Startup of the Week: Introducing souvenir culture to Saudi society

Updated 11 June 2019
0

Startup of the Week: Introducing souvenir culture to Saudi society

  • Saudi Sand Souvenir Co. currently produces staple tourist keepsakes such as passport covers, tote bags, fridge magnets and keychains

JEDDAH: A country’s landmarks, landscapes, culture and cuisine are typically represented by the trinkets that holidaymakers buy to remember their visits. 

France has baguettes and the Eiffel Tower. Australia has the boomerang and kangaroos. India has rickshaws and the Taj Mahal. But avid souvenir fan Maher Khayyat struggled to find themed collectibles for his home country, Saudi Arabia. So he decided to make them himself. 

He quit his engineering job to begin a new career, one that was related to his passion for art and design. “I am a souvenir collector, I love to collect souvenirs from around the world but I used to struggle to find souvenirs from Saudi Arabia, for myself and my friends,” he told Arab News. “Whenever we want to give someone a special Saudi gift, we directly think of Zamzam water or some dates. I wanted to change that in line with the significant changes the Kingdom is going through,” he added, referring to the huge transformation kick-started by the government’s Vision 2030 reform plan. 

One of the plan’s objectives is to put Saudi Arabia on the global tourism map through the development of programs, activities, facilities and festivals. The government has also launched ambitious giga-projects, including the ultra-luxurious Amaala resort and the cultural destination Qiddiya, to help achieve this goal.  

Khayyat formed the Saudi Sand Souvenir Co. to educate local and international visitors about the Kingdom’s true culture through souvenirs and memorabilia. It currently sells staple tourist keepsakes such as passport covers, tote bags, fridge magnets and keychains. There is also a souvenir pack for people who cannot choose between individual items. The plan is to be the country’s leading souvenir firm. 

One of the biggest challenges facing Khayyat and his Jeddah-based team was working out how to best reflect the culture and value of every Saudi region. “The Kingdom is vast and has diverse traditions and customs. We solved this problem after signing an agreement with the tourism authority. It helped us to understand the culture of each region because we were provided with the necessary information we needed about each region and its community.”

Another hurdle was introducing souvenir culture to Saudi society. “People would ask us what use they would make of these products. We would explain their cultural and consumer value, we educated people about the country. For instance, many of them did not know about (the UNESCO World Heritage Site) Madain Saleh or Al-Ula until after the recent festivals that took place there.”

Khayyat said there was greater awareness about souvenirs than before. The company has more customers, marketing is easier and sales are growing. 

“What distinguishes us is the high quality of our products and their reasonable prices, in addition to our innovative designs that combine reality with art. We want our products to be affordable to all pilgrims and tourists. Everyone should be able to buy something for themselves from Saudi Arabia.”

Saudi Sand Souvenir Co. products can be found in stores and airports in the Kingdom. They can also be bought online. The website can be found here: https://www.saudissouvenir.com/.


A poetic reflection on what it means to be Muslim in Europe

Updated 52 min 2 sec ago
0

A poetic reflection on what it means to be Muslim in Europe

  • Rahmani is an Algerian-born writer, art-historian and academic
  • Her first novel in the series, “France,” was about her father — a Harki, an Algerian soldier in the Algerian War who fought for the French

CHICAGO: From France comes the second book in Zahia Rahmani’s trilogy, “Muslim: A Novel” Delving deep into identity loss, displacement, misrepresentation and monolithic labels, Rahmani’s book moves between Algeria and France and the political and societal pressures of being both Muslim and European. The circumstances of her birth and the past have always been dictated by conditions beyond her reach and have forced upon her the loss of language and her own history.  

In unadulterated lyrical prose, Rahmani grapples with the circumstances of her life. She writes, “I was forced to lose myself in the century of errors that came before me,” disclosing that her life has never been her own. She was “born in 1962 in a society between times.” After moving to France at the age of five, Rahmani realized her life had changed once she began to lose her language Tamazight, a Berber language spoken by the people of Kabylie in the Aures Mountains, one that was never written down.

Remembering Quranic stories, her mother’s folktales and her own memories, Rahmani draws parallels with her own life to try and understand her fate. She has spent most of her time imprisoned and mislabeled as an Arab, or French, or an immigrant — even though she identifies as none of these.

Rahmani’s language flows freely like water, despite the weight of her words and their inferences. Her writing is impactful and profound as she attempts to close the gaps in herself, trying to understand her own identity or, rather, one that has been forced upon her.

Rahmani is an Algerian-born writer, art-historian and academic. Her first novel in the series, “France,” was about her father — a Harki, an Algerian soldier in the Algerian War who fought for the French. After being exiled from their home, the family sought refuge in France but faced severe discrimination.

“Muslim: A Novel” was originally published in 2005 then translated by Matt Reeck, a poet and translator, from French into English and published by Deep Vellum in 2019.