Home to over ten million expatriates, Saudi Arabia is at a crossroads. The Kingdom has a rich cultural heritage that makes everybody who has lived here, feel at home. I have lived my entire life along the Persian Gulf. My days have been dominated by the exotic beaches and never-ending parks bordering the huge water body.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was formed in 1932. The first King worked tirelessly to preserve the Arabian culture and traditions as we know today. His descendants–the ruling family–have been doing the same till today. Thus, within a few decades, the Kingdom has seen an astounding transformation from a desert nation to a modern and sophisticated one.
The city I grew up in–Dammam–is one of the major cities of the Eastern Province. My childhood memories are filled with coral islands near my house, tall date palms trailing roads, sand in my shoes, and shells of all shapes and colors that I would collect every day whenever we visited the beaches. Barbecue nights, expensive cars, long drives, and very hospitable Saudis–that’s the Saudi Arabia I grew up in.
Today’s Saudi Arabia is a culmination of different civilizations and Islamic traditions that have spanned over thousands of years. The Saudi life is dominated by Bedouin Traditions, especially their generosity and hospitality towards family and strangers alike.
As an expatriate in Saudi Arabia, I too, have experienced Saudi hospitality on numerous occasions. The best of which has always been the immense respect and privacy given to women regardless of their age. The traffic at a six-lane road stops for females to cross safely. I have never experienced unwanted attention from anybody because of my gender while living on the Arabian land. It’s the Arab culture and traditions that have instilled in them the trait of respect and kindness towards every soul–regardless of their ethnicity, caste, religion, or gender.
History of the Desert Nation
Since ancient times, Saudi Arabia has played a historical role as a trade centre in the Arabian Peninsula and as the birthplace of Islam. The location of the Saudi Arabia–sandwiched between the two great civilizations of the Nile River Valley and Mesopotamia–put it at the crossroads of the ancient world. When trade flourished, the Arab population grew and settled.
The great desert surrounding the Arabian land gave them a huge advantage over the powerful neighbours and prevented foreign invasions. Hence, political turmoil in Mesopotamia, Nile Valley and the eastern Mediterranean did not affect the goods and trade services of Arabs.
Desert Land to Modern City
After living in the Kingdom for more than a couple of decades, I bear testimony to the changes this land has been through. Skyrocketing buildings. Endless malls and museums. Cinema theatres, fashion week, women driving cars and the Saudi Season. The past decade lay in-store exciting surprises for everybody inside and outside of Saudi Arabia.
I vividly remember the early days of my exciting childhood here. For starters, there were no women on road driving cars. There were no cinema theatres inside the Kingdom. The closest was at half an hour distance from my home, in neighbouring Bahrain. We would go there on weekends to watch the latest release.
Now things have changed. A lot.
Opening the Doors to Entertainment
The Kingdom opened its doors to the entertainment industry in 2018. The first theatre opened in Riyadh, followed by many others across the country.
I visited the local theatre earlier this year. Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey was running that day. More than the movie, I was excited about being inside a theatre in Saudi Arabia for the first time. For me, the thrill of being in the crowd and watching the movie on a big screen was perhaps the biggest highlight of 2020.
The Jeddah Tower: World’s Tallest Building
Jeddah City will soon be home to the world’s tallest building, the construction of which is under progress. It will be the first work of architecture to reach one-kilometre height. The project is expected to be completed by the end of 2020.
The Saudi Seasons
The Saudi Seasons aims to attract tourists from all over the world. Over eleven cultural events have been hosted across the country in the past couple of years. Each season was themed on heritage and culture that is unique to Saudi Arabia.
I had the good fortune of visiting the Easter Province Season last year. There were many cultural performances, sports events, competitions, exhibitions, conferences, seminars and celebrations of all kinds during the month’s long season. Despite the strong winds and drizzle that followed the first few nights, the gathering was huge. My family and I made it a point to not leave out any celebration, at least not during the weekends.
The exhibition showcased hundreds of art pieces, including Da Vinci’s original sketches. Those stunning creations stole the spotlight. At one evening, there was a light show for kids to watch. There were other evenings that ended in fireworks. On one such night, my siblings and I held on to each other to witness another shell to break and light up the whole sky.
That is when I realized something.
I noticed how the crackers, before breaking, are at a crossroads–they are uncertain whether they will ignite or will fall off without burning at all–exactly like Saudi Arabia. The Arab Land is now transitioning from the past towards the future. But it is not at the crossroads. It is the crossroads of the two worlds – keeping their rich legacy and moving towards a promising tomorrow.
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