Thanks to camelman for sharing this with me …
I saw a video today that reminded me of something I spotted in a Carrefour (grocery store) in Riyadh 4 years ago:
Local ostrich?!?! … I never knew that ostriches could be found in Saudi Arabia, but indeed, the now extinct Arabian ostrich used to roam broadly across the Arabian Peninsula.
I’m not aware of ostrich meat being particularly common in Saudi cuisine, but apparently there is a market for it. But perhaps any market for their meat is too much for these plucky animals:
I don’t know about you, but I am rooting for this animal to fly (run) away to freedom!
It’s been about a year since the Women2Drive campaign was launched with Manal al-Sharif getting behind the wheel of a car and driving in the streets of Khobar in eastern Saudi Arabia.
A couple of weeks ago, she was honored as one of the awardees of the Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent at the Oslo Freedom Forum. Here is the video of her talk in Oslo:
Although relatively short at only about 15 minutes, I found her speech to be very compelling and providing real insight into the foundations for what is going on now in Saudi society. (And I’ll never listen to the Backstreet Boys in the same way again!) Also not to be overlooked is the fact that here is a Saudi woman not only showing her face, but having it broadcast all over the Internet. She is trailblazing a path for Saudi women in more ways than one.
I also found it interesting that to-date, there have been so many ‘dislikes’ vs. ‘likes’ on the YouTube page of her video. Obviously it seems that there are yet to be many battles to be waged on many fronts here.
I’ve had the chance to travel a bit over the past month, and every time I return to Riyadh, I experience what only can be described as the “back-to-Riyadh-reality”. This last trip was a particularly interesting study in contrasts because I went to Switzerland and Germany, landing first in Zurich after leaving Riyadh. I am not sure there could be two more different cities in the world as Riyadh and Zurich. Coming from Riyadh, with its chaotic, construction-laden, everyone-for-himself traffic and where the lines on the road are more like suggestions – to landing in Zurich, possibly the most organized and orderly city in the Western world where cars, trams, and buses share narrow city roads and no one is ever late … well, it was one of the more disorienting experiences I ever had during traveling. (Not to mention that I felt almost naked without my abaya when I first got off the plane.)
This got me to thinking about why there can be such differences in human society across the world. Obviously some differences can be attributed to differences in culture and traditions, but I think a lot also has to do with externally-applied rules and regulations. What if we transplanted some Swiss to Riyadh, or some Saudis to Zurich while keeping the same systems and regulations in place in each of those cities – how will the behaviour of the people change? I know from my own experience how much the surrounding system (or lack of one) can affect your behaviour. When I visited China a few years ago, for example, I found myself transformed from a nice, polite Canadian who stands in line with arms-length distance from the person next to me, to a person who is wary, aggressive, and stands with her elbows-out to prevent someone cutting in front. I like to think that I am generally well-behaved and courteous, but those characteristics didn’t get me very far in Shanghai. But does this mean that Chinese people are pushy and aggressive by nature, or is it the system that makes them this way? And are all the Swiss really so orderly and structured inherently? (Well, maybe they are.) But by the same token, is Riyadh chaotic because Saudis don’t know how to drive between the lines or wait their turn at the stop light? Or is it the lack of properly enforced traffic rules and regulations and systematic planning?
You have to admire the Saudis for their humor and resourcefulness in surviving the harsh reality of the desert and the society. This is what you get when you have a group of young men with no other outlets to release their energy – no dating (at least in the open), no nightclubs or pubs, no movie theaters. Just shopping malls (and I’ve explained what those are like for the bachelors), stay at home, or hang out in the desert.
Seriously, Hollywood stunt drivers have nothing over these guys. Imagine if these kids had the opportunities to fully express their creativity and imagination.