Thursday, March 12, 2009

Thurs. March 12th - A day in Hofuf

So Thursday, March 12th we went to Hofuf. The last time I was in Hofuf was probably about 1986 or 1987 when Mark and I went there on an overnight trip. I still have the key to our hotel room at the Hofuf Hotel. It is a long, old-fashioned key that says Hofuf Hotel on it. Hofuf is the largest oasis in the world. It is also one of the oldest towns in the world. Hundreds of years ago it started out as an oasis that people would come to, and then they built a town around it. Hofuf is also known for its camel market. So we had a day trip to Hofuf. The first thing we went to was the camel market. And yes, I have some wonderful pictures of that! I can't even begin to describe this scene of camels in pens, some camels walking around, Toyota trucks, Arab men walking around with their camel whips, Arab tents, herds of sheep, and then us Westerners with our cameras flashing. I got to sit on a camel and then it stood up and walked around. The only other time I've been on a camel was in Egypt at the pyramids. It is a little bit awkward as the camel is standing up with the rocking motion. Of course, I let out a squeal as the camel was rising into the air, and all the Arabs around started laughing. At the camel market I saw white camels for the first time. The Arab men loved having us walking around taking pictures of all of this. Some of them posed for me. I took pictures of the tents, the inside and outside, and they had a little fire built with an Arab coffee pot sitting on the coals. I got a great shot of a baby camel nursing. I was taking photos of an Arab tent when a man walked up. I guess he was Arab, but he was dressed in a brown agutra. He approached me and let me take his photo. I have a photo of me and him standing by this tent. I also got a great up-close head shot of him. He kept talking to me in Arabic. I didn't understand him, and he didn't speak any English. I didn't know what he wanted, but he got very close to me, speaking softly in Arabic, and I think he wanted more than just a photography session. I knew I had to get away from there. But I loved the camel market!
Then the bus dropped us off in Hofuf for only about 40 minutes. Lucy and I headed over to a shop because I wanted to buy an abaya to wear. An abaya is the long black covering that Arab women wear. More Western women wear abayas here now than when I lived here. I was wearing black pants with a long shirt, but I felt uncomfortable without an abaya on. I stood out too much. So we went into this shop to look for an abaya. I have to tell you that is another major change I have noticed here. When we lived here in the 80's and 90's, abayas were like a long black shawl that draped around your shoulders and went down to your ankles, you pulled it around you in front, and as Lucy says, "it has bat wings!" Since we lived here they have updated abayas. Now all the abayas have sleeves. They are basically long, black dresses with openings in the front fastened with snaps or buttons, and they have long sleeves. However, they are also decorated with other decorations on them like embroidery or beads. I had never seen decorated abayas before now. So I ended up buying an abaya with rhinestones (how fitting is that for me....a blingy abaya!!!) that came with the scarf and veil. The veil was also different than the one I had before. The veil I had at home was a black covering that hung down in front of my face with the two holes for eyes, and it tied around my head. This veil is hard to describe. It is made a special way that covers the top of your head and has the eye opening. I will just have to wait till I can post pictures and show it. Anyway, it is much nicer than the older veils. Okay, now to tell you our funny story while buying this abaya. Those who have lived here will appreciate this! Lucy was trying on an abaya and really liked it until she discovered that the sleeves didn't match. One sleeve had rhinestones at the wrist part of the sleeve, and the other sleeve had embroidery there. Basically, this abaya had 2 different types of sleeves. So she commented to the shopkeeper that the sleeves didn't match, and of course, a typical reaction was "No problem.
"Mafi Mushkila!", meaning "no problem". All the Arabic is coming back to me. I have remembered words that I haven't thought of in years. The shopkeeper offered us an obvious solution. "Just take off the rhinestones." We tried to explain that a mistake had been made in the construction of the abaya - that the seamstress had sewn on 2 different types of sleeves. We were laughing at the insanity of it all. Can you imagine buying a dress in the states and the sleeves are different from each other? Anyway, I got my abaya, veil, and scarf for 75 riyals which other American women had told us was a very good price. So I wore my abaya the rest of the day and felt much better. Like I said, shopping in public is not a fashion show. I was walking the streets of Hofuf wearing my long, black, blingy abaya, my tennis shoes, and my hair in a ponytail. I would not go to Caesar's Palace in Vegas looking like that!! So about the time I was buying my abaya we heard the chants of prayer time from the nearby mosque. The shopkeepers were trying to hurry and get us out of there for prayer time, so I hurried and paid him and off we ran. The stores close during prayer time and so we used that time to walk down the street. We were told to walk to the Old Fort and meet the buses there. So we were walking along this broken "sidewalk" - I put that in quotes because it was half sand, half concrete, but it ran along in front of the store fronts and was wide enough for us to walk on. However, we were walking along and here comes directly in front of us and towards us an Arab in a small Toyota pickup. (I know my kids can visualize this!!) I'm thinking, "Are you nuts? Don't you see me walking towards you on the sidewalk, and what are you doing driving towards us on the sidewalk? Like, what's up Abdullah? Don't you know you're supposed to be driving on the street?" So he didn't