Category Archives: ozarks life

10 things people say upon learning i live in saudi arabia.

August 5, 2015

When you tell someone you live in Saudi Arabia, their reactions tend to be very different than if you say you live in, like, Nebraska or something. And of course, that’s understandable, especially if you pay any attention to the news. But still, the reactions can sometimes be…well, irritating.

Not always, though. There are times when I really don’t mind these phrases, especially when they come from certain people. Like you, lovely blog readers…I have no problem with you commenting and saying something like, “You must be so happy to be home!” The same goes for people I know in real life, who know me well either through social media or in-person interaction. But that’s not what I’m talking about here.

No, these are things that random people I’ve just met often say to my face when they find out where I live.

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welcome to the internet.

July 22, 2015

I’m going to be perfectly honest here: I can be snarky as hell. I’m sarcastic sometimes. When I feel like it, I can be a bit of a you-know-what-stirrer. I enjoy a good debate. I like to have the last word, and I’ll defend my position ’til my voice goes hoarse (or my fingers cramp up). Still, when navigating Facebook, I’ve long since make it a point to not comment on my friends’ political posts that I disagree with, no matter how much I may be tempted, because even though I won’t call anyone names or anything, I tend to be terrible at disagreeing diplomatically.

But if you make a political post on the Facebook timeline of one of my best friends, knowing full well that the two of you are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, and then you allow (and, by liking the comment, encourage) your friends to call her a four-letter word beginning with ‘c’ because (surprise, surprise!) she doesn’t agree with you, I’m probably going to say something.

That’s basically what happened a few days ago. A Facebook friend of one of my friends shared a political meme and tagged my friend (and only her) when he did so. This particular political meme espoused ideals that my friend did not share, and the person sharing the post knew this. Now, since this person tagged my friend, the post showed up on her timeline; it was visible to the friends of the person who shared it and the friends of the person (my friend) who was tagged in it.

Once it was shared, my friend, having dealt with this particular person’s harassment on her own posts for some time, succinctly informed the person that she was defriending him. And she did. And that was that. But the post remained on her timeline, because she was still tagged in it. And that’s how I saw when another person, someone my friend had blocked weeks ago because of his harassment, commented on the post and called my friend…you know…the c-word.

I probably should have stayed out of it, honestly. But this particular friend, a BFF of mine, has stood up for me in much less (openly) rude situations on Facebook, and I couldn’t bear to stay silent as she was, unbeknownst to her (because she couldn’t see the blocked person’s comment), publicly denigrated for all of her friends to see.

I said something about how the comment (not the person, mind you, just the comment) was vile and immature. It escalated from there, as I suppose I was immature enough to enjoy the silliness of the exchange (which, on my end, mostly consisted of me highlighting the terrible spelling that made up their vitriolic rants). I got called basic insults like “bitch,” “libtard,” and “liberal ho bag.” I got told that I wasn’t American because of part of my surname (obviously, the Mostafa part). I got told to shut up because they “have free speech” (oh, the delicious irony of not only the contradictory nature of this argument, but also the fact that people who wield it are so rarely aware of the contradiction). I got told to “stop breeding.” And I got told to stay out of “their” country.

Then it got a bit uglier with the addition of more blatant racism. “I feel like an American GI giving candy to half-witted tribals in Africa,” one comment read, in response to my apparent stupidity. “Nikki camel f*****,” another comment called me. “Shouldn’t you be hiding with a veil over your face somewhere while you watch your cousin sodomize a camel?” another comment read. I’ll note that when sharing these comments, I’m correcting all spelling and grammatical errors, of which, as I mentioned earlier, there were many. And another thing I find noteworthy–it’s interesting that so many American-thrown insults toward me and/or people from my husband’s area of the world seem to center around sexual encounters with camels. I think it says a lot more about what they think about than what I think about.

Anyway, all of that…blah blah blah. Sadly, it’s par for the course at this point. Nothing I haven’t seen before.

But then it got worse.

When at one point, after fielding most of the above insults, I jokingly said, “Wow! Suddenly I see the error of my liberal ways!”, the response was, “It’s okay, we don’t forgive you but we may yet let you live.”

I replied, “I’m sure you’ll let me live. You boys talk a mean game, but I’m pretty sure you’re not so heartless as to harm someone because they disagree with your politics.”

The response? “Lol, sure, whatever lets you sleep.”

Then I was instructed to drink a bottle of drain cleaner. Okay, whatever.

