Saturday, December 2, 2017

Jeddah's Bastah Market

Last night was the opening of the seasonal open air Bastah Market, located in the heart of the business district adjacent to Jeddah's Corniche.  It is near the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and the world's largest flagpole.  

The market set-up reminds me of farmer's markets in the US, but on a much larger scale.  The market is in its third year of operation and is operated through the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce in an effort to highlight and support local start-up businesses.  It is open only on Fridays from 5-11pm, and runs from December 1, 2017, for 12 weeks only, and will end on February 16, 2018.

The booths are organized by rows, with about half of the businesses selling foods, drinks, and desserts.  The rest of the booths offer a wide variety of services, clothing, jewelry, accessories, art, handmade crafts, and many other unique items.

We had a thoroughly enjoyable time walking through the rows amidst the friendly smiling vendors and happy customers.  Frequently we could feel the delightful cool breezes coming off the nearby Red Sea.  Many booths were manned by family members, from grandparents down to children.  The market is very family friendly, with children's activities and a nearby playground for kids across the street. 

Creativity and charm abounds in the various items for sale. Much of the clothing incorporates traditional Saudi designs and fabrics in the abayas, dresses, shirts and scarves.  We were bombarded with free samples to taste from all the food booths, ranging from all kinds of tasty sweets to dried fruits to savory rice and meat dishes.  My advice would be to go there hungry and carry a big empty shopping bag with you!

While there were plenty of people on hand, I didn't feel it was too crowded for the opening night.
But I have a feeling that as word gets out about this weekly event, more and more throngs of visitors will make their way to it.  The upbeat mood made it evident to me that the people of Jeddah are hungry for this type of activity, making a fun night out with family and friends.

I hope you enjoy the rest of these photos from my visit to the Bastah Market...

Scrumptious desserts and sweets

A Saudi mom assisted at her booth by her young son

Food truck with sidewalk seating

Adorable colorful handmade girls' headbands

Three young entrepreneurs offering their own special milkshake creations

Food fit for a king

Talented Saudi women cooking up a storm

A safe family atmosphere, appealing to all ages

This family of magicians provided great entertainment

Adorable homemade baby toys

A very enjoyable activity in Jeddah's cooler winter months

Very cool and unique music boxes were offered at this booth

These smiling young ladies were hocking handmade hair accessories

The food offerings were varied and delicious

Serving the popular date filled cookies called mamool

One colorful booth after another

Boys serving up traditional Saudi hospitality in the form of Arabic coffee called gahwa

That's me speaking with one of the lovely dessert vendors

Bastah Market - Open Fridays only from 5pm until 11pm from December 1, 2017 through February 16, 2018.

Click HERE for a map location of Jeddah's Bastah Market

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Why Do We Dress Like This?

Likeable. Upbeat. Adorable. Genuine. These are words I would use to describe the refreshing Emerati couple in this video, Khalid Al Ameri and his lovely wife Salama Mohamed.  The parents of three young children, the Al Ameris live in Abu Dhabi - and they are living the dream and having lots of fun while they are doing it. 

But Khalid never forgets the struggles and hardships he went through to get to where he is today.  Today the 33 year old has to pinch himself for his success and good fortune, after taking a blind leap of faith when he quit his good paying government job in 2016 to carve out a whole new career and image for himself by utilizing various social media platforms, such as Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter. 

Khalid's educational background really did not prepare him for what he does today. The oldest son of an Emerati accountant and a Scottish mother, Khalid wasn't a great student, but he did earn a (rather useless for him) degree in Marine Operations at a nautical college before going back to school a few years later to obtain his MBA from Stanford. From a career in finance, he eventually landed a gig as CNN's MidEast Correspondent, despite the fact that he had no formal training or education in journalism.

Salama is a strong modern independent Emerati woman who holds her own in their partnership. She started her own jewelry business called Pearl by S. Salama also has vitiligo, a skin condition in which the pigmentation loses its color. Consequently she has white patches all over her body. Khalid's love and admiration for her is evident by his enthusiasm and inclusion of her in the videos. I loved the video they made together explaining vitiligo and the way he obviously adores her just the way she is.

Realizing the power of social media, Khalid has transformed himself and his life into a modern day dream where he is his own boss and calls his own shots.  Using his natural instincts and charm, he has rebuffed traditional older media platforms to stay ahead of the game. He is now partnering with Facebook, along with his other various endeavors which include TV presenter, motivational speaker, writer, and popular social media celebrity who makes upbeat videos with his wife and kids about "life, love, and family." His positive messages are inspirational to his large following who clamor for more.

