On my latest trip down to Abha this week in South West of Saudi Arabia, It struck me how culturally diverse this part of the world is, despite its traditions, and how friendly and helpful people are by nature regardless of their nationality or heritage.
On arrival at Abha airport, which for those of you from Ireland resembles Kerry Airport in size, I was warmly greeted by Saleem, who is from Lahore in Pakistan and is the Supervising Engineer on the project we are working on here in Abha, Saleem always greets me with a hug and warm handshake and speaks about work and life with an infectious enthusiasm, he speaks of his three children and his wife who have also recently moved here to Abha to work on this project, he is the kind of guy who you would enjoy having a few pints of plain in in a quiet snug back home, like Casey’s in Sixmilebridge (for those of you that know it !), and of course my friend being a devout muslim may pass on the alcoholic beverage though I imagine, he would indulge in the interests of cultural discourse. He has worked right around the world from Canada to Hawaii and Riyadh as well as his native Pakistan.
Outside the airport, we are picked up by Abduljalil Mohammed, who is the Building Contractor’s Project Manager on site and he is from Cairo and again I am warmly greeted by this tall Egyptian, and asked to sit in the front, through respect, I decline and take my seat at the back and allow Saleem to sit up front and lead the commentary on our short journey to the building project, this man has missed a career as a cultural attaché or indeed Tourism Minister.
Back at the Project Site, I am whisked in to the Site Hut and told that the priority this morning is a good breakfast for the traveler, as I had flown from Riyadh that morning, and before us was spread out a large spread of typical Saudi breakfast pancakes, with cheeses and spinach and all sorts, I asked where the other ten people were that would be required to tackle such a feed, but was laughed off….
We had our Site Inspection and discussed all of the technical and programming aspects of the job as well as the technical queries we needed to address, and then returned to the Site Hut for our formal regular progress meeting and were joined by my colleague Hussain , who I have mentioned in a previous post on Abha, a very friendly and helpful local Saudi who has been hugely helpful to Saleem, Abduljalil & I on resolving “local” issues here with the municipality and permits and the oddities of Saudi beaurcracy.
After our meeting, my three colleagues and I went to lunch before I headed back to the airport and the discussion weaved through many topics, led by the always bubbly Saleem, we discussed the Muslim world, life in Saudi for women and for foreign women who moved here, we discussed the Malala case in the Swat Valley in Saleem’s Pakistan, the new President of Abduljalil’s Egypt, we discussed how Abha and Saudi is changing and how Hussain has seen it develop and we also discussed the upcoming Hajj pilgrimage next week which is a huge event in Saudi. I was asked about the IRA and the peace process back home and told how this was reported in Pakistan when Saleem was young and how they were idolized as Nationalist heroes, I did my best to explain the much changed political landscape in Ireland both north and south and explained the essence of the divisions in the north which I could loosely compare with the current problems between Sunni and Shia in Bahrain.
We also discussed our children and it is here where we found very comfortable and common ground, between us, we had eight sons and three daughters, ranging in age from 3 to 22 (4 Saudi, 2 Irish, 2 Egyptian and 3 Pakistani), we shared the common topics of homework, toys, new mobile phones and remarked on how connected our children are to the larger world outside through social media and how knowledgeable they are of the bigger world and we all agreed that this new generation have a great opportunity to share, connect and understand eachother so much more than those of us who were raised in the 70’s. 80’s and 90’s.
I really enjoyed the friendliness, openness and honesty of my three colleagues and it gives one a great sense of what is possible through sharing stories and finding the things that really enage us all…..
Looking forward to our next Meeting…..