Saudi Arabia: Perceptions & Sexual Repression



The Kingdom is a sexually repressed nation.  Yes; I realize that is a strong statement and does not apply to each and every citizen but I do believe it applies to a majority.  There are many instances of men and women who simply do not know how to have an intimate physical relationship.  There is little talking and sharing of feelings and emotions.  That is uncomfortable and awkward in many cases for a Saudi man and woman.  They have become accustomed to growing up in a segregated society where men and women do not mix.  What happens then?  The women become very close, at ease and most comfortable with other women and the same also applies to the men.  As a result, it is not unusual to hear of such closeness transcending into romantic feelings and encounters with those of the same sex.



These individuals are not what one would call ‘gay’ or homosexual but have these encounters and relationships due to the confines of the society and culture.  In some cases they will marry (by an arranged marriage) as that is expected and the right thing to do.  They will go through the motions of performing wifely and husbandly duties but at the same time, miss the emotional intimacy they experience with that close friend of the same sex.  In a lot of cases a married woman or married man will continue that relationship even after marriage.  After all the continued segregation makes it easy for them to continue on with such a relationship.



In this regard, men and women have to be careful of the image they present.  For example, I have one Saudi female friend who happens to have very short hair.  She told me she prefers to keep her hair cut short because if it grows out longer it becomes too curly and unmanageable.  However because she has short hair, she has often been approached by other Saudi women who believe she is gay.  My friend has been in shopping malls and has had Saudi women pass her a slip of paper with their phone number.  (and we all thought Saudi men could be aggressive!)


Saudi Arabia: Let’s Go For a Bike Ride!



I remember when growing up how my bike was the gateway to freedom and independence.  I had wheels so I could go anywhere!  Not only did I enjoy the feel of the wind blowing through my hair and lifting my feet off the pedals as I coasted down a hill but also the bike helped keep me in good shape.  My friends and I would cycle several miles easily to meet with each other and just to take those long rides enjoying each others company.  It was typical to have a little basket or bike bag so we could carry snacks and drinks.



Prior to leaving in the Kingdom I can also say bikes and bike trails were very popular in the Washington DC area.  Families and singles alike would go on biking outings after work and on the weekends.  Many individuals would also use their bikes to travel to and from work.  It was cheaper than a car and paying gas, easier to get around via bike than being stuck in rush hour traffic and again, so many obvious health benefits.



However here in the Kingdom the only individuals one will usually see riding a bike are the foreigner laborers who cannot afford a car of their own.  Few Saudis have bikes or would consider going bike riding as a pleasurable pastime.  I was speaking to several different groups of Saudis on this subject and all concurred that bike riding has not caught on in popularity as compared to the States or elsewhere.  Sadly, not as many children will ride a bike as a playtime pastime either.  Most prefer staying indoors or rather than bikes, have ATV’s or scooters which have electric engines.



So unless there is some kind of awareness campaign promoting the joys and pleasure and benefits of bike riding, I guess I’ll continue to see all the foreign laborers at various times of day pedaling around the city.

Travel in Saudi Arabia: Delayed Flights, Playing Cards and a Kitty…

Delayed Flights, Playing Cards and a Kitty



Every special journey must come to an end and the trip to Maida’n Salah went by way too fast.  At no time did it feel like time just stood still.  Even the long trip from Maida’n Salah back to Medina went by quickly.  We arrived at the Medina airport two full hours before our flight was due to depart.  However when we entered into the secure area to wait for our flight it was at that time we learned that our flight would be delayed for four hours.   Some of us were told it was due to a mechanical problem and others were told it was due to a sandstorm in Riyadh.  It was likely delayed to a combination of both in my view.



We took advantage of the delay to get to know one another better and make sure email addresses were exchanged.  The friendly American in the group made more new friends among Saudis who were also taking our same flight.  For me and three others, we continued our friendly rivalry playing cards.  Although none of us had a deck among us, the Saudi ground crew were great in locating some playing cards for our entertainment.



