Monday, November 12, 2007

Old News – Illegal and Runaway Maids

This is old news – old as in published in the Arab News two months ago. The issue, however, is a current and ongoing problem. I caught the article when I was looking for abused maids to publish in my last post and am compelled to share… It is telling, in so many ways, of the mindset of people here in The Sandbox.

To begin with, the complaint that “many people pay them extortionate salaries ranging from SR 1,100 to SR 1,500, instead of the standard SR 600 to SR 800 paid to legal maids working legally. [Does anyone at the
Arab News bother to do any proofing and editing? “Legal maids working legally.” Can you have “illegal maids working legally?” Or “legal maids working illegally?” I digress.] SR 1,100 to SR 1,500 are hardly “extortionate” salaries. In U.S. dollars that is $294.90 to $402.14. The poor [literally] “legal maids working legally” at SR 600 to SR 800 are paid $160.85 to $214.47 in U.S. dollars for their services. Just assume for the benefit of explanation that these maids – the “legal ones” working “legally” perform services for what is, in the United States, an average, customary workweek – it isn’t like that here, of course – but just assume… That means that the average “legal maid working legally” earns somewhere between .92 cents and $1.23 AN HOUR! That’s it. But if she can find illegal work she can make the big bucks, earning between $1.70 and $2.32 and hour. I can assure you that this isn’t how it works here and but for the very and extremely rare case none of these maids would be expected to work only a five-day, forty-hour “customary work week.”

Poor Fahd Amash’s wife. She has five children and is a teacher. He complains that although their “circumstance requires…more than one maid” the authorities only allow them one. Good grief. How can this family expect to manage under such impossible conditions? [Don’t even consider feeling sorry for this family; but DO feel sorry for the one maid they had, before she ran away. She, with no doubt, had very, very good reason for running away!] Novel idea here, Fahd - just marry another wife to help out. You’re allowed four, after all. But alas, Fahd went the illegal route and hired a maid at SR 1,500 a month whom wanted ONE DAY off every TEN DAYS!!! Three days a month off?!? Unheard of! [Which, assuming the maid works only eight hours a day brings her hourly wage to approximately $1.86.]

Feel less sorry for Houaida Hassan, a Saudi “housewife,” because she had to resort to employing an illegal maid “as her friends do.” Nothing like having to keep up with the Joneses! But wait. She’s a “housewife.” And she had to “resort” to employing a maid.
Merriam Webster's on-line dictionary defines “housewife” as “a married woman in charge of household.” And this site breaks the definition of a housewife down even further:

A housewife is a woman, though there are some househusbands, who works at home caring for her children, maintaining her home and cooking for the family. A housewife works very hard every day and gets few vacations, holidays or weekends off as men and women who work outside the home get. And a housewife works many more hours each day than those who work outside the home.
There are so many duties performed by housewives that it's hard to list them all. Some of them are taking care of children, doing laundry, cleaning floors, walls, windows and kitchens and bathrooms, making beds, ironing clothes, making breakfast and lunch, cooking dinner and washing and drying dishes. Perhaps the most important of all of these important tasks is the care of children.
The mother who works in the home devotes a large part of her day caring for the health and safety of her children. She keeps the children clean and fed and tells them when they are bad and when they are good. This teaches children a most important lesson: the difference between right and wrong which they will use for the rest of their lives. Housewives do the most important work of any men or women though they rarely receive the recognition they deserve because others do what may seem more interesting.
So by this “Islamic” definition, why would Houaida possibly need a maid?!? Lest I get accused of being a “pot calling the kettle black,” I will admit that I have [another] “houseboy.” My [new] houseboy does assist me with housework for a few hours in the morning four days a week – he cleans my bathrooms, washes the floors, keeps the “Kids” nose prints off the windows, dusts and vacuums. I do the rest. I do all of the cooking. I do my own dishes. I make the bed. I pick up the toys. I do the grocery shopping and errands. I do all the laundry. Etc., etc., etc. I do not have a maid, per se. I pay my “houseboy” SR 20 per hour, which is $5.36 in U.S. currency. [Is that minimum wage? I have no clue what minimum wage in the States is at this point.] If, in ninety days, the new “houseboy” is still with me – provided he can work to my exacting standards, then I will give him a raise to SR 25 an hour, or $6.70. For a young man from Bangladesh, this IS the big bucks! Houaida is willing to pay SR 900 [U.S. $241.28] per month and give the poor maid ONE day off every TEN DAYS! Again, assuming a typical work week of forty hours, working twenty-seven days in a thirty-day month, this maid will earn $1.11 an hour!!! Absolutely astounding, isn’t it, that just one day later the maid complained about the work and refused to stay. Hmmph. Wonder why.

Houaida goes through the same broker to get another “illegal maid” and again, a day later, the maid complains about the work and doesn’t want to stay. [Two maids in just two days. Gotta be more to this story, something about the "work" maybe? Or perhaps the hours?] Poor, poor housewife Houaida. In the end “she decided to do without the maid instead of being taken advantage of.” Oh, for sure, someone was “taken advantage of” in this situation – and it WASN’T Houaida, you can bet on that!

