Sunday, November 16, 2014

Enchanting Najran - Saudi Arabia

Last month I took a little trip down to the city of Najran, in southern Saudi Arabia near the Yemen border. The fascinating history of the area, the friendly people, along with the varied geography make this place a must-see destination for any expat living in Saudi Arabia.

Najran is nestled in a fertile farming valley surrounded by rocky mountains and rolling deserts. The abundance of date palms adds to the scenic landscapes and provides a visual treat for the eyes. Farming is an important industry in Najran, with fields of crops stretching for miles. The fertile soil is suitable for growing crops such as corn, wheat, zucchini, and a wide variety of fruits like apples, peaches, citrus, and grapes.

Coupled with the distinctive architectural style of the region, Najran is a city that magic carpet dreams are made of. All over Najran, mixed in with the new construction, are the unique old mud and straw houses, some of them in ruins, but many of them not only standing, but still inhabited. Another distinguishing feature of these homes is the decorative white "bride's lace" designs at the roof lines that add unmistakable charm to the buildings.

Our group was invited into one of these modest mud homes by lifelong residents Ahmed, who is in his 80s, and his wife Umm Mohammed. They were gracious hosts, offering us the traditional gahwa (Arabic coffee) and dates which we enjoyed in their sitting room. We toured the home from bottom to top, viewing the fields and mountains from their various rooftop decks about 4 floors up. Because of its close proximity to Yemen, many of Najran's residents are of Yemeni heritage, as are Ahmed and his wife, and the architectural style of the mud homes is also an influence of Yemen.

Camels are everywhere in and around Najran. The camel souq is where camels are bought and sold, along with fresh camel milk. On our excursion outside the city into the desert, we saw many groups of camels that were being trained to compete in races. We were also treated to a Bedouin cookout one perfect evening under the stars at a desert camp, complete with carpets, tents, camel meat, hookahs, and a campfire. The only thing missing was the marshmallows!

A highlight of our trip was a visit to the main souk of Najran which houses a dagger souk. The traditional curved Arab daggers, called khanjar, are offered for sale here, with elegant carved handles made of bone, metal, wood, or plastic. The men of the dagger souk all proudly wore their traditional Arab clothing, accessorized with their khanjars strapped around their waists on a leather belt. Another section of the souk offered products like handmade baskets, jewelry, and clothing.

Men of the dagger souq - Najran, Saudi Arabia

Several of the dagger shopkeepers took turns posing for photos with me. It felt like the paparazzi was around as the others all gathered around us to take photos with their state of the art phones.  I could tell by the frequent laughter that jokes were being made as we posed for pictures. Later I learned that the conversation went something like this:
"Mohammed, you better not let your wife see that picture of you and this woman. She will get jealous."
"You've been thinking of getting a 3rd wife - how about this American?"
"My wives will kill me if I do that!"

Even though people have lived in the Najran area for about 4000 years, it is considered to be a newer and more modern city because of its remarkable growth spurt since the 1970s.  Najran's population now exceeds 250,000.  We toured the historic Emara Palace, built in the 1940s - a fine example and tribute to the distinctive architecture of the region.  Another well known palace in the area, Al-Aan Palace, is built on hilltop and offers spectacular views of the surrounding area, overlooking the oasis of Najran.

Emara Palace - Najran, Saudi Arabia

Interestingly enough in pre-Islamic days, Najran used to be inhabited by predominantly Jews and Christians. There is an old archaeological site in the city that bears the ruins of Al-Okhdood (also spelled Ukhdood).  According to a story in the Q'uran, this is where a disgruntled Jewish king massacred thousands of its residents by burning them alive because they converted to Christianity. Quite a gruesome history.   Rock drawings of animals and cryptic writings are visible all over Al-Okhdood. The site is still in the process of being excavated and to date has produced important historical artifacts, with much more still hoped to be retrieved.

Spectacular scenery and fascinating history aside, what really makes Najran such a memorable place is its people. Warm and welcoming, open and friendly, the people of Najran are hospitable and accommodating.

If you are interested in planning a trip to Najran, I highly recommend Mohammad of Najran Tours. He is professional, knowledgeable, and flexible and will tailor your visit to your preferences. Here is the information for Najran Tours:

Mohammad H. Al Mustaneer
Najran Tours.
Reg. No. : 5950026097
Najran, Saudi Arabia
Mob. +966 552 498 012
+966 550 377 715
Facebook page for Najran Tours

Tell him Susie sent you!

I put together a slideshow for you with lots more photos from my trip to Najran.  Enjoy!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Saudi Women Have Fun!

