Middle Eastern Collection
Woodrow W. Denham
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Nancy and I lived and worked in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, from October 1989 until June 1990. A few days before we left the Kingdom, we were asked to sign statements saying that we would never publish anything harmful or embarrassing to Saudi Arabia or the school where we worked. In typical Saudi style, the definitions of "harmful" and "embarrassing" were not stated, nor was the nature of the punishment that might result from our failing to abide by the agreement. I sincerely hope the items presented here do not harm or embarrass anybody, for such is not my intention. I shall be forever grateful to Sheikh Hisham Alireza for inviting us to live and learn in his country. Despite serious strains that have developed recently in relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States, I respect Saudi culture and want to share my understanding of it with others.
- Saudi Arabia: Letters 1989-90 This document contains letters to friends in the USA discussing in some detail our arrival and early months in Jeddah, our trip to Asir Province, our first encounter with the Holy Month of Ramadan, and Dar Al Fikr School where we worked.
- Saudi Arabia: Saudi Montage 1989-90 This document is a synthesis of our experiences in Saudi Arabia. It overlaps with the letters in the previous document, but goes beyond them.
- Saudi Arabia: Dar al Fikr Faculty Handbook 1990 In consultation with senior administrators at Dar Al Fikr School, I wrote/edited this handbook for the School to use to recruit and orient Western faculty members. It contains a great deal of information concerning daily life in the Kingdom and at the School in 1990. Reading between the lines is essential here – things that are NOT said often are as important as things said.
- Saudi Arabia: Dar al Fikr Academic Catalog 1990
With the active support and assistance of many members of the Dar Al Fikr faculty and staff, I prepared this academic catalog for the School to use to clarify its own programs, to recruit students within the Kingdom and to present itself to the broader academic world outside the Kingdom when its graduates applied for admission to universities in Europe and North America. Most of the material that appears here was translated from the Arabic by faculty members and administrators who were eager to represent their departments as faithfully as possible. I am confident that the quality of the material I received from them is very high. This may be one of the few comprehensive academic catalogs in English for a 100% Saudi Arabian secondary educational institution in the 1990s. As such it contains otherwise inaccessible information concerning the educational content and emphasis of Saudi academic programs in one of the most prestigious schools in the Kingdom. People interested in the education of Gulf Arab children at the end of the 20 th century may find this information to be valuable.
- Saudi Arabia: Graphics 1989-90 (145) Taking photographs as an expatriate in Saudi Arabia is not easy. The photos included here cover a wide range of topics in Jeddah, the Tihama Plain along the coast of the Red Sea, and the escarpment that reaches from Makkah southeastwards to Abha and the Yemen border.
United Arab Emirates
Nancy and I lived and worked in the United Arab Emirates from 1993 until 2003, with a couple of absences of greater or lesser durations.
- Descent into Ramadan These essays and letters provide what I hope is a fair and comprehensive introduction to life in the United Arab Emirates during the period 1993 – 2003.
- UAE: Al-Ain 1993-96 Essays and letters written while I was working in the city of Al-Ain in the Buraimi Oasis. I was on the faculty of United Arab Emirates University, serving as Head of Academic Support and Client Services at the Information Technology Center. This section introduces a great many aspects of life in the UAE that should be visible to any reasonably astute long-term observer. It offers an “external” view that highlights the sights and sounds of the UAE, a kind of primer that provides a multitude of impressionistic glimpses of landscape, cultural diversity, historical and current conditions, and daily activities of myself and many others in the cities and the countryside. These pieces crisscross the region, double back on themselves, and in general draw you toward the society without actually sucking you into it.
- UAE: Al-Ain 1997-99 More essays and letters written from Al-Ain. This section attempts to pull you fully into the society and culture of the UAE from an expatriate American perspective. It focuses on attitudes and values that underlie the cultures of the Arabian Gulf region. It is not a scientific analysis using objective measurements; rather it is a subjective attempt to understand a broad range of personal experiences, many of which initially made no sense to me as an alien in the society.
- UAE: Fujairah and Sharjah 2000-03 Essays and letters written while we lived in the cities of Fujairah and Sharjah This section deals with events that may shape the society and culture of the UAE well into the 21 st century. Directly or indirectly they deal with the dynamics of life within the UAE, plus the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. As in earlier sections, this is not a scientific or scholarly analysis but rather is a collection of impressionistic observations by an expat in a strange world, often feeling isolated from his culture back home and from the alien culture that becomes increasingly difficult to tolerate as conditions – external and internal – deteriorate and eventually fall apart.
- UAE: Cultural Problems in Delivering Academic Information Services in the Arabian Peninsula and Bangladesh This is an analysis of cross-cultural management problems associated with information technology transfer programs in some parts of the Moslem world. The objective is to stimulate thoughtful consideration of a major social problem that everybody perceives but nobody discusses. It is based on work in Saudi Arabia (1989-90), the United Arab Emirates (1993-96), and Bangladesh (1996-97).
- UAE: Teaching Scientific Anthropology in the Arabian Peninsula. Workarounds and adaptive strategies.
- UAE: Al-Ain and Buraimi 1994 A description of Al-Ain and surrounding areas written in the style of the Lonely Planet Guides.
