Friday, September 29, 2006

A Woman in the Driver's Seat

Okay, so, here in The Sandbox, women aren’t usually in the driver’s seat – it’s no secret that women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to drive… It’s an issue which has been deliberated over and over and over amongst the powers that be – for longer than the four years I've been here – and one which seemingly never progresses beyond the “No Can Do” stage.

There is not another country in the world where women are not allowed to drive. [See my earlier post, Driving Ban for Saudi Men.] We are but a hop, skip and a jump from a neighboring country – a twenty-mile, hour plus, two customs-check jaunt across the Causeway – where women are allowed to drive – and, according to Bahrain's Traffic Chief, where “Saudi women are safe drivers.”

Somewhat worrisome is the aspect of women driving in this Country whilst covered in a full hijab that might ultimately hinder peripheral vision; and in that regard, an acceptable alternative which recognizes the importance of the social customs would be required. All minutiae details which no doubt can be ironed out in the next century or so…

Let’s forego all of those superfluous factors for the sake of time – my lifetime – pretend this will all fall into place, that women will be allowed to drive, and that they can even buy their own vehicle!

… she’ll proceed to the car dealership where she will choose the vehicle she wants…

And decide on some of the options she wants her Red BMW 745i to have…

[Where did that come from? I want a white BMW 745i!]

Like a speedometer…

And a GPS parking system…

Finally, she will head to the nearest “DMV” office to get her driver’s license. She will be exempt from having to parallel park – or park at all – for that matter – because everybody knows that women are so much better at parking a car than men are; thus it would be quite futile insisting that women must take the parking portion of any driver’s test. [Go ahead... You know you want to... Just “click” on parking. It is way too fun not to!]

Know what? Really I just wanted to have some fun tonight, show off my new “link and picture posting skills,” to create an opportunity to use a couple of photos that a friend sent me [thanks, Susan!], and to use the
parking thingy. And just because I hit a car within four seconds on this stupid parking thingy site, doesn’t mean that I can’t park a car! Au contraire! I can put our truck into the smallest of spaces quickly and professionally; a feat I am rather proud of and no less proud after having watched men, here, park.

True story: A couple of years ago, I was outside at the mall, waiting to catch the bus back to our compound, when a car full of shabaab* pulled up and the driver lamely attempted no less than a half dozen times to park his little Honda or Toyota in the bus pick up area. On the sixth or seventh, and last stab at doing so, the driver gave up and parked his car with the entire ass-end of it literally sticking out in to the traffic lane. Just as he was getting out of the car, I took a partial step – lunge – forward, as I was going to offer to show the poor lad how to park a car. It took only that brief second when I came to my senses, realizing where I was – ahh, no – I don’t think so… Um-hmm. A blonde moment there! Caught and preserved however, as I did not finish the “first step forward” and instead of saying anything, just chuckled under my breath that the parking space truly had enough room for three or four vehicles and he couldn’t get his car into the space with five minutes of trying. The bus came shortly this little performance of deft automotive skill and I’d be willing to wager a Riyal or two that no traffic officer placed a violation ticket for parking in a no parking spot on the windshield…

*shabaab - Arabic word for "young men"

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

You’ve Been Banned – This is MY Site

Comments and dialogue, here, at Stilettos in the Sand, have been welcomed and appreciated!!!

Up until now, I’ve let whoever wants to comment do so – and will continue to do so but for, to date, one exception: There is a man who has visited umpteen times who’s chosen to leave lengthy comments which turn into malicious, spiteful written assaults on me, or one of my regular visitors – a woman I communicated via e-mail with long before starting this site – whom I consider to be a personal friend. I am not posting this man’s “tag name,” or his site, as traffic it might generate by my doing so is wholly undeserved.

This lone, and now banned, commenter who instead of ranting on his own blog, wants to do so here, with pathetic lengthy diatribes that are, what I consider to be, incongruous, and are, at best, one-sided opinions rendering trivial, if any, value to my posts. But for only a time or two, most of the comments were not deemed worthy of being dignified with a response and I left them posted, regardless of their nature.

Last night I received an e-mail asking what was in a comment I deleted. I had drafted this post previously, but wasn’t going to put it up. I now feel the necessity to do so, so that anyone who might question why I would ban someone from my site or delete comments will understand. Here is but a small sampling of the statements which were contained in the deleted comments – only a few lines of many, many written paragraphs:

So, if life here doesn’t suit your style then why are you still here? I know the answer to that, because a lot of you people are the greediest people I have come across. Your whole life revolves around materialistic objectives. So you are willing to give up any principles and values you have for the money that you are so overpaid with.

