Sunday, January 24, 2016

"The Spirit of Jeddah" 2016

I am happy to share with you this video produced by the US Consulate General of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.  The under five minute video features clips from the city's recently held historical festival "Kunna Kida," which translates to "We were like this" in Arabic and captures the flavor of the festival.  The festival was held in Al Balad, the oldest sector of the city, which began as a small fishing village more than 1400 years ago.

In this delightful video, Jeddawis are on hand to share information about their ancient city, their fascinating culture, and their lives here in Jeddah.  Their spirit shines through and really gives the viewer a true impression of the pride and love these people have for their beloved city.

The narrative is all in Arabic, so for English subtitles, be sure to click on the "CC" option below the video in the lower right of the screen.

Be sure to subscribe to the US Consulate General Jeddah YouTube Channel to keep abreast of their future offerings.  Enjoy!


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Scenes from 2016 Jeddah Historical Festival

The 3rd annual KUNNA KIDA, Arabic for "We were like this," just concluded its ten day run in Jeddah's oldest district, the historic area called Al Balad, which in 2014 was named a UNESECO World Heritage site.  I had a fabulous time the evening I went with a group of about ten friends and two guides (thank you and shout out to Abid and Rawan!).  The historical festival celebrates the history, culture, traditions, and arts of this region.  What was incredible to witness is the joy, the pride, the efforts, and the genuine warmth of the Saudi people who bring this festive event to life and those in attendance whose excitement was palpable.

As soon as we stepped inside the gates, we were transported back in time to a much older Jeddah.  We were greeted and welcomed by joyous Saudi men in traditional clothing who sang and danced for us as we entered.  It was a great kick off to a well planned and executed festival.  There were many booths offering homemade handicrafts available for purchase, refreshments, artifacts on display, and re-enactments depicting various aspects of life in Jeddah from the 1930s - before the oil industry changed the country forever and when Jeddah was just a small fishing village on the Red Sea totally surrounded by high stone walls on all sides. 

Thousands of families attended, many coming from other areas of the country as schools were out of session for a winter break.  Little girls dressed in colorful traditional dresses and wore on their heads the cap-like golden coin ornamental headpieces worn for special occasions. 

It was amazing to see the large variety of handicrafts made by Saudi women.  Among other things, there was even an operetta that was scheduled to be performed for the event - unfortunately I missed it.

The colorful lighting enhanced the beauty of the old buildings as the crowds busily made their way through the narrow streets and walkways.   Some structures were erected specially for the festival and will remain up for about six months before being removed.  I could see many changes in the Al Balad area, including new souvenirs shops and a new library.  Jeddah Our Days of Bliss has been very active in working with the government to rejuvenate the old historic area of the city - and they are doing quite an impressive job.   The Bliss team has also worked as consultants with the festival organizers.   

At the new Jeddah Bliss Library in Al Balad, which was recently opened by Mr. Mansour Al Zamil, I was fortunate to be able to attend a book signing by a female Saudi author and to hear the beautiful singing of a young Saudi man.  Pictured above is Saudi author Maha Oboud Baeshen, signing copies of her book, Our Days of Bliss.  Her novel relays the stories about students who study abroad and return to Jeddah, attending the festival with a different perspective and appreciation for their heritage. It is only available in Arabic at this time.

I also received a copy of the book, The Syrian Jewelry Box by Carina Sue Burns, a world traveler who spent her formative years living in Saudi Arabia. 

The historical re-enactments were amusing, varying from a strict male teacher who demonstrated how boys used to be punished back in the day for misbehaving in school to a slave trader to how mail and ice used to be delivered. 

To see more photos from this year's event, below is my SlideShow about the JEDDAH HISTORICAL FESTIVAL 2016.


Thursday, January 7, 2016

New Yorker Magazine Article: "Sisters-in-Law "

The following is an article which appears in the latest issue (Jan. 11, 2016) of New Yorker Magazine, written by Katherine Zoepf. 

"Sisters in Law"

Saudi women are beginning to know their rights.

The guardianship system gives a woman a legal status resembling that of a minor. Credit Illustration by Eiko Ojala

In September, 2014, Mohra Ferak, twenty-two years old and in her final year at Dar Al-Hekma University, in the Saudi port city of Jeddah, was asked for advice by a woman who had heard that she was studying law. The woman was the principal of a primary school for girls, and she told Ferak that she had grown frustrated by her inability to help children in her charge who had been raped; over the years, there had been many such cases among her students. Regardless of whether the perpetrator was a relative or the family driver, the victim’s parents invariably declined to press charges. A Saudi family’s honor rests, to a considerable degree, on its ability to protect the virginity of its daughters. Parents, fearing ruined marriage prospects, chose silence, which meant that men who had raped girls as young as eight went unpunished, and might act again. And for some of the girls, the principal added, the secrecy only amplified the trauma. She asked Ferak if there was anything that she, as principal, could do to help them.

“I told her, ‘You can go to court and ask the judge to make the proceedings private and save the girl’s reputation,’ ” Ferak recalled one recent afternoon. We were sitting in a modish Lebanese restaurant near the Jeddah corniche, sharing plates of tricornered spinach pastries and stuffed grape leaves across a black butcher-block table. The call to afternoon prayer had sounded several minutes earlier, and the restaurant, in accordance with law, had locked its doors and dimmed the lights. The “family section”—the secluded area for women that restaurants serving both genders must provide, where female diners who cover their faces can eat comfortably—was quiet. Except for a waiter, we had the place to ourselves. Ferak is slight, with a lilting voice and a round, bespectacled face framed by a tightly wound black shayla. Head scarves, which Saudi women typically wear unfastened, have a way of slipping off, and Ferak fidgeted with hers as she described her conversation with the principal, repeatedly tugging it back down into its proper position.

The principal was amazed to learn that Saudi plaintiffs can request closed court proceedings. She began peppering Ferak with legal questions, many of them about how to advise teachers who were in abusive marriages, or whose ex-husbands wouldn’t allow their children to visit. The principal was in her early fifties, which meant that, as a school administrator, she was among the best-educated Saudi women of her generation. Well into the nineteen-eighties, according to UNESCO, fewer than half of Saudi girls between the ages of six and eleven had received any education outside the home. But, Ferak said, it quickly became clear that the woman knew little about the fundamental principles of Saudi law.