I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed the trip to Saudi Arabia. All of my friends wondered why I was going to go there, thinking that it was mostly desert with a lot of people who didn’t much like Americans. Boy, were they wrong.
What I saw was fascinating. From the mountains in the south to the tombs in Madinah-Saleh to the fabulous sites in the north to amazing Jeddah on the coast – it was all beyond what I expected to see myself. The people were gracious and friendly, and hospitality reigned all over. We met so many wonderful people, and we had a superb guide during our journey throughout the whole country. I was surprised to learn that we didn’t have to wear our scarves over our heads in many places, which was really nice. The abayas were positively comfortable and easy to wear. I learned a lot about Saudi life on the trip, and I was pleased to see everywhere I went that Saudi men were loving and affectionate with their daughters, unlike what I had read in a couple of books intimating that Saudi men only wanted and cared about their sons and not their daughters. That was great to see. We also visited a couple of homes, which gave an insight into family life and how guests are received in Saudi Arabia.
I was struck by the sense of dignity the Saudis have. They look exquisite in their traditional costume, and they are quiet and reserved in public. I noticed this especially at the airports and the restaurants. Nobody talking loudly or making a ruckus. When I got back to the United States and was waiting for my transfer flight, I was appalled by not only the appearance of our American men (in jeans and T-shirts looking like slobs), but by the loud casual and inane chatter that I didn’t particularly care to hear, along with people talking loud on their cell phones. I wanted to leave and return to Jeddah! It was so nice to see people acting like they should act in public as I saw in Saudi Arabia.
I was also impressed when prayer time came in the evening and all of our drivers (of the 4 wheel drives in the desert) and the security police prayed together in the sand. We had a newspaper reporter with us also, and he did the call to prayer first, and the others came up behind him and all prayed together. The reporter had the most beautiful voice, and as the sun was going down, his melodious voice sounded through the desert. It was a moving experience, and I’m glad to have been a part of it.
In addition, the chilled non-alcoholic beers were excellent!
I would recommend this trip highly to anyone who is interested in Arab culture and all of the historical gems that Saudi Arabia has to offer. The accommodations were excellent, and Hatem (our guide) was kind, considerate, and super efficient. He also had a terrific sense of humor, which brought out the best (or worst) in us. We just loved him.
Thank you for making it possible for us to see this magnificent country. It was one of the best trips I have ever taken.
June Simeth (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)