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Saudi Snippets
Diaries from Sunset Beach, from Steve Cubbins

Also see: Saudi En Bref

Issue Three:
Trophies worth fighting for ...

When Ziad brought two mysterious parcels into the media room (yes, it's all set up and ready to go), everyone was intrigued.

After a bit of a fight with the bubble-wrap, two wonderful trophies were revealed, each with a card describing them.

We can do no better than to show you the trophies the world's top 32 players will be competing for over the coming week, and the words that accompany them ...
This trophy symbolises the first Saudi Fort. It reflects the rich heritage of Arabia. It has been handmade exclusively for the Saudi Squash Tournament sponsored by ATCO.

The windows and doors are carved in teak wood. The doorway holds a squash racket and the embellishments are Arabian motifs all made with gold and platimum fused in glass, made and designed in Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia by Desert Designs.

This trophy represents an Incense Burner (Mabkhara).

'Makbhara' was traditionally made from clay or wood. The wooden base is carved out of wood to formlegs and the holder on the pedestal base has an inward sloping side which supports a metal cup in which is placed Oudh (Frankincense).

The burners are decorative and with pattern combinations of mirrors and carving in the wood. The craft of making Mabkhara is practiced today by artisans of Ha'il province, one of the northern province of Saudi Arabia, Thus a fragrant and elegant ritual of the past survives in the Arab world today as a symbol of warm hospitality.

This trophy has been designed and hand made in wood and platinum fused glass exclusively for the Saudi International Squash Tournament sponsored by ATCO in Al Khobar by Desert Designs.
Issue Two:
Almost Ready ...
This is my first trip to Saudi Arabia, but Robert had set up, together with Ziad and the Z team, the first fabulously successful Saudi International last year. To watch at first hand the warmth that was generated by all of the team members when they met Robert again was a pleasure to see, and in turn it was apparent that here is a man who feels in a comfort zone in the middle east.

On the trip over this welshman had told me why he liked SA so much, and after 48hours I'm already seeing what he means everyone is so friendly, and although I haven't looked it up yet, I'm guessing the word hospitality has an Arabic origin.

All the local press assembled for a press conference, hosted by Ziad and Robert. I asked Ziad if there were any particular papers to check, to which the answer was "all of them" - yes, it was a packed conference, and there's going to be no shortage of local coverage. Plus with free entry the crowds should be spectacular too.

On to the business of setting up the offices for a major international event. After a slightly frustrating first day, where we had internet but no suitable power in the villa, and power but no internet in the venue, we're almost there.

The wifi now covers the court area but disappears at the entrance to the offices, but a booster will soon fix that, the players are arriving, some of them complete with luggage, the stands nearlybuilt and the court - a brand-new ASB with glass floor - is just about there.

And, wonder of wonders, Robert is slowly coming into the modern age. The self-proclaimed "least-techy person in the world", now turns on his laptop in the morning before the kettle, wanders around the venue chatting constantly via his bluetooth headset, is entirely comfortable with usb memory sticks, and as we speak is busy ripping his favourite CDs all before breakfast.

Speaking of which, the deli here at Sunset Beach does an 'American' breakfast which consists of an assortment of breads and toast, followed by a cooked breakfast and a fruit salad one serving fills the whole table, and Osmundo now knows exactly which parts we like and which we don't a great start to the day ...

Issue One:
A long way to Saudi ...

Yes, it's a long way to Saudi - well, from Newcastle and Llanboidy it is, anyway.

Robert Edwards
, the tournament director, and I both set off from our respective homes at about 11.30 on Sunday, and met up at Heathrow at around 19.00, ready for the 22.30 overnight flight to Bahrain. Sleep? On a plane? Forget it.

And why Bahrain? Well, it's close - just 45mins drive from Al Khobar - and we needed to get our Saudi visas first. We were met at 08.00 by Khamees, who is in charge of transport this week, and taken in this huge 4x4 to the Saudi consulate.

All seemed well. The forms were already filled out, with info and passport scans we'd sent through weeks ago, Khamees got our queue ticket and we sat down to wait.

To cut a long story short, it was quite a long wait, it required three trips to the ticket machine and the counters (they weren't what we Brits would call 'proper' queues, let me tell you), but we left (without our passports), told to return about 1.30 to collect our visas.

This gave Khamees a bit of a problem - what to do with two seriously knackered guests for another couple of hours.

The trip to the splendid Crowne Plaza hotel for coffee was great. The walk round a shopping mall not so. But he was a star, and when we arrived back at the consulate he left us outside while he went to collect the visas.

After half an hour we dismissed fears of what the armed guards might think of two bedraggled strangers staking out the consulate in a huge, black-windowed beast of a vehicle, and grabbed a few minutes' sleep. Then, at 2.30 Khamees returned, complete with visas, and we were off!

You drive from Bahrain to Saudi via the King Fahad Causeway, a 5-mile motorway built over the sea (it took three years to build, paid for by the Saudis), pass through four or five checkpoints on the island in the middle, and then you're in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Scant moments later we arrived at Sunset Beach ...

Twenty-eight hours from home and counting, time for a quick bite with Ziad Al-Turki (tournament promoter), a look at the Sunset Beach facilities (I guess you could describe it as an up-market 'Center Parcs' type resort, but that doesn't do it justice), inspect progress on the court-building, unpacking in the villa and meeting up with Annas who will be our rock this week as he organises just about everything, and finally, finally at around 22.00 it's time for bed ...

Next issue: setting up ...

staking out the consulate ...

Sunset Beach

Robert and Ziad

Annas and Robert


  Also see: Saudi En Bref