Late yesterday afternoon I was winding my way home on foot, crossing roads through bumper to bumper traffic and trigger finger horn tooters when I looked up and saw the sunset.

It painted the clouds in a beautiful range of pinks and greys.  I thought what a stunning photograph this sky would make as it backdropped against the man made metal street lamps, hectic vehicles and people rushing with their hands full of grocery bags recently filled at the nearby supermarket. 

So taken was I with the sunset that I sat down to pull out my Nikon and capture the moment, but by the time I had my camera in my hands the sky had already changed, the bright pinks deepening, the greys beginning to turn black and yellow was starting to filter through the clouds. Two things occurred to me as I contemplated whether I should still try to capture this sky - how quickly the sunset can change and how long it has been since I have watched the sun set. 

So, in that busy street in the center of Riyadh with its hustle and bustle I set aside my camera and watched the sky.  

At that moment the call to Salah hummed its way through the air and men headed from their busy walking path toward the nearby mosque.  I couldn't help but wonder how many would take the time to watch the miracle and beauty of a changing sky before arriving for their prayer.  If they are looking for a greater power, they might find her there.

I get a few emails from peeps who aren't sure what to call me.  Is my name Ka? Is it Kite?  Is it Ka Kite or Kiwi?  Well, in fact it's none of the above.  Here, for those of you who may want to know, is an explanation of the signature at the end of my posts:

Ka Kite,

It's quite simple really.
Ka Kite is a Maori term that translates to 'See Ya'.
And Kiwi is the pseudonym I've adopted for this blog because living in Saudi Arabia one doesn't really want to advertise ones real name on a blog!

For those of you who aren't aware, because you haven't read my About Me page, I hail from a little country at the bottom of the world called New Zealand.  New Zealander's are often referred to as Kiwi's after our native, flightless bird.  Though, with so many of us travelling and living overseas these days, flightless is one thing our people are not!

So I am a Kiwi.
And that's really all there is to it.
See ya :)

Ka Kite,

Madam Lily has gone, which is a shame because I quite liked Madam Lily.  Though her time in Saudi was short, she did leave an impression on those of us who waved her good bye not so long ago.  Perhaps one day she'll write  a little post about her experience here and share it on my blog (fingers crossed!) One of the things we loved about Madam Lily was the way she dealt with people and situations she felt weren't up to standard.  We usually got to see her in action when it came to coffee shops and restaurants.  The Ritz Carlton High Tea got a complete thumbs down from Madam Lily (and the rest of our group for that matter) when we went there late last year.

Our group of six didn't actually go to the Riyadh Ritz for High Tea.  Nope, we went for bowling, but as we'd arrived too early for the alley to be open, we decided to have a coffee.  High Tea was suggested by the staff.  We figured, why not spoil ourselves a little?  Oh, how we regretted that decision.

We sat outdoors, chatting beneath some lovely ancient looking trees while waiting expectantly for our treat.  Eventually three tea pots - 3 very small teapots - were soon placed on the table and their arrival caused a little confusion.  We looked at the pots, at each other, then at the wait staff wondering where the rest of the tea was.  Apparently this was it.  One tiny pot to be shared by two women.   Really?  Seriously?  Madam Lily was not impressed and we could see her warming up to take someone down.  More tea pots were asked for, a request that sent the staff into a bit of a spin.  You do get used to staff going into spins when asked for something out of the usual.  I guess 1 pot per person was unusual at the Ritz.

The food, when it arrived some time after our mini-tea pots, looked quite nice and we each chose a dainty piece to try.  Oh, how disappointed we were.  Bread was stale, the scones were tiny and hard, the jam made up of strawberries in a runny sauce just didn't work, and the German bread was moldy.  We  sat there testing, tasting, screwing up our noses and commenting in that way that ladies do when we are trying to decide how best to deal with the situation without seeming like snotty bitches.  When the staff asked if everything was OK, well, we just had to let them know what we thought and Madam Lily was firing on all cylinders with feedback delivered in that positive, yet firm, Madam Lily way.  

