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In these ever-changing times of all of the gender-bending and blending, it must be understood that much of it is viewed with a degree of confusion in this part of the world as genders are pretty much defined as being male or female.

It is fair to say then that much of the controversy that sweeps western societies about the various forms of genders has somewhat been insulated from GCC society.

To bring this matter to a point, last week at a beach resort northwest of the city a group of middle-aged men was seated on loungers by the shore as the cool waters of the Red Sea ebbed and flowed just a few meters beyond.

The sun had set some time ago, Maghreb prayers were over, and the faint glow of the setting sun still graced the far horizons. As is customary, conversations ranged from health to sport, wives to food, exercise, and beyond.

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Hamza was complaining of feeling lethargic for the last few days. This immediately prompted several remedial solutions. Badr started by advising Hamza to drink lots of carrot juice and partake of parsley daily. Ishak cautioned Hamza to go easy on the juice, as excessive Carotene could be toxic.

Dr. Jaber, who surprised the group by his presence, as he shuns socialising and prefers solitude at the beach by puffing away at his water pipe on the porch of his cabin, interrupted by advising Hamza to listen to jazz music. That always seemed to pep him up, said the doctor. A degree of credence was given to the doctor albeit with some reluctance. After all, he was the only Ph.D. in the circle!

Hamza seemed to take all these remedies seriously. Ishak suggested scented candles in a darkened room. Candles, one wondered? What would they be thinking of next? Ribhi, who loves to get in the last word, suggested a series of steps that always worked for him.

First, he volunteered, stay in the company of those who do not aggravate you. Then take a couple of aspirins, followed by half a glass of vinegar. Follow that with an aromatic tobacco-filled pipe. The combination should do wonders, he added. The aspirin for an impending headache, the vinegar for the blood pressure, and the pipe for serenity.

Intense and animated conversation

Soon, the women folk joined the group, no doubt attracted by the intense and animated conversation. Naturally, with their presence, the topics shifted from health to relationships.

Somewhere in the conversation, the recent revelations by Prince Harry of England on the inner workings of the house of Windsor began. That led to a discussion on what substance people admire in those of the opposite gender.

Dr. Jaber, after some hesitation, replied that green eyes were what was very attractive to him, while Badr blurted out rather blushingly that vital statistics are what set women apart. Ribhi added that ankles were very important to him. A stocky or too-thin set of ankles would just not do.

I could spot a couple of the women folk slyly sneaking glances at their own ankles. Ishak muttered an inaudible reply, most likely fearing the wrath of his stout wife who just shot him a wicked glare. I think it had something to do with a slender neck.

“And what about you, Esmat?” asked Badr. His reply was a woman with a healthy head of hair. Thin mousy hair or the boyish style of cut was not very feminine. While the men continued pontificating, I could notice the impatience on the faces of the women, who were bursting to say their piece. Curious about perspectives from a woman’s point of view, I offered the floor to the ladies present.

Lulu demurred in the beginning but then blurted out that gentleness was very important. Asma, usually the most talkative in the group, was silent at first but then added that wealth was a positive factor.

Dr. Jaber’s wife retaliated by saying that character, rather than wealth was the key. Lena on the other hand countered by asserting that a man’s religious commitments were the most engaging of qualities.

On the way home, it reforged in me the realisation that men can see only a few feet beyond their nose, while women view what is not always apparent.

Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena