Saturday, August 11, 2007

Al-Fatah

Visited al-Balad, the downtown area of Jiddah last night, and walked around the nearby muntaqa al-tareekhi, the historic area, where some of the old Jiddah is undergoing reconstruction efforts. A baladiyya official proudly showed by the names of nearly 14,000 locals who were signing up for voluntary work scrubbing off graffiti. This civil responsibility is surely a very good sign, though I could not help by notice that many of those in the queue keen to get the goody back and a number in the lottery, were south Asians. Perhaps they are assuming they can skip the unpaid labour part. The remains of a castle (in the masaluwn area) provides a very attractive focal point in this area, however the surrounding wooden shuttered old buildings are in a pretty poor state. You do not have to walk far in Jiddah, here, or near the souq area, to imagine you are in the “developing world”. That is partly the style of life in a city that is a focal point of haj pilgrims from all over the world. However it also begs the question about local funding and efficiency. The press continues to contain stories of water still being provided by lorry in parts of the city, and that this apparently gets more expensive in poorer areas that are less accessible by vehicle. Walking around last night, close to the historic area for which a new clean up is planned, I saw a lot of trash and broken glass and poorly paved walkways. It is not a shortage of revenues that explains this. ….

One very positive moment, however, was dining in the Al-Fatah restaurant, just around the corner from the Masaluwn. It serves fantastic foul and masuwb for desert, among other delights. Great place, great atmosphere helped by regional and international staff, and almost embarrassingly cheap.

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