RIYADH: Riyadh hosts hundreds of thousands of expatriates, some who have been in the Saudi capital for decades, and who despite yearning to return to the countries of their birth, have come to view the city as very much a beloved second home.
Sharing food, culture and lifestyles, many foreign residents also join citizens in celebrating significant national events. And they are effusive about the sense of safety, security and economic well-being they experience in Saudi Arabia’s capital — which often results in mixed feelings of happiness and heartbreak when leaving on a final exit to their home nations.
Mohammad Zaigham Khan, an Indian working in Riyadh for decades, told Arab News: “The biggest allure moving to Riyadh from New Delhi was (a) handsome salary, high standard of living, safety and bright future prospects. I moved to Riyadh in 1988. However, over the last five years one can see the change each day in the ever-growing and flourishing city of Riyadh. The pace of change is incredible, and we know that when such change is generated at the macro level, it creates opportunities for everybody.
“The transformation that is happening in line with Vision 2030 is probably one of the biggest reform programs in the world right now,” Khan continued.
“The cultural setting here is basically Arab and Islamic culture. The society is deeply religious, values traditions, and is family oriented. Lately there are changes which can be seen on the ground as women started driving and (the) abaya is no longer mandatory. As Saudi society has evolved over the years, the values and traditions from customs, hospitality to the style of dressing, are adapting with modernity and moderation,” he said.
“The warm hospitality seen in the capital has been a crucial part of (its) culture. Arabic coffee with dates is a traditional Arabic greeting — the pot’s first cup of coffee is poured to the guests as a sign of respect. (The) traditional sword dance is unique, which is staged to greet the guests,” he added.
“The best thing in Riyadh is the variety of food outlets from each part of the world. The local Riyadh restaurants will tempt you with their authentic flavors and economical prices. The variety of food available is incredible, which is not easy to find in many cities in the world. We love this place for all it has given to us and are thankful to the Saudi leadership for the opportunity to work here and be a part of the development of Riyadh, which has evolved into a world class city with (the) best facilities, second to none.”
Mamdouh Yousef, a Palestinian, told Arab News: “My father moved to the Kingdom more than 50 years ago and settled in Jeddah, and I have been living here moving between Riyadh and Jeddah. I remember well what the city was like when I was a child, generosity and kindness were the characteristics of the people.
“The capital city has developed amazingly to become an important city in the Middle East. I remember how families, both citizens and residents, used to celebrate Eid in the neighborhood and the folk bands used to decorate the atmosphere with their heritage.
“Although I am not a Saudi, a strong affiliation and love for this beautiful city has grown in me, starting with the education for free and the encouragement I received … I still remember well how kind the Saudis were by extending a helping hand to us in crises. What makes me most excited about returning to this Saudi capital is the blessing of security and safety that was, is, and will remain the beautiful garment that adorns this country,” said Yousef.
Egyptian expatriate Ayman Hassan said: “Since we moved to Riyadh about a decade ago, we have witnessed transformation everywhere. From cultural events, mega projects, international conferences, exhibitions, entertainment events to daily lifestyle.
“The Royal Commission for Riyadh City has an interesting series of year-long programs. Diriyah and Bujairi Terrace have become … top destinations that everyone seeks to visit from different parts of the world. We have also seen the activation of the public transportation project. All these and many more projects have reshaped Riyadh’s international image and made it one of the top world destinations, a much-deserving city to host the World Expo in 2030,” he added.
Syed Faiz Ahmad, a Pakistani expatriate told Arab News: “I arrived in Riyadh in 1997 to work with a construction firm as a civil engineer, and over about three decades I have had a wonderful experience of sharing culture and values with my Saudi friends.
“It was like falling in love with Riyadh with a sweet journey of discovering the heart of Saudi Arabia. I tell this to my friends back home if you are looking for a city that offers a unique blend of history, culture, and modern sophistication, a city that boasts stunning natural beauty, vibrant energy, and friendly locals, look no further than Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia,” he said.
“I am very impressed with the simplicity of lifestyle here, which is evident from the food culture and clothing,” he said. “I feel I am home away from home. We join our Saudi brothers and sisters to celebrate every significant occasion, and they join us when it is our happy moments,” he added.