I am just finishing my second year of work in Saudi Arabia, where I live in the 2500 year old city of Jeddah, population 4 million, which boasts the largest port in the Red Sea. In order to better describe my life here, a little background is in order which involves an overview the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, Wahhabist interpretation of Islam, The House of Saud, and the impact of oil.
MECCA AND MEDINA
Jeddah, where I currently live, is the second largest city in Saudi Arabia after the capital Riyadh, and lies between the two most important places in the Islamic world, Mecca, 40 miles to the south, and Medina, 250 miles to the north. These cities are forever tied to one another by the life of the Prophet Mohamed, and as such Jeddah plays host to millions of people every year as they pass though on pilgrimages between the two holy sites.
Mecca, of course, is where the Great Mosque is located that houses the Kabba, which is the black veiled cube located at the center of the structure. Indeed the Kabba literally lies at the center of Islam itself, as it is the place all Muslims worldwide orient themselves as they pray five times a day.
Like Christianity and Judaism, Islam is an Abrahamic religion and the three faiths share a common ancestry. According to the the Quran, the Kabba was originally built by Abraham and his son Ismael, as a temple devoted to the worship of the one true God in defiance of the paganism which denominated the spirituality of the people in the region at the time.
Mecca is also significant because it is the birthplace of Mohamed, who for Muslims, is believed to be the last and most important among the thousands of other prophets who have lived throughout human history. The names of some of the other major prophets are very familiar to Christians such as Adam, Noah, Moses and of course Jesus. However, by the time Mohamed was born some 2500 years after Abraham, the Kabba had lost its monotheistic theme and had become a focal point for the of veneration of a pantheon of pagan deities, most notably an idol that went by the handle of Hubal.
As The Prophet began have his visions, which were to inspire both the Holy Koran and the birth of Islam itself in a cave near city, he started to organize a political movement that would expel the polytheism and idolatry from the region which had grown back since the time of Abraham like a cancer not completely excised. This of course was a threat to the local powers that be, and Mohamed was forced to flee 300 miles north to the city of Medina. It was there that he would gather an army and eventually return to Mecca to defeat forces loyal to Hubal, and the hosts of other pagan deities revered there, and restore the temple as a place of worship to the God of Moses and Abraham.
It was also in Medina that The Prophet would end his remarkable life a decade or so after his unlikely conquest of Mecca, and the subsequent establishment of an Arabian polity he had forged based on the new religion he had founded.
It is truly a marvel, and one of the world’s greatest mysteries, as to how he managed to completely revolutionize the religious and political order of his day and lay the groundwork for the meteoric rise of Islamic civilization without having the advantage of having read Donald Trump’s “Art of the Deal.”
Some things just cannot be explained
If you think that Saudi Arabia would go completely broke if all the oil wells ran dry you would be wrong. Even though falling oil prices are no doubt are taking a toll, a tremendous amount of money is generated by the millions pilgrims that visit these two cities every year. Although currently there are no tourist visas, Saudi Arabian pilgrim visas are issued, and all Muslims have the right, and indeed a duty to come to Mecca at least once in their lifetime on Hajj, providing they are physically and financially capable of doing so.
Going on Hajj is a major finical investment for most Muslims, and ironically there are many Saudis who have not fulfilled the duty. That is not to say they have not visited Mecca and the Great Mosque, but they have not completed the obligation of making a Hajj pilgrimage which occurs annually according the lunar- based Muslim calendar, and is comprised of a specif set of rituals.
The low end of these Hadj packages start at about 1000 dollars, exclusive of air fare, but a package at that price could prove to be a very uncomfortable experience. That is unless you like being crammed into a tent with a group of strangers for 5 days and eating rice with a little dried up chicken. From what I understand the packages that are double that price fare a little better in terms of comfort, as there are fewer people in the tent, but it is far from deluxe.
If you want actual hotel accommodation, this will be more expensive than a week at the Royal Hawaiian in the middle of Waikiki. However the room I assure you will not be appointed nearly as well, and the mai tai cocktails will clearly not be up to standard.
That is a joke of course. Drinking in Saudi Arabia is banned, and if you were caught drinking in Mecca, especially at Hajj, you would no doubt get jailed and receive a serious Saudi style ass woop’n for your transgression, which would be served as a series of public floggings.