. . . it is really hard for me to accept criticism from westerners who work in this country . . . you know why, because they have no merit. See, this is your, and your likes, problem. You have no merit whatsoever in judging anything about this society.

I am quite ashamed to be associated with these Americans but if you are reading this blog you have found the cowboy-type that doesn’t like anyone else but themselves. An absolute disgrace!

I won't go on in an argument with a person who has a peanut for a brain.

You know what; you can read the book if you want to, or you can shove it where the sun won't bleach it and the rain won't soak it.

One of the causes is the absolute apathy that you, and your likes, show towards all the problems in this world. It’s the greed that many of your countrymen have that led to [sic] much of the misery in this world.

[Purportedly this man’s wife wrote an entry as well.] You are right; my husband is a xenophobe but only to arrogant and belligerent people like yourself.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion; that this man wants to blather inanely on and on is his choice to do so – in his own forum – but it is my choice – this being my site – to not allow him to do so, here. I don’t like the name calling, I don’t like the characterizations he uses to describe me and a friend of mine, and I don’t like his belligerent and cantankerous tone.

It is not as if there is such a plethora of comments that I will have to require registration, or have to establish some other more dogmatic method of monitoring comments. However, I have turned “comment moderator” on, and will now review all comments before they are posted to facilitate the banning of one person.

There is a saying, “One rotten apple spoils the barrel.” Because that one rotten apple visited my site and left comments that have, in essence, compelled me to make a decision that some may be offended by, is truly regrettable.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

No Vacation for the Maids

Well, it wouldn’t have really been a vacation, anyway, just the opportunity to travel. However, the Shura Council [or Shoura Council] is looking into “an alarming problem which surfaced lately, of maids traveling in the company of families.”

This is, no doubt, directly related to the Colorado case of
Homaidan Al-Turki who has recently been given a sentence of 27 years to life in prison for sexually assaulting an Indonesian housekeeper and keeping her as a virtual slave. The Saudi Gazette published an article on Friday, September 22, 2003, “Families Traveling with Maids,” which “Particularly [it] concerns those sponsoring families who travel to Western countries and the United States, in particular either on holiday or for educational purposes.” Abdullah Abulsamh writes:

“In those countries, regulations are totally different from those observed in ours. Therefore, it never occurred to a number of sponsors who were planning travel that detaining a maid’s passport is an offense which may lead to imprisonment.

Western countries consider this practice as an infringement upon a worker’s rights and freedom, etc.

A number of friends whose maids have decided to run away (or rather to cease working) have told me that the maids went to the police who then forced sponsors to hand them back their passports, regardless of the issues of sponsorship and liability.

Recently, the matter has become more serious in the United States, as a sponsor detaining a maid’s passport can be tried and imprisoned. The US Consulate is now rejecting applications for visas for maids, unless employment contracts are made in the American style, which means the number of working hours, livings conditions, etc. all indicated beforehand.

It is honestly shameful and sorrowful to watch Saudi families with several maids tagging behind watching the children while their mothers are sitting in cafes. Most of the time, maids remain standing on the sidewalk, at a distance, or sit on the edge of a chair, or run after the noisy, little “devils” who never settle in one place.

Maids can also be seen in the hotels’ hallways with the children while mothers are asleep after staying up at the malls the previous night.

It is the duty of the press to join the Shoura Council in calling for a ban on the travel of maids with families, whether for vacationing or scholastic purposes.

The alternative would be to contact employment agencies to provide local workers or baby sitters who are paid by the hour. This denigration of the Kingdom’s reputation must end.”

If there is a law that specifies “detaining a maid’s passport” could lead to imprisonment, I was unable to find it in a search of the United States government website for international visitors. “Detaining a maid” might, however, be construed as “false imprisonment” if confiscating [“detaining”] one’s passport were interpreted as confinement without legal authority; this is punishable by imprisonment.

Workers in “Western countries,” and specifically, the United States, are afforded a barrage of rights not necessarily bestowed upon employees in other countries, i.e., a minimum wage, maximum working hours, etc. I am not a legal authority but I’d venture to guess “detaining” a passport or person is not allowable and would be considered “an infringement” upon an employee/worker.

A U.S. citizen in Saudi Arabia is subject to that country's laws and regulations. Whether there is any kind of reciprocal relationship in regard to laws and regulations between one country and another is dictated by the host-country. Thus, perhaps it would behoove foreigners traveling with domestic help to ascertain – before journeying – what laws are applicable to specific issues of “sponsorship and liability” should a “maid” decide “to run away (or rather to cease working)” in the host country. That the US Consulate is rejecting applications for visas to be given to maids or other domestic help unless “employment contracts are made in the American style” protects all parties involved, eliminating any guess work as to what is or isn’t allowed.

