Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Summer heat


This is my first experience of Saudi summer heat - and it's hot.  By 10am its 40 degrees Celsius.  Midday is 50 C+.  Walk much during the day right now has been curbed somewhat.  Evenings is a balmy 35 Celsius - perfect for sitting by the pool - which is still tepid from the heat of the day.  We call it 'moonbathing'.

On my short stroll from our apartment to the taxi, which is about 300 meters, I have my black get up on, ie abaya.  I used to whinge, just a little, about the heat, as in "oh crap it's so hot in this get up" but then one of the garden maintenance guys walked past and I had a little word to myself for being such a selfish wimp. 

He has not just walked from air conditioned comfort.  He will not be spending a maximum of 2 minutes in the heat, which is how long it takes me to walk to the air conditioned taxi.  No, he has to work long hours in this heat 6 days a week along with the rest of his colleagues.  When I choose to walk a little further than the taxi, I make sure I remind myself of these facts.  Certainly helps me feel the heat less.

Our maintenance guys are transported in a windowless truck (I saw them being picked up one day.  If you think small furniture truck, that's it.) - definitely no air conditioning.   I have no idea where these guys live.  In fact, I'm not even sure I want to know having heard stories of shanty's and over crowded rooms.  I guess if I was really concerned I would go find out....now I'm making myself feel guilty.  I asked Noor what his accommodation is.  He and some of his fellow taxi drivers live at his Uncle's house - all 13 of them with 4-5 men per bedroom.

Our garden maintenance men are mostly from Bangladesh and they don't speak much English.  The culture here pretty much tells them don't talk to anyone especially the women, so it's interesting to see their reaction when I say hello or good morning - they get a bit of a shock and aren't sure what to do or where to look.  Some of the long termers, those who've been here since I arrived, say hello back and even look at me and smile.  But that is it.  Unless they have something to repair there is no real need to communicate and then the language barrier really kicks in.

I was putting together a kit-set chest of drawers one day and all I needed was a drill to put a few holes through.  Try telling that to someone who can't speak English.  We rang the head of maintenance and a worker arrived.

'I just want 3 holes.  One here, here and here'.
He took one look at what was going on and started picking up all sorts of bits and pieces to help out
'No, No...I don't want you to put the whole thing together.  I can put it together. NO. Stop'.
(looking confused and still wanting to help)
I hold up 3 fingers - '3'.  I point at the drill, then to my piece of board.  'Here, here and here'
( he picks up some other bits and pieces to get on with doin the whole job)

I actually don't think these guys are used to women over here being independent enough to build their own kit-set drawers.  Rumor has it that even the males in this area lack get up and go.  I get the impression most people higher up the food chain in this country call the head of maintenance, say send someone to sweep the dirt off my doorstep and then sit back in their sofa while they watch the job being done.

No. Laa (try arabic). Stop. Khalas (More arabic. I'm presuming a Bangladeshi man speaks Arabic.  Hmm?)
The Husband, who's in the bedroom talking on the phone, comes out because of the commotion.
What's goin on
I'm trying to tell this guy I only want 3 holes.

The Husband goes through the routine. 3 fingers. Pointing to 3 spots.  Taking the bits and pieces off him.  Nothng is working.  Frazzlement is starting to rise. 
Glenn, just take the bloody drill off him and drill the holes yourself.
Glenn does just that. Thank the universe for small mercies!
Khalas.  Thank you. You can go now.

My dresser

The heat inside the apartment has settled (yay) I can't say the same for the Saudi summer heat outside.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Compound Living in Riyadh


'What's it like living in a compound in Riyadh?' I often get asked.

It's quite weird saying "I live in a compound".  It has this confinement quality to it.....which in a sense is exactly what it is, but anyway.....

Compounds vary in size, quality and obviously cost.  The smallest I've visited has 25 residences and the largest has around 400 residences.  Compounds, the ones that white collar westerners like, have a reputation of being notoriously hard to get into.  Some have waiting lists of 1 year or more.  To jump the queue (which happens a lot) it's who you know, not what you know.
Compounds are deemed to be safer for westerners than living in 'mainstream' accommodation   (Given the 'incident' of 2003, that's a questionable statement).  They all have security of varying levels, so you need clearance to enter.  If you invite guests to visit, their names must be put at the gate.  This does tend to curb the 'I thought I'd just drop by your compound to see you on a whim' activity, but that's a small price for peace of mind.  Forgetting to put someones name at the gate when you've organised for them to visit does cause a few problems -  mostly for the visitor left waiting in the heat.  Not that I've ever made such a blue, I'm just saying.....

Saudi's are not permitted within most expat compounds, a situation that causes a fair amount of debate for some people and I might write a blog on it one day.  Abaya wearing is also not required (and in most cases, as on our compound, not permitted) either.  One family moved out of our compound because the husband insisted that his wife was to wear an abaya when outside the house.  Management insisted he find other accommodation because this is a Western compound, live it or leave.

Compound dwelling allows you to live free from the restrictions of life 'outside'.   I guess the biggest benefits for me are there's no gender segregation so you can interact freely with your neighbors and you can wear normal clothes.  Normal from a western perspective that is - shorts, T-shirts - that kind of stuff.  About the only thing you can't do is enjoy a glass of red at the end of the day :(

Prior to moving here, The Husband brought me to have a look at Riyadh to see what I thought.  We did a tiki tour of other compounds because he was certain (I don't know why) that I wouldn't like where he's been living for the last 18 months.  He had even handed in his notice.  So much for "I'll wait till you've looked around before I do anything". 

