Welcome to episode seven of our our Janadriyah series! Oh la la, what is left to talk about Janadriyadh after all these years? Well, we’re not the type who easily gets jaded as we are believers of “If you can’t change things, change the way you look at them.” So I’ll try my best to approach Janadriyah with a fresh mind and fresh eyes as it was indeed another experience for the books.
For the uninitiated, Janadriyah is the Saudi cultural and heritage festival held in Riyadh every year. It is a two-week long event that is filled with pavilions representing the various sectors and minitstries that make up Saudi Arabia, along with cultural shows like the camel race, horse races, dance performances and exhibitions showcasing the life and traditions in Saudi Arabia.
This year, The Pink Tarha along with our intern Kim, attended the festival with the intention of bringing our Saudi gal pal, “A” with us. That’s because she’s never been to Janadriyah and she’s Saudi so we thought, it’s only right that she attends their annual cultural and heritage festival. Unfortunately, she had to cancel at the last minute so it was up to the rest of us to trudge on and visit the event some 50 kilometers from the city center. After all, we needed to share the news with the rest of you Riyadhizens, so off we went.
We arrived at around past 4PM and the sun was nearly setting with the breeze adrift. Our first stop was at the Najran pavillion, where we found a tent full of folk singing gentlemen chanting something in Arabic and a young boy who was dressed in a thobe, imitating their sounds and actions. The Najran pavillion also had large mudhouses that were symbolic of their traditional homes along with a big stage where a performance was set for later into the evening.
I was doing our Facebook Live at that time because the crowd was still thin and the sun was still giving us good lighting. Along the way, I found the tent for the Saudi Arabian Boy Scouts Association – which I have never seen before. Teenage boys were lined up, doing drills in their uniforms and there was a commander manning their moves. We then passed by the Ministry of Agriculture route, where old farming habits were being showcased along with the same old camel who churns olive seeds into olive oil and a demonstration of water irrigation was also in place.
In reality, our feets were leading us to the Madinah pavilion, where all the good food can be found. We wrote about the flavors of the Janadriyah last year and it was pretty much the same scene only this time we manage to score seats in front of the group performance of Ardah – a Saudi folk dance using sticks and tambourines. It is said that the Ardah dance was originally performed before going to war in order to motivate the men. These days, it merely serves as a cultural symbol of Saudi heritage.
We enjoyed our sambosas, kebabs and desserts as the show went on. I also looked out for one of the ladies offering henna tattoos to have one done to me, as I have always gotten one during Janadriyah. By this time, the sun was also setting, which meant it was time for Maghrib prayer. In a matter of minutes, the performers disappeared and as we turned around, there were suddenly rows of both men and women commencing salat (prayer) right behind us. We felt awkward being at the helm of where they were bowing to pray so we slowly walked out of the area and proceeded to leave the pavillion.
On our way out, we found some stores that sold handicrafts made of wood that particulary showcased big, typographic letters for display at home. Each letter cost 30SR but if you bought two, it would only be for 50SR. We got the first letters of our names and our significant others’ and felt giddy with our purchase. We also chanced upon some souvenirs and accessories being sold and by the end of the hall’s exit, we were all about a hundred riyals poorer. LOL
As we emerged out of the Madinah pavilion, we strolled in the main thoroughfare of the festival which has the bright LED screen and the stage where the host country of this year, Egypt, was performing an ethnic dance. At first, we thought it was two women performing as from afar you could see colored skirts gliding on the stage. Apparently, it was two men who were dressed in this large quilted fabric that they had twirling and twirling and twirling in what seemed like forever. I’m surprised that they did not get dizzy!
We proceeded to the Egypt Pavillion and found ourselves in a trail of booths and mounted tarpaulins showcasing Egypt’s culture and areas of interest. Truth be told, the entire presentation was a bit low-key compared to previous countries who have been hosts of the Janadriyah. I heard from the grapevine though that this was mainly because Egypt only got three months’ notice that they would be the host country this year so they didn’t have enough time for an elaborate exhibition. Nonetheless, we got to see some great pictures and some artifacts from Egypt.
Walking around naturally made us hungry (again!) so apart from taking on Madinah earlier that day, we went to the food court area of the Janadriyah where commercial food stores (like McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and shawarma shops) were aligned and we browsed through our options before finally choosing shawarma and sat by the benches of the sidewalk and decided to do some people watching. After all, through the years we have already seen the other pavillions so chilling and eating was the next best thing.
However, just like in our previous visits…there is always something that happens that makes our Janadriyah trips memorable. Like the time when we were almost left behind by the bus and we practically had to run through the parking lot, waving wildly at it to come back for us or like last year, where we just barely misssed being engulfed by a massive sandstorm (within seconds) by making it inside the bus in the nick of time. This year is no different. As we were biting into our shawarmas and discussing the event, small raindrops started falling from the sky. While we were aware that there was 50% chance of rain based on the weather forecast, we put our money on the other 50 – and lost! Haha. Within minutes, the crowd that was heading for the exit was getting thicker and thicker and the rain drops got heavier and heavier. We saw lightning bolts cracking through the sky followed by the sounds of thunder. Soon, the rain officially started and the exodus to find our bus began. We felt bad for the families who had many of their children in tow along with the elderly who were not in wheelchairs who had no choice but to get wet from the rain. As you know, we’re Filipinos and we’re used to getting rain back in the Philippines so we didn’t mind getting wet. And in true fashion of turning negatives into positives, I started singing in the rain while we were walking our way towards the exit. However, Janelle thought my singing voice must have made things worse because the rain got stronger right after my first song! Haha! We decided that we can’t get through the big rain drops so we took refuge in the Ministry of Education pavilion, which was near to our pick-up point. Other ladies sought shelter there too as all of us were wrapped in drippping wet abayas.
When the rain weakened a bit, we finally walked our way to the pick-up point to wait for our bus…but we had another dilemma…it was SUPER TRAFFIC! This had us waiting for about 30 minutes until we finally spotted it stuck in the street filled with cars that our group decided to just walk to get to it so that we can get out of the rain. As all of the women got inside the bus, we could hear a lot of laughter and shouts of joy as they took off their niqabs and started chattering about their own adventures during the rainfall.
Well, that’s one for the books again! Even if we go to it every single year, something memorable will still always happen