Monday, 26 July 2010

Bowling In Riyadh

The other night we went ten pin bowling. Yes, in Riyadh there is ten pin bowling. I probably shouldn't sound so surprised, I mean, most large cities these days have ten pin bowling. But this is Riyadh – a city renowned for its boredom.

Saudi’s, I was led to believe when I arrived 7 months ago, don’t do anything physical – no sport, no exercise, no dancing, no risky behavior, no fun - hence the ‘boredom’ reputation.  In fact the perception was that if I wanted to have any fun, western style, then I’d only find it on the expat compounds – particularly the larger ones.   It's proving rather a false notion.

A few weeks back, we ladies on the compound were at a loose end and someone suggested Ten Pin Bowling.  Discussion centered on whether or not bowling alleys existed in Riyadh and, subsequently, an investigation was instigated so we could, eventually, organize a family night out.

The Intercontinental, we heard via the grapevine, is a very nice place and has a bowling alley.  Our investigation required visiting the hotel for lunch.  (Of course it did!).  We figured we’d find out about the bowling, and possibly squeeze in a game, once we were sufficiently fed and watered.

Long story short – we had a lovely long lunch but no bowling. Said the man at the entrance to the bowling alley ”Women don’t bowl here anymore. The bowling is only for the men”.  If it wasn't for lunch I might have been annoyed. I think I’m going through a stage where this country is starting to rattle me a little - Why do men get their own bowling venue?  What about the women?  Is there a place for us to go bowling?  There must be!

We returned to quiz the man at the ticket office “Where can ladies go bowling in Riyadh?”  He gave us directions to a place down the road.  I did wonder why he hadn't volunteered this information in the first place, but I should know better.  That kind of thing only happens in an environment where thinking and giving a rats arse is encouraged.  Is this that kind of place???  Ummmm, not today!  At least, not for the ticket office man, though the doorman was another story – he was great, double checked the information we’d been given and explained the directions to Mr Noor when he arrived to pick us up.  I guess you have to take the good with the bad don’t you?

Anyway, armed with that information we organized a bowling evening at UBC, a bowling alley five minutes down the road from the Intercontinental Hotel.  At least the ticket office man had given us the right info – that’s a positive sign.  Maybe I’ll stop dissing him now.

UBC center has two parts - a single and family section, not unexpected.  But this is the first time we have encountered a gender segregated car park in Riyadh.  Security, after watching all 15 of us walk from where we had parked, asked us to return to our vehicles and move them to the family area.  A few words were had along the lines of  ‘You've got to be joking’, which ended in our vehicles staying where they were.  I've figured out that, in Riyadh, if you make a fuss, generally speaking you get your way.  It doesn't pay to be too nice in this country which is a major contradiction to the religion they all practice.  But moving on....

Once inside, while waiting for our lanes, we watched Saudi women bowling, lifting up their abayas and long skirts with one hand so as not to trip up as they teetered toward the lane and heaved balls toward the pins.

We decided abaya wearing while bowling was dangerous and cramps your style, so we took our abayas off.  No-one came and told us to put them back on.  A few people couldn't stop looking at us, but all of us were wearing long pants and long sleeved shirts so they couldn't really complain about disrespectful dressing - all except two of us that is and guess who they were?  The Kiwi contingent from Kaeo of course!  If I’d known we weren't wearing abayas I would have come prepared – really, I would have.

7 months on, still haven't managed to control my abaya
to conform to the acceptable dress code.

Anyway, we had a ball that night and were quite impressed with the fact that, in Riyadh, there is a public bowling alley, that it is quite a nice one and more importantly, that people use it.  So shoots the theory that Saudi’s don’t like to do anything.  Hubby and I will definitely be adding bowling to our list of ‘regular things to do in Riyadh’.

For more detailed information about the Universal Bowling Center in Riyadh visit their website or for other places to bowl in Riyadh, because there is more than one venue option, visit Bowling Venues in Riyadh.

