Death in Saudi Arabia: Going Out the Same Way as Arriving


With the death of Michael Jackson on 25 June and then followed by the macabre acts of grave digging in Illinois, it made me think again on how the dead are buried in Saudi Arabia.   At least in Saudi Arabia the dead are buried basically the same way in which they entered the world except that the body is wrapped up in a white shroud as it is laid to rest in an unmarked grave.  This certainly helps prevent the fear that a sick minded individual may attempt to sabotage the grave of one who is deceased, hoping to capitalize on what the deceased has been buried with or buried in.  There is no doubt that since it was announced blatantly by the media that Michael Jackson was buried in a coffin which was encased with gold and cost US$25,000 that special precautions need to be taken to ensure his final resting place is secured.  Secured from devious minds who may want a piece of something valuable or from fans who are fanatic to the degree that they would dare attempt to desecrate his grave in order to have a final keepsake.

Then in Illinois you have four individuals who were employed at the cemetery making their own additional profits by digging up remains in order to resell the burial plots.  I wonder whether those same individuals searched the graves and bodies they dug up for anything that appeared to be of value?  It is not uncommon for someone to be buried with their favorite possessions and jewelry.

So in many ways, the simple way in which one is buried under Islam in Saudi Arabia at least helps preserve the final resting place of a loved one with less fear that at some point in the future their grave would be disturbed.

Saudi Blogs in the English Language

saudi blogs

Although I did not get to attend the Saudi Blog Camp which was held on 2 July in Jeddah, I had some great email dialogues with Ahmed Al-Omran of Saudi Jeans about the event.  He shared with me an interesting question which was posed during the event “some people asked if Saudi blogs in English offer a true image of the country, because they think such blogs are too critical and damaging to the country’s image.”

I think that comment bears some further exploration and discussion.  It would seem to me that the standard English language media does more towards damaging the image of Saudi Arabia than Saudi bloggers like myself who are blogging in English.  I like to think that blogs such as mine and many others either supplement or provide alternatives to the English language media about Saudi Arabia.  However any blog which one reads that is written by an individual should realize that it could indeed be biased and have posts based on that individuals perspective and experiences.  And we all know that in Saudi Arabia, ones experiences which in turn influence their perspectives can vary greatly.

It also begs the question on whether those individuals who raised concern about English blogs did so because perhaps they do not have a good grasp of the English language and therefore feel threatened.

I would welcome the views of readers on which Saudi English language blogs they follow and why as well as how they rate the blog in its ability to provide a fair and balanced perspective of Saudi Arabia.  Which ones are the highest recommended?  Which ones are viewed as very biased and lacking substance?

Has anyone noticed a distinction in the topics and substance on Saudi blogs written by men as compared to the ones written by females?

Which English language blogs about Saudi Arabia should be ranked as the top five?

July Saudi Arabic Lesson


The month of July is a time to enjoy all the fresh fruits as they in season and at their prime.  If you happen to go to a local market or a roadside stand, maybe the merchant may not understand Arabic.  Or if you choose to send a driver out to get the fruit for you, you will want to know what the names of these fruits are in Arabic.  All of the fruits names have been spelled phonetically in English to assist in pronunciation:

Watermelon                   Hap Hap

Banana                           Moz

Apple                              Tufah

Orange                           portical

Kiwi                                 kiwi

Pomegranate                Romaan

Raspberry                     toot

Strawberry                     fawralah

Pineapple                      ananas

Cherry                            karas

Apricot                           mish mish

Grape                            einab

Peach                            khoh

Guava                           jowafa

Pear                              kimethra

A Saudi Man Shares an Early Hajj Experience


I had the opportunity to speak with a Saudi man who is now in his mid-50’s.  He kindly shared one of his earliest hajj experiences from when he was seven years old.  Although his first Hajj was when he was six weeks old, naturally he does not remember the details of that one, but the Hajj when he was seven years old stands out in his memory as one he will never forget for a number of reasons.

