After watching this show, I’ve decided that Kate Humble should really be some kind of international ambassador or a UN representative. During her travels for last night’s The Frankincense Trail, she wandered into territories where, traditionally, women are treated like something that someone stepped in, but she managed to charmingly engage pretty much everyone she met into treating her well and discussing all manner of sensitive issues.
And I have to say, I’d expected this to be a rather dull show largely centred on the Frankincense itself, which, had it been, would indeed have been a bore, but this was more of a travelogue into the places that Thomson would never send you on a package holiday. And it would seem that Kate is the thinking person’s Judith Chalmers, or perhaps more kindly put, the 21st century Judith Chalmers.
Of course the Frankincense did play a part in that Kate haggled – and got a knock down price – for the prized but frankly icky looking stuff in Oman, and from thereon in, the sack full of it went with her on the original geographical trail of its most famous journey. However, it really did feel like the Frankincense thing was more of a jumping off point and a prop for the real purpose of the show, which was exploring and poking our Western noses into places we’d rarely get to see otherwise, much less from a woman’s perspective.
One of the absolute highlights of the show for me was the spectacle of camel jumping in Yemen. In full-on Matrix styly, we saw the young male competitors taking a run up, barefoot along sand and springing over a line of camels. There was no springboard, no pole, nothing but the extraordinary abilities of these young men to jump high and long. It was truly fascinating and frankly, weird, but utterly gripping to watch.
The eventual winner was a 16 year old called Mohammed who cleared five, yes five, camels to become “a warrior” and a complete hero in his village. However, in the eliminating rounds, one chap fell from mid-air onto the neck of one of the camels and the camel wasn’t impressed, but given he/she was being held by the tail and by a fangled rope arrangement round its head, there was little it could do but make a sound that had it been translatable, would probably have equated to, “Bloody hell! That hurt you wazack!”
So after that fascinating display, Kate moved on and eventually ended up in Saudi Arabia where she left the plane wearing the customary abaya, which is basically a black cloak which women in Saudi Arabia are expected to wear.
We’re all aware of how women are treated and expected to behave in Saudi, but Kate wasn’t prepared to behave like a second-class citizen without a reasoned explanation of why she should have to. So, when she was collected at the airport, she grilled her chaperone as to what women in Saudi Arabia can and can’t do…
They can’t drive, they can’t go out unchaperoned, they must sit in the back seat of cars and always wear their abayas and, when required, cover their heads too. However, Kate discovered – in a shopping mall that was almost identical to any you might find here – that Saudi women can wear what they want under their abayas; jeans, skirts, low cut tops, whatever they wish to, and the women Kate met and discussed this with seemed singularly unfazed by it.
To be honest, I think it’d be kind of ideal. I mean, imagine you find you’re out of milk first thing in the morning. Here, we have to get dressed and at least swipe at our hair with a brush, but there, you could just bung an abaya over your Mickey Mouse jimjams, a veil over your head and get some bloke in the house out of bed to drive you to Tesco and hey presto, a pretty painless early morning shopping trip.
However, Kate then moved on to the rather more serious business of talking to a bigwig in Riyadh’s religious police force about the practice of public executions. He too was charmed by the Humble factor and happily discussed the processes that lead to someone having his head chopped off in the public square.
Kate suggested to him that we in the West feel it’s rather barbaric to behead murderers and rapists – at which point, I was yelling at my telly “Speak for yourself!” – to which the softly spoken official replied that, as an outsider or spectator, you may find it a tad harsh but if you’re the family of a murder victim, it’s and eye for an eye kinda justice.
Kate then asked if the person who’s to be executed is given any kind of painkiller prior to the beheading, though what tablet she might think could lessen the pain of having your head cut off I don’t know, but if there were such a thing, I’m sure someone somewhere would be marketing it as the ultimate headache cure. However, the official replied that yes, some people need medication to get them through the process.
He then explained to Kate that not everyone who commits these crimes is beheaded and this if the family of the victim, or the victim, pardon and forgive the criminal, the execution is commuted to other forms of punishment such as imprisonment.
So, next week, Kate’s continued journey along the Frankincense trail kicks off from Saudi Arabia and I’ll most definitely be joining her on her enthralling trip.
If you missed this first episode of the series, and therefore the camel jumping, which is truly something everyone should witness before they die, you can catch up with it here on iPlayer.