Thursday, May 7, 2009

Women NOT Allowed

Hope hurts. It grows on you like a forest. When sequences of events lead you to tweeze it out, you find that it has tangled up with your very own reasons for being. As you pull out hope, batches of your rooted emotions come tumbling down..

Hopelessness is safe. Hope is lethal.

Today I went for an audition for a comedy in Riyadh, announced publically via Facebook. It surprsied me that the audition was open, for both men and women. Furthermore, that as I confirmed (twice) and exchanged emails with the co-host, that the organizers seemed ready to handle such a breakthrough.

Streets of Riyadh weren't friendly as I headed towards the location of the audition. Signs promised for "the Ring Road" exit, then called the exit something else. The driver wasn't as helpful as I've hoped. In loops we went, he and I.

At last, I arrived at the location, doors seemed wide open. The security guards let me into the hotel. The receptionist pointed me in the direction of the hall where the audition and casting are held. I walked fast to catch up on my time-slot. While in the hallway, a billman stopped me. "No mam, you are not allowed on this floor. No women allowed."

Details accross the hall since then, don't matter. Apparently, some boys and girls kissed earlier at the entrance of the hotel, causing the management to take strict procedure. Namely: NO WOMEN ALLOWED. Why have the hosts not negotiated better with the hotel management? Why did they not have alternative plans to begin with, knowing how strict Riyadh is in terms of segregation? Why have they not contacted the FEW women who confirmed their attendance, conveying the change in plans, and saving face! Why have the organizers not been more apologetic towards the change in situation, instead of shamelessly admitting how women will have to pay the price on a distrubtive behavior that happened earlier?

As I exited the hotel, into the hot and sandy air of Riyadh it killed me that no one stood witness of this idiocity and disrespect. The date trees, metal cars and cement buildings stood still and uncaring.

I wanted to ask the man who so cooly sent me away, how he would feel if upon arrival in American soil, American Officials sent him back to Saudi Arabia without valid reasons. How would he feel, if they said that in a small and isolated room. If through the galss he could witness floods of immigrant and newcomers embracing the new land so easily. If the only compensation he got is the lame reason that he belonged to a Saudi Arabia.

Would this not hurt, the first, second and the tenth time it happens?!

I assume not. What would hurt, in truth, is hoping that this would stop. That things such as descrimination could so easily change. Today I hoped and this was wrong. It is probably best to believe that descrimination against, race, gender or faith would never change. To live in a remote state, while "others" fix the problem.


saleh said...

You analogy to the American Immigration situation is spot on. This is pure discrimination and it can't be described in any other way. No justification whatsoever is valid!!

Qusay said...

"Hope hurts. It grows on you like a forest."

I wish I could say it will get better... I hope it does... but as you said, hope hurts.

Hesham said...

Gender discrimination is built in the fabric of our society. Not that I'm an 'equal in everything' kind of guy, since men and women have their differences whether we like it or not.

Anyway, please forgive me when I say that women has got a lot to do with the current situation. It seems that they have adapted to their 'place' and catched the Stockholm syndrome bug along the way.

Souma said...

sometimes i manage to forget certain aspects about the country in which i live, proly due to my own uncalled for kindness.
they'll never understand how much strength and courage it takes a woman to wake up in the morning and go along with her day confidently while knowing she's being judged for her DNA.
DNA, without which, men wouldnt be alive.

ChrisLA said...

Perhaps your time in America opened your ideas to the possibilities. The hotel staff have never seen them, and they would lose their jobs if they ever acknowledged such possibilities.

A lone tree seldom flourishes. Trees need to be in groves, or at least in groups so they can protect together and propagate. Reach out to others who have hope and work together to bring life to the desert.

raaasa said...

But you got up, you got dressed, you were prepared, you felt worthy, you felt entitled, you got there, and you were ready to give it your best shot.

You know the obstacles out there and yet you showed up ready to try.

This is already huge.

Sure, it's easier to stay at home and not believe and not hope and not try and just do your nails instead.
Many women are in that space.

Don't give up hoping and trying and doing.

Change will come.

Broke Saudi said...

That's really unlucky. Do you think they made up that story, to get out of their commitment with you?

Hning said...

For a while, we thought that you've finally regained your right mind, joined the women behind the abaya and veils and have reclaimed your cultural identity as a proper Saudi lady amongst the Bedus in Riyadh.

And here we have you still complaining about not receiving fair treatment?


AGA said...

Hopelessness is safe. Hope is lethal.I find, now that your words have brought me realization, that hope alone is as you have said. Is not "faith" that which prevents hopelessness? Faith that what is hoped for shall ultimately triumph?

It seems to me that you, and others like you, are reason enough for both hope and faith.

