Saudi theater artist to shatter stereotypes in Edinburgh fest

Updated 12 August 2013
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Saudi theater artist to shatter stereotypes in Edinburgh fest

She may not be one of those “Hey, I recognize her!” performers yet, but her one-woman play ‘Head Over Heels in Saudi Arabia’ that will kick off at the largest international festival in the world, the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe Festival (EFF), will definitely make her rise to fame.
Maisah Sobaihi, a Saudi academic, playwright and performer, is all set to stage her amusing yet enlightening roller coaster ride into the lives of women in Saudi Arabia, whose husbands choose to marry more women.
Sobaihi will be the first Saudi woman to perform at the EFF and is confident that her performance at the festival will help expose a true illustration of Saudi women, as well as portray a common womanly bond expanding past national boundaries.
In her play ‘Head Over Heels in Saudi Arabia,’ Sobaihi puts together two interesting characters in the forefront. Layla, who is ready to get married but tired of waiting for true love, and Maryam, whose husband chooses to marry for the second time.
Sobaihi’s mere charisma in her classic solo comedy at the festival splinters the stereotype of the timid Arab woman, veiled and voiceless.
“Women’s positions continue to change in many ways,” says Sobaihi. “But I think what is unknown to many is that they feel that women were not active and have become active. I think that women have always been active and a very positive force in Saudi society. It’s just that I don’t think they were as visible as they are now. They have developed in many ways, and the most particular way is that they have become more public.”
Sobaihi describes that character Maryam in her play as more upper class of society while Layla is more in touch with the other level of society. Maryam’s husband marries another bride Layla, which results in Maryam flying off the handle at Layla and trying to dig up dirt on her.
Journeying into the lives and challenges women in Saudi Arabia face, Sobaihi’s play strokes on the rights of men in Saudi to espouse four wives and how the preceding wives react.
Brought up partially in the United States and Saudi Arabia, Sobaihi holds a doctorate in English Literature from the University of London, and a Bachelor’s degree from the King Abdul Aziz University in Saudi Arabia, while currently lecturing at a university in Jeddah.
“As the Arab temperament in general, we tend to be more private about our lives so the public has always been a challenge,” said Sobaihi.
A divorced mother of two sons in their 20s, Sobaihi begins her play by narrating her life story and eventually takes into the lives of other women in Saudi Arabia.
“I was very conscious that I didn’t want this play to be about bashing men or bashing anybody at all,” said Sobaihi. “I did stage this play in Jeddah a couple of times, though in a private gathering, and the reactions from Saudi men were positive.”
‘Head over Heels in Saudi Arabia’ educates us that women have an ordinary and widespread view, however secluded they appear in terms of culture, positively in affairs of the mind.
“We have a very private culture. Saudi women don’t really like the spotlight. But we have a responsibility to become more vocal,” explains Sobaihi in a report in Scotland’s Daily Record.
The 2013 Edinburgh Fringe will play host to 2,871 productions starting from the end of July through to August. Sobaihi performs ‘Head Over Heels in Saudi Arabia’ at Spotlites @ The Merchant’s Hall, from Aug. 11-26.
Sobaihi’s 3-minute promo video of her one-woman play promises you that you’ll go head over heels for ‘Head Over Heels in Saudi Arabia.’


Blame it on Bieber: Iceland canyon too popular with visitors

Updated 19 May 2019
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Blame it on Bieber: Iceland canyon too popular with visitors

  • Iceland received around 2.3 million tourists last year
  • The influx of visitors can disturb the natural landscapes in the country

FJADRÁRGLJÚFUR, Iceland: A large sign warns motorists that Iceland’s Fjadrárgljúfur canyon is closed to visitors but drivers keep on coming down the narrow gravel road. A ranger at a roadblock has to explain why no one can pass: The vulnerable landscape cannot sustain more visitors.
Blame Justin Bieber, the Canadian pop star with a worldwide reach.
Bieber’s magical music video “I’ll Show You” was filmed at the canyon and seen by millions, creating overwhelming demand for the once-pristine spot. For a chance to follow in Bieber’s footsteps, his fans are not letting a few fences, signs or park rangers keep them away.

Eager visitors try to sweet-talk ranger Hanna Jóhannsdóttir into opening the gate. Some offer bribes. They should know in advance it’s not going to work.
“Food from people’s home country is the most common bribery,” said Jóhannsdóttir, who recently turned down a free trip to Dubai in exchange for looking the other way at trespassers.
The Bieber-inspired influx is one part of a larger challenge for Iceland — the North Atlantic island nation may be too spectacular and too popular for its own good.
Last year 2.3 million tourists visited Iceland, compared with just 600,000 eight years ago. The 20% annual uptick in visitors has been out of proportion with infrastructure that is needed to protect Iceland’s volcanic landscape, where soil forms slowly and erodes quickly.
Environment Minister Gudmundur Ingi Gudbrandsson said it is “a bit too simplistic to blame the entire situation on Justin Bieber” but urged famous, influential visitors to consider the consequences of their actions.
“Rash behavior by one famous person can dramatically impact an entire area if the mass follows,” he told The Associated Press.
Bieber has the third-largest Twitter account at over 105 million followers, after Katy Perry and Barack Obama, according to friendorfollow.com — and he has over 112 million followers on Instagram.
In the viral video — watched over 440 million times on YouTube since 2015 — Bieber stomped on mossy vegetation, dangled his feet over a cliff and bathed in the freezing river underneath the sheer walls of the canyon.
“In Justin Bieber’s defense, the canyon did not, at the time he visited, have rope fences and designated paths to show what was allowed and what not,” Gudbrandsson said.
Over 1 million people have visited the area since the release of the video, the Environment Agency of Iceland estimates, leaving deep scars on its vegetation. After remaining closed for all but five weeks this year, it is expected to reopen again this summer only if weather conditions are dry.
Icelanders are reluctant to fault the pop star, who enjoys enormous support on the island. About 12% of Iceland’s entire population — 38,000 people — attended his two concerts in Reykjavík, the capital, a year after the video was released.
Locals underestimated the canyon’s potential as a major attraction because it’s relatively small compared to those formed by the country’s powerful glacier rivers. But unlike others, it is easily accessed and requires less than a kilometer of trekking.
The selfies and drone images have stopped — for now — but more exposure is coming. The latest season of the popular HBO drama “Game of Thrones” features scenes filmed at the canyon. The nearby Skógar waterfall and the Svínafells glacier are also backdrops in the fictional Thrones world of warriors and dragons.
Inga Palsdottir, director of the national tourism agency Visit Iceland, said a single film shot or a viral photograph has often put overlooked places on the map.
The most extreme example, she said, is the Douglas DC-3 US Navy plane that crashed on the black sand beach at Sólheimasandur in 1973. The seven Americans on board all survived but the plane wreck was never removed.
“Then someone decided to dance on it and now it’s one of the most popular places in the country,” said Palsdottir.
On a foggy Wednesday morning, ranger Jóhannsdóttir observed fresh footprints on the muddy pathway to the Fjadrárgljúfur canyon, indicating that someone had jumped the fence overnight.
She predicted that more people would trespass that afternoon when she left the roadblock to give a presentation at a community center. She was right. Less than 30 minutes passed before tourists began ignoring the fences and signs.
“We came because of Justin Timberlake,” said Mikhail Samarin, a tourist from Russia, traveling with Nadia Kazachenok and Elena Malteseva, who were quick to correct the artist’s last name to Bieber.
“It was so amazing,” said Malteseva about the Bieber video. “After that, we decided it was necessary to visit this place.”
The three took turns posing for a photograph, standing at the edge of an Icelandic cliff.