Welcome to our Caravan-Serai Tours Newsletter! We will be sending this out monthly with country information on our destinations, a recipe, and more. Please feel free to share this newsletter and let your friends and family know they can receive an email edition by signing up on our email list—just contact Brenda@caravan-serai.com and they will be added.

Gentleman in Saudi ArabiaSaudi Arabia

Once forbidden to outsiders for tourism, Saudi Arabia is opening its doors to those who want to learn more about the country, see its historical and cultural treasures, and meet the Saudi people. Several years ago, there was a way to work around the strict visa rules and visit the country as part of a business mission, but that avenue was closed, the rules tightened, and Caravan-Serai Tours could not take groups there. Now, we are preparing to go back with our first group in January 2020.

Saudi Arabia can be a difficult place to get an understanding of without actually visiting. There are plenty of books and websites to read to try and get an idea of the country, but the average people and their way of life are almost unheard of outside the kingdom. We can read all about the oil, the deserts, the wealth and the royal family, but to really even begin to understand the Saudi people, you have to meet them and talk to them on their terms. That is why we are having a Saudi expert and dual national (USA and Saudi Arabia) accompany the group.

About the tour escort:
Samia El-Moslimany, a Seattle native, is the daughter of two of Seattle’s pioneer Muslim activists, Ann and Mohammad El-Moslimany. In addition to Seattle, she has lived in Kuwait and currently splits her time between her two countries of citizenship, the US and Saudi Arabia. Samia is mother to a daughter and two sons and is foster mother to three sons.

Jeddah Mosque Saudi ArabiaSamia received her Bachelor of Arts in Film Making and Television Production and her Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Washington.

Samia has photographed professionally for more than thirty years and was the owner of one of one of Arabia’s top photography studios located in Jeddah. In addition to numerous Saudi publications, Samia has photographed for Business Week, Fortune, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Marie Claire Magazine, Institutional Investor, Le Figaro, Saudi Aramco World, The Christian Science Monitor, the Associated Press, and has photographed for the cover of TIME magazine.

Since 1983 Samia has spoken locally, nationally and internationally on the subjects of Islam, Women, Civil Rights and Photography. Her volunteer activities have included serving as a founder and the Chair of the Board of Directors of CAIR-Seattle, as a founding member of the Jeddah Orphan Eid Gift Project, as a member of the steering committee of Together We Build, as a volunteer for SCM Medical Missions, as a board member of a Seattle interfaith coalition working with Habitat for Humanity, as a member of the Muslim Youth Camp of California board of directors, as a volunteer and Community Activity Chairperson at the Islamic School of Seattle, as the President of the Board of Directors of Cherry Street Mosque of Seattle, and as a co-founder of the Wanisa Sisterhood, a support network for First Wives and victims of domestic abuse, in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi ArabiaSamia is arranging visits to friend’s homes and meals with locals so you will have a unique opportunity to really experience Saudi Arabia like a local. While Samia is showing the more personal side of contemporary Saudi society, you will have an expert guide giving you historical details, guiding you through the various sites you will visit.

Saudi Arabia, the modern country we see outlined on a map, is fairly young. In the mid-1700’s and again in the early 1800’s the Saud tribe of Dariyah, just outside of modern Riyadh, tried to consolidate their power and create a Saudi state. Both these attempts were unsuccessful in creating a long lasting sovereign state and collapsed eventually. As the saying goes, third time is the charm, and a third attempt by Abd Al-Aziz Ibn Saud is credited as the founder of the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that the Saud family still rules over today.

As a monarchy, the king has the final say, but there is a Consultative Council, called the Majlis Al-Shura, that is a legislative body that advises the king on issues important to the country. In 2013 the first women were appointed to the council, and the King decreed that women should always hold at least one fifth of the 150 seats on the council. Even at that time women were not allowed to drive but they could now have a more active role in legislative affairs.

