Saudi News Notes: The Twitter Tease

You know how doctors are figuring out how to use your own genetic material in therapies that target your specific ailment? Or horror movies where some weird power taps into your psyche to design the ultimate adversary for you?

Here’s my weakness: I have a hard time letting great stuff disappear into the ether. Check this picture from our recent trip to Italy:

Civita, ItalySee there? The people way down in the lower left? Those are my traveling companions, actually traveling. I’m hanging back taking a picture because Oh! There’s something pretty! and Oh! There’s something else! And lookie there! Pretty much the way the whole trip went.

I have a collection of podcasts that I’ve already listened to but are really cool and I can’t bring myself to delete. My DVR backlog is ridiculous. The plus side? I have a LOT of great stuff on Pinterest.

But now I’ve met the compulsion that might break me: Twitter, and my Arabic news feed.

I live on the edge of a society that fascinates me. But I’m excluded by language and a culture that’s, frankly, exclusionary, and doesn’t really want to interact with me. (Their loss, because of course I’m amazing.) I hang around just outside the fence, running a stick along the pickets, and Twitter is the ultimate knothole that lets me peek through.

This stuff is pure gold to me, and it’s impossible to let it just scroll by. So I have a rapidly fattening folder collecting links, titles, summaries, and sometimes whole articles. And on a week when I’ve been shut in with my foot up, it turned out to be the perfect place to reach for material. See? You never know when you might need this stuff.

Twitter is doing nothing to correct my image of widespread racism. Remember my report of Saudis complaining about Ethiopian maids and discussing the terrible native attributes of Ethiopians? (If not, it’s here.) Now I have this to fill the picture out further:

Arab News tweet re dog meatI’d seen a tweet the day before saying some Asian food workers were accused of attempting to serve dog meat. Around here, not worth a second glance. This one? Had to follow. (The complete article can be found here.) Short version: It turns out that the men were caught on video during inspection rounds cooking soup while a dog could be heard barking in the background. The soup would be “distributed to restaurants,” and the video showed them cooking in a residential kitchen in a poor neighborhood in Jeddah “in filthy conditions.”

dog meat controversy The video went viral, Saudis went ballistic about being served dog (“Do you hear the barking? Do you see how Asian they are?”)…and it turns out it was just ordinary soup bones and a language barrier. And a healthy dose of prejudice, I must say. Meanwhile, no mention of which restaurants are receiving the soup from the filthy kitchen, no discussion of an apparently widespread practice of restaurant food being prepared in back-alley kitchens, no apparent concern about any of it. But the dog question is resolved. The message? We’re gullible racists who have no problem with filth!

But then there are the glimpses that instead of filling out a picture, suggest the beginning of a new one that needs a lot more observation:

paper shortage tweetUnder THREAT? As in, people can’t write new marriage contracts because of a petty tussle over paper? Saudi singles, forever alone? The perfect girl, lost to a Kuwaiti who had a nice ream? I’m lost. The full article wasn’t much help. One official said that in his office they document 20-25 contracts a month, that they ask Shariah court officials for 500 leaves of paper but are only given 20. Catastrophe! I’ll just take it on faith that this MUST be some special kind of paper, and that it MUST be unavailable to consumers, and that it MUST be used for a marriage contract to be official. Still, this basically reads as another story of a cheap crappy boss who keeps the supply cabinet locked and dispenses new pencils only when you can bring him your used-up old one. I’m picturing some Scrooge in a thobe with a scraggly beard and inky fingers at his desk, counting pages out like lumps of coal. One…two…Khalas! That’s all you get. When a story like this is considered newsworthy, I’m clearly missing something important.

*“Khalas” is one of those words every language has that you adopt because you don’t have one quite like it in your own. It means all done, finished, wrapped up, we’re good here. In a country with so many foreigners, from so many different countries, there can be confusion at the end of a transaction about where things stand. When in doubt, check: Khalas? You don’t need anything else from me? Cool. I’m out.

Staying with the marriage theme:

marriage training tweetI would KILL to be an Arabic-speaking fly on the wall in some of those classes. What kinds of problems do they see and want to address? What are they going to tell a roomful of prospective brides? Or bridegrooms? (This much I know: Couples won’t be attending classes together.) The full article is here, but it offers no answers to the content and logistic questions I really want to ask. This is to be “A mandatory marriage training program to reduce the rising levels of divorce in the kingdom.” Mandatory. Good luck with that anywhere else. Here? Better believe I’ll be following this story.

Some of my favorite tweets are also my most frustrating. I follow journalists who are Arabic themselves, and while they tweet in English, they’re reporting on things that appear in Arabic-language media. A story can sound AMAZING, but when I chase it down all I get are squiggles or a lot of talking I don’t understand. For example:

eat sandwiches tweetWHAT?!? Language barrier or no, I clicked on the link. To set the stage, you should know that a lot of Arabic television involves men sitting at or around a table, talking adamantly. That’s it. No cutaways, no support video, no special effects. So ordinarily it’s nothing to keep my attention, but NOW, knowing the context…I wanna learn Arabic a little more every day. I heard “liberali” a number of times, and I’m pretty sure I heard “America” once. And I really want to know what he’s counting off on his fingers at the end of the video. I hope it’s types of sandwiches. “Bologna, peanut butter, roasted red bell pepper with onion, mozzarella, and pesto mayonnaise…”

Hey, wait. How is he onto me? This, you see, is the first thing I ate after landing in Rome:

Prosciutto Sandwich in RomeA sandwich. In a little nothing-special cafe. Three little bar-height tables pushed into a corner where you could, maybe or maybe not, eat. If not…well, you’re gonna spill out onto…the street. This was one of my favorite things I’ve ever eaten anywhere. Agh! Prosciutto, arugula, fresh mozzarella, a little olive oil toasted into some perfect crusty bread. I want everybody to know about it! I want everybody to try it! Down with McAnything! Don’t settle for another Subway! No more dates in your pocket!

Okay, so maybe my tweet-and-article-collection compulsion isn’t my enemy. Maybe it’s necessary to keep myself on top of how closely I’m being watched. The enemy of my enemy is my friend? Hmm. I’d better get back to it.

My follows include journalists @Ahmed, @EllenKnickmeyer, @AliAlAhmed_en, @BintBattuta87, and @HetavRojan. For newspaper sources, I follow @Arab_News, @Saudi_Gazette, @Gulf_News, and @AlArabiya_Eng. Bloggers include @SaudiWoman, @ManalalSharif, @SusieofArabia, @BlueAbaya, @nicolejhm, and @undertheabaya. I expect to find more, say, tomorrow. And the day after.

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