We learn more of our own culture by experiencing the cultures of others. Whether we are sampling their food for the first time or experiencing their generous hospitality. Traveling to a different country broadens our perspective of the world. To be honest, I never thought that I would feel comfortable traveling to the Middle East for business. But in the end, I am glad to have been given this opportunity by my company to experience Saudi Arabia.
With so much media coverage pertaining to the ongoing war in the Middle East lately, my ideas of the region have been tarnished. It came as no surprise my initial reaction was this, “You’re sending me where? By myself too?” I would have preferred to visit somewhere in Europe. My father had always been optimistic about taking these opportunities and exposing myself to different cultures.
When visiting Saudi Arabia it is best to be aware of the prayer times which occur 5 times during day. It is mandatory to have shops, restaurants, and even gas stations close 15 minutes prior to prayer times. Being unaware of this during my first visit had me wandering around aimlessly looking for dinner. Eventually, after prayers were finished I had found a shop right across the street from where my hotel was.
I entered the shop with the cashier’s cold stare piercing me. His facial expressions was non-existent. The pictures of the food items attached behind him were written in Arabic however, there was the basic numeral system which I could understand. I selected the most appealing picture to me, “Umm… number 8, please” I muttered softly. He repeated my order which I then paid and handed me the receipt. I stared at it then looked at him, he then directed me to walk towards the kitchen area.
My ticket was handed to the person behind the counter. I am pretty sure he could tell I wasn’t from around here. As he took my ticket, he gave me a slight smirk while ripping the bottom portion of my ticket. When the food had finished he smiled and nodded his head to assure me that my order had been up. I quickly headed back to the hotel, excited of what I had just ordered.
Emotions of excitement took hold as I lifted the lid of the take-out box. My feelings at that time could be related to that of a child opening presents during the holidays. The sweet aroma of the slow cooked meat perfumed with spices diffused into the room. Oh yes, this is heaven, I thought.
The dish I had ordered was the lamb kebab. Three long stripes of mince lamb rested on a thin sheet of flat bread deliberately placed there to absorb all the juices. A side of sliced red onions and chopped parsley offered vibrant colors to the dish. A smooth creamy tahini sauce, made from toasted ground hulls of sesame seeds, enhanced the flavor of the meat. The accompanying carbohydrates were an naan bread, french fries, samosa, and dinner roll. Total cost of the entire meal approximated USD 4 which indeed satisfied my soul and satisfied my cravings.