Friday, July 27, 2007

Um Kisha

*Kisha- an adjective describing hair texture which lacks a direct translation into English, but falls somewhere between fuzzy, wiry, nappy, or kinky.

While doing a dissertation on "Lawrence of Arabia" a few years ago, I came across a passage in which T.E. Lawrence talked about how reviled curly hair was to the Arabs he came to know and the extents one would go to in trying to rid oneself of the unattractive feature. Apparently things haven’t changed much in a century.

I’ve watched women lay their heads down on ironing boards and iron their hair. I’ve taken desperate sounding Saudi friends to Afro/Caribbean salons in England to interpret for them as they get their hair relaxed and their pocketbooks fleeced. I’ve comforted someone close to me as she cried for days because the straightening treatment she did to her hair caused it all to break off starting an inch away from the roots. “Dark and Lovely” is sold most everyplace hair-care products are and even the kids’ version is available. Brylcream is purchased by the gallon and Vaseline is apparently great on hair too. Hours upon hours are spent with hair dryers and straightening irons trying to smooth wavy, curly, and wiry locks.

In a past post, I’ve already mentioned part of MaryJo’s inheritance from me…my hair. Although far from its former glory, my hair possesses a much sought after feature amongst Arab women…it’s straight. Smug little MaryJo struts her stuff knowing that in everyone’s eyes, she’s got straight, shiny, ideal hair like this advert:
Then there’s her younger sister, poor little EttaMae, aka Um Kisha:
So... what to do about it?

I hear constantly… “Adeli kishat-ha” (fix her fuzzy hair) coming from my in-laws mouths. Last night they were telling me to chop it all off. No one wants to be seen out in public kisha or with someone who’s kisha. Because her hair is baby-soft and ridiculously thin, hair creams and oils won’t do and makes her look like an oil tanker leaked on her head. No chemical treatments for my baby so park the “Dark and Lovely” back on the shelf. When I went back to America I tried all the standards like Pink Lotion and Frizz-Ease…nothing! I spend a lot of time hovering dangerously close to a wiggly, impatient 7-year-old with hot hair-styling equipment on Eid mornings just to have my work destroyed after 5 minutes of play.

Then last year, I got a great idea…
“When I go to the States I’m gonna get EttaMae’s hair braided”, I told my husband.
“What do you mean “get it braided”, go and braid it yourself”, he replies, thinking I mean I’ll put a braid or two in her hair like normal.
“No, I mean braided all over. I lack the talent and the patience to do it myself so I’ll get it done while I’m at my sisters. I’m sure she knows someone who does it out of her house so I don’t need to pay salon prices. I’ll take her when we first get there then she’ll keep them in till it’s time for us to come back.”
“Oh no, don’t do THAT to her hair”, he says with a disgusted look.

Hmmm, struck a nerve.
So, braids are out of the question for my Um Kisha.

My sister is thrilled with the new tracks she just got. She’s a big fan of falls (those fake ponytails) and had several lying around her house which at first glance, looked like sleeping animals on her dresser. I’m glad she’s found away to deal with her troublesome hair and although I’d like to be able to tuck the kisha away underneath fake hair…we can’t do it. Muslim women are not allowed to wear “false hair” because of how Jewish women used wigs instead of truly covering their hair. So after a summer in the States of going natural and sporting a ‘fro on top of her head that rivaled anything from the ‘70’s, we came back to Saudia and many hours of wrangling her kisha hair into submission.

I know in the past, young Gulf Arab girls used to wear several thick braids in their long hair kind of like this:
Even Bedouin men wore their hair in two or three braids. It was kinda a unisex hairdo…the Pocahontas braided look. Today, young girls may wear a ponytail with several braids in it, but non wear their hair down with braids. Way back in the days of the Prophet (PBUH), some women used to wear their hair in what was described as, “closely braided”.