Khalid and Salama together have emerged as a delightfully charming power couple who are putting a fresh face and a positive stamp on the images of the United Arab Emirates, Muslims, and the Arab World.

Twitter:  @KhalidAlAmeri

Tuesday, September 26, 2017


Major news sources are breaking with the news that King Salman of Saudi Arabia has reversed the decades long ban on women driving in the country. 

I have written many posts complaining about the frustrations of not being allowed to drive here, especially since I have driven in my own country since I was 16 years old, plus the fact that I have seen young boys under 12 driving without issue in Saudi Arabia almost daily.

For many years, transportation issues were one of my main problems with life here in Saudi Arabia.

I do have to admit that with the advent of Uber and Careem and other car services a few short years ago, it did greatly improve my quality of life here.

However I still longed for the day when I could just spontaneously pick up my car keys and run out to the store by myself.

It got really tiring over the years hearing the ridiculous excuses men came up with for denying me the right to drive.

The right to drive should be non-gender specific and should have nothing to do with whether I have a penis or not.

While I am ecstatic and relieved at this news, the real issue at hand still remains the male guardianship system in place in this country, which renders women the legal wards of male relatives (husband, father, brother, etc.) for their whole lives.

Saudi women are considered incapable of making life decisions for themselves and have the legal status of children.


Saudi women should be given their dignity and allowed to make decisions for themselves without the approval of their guardian.

It's insulting and disrespectful to deny them control over their own lives to make their own decisions.

But not only that, it's bad policy for Saudi Arabia to cripple itself by marginalizing half of its population.

Saudi women are strong and capable and intelligent.

It's amazing how they have managed to work around the obstacles placed before them - but they have the potential to do so much more for the good of this country.

They should be allowed to soar and help Saudi Arabia achieve the visions it has for itself.

Saudi women deserve it.

"Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves." - Abraham Lincoln


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Saudi Ramadan Scenes

The month of Ramadan is in full swing. It began May 26 and will end June 24 this year. Ramadan is the month of the year when Muslims abstain from food, drink, and impure thoughts during the daylight hours. It is a time of reflection, self-discipline, and devotion, generosity of spirit, and for family and friends to get together.

As soon as the sun goes down each day during Ramadan, the fasting period ends and Muslims are permitted to eat until sunrise the next morning.  Many special foods are traditionally prepared and eaten during Ramadan.

In Saudi Arabia, the daily fasting period is often broken with a glass of buttermilk and some dates, which is what is done in my husband's family.  After the sunset prayer is performed, the "Iftar" meal is eaten together with family and friends.  

During Ramadan, many restaurants offer fancy Iftar menus and oftentimes an all-you-can-eat buffet menu is provided.

Sweets like Baklava, Kanafeh, and Basboosa, are in abundance and are often given as gifts during the month of Ramadan as well.  The gentleman in the photo above is selling many types of sweet golden honey.

Decorations for Ramadan often features this red, white, and blue design pattern.  Special captivating lanterns are lit and are commonly seen in businesses as well as homes.

Ramadan buffet food displays in restaurants are sumptuous elegant works of art.  Patrons pay one set fee to partake of the buffet.  There are also many public places that offer free Iftar meals where people gather to break the fast together.

Television programming is also very popular during Ramadan, with a special line-up of religious discussions, dramas, comedies, soap operas, and game shows, as well as old time favorites.  After the Iftar meal, many families gather around the TV to watch their favorite shows together.  

Like the Christmas season in the US, Ramadan in Saudi Arabia is a very spiritual time of giving and being kind to others.  The end of the month of Ramadan is marked with a celebration lasting several days called Eid al Fitr.  People often sport new clothes for this celebration, and children are given gifts.

Special thanks to my friend Vicki Reynolds, who gave me permission to use her photos for this post, as I am currently outside of the country for the summer.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

2017 Yanbu Flower Festival Coming Soon

Last year I attended the annual Yanbu Flowers and Gardens Festival, which is a spectacular display of colorful flowers and plants in the city of Yanbu.

This year's festival will be held March 14th through April 7th, 2017.  There is no charge for admission.

