Mr. Senrick--Teacher/World Traveler

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

Friday, April 6, 2007

More Q and A...

(1) Are the books I am receiving in English or Arabic? Good question! Thank goodness they are in English or they would be useless for me! (Although I enjoy looking at Arabic writing as an art form.) Arabic is an extremely difficult language to learn. To give you an analogy that I heard here, it would take ten years of studying Arabic to have the same language ability one would have from studying Spanish for only three years. I hope to enroll in some Arabic classes though.

(2) Did I ask to wear the clothing, or was it offered to me? Great question Haneen. They pulled me out of the crowd and dressed me in it. That being said, I was grateful, because I really wanted to try it! Even before we left the US, I had asked IIE if the men would be wearing the thobes. I believe that experiencing a culture involves immersing yourself in it. :-)

(3) How do Saudis react to having Americans here? Another great question. It is easy for us to generalize about Americans and Saudis, but really reactions are really based on individuals' personal experiences. Meaning, some Saudis are happy to see us, they smile, and invite us to meet them. Others stare, as if they have never seen Americans before up close. So, to answer the question, I've seen various reactions, but nearly all positive. I will say, however, that on the airplane, there was a woman sitting next to me, who got up and moved when I sat down. I understand this, though. Her traditions and upbringing, rooted in devotion to her Islamic faith, don't approve of her sitting near a strange man. I completely understand this, and want to respect her beliefs, as I would want others to respect mine.

(4) Are there other religions represented in the Kingdom? Technically the official religion is Islam, and any statistics will show that it is 100% of the population's choice. However, I spoke with a Phillipino waiter at one of the restaurants. A graduate in criminology from the U of Manilla, he was here to support his family by doing what one may call a menial task for a college grad. Anyway, he informed me that he is Christian, and that in his community here made up of other Phillipinos, he is able to practice his religion. I don't believe that he can be very open about it with others, though.

(5) What is the income level like, and is there a focus on material goods? Excellent questions! I think that with globalization, consumerism is on the rise everywhere in the world, and it's here in Arabia. We have driven by an Ikea store, as well as dealerships for Jaguar, Hummer, and Mercedes. We have toured the most immaculate "homes" (mini-palaces.) and seen the furnishings of some very wealthy people here. I think that there is a lot of wealth here, naturally due to the oil boom. However, the workers in the hotels, restaurants, etc., are earning only eighty dollars a month, which would limit their ability to consume at great levels. It's very similar to the US.

(6) Is artistic expression limited? The artist we met is committed to networking with others, and establishing opportunities for the arts in Arabia. The Koran says that the arts are important. However, the schools here focus on science, math, religion, and language. Thus, opportunities for art are limited. But, I believe that there are more and more opportunities. At the Hope Center, we saw that art is an integral part of the curriculum for students with disabilities. Today we will be visiting a government school, and I will ask more about art there.


More life long friends, En Shallah (God Willing!)

I had the privilege of meeting some inspiring people in this "liberal" Saudi city. Beyond talking about Saudi culture and roles of women, we bonded. We shared stories of our families, our hopes for the future, our ambitions, and our problems. They shared their knowledge of Islam and of love. They recommended books, and even surprised me with gifts. I was able to talk with them about difficult and intense issues that just aren't spoken about openly at all in Saudi Arabia, like discrimination, AIDs, psychaiatry, homosexuality, alcohol and drug use, and spousal abuse to name a few. These bonding experiences are the type that can help lead to the change that the world needs. Open dialogue, a willingness to trust and to share, to listen and to be empathetic are some of the most important things we humans can learn how to do. I have come to realize that Saudi Arabia and the US are very similar and run parallel to eachother, while at the same time maintaining their differences. Looking past superficial things, like the abaya and the veil, I see the beauty and am inspired by these Saudi Arabians.
Haneen and I met at a reception one night. As I walked by her and a few other Saudi ladies, she called me over. That was the start of what I see to be an ongoing friendship. She is a descendant of Muhammed, and lives with her family in both Jeddah and Meccah. Only 24, she currently teaches business in a Jeddah college. She will be leaving in November to begin a 9 month Masters program in the UK. (She is one of 5,000 highly qualified Saudis selected for an international study fellowship.) I can't even describe the bond that we two Geminis made. We shared teaching stories, travel experiences, and our hopes for the future. She recommended the Leo Buscaglia book, Love: What Life is all about..., which she surprised me with as a gift before we departed. She also shared some of her poetry, which she hopes to publish, with our entire delegation. Her talent is illuminating.
Asrar works for public relations for Aramco. She will be starting an exciting new project shortly, which will challenge her for a few years working with a new university scheduled to open in a few years. Our conversation started with Saudi culture and Islam, and quickly spread to topics regarding globalization and the future of the world. Asrar and I talked about our personal lives, and gave each other advice from our different perspectives. She also directed me to some excellent books to help me better teach my students about Islam and Suudi-American relations. I can't wait to read Islam Denounces Terrorism by Harun Yahya. She is an inspiration.

