Frustrations.

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It’s been a weekend of frustrations for Saleh and me.

On Friday, we decided to go out in the afternoon. Excited to maybe find some interesting things to photograph, I slung my camera over my shoulder and as we prepared to head out, I caught this picture of Gustavo, one of the family cats…the crankiest of the family cats, so I was pretty surprised that he agreed to sit for the photo.

imgp2360 1 Frustrations.

And that’s the only picture I would take that day, as it turns out.

We went to Granada Mall because I was craving a big cup of original Pinkberry frozen yogurt. We went to Extra and picked up some ink for our printer. Then we headed over to Carrefour to do some grocery shopping. We had pulled out a cart and gone through the gates, when a security guard stopped us and told Saleh that he needed to check the shopping bag from Extra at the bag check at the entrance to the store. Irritated, since it was such a tiny bag (all it had in it was a cartridge of printer ink!), Saleh went to check the bag while I stayed with the cart.

When he got back, we started to head into the store again, only to be stopped yet again by the security guard. This time, he pointed to the camera slung over my shoulder, which he hadn’t noticed until that point, apparently. He refused to let us enter the store with the camera on my shoulder. He said that either I could put it in my handbag (which was not big enough to accommodate my camera, so that option was out) or we could check it at the bag check with our shopping bag. This made zero sense to me–so if I’d just carried a bigger purse, I would have been allowed to take the camera in, but just a camera hanging on my shoulder? Nope.

I was irritated, but Saleh was furious. He said, “Come on.” We left the cart, retrieved our shopping bag from the bag check, and left the mall. I searched for a trash can to toss my empty Pinkberry cup in. Saleh said, “Just throw it on the ground. Nobody cares where you throw your trash in this stupid country, as long as you aren’t carrying your camera into the grocery store.” (Despite the encouragement to litter, I did find a trash can in which to dispose of my yogurt cup.)

Besides the camera debacle, we’ve been frustrated by internet issues. Since the beginning of the week, we’ve been trying to reconnect our broadband internet service with Mobily. We pay yearly for the Mobily service, which we only use for our MagicJack (for our computers, we use the family wireless network). Since Tuesday, we’ve been trying to get the service reconnected; it’s not a huge deal, but I can’t call my family in the States (for any long period of time, anyway) without the MagicJack, and I know my mom is having withdrawals.

We tracked down our account number and on Wednesday evening, we went to the Mobily branch in Granada Mall (okay, so this was not the weekend for creative ideas for things to do).  We took a number and waited. And waited. And waited. When it became evident that we were going to be waiting hours, we decided to go home and just try to renew the service online.

So that’s what we did. Except when Saleh submitted the payment online, Mobily didn’t receive it. They somehow withdrew the money–Saleh got a text from his bank letting him know that the money had been debited. But our broadband service was not restored.

Mobily, meanwhile, continued to insist that they had not received the payment–although the money was gone from Saleh’s account. Saleh called customer service and they told him to print out something from his bank that showed the money had been debited and take it to a Mobily branch. So on Friday evening, after we got home from the camera squabble, Saleh did just that. He printed out a statement that showed the amount had been debited and then went to one of the main Mobily branches. He explained what had happened, and showed the customer service rep the printout. The guy refused to turn on the service, saying that Saleh had to bring an official statement from his bank.

Ugh. So we’re still without MagicJack, until Saleh can make a trip to the bank and get an official statement and then go back to Mobily and sit for hours. He’s pretty irritated by it, and I don’t blame him.

But of course, these are trivialities. Mere inconveniences compared to other things happening in the world, in my home country, and here in Saudi Arabia.

One of those things is the case of little Lama Al Ghamdi. She was five years old when she died last October. She was abused, tortured, and raped repeatedly by her own father (who, by the way, is a “sheikh” who, prior to murdering his daughter, was a frequent interviewee on religious programs here in Saudi Arabia), and after ten months of languishing in the hospital, she died. The judge handling the case, using flimsy hadith and his own sick interpretation of religion, ruled that the four months that the man has spent in prison, in addition to blood money, were sufficient punishment for his crimes. A few months in jail, a few thousand riyals of blood money (which are supposed to go to the family of the victim, and of course this means it is supposed to go to the male head of the house, which is, of course, himself), and he is, in the eyes of the “law,” good to go.

There is an appeals hearing today. The man remains in prison, but will be released if his mind-bogglingly inappropriate sentence is not overturned (or if his ex-wife, Lama’s mother, chooses to accept the blood money payment).

