Tag Archives: Riyadh

Oil and Water:10 Days 10 Lives,Day 1

Oil and Water:10 Days 10 Lives,Day 1


Like a shimmering oasis the city of Riyadh rises out of the sand.  Located in central Saudi Arabia the capital city is 250 miles from the nearest coast.  Although the Arabian Peninsula is surrounded by water, humans cannot drink saltwater.  Saltwater can be turned into drinking water through a process called desalination however, and desalination is increasingly used as global populations grow.  When my husband and I visited Riyadh this past spring, one gallon of water cost three times a gallon of gas.  We could see why.   The population of the city has grown from 100,000 to over five million in the past century. To supply this precious resource seven desalination plants work to provide about 70% of the potable water for the use of its inhabitants. Desalination is a costly process that takes high energy though, deep underground aquifers and scarce ground water provide the rest.  Our host told us that he had dug a well for a new home that he is building on the outskirts of the city.   When he said that they had to dig 500 feet down to reach water, my husband jokingly asked if they had stuck oil as well.

Riyadh at night

I am getting parched just thinking about it, but our visit made me ponder the sustainability of the most valuable resource on our planet.  I am not talking about oil. A human cannot live more than a week without water, and we lived long before the use of oil as an energy source was discovered.  Water is life. Water can also be deadly if it is unsanitary, and thousands of children die each day from unsafe water and lack of sanitation facilities around the globe.

Map of Saudi Arabian expansion out from Riyadh from 1902 to 1934

Our visit to Saudi Arabia was fantastic; we met wonderful people, and enjoyed copious amounts of delicious local cuisine. We loved exploring the diverse scenery, and the juxtaposition of modernity against ancient desert culture.  The stark desert that we left behind upon takeoff was contrasted by a rainy landing in our verdant home state, which left us with a general concern about our worlds limited water resources. Oil and Water do not mix.  My appreciation for water was renewed in that trip, as well as the understanding that the verdant landscape that surrounds our home and supplies our garden is a privilege of geography.  That said with the reality of increasingly severe weather patterns it is all potentially  subject to change. It is likely that water, like fossil fuels today, will be a determining factor of world stability in the future. With the knowledge that 884 million people around the globe lack access to clean water, a basic resource that so many of us take for granted, I was inspired to participate with The Mission List in the Water.org 10 Day Challenge. Ten days of awareness, and for each $25.00 donation, one person can be given safe water for life .

The Author in Riyadh

When you turn on the tap or flush the toilet do you think about what your life would be like without water? We all need it to survive and yet nearly 1 billion people in the world don’t have access to safe water and 2.5 billion people don’t have access to a toilet. It’s 2012, and yet more people have a cell phone than a toilet. These facts take a moment to settle in and can make people feel powerless against a problem so big. Yet, there is something we can all do to help. Alongside the non-profit, Water.org, I am joining others who are working to end this crisis in our lifetime. Only $25 brings one person water for life and for the next ten days I will be trying to raise enough money to help change the lives of ten people. I’d love for you to join me. For the next ten days I will be working with The Mission List to raise awareness, you can donate to my fundraiserstart your own fundraiser, or just learn more about the water crisis. Together we can make a difference. 

Camel Auction, KSA Part 3

Camel Auction, KSA Part 3

The dust from the road mushroomed up around the car as we drove on, Batil and Yahya could still not find the camel auction for which we searched.  It was held daily outside of Riyadh within the labyrinth of camel corrals we now passed through.  They were deeply apologetic, but really it was fine because, despite the fact that earlier that day at the souq we had purchased camel saddles, and had just bought a saddle bag from a woman selling camel accessories, they were just to bring home as souvenirs.   It’s not like we were actually going to bid on a camel that day anyway.   My husband and I were already transfixed and entertained by our surroundings. As far as the eye could see the camel corrals surrounded us. They each held anywhere from one to ten camels and the desert stretched into the infinity beyond.

Our friends Batil and Yahya

To Batil and Yahya, (who both worked for the hospital where my husband’s conference was being held and were kind enough to take us to see the camels we had asked about), this trip must have seemed mundane.  Where as just the process of driving out from the center of a bustling modern metropolis, through the construction filled surrounding suburbs, that then suddenly gave way to desert and camel territory, to us was amazing.  The camels in Saudi Arabia are Dromedaries with one hump.  In our eyes the camels are exotic and humorous creatures, and we were thoroughly entertained just observing them as we passed by.  To Saudi Arabians camels are as common as a horse is to Americans.

