Paris, 1989, on a playground. A young girl only a year or two older than I asks me, in French, “Where are you from?” “I am from Saudi Arabia,” I reply. She asks me where that is. This happened to me frequently, and I couldn’t understand how children didn’t know where Saudi Arabia was! I knew where France was… Why shouldn’t they know where Saudi was?
Vermont, 1993. Camp Kenya. “Do you have an oil well in your backyard?” “Are you a millionaire?” “Do you live in a tent?” We indulged the questions at first, but it started to get a bit old. My cousin and I tried to blend in as best we could, without joining in on the conversations about boys and first kisses. While we obviously stood out, our novelty wore off quickly, especially when our answers to their questions were not as exotic or mysterious as the other children hoped.
1998, London, American University. “Oh! You don’t seem like a Saudi,” a fellow student exclaimed. “How many Saudis have you met?” I asked her. “None,” she replied. Another student remarked, “Wow, a Saudi woman studying graphic design in London! What a huge step for women!” I couldn’t help but be offended. ”Ummmm… my mother studied in Switzerland, is fluent in 3 languages and has devoted her life to women empowerment… Studying graphic design in London is no great feat.”
2000, London, American University. In response to the news of my engagement, one of my teachers called me into his office. “Are you ok?” he asked me. “Yes, why?” I replied. “Is it your choice to get married?” he asked. I was shocked by his question, so I replied, “Yes, it is. Why would you ask me that?” “I would hate for you to be coerced into something you didn’t want.” This is from a professor I had known for 2 years. In his classes, he knew me to be an opinionated, creative and confident woman. But apparently the cliches don’t shift.
September 11, 2001, London. At home. The phone rings. “Switch on the TV!” my cousin tells me. “What channel?” I ask. “Any channel,” she replies. We get a warning to stay home from University for a while, so my sister camps out in the living room in front of the news for days on end. “I am from Saudi Arabia,” is not longer greeted with curiosity and questions about oil wells in our backyard.
Watching the events unfold that day was horrific, devastating and gut wrenching. As a 21 year old college student, I felt society expected me to take responsibility or apologise, even though this act was so far away from anything I knew, anything I was raised with, anything I or anyone else I knew believed. I didn’t understand why these acts by these men changed people’s impression of me. “It’s me!” I wanted to shout. I haven’t changed as a result of what terrorists have done. I don’t have a hand in this.
The cliche had changed overnight. ‘I am Saudi,’ was no longer only synonymous with, “I am an oppressed woman whose biggest ambition in the world is to buy half of Harrods.” It now also became synonymous with “I am a hateful person to be feared. I come from a country without a shred of good in it. I come from a country that breeds terrorists. Therefore I am sure to breed the myself. And my silence means I condone every terrorist act committed not only by a Saudi but by anyone claiming to be a muslim.” You may think this is a bit dramatic. I wish it was. It was very much black and white.
Looking at the world events in the last few months. Listening to the rhetoric coming out of the UK after Brexit and the US after the elections it is clear that nothing is ever black and white. Every country, every community, every family and every person has the capacity for both good and bad. I have lived my whole life knowing this. We were raised knowing this. That is why it is so difficult to understand when people paint a whole culture and country with one brush. I did not look at these situations and think, “That’s it! They hate us! They would rather see us gone.” Maybe I had the luxury of travelling to many places and meeting many people from different cultures. What I am certain of is that nothing and no one is perfect, what matters more is the effort people put into their betterment.
They have opinions about me, and about my people, but there is much that they do not see, that they do not know. Since September 11th Saudi Arabia has had dozens of terrorists attacks on its own soil targeting not only expats but Saudi civilians and law enforcement, as well as members of the government. The Saudi government has been actively fighting terrorism and has had many successes in this war against terror. Saudi Arabia has taken measures to regulate all charitable donations, requiring proper permits and security checks to ensure every donation is going where it is intended. The Saudi government recognised an underlying problem in our education system and has since changed the textbooks and method of teaching.
