Wednesday, December 12, 2007

South Hero Librarian Travels to Saudi Arabia

by Sharon Hayes from The Vermont Islander (US: Vermont)

I and 23 other U.S. educators’ won grants to travel to Saudi Arabia. Sponsored by The Institute of International Education and Aramco, the aim was to break down stereotypes and better our appreciation for the country. We met highly educated men and women who spoke impeccable English. They were the crème de la crème. We did not meet poor Saudis. The maids and waiters were from Pakistan, the Philippines and other countries ... As a woman, I could not venture from either of my hotels without a male escort. Saudi women may not drive, nor vote, and require their husband's permission to work or travel. Amr Khashoggi, chairman and CEO of the Amkest Group, chairman of the International Relations Committee, and an active member of the national Committee of International Trade who spoke to us during our Jeddah visit, said, "Women in my country get a raw deal." ... Khashoggi shared his fears about Saudi children becoming terrorists. With a "youth quake" occurring in Saudi – 50% of the population younger than 20 years old – he emphasized the importance of providing education and creating jobs for this sector of Saudis ... I did not speak with a single Saudi who supported Israel. Many Saudis do not understand why the United States supports Israel. For some, the vitriol would flow at its mere mention. One educator who has developed a series of E-Learning courses told me that "Israeli soldiers kill children." When I countered, "Sir, in the issue of fairness, there is violence on both sides," to his credit he did concur. "Yes, you are correct." ... I ended up leaving Saudi with more questions than answers. I’m not sure that it’s possible to unravel the truths of any country in 10 days.

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