Batil explained that the white ones were particularly valuable and a really good camel can be worth as much as almost a million dollars.  In the KSA camel racing is a form of entertainment, and a great source of pride to the trainer and owner of the winning camel.  Spectators come from around the world for the big races.  In the camel market men wearing the traditional long robe called a thobe, led small packs of camels through the path.   Baby camels trying to make a run for it had to be chased down by these guys, and they reminded me of running after my children as toddlers when they would make a break for it (except I didn’t have that long stick they used to thwack them back into line).  Finally we gave up our search for the auction, happy with what we had been able to see of the coral area itself.  We pulled over at a roadside camel milk stand outside of the market to pose with the camels for pictures and I squealed as they sniffed my headscarf and neck while I tried to smile for the camera.

Doesn't it look like the camel is smiling for the camera!?

This was a very friendly bunch, and it turns out camels can be friendly and docile creatures if treated well. They have been domesticated in the Arabian Peninsula for thousands of years and are ingrained in the culture of the region.  We didn’t get to bid on a camel after all, but loved our glimpse of the Saudi Arabian camel culture.

Visit To The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; Part 1

Visit To The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; Part 1

When my husband was invited to speak at a medical conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, he was honored by the invitation.   Despite the fear of the un-known, and the idea of being so far away from the kids, I desperately wanted to go with him. Not knowing what to expect we asked advice from someone familiar with the country.   He sent back an e-mail saying I should probably stay home “since there is virtually no tourism, as a woman she may not be able to go out on her own, and she would have to wear their traditional dress”.

He had me at “no tourism”.  The exact thing to say to me that would make me want to visit a place more than ever.  I have always been electrified by entering into a culture different from my own.  Even more so knowing it is a country difficult to get into.  Though word is that tourism restrictions are easing up, you still must be invited to go to Saudi Arabia,  there are many business travelers, but the majority of tourism permitted is for groups.  Islam was founded there, and the two holy pilgrimage cities of Mecca and Medina draw millions of visitors each year. In fact every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to make the trip is required to do so once in their lifetime.

My in-laws with the boys

The real key to any travel for me is my amazing mother-in-law. My father-in-law often can’t join her due to his work constraints, but she will still always come to help us out.   With four kids I would not be going anywhere without her!  Our kids are always so excited to spend the time with her; they barely mind us taking a trip.  It is an incredible feeling for us as parents to know our kids are completely safe, happy and loved while we are away.  (I am deeply grateful, and highly aware of how lucky we all are for her!)    Though I have joyfully to set aside my wanderlust to raise our children, a unique opportunity such as this was too much to let pass by.  I have always been fascinated by the experience as a traveler to have to forget everything I think I know, and try to figure out another set of customs and social norms in different countries.   When the written language is entirely different it gives one the sense of being a child in a way, vulnerable but trusting and it is always an enlightening scenario.  It also gives me a great empathy for foreign visitors in my own culture, and an opportunity to see how universally kind and generous most people really are.

Trying on my hijab & Abaya before the trip. I got them on Amazon.com

Posing with female college students outside the Ritz

I had no problem with the idea of donning an Abaya and hijab, the traditional dress in public for Saudi women. As a visitor I feel it is just basic respect and good manners to adhere to the dress codes of your host culture, anywhere in the world.  Besides, I would much rather blend in and observe and learn than stand out and garner possible unwanted attention.   I bought my Abaya and hijab for the trip on Amazon.com.  Our hosts thoughtfully provided an abaya for me upon arrival as well, just in case.  Not all women had their head covered in public, but almost all did, so I personally felt more comfortable with mine under a scarf.

A model of what the city looked like 100 years ago.

The trip did not disappoint.  In Saudi Arabia where the language is Arabic, we could not even begin to understand announcements or decipher the writing or signs.  We did however find that many people we met spoke English, which they are taught in school.  The crime rate is extremely low and we felt very safe.  We returned deeply touched by our host’s hospitality and the kindness of the people we met.  The modernity of the city impressed us, as well as the emphasis on higher education, and the rich history of the region.  Previously a tribal and nomadic population, the country and the city of Riyadh itself is young.  100 years ago there were approximately 19,000 people living in the desert oasis that became the Kingdom.  Today the city is a metropolis rising like a vast shimmering mirage out of the sand with a population in and around the city of nearly 6 million.

A night view of part of Riyadh 2012

Modern architecture, impressive medical facilities, and all the iPhones in use make you feel like you could be in any major city in the world.  Shopping malls boast high-end stores from the GAP to Missoni, and include  food courts with McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Dunkin’ Donuts, while American chain restaurants line the main shopping streets. In this way Riyadh was very much the same as home.   The call to prayer five times a day, the dress code, the separation of men and women and the desert that surrounds the city as far as the eye can see and beyond are up front reminders of the differences. In our brief visit, my world was opened wider, I feel like I learned so much and am excited to share some of it with you over my next series of posts.