My Travels…

February 19, 2009

More on Saudi Arabia

Filed under: Asia, Middle East — Tags: , , , — Glenn @ 3:09 am

Bahrain and Saudi Arabia Part Deux

I’ve been in the Middle East for a few weeks now and I have a different perspective and more information on the countries I’ve been in. I’ve met many people and made some new friends that have explained a lot about the differences between our cultures.

First of all there’s the interesting aspects of marriage here in Saudi Arabia. Generally, the man has to pay the wife’s family in order to marry her. He decides on who he wants to marry first of all. The thing I can’t figure out and no one has told me yet is how he decides this. It’s illegal for a single woman to be with a man outside her family (not that way you perverts) so I’m not sure how they know they want to marry a particular person to begin with. I think they still have arranged marriages here so that would be one way to do it but I don’t think all marriages are arranged. Men can’t talk to single women and usually don’t even see them uncovered. The man will make arrangements to talk to the women’s father to tell him he would like to marry his daughter. If the father agrees the man will be allowed to met the woman for a short time. This will be the only time they will talk before they are married. An amount is agreed upon for the bride. I’m not sure when this takes place or what it’s called but it’s something like a dowry I guess. One of the people we work with said he had to pay 10,000 Saudi Riyals (around $2,500) for his wife. It usually takes them a few years to save up the money for this. I guess if you’re not in oil or one of the other lucrative businesses here you don’t make much.

The Saudi men are allowed to have multiple wives, I heard up to four. I asked if they had to buy a separate house for each wife thinking there might be some jealousy involved between the wives but they usually just buy a house with many rooms or maybe one with several floors to divide the different wives and children.

The houses here can be pretty spectacular. I’ve seen some that must be 5,000 square feet or more. There are many apartment type buildings too but you wouldn’t believe the number of big, nice houses around here. I’ve heard a decent house is maybe 1,000,000 SR, about $250,000, so not much higher than in the US. The houses all have walls and really beautiful gates. I’m not sure why. I noticed this in Italy as well but the walls and gates here are much more decorative. The apartment type housing can be anywhere from very nice, high end apartments to slums. I would imagine the people living in the older, more broken down buildings are foreign workers but I’m not sure about that.

The Saudis apparently think the desert is a big trash can. The amount of trash in the desert is incredible. You see many piles of old building material all over the place as well as piles of old tires. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen trash thrown out of car windows here. You see it everywhere but it’s really bad here.

I’ve heard the Saudis are pretty arrogant but I haven’t really noticed it myself. They say that Saudis think that everything is theirs to do with as they please. They also apparently have no fear of dying if you watch the way they drive. You’ll have a three lane highway with a speed limit of 120 KPH (around 65 MPH) with a car in each lane. Suddenly you’ll have a car (usually a small car) come flying up the inside breakdown lane at a ridiculous speed making four lanes of traffic. If the person in the inside lane has room they will move over, if not, there could be an accident. I see an accident almost every day on the drive between Khobar and Jubail. I even watched a truck loose it from the outside lane and go flying across the other two lanes and into a divider wall.

Traffic Accident

Traffic Accident

Traffic Accident

Traffic Accident

I couldn’t tell if anyone was hurt or not but I would imagine there was some kind of injury involved. I’ve seen a car up on a retaining wall and multiple car accidents (8 cars is the record so far). They drive really bad here. I haven’t driven yet but I’m sure I will eventually. You have to pay attention everywhere here or you will get hurt.

They also don’t follow any kind of traffic rules. They cut in front of each other whenever they can, cut each other off all the time, follow too close way too fast (think NASCAR drafting), speed like there’s no tomorrow, and just generally have no fear when it comes to being on the road.

I see camels every day out in the desert. On the drive to the job site there is a Bedouin camp and apparently they have a couple of camels. I call them Larry and Darryl. There is also a goat herder in the same area, maybe the guy that owns the camels.

There is a beach area in Khobar named Half Moon Bay. We went there one weekend and there were a lot of people there. The water is cold so no one was swimming but apparently when the women go into the water the wear the usual clothing so no skin is showing. There was a huge market we came across. Pony rides for the kids as well as horse and camels rides were everywhere.

I had to work in Riyadh for a few days while I was here. Riyadh is a huge city and very modern. They have a couple of very impressive skyscrapers. The traffic was ridiculous, I was in two accidents in less than an hour. I wasn’t driving and no one was hurt. Everyone just got out of there cars, checked the damage, waved and went on their way.

Market Camel

Market Camel

Desert Camels

Desert Camels

During the drive between Khobar and Riyadh I must have seen 1000 camels. I saw anywhere from a single one to a herd of probably 100 or so. They were usually attended by a herder. There were also a lot of Bedouin camps.

There are private beaches here too where people are allowed to wear whatever they want in the water. These are usually owned by rich Saudis or Western corporations.

The Westerners that come here to work for long projects usually live in compounds specifically for them. In these compounds the rules are more relaxed. They have bars, socials, pools with no rules on covering up, etc. They sound decent. If I was here long term that’s where I’d want to live. They’ve also had problems in these compounds in the past. I guess in 2006 some terrorists got into one and started killing any Westerners they could find. This was mainly women and children as the men were at work. They were finally stopped but killed a lot of people before they were taken out.

The main entertainment here as far as I can tell is shopping. There are stores and malls everywhere. It’s interesting but gets boring pretty quick. 90% of the stores are for women’s clothing and such. There’s not much for the men at the malls here except cell phone and watch stores. We did make an excursion out into the desert one weekend when we were bored but got stuck in the sand as soon as we got off the road. Several Saudi’s came and helped us get out. Very friendly folks out in the desert.

More notes on the customs and cultural differences here.

Everyone, both men and women, are supposed to have clothing that covers their arms and legs at all times. This isn’t really enforced, especially for Westerners.

Women are allowed to go to school here, including college. They go to special women only coolleges with only women professors. They are allowed to work but it’s rare to see.

Wearing gold is a sin but they have huge gold markets (souks) where you can buy it for good prices. You also see a lot of gold jewelry in the malls. You also see a lot of clothing stores for women in the malls and I’m not sure why, They’re not allowed to wear it out in public without covering up.

You have to watch out for the religious police. They are the ones that enforce the cultural rules here. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen one but they are around apparently. Khobar is a lot looser than other cities.

The desert is apparently a big landfill. Everywhere you look near any kind of civilization you see piles of trash and old building material.

You see traffic accidents nearly every day on the highway. These people cannot drive.

it’s hard to be a pedestrian in Saudi. There are very few crosswalks and even fewer pedestriqan bridges. I see people take their lives in their hands all the time running across major roads because there is nowhere to cross.

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