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Evening Meeting With Amanda Mckean, Director Canterbury Festival

30th April 2024
Venue: Cricket Ground

Evening meeting with Amanda McKean, Director, Canterbury Festival.
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Lunchtime Meeting Agm & May Business Meeting

7th May 2024
Venue: Cricket Ground
Lunchtime meeting 12.30pm for 1pm meal Annual General Meeting to be followed by the May Business Meeting.
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Evening talk: Julie Reza, Sights & Sounds of Saudi Arabia

We were taken from the cold of a Canterbury December to the heat of a Saudi Arabian May when we had a talk on the “Sights & Sounds of Saudi Arabia” yesterday evening.

The talk was given by Rotarian Julie Reza, who had travelled to Saudi Arabia earlier this year to visit family currently living there. Although she wasn’t in Saudi Arabia for long and only managed to travel to Jeddah, Makkah (Mecca) and Madinah (Medina), she managed to pack a lot into her talk.

Julie said from the outset that her talk would be “interactive” and that she hoped to “awaken the senses”. This was true, as we (Rotarians and guests) got a chance to see, hear, touch, smell and taste a variety of things during her presentation. Throughout the talk Julie also asked us questions or requested volunteers to show or circulate items to look at.

Julie started off by sharing some basic facts about Saudi Arabia before giving us “virtual travellers” a few essential tools for our trip: what to wear, how to greet each other, what the weather is like and how to count and handle money. We saw how to wear an “abaya” or “igal”, we got a traditional welcome with a virtual spicy “drink” (qawha – made with cardamon and cloves which we got to smell from tiny individual pots) and had a quick snack (of homemade “basbousa”, fragranced with lemon and rosewater) before we set off on our journey.

Our first stop was Jeddah – a port city with the motto “Jeddah is different”. Throughout her talk Julie spoke about changes she’d observed since her last trip some years ago. We were introduced to Jeddah through lots of photographs that showed a variety of scenes of the city. Julie showed us how art & design touches seemed to be everywhere – one set of pictures showed how decoration was literally from floor to ceiling in some venues! We learned about artworks along the beach, the rather quirky roundabouts of Jeddah (including “magic carpet” roundabout) and some unusual-looking designer shops for the well-off.

We then stepped from materialism to spirituality, first “visiting” Makkah, said to be the birthplace of the Prophet Mohammed. We learned about the renowned Great Mosque and experienced some of the sights and sounds and other sensations that may be associated with it – from the clicking of prayer beads to the call to prayer, the heady fragrance of attar (perfume oil), and the sight of pilgrims circumnavigating the Ka’aba and performing a ritual called Sa’i. We saw some amazing views from one of the highest vantage points in Makkah which gave us a sense of how fast the city is changing.

Next we journeyed (by high-speed train, thanks to video clips) to Medinah, believed to be the burial place of the Prophet Mohammed and Islam’s second most holy site. There, we learnt about the mosque and saw architecture, including ornate arches and detailed giltwork, and watched a videoclip showing the some remarkable, huge “sunshades” opening and closing.

Finally, we returned to Jeddah for some leisure time. First we visited the historical “Al Balad” site – with lots of work going on to open it up to tourists. We learned about famous Jeddah sights such as the King Fahd Fountain (the tallest in the world), the floating mosque, and the Corniche (with very clear water and blue skies).

We had a sneak-peak into the Yacht Club and learnt about other ways of passing time – such as at the aquarium, theme parks and City Walk. We learned about restaurants and cafes and fast-food places such as Albaik (with equivalent popularity to somewhere like KFC or McDonalds). Of course, we also learned about shopping – and some of the things more unfamiliar to us, such as gold and date shops, and shops full of extravagant chocolates. All the while Julie gave us a sense of actually being there – we guessed the price of gold bangles, nibbled some dates and chocolates (which, Julie admitted, were from ASDA and not actually from Jeddah!) and took in the fragrance of saffron.

In her last slides Julie gave us a sense of Jeddah at night (with bright lights all around) before finishing her talk with a traditional Arabic farewell: “Ma Salama” – with peace.

President Rosemary Doyle thanked Julie; lots of questions were asked from the floor before our unique Arabian journey came to an end.

Picture: A composite of some of the photos shared during the talk. Picture credit: J Reza/Rotary Club of Canterbury.

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