SAUDI ARABIA: A Message to the Mom Shamers

SAUDI ARABIA: A Message to the Mom Shamers

Mom Shamers
I had a nightmare the other night about running late for dinner with my husband. In the dream, I went into the bedroom to change, but for the life of me I couldn’t get ready. I knew my husband was outside getting more and more impatient with me and we were going to miss our reservation, but nothing could make me speed up. I woke up with a start and looked at my bedside clock. It was 9:15 am. I was an hour and fifteen minutes late for my son Boodi’s sports day. I had slept through the alarm (and many many snooze alarms) like a zombie. My subconscious had been taking me on a dream guilt trip.

I jumped out of bed, irrationally angry at everyone in the world who didn’t wake me (including my 4 year old, Khaled, who I kept home from preschool to go with me to sports day). He greeted me saying, “Mama I was waiting and waiting and you weren’t coming.”

It took me 10 minutes to get from the bed to the car. My irrational anger began to subside when I realised that there is no one to blame. I simply slept through the alarm. This didn’t help with the guilt that swelled with every passing minute.

I should give you a little background: our nanny normally does the school drop-offs, which is why I was still asleep till 9:15. Also, I am 17 weeks pregnant with baby number 5 and running my own business – hence the coma-like sleep I have been experiencing lately.

Thankfully, our nanny had rushed back to school at 8 am to be there for my son and take pictures. I frantically called her from the car and she assured me they had 3 more games to play before the end of the sports day.

We arrived finally at 9:55 am. As I walked onto the field where the mothers were following their children’s classes from activity to activity, I ran into a couple of mother whom I know. One of them looked concerned and asked if I had just arrived. “Yes, I slept through the alarm! I feel terrible!” I told her. She gave me a sympathetic look and said not to worry, and that Boodi was pleased the nanny was there (kill me now). The other mother laughed and said “Well, good morning at night!” (An Arabic expression meaning too little, too late). The first mother was genuinely trying to help but this one, well, was just being bitchy.

I let out a little laugh, not knowing how else to respond. I held back my tears, and went to find Boodi. Khaled found him first and ran over to him to give him hugs. I found our nanny, apologized, and thanked her profusely for coming and taking pictures. She, as always, understood and left us to enjoy the last of the activities. I ran into a few other mothers who were genuinely empathetic. They made me feel better, but I couldn’t shake the sour taste the mean mother’s comment left in my mouth. I promised to pick Boodi up at the end of the day and headed home. Boodi was so happy to have us there the last 10 minutes that he didn’t even ask why I was late.

I came back to school at pick up time and was waiting outside for the final bell to ring. Another mother whom I know walked up to me and said “I didn’t see you today.” Previous interactions with this particular mother had me prepared me – I knew what to expect. “Oh, I saw you!” I said with a smile. “I arrived a bit late.”

“How late? After it finished?” She laughed. I stared at her, flabbergasted, and said “I slept through my alarm,” because that’s all I could muster. “Well, don’t be late for the grade 5 sports day tomorrow!” she snipped. Tomorrow’s sports day, which both our older children are part of, starts at 12 in the afternoon. I managed to say, “Of course I won’t! It’s at 12 pm! Who would sleep that late?” This answer took her back a bit. By the time the bell rang I was seething.

I went home planning what I would say the next day when I saw the mom shamers. I knew that someone would make a comment, and I wanted to have a snarky reply at the ready. Of course, the next day when the other mother passed by me on the field and said, “Ah, I see you made it on time today!” I just gave her a steely look and walked away. At the end of the day, I’m all talk.

Looking back on the different interactions I have had with the mom shamers at school, I lose count of how many times I have been shamed, or have witnessed shaming of others. Mom shamers can be brutally judgemental. No matter their reason for shaming other moms, it is inexcusable for women to be other women’s biggest critics. What happened to women supporting women? We’re in the trenches together, are we not?

Here is what I want those mom shamers to know:

  • You don’t love my child more than I do. And if you feel I don’t love my child enough, your shaming me won’t change that.
  • When I arrive for the last 10 minutes of my sons sports day looking frazzled and out of breath how do you think shaming me will help? I believe your goal was never to help me, but rather to feel better about yourself.
  • Parenting is not measured by drop offs and pick ups or having a nanny versus doing everything yourself. No one can measure the strength of a mother and child’s relationship from these superficial, insignificant daily routines.
  • Your focus on me and my child should be a sign for you to look deeper into yourself to see where this is coming from.
  • My lateness is obviously triggering something inside you, making you need to lash out with a snide comment. Your energy is better used trying to figure out why it is so important to you to put me down.

