strivetoengage

Living with intent, social engagement, learning, growing, giving

Postcard 2 from the Arab world – A female solo traveller

In one sentence, I’m in Saudi Arabia for work for 5 weeks, alone and if you haven’t already read my previous post, you can read it here.

I don’t get to interact with many women in the Arab world but I do interact in a work context with a lot of men on a daily basis. I find that almost all Arab men treat me with courtesy and kindness. I’ve only had a couple of uncomfortable experiences, which is less than I’ve had in Australia! In one instance a man in a position of authority chastised me unrelentingly for the way that I greeted him in Arabic (I used the greeting that my Arabic teacher insisted I should use). Another time (on my first trip to an Arab country), I first checked with my colleague if I should offer to shake hands in a business meeting; he insisted that I should. So, I walked up to a young Arab man dressed immaculately in a brilliant white thobe and extended my hand while introducing myself. He took a step backwards, lifted his hand to his chest and explained that Arab men are not allowed to touch the hand of a woman. I was mortified and so was he. Since then I keep my hand by my side and only shake hands if the man offers his hand first. About 70% of men greet me with a handshake and the majority of others will still greet me with a smile and kind words. So, my lesson from those two experiences is to trust my instincts and not simply follow the assurances of others.

I had a really good day with lots of positive interactions and here are a couple of vignettes from today:

  • An Arab colleague kindly invited me to join a group of colleagues for dinner at his favourite restaurant on the weekend. He said that I can sit alone in the Family Section while the group of male colleagues dines together in the main section of the restaurant. When another colleague told him that the restaurant doesn’t have a family section, he smiled brightly at me and told me that if I sit in the car they can have food brought out to me there to eat alone.
  • I had a wonderful conversation today with a very kind Egyptian man. He is highly educated and as he discovered my love of Egyptian writers, his eyes lit up. We discussed our favourite authors and when I mentioned The Yacobian Building by Alaa Al-Aswany he chuckled at my pronunciation and then told me that he knows that building and spent many hours in his youth wandering along that street and once spent hours reminiscing about it shop by shop with a friend. When I described my confusion about That Smell (my review here), he described the dangers of dissent under Nasser. When I mentioned reading a novel about the 1971 student demonstration he told me that he was there! He had intended to protest into the night but a policeman he knew told him to go home or he would be arrested. The next morning he returned to the square to discover blood spattering the walls and not a single person in sight. He finished by inviting me to visit Egypt the next time that he takes his family there. What a wonderful idea!
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19 comments on “Postcard 2 from the Arab world – A female solo traveller

  1. A.K. Maleeke
    October 15, 2014

    Very interesting perspective. What country are you visiting in this blog entry? Im assuming its one of the Khaleegi Countries because you greeted a man in a white thobe.

    • strivetoengage
      October 15, 2014

      Thank you. I hope that I do not cause any offence with my observations. I am merely trying to give a foreigners perspective. I am travelling to several Arab countries and the embarrassing interaction with the young man in the white thobe was in Dubai.

      • A.K. Maleeke
        October 16, 2014

        No offense at all! I like seeing your point of view. Just inquiring. Hope to read more soon

  2. Pingback: Postcard 4 from the Arab world – A female solo traveller | strivetoengage

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  5. MF
    October 23, 2014

    Awesome insight ! Keep it coming man!

  6. Pingback: Postcard 6 from the Arab world – A female solo traveller | strivetoengage

  7. Pingback: Postcard 7 from the Arab world – A female solo traveller | strivetoengage

  8. Pingback: Postcard 8 from the Arab world – A female solo traveller | strivetoengage

  9. Pingback: Postcard 9 from the Arab world – A female solo traveller | strivetoengage

  10. Pingback: Postcard 10 from the Arab world – A female solo traveller | strivetoengage

  11. lisatokyo
    October 31, 2014

    I loved your interaction with the Egyptian man about Egyptian books and authors!

    • strivetoengage
      October 31, 2014

      Hi Lisa, thanks for the positive feedback! Such conversations are the highlights of my days here 🙂

  12. Pingback: Postcard 11 from the Arab world – A female solo traveller | strivetoengage

  13. Pingback: Postcard 12 from the Arab world – A female solo traveller | strivetoengage

  14. Pingback: Postcard 13 from the Arab world – A female solo traveller | strivetoengage

  15. Pingback: Postcard 14 from the Arab world – A female solo traveller | strivetoengage

  16. Pingback: Postcard 15 from the Arab world – A female solo traveller | strivetoengage

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This entry was posted on October 15, 2014 by in Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .
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