I’m sorry about my infrequent posting lately. Below are two reasons why, and by way of continuing apology, a link to my latest piece — a feature in the Brown Alumni Magazine about being alone in a room in Saudi Arabia with a young woman who wants to attend an ivy league university.
1. As I wrote with some emotion last month, my beloved dad Al Deuel passed away April 13 after a brief battle with cancer. We are all still crushed. And among other things, his passing came just days after my wife and I left Riyadh, which we no longer call home.
2. Instead, Kelly McEvers and I are most likely moving to Istanbul, where I will be based as she looks to rotate into Iraq as National Public Radio’s new Baghdad correspondent.
So over the next weeks and months, my focus will begin shifting from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and the Gulf, to Turkey, Iraq, and the greater Middle East. If you have any advice, questions, or avenues of research you’d like Kelly or I to pursue, please don’t be shy.
For now, here’s a sample of that BAM piece about interviewing young women in Saudi for undergraduate admission to Brown — and also an appeal for your continued patience. Everything’s different now.
“The View From Riyadh,” from the May/June 2010 Brown Alumni Magazine.
In the hush just before afternoon prayer in Riyadh, the door’s hinges squeaked and there stood Deeskha Soni. Just shy of seventeen years old and a native of India who’d lived in Saudi Arabia most of her life, Soni seemed at first to be a most unlikely college hopeful. She was clothed in an abaya, the long black robe all women wear by law in Saudi Arabia. Soni smiled shyly, and I instinctively looked away, trained by eighteen months of living in Riyadh to be careful. But I was interviewing this woman for the Brown Class of 2015, so I apologized and smiled back.
Beside Soni stood her dad, a trim man in slim trousers and a dark shirt. If we’d been in the United States, Soni might have driven herself to the interview, as I had done when I was seventeen and applying to colleges. But Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women can’t get behind the wheel, even in an emergency.
Soni’s dad scanned me up and down, then looked over my shoulder into the apartment. Satisfied, he nodded and said he’d be waiting in the car.
My heart fluttered as Soni entered the apartment my wife and I rented. Saudi Arabia has some of the world’s strictest rules against the mixing of genders. Technically, it was illegal for me to be alone with a woman who wasn’t my wife or a blood relation. I’d never hosted a non-Western woman before, and the scenario made me jumpy.
(Read the remainder of the story here.)
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