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Go and explore the Gulf

Alex Malouf

Kipp columnist Alex Malouf says the beauty of being an expat in the Gulf is having the opportunity to absorb all that is wonderful.

March 18, 2013 12:56 by

I count myself tremendously fortunate in my work and my travels. I’ve been taken to places as far away as Borneo, Beijing and Birmingham (you really haven’t lived until you’ve been to the Bull Ring). Having lived in the Gulf I’m still amazed by the diversity in the region. There are places and people here who have the ability to astound and to open your eyes to new perspectives.

That reality was brought home to me a couple of weeks ago when I arranged a meeting between a good friend in public relations and an editor from Saudi Arabia. The editor in question is an experienced veteran of the publishing industry in the Kingdom and has been the number two at two Saudi-based publications. What may surprise some of you is that this editor is a lady. Yes, a woman. Isn’t the Kingdom a place where women fear to work, I hear you say? And that is why I say to you; get on a plane and travel.

The Gulf may be bound by a common language and religion, but beyond that there’s a wealth of diversity even in a country the size of Bahrain or Kuwait. It’s easier than you may think to discover local communities outside of the UAE and you’ll be surprised by the wealth of interaction between foreigners and locals (just please do avoid the malls where possible).

Traveling helps to break down the barriers that we build in our minds and underscores the changes that the region is going through; it also brings into relief the region’s rich history which many of us miss out on. There are the incredible sights of Madain Saleh outside of Madinah, the ruins of Dilmun underneath the streets of Manama, and the Red Fort in Kuwait’s Al Jahra district.

The beauty of being an expat is having the opportunity to absorb all that is wonderful about a foreign culture; I fear we often miss the chance to do just that if we don’t pick up our travel bags and get away from the modern world. I was charmed by Oman when I visited, a country that embraces its Arabic tradition and welcomes foreigners with open arms.

After the meeting my friend picked up the phone and called me to recount all the things that she’d just been told about Saudi and which she’d never imagined could be true. While I’m a journalist by profession, there’s much more that we can learn about the region from traveling and forging friendships than by picking up a newspaper or turning on the television. I was delighted to have helped her in seeing what for me was the real Saudi Arabia, a country of strong traditions and cultures, rather than the other sensationalised Kingdom we often read about over our breakfasts.

And trust me, all those stories you’ve heard about the region aren’t true. It is safe to leave the confines of the United Arab Emirates. You’re not going to get kidnapped, chased by the religious police, or be thrown into a jail cell during prayer times. Go out, enjoy and remember that there’s still much to discover about heritage, history and culture in a region that many of us have lived in for so many years and which we really do know so little about.


About the writer:

A British national with Arabic roots, Alex has spent ten years in the Gulf and has lived in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and the United Arab Emirates. Alex lost his heart to journalism years ago but he has worked with a range of multinational companies in the technology, energy and financial sector to develop their marketing and communications approach to the region. He’s currently based in Dubai but can often be found at Dubai International Airport flying back home to Bahrain or some other (hopefully exotic) destination.

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