Here in Saudi Arabia, one of my pet peeves is that it is difficult to find out about events before they happen. I believe the reason for this lack of proper advertising for events ahead of time was because of the culture's strict gender segregation policies which discourages mixed events.  In the past if the religious police got wind of a questionable mixed gender event going on, oftentimes it would be raided and disbanded. Many social events were kept on the down low, and event venues were often not disclosed until the day of the event by text message.  It can be very difficult to make plans to attend events like this.  While gender mixing is still greatly frowned upon in this culture, things seem to be slowly changing, and there is even a Ministry of Entertainment now in the Kingdom.

You can see more photos of the amazing floral displays on my post from last year by clicking HERE.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

My Name is Bilal

This post was sent to me by the author's mother, who is a friend of mine here in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.  Her son, 25 year-old Bilal Raychouni, wrote this powerful letter to the current US President, in which he expresses himself and his feelings articulately in ways that Americans can understand what it's really like to be a Muslim today in the USA.  It is raw and poignant and I hope it will make you think.

Reprinted from the blog: 

"My Name Is Bilal"

Mr. Donald John Trump
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Mr. Donald John Trump
721 Fifth Avenue, 26th Floor
New York City, NY 10022
Mr. Trump:
My name is Bilal. I am American.
I was born in the City of Williamsburg, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, to a woman whose ancestry extends as far back as the settlers of that colony almost four hundred years ago. My mother’s blood is the blood of the English and the Irish, the German and the French, all of whom came to this nation when it was a disjointed mass of Colonies, who sought better days in this Land of Opportunity.
My name is Bilal. I am Muslim.
I was born to a Lebanese man who left his home as a teenager in the middle of a war that threatened his life more than once, with barely a nickel in his pocket and not a lick of English on his tongue, praying he would earn that great American dream, that he could build a family, a career, a life for himself in this nation, whose Lady Liberty beckoned him with the promise of a better life.
My name is Bilal. I am condemned in my own home.
One month before my 10th birthday, the actions of the radical few, acting by order of a man so violent that his own family cast him out of their house, and in the name of a Prophet who would condemn their actions outright, brought your hometown and my home country to its knees and painted a target on my back. From that day onward, I was marked: I was and am a terrorist, because it is absolutely reasonable to blame a nine-year old boy from small-town America for being the mastermind behind such evil. I was and am a terrorist, because it is totally sound to take an entire faith and beat them into submission for daring to call God by a different name.
My name is Bilal. I am a Millennial.
I was born in 1991 and have witnessed the miracle that was the start of the Information Age. I am the one that older anchors on your favorite newscasts refer to with daggers in their eyes and spite on their tongues. I am the one dismissed as a spoiled brat who has it too good nowadays, while my colleagues struggle to build their lives out of the nothing that has been left to them. I am the one dissatisfied with recycled sitcoms and disgusted with the status quo you call God.
My name is Bilal. Your friends do not like me.
I belong to a number of different groups who have been told that in the grander scheme of the ideal America, our lives, our issues, our problems do not matter. I am a friend to far too many people who belong to groups even more diverse, who have been told that their lives somehow matter even less than mine. At some point, the powers that be decided as a collective that the assortment of non-Caucasian, non-Evangelical, non-heterosexual, non-biologically male individuals that make up more than half of this nation’s population simply do not matter to the success of this nation, that these individuals and their issues do not contribute to the ideal American Dream.
My name is Bilal. I was named for a man renowned for his voice.
Bilal ibn Rabah was an Ethiopian man born into slavery in Mecca. He was considered a “good” slave, with a rich, resonant voice and a confidant air about him. Drawn to the preaching of the Prophet Muhammad, Bilal was one of the first individuals to convert to Islam, and his master very nearly killed him because of this. As he drew what would have been his final breaths under the weight of a massive boulder in the heat of the Arabian sun, the Prophet’s family bought Bilal’s freedom, and the Prophet Muhammad asked that Bilal use the gift that was his voice to call other Muslims to prayer. To this day, every voice that echoes from the minarets of every mosque around the world emulates the call to worship first made by Bilal.
My name is Bilal. Contrary to popular belief, it is not you I fear: it is the deranged attitude that you encourage with your venomous tongue.
I am not black. I am not a woman. I will never experience the struggles faced by Africans in America, made to build a nation they did not want, whose heads, despite the weight of the polished shoes that have stood upon their shoulders for decades, are still held high as they continue the good fight for the right to be treated like any other American; nor will I ever experience the struggles faced by women in America, who have historically been silenced by their patriarchs, who have been told to their faces that their bodies do not belong to them, who are more easily regarded by men as mere playthings than they are as living, breathing people.