Finally, as Bernard Meltzer said: “Before you speak, ask yourself if what you are going to say is true, is kind, is necessary, is helpful. If the answer is no, maybe what you are about to say should be left unsaid.”

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Mama B. of Saudi Arabia. Photo credit to the author.

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: On Being a Muslim Abroad

On Being a Muslim Abroad

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.

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: The Rationale for Prayer

Prayer

As a muslim student in London, I was persistently challenged by my professors for my religious beliefs. At the time I didn’t understand why they constantly questioned my beliefs. They regularly asked why I pray. The told me me that fasting was inhumane. They questioned how I could to marry someone I never had an intimate relationship with. This was not just one professor. It was a reoccurring theme in many of my classes and conversation, at some point during the term, would come back to this.

Growing up in Saudi Arabia I never actually thought of any of these things. I was born in a muslim country to a muslim family and studied Islamic studies in school. It wasn’t a choice it, was the way we lived. In a way, these questions were a blessing. They forced me to do what the Quran asked us to do over and over again, to think and to verify and reach our own conclusions.

Islam, contrary to popular belief, does not suppress free thought.

In fact, my faith implores us to use our intellect and question all that is around us. When faced with tough questions about my faith and the reasons behind my way of life, I had to now explore for myself why we do what we do.

The five pillars of Islam, without which you are not a muslim, are:

  1. Shahada: sincerely believing that there is only one God and that Mohammed is his prophet.
  2. Praying 5 times a day.
  3. Fasting the month of ramadan
  4. Giving from your money to the poor (zakat)
  5. Performing pilgrimage to Mecca.

When challenged by my professors, I could confidently say I understood and believed why we did all five of pillars. However, when I was questioned why God needs us to pray 5 times a day, I struggled to explain and resorted to “because we have to.” I will never forget one of my professors saying, “What kind of a God would NEED you to pray to him five times a day? That sounds really needy and insecure.” I remember being angry and frustrated, but mostly angry with myself because I didn’t know how to answer him.

Praying five times a day was just something we did. I knew we stood in the hands of God when we did it. I knew it was integral to being a muslim. But I could not understand, in a religion where everything you do benefits the people around you and the world as a whole, where praying fit in with wellness and peace.

Something dawned on me recently which has been truly life changing. It may seem obvious, or even a little ridiculous that I hadn’t made this realisation earlier in my life. This comes from taking advantage of something I’ve have done all my life. First, I did it because I was told to. Later, although it gained meaning and spirituality as I grew, it was still almost an unconscious act in times. Like brushing your teeth. I sit here, having just finished my morning prayer, in awe of how beautiful my religion is and in utter confusion of how it could in any way be misconstrued as something hateful or violent. It truly baffles me.

So what was my realisation about prayer? That it is totally and utterly for myself in every sense of the word. It is a completely selfish act – the opposite of the idea proposed by my college professor that only a needy God would demand we prostrate ourselves to him five times a day. I had nothing to tell my professor then except that God doesn’t need us to pray to him. I was lost for an answer when asked, “Why?” How could I not have seen this before!

Praying only ever benefited us. No one else. God didn’t need us to pray – we ourselves needed to. Every way we turn now people are talking to us about the importance of mindfulness and conscious living. They encourage us to take meditation classes and learn breathing techniques. They talk about the rush of life and how we have to learn how to pause during our day and reflect. I always knew that praying is meant to be spiritual and meditative, but yet it never occurred to me that God commanded us to pray 5 times a day to make us better people! That he demanded that we do this as a selfish act! And act that makes us calmer, happier, more grateful and therefor makes us better people to be around.

I am fasting now so I stay up until Fajr prayer (the first prayer before sunset). I wash for prayer, remembering my teacher saying when I wash for prayer I am washing all my sins away. When I wash my hands I wash away whatever sins I may have committed with them. When I wash my mouth I am washing any mean or hateful words I may have said. When I was my ears and I am washing any sins from gossip I have allowed myself to hear. This makes me more mindful of everything I have done during the day that I maybe shouldn’t have.

