Saturday, September 29, 2007


Most of the Muslim world started the observation of Ramadan on September 13 this year. I've discovered that during the month of Ramadan celebrations, life changes drastically here in Riyadh. Everyone is fasting (or at least pretending to fast) during the daylight hours from sunrise to sunset. So whenever they can, they sleep or take it easy during the day. When the sun goes down, they break their fast with water and some dates, then go to prayer. After that, the city comes alive. Many families have big meals or parties. Stores are open until 1 or 2 am and the streets are crowded with shoppers. There are Ramadan sales in every shop.

My students have been coming to school exhausted, and seem surprised that we are having class. Here in the HPE department, we don't do strenuous exercise during these weeks of fasting, but continue to hold classes for continuity's sake. We have 3 weeks of school and then a 2-week vacation coming up. Ramadan is early this year, and since school just started, it makes it difficult. We'll do more theory than practical PE, with emphasis on nutrition.

This week was also the University's faculty party. My husband was sent the following email:

Invitation to a Ramadan Dinner
PSU would like to invite all faculty to a Ramadan dinner on
Tuesday the 25th of September at 9.30pm
The evening’s entertainment will include: competitions, cultural activities and sports activities, the highlight of which is a game of football between a faculty and a student team. Finally, a delicious dinner will be served under a full moon and a starlit sky.
We hope that you will attend and enjoy this annual PSU calendar event!
A bus will be available to pick up faculty from the DQ.

At first I was confused, because the email I got wasn't as detailed, and the date was different. I soon realized that there was a men's party and a separate women's party. I teased DH that it wouldn't be as romantic under the moon and stars without the women!

So Monday night we had our party. I must say I was less than impressed. Women faculty arrived promptly at 9:00 PM when the shuttle delivered us, dressed to the nines. Many were wearing their native costumes. There were colorful saris from India, gold-threaded embroidery on flowing robes, the traditional Saudi thawb. And the jewelry was fabulous! Tables were loaded with covered dishes containing the native Middle Eastern foods. But we were not to eat or begin the program until the arrival of the Women's Dean and Assistant Dean. We waited and waited, famished with hunger. The Westerners became worried that something might have happened to detain the Dean. But we were told not to worry, that this was common during Ramadan. A party set for 9 PM might not get started until much, much later. It was difficult to remember that customs were different, and not to construe this behavior as rude. But the Dean did not show up until 11:30. (I was hoping to go home by 11!) We had a short poetry reading by several students, the Dean welcomed us there, and then we ate. There was a tattoo parlor off to one side where we could go and get our palms or hands tattooed with henna. One of the Architecture faculty, a new arrival from Canada, got her ankle and the side of her leg tattooed. (It seems that this is a rather scandalous place to get henna'ed.) Those of us from the DQ were so tired, we left around 1:00, the soonest we could get away.

I don't know how these people do it, partying all night long, every night all month long, and going to work the next day. They are tired and fasting, and irritable. Stay off the roads! It's dangerous out there.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Mice Will Play

This is what my daughter did during her first semester at college at Utah State. I feel a bit out of control since leaving her and her sister in the US at college and running off to Saudi Arabia. I may deserve this, since I have always told my teenagers that I don't mind them experimenting with their hair as long as they don't experiment with drugs or sex. But Daughter #4 is going a bit further than any of her sisters have. Yikes.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Wearing the Abaya

The Abaya is a full-length black robe which is worn by every woman when they appear in public in the city of Riyadh. I'll post some pictures of myself in the Abaya when I get my computer connection. It is very, very hot here, so the Abaya is a bit uncomfortable. However, I haven't had too much trouble with it. In fact, it's fun wearing the Abaya here at the University because I feel a bit like Professor McGonogall teaching the students at Hogwarts!

The difficulty comes in regards to the head covering. Abayas are sold with a matching head scarf which is worn in different ways. Conservative Muslims will cover the entire head. You'll see them trip and fall occasionally, as it is almost impossible to see while walking. Another option for conservatives is to wear a separate piece which surrounds the face and leaves slits for the eyes. Most women simply drape the scarf over their head. Westerners usually wear the scarf around the neck and are occasionally asked by the religious police (Muttawa) to cover.

I quickly picked up the unwritten do's and don'ts of the head covering. I cover while walking from the shuttle bus to the front door of the University. I cover while entering the place of Mormon meetings. But I don't cover in the grocery store or other public places. I'm getting the impression that women here would like to have a bit more freedom in being seen uncovered, and appearing in the grocery store with the head uncovered is generally acceptable.

I thought that I had the whole thing solved until my husband began reprimanding me whenever he saw that I was wearing the scarf around my neck. I asked him nicely to please butt out of telling me when to cover. But he continues to nag me. Now I feel like ripping the whole black thing off my body and wearing a bikini in public! So, why do you think I'm having such an extreme reaction? Am I afraid DH is buying into the whole subjugation of women thing? Or is it my rebellious nature reacting to the nagging?

Heavy sigh.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Computer at Last!

I finally got a laptop for a fairly decent price! I am thrilled to death. But the only problem is, we are unable to get internet access just yet. Here in Riyadh, one must wait for a residence permit (iqama) in order to do just about anything. If you don't have your iqama, you cannot open a bank account, get a telephone, internet access, or even get paid by your employer! I'm about to die waiting.

I don't even have a computer at work yet, so I'm having to snitch little periods of time here and there on other people's. I have many things I want to tell all of my loyal readers, but I'll just have to wait a bit longer.

If you want to know all the boring details of my personal life, I'm trying to put them up a little at a time in diary form on my other site, Behind the Infamous Veil. But keep checking here as I'm hoping to give you some nice interesting posts about the fascinating culture I'm encountering here.