Three Observations from Saudi Arabia

Reflections after One Week in the Kingdom

A.J. Bryant

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Photo of a coffee shop name in Riyadh called ‘The Coffeeholics’
Whimsical Coffee Shop Name — Photo by Author

It’s harder to enter Washington D.C.’s Smithsonian Museums than to get into Saudi Arabia.

I’ve read about surveillance and security in Saudi Arabia for years and expected a severe grilling from the Customs and Border agents at the Jeddah airport. I could not have been more wrong.

Though not warm or smiling, they asked for my passport and e-VISA. After typing my info into their computers, voila! I was allowed entry. I could not believe how simple and straightforward the process was. No one asked to see my bag contents. There was no invasive scrutiny. I was waived through the line without a second glance.

After entering the country, I downloaded an app called Tawalkhana, which had my arrival picture and basic information, including a vaccination record. I’m sure the government was tracking my every move. I presented the app as an entry requirement to all shops, restaurants, and public places.

Saudis Love Their Coffee

Never have I seen as many coffee shops as in Riyadh. Since alcohol is forbidden (even the airplane sanitary wipes are 100% alcohol-free), the city has an abundance of places where one can get coffee/tea and sometimes snacks. Most feel like a bar, with…

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A.J. Bryant

Adopted from Kerala. I write about adoption, my intercultural marriage, contemporary India and more. Prawns are my love language.