Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Queen and the Mistresses

Upon return from a training trip to Cairo, I found myself accompanied by a young Saudi (23) in the waiting lounge. Our conversation started when he asked me if departure times were set according to Saudi or Egyptian time.

The boy was from Jeddah, pursuing his Bachelor in Alexandria. Jeddah folks are known to be frequent travelers to Egypt, while people from Riyadh tend to either LOVE Egypt or HATE it. Our conversation fell into that category: how do you like the country, where to go and how to have fun.

He told me that Egypt is the type of place you want to visit with friends, but not family. When I asked him to elaborate, he mentioned that though he didn’t drink alcohol, he enjoyed going to bars and observing people. It is hard to do that with family. Family travel is restrictive and by travelling with friends to countries like Egypt one had the choice to go where he pleases.

As the conversation lost stamina, the boy surprised me by stating, “You must be one of those who want women to drive?” The question caught me off guard, because until then I was an avid listener to him—and quite impressed by his brightness and high spirits. On the other hand, his question –stated in the form of an accusation- struck me as shallow.

“Why?” I asked him, but he didn’t answer. Instead, he said told me how demoralizing it would be to allow women to drive.
“Why?” I asked again.
“It will only lead our sisters and daughters to ruin,” he said.
“Allowing women to drive is not the same as forcing them to drive, right?” I responded but he gave me no time.
“Don’t kid me, you will all want to drive and hit the streets as you please and there will be no way to control anything anymore.”

At this point I stopped taking the conversation seriously. I realized that I was talking to a boy who is recently learning to demand personal choice and has yet to learn that with personal choice comes the responsibility of accepting the choices of other people.

Unfortunately, however, if there’s a boy who is yet to learn—remains people who have grown and progressed on so many professional levels yet when it came to defining the world there was:
- Their controlled utopia – the tamed virtuous queen which they visit on intervals.
- Their wild ride – the mistresses.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Religiousness as an Empowerment to Saudi Women

My friend “Y” is married. Her husband likes her to completely cover in Riyadh: “abaya”, veil and face cover, and half cover in Dahran. To uncover her face in the company of friend “A” and “B” but never around "C". When travelling he wants her to completely uncover, except if there were relatives. He asks her to dress conservatively (eg. Long skirt) in the presence of her family in law, yet wears pants or non-conservative clothing in the presence of the families of friends “A”, “B” and “C”. He doesn’t want her to have any makeup on when outside the house, but to be fully made up once she’s in. He wants for her to attend morning courses so she would excel in English and Computers, yet not resume a job where she would put those skills to use. When he's out she may go out, but when he's in she should return. He wants her to have a kid this year and another next year, then to wait for three years until they have the third. He has every teeny bet of her life figured out for her.

My friend’s marital life is not unique to many women in Saudi, and I do not mean the issue of covering or uncovering, I mean the issue of being micromanaged: Do this now, that after five minutes, wear this here and wear that there. Such minute management isn’t denounced by the collective-mind but is often expected and thought to be an indicator of responsible parenting—yes parenting even to the wife. Some parts of Saudi even go the extreme of referring to the wife as “the dependent” or “the children”. For example, if someone were to ask the husband how his wife is doing, they would say, “How are the children (dependents)?” in spite of him being newly married and without kids.

Some wives adopt to this husband-wife relationship, especially in the first years of life where a wife readily translate micromanagement as “fatherly protection” or “jealousy of amor”, yet when the honey melts away many women begin to feel equal or competitive with their husbands and sensitized towards being bossed around. In this stage of the relationship, personality types will react differently either by adapting to the situation or changing it. But it is not easy to change the dynamics of a relationship after a respectable amount of years—sometimes kids!!

Since arriving in Riyadh I’ve been noticing a pattern amongst certain type of women who suddenly turned religious, some of which immediately transformed from being just another guest in someone’s house to women who sit at the head of a meeting to preach the word of God and tell the stories of the prophet and his companions; women who construct Qur’an recital centers. Nothing shocking or sudden happened to those women, they didn’t loose a loved one in an accident or undergone any trauma. What happened, then, that might’ve caused this massive change in behavior and character?

Many things could of course contribute to this change, but I believe the gains of a transformation often explain the initial calling that has caused it. Women whose religiousness brought power, leadership and stardom after being semi-absented, were probably yearning for what they have been lacking.

A famous ol' Kuwaiti play says, "when religion speaks, let all else munch on hay." And having God at their side, could finally allow those women a word over their husband, children and the greater society. If the husband asks them to uncover here, they tell him God said no. If he watches improper TV content they can condemn his acts and (maybe) slowly influence him. They could challenge tradition by quoting God, the prophet and history. They could silence much of society which would not yield and adhere to them before.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Who Needs Windows in Riyadh?

Imagine a residential building, a very tall one, with 200 windows.

An old, rusty building, with windows dark as cavities. While looking at it, notice the surprisingly white window. Focus on it until you realize, what you thought to be a white window is a satellite dish. The satellite dish is completely blocking the window. Zoom out and start noticing that on every other window of that building, there's a satellite instead.

If nobody is honking at you on King Fahad's Street of Riyadh, slow down and count the number of people to whom satellite dishes are neither a luxury nor a virtual reality, but rather--their ONLY ACTUAL WINDOW...

While returning home from work, today, it looked like 40% of the building's residence are turning to their t.v. for air. Gulping, I wondered if this number could be true to the rest of the city.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Riyadh HAS changed!

Since arriving in Riyadh, friends, relatives and acquaintances have been asking me “Do you think Riyadh has changed?” Every single time, their question reflects an anticipation of a positive answer. They eagerly await a “yes” so they’d start listing their own version of how much Riyadh has changed for them despite not having have left it. Riyadh is undergoing such rapid change, even people within are noticing.

