Thursday, July 4, 2013

Exotic Paradox: Expats Blog In Saudi Arabia

The following is an excerpt from an article published in Newsline November 2012 issue. Journalist Naima Rashid writes about the three most popular expat blogs written by foreign wives to Saudis; American Bedu, Susie of Arabia and Blue Abaya. She talks about what all these blogs have in common, and how they offer a unique perspective and window into the Saudi culture.The entire article can be read on Newsline and for Blue Abaya readers here's a extract of the article and the Blue Abaya part itself.

Exotic paradox: Expats Blog in Saudi Arabia

"For several reasons, the Saudi culture is impenetrable to the outsider. An almost sacred guardianship of private space makes access to it pretty near impossible. A large part of life in Saudi Arabia takes place indoors or in metaphorical ‘chambers’ accessible only to insiders. "

"A curious axis around which are clustered three of the most interesting blogs is matrimony. Foreign wives married to Saudis have long held the banner high for cultural chronicling in the form of blogs. Their initiative created a niche in a territory that was virgin when they started, but which has since thrived. The best known among them come from cultures diametrically opposed to the Saudi culture,  namely American and Finnish. "

"These blogs go by names seeped in a charge of orientalism that comes from juxtaposing evocations of opposite cultures and to some extent, a sense of free-spiritedness and rebellion (‘American Bedu’, ‘Susie’s Big Adventure: An American woman moves to Saudi Arabia’, ‘Blue Abbaya: A Scandinavian Princess in the Magic Kingdom’). "
"...the authors, coming from Western cultures and a background in Western education, bring a natural ease of expression, documentary zest, outspokenness and an analytical bent of mind to bear upon the superset of their experiences in Saudi Arabia. Being married to Saudis, they have a direct canal to the culture they are tackling through the deep end – direct immersion. Where their clarity of observation, their willing embrace of a foreign culture, and the amusing contrasts between an Eastern and a Western culture meet, a thing of great value and beauty is created."

 "The third blog in the trio is called Blue Abbaya. Much younger than the other two, Laylah, in her early thirties,  is a Finnish nurse married to a Saudi, living in Riyadh and blogging since 2009. Susie and Carol have openly divulged their identity, but Laylah blogs with more discretion, and while her blog is all about Saudi culture through the prism of her personal experiences, she doesn’t always divulge her personal coordinates as openly."

"Her blog has a more distinct character than the other two, and her writing, detailed and diary-like. She has a very strong personality that comes across quite forcefully in her writings – witty, unforgiving in her sarcasm, sharp in her observations but aggressively positive in her conclusions. Between her spirit of forward motion, and her signature bite is the spice that marks her writing."

"Reading her blog, one traverses two regions equally mysterious to many – Finland and Saudi Arabia, and her blog pierces the mystery of both lands to offer us a window into both cultures through the eyes of somebody who embodies them both to some extent.

After surviving the tragic-comical challenge of a wedding à la Saoudienne, it’s been a mildly bumpy ride, to say the least, but her Finnish hardiness has helped her keep her feet firmly on the ground. Some unavoidable, amusing and enlightening comparisons between the Finnish and the Saudi way of life, whether they emerged unconsciously as survival tactics, or as a conscious reflection about the cultural polarity she embodies, make for some delightful traipsing for the culture vulture. 

Scandinavian ice and deserts of Arabia are physical reliefs, but like all environment, they become landscapes of the mind at some point. In ‘Blue Abbaya’, blue is the colour of the Finnish sky, and the abbaya is a cultural norm of Saudi Arabia. In its name and its nature, the blog is defined by the richly opposed but co-existing worlds that the author is part of, and the best and worst of which peppers her real and virtual space."

"In one post that went on to become a hot favourite, Laylah is choosing her make-up style for a wedding. Before she concludes upon an understated European look, she runs her readers through some popular make-up styles, naming each one with her characteristic sly wit. The list includes the poison-ivy look, the Herpes look, the raccoon look, the peacock look, the angry owl look, the Boy George look, the spider look and last but not the least, the measles look!

As a general rule, nurses are great people to gossip with in Saudi Arabia. The nature of their work and the sheer range of exposure across all social classes that they have access to in the course of a working day make them great story-tellers. Perhaps, the best stories they have to narrate are those relating to royalty and its pomp and decorum  as they have witnessed in the corridors of the VIP wings in hospitals.

 Some of Laylah’s most delicious anecdotes are about royalty and set in the King Faisal Hospital, Riyadh, where she works. ‘The Princess and the Pimple’ is a tale about a spoilt princess who wakes up one morning with a pimple on her face and throws a tantrum, as a result, her pimple is treated with more protocol than other human lives. 

The Royal Morgue’ is an unforgettable Chekhovian sketch of what happens when a member of the royal family is deceased in a hospital, the image of princesses in expensive abbayas and smelling of high-priced attars accumulating like ravens around the body of the deceased and the nurses hiding in the corridors and making themselves scarce for fear of offending anyone from the royal family.

Unsurprisingly then, the most colourful  yarns in Saudi Arabia, the most informative as well as the most entertaining, and the ones that rip open its cultural core, lie beyond the bland prose of newspapers, beyond the country’s few bookshops and television channels, along yet another diagonal axis."
        -  Naima Rashid

Published in Newsline, November issue.

No comments: