(1) What's the food like? (Jeff K./Erika) The foot is amazing. We've literally had feasts at every meal. Some of the common meats include lamb, chicken, beef, and seafood. Sorry to tell you Erika (a vegetarian), but as a carnivore by nature, I have really enjoyed the meat here a lot! Last night we had roasted lamb and it was incredible. At every meal we've had sambusa, which is similar to a wonton. It's a fried triangle filled with goat cheese or meats. They are incredible! Hummus is served at every meal. I have never been a huge fan of hummus, though I eat it from time to time in the states. Here, on the other hand, it's so delicious! (Probably because it's made fresh with fresh ingredients here.) Tabuli salad is served at every meal too. It tastes like parsley to me...sometimes I like it, sometimes not :-)
(2) Is the exchange rate good for Americans? How much does a thobe/ghutra/igal cost? (Charlie) The Saudis use the Riyal for currency. It has a fixed rate; 1 US= 3.75 Riyal. While things are less expensive than in Europe (by far!), they are more expensive than in the Latin American countries I've travelled in. To give you an idea, yesterday I purchased the thobe, ghutra, igal, two prayer rugs, and prayer beads for 140 Riyal, or less than 5o $. Those were purchased in a store, which tend to be spendier than in the souq (markets) which we have not yet visited!
(3) Are the classrooms different? (Jeff K) So far, we've only been able to visit on Aramco sponsored private college prep program school. It is by far an exception to the rule, as far as schools are concerned. It looked much like an American school. (It was very new and nice...) Hopefully we will be able to visit a government school.
(4) Are there any sabbath practices? (Chalie) Yesterday we left the hotel to go to a large Saudi book store. (Similar to a Borders, only nearly everything is in Arabic.) We had to wait in the parking lot for 15 minutes, because we arrived at prayer times. Muslims pray 5 times daily, and everything shuts down so that men may go to mosque. It sounds like on the holy day of the week, many people go to the mosque to pray together.
(5) Which aspects of globalization have helped/hurt the Saudi people? (Jess) Great question (and tough to answer in the five minutes I have before leaving for the camel market!) Let me think about it today and write about it tonight!
Sunday, April 1, 2007
That's right! They don't call it the Persian Gulf in Saudi Arabia. In case you didn't know, the "Persian Gulf," which separates Iran from Saudi Arabia, gets its name from the Persian people of Iran. (That's right, they're not considered Arabs--a common misconception.) Saudis, culturally a very nationalistic people (aren't we all??), insist that the gulf be named after them. Thus the title of this entry. Look at any map made here and it reflects it. We stopped here for just a few minutes today enroute to dinner. Some interesting buildings/monuments, and beautiful water. :-)
Saudi Arabia definitely has a rich, unique culture. From the traditional dress of abyas and thobes to the hummus, lamb and fresh juices, I have enjoyed being immersed in it. But once in a while, (actually often in the cities) American culture can be seen. Here are a few pictures that need no more introduction...
We visited an all-girls College Prep school sponsored by Aramco today. This highly competitive school accepts students who score at a 90% or higher on a standardized test in their 12th year of Saudi public or private school. Unlike US college prep high schools, this program lasts nine months and is started after Saudis graduate (assuming they have the exceptional credentials!) The students we talked to are studying Physics, Chemistry, Calculus, and English to prepare them for admissions to colleges in Europe and the United States. Many of them have travelled abroad, often numerous times! (Many are daughters of wealthy Aramco employees of course! But all Saudis can in theory apply for the highly competitive program) When asked what they would like to know about college in the US, most were wondering if they would be treated well. Two girls said they opted to apply at UK schools because of the difficulty of obtaining visas. I talked with many of these girls, and they are exceptionally bright. It almost saddened me that their impression of the US was that people may consider them "terrorists." These conversations reinforced to me how important it is for me as a teacher to break down stereotypes and build connections. On a side note, I did turn over the letters that my female advanced global studies students wrote. (Sorry guys, I will have to visit a boy's school to hand yours out.) Also, in case you're wondering why I put a picture of that nice looking furnished room: it's the student lounge. :-)