Map to UBC Bowling

Ka Kite,

Friday, 23 July 2010

Kissing in Saudi Arabia

Kissing in Saudi Arabia is, well, different.  It occurred to me one day, how strange it is that a greeting that we take for granted back home is practically considered a criminal act here in Saudi. I’m talking about expats greeting a friend or relative of the opposite gender with a hug or a kiss.

It also takes we western types a little while to get used to members of the same gender kissing away 3, 4 or 5 times on one or both cheeks when they meet.   For women this is fine, it seems we are generally accepted as the kissy half of the species.  But I’d say many western guys find male cheek pressing is just a bit ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink, better not drop the soap’ unblokey. Even with the argument of ‘But it’s their culture’…. the Western men I known (The Husband and Alan, my huge social circle) are extremely grateful Saudi Arab males are happy to just shake their western hands.

People who hail from kissy countries must find it very hard to curb a greeting that comes naturally to them.

One night, we went to dinner with Hubby’s friend, a Frenchman, very charming.  After dinner, he dropped us off outside the compound. There was another car parked in the road with Saudi occupants. Mr Frenchman said, complete with authentic French accent, “If we were in France I’d kiss you goodnight, but we are in Riyadh and these people might have me thrown in jail’. So, instead, he extended his hand, we shook, he said goodnight, lovely to meet you, and left.

What’s significant about this little scenario is that if he had forgotten where he was and given me a completely natural, for a Frenchman anyway, farewell kiss on both cheeks and the Saudi family present had been offended, he may well have been apprehended.

Of course it’s not just French men who hug and kiss their female friends and relatives – lots of nations do. Even good old NZ’ers do.

The other day, another friend was visiting from Dubai on business.  He’s Scottish. We met him for dinner.  In any other location I would’ have kissed him on the cheek with a ‘hey good to see you again’.  But we were in a busy hotel lounge in Riyadh so to prevent Saudi jaws from hitting the floor in horror of such offensiveness to public decency I extended my hand and explained,’ I’d kiss you but that might cause a stir’ and we settled with a good old handshake.  I admit that, had I not had the previous experience with Mr Frenchman, it would not have occurred to me to restrain myself when meeting Mr Scotsman.

It did feel rather odd to not greet a friend in the usual manner.  I do wonder what would have happened.  Would all hell have broken loose?  Would the religious police have been called to educate us on acceptable practice?  Educating people is apparently a major part of their job description.

What really makes me think this place has taken the hands off approach a bit far is when a husband and wife are frowned upon for kissing each other hello in public.  And I’m not talking major pash which, seriously, only happens at the end of feel good American movies.  I mean a simple kiss on the cheek.

Giving Hubster a peck on the check when I meet him after work comes so naturally that often I forget Saudi customs, or perhaps I'm subconsciously rebelling against silly ideals.   He gets a kiss on the cheek and a hug and sometimes we even hold hands. Couples hand holding, by the way, is allowed, the king said so.  Married couples only of course, though I’ve heard via the grapevine that this is a very recent allowance only practiced by the younger more modern Saudi’s – which is another way of saying not a lot of that happens either.

I can understand that not kissing someone hello is another cultures norm – I can.  But I wonder at what point do the non-kiss practitioners say “ok I’m going to respect the kissers”. For example, we have a French family on the compound. They have 2 teenage sons and a pre-teen daughter.  At a bar-b-q the kids went along and said hello to everybody.  And, as is French custom, they kissed all the ladies on the cheek. Well almost all. One Muslim lady almost put her neck out throwing herself away from the oncoming kiss on the cheek and the young man wasn't sure what he’d done wrong. Would she have reacted this way if she was at a Bar-b in France?  Or would she respect that this greeting is French – just go with the flow?

I often wonder how Saudi’s would handle a powhiri? Or a hongi?  And I have no doubt that sleeping on a marae just ain’t gonna happen – so much for culture exchange.

