Saudi Arabia (المملكة العربية السعودية‎) 1986-1989

Three years on the other side of a story.

The culture is something that Westerners often find hard to understand. A culture where a stranger will pick up and embrace a child, your child, and not be considered a risk. A culture where a woman, once 12 years of age, will abandon her coloured silk dresses and cover herself in black cloth, and not allow men, with the exception of her own husband, to see her face. Where men wear dresses and headscarves. Where walking into a hospital is like walking into Europe. A culture revolving around its religion, where each follower stops their work to pray five times a day. A culture that forbids alcohol and pornography, and encourages a spiritual life, yet allows a man to have four wives.

This is the country where my two year old sister drowned in an outdoor swimming pool (built around an oasis), and the locals looked on in shocked confusion as she was brought back to life using CPR. Surely it was the will of Allah that she was destined to die? Where crimes are punished severely, and foreigners are sometimes warned that they could be found to blame simply for being there.

The country's television, postcards, calendars, all filled with images of waterfalls, rivers, and lush valleys. A contrast against the reality of deserts, nomads, gold, and oil. The daily news begins with several minutes of reports about how The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, His Majesty King Fahd ibn Abdul Aziz Al Saud, had sent or received letters of thanks between leaders of other nations. Following which the lesser news of international disasters or conflicts.

A country where passing your driving test involved just reversing between bollards. Where driving involves trying to keep so close to the car in front that other drivers will not squeeze into the gap, because they will. Where the campaign to improve driving involves moving all crashed cars to the side of the road to remind other drivers to "Be careful, be safe".

In the media, we are presented with the darker view, much like the way that films produced by Hollywood like to have "the bad guy" with a British accent. We are presented with one side of a story, and very few of us have the chance to see the other side. I am honoured to have had that chance, and I hope that to some extent, this series of galleries can extend that chance to you.

As a child aged from 6 to 9 years old, I lived with my family in Saudi Arabia, while my father helped IBM develop Arabic language support in computers. For three years, we lived amongst the Arabs, and shared their lives.

A year after we left the country, Saddam Hussain invaded Kuwait, and The Gulf War began. Before its end, scud missiles would be landing in Al Khobar, where we used to spend our weekends. Over the next 15 years, things would go from bad to worse with a series of bombings targetting Westerners like ourselves (though mostly those living in walled compounds intentionally separated from the locals and their culture, not amongst them), in Riyadh and Al Khobar. Though these may or may not have ended now, many Westerners feel the country is not safe enough for them to live there.

Finding these pictures was like finding treasure. As with the pictures of Nepal, they are all scanned from slides or prints, which have been well kept for the last 20 years. However, I can make no promises. Given their age, these slides are in excellent condition, but what is deemed excellent in slides, is not what we deem excellent in the age of digital photography. Some had suffered significant permanent damage from water and mold. I have attempted restoration where possible, but please forgive any damage that I have been unable to remove.

I could not pick which were best for desktop wallpapers like I normally would. All the pictures are available at around 2000 x 1300 resolution, so if you want one to use for your desktop wallpaper, please get in touch.

So to begin, I shall start with the conversation; how just about every conversation starts and possibly ends, amidst much embracing and cheek kissing:

I hope that I have not stepped too far into your personal bubble. On to the pictures. The following map should help you to locate the various places that the pictures cover: [Map of Saudi Arabia]