I thoroughly enjoy playing cards but at one point I had to take a quick break since nature was calling.  On my way to rejoin the competitive card playing team I stopped to chat briefly with some others from our group who were relaxing in chairs.  However, while chatting with them I became distracted for I noticed in front of them was the distinct shape of a cat carrier.  Hmmm…could it really be someone traveling with a cat in the Medina airport?  I will never be shy when it comes to cats so I popped up to the next row of seats.  To both my delight and surprise it was a Saudi family whose young son had recently acquired a kitten in Medina.  He was now taking it back to his home in Abha.



The young man who appeared to be maybe 9 years of age spoke very good English.  He was exceptionally polite and well-mannered.  He answered all my questions about his new kitty with pride.  I think I found a kindred spirit in spite of the age differences who loved cats as much as me.  I also knew that one of my competitive card team members loved cats as well so I asked the young man if I could show his kitten to my team member…if his mom said it was okay.  That’s when I discovered his mom also spoke excellent English and responded with a smile of course it would be fine.  The young man and I went and introduced his kitty to more of our team members.  As we ooohed and ahhhed over the beautiful and well-behaved kitty our flight was finally called.  We bade the young man and his kitty a fond farewell.



And all too soon the trip came to an end although the friendships and bonds which were created during this foray will continue.



Saudi Arabia’s Maida’n Salah – The Final Snippets

Mud Village


The Mud Village in Al Ula was a very interesting place to visit with hundreds of mud houses on both sides of the street.  This is the village where many Hajjis would stop to and from Mecca.  Some Hajjis after completion of Hajj would choose to remain and live in the mud village. Segregation was practiced in that the women visited each other and ran their errands traversing narrow covered alleyways from one home to another whereas the men had their own pathways via the roofs of the mud homes.  However when heavy rains occurred, the women would be isolated to their homes as the alleyways would be flooded with water.  The mud village is continuing to be preserved so visitors can appreciate the way of life as it was during those early times. 

















Hijaz Railroad



Al Ula and Maida’n Salah is also home of the Hejaz Railway.  One will see the wooden railway stations which were constructed every 25 kilometers and can visit the original main railway station.  Several of the old wooden carriages remain.  The railway ran from 1900 to 1912 and is a modern piece of the history.  








The main railway station also had a guest house for the weary travelers who wished to have a rest before continuing their journey.  I hope that Saudi tourism will further preserve this guest house and perhaps convert it into a stopping place for visiting tourists to enjoy tea and Arabic kawa.  While I am suggesting, it would also be convenient to have facilities as it is located remotely from town and a gift shop would be a nice touch too.






Desert Diamonds


Although I failed to take my camera with me on this particular sunset foray, I learned all about the desert diamonds.  Desert diamonds are pieces of quartz which can be found in rose, yellow and white or clear colors.  The stony desert area around Al Ula is ideal for going out and hunting for desert diamonds.  These quartz stones can be cleaned, cut and polished and make beautiful gem stones which in turn can be converted to rings, earrings, pendants and bracelets.


Everyone in our group came back with at least one or more of these precious stones adding yet another special memory of the trip to Maida’n Salah.


Can you imagine how romantic to be presented with a diamond and being told, I went out into the desert and found it myself! 


Saudi Arabia’s Maida’n Salah – The Tombs

The Tombs


A large draw of Maida’n Salah are the many tombs from the Nabateean people.  If you are not aware, the tombs are where the Nabateean’s buried their dead.  Some of the tombs have inscriptions outside (provided by archeological teams) which identify some of the families who occupied specific tombs.  Some tombs were for women only; some for men.  Others held entire families.  Most of the tombs which were similar to a room one could step into could be described as a chamber with indentations carved into the sides of the chamber where the bodies were laid to rest.  There was no evidence of artifacts or jewels or any other treasures had been buried in the tombs with the deceased as had been done in Egypt.  And as I mentioned in one of the earlier introductory posts about Maida’n Salah, there was a distinguished class structure with elite and richer families having large spacious tombs where by comparison, the poorer Nabateean’s were laid to rest into the ground itself.  When one views the actual size of the carved burial plot, it makes one think the Nabateean’s were below average in size.  The largest plot did not exceed 5 feet and the plots were also pretty narrow as well, maybe eight to ten inches across.  It is likely that not all of the tombs have been uncovered yet.









