Walla! Saudi Arabia in January is unbelievable.
Cool breezes replace the sticky humidity, the desert takes on a green hue, and keeping on par with last semester, KAUST decided to give us a four week extended vacation. It’s borderline scary how used to this lifestyle I’m becoming.
Upon returning to KAUST after the winter holidays, the students have jumped straight into a 4-week “winter enrichment period” (aka. The WEP) during which specialty short-courses and lectures are being offered by visiting faculty from around the world. Classes ranging from “Finding Science in Finding Nemo” to a Technology & Entrepreneurship have served to give new life to the students by allowing them to study subjects they might not otherwise be exposed to.
In one of the more shocking (and impressive) moves in my tenure at KAUST, we had a LIVE concert on campus as part of the WEP program. American-Palestinian musician Simone Shaheen graced us with one of the more impressive musical displays I’ve ever seen; only to be outshone by the audience. What? Yes.
It’s ironic that we spent the last four months at KAUST with a “no public music” policy considering how much Saudis love to engage themselves with the music they hear (which is great, don’t get me wrong folks).
In what turned out to be just another cultural learning experience, I had to get used to the fact that if Shaheen held a rhythm for more than 8 counts, the entire audience was going to be clapping along to the beat. It’s one of those give and take situations where if live music is going to consistently resemble a karaoke bar, I’ll learn to take it over NO music at all.
I half-jokingly spoke of “concert etiquette” with our assistant provost the next day while recalling the crowd’s enthusiasm, only for her to respond quizzically, “Concert etiquette? I’m not familiar with that.” That explains it.
Music is still one of those gray areas with me in context with Islam. Some classmates tell me it’s forbidden, others tell me it’s a matter of interpretation. All I know is that the door’s open and Qusai’s interested. You play odd-makers.
In other publishable news, I attended a Saudi Entrepreneur panel discussion last week and met the “2009 Saudi Entrepreneur of the Year.” An employee at Remal IT, this young man developed software that allows companies to track the “efficiency” of their employees by tracking the time they spend on specific projects.
To ensure a market for the software, he proceeded to develop the most complete (and popular) Belote* online gaming experience on the internet that detracts a good 30,000 Saudis from their work, daily. (Warning: “dad joke” ahead) Talk about playing his cards right!
…now back to the enrichment.