The Arab and Muslim world has lost many lives to extremist ways of thinking and terrorism. Likewise, the Arab and Muslim world has a great deal to gain by fighting the war of terror. We are together in this.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Mama B. of Saudi Arabia. Photo credit to the author.
Interesting conversations about world events happen behind the scenes at World Moms Blog. A few weeks ago, we grieved and expressed shock at the terrorist attacks that fanned out across Paris, France, taking the lives of 130 people. Nigeria, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq and Mali were also on our minds. So, with the permission of the World Moms, here is a glimpse into their thoughts just after the Paris attacks a few weeks ago…
Jackie Jenkins in Jordan:
Pema Chodron’s words.
“When I think about the tragedies in Paris and in Lebanon and in fact in many places in the world, It seems to me that’s it’s very clear that the cause is hatred. Therefore I feel for people that are committed to waking up and being of benefit to others, the key is for us is to not nurture hatred in our hearts. It may seem beyond many of us to feel compassion for the perpetrators, but probably the most important thing is for us to not add any more aggression to the planet, but to add as much open kindness and open heartedness as we can.”
Words for us all to internalise and meditate on.
Sophia from the USA:
“My heart is heavy. Too many lives…pointlessly lost. People who, just by the act of living, have been killed in the most horrific ways.
As of November 13th, 2015, I began seeing the French flag on many a face on Facebook. Surely, a sign of solidarity (I knew this from the Rainbow Flag, which supports LGBT rights).
However, on November 14th, I start seeing images and status updates of people wondering why the same media coverage that was given to Paris, wasn’t given to Beirut (Lebanon), when the same attackers had just killed and wounded a total of 243 people just the day before the attacks in Paris.
This stopped me in my tracks. Yes, why did I not see the same extent of coverage of this? There were no Lebanese flags on people’s Facebook profiles. What is World Moms Blog, if not a place for us to bring up these very hard topics? To give a voice to the voiceless.”
Michelle Pannell from the UK:
“What happened in France last Friday is devastating and the outcry from the public is of course understandable. As a Brit I painfully feel the tragedy as Paris is a city I have been to, I have fond memories of and I currently live with a few French people. Living in an international community makes my heart stretch and want to embrace the world and no, not just the white developed world.
I want to embrace and care for all parts of the world. Currently there are 23 nationalities represented within our community, that is people from the continents of Europe, Asia, Africa, North America and South America. Each one of those people adds something just a little different, special and unique to the lifeblood here and I do not value any one of them more or less because their skin is white or because they speak English as their first language.
Yes, we are all Christians, I live in a Christian community but I suspect every one of us has friends of other religions and none. I will not ostracise people because they are Muslim.” Read Michelle’s full post on her blog, Mummy from the Heart.
Nadege Nicoll in the USA:
“As a French citizen, I think that now more than ever, it is important to help Syrian refugees who have been victims for years. We shouldn’t turn our back, our arms must open even wider.”
Aisha Yesufu in Nigeria:
“God said in the Qur’an to kill one human is like killing humanity. We have to unite and let the goodness in us all outshine. A terrorist attack to anyone anywhere in the world is a terrorist attack to everyone everywhere in the world.
God rest the souls of the dead and console the families of the departed all over the world. It’s not easy.”
An excerpt taken from her post, “NIGERIA: A Muslim Mother Recounts News of Paris Attacks” to be published next week.
Cindy Levin in the USA:
I’d like to share the words of my pastor, Reverend Pamela Dolan in St Louis, Missouri.
Please let’s be gentle about how we monitor and correct other people’s prayers and grief.
If you think Americans are more upset about France than about Lebanon or Syria etc, you are probably right. As a society, we must look inward and ask why, and we must do better. But as individuals the reasons for our response are diverse and are not always a result of racism or a deep, unacknowledged Western bias. Some of us have spent time there, or dreamed of traveling there. Some of us have friends there, or family roots. Some of us are simply responding to a lifetime of seeing Paris as a symbol of liberty, equality, and brotherhood.
