Inside the Kingdom
A Western Woman’s Experience of Sa’udi Arabia
by Robyn Friend, Ph.D.
This article is Part II of a two-part series (see Part I, Vol. 16, No. 3) covering Robyn Friend’s September, 1997 excursion to Sa’udi Arabia. (Pseudonyms have been used throughout.)
In part I the author found herself (much to her own surprise) accompanying her husband on his business trip to Sa’udi Arabia. She spent the first two days getting accustomed to the weather and the social climate, in the company of Sadya, her hostess, and Azhar, a Sa’udi friend of Sadya.
Day 3: Monday
Sadya picked me up in the morning and we went to fetch Azhar to do some shopping at a fancy new mall where Sadya thought we might be able to find some costume items. This was really a “mega mall”, and was absolutely as stylish and fancy as anything in the U.S., with high glass ceilings, fountains, hanging plants, the whole bit. The main difference was that when we wanted to get something to drink, we had to find a place that allowed women.
In the mall there were, of course, all kinds of gold shops. There were also three other types of shops with a distinct Sa’udi flavor: dates, abayas, and incense. In the date shops, they sell dates by variety and by degree of ripeness. You can buy dates that are fresh, which only slightly resemble what we think of as dates; they are golden and have a softer sweeter part, and at one end are slightly crunchy with an odd, mildly astringent texture to them. There are also medium-ripe dates, and then very ripest and sweetest. This shop was as fancy as any chocolate shop in Brussels, with all kinds of pre-packed and beautifully wrapped gift packages, as well as dates sold by weight, either to be eaten right there, or to be wrapped as a gift. They are very expensive, too; $20 or more per kilogram.
The abaya shops had elegant matching abaya and headscarf sets, in varying styles (but only one color: black), priced into the hundreds of dollars.
The incense shops were also fascinating. There appeared to be three main types of incense: sandalwood; a resinous-looking substance that must have been frankincense; and something that looked like a small, toasted coconut ball. Sadya said that every Sa’udi home smells of incense. She said it cost about $100 per ounce, which seems like an awful lot! This puts into perspective the historical accounts of the rich trade in incense that made fortunes in Yemen and Oman, and also the tale of the Three Wise Men, whose gifts to the infant Jesus of frankincense and myrrh were much more valuable than their gift of gold.
We also stopped in a very nice antique shop. They had mostly the same things as in the Bedouin souq, but at elevated prices. Sadya liked it because it was clean and spacious. Me, I am just as happy in a crowded dusty souq, although I do admit that the air conditioning was most welcome. They had all the standard bedouin silver jewelry, plus some nice daggers, and in particular, a gorgeous silver-clad hand-carved door. If only I could have gotten it home!
Across the hall was a boutique that had gorgeous Sa’udi and Bedouin dresses, for $300 and up, though I saw not a single thobe nashal.
After a delicious dinner at Faruk and Sadya’s home, we retired to our hotel for an early evening. The next day we would be leaving for Abha in the southern province of Asir. Because of its 6,000 foot elevation, Asir province enjoys more rainfall and cooler temperatures than the rest of the Kingdom, and thus is the main summer resort area. We were promised cooler temperatures, green mountainous scenery, a visit to a traditional Sa’udi home, and baboons…..
Day 4: Tuesday
This was the day we were to fly to the resort area of Abha in the southwest, so I had a relaxed morning in the hotel room packing and watching television. There are only two Sa’udi television channels, including one whose programs seemed to consist largely of sermons and Qor’an readings. Satellite dishes are illegal, but every hotel we stayed in, and every home we visited, had a satellite dish. Other channels available included MTV-style programs from the United Arab Emirates (lots of singers and khaleeji-style dancing, with thobe nashal and hair flinging), an Egyptian channel, a Lebanese channel, Sa’udi programs produced and broadcast from London, and programs in Hindi. And of course, a channel broadcasting American sitcoms.
The flight to Abha began with a travellers’ supplication in Arabic. Once we got off the ground, we were served delicious Arabian coffee and dates. We also got hot towels, with a sandal-wood scent peculiar to Arabia, and a good lunch.
The flight was uneventful and fairly short. I looked out the window every now and then to see what I could see. There wasn’t much out there, just brown dirt, not really even sand, and a few tents here and there, barren plains interrupted occasionally by rocky outcroppings or a few circles of irrigated crops. I at first thought we were flying over the “empty quarter”, but a later look at a map showed me differently.