Feel worse for Majed Ali, though, who acquired a maid for his sick mother during Ramadan. Here’s his story:

“The maid was to be paid a salary of SR 1,500 and the broker asked for a SR150 commission,” said Majed. “I accepted all the broker’s conditions and took the maid to my mother. On the second day of Ramadan my mother called me to come quickly and when I got to her house, I found the maid screaming and yelling. She said she didn’t want to work and wanted to be let go,” he said. “I told her to give me the SR150 that I paid the broker and that I would let her go. She screamed and threatened my mother. She wanted SR200 or she said she would cast a spell on my mother that would make her sick and bedridden for the rest of her life,” he said, adding that his mother was frightened and asked him to give the woman what she wanted and let her go."
Wait, wasn’t your mother already “sick” when you hired the maid? Was she just sick with the flu and she would recover in the short-term? Or was she one of those frail, sickly old women, bed-ridden to begin with and needing full-time care for the long-term? We are to believe that you and your mother believed the maid that she could “cast a spell” which would make your mother “sick and bedridden for the rest of her life?” What color is the sky in your world, Majed? And how is Peter Pan these days? Do you, in all honesty, really believe that maids have the ability to “cast spells” like this? Gimme a break.

An expatriate who spoke to the paper has the inside scoop: “Brokers manipulate people by planning with the maids to leave work after working for a day or two. “People then end up going back to the broker to get another maid and pay additional commission. The broker in turn gives the maid a percent of profit,” he said. No name given for this expatriate, however, so who knows if this source can be relied upon? After all, there have been “rare” instances reported on various internet sites where “sources” are thoroughly debunked after telling newspaper journalists “untruths.”

Saving the best for last, we have the head of the Passport Department in Makkah, Ayed ibn Taghalib Al-Luqmani, stating: “We have recently arrested a large number of illegal maids and the people who shelter them. It’s a wonder that people recruit them and trust them with their children in spite of everything that we know about them. Many of them have infectious diseases and are known to be thieves.” [See my previous post about the hallucinogenic effect of camel milk. It goes without saying, in my opinion, that Mr. Al-Lugmani has consumed far too much of the magic milk when he rants that “Many of them have infectious diseases and are known to be thieves.” WTF?!? How in the world can this man possibly be expected to be taken seriously with a statement such as that?!? Just a bit of explanation here, to qualify this statement, would be helpful. I happen to know for a fact through first-hand experience that one does not get a Visa to even enter this country without being tested for a myriad of diseases and illnesses! We not only gave blood and urine to get Visa’s, but stool samples as well. So how can these women, or “many of them” get their Visa’s to come to this country if they are inflicted with “infectious diseases?” Perhaps the “infectious diseases” to which Mr. Al-Lugmani is referring might be those of a venereal kind? Hmmm. Let’s think about this for just a second or two. Let me go out on a limb here and offer my hypothesis: If the
men in this part of the world could keep their damn sirwals pulled up and quit humping anything that moves – and this includes their friends and buddies, their several wives, their misyar wives, their cousins and their animals – perhaps the epidemic of “infectious diseases” could be kept at bay. ‘Nuff said.]

Sunday, November 11, 2007

I Need to Start My Own Damn Newspaper

…which would probably have a name that would for certain be censored! Names which come to mind that I can’t even “print” here because they would get me in too much trouble. Suffice it to say that it’s not just the newspapers in the States that are a bit biased. They are biased in the Middle East, too. Yeah. Just a bit.

One of my “A-List Favorites” of the umpteen-hundred blogs I visit – this one at least thrice-daily,
Weasel Zippers, prints a shocking tidbit – Hell has indeed frozen over – that the BBC has actually printed something positive with the way things are going for Our Boys in Iraq. But, just in case someone in the Middle East might per chance be privy to something slightly “glowing,” one of our paper’s here is able to immediately counteract with this:

And, not in “small print,” either, but print that is at least twice the size as normal!

And, this is the picture that is sooooo disturbing:

Starting from the beginning… “It shows the insensitivity of the US soldiers towards Iraquis.” Hmmm. How fuck!ng insensitive were the Iraqis when they planted explosives in the auto yard next to her home?!? Never mind. That point is, apparently, inconsequential.

Moving on… “Firstly the soldiers entered the house without taking their shoes off, thus bringing in the outside impurities of soil, mud, and unknown germs.” Yeah. This, from someone in a country where it is customary to take a crap and then instead of using Charmin to clean up, you use your hand to wipe yourself. No “impurities” or “unknown germs” garnered from this thoroughly unhygienic measure, for sure! But because “the woman was barefoot…this was obviously a home where shoes were not allowed.” Those Soldier’s didn’t “respect the sanctity of her home, her castle, as she is its queen.” Perhaps if the woman had asked her husband, her sons, her uncles and her cousins NOT to plant bombs next door NONE of this would have ever happened so forget even going with an argument as lame as that.

