Firstly, before I go into weird anecdotes, I should point out that going to Saudi Arabia was, on the whole, amazing. I've been for umrah before, but I don't think I appreciated it, being younger and all. Everything about Makkah is frenzied and crazy, and the people are angry, and you hear nothing but beeping and shouting. You join the huge crowd of people walking towards the mosque and you're basically carried along. But once I was inside the mosque, I felt so awed I couldn't even talk. Madinah, as a city, is the total opposite- incredibly peaceful and quiet both outside and inside the Mosque. Even the Imams seem to take their time when they lead the prayer. Both places were beautiful in their own way, but by the end I felt more attached to Madinah, just because you're so detached from the world there.
So now, onto noteworthy things:
- Heat: I cannot describe how utterly cooked we were :| It ranged from mid to high 40s during the day, to lows of 37 at night.
- Typos/weird phrasing: Being an English-speaking person in Makkah/Madinah is very funny, because anything written in English tends to be horrendously wrong. One shop declared 'ANYONE 2 RIYAALS', which gave me horrific images of children hung up on display with 2 Riyaal price tags. There was also a 'Shopping Canter', and a 'Fruniture Van'.
- "Iran?": I was asked this exactly 6 times, by various Arab women. It wasn't a problem until we got to the Mosque in Madinah, and the woman in charge was separating people by nationality. She tried to pull me away from my mum and cousins, insisting that I was just pretending to be Pakistani. We shouted 'PAKISTAN' at her with no effect, until my mum's younger sister gestured wildly at our salwaars, proving conclusively that we were not Arabs because we dressed like Pakis. She seemed to be satisfied with this and let me go. *shrugs* Paki clothes win! Oh, and there was the street trader who I tried to buy a bottle of water off, who told me the price in Farsi. When I didn't understand he got unaccountably very angry, and started screaming at me in Farsi :| I hid behind the brother and ran away. He continued to scream after me.
- T-shirts : There was a real trend amongst Saudi teenage boys for T-shirts with English slogans. The problem is, they tended to have bought any shirt with English on it, with no knowledge of what it said, confident that they looked pretty damn cool. Some slogans on t-shirts were as follows: 'Music makes me dance', 'I love my shirt....and you.', 'Wildness in Progress', 'Resist anything but temptation', 'Rockaholic', and 'Perfect Match'. I had a good laugh, especially at the more camp ones, and got nothing but puzzled and then gradually flattered looks in return.
- Bazaars: Yes. The street traders in general were just...dodgy. Perverse, and actually dodgy- they scrambled to pack up stuff and leave whenever the police drove past. And they'd call us as we went past- one made me laugh when he shouted 'Doctor!', which I think was meant to flatter me and my cousin into going over..? (Or he was having a heart attack and we just ignored him). They also watched like hawks for any sign that we were English, in order to rip us off. I was ripped off several thousand times. Not that I bought anything other than Pepsi and ice cream the whole fortnight :)
- Traffic system: Or should I say, the lack thereof. There is no system. Cars just bottleneck, and drive on pavements/over pedestrians to get where they need to be. And if you're walking, you do not stop when you come to a road. That would be ridiculous. You march out and expect cars to stop for you. I lost count of the number of times I thought I was going to die as the cousins lead us out in front of speeding traffic. That King of the Road hedgehog would've had a coronary.
- Taxis: Taxi rides were actually exciting, just because our lives hung by a thread whenever we were in one. I actually loved the battered/worn feel of everything in Makkah and Madinah, the taxis especially. Suspension was just a silly word that nobody had heard of. The seats were torn with stuffing poking out. There were no seatbelts. Rarely any air conditioning. To hail a taxi, we just stood at the side of a busy road, and taxis driving past beeped at us. Fares were negotiated then and there, with the driver shouting to my dad whilst holding up a mile of angry traffic behind him, and then he usually drove off because my dad realised he was ripping us off. Good times :D Beats any taxi I've ever caught in Leicester.
- The boy who jumped on our taxi: Yes. We'd stopped at a red light, under a bridge, when suddenly there was a thud as somebody jumped from it and hit our van, then a clattering as he climbed up the back of our van and onto the roof. The driver jerked to a halt (almost throwing him off the roof) and made him get down. We watched from inside as the boy (aged about 12) ran in circles around the taxi, and the driver chased him, in true Tom and Jerry style. He then let the boy sit IN the taxi, saying he'd rather give him a free ride than have the boy fall off the roof to his death. So the boy sat amongst the 10 of us, looking very sheepish. This was incredibly strange.
- Valley of Jinn- We'd been told there was a 3 mile stretch of desert just outside Madinah where, if you drove your car there and put it in neutral, the car would be 'pushed' out of that area by some invisible force. Our group was on a sightseeing day, when the coach driver agreed to take us there to see it. It was just a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, with desert on either side and mountains in the distance. He drove along the 3 mile stretch for some time, then turned the coach round, put it in neutral and got out of his seat. And seriously, our coach started moving :| It accelerated up to about 60mph by itself, driving in a straight line along perfectly flat land until we were out of that 3 mile area. This was very freaky and I cannot explain it.
- Women in Madinah- It's a sad fact that when you go in to the women's area of the Mosque to see the place where the Prophet is buried, it's always a heaving frenzy. There's a serious danger of stampedes, and it tends to be down to the huge Arab women who come in screaming, despairing groups of about 40, and push and shove and step over people to fight their way to the front. Not that I'm just blaming the Arabs, a lot of women push, but they just went over the top when I was there. And it's pretty sickening to see people behaving like that in such a sacred place, where you're supposed to keep your voice down out of respect. I almost came to blows (unintentionally) with a woman who I tapped on the shoulder to tell her to stop shoving me. She got in my face and started shouting in Arabic (apparently saying 'WHAT DID YOU PUSH ME FOR? WHO ARE YOU ANYWAY?!' according to my cousin later.) and this was very scary because she was built like a truck. I did not make that mistake again.
|The view from our hotel balcony in Madinah.|
|The complimentary Gecko that came with our room in Madinah.|
|Sunrise in Makkah|
So yeah. That's about it for Saudi- a very abridged version.
The week following my return has been pretty frantic, involving the Wolves crew, and Aunty Em getting all self conscious about blog comments (I was joking!), and Baby Bear being extra cute and Hasan being effeminate, and family gossip and sleepovers at my grandmas, joyful reunions, and my first ever car 'accident' and a GIT of a trolley boy at Asda. But that's going to have to be in the next blog because I have talked WAY too much now :)
Over and out! *waaaves*