Harsh climates make the kindest people, says Heart of Arabia expedition leader from UK

Mark Evans playfully embraces a camel in one of the villages and farms of Quwayiah on the second leg of the Heart of Arabia expedition. (Photo/Ana-Maria Pavalache)
Mark Evans playfully embraces a camel in one of the villages and farms of Quwayiah on the second leg of the Heart of Arabia expedition. (Photo/Ana-Maria Pavalache)
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Updated 05 February 2023

Harsh climates make the kindest people, says Heart of Arabia expedition leader from UK

Harsh climates make the kindest people, says Heart of Arabia expedition leader from UK
  • Evans has lived in the region for over 25 years, and is head of Outward Bound Oman, an experiential learning organization dedicated to developing outdoor skills, the first of its kind in the Arab region

RIYADH: At first thought the freezing Arctic and scorching Arabian desert would seem to have little in common, but according to British explorer Mark Evans, their similarities lie in the people who live there.

It has been only a few days since Evans completed the Heart of Arabia expedition across the Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia, a journey taken by the great explorer and writer Harry St. John Philby in 1917. Philby greatly contributed to the documentation of the region and felt so at home that he converted to Islam and named himself Abdullah.

The team of four, including Philby’s granddaughter Reem Philby, photographer Ana-Maria Pavalache, and regional expert Alan Morrissey, was led by Evans from the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia to the west in a 1,300 km journey that ended on Jan. 30.




Mark Evans and Saudi explorer Reem Philby on the second leg of the Heart of Arabia expedition following in Abdullah Philby's footsteps from 1917. (Photo/Ana-Maria Pavalache)

Every day, Evans and Reem would set off at sunrise, walking or sometimes mounted on camels, leaving the vehicles to catch up later in the day as they followed Philby’s route. Through Philby’s photographic documentation and detailed journals in the early 1900s, the group was able to pinpoint the exact locations almost 105 years later.

Evans has lived in the region for over 25 years, and is head of Outward Bound Oman, an experiential learning organization dedicated to developing outdoor skills, the first of its kind in the Arab region.

Before traveling around the Middle East, he lived a neo-nomadic lifestyle, honoring the beauty of uninhabited places through his travels, which included crossing Greenland’s ice sheet, and hunting for evidence of William Edward Parry’s 1820 Artic expedition on Melville Island.




A resting point for the Heart of Arabia expedition team between the Saudi desert sand dunes during the second leg of the journey, which kicked off from Diriyah in January. (Photo/Ana-Maria Pavalache)

Most journeys are spent in isolation, far away from the chaos and daily demands of the world, giving explorers a great opportunity for reflection and a chance to focus on the research at hand. These meaningful expeditions have allowed Evans to reframe the notion of isolation.

“I really like the word serenity because I find great peace and contentment in the desert. One of the best parts of the day is the first half an hour when I get into my sleeping bag and I just put my head on my pillow and look at the stars above that are just unbelievable,” he said. He said that he prefers to sleep on the sand rather than in a tent.

Having spent a whole year in the Arctic, including four months of total darkness with temperatures as low as minus 37 C, two weeks in the Saudi desert are relatively straightforward for Evans.




Much of British explorer Mark Evans' expeditions are spent in isolation from the chaos and happenings of the world, which provide great opportunity for reflection and focus. (Photo/Ana-Maria Pavalache)

Growing up in the British countryside, Evans’ exploring instincts were honed at an early age.

“I grew up in a time where you had to create your own entertainment. I was already very content in silent places and quiet places close to nature. That was my childhood. I was less comfortable going into noisy restaurants and discotheques,” he said.

I feel that my role in life is to try to inspire others and to give other people the opportunity that I had when I was a young person, to shape their own lives and make a positive difference to society.

Mark Evans, British explorer

Aged 17, he had the chance to join a six-week expedition to northern Norway through an educational charity in London. He shared a tent with two strangers in a place where the sun never set.

“I just fell in love with a life that was outside of my small rural life back in Britain,” Evans said.

That period set him off on a flurry of expeditions in the years to come. He spent 10 years in the Arctic, giving back to the youth and future generations in the same way the charity invested in him at an early age.

“It was a chance for me to step up and invest a bit of my time to support society,” he said.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The Heart of Arabia expedition that follows in Abdullah Philby’s footsteps included his granddaughter Reem Philby, photographer Ana-Maria Pavalache, regional expert Alan Morrissey, and seasoned explorer Mark Evans who led the group from the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia to the west in a 1,300 km journey that ended on Jan. 30.