Saudi Arabia, in the minds of most westerners, is synonymous with Islam. Indeed the faith is central to life here, and daily schedules are organized around prayer times with all businesses closing for half an hour 5 times a day for observances. However there are over 1.5 billion Muslims in the world but only a paltry 20 million are Saudi. The two predominate branches of Islam are the Sunni and the Shiite. The vast majority of Saudis follow the Sunni sect, which is by far the larger of the two. The two do not get along so well, and there are 13 centuries of bad blood that goes back a dispute as to whom was to lead the newly founded religion after The Prophet Mohamed died.
However, what is more important in distinguishing Saudi Arabia from the rest of the Islamic world is the influence of Whabbism, which is the ultra conservative movement within Sunni Islam that arose in the 18th century. Technically Wahhabi is not the most correct term to use, nevertheless the movement was based on the teachings a cleric named Bin Wahhab who was fed up with what he as a saw a strain of idolatry which had arisen within the faith. In this sense he may be likened to those clergymen of Christian reformation who shunned the veneration of saints in the Catholic church.
Not unlike the Puritans who had over a century head start on ole Bin Whabbi’s party pooping, the Muslim preacher wasn’t much on slaps and tickles with members of the opposite sex. Nor did he think too much of booze, drugs and rock and roll.
When King Saud bin Abdulaziz united the warring tribes of the Arabian Peninsula under the third Saudi state in the opening decades of the 20th century and created modern day Saudi Arabia, he needed muscle. To do this he turned to the old allies of the House of Saud, the Wahhabist warriors. These guys were all about sending their enemies to hell in the shortest order possible, figuring if they got you first, it only meant you got to heaven quicker. This was definitely the kind of attitude you needed needed for such a task, because, generally speaking, people who ride around on camels in the desert are a pretty independent, stubborn and resilient lot. The alliance proved to be effective one, and after much bloodshed the modern state of Saudi Arabia was born in 1932.
However useful these Wahhabi warriors may have been for King Abdulaziz to help him consolidate power, they proved to be less than idyllic partners when attempting to forge a new nation state prepared to integrate into the interdependent world of the 20th century. In fact after the king had accomplished his military goals, he had to deal with cooling the jets his Wahhabi allies who, feeling they were on a roll, were itchy to take the fight to Jerusalem and from there onward to the infidels of Europe.
The Wahhabi, not being the most reasonable of sorts, forced the King to do something drastic to show them that it was time to lay down their arms and get to the task of building a nation. To do this he turned to the Brits who supplied him with some modern weaponry to give the ambitious conquers a taste of what they would be up against in their quest for world dominance. After one very quick engagement the nomadic warriors figured that riding into Paris or London on camel back wielding swords wasn’t going to work too well, because swords and camels clearly just ain’t worth a shit when your enemy is armed with machine guns and armored vehicles.
Nonetheless, the austere form of Islam had much sympathy on the Peninsula, and no doubt also among many of the the royals, who, tied to the Wahhabi by marriage, saw virtue in their beliefs as well. As such the monarchy has had to walk a fine line between the strict conservatism of Wahhabi doctrine on one hand while tending to the needs of modernization on the other, all the while keeping the peace between the 9 major Bedouin tribes that make up the indigenous population of The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. A juggling trick worthy of the Cirque de Soleil.
No doubt the discovery of oil has helped to keep the peace in Saudi Arabia. It is a misconception that all Saudis are rich, but the royal family has doled out a lot of cash though the years to literally keep the people fat and happy. (Literally, Saudi Arabia has a tremendous obesity problem). After it was discovered that the country was floating on sea of oil, a comfortable middle class eventually arose that went to work at do- nothing bureaucracies, while the real work was sourced out, or rather sourced-in, and millions of workers, were imported to do both the dirty work and fill the technocratic roles to build a modern country from from the desert. Today, almost 25 per cent of the population of Saudi Arabia are expat workers.
If tomorrow all the Pakistanis left, the garbage would go uncollected. If all the Egyptian doctors left with their Filipino nurses, the hospitals would shut down. If all the Americans and Brits left the oil spigot would be turned off. And if all the Indians left the computer systems would crash. This clearly is not a sustainable long-term situation and the government has started a program called “Saudization,” which seeks to replace the foreign workers with Saudis to do these jobs. However, it is proving to be far from a seamless transition.
Critical to the understanding of Saudi Arabia is that culturally it is far different from its neighbors in the region. The Iranians, who are Shi’ite, can trace their linage back to the great Persian empire. The countries of the Levant; Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon, not only have since ancient times been at the crossroads between Europe and the Oreint, but also fully participated in the Islamic Golden Age which served as a bridge between the the ancient Greco Roman civilization and the Renaissance, while Europe stubbed through the Middle Ages. In addition, the modern borders of these countries were born of the British and French colonial empires, and as such their identities as nation states are entangled in the history of Europe in the 18th century.