The encouragement to kill myself continued. Finally, one of the young men informed me, “You’ll see, we have ovens for Saudi Arabians.”

Excuse me, what?

See, right around here is where I get lost on this whole thing. Because no matter how annoying, rude, contradictory, or argumentative someone on the Internet is to me, it would never occur to me to respond to that person by threatening them, instructing them to commit suicide, or informing them that their family belongs in ovens. It just…baffles me. On some level, I can shake it off (my response to the directive to drink drain cleaner: “No thanks, I prefer Dr. Pepper”). But on the other hand, I’d be lying if I said none of it bothered me at all (obviously, because here I am, writing this post, although, granted, it took me awhile to write about it…because this certainly isn’t the first time I’ve encountered words like this). I just would never say things like that, and I don’t understand the mentality of anyone who does. I may disagree with you about a lot of things, but I will never say things like that to you. I will not threaten you or say that you deserve to be harmed. I will never try to intimidate you to shut you up. I will never wish death upon you. I will never try to make you afraid because you have thoughts, opinions, or beliefs.

And if you ever see me doing otherwise, please call me out on it.

I’ve never been threatened or insulted in Saudi Arabia for being the wife of a Saudi. Husband and I have been the recipient of a few snarky remarks (once, shortly after I arrived, a female cashier at a grocery store here in Riyadh asked my husband in Arabic why he couldn’t have married someone from his own country. He replied calmly to her. When I said goodbye to her in Arabic with a wide smile, she looked panicked upon realizing that I might have understood her. Then she wished us a long and happy life together), but we’ve never been threatened or insulted.

But I’ve been threatened and/or insulted numerous times by Americans (and like I mentioned earlier, the insults almost always seem to involve camels…so creative!), and all because I’m married to a Saudi and I don’t keep my mouth shut in public forums where everybody else is expressing their opinions, too. How is this okay? I don’t get it. Yes, I’m opinionated. Yes, I’m sarcastic. Yes, I enjoy a good debate. Yes, I like to have the last word. But I don’t wish (or threaten) violence upon anyone. (And another funny thing–I mean, funny if it weren’t so sad–is that frequently, insults center around how supposedly my savage Arab husband controls what I say…and people make this accusation at the exact same time they’re trying to, you know, control what I say.)

Folks have said that I “defend” life in Saudi Arabia, or that I “deflect” Saudi problems by focusing on American ones. But I have no doubt that if I had been interacting with Saudi men who disagreed with me, I could have faced the same sort of verbal abuse. Hatred exists everywhere, and it would be ludicrous to suggest that Saudi Arabia is in any way immune to that. Still, if there’s truth to the suggestion that I “deflect” from Saudi problems, then this is why. Unfortunately, for me, there are absolutely times when I feel much safer in Saudi Arabia than at home in America, which breaks my heart, because I’m American, my passport is American, my citizenship is American, my history is American, my family is American. And for me, as an American, this sort of thing is more scary to me than life in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia undeniably has huge, glaring, abhorrent human rights issues. But those issues, while obviously deserving of any and all attention they get, aren’t what made me feel the need to double-check my iPhone settings to ensure that my photos and social media posts were free of geotags, even though I was half a world away. This experience did.

Because that’s the thing–these people were not unidentifiable Internet randos. These were young men, now in their twenties, whom my friend had as students when she was teaching high school several years ago. These were people that she would stop and chat with if she ran into them in Walmart. These were people speaking behind their real names and actual photos of themselves. These were not anonymous Internet trolls, venting the worst inclinations of humanity in the anonymous underbelly of the Internet. These were people whose workplaces were available even for me, a non-Facebook friend, to see, people who obviously felt zero risk of any sort of societal condemnation or repercussion from anyone who saw their words.

Please note here that I am not suggesting that they should somehow face prosecution or any other harm for saying what they did. That truly is free speech. However, free speech does not mean that a person has the right of immunity from any sort of repercussions of their words–here is a good, succinct clarification of this concept. And in my limited view, there are few statements that warrant societal condemnation more than openly saying that a group of people belongs in ovens.

For the past few days, I’ve been trying to decide whether or not I should write this blog post. On one hand, it seemed really important to me to say some stuff, to get my thoughts about this out of my brain. On the other hand, I couldn’t help but feel that for some people who would read this, the reaction would be, “Well, you were egging them on, so you deserved what you got.”