Enjoy this very short video that gives you a glimpse into the lighter side of living in Saudi Arabia. Even though women cannot drive here yet, they can still manage to have fun.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Dona Nobis Pacem - Blogging for Peace in 2014

Dona Nobis Pacem - is Latin for "Grant Us Peace."

I have dreamed of a world of peace for as long as I can remember.  When I was a child in 1950s, I would often have difficulty falling asleep because of all the images swirling around in my head of Nikita Khrushchev threatening to bury me, the Cold War, and the Nuclear Arms Race.  I had nightmares.  It is a scary thing for a child who doesn't understand why everyone just can't get along or why there are wars in the first place.

As the decades passed, my difficulties in falling asleep remained, but what changed were who the Bad Guys were and the different fears.  Like Fidel Castro, the Viet Nam War, the Iran Hostage Crisis, the bombings in Northern Ireland, and the never ending conflicts involving Middle Eastern and African countries.

I still don't claim to understand the motivations or reasons behind all this worldwide turmoil.  But what I do know is that  I choose not to live in fear - and I am already against the next war.  That, for me, will never change.

We must change the world so our children don't have to be afraid, so they don't have nightmares, and so our children can know a World of Peace.

Today, November 4th, bloggers from all around the world are uniting together and Blogging for Peace.  Maybe somehow if enough of us stand up together and say "Enough is Enough" - maybe, just maybe, we can Give Peace a Chance.

Blog4Peace Website

Blog Blast for Peace Facebook Community

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Real Reason Why I Cannot Drive in Saudi Arabia

This is the video I made for the Women's Driving Campaign movement.  Some people might be shocked at my use - twice - of the "P" word.  But basically it is the real reason why I am denied the right to drive here in this country.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Send in Your Video in Support of Saudi Women Driving

I have written so many times about the fact that women are banned from driving here in Saudi Arabia.  I have been very vocal about my objections to this unfair driving ban based solely on gender discrimination.  

I personally drove safely in the United States for more than 40 years before moving to this country, yet despite my clean driving record and decades of driving experience, I am denied the right to drive in Saudi Arabia simply because I am female.  To me, this is the stupidest possible excuse imaginable. 

However the continuous stream of feeble excuses given by Saudi religious clerics for why women shouldn't drive here is beyond comprehension. Excuses like "Driving damages women's ovaries and pelvises," or that "Children of mothers who drive are born with disorders of varying degrees."  Oh, and then there's the one that claims a scientific study in countries where women drive caused an upsurge in homosexuality, prostitution, divorce, AND pornography.  Oh, yeah, and let's not forget their claim that within 10 years of allowing women to get behind the wheel in Saudi Arabia, there would not be a single virgin to be found within the kingdom.  And then there are the concerned men who try to convince us women that we are lucky to be being chauffeured around like queens or that we won't be able to handle a flat tire or broken down car and if that happens, it opens us up to all kinds of dangers.  And on and on and on ...

What really galls me here is the fact that it seems to be perfectly okay for little boys as young as 8 years old to drive here - because I see them driving all the time!  No one can tell me that an 8 year old boy behind the wheel is safer than someone like me driving just because he was born with a penis and I wasn't.  

This is 2014 and Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving.  The Saudi government has taken drastic measures to ensure its "No Woman No Drive" policy is enforced yet the movement continues to gain strength in spite of the repercussions.  CLICK HERE to read "10 Ways the Saudi Government Punishes People Who Defy the Ban on Women Driving," ranging from public reprimands to prison, and from impounding cars to lashings.

I'm tired of being made to feel that somehow I am inferior to a man or that I cannot be trusted to operate a vehicle in this country!  I'm tired of having to depend on a man here in Saudi Arabia just to take me to the store or the doctor's office! I'm tired of wasting so much of my valuable time waiting for a ride or canceling plans at the last minute because the driver didn't show up!  I'm tired of being treated like a child in this place when I am in my 60s!  I'm tired of ALL the ridiculous excuses!!!

NOW is your chance to show your support for the campaign for Saudi women to drive!

It doesn't matter if you are a man or a woman, or what country you live in - you now have the opportunity to stand side by side with women in Saudi Arabia who are banned from driving their own cars in their own country. 

Here is all you need to do:  

Make a video of yourself calling for the ban on women driving to be lifted.
Start off by stating your name and what country you are from in your native language.
State in your own words your reasons for why you think the driving ban on Saudi women should be lifted and why you feel the women of Saudi Arabia should be allowed the right to drive.  
Ask your friends to do the same!

