The Best of Both Worlds, Perhaps?

The Best of Both Worlds, Perhaps?

Twenty years ago, handfuls Saudi university students started graduating with a B.S. in  Medical Technology. They came to KFSH for their clinical internship, and I was fortunate to have initiated a few of them into the practice of analytical laboratory testing.

One student,  a woman who covered her face, except for her eyes, became a friend, of sorts. After I got over the uneasiness of not seeing her face, and after she lifted her veil in the women’s cafeteria a few times, I relaxed, and we started to compare notes regarding our lives, experiences, and goals, etc.

She told me she was a third wife. She already had a daughter from a previous  marriage, in which she was a second wife. The divorce bothered her not because of polygyny, but because the first husband did not want her to complete her education and work. She, on the other hand, had developed a passion and a talent for her field, and with a strong personality, was not about to give it up.

The current husband, who had two other wives, was fine with her career, and she was fine with the other wives. They all had separate villas, small but comfortable, and this woman lived with her mother and still small daughter.

I was dying to know about the sleeping arrangements, but could not ask directly, of course, so I ventured to ask, “Where does your husband live?”

“With ME!” came her indignant response. At that moment, I wished my own face were covered to hide the redness of embarrassment. I never asked again, sensing that I’d hit a raw nerve.  She never elaborated, except to complain a few times that he had mixed up the nights, and inconvenienced her.

This woman had her cake and ate it, too.

WordPress vs. Blogger

WordPress vs. Blogger

I use WordPress because of its ease and efficiency. Blogger offers more options for creative content, but I don’t have the patience to learn it.

I can subscribe to other WordPress blogs, but not to Blogger blogs, so I end up reading more WordPress than Blogger blogs, which is exactly the point.

Some of the Blogger blogs are wonderful, but I find myself neglecting them. Commenting on Blogger blogs continues to be a challenge, with the separate comment page that sometimes eats the comment , and what about those skewed letters you always had to decipher?  Are they still a prerequisite for posting a comment?

If you are writing on Blogger, please know that I probably love your blog but do not read it or comment as often as I do on WordPress blogs, and this is only because of accessibility.

Does anyone else notice this tendency for polarization of community based on format?

Cabin Fever in Riyadh

Cabin Fever in Riyadh

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Living in Riyadh Before the Internet

My daughters have near-native fluency in English, but sometimes they ask me about phrases they’ve never heard, like “cabin fever”.  Last week, one of them asked me about this phrase; all I had to do was remind her of how we lived in Riyadh, how we used to wait for her father to come home from work, and beg him to take us out. We didn’t care where, we just wanted to get out of the house.

Here in the States, during a particularly snowy winter, we might be afflicted with a touch of cabin fever, but in Riyadh we suffered from it year round.

The high point of certain Riyadh days occurred when my husband walked in, and decided to take us out. From the degree of our excitement we showed, one would think we were headed for a wonderful place, full of stimulation  and activity. No. We would go to the post office, and sit in the car while my husband went inside to retrieve the mail. That was a lovely outing for us, occurring with  the satisfying frequency of once a week!

After the post office, and if my husband felt energetic, we’d get shawarmas. All of us had a say in where we would get these shawarmas, but it didn’t matter as much as we pretended it did; shawarmas are like hamburgers– they all taste good, but slightly different from shop to shop. Our favorite shawarma shop was Yelah Al Sham (spelling?) because of its creamy, rich garlic sauce over fat portions of meat.

Two or three times a month we’d go  grocery shopping. All of us would walk up and down all the isles, examining labels and prices, comparing deals, choosing, rejecting, and tossing into the cart, sometimes when one of us was not looking, or returning something to shelf, also when one of us wasn’t looking.

Once a month, if we were lucky, we could persuade the man of the house to take us to Shoala shopping mall, or Al-Akkaria. Those were the only two malls in Riyadh at the time. Even my husband enjoyed going to the mall, not to buy things, but to sit and watch people, read the newspaper, and daydream. The mall provided much entertainment in that form, especially during hot summers when the HVAC in the apartment made us either too cold or too hot.