Book 003, Number 0643:
Umm Salama reported: I said: Messenger of Allah, I am a woman who has closely plaited hair on my head; should I undo it for taking a bath, because of sexual intercourse? He (the Holy Prophet) said: No, it is enough for you to throw three handfuls of water on your head and then pour water over yourself, and you shall be purified.
(Sahih Muslim)

Braiding seems like the most sensible option but despite its history in this area, no one does it now. Instead, all the “Um Kisha’s” of the country prefer the seemingly endless applications of chemicals and electrical appliances. I guess healthy, braided hair is old-fashioned.
Update: Thanks to everyone for the numerous suggestions on how to manage EttaMae's hair woes. I'm working through them one at a time to see what works best at taming my girl's wild hair and will post the winning solution (and I hope there'll be one) in a future post:)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Great Abaya Debate: Head vs. Shoulders

My readers from outside of the Kingdom cannot possibly understand the time and passionate debate that Saudis devote to this issue. Families quarrel over it, marriages dissolve over it, women have been damned to hell by clergy for it and signs have been hung in public about it. Never since the days of "tastes great, less filling" has there been a public debate of such mammouth proportions: should the abaya be worn from the head or shoulders?

Many non-Saudi people are now asking themselves, "why don't they get rid of it all together"? Trust me, the abaya's extinction ain't happening any time soon. For well over a decade now, what kind of abaya a woman wears is like wearing a public advertisement of her moral values, level of religious dedication, and ethnic background.

I established from before the time I got here that I wasn’t going to wear a "head" abaya. I’d been forewarned by my ‘bad-girl’ Saudi friends about how awkward and uncomfortable they are so my decision was made before I got here. To make matters worse, my mother in law bought me a head abaya and sent it with my husband preceding my leaving America. I gave this monstrous, heavy black tent a test run and it turned me sour. It was much bigger and heavier than this one:

Upon arriving here the first thing I did, while wearing that big ugly heavy abaya from MIL was go to the souk and place an order for a "shoulder" abaya to be made for me. I had to be advised as to what the local styles were so that I wasn’t pegged as a foreigner or weird looking just by the sight of me. I never got one of the really skinny or showy abayas, I always had them cut very wide and flowy as well as forgoing all the sparkly crystals and embroidery. There was a catch…I was pregnant. After a few months my baby belly became really obvious so I decided to return to a head abaya so I didn’t look like a black python who’s trying to digest a whole rabbit. I went and had one made with lighter fabric than the one my MIL sent me, no zipper or snaps down the front (old-fashioned), and a slimmer design like this one: I found out it wasn’t so bad. It’s actually cooler than the shoulder abaya. After wearing it awhile I was mostly unbothered by it (except getting in and out of the car with baby stuff). I cooled down even more by forgoing the rectangular scarf under it all, just wearing a three-piece face veil with no scarf under it all. Mmmm, breezy. Loved it. I found out some unexpected benefits: the flirters all but left me alone.

Perceptions of women wearing an abaya from the head:
-She is a religious woman
-She is a traditional woman
-She is not looking to flirt
-She is modest

- of course she's Saudi

Pros of wearing head abaya:
- Judged by others with the above listed criteria
-If I put my hand up to the a/c vent in the car I’ve got a central cooling system that goes up my sleeve and all around inside my abaya.
-No/less flirters
-I can hide friends underneath my abaya with me…no joke, I did this at a wedding once with a friend who couldn’t find her’s when the groom was going to enter.
-Easy to breastfeed a baby under. The whole kid fits under there and people maybe wouldn’t even guess the kids there.
-Don’t worry about a big, huge, pregnant belly. You’ll still look pregnant but it’s not that obvious…you could just be fat.

Cons of wearing a head abaya:
-Hard to look left/right, up/down without the stupid thing needing to be either held on or readjusted.
-Once you get up from a seated position you gotta hoist it back up onto your head.
-Hard to carry stuff on your shoulder (purses, baby bags) without yanking it off your head.
-Can't manage carrying a wiggly baby/toddler with all of the above issues.

