FaceOf: Majed Alnaji, director of operations at the Saudi Climbing Federation

Majed Alnaji
Updated 26 November 2018

FaceOf: Majed Alnaji, director of operations at the Saudi Climbing Federation

Majed Alnaji is the director of operations at the Saudi Climbing Federation (SCF), which governs all aspects of rock climbing and mountaineering in Saudi Arabia. Alnaji was appointed to this position in June 2018.

He is a civil engineer by qualification. He attended Northeastern University until 2017 and is an avid researcher. 

He is an avid researcher and has worked at the Laboratory for Graphene Research, the Boston University Photonics Center and the Kostas Institute for Homeland Security.

Before joining the SCF, he worked with Careem, the ride-hailing app service, for around one year as a data analytics intern in Alkhobar. 

Alnaji is a dedicated climber, who was also part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Outing Club. 

As part of the university club, he organized monthly weekend-long outdoor trips and conducted first-aid courses and provided climbing enthusiasts with the necessary training and handled equipment inventory.

He is a certified urban and wilderness emergency medical technician (EMT-B) and has undergone guide and rescue training. 

Recently, the SCF hosted the first Mountainfilm festival in Jeddah as part of its world tour. 

Ten short films of various topics including skiing, climbing, nature and running were screened. The documentaries were filmed in great spots for climbing sports around the world in many cities in Spain, France, US, Nepal and Norway.

Alnaji said: “It is really our first big event as a federation as we were founded in January; we started in Asharqiyah and we were in Riyadh last weekend and this is the last show of the tour.”

He added: “We wanted to promote this part of climbing and outer sports in general by opening people’s eyes to possibilities.”

The SCF is working on a number of other initiatives including preparing the first outdoor climbing area “Al-Shafa” outside the city of Taif where 35 climbing tracks have been developed. In addition to that, the “Tanoma’’ area in Al-Abha will be completed for external climbing next week and will be open to receive climbers by next week.


Adventures that prove the Empty Quarter is teeming with life

Unseen vistas of life in the vast Arabian desert. (AN photo)
Updated 33 min 8 sec ago

Adventures that prove the Empty Quarter is teeming with life

  • The Empty Quarter is, in fact, so full of life that it is nearly impossible for anyone to explore and experience it completely in a lifetime

It is quite unbecoming to call a place “empty” — and rather too easy, as well. It is just another lazy way to label a location. That has been the case with Rub Al-Khali, the Empty Quarter, which is the largest contiguous desert, or erg, in the world.

Describing this particular place as “empty” is an irony. The Empty Quarter is, in fact, so full of life that it is nearly impossible for anyone to explore and experience it completely in a lifetime. The book “Camels in the Sky: Travels in Arabia” by Indian author V. Muzafer Ahamed, does, however, reveal and describe an incredible amount of the life, in its full spectrum, to be found among the Arabian dunes.

The author’s work in Saudi Arabia as a journalist for a Malayalam-language daily newspaper led him to the desert and its inhabitants. He admits he was initially reluctant to journey into the harsh terrain, especially after an early, bitter experience during his rural reporting assignment. 

He recounts how a subsequent accidental encounter with a Bedouin sowed the seeds of his desert travel adventures. Had it not been for the resultant irresistible temptation to discover the unfathomed other side of the “severity of the desert,” he would have ended up being just another migrant worker in the Saudi city of Jeddah, totally unaware of the nuances of life in the great Arabian desert.

“Camels in the Sky” is a collection of Ahamed’s travel essays, translated from Malayalam by P. J. Mathew, that record the glimpses of desert life the author was given during his adventures in Saudi Arabia over a period of 13 years. They reveal some hitherto largely unseen vistas of life in the desert villages of the Kingdom, which will come as a surprise to readers who have no clue about the variety of life to be found on this part of the planet.

The author is our guide on a deep journey through the hidden alleys of desert life, sketching a vivid and detailed picture along the way. Much like the magical vision of Garcia Marques (a comparison made by the translator in his introduction to the book), Ahamed’s unique perspective on desert life provokes in the reader a massive urge to make similar forays into the locations he describes.

The book begins with a tale of utmost relevance in the modern world: A water war. Water has always been a valuable commodity in the desert, of course, even before it became a serious matter of discussion elsewhere. That the author’s first major encounter with Saudi life is related to this much-valued resource is more than just a coincidence; it is the light that led him toward exploring and uncovering the specificities of life in the Kingdom.

Although personal injuries he suffered in Sakaka initially threatened to extinguish the spirit of the traveler, he was inspired to carry on with his adventure by an encounter with Abd’ Rehman, a Bedouin he met in a restaurant in Jeddah. The travel bug that bit the author eventually took him to every corner of the vast country and the result is the invaluable collection of life sketches found in this book.

Ahamed leads us through a series of diverse stories and experiences to prove that the desert is teeming with life. From historical accounts of the Kinda to the perils of travel through harsh desert terrain to tales of vast civilizations and heritage, the author leaves no stone unturned along his way.

Then there is the relentless spirit of the hardy ghaf tree, which survives on the rare sprinkles of rain that come once in a decade or so; the stories of an anonymous man who rescues travelers in the desert; the adventures in the mighty sand traps; the mating of beetles; birdhouses in the desert; the different shades of sand; and camels in all their glory. Through these tales and more, Ahamed paints a vivid and complete picture of a land that is so little explored.

A unique feature of his writing style is the way he blends Arabian life with historical and literary references and analogies from elsewhere in the world, thereby drawing parallels between life in this less-navigated landscape with that in the other parts of the world.

“Camels in the Sky” offers not only a unique reading experience but also plants seeds that can grow into a love of travel and the urge to venture into the unknown corridors of life. The book is a reminder of the vast ocean of experiences that our blue planet has in store for those prepared to set sail.