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Celebrating 10 years of my life’s journey in the desert…

10th

It’s hard for me to believe, but today marks my 10th year in Saudi Arabia and my 10th year working at the National Aquaculture Group (formerly the National Prawn Company). In some ways, it seems like only yesterday when my wife (upon her insistence) dropped me at NAIA Terminal 1 with mixed feelings of excitement and jitter in my heart. All I knew was that I was travelling to work for just one contract of 2 years in the world’s largest fully integrated desert aquaculture project. I wasn’t conscious about my position or work status as I was charmed with the thought of working in one of the best aquaculture company. Armed with almost 20 years of experience in shrimp culture and operation and my academic background in Fisheries Business management from the premier university of the country, I knew I would have what it takes to be a star aquaculturist. But during my recruitment interview with the GM (now the CEO of the Company), he already made it known that he was going to hire me not for a technical position but for another role. I was uneasy because I signed a contract that designated me as Coordinator for Grow Out Logistics and Coordination, a new field for me.

Ten years ago today, I flew in to Saudi Arabia as a newbie with a freshly-learned supply chain and logistics management theories in my head and jitters in my heart; I was nervous about how to deliver my KPIs and terrified about whether I could add value to my work! That mixed feeling prevailed even more when I learned that my designation was Manager and not a Coordinator. It wasn’t long before the jitters left, my nerves subsided and I was delivering my KPIs. Within 2 years, I was promoted as Head of Department, a position which I still hold until today but in three different departments with different fields of expertise.  It hasn’t always been a smooth ride, but after 10 years of working with remarkable people and enjoying the immense satisfaction of contributing to the Company and helping employees explore and discover a more meaningful life in the desert, I feel truly blessed.

My 10 years at the desert coast by the Red Sea wouldn’t have been possible without the help of divinely ordained people in my life. I want to say thank you to my wife and my children for encouraging and cheering me on, to my friends, and everyone who helped me reach this milestone. Thank you to my incredible bosses, colleagues and my staff in the industry for their wisdom and support. Thank you for allowing me to be part of your journey; you have inspired me with your courage, dazzled me with your brilliance and honored me with your trust.

Most importantly, all praise and glory to the Almighty God.

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Jeddah Heritage Festival – A Cultural Awakening

When I read from my newsfeed about the Jeddah Heritage Festival last week, I made sure that one weekend evening is blocked for the trip to Old Jeddah (Balad) so I can witness for myself the first festival of its kind in this part of the kingdom,  the Jeddah Heritage Festival.

The visit to Historical Jeddah (Balad) was something I looked forward to for many years now. Everytime my wife and girls were here in the past, we always planned that “historical and cultural walk” to Old Balad, considered an open air museum for the generations as it contains the heritage to the history of Jeddah. But we never did, making it this year’s target place for us to visit together.

Jeddah’s old city is an exceptional piece of history. It tells the story of a beautiful past, something which not just the locals need to hear and see but for all other expatriates as well.

Sponsored by the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) and  the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA), the 10-day Jeddah Heritage Festival which opened last 16th January 2014 spotlights Jeddah’s rich heritage. The colorful extravaganza that features Hijazi dances, theater performances, folk songs, and performances by local artists, was like going back in time and seeing how people lived many years ago.

The Jeddah Heritage Festival features cultural and entertaining programs based on Hijazi heritage, designed to recall the glorious history of the ‘Bride of the Red Sea’. It aims to let the new generations know the history of their ancestors and how they lived their daily lives within the walled city. It is also to highlight the role of Old Jeddah as a gateway to the Two Holy Mosques which have passed all cradles of cultures and civilizations in Saudi Arabia.

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Since its opening day, the festival is always full of fun and excitement. The avenues and areas are jam-packed with enthusiastic crowds who are enthralled by a wide variety of musical entertainment, laser shows, handicraft displays, photo exhibitions and Hijazi performances  by local artists from Jeddah.

It also features other cultural events across the various sites such as, poetry, art shows, folk dances, and plays about the tradition of marriage, to showcase the old life of the Hijaz people. The tribe chiefs, and Hara (neighborhood) people perform together with professional actors along the two sides of the festival’s main avenue. A stage has also been set up for comedy plays and standup comedy by well-known comedians from the Jeddah Comedy Club.

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I’m not really sure if Khokon understood what the stage actors were saying. I saw him laugh and get excited with the crowd.

Traditional Mezmar Dance at the Jeddah Heritage Festival in Balad


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Watch more Dance videos on Frequency

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The festival provides two avenues for the events. The first one stretches from Bab Al Madina in the north of Al Bay’a Dawar up to Yemeni Hara Omda (tribe chief), while the second one extends from Bab Al Bant up to Bab Makkah.

