Sunday, July 7, 2013

From Jeddah with Love!

They say first impression makes for the best impression. Undeniably it remains a lasting impression. I still remember the first impression of my better half (which was hardly to be found after that. it is that impression that I have to cling to at times, if you get what I mean ;)).
The first impression I had of Jeddah or Saudi Arabia as a country was anything to remember. After alighting from the flight, we had to take a 10 minute bus ride to reach the airport - one which makes calicut airport(a small airport in a small state of India) look mighty.  And then the sight - hordes of people in a snake like queue, many squatting and some even making the floor their bed, was anything but inviting. I was to wait through that queue to clear immigration! To make it worse there were no immigration officers. One would expect a little more from the countries biggest airport (in terms of passenger volume). Especially if the country is filled with oil wells!
To add to all this, when it actually came to the immigration counter, their system collapsed - software system! The officer in charge kept restarting for some time but all to no avail. Finally he gave up. Like as though it was a daily occurrence, he asked me to wait till the system was up and went for a smoke! That sort of summed it all - If something doesn't work, you have to wait. The duration of the wait varies depending on your luck. On that day however, I was lucky for their system regained life pretty quickly.
Now, if the airport scene was chaotic, the roads were even more. Cars jumping queues and driving over pedestrians. Bikes wheeling and racing. The indicators hardly in use. Now coming from India, this wasn't too surprising. But to see it in a Arab country was - perhaps I was expecting a little bit of order!
The chaos apart, as days pass by, I realise the different colours that make this place vibrant. Now of course, colours are not something that you'll see around. People here have taken a fierce liking to black and white- all around you will see women in black robes and men in white!

A walk through the mall can at times be a little discomforting - for you may fail to distinguish between your own woman and others! Needless to say, bird watching will simply not exist in this part of the world. In fact, if you were to go as a bachelor, many of the places will be prohibited for you. Mall food courts, few of the shopping arenas and parks are strictly reserved for families. And what's more, this is perhaps the only place in the world to have dedicated manpower to over see that no moral wrong takes place! Makes it all the more safer for women - or so is the argument.
Fittingly perhaps it is the colourless waters of Red sea that lends this city its charm. The long coastline buzzes with life at all times. Walkways, jogging tracks, lush green parks, well developed corniche all make for very lively places. On any day its a common sight to see people come and spend evenings by the corniche or parks - mostly with sheesha or barbeque or the ever famous Albaik chicken.

Now as much as the ills that plague this place, it is an oasis for many a people. For in spite of the numerous restrictions and the maddening laws that govern this place, swarms of people pour over to make their life better. It is in fact a testimony to the riches this place holds that so many immigrants unmindful of all that they are asked to do, labour on.
Oil apart, the industrial boom that is happening currently is unmatched in any other part of the Arab world. Paradoxically though, while the whole world scramble to make the most of the country's oil riches, their own citizens are left to wander. As with any other development story, the disparity in income is evident from the numerous hawkers knocking on tinted German,American and Japanese cars at almost every traffic joint.
Recently though the ruling class seem to have finally woken up to all this and have embarked on some ambitious reform programs. Mammoth funding to thrust development, sweeping reforms to address inefficiency and illegalities. The result is that on one hand there is an ocean of opportunity while on the other there is confusion and chaos regarding ever changing government rules. Like an announcement will be out in the papers that a new way of doing things have come out, without any hurdles in a single click but the bureaucrats handling the affairs may be completely unaware of any such change! 
Lastly about Makkah - a place that lends Saudi Arabia its unique identity and culture. The Haramain (in conjuction with Medina) as it is called in Arabic make up for all the other follies of the state. The government has left no stone unturned in making sure a visit to either of the place is hassle free and comfortable. A commendable job indeed. A visit to any of the Haram is enough to soothe your mind of any lingering troubles. From all the hopelessness that exists, they fill you with ocean loads of hope! At least in my case.
From Jeddah
With Love!