Saudi Arabia has undergone a generational shift that would leave the Baby Boomers’ heads spinning. Thirty years ago, it was common to live in “muddy houses” made of an adobe-like brick.
Those same Arabs are now driving Land Cruisers and helping me get up to speed on the latest apps for our smartphones. Most Saudis have visited more places in Europe and North America than I have. This rush to catch up with western culture has inevitably left traditional Arab culture behind in some ways; only the silly visitors from outside the kingdom want to visit the old places and see the old ways!
A colleague invited me to his family “farm”. I wasn’t sure what to expect, so we brought sleeping bags and bug spray.
Turns out that those were not necessary. This was the guest house we “camped out” in:
Oh, it felt like roughing it in the wilderness- we only brought one iPad charger! The kids even had to share a room, and the air conditioning worked so well they were a little cold. Tragic. I was disappointed that I didn’t have the opportunity to milk a camel; maybe next time.
Our hosts took us on a tour of “Old” Saudi Arabia, which started with an open-air souq (market):
I wanted to buy the ’63 T-bird and the black powder pistol from the Ottoman Empire era. Neither would make it through customs I suppose, so I was forced to leave them behind.
I don’t recall the name of the pastries we tried, but I will always remember the woman working over a gas-fired oven in the midst of the desert heat. Any North American would have been reduced to a puddle of sweat with a slick of sunscreen on top as the only remains.
The old village, which was occupied only 30 years ago, is slowly melting back into the desert it was molded from. The occupants have all moved to modern housing in the small city nearby, or on to the glitzy lifestyle of Riyadh and Jeddah. The guard/guide at the entrance looked surprised to see us; I got the feeling he doesn’t typically receive many visitors when the temperature is over 110.
An acquaintance of our acquaintance collects antiquities, and was more than happy to let us share his air conditioning and private collection. I liked the display of Arab media consumption through the past 6 decades:
This gentleman farmer also collects birds, and led us through his garden aviary filled with birds of paradise.
As a gift, he insisted we take two Love Birds; if only they could be fed the enormous box of dates we also couldn’t refuse, we would be in great shape for bird-caring. We accepted the birds, thinking they must have the life span of goldfish or Sea Monkeys, but it turns out they may live up to 15 years. If getting an antique Ottoman firearm through the airport would be difficult, I can’t imagine what trouble these birds will be.