Red Sea Resort

We had the privilege of relaxing at a resort for a few hours Friday morning. (Which is Sunday here in Saudi.) Aramco made it possible for us to jet ski, snorkel, take a boat ride, swim by the pool or in the sea, as well as other activities. Completely exhausted from our rigorous schedule, I opted to build a sand castle, swim in the sea, and snorkel. I was able to take some underwater pictures which will be developed as soon as I get home! I've never been to a resort before, so it was quite a treat. Aramco knows how to treat it's guests. (BTW--They will be hosting international delegates here in upcoming months as they undertake ground breaking for a new university in Jeddah. Even King Abdullah himself will be here for the festivities.)

Bird's Eye view of Old Jeddah and the Market

From the top of the Al-Kaffir house you can see the many shops, mosques, and homes that dot the old part of the city, as well as the newer part, which has grown ten fold in area in the last fifty years. There has to be at least one picture of me in every set, right? Say "Mosque!"

Men walk the streets of the market below.
These geometric patterns are commin in Islamic art.
The call to prayers started while we were on the roof. Unfortunately, my camera can't record the audio. The call is quite striking and powerful.
Here you see the two worlds of Jeddah juxtaposed.

Al-Jaffir House, Old Jeddah

Amidst the busy shops of the souq are houses hundreds of years old. Here are pictures of Al-Jaffir, both inside and out:

Our guide. He went through the information so fast it was like listening to the micro-machine commercial. Here he is pointing out at the channel that was used to share water throughout the house.
The Koran and prayer rug here symbolize what has brought so many people to the port city of Jeddah for hundreds of years. The city has historically been a safe port, and key entry point for pilgrims heading to the holy city of Meccah less than 100 kilometers away.

Stone elevator here!

Souq and you shall find...

We spent one morning in old Jeddah. This part of the city has been around for hundreds of years and was/is an important place for the many pilgrims who visit the city as an entrance to Jeddah. As a result, there is a bustling market place there, or as they call it here, a souq. Practically anything you can imagine can be found in the souqs. Thus, they can be a confusing, bustling maze, overwhelming for the non-Arabic visitor. Fortunately, we had an excellent guide, Mohhamed, who took us around to get all of the Saudi gifts we needed: prayer beads, abayas, incense burners, scarves, as well as others. Enjoy the pictures: Prayer rugs are a common find.
Security for our groups was prominent.
The windows above the shop allow for people to look out, while keeping outsiders from seeing in.
The market has hundreds of shops, some separated by very crowded streets. (Two members of my group are pictured here)
You have to get the goods around somehow in the traffic!
I bought a silver ring from this shop for 40 Riyals (12$), bargained down from 50.
The market is kept very clean by the many non-Saudi workers, predominantly from South and South East Asia.

Spices like Frankincense and Myrrh are common.

Notice the hats on the right...50 Cent.
This man is weighing out some sort of mineral to be used in the incense burners.