As we approach the end of the university semester, we are busy with projects, marking, updating scores and preparing our students for finals. So, I don’t have time to write much, but here’s a smattering of happenings and insights this week.

– In the bookstore, there are no videos for adults other than a Pilates DVD/Book, the Quran, and kids movies (including Disney animation, Pixar, and Spongebob). There are however tons of computer games. So, while watching movies is not allowed in public, on our cable station we can watch American movies, Egyptian, and many others. It’s hard to figure out the rules here of what’s allowed and what’s not.

– Last Friday night, we watched the worldwide debut of ‘Arab Idol’. They have their versions of Simon and the other judges. In other Arab countries, they don’t have the same bans on music in public spaces, so you’d expect singers from those countries to compete. But it looked like some traditionally dressed Saudi competitors were in the pack too. Were they singing religious music? Couldn’t tell. I’m not familiar enough with Arabic music to even know what is good singing. If you know what classical Indian music is, this is similar in ways. That warbling sound could indicate tremendous skill and great music, or not. We wondered if this was a big thing, after the Arab Spring. Unfortunately, we’re not allowed to talk about non-Islamic music with our students.

– Students are turning in final projects. One came by for clarification. I guess she liked my answer because she hugged me and kissed me on the head. “Oh teacher,” she said, “I love you.”

Later that day, when I gave scores for presentations, other students swarmed me, with less love, “Teacher, Why-y-y-y-y? I want full marks!” (repeat x20)  I never tried that in university. Did you?

Another student had turned in an earlier draft of a Happy New Year brochure, telling all about the celebration. They still use the Hijri calendar, so it’s the year 1433 here, as well as 2011. They don’t celebrate Jan 1 as New Year’s so it was a bit bold to begin with, as Jan 1 is considered a Christian calendar celebration. But it was gonna slide by. Then the next draft appeared and had a page in the brochure about Christmas and clipart of Santa and angels. Omigosh, no! This is strictly forbidden (haraam). I had to tell the student to redo her project, with no reference to Christmas or Christianity, otherwise it could not be accepted.

– Walking home from school, at the door, all of us are putting on our abayas. I walk past the mosque and it’s prayer time, so men and boys in traditional Saudi garb are walking to the mosque. The sound of the Imam floats in the air. I feel in the rhythm of the place. Then I turn the corner, and there’s a boy wearing flip flops and a soccer jersey, skipping down the street kicking a ball. Suddenly I feel silly walking around in this black cloak.

– My first trip into a compound was strange. A coworker has a friend who drove us (male, of course). We had to weave our way through a dozen barricades to get to the first gate. There, they check your passport and you walk to the other side and a driver comes. The driver took us to the next gate where they take your passport, then drive you directly to where you’re going. She went for a massage. I stayed in the car and went back out.

So if a woman wants a haircut, she can go to the women’s floor in Kingdom Tower, to a salon in a compound, or have someone come to her house. Or, like me, I cut my own hair. Just a trim really, but I have to admit, it’s the first time I’ve ever cut my hair. It seemed like the easiest way to handle it. When the haircutter my friend uses comes back from the states, I’ll make an appointment and try that.

– It doesn’t look like Christmas at all here, because Christmas decorations in public are forbidden. I did see a Christmas tree in the community room window of the compound and my reaction was, Woooo (scary, brave!) A few teachers and I had a Christmas crafty get together. But we can’t display our creations at work, and probably not a good idea to even discuss it in the teacher’s room.

– Out running errands on Thursday (our “Saturday”) we wanted to get a coffee or bite. The only refuge was Starbucks. We went around to the women’s entrance (look for frosted glass), and as we reached for the door, we heard it being locked from inside. We knocked and they opened it.

“Oh, yes,” the staffperson (Italian maybe?) said (basically), “You can come in but you’ll have to leave before prayer time in 10 minutes because the Mutawa (religious police) are out today.”

If the police take offense to allowing customers to remain in during business hours, the staff would be in trouble …though I’m not sure exactly what that means.

As we sat and drank our coffee (quickly), my friend said, “Hey, I found nice ice cream over there. Better than Baskin-Robbins!”

“Oh really? Cool. And you could sit down there?”

“Oh no. They served me, but there was no women’s seating.” Ah yes, again.

The weather has been amazingly lovely. We wear a t-shirt and sweater at work,  Covered by an abaya when we’re out walking, is comfortable. High 60-70F and sunny. Perfect.

And it’s lovely to hear the sound of prayer calls drifting through and punctuating the days. It’s an odd combination, because you feel included in the prayer in that you always hear it. Excluded though because women can not go inside a mosque. And along those lines, non-muslims can not visit Mecca.

Still when I heard the sound of prayer calls coming thru the window tonight, I found that I did prefer it to the cheesy Christmas music we had playing on the i-Tunes 24/7 Christmas station on my laptop.

About the Author joangregerson

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