Silent Saudi Sand
Backdated to Saturday 9th January 2011
I’m having a look out the window of the hotel room, with a tin-whistle to the side in front of me. Tin-whistles are great instruments. Even if I never played music for anyone else I’d still play the tin-whistle for myself. Outside are lights and roads upon deserts. Although Al-Khobar, where I’m staying, is such a developed city you’d hardly know it was all sand beneath. There’s a question I’ve never asked myself before, “How deep is it that sand goes before you hit something more solid”, I must throw out that question to the professors or students tomorrow. Roads here are wide and people drive as if lanes merge seamlessly together. It’s as though a plethora of formula one race tracks had descended upon the sand overnight and were sprinkled by a sandy breeze.
The weather’s good here in the Kingdom and the food is fantastic, with portions are beyond Americanism. Sweet water, I’ve learned, refers to desalinated water obtained from the sea. “Sweet, because each glass contains a spoonful of sugar” an Egyptian professor joked. I haven’t had sweet water to drink yet. So far it’s all been the bottled stuff. Actually, I was over in the university earlier today. At one stage after the morning break, I went looking for the men’s toilet. I found an unsigned door with what looked to be wash hand basins behind. “Ah yes, a toilet", that’s what I should have been looking for. Why need the toilet be signed as “Mens” in a male university”. Actually, it turned out that there was one ladies toilet, clearly for visitors, because we were in the family building, where events were held for faculty, wives and children.
Petrol for the car is ridiculously cheap over here at $0.10 per litre. I’ve hardly seen any small cars around. In fact even when prices of oil rise worldwide, they decrease in Saudi Arabia since the Saudi companies make more profit. I’m not sure of the logic of that but so I was told.
About two hours later, at noon, it was time for another jax break. This time the unsigned toilet was filled with men washing their hands up to their elbows and some their feet. “Time for prayers”, I said to myself and indeed that’s what it was. Twice during the academic day, Islamic prayers are said, at noon and at three in the afternoon. People get up early here with classes starting as early as seven in the morning. Everyone is finished work at four p.m., so the total hours worked are similar.
I've been told by Saudi students that the country is safe and that we could walk without fear in the streets. To be honest, I believe them, and if I was in Saudi as a tourist (which I couldn't be, since I couldn't get a tourist visa) I would explore the country and its people to a greater extent. Language would be the only thing holding me back. Still, as far as MIT policy is concerned, one can never be too careful. In a hotel full with foreign diplomats, a certain level of security is bound to be present. So, to get in through the hotel entrance you’ve to walk by a guard with a machine gun. Then, there’s a massive cannon in the courtyard of the hotel, and it’s camouflaged with a green net and fake leaves. But the hotel is an exception, because Saudi is as quiet and discreet a place as I've ever been.