The festival avenues and each of its events provide  tourist guides to introduce to the visitors the events and historic houses in the Historic Area.

There are also freebies of heritage items, handicrafts, souvenirs and traditional cuisine but we never got one :-p

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The Jeddah historical area has enjoyed great attention from everyone because in 1925, the founder King Abdulaziz used Bait Naseef as his dwelling place for 10 years.

Houses in Old Jeddah have old designs and architecture that are true and authentic form of art. I heard that the old Hijazis  built their houses by using carefully selected rocks taken from the nearby Arba’een Lake. The rocks used were reshaped using manual tools and set down according to sizes alongside stretches of wood retrieved from nearby areas, such as the Fatima Valley. They also used mud that were taken from Bahr Al Teen. The construction method was comprised of positioning the rocks into Midameks, which are lines of rocks separated by pieces of wood (Takaleel) one meter apart. This method helped distribute the weight evenly over the walls. Old buildings are largely similar to the modern concrete buildings, that is, the wood is used to hold the rock and concrete and lessen the weight of the building.

Some of the houses rise to more than 30 meters in height and even with the passing decades, some are still in good condition given their sturdy method of construction.

The houses have lattices (wind-catchers) in every room. Large Rawashin (bay windows) were also used, and ornate wood was used for the walls over a large area, which facilitated the flow and distribution of air throughout the house as well as cast shadows across the walls to mitigate the heat. Houses were constructed side by side with facades to cast cooling shade on one another.

Reference on Old Jeddah Houses:

http://sauditourism.sa/en/Explore/Regions/Mecca/Jeddah/Pages/j-9.aspx

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The festival had special locations for artisans where one will see different types of local food cooking such as Foul (beans), liver, Motabak, Kabab, Al Mero, and a number of Hijazi foods made by famous skilled cooks. There are stalls representing how people used to cook, eat, sing, dance and how they made goods for everyday life and for special occasions

Heritage and handmade artifacts’ shops are also spread on both sides of the avenues of the festival which are crowded by traditional water vendors, carts, street vendors and Mosahrati.

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On display at the Festival was the first ambulance  in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (a Ford model) donated by King Abdul Aziz Bin Abdul Rahman Al Faisal Al Saud.

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Believe it or not, there was also a display of several vintage cars that wowed the guests. If you look at the body and make of these cars, they definitely look very much sturdier than the cars we have today.

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A corner was made to relive the glorious past of Old Balad as a center of trade.

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Well, with the company of Evan and Khokon, my “professional poser” friends, the visit to the festival wouldn’t be complete if no ‘selfies’ were taken for posterity’s sake.

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The curtains were already down when we got to the Square where the “Stand-up Comedy”, a daily show performed by actors from Jeddah Comedy Club, is being held. But that did not dampen our spirits.  As ever-ready comedians from the Al Laith Comedy Club, we did our ‘selfies’ in the guise of comedy acts.  :-)

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Evan got very tired doing his comedy act.

While standing at the Old Jeddah Gate, I  realized that the Hijazi people are deeply attached to their tradition and are proud of it.  I hope this festival becomes a tradition that will be celebrated annually to preserve the rich  culture and heritage of the Hijazi people.

It was almost 11:00pm when we left Old Balad for a late dinner at Al Baik. What was supposed to be a quick dinner turned out to be our midnight snack as the queue of endless people wouldn’t let the restaurant crews rest even for a minute.

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It was past midnight when we reached the Al Balad Parking and we were surprised to see the Blizzard-Pearl Princess parked alone. Luckily, the collector at the toll gate was still around to let us out.  Otherwise, the city that never sleeps won’t allow us to sleep in our beds in our desert home in Al Laith.

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Seeing Old Jeddah with its houses, avenues, its small shops, and people inspired me very much. I’m sure it’s going to benefit the generation of today, as it brings back the glorious memories of Jeddah’s past. It is a valuable occasion for the younger generation to learn, know and see  the history of Old Jeddah and I believe it as a key component of the Saudi national identity.

The festival is a great success. The organizers have done their jobs very well.

For those who wish to visit the Jeddah Heritage Festival (you still have two days, 25th and 26th of January), you wil never regret you did. You will be able to see  and experience a broad array of cultural and entertainment activities of the old city.

The official website of the festival is: historicjeddah.com

“It was indeed a remarkable town. The streets were alleys, wood roofed in the main bazaar, but elsewhere open to the sky in the little gap between the tops of the lofty white-walled houses.” T.E. Lawrence

 

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Thoughts, insights, musings, anecdotes, experiences and reflections of a Filipino expatriate and his family at the desert coast by the Red Sea…

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