Mr. Senrick--Teacher/World Traveler

Mr. Senrick--Teacher/World Traveler
Educators to Saudi Arabia 2007

Saturday, March 31, 2007

How do Saudis treat tourists? (Another great question)

This is an excellent question, Nigel. Saudi Arabia is very strict on who is allowed into the kingdom. In most cases, if not all (?), you must have a host to be allowed in. Our host, as I've mentioned, is Aramco oil. (One of the world's most valued companies--at least 700 billion dollars worth!) Our hosts are extremely generous to us. In fact, we are treated like VIPs.

We have been granted access to things that regular visitors would not be allowed to see. For example, we were given a guided tour of Aramco's computer center. This high-tech center of numerous, large super computers, is watched at all times by over two hundred security cameras! Access is extremely restricted--a limited number of Aramco employees need at least 2 codes to get through the intense security. We were not allowed to take pictures of any kind. Additionally, we were invited to tour a Saudi couple's home(more like a mansion!) This too is extremely rare. Finally, every meal we are served is a feast! Last night we dined on lobster, crab, shrimp, and other seafood. (See picture!) So, while we would not be considered "tourists," our experience has really shown us a luxurious perspective on Saudi Arabia.

All that being said, we are limited in many respects. For example, Nigel asked if we were able to visit the mosque at Mecca. The answer here is no. In fact, no non-muslims are allowed in the city. Non-muslims are diverted around it and have to take another road. This is because the city is the most holy of all, as it is the birthplace of Islam and extremely holy as it relates to the Prophet Muhammud. I really respect this. Globalization is an amazing phenomenon. However, perhaps some places should be reserved for a select few, especially holy places. They are, after all, extremely important to people. To allow visitors would detract and potentially damage such important places.

Thanks for the great questions Nigel!

Time to respond to some questions...

Thanks for everyone who has been writing comments! I really appreciate having some guidance on the things I am learning. Here are some personal responses:

YEG--Wow...those are some tough ones. I had an interesting conversation with a woman, Kholoud, who has visited the US. When asked about her positive and negative impressions of the US, she definately was down on the media. She witnessed herself how US media can be very one sided, or at least strongly slanted, and sensationalist. After being here myself, (and even before), I knew that it is not uncommon for media to stereotype other cultures by limiting their coverage. While I have witnessed that women in the Kingdom don't have the same freedoms we know in the US, there have certainly been strides made for women, albeit slow. As far as big differences...don't even get me started! I will say that, like any other country, Saudi Arabia has a lot of kind, generous people. I don't think that Americans are exposed to such positive images enough. (PS--Both have their moments...but I think I want to be JD...)

Bethany/Allison--I will try and bring back an Arabic pringles can for you to see. I hope that I can bring some shoes back! Men wear sandals frequently with their native dress, the thobe and ghutra (I'm buying them tomorrow!)

Priscilla--Saudi Arabia is great so far. The hosts have been especially generous and friendly. The weather here is great! It's been warm, but the air is comfortably dry. At night it cools down a bit, but it feels really great. Thanks for the questions.

Ashley--Thanks for the comments. Glad to hear you are liking Hotel Rwanda. Is there anything specific about Saudi Arabia you'd like to know?


Saudi Aramco Exhibit

One of our first stops this morning was the Aramco Exhibit. We were greeted by a few members of Aramco's PR department. They showed us a very fun 3-D film about oil and its impact on Saudi Arabia. (The auditorium and the production were very impressive.) After the film, we toured the museum. There were 5, maybe 6 different sections, each with interactive exhibits that detailed fossil fuel's creation, extraction, and transportation. While I was familiar with some of the information, I feel like I have a better grasp of how complex the oil industry is. For example, Aramco deals with 5 different types of crude, ranging from "heavy" to "ultra light." The lighter the crude, the less refining it requires, and the more economically valuable it is. Satellite mapping, as well as complex 3-D imaging and "smart" drills, have really benefited the company's efficiency. When asked about their research into alternative energies, the Aramco rep. informed us that they use alternative energies like solar power in their processes.

Not only did the tour inform us on industry, it had strong cultural components as well. The tour was led by Manal, one of the female Aramco employees we met today. Trained in the United States, she is the daughter of one of Aramco's pioneers. She, like many others working for the company, was educated in the US. Talking with her helped me realize that Saudi Arabia is making strides in employment rights for women. While currently something like 5% of the female population works, that number is increasing thanks in part to Aramco's commitment to hiring capable, intelligent people regardless of gender. (Keep in mind, cultural changes take time. Someone put it well in saying that culture moves at "a glacial pace."

The picture is of a massive globe with Arabic script from the Koran located near the beginning of the exhibits. Click on the following link to see more:

Compound life...

Aramco, Saudi's national oil company, has a large compound that hosts thousands of workers (mostly expats from 35 countries!) and its major buildings. We are staying in Steineke Hall for the next few days. While it is secluded from most of Saudi life, it's a comfortable start while we adjust to some of the cultural differences. Also, it's an ideal hub to visit the multiple Aramco sites we will visit. Pictured here are: (1) a few friends, Martha from L.A. and Worth from Baton Rouge (2) an example of a bilingual sign..very common in the compound (3) a billboard promoting recycling--a recent initiative by Aramco.

20 Hours in transit....

That's right! It was a 9 hour flight from Houston to Amsterdam. There we had a 5 hour layover. I spent a lot of that time walking around with new friends Nora, raised in Egypt and now living in Virginia, and Nicolle, Utah native. The Amsterdam airport is one of the largest, so we wandered through some shops, did some people watching, and even got to stroll in Holland's crisp spring weather. After walking around for a few hours, I slept on the floor by our gate for the last hour or so! The picture here was taken from the flight to Dammam, S.A. We were happy to be on the flight and on our way. (It was also nice that we each had our own personal tv and remote to choose movies, tv shows and games! I played tetris, watched James Bond, and Scrubs :-)

We were greeted in Saudi Arabia by one of our hosts Saad (sp). He helped us breeze through customs. We didn't even carry our own luggage, as there were some Bengladeshi (perhaps Indonesian?) fellas who transported them for us. I've noticed alread that many "labor-oriented" jobs are done by foreigners. In fact, Saudi's population is over 20% foreign. Many come from other Islamic countries (India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, to name a few.) From the airport, it was a 30-40 minute drive to the highly secured Aramco compound, where we will be staying for the first few days of our trip.