Abu Dhabi/UAE Daily Photo said...

Beautifully written, Aysha. Tragic, too.

Wahhabi Backward Mullah said...

shit happens, live with it. Your analogy with American immigration is not valid. American immigration officials have ALL the rights to reject the entrance of an immigrant on any basis that might harm the American values.

Anonymous said...

I'm an American citizen whose parents are from Colombia, South America. I'm in shock of what women in Saudi Arabia must go through, although, in Colombia, women are also seen as second class citizens, but not to the severity of Saudi Arabia, I suppose, women are also second class citizens in an even lesser degree than in Colombia, but the male macho stigma still exists, no matter where you go, physically, they are, after all, stronger. They are the ones women look up to, we need them, and they need us.

I pray for you all, that God be with you, strengthening you.

EMC119 said...

I hope someday women are given chances to do as what men can do...

Raaz said...

Men in white..women in black..

how can I ever forget that place? those years? years during which my childhood and teenage had passed by unnoticed and gone to waste..

I was no different from a torn out table cloth folded out carelessly and put away somewhere in the closet..

I, too, left to the states (Austin, Tx) at 16 and lived there for 3+ years before I made my transition to Dubai, finished off school, worked, and got married to my precious Firas, who coincidentally had lived in Riyadh until high school too.

Ironically, Firas and I are coming back to Riyadh because of his job in a couple of months. I never thought that 10 years later I was going back to the place in which I had and will have no identity..the place where I go by "it"..

Hats off to you Aysha for your courage and that bit of hope left inside your heart..and sorry for what you had to go through..

worldly said...

Hi Aysha. I have been reading through some of your posts..really interesting and honest stuff. I blog occasionally for Check it out and let me know if you have an idea for a post there. It is kind of a pop culture blog; we are looking for more writers from outside the US who can share their stories. Let me know if you are interested! best-misha

Muslima said...

Aysha… a beautiful name..coming from the word “life” in Arabic… and the name of the precious wife of our precious prophet Mohammed (sallah Allah 3alaihi wa sallam)
u experienced that hotel situation…saw it from ur –talented I must say- & personal perspective,& shared it with us.. other human beings just like u,who strive for a better life every day…no matter where they came from.. or who they are.
yet..I hope I find a place in ur heart 2 read my words & consider it a different perspective of a girl,who lived two lives,the first one was a life full of “open” doors –as my parents intended to present 4 me-…& the other life –the one I chose- full of serenity, direction, solace and purity of human bonds…
Aysha, my husband travelled to America for a business trip.. but you know what? Out of those thousands of immigrants and travelers that you mentioned, he was actually stopped by the American officials and went through such a long investigation (which they claimed to be totally random ..and he actually heard unpleasant comments by those “American Officials”... you know why that happened? Cuz his name is Mohamed…. Was that not a discrimination act Aysha?

Muslima (again =D ) said...

Aysha, I had the opportunity to do everything I wanted, pursue the education I want, live the life I want with the people I want… my parents opened the doors for me… do you know where I found peace? I found it when I realized that there is a creator for this universe, Allah , the one who will ask me about the choices I made in my life, the direction I took… is your problem with Saudi as a country Aysha? Or as a country applying Islamic rules? In terms of men and women segregation, plygamy (although the correct word is polygamy cuz polygamy means more than one partner for a woman and man).. and other matters that you mentioned in other posts of the blog… I must say you do have a point in some reflections on “people’s behaviors”.. but you seemed to be confused between what is humand made.. and what islam really teaches…unfortunately Aysha , we muslims are ashamed of our Islamic teachings simple because we misunderstand them and allow others to make us feel bad about them… while other countries brag about their free sex lives… we tend to deny what our religion really says.. why do you think men and women must be segregated in social gatherings? Is it because women are disrespected? Of course not…. If you have a really precious diamond ring? Would you through it in the box of your daily accessories or keep it in a really neat box?? That’s us Aysha… I , as a muslim woman, have the right to sit at home, not go to work, and my husband is still obliged to go out, work and bring money, and spend it on me and my children… where on earth is that really applied ya aysha? You know what? El hamduli Allah, my husband is religious, he never looks at a woman if she wasn’t dressed properly, he never lets me go through the hastle of buying things for the house, he never lets me spend any of my “own” money of anything, he always insists on spending it from the money he gets… and he considers it a right for me.. because that’s islam.. and that’s the life I want… I don’t need to mix with men to feel valuable, millions of people from every country in this world choose that life, the life that you seem to reject, simply because someone made you believe that your value comes from a place that has never been there in the first place… thousands of women (like me) “Chose” to cover their bodies “fully”, chose to obey God, chose to make earth a better place.. but who decides whats better? Maybe what you think is better is not better for others… who draws that very line!
Perhaps that will remain the question that everyone will seek… and may God, Allah subhanahu wa taala, lead us all to the answer..
A final word Aysha, I really loved your spirit, and felt the sincerity your words came from.. but I hope you don’t allow simple thoughts become bigger realizations and end up to be strict conclusions before allowing yourself to get educated more on those matters that you tackle on your blog, cuz one day you will stand before Allah and he will ask you about every word you said. And that applies to me too..
I really hope you consider me a sister of yours, who spotted the lights on a different angle of thoughts…May Allah bless you Aysha and bless your eyad..

