Mr. Senrick--Teacher/World Traveler

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

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Food Glorious Food!

Like I've said before, the Saudis treat us like royalty! We have feasts for every meal. Since being in Jeddah, seafood is a primary staple. Tonight we had a traditional Saudi meal (at least for this region.) It was a lot of fish, calamari, and shrimp. We got to use our hands to literally tear the fish meat off the bone! And though you might be grossed out, you should know that it was all DELICIOUS!!!!!!! (BTW--Every meal is proceeded and concluded with light Arabian coffee made with cardamon and dates--the fruit of the palm tree. They are gooey and sweet, and very tasty. There are many varieties. In fact, there are actually date "factories," as this region produces a lot of them around the oases.)
My favorite drink is a carbonated apple-fruit drink. It's nicknamed "Saudi Champagne." (Keep in mind, Saudis do not drink! It's illegal as it is forbidden by the Koran. I was talking with other my new friend David from Boston about that today. Imagine how the US might be positively different if we had banned alcohol from our inception! Of course there are instances of Saudis secretly having alcohol or visiting nearby countries to drink. However, all I've met are dedicated to following their religion and don't!)

FYI--Only the first two pictures are from tonight. The others show the coffee being served and the little cookies and treats that are served EVERYWHERE we visit (literally!!)

(Saudi Coffee served in a small cup! Shake it if you don't want any more...)

Jeddah!..Jewel of the Red Sea Coast

Jeddah is located on the Red Sea on the west coast. It is a very cosmopolitan city. Its multicultural, salad bowl mix of people is result of two things: being a key sea port and being so close to Mecca. Mecca is the holiest city for Muslims. Millions of Muslims from throughout the world (Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Egypt, etc.) travel here yearly to perform the rituals. Over hundreds of years, these pilgrims have diffused their cultures by visiting and even choosing to live here. Consequently, it has a more liberal culture. It is especially known for its architecture and artistic sculptures that are seen everywhere!

Women in Jeddah
Today was one of the most insightful days regarding women--particularly in education and the workforce. We started our day by visiting Effet college, a private school for girls. (All schools are separated by gender.) At this school, we heard about how this college of students focuses on preparing women in fields where they are underrepresented. For example, we met a young lady who will be the first ever to graduate in kingdom in architecture. Most of her professors (mostly women) have been educated abroad and are well respected in their disciplines. Effet also has a psychology program, which is extremely rare, if not non-existant. It turns out that addressing mental health is a relatively new phenomenon in Saudi Arabia. I spoke with one young lady who was a finalist in a nation-wide contest titled "I Matter." In her essay, she explained how she plans on using her clinical psychology degree to help empower other women and undo the stigma that exists regarding mental health. Besides the career component, the college also has a strong commitment to holistic ed, meaning focus on the whole individual. Students organize fund raisers, which they then use the funds to support Cancer research and AIDS programs. Although Americans are quite aware of these illnesses, they are far less known about in the Kingdom. Thus, the work of these young women is truely inspiring. (Many in our group were moved nearly to tears by their stories. TAKE THAT US MEDIA!!!) Additionally, the young women do community outreach, like teaching underpriviledged Saudi women how to use computers and other skills. It made me think a lot about how some schools in the US have similar aims.

The Beverly Hills of Jeddah
We visited a house today in a wealthy neighborhood today that reminded me of Beverly Hills. However, the particular home (or small palace) we visited, was an oasis of Islamic culture preservation. The residents of the house, an architecht and an interior designer, built their house, inside and out, as a way to combat an increase in "Europeanization" of other homes in the area. The palace (I just can't call it a house) was the most magnificent home I've ever seen. The pictures below don't do it justice. It had 4-5 floors, an indoor swimming pool, an indoor garden, a massive rooftop patio, and exquisite Islamic inspired art and furnishings. (Plus a handfull of servants from Ethiopia and other countries.) I will let the pictures do the talking for me:

(This is the bottom!)

Saudis and the US...

I've been asked a lot about what Saudis think of Americans, as well as the impact of American culture on the Kingdom. Here goes...

