From Riyadh to Rafha, I arrived on a jet sitting next to a Bedouin woman. She was very kind. They wear the Abayah, the kind that goes over the head. They are totally draped. You cannot see a single flesh of their body. This will be the sight that one can expect when traveling to Rafha. Riadh on the other hand, has a diverse group or foreigners consisting of Europeans, South Asians, and others. My flight from Munich had mostly Americans, Germans, and British people. Were they there for vacationing? I think not. When I arrived in Riyadh, it was quite funny, not in a bad way, but funny to see the Western nonmuslim women, trying to put on their abayah and hijab prior to entering the immigration lanes. This new site of the ‘white woman’ in full abaya was incredible indeed. They are brave! They are all here for the same purpose, employment, with the hopes of saving up a pot of gold and a good quality of life.
Back to Rafha, I was picked up by my colleagues, who were from Jordan. They were Palestinians with Jordanian passports. When I heard his accent, I said to myself, “Ohh, this is a familiar accent that I know!” Driving back to my new residence which is a one bedroom suite in a hotel, very nice =), he was telling me with his wife in the car about Rafha and that there is basically nothing to do here. Shortly after unloading my bags to my suite, we headed to the university where I was to meet the director for the women’s campus. Believe me; she was so excited to know that I was American. But before I go there, let me tell about my entrance to the university.
The whole city of Rafha is very old, isolated and not wealthy. It is a Bedouin land middle of nowhere. It is near the border of Iraq. Today, Bedouins do not live in tents as they once used to. They live in buildings and houses that look like a scene from Aladdin. Believe me when I tell you how fascinated I was to see Arabic graffiti on the walls. Moving along, outside on the streets, women are covered head to toe, no eyes, feet or hands can be seen. It is as if they put a black bed sheet over their head. As we arrived at the girls campus entrance, the female college students were waiting outside for their rides in their full black outer garments called the abayah – (a bit different from what city girls wear). Together my new colleague and I entered the campus and behold the site that I saw. I know from my experience with Arabs in the US about their culture and customs. I am aware at what happens when its “girls only”. But here, once we entered amongst all these Bedouin female college students who were not in abayah when inside these campus walls, it was a site that I wish I could capture with Kodak. The walls are so high that no one can escape in or out, or take a peek from the highest building in this town. These girls wore skirts, ankle length as that was the uniform. Fashion in this area was incredible. They would wear bright red lipstick as well as pink. Hair was long and had volume and highlights. Most girls took extra time to fashion up. It was as if I had entered a harem with beautiful gorgeous women enjoying relaxation time with their friends in several parts of this big campus. There are approximatly 2000-3000 girls ages 18-20. They study PYP English, Chemistry, Pharmacy etc. Within these walls was a life of its own. All of these students are Bedouins from Rafha, and from other locations. Some students travel 2 hours by bus to come here. I was so glad to be amongst them. Boy, were they happy to meet an American!
The professors remind me of home and they are wonderful, hospitable and genuinely nice people. Alhumdulilah. So today, I observed other professors here. During the lesson, we discovered that these girls do not know their birthday. They know technology-don’t get me wrong. They have cell phones, Ipads, etc all these things can be found in Rafha. But their connection to the outside world and what’s happening is far too limited. I am dying to interview them about their life plans and future goals, you know me. My colleagues are so interested in me just as I am interested in all of them. I must tell you about my daughter’s nursery. I shall save that story for another day, perhaps tomorrow. =)