Then you have the poor old Saudis who jumped right off the camel’s back straight into the Space Age. To get an idea of where Saudis’ heads are, imagine how you might see the world if you were living in an ultra patriarchal society and your grandfather, the head of the household, had the mindset of a 10th century European peasant.
Oil, besides giving the Saudis the opportunity to redefine the stereotype of the nouveau riche, is also responsible for having facilitated a close relationship with the western powers, in particular the United States. As the post industrial world developed an unquenchable thirst for oil, it was not initially believed that the Saudi reserves were of any great significance, and that Iraq had the most abundant resources. As such, when in the late 19th century, the Brits and the French drew the lines effectively divvying up their spheres of influence in the Middle East they didn’t give a whole lot of thought to most of the Arabian Peninsula. Then in 1930, without much of a fuss, Britain was outbid by the the Americans who paid a measly 50,000 dollars to old King Abdulaziz, for the concession to explore for oil in Saudi Arabia. A few years later the American oilmen hit the mother-load in the eastern region around Al Kobar. Soon after that the kingdom formed an alliance with a confederation the biggest American oil companies which was to eventually become the largest energy company in the world, ARAMCO.
The Brits really missed the boat on that one. Not that it would have saved the Empire, or eclipsed the rise of the United States and the Soviet Union as the predominate powers in the post war political order, but Britain would have held a far more potent diplomatic hand of cards had British Petroleum not Standard Oil and their Yank partner companies been the ones pumping out Saudi oil to the free world during the Cold War era.
The effects of America having the concession on Saudi Oil had other consequences beyond Britain missing out on the opportunity for increased diplomatic clout. For one, the Brits may have been spared running about in golf cart sized cars, while their fFree World allies in America rode around in style in the mobile living rooms that Detroit pumped out until the 1970’s. For the Saudis it may have meant an obesity epidemic fueled by fish and chips shops as opposed to one furnished compliments of McDonald’s and other diabetes inducing establishments.
The diplomatic cornerstone of the the American-Saudi relationship has always been based on oil. The deal is this simple. The Saudis keep the oil flowing and the United States provides security in an unstable part of the world. Saudi Arabia’s need for security, apart from the vast wealth of high quality oil that is the envy of every country in the on earth, is that the kingdom is also home of the twin jewels of Islam, Mecca and Medina. Far larger countries like Iraq, and especially Shite Iran, would love to have access to Saudi oil, and would no doubt much rather the the holy sites lay within their sphere of influence. However a close relationship with America has taken any ambition of the conquest of Saudi Arabia by its neighbors off the table, and the Saudis thus far have been able to sleep soundly knowing Uncle Sam’s addiction to oil will keep their gravy train safe from ambush.
Beyond this however, there is another dimension to the Saudi relationship which binds the countries together.
As the cold war world order arose after WW2, virtually every country on earth had to choose between the Soviet Union or the United States as their primary ally. For the Saudis, it was a no brainer. The communist Soviet Union espoused a doctrine of atheism, and that was something that was unconditionally not acceptable. Maybe the Americans weren’t good Muslims, but they weren’t Godless either, and as a Christian nation at least believed in the God of Abraham. When the Israeli -Palestinian conflict sparked the OPEC oil embargo which aimed to pressure America into a more sympathetic stance towards the plight of Palestinians in the Arab-Israeli conflict, it was this issue of Soviet atheistic doctrine that ended the embargo.
In 1973 the year the embargo went into effect, the Untied States was mired in the Vietnam conflict. Shutting off the flow of oil to your superpower ally, to say the least, was a ballsy move, and caught the Americans somewhat by surprise. Initially there was some sort of suggestion from Washington that either the Saudis get the oil flowing again,or else the US military would help get it going for them.
However the Saudis, fed up with what they saw as America’s capitulation to the whims of Israel, were undeterred and seemed to be willing to climb back on their camels and disappear into the desert to suck on dates and wait it all out. But then some diplomat in a stroke of genius was able to convince the Saudis that the oil was needed to keep the Godless communists from taking over the world.
That got the Saudi’s attention.
If it came down to justice for Palestine, or domination of the world by atheists, the Palestinians were just going to have to understand.
