(1) Are the books I am receiving in English or Arabic? Good question! Thank goodness they are in English or they would be useless for me! (Although I enjoy looking at Arabic writing as an art form.) Arabic is an extremely difficult language to learn. To give you an analogy that I heard here, it would take ten years of studying Arabic to have the same language ability one would have from studying Spanish for only three years. I hope to enroll in some Arabic classes though.
(2) Did I ask to wear the clothing, or was it offered to me? Great question Haneen. They pulled me out of the crowd and dressed me in it. That being said, I was grateful, because I really wanted to try it! Even before we left the US, I had asked IIE if the men would be wearing the thobes. I believe that experiencing a culture involves immersing yourself in it. :-)
(3) How do Saudis react to having Americans here? Another great question. It is easy for us to generalize about Americans and Saudis, but really reactions are really based on individuals' personal experiences. Meaning, some Saudis are happy to see us, they smile, and invite us to meet them. Others stare, as if they have never seen Americans before up close. So, to answer the question, I've seen various reactions, but nearly all positive. I will say, however, that on the airplane, there was a woman sitting next to me, who got up and moved when I sat down. I understand this, though. Her traditions and upbringing, rooted in devotion to her Islamic faith, don't approve of her sitting near a strange man. I completely understand this, and want to respect her beliefs, as I would want others to respect mine.
(4) Are there other religions represented in the Kingdom? Technically the official religion is Islam, and any statistics will show that it is 100% of the population's choice. However, I spoke with a Phillipino waiter at one of the restaurants. A graduate in criminology from the U of Manilla, he was here to support his family by doing what one may call a menial task for a college grad. Anyway, he informed me that he is Christian, and that in his community here made up of other Phillipinos, he is able to practice his religion. I don't believe that he can be very open about it with others, though.
(5) What is the income level like, and is there a focus on material goods? Excellent questions! I think that with globalization, consumerism is on the rise everywhere in the world, and it's here in Arabia. We have driven by an Ikea store, as well as dealerships for Jaguar, Hummer, and Mercedes. We have toured the most immaculate "homes" (mini-palaces.) and seen the furnishings of some very wealthy people here. I think that there is a lot of wealth here, naturally due to the oil boom. However, the workers in the hotels, restaurants, etc., are earning only eighty dollars a month, which would limit their ability to consume at great levels. It's very similar to the US.
(6) Is artistic expression limited? The artist we met is committed to networking with others, and establishing opportunities for the arts in Arabia. The Koran says that the arts are important. However, the schools here focus on science, math, religion, and language. Thus, opportunities for art are limited. But, I believe that there are more and more opportunities. At the Hope Center, we saw that art is an integral part of the curriculum for students with disabilities. Today we will be visiting a government school, and I will ask more about art there.
THANKS FOR THE WONDERFUL QUESTIONS AND FOR FOLLOWING THE BLOG! BY INTERACTING WITH YOU, I HAVE A MORE ENRICHING EXPERIENCE!