Rather than criticize how others are expressing sympathy, let’s use this moment of compassion to help expand the circle. Let’s not make suffering a zero-sum competition. There is love enough, and grief enough, to go around. It’s a teachable moment, yes, but not a time for judgment.
Here’s what I think. If you’re hurting right now, you’re probably doing it right. Remember that only a broken heart is big enough to encompass the wounds of the world. Healing has to start somewhere. Peace.”
Mama B. in Saudi Arabia:
“There is a huge imbalance in coverage and condemnation of terror attacks when they happen in my neck of the woods then when it does in Europe. There should be just as much outrage and condemnation. I pray for the day that these incidents are old news or not so constant that covering them would basically mean not covering any other story… its heartbreaking.
Also, what’s happening is a test of our humanity and tolerance. And our ability to see through our pain and be just. It’s the Syrians who have been effected the most. Tortured raped and killed in their own homes. The stories I hear from Syrians who have come into Saudi are horrifying.”
Jennifer Burden in the USA:
“The community behind our digital space weaves even stronger when we are gripped with the realization of a natural or human made disaster. Last Friday we put a call out in our private contributors’ Facebook group to locate Marie Kleber, our contributor in Paris. The next morning we were happy to hear that she was safe, as we mourned the deaths of 129 (now 130) people in Paris with her and offered support.
The news of the world is immediately applicable to our network behind the blog and to our readers. These times motivate us stronger to make peace in the world possible. Peace IS Possible. Peace is Possible in every corner of our earth. We can all learn to love. We can, no matter what our thoughts and views on issues, find a common tie. Here, on World Moms Blog, it is motherhood. We must move forward in kindness and olive branches and put down the weapons and get out the telephones, the tea cups and listen to each other. We must make room for acceptance. Could you imagine the amazing things humanity could achieve once this is possible?”
What’s on your mind?
This is an original collaborative post to World Moms Blog by our contributors.
Image credit to World Moms Blog.
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 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!
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.
In 2000, 189 nations made a promise to free people from extreme poverty and multiple deprivations. This pledge turned into the eight Millennium Development Goals, and was written as the Millennium Goal Declaration .- United Nations Development Programme
This month as we continue our #Moms4MDG campaign we are joining forces with three dynamic organizations, Al-Nahda in Saudi Arabia, and United Nations Foundation’s Girl Up campaign, and Plan International, all working towards MDG #3.
Al-Nahda is a charitable women’s society dedicated to empowering women socially and economically through the execution of numerous projects and programs with the goal for women to be active partners in the development of Saudi Arabian society.
Girl Up is a campaign of the United Nations Foundation where American girls are given the opportunity to become global leaders and to channel their energy and compassion to raise awareness and funds for United Nations programs that help some of the world’s hardest-to-reach adolescent girls. The goal of Girl Up is a world where all girls, no matter where they live, have the opportunity to become educated, healthy, safe, counted and positioned to be the next generation of leaders.
Plan International is one of the oldest and largest children’s development organizations in the world, working in 50 developing countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas to promote child rights and lift millions of children out of poverty. Their Because I’m A Girl Campaign aims to support millions of girls to get the education, skills and support they need to transform their lives and the world around them.
Millennium Development Goal #3 is to promote gender equality and empower women. Although the initial target of MDG 3 to eliminate the gender disparity between boys and girls in primary education has been reached, there are still huge gaps for women in higher education and the work force. Violence, poverty and discrimination in the work force continue to delay progress for women in many areas of the world. Here, at World Moms Blog, we believe that when women come together we are powerful, and that collectively we can create change.
Join us tomorrow October 16th for our #Moms4MDGs Twitter party to discuss Gender Equality with @GirlUp at 1:00 EST, and with Plan International @PlanGlobal at 9pm EST. By 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!
P.S. Never been to a twitter party before? Go to www.tweetchat.com and put in the hashtag: “#Moms4MDGs during the party times. From there you can retweet and tweet and the hashtag will automatically be added to your tweets. And, from there you can also view all of the party tweets!
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by World Voice Editor, Elizabeth Atalay of Documama in Rhode Island, USA.
The 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.