My criteria for a place to stay was:
- a pool I can do laps in,
- a gym
- and my absolute can't live without, a coffee shop. 
Not hard criteria to fill as most compounds have all of these.  As a bonus we have a tennis court, a squash court and an out door badminton/volley ball court.  There's also a games room upstairs with a pool table that is rarely used.


What I really like about this compound is its location.  It's right in the middle of the city.  During the day I can just walk out the gate and head to the shops.  And it's only a 15 minute walk to The Husbands work place.  Women from compounds further out have to wait for compound buses or organize drivers or catch taxis in to town because women are not permitted to drive in Saudi.

Our compound is considered small by western standards but it has a really nice set up and is nicely maintained.  There are only about 60 residences here - a combination of 1 and 2 bedroom apartments and 3 bedroom villas (the villas are huge).   Some come partially furnished (if you ask) or you buy your own.  IKEA is big business in Riyadh.

Our apartment is part of the 'bachelor pad' block - only 1 beddies.  Since arriving I've bought a couch - Mr Batchin-It didn't have one (have you tried relaxing watching a DVD on dining chairs?) - and more recently a water cooler and an oven:

Where's your oven?
Don't have one.
Why not?
Flat didn't come with one.  The hotplates and microwave are all I need.
And the microwave's got convection cooking.
Have you used it?
No. 

The Husbands Pantry prior my arrival.  Note the baked beans.  They were on special.

During my reconnaissance mission last August I was informed that the larger compounds tend to have 'clicky' groups that stick together, usually based on nationality, which is fine if you like that sort of thing but if you came for a cultural experience living with 'your own' isn't really the way to get it - my opinion only.  This compound is too small to have that problem (Is that a problem??).  Anyway, there's a nice mix of ethnicity's and age groups living here that I really enjoy and it's a great way to build a network for free holiday accommodation around the world.  Lined up already is an apartment in Paris, a house in the Philippines and a home in Spain.

Sure there are some things we don't have being a smaller place - like free child care (not that I need that), a hair salon (there are plenty just down the road) or a bowling alley, and sure it's not perfect - what place is - but compared to other compounds I reckon it's pretty good.

So, The Husband withdrew his notice - fortunately they hadn't processed it - and we are still living in the same compound in Riyadh.

If you're in the market for a compound in Riyadh then you may want to peruse the list of compounds on this website.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Men behaving culturally??

I am in Dubai. 

Kiri, our daughter, is coming for a visit  It's her first trip to the Northern hemisphere.  We decided to meet Kiri in Dubai and accompany her to Riyadh.

Kiri has been in Dubai a day and has already noted the strange practice that some, not all, but enough to be catergorized, Arab males have of staring at women.

I know separation of the sexes is very strictly adhered to in Saudi Arabia and I believe the UAE also follows similar rules, though they are more lenient regarding westerners.  I've lived in Saudi long enough to figure out that gender segregation has an interesting effect on youth which tends to be more noticeable in the younger male populace.

Young males stare at women. 

According to Islam the eyes are meant to be averted from the opposite sex at all times. (I checked this out with my taxi driver. Yes mam, that is correct).  Oh please!  Our eyes were created to look at the world around us.  That includes looking at people walking by.  It's one of the ways we assess our surroundings.  It's one of the ways we communicate our intentions - and I'm not talking sexual intentions either which, it appears to me, is what the law creators here seem to think gender mixing is all about.  I mean, I'm communicating my intention to not cause my fellow human any trouble, to just say hi, I acknowledge you, I'm a nice person, I see you are too and just walk by.  All  this is said in a casual glance without staring and with a smile.  Smiling is another wonderful attribute we were created with and, sadly, is rarely seen, especially in Saudi, in public.

It amazes me that the powers that be in this part of the world have difficulty accepting the human being was actually designed to be social, not just same sex social, which is what segregation here forces on people, but mixed gender social.  By suppressing mixing on a social level of both sexes, they are creating a young population bursting at the seams wanting to get to know each other.  That drive to do what comes naturally, get to know another human of the opposite gender, is normal, but the rules cause behavior that is down right weird.

By creating a rule that says 'do not look', you're actually encouraging people to break that rule, because every one knows unnatural, irrational rules are meant to be broken.  And everyone also knows whenever you break a rule you go overboard doing it.  So, the young men stare. 

I have not noticed the young women staring.  They look, yes, quickly under their lashes, I've seen the girls do that, but not the blatant staring.  I'm guessing that in Saudi the all covering veil is a great way for the female half of the population to be able to stare without being seen doing so.

The older, or more mature men, behave differently again.  I've noticed many of them have a furtiveness about them (is that a word, furtiveness .  Anyway, they have this nervous aversion of the eyes thing which almost says, 'Oh god, my eyes fell on her, I must look away or I'll not make it to the other side'.  The older women do this as well, but for some reason women tend to make this glance seem more relaxed than furtive.

Either way, the staring from frustration or the nervous flick of the eye from fear of eternal damnation, does not strike me as a good way to exist in the world.

Kiri also had her first encounter with the other weird behavior of some Arab men.  Stalking. 

I have read on other blogs about women being stalked by Arab men - stalked, butt squeezed and so on.  And not just western women, this is Saudi women completely abaya and niqab covered.  Since I've  never had anything like that happen to me in the 6 months I've been here I couldn't really relate to how affronted these women felt.

Glenn says I'm so oblivious to this sort of stuff I wouldn't notice a stalker anyway.  I'm more practical - I'm too bloody old to be stalked.  I have had one guy walk smack into a closed glass door he was so busy watching me walk by, but I'm sure he was wondering why an Arab looking woman was shopping with an American looking man.  And another circled the block slowly in his car 4 times before pulling over to hand me his phone number - very risky behavior   But no stalking.  (I handed his number back with a 'sorry, married' in my very best learner Arabic).

