Coffee and cats — the purr-fect combination at Jeddah cafe

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(AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
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An exotic Scottish Fold enjoys the view as the cafe overlooks the sea. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
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Updated 28 October 2018
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Coffee and cats — the purr-fect combination at Jeddah cafe

  • The number of the cats is not limited; Waheed has a total of 16 cats but the ones in the cat lounge come and go
  • “People need to understand that animals have the right to live and be loved,” Waheed Mohammed said. “The streets are not the right place for them to live

JEDDAH: You love cats. You love coffee. How can you make these things even more enjoyable? By combining them, of course. That is the idea behind Cat Lounge, which offers customers something they probably never knew they needed: A chance to sip coffee in the company of cuddly, fuzzy cats.
The two-story café is in Al-Shatea district of Jeddah, overlooking the sea, which is the perfect location. The coffee is ordered and made on the ground floor, which is decorated with adorable feline figurines and paintings.
There is also a cozy and relaxing lounge, in every nook and cranny of which you will find more cat-related decorations and trinkets, such as paw prints on the floor and cat silhouettes on the light switches, which show how much thought and effort went into the design and decor of the place.
As cute as the kitty-themed artwork and decorations are, they are no substitute for the real thing. When it is your turn to meet the cats, you climb the stairs and walk through a door that keeps the cats in and allows the number of visitors to be controlled.
The crowd is controlled by giving numbered tokens when the visitors place their coffee orders; when the number comes they are escorted upstairs to where the cats are; the workers check their time on the token and each visitor has half an hour to spend time with the cats.
And that is when the real fun begins. You are greeted by cats of many breeds, colors and ages. Some quite rare breeds are included, including the Sphinx, the Bengal, and the exotic Scottish Fold.

Growing with cats
The cafe is the brainchild of Dr. Waheed Mohammed, a 30-year-old dentist, who has cared for his cats since they were kittens. “They grew up in my bedroom,” he said.
Dr. Waheed has been interested in animals ever since he was a child, and it is not just domestic cats he is passionate about; he has also cared for big cats, including lions, leopards, and elephants, he said.
This helps to explain why the cats in the café come running when he calls them and seem unperturbed by visitors, with each of them very well-behaved and affectionate.
The number of the cats is not limited; Waheed has a total of 16 cats but the ones in the cat lounge come and go. “My favorite cat is Bluereen,” said Dr. Wahid. “She is a white Maine Coon and she has heterochromia iridis, which is a condition where a cat has different-colored eyes.” Maine Coons are also one of the largest breeds of domestic cat.
“To get the Sphynx cat, I traveled to Ukraine,” he adds. This breed is known for its lack of fur and is a sign of prestige and luxury as it is extremely rare and expensive.
Some people might be concerned about the presence of so many cats in a cafe, where food and drink is prepared and served, but Mohammed and his employees go to great lengths to maintain high standards of hygiene.
“Of course, I am a doctor so I am very keen on hygiene,” he said. “We have air filters all around the place and they are connected to the roof. We have air purifiers to keep the air clean and healthy.”

Inspiration
The room where the animals live is perfectly suited to them, with cat trees, scratching posts and panels on the wall for them to climb and clamber on. One end of the lounge has floor-to-ceiling glass windows and hammocks in which the cats can relax and enjoy the sea view. What inspired Mohammed to open such an unusual cafe?
“When I was studying at the Tokyo Medical and Dental University I saw one there, as Tokyo had one of the first cat cafes in the world,” he said.
Although cat cafes have since grown in popularity around the world, Wahid however faced many challenges and a lot of skepticism when he announced his plan to open one in Jeddah.
“Nobody believed in the idea of a cat cafe,” he said. “They kept telling me, ‘Focus on your career and forget about this because society is never going to accept it.’ But from when I had this idea, in 2012, I kept trying to accomplish it.”
He gave the perfect response to his critics when Cat Lounge became the No. 1 venue in Jeddah.
Its soft opening was done roughly a month ago on Sept. 20. Cat Lounge trended on Facebook as the No. 1 hottest destination in Jeddah and the week its soft opening was done. The purpose behind it, explained Mohammed, was to promote a cultural shift toward animal care and welfare in a part of the world where so many cats are abandoned, live on the streets and struggle to find food, and to teach people how to properly treat animals.
“People need to understand that animals have the right to live and be loved,” he said. “The streets are not the right place for them to live. I want to get this message across desperately that cats do not deserve to live in the garbage and struggle for food.”
To help improve the situation, he added, there is a need to change local attitudes about animals and enlist the help of the government.


