An External Perception of Saudi Arabia through Aafke’s Eyes

So Aafke, let’s begin first with more of an introduction about you.  Who are you?  Where are you from?  For those not familiar with your name, are you male or female?  What do you do?

I am dutch. Aafke is a girls name. It’s a ancient Dutch name, I’m named after my grandmother, which is a tradition in the Netherlands.
I am an artist, I paint in different mediums, I illustrate books and magazines, and lots more. I have a lot of hobbies. I’m a hopeless nerd; I always considered a day in a library a day well spent.

I’m nuts about horses, I have a horse of my own, an Arab horse named the Tarq. I also am maid to three (!) cats, Ishtar, Kira and Simsalabim, and an Alsatian, Zora.

How did you find yourself growing interested in not only blogs about Saudi Arabia but in wanting to learn more about the Kingdom in general?

I am afraid I started out learning about Saudi Arabia because of the ”Girl of Qatif” story. I was of course horrified by the story, and what must lie behind it, and fascinated by her courage and that of her laywer Abdul Rahman-al-Lahem. My first thought was: ”Who are those bloody idiots?” (sorry). And as I was completely crippled at that time; the only thing I could do was to read books, watch television, and surf on the internet.

CNN mentioned the Saudi Jeans blog, and within a few hours I was addicted to blogging.
Before that I had never visited a blog, as I thought blogging was something completely stupid, uninteresting and useless and only done by pathetic lonely nerds.

Which, come to think of it, is exactely what I am…

Another reason is that I had two Arab horses, and as Arab horses are the best and the most wonderful and intelligent horses in the world, I am naturally interested in anything to do with their original ”motherland”.

How do you feel your knowledge of Saudi Arabia and its customs has expanded through reading blogs?  And of course, which blogs, in your view, give an accurate and realistic view of life in the Kingdom?

I think that reading blogs, both by expats, and saudi writers gives me a much more varied and truthful understanding about Saudi Arabia as I could get anywhere else. Except books of course: there are several on my wish-list. Naturally a blog is very personal, and reflects the writers ”biased” outlook. but I find most bloggers, are very open and generous in sharing their views, and approach to life, and religion, and living, so therefore you know whose glasses you’re looking through, and it only enhances the richness.

And how much more realistic can you get?

Has your view of the Kingdom changed the more you read and if so, in what way?
Yes, the most important difference is that I can see KSA as a much more real place, full of real people. This makes me far more caring about the people who live there.

The saying:” To know, is to care”, applies. The Kingdom is a very different place than the ones I know, and is very interesting to learn about.

How would you describe the Kingdom using only 5 adjectives?

Unfair (especially to women)

I am really sorry,  these adjectives are almost all negative, and yet I care about the people in KSA, I wished they had an easier time, and more freedom, and more honesty and no poverty.
And I don’t mean by more freedom like in ”the west” (usually the wrong kinds of ”freedom” are quoted), but things like getting a job on your grades, without wasta, women being able to get around freely, and without being harrassed at every step. And just being able to speak freely and not get arrested because somebody in power does’t like your blog.

Has your view and understanding of Islam changed since becoming an avid blogger and reader of blogs?  And if so, how?

Yes, very much so. I didn’t know much about Islam, and the information we get about Islam is very confusing, from Islam being a real evil, a view spread both by bigotted media, ànd bigotted misguided muslims. To snippets here and there that speak of a very different kind of religion. And while I was going around the blogs I ”met” a lot of really intelligent people who were deeply and honestly religious, and I learned a lot from their posts, and the discussions, and I got a good translation from Amazon, which I am reading now,. and found some interesting websites.

I also had the idea, that as you have bigotted misogynist christians, you’d have them in Islam too, and I wanted to know where they went wrong.
Sorry. Being honest here.

I haven’t learned nearly enough, but my conclusion so far: Islam is cool, the prophet(pbuh) defenitely a real prophet of God, and a very impressive personality. (wish more muslims would take him for an example)
And a lot of the loudest muslims are as nuts as the creepy christians we have overhere. They are só much alike, and even sound exactely the same, use the same expressions: I think it’s a mindset, and you can’t blame it on religion.
I do still feel the percentage of bigotted intolerant misogynist muslims is quite high.

Based on what you have learned, what do you view as the most positive aspects of the Kingdom and in turn, the most negative?

Ehm, it’s always good to have a lot of cash, but it’s bad that a lot of it it’s being squandered by a few.

Its good to be the birthplace of a great religion, it’s bad to consider yourselves automatically better than everybody else in religion because of it.