I am heartbroken and outraged about the situation. It’s all I can think about right now. I want to kill this man myself. I feel violent. I want to inflict upon him the exact same pain and suffering that he caused his daughter–but no matter what earthly punishment is meted out, it will never be as bad as what this man did to his child. This man will never trust the executioner (whom, although I am generally anti-capital punishment, I can’t help but hope that he eventually faces). Lama came into this world trusting her parents. Not only is what happened to her just a vile example of the most heinous pain that can be inflicted on another human being, it is made worse by the fact that it was an indescribably horrible breach of trust. Your parents are supposed to be your safety, your earthly refuge, your home.

When I look into Andy’s and Parker’s eyes, I see trust. If Andy is laying on the smooth tile floor, I can grab his legs and gently pull him toward me to pick him up and he stays as limp as a noodle, relaxed; he knows I will not hurt him, and that I will not abuse the power I have as I hold his little fragile legs in my hands. I often hold him cradled in my arm like a baby, belly-up–many dogs will not allow you to do this, because it puts them in a vulnerable position in which they are unable to defend themselves–and he will fall asleep there. I can open both Andy’s and Parker’s mouths and check their teeth, check their paws, clip their hair when it grows too long, even in the places they are biologically hard-wired to defend. They run to me, and to Saleh, and they stay next to us; they seem to prefer to be close to us. They trust us completely; they know we would never hurt them. I don’t take that lightly, and we aren’t even the same species. That is the same sort of trust that babies enter the world with, the same pure, innocent trust that babies and children have for their parents, and it is the same trust that good parents nurture as those babies grow into children, and then into adults–the knowledge that mom and dad are safety and protection.

Lama was murdered in the most horrible way imaginable, and the trust she came into the world with was violated. She was violated in every other way possible, as well. We can never violate her father’s trust in an equitable way; it’s not possible to apply “an eye for an eye” here.

But oh, how I’d like to try.

To add to that rage, I am frustrated by some of the comments I have been reading from Westerners in regard to this story. Yes, of course, Lama’s story is a horrible, disgusting, vile, tragic one that I hope and pray will be concluded in a way that gives at least some measure of justice to Lama. At the same time, I can’t abide by scornful comments that condemn all Saudis and Saudi culture. This does not help.

This is a perfect storm of all that can go wrong in Saudi Arabia, when sick monsters backed by their warped understanding of religion commit crimes and then face equally sick monsters backed by their own similarly warped understanding of religion. But this is not Saudi Arabia. These men are not all Saudis. Things must change here, for my child, my daughter, for all women and girls, for all people. But as we go about reaching for that goal, we have to remember that these are not all Saudis.

It seems like a no-brainer, really. If we Westerners apply the same standards that we do when hearing of a heinous act committed by one of our own, we would recognize that bad things that are done by bad people (for example, Casey Anthony) are not supported or condoned by the rest of the people of their nationality and/or religion. And yet, I’ve read Saudis being called “a truly sad people” and worse, when in reality, I would venture a guess that the vast majority of Saudis would demand this man’s head for what he did to his daughter–and in fact, that’s exactly what happened back when Lama died, before the sentence was handed down. Saudis, including my husband, were confident that the maximum possible penalty would be handed down to this man. But that’s not how it happened.

Religion goes wrong in the United States every day.  Have you read about the American Christian parents who have beaten their children to death because that’s what they think God wants? And yet no one seems to condemning the entirety of the people of the United States for what a few sick, evil individuals have done to their children in the name of their religion.

But Nicole, you might say, this thing in Saudi Arabia is much, much worse! The father’s sentence was handed down by a judge who seemingly supported the actions of this animal, and this indicates a systemic problem, not just a few sick individuals. I agree. One of the major issues in Saudi Arabia that needs to be addressed is that there are really aren’t codified laws or sentences for crimes. Everyone says that women driving is “against the law,” but in reality, there is no actual law against women driving. Really, there isn’t. It’s just an accepted cultural rule that you will be punished for breaking. The justice system runs on the whims of judges.

