A blog about nothing and about everything

On June 17th 2011, I had the honor and privilege of being among the courageous women who drove on the streets of Saudi to defy the ban on female driving. As a result, my brother, who was accompanying me, got a ticket for allowing an “unqualified person” to drive the vehicle. Funny enough, the car was not even registered under his name. We both signed pledges that I would not drive again.  (http://riemism.wordpress.com/2011/06/20/a-subversive-dangerous-element-behind-the-wheel/)

Over two year later, a new campaign was born. This time, the target date is Oct 26th 2013.

Of course I would jump at the opportunity and join the cause but, unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like this would happen. Both my brother and father will be out of the country at the time. Also my previous pledge and the fact that I’ll have to drive a car not registered under my name makes me reluctant. This is because of the likelihood that I would need my male guardian to bail me out. Otherwise I might have the pleasure of starting my own Orange is the New Black memoir.

And this reason is precisely why this campaign is important. It serves as a reminder of the patriarch society we live in.

Needing a male guardian to bail an adult independent woman illustrates just how much women in Saudi Arabia are pretty much slaves to their masters (their male guardians).

Not being able to drive is just another reminder how my male guardian or any man – as a matter of fact- has the upper hand in when I can leave the house and where I can go. Whether it’s a male relative, a private driver or taxi drivers who takes me places, I am always under the mercy of a man controlling when and where I go. Reaching my destination is governed by whoever is driving the vehicle.

Lifting the invisible ban on driving is important because by wanting more, we risk having our loyalty and allegiance to this country and Islam questioned. Another funny thing is that many of those accusers are not even eligible for the citizen of the year award. They speak on behalf of religion and their actions are furthest from its teachings.

For now I have decided NOT to drive on Oct 26th. However, I choose to participate by sitting in the back seat of a car that has a print of the Oct26th logo on it. You too can help. Organizers of Oct 26th campaign have put a list of ways you can help support women driving. ( http://www.oct26driving.com)

Given my track record, my decisions are not always final and subject to change.

Sunday 19 June

Possibly, one of the hardest things to write about is our emotions…

I have been working on this post since Friday night… There were many attempts. That’s all they were. But maybe with each attempt, I am getting closer to a truth… every attempt ends up with feelings of fakeness and distance.  I was too busy writing what happened with no attachments, whereas moments like these are filled with complex feelings we sometimes tend to ignore.

The story seems simple. Friday at 6 PM, I sat in front of the steering wheel, my brother was in the passenger seat, and I started driving in one of Jeddah’s main roads.  About ten minutes later, a very angry fellow spotted me, called the police, and followed us until we came across a police car. He honked like crazy to get the police’s attention, and we were pulled over. The police was already busy with another car he had pulled over, but I guess pulling us over was much more important and interesting than a speeding maniac.  My brother got a ticket for allowing an “unqualified person” to drive the vehicle and signed a statement that he would not allow me to drive again. I signed a statement that I would never drive a car again. Then, we went home.

But in reality there is more to the story… Our emotional connection with the event is deeper  than the experience itself.

Friday seems so far away. Did it really happen? Is today just another day that has no relevance to yesterday? Truth be told, the male push I received on Friday had a profound influence on my decision to drive.

————————————

I have been receiving many cheers since Friday night. One colleague refers to me as “Riem Schumacher”, and to another as “Riem morror –  Traffic “. But a number of others asked me why I chose to drive? Was it an act to defy the government? Was I challenging authority? Those two questions make me feel like I am some anti-government revolutionary. Whereas I am far from that.

One man asked me, “Why didn’t you wait for a decree or law to come out? Didn’t you know you would get caught?” I would have answered, “Well, don’t you know that purchasing drugs and alcohol is illegal?  I hear you are a consumer. Is that true? So, why are you buying them if it’s against the law?” but I didn’t. Instead, I opted for:  “Yes, I know, but it was worth it and what’s the point of a Saudi female driving if it’s not documented?” :)

How is my act of “disobedience” different from all those that break the law on a daily bases? Is it because I got caught? Or because I asked for what is seen as a request for emancipation and libration?