I do question why all visitors to Saudi must bow to the rules and put their own cultural practices on ice. Yet, Saudis, not all but a fair amount, are less than happy when other nations say ‘While you’re on our turf we won’t accept your cultural cover up practice’, which is a stance that France is taking.

I have to say, I've got my pom pom’s out for France.
And kissing.

Ka Kite,

Monday, 19 July 2010

Cosmic Calm At Coffee Islands.

As it was our daughter's last night visiting us here in Riyadh, we went shopping at two of the larger malls in town.  She had some last minute presents that she wanted to get.  While we were out prayer time came along, twice. The first time we were prepared and sat in the food hall and ate. The second time we weren’t prepared.  Hence we were left milling in one of the mall courts wondering whether or not to go find the food hall so we could sit out prayer time with a coffee.

The Husband expected I knew where the food hall was.  Obviously Hubby thinks my time is spent frequenting shopping malls a lot.  He's mistaken.  I must be the only woman in Saudi unenthusiastic about shopping so this was only my second visit to Sahara and Hyatt Malls in 6 months.  It saves Hubby a bundle of money, this shopping aversion.

Anyway, unlike the malls at home, Gloria Jeans, Muffin Break and company do not have coffee islands in easy to find locations throughout Saudi malls.  The only coffee island I’ve come across is Costa Coffee, but it is little. Let me clarify this point.  The Costa Coffee ‘family section’ is little because, being Saudi, although the men can occupy the numerous comfy chairs out front of the island, we women enjoy our beverage in a tiny sectioned off area away from public view.  At prayer time this small space is choc full of ladies, their children and their husbands, who were more prepared than us and have settle into their seats early.

During prayer time, all seats in the malls are at a premium. In one other mall on another shopping day, we, Kiri and I, claimed a couple of seats and Kiri learned how close women get in Saudi while waitng out prayer time. Close. Squizz over as close as you can, whether you know the abaya covered butt trying to squizz in next to you or not.  Kiri looked at me with a ‘What the?’ look because along with the black shape came a shopping trolley and a few kids, and when a large pubescent child practically sat on her lap, she decided enough was enough so vacated her seat.  Was this possibly the ploy all along????   I don’t blame her.  Coming from a country that likes our personal space, this closeness can be a bit much.

Anyway, back to the Hyatt. What to do? Roaming a mall aimlessly with the shops open is bad enough, in my opinion, but roaming them aimlessly for half an hour with the shops shut is decidedly pointless. We would sit on the floor, but The Husband is with us and he doesn’t do floors – something to do with his flexibility or lack thereof.

Prayer time had started and, looking around, niqab clad females of all ages occupied all available seats. So Hubby sat himself down in one of the comfy chairs out front of Costa Coffee reserved for the men.

There was only one other man occupying one other chair on that island. Ridiculous! But hardly surprising.

Shopping is the major recreational activity for women in Saudi, apart from visiting family.  It is actually, I believe, a bit of a mission for single men, especially Saudi single men, to gain entry to malls.  Guards (males) are at all entry points to make sure women enjoy hassle (man) free recreation although, believe it or not, only men work in the stores which is a whole other blog.  Women most definitely outnumber men in the malls.  If you’re a man shopping in a mall in Saudi, bets are on you’re with a wife or your mother.  The upshot of this is that Costa Coffee seats reserved for men, at this particular prayer time, were empty.

No way was I standing up with all these free, comfy, seats. I sat down with Hubby, Kiri joined us. Shortly thereafter, all remaining seats reserved for men were full of women.

We sat there and chatted. They sat there and chatted.  Lone other Saudi man drank his coffee and all was well.  The world did not end.  The cosmos did not open up and wreck mayhem down upon us. Fraternizing between lone man and abundant women did not occur.  In fact, lone man was, to my knowledge, completely ignored while women took this enforced time out to show each other what they had bought.  It all felt very normal.