After performing my ablutions, I stand in God’s hands and say my prayers. I am deliberate, quiet, slow and careful to concentrate on the words I am saying and the actions I am doing. I end by having a conversation with God. I speak what is in my mind and my heart and I prepare for bed with prayers for my family, for my lost love ones, for the world and for a better day tomorrow.

I wake up and repeat the process. Standing for the second time in between the hands of God, I set my intentions for my day. Two hours later, when I am at work and feeling overwhelmed, upset, angry or rushed, I stop and stand for a third time in the hands of God. These breaks, these chances for mindfulness and conscious living have been the reason for better decisions, apologies, different actions. They force me to reflect and sit with myself, looking inwards to what I have been doing.

Evening approached and maghreb prayer is being called. Time to break our fast and thank God for everything we have. Time to have a date and water then stand for the fourth time between Gods hands, this time thinking about what we have contributed during the day. Giving us pause towards the end of a tiring day to collect ourselves, centre ourselves and be more patient. Pausing for prayer has saved me from many arguments with my kids and others.

And finally, before the day effectively ends and the night starts to become morning, I have a fifth chance to stand between the hands of God and thank Him for being alive, for being healthy, for having a day full of family, love, productivity and blessings. I set my intentions for the next day and make peace with what this last day held.

For over 1,400 years, Muslims have been performing this selfish act of praying to a God that loves us so much he demanded we take care of ourselves and our needs and our hearts and souls five times a day. We do this, not to benefit anyone but ourselves. Allahu Akbar*. (God is Great)

*I want to reclaim this phrase for what it really means and when it is meant to be used. God is great is used when we are overwhelmed and overcome with emotions, it is the first word out of my mouth when I am moved by beauty or sadness. This video by Ameera Altaweel shows the essence of what Allahu Akbar really is and I would like to share it with you.

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Mama B. of Saudi Arabia. 

Photo credit: Juanmonino / iStock

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: A Conversation with My Kids on Terrorism and Muslim Identity

SAUDI ARABIA: A Conversation with My Kids on Terrorism and Muslim Identity

Children of Mama B 600

Mama B’s 3 children and dog, Camden, on a stroll in the Saudi Arabian desert.

It occurred to me the other day that I have never talked to my children about terrorism. I actively try to make sure they don’t see the news or hear me talking about the world we are smack in the middle of. So I wanted to know what they knew, as a 13-year old and a 10-year old, about terrorism.

Below is the transcript of the conversation I had with my children a few days ago. To give you a little bit of background my son has moved this year to an international school with children from all over the world. So while being older he is also exposed to a lot of nationalities including Americans. My daughter goes to a Saudi school and is exposed to many Arab nationalities.

A Conversation on Terrorism with My Sons

Me: Who are the terrorists?

S: Da’ish (ISIS). They are people who claim to be muslims and to be killing ‘B’Ism Allah’ (in the name of God) but they’re just murderers.

J: Like in France they say, “I’m muslim! I’m muslim!”, and start killing people and now everybody hates us.

Me: Do you really think everybody hates us?

J: Yes.

Me: Like who?

J: The Americans.

Me: Why do you think the Americans hate us?

J: Because they are voting to kick the muslims out of America, and they won’t let us in if we go. I saw it on the news. (Apparently, I am not doing as good a job of keeping them away from the news or hearing about the news, as I thought.)

Me: Do you think all Americans feel that way?

J: Well Anya doesn’t… (Anya is my best friend in NY.)

Me: You know, saying that all Americans hate us is like an American saying all Muslims hate them.

J: That’s what I heard.

Me: Don’t believe everything you hear. The loudest voices are usually the ones saying the most controversial and hateful things. Good news hardly ever makes the news. You’ll never see a piece about how people are getting along and how the majority of the world wants to just live in peace.

S: Actually many people have a change of heart when that muslim guy was saying, “Hug me if you trust me.” He put himself in a vulnerable position. People could have punched him. People could have hurt him, but he trusted people.

(He is referring to the viral video of a man standing blindfolded in the middle of the street with a sign saying something along the lines of “I am a muslim, and I trust you. If you trust me, hug me” It was a very touching clip as so many people hugged him that day).

