From the ages of 19 to 21, aspiring scientist Majd Abdulghani has been recording aspects of her life in Saudi Arabia — a nation in which women are not even allowed to drive and where women’s voices are routinely repressed. In the intimate audio diary, Abdulghani can be heard conducting lab experiments, fending off pressure to accept an arranged marriage, and practicing karate, as well as musing on the possibility of true love.
In an episode of Radio Diaries airing on Tuesday via PRX’s podcast network Radiotopia and NPR’s All Things Considered, Abdulghani is heard interviewing her eldest brother in the family section of an Australian-themed steak restaurant, about what he thinks she should do with her life. “To be a great mom and to have a great husband,” he responds without pause, although it is not hard to tell the siblings share a sense of irony. “You should get married now. You are capable of getting married so you should be married now. You are missing a lot of great opportunities.”
Abdulghani responds that she will miss great opportunities if she does get married.
The conversation then turns to her attire. “When will you start to cover yourself properly?” he challenges her. “Sometimes you cover your face, sometimes not covering, so it’s a bit like hypocrisy.”
In a wry exchange, Abdulghani is advised by her brother to cover her body “excluding your hands and maybe … one hole for your eye? Yeah.”
She laughs: “What is this? I would trip over everything!”
Radio Diaries has been operating for 20 years, helping to pioneer a style of first-person documentary that has strongly influenced many of the story-driven podcasts that are currently in vogue. Their work with Abdulghani aims to show how life for millennial Saudi women is vastly different than for their mothers’ generation.