Although Mr. Abulsamh’s observations may tinge a few raw nerves in his home Country, they will be viewed much more genially by the United States and other Western countries who undoubtedly will agree that it is indeed “shameful and sorrowful to watch Saudi families with several maids tagging behind...”

When I Grow Up

… I want to be a Public Relations Ambassador! Hardly the same as wanting to become a teacher or a nurse, but equally as important in today’s society.

Khaled Almaeena’s brilliant article of last Sunday is by-far one of the most appropriate and timely opinions that I have read in quite sometime. Mr. Almaeena and a friend of his, Ali Al-Shiddy, a writer, discussed establishing an association they would call “Friends of Expatriates,” and they both agree “that such an association would benefit all involved . . . that the need for such an association has never been greater than it is today.”

The commentary, which is too good to NOT read in full, states, in part:
“The fact is that we have millions of expatriates living among us. The sad truth is that we hardly know them and they hardly know us . . . Yes, they have come here to make a living and, in most cases, to do jobs that Saudis are either unable or unwilling to do. But let us not forget that we have asked them to come here; indeed, they could not have come to the Kingdom without our help and sponsorship.
. . . Expatriates have played a vital and pivotal role in the development of our country. Our country would not be where it is today without their talents, dedication and skills. We owe them our gratitude . . . Probably the first wave of expatriates who came to what is modern-day Saudi Arabia were the Americans who came with Aramco in the 1930s. They bore the heat, the lack of comfort and facilities and scoured our deserts for oil. They found it of course in quantities even they did not dream of, and with the oil was built the foundations of the Kingdom today and the life that we enjoy.
In the 1950s came professional people, many from Pakistan and India. Doctors, engineers and technicians . . . In our first economic boom and later on came workers from the Philippines, South Korea, India, Pakistan and many Arab countries . . . All were asked to come here in order to do something specific. Not to be forgotten are the thousands who have come here as simple workers; without them and their sweat, the plans and visions of engineers and builders would never have become a reality . . .

There is no doubt that many expatriates did very well in the Kingdom; most of them worked hard and deserved their success. Of course, there were troublemakers as well; however . . . Many of their educated people have set up welfare centers, help centers, medical aid centers . . . to help the needy and unfortunate in their own community. I look very closely at their attitude toward their less fortunate brethren and I see one which we should ourselves emulate.

The overwhelming number of expatriates here conduct themselves with dignity and take pride in what they do – despite their many problems. Unpaid salaries, bad treatment by employers, abuse and injustice. Very few of them have recourse to our legal system and this is a situation which urgently needs to be addressed.

Whether we like it or not, many expatriates will be here for a long time . . . we should try to make them happy and comfortable which in turn will make them work more productively. Let us not look down our noses at them for they can be a very strong and vocal political and social force when they return to their countries. They have lived her and they know what life here is like. They can be ambassadors for us . . .

We should not deceive ourselves . . . while we spend millions of dollars to improve our image, we could save a lot of money by creating a congenial and pleasant atmosphere here. Much could be done along these lines by interacting with existing expatriate communities, focusing on history, culture, music and other traditions. I believe one of the best ways to do this would be through an association such as Ali Al-Shiddi and I discussed. We ought to take great care to use the expatriates in our midst as our fist line of information defense. It has not been done before but its time is certainly now.

Oh. My. Gosh. How powerful Khaled Almaeena’s statements are! I am ready now, today, to put my name on the sign-up roster. We can hold the first gathering of this association at my house and I’ll bake brownies! When the “Friends of Expatriates” group becomes a reality, it would be a privilege to participate. And an honor, at some point in the future, to return home to the United States as a Public Relations Ambassador for Saudi Arabia!!!

May-December Romances

A 90 year old man shows up for a physical. He tells the doctor he is about to marry a 20 year old girl. "Really?" said the doctor. "You're healthy enough, I suppose, but take my advice. If you want a happy marriage, you should take in a boarder. Do you know what I mean?" The old man says, "Okay, Doc. I'll think about it." Six months later, the doctor sees the old man on the street. He asks him how his new marriage is working out. "Great, Doc! In fact, my wife is pregnant." The doctor nods knowingly and says, "So you took my advice and took in a boarder?" The old man winked and said, "Yep. And she's pregnant too!"

Just how or when did this phrase, “May-December Romance” come to mean an older man in a relationship with a [much] younger woman or vice versa?

An age difference of a few years, maybe even ten years, wouldn’t seem to be such a big deal. But 62 years?