I now know how upset stalked women feel.  We got followed, or rather she got followed, I just happened to be with her, I really don't think this guy even computed that I was there, and if he did compute it he obviously didn't give a shit, in the Dubai Mall.  Followed up stairs, around the aquarium, along the shop fronts.  He'd stare.  He'd stop when we did.  He'd position himself so he could stare long and hard as we walked by.  It freaked her out a little. 

I have to wonder what causes a man, and this was not a teenage guy this was a man, to so blatantly stalk a young woman walking in the mall with her mother.  Raging hormones is not really a suitable excuse because behavior like this doesn't happen so frequently and openly in other parts of the world where hormones still rage.   And besides, he was too old to be a hormone ridden youth.

Maybe it's a cultural thing.  How does a culture create male stalkers?  By telling them to stay away from women?  Why would a man so publicly stalk?  Possibly desperation?  Or to make an impression?  I understand the mother in Saudi families has a big part to play in deciding who makes good marriage partners for their girls. Is the UAE the same?  Maybe that guy was hoping to make an impression on mother as well?  (I gotta say, he didn't). 

I really don't know the answers.  And I'm not allowed to talk to any men so I can try to understand the Arab male mentality.  Mind you, at times I don't really understand Glenn's mentality so I don't know why I might expect to get a grip on any other male thought processes.
 
I admit, I do, at times, miss the presence of males at the Saudi homes I've been to.  Males can, at times, add a balance that seems right - or maybe I've just got used to mixed gender get together s over the years and am starting to miss them.  Or maybe I'm past the honeymoon stage of moving to a new country and am now being more critical of the rules and cultural practices in this region.  (I read somewhere that there are stages of adjustment when moving countries.  It had never occurred to me before that people study this stuff, but now I know differently - it's possible to learn something new every day, isn't it!)

I reckon any culture that creates men who stare to such an extent the recipient becomes uncomfortable and stalk so publicly it's scary and a culture that tries so hard to suppress normal,  human behaviour has got to be unbalanced somewhere.

But that's just my opinion.
And there is more to Dubai, a lot more, than men who stare and stalk....but that's on another blog.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

I'm sick.

 
I'm sick. I've beensick for a week now.

I picked up an earache in Salalah and it's turned into a fully fledged flu. I now have a sore ear, sore teeth (what the??), aching joints, dry and peeling lips, a cough, bunged up lungs, alternately blocked and runny nose, a throat just on the turn, a temperature and I'm feeling very, very tired. and lethargic.  

Imagine having flu when outdoors the temperature is 40 degrees Celsius at 10am.  By lunch time it's over 50C. 

I don't like being sick in a foreign country.  I'd much rather be sick at home. 

I haven't got a doctor here, not that that means anything, I don't usually go to doctors anyway, preferring to try natural therapies and homeopathy - none of which are here.  So I really am not enjoying being sick right now.

I spoke to the ladies about how to get a doctor.  Apparently there is no friendly GP service down the road .  The advice I received was go sign up at a hospital when you're not sick so your name is on the file.  Otherwise, you could be waiting an awful long time to be seen if you rock up sick and unregistered.  I'll keep taking the garlic and large doses of Vitamin C for now.

My thoughts are all over the place today - I'm blaming it on sickness.

****************

I knew before I came here that there wasn't the freedom I was used to.  I also knew there wasn't the entertainment I was used to.  But I was assured that, regardless, I would be kept so busy I just wouldn't know how to fit everything in.

Hmmmmm.  Ok, some days can be like that.  Other days..... are monotonous to the point of madness.  Thank goodness for internet, which in itself can be maddening.

I could get into salsa dancing classes, or belly dancing classes or mah jong, or pottery painting or indoor bowls or art classes or book clubs.....lots of ladies join those groups on various compounds and keep busy every day going from one thing to the other. Those things just aren't me. 

I could make myself go, just to keep myself busy, but the whole thing feels like a false life, false busyness....so I'll just lie around at home until something a bit more meaningful comes along. Well, at least while I'm feeling off.  I'm actually hoping to meet someone who's into abaya burning womens lib activity....that should make life exciting.

*****************

My driver, Noor, who is actually just a taxi driver, but we use him more often than anyone else, so I call him my driver, because people here just seem to presume that, being an expat woman, I will have a driver....Noor said to me the other day, You are becoming like a Saudi lady mame....Lazy.

Bloody cheek!..  I could have been offended but unfortunately, he was right.

Noor comes from Pakistan.  He showed us photo's of his village one day....the only men in the photos were old men as well as women and children.  He said most of the working age males are overseas working and sending money back.  He says about 600 of his fellow villagers live in Saudi. 

Anyone who enters Saudi has to be sponsored.  Glenns firm sponsored him.  The sponsor basically owns you when you enter the country.  Most workers have to hand over their passports and only leave when the sponsor agrees, even though leave is written in to their contracts.  (Glenn still has hold of his passport, and mine).  For Noor, and most taxi drivers, that means they generally go home every two years to see their families or wives and children.  It also means they walk on egg shells between those visits so they don't upset anyone, in case someone reports them to their sponsor, who decides to withhold their passports.

Noor is very tired right now....he's working very long days.  I asked him, 'What would your mother give me for my flu Noor?"  Although I'm a bit off color I'm still teaching English so I still see Noor most days.  I only have a few more lessons and want to get them done so I can take a break.  Noor is going to get me some real honey.  I'll let you know if it works.

He's looking forward to his trip home this year.  He gets married.  We're invited.

