'Not From Here,' stories by Nathan Deuel

We're moving from Saudi to Turkey

Hagia Sofia

My new neighbor: Istanbul's Hagia Sofia. (Image by qyphon via Flickr)

Dear readers,

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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Filed under: Iraq, Islam, Kelly McEvers, Middle East, NPR, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, World, Writing, , , , , , ,

One Response

  1. craig says:

    I would love to hear about the subject of racism in Turkey, as well as whether there is any hope at all that they ever make it into the EU.

    I know that a few years ago, they were hoping to be included in the EU, a move that seemed like a long shot at best. That hope seemed to disappear, and I imagine that the economic crisis in Greece, etc. has all but crushed these hopes, but I would be interested in whether Turks still privately harbor such ambitions. Do they wish to turn towards the western world, or the middle east?

    The second issue, one that really shocked me during my travels through Europe, is the extent of racism towards Turks, particularly in the Germanic countries like Germany and Austria. People would go out of their way to insult Turks.

    I remember sitting in a hole in the wall bar in Vienna and trying to chat up a turkish bartender about politics, society, and life in general. He told me that he would talk to me later. Sometime later, he came over and we talked. He informed me that he had to wait to talk to me because the man that just left the bar was the son of a well known Nazi, and that his views as a Turk would not have been welcomed. He told me many stories that I found believable such as a college admission counselor who inquired as to his race and told him flatly that this university is not for you. I met many Turks, or people of Turkish descent that recalled such encounters

    Are people in Turkey keenly aware of such racism? Do they tend to harbor such racism towards white people or western europeans? It is certaintly an interesting interplay where there seem to be such strong cultural differences/racism, and yet there have been at least some rumblings at unity.

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