Perceptions of women wearing an abaya from the shoulders:
-She is modernized
-She’s a “bad” girl
-She’s rebellious
-She’s young
-She’s irreligious
-She MUST be looking to flirt

Pros of wearing a shoulder abaya:
- Unobstructed movements including looking around, getting up and down from seats or in and out of cars.
- Carry as much as you can.
- These two pros are ALL I need to prefer a shoulder abaya

Cons of wearing a shoulder abaya:
-Although maybe ok for a teenager, looked down upon as undignified for anyone older than that. -All of the perceptions listed above.
-Here comes the flirters.
-Cant breastfeed as discreetly as with a head abaya.
-You look weird very pregnant.
Considering I've had several Hijazi friends that don't even cover their hair, I know that these issues may have already been dealt with long ago in other parts of Saudia. But here in Al-Hassa, the debate still rages on. Attitudes can vary drastically with regards to what's appropriate, even within the same family. My husband prefers for me to wear an abaya from my shoulders, although I'm the only woman in his family who does. Unfortunately due to public perceptions, the choice is not necessarily one based on beliefs but rather, on what the neighbors are gonna say about them.
All images were taken from

Sunday, July 22, 2007

More American Hasawis

We have a new friend that we've welcomed into the fold of the SBB (Sunday Bitching Brigade). The first thing I did was introduce myself then convince her to read my blog when she got home that night. Poor dear, I got her hooked on blogging now too. She's just starting up so keep an eye out in the near future for posts... if she's ever able to put down her adorable twin baby girls to type:)

From the new blog Camel Crusher :
Welcome to my blog. I hope that you will find my stories interesting. I know I have believe me. I am here to create the picture of an AMERICAN wife, married to a Saudi. The ups and downs, acception, denial. Top 10 of Saudi Arabia. Driving to Dammam, Khobar. Spongebob

Al Hassa, Hoffuf, SA

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Hasawis And Their Seeds

When I first took my furnished apartment upon arriving to Saudia from America, I found a stick-on bindi left over from the previous tenants embedded into the seemingly clean short-piled carpet. From this bindi, I had accurately guessed (later to be confirmed by my new neighbors) that the former tenants were Indian as wearing a bindi is an Indian thing to do. I wonder if the people who took the apartment after us guessed accurately that Hasawis had lived in the apartment upon the discovery of discarded seed husks which had remained deeply buried in the carpet fibers, unseen to my eyes as I cleaned, which tend to pop up one at a time during successive cleaning sessions.

From a previous post- tips on spotting a Saudi Hillbilly:

#1 You know you’re a Hasawi if there’s a pile of chewed-up spit-out seeds shells on the ground next to you.
#12 You know you’re a Hasawi if you must have a bag of seeds, della of tea and beyalas to “travel” to Dammam. (Dellas are vacuum thermos flasks and beyalas are little glass tea cups).

My first days with my in-laws, they stayed with us in the temporary furnished apartment that we’d rented for a few days to welcome me to the family. On the first night, they came with vacuum thermoses of tea and Saudi coffee and distributed plates of various toasted and salted seeds such as sunflower and melon seeds. They sat sipping tea, chatting, laughing, and putting handfuls of seeds in their mouths.

I watched in silenced shock as my new family members deftly maneuvered the seeds around their mouths with their tongues to crack open the shells, extract the inside of the seed, and move the empty shell to the outside of their mouths leaving the husk dangling from their bottom lip waiting to be orally projected out onto the floor in front of them- all without the use of their hands. It was reminiscent of watching those large parrots at the pet store eat their seeds, cracking them open with their beaks and extracting the inner part with their tongues.

Within a half hour of the first seeds being consumed, the living room floor was filled with discarded seed shells which then became embedded into the bare feet navigating through the shell piles. This facilitated the migration of seed shells throughout the entire apartment as they resettled on the previously immaculate carpet once shaking free of their podal vectors. There wasn’t a corner left unmolested by a seed’s presence in the entire apartment. Several times during my in-laws stay, the husks were swept up by a hand-broom (as I hadn’t yet been able to buy a vacuum) once seed-appetites had been satiated for the evening only to have a fresh coating redistributed during the course of the next tea/chat session.

This was my introduction to Hasawis and their love of seeds.

Previous to coming to Saudia, most of my Saudi acquaintances had been either Hijazi or Najdi. People from all different parts of Saudia eat seeds, although not necessarily in the manner previously described. What sets Hasawis apart from the average Saudi seed eater is the frequency and amount of seeds that are eaten as well as the manner in which the husks are disposed of. Although I have seen many Hasawis delicately remove the empty seed shells from their mouths with their fingers and neatly dispose of them in a designated receptacle, more prefer the spittoon-style disposal method onto the floor/ground. This irks me to no end- especially if it’s MY carpet!