But I don’t believe that. I think that falls into a really, really ugly line of slippery slope thinking in which any number of horrific actions are excusable simply because another person didn’t seek to make themselves as invisible as possible. That’s exactly the sort of mentality that can rule the ugliest parts of Saudi culture–women who don’t cover up must want the attention of being stared at, followed, and otherwise sexually harassed, right? Yeah, no. I don’t abide by that, and I don’t abide by any other sort of thinking that fits that mold.

I will always speak out against this sort of dehumanization, especially when it’s happening to people I love by people in my own country. I will always speak out against the perception of mere existence as a threat, and violence–or threat of violence–that stems from it. And maybe I’m wrong (in fact, I hope I am), but it feels like these beliefs are flourishing in America, growing like ivy choking the walls of a beautiful house. And many of us don’t want to see it. We want to believe that our country is so star-spangled awesome that these guys were just being stupid little shits on the Internet (until, you know, they go on shooting sprees and then we’re like, “Yeah, he said this stuff, but we never took him seriously!”) or that none of it would have happened if I’d just kept my mouth shut. Which, of course, is just wrong.


This stuff is there, it is real, and it scares me. But this is why I keep writing, and sharing, and talking. Because I won’t be threatened into silence…especially when those threats are coming from my own country…from my own region of my own country, from people who grew up driving on the same state highways and back roads that I did.

So, yeah. I’ll be honest and say that this whole situation, which transpired over maybe an hour or so a few days ago, has bummed me out–not because someone doesn’t like me, my ideals, or my beliefs (because hey, they can get in line for that), but because the hate is so strong, and so violent, and so close to the surface. And someone might say, “Well, you obviously knew they were nasty people, because they called your friend the c-word, and yet you engaged them anyway!” Or, “You could have distanced yourself from the conversation once it was obvious that it wasn’t going to be at all productive!” And I guess all that’s true. That’s part of why I wasn’t sure if I should write this post–if I really had something to say or if it was just me whining about my butthurt fee-fees. But after a lot of thought, I still think there’s something important to be said about this. Because the hate still would have been there, even if it wasn’t expressed at that particular moment. It always makes its way out somehow. And whether it’s out in the open or held in the heart, hate is always ugly. Not to mention unproductive.

So I’m gonna write this blog post, I’m going to continue to talk, and I’m going to throw my support behind the blossoming awesomeness that is NotmyOzarks. Because I adore the Ozarks, and for better or worse, I will always come back. And I expect more from the Ozarks. I expect more from my home.

ozarks wildflowers.

moving toward home.

April 2, 2015

Every time I come home to the States, I find myself pontificating about the meaning of home. And thus far, this trip is no exception. So for anyone who is sick of reading about that particular topic, I’m sorry. But writing serves a lot of purposes in my life, and one of them is helping me sort out my feelings. And fair warning, folks: I have a lot of feelings yet to be sorted.

Because my grandmother lives in northern California, I tend to find myself in the Bay Area every few years or so. Every time my toes touch the ground there, I am reminded of just how much I love that part of the world. For years, I dreamed of one day being able to afford to live in the Bay Area. It’s hard for me to imagine how anyone could not love it. And even though I’ve never actually lived in California, its connection to my parents means that I feel like, in some weird way, it’s my home, too…the same way if you ask my husband where in Saudi Arabia he’s from, he’ll immediately say Madinah, even though he’s never lived in Madinah. But it’s the area where his parents are from.

As I think I’ve mentioned before, my parents both grew up in the Bay Area. My father’s family members are Ozarkians from way back, but during the late 1930s, my Grandma and Grandpa Hunter packed up and moved from Missouri to California, and that’s where they raised their family. But every summer, they loaded up the car, got on Route 66, and drove back to Missouri for a couple weeks in order to visit all the relatives that were still there.

My dad grew up dreaming of moving to Missouri, the place where his parents were raised, just like I grew up dreaming of moving to California, the place where my parents were raised. In his heart, he was always a country boy, and he knew he wanted to end up back in the Ozarks. A few years after my parents were married in 1969, my dad came home one day and said, “Pack up, Emma. We’re moving to Missouri.”

Well, my mom had never been to Missouri. She’d never lived anywhere other than California. But she loved my dad. So off they went, cross-country, landing in a town with a population less than half the size of her high school graduating class.

At first, my mom was not in her element in the Ozarks. She remembers that as she drove to the next town over, she gripped the steering wheel and sweated with nerves because she was so completely unaccustomed to driving on roads that weren’t packed with cars. The emptiness of the highway unsettled her.