Okay and then we have, “The woman seems to be at the invader’s mercy, as is obvious by her posture. There is also the potential for more US abuse if she is left too long in this position.” WTF?!? Is there some sort of drug in camel milk that causes hallucinations? If so, the writer of this letter needs to drink a little less of it, I think. Standing for a few minutes with one’s arms in the air is abusive? No. THIS IS ABUSE:

And these abuses happen all too frequently here in The Sandbox. Perhaps the letter writer ought to take a quick glimpse in her own mirror before hurling accusations at others [just an idea, you ignorant Pot calling the Kettle black!]. Continuing along, with the sheer audacity of the letter writer to say, “Where is the considerate treatment…?” Yes. Indeed. Where IS the considerate treatment?!?

And to say that “It would have been quite sufficient and most probably much more effective if they had simply asked her to swear in front of Allah that her word was true.” Pluhheeezze! This confirms my suspicion about camel milk. For sure.

The letter writer’s last line is almost too much to fathom: “Our hearts go out to the victims of abuse under all circumstances, especially when the occupiers are unjustly brutal, as both America and Israel have been behaving.” Again, I refer her to her own mirror – that is, if her reflection doesn’t shatter it into a million teeny tiny little shards of glass first!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Cheap Labor

The problem with cheap labor is that although it is inexpensive initially, it comes at a much heftier price later on down the road. Here in Saudi, ALL of the labor is imported from other Third World Countries because “locals,” as I refer to them, believe it is beneath them to do anything considered in anyway remotely a menial task. [See this article: Proof.] So, the labor force we must deal with, although probably skilled to a degree – albeit much of it on-the-job training – is not skilled to the degree that is usually and actually required to solve a problem.

We have an outdoor faucet that is broken for the fourth time. Each time I simply dial the three-digit number for maintenance,
"202", and someone schedules the necessary electrical-plumber-air conditioning-carpenter maintenance man or men to come to our house and we pay nothing, monetarily, that is. This is a service that is included in our housing on the compound provided by the company my husband works for. Yesterday, when the faucet quit turning off, for the fourth time, I called and specifically requested that a plumber be sent to fix our problem and tried to be quite clear that the reason we need a plumber is because the irrigation team they keep sending to fix the same problem obviously isn’t fixing it. My conversation went something like this:

Me: Yes. Hello. I need you to send a plumber to our house. The outdoor faucet is broken, for the fourth time, and it will not shut off.

Person answering “202”: Yes, Madam, we will send irrigation.

Me: I don’t want irrigation to come – you’ve already sent them – several times, now – they aren’t taking care of the problem and all that is going to happen is that the same thing is going to happen all over again and I am going to have to call you for a fifth time.

Person answering “202”: Yes, Madam. It is no problem. We will send irrigation. They will be there at nine o’clock tomorrow morning.

Me: No. I need a plumber. And you want me to wait until tomorrow morning? So it is okay with you, then, if my water runs all afternoon and all night and floods my yard and the street.

Person answering “202”: Yes, Madam. It is no problem. That is the ‘on-lee ap-point-mant a-veil-abble.’

Me: Aarrrggggghhh!

The rest of the world is having near-drought conditions – the southeastern United States desperately need water – California has out-of-control wild fires destroying entire towns because it is so dry – and
people living in this country in Jeddah are going without – but because there is only “cheap labor” here, my outside faucet will be left running until “irrigation” comes to fix it because I can’t get a plumber. In the meantime, my back yard is turned into one big mud-hole which makes it impossible for me or my kids to enjoy. Perfect.

So, at nine o’clock this morning the irrigation guys – two of them – showed up, right on time, to fix my outdoor faucet. This, as I earlier mentioned, has been an on-going problem – they’ve been here four times now to fix the same thing. And each time they come they fix it the same way: I get a new faucet put on. It would seem to me, and I am not a skilled plumber so this is just a guess on my part, that the problem requires a solution just a tad more complex than simply replacing a faucet. This morning was no exception. As the young man turned all our water off – and likely other neighbors as well as the water main in the street has to be turned off – he showed me that he was going to replace the faucet. My conversation with one of the young men went something like this:

Me: You’ve got to be kidding!

Him: Yes, Madam. New faucet.

Me: But that obviously ISN’T the problem – this is my fifth faucet. You’ll be back in two weeks to fix it again. And each time it quits shutting off I have to go through this – as well as deal with a flooded back yard – and this is not acceptable.

Him: Yes, Madam. No problem.

Me: Good God, at least send someone who speaks and understands English!

