Friday, November 23, 2007

Arabian Days, Arabian Nights

Hi L.A. Academy!

As I was leaving Los Angeles, many people wished me a "happy vacation". It seemed that the perception is that I am taking two weeks off for leisure and recreation. This is not the case. Study tours are rigorous programs that start early in the morning and are jam-packed with learning activities that go well into the night.

Every day except today, that is.

Our thoughtful and pro-active handlers from Saudi Aramco and IIE knew we would be worn out after 28 hours of traveling, so they planned a light agenda for us the beach.
Today we spent the entire day at Ras Tanura compound, located next to an Aramco refinery. Over 7,000 employees live in this compound, many of which are Americans. At first, we were so excited to have a day at the beach, especially since many of us had worked very hard to leave lesson plans for our subs and leave everything in order since we were to be away for two weeks. This was our first "rest day" in a while. So we played volleyball, frisbee, swimming, and writing messages in the sand. By the way, the water you see is the Persian Gulf (Saudis call it the Arabian Gulf).

"I'm in Arabia"

Yes, Saudi women cover up even at the beach!
During lunch, we had a long conversation with Tariq Shaifan, our tour guide, about Saudi Arabian culture. It seemed that this informal conversation was incredibly enlightening.

His views on the US Government: "We don't care who you elect for President, so long as he or she respects our culture"

His views on women's rights: "We know women are equals. But not everyone is cut out for every job. For example, working on an oil rig is something not all MEN can handle, much less a woman."

Many Saudi women DO NOT want their picture taken, but this one agreed to have a picture taken of the beautiful embroidery on her hijab
A friend of his, Talil, a 23 year old mechanical engineer who works in the Empty Quarter (a vast, sparse desert), further expounded his culture's views on male-female relations. "I will not pick my wife. My family will select for me. We will talk on the phone, and perhaps go out on a few dates. If I feel this will not work out, I have the choice to withdraw, until I find the right mate."
Tariq, however, said that Arab teens nowadays are using technology to get to know each other. "If they see someone they are interested in, they exchange phone numbers wirelessly, through Bluetooth, and then talk in private"

Tariq, our tour guide
This goes back to an issue many in our group are wondering: Can Saudi Arabia modernize without becoming Western?

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