Saudi Ridiculousness 2.0

Two subjects here on the blog tend to get me into trouble: religion and anything about Saudi Arabia, but since I do live in Saudi Arabia and (as we all know by now) religion is totally entwined with daily life here, the subjects will both continue to come up here. Sorry, guys.

Today I want to share a few of the latest Saudi headlines since last month’s post. And like last month, they are largely ridiculous. Sorry about that too. I’m not inventing these stories, and I’m not pulling them off of obscure websites; they’re coming from major Saudi and international news organizations. So here we go.

Recently it was announced in Arab News that, according to the Ministry of Education, 90% of teachers are inefficient. This comes as no great shock to anyone who has children in the school system here, of course, but it still makes me wonder what the substantial tuition we pay for private schooling is going towards. I’m at a loss as a parent on the best solution for this problem. Unless you (or your company if you’re an expat) can afford to pay the obscene fees at the American or British schools, it seems you’re SOL when it comes to education in Saudi Arabia.

Speaking of school…did you know that Physical Education for girls is not allowed in Saudi Arabia? Boys campuses will boast swimming pools, martial arts, soccer fields, and even equestrian activities, but the physical education of girls is seen as taboo by many. Some private schools do have permission to offer PE classes for girls until a certain age, but speaking from experience as a mother and witness to these “classes”, it’s a joke. Anyhow, the ban on PE for girls may soon be a thing of the past as the Saudi Shoura Council has has announced their approval for the introduction of physical education, noting that “classes will be conducted according to Islamic principles and traditions,” whatever that means.

Of course, since this is Saudi Arabia, and almost nothing can change without someone protesting it (it’s interesting to note that the types of public protests in the name of uber conservative religion are overlooked while the opposite can land you in jail forever), a group of winners stood outside the Shoura Council building in protest.

According to the Wall Street Journal, one Abdullah Al Dawud, the same guy who called for the harassment of female cashiers (which he eventually claimed to have been a misunderstanding after the media shit storm), tweeted that “If we keep silent about the step of adding PE classes to girls’ schools then we are giving the Shoura Council a green light to continue the steps of Westernization and these steps will end in infidelity and prostitution.”

Punkd. This place is like an ongoing episode of Punkd sometimes. 

If your daughter eventually makes it through the physical education that is ALMOST CERTAINLY going to lead her to a life of prostitution and graduates high school, it’s time to celebrate! But wait, not so fast! Graduation events are now evidently banned in Dammam, located in KSA’s Eastern Provence. The reason? Perhaps these parties are un-Islamic. Because everyone knows that fun is not allowed for Muslims unless the King has surgery or something and wants to give everyone time off from work or school. And National Day…you’re allowed to celebrate that (a little). But celebrating your ability to successfully memorize your way through the archaic Saudi school system is unacceptable.

So you’re an adult now and your ovaries have made it through school (and you’re fortunate enough not to live in Riyadh where shisha is not only banned for women, but also men, inside the city limits) and your preferred way of relaxing after a long week of working, studying, or taking care of your children is to join your girlfriends at a shisha cafe for a little hubbly bubbly. Hold up! Don’t forget to bring your dad/husband/son with you!! He will need to let the guy working at the cafe know that you have his permission before you’re allowed to smoke. Apparently only men are allowed to decide how and when they want to pollute their lungs.

Let’s say you’re Saudi woman who is still living with the label of an orphan. Yes, fully grown women are still considered orphans and will have to rely on the government for mahram purposes unless and until they get married. Let’s say you’re an orphan woman who has decided that studying abroad is the best step toward a brighter future, and you have dreams of taking advantage of the King Abdullah scholarship program to help you pay for your education. Sorry. You can’t. Don’t hate me. (If you got the reference, I love you.. Let’s be friends.) The government will not be your mahram for this case, because as a woman your mahram not only has to give you permission to study abroad, he has to accompany you during your time spent studying.

