Respect Towards Saudi Culture

Heroes Remember

Respect Towards Saudi Culture

Interviewer: What do you remember about Riyadh when you first arrived? Very hot, it was extremely hot. The first thing that hit us, we landed in Riyadh late in the afternoon and, I don't know what it is in Celsius but it was 135 degrees Fahrenheit on the tarmac and it was climbing out of an air conditioned airplane into a 135 degree temperature was just like stepping into a furnace. And extremely, extremely hot, even at night it was September and it was still very hot at night. And you had a tendency to go from an air conditioned airplane to an air conditioned bus to an air conditioned room and spent very little time outside in the daytime. We did, on our off time, which was very limited, we did get a chance to get downtown Riyadh a number of times and it's an amazing place. The culture was so different than what we are used to. Very well known that ladies wear the veil, wear the full black abaya, they walk to the right and they walk to the rear, they don't drive cars, they don't do those type of things. Totally different than our culture. An issue with the female members of our crews, they're 100 percent our equal on the airplane as they should be, they're 100 percent equal in our country and when you go there they can't drive downtown, and they, 135 degrees and they can't wear shorts, because it's just not allowed. They have to wear the full abaya and... Interviewer: So they also had to wear the veil... The full veil and the full black, they call it an abaya comes all the ways down to your ankles, they're not allowed to show any, pardon the expression, show any skin, including on the lower part of the leg and the ankle they have to be totally covered. A lot of adjustment for the female members, a lot more so than it would be for the male members, because we would be downtown in shorts and t-shirts, and it's not allowed for them. Interviewer: And was that just when they were out in public? Yes, when we were on the base, we were staying at a place called Escon Village which was about 40 miles outside Riyadh itself, and we were bused back and forth obviously when we were flying or when we were allowed to go downtown. Once, when we were on Escon Village it was all coalition forces and it was the Western rules, if you will, that applied. But off base we were expected to honour their culture and follow their rules which we did. As I say it was probably a lot easier for the male members than it was for the female, and understandably so. Interviewer: You mention the restrictions that the female crew members had. Did you as male crew members have any? Not as far as dress was concerned. The religious police, what they call religious police in Saudi Arabia are constantly on the street and if you are doing anything wrong you can fully expect to get the end of a bamboo cane across your body somewhere whether you're male or female and they do, that's their culture. Smoking on the street is allowed but, you know, where do you do it and when do you do it, type of thing. Of course there's no alcohol in Saudi Arabia so is that a restriction, to some it's quite a restriction, but no alcohol allowed in Saudi but I would have to say that we were pretty much not restricted in that regard. A lot of respect for the Saudi culture you know it's their culture, it's their belief and you have to respect that but they're tremendously honest. I believe there's twelve prayer calls a day, I believe its twelve, there's quite a number, and you will hear, you will hear it over all the loud speakers and all the shop keepers leave their store and go out in the street and face the east and kneel and pray. They don't lock their stores when they are going out to do that and they will have millions of dollars worth of gold and other jewellery in their stores and leave it unlocked and leave us Westerners in there walking around. So honest they wouldn't think of anybody stealing any of this stuff and they treated us the same as they would their own they just go do their prayers and come back in and if you wanted to buy something, hopefully you're still there and willing to buy. It was amazing to see that type of honesty expected in people. Now of course if you are caught stealing in Saudi Arabia you lose your hand, so pretty good incentive not to, not to steal but, a different culture.

Mr. Johnston recalls his memories of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He describes the customs and social intricacies they were expected to respect and follow, and how they were much more extreme for servicewomen.

Alonzo Johnston

Mr. Johnston first served with the HSR cadets in Sussex, NB, and joined the regular forces before finishing high school. He joined the air force, but transferred to the navy after his trade as a data processor was closed and contracted out to civilians. In 1981, Mr. Johnston returned to the air force as an air weapons controller, commissioned from navy ranks. After a promotion, Mr. Johnston was posted in Bangor, then Oklahoma with a joint Canadian/American AWACS force. This force was eventually posted in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War, where Mr. Johnston served as a mission control commander on Northern Watch and Provide Comfort missions. In 1996, Mr. Johnston was reassigned to North Bay, Ontario, where he remained until his retirement in 2002.

Meta Data
Veterans Affairs Canada
Person Interviewed:
Alonzo Johnston
War, Conflict or Mission:
Canadian Armed Forces
Saudi Arabia
Air Force

Copyright / Permission to Reproduce

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