Important Notice

It is not my intention to denigrate Saudi Arabia or its people. It’s like everywhere else, there is good and there is bad. I would rather focus on the unusual and the humourous. Offence is not intended.

“The country is not perfect. The media cannot be trusted, mistreatment of religious minorities is common and there are some that live in fear.” You can decide for yourself whether that statement is about Saudi Arabia, the UK, or any country for that matter.

To quote the Joker, “Why can’t we all just get along?”

That is all I will say about either subject.

Sunday, 11 February 2007

The Power Of Context

We spent this last weekend in Bahrain. It was nice to get out of Riyadh for the weekend and let our hair down a little bit. There is a buzz about Bahrain and it feels like a country on the rise. I have to say that it also looks significantly richer than Riyadh does. The contrast between this dynamic little island and its much larger neighbour reminded me of Singapore and Malaysia.

If a Westerner arrived in Bahrain direct from their home country they’d probably make comments along the following lines:
- Some shops don’t even sell pork!
- Some restaurants don’t even serve alcohol!
- They hide the off licenses (liquor shops) like dodgy porn shops!
- A lot of women wear these funny long black robes!
However, coming from Saudi Arabia what you say is:
- Some shops sell pork!
- Some restaurants serve alcohol!
- My God, they have off licenses!
- People wear clothes with colours other than black and white!
- Hey! Real traffic lights!

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Bahrain, but it left me feeling a little sad. The people there seemed friendly and happy and I suddenly realised how infrequently you see people smile in Riyadh. The contrast is striking and it made me wonder whether my current home is a city of unhappy people.
The sun set as we drove westwards back to Riyadh, setting the sky a beautiful amber whilst behind us Bahrain was already shrouded in darkness. I drove on into the night until the sky turned amber once more, this time from the glow of Riyadh’s lights. After hours in the darkness of the desert, a horizon full of street lights was impressive and a heart warming sight. Far in the distance Riyadh’s two skyscrapers stood like matchstick sentinels and welcomed us home.
I remembered how different it all felt five months ago when I first arrived and Riyadh was alien and intimidating. But now it is home and it feels good to be back.


Sand Gets in My Eyes said...

Eloquent post. Proximity to Bahrain allows us more frequent trips across the Causeway, and the whole smiling-and-happy-people thing is a contrast I've talked about several times. I truly don't believe it is that Saudi people are so unhappy as it is that any display of enjoyment or overt happiness is somehow suspect: a) it draws attention to the happy person and so appears to be unmodest and b) that attention often draws the scorn of the pious or the attention of the muttawa. Add to that the inability to see smiles behind veils... That said, in all my encounters and friendships with local women, I have never considered "joy-filled" a possible adjective. Mmmm.

Suburban said...

I. Love. Bahrain. It should serve as an example to other gulf states of what a country with little in the way of oil resources can make of itself if everybody gets off thier butt and works.

Bahrain is going places, they are the only gulf state with a population comitted enough to Organise an F1 themselves, with limited outside / expatrite assistance. if Abudhabi gets one, you can bet it won't be fully staffed by emirati's.

Bahraini's are the nicest folks in the gulf, I think because there is a correlation between how much money a country has to how many assholes per capita. Omani's are another good example.

Glad you enjoyed your trip, keep up the great work on the blog. very insightful.

al khobar expat said...

Bahrain is like a breath of fresh air. Living in the EP means we are able to get there whenever we feel the need for some normality. We love it that the shops don't shut, that you can take the kids to see a movie, that abayas are non-essential, that you can be sold intimate apparel by a woman (actually we do all that kind of shopping there!), that generally speaking the sales assistant has some kind of idea what they are talking about (actually, we do a lot of our non-grocery shopping there for exactly that reason!). We love it that you can go to an art gallery, see a concert, attend the theatre, their tourist attractions aren't behind barbed wire with no-go signs in front. We love their initiative and their get up and go. We love it that when it rains, the rain runs off their roads instead of creating giant pot holes! Most things seem to work better across the causeway. It is a country with its Mahmood's Den, he discusses his frustrations with the establishment. We don't mind being here at fact, we like it here in KSA but a few hours in Bahrain on a regular basis enables us to relieve the frustration a little. Love the blog, keep it up!

* Y || said...

Totally agree! Bahrain is not exactly the best tourist spot in my own opinion, but compare it to coming from UAE, and it's just, different if you compare it to coming from SG! :)

Anonymous said...

Hey !!!!!! Liked ur post..
Yes Bahrain is much liberal state compared to Saudi..
Certailnly speaking UAE is most welcoming gulf state. U can live in UAE the way u want with modest restrictions which exists in all GCC. But as far as liberalism is concered UAE tops the list. I can see & enjoy all aspects of life here as i enjoy in home country.

Reader in UAE.

hedoorientia said...

Seems like there are lots of the same thoughts about living in Saudi as it was living in Pakistan... the lack of smiles and colours and openminded people. Many compared it to India, of course, not understanding why the big differences when its literally the same people.
That said, I really enjoyed my time there - you just have to find ways to vent now and then. So it looks like I should prepare to do the same when I get to Riyadh this summer :)
I'm already looking forward to explore Bahrain!

Joe King Gas-Eyed said...

Liberalism aside, Bahrain is indeed nicer in many ways than Riyadh. But so is Khobar, for that matter. I don’t attribute this to being tied to a particular religion or a conservative way of life in general. If both people of these two places were atheists, then the Bahraini atheists would be much more nicer than the Riyadh ones. Hey, I’d give the Amish just three generations here before they’d be as hotheaded as a Saudi late for a football game.

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