Our hotel was halfway between Abha, the main resort city in Sa’udi Arabia, and Khamis Mushayt, a small town where there is an American compound to house some of the foreigners who work in the area. After a brief nap at our hotel, we were taken off to the Abha Palace Hotel for dinner, where we were met by several of my husband’s business associates. One of the employees, Jim, was there with his wife, Diane, who showed up without an abaya and scarf, saying that as she was only going to be in the hotel, it didn’t much matter. She had only come to the Kingdom the previous December from her native Michigan, and had no prior experience or interest in the Middle East. I think she was having a hard time coping with the whole situation.
Diane later related to us an experience she and Jim had had. They were in the souq and she was stopped by a mutawwa because she wasn’t wearing a headscarf. The mutawwa took Jim aside to a police car, asked for and took Jim’s iqama (work and residency permit) and gave him a lecture. “Don’t you know our system? Can’t you control your wife?” and so forth. This is really dangerous for them both, as the mutawwa can take his iqama and make it impossible for them to stay in the country.
The hotel was absolutely gorgeous, and the food was fabulous. The hotel is owned by a prince, who has a suite wherein, just a couple days before, U. S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright had met with King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah. We were even allowed to visit this suite. The balcony overlooks a dam, which is lit with cobalt blue neon, and “The Green Mountain”, a mountain with a palace or museum on top, which is lit all the way up the sides and top with emerald green neon. You can take a cable car up to the top. Anyone can stay in the suite when the Prince isn’t using it; the cost is 1,600 Sa’udi riyals (SR) per night in the slow season, and 2,500 SR in the high season. Abha is the main vacation area inside of the Kingdom, and is green and lovely… and at 6,000 feet of elevation, the weather is quite nice.
Day 5: Wednesday
We started our day at the Khamis Mushayt souq. There was a large parking lot, in the center of which was a post on a concrete platform, referred to by the foreign community as “chop-chop square”, and is where the executions for the area are done. We started at the gold souq, and I finally bought something, some gold earrings, with diamond-looking stones in them. The merchant said they were “Sa’udi diamonds”. These are supposedly chemically closer to real diamonds than cubic zirconiums. They are a certain rock you can find just lying about in the desert! You must take them to someone who knows how to handle them; the stones must be fired at high heat, then they can be cut just like diamonds. They are quite beautiful, and to me, indistinguishable from diamonds.
We found a shop that had women’s traditional clothing and fabric, and all of it much cheaper than in Riyadh. I bought an embroidered Bedouin dress for about $30, and two black and gold beaded and embroidered scarves for about $10 each. From there we went to the Bedouin souq. This is supposed to be for women only, but our driver, Mr. Amin, and Sadya’s 19-year-old son, George, were allowed in, and there were plenty of older Sa’udi men; in particular one tiny old man in white thobe, red and white dishdasha, and a belt with a dagger. Sadya said this dagger was a typical traditional Sa’udi man’s accessory, and especially in this area they still wear them. But it was mostly women, mostly old women, selling baskets they had made, dried herbs and spices, hand-made clothes, buckets, ceramic pots, brooms, cheap jewelry, and cheap plastic gewgaws. One bunch was also selling fresh herbs and flowers; Sadya said that these were plaited into wreaths worn by men who come up from Yemen.
For our afternoon excursion, we headed off to Habalah, an interesting archeological site. To get there, we turned off the main road . . . and behold! A family of baboons, hoping for some handouts! Diane said that if we had some fruit, they would come right up and take it from our hands. But, we didn’t, so we moved on towards our goal.
The road began to climb, and we began to see some of the traditional architecture of mud brick, with rows of stone sticking straight out to keep the occasional rain from running straight down the sides of the unfired mud brick and washing away the buildings.
On and on we climbed until we came to Habalah. The area is on a high cliff overlooking a very deep and narrow gorge, much like Yosemite. We went on top of the highest lookout, and there was the magnificent canyon, very steep and sharp at the top, sloping down about halfway towards the bottom. There was an aerial tramway going across the nearest canyon down to a relatively flat area where we could see some ruins of mud brick buildings. Mr. Amin bought us tickets to go across. At first, Sadya did not want to go because she is afraid of heights, but eventually we all went, and really, it was most interesting and not at all frightening.
