Goodbye to the Kingdom Of Saudi Arabia. Bukra khalas (finished tomorrow).
Twenty two months ago MB touched down at Riyadh airport, smack in the center of KSA. Twenty two months later MB departs. Twenty two most interesting months. Let’s not mention the ups and downs of the job. Jobs always have ups and down. Construction. IT. Medicine. Retail. Whatever. All have good days and bad days. So let’s not get too excited about the nuts and bolts of the job. It’s always about the people for MB. And what a fascinating eclectic bunch of characters MB had the pleasure of getting to know in that time. Indians. Bangladeshis. Pakistanis. Phillipinos. Sudanis. Egyptians. Jordanians. Syrians. Palestinians. Yemenis. Even a few Brits. Probably a few more nationalities MB has missed. And of course many Saudis.
MB said goodbye in recent days to some Saudis who work for MB’s company client. Decent guys who MB had the pleasure of knowing and working with during the twenty-two months. All were pleased to hear the positive opinion of Saudi people that MB takes away from KSA on his departure. All would be aware that in cultural terms, Saudi and MBs homeland are of chalk & cheese. Worlds apart. And MB supposes that because at heart most Saudis are decent human beings, just like the majority in most countries, they care for their country and the future for their children, and they wonder what guys like MB think of their country and all the negative publicity their country receives.
Like most reasonable people in KSA, MB’s Saudi friends would like to see improvements and progress in many respects. Just like the citizens of every other country. MB and his Saudi friends agreed that change happens in different ways and at a different pace in different countries. Sometimes it happens quickly. But more often than not it happens at the pace that the culture and customs of a country allow it to happen. And in cases like KSA that’s maybe at a slower pace than some would like. But like all countries, old generations pass on and new ones take over. And change arrives. A young Saudi friend of MB recently informed MB that he has attended weddings in the last year or two in Jeddah, a more liberal city than strict Riyadh, where men and women mixed together at the wedding party. Which would have been unthinkable only a few years previously. For those unfamiliar with KSA, the mixing of the sexes is generally forbidden. Wedding parties take place in twos – one party for the men and one party for the ladies. No mixing. So the Jeddah story from MB’s young friend shows the wheel of change is turning and nothing lasts forever.
MB did not do too much traveling in KSA during his stay for various reasons, but MB’s visit to the villages Ayun Al Jawa & Uthal near the city of Buraydah, about 4 hours drive from Riyadh in 2012 will live long in the memory. Buraydah area would be considered one of the strictest places in KSA from an Islamic religious perspective and the amount of Western travelers arriving in their midst would be as rare as hens teeth MB would think. So MB was bit of a novelty. And just as rare were the generous invitations that MB received into the homes of locals where MB sat for dinner and ‘chewed the non-pork fat’ about life in general.
And then there was 8-year-old Aliya. An angel from heaven with a smile to light the universe. MB will never forget Aliya. Upon MB’s return from Uthal, MB wrote his weekly blog and gave pride of place to Aliya. Was before MB started using this present blog format when the blog was just a humble weekly email (it’s still humble!). So for the benefit of those who have come later to the HX Report, MB gives you the piece he wrote at that time about Aliya. Herewith:
Mentioned above that I met the unveiled 8 & 9-year-old daughters of the second family I visited – for dinner on Friday evening. Aliya is 8 years old, has the face and smile of an angel and could be my daughter, or anyone else’s daughter in any country you care to mention. I will never forget Aliya. Five minutes after I arrived at the house she entered the ‘majlis’ (the room in all Muslim houses where the men meet to talk the talk). She tugged at her dad’s sleeve and whispered in his ear.
Dad explained to MB that his daughter wished to sing a song for me. He was most surprised himself as he was unaware that his daughter actually knew a song. Even though she could not speak English she proceeded to sing, in perfect English, the Justin Bieber song ‘Baby’. That she had learned from YouTube. I give you the words below lads to give you an idea, and even the YouTube link if you care to listen. To say that everyone in the majlis was flabbergasted would be an understatement.
