Go ahead, just start off by listening to this. You know you want to.
Now that we’ve pondered the musical question, “Where in the world is
Carmen Sandiego?” perhaps I can more adequately answer the question,
“Where in the world is Simeon Brown?”
The short answer is – Al Kharj, Saudi Arabia. It’s a really nice
place (no offence to Sheldon, Iowa – the original “Really nice place.”)
I’ve been here since the end of May, so going on three months now.
Al Kharj is a “farming community” – or it was at one point. It is
still the home of some of the largest dairies in the world. (The Al
Safi dairy, located southwest of Al Kharj, is one of the primary
suppliers for Danon products).
Al Kharj is a city of roughly half a million people. It is a cheap
place to live. Food is cheap everywhere in Saudi Arabia, since the
government subsidizes costs, but transportation and housing are also
only a half or a third of what they cost in a larger cities like
Riyadh, Dammam, or Jeddah (granted – even these costs are considerably
lower then what I’m used to paying in the USA).
Al Kharj is a city full of friendly people. In my short time here,
I’ve made many friends – Saudi, Egyptian, Yemeni, Syrian, etc. Do not
believe the negative messages touted by Western media; Arabs are
friendly, generous people. I feel safer on the streets of Al Kharj
then I would on the streets of a major metropolitan area like
Minneapolis or Chicago (well, I feel safer from crime, although the
insane driving here is another story altogether…). Since I’ve been
here, friends have invited me into their homes for meals, they’ve
taken me shopping, and have guided me on tours through their farms
and, um, camel ranches? I guess? I’m not sure what you call a herd of
camels in the middle of the desert. But, yeah, they showed me that
too. Good friends.
Al Kharj is only an hour drive south of Riyadh (less if you hire a
crazy driver and tell him you want to get there fast – I only made
that mistake once). This is nice, because I can enjoy the benefits of
a smaller city during the work week, but still easily bump up to
Riyadh on the weekend if I’m so inclined. My city is also just a few
hours to the west of Dammam and the Persian Gulf, and a few hours to
the north of the “Empty Quarter”, a picturesque area of clean, red
sand and rolling sand dunes, which I have still yet to tour.
Al Kharj used to be located on top of one of the largest natural
aquifers in the country. Unfortunately, a booming population has
mostly drained this supply, and now the city’s water comes largely
from desalinated sea water, like the rest of the country. However,
the presence of this aquifer was enough to establish the city as one
of the major farming communities in Saudi Arabia, as I mentioned
Speaking of water, one of the things that living in Saudi Arabia has
taught me is how truly precious water is. Growing up in middle
America, I kind of took water for granted, with our cheap, delicious
supplies of fresh lake and river water supplying every city. Of
course, it’s a different story here in the desert. One doesn’t have
to look far to be reminded what a struggle it has been to build a
civilization here. I plead with my fellow westerners – never forget how precious water is. With many scientists warning of climate change in different incarnations, it’s never too early to start practicing smarter conservation practices. I pretend that I’m on a mission to Mars when I use water now – using the smallest amount possible for washing dishes, showering, etc. I’m not
perfect, but I’m getting better at it.
Salaam! More coming soon! Simeon.