And I stormed into the house and called “202” and demanded to speak to a supervisor when the person at “202” answered, “What is the problem, Madam?” to which I responded, “No. I don’t want to keep going through this, just get me a supervisor on the phone, and one who speaks and understands English.” But of course speaking to a supervisor is an impossibility – the supervisor being “a local” and thus he is no where near his office quite this early in the morning. Duh… “The supervisor is out of the office, Madam. What is the problem?” [I’m pretty sure that all of our calls are going through some call center in India; probably the same call center that Microsoft and Verizon are using.] So I rambled on about my problem and how it’s been happening every two weeks and how the wrong people are being sent to fix it and that even though they fix it temporarily they are not fixing it properly because it keeps happening and what I really need is a plumber – not irrigation – and that I need to discuss this with a supervisor and one who understands and speaks English, clearly. Meanwhile, all I can think of is that Farside cartoon where the man is talking to his dog and the dog is hearing “blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…” and I know I am getting nowhere but getting more and more frustrated by the minute. Finally, the “202” person promises to send a plumber to me this afternoon at three

So, at two forty-five, I lock the Kids in the house and am right there to open the back gate when the “plumbers” arrive at three o’clock. [It’s always more than one person – never less than two – often an entire group – all depends on what type of problem you are experiencing.] I open the gate and there are two young men holding their tool bags in their hands and guess what else they’re holding – a NEW FUCK!NG FAUCET!!!

I give up. Have to. Too much time and energy has already been wasted on the fact that water is running freely from my back yard – which floods – in to the street, cooling the pavement for no good reason – every couple of weeks when the faucet stops shutting off – and I don’t think I’m describing this correctly, because in actuality the faucet does turn – it just doesn’t seem to be able to shut the water off to prevent it from running. When this place dries up in a few years – after we’ve left – I’m just going to smile. Hey, not my fault that gallons upon gallons of one of your precious valuable resources was routinely squandered because you refuse to recruit and hire help at the cost required to accurately diagnose and resolve some maintenance issue.

There will be not a single tear shed by me when old men, women and children, and especially the
TITS are shriveling up and dying off from dehydration!!! Perhaps if the gazillion dollars this country reaps from the wealth of its oil were put to better use – such as teaching its citizens actual trades and skills instead of allowing them to become dependent on labor from other third world countries because doing some laborious task is so beneath them – I could muster up a bit of sympathy. As long as this country refuses to recognize that there are so many reasons why cheap labor isn’t cost-effective, I see absolutely no reason whatsoever to worry about the amount of water that the sand in my back yard consumes.

Friday, October 12, 2007


No, not what you’re thinking. Not women’s breasts. TITS as in terr0rists-in-training. I am surrounded by them. Little thugs! Yeah I know it’s the “holiday season” here, and this month of fasting and being up all night and asleep all day is about to come to an end – and everyone here will celebrate with big feasts of slaughtered goats and sheep – and be braggarts whilst doing so by hanging the skin [carcass?] of whatever poor little innocent four-legged-furry creature you selected for practicing your “slit it’s throat” skill on over your balcony or privacy fence. [That just soooo impresses us Westerners!] But really, did you have to shoot off your stupid little firecrackers all night? And did you have to start at six o’clock again this morning?!?

Furious. I am furious about it. A bunch of unruly, undisciplined, misbehaving little boys and their big teenage brothers thought it was just too much fun to stop. I didn’t call security last night. Was fine with it at nine, ten, eleven o’clock, and even midnight, when these little TITS continued with their shenanigans. What the thrill is – or was – is beyond me, but apparently the smell of sulfur and the little bang must be in some way exciting – we’re not talking fireworks, here, just those little blue and red firecrackers… But I am NOT fine with it at six in the morning – on what is “Sunday” here – Friday morning.

The worst part of all this is it scares my Kids half to death. The Boy can handle it – he just barks back – and he’s got a pretty big, deep bark [as Great Danes do] – although in actuality his bark is much, much worse than his bite, so to speak… The Baby [a standard Poodle] on the other hand, not her, she’s having nothing to do with the bangs that are going off regularly one after the other. Little tail goes down flat against her butt and she is running scared. She’s not been outside to do “business” since early last night – and this morning when I had her out – all it took was ONE of the TITS’ little “bangs” and she’s racing for the door – as if to tell me whatever it is that’s out there is NOT safe. [She’s right. These boys are NOT safe. These boys are all TITS! Mark my words.]

So, when the TITS started in again this morning – so damn early – with their amusement, I went out to the street to tell them to stop it – that it is too early in the morning for this – that people are sleeping – and it didn’t stop. The little TITS probably got quite a thrill of seeing a western woman who’s legs and arms were showing – but unfortunately my being dressed in bike shorts and a tank top only piqued their testosterone levels enough to make them want to shoot off more firecrackers outside – not go inside and masturbate furiously. [Damn. Next time I skip putting a bra on first! No. No. No. That would be asking for rape! You know, the “uncovered meat” and all…]

But because it was so early, I had no choice but to call Security. Security came right away – and I was right there – outside – to point them to the evidence [the blue paper remains – long after the little “gunsh0t” sound] and I was told by Security that they would take care of it. Silly me. I should know better. Of course the problem won’t be taken care of. The TITS who live here in “main camp” are the spawn of their daddy’s who are big-wigs and thus NOTHING can happen to them. Everyone knows this, and because the security guys don’t want to lose their jobs, nothing can or will be done to control the TITS. Can only hope that the problem will control itself – which of course means that some sort of “accident” needs to happen.

