We had some visiting scientists here a few weeks ago so we decided to show them Balad and take care of a bit of Christmas shopping (past posts about Al Balad here and here). I really love going to Balad (though not too often). There is just so much going on. It is an interesting mix of historic Jeddaoi culture with heavy influences of immigrants. The narrow stone-paved streets dating back to the Otoman empire wind like a labyrinth taking you further and further south into the city. Shop keepers hawk their wares- spices, abayas, textiles, cheap china- made toys, electronics, shoes, pots and pans and everything in between. Curious faces peak around corners to take a look at the oh-so-conspiculously-western people walking down the street. Intense poverty rains. Women with too many mouths to feed, begging for food. Skinny children looking for candy or trying to sell you a stick of gum. Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Indian men with wide eyes. Balad is not exactly a nice place, but I guess I like it because it isn't nice. It isn't glittery and expensive like Mall of Arabia, it is raw and alive and all of the woes of the world are right there to see, they aren't hiding. I think it would be a horrible place to live and it would be overwhelmingly sad to visit everyday, but I think it is good to go to these types of places sometimes to remember what is important and to realize how fortunate we all are.