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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Return to the Kingdom

This Wednesday, I am returning to Saudi Arabia.  I will be staying in Jeddah with a friend for three days.  I hope to meet with a few friends, learn from my hosts, make new acquaintances, and see some of Saudi Arabia that was not on my official NCUSAR visit.  The last of these goals make Jeddah the least ideal city to visit in Saudi because it lacks nearby desert activities (i.e. dune-bashing and Bedouin-spotting), many cultural or counter-cultural centers save for a few poorly funded museums, or a substantial and separate Shi'a minority (click here if you're interested in Shi'a life in Jeddah compared to the West).  Jeddah is, however, more liberal than the Eastern Province and certainly Riyadh.  On my previous trip, despite the increased freedoms available in liberal Jeddah, it was my least favorite city because I did not have friends there to give local insight and show me around.  This time, I won't be stuck at a hotel and will be able to travel anywhere in the city.  I scuba dive, and am trying to organize a dive trip in the Red Sea, an opportunity I know any fellow divers will appreciate and maybe envy.

One of the things I am most excited about is the opportunity to meet my friend's mother, a white woman from Alabama who abandoned her Christian roots to convert to Islam and subsequently marry a Saudi man and move to Arabia with him.

Even Saudi Arabia's first king, Abdulaziz (Ibn Saud) is happy to see me.

I have been asked many times why I want to return to Saudi Arabia, where ideals are counter to my Western upbringing and expectations.  Women's issues and a punitive system often described as draconian are likely to shock an American visitor, but I understand what I can and cannot do while in the Kingdom and, with my stay being so brief, I doubt that the social restrictions I'll face will cause me any grief.  But, I have not given you a clear reason to return.  In short, I really want to return simply because I can.  It is incredibly difficult for an American to receive a visa to Saudi Arabia, and I have one that expires in one month.  Despite movements toward increasing tourism to Saudi Arabia, the future of leniency in distributing visas is unclear, so this could potentially be my last opportunity to enter the Kingdom.  Please do not misunderstand me--many people, Americans or otherwise, have visited or lived in Saudi, but few of these people fit my demographic of female, white, young, and coming from a family not involved in politics or oil.  I believe that it is relevant for me, as a student of the social sciences, to take any opportunity I have to travel and see the places where the people I must study and relate to come from.  This is why I am taking every opportunity I can to travel in the Middle East while here, at least as much as my schedule and finances permit, so if I have the chance to learn more about Saudi Arabia, I will.  I might even see something that other Western women writing about the Kingdom have missed.*

*Check out the blog of an American woman in Jeddah at http://susiesbigadventure.blogspot.com/ and the blog of an American woman in Riyadh (I think) at http://americanbedu.com/.  

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About Your Author

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Troy, AL, United States
I am a Political Science student at Troy University in southeastern Alabama. I have been given fantastic opportunities to travel to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, among other brief trips, to study and glimpse other cultures. I believe there is much to be learned about other people while studying, and I want to share my experiences with you.