Saudi Arabia: My House Is A Dungeon?

Saudi Arabia: My House Is A Dungeon?

dungeon“Your house is a dungeon of rules” is what one of my child’s closest friends said to him last week.

That was a unique way of saying something I’ve heard many times before.  “Your house has so many rules!” “Is it true you make them go to sleep at 7 on a weekend?” “Why can’t they play on the iPad during the week?” And “What!!! No coke??”.

Just for the record, my 7 and 10 year old don’t go to sleep at 7 on weekends or on weekdays. They fall sleep anywhere between 8 and 8:30 on weeknights and 9:30-10:00 on weekends. They both wake up at 6:30. Most experts would agree that 10 hours of sleep is healthy and needed. Some might even say that my 7 year old needs more sleep.

Weekdays are screen free unless it’s homework related and yes, it’s true, no coke or any other fizzy drink full of sugar for the kids. I’m not saying they have never had it but it’s not allowed in my house, the “dungeon of rules” house.

Our other house rules include: only healthy unprocessed foods, a blasphemously early dinner time (by Saudi and Arab standards), no eating in front of the TV, limited screen time when they have friends over, no backing out on a commitment (like after school classes, parties or visiting friends), and making eye contact and being polite.

All our house rules feels right to me, like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. So why has a comment made by my son’s 10 year old friend bothered me so much?

I think it’s because I know that the older he gets, the more he will be hearing these kind of comments. Or probably because when I was young, I did live in a dungeon of rules. Unfortunately for my mother, there was no ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ alternatives to the junk others were having.

Growing up, I did feel like my mother imposed too many rules on us.

As an adult, I know I’m a better parent for it. My mother planted the seed of wanting my children to eat well and be healthy in me. She made me realize that children cannot always get what they want, or think they want.

I had a lovely childhood full of freedom and excitement in ways other children never had. For example, I could always choose what I wanted to wear, so I always wore an outfit of a sleeveless top and ruffled skirt that was black with a purple line around the edges. When that was in the wash, I looked like a hobo. We never had a million adults around us all the time just a nanny who didn’t worry about us getting dirty. We explored and imagined and had a whole troop of explorers with us who all had different rules than ours and we survived.

Children now talk more openly to their parents and other adults and I am always amazed at how comfortable they are telling me things I would have never dreamed to say to an adult when I was a child. Maybe that’s the only difference. The fact that I know that our house is called “the dungeon of rules”.

Will my children end up feeling deprived that I don’t let them stay up late? That’s probably the biggest obstacle I have. That, and trying to keep them from eating junk. I can handle being known as the strict mother but can my kids handle being known as the ones with so many rules? (Another gem was when one of their other friends said at dinner “In my house I have no rules! No one says no to me”.)

I am trying something new in my parenting now and it seems to be having a positive effect. I tell them what they’re working towards. They do have rules, but in return for how well behaved, independent and responsible they are (which they really work hard at and achieve brilliantly most days) they get more freedom than any of the kids with ‘no rules’.

I respect them and their opinions. They have the right to say they don’t like a rule and I as a parent have the duty to enforce it. They have choices in their lives and a say in how they want things to go,  as long as they continue to prove they’re responsible enough to make them. I’m toughest when I know they’re doing something that is beneath their ability or their character. I find it hard to stay positive in those situations. I believe in them so much that it’s difficult to see them doing something that’s not a reflection of their ability.

Many mothers have told me I’m expecting too much of my children but I’m so immensely proud of them and what they achieve, how self reliant they are in the environment they’re living it, how they take responsibility for their actions and how they effect others. I believe none of that would have happened had I not expected so much of them.

As for the rules, the basic fact of the matter is that children cannot be healthy, happy and productive if they are sleep deprived, have an unhealthy diet and if they rely on passive entertainment such as iPads and TV’s. So, if it takes a dungeon of rules to make them happy and healthy then I’m making a neon sign and sticking it on the roof!

Do you feel you have too many rules?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Mama B from Saudi Arabia. She can be found writing at her blog, Ya Maamaa.

Photo Credit to Dave Hamster who holds a Creative Commons Attribution license.

