What I Learned From Arab Women

Source
Source
Source
Source
Source
Source

The lovely women I came to call my friends.

I lived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, from September 1990 to July 1994. During the first two years in the kingdom I taught English as a Second Language at the Women’s Language Center in the Thalatine District of the city. I got an up close and personal glimpse into the life these women lived in one of the most restrictive cultures for females on the planet.

The women who were my students at the Language Center called me Mrs., just Mrs. Some of them called me Madame making me feel like I should have loose girls in the rooms upstairs in my villa. Eventually, they would start calling me Teacher. At first I was offended. Couldn't these women be bothered to learn my name? Then I learned. They were honoring me. Teacher was a term of respect. I was so grateful I hadn't made a big deal early on about what they called me.

My classes were advertised as a chance to learn five hundred words in English in just a matter of weeks. It became a joke between me and my students. They'd learn five hundred English words, and I'd learn one word in Arabic.

We met three mornings a week, which I didn't realize was quite an effort for these ladies. Getting up early was not part of their routine. But they made the effort and went out of their comfort zone to learn English, which they needed more and more as their middle class husbands traveled more and more outside the kingdom, and more and more to the west.

Being able to travel with their husbands served a vital purpose in their marriages, as I learned when one of them asked me if my husband had girlfriends when he traveled alone. My answer was an adamant, "He better not!" This response drew laughter with a hint of "How do you know for sure?"

I quickly learned a proverb of the Arab culture is a sin hidden is half forgiven. Also, it is assumed the laws of their religion only apply if you are within the boundaries of the kingdom. An urban legend in Saudi Arabia involves a well-known prince and an airplane full of prostitutes that circled above Riyadh for several days. The party was within bounds because it didn't take place on the kingdom's soil.

It was hard to believe the men here would so blatantly cheat on these women when the consequences are so extreme if the situation was reversed. Besides, these women were gorgeous. But then, men are men everywhere. Those guys who cheat on Hollywood's most beautiful women don't do it because they are looking for someone prettier. They are just looking for someone else. It's the same everywhere – if you are "one of those guys."

The men who lived on my American compound were primarily U.S. soldiers and were intensely curious about Arab women – naturally because they were absolutely unattainable even to view– an unusual situation for the military men who were my neighbors. I was only too willing to be the one to report to them in vivid detail how beautiful the women all were, every single one of them, like no mass of females I had ever seen: to die for figures, faces to launch more than a thousand ships, skin like satin, hair like silk. I wore myself out coming up with more and more elaborate descriptions of their beauty. Hey, there was not a whole lot of entertainment around there. Torturing horny men was as good as it got.

There were two absolutes I had to learn and adapt to in my classroom. One really irritated the heck out of me until I finally learned to live with it. When I was in school, if I was late, which was a cardinal sin in my day, I'd quietly slip into the back row as unobtrusively as humanly possible, hoping against hope no one would notice – especially the teacher or professor.

Not these girls. If they were late, which happened a lot, they barged right in and said "Hello" to each of their fellow students, all of whom stopped what they were writing or reading or listening to (generally me) and returned the greeting. Now this greeting might be a verbal exchange, but more often than not it involved standing to their feet and exchanging kisses on the cheek – not one, but one on both sides, Or if they were close friends or relatives, one on one side and then several on the other. I once saw sisters reunited at the airport, and I thought the kisses on the second cheek would never end.

What I learned from my fellow western instructors was that it was considered the height of rudeness in the Arab world not to greet anyone entering a group – each and every one. So much for slipping in the back row quietly.

The other absolute was "Insha’Allah." God willing - the phrase following any and every statement. We'll meet again on Wednesday, Insha’Allah. Tomorrow we will study gerunds, Insha’Allah. I'm going to get a cup of tea and will be back in five minutes, Insha’Allah. Every single thing in these women's lives was dependent on God's will, and they were darned sure going to acknowledge it.

Available on Amazon as an EBook and Paperback

More by this Author


Comments 26 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

It would be fascinating to live in another country for a couple years. I am slightly envious of you, but in a good way. :) Thanks for sharing your experience with us.


HSchneider 3 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

Very interesting and eye opening. I never knew that Muslim men could get away with that debauchery if not on Saudi turf. That is quite ridiculous and hypocritical. great Hub, Kathleen.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

billybuc and HSchneider: Thanks for the comments and I hope you enjoy the other four hubs in this series. Watch the next four Mondays for more.


triciajean profile image

triciajean 3 years ago from Bantam, CT

Thank you, Kathleen Cochran, for a peek into a culture most of us do not see. Having spent some time in another culture, do you then return here in a different, perhaps more objective, state of mind--seeing things you have not noticed before?


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Absolutely. I drive. I can go anywhere I want by myself, dressed however I please. I go to a church that has a sign out front, we don't shred our bulletins or speak in code on the telephone. I've lived in a country where the law of the land is the religion. Separation of church and state is a good thing that should happen in America more often than it does. I want my freedoms - all of them. I'll take my chances with the consequences, but I want my freedoms. A Sheikh asked me once of our freedoms made American women happy. I wanted to answer, "Damned straight" but instead I simply said Yes. Sorry, triciajean, I have strong feelings along these lines. Thanks for your comments and your interest.


triciajean profile image

triciajean 3 years ago from Bantam, CT

No apology necessary, Kathleen. I share your passions.


Credence2 profile image

Credence2 3 years ago from Florida (Space Coast)

Hi, Kathleen, this account is great.

"Torturing horny men was as good as it got."

I am surprised, the devil inside at work?

So do you think that all the horror stories we hear about treatment of woman in Arab societies are exaggerations?

I would think so based on your interaction with your female students.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

So do you think that all the horror stories we hear about treatment of woman in Arab societies are exaggerations?

