Saudi Arabia: The Presence of Public Relations

pr

jazarah.net

 

I became curious about the demographics and number of public relation firms within the Kingdom.  As I started my search, I believe I may have found a story within the story.

To begin with, there are a number of public relations firms located throughout the Kingdom.  The force behind some of these firms may be blurred in that it is difficult to determine if the key officials are Saudis or non-Saudis.

However, what truly surprised me the most in conducting this research is that the Saudi government had engaged a PR firm which was Jewish owned.  Given the limited lack of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, I never expected to uncover a Jewish owned firm providing public relation services on behalf of the Kingdom.

Another refreshing surprise was when searching LinkedIn with the key words public relations and Saudi Arabia, in addition to many male profiles, a number of female profiles came up too.  It seems that public relations is a viable and acceptable industry for women in the Kingdom.

Here are some of the numerous hits I received about PR firms in the Kingdom:

Traccs Public Relations with offices in Riyadh, Jeddah and Damman.

Tihama Advertising and Public Relations located in Jeddah.

This site provides a comprehensive list of PR firms in the Kingdom, to include the presence of the US firm, Hill and Knowlton, located in Riyadh.

This site contains even more listings of PR firms located throughout the Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia: Call Her Selma, “J”, Saudi Stepford Wife…She’s Still an Abused Woman

domestic violence

Abuse takes place in all places of the world.  However, most places do have a fair and just legal system in place if that abuse is reported.  While inroads are being made in Saudi Arabia, they are not being made fast enough.

This past week, Selma Ahmed (not her real name) was apprehended and arrested because she left with her two daughters to get out of an abusive relationship from her Saudi husband.  Selma, although not of Saudi origin, does have Saudi citizenship.  Monday, April 29, police officers came to her place of work and arrested her.  The charges are she and her two adult daughters had left the home of her husband without his permission.

Activist and photographer, Samia El-Moslimany, spoke with the police officer and he told her that Selma will be detained until she is willing to return to her husband’s house.  In spite of the fact that Selma fears for her life is she returns, the police officer put on deaf ears and stated that Selma will continue to be detained until she goes back to her husband.

According to the policeman, the “established procedure” is that Selma must first return home and then she can file a formal complaint.  Selma’s husband came to the police station and insisted she return home with him.  He attempted to force her and assaulted her in front of police officers.

Selma was transferred to Briman Women’s Prison in Jeddah.  The fate of her daughters is unknown and there is fear that the father may have forcibly made them return home.

Selma’s case is here and now and requires immediate action.  She should not be contained in a prison because she fears for her life from her abusive husband.  Now is the time for Saudi Arabia’s reforms in domestic violence to be put into immediate action.

Sadly, Selma is not my first exposure of domestic violence in Saudi Arabia.  Another case was “Saudi Stepford Wife.”  Saudi Stepford Wife was an engaging American woman married to a Saudi and had also obtained Saudi nationality.  She lived in the Eastern Province.  She maintained a blog which I enjoyed reading very much.  We got to know one another through our blogs which eventually led to email exchanges and finally a personal meeting in 2008.  I hosted her in my home while her Saudi husband attended business meetings.

By that time we had become pretty close and she shared her dark secret with me.  She was married to an abusive man and feared for her safety.  Her parents were elderly and she did not want them to know.  She also swore me to silence.

I rue that day.  If I could go back and do things differently, I would.  I would not have honored my promise to her.  Although I never met or saw her husband, my spouse met him when he came to pick up Saudi Stepford Wife from my home.  I’ll never forget my husband coming back in to the house with such a look of distaste on his face.  He looked at me and said “That man is a pig and gives his wife no respect.”

After that visit I only heard from Saudi Stepford Wife two more times.  Since she had shared her secret with me, she was telling me how she had plans to leave her husband and take a job in Jeddah.  Sadly, her plans never came to fruition.  She simply disappeared off the radar.  Enquiries revealed that she had suffered a bad fall and as a result, was afflicted with terrible brain damage.  She did not know who she was or even where she was.  No one was able to make contact with her.  Her husband made sure of that.  This is a heavy burden of guilt that I still continue to bear for in retrospect, I should never have kept her secret.

Last but not least, there is dear “J” , a Saudi woman, who candidly shared her experience with American Bedu readers.  Thankfully she was able to get herself extracted from her hideous experience and find true love.  Sadly though, she was taken too soon due to the insidious disease of cancer.  However, she left her imprint on many of us around the world.

Yes; I am aware of other cases of domestic violence in the Kingdom.  However, I am much more outspoken and forward with any woman who shares that secret with me.  At a minimum, any woman in Saudi Arabia should have the web site and phone numbers for the Kingdom’s new domestic violence program sponsored by the King Khalid Foundation.

