This is an essay about the perceptions of International community regarding Saudi Arabia.
|We the Jeddahwians
In the series 'Homeland', female protagonist, Carriethreatens in episode nine of season one,a Saudi ambassador that she will deport his daughter back to the Kingdom, where she will hate every second of miserable existence. The ambassador almost goes into tears with the fear of her threat, showing that he also hated the life in his 'homeland'. First of all, Saudi government should have a right to sue the writer for insinuating such disgust in kingdom's life-style. Secondly, the phenomenon writers of the show pretentiously referred to was that life in Jeddah can be unfathomably slow at times.
Life in kingdom is a touchy topic for me, mainly because I lived my whole life in Kingdom. Is it a jail sentence to grow fat and hate every second of a miserably existence for a woman? I wish I could say 'absolutely not'. The life here is not so much as slow as it is 'strangled', especially when compared with other countries and global life style. Even if you belong in a normal, modern expatriate family with no intention of marrying four times, seriously, who can possibly finance four families at the same time these days; you end up following set of rules your loved ones in native country can't even grasp. More than once, my international guests have claimed loudly and rather deliberately how they can't fathom living their whole life here.I had a professor once who shifted from Europe to Jeddah for academic reasons. During a closed door lecture, she said 'I am not going to stay here for long, a person gets too much time here with one's self, and that’s neither healthy nor normal'. I was freshly back from hectic and eventful life of Pakistan and I was always in complete agreement with her reflections on local Jeddahwian culture. Yet my reaction to that particular comment she made, was exactly like my reaction to the side-story in 'Homeland'; I was just shocked.
Do people get too much time with themselves in the kingdom? It's safe to yes, they do. But, it's not because of lack of freedom or opportunities for women, men get equal amounts of time to themselves. It's something in the air, life is not slow; it's lacking a kind of hustle that is present all over the world. And I don't mean it as a praise, it's just that I don't mean it as an insult either. It’s a fact and just a fact. You can build a bigger and fatter CV in Jeddah than you would build anywhere else in the world; actually, sometimes you can build it much more conveniently. But it's like there is an addiction in a life where daily ordeals like transportation, billing, social status, are a struggle; you find achievement in little things and you find achievement daily. The reason some people find it debilitating experience to live in Jeddah is that Kingdom never gives them a chance to completely and absolutely prove themselves in day to day endeavors. For example, in all the urban cities around world, basic utilities are substantially priced to say the least. So that when you throw a party in any other urban city, the catering is always a given accomplishment and event's success is always something to silently gloat about. Yet, in Kingdom the food expenditures are reasonable to the point of underpriced, so that even the lower middle class individuals never find it hard to cater to a huge guest list. I have attended traditional Pakistani weddings in the Kingdom that are much more festive than the one's I attended in Pakistan; in Kingdom, celebrations went on for weeks. That is the kind of expenditure, even an upper-middle class family in Pakistan would rather not indulge in. I suppose that same can be said about life in New York, when one orders caviar its more about the ability to afford this very fine dining than caviar itself, in Jeddah, its sadly just about the caviar.
Yet, jokes and perks aside, I have found witnessing a traveler's experience of Jeddahwian life- style very interesting.
. Life in Jeddah is slow, and I don't mean miserable, it's something much more profound.
Struggle, is usually a little absent from even the busiest of Jeddahwian lives. You will have a job and a home to care for and relatives and family friends and functions to attend to yet it will all be ten percent and only ten percent figured out for you. But just that small push, that squeaky little nudge gives a constant signal that it will all work out. That nudge should be healthy and it is but it sucks out all of the adrenaline from everyday life of a person, adrenaline in a jeddahwian just sits and sleeps.
It's not so much as miserable as it's phenomenally and essentially opposite to the life-styles promoted in the other countries. What people feel when they come back to Jeddah is a kind of withdrawal from that high paced life style that feels like a poker game, with you always wondering about the cards in the other person's hands. Don't get me wrong, there is a lot of complicated social interaction in Jeddah, but it comes with a continuous sense of contentment, you are gambling for a lot but not ALL. There is a certain sense of preservation in Jeddah. Life is not slow paced, it resolves itself with time, time is alive, and it works and helps in Jeddah.
