Saudi student leads new wave of female Uber drivers

Saudi student leads new wave of female Uber drivers
23-year-old Shahad Hamad, a part-time Uber driver, hits the streets of Riyadh, navigating her way throughx the Saudi capital. (AN photo)
Updated 16 January 2019

Saudi student leads new wave of female Uber drivers

Saudi student leads new wave of female Uber drivers
  • Shahad Hamad is one of the first female cabbies for Uber in the Kingdom
  • Uber recently rolled out a registration portal on its website specifically aimed at Saudi women

RIYADH: A 23-year-old Saudi university student is spearheading a new wave of women taxi drivers in the Kingdom.

Shahad Hamad has become one of the first female cabbies to work for Uber in Saudi Arabia since the lifting of the country’s ban on women driving.

The English translation student has found new self-confidence since taking up her part-time role with Uber in Riyadh.

Talking to Arab News, Shahad said she was looking forward to more women getting behind the wheel and joining her in the taxi ranks.

So far the young driver has received nothing but rave reviews from her passengers and said she “felt ecstatic” about the positive feedback.

“I never would have imagined the amount of support I have received from people. It’s helped me on my journey,” Shahad said. 

“I expected that my generation would be excited to see a young female Uber driver; what I didn’t expect was the older generation to be just as enthusiastic, if not more so. It was a big boost for me when older passengers complimented me on my braveness.”

On the subject of reactions from male passengers, Shahad said: “I’ve never had a problem with any passenger, regardless of their gender. However, male passengers always choose to ride in the back seat, although I did have an Asian passenger who sat in the front with me chatting about my experience.”

Her job has also relieved transport difficulties at her family home. 

“We only had one driver in my family and there was huge pressure and arguments about who went out and when,” she said. “It was a struggle just to go for dinner with friends because of the lack of transport.”

Uber recently rolled out a registration portal on its website specifically aimed at Saudi women. 

The “Masaruky” initiative offers information to women in the country interested in taking up roles as drivers with the company.

The move follows growing interest from Saudi women looking to benefit from the earning opportunities presented to them by becoming taxi drivers.

Uber also wants to help women access affordable transportation.

A spokesman for Uber in the Middle East said hundreds of women had registered on its website and expressed an interest in becoming cab drivers.

“The Masaruky initiative aims to increase the participation of women in the workforce through access to affordable transportation, in addition to increasing their access to flexible economic opportunities through Uber’s technology,” the spokesman added.

As yet, Shahad has not met any other female Uber drivers, but she is encouraging her friends to join her. 

“It’s a fun job. There used to be misconceptions surrounding it. But all I have received so far is positive feedback and support.”


Organic waste offers Saudi Arabia a plentiful and sustainable resource

Clockwise from left: Sanitation workers collect litter during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Makkah; piles of plastic bottles before they are recycled; circular fields, part of the green oasis of Wadi Al-Dawasir. (AFP/File Photos)
Clockwise from left: Sanitation workers collect litter during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Makkah; piles of plastic bottles before they are recycled; circular fields, part of the green oasis of Wadi Al-Dawasir. (AFP/File Photos)
Updated 15 May 2021

Organic waste offers Saudi Arabia a plentiful and sustainable resource

Clockwise from left: Sanitation workers collect litter during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Makkah; piles of plastic bottles before they are recycled; circular fields, part of the green oasis of Wadi Al-Dawasir. (AFP/File Photos)
  • Most of the 15 million tons of garbage generated every year ends up in giant landfills
  • With recycling incentives, discarded plastics could be reused in housing, roads and even artwork

RIYADH: Once upon a time, mankind produced a small amount of waste. Food was not packaged, fruit and vegetable peelings were fed to animals and the dung from horses and camels was used for fertilizer or dried and burned for heating. Most of what came from the earth went directly back into the earth with little or no harm to the environment.

Today, we live in a consumer age in which multitudes of products are purchased and the ensuing trash disposed of with little or no regard for its detrimental impact. Many single-use goods are manufactured and distributed at considerable expense, only to be momentarily used and then thrown away forever.

Saudi Arabia produces no less than 15 million tons of garbage per year — most of which ends up in giant landfills, full of dangerous toxins that seep deep into the ground.