 

nb Update:  American Bedu is so happy to report that thanks to the efforts of Samia El-Moslimany and her team of heros, Selma is now safe!  She has been released from jail and safe with Samia.  They are now searching for her daughters.  Please take time out and say a prayer that Selma and her daughters will be reunited soon.

Saudi Arabia: Alcoholism in the Kingdom

alcoholic

steadyhealth.com

 

Alcohol is legally forbidden in the Kingdom and against Islam.  Possession of alcohol or public drunkenness carries strict penalties.  Yet that being said, there are individuals in Saudi Arabia, both Saudis and expatriates, who have alcohol addiction problems.  Expatriates may have had their addiction prior to arrival in the Kingdom and some Saudis may acquired their addiction while outside of the Kingdom.  However, there are also individuals actively battling against an alcohol addiction within the Kingdom.

There are Saudis with WASTA who are able to acquire alcohol.  Foreign Embassies and diplomats have an exemption and are allowed set quantities of alcohol. There are also a number of bootleggers who illegally bring alcohol into the Kingdom’s borders.  These bootleggers believe the high risks, which can include the death penalty, is worth the ultimate gain in profits.  In addition, there is a wide “home brew” market in the Kingdom where others make their own spirits within the privacy of their homes.  Last but not least, many Western compounds which prohibit Saudis from being on the property, will have a bar which will also sell “home brew.”

Alcoholism is a disease and while alcohol is illegal in the Kingdom, treatment for the disease is available.  This is not a topic that is widely discussed and some individuals battling with an alcohol addiction in the Kingdom may not know where to turn for help.

This link  takes one to the web site for Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in Saudi Arabia.  Meetings take place in the cities of Dhahran and also Al-Khobar (Eastern Province).  In addition there are meetings in Riyadh and Jeddah.

Although the website Alcohol Rehab does not contain factual information in regards to the availability of AA in Saudi Arabia, it does contain good background  information on illegal alcohol in Saudi Arabia and the dangers of “home brew.”

Saudi Arabia: Expatriates Should Not Take Advantage of Sympathy or Generosity

public laundry

valleygirltalk.com

 

There was a recent incident which took place in Jeddah.  A Pakistani couple claim they were accosted by a Saudi couple in a public place of business.  However, all anyone has to go on is the expatriate’s account of the incident.  We all know there are always two sides to every story.

The incident, from what the expatriate couple are stating, seemed to stem from an initial altercation between the Pakistani woman and a Saudi woman.  The altercation intensified and the husband’s became involved.

There have been no accounts from any witnesses of the incident.  Yet the incident as it was relayed evoked shock, outrage and sympathy for the Pakistani couple.  Senior officials from the place of business were made aware of the incident and contacted the Pakistani couple.  A well known English language daily in the Kingdom even carried an article about the incident with an apology to the Pakistani couple.

Yet since the incident has taken place, instead of responding with grace and a positive outlook, the Pakistani woman seems more intent on raising ire with Saudi nationals, expatriates in the Kingdom and her own homeland.

As a result, support and sympathy for the couple is dwindling.  The Pakistani woman even created a specific Facebook Page for further discussions about the incident and demand for change to occur within the Kingdom on Saudis attitudes of expatriates.

American Bedu was part of the Facebook Group but found herself unceremoniously removed from the group when declaring that what the Pakistani woman was now doing and saying was not appropriate.

I can live with being declared persona non grata of a Facebook Group.  But I will restate what I believe was sound advice to the Pakistani woman.  If one is dissatisfied with action or lack thereof from an incident in Saudi Arabia, do not continue to talk badly about your host country.  Even –if- (which is now questionable) she has a valid complaint, she remains a guest in the country.  Both she and her husband are under the sponsorship of a Saudi employer.  Secondly, it is not appropriate to post private correspondence between her and her country’s Consulate in a public Facebook Group.  In addition, although she is not satisfied with the response from the Consulate, she should not mock her country’s role in Saudi Arabia and its relationship with the Kingdom.

Okay, enough of what should not have been done.  Instead she should have filed a report with the manager at the place of business where the incident occurred.  The police should have been called immediately.  Statements should have been collected from witnesses.  She did notify her Consulate.  She did speak with senior officials at the place of business.  However, rather than complain and make a mockery of the positive that took place, she should instead have delivered a comprehensive –and realistic- action plan of what she wanted to see in the way of restitution and resolution.  Details of which should remain between her and the officials involved, rather than share in a “dissing” manner on a public Facebook Page.

