January 2010: Saudi Arabia, Use Your Imagination

Each month American Bedu blog features “Use Your Imagination.”  This feature will begin a story which highlights some aspect of Saudi Arabia’s culture, history and traditions.  American Bedu will begin the story then it is up to you whether you choose to continue the story to another level or to its entirety.  This monthly feature is not only to broaden and inspire our minds but towards fostering greater understanding about Saudi Arabia and its unique customs.

Hanan had a simple and enjoyable life.  Her family were from the Al-Anazi tribe and were Beudions.  Hanan was the youngest and only daughter in the family with two older brothers.  Whereas her two older brothers attended school daily and the family expected her brothers to ultimately graduate from University, Hanan was allowed to attended school only until the age of nine.  During that time she attended a girls only Islamic school (madressa) where she learned to memorize the Quran.  Her mother was her teacher for the other aspects of preparing for life.  Even though Hanan did not know how to read or write or do mathematics, she knew how to dust and sweep and iron her Daddy’s (Baba’s) smaughs so they were wrinkle free and creased in the right spot.  She understand that she and her mother would prepare meals together which they served to Daddy (Baba) and her brothers.  After the men had finished eating, Hanan and her mom would quietly take their own share.  Hanan enjoyed sitting on the sidelines listening to her father and brothers talking about adding to their existing herd of camels and traveling at times to the large camel souk outside of Riyadh.  Hanan had never been outside of their village and simply could not envision a place where her brothers said had thousands upon thousands of camels for sale at one time and thousands of people wanting to either buy or sell.  Of course when Hanan’s father received guests Hanan would remain with her mother in the women’s side of the house.  At that time she would help her mother prepare traditional Saudi khawa, tumour (dates) followed by sweet and steaming Saudi tea served with kanafa.  Because the Al-Anazi’s were a traditional family, neither Hanan nor her mother served the guests of her father; instead their long time housemaid, Fatima, would cover her body and face securely and take the offerings to the men.

Hanan was a dutiful daughter and made her family proud.  Noone had to remind her when it was time to pray.  And when she had spare time, it was typical to find her in a quiet corner reading her Quran.  Hanan did not miss what she had never experienced or knew and by all accounts was quite satisfied with her life.  She wanted for nothing and liked to bring pleasure to her parents and her brothers.  All was fine with Hanan and her life until shortly after her fourteenth party when she started her monthly menses.  While she was not prohibited from time with her father and her brothers she noticed they were not as carefree with her.  They no longer patted her head or pulled her into their lap to frolic.  Her father started to look at her similar as he would of the camels he was preparing to take to the camel souk.  Hanan noticed her mother and father having private conversations with her name overheard.  When she asked her mother what was happening, was everything okay, her mother would tell her to shush and not worry.

Over the next two months Hanan’s father received men to the home.  Hanan realized they must be special and important guests as these were the few occasions her mother would make sure her father’s majlis was scented well with the rich essence of oud.  These were also the few times she saw her father receiving guests while wearing his bischt instead of simply a pressed and starched white thobe.  What stood out the most of these visits was that instead of Hanan remaining the whole time in the women’s rooms with her mother, her father would call for her to come to him while his guest was present.  Of course since starting her menses, Hanan now covered her hair and face just like her mother.  She would go to her father and simply stand there in silence, too afraid to speak.  After no more than two minutes, her father would wave his hand for her to return to her mother.  Hanan asked her mother why Baba wanted her to come to him but her mother did not respond except to hold and hug Hanan.

By the third month there were no more special visitors to the home but a new kind of activity ensued.  Hanan and her mother started going to the nearby village to shop.  Hanan’s mother began purchasing bolts of differing colored fabric.  A female tailor came to their home and began taking measurements of Hanan.  To Hanan’s surprise it seemed that new clothes were being made for her.  She was quite excited for she had never before had so many different clothes made at one time.  Several red velvet boxes which contained exquisite gold jewelry also arrived at their home.  Hanan’s mother smiled and wept at the same time she admired the jewelry.  Hanan’s mother allowed Hanan to look at the jewelry too but did not give an explanation as to who it was from or who it was for.  Hanan thought to herself that Baba must have done very well at the camel market and wanted to surprise Mama.

Two weeks later Hanan was told by her Mama that the following evening would be a special party and Hanan would get to wear the prettiest of the new dresses.  Hanan was so excited and confident it must be a very special occasion although Mama did not say much.  Hanan wondered to herself if perhaps one of her older brothers was to be married?

The evening of the party Hanan wore her prettiest dress and went with her mother to the special area for all the ladies.  Everyone was dressed in their finest.  Hanan enjoyed looking at the other women.  There were few others near Hanan’s age; most of the women were older.  That did not matter to Hanan.  She had never seen so many special dishes served and helped herself to samples of the food as she quietly walked from table to table hearing snatches of conversation here and there.  She learned that it was indeed a wedding and kept looking to see which woman was possibly the bride and which of her brothers was getting married?  As the evening drew on, Hanan began to get tired and without a thought laid under an empty table and fell fast asleep.  The next thing she knew she was being awakened by her father.  He was accompanied by one of the men who had visited him several months ago.  Her mother was nowhere to be seen.  Her father was saying “Come habeebitee, you are a married woman now and it is time for you to go with your new husband.”  Hanan with sleep still in her eyes looked at her father and rubbed her ears sure that she had not heard him correctly.  Married?  This was her wedding?  And that man with Baba, he looked even older than Baba.  What has happened?  What is she going to do?


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