Saturday, 30 October 2010

Health and Beauty a.k.a. Gym

Glenn's attitude toward my Health and Beauty (a.k.a. Gym) membership was can I say this....somewhat negative.  He considers I have a huge tendency to be ‘a one hit wonder', erratic, a procrastinator and occasionally, ‘all over the place like a mad dogs turd’.  All I can say is, my good points must be really awesome for him to put up with character flaws as above.  Seriously though, I think he expected I’d have given up on attending the women's health center by now.  To date he's been impressed.  I go regularly.

The Health and Beauty (a.k.a. gym) center I go to is very nice.
It’s also quite expensive, but the benefits of going outweigh any issue hubby might have with cost. And he had a weeny issue when I missed out on the '3 months for the price of 2' deal. Why did I miss it? That procrastination I mentioned earlier.  I left my sign up a day or two too late.

I consider myself very lucky to have this facility nearby.

Just over a year ago, Saudi clerics decided women couldn’t have fitness centers. They used an administrative loophole to push through a number of closures. Apparently the government body responsible for men’s exercise facilities has not been allowed was not prepared to regulate those for women. This makes women’s exercise centers unlicensed and, therefore, illegal.

I can follow this reasoning – I can, as I’m sure many others can.  And I ask, what woman wants to work out in a possibly shoddy fitness center?  If the Powers That Be had left this reasonable rational to reign no-one would have had reason to ridicule their motives. Question them, yes, given the governments supposed concern with women’s increasing diabetes and associated poor health, but not ridicule them. 

But this is Saudi Arabia.

The scholars, who I’m sure were real chuffed about this little conquest, like spouting off sermonizing (is that a word?) to the masses whenever possible and they didn't fail to deliver for this issue.  I’ve listed a selection of their ridiculous, ludicrous stated reasons why they banned female work out sites; not referenced but a quick Google will find them easily enough.

… .Leading Saudi clerics have condemned the gyms and clubs as "shamelessness" and warned that women would be tempted to leave their homes and neglect their husbands and children.

…..sports may lead women to lose their characteristic shyness, become masculine, or even lust for one another. It’s a “slippery slope,” says one, that follows “in the footsteps of Western countries.” A sheikh adds, “Women need to have their dignity protected

……Sports such as football and basketball require a lot of movement which may cause young women to lose their virginity. – Sheikh Abdullah Al Manee, a member of the official Council of Senior Ulema

And this one from a booklet about physical education in schools

…..if girls' schools began P.E., Saudi girls would have to change into workout gear — and good girls should not disrobe outside their homes. Changing in a locker room might cause them to lose the shyness that is the hallmark of good morals, the booklet warned. It went on to say that the girls might become attracted to each other after seeing their classmates in tight leotards and tops...

So there you have it, Saudi scholarly logic.

All of it apparently based somewhere in the Quran but, take a look at this from an article on Women Living Under Islamic Laws

'…….. many doubt the religious basis for not allowing women to compete in athletics, pointing to the example of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). In one hadith (saying or tradition) narrated by Abu Dawood, the Prophet runs a race with his wife, Aisha, and lost. Some years later they had a rematch, and the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) won.'

If I were in a pessimistic mood, (Am I?  I could be!) I'd speculate that Saudi clerics have read this narrative and determined it to mean ‘women should be dissuaded from any form of exercise so that, in their latter years, they can’t show up men [their husbands] in a running race’.  Why else would they be so ardent in discouraging women from health advantageous activity?  Because they truly care for women????

That same interpretation could explain why men’s gyms are prolific - you find them everywhere. You can look into some of them from the street and watch men working out.  A mall down the road from us has a running track all around the inside of it to keep men fit - and race ready.

If scholars really cared for women, they would have positive, woman friendly spins on all there Quranic interpretations.  For example, where it states in that same holy book that men are the ‘maintainers of women’, they would include in it's meaning ‘ensure women stay in tip top physical condition so they can serve men and their families better’? That seems like a win-win interpretation to me.

To appease women, who were understandably upset at the closing of their facilities, officialdom advised that only those female wellness centers under the supervision of a government hospital or clinic were allowed…

Sounds reasonable. 
But, I understand the cost to use those facilities is prohibitive to most women and, I’m guessing the Powers That Be have made the rules and regs, for having a gym attached to said venue, very difficult.  I’m also guessing they monitor them very closely so that one step out of line will have them closed ASAP.