It is American Bedu’s assessment based on her own years of experience that the Pakistani woman, more so than her husband, is enjoying her “15 minutes of global fame” and trying to prolong the attention to herself.  Instead of reaching a positive resolution her husband may very well receive unwanted pressure due to his wife’s inappropriate actions.

Wrongs can be righted but it must be done within the parameters of an established procedure.

Saudi Arabia: Which One is She? Maid, Helper or Friend?

domestic help

sulit.com.ph

 

With Ramadan 2013 starting on or about the 8th of July, many Muslims throughout the Kingdom will be looking for additional assistance during the Holy month and perhaps through the Hajj season.  This is a period of time when meals take on an additional importance and particularly after the second week of Ramadan has passed, many large families gather to spend the rest of Ramadan together.  Ramadan is a high season throughout the Kingdom with housemaids in demand.

But my question is, who is the housemaid?  Is she just a maid or instead perhaps a helper or friend?  I think it is fair to say that the Saudi families who have had the same domestic worker for multiple years the formal employee-employer relationship begins to blur a little.  Instead of a mere maid she may be better viewed as a helper (less derogatory sounding) or maybe even a friend.  Regardless of what term applied there still needs to be a modicum of distance to preserve the employee-employer relationship.

If you have the opportunities to talk to Saudis who have had the same domestic worker in their home for a period of years, they generally refer to her with affection.  They know about her family, her desires and goals for both herself and her family and in many cases, these Saudis will do what they can to further improve her life.  They’ll not only keep her clothed or have her receive medical attention when ill but sometimes go beyond to help with her family giving her children better educational opportunities.

When a housemaid is serving a family for whom both know is only a limited period of time, the same degree of closeness or trust may never develop.  This can be especially true among expatriates who have engaged a housemaid while in the Kingdom.  Unlike the Saudi family, the expatriate family will eventually either go on to another assignment in a different country or return to their home country.

Expatriates, with an emphasis on Western Expatriates, may have a reputation for treating their domestic help nicer and more like a family member or friend.  Expatriates will generally pay the domestic help a higher salary too.  As a result, many domestics would prefer to work for an expatriate family.

But that does not mean the domestic may view acts of kindness by the expatriate in the same manner as the expatriate.  Domestic help may try to take advantage of the expatriate who has not grown up in a culture where domestic help is the norm.  As a result, the relationship gets blurred and the domestic help may try to manipulate the expatriate.  The manipulation can take place in requesting salary advances, loans, request for medicines or simply sharing how bad they have it such as poor living accommodations, etc.

The domestic may start out working well for the expatriate but ultimately her work ethics may start to slack off.  She may not be as punctual or reliable.  Eventually the expatriate may learn she was also stealing small items or monies from the household.  This tends to happen not only because the domestic does not have a pure heart but because the expatiate family has been too kind as well.

I’m not trying to say that Saudis are the best managers of domestic help or that all is rosy if a domestic helper works for a Saudi.  But I wish to sensitive readers that engaging and retaining reliable and trustworthy domestic help is also its own work in progress.

I believe there could be a market for seminars on both engaging, treating and retaining domestic help in addition to seminars for the domestic help on training and having a successful long term relationship with their employer.

Saudi Arabia: So Many Niqabs to Choose From!

 

I must first preface this post by stating that I rarely covered my head let alone wore a niqab while I was in Saudi Arabia.  There were only a few occasions when it was appropriate for me to wear a niqab.  I wore one but have to confess I did not like the feeling or what to me felt like obscured vision due to the niqab.  The reason that I am writing this particular post is in response to several queries I have had lately about the differing type of niqabs women may choose to wear in Saudi Arabia.  I am not an expert on the subject but will address it to the best of my ability.  I am really counting on those American Bedu readers who do wear the niqab to provide their comments on why they wear a niqab, what style they have chosen and why as well as how easy it is for them to see while wearing the niqab.

The niqab is the accessory which some Muslim women and many women within Saudi Arabia will choose to wear so that their entire face is covered from view with the exception of the eyes.

saudi niqab

blog.sunnahstyle.com

 

The most common style of niqab in Saudi Arabia and the one I wore when necessary is the niqab which covers the face and has a slit in the center for the eyes to show through.  This style of niqab did not necessarily come in a wide variety of sizes and as a result, the one I had fit poorly.  My eyelids and eyelashes would brush or rub against the eye slit and in turn irritated my eyes.  The niqab would either tie in the back around the hijab or in some cases you could secure it with Velcro strips.

newer niqab style

beduionprincess.blogspot

 

Another niqab which was rising in popularity prior to my 2009 departure from Saudi Arabia was the niqab which was worn from the nose down.  This particular niqab left the eyes unimpeded.  Some Saudi women will not wear this type of niqab seeing it as too progressive.  However, younger Saudi women and more open-minded Saudi women who still choose to wear a niqab prefer this version as it is more aesthetically pleasing and comfortable.

beudion niqab

examiner.com

Some women and particularly Saudi beudoin women may prefer the niqab that has a fabric line which separates the eyes.  Needless to say, this niqab would need to fit well for it could be quite annoying if the eye divider did not fall as it should centered between the eyes.

