RIYADH: Outgoing Afghan Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Sayed Jalal Karim, who was appointed in August 2016, will step down on Feb. 20.
In an interview with Arab News about his life in the Kingdom, he called his time as a diplomat “extraordinary.”
As part of his daily routine as an ambassador in the capital city Riyadh, his day started with morning prayers at sunrise, before taking his two young daughters to school.
“I enjoy my time talking to them, because they are very young, active and very smiley at that time of the day,” said Karim.
The ambassador prefers to separate his personal life from his career. “I separate my life between the embassy and home — my driver only stays with me until 4:30 p.m. Whenever I go anywhere after that, I drive myself.”
Even though Karim prefers to enjoy the time spent with family, his duties as an ambassador require him to attend diplomatic meetings or events “almost every two days or three days ... it’s quite a lot.”
Karim came to Saudi Arabia when he was 9 years old in 1980, and has lived in the country ever since.
“But I still remember my childhood in Afghanistan,” he said. “The old Saudi Arabia reminds me of Afghanistan, especially the UNESCO World Heritage Site Al-Turaif and the center of Riyadh, and Al-Musmak Palace which is very similar to our villages in old Afghanistan.”
Karim had a great “accidental” experience during his first visit to Al-Turaif a couple of weeks ago. “I wasn’t planning to visit Al-Turaif, I was with my family and we were planning to dine in one of the restaurants nearby, but it was too late. Then I found this young Saudi man and I asked him how to visit Al-Turaif, and he was so nice that he gave me a tour — it’s very nice to see a young person with such a high class of service.
“He accompanied me until I left. I was really impressed by him.”
During his early years, he lived in several cities across Saudi Arabia, including Makkah and Riyadh but mainly in Alkhobar, where his family, and his wife’s family, lived.
When he moved to Riyadh, Karim continued to visit his family in Alkhobar every two weeks, where he still enjoys spending time.
“But of course, we can’t forget that Riyadh is the capital and busiest city — it’s where the government is, and is the financial center. Jeddah also has its glamor, and Makkah is the holy city,” he said.
“Taif is a nice city, I remember the early eighties when the government used to move to Taif and we used to go there and stay for a month or two. And the weather usually was very beautiful, with a cool breeze. Each part of Saudi Arabia has its own distinctive characteristics with its people, culture, and food,” he added.
Karim likes all kinds of foods and loves to try different restaurants when he’s in Riyadh. “Mostly, I enjoy Saudi food.” But when he’s in Alkhobar, he enjoys delicious home meals as his mother and mother-in-law are very good cooks.
His time in the Kingdom has seen various changes, many of them positive, and he believes it is currently a great time to live
in the country.
“Being in Saudi Arabia for 40 years, during King Khalid’s time, I’ve seen the changes happening in Saudi Arabia. But certainly, the changes I’ve witnessed in the past three-and-a-half years have been tremendous.
“I took my children to the safari park, which they enjoyed a lot. We went a couple of times to Riyadh Boulevard which is one of Riyadh Season’s zones, to see the fireworks show,” he said.
“The interesting thing is that there was a time when you didn’t have places to go except for restaurants. Now, if you come to Riyadh for 8 or 9 days, there are a lot of options in the city, from museums to art museums, to libraries, to many other palaces.”
He mentioned that the country had changed a lot and that it was interesting to see people leading the changes are mostly young.
“A young leader like Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, knows where he wants to take the country. And for the first time, you see what you call ‘quality of life.’ Many advanced countries in the world are not giving attention to that much,” Karim said.
The ambassador enjoys horseback riding and attends Prince Sultan’s horse racing events every year. “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs invites us to their World Equestrian Championship every year and last year we participated and presented a horse statue made of Lapiz stones, which are famous in Afghanistan.”
Karim touched on one of the most interesting events that his embassy had done in Saudi Arabia, an exhibition called “Silk Road Exhibition.”
“We did this when I first came to Riyadh and was appointed ambassador. We didn’t think that it was going to be successful. In three days, 13,000 people visited the exhibition. It was one of the most successful diplomatic events. We had Afghan jewelry, Afghan cards, and Afghan carpets. We had all kinds of Afghan dry foods, Afghan woman and children’s clothing, and we had Afghan music.”
His future plan is to work in a private sector: “I’m not a career diplomat, I came from the private sector, so I’ll go back for a while.”