Thursday, June 29, 2006

I'm sorry for not updating: BEEN SUPER BUSY. Here's why

Saturday June 24, 2006

I came prepared with my friend Mena’s English professor’s words running through my head: "If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not learning." Well, I’m comfortable, so I hope I’ll still learn! I have a whole port-a-cabin to myself. It’s in the middle of nowhere, literally, just sand and dug-up holes (where the shrimp ponds and the drainage areas will be) and other port-a-cabins around me. But there’s AC in each room, I have a queen-sized bed, bathroom, kitchen, living room and desk area where I’m seated now typing this. I could host the entire Wolfson College Boat Club for circuits if I wanted to! The only thing I don’t have is Internet in my room, so alas no Skype calls or late night MSN/AIM chats and no regular updating of my blog. But it’s all good; Will and Grace can keep me company here too just like they did in Oxford, thanks to my cousin's DVD collection. And I have 10 books staring at me from the shelf waiting to be read!

Sunday June 25, 2006
Task for today: Identify the gatekeeper; find way into the community to begin interviewing women; allocated time for mission: 1 week. Task completed in: 1 hour

Today someone from the Shrimp Company took me to the village's health clinic to introduce me to the man responsible there, who said he would allow me access to their files so that I can collect quantitative information on the village. At first, I paid lip-service to the idea, sticking to my convictions that I wouldn’t really have time to look at these files since my study is qualitative rather than quantitative and I wanted to speak to women directly and engage then in “conversations with a purpose”. But then we arrived at the clinic and lo and behold, the gatekeeper revealed herself to me in the form of a veiled Dr. {name withheld} from Egypt. A pediatrician who speaks very softly, I took an automatic liking to her; that is, once she removed her veil and started speaking candidly. She automatically began telling me about the problems in the village: a high rate of depression and a high rate of very early divorces. Women at 20 getting divorces.

She said women will receive the idea of working because they just want to get out of the house. That there are friendship and family bonds between these women: there are no restrictions on visitations; but the relationships with their spouses seem to be poor. They would also take the job because they need the money. She posed the men as the problem: New money coming in for the men means another wife, for example. I have to see if all this is true because the guys at the shrimp company say that her viewpoint is very typically Egyptian and not based in the actualities of Saudi society.

Before I knew it, I was talking to women. The atmosphere in the clinic is very informal: the doctor was seeing patients while I sat next to her at her desk. Her patient eyed me from time to time, with no malice just curiosity. The first girl I spoke to was 23 and had only completed 2nd grade. Asked why she stopped going to school, she said “Thuroof: circumstances.” In other words, it’s private. I think that with these women I won’t be able to find out about how they feel. I think my questions will have to be more quantitative and didactic. Questions that I can code and put into a schedule and throw into SPSS. Which I guess I’m finally going to learn to use. But the only way I’ll access the women at this point is the women that the Dr. refers to me.

Why had a girl my age only completed second grade? Can they not afford to go to school? I thought schooling was free.

My dad's advice: they will need awareness for the whole village. The men won’t accept the idea of women working at first and then they will. You need to approach them nicely, then ask how they’re feeling, etc. Tell them that the government is behind this project.

Monday June 26, 2006

Yesterday I was a stranger to the community; today a welcomed guest. Already I have been invited into 3 homes for lunch. What accounts for this change? I have to be aware of the tremendous sampling bias in my study. Overnight the news had spread that someone from the shrimp company was in town. And so the women arrived to apply. This means they are all waiting in a line to be interviewed and I must accommodate all of them; I become like the Dr., knowing that the diagnosis must be quick because there are many more that need to be seen before the day ends at 3:30.

I came in today with a revised interview protocol (less open-ended and more direct questions). My initial reason for wanting to make the interviews shorter stemmed somewhat from a misunderstanding on my part of the meaning of “thuroof.” I took it to mean, “It’s private.” In fact, I took it so far that I worked from my western perspective that that they wouldn’t disclose their income either, or anything monetary. This is reflected in Western interviews where the income issue is left until the end of the interview or 'occupation' is used an indicator for income. This may have been the case on day 1 (yesterday) but today was another story altogether. Also, age: I was embarrassed to ask them their age, but now it’s one of my favorite questions because they don’t always know the answer and so it’s interesting to see how old they think they are.

