After the meeting we were served lunch, which of course included Arabic coffee, tea, and a variety of juices. While eating we were able to have a brief conversation with the political science professor who told us how hard it is to create an NGO in Saudi Arabia. In America, it takes less than a week he said, but in Saudi you could spend your whole life trying to create one if you don't have the right connections (واسْطة). He said that NGOs are very important for countries development processes and he hoped that the institutional barriers would be removed in the future so that more could be created.
The university seemed to have a high number of scientific research centers, and placed a lot of focus on research, innovation, and ingenuity.We visited one research center that had sections ranging from hereditary diseases research (a problem in Saudi because marrying your cousin is still too common), to immunology, stem cell research and osteoporosis. One interesting thing about the center was that men and women worked side by side with each other. I almost felt as though we saw more women researchers than men, which is a great sign for the country's future. We were even introduced to two female high school students who were doing research at the facility already, which was very impressive.
After KAU we went to Effat University, an all-female university named after Queen Effat, the wife of late King Faisal. We met with some of the students, faculty members, and other women at the college and ate lunch with them. One of the students we met was the head of the college's shura council, their version of student government. Seeing the students interested in student government, a small form of political participation, was interesting to see. Many of the faculty members had studied in the United States, and hoped to return there someday soon. Several of the students also hoped to study in the United States and I spoke to one who was looking to get her masters in economics there in the future. She asked me where the best colleges were for economics, but honestly I wasn't sure which ones in the United States were best other than the University of Chicago or maybe some Ivy Leagues.
|A photo of the group with some of the students and faculty |
from Effat University. (Posted on the university's facebook page).
After both of our university visits we returned to our hotel for some dinner. After our meal we all decided to smoke some shisha (hookah) at a cafe next to our hotel. We smoked in a beautiful patio area which had a huge TV screen with some Arabic music videos playing from artists like Nancy Ajram. We all pushed several couches together and took turns smoking shisha flavors like grape and double apple. It was a beautiful night, smoking in a gorgeous outdoor area with the stars and the moon shining brightly. Towards midnight, a friend of one of the other fellows met up with us. He had gone to a university in the United States with her several years ago and since had moved back to Saudi Arabia to work for Aramco. He brought his brother with him and we had a chance to openly talk with them about how young Saudis interact with the opposite sex and what they do for fun. They had very similar things to say to Hammam, the other Saudi we've spoken to about such things in Riyadh.
|Shisha smoking! (Taken from Maddison's facebook)|
Overall, our drive around Jeddah was a surreal experience, swerving around traffic at one in the morning. It felt like a dream as we sped around listening to techno music and mixes of Rihanna's "We Found Love". I never thought I would have an experience like that in Saudi Arabia, which just shows how ignorant even I can be. You always have to remember that no matter where you are in the world, people are people, and young men and women will find a way to enjoy themselves no matter what the social restrictions may be.