I know, here’s a really fun idea! Why don’t all of you TITS see if you can hold onto the firecrackers as they go off – don’t throw them – keep them between your fingers – or put them between your teeth – or even better – why don’t you put them where the sun will never shine!!!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Fashion TV

I want my FTV… [not quite what Dire Straits had in mind when they did I Want My MTV, but the tune has been playing over and over in my head for the last two weeks, now… Stop. Just Make It Stop!]

I’ve never, ever watched a single
Fashion TV program. Not a one. No clue what the channel and it’s programming is even all about – but for the information quickly gleaned after doing a Google search and voila – it’s all about Fashion! Right now on our satellite channel line-up Fashion TV is missing. Missing as in… “Removed for Ramadan.” [It's the second listing from the bottom, Channel 557.]

Why on earth it would be taken off the air for an entire month – when there is so much more on TV that is soooo much more risqué – is a question to raise with someone that possesses a great deal more knowledge about Islam than I have. Surely it can’t be even half as “bad” as the dozens of p0rn0 channels we can get, here, can it?

In another couple of days – maybe after Eid* – I’m sure that all the channels will be back to regularly scheduled programming and I’ll be able to watch as much Fashion TV as I want to and will find out then what it is that I’ve been missing – but this will be an entry that goes at the very, very bottom of my list of things to do.

*Rather interesting that typing in Eid in Google produced this [note the third “result”]. Coincidence? Yeah. Sure it is.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

New Bracelet for the Holidays

From what I understand – and I am not a Muslim – it would seem that celebrating Ramadan is similar to any other holiday where one receives gifts. Yeah. Maybe not so much. But I do know that it is customary to receive gifts for the Eid holiday, which, thankfully – five more days – who’s counting – is right around the corner.

So this little girl goes to a shop with her Dad who wants to buy her a new bracelet. You know… the joy of giving and all… it is the “holiday” season here in Saudi Arabia it being Ramadan and all. You people in
Illinois know what I’m referring to – as do those of you in Michigan – and those of you anywhere near D.C. where the White House just hosted its annual Iftaar dinner. [Just charming. Ever hear of one of the Prince’s here in Saudi hosting an Easter or Christmas dinner? I think not. I’m all for the U.S. being “diverse” and whatever else it wants to be, but I am a very strong and avid supporter of the reciprocity thing and there is NO SUCH THING, here!] I digress…

The little seven-year-old girl was given assistance from a
salesman who while "trying on a bracelet" touched the little girl's hand. Ohmygosh. The horror. Thank goodness the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice just happened to be passing by and caught this lecherous pedophile before something worse could happen! A spokesman for the Commission “cited other cases in the past when much younger girls had been molested.” Hmmm. Perhaps the authorities are searching for Chester Stiles in the wrong country.

On the bright side for this salesman – and we are left to presume that he must have been a “local” or his nationality, along with a color photograph of him and his full name, would have been published – much like the MSN plays “
guess the party affiliation” – at least he has been released and will not experience the severe misfortune of receiving some 7000 lashes for his perceived crime.

Let this serve as a dire warning to parents everywhere that you “can help fit bracelets to their children without the assistance of ‘strangers.’”

Friday, May 25, 2007

How-To Torture Manual Found in Library

The blogosphere has postings of this all over. Even with the strong content warning – which should have been enough right there for me to shy away completely – like an accident where you don’t want to look but just can’t help it – I clicked The Smoking Gun to view it anyway. Big. Big. Mistake. Immediate click, click, click back to a happy story about some kid winning a geography bee, and quick, quick, quick.

Recently I checked Execution* out of our local library. I have read a couple of chapters at random and am not so sure that this belongs on the shelf of a relatively public library. Certainly it does NOT belong in THIS part of the world. I really feel quite strongly that this book could perhaps be okay in a bookstore – in another part of the world – or perhaps even in a library, because I am against censoring – but NOT in the library, here, in Saudi Arabia!

There has been quite an
upsurge of crime in the Kingdom. Somehow, when you have young men so easily swayed for whatever reason it just seems to me that there really is absolutely no need whatsoever for a book on library or bookstore shelves that would allow for such ideas to seep into such impressionable minds. No matter. Whatever it is you are looking for can be found on the internet.

