Friday, November 11, 2011
This is an opinion piece that has stirred up a lot of controversy. I wrote the following in APRIL 2011. It was a candid response to an evening visit with a new American acquaintance that was suffering with her recent life in Saudi Arabia. I felt that I had to give her my most honest feelings to make her feel better, feelings that I hadn’t ever admitted to myself. The reason I titled it the “inside outsider” is because I feel that children from mixed marriages have a very unique view on true community life. Children with mixed backgrounds are called “third culture kids” and there are books published about this (term coined by Ruth Hill http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_culture_kid). We have very unique experiences and perspectives that even very well traveled and culturally exposed people don’t have. Those “foreigners” married to Saudis don’t quite have the same view as we do, and those foreigners living here for work, to learn religion etc. also don’t have the same view. People like me who are sitting on the dividing wall can see both sides clearly with a unique perspective. In addition, full Saudis would never admit what was really going on on the inside (it would expose the privacy of their community). Would more third culture kids in the next generation improve this place? I hope so!
I have had some responses to this piece that were in disagreement and others who couldn’t agree more. In any case this is my opinion and I would appreciate your respect. It is a sad piece and focuses on a lot of the negatives, which does not mean that there aren’t any positives, however, that I will write about later. In addition, I am generalizing and I didn’t say that none of this exists in the western world as well. All I’m saying is that this is my perspective as a third culture kid living in Jeddah, SAUDI ARABIA.
The Inside Outsider
About this place they call "Saudi," I have a lot to say. I have many feelings that are buried deep down inside, and for the first time, I am going to bring them out. I am turning my thoughts and feelings into words; these have been building up since childhood.
Saudi Arabia is a unique place. It’s a place where the ancient wisdom that it was once renowned for is long gone, buried under the mineral and black gold that seems to have given it new character and personality. A wisdom that has no more value, a wisdom that is now considered worthless and those who try to practice it are shunned and pushed aside. The ancient leaders of Arabia, the well-known prophets, scientists, romantics, poets, and many others would be appalled at what it has become today.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia often reminds me of the television series "LOST." It is a place with a strange power that controls everybody - a power that is unseen, unexplained, scary, yet resourceful. It is a place that is a "goldmine," a "safe haven," and a "no mans land," where if you place yourself properly, you can get away with murder - literally. This place attracts the most insufficient, unprofessional, unethical, dishonest people from all around the world. It attracts people who cannot make a decent living, people who have been convicted for something minor or even major, people who escape taxes, people who cannot get it together in their own countries – they all come here.
Saudi Arabia has a very low standard for anything ethical or professional. Its people are lazy, consuming, demanding, self righteous, spoiled and incapable. During the past 20-30 years, they have been in a slumber induced by a lack of leadership and tight controls on everything, which retarded any kind of growth. Losers from other countries come here to make a quick buck. I personally know and can name a few. These people come from all walks of life - the Americans, the British, the Indians, the Bengalis, the Filipinos, the Egyptians, etc, etc.
Saudi residents tend to group together to create little clicks, gangs, mafias - whatever you want to call it - survival groups that are bonded by the same goals, mentality, and mind set with strong loyalties to each other. These groups are very difficult to infiltrate if you are not like-minded. They are based on a commonality that each individual has while excluding any others. This grouping can be among siblings, extended family members, school friends, college friends, colleagues at work, or specific social classes and groups. If you find yourself trying to fit in, you will not be able to unless the majority in the group find a commonality that they can accept you for. They are in control not you; so don’t even try to fit in.
This is where I tell you not to be concerned with cultural differences or racial differences, because these are not what the society is based on. I don’t feel like there is a real culture in Saudi Arabia anymore. Society doesn’t practice true Arabian or Islamic behavior of generosity anymore. No more open homes, free food, kind words, smiles, helping hands, or anything that the Arabs or Muslims were previously very well known for. There no longer exists the Arabian Knight on a shiny white horse.
Don’t be afraid; be proud that you don’t fit in. I personally felt extremely reassured and relieved when I realized that I don’t fit in fully and that I never will. I have been brought up in a multi-cultural home, which is non-judgmental, considerate, kind and forgiving. I was ecstatic when I finally accepted that I would never be a full part of the “majority” of the Saudi people of today. I may never really fit in anywhere, but I know that the human characteristics that really matter in the end are the ones that I want to practice and hold on to even if that means that I am estranged from my own “home town.”