Email your video as soon as possible to:

Here is the campaign's website and petition:

Thank you for your support.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Sexualizing Children in Saudi Society

Jenna Al Shammary (photo credit: Saudi Gazette)

Jenna Al-Shammary,  a young Saudi school girl, excitedly dons bright red lipstick for her singing debut performing a Saudi National Day song in a theater play in the conservative city of Hail, Saudi Arabia.  She normally doesn't wear lipstick, but this is a special occasion and she will be on stage in front of an audience of mature adult grown men, many with young daughters of their own.  Her loosely draped long shiny emerald green satin robe is emblazoned with gold Palm trees and the crossed swords of the Saudi flag.  Her long dark hair flows loosely down to her waist, like many of her young Saudi schoolmates.

She is nervous but confident.  Jenna has practiced singing this song over and over again, but the butterflies in her stomach make her anxious that she will flub up the words of the song.

Eleven year old Jenna nails her performance.

But to her family's horror, within days of her performance, all hell seems to break loose and it's all negatively focused on Jenna.  No mention is made of her voice, her singing, her patriotism, her stage presence.  All attention is placed on her physical appearance.  Social media websites criticize her appearance as "immodest," calling her unimaginable names, faulting her parents for allowing such "indecency." After all, she wore red lipstick on stage and did not cover her hair from the men in the audience.  Such shame!

Really?  Is this what Saudi's culture and religion supports and truly believes?  Sexualizing a child?  Publicly criticizing a child?  Calling a child names that would incite a man to want to commit murder if he ever heard those names spoken about his own mother or sister or daughter?

Leave it to the perverted minds in Saudi Arabia to turn a child's innocent song of pride for her country into a tawdry sexualized scandal.   All these idiotic men could focus on was Jenna's sexuality.  This is the sign of a real sickness in this society.  It is truly perverse and unhealthy.  They see women and children merely as sexual objects.  

There is never a valid reason to attack a child in this manner.  An 11 year old should not be made to feel ashamed about her appearance or be made to feel like she is a sex object for men.  After all, it's not like she was dressed up on stage like Lady Gaga or Madonna or even some contestant on Toddlers and Tiaras.  What she wore and how she presented herself was perfectly acceptable in any normal society in this world.   

What's NOT normal is the sick reaction and criticism from a few twisted deranged men in this audience and the perpetual sexualization of women and children in this society.  THAT's what needs to be criticized, not an innocent 11 year old girl.  


Saudi Gazette article, "Twitter users slam girl, 11, for ‘immodest’ National Day show"

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Powerful Words about Saudi National Day

I try to focus on the positives about living here in Saudi Arabia.  Admittedly there are many things I must suck up, overlook, or ignore - otherwise it would drive me crazy.  September 23rd is Saudi National Day here in Saudi Arabia - the day when in 1932 the country officially became a unified kingdom under King Abdulaziz. In the seven years I have lived here in Jeddah, we have never partaken in any facet of the joyful celebrations, which have grown by leaps and bounds every year.

Surprisingly enough, this holiday was not really even celebrated here until just a few short years ago.   The reason why lies in the question of whether or not such celebrations are forbidden by Islam.  This question was an ongoing debate amongst religious scholars until the current king and his government voiced their support of the holiday.  With each passing year since then, the nation's birthday celebrations have gotten bigger and better, with fireworks, speeches and ceremonies, impromptu street parades, face painting, special events, shouting in the streets, special shopping sales, and a general sense of happiness and pride.

After being bombarded lately with images of proud citizens hanging out of their car windows waving Saudi flags and seeing the city awash in a sea of emerald green (the color of the national flag), I felt the need to share an astounding article written by a young Saudi female university professor named Bayan Perazzo entitled "Why I Refuse to Celebrate Saudi National Day."

On her Twitter account, Bayan describes herself as "a liberal feminist and excellent driver stuck in the wrong country."  She is a PhD candidate in International Law and Human Rights, holds a Master's Degree in Middle Eastern Politics and Islamic Law, and a Bachelor's degree in Sociology.  It is because of Saudi women like Bayan that I continue to have hope, as many here in Saudi Arabia do, that one day, among other things, this country will treat its women and foreign workers with the respect they deserve. The sheer gumption and courage this articulate young woman shows by speaking out like she does in a country that does not have freedom of speech and denies women their rights will amaze you.

This article will educate you and wow you.  Do yourself a favor and read it.  Your brain will thank you for it. 
Follow Bayan on Twitter: @BintBattuta87 

CLICK HERE to read "Why I Refuse to Celebrate Saudi National Day."  

To read more thought provoking articles by Bayan, CLICK HERE.