On Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, a scene unfolds where Agent May encounters a situation that cripples and haunts her. Her mysterious nickname “The Calvary” is explained in a chilling episode where an inhuman girl corners her. The location? Bahrain.
The episode plays in my head as our transport pulls up in front of Balad. No doubt due to its uncanny resemblance to the show’s presentation of Bahrain. The street mongers, the sandy coloured buildings, and the lack of drains (due to the country’s dry climate).
Balad literally means “The Town”. Because of it’s location in the Muslim’s Holy Land, pilgrims come here from near and far. Naturally, majority of the people roaming the streets are non-natives. I suspect most of the business owners are Africans, Indians, and even a couple of Asians. In fact, if there were Arabs around, I must have missed them.
Like most women in the vicinity, I am dressed in the traditional black juba with a shawl over my hair.
Within the first hour, I learnt 2 engaging lessons:
1) Do not trust the board at the money changer.
Our friend counted then handed me the Riyal currency, mouth sealed shut like the Silent Brothers in the City of Bones. Upon counting, probing, and more counting, I realise that what I see (on the board) is not what I get.
2) Always haggle.
Nothing is final till money is exchanged. My friends purchased very real fake suitcases for 230 Riyal each. An identical one would cost double the price back in Kuala Lumpur.
Bargain. It is not a dirty word.
Due to the diverse nationalities in Jeddah, different cuisines are available. Indian restaurants, in particular, pop up like pimples after a durian feast.
We pick Sangeeth Restaurant, my friend’s personal favourite for their spicy chicken briyani rice.
We made our way through back lanes and main streets, only to find the restaurant close- not an uncommon sight. Muslims pray 5 times a day. During prayer time, most activities cease. This includes restaurants and shops.
As predicted, business resumed 10 minutes later.
The briyani rice did not disappoint. Steamed to near perfection with a healthy portion of raisins, each mouthful proved scrumptious. Each bite improved only by a taste of fried or butter chicken.
Speaking of butter chicken, its gravy texture is optimum. It also compliments the roti canai.
The variety in these shops is astonishing. Let it never be said that one visits Jeddah without a healthy snack of nuts and dates.
This brightly lit shop looks like Santa’s workshop. We exited the shop with bags and bags of treats. The shop attendants’ friendly demeanour, on top of the many free samples we were offered, is probably the culprit of the shopping spree went wild.
Gold, frankincense, myrrh,
And the cute little lamp featured in the picture below.
One is spoiled for choice.
I have been told that the perfumes here include a special element that keeps the scent strong for days.
It is no wonder that some regard Balad as a shopping paradise.
Although I kept my valuables close, and alertness high, I admit that the place has its own personal charm.