Mama B (Saudi Arabia)

Mama B’s a young mother of four beautiful children who leave her speechless in both, good ways and bad. She has been married for 9 years and has lived in London twice in her life. The first time was before marriage (for 4 years) and then again after marriage and kid number 2 (for almost 2 years). She is settled now in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (or as settled as one can be while renovating a house). Mama B loves writing and has been doing it since she could pick up a crayon. Then, for reasons beyond her comprehension, she did not study to become a writer, but instead took graphic design courses. Mama B writes about the challenges of raising children in this world, as it is, who are happy, confident, self reliant and productive without driving them (or herself) insane in the process. Mama B also sheds some light on the life of Saudi, Muslim children but does not claim to be the voice of all mothers or children in Saudi. Just her little "tribe." She has a huge, beautiful, loving family of brothers and sisters that make her feel like she wants to give her kids a huge, loving family of brothers and sisters, but then is snapped out of it by one of her three monkeys screaming “Ya Maamaa” (Ya being the arabic word for ‘hey’). You can find Mama B writing at her blog, Ya Maamaa . She's also on Twitter @YaMaamaa.

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SAUDI ARABIA: MDG 3 Promoting Gender Equality #Moms4MDGs

SAUDI ARABIA: MDG 3 Promoting Gender Equality #Moms4MDGs

saudi

When we grow up with something in our lives we don’t think about it much anymore. It’s just there, being, and we don’t notice it’s effect on the world around us. It’s there and always was there. We don’t give a thought about how it got there and why it’s there and never have the luxury of seeing it all for the first time and realising just how big and amazing it all is!

That was my relationship with Alnahda Philanthropic Women’s Society. I grew up volunteering there (With many many girls of my generation) and the women who run it, staff it and make everything happen are an inspiration to watch. I started ‘helping’ with their yearly bazaars and joining the fashion shows. It was fun. We were doing good and proud of it. But yes, mostly it was fun.alnahda

Alnahda is a non-profit society founded in 1962 by some of the strongest Saudi women. They were empowered, educated and forward thinking women who have always been pioneers in the advancement of women’s roles and opportunities in Saudi Arabia.

So many people around the world know of the barriers facing women in Saudi but not enough know of the steps that are being taken to bring these barriers down and Alnahda is one of the first to take these steps making a path for women to be leaders in their homes, communities and in Saudi.

They initiated the fight against illiteracy, established the first women’s library in Riyadh, are a leader in vocational training and rehabilitation for women with special needs. Alnahda also established emergency residential shelters for families with difficulties and have always had a strong interest in preserving Saudi heritage. Their collection has 5000 pieces from dresses, jewellery and original traditional doors.

I grew up and out of the age of wanting to do the fashion shows and actually did start properly helping when they needed volunteers. As the years passed I got less and less involved because I moved away to go to university then I got married and had my children. I would go to their events and volunteer when I could but I was nowhere near as active as when I was a child!

Last year when they were celebrating their 50th year I was reintroduced to it as a newcomer, and a mother of one daughter, for the first time and I saw how much effect this remarkable society had on the world around us! I was blown away by how many women Alnahda was able to reach from all different financial and educational backgrounds.

Alnahda focuses on women led households. They work on giving these women the tools to empower them as mothers and bread winners for their families. They train women and help them find employment.

Alnahdha also helps women who don’t need financial or educational help but are lacking the support and guidance to start their careers. They have done this not only for individuals but for other societies as well such as the Saut Down Syndrome Society that started in the 80’s as a small preschool for 4 children on the grounds of Alnahda and now is an independent entity that is well on its path to opening schools around the Kingdom.

Alnahda has one program so powerful it will literally change the course of so many women’s lives. The program is called ‘mustaqbali’ My Future. This program works on changing the mindset of young women who have lost hope for their future. They have worked with young women who have dropped out of school and motivated them to go back and get their high school degree. They have helped these women get college degrees or the proper training for the career that suites them. They guide women in finding themselves and empower them to make the best of their lives.

Alnahda Philanthropic Women’s Society is the embodiment of the UN’s third Millennium Developmental Goal of promoting gender equality and empowering women.

It gives me pride to be part of this society that never deviated from its mission “to empower women socially and economically through financial and social support, training, and employment.”

