Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Saudis and Sickle Cell: Breaking Under "Takesser"

“Y’uma (mommy)”, the little boy in the bed across from us kept moaning, “my hand hurts”.
His young mother would stroke his head and whisper to him, trying to comfort him in the dark as she lay with him in the same hospital bed as the 3 year old cradled his aching hand and ceaselessly moaned the same complaint the entire night. To the right of the whimpering boy was a frail-looking little girl hooked up to an IV bag of a vile-looking reddish-brown liquid who remained silent and motionless our entire two week stay except for occasional, labored walks to the bathroom which sapped the little strength she had. In the bed to the left of the moaning boy and his mother, was a pair of sisters. The oldest girl, a very sober 13 year-old, was looking after her younger sister during her stay in the hospital. Their mother had to stay home to care for her other children. In the morning, after that first sleepless night in the hospital with a sick 6 month-old EttaMae, I asked that young mother about her son.

“What’s wrong with his hand?” I hadn’t noticed any cast or bandages to indicate that the little boy had been injured in any way.

“Nothing’s wrong with his hand, thank God”, she replied to my surprise.

“Oh, I was just wondering since I heard him complaining (the entire night) that his hand hurt him.”

“It’s not in his hand, it’s Takesser (Sickle-Cell)”, the young mother admitted in a hushed tone.

The frail looking little girl to the right was in for complications from Takesser too. A Nigerian doctor would ask her several simple medical questions in his remedial, broken Arabic phrases only to converse with his coworker using contrastingly complicated English words like “transfusion” and “organ failure”. The younger of the two sisters to the left was hospitalized for Takesser as well. Out of the 6 children in that particular family, only the oldest one, the 13 year old, did not have the disease and both the mother and the father had it as well. In fact, out of the 6 patients in that room, 3 were there for sickle-cell. And they weren’t alone.

In the United States people are often surprised when they learn that a person who is not African American has sickle cell disease. The disease originated in at least 4 places in Africa and in the Indian/Saudi Arabian subcontinent. It exists in all countries of Africa and in areas where Africans have migrated. The transatlantic slave trade was largely responsible for introducing the sickle cell gene into the Americas and the Caribbean. However, sickle cell disease had already spread from Africa to Southern Europe by the time of the slave trade, so it is present in Portuguese, Spaniards, French Corsicans, Sardinians, Sicilians, mainland Italians, Greeks, Turks and Cypriots. Sickle cell disease appears in most of the Near and Middle East countries including Lebanon, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Yemen. Sickle-cell in the western part of Saudia is similar to the type that shows up in Africa however, the type of sickle-cell in Eastern Province in Saudi Arabia is called the “Indian” sickle-cell mutation and is thought to have been introduced from/to the sub-continent via ancient maritime trade routes hundreds of years ago.

Ironically, another study claims the reason sickle-cell has spread across so many diverse populations has everything to do with MALARIA. They propose that because people with sickle-cell are protected from malaria, they lived longer than their sickle-cell-free brethren in areas with high incidences of malaria enabling them to reproduce more thus, passing on their malaria-free though, sickle-cell tainted blood to their children. Judging by pictures like this of old Al-Hassa and how my house is filled with mosquitoes every winter during the “wet” season, I can go along with this theory as I imagine malaria used to be a big problem here.

Al-Hassa has been hit particularly hard by Takesser and I’ve heard that we have more cases of Takesser here that in the entire rest of the kingdom combined. One study indicated that approximately 20-30% of Saudi newborns in the EP are carriers of the sickle cell trait. Can you imagine 30% of your population carrying a trait which could afflict their children with pain and misery most of the days of their shortened lives!

Although I’d been around Arabs a significant part of my life, I’d never been aware of how prevalent the disease was. No one wanted to talk about it or admit to having it in their family until recently. A government awareness campaign was launched a few years ago as well as mandatory pre-marital blood testing which put the topic of the disease on the table. Although I’d asked about the takesser-status of several individuals in the family before, up until 3 years ago no one knew nor would admit to who had sickle-cell or who was a carrier in the family. This all changed when a young man, known to have sickle cell because of the painful attacks he’d had in front of my husband’s brother, came to propose to one of the young women in the family.

“Has she been tested to see if she’s a carrier or not?” I asked my husband.

“I don’t know”, he replied with a type of indifference.

This was before the wide-spread governmental education program about the disease and the blood tests were not yet mandatory. Even if someone knew they were a carrier, many parents might not want to admit to their daughter being a carrier of the trait let alone having the disease because this may reduce her marriage prospects.

I continued to talk in his ear for several days, “you have to talk her into getting tested. You have to be the one as the most educated one in the family. This is very important. You wouldn’t wish for her to watch her children writhing in pain, constantly hospitalized during pain attacks. Since you know, you have to insist so at least they can make informed decisions regarding whether or not they’d want to go through with the marriage if it would may in all their children being born with this horrible affliction.”

