Saturday, December 1, 2007

Adventures on the Red Sea

Jet skiing with Bob from New Jersey

Do you know how in the Bible it says Moses parted the Red Sea? Well, the Red Sea is the western border of Saudi Arabia, and it is on this coast that the city of Jeddah is located. We were able to spend some time relaxing at Fal Resort on the Red Sea coast.

The group enjoyed jet skiing, powerboat rides, snorkeling, and scuba diving. The water was incredibly blue and the weather was perfect.

Since it was our last day in Jeddah, we said farewell to our hosts. I was especially sad to say goodbye to Abdullah, because of how open and frank he was in handling the blunt questions I asked about Islam and Saudi Arabia. Thanks Abdullah, for your hospitality!
The generosity of our hosts knows no bounds. At the beginning of lunch I mentioned that I wish I had bought a King Abdullah pin, and by the end of lunch, everyone in the group received one. At every location we receive some kind of commemorative gift, and many in our group will have to buy an extra suitcase to take home everything.

We were a little apprehensive to fly to Riyadh, our next stop, because without fail, everyone said it is one of the most conservative cities in the country. We are expected to wear our abayas at all times, and cover our hair in public. We'll see how it goes!

The City of Jeddah

Jeddah Historical District

Being in Jeddah is the closest we will get to the Holy City of Mecca. At the Jeddah Historical District we visited homes that were between 300 to 1000 years old. The architecture and building materials were so different in that buildings were constructed out of coral interlaced with wood.

Our tour guide was a very energetic man with a great personality. He explained that the city of Jeddah is buying old historical buildings, renovating them, then renting them to low income and middle income families. During "boom" times, he said, the country is infused with money because of the rise of the price of oil. "How much are you paying now?" he asked, and he could not keep a straight face asking the Americans this question. We laughed too.

Building in Old Jeddah

Within the district were shopping kiosks, much like swap meets, but here they are called souks. Shopping in them was so much fun! They sold everything you could possible need. Some of my purchases:

Kohl powder for eyeliner
Children’s abaya
Men’s outfit
Silver jewelery

Our guide, Abdullah, helped bargain for us, but I was really impressed with my colleague Bill who learned Arabic in the last 6 months while listening to language tapes. He bargained better than the native men! Our day at the souk ended with a cup of coffee in the Western style mall, and it was fascinating to see how everything shut down for the noon type prayer. He call to prayer is a man singing verses from the Ko’ran, in a haunting melodic way. This call is broadcast through the P.A. system and on thousands of bullhorns and speakers throughout the city. There are mosques everywhere, including in the middle of the souk.

Muslims pray 5 times a day, and they must pray in the direction of Mecca. Everywhere we have gone, there are stickers with a picture of the Kaaba (the structure in the center of Mecca that everyone prays to) and a directional arrow. People wash all parts of their bodies exposed to the air, and then pray on their prayer rug. The shops close for a couple of hours at this time, and people go home to have lunch.

The night ended with another phenomenal dinner and cultural event. The delegation was entertained with traditional music and dancing, and of course, coffee and dates.

Dates served a million different ways

The director of our program, Mike, who is really cool