I arrived at the clinic around 9 this morning with my documents in English. I was worried about that at first but it’s just that I didn’t have time, since I spent last night restructuring the interview entirely and my Arabic typing skills are as poor as the telephone signal I receive in the village. In the end, it didn’t even matter. They didn’t care at all because there’s no hiding the fact that I’m an outsider. Just as long as I cover my hair, they ignore the fact that I don't cover my face (all of the women here cover everything but their eyes, with the exception of the 2 Indian nurses). Anyway, I began by interviewing in one of the patient rooms and the women were sent to that room one by one to see me. Today, I conducted 15 formal interviews.

It’s 1AM: EXHAUSTED. Been working non-stop since I got here, no time for movies or books or rest. I can’t wait for weekend! What shall I do tomorrow in the clinic? More interviews? Am I ready to interview the doctor yet? I think the most effective question was the number of people in household and asking about each person’s occupation, marital status, etc. I could make my interviews shorter than today’s and aim for a total of 60 from this village.

Tuesday June 27, 2006

Oh boy. Today’s lessons: 1. Stop making plans. 2. My only plan should be to be prepared.

Yesterday I was a guest, today I am the shrimp company in human form: a ray of hope for the women who are all desperate for jobs, whatever they may be. I walked into the clinic this morning and there were about 50 women, none with medical problems. Read: They are all here to see me. The word had spread that I was here and so the women came in droves. The doctor's assistant rushed me into the “Pregnant Ladies” room and desperately tried to close the door as all the women tried to pile in. "Me first, no me, no me!" So I sat the first one down and started to ask her the questions that I had prepared. But how was I going to do that with every woman and be done in time for lunch at Umm Muhammad’s? That was the first problem. The second problem was ethical: they all are looking for work and that’s why they’re here. They see the shrimp company as a savior and they see me as linked to the company, not as an independent researcher. No matter what I told them they didn't care; they wanted to "register". After a few interviews and more women banging on the door, I let them all in and first apologized for being late and unprepared, saying that I was not forewarned that there would be women coming to see me. “Bittalaphone” says the assistant: the news had spread by telephone. I had women asking me what the qualifications were for working; whether they needed to have high school certificates; and whether they could call their friends over from other villages and towns. First things first, I told them, NOBODY from outside this village should bother coming. I had to. The company would be in a dilemma otherwise, promising so few jobs (relatively speaking) to so many women. Next, I explained to them that even if they wrote down their names they won’t be getting jobs. That I’m here to document the socio-economic situation of the villages: If they wanted to help me, please come back tomorrow. In the meantime, here is a paper and a pen (I REALLY wasn't prepared) and please write down your name, age, education level, marital status, etc.)

I had lunch twice today. The head of the clinic wouldn’t let me leave before lunch, even though I explained to him and pleaded with him to let me go meet Umm Muhammad who had postponed her travels for me. From his point of view, I couldn’t leave because his wife had already prepared the food and was sending it to the clinic. So there ya go, a HUGE predicament. I called Um Muhammad to tell her I’d be late, explaining why and apologizing a thousand times. She told me the food is ready and they’re waiting; “I’m going to send my husband over.” NO no don’t send your husband I’d be there at 2.

They’re living in really meager accommodations. From the outside the village looks deserted and yet I can’t explain their houses are not something out of the ordinary when you go inside. Just really minimal and really cramped, but at the same time familiar to me. How is this familiar? Where have I seen it before? Food served on the floor on a mat and big plates that we all eat from with our hands. Delicious food: rice etc and guess who just started eating meat again? ;) What choice do I have really, since vegetables are off limits (Mother's orders- and I don't blame her given my abysmal history with vegetables in remote areas. What can I say I've got a delicate stomach!)

