Around the World in 80 ways! – Saudi Arabia

Published by ShawnKinley on




2023 February tour

Hilight – Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia

A culture in transition

I was invited to visit the UNIVERSITY OF BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia by the forward thinking team and administration as a way to enhance the learning environment at the University. 

With support from the management team and on behalf of the University, Dr Hatoon Kadi reached out and asked me to teach an improvisation workshop to the faculty.

 My first thought was that this is a brave move by any educational institute to shake things up in what is usually a safe and rigid environment

My second thought was, this is a Saudi Arabian university bringing this Canadian in to explore the opportunities that Improvisation offers. VERY brave and cutting edge.

Dr Kadi is no stranger to pushing boundaries. She is a motivating force in entertainment in the country and in 2014 she was named one of  BBC’s 100 Women. (Wikipedia)

Her Youtube channel “Noon AlNiswa UTURN نون النسوة يوتيرن” has over 350,000 subscribers while her focus at the University of Business and Technology and her family keep her extremely busy these days.

When I asked why the university was interested in bringing improvisation to their environment, this is what Dr Kadi had to say:

“AT UBT we strive to enhance our classroom environment.

 Improvisation is one of the evidence based tools that aid in enhancing the classroom making them more active, engaged and interesting. 

Improvisation makes a safe place for students to share and exchange knowledge.”

Their new facility is a grand, bright and open venue but the people are the warmest element. When we began our day, I met 20 multi-national faculty members eager to explore and more enthusiastic and open than you might expect from a business and technology-focused institute.  It was additionally impressive that the heads of the University participated fearlessly, setting a great example of openness. 

There was hesitation from some and they all chose the seats furthest away from the front. By the end of the day, they were vibrantly expressing themselves and in one moment a risk-taking professor solved an improvised task that another person said was “impossible to solve”. At that moment, two co-workers lept from their chairs and raced over to embrace her.

“Why was there such a reaction?” I asked.

The response from the watchers was, “It was impossible what we asked her to do, BUT SHE MANAGED TO DO IT!” 

I  decided to stay a few days longer in Jeddah and was lucky to stumble into a brief but wonderful oasis of Improvisation called FENNEC.

My most gracious host, Rozana Albanawi who is a busy, non-stop working organizer at Fennec took some time to show me around and give me the experience of some of the best flavours on the menu in Saudi Arabia.

One of the most flavourful meals I’ve had in a long time included a menu of the Middle East reaching beyond Saudi recipes flavoured with:
Carob molasses
Sudanese falafel
Um Ismaeil, Eggplant
Mutabag- savoury crepes
Manaeesh Zaatar (DELICIOUS)
…and more. 

Our conversation over this banquet covered the amazing changing times that wash through Saudi culture from driving, working, communication and basic interaction. It was a fascinating picture of a culture immersed in necessary improvisation dealing with the changes of life on very deep levels.

 As we left the restaurant I observed graffiti on the wall where the car was parked.  I was informed that most of the graffiti is poetic and often speaks from the heart of the writer. What was written can be translated as: “LOVE THE PROBLEMS/CONFLICT. WITHOUT IT WE WOULD NOT BE ABLE TO EVOLVE”. From the Saudi Culture to the art of Improvisation, this sentiment spoke a universal and inspired truth.

The next day I was off to visit  FENNEC. 

Located in HAYY JAMEEL, (an impressive arts complex dedicated to arts and creativity in Jeddah), Fennec ” is the first-ever community theatre in Saudi to develop local talents and content by creating pioneer artistic communities. Their vision is to support creative talents and promote the creation of content and performances that are exceptional locally and globally.” (Fennec website)

Before visiting Fennec, My first impression of the place was the vibrant colours that make the place ‘POP’ like a wonderful toy ready to play with. And play is in the air. Laughter poured out from the theatre and into the hallways where people engaged in performance and community building.

With the joy and excitement in the place, I was surprised that the company had only been there for 3 months. The founder of Fennec, Yaser Bakr, opened Saudi Arabia’s first comedy club in Jeddah in 2012.  I visited the Comedy Club and was impressed with its flash and Bravado but the little fox Fennec was the creature that drew me in with its warmth and community connection.

I did two improvisation workshops on the topics of Impro in Work and Impro in Daily Life. As the company takes its initial steps into existence with the support of the Saudi Cultural Development Fund, I learned that the workshops were offered free to the community. This brought in a diverse range of people from Marketing, Education, Various Businesses and even a Physicist.

We played and explored ideas that connected us beyond culture and language. One participant at the end of our final day asked for a picture to be taken with us together and summed up the connection and my time in Saudi Arabia through an interpreter. “I don’t know your language but I understand all that you were saying. I understand you.”

I’m looking forward to visiting these friends again. Inshallah.

1 Comment

AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 WAYS Saudi Arabia by Shawn Kinley – Fennec | فنك · February 14, 2023 at 2:33 am

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