Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Saudi Arabia - Assalom Aleykum

From Jaipur, we're heading west another 1808 miles or 2910 kilometres to Riyadh, capital of al-Mamlaka al-ʻArabiyya as-Suʻūdiyya, a.k.a the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  This one is going to be a real challenge for me, not only because it's a country I have never visited and can barely begin to comprehend, but also because it's so easy to fall into the stereotypes of Saudi Arabia, to get caught up in the excesses of an oppressive regime and a society that makes no sense to someone living in the liberal and 'decadent' West.  It's a challenge to myself, really - to go beyond the negative stereotypes, overcome my own prejudices, to learn about the everyday lives of Saudi Arabians and to learn about aspects of their culture, music and language that are, I'm sure, every bit as enthralling as the culture, music and language of Rajasthan.

When I think of Saudi Arabia, I think of oil, Islam and the scorching heat of the desert.  Adding Riyadh to my weather app today, I struggled to come to terms with the idea of the 45 degree heat in the Saudi capital.  I often think that national character can be influenced by your weather system - the languid, easy-going nature of Thai people, only occasionally getting hot under the collar - the stern and stubborn nature of the Russians, getting through six months of winter with curses and gritted teeth.  I'm guessing with scorching hot weather, the Saudis are a pretty tough bunch, surviving in a landscape that the rest of us would find intolerable.

Although I've not been to Saudi Arabia, I know several people who have.  Their stories have varied and the hospitality of their Saudi hosts seems to have only been dampened by the frustrating lack of alcohol, a staple of British and Irish culture.  As an ex-TEFLer, Saudi Arabia was always an option for me, with its high living standards, competitive salaries and low living costs.  But I decided against it in the end.  I like adventure, but Saudi Arabia was a little bit too adventurous, even for me!

In the next few weeks, I want to learn as much as I can about Saudi culture.  I want to learn about Islam and understand Arabian history.  I've already ordered a book by a Saudi author and one by a Westerner, with his insights into living in the region.  I want to watch 'Laurence of Arabia', listen to some Arabian music and cook a traditional Saudi dish.  I don't know if it'll be possible, but I want to find some Saudi friends on Twitter, as I have done with the other countries in my blog.  If nothing else, it will be an interesting journey and one that I hope you will join me on!

Image credits:

The image of the minarets was taken at dawn, in Medina, by flickruser Shabbir Siraj who is a Pakistani-Canadian photographer and film-maker and has shared this image with us using the Creative Commons License.  If you want to see more of his photos visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/shabbir/
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