LIFE IN SAUDI ARABIA
So what is it like living in Saudi Arabia? In a country that the strictest form of Islam is the law of the land? In a country that has an absolute monarchy? In a country where the King is one of the richest men in the world, but whose father waged wars on camel back? In a country whose population in the span of one generation went from being self reliant nomadic clansmen roaming the sands of the Arabian peninsula, to living in the ultimate nanny state driving Japanese cars like lunatics trying to get to whatever fast food fix they were feigning for that day before it closes for prayers?
I think the term “third world country” is often deceptive, but I choose to employ that term here, as describing Saudi Arabia is elusive at best.
In a word it is like living in a rich third world country.
Like every place in the world there is the good and the bad. I will start with the downsides.
The biggest problem with living in Saudi Arabia is the boredom. Being a country that is regulated under Sha’ ri ah law, which essentially means that the Koran is the constitution, your options for merry making are limited.
First and foremost is the infamous ban on alcohol. Of course there are parties that take place on compounds where people drink homemade wine and beer, but this is not the same as going to your favorite bar for happy hour on a Friday after work and bellying up for a few rounds of brew, or having a couple double JDs on the rocks.
The same goes for movie theaters that goes for pubs. They don’t exist. From what I gather movies are indeed a violation of the law, but for some reason that does not stop them from being shown on cable TV channels. In addition, I have seen some shopping malls that have a couple stores that sell DVDs, but that is a rarity, and selection is very limited. Of course people download videos, but if the big screen is your thing, no dice. Which brings us to gambling which is forbidden, which is too bad, because there are camel races and it would be fun to go to the track and place your bet on one of the cantankerous, ungainly creatures.
In Jeddah, where I live, the weather is quite agreeable most of the year, and would be perfect for golf. However in this city of 4 million people there are no golf courses. There are a few scattered around Riyadh and the Eastern region, but the heat can obviously be an issue in most of the country. There are desert courses that people play with sand greens but anything a course with grass will cost you some serious money to play.
Public performances of any kind are not permitted, as such concerts are out. There is an underground music scene that goes on at foreign consulates and compounds, but if Led Zeppelin ever did do that reunion tour, they won’t be playing Riyadh that is for sure.
Trying to get something done here can be a major hassle. I have lived in a lot of places where the folks weren’t exactly what you would call industrious, but what some Saudis will do to avoid work is astonishing. If the Olympics had a competition for sloth, the winner would be a a 400 pound Saudi in white robe wearing sunglasses who spent 3 consecutive weeks sleeping 14 hours a day and passed the other 10 hours continuously gnawing assorted pieces of fried chicken while staring at You Tube videos on his I phone.
As I write this I have a problem issue with a ticket I have purchased and cannot get anyone in the airlines Jeddah office to so much as answer the phone, much less respond to an e mail.
Yea..it is that bad. I will probably have to go down to the office and create a scene to sort out the problem.
A good example of this hassle to get something done was when my roommate and I opened our bank accounts at the Saudi National Commercial bank a couple of months after we got here. After doing the initial paperwork we were told to return a week later to the branch to collect our ATM cards. I was suspicious as to why they could not be issued on the spot, but we went along with the request. In spite of being newcomers, we had already realized that things did not happen in a timely fashion, so we gave it two weeks.
The accounts had been opened in a small branch office in a big modern shopping mall. When Mike and I came in to get our cards, we were the only two customers in sight and the two guys working the place remembered us straight away. One guy was sitting at a desk and his colleague was standing at small kiosk looking thing in the small colorful space.
“Hi,” I said.
“Welcome my friend,” responded the banker who was dressed in the traditional white robe (called a thobe) and extended a hand in greeting.
“We’ve come for our cards,” I said cordially returning the warm smile that was beaming across the welcoming Arab’s face.
“I am sorry my brother, they have not arrive yet,” he said in an regretful tone of voice in his near perfect English. His accomplice meanwhile smiling and nodding at the kiosk.
Having lived in Thailand for 10 years I was no rookie at this kind of game.
“Well my friend,: I announced with a big grin, “I am staying in this chair until it comes, and proceeded to plop myself down in front of him at his desk. Then turning to my roommate I instructed stay over at the kiosk in front of the other go-getter until we get our cards.
The bank manager for the next 10 minutes tried to engage me in conversation irrelevant to the problem at hand. I politely responded to all of his prompts, but would end whatever line the discussion had taken by saying, “You know we are not leaving without our cards.”
After about 10 minutes he gave in.
