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.