Thursday, January 2, 2014

An Unforgettable New Year's Eve

While visiting the Princess Al Anood Foundation we met Hammam, the manager of Warif and the Youth Development program for the foundation. Another fellow, Westyn, was talking to him about wanting to buy a thobe and kufiyah (traditional male Saudi clothing). Hammam was kind enough to offer to take him shopping around the old souq in Riyadh. Many of us thought that Hammam would be too busy to follow through, but sure enough he showed up at our hotel around 9pm to take us shopping. He helped all of us bargain and haggle with the shop owners to get good prices for souvenir goods. Two of the guys in our group ended up buying thobes and kufiyahs.

Hammam showing us around the shops.
Many of the stores have been redone,
but the shopping area is a part of the old district in Riyadh.
Me in a shop with some wonderful souvenir goods! 
The night didn't end with shopping though, Hammam took us to a Lebanese Restaurant on Al-Tahlia Street in Riyadh. He wouldn't accept the fact that we hadn't eaten outside of our hotel yet and insisted that he treat us to some Arabic food. Apparently many young Saudi men and women meet on Al-Tahlia Street. We saw gangs of young boys aimlessly walking up and down the main road. Hammam told us that if they see pretty girls they walk up to them and hand them their phone numbers. Dating isn't really accepted in Saudi Arabia but many young people, with the help of technology, can carry out relationships using their cell phones and the internet.

The food at the restaurant was delicious and the first time that any of us had eaten outside of our hotel. Hammam ordered many different Arabic dishes and we happily ate them all. I tried a mint lemonade drink that was lovely, more delicious than even Saudi sangria or champagne. We celebrated the New Year with a quick cheer, but the holiday is not really celebrated in Saudi Arabia. By the time we left the restaurant it was 12:30pm and the streets had mostly cleared out. Hammam was nice enough to even pay for our meal!

Our New Year's Eve picture with Hammam. 
Going out into Riyadh was a great experience, allowing us to really explore the city. Our group visits to universities and other institutions have been interesting, but it was wonderful to be able to speak with a real Saudi, and hear his personal opinions and views.  Hammam was very open and candid with his answers to our questions and he had some really interesting insights into Saudi society and culture. I am continually blown away by Saudi hospitality and friendliness, and our outing with Hammam will be a New Year's Eve that I won't soon forget.

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