Thursday, January 8, 2009

Memories of Saudia Arabia

During the 80's, my husband worked in Saudia Arabia for several years. Daughter and I lived there with him for three of those years. I have so many memories of our time there, mostly good ones.

We lived in Yanbu, a small but modern city built to house industrial workers, near an ancient fishing village (also named Yanbu) on the Red Sea. The highlight of our month was traveling some 200 miles to the big city of Jeddah, a drive which took us down the Red Sea coast and across desert landscapes marked by beautiful, ever-changing sand dunes. In Jeddah we could buy American food at a westernized grocery store (but at a price: CocoPuff cereal for about $8.00 U.S.) and even indulge in pizza and Baskin-Robbins ice cream (at $6.00 per scoop)!

My favorite activity in Jeddah was visiting the old souk -- wildly colorful, teeming with activity, fragrant with the spice vendors' wares. When we were in Saudi, the marketplace hadn't changed much through the decades. In fact, if you glanced above the rough tents which housed each small "shop," you would see that the ancient buildings were constructed of coral harvested from the Red Sea.

At the Jeddah souk, I bought Bedouin articles -- two incense burners, a bracelet, and a container for kohl, a type of eye cosmetic

silver jewelry

and a spice box

which, when opened, reveals a tray and smaller containers.

You could also buy carpets, textiles, baskets and other handcrafts, and of course gold jewelry.

You might see many Saudi women in the souk, but always clothed in the traditional black abaya which covers everything, neck to wrists to ankles, and the women were always -- always -- fully veiled, so that no facial feature or hair was on display.

Early one evening, as we were leaving the souk, I noticed a policeman hand-in-hand with a young boy, not much younger than my daughter. As I watched in surprise, a Saudi woman across the way removed her veils, and I could see tears streaming down her face. The policeman released the youngster's hand, and the little boy ran across the souk into his mother's waiting arms. As any mother would do, she covered the child's face with kisses, crying all the while. Instantly I understood -- This little one had become separated from his mother and, in her relief and happiness at finding her lost child, the requirement of the veil was forgotten.

Mothers are the same the world over, as are children, as are all humans in so many ways. I would have done the same had I lost my child -- whether in the Jeddah souk's warren of vendors or in a modern shopping mall. Ideology may mask the commonalities of us all, but it does not erase our humanity -- the common thread which links us all as fellow passengers on our separate journeys in this world.

Peace on earth, my friends. That is what I pray for at the beginning of this new year, and it is what I wish for you in your life.

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