Memories - Saudi Part II  

Posted by CK in , ,

(previous post -  Memories - Saudi Part I)

So, that's where I grew up, initially. Now, when it came to school, I attended International Indian School, Dammam. Now, the school only started in 1982 and when I started attending it in 1985, it was a wee school with a few hundred students and a few dozen teachers. Today, this behemoth is home to 14,500 students and over 600 teachers. I believe, it is the biggest school in the Gulf.

By the time I left the school in 1997, it was now located in the above building. The beauty of schools in Saudi is that they are all segregated by sex. If you have 7000 boys on one side of the campus, you have 7000 girls on the other side, both seperated by high walls and fraternizing across the wall was not only frowned upon but was punishable.

My dad served on the Managing Committee of the school, which was chosen by the Indian Ambassador to Saudi at the time, Mr.Hamid Ansari (who is now the Vice-President of India). So, this made school both extra-enjoyable and extra-tricky for me. I could always rely on things getting done two minutes before I wanted them but at the same time, if I ever got in to trouble, then Dad would also be aware two minutes before the deed was done. I made some great friends in school, ALL of whom are married now, with kids, which is scary but that is another topic for another day.

We used to spend our weekends (Thursday and Friday in the Middle East) visiting Dammam and Khobar and the only thing and I repeat, the only thing we had to do as kids was visit malls or play sports. Am I talking fun malls with movie theaters and crazyness? Nope, just sprawling malls where you'd walk around with friends (movie halls don't exist in the Kingdom because they're "un-Islamic") and maybe, if you're lucky, spot a cute girl. Now, anywhere else in the world, this would mean that the girl is actually cute, but in Saudi, where ALL the women wear Burqas (infernal cloths that cover them from head to toe with an eye slit to look through) the phrase takes a new meaning.

So, when we spot girls, they had to have exquisite eyes or great hands. And you're not allowed to stare either, cause then you'll be rushed by other Saudi males and you will be summarily beaten for "dishonoring a female". Soo, all my friends were AWESOME at sports. I, myself, wasn't great but I could hold my own.

Saudi is a strange land with archaic customs that were old-fashioned a hundred years ago. But yet, they remain. No one dares say anything for fear of repercussions from the all powerful Mutawwas. I'd have a lot to say but Wiki summarizes it better:

"The Mutaween in Saudi Arabia are tasked with enforcing Sharia as defined by the government, specifically by the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV). The Mutaween of the CPVPV consists of "more than 3,500 officers in addition to thousands of volunteers...often accompanied by a police escort." They have the power to arrest unrelated males and females caught socializing, anyone engaged in homosexual behavior or prostitution; to enforce Islamic dress-codes, and store closures during the prayer time. They enforce Muslim dietary laws, prohibit the consumption or sale of alcoholic beverages and pork, and seize banned consumer products and media regarded as un-Islamic (such as CDs/DVDs of various Western musical groups, television shows and film). Additionally, they actively prevent the practice or proselytizing of other religions within Saudi Arabia, where they are banned."

They are honestly loathsome people who make the life of any non-Saudi non-Muslim, living hell. People were always in fear of these Mutawwa and their ability to walk in to anyone's life and tear it apart. I knew about them and had seen what they could do, but I, myself was quite sheltered and never had direct dealings with one.

The general populace consists of two types of people, the educated elite (educated abroad in Europe or the US) and the bedouins who make up one group are understanding and welcoming of foreigners. The former, because they see that expats are necessary to run the country because the majority of the Saudi population can't and the latter, because they still believe in the old ways of bedouin hospitality where they treat a guest with utmost respect but are quick to anger at an insult. Then there's the other group of small-minded, fundamentalist Islamists who know that foreigners are necessary but feel that they are better than any non-Muslim, non-Saudi. I have no idea what perpetuates this belief because a lot of them are plain stupid and/or ignorant, but that's the general belief.

This is the reason that over 90% of expats there prefer to live in closed or sheltered communities with other non-Saudis and very rarely do you see a Saudi and a non-Saudi fraternizing.

I have mixed emotions about Saudi. When a person lives their entire life in a country, they have a sense of belonging to their adopted place, some loyalty. Saudi Arabia makes it very hard to feel anything towards it but a thinly veiled mistrust. I myself love the country and dislike the people. I would never go back there voluntarily. But having said that, once a person moves to the Gulf, it's almost impossible to leave (any Gulfie can back me up on this). Most of my friends grew up there and are still there, working, as are their folks. I don't know whether it's the lure of money and no taxes or it's just simply that easy to fall into a routine that's almost impossible to break.

Gas still costs less than a Riyal per liter. That's Rs.12 or $0.25. And this is AFTER a 25% increase.

I both love and hate Saudi Arabia and I guess now, you know why. 

Before I end with this, I want to show you pictures of some of these sprawling colossi that Saudis called "malls". This one is the biggest and most famous, it's called Al-Rashid Mall. This is where my friends and I spent a lot of time as kids, eating and checking out Burqas. ;)

I was in Saudi, Grades 1 through 12. The moment I was done, by some lucky chance, I moved halfway across the world to another little known place called St.John's, Newfoundland in Canada.

But before we leave Saudi, I'd like to talk about a little incident called the Gulf War.

(to be continued)

This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 1, 2009 at Tuesday, December 01, 2009 and is filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


Wow, at least those of us in Muscat could fraternise with the opposite sex.

I know about the malls though, those things were huge, and there was nothing much to do except roam about looking at other people. And sports.

And I understand the mixed feelings. Being brought up in a place gives you a connection to it, but that doesn't mean you'll like it if you go there now. For me, Muscat was a great place to spend a childhood, a great place for family, but if I go back there now, as an adult and bachelor, I'd probably end up bored. Doubt I'd enjoy it the way I enjoy Mumbai.

December 1, 2009 at 11:24 PM

Muscat, huh? That's cool. Any of the other Gulf states are better than Saudi. Also, there's about a million Gulf kids in India. Almost every third person was raised there or studied there or spent some portion of their childhood there.

I've been to a few of the other Gulf places and man, they're all heaven compared to the old K of SA.

December 2, 2009 at 10:09 AM

Ha! Ha! @ eating and checking out Burqas...

I wonder why the guys there wear white-coloured robes... while the women have to wear black coloured ones...

Its terribly hot there... isn't it... ??? These folks are not aware of science or what...?!!

Or perhaps they are 'gyan papis'. More likely...

Look forward to reading about the 'little incident' called the Gulf War :)

I watched it on television. Saddam Hussain and GHW Bush became household names... thanks to the Gulf War.

December 2, 2009 at 5:40 PM

Listen, if there are any more ways to subjugate women, the Saudis are already doing them. For instance, wearing black in 50 degree heat.

"Science" is not a word familiar with the Saudi. Neither is "hygiene"


December 2, 2009 at 6:50 PM

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