Recent Riyadh Sandstorm


I’m currently in the United States but friends wanted to make sure I do not forget what a “real” Saudi sandstorm in Riyadh is like! This sandstorm occurred on 10 March 2009. The photos were taken from the Fasiliyah Towers in downtown Riyadh. The sandstorm affected both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Not surprisingly the airports were closed and flights cancelled.


It is easy to envision how the entire city would be obscured from view and visibility at zero. With such a sandstorm there really is no way to protect yourself from the onslaught of sand if caught out and about. Even within the home the sand will seep its way in through cracks and crevices that are invisible to the naked eye. I can only imagine what my poor home must look like after that storm! Not only will dust be caked throughout on the inside but outside there will be layers of sand mounted around the doors. These sandstorms make one even more appreciate having a housemaid to assist with all the cleaning that must be done after such a storm. In addition to dusting and mopping most dishes and utensils will all need to be rewashed as well. And sandstorms like this can require further deep cleaning to such as removing and cleaning curtains and curtain rods.


Since pictures do indeed convey a thousand words, it is easy to imagine how individuals with respiratory ailments such as asthma can suffer during and after such a storm.

And fortunately before posting, a friend also sent me a video of this sand storm:

Some of the Ways USA is Distinctive from KSA for Muslims

Since we have been back in the States now for a brief period I thought it would be noteworthy to mention some of the many distinctions one will find between USA and KSA but which is likely of importance to Muslims all around. For starters, any hotel rooms in the Kingdom and most places throughout the GCC, will have an arrow indicating which way is the kibbah (Makkah) in order for muslims to pray in the appropriate direction. This is not the case in the United States. At least I’ve yet to stay in a hotel room anywhere in the US which indicates which direction is Makkah. As a result one must either know the directions or be able to distinguish from the sun which way is East or West.

During our time in Houston I was surprised when opening a drawer in the table beside the bed to find that it contained a Bible and the Book of Morman but no Quran. I am aware that some hotels will provide a Quran in the rooms as well as a Bible but again, I think that is the minority rather than the majority. Interesting when one takes into account that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the United States.

An American Bedu Milestone

It may not happen today or tomorrow but if you happen to glance at the blog stats counter on the right hand side of the blog, you will see that American Bedu is nearing the 500,000 mark!  I want to thank each and every one of YOU who have chosen to come and peruse and visit and comment on the American Bedu blog for helping this blog to reach such a milestone!

As the American Bedu blog continues to grow, this is also a good time to reflect and ask of you, the valued followers, what do you want to continue to see in this blog?  Are you satisfied with the diversity of posts?  Is the blog reaching its goal and objectives on providing a wide variety of views and experiences on the culture, customs and traditions of Saudi Arabia?  What subjects have I not touched upon yet that you’d like to see here?

I wish I would know who will be the half-millionth reader of my blog…I wish there were a way to have a virtual fireworks display when that monumental moment happens…

Again, my sincere thanks and appreciation to YOU!

American Bedu

A Visually Impaired Saudi Man Shares His Experiences and Views

1. First of all, thank you for the opportunity to interview you and ask you some candid questions.  Let’s start first with the basics on a little bit about yourself such as your name, where you are from in Saudi and where you live now?

My name is Hatim Abu zinada.  I’m from the western region of Saudi Arabia and to be more precise from Jeddah. I was born there, went to school there and living there and can’t see myself living anywhere else but Jeddah. I am married to Dr. Manal Al Malik and have four children. Talal, Faisal, Jude and Nour.

2. At what stage in your life did you first begin to learn that you may be vision impaired?  And as you began to have vision problems, what kind of infrastructure was in place in the Kingdom to support those who have such impairments?

Well, My parents noticed that I had difficulties seeing in the dark as soon as I started walking.  As a child I grew up knowing that I suffer what is known as night blindness.  My sight was checked yearly for any changes.  At the age of eight I wore prescription glasses for the first time and was very happy to do so as most kids would.  At the age of twelve it was determined in London having R.P ( Retinitis Pigmentosa ).  It didn’t mean much to me then, it was just a name of an eye problem that I have.  A few years later, about the age of fifteen I was diagnosed in Boston specifically with Choroideremia which is a retinal degenerative disease and a rare form of R.P. Only then I came to know that I’m going to lose my eyesight some time in life but no one could determine when. This was a big shock to me and can never forget that day nor the words of the consultant.

Back in the seventies there was hardly anything for those with visual impairment or any other type of handicap.  Actually, even the medical services in the kingdom were not as developed as nowadays. I believe I was lucky to have educated parents who had the facility to take me to special centers for diagnosis and follow-up in an attempt to find a cure but unfortunately with no luck so far.