****************

It would be very easy for me to get sucked into the Saudi daily schedule - sleep to late morning (or early afternoon) and have my day run totally late from then on, with dinner around 10pm.  This schedule was set due to the heat.  I will admit that the evenings are much more pleasant than the middle of the day. 
It is harder for Glenn to make that schedule because the office runs on western hours, 9am-6pm.  He needs his beauty sleep.

****************

Just lately I only wake up when Glenn gives me a see you later kiss on his way out.  We don't have kids to get off to school, which also tend to follow western hours, so there is no real reason for me to have to get up in the morning.

*************

Pharmacies here can dish out all sorts of drugs without me needing a presscription.  Is that good?

I got given ear drops which, being anti-medicine and pro-alternatives, I only took for a few days until we got home and I got my hands on the garlic in my cupboard.  Glenn was less than impressed this arvo when he found I wasn't still on the anti-bots.  I don't know why he was so upset....

************

Recently I visited a ladies health center which has a gym and aerobic classes, spinning etc.  It looks great.  YJ would love me to join with her.  If we are staying another year, I probably will.  So far, I have only signed up for the pilates, which is twice a week at 10am.  I'm glad for the other two ladies on the compound who are also going,  They have dragged me out to the last couple of sessions.  Being sick I don't really want to go, but am forcing myself. 

I'm sure it's for my own good.

***************
Our compound is small so we don't have the events organiser that other places do.  We have to organise our own fun, which tends to include a lot of coffee and cake...not good for the thighs.  We have another lunch tomorrow.  Shall I go?  Will see how I feel.

*************

I've been invited to join an organising committee for something....but nah....that sounds like having to be involved.

One friend has been encouraging me to volunteer at the schools.  You get paid for volunteering, which actually totally negates the concept of volunteering if you ask me, but hei aha.  Problem is I have to up to catch the bus by 7am....forget it.  Besides, I don't have any kids at school....

********************

Since being unwell I have found it impossible to even drag myself up to the local supermarket to buy milk and bread.   It's too hot, it's too far (not), I'm too tired, I won't make it back before I pass out....etc, etc.

The guys at Glenns work wonder if the heat is getting to me or if I'm depressed.  Or both.  Apparently that happens to a lot of women here.  Or am I just down because I'm sick??  Whatever, this last week I've simply lost my mojo...I need a dream, a goal, something to get me excited and motivated, that's what Glenn says.  He found his new dream the other day - a Harley.  I'm guessing that was the reason for his little speech of encouragment.  Men are motivated by such simple things.  I think I'll feel a lot better once I can breathe properly, that would be nice...

******************

Whatever I do here I know it's going to involve lots of other women.  Everything is women only this, women only that....God for some mixed company when we're out and about.  I think, actually, that I have a lot more testosterone in my body than other females and I am missing the men.

And I want to drive the bloody car myself.

After reading this through to check for spelling mistakes I've come to the conclusion I need to cultivate more happy thoughts.

How about this.....
I detest being sick.  I look forward to being healthy and well.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Riyadh Bathroom Post


This is a Riyadh bathroom post.
Let's jump right in.

Toilets.

Quite necessary.  Sometimes necessary in a hurry. 

Why write a blog about them? 
Because today, yet again, in a very modern mall in Riyadh, the only available option for relief for this expat woman was the hole in the floor squat model (the others were occupied) toilet.  And yet again getting to it was a tip toe through a wet puddle.

EEwwww I hear you say.  Ewwwww is what I'm thinkin at the time (or more precisely 'I hope this is just water'), but I tread carefully on because I gotta go.  Yes I have shoes on, but the thought of it not only being water is still unpleasant.

Anyway, after reflecting on my day, I decided to write a bog blog.
What does that say about my day?
Everything!  But that's another story.

If there is one thing I have learnt about being an expat living in Saudi Arabia it's don't leave home without the toilet paper - or a good substitute.  In my hand bag are stacks of tissues.  Leaving home without them is asking for bathroom break trouble.  You'd think this would only apply to extended trips to the Saudi desert or desert islands.  Think again.

SAUDI ARABIA DESERT ISLAND DUNNY EXPERIENCE
When out in wide open spaces we were taught by our loving parents, who liked to take us on long road trips where the side of the road was often closer than a gas station loo for a child in a desparate situation and leg crossing just wasn't gonna be helpful anymore, that squatting is a method adopted to get the job done, preferably behind a sufficiently thick bush (or an angled car door) for privacy.  If you're lucky a soft, wide leafed plant is nearby for followup requirements (or mum bought toilet paper).  That's fine if you live in the wonderful thick greenery of New Zealand.

On a desert island on the Saudi Arabian Red Sea try finding a thick green shrub. 
Bush, where's a  bush.  I don't see a bush.  Oh yes I do.  Crap, I can see right through that piece of thorny scrub.  And even if I squat it's shorter than me......I gotta go, Man I seriously gotta go.....I think I'll just walk a long way away from my company and hope they're decent enough not to look. 

(Of course, I never counted on having a husband with a camera - what he intends to do with that photo I don't know).

THE CITY DUNNY EXPERIENCE
Toilets in Riyadh aren't only the squat over a hole variety (which I don't have a problem with, really).  There's also the sit and.....well, you know, type as well.   

The quality of the toilet, as in all countries, is dependent on the quality of the establishment housing said facility and some said facilities are sorely lacking in quality.  But there are two things that can be found (or not found) in numerous toilets in Riyadh city regardless of the style of commode offered or the quality of the establishment.

First, the floor is often wet.  Just to get to the loo I've got to hold my darned abaya off the ground so I don't come out damp.  Fortunately most toilets have hooks on the back of the door so I can, if I want, hang the abaya up prior to getting down to business.  But try robing and disrobing in a pool of water and not have some part of the blessed garment fall in the drink!  If in a bit of a rush then the abaya gets scrunched into my hands.  They're so long it is possible to misjudge hoisting the whole thing up out of the way.  All the while going through my mind  is 'I hope this is just water.'

