(Background to the “New Arab Woman’s” project)

Well two things happened. One was before I even got to Saudi Arabia.

I arrived in Dubai airport and realised my Nokia 95 wasn’t picking up a service provider. Somehow international roaming had got switched off. I had it on when I went to New Zealand a while ago, but since then I had upgraded – certainly a new SIM card cos the Optus guys told me it was better to have U-Sim or whatever it was called. I was told – promised actually – that the settings would be the same, but clearly they were not.

Unfortunately it takes up to a day to activate pre-paid sims so that was out. I was able to pick up free wireless at Dubai airport – can you believe that? – even before I had gone through Departures. And during the 5am to 1pm layover was on Twitter. Kate Carruthers dived in to my rescue and phoned Optus. They turned on roaming for me, or changed something. Whatever. I was now riding off into Saudi Arabia with some kind of connection to the outside world. Whew! *cuddles Kate* I knew building up a community of 600 Twitterers would pay off one day. It wasn’t time wasted. Heh. Life support by Twitter Members: rocks!
A massive ‘tent’ city built at Jeddah airport for Hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca and Medina. We chose to cover up (abaya and scarf) as we flew over medina (5 mins before landing) but not every woman did) (Photo: foxyguy)

Second event was a little more… jarring.

Last time my Dubai colleague, let’s call her Queen Sam had come to Jeddah, they let her through immigration, no question. This time, all women without a male escort were pulled from the queues and made to wait in a seated area. We had to phone and find a driver. One is never sure of the real story – was he really on his way, did they really turn him away to make him drive back to the office to find paperwork? – but from 4:30pm until 7pm, we waited. No one was rude but no way were they letting us through. I decided to not stress and ignore our bags out of sight on the carousel (they were fine). Eventually we were walked through, Sam had to open her bag but I didn’t.

I did have a moment of – I call it breathing. It’s when culture shock hits you and adrenalin and the need to run make you a bit shaky. I think it was as we went through the armed guards into the Hilton area. Breathing because that’s what you do – focus on breathing deeply, nicely and slowly. No stiff drink at the end of the day – but I did help Sam eat her chips while she ate a cheeseburger. So it was all good.

I just hope my headscarf stays on today, while I’m in the lecture theatre. It kept falling off and making a gosh-awful mess yesterday, just when I was trying to be the most unobstrutive blonde with grey eyes in the waiting area. I want to buy a stapler and staple it in place. Seriously.

Anyway, I can hear the first call to prayer, it’s 5:16am and I haven’t finished changing my presentation yet (avoid the word blogging (I’ll probably use citizen journalism) focus on social networks). Miss you! 🙂