My main concern about Riyadh, as I return to it this time with the eye of a settler is population density. It is turning into a city better suited for singles, couples who are bored with each other or foreigners/outsiders.

Singles in Riyadh are not expected to function as separate entities from the “head” of their family, thus are less obligated to respond to social events or initiate ones of their own. Couples who are bored with each other do not have to worry about missing out on each other’s lives while catching up on everybody else’s (men often seperate from women). And foreigners are saved from an existing, prolonged list of extended families and are free to keep a manageable number of acquaintances.

Despite the rise in competition amongst telecommunication providers and the availability of the latest communication devices to the people, physical presence is still required at most social obligations. Phone conversations, text messaging, emailing, etc, are not alternatives. They are ways to facilitate knowing about the “must be there” events.

More people are moving into Riyadh, let alone Riyadh wombs which are actively regenerating traffic. Additionally, marriages between young men and women are doing their share of introducing additional families to the pool of preexisting ones.

Attending to social obligations isn’t all that bad until one leaves their house into the densely populated city. For those who know Riyadh, it is almost impossible to go from one place to another without crowding up on a highway or a heavily used street. Therefore, the minute one digs their car into an iffy road, begins the math of calculating alternative ones (if there are any!) After Maghreb prayer, which is usually when all social activities begin, a single trip across town can take up the entire evening. If one is making several stops, going shopping or is planning to purchase gifts/sweets/flowers before the final destination not only is the evening gone to ashes—but patience and joy!

Riyadh is still pleasant in the generosity it bestows upon entrants to houses and events. There are still all the little delicacies it offers once you sit back with a group of people and engage in friendly conversations, or once you enter some of its beautifully constructed malls. However, up until you reach the point of settling somewhere, you would have undergone a strenuous duration of a human turned into a heavy vehicle running on four wheels and earnestly pushing against many obstacles. Time would have become your worst enemy. And all the little obligations (which could have meant something had they occurred in small portions) turn into an army of ants—no longer pleasant as they colonize a schedule which at some point in history carried your name.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Washington D.C: Gateway to Saudi!

Have been in Washington D.C for 3 days and will be there up until the 3rd of July. While roaming M St, NW and going to many touristic sites, I’m trying to refrain from making foolish generalizations, yet finding it incredibly difficult. My headlines are as follows:

Hubby, baby and I are subject to "random special screening" while flying to D.C. Well, usually only one of us is "chosen randomly", which makes sense! This time it is all three. All our luggage arrives at D.C with a tag that also indicates "random checking". Humph, I wish we had prettier underwear.

An African American barista at Starbucks shoves a drink my way asking, “This yours?” Her tone changes all of a sudden as she addresses someone else, “have a wonderful day mam.” I turn around at once to see the barista flashing a smile at another African American customer. I wonder, is there a white-black tension in D.C?

I give myself a scare while looking in the mirror. Two days of touring have turned me into burnt meat. From the other room hubby chuckles while mentioning that a friend of his on FB says “D.C is Riyad with trees.” I nod to my face.

When asking a security guard about the closest grocery shop, he looks troubled. “Oh mam, it’s too far to walk!”
“How far?” I ask.
He points to a bus stop across the street, “The bus should take you right over there.”
“But how far is it?” I insist.
“Eight blocks!”
I’m ticked, remembering word for word what a lady told me in Portland when I asked her about the closest Sushi. “Very close,” she said. “10, 11 blocks the most.”

When dining in an Italian Restaurant, stuffed with people, served 40% by Arab waiters, a cockroach teases our table. An appetizer arrives half cold. An entrée arrives as two parts: pasta soaked with tomato paste and mushrooms flowing in marsala sauce. They are supposed to be one dish, but I suppose the chef was too lazy to make plain pasta! Oh, the cockroach was done eating breadcrumbs by that time. I couldn’t find him. But I was hoping he isn’t climbing my leg.

Tourists everywhere. Tourists don’t care to make an impression. They don’t care to be polite. It isn’t their goddamn city!

Overcoming travel-constipation. Googling "constipated during " with google suggesting "during travel." Oh, well, not a classic case I guess! You name it, I've done it. Eating light, eating veggies, drinking lots of water, etc. Truth is, constipation isn't really the issue. My exit system gets lazy (no--dead!) when I'm overwhelmed by changes. This is final. Next time I travel, I'll start smart. Pill the night before hopping on that airplane.

Nobody is patting my back in D.C or summarizing their life on the lineup. Thought, with all the complaining, that I meant to say I hate it. Surprisingly, the busy, on the go folks suit my mood! It is sort of what Riyadh would have...

Tomorrow I visit Saudi Cultural Mission for the first time. Hope to finish up all pending business before returning home. Excited. Excited. Excited. Excited. Somebody please knock some sense into me because you never get THAT excited about something without turning into your own antagoniste.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Quirking in the Open

I have been tagged by Saudi Jeans & Hning.