Fortunately, there are now signs of a sea change, both in the Kingdom and around the world. An emerging concept known as “the circular economy” holds that any form of solid waste can be the raw material for a new and more valuable resource.

This is a contemporary answer to alchemy — the medieval quest to turn base matter into gold.

The circular economy involves both upcycling (the process of transforming waste materials into products of greater value) and downcycling (whereby discarded material is used to create something of lower quality and functionality).

Plastic is an obvious starting point. Heralded as a miracle substance almost a century ago, it became ubiquitous in our groceries, clothing, cars and electronic devices.

That initial enthusiasm for plastic has gradually led to a sober realization that it takes up to 500 years to decompose — presenting an environmental calamity that we witness daily on streets littered with plastic bags, cups, bottles and straws.

But did you know that some 50 percent of the plastic waste in Saudi Arabia is collected for recycling?

Plastic bottles before they are recycled. (AFP/File Photo)

Once cleaned and processed, this used plastic can be transformed into pellets, which in turn are melted down to form anything from household tiles to benches to roadside curbs. Japan is the leader in this respect, now recycling almost 90 percent of its plastic waste.

In fact, it is normal in Japan for households to have over half a dozen different containers for various kinds of trash, to ease sorting for recycling purposes.

India’s Kerala Highway Research Institute has developed a recycled, plastic-derived road-surfacing material that is more durable than conventional tarmac and able to withstand the heavy monsoon rains.

Household waste can also produce the energy needed to heat homes and charge electric cars of the future.

As organic matter (that is, anything from apple cores to onion skins) decomposes, it produces methane gas — a source of energy. Other solid waste — for example, cardboard and wood — can be incinerated, again to provide energy.

These processes are collectively known as “waste-to-energy” (WtE). Methods also exist for the filtration of the resulting fumes, reducing carbon output from WtE to almost zero.

A sanitation worker collects litter during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Makkah on August 22, 2018. (AFP/File Photo)

A 2017 study by King Saud University’s Department of Engineering Sciences concluded that Jeddah alone has the potential to produce 180 megawatts (MW) of electricity from garbage incineration and another 87.3 MW from garbage-sourced synthetic gas (syngas).

Another study by Dr. Abdul-Sattar Nizami, assistant professor at the Centre of Excellence in Environmental Studies at Jeddah’s King Abdul Aziz University, estimates that 3 terawatt-hours per year could be generated if all of Saudi Arabia’s food waste was utilized in syngas plants.

Sewage is another valuable resource, in two ways. First, just like household waste, sewage produces methane, which can be harnessed to produce energy. Second, sewage water can be treated and reused for irrigation and industrial purposes.

The potential gasification of solid waste and sewage is especially pertinent to Saudi Arabia, which derives a large proportion of its freshwater from desalinated seawater, every drop of which is precious.

RECYLING IN SAUDI ARABIA

* 15m - Tonnes of garbage produced by KSA per year.

* 50% - Plastic waste collected for recycling.

* 3TW-hours - Energy potential from food waste per year.

The Saudi government has already realized this and is taking proactive steps to generate at least half of its energy requirements from renewables by 2030. “Waste to energy” will no doubt play a role in this new paradigm.

In the city of Marselisborg in Denmark, sewage-derived methane now generates over 150 percent of the electricity needed to run its water-treatment plant. The surplus power is used to pump drinking water to homes and offices.

Much of Saudi Arabia’s sewage is filtered and repurposed, presenting an opportunity to produce cheap and abundant energy.

A similar philosophy can be applied to land use. Areas currently dismissed as wasteland can be reimagined as beautiful public spaces.

A partial view of the Sharaan Nature Reserve near AlUla in northwestern Saudi Arabia. (AFP/File Photo)

King Salman is a pioneer in this regard. Up until his tenure as governor of Riyadh Province, Wadi Hanifah, the dry riverbed that winds down the western edge of Riyadh, was an unsightly dumping ground for garbage and industrial effluent.

Working with an international team of landscapers, botanists and water-management experts, King Salman transformed the wadi into the exquisite meandering parkland it is today, with its thousands of trees, lush wetlands and charming picnic spots.

Another example of wasteland regeneration is the Highline of Manhattan — an elevated rail track that was abandoned after the Port of New York was largely shut down in the 1960s.