While the traditional niqabs are black, some women are starting to wear niqabs that are in a different color or have some type of decoration or appliqué on them.

But as I stated in the beginning of this post, I need to rely on the experiences of American Bedu readers to share with others on why they wear a niqab, what style they have chosen and why, as well as how easy it is for them to see while wearing the niqab.

Saudi Arabia: Living in Saudi Arabia Requires a Tougher Skin

tough skin required

eloquentwoman.blogspot.com

 

Whether one is an expatriate in Saudi Arabia or a foreigner married to a Saudi, to Saudis you are viewed as a guest in their country.  The majority of Saudis will go out of their way to be hospitable, kind and helpful to the guests.

I had multiple experiences of both Saudi men and women approaching me in grocery stores or department stores wanting to be helpful or simply practice their English.  I had approaches by both men and women and none in an inappropriate manner.  Saudi women were especially kind if I were in an abaya store or in a women’s formal store searching for a gown to wear to a wedding.   They wanted to assist in helping me find the perfect abaya or gown!

However, I also had a few of my own experiences which were not as welcoming.  One experience featured two women who were determined to jump ahead of me in the queue at a shoe store.  These women though were not aware I was not in the shoe store alone.  I was with Mama Moudy, my Saudi mother-in-law.  She let them know in no uncertain terms there actions were rude and uncalled for.  Both the women were quickly apologizing to me!

The bottom line though is both the good and bad experiences between expatriates and Saudis can go both ways.  Rather than risk a public altercation, it’s better to have thick skin and pay no mind when someone does something less than socially acceptable.  Expatriates are each individual Ambassadors of their respective countries and Saudis are also representatives of their country too.  We each choose what kind of impression we want to leave with one another.

Of course, if either an expatriate or a Saudi has taken an action that goes beyond just mere rudeness or sarcasm, the wronged party should seek restitution through the proper channels.  While doing so, an expatriate should also remember that Saudis have WASTA, meaning the ability to use influence or contacts.  That does not mean an expatriate who has been wronged can’t seek restitution, but the manner in which it is done must be in conformity with the culture.

If an expatriate chooses to go public about an incident and sites places, names, and individuals where a Saudi was in the wrong, that Saudi and/or its institution will lose face.  A point will have been made but maybe at the jeopardy of the expatriate, especially if the Saudi has WASTA.

If an expatriate goes public and states facts without identifying specific individuals or organizations but at the same time letting it be known that more specifics are available, this does give an opportunity of face saving and also setting things right in a more amicable and satisfactory fashion.

All expatriates in the Kingdom are sponsored by either an individual Saudi or a Saudi organization.  As a result, there is much more pressure on the expatriates to abide by the customs and traditions of the Kingdom.  And don’t forget, the expatriate is also the guest…but guests can be asked to leave.

Saudi Arabia: Mama Moudy and How My Cats Won Her Over

Although my late Saudi husband and I left Saudi Arabia in March 2009, I still have so many fond memories that I enjoy sharing with American Bedu readers.

Mama Moudy is my dear Saudi mother-in-law.  She is both a traditional and conservative Saudi woman but also open in many ways.  In August 2008 she allowed me to interview her for this blog so that people would have a better understanding of Saudi Arabia and both its cultures and traditions during the period of her childhood.

max     Today I wish to share about Mama Moudy’s indoctrination to my cats.  When Abdullah and I first arrived in Saudi we came with my three cats:  Max, Tripod and Saheba.  Max was an all-black Persian which I acquired while in the United States.  Tripod and Saheba, on the other hand, were my “Pakibillis.”  Both of them were feral cats which I had rescued from the streets of Pakistan.  Tripod had been hit by a car and left to die.  Thankfully I found him and with emergency surgery, he survived albeit minus one leg.  Saheba was a scrawny little cat who appeared at my home in Islamabad and once I saw her, I could not let her go.  Tripod and Saheba were both born in Pakistan and have the traditional features of Asian cats.

cats nov 09

My cats have been around the world twice and wherever I went, they came too, to include Saudi Arabia.  Abdullah knew that when he asked me to marry him me and my cats were a package deal – non negotiable.

