Flying to Riyadh

I’m in Saudi Arabia and today I flew from Jeddah to Riyadh on Saudi Airways. Nice flight, an hour and ten minutes in the air, comfortable aircraft. I had an aisle seat (I always have an aisle seat) and there was another woman by the window. The middle seat was empty. Because we were going to conservative Riyadh from (relatively) liberal Jeddah, we both wore the niqab (full face mask) as well as the abaya (robe) so that only our eyes were visible because if you don’t do that your life when you get off the plane will be made a misery. If you want to travel in someone else’s country, be polite and behave as they expect you to (unless it involves removing your panties, of course). Just before takeoff, a Saudi man aged 60+ got on. He was assigned the middle seat and the plane was full. He stood in the aisle, summoned a stewardess and said, “How can I sit there?” What he meant was, ‘If I sit between two women, I’ll be polluted.’
Okay, this is how it is in Saudi—or how it can be—but consider the implications:
1. I (and the other woman) were left in no doubt that our presence was polluting to men. How do you think we felt about that?
2. This man will be married. How must it be for his wife and daughters to know that they are pollutants in his life?
I’d like to make it clear that not all Saudi men are like this—on balance they’d have been more likely to take the seat and even attempt to chat to us (which they are not supposed to do) and I might quite possibly have been obliged gently to remove a hand that had ‘accidentally’ strayed on to my thigh*. But, still, it was not an enjoyable experience.
*Some time ago, an Emirati man told me he hankered for the days before pantyhose, when a hand on a woman’s thigh would feel the excitement of a suspender like a little knob. I gave him a kind smile. What else could I do?

Zoë Ferraris

I read Zoë Ferraris in the “wrong” order—I started with her third book, Kingdom of Strangers, realised what I’d done and read Finding Nouf (also published as The Night Of The Mi’raj) and now I’m about to start on the middle one of the three—City of Veils.

Two months ago, I hadn’t heard of Zoë Ferraris. Now she’s in that small group of writers where I know I’m going to be watching for the next book and I know I’m going to buy it. She got into that group because she writes good, well constructed thrillers and because her characters are human and believable and she makes you care what happens to them. The added attraction, though, is that she writes about Jeddah. I spend a lot of time in Jeddah and Zoë Ferraris describes both the place and the society extremely well. She’s qualified to do so—she’s American, born in in Oklahoma in fact, but she was married to a Bedu from Jeddah who she met in the States and who took her back to Jeddah when their daughter was born.

I’ve seen comments by Arabs that she doesn’t really understand Jeddah society. Oh, yes, she does. She understands the basic decency of so many of the ordinary people and she understands how thoroughly they are supressed by the rich, the powerful and the devout. If you read her books, you’ll understand, too—and you’ll have a really enjoyable read into the bargain.

%d bloggers like this: