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Saudi Arabia

 
Old 02-27-2010, 05:46 AM
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Having sought some advice on here regarding my visit (due to the complete lack of info on KSA readily available), I thought I may as well share the experience with you all Alan Whicker-style.

Having also been warned what it was going to be like by the MD (who to be fair hasn't been for a number of years); I have to say that all in all it was a fairly painless trip. I do travel a fair bit so I wasn't too apprehensive, but I'd be lying if I'd said I was looking forward to it.

I kind of suspected the worst from the off, particularly given the type of immigration queue and grilling I received and am now used to following frequent visits to the US. This I was kind of expecting. I was also expecting the general rudeness and contempt towards any Westerners and wasn't surprised to see the nationals intentionally trying to jump right in front of me in the queue, bumping into my ankles with their luggage in a frequent not-intentionally-but-on-purpose kind of way, and various other manner of impolite behaviour designed to make me feel generally unwelcome and at their mercy.

To be fair though, what I wasn't expecting was the way this was actually dealt with by the nearby sullen khaki-looking rock-hard bastards with assault rifles - it did appear that there was some order to the proceedings.

I was fortunate enough to get through immigration just before a prayer time.

Having eventually found my luggage on the floor next to the wrong conveyor belt , fortunately I wasn't one a majority of westerners hauled aside and emptied onto the floor. A hotel driver was waiting for me as promised and the guy who took me through the desert to the hotel in Khobar was very friendly.

Outside of the towns, the landscape is bare and, er... desert like. It is arid and bare, with little shrubbery at all to speak of. Very flat and lots and lots of sand. I'm disappointed I didn't see any camels, however occasional pilgrimages dot the horizon as the more religiously oriented spend sacrificial hours in the desert. I noticed the nutter-infested highways have designated exits for people to enter the dunes on such religious excursions.

Khobar itself is a fairly nice place. It is quite new and very clean, much more so than nearby Dammam which is a craphole. The corniche that borders the Persian Gulf is impressive, and littered with fathers and sons fishing together out-of-hours. The town is bustling yet welcoming and the locals are friendly if a little suspicious of foreigners. A lot of (albeit Arab endorsed) western franchise outlets punctuate the souks and home-grown establishments but not necessarily in a shameless or out-of-place fashion. I have stayed in shabbier places on holiday in the past.

Work went very well and the people I met were welcoming and accommodating. They are familiar with westerners in the workplace and do not appear to resent this much. Typical of a lot of Muslims I have met and worked with, they tend to dispense their hospitality on a trust basis - at first they are standoff-ish and almost rude, however once you are familiar they are warm and friendly. The guys I met with whom I had exchanged prior dialogue were a far cry from the curt individuals their emails had suggested them to be.

Over one meal (which was an experience in itself) we had a very interesting discussion about international perception and how media twisted and agenda driven this truly is. It was also interesting that none of the guys I met spoke highly of Riyadh and all said they disliked the overpowering fanatical atmosphere of their capital.

All of the women everywhere were robed from head to toe. Of the men, I would say 50% were dressed in a western way; the remaining wore Thoubs/Headdress. As I already knew, women are heavily subjugated and do not drive, hold bank accounts or positions of responsibility, and scarcely interact with anyone other than their family or friends.

It is interesting that a lot like other international communities, in spite of their circa 25% unemployment (and worsening due to the overhang of last year's slashed oil price) you won't find any Saudis performing menial jobs. These roles are exclusively filled by folk of Pakistani/Indian/Philippine origin. Whilst some parts of town (or ‘industrial cities’) are rapidly expanding, other areas remain unfinished, neglected and representative of an economy that has undergone recent (albeit temporary) decline.

KSA is apparently undergoing minor social revolution at present, largely owing to the fairly liberal incumbent of their royal autocracy. This is quite apparent in such towns as Khobar. Many of the traditionalists (and there are many about) despise this. Others welcome it and fear what they see will be an inevitable shift back to the right when King Abdullah is succeeded.

So to that end, despite only seeing a snapshot of the country, I certainly wouldn’t advise against travel to KSA. Whilst I missed alcohol in the evening and it is surprisingly frustrating not being able to scope out the local talent , I’m not resenting the fact there is a good chance I will have to return in a few week’s time.
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Old 02-27-2010, 08:51 AM
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Interesting, thank you - wrt the saudi's not doing menial jobs, we found the same in Oman. Apparently companies are being forced/enticed to employ more Omanis.

Did you speak to any Western women over there?
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Old 02-27-2010, 12:33 PM
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[QUOTE=dreamer,Feb 27 2010, 09:51 AM] Interesting, thank you - wrt the saudi's not doing menial jobs, we found the same in Oman.
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Old 02-27-2010, 12:49 PM
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Just curious how feasible it is for Western women to live/work over there - presumably just jobs on the compounds within the Western community?

Not sure what you mean about the single western female thing - how doe that work differently to the men?
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Old 02-27-2010, 01:05 PM
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It depends a little on the employer - Saudi Aramco employ many western women but none of them are allowed under Saudi rule to operate their own bank account.

I visited two other large western based companies but saw no women in their facilities.

Indigenous women are second-class citizens in KSA. Even foreigners are subject to inherent out-and-out sexism.

Men on the other hand are unrestricted in their dealings/travel in KSA regardless of origin. It is one of the reasons why - despite being a clean, orderly and relatively crime-free state, KSA ranks only a mere 72nd in the charts for quality of life.

There were western women working there, but I imagine it is a difficult place to be.
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Old 02-28-2010, 12:56 AM
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That's what I suspected, just curious whether my assumptions/guesses were correct.

I worked briefly with a guy from Saudi when we were both working in Brussels. It was only for a few weeks but it wasn't an experience I would like to repeat!
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