Tuesday, November 27, 2007

We Ate What We Thought Was the Main Course...

and then the main course came" were the words of one of our stuffed colleagues as we entered the third hour of our dinner meal. Yes friends, stick a fork in me 'cause I'm done.

Only Muslims can visit Mecca (Makkah) but I did see the sign!

So seriously, I'm going to have to buy a new abaya, because I've eaten so much that it won't fit much longer.

Tonight we visited Anqawi House, a modern home built using traditional Muslim architecture. To say that it was breathtaking is an understatement. This multi-level home had an indoor pool and jacuzzi, exquisite wood and tile work, two planetarium-like domes, and detail upon detail of geometric artwork. It is interesting to note that Saudis live in extended families with parents and grandparents frequently living under the same roof as their children. Our host for this visit was Mrs. Sami Mohsen Angawi, a renown architect. BTW, this family can trace their direct lineage to the Prophet Muhammed.

After the visit we proceeded to another humongous dinner. There was just no way I could eat another bite, so I sat at the table trying to stay awake and drank 3 cups of coffee. Now, at midnight, I can't sleep:(
Rick and I pretending to be courting

However, dinner proved to provide another fascinating conversation with our hosts. On the topic of multiple wives: Yes, it is allowed in the Muslim religion, but it is not common. It is done for the purpose of having more children and providing security to the woman. Instead of having affairs, the man legitimizes his union with the woman. When asked if a woman could have multiple husbands, the response was no, because then the father could not be positively identified (DNA?)...also, the male has a stronger, ahem, drive. The gentleman I spoke to grimaced when asked if he wanted a second wife, and said having one was hard enough.

Our male hosts entertained us with the many different ways to style their gutra and igal. They even have names for the styles such as the Cobra. It can be compared to how Western men wear baseball caps and cowboy hats in different angles and tilts. Notice in the picture below the two cell phones on the table. All of our hosts have cell phones, Blackberries, etc. Don't let the robes fool you...

Abdullah, who doesn't want a second wife
Asking tough questions without imposing Western judgements has proven to be difficult. For example, one of our tour guides frequently referred to the women in our groups as girls. Now this is a cosmopolitan man who has lived all over the world, including several years in the U.S. He quickly stopped doing so when it was pointed out that this was considered patronizing in our culture, but even some women in the group disagreed and said they didn't mind being called girls. He said in Saudi culture, it is considered a compliment, and the Saudi women in the group agreed. "Girl" has a different connotation in Saudi Arabia than in the U.S. Does this mean they are wrong and we are right?

Devaluing Arab women for wearing abayas should not be the goal of our visit. Understanding why the women wear them, and reporting their words straight from the source is our initial goal. Continuing the dialogue between our two worlds is the next step. Achieving mutual respect and understanding would be ideal. Will this happen any time soon? Teachers, what do you think? Thanks Mr. Von Matt for your feedback. We will definitely talk when I get back;)

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