This place has to have a purpose for you, besides it being a home. You have to find something that you can only be able to take advantage of in such a country with so much free time - maybe like completing a higher degree because of the long empty hours you will have affording plenty of time to study, or work experience that is unique, or exposure to others who may get you a foot in the door somewhere. Make this place work for your personal gains. Don’t just exist here for the sake of your children; they will also never really fit in (being from a mixed culture background). Let them be who you want them to be, not who you think the society will accept - because it’s not going to happen. They should be good people with beautiful human characteristics, with universal rules to follow - people who can live anywhere in the world and make you proud.
Always make sure you have an escape - yes, a way out! Always keep your passports with you, especially the American ones. Make sure you have the consulate’s number with you at all times. Always have a plan that will get you and your kids out of here if necessary. Most Saudis have and or seek dual citizenship for this reason - an escape route. Those who don’t have dual citizenship truly envy those who do. People may mistreat you only because they know that you and your kids can leave if you ever wanted or had to, and that the American government will support you as a person no matter what. YOU ARE THE UNTOUCHABLES, and that’s why you feel the hate.
Of course there are many good things here, but you must wade through the bad and scrape it off before you can see or appreciate the good. That’s just the way it is - the most annoying stuff just gets right up into our faces. In my opinion it is one of the most difficult countries in the world to live in. This place is “special” in many different ways. You will find those few and far between people whom you will not be able to live without. These are the people who will appear when you are most in need and they can keep you afloat. These people will be your friend no matter where you go, and they are in the same position you are in, so they understand.
Don’t be who you are not, and don’t try to change. That is the biggest cause for distress and depression when living in Saudi. Because no matter how hard you try to please family members, friends, or “the group”, they will never appreciate it and never be pleased because you are just not “one of them” - and you will never be. It’s the painful truth; they will just laugh at you and talk about you behind your back. So be your beautiful Californian blonde self and enjoy being that. Their envy is killing them!
A very strong tool to use in Saudi is silence. If they can’t hear your thoughts they can’t control you. If they can’t see what you are all about they can’t get to you. The majority of Saudi people are experts at reverse psychology and mental manipulation. They have a skill at finding your weaknesses and going for you. If they don’t hurt you today, they will tomorrow. Keep your thoughts to yourself and that is your power against them.
I know that it is tough because you must live in survival mode constantly. You must become accustomed to protecting yourself and building a strong defense mechanism. It is exhausting and sometimes not worth it. But if you choose to live here, this is the advice I have for you. This is what I have learned living amongst them as an “inside outsider.”
This piece was originally posted on a dear friend’s blog; you can click this link and see the responses. http://susiesbigadventure.blogspot.com/2011/04/inside-outsider.html
One of my favorite comments was: “Khayra said...
Since everyone's starting with their backgrounds: I'm writing as one from the second generation of Halfies (Half-Saudis) with both my parents being Halfies. I REALLY like this post. There should be an "Inside Outsider" forum or something! It reminded me of the first time I read Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and thought to myself how on the money the description was. It's cute how so many people are so passionately choosing sides on Saudi being a good or bad place to live in. Many of them may not realize the "backward" genuinely (generally) don't realize they're being so. I have stories to back this theory up. Now that my generation of super-Halfies are coming up, I wonder if this post will hold true for long.”
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
In the news: "On January 15, 2008 President Bush met with 10 selected Saudi Entrepreneurs. Drawn from a pool of almost 300 candidates the selection was limited to male or female Saudi Entrepreneurs between the ages of 30 and 40, the only requirement was that they were educated in the USA. Dr. Modi Batterjee was one of the ten selected individuals amongst eight men and only one other female".
This is one of the major experiences in my life. I received a phone call from the US Embassy in January requesting my attendance at a Roundtable Discussion with President Bush and the US Ambassador. I accepted and had a wonderful experience. I did my best to represent the Muslim and young Saudi communities with the best image possible. I wanted Mr. Bush to know that we are professional people and we can participate in any international setting. Not all of us are terrorists and we deserve to be an active part of this world.