These are some of the people who are paving the way for my daughter not to have to restrict her options, stop herself from dreaming or expect less of herself. What do I want my daughter to do when she grows up? I am hoping I won’t be the one telling her and I am praying she will be spoilt for choice!

MDG-infographic-3

Join us today for our #Moms4MDGs Twitter party to discuss Gender Equality with @GirlUp at 1:00 EST, and with Plan International @PlanGlobal at 9pm EST. Wondering what time that is in your country? Check HERE.  In joining in you will automatically be entered to win a copy of Malala Yousafzai’s new book I Am Malala. We hope to see you there!

This is an original post written by Mama B. for  the World Moms Blog #Moms4MDGs campaign on World Moms Blog and in Arabic  on Alnahda in Saudi Arabia.

Mama B (Saudi Arabia)

Mama B’s a young mother of four beautiful children who leave her speechless in both, good ways and bad. She has been married for 9 years and has lived in London twice in her life. The first time was before marriage (for 4 years) and then again after marriage and kid number 2 (for almost 2 years). She is settled now in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (or as settled as one can be while renovating a house). Mama B loves writing and has been doing it since she could pick up a crayon. Then, for reasons beyond her comprehension, she did not study to become a writer, but instead took graphic design courses. Mama B writes about the challenges of raising children in this world, as it is, who are happy, confident, self reliant and productive without driving them (or herself) insane in the process. Mama B also sheds some light on the life of Saudi, Muslim children but does not claim to be the voice of all mothers or children in Saudi. Just her little "tribe." She has a huge, beautiful, loving family of brothers and sisters that make her feel like she wants to give her kids a huge, loving family of brothers and sisters, but then is snapped out of it by one of her three monkeys screaming “Ya Maamaa” (Ya being the arabic word for ‘hey’). You can find Mama B writing at her blog, Ya Maamaa . She's also on Twitter @YaMaamaa.

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SAUDI ARABIA: How Close Is Your Tribe?

SAUDI ARABIA: How Close Is Your Tribe?

my tribeThe first week of school, after a two and a half month summer, is nearly over and we are slowly getting into the swing of things. 

 

I love the schedules, the school calendar, the time tables. The order of it all is just so… ahh… comforting! It only takes a short while before I start dreaming of our next break, but being back home is such a blessing.

There is a feeling I get when landing back in Riyadh, which is like sitting back in your favorite chair that has moulded its self to your body perfectly. Everything fits into the right place. It is an enormous relief, no matter how much fun we were having, to be back home where I know where everything is if I need it.

When I am traveling I feel totally disconnected. My life here revolves around my family – ‘my tribe’ as I call them.  This is not only my ‘mini tribe’, consisting of my husband and children, but of my whole tribe of mother, father. sisters, sisters in law, brothers in law, cousins, aunts and uncles. It is a foreign feeling to be somewhere without the them for a long while.

Mama B (Saudi Arabia)

Mama B’s a young mother of four beautiful children who leave her speechless in both, good ways and bad. She has been married for 9 years and has lived in London twice in her life. The first time was before marriage (for 4 years) and then again after marriage and kid number 2 (for almost 2 years). She is settled now in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (or as settled as one can be while renovating a house). Mama B loves writing and has been doing it since she could pick up a crayon. Then, for reasons beyond her comprehension, she did not study to become a writer, but instead took graphic design courses. Mama B writes about the challenges of raising children in this world, as it is, who are happy, confident, self reliant and productive without driving them (or herself) insane in the process. Mama B also sheds some light on the life of Saudi, Muslim children but does not claim to be the voice of all mothers or children in Saudi. Just her little "tribe." She has a huge, beautiful, loving family of brothers and sisters that make her feel like she wants to give her kids a huge, loving family of brothers and sisters, but then is snapped out of it by one of her three monkeys screaming “Ya Maamaa” (Ya being the arabic word for ‘hey’). You can find Mama B writing at her blog, Ya Maamaa . She's also on Twitter @YaMaamaa.

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SAUDI ARABIA: For Some Women, Not Driving Is A Paralyzing Issue

SAUDI ARABIA: For Some Women, Not Driving Is A Paralyzing Issue

2345068252_a4f24a3901We always talk about “first world problems,” and, I, most of the time, complain about women not being able to drive in Saudi Arabia in the “first world problem” sense. “My driver is late!” or “It’s too hot in the car. I wish he’d switch on the AC before I get in” or “Why does it take so long for my driver to answer his phone!”

