The taxi sped across a dark, open landscape. On the horizon, silhouetted jibals stood out from the moonscape, flames out the top of flare stacks punctuated the night.
Some vehicles flew by nigh at 200 kmph, while others preferred to straddle lanes, yet others appeared to prefer driving in the sand alongside the road. All communicating with toots of the horn and flashing of the brights. An hour and several checkpoints later, green began to appear. Palm trees, flowers, grasses and reeds; we arrived in Udhailiyah (‘Flower City’ in Arabic) and I dropped into a jet lagged sleep.
The next morning Omi took me around the Community. Surrounding the lush green of the dwellings rose our own jibal garden with a pleasant 5k track throughout. We meandered as the morning warmed, exploring on our way to Friday (Saudi weekend is Thursday and Friday) Morale Group, held in the movie theatre. From the bright patterns of the Nigerian dresses, to dancing as we sang, the international mix brought back a flavor from my childhood which I have long missed.
Lunch at the lush little Carlton Lounge and another jet-lag nap before dinner with friends. A fitful sleep, laced with dreams gave way to another day. Omi and I pedaled out to the stables where we met Akbar, the kind-hearted Bangladeshi stable manager. The three resident horses, welcomed us whinnyingly. Spirited and stately, these Arabians knew the land well.
Mounting up on Cheeky and Om’s buddy, Jimmi, we set out for what was my first ride on an English saddle. Across, about, and around we went, past the Wadi Al Saeed Golf Club. Absorbed in the rhythm and conversation of the ride, the morning passed quickly as the sun rose high into the sky.
A tour back through the Community and in particular, the commissary, where I was delighted to encounter my favorite Euro-sweets. We wandered along, meeting Omi’s many new acquaintances and friends.
We picnicked behind the fountain, amidst a grove of trees, chatting and commiserating, as Mothers and Daughters have done yhtoughout the generations. Of all the wonders on this earth, the immaterial hold the most water. Which is of particular value, in this dry land.
Evening and night came and went and early again we rose, this time to Al Hassa, and Omi’s facility. Buildings over here, based on cinder block then stuccoed, range across all stages of construction, and dilapidation. Even buildings cracked through and littered with the ever-present windswept trash boasted elaborate doors of great detail and wealth.
To say this land is foreign, would be a understatment. It seems almost other-worldly; from the language and thinking of the people, to the landscape. Yet basic tenants hold. For example, the desire to have and rear a family, to have a home (though here again, the Bedouin interpretation of this is far different from that of a Westerner).
As a generalization, and after travel through several different cultures, I will be brazen enough to call it Ethnocentric of any culture to think they are the only to deal with Racism. In every corner of the world I’ve yet encountered, residents harbor some system of hierarchy; judgment cast and based, usually, on nationality. A disappointing and bemusing commonality to share; how can something we all have in common, be exactly the thing which keeps us apart?
After a morning of touring the facility and hearing of its developing vision and purpose, Om and I met Wilson, a driver familiar with the Aramco expat community, who drove us to visit a couple of points of local interest. I will pick up with these tales in the next entry. Of much greater import and interest is the ever pressing querries regarding women’s rights.
Better than I to speak to such subject matter, is Princess Ameerah. If you don’t have 4 minutes to hear what a woman has to say, well, first off you aren’t reading this right now; but secondly, a powerful synopsis was her response to the interviewer’s allegation that Western Women see Middle Eastern Women as backwards and as Second Class Citizens:
Come, and you’ll see. We are not backwards and we are not second class citizens. Maybe the rules are backwards and maybe the policies are backwards but it’s not us. We are very much educated and very much respected within our own families. We are entrepreneurs, business women, social leaders, interconnected, globalized, multi-lingual…if you just open your eyes, you will see them around you and you will see how powerful women in the region are.