I am a frequent target for spammers and scammers, over social hospitality and travel websites. I became wary of the messages as I open them. But, this 25 yo Engineer/Photographer was different. I am proud I hosted Michal Chmielewski, from Poland.
He was new to the KSA at the time. In fact, it was his first time to set foot in the whole Middle East. His request was curious. He has been there only for 8 days, and his foreign boss warned him not to go out alone in the streets, till he made some friends to accompany him.
Yet, this young man challenged the stereotype, wisely. For him it might have been a risk, riding with a someone he heard lots of negative stereotype about. But he tread nicely and was open to understand and to interact respectfully.
We went for a full day trip across Riyadh. We covered 400 Km On-Roads and 150 Km Off-roads. We visit Al-Dahna’ desert, went into few sinkholes, passed by some shepherds, and visited the Camels’ needs markets.
Along the way, he never stopped documenting everything around him with his camera. And, asking many questions about things that seemed funny to him, regarding Arabs and Islam.
He asked about the Shari'a judicial system, and it was extracted from Quran, Women’s Rights and the Culture behind it, the nomadic life and survival skills in the desert, the nature of the place .. many questions about everything.
The discussions were never rigid, and the questions were not out of prejudice. he wanted to discover to know and was open to respect the opposition and see beyond the differences.
It was such an enriching encounter to both of us. You might feel like defending your own image or correcting the stereotypes about your own people and the believes you live with. But it is also important to realise that you too have biases and false images about the others.