I’m exhausted, but let’s move on.

It gets better, orphan women. There’s always marriage. And don’t worry if you can’t find a decent man to marry, because the government has TWO SOLUTIONS for you.

Solution number one is misyar marriage! For those of you who do not know what misyar is, allow me to explain. It’s an “marriage” where the woman gives up certain rights, such as housing and money, and the man can make arrangements to “see” her whenever they both see fit. Basically, it’s a friends with benefits arrangement. Some liken it to legal prostitution, but I think that’s rude.

I personally see how misyar “marriage” could be useful to a woman who is divorced and would lose her children if she were to get remarried the traditional way, or for those couples who are really not interested in the idea of a fully committed marriage. Truthfully, the idea of misyar is attractive to me after all I’ve been through with the traditional marriage route. But this situation involving orphans screams exploitation.

If solution number one doesn’t suit your needs, don’t worry. Here’s number two! It’s no secret that Saudi women have a much harder time getting government approval to marry foreign men than Saudi men have for marrying foreign women. But not if you’re an orphan! Since, according to a specialist, most orphans are dark skinned, and no one wants to marry women who are dark skinned, proposals for orphans apparently come from the elderly, disabled, or mentally ill. But don’t marry that old ass lunatic just yet, because now thankfully foreign men can apply for orphans. Win!(?) I feel sick to my stomach.

Last but not least, and having nothing at all to do with the above discussed issues, is witchcraft. That is not a typo. Apparently it’s on the rise, you guys. And look, I acknowledge the possibility of the supernatural, but this article is taking it a little far. Can you imagine something like this being printed in a non-tabloid in the West? Again, KSA is so crime and corruption free that the government has time to answer to reports of people practicing sorcery. Sorcery. If the convicted didn’t face the possibility of death, I’d lol.

Welcome to our world.

Posted in Culture, Culture Shock, Equality, Islam, Muttawa, Rant, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Uncategorized, Women's Rights | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Kid in a Candy Store

I’m a kid wrapped in the very voluptuous body of a 31 year old woman. I laugh at everything, I make in appropriate jokes at very inappropriate times, I do my fair share of whining, and when I walk into a double decker candy store, I FLIP THE FRICK OUT.

Last weekend I was sitting around the house pouting when a friend and I decided to make the night a kid free grown up night. She offered to pick me up since she was at a mall near my house, so to make things easier on her I suggested I go ahead and meet her at the mall and leave with her to her house.

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To the left is Prince Mohammed bin Abdulaziz St aka Tahlia, one of the more posh streets in Riyadh. To the right is the edge of Panorama mall, my destination.

Sometimes I find myself forgetting that I live in Saudi Arabia, and this was one of them. The walk from the curb where I was dropped was lovely just before sunset. The birds sang in the palm trees, there was a beautifully cool breeze and I was WALKING, which I don’t get to do very often here.

I was looking forward to seeing my friend who asked me to meet her inside of this new candy shop called Candylawa (candy+halawa [the Arabic word for sweets]=Candylawa. Clever.), and upon entering I knew it had to be a blog post.

On my way up the escalator. I was so happy it moved slowly so I could take it all in.

On my way up the escalator. I was so happy it moved slowly so I could take it all in.

It’s hard to focus on the awesome things here sometimes, and in addition I don’t always have the most exciting life, so you guys don’t always get the most exciting view of Saudi. I admit I’ve fallen short. Please accept all of this virtual candy as my apology gift.

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The two story store has several different specialty counters including ice cream, frozen yogurt, cakes, and gourmet marshmallows! I’m not at all embarrassed to admit that I squealed loudly at each one and in my excitement told a perfect stranger (whose face was covered, so I thought it was my friend) about my intentions to buy and eat my weight in ice cream.

Handmade chocolates...come to mama!

Handmade chocolates…come to mama!

They had s’mores in a jar, you guys. Do you see them up there?? I’m mad about not buying them.