My husband succeeded in convincing the perspective bride to go and get herself tested. However, after the results came back and the wedding plans began to roll forward, she was a bit odd whenever I’d bring up the topic of the blood tests.

“So, you aren’t a carrier then”, I asked the bride a few days after she’d had the blood tests done then immediately accepted the young man’s proposal.

“Al-Humdulilah (thank God)”, she replied and quickly shuffled away to engage in another wedding planning activity.

Hmmmm…that was ambiguous! I didn’t want to be pushy; as long as she knew what the consequences of her decision would be and she was well informed it wasn’t my place to impose my opinions on delicate matters of the heart. And it was apparent, she already had her heart set on marrying this frail, pain-racked young man and nothing was going to deter her.

After the wedding contract was signed and sealed, the ladies of the family all lounged around at the “engagement” party (khortuba) amongst the palm trees at one of Al-Hassa’s many farms and chatted about the bride’s decision to marry the sickly young man.

“You do realize the blood tests confirmed she is a carrier, don’t you? She was just afraid to tell you and your husband for fear you may do something to try and stop the wedding”, one of her cousin’s intimated to me.

I smiled, “I figured as much, but we wouldn’t have done anything like that. We just wanted her to know so she was fully aware what she was getting herself into. It broke my heart watching those kids in the hospital and I’d never wish that on anyone.”

“I know, I’ve seen so-and-so with their kids as well as so-and-so…” and this cousin began naming off individuals in my husbands family who are all afflicted with sickle-cell as well as their kids. I was gob smacked! I didn’t have any idea. I made this cousin spill the beans and tell me EVERYONE who has the disease in his family.

As it turns out, none of my husbands siblings have the disease although a few of them do carry the trait. However, there are many, MANY members of his extended family who have the disease and who are in and out of the hospital with their ailing children. I was around these relatives all the time, but any problems they had from takesser were explained off by other causes such as “achiness” caused by changes in the weather or “bad periods” for young women.

Time rolled on and the young bride became a mother. I held my breathe during her pregnancy until we received the happy news that her beautiful boy with shining eyes and gorgeous dimples was takesser-free and would never suffer the pain his father endures.

All I can say is, Al-Humdulillah (thank God).

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Street of DOOOOOOOOOM!

(Mission Impossible theme music playing)
My mission: Cross the "Street of Doom" with 2 kids, a baby, and the maid without getting plowed over by a lunatic.
Last year I was delighted to learn that the new American friend I just met lived in my neighborhood. If I stand in the street outside my house, I can see hers. I thought it would be great, we could walk back and forth to each others houses and this whole messy issue of finding a ride wouldn't interfere in our plans. There's only one problem, there is a major street that runs between us that may as well be the Berlin Wall running through Al-Hassa for how it keeps our two families apart.

This street, which has now been dubbed "The Street of Doom" by my friends, is four lanes wide in each direction, brand spankin new pavement and a long clear stretch of road which is conducive to speeds not seen outside of the Indy500. It's not really a highway; the patch that runs by my house has a roundabout at one end, a traffic light at the other and is only a fraction of a mile in actual distance. For the most part this street isn't very busy. It's easily navigable in the sparse traffic of the scorching hot broad daylight however, it becomes increasingly dangerous as twilight descends and the heedless youth of the country rouse from their daytime slumber to inflict nocturnal vehicular chaos.

Although my friend and I both acknowledge the danger this street could possibly pose, we were perplexed, amused, then touched by how similar our husbands reactions were to the thought of us crossing this street on foot with our children. My friend and I are both mature, both drivers, and are of sufficient intelligence to cross streets unscathed. However, both of our husbands prefer driving us across the street rather than letting us walk.

Yes, you read it correctly, they both want to drive us across the street!

At first I was a bit dismayed. Initially my reaction was, "You don't think I'm intelligent enough to manage crossing a street for God's sake?!"
"No, it has nothing to do with YOU, it's everyone else that's stupid!", DD tried to explain to me.

After a while, my friend and I started to look at it as a chivalrous gesture and thought it rather cute that our husbands would fret about us so. And besides, I'd rather DD drive me anyway if the truth be told. It's damn hot out there during daylight hours and there's no way I'm crossing that street at night wearing an ALL BLACK abaya which assures my invisibility to already deficient drivers. I might as well sew a bulls eye to my butt first.

Daisy the House Drudge

Out of my 11+ years of marriage and keeping house, I've only had a maid for 1 1/2 years of that time. Boy how that 1 1/2 years made a big difference in my sanity!

We sent my housekeeper to my in-laws house to work. My father-in-law has become quite ill and it's becoming increasingly difficult for my mother-in-law to keep up the house. I'm grateful I had my maid to help me out with my last heavy months of pregnancy and the first year of Buddy's life. Although it was nice having the dishes washed and toilets scrubbed for me, I found I miss having another adult around the house more than anything since DD's not here most of the time.

