Friday, June 30, 2006

"T'es pas une saoudienne typique"

Friday June 30, 2006 late afternoonish, sand and wind howling outdoors; A/C creaking indoors

The words of my host father from my study abroad in Paris ring true today: "you're not a typical Saudi."

Yesterday, when I went to one girl's home it dawned on me that they were openly discussing village life with me and jizani culture, but found it curious whenever I asked things about Saudi culture. How can a Saudi girl be asking these questions? Is she really Saudi? How come she doesn't cover her face? Who is this man who accompanies her? He's her uncle? As in, her father's brother? She's talking to the man in the clinic, she's really bold.

I didn't realize these things-- maybe I'm naive-- but i didn't realize these things were an issue because this is how I act in Jeddah and in Jeddah there are some who cover their face and others who don't and it's not an issue just as long as you cover your hair in public. But here, as I found out today from the girl who I visited yesterday, the fact that I don't veil has aroused curiosity about who I am, and all of a sudden I felt like I don't belong.... They have not been hostile and they have still welcomed me into their homes but all of a sudden I feel odd and uncomfortable in the spotlight because I don't want them to ask me about my personal life which is so different than theirs. I didn't think about this before, but my idea and their idea of what it is to be SAUDI are different. Questions on gender relations and access to moeny for women are SAUDI issues. Marriage and marrying more than one wife are SAUDI things. "I should know this." On the other hand, the village life, water problems, unemployment, etc are JIZANI issues and these things they'll speak openly about, and they have.

But I didn't think to disconnect the two. Like yesterday, for example, when my host was asking me if I was Saudi I replied, laughing: “Yes, iljawaz akhdar: [yup, my passport is green]” Today on the phone she asked me what I meant by that. And then I realized that these people don’t have passports so she had no idea what I meant when I was referring to the green of the Saudi passport cover.

Here’s what happened. I called my first host to say thank you for yesterday and then transitioned into the subject of our discussion to ask her eventually to please keep that discussion to herself. I believe in gut instincts and I have a good feeling about her. But my dad was telling that I shouldn’t discuss religion because it’s sensitive and the village sheikh might get involved if word gets out. Anyway the girl said not to worry, etc but when I asked her more about the situation, she told me that everyone had trouble believing that I’m Saudi and also said that I’m the first Saudi woman to come to the village without a face veil. (imagine that!) She advised me to cover my face when I go to the clinic tomorrow.

Today was the first time that I felt a weight on my chest and I just felt rotten. All in all it's been great here, especially because the women have been wonderful. It's been eye-opening, welcoming, enriching, educational, but I think that I need to stay out of the private sphere from now on, go buy myself a a face veil to reduce village gossip (i'll tell them that I realized that I was the only one and I want to respect the ways of this village) and then take the last few days as they go, workign on getting official sources and collecting more questionnaire surveys from the clinic.

Don't worry, though, my chin is still up and now that I’ve sorted through all my feelings and have noted them on paper, umm, computer screen, I feel so much better, alhamdillah. I’m learning as much about myself, my life choices, and the world, as I am about these people. And for this I can’t be more grateful. And now I am reminded again of Mena’s words: “If you’re not uncomfortable you’re not learning.” Well, I’m uncomfortable, therefore I’m learning. And I can’t ask for more than that.

God bless xx


Hyewon said...

This is a real example of 'ethnic problems' on the field, hon. More you get involved with people you're interviewing, more you'll encounter those questions. You're learning a lot and seem to be on the right track. I love my unique and only Noura!!!

talah said...

Hey Noura, Just read your blog. Dont worry in South Africa when I was staying in the Muslim area I was the only one not covering my hair, and people could not believe I was Saudi/Muslim. It was uncomfortable, especially when they ask you how come u dont cover your hair if you're Muslim, but it is all about their perspective of how a Muslim should behave, and I come from a very different background from theirs. I just want you to know that your feelings are normal, dont worry!!! talk to you soon :) TT

Janelle said...

Oh Noura! I wish I could hug you! This is so amazing and so inspiring!

Anonymous said...


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.