The following is what Mr. Bush had to say at the introduction of the meeting:
THE PRESIDENT: "I'm George W. Bush, President of the United States. (Laughter.) Thank you all for joining us. Ambassador, thanks for setting this up. It's important for the President to hear thoughts, hopes, dreams, aspirations, concerns from folks that are out making a living. And I really appreciate you taking time out of your day to come and visit with me. I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts.
One thing that's for certain: The United States benefits when people come to my country. And one of my concerns was after September the 11th that our visa policy, particularly for Saudis, was tightened to the point where we missed opportunity to show young and old alike what our country is really about. I love the fact that some of you were educated in America. I think you'll find you got a good education there, but more importantly, Americans get to see you, and you get to see them. And the best way to achieve better understanding in the world is for folks just to get together, and get to understand that we share the same God, and we share the same aspirations for children and for our futures.
And so this is an important visit for me. I'm thrilled to be in the Kingdom. I have -- I've got very close relations with His Majesty. We had a good visit last night on a variety of subjects. We talked about Palestinian peace; we talked about the security issues of the region. I talked to the Ambassador, and will again talk to His Majesty tonight about the fact that oil prices are very high, which is tough on our economy, and that I would hope, as OPEC considers different production levels, that they understand that if their -- one of their biggest consumers' economy suffers, it will mean less purchases, less oil and gas sold.
And so we've got a lot of things to talk about, but I want to assure you it's from the spirit of friendship. And the hospitality last night was warm, and the conversation was excellent -- just like this one is going to be. So I want to thank you for coming. I appreciate your time."
That was his opening remark. It was good. I didn’t hate him, but understood why so many did. We were very lucky to have later received letters of gratitude from the president and acknowledgment that we were the reason he decided to impose the revision of the Visa situation and the extension of its length to five years. I felt very excited when I knew that I had participated in making a positive change, one that was so desperately needed.
Monday, October 24, 2011
I grew up my entire life in a home listening to stories about the balad. I heard stories about my beloved father’s childhood, and how the families of Jeddah lived together. My father regaled his children with the history and the traditions of the old city. He made sure that we knew the family members’ names, relationships, and common traits and characteristics. The history of our family was important to him, the history of their trade and how they came to be one of the first families to import pharmaceuticals into the walled city. He took us on short visits to the old city almost every year for our Eid Al Fitr family outings. It was interesting but quickly got boring.
As an adult and mother of three I loved Jeddah, but to me it meant work, school, Al Baik, the malls, and family obligations. I never thought of the balad. The balad was a part of the past, a part that was gone, and most certainly not a part of me. I only saw the old city that I often visited with my father as a child on rare occasions when I had to go to the market downtown, and with a swift look I would see Bait Al Batterjee and simply think to myself “that is my Baba’s home”.
It took a visitor from abroad staying in my parent’s home to make me realize what the balad means to me and what it should mean to my peers and future generations. A few days before my feelings changed I had arranged for a tour of the old city because I had nothing else to entertain my guest with. I figured the time spent there would give us something to do to pass the hours. My father loved the city to the point that he had painted the old structures on the interior walls of his home. My guest had requested an explanation for the beautiful murals, and all I could say was “I will take you there”.
When we arrived at the Bahar gate we were greeted by our tour guide, a son of the balad. A man who had been born there, he grew up there and knew all the historical spots. He explained, pointed out ancient structures, and gave us a brief history lesson of how the balal became what it is today. We started our morning tour with “Gabil street” and ended with the first American Embassy in Jeddah’s history “Bait Al Batterjee”. My heart sank! This house that I had no feelings for suddenly had a meaning. It had a place in the history of Jeddah. It was beautiful, and was located in a very special spot, just like every other house in the city. Each and every structure had a proud family, a story to tell, and a lifetime of history hidden within its walls. How can we turn our backs on our home, or origin, our ancestors? This Balad is where we began, where our fathers were born not long ago. How can we feel so detached? Our city needs us.