3. As I understand you are an architect.  Did your vision begin to decline during your studies of architecture?  How did this impact on your studies?  Did you obtain your degree?  Were you able to work in the field of architecture?

I went to a regular school and didn’t need any kind of aid throughout the school years up to grade twelve. I started facing some difficulties in the fourth year of the architectural program, but I managed to complete it and obtained my degree in July 1987.  It was clear for me since the beginning of my undergraduate degree that I will not be able to fully practice architecture.  With a couple of fellow architects we formed an architectural company.  I managed to design a number of residential projects so far and I’m still doing so — of course with the assistance of one of the architects to transform my ideas and descriptions into architectural drawings. Nowadays, and after losing most of my eyesight, I still like to think of new ideas for new design projects in my free time. In the office I’m more involved in the management side of our company and the decision making process.

4. How much time passed from when your vision started to decline to when you became totally blind?  Can you share your experiences and emotions as you went through this period?  What coping mechanisms did you put into place? How did you maintain a positive attitude?

From the age of 12, my eyesight started to decline gradually; however, it was neither noticed to me nor to my friends and family.  The regular eye examination was the only indicator that my eyesight was getting weaker and weaker.  When it was determined few years later that I will be losing my eyesight I remember deliberately doing odd things such as, walking around the house in the dark to start exploring what it feels like to be a blind. I admit crying a lot during that period without talking to anyone about it. People going through this period or who are already blind usually hates people looking at them with sympathy because in most cases it hurts the blind much more than it comforts him or her.

Since I was 28 years old my eyesight started to decline rapidly.  When I was 32, I was considered legally blind. For me, this was one of the toughest periods in my life.  During which our eldest son Talal was two years and our second Faisal was just born. I kept staring at their faces as much as I can and thinking that I will not be able to watch them grow-up and see the changes that will occur on their physical appearances.  I must admit that this did hurt me in the past and still does till now when I think about it but never talked about it with anyone.  This is the first time I’m saying it in public.

When I knew that I will not be able to see back in 1978, I took a typing course in the UK during the summer holidays and this was one of the best decisions I made. At that time there was no computers yet.  I remember my first lesson of typing, We sat in a room with a typewriter in front of each one of us. The instructor asked us to look at the screen in front of us illustrating the keyboard and to follow the recorded instructions. She turned the lights off and went out of the room. Of course I panicked as I couldn’t see in the dark so I called her and explained my situation thinking that I would get an exception. I remember her smiling to me and saying but you are not supposed to look at the key board, typists usually look at the text they want to type and not their fingers. Beside the fact that the typewriters we were training on had absolutely blank keys (all letters and punctuations were wiped out). This was a great relief to know that whether you’re sighted or blind you are not supposed to look at the keyboard.

In 1996 I took my first computer course and was introduced for the first time to the screen reader program. I took this course in the Royal London Society for the Blind.  Personally, I don’t like computers that much but I had to break the ice between us. For sure, computer is of great help to visually impaired and sighted people alike.

Out of curiosity, I took mobility training on how to use the white cane outdoors and how to move safely indoors but this was in Jeddah in 2008 at Ibssar Foundation. This was my first time to meet people with visual impairment in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. However, I never had the chance to practice walking independently with the white cane. This was due to many reasons such as:, The people around me will not give me the chance to do so, the public transportation is under development and people  still depend on drivers to take him or her around.   Additionally, the infra structure around us is not designed to accommodate the needs of those with disabilities.  Therefore I would never consider walking alone on a sidewalk or cross the street as I feel insecure to do so.

From my personal experience, there are three factors that helped in maintaining a positive attitude.  I call them the three s’es:  strong faith, strong will and strong support from family or friends.

5. And as your vision declined, what did you learn about available resources in the Kingdom for those who are visually impaired?  On a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being the best, how would you rate the Kingdom in accommodating those who are visually impaired?

Very little is promoted on what is available to accommodate the needs for those with visual impairment..  Therefore I don’t know what is available whether in Jeddah or in the Kingdom in general., but I could share some of my experience when I decided to learn some new skills and I think this will give an idea on the available resources in Jeddah for those with visual impairment.  Back in 2007 I decided to learn Braille, so I called Al nour institute for the first time after requesting their number from the phone directory.  I asked if they have courses to teach Braille skills and the answer was that they only offer such facility for those who are in the school age but not for those who are above that. I even asked if a private course could be arranged but unfortunately it was not possible. Then I was given a number of other institutes that I’ve never heard of to call which turned out to be for children with Autism.  After a big round of telephone calls someone gave me a number of an advisor for one of the institutions.  The first question he asked me how old are you and when the answer was in my forties he said it is a bit late to learn braille but let me try to find a private tutor but this will take some time and I never heard from him again.  Then I called Ibssar foundation which started few years back to provide services for the blind and the visually impaired, they had other courses but not what I was looking for. Later on, a Saudi friend of mine introduced me to a postgraduate student in the faculty of special education at University College London to teach me the introduction to Braille.

