Jeffrey Black | Middle East Diaries


Abandoned: Jeddah, 28th January 2008
January 28, 2008, 2:30 pm
Filed under: Saudi Arabia

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Old Jeddah is like some third-world nexus for the unfortunate or displaced. The old balad has sagged, and the dust has gathered in the corners, and the lintels are in most windows broken. But still, the structure of Burckhardt’s Djiddah is mostly here, although with the accretions of a few centuries of commerce, carelessness and refugees. Rubbish lies steaming beneath a sun-worn façade full of mashrabiyyas, the gables and corners of everything at odds with everything else, in a kind of architectural absurdist comedy. I saw a thick rat dead beneath a doorway, mortified at the state of the place. In the alleys weaves an odd motley crew of inhabitants, none of whom had the air of ownership.

The markets closed for prayer. The wasps swarmed on the spices, the dates, on the weakening tomatoes regardless, glad of the reprieve. The muslims prayed and the women went to the alleyways. Here, there are the bright shawls and coverings of Somail women, the odd pronunciation of the Sudanese, the staccato rattle of Yemenis. It has obviously been the exposure to visitors from abroad, coming over the sea, that has obviously made Jeddah the more “liberal” city in the Kingdom. Here, there is less space for exclusionary politics, because who would have the high ground? Who can claim ethnic or religious purity here, where perhaps everyone has had a grandfather that stepped onto the quay grimy and shaken from months at sea. And moreover, when one has lived in the midst of difference, who would care?

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