In the two days since she's left I have the following problems:
-only 4 combined hours of sleep due to balancing Buddy and EttaMae's waking during the night.
-had to take the world's fastest shower as Buddy stood screaming outside the bathroom.
-had to "hold it" until Buddy passes out for a nap
- carry Buddy in the laundry basket with the dirty clothes since he can't be left on his own
-speedcleaning at night after the kids are asleep because Buddy won't let me do anything else as long as he's awake.
-haven't yet taken the garbage out to the street because I can't carry Buddy and the garbage and I'd have to do it in my abaya.
- I can't just run out for a moment without packing up all my kids.
These are all things my maid would help out with when she was here. She'd play with Buddy for a moment if I needed to answer the "call of nature" or manage EttaMae if she woke up at night while I managed Buddy instead of the two locked in a cycle of waking each other up with their whining. And if I didn't get any sleep the night before, she'd watch Buddy for me as I took a cat nap. She'd also make sure EttaMae didn't kill her brother with love while I was reading for my dissertation.
Inshallah, I'll work out a system soon. I always say that as long as you schedule things right, you can fit in an amazing amount of stuff into a day.

Apparantly, I wasn't invited either

I left the computer alone for a few days and my own blog denies me access claiming I'm not invited! Don't ask me what happened, but I think I got it worked out. So, my apologies to any readers who felt slighted by my blog going "private" and please let me know if you are aware of others being denied access to my lunacy:-)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

I am chattel

Slavery is a social-economic system under which certain persons — known as slaves — are deprived of personal freedom and compelled to perform labor or services. The term also refers to the status or condition of those persons who are treated as the property of another person or household. This is referred to as "chattel slavery".

The 1926 Slavery Convention described slavery as "...the status and/or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised..." Slaves cannot leave an owner, an employer or a territory without explicit permission, and they will be returned if they escape. Therefore a system of slavery — as opposed to the isolated instances found in any society — requires official, legal recognition of ownership, or widespread tacit arrangements with local authorities, by masters who have some influence because of their social and/or economic status.

How could the above definition possibly apply to my life?:

1. I cannot leave my house without my husband’s permission. If I did and my husband wanted to exercise his “power”, he can have the police bring me back or even imprison me where Muslim women in other countries would only have to contemplate incurring divine punishment in the afterlife.

2. As a Saudi woman, I am not allowed to travel without my husbands documented permission. Even if escorted by my father, brother, uncle, son or other Islamic mahram, once married my husband’s permission is still requisite and I would be prevented from exiting the country without it.

3. If I had a less than understanding husband, I may feel compelled to provide marital “services” to him a legally recognized minimum of several times a month, or he could be granted a divorce from me where Muslim women in other countries would only have to consider “divine” punishment for refusing her husband without a good reason.

4. Even if I were to pursue my Islamic right to request a divorce from an unhappy marriage, I would have to get past the following hurdles as a woman, alone without male family members inside the country:
· I’d have to make contact with a male lawyer who is not a male relative of mine and therefore, I’m limited with the kind of contact I may have with him. At this point female lawyers are prevented from arguing in court.
· I cannot drive myself to meet with my lawyer or even to the court in order to pursue obtaining a divorce from my husband.
· If I did manage to get there, I’d have to deal with entire legions of men who are unaccustomed to dealing with a woman as most send their brethren to represent their interests.
· I’d have to pray that the judge appointed to my case truly tried to follow the Sunna and not a misogynistic, cultural version of Islam. Even if I were never wronged by my husband but simply didn’t like him leading to my being discontent, I should be granted a divorce if requested.
· I do not have access to official documents, which are obtained my husband, including those vital to everyday transactions such as the “family card”. Although legally, to my understanding, a law was recently passed allowing women to procure them, most women would send a male family member to do it (which is not an option for me).

5. I cannot even report the birth of my child and register his/her name.

6. Legally, the house I live in is not mine and I have no rights whatsoever to it. Even if I contributed money to it, unless my husband was kind and loving enough to add my name as partial owner on his own accord, it’s entirely his house. Upon divorce or death, I could be homeless if his relatives or children wanted to claim their portions (much larger than mine) as their rightful inheritance. This potential eviction would be delayed fortunately, until my youngest child reached legal adult age.

7. Although I’m a citizen, because I am foreign-born and don’t have anyone (male) in the country from my family to be my “guardian”, upon divorce those few rights I have as a Saudi woman to remain in the country near my children could be revoked with my citizenship and I’d be sent packing, childless, back to America where my father lives. (See Carol’s blog for more on this)

8. If I ever did need to dig up male family members to represent me, these are my options:
· I wait for 15 more years for my son to grow up and represent me.
· I make a couple more sons as backup in case the first one isn’t willing.
· I find my estranged scam-artist half-brother from my father’s second marriage who lives in America, who I can’t tolerate and who’d attempt to milk me dry for every riyal I have.
· I contact my other half-brother from my father’s first marriage on another continent who despite being a kind man who would no doubt help me out in desperate times, I can no longer communicate directly with because I’ve forgotten his language for the most part.
· I put my ailing, elderly father on a boat from America. He can’t fly because the pressure may cause him to have another stroke.