It’s the same idea here, in the sentencing of Lama’s father/killer. In the States, if you beat your child to death, there is a mandatory sentence, even if your defense is, “Jesus told me to.” A judge may want to go easier on you than he would on someone in a different case because he, too, is a good Christian man who read To Train Up A Child and utilized its principles when raising his own children and they turned out just fine, thank you very much, and he believes that these parents were just trying to do the best with the commands that God gave them and God must have had a reason for taking this child as his parents were in the process of following God’s word. But that doesn’t matter. If he handed down a ridiculously easy sentence, there would be an appeal, and a higher court would, of course, apply at the very least, the minimum sentence required by law for this crime.

There is no such guarantee of any measure of justice here, especially not for women or girls who “belong” to the perpetrator–i.e., their husbands, fathers, brothers, etc. In my observation and opinion, the mahram system and the lack of codified laws can create a perfect storm of injustice–and that’s what happened here. Laws exist at the whims of judges and their interpretation of (sometimes obscure) religious doctrine, and a judge, whether motivated by money, by the defendant’s influence or status, by misogyny, or by all of the above, can dig up an obscure, weak hadith and/or take an ayah of the Qur’an completely out of context and hand down a ridiculous sentence based on his own flimsy interpretation of religion–which is exactly what happened in Lama’s case. And it’s exactly what needs to be stopped.

There is no stopping evil, especially when it is perpetrated in the name of religion. I am proudly Muslim, and I am obviously not anti-religion. But I still think it must be acknowledged that the potentially awful thing about the way humans use religion is that easily becomes a double-edged sword–both edges equally cloaked in the veneer of the idea that this is what God wants. Religion, any religion, has the ability to make evil seem right, or at the very least, excusable. I have no doubt that there are Muslims out there, Saudi or otherwise (a tiny minority,  I would guess, but I’m sure they exist nevertheless), who, while horrified by the story of what happened to Lama, would look to the sky, hold up the palms of their hands, say, “May Allah give her jannah, ameen,” and then defend the ridiculous sentence given to her father/killer because it’s based on hadith (no matter how weak the hadith is–”If you start ignoring hadith,” they will basically say, “pretty soon you won’t honor any hadith at all, and then you defying Allah by refusing to follow the sunnah of his Messenger!”). There are people all over the world, in all religions and even outside of religions, who follow their chosen paths blindly, even when that path leads them straight to what their unblemished consciences would hastily identify as evil.

This miscarriage of justice, this ruling that is so inappropriate to the crime that it would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic, is not Islam, and it’s not all Saudis. I want justice for Lama. I want her father to face God sooner rather than later to answer for the enormity of his crimes; as I mentioned before, I’m not generally a capital punishment advocate, but if anyone deserves to have his head chopped off in a public square, it’s this guy. But this man is not all Saudi men, nor is the judge who handed down the ridiculous sentence. When I told my husband about this case yesterday and what is currently happening with it, he said he read about it back when Lama died and, as I mentioned earlier, he remembered thinking confidently that this man would have his head chopped off, but he hadn’t seen anything about it since then. When I told him about the current developments in the case, he was horrified and angry (and went into a graphic description of what he would like to do to this man).

Even though it has a long way to go, Saudis have confidence in the ability of their justice system to do the right thing, because most Saudis want it to do the right thing.

Should the appeals process fail, I want King Abdullah to intercede on behalf of Lama. I want people all over the world, especially Saudis, to rise up an outcry for Lama and all other girls–and women–like her who have fallen prey not only to the sick individuals that harmed them, but also to a system that is only as just as the flawed individual that happens to hear their case, an individual that has the potential to care so little for them. Codified laws don’t make a perfect justice system (the United States is proof of that–and again, look at the Casey Anthony case), but they would help. Reforming the mahram system is a much-needed step forward, as well. I know there are Saudi women who defend and prefer the current mahram system, and I have no problem with them feeling that way. If they choose to let their husbands, fathers, brothers, etc. make all their decisions for them, then that is a choice that should be respected as much as any other. But right now it isn’t a choice–unless, of course, a woman chooses to move to Saudi Arabia and trusts her husband to either not become a tyrant or that all of the decisions he makes for her are the correct ones, regardless of what she wants for herself–and I can’t help but feel that the current system, to some extent, feeds the idea that some men have that they hold the right to choose whether the women and/or girls under their guardianship live or die. Little Lama’s case illustrates this. No man has that right, in any religion. The vast majority of Saudis know this.

We Westerners should certainly demand reform alongside the Saudis. But as we do so, we should take care to not vilify all Saudis, as is so easy to do given the way Saudi Arabia (not to mention Islam, or any Middle Eastern culture) is presented in the media we tend to consume. I do understand the urge to rush to judgment about an entire people when you hear that something this heinous has been allowed to happen. And yes, horrible situations like this happen in Saudi Arabia, as they happen all over the world. And reform would go a long way toward preventing another miscarriage of justice when it does. But although the media portrayals of Saudis and Saudi Arabia make it easy to get sucked into the idea that all Saudis are this way, that all Saudis support this ruling, it’s the wrong thing to do. From talking to the Saudis around me, I’ve found that most don’t even know about it. They have heard about the case, but not about its current state.

I pray that today will bring an outcome that offers at least some measure of justice for Lama. I pray that the Saudis around me will hear and read about the case and will demand justice for her, and justice system reforms that will ensure that men like this monster no longer have the chance to walk away from their crimes, no matter how much blood money they are able to pay. And I pray that Westerners will put aside their fear of The Other long enough to recognize that most Saudis, like everyone else, want to see Lama’s father/rapist/murderer be held truly accountable for the enormity of his crimes.

If nothing else, I take comfort in the fact that no amount of blood money will excuse this man before God. I only wish I could see the punishment that he has coming, sooner or later.

Comments

comments

19 Responses to Frustrations.

  • Norma ortiz says:

    I am sorry for your irritable experience at Carrefour, I have been here for eight years and learned to never take no for an answer.
    As for Lama’s case..it’s just awful. My husband told me it is pretty much left up to Lama’s mother to ask for blood. Before reading your blog, I had just finished commenting to some guy on yahoo news about his terrible comment about Islam and Arabs. I was a catholic before reverting to Islam, and not once did a christian judge the religion for the terrible actions of a priest. All we can do is thank God we don’t think the same way some people do. Take care, you have a beautiful baby forming in you.

    • thank you, norma. :) i just decided that i’m going to start carrying a bigger purse from now on, one that is big enough to hide my camera when i need to. ;) i used to carry large purses all the time, but since i’ve been pregnant i’ve been carrying tiny ones instead, not only because it’s better for me to not be carrying heavy things, but also since i figured that it’s going to be a very long time before i’ll be able to carry a small bag again! :) but oh, well. i guess i’m just meant to carry a big bag! :)

  • Norma ortiz says:

    I understand you have family in the States, ask your mother to send you the Vera Bradley baby bag….AMAZING! It’s practical, many compartments and if you are anything like me ( I love fashion) it’s very chick! You see Vera Bradley Bags all over NY!

  • aenoblin says:

    Don’t worry, my dear. Once you have that baby and en excuse to carry the ultra-fab diaper bag I know you’ll have–your bag will be plenty big. I remember HOW EXCITED I was to carry Jude’s diaper bag for the first time.

    As for the more serious portion of your blog–I don’t know anything this tragedy. I guess I’ve had my head buried under a rock or something. I don’t know enough about it to really comment, except to say that it is horrible. That poor child. Things like this happen all over the US and in other countries all the time, which in all reality, should be even more disheartening than the ridiculous punishment this man received.

    • thanks for the reassurance. :) right now i’m planning to use my gorgeous new kelly moore camera bag for my diaper bag, at least for the first few months. i got it right before i found out i was pregnant, and then my mom and saleh forbade me to use it while pregnant because it’s so huge! so it’s just been sitting in front of my closet, taunting me.

  • jundub1404 says:

    Thank you for addressing this serious issue on your blog (lama’ story), it seems as if the arab media isn’t doing a great job of covering the story. The only hype it had was when she first died and then everything went quiet as it always does.
    It would be great to be updated on what happens with the appeal if you can.

    • honestly, i haven’t noticed any media that have really covered the story well, other than blogs…which is surprising to me, because usually the western media will jump on any chance to portray saudi arabia as backward and crazy (remember the whole “women’s city” thing that got so much traction last year?). i can only assume this story hasn’t really gotten wheels yet because the sentence is not final…the appeals trial was postponed yesterday, so lama’s father is still in prison, thank god, and her mother is, so far, not accepting the blood money payment and her lawyer is pursuing the harshest punishment. there is hope for (at least some measure of) justice yet.

  • Ayatul Allaah says:

    “I can’t abide by scornful comments that condemn all Saudis and Saudi culture. This does not help.”

    This is a good point and reminder. I applaud you for speaking these words. So I encourage you to pass this on to your fellow bloggers (i.e. BlueAbaya). Some seem to look for all the wrong in Saudi and quickly post into the blogosphere.

    No person, country or nation are perfect. Each person is accountable for his/her deeds/actions.

    Lama’s father’s deeds/actions will not go unpunished. She will come on the Day of Judgement/Allaah will ask her what was her crime. What was her crime to deserve what happened to her. This questioning is not a question of blame, but to show that she IS the victim and the criminal will be dealt with justly by the Most Just.

    Thank you for addressing this issue and making Lama’s issue known, may Allaah reward you, ameen.

    Take care

    • thank you for your comment and your encouragement. i’m thrilled that other bloggers are covering the story–it needs to be told, and i probably wouldn’t have heard about it (at least not at this point) if they hadn’t sought to publicize it. i just wish that everyone, including the western media, would make sure their facts are straight. the story is now starting to gain traction, as it certainly should and i hope it does! but i know it’s also too much to ask to make sure that these media outlets verify the facts about the situation. from what i understand (and maybe i have MY facts wrong, but i’m not an international news media outlet…and i have seen those international news media outlets get things totally wrong about saudi arabia before, so i really have no trust in their reporting for the most part, at least when it comes to ksa), the man has not yet been released, and he has not yet paid any blood money (although he has agreed to pay it if he is released), and the appeals process is still going on, with lama’s mother and lawyer pushing for a harsher sentence, as they should. yes, the judge initially ruled that blood money and time served were sufficient punishments, but that is not the FINAL ruling, as english-language news outlets are now reporting. and i know that with that western media coverage will come ridiculous statements about how this sick, horrible ruling is based on “islamic law,” along with further degradations of all saudis, saudi culture, and islam. i am, of course, willing for that to happen if it means that lama’s killer is brought to some measure of justice, and that reforms are made so that future cases like hers are, if not prevented, at least not allowed to be sentenced so ludicrously at any point in the process. but i wish it didn’t have to be that way.

  • Norma ortiz says:

    Hello Nicole! It’s refreshing to hear sensible people on your blog, I have been reading nothing but terrible comments about Saudis and Islam. I literally slammed my computer shut last night. People have turned the issues of an innocent angel who was taken from us to early, to a political agenda against Saudis and muslims. God willing the law will prevail, and Lama will rest assured that her killer will be punished to the maximum penalty. I say killer, by no means he has the right to be called her father!!!

  • I’ve boycotted malls for a long time and do most of my shopping in Bahrain. Saudi is too ghetto. :P

    Its quite fashionable to slam Islam and Saudis by sensational brain dead western media ever since 9-11. I’m numb to it by now.

    BUT! I’m not going to defend Saudi judges and erratic fatwas and some of the more “celebrity” sheikhs who are quite frankly embarrassing!

    For instance, I read a while back about covering babies in Hijab to protect the babies modesty from pedophiles.

    Next it will be the baby’s fault for not dressing modestly when getting raped and we will get a show trial for adultery.

    Saudis should be more critical of the sheikhs and stop being afraid and stop thinking they are infallible.

    • too ghetto? dude, i’m from podunk, missouri…the nearest mall is two hours away. i love the shopping in riyadh. :)

      i agree with you totally, though, about not defending the horrible judgments and fatwas that come out of ksa! funny you should mention the babies in hijab thing…i’ve got a lot to say about that in my next post. :)

      i don’t think that saudis think that sheikhs are infallible, per se (i know american converts who’ve come to ksa to “make hijrah” who are much more guilty of that ridiculousness than the saudis are)…i think it’s more that saudis can laugh at and/or ignore the stupidity in a way the rest of the world can’t. i heard about the “babies in burqas” fatwa from my husband, who told me about it jokingly, laughing at it, the same way americans might laugh at the proclamations of some of the more nutty and famous televangelist preachers. that’s also how i heard about the hilarious “adult men breastfeeding” fatwa. there is certainly no laughing at the horrible judgments that can come out of the system…as in lama al ghamdi’s case, and i wish more saudis would speak up about things like that. but as for the fatwas…i think the media takes the crazy saudi fatwas a lot more seriously than the saudis do.