This is not a phenomenon specific to Saudi Arabia. It happens in the United States as well: Rupert Murdoch and Wendy Deng got married when he was 68 and she was 32, and perhaps more famously known are Vickie Lynn Hogan and J. Howard Marshall who married in 1994 when she was 26 and he was 89!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Happy Birthday Yvette Nicole Moreno!

Yvette Nicole Moreno would be thirty years old on October 4th, this year – for most of us, one of those “milestone birthdays,” not taken lightly. Yvette was incredibly close to her family – her Mom, Ivy, and her brother, Roland. If Ivy and Roland could have pulled it off, maybe they would have had a surprise birthday party for her. Or quite possibly, Yvette, as busy as she was, would have planned her own celebration in honor of turning “3 0.”

Ms. Moreno grew up in the Bronx, attending Catholic schools until her senior year, where she graduated at the top of her class from Adlai Stevenson High School. Yvette then enrolled at Hunter College, where she made the Dean’s List, majoring in sociology and psychology.

Life was moving along at a fairly quick pace for this beautiful twenty-four year old woman. Yvette had just purchased her first car, and had just enrolled at Lehman College to continue working toward an advanced degree in psychology and sociology, with the hope of someday becoming a guidance worker or a school social worker. Yvette was a full-time student, and was working full-time as well, but still always found time for her family and her many, many friends. This young “go getter,” enjoyed going out dancing with friends when she could, or just going out to lunch with her Mom and going shopping.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Yvette, like so many other Americans, had gotten up and gone about her day – heading off to her place of employment, at the brokerage firm of Carr Futures. Ms. Moreno had been working at Carr Futures for almost two years – as a temporary employee for the first year or so – before being hired as a permanent staff member that January.

It was after leaving Carr Futures, in Tower One, that Yvette called her brother Roland to tell him that she was okay, and for him to tell their mother that she should not try to go to work. Yvette’s Mom, Ivy, believes that Yvette saved her life that fateful day.

Tragically, although believing Yvette was safe and on her way home, this was the last time Yvette ever spoke with her brother. It was several weeks later – just several days after what would have been Yvette’s twenty-fifth birthday – when her remains were discovered and it is believed that most likely she was hit with falling debris from one of the collapsing buildings.

“She was beautiful. Inside and out.” And, “She was always happy,” says Yvette’s Mom, Ivy. This is how she and Yvette’s brother, Roland, will always remember this beautiful young lady. Seeing photographs of her daughter displayed on a large collage at her wake, from when she was a baby to the more recent pictures, Yvette’s Mom said, “She wore a big, beautiful smile in every single one of them.” More than 750 people attended Yvette’s funeral, from all over the United States – all who were fortunate enough to be touched in some way by the tremendous spirit of a beautiful soul who departed from this world much, much, much too soon.

Today, I will look at this photograph of Yvette Nicole Moreno, and I will smile. One can’t help but to do so – smile that is – when just a mere photograph of Yvette’s infectious smile lights up a room!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Can You Say Reciprocate?

Wonder just how many of these 15,000 students will be going to Harvard? No doubt that most of these students will all pay “out-of-state” tuition rates, thus putting substantial cash into the coffers of many colleges and universities. This is all well and good.

The issue I, personally, have with this is that there is no reciprocation on the part of Saudi Arabia to allow United States students to come to schools here to study. Okay. So maybe there isn’t a demand for this – that students from the U.S. want to come to The Sandbox for higher education – and I can assure you that you will not find a list of Saudi’s top ten “
party schools” if that criteria determines how U.S. students contemplate which institute of higher education they are going to attend – but certainly, it would seem, that in order for the United States to be willing to accept that many students, that there should be some sort of mutual exchange.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Plenty? I Don’t Think So

An article in Arab News says, “Employers who don’t abuse or maltreat their domestic help do exist, and there are plenty of them out there.” If there are plenty, we certainly are not made aware of them – employers who treat their domestic help as wonderfully as this one!

Reem Bajnaid was six years old when Lucena Benigno Agsao arrived from the Philippines. Twenty-seven years later, Ms. Agsao has returned to her home. Although she had no plans to retire at this time, illness has “cut short her plans,” as she has been diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer.

Members of Reem Bajnaid’s family personally assured Ms. Agsao that they would shoulder “all of her expenses” if she wished to remain in The Kingdom to be treated at a hospital in Jeddah. Ms. Agsao, instead, has returned to the Philippines to see treatment so that she will be near family and friends.

An official who was monitoring the case, said:

"We very much appreciate and commend the efforts of [the maid’s sponsor] family for providing all the medical requirements of their maid. The sponsors’ overwhelming concern for the wellbeing of their helper is more of a gesture of love. It is a love like that for a mother, a mother who has always been there for them these past 27 years."