At this point I’d like to reassure my readers that these are NOT the circumstances of my life at present or anyone I know. Also, most Saudi women will live their entire lives without any/most of these list items every affecting them. Not every Saudi man is out to flex his muscles and exercise his legal “power” over his wife. I could cite several examples of women with similar circumstances to my own within my social circles who’s houses are in their names or who are bequeathed their “husband’s” house despite their being housewives and not contributing to it’s purchase (my MIL), as well as women who rule the roost. What pains me is that if the Devil took over my husband, these could be some of the potential results.

Many commenter’s may be keen to point out several items which are part of Islam and to which I’m subject to being a Muslim woman such as, not leaving the home without my husband’s permission. When living outside of the country, and being a believing woman, I “police” myself. Since my husband respect’s my judgement as a mature and intelligent woman, I have my husband’s understood and implied permission to do the errands I need to do during the day (FYI to non-Muslims: this doesn’t mean I have to go to him every time I step one toe out the door). As is customary between married couples around the world I say, “I’m running to the store before I pick up the girls, see ya”. He returns the same courtesy and doesn’t just wander out the door without giving me an idea of where he’s going and/or saying bye. If there were a conflict of interests, this would be dealt with between ourselves without the possibility of legal intervention.

Although I usually try to keep things a bit upbeat on my blog, there are times I feel the need to throw my own little pity-party. For all the good things in my life I say Al-Humdulillah (thank God) and pray for God to keep me safe and protect me from the above listed items. For any men who are reading this list and nodding their heads in agreement thinking, “yeah, this is the way it should be”, I’ll leave you with these messages:

From the Prophet’s (PBUH) last sermon:

O People, it is true that you have certain right with regard to your women, but they also have rights over you. If they abide by your right then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Do treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers.

From the Quran:

Lodge them (the divorced women) where you dwell, according to your means, and do not treat them in such a harmful way that they be obliged to leave. (Surat
Al-Talaq 65:6)

From Hadith:

Narrated Abu Huraira, God's messenger said: "The believers who show the
most perfect faith are those who have the best disposition and the
best of you are those who are best to their wives." [Tirmidhi]

Friday, October 12, 2007

Suprise- It's Eid in Saudia

As we sat driving in the car, SMS messages started coming into our phones from family and friends congratulating us on Eid. But, didn't everything and everyone in the world tell us that Eid was supposed to be on Saturday?

-Eid housecleaning, not done
-henna, not done
-clothes that fit my midget Indonesian housekeeper after 2 failed tries, not done
-special Eid decorations, not done

Apparantly someone here saw the crescent moon.

Well, to all my Muslim readers, Eid Mubarak:-)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Souk Make-up

Yes, girlfriend's cute. But isn't all the eye make-up negating the whole entire reason for wearing the veil in the first place?

Pictures like this are circulating through men's mobiles around the kingdom; snapshots taken of random women out shopping in all their ocular glory. This sister is on the mild end of the spectrum.

Many young ladies are spending inordinate amounts of time decorating their eyes with tools of the beauty trade before leaving their houses: mascara, eye-liners, colored contacts are combined with shades and combinations of eye-shadow that could make a peacock jealous. These perfectly painted provocative peepers are poised under painstakingly plucked puny eyebrows which punctuate their preposterousness.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Crime, what Crime?

The folks at Tash Ma Tash did it again. Today's episode: Crime in Saudia.

I've proudly proclaimed to vast amounts of people "I feel safer in Saudia than in any western city". For the most part I still stand by that statement. I've been in and out of the country for the past few years and apparently, things have started to change while I was gone. Car-jackings, robbing people at ATM's, gang-rapes, motorcycle muggers grabbing mobile's out of people's hands as they talk as well as traditional pick-pockets are in the papers almost daily. I think what is most shocking to people is the perceived escalation of such crimes at such a fast pace. Are these things still happening at a much lower rate than in any typical western country? Yes.

It didn't take long after entering England for us to be a victim of petty crime. In fact, it took only a few weeks. Several of our friends had their houses burgled and in one case, the thieves were in their bedroom as they slept. In four years time, several of our friends had been the victim of crimes in addition to us and I was even the target of a physical assault as I walked down the street pushing a small EttaMae in her stroller.