  • Bella says:

    HI Nicole. Thanks for an interesting blog. From your writing I understand that your husband´s family are very lovely people (even though I suspect they are not purely tribal saudis, judging from your husband´s light skin, your mother in law not covering her face, allowing cats and dogs indoors etc.. I am just using the same kind of logic that Saudis use when they accuse anyone who does anything wrong in Saudi Arabia of being an “impure” Saudi, but in this case it is actually a compliment to your in-laws). Anyway I am sure there are loads of decent people in Saudi Arabia, and most saudis will be outraged and saddened by the story of Lama (although most also subscribe to the idea that it is the father´s right to hit his children if he deems it necessary). So please can someone tell me why the decent and good saudis just allow this culture of theirs to continue the way it is? and I am not blaming it on Islam here. The tribal, racist and misogynist elements in the culture of Saudi Arabia cannot be denied and it seems to me like many Saudis are very comfortable with it, or they might start changing it. Yes, there are such elements in most cultures of the world, but after living in several countries I must say that I have never seen any place else that is even close to Saudi Arabia in the severity of these afflictions and the public support of them.

    • hi, bella! thanks for your comment. you’re right that my husband’s family are not “purely tribal” saudis, and they are not originally from the najd region. they have lived in riyadh for years, but their roots are in the hijaz region. i suppose i see a lot of parallels in saudi culture and american culture–the idea that certain people are not “really american,” the view of women as objects, and the idea that “it is the father’s right to hit his children if he deems it necessary” (a few days ago i saw a facebook post in which an american man, in response to a status a mom posted about how to keep her three-year-old daughter from getting out of bed in the middle of the night and coming to her parents’ room, said, “all three of my kids tried that. i told them that if they were going to try that, they should just bring my belt to me when they come. i only had to use it once.” nobody said a word about it), and thus i don’t feel like i’m in any position to throw stones about anyone else’s culture, especially one that has, thus far, welcomed me with open arms. i think that the decent and good saudis are working toward change, and that saudi arabia is shifting and opening up, if slowly–as i mentioned in a current post, even my husband can identify ways things have changed since he was a kid. i also think that it’s a whole lot easier to see flaws in other cultures, especially when those cultures’ norms, even the innocuous ones (or the ones that you just don’t understand), are very different than what we are used to; when looking at my own culture, i could easily say, “the racist, misogynist, and fundamentalist elements in the culture of the united states of america cannot be denied and it seems to me like many americans are very comfortable with it, or they might start changing it.” but i wouldn’t say that because as an american, i know that while there are many americans who support the status quo or even seek to make it worse, there are also many americans who are not comfortable with it, and are working toward changing things for the better, even though all an outsider might see (especially in certain parts of the country…just like certain parts of saudi arabia are more conservative than others) is a fat, docile populace which tends to consider itself superior to/more valuable than all others.

  • Bella says:

    HI Nicole and thanks for the prompt reply! You are a very tolerant person and you are really good at seeing the shades of grey, but unfortunately tolerance is not abundant in KSA as I have experienced it. I have never been to America, but I thought that racism, misogyny and fundamentalism were outside the mainstream culture and if one was unfortunate enough to be in such a community then the diversity and sheer size of the USA will offer alternatives and most importantly choice and freedom. Anyway, I agree with you that no society is perfect and it is a delicate balance when you are a guest or new citizen and you want things to change in your new home. One risks offending even with the best of intentions. I also hope that change will come to KSA in the form and rate that its people want and tolerate and in the meantime, maybe those of us who are very uncomfortable can find our fortunes elsewhere (as many saudis would put it..). I find your writings very interesting and nuanced and will continue following your chronicles of the challenges and joys of living in Saudi Arabia. All the best with your pregnancy and the coming baby (you will have the best time of your life!).

    • i think that in america, the outspoken advocates of racism, misogyny, and fundamentalism are outside the mainstream culture, but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that there are many average americans who support those policies or hold those attitudes, whether implicitly (by not particularly opposing them) or directly (by truly believing in them), often under the guise of faith, patriotism, etc.–in this way, again, it is very much like saudi arabia. :) but change came–and continues to come–to the states slowly, generation by generation, and the same thing is happening in saudi arabia, although, as in the states, i think it’s happening more slowly in the more conservative parts of the country, and it’s harder for non-saudis to see on the surface. i definitely agree that there are more choices and freedoms available in the states in many ways, and i love that about it! i really miss driving. :( but if freedom and choices, in the western sense, were saudis’ main immediate goals, i think you’d see a whole lot more saudis choosing to stay abroad when they leave to study. but they almost always come back. and i think that in many ways, “freedom” and “choices” are social constructs as much as anything else is.

      thank you very much for your kind words and your well wishes! :)