About six months after she and my dad moved to Missouri, my mom decided she was done. She wasn’t happy in Missouri, and my dad wasn’t happy that she wasn’t happy in Missouri. She caught a flight back to California and had no intention of returning to the Ozarks that my dad loved so much. She got a job at a Nissan dealership and was settling back into life as a California girl (“I remember I was sitting in the office at the dealership when they announced on TV that the Vietnam War was over,” she told me). But about four months later, my dad showed up at my grandparents’ house in California, where my mom was living. He missed her, and he wanted her in Missouri with him. She loved him. So back to the Ozarks she went. And she’s been there ever since.

It’s interesting to watch my mom in California as we visit my grandmother. It’s her home, and yet, it isn’t at all. Her childhood home in San Mateo has long since been sold (it’s staggering how much that tiny house is now worth), and now my grandmother lives north of San Francisco, in Sonoma County. My mom has so many memories in California. It is her childhood. She still says that she would be happy living there. (I mean, besides it being where she grew up, it certainly doesn’t hurt that northern California is astoundingly beautiful…and San Francisco sourdough bread is just heavenly.)

But Missouri is her home now.

I wonder about this. It hurts my heart a little bit to think that maybe this is how I will feel about Missouri someday—once my home, still could be if I really wanted it to be, but just isn’t anymore. Right now, I don’t feel that way. I feel like Missouri is my second home—the place where I spend a minority of my time, to be sure, but still, always, home.

I think part of the reason that I’m so nervous about this potential evolution is because I can feel it happening in small ways already. This is my fourth return trip to the States since I moved to Riyadh in 2012, and for the first time, on this trip, I didn’t come home with a list of foods I planned to eat when I landed because I missed them so much. Instead, before I left, I found myself making requests to my mother-in-law for Saudi dishes that I knew I wouldn’t be able to find in the States. When I got here, I was struck by what a nutritional void so much of the food was. Instead of being thrilled that I had access to Dr. Pepper at every gas station soda fountain, I kept thinking about how the food in Riyadh always makes me feel full and nourished, not just full. I kept excitedly anticipating late April, when Mr. Mostafa will land here and get into the kitchen and start cooking some kabsa for me and people I love.

Granted, I don’t think I’m anywhere near seeing Missouri with only the nostalgic admiration that my mom has for California. I still have too much of an emotional connection to Missouri beyond it simply being where my parents live, and I don’t intend to be letting that go any time soon. Rather, I feel like I’m steadily moving toward feeling like Riyadh is home, just as much is Missouri is. The other home. My other home. I’m cool with that. Even if neither home looks like northern California.

cartwheels on the beach in san francisco.

barbaric cultures.

November 5, 2014

Rant warning. Buckle up.

Since I live in Saudi Arabia and write a lot about it, I often end up reading a lot about it, too. Often people, especially friends and family who probably wouldn’t otherwise read a whole lot about Saudi Arabia if I didn’t live here, will send me articles or pieces about life or events in Saudi Arabia and ask what I think of them.

Like, one time a person sent me a link to a piece about abuse in Saudi schools–teachers hitting children–and asked my opinion on it. My opinion was that this is certainly a problem. It needs to be addressed. I applaud parents who actively seek reform. If my child were to come home and tell me that she was hit by a teacher or an administrator, or that she saw another child being hit by a teacher or an administrator…well, let’s just say that the next day would be really unpleasant for all of the adults involved.

But then…there were the comments on the piece. Oh, the comments. Dripping with neocolonial angst and pity that people actually live in such a backward society. This is common in Westerners’ writing about Saudi Arabia, especially when it comes to negative stories, although they frequently don’t notice it (and I’m guilty of it too sometimes, although I really try to police myself when it comes to this). Painfully common. Sometimes the neocolonialism is so evident in people’s words, it’s like seeing someone walking around with their skirt tucked in their underwear, and you just want to tap them on the shoulder and let them know.

From what I’ve read, Westerners will scoff at Saudis who demand legislation to address problems they see in their society (for example, the wasting of food), especially if those problems aren’t legislative priorities in America (“Oh, those childish Saudis and their lack of common sense! They’re so unable to control themselves that they actually demand frivolous legislation to do it for them, when such greater problems exist in their society!”), while simultaneously expressing horror that laws that protect Americans from real dangers and injustices that have managed to make their way onto the American cultural radar do not (yet) exist in Saudi Arabia. For example, car seat laws. As far as I know, every state in America mandates that children be buckled into appropriate car seats when riding in cars, even though when it comes down to it, it should be common sense to buckle your kid into a car seat, for Americans and Saudis alike. But it wasn’t in America until laws made it so. And unfortunately, it certainly isn’t in Saudi Arabia yet, and just like in America, I expect it won’t be until laws make it so.