Now the comparison:

In the almost 10 years in Saudia I have never been the victim of a crime. I only know one person amongst ALL the people I know that have been the victim of a crime; my SIL had her purse picked as she was shopping in the souk, but didn't discover it till some time later. I've heard of some things going missing from the majlis* at my in-laws house several years before I went there, but keep in mind that normally the front door to the street, which is adjacent to the majlis door, is wide open most afternoons to welcome in visitors (and apparently some wayward teens). In the souk, the most advanced security system in the world is used as a theft deterrent: tarp. Tarp is thrown loosely over the merchandise as trusting shopkeepers leave their goods completely unattended as they go off to pray.

I've been taking walks with EttaMae almost everyday a bit before sunset to burn-off some of her boundless energy, just the two of us, me and my little girl, two lone vulnerable females. As I walk through the neighborhood I notice that like my at my in-laws, there are many houses with the front doors left wide open. I've noticed the way I feel as I'm walking as well. While in the west, I follow all the common sense rules I've been taught since childhood; use the buddy system, don't walk alone at night, check under your car from a distance before you get in case someone's waiting under your car to ambush you, hold your keys or pepper-spray in a ready position in case you need to use them. I'm always "battle-ready" when I go out and to describe me as alert is an understatement. However, I've never yet had that feeling here. You couldn't pay me enough money to walk alone past abandoned urban construction sites in the west, what better place to lay in wait for a potential victim and then than that! I don't have that same feeling of foreboding here as I walk past the several unfinished houses that line my path.

I'd be in denial if I claimed that crime doesn't happen here and I don't need to hear about so-and-so who had this-and-that happen to them in Saudia. I know bad things happen here. And I don't need any smart-alecks trying to turn the comments-section into discourse on terrorist boogiemen…those kinds of attacks are very few in comparison to the thousands of heinous murders and assaults that occur daily in western cities. I used to live in the (at that time) murder capital of the U.S. and there were two murders and a hostage situation that happened in the vary apt. building that I lived in (during the course of two years). But Alhamdulillah (thank God), although things like this happen in Saudia, they are so few and far between that everyone in town knows about it when it happens. And don't bring up the hand-chopping thing: DD says he hasn't heard of anyone getting their hand cut off since he was little and attributes this lack of an effective deterrent to the ever-increasing crime-rate.

So as my western readers check the locks on their doors and windows, turn on their alarm systems and make sure the motion detector light is working before they go to bed, know that many of us here in Saudia still have our doors gaping open. Naïve? A bit, maybe.

Drooling Daisy

Ramadan note to self: Don't go to Saadeddin's a half hour before it's time to break my fast.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Ayjooza* News Network: Faster and More Accurate Than Al-Jazeera?

Before leaving America to come and live in Saudia, I met a woman from my husband's neighborhood in Al-Hassa who'd come as a travelling companion for a Saudi princess. During a pizza party with the princess, we chatted for a bit. This woman from the other side of world already knew all my business before she'd even stepped on the plane. At this point, I hadn't yet met my in-laws in person and this woman wasn't even related to my husband's family nor was she a friend of a family member and hadn't known in advance that she'd be meeting me. So, how on earth did she already know so much about me?!

You know you're a Hasawia (female Hasawi) when you know who your new neighbor is, what their dirty laundry is, and any and all gossip associated with them before they've even moved in.

Information passes through old Hasawi neighborhoods at a dizzying speed. This may be the reason that basic DSL connections are still under 1mg in the country…old women's wagging tongues far exceed the download speed of even the most modernized server so, why upgrade? Every weekday, there's a long-standing social tradition in the older neighborhoods. Old ladies file out of their houses after 'Asr prayer, sometimes armed with plastic baskets holding vacuum thermoses of hot tea and coffee and a few jingling glass tea cups as they walk to visit other old ladies in the neighborhood. The reason I say "old ladies" is because this tradition is dying out amongst the younger generation in newer neighborhoods.

Cities have expanded and completely new neighborhoods have sprung up in the deserts uprooting people from their old familiar neighborhoods and regrouping them into new, unfamiliar, constructed neighborhoods. Houses are bigger and further apart than in the old neighborhoods making it hard to get to know you neighbors. It's also harder to hear the arguments in the houses next door and you can't casually see their comings or goings without staking them out from your window either. All of the sudden, privacy reigns in the newer neighborhoods. Unlike in the older neighborhoods, you now need to announce your visit well in advance if you plan on visiting anyone to avoid majorly inconveniencing them.

Back in the old neighborhood after 'Asr, the old ladies knock on an open front door or clap their hands to announce their entrance to the residents inside. In many older houses, the magellat, or women's parlor, is located off of the family's living room. This means that the guest/intruder gets to see who's kept up house well, who's kids aren't cleaned up, and whether or not your hair was brushed upon stepping in the door. In order to keep up appearances, many women I know who live in these old neighborhoods sleep until noon then, cook lunch, eat, then rush to make fresh tea and coffee and promptly clean up and shower before the 'Asr prayer hits. If she's running a bit behind schedule, she risks un-announced guests arriving to see her and her house looking all torn up…what gossip fodder that is!