And second, in many toilets the loo paper is totally missing. 
Where's the toilet paper?  Where the hell is the toilet paper?  There must be a roll somewhere - god dammit - nothing!  

OK, so what to do.   A quick shake will do for number 1.  But what about number 2's. 
OK, where's my bag, I'm sure there's a tissue in it somewhere - please universe, please.

I realised, eventually, cos I'm a bit of a slow learner, that the lack of loo paper in Riyadh toilets is not just because they ran out.  Oh no, they never intended to have paper at all because there isn't even a toilet roll holder hanging off the wall.  Enter  - The Wash Hose.

THE APARTMENT DUNNY EXPERIENCE
Our toilet (in our apartment) has a wash hose beside it (See picture).  Coming from NZ we never grew up with wash hoses and bidets.  The only time I used  a bidet was in the delivery unit, right after having each one of my beautiful children.  Once home, it was back to the toilet paper.

Anyway, I figured, seeing as the hose is here, I'll try it.  I knew two things about this hose.  It had a bit of pressure behind it  (when I first arrived I asked Glenn whats this for - squeezed the nozzle and water shot out and practically hit the roof) and the water was cold. But, I wasn't deterred....

'Right, which way does this go? This isn't as easy as I thought. Why do they have these instead of bidets anyway? Hell, am I supposed to stand up!  No that can't be right. 

OK. Think I've got it. Hold my breathe. Squeeze the trigger.....

Bloody cold water everywhere. And I've got a wet arse.  Now I need a towel to dry myself.

Every bathroom facility in Riyadh, that I have had the necessity to use, has a wash hose.  Apparently washing oneself after excreting bodily waste is the done thing here.  Glenn told me this is why they say only give, eat and accept food with the right hand.  The left has probably been washing ...uummm.....bits.  This practice is also why the toilet floors in public conveniences are often wet and why there is no need for toilet paper - something I disagree with because what do you dry yourself with when you're done washing?  Another quick shake??

Suffice to say, since moving to Saudi Arabia I have learnt a few things about using conveniences while out.  Always check for loo paper before entering toilet cubicle.  If none, test the wash hose into the toilet before it's required to ascertain correct pressure control - it is possible to control the water burst and therefore prevent excess bathroom flooding and, more importantly, very wet butt  which is very hard to dry without material for that purpose.  Of course an all covering abaya can come in handy for such occurrences (Has that happened to me? Nooooo!) - and warmth (if it's cold well, at least I'm mentally prepared). 

But most of all, before leaving home make sure there are tissues in my bag to prevent possible unthinkable disaster in a Riyadh bathroom.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Social Life in Saudi Arabia.

Soon after arriving many expats throw themselves, or are sucked, into the vibrant expat social life in Saudi Arabia.  It's what keeps us going until it's time for that final exit.

One expat told me this - "If you don't leave after 1 year, you'll probably stay for 3, if you don't leave after 3 years, you'll probably stay for 5 and if you're still here after 5 years you'll probably stay forever".

Most expats stay in Saudi from 1 - 3 years - that's the conclusion I've come to after rigorous investigation into expat activity  (I discussed with The Husband how long we might be staying). 

Working in Riyadh is considered, by most expats I've met, as a short term stint.  Making money was the draw card - there is supposed to be more of it here. (Really, if it wasn't for the 'tax free' aspect I don't think there would actually be a lot of difference in take home pay.)

Many expats I've spoken to say after one year, or less, the work environment makes you analyse whether the money is really worth staying for.  A lot come to the conclusion it isn't.  Add to this the family you miss back home and the freedom you most definitely miss, flying home wins hands down over staying in Saudi for the money - in many cases - not all.   (An Aussie nurse put this more graphically.  She said when you arrive you have two buckets.  The one with money is held high.  You know you've been here too long when the bucket of shit is higher than the bucket of money.)



Once the glow of 'a new and exciting venture' has lost its luster and the reality of working in Riyadh sets in expats who don't have their nose constantly to the grindstone tend to find solace and kinship in other expats.  After all, who else but another expat can sympathize with what we're going through?

The Husband didn't make that many friends before my arrival in Riyadh because he was busy working. I discovered he is no different to other expat men on our compound in that regard.  Some of us married gals got together one day soon after my arrival, quite accidentally, over coffee, and found out our husbands were exactly the same when it came to socializing with the neighbors - they didn't!

There we were, eight of us, only just met and bonding over 'living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia' - Why do we have to wear this abaya? Why can't we drive? Why do we have to rely on men so much for everything?  Why are we stuck at home?  What can we do here?  What else aren't we allowed to do here?  When are you leaving Saudi, going home for a visit.  Have you seen any other countries?  On and on....and then we started on our husbands - as you do.

What does yours do?  Where is his office?  How long has he been here?  What does he think of it?  How long is his work contract?  Will he stay longer?  What does he look like? - Is he the tall one - the American. (No.  And that guy is not American, he's Australian.) Is he the one with the no hair?  (yes, that's him). 

Long story short, we decided it was time our husbands met a.k.a had a social life.

What to do Pounamu? A bar-b-q! 

For the first time in his 19 months of living here, The Husband actually met other men from the compound, and their wives and children, in a social setting. ( By met I mean he had a half way decent conversation with.  He classes met as sayng hello in passing.  No, that is just saying hello.  To meet someoe you actually converse, swap info, get to know each other a little.) 