My rules:
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 6 Quirks:
1. I cry over passing matters. When I do, I prefer to be in the hiding. Crying is like a secret to me. If you are not mom, dad or hubby, snooping into such an intimate secret will only endanger our relationship. So, if it’s cloudy, run away with all the love in your heart. * If I’m not crying, that means it is NOT passing and VERY VERY deep. The “uncried over” issues are what grant me my long-term decisions and the strength to achieve them. They are who I am today.
2. More than life itself, I value individuality. Whether you call it, advice, wisdom, judgments, emotional pressuring, preaching, it all means one thing to me: you think me an extension to your established righteous self. Under pretenses of love, you dismiss my mind & soul while turning me into your arm or a leg. Another part of your body. Whatever others may see you as; to me you are a slaughterer and I will protect myself from you accordingly.
3. I always wanted to be an actress and will always wish it. I tried to convince myself I won’t do, that I am stiffening up with the years and it will soon be too late, but it isn’t working. To some extent, I feel that most social encounters are professional acting done where “reality” ought to exist, that’s why I can pose boldly on stage and on camera-feeling that I am acting and honest about it!
4. Milestones such as marriage, child bearing, graduation, birthdays, moving out, etc-I am very strict about going through them with as less people as possible. Sharing an event that changes my life with a lot of people makes it as similar as drinking lots o' booze and fuzzing out the picture. When I cross the bridge I like to observe carefuly where it starts and ends, to explore my own feelings and fears and to connect particularly with the person(s) who are going through it with me.
5. I’m a frequent WC visitor. My tank fills up quickly.
6. I am earthy and sensual. That’s why I can tell you all the stories about how much you mean to me, but if you see me fidgeting around you and maintaining a physical distance, that means you are not in my comfort zone yet.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Women: Blocked on their Periods?

While conversing with a group of international students, a Saudi friend of mine explained why polygamy is allowed in Islam. His points were not the fruits of his own thoughts; they were taken from a list of apologies for polygamy, which were taught to us in religion classes in middle, high school and beyond. One of these points was, “A woman has her period once a month which would prevent a man from having sex for an average of 7 days.”

He was attacked right there and then by the girls and some boys who could not understand why sex should stop from the first drop of blood till the very last. “We could understand that heavy days are no fun, but if they guy and girl don’t mind it on the others, why not?”

A medical student added, “Especially in a monogamous relationship where there’s no fear of transmitting sexual diseases which may be helped by the excess of fluids! Other than that, medically there’s no harm in intercourse and many studies suggest that climaxing during the period eases off the abdominal pain because of the contractions in the area.”

My “unmarried” and bashful friend found himself dragged into a conversation to which he wasn’t rehearsed at all. Student of the sciences as he was, he found himself in a spot where he had to defend why sex is forbidden throughout the monthly period. He told them, he sort of thinks it is gross to involve with a girl during the red days, but hasn’t been in that situation-yet. Googling “sex during period” he was surprised to learn how controversial the subject is.

I was reminded by this story while reading anonymous’s comment dated June 12th. He says, “If the woman has menses, all the men are blocked.” And it struck me how accurate he was to choose “blocked” as a verb without a clear doer. Who’s blocking the woman on her period? The woman, the man or the Godly orders?

Islamically speaking, the blocking is first and foremost religious. That’s how it was taught in religion classes and why after I’d gotten access to all the womanly gossip by being married myself I got to hear newly weds admit in full shame that they “slipped” at some point or another and did it on "those days”. The slipping occurs either because the man was so interested, the girl didn’t mind or both parties felt shy to discuss “which day of the month it was” until it was too late to stop!

Researching the religious basis of the “blocking”, I found it in the
Quranic verse 2-222 meaning translated as, “They question thee (O Muhammad) concerning menstruation. Say: It is an illness, so let women alone at such times and go not in unto them till they are cleansed. And when they have purified themselves, then go in unto them as Allah hath enjoined upon you. Truly Allah loveth those who turn unto Him, and loveth those who have a care for cleanness.” Other translations describe menstruation as: illness, hurt, pollution and discomfort.

For the first time, I noticed how the speech is strictly directed to the men, while menstruation is fully womanish and the sex act involves both the man and the woman. So, I reread the Quranic verse above and wondered, does it block the woman on her period, or advise the men against being insensitive to their wives?

While Dad is Walking the Kids

When I first arrived in the States, I watched Latino dads push strollers, buy grocery and walk their plentiful kids with awe. Secretly, I blamed the lazy moms who didn’t do their share.

Somehow I lost the analysis of soft-hearted dads and spoiled moms in my closet of thoughts up until recently. While picking up E. from daycare, I always come across a Latino mom who rushes to pick her kids right at closing time, still in her “please come again” vest and nauseating frying odors. It took me two years to make that calculation: while a Latino dad walks his kids, a Latino mom might be frying someone else’s food and vice versa.

There’s always a combo of sophisticated motives as to why people act one way or the other, let alone why an entire race or a country function the way they do! It often takes us a long time to see the whole picture. Yet, when the whole picture clears up, we would have already moved on to a new and “fascinating” analysis without making the effort to update previous inaccurate ones. Our mindsets are forward-driven and there are hardly justifications strong enough to push backwards.

It’s not to say that realizations are always pleasant! Now, whenever I run into a restaurant for a quick bite I think that an entire family’s life might be switched around while I impatiently await my burger!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Truth is a Slave & Somebody Owns it!

A week ago, AngloGermanicAmerican thought this link would be of interest to me and was he right! It is a post by an “Independent Conservative” with the motto “Saying what needs to be said”.

Besides enabling me to view closely the religious basis on which some anti-homosexuals stand in the United States, the blogger’s dialogue with his commentators reveals yet again how conservatism as a trait stands in a disconnect from religion (or ideologies). Conservatives across the map might quote different religions contexts but remain indistinguishable from one another (in their tendencies).

In the link, Conservative chops off Anglo’s first comment, and explains his action by saying, “it's a very lengthy dissertation of what is already above and starts getting into more details that are unnecessary.” But despite the explanation, Conservative emails the “unnecessary” parts to “chosen” readers. He then moves to questioning Anglo’s “Christian-ness” asking him to provide valid proof, and from thereon the discussion turns to preaching. (There's the tendency to judge, control and silence a suspectable opponent.)