It began when extended family from Riyadh arrived to his family home in Makkah.  His Grandfather drove from Riyadh in his brand new olive green pickup truck.  It was the first time for this seven year old boy to see such a vehicle.  He was mesmerized by its size, its color and its newness.  While the family prepared for their Hajj in getting things together which would be loaded into the cab of the pick up truck, he climbed into the cab while no one was watching.Boy Driver

Because this was a large family, several vehicles would be driven to Hajj but all the supplies such as tents, cooking utensils, food and clothing were to be loaded in the back of the pickup.  The young boy remembers seeing the largest crate of tomatoes he’d ever seen being placed behind the truck.  These tomatoes were to be the baseline of all the Saudi meals.  They were set behind the truck for one of the Uncle’s said they needed to be loaded last in order to not get crushed or damaged in any way.

As the truck was being loaded with supplies the eldest member of the entourage, Great Grandmother, was positioned in her wheelchair slightly behind and to the rear of the truck.  Due to her age and standing in the family she would naturally ride in the front seat beside her son (the Grandfather).

The young boy was like any curious seven year old boy of his age.  He enjoyed sniffing in the newness of the truck as he looked at all the differing dials and gear shift.  Although he does not recollect doing so, somehow the truck was shifted into neutral.   And, to his horror, it began moving ever so slowly backwards.  An Uncle was the first to notice the moving truck.  In horror he dropped the utensils he was carrying and shouted to the rest of the family “the truck, it’s moving….”  Grandfather glanced up from what he was doing and his mouth dropped open in shock.  He yelled “Nabil, come quickly…the truck…it is moving.”  For you see, during these times, it was more common to engage a driver and neither Grandfather nor the Uncle knew how to operate the truck.  In the meantime the Uncle was yelling “the tomatoes…the tomatoes…the truck is going to roll over the tomatoes” and Grandfather was scurrying to save his mother from being struck by the rolling truck which was steadily gaining momentum.

tomatoesThankfully Nabil came running and jumped in to the truck.  He quickly pushed the young boy to the opposite side of the cab and stopped the truck.  He exited the truck holding firmly onto the arm of the young boy.  “YOU!” his Grandfather exclaimed.  “What were you doing inside the truck as we are preparing for Hajj?”  The young boy was so small that no one had been aware even when the truck was moving that it was occupied.  Without attempting to answer any questions, the young boy ran inside the house to his mother.

The family counted their blessings that a catastrophe was averted and continued their preparations for Hajj.

Back in those days, in the 1950’s Hajj was quite a different experience than today.  A family had to take their own tents and set them up in Mina.   Separate tents were set up for men and women.  And at least with this particular family, the tradition was that during Hajj the men would do all the cooking while the women were given an enjoyable break.  However due to the traditional practices of segregation the adult men could not serve the women.  Therefore the young boy was relegated to the task of serving the women.  He would bring them their food and tea.  Anytime they needed something, he was summoned to assist them.

Their Hajj party was made up of more than 25 family members.  It was a memory the Saudi man has never forgotten.  Neither has the rest of his Saudi family!

Saudi Women and Cutting in the Queu

cutting in line

To begin with, waiting in lines in Saudi Arabia are always problematic.  Unlike other cultures and places, lines in Saudi Arabia are rarely symmetrical and with individuals patiently waiting their turn.  They are usually quite noisy, not straight at all but rather people in every which direction expecting to be waited on NOW.  The ones who you usually see stoically in a line and patiently waiting their turns are the Western expats.  Why is that?  Because the Western culture traditionally is more orderly, polite and patient?  And inevitably when you will see a Western woman finally being served after without complaint, waiting her time in line, a niqabi/abaya clad woman will cut in front of the western woman, even as the sales clerk is ringing up the items, demanding to be assisted right then and there.  And…usually she is….while again the western woman will wait.

Why does the Saudi woman do this?  Would she also exhibit such brash behavior with a fellow Saudi?  My theory on this is that she is already cloaked so no one can recognize her and secondly, she is after all, only cutting in on a Western…so what’s wrong with that?

More Tips on Conversing with Saudis


These tips apply whether you’ve met a Saudi within or outside the Kingdom.  First and foremost, there are indeed distinctions when conversing with a Saudi male or female.  If conversing with a Saudi female it will likely be another female who is conversing with her.  If the Saudi female is unknown and she has been met in a social setting, the following topics are appropriate and good for breaking the ice.It is okay to ask her if she has children, how many, what ages and what sexes.  I think it is universal that all mothers enjoy talking about their children.  However it is not considered appropriate to ask a Saudi female whom you do not know well what is her husband’s name or what does he do.  That comes under the category of privacy.  It is however fine to ask a Saudi woman about running a house, managing a housemaid, Saudi cooking and preparation of dishes.  She would likely enjoy such subjects and pleased to be able to give pointers and tips. Of course places to shop and what to shop for (clothes, jewelry, etc) are suitable topics as well.