The minute prayer time ended, one of the staff came over and told us we had to leave – only men could sit here.  Ridiculous!  Totally disturbed the calm he did with that statement.   I mean, was the cosmos gonna work itself up into a lightening bolt just because women, the majority population in malls, are sitting out front of the coffee island.  Honestly, sometimes I just don’t get it!

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Time Drags in Saudi

Time drags in Saudi as an unemployed expat woman if you do not make yourself get out and about.
Or enroll in some form of online study.
Or read.
Or do something.

Saudi Arabia is renowned for its boredom.  There is nothing to do here.  Nothing meaning no movies, no pubs and clubs, no sport (if you're a girl) - not much fun at all.  Unless you know where to look, and new arrivals rarely have that info on hand.  If you don't work in Saudi doing nothing can really get depressing.

To give myself something to do I'm learning Arabic....thought I might as well while I was here.  I figured it would come in handy to know a few sentences plus it would wile away the time which numerous women can tell you, including Saudi ladies, starts to drag after a while.

I find it interesting that, each time I have met new Saudi's, male and female, they say something along the lines of "Do you like it here?  It's boring isn't it?"  I haven't yet figured out an appropriate answer.

Yes, it's very boring - seems rude and isn't really hitting the nail on the head.  It's slow but if you look hard enough there is 'stuff' to do.  It's not necessarily meaningful, but it is something.

It's OK - seems to demean the place which, if you get into its history and culture, is actually an interesting study.  And 'It's OK' definitely doesn't do the people justice.  The people, so far, are really lovely.

No, it's an awesome place.  I'm really enjoying it - will not be believed.  People here are not stupid.  Plus they will just say 'Wait 6 months, you'll change your mind'.

I've been here six months.....time is starting to drag.  I know it is because I'm considering getting more regular employment.  For someone who thinks work is an interruption to real life that is really saying something.  Tutoring English to ladies is fun, but not really regular because they go on holiday (they're on holiday now), they have parties to prepare for so can't make it each day, they get sick, I get sick...let's just say regularity fluctuates.

A friend has given me the number of an international school that wants native English speakers to teach English to primary aged children once the summer is over.

My dilemma (not huge on a global scale I know) is do I want this job?

Friend -The hours are good Gae, from 7 am to around midday - 1pm. 
Me - 7 am.....crikeys, been a while since I had to wake up at that hour, much less be at work by then.
Friend - It's five days a week, Gae, so you'll have something to do every day.
Me - 5 days a week.....crikeys that's full time.  I was born with full time work allergy.
Friend - And you'll be teaching children.  It's easier than teaching adults, but they might drive you crazy.
Me - Do I really want to teach kids 5 days a week?  Ummmm, No. 

Another friend told us the other day that one of the Embassy's has a vacancy for a PA.  Hubster declined that role for me.  Why?  That requires me being organised.  Me and organised needs a 'dis' attached.  I don't think he means 'Wifey organised dis'.  More 'Wifey disorganised' is where he was heading.

When I first moved here I didn't' actually want to do anything, which is exactly what I'm doing, and it's starting to get on my nerves.  What do they say, Be careful what you wish for or you just might get it.  Obviously my goal of total chill 'axing while in Saudi has run its course.  Time to get jiggy with something else - the question is What?

Of course the middle of summer, with Ramadan just around the corner, is not a good time to start feeling like doing something. (Read my post on Summer Heat for more that).  Most people leave town.  Including the locals.  The majority of my Saudi friends are heading to cooler regions.  Abha is the locally preferred destination.  The heat can get to you here after a while and we aren't in the top temps yet.  The wind blowing the other day felt like standing in a giant hair dryer complete with flying dust.  Except, once the wind died down the heat stuck around and it's a very enveloping heat.

With most of the expats gone and coffee mornings put off till after the summer, time is dragging.  It's making me think about heading home too.

