Two nights ago I was at a shopping mall getting ready to get back onto the bus to go back to our compound, when I saw a stall with women selling all sorts of wares.
I noticed that a man was wiring up some things which looked like fireworks on the floor. They were also setting up a red ribbon with bows across the entrance to the stall. Curiosity got the better of me (as usual) so I approached one of the women to ask what was going on. She didn’t understand English so she asked one of the other women to speak to me. This women said that this was a business called Tajra which had been set up to help other women to get jobs.
All the women there had their own businesses. It was an important event as it was the beginning of a week long festival for the women. They were all very excited, as the Manager of the shopping mall was coming to talk to them. Many of the women had camera’s and mobiles, taking snaps and there was a man who was filming the event.
The Manager came with his entourage and cut the ribbon as the fireworks was started. He then visited all of the stalls. I went back to the women and said I thought it was wonderful that they were helping women to be able to work. Women normally are not permitted to work, only in certain sectors. However this is starting to change. Only last Monday a women was allowed to be elected to serve on the council, which is a first.
When I got home that night I posted on the women’s site that I thought it was a wonderful imitative to help the Saudi women to join the workforce. They thanked me for my support, and invited me to attend the opening event for the festival which was held last night at the conference centre in Jeddah. I said I would try to get there somehow if I could.
Thus began my first adventure at night alone by myself in a new country with no sense of direction, north, south, east and west. Just my instincts. Our bus driver hailed down a taxi for me and said to the man I needed to go to a place opposite the Herre Mall. Keep in mind here there is no such thing as street directions. You have to know what is next to where you want to go. So the directions given to me was that the conference centre is opposite the Herra Mall. “So my driver says to me which side of Herra Mall?” I said “Across the highway on the other side”. So our next problem was they do not have intersections on the highways. You have to go up past Hera Mall a few kms then go under a bridge then back in the direction that you came from. Anyway… we went around a number of times before we worked out where it was. The man in the taxi was a Saudi, he could not believe I had been here for only just over a week. Women do not usually go out by themselves here. He was very good and gave me his mobile and name to call if I got stuck.
Spot the Aussie in amongst all the Saudi’s, no head covering. Many stared and looked at me. One man had honey to try and asked me to try some. He put some on a spoon for me to try. I reached out with my left hand, he looked and me and went NO. I thought WHAT!!! Then I remembered you must not accept and eat food with you left hand. (It is for other purposes if you get my drift) So I apologised and accepted with my right hand. There was roars of laughter from the man next door who was watching on. So I said come on I would like to take a photo of you both. They were amazed that a women was talking to them. So I rounded them up and took a pic. Not a very good one but here it is.
Next I spoke to two lovely ladies who spoke good English. We exchanged phone numbers and facebook names. I asked if there was some way I could volunteer to help the women with their endeavours…
Having enjoyed the time looking and talking to the women I decided I better get home as it was getting late. I went outside and could not see any taxi’s so I thought what shall I do. So I went up to one of the Saudi men who looked respectable (not mean’t to talk to them) and said “Excuse me sir could you help me please. I am looking for where I may be able to catch a taxi.” He looked at me strangely and replied “You will need to go over there to the entrance and ask there” “Thank you for your help sir” I said. I then asked the men at the entrance “do I need to hail a taxi from here”? They looked stunned to see me by myself. One of them raced out to the road and hailed a taxi for me. I said to the taxi driver “I will sit in the front seat and that I will have to trust him.” He laughed and said Ok. I told him where the name of my compound where I needed to go. But of course he didn’t know where that was. He said “which direction.” “I don’t know that way” I said. I could not think of the name of the supermarket near us so I rang Russ and he remembered the Suq near by. So I told the driver where and we proceeded to go. Well talk about crazy drivers!!!! We had so many near misses along the way. People duck in here and there, no warning, they just cut in front of you. It reminded me of a high speed chase on a movie set. This is all done on a road made for 2 cars but has 3 abreast. People beeping and yelling at each other. Quite an experience. I finally got to a place I recognised and said you can drop me off here I will walk the rest of the way. So I made it safely home. Our South African neighbour rang to see if I was home safe. He said “You are crazy women”. I said “Yes I know.” his wife said “I have every confidence Lyn would be alright”.