Instead of being demolished at great trouble and expense, this rusty eyesore was turned into a lovely green walkway through the concrete jungle and is today a major tourist attraction.

And just as wastelands can be repurposed to create attractive new spaces, many artists are using discarded materials to create stunning sculptures, while making powerful statements about our abuse of the planet.

The Milan-based artist Maria Cristina Finucci used two tons of plastic bottle caps and thousands of red-net food bags, placed inside recycled plastic containers, to spell out the word “HELP.”

One critic described this work as “a cry from humanity ... to curb the environmental disaster of the pollution of the seas.”

A McDonald’s table covered with trash. (Supplied)

In a similar vein, two Singaporean artists, Von Wong and Joshua Goh, created a work called “Plastikophobia” — an immersive art installation made from 18,000 discarded plastic cups, to raise awareness about single-use plastic pollution.

After decades of short-termism and willful denial of environmental destruction, all-encompassing smart waste-management policies are still in their infancy. The know-how and technology exist. They just need to be put into practice.

The Kingdom is already striking out in the right direction. Its Saudi Green Initiative, launched in March, calls for regional cooperation to tackle environmental challenges, boost the use of renewables and eliminate more than 130 million tons of carbon emissions.

The Middle East Green Initiative likewise sets out to reduce carbon emissions by 60 percent across the region.

There are also plans to plant 10 billion trees in the Kingdom and restore 40 million hectares of degraded land, while across the wider region there are plans for 50 billion trees and the restoration of 200 million hectares of degraded land.

Much will depend upon enlightenment and imagination at a societal and individual level. Do we continue to regard our world as a supposedly infinite source of material for our consumption and as a dumping ground for the resulting junk, or do we aim for a cleaner, more sustainable circular economy?

Young people, in particular, are increasingly concerned for the future of their planet and are highly motivated to protect it. This awakening is already beginning to translate into government policy, in Saudi Arabia and around the world. 


Saudi, Egyptian, Kuwaiti foreign ministers call for immediate ceasefire in Palestinian territories

Saudi, Egyptian, Kuwaiti foreign ministers call for immediate ceasefire in Palestinian territories
Updated 15 May 2021

Saudi, Egyptian, Kuwaiti foreign ministers call for immediate ceasefire in Palestinian territories

Saudi, Egyptian, Kuwaiti foreign ministers call for immediate ceasefire in Palestinian territories
  • Prince Faisal and Sameh Shoukry discussed developments in the Palestinian territories
  • They renewed their demand for the international community to confront aggressive Israeli practices

RIYADH: The foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Egypt called for an immediate ceasefire in Palestinian territories on Saturday.

Prince Faisal bin Farhan and Sameh Shoukry discussed developments in the Palestinian territories as part of continuous coordination between the Kingdom and Egypt.

They renewed their demand for the international community to confront aggressive Israeli practices against the Palestinian people.

The foreign ministers highlighted the importance of working to resume peace efforts in a manner that guarantees all legitimate Palestinian rights.

Prince Faisal also received a telephone call from his Kuwait counterpart during which the two officials discussed the escalation in violence in the region.

Prince Faisal and Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah discussed the Palestinian cause, developments in the region and bilateral relations.


Saudi Arabia announces 13 more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces 13 more COVID-19 deaths
Updated 15 May 2021

Saudi Arabia announces 13 more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces 13 more COVID-19 deaths
  • The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom has increased to 416,759
  • A total of 7,147 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced 13 deaths from COVID-19 and 837 new infections on Saturday.
Of the new cases, 290 were recorded in Riyadh, 240 in Makkah, 97 in the the Eastern Province, 59 in Asir, 55 in Madinah, 28 in Jazan, 15 in Najran, 10 in Hail, eight in Al-Baha, five in Al-Jouf, and one in Tabuk.
The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom increased to 416,759 after 1,012 more patients recovered from the virus.
A total of 7,147 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far.
Over 11.3 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine have been administered in the Kingdom to date.


Saudi physics team wins 5 international medals on Eid

Saudi physics team wins 5 international medals on Eid
Updated 15 May 2021

Saudi physics team wins 5 international medals on Eid

Saudi physics team wins 5 international medals on Eid
  • Eight students from the Kingdom participated in the Olympiad and won one gold, two silver, and two bronze medals taking the country’s record in international scientific competitions to 413 triumphs

RIYADH: Students from the Saudi national physics team added to the country’s Eid celebrations by winning five medals at a major international science competition.

