Sunday, September 8, 2013

Saudi: Everyday Breakdown

Saudi director Haifa Al-Mansour said it best; everyday life in Saudi Arabia is hard, and these difficulties "build up and can break a woman down". 

It's in the details; knowing that your most significant life decisions cannot be made without a male guardian's permission. Asking for help from a man, only to be ignored because he doesn't want to speak to a female. Being late to an appointment because your driver doesn't show up on time, or because there is no public transportation and you're not permitted to drive yourself. The man who tells you to cover your face because it's a "sexual temptation", or the man who hits on you thinking you are a woman with no morale simply because your face isn't covered. The man who refuses to sit next to you on an airplane, or who refuses to shake your hand when he's introduced to you, all because you are a woman. 

It's not every man who is like this, but there are enough around to keep women constantly on guard.
Sometimes it doesn't feel human.

If you wear niqab and wear too much eye make-up...they will call you a temptress. 
If you wear hijab and show your face....they will question your purity.
If you choose not to cover your hair...they will doubt your faith. 
If you cover your entire body in black...they will believe you are holy.
Appearance is everything, and they are most comfortable with women who are entirely unseen and unheard. The women who are seen are simply asking to be disrespected. 

A society consumed by public image, in every way imaginable;
Shorten your thob and grow a beard to be considered the "better Muslim". 
Take a loan out of the bank to buy a car you cant afford to "buy our respect". Yes, it is for sale. 
Lather yourself in French and Italian designer clothes, let it be a reminder of the producers power over the consumer.
Complain about your maid or your driver, but don't be ashamed that you're violating their human rights.
Do whatever the hell you want, just make sure you pray five times a day. 

Let the empty streets comfort you. 
Find humanity inside the malls.  

-B. Al-H. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Saudi Arabia: On Losing Control in Qatif & Qassim

 My article on the similarities of demands in Qatif and Qassim, two cities traditionally know to be very different, and what that means for the Saudi government:

Monday, January 14, 2013

Nightmare in Saudi Arabia: Plight of Foreign Workers

My Article for Newsweek Daily Beast on the Dire and Often Slave-Like conditions migrant works may face in Saudi Arabia (Applies to GCC and many other Arab countries as well):

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Precious Moments with Saudi Religious Police

Some days I wear hijab, somedays I don't.

Being new to Riyadh, I was not accustomed to the common harassment from religious police to "cover my face". In most other cities in Saudi Arabia it's rather rare to experience a run in with the country's notorious religious police, and I never had to deal with it until moving to Riyadh.

A day prior - with my hair fully covered by Hijab - a frustrating argument arouse when 4 religious police followed me and insisted that I cover my face. I explained my reasonable condition; (as a crowd inconveniently began to surround us) only if the four religious police would first cover their faces would I cover mine. Upset by my remark, and perhaps in attempt to appear in control of the situation in the eyes of the gathered spectators, they summoned a police officer to "escort" me out of the mall.

Frustrated by the prior days events, I decided that day to leave my little black scarf behind at home. No scarf, no tool for which to cover my face with.

I waltzed into Riyadh Gallery Mall, grabbed a coffee and took a pathetic stroll along the indoor mall river. About half-way through my coffee, I heard a voice summon from behind; "Fear God and cover your hair, the end of the world is nearing..."

I turned and saw a familiar sight; a young man with a long beard, shortened thob, and shymagh draped over his head without an 'agal; surely religious police. Thinking myself to be clever, I replied "Ooops! I left the scarf at home". He gave me glare, then I swear he almost smiled as he disappeared.

I delighted in my victory over him; the second half of my coffee was more delicious than the first, and the indoor river became more magical. I felt myself more free and powerful than when I had first began the coffee.

The victory was short lived; "girl!" I heard a familiar voice call from behind me. The same young man who had just disappeared had reappeared with a small GAP bag in hand that he was stretching out towards me in ofference. I froze, absolutely confused. Receptive to my confusion, he reached into the bag and pulled out a small blue scarf with a subtle design and fresh GAP tags hanging from it.

He bought me a scarf! I covered my mouth as I embarassingly started laughing. He looked around confused by my reaction, unsure as to how he should interpret my laughter. I shook my head refusing to take the bag, he insisted and looked very pleased as I finally took the bag. "God be with you", he told me. "He always is", I replied.

Though I don't appreciate or agree with the religious police, rather than try to get my point across I decided to let him win. An image of a little girl who often begged in a dirty clothes and hijab in a market near my home popped into my mind. I told the driver to pass by that market on the way home. Sure enough the little girl was there begging, I stretched out my hand with the GAP bag in ofference, in the same way the religious police man had done to me.

She took the bag and gave me a HUGE smile as she pulled the new scarf out of the bag to examine, an instantly put it on her head.

Somedays I wear Hijab, Somedays I don't.