So far, everyone I've spoken with has a very open and kind view of Americans. Since we are part of a VIP (and I mean very VIP) tour, we are not meeting many lower class Saudis. However, we are meeting very educated people whom I trust. They have favorable views of Americans. The watch American TV and movies. Some even have studied in the US or have family/friends there. That being said, they really dislike the US government. When talking about Sept. 11th, all have expressed being surprised at the number of Saudis involved. They recognize that the terrorists don't represent the Islamic mainstream. Tonight in fact, one man was animate in saying that such murder is contradictory to the Koran. I sincerely belive this. All are opposed to the war in Iraq, and see that it's just another way that American media is accentuating negative stereotypes about the region. That's another major complaint: the media. Our news (and the Saudi news as some Saudis say) is notorious for pointing out negative images to sensationalize and generalize people and events. Soon we will be visiting a newspaper here. I think that visit will be very telling! One of the most revealing discussions I had occured with a Saudi guy, Mohhamed Ali, I met on the airplane from Dammam to Jeddah. He's one who was down on G.W. Bush and the war on Iraq, as well as our media. I have also met various college educated, working women. (Did you know more women in Saudi have college degrees than men? Everyone I've spoken with has been very intelligent and fascinating. Here are pictures of some of the people I've met and spoken with:

As far as impact of US culture on the Kingdom...many Saudis welcome it. (Although my friend Muhammed from dinner tonight doesn't go to McDonalds because it makes him feel sick! Sound familiar???) Before going further, I must say, Saudi culture is extremely traditional and proud of it. Unlike the US, where our "pop culture" has been formed in the last hundred years or so, Saudi culture is rooted in Islam and has been around for 15oo years! I don't think many Americans can wrap their brain around how important such deep rooted traditions are. And regardless of the influx of McDonalds, Chilis, Burger King, Toys R' US, the Hilton, and so on, Saudis maintain thier culture. Islam is more than women in black abayas. It's about commitment to family, giving back to the poor and others in need, protecting the family, praying, participating in the Haajj in Mecca. Getting back to my previous point, the US media has failed to truely recognize the positive aspects of Islam and the countries so strongly shaped by it!

A memorable departure an exciting new start!

Yesterday, Monday April 1st, was our last day at the Aramco compound in Dammam. Some of the highlights of the last day included visiting a limestone cave park. Unfortunately, I don't know the name of it. It's a bit tricky translating some things from Arabic to English, and there weren't any signs to speak of. It was really impressive to walk through. As you can see from some of the photos, graffiti is found in Saudi Arabia. Nora, who lived in Egypt for 9 years, was interpreting the graffiti for us. One particular example was almost poetry...someone professing their love for another.

We went shopping at a Saudi Book Store Chain, similar to Barnes and Noble. I took a picture of the "American" section, as it had some interesting looking books. (Even if I have no idea what they were about!) On a political note, I had an interesting conversation with Mohammed Ali (not the boxer) on our flight yesterday. This college educated 24 year old was heading to Jeddah, "the salad-bowl, cosmopolitan, port city," to visit his family. We talked about many things, particularly government schools, roles of women, and government. When talking about the US government, he said that many Saudis disapprove of our current government and the war in Iraq. He said that Bill Clinton was more liked. (I only throw in that information as there is a book with Clinton's picture on it. I did not see any with George W. Bush for some reason.) On a side note, students will be happy to know that I stocked up on stickers at the book store! Lots of cool English/Arabic stickers for 1 Riyal a sheet (that's a quarter!) :-)

The most fun part of the last day for me was visiting a camel farm. Now, many people in the US have probably seen camels in a zoo. But, let me tell you, seeing them, HEARING them, touching them, and smelling them is a totally different experience. One of our Aramco guides is friends with a camel herder. The Bedouin people were the original nomadic people of the region, and they are most commonly known for herding camels. (However, I met a Bedouin woman whose family has been settled for a long time. She now works for Aramco. It is important to realize that being ethnically Bedouin does not mean that you are nomadic! This is a common misconception, and one that I had until my conversation with this woman...I am learning so much!) It was so fun to pet them and let them nibble on my fingers! That's right, I had a camel practically eat my hand...It felt kinda funny, but it was really cute. We were instructed on how to make certain sounds to get them to feel comfortable with us. I'd be happy to replicate the sound I was making! (A bunch of people in our group were calling me the Camel Whisperer :-) It really made me miss Scout and Sasha (my dog-mates ;-))