Now, not everyone in Saudi Arabia is enamored of cats.  In fact, a lot of Saudis actively dislike cats.  Saudi Arabia is plagued by thousands of feral street cats which are commonly referred to as Saudi street rats.  As a result, when Abdullah’s family was first exposed to my cats, they were not thrilled to say the least.  However, my cats eventually won almost everyone over, including Mama Moudy who became their champion.

tripod nc 1

The first few times Mama Moudy saw my cats she was naturally afraid.  Cats were believed to carry both germs and disease and people did not have them inside of their homes.  Over time and with observation, she noted that my cats were clean, healthy and disease free.  She also noticed how friendly they were and that they had their own distinctive personalities.

Mama Moudy lives in Makkah so when she came to Riyadh she’d usually come for an extended visit.  My husband and I both worked while we lived in Riyadh.  Mama Moudy started noticing that each afternoon my cats would suddenly become alert and scamper off to the front door of our house.  She realized that the cats were attuned to when I came in from work and were always at the door to meet me.

saheba nc 1

Her bedroom was located at the end of the hallway from the master bedroom.  Mama Moudy was the earliest riser in the house.  Next she discovered that each morning my cats would be sitting in front of my closed bedroom door waiting for me to get up each morning.  It was at that point she told my husband in Arabic, “Those cats know her and love her.”

After continually seeing how loving and non-threatening my cats were around people, Mama Moudy began to lose her own fear of cats.  She started hesitantly at first touching and then petting my cats.  Eventually it was okay for them to sit beside her and she would pet them.  Finally though and to my chagrin, Mama Moudy started feeding them food from the table while we were eating lunch or dinner.  When I dared to bring up the subject and request that they be left to their cat food, Mama Moudy candidly let me know that my cats were creatures too and deserved to enjoy the good food.  My husband told me to drop the subject and let his mom enjoy her pleasure of spoiling my cats.

DSC00108a

I’m proud of my cats for winning over Mama Moudy.  She also became their champion.  When anyone attempted to hint that it was not appropriate to have a bissa (cat in Arabic) inside of a Saudi home, Mama Moudy would say with pride, “but these bissas are American, they’re not Saudi street rats.”

Saudi Arabia: Interview with Romance Novelist, Kat Canfield

It is a pleasure for American Bedu to interview one of the followers of the American Bedu blog.  With this interview, readers learn more about Kat Canfield and why she has an interest in Saudi Arabia!

kat canfield

 

Firstly Kat, thank you, for the opportunity to interview you and share about yourself and your background with readers.

I am honored to have you interview me.

Let’s start with some details about you!  Where are you originally from?  Where do you live now?  How long have you been following the American Bedu blog?

I grew up in Ohio, in Amish country. I moved to Florida after we had a blizzard and the temperature on the thermometer was -32 degrees F! For me, even hurricanes were better than that and I lived through several of them.

I lived in Florida for 25 years before moving to Tennessee with my husband.

I found American Bedu while researching for my book. It has been helpful to learn and understand a very different culture.

Please share your background with readers.  How did you end up in law enforcement as your first career?  At what age or what point in your life did you know you wanted to be a police officer?

Law Enforcement found me I think. I had many people who thought I would be good in that field and encouraged me from high school on but I didn’t listen. I worked in Agriculture in Ohio and several businesses when I moved to Fl. Nothing fulfilled me or was I good at. Finally, I decided to prove everyone wrong that I didn’t have what it takes to be a police officer. Well, I proved to myself I really was!! I was thirty one years old and could beat the barely twenties in physical activities, the shooting range, martial arts, etc. I gained respect from my instructors when I could ‘fall down and give me 100’ (yes, pushups, the full military ones). Sorry, I have to brag on that, as several of the male instructors did not think women should be involved in police work, as it took a man. One of those instructors took me aside just before graduation and told me I had changed his mind about women in police work. It was then I realized I could be a role model for other women which is another reason I want to tell your readers about it. I think the American Bedu Blog helps empower the women in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the world who are oppressed. I am all for helping women find their value in the world.

I must also relate this as it has to do with empowering women. I was married briefly in Ohio. I was a battered wife. I got the courage to leave in a time when it was socially unacceptable to do so. Thank God, the laws have change greatly in this area. As a police officer I could help abused women and children get help.

What were some of your most memorable moments when you were on the force?

I have so many memorable moments!! First I must say, read the book as several of them are in there, just the names, and some circumstances are changed to protect identities.