It’s easy for me to forget that for the majority of women in Saudi, it is very much a paralyzing issue. As I was leaving Saudi last week, I was in the airport lounge, and one of the women working there was having a private conversation on her mobile which got progressively louder. She kept saying, “Swear he’s ok! Why can’t I talk to him?”

After she hung up she said to me, “My son has had an accident!” I asked if he was ok. She told me she didn’t know and that someone at the scene had called her and told her about it, but they wouldn’t give him the phone and wouldn’t give her details. I asked why she didn’t just go to him, and she told me she couldn’t.

“Surely your supervisor wouldn’t have a problem with you leaving early to go there!” I said.

“I don’t have any way of getting there!”, she said. “My son is usually my driver. I don’t have brothers, and I’m divorced.”

And that’s the simple truth. Her son was on a street somewhere, in God knows what state ,and she was stuck at work. She eventually took a cab and declined the offer to use my car.

I always dread talking about women driving in Saudi because it’s been talked to death, and there’s nothing to discuss, really, since the fact that women should be allowed to drive is such an obvious one. It’s like discussing if women should be allowed to work… or walk even. Not driving means different things to different people. To me, it’s something I don’t think about on a day-to-day basis, unless we have a driver crisis. But even then, I rely on my mother’s, sister’s or brother’s driver to get me where I need to go, and I have never been stranded at home or elsewhere because of it. I forget that this is not the case for everyone.

Yes, some of my friends can’t do lunches on certain days because of the driver issues (lack of reliable ones or lack of ones all together), so when their husbands work they have to stay home. While many, many Saudi families have a driver working for them, not all of them do. And honestly, who cares if I can’t get to my family visit on time or to the shops before they close, when this mother couldn’t get to her son, who I pray was not badly injured in this accident.

And if, God forbid, he was badly injured, or worse, and he is her only “mahram” (male guardian), then she effectively has to put her life on hold till he gets better. And if it’s not a “getting better” situation, then she is stuck. Driving will be only one of her problems.

We do have taxis, which are generally decent, but many women don’t like to use them or the men in their lives don’t like them to. Which is all fine and dandy if these men are willing to be their wives’ personal chauffeurs, but if they refuse, then the women are stuck. But they do sometimes say “no,” and their wives, sisters, daughters comply. I have never really asked my husband how he would feel about me riding a taxi, since there never was a need to before, but I know that even if he didn’t want me to ride one, for what ever reason, he would never tell me I couldn’t.

Work has already begun on the metro system in Riyadh, and I am assuming that it will have a similar set up to Dubai, where there is a women’s tram. (Although in Dubai it is optional to go on that tram.) It will be interesting to see what we end up with, but is public transportation the answer to this problem? No.

Women being allowed to drive is a change that has to happen. It’s going to happen. I can guarantee that, but when? And the assumption that this is a governmental decision is totally wrong as the government is doing what the majority of the population wants.

When the subject of women driving is raised, it is always surprising how many people are against it. Women included. When they decided to introduce girls’ schools, the community also spoke out against it and were fearful and pessimistic. But the government just made the change, and the people got used to it.  Now more than half the college graduates in Saudi are women! So, I hope we just rip the band-aid off.

And maybe the people will come around eventually and want this change, but how long do we want to wait? So many changes have come into our country, culture and environment that people are afraid to open up anymore, but there will be no progress without it.

Maybe I am wrong though. Maybe the views have changed, but the loudest voices are still of those who are against this. In Saudi the moderate voice is the one that talks at home among friends but doesn’t really rock the boat. The extreme views tend to be loud and very well organised.

A little side note to mention is there is no law against women driving. But there is a law against driving without a license, and women can’t get their licenses in Saudi.

It should just be done! Just as the 30 women were elected into the shours counsil by royal decree one morning, this change can happen too. It would, by no means, be mandatory, and whoever doesn’t want to drive, doesn’t have to. But for the women who are paralyzed, stuck and unable to get to their sons when they are hurt, a key to a car is not much to ask.