My second experience in the kingdom was when I decided to take the mobility training course at Ibssar Foundation.  As I mentioned earlier it was the first time for me to meet with blind or visually impaired people in my country. It was very sad to learn that most of them didn’t go to school or that they started school but never completed because of their visual disabilities. This did hurt me a lot and said to myself that we have to start doing something about encouraging those with disabilities to pursue their studies. But I do blame myself that more than a year had already past and I haven’t yet taken even a step forward in this regard.

6. Based on your experience, how can friends and family members provide the best support when a loved one is losing their sight?  What can they do?  What should they NOT do?

As I have mentioned in question 4, one of my three s’es is strong support from family and friends. I must admit that it is a very tough task on them. They could either push the affected person forward or lock him or her in place.

From my experience here are some of the things they should do:

– Control their emotions and try to act as natural as possible as if nothing is changing,

eg. If they see the blind or visually impaired doing something and even if he or she was struggling with it, they should ask them if they need any help with this thing they are doing rather than just rushing to help without asking. The bottom-line: never rush to help without asking..

– Try to develop their descriptive skills specially when being in new environments;

e.g.  Describe the shape of the space or room, the furniture layout, if there is anything on the ceiling or on the floor. This depends on the person and how much information he or she likes to know. This could be determined by the questions they ask to their companion.

– Provide a safe environment for the blind or the visually impaired to move in both indoors or around the house.

eg. Keep doors either wide opened or totally closed. Keep passages clear of obstacles.

– Inform the visually impaired of any changes in the house or the work environment.

eg. Inform the blind or the visually impaired of any changes in some of the furniture or even changes in the furniture layout. Changes in the finishes, whether in floors, walls or even fabrics.

– Changing the location of tablewear in the kitchen or even if there is a change in the arrangement of items in the fridge.

– Keep the blind or visually impaired personal things in the same places they leave them in and never change their locations without letting them know.

eg. The arrangement of their clothes in the cupboard. The arrangement of their desk or side tables.

– Encourage the blind or visually impaired to join in some of the social activities.

eg. Going out to the shops but never leave them standing in a place and you move away from them without letting them know that you are moving around. Watch a movie or any kind of program together and try to describe what’s on the screen, especially in silent scenes. Dine out and describe what’s on the table, read the menu and describe the arrangement of the food in the plate by using the clock hour setting.

7. How easy was it for you to start your own business?  Were there any obstacles you had to overcome in starting your business because of your visual impairment?

As I mentioned earlier along with some friends we have formed an architectural company. The difficulties we have faced were the ones anybody would face whether they are sighted or not and most of those were bureaucratic.

The major difficulties I face is when it comes to designing or discussing a design project. It requires a lot of effort on my side when I try to describe what’s on my mind to the architect who will try to put those ideas in architectural drawings. After that the process of going through those drawings to make sure that he got the main idea correctly and everything is done the way I want them to be is very tiring and time consuming for both myself and the assisting architect. Each time I finish a design I say this is the last but after a while if I get asked by somebody for a design which doesn’t happen that often due to lack of public awareness, I can’t say no. Usually I make it clear that it takes me much longer to finish a design project than it should normally takes. For sure I consider this a social problem. Not accepting the fact that a blind architect could offer professional architectural services of course with the help of a team.

I don’t blame the society for doing so. May be if I were in there shoes I would have done the same. Nonetheless, we should work on spreading public awareness on accepting people with visual impairment and give them the chance to prove their capabilities.

8. What kind of business do you have?  Where is it located?

As mentioned earlier, my main line of business is in the architectural and contracting field. The name of our company is Al Assas Architectural Co. Ltd. It is based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

I have to mention another line of business I’m involved in which started as a hobby and then developed into a professional service and that is the making of quality confectioneries.  Our brand name is CARAMEL and it is only found in Jeddah. So far we have three outlets. We are specialized in making quality European cakes and pastries in addition to a variety of sweet and savory delicatessens. We provide custom made designs for all occasions. I’m personally involved in the day to day business from a managerial scope of work but play a major role in the creation and development of new products. Once more if I was a sighted person I would definitely be involved in the actual making of the products which I used to enjoy doing before losing my sight.