Here is Madam Lily's opinion of High Tea at the Riyadh Ritz:
"Considering that we are discussing afternoon tea at a five star hotel, the setting is gorgeous - an oasis garden with comfortable seating for 6 under beautiful mature trees.  The silver service with linen napkins and place mats is lovely and set us up to expect a wonderful tea.  
But the food - None of the ladies oooohed or aaaahed when the food arrived.  There was silence.  When we made a choice of what to eat it was done rather reluctantly.  I chose a circle of white bread with a large shrimp atop adorned with a gloup of pinkish sauce.  After my first timid bite I discovered that the bread was old and stale and hard.  I removed the shrimp and, after scraping off the mystery sauce, ate and enjoyed the shrimp.  I wasn't willing to try any more of the savories but did try  a small piece of Louise Slice.  It was nice and tasted homemade.  After that, I stopped while I was ahead as the ladies weren't happy. 
The tea itself (I had white) was lovely but was served well ahead of the actual 'tea' and one small pot was meant to serve two ladies.  Pathetic really.  They need to upsize the tea pots or provide a pot per person.  The small brownish scones were served with side condiments of custard, 3 halved strawberries in a sugar sauce semi cooked and cream that was left untouched as it looked like it was near butter….and speaking of butter….there was none.  I've never had a scone without butter - it just seems wrong.
The Ritz gets a score of 2 out of 10 from me and I feel that's generous.  There is no excuse for the quality of food that we were served and the processed cheese and stale bread really offended."  

Though the staff were attentive and accommodating and wanted to please, this was beyond their control and apologies from them were many.  We acknowledged that it wasn't the wait staffs fault, and they handled the situation quite well, deferring to someone slightly higher up the food chain.

One of them ran off to get us some fresh food.  The offering they returned with was cheese and tomato sandwiches (and plastic, processed cheese at that) obviously whacked together in a hurry, kind of like the sandwiches you make at home when you come in starving after a few hours gardening and just want something to wolf down.

The Ritz Calton High Tea in Riyadh was such a disappointment food wise and I have been loathe to recommend the place for their High Tea since.  However, I like to give people and places second chances, so one day I will rally the ladies to give high tea another go.  Just not today.

Ka Kite,

Goodness me, it's been a while since I wrote a post.  I've been somewhat pre-occupied over the last few months with things that have kept me from my keyboard.  Some voluntary work, some child minding and some traveling.  All with a dash of procrastination thrown in because, if I'm being honest, at the end of the day when the decision was made post or do something else, something else won out!

Last year I volunteered to help out at Haya Tour with a few things around the office and soon found myself with a full time voluntary occupation.  The perks were great, (free trips), and I was quite enjoying being useful.   There have been times in the last five years living in Saudi Arabia, when I haven't felt particularly useful or contributory.  Sure I can swan around to coffee mornings and travel to places far from home that, for most of us, are just a dream, but feeling useful is just so much more rewarding, don't you think?  And though Hubster says that having me around is much nicer for him than his being here alone, I have to say, being here as a non-working expat woman with no kids to run around after and no real purpose for existing, other than to welcome Hubster home at the end of the day, present him with dinner and then practice ignoring him all evening so he can do more work on the computer, is a sucky kind of existence!  So, when I found myself fully occupied and useful I was pretty chuffed for a while there.

Then my grandchildren came to stay.
For three months!
So I was pleasantly busy, though I'd forgotten how time consuming and energetic young children can be.

We took them to Budapest for Christmas hoping to frolic in the snow.  Unfortunately that part of Europe was having an unseasonably snow free winter even though it was still frikken cold.  I think it snowed, very lightly, only twice the whole two weeks we were there.  But that was enough for their first introduction to the white fluffy stuff, and their reaction was priceless.  We'd been out to dinner with some friends and the kids were tired so I was taking them home.  A very light dusting of snow was on the cars outside the restaurant and the lightest flakes were falling.  They ran in to Hubster shouting excitedly, to the amusement of other diners, to announce' It's snowing!'  Of course the table of adults had to come out to see.  A child's excitement is cute and infectious.  So late that night the kids were in the park, playing in a smattering of snow and having a blast.