J: I worry mama that if we meet people and we get to know them and we liked each other but they didn’t know we were actually muslim then we tell them I feel like they won’t like us that much or something bad will happen… But what I’m most scared of is you know how they say they are muslim and they kill people? What if they do it to us?

S: The most people the terrorists are killing are muslims!

J: Mama I’m scared.

Me: Why do you think this is happening? What do you think they want?

S: They want money or world domination.

J: I don’t want to talk about this anymore.

I didn’t realise they thought of all of this, any of this, at all. Here, in Saudi, as is the case in most of the Arab world, we eat sleep and breath politics and news. It’s hard not to when it is happening all around you, live and direct, in your time zone and within earshot. So I really shouldn’t be surprised at all when my children are exposed to it.

Events of terrorism are causing so much confusion as my children cannot marry what these people are doing in the name of their religion to what their religion is actually teaching them.

Now they have to understand a world where the image of their faith is so twisted it no longer resembles anything they have learned or seen around them. And understand that they may be judged, and, yes, hated, by some people because of it.

My Own Childhood Experience

As children we were lucky enough to travel to Europe and America. We have always been stereotyped as “rich arabs”, despite the fact that we looked and acted very average. Or “loud arabs”, despite the fact that we were always soft spoken and respectful. Or “rude arabs”, despite the fact that my mother taught us the importance of manners because we learned that our religion is how we treat people.

At the age of 12 in a camp in Vermont I got asked if I had an oil well in my backyard, if we rode camels, and if we lived in tents. I said yes to all of those questions because it was funny. And I explained that in modern days now we live in two story tents. Everyone laughed.

Later that day at camp, one of the girls asked me in the bathroom if it was true that we cut off the genitals of men who rape women. She said she hoped it was true as her sister got raped, and she wished someone would have cut off his genitals. Pop went my little bubble right then and there. I remember hoping it was true. I, in fact, had no idea if it was or wasn’t. (It isn’t in case you are wondering).

In University, despite the fact that I was a Saudi young woman living in London and studying graphic design, when I got engaged I still got asked by one of my professors if I was forced to. Because I am an Arab woman they decided I must be an oppressed woman.

Generally, I grew up with people thinking I was filthy rich, oppressed, or backwards. But I never had people fearing me or hating me because of my religion. The stereotypes that my children deal with today are different and religious based.

As is the way of the world — the masses get punished for the deeds of the few. I see my little children, and myself, as ambassadors for our religion and our country. But I do resent the fact that my 10-year old daughter thinks that telling people her religion will make them hate her.

Have you had to talk to your kids about terrorism? Have you ever been discriminated against because of your religion?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by World Mom, Mama B., of Saudi Arabia. 

Photo credit to the author. 

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: A Woman’s World: Niqab, Coifed Hair and Starting a Business

SAUDI ARABIA: A Woman’s World: Niqab, Coifed Hair and Starting a Business

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Growing up I never had to see any women around me struggle with finding a ‘work life balance’ because women didn’t work much. They were either teachers or worked in hospitals. A few women owned their own businesses but had to have men run them. And the large majority of women I knew worked for the non profit sector running charities or working in them. I would say these charities were where I saw Saudi women working the most. They were a force to be reckoned with.

We also saw women doctors. I remember going to the eye doctor to get lenses for the first time when in walked a tall, thin woman wearing a niqab (face cover with opening for eyes). She was the opthemologist. Her hands, which were the only body parts I could see, were beautiful.

Her nails immaculate (being a life long nail bitter I notice these things). But women who worked in hospitals sometimes had a stigma because they worked in a mixed environment. I later learned that the majority of women who wore niqab’s in the hospital only did so to avoid this stigma and indeed never wore them anywhere else!

I went to an all female school and was taught exclusively by women, but the majority of them were Syrian. One year I remember distinctly there was a surge in the number of Saudi women in managerial positions and some teaching positions in school. They were always well coiffed, smelled nice, wore nice shoes and had make up on. They didn’t look like the typical teachers we were used to seeing, harried and there to do a job.

