Journey to Jeddah – Day Three and Four

Four stories of chandelier anyone?

First of all, 2webcrew live podcast with comments channel is about to start. I’m usually on there, but all this travelling has meant I’ve not been able to do it for 3 weeks, but still, they are doing a fabbo job! Duncan Riley from TechCrunch, Cameron Reilly from The Podcast Network and Bronwen Clune of Norg Newspapers. And the usually assorted wierdos and geeks. 😛

Background first, then Day One. And day two is about Women and Identity in Saudi Arabia.

Day Three and Four have been similar to each other. You might like to know: the workshops are for two hours and run at various times of the day. I think the kindest thing one can say, is that they are erratic. For some workshops, one person shows up, the others:full and turning away the ones that missed the others.

At the University the network has been running so slow. I mean, outrageously, with time-out errors. At first we were told it was something beyond the ISP (a net-split maybe?) then it was sun-spots, now it seems it is a virus on the network. The Hilton (where I am staying) has blistering speeds so it’s not Saudi Arabia’s overarching infrastructure. I put together a powerpoint preso, and default to that when it gets ugly.

The online community has a poll section and I like walking around and asking the women what polls they would have: most say “favourite book” or “favourite movie”. The ones they list are Arabic (book) or English (movie). Some push for political questions – should Saudi Arabian women be allowed to drive? is one.

I had an interesting conversation in the cafeteria. It seems it is the older women who push for change in gender inequities, in Saudi. They are the generation who were able to bring in schooling for girls, in fact one lady at lunch, her Great Aunt was Fatima Hazzizi a friend of the late Kings. She convinced him and the first Queen to allow women to go to University, in the evenings, when men weren’t there. She taught some classes herself.

But why are the older generation of Saudi women motivated to addressing gender discrimination and not the younger? Ah well, that may well have something to do with 9/11 and world perception. I heard a lot about wearing the abaya (black cloak) and tarha (head covering) with pride, as a badge of honour. When the whole world sees your culture, your family, friends and society as an adjunct to the Axis of Evil, you close ranks. This is not the time to fight internally, but a time to support each other. It would be trite of me to reference this back to social networks online but in general Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in society is at play. If interested, the chart is on an old blog post. Meet your primary physical needs of safety first before addressing secondary higher needs of self-determination. When there is instability in your culture, it’s hard to focus on these sorts of changes. I guess any woman who speaks out now about being allowed to have education or a career or drive would be told “you are being like those Americans and Australians”, rather than being heard as a voice of reason. But I’m not sure that those things would be said, it is mostly women responding to the silent voices, unconscious that it is the fear of condemnation that makes them wrap themselves up even more tightly than necessary, to stay in safety. For example, I was clearly made aware that ‘blogging‘ was not a good term. Not after Saudi’s most well known (and first) blogger was arrested a couple of weeks ago. Check out the Washington Post. Yet when I accidentally used photoblog instead of citizen photojournalism, and apologised, I was told not to be silly, it was just a word. We see restriction where there are none. Yet not without good cause is there trepidation.

Toys R Us – for your full American Branding in Saudi Arabia experience, please go to Flickr.

I did really well taking photos of Hardees, Ruby Tuesday, Applebees, Macdonalds, Burger King, Baskin and Robbins, and so on from the car. But when I made the driver stop and let me out to take the shots of Toys R Us, the guard came running out demanding I hand over my Nokia N95. I didn’t – very brave of me – and played dumb. Eventually I smiled and held out my hand to shake his hand (culturally inappropriate) and he gave up and ran inside. I dived in the car and we were away. But it put a damper on my glee in finding crap Western brands in Saudi to snap.

Not so much benign as tragic – what is she wearing?

I’m not sure what he thought I was there for? Reconnaissance to bomb a kids toy store? gonna ram-raid Toys R Us and nick the rubiks cubes and Barbie Dolls? Actually Barbie dolls were banned for ages. They have a similiar model called Benign Doll – if they knew how hard my little sister and I used to thwack each other with our dollies until we were both sent crying to our rooms, they wouldn’t be called Benign. Heh. Looking in the Jeddah toy store (in Red Sea Mall), I thought the machine gun toys for boys were a lot more fun. And there was a vast selection of those.

Anyway, it’s around 4:30-ish, first call to prayer outside the window, and last day of workshops today. Then Thursday a plane from Jeddah to Dubai (I’m on my own this time, wish me luck) and then Friday start the trek home to Sydney. So, like, who wants to meet me at the airport? Heh. Happy Easter, peepz.

Laurel Papworth

Named by Forbes™ Magazine in the Top 50 Social Media Influencers globally, named Head of Industry, Social Media (Marketing Magazine™) and in the Power150 Media bloggers (AdAge™). CERT IV Training and Assessment certified trainer (Diplomas and Certificates etc) Adult Education. Laurel has manager Facebook Pages for Junior Masterchef, Idol, Big Brother etc. and have consulted on private online communities for banks Westpac, not for profits UNHCR & governments in SE Asia. Lecturer, social media, University of Sydney for 10 years and Laurel has 11,000 online students. Laurel Papworth personally connects to 6 million followers online and has taught around 100,000 people in the last 10 years how to be social media managers.

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