The Pakistani caretaker offered to show us around. Sadya and Diane declined, but George and I and Mr. Amin went on a tour of the area. People had lived here for a very long time, the caretaker said, and continued to live here until about 20 years ago, when oil wealth made it possible for these people to move on to better accommodations. He pointed out where graves were dug directly into the hillside, then plugged up with boulders. He said there were hundreds of these graves at Habalah. He took us up the hillside to show us the water source that gushes out from a crack in the rock of the cliff face. They have stuck a pipe in the hole and piped water out to water the terraces of coffee plants, lemon trees, and other plants. The place where the water comes out and forms a tiny pool is green and lush with maidenhair fern.The caretaker offered us a drink of the water, saying it was the same water they sell at the snack bar, but I declined.
The caretaker pointed out a Bedouin family that still lives at the bottom of the canyon, far below where we were standing. Their tent and a few goats could barely be seen from where we stood. He then took us up to several buildings, ending with the hovel that he is allowed to live in as part of his income. It might have been picturesque with some rugs and pots and pans, and other home comforts. As it was, it was filled with trash and flies and was thoroughly filthy and uncomfortable looking.
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a tent by the side of the road where Sadya wanted to buy some honey. She had been talking about this honey all day, telling me about how interesting it was, a specialty of the area, and so forth. The honey merchant turned out to be Egyptian. Sadya, of course, did not get out of the van. The merchant came to the van, and gave us all a sample. It was good, something like sage honey, but not, to me, worth the outrageous price of $200 per kilogram! Something in it reminded me of “the honey of my youth”, the childhood Bulgarian honey-soaked treats with which I grew up. Perhaps it had to do with the types of flowers frequented by these bees.
That night, we had dinner in a traditional Sa’udi home. Mr. Tuhfah is retired, and now works with my husband’s company. He grew up in this area, not far from his current home in a small village near Khamis Mushayt, where he lives with his two wives and their daughters, sons, and daughters-in-law. Mr. Tuhfah’s house has been added onto over the years. There are now three sections, one public – where Mr. Tuhfah entertains male guests – and two private family buildings, with their second stories now connected by a covered bridge. As we entered through the gate of the compound into the courtyard, all the men in our party went to the public building, and we ladies went under the bridge between the other two buildings to join Mr. Tuhfah’s women-folk.
As we reached the doorway to the private part of the house, we were warmly greeted by our host’s wives, daughters, and daughter-in-law. Our abayas and scarves were taken from us, we shook hands and kissed. From the steps of the house we were lead to the ladies’ majlis. This was a large room, perhaps 30’ x 15’, lined completely with low divans. There were small mirror-topped tables in the center of the room around a larger table; these small tables were brought to us. The décor was almost all in blue, blue divans, blue rug, and blue little tables. One of the daughters brought in a censer with incense burning and waved it around us for a bit, then took it away. We were then served Arabian coffee with the half-raw dates and a coconut sweet, all delicious. There was a bit of chatting, while some of the ladies went off to finish preparing dinner.
A word about the ladies: Mr. Tuhfah has two wives, one perhaps in her 50’s, the other in her 40’s. There are three older unmarried daughters, two from the younger wife, and an 18-year-old from the older wife. There are two eight-year-old little girls, one from each wife, three months apart in age, who look like fraternal twins! One of the older daughters has been engaged to be married for two years. She teaches second-grade science in a girls’ elementary school. She has been teaching for three years, and plans to continue teaching after she gets married. She is very anxious to be married, but her fiancé, her father’s brother’s son (and therefore, her first cousin), is in college getting his degree in chemical engineering, and her father will not allow her to marry until her fiancé finishes his degree, which he will in two more years. She and her fiancé cousin were playmates as children, until she reached the age where she was required to put on the veil. Since then, she has only seen him for a few minutes when they got engaged. She says he is very handsome.
The daughter-in-law is 17 and lovely. She is also a cousin, and grew up in Riyadh, though the family visited Khamis Mushayt every summer. Like her sister-in-law, she played with her husband-to-be when they were little. Then, once she began to veil, did not see him again until their engagement. She was wearing makeup (the only one of them to do so) and denim overalls.
After a bit we were led to the dining room across the hallway, where we took off our shoes. This was a peachy-pink room, with divans much closer to the ground, really just thick cushions, also with the matching arm rests and little tables. There was a round sufar in the middle of the floor, and we sat down around it. The daughters began to serve us; we were not allowed to serve ourselves, though they did ask if we wanted this or that. There were stuffed peppers, stuffed zucchini, goat and rice, roasted chicken, vegetables, salad . . . it seemed to go on forever. I wanted to try everything, but couldn’t finish. I was struggling and said something to Sadya who said “You don’t have to finish it all!” She explained to the ladies that in America we are trained to finish all the food on our plates. The ladies found this amusing, and assured us that this was not the case in Sa’udi Arabia. We then retired to the divans for dessert, which consisted of rice pudding, various baklawa-type desserts, and a confection made by the eldest daughter, a cookie with icing made from chocolate bars.