Did you know that Al-Balad is divided into four main neighborhoods:
Harat Alsham (The Sham Neighborhood), facing north;
Harat Al-Yaman (The Yemeni Neighborhood), facing south;
Harat Mazloum (The Aggrieved Neighborhood), facing east;
and Harat Al-Bahr (The Sea Neighborhood).
Harat Alsham (The Sham Neighborhood), facing north;
Harat Al-Yaman (The Yemeni Neighborhood), facing south;
Harat Mazloum (The Aggrieved Neighborhood), facing east;
and Harat Al-Bahr (The Sea Neighborhood).
Did you know the Naseef house has 15 rooms on seven floors and was erected about 150 years ago? It was made famous when King Abdulaziz lived there. It was built by Omar Afandi Naseef.
Did you know that the tree in the square outside the front door is now the oldest and was once the only tree in Jeddah? It is said that Ibrahim Batterjee gave that tree as a gift to Omar Nassef. On the ground floor there is a well that collects rainwater. Stairs wide enough to march camels up bringing food supplies, lead up to the kitchen on the top floor; on the roof above is the highest room, the open-sided Al-Teramanah which was used as a dining and smoking area and caught the cool breezes high above the streets. The original owners of the house also used to sleep on the roof in a namousia, a bed covered with a sheer fabric to prevent mosquito bites.
Did you know that the Caliph Othman bin Affan declared it the official port of the Holy Cities? The construction of the wall took place in order to protect Jeddah against the aggressors of that time, such as the Portuguese who, in 1516 AD, laid siege to the city for three months. But, in spite of all, Jeddah continued growing in importance and by 1825 --now under the control of the Ottomans-- began receiving its first diplomatic representatives from Europe (France and Britain). For that reason, it used to be called Bilad al Kanasil (The City of Consulates). It was also known as al-Balad or just Balad, a name which it still keeps today along with "Old Jeddah”
These questions and facts are only a few. These questions and facts should raise awareness within our generations to seek more information to try to find facts about our home, our origins, and our ancestors; the men and women who lived here for centuries. Our ancestors have much to tell us, to give us pride, and keep up our self confidence and esteem. Now when I visit the balad and I see Bait Al Batterjee my heart screams “that is My baba’s home!”
Friday, October 14, 2011
Living in Jeddah I find what they call "cat fights" to be a common occurrence in the female Saudi community. It seems that women here like to get involved in disputes (I'm generalizing now, please don't get all defensive). Catfights are defined in the dictionary as: noun - a dispute carried out with intense hostility. This I have experienced myself directly or indirectly several times without even knowing that I was involved.
A woman may wake up one morning to a friend's phone call and suddenly find herself in the middle of a social crisis of rumors, accusations, and assaults. She wouldn't know where it came from. Disoriented, she might begin to call other friends to investigate the origin only making the matter worse, framing her as a gossip. She may have, at a point in the past, casually and unintentionally mentioned an incident or observation about a friend to another friend. Those casual words would have been carried from ear to ear creating a false monster out of her. She, being the true victim is accused of spreading rumors about that friend ruining their valuable friendship forever. NOTHING is taken lightly here. Gradually, she will be excised from the group because other common friends will begin to be cautious around her not including her in social functions "just incase". Unfortunately, the true culprit may be another woman who decided at one point in their acquaintance that this presumable attractive woman is a threat to her marriage, that may be because her husband mentioned briefly how intelligent he thought she was. This comment by the husband has stirred up a storm within the wife's heart creating a wicked strategy that will scar that intelligent woman's social life forever.
Lately, these pictures have been shared though Facebook and Blackberry indicating to me that this is a true social issue. I wish that the women in this community saw each other as compatriots, protecting and sharing instead of competing and destroying. Women are strong beings and in Saudi we are at a dire state where national transformation and growth are forcing us into professional roles and more productive positions that need us to be on our best behavior. However if we can not support each-other socially as sisters and friends how can we support ourselves in our changing society.
If you've ever been a victim of this kind of social catastrophe such as the fictional woman in the example above I recommend repeating the following positive self affirmation. It will help you build your internal self esteem.