A nurse accompanied Ms. Agsao on the Saudia Airlines flight home in a business class seat, paid for by her sponsor’s family.

The bar has now been set. And it is much, much higher than it was in the past. Reem Bajnaid’s family is truly a shining example of outstanding employers!

Speaking of Dish Towels…

I had to do the “big” grocery shopping thing. I’ve been gone for much of the past three months, and DH has been gone most of the past four months. DH is coming home and he will be looking to be fed… When DH isn’t here, I don’t and won’t cook for myself. Cooking is not something that I enjoy. It makes a mess – that has to be cleaned up [there is no more houseboy to do it!], and it takes up valuable time – when I could be at the computer, instead. I am quite content with just coffee for breakfast, perhaps something to snack on later in the day – so long as it involves zero preparation – and a bowl of cereal or soup for dinner. DH is satisfied with nothing less than two real meals a day. At this point, having been gone, we are out of everything. The cupboards really are bare! As well, it is time to restock the freezer with food for the “Kids.” [Yes, I will admit that I will cook for the “Kids” but not for myself. DH would say that I will cook for them before I cook for him, but that really isn’t true…]

Living on a compound that is a little city within a city does have advantages – one of which is that so many services are offered to us without leaving our gates – giving Westerner’s here, and “locals,” as well, much more freedom than we have outside the confines of our gilded cage. Thankfully, I can drive myself to our grocery store, something taken for granted the world over, which is, but for certain “restricted areas,” haram,* here in The Sandbox. However, I am still expected to “get dressed” just to go to the grocery store [see post of June 18, 2006,
"Attitude in Shorts"], so I procrastinate and put off going until it is absolutely necessary.

After putting jeans on [it is way too hot AND humid for jeans!], and going to the bank, I headed into the grocery store, list in hand, and proceeded to fill my “trolley” [we call it a “cart” in the States]. Going early – first thing in the morning – the store is usually fairly quiet – but NOT this morning. Today, the entire store was cursed with a gang of children wrecking havoc as they raced up and down the aisles in carts, knocking things off of shelves, literally running into the few of us that were shopping and ramming our trolleys with theirs. This is NOT the first time this has happened – that a gang of unruly children is terrorizing shoppers and store employees. At one point I was able to block their “fun” as they were racing – yes – three wide – their trolleys down the dairy aisle – I had my mine parked so that the entire “lane” was blocked – and nothing would have given me greater satisfaction than personally scolding the little monsters if they would have run into me. [I remember a time in 1995 when I spanked a neighbor’s child when she was climbing on my car and wouldn’t get off when told to do so no less than three times! Hee hee hee.]

At one point, as an acquaintance and I were exchanging greetings, and the kids charged past us, I asked, not quietly, either, one of the store clerk’s, “Who do these obnoxious children belong to?” The poor clerk just shrugged his shoulders. There is nothing the clerks or store managers can do about such menaces. [Many of the clerks and most of the managers are not “locals” and with good reason they are fearful of repercussions, knowing that confronting the parent or parents would likely threaten the livelihood they so depend on to support their families in other countries.]

For the time that I remained in the store, there was not one adult that appeared to be associated with caring for this particular group of children – and there were seven or eight of them , probably between the ages of eight and twelve, certainly old enough to know that their behavior was not appropriate. Not that having a parent or parents in their presence would have made any difference – as I stated, I’ve seen this behavior in the store more than once – and I’ve seen the parents – just carry on – totally oblivious to their children’s behavior! Disciplining one’s children, or requiring them to behave, more often than not, would seemingly be a foreign concept, here.

Even as I was checking out – I’d been in the store for probably forty or forty-five minutes – these kids continued “playing” as if, because it’s too hot to play outside [and it is], they’d decided that the store would be the perfect place to go instead. It is time for a new rule to be instituted – a sign that clearly states – in English AND in Arabic – that NO unaccompanied children under twelve are permitted. Barring that, the store managers and clerks should be given the green light to confront these unruly brats to be able to tell them to stop their shenanigans without worry or risk to their job security.

Not all of our store’s employees have been imported from other countries. The drive for Saudization, although unlikely to ever eliminate all of the outside, imported, work force, is making strides to provide employment for “locals” and in some professions residents must fill certain positions. Over the course of the past year, many of the former cashiers, men from other countries, have been terminated; a small handful remained to work the night and weekend shifts, and a few were allowed to continue as baggers or shelf stockers. Thus, when and where it is feasible [i.e., during the normal, customary, work days and hours, or 7:00A.M. to 4:00P.M., Saturday through Wednesday] cashier positions are now staffed by "locals," men and women. Admirably, this country, like any other, wants to provide for the welfare of its nationals to the best of its ability. And it is certainly understandable with an astronomical unemployment rate that the Kingdom will endeavor to restructure its work force [see August 27, 2006,
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"].