They, the husbands, actually enjoyed themselves - and so did we.  And now they, the husbands, tend to say more than 'hello in passing' when they pass.  We, the wives, had swapped phone numbers at that first coffee.  Now we have our own e-mail network.  I don't believe our men are that far advanced yet.

That's OK we don't mind if the men leave planning their Saudi Arabian social lives to us - we've got a lot of great ideas on the agenda.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

What To Expect When Visiting Saudi Homes


Expats who are fortunate enough to get an invite to a Saudi home, because not all of them do, are not sure what to expect.   Life here is so different to back home and rumurs are rife about what Saudi's are like.  This post outlines what I have come across on my first visits to the homes of Saudi friends.  It may not be exactly the same for each home and I am by no means and expert on Saudi home visit etiquette, plus most of my friends are from the middle classes (upper class is something else again), but it gives you a bit of an idea how things go from a female perspective.
  • Automatic opening door -Saudi women should not be seen in public unless covered. The women I have met do not cover in their own homes (I'm presuming this is the case for all Saudi women at home).  So, when I visit my Saudi friends they stand behind behind the door and the door opens apparently on its own.  The first time this happened it took me a second or two of contemplation 'What should I do?'  'No point standing out here'.  I walked in.  My host greeted me once inside.

  • Send out the child - for my first visit to another Saudi home I called from my mobile to say 'I think I'm in the right street'.  Her brother had drawn a map.  Glenn can vouch that maps and I are a combination that usually, though not on this occasion, results in 'LOST'.   On this day, my friend sent her young son to the gate so I could see exactly which house to go to.

  • Shake hands while kissing on the cheek - usually 3 kisses - 1 on one cheek, 2 on the other.

    I actually get a bit confused about this - how many kisses, which cheek first.  Apparently, so I've read on the net, Arabs from different regions have different protocols depending on situaton.  Situation examples being - Is this a first visit, are you a good friend, are you a relative, how close a relative and so on.  One day I'm going to ask exactly what is what because, as any person with half a brain knows, and I've spent lots of time meditating to improve my brain capacity so there must be grey matter in abundance, what you read in cyber space and fact can be two vastly different things.  For now I reckon it's best just to hang my cheek in the vicinity of a possible kiss, or three, so if they come cool, if not no worries.

    The hand shake is not your firm kind either.  Very soft and gentle which, from a western perspective, is more akin to floppy.  It can feel a bit weird at first.  The other day I met an Aussie bloke who obviously hails from the 'If I can hurt them I'm a shit hot fella' line of thinking.  Won't be shakin' his hand again that's for sure.  Dick wad!
  • Greeted by my host. I am welcomed and then queried about my health and the health of my family.

    Apparently it's good form to be interested in each others well being, which is no different from any other culture. I've heard that Saudi etiquette expects you and your host to spend quite a bit of time asking after each others health and that of the spouse, the kids, your parents, any other immediate whanau, the in-laws, other relatives and on and on.  Being half way intelligent (as per paragraph above), I expect discussion that detailed is appropriate if you actually know the family (I could be wrong).

    I also freely admit that I gleaned this info from a guy (a.k.a male species), and an expat guy at that......Hmmmm - does that make it highly questionable info, especially in this country where it seems a great deal of effort is put into the sexes knowing as little about each other as possible.  Maybe he meant that's what the guys do??? Suffice to say, I have never gotten quite that carried away at my house visits.  Asking after her health, the hubby and the kids is usually as far as I get when I'm visiting.
 
  • Take off my abaya (yay freedom!) It usually gets hung up somewhere, though one of my friends has got past the "May I take your abaya" stage and I often just drape it over a chair.
  • A seat is offered, sometimes on a couch other times on the floor.

    Most homes have two rooms for receiving guests. One is a lounge similar to any western lounge with comfy sofas and armchairs. The other is a more traditional arrangement with ground level Arabic mats. Both are fine with me though those with gammy knees may find getting to the ground a little difficult.
  • Soon after arriving Arabic coffee and dates is brought out. Enjoy this with chit chat.

    Arabic coffee is not cafe latte' but I've got used to it and quite enjoy it. One day I'll even try making it myself. Glenn would like to buy a qawah (coffee) set before we go home. He considers it something authentically arabic. Another arabic practice I figured out is if I empty my cup, they fill it. Same goes for food. So, when I've had enough it pays to leave a little in the cup or on the plate.

  • Next up tea (shay).

    The tea is usually served black and sweet in those cute Arabian tea cups.  Sometimes they may have a pot of mint tea made up or they will simply have some mint leaves on a plate that you can add to the black tea yourself.  Occasionally they may also offer a ginger tea which, as well as being quite gingery, is also very sweet. I like it but those averse to sugar may not.

    Conversation carries on throughout this process and along with the tea comes more food - cakes, biscuits, chocolate - that kind of thing.  I have learned not to eat before visiting Saudi homes, they are very hospitable and there's always something
  • Meal - Most visits end up with a meal of some description. Sometimes it's full blown dinner, other times a sandwich.

    To date casual meals have usually been eaten on the floor. A plastic covering is put down to protect the carpet (this is protocol, not because they know I drop food). I've eaten without cutlery (not that easy, I should practice more) and with cutlery, it just depends who I'm visiting, how long I've know them and what is on the menu.

    Full blown meals have been eaten at a table. The hostess who offers me invitations to join her family for lunch is older and loves to serve simple yet traditional meals.  Her daughters are charged with seeing to the guest (me), so my plate is one of those dished up first.  The children get their meals and the hostess is then happy to have her plate filled.  The daughters then get their meals and all adults sit down to eat at the table while the children have an area outside the dining room set aside for them to eat watched over by the maids.