Would he understand how it feels like to be considered unqualified to drive simply because of my gender?  Even though I carry an American driver’s license with a clean record.

Would he understand that a 12 year old baby boy is more “qualified” than a 34 year old female to drive a vehicle?  Who am I kidding? He probably trusts his 12 year old more than he trusts his wife or mother.

How would he like it if he had to give up driving by force, and is subsequently under the mercy of a driver, whose salary he pays. How long would he tolerate being yelled at or even sexually harassed by the driver?  He might just answer “May God help us all” and walk away.

One 17 year old has been driving for over two and half years without carrying a Saudi license. Every time he was pulled over, the police gave him a ticket. A few months ago, he owed around 8,000 riyals in fines. How come no one gave his father a ticket for allowing an unqualified person to drive the vehicle?

——————–

Dear Mr. Angry Guy,

Why the outrage?

Hasn’t anyone told you that reckless driving is not safe? Why didn’t you get a ticket for endangering the lives of others? Haven’t you heard that using the phone while driving is against the law? But in your defense, this was an emergency, and you had to call the police. You were confronted with one of “devil’s helpers” and needed backup.

Has my act of driving threatened your mere existence that you had to go out of your way to make sure we were stopped?

When you saw me driving, did you feel like a knight and shining armor? Protector of religion and morals? And that my brother and I were two infidels you had to remove from the road? Where your wife and children screaming and shearing you: “Go get her!!!” I bet you felt like a hero when you told your friends about your adventure with one of those “damn” female drivers.  Have you asked your wife what she wanted? Or is not important because she is just a helpless woman in need of a man to take care of her. Maybe your wife just wanted to get to her destination without any delays, and all in one piece. Maybe she secretly wished she could push you out of the car and take hold of the steering wheel.

Dear Mr. Angry Guy,

Why are you so scared of me?

I am just a bitter female

———————————-

The moment I held the steering wheel, I felt a sense of reminiscence. I was sitting in front of the wheel, just like I did hundreds of times in LA, only this time I was feeling insignificant and scared inside. At first, I felt like a criminal. My heart was beating fast. The responsible driver in me told me to stop driving if I was going to be shaking and shivering. Another part, the socially responsible, advised me that this had to be done. Otherwise I’d be the hypocrite who talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk. How many Saudi women wish they were in my shoes, but due to circumstances can’t join the drive?

At that moment I had an obligation.

There are moments in life that define us. For me, this was one of those moments.

All my moments wasted on fear, in the last few years, somehow seized to exist on Friday afternoon.  This was one moment that would set part of me free!!

I chose to drive because I could, and had a choice.

I chose to drive and get caught because it would serve as a shocker to those who believe women can’t drive because it never happened…

I chose to drive, even though some consider it breaking the law. So, I will now gladly pay the fine and hang my medal of honor “the ticket and statement” to remind me every day that I defied, not the government, but those who decided to corner me because of my gender.

Will female driving in Saudi Arabia ever be a norm? I don’t know!

But I know that Friday was a wonderful day. Many times, we are taught that men hold us down. Some even radically consider them the enemy, but on Friday, the biggest push I’ve ever received on driving was by men. My brother supported my driving.  So did a good friend. There were also men on the street who sheered and saluted me when they saw me drive.

It’s not that we women need men’s recognition, but having  male support gives hope in a better tomorrow. … It gives hope that many men are choosing to side by women and demand women’s voices be heard.

Ps: Many thanks to my wonderful editor, who couldn’t join the drive, but was a ” dangerous element”  in my choice to drive…

sigh…
I’m having one of these days … you know… when you feel like your entire existence is too surreal to be true… when the lines between reality and imaginary are just too blurry to make any sense of either one.
Like many other children, I had a vision on how my life would be as a grown up… it was pretty Cool and exciting! I couldn’t wait to be a grown up.