For women in the kingdom, this was a small step in the right direction, and the following year they won the right to vote for the first time ever. A few years later came the reversal of the law prohibiting them from driving. Women still face many restrictions in the kingdom, and visitors are required to obey the dress code of wearing an abaya and covering their heads.

Saudi people are generally very reserved and conservative, and on the surface may seem very distant, but you have to keep in mind that the kingdom has been very insular for a very long time. Many outsiders – non-Muslims and non-Saudis that have spent any time there, generally for business or government work, often find they know a lot less about Saudi Arabia and its people than they thought.

Riyadh Saudi ArabiaOur tours in January and again in April will be your chance to catch a glimpse of the real Saudi Arabia with someone who has lived and worked there, and can show you things that other visitors won’t even know to look for. There is so much more to the country than the few lines above about the birth of the country and deserts and oil. Go and see for yourself and get a first-hand glimpse of life in Saudi Arabia and its vast history and unique culture.

Read more about the tour here:  https://www.caravan-serai.com/tours/tour-of-saudi-arabia/

Monthly Recipe

Al Kabsa – Traditional Saudi Rice and Chicken


½ teaspoon saffron
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
½ teaspoon dried whole lime powder
¼ cup butter
1 onion, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 (3 pound) whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
¼ cup tomato puree
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
3 carrots, peeled and grated
2 whole cloves
1 pinch ground nutmeg
1 pinch ground cumin
1 pinch ground coriander
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 ¼ cups hot water
1 cube chicken bouillon
2 ¼ cups unrinsed basmati rice
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup toasted slivered almonds

Step 1
Mix together the saffron, cardamom, cinnamon, allspice, white pepper, and lime powder in a small bowl, and set the spice mix aside.

Step 2
Melt the butter in a large stock pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Stir in the garlic and onion; cook and stir until the onion has softened and turned translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken pieces and brown them over medium-high heat until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Mix in the tomato puree.

Step 3
Stir in the canned tomatoes with their juice, the grated carrots, whole cloves, nutmeg, cumin, coriander, salt, black pepper, and the Kabsa spice mix. Cook for about 3 minutes; pour in the water, and add the chicken bouillon cube.

Step 4
Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer and cover the pot. Simmer until chicken is no longer pink and the juices run clear, about 30 minutes.

Step 5
Gently stir in the rice. Cover the pot and simmer until rice is tender and almost dry, about 25 minutes; add the raisins and a little more hot water, if necessary. Cover and cook for an additional 5 to 10 minutes or until the rice grains are separate.

Step 6
Transfer the rice to a large serving platter and arrange the chicken pieces on top. Sprinkle the toasted slivered almonds over the dish.

Editor’s Note: Whole dried limes can be found in Persian groceries or on the internet. Grind them in a spice grinder or blender to make dried lime powder.

Cook’s Note: Don’t rinse or soak the rice before using it. Depending on the type of rice you use, you may need to use more or less water. Stay on the low side to avoid the dish being too mushy–you can always add more.

This recipe and more photos can be found at https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/216889/al-kabsa-traditional-saudi-rice-and-chicken/

12 Days of Caravan-Serai Cooking are about to start! On December 1st the first of 12 recipes will be sent out to our email list. The recipes come from our destinations with a few twists occasionally thrown in. This has been an incredibly popular event each year, so stay tuned, the recipes are on their way!

If you know anyone who would like to receive these recipes starting on December 1, please have them join our email list. Email Brenda@ or Maha@caravan-serai.com and ask to be added to our list to get the recipes. This is our gift to you – a new recipe each day for 12 days!

Other Destinations

“Fill Your Heart with Ireland”
I always like to keep my eyes open for additional travel adventures and educate myself about destinations outside of our region of specialization. So I collect information on other destinations that interest me such as Croatia, British Isles, New Zealand, and occasionally I attend tourism events put on by other countries – Spain – specifically Catalonia and Barcelona, Hawaii, and most recently I attended an event put on by Tourism Ireland.