Without relying on a label, it is fairly easy for a Christian to visit a Christian site and recognize the conservatism of it the same way it is easy for a Muslim or a Jew to recognize the different ways their religion is interpreted or used by its followers. However, separating the trait from the faith becomes a challenge in cross-religious/nonreligious encounters. A problem further complicated by ownership of the truth and necessity for implementing it proving to be a core characteristic in the conservative trait.

I was reminded by this whole deal yesterday, as I read about the 9 “Islamists and tribal MPs” of the Kuwaiti Parliament who walked out of the room in a protest against two women ministers who do not cover their hair, claiming that “the two ministers violated a law that requires women to (abide by Islamic regulations while voting or contesting the elections.)”

Friday, May 30, 2008

I Have Committed My First!

Yep, it’s true. My first feature film screenplay is up and running on InkTip. If you are a producer/director/entertainment person, who is interested in a film about a single Saudi girl hitting rock bottom in the States, please check my “Untwisted” out. The logline goes “A Saudi student in the States has a month to pay off a huge debt, but can she do it legally?”

The screenplay is my thesis, with the defense scheduled for June 6th,
Diana Abu-Jaber (English, Writing) as head, Charles Deemer (English, Writing) and Karin Magaldi (Theater Arts) as members.

At first, I dreaded the idea of defense. However, after a student reading at
Black Fish Gallery in the Pearl District May 27th I viewed thesis defensing under a much positive light. Interacting with an audience which have spent considerable amount of time reading, understanding, analyzing and dissecting your work is not a bad idea!

Reading (fiction) to a group, on the other hand, merely allows for communicating a fragment of an intricate piece to an audience that attended out of politeness and good heart. Such audience can only smile at you while you read, chuckle on occasions and complement you with a pat as you exit. Reading nights have the ability to make you feel weird, because while they offer the immediacy of communication, they compensate the quality of it.

It is true as well, that I’m gaining a departure momentum with our dearest Toyota Avalon sold on the morning of June 27th, preceded by a month notice to the lease office. I am fragmented, horrified, happy, ecstatic, confused and everything else. But I know for certain that righ now I wish for nothing but to return to Saudi Arabia and WORK BABY WORK!

On a personal note, thanx
Murtadha for being my Saudi audience, documenting the event! Frogman, Trev, Ahmed, Arwa, Nouf Al-Wadi, Ayman Allam and Hadeel for being first to read and critique.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

How Can Families Improve the Now and Future of Maids & Drivers in Saudi?

A few years back, my family and I went to Indonesia for the holidays. My dad saw to it that we experienced the rural villages, hills and farms of Indonesia rather than the polished up touristic sights. With the primitive beauty of the villages came the rubbing against people who previously worked or have relatives who work as maids and drivers in Saudi Arabia. Many of the villagers were not happy with us, to say the least. They gossiped about us while trying to sell us things. Whether we chose to buy or not, the unspoken curses chilled us at the spine; damn you and your riches!

In that environment my dread of having maids multiplied by the hundreds. The maids and drivers were no longer a minority, they were a majority. They became the owners of the land and my family became the visitor, vulnerable at any moment to receiving punishment for any Asian helper who was treated harshly in Saudi. Those who worked and were treated fairly are not expected to be grateful because they received money for services they provided. But what about
the mistreated? Anger speaks with such an infectious energy that it becomes the only voice audible.

Three years married, most of it in pursuit of education abroad, I have not yet settled in my natural habitat, an owned villa in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. In a couple of months, hubby and I will be returning home with a child. Going back, getting jobs and enrolling our child in school will naturally mean resuming our social role as a family that entertains relatives, in-laws and guests.

Beside the question of which job, preschool, furniture and car, there is the question about whether to hire a maid or not. With the amount of guests, dust, house size and the time spent at work, the answer is most probably yes; we will need help at home. If so,
what type of a maid should we hire? A fulltime (live in) or a part time (local)? Which nationality, age, religion?

From years of getting to know myself, I know two things: I cannot order people around, and I don’t feel comfortable living in the same house with a person who does not have the same rights I do. Having a maid could possibly weigh me with too much guilt that I begin to help the maid instead of accepting her help.

Choosing not to hire a maid will be a personal choice. However, if it were adopted by a large percentage of Saudis such a choice (might) not work for the (economic) benefit of countries which continue to export helpers. But are economic interests on the level of governments be sufficient enough reason for Saudi families to continue importing “Asian” helpers with a sound heart and conscience?

In accordance with the May 14th
Bloggers Unite for Human Rights, I would like to collaborate with you all in brain storming practical plans for improving the situation of maids and drivers in Saudi Arabia. Things that a common Saudi family can do to make the life of imported helpers better while they're in Saudi, and after they return home.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Confusing Rights with Pragmatism?

Saudi Family Faces Threats to Funding & Family is a story which ran two weeks ago by the Barometer about a Saudi family consisting of husband, wife, a 4 y.o. and a baby who is due soon. Shortly after the family arrived in Corvallis, Oregon, a physical quarrel took place between the husband and wife, resulting in the involvement of American authorities and a warning by the Saudi embassy to terminate the scholarship. The wife, who is the only one interviewed in the story, remains in the US while her husband returns home. She is requesting her “right” to pursue her scholarship, divorce her husband, keep her children and be allowed to work with her F1 visa so she can support her family. She is also seeking “asylum” from the American government.

Two days ago, the same story was forward to me by an American friend. She asked hubby and me if we and other Saudi students can support this family in a time of hardship. I read, and reread the story, without being able to make up my mind about it. It is clearly biased, and takes the stand point of the wife alone. We do not get to hear much about the husband who already left to Saudi Arabia, nor is the Embassy giving out any statements because the information they have, as they were quoted, is what the wife had told them.