But my most favorite moment is this. I worked as a mounted police officer for eight of my years in police work. Horses are still my first love. One day I was working in the park when a woman and child approached me. The woman asked if her little boy, about seven, could pet the horse. This was a normal thing that happened in the course of the day. The boy was petting the horse and talking to it. I was trying to understand what he was saying to the horse so I asked his mother what he was saying. She was crying! Now I was worried. I asked her what was wrong. She told me her son was autistic and had never spoke a word to anyone before that moment. Now I was crying. The horse had opened up a door for that child. The police horse did that in a lot of instances and is a tool more police departments should utilize.

Did you ever encounter any Saudis while you were an active law enforcement officer?  If so, please share as you are able.

I met many people from everywhere when I lived in Florida. I met Arabs from everywhere in the Middle East. I found them pleasurable and respectful. I probably met more Pakistanis than Saudi. Because all that I knew where very nice people I found it hard to believe so many of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi. I did not want to believe it. We have to remember that a few bad apples does not mean the whole bunch is bad.

You are also a multi-faceted individual.  At what age did you begin to have an interest in writing?

I started writing when I was a child. In high school and college I wrote for the school newspapers and was editor my senior year. I wrote feature articles for the local newspaper and authored many short stories. I just never thought it was that good so didn’t pursue it. However, as a police officer, I had to write, lots and lots or reports. Some of those were short but on more difficult cases they were very long and detailed. I think I improved my skills by writing all those reports! Plus, it gave me experience that found its way into my novels.

What gave you the idea to write a novel about Saudi Arabia?

Well, if you believe in the Ginn or spirits of the desert, it could be said one of them spoke to me. I tried several ideas but this one just felt right so I went with it.

When did you start to have an interest in Saudi Arabia and why?

The book, Arabian Nights. I love that book. I also love Arabian horses, I have owned and ridden them. And then there is Lawrence of Arabia. The country just has a natural romance to it. Every book I have ever read that had something about Saudi Arabia in it is fascinating. If you want to write a romance novel, why not have a character that is from Arabia?

Have you ever traveled to Saudi Arabia and/or personally know some Saudis?  How did you obtain your material about Saudi Arabia for your book?

I have traveled there only in pictures and via the internet. I want to go there very much. I did a lot of research on the country and customs through the internet. I found yours and other blogs about the country that gave me ideas. You actually helped me find books about Saudis that I read like Princess, A True Story of Life Behind the Veil, by Jean Sasson and Ted Dekkers book, Blink of an Eye.

only love twice bookcover

Can you give American Bedu’s a brief synopsis about your first novel, ‘Only Love Twice?’

It is my fantasy. A story of fifty plus year olds. It is Cinderella and her Prince Charming. In this one Prince Charming is a Saudi and Cinderella is American. And if that isn’t enough to keep them apart, he is Muslim and she is a Messianic Jew. I like to use a line from Michael Crichton’s book Jurassic Park, “Life finds a way” to describe it. In this story, Love finds a way.

Did you find it easy or difficult to write a romance novel featuring an American and a Saudi?

I wrote from the heart. (That Ginn again) The man is Saudi but raised in the western world so is not as ‘Muslim’ as the Muslims would like. I took what I learned about Saudi culture to compare the two cultures. I wanted more than just a romance, I wanted to show everyone that two cultures could learn to get along together despite the differences and even learn to love.

What has been the reaction of Saudi’s to your book, ‘Only Love Twice,’ which features a romance between an American Jewish woman and a Saudi man?

I really would like feedback from Saudi readers about the book. I have not to date had any reviews from them. My friends and family that have read it really liked it and asked how I got the idea and how I got the knowledge of the different culture.

How can American Bedu readers obtain their own copy of ‘Only Love Twice?’

The book is available at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and my website, http://www.katcanfield.com.

American Bedu has had the honor of reading ‘Only Love Twice’ and was captivated.  However, I must ask you, is it simply a coincidence that the featured female character resembles you?  After all, she is also a retired police officer and fond of horses.

Great question! It is my fantasy after all. But really, I just found it easier to use some of my experiences to give Madison a personality. Also, many of my friends have asked me to write about my experiences as a police officer. So this was a way to include those stories and weave them as threads in the story. And who is the personality of Saleem? He is the best of every man I know.

Do you have another book in the works about Saudi Arabia?  If so, what can you share?

I am writing a sequel. In it they travel to England and Saudi Arabia. In it there will be more of the differences of cultures and discussions about child brides, arranged marriages, and letting Saudi women drive. I borrowed the visual of one of Susie’s abayas, (Blue Abaya Blog) the one with the hand painted peacock feather on it for several scenes where Madison wears an abaya. (I hope that was ok, Susie?)

I have another completely different characters book working but have not decided if the male character will be Muslim or from a Muslim country. For some reason I find them easier to write about (Must be that Ginn again).