The team, trained by the King Abdul Aziz and His Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity (Mawhiba) in partnership with the Ministry of Education, scooped the awards at the 2021 Nordic-Baltic Physics Olympiad (NBPhO).

Mawhiba secretary-general, Dr. Saud Al-Mathami, said: “On Eid Al-Fitr, our students offered our dear nation the best gift and were able to represent it in the best way possible.”

The NBPhO event, which was held remotely on May 7 to 8 due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, featured 116 contestants representing 11 countries.

Eight students from the Kingdom participated in the Olympiad and won one gold, two silver, and two bronze medals taking the country’s record in international scientific competitions to 413 triumphs.

Ahmed Al-Muhanna secured the gold, Alqasem Senegali and Hassan Mohammed Al-Lail gained silvers, and Sadeq Al-Abbad and Adel Al-Shammasi both returned home with a bronze medal.

Al-Mathami thanked King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for their ongoing support for the foundation’s work.

“Mawhiba provides students with intensive training courses and programs within an integrated journey, where each student has access to more than 19 initiatives.

“It supports and empowers students to take part in forging the future and be effective partners in achieving the Kingdom’s Vision 2030,” he added.

Saudi Arabia’s participation in global science contests forms part of Mawhiba’s so-called “journey of gifted students” that includes several initiatives such as summer academic and research enrichment programs, apprenticeships, and post-school schemes that help students enroll in some of the world’s top universities and compete and win in international competitions.

NBPhO allows major counties up to 20 participants.


Building on tradition: The enduring appeal of Hail’s mud houses

Building on tradition: The enduring appeal of Hail’s mud houses
Updated 15 May 2021

Building on tradition: The enduring appeal of Hail’s mud houses

Building on tradition: The enduring appeal of Hail’s mud houses
  • The region is replete with historical heritage because it is an ancient region known for its generosity and hospitality

RIYADH: Old neighborhoods in the heart of the city of Hail, in northern Saudi Arabia, are popular attractions, especially with older visitors who like to wander around and look at the traditional mud houses that remind them of their childhood days.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in the region in these buildings, both the surviving examples of those built a century ago and the more recent buildings that mimic their style.

Mohammed Al-Na’am is the supervisor of several Al-Na’am heritage houses. These properties, which are owned by his family and were built many decades ago, are open 24 hours a day to visitors and passers-by, who can stop by for a coffee and some food or even stay the night. There are many other houses across the Hail region that are similarly welcoming, he said.

His heritage houses are usually busy with visitors from Hail and beyond, who appreciate the generosity of their hosts, he said. Most of those who visit the houses, the origins of which date back as far as 1500 AD, are particularly impressed by the ornately decorated walls and ceilings, which have been restored and renovated with a modern touch, Al-Na’am added.

“Hail is replete with historical heritage because it is an ancient region known for its generosity and hospitality,” he said. “This explains the interest in the ancient buildings of the region.”

The traditional buildings in the region differ from those in other parts of the Kingdom, and some other Gulf countries, because they were designed and built with the help of Iraqi specialists and architects and so include distinctive plaster decorations in a variety of shapes and forms, he explained. Some examples have been well maintained and preserved while others are in need of restoration.

While this traditional style of building enjoys enduring popularity, Al-Na’am said, the high cost of constructing mud houses and the need for continuous maintenance means that modern versions are often built using concrete. This allows the classic mud-house style to be preserved while reducing the cost of construction and maintenance.

“Some modern buildings maintain the traditional design used in ancient buildings and use the same style of decorations, especially those in the city center,” he said. But this style of ancient buildings originally developed and spread in the villages of the region, not in the city.

HIGHLIGHT

The traditional buildings in the region differ from those in other parts of the Kingdom, and some other Gulf countries, because they were designed and built with the help of Iraqi specialists and architects and so include distinctive plaster decorations in a variety of shapes and forms. Some examples have been well maintained and preserved while others are in need of restoration.

One feature of these buildings is the design of the majlis or sitting rooms, which often have relatively high ceilings to make it easier to keep the room clear of smoke from the fire during the winter and keep it cool in the summer, said Al-Na’am.

