I have written about my first two months here in Saudi both on this blog and on facebook. When I look back at the things I have written, I get the feeling that I complain a lot. My goal is not to be a closed minded American who only values the way I have always done things. That being said, I will probably continue to complain.
Riyadh is what the USA would be if the religious right wing conservatives ran the country unopposed or power checked. I have never expected every country to be the same or offer the same way of life. I have also never been the sort to run around going "America, fuck yeah!" But recently, I have come to appreciate the idea of choice much more than I ever have before.
Saudis don't have a lot of choices when it comes to how to live life. Well, I suppose they have choices, but not as many as I am used to (not just in the States, but during my time in SE Asia and Europe as well). Because the religion and the government are so closely related, religious mores are codified as law. There is very little in the way of secular laws as a matter of fact other than basic traffic and contract laws. For the most part, the law and the religion are one and the same.
To be fair, there is some distinction. There is a regular police force and a religious police force. Personally I have not had contact with either, but I observe how they operate and read the local news. Back to choice. Things that are banned in Riyadh:
single men and women mixing
single men and women ordering from the same counter or area of a counter in restaurants
women driving cars (no real ban but there are fatwas against it)
non Muslim holidays including Halloween and Valentine's Day
long hair on men
women wearing regular clothes in public
single women out alone in public (unless foreign)
Women showing their hair or ankles or anything in between except hands and eyes. (only in public)
Converting away from Islam
bars, night clubs, concerts
Basically, if it is remotely fun, it is probably banned.
This is where I have a problem. I truly believe that every person deserves the right to live as he or she sees fit as long as they do not hurt others. But in this place, this bastion of religious piety and hypocrisy, people don't have a choice. Anything you choose to do is almost always more enjoyable than things you are forced to do.