Sunday, April 13, 2008

riyadh


I'm not in Saudi Arabia, but J is. He arrived Friday and leaves tomorrow. Here are a few things he's told me:


Their weekend is Thursday and Friday.


There is really no middle class of Saudi people. You are either very rich or quite poor if you are Saudi. The rich people own things and don't work very much, kind of like the landed gentry of pre-land reform England. Egyptians or other foreigners run their businesses for them. The poor receive money from the goverment or they work at specific jobs like security or cashiering. There are many jobs Saudis consider beneath them, like serving in a restaurant, for example. That work is done by immigrant workers.


People work from 8am to 1pm and then go home. They go back to work for an evening shift of 6 to 9 pm. This is to avoid working in the heat of the day. If the temperature reaches above 50 degrees C (about 122 F), no one is required to work. There are many days that the official temperature is 49 C. :-)


When I talked with J yesterday, he had seen just one woman on the street.


The Egyptians J works with took him to see the sky bridge at the top of the Kingdom Centre (above photo), but a guard told them it was closed until 4:30. They tried to persuade him, telling him they had this guy from the U.S. who wanted to see it. The guard laughed. He refused to believe that J was from the U.S. Everyone there assumes J is Egyptian, or when they find out he is Mexican they tell him he looks Egyptian.


Riyadh is a very new city. The Egyptians told J that forty years ago the Saudis lived in tents with their camels. It is only in the past 30-40 years that they have become so wealthy and modernized.


When J asked the Egyptians if they liked living in Saudi, they replied that they felt grateful to have their jobs. They said the city provides a good standard of living. It's very clean. One man said that as poor as Egypt is, he prefers it because it seems more real. Everything in Riyadh seems artificial to him. I asked J how these men's wives liked living in Saudi, and he said he wanted to ask them but didn't have an opportunity. He's having dinner with them right now, so I hope he gets to ask.
I talked with a friend Wednesday night who went to NYC for a few days during spring break. She has a family, but left them here and went with a friend. She did all the tourist things: museums, a show, etc. It was nice not having to deal with children while she saw the sights. But she said what she found most interesting was talking with her friend's brother, who lives in NYC with his family. She said it was fascinating hearing about how he lives with his young family in the City, and the challenges they face. I bring this up because we both agreed that that is often the most interesting part of travel--to see how differently people live.

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