December 12, 2005

Saudi 14

November 22, 2005 (this is rather a long one)

School has been in session for nearly two weeks. I have much to report. Though I should
take notes on this rather than trying to remember it.

Oh- construction workers here do not wear hard hats. They wear their muslim head gear.
Sometimes they don’t wear shoes or just wear the sandals that everyone wears.

The quiet still amazes me. There are no trains, sirens, no dogs barking – just large jets
coming into the international airport and some fighting cats.

Cats. There are so many cats now that even the cat lovers are asking the staff to catch
some of them for the fish market. Mr. Dong, one of the managers, assured me they really
do go to the fish market – it is why they live trap them.

I have a new friend from the Jedda Prep compound which adjoins ours. A bunch of us
were playing Boggle – I had to run home for the timer, which I had forgotten. Between
his place and mine there were 6 cats in his compound – 1 only in mine. Dashing back
moments later, there were no apparent cats in Conty Village and 11 in Jedda Prep. We’re
talking less that two city blocks. Tonight Heidi and Kiki asked if I wanted to go to the vet
with them; Heidi’s cat needed another shot. They had her cat in a carrier and another 6 or
7 hissing fighting cats around their feet. No, says I. They left with their herd of cats.

Some of them are feral, all of them are hungry for both food and attention. Drives me
nuts. They are not very well taken care of. The idea is for them to eat mice and rats, but
they would rather be fed by locals and raid the garbage. I think I said that before. And
cats are all over town.

It is very good to be back at work. Classes are wonderful and students continue to be a
delight. One young lady told me just before Ramadan that she knew she was doing
horribly in my class and that she had already failed intro to graphic design once already.
She looked at me with deep sad eyes and said. "I’m a loser." Followed by a soft smile.
No you are not, says I. "I hate design, I’m not creative…." A couple of days later she
wandered into one of the Basic Design classes I teach. She knows some of the students
and for some reason I end up with a few floaters from time to time. Well, she really got
into the project we were doing. Made some great suggestions and was all over the

Next time she was in Intro, I told her she was creative, she could do it, I had seen this in
the Basic Design class. Well,…. She said. So, I saw her just before Ramadan Break. I
wrote LOSER on a piece of paper and told her to burn it over break. Okay, she smiled.

Attitude is everything, as they say. So, she said she didn’t burn it, but she threw it away
and proudly announced she wasn’t a loser anymore and is creating some beautiful work.
She is such a sweetie.

Some of these girls have never been allowed to do anything in their lives. They have a
nanny from birth who follows them everywhere and does everything for them. Hence,
they don’t have self confidence because often the opportunity to play and explore had
been denied AND the K-12 educational system is based on rote learning AND their
families expect perfection on rote learning, so the approach each project with fear of
failure, there are no parameters.

Betsy asked about family dynamics and how young people live as they become adults.
First, single women cannot live alone or in a group in an apartment in Jeddah. My
students have said they wished they could have the opportunity we do in the compounds
of having there own places.

There is no dating – the word means nothing, but many of the students have boyfriends –
they text message each other on mobile phones they have that their parents do not know
they have.

Marriages are often arranged. The actual ceremony takes place in the courthouse where a
muslim cleric has everyone sign the papers. At that point the couple is married, but do not
live together until the feast/reception – which often follows on the same day. I have not
seen one yet, but I hear they are fabulous.

Getting married is a serious obligation. The male must support his wife and any children
– even if they get divorced. The woman may keep all over her salary and use it for
whatever she wants. The man must pay for everything. If he is wealthy enough to have
more than one wife (muslim males may have four wives. Many kings have had more than
that), he must also provide another house for the second wife to live in. The wives talk to
each other, so if he buys one a necklace, he better buy the other one a necklace, also.

One situation I have recently seen is very distressing to me. If a couple is engaged and
one of them becomes seriously ill, it is that person’s responsibility to IMMEDIATELY
end the engagement to free the other person so they can marry someone else. To stay
engaged is a dying person brings shame to the family. There is no room for compassion
for a soon to be mate. The person I know in this situation has lived in the west and is
caught between two cultures. It is awful.

My radical nature would be to stick with the person to the bitter end (if the feelings were
still strong..) but to be caught between the pull of the heart and not wanting to dishonor
parents is very difficult – it is cultural.

Color: I asked my students what feelings red brought to mind…. Love and caring. In the
west it is anger…

Had a class creating to music when one student said – Miss, miss, turn it off… I raced
over thinking someone was dying outside. No, Miss, they said. When the call to prayer
goes out no other music can play. Oh, says I. I learn something everyday.

