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Into the Kingdom – Where Oil's Abundant but Water Scarce

Backdated to Friday 8th January 2011.

The Koran’s in under the telly and the fridge’s beer is non-alcoholic. Welcome to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the land of well, from my point of view, desalination. For those of you who don’t know what it was I left for the states to study at MIT, I left for water. More specifically, I left for to study desalination, the science and engineering of how drinking water can be obtained from the sea. So I’m sitting here over in south western Saudi Arabia drinking a 600 ml bottle of Nestle water, imported from Switzerland. For the next five days, I’ll be here at the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM), collaborating with researchers trying to find and improve technologies to make the desalting of water cheaper. KFUPM, or K-FUMP, as a lab mate of mine refers to it, is a Saudi University involved in a partnership with MIT to conduct research in the areas of clean water and clean energy; clean in the sense that our technologies should have minimal impact upon the environment.

The trip to Saudi Arabia was a rather pleasant one, particularly since I had only to come from Ireland, as opposed to the states, from where my professors and fellow students were coming. Saudi Arabia is three hours from Greenwich meantime and so I’ve little jet lag to battle against. I flew from Frankfurt with the German airline Lufthansa and arrived in the Kingdom of Bahrain, an independent island state joined to Saudi Arabia by the King Fahd (of Saudi Arabia) Causeway, spanning approximately 25 kilometres. Upon arrival at Bahrain I purchased a 24 hour Bahrain visa for six US dollars and hopped into a car provided by KFUPM along with my travelling party of five. Half an hour from then we were halfway across that great causeway with a dark ocean abyss either side of the car, seamlessly blending into the night sky. There we reached the passport and customs checks; the exit from Bahrain and then the entrance to Saudi. There was nothing exceptional, nothing by comparison to the hassle Saudis would get when travelling to many countries. We stopped a few times to show our passports and at one stage parked the car and went into a building to be fingerprinted and photographed. Shortly afterwards we were back in the car and speeding down the causeway at one and a half times the indicated speed limit, doing 140 kph. At one stage we slowed down for a dust cloud, and the driver switched on the hazards lights. Two minutes later we were back up to max speed and just a short half hour from the hotel.

So far there isn’t all that much in difference with the US or Ireland; tomorrow’s light of day may shine some light upon the contrast. Women have seemingly disappeared, there’s eating and drinking in the air it’s so humid and I’ve lost my weekend because weekends are Thursday and Friday in this Kingdom.

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