Another very negative aspect seems to be the educational system, and it’s a good thing that there seem to be a lot of very clever people in the kingdom who can rise above that. It’s also good that there is an awareness of the importance of knowledge and a project like KAUST is very positive.

It’s bad that thinking people get arrested when they speak their minds, and it’s good that many other stand up for them.

It’s bad that women are regarded as brainless chattel or walking fitnah by many men, and it’s good that there are others, men too, who can see it differently, and stand up for women.

If given the opportunity to visit Saudi Arabia, what are the three top things you’d want to do or see first and why?

My three top destinations are:
1-The equestrian centre, and a lot of horses
2-Maida’n Salah
3-going into the desert to look for fossils and desert diamonds
4- King Abdulaziz Historical Center
5-the Janadriyah Festival (if it’s on)
6-shopping for dates, oud, perfume, and a few nice kaftans with embroidery and beads.

Now let’s switch gears a little bit and switch over to you and your blog.  When did you start blogging?  Was it as a reader or did you immediately create your own blog?

I started blogging on January 1 2008. I had been through a very scary adventure on new year’s eve, and thought it a great idea to write it off my mind, and start my blog. I had first become an addicted reader. I was impressed by the honesty and openness with which many bloggers share their thoughts and feelings, and after a while I started commenting, and I thought it was unfair to open my big mouth without showing myself and who I am. So I played around clicking stuff on WordPress and suddenly I had my own blog. I planned to do it only for a few months, until I was better, but, eh, it doesn’t work that way…

What was the impetus behind creating Clouddragon?

To let people know who I am so they can decide how to take my comments and decide wether they like me or not.

What do you enjoy most about having your own blog?  What do you enjoy least?

What I like best is: the friends I have made, and the warm feeling they give me, learning new stuff, and writing a really wicked, evil and funny post or making a danish cartoon.
What I like least is my obsessive unhealthy blogging-addiction and missing out on my beauty-sleep.

How has blogging changed you and your life?

I look horrible, with black rings underneath my eyes, I don’t watch television anymore, and I don’t get enough sleep, and I sneak off from my designated job to have a look at my favorite blogs, which is a bad thing to do, and in the morning I brush my teeth now while starting up my computer to see what has happened since I was asleep. It’s pathetic.
I always carry a camera so I will miss nothing good I’d like to share.
Anything happening to me, like falling off my horse means a good post to me. I even throw my camera to my friends: ”No! Don’t help me! Make a photo for my blog first!”
And I have made more friends!

What in your view are the essential elements for a successful blog?

An interesting blogger
who can write
who is honest
who is a good person
(or really evil)
regular posts

Where do you hope to see yourself and your blog one year from now?

My blog I would like to be still alive and just as it is; full of nonsense, fun, evil comments and cartoons and spreading sweetness and light.
Myself: riding a fobia-free horse, with a nice job, and a loving husband waiting anxiously at home for the phonecall telling him either: ”I’m coming home from my ride with The Tarq”, or which hospital to pick me up from, while wondering what time he should have dinner ready.

What impact do you believe blogging is having?  How much is blogging impacting or influencing the media as well as those who read and follow blogs?

I think the media will be scouting around for interesting blogs more and more, as it is an easy and cost-effective way for them to get at ”local” opinions and experiences if not actual news. There is also a quite derogitory feeling towards blogs, but that won’t stop the current trend to refer to blogs. After all there àre a great many intelligent people who write very worthwhile blogs.

During the Girl of Qatif outrage, CNN referred I think three times to the Saudi Jeans blog. And several news agencies pick up many bedu-posts. That gives one to think; that is quite a lot of worldwide exposure. That might not always be desirable. You have to stand pretty firm in your shoes to handle that. Especially if you are based in a country where bloggers can be jailed for no apperent reason…

Do you think of blogs as an alternative media source?

Oh, yes!  After all: they also like to interview the ”people in the street” Except they always manage to grab the most retarded ineloquent bozo they can lay their hands on. When you read blogs you can find those too, but you can also get at some really intelligent observers, besides, the personal experiences of real people make ”news” so much more human.
And the modern reporter isn’t very objective anymore; I don’t trust what the media depicts, and I want to see the other side of the story. Or many other sides…

In closing, I want to thank you for allowing me to interview you.  And are there any last words you’d like to add?

Thank you for interviewing me. I hope no weirdos will target me because of this…
The internet community is a shining example of ”coexist”, I hope this will reflect in the real world some day.


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