2009 Gloom & Doom update: a spot of advice for 2009

Disclaimer: This post in not meant to be a downer, just an assessment of the past few years based on indicators that I have been watching since 2003. It was obvious in 2003 that the global financial markets would collapse within 5-10 years. By 2006 it was clear that 2008 was going to be a major eye-opener for everyone (even those not watching indicators). The question now is how low will it go? Will *ALL* the systems come crashing down at once? Or will they follow each other? If all at once, the low will be VERY low. If they follow each other, then the low will not be as bad however the misery will last longer. 

To recap:

2007 was a year of disappointment for many. Financial expectations, business growth and life in general did not work out as planned. The global economy had started to slow but people were mostly not paying attention to the indicators. It was just a few that were starting to face resistance after years of ease. The savvy were pulling out to capitalize on their gains from the previous years. There were a few bankruptcies, several near bankruptcies and some merger attempts.

2008 was a year of transition for many. The market visibly tanked and the global markets were hurt. No one needed indicators any more as we all either faced hardship or knew someone starting to face hardship. Major international conglomerates laid off workers and instated hiring freezes. People who were unemployed were looking and not finding anything. Next years graduates saw a huge decline in interviews and offers. Suicides rates went up.

Moving forward:

2009 will be a year of despair for many.

The upcoming year is going to be hard on many people. The global financial situation is going to get worse before it gets better. SAVE! SAVE! SAVE! Everything you save will be needed later. If you have a miserable job, don’t quit yet. If you do not have a job, grab what you can. It will be worse than many of us remember. None of the indicators are pointing towards anything good.

Expect an escalation in crimes like theft. Expect an increase in riots and protests in various Asian hotspots. Expect growing unrest in Europe. North American social welfare systems will get taxed to their breaking point.

Cracks will emerge that will over the next 5 years result in the changing of some national boundaries.

And thus we continue our journey in life.

Racism and "Real Men" in Saudi Arabia

Segregation of men and women in KSA in restaurants, schools, universities, work areas (even if not required by the government) is explained on religious grounds- that men and women who are not “mahram” for each other should not be alone with each other (different countries and societies deal with the issue of “khulwa” differently- the topic of a different post!).

A mahram is someone in front of whom a woman does not need to cover and can touch/hug e.g. father, father-in-law, bro, son, uncles, nephews, other women etc. For men the equivalent are: mother, mother-in-law, sister, daughter, aunt, niece, other men etc. Other than the husband/wife relationship, the people within the circle of mahram are people that one cannot marry.

So the question comes to mind that if the concept of mahram is so important that all public spaces are segregated, why is it ok for women to be driven by male drivers?

The answer I have received from several locals is mind boggling and has nothing to do with religion. Apparently the drivers in KSA are not considered “real men” as they are almost all from India, Pakistan, India and the Philippines. “Real men” can only be Arab. The hierarchy is as follows:

  • Tribal Arabs (Saudi or from other GCC countries)- real men
  • Syrians and Iraqis- real men
  • Other Arabs (like Egyptians)- NOT real men
  • Asian- not real men

The racism does not end here. People assume that Saudi women cannot possibly be attracted to non-Arab men. They also assume that all these foreign workers would not DARE approach a Saudi woman. Thus it is “safe” to be alone with them. Non-Arab foreign workers  are thus the preferred nationality for personal chauffeurs, limo drivers and taxicab drivers.

Expiration date

Unfortunately it is not uncommon that food and medicines sold in grocery stores and pharmacies will be past their expiration date. This happens at virtually EVERY outlet either through carelessness or because the stores are trying to make money and do not pull the expired items off the shelves.

As there is virtually no consumer protection around here, it is extremely important that you always check before you make the purchase. Frozen goods should have production and expiration dates printed on them. Canned goods also have expiration dates specifying their shelf life. Special care should be taken with fresh meat and vegetables. Promotional items, especially meat, are highly suspect. One store employee even quietly told us to avoid buying meat at the promo sections as it is almost always past its date.

Remember, your first line of protection against tainted food is always your own vigilance. Take the extra 20 sec and check the expiration dates before you purchase!

Marriage in Islam

Marriages in Islam are social contracts and have to be understood in two separate ways: the mechanics of the actual marriage contract  and the responsibilities/rights associated with the marriage.

There are many cultural practices that are common however there are only a few that are religiously required (as per traditional interpretations- I won’t be dealing with other interpretations in this post).

One of the first requisites by Islam is the right to chose ones own spouse. Neither sides can/should be forced into a reunion against their will.

Like all contracts, marriages are written and signed by the bride and groom with two witnesses from each side (2 from the groom, 2 from the bride), done in the presence of an imam or a justice of the court. That means that there are a minimum of 7 people involved in any marriage contract (though they might not all be present simultaneously).

The contract itself sets the terms of the “mahr”- the amount that the husband owes the wife after the consummation of the marriage.  This is the opposite of dowry. In divorce proceedings there are various rules associated with the return of the mahr. Additionally, any other clause of legally permissible items can be added.

One more concept that is of note is that there are separate contracts for separate “transactions” in Islam. This is no different for marriages where a marriage cannot be conditional on another marriage. The terms of the contract (mahr, clauses etc) are embedded in itself, not on any other marriage contract.

The rights and the responsibilities of husband and wife have to be understood as counterparts. The right of the wife is the responsibility of the husband and vice versa. These can of course be manipulated/customized based on individuals.

The main one is associated with finances. Men are required to cover all living expenses for their wives and families. The traditional religious counterpart for women is the responsibility  of taking care of the household.

There are many other aspects of marriages however these are a few of the main ones. So why the primer on marriage is Islam? Because many of the various types of marriages mentioned in my previous post violate one or more of these requirements. Some are invalid, while others are considered reprehensible (foul, heinous, shameful).


yet another crazy “self-analysis” quiz result

You Are a Dash

Your life is fast paced and varied. You are realistic, down to earth, and very honest.
You’re often busy doing something interesting, and what you do changes quickly.
You have many facets to your personality, and you connect them together well.
You have a ton of interests. While some of them are a bit offbeat, they all tie together well.
You friends rely on you to bring novelty and excitement to their lives.
(And while you’re the most interesting person they know, they can’t help feeling like they don’t know you well.)
You excel in: Anything to do with money
You get along best with: the Exclamation Point

Divorce in Saudi Arabia

The official divorce rate in KSA is stated to be more than 30% while other sources claim it is upwards of 50%. Despite the variation in reports, this is high by any standard, and especially so considering the conservativeness of society. Something is clearly not working in the society. Mandatory classes are being considered to try to address the issue.

The reasons stated are like any other country in the world. In no particular order, here are some of them:

In an age where people learn about marriage and have expectations based on what they see of their parents (representing a different generation and context) and what they see on TV (representing a different culture and value system), there is an inevitable clash.

Up to a decade ago, KSA was a very closed society and was able to resist change through reference to traditions. In the past decade or so, with the increased access to global media this has become impossible.

Marriage counseling is desperately needed in this environment; pre-marital for prevention (especially focusing on communication and anger management) and also regular counseling to help with marriages in trouble. Additionally, mediation would be a good addition to the court system.

Images of Riyadh: Globalization aka The Simpsons