9. To your knowledge are there any concessions or incentives or programs for those who are visually impaired or handicapped to start their own businesses?  If so, please explain.  If not, do you think there should be any initiatives on the part of the Government to provide such opportunities to those who are visually impaired or otherwise handicapped?

Personally, I’ve never heard of any incentives or programs for those with visual disabilities and truly don’t know where to look if there are or not as very little is published in this regard in the media. For sure there has to be such means to help those with any form of disability to integrate in there societies and be independent and productive. Governments usually play a major role in founding such programs but the private non profit organizations have a bigger responsibility to fund, develop and market such programs. In developed countries, people with disabilities have some privileges. Such as free public transportation, even private airline companies offer special discounts on air tickets. Their purchases of I.T products such as computers and other aids are tax free and many more.

I hope to see similar opportunities to those with disabilities in the Kingdom and have to remember that there is always a beginning for everything.

10. On the personal side, please share with us some of your hobbies and activities which you enjoy.

I already mentioned earlier that the making of sweets used to be one of my hobbies when I had some sight. I have to add cooking to it too.  Nowadays, I search for new information on those topics in addition to other fields of interest such as: psychology, nutrition and general health issues.   My sources for gathering such information are : TV, radio and lately the internet.

Additionally, I like to broaden my knowledge in religious matters and try to memorize what we have learnt at school and add some more.  This helps in strengthening ones faith and truly comforts those who are losing their sight or have already lost it.

Collecting art pieces both modern and old. I have a special interest in items made of crystal or glass and there for visit from time to time art galleries hunting for such items.

I also enjoy listening to classical music and believe that I have developed a good ear for it with time.

As far as activities are concerned, working out in the gym is an essential part in my weekly routine, swimming whenever I get the opportunity and enjoy hiking or skiing whenever I am in a mountain area with a guide of course depending  on the season.

Usually when I’m sitting in front of the TV I look for documentaries and especially the ones on history and science. News is another thing I usually look for although I dislike politics but one has to be informed of what is going around in the world.

I could also follow a movie if anybody is watching at home or in a cinema but definitely not the action ones.

11. And in closing, your five tips of advice for anyone else in the Kingdom who may be visually impaired.

My advice to anyone who is visually impaired or blind to:

1. Try to adopt the three s’es I mentioned in question 4 as it really makes a big difference in one’s attitudes.

2. There is nothing to be ashamed from when a person is blind. It is not our fault is it? It is God’s will.  Therefore, we should feel free to talk about our feelings with our family and friends and clearly state what we expect from them.

3. There are a lot of technological developments that can assist the visually impaired to overcome their difficulties. Therefore, we have no excuse not to update our selves.

4. Never look back and think of what we have lost; we always should think of what we still have, and to try our best to develop it. Truly, we have a lot – thanks God.

5. I would like to advice everybody even those with perfect vision to learn Braille. It is a reading language which could be very helpful to all. Why should we wait to lose our sight to learn it. May God forbid, but what if someone loses his hearing in addition to his sight. I have to pass a piece of information that I have heard of, that Braille was not originally developed for the blinds but for soldiers to read instructions in the darkness  of battle fields.

I would like to conclude this interview by expressing the urgent need to form a society or a support group for those who are blind or visually impaired in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia to exchange our experiences and  to discuss matters related to the obstacles we confront. Therefore, I would like to ask whoever is interested in joining to send me an E.mail on [email protected] with their details and I will make a contact list and pass it on to all of those on that list. This will be the first step to form an information bank for those with visual disabilities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

For those reading through this from outside the kingdom, they are more than welcomed to share their views and experiences with us.  I would appreciate any information or advice on how to form a support group. Many thanks to all.

American Bedu footnote: It was a very special opportunity for me to be able to ask Hatim such personal questions which he answered candidly and in detail. He literally opened my eyes wide to not only the needs for those who are visually impaired in the Kingdom and elsewhere but also how I can be more supportive to those who have impairments. I also wish to express my admiration for Hatim, his accomplishments and way of living life head on. I am sure he is an inspiration to many of us and hope that through this interview further efforts can be made to form support groups and/or a social for those who are blind or visually impaired in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

3 Saudi Men Speak Out on Marriage

I recently had the opportunity to speak with three single Saudi men on the topic of marriage. The discussion with each man was a separate conversation and none of them are known to one another. One was from Nej’d, another from Hijaz and the third, a Bedu. Tow of them are in their mid-20’s and are full-time university students. The other is a doctor and in his 30’s. All three are receiving strong family pressure because they are not yet married. There’s a reason they all have chosen to remain single. In each case they shared they want to marry for love and they want to marry when they believe they are ready for marriage rather than succumb to family pressure. Other similarities all three mentioned in their separate conversations to me was also concern about today’s Saudi woman and her expectations of marriage.

