Thursday, July 12, 2012

My Saudi Experience

I wrote this report in October 2011 after returning from the International Peace in Jeddah.

When you think of going for a holiday, i'd imagine Saudi Arabia probably doesn't make most people's top 10, does it? It certainly had it for me but in August 2011 I saw an article on looking for applications for a Peace Camp in Saudi Arabia. Never one to turn down an opportunity, I signed up not really expecting to get picked.

So off myself and Noel Synott went to the desert for 10 days. Over the next few days we got to meet our fellow delegates from Georgia, Iceland, Denmark, Italy, Estonia, Romania, Sweden, Slovakia, Ukraine, India, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Nepal, Japan, Columbia and Nicaragua as well as our hosts the Saudis. The Peace Camp is in fact several small camps taking place around the country with the largest (including the International Sub Camp) taking place just outside the King Abullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), near Jeddah.

Camping in Saudia Arabia is a strange experience. We had large tents, lined with Arabian rugs and fitted with Air Con and electricity. Over the next few days we were brought around to various places such as local Scout Campsites, Schools, Museums, a local bazaar, a (very modern shopping centre), the KAUST campus, a volcanic spring and the Jeddah City Centre. We also got to do several water activities in the Red Sea. One of the things I noticed was the difference in lifestyle between those in the countryside and those living/working/studying in KAUST. Two places only a few miles apart yet thousands of light years away from each other in reality. 

To describe it as a culture shock was an understatement. I don't mean that it in a negative way. Most people look at the Middle East as being quiet backwards and this isn't nessecarily the case. Its a different place with different history, culture, traditions etc. The people of the Middle East probably thing everything we do is crazy.

I found our hosts to be very friendly if a little too friendly. The idea of personal privacy seems to vary. We found young people were for ever coming up and taking pictures of us. We were a novelty (the token white people) and it was just something we would have to get used to for our stay. That said the people around our own age were incredibly nice, respectful and helpful. I did notice a big difference between attitudes of older people (more conservative) and younger people (more liberal, question authoring of the king) which was interesting to note.

On our last full day at the camp we were visited by members of the World Scout Foundation including the Swedish King and Queen who were lovely people. That night we were involved in the official launch of the Messengers of Peace Programme at KAUST.

On a negative note, I found the trip to be a wasted opportunity of sorts. Here you had Rover Scouts from across the world and it could have been a perfect chance to get some really amazing work done on developing MoP projects. That said, I hope to build on the connections made.

From this trip I've made some contacts and more importantly some great friends. Thanks to Scouting Ireland and the Saudi Boy Scout Association for this experience.

For more on the Messengers of Peace check out For my photos check here.

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