Being state side now for a few days, I am happy to use 3G, eat peanut butter, and style my own hair.
But I am not sure if that makes up for the incredible friendships I created, the gorgeous scenery viewed and the amount of knowledge retained through kinesthetic learning.
Now that my journey is over, I would like to reflection on a few observations.
1) Saudi Arabia is extremely different from Morocco. Religion: Islam is the same, but Morocco looks like Lady Gaga compared to her Italian native, the Pope (KSA). Other than the dress, the censorship is completely different. I was watching an episode of Modern Family and the words “Menstrual cycle” or anything related to the terms, was bleeped out. Whereas, in Morocco, you could be listening to curse words over the intercom in the supermarket from famous pop star, Rihanna. Saudi Arabians were also high tech & fashionable! Huge skyscrapers, fast cars, designer handbags, manicures, and iPhones,….but Morocco didn’t segregate genders and foreignors did not have to wear traditional clothing or the hijab.
2) Hollywood: Flipping through the T.V. channels, I was amazed to see MTV, Bad Girls Club and other scandalous/unrealistic shows for Saudi Arabia’s viewing pleasure.
My concern: Many Americans cannot tell the difference between reality T.V. or Hollywood. How are other cultures supposed to understand the difference? As this being the case, if I were a foreigner, I would think all Americans shoot one another with assault riffles, kiss the same sex, and wear bikinis all day. As Americans, we cannot blame other cultures for viewing us this way. Even in Saudi Arabia, where censorship is at its peak, I viewed a music video of two females kissing and a man running down Sunset Blvd. in a speedo.
3) Women & Driving: It seems the western world is so concerned about Saudi Arabian women driving. Why? Have we asked Saudi women if they want to drive? Have you ever driven in Saudi Arabia? It is crazy. There is no way in hell I would drive there. No lanes, no turn signals, speed is subjective in the eyes of the driver ect. ect. Currently, many Saudi Arabian women have personal drivers. To be realistic, I understand that not every woman can afford a driver, so maybe an effort to improve public transit is a need. I think public transportation (which is absolutely zero) needs to be considered in addition to segregation purposes, there can be separate buses for females. Regardless, western world, let’s STOP caring about if women can drive and let us worry about if a woman can represent herself in the judicial system. Because currently, she can’t.
And women & driving also opens another thought. Is there enough room on the road? Highways are already congested and traffic accidents ranked at #4 for cause of death of the population.
4) Segregation: Before entering KSA, I did not understand segregation. I still do not really understand segregation fully, but I can respect some aspects. In a society where arranged marriages are common, why mingle? In a country where honor and carrying the family name is extremely important, why risk bad behavior? This law is protecting life & death in some matters.
I did enjoy being segregated when it came to lines (fast food restaurants, shopping centers) . The female line goes so much faster than the male side. I also enjoyed not having to worry about my appearance when walking onto a campus. And I appreciated not being harassed by men. This certainly does not mean I support segregation but, after my visit I can honestly say I comprehend the law.
5) Saudi Aramco. Owned by the government, it is the sole proprietor of OIL. Needless to say, it is the wealthiest corporation in the Kingdom and one of the wealthiest in the world. It hosts employees from over 50 nations and is the biggest employer of Saudis. Aramco has a gorgeous compound with enmities that allow you to never have to leave the compound. Grocery stores, private beaches, shopping centers, playgrounds, swimming pools, restaurants….. ect. ect. My complaint: Aramco workers are not corresponding with the culture or population. This compound to an extent, even has its own legal system. Aramco employees are not reaping the benefits of Saudi culture and vice versa. I think Aramco needs to reach out to the community in more ways than just passing out money.
6) Dietary needs: When I was traveling in Morocco, I was at my healthiest. Fresh fruits and vegetables and barely any preservatives. My acne cleared up, I had muscle tone and I flat-out felt better. I suppose I was naïve to think I would experience the same health benefits in KSA. The culture has experience an influx of Western food items. Fast food, snack packs and preserved goodies filled the markets and hotel buffets. I had to remember…I am in the middle of a desert; of course imports of food come in by shipments. I found myself flourishing in fried meat, grilled potatoes with cheese and …sweet desserts galore! Western food influences can also be shown by the #1 cause of death… Coronary Heart Disease at 23.98% of the population. (Hypertension runs in at #2 or 12.24%)
7) In conclusion, I want to discuss sustainability. KSA is building infrastructure, shopping centers, and educational systems alike faster than the population can consume. No worries, the government is picking up the tab. My question, can Saudi Arabia truly sustain this lavish lifestyle? Sure, they are shelling out oil by the billions, but when do these investments run out of steam? KSA isn’t dumb; they know oil will eventually run out. That is why the call to diversify the economy in the first place is in effect. But, did it need to come about so lavishly? How do you maintain all of these skyscrapers, mountains of marble and layers of asphalt? This is a large tab for the government to pick up in addition to paying social security, education, and health care. When do these investments start cranking out profits?