Then in 2010 things began to change. Mainly because of huge reform in laws that used to restrict women working in Saudi. This was the beginning of the King Abdullah era which saw the number of women in the workforce rise from 55,000 to 454,000 in 3 years! Suddently, women were in the work force, working along side men in many cases.

There was a mixed reaction to this change. Families could see the importance and benefit of adding another income, but at the same time, were conflicted about the women of the family going into the work environment and gaining independence. The women who were already in the work force were a huge support for the women newly coming into it. But men had a hard time working with women. Some didn’t respect them, others had no idea what do with them or where to look or how to address them. In the case of my cousin, who is the head of a non profit organisation, some men flat out refused to talk to her util they realised that they would not be offered an alternative and either had to work with her of shove off.

Then there is me. I have always felt the need to do something.

Since I got married at the age of 22 I have been planning, and researching and imagining this business I would open. I have files and files of papers printed, notes scribbled, suppliers contacted over the years until, finally, my dream was realised. Before opening my business it was a breeze working on it while being a ‘good’ wife and a ‘good’ homemaker and a ‘good’ mother. My time was my own and I worked when I liked. And it was still a dream… not a commitment.

Then I opened… and my life changed. I cannot speak for the women for whom work is a necessity. The ones who’s families depend on them to live. I do not think they have the pleasure of having this ‘life work balance’ conversation because without work there would be no life. Such as Um Ahmed who worked for a while as a cleaning lady at my center. She was the sole breadwinner of her family. When I met her she was in her late 30’s, she had 5 children, none of which worked. What blew me over was when she told me she would have to take a day off or leave early every few weeks as she was learning to read and write and wanted to sit her exams. Um Ahmed left a year after working for me as she got pregnant and had to stay home with her 6th baby.

In my case, working was a choice. It did come from a need to realise a dream I truly believed would be beneficial to society even in a small way. It was a necessity in that sense but it was very much a choice I made. No one is relying on any money I could potentially make (God willing at some point) from my business.

Society here puts the burden of making everything work on the woman. If the marriage fails they look at what the woman didn’t do. If the children turned out messed up they looked at the mother. If the house was less than pristine they looked at the wife. If the husband strayed they say “did you see how his wife let herself go?’.

I remember talking to a school teacher as we sat in a restaurant with her 11 month old and a few friends. She looked tired and harried while she bobbed her child on her knee and told us all about how when she gets home from work she makes dinner immediately so she has time to shower and fix her hair and get dressed up for her husband before he got home from work. She tried to make sure her son was calm and clean for his father.

She even gave us suggestions of things to do to make our husbands lives easier and more interesting (from having him walk in on you wearing your wedding dress to having him walk in on you wearing nothing… not sure what she did with her son in these instances).

She said “you know, we have to make sure they are happy and comfortable”, and I said “who makes sure you are happy and comfortable?”, and she looked surprised, then laughed at the absurdity of it. I went on saying “what little things does he do for you? take you out to dinner? Give your son a bath? Help with the house work?” she didn’t like this line of questioning and thought I was being rude I think so I dropped it.

In our society women must look beautiful for their husbands. And if you are lucky then you have a husband who at least tries to look presentable for you. I remember going to see a child counsellor when I was pregnant with my second child because of an anxiety issue my son had. I walked into her office, 8 months pregnant with my daughter, and talked to her about my son.

Somehow we ended up talking about me and about how I needed to make an effort in the way I look! She said “why don’t you have any makeup on? did you husband see you like this before you left the house?” Needless to say I left the office and never came back.

But it goes without saying that if you, like me, work because you want to work not because you have to work, and that work means you will not be perfumed, creamed and coiffed and wide awake for your husband when he comes back from seeing his friends at night, then you have failed. If your house is not totally impeccable then you have failed. If you don’t look like you stepped out of some sort of magazine at least 85% of the time then you have failed.

We have not entered, nor do I think we will ever, the phase of being proud of our mommy pants and the fact that we look tired because, well, we work hard and we are tired. Regardless of how hard you work or how much you have accomplished you will always be expected to maintain yourself. And in most cases it is down to you to make life interesting, entertaining and comfortable for your husband and children.

How do I feel about this? Even though, in the light of how much I have put into this business and how obsessed I was when starting it and how supportive my husband has been, (He only asked me to shut it down once when we were on vacation and I spent my whole time Skyping the staff.) I feel like I am failing probably about 60% of the time.

