Little Stories from Jeddah

“You are so lucky to present in front of the beautiful girls of Effat,” my friend Faiza told me with a little wink as we were waiting for our drinks at Teayana of Atallah Center last Thursday. Maan, from Saudi hip-hop band Dark2Men, quickly interjected, “I hate Effat girls!” He didn’t explain why he hates them, but his friend Tamer, the shy slow-talking other member of D2M, said that just because he hates them doesn’t make them any less beautiful.

Indeed, they are beautiful; not just their looks, but also their confidence, eloquence, intelligence, hard work and dedication. It was my first time to speak in Saudi Arabia, and the first time to give this kind of presentation, and I couldn’t ask for a better audience.

Still, I was very nervous and I stayed up late the night before the opening day, rehearsing and trying get over my fear. I slept for a few hours only to wake up on the message telling me that Fouad has been released. “This will be a good day,” I said to myself as I opened my laptop to write down some final notes that I thought I would need when I speak. I didn’t use the notes because I forgot the little notebook on the small table at the center of the stage, and when I came later I couldn’t find it!

I started my talk with a few words about my friend Hadeel, praying to God to grant her a speedy recovery. Then I went on to tell the background story of how I started my blog; a story I rarely shared with others, but I thought this was a good opportunity to do so. I talked about the growth of the local blogosphere and the diversity in the Saudi bloggers community. The last part of my talk focused on the lessons that I learned from my experience as a blogger for the past four years.

Speaking after the hilarious Baba Ali, I think I sounded inevitably boring. Obviously, and no matter how hard I may have tried to be funny, I knew I can’t compete with a real comedian, but since I’m already a fan of his that wasn’t a problem.

Elisabeth Bosely, our moderator, asked both of us a few questions and ended the discussion 30 minutes after we started, 15 minutes shorter than the official time announced in the schedule. Due to some organizational hiccups they were off to a late start and had to make sessions shorter in order to catch up with their crowded schedule.

Unfortunately, cutting the panel discussion short meant that students were not given any chance to ask questions despite the fact that many of them were eagerly raising their hands. Some students came after the session to talk outside the main hall, but as one speaker told me later, most students would be too shy to come and ask after you left the stage.

Most of those who talked to me after my presentation were really nice, and it certainly felt good to be at the receiving end of praise, but the truth is that I didn’t give the presentation just to impress. What I was trying to show is that I didn’t do anything extraordinary and that any of them could do it, and do much better actually.

Since most sessions at the symposium were concurrent, I did not attend many of them. But I did attend the opening presentation by Naif al-Muttawa, the creator of The 99, who has a good story although I think he could have told it better than he did. I also attended the iTunes U presentation by my friend Mohammed Milyani as well as a videoblogging workshop by Baba Ali and Yusuf Chowdhury.

Aside from the symposium, I have had a chance to hang out with my friends: Bandar, Yousef, Milyani, and Mohammed. I wanted to meet Fouad but by the time I talked to him he was already on his way to see his mom in Taif. I’ve also met Abdullah Thabit, author of al-Irhabi 20 (Terrorist 20), one of my favorite novels.

While standing in a line at Jeddah Airport, a lady approached me asking if I was “the blogger.” She said her daughters, who stood 200 meters away, have recognized me. She made me blush with her sweet compliments and later told me about her 16-year-old son who wants to be the first Saudi to play in the NBA. Seeing the hope and pride in her eyes filled me with joy and left me in high spirits, a feeling I never experience flying back home before.

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7 thoughts on “Little Stories from Jeddah

  1. That’s Jeddah for you :( There are more options there, and flexibility. There’s an ability for both conservative and liberal people to come together in events without a feel of divide or judgement. I wonder why when we’re discussing Saudi, we tend to think of the “Riyadh” version alone…

  2. Maybe because even when you are outside it, Riyadh keeps jumping in your face one way or another: sometimes as a useless glass wall between men and women in the conference rooms, and sometimes as two needlessly separate registration stands.

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