Roads of Arabia & a Warm Welcome at Saudi Embassy
By C. Naseer Ahmad

“The Roads of Arabia” was a captivating exhibition at the Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery during November 15 – February 24, 2013. It revealed some hidden historical treasures of the ancient Arabian Peninsula. This exhibit will now travel to the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum and venues in Chicago and Boston through early 2015.

The Smithsonian website states that the “Roads of Arabia” examines the impact of ancient trade routes that traversed the peninsula, carrying precious frankincense and myrrh to the Mesopotamia and Greco-Roman world and allowing for a vibrant exchange of both objects and ideas. With the later rise of Islam, pilgrimage roads converged on Mecca (Makkah) and gradually replaced the well-traveled incense roads.

The Smithsonian Institution has organized this exhibit in association with the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and with the support of ExxonMobil and Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabian Airlines and a number of powerful organizations.

An impressive opening ceremony at the Sackler Gallery on November 15, 2013 included the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal and many high-ranking officials and Washington diplomats. There was hardly a standing room. Visitors to this wonderful exhibit continued until the last day in Washington.

On February 22, 2013, the Saudi diplomats opened the doors of the beautiful embassy laying the proverbial red-carpet for an enthusiastic gathering of “Things To Do DC” – a young professionals social group. About 100 people gathered on this friendly occasion which started with a virtual tour of the two holiest places of Islam in Mecca and Medina. Patiently Abdullah Alakeel, Information Officer, answered questions as he described details of the models of the “Kaba” and the Holy Prophet’s Mosque – known as Masjid-e-Nabawi – in the embassy lobby. Both curiosity and respect manifested in the questions.

As the visitors moved into the historic auditorium with memorable historical pictures, Alakeel described the geography, culture and climate variations in Saudi Arabia. Few were aware that temperatures in the Asir region can be freezing at times.

Tarik Alganny, Saudi Embassy official, with his distinct Brooklyn accent made the guests feel at home. With his mellow style he was able to arouse more curiosity about the country, the people and the culture. Although Saudi-born, Alganny had spent over 35 years in Brooklyn because of his father’s diplomatic post with the United Nations in New York.

The evening buffet was a delightful experience with delicious food like Saudi Spanakopita, Saudi Chicken Kebob, Saudi Lamb Koobideh with Tsatziki, Wedding Rice with toasted pine nuts and raisins and many other tasty items in endless supply. Staff members spared no effort in pleasing their guests. “Don’t be a stranger now”, said Alganny to departing guests with genuine affection that made the evening sweeter than the Middle Eastern honey and almond cookies served on the table

 

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