You know by now that I am a traveling fool, and no matter how far the flight or how long the delay, I continue to return to the airport for more abuse. But recently, I actually turned down a trip—to Saudi Arabia. I said “no” after considerable internal strife.
On one hand, I would like to see Riyadh and Jeddah where the schools I was asked to evaluate are located, but two weeks in the desert just seemed like an eternity. Actually, I did my research and less than 100,000 non-Muslim visitors are allowed in a year so that makes it tempting to be among the few. But further study left me with doubts, and the cons quickly mounted up against the pros. First, as you know, women are not held in great esteem in the kingdom, as it is referred to, so I would probably smart off to the wrong person or wander off into a forbidden area and be flogged on the first day.
Second, the rules require even visiting women to comply to some degree with their rules of proper attire. Although I wouldn’t be required to wear an abaya, a long black gown, I would have to wear long dresses rather than pant suits or dress suits with modest skirts and jackets that I am accustomed to wearing as professional dress. That, along with the fact that no wine is allowed in the kingdom, pushed me over the edge. I can live without the wine (well maybe), but I refuse to wear long dresses and in many cases a scarf for two weeks in 110-plus degree weather.
Third, a taxi driver is not allowed to drive a woman who is not accompanied by a man to any destination. This would greatly inhibit my shopping. All in all, this appeared to be one country just not meant for me. And it is too bad, because I would have loved to see the schools and meet the people, and just think of the blogs I could have written…..
But I did accept an invitation for the first part of March to chair schools in the neighboring United Arab Emirates which will give me the opportunity to see Dubai and other cities along the Persian Gulf. Everything I have read leads me to think this will be a great experience, and although this area is steeped in its Islamic culture and rules, they are somewhat more relaxed, especially for visitors.
These will not be my first Islamic schools, so I am familiar with the constraints, etc. I will first be visiting a private school in Al Ain, known as the Garden City, located on the Gulf of Oman adjacent the Oman border, so there is a good chance we will be allowed into Oman as well since the school leaders and owners always take us on wonderful tours and social events.
On the fifth day I will travel about an hour and a half to another private school in Sharjah, which overlooks the Persian Gulf, about ten miles from Dubai. My plans include several days in Dubai, and maybe a short trip to Abu Dhabi, after the school reviews are complete.
So prepare for photos of more camels and who knows what else in early spring.