After Asr, on nice weekends– that means not too hot, and you know how many days like that come around in Riyadh!– we’d go to one of several public gardens in Riyadh. First, though, my husband would buy kofta, mango juice, taboulah, and/or whatever else smelled fresh in the restaurant. We’d spread a blanket under an inviting palm tree, and remain there until Isha or later, or until the kids got bored with the playground or the other kids. I’d write letters, read and study Arabic, while my husband read the Arabic newspapers cover to cover.

I have to admit, my husband was good at taking us with him to mosques that offered areas for ladies. We prayed in large mosques, small mosques, popular ones, clean ones, shabby ones, elegant ones and simple ones. I miss all those mosques. Here in America, we have only two mosques, both twenty minutes away by car, which seems unnatural.

Several times a month, on a weekend morning after Fajr, my husband and I would leave the girls in bed and go to the Oteyga fruit and vegetable suq. That experience always thrilled me. I loved seeing hundreds upon hundreds of boxes of fruits and vegetables. I loved that the suq was so large we had to drive from the fruit side to the vegetable side. I loved the aromas of the green herbs, mountains of onions, boxes of ripening mangoes. We would fill the car with produce, and I’d spend days, literally, cooking, freezing, sharing, and, of course, eating.

During the week, I rarely felt the desire or need to go out, but when I did, I’d walk two blocks to the pharmacy or the small grocery store, more for a walk than for need of a purchase.  That little habit came to an abrupt end one morning when I was followed by a man who wouldn’t give up, but that is another post.

Two of my friends had drivers. Occasionally, one of them would send her driver for me, and we’d spend time together at our favorite bookstore, Obeikan. The other friend would send her driver for me, too, and we’d spend time at her house, or we’d visit other friends, or go to the zoo, or go to the DQ  (that’s the Diplomatic Quarter, not Dairy Queen) or go to a women’s Islamic study circle.

At home, while my husband was at work and the girls were at school, I stayed happy drinking Turkish coffee, studying Arabic and Qur’an, and later Italian language, and cooking and doing housework. Every morning, I would spend several hours on the telephone talking to friends. No one had cell phones, of course. No one needed them. The housewife connection thrived from house to house on nothing but a single land line. Our husbands never knew how much time we spent gabbing on the phone, but those talks sufficed us and lessened the occasions on which we’d beg our husbands to take us out.

I loved being a housewife. Those were the happiest years of my life, and I must confess that I did not suffer from “cabin fever” as much as my daughters, who, in their youth, were hungry for new experiences. What bothered me was having to wait for my husband to feel like taking me out, or wait for a driver, or wait for a taxi, and then wait for the destination to be open, or ready to receive me.

None of us had computers, let alone the Internet. Eventually, one of my technologically advanced friends got connected, and became enamored of e-mail. She tried to tell me about it, how she could write to her family in the States every day, and they would receive the letter within hours, if not minutes. That concept was far over my head at the time, too good to be true, so I continued to write my letters in long hand, mail them a week later, and wait not only two weeks for them to reach my family in the States, but wait another two weeks for someone to reply.

I did miss television, I mean Western style television, with its high quality production and abundance of channel choices. In Riyadh, we had two stations, One and Two, for Arabic and English. They began their daily broadcasting after Asr and signed off close to midnight, except on the weekends, when a movie might last until one o’clock AM. Most of the programs bored me, in both languages, but I enjoyed watching the prayers from Mecca, especially during Ramadan, and I enjoyed the rare American serial, like Law and Order, or the British game show where the contestants accumulated points by entering the pyramid and grasping at flying bits of paper. I forget its name, maybe it was called Crystal Maze. The other show I liked was also British; people would have to perform certain difficult tasks in a short period of time. I forget its name, also. There was a hilarious Japanese game show, in which people would also perform silly tasks; most contestants got an unexpected dunking, or falling, or rolling as they failed the task.