Do you agree with me that sometimes making unpopular decisions that will better your country is ok? Or is the government’s duty? Or do you think what the people want is more important? 

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Mama B from Saudi Arabia. She can be found writing at her blog, Ya Maamaa.
Photo credit to hhdoan who holds a Creative Commons Attribution license. 

Mama B (Saudi Arabia)

Mama B’s a young mother of four beautiful children who leave her speechless in both, good ways and bad. She has been married for 9 years and has lived in London twice in her life. The first time was before marriage (for 4 years) and then again after marriage and kid number 2 (for almost 2 years). She is settled now in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (or as settled as one can be while renovating a house). Mama B loves writing and has been doing it since she could pick up a crayon. Then, for reasons beyond her comprehension, she did not study to become a writer, but instead took graphic design courses. Mama B writes about the challenges of raising children in this world, as it is, who are happy, confident, self reliant and productive without driving them (or herself) insane in the process. Mama B also sheds some light on the life of Saudi, Muslim children but does not claim to be the voice of all mothers or children in Saudi. Just her little "tribe." She has a huge, beautiful, loving family of brothers and sisters that make her feel like she wants to give her kids a huge, loving family of brothers and sisters, but then is snapped out of it by one of her three monkeys screaming “Ya Maamaa” (Ya being the arabic word for ‘hey’). You can find Mama B writing at her blog, Ya Maamaa . She's also on Twitter @YaMaamaa.