As the young doctor told me “I want a wife who is going to be my partner and supporter and not look at me as a money machine and expect a new Rolex every year.”

The young men expressed concern on the high dowries families expected for their daughters. In addition, if a young woman came from a home where her family employed a driver and a housemaid, as a new bride, she also expected her husband would immediately provide her with the same.

One young man shared “what’s wrong if we opt not to have a housemaid for the first few years and instead take care of our home together? I have no problem taking my turn washing the dishes or folding laundry.”

I found all three of these young men to be realistic and pragmatic. They accepted the realities and understand fully what responsibilities they will be taking on once they receive the title of huband.

While from different regions and backgrounds, all three young men, while not against arranged marriage, expressed the desire to feel confident of the woman who would eventually become his wife. As one of the men said “choosing a wife is not about how tall or how attractive or whether she is light or dark skinned. I want to know that I will have a partner with substance and I’ve married someone who can match me intellectually and understand me.”

I’ve no doubt all three of these men will make excellent husbands one day and I do hope they will achieve their desires in their future partner.

Observations on the Traveling Saudi

During recent travel from Riyadh to outside of the Kingdom it was quite interesting simply observing many of the Saudis who were on our same flight. I noticed so many of the male passengers arriving at Riyadh airport wearing their traditional dress of thobe and smaugh. As they checked in with their luggage many also retained an oversized carry on. Other Saudi passengers checked in with their bags wearing western clothes. There were not too many Saudi women on our particular flight. Once we were airborne however it was entertaining watching the flurry of activity after the seatbelt sign had been turned off and many of the Saudis in their traditional dress retrieved their oversize carry on from the overhead compartment and joined the queue of fellow Saudis waiting for the washroom. Each Saudi entered the washroom wearing his traditional dress and exited changed now into western clothes. My question though is what is it that prevents or prohibits these men from starting their journey at their residence in western wear? Why must they wait until the flight is airborne before changing their style of dress?

Recent Experiences and Observations of Saudi Airlines


My husband and I along with a family member all recently flew internationally on Saudi Airlines. We have flown Saudi Airlines many times domestically for travel within Saudi Arabia and have always had a pleasant flying experience. I’m pleased to say we had an equally pleasant and positive flying experience during our recent 16 hour international flight. However there are some differences and distinctions when flying Saudi Airlines that do bear mentioning overall.

For those who may have not flown Saudi Airlines and considering flying Saudi Airlines, the carrier will continue to observe the customs and culture of Saudi Arabia throughout the flight. While I cannot speak for economy class customs, in business and first class, passengers will be welcomed in their seats with Arabic kawa and dates. And unlike Western or other Eastern carriers which may offer a welcome glass of champagne, on Saudi Airlines a selection of freshly squeezed juices will be presented instead.

Prior to the flight taking off a verse will be played over the speakers with a reading from the Holy Quran. Additionally the airline will have areas where passengers may go to pray. These areas will have prayer rugs available for use. The television screens will indicate in which direction is the Kabbah (Makkah) so Muslims continue to easily know in which direction to pray even while flying.

While alcoholic beverages will not be offered as they are prohibited in Saudi Arabia, a wide offering of drinks, snacks and various dishes are available. And these beverages and food are traditional Saudi favorites and a variety of Western favorites too.

Now it bears mentioning that when we initially made our bookings for our flight at the Saudi Airlines main reservation office we were advised that the flight was fully booked and we were waitlisted in economy class. We were concerned by this not only for being waitlisted when we had appointments in the United States but due to our physical condition from recent surgeries our doctors suggested we fly at a minimum in business class. Fortunately it all worked out and we were informed we had confirmed bookings in business class. Imagine our surprise when we boarded the aircraft, found our seats and after take off discovered more than 50 per cent of the seats in business class were empty. In fact the flight attendants advised us to use the empty seats for storing our carry on to make it easier and ready access for us. We were told that most of the flight had many empty seats in first class and economy class too. It certainly makes one wonder about the booking and reservation system which Saudi Airline employs as we did not know until 12 hours before the flight whether we had seats!

Another anomaly we discovered when flying Saudi Airlines is that the non-smoking policy is not strictly adhered too. The aircraft was a 747 and our seats were in the upper deck which is also where the cockpit is located. Multiple times during the 16 hour flight we could distinctly smell cigarette smoke coming from the cockpit.

However as I started out this email, overall we had a very positive and pleasant flying experience with Saudi Airlines and I have no qualms or reservations in flying Saudia.


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