Absolutely not. I don't think you can exaggerate the conditions these women live under: female castration, child marriage, abuse, no defense against divorce or losing her children in the event of divorce - all of it.


triciajean profile image

triciajean 3 years ago from Bantam, CT

Thanks, Kathleen. There but for the grace of God/Goddess/Allah/El Shaddie we too could have been born to live degraded lives. But the story is not over. The campaign for basic human rights is reaching into all corners as fast as we can carry it there.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

Read this some time ago. My apologies for not leaving a comment...I must have been running out the door to classes. Great read and a great history, sociology, and religion lesson. We all as Americans need to know so much more about the rest of the world. Most of us are pretty isolated. Excellent Hub. Sharing. Theresa


Blond Logic profile image

Blond Logic 3 years ago from Brazil

Very interesting read.

I once heard an interview with a woman who enjoy being covered wearing a burqa because she knew she was not being judged by her looks, merely by her intellect.

Did the women there feel envy, pity or indifference towards western women's ways?

What a wonderful experience for you.

Shared.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

phdast7: history, sociology, and religion - I covered all that?! Thanks for the comments whenever they come. There's more to come (at YOUR suggestion if I recall.)

Blond Logic: They were so gracious, it was hard to decipher their true feelings. I think they were more curious than envious. They perceived some of the negatives that went with our freedoms that we might not see as negatives at all. In general, they seemed to want to uncover their faces and drive. Those were the big two.

I have followers around the globe. I'd love to hear their comments to your question.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas

Very interesting, informative, and entertaining. Now you have me hooked and I will have to continue reading your sequels. You might want to put them all together and make a book out of them for Amazon/Kindle.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Au Fait: Thanks for the encouragement. I've done just what you suggested. My War, featured at the end of the hub, is by ME!!! It's available on Kindle and Amazon as either an EBook or paperback (via Amazon's CreateSpace, which I highly recommend over other self-publishing platforms - very user-friendly.) Thanks for your interest.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas

I didn't even notice the ad for your book! Sorry. I never look at the ads since we're not allowed to click on them anyway. Glad to see you've made it into a book though, because it's very interesting and I expect a lot of people will be interested in your first hand experience.


fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 2 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

I must say....you are so lucky to have had such a marvelous opportunity. I know I would just love an experience such as yours...UP+++


Hackslap profile image

Hackslap 2 years ago from Sydney, Australia

This is a such an interesting an eye opening glimpse into such a seemingly oppressive culture (around women that is) ... I wouldn't have guessed you lived in Saudi Arabia of all places...I've heard Jeddah's a bit more tolerant as compared to the capital ..


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Jeddah and Daharan are both more tolerant. In fact, everywhere but Riyadh is. If you want more than a glimpse, please check out my book on amazon, My War. Thanks for the read and the comment.


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 16 months ago from Udorn City, Thailand

I find this to be a very interesting and informative hub. Did you run into any Western men who were teaching Arab women? When I was teaching English in both Taiwan and Thailand, almost all of my students would address me as either Sir or Teacher. BTW, how much Arabic did you learn while living in Saudi Arabia? Voted up and sharing with HP followers.


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 16 months ago from East Coast, United States

What a wonderful look into another culture! I must read the rest of your hubs on this topic and have shared this one. You are so brave to travel so far for so long in a world that is different from our own, to have your eyes opened to another culture, and to engage with that culture in such a positive way!


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 16 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Oh my goodness, no. Men and women couldn't stand in the same line at the swarma stand, much less be together in a room with the door closed, like a classroom. Women couldn't sit in the front seat of a taxi with the driver.

I got irritated that my students couldn't seem to remember my name, until I learned "teacher" was a term of respect.

My classes were advertised as insuring the student would learn 500 English words. My goal was to learn and be able to make the sounds in one Arabic word per class! I do, however, know enough Arabic to know when American TV is butchering it. (It's "Cutter" folks for Qutar not "Coo-tar." We ought to know this by now.)


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 16 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Thank you, Ms One of my favorite artists! If you are interested in a fuller account, I have a book on Amazon (paperback or email) entitled, My War. Please let me know if you enjoy it as much.


mikeydcarroll67 16 months ago

Interesting to note some of the things that you were experiencing.


Skarlet profile image

Skarlet 16 months ago from California

Its really sad to think that so many American women actually think that they are suffering under "sexist rule" just because they can't get free abortions on demand. These women (Muslims) are living a life with absolutely no freedom whatsoever. A friend of mine, who grew up atheist lived in the liberal fantasy land that being Muslim is interesting and kind of cool. She met a Muslim man and went back to live with his family. She tried to live as a faceless shadow for a some time, and eventually missed her freedom. Her husband threatened her life and would not allow her to leave with her children. She came back alone, but with a new attitude.

She is now very grateful for every freedom that the United States offers. She met a Christian man, who believes that his vows to his wife are sacred. She thoroughly trusts him because he does not excuse cheating as, just normal male behavior; he thinks that there is room for mistakes and forgiveness but that one should make every effort to turn away from sin and actions that will hurt his family.

She has gone through a lot in her life already, but at this time she appreciates having a man who respect women, and is an honest partner to her and a dedicated father to her children. She, at this time says, "I was stubborn, ungrateful, and blinded, God let me go through this so that I would know what to appreciate and who my savior is." She is not bitter, just enlightened.


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 16 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Thanks for commenting, Mikey. Welcome to my hubs!


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 16 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia Author

Unfortunately, your friend's experience is too common. How tragic to have to leave her children, but truth be told, there wouldn't have been much she could do for them - especially the girls. The saddest stories are the western women who get trapped into that culture. When our plane was landing in Saudi, we wanted to tell the women headed to their husbands just to stay on the plane!

Thanks for your comment and for sharing your experience.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working