The month of Ramadan starts mid August.  I'm going home mid August.  I have to.  Our eldest daughter gets married early September and I know she's going to need a bit of help with the final details - that's why I have to go early.  Hubster might not have bought that rational, but he has bought me a ticket.  So count down is on.  Yay.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Mr Noors Excellent Camel Market Excursion

Mr Noors excellent camel market adventure came about because Kiri and I were wondering what we could do one day.

While in Dubai, sightseeing with Kiri prior to escorting her to Riyadh, we came across a little cafe in the Dubai Mall that offered chocolates and coffee made with camel milk.  I'd like to say we thought this sounded so interesting we couldn't pass up the opportunity to give it a go.  But, actually, we had been on our feet all day and needed to sit down to wait for the bus back to the hotel, so what attracted us was the comfortable and empty seats.  The waitress told us about the camel milk when she came to take our orders.  We were too exhausted to really take in what she said otherwise I'm sure we'd have been very attentive.

She brought us our coffee and chocolates - we weren't to tired to try what was on offer....  We left with their pamphlet listing the benefits of camel milk.
According to the pamphlet camel milk is:
  • easy to digest
  • low in fat - approx 50% lower than cows milk fat content.
  • high in calcium
  • high vitamin C
  • natural tasting
  • full of natural occuring anti-aging properties and
  • contains lanolin for soothing the skin
There are apparently no known allergies to camels milk which has the closest composition to human milk than, I'm presuming, any other animal milk.  And, says the pamplet, bedouins traditionally used camel fat and milk to protect themselves from the sun.  All this information came back to me on the day of our camel excursion - because I re-read the pamphlet.
Kiri and I were at a loose end one morning so asked Mr Noor what he suggested we should do.  He suggested a trip to the camel market.  'Sure', we said.  'Why not?'

Our drive took us outside the city, which was great for Kiri because it was her first trip out into the desert.  It still amazes me that there is miles and miles of brown, dry, barrenness as far as the eye can see.  What amazes me even more is that people live out here.

Hundreds of pens make up the camel market sitting at the edge of the city and the smell of camel is rich in the air.  I asked Noor how much for a camel - he thought from about 3000SAR and up.  A lot of money for something you're gonna eat, which is, I believe, what they generally do with camels these days.  One of my missions while I'm here is to eat camel meat.  When it happens I'll let you know how it is.

We were looking at a couple of camels, avoiding the camel dung piled up outside the pen, when a man atop a long legged desert animal sautered on by.  Perfect.  Time for a camel ride.  Mr Noor negotiated a price and the Camel Man sat said camel down.  Camel was not happy.  He kicked up a bit of a stink.  'Arrrggghhhh, Arrrggghhh'.

If we'd been on the ball we'd have taken a photo of Angry Camel in full tantrum, but we were too busy walking backwards, fast.  Once on the ground, the Camel Man climbed off the camel and got tangled up in the camels legs, because this ship of the desert was having one major hissy fit, kicking and balihooing away.  I think Camel Man was lucky he didn't trip over and get a right kick in the butt.

We asked Mr Noor -'What's up with this camel' because we were fast reconsidering riding this beast.  He asked Camel Man, having disentangled himself from his camel, who explained that the camel was objecting to being made to sit on the hot sand. Camel Man invited us to sit on Angry Camel.  Yeah right!  I decided to send Kiri over first.  She was understandably hesitant, but with a bit of coaxing, and the promise that Camel Man would not stand the camel up, we got a photo of her seated on the camel.
Kiri on Angry Camel....who looks like he is smiling.
Camel Man then invited me onto the camel.  As Kiri had survived I was feeling brave so, after ascertaining that Camel Man would hang on to his camel, I said OK.
He will hold this camel won't he Mr Noor cos angry camel has stopped smiling?

 Camel Man then asked, with sign language, if I wanted the camel to stand up.  'Sure', I nodded.  I'm glad I found a piece of rope to hang onto prior to the camel standing up, cos camels do not stand up in one smooth fluid motion.  Nope, the back legs push up first and I was facing the ground for a considerable amount of time till the front legs got us upright.  OK, so it wasn't that long, but it felt considerable.