 
Back then, I had many dreams… Today I am awake and smell the coffee… Actually, I drag myself out of bed as I aim for that fresh cup of Joe in the kitchen. I remember my imaginary life to be more fun than this.
I had dreams but woke up to the reality that my mare existence is because a man allowed me to.
Everything I am and own is because some man believes I could or might be worthy of these earthly things … if I ask for more, I am reminded of where most females land in the afterlife. No, not the pretty place. The other one. The place where people are tortured day and night for their wrong doing towards others.
Independence does not exist in my vocabulary.
My independence and freedom are deemed as much as a man thinks I should have. Nothing more but maybe less. It all depends on the man’s mood and state of mind. 

If, God forbid, I ask for more, I will be reminded that I don’t have the gendered capacity to decide for myself how I should or could live my life.

Funny how, after that, a man turns around and calls his action pro-woman. Now, he awaits his reward for the sacrifices he has made in order to grant, impose, and force on me his definition of freedom and independence.

The End.

What if Bin Laden,

What if Osama Bin Laden had used his popularity and power to do good in this world? Would he have gone far? Would he have found the support he received in destruction?

What if Bin Laden’s brilliance had been noticed when he was younger, and it was nourished and encouraged. He might have found a cure for a malicious illness by now, or maybe even invented flying cars!

What if his experience in Afghanistan had taught him about the cruel side of humanity, and he made it his mission to expose all of the injustice being done in this world… 

What if just as he had helped rid Afghanistan from the Russian invasion, he helped rebuild the country…

What if instead of destroying the Bamian Buddha statues, he chose to protect and preserve culture and art….

What if instead of being the mastermind behind flying planes into a building, he instructed his supporters to hijack a plane and throw flowers on  people  (yes, this image is a bit hippie to me, too), or distribute food and blankets to needy people. 

What if instead of sacrificing the lives of innocent people, he reminded people of  humanity and tolerance…

What if instead encouraging Sunnis to kill Shia’s, he reminded them that they are both Muslims…

What if instead of killing non-Muslims and all those who subscribe to beliefs other than his, he showed kindness, even to those who lacked mercy and compassion in their hearts.

What if …..

The world would have been a better place…

But he didn’t.

He chose the path of destruction and hate…

The People of Lut

Once upon a time, there was a village that was populated with bad people. God sent them a prophet, named Lut, but the villagers ignore his message.

One day, three young men came to the village in search for Lut. The town’s men were elated for they had their eyes on the youthful pieces of meat. Lut felt distressed that he couldn’t protect the visitors, so he hid the young men, but his wife let the villagers know of their hiding place. As it turns out, the young men were angels sent from God and warned Lut to leave town because God was about to send his wrath in a form “of shower of stones of clay” that would kill the inhibitors of Sodom and Gomorrah/ known in the  Qur’an as People of Lut. In one version of the interpretation of the Quran, Lut asked his family not to look back, as they fled town, but his wife did in agony and turned into pillars of salt. In another version, she decided to stay in the village and meet her doom with the rest of the people.

The end… but not for the millions of people came afterwards and heard the story with all its versions. Many believe that people of Lut were bad people solely because they were homosexuals.

Today, it is believed that what hit the villages was a natural catastrophe, some claim an earthquake, others claim it was an asteroid. Either way, this helped form the Dead Sea.

Here are points I find puzzling:

1. God’s prophet is supposed to be GOOD… homosexuality is supposed to be BAD…yet, in Arabic; homosexuality is known as “Luwaat” –derived from the word Lut. Doesn’t this give something godly a negative connotation?

2. The story of people of Lut is mentioned in several verses in the Quran. But two verses “ayas” in particular have mentioned that people of Lut, committed a sin/ crime that “no people in Creation (ever) committed before..”:

And Lut, when he said to his people, “Do you commit an obscenity not perpetrated before you by anyone in all the worlds? You come with lust to men instead of women. You are indeed a depraved people.” (Qur’an, 7:80-81)

Do you approach males among the worlds? And leave what your Lord has created for you as mates? But you are a people transgressing. (Qur’an 26:165-166)

And [mention] Lut, when he said to his people, “Indeed, you commit such immorality as no one has preceded you with from among the worlds. Indeed, you approach men and obstruct the road and commit in your meetings [every] evil.” And the answer of his people was not but they said, “Bring us the punishment of Allah, if you should be of the truthful.” (Qur’an, 29:28-29)

Most jumped into the conclusion that this never before done crime was homosexuality, but then, why would the last verse mention other evil doings if homosexuality was indeed the sole cause for God’s punishment?