Here are some if the tips I learned during the evening’s presentations and chats with various vendors of Irish properties and activities and attractions.

  • To have a meaningful experience in Ireland, plan for at least a week, if not more. There is a lot to see on this little island, and you don’t want to be rushed. Direct flights from the US to Dublin or Belfast are easy to schedule and many are now non-stop from major hubs. Or, if you have more than a week, consider adding Scotland for an additional week. Fly in to Dublin, and out of Edinburgh or London.
  • Visit EPIC the Irish Emigration Museum in Dublin. Discover Ireland through the stories of the 10 million men and women who left, and the Irish culture they brought with them. The Museum is a state-of-the-art interactive experience located in the 1820’s CHQ building in Dublin’s Docklands, the original departure point for many of Ireland’s emigrants. You can also delve into your own family history at the genealogy center at EPIC. If you know a little or a lot, or even if you don’t know for sure if you have Irish ancestry, they can help you take a look through their records and record from around the world. You can buy a ticket that includes both the museum and the genealogy center, and even book a private session with a professional genealogist to help you out! www.epicchq.com
  • Everyone who goes to Ireland (just about, anyway) goes to the Cliffs of Moher on the northwest coast of the island. If you have time, see the Cliffs from both the top (plenty of walking tours to show you the highlights) and also see them from the water. Doolin2Aran Ferries runs excursions to the cliffs for a unique view from the sea where you can see all the cliffs and their rugged terrain. From the top you have an excellent view of the sea, but from the sea you have an excellent view of the cliffs! Doolin2Aran also has excursions to the Aran Islands that are also recommended to visit. www.doolin2aranferries.com
  • At the House of Waterford Crystal you will see the craftspeople at work, blowing and cutting their crystal creations, including serving pieces, lighting, home décor, stemware and drinking glasses, and the iconic crystals panels for the New Year’s Eve Crystal Ball that is lowered in New York’s Time Square. www.waterfordvisitorcentre.com
  • Derry is Ireland’s only completely walled city from the 17th century. It sits where the Wild Atlantic Way meets the Causeway Coastal Route so it’s an excellent base to explore the northwest region of the island. It is also known for its Halloween Carnival- they take Halloween very seriously, so if you plan to go around that time of year, be sure bring a costume!
  • Visit the Titanic Museum in Belfast. The museum is state-of-the-art with interactive displays immersing you in the grandeur and scale of the ship as it set sail on its fateful maiden voyage. www.Titanicbelfast.com

These are just a few ideas for a visit to Ireland. If you like more ideas or would like to plan a trip, let me (Brenda) know and we can see what would best fit your needs. There are options for fly-drive self-guided tours, and fully planned group tours around the island, if just depends on what you are comfortable with.

SCM Update

  • This coming weekend, after Thanksgiving, SCM will be holding another Holiday Bazaar at our office in Wallingford/Fremont. We had such great feedback from the first one a few weeks ago that we decided to do it again. It will be Saturday and Sunday (Nov 30 & Dec 1) from 11am to 5pm. Stop by, find some unique gifts including hand made jewelry by the Syrian women we are working with in Jordan – all sales proceeds go right back to them. We also have other items from the Middle East as well as some items from Indonesia. Hope to see you there if you are in the area!
  • SCM is working out the final details to get our clinic and women and children’s shelter going on the Greek island of Samos. The strain on the resources of the island have been growing steadily for the last few months, with more and refugees arriving by sea from Turkey. The conditions in Turkey for refugees is deteriorating and many are fearful they will be sent back to Syria where they still don’t feel safe. Help SCM get our clinic and shelter going so we can help the refugees there by donating online at http://www.scmmedicalmissions.org/donate/
  • The next SCM clothing drive will be in March 2020 at the Muslim Association of Puget Sound, more details on the actual date and time will be coming soon. Meanwhile, keep it in the back of your mind that we will be collecting used clothing then so if you decide to go through your closets this winter, make a pile for SCM!

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