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.


Fouad Released

I woke up around 5:30 this morning on the beeping of my iPhone which received a short message from the wife of my friend and fellow blogger Fouad al-Farhan telling me that Fouad has been released and that he is back home with his family now. That’s great news and this is just how I wanted to start my morning!

The good news made me less nervous and more relaxed about giving my presentation today. I’m doing some final revision now and should be standing on the stage in the main room at the Hilton Hall to speak in a couple of hours.

Jeddah Update

When the organizers of the L&T Symposium asked me few months ago who they should invite to speak about blogging in Saudi Arabia, Hadeel was on top of the list that I recommended. It would be hard for me to speak on the stage knowing that she is supposed to be there with me, but I will keep her in my thoughts and prayers.

I fly to Jeddah in a few hours. The symposium won’t kick off till Saturday, but I thought I would arrive a bit earlier to hang out with my friends and meet some people. I found out that fellow blogger Mohammed Milyani will also be speaking at the event but in a different session.

The symposium blog confirmed yesterday that Queen Rania of Jordan will be the opening night keynote speaker. If you want to follow the event keep an eye on their blog and this page. The sessions will be broadcasted live on ART (probably the open-to-air Ein channel), and it will also be webcast courtesy of MeduNet.

I’m not sure how often I will be able to update the blog while I’m in Jeddah but you can always check out my Twitter page to read some fresh bits and pieces.

Jeddah, Jeddah

I stayed in Jeddah for a week in 2006, and I loved it. The visit was to meet friends and fellow bloggers and also to see the city for the first time as I never been there before. I had a blast, and I’ve been seriously thinking about moving to Jeddah after I finish school here in Riyadh.

I will visit Jeddah again this week for a few days to participate in a conference. I was invited by Effat College to speak about blogging in the Kingdom at the 6th Annual Learning and Technology Symposium that will be held on April 26-27. As always, I’m lucky to have the company of great people who will share the stage with me. This time I’m honored to be joined by fellow blogger Hadeel al-Hodaif and videoblogger Baba Ali.

However, it saddens me that I won’t be able to see my friend Fouad when I visit his hometown. Last time I was there he took me to his favorite places in town and we had a lot of fun. I received the invitation and agreed to participate just a few days before he was arrested.

During the last few weeks I was hoping that he would be released before I come to Jeddah but unfortunately not much has happened since then. I thought about withdrawing because it will be painful for me to visit Jeddah again knowing I won’t see him, but then I decided it was better to go and talk about his case instead of staying home.

It is too late for you to register for the conference now, but if you happen to be a lady then you might be interested in another event hosted by Effat College this week. Head Over Heels in Saudi Arabia is a play that touches topics concerning Saudi women and addresses many questions raised about them. The performance is open for ladies only, and the ticket price is SR 100. For more information, please call 0530899829 or 026364300 ext. 1316 or ext. 5001. (Hat tip to fellow Jeddawiah blogger Glow!)

Finally, I leave you with the unofficial soundtrack for my trip: Jeddah (My Hometown City) ’02 by Qusai aka Don Legend the Kamelion. Trust me, you want to give this song a listen!