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Monday, October 24, 2011

What the Balad means to me?

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”.

Not anymore.

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).

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

Cat Fights!

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

Friday afternoon argument. Steve Jobs

 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

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.

The Raise Awareness Competition

Join our facebook page:

The Raise Awareness competition held by Istathmir in strategic partnership with Al Bidayah Breastfeeding Resource and Women's Awareness Center will be a nation-wide event running concurrently with Breast Cancer Awareness month -- October. This competition is exclusively sponsored by Femi9.

Through this competition candidates are asked to design a Breast Cancer Awareness campaign. Think outside the box, help raise awareness, and you could be one of our lucky winners.