We haven't mentioned anything on this blog yet, but the Mister and I are moving to Kuwait at the end of this school year. Because of that fact, and because of the difficulty Americans face when trying to get a tourist visa for Saudi Arabia, I insisted that we see more of the Kingdom before we make our final departure. I don't want to say that we lived in Saudi Arabia for two years and only saw one city! So the Mister and I just spent our semester vacation in Jeddah and the surrounding area.
We had heard so much about Jeddah and how different it is from the Eastern Province, so I was excited to visit the "New York City of Saudi Arabia." I will say this: it was VERY different from the part of the country where we live, but in our experience, Jeddah didn't resemble the Big Apple much at all. I felt like there were more women wearing niqab and a LOT more men staring at me than we see at our home in the Eastern Province. We did find a lot more people that spoke English, but saw a significantly smaller number of Westerners in Jeddah.
There were glimpses of the liberal lifestyle we kept hearing so much about. One night the Mister and I went to a mall that was celebrating its grand opening. We had heard that there would be traditional Saudi dancing, similar to a wedding celebration, and I thought that would be a cool cultural experience. We never got to see the dancing, but we did see a giant crowd of men, women, and teenagers gathered in the central atrium of the mall. There was a stage set up and Arabic pop music playing, and a guy dressed up in one of those mascot outfits. What was most striking was that the boys and girls were all mixed. There was no roped off area for the women and "families," and a different area for the men and shabab. They were all scrunched in there together.
BUT! every single female had on a niqab.
See what I mean? More liberal than other parts of the country, but still VERY conservative.
We were told several times that Jeddah is a melting pot of people from all over the world because it is the port city through which all the Hajj pilgrims must enter the Kingdom. As a result, some of them stay behind to live and work in the Kingdom illegally, so the Jeddah is a kind of cross section of the Muslim world. We didn't really see evidence of that, but we were also staying in the middle of the city. From what I understand, the immigrants live on the outskirts of town in new developments. I don't know if we just weren't going to the right areas to see where these foreigners hang out, or if they don't mix with the Saudi crowd at all.
One major difference from where we live was the TRAFFIC!! According to a tour guide that showed us around, Jeddah is a city of 4 million Saudis and an estimated 3 million more foreigners (legal and illegal). Jeddah is HUGE and sooo crowded! Squeeze all that awful Saudi driving into one small area and I had one very stressed-out Mister on my hands. The traffic was so bad that it often prevented us from wanting to leave our hotel room at all. It just was too much hassle to grapple with the construction and crazy driving, and I felt bad for putting the Mister through it all.
Despite all that, I still kinda wish the Mister and I had spent the past two years in Jeddah instead of where we are. Correction: I wish the school, our colleagues, and the awesome students we've had were in Jeddah instead of where they are. There is a lot more to do in and around Jeddah. We were able to visit historical sites, we heard about museums, there were art exhibits, and SCUBA diving. I feel like the social life of an expat living outside a compound in Jeddah would be a lot more interesting than the social life we've struggled to find in the Eastern Province.
I'll tell you about some of the history we saw in another post. I just wanted to let everyone know that we're back "home," we enjoyed our vacation, and I can't wait to show you all the pictures of what we saw and learned this past week.