When you are not writing, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I spent two months this winter in Florida training with my instructor and my horse in the pursuit of better dressage; what I called Dressage Boot Camp. I also walk every day, I am up to 6 miles a day which I can do in an hour and 20 minutes, so I move out. If I am not walking or riding I am on the computer reading or writing.

What personal message would you like to convey to the thousands of followers who read American Bedu daily?

Keep an open mind. Listen to the views of others, express your views in a respectful way. I have found other views to be insightful and actually changed my opinion on some things.

Kat, thank you again for the interview.  I wish you all the success with ‘Only Love Twice’ and all future books.

Thank you, Carol, and wish you well and pray for you every day. You are an inspiration!

Saudi Arabia/Yemen/USA: Yemen from the view of an American

Intro: My name is Katherine Abu Hadal and I am an American who has been married to a Yemeni man for nearly 4 years. We lived in Yemen for three years and now we live in the US, and this is a snippet of what life is like in Yemen from my perspective. I really do love Yemen, and I enjoyed life there very much. However, I also want to give you a well-rounded picture of what the advantages and disadvantages are of living there. You can find more about me at http://www.shebayemenifood.com, where I show people how to make Yemeni food in English and Arabic.

yemen 1

http://stevemccurry.com

 

Yemen’s beauty derives from its antiquity and the charm and grace of the people. Old Sana’a, Wadi Hadramout, and Jibla are just a few of the ancient cities which seem to be preserved perfectly in time. The odd-sized steps and the tiny doorways in many of these old homes are details which instantly transport one to another place and time. Yemenis recognize the value of the ancient heritage and these old homes are among the most prized and desirable. Sana’a is also known as Shem (Sam) city; Shem is the son of Noah and he supposedly founded the old city. As often happens, architecture mirrors its people, and the Yemeni people reflect a set of traditional and decorated values. Honor and generosity to guests are some of the highest esteemed values.  This generosity extends not only to fellow Yemenis or Arabs, but is often magnified for those deemed as “foreigners,” usually synonymous with “non-arabs.”

I first traveled to Yemen in 2009 as a student studying Arabic. I can’t say exactly why I wanted to travel to Yemen, other than I wanted to travel off the beaten path of the usual westerner travel agenda. Plus I wanted to learn Arabic and Yemen is (or at least it was at the time) supposedly one of the better countries to go to learn Arabic. Not long after I arrived, I met the man who would later become my husband. We would hang out with friends and slowly we got to know each other. It’s not the usual way for relationships to develop in Yemen, but Esam didn’t (and still doesn’t) care much for rules or societal pressures.

After some time, I just knew Esam was the man for me. He had known from the beginning and he was ecstatic that I had finally realized that too. It took a bit of work convincing each of our families, but I am proud and happy to say that my Mom absolutely adores Esam and his family also loves and respects me a lot.

Yemen is most often in the news for the drone strikes and occasional high-profile terrorist incidents. It’s often portrayed as tribal and lawless, not only by the west but also its gulf neighbors. The word tribe carries a different connotation when translated into Arabic, however, and I will attempt to explain to you a little bit about its meaning as I understand it. Tribes (qabail) are organized political structures in Yemen. They exist alongside and at the same time integrated with the official government which is a Republic. People in Yemen often associate tribal lineage with pride and a high social status. Tribes are very powerful because they have the ability to mobilize many people quickly and they also control financial or other resources. They have certain powers and rules outside the scope of the government. Former president Ali Abdullah Saleh exercised much of his power through tribal lines.   yemeni tribes

As far as how tribal power is exercised, it is neither through dictatorship nor coercion. Instead, it is a mutually beneficial relationship which is subject to change by either party. Tribe members have the responsibility to mobilize for a cause when required by the higher-ups. Tribal leaders, or shaykhs, have the responsibility to mediate between disagreements between tribe members as well as to be generous in hosting social events and feeding the less fortunate. Despite a shaykh’s higher social status, they cannot force tribal members into action if what they are requesting seems unreasonable, and Yemenis, like anyone else, maintain their independence. A north Yemeni who spent many years in Al-Jawf described tribal figures’ limitations in this way, “No shaykh can even tell a child what to do.” (North Yemeni as cited in Koehler-Derrick, 2011)

Not every Yemeni has a favorable opinion of tribes. There are those that associate them with the uneducated and oppressive social structures which keep the powerful in power and others down. They are opposed to these structures which favor social ties, bloodlines, and loyalty over formal education and merit-based rule. A Yemeni in Aden, a former British colony, was quoted in 2009 saying,

“Most of what we have is what the British built when they were here. We haven’t gained anything from unification,” says a former colonel in the PDRY army, voicing a common sentiment as he waves his hand towards a row of bleak buildings. “I would rather have had the British here for 400 years than be ruled by Saleh and the Sanhan [President Saleh’s tribe]…Now everyone who has any power is a northerner,” he says. “The young people here have no chance to find decent jobs because they don’t have the tribal connections required to get them.”  (Horton 2009).

