As most of you know, I have been living in Saudi Arabia for the past 14 months. It has been a crazy year and I have tried to share as much as it as I can with you all, but sometimes things go undocumented. It is usually the unique cultural experiences that I cannot capture in photos. I am always wary to bust out by big camera in this country as modesty and conservatism are the foundations of this society. As I am a guest here, I want to respect the local culture even if it often feels completely foreign to anything I understand and perhaps agree with. This is what sets travelers apart. Those that recognize that every place is different and has different rules, and those that try to superimpose their preconceived notions of right and wrong on people and cultures that they don't understand. Of course, one should not try to convince oneself that human rights should be violated or that oppressive regimes should be tolerated. But, when you view people and how they live day to day and how they interact with each other and what God they pray to and what clothes they wear and food they eat, I think you should be respectful. Do not tell them they are wrong, do not try to disrobe them, do not turn your nose up at their food, because who are you to say what is right and wrong?
I was lucky enough to have a truly unique Saudi experience this weekend. AND I was able to capture it on my little point-and-shoot. One of my friends and her husband took me to the Old City of Jeddah, Al Balad. I had been here briefly before, but going with Saudis allowed me to more fully explore the sights and smells and tastes of this 400 year old neighborhood. Full of spices and meats and veggies and fruits and clothes and shoes and everything in between, it is impossible to take it all in as you stroll across the centuries old cobblestones. The frankincense is tucked in between the barbies and hair dryers, the old men sell ancient stick toothbrushes next to the woman selling tupperware, frilly dresses line the shop in a building that has been standing longer than my country has been a country. The people are equally as colorful. There are Filipino workers, and Ethiopian immigrants, and Moroccans and Sudanese and Somalians, and one little girl from Indiana. It is an amazing place this Al Balad.