No one had DVDs or even video players. I suppose I belonged to the sector of population that found no need or imperative to become sophisticated in methods of mass media. Our home was both a sanctuary and a prison, as it shielded us from all activity outside of it.  I did not suffer from “cabin fever” nearly as much as my girls. My husband did not suffer from it at all, but  from the opposite condition– having to take us out when he wanted nothing more than to sit on the sofa and vegetate after a long workday.

I’d be happier today if I didn’t have to work, if I could pass my days the same way I passed them in Riyadh. In fact, my having to return to the workforce after we came to the States contributed to my divorce. I would love to “have my cake and eat it.” I would love to be able to stay home, not worry about work or money, not have to parcel myself out to various family members, and yet have my car at the ready, and be able to go to any store, day or night, whenever I felt like it or needed something.

I guess that condition is called “retirement”, and I won’t be able to reach it for more years than I’d like to remember. Maybe at that time, I’ll be able to return to Riyadh, at least for a visit, and marvel at all the changes that continue to take place as I write. However, I would not like to see Riyadh, or Jeddah, or any city of Saudi Arabia, become a carbon copy of all other big cities in the world. The charms and curses of life in the Kingdom can be perceived clearly  in juxtaposition, and appreciated best from a distance, perhaps after the fact. 

Music- Heavenly or Haram?

Some Muslims believe that music is haram– forbidden. They say it distracts a person from prayer and remembrance of Allah. Music hypnotizes, takes one away from ordinary reality. A Muslim could  be distracted from prayer by the delight of listening to  music; this seems true. On that basis, music probably qualifies as an intoxicating substance, except that it is not ingested by the usual route. Its effects include physiological changes, yet it never enters the body in a concrete way, in the same manner as drugs or alcohol, and it never becomes truly addictive in the way that drugs and alcohol become addictive. What a mystery! Must we leave it alone, and toss it  into the bin of sensual pleasures labeled “Haram”?

Frankly, I never spent much time trying to believe that music is haram. That’s not possible, and now I know why. Appreciation of music is hard-wired into the human brain. I learned this from my grandkids, who are on the cusp of their Terrible Twos. Music delights them, relaxes them, and teaches them.  My little grandson phones me every day, and wants me to sing to him, “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!”  Americans may remember that song from youth, and if you recognize it, I’ll bet you are smiling! If I could figure out how to insert it into this post, I would do so.

I won’t cite Qur’an verses or Sunnah regarding the matter of music; anyone who reads my blog knows where to look for supporting evidence in either direction.

I missed music —  listening to it and making it — during my years in Riyadh.  I was a pianist in my youth, and later picked up classical guitar, but I had to leave that behind when I moved. Mornings, while doing housework and cooking, I would listen to Radio Riyadh, which aired insipid re-makes and elevator music from the United States. I enjoyed every note.

More than once, I wondered whether my love of reciting the Qur’an grew out of my love for music more than love for Islam. I confess, the beautiful recitations of popular reciters sounded quite melodious.  My favorite reciter at the time, Ahmed al Ajami, was criticized for “‘singing,” rather than reciting, the Qur’an. Indeed, his melodious voice drew me closer and closer to the Qur’an and its message.

In contrast, I used to fall out of bed in the morning, nearly dead of a heart attack because  the muazzin in the mosque across the street  used to belt out the azzan as loudly and as harshly as he could. In spite of protests from the surrounding residents, he insisted upon calling a most grating azzan, raspy and booming. He wanted to make sure everyone in the neighborhood woke for Fajr. Everyone did.

One of my dear friends in Riyadh loved music, too, and listened to it freely, without restraint. The difference between us was that she believed music was haram, and I did not. She would say, “Astaghfirullah,” after telling me about a song she’d grown to like, but then she’d chuckle and admit that she could not keep away from this “sin”.

I wonder where she is now, and I wonder whether she still regards music as haram.  I’m back in the States, listening to all kinds of music, and getting distracted from prayer by far more insidious influences than music.

Easy Natural Arabic Article

For those of you subscribed to Natural Arabic, www.naturalarabic.com, this week’s article is particularly accessible. In other words, easier than usual.

تفاصيل يوم رتيب في حياة عائلة مغربية

(Details of a routine day in the life of a Moroccan family)

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