*Execution – The Guillotine, the Pendulum, the Thousand Cuts, the Spanish Donkey and 66 Other Ways of Putting Someone to Death by Geoffrey Abbott

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Picking Neem Leaves = Two Months Pay

This is absurd. A poor [literally] imported TCN* worker picks Neem leaves for a sick friend who cannot afford to go to a clinic for traditional medical care and he gets fined 750 SAR [$201.00]. How many Neem leaves could he have possibly picked? He didn’t actually dig up the tree for goodness sake. The Powers that Be, here, have imposed a fine which is probably two entire months salary for this worker who has come here to make a living for his family in a country where he can’t and now he must give up one-sixth of his yearly income. Disheartening. And just plain wrong. On the bright side, at least he was not punished by having his right hand cut off.

*Third Country National who does a job involving manual labor – one that no “local” would ever consider – for wages that are so low they are barely survivable.

Thursday, April 26, 2007


I watched Unfaithful and The General's Daughter on MBC 2 a couple of nights ago. The television shows and movies that air on this channel are broadcast in English with Arabic sub-titles. That the Arabic, written in pronounced white or black, covers the entire bottom portion of whatever it is you’re watching is, at first, quite annoying. You learn to live with the pesky subtitles – there is no choice. Conversely all of the commercials are in Arabic and the ONLY programming without sub-titles; it is only the occasional word thrown in, for which I’m guessing there is no apparent Arabic translation, that you hear in English.

It was during one of the movies that I saw commercial where four men were cavorting and dancing together – in a semi-break-dancing-cum-rap-style – each of them clutching a bottled beverage in their hand. Odd, you think, that four men would be dancing together with no women? No, not in this culture – here in The Sandbox, anyway – where sexes are separated and men “party” together at one place and women at another. In a country where you see grown men holding hands as they walk the malls in long white dresses, four men dancing just doesn’t seem all that particular.

Instead, it was the beverage that was being advertised that I found odd. There must not be an Arabic translation for
Moussy [the non-alcoholic beer], and this is what piqued my attention. [Click on the link to see a commercial showing men in thobes AND women in haute beach couture*!]

“Hmmph. Imagine that.” Not realizing, then, that our satellite programming is transmitted from
Dubai, I found myself trying to rationalize** how a country that arrested 433 people and jailed and lashed 20 of them for partying could allow such a controversial promotion to air! Such audacity!!! [Sputter, sputter.] The young men in the ad should be jailed immediately, and as for the women – oh my oh my oh my! [Do your own Google search to find out what happens to women who defy Sharia law.]

Moussy is available for sale on shelves in most of the grocery stores; just the “light” variety; the “dark” version was removed from ALL grocery store shelves in this area of the Eastern Province a few years ago. Rumor has it that The Powers that Be found out that “we” could get wasted chugging dark Moussy’s, which contain only the slightest trace amount of alcohol, and poof! Gone. Just like that, the dark Moussy vanished.

It is true. The “rumor” is dispelled, here: “’Nonalcoholic’ beverages still contain some alcohol, because it’s difficult and prohibitively expensive to get every single bit of it out. In order to be called
nonalcoholic under federal laws, a beverage can contain up to half a percent of alcohol by volume. (Something with no alcohol at all is called alcohol-free.) So people who are forbidden to drink alcohol, like devout Muslims, can’t partake in so-called nonalcoholic beer and wine. It takes about 10 nonalcoholic malt beverages to equal the alcohol in one American-style lager, says George Reisch, a veteran brewer with Anheuser-Busch and the former brewmaster of O’Doul’s.”***

Huh? Wait a second! That said “people who are forbidden to drink alcohol” shouldn’t even drink the “Non-Alcoholic Beers.” Oh, never mind. It’s all too hypocritical for me to even attempt to decipher. I’m not saying that there aren’t any very, very strict and staunch followers of Islam who have never strayed from their edicts. I’m just saying that I know for a fact, having witnessed with my own two eyes, quite a few “locals” who choose to throw caution to the wind and
party like it's 1999. Dotsson, a fellow Saudi blogger, confirms that assertion and says, “Getting alcohol is not that hard of a problem if you know the right people but finding a place to drink that alcohol is a pain . . . The alcohol ban is not working so why don’t they just go ahead and open up pubs???

*Very, very “haram.” Both the consumption of alcoholic beverages AND mixing of sexes in public! Although perfectly normal behavior in most of the rest of the civilized world including in Middle Eastern countries such as Bahrain and the UAE, this behavior is completely unacceptable in The Sandbox.

**Rationalize? No such thing. This is a totally “LFZ.” [Logic Free Zone]

***Oh My Gosh! What a hoot “bladder busting” contests would be with non-alcoholic beer!!!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Smile! You're On Candid Camera.

An Information Technology Crime Law was approved this week which will make “infringement of privacy by misusing [a] phone camera [a crime] punishable by one-year imprisonment and/or SR500,000 fine.” Not a piddling little amount, there! 500,000 Saudi Riyals is the equivalent of $134,048.25. The penalty for “hacking a web site” will be the same as misusing a “phone camera” under the new law. As well “a person who establishes a website for terrorist organizations or publishes anything facilitating contracts between leaders of terror organizations or advocating their ideologies” will be given a prison term of no more than 10 years and/or fined up to SR5,000,000 [$1,340,482.57].

