Hadram Bin Shalan was the object of neighborly scorn when he announced plans to build a guesthouse out of recycled materials in southwestern Saudi Arabia. Seven years later and the former science teacher earns a healthy sum each time he rents out the building, which is made from iron, bricks, tiles, and wood taken from nearby construction sites, for weddings and other events. He told Al Arabiya News, who interviewed Bin Shalan at the Abha property gifted to him by the government, that the guest house will bring him income now that he is retired.
Not so sexy, but…
The guest house may not be the most attractive environmentally-friendly building we’ve featured on Green Prophet decorated as it is in the plush style so common among Arabs with gold trimmings and other lush finishings, but its socio-cultural significance is enormous.
In general, the people of Saudi have a tendency to value luxury over economy, status over health or environmental concerns, and typically reject anything that doesn’t come out of a glittering box. A quick look at some of the so-called sustainable development projects emerging from the kingdom will give readers a sense of the standards that most Saudis aspire to achieve.
So it is a real coup than an educator, a respected position in Saudi society, should eschew such social norms in order to build a home by himself (without hiring a pile of workers from East Asia for piddling wages) out of scraps that he collected. They aren’t even hand-me-downs. These are discards. Unwanted materials. And for most Saudis, untouchable.
Instead of relying on someone else to do the work for him, Bin Shalan learned how to install his own plumbing and electricity (no solar sadly). As a result, he managed to complete the project at half the cost of an equivalent guest house. And now this space is among the most-coveted in the neighborhood. So much so that people are willing to pay over $500 to rent it for one event!
Although Bin Shalan admits that the seven years it took to make the guesthouse a reality cost him a lot of effort, he is getting ready to start another one next door and expressed a desire for other Saudis to take heart.
“I hope that young Saudi men will follow in my footsteps in all fields, not just in construction or electrical work but also in other fields,” he told Al Arabiya.
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