My Saudi Arabia

I saw Stuart Chapmans latest journal today, continuing his brilliant Redbubble tour around the world… todays entry was highlighting images from Western Asia and the Middle East
It soon became apparent after reading the first few comments that people knew so very little about these countries, which got me thinking…

With all of my recent uploads coming from my trip to Canada in March, some may think that I am treading on the toes of our fellow Canadian Redbubblers… my profile explains that I am currently in Saudi Arabia, but from all of the snow and ice on show, who would know!

Thinking about it, perhaps I have been neglecting my “home” a little. With my pending departure from Saudi Arabia in December to return to the UK, after 7 years of emptying sand from my shoes, then maybe it should be time to reflect on what I have on my doorstep and pass on some of this knowledge.

Seven Years in Arabia… there is a film title there somewhere!

So, why stay in Saudi?

Well, for one, the Barbers offer a lot more for the weekend…

And secondly, it turns out my favourite shop now does home delivery!

Ok, joking aside, I came here in October of 2001 at the ripe old age of 27, giving up my job in the UK to follow my career as an Interior Architect working with members of the Saudi Royal Family, designing projects from small cafes and exclusive apartments through to Palaces on the grandest of scales, whilst throwing in my first love of furniture design along the way. As well of course, photography…

If I were to ask you what your impression of Saudi might be, I’m guessing I could probably reel off your answers right here, now.

Being the birthplace of Islam and with so many important traditions to uphold, Saudi Arabia is a country with a lot on its shoulders. It is a very conservative country, trying to hold onto its own image and not be swallowed up by the fast pace of the West. It is a hard place to live, both because of its unforgiving climate, with temperatures exceeding 50 degrees in Summer before plummeting in Winter to a dry cold that reaches right to your bones and of course the many negative points that I’m sure your are aware of… or perhaps not.

When I first arrived, a friend said to me, be prepared to give up the “3 B’s”… the three things that all men love… Beer, Bacon and Boobs – not necessarily written in order of preference!

Since that time I have had to put up with quite a lot that you wouldn’t ordinarily have to deal with…

The prohibition of alcohol amongst other things, a lack of bacon and other pork products, putting up with laws that state unmarried men and women cannot mix unaccompanied… I find myself breaking the law on many counts just by driving some women (who are by law unable to drive) to a party and enjoying some homemade “tea!” Of course add another count, when you manage to enjoy a bacon buttie for breakfast when someone has been able to bring home the bacon from neighbouring Bahrain… a small island off the east coast of Saudi which like Dubai, is more relaxed and used by many expats and Saudi locals alike as a weekend playground!

I have had to fight the government censors in a country that censors everything from newspapers and magazines, CD covers and packaging for underwear through to television, Hollywood movies and the internet. Last August, a couple of days after I signed up to Redbubble, my activity must have been picked up on and the site was blocked. The government frowns on many photography websites where a little too much naked flesh could be on offer!

Well, I’m not one to let little setbacks like that stop me… I had tasted the fruit of Redbubble, and I wanted more! So with lots of persistence and letter writing, I was thankful to be able to plea Redbubbles innocence, get the site unblocked and reactivate my account a month or so after I had last visited it… Happy to be back online I had a shot of some camels featured a couple days later.

Whilst on the topic of photography, I have even been chased down the road by an angry beduoin guy who took offence to me taking pictures of some old mud buildings. I am thankful for two things… one, that I am a faster runner than him and secondly it was only a rock he was carrying.

I have experienced a total of 7 months of Ramadan in an Islamic country that forbids anyone; locals and foreigners alike from eating or drinking in public during daylight hours… watched locals led away by the Matawa (religious police) to prayer, or worse if they appear to have broken one of the many laws… seen women have to endure wearing their black abayas in public and being told to cover their hair or even legs if a little too much ankle is on show!

I have put up with the honking of horns at traffic lights as soon as the colour turns green, even watched drivers blatantly ignore traffic lights… put up with men driving at twice your speed suddenly appearing in your rear view mirror, virtually touching your rear bumper flashing their headlights and forcing you out of their way. I’ve seen drivers drive on the hard shoulder to beat the traffic, kids racing and ducking and diving between cars on the highway… I’ve seen the results of horrific accidents; I’ve even been forced off the road by a lunatic who cut me up, sending me airborne off the tarmac careering towards a concrete wall… I’ve seen my car with bent axles, punctured tyres and dented body work… luckily that day I saw myself looking back only in shock!

I’ve received terror alerts and steps to be taken from the British Embassy… advice on varying your route to work each day, checking beneath your car and around the wheels for suspicious looking objects and trying not to get boxed in when stopped at traffic lights. I’ve even read notices from the Saudi police stating not to trust Saudi police on the road unless they are in an official police car… the advice goes on to read that it is better to get help and tackle them than to be led away. How it would go down if you actually tackled a real policeman, I’ll never know!

I have woken to the news of terror attacks on residential compounds more than once… countless people killed in bombings and shootings and I have been thankful each time that it was no one that I knew and always heartbroken for those that have lost loved ones. I have even felt my house shake and windows rattle as a terrorist attack was foiled leading the suspects to detonate the explosives prematurely only a kilometer or 2 from my house. I have heard myself saying, “I had gotten used to the bombings, but the shootings in the street and beheading of captives was a different matter… it might be time to leave”

I have experienced all of this and more in the past 7 years… and when I say more, I mean so many more good things other than the bad times that I have just listed.

When I first arrived I remember being told by someone that when you arrive in Saudi Arabia, you are given 2 buckets to fill… 1 is for all of your money and the other is for all of the shit thrown at you. As soon as one of them is full, then it is time to leave!

I like to think that I actually acquired a third bucket along the way which is brimming full of all of my good memories.

It’s these good times that I want to centre on now… so many good times, but where to begin? I’ve been going through some of my pictures and will try to portray these good memories in some new journal entries with uploads of different landscapes from my travels within the country and aspects of life in Saudi Arabia… I’ll apologise now for the quality of some of the shots as a few of them have been scanned from negatives when my old SLR used to get some action and before my entry into the world of digital photography.

Anyway, I Hope that this will interest a few of you and bring a bit of Saudi Arabia into your living room. Now, I must get back to the archives and perhaps out and about to get some new shots to accompany the old… did I mention it is now legal to take pictures in Saudi?


My Saudi ArabiaPart 2, It’s Not About The Sand


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