Ladies take a seat in the magellat in front of the a/c and are given a cup of water as they cool off a bit. Not having yet caught their breath and still wiping the perspiration from their faces with the inside of their now flipped-open face-veils, the Ayjoozat begin the day's gossip session with an exchange of pre-determined pleasantries to be said AT each other not TO each in a swift, simultaneous, robotic exchange without an obvious ounce of true concern to their demeanor:

"How are you…how's it going…how's your health…how's the family, good?…how's your parent's?'s your mom's uncle's wife's father's cousin twice-removed's daughter doing?" (Ok, so I embellished a bit… but that's how it feels sometimes!)

Wedding invitations are like gold to these old women, there's really not much else to do around town. Anyone who receives an invitation with a +1 on it is everyones best friend. Many animated conversations revolve around events at these weddings and filling in the blanks for any non-attendees:

"Oh my God, there was this girl in a half-there purple dress! She was shaking her thang like this and her boobs were hoisted up like that (complete with actual booty shaking and boob-hoisting motions)"

"Ya, but the bride's mom, NO shame! Her hair's cut so short and she's wearing a sleeveless dress like this, at her age! And how's her stomach so flat?"

"Gurl, I heard she had a tummy-tuck and lipo just for the wedding"

"I heard they paid XXXX amount of money for the dress and they got it from Jeddah. And the tagagat** cost them XXX per hour and they were brought in from Kuwait.

"I saw so-and-so. I heard she's hired a lawyer to get a divorce from her husband"

And the beat goes on…

In one afternoon, sometimes 3 or 4 women visit my MIL's house. After sitting at her house for a bit and exchanging gossip, the women leave and many times go on to different houses to visit other friends in the neighborhood. Now it's math time:

4 women visit my MIL's house each bringing with them one piece of gossip to add to my MIL's gossip. After the exchange of gossip, each woman who'd originally had one piece of gossip leaves my MIL's house with 4 new pieces of gossip totaling 5 juicy tidbits. Then, each woman goes on her separate way once leaving my MIL's house and goes to another friend's house with her 5 bits of information where she meets 4 more women at the next house. She then spreads her 5 juicy tidbits to the 4 new women at her other friends house while acquiring at least 4 more juicy tidbits, at least one news bite from each woman totaling 9 interesting news bits for the day (I think). But if this is the second or third house the women at the other friend's house had visited that day, each woman may have more than one juicy tidbit to pass on!

Who from my readers is good at logarithms? LOL!

*Ayjooza= old woman

**Tagagat= female drum players/singers at weddings and parties (hired band)

Disappearing Daisy

I'm the incredible shrinking Daisy!

Fasting doesn't bother me much. I'm an "eat to live" kinda gal anyway so as long as I get a caffeine fix at least once a day, I'm fine. Trouble is, I usually don't eat full meals on my best days- I'm a picky eater (not variety, just the method). I eat enough but it's a result of picking at small amounts of generally healthy food during the course of the day and/or while cooking and I rarely eat a full plate of food at any meal.

I delivered Buddy last Ramadan and wasn't able to make up those days till the month before this, resulting in two consecutive months of fasting. I think that 's why I'm so ready for Eid this year. Since my picking habits have been altered by Ramadan and I'm not staying up the whole night grazing like most people I know, I'm losing my 'womanly' curvesL

Want to follow the Daisy Diet Plan too? It's as easy as this:

  1. Fast 2 months straight.
  2. Breastfeed an insatiable infant till he sucks the vary life-force out of you.
  3. Stress yourself out with trying to write an academic research paper with three children home on school vacation.
  4. Make yourself so tired that by the time it's sunset and you're allowed to eat, fall asleep a few minutes after taking your first bite. Then, don't sleep any more than 4 hours in any 24 hour time period.
  5. Don't buy any of your favorite bootyfoods from Dammam because it's too hard to go anywhere during Ramadan.

Seeing as how I'm too stingy to go and buy clothes to fit my new Ramadan figure, I'll just have to gain the weight back after Ramadan's finished:P

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Good Mourning Al-Hassa

Usually during Ramadan, the streets and shops open and are all lit up as life begins after Taraweeh prayers finish around 8:30pm. Since we haven't bought the kids their Eid clothes yet and time's running out, we decided a few days ago that we'd go out after prayers last night. We picked up some of DD's nieces for the trip and set out before 9pm but, something wasn't quite right.

Daisy: Traffic seems unusually light going through the souk.

DD: What time is it? All the shops are still closed.

Daisy: Prayer's done with, is there something special going on for the Shia today?

Ah yes, this must be the reason. I vaguely recall seeing an unusual amount of black clothing on offer at the markets during the past few weeks.