Then we bought them to Saudi.
I had ideas in my head of the great and marvelous things we would do while they were here.  However the Hip Hop must have hooked it as I got no reply to email requests, the music center wasn't answering their phone, (I had visions of guitar lessons as Hubster had bought the grandson a guitar.  In the end we had to rely on the internet for tuition), and the activity center over at the Localizer has closed up shop.  Although there are loads of fun parks in the shopping centers that the kids would have been more than happy to visit every day, I was more interested in finding physical activities.  After all, these two are very active outdoorsy Mozzies.   Fortunately we found tennis coaching once a week, Karate twice a week and the pool, once it was refilled, was a daily activity.

Cafe Ceramique was recommended as an art outlet to satisfy their creative side.  And we visited Azzizi Mall one day for the soap and chair making upstairs.  Plus on our walks around town we would collect up different bits and pieces and get artistic with glue and paints from Jariir Bookstore where we also spent a bit of time each week choosing new books to read.  Both kids love books.

Other days were filled with visiting friends and joining the ladies on coffee mornings.  They met loads of people and got totally spoiled.  On weekends we would head out into the desert for  picnicking, camping and searching for bones - the grandson was becoming quite an archaeologist.  They both loved camping in their tents given as gifts from Madam Louise and the granddaughter became quite adept at roasting marshmallows over the fire.

The granddaughter also formed some very definite ideas about Saudi Arabia quite early on in her visit and I take some of the blame for that.  Cursing under my breath at the driver who guaranteed he was ten minutes away from picking us up outside a bookshop that had closed for prayer, but decided instead to be an extra half an hour late didn't really give her a great first impression.  "Why don't you just drive us Nana?", was one of the questions she asked as I grumbled away.  No matter how nicely you say it, explaining to a switched on seven year old the peculiarities of Saudi male thinking when it comes to the women related issues of driving, abaya wearing and segregation makes them sound a bit like dicks.

In the second half of their visit I had to spend a bit of time pointing out the good things about the country, but I have to say, you local blokes just didn't cut the mustard for my granddaughter and she doubts she will be back here again until you can open your eyes and get your act together.  Our grandson, being five and cruisey, was pretty much just cruisin' the whole time.

Whanau on a birthday cruise: photo credit Rehua's GoPro

After three months the grandchildren had to be returned to Australia.  The timing coincided with a visit to Melbourne, where Hubster was doing some study, and a trip home to NZ (because if I'm down that way it seems silly not to go the extra two and bit thousand miles) before we set off on a Pacific Dawn cruise.  Our nephew turned 21 and, as he likes boats, his family decided the best way to celebrate his coming of age, would be on a cruise ship.  So 22 members of the family cruised their way up the Aussie coast for a week and we had quite a good time while we were at it.  Unfortunately WiFi isn't that great out at sea, so no work was done by anybody.  Fabulous.

After that Hubster and I went to the Gold Coast to get our land lubber legs back, to catch up with some of his family and to meet the rest of our brood (they didn't go on the cruise).  It was a fabulously relaxing time and a perfect end to our tiki touring ways before heading back to Saudi.

And here we are.
Back in the frey.
A few things have changed.
The Yemeni scene is looking a bit shaky.
I guess we'll all be keeping on eye on that.

Ka Kite,

Turf wars are everywhere, even in our compound.  Our opinion of said wars, both feral and human, swings between entertained and confounded.  It is amazing what people will get their knickers in a twist about in this place.  This week it's cats.

We have a few cats on the compound, most of them wild.  (Actually all of them, bar an import from Portugal, are wild).  There are a few people who feed the cats. Either they have, like us, semi-adopted a cat (whose name is Cat, a name the grandchildren consider a non-name), or they simply put out plates of left over food for whichever cat is wandering by at the time.