Just a few short years ago, camera phones were banned in The Sandbox by the Commission for Promoting Virtue and Preventing Vice amid concerns that “wicked people might misuse the device.” Consider the word “B A N,” its anagram is “N A B.” And, as is human nature, as soon as there is a “ban” on something the first thing you are wont to do is “nab” whatever that item is. [Random House Unabridged Dictionary’s third definition for the word “nab” is: to snatch or steal.] That, of course, is exactly what happened, everyone wanted to “nab” one and the banned camera phones were selling like hot cakes despite the intensified crackdown of the “Powers That Be” to eliminate them. Customs authorities encouraged employees to seize the “camera-equipped mobile phones” rewarding them with prizes and incentives for confiscating the phones as they entered the Country. In December of 2004, the ban on camera phone was overturned.

Miscreants abound and the camera phones continue to spark controversy. These sordid little digital and technological wonders are often the scourge in situations that escalate to fisticuffs. Camera phones have caused a fight at a nursery school, have been the subject of complaints by parents at girls’ schools, and are frequently the reason that chaos and brawls erupt at women-only parties. It is not uncommon to read newspaper accounts of weddings where a camera phone leads to a bride punching one of her guests for taking a photo, or a scuffle at a wedding so violent that guests were hospitalized, or of a group of women that transformed a wedding into a "wrestling arena" where five police cars were called to the scene, or of this wedding involving more than twenty women fighting that also required police intervention. In one instance, a Tribal punishment was issued at a wedding and the father of the girl caught taking photos was fined! One groom, distraught over the “improper” attire women had worn to his engagement party, included on the wedding invitation the following: "Warning, camera cell phones inside the wedding hall."

According to at least one account women are refusing to attend parties and wedding celebrations “fearing [that] other guests may use a cell phone camera … to take their pictures and distribute the images over the Internet.” My gosh. The horror that this must instill! Unimaginable. Um Abdul Rahman states, “My friend got divorced because her picture was circulated on e-mails. Her picture was taken inside a wedding hall in Jeddah. Her husband blamed her for the incident and divorced her.” As good a reason to initiate a divorce as any other reason, I guess [not!]. After ten years of marriage and five children, the fact that this man's wife owned a camera phone resulted in their divorce. One marriage was never even consummated when the prospective groom learned that a relative of his bride-to-be snuck a camera phone into the ceremony and took photos.

Occasionally the camera phones truly have been misused by “wicked people” with evidence of misdeeds being recorded and stored on their mobiles. In July of 2003, two young Saudi men were arrested for orchestrating and filming a sexual assault on a 17-year old girl by a Nigerian driver. In January of 2005, the three men involved, dubbed the Panda gang were sentenced: The main defendant to 12 years of imprisonment and 1,200 lashes, his compatriot received a prison term of two years and 200 lashes, and the driver [who actually appeared in the film] received a sentence of 6 years imprisonment and 600 lashes.

Regardless of stiff punishments and laws to discourage camera phone misuse, several months later a video clip of two Saudi girls being harassed by four young men triggered public outrage. The four men were indicted for sexual harassment after confessing that they did not know the girls before the incident and that they deliberately distributed the video clip of the incident using both the Internet and Bluetooth.

Whether the new law will serve to deter misuse of camera phones, along with its other intended purposes, remains to be seen – and as the law is only a couple of days old it is too soon to pass judgment. If the system – or complete lack thereof – by which traffic laws are enforced in The Sandbox are any indication as to how the Information Technology Crime Law will be enforced, reports of camera phones being used by “wicked people” will remain status quo.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Yep. Still. Yeah, it’s been a long one. Perhaps one of these days I can get back to some semi-serious blogging. With regrets and apologies…

First there was the firing of the houseboy and no help [how in the heck do people with real jobs and lives do it?!?], then a six-week leave to the states, which was immediately succeeded by a trip to Vienna, then the Holidays, followed by a month-long visit from my parents to our little hacienda in The Sandbox, and then a three-week trip to Buffalo, New York and Raleigh, North Carolina.

I’m home for the next few days and then off again – I’m already packing – for a week-long island vacation where I plan to lay on the beach [in the rain! it is cyclone season where we’re going!!!] and read Atlas Shrugged.

Perhaps I can return to this spot regularly in March. And there is only one thing that will prevent me from doing so. A move. To a different house – here – in The Sandbox – that has a pool! If that does happen then I am going to have to learn to get used to using my husband’s laptop if I am going to ever blog again [which I absolutely hate using!], as I will be reverting to a past profession – that of professional tanner.

