Saturday, June 27, 2009


I just go out of a great taxi ride (yes, I tend to rate them - this definitely gets a 10!).

I had to go out of the house and wait on the main road, as usual, for a taxi. Usually there are tens of taxis passing by, but for some reason whenever I am out and looking for one they go extinct. And it's not that I mind standing under the wonderful Saudi June-sun, or breathe fresh, hot air - no! It's because the sight of a woman waiting for a taxi amuses too many drivers on the road that they start honking whenever they pass by me. I don't get why they do it - are they offering me a ride, or just rubbing it in my face that they can drive and I have to be driven? (I am not going down the women-driving-road).Today though I didn't have to wait for long. Going into the car, my favorite hindi song was on (kal hoo nahoo). I was SO excited to hear something foreign that I recognized, that I couldn't help exlaiming 'I like that song!' The driver turned and said 'Really?' and put the volume up. 'Yes yes! It's called kal hoo nahoo right?'. The taxi driver nodded and smiled. Of course I didn't recognize any of the songs that came after, but for some reason I felt so happy!

As culturally-ignorant as this might sound, I really could smell the diversity in the air, and life seemed even more beautiful!

- Bedouinette


As much as I loved and continue to love reading and hearing about your latest random antics in taxis, I think you brought up a pretty important issue that of public transportation in the country. As I am writing this post, I am breezing through today's issue of Arab News. And guess what...a new article has been published about the trouble women in the kingdom facing transportation. Now, I do not want to convert this post into another endless rant about the ban of women driving however I will discuss the dire issue of Saudi Arabia not having any means of public transportation. It is somewhat absurd to think that everyone has can afford a full time driver. Saudi Arabia is not an exception in the major economic crisis currently in progress. With the middle social class on the rise, more families are not able to scrape the sufficient funds in order to get a full time driver. Despite the "religious" and cultural justifications for not allowing women to drive, why is there not a means of public transportation? It amazes me that there is not even a project in process to support these problem. In major cities such as Riyadh and Jeddah, the number of families that do have a female worker without a driver has significantly risen. This results in people resorting to alternative options such as taxis and private driving companies, which both are not financially convenient. Furthermore, there is a huge number of foreign workers in the kingdom that either do not the means to use private companies everyday or do not have authorization to obtain a driver. The impediments faced by millions everyday create serious consequences in the country; it encourages underage driving, creates a bigger divide between the social classes, promotes stay-at-home mothers, and more importantly extinguishes any level of motivation a Saudi women might have to work. Saudi Arabia needs to address this issue immediately to further develop the nation's potential and economy 

Arab News Article -

- Bedouin 

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Customer service

I went suit-shopping yesterday, with Bedouin. It was us, and mothers and frustrated high-school students who had come out of one of their final examinations that day. We went to the first shop, where Bedouin tried on suits and I criticized relentlessly (it's what I do best). We spent almost 30 minutes just going through stuff. Even though the men's section of the shop was almost deserted (except for us and a man wearing scrubs and another accompanying him), and even though there were at least 3 workers roaming the empty space, none of them approached us. No one wondered whether we were looking for something specific, whether the size was fine, or even showed interest in offering help.
We did not get anything from that shop.
We walked into another shop. We find a suit, and Bedouin tries on the jacket. The shop was also empty, with at least three workers. There was one worker dressing a mannequin, one approaching us very slowly to give Bedouin the pants, and the third busy giving us very weird - almost unwelcoming looks. They were definitely more active than the ones in the previous shop - one handed the pants over and the other was grabbing a different size of a shirt (the third was taking a surprisingly long time dressing the dummy). No more. They offered no opinion, no suggestions, nothing.
We did not end up buying a suit that day.
A week ago, I went into a lingerie shop with my mom in that same mall. The shop, as tiny as it was, had 5 workers - with very big 'welcoming' smiles on their faces. Like a fish I was snatched by a shark - err worker. "Can I help you with anything?" - "No thanks, I just walked in, and am just looking around". He walks away, fewf! It takes only one minute for another worker to come and tell me about the 'new collection of underwear'. I nod, thank him politely and walk away. Another worker chimed in a couple of seconds later to tell me that they have 'three other colors of this.. and two more of that'. I left when the fourth told me "this (name a lingerie piece that is extremely inappropriate to discuss and should clearly be chosen alone) would look amazing on you."
I walked into another store, one that sold clothing, makeup and shoes. I had to cross two rows of booths selling makeup to reach the clothing section. "Try this mascara on - it just came in today morning!" (Bedouinette nods and smiles politely). "This new concealer is almost sold out - get one before it is gone!"........ and it goes on, until I tell one who harassed me with his offers - "I really do not use makeup that often" - "and you look great like that, madame!". So much for promoting your product, huh?