- UAE: Graphics 1993-2003 (382) In recent years Motivate Publishing in Dubai has done an effective job of presenting an official view of “the real Emiratis” in a series of glossy coffee table books. These publications appeal to a) Nationals seeking to bolster their pride in their own heritage, and b) to tourists who want gorgeous, pricey souvenirs to take home with them. These books cover a broad range of topics and are tastefully edited and produced, but after you look at a half dozen of them you begin to feel (perhaps inaccurately) that the same stock photos of “big people” are being repackaged over and over. The photographs I have included here are significantly different from those offered by Motivate Publishing and similar publishers in other countries of the Arabian Peninsula. I focus primarily on the expatriate “little people” of the UAE and the mundane activities in which they engage. Their contributions are vital to the economic survival and (possibly fleeting) cultural fluorescence of the UAE at the beginning of the 21 st century, and they never appear in coffee table books.
Buraimi Oasis contains the Emirati city of Al-Ain and the Omani city of Buraimi. Life in Al-Ain is intimately connected with life in Buraimi and smaller oases at the base of Oman’s Hajar Mountains just east of Buraimi. For these and other reasons we spent a good bit of time in Oman when we lived in Al-Ain. Oman and the UAE are distinctly different from each other in a great many ways, but it is difficult to disentangle my writing about the two because of the free and easy movement back and forth across the border. Documents in the UAE collection contain references to brief visits to Oman.
- Oman: Graphics 1994-2001 (180) These photographs focus on villagers and expatriates in Oman who rarely have a presence in official pictorial representations of the country. They include people importing sheep and goats from Iran for Ramadan, fishermen along the Musandam and Batinah coasts, vendors in Mutrah Souq, boat builders in Sur, Bedu at the Thursday livestock market in Sanaw, and workers in the agricultural oases at Buraimi and in the adjacent foothills.
In 1996-97 I lived in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where I served as Director of Information Services at North-South University, a new private university that was expanding rapidly. Nancy remained in Al-Ain on the faculty at UAE University. We communicated using email and saw each other frequently by more-or-less commuting between Dhaka and Dubai.
- Bangladesh: Graphics 1996-97 (146) These photographs focus mainly on the “little people” of Bangladesh such as rickshaw pullers, street people in the Old City, traders at riverside markets, poor villages receiving loans from GrameenBank, and children who may be too young to understand what it means to live in an international “basket case”.
Dubai at the Hub
Position your globe (physical or Encarta) so that Dubai is exactly at the center of the side facing you, and stand back a couple of feet. From that point you can see all of Africa, Europe and Asia, and the western fringe of Australia. Your view encompasses the entire “Old World”, plus the Indian Ocean. If you had spent the last 2 million years in a satellite parked in a geostationary orbit directly above Dubai, you would have been able to watch almost all of human history unfold before your eyes. In other words, Dubai is just about as close as you can get to the geographical center of human history, and very near the geographical center of the Moslem World stretching from Morocco to Indonesia. Every major city in the Old World is within comfortable range of a nonstop commercial airline flight from Dubai. If human history and cultural diversity fascinate you, living near Dubai International Airport is remarkably convenient. This fact has not been lost upon Sheikh Mohammed and Sheikh Ahmed as they build Emirates Airlines into one of the world’s finest transportation systems. We visited all of the places described here, plus others that I have omitted.
- India: Honor and Shame in Rajasthan 2001 While visiting Jaipur, Amber, Udaipur, Sanganer, Ranakpur and Jaisalmer, the concepts of honor and shame come to the fore. Traditional beliefs about gender roles in Moslem and Hindu societies generate honor killings in the Middle East and sati in India, construction of gorgeous harems at Topkapi Palace in Istanbul and the City Palace in Udaipur., and rigid seclusion of women today in high tech colleges and universities in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere in the Arabian Peninsula [Graphics (80)]
- Spain: Islamic Architecture and Music in Andalucia 2001 We traveled in Sevilla, Cordoba, Granada and Jerez, all in the Andalucian region of southern Spain where the Christians finally suppressed and deported large numbers of Moslems and Jews in and just after the amazing year of 1492 c.e. This essay, written in an ecumenical spirit throughout, focuses primarily on interactions between Moslem and Christian traditions in the architecture and music of this extraordinary region between 1400 and 1600 c.e., but more broadly covering the entire period since the Moslem conquest of Spain in the 8 th century c.e. [Graphics (108)]
- Sri Lanka: In the Shadow of the Tigers 2002 Our travels in central and southern Sri Lanka came at a time when the civil war between Hindu Tamil Tigers and Buddhist Lions already had persisted for 17 years and had killed more than 60,000 people. We never felt directly endangered by the war, but our total immersion in Anil’s Ghost, Michael Ondaatje’s powerful novel about the war, brought to life the razor wire, land mines, guard posts, Jaipur legs and ancient Buddhist traditions in ways we had not anticipated. [Graphics (86)]
- Kenya: On Safari at Masai Mara 2001 This very brief excursion to Masai Mara Game Preserve in the Great Rift Valley and Serengeti Plain of western Kenya was an experience of sheer beauty, much less demanding - at least on the surface - than our visits to Rajasthan, Andalucia and Sri Lanka. Yet visiting this vast island of African wildlife, surrounded by ecological disasters encroaching on it from every direction, gave us a painful opportunity to see what may prove to be one of the final frames in a film that lasted for millions of years. [Graphics (52)]
- Turkey: Istanbul Notes 1998 A brief description of a visit to Istanbul in January, when we nearly froze and suffocated in the smog, but were delightfully unbothered by other tourists and ignored by almost everybody who wanted to sell anything. It was a good holiday. My wife Nancy wrote this account. [Graphics (120)]
- Cyprus: Notes 1990 *
- Thailand: Notes 1995-97 *
- Indonesia: Notes 1995 *
- India: South India 1990 *
* In Preparation
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