Begrudgingly, he opened his desk drawer, shuffled though the small stack of ATM cards and produced the ones with Mike and mine’s names printed on them.
The problem for him was that there was a few forms that he had to fill out which required about 10 minutes of his attention to paperwork, which I can only assume he had been procrastinating for the previous two weeks.
Actually this was the second bank account I had opened in Saudi. The first bank proved impossible to deal with.
When one thinks of Middle Eastern countries, flush with oil money, scenes of ultra modernity probably pop into mind. In the neighboring United Arab Emirates such cities as Abu Dabi or Dubai or in the Kingdom of Bahrain you will find well planned ,squeaky clean modern metropolises that boast state of the art infrastructure with skylines made up of soaring skyscrapers that incorporate daring, provocative architectural features.
.Well, make a 180 degrees turn from that idea and you will have a good notion of what Riyadh or Jeddah looks like. Yes there are some nice buildings but by and large it looks like what I imagine a a city that was born and grew up in Soviet Russia to look like. Most buildings are drab block-like structures of 5-6 floors and the vast majority of are bland tan color.
Of particular tragedy is that since 1985 over 95 per cent of the buildings in Mecca, some of them being Mosques built shortly after the time of The Prophet, have been destroyed by the Saudi government to make way for parking lots, hotels and other forms of infrastructure to accommodate the approximately 3 million pilgrims that come on Hajj every year. It is estimated only 20 buildings that date back to the time of Mohamed exist today. This amounts to a catastrophic loss of world heritage.
Not only is the architecture in Saudi Arabia uninspiring but litter buggery is rife, and the streets, if not for a virtual army of Pakistani and Bangladeshi laborers, would be knee deep in debris in a matter of days.
Then there is the separation of everything by gender. It should be noted that this is not a common Muslim practice, even in the Middle East as the practice is far more related to the traditional cultures found in among the Arab clans in this region. I never realized how much I would miss interacting with the fairer sex before coming here. I am not talking about romance, but everyday life, which seems to be miss a dimension. . I go weeks on end without saying a word to a woman. I never knew how much a smile and a word with the opposite sex would be missed, whether that be a friendly thank you from an attractive young waitress, a smile from a giggling 10 year old girl at the supermarket excited to get home and eat at the ice cream her mother is buying, or a short conversation with someone’s grandmother while waiting in line at an ATM.
The ban on women driving in Saudi is well-known and a word here is in order on the topic,as the reason for the law, in large part, relates to this separation of everyone by gender. Technically women cannot leave their homes without a close male relative escorting her. In Jeddah, which is much more liberal than Riyadh, this seems to be more of a general guideline that is pretty much followed, as opposed to a hard and fast rule and most likely in the future women will see greater latitude in what they can do. However a serious problem will arise if all of a sudden one day women are allowed to drive without proper preparation for the event.
Many women here own cars. Well technically they may not, but de facto they do, it is just that amale member in their families have drive it for them. (Hopefully that male will be at least 16 years of age. I have literally seen kids as young as 12 driving and once had a boy of 14 as a cab driver). At any rate there is no shortage of automobiles. Should women be suddenly drive, the already congested roadways plagued with traffic jams in Riyadh and Jeddah would be thrown into a state of permanet gridlock. I am not supporting or making apologies for the system, but that is what will happen without proper planning, and everyone knows it.
But apart from this obstacle to women driving, it will require a fundamental shift in the way men and women interact, or rather don’t interact. Any foreigner by far the worst thing in Saudi Arabia is the traffic. Saudi roads are dangerous places. I have see accidents almost on a daily basis here.
Generally Saudis are polite friendly people but they seems to turn into homicidal/suicidal maniacs when they get behind the wheel. The average driver thinks nothing of dangerously cutting someone off and then throwing verbal insults their way because the person has taken issue with their recklessness. Albeit the insults cannot normally be heard because everyone’s windows are rolled up in the air conditioned vehicles, but eye contact and hand gestures and lip reading manages to communicate most sentiments rather clearly. In the event of an accident, proving the drivers are not incapacitated a protracted argument will most certainly ensue. So this poses a very sticky issue indeed for the specter of women hitting the road. In a society where you cannot even talk to woman you certainly are not at liberty to swear, argue and falsely accuse her of anything.
