Sunday, January 28, 2018

Captain Kabob Interviewed on American Bedu

(This post was originally published in October 2009...)

My 16 year old son Adam, whose alter-ego is Captain Kabob, has been interviewed by my friend and fellow blogger Carol, over at American Bedu.

Carol's blog is amazing. It is your virtual "Everything You Wanted to Know About Saudi Arabia, But Were Afraid to Ask" informational source. She is a former seasoned American diplomat who resigned her position to follow her heart by marrying her Saudi soul mate and moving to Saudi Arabia.

Carol recently propositioned Adam about doing an interview to get an American teenager's perspective about living in the Magic Kingdom, as we here in Saudi Arabia call it, and Adam obliged. The resulting interview, Meet Adam, a Saudi American Teenager, can be read at the American Bedu Blog. Please pop over and have a look!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

A Peek Inside a Saudi Wedding

In December I attended a family wedding at the brand new Hotel Galleria by Elaf in Jeddah.  The lobby is quite elegant and it's several stories tall. It has a grand European ambience.  The exterior of the hotel is spectacular. We arrived after dark though, so I don't have any exterior shots, but you can see some HERE. 

Traditionally, Saudi weddings are notorious for starting very late in the evening and lasting until the wee hours in the morning.  I believe this is due to several reasons.  First of all, people don't really start getting ready for the wedding until after the isha prayer, the last prayer of the evening.  Also, the bridal party usually arrives early to take professional photos with the family before the guests arrive. Since many Saudi weddings are still segregated affairs, this allows for time for the male family members to be in the photos, even though they are not part of the actual wedding.  This wedding was for women only. The men's affair was held the evening before at a completely different venue. 

The wedding venue was so elegant and spectacular.  Every detail had been well thought out. At one end of the hall was a raised stage with a gorgeous golden couch for the bridal party (the bride, her mom, and her sisters) to receive well wishers. 

The table centerpieces varied from table to table, with some having candelabras and others with large floral centerpieces.  Delicious dates were available on each table.

Once the female guests begin to arrive, photography is forbidden, so unfortunately I don't have any photos of the amazing evening gowns that were worn that night.  But I can tell you that the gowns could have been worn at the Academy Awards. Some of the younger women wore short trendy party dresses. Many guests had their hair and makeup professionally done for the occasion. 

The gorgeous seating area on the stage for the bride was surrounded by beautiful purple and white floral arrangements.  It was picture perfect.

My husband and I took advantage of the free time we had before the other guests arrived to take photos. We don't get dressed up fancy very often.  I think he looks so handsome in his traditional wear, don't you?  He had to leave before the female guests began arriving.

At the other end of hall was an amazing space great for photos, decorated with flower streams hanging down over flowing white drapes.  It was truly spectacular. 

The female-only servers were all dressed formally in black and white.  They were very attentive and brought us drinks of water and juices as soon as we sat down.  They also served us a variety of finger foods that were delicious.  The crystal chandeliers in the ballroom were exquisite. 

Guests began arriving after 10 pm.  It was fun seeing the variety of gorgeous dresses the ladies wore.  The ladies danced up and down the center aisle you see above. The music was a live female percussion band that had a singer with a beautiful voice who sang in Arabic.  The bride made her grand entrance at about 1 am, slowly making her way down the staircase and then gliding down the center aisle toward the golden couch at the other end.  It was the family's choice that the groom did not make an appearance at the wedding before the women. 

Above is just one of the platters of tasty delights that was served to us.  These were all sweet and other platters of finger foods were savory.  I would have liked to have tasted them all!  Dinner was served at about 2 am in the adjoining banquet room.  It consisted of table after table of scrumptious salads, breads, dips, vegetables, meats, and desserts.  The variety was overwhelming.  It was all delicious!  Sorry I couldn't get photos of the amazing buffet spread, but the female guests were all around, so I couldn't. 

My friend Vicki and I had an fabulous time that evening.  It was Vicki's first Saudi wedding ever and I think she had a very memorable time.  We sat with a table full of charming Saudi women who were old friends of my sister-in-law, the mother of the bride. 

Below is the candelabra centerpiece which adorned some of the tables.  Both types of centerpieces were placed on top of a large glass Lazy Susan, which made reaching things on it much easier. 

One final shot of me and my Saudi Prince - we were actually celebrating a milestone ourselves the very next day - 40 years together!  Gee, it seems like it was only yesterday ...

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Abaya Fashions in Jeddah

It's been a while since I posted about abaya fashions. When I first moved to KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) back in 2007, pretty much all that was available was a black heavier polyester blend with the differences being in the subtle embellishments and a slight variety of styles.  I would ask for different colors or prints in lightweight cotton or linen or some type of thinner flowy fabrics - but it just didn't exist.

