• Saturday, April 13, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Saudi Arabia: Some of the things I could have seen!

Saudi Arabia: Some of the things I could have seen!

“It has become my personal travel tradition to visit either a neighbouring country or tour a city if I don’t have enough time. I was thrilled when the organisers obliged me.”

My invitation to Saudi Arabia as a panellist at the side event organised by KAICIID, The International Dialogue Centre, was very heartwarming. The Media Forum that was taking place in Riyadh had attracted several media organisations across the world, and many respected speakers joined this media forum, which brought me much joy. As an eternal tourist, I wanted to see Riyadh even though I had several other top-level commitments back in Nigeria.

I had requested the organisers add a day or two to my departure date to enable me to see Riyadh as it was my first time in Saudi Arabia. It has become my personal travel tradition to visit either a neighbouring country or tour a city if I don’t have enough time. I was thrilled when the organisers obliged me.

My mantra was that I would definitely see Riyadh a day before the forum began or a day after it ended.

My flight into Doha was nice, and my arrival in Riyadh was equally seamless. It was one of those flights where you arrived at your destination at 2 a.m. The Programme Officer for KAICID for the Middle East and my delightful guide informed me to take an airport taxi from inside the airport, which I did. Unfortunately, the driver allocated to me by the company did not quite have a hang of Riyadh. He was a new immigrant. We both laboured through his fractured English and my halfthere, half-here Arabic.

In between all of this, my hotel chain had seven different outlets in Riyadh, and as much as I tried to give him the address, we kept arriving at the wrong one. He sought help from his colleagues, and they would throw their hands in the air, saying there were six of these hotels. They would then give directions to one of the hotels, and we always arrived at the wrong one. I mean, he did his best, called a few friends, and all of that, but I was becoming short-fused.

I had just flown into Riyadh for 8 hours. I was tired and irritable. We ended up at the correct hotel at 5 a.m. Three hours of going round and round, Riyadh. We found it. I needed my bed, and I thought, Let go of your anger. And I did. On that first day, I literally walked around in a daze. Sleeping, waking, eating, and sleeping some more.

The following day was the Saudi Media Forum exhibition, which I must say was gorgeous. We had a late lunch, and we returned to the hotel. It was a good day, and I was looking forward to the following day, which would be the opening of the Saudi Media Forum. The day started well. Then I fell very ill. Food poisoning from another hotel back home. I buckled over and called my doctor at home. Get some flagyl she said. You would be okay. Then I went to the reception and requested that someone pick it up for me.

The receptionist looked at me pitifully and told me it was an antibiotic and, therefore, could not be purchased over the counter in Saudi Arabia. It had to be prescribed by a doctor. So he directed me to a private hospital, where I met a truly warm Saudi Arabian doctor, Doctor Ali. After getting me to feel comfortable, he proceeded to explain why a drug like flagyl must be prescribed. It’s our health policy, he said, so no one abuses it, and the person becomes resistant. We check if the person really needs it before we prescribe it.

Great stuff, I thought. Made sense. I got my drugs and returned to the hotel for a lie-down for the rest of the day. I felt well enough the following day to attend the second and last day of the forum, where I attended several paper presentations and included one on YouTube. All of them were thought-provoking and packed with much information. Then, it was my turn to join my panel and be the best that I could be. It all went very well, but I was very weak at the end of the day and crashed into my bed.

If you have ever had food poisoning, you would understand how food does not interest you and how, no matter how you try, every fruit and vegetable looking at you is banished. You now have a food phobia. And I love food, and the food in Riyadh was good. But I had to be cautious. That pretty much rendered the rest of my days in Riyadh difficult for touring. But guess what? We now know why I saw Riyadh through the eyes of a cab driver who gave me a free three-hour tour earlier upon my arrival.

While it was not targeted and was not intentional, I pretty much saw Riyadh on a roll. The beautiful desert architecture, street names, shop clusters, fancy restaurants, and pictures of the respected Royal family. Those three hours were gold. Tired as I was, I soaked up some parts of the road, street lights, and the roads that were wide and well apportioned. I studied street names and enjoyed the beautiful array of cars. Even though we were lost, it gave me an opportunity, which my weakness occasioned by the medication and low-level illness would not allow. Everything has a purpose and a reason.

Anyway, when I arrived at Riyadh International Airport, I was encouraged to visit some exciting sites. Here are some of them:

I was encouraged to visit Riyadh’s historical treasures, including the Al Masmak Palace, a witness to the Kingdom Foundation. I was told to visit the Ushaiger heritage village, where the authentic spirit of Saudi society is on display at the museum crafted by Saudi residents.

Among other places of interest is the Al Faisaliah Tower. I am told your visit to Riyadh is incomplete without going to the tower, which is the Kingdom’s first skyscraper. One can immerse oneself in the Kingdom Centre, where one can view the city from 300 metres above the ground. Then, there are the safari tours, cultural tours, and Najdi cuisine. I did not make it to any of these, nor did I make it to the Roshan Front or Riyadh Park. But I made it to the Riyadh shopping mall and small eateries by my hotel.

But you and I know that I will visit these places soon because I will soon be on my way back to Riyadh on my second and more detailed visit. I look forward to it.