Shia make-up around 1/3 of the population of Al-Hassa as well as there being small groups of Sufis and almost every denomination of Sunni Islam as well. Because the tenuous tranquility of the town exists at the expense of our Shia neighbors freedom to practice religion and express themselves as THEY deem correct, we Sunnis are usually completely unaware of various Shia customs and religious practices.

Although we Sunnis work, study, and many times live next to Shia Hasawis, the topic of religion is verboten due to its volatile nature and the gag-order that's been imposed on the Shia minority . Sunnis and Shia don't pray together and Shia have their own masjids, labeled "Husaynias", which they go to for prayer but are restricted by the government to announce only the Sunni call to prayer at Sunni designated times over the loudspeaker because it differs slightly from that of the Shia. Marriages between the sects are also virtually unheard of in Al-Hassa and if it does occur, it would usually be a Sunni man with a Shia woman. Due to the lack of genetic homogenization, Hasawis can easily distinguish on-sight which camp one belongs to due to the distinct facial features and mannerisms each group exhibits which may not be apparent to a non-Hasawi observor.

With respect to any Hasawi Shia that may be reading this and to the education of all my readers...I know I'm only touching the tip of the iceberg in my description of the rift that exists between the two sects as well as the ensuing discrimination and although I sympathise with their plight. I won't pretend to completely understand its ramifications as a member of the majority.

Measures have been taken(read "smackdowns") by several institutions such as schools and companies to quash the expression of many Shia religious observations; the most obvious to Sunnis are the various days of mourning which Sunnis do not acknowledge. Due to nepotism, tribe pride, and wastafarians running rife and most times, unchecked, Shia have long been kept out of even the most basic employment by the Sunni majority.
Sound familiar?
Like many minority populations, such as Jews in Europe, this has forced them into self-employment and +90% of the women's souk in Al-Hassa as well as most of the gold-merchants are Shia-owned. The majority of times, speaking from my own experience, this isn't a problem as I observe Sunnis buying from our Shia businessmen without reservation.

Now, back to our shopping trip gone bust:

DD quickly called one of his Shia acquaintances to ask him what's answer. Then he tries calling one of his Shia-knowledgeable cousins while driving through a ghost-town of a souk. He confirmed that Shia were indeed, mourning the assassination of Ali ibn Abi Talib (RAA), the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet (PBUH) who died on the 21st of Ramadan in the city of Kufa in 661 CE. This is one of several days in which Shia observe mourning but Sunni Muslims in Saudia, although we highly revere Ali (RAA), do not. We Sunnis in Saudia only observe the two Eids within the framework of our religious practice. Had so many shops not been closed for mourning, we would have never noticed/remembered the event.

Determined to salvage the evening, we decided to seek out a restaurant. We will try shopping again tonight but not before we consulted our Shia-"expert" again to confirm the mourning would be finished by then to avoid another wasted trip out. Driving through town armed with our renewed inter-cultural understanding of our Shia brethren, we took notice of the vast amount of businesses closed during peak shopping times. Whole swaths of town were as black as the clothing Shia children were wearing while walking to "Husaynias*" in stark contrast to the Ramadan lights on open Sunni businesses.

DD: "I can't believe I've lived here all my life and didn't realize what was going on!"

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Sorry, Can't Help Ya

I have to admit, there are days that I feel bad rousing DD out of bed when I know he hadn't slept, in order to take the girls to school in the morning. Most of the time, it's only because he doesn't have enough self-discipline to go to bed the night before instead, hanging out with his friends and family who've stayed up the entire night. However, there are days when he'd legitimately been working hard long into the night and it's entirely up to him to take the girls to school in the morning, such as today.
(poking an unconscious DD) Yella, goom! (get up), it's time to take the girls to school.

Aagh, I haven't slept at all for days.

I know, but the girls are all dressed and waiting for you.
Let them stay home today, I'll take them tomorrow.
Just make yourself get up and take them, maybe you can come home and sleep again.
Their not even having lessons now, don't bug me, let them stay home today.
Believe me, I wish I didn't have to bug you like this but I don't have any choice, I can't help you out here. It's up to you.
In England, my husband had me as a backup, and vice-versa. As most busy couples, we had an intricate schedule to follow every day based on who was free during the school drop-off/pick-up times. If I was working or had a lecture, it was up to him and if I was on my way home from being out, I'd pick them up. Being a typical Saudi man, he was never at his peak in the morning so many days it was up to me to drop the girls off on my way out.