Keeping in mind that I may be generalizing, I didn’t apply the seed-eating/spitting stereotype to ALL Hasawis. However, year after year of witnessing countless discarded seed husks around town around have confirmed that this is indeed a wide-spread Hasawi convention. Also, I’ve come to learn that some Hasawis use eating seeds as a way to help with appetite control when dieting or to stop smoking. With the exception of peanut shells on the floor of a well-known steakhouse chain, I’d never before come across seed husks when in public. Here are a few locations I’ve seen piles of seed husks:
· friends and family’s cars
· the park
· the desert on the outskirts of town- despite its size there are usually petrified seed husks mixed in the sand.
· in parking lots
· on supermarket floors
· on the ground in the souk
· in the sofa-cushions of just about any Hasawi home.
· at the beach
· outside my children’s schools
· outside the hospital
· in DesertFlowers knickknacks
· inside computer printers
· thobe pockets

There are more, but you get the point.

DD has not only infuriated me with this seed-habit, he refuses to alter it any despite my trying to convince him with logic. Yesterday, while watching the Saudi vs. Indonesia game, he called for the housekeeper to bring him up a plate of seeds. I started telling him he shouldn’t be eating seeds now; Buddy is 8 ½ months, crawling and putting everything he finds in his mouth. I’m worried a broom-evading seed husk could get lodged in his little throat. After he deflected my objections with a look that says he doesn’t give a damn and I’m just nagging, my housekeeper arrived with the plate of seeds. Unaware of my having already reprimanded him, she started chastising him too. Apparently, the middle-ground was reached because by the end of the game there wasn’t a seed husk left on the floor because they’d been respectfully discarded in the trash bin. Thanks DD…and it only took 10 years folks!

So…if when in Saudia you see a pile of seed husks on the ground- chances are, a Hasawis been there.

Indomie Rage

It's time for me to come down from my organic high-horse with a confession to my readers. I've forced gallons of organic juices down my kids throats and carried whole-grain energy bars and raisins in my purse to snack on. I refuse to give my babies formula and only rarely let my kids eat candy. Besides my occasional binges on booty-food, I eat healthy and so do my kids. Oh, how the high-and-mighty have fallen...and fallen straight onto my hypocritical a**:

I've been needing an Indomie fix at least once a day...usually late at night. I get withdrawal symptoms which include grumpiness and not helping old ladies in supermarkets like Hema when she's having a PotNoodle rage:) (all symptoms of instant-noodle withdrawal syndrome)

My housekeeper is the one who got me started on it, and she got my kids hooked too like some sort of Indonesian carb pusher. And the stuff stinks! We all reek after eating it but I can't stop. Is there a rehab for this stuff?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Retiring the oldest working Jawal in KSA

Saudis are obsessed with having the newest and coolest mobiles. Some of my Saudi friends get a new mobile every few months in order to be seen holding only the latest models. Seven months ago, my really cool mobile from England got ruined by water. This isn't hard to do with 3 kids in the house! I quickly had to find something, ANYTHING to put my SIM card into so I wouldn't lose touch with life. Since we didn't have the funds to go out and by a brand spankin new mobile right away, around SR 1,000 ($260) for a reasonably accessorized mobile (which is the only type I like), I dug out an old mobile that hadn't been used in years:
By Saudi standards, being seen with this phone in public is the same as carrying around this phone:

I bought this phone, already discounted, the first year we were in England in the summer of 2001. This was before color monitors were widely used, before there were cameras, multimedia and video on mobiles, and there's not even a polyphonic ring tone let alone an MP3 player! Simply put, it's simple. I could place and receive calls and type out a simple text message.

Six years is the equivalent of a century in technology years and the very next year after this relic was purchased, we'd already moved on to nicer and more advanced mobiles as we did every year after that thanks to new mobile contracts with free new phones included:) This mobile was then destined for a dusty life the junk drawer, never to see the light of day again until we packed up our household for the return trip to Saudia. Before leaving, we gathered all of our mobiles acquired through the years and decided which mobile would go to which family member upon our return to Saudia with this particular mobile reserved for my technologically-challenged mother-in-law. Since we don't have the same deals on phones with new contracts as is available in England and the US, you have to pay for the full price of any new phone outright. This can hurt.

