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)