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“When you believe anything is possible” – life writing with Lesley Sehli – 17 October 2018

On Wednesday 17 October the club welcomed Lesley Sehli, the motivational speaker and self published author of He Said Die. I Say No!. A memoir detailing Lesley’s experiences working and living in Saudi Arabia for over 20 years, the memoir also charts the author’s gruelling journey with cancer and illness.

To accompany her talk Lesley had prepared a PowerPoint presentation to showcase her extraordinary life. Lesley, who is originally from Glasgow, began by telling how at the tender age of twenty she took the bold step of accepting a position with an airline that required her to be based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. This may seem common place to us today, but in 1978 it was very unusual for a young single female to work in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Undeterred Lesley boarded a plane in the UK and set off on the adventure of a lifetime. Along the way she found new friends, learned to speak fluent Arabic and through hard work achieved promotion in the airline industry, despite her gender. She spoke of how she was accepted and respected by her male superiors and colleagues and was given the title of ‘Top Gun’. Her role within the airline company brought her into contact with many people at the top of Saudi society, including members of the royal family.

Lesley’s life in Saudi Arabia was one of startling contrasts. Through work she gained respect and financial rewards but was still expected to follow the codes and customs that strictly govern the Saudi kingdom. This required the wearing of a shoulder to floor gown (habaya) to conceal her body, and a head scarf (turha) to cover her hair. Mixing with male members of society was strictly controlled and alcohol was banned. Being found in breach of any of the laws could and did result in arrest, imprisonment and severe punishment, for locals and foreigners. Through her position with the airline Lesley became a link between the authorities and the unfortunate person(s) who found themselves in breach of Saudi laws. In one incident she was instrumental in the release of twenty five Canadian stewardesses who had been arrested while attending a private party where alcohol was served. Witnessing daily injustices, especially against female colleagues, woke in Lesley a desire to challenge anyone who demeans or abuses others. A task she continues today.

Having worked and lived in Saudi Arabia for many years Lesley met and married a Saudi citizen, and returned to Scotland where they were married. Within a short time Lesley began to feel unwell and after consulting with her doctors and undergoing tests she was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. During this time her marriage broke down. The determination and resilience that Lesley had shown all her life once again came to the fore, helping her to fight her cancer diagnosis and personal heartbreak, and inspiring her to write her first book.

Lesley now lives in Troon and has around her a solid group of friends who have been supportive in her illness and instrumental in the publication of her book. Lesley self-published due to the uncertainty of her health, in her words ‘I wanted my story told’. He Said Die. I Say No! is now being prepared for the American market and is set to be translated into Arabic.

Lesley has a second book scheduled for January 2019 which will be political fiction.

Kathy Wallace

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