A letter to shabab


Dear shabab who drove by me this morning:

You picked on the wrong lady. Do you think you scared me as I walked my dog on an empty side street? I heard your car slow down behind me so I was prepared for something - picture taking without permission, barking, is he for sale? Common reactions. But this took the cake.

You stop your car. Then you, shabab passenger, get out and lunge at me and my dog yelling and growling as if to attack us with a wild expression on your face. Do you think you scared me? You jumped back in the car and you two sped off. All I could do was raise my fist and yell “majnoon”!!

Jabu, my dog, and I continued our walk to the park. Where every Friday morning there is a basketball game with locals. And there you were, parked in the lot. I came up behind your car, and the door was open.

Yup, you guys. I pointed at you, passenger, and asked what is wrong with you? Yeah – you!

Surprised, your hands turn up, your shoulders hunch. Sorry, sorry, sorry!

You, the driver, says: “It wasn’t me! It’s my friend! He’s crazy!” I say, you were just as bad, you slowed down the car for him to jump out! Both guilty. Don’t say it wasn’t you; it was only your friend. Both of you, guilty! Ok shabab driver, since you are the one who speaks a little English I will direct this to you. Translate for your friend, please.

I am a guest in your country. I love Saudi Arabia. I love Jeddah. I love the Saudi people. I teach girls your age. You are the future of this country – what is wrong with you? “Wallahi”!! BE KIND! (I hate lecturing young people because you never know until you walk a mile in their shoes. But courtesy is courtesy no matter what.) You don’t scare me, you didn’t scare my dog but another woman may be really scared!! Don’t do this to people!! What would your mother say?! (Now I am the one yelling.)

Then you, shabab driver, very apologetic, say come to my home as my guest (ok that’s the Arab hospitality I expect!) and I say: “la, zowji, la”. Just so you know I have a big bad husband of a man who protects me. Your growler shabab friend wants to come out of the car and pet Jabu in a gesture of asking forgiveness. No, I say, he’s not friendly. (If they only knew what a sweet and gentle dog he is.) I snap a pic of your license plate for good measure. But I do not take a pic of you two shabab. Then walking back to my villa I flag down a military jeep and show the nice young man your car and license plate. I point to where you are parked and pantomime what happened and what you did to try to scare me, since he does not speak English and my Arabic is super “schway, schway”. He gets the message and drives off in your direction.

Whether he gave you a stern warning or you all laughed about the “majnoona” white lady who was walking her dog and yelled at you like a grandmother – maybe next time you will know not to mess with me before I’ve had my coffee.

It was just Saudi National Day. Honor what your grandfathers, great grandfathers and great-great-grandfathers did to build up this country into what it is today. And your mothers! Grandmothers! Great-grandmothers! Mashallah! Show some respect! You will be carrying your country, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, into the future. Don’t waste your energy scaring women or anyone on the street with your antics. Shabab, you really made me mad today. Someone has to tell you this is unacceptable behavior. Represent! Show the world how truly well mannered and smart you can be. I know you can because I’ve seen it.

As a professor in a Saudi Arabian university, I am dedicated to sharing my knowledge, skills and support with my beloved students. They are your sisters. And you are their brothers.

Inshallah, my wish is that all you boys of Saudi Arabia grow up to be responsible young men with lots of prospects for happiness and fulfillment in life. This is my wish for you. I pray this for you. So don’t waste your energy on such ridiculous behavior. I am not afraid of you because I know, deep down, you have a good heart. So respect and represent! You live in historic times. Now is your chance. Take it and act like a gentleman.

Julie Olson

An American professor and artist, Julie Olson teaches at an all-women university in Saudi Arabia. She and her husband Paul have lived in Jeddah since August 2014.