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The sweltering heat of the Middle Eastern sun would wrap its parched tongue around my heavily shrouded body. The afternoon could have been cooked on an open flame, leaving behind charred individuals busily going about their business. Despite such harsh weather, I remember constantly hugging my burka tightly around myself and searching for my mother and sisters amongst the masses of women in the same black garb. Being covered head to toe in black was a way of life for me, just like hiding my religious identity was or not seeing any women drivers anywhere. Malls and businesses would close for prayer time, and pork and alcohol were unknown. This is what my life was like just a few short years ago. I was born and spent the first nine years of my life in the country of Saudi Arabia. Now, almost a decade later, I have grown into a woman who has been carved out by the blunt and rugged landscape of Arabian life.
Living in Saudi Arabia, I belonged to a religious sect of Islam that made up less than 2% of the minority religious groups. The behemoth religious majority that we faced were the Islamic fanatics, the Wahabis, or people who believed in an extreme interpretation of religion and harshly reinforced religious law. There were always rumors of minority families being deported who got caught for practicing their faith. I remember having a constant fear of being exposed, a fear I had worked on pushing deep inside my heart as many others had to do too. Now when asked about my upbringing, I don’t hesitate to tell the truth. I want this same freedom for other minority groups, for those whose ideas aren’t given a second glance.
I believe all women have a sense of sisterhood for each other, and this inherent compassion is enhanced when we encounter oppression of basic human rights. In Saudi Arabia, women were severely oppressed and put on a much more subordinate position than men. Higher education opportunities for women were non-existent. We were forced to cover up all visible skin. Even in that nine year old girl’s brain, I knew how wrong it was that Mutawwas, extremist followers of the Islamic Law, pestered my mother to cover every inch of her face. Years of living in an atmosphere that forced me to keep my voice suppressed has only caused the proliferation of it. I have written articles and poems to better capture my memories and the raw emotions they elicit. I am also working on a blog focusing on the current accomplishments of the minority groups, mostly Saudi Arabian women who battle the laws of a strict social code and break through them. I believe in these people; I feel they are a part of me, and I a part of them. We are everywhere, finding solace in each others’ achievements, and waiting for our own.
Foreigners were ineligible for government jobs, and enrollment in colleges and universities was a privilege for the few elite. Observing the Saudi Arabian monarchy and society and strict laws which are embraced by both have given me a motivation and made me approachable. My privileged education in an American International private school has infused a quality of open-mindedness. I met children from all over the world, exposing me to different views, norms, and ways of thinking. I am open to all sorts of perspectives, opinions, ideas, and religions and accepting of all types of people, and this trait is what made me apply to a University of California. I want to be able to freely utilize this different perspective in an accepting campus, and contribute a different setting in classrooms and incur in more dynamic discussions. I want to see justice served and watch women rise. I want to change the inequality that these women all over the world have been struck with and give them equal platforms to stand on. By living in Saudi Arabia, I have witnessed women being unable to express themselves; I want to raise public awareness of such oppression of rights for women, through my strengths in the arts of photography, writing, and publicly speaking. I want to engage in discussion and I believe that my different perspective will foster more thought and further promote more diverse opinions, as well as hearing the voice of the unheard which is my main goal.
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