I could not help but wonder, is the wife truly a victim here? Is she asking for her rights, or is she a pragmatist trying to get the benefit out of Saudi and American system both at the same time?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

When Rights Falter, Should Men & Women be Equal in Punishment?

A protest to the UN about polygamy in Saudi being fair to the society because it limits the number of wives to four, and obligates the man to support them all, got me thinking on the issue of adultery in Islam!

In the defense of Islam, a website lists many Pre-Islamic religions and cultures and how they punished such sin. It, then, concludes, “Unlike almost all pre-Islamic traditions, the Qur’an makes no distinction between men and women who commit heterosexual offences, neither in the degree of sin nor in the punishment.”

Furthermore, “Almost all pre-Islamic traditions are quite lenient to a man, married or unmarried, who has sexual intercourse with an unmarried woman. The Qur`an greatly strengthens the sanctity of marriage by making all heterosexual intercourse outside of marriage equally punishable.”

Yet I think the very weakness of adultery punishment in Islam is equality! If a married man and a married woman commit adultery, they are punished equally under the law of Islam. But should they?

Let us assume that both married parties committed adultery because they were not fulfilled in their marriages, under the law of Islam as is practiced today:

1- A man has a right to peruse 3 additional wives.

2- A man has a right to divorce his current wife.

3- A man has a right to remarry immediately after divorcing a wife.

4- A woman cannot pursue additional husbands.

5- A woman cannot easily divorce her current husband, she has to seek court, and some financial losses might be involved in the process as well as losing guardianship to kids of certain age.

6- A woman has to wait after being divorced, for a specified period of time.

If a men and women’s rights to marriage as well as within the marriage are not equal under the laws of Islam, why should their punishment in adultery be equal?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Racing: A Way to Heal

With so much frustration build up lately, I found in this post a nice way to "take it out"; TypeRacer.

Roll up your sleeves, shut out the world, and type the minutes away. Isn't it wonderful to conquer (something) in life? What's your best? Someone's got 215 w/m. Mine was 76, but I ain't stopping until I reach 100.

An elderly in law just died upon return from treatment in the US. She was in a coma. I was TypeRacing while it happened-still am. You should be too. *Hushhh.

Type on...

Friday, April 25, 2008


It is becoming increasingly hard for me to tolerate “opinionatism”, or to adhere to it. And for the last while I started wondering if the state I thought to be “temporary” might be slowly settling into a permanent state.

It happens like this: the more loud opinionated a person is, the more attentive I become to the darkness surrounding them; the areas in which differing views, arguments and "versions" of truth exist. I stop being receptive of the person speaking, and listen to all else.

I wonder why people assume that opinions make them stronger. The way I see it, firm opinions limit the vast possibilities into one temporal shock of light that is blinding and is soon to vanish or even harm like lightning would.

Is it like this: we pass a driving test by following the rules of the book, but survive the life by following the rules of others who share the road? Does it come down to this: we pass our schools, colleges, and higher education, by learning the diversity of life, but survive life by portraying the singularity of ourselves?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Blogger Hadeel in Danger

To many, Hadeel is a blogger. To me she's much more. She's the closest friend I've had since college. She's the black rock my soul grabs onto in it's ongoing attempts at escaping the nowness of pain and working towards a brighter future.

Hadeel is a determined, hardworking, and intelligent woman who despite all cultural pressures manages to stand up for herself as well as other "under spoken" members of the society. I woke up this morning with a msg from her sister Arwa saying "Hadeel needs your prayers." And later found a letter from her father in Sahat, stating she's in intensive care.

Please join her family in prayers, her mother, father Mohammed Alhodaif, sister Arwa and family who were not allowed to spend the night at her side in the Intensive Care Unit. Hadeel has been unconscious for over 12 hour now. She fell into a coma while sleeping. Right now, her heart and breathing are dependent on outer sources.
* * * * *
April 21, 8 pm pacific, arwa, "hadeel is breathing on her own, she was given water and accepted it."
April 22, 1 am pacific, father, "hadeel is not breathing on her own, she is still in a coma, and soon to be assessed by a medical group."
May 16, 2 am pacific, Hadeel has passed away.
* * * * *
You are a survivor Hadeel.
You have to come back.
You have to see for your own eyes that there's an entire life, people, places, futures and hopes that cannot go on without you. There's my heart :(

Friday, April 18, 2008

Saudi Reaction to Texas Polygamist Compound?

I am eagerly waiting for a Saudi reaction to the story of Texas Polygamist Compound broadcasted for the last couple of weeks on CNN and other news networks. Beside the story touching briefly on a sensitive issue that exist in Saudi itself, I believe it is healthy for Saudis to import world news as well as export them!

In the story, 400+ children are removed from the polygamist compound and their mothers, and taken into custody by the authority for further investigation. This takes place after the authorities claim to have received a call from a 16 y.o who had undergone child abuse within the vicinity; a call many believe to be a hoax.

Listening to one of the mothers saying “we don’t understand them (the authority), they don’t understand us,” made me think and rethink the many times the US gov’t attempted to bust in and fix (problems) for other countries, and I thought to myself “this case is much more complicated!”

When dealing with foreign countries, it is easy to blame the misunderstanding on heritage, culture, religion, geographical difference, language, bad gov'ts, bad living conditions. However, when dealing with people who exist within your same land, carry your same skin color, speak your very language, share your nationality, heritage, rights and understand the legal system-dealing with those people can put one to a real challenge!