• Since the Heart of Arabia expedition began, the expedition’s official podcast has garnered nearly 3,000 downloads in 53 countries around the world, along with steady growth in followers across social media platforms. Listeners can follow the group’s documentation of everyday life in the Kingdom’s deserts.

But while his travels and philanthropic ventures were a great way to see the world, they paid far from a livable wage, which led him to become an educator.

Although Evans claims he went into teaching “for the wrong reasons,” it brought him to the Middle East, initially to Bahrain, then for four years at the British School in Riyadh, and later Oman.

Initially, he thought he would not particularly enjoy the region, but he quickly fell in love with the culture, heritage, and hospitality of the people.  

“There’s a real connection between those two places in my life. Arctic and Arabia both start with a letter ‘A,’ and the one thing they have in common is that people who live in the Arctic and who live in Arabia live on the extremes of human comfort.

“One lives in extreme cold, one lives in extreme heat. As (explorer and writer) Wilfred ‘Mubarak bin Landan’ Thesiger said: ‘The harder the life, the finer the person.’”

During winter nights, the Arctic sky would come alive with the electrifying energy of the aurora borealis. The sunlight, however, came in waves: From total darkness in early February to slivers of sunshine on the horizon, the season eventually turns to unbroken daylight.

“I hadn’t seen the sun for three months. I remember breaking down and crying because I knew that winter was coming to an end and summer was coming. And that was quite emotional,” Evans said.

Moments such as these are what keep the traveler curious for more. At the age of 61, he continues his quest to experience the glorious offerings of nature and serenity.

“​​Being here, I find total contentment. I wouldn’t find it working in a busy office in a noisy city,” he said.

As Evans grows older, his legacy is becoming a prime motivator. He continues to find ways to secure sustainable outcomes that influence the behavior and thinking of others, much like Abdullah Philby did.

Since the Heart of Arabia expedition began, their podcast has garnered nearly 3,000 downloads in 53 countries around the world, along with steady growth in followers across social media platforms. Listeners can follow the group’s documentation of everyday life in the Kingdom’s deserts.

The team has also launched the Philby Arabia Fund, which is dedicated to researchers looking to initiate projects in Saudi Arabia.

“Funding can be a real challenge,” Evans said. “You have an idea, but you just don’t know where to start. I feel that my role in life is to try to inspire others and to give other people the opportunity that I had when I was a young person, to shape their own lives and make a positive difference to society.”

 

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Saudi crown prince, US state secretary discuss cooperation

Saudi crown prince, US state secretary discuss cooperation
Updated 07 June 2023

Saudi crown prince, US state secretary discuss cooperation

Saudi crown prince, US state secretary discuss cooperation
  • Pair discussed ways to enhance cooperation and bilateral relations in various fields

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Jeddah, the Saudi Press Agency reported early Wednesday.

The pair discussed ways to enhance cooperation and bilateral relations in various fields, and efforts toward the latest regional and International developments.

Senior Saudi and US officials attended the meeting.

Blinken arrived in Jeddah on Tuesday.

His trip comes as the Kingdom and US seek to broker a durable cease-fire between Sudan’s warring generals in ongoing talks in Jeddah.

Blinken will participate in a US-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) ministerial meeting to discuss growing cooperation with Gulf partners and how they can promote security, stability, de-escalation, regional integration, and economic opportunities across the Middle East, spokesman Matt Miller said.

The state secretary and Saudi foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan will co-host a ministerial meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh “to address the continuing threat of (Daesh) and reaffirm our commitment to ensure its enduring defeat,” he added.


Saudi Cabinet backs OPEC+ agreement to stabilize oil markets

Saudi Cabinet backs OPEC+ agreement to stabilize oil markets
Updated 07 June 2023

Saudi Cabinet backs OPEC+ agreement to stabilize oil markets

Saudi Cabinet backs OPEC+ agreement to stabilize oil markets

RIYADH: Saudi ministers backed this week’s oil agreement between exporting countries and supported the Kingdom’s voluntary production cut.

Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies such as Russia, known as OPEC+, announced on Sunday to limit oil output in 2024.

Saudi Arabia said it will extend its voluntary cut of 500,000 bpd until the end of December 2024, in coordination with some countries participating in the OPEC+ agreement.

The Saudi energy ministry also announced an additional voluntary oil output cut of 1 million bpd for July, which could be extended further.

This would mean that the Kingdom’s production becomes 9 million bpd, and its total voluntary cut will be 1.5 million bpd in July.

Defending the decisions made by the oil producers’ alliance, Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman stressed the need to “trust OPEC+” which he described as “the most effective international organization” working to restore market stability.

