This post is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, "150 Times Around the World," by Dr Jac Fitzenz. Its a culmination of his life's travels around the world and a compelling window into his vast journeys. Take a seat and come along for the experience of a lifetime as you join Dr Jac on his travels. Click here if you'd like to be notified when "150 Times Around the World" is available for purchase.
My assignment was to deliver a two-day training program on the new approach to human capital management that I had introduced in my work on predictive analytics. The title of this program was Human Capital, The Competitive Edge in the 21st Century.
I had another surprise when I was taken to the training room to prepare for the next day’s session. Instead of tables with the participants grouped around them facing the front, the room setup was entirely different from anything I had ever experienced. The attendees sat around the edge of the room behind individual tables. I stood in the middle of the carpeted room with my projector. It took some time to become comfortable with the ambiance and the setting. With the attendees spread around the large room I had to continually swivel my head to direct my remarks to most of the people. Still, after a couple hours the first morning, we all settled in.
I found the Arabian way of thinking to be quite different than my own. I don’t know how to describe it except to submit that it feels like we’re on two parallel paths rather than on the same road. Several times the flow of the program was interrupted by questions that I had trouble responding to. The attitudes were positive, but there was some difficulty at times where we had a problem with a concept. My feeling was that there was tacit acceptance of my approach, but not total buy-in on some aspects. As the saying goes, “You can’t win them all.” We’re moving along together, but there is space between us.
Unexpected Honor. Arab’s are very cautious with westerners. We’ve been regarded in the region as exploiters. The Arab oil embargo of the mid 1970’s was their response to the belief we had taken unfair advantage of cheap Middle Eastern oil. As a result of this attitude a couple days later Ahmed surprised me by honoring me with an invitation to his home. This is most unusual. Arabians do not, as a matter of course, bring a foreigner into such a close relationship. It is especially true with someone they’ve known only a couple of days. This was to be the first of the three unique experiences I mentioned above.
Although I was impressed and felt very privileged by the Sheikh’s open hospitality, I was almost stunned, speechless I might say, when he went into the private part of his house and returned with his baby son for me to see. The little fellow was just a few months old. To top off this extraordinary gesture, he asked me to hold the baby while he took this photograph. I can’t tell you how extraordinary this act was. Frankly, if you didn’t see the picture you would think I made this up.
Sight-Seeing. When the program was completed, they wanted to show me the area. On the first day, Khaled took me around town and to lunch with the Sheikh at a traditional Arabian restaurant, not a tourist site. The low one story building had an open center garden with small alcoves around the edges that faced the center. He said they frequently had lunch here in this quiet, comfortable habitat.
No chairs. We sat on carpets on the floor. This was very difficult for my stiff seventy-four-year-old knees. The food in bowls and platters was laid on the carpet in the center. Tea was the drink. There is a misconception that alcohol is not available in Arabian countries. This is not true. Its sale and consumption are severely restricted in Saudi Arabia, but more open in other Arabian countries.
Arabian cuisine focuses around rice, fish, and meat—principally lamb and mutton. A popular dessert is luqaimat. It’s a puffy, sweet, fried dumpling dipped in honey or syrup. It’s served often in the month of Ramadan after breaking the fast every evening. We each took what we wanted to our plates. It was very cordial as we talked, loaded our plates repeatedly and generally had a very relaxing time, except for my knees.
After lunch, the Sheikh left and Khaled took me on a tour of the National Museum. It was basically a history lesson presented in an elegant setting. In 1945, when the end of the World War II was in sight, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met with King Abdulaziz, called Ibn Saud in the west, and presented the founder of modern Saudi Arabia with a customized Rolls Royce. The automobile is one of two vintage Rolls Royce on display.
Churchill was well known in the area. In 1921, as Secretary of State for the British colonies, Churchill had convened the famous Cairo conference where many of today’s Middle East boundaries were drawn. Khaled gave me a copy of the Life of Ibn Saud, Founder of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It’s a stimulating tale of how this man, starting at age 19, wrested a nation from a desert of independent tribes and Bedouin tribesmen.
The day after our tour Khaled was committed to another event so he arranged for me to play golf at perhaps the only course in town. Frankly, it wasn’t very good since golf at that time had not taken hold in Riyadh. Nevertheless, it was a great gesture and I appreciated it.