My husband works from home, and therefore, sleeps late. This means that I sleep late because I love spending time with him one on one. And by the time my kids are in bed he would have gone out to see his family or friends, and I would do the same. On most nights I would go out just to avoid falling asleep on the couch or in some instances I would fall asleep with my kids do and have a late nap till her comes home!

How is your life similar? How is your life different?

This an original blog post by World Mom, Mama B. of Saudi Arabia. You can also find her at her blog, YaMaaMaa.

Photo credit to Roberto Trombetta. This photo has a creative commons attribution noncommercial license. It has not been altered. 

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: Women Achieve the Right to Vote

SAUDI ARABIA: Women Achieve the Right to Vote

Saudi Woman Registers to Vote

Saudi women have the right to vote for the first time in their country. A woman proudly holds up her filled out voting registration form. The first voting day will take place on December 12, 2015.

In 2011 King Abdullah (God rest his soul) declared that Saudi women would have the right to vote and run in the municipal elections in 2015. When I first heard the news of women being allowed to vote and nominate themselves I imagine many women felt as I did, overjoyed, excited and, slightly doubtful that the day will come.

It’s one thing to have it said, and an entirely other thing to have it happen. Over the last few weeks women have, for the first time in Saudi history, registered to vote!

Every article or news piece I have read about this event has had a ‘however’ attached to the end of it. You won’t find any ‘however’s’ in this one though. Every situation has a ‘however’, but the change that has happened for women in our country over the last ten years alone shows me that these ‘however’s’ right now are just rain on a very well deserved parade.

Saudi women are held up to the litmus test of the west that totally ignore (or are ignorant of) the fact that Saudi women have been campaigning for this right and other rights for over a generation. The foreign media also seems to be ignorant about the role society and culture play in these advancements.

It’s not as easy as flipping a switch or changing a law (contrary to popular belief there actually is no law against women driving in Saudi Arabia, it’s just not culturally accepted). It is more like rewiring a circuit board. (Now, I would lie if I told you I had any idea what that involved, but i am quite sure you cannot just do it willy nilly and have to take into account all the other hundreds of wires before messing with one.)

Saudi Women Register to Vote Wall

A message board in Saudi Arabia provides voting registration information for women.

The thing people also don’t give us credit for is how hard-working we Saudi women are. And believe us, there is no one more adamant on us getting our rights than ourselves. Small changes are happening that have a big impact on our society’s perception of the role of women outside of the home, in businesses and in government.

For the first few months after women joined the Shoura council, during the televised portions, when any of the women were talking, the camera men didn’t know where to focus. Fast forward to a year later, and the cameras are clearly focused on the strong female representatives broadcasting their voices and their faces* clearly.

There is not one road block stopping the progress of women’s rights in Saudi, but rather, there are many small holes and bumps and detours to get around and navigate. For the first time since women being granted the right to get an education, we are seeing fundamental change that cannot be taken away from us. It is exhilarating.

There has been contagious buzz in the air since registration opened. The Saudi Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs (MOMRA) launched a campaign, website and an app with all the information needed to register to vote or run in the municipality elections. The philanthropic women’s society, Alnahdha, held one of the biggest campaigns to spread awareness around the elections and how to register. They held workshops and partnered up with local businesses and other NGOs to spread the message of “your vote makes a difference” campaign.

Saudi Women Register to Vote Clothing

Saudi women taking part in the campaign to spread voter registration information to women.

Small business even got on board. Many taxi services such as Easy Taxi and Careem offered free rides for any women who wanted to register to vote. Uber carried flyers and information about voting in their cars.

Saudi Register to Vote Lunch Tray

A lunch tray in Saudi Arabia advertises women’s voting registration.

Registration closed on the 10th of September, and the vote is on the 12th of December. According to MOMRA 22% of the registered voters are women and 16% of the candidates running are women.

Thinking of my daughter now, I pray that she will be shocked she was alive when women were still not allowed to vote. I pray she can’t imagine what it was like to not have full power over your life and your decisions because of your gender.

And for the first time I believe without a doubt that change is not only coming, it is here, just pay attention. It’s moving fast!

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by World Mom, Mama B. in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. 

Photo credits to the author. 

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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