Qanta Ahmed is a doctor who spent a few years practicing medicine in Saudi Arabia. When I heard about her book, entitled “In the Land of Invisible Women,” I knew I wanted to read it. In fact I liked the title and the story so much we just published an excerpt of this book on GoNOMAD. The author, a proper British Muslim who has never experienced life behind the abbayah, tells stories of what life is like here in what some call the most repressive and backward ‘modern’ country on Earth.
Yet she describes wonderful moments when women can take off their black abbayas and have fun behind 20 foot high walls of private homes. Joyously smoking a hookah, dancing to evocative sexy Arab music, and discovering how beauty can be enriched when it’s so elusive, Qanta loves this part of her new life.
In one hospital scene, she’s waiting for a Saudi surgeon to look at one of her patients, who of course is fully veiled and covered even in a hospital bed. But before any patient care, elaborate greetings must be done. A gaggle of male doctors meets another, and it’s time for kissing and lengthy hand holdings. “slowly, methodically, the men were kissing one another on each side of the face: each cheek, twice, thrice, four times, even more, as I lost count. At the same time they shook hands and embraced in endless combinations of two–a strange synchronized kissing geometry. Nothing could proceed until every Saudi scrub suit had greeted every other Saudi scrub suit. Of course, all women were excluded, the veiled phalanx stood wordlessly, as usual to one side”