“It was just our sensibility, if you will call it, that the environment was not sufficiently allowing confidence to be there. So taking a precautionary measure tends to put you on the safe side. And it is part of the typical rhythm that we have installed in OPEC, which is being proactive, being preemptive,” Prince Abdulaziz said.

In other business, ministers at Cabinet meeting, chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah, said the successful Saudi mission to the International Station shows the Kingdom’s strengthening role in space technologies. 

The mission also comes as an extension of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to empower people, protect the planet, and shape new horizons through science, research and innovations, the Saudi Press Agency reported early Wednesday.

The officials reiterated the Kingdom’s commitment, during the BRICS meeting, to continue working with international partners to achieve the sustainable development goals by 2030, and to intensify global efforts to enhance food and energy security.

Locally, the Cabinet emphasized the government’s commitment to improve the level of services provided to citizens, including enhancing water resources and working on their sustainability through the launch of many high-quality and efficient projects. This includes the Jubail 3A Desalination Plant project, which was recently launched and is considered the largest of its kind in the world.

Ministers praised the comprehensive data provided by the Saudi census 2022, which will be a pillar for planning, development, decision-making and economic and social policy-making,  in a way that contributes to achieving the goals of the Saudi Vision 2030 and preparing to create a better future.
 


Second Collectors’ Circle exhibition opens at ATHR gallery in Jeddah

Second Collectors’ Circle exhibition opens at ATHR gallery in Jeddah
Updated 06 June 2023

Second Collectors’ Circle exhibition opens at ATHR gallery in Jeddah

Second Collectors’ Circle exhibition opens at ATHR gallery in Jeddah
  • Featuring prominent Saudi and Arab artists, the second Collectors’ Circle aims to develop patronage culture in the region

JEDDAH: The second ATHR Collectors’ Circle for 2023 has opened its doors to the public in Jeddah, featuring editioned artworks by some of the region’s most prominent names.

Spread across a vast area, the exhibition is a vibrant and elegant collection that will intrigue art collectors and enthusiasts alike. The works are interspersed within the permanent collection to create a trail throughout the exhibition center.

Athr Gallery’s second Collectors’ Circle exhibition was curated by Solafa Rawas and Ola bin Saqran and runs until July 31; it features an accompanying program on art collection and patronage. (Instagram/athrart)

Contributing artists include Sara Abdu, Ahmed Mater, Sarah Abuabdallah, Ahaad Al-Amoudi, Mohammed Al-Faraj, Reem Al-Nasser, Dana Awartani, and Ayman Yosri Daydban among others.

The ACC aims to develop an art patronage culture within the Saudi art scene and highlight works that have been displayed at prestigious institutions.

The current exhibition, curated by Solafa Rawas and Ola bin Saqran, runs until July 31.

‘And Make Me light,’ 2023, Farah Behbehani. (Supplied)

Rawas, also an art advisor specializing in Saudi contemporary art, told Arab News that the ACC, in addition to highlighting artists, is about starting a conversation.

“It is an educational exhibition for the younger generation. In this exhibition, we have gathered very important artists who have been exhibiting their art locally and internationally,” Rawas said.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The second Collectors’ Circle exhibition can be viewed at Athr Gallery in Jeddah.

• Contributing artists include Sara Abdu, Ahmed Mater, Ahaad Al-Amoudi, Mohammed Al-Faraj and Reem Al-Nasser among others.

The exhibition features rare, mixed-media works by prominent local and international creatives in the contemporary art scene.

‘My Hopes and your dreams,’ 2021, Ahaad Al-Amoudi. (Supplied)

“Delights I, 2023” by Sultan bin Fahad was created on hand-knotted silk and wool carpet. “My Hopes and Your Dreams, 2021” by Al-Amoudi is a video installation with action figures. “And Make Me Light, 2023” by Farah Behbehani involves the use of OCE print with silver wax and diamond dust.

Other mediums include graphite drawing on wood, tomato seeds in resin, and collages, demonstrating the range of artistic talent on display.

The ACC organizes various exhibitions, events, and seminars that provide art enthusiasts the opportunity to network and interact with artists, professionals, and global collectors who can help navigate the art market landscape and offer guidance on art patronage.

The exhibition will be running an accompanying program that focuses on different aspects of art collection and patronage.