However, I find it a little more than slightly ironic that a person could or would be given a position as a cashier – involving money – when they are not able to calculate simple addition sums WITH the aide of an electronic, computerized cash register! It wasn’t enough that for the containers of pre-packaged [uniform price – each 5.50 SAR] chicken [there were twenty] the clerk chose to ring up each package individually even though I clearly said I had twenty of these, and did so again with the containers of pre-packaged [uniform price – each 6.25 SAR] beef [there were twenty]; ditto for the four rolls of paper towels [each 7.95 SAR]. I know that it is possible to put in the number of an item – the quantity – and then scan it for the price – so that each package does not have to be individually scanned – the former cashiers saved themselves time and effort in this manner. The possibility exists that perhaps the cashier just didn’t believe me when I said I had twenty packages of chicken and twenty packages of beef, and to insure that I wasn’t getting any freebies felt it necessary to scan each and every one of the items individually. Even then, a quick and simple count would have verified this. As for the paper towels, a mere glance would have confirmed there were, in fact, four rolls of an identical brand. Apart from the time involved for the cashier to pick up and scan each of the individual, identical items, a great deal more effort was required as well.

The “icing on the cake” was when the cashier finally pressed whatever key it is that gives the sum of money that is due for the purchases, that being 1092.77 SAR. Here the amount to the left of the decimal is a “Riyal,” what would be the “Dollar” in the States, and the amount to the right of the decimal is a “Halala” – in the States it is “cents.” Halalas are almost not worth having in small amounts – it is change – they just aren’t worth much [375 Halalas equals 100 cents, or $1.00]. Grocery bills are often rounded up or rounded down, eliminating the small amounts of currency altogether. In this particular instance, my grocery bill was rounded down to 1092.75 and I handed the cashier 1200.00 – two 500 SAR bills and one 200 SAR bill and she “froze.” I kid you not, she was unable to add the sum of the three bills that I handed her to be able to enter that number so that the cash register could immediately calculate the amount of change she needed to give back to me. After all, it’s not like I was counting on her to actually determine the amount of change I had coming back – that’s
WHAT the cash register is for, isn’t it?!?

It was almost comical watching her transfer each of the three bills from one hand to the next, eyes downward, concentrating on the paper money in her hands so intently. She was counting – I could see her lips moving – I assume she was counting – but after the two five hundred bills – or 1000 Riyals – she was NOT ABLE to determine what to do with the 200 Riyal bill. Apparently, this was just one too many zeros for her to handle, even with my telling her that it was 1200 and saying it out “one – two – zero – zero.” [She must have thought that once again I was trying to get over on her in some way – because, after all – when I said I had twenty packages of chicken, I really had twenty packages of chicken.] Probably it wasn’t much longer than a minute before she realized that she would have to call the manager to come and help her, but it certainly seemed like longer than that to me. The cashier acted quite surprised when the manager told her to press the keys “one – two – zero – zero.” I’m convinced that either this poor woman was either never taught to count past 999 or she was not taught how to “carry” sums in addition problems.

Convinced, but not surprised… Try giving a clerk at any convenience store in the States payment over and above what the total is. Say your total is $4.68. Hand the clerk a five dollar bill, a dime, a nickel and three pennies. He or she will look at you like you’ve got two heads – and tell you that your total is only $4.68. That’s right I gave you $5.18 for a purchase that totals $4.68. [Perhaps you’ve missed YOUR calling and you should have been a rocket scientist!] The reason I’m giving you the eighteen cents is so that you will give me two quarters back – fifty cents – instead of thirty-two cents – I don’t want that extra nickel and those two worthless pennies – I’m trying to get rid of all the worthless pennies I’m carrying in my wallet by giving you $5.18. At this point you have totally, thoroughly confused the clerk and you’ll probably end up with extra money. You have a choice – you could be so honest that you can’t even keep the extra quarter he or she might give you because you’ve confused them so. Or you can keep it. I say keep it. Unfortunately he or she will probably have to make up the difference at the end of the shift if their “cash drawer” doesn’t balance properly. But then, anyone this obtuse probably shouldn’t be working in a job that requires handling money to begin with.

*haram: Arabic word meaning "not allowed"

Wet Dish Towels

I mean, what else could you call this? Reminds me of one of those tired “blonde jokes,” where a blonde is shaking her head from side to side banging her shoulder pads answering some moronic question with an “I don’t know.”