There are other tenants on the compound, we'll call them the 'The Anti-Catters' (AC's for brevity), who consider the cats a bit of a nuisance,  I'm guessing they, like many of their fellow Other Arabs, aren't really animal loving people. (Perhaps this is gross stereotyping of Other Arabs, however I have seen so many of our Other Arab residents jump in sheer horror when something live with fur on it enters their personal space that the conclusion isn't that hard to reach).

I have to say that, on the rare occasions when all the compound cats do decide to crawl out of the sprinkler storage systems, where they like to spend their days in relative comfort, and sit about waiting for a free nighttime feed from whoever is cooking on the Bar-B-Q, there are quite a few of them.  Occasionally there is a spot of caterwauling too, but as I sleep next to a nightly chainsaw called Snoring Hubster, cat calls don't generally make it onto my night sounds radar.

Recently, emails have been flying between the AC's and Management about the cats on the compound.  Apparently one or two among our population of felines has been attacking children.  I hazard a guess that said children like to chase the cats into corners.  Any child capable of chasing a cat into a corner is old enough to understand that cats, wild or otherwise, when chased into corners are not very friendly.  I'm not sure if the parents have taken the time to explain proper treatment of animals to their offspring so that cat chases and subsequent scratches would highly likely be avoided.  Or perhaps the parents have tried this course and aren't aware that the child they are raising isn't a very good listener  -  a category into which a number of kids around here seem to fall.

So the cats have come under fire and all must be removed, according to the Anti-catters.  Others of us approached Management about the Trap, Neuter and Return (TNR) program that Open Paws offers and Management was very open to the idea.  However, the Anti-catters weren't happy with that plan at all.  They wanted, neigh demanded, removal of all felines on the compound.

We've tried explaining that removal of the current, relatively healthy, fairly stable population of cats will probably result in one of two things, (or both if we get really lucky) - an increase in vermin such as mice, rats, lizards, roaches and scorpions or the removed population will simply be replaced by wilder, more mangy, street cats who will scrap each other over there newly vacated territory.  We even mentioned that neutering will reduce the number of new kittens being produced and also result in less yowling because cats yowl when on heat and mating.  But all our explanations are falling on deliberately stony ears under the excuse of 'religion'.  So we even sent through a few scholarly discussions about how neutering is actually better for cat health.  But the Anti-catter's still won't be persuaded.

We have come to the conclusion that such stone walling is not actually about the cats or the common sense of our argument.  It's about the Anti-Catter's getting their own way.  You see, our current management is relatively new, so the Anti-Catters have seen an opportunity to exert some control over compound affairs.  Why they feel the need to exert such control is beyond me, but they do. Possibly this urge hit them because new management is a woman with a soft touch.  Previous management (also a woman but made of sterner stuff) couldn't be bothered with the pettiness and demands of our resident Other Arabs, so kept them, and their politics, where it belonged - out of our faces.  The new management, unfortunately, prefers to entertain them, hence their politics and turf wars are now beginning to divide our compound.

To make matters worse, should the new management try to make a decision that the AC's not like, they simply run to the bloke above her, (we'll call him Over The Top Management), who just happens to be of the same nationality as the AC's and he, naturally being of the same ilk, the sort of ilk that doesn't want men to appear weaker than women, but doesn't seem to mind if they appear somewhat more stupid) supports everything they say.

It's quite sad.
And annoying.
At the same time.

So, as far as the cat saga goes, Miss Management decided to do the responsible thing and agreed to the TNR program.  The thought that cats would be clubbed, drowned or dumped in the desert made her feel bad.  Consequently, we cat adopters got together with Miss Management and worked with Open Paws to trap the cats.  Our Lovely Vet neutered the cats.  And then the AC's kicked up a stink!  They sent emails saying, neigh demanding, that the cats not be returned.  They must have been quite aggressive emails for Miss Management to turn around within an hour and tell Our Lovely Vet to keep the cats.  (I know it was within an hour because it takes me 40 minutes to walk to the nearby mall and when I passed by Miss Management on my way out she was quite positive about the cats, and before I'd reached the Mall, Lovely Vet rang to ask what the heck was going on as Miss Management had changed her mind).