The ladies wanted to take us on a tour of the old part of the house, to where they have some old-fashioned traditional-style rooms, and where the new daughter-in-law and her husband, Mr. Tuhfah’s son, have recently renovated and re-modeled an apartment for themselves.
When we went to go up the stairs and across the bridge, however, we were stopped by the ladies. Apparently, the gentlemen’s party was being taken through that part of the house, and we had to wait. The ladies were calling out to them, and we waited until one of them said it was OK. We then went up the stairs and across the covered bridge, into one of the old rooms, not used for much now. The ceiling is made from varnished tree branches placed over wooden beams. The walls are painted in patterns of bright colors. There are a couple of these rooms; the other one has low divans, a television, and Mr. Tuhfah’s family tree, a fun mixture of the traditional and the modern!
As we were going back across the bridge, we looked out the window and could see Sadya’s son George through the door to the men’s sitting room. All the girls were quite interested to see what George looked like, and tried to take a peek. We wanted to see what the fiancé looked like, and tried to get the daughter to tell us if the gentleman we could see next to George was he. She got all flustered and said she couldn’t be caught trying to look, she would get in trouble. There was a lot of giggling, but I could see there was real concern about this.
We went back to the blue majlis for tea. I asked Sadya if they would dance for me, and she asked and they said yes, and brought out a boom box. First, though, they wanted to play a tape that Mr. Tuhfa’s son had made for the processional of his bride. It was a poem he had written about her, set over some modern music, in which he talked about her beauty, her honesty, her character and intelligence, and so forth. Sadya said this was quite unusual, not traditional at all. The daughter-in-law said that her husband had said that after meeting her for only 15 minutes, he knew that she was the one for him.
Finally, they started dancing. First, they asked, “Egyptian or Sa’udi?” “Sa’udi, of course!” I said. There was very little shyness. The daughter who was engaged started first, then they made me get up. I can’t help it, I have gotten the Iranian reluctance to appear eager to dance ingrained in me now! But we danced, and then the other sisters started dancing. Each one had one or two special steps that she tended to do over and over. I was glad I had tried before the trip to learn some Sa’udi dancing, as they were very appreciative of the results of my efforts.
This was followed by more qahwe ‘arabiyya and dates. Then, some man came to the window and said it was time to go. All the ladies jumped up, we put on our abayas and scarves, they showed us out the door with kisses and spraying of perfume on our hands, and we went out to the courtyard, where we waited for the men for what seemed a long time. Then, the men came out, including the our host, whom we thanked, and off we went in our cars back to the hotel.
Day 6: Thursday
The flight to Jeddah was largely uneventful. We began with the usual safety chat, and the travelers’ supplication. We must have flown over Mekkah, but I couldn’t see it. Faruk told us later that the captain had announced that we would soon be flying over Mekkah, which allowed passengers on ‘umrah to change into their pilgrim clothes: a pair of towels for men, one wrapped around the waist, the other over the shoulders; for women, a white sari and headscarf, but faces uncovered.
Jeddah is a beautiful city, both very modern and very old. It is very green, very hot, and very humid. Imagine turning on the hot tap in your shower, closing the bathroom door, and returning after about 20 minutes; that’s Jeddah in September, not even the hottest month!
We stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel, the nicest hotel in Jeddah, and one of the nicest I have ever been in. The atrium was lovely, with Moorish plasterwork, a “Syrian”-style fountain, and a majlis off to the side with Bedouin tent hangings and rugs. The walls of our room were lined in a beautiful hardwood, like on a luxury cruise ship.
After a delicious lunch in the buffet, we all took a cab to the old souq. We started at the gold souq, and wandered around. We found a nice abaya store with fairly reasonable prices; I probably should have bought one for myself.
As we continued our wanderings, we saw some exquisite old buildings, like something out of a film: lots of woodwork, overhanging balconies, and so forth. Faruk said it was OK to take photos of the buildings, just not of people. I bethought myself of the trouble that Marianne Alireza had while taking photos of old buildings for a 1987 National Geographic article, and used due caution. So these photos are a bit skewed, and look almost straight up, and have no people in them.