even care. Seriously he would have ran me over if I hadn't jumped out of the way. Enshallah! In Arabia there is a very common word used called "Enshallah" which means "If God's willing". For example, "Should Abdullah run over me while I am walking down the sidewalk?" The answer is "Enshallah". Yes, if I am stupid enough to walk down the sidewalk while Abdullah is driving his truck straight towards me, then if I get run over and killed...oh well, too bad, so sad, it was my fault for being in the way. If I ask an Arab if he is coming over for dinner at 8pm, then he may say "Enshallah", which basically means that if it is God's will then he will be there for dinner at 8pm. But if he shows up at 10pm and the dinner is cold...oh well, then it was not God's will for him to be there at 8pm. Am I the only one who sees a denying of responsibility going on here? Anyway, Al Humdilah (Thanks be to God!) that I didn't die on the sidewalks of Hofuf! So Lucy and I made it to the Old Fort and were taking pictures. As we turned the corner I saw a little shop hidden away across the street from the fort. It caught my attention because it had some fabulous old Arab doors out front and colorful camel saddles. Some of the other people from our tour had found it also. I ran over to it to peer inside the doorway, seeing what treasures and junk this little gray bearded Arab man was selling. And there hanging in the doorway was the "Mother of all Souvenirs"! I would not have known what this was except for the fact that a few days ago when we were visiting Levon Melton I saw one hanging in her house and asked what it was. I had never seen one before. It was an antique baby carrier/swing, made out of leather with long fringe hanging down. Leather and fringe and a blingy abaya all in one day!! You know I just died and went to Heaven on that one! No one else was paying attention to it. They were all looking at the Arab coffee pots which you can find everywhere. I immediately asked the man how much it was. "Com Hada?" (Not sure about all my Arab spelling, but I know how to say it) He said, "400 riyals". I balked at the price, haggled with him, we bargained, and I bought it for 300 riyals. I was a bit hesitant, asked a nearby American what he thought. He didn't know what it was, and he listened as I explained what it was, and the Arab told me it was 4 generations old. Whether or not that is true, I have no clue. The American man said, "I've never seen one before. Chances are you will never find one again." I knew that was my one shot, and when I saw Levon's hanging in her home, I thought it was the most interesting piece I had ever unique, and I had secretly thought that I would love one, but never dreamed that I could ever find one. And in Hofuf, one of the oldest Arab towns on earth, of all places! It is fairly large. It will not fit in an overhead compartment on a plane. Today I talked to my friend, Sue Alexander, who is being shipped out and moving home to American Fork, Utah next month and she agreed to put it in her shipmernt for me! It almost looks like something that would be Native American Indian. It will be one of my favorite pieces from my travels and adventures. If my kids don't want it after I die, they better sell it on ebay for a great price. Then we hurried over to the waiting buses, but as I was heading towards the bus carrying my large treasure, the photographer/author for the Aramco World Magazine stopped me. He asked me what that was and where I got it. Everyone loved it and no one on our tour had seen one before. He took my picture holding my prize and took down my information about when I lived in Arabia, my husband's name, my name, got my email address, etc. Lucy said, "Oh my gosh Karen, you're going to be in the Aramco World Magazine!" We hurried to the bus and as I boarded everyone wanted to see my wonderful find, ask how much I paid, and like I said, people commented on how unique and fabulous it was and they hadn't seen one before. I felt like that was a seredipity type of experience - a happy surprise, an unexpected miracle to find the very treasure I wanted and to find it during prayer time when actually his shop should have been closed. Just another "tender mercy" in my life.
Then they took us to a hotel in Hofuf where we had a buffet dinner of Middle Eastern food - again! I think when I return home I won't be eating hummus and Arab bread for a long time!
I sat with another lady named Karen, and she told me about a 12 day trip she took to China and it only cost her $1500 for airfare, meals, hotels, tours, etc...leaving from California. I thought that was a great deal. That was with China Focus Travel. I will have to check it out as that is another adventure I have planned before I kick the bucket.
After leaving the Hotel we headed towards the caves. They split us up and Lucy went to the caves, and I went to the Potter. So we both have photos of both. The last time I went to the potter at Hofuf was when I accompanied Jeff there on a school field trip. It was a wonderful Arab potter, sitting at the pottery wheel, forming clay pots with his hands while his feet worked the wooden wheel beneath. I do have pots at home from the Hofuf potter. Classic photo shoot.
After we left the potter's shop and the caves, we headed back home. The landscape as we drove along reminded me of the landscape between St. George, Utah and Las Vegas. Barren desert.
I loved my day in Hofuf. My fabulous treasure will always be a reminder of my day in Hofuf and all the adventures that went with it. Exploring Arab towns is honestly one of my favorite things on earth. I wondered if I should come on this trip, but honestly, I knew that I would regret it if I didn't go. After we got home, Dora Hunter came over to the Larsen's and visited for a while.
We went to bed about 9pm which was early for us, but jet lag was starting to take its toll. We've done real well so far, no naps - we're too busy for naps, but a good night's sleep was a welcome relief after walking the streets of Hofuf.

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