Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Haya Tours....

I attended a really excellent presentation last evening at the Irish Embassy by Ms. Salwa Al Qunaibit , who is the owner and driving force behind Haya Tours, a business she founded a few years back .

Tourism in Saudi Arabia is in its infancy and as Salwa explained in her presentation, needs a lot of development and support.

She spoke how on her visits to Ireland where her children came to summer school to learn English, she came across various bus tours and day trip operators such as Paddywagon Tours were major influencers on how she envisioned how Haya Tours would be run.

Haya operate city trips, day trips and weekend trip right across the Kingdom, from trips around Riyadh to visit Masmak Castle, Shoura Council and Al-Diriyah to more adventurous trips to Al Ahsa and the UNESCO site at Mada’in Saleh.

Salwa spoke about the use of local Saudi tour guides to provide the most authentic travel guide experience with expert knowledge of the history and culture of the various provinces.

She also explained that the Arabic word “Haya” essentially means, “Lets Go”, her presentation was very impressive and I was taken by her passion and vision for the business , her aims of building effective Teamwork between the various Governement Officials and other stakeholders for the future and her desire to see the industry develop in the Kingdom.

I wish her well and would ask you to view the site and the excursions offered here….

The images here are all Haya Tours Images from various trips © Haya Tours

Monday, 17 June 2013

Saudi, Diabetes & Junk Food....

I’ve been struck in my time in the Kingdom at the problem of obesity here, just on visual evidence, there is a larger than normal proportion of adults that are clearly overweight, I have discovered that the result of all this is that Saudi Arabia has the world’s highest prevalence of Diabetes, with figures between 25% - 30% of adults having the condition. Studies are calling it an epidemic...

Diet and lack of exercise are given as major factors in Diabetes and this is clearly evident living here. The over-bearing conditions and urbanization of the country in the last 30 years have made the cities very “car orientated” with very few public parks or pedestrian areas to walk and exercise has made people much more sedentary.

I have only seen about three areas in the city where you could actually go for a walk, and that’s in a city with over five million inhabitants, cycling here would be like playing Russian roulette as there are no lanes or parks to cycle and even less driving skills and etiquette on the road.

Saudi culture is also not necessarily supportive of women exercising and sport among females is seen as taboo, remember all the media noise about the first Saudi female athletes at the last Olympics, this means that it’s not at all straight forward for females to exercise in any kind of open manner though I understand that this is changing…

The other major factor here is diet and as I shop regularly here in Riyadh, I’m completely taken aback at the sheer volume of chocolate, cakes, and sugar laden food on the shopping shelves, its actually startling, the picture above was taken in a typical Riyadh Supermarket….shelves and shelves of the stuff……

Saudi Arabia, having been very influenced by American culture is also overrun with Fast Food outlets, they are literally everywhere in every city, McDonalds, Dunkin-Donuts are on every street and every mall and you have to look a bit harder to find the healthier options…… 

I'm not saying that I know better as I've seen similar issues back home in Ireland but here given the culture and climate is certainly at a different scale and is something that definitely needs to be tackled.......

Sunday, 16 June 2013

The Irish in Riyadh….

It occurred to me recently how effective Irish people are at sticking together, socializing regularly and generally being there for each other wherever they are in the world, Riyadh is no different ….

After being here for a year now, I have found that I have built a decent network of people, not all Irish of course, however in this conservative society, even the Irish have developed great ways to meet, eat, play sport and have fun together.

The Embassy of Ireland in the Diplomatic Quarter, currently resided by HE Dr. Niall Holohan and his wife Felicity are very open and generous hosts and I’ve had the pleasure of visiting both the embassy and indeed their home on a few occasions and they are extremely welcoming and helpful to all comers but of course always have a kind word for recently arrived Irish, they regularly host various events including a fantastic event on St. Patrick’s Day last when some 400+ Irish from right across the Kingdom attended.

Riyadh also has a GAA Club, Naomh Alee GAA Club has been running successfully here for many years and has both Men’s and Ladies Team’s who compete with neighbouring clubs here in the Gulf, and the club not only attracts Irish ex-pats but also has Australians, New Zealander’s, South African’s and Germans playing gaelic football and regularly host kids events too. Patrick Moynagh from Cavan is the current chairman and we had the pleasure of attending the end of season get-together last week, which was another great opportunity for the Irish (and many others) to get together for a bit of “craic” as we say back home.

On a smaller scale, there are many other smaller gatherings held in homes across Riyadh from time to time, much more informal gatherings with some good food and company, and telling stories of how long they’ve been in the Kingdom, how their work is, how the kids are doing, when were you home last ? etc., or to discuss the latest encounter with the “Religious Police” perhaps….

It struck me also that Riyadh and Saudi Arabia is a very transient place. At each gathering, I meet people who have been here many years, have just arrived recently, are back for the second time or are heading home for good in a few weeks, a kind of “Airport Terminal Waiting Lounge” of sorts here in the Middle East.