Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Let's Recap: Two Weeks In Saudi Arabia

Here's a Recap of My First Two Weeks in Saudi Arabia.
Glenn gave me a 2010 Calendar Diary that I've been using since my departure from NZ to keep a few thoughts on living in Saudi Arabia. I've been reading thru my first impressions and the things I did. Here are entries from my first 2 weeks.

December 31 2009
Flew from Auckland to Melbourne to Dubai. On the way to Melbourne I realised I left my purse at the Auckland Airport. Duh! Got a message thru to home to pick it up. Just as well I didn't need any money because I had nothing - no card, no cash. Had to borrow a mobile phone from an air hostess to phone home.

So tired I slept thru the New Year while in flight so if peeps were celebrating, I didn't hear it!

Jan 1 2010
Glenn met me in Dubai. He didn't want me to fly to Saudi on my own because he thought customs in Riyadh can be daunting for the uninitiated. Spent the day in Dubai. Did the 'Big Bus' tour. Had a complimentary room at the Meridian Hotel - very nice.

Flew to Riyadh. My first time having to wear the abaya - it's not so bad I guess. Asked a young Saudi lady at the airport how to put on the shayla (aka head scarf). She introduced us to her family - Mum, Dad and younger sister.  Very nice people. Very good English. They showed me how to wrap the shayla - I am going to have to practice.

Our compound is looking quite nice. Very tired. In bed by 9.30pm.

Jan 2 2010
Woke at 3am - prayer time. We have a mosque just over the back.

I heard the prayer call for the first time last night as Glenn was carrying my bags to the apartment I'm to now call home. It sounded like a fog horn being blasted over the loud speakers. Glenn assured me there were words. I also thought the call was a recording, but then the guy calling coughed....

I unpacked today. Re-organised Glenn's wardrobe to fit my clothes. Wondering when it will sink in I'm here to stay!  Have to get a laptop, internet connection and a mobile or I have this sense that adapting to my new digs will be more difficult than necessary. Almost had withdrawal shakes handing my NZ mobile to my sister before departure.  (We have a business in NZ that she will be overseeing - hence the need to hand over the business mobile).

Jan 4 2010
Tried out the gym today - it's OK. I don't really feel like socialising yet, but I need to go shopping, Glenn has no vegetables in the house - typical bachelor diet - baked beans and tuna. Yuk! Wonder if they have health shops here in Riyadh?

Glenn came home with two books that were given to him today. Thicker than Oil: America's Uneasy Partnership with Saudi Arabia and a book about Islam.  The islamic book has been put on the shelf.  Maybe I'll get to it one day.

Jan 5 2010
Went shopping on my own at the local market. Somewhat freaky experience. Jazeera market is very busy and lots of things are....foreign (funny that). Ladies in black everywhere. Men in regular clothes or thobes. Kids underfoot. The produce area was bedlam. At one point I had to stop and take some deep breaths. But now we have real food in the house.

Can't keep my shayla on my head - I wonder how the Saudi ladies do? There were lots of ladies, Filipino and other expats I presume, who didn't wear shayla.  Glenn says it not really necessary for western women, unless you're asked to.

Jan 6 2010
Had dinner at Al Khazarma Hotel tonight. Met Eric the GM. He paid for dinner - so nice of him.  Must've liked me. Walked through Faisalia Mall. It's just like any other flash mall, except all the ladies are in black. Have to stop staring at the women with the niqab. Not sure if I should be smiling at them or not. I hope they are smiling back.

Glenn bought me a guitar tonight. I think he realises that in order to find my feet I need something to do.  Plus he is trying to spoil me so I don't decide to go home. Wonder how long one can take advantage of that :)

Jan 7 2010
Weekends in Saudi Arabia are Thursday and Friday. We walked into Glenns office so I could see where he worked (it's 15 minute walk) and to Skype the kids. The sooner we get internet connected at home the better. Now that I'm not sleeping most of the day (can't believe how tired the body is after this move) I'd like internet on tap, not once a week!

Walked around Tahalea tonight. Found 2 coffee shops that do not cater to women. Not good! No women are enjoying the outdoor cafe experience - only men. Women are shafted indoors, out of sight, to eat and have coffee. Wonder what would happen if I just go sit at a sidewalk cafe? Wonder what they would do?

Jan 8 2010
Glenn took me to Akaria Mall. It's an older mall, I think the oldest in Riyadh. I like it. It's more homely than the big malls and there aren't many expats - they mostly frequent the big malls. And it's local - just up the road.

There's a very nice shop that sells Italian crystal and it's so cheap.  I bought a fruit bowl. Before leaving here our kitchen cabinet may be graced with a whole set of crystal ware.

Jan 9 2010
Off to hospital for a physical today. Nice guy that took me from Innovations. They are a company that do all sorts of stuff like organise visa's, Iqama's (residency cards) etc. Apparently Saudi red tape is not easy to deal with so Glenn just hires the people from Innovations to do all that because they have connections.  Riyadh is all about who you know, apparently.

My physical is so I can get my Iqama, aka Residency Card.  I'm so glad Sahid took me because the hospital is big and busy and I can't speak Arabic.  He did all the talking, I just followed him around.

They have sqaut toilets in the hospital...couldn't believe it.  What to do Pounamu?  Should I back in or not?  Decided to back in.  And there were three ladies working in the toilets.  One was folding towels, one went in to clean the cubicle before and after me and one was asleep in a corner. I guess if this was my employment from morning to night I would try to make it go faster by catching a kip as often as possible too.

Jan 10 2010
Sunbathed today. Our pool is wonderful. I realised that no-one else sunbathes now cos it's the middle of winter in Saudi Arabia.  Hard case - me in a bikini because the weather is just like NZ summer and everyone else in winter woolies.

Jan 11 2010
Walked by myself to Glenns office today. There are no pedestrian crossings and I don't think there are many road rules either so negotiating crossing the road was nerve wracking the first few times. Its especially dangerous at night dressed all in black! We've been walking most nights so I'm getting used to the traffic and I gotta say, it's a lot easier crossing the road in daylight :)

Met the staff at his office. Nice people. Will hopefully meet a couple of wives. I'm needing something else to do and someone else to do it with.  After two weeks of living in Saudi Arabia I'm starting to feel like more than my own company during the day.  Me thinks this whole 'don't have to work' idea is going to get very old, very fast.

Ka Kite,

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