“Most of the sitting rooms are decorated with plaster featuring geometric shapes,” he added. “However, today’s buildings use gypsum plaster and cement, which have lower costs.”

Some people continue to keep the old traditions alive by working with authentic materials. Abdullah Al-Khuzam, a member of the National Program for the Development of Handicrafts, has been passionate about building mud houses for more than 30 years.

He said he mixes the mud he uses, and that other materials used in the construction include tree trunks and palm-tree fronds. He described the Hail architectural style as durable and solid, with strong walls ranging in thickness from 30 to 40 centimeters. Mixing the mud is a delicate process that requires special skills, and is not as random as it might appear, he added.

“For example, certain parts of the building require a certain amount of mud and clay and a certain quantity of soil,” he explained. “For other parts, mud and soil are mixed and soft hay is added. The mixture is fermented for seven to 14 days before construction starts.”

Al-Khuzam, who is also a well-known fine artist, has taken part in many heritage exhibitions in the Kingdom and other countries.

“My participation in these events aimed to promote our traditional heritage and introduce the next generations to the traditional methods our forefathers used,” he said. The traditional designs and construction methods used in old buildings reflected the values and beliefs of the community, said Al-Khuzam. It was usual, for example, for doors in mud houses to be positioned in such a way that they did not reveal the interior of the house. A wall would block the view. Decorations were also an important part of the design process.

“Our forefathers paid special attention to the sitting room’s construction, which reflected their taste in art and architecture,” he said. “The majority of sitting rooms were decorated with engravings on the walls as well as Qur’anic verses, wise proverbs and drawings of plants.”

The majlis, where guests were hosted, was known as al-qahwa (the coffee area), he explained, and the area overlooking the yard was called liwan (summer majlis).

One feature that sets houses in Hail apart from those in other areas, according to Al-Khuzam, is the yard. Typically, it is a large space with an orange tree in the center. Orange trees live a long time and are a signature feature of yards in Hail. Some also have palm trees.

Another prominent feature of architecture in the region is something called a “dome,” which is located in front of the building. It is where the residents of the house traditionally spend most of their time during the summer. It also helps to shield the rest of the house from the sun and rain.

The previously mentioned majlis or sitting room in the heart of the house is where family members gather during the cold days of winter and light a fire to keep warm. The heads of the family occupy the main bedroom, while the children share rooms that are divided between boys and girls.

One of the nicest parts of a traditional Hail house is called “al-qubaiba.” Located off a corridor or a corner, it is a small space usually used by women, especially the elderly, to pray. A clay pot filled with water is stored there to keep it cool.

Al-Khuzam’s enduring passion for Hail’s old buildings is clear.

“I have been ready to do anything for the sake of this precious heritage and legacy,” he said. “I was glad when I heard that the Ministry of Culture had decided to restore the heritage sitting rooms in the city of Hail. These public places represent an important aspect of the traditions and values of the people of Hail, reflecting their generosity to visitors and passers-by. Some of them are open from after Asr prayers until midnight.

“I was a member of the team that restored these sitting rooms. I am grateful for the authorities’ support and for giving us the opportunity to put our touches on the historic buildings in the area.”

Mohammed Al-Halfi, a historian and doctorate student at King Saud University, said a house represents a part of a family’s identity and offers an insight into their history. Houses built close together are indicative of the close relationships between the people that lived in them, he explained.

They reveal how these people planned their lives together and built houses that reflected their environments and surroundings, he added. In the rural desert environment, known for its harshness and extreme summer heat, mud houses helped to manage the temperature.

“Using mud in architecture became an art hundreds of years ago, and still is,” said Al-Halfi. “Guest and living rooms in today’s houses have the same style as the old ones, and this reflects our pride in this identity and our heritage.”

He added that a study of the materials, design and construction techniques that were used to make the mud houses reveals the expertise of the builders. They took into account all factors to ensure the structures were perfectly suited to the local conditions, including the terrain and climate, and even the rising and setting of the sun.

“We must view mud houses as a historical source when studying any society,” said Al-Halfi. “These houses deserve to be studied, economically and socially, to get more information about the community at the time.

“That is why we find mud houses differ from one region to another, according to the cultures of their inhabitants and the building requirements available in their environments.”