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They also had a gift wrapping station where you can bring your chosen goodies and have them packaged as a yummy gift. Best gift ever, I’d say.

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The kitchen has a giant window so visitors can witness the divine looking creations that are served in the cafe (which I sadly didn’t get a picture of).

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There was a LOLLIPOP COUNTER! These guys have the coolest job in the world and I hope they know that.

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I wanted to buy them ALL.

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They even make custom lollipops for birthdays or other occasions. I may or may not have requested one for my next birthday.


wpid-20140404_173831.jpgSome lollipops the guys had already finished. True artists!!

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Speaking of art, let me tell you the BEST thing about the store!! In the back there is an activity center for children. The women working inside were the most incredibly friendly women I’ve ever met at any business in Saudi Arabia. They invited us in to take a look around the activity room, they showed us around and explained their programs. One of the ladies even kneeled down and spoke directly to my friend’s little boy. We couldn’t believe it!! There were no ladies on their mobiles, they were all interacting with the kids, and they were all friendly and upbeat.

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The activities include painting, drawing, clay modeling, crafts with candy, and more. The room is open to boys aged 5-10 and girls aged 5-16. Yes! An activity that is open to girls!!

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Even the craft table, decorated with handmade candies, looked good enough to eat!

wpid-20140404_174118.jpgOf course a store wouldn’t be a store if it didn’t have accessories. There were tshirts, pajamas, stuffed animals, slippers, and more.

I swear I’ve not been paid to write this article, I just loved the store so much I had to tell you all about it. There are other candy shops in Riyadh, but none of them compare to this one. I honestly felt like I was in Disney or Dubai because nothing this cool exists here!

If you live in Riyadh, whether you have kids or not, definitely check this place out!

 

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A Trip Downtown

Last week, just before my mother left, we joined my friend B for a trip downtown to Riyadh’s historic district. I always find it amazing how driving for 10 minutes in a certain direction can take you so far away from the modern hustle and bustle that surrounds Riyadh’s more developed areas. From skyscrapers and dozens of lanes of traffic to narrow winding streets lined with old and crumbling buildings…it’s like another city altogether.

Situated in the very center of the old downtown area is Masmak Fortress, the very site where Riyadh was captured by the Al-Saud clan and the future home of the first king of Saudi Arabia, King Abdulaziz.

Since its recapture the fort has been used as a palace, an amory, and a prison, but has since been refurbished and reclaimed as a part of the King Abdulaziz Historical Center and is open to the public free of charge.

I find it sad that such a rich history sits mostly unnoticed and unappreciated by its own people. Maybe the Riyadh crowd isn’t exactly the museum-going kind of crowd, but out bunch enjoyed the trip and we all learned a great deal about Riyadh’s history.

Here are a few pictures from our visit.

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Just outside there’s a great big Saudi flag on display. I love flags!

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The entry to Masmak

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Just past the entry way you’ll find a mosque (not pictured because there were 5 crazy kids in the picture) and just around the corner is this traditional sitting room. Many Saudi families still have a room like this…I’d love to have one!

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A closeup of the fireplace with tea pots and traditional coffee pots (dalla in Arabic).

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Each door inside was uniquely carved and decorated

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These window shutters were my favorite thing in the whole museum!

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Another beautifully decorated door

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How did Saudis stay cool before the invention of air conditioning? This is one way. Mud brick houses have holes cut out for ventilation and air circulation. Even though it was hot outside, inside was surprisingly cool.

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A ladder leading up to the upper floors which visitors are not allowed to enter.

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Old stone sinks. The picture doesn’t do the size of these things justice…they’re massive.

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A few artifacts. The top shelf are incense burners. The item in the middle of the bottom shelf is an Arabic coffee pot, or dallah.

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An artist’s depiction of what Masmak used to look like

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Another favorite feature of mine were the rooms filled with pictures of what Riyadh looked like long ago. This picture and the two following are from the early 1950s, not long before my inlaws first came to Riyadh.