That’s creeping neocolonialism, folks–this idea that “my culture does it right and yours is backward if it doesn’t do things like mine does, so fix your culture to make it more like mine. I’ll help you! The problems you see in your culture are silly. The problems I see in your culture are important and need to be addressed immediately.”

My brother and I used to ride in the back of a truck when we were kids. Like, if we were going to town and we were taking the truck and the weather was nice outside, of course we kids would load up and ride in the back. Having four people in the cab of a truck was crowded and uncomfortable, something to be endured preferably only on snowy days when my parents had to take the truck to work because the cars wouldn’t make it in the snow. We loved days when we could ride in the back of the truck. It was fun.

It was also really, really dangerous. Our parents loved us. Our parents were the best parents ever. But we were allowed to do that very dangerous thing, like every other kid we grew up with, simply because it’s what had always been done in our part of the country. Eventually, of course, my parents stopped letting us ride in the back of the truck. They wouldn’t dream of letting their grandchildren do it. But why did they stop? Was it because they suddenly wised up and decided, “No, this is bad, very bad, and we should not do this anymore; this is a cultural flaw”? No. Was it because a tragedy befell our family due to children riding in the back of a truck? Thank God, no. It was because a law was passed. Heavy fines were enforced for anyone who was pulled over with passengers in the back of the truck. And through the enforcement of that law, the culture changed. You’ll never see a kid riding in the back of a truck nowadays in Missouri. And it probably should have been common sense to not let kids ride in the backs of trucks, at least not at highway speeds. But it wasn’t. Because, again, it was what had always been done. It was culture. And a law fixed that problem, because someone (or multiple someones) from within my culture identified and addressed it.

When Americans pass a law that addresses a problem in their society, no matter how invasive the law may be (I mean, there are people in America who still complain about being required to wear seat belts in cars) or how attributable to a lack of common sense the problem may be, the legislative solution is lauded as enlightened, progressive, civilized. But when a Saudi calls for such a law to be passed, it’s because Saudis are primitive and backward and cannot control themselves, and so they must have silly laws to do it for them–that is, unless the Americans have also identified the problem in their own culture and legislated it away themselves.

The point is, we Americans, especially white Americans, are so terribly efficient at illuminating others’ cultural malignancies while conveniently ignoring our own, or ignoring that we once had the exact same problem. Actually, in many cases, “ignoring” is much too generous a term, because that would imply that people actually see and recognize problems but choose not to address them. In many cases, people don’t even know or realize these problems exist because they’re so busy tsk-tsking about how the savages need to be saved from themselves.

Remember that article I mentioned earlier, the one about abuse in Saudi schools? The comments on that piece went largely along the lines of, “I’m so glad I don’t live in Saudi Arabia.” “This would never happen in America.” “I’m so glad I live in America, where I don’t have to worry about the safety of my child at school.” And I’m sure that if it came out that Saudi Arabia was considering taking a much stricter stance on teachers or administrators who hit children (as, I will say as the mother of a Saudi-American child who will likely be attending school in Saudi Arabia, they absolutely should), the comments from my countrymen who got wind of the development would go largely along the same lines, complete with detailed diagnoses of exactly why this problem exists in Saudi culture, from people who are (shocker!) not Saudi. Because Saudi Arabia is backward and primitive and Saudis have little regard for their children. And yet…

Let me tell you a story about going to school in America.

When I was a freshman in high school, I took band class. I wasn’t really that into band, but it was a tiny school, and elective choices were limited. I played the flute. (No, I never went to band camp, for those who share my late-90s pop culture reference set. And as serious as the following story is, I know that it totally lends itself to American Pie jokes. Just to get that out of the way.)

I was pretty terrible at playing the flute. I couldn’t even sit properly while I played. Apparently, it’s bad form to cross your legs when you play the flute. I kept forgetting, because in any other sitting situation, I crossed my legs out of habit. I didn’t even realize I was doing it half the time, but when I was in band class, my music teacher noticed every time, and she would yell at me to uncross my legs whenever she caught me.

