120317–The Only Girl in the World ?

by Irina Bernebring Journiette

Björn and I was fortunate enough to be invited along side the Ambassador and his senior adviser for lunch with the minister of culture and information the other day. One might say it was a small gathering to celebrate the end of the ten day long book fair. Greeted as a success the mood was jolly. I sat with a hand full of women in the women section during the pre-lunch speech, all prominent scholars and professors. (The network for Saudi prominent women is actually quite impressive, but of course, also quite exclusive, the all seem to know each other quite well. Perhaps they can also serve as a lesson to us, women of the “westerland,” and our ability to constantly work against and not towards each other.) Anyway. All seemed to be like a typical Saudi event, mostly men, some women, until it was time for lunch. At the VIP – seating I sat down to dine at a table with 50 guests, 49 men and I. The absence of women not as noticeable as the presence of one–me, yours truly–abaya wearing of course, but refusing the hijab, seated across two members of the “haiia,”–mutawwah. And it was, truly astonishing. Me, Haram in my every being, sat there and shared a meal, with all the men. The debate surrounding the lack of women in public space and the oddity in excluding all the prominent female members of society and including me will be left for a later stage. Now I just felt the amaze of being the only girl in the world.