"I don’t care. I really don’t care. People can say whatever they want to say about me because I know in my heart that if I suddenly dropped dead the only One I would answer to is happy with me. I have a clean heart and a good intention. I give everyone and anyone that crosses my path my fullest attention and with all sincerity. I give from the depths of my heart, I am earnest, I believe in transparency, and I really care. I care for myself enough to be truthful to anyone and everyone. I am strong enough to be myself. I am strong enough to show myself for what I am. I don’t hide my past, my present, or my future.
Those of you who fear this transparency see it as a threat because you have so much to hide. You have so many skeletons in your closets, so much dirt under your carpets. My transparency scares you because it makes you feel bad. You feel bad because you can’t be like me. My strength of self threatens you. You have no self confidence and no self value.The only way to make you feel better is to talk about me. To bring me down, to scratch on my image and make it ugly, just like you. However, the brutal truth is “You can’t”. You can never turn a diamond into stone. You can never bring me down. You can never do anything to me."
It is very crucial to keep your mouth shut, isolate yourself socially, or learn the creative and conniving ways of the Saudi Woman in order to survive this society (again I'm generalizing, please don't get hostile on me and I would appreciate it if you didn't accuse me of mental instability. Im just saying). Best of luck to all you Saudi Ladies. I would like to send a special thank you to those of you who have been good friends, and sisters to me. We would not be able to survive if we didn't have each-other.
Friday, October 7, 2011
Me: Who cares if Steve Jobs was originally an Arab? He was an amazing mind that the world has lost. If he were a monkey he would still be a loss to mankind.
My husband: Some people are proud that he was originally Arab, its very unfortunate to admit that if he were living in the Arab world, he would not have ended up who he was. Our Middle Eastern countries don’t give gifted people the opportunity to excel.
Me: I agree, however who cares? Why do we always see the world as US and THEM, why can't we see the world as one place; all of us are human. It’s always the East vs the West. Why? In the end God will judge us on our intentions and not on our nationality or genetic origins.
I understand that the Middle East does not give its youth the opportunity to be amazing like the west does, however this is not an excuse for the Arab nations to be the way they are today. We should start with "the man in the mirror". If we want to change we can change, the technology is out there (thanks to people like Steve Jobs), the science is discovered, the means are available, but we continue to lull in our misery; continuing to keep ourselves below the bar, wishing for things to change, and not making the change we want ourselves.
“Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma -- which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice."
-Steve jobs (may he RIP)
If you would like to share your thoughts, memories, and condolences, please email email@example.com
Sunday, October 2, 2011
By Dr Modi Batterjee, IBCLC, DHA
International research studies confirm that breastfeeding most likely leads to a slight reduction in a woman’s chance of getting breast cancer, if the total length of time she breastfeeds is one year or more. This one year can be for one child or more than one child. For example, breastfeeding two children for six months each would give the same degree of protection against breast cancer as breastfeeding one child for one year. The longer a woman breastfeeds in general, the greater the decrease in her risk of breast cancer. This is because breastfeeding changes the balance of hormones that a woman has in her body which includes the female sex hormones, such as estrogen. Most research studies have found that estrogen levels are lower in women who are breastfeeding because breastfeeding delays the re-starting of a woman’s menstrual periods after childbirth. This may help to reduce the chance of developing breast cancer.
Breast cancer is unfortunately a common disease and the number one killer of Saudi women. It is important to recognize that more women than ever before in the western nations are surviving breast cancer due to better awareness, screening, and improved treatments. There this is helping women detect cancer in earlier and more treatable stages.
What can make a difference in Saudi women developing breast cancer in the first place?
Breast cancer is thought to be caused by complex interactions between our genes, lifestyle and environment. Risk factors are things that may alter the chances of getting the disease. Having one or more risk factor does not necessarily mean that you will get breast cancer – it means that the chances of you developing the disease are greater or smaller. Often there is not a clear cut-off point when it comes to having or not having many of the established risk factors: there is often a gradual increase or decrease in risk.
Health professionals think that you should decide for yourself whether to breastfeed your baby or not. Your decision should take into account the benefits for both you and your child and the practical issues associated with breastfeeding. These include how easy and convenient you find it to breastfeed. Your lactation consultant will be able to provide you with more information about breastfeeding.