One of the little girls (they're all adorable) laughed at me for wearing socks in the heat. "What should I do?" I asked her. Wouldn’t you wear socks and sneakers too if they told you there were scorpions and snakes in the camp? It was a very light-hearted conversation. I feel at home with all these women. There are more similarities between us despite the, in many ways, clashing lives we lead.

As I was leaving, Umm Muhammad gave me seeds and a bottle of perfume as gifts. My gift of a box of chocolates, no matter how big, paled in comparison to their generosity. It’s probably also melting in their house. The AC doesn’t really make the house cool, just less hot. The room we sat in had curtains all around, in a pattern that we “Jeddah elite” would call “balady". Esther and I never found the perfect way to translate balady from Arabic and Korean, but the English equivalent would be "tacky.” Beige with red roses, No windows. You access this seating area through the children’s bedroom which is head to head with beds along 2 walls (maybe 4 beds total?) I don’t know what else there is in the house or how this compares in size to the men’s quarters. I felt like I’d be prying and wanted to enjoy my stay and make them feel that I’m at lunch for their company and not as a researcher. For this reason also I didn’t ask to take pictures.

Wednesday June 28, 2006

Yesterday I was savior, today I'm the Pied Piper. The women find me wherever I am. I was invited for lunch today at another village. This invitation came about as a response to my question: "Describe to me a day in your life." The answer? "A day in my life? Come over and you can see for yourself." I was delighted. This woman, a mother of many (i lost track of which kids were hers and which were relatives and neighbors!) One of her boys was playing football with a deflated ball, while his little sister told me she was cheering for Brazil and Spain in the World Cup. As for the Saudi team, she counted on the fingers of her little hands her favorite Saudi players. (I'll complain about the saudi team in another blog- maybe I'll call it,

After a full day today, having collected 88 questionnaire surveys and played domino's with the kids, and witnessed the beginning of a sandstorm, I got home for the first time since my arrival in Jizan feeling like I'm ready to leave. My love handles are just NOT pretty (those of you who know my methods of dryfrying and my affection for brown rice would be proud of the insanely oily food I've been eating)and I have forgotten what my research is about. Information overload. I turned on my computer and watched episode after episode of Will and Grace.

Thursday June 29, 2006

Thank God it's Thursday! Woke up feeling refreshed having slept in (until 9:30! WOW!) The clinic is closed today, so I'm able to come in and check emails. Thanks to all for your amazing emails and facebook pokes. I LOVE YOU FOR THEM. Must quickly revise my questionnaire surveys, print out more, then head to my new Jizani friend's house for tea. She's going to give me a lesson in Henna and Jizani hairstyles. My Jeddah friends are probably laughing at me because once again what's considered beautiful here is considered tacky to us oh-so-snobbish-and-yet-so-cool Jeddah girls. Was I the Pied Piper yesterday? Today I'll be Jizani bride. In any case, if I want pictures of these traditions the only why I'll get them is if they're pictures of me. Sigh, the things I do in the name of research!



Hyewon said...

Yesterday I worried about my habibty, today I am so proud of my habibty. :)

ali said...

if i remember correctly, your last hairstyle was something out of a bob marley music video. so i really, really wonder what a jizani hairstyle is like! haha... this is gotta see.

Tala S. said...

U don't understand how interested i am in hearing about ur Jizan adventure Noura! i check ur blog everyday! It sounds likes its really interesting and eye opening and fun (in a weird way) and kinda scarey. I gotta hand it to u, i could never sit and talk to a bunch of women so calmly id be so nervous and i wouldnt be able to speak arabic hahaha.. i love u noura! i miss u so much! waiting for u next posting.

Hyewon said...

Darling, I dreamt of you last night. You just looked like a nice and pretty doctor from the 'Prison break' :) Cannot wait to read your next posting. Have a nice weekend, habibty!

Janelle said...


This is so amazing. I can't believe you are out there and doing this. It is such a fantastic experience and I am sure your thesis will be equally impressive. Just reading your accounts of the day, I can't stop reading!


IT began as a field diary for my summer in Jizan (2006) under the title "Watch Out Bubba Gump." Now I'm not sure what it is... but I do know it's time for me to start writing again.