My name is Bilal. I have been told to sit down and shut up.
Your supporters would like me to get over myself. I have been told that the fate of this nation and of my people has been sealed with your Presidency. I have overheard the hoots and hollers of the working white man who praises your reign as a triumphant return to good old-fashioned values, a foundation for a new America built on the bones and sealed with the blood of my family and my friends. Every day since your inauguration, it seems, I awaken to news that if my people aren’t being beaten in restaurants or detained in airports, then my friends are coming home to shattered windows and spray-painted doors, to nooses in their trees and rainbow flags burned black on their lawns. But I am the one who is told to get over myself.
My name is Bilal. I am done putting up with you.
I do not know the struggle of the black community. I do not know the struggle of the female community. I do not know the struggle of the queer community, those individuals tortured and ostracized because their love is offensive under a bastardized translation of the word of the Lord, or because their gender may not conform to the strict dichotomy that color-codes children’s toys.
But, my name is Bilal, and I know hate.
I have been hated for existing. I have been randomly selected at the terminal and pummeled into the dirt because my father’s heritage makes me an enemy of the State. I am a terrorist because at the dinner table, my family’s Grace begins with Bismillah. As I grew older, I heard the stories of my friends, whose families have barred them from their homes because their love was deemed wrong, whose great-grandfathers tilled Dixie dirt at the end of rusted chains in the antebellum sun, whose grandmothers fled across stormy gray seas with numbers burned into their skin and unspeakable horrors burned into their eyes, who to this day are made to feel less than human because of who they are.
My name is Bilal. I am calling you out.
Because I am, for all intents and purposes, a Caucasian man, I have been granted a voice to which most people in this country may actually listen. Like the Bilal who walked with the Prophet, so too will I use my voice to unite those to whom you remain deaf. For my friends who are not white, whose skin is enough of a reason for your proud champions to pummel them in the streets, my voice is theirs. For my friends who are women, who have been told countless times that they have no right to their own body, who are paid peanuts when men who have done less are somehow awarded more, my voice is theirs. For my friends in the queer community: whether they have come out and have been subsequently abused for daring to be, or their identity remains secret because your advocates would deliver unto them their despicable brand of divine retribution, my voice is theirs. For my friends of all faiths, whether Muhammad is their Prophet or Jesus is their Lord and Savior, whether they observe Shabbat or worship nothing and no one at all, my voice is theirs.
My name is Bilal.
I have watched too long as my friends and family suffered at the hands of the powers that be. Your behavior over the course of your lifetime has been nothing short of vile, and the attitude that you have encouraged in this country, this attitude of contempt for anyone and anything that doesn’t fit in your delicate definition of America, is disgusting. We are a nation of immigrants, united by our collective differences. There is nothing in this world like the United States of America, which is defined by its diversity. To denounce difference, to spit in the face of that which makes America truly great, is, in a word, wrong.
My name is Bilal. I have a voice, and I refuse to get over myself.
My name is Bilal. I will not sit down.
My name is Bilal. I am American.
I will not shut up.
To read more writings from Bilal, check out his blog that he has been penning since 2012 by CLICKING HERE.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Ladies First: Saudi Arabia’s Female Candidates

I just watched “Ladies First: Saudi Arabia’s Female Candidates,” a short New York Times video documentary regarding the historic elections in Saudi Arabia last December.  The film features three different Saudi women who were not only granted the right to vote in local municipal elections for the first time ever last year, but who also decided to run for office.  

While Saudi Arabia remains a kingdom, at the local level there are city councils consisting of elected officials.  It should be noted that Saudi men were barely given the right to vote and hold public office in 2005.  The next election wasn’t until 2011.  That same year King Abdullah announced that women would be able to vote and run for office in 2015.   

Offering a glimpse inside the lives of these brave, yet very different, Saudi women, the film follows the frustrations and roadblocks females face in her day to day existence, much less in running for public office.  If the man in a Saudi woman's life is not supportive of her dreams, he has the right to reject her desires - because every Saudi woman has the legal status of a child her entire life, and every decision about her life ultimately rests with her legal male guardian.  

I highly recommend watching this film if you are interested in how things work (or don’t work) in Saudi Arabia.  Great job by Mona El-Nagger, an Egyptian journalist who has been covering the Middle East for ten years.