Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Eastern Province: Day One

Our first visit in the Eastern Province was to Al-Jubail Industrial City, about an hour away from our hotel in Al-Khobar. We met with representatives from the Royal Commission for Jubail and Yanbu (RCJY), which directly oversees the construction, operation and development of both industrial cities. The city is the largest civil engineering and construction project in the world ever attempted, with planning and development beginning in 1975 and still continuing to this day.
When we drove into Jubail, the industrial center stretched
 along the highway for miles and miles. 
The waterfront area in Jubail alongside the Gulf. 
The RCJY has now established a giant industrial park in Jubail with the largest seawater cooling system in the world, two world class ports, and advanced industrial infrastructure with the largest petrochemical complex in the world. The businesses in the industrial zone are classified into three areas, primary industries (ethane and methane petrochemcial and fertilizer manufacterers), secondary industries (plastics and synthetic materials producers), support and light industries (food services, shipping and packaging plants etc).

The residential area is equipped with everything a city needs: utilities, transportation, hospitals, schools, malls, and recreational areas. It's right on the Gulf and the RCJY has built beautiful waterfront and beachfront picnic areas full of greenery. It was really amazing to see what forty years of planning have achieved in Al-Jubail and my post barely captures how impressive this city made out of thin air really is. The RCJY projects that Jubail will be home to over 1.3 million people by the year 2040. The members of the commission made it clear that their goal was to make Jubail and Yanbu centers of business, living and entertainment where people want to live, work, and play.

After visiting Jubail, the group traveled back to our hotel in Al-Khobar to speak with an American woman who has been living in Saudi Arabia for over 40 years. Sally Alturki  married a Saudi national that she met while studying international relations in D.C. She ended up moving to Saudi Arabia with her husband and they opened up the Dhahran Ahliyyah School, a K-12 private school for boys and girls with an international, dual-language curriculum. The NCUSAR have a relationship with her through her school's participation in Model Arab League.

Sally Alturki had some really interesting things to say about being an American woman in Saudi Arabia. Of course she has felt restricted by the limitations placed on her as a woman in the country, but she said that she has never been made to feel like an outsider. She has always felt at home and welcome in her husband's family and in Saudi society. Here is an article I found online that she wrote if you find her story compelling: <http://www.ladahfoundation.org/article33.htm>. She had some great insights into changes in Saudi society, especially since 9-11,  and about the progress made for women over the past thirty years.

She echoed the theme of evolution not revolution in Saudi Arabia, the importance of slow but substantial changes that will keep the country stable. She fully acknowleged how lucky she was to have married a good man with an accepting family, when so many foreigners who marry Saudis end up in horrible situations. It was really touching to see how happy and fulfilled she was with her life in Saudi Arabia, though. She really loves her husband, the country and the people of Saudi Arabia. One thing that she wanted us to pass onto Americans was that although progress may not be in the way we may expect it or would like it to be, change is happening and there is a lot of hope for the future of the country.

After talking with Sally Alturki, we took a visit to the Prince Sultan Science & Technology Center (SCITECH) in Al-Khobar. It's basically a science museum, similar to ones you would find in the United States. It is affiliated with the King Fahd University of Petroleum & Petrochemicals in Dhahran, and its goal is to educate the community and promote interest in science and technology. We watched an IMAX film on Saudi Arabia and then were let loose around the center. We all became such children, running around playing with all of the different exhibits in SCITECH. Needless to say we all had a great time.

Inside SCITECH's main lobby.


Later today I'll try and post on my final day in the Eastern Province and in Saudi Arabia.

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