In September 2008 I moved to Saudi Arabia to live.
I lived there for the next five years running a health and wellness program at a university. It was to have a profound impact on my life, a tectonic shift in how I viewed the world.
While the Saudi people displayed the same warmth and generosity of other countries I have visited, it was its unique cultural and environmental heritage that left the greatest impression on me.
The university, for example, was in the middle of a desert devoid of trees or grass. The temperature never went below 30 Celsius. It rained four times in five years. I only ever saw four or five colours — men wearing the traditional white thobe tunic and women in the black robe-like abaya, in rusty white buildings, in a canary yellow desert, beneath a scorching blue sky.
As a rule, people do not congregate and pass the time of day in the street. It’s neither the custom nor appropriate because of the heat.
And Salah, the Muslim prayer that is observed five times every day, causes all places of business including banks and supermarkets to suspend service for up to thirty minutes at a time meaning that spur of the moment visits to the shops for a coffee or some groceries are pretty much out.
It’s a culture like no other and for a Westerner such as myself it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for which I will be eternally grateful.