There were lots of interesting things, home décor, fabrics, ladies dresses, and so forth; more interesting than in Riyadh, and much more reasonably priced.
I decided that since my husband was with me, I should really get some gold, so I started looking about in earnest. We finally bought a lovely matching set of necklace, earrings, ring and bracelet, in a delicate Indian style, for a very reasonable price. I will say this for Sa’udi Arabia: you can get good prices on gold jewelry! When we were in Istanbul a week later, we saw something very similar for three times what we paid in Jeddah! In Turkey, they don’t sell the gold by weight, but in Sa’udi Arabia, the workmanship counts essentially for nothing; all the value is in the weight of the gold.
On our way back to the hotel, we could see a huge fountain of water spitting up from the Red Sea in front of the hotel, supposed to be the largest fountain in the world. Its base is shaped like the traditional Sa’udi incense burner, so that the spray at night looks like incense smoke.
As we walked along the sea shore, Faruk and Sadya – who have been away from home for more than 2 years now — decided to have dinner at a McDonald’s. Of course, unlike McDonald’s at home, this McDonald’s has a men’s section and a family section, which was full of giggling, screaming children, and noise from electronic games. Our gentlemen told us that downstairs in the men’s section, whence they got our food, it was very peaceful and quiet. The food was exactly as McDonald’s is at home.
Afterwards, we had a lovely walk along the Red Sea. There were lots of people out, sitting and drinking tea or coffee, playing dominoes, or chatting. We resisted offers for camel rides!
As we were walking back to the hotel Faruk remembered that there was a wedding going on in the hotel, and Sadya suggested that she and I try to get in. This would be appalling behavior at an American wedding, but Sadya said that Sa’udis love to have foreigners crash their weddings. The main problem was how to get in . . .
We headed towards the ballrooms, until we could hear drums and ullulation. My pulse quickened as we approached a wall of mirrors with a door in it. Darn it, the door was locked; there wasn’t even a handle! We went back to the lobby, found someone obviously employed by the hotel, and eventually worked our way through the gauntlet, finally getting a message to the mother of the bride, who consented, and we were escorted (past armed guards) into woman-only-land. Behind the door was a screen, permitting ladies as they entered to remove their abayas before they entered the party room, without being seen by curious eyes from outside. A woman, hired for the purpose, sat on a sofa at the entrance and ullulated whenever new guests arrived.
We were then led through another door into the ballroom, where the hundreds of gorgeously dressed women and girls were gathered to celebrate the wedding. Once again, not a single thobe nashal did I see! The ladies were wearing ball gowns, evening gowns, mostly to the floor, scooped necks, bare shoulders, slits up the front or side, beaded, silks, etc. They were all stunning! Some of the older ladies wore more conservative dresses, but it ran the gamut. I also did not see a lot of gold, or maybe I was getting used to the sight of gold by then and just didn’t notice it. The women themselves were by no means homogenous in physical appearance. The skin tone and hair color ran the gamut, as well, from the dark African looks of one of the musicians, to a young guest with coloring like my own, dark honey-colored hair and light olive skin.
This room was furnished in two parts. One part of the room consisted of sofas and coffee tables with mounds of fruit and sweets piled on, and carafes of tea and coffee. This is where we sat ourselves, not even taking off our abayas, since we were so shabbily dressed underneath. From here I could see the other part of the room, full of the usual large round banquet tables. At the far end of the room was a stage that came out as a runway down the center of this part of the ballroom. To one side sat a group of five women playing percussion instruments. There was also a woman who sang, but no other melodic accompaniment. Girls were seated up on the stage, and when the music started up, they got up by ones and twos and danced down the runway and back, with no reserve or shyness at all; the steps were all the same ones I had seen before.
We couldn’t stay long – I had to get up very early to catch our flight to Turkey. Not to mention that our husbands were still in the lobby, drinking tea and discussing women’s rights, ready to intervene if we were arrested for party-crashing!
My time in Sa’udi Arabia had come to an end. Though but a quick trip, I was able to have many interesting and genuinely Sa’udi experiences. I hope to return to the Kingdom again, and fill in those blanks left by the brevity of my visit: a dance party at Azhar’s, a visit to Dir’aiyah (the first capital of the Al-Sa’ud), more shopping, a return visit to those baboons, this time with fruit in hand . . .
