Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

In 1985, we moved temporarily to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Gene worked there as the director of a project to modernize and expand the ambulance services provided in the Kingdom by the Saudi Red Crescent Society. Ellen worked as a librarian at the Saudi Arabian International School in Riyadh (SAIS-R), the "American School".

We were there under the sponsorhip of the United States-Saudi Arabian Joint Economic Commission, which provided American assistance to Saudi government agencies requesting it. When we were first there, there were over a hundred US families under the Commission sponsorship.

There are many pictures and stories of our time there. In brief, it was a chance to see and become involved with a very different and interesting and ancient culture. We carry many fond memories of our time there. During our stay, we traveled to England and the Canary Islands and even did a safari in Kenya. You can see pictures from that trip here. We left in 1987.

Gene returned in the mid 1990s as a consultant and had the good fortune to spend time in the southern region, the Asir, which we had not seen on our first tour. Things had changed, however, since the Gulf War, and the country was struggling with many issues.

These pictures are a few that show aspects of the Kingdom, which may suprise you.

  This is the Saudi Arabia of popular image. These pictures are from the area just to the west of Riyadh, where the "escarpment" at the edge of the city gives way to mesas reminescent of the US southwest, and then to the drifting red sands of the desert.  
  The cliffs around Riyadh are sedimentary rock, limestone, left from the days the desert was ocean floor. When we camped in the area, we were surrounded by fossils of marine life and coral.  
  Further east from Riyadh, after the sand dunes become the landscape, there is "graffiti rock", one of several large rock outcroppings or boulders partially covered with petroglyphs. The age of the markings is not known, but some of the animals pictured are extinct for thousands of years. There is at least one other similar site in the Kingdom.  
  All the way to the west coast of the Kingdom is Jeddah. For many years, the major trading and entry city in the country, it is more cosmopolitan than Riyadh. When we were there, the embassies were only slowly relocating to Riyadh, preferring the less conservative Jiddah to the more traditional Riyadh. Jeddah has lovely beaches and highways with sculpture in the roundabouts -the "Corniche". Because of the Islamic strictures against representing the human form in art, much of the scupture was quite abstract or represented other aspects of life. One of the roundabout displays is a DeHavilland Vampire military jet.  

The Red Sea. To the left, is the surf at one of the rock lined beaches. The skin diving was incredible, with multiple reefs and glorious fishes.

To the right it the beach of the Al Bilad Hotel, a favorite of the westerners.

  A bustling city of several million, Riyadh had traditional markets (Souks) and homes, as well as marble covered ministry buildings along Airport Road. Every kind of cuisine was to be had there, as well as world-class shopping.  
One of thousands of strip malls in the city. Many of the Saudis we met were quite entrepreneurial and thrived in business. The 747 sold bootleg audio tapes and was a favorite stop for the returning college students.    
There were mosques everywhere. Some of the Saudis who had visited the US commented favorably that there were so many churches in US towns and cities - "just like home". But in the Kingdom, non-muslims were not permitted to enter a mosque.    
Night in Riyadh. The traffic never stopped. Driving there was quite an adventure, but not so bad as Boston.    

The western coast of Saudi Arabia has a fertile plain backed by mountains with inland desert, much as the US coast of California. To the south, the mountains become more prominent, and this region is know as the Asir. The lowlands (the Tihama) were plagued by malaria and other tropical diseases. In the mountains, the pulmonary diseases of high altitude were found. Not at all desert, this region was called "Arabia Felix" (Happy Arabia) by the Romans, and blends into Yemen to the south.

Gene spent some time in Al Baha, and these pictures are from that region.

  The inhabitants of these mountain valleys used terraces and irrigated the land from wells and springs. The terraces are everywhere, and only just now giving way to the expanding towns and cities.  

Some of the terraces made of dry laid stone. You can get a sense of the height of these walls from the flat stone steps set into the walls.

Sometimes stairs in a house were similarly inset into the wall. Clever.

Everywhere, there are watchtowers where the men would keep lookout for raiding parties from rival tribes.
One of the many irrigation wells, hand dug, sometimes to incredible depths, in the solid rock.
Today, the towers are crumbling from neglect, but the wells are still in use to irrigate crops.
  Typical older houses of the region. Both these were lived in, but the younger Saudis favored modern homes with air conditioning and running water.  
Marble Village
  Several hours drive from Al Baha, in the mountains, is an old village built on an outcropping of white rock and called by its nickname, the Marble Village. It appeared deserted when I toured it, but there is a working banana plantation just below it, irrigated from a spring that gushes forth out of the rock above and behind the village. This is one of the most lovely and remarkable places on the planet.  
The "source" of the irrigation water
Trees growing along the canal
The irrigation canal passing through the farm.