    After the meal the bathroom is offered to wash hands and clean up. So far, every house I've been to has a separate guest bathroom. Then we move back to the lounge for even more chit chat.
  • Saying goodbye.

    For most visits I usually have my driver come back to get me after two hours otherwise it can be hard to decide when to leave as Saudi's will stay hosting you as long as you choose to stay.   If other people are also visiting then some will take their leave soon after the main meal.  It is not common for guests to stick around for too long after the meal is done, unless you know the family well. 
I've gotten into the habit of taking something with me on these visits, either home baking or nice chocolates largely because I know I can't invite these women to my home to return their hospitality. Saudi's are not permitted on our compound unless the women are prepared to remove their abaya and niqab and men are not permitted in thobes.

Almond and coconut cake. 
(This is here purely to put pictures on this blog, I didn't actually make it)

There are numerous books you can buy on Amazon about culture in Saudi.   When Hubster first move here he was given this book: Don't They Know It's Friday, which was fine for him with its focus on the culture of business in Saudi Arabia.  For a more complete view of Saudi culture and etiquette then this book, Culture and Customs of Saudi Arabia (Cultures and Customs of the World), reviewed in the Saudi Aramco World magazine some years back, is worth a read.

As you can see, visiting Saudi women is actually no different from visiting friends back home, except for the language barrier (which is rapidly reducing mostly because they are very fast learners) and a few cultural differences (which aren't going to change just because I'm in town). We talk, we eat, we laugh and we enjoy each others company.  No, not much difference at all when visiting Saudi homes.






Ka Kite,
Kiwi





Friday, 4 June 2010

Head Full of Nonsense.

Glenn often tells me I've got a head full of nonsense.  Here's a few things that crossed my mind June 2nd 2010, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

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Crap! I've got Pilates today.

(I recently signed up for Pilates. Only been once. I still hurt.)

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One would presume with the free amenities available in Saudi compounds that target fitness, I will leave here slim, trim and looking fabulous. It's depressing seeing exactly the opposite happening.

(Spied my scales in the bathroom after pilates - Get out of here!)

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I wonder why more expats living in Saudi Arabia don't learn arabic?
My learning seems to be advancing at a tortoise pace - slow but sure, tho mostly slow.


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Are there any poisonous animals in this country??
(No idea why this popped into my head)


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Some days I'd really love to go to work.
Thank G*D, that thought doesn't stick around for long.
Though I believe Glenn would prefer that it stuck around and sunk in.


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If I was at all imaginative I'd write blogs about the people in our compound but give them all pseudonyms (is that the right word), like Alvah the Evil Arachnid.  And instead of being a compound we'd be an undiscoverd planet or a populated atom on the faceplate of a guitar.....

 
(Was strumming a few notes on my guitar when the bug man came in to spray the drains.  I'd call him Flat Face Downcast Eyes....freaky kind of guy)

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When's the next Salah?  I need to go shopping.  I can stretch out trawling the aisles for two hours.  Is that sad or what??

(Looked in my cupboards. No food).
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Why did the computer shop load my laptop with programs I'll never use?? They just take up space that I'd rather fill with music I've downloaded illegally.

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Watties tomato sauce, chocolate macaroons, edmonds cook book,  hangi, roast pork, new zealand butter, dandelion coffee, background music in supermarkets, rugby on TV, mums apple pie, real watercress (the creek grown variety)

(Various thoughts of home while shopping and missing Kiwi food and known brands.)

***** 

Nino works 15 hour days,  Saed works 16 hour days, Iftika works 16 hour days.  They all get paid crap money.  They are often called names and spoken to like they're shit.  When they get beaten up, stolen from or ripped off they wind up in jail because they aren't one of the natives and 'probably deserved what happened anyway' (according to the natives).  Yet this place, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, is better than their home.

(Saw the maintainence guys - started me thinking about how fortunate I am).

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It's Wednesday.  Wednesday night is Friday night.   Thursday and Friday are the weekend.  Friday night is actually Sunday night.  Saturday is the first day of the work week.  Sunday is the first day of the week.

(Still haven't quite aligned my thinking to Wednesday as the end of the work week in Saudi.  Regardless, I wonder what we're doin' this weekend.)

*****


The dark side of the desert - Human rights MIA, religious life from birth - does that make it a choice, blatant racism, excessive money for the few, hypocrisy from the top, sexual frustration for the masses, inflated ego's, knowledgeable ?? (and the odd fanatical) scholars, male domination, rehabilitated but angry religious 'enforcers', hard work ethic largely MIA, handout attitude rife, tender constitutions, patriarchal selfishness rampant, utilitarianism - yeah right!


Sure as hell wouldn't be like this if women were in charge.
(Was reading other blogs - depressing!)


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There was a time when sitting on my butt, wasting away the day seemed like heaven.  Now I've got it, I've changed my mind....

Think I'll go play squash.

That'll get me off my arse.  The housework just ain't doin' it for me.

*****

When her mother has vacated the chair, my three year old granddaughter moves in for a conspiratorial whisper on Skype  "I'm sorry Nana, mummy's been f****n me around".   Just gotta smile every time I think of it :)

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I may have to concur with Glenn.  I just may have a head full of nonsense.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Dining Out In Riyadh


One of the more common pass times in Riyadh, other than shopping, is eating out.  Riyadh has numerous café’s and restaurants, supplying food from all over the globe, for expats and locals alike to enjoy. And we do our best to enjoy them.  A lot.  For that reason I decided to add a space dedicated to comments and photos of the restaurants and cafe's, take away shops and picnic spots we have eaten at since coming to Riyadh and have called it (drum roooollll) Kiwi In Saudi: Dining In Riyadh.

Creative name isn't it?.

