Reporters on the Job

Serenaded in Saudi: To get a better understanding of Saudi society - and gather information for today's story about education reforms (page 7) - staff writer Faye Bowers persuaded a mom to get her daughters and some friends together. Seven girls showed up - aged 14 to 22. "They all said they think Americans hate them and misunderstand them, and they find it all incomprehensible and 'depressing,'" says Faye.

Inevitably, the conversation turned to boys. They all said a main goal was to meet a "guy," get married, and have a family. Restrictions in a strictly Islamic society make the "meet a guy" part difficult. But not impossible.

"They use the Internet, and haunt the parks in the diplomatic quarter - a protected compound where most Western diplomats as well as other foreign workers live," says Faye.

With no cinemas and no mixed gender entertainment, the mall is another meeting ground. Girls must be chaperoned and covered. But they have ingenious ways of "showing a little face."

For example, they might go into a store, and while they are looking at cosmetics, say, (and boys are outside the door looking at them) lift up their veil slightly, revealing more of their face.

If the boys like what they see, they'll wait outside the mall exit, watching for girls to leave. As the drivers pull up for the girls, the boys toss in one of their two cellphones. The boys then call the girls on the cellphone and they exchange e-mail addresses.

After a long afternoon of lively conversation, Faye announces she must leave. "They whisper to the mom, in Arabic, and ask if it would be OK to sing for me." The girls retrieve a video: the Disney Channel's Lizzie McGuire (Hilary Duff). "And they commence to sing their hearts out with Lizzie," says Faye.

"Have you ever wondered what life is about? You could search the world and never figure it out; you don't have to sail all the oceans, no, no, no, happiness is no mystery and here now it's you and me.... This is what dreams are made of...."

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