Now, as teachers go, this music teacher was not a particular favorite of mine. I didn’t hate her, and I never really had a major problem with her, but I admit, once I realized I had this ability to drive her crazy by crossing my legs while I played the flute, it got kind of fun to mess with her. We were all somewhat amused by how she would scold me so seriously whenever she caught me playing with my legs crossed. It seemed like such a ridiculous thing to get so upset about. It was a tiny rural school; none of us kids were destined for Julliard, or even a bottom-tier college marching band. Band class was a silly elective. None of us took it seriously.

But one day, the teacher had enough. She stopped the piece we were playing and said, “Nikki Hunter, the next time you cross your legs, I’m going to paddle you.”

We all laughed.

“I’m serious,” she said. “I will paddle you the next time this happens.”

Despite her ominous proclamation, none of us believed she was serious. Still, I figured it was best not to mess with a paddling threat, and right then I decided I would quit with the leg crossing.

But as I mentioned before, it was a habit.

I crossed my legs again a few minutes later, not even realizing I was doing it. I was plugging away at the piece on the music stand in front of me, along with the rest of the class, when the music teacher stopped us, pointed to the door, and said, “Nikki. Art room. Now.”

The art room was empty during that particular class period; it was the art teacher’s planning time. The music teacher did not have a paddle, but the art teacher did (when one of her classes got particularly loud and rowdy, she used to smack it on her metal desk to startle/threaten us into silence), so for the music teacher, the art room was the place to be in order to administer a paddling.

The music teacher escorted me out of the room and into the art room as the entire class watched, stunned. No one had expected her to actually do it, which, I suppose, is exactly why she was determined to do it.

The art teacher was sitting at her desk in her empty classroom; the music teacher requested the paddle, which was a plank of wood about two feet long and about an inch thick, with a narrow end for a handle. According to Missouri law, another teacher had to witness the paddling, so the art teacher stood by after she handed the paddle to the music teacher.

The music teacher had me put my hands on one of the art tables. She explained that she was going to hit me on my rear three times. She wound up, and I cringed, anticipating the first blow.


It hurt. Like, a lot. It hurt so much that my eyes welled up with tears that I wouldn’t let fall because I was so angry; I wouldn’t let this teacher see me cry for anything.

The second and third blows hurt just as much. But they weren’t as traumatic as the first, because, I expect, like childbirth, the first one is always the worst because you have no clue what to expect. When the third blow had been administered, the music teacher handed the paddle back to the art teacher and I turned around, looked upward and blinked back my tears, and marched back into the music class, a smug grin on my face, proud of myself because I hadn’t let myself cry.

I took my seat and picked up my flute. The music teacher came back into the room a few seconds after me and started the class again like nothing had happened.

It hurt to sit down for a few days after that. I didn’t think to look back there until a couple days later, when I craned my neck around while stepping into the shower and looked into the mirror to see yellowish-gray bruises fading into my backside.

When I was a little kid, my dad had always made it a point to tell my brother’s and my teachers that we were not to be paddled at school. My parents weren’t opposed to spanking, but my dad would not accept any sort of corporal punishment being administered to his children by teachers. “If they need to be spanked,” he would say to teachers, “I will be the one to do it.”

But by the time I was in high school, it was unrealistic for my dad to go to every teacher and state his rule, and besides, I’d never done anything to warrant a paddling in elementary school or middle school. It seemed silly to think that high school was when I would do something to get myself paddled.

I did tell my parents about the paddling, but I downplayed it as much as I could. I didn’t want them to make a big stink at school about it. I’d gotten through it (although I was certain I wouldn’t be taking any more band classes). I was humiliated, and I just wanted the whole thing to go away. And it did.

Years later, when I told Mr. Mostafa about this incident, he was horrified. “That’s sick,” he said. “No way are teachers allowed to do that.”

“Yup,” I said. “In Missouri, and a bunch of other states, it’s totally legal.”

“Teachers can hit you?”

“I mean, like, they have to hit you on the butt, nowhere else. And it has to be with a paddle, I think. And I don’t think they’re allowed to do it in front of other kids. And another teacher has to watch it, as a witness. There are rules as to how the teacher has to go about it. But yeah.”

“That’s sick,” he repeated. “I mean, sometimes would teachers hit us, like smack us on the head or the hand with a ruler or something. It used to happen. I guess it still probably does sometimes. But it’s not allowed. Ever. That’s horrible. Horrible.”