My point of all of this is that there is a twisted, tainted, cropped, distorted image of how customer service should be like. A man spending 15 minutes choosing a suit, trying on a couple and still looking indecisive DOES need help, and needs to know about the new collection and cuts. A woman buying simple underwear most probably doesn't.

- Bedouinette

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Saudi nationality - a dream that rarely comes true?

I was sitting in a hospital's waiting area a couple of days ago. I walked into the women's section to a room occupied by four Saudi women (I could tell from their abayas), and one Indian or Pakistani lady (I could tell from her nose ring). I got an indifferent look from the South Asian lady, and four interesting other looks. Two of the Saudi women looked at me in dismay (I did not have my face covered even though I was in a governmental Saudi hospital), and did not really like it when I smiled to their children. To be fair, they were probably really tired because they had to drive for 2 hours with a toddler and a newly-born to reach the hospital and wait for 2 other hours to see a doctor. The third Saudi lady pulled her young girl closer (to make space?). The fourth lady was talking on the phone.

I called Bedouin to chitchat, and perhaps threw in a word or two (or more!) of English in our conversation- he was too sleepy to talk so I had to hang up and stare at the wall in front of me. Meanwhile, the fourth lady ended her phone call. She turned to me and asked, "are you (enter an Arab nationality)?". I replied, "no, I am (enter a different Arab nationality). How could you tell I am not Saudi?". She said it was the way I put my veil, and that I spoke English on the phone. Though I still wonder why that specific Arab nationality, her second question was intriguing. "Why don't you apply for the Saudi citizenship? Do you not want to? You seem like you have lived here for a very long time." A couple of years ago, my answer would have simply been - I like my '.....' nationality. I simply replied, "I don't know, I have never thought about it.".
False. At that moment, I was very tempted to give an elaborated answer about how I do not believe that nationalities necessarily reflect the convictions or culture of a person and hence becoming an almost negligible component of one's persona (there is an evident universal shift from wondering about one's nationality to wondering about where one has lived).
She went on and on talking about how her 'Arab' friend has been trying for years to acquire the Saudi nationality, but keeps on being rejected. I am not going to talk about the theoretical, patriotic aspect of a nationality, and its contemporary meaning in lieu of the global village we live in - no. I am merely going to ponder upon why/not and how one gets the Saudi citizenship.

Why: What comes with a Saudi nationality?
  1. Ability to own property or starting a business
  2. 'free' health care
  3. a higher salary (unless you are a non-Arab expatriate, of course!)
  4. no visa required from most (if not all) Arab countries
... and the list goes on. If one has lived in Saudi long enough to decide that it is the place to live in, then being a Saudi in Saudi Arabia definitely makes more sense.

Why not:
  1. visa to 'the West' - a pain in the neck!
  2. marriage regulations (the whole Saudi/non-Saudi ordeal)
  3. a negative cultural tag (the idea of a mitjannis - or one who was not 'originally' Saudi)
  4. no dual citizenship - dropping one's original nationality
How: Assuming that one has decided that the pros of acquiring the Saudi nationality are much stronger than its cons, how can one reach it?

You cannot.

Unless you:
  • have a relative that is 'originally' Saudi (including a Saudi male spouse and excluding a Saudi mother)
  • and have been born and living in Saudi for 18 years
  • have a PhD and are holding an 'important' position in the Kingdom (which reminds me of the interesting story of a friend who was offered a scholarship and a research/professorship contract at a new, enormously-funded science and technology institute in Saudi Arabia, under the condition of her 'accepting' the Saudi citizenship.)
... and of course other requirements that include money and wasta (according to the fourth lady at the hospital).

My name was called and I had to cut off that lady's curious question about my national identity. I couldn't help but wonder, though. If a country is open enough to let the faucet of expatriates run for years that it almost flooded its lands, then it must be because it realizes that a country cannot live in isolation and must rely on international expertise (though many claim that it is out of the lack of trust in the country's human capital). Whatever the reason is, why is it almost impossible to be 'eligible' for the Saudi nationality? It is almost granted in Bahrain, a neighboring Gulf country, to acquire the citizenship if you apply (and of course, that is for political reasons). It is a given in the USA that if one lives in the country for five years without leaving it, then a 'history of the USA' examination and an oath (and credit history, a 'clean' report about the history of your immediate family, grandparents, 15 uncles and aunts, 58 first cousins, friends and acquaintances) are usually all it takes to earn the American citizenship.