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I sincerely thought that this is what Saudi Arabia would look like when I moved here. I’m betting some of you will be shocked to know that it doesn’t.

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The Masmak gift shop had lots of bright and colorful souvenirs (many of which were made in China, which was almost insulting). This is a gorgeous traditional (and I’m guessing wealthy) Saudi dress, veil, and jewelry. Also, no modern Saudi home is complete without an ornately decorated kleenex box.

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This was the mostly made in China and majorly over priced section. Pro tip: get the same souvenirs across the street at the souq for a fraction of the price after a friendly bargaining session.

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Another dress and assorted items. The pictures are of various heads of state visiting Masmak. The picture on the bottom far right is of George W. Bush’s visit.

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How beautiful is this?! I also fell in love with the lanterns to the right.

There was so much more to see inside of Masmak that I didn’t have the chance to capture. If you live in Riyadh and haven’t visited Masmak, go ASAP! And if you’re ever in town for a visit, it’s a place you must make time to see.

Posted in Adventure, Culture, Experience, Photography, Saudi Arabia | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Pickles

Four days ago as my mother packed her bags to head back home, I sulked around the house and whined about how I’d be SO BORED and feel SO ALONE without her company. What would I do with my time? Who would finish the entire Lost TV series with me? What excuse will I have to buy junk food now? I actually kicked her suitcase in protest. Because that’s what adults do. And then the Universe with its always wicked sense of humor decided to teach me a lesson about whining.

As I helped my mom take her bags outside (still whining) to The Mr’s waiting car, I heard a strange sound. Something like a cross between a wounded seagull and someone sneezing into a trumpet. So naturally, I walked down the street to investigate the sound and the world’s tiniest, meowiest, dirtiest street kitten came running out from beneath the neighbor’s SUV. I didn’t know what to do, but the kitty decided for me because he followed me home, crying the whole way.

I had the genius idea two years ago to buy my daughter two white, long haired Persian cats for her birthday and I’ve been paying (literally and figuratively) for that choice ever since, and have sworn off ever having another pet in my life. I love animals, I just do not love cleaning up after them, grooming them, or dealing with endless piles of their vomit all over my house. But now since I whined about having nothing to do with my free time and being lonely, the world’s whiniest kitty has decided to adopt me.

I waited for a mommy kitty to come looking for her baby, but she never came so off to the vet we went. She assured me that Pickles the street cat (my daughter is an expert pet namer) is healthy, strong, and active.

He is always starving and apparently needs to be fed 4 times a day which he thinks is not nearly enough. He is clumsy and falls down all the time. He bites really hard and he has very sharp baby claws which he uses to climb up my legs any time I go outside. And he follows me EVERYWHERE with his seagull-trumpet meow.

I’m hoping to foster Pickles for the next couple of weeks until he is old enough for his first vaccinations, and then I’ll be trying to find him a forever home. Here’s a few pictures of the noise machine for anyone in Riyadh who is interested in having a new kitty friend!

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This Week in Saudi Ridiculousness

There’s always something, you guys. I know it’s better to focus on the good things, the progress that Saudis make, however quiet and unnoticed it may be. But three absurd things that came out in the news this week have me rolling my eyes so hard I have a headache.

1. The “fatwa” on all you can eat buffets.

Firstly let me explain the word fatwa. It is nothing more than an opinion on religious matters. One is not required to be educated or qualified to issue a fatwa and Muslims are not required to adhere to random fatwas issued by crazy people given air time on random TV shows. But this one happens to be apparently (at least somewhat) well known.

The sheikh in the spotlight is one Saleh al-Fawzan. His opinion is that “Whoever enters the buffet and eats for 10 or 50 riyals without deciding the quantity they will eat is violating Sharia (Islamic) law,” and naturally, most people thought it was ridiculous.

