Thursday, May 03, 2007

what I know about S@udi Ar@bia

First, let me explain why it took me so long to write this.
I am ashamed to admit that I know so little about the culture of the country I am living in. I don't think I have explored it enough. I don't know why it is so. Perhaps it's because I haven't had the chance to travel around in it much, or I'm not observant enough. Perhaps it's also because I am living in a town where the population is 90% expatriates (80% of them from India, Pakistan or Bangladesh), so I am not exposed to the locals or their culture that much.
So, don't take my word for it, these are just my observations.
(Apologies in advance to any S@udis who might be reading this, in case I make any mistakes)

Start with the easy one first :)
I think food in this country is similar to food across the middle east. They eat a lot of bread, with spiced grilled meats. There are also rice, which are called Kabsa (cooked in ghee and sweet spices) and Mandi (cooked with spices and meat, so the rice absorbs all the animal fat. absolutely sinfully yummy). They like to eat lamb a lot. Even though beef is available, I don't see many beef dishes except for maybe kababs. My only comlain is that they don't eat rice with gravy. I need to eat rice with my curries and gulais and kurma and sambal.
I love their salads though. Olives and rocket and parsley and bulgur wheat and lemon and olive oil. Hummous (chick peas and sesame paste) and mashed eggplants. Sometimes I think i could suvive with eating just their salad and bread.
They love sweet desserts! nuts in honey wrapped in filo pastry, tiny stringy pastry rolled in sugar, these sweet butter and honey cakes called basbousa and all sorts of cookies and cakes. Actually, I don't know if they have a traditional dessert specific to S@udi. I can't tell the difference between local dishes and pakistani dishes.

The men like to wear 'thob's, long white robes made of the most comfortable cotton. It's light enough to be flowy, but heavy enough to drape nicely and it is so so smooth and cooling. Because it's white though, you have to wear something underneath or else everyone will see your 'treasures', so they usually wear white cotton undershirt and pants before putting on the 'thob'. Taufik and the boys wear them for Friday prayers every week.
The men also have a headress made of a white and red chequered cloth folded into a triangle and set on the head with the long folded edge on your forehead (I hope you get the picture). Muttawas, which are the moral police, do not wear the circular black ring to hold the cloth in place, but normal folks usually do. I also found out that in Q@tar, then circular black ring has a long tassle attached to it and according to my guide, it is something that is unique to Q@tar.
The women, on the other hand, would wear all black. While expatriates would choose the black abayas that are button front like a robe and embelished with some sort of designs and patterns, the locals would usually don plain black robes. Most local women cover their hair, and some, even their whole face. Some even wear gloves when their are out shopping and doing transactions with males. The more traditional locals wear the type of robes that are not button front, but look tent-like, covering themselves from head to toe in one full piece. As I had mentioned one time long ago, I understand why this type of clothing is necessary in this climate. Covering their whole body and face really do protect them from the adverse effects of the sun and the sand, which are aplenty in this land. I have not seen this myself, but I have heard many many tales of the beauty of the skin and features of the locals underneath all that black garb.

The s@udis are really private people. They seldom invite strangers to their houses. Even when they are out eating in the restaurant, most of them would request for a screen to be put around their table. They are also very family oriented. They place very high importance on blood relations. Perhaps this are the leftovers of the tribal culture that was prevalent in this country in the past.
S@udi children and youth gets all their education for free. Once you are enrolled into the university, the government will pay you a monthly allowance and give you a computer. You also get a certain amount of gift money when you get married. Though some s@udis did become complacent due to these benefits, there are still some s@udis that are hardworking and enterprising.
And don't get me wrong. There are poor people in s@udi. There are sheepherders and camel herders and farmers who have to work hard every day. I find that these people are usually more friendly than the more well-to-do ones.
The s@udis really love children, be it theirs or yours. It is not uncommon to see fathers cart their many children to parks or amusement centres while the moms trail along. They really spoil their children to bits. Sometimes they also generous towards other's children too, giving them sweets and presents. Until, your children get in a fight with their children, coz then, no matter how cute your kid is, their children is always right. :D

The normal form of greeting (another person of the same sex) is to extend out your hand as if to shake it, then kiss the other person's cheeks, first right, then left, then right again. you can give them a little hug, depending on how affectionate you're feeling at the moment.
I was taken aback the first time someone did this to me, but now I am so used to it that it has become a habit, and I found that I involuntarily do the same even when I was back in Mal@ysia.
The form of greeting is so comforting ... it really develops a sense of closeness with the person you're meeting. You will find that after being greeted that way you will be more open and relaxed with the other person :)
Past time:
The locals here really like to picnic. At any grassy or shady space, you will be able to find clumps of people sitting on a mat, chatting or eating. On the side of roads, the government plants trees and grass and flowers and people would just park their car and have a picnic. Even out on the dessert, if you drive out during the weekends, you will be able to see people pitching up tents and have a picnic. There will be more of them doing it during the day in the cooler seasons, but even in summer, they'd have picnics late in the evening when it's cooler.
They also like to have shisha. It's them pipes thingies. I have never tried one, so I wouldnt know what the experience is like, but I hear they have shishas of all sorts of flavours, even fruity ones. There are coffeeshops that specialize in shishas and it'd be filled with men just lounging around puffing on them. The shisha pipes can be really beautiful, and Taufik has made it a goal to buy one before we move back home.

Hm.. i guess that's all I know about this country I'm living in. But I have only been here for 2 years and there is still much more to see and explore. I have yet to get to know a local family.
I will definitely tell you more as and when I learn new things.

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