The diary of a Saudi man, currently living in the United Kingdom, where the Religious Police no longer trouble him for the moment.

In Memory of the lives of 15 Makkah Schoolgirls, lost when their school burnt down on Monday, 11th March, 2002. The Religious Police would not allow them to leave the building, nor allow the Firemen to enter.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Imagine being a woman... 

...in Saudi Arabia. Especially if you don't have a kind and sympathetic male relative, because you need one to get written permission to do a lot of things that most women elsewhere in the world would take for granted. Things like travelling abroad, doing studies; even business documents, although you may own the business yourself.

Faroohah Sowaleef, who has appeared in this blog and its comments threads on a number of occasions, is studying to be a linguist and translator. And she has done the blogsphere a genuine service by translating an article into English, that describes the tribulations of this enforced female dependence on the male relative, and the various other downsides of being a Saudi female. The original article is by a Saudi female columnist called Badria Al Bisher.

It's grippingly poignant in the way it describes the cruelties that some women face from their "nearest and dearest". Look at this example.

Imagine you were a woman, and this guardian of yours is your 15 year old son. Imagine he were your brother, who scratches his chin in hesitation before signing any of your papers, and may even tease you degradingly. Imagine this brother of yours asking you for "what may make things slide" (an expression used to refer to bribery). He may be too much of a man to ask for it in cash, as no man with any pride can take money from his sister, but this pride of his won't stop him from asking for a car, a fridge, or a warranty that you will be paying his monthly bills until times are better for him. And in most cases, they never will be better for him, they'll only be causing you more and more trouble.

Before you look at the full thing, just a couple of explanations.

The term "Mashallah" literally means "as God wills" but in reality carries a wealth of superstitious meaning. Its full translation would be "I am congratulating you on something but the mere act of congratulation may bring down the envious "evil eye" on whatever is being congratulated, so I will also invoke God's protection for it."

Saudi taxi drivers are usually from the remoter parts of north-west Pakistan. It's a tough job because there is an excess of supply over demand, so it's hard to make ends meet. Walk down any Saudi street and these guys will constantly "beep" at you as they go past, in the hope that you may flag them down. However, they keep on coming over, and there are two other problems with that:
- their Urdu is a lot better than their Arabic, English, or any other language.
- their knowledge of the geography of your town is rudimentary; they know the airport, major hotels and shopping centres, but hardly anywhere else.
So you are not hiring a knowledgeable guide to the local area, but a paid driver whom you have to direct to your destination in whatever words of whatever language you have in common. (Having said that, if you are a Westerner coming in by air, always go to the official taxi booth outside, where there will be a Pakistani guy with reasonable English who will get you a driver and explain to him where to go, and agree a fare - don't get waylaid by one of those Bedu-type drivers in the concourse who will try and grab you physically and lead you to their dangerous and uninsured heap of metal with no meter, in the hope that you will pay their enormous and arbitrary charge).

I've gone on long enough. I'd advise you to read the whole article, in spite of the annoying pop-up adverts on her site. You can find the translated article here.

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