And all the while Aliya belted out the song, looking at MB with her 8 year old angelic smile. I rocked my head in time to show her how much I was enjoying her performance, but not too much in case the men present did not approve. As I told you all 2 weeks back music is ‘haram’ for these people. So in that majlis, at that moment, we were very very much in uncharted territory. Not being a Justin B fan I had never actually listened to any of his songs. I did so upon returning to Riyadh. I can safely say that I will never be a fan of Justin, or his version of that song. But for the rest of my life I will be a huge fan of the Aliya version.
And Aliya was not finished! Five minutes later she arrived back in the room with an expensive camera phone. After another whisper to dad he asked if it was ok for Aliya to take a picture of the Irish man. It was obvious to me that either her mom, or one of the 4 veiled sisters had asked her to get a photo of me so they could have a look at the Western stranger who was visitor in their house. Upon taking the picture she disappeared like an Olympic sprinter in the direction of the kitchen, where the females were gathered. Am sure there was major disappointment – they were no doubt expecting a Justin Bieber type!
And Aliya was still not finished! Five or 10 minutes later she appears again. Another whisper. And dad proudly (at last!) informs MB that Aliya will now sing a verse from the Quran in my honour! Which she duly did with her ‘X Factor’ style and smile.
I could not help but think to 2 or 3 years from now when she will follow in the footsteps of her sisters and will receive her abiyah & veil. And the gorgeous Alia smile will be no more visible. The world will be a poorer place for sure.
As sung by Alia:
You know you love me, I know you care
Just shout whenever, and I’ll be there
You are my love, you are my heart
And we will never, ever, ever be apart
Are we an item? Girl, quit playin’
“We’re just friends,” what are you sayin’?
Said “there’s another,” and looked right in my eyes
My first love broke my heart for the first time
And I was like baby, baby, baby,
oh Like baby, baby, baby,
no Like baby, baby, baby,
oh I thought you’d always be mine, mine
So Maa Salama to KSA, to Aliya, and to all the characters that MB had the good fortune to meet. Good luck to MB’s Saudi friends with all the changes that will come. For sure they are coming.
This week’s pics: All from MB’s above mentioned visit to Buraydah area in 2012
I almost cried. The end of a legendary MB era. An era in which things happened to MB I never thought could happen to anyone in KSA let alone a westie. The Tamimi incident, the gate birthday party, terror in Afghanistan and many more! (they could all be made into movies)
You are wise beyond your years Young Sudani Lad – aka Deso. Your future is bright for sure. Like a shining star. Take care and keep in touch. Who knows what the future holds!
Maa salama to Saudi, MB, but surely not to the blog? I met a young server at a restaurant in Montreal last night and immediately thought of you. You see, upon discovering that I was living in Qatar (because my QNB ATM card embarrassingly would not work, as is often the case when traveling … Thankfully the bank was able to sort it out quickly) this very Western looking young man informed me that he was half Saudi. He was so happy to chat, and did so readily, talking about his times in KSA and Bahrain, explaining his hesitance to go back to visit given his fears of having to give up his Canadian passport should he return. We chatted for a bit, and I was able to nod my head in acknowledgement at many of the complexities of KSA he described, in large part because of info gleaned from MB’s descriptive posts. He struck me as wanting so much to share, perhaps not unlike your little Aliya. Thank you.
Thanks Gypsy. Goodbye to KSA for the moment. Who knows what the future holds. Maybe I get back here sometime. But requires invitation from local company, or a Haj trip – and I’m the wrong ‘colour’ for that! Hope enjoying trip home. Chat soon inshallah!
MB – me wishes you well and I personally can attest to the strengths of relationships formed in this region and the ever lasting love affair and memories re the region and the people.
You have been blessed to be invited and accepted into local houses – a treat that is so rare – if only more people could experience this honour.
Thanks TH. Great memories indeed.