Walking through a museum in Riyadh this afternoon, I was struck to see fossils, a dinosaur skeleton, and a prehistoric timeline, side-by-side with a display on how the earth was created (a pretty scientific description). In the United States, there is a heated debate between creationism and evolution. Many think there is no middle ground. The most dogmatic of the Americans believe the earth was created in six days, which doesn't quite jibe with evidence from a ore-human era with dinosaurs. As Saudi is considered a bit of a dogmatic place, I turned to our guide and asked him what the consensus or general understanding of this issue is in Saudi-did Adam and Eve walk the earth with dinosaurs, or did the dinosaurs come first, adding thousands of years to the six-day timeline.
Faris just looked at me blankly. There were dinosaurs, of course. So I asked him, does that mean Adam and Eve lived at the same time as dinosaurs. He was stunned. The thought had just never crossed his mind. God created heaven and the earth as described. But of course it doesn't really make sense that humans coexisted with dinosaurs-it's doubtful Adam and Eve would have lived long enough to populate the earth. But putting the two together, contemplating the impact each narrative. It was this stunning moment where I could literally see change and a different way of thinking emerging. So crazy.
On the one hand, it's better than in some places in the States where people dont believe in any degree of evolution. Despite Saudi's dogmatism (is that a word?), its students are taught evolution. But the failure of the education system to teach any kind of critical thinking or build the capability to make the connection between these two issues, even presented side by side...wow.
On a lighter note, the museum labeled the Persian Gulf as the Arabian Gulf. Chuckle chuckle chuckle, that is not what it's called, sillies.
Breakfast and lunch were absurdly good. Without access to a gym, I'm going to have to be literally rolled off the plane. Chocolate and white chocolate fondu station, amazing fruit, salad, cereal, etc selection for breakie. INCREDIBLE grilled fish, lobster, chicken, salmon, prawns, fruit, steamed broccoli, salads, desserts, sushi, pastas, hot dishes for lunch. Man oh man.
Tonight we were hosted by Dr. Salsa al-Hazza a prominent women's rights activist. Her children and their friends attended the event too.
I always caution against making generalizations about Arab women being oppressed. Veiled or not, if you see them in action in a market or at home, you know it is really them who wear the proverbial pants. She told her husband to tell us what he does, what his work was. His response? I am a husband. Priceless.
I spoke with her at the end of the night about conceptions of women and women's issues in the Middle East as described in the West. And she said what is basically my understanding, which is that, look. Change had to be homegrown to be sustainable. It has to come from the Saudis and the Egyptians and the Moroccans. I has to happen their way, at their own pace. I think she was a little more forgiving of the status who than I would be (even in America) but in general I think Western involvement in these kinds of changes are only detrimental and cause the issue and those linked with it to be considered foreign ,thereby losing legitimacy in the eyes of the very people they need to win over.
I agree with her that we khawagas should not be involved. But she kept on referring to wearing the abaya as a a choice, which it is not. And I can not tell you how many times I've seen a young Arab lady walk into a house, hotel, or cafe and rip off whatever outer garment she's wearing and discard it with obvious disdain.
And for the he record, were the abaya not mandatory I probably would have happily bought one to be respectful of the culture. I have two Moroccan jellabas and a handful of Indian tunics. I love that kind of dress. But because it's mandatory I think back to those girls I see obviously hating it and get angry.
I've heard a lot of comments from some in the group about well, maybe the abaya is kind of nice. You don't have to worry about what you're wearing, it makes life easier. But for us this is four days. It isn't almost like playing dress up. But for some women, like the ones tossing off their abayas, or in the case of Saudi doing little things to show their rebellion against the abaya by leaving it open, etc., this is life and may not be so fun.