Why come into the compound now? Why after allowing for such religious practices and beliefs to grow and regenerate would the police bust into the compound? Why after all the children have grown and adapted to such practices do the authorities begin to shake them up at their core values? What right does any gov’t have to mass manage children, and have them removed in such indiscriminative and impersonal manner?

Why are the women appearing on TV and interviews to excuse the men? Polygamy in the first place relates to men being allowed to marry several women, so why aren’t the men making their appearances as religious leaders, family heads and husbands? Why aren’t they coming forward to emotionally influence the crowd by saying “we miss our children too”? Why do some of the women interviewed go to the extreme of saying “we have not witnessed any child marriages taking place,” copying each other’s answers?

I was shaken by learning that practices so similar to what might’ve taken place in Saudi 30+ years ago are alive and well in a modern US. Taken by the inside peek at the compound: the long dinner tables, large sewing rooms, big family cars, restricted women dress and a life spent strictly inside. Everything is done in groups, prepared for large numbers and looks duplicated.

It is a human nature to find peace in assuming a familiarity with fellowmen and women. Yet that same assumption takes us to a state where we stop attempting to dialogue and converse with people who we think we know and understand well. As the time of silence and assumptions extends, the familiar grows into a mystery.

* Videos:




Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Offline: Modern Version of Dead?

When communication was dumb, people assumed you were alive unless a man on a horse brought to them the news of your misfortune. With smart communication, people somehow assume you are dead unless you come online to tell them you are alive and well…

I look at my messenger of 140 contacts, 20 of them online and absolutely green. I count how many days I’ve been hiding in an offline mode. The realization makes me feel like a fugitive, chased by guilt for not talking to family, relatives, friends, distant friends &friends in the making. But what can a human do these days to keep up both: their own life and life with others?

People who are not good at “keeping in touch”, if in the past would lose a point for not visiting the neighbor, now would lose five. They could’ve (1) visited, (2) called, (3) sms’d, (4) emailed, or (5) chatted online with that neighbor! Moreover, the world population increased, so there’re more and more people to lose points to!

People claim that keeping in touch is about feeling. If you love your family, friends, etc, you would talk to them often, but in reality lots of steps separate the feeling from executing it.

There are times when I feel overwhelmed with all those doors/promises that I have opened and thus became obligated to attend to. I experience an equivalent of a panic attack, a tormenting yearning for taking refugee in a metal box, a tight one, in which I can lock out the entire world with single turn of the key. Instead of the accusatory stare given to me through modern communication devices, the isolated box would momentarily allow me the liberating feeling of talking to no one else but myself-a promise that often goes unnoticed!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Saudi Alchemist!

He is as close as I've gotten to an Alchemist. Murtadha Almtawaah, a Saudi Portlander, on a journey for the light. Please go ahead and read the latest of his posts, a culture discussion with US highschool students, tackling issues such as sectarianism, women, homosexuality, which the students were brave enough to ask, and he was thoughtful enough to answer on the spot as well as reflect on long after he had left them.

"People don't hate because they are evil. people don't even love because they are angel! they do all that because something are forcing or motivating them to do so (...) This blog is my life journey in finding my self again and you are more than welcome be part of it" M.M.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Honking at da Ladies!

While walking my toddler to school, yesterday, a car honked at us. It was tailing us at a slow speed, which wasn’t suspicious at first because we were in a residential area. At the second honking I looked over my shoulder to check the car out. It caught up with us, and the guy in the passenger seat who was in his late twenties looked up, “Hey, can I come over to your place sometime?”

Usually, I use such comments to my advantage. Meaning, think to myself “Surely I must look hot today.” And that would give me wings for hours to come! However, at that particular incident I made a mental check of myself: I just woke up, my hair was tied back in the cruelest manner and my pants and jacket baggy and worn out. I haven’t applied any eyeliner and my lips were plain.

I looked down at my toddler who did not quit on the “oh, what’s dat?” since the first honking, and arrived at this conclusion: I do not look hot today, but I look like a single mom who might be too desperate that she wouldn’t resist such a generous offer from two street jerks!

I maintained a calm smile and resumed singing “Five little monkeys jumping on the bed” with E. But the monkeys had increased by then. They were making such chaos in my thoughts that every single incident in which I’ve been honked at in Portland sprang before my eyes. I clearly visualized the different streets, times, comments, and individuals who made them. I flashed back and forth between Portland and Riyadh, and I concluded again how men and women function on a political system independent of their geographical location, which made the honkers of "conservative" Riyadh not any different from honkers of "liberal" Portland.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Driving at Long Last!

Interesting that just when we’re about to head back to Saudi Arabia, Hning and I are learning how to drive. What could it mean? Mind you that this is not meant to portray either of us a significant Saudi female, on the contrary, we’re pretty late compared to many Saudi girls who acquired their driving license much earlier; a couple of months after they’ve arrived to their foreign/scholarship destination.

Many of my mother’s generation who were sent out in scholarship programs just as we are now, had also acquired their license regardless of their religiousness or ideological stance. Another argument as to why the issue of “
women driving” inside Saudi is non-religious, non-ideological, but rather a battle point between liberal and conservative parties within the country to prove which one has dominance and authority over the society, a battle which gained an exaggerated importance merely because the gov’t has not stepped in much earlier to resolve it. Now, any immediate resolution by the gov’t, if not played tactfully, will indicate “taking sides”.

When I was 17, I had a rather unsuccessful attempt at driving. My dad took me on the road in Canada. I will spare you the details and just say, we arrived at the building from which we started with my dad’s temper as burnt as the breaks.

When he asked me to open my door I freaked, “Ha, what, how?!"
It was the straw for both of us.
“The door. The! Door! Can’t you even open a door?!”
I quit on driving right there and then.