According to one reference which I read, it states that Maida’n Salah has 113 tombs dated to the period from the first century BC to the years 75 AD.  Some of the famous tombs include Qasr Al-Ajouz, Qasr Al-Bint and Magnificent Qasr known as Al-Fareed.  Al-Fareed is the only tomb which has four pillars decorating the entrance as compared to the other larger tombs which traditionally have only two.







The tombs are set in Al-Diwan, the religious center of the Nabateeans, where they worshipped Allat and Manat.  A separate area not too far from the tombs was set up where they worshipped, had a temple and held various sacrifices.













Saudi Arabia’s Maida’n Salah – The Dig & Meeting the KSU Team

Maida’n Salah – The Dig & Meeting the KSU Team



Thanks to a very friendly fellow American in our group we were able to get a very special tour not typically open to tourists.  This friendly American from the South displayed his natural Southern charm and hospitality and over dinner the night before befriended some Saudis who were also guests at the Al Arac hotel.  These Saudis were part of a team conducting an archeological dig of an ancient civilization.  They so enjoyed their discussions with our American group member that they extended an invitation for our entire group to come and visit them at their site.  This was such a rare honor and special gift for all of us.



Before I describe the site it is worth mentioning about the archeological team itself.  Most of them are Saudi nationals.  They also had some Egyptian team members with experience at archeological digs as well.  Lastly there were some laborers primarily from Pakistan who had been trained to assist at the dig site.  A large composition of this archeological team were Saudi students from King Saud University.  All  of the students spoke very good English and although initially shy, they quickly warmed up and answered our questions about their work and their interest in pursuing archeology.  They are all excellent representatives of the Kingdom and their love of their field of study shown through as their faces become animated and eyes sparkled when they discussed their finds.









The site itself is immense and spans over a very very large area.  The team has begun excavation of a large village from an ancient civilization.  Because of the types of artifacts uncovered, including idols which were obviously worshiped, it is evident that these ancient residents had not discovered Islam.  The team leaders allowed us to enter their tents and look at their findings but we were requested not to take any photos of items within the tent itself.







In addition to the archeological dig in process, tombs of various sizes were also excavated from within the sides of the surrounding mountains.  These tombs were referred to as the Lion’s Tombs due to the markings of lions outside the entrances.








The excavation team are working tediously to carefully uncover, plot and record the history of the ancient civilization which in turn will give the Kingdom and the world a better understanding of these early people, their history and heritage.

Saudi Arabia’s Maida’n Salah at Sunset

Maida’n Salah at Sunset



After our group checked into our hotel at Maida’n Salah and had a quick lunch, our guide told us he had an outing in store for us he was sure we would all enjoy.  He was going to take us out into the desert for the sunset.  I, for one, am always game to go out into the desert and feel the sand squish up between my toes.  Something about such a simple act makes me feel so relaxed and peaceful!  However this was not just an ordinary foray into the desert near Maida’n Salah … no, not at all!  First of all, we all gathered good-naturedly in our “Offroad Bus” and eagerly looked forward to the journey.



The road we were on took us past setting after setting of spectacular scenery unlike any other I’ve ever seen.  After a short journey along the solitary road, our driver went off road and into the desert.  Here is where we got to see unusual unique rock formations.  I’m sure you will have to agree with me that these photos do bear resemblance to an elephant and a bowling pin!  You can also see so many other magnificent formations and their sheer height in the midst of the desert is a special creation unto itself.  It is easy to use ones imagination and see many visions while looking at all the differing formations.







As I walked in the sand in the fading light I noticed the various footsteps that had gone before me.  Did these people too see the same figures and characters in the rock formations as me?  I guess if one thinks about, one person might have seen a bowling pin and another person might have seen “Casper, the Friendly Ghost.”  Did those anonymous footsteps belong to someone else who like me found the desert a place to retreat, meditate and find total relaxation?






All too soon the sun began to set and this magnificent foray came to an end.  But what a wonderful way to start the beautiful and all-too-short weekend getaway at Maida’n Salah.








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