Unemployment and economic strife are major problems in Yemen. My husband was from I guess what you might call a middle-class Yemeni family. They were not the richest or the poorest in the neighborhood and they lived comfortably. But middle-class in Yemen also translates to what would be below the poverty level in the US. If we lived in Yemen, there would be no way to really save and get ahead and also be able to travel on that kind of salary. As a foreigner with a degree and who spoke English and Arabic, there are more opportunities for me to find work, but there are still not a lot of jobs which would pay a salary comparable to what I would make in the US.

We know many Yemenis that travel to the gulf countries for work, especially Saudi Arabia. That arrangement has been threatened over the years, however, (the first was after the first gulf war) and now “Saudi Arabia, home to about nine million foreign workers, began the crackdown this year to boost the proportion of Saudi citizens in private sector jobs from the current 10 per cent.” (Gulf news, http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/yemen/yemenis-protest-saudi-deportations-1.1170624). Yemen does not possess the large oil reserves that its neighbors have. The bleak economic outlook combined with an explosive population growth and other factors such as lack of water has many analysts predicting an impending economic disaster for this country of nearly 25 million.

For all the troubles of Yemen, there are still things about it which makes it an easier county to reside in compared to the other gulf countries. I have traveled to Oman and Dubai and I have observed the hierarchy among the people, with westerners, Indians, Asians, foreign Arabs, and local gulf Arabs each in their own class with different rules which apply to them. Interaction between locals and guest workers is limited and can often be prejudiced. I have also read stories of foreigners married to Saudis who face discrimination and are not able to fit into Saudi society. In Yemen, I never once experienced this feeling as a foreigner. I was always welcomed into people’s homes as one of them. I also know many other foreigners (both arabs and non-arabs) who were also treated as such. To my disbelief, some people even mistook me for Yemeni. (Although I think it was a actually a way of being polite and giving a compliment)

yemen woman driving     Secondly, although Yemen is a conservative Muslim country like Saudi Arabia, it does not have the kind of religious policing which is present in Saudi Arabia. Women are allowed to drive in Yemen and many do. There is a social pressure to dress modestly, but I know many western women that don’t cover their hair or wear an abaya when they go out. Yemen is technically a republic which means that it has elections and is a democracy. Although it doesn’t seem to be a fully functioning democracy quite yet, it is one step ahead of the gulf monarchies in achieving a full democracy. People are not afraid to criticize the government or political leaders and there are several active political movements and parties.

Yemen has a sense of fierce independence and a long history which gives the country a kind of security, despite the signs of impending doom which are knocking at its gate. After all, Sana’a is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities of the world. If it has made it through the floods of Noah, I suppose it will make it through today’s challenges.

Below is a recipe for Yemeni shakshuka, which is a popular egg and tomato dish in the Middle East and North Africa. In North Africa, it is usually eaten with poached eggs but in Yemen, it usually has scrambled eggs and is made with green chilis so it is spicy. They also eat a similar shaksuka in Saudi and the gulf countries, but I am not sure exactly how it is different. Served with milk tea and malawah bread or Yemeni roti, it makes the prefect breakfast or quick dinner.

Ingredients

5 eggs

3 plum tomatoes, chopped (or uncooked canned tomato sauce)

1 chopped onion

1 green chili (more or less to taste)

½ tsp. hawaij

2 tablespoons oil

Salt to taste (about ¾ tsp.)

Ground black pepper

 

Directions

1.      Heat oil, onions, chilis, and salt in a pan and cook the onions until they are slightly brown.

2.      Add the chopped tomatoes, hawaij and black pepper and cook until the tomatoes are soft, about 5 minutes.

3.      Lightly beat the eggs and add to the tomatoes. Let the mixture cook until half-way set, about 3 minutes, then stir the mixture slightly to ensure even cooking.

4.      Serve with bread and tea!

 

 

Horton, Michael. (2009). The Christian Science Monitor.  Why Southern Yemen is pushing for secession.  Retrieved November 9 2011 from http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2009/1215/Why-southern-Yemen-is-pushing-for-secession.

 

Koehler-Derrick, Gabriel. (2011). A False Foundation? Tribes and Ungoverned Spaces in Yemen. West Point: Combating Terrorism Center

 

images:

yemeni tribes symbol:  yemenfox.net

 yemen woman driving:  yobserver.com

 

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