Muslima (asfeh 3al typing error) said...

in the previous post i mis-typed (polygany), i meant the correct word is polygany not polygamy.. :)

asfeh law tawwalt 3aleky.. jazaki Allah khayran ya Aysha.. take care

Sand Gets in My Eyes said...

Your lead paragraph is one of the saddest - and most profound - images of life for many Saudi women I have ever read. Amazing. I've an idea it's going to stick with me for awhile. Thanks.

I've added your voice to the others I'm amplifying over at SGIME.

Peace Seeker said...

I completely agree with Muslima in terms of educating yourself more about some of the topics that you lay down for discussion; they are bigger than you and me and should only be discussed with professionals.

Your issue is not with Islam, but instead, with the country you're from, Saudi Arabia, which happens to resemble Islam. Consequently, lights of uneducated debates are unintentionally being shed on Islamic rules rather than Saudi Arabia. And that will hold you accountable in the judgment day for those who were negatively influenced by the messages you're conveying.

Considering English is your second language, I must say I'm impressed with your powerful choice of words. And I'm sure this gift of yours could be utilized for a greater purpose; reconstructing the negative image media has drawn of Islam to the world.

Allaah the Most High says:
“Not a word does one utter, except that there is an (angel) Watching, Ready to record it.” [Surah Qaaf: 18]

Abu Hurairah (radyAllaahu ‘anhu) reported that the Prophet (sallAllaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam)
said: "Whosoever believes in Allaah and the Last Day, then let him speak good or remain silent." Saheeh - Reported by Al-Bukhaaree (11/308 of al-Fath) and Muslim (47)

lana said...

plz check the following:

Anonymous said...

As a Saudi woman, who has lived her life in both countries Saudi and the states, I completely agree with Muslima and peace maker. Unfortunately, both the western and saudi media portray life for women in saudi as miserably as they can.
The thing is, even our own intellectuals, hammer down the Saudi society and point out a ridiculous number of problems, but never ever, have I ever heard, seen or read any solution proposals. No one cares where the country is heading, their sole and only concern is to stand out and get their 15 minutes of fame. Pick up a Saudi newspaper or a Saudi novel and see for your self.
I knew a number of expatriates who loved living in Saudi, enjoyed every bit of it. Antonio the italian guy who works in an italian restaurant in alkhobar, the American Mary who had a nursery called "Room 2 Grow" or Angela, a scottish woman who left Saudi in tears, and so many more. What did these people see in Saudi that you couldn't??
Yes, I wear the veil because it represents my Islamic identity (which I'm proud of), yes I wear my Abaya GLADLY, because I respect my culture, and will teach my children to do so too. We as Saudi women dont want to be a replica of any western society. I hope you'll notice the beauty of our country, our values, our way of life and embrace our uniqueness. If you cant, then dont waste your time and feelings on its soil, maybe the American immigration officer will treat you better than the Saudi security guard.

Anonymous said...

Well, but what about Prophet's wives? Were they also wearing veils and locked up in the house? NO...
All the freedoms enjoyed by those wives are now completely lost for muslim women in Saudi Arabia and many other countries.
And Quaran does not teach that a father can kill his own dautgher like they do in Saudi Arabia.

Anonymous said...

That is a sad story. But you cannot blame the organizers of the comedy auditions as they were not responsible for preventing you from getting in. It was the hotel management which stopped you from entering the floor and not the show organizers. Women were being given a chance but what you one do if an uncontrollable obstacle comes in the way.

To read more about news and issues of Saudi Arabia visit

Anonymous said...

What would happen if Saudi Arabia was boycotted for gender apartheid, the way that South Africa was boycotted for racial apartheid?

It seems to me that if religious rules couldn't be enforced with the brute power of the law, they would have to rely on powers of persuasion, love, and leadership.

Peter H. Fogtdal said...

Interesting blog, Aysha. I'm happy that there are women like you who come out and tell us the truth about segregation in Saudi Arabia.

Good luck to all you female Arab writers. One day the discrimination will stop. One day ....