Well let’s start with the most obvious good thing about being an ex pat in Saudi Arabia, at least an western expat. You make a lot of money, get a a lot of vacation, and they even kick in complimentary plane tickets so you can take off and enjoy yourself. You can stash a serious amount of cash in a short amount of time, pay off of loans, travel or do whatever else you choose to do with a tax free salary that will start around 50,000 dollars a year and go north of 250,000 depending on your job, and your qualifications. (The Pakistani guys on trash detail don’t make that much, I am talking about skilled labor).
As a westerner you are treated quite well in Saudi by the locals. I have lived in places that have a reputation for friendliness, such as Ghana and Burkina Faso in West Africa and Thailand in Southeast Asia. However, I have never been around a friendlier bunch of people than Saudis.Thais are friendly enough at a superficial level and they certainly take the polite award in my book, but Saudi’s, at least in regard to westerners, I find to be friendlier.
On one occasion I had a guy start yelling at me, I assume, only because I was a westerner. Most people live here for years and never experience that.
Of course there is the idea that Saudi Arabia is a hotbed for terrorists. Well there certainly are those about with that inclination. However the country has a very, very comprehensive security apparatus in place, and even though incidents do happen they are rare. The idea that Saudis are a bunch of blood thirsty jihadist looking to off an infidel first chance they get is utter nonsense. If that were the case no westerner could live here.
To become a terrorist means you give up everything. You can never return to you country, your community, your family. Even saying the word infidel in Saudi Arabia will get you in trouble. More likely than not if you are leaning in that direction and your family finds out they will turn you in for rehab. Most, not all terrorists ,are from the small number of truly disadvantaged, although some do indeed become radicalized who are from privileged backgrounds as well. So all in all, if you want to add the statistics up, Saudi Arabia is a very safe place to live. APART FROM THE POTETIAL OF TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS.
The food. Saudi food itself doesn’t have much on offer. The main dish is something called kapsa which is basically chicken lamb or beef on rice with a few Arabic spices. However in the cities, especially in Riyadh and Jeddah you can find a vast array of restaurants representing every region in the world. From Brazilian barbecue, to Korean Kalbi, to British fish and chips. In addition every American themed restaurant seems to have a branch as well so if you feel like a burger at Friday’s or a burrito at South of the Border, you won’t have to go to far. It is certainly not the gastro destination that is new New York City, the best of the best is not here, but you most certainly can find a high quality meal although not necessarily at a great price.
No article talking about food in Saudi would be complete without a special mention of Al Baik. I have been told that “Al Baik” is actually a Turkish word adopted by use among Arabic military forces. I assume as a remnant of the Ottoman days. It means “The General.” The Al Baik chain introduced “broasted” chicken to Saudi Arabia. A broaster is a type of pressure cooker which also functions as a deep fryer. Al Baik is a much younger operation that KFC and obviously lifted the military ranking idea from that famous American chain.
The business that Al Baik does in Jeddah is astounding. From the opening for lunch until closing around 1in the morning, apart from the obligatory closings for prayers, a perpetual state of riot occurs occurs at the 50 or so Al Baik outlets as swarms of chicken hungry Saudis from all walks of society descend upon restaurants. Most patrons request take away, but many, in their lust for the delicacy must gratify their desires immediately and feast on their purchase on the spot in the seating provided.
In spite of its popularity, Al Baik only exists in Mecca province. From my understanding this is due to some franchising dispute involving some member of the royal family. This in part explains the continual crowds at odd hours. As many people come from around the kingdom on business to Jeddah, they will not only go to eat the prized chicken themselves, but take an order home for the family as well back in Riyad or Damman. KFC does a reasonable business, but really only gets the overflow from those to weak, tired, or impatient to deal with crowds at Al Baik.
Saudi Arabia of course is a desert, however what most people do not realize is that there are very tall mountain ranges in Saudi, reaching to heights of 10,000 feet or more (3,000 meters), high enough to on rare occasions to even get snow. Not only are the mountains there, they are full of monkeys. Most of Saudi has a very inhospitable climate but Jeddah is quite nice most of the year and of course the higher elevations have very pleasant temperatures. Below are pictures from a trip I took to a place called Al Baha high in the ….mountain range in the western region of the country.
I guess the one of best things about living in Saudi is the chance to see a part of the world that few westerners get to experience. In addition to getting to know a lot more about life in a Gulf country, my colleagues come from around the Arab world. Not only am I getting a very good taste of Saudi but I am getting to know a lot more about the Middle East in general. In spite of the boredom, I feel lucky to have had a peek behind the veil and get a good look at this place that is so profoundly misunderstood by the outside world.