Reading Haya Al-Manie’s article, “Women Without Qualifications,” one has to wonder if the young girls she refers to didn’t have blinders on. [Umm, it’d be more apt to be a veil.] Ms. Al-Manie writes:

“In an interview with a group of young women prior to their admission at a college, the participants were asked about the problems of their present time. Surprisingly, most of the girls confirmed that there really aren’t many problems that women face.”
“Unfortunately, the young girls didn’t know what qualifications they possess or what makes them feel proud of themselves. The picture is complete with them not knowing what their flaws or shortcomings are either. I don’t really want to believe that these young women have no sense of scent, taste, or flavor. But I wonder how these girls were able to reach this level of absence and nonexistence in relation to everything…”

But, then, there are young women like this all over the world, aren’t there? Perhaps, because the culture here tends to protect and shelter women to degrees above and beyond what a Westerner would view as the “norm,” this just appears to be more noticeable.

Blaming L. Brent Bozell, III

I have decided to blame L. Brent Bozell, III, for all but ruining my life; it is HIS fault I never get all the things I need to do, done [Today's Agenda]! My “to do” list just gets longer and longer and longer every day…

To further assimilate into a part of the culture which is so prevalent in The Sandbox, I have decided that from hereon in, I will take absolutely no responsibility for any of my actions, and that I am going to assign blame to someone else or to something else for absolutely everything. [What’s the saying… Something like, “When you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em… Well, that’s what I’m going to do. I will become a real “local” in this sense – in this sense, only, mind you.]

When we moved here, for the very first time in my life – well, since I was fourteen – I didn’t have a job and I didn’t have to have a job! Life was going to be oh so wonderful without having to get up and get ready to jump on a hamster wheel five or six or seven days a week. And it is. I am truly thankful that I am not employed. This allows me the opportunity to spend time doing all of the things that I enjoy and never had time to do before my life here – spend leisurely hours with the Kids and my husband – read, sew, do cross-stitch, organize all those photos that have never made it to albums, lay in the sun, join various women’s groups, socialize and entertain friends – dinner parties and the like – take Arabic classes – travel, etc., etc., etc. Or, it used to.

At some point, I added “surfing the Web” to the above activities and that is when
Mr. Bozell came into my life. In the course of surfing one day, I found a news site that I really liked. One day led to the next and the next, and all of the sudden was my first double-click of the day. L. Brent Bozell, III, is the founder of and that is precisely why he is getting the blame – because this is where – his site – I discovered a blog – something that until then I knew existed but had no clue what it really was.

I can remember that first blog just like it was yesterday – Michelle Malkin. One double-click was all it took – I was addicted. But one wasn’t enough. Oh, noooo… It was all downhill from there. Although, in all honesty, “downhill” isn’t accurate. My addiction to these blogs more resembles that of an avalanche which is torpedoing down a mountain at breakneck speed and continues to spiral recklessly and wantonly out of control. With a current list of more than a hundred or so, right now, all calling to me for a double-click, it’s a wonder that I can post on my own blog once in a while, and do all of the other things I want to do.

And, that is why, Mr. Bozell, it is YOUR fault that I no longer have time to do all of the things I need to do, that I want to do and really, really should do!

Friday, September 01, 2006

EU Calls for Driving Ban on Saudi Men

Oh. My. Gosh. This is GREAT! Read it. Read it again!

I had coffee yesterday with a very dear friend here, a “local” woman [read: Saudi] and she was telling me that she got an e-mail at work that said that a few Members of the European Parliament had were sponsoring a campaign to BAN SAUDI MEN FROM DRIVING IN ALL EUROPEAN UNION COUNTRIES! She said she would share the e-mail with me but it was in Arabic, although she did print it out and gave it to her [American] husband and told him to get one of his [Saudi] co-workers to read it to him.

[Hey, I took that one Arabic reading/writing course – I’m almost an expert, now! And since the article is relatively short, I’m pretty sure that I would be able to translate it. Of course it would require every waking moment for the next three or four weeks…]

On a whim, I did a quick little
Google search and found the article – it’s been posted over and over and over so HOW is it that I’ve NEVER seen it?!? I’ve seen it now, and I’m ALL for this [you might have “clicked” above, but I just can’t resist] gem of Roger Helmer’s:

In a remarkable move today, four MEPs, including East Midlands MEP Roger Helmer and Anna Zaborska, Chairman of the European Parliament's influential Women's Committee, have launched a campaign to ban Saudi Arabian men from driving in all EU countries.

