Well, here we are – already one month in Jeddah and I can’t say for sure where the time went! Things have been going so great for all of us.
Khozam Palace and Beit Naseef
One of the officers here at the Consulate is a bit of a history buff with a background in anthropology (or was it archaeology?) and she organizes these really amazing and unique cultural heritage outings for Consulate staff and families. A few weeks ago she arranged for us visit Khozam Palace, which was King Abdul Aziz’s palace in Jeddah built in the 1930s (Jeddah was the old capital – it later moved to Riyadh).
This palace was built outside of the walled “old” city of Jeddah, and it must have been the only such structure in the area. Now, it is surrounded by other urban structures because Jeddah expanded beyond the walls of the old city with the massive economic growth that has occurred in this country, most notably after the discovery of oil here. The palace has since been abandoned, and it is sort of falling apart – it is not a museum or anything like it – it is just an abandoned palace (if you can imagine that). We walked around the perimeter, traversing piles of trash and overgrown shrubbery, and even entered the building in some places, although it was filled with garbage. I guess squatters use it now. Either way, it was impressive. We then took a long walk out to what used to be the palace’s entry gate. It was an interesting outing.
Earlier this week, the same officer organized another outing – this time to Beit Naseef (Beit is the Arabic word for house, or home). This is the most famous merchant house in Old Jeddah, and it is the place where King Abdul Aziz stayed while his Jeddah palace (the one we visited the week prior) was being built.
Beit Naseef is not normally open to visitors but we made special arrangements with the Jeddah Municipality to host us there. This house was very impressive, about five stories high, and it even had a special stairway that camels used to use to ascend to the top floor to deliver their trade goods.
There was a reservoir on the ground floor that collects rain water and our host opened it up for us – but warned parents to not allow children to go near the edge of it. For the rest of the tour, Jacqueline kept asking me
“It’s deep, daddy? Daddy, it’s deep?” And I kept saying, “Yes, Jacqueline. It’s very deep.”
Michelle, Jacqueline, Jonathan and I really had a beautiful time in this picturesque structure and spending time with our Saudi host. He keeps a farm somewhere outside the city with many camels – he showed Jacqueline a video on his phone of one of the camels kissing him on the cheek and you can imagine she got a huuuuge kick out of that!
Our family’s favorite part, without a doubt, was when we all sat in the majlis, or sitting area, at the top of beit naseef, with an amazing view of old Jeddah, drinking tea with our Saudi host, watching the sun go down.
Then the call to prayer from what sounded like one hundred mosques boomed through the air and reverberated through the alleyways and buildings. Michelle and I looked at each other and we both agreed that no matter how well we describe this experience, it will fall short of actually being there, in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, in Old Jeddah. Certain experiences just don’t translate too well to Instagram, Facebook, or any other form of sharing – they are just meant to be savored with the ones who are there, in the moment. But don’t worry, we’ll send videos – hahaha ;).
One evening, a Consulate friend of mine introduced me to the world of dates. If you don’t know what a date is, don’t worry – I didn’t either – but they are the fruit that comes off of the date palm tree. They look sort of like a big raisin (I know that doesn’t sound that good – but believe me they are delicious), and from what I can tell Saudi dates are some of the best in the world. We went to the dates store across the street from the Consulate, which looked like a beautiful Parisian bakery, but the only thing they have there are dates – plain, with toffee, with almonds, chocolate covered, etc. They were delicious. They also have very tasty date milkshakes. I played a funny joke on Michelle when I came home. I told her, “Michelle, I need to tell you something. After work, I had a date.” Then I paused. I continued, “In fact, I had more than one.” Again, I paused. She was looking at me, perplexed, angry, but she only said “uh-huh.” I continued, “I even brought the dates home.” At that point, I could have continued on, letting the joke linger, but I was beginning to feel bad about it – so I told her, “come downstairs and I’ll show you the dates.” Then I presented her with the two plates of dates I bought. We both laughed very hard about that.
Work has been going well – I am hoping to round out my professional portfolio a bit more during this tour. For example, I am focusing specifically on security technology (like access control, alarm systems and CCTV systems) because these are areas of security program management that I have not had much experience with. Perhaps one day, I will try to make a jump to the corporate security world so to prepare, I have been looking at job announcements for major corporations, examining the job functions and requirements, and identifying specific skills within these requirements that I don’t have. During this tour, I will be strategic about trying to develop new skills that are aligned with what corporate employers want.
The threat environment here is quite serious. There have been ISIS, or ISIS-inspired attacks in the Kingdom over the past year or so, and other groups are certainly active here as well. A suicide bombing at a mosque a few hundred miles south of Jeddah killed 15 people last week, many of them Saudi security forces. So security is on everyone’s mind, as it should be.