In our never-ending quest to visit all of the malls in Jeddah (there are seriously about fifty thousand of the buggers) we decided to go to Al’ Salaam mall after work on Thursday. I can say with some confidence that it’s probably the first and last time I visit this mall being that I was terrified for approximately 90% of the experience.
Our first mistake was deciding to go on a Thursday after work. Weekends in Saudi are Friday/Saturday – which makes Thursday night the night everyone finishes work for the week and then instead of going home/doing something fun, everyone seems to instead hop in their cars with the seemingly sole purpose of creating the traffic jam from hell in Jeddah central and annoying the life out of me.
It took two entire hours to get from KAUST to the mall and most of that time we were sat stationary in the middle of the road, watching the cars do various highly illegal and death defying maneuvers around us. I saw a child no older than 10 driving an SUV on a motorway with his mother in the back of the car. Oh yep, and the air con was on the blink. On the plus side, I finally got to see some camels out of the window of the coach which has been an ambition ever since we arrived six weeks ago.
We got to the mall finally and parked up outside of entrance two. I asked the driver what time to be back at the coach and he cheerfully pointed at “23:15” on his typed up, laminated card, and off we went.
The mall itself is not too bad at all. The food hall is excellent and has a bunch of different places to eat at, we had some Asian street food and it was tremendous. There is ALSO a MASSIVE ROLLERCOASTER, an ice rink, and a frikkin WATER SLIDE in the middle of the mall. This made me run around in an excited frenzy just because I could look at it whilst I ate my tea but I imagine for a kid that is pretty much the best possible shopping trip destination ever, right?
Shops wise there was:
Marks and Spencer
A hello kitty shop
A big danube
And lots more, many jewelry shops, perfume shops, glasses shops and so on. So we happily spent a few hours picking up things we needed, looking at stuff we couldn’t afford, trying to sneak a quick nap in the nice beds in pottery barn – you know, the usual. Then disaster struck.
We left the mall and headed outside for 23:05 and settled down to wait for the bus. Now one thing that I have found odd about this country is that at nighttime families head out in the car and sit on the floor at the nearest available spot and have a picnic. On this occasion the nearest available spot was the carpark we were waiting in. So there’s me and Paul, the nervous, conspicuous westerners, surrounded by families eating chicken and bread on a carpark floor. In the dark. We started worrying in case we were being disrespectful by being there, more so when a guy moved his car to block us from looking at his family’s special meal (note: stay in your house then mate?).
We awkwardly shuffled amongst the diners, and made out way to the roadside to try and get out of the way a bit, by this time it was about 11:45 and had become apparent the bus was not turning up – young lads in Bentleys, Ferraris, Porsches, you name it, had appeared out of nowhere and started drag racing up and down the strip outside of the mall. We were unable to cross the road to go back inside the mall in case we were mutilated by a speeding luxury car, we had no phone signal so we couldn’t book an uber, I was crying, Paul was mothing sweat words (very quietly, so as to not offend anyone)…
Then, unbelievably, things took a turn for the worse. Completely fed up I flagged down a taxi, silenced Paul’s concerns and shoved him and all the bags inside. Unfortunately the driver spoke no English and I speak no Arabic. Still, by brandishing my KAUST pass at him and saying the word ‘university’ over and over again (in my defence, I was tired, a bit scared and I had no 3G signal to use any kind of translating app – I wouldn’t usually be such a Neanderthal when trying to communicate with someone) he nodded his understanding and off we went.
The first few minutes in the car I had my eyes closed with sheer relief and gratitude that we were finally moving. However once I opened my eyes, I discovered a few mildly concerning things; there were no seatbelts in the car, the windscreen of the car was completely smashed in, the car didn’t seem capable of going less than 70mph and we were going the wrong way.
Then followed a particularly difficult ten minutes, in which I was trying to explain where we wanted to go, he kept shouting “50 SAR FRIEND” at me and showing me pictures of his child on his phone (still travelling at 70) he called one of his friends on loudspeaker who could speak English and we managed to communicate where we wanted to go, he laughed hysterically at his mistake, slammed the breaks on and did a U-Turn in the middle of a dual carriage way. Life genuinely flashed before my eyes. Also sparks, because there were no windows.
The next hour consisted of our friend barreling along the highway at 130kph, whilst simultaneously having an incredibly broken conversation with Paul who was terrified and just kept shouting “SHOKRAN” (thank you) at the top of his voice because fear had turned his brains to jelly and he couldn’t remember any other words. He also managed to eat two entire sandwiches, drink numerous bottles of non-alcoholic beer, whatsapp every single one of his friends, show me SO MANY pictures of his son, voice call the friends who hadn’t responded to his whatsapp, and the whole time he was playing Adele’s “hello” at earsplitting volume on repeat. He was also really fond of gesticulating and seemed to be almost adverse to the concept of driving with his hands on the wheel which all-in-all, didn’t help matters.
Then……….there was a police check point that he, for reasons I will never know, decided to completely ignore and speed right on through, and so – we were pulled over by the police. When you are making your mind up about whether to move to Saudi Arabia, you spend quite a bit of time considering what you would do if you were in a car that got pulled over by the police and quite rightly so, this is not a country you want to get into trouble in. You probably think you are going to remain calm, comply with their requests and so on. I can now, with experience, advise you to do all of the above, and to absolutely not turn around and video the whole exchange through the back window on your phone.
Why would you do that?! Yeah honestly I have no idea, fear had made an imbecile of me, that’s all I can think of. Long story short, the policeman saw me, he wasn’t even vaguely amused and he took our phones, our iqama’s and our KAUST pass’ off us and I legit thought I was going to jail.
Somehow our driver got us out of that situation and returned grinning with all of our belongings, we set off and I immediately pretended to be asleep so that he couldn’t talk to me or show me any more photos in the vain hope it would limit how distracted he was and after twenty minutes we were home. I have never in my entire life been so happy to be back behind barbed wire.
Do not miss the bus home. This was probably my fault, I asked the driver the time but I didn’t check the name of the mall he was pointing at. Its better to double check.
Download uber and if you do need a taxi get it from either those guys or careem (I think this is a local Jeddah version of Uber). All the drivers speak English and I think generally speaking they have all their windows and luxury items like seatbelts.
Don’t video the police. They seriously don’t like it.
Let me know if there is anything in particular you would like me to post about and please follow me on Instagram (@littletinypanda) for pictures of KAUST and Jeddah.