This might be why I postponed driving thus far. Other reasons are sharing the same car with hubby, driving almost everywhere together, and
TriMet being amazingly convenient and accessible almost anywhere I need to go. But boy, do I regret waiting out on the experience of OWNING the wheel!

Please don’t think of yourselves when you were 17 or even 19 and learning how to drive. There’s something different to learning at 25. Something not cute, but rather serious and self changing. Being in charge of the thicker key chain. Enabling and disabling the family's access to the car. Sitting up front-on the left. Leading others to a destination, with you playing the active role. Eyeing cars on the street with a sense of equality; a sense of authority; of being responsible for your own safety as well as theirs.

Something about the way I walk changes once I step out of a driving session. I begin to perceive myself in mechanical terms such as: start, stop, yield, turn right, turn left, slow down, make haste. My eyes start spotting life at a higher level; the level on which signs exist. Yellow, red, orange, white, numbers, little cautionary notes. People, streets, traffic, thoughts, ideas, images, fall into organized and coherent categories.

My chest feels much stronger as it takes in the air around me and releases it. My inner muscles slowly expand, like they’re being called by name and raising head to identify themselves in response.

I was lucky to get a good instructor. Found him via
Oregon Driver Education Center. Despite all the crappy signs I received at first, with the center drawing the tuition from my bank three times. Despite the delay between registeration, and scheduling, I am happy with the instructor I got (another reason as to why you should NEVER rely on marketing in the US as an accurate measure for product).

He says he trains cops, car racers, and I believe him! He’s also training other instructors; one has joined our driving session this week. Along with the scratch in the face and the cool blues of his eyes, you can immedialty spot how he owns the car to the extent that he doesn’t need to micromanage the student- I am too conspicuous to him with all my awkwardness and probable moves that he smoothly steers me in the direction of learning.

Hubby is playing an amazing role as well. He’s not melting in his seat as I drive nor holding to the edge of it. He's pretty mellow and cool. Today, he took me in my first highway ride EVER! He has me understood so well, that he’s got the right formula for where to compliment and where to suggest.

I hope to be able to get my license before returning home. I also hope that it will be more useful than a card in a wallet.

And I wonder what the streets of Saudi would be like if women shared the right and responsibility of way…

* 4/17/08:
Yepppyyyyy, I got my License! Passed with a border line of 75/100 :P

Friday, April 4, 2008

Changes in SACM?

For the last month, I am noticing high responsiveness from SACM which besides supporting and asserting students in the States, works as their immediate link to the Ministry of Higher Education in SA.

It all started three weeks ago, when my advisor (who was responsible for Saudi students in PSU, PCC, UP & Concordia) sent a group email notifying us that she will be strictly responsible for PSU students because a new advisor has been assigned to the rest of the schools.

Since this notification, I have been receiving personalized emails! Emails which address me by name, and discuss issues related to me: such as asking for documents, or congratulating me on specific achievements. My advisor has also started volunteering to fill up request forms on my behalf; some ofwhich would earn me privileges. Her emails were no longer a result of communication that I initiate.

My husband, who has been assigned to the new advisor, noticed similar improvements and follow ups. Moreover, we both started receiving regular emails from high ranking personnels at SACM which forbid and state strict penalties for circulating or communicating any hate or discriminatory materials, assuring no leniency to any students whose grades fall short.

I wonder if this improvement is affecting the Portland area alone, or if it comes as a result of major changes within SACM itself. After two and a half years suffering from difficulty of communicating with advisors, dropped phone calls, loss of papers, faxes, and feeling invisible-it is such a relief to be cared for in this assertive manner.

Two and a half years are pretty damn long time to achieve this upgrade, but I am obliged nonetheless. Good job SACM and please keep it up until I graduate :)

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Downtown at Six

Traffic at six p.m. washes down the streets like the last stream of consciousness. From a small cafe that sits on a tight downtown corner I watch the men and women flutter down the streets in their handsomely long jackets and wonder: do they realize how beautiful they are at this time of day?

*I am headed for my first class in NW Film Center School of Film. Can't contain my joy. Thank you Saudi Cultural Mission for little joys you help bring on...

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Husband & Wife Turned off the Lights!

Yep, we turned 'em off for not so common a reason this time:P Earth Hour: March 29th. 8-9. Actually, 8:30-9 because we completely forgot until Google Search turned black saying they turned theirs off, now it's our turn. Any updates out there. Who did, who didn't?

It was so cozy inside our little apartment. M, E, and I avoided looking each other at first because this was new, and interesting and-okay because we felt shy! Little E. kept saying "oh, no, oh, no, wha-hapen?" Then three of us tiptoed to the balcony and peeked through the glass, wondering if our neighbourhood went off too. Disconnected as we may have looked, we felt the presence of the entire west coast in our living room!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Exercising the "Right" Muscle

Two of my Saudi friends had responded to this post by uploading their pictures onto FB and providing me with a link. They told me, we’re doing so because we can. We just never thought about doing it until now!

Their response got me thinking on rights as a muscle that needs constant exercising or else it will weaken and diminish. It also got me to perceive rights as valuable items; once left unattended they become the property of someone else. They become a privilege that someone else, now with full ownership, may put a price tag on-or give away as charity!

This perception on rights applies even more strongly in societies where rights are scarce. When people are hungered by their lack of privileges, they are more likely to steal others’ rights, let alone take over ones which are left unattended.

