Living with intent, social engagement, learning, growing, giving

Postcard 12 from the Arab world – A female solo traveller

I spoke to a Bedouin man in Saudi Arabia (of course because I don’t get access to women!) who has moved to the city and he told me that he has one uncle that continues to live in a tent in the desert. He said that his uncle is a very hard man, which is in many ways inevitable in order to survive the extremely harsh conditions. He went on to say that many of the countries in the region are relatively new and that urban habits have not yet been adopted. I suggested that it’s not always best to discard tradition in favour of change. He said that he disagrees and that when he expresses that to his uncles they get very cross and yell at him calling him a liberal.

In a separate conversation with an Arab man in Saudi Arabia, he explained that the reason I never see Arabs wearing gold is that it is recommended not to make outward signs of wealth, hence the thobe and abaya is not just for modesty but should be plain so that wealth is not evident. When another man commented that’s why we see fancy watches, sunglasses, handbags and shoes (as a way of getting around the tradition), the Arab man said that only about 30% of the traditions are being upheld now. This is a region in a state of flux that must be exhilarating for the younger urban-dwelling generations and frightening for the older generations.

I have a few more driving stories to share that I’ve witnessed at very close range in the past few days in Saudi Arabia (that perhaps give weight to the comments of the Bedouin man):

  1. As I walked down the footpath, looking down to avoid tripping on my abaya, I looked up at the sound of a motorbike screaming past at high speed. What I saw absolutely horrified me. A young man in a tshirt and jeans (no helmet, no body armour) had his bike vertical while riding on just the back wheel and standing on the pegs. This was in congested traffic in a 3-4 lane road (depending on temperament and mood of motorists). Following him was a 2nd young man who was unable to maintain his wheelie and a rather comical 3rd fellow who was putting along on a scooter, evidently feeling un-cool and left out as his skilled mate took off ahead of him;
  2. As I waited at the pedestrian crossing at traffic lights, a luxury car took a very wide turn to the left, crossing 3 lanes. I was startled to find that the driver was holding a toddler on his lap and it was the toddler who was steering, explaining why they almost hit the curb;
  3. While waiting in a car at a red light, a Toyota Hilux with bald tyres sped ahead of another vehicle that was also turning left in front of us. The Hilux was unable to take the turn and instead crashed at speed into the concrete footing that holds the traffic light. The driver showed no concern, simply forcing the car into reverse, crashing back off the barrier and taking off after the other cars.

I spoke to a South Asian man this week (let’s call him Ahmed) who told me his story. Ahmed and his wife are from a war-torn region and cannot return there for reasons related to personal safety. To renew their visas they have to go to the capital city and are not able to visit their families in their village. Ahmed is the second person in his village to attend university and work abroad (the first paid for Ahmed’s education when he got a job in the USA). Ahmed is now paying for his sisters’ secondary school education (the first girls from the village to attend secondary school). Ahmed’s wife is a school teacher but her school was destroyed. They are living here in a tiny 2 room apartment (one for sleeping and the other for living) and they have 3 children, none of whom are old enough to attend school. Ahmed’s wife is at home in the apartment with the 3 children all day everyday while Ahmed is at work. Poor woman!

I spoke to an Saudi Arab man on Sunday who told me what he had done on Friday evening with his family. A group of friends had hired a grassy area outside of the city (it must be irrigated!) and there were two tents set-up, one for the men and one for the women. He said that he’d seen a video of a Canadian Arab comedian who said that:

in any day an Arab woman needs to speak 50,000 words. She can spend about 15,000 on talking to her children and friends on the phone but that leaves 35,000 words that she must speak that day to her husband. He told men to talk to their wives because if she misses a day she will need to say 70,000 words the next day

I’m not saying that I agree but I chuckled when he told me. So, the Arab man told me that by putting his wife in the women’s tent for over 8 hours she was able to use several days worth of talking. They left there at 3am (their children had a difficult patch and then finally fell asleep). Considering that the adhan wakes me daily at 4:30am I can’t imagine how he coped the next day. It must be really hard to function after a very late night when there is no opportunity to sleep-in. I happened to see the same man the next day and he looked exhausted and had an eye infection. When he asked me what I did on the weekend, I said that I spent the weekend in the women’s tent (my apartment)…

The shamal (northwesterly wind causing large sandstorms) has arrived, bringing with it dust so thick that visibility is poor. I sat outside to each lunch today and at the end of the meal my clothes and skin were coated in dust and my eyes and lips were gritty. A researcher told me that he once captured some of the dust and imaged it by Scanning Electron Microscopy and discovered that it was predominantly 20 microns in size, which explains why it gets transported so easily rather than falling out of the atmosphere.

My other posts so far on this trip:


4 comments on “Postcard 12 from the Arab world – A female solo traveller

  1. Pingback: Postcard 13 from the Arab world – A female solo traveller | strivetoengage

  2. Pingback: Postcard 14 from the Arab world – A female solo traveller | strivetoengage

  3. Pingback: Postcard 15 from the Arab world – A female solo traveller | strivetoengage

  4. Pingback: Back to the Middle East | strivetoengage

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This entry was posted on November 5, 2014 by in middle east and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .
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