You should quickly be able to discern in a discussion with a Saudi woman her mastery of English.  If she speaks excellent English with no hesitation, I’d suggest complimenting her on her grasp of the language and ask her where she learned her English.  If her English is broken and she speaks hesitatingly, I’d suggest telling her how happy you are to have the opportunity to chat with her and how pleased that she is speaking to you English.

The Saudi woman who speaks to you confidently and easily would likely be more amenable to discussions which go beyond the generalized.  She may enjoy discussions about news, current events, movies and shows on tv.

However when someone is not well known, I recommend avoiding topics such as religion, politics or marriages.

At the same token, do not be surprised that the Saudi woman, well educated or not, may ask you, as a Westerner, the very personal questions which are viewed as in appropriate of asking her.  She may ask you who is your husband and what does he do.  If you work, she may ask you not only where but how much you make.  She may ask where you live and how much you pay for rent. It is up to you to choose how you wish to answer her.  Why though would she ask you and be able to ask you questions that culturally you are prohibited from asking her?  It’s pretty simple and more like reverse imaging.  She may know of or hear how very open the West is and under that premise, has the right to ask you all kinds of curious questions.  But you, as a Westerner and especially if in Saudi Arabia, are expected to follow the cultural traditions and abstain from asking personal questions of a Saudi.

Another word of advice that is very important if one is a single western woman and speaking to a Saudi.  Let’s say the western woman may have a Saudi boyfriend.  That should not be revealed to the Saudi woman.  If it is, the western woman will likely lose much face and respect from the Saudi woman since co-mingling is against the customs and culture of Saudi Arabia.  Instead of bonding you more closely together thinking that this is something that brings you as a Westerner closer to a Saudi woman, it would likely isolate you instead.  The Saudi woman may in turn tell her friends and family about the loose westerner she met who has stolen a good Saudi man without the benefit of marriage.

No Ambulance Chasers in Saudi Arabia


One thing I have noticed while in the United States and especially while watching tv, are how many commercials come on offering legal assistance.  These commercials will ask if someone has worked around asbestos, chemicals or perhaps have been in an auto accident and still suffering.  Then a comment advises about the various diseases or problems that could have occurred and a toll free number is provided to call for help.  If an individual has any one of the ailments, he or she may be entitled to a legal cash settlement.  These are part of what we call Ambulance Chasers in the United States.  Law firms which aggressively go out of their way to find individuals whose cases or situation can be taken to court to sue.  These same type of law firms will usually listen to police and emergency scanners too and when hearing of an accident, may even arrive on the scene before the ambulance!

Fortunately I’ve never seen an ambulance chaser in Saudi Arabia either in a commercial soliciting for legal services or arriving at the scene of an accident.  I figured this is not only because the culture is different but also perhaps the minority of the population would not use an ambulance in Saudi Arabia either.

Saudi Arabia does have one of the worst traffic accident records in the world but when one needs to get to a hospital in Saudi Arabia, the majority of time when possible one is driven by private vehicle.  The reason for this is nine times out of ten it is faster.  Again, due to the congested traffic in Saudi Arabia and particularly in the larger cities, it is extremely difficult to manuveur an ambulance through the traffic.  Many many times I’ve seen an ambulance on King Fahad road with its siren on and lights flashing mired down in traffic and able to go forward only inches at a time.  The same sense of urgency to clear a road for an ambulance or a fire engine does not exist in Saudi Arabia as in the United States.  In the United States there are often times public service commercials on tv reminding drivers how to clear a road when an ambulance or fire engine is in their path.  Again, I’ve not seen that in Saudi Arabia.

Now back to the ambulance chasers.  I know there are many lawyers and law firms in Saudi.  However based on limited exposure it does not seem like medical malpractice or suing due to damages from an accident are done as commonly in the US.  Is it because of the lack of promotion of such services or are there other underlying reasons?


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