Do the religious leaders in this country not have anything better to worry about? Have they come to the end of things to regulate and slap rules on that they now have to comment on BUFFETS?! This exhausts me.

2. Saudi shops to close at 9pm.

This is how a typical weekday shop schedule currently goes in Saudi: Open at 10am, close for noon prayer (currently right around noon). Then some shops like malls and grocery stores open back up, but most places take a break until after asr prayer, or about 4 o’clock. Close for maghreb prayer by 5:45 or so, reopen by 6:30. Close for Isha prayer by 7:15, reopen by 8.

So naturally, most people, especially those with JOBS or those without transportation until their husbands get home from their jobs, or those whose errands wait until their kids go to bed (like yours truly) wait until after Isha prayer when the shops stay open and no doors will be literally shut in your face, when you will not be literally locked into an establishment, to run their errands, visit with friends, grab dinner, or do their grocery shopping.

So now the government, brilliant as always, has made the decision to force shops to close their doors at 9pm. Leaving about 5 and a half hours for shops to business and people to complete their errands during the day. The insanity is palpable.

3. The BAN on 50 baby names.

There are always stories floating around about so-and-so’s baby who was supposed to be named such-and-such but the name was denied and it had to be named whats-her-face instead. But this is the first time I’ve personally seen an actual LIST of BANNED names. Banned. Not discouraged, not a survey on disliked names. Banned.

The 50 names have been banned for sounding too foreign (like Sandy, Lauren, or Elaine, perhaps), sounding too royal (why isn’t Abdullah banned then?), or sounding blasphemous (like Rama, the Hindu god).

And they’re not names like Lucifer, or Orangello (we’ve all heard of that, right?), or the most obnoxious name a L&D nurse friend had ever heard…Labia. These are average names here. Malaak, Amir, Iman, Jibreel, Bayan, Lareen, Yara…I have had at least a dozen students named Yara. And I know people who either own or have bestowed those names upon their children. But those are apparently the names of history now.

Life here is so surreal sometimes. I feel like I’m being subjected to a psychological experiment or something. It’s like Punk’d, Candid Camera, and The Truman Show all at once some days.

I’m not necessarily a flag wielding American patriot. I am well aware of the faults and shortcomings of my home country, and I’m not proud of everything and everyone the USA produces. But my god, do I miss going about my life without being concerned with governmental opinion on such benign issues.

I don’t miss hearing about the endless political issues or having to hear debates on this law or that, but I do miss the fact that laws ARE debated before they are willy nilly introduced to the general public.

Summer cannot get here fast enough.

Posted in Uncategorized | 55 Comments

Tango Tales

After witnessing first hand the scotch tape holding my trusty old BlackBerry together, my amazing mother bought me a new phone a couple weeks ago. The BB was great, but this new phone has all sorts of fancy features and cool apps to download and waste my time on, one of which was Tango, an app used for free messaging and phone calls.

It can also apparently be used to see those around you who are free to chat or can’t figure out how to turn off location services on their new phone.

The morning after I installed it I woke up to over 300 messages and pictures from men all within a kilometer of me and some were downright hilarious. This continued for a week or so until I finally deleted the app. But keeping you all in mind, I obviously saved enough pictures to make a blog post out of it.

Without further ado, I give you the desperate of Riyadh.

There are a whole host of men who have pictures of random models. That’s to be expected, right? No big deal.

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But then he also put his actual picture…

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Cheeeeese

Then we have the shy guys whose faces are cleverly cropped or blocked

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Not sure if shy or experiencing overwhelming stress

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I admit, the part of his face that is visible is cute.

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And the not so shy guys whose modeling careers are probably this close to taking off

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I just…

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This guy had a dozen at least. Mostly with lip biting.

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The shitty graphics abusers

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Wanted? Missing?

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Don’t go chasing waterfalls. Just photoshop your face next to one.

