Alot has happened since I was last able to write about our whereabouts. Let me begin where I left off.
The home-cooked meal that we were able to share with the Hijazi family was glorious. There were three tables of food with at least a dozen different dishes and not one of them were bad! We thoroughly enjoyed our time with the family and count it a privilege to have been able to share the evening with them. After we finished eating we shared tea and coffee with them and had rich conversations. As we were leaving we found it difficult to put into words how thankful we really were. Once more, true Saudi hospitality exceeded our highest expectations!
The days since then have been filled with many enjoyable and fulfilling activities. We reconnected with our friends from the desert and spent one evening at a coffee shop exchanging stories and building our relationship with a couple of them. We look forward to staying connected with these new friends even after we return to the states. Who knows, maybe one day we will have connections with several generals in the Saudi Navy. They are phenomenal guys and I would not be surprised if they went far.
The next day we were blessed to have the opportunity to share breakfast with a Muslim university professor who was well-learned in Islam. He was very educational and we were able to ask questions that we had been formulating during our time here. Our conversation with him was interesting and rich. That evening we shared coffee with an Imam from a local mosque. He, too, was a joy to talk to. Hopefully we will have the pleasure of having more conversations with men like these in the future.
Currently we are in the middle of our final endeavor in Saudi Arabia. Yesterday we made the nine hour drive north to a town named Al-Ula. With a population much less than Jeddah, it has more of a small-town feel. The village atmosphere is really neat. Our reason for coming here was to observe and experience Mada'in Saleh, an archaeological excavation of over 100 tombs and wells from the Nabatean kingdom. This civilization dates back to the first century A.D. and is surprisingly well-preserved. Mada'in Saleh, a twenty minute drive from our hotel, was the second largest and southernmost city of this ancient civilization. Also on the grounds of the reservation where the tombs are preserved is one of the main railroad stations from the Hejaz railroad, a north-south railroad running over 800 miles from Damascus to Medina. The railroad was in operation from 1901-1920. Initially it was supposed to continue all the way to Mecca in order to aid Muslims on the Hajj, but construction was interrupted due to the outbreak of World War I. Perhaps you have heard the story of this interruption from the video documenting the life of the British army officer who led the attacks, Thomas Edward Lawrence, also known as Lawrence of Arabia.
This land is rich and truly does have a special place in my heart. The people and culture, though very different from what I call familiar, are extremely beautiful and rewarding to be a part of.
Joe, once again, on behalf of all