I know that, even though I grew up in Saudi Arabia and am grateful to some experiences that I have been through here, have no reason to remain because I have no financial interests or cultural/family ties (my parents will eventually go 'back'). I know my friend rejected the scholarship because she felt like she did not want to draw a 'national' boundary around her academic career. But I am sure that many, including the fourth lady's friend, the children of a Saudi mother, and many others who feel that they are part of the Saudi community, desire the citizenship, and perhaps 'deserve' it.

- Bedouinette

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Is this what the Arab music scene has turned into?

Jad Choueri, a Lebanese musicial has come up with another "wonderful" single.
I think it's great that Arabic music scene is progressing; adding novel musical tones and exciting beats yet what exactly is he trying to promote in the video?

I think it's bad enough that Arabs in general are still associated with many negative stereotypes but how is a video full of women shooting up botox and other random drugs/treatmens and half naked people dancing around in water - which is definitely a failed attempt of Christian Aguilera's Carwash video - will improve the image of Arabs? I wouldn't normally think artists take into consideration the impact their music video on the contemporary Arab society however this video will without a doubt cause a stir of controversy.

I can see what Choueri is going for - our music videos are becoming "modern". But is that necessarily a good thing? Do we need to reinforce and create past and new stereotypes for our society?

- Bedouin

It is quite clear that the artist is seeking worn-out, unsubtle and uncreative methods in 'diminishing' stereotypes. What he, and many others, need to understand is that the idea of 'stereotypes' in principle must be changed, not the replacement of one stereotype by another (in this case, the terrorist Arab to the vain one). I personally think people are more aware now than to base their opinions on a video, but it does happen occasionally. Jad not only insulted the people he was trying to 'represent', he is also insulting the intelligence of the audience, or, the 'other'.
Because I do not want to merely criticize, but make suggestions, I think that if he should have represented various sides of the Arab world just to show that you actually cannot generalize. I hate it when people depict a PERFECT image just to fight back criticism. Yes, the Arab World is rightfully criticized for many aspects, but there is much more to it than 'Funky Arabs'. There is an entire culture.

- Bedouinette

Saturday, June 20, 2009

a hypocrisy in our culture

So I need to start venting my frustration. Usually i'll post a link to supplement my views but now I just need to vent. Well the general saudi society does not currently fathom the mixing of genders and even relatively open-minded families frown upon it. The bedouinette and I have been quite good friends for a while, her family knows me, and know we hang out when we're abroad but there's just something about the saudi culture that won't let her meet me in saudi. Her parents can't know we meet in saudi yet they see it completely fine for us to hang out ANYWHERE outside the saudi state. Her parents will even let her travel alone with guys and sleep over at their houses but in saudi this notion has become extinct. It kills me that men and women can't even go out to coffee together as friends. Families continue to disapprove of this occurring act. This is fueled mainly by the religious police harassing and arresting men and women who aren't related that are together. Although the risk isn't THAT high in the cities as much anymore, there is still a possibility. Regardless, my friend has to eventually sneak out just for us to study, get coffee, or just go cruising in our cars. Why do families have to be SUCH hyprocrites?! Despite religous people, how can society have such different standards and change their morals depending on the location? Why allow their sons and daughters to mingle and not cover abroad while in Saudi, it is deemed unacceptable. just drives me crazy that we can't hang out and meet normally while we're in the country.
- Bedouin


Yea it sucks. I think those 'hypocrites' must be as annoyed as Bedouin is, by a society that forces people to act differently, or against what they believe. I think the issue is much more complicated than just upholding standards and principles that vary geographically. As non-Saudis, paranoia is often an important element that adds to the oddness and inconsistency of behavior. For some reason, Arab foreigners living in Saudi Arabia always feel like they are under scrutiny; they are being observed by the Saudi society as different species that have come with different values and life styles. The latter is definitely true, but it does not necessarily mean that the principles are different. My parents' view, as I see it, is: if this is not our society, then we might as well not fight it. Now I disagree with that statement (assuming it is really what is going on in their heads). A society comprises of people living in proximity and contributing to its welfare - constructively or destructively. As exclusive as the Saudi society seems (though, to be fair, this is rapidly changing), 'foreign' workers are part of it. However, expatriates remain a physically temporary part of the community. This idea makes people like my mom, for example, think of her 20-year-long experience in Saudi Arabia as merely a working experience.
Going back to what Bedouin said, I do not think it is only the religious 'police', it is also the people. Remember that girl we saw today at the café? She gave us 'interested' looks even though we were in a public place and not doing anything suspicious. Change is coming though.
- Bedouinette