Beige abaya with red and black leaf lace overlay accents

In the ensuing years, abaya fashion has evolved and has grown to include a much wider variety of styles, colors, and fabrics.  Abayas are definitely not just black any more. 

My two favorite places to purchase abayas in Jeddah are Souk al Shatea and Macarona Souk. They generally have sale racks and the abayas are often more reasonably priced than at the malls, although good deals can be had at malls too.  Al Balad also has many affordable abaya shops, but it can be more of a hassle getting there for me since I live farther north and Al Balad is in the south.  

Gray print abaya with colorful floral fabric trim

Black abaya but with bright colorful trim accents

Souk al Shatea not only offers a huge selection of shops that sell affordable abayas, but they also have shops that sell housewares, home decor, clothing, stationary, toys, beauty products, party supplies, tailors, fabrics and notions, etc. 

Navy and white printed abaya in silky fabric

Silky print fabric - I didn't care for the bright colored trim on the cuffs though
Macarona Souk has dozens of shops that sell reasonably priced abayas too, as well as a good selection of excellent tailors if you wish to have a custom made abaya. Surprisingly enough, having an abaya custom made generally costs about the same as buying off the rack. 

Bottom border print fabric

I have seen abayas for as little as 30 SR (about $8 US).  Of course one can spend a small fortune on abayas made of silk with lots of high-end blingy embellishments.  The sale racks in the above photo offer abayas for 100 SR, which is about $26 US.  If they are not on sale, most retail abayas sell for between 200-300 SR ($53 - $80 US). For a garment that is worn every time a woman leaves her home, that's not too bad. 

Black abaya with contrasting baby blue touches
I really enjoy shopping for abayas now.  When it's hotter out, I can wear just a long cooling slip underneath - yes, there is a fabric for undergarments now that is actually cool to the touch. It's nice to have a choice of styles and colors, but I do find that I have 2 or 3 favorite ones which I wear more often.

White fabric blend with green and blue Palestinian style embroidery

Creamy white abaya with print trim
Abayas always come with a matching scarf.  Scarves like the one above, which has matching fabric from the abaya on its ends, tend to weigh it down, pulling and wrapping it tighter around my neck though, which I don't like.

Black abaya with red and blue Palestinian style embroidery details

Belted purple velvet top with black skirt and white floral accents
Hope you enjoy seeing the variety of abayas featured in this post!

Beige abaya with printed trim and fringe on sleeves

White fringed abaya and a green abaya with ruffled sleeves

To see photos of more abayas and how my feelings toward them have evolved, here at a couple of previous posts I wrote on abayas:

The Abaya - Back in Black

Embracing the Abaya

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Chess Chump

“In a few days I am going to lose two World Champion titles - one by one. Just because I decided not to go to Saudi Arabia. Not to play by someone's rules, not to wear abaya, not to be accompanied getting outside, and altogether not to feel myself a secondary creature. Exactly one year ago I won these two titles and was about the happiest person in the chess world but this time I feel really bad. I am ready to stand for my principles and skip the event, where in five days I was expected to earn more than I do in a dozen of events combined. All that is annoying, but the most upsetting thing is that almost nobody really cares. That is a really bitter feeling, still not the one to change my opinion and my principles. The same goes for my sister Mariya - and I am really happy that we share this point of view. And yes, for those few who care - we'll be back!”  - Anna Muzychuk

On December 23, 2017, one of the top ranked female chess champions of the world, Anna Muzychuk, made the above post on her Facebook page, and in the process, made headlines around the world. To date, her post has been shared over 76,000 times and has garnered over 21,000 comments - comments lavishing praise on her with words like hero, integrity, courage, inspiration, respect, etc.  

Overwhelmingly the comments have been made largely in support of her decision, while at the same time slamming Saudi Arabia for its oppression against women.  I can’t say for sure, but I am certain almost all of these commenters have never been to Saudi Arabia, just like Anna Muzychuk, and have just based their opinions on what they have been fed by the media.  

Anna Muzychuck in March 2017 in Iran

In all honesty, I had to take a few days to calm myself down before addressing how I felt about Anna and the things she has said.  I realize that Anna is just a young, foolish, and naive 27-year-old who is close-minded, gullible, and inflexible.  She has maligned Saudi Arabia without ever setting foot here. Worse yet, the methods she used to align her base behind her used inaccuracies and fallacies to further promote negativity and perpetuate misconceptions about this country and its people.  The whole thing is extremely Trump-esque – and her panting lapdog fans ate it up like ice cream.