Sir Ken Robinson said in the infamous TED talk that this is the age of focusing on your own talents and not on material runs. Much more of that can be seen in the eagerly celebrated positive psychology. Jeddah is a fair and square ground for such endeavors. One gets enough financial, social, psychological and social space to experiment with their self and potential as much as they want. Sure if you will put a Jeddah resident in New York or even Karachi one day, he will get dizzy and will certainly stand out. But, it will be much like Pocahontas would perhaps not settle in an Elizabethan society right away. It's not a matter of human or women rights; it’s a matter of different breeding.
I know, that in homeland, the comment was meant to portray the obviousproblems of women rights in Jeddah. But sorry to bubble the big fat and miserable bubbles of the screenwriters of the show,I have hardly ever personally witnessed sexual discrimination in this country. And I have lived here for sixteen years. Except for an abya (a gown and scarf?! how dare they) and lack of freedom for transportation, actually a problem, hopefully will be resolved; I have yet to personally experience a deliberate discrimination. I have 'heard' and not witnessed cases of men starring and making very offensive gestures to women who are not 'completely' covering on streets but then we have a hijab debate in France, don't we?! Women, wearing hijab in U.S,get harassed,even if not commonly. Every country with an either deliberate or hidden agenda to preserve their original identity reacts to an opposing behavior to norms, in violence. Although, it should be fixed, it's not so much religious or even social issue as much as it is an identity debate.
Men in Jeddah experience that same form of underlying relaxation that will make you itchy if you have lived and enjoyed a fast-paced existence in other countries. Life as well as life decisions, taste less stingy and indulgent when taken in peaceful scenarios. Perhaps, Kingdom's urban life-style poses a different kind of challenge; a life that is not of an adrenaline junkie and indulge full force in life for the sake of life and not of achievement. We as a globe are training more and more of our youth in a life-style of competition. You have to earn the right to sit in the next class, earn the right to join the nerds, earn a different right to join the cool crowd. In Kingdom, right after academic farewell this competition is lifted, as you are generally provided with everything in decent quantity casually. And if a person is trained to learn and search for his or her self-worth through his ranking in those competitions, he or she will feel utterly worthless. I can vouch for this experience myself. I was and even sometimes still am very antsy about the fact that this life does not challenge you on an everyday basis.
This life style has a subtle, confused and half-cocked way of asking you to do more with your life as a productive endeavor and less as an all-time competition. When people talk about out of the box thinking and living a life of creation, the fact is they are talking about a life lived by most Jeddahwian girls. Artistic creativity is not even an exception in Jeddah, the time and space needed to be productive is always provided in the urban life style of the kingdom. Are there any 'girls of Riyadh?! Of course, but I like to think that cities in States are not all about the life of 'sex and the city'.
One cannot ask a person to be relaxed and productive and secure when they are living the life of an adrenaline junkie, when you cut back on your outdoor expenditures all month to be able to afford a good restaurant once a month, there is adrenaline alright. But despite being and avid fan of the adrenaline junkie life-style I have yet to encounter a true productive outcome of being one. Does it make you feel more alive? Is a fast beating heart the only way man comes to life? I have yet to see a real, proper positive or even neutral outcome of this life. As my professor had complained ' this place leaves you with too much time to yourself'; is it healthy or not? It's definitely fearsome for people who have lived a long life as an adrenaline junkie. You would have heard of the famous saying, never take big decisions in haste or as an impulse. A proper, true, urban life makes you take all decisions in haste and if we take judging capability from the screenwriters of homeland, many of them are impulsive.
I have lived my whole life or much of it in Kingdom; here I have encountered two kinds of freshly arrived expatriates. One who is pleasantly surprised and relieved to find such astonishing amounts of deep seated peace in the system and the other kind is the one that find it confusing and threatening. Of all the things I could expect was the comment, one of my female cousins who is extremely successful in Karachi, made after she had stayed in Jeddah for a week, 'It's so silent, doesn't it drive you crazy?' The fact is, I couldn't even comprehend what she meant, that was my last year in high school and I was too busy for my own good.
There are no cinemas in the Kingdom and you have to cover all the time, and both genders are exceptionally hyped up about each other's presence all the time, I am not going to say all of this is perfect. Even the enactment of Shriaa law has also been up for debate very often, I presume. I never said it’s a perfect society, but is it a miserable existence where people grow fat? Almost exclusively if you are an adrenaline junkie!