Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Saudi Arabia - مع السلامة

One way of saying goodbye in Saudi Arabia is ma'a as salama or مع السلامة which means 'go with safety' according to Wiktionary, said by the person who is staying to the one who is leaving.  It looks like I'm the one who's staying and I'm afraid it's time to say goodbye to Saudi Arabia!  I feel like I've barely scratched the surface of Saudi Arabian culture, nor have I had time this month to really do it justice.  I've learned a lot more about Saudi Arabia than I had time to blog about. 

I've also kept an eye on the English language and Saudi-based Arab News website - well worth a visit, if you want to get an insight into life in the Kingdom.  The news has been full of Saudi Arabia's response to the flooding in Pakistan on one hand, contrasted with the very disturbing reports in the Twittersphere about the abuse of a Filipino maid by her Saudi employers.  I was also surprised to read a report in the Arabic language Al-Riyadh (الرياض) newspaper, about the moral degradation of Saudi society, because of all the (straight) couples kissing in public.  Just today the Pink News has published a story about a gay Saudi diplomat, who claims he will be killed if he is sent home.

Some of the other things I've learned about Saudi Arabia are:

- It's almost ten times the size of the UK, with half the population.

- Saudi Arabia isn't just about deserts, it also has lush coastal areas on the Red Sea and fertile mountain resorts such as Abha. 

- The Rub al Khali or 'the Empty Quarter' is one of the most hostile landscapes known to man.

- Less than 2% of Saudi Arabia's land is arable. 

- According to The Economist's 2008 Democracy Index Saudi Arabia is the seventh most authoratitative country in the world.  I think I was more surprised to find out that Uzbekistan, a country I've lived in, came fourth in that index!

- Saudi Arabia didn't abolish slavery until 1962.

- Riyadh means 'the Gardens'

- 12 million Brazilians are of Arab origin.

- Non-muslims are not allowed to visit the holy cities of Medina and Mecca.

- Jeddah is the most multi-cultural and 'open' city in Saudi Arabia.

- Houses in Jeddah's Al-Balad district are made from coral, from the Red Sea.

- The religious police are called matawwa.

- Saudi Arabia has one of the highest road death rates in the world.

- Asir, now a province in the south-west of Saudi Arabia, was an independent kingdom until 1922.  It contains Saudi Arabia's highest mountain, Jebel Sawdah, which is 2910 metres tall.

- Wild baboons live in Asir region.

- The Farasan Islands, which are in the Red Sea, could become a major draw for tourists, if Saudi Arabia ever relaxes its strict visa requirements.

- Saudi Arabia is one of the richest regions in the world for Rock Art, with over 2,000 sites. 

- Saudi Arabia has a UNESCO world heritage site at Mada'in Saleh.

- Matthew Shepard's parents (the young man who was brutally murdered in a homophobic attack in Wyoming in 1998) lived in Dhahran and worked for the major oil corporation Aramco.

- Education isn't compulsory in the Kingdom and an estimated 39% of Saudi children don't attend school.

- Women are not allowed to practise law in Saudi Arabia.

- During Soviet times a quota of 20 Muslims were allowed to travel to Saudi Arabia from the USSR every year to perform the Hajj

- Winston's Hiccup or Churchill's sneeze is an anecdotal explanation of the sharp corner in the border between Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

- Folk beliefs claim that Eve is buried in Jeddah (جدّة‎) and that the name of the city comes from the Arabic word for grand-mother, which is jaddah (جدة)

I'm a big fan of Arabian music, although I'm more familiar with Arabesque singers of Turkey, than Saudi singers.  Arabian music has to be the definition of exotic for most western Europeans and, as I've been researching this blog, I've been listening to some of Saudi's greatest singers.

I'm going to leave you with one of my favourites - Mohammed Abdu.  Abdu grew up in Saudi Arabia's smallest province, Jizan and was orphaned at a very early age.  He's now a Saudi institution, but I like this video because it shows him at a time when he was still very young and had all the energy and passion of someone following his dream. 

Image credits:

The award-winning image of the Empty Quarter was taken by flickruser IrenicRhonda aka Rhonda Surman who is originally from High Wycombe, but now lives in the Highlands of Scotland.  You can see more of Rhonda's photos at http://www.flickr.com/people/irenicrhonda/

The picture of the Kaaba in Mecca was taken by flickruser Ammar Abd Rabbo

The photo of the Mada'in Saleh UNESCO site was provided by flickuser Omar A.

Thanks to Rhonda, Ammar and Omar for sharing your images with us, using the Creative Commons License.
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