Last night I went to a dinner theater at another compound. The play itself was "The
Importance of Being Earnest." The play itself was very good, the food was wonderful.
The people were disconcerting. I think I was about the only American in the place. I have
been told that after 9/11 and particularly after the bombing in the American Embassy in
Jeddah last year, most Americans left town. Since I work and live with six Americans, I
don’t really think about it much. Most of the people last night were from Britain,
Australia and South Africa. Without exception they were all white. That in itself was
weird to see. Usually, I am the only or one of the few "white" people in the room and it
doesn’t cross my mind as a race thing. One of the Brits at the table last night said he had
just moved into that compound because it was mostly "white faces" like were were
supposed to think that was just great. I went with my friend David, who is a Scot and not
to thrilled with British attitudes. He lives in Hungary.

Anyway, I said listening to them talk about big boobed black African nurses and brown
this and blah, blah, blah. Didn’t like it. They asked where I lived – a very international
compound – people from all over the world – all sizes, shapes and colors. And I love it.
They didn’t talk to me much for the rest of the evening. I didn’t care.

And, they talked against the Saudis. I like Saudis. I think as a group they are a wonderful
people. Arabs are just great. If more people had a chance to meet arabs on a regular basis,
I think a lot of attitudes would change – just as the cold war was really ended by Russians
and Americans meeting each other in person and finding out that we were all just people
with families and fears and a sense of humor. So, all the condescending attitudes just
blew my mind and ticked me off.

Those of you who know me very well know that the arrogance of white people drives me
nuts and since I am also white, is embarrassing. Some people want a sex change – I could
go for a body die on occasion.

Lastly, I went downstairs yesterday at school and there was a tall Saudi man standing at
the bottom of the stairs. I knew there were men in the building – I had on my abaya and
tarha but was not expecting a man to be in that part of the school. It actually startled me. I
hope you understand that there are NO MEN in the school. NONE. The maintenance
crew is female. So after less that three months, I am so accustomed to just women in the
workplace, that a male seemed very out of place and I felt like my space had been
invaded. We can all dress the way we want until some guy shows up – and the students
and other staff feel the same way.

Even more lastly – I started reading the Quran over break. I am not looking to convert to
anything, but I understand the culture better. Did you know that the entire Quran can be
chanted? That millions of muslims have memorized the entire thing – all 800 pages?
Wow, I’m impressed since I have a mind of mush.

Well, Thanksgiving approaches. We are having a Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday – our
Saturday. The school is suddenly having a whole day of strategic planning. I’m making
the stuffing. It is a mandatory meeting. Supposedly.

But, the plan is for 45 people around the pool from all over the world. Dr. Houda (who
loaned me the Quran) isn’t sure if she can make it because she has a disk problem in her
neck. I told her were would bring her a plate. Really? She was surprised.

So, she got this amazed look on her face and said – oh, so Thanksgiving is not just
thanking God it is sharing. Sharing. Huge smile. That’s wonderful, she said.

So – have a great turkey day. I even found jellied cranberry sauce in the foreign food
section of the super market – that’s where some American foods are easily found –

Oh – yeah – at the store this week Kate and I spied Cracker Barrel cheese. Together we
said "IT’S CRACKER BARREL CHEESE1111" and gave each other a big hug. People
around us thought it was kind of silly, but hey, what can I say. It truly is the little things
in life that are so charming.

S of A

Day after Thanksgiving.

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving feast last night by the pool. Attendees came from the
US, Australia, Britian, South Africa, Scotland by way of Hungary, Canada, Brazil, Egypt,
Lebanon, Denmark, Bangledesh, Pakistan and India. Two turkeys gave it their all. The
US women brought lots of the traditional Thanksgiving side dishes. I chopped up 5
loaves of bread for stuffing to actually stuff the turkeys and made 4 dozen filling balls.
Those who have eaten Thanksgiving dinner at my house are familiar with them – an old
Pennsylvania Dutch recipe.

Proudly, the only plate licked nearly clean with the few remaining going to new filling
ball fans, were the 6 I placed in the fridge for later.

Party lights glistened by the large swimming pool. It was probably 82 degrees and the
usuall group of cats tried their darnest to get at the food.

I took a place to Dr. Huda who was too tired from a meeting to attend. She was so
surprised. I said, geez, Dr. Huda, I told you I would do this…. It’s what Thanksgiving is
all about…

I missed my kids, as can be expected, but had a wonderful time. I got to tell everyone
who wanted to know about the filling balls and how Mom taught my sister and me how
to make them. My son knows how to, so it is on to the next generation. I told them that
somewhere in Midland Michigan, my sister would be fixing the same thing. Some things
I just take for granted in this world.

Had another gecko in the classroom experience on Tuesday. This one was caught on film
by students who brought a video camera to class to prove they their attempts and their
sculpture met with failure… So, if I am able to get a copy of the video shot in the
classroom and permission to send it to you, I will. With the insistence that you not pass it
on. Between that and a discussion about animal rights which suddenly switched to
Arabic in the Intro class, my jaws ached from laughing. The students were, also.

More on the Intro class later. You are probably hoping I have run out of things to say –

So, happy Thanksgiving,


at December 12, 2005 2:13 PM