Voyage and a Joyous Residence

My introduction to life in the Middle East was a reunion vacation in laissez-faire Doha, Qatar. Men and women move about freely, traffic is orderly, and dress is expected to be modest but you see about everything. For a taste of the range, here’s a man in a thobe beside an ice rink at the mall, and the Arabic children in their various outfits doing all the skating.

Skating rink at City Center Mall, Doha, Qatar

I doubt adults would skate much. Long-gown attire is not well suited to ice skating, though it sure would look great, don’t you think?

For a little more variety, here’s the tourist crowd at the Museum of Islamic Art (extraordinary place–a separate post at some point) waiting for sunset and the buildings to light up:

Waiting for sunset over Doha, Qatar

Things are not like that in Saudi Arabia, where women are required to wear an abaya, which in its simplest form looks like this:

Abaya, plain black

(“AAB abayas give you classic style from day to evening”!)

How seriously that “requirement” is taken depends on geography. It’s taken seriously in Riyadh. I didn’t know how seriously it would be taken at the Qatari border. I didn’t have one yet. I was nervous about the border-crossing process with my new visa, my many plastic tubs and suitcases, my technically forbidden personal scriptures (safely without the equally forbidden stuffed animals, though), and now without an abaya. As it turned out, I had a harder time crossing into Canada a few years ago. (We aroused concern, best as we could figure, because hadn’t been to Canada in fifteen years.) Nothing but smiles and pleasantries and zero interest in anything beyond asking what was in the bins. (“Clothes and kitchen things.”) Still, not knowing ahead of time that that would be the case, I didn’t want to arouse concern by being too camera-happy, so you’ll have to take my word for it. This is what the sign said as I crossed the Saudi border:

WELCOME TO SAUDI ARABIA
VOYAGE AND A JOYOUS RESIDENCE

I like it. That’s what I’m here for, and according to the sign, what they want me to have.

A lot of signs flew by too fast for me to get pictures. “Drifting Sand,” for example:

Drifting Sand, road to Riyadh

I had to Google for this image. I landed on this great blog, Reflections in the Sand. This author took the same trip in the reverse (you can see a map on that site as well), and was quicker with the camera than I was. Qatar is where you find these signs; in Saudi Arabia the condition is assumed, I guess, without advisory signs.

The camel crossing signs, for which I have to thank the same post, also passed by too quickly to catch:

Camel crossing, road to Riyadh

My first free-range camels were too far away for a picture, but were clustered in the two-inch-wide strips of shade from a steel power-line tower, bless them. I deduced pretty quickly that the signs are as necessary as deer or antelope crossing signs in the U.S. The camels are everywhere.

Camels on the road to Riyadh

And somehow, they’re living on that. Plus some government hay, part of a Saudi support-the-Bedouin-tradition program. But we wouldn’t have camels at all if their ancestors hadn’t been capable of living on that. This is a desert like I’ve never seen. Mile after mile after mile of this scenery, which is not even the part of the country referred to on the map as “the empty quarter.” The Mohave is an Eden. Nevada, Arizona, southern Utah are nothing close.

But at the end, we came home. I stepped out into my back yard to see this:

The back yard view

Bouganvillea and palm. I spent my childhood in Southern California, but have spent my arguably long adulthood in the Midwest and Mountain West. So it turns out that my trip halfway around the world has taken me all the way back home. Nice trip, then.

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