This video update was recorded at sunrise in Kowloon Park, Hong Kong – but it’s actually about Saudi Arabia, the last stop of my recent global tour. It clocks in at 3 minutes and 55 seconds.
If you can’t view the video, here is a quick summary —
What can I say about Saudi Arabia that’s flattering? Not a whole lot, to be honest. The most interesting thing was nearly being deported immediately after landing at Riyadh International Airport. In retrospect, it’s fun to remember six airport officials having an extended discussion in Arabic about which country they would like to send me too. At the time, I wouldn’t have minded being somewhere else.
Why then, some people wonder, do I bother? Couldn’t I still do the traveling thing and only go to fun places?
The answer (well, my answer) is that going to places like Saudi Arabia is a lot like running a marathon. When you run 26.2 miles, not all of it is fun. For me, I’m a great 18-mile runner. At some point between miles 19 and 26, hell on earth sets in.
All three times I’ve ran the marathon, I’ve become completely exhausted during the final third. A big part of me wants to quit at that point. Couldn’t I just be a happy, healthy 18-miler? I’d still be a runner, I’d feel better in the short-term – but of course, later on, I’d wonder about those final 8.2 miles. Was I really so weak I had to give up? A marathon is 26.2 miles, not 18 miles. Every country in the world doesn’t mean “every country except the hard ones.”
In other words, nothing worth doing is ever easy. You have to take the bitter with the sweet, the hardships with the successes. For me, I don’t really have a desire to ever return to Saudi Arabia – but since I know I would regret it if I didn’t at least go once, I’m glad I did. It’s OK.
Also, a quick update on women, Saudi Arabia, and Islam: just because I said last week that Saudi isn’t the best place on earth does not mean I am maligning the entire Muslim world. Most of my readers are smart enough to understand that, so I don’t feel the need to continually explain everything to the nth degree.
I’ve had great experiences in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Malaysia, just to mention a few places that are predominantly Islamic. There’s no need to interpret a specific criticism as a big generalization about an entire religion or group of people. The reality is that women in Saudi Arabia have very few rights to make their own choices, so I don’t think I should gloss over that fact either.
In short, Saudi isn’t really my favorite place – but it’s a big world out there, so that’s just fine. Now I’m back home in Portland, Oregon for a few weeks, which is kind of like mile three of the marathon. At mile three you’re floating along and just starting to settle into a long run. It’s a good feeling.