For someone so top-ranked in the cerebral, highly competitive game of chess as she is, Anna betrayed her own intellect by making a really foolish decision this time, both financially and personally.

As the host of the tournament, Saudi Arabia offered up $2million in prize money for the winners.  The prize money alone was more than three and a half times MORE than the previous year’s prize winnings.  She herself claims in her statement that she was passing up an opportunity to win more than she could have won in more than 12 big tournaments. 

So, let’s address these unacceptable issues the principled Anna cited in her post – 

1st:  “Not to play by someone's rules” – Well, sadly, we all must play by someone else’s rules. Anna knows that when playing chess competitively, there are many rules she must abide by, right? There are different laws in different countries and everyone, citizens and visitors alike, is expected to follow them, right? None of us would be surprised to learn that her parents even enforce rules in their home, where Anna still reportedly lives. A rather hypocritical point, considering everywhere one goes, there are rules.

Riyadh Chess Tournament - Photo Credit: Arab News

2nd: “Not to wear abaya” – The King Salman World Chess Championships 2017 which Anna boycotted was recently held in Riyadh from Dec. 26-30, and photos from the event clearly show the female competitors wearing modest business attire, and scarves were not required.  Technically in Saudi Arabia, as long as a female’s body is covered in loose fitting clothing (hands and face can be exposed), she is actually acceptably attired when out in public in this country.  Most women prefer to wear the abaya so as not to draw attention to themselves – simply because that’s what most other women wear out in public.  I truthfully love wearing the abaya, especially now that there are so many styles, colors, and fabrics to choose from.  It's really a very practical garment, except when it’s hot out. This time of year it’s quite comfortable. 

3rd: “Not to be accompanied getting outside” – This may have been a “rule” set out by the chess federation themselves, but it is certainly not a requirement for women in Saudi Arabia.  I go out by myself, unaccompanied, all the time.  Most women here do.  Totally false, Anna. 

Saudi women at a mall unaccompanied by a male
4th: “Not to feel myself a secondary creature” – Anna, you are so far off on this one.  You would have been treated here like a princess.  You would have had the time of your life.  Women in Saudi Arabia are revered and respected, pampered and spoiled. We actually get special treatment.  We don’t feel like secondary creatures at all.  You may see this as being oppressed, but we sure don’t.

And lastly, here’s her hook:  “All that is annoying, but the most upsetting thing is that almost nobody really cares. That is a really bitter feeling, still not the one to change my opinion and my principles.”  This is where she whines and plays the “poor me” pity card and rallies the troops behind her. This HUGE sacrifice she is making - and “NObody cares!  Boo hoo! Feel sorry for me!” When in reality, she’s the one who made up her mind using flawed logic and tunnel vision to forgo a possible cash windfall and to lose out on the opportunity of a lifetime - that most people never get - to visit a wondrous and misunderstood country – all because she has “principles.” Where were her principles when she went to China to compete? Or Iran? Suddenly she has principles and gives a black eye to Saudi Arabia.

Looking over her Facebook page, I noticed another post she had made on November 11th :

“FIDE has announced World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships to be organized in the end of this year in Saudi Arabia. First Iran, then Saudi Arabia… wondering where the next Women's big World Championships will be organized. Despite of the record prize fund, I am not going to play in Riyadh what means losing two world champion titles. To risk your life, to wear abaya all the time?? Everything has its limits and headscarves in Iran was more than enough.” Anna Muzychuk 

I had to laugh out loud when I read this one – risking her life to wear abaya? This is just too absurd for words.  Let’s face it - there is no perfect place in the world.  Certainly not even in Anna’s own native Ukraine. But let’s be clear about one thing – prior to this, Anna has not been a vocal feminist about the mistreatment of women ANYwhere in the world.  So now suddenly she chooses to become a voice to highlight the plight of poor Saudi women.  Yet, in her own country, thousands of Ukrainian women are routinely sold into sex slavery every year to dozens of countries, several of which Anna has had no problem competing in.  Ignorance on her part or just hypocritical?  
Me "risking my life," wearing my new abaya in Saudi Arabia
One will always be able to find fault in some way or another with other countries, traditions, and cultures.  But at this truly exciting, momentous, and historic time in Saudi history - when Saudi Arabia is changing rapidly, advancing women in this country, fighting internal corruption, and so on – why spit on the very generous hosts who are taking major steps to improve what she is protesting about in the first place? 

Anna could have come here to Saudi Arabia with an open mind and seen firsthand for herself, before condemning this country based on her limited knowledge of the propaganda that's out there.  She missed a golden opportunity to change her own opinion - and others’ - about a country that always seems to get a bad rap no matter what – a country extremely rich in history and culture and one that I love more and more with every passing year. 