The research studies show that the risk of breast cancer is slightly lower among women who have breastfed their babies for a year or more in total. You might feel, therefore, that if or when you have children, this is an important factor in deciding about breastfeeding.
There are many important benefits from breastfeeding for both mother and child. International Health Organizations recommend that women breastfeed for the first six months of an infant’s life as it provides all the nutrients a baby needs as well as antibodies to help fight illness and infection.
Friday, September 30, 2011
Written by Dr. Modi Batterjee, IBLCL, DHA
AlBidayah Breastfeeding Resource and Women’s’ Awareness Center
We all know that chocolate is closely associated with good feelings such as romance. There is a special satisfaction we get if we cheat on a diet when it comes to chocolate. We savor the moments we spend with our chocolate bars and make many excuses for why we need to enjoy these moments. Many “feel good” emotions over come us when we allow ourselves to indulge in the smooth rich flavors of the cacao bean. We often enjoy the devious feelings we get while on vacation freeing ourselves to enjoy as much chocolate as we want. I wonder why?
Chocolate [chaw-kuh-lit, chok-uh-, chawk-lit, chok-] is a raw or processed food produced from the seed of the tropical Theobroma cacao tree. Cacao has been cultivated for at least three millennia in Mexico, Central and South America, with its earliest documented use around 1100 BC. The majority of the Mesoamerican people made chocolate beverages, including the Aztecs, who made it into a beverage known as xocolātl (/ʃo.ko.laːtɬ/), a Nahuatl word meaning "bitter water". The seeds of the cacao tree have an intense bitter taste, and must be fermented to develop the flavor (Wikipedia).
It is believed that chocolate is practically the most popular sweet-tasting delicacy in the world and according to history it has been for centuries. It was the Aztec leader Montezuma who introduced the chocolate drink to the Spanish conqueror Cortez, who in turn took it back to Spain. The Spanish made a few creative and tasty innovations to the bitter tasting beverage – they added sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla. Chocolate bars and candy as we know it today didn't appear until the 1800's. Unfortunately there are many myths surrounding chocolate. Some imply that if it tastes so good, it must be bad for your health; other myths claim that chocolate causes acne, and makes kids hyper. Could these possibly be true?
Ok, we must agree that milk chocolate may not be the healthiest snack around. However, it does contain a number of nutrients such as potassium and magnesium, and provides us with several vitamins such as B1, B2, D, and E. Researchers in New York have found that milk chocolate is one of the only sugary snacks that is least likely to cause tooth decay. The average milk chocolate bar contains approximately 250 calories. This may not be the ideal health food but its calorie count is low enough for a healthy eater to enjoy an occasional chocolate treat. Besides, giving in to our chocolate cravings every once in awhile can help avoid the bingeing that is a healthy eater's worst enemy.
The best part about chocolate is that in its finest form (dark or black chocolate) it can actually be very good for you. Cacao contains lots of antioxidants and antibacterial agents that fight oral bacteria, which causes tooth decay and bad breath. The mere aroma of chocolate is claimed to increase theta brain waves, which result in relaxation. Chocolate also contains phenyl ethylamine known as a mild mood elevator; the carbohydrates in chocolate raise the neurotransmitter serotonin in our brains that give us a sense of well-being. The mono-unsaturated fat known as cocoa butter found in chocolate contains oleic acid, this is claimed to raise our good cholesterol. It is said that drinking a cup of hot chocolate before meals may actually reduce appetite. The health benefits are more pronounced in dark chocolate because it contains more cacao and less sugar than milk chocolate.
The cultivation of cacao involves intensive time and labor that’s extended over a period of three to five years. Sadly, the laborers are given very low compensation rates that make it unworthy of their hard work. These low price incentives for the cacao laborers may be working against its availability and affordable global supply therefore making it extremely scarce. Recently, stated in the British news chocolate will become as rare and as expensive as caviar.
Now that we have a better understanding of our physical and emotional relationship with chocolate we shouldn’t feel so guilty when we hear its calling. It is true, we do feel better when we eat chocolate, it does have a positive effect on our health and well-being. It may become a rare commodity one day so we should value the time we have with it now and appreciate the effort invested in its availability.
So, choose your chocolate wisely, and enjoy!