Our new friends from the corniche called us on Friday afternoon and informed us that the invitation to ride four-wheelers on the dunes was being accompanied by an invitation to share a Saudi cookout. Accepting that offer didn't take a whole lot of consideration on our part.
They picked us up from the hotel at about 3:30 in the afternoon on Saturday and we headed south out of the city and east into the interior. After a 45 minute drive and some heated negotiations in Arabic with the owners of the four wheelers, us and our new friends were driving, and sometimes flying, over the dunes of the outskirts of Jeddah. A solid hour of pure joy ensued.
After returning the four-wheelers, brushing the sand out of our hair, and comparing stories about hang-time and top speeds, we headed back out for the cookout.
Our group of friends were all recent graduates of the Saudi Naval Academy and are working in Jeddah as new officers. They shared many interesting insights into Saudi culture and we were able to answer alot of questions that they had about America. Some of them had never met an American before! We swapped stories, learned some Arabic phrases, sipped on coffee and laughed back and forth until the food was ready. When the food was finally set out at about 10pm, we were blown away. Talk about a feast! We all sat in a circle on a carpet in the sand and dug in with our hands. The chicken was grilled to perfection. They treated us with utmost hospitality. Chad commented that in all of his world travels, he has never been treated with so much hospitality. I would have to agree. There is something special about these people. They met us in a public place and didn't know us at all and two days later treated us like princes. This experience only strengthened our growing love for the Saudi people. They truly are a beautiful people and a joy to be with.
In typical Saudi fashion, we stayed out until after midnight and didn't get in bed until just after 1am. From what I gather, this is even considered early to some. It's fascinating to see the streets, malls, and shops open after midnight. In reality, some are just getting started at this time, even on the weekdays!
This Saudi evening was combined with an early morning the next day. We spent all day on Sunday touring King Abdulaziz University, a huge beautiful campus with 70,000 students, and talking about the potential of Arabic study here in the future. It was exciting to talk with the instructors and investigate the program. Jordan and I both have an interest in Arabic language so we enjoyed the short afternoon of Arabic basics that we were privileged to participate in.
The trip truly has been a success and a joy. Being in Saudi has been a tremendous pleasure so far. The last two days have left us pretty whipped, so we are taking a few hours this afternoon to rest. We have to be well rested for tonight because we are going to an authentic Hijazi home tonight and sharing a home cooked meal. No doubt we may again see the wee hours of the morning. I'm looking forward to sharing tonight's events!
- Joe, for the sleeping team