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SAUDI ARABIA: Labels

SAUDI ARABIA: Labels

labelsI have never really thought of myself as a conservative person. Not because I’m not one I probably am in the traditional sense of the word but life seems to be all about labeling people. Sorting them and stacking them into neat little sections. We are obsessed with it.
We talk to people and get to know them just enough to label them something and keep that label stuck to them regardless of whether it actually fits them or not. Sometimes we skip the getting to know all together and slap the label on based on first impressions, on the way they dress or talk or the job that they do. Some labels are good, some bad, but all have the same effect of flattening a person out till they are barely one-dimensional. So I don’t particularly like labels. And I don’t feel comfortable committing to one adjective for the rest of my life
Now as an Arab, Muslim woman from Saudi Arabia you can imagine I have been labelled many things based only on one of the afore-mentioned facts (Arab, Muslim, female and from Saudi). You can also imagine that many of these labels are not particularly nice ones. For example “oppressed” is one I have slapped on me simply by being an Arab woman. Add the other two parts (Muslim and Saudi) then that label is practically tattooed on my forehead.
If I dare to say I am not oppressed then the other label is pinned to me; “Brainwashed.” I remember when I got engaged while I was studying in London one of my professors called me into his office to ask if I was okay and if I had a choice in the matter. The fact that I was studying in London, living on my own, and that he had known me at that point for two years didn’t affect how he saw me. I was still an oppressed little Saudi girl to him.
I know people have certain preconceptions about women in Saudi and it is very difficult to convince them otherwise without them coming to see for themselves. A British woman who recently moved to Riyadh said “I have yet to meet a timid Saudi woman! I expected the women here to have no say in all that happens in their lives and homes and with their families. I was so surprised to see that they are in charge.”
I think people have a need for others to be one thing or the other. They cannot be undefinable, un-categorisable. So it always throws my more “Western” “liberal” friends (might as well join them if you can’t beat them!) through a loop when I don’t fit into the category they expect me to. They are surprised by how “conservative” I am when it comes to certain matters concerning my children. For example:
1- I don’t want my son to be in a co-ed school after the age of 12. It is not because I want to segregate him completely from women. On the contrary I want him to have, hopefully, the same female friends he has now at 10. The reason is all the co-ed schools here are international ones with a majority of ex-pat students. Our religion and culture mean that there is no dating and no premarital anything. That is why I think it is unfair to put him in an environment where dating is the norm. Kids will be having crushes, and first kisses and so on and I will then expect him not to do it. I’m not delusional, I know boys will be boys. I just don’t want to put him in an environment where everyone else is going in one direction (the more exciting, fun and hormone filed direction) and I am expecting him to go in the other.
2- I don’t want my 7-year-old girl to wear bikinis or short shorts or off the shoulder clothes. This is not because I think there’s a pervert around every corner or anything like thatay. It’s because I want her to be more modest and to grow up feeling like wearing crop tops is not okay. It may be cute at 7 but at 17, not so much. Having said that, I think people really over reacted to the pictures of Jessica Simpsons baby in a bikini last year. Had she had a picture of her in Pampers only people wouldn’t have had such an issue. She was 4 months old people. It’s cute!
3- I don’t want my daughter to take hip hop classes. Her personality is a huge factor in this because if there is music and table she can stand on she’ll be on that table dancing her little tush off. I think a lot of the dances that are taught in these classes are inappropriate and too grown up. Also, whats the cut off age for this? I don’t want my daughter to start something she really loves, get really good at it and put all her energy into it then say: Fantastic! Good job! Stop doing it now. And “professional dancer” is not a career option for her.
4- I don’t like the kids listening to songs with mature themes or words in them. I am not talking only about swear words but content that is not something a 7 or 10-year-old should be listening to. So I opt to go for the watered down versions like the songs by Kids Bop. They take all the top hits and make the lyrics child appropriate. So it’s the same songs but kid friendly! My kids love it.
5- I don’t let them watch Disney channel because I saw one of the sitcom episodes where the plot was about two girls seeing who could kiss one boy first. Not okay in my book.
So if those things slap the label conservative on me then I guess I am.
Then there are the people who are surprised by how “Western” I am in certain things about my parenting. Most of the people who label my actions “Western” are Western themselves, and what they label as (quite condescendingly) are any good parenting traits I have. They assume that because I value early bedtime and healthy diet and love to encourage my children to read and put a high emphasis on being polite and respectful to all people, that I MUST have that from studying in London. Or from having a Western nanny when I was a child. To these people I tell them to look at my mother and grandmother and they can see where I learned how to  raise my children with values we already have.
I know I have gained a lot of parenting skills from books written by Western authors, but the common sense was there to begin with. I did need a book to tell me what fruits to put in my children’s morning shakes to get the healthiest option. And a book did help me learn how to help motivate my children with reward charts and such.
I have learned a lot from my little (large) collection of parenting books just as I have learned from how my grandmother raised her children into adulthood and how she respects their life and their decision and didn’t raise them to be extensions of herself but rather self-aware, resilient, independent human beings who also didn’t fit into any particular label.
I am personally uncomfortable with either label. Conservative because it is stifling and Western because it’s condescending. I am me. I have been influenced by my Islamic upbringing, my Bedouin grandmother, my British nanny, my hundreds and hundreds of books, my friends from different countries and religions and by life!
I think, because people seem to have a need to sort others out into neat groups, I will have to find a new label. Maybe “Islamic, Conservative, liberal, free-spirited, regimented, modern, temperamental, Arab, world mom”?
What do you think of the 5 points I listed earlier? Do you agree with them? Are you a “conservative” parent? Do you think you fit into a label?

 

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Mama B from Saudi Arabia. She can be found writing at her blog, Ya Maamaa.

 

Photo credit to _nyem_who holds a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license. 

Mama B (Saudi Arabia)

Mama B’s a young mother of four beautiful children who leave her speechless in both, good ways and bad. She has been married for 9 years and has lived in London twice in her life. The first time was before marriage (for 4 years) and then again after marriage and kid number 2 (for almost 2 years). She is settled now in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (or as settled as one can be while renovating a house). Mama B loves writing and has been doing it since she could pick up a crayon. Then, for reasons beyond her comprehension, she did not study to become a writer, but instead took graphic design courses. Mama B writes about the challenges of raising children in this world, as it is, who are happy, confident, self reliant and productive without driving them (or herself) insane in the process. Mama B also sheds some light on the life of Saudi, Muslim children but does not claim to be the voice of all mothers or children in Saudi. Just her little "tribe." She has a huge, beautiful, loving family of brothers and sisters that make her feel like she wants to give her kids a huge, loving family of brothers and sisters, but then is snapped out of it by one of her three monkeys screaming “Ya Maamaa” (Ya being the arabic word for ‘hey’). You can find Mama B writing at her blog, Ya Maamaa . She's also on Twitter @YaMaamaa.

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