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Sidewalk art at its finest

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A disturbing amount of men posted pictures of money and guns (and phones, gahwa, chocolates, and credit card information)

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Even the baby is not impressed

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At least use some of your cash pile to spring for decent sheets.

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Then there were those who chose to strike a pose. The good news is these guys have zero confidence issues.

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Serious about his tree

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Whoever agreed to take the picture of you posed like this is NOT your friend, sir.

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Choosing tile is serious business

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Do I go with a neutral tone or a floral tone?

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And there was this guy who I wanted to talk to about his choices in interior design

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This guy who is clearly failing at controlling the sunset

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The classic Gulf man pose. And a pic of a pic to boot.

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And last, but certainly not least is the man who is taking the usually attractive hipster with a beard and messy hair look to the interrogation victim level.

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Tango. Use it at your own risk.

 

**Update**

You GUYS!!!! How could I forget the actual best? I can’t believe it. Anyhow, here’s the guy who made me determine that for sure this fiasco had to become a blog post.

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Untold Stories–Janee

The first person I talked to about my Untold Stories idea was my very good friend Janee. Excited and supportive as always, she insisted that I must go ahead with it, so I insisted that she must be my first subject. She was a little nervous, but tolerated me having a camera in her face for an entire day as she went about her day taking care of kids (and cooking me lunch!).

As most women tend to do, Janee sells herself short a lot of the time, but she is always an inspiration to me. She’s been here nearly 10 years and although she faces struggles like the rest of us, she’s one person I can always count on to help me find a silver lining to life (after she’s listened to my bitching at length, of course).

It was harder than I thought it would be to interview someone I already know pretty well, but I’m happy to share my first try with all of you!

Here is a little bit of what she shared about herself:

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She made a brilliant comment about her disheveled hair, but I can’t remember it…I think she’s fabulous.

Tell me about what made you come to Saudi Arabia?
A man is what caused me to come to Saudi Arabia.  I fell in love with a man who has changed my life. Also, before coming here, I ‘believed’ this place was ‘the home of Islam’.  Sadly, over the years, I’ve learned differently.

Describe how your life has changed or evolved during the time you have lived here.
For starters, my life has evolved into motherhood.  I’ve always wanted a big family since I was a child.  I remember being in my late teens and someone asked me where I wanted to be in life after 5 years.  I was very specific and said I wanted to be married and have several kids.  Even though it took me a bit longer…here I am.  A mother and wife.  This is my life.  This is what gets me out of bed each day.  My roles as a mother and wife keep me extremely busy.  

What is something that most people don’t know about you?
What most people don’t know about me……hmmm….I’ve gotta think about that.  I mean, there are plenty of things, I guess….which one is significant though?  Maybe that I struggle each and every day to be a good mother and wife.  Growing up in many fosters homes around the U.S. didnt help me have too many positives role models.  However, I was blessed with a few really amazing people along the way. 

What is the greatest lesson your life has taught you?
Greatest lesson(s)…..To live your life for you.  Don’t worry about what others think.  I’ve met a lot of idiots and I know exactly where I do not want to be.  Be positive.  Make a difference, even if it’s something you may think is minuscule. Be a GREAT friend! 

What is one goal you have yet to accomplish but refuse to give up on?
This is going to sound bad….probably really bad to some…I want to raise the kids so I can have my life back. Yeah yeah…my kids are my life. For now. In the beginning of parenthood I always told friends how my life is for my kids and everything is about them and I was absolutely content. However, over the years, I was completely losing myself and becoming miserable. Finally I took up a hobby and am able to keep ME alive in there. I would love for someone to write a realistic book about parenting…not these made-up stories how everything is hunky dory all of the time. Being a mother of 4 is the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life. I hope one day I see the rewards.

 

Once again, if you or anyone you know would be interested in participating in my Untold Stories project, please contact me at undertheabaya @ gmail . com.

Posted in Interview, Saudi Arabia, Untold Stories | Tagged , , , , , , | 16 Comments