Hey, oncologists need jobs, too…

Monday, January 29, 2007

Maid for Abuse

Large metropolitan newspapers list sub-categories for employment in their classified sections: Administrative, Construction, Education, Health Care, Legal, etc., and our two English newspapers here in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, Arab News and The Saudi Gazette, both have a “Classified” section, albeit, on a much smaller scale than the typical American paper. The Saudi Gazette’s classified section does not appear anywhere on their Internet version; the Arab News can be found on-line and their classified section consists of sections for the categories of “Jobs, Matrimonial, For Sale, Miscellaneous, Swap, Cargo and Announcement.” However, jobs are not listed categorically and today there was no “help wanted” listing for a maid. There was an ad for another domestic situation which, really, given the fact that women in this Country cannot drive, makes fulfilling this position a “necessity” in The Sandbox – and that is for the hiring of a driver:

Required a family driver (Filipino/Indonesian) to work in Riyadh with a Saudi family. Candidate should know Riyadh area very well. Will be offered good salary. Suitable candidates contact Mobile: 0555555555.*
Is finding a maid for abuse something that is done through an agency or some sort of networking? There is a question to which the answer may remain, for me, elusive, in that I will never have a maid. Yes, currently, I have a houseboy who comes for four hours, three times a week to assist me in cleaning, but all of the “stuff” that is routine and day-to-day, i.e., laundry, ironing, dishes, make the bed, etc., is done by me.

The employer, or sponsor, whose son responded to the allegations made by
this maid has, of course, denied them. [Yeah, I know. And, yes, I’m as surprised as you are!] It would certainly be quite rare indeed if there is a single, reported case where the employer or sponsor of an abused maid actually admitted it. Just one… Apparently, the son, deems it worthy to note, regarding the maid's claim that she has been abused, that she had “only been with them for a month and a half.” [This will be an integral component used to the benefit of the abusing party – not THE abused – in any official action that might be brought before the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. Such mitigating circumstances all but guarantee a judgment in favor of the defendant(s).]

Someone help me out here if I’m wrong on this, but is there a minimum length of time that a maid has to be with a family before the abuse “officially” begins? Is the first six weeks – or month and a half – of employment as a domestic servant considered a “grace period?” If so, somebody should have shared that little caveat with
Fatima! But that would, of course, explain Rosie's saga, because, after all she was a maid here for seven months when AFTER being summoned by the police her male employer admitted abusing her. Oh, pardon. My mistake. I was unaware of this instance in which a husband took responsibility for his wife’s abuse of the maid although it isn’t quite the same as admitting the abuse, is it?

*The telephone number, for obvious reasons, has been changed. Do, however, notice that the Nationality of the wanted driver has been specified. Try to imagine an employer doing something like this in the United States - unfathomable! The ACLU and every one of its related agencies, no matter how remotely associated, would be stumbling over each other during the race to file a lawsuit in the nearest Courthouse. Yes, things are just a bit different here, in The Sandbox…

Friday, January 26, 2007

Look What I Got

This is a first. I’m putting this day on the calendar and will celebrate it like a holiday from here on in. I guess the trick to getting Victoria’s Secret catalogs is to order only one little item so that it is sent to me via mail in an envelope versus being sent in a box via UPS.

Because I don’t want to be polluting the oh so fragile minds of the adolescent males of this society I am not going to photocopy blown-up size pages of the most risqué lingerie and post them on light poles and palm trees, but I want to! Of course it would defeat the purpose to do this on our compound – it would be so much better if I could do this downtown – perhaps leaving several photos like these which are almost pornographic on the windshields of all the cars parked illegally. That, however, would be a humongous endeavor – even if I targeted only the cars at the Rashid Mall.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Copycat Hanging

Hmmph. File this one under “my how things have changed since the olden days.” Probably most of us can recall at some point when we were young and gave it our best effort to copy some action or actions that we had seen a parent or other admired adult-figure do. That’s part of growing up, isn’t it? And, that’s how you learn some of the lessons that prepare you for life.

Granted, back in those days there were no video games, the extent of the violence I can recall from television was purely “G” rated “slapstick” and likely done on a Monkee’s episode or on Gilligan’s Island; I cannot recall a single episode of Lassie that contained any violence, slapstick or otherwise [some injury or sadness, perhaps, but not violence]. No one had a computer in their home, the
Internet was an infant, and certainly You Tube wasn’t even a remote idea.

Who would have thought, that several years [decades!?!] later, the combination of home computers, the Internet and You Tube would produce a generation of copycats that try their own version of stunts they first see on
Jackass or that a 12-year old would hang himself to copy Saddam Hussein? This boy is not the first; according to today’s article in Arab News, FOUR youngsters have successfully demonstrated expert plagiarism skills, if that was their intent.

Copying test answers or the dust-jacket of a book for a book report,
without getting caught, would have been more than adequate. Not to make light of the fact that three young boys and a teenaged girl have met their demise, it is just sad that the degree of violence saturated in today’s world of video games, television programs and movies, and the internet has hardened us in such a way that our reaction to an incident of this nature is “Oh, gee, isn’t that too bad.”

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