The tragic aspect to losing rights is that it often triggers a chain reaction, especially if the loser is associated with members of a certain gender or ethnicity. E.g., if a woman loses her right to seek education abroad by not practicing it, other women could be affected by this. It might indicate that women are not keen on pursuing their education, thus it can be easily taken away from them. Once a fair number of women lose their right to pursue their education abroad, the ones who still keep their right to education abroad will be viewed as –hear this- ones who are privileged, and eventually, ones who stole property which does not belong to them!

The other downside to loss of rights is its recurrence. E.g., if a woman loses her right to education abroad, loses her right to choose her dress type, loses her right to choose her job, loses her right to marry out of love, loses her right to independency, etc. If she makes a pattern of loss, she allows for the creation of a pattern of theft. Pattern eventually turns into habit, habits into norm. Norms are rarely questionable. What is questionable is altering the norm.

A year has passed since my friends’ correspondence, a time in which many real Saudi female names and faces have come forth on FB as well as other social networks. Through that change, I’ve noticed how winning rights can make a pattern also, allowing for personal gains as well as gains of an entire gender or ethnic group.

In a society where rights are scarce, people should be more alert and protective over their rights. Sometimes they might even need to be fierce in winning some of their losses back. They need to also make a balance between discussing rights in theory, and putting them into actual practice so they are visual and touchable by the public.

Winning rights requires the belief that even when one is demanding things for themselves, nothing selfish can come out of this deed, because winning for the self is a step towards winning for the group. Once rights go back to their rightful owner, once everyone in the society stands right by what they own, those who find a lacking in their property can clearly see who it is that they need to put a fight with. Not the woman, not the shiit, not the sunni, not the sufi-someone else probably.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Bone Crusher @ McDonald's

Just came back from McDonald’s play place, where I had a disturbing experience. A chubby 4 year old boy pushed my toddler to his back in the ball-area, and by the time I dug into the scene shouting “No, no, stop!” as firm as I could, the chubby boy was about to jump off the tube right on crying E.

The boy’s father caught up with me, shouting things in Russian. The boy grew frustrated. He started explaining things either in gibberish or Russian. I really don’t know. Then he found a girl in the tube, pinned her down and started pushing his body on top of her quite severely. She was older, though, and got away fast as she could.

Watching chubby boy, I put pieces of earlier incidents together. The mother, who was in the table next to us, was shaking her head since we arrived, like she was sad or distressed. The father who wore a Postal Service tag was calming her down. He looked tired from work, and she looked like she was blaming him for not being around. The chubby boy was continuously dug out of the play area by the father while throwing a fit. I had assumed that chubby boy was being bullied or that his parents were overly protective.

Staring into my toddler’s terrified eyes, I felt as confused as he is. With a shaky note, I looked chubby boy straight in the eyes and shouted “No jumping on other people!” Chubby boy looked equally terrified. His eyes were slightly dazed, while his attention shifted between me, his father and things happening around him. He, then, began shaking nervously and his father pulled him out.

My body heated up as many thoughts raced through my mind. I helped little E. up and didn’t know what to do. Chubby boy was NOT normal. He does not look like he’s bullying on purpose. However, his mood shifts and aggressive tendencies made him a danger to other kids. I sympathized with the parents who might be here, because they need their time out and away as much (and maybe more) than any other parent. Yet still, I could not act happy and forgiving either. Its just hard to say “Oh, I understand that your child was about to crush the bones of my son.” I could not report the incident either.

With shaky hands, I helped little E. slide one more time, so he wouldn’t feel defeated or develop fear of the play place. Once he came down, both a smile and tear on his face, I sang our way out the door. Neither the chubby boy, nor his parents looked like they were leaving soon. I walked home with unsettling feelings. Wondering if I had done the right thing…

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Bike Disease

“Alas, a Saudi guy on a bike!” Hubby exclaimed today. While crossing Broadway, we ran into a jolly Saudi who was cycling on a bike that seemed taken out of a caricature. As he zipped by us, all we could hear were crickety, crockety, clickety, clockety, sounds.

Not only did a Saudi guy go for a bike, he went for a very cheap bike, and that was a sight to celebrate.

The sky was foggy, the streets guilty with the usual rain, but the image of that guy brightened my vision. I wish I had a camera on me. I wish I could run after the guy to tell him how proud I am.

He might have chosen a cheap bike solely for financial reasons, but I don’t care. I care that he is literally down to earth and happy about it. That his smile is so contagious. That he is the perfect vehicle for spreading “the bike disease”!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Face Collectors

Stamp collectors, coin collectors, bug collectors, so why not face collectors too? Its only natural to want to collect humans. But Mr/Ms/Mrs face collector, next time you decide to add someone to your 500+ faces, please remeber to send them a message of self introduction. That's the thing about humans, they're complicated!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Reality Fiction

The “Memoire of a Liar” or “Fake Memoire” takes place once again through Love and Consequences, by Margaret (Peggy) Seltzer-Eugene, Oregon-who fabricated letters, brought people who impersonated fictitious characters to the publisher to prove her novel a real “memoire”.

Memoires, as stories of witness, are highly marketable in North America. I first learned this during book-marketing class, and later noticed how memoire writing classes fill up only a few days after registration is open and maintain a long waiting list.

Would this obsession prove true for the rest of the world, or is it American specific? I remember growing up in Saudi in a time where Saudi writers fought to establish a separation between themselves and their characters. “My characters do not express my opinion; they simply express the diversity of life.” But even still, readers readily believed the main character to be true to the author, especially as it embraces the forbidden.

I wonder if Saudis are equally obsessed with real stories. The book market in Saudi Arabia is still not well established, so I cannot use any figures as basis for an argument. Could the rise of demand on reality TV be an indication? Reality TV exposes “others” who live a fictitious life in a fictitious land, but could it be an early indication of a “reality fiction” crisis that is waiting to happen?