I’ve been asked a couple times by Saudis what I think their country (KSA), and for me to be honest about it, for sure it’s a different place with its share of frustrations, but there are a lot of cool things about Saudi Arabia the world should know.
At this stage, after almost three months here in Al Khobar (Eastern Province, next to Bahrain) I have a very quiet life, mainly just head down working (teaching English), and I haven’t found a way into the local culture yet. But I aim to be positive, I’m pretty lucky and privileged in my life (I’m not working 6 days for nothing on a construction site for example, like the guys next door to my apartment building) and these are some of the simple things
These are 12 cool things about Saudi Arabia:
1. Warm weather
It’s cold at night these days but every day it’s warm and sunny. So I’m not on the beach but coming from changeable mild New Zealand weather, I love it. The winter here is like our summer.
2. Sunrises and sunsets
I’m not a morning person at all, I would be up at 9am every day if left to my own devices, but once I’m up and out of the house at 6.45am I get to see the rising sun. One of the cool things about Saudi Arabia is that in the evening, sunset is a perfect time just to walk around and at times get some great photos.
3. Call to prayer
Related to getting up early … I know the westerners complain about this but I actually really like the sounds of the singing coming from different directions around the streets. Even if it’s clashing and out of tune, it’s like a little reminder of where I am 5 times a day. I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s one of the cool things about Saudi Arabia.
4. No alcohol streets, family atmosphere
I love a cold beer at the end of the week but then I also like not drinking for a while. I’m not a big drinker at all but in NZ I find it becomes a weekly thing, or more, just being social, and it’s good for me to give it a rest for a month at a time, it’s healthy.
I also really like the family buzz on the street around where I live in the evenings, after 7 till about 10 or 11 – everyone’s finished for the day, been to their last prayer session, guys are drinking tea and smoking, women out shopping, kids riding around on bicycles, it’s all relaxed, family atmosphere at its finest. One of the cool things about Saudi Arabia I will always remember.
5. Cute little kids
And related to that, the kids here can be really cute, they have no fear and say hullo sometimes. I think the parents spoil them rotten.
And yeah, Saudi Arabia is a safe country, I walk down dark alleys all the time and don’t think too much about it. Especially compared to Brazil where I would always need to be watching my back. Just watch out for the driving.
I haven’t been able to find a language school where I am, so not really studying, but learning a word a day. No matter how slow I step forward daily. I hear my students use a word I know and I think, yes, it’s possible! I can read the letters, and especially checking out the music and culture from around the region I know I’ve got to make it happen.
We get the best falafel delivered to us at work every day, for just a dollar – slightly different from the Turkish / Lebanese style we’re used to back in NZ, this has potato too and tastes great.
9. Warm, dramatic people
My students are not always motivated or even interested in anything apart from playing games on their phones, but they’re my main connection with KSA culture. I learn more about Saudi Arabia from them and they’re on the whole good people. If a little melodramatic at times!
10. Being close to so many different countries; working with people from different countries
This country may be one of the most isolated in terms of getting here, and the strict rules, but geographically it’s right in the middle. It’s possible to drive to Bahrain in an hour, or UAE, Kuwait, Egypt; and fly in not much time to Africa, Europe or Asia. My colleagues are from the US, Canada, Ireland and South Africa – but also Egypt, Sudan, Jordan, Syria and Somalia – it makes for an interesting mix and it’s like I’m traveling even while I’m not.
There are two big supermarkets within walking distance of my apartment both with a good selection of organics products, better even than NZ. Another small organics shop has also opened up since I’ve been here, which makes me happy.
12. Women’s eyes
One result of hiding their bodies and faces under shapeless black abayas is it really highlights women’s dark eyes. Especially as most wear makeup, the effect can be very dramatic. I also quite like checking out the footwear, surreptitiously of course – there’s a lot of variation, from trainers to heels – I get the sense of normal life going on, while everyone’s keeping to the rules.
Article by: Eliot Pryor