Day 181 - Yagub

Day 181 - Yagub (1st person I approached)
June 30, 2014 - Yagub was sitting by himself on a bench on the seawall. As I walked toward him, he was seemingly just taking in the view of the water, the passersby, and enjoying the sunshine. When I first spoke with him, he told me that his English wasn’t too good. I tend to speak fast, so I slowed things down and explained my project and asked Yaqub if he’d chat with me. I assured him that we’d be able to understand one another. He smiled, raised his eyebrows and said ok. 


Yagub was born in Dammam, in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. It is the most oil-rich region in the world. The name ‘Yaqub’ is the Arabic equivalent of ‘Jacob,’ after the Islamic prophet.

“I have four brothers and five sisters. I am in the middle, so I had older family to help me and then I helped with the younger ones myself,” he said. Yagub did all his schooling in Dammam and when he was 18 years old, he enrolled in the Royal Saudi Navy.

“It is voluntary. I was interested in becoming a mechanical engineer. When I was about 15 years old, I started to work on cars. It was something I liked and I bought my first car when I was 18 so I could take it apart and work on it. I like knowing how things work,” he said. After being in the military for three years, Yagub went to France to attend university.

“I spent five years in France studying Mechanical Engineering, which the navy paid for. There was a group of five of us from the navy that went to France to study. I also learned to speak French when I was there. That was thirty years ago, and I don’t speak much French these days, so I don’t remember most of it,” Yagub said, shaking his head. 


After completing his studies and getting a Bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering, Yagub returned to Saudi Arabia. He was stationed in Jeddah, the main western base of the Royal Saudi Navy.

“I worked on ships, repairing and maintaining the engines. Some of the ships were very large, able to carry maybe 300 crew,” he said.

“I spent my time at the base, I didn’t sail.” Yagub served in the military for 27 years, before retiring. His family now live in the town of his birth, Dammam. He is married and has seven children.

“I have three sons and four daughters. It is common for Arabic people to have large families. It is our culture,” he said. Yagub first came to Vancouver about three years ago, spending six months here learning to speak English.

“Three of my children are here in Vancouver to go to university. I wanted to learn to speak English so that when I am here I can say hello to people and be able to communicate,” he says. One of Yagub’s daughters is going to UBC (University of British Columbia) studying medicine. Another daughter and a son are learning English in Vancouver to prepare for going to university here as well.

“My children live in an apartment here. They all live together. The Saudi government help with the costs of their education,” he said.


Yagub arrived in Vancouver one week ago and is will be in town for three months.

“The difficulty for this trip,” he tells me, “is that it is the holy month of Ramadan just now. Yesterday was the first day of fasting. It takes a few days to get used to the fasting.” I asked Yagub if there was any difference for him honouring Ramadan here in Vancouver compared to home in Saudi Arabia.

“Well of course in Dammam everyone is fasting so it makes that a little easier. But the days are longer here in Vancouver than they are in Dammam. We fast from two hours before sunrise until sunset each day. So today that means not eating between 3:00am until 9:20pm. That’s a long day. That’s why I’m sitting here enjoying the view. I have a few hours still before I can break my fast.” I asked Yagub the correct way to acknowledge Ramadan to someone observing it.

”In Arabic we say Ramadan Mubarak.” Yagub told me that if his daughter had been with him, she could have spoken better than he did. I told him I didn't think we had any problems understanding each other at all. We shook hands three times. Ramadan Mubarak, habibi.  #notastranger