Once up Camel Man led the camel a little distance for a walk and it crossed my mind that, for me to get off, this camel had to sit back down.  Given it's performance a few minutes ago I was just a weeny bit concerned, but camel, thankfully, behaved itself.

There wasn't much else to see at the camel market, so Mr Noor asked if we'd like to drink some camel milk.  'Of course', we said, so off we went. 

I was thinking camel milk cafe.  I was wrong.
To get camel milk, you have to milk a camel. 

There are men with lactating camels and their baby's in makeshift pens along the roadside a few kilometers from the camel market.  Mr Noor negotiated a price for a bowl of milk and then we were invited to go help milk the camel.

Our recent experience with Angry Camel made us extremely cautious about approaching Mother Camel, especially as we had to come up from behind. I was wondering just how high up my body a camel would kick.  I decided too high for comfort so we got the Camel Milk-Man to milk the camel and, by the time I got the courage to get close enough to Mother Camel for the hands on experience, the bowl was full.  But really it's exactly the same as milking a cow, except you're standing up.
The following photo's tell our camel milk story.

Camel Milk-Man cleans the bowls.  It was a really hot day and these guys are sitting by the road side waiting for customers.

The camel to be milked.  Saudi camels are the one hump variety.  This one looks harmless, but we decide to leave milking to the experts....

Milking the camel

Here it is....frothy and very warm

Mr Noor, posing with our milk and Mother Camel in the background.


Me...mmmmm.  What does camel milk taste like?  It tastes just like milk.  Funny that.  I actually think it tastes lighter than cows milk.

Mr Noor, after telling us drink up, then said that some people get a stomach ache after their first camel milk drink, but after that there's no problem - thanks Noor.  We must have Maori stomachs cos we've had no problems.

Kiri and Camel Milking-Man

Left over milk gets put into a plastic bag to be taken home.  I was wondering how long camel milk lasts in a plastic bag before the bacterial population explodes.  Hmmm, this could explain the stomach ache theory.

I've spoken to people since this little tiki tour, including Saudis, and they seem surprised that we did such a thing.  They also have mixed reviews regarding camel milk - some like it, some certainly do not. 

Glenn has read recently that camel milk will begin to be sold in supermarkets.  I'm glad we got the au natural experience. We suggested Mr Noor advertise half day Excellent Camel Excursions because we had a really good time at the camel market and drinking camel milk.  If you'd like his number, drop me a line.

Ka Kite,

Friday, 2 July 2010

Kilas visit

Kiri, our daughter, is here in Riyadh for 2 and a bit weeks.  She has started a blog to let people know what she has been up to.  You can find it here at

It is nice to have her company and I think she is having a good time.  Not in an outrageous night club fashion, because there are no nightclubs here.  But we try are introducing her to Saudi life a bit at a time. 

She has learnt, in her first 3 or 4 days, how to put on the shayla (head scarf) and is perfectly happy donning the abaya when we go out.  I believe she's adjusting to the heat -I'm always checking she's drinking enough water.  According to the nurses dehydration creeps up on you and knocks you for six - and she spent a whole day in bed getting over most of her jet lag soon after arriving.

On her list of things to do is visiting the numerous shopping malls that abound in Riyad, visiting the Saudi friends I've made who are keen to meet her, and doing anything else that comes along.

She is being put to good use in my English lessons.  My student is 22 years old and was really looking forward to someone around her age coming to talk English with her.  So I get Killa to ask questions, read dictation and other stuff that lets the two of them chat away. 

I'm not sure that Kiri really understands how fortunate she is to be invited into Saudi homes.  I've met so many expats who have been here much longer than me and have never had that privilege.

Anyway, if you'd like to read her thoughts on her trip visit Kilas Saudi Adventure.

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