Hubster and I have a couple of places in Riyadh we like to visit on a fairly regular basis if we are strapped for time or just want something quick and known.   However, as people who enjoy food, we also make it our goal to find and try as many dining and coffee establishments as possible where ever we live, to get a real taste of the town.

Is that an excuse to stay out of the kitchen as much as possible?  Probably.

It occurred to me one day that I should add a Dining Out section to my blog.  Why not share our thoughts and experiences on places to eat in Riyadh?  If you think we’re food critics you’d be mistaken.  We don’t have the vocabulary (though Glenn thinks he’s a wordsmith – Whatever!).  I have no idea how to 'identify taste dimensions' or comment on the latest cooking innovation – I just know what tastes good to me, what looks good and how to tell a nice waiter from one having a bad day.  And I take a lot of photo's on my trusty point and shoot Canon camera.

So if, for whatever reason, you would like to see where we dine, what we sampled and how was the coffee, then visit my Dining Out in Riyadh pages.




Ka Kite,
Kiwi






Farasan Island


Farasan Island is off the coast of Jizan, in the The Red Sea.  It was not on our alphabet list of places to visit while living in KSA, but we're glad we went.

While at an Embassy function Glenn met Neil.
It turns out Neil works across the road from Glenn.
They swapped contact details, as you do at Embassy functions.

One day, Neil sends Glenn an e-mail. Someone he knows is organising a group trip to Farasan Islands. The group will spend the weekend snorkeling the Red Sea waters around Farasan. Perfect We're in.

Me: Where is Jizan?
Glenn: South of Jeddah.  About 150k's from the Yemen border.
Me: Is that safe?
Glenn: Mair fi mushkila (Arabic for 'No Problem'). 

When ever Glenn uses that phrase you can guarantee he actually has no idea. 
Apparently criminals used to be exiled to Farasan Island.  It's desribed as 'flat, arid and dusty and, in parts, rather poor, run down and litter strewn'.  Definitely off the main tourist route.... sounds exactly what we're looking for.


Departure Day - 8pm flight delayed till 10, then 12.  It leaves at 1am. Arrive Jizan 2.30am

Convoy to a local boat ramp, where our ID is checked by military types. Leave boat ramp 3.30am.
Boat ride to Farasan Island takes about 1.5 hrs.

This is our transportation to Farasan
Seasick prone people gather at the front of the boat. So glad the sea was flat and it wasn't raining.
Why did I sign up on a boat trip anyway? Arrive Farasan Island 5am
Convoy to the Farasan Hotel.  Very basic place but has a bed and, right now, that's all we need.  Parvi is our host.  Very nice man.

In bed by 5.30am.
This day has been long.
That's Parvi in the center.
Awake three hours later for brekky and shower
Off on another boat at 9.30am
Spent the day snorkeling, swimming in the Red Sea and lunching on a coral island. An absolutely beautiful day. Here's some photos. If I had an underwater camera there would be photos of fish....maybe we'll save up for that.

The big boat and some of our fellow snorkellers

Glenn - doesn't he look completely chillax't.

Approaching our coral island for lunch

The water is beautiful - warm and clear

The view from the top
The entire island is made out of coral.
Definitely needed footwear to walk over this stuff.



You could either use the available amenities....smelly and hot.
If you didn't want to use that What to do Pounamu?... take advantage of the great outdoors - much the better option.
Totally excellent island for lunch
Our weekend included a guided tour around Farasan Island.  There is a bit of history here. Mokmul, our guide on day 2, could not speak English.  Glenn kept asking 'what did he say'.  I kept saying 'Hang on, I don't know that much' and out came the Arabic dictionary. 


We understand this is an old pearl merchant trading place.
The family that are caretakers of it let us in.



Saudi's version of the Sistine Chapel ceiling.  The house is made out of coral, the ceiling is made from imported materials.

Other sites on Farasan Island were mainly old places - the old fort, the old village, the old trading post. 
 Farasan also has a population of Gazelles that we went in search of....basically it was 4 wheel driving in a van...rough as.  Almost got hung up on a rock, but we saw two gazelles.    Our Van....Gazelle hunting at twilight. Our evenings were spent in the 'tent' - a room decked out as a Arabian lounge.  Excellent air con - Farasan is a lot more humid than Riyadh.  We were sweating. 













 Our trip to Farasan Island was organised privately.  The lady in charge has been many times and is friends with the owners of the launch that took us snorkeling.  If you would like to go as part of a tour group then I know  Haya Tours is one company that organizes trips to Farasan Island.  

It is possible to plan your own trip to Farasan.  Flights from Riyadh to Jizan are fairly regular and, from there, it's just a matter of finding the port with the car ferry that services the island.  You can take your own vehicle to Farasan or there are a couple of taxi's you can utilise.  The ferry used to be free, though there are moves afoot to change that.  Once you get to Farasan Island you will need some means of getting from the boat to your hotel but, don't panic, the locals are nice and helpful.

As far as I know there are currently only two hotels on the island - Farasan Hotel and the new Farasan Coral Resort.  Both can be Googled and I'm sure the hotel management will be happy to assist with any questions you have regarding boat hire for snorkeling and diving purposes.   When we went there were zero dive shops on the island so, unless that has changed recently, if scuba is your buzz you need to take your own gear.

Would I go back to Farasan Island?  It was a nice place to visit and the snorkeling was great, the water pristine and warm.  Early summer is probably not the best time to go.  The Powers That Be are trying to turn Farasan into a tourist place.  I'm glad we went before this happens - the prices are reasonable, the people are real.  Farasan Island isn't ruined by the tourist - not yet anyway.


Map of Farasan Hotel, Farasan Island



Ka Kite,
Kiwi





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