiency, success and character for my kids.
- 2- World domination, just kidding, I’ve always wanted an excuse to say or write that 😛
- 3- World Peace no matter how corny and pageantry that sounds
- 4- Enough resources for everyone on Earth without harming the planet
- 5- To be a genetic and effortless size 10 and pass the gene to my daughter.
- 6- That Saudi women demand their real Islamic rights and not take no for an answer.
- 7- To adopt at least one orphan
- 8- To find a school that will not send my kindergartener and first-grader with backpacks full of homework
- 9- To live to see the day when I can go do my errands without taking into account another human being’s (the driver) accommodations and waiting periods. What I would give to be able to park my car outside of my office and leave whenever I want without negotiations and prior planning!
- 10- To learn a third language
I tag with the 10 hopes thing:
1- Ahmed at www.Saudijeans.org
2- Aysha at http://ayshak.blogspot.com
3- Medical Practitoner at http://blackshadw.wordpress.com/
4- Ahmed BaAboud at http://abujoori.wordpress.com/
5- Sami Omar at http://sami.alraed.info/
On a more personal note, last week was crazy. It made me rethink my plans for having a fourth addition to our family. Last weekend I took my 5 year old to get his last vaccination shot, the MMR, so that he could enroll in first grade for next year. Now I was nervous about it because of all the hoopla in the news concerning side effects, autism and seizures. I got it done anyway. On Friday his temperature rose, and I took it in stride because the doctor told me to expect it. Tempra was poured down his poor throat at four hour intervals. Saturday morning I called his doctor and she told me to relax and just use Junifen instead of Tempra. Now, we’ve been going to this doctor exclusively for the past four years. I trusted her and did what she told me to. But his temperature would not come down. So naturally the next day I took him to see her and she said that he seemed fine and the 39.8 temperature was not a big deal if I kept him on pain relievers. She even had the audacity to laugh at me and called me paranoid (closest translation from Arabic). By Monday evening my husband and I got hysterical and we took him to the emergency room. The doctor took one look at him and said he has chicken pox. I was so relieved. Now I knew what was wrong, I could deal with it.
Then this weekend, I thought the storm was over. We all got in the car to enjoy our weekly lunch out. As we were driving along, my six year old daughter asked me: “Mommy what happens if someone gets a toy stuck up their nose?” I replied: “They die.” To deter her and her brother from contemplating it as a future act. Turns out that is was actually a past act and she started panicking and crying. She had the separable bottom part of a pen lodged in her nose. We hurried to the nearest emergency room and the doctor al hamdlAllah was able to remove it with something that looked like really thin forceps.
Add these two incidents and my worry that the other two unimmunized kids would get chicken pox from their brother plus a hectic week at work. You’ll start to understand how crazy it can get for a working mother.