Also, archeology and science have found proof that People of Lut lived around 1800 BC.  However, drawings in caves suggests that people have been practicing homosexuality way before that time. These drawings are estimated to go back as far as 10,000 BC. So, how does this fit with the homosexuality being a crime “no people in Creation (ever) committed before you”? It would be interesting to further study the cultural life of Sodom and Gomorrah and see what other crimes could be added to the list.

3. People of Lut don’t sound like nice people. Aside from the “crime” of homosexuality, they were murderers, rapists and bandits. They mistreated their wives, and were unfaithful to them. They ignored their wives, who had sexual urges of their own, and had sex with men instead. Yet, all this was ignored and focus was on homosexuality as a cause for punishment. More so,  Why isn’t there a distinction made between consensual sex and rape , which is what the villagers had in mind towards the three young men/ angels? But then we live in a world that takes matters as rape, both genders, and act of violence very lightly. Wouldn’t rape , and covering it up, be a far more sever crime than homosexuality?

4. The most important point: Does all this matter? Whether homosexuality is a sin or not, or a disease or not is not important. But what is important is how we, whether Muslims or not, deal with it. Do we let our holier than thou attitude manifest into hatred or do we follow the attitude that Islam first and for most is about the “treatment of others. “deen al-mo’aamalah” –this highly ignored concept believes that how we treat others is as important as our acts of worship.  Why can’t homosexuality simply be a test of our level of tolerance? If we actually have any? Or to test our claim that we love God. if so, how could we then  be consumed with so much hate toward those who do things differently when one of God’s many attributes is mercy.

 Sadly, we humans act too quickly in judging others, and act too slowly in loving and having mercy and tolerance towards others.

Saudi’s Human Pink Ribbon

On Thursday, I woke up with a sense of pride. I was going to be part of an awareness event in Saudi Arabia. The biggest by far, not just in Saudi but the world.  It was a Breast Cancer awareness day and Saudi Arabia was organizing the biggest yet human pink ribbon. It didn’t really matter to me that we might break a record; I just wanted to believe that I am participating in a greater cause. Ok, it also felt good to be part of a new record while am at it.

A few months ago my uncle died of cancer, his brother years before him, and a distant relative died of breast cancer before that, and two years ago a very close friend was diagnosed with cancer.  Every day now, we hear of celebrities we admire battle cancer. When I was younger, I was told that breast cancer is a punishment from God brought on women who displayed their beauty on-screen or did bad things. I admit that for a while I believed it. (Don’t judge, I was about 6 at that time =) ). Cancer has now become a personal fight for every female and male.  I would like to believe that if I am ever diagnosed with cancer, that medicine would have reached a point where it could fight it. This is why I went to the event.  I found nothing of that and felt extremely left out.

So what went wrong at the event? Or rather why was I disappointed?

In my college years, I once participated in the AIDS walk and helped organize a number of very successful awareness and fundraiser events. To this, I have gotten the common response: we are in not the US, so you can’t compare. Yes, that’s right. I shouldn’t compare because we are supposed to be better than any other country. For God’s sake we host Hajj on a yearly basis (an assembly of millions of people from different nationalities) so why do we always underestimate ourselves?

On our way out of the stadium, one of the 1,000 ladies who also decided to leave early suggested that we needed men to organize us. This, to me, was a blow and an insult as a woman.  Why do we think so low of ourselves that we need men to tell us what to do?  Are we really incapable of organizing anything ourselves? What happened to the infamous quote: if you want the job done, give it to a woman.

My mom and I got there at about a quarter to 5 PM. The doors to the stadium didn’t open until 5.  We pushed our way through to get to the desk where we were told we had to register, even though we had done that online.  Then, we picked up our pink ponchos and made our way to take a seat in the stadium. Tip for future events:  Build Queues. People will respect the line when they see that order is enforced.

On our way into the stadium a man, standing by the gate, was smoking!!  Hummmm… My mom seemed to be the only person to ask him to put the cigarette out. Did he? I don’t know.