How Saudi women are getting ahead of men as STEM graduates

Dr. Fatima Alakeel, cybersecurity expert. (AN photo)
Updated 20 March 2019
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How Saudi women are getting ahead of men as STEM graduates

  • ‘Securing a job after the degree remains the challenge,’ says Dr. Fatema Alakeel of King Saud University in Riyadh
  • ‘Saudi women are ambitious,’ says one graduate. ‘We are acquiring high degrees and seeking successful careers’

DUBAI: More and more girls in Saudi Arabia are opting for an education in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), and now the challenge is finding them employment, said Dr. Fatima Alakeel, a cybersecurity expert and faculty member at King Saud University (KSU) in Riyadh.
“In the Kingdom, STEM-related jobs are limited at the moment, as the economy is primarily oil-based and there are few technical jobs available,” said Alakeel, who is also the founder and CEO of the non-profit Confidentiality, Integrity & Availability Group (CIAG), which focuses on information security training and research in Riyadh.
According to a government report on the labor market situation in the third quarter of 2018, more than 30 percent of Saudi women aged between 15 and 65 are unemployed.
Among them, the highest rate of unemployment is among 20-24-year-olds (more than 70 percent) and among 25-29-year-olds (55 percent).
According to the report, there are 923,504 Saudi jobseekers, of whom 765,378 are women (82.2 percent).
“We have more girls in STEM education compared to Western countries,” said Alakeel, who completed her doctoral degree in computer science in the UK at the University of Southampton in 2017.
According to a report prepared by the Saudi Education Ministry, girls accounted for 57 percent of undergraduates for the year 2015-2016 in the Kingdom.
That same year, women outnumbered men in graduating with a bachelor’s in biology, information technology (IT), mathematics and statistics, and physics.
According to a survey Alakeel recently conducted on social media, “almost 80 percent of (Saudi) girls were keen to study STEM, but securing a job after the degree remains the challenge,” she said.
Maha Al-Taleb, 22, graduated earlier this year with a degree in technology from KSU, specializing in IT networks and security.
“It’s common for girls in the Kingdom to opt for STEM education,” said Al-Taleb, who now works in a public sector company in Riyadh as a junior information security analyst.
“Saudi women are ambitious. We’re acquiring high degrees and seeking successful careers. I don’t know why the world assumes that Saudi women are a backward tribal species who have no say in these matters. This entire perception is flawed.”
Al-Taleb got a job offer immediately after university, but realizes that not all her peers are as fortunate. Women “are facing problems in securing jobs, not because companies don’t want to hire us, but because employment for Saudi youths is a major challenge,” she said.
“In today’s Saudi Arabia, parents are encouraging their daughters to get a degree not just in the Kingdom; they also want them to go to Western universities. It has become a common phenomenon. Things have changed. Women are a crucial part of the nation’s development process.”
Not all women graduating in the Kingdom are as lucky, among them Razan Al-Qahtani. “It has been several months since I graduated, yet I haven’t been able to find a job. It has been a struggle so far,” said the 25-year-old IT graduate. “We have more talented and qualified girls, especially in the field of technology, but there are few jobs available. It’s a difficult situation, but we’re hopeful things will change very soon.”
Al-Qahtani expressed confidence that the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform plan will bring opportunities for qualified Saudis.
As part of Vision 2030, the government has committed to raise employment among Saudi women.
Alakeel said the government is working hard to find a solution, and it is only a matter of time until more such jobs are on offer.
“As per Vision 2030, there will be more jobs, including technical jobs, available in the country. Once we have more jobs, women will eventually get their due share,” she added. According to Alakeel, female empowerment and promotion to leading roles have made huge progress in Saudi Arabia, and this may affect existing STEM job opportunities.
“We’re glad to see Her Royal Highness Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud becoming the first female ambassador of the country. It only suggests change is on the way,” Alakeel said.
Al-Taleb expressed pride in the way her parents have supported her, saying: “My father isn’t educated and my mother has basic literacy, but both provided me with the education I desired. They want their daughters to be as successful as their sons.”
Like women in any country, the transition from university to the workplace is not always easy, even for young Saudi women with technology degrees. Yet they are not losing hope.
“We realize these are difficult times in terms of employment, especially in technology-related fields, but things will change,” Al-Taleb said. “Saudi women will soon be ruling the fields of STEM all over the country.”