We came back from England bearing gifts of mobile technology for our kinfolk like some sort of Saudi Santa's. My mother-in-law, who can barely manage to dial her home phone and frequently has one of her kids do it for her, accepted her mobile with relief. All her friends had one and now she could be reached when her ride comes to pick her up from weddings and social gatherings. Her happiness lasted exactly two days. Upon going out to the next gathering and proudly displaying that she too now had a mobile like everyone else, the grim truth was revealed to her in a conversation such as this:

"That' a really old model", her friends told her.

"What ever do you mean?", my mother-in-law replies, having previously been blissfully ignorant of advances in mobile technology.

"Well, look at mine. Mine is in color, and I can take pictures, and I changed the color of it and hung these cute little dingly-dangly thingies off of it. Noooooobody carries around old ones like that anymore (said with a disdainful glance at the painfully unflashy old mobile). Have your son buy you a new one since he must be rolling in lots of money now that he's just finished his PhD two months ago."

Rejected and scorned by a woman who doesn't even know what the hell SMS is, this mobile was one again fated to a existence without purpose and a return to the junk drawer. There the phone languished until it came time for me to work in a university here. All of the students had to turn in their phones with cameras into the office and I wasn't allowed to take mine into lectures either for fear someone may take pictures of all these uncovered young ladies. In order to stay connected, I got out the only mobile still around without a camera in it. I grudgingly carried it around the university, constantly having to reassure people who poked fun at my unfashionable phone that it was only used inside the cool phone's in my office.

Upon the death of my cool phone for which I mourn to this day, seven months later, I was forced to once again use the rejected mobile. Even it's name in Arabic is unattractive*, "Al-Aaneed" "العنيد" or stubborn/persistent, because apparently it's to stubborn to die. Every month there was something else that sucked up the salary, making it impossible to buy a new mobile.

Having a cool mobile is crucial here, and even the poorest are clamoring to have nice phones. The line was drawn when I noticed that domestic workers were coming into the country with nicer phones than what I was carrying! Even DesertFlower offered for me to use her phone when out shopping with me one day instead of face the embarrassment of being seen with me while I dialed my eye-sore of a mobile (I know she was just poking fun at me:). Once, upon finishing a nice conversation with one lady doctor in a hospital, I tried to explain that my phone was too old and I didn't have enough battery to record her number in it in order to call her and chat again. She took it as a snub and a hint that I didn't want to be friends with her and left very abruptly, obviously offended.

Al-humdulillah...Finally, since last night, I can return the "stubborn" mobile to the depths of the junk drawer and talk in public without shame:

And since it has a 3 mega pixel camera on it, I no longer have to lug my camera around with me in order to capture visual jewels from around town to display on my blog.

First thing I did was put my WeeMee as the wall paper:
*jawal-colloquial for mobile/cell phone

* many mobiles are given names by the general public according to characteristics that particular mobile embodies.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Science, Abayas, and Thobes

Last week we went on one of our whirlwind treks to Dammam with one destination in mind (at least in DD's mind): the Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Center for Science and Technology. We took along two of DD's teenage nieces along with our own two girls at left a whiny, teething Buddy at home with his Grandma, our housekeeper, and an aunt all taking turns trying to console our little 8 month-old prince.

I highly recommend anyone with kids in the EP to go to this place. The kids all had a blast and we enjoyed watching them press buttons, turn levers, and pull ropes. There's many hands on, interactive scientific displays as well as a place for younger kids to play and learn. There's also an IMAX theatre showing educational films which was the biggest hit with the two nieces. Although feeling like I was looking over the edge of a cliff down into a volcano then teetering out a helicopter door was kinda cool in my mind...the two teens begged and pleaded to wait and see the next show as well as any others we could fit in before closing time. I then realized...this was the very first time in their lives they'd ever been to a theater!

Movies aside, one display in the exhibits called "Cooling Down With Color" caught my interest. I was trying to sneak this picture without anyone seeing me since many people here throw hissy-fits at the sight of a camera so my apologies for the blurriness (and this is AFTER I cleaned it up in Photoshop). Just above the picture were two plates, one colored white and the other black. The instructions read as follows:
1) Press the button to heat up the colored surfaces
2) Wait 30 seconds
3) Touch both surfaces. Which is hotter?
4) Which one cools faster?

It then goes on to read:
"Dark colors absorb more heat than light colors. This gives light-colored animals the edge in hot environments."

I'm gonna take a stab in the dark and say 1) a man wrote this 2) the man was not Saudi and 3) I'm not the only woman who's stood reading this while wearing a black abaya next to their white thobe-clad husband and had this thought...

"No sh**, Sherlock!"

Hasawi Asses

Well...what did ya think I meant?!
And yeah, that was a mean dust storm going on in the background of those pics, just outside the city on the road to Dammam.

Saturday, July 7, 2007


I remember on several occasions in my youth, sleeping until noon. I also remember how lazy, unproductive and hung-over I’d feel for the rest of the day as a result. No one could ever accuse me of being an early-bird however, I’d usually be up by 9-10 AM at the latest.

I first entered Saudi Arabia in the summertime, during the break from school, almost 10 years ago. Since we’d just moved from overseas, we didn’t have a home of our own and so we lived in the in-laws house. During the summer, the number of people in the house increases as my sister-in-law comes from Jubail with her 4 kids and various other related children come and spend the night. At one point there were 17 family members residing in the house with 5 bedrooms and a couple more children going in and out.

My in laws house is old and built in a traditional way on one floor. The family living room is located in the center of the house with all the bedrooms surrounding the living room. There’s no “yard” like in western homes and the original patio has long been built over to accommodate the growing family on such a small plot of land. The numerous children have no place to go “out” to play so they play in the living room. There are whole soccer games, tag games, climb the entertainment center games, and various other games played out in this small living room as the adults try to talk through the din. This is bad enough during the rest of the year but during the summer, it becomes a type of purgatory to be endured until school starts up again.

Sleeping habits here vary from family to family. Several of our family members allow their kids to be up the entire night until it’s time for them to go to school. They then get dressed and go to school only pass out immediately upon returning home and eating. They then wake up some time in the early night hours after missing all the days prayers and repeat the cycle the next day. Several of my sister-in-laws kids have been caught dozing off in school. Mothers complain about this and about how sleep deprived they are as a result of their children's bad sleeping habits. My response is, “tell them to go to bed” accompanied by a look which says “DUH!”.

This backwards sleeping schedule isn’t limited to children. While teaching at a university here, I noticed several of my students arriving to my 8 AM lectures in full make-up and complicated hair-do’s. For a while I thought, “wow, what time did they wake up in order to pull that look off?” I didn’t take long to figure out that they were waiting to go to bed after my lecture finished at 10 AM. Several housewives go to bed after their kids go to school then wake up at around noon when they come home.

Getting back to my first summer in my in-laws house…

The first few weeks after arriving in Saudia were spent with my new family and of course, following their lead. I ate what they ate, went where they went, and slept when they slept. I had absolutely no choice in what time I slept seeing as how the door to my bedroom was off the living room where the entire family spent their time and the children played till they were worn out. Even when I tried my hardest, I couldn’t sleep at night because of all the noise in the room next to me. Also, my toddler felt as if she was missing out on all the fun and wanted to join her new cousins instead of being confined to bed at night with mom.

My mother-in-law and sister-in-laws would get to sleep some time after sunrise a 5 to 6 AM but the kids (all under age 10 at that time)… still had a few more hours of noisy, raucous play in them. They’d stay awake for at least 3 more hours after adult supervision had given up the struggle and went to bed, doing basically anything they pleased. They go up to the roof and throw things down onto the street below, they’d go to the kitchen and “create” culinary masterpieces, they’d bounce on sofas and use overturned tables for forts and dancing platforms. Being kids, they’d go in and out of their moms room with various complaints and requests waking her to solve their problem. She’d also have to rise to seek out the source of wailing after one of the “dancing stages” gave way and broke under them or they misjudged the distance between the top of the wardrobe to the bed when attempting flight. Eventually around 9 or 10 AM they’d start to wander off to bed one at a time and the house would finally be peaceful.