 

 


‘Better late than never’: Salwa Al-Omani graduates at 70

Salwa Al-Omani, Sociology graduate
Salwa Al-Omani, Sociology graduate
Updated 06 June 2023

‘Better late than never’: Salwa Al-Omani graduates at 70

Salwa Al-Omani, Sociology graduate
  • Al-Omani said: “I cannot describe my feelings, now that I have achieved my long-awaited dream.” She added that she has received a huge number of calls from well-wishers and thanked God for her success

MAKKAH: At 70 years old, Salwa Al-Omani is the oldest woman to graduate with a bachelor of arts degree from Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University in Dammam.

With a GPA of 4.75/5, Al-Omani ranked first in her class and received an excellence award at the university’s 44th graduation ceremony attended by Princess Abeer bint Faisal bin Turki.

Al-Omani returned to her education after a 50-year gap, proving that nothing is impossible for someone who has determination.

She told Arab News: “I cannot describe my feelings, now that I have achieved my long-awaited dream.” She added that she has received a huge number of calls from well-wishers and thanked God for her success.

The moment I was honored by Princess Abeer, wearing my graduation gown and overwhelmed with feelings of joy for completing a journey that was interrupted 50 years ago, is priceless.

Salwa Al-Omani, Sociology graduate

“The moment I was honored by Princess Abeer bint Faisal bin Turki Al-Saud, wearing my graduation gown and overwhelmed with feelings of joy for completing a journey that was interrupted 50 years ago, is priceless.”

Al-Omani left high school at the age of 18 in 1971, following which her family moved to Basra, Iraq. She was accepted into the University of Basra to major in chemistry. However, “due to family reasons, I accepted my cousin’s proposal to marry me.

“So I couldn’t complete my university studies at that time. Later on, the family moved to Kuwait, to finally settle in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

Al-Omani has two sons and three daughters who have graduated as doctors and engineers. She has been living in Dammam since the 1980s.

When she was able to resume her education, her lost high school diploma document posed an issue. She explained, “As soon as I thought of completing my studies, I explained my story to the senior high school director who said that, due to the long break period, I had to take classes all over again.

“I went to meet female educators in the eastern region. I was very confident of my educational competence, given that our generation has been strongly acquainted with all types of science.”

That meeting took place nine years ago, and Al-Omani was granted the approval to complete her studies. However, she had to start from the intermediate second grade, sitting for exams at the education department, and later on obtaining the third intermediate grade certificate in an intermediary school.

“The situation was embarrassing that year, given that I was taking the test with girls the age of my grandchildren who had clear looks of confusion on their face,” she said.

That did not deter her. “Nothing has affected my determination, and I decided to show some endurance and move forward. I obtained my certificate indeed and moved on to completing senior high school studies. I attended regularly and excelled to deserve my certificate.”

Al-Omani scored 82 on the General Aptitude Test (GAT) and 83 on the SAAT in preparation for her university education.

“I enrolled in the faculty of arts, department of sociology, at the Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University. I was accepted in the literary department despite me having a high school diploma in science,” she said.

“I was accepted into the sociology department in 2019. The dream came true.”

Al-Omani said that “with determination, the word ‘impossible’ does not exist,” that hope should not be lost, and that “it is better late than never.”

Determination and persistence are key to success, and “what separates any of us from achieving any goal in life is believing in ourselves and being confident in our capacities. This is the purpose of existing.”

 


Malaysia king sees off Hajj pilgrims traveling via Makkah Route initiative

Malaysia’s king and the Saudi ambassador to Kuala Lumpur bid farewelll to Malaysian Hajj pilgrims traveling to the Kingdom.
Malaysia’s king and the Saudi ambassador to Kuala Lumpur bid farewelll to Malaysian Hajj pilgrims traveling to the Kingdom.
Updated 06 June 2023

Malaysia king sees off Hajj pilgrims traveling via Makkah Route initiative

Malaysia’s king and the Saudi ambassador to Kuala Lumpur bid farewelll to Malaysian Hajj pilgrims traveling to the Kingdom.
  • “We hope that the close relationship that has been established for a long time between Malaysia and Saudi Arabia will continue to serve the pilgrims,” the king said

RIYADH: Malaysia’s king and the Saudi ambassador to Kuala Lumpur Musaed bin Ibrahim Al-Saleem saw off Malaysian Hajj pilgrims traveling to the Kingdom via the Makkah Route initiative on Tuesday.

During a speech he gave on the occasion, King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah expressed his appreciation to the Kingdom for all the services and assistance it provides to Malaysian pilgrims.

“We hope that the close relationship that has been established for a long time between Malaysia and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will continue to serve the pilgrims,” the king said.

The Makkah Route initiative is part of Saudi Arabia’s Guests of God Service Program and seeks to provide visitors to the holy sites with the finest possible services to help them perform their Hajj rituals easily and comfortably.