In all my life’s travels, Saudis are among the most hospitable and generous people I have ever known.  I’m sure Anna would have experienced this same hospitality and generosity. Certainly Anna Muzychuk has every right to make this decision for herself, but it’s a shame she made this ill-informed choice - because her “principles” had nothing to do with honesty or sound judgment and everything to do with very limited perspective, prejudice, and ignorance.

More articles on this subject:

For more photos of the event:

For tournament results:

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The New Jeddah Waterfront Project

The city of Jeddah runs north and south for many miles along the Red Sea coastline.  A large phase of the Jeddah Waterfront project was recently completed and officially opened to the public on November 30th.  This phase of the project cost a whopping 800 million Saudi riyals and runs along the coastline for 4.2 kilometers.

I stayed away until a couple of days ago hoping the crowds had died down.  There is also no way I would attempt to go near there on the crowded weekends either!

The beautiful pier that stretches out over the Red Sea for over 400 meters lights up at night and sports several sections with seating areas for picnics or relaxing or for just enjoying the beauty of the sea breezes.

Lots of large shade canopies were incorporated into the project as well as lovely walkways, sculptures, and plantings of flowers.  

The facilities are also equipped with about 100 surveillance cameras with facial recognition technology.

A manmade island formed in the shape of a crescent moon has been planted with dozens of palm trees.  There are also three nearby beach areas for public swimming - much of the area is not suitable for swimming because of the rocky coastline.  

A fishing pier, several restaurants, and a boat marina are also part of the ambitious addition.  

There are still other phases of the expansive waterfront project coming, extending further north up the coastline.

School children on a school field trip walked along the pier in an orderly fashion.  I like their shadows and the canopies' shadows in this pic.

Some new sculptures adorn the grassy areas and gardens, alongside some old familiar landmarks. 

I love this new graceful seagulls sculpture, don't you?  The Red Sea behind it is a perfect backdrop for this artwork.

This modern sculpture is an elegant human form - I like it!

Above is the view looking to the north along the Jeddah Waterfront.  We were able to see hundreds of fish swimming in the clear waters and we spied many crabs sunbathing on the rocks below.

Jeddah is known as "The Bride of the Red Sea" and the disk this mermaid is holding says that in Arabic.  In the background is one of Spanish artist Julio Lafuente's famous Jeddah sculptures called "Science and Religion."

The sculpture "Science and Religion" is visible from many points around the Jeddah Waterfront.  It used to be inaccessible, positioned in the middle of a lagoon in the area.  The new waterfront design has placed it in its new location in the middle of the corniche park.  

The sculpture is comprised of 72 celestial moons made of marble, symbolizing the moon's phases of waxing and waning, and is topped off by a crescent moon which is an important symbol in Islam.  Each of these moons weighs 1.8 tons! So it wasn't an easy feat to move and place this monument in its new location.  CLICK HERE to see an older photo of mine in its original place in the middle of a lagoon.

It was nice to see so many men, women and children out walking and enjoying the sunlight and the more moderate December weather.

Contrary to popular belief outside the realm of Saudi Arabia, there were many unescorted women out walking amidst the flowers and palm trees lining the Red Sea.

The above photo shows the end of beautiful new pier at the Jeddah Waterfront looking to the south.  There are many shaded areas with nice seating along the pier.

There are several stylized galloping horse sculptures along the Jeddah Waterfront amidst pools and fountains.  They are likely the work of a local artist who has made other horse and camel sculptures for the city of Jeddah.

Another exciting feature is the many nice new public restrooms, which can be scarce (or gross!) in this city of almost 4 million. The logo of the Jeddah Waterfront  project is also shown above on the wall of one of the new bathrooms - it's a flock of birds that are shaped like boomerangs.

Several new colorful themed playgrounds for kids are a welcome addition, and internet service is provided for adults too. Below is another new sculpture next to another playground. 

The floral plantings and grasses were chosen to survive in Jeddah's hot and harsh climate.  Watering systems have also been installed.

Colorful flowers, graceful sculptures, and palm trees with the lovely Red Sea as their backdrop.

Pools and fountains are also scattered throughout the beautiful gardens and walkways, although the ones we saw were drained the day we were there.  


Here is another of the new modern white sculptures featured along the walkway near the pier with lots of new palm trees planted in the background.  

There are also several mosques located along this stretch of the Red Sea Corniche where the new Jeddah Waterfront is located.

To read more and see more photos of this new addition to Jeddah's coastline, click  HERE  and  HERE.