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Silent Saudi Sand

Backdated to Saturday 9th January 2011

I’m having a look out
the window of the hotel room, with a tin-whistle to the side in front of me. Tin-whistles are great instruments. Even if I never played music for anyone else
I’d still play the tin-whistle for myself. Outside are lights and roads upon
deserts. Although Al-Khobar, where I’m staying, is such a developed city you’d
hardly know it was all sand beneath. There’s a question I’ve never asked myself
before, “How deep is it that sand goes before you hit something more solid”, I
must throw out that question to the professors or students tomorrow. Roads here
are wide and people drive as if lanes merge seamlessly together. It’s as though a plethora of formula one race tracks had descended upon the
sand overnight and were sprinkled by a sandy breeze.

The weather’s good
here in the Kingdom and the food is fantastic, with portions are beyond Americanism.
Sweet water, I’ve learned, refers to desalinated water obtained from the
sea. “Sweet, because each glass contains a spoonful of sugar” an Egyptian
professor joked. I haven’t had sweet water to drink yet. So far it’s all been
the bottled stuff. Actually, I was over in the university earlier today. At one
stage after the morning break, I went looking for the men’s toilet. I found an
unsigned door with what looked to be wash hand basins behind. “Ah yes, a
toilet”, that’s what I should have been looking for. Why need the toilet be
signed as “Mens” in a male university”. Actually, it turned out that there was
one ladies toilet, clearly for visitors, because we were in the family building, where events were held for faculty, wives and children.

Petrol for the car is
ridiculously cheap over here at $0.10 per litre. I’ve hardly seen any small
cars around. In fact even when prices of oil rise worldwide, they decrease in
Saudi Arabia since the Saudi companies make more profit. I’m not sure of the
logic of that but so I was told.
About two hours later,
at noon, it was time for another jax break. This time the unsigned toilet was
filled with men washing their hands up to their elbows and some their feet.
“Time for prayers”, I said to myself and indeed that’s what it was. Twice during
the academic day, Islamic prayers are said, at noon and at three in the
afternoon. People get up early here with classes starting as early as seven in
the morning. Everyone is finished work at four p.m., so the total
hours worked are similar.
I’ve been told by Saudi students that the country is safe and that we could walk without fear in the streets. To be honest, I believe them, and if I was in Saudi as a tourist (which I couldn’t be, since I couldn’t get a tourist visa) I would explore the country and its people to a greater extent. Language would be the only thing holding me back. Still, as far as MIT policy is concerned, one can never be too careful. In a hotel full with foreign diplomats, a certain level of security is bound to be present. So, to get in through the hotel entrance you’ve to walk by a guard with a machine gun. Then, there’s a massive cannon in the courtyard of the hotel, and
it’s camouflaged with a green net and fake leaves. But the hotel is an exception, because Saudi is as quiet and discreet a place as I’ve ever been.

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