And the thing is, I agree wholeheartedly with him. It is sick. It should be illegal for teachers and school administrators to hit children. This seems like a no-brainer to me. And yet…it’s legal in 19 states, including Missouri. According to federal data collected in 2009 (the most recent data), approximately 184,527 students without disabilities (which makes me wonder how many students with disabilities were left out of those numbers) received corporal punishment in American schools in states where it is legal. (And let’s not even go into the epidemic of school shootings in America. Kids having to do lockdown drills. Teachers accidentally shooting themselves–or, God forbid, someone else–because they’re carrying concealed weapons. Fun fact–that New York Times article I just linked to was written about one of the towns in the area I grew up in. I could also mention sexual abuse in American schools or the epidemic of child abuse in homes. And heck, both those stories came out of my area of the country, not even worthy of national–let alone international–outrage, and they both hit the local news within the span of time that I was there last month! There are tons more.)

Now, does this mean that all American schools are violent places? That America is a horrible place for children? Well, no, of course. I take my child to America every year. She is American. I can’t imagine her not being a part of American culture, of American life. But my point is, when something bad happens in America, we Americans often write it off as just the product of a deranged outlier. When something bad in Saudi Arabia happens, it’s a product of the culture. Those people are repressed. And oppressed. These sorts of bad things are destined to come to pass in Saudi Arabia because it’s a bad place. Read the comments sometime, about any piece related to Saudi Arabia, and this is what you will find. Sometimes you don’t even have to read the comments–it’s right there in the piece itself.

So what’s our excuse, Americans?

I’m sure there are many people, especially people who also grew up in schools where corporal punishment was the norm, who would read my story of being paddled and say something like, “Oh, get over it. You shouldn’t have been messing with your teacher like that to begin with. You deserved a punishment, and that’s what you got. Lots of kids got paddled regularly, and from a young age. You got paddled once as an almost-adult. Shut up with the whining.” Let me assure anyone wondering that I am, in fact, “over it.” My one paddling doesn’t shape my life in any discernible way (I’m pretty sure I would wholeheartedly oppose corporal punishment in schools even if I had never experienced it), and until I wrote it down for posterity as a means of making a point within this blog post, it has existed in my memory as only an odd little anecdote that I recall from time to time, in an “oh yeah, that happened” sort of way. But that doesn’t mean it was okay that it happened. It doesn’t mean that it’s okay that it continues to be legally sanctioned in the state that I still call home, even though I don’t exactly live there anymore. And it really doesn’t mean that you can roll your eyes at my tale of being paddled to bruising by my music teacher and yet be horrified and enraged by tales of monstrous, barbaric Saudi school personnel who hit the children entrusted to their care.

Now, as I’ve already said, this is not to say that I would ever be silent if my child were hit by a teacher in her Saudi school. I believe that all mothers, anywhere in the world, have a right to demand schools for their children that are free of violence and abuse, especially from those who are meant to protect our children when we are not with them. And only God knows how many elements of Saudi culture and Riyadh life there are whose underlying logic I don’t understand (if there is any logic within them to be understood). There are so many things about Saudi Arabia I wish I could change, if only for the benefit of my daughter and any future children I may have. But I can easily say the same about America.

When it comes down to it, I guess what I want to say is that the next time you are tempted to diagnose or otherwise rant about injustices that you perceive in other cultures, stop and think if there’s a parallel injustice being perpetuated in your own culture. Look into it. Read beyond the scope of what you can immediately see and want to know. Pluck the lens of acculturation out of your eye (I know it can be hard to do, but try). If your own backyard is truly clean, then congratulations! Proceed (with caution). But if it isn’t (which, let’s face it, is most likely the case), try to do something about that first…or at least make it clear that you’re aware of that problem and are equally troubled by it. Because otherwise, you just look like a clueless neocolonizer, if not a self-aware neocolonizer, which is undoubtedly worse. And that’s cool, I guess, if all you care to do is preach to a choir, even if said choir is in dire need of a come-to-Jesus moment in order to reexamine its own priorities. But if your goal is to make real, lasting change in the world, I think a good way to start is by learning to see and then seeking to address the problems in your own community which you find so abhorrent, amusing, or annoying in others’.

