A Saudi mother’s first cinema trip with daughter revives happy memories

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The writer and her daughter Lilly share popcorn on their first cinema outing. (AN/Huda Bashatah)
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Updated 21 April 2019

A Saudi mother’s first cinema trip with daughter revives happy memories

  • A year on from cinema’s historic return to Saudi Arabia, a mother recalls a moment of movie magic with her daughter
  • Lilly was in awe. And I was a very proud mom, indeed

JEDDAH: April 18, 2018 will go down as one of the most celebrated dates in Saudi Arabia’s history with the first screening of a film in over 35 years in the capital Riyadh. 

Those outside the Kingdom may struggle to understand the significance of this event, but for Saudis unable to attend a film screening on home soil for more than three decades, its importance was immediately apparent. 

After spending over half of my life abroad, I returned recently to my home country to find ambitious plans and events taking place all around me — but the one thing I had my heart set on was attending a movie of my choosing with my young daughter. 

It was my escape from reality. Two hours in a cinema, shrouded by darkness and popcorn in hand, was what I needed to disconnect from the noisy and distracting world outside. I have been to too many movies to count, but to visit a cinema at home, that truly is one for the books.

My 6-year-old daughter Lilly and I decided on “Dumbo.” Since we are both fans of Disney movies, it was only fitting that our first visit to a cinema in Saudi Arabia would be to watch this classic remake.

With a click of a mouse, I was able to book and buy three tickets online, with no need to queue. 

“It is my first time, mommy, and your one million trillionth time” — Lilly

Arriving at Jeddah’s Red Sea Mall VOX theaters, Lilly was in awe. The magnificent life-size poster of Dumbo greeted us as we rode up the stairs. “Mommy, it’s real! He’s still a baby with big blue eyes,” Lilly said, running toward her uncle and reaching for the big bucket of popcorn. 

VOX cinemas really had gone all-out to ensure the cinema experience matched that in the US with a seemingly limitless choice of popcorn flavors, candy, chocolates and more. 

“It is my first time, mommy, and your one million trillionth time,” Lilly said. “I can have chocolate and popcorn together.” 

The halls were packed with excited film fans, all talking about the movies they were about to watch. Children running around excitedly, and the mix of savory and sweet popcorn were a nostalgic reminder of good times spent in cinemas as a child.  

Walking ahead of a group of children, I could hear squeals of delight. With Lilly holding my hand tightly, we walked to room number 9 and opened the door.

The place was packed, but it was great to see how everyone stayed in their designated seats. I could see Lilly’s eyes grow wide as the commercials began and little jolts from the surround sound system shocked her slightly — my feelings exactly.  She jumped with glee as she saw Disney’s Cinderella Castle appear on screen. 

Throughout the film, I would catch glimpses of my young one laughing as Dumbo peeked out of a bundle of hay, showing his great big ears, and then pouting with sadness at the scene where his mother is taken away.

A heavy sense of nostalgia hit me right there and then. I was only a year older than Lilly when I saw my first movie.  My mother and father took me to see the Disney classic “The Lion King.” I recall laughing at Zazu when the hippo sat on him, jumping in our seats with popcorn flying as we danced to the music, and feeling intense sadness when Mufasa was killed.  

My emotions were raw and real, and this was the experience I wanted my daughter to have. To see and feel, to enjoy the cinema  just as much as I do.  

As with any children’s movie, my little one’s curiosity was at its peak, and every now and then Lilly would point and ask questions, or notice the strong resemblance between the CGI form of the adorable flying elephant and the cartoon. A child with a good eye for detail, and a “proud mom moment” right there. 

Thirty minutes in to the film, I could sense the agitation of the young viewers around me.  Curiosity got the better of one boy who zoomed past, skipping down the steps and trying to touch the screen.

A young girl twirled with her dress in front of the viewers, imitating a scene from the film, while another boy squealed past me with his dress shirt open, running to the door with his father in tow, as he screamed “bathroom!” with everyone laughing.   

By the end of the film, parents and children were cheering and clapping together as the  credits appeared.  I looked to my left to see excitement in my little one’s eyes.

“We definitely need to do that again, mom!” she said.

“Definitely? When did you grow up so fast?” I replied.

“Mama. I’m 6 and I just watched an elephant fly in the big TV. I can say big words, too.”

Looking around, I saw the smiling faces of children and parents, couples holding hands, fathers and sons excitedly reviewing their favorite scenes, and little ones covering their eyes as they adjusted to the outside light.  

It’s the little things that count, and to add our first shared movie experience in our home country to our list of firsts makes it even more special.

Lilly having a good time. (Arab News photo)

Hajj pilgrims praise Saudi support at Dhaka airport

Updated 17 July 2019

Hajj pilgrims praise Saudi support at Dhaka airport

  • Seventy immigration officials from Saudi Arabia are currently in Dhaka to accomplish pilgrims’ immigration tasks
  • At the airport, Saudi authorities have established 15 booths to serve pilgrims, who have to record 10-finger impressions in the Kingdom’s immigration database

DHAKA: Pre-immigration facilities provided by Saudi Arabia for Hajj pilgrims in Bangladesh have helped reduce waiting times by several hours after their arrival at airports in the Kingdom, several of them said on Wednesday.
The program is part of Saudi Arabia’s Road to Makkah initiative, whereby pilgrims can complete immigration at airports in their home country instead of doing it on arrival in the Kingdom.
From this year, Bangladeshi pilgrims are enjoying pre-immigration facilities at Dhaka airport.
“Among the 127,000 Bangladeshi pilgrims, this year 60,500 of them will have the opportunity to complete the immigration formalities at Dhaka airport,” Bangladeshi Religious Affairs Secretary Anisur Rahman told Arab News.
“From next year, all Bangladeshi pilgrims will enjoy this pre-immigration system at Dhaka airport.”
Seventy immigration officials from Saudi Arabia are currently in Dhaka to accomplish pilgrims’ immigration tasks. Three Saudi organizations are working at Dhaka airport to accomplish these tasks.
At the airport, Saudi authorities have established 15 booths to serve pilgrims, who have to record 10-finger impressions in the Kingdom’s immigration database.
In addition, at the immigration counter officials take photographs of the pilgrims, Rahman said.
“The pre-immigration system was supposed to be launched from the first Hajj flight on July 4, but due to technical issues we couldn’t do that on the first day. However, things are now running very smoothly,” he added.
Abdul Kayum Bepari, a Bangladeshi pilgrim who completed his Saudi immigration formalities at Dhaka airport, told Arab News: “It’s an amazing experience. All immigration formalities were completed within a minute. When I performed Hajj in 2011, it took more than four hours for me to complete the immigration formalities at the Saudi airport.”
Bangladeshi pilgrim Sadek Ali told Arab News: “Everything is very disciplined. This pre-immigration system has truly eased the hassle of thousands of Bangladeshi pilgrims.”
Pilgrim Bulbuli Begum told Arab News: “My Saudi immigration formalities took only a few seconds to be completed.”
Pre-immigration support for Bangladeshi pilgrims will continue until the last Hajj flight, which is scheduled on Aug. 5.
“We’re trying to ensure maximum support and comfort to the pilgrims,” said a Saudi immigration official at Dhaka airport.
“They don’t even need to worry about luggage. Once the pilgrims land at a Saudi airport, they’ll immediately board hotel-bound buses and will receive their luggage at the hotel.”