Abercrombie, Thomas J. “Saudi Arabia”, National Geographic, volume 129, number, page 1.
Alireza, Marianne. At the Drop of a Veil. Houghton Mifflin Company Boston, 1971. An account, through an American woman’s eyes, of Sa’udi Arabian life during the 1940s and 1950s.
Alireza, Marianne. “Women of Sa’udi Arabia”, National Geographic, volume 172, number 4, page 423. Ms. Alireza returned to the Kingdom after many years absence and documented life for women there in the late 1980s. Beautiful photographs and extremely interesting text.
Campbell, Kay Hardy. “Saudi Arabian Women’s Music”, Habibi, vol. 9, no. 3.
Campbell, Kay Hardy. “Arabian wedding nights”, Arab News, 1 August 1979.
Campbell, Kay Hardy, “Saudi Arabian Folk Music,” Saudi Arabia, Summer 1988, Volume 5, Number 2, pgs. 12-15. Saudi Embassy, Washington D.C.
Ingham, Bruce. The Simple Guide to Customs and Etiquette in Arabia and the Gulf States. Global Books, Ltd., England, 1994.
Lacey, Robert. The Kingdom. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Incorporated, 1981. Comprehensive account of modern Sa’udi Arabian history. Mr. Lacey obviously has a great respect for the Kingdom in general and for Abdul Aziz in particular, though he is realistic about the negative aspects of Sa’udi life.
For some wonderful live field recordings of Sa’udi Arabian music, write to Kay Campbell at P.O. Box 296, Accord, MA, 02018-296; e-mail KayCam@aol.com.
1 Thobe nashal is the traditional women’s dancing dress in the Arabian Gulf area, a long caftan-like garment worn over regular clothes, as a special party outfit. I have read about this garment (see articles by Kay Campbell in bibliography), and saw it on television programs originating from the United Arab Emirates, but did not see a single one in Sa’udi Arabia.
2 My husband agrees. I, of course, never got to see him.
3 Sufar: a cloth or table on which food is served; in this case it was a cloth on the floor.
4 ‘Umrah is the “lesser pilgrimage,” a pilgrimage to Mekkah done other than during the annual Hajj (pilgrimage) season. It includes a visit to the sacred mosque in Mekkah, with the ceremonies at the Ka’aba and others, but does not include all the sacrifices and other rituals. It is a meritorious act, but not to the same degree as the Hajj.
5 Ms. Alireza returned to the Kingdom in 1987 with a woman photographer, and produced a fascinating photo essay of Sa’udi women. She was stopped by a policeman as she attempted to photograph one of the many old carved wooden balconies in and around the Jeddah souq.
 Thobe nashal is the traditional women’s dancing dress in the Arabian Gulf area, a long caftan-like garment worn over regular clothes, as a special party outfit. I have read about this garment (see articles by Kay Campbell in bibliography), and saw it on television programs originating from the United Arab Emirates, but did not see a single one in Sa’udi Arabia.
 My husband agrees. I, of course, never got to see him.
 Sufar: a cloth or table on which food is served; in this case it was a cloth on the floor.
 ‘Umrah is the “lesser pilgrimage”, a pilgrimage to Mekkah done other than during the annual Hajj (pilgrimage) season. It includes a visit to the sacred mosque in Mekkah, with the ceremonies at the Ka’aba and others, but does not include all the sacrifices and other rituals. It is a meritorious act, but not to the same degree as the Hajj.
 Ms Alireza returned to the Kingdom in 1987 with a woman photographer, and produced a fascinating photo essay of Sa’udi women. She was stopped by a policeman as she attempted to photograph one of the many old carved wooden balconies in and around the Jeddah souq.
Robyn Friend, Ph.D., a first-generation Bulgarian-American, is a singer, dancer, and choreographer, specializing in classical and folkloric dance of Iran. Robyn has studied with noted teachers in Iran, Turkey and the U.S. She has a Ph.D. in Iranian languages from UCLA, and has authored numerous papers in both scholarly and popular publications. Her singing repertoire includes the classical music of Iran and Turkey, traditional songs from the Near East and the Balkans, Gypsy music, and other European and American selections. Her teaching and choreographic credits include work for the Aman Folk Ensemble, Het Folkloristich Danstheater of the Netherlands, and the Duquesne University Tamburitzans. She has performed as a solo singer and dancer throughout North America, Europe and the Middle East, and teaches and performs primarily for the Iranian community in Los Angeles. www.robynfriend.com