It’s almost time for the annual Janadriyah Cultural Heritage festival, organized in 2013 for the 28th time. I for one have been waiting for this festival for months. I truly love going to Janadriyah and have been there every year since I came to Saudi in 2008 and some years I went on several days. The festival has surely changed a lot over the years but some things remain the same like the cheerful atmosphere.
I think every expat in Saudi should visit this festival, not just to see the beautiful architecture, heritage and traditions of the various provinces, but to experience what the Saudi people are truly made of. This is such a unique chance to interact with Saudis from all over the Kingdom and embrace their culture. If you plan on going make sure you check out this post for Blue Abaya’s Top Ten Recommended Things To Do At Janadriyah Festival to make the most of your experience!
The feeling of joy and happiness at Janadriyah are simply contagious. One simply cannot go to this festival and leave with a sour face! It’s impossible! Everyone enjoys Janadriyah! Unless of course…
You happen to be member of the Saudi religious police, who do not find this festival fun. At all. But hey, that’s their loss.
Time to take a cultural bath!
Trust me you will be surprised if you thought Saudis are rigid and don’t know (or want to) have fun. Boy are you in for a shocker! At Janadriyah you will see Saudi women men and children laughing and having fun in public some dressed in funny outfits or wearing wigs, hats and over sized glasses. Many women will be wearing beautiful decorations on their veils and men can be seen donning flowers in their hair! Who would have thought?
Janadriyah unites the Saudis.
That is what the true magic of this festival is all about. The national pride, the unity and the sense of togetherness just can’t be experienced quite the same as it can be at Janadriyah.
Janadriyah is like a social experiment. An experiment that exceeds all expectations. An experiment which should be an eye opener to many. Saudis are fully capable of behaving in normal and decent ways despite the gender mixing going on, of course, why wouldn’t they!
I never once was harassed or approached in a negative way there, EVER.
And let me tell you that I’ve visited this festival a total of 13 times with many friends of different races who share the same positive experiences. Everyone was genuinely welcomed and shown respect. No leering, outrageous flirting, passing of mobile numbers and thank goodness no grabbing or groping. All of these on the other hand, I’ve experienced in malls or on the streets in KSA. So how is that for proof that allowing normal human interactions in the public sphere of Saudi Arabia does not result in chaos and men jumping on women (which some people are convinced were to happen if gender mixing were allowed).
To some Saudis at the festival, a foreign visitor is almost as much of an attraction as the actual festival. Saudi women will come up to foreign women (especially blondes I guess) for a photo, or they will secretly film us with their cameras and phones. They might be giggling, in this instance not in a bad way but a genuinely curious and friendly way. The women might be shy to approach you so I would recommend foreigners take the initiative even if you don’t know any Arabic. You will not regret it. They will want to welcome you to their country, know where you’re from and what you think of the Kingdom. Some might want to show you around and explain the things going on.
Don’t judge the whole nation just because when you went to the shopping mall a woman cut you in line or a man didn’t open the door for you. Accept that there are differences in our cultures. Now I for one can say this is not always easy. I do rant, I do complain sometimes. But you know what guys? I still keep an open positive mind. I refuse to become bitter, hateful and isolate myself from the culture I happen to live in. Some of us are here voluntarily because we were interested in the culture and the country, many came just for the money, some followed their spouses and were thus “forced” to come.
Get out of your bubbles and compounds and visit Janadriyah with an OPEN heart and mind is my advice to you :) Leave your prejudices at home. Drop your guard. Open your mind.
The following is a photo collage from previous experiences from the festival over the years. Please DO NOT use these images without my permission. These are some of my most cherished memories and moments from the Magic Kingdom and I am sharing them with you to spread the joy and bridge the cultural gaps out there!
Notice the bloke on the left? Definitely not a Saudi but he has joined the Makkah region wedding parade. Looks like he really embraced the culture!