Late post this weekend. Apologies. MB is bit busy these days on account of fact he is leaving Saudi Arabia after almost 2 year and in busy ‘wrapping things up’ mode. Seven more days and MB will be boarding a plane for Dubai for fresh posting. One story ends. Another begins. Such is life.
Much of the publicity surrounding Saudi Arabia is negative. But on an individual basis MB has discovered Saudis to be warm friendly people with the same concerns in life as people in most countries. Family. Jobs. Health. Schools. Football! And such like. The combination of social custom and strict Sharia law obviously influences the lifestyle to a large degree. But the population just get on with it. Like most people do in most countries. In Saudi Arabia this means – No women drivers. No alcohol. No cinemas. No music (almost). No churches of other faiths. Closure of all shops and business for the five-times-per-day prayer-time. Beheadings for various crimes, including the crime of converting to another religion, as per the rule of the holy book. Male guardianship rule that requires females to have permission from a related male for many aspects of life. Up to four wives for a man (only one husband allowed for a woman!) as per the holy book.
The citizens of most Islamic countries would consider the laws and the way of life in Saudi to be extreme. Albeit some of the above are common to all Islamic countries. The Saudi religious clerics would contend that Saudi is strictly following the rules of the book and it is the others who have strayed. MB mentioned few weeks back the answer he received from a very famous Indian so-called religious scholar called Zakir Naik about the possibility of having a minimum age for marriage in Islamic countries (some do & some, including SA, do not). His answer was straight from the Islamic holy book – when a girl reaches puberty she can marry – and this age can vary from female to female “and that’s good enough for me“, therefore no agreement from Zakir Naik to MB’s suggestion that a minimum age might be a good idea. There is non minimum age for marriage in Saudi Arabia. In neighbouring Yemen 65% of girls marry at age 15 or younger. Yemen has the highest rate of deaths of females in childbirth in the world. Zakir Naik is a qualified medical doctor, which makes his answer all the more bizarre. But on a purely Islamic religious level there is no argument with his answer.
MB has met many young Saudi men who are training to become Imams (Islamic priests), as the foremost Imam college in the country is right across the street from MB’s hotel and the young Imam student lads often call into the hotel lobby to study or take a relaxing coffee. Generally MB has found them to be totally sincere in their beliefs, supportive of the status quo, but MB must say that many lack the warmth of the general population. Smiling does not come easily it seems. Even for MB’s clever jokes! But that aside, this is the life they have chosen in the land of the Mecca & Medina, the two holiest places in the world of Islam. They have made their choice freely and like men of religion in all countries will do their duty as best they can. And Saudi life goes on.
As Crossers can guess from all the above MB has not had the ‘party life’ for last two years, but hey, the party is in your head, and MB’s head is always in party mode. So MB prepares to pack his bags and move out. Was a most interesting two years. MB has made many friends that will remain life friends. Both Saudi and non. Just for fun MB told all at work last week that within few days of reaching Dubai he would delete all his email accounts, delete all tel numbers, get some new sim cards and sever all connections with his Saudi life. All broke out crying in fit of mass hysteria, bit like a North Korean funeral, so MB had to pretend he was joking. Calm restored in the Kingdom, for the moment!
Of course life is different in SA for those on different incomes. SA has some of the richest individuals on the planet who have property and bank accounts in many of the world’s capitals. And for those on lower incomes, like in every other country, it’s a different story. MB was sitting with Syrian friend RM during the week, drinking shiy (tea) together and chatting about his 25 or so years in the Kingdom. His eldest daughter, age 18, will finish secondary school in May, but she received an offer of marriage this week when RM accepted an offer from 34-year-old son of a Syrian acquaintance. Daughter is free to accept or reject the offer, notwithstanding the ‘political’ pressure that sometimes comes with such situations. The couple will meet in the coming days in the presence of family members to make their final decision, and that will be that. For better or for worse.
RM told MB that in reality he is a poor man with a poorly paying job and now in his mid 40s. He does not have the education to move up the ladder. He has reached his ceiling. The coming years will see the remainder of his daughters come of age and be similarly married off. RM’s salary does not entertain the possibility of University education for any of his daughters. Such is life for RM and the daughters of RM. “My biggest decision in the coming years MB, to be very honest, is whether I will decide to be buried in the graveyard in North Riyadh or South Riyadh. North or South MB. My biggest decision. That’s the reality of life for RM“. MB nodded his head and sipped his shiy. What to say? Nothing. Just keep sipping.
This Week’s Photos
MB spent last two days in Jeddah saying goodbye to some friends. During his brief stay MB had the pleasure of swimming in the Red Sea at the Jeddah Beach Club complex called Salaheeh (owned by Mr Saleh Bin Laden – brother of) and visiting the mountaintop city of Taif which is approx 2.5 hour drive from Jeddah. The road from Jeddah to Taif takes travelers onto the Mecca/Madina highway. But there is an exclusion zone (a very large one) around Mecca (or ‘Makkah’ as they spell it out here) for non-Muslims. When you approach the exclusion zone, as a non-believer you are forced to take the diversion (non-believer) road to continue the journey to Taif. The non-believer road is a much lesser-quality road, which adds approx 25km to your journey. The city of Taif sits atop the Sarawat mountains at an elevation of almost 1,900m. It is known for, amongst other things, the monkeys that sit on the roadside walls on the outskirts of the town.
Salaheeh Beach Club
MB takes some deserved relaxation after 2 years in the Saudi desert, as the sun sets over the Red Sea
The single lane road to Taif – for non-believers (serves them right!)
Local Bedouin helps 2 lost travelers – Al atool wa yamin (straight ahead & right)
It’s the super highway for the Muslims, and the non-believer dogs must take the detour
The monkeys of Taif. Presumably they also travel the smaller road.