Greetings from Saudi! It’s going exceedingly well, despite some surprising cultural norms around the way women dress and are treated (separate eating areas, separate meeting rooms etc). Being in Saudi has been a bit of a shock with all of the women in their burkas and abayas. It’s odd not to see women working in shops or driving. Women are still not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia and up until a few months ago, they could not work in shops where men worked (‘mixing’ was illegal and now is just heavily frowned upon). That said, there are some incredible parts of the culture that are heart warming (emphasis on family is strong) and some surprising – like, they have Krispy Kremes here! It’s like an oasis in the desert to see American comfort food. In fact, we ate at a ‘South of the Border’ Mexican joint last night. That was hilarious. Saudi Arabia is a ‘dry’ country – no alcohol at ALL in the entire country yet look at the ‘chandelier’. It’s made out of empty beer bottles that they can’t drink here. And the coaster? Is it a ‘margarita’ if there is soley Lime Juice and a salt rim?
Food is another big part of the culture here. I’ve been eating a lot. It probably has to do with the no-waist abaya; there’s no waistband to remind me I’ve eaten too much. This is just a small fraction of the desserts that we had at one of our first functions here. Doesn’t it all look insanely good?
In our Hilton (a little liberal oasis), they have a small little non-head-scarf wearing area for the American women (though we do have to sit on our women’s section for all the educational classes behind one-way mirrors; we can see the men and the speaker but they can’t see us). My husband and I were able to meet some local dignitaries (as evidenced by their golden robes). My husband’s company does work in Saudi Arabia so it was great to strengthen his relationships in the country.
The head scarf is a strange thing for me to wear. I’ve always been an exceedingly opinionated, strong willed woman. To not have men look me in the eyes or take my order at restaurants is a new experience. My husband is always by my side on this trip as women traditionally are accompanied by a man. When we were in the hotel lobby the first day, I turned around and my husband lost me. With me turned around, I looked like every other woman in the lobby. He found me again, surprise, confusion and a whiff of panic in his eyes, “I thought I lost you. You can’t tell who you are from behind.”
Another difference here is that there are separate sections in restaurants for women & children and then one just for the men. My husband typically is the only man in the area. Many of the of the other men have left their women and children in the ‘family’ area and are seated by themselves in the ‘men only’ area. It’s just one of the interesting and different cultural norms that I am getting used to.
As if the schedules didn’t keep us busy enough, the internet is quite spotty and expensive in our room. I’ve been missing Facebook, Twitter and interacting with friends and customers on this blog and the Teach Soap forum. It’s yet another thing I took for granted in the States. I’ll try to post another update on Sunday. Until then, happy soaping! =)