Reflections on international living and travel



Hut on empty seaside 
Curious blue shelter by empty beach


Dammam Boring

Dammam, Saudi Arabia, November 2013 - remembered in November 2021 - by Jeffrey

By far, the most boring place I have ever visited is Dammam, Saudi Arabia. I was there in November 2013 to give some creativity workshops for a company with offices there. Now, I should clarify that all of the men I met in Dammam were friendly, polite and very nice people. I didn't meet any women, of course. This was Saudi Arabia. They were stashed away at home where they wouldn't distract us menfolk with their beauty or superior intelligence.

It was the only workshop I have ever given (and I was giving creativity workshops around the world at the time) in which there was not a single woman participating. I did pass a couple of women wearing burkas during an evening walk and in a supermarket, there was a gang of women manning (womanning?) a set of cashier counters, presumably for women shoppers.

In terms of entertainment there was pretty much nothing. Cinemas, nightclubs, theatres were all banned in the country at the time (this is changing now). I took a walk along an empty beach (see pictures) and onto the causeway that leads to Bahrain. Bahrain is more relaxed, in terms of religion inspired strictness, than Saudi Arabia and apparently, the locals go there frequently for holidays, shopping or just a splash of freedom.

Me on causeway between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain
Photo of me on Causeway between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Photo was taken by my client's secretary; a guy, of course, in Saudi Arabia


Alcohol is prohibited in the Kingdom. This is probably a good thing. The city is so boring, that if alcohol was available, I expect a substantial portion of the population would get smashed every evening - just to get through it. I confess I am overly fond of my wine and missed it, more than I should have done, at the end of the day when I would usually have unwound with a glass of wine. The sweet, alcohol free beer that was widely available provided no unwinding properties whatsoever.

I Shamefully Encourage Polygamy

I was surprised by a question a couple of the workshop participants asked me over lunch. If memory serves, one was Syrian and one was originally from Iraq. "Jeffrey," one of them said. "We have a problem and would like to know how to find a creative solution."

"Okay, I said. What's the problem?"

"We are both married," the other said. "And, we've recently been promoted and have received pay increases. So, we would like to get second wives. But, we don't think our wives will let us do this."

I'm not sure if this was true or they were just messing with me a bit, knowing that I come from a country where second wives would be considered ethically and legally wrong. Now, yes, I could have (and perhaps should have) told them that taking on another wife was wrong and unfair to their current wives. But, I am reluctant to argue about cultural norms when visiting a culture with very different norms to mine. Moreover, I had an idea.

"I have an idea," I said. "Tell your wives that you are doing very well at work and so you would like to take on three more wives."

They looked surprised.

I continued, "When your wives hear that, they will be appalled and say something like, "Three wives! Not on your life, buster. You can have one new wife and only one new wife!"

They laughed. I laughed and then it was time to go back to the workshop.

I have no idea whether or not they followed my advice or even took on additional wives.

Family houses

Airport Insanity

Sadly, the most excitement I had on the trip was at the airport awaiting my flight to Doha, Qatar and a connecting flight to Brussels. Unfortunately, the computer system was down as I arrived (extra early, thank goodness) at the airport. As a result, processing leaving passengers was painfully slow while more and more people - all men as far as I could tell - stuffed themselves into the hall leading to the passport control desks.

Have you ever seen pictures of professional pushers shoving commuters into trains on the Tokyo metro? The airport was kind of like that, but worse. Much worse.

I get uncomfortable in crowds and was getting increasingly uncomfortable as strange men pushed up against me or tried to push past me. Only my desperation to get out of the country kept me in the mass of people that should have been an orderly queue. To make matters worse, I knew that even when I got past this mess and went to the business class lounge, there would be no soothing wine awaiting me.

Finally I got through. In spite of arriving at the airport very early, my flight was due to take off soon and surely boarding would begin any moment, so I dashed off to my gate where I ended up waiting over an hour to board. Nevertheless, the optimistic sign, at the departure counter, continued to claim the flight was leaving on time till the bitter end. One has to admire a persevering sign. 

Finally, I got on the airplane and, just over an hour later was in Doha. Happily, non-Muslims can drink wine in Qatar. I am not a Muslim.

Better still, Doha has an awesome business and first class lounge in a separate terminal building away from the hoi-palloi of economy class peasants. It was late, I hadn't eaten dinner. I promptly took a seat, ordered a glass of wine and then got something to eat. That was probably the best glass of wine I have ever had in my life. The second and third glasses weren't bad either.

Even though I found Dammam amazingly boring, I am glad I had the opportunity to visit the country and see it for myself. I hope and expect never, ever to set foot in the country again. But, at least I know what it's like.

 On the King Fahd Causeway
On the King Fahd Causeway


Empty benches by the beach
Empty benches facing the empty beach


Edge of the desert
Edge of the desert (I believe. I don't actually recall taking this picture)



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