Miss Management did concede that those who had adopted cats could go and pick them up but the cats were to be kept indoors at all times!  I'm guessing the AC's and Over The Top Management felt very good about themselves demanding those terms.

Much discussion was had between Management, we cat adopters and Our Lovely Vet (not necessarily in that order).  In the end it was concluded that Management had entered into an agreement to Trap, Neuter and Return.  The trap and neuter part went without a hitch.  The return was going to be completed one way or another.

So it appears that the the cats are back, (minus two - a mother who had to be euthanased and another who management was adamant was not to be returned).  Should Miss Management, at the behest of the Anti-cat lobby, decide now to trap and remove the cats, she can. But a cat that has been trapped once is highly unlikely to enter a trap good luck with that folks!

(The Anti-Catters might be interested to know that there is also a new cat on the compound.  A huge grey male with a massive head and big nuts!  I'm guessing he's one of those wild street cats who took advantage of the fact there were no cats on our compound for over 48 hours and decided to move in and claim his new turf.  Here's hoping he never gets chased into a corner because by the looks of him, he could do some serious damage.)

Ka Kite,

We had hoped that by some miracle King Abdullah would live for some time yet, but 'The One Who Knows Best' decided it was time for him to go, so go he did.  Now we have a new King and nobody is really sure how good, or otherwise, the new bloke and his advisers are going to be.  Certainly there is a lot of rumour circulating about what kind of king is now in the palace.  And if you read the newspapers there is even more speculation about the leadership potential of the next couple of blokes in line as the Al Sauds attempt to clear the murky succession waters.

We had planned an excursion to the desert last Friday morning, but as I was packing the last lot of sandwiches into the chilly bin (esky to you Ozzies), Hubster came back from gassing up the car and broke the news of King Abdullah's death.

'Oh...sugar plum pie!' I said, in lieu of something more slang like that I could have said but children were present.  'That's not good news.'
'Miss Louise thinks we should cancel the desert trip', he said. 'There's no telling how people might react to this news.'  (Miss Louise has lived here for a few decades and has seen a King or two come and go.)  I looked at the chilly bin and thermos and various other food related items laid out in the lounge ready to be packed into the car while the kids were running round all excited for their first trip into the Saudi desert.

'What do you think?' said Hubster.
We were standing at the front door having this conversation and as I looked out over the garden wondering what to do, it occurred to me how quiet the city felt.   Granted Friday's are usually quiet early in the morning, but this was a different quiet.  The sky was a beautiful blue.  The air was cool.  And the city was unusually still.

Our grandson had a balloon in the shape of a helicopter (given to him by Madam Lily), and took it outside to play with while Hubster and I looked at each other, contemplating our options. Grandson had managed to keep the balloon inflated and anchored to the ground for almost a week.  That morning he snapped the string and the balloon floated up and away with him vainly calling for it to come back. We watched it on its skyward journey floating straight up into the cloudless, hushed blue sky, no breath of air shifting it from its upward path.
'Wow, look how straight that's going', I said.
 'I hope a Saudi doesn't see that and think we're celebrating', said Hubster.

We cancelled our desert trip.  We figured it wouldn't be right to have a couple of expats bar-b-queing in the sand dunes while most of the country either mourned or pondered the country's future.  And given the unrest in the region, I could imagine some drop kick might have decided that last Friday was the right moment to pull a coup and other drop kicks would have gone gun happy stupid at the idea, popping off a couple of desert picnicking expats while they were at it...(OK, so maybe I watch too many movies...)

Almost a week later, we still aren't certain how happy, or otherwise, everyone is.  Discussion of ones emotions re: Saudi ruling parties isn't something you do in public, and certainly not in front of strangers!

Tonight, while we were out at a nearby bar-b-q joint for dinner, I looked around at the groups of people dining.
Young couples.
Young families.
Young men sitting in the outdoor chairs.
And the mood on the streets was low key.
I got a sense that, though we are all carrying on as normal, everybody is waiting to see what, if any, changes may be afoot once the new King settles in.

Ka Kite,