Saudi Arabia: Chapter 2

Bahrain, Bots, and Bombs.


"Ladies and gentlemen, we are fifth in line to land, and we will be up here for another ten minutes or so. We thank you for you patience."

I was so tired: 48 hours in Bahrain, 16 of them in a teaching conference, 8 of them out past my usual, Nanna bed-time, and 6 of them in airport or in the air. I had travelled to Bahrain with 30 other teachers to attend a conference (and drink a proper glass of wine). I had to be at work by 8am the next day, and I was behind on my grading, not to mention the report cards which were due that week. I just wanted to sleep.

When we landed in King Khalid International Airport, we were pleasantly surprised to see that the usually long immigration queue was non-existent. It wasn't until we were on the other side, and people had turned on their phones, that the stories started. Something about... a bomb?

Over the next 30 minutes, while we collected our bags and waited for the bus home, more pieces of the story came together, until finally we learned that the reason our landing had been delayed was because the Saudi military had activated the anti-missile defense system, destroying a ballistic missile right above the airport. As our bus pulled out onto the freeway, we looked behind us to see the airport entry being closed. Suddenly I wasn't all that worried about grading. 

Over the next 12 hours, more information was released. The missile had come from Yemen, and the airport had been the target. The American Embassy told us that they believed this would be an isolated incident, and that we were safe. Not so the people in Yemen: the retaliation killed nearly 30. We were later told, by those who have lived here for a while, that this kind of thing is not uncommon, and to a certain extent, just comes with the territory. We were shaken, but none of my friends or family in the US or Australia saw the story carried on mainstream news outlets: it was just another bombing in the Middle East.  

This was only the second biggest story in the Kingdom from that night. 

A few hours after the strike, 11 senior princes were arrested as part of a "corruption purge" of Saudi leadership, led by the progressive new Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. They are now, bizarrely, being held at the Ritz Carlton Hotel. 

This came ten days after the Saudi Government granted honorary citizenship to a robot named Sophia, created by Hanson Robotics. In a press conference, Sophia assured reporters that she was nothing like those robots in Blade Runner or Terminator. Good to know.

The Saudi government used their new citizen, Sophia, to publicize the plans for the futuristic city of Neom, to be completed by 2030, and populated by more robots and drones than humans. Neom is one of several projects instigated to combat the inevitable economic crisis which will accompany the end of oil reserves in Saudi land. 

Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman made international news in September, when he announced that the government would be officially lifting the ban on female drivers in the kingdom, and in October, stadiums in three major cities allowed women to enter as spectators, something which had, until then, been forbidden. These seemingly minor concessions represent major breakthroughs for Saudi women's equality.

Suffice to say, a lot has been going on here.

But just to put it in perspective...

Since we've arrived in Saudi Arabia on August 14, there have been 82 mass shootings in the US, one of which took place at a concert in Las Vegas, where two of our close family members were in the audience. 

There's been violent military action against separatist protesters in Catalonia by the Spanish government.

Puerto Rico is still struggling to repair its electricity and water infrastructure after the devastation of Hurricane Maria (donate here).

The Australian government left 600 refugees stranded in a Manus Island Detention Center, without food or water, facing a hostile PNG government. 

There are two possible ways to process all this information: first, to throw in the towel and conclude that the world (and the people in it), are all royally fucked, no-where is safe to live, and we may as well submit to our robot overlords.

Second, to live despite the madness. 

We are choosing the second option. While we won't be able to ignore the headlines, we can choose to take action to support those who need help, and stay informed. While we aren't thrilled with the idea of increasing military tension in the region where we live (and we will be keeping a close eye on developments), this is why we got into international teaching and travel. We wanted to see from a perspective which might not make the headlines at home.  

Tonight though, we're heading to India, for a few days away from the news.