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Friday, 6 November 2009

The One Where I Gained Some Perspective!

OK! So we have been here just over three weeks now and we not only have a TV we also have the internet - so I can spend some quality time on here, putting my three weeks of experiences into perspective.

The view I had of Saudi Arabia (probably similar the that of many other westerners) has completely changed! In the west we tend to believe that most middle eastern countries are very third world, that the people are so enclosed in their own religion and ideas that they have no room or acceptance for anyone else and that they are somewhat lesser valued than ourselves. Well this is absolutely NOT true! In fact very much the opposite! I may have only been here three weeks but I have thrown myself into the deep end in culturally and discovered a beautiful place with wonderful people from all over the world!

I will begin with the abaya. Kate humble notoriously cried on television at the prospect of wearing one for a matter of a few weeks. Deep down this made me very concerned as to how I would deal with this. Would I feel suppressed? Would I loose my identity? And most of all would I be hot?! The answers respectively, no, no and not really!

There is something quite liberating for me coming from the west where people, including myself, are so consumed with fashion, looks, styles and other people's perceptions. We are all the same, but still a little bit different! Yes the abayas are black, but some have beads, colourful stitching, different shaping and even Gucci make them!!! I personally do feel quite feminine in mine, and I find myself looking at others and seeing how nice and different some people's are.

For me, having recovered from an eating disorder, where I was consumed with how I looked and if I looked fat in this or that, and wanted to look slim and feel slim and for other people to think I was slim too, it is great to put an abaya on and know it covers all those motherly bumps and lumps!!!

As for the head scarf, it is absolutely necessary for a westerner to where one. However I often do. If i am in a store shopping where many other westerners shop then maybe I don't. But if I am walking along the street in full view of others then I personally feel more comfortable wearing mine. (Even better if i was too busy to do my hair that morning!)

Most Muslim women, especially Saudi women, wear a full Hijab. I am not sure I could do this. Mainly because I have not been raised with it and also the heat. But I have met many women here who do and for them this is natural and normal. Most of all we should never judge a person on how they dress whether it be in very little or in full veil, every person I am meeting is equal in value and we would all do well to remember this in all walks of life.

The leads me on to the perception that Muslim women, or women here are not valued because they wear an abaya, don't generally work and don't drive. I really don't think this is the case. These women I have met have a belief, a religion, which admirably they follow and believe in. The men are not telling them to wear an abaya to make them feel bad or feel less of a person, to them this is just normal. This is how they have been raised. For it to be a derogatory act, or an act of intentional suppression then I feel it would have to be pre meditated this way, and from what I can see this is simply not the case. The people here seem to live happy lives, that are simply just different to what we are used to. That doesn't make it right or wrong, it makes it their choice.

As for the way I have been treated as a woman. Well I have no complaints! So we can't drive a car or ride in the front! Really does that actually matter in the grand scheme of things? Whilst outside a shopping mall waiting for the compound bus a security guard came out and brought me a chair to sit on! How considerate! When I ordered a taxi, the driver looked after my children in the car whilst I went into a shop, he has lent us a mobile phone until we have Iqama sorted, he took off his shoes before entering my house with ALL my shopping! He also chaperoned me around the supermarket too! He has given me advice on living here and how to be careful and when. This all from a man who lives away from his wife and daughter for most of the year as he is trying to make a better life for them all. Ironically this is a man who is desperate to live in the UK where his wife would be a nurse and he is prepared to do ANY job so that his family can be safe and happy! After all isn't that exactly what we have done by coming here?

Jason and Joey had their haircut. We were not sure what to expect. Women aren't allowed in there and the guys don't speak any English. It is amazing how one adjusts to this and how body language and tone can speak volumes in any language. For 20 SAR ( less than 3.50 gbp!) they both had their hair cut, the kids were given sweets and treats and one guy even shred his lunch with them, Jason was served tea, and so was I! A man came out from the barbers with a fresh cup of tea for me. Are these the actions of people who have no respect for women? I don't think so!

When we go to the supermarket all our things are packed for us, by men, even our trolleys will be taken downstairs if we wish! I have been in stores here where the staff - all male - have played with my kids, running up and down aisles with them, playing with the merchandise whilst I continue to shop! At first I wasn't sure what to do, shouting the kids to keep them under control, but I have learnt to realise in this short time that children are allowed to be children!

People here adore kids! Alot of the people who work here from other countries have left their children behind, so for them to meet children is so warming for them. Rarely do I sit next to the children on the bus!! They go with the driver or another passenger chatting away. They don't care about colour of skin or language barriers. It must be wonderful being a child. The kids all play in the park, from all over the world, it is beautiful to watch, seeing how they overcome the language problems and how they have so much fun together. After all play is a universal language, we should all give it a go!

Now we get to the people I have met here! People are so amazingly hospitable. I am in ore as to how welcome you are made to feel in other peoples homes. There is never a five minute visit. No way. You are greeted with amazing hospitality, never would you be hungry or thirsty in any one's home. It really is beautiful. Most of our encounters in people's homes here have been with families from Pakistan. First of all we have our neighbours. A lovely family, husband, wife and children. I went there for the first time today. Jason and the kids have been there before. Always you are invited to dinner, you are welcomed into the lounge and given drinks and food and made to feel absolutely welcome. The children played, no language in common yet they all played together. The mother doesn't speak English, yet is so beautiful in her way towards her family and her guests. I find this inspiring. She was totally focused on what we had to say and the children playing. We have graciously accepted the offer for dinner tomorrow evening, as all I have to do now is work out what on earth to wear and what I should take with me!

Another family we have met, Jason has had alot to do with. The dad is here alone with two of the children, the mother is back in Pakistan with the two elder children at university. This must be an amazingly difficult situation for any family, let alone for a culture where family is of utmost importance. Yet this man has invited Jason into his home, and apologised for his hospitality! Bearing in mind he gave Jason food, drinks, snacks, advice! Amazing! This man is working full time as a doctor, missing his wife and raising two children! He has taken Jason out twice to sort out a computer, to buy and then collect, he helped us get Internet access, and has even called to make sure we were ok!

The next family I come to are just divine! I met the mum in the park with her two children. One a baby, who now smiles and comes to me for cuddles! Her English is AMAZING!!! So I can feel totally at ease with talking with her and she gets me! LOL! Her husband got me medicines for the children, she has made us delicious soup! And given me endless advice, information and educated me so much in such a short space of time! A woman I am sure is to be a true friend. I have gained a great understanding and knowledge of so many countries, cultures, religions and more from her. And I have only scratched the surface in my understanding, as I am sure we will all spend most of our lives doing. I love listening to her tell me about Pakistan, her family, things she has read and wants to see. It is wonderful that two people from such different places could begin to have so much in common.

All in all I love it here. I have learnt so much in just three short weeks, even a few Arabic words! And yet I have so much more to learn and appreciate and understand. I will come out of these two years a very different person. I have already begun a wonderful journey of self discovery. And there is so much more to discover about myself, about other people and about the world. And I will love every minute of it I am sure!