It was exciting. This would be the first time ever that women were allowed into a stadium. As time passed by, more and more women dressed in pink showed up. And then the boredom started.  From where we were setting we were able to see the crowds gather in order to make it to the stadium ground. It was not a pretty sight. There was a lot of pushing, whether it was women pushing each other or pushing the metal closed gate that was supposedly intact to organize the participants’ entry onto the ground. By eight thirty we were ready to go home. We really believed that we will not be able to make it into the ribbon and frankly the crowd was losing patience and becoming very distressed.  The feeling of excitement was exchanged with feelings of panic, especially when girls were climbing the rusted metal gates to get to our section. We pleaded that it might fall on us. But they answered: no it won’t. Tip for future events:  crowd control, especially at such a large gathering is a must and should be done in a very courteous way ( of course I could draw some examples from my experience but that would make a long and boring post).

The crowd control was left to young college girls, which I don’t mind at all, but seriously, how much training did they receive?  One of them complained that no one was taking her seriously because of her age, while another thought that rudeness is a key to assertiveness.

I would have really liked to be in the picture. I would have also liked to cheer for the ladies behind the whole event and learn more about breast cancer and what I can do to help promote a better understanding. There was none of that. Tip for future events: guests like to feel important and that they count.

I would have liked to feel a connection. The abundance of energy at the stadium was supposed to be magnificent but I didn’t feel any of that. I could have believed that the problem lay in me. Thankfully, I have at least 1,000 women to support my claim, although newspapers reported that these women had to leave to attend to their husbands and children. It took over 4 hours to assemble the ribbon (I left after 3 and a half hours so I don’t know how long it took, but it definitely did not take 2 hours as reported by the media.

I understand that organizing such a HUGE event requires A LOT of effort. This, I salute the organizers for. But I also very much appreciate curtsey and respect. This is what the event lacked. For example, weeks before the event, I tried to contact the organizers to get information on the event. Out of 4 people, only one person gave me a prompt and sufficient answer. Interesting enough, I received a prompt reply on Friday when I shared my negative experience with the FB campaign group. I had the feeling though that negative feedback was not  desired .

Bottom line: I felt that this event was a publicity stunt for Saudi Arabia. There is nothing wrong with that. We need it. We need to show the world that we are not nomads who live in the desert and breed terrorists. The problem is that it was done under the disguise of a noble cause.  Most likely this is not what the organizers had in mind, but this is the impression I got. Why couldn’t we have had both?

The Real Moment of Pride:

My dear friend suggested that we do the “wave” but a wave is no fun with only 5 people. So we started to ask our neighbors to join in. There was no response. Finally we got up and made our way to the bottom of our section. We were determined to get this going, even though we were surrounded by blank faces. We convinced a group of students, unfortunately I can’t remember the name of their college, to demonstrate the wave. Little by little, the crown started participating. Less than half an hour later, we had half the women sitting in the stadium do the wave.

And that’s how the first organized wave in Saudi took place. (See, organizing an event  might be difficult, but with the right tools  not becomes impossible.

Tip for future events Entertainment is a very important part of any event. Keep your crowd busy and they will feel less bored and will complain less.

P.s: complaining is very easy… and to demonstrate that we are not just talk,  we are more than welcome to organize any upcoming events.. (LOL yes we already have good jobs)

The Talk

Something in air signaled that “the talk” was about to come up.

And it did.

-         When are we getting married?

-          I don’t know.

-          But I thought you agreed we should get married?

-          Well yeah. One day.

-          When?

-          I don’t know.

-          But I want you to have my babies!!

She grew quiet.

-          Say something.

-          Well… I want to focus on my career. Kids are not on my agenda.

-          What do you mean?

-          I mean I don’t want to have kids!!

-          But I though you loved me?

Again, she was quiet.

-       You do love me. Don’t you?

-       Say something!

-       I don’t know.

-       Is there someone else?

-       I’m sorry. It’s not you. It’s me. One day you will find a girl who will truly love you. Here is your ring back.

He sat down and wept as she walked away.

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