This type of schedule went on or rather, dragged on till it seemed that I couldn't’t take any more. I constantly had headaches, my toddlers behavior was awful because of the lack of structure, and I felt so down and depressed as a result of being away so far away from everything familiar to me. Eventually, we got our own apartment and I could have things the way I want them right? WRONG! Because our social life revolves mainly around the family, whenever they had get-togethers I have to do it according to their schedules, not mine. The weekly gathering would commence sometime around 9PM and go till 1AM at night. That was fine for them, whose kids had just woke up shortly before they left the house at night but for me and my kid, we’d be sitting there exhausted wanting to go to bed. They’d follow this schedule during Ramadan too. Everyone would sleep after sunrise and not wake up until after 2PM in the afternoon in order to pray thuhr prayer before ‘asr was called and to start cooking for the evening meal. Since sunset was at 5:30pm they’d only do without food for a few hours…kinda like skipping breakfast. Doesn’t seem like fasting to me.

The only exception to this backwards sleeping in this family is the working men. They follow pretty regular schedules. Once when I’d mentioned what time I normally sleep and wake my father-in-law commented, “what are you, a man?”

I spent two whole years like this, going against the grain of my in-laws backwards sleeping schedule. Whenever I’d mention wanting my children to sleep at 8 PM at night on school nights, it was almost as if I were being cruel to them. Then, we went to England where the country sleeps with the chickens. Most places were closed by 6 or 7 at night except for pubs and the weather was so crappy most of the year there wasn’t anything else to do but sleep. This suited me fine but my hubby was still sleeping on Saudi Standard Time, staying up most of the night doing his studies.

We’d come back to Saudia every year during the summer break only to have me counting the days left till we’d go back to England so I could get a full 8 hours sleep. I loved being around the inlaws but since we’d given up our apartment when we moved to England, we were in the family’s house during these trips home with a few dozen feral kids running amok. Summer trips here became hellish with fatigue as well as boredom due to the bad weather. I wasn’t the only one suffering as all the mothers of these wild children complain endlessly about how tired they are. It becomes a type of contest of sorts; “I’ve only slept 2 hours in 2 days”, one will say as another confirms she’s had only one hour more sleep than her. Women are dozing off while sitting and chatting with others and everyone is popping headache pills and drinking liters of tea.

Am I the only one who doesn’t understand this situation. I know not all Saudis do this as many of my friends as well as some family members do force their families to sleep at night, although they are in the minority. Some argue that’s it’s due to the harsh weather that people stay awake at night. This doesn’t make any sense to me because the a/c is working no matter what time they wake and sleep. Also, this is not traditional as many older family members have confirmed. Most people in the past used to be awake all day with a siesta in the afternoon.

As for myself, I’m going to sleep (when I have things the way I want them) around 11 to midnight. I wake for fajr as this is the time my baby wants fed too, and go back to sleep until mid-morning. Most stores open up after 4 pm until around 11 pm so if I need to go and buy something we go out in the evening. This seems to me to be a sane alternative to the sleepless chaos going on in my in-laws house. My mother in-law couldn’t even keep her eyes open yesterday when I saw her because her head was throbbing due to sleep deprivation. Since we’ve had several family activities recently, our sleeping schedule is going much later with me finally getting to bed after I pray fajr (I’m in the process of shifting it back). We have 3 girls spending the night at our house with the understanding that when at my house, they must sleep at night and wake-up mid-morning.

I’ve been saving this post for the summer break only because that’s when I feel its bitterness the strongest. It’s normal, for many places around the world, for kids to stay up later and sleep in during summer break. As many other things in Saudia, this is taken to the extreme!

***sung to the tune of “where’s my little dog gone”***

Oh where oh where has your Daisy gone?
No new posts! oh how can that be?
She’s not sleeping till way past dawn.
“School’s out” means no blogging for me.

I may not be able to respond to comments due to lack of time and a crappy Internet connection...please don't get offended as I do get to see them although I may not be able to acknowledge them online till much later:)