Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

  • Date
  • 18 November 2000

Women may only sit in the back seat of taxis, but not knowing this, I figured I shouldn’t sit in the back with two men – one not my husband. So when Jim, Fredrik, Chris and I headed to the Oman embassy, I opened the front door to sit. Oh no, the driver motioned with his hand, I must sit in the back. A married woman can only ride in the front seat of a car if the driver is her husband or a male relative – closely enough related as not marriage material.

I’ve mentioned that by law I cannot work out at hotel gyms (or private ones) in Saudi Arabia. In Jiddah someone told me there was an ‘all female health club’ in Riyadh, so I searched and searched, but without luck. A hotel employee suggested I go to a hospital for exercise; this seemed odd. Finally I read in a local book about Obagi Health for Women, but when I called, the recording said Obagi Plastic Surgery and Dermatology Hospital. I hung up and tried again and heard the same message. I asked for the health club and was transferred! Later I learned that health clubs for women are not legal in Saudi Arabia, so exercise facilities for women are incorporated into clinics and hospitals, thus making them acceptable as forms of rehabilitation I presume.

The unmarked Obagi health club is located in the basement of the clinic where dermatologists and plastic surgeons work wonders on male and female patients, who wait in segregated waiting areas. Once inside the exercise facility I found a top-notch facility with spa and exercise sections.

Once situated on a stationary bike for an hour of much-needed cardiovascular exercise, I began reading a November 2000 regional magazine called Emirates Woman filled with scores of advertisements for shops and malls in Dubai. After a few pages I noticed a black spot on one of the ads and figured something went amiss at the printer. Then I found another and another and another black spot over ads and realized I was seeing blatant censorship. Someone had flipped through the entire publication and used a black marker to conceal every kissing couple, naked shoulders, thighs and bare midriffs. And then I found entire pages missing from the publication. Amazingly though, some skin and even a bare breast made it through the censorship. And whoever is blackening the ‘unsuitable’ material has no concern for coloring over story copy and telephone numbers in advertisements.

Later while reading a story on Japan’s youth in the International Herald Tribune newspaper, I found the same black mark over a young woman’s thighs. The November 2000 Homes and Gardens magazine includes photographs and ads with ancient nude statues, which have been blackened completely.