I want to say one more time that I am not offering a blanket defense of Saudi culture or the Saudi state (which seems to be a disclaimer I must offer more and more frequently, as everything I say that points out flaws in my own culture while contending that life in Saudi Arabia may be difficult and unjust at times, but it’s not that bad inevitably gets construed as defending anything and everything anyone in Saudi Arabia does–interestingly, no one ever construes my words that way when I write something positive about life in America and how much I miss it at times). There are certainly major problems here, just like anywhere else. I’ll rant all day long, to anyone who will listen, about not being allowed to drive here. That rule, among others, deserves zero respect, and it is a problem that absolutely does not exist anywhere else in the world. Literally. I have a Saudi American daughter, and I won’t be silent on issues that directly affect her career, her education, her freedom of mobility, and her life in general, should she choose to stay in the Kingdom in the future. But I have zero patience for complaints, “activism,” or “raising awareness” by non-Saudis that addresses problems, rudeness, or inconveniences that they perceive in Saudi Arabia but conveniently ignore in their own backyards; often those exact same problems exist in our home cultures in a format made more palatable to us by years and years of acculturation, the same way that Saudis seem to accept problems in their culture that we Westerners find ourselves baffled by.

You find it rude when people stare at you in Saudi Arabia when you don’t cover your head? Well, women who do cover their heads are stared at in the exact same way in America. You hate being harassed at and/or stared at by those filthy Saudi men? Yeah, watch this video. It certainly wasn’t filmed in Saudi Arabia, and it’s just a snippet of the ten hours of video–there are many more incidents that didn’t make it into this clip, including harassment from white men. Speak out about the problems that manifest themselves in your home country because of the exact same attitudes that undergird Saudi Arabia’s cultural issues, instead of embracing a neocolonial, ethnocentric worldview that depends on you (or others like you) to diagnose other cultures’ problems and their causes.

evil eye

pumpkins and other fun things.

October 29, 2014

Well, we made it back to Riyadh unscathed. I’m going to refrain from getting all nostalgic and sappy (like I have in every other post about this trip); instead, I’m just going to post some pictures of this year’s Ozarks adventures…with a bit of commentary, natch. Because, for better or worse, I talk a lot.

Originally, we planned to take a few day trips during this year’s time in the States–namely, to the annual War Eagle Craft Fair in Eureka Springs, Arkansas (in true old married couple style, we really love Eureka Springs. We went there on our honeymoon. Maybe we’re doing things backward and by the time we’re 75, we’ll be on our way to Coachella) and to St. Louis (we fly into and out of St. Louis, but we had planned to take a day trip, because although I’ve seen it many times, I’ve never been up in the Gateway Arch, and Mr. Mostafa finds this appalling). Neither trip actually happened. We also planned to make multiple trips to Springfield, where we met and got married, but we only managed one. We didn’t get to see all the people we intended to see or do all the things we intended to do.

But we had a blast.

We attended Lavender’s very first parade! We were in the States during Homecoming season, so naturally, we had to watch the West Plains Homecoming parade. The marching band was a new experience for Lavender, but she loved it!

zizzer band

After awhile, it became hard to tell at first glance that Saleh was not a native Ozarkian.

country saleh

We made a couple of trips to the local pumpkin patch, where even more fun was had. It was a first for the whole family–none of us had ever been to a pumpkin patch! (This local pumpkin patch wasn’t a thing when I was a kid.)


Lavender was initially skeptical about the potential fun to be had by way of the selection of decorative gourds.

pumpkin patch 2

But eventually, she had a great time. She just needed Cousin Alli to jump in and help her.

alli and lavi

She got into it, especially after she discovered a random almost-stripped corncob among the pumpkins. Um, okay, my sweet little weirdo.

corncob baby

We rode the pumpkin patch “train” and saw cornfields, sunflower fields, and a whole bunch of different farm animals that Lavender had never seen before (chickens, pigs, goats).

pumpkin patch train

She and Baba thoroughly enjoyed the train. (Yes, that’s an owie on her chin. At one point on the trip, she was running down an asphalt driveway and she fell flat on her little face. :( She’s all healed now, though.)

lavi and baba

There was also an adorable ride for the little ones, which consisted of a string of little cars made out of yellow barrels that were hooked to a riding lawn mower. Everyone called it “the bumblebee ride.”


Lavender was too small to ride on her own, but…

alli and lavi on the bumblebee

Cousin Alli to the rescue!

And before we knew it, it was time to return to our other home on the opposite side of the world. One day, I was looking up at trees…

open road

And the next I was looking down at the desert again.

desert cloudsNow to re-align to Saudi life! Mr. Mostafa’s internal clock has pretty much re-set (he had no choice, since had to go back to work the day after we arrived back in Riyadh), but Lavender and I are still dealing with a bit of jet lag. I already miss home…but it’s good to be home! 😉