My ability to drive in England also meant that DD's schedule was undisturbed by other necessities of life like food shopping and general errand running. Being the manager of the house, I could get all the stuff done as I needed, when I needed, and exactly how I needed without having to recruit my reluctant husband unnecessarily for things I could, and wanted to do, myself. As far as he was concerned, food magically appeared in the refrigerator and new clothes appeared in the closets despite him never stepping foot in a shop, something he dreads with every fiber of his being.
Since returning from England, many arguments, too much stress, and a lot of hurt feelings have resulted from this one, core issue which sinks its razor-sharp, rank teeth into almost every aspect of our family life:

I can't drive here.
We're not from one of those families that can easily afford to bring a live-in driver from S.E. Asia to do all those errands I usually did for myself, nor do we want one. Also, we can't easily afford to pay a Saudi driver just for the school runs nor, do we want to. There's no public transportation and a lone woman takes a chance with her safety and moral standing any time she takes a taxi alone. Many teachers here sometimes spend close to half their salaries just to pay some putz to drive them to their jobs and back.

Financial implications aside, does anyone else here agree with me that they aren't comfortable trusting their children with men they don't know anything about?! I fear anything with a penis coming within the general vicinity of my children let alone saying;
"please, take my children with you, alone, every day as long as they eventually make it to and from school. I don't know anything about you or your real history and you could be the world's biggest, most perverted, undiscovered pedophile but I will allow you free access to my children".
There are those who have an old man in the family, who's long been retired, to act as a type of chaperon. Well, that's great if you have one in your family but my FIL is in poor health, deaf, and blind so he can't help out. Some send their maids as chaperons for their kids which is bad as well. You may be putting your maid in a compromising situation, leaving your maid vulnerable to a possible assault or even, her hitting on the driver! There's a reason that in Islam, a man and a woman shouldn't ever be alone together, because Satan is always the third in such a situation.
One of my friends brought her maid's husband from Indonesia as the family's driver. Because it isn't proper for her to be alone with the driver, she had to bring her maid with her every day to be dropped off and picked up from her job. If this isn't ridiculous enough in itself, her youngest two children, who stayed with the maid while she was working, had to be hauled along with the maid every day just so my friend could go to work! Needless to say, my friend didn't work for too long with this complicated mode of transport. Because of her not being able to drive herself to her job in educational research to improve this country's deplorable education system, Saudi Arabia lost a well-educated woman's contribution to the betterment of the country.
There are those within the country who, when confronted with women complaining that they aren't able to get out and about say, "Stay at home! A woman's place is in the home". Hey, I'm at home sometimes an entire week without even stepping foot out of my house even once. However, necessity dictates that I need to go outside to pick out food (which my husband can never do correctly on his own), to purchase myself and my children clothes, or to visit family members or sick friends. Even the strictest hard-liners can't dispute those requests as legitimate reasons to go out. So every time one of these situations pops up in my home, a dialogue such as this follows:

(to an obviously tired DD) We're out of vegetables, when can you take me to get some?
I can't today, I'm too tired and tomorrow I have meetings before and after it's time to pick up the girls. Even I don't know how I'm going to manage to pick them up, After I drop off EttaMae (who's school's an hour's drive round-trip) I only have two hours to sit and do any work until I have to pack up and set out again to pick them up. Since school's started I've hardly been able to get any work done.
I wish I could help, but you know we have to depend on you to do this and we don't have any other options. This is food we're talking about my dear, not something that can be put off.

DD: Ok, tomorrow inshallah.

(tomorrow comes and goes and despite my understanding and sympathizing with DD, I'm irritated at the situation...)
(as DD walks in the door from work, trying to still sound nice despite a rage building inside) you didn't get any fruit and vegetables, we've already been out for a few days.
DD: I was too busy and I forgot. I'm too tired now to go out again.
Then don't take me, just try to stop on your way to or from someplace and grab a few things. And while your at it, we're out of bottled water and chicken too...

DD: My God, it's always requests, requests, requests from you.

Daisy: (citing the driver-less, Saudi woman's credo)
I don't have any other choice, what else am I supposed to do?
This same dialogue has been repeated time and time again, in houses across the country for many different situations. It's the material for Ramadan tv series depicting a young woman dressing like a man out of necessity to drive, and another women facing honor-killing by her brother for accidently being alone in a car with a strange man.Whether it's waiting anxiously at home praying for our kids to be dropped off unharmed by a total stranger or turning into shrewish nags in the eyes of our husbands in order to procure basic necessities of life, not being able to drive doesn't just affect the women in this country.
I'll leave you with a glimpse into the past, at marketplaces in Al-Hassa in the years 1938 and 1947 and the last one from around the same time in Riyadh. This was back when no one in the country drove, unless it was by donkey-cart or camel and towns were so small, most things were within walking distance. Take special notice of all the women, shrouded in black draping from their heads, going about their shopping. They enjoyed a freedom of movement and an ability to do things for themselves that has been stolen from us in modern times. If you'd like to sign the petition via email by sending your name, profession, nationality, and city of residence, for women to be given back this basic freedom, enjoyed by Saudi women in the past, by allowing women in Saudi Arabia to drive, it will be open for some time to come.
This first photo from 1938 is entitled "Vegetable and Fruit Vendors" from Hey, you there in the photo, can you buy me some while your at it?

This is from Riyadh