They have done so to highlight the continuing ban on Saudi women driving in their own country, which the MEPs claim is a blatant example of discrimination, an attack on women's rights, and totally at odds with civilised [sic] values. They argue that a move to ban male Saudi nationals from driving in the EU would help the Saudi authorities to understand the very strong condemnation evoked in Europe by the Saudi ban on women drivers.

The MEPs have sponsored a "Written Declaration" in the European parliament in Brussels, a motion which is available for all MEPs to sign, and which becomes a formal resolution of the parliament if at least half of all MEPs (316) sign up to it.

The sponsors of the Declaration are Anna Zaborska (Christian Democrat, Slovakia), Roger Helmer (Conservative, East Midlands); Ashley Mote (Independent, South East); and Jim Allister (Democratic Unionist, Northern Ireland).

Speaking at the launch of the declaration, Mr. Helmer said "The nationals of authoritarian countries assume that they can come to the West and enjoy our freedoms, while maintaining discrimination and denying basic human rights at home. This initiative should help to convince them that freedom is a two-way street and that their own people are also entitled to basic human rights".

What’s that old saying? Something like… “What goes around comes around.” Yeah, that’s it.

Juggling Wives

This is a problem MY Dear Husband will never have. He thinks one wife is plenty. There are times – probably more often than not – when he thinks one wife is too much.

. . . guessing most husbands won’t have to deal with learning how to “juggle wives.” Well, that is, unless you’re
Warren Jeffs or a member of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints.

Twins, Say "Goodbye" to Mommy and Daddy

This is too bad, really. Sad. And, unfair.

Kesiya and Albert are 19-month-old twins whose parents are sitting in jail waiting to go to trial for committing murder. The Nepalese maid, allegedly, tried to run away from the twins’ parents, Roy Joseph and Biji Thomas, and now she is dead. Apparently, the couple was “detained after the police found the mobile phone” which belonged to the maid.

The twins “who were separated from their lactating mother for more than a month” have left The Sandbox [Riyadh] to join their grandparents in Kerala, India. In the meantime, Mommy and Daddy are languishing in separate lock-ups, and have not even had the benefit of “receiving any counselor access” [talking to a lawyer!].

The Embassy of India is doing everything they can as it is “bound by its duties to represent its nationals when they are in legal disputes in Saudi Arabia.”

“Muraleedharan, general convener Federation of Kerala Associates in Saudi Arabia [Fokasa] has met with Indian Ambassador M.O.H. Farook” and they have “submitted a memorandum.” The memorandum, signed by Muraleedharan, says, in part:

“Since the Kingdom is a country which recognizes and respects the rights of individuals the detained couple should be considered as innocent until proven guilty.”
I recall seeing the original article in the Arab News, but only just glanced at it so I am short on details, i.e., the maid’s death – was a body found? And, do officials know the cause of death? Now, inquiring minds want to know how it is that the “Indian couple was detained after the police found the mobile phone.” Did the police have a search warrant and find the phone in the “Indian” couple’s home? Did the couple get stopped in a vehicle? Was the phone found on the maid [and she was found, where?] with the “camera” on? What evidence is there that the “Indian couple” are to blame for the death of the maid? I’ll try to follow the details.

One thing is for certain. It will be sometime before the parents are reunited with Kesiya and Albert and that is too bad. Sad. And, unfair.

2,729 Captagon Tablets

Are you sure it was 2,729 tablets and not 2,728 or 2,730? Someone should probably do a recount.

I did not know what
"Captagon" was for the first year that I was here. There were numerous “drug busts” reported in the The Saudi Gazette and Arab News and if the drug was not "Qat" then it was Captagon. Of course, I didn’t know what Qat was, either. No one I asked, here, in my circle of friends and acquaintances knew what captagon was – it is a type of amphetamine.

One of these articles had a photo of what looked like a coffee table with all of the captagon pills neatly counted out and put in little piles of ten each. I will try to find it. It is worth posting.

Drug dealing is a very serious offense in The Sandbox. I honestly do not know if drugs are categorized here, like they are in the States – marijuana being a drug that is not classified as a narcotic like cocaine would be – thus charges and penalties differ – but I do know that there is a sign at the Causeway where you cross over from Bahrain to Saudi Arabia that very clearly states, “Drug dealers will be executed.” That might not be the exact wording. Suffice it to say, however, that the sign leave little for interpretation or guess work.

How is it, then, that
this drug dealer “who had been convicted several times for the same offense” was again returned to prison??? Apparently he had “served a seven-year sentence without learning his lesson, and again reverted to his previous behavior.”

As above-stated, my impression from the sign on the Causeway, is that drug dealers are executed. It will be interesting to learn if this man learns his lesson this time around…
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