Here’s a question…My intellect tells me the government, after publishing appeasing decree, must have set up a crew within, or very close to, existing administrative body to regulate and monitor hospital associated women’s gyms, or else even those would be illegal.  Why would a government set out to deliberately bite itself in the butt by publicly decreeing something illegal?

And, my intellect is getting a workout here, but I do wonder why said crew can’t stretch themselves to preside over all other women’s gyms? 

But of course, this is Saudi Arabia.

You could start to think that the wacky religious leaders in Saudi (they aren't all wacky, there are actually some rather decent types around)  hate extremely dislike women. I prefer to think they (the wacky ones) are scared of us - they’re afraid of the power that, deep down, they know we have.

What is women’s response to scholars and officials who obviously like their women fat and unhealthy?  Protest?  Not in this country.   Find a way round it?  Yep.  Hence my regular attendance at my Health and Beauty (a.k.a Gym) spot.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Riyadh Rubbish

For a large metropolis with so many people (nearly 5 million apparently) I’m quite impressed, and surprised, with how Riyadh deals with its rubbish.  The central city streets are relatively litter free. Sure there are times and locations where there’s a bit of a mess, but generally the more well traveled places are a lot cleaner than main streets back home even with our ‘Keep NZ green’ and ‘Let’s Keep it Clean’ slogans encouraging the populace to “Bin It”.

What's interesting, to me anyway, is how the city is kept clean when there is such a difference in attitudes (mine and theirs) to littering.  I’ve seen people drop their unwanted packaging on the path without a care in the world. ‘Rip open cellophane, Shake hand rapidly to dislodge from fingers, Drop it, Suck down drink, Throw carton on to footpath (some step on it I’m presuming to make sure it stays on the ground), Keep going’.

I have difficulty comprehending the thought processes of a person who does that. (The urge to say ‘pick that up and put it in the bin’ is strong).  At least back home perpetrators of litter crime glance around to see if anyone is looking before they do what they know to be wrong. And they do know, otherwise they wouldn’t have checked first.

I have noted, with disappointment, that there are very few rubbish bins on the city streets in Riyadh.  Analysis of this quandary (for me it is a quandary) has resulted in the following conclusions:  Rubbish bins on street verges are not required because -
  • Very few people walk in Riyadh.
  • If the majority of your population is in the malls you don’t really need rubbish bins outside, do you?
That doesn’t  mean there aren’t rubbish bins anywhere in Riyadh, it’s just that they can be awfully hard to find.   In the side streets, behind the main commerce strip for example, there are huge skip bins where people, usually the men, take their household rubbish. I’ve seen men dragging the garbage bags early in the morning with that slow’ I’ve just been told to take out the trash’ head down, trudge.  Looks like husbands the world over get that job.

Driving outside of Riyadh can be disheartening for an environmentalist.  Rubbish is often spread along the edge of the road, piling up against the fences that border the main highways.  Obviously biffing unwanted packaging out the window without a second thought is common practice, too.

I’m not a fan of rubbish being thrown anywhere, except in a proper receptacle.  One night, back home, Hubby had a few too many beers and he threw his empty bottle out the car window. I was sooo pissed he did that. How dare he be so…..(lots of swear words).. ..pathetic! Car screeched to a halt, U-turned, and he was sent out to retrieve his trash.

During our early morning walks around the back streets of Riyadh’s inner city we’ve come across a few small, tucked away parks that would be fabulous if they weren't strewn with litter.  And if you go to the popular late night picnic spots you’ll find people have walked off and left their rubbish lying around.

Being a fan of wide open spaces myself, it’s great to see families enjoying themselves outdoors. It’s just a shame they leave their left overs behind them.  Sure, there are some picnickers who have packed their rubbish into nice tidy piles.  Frankly, if you’re gonna go to that much effort, why not move said parcels to your car to take home and put in the trash?

It seems that the adage “Leave nothing but footprints” isn’t part of the general psyche over here.

However, that being said, the casual leaving behind of rubbish in Riyadh hails from a different view of life. You see, they know that someone else is going to pick it up.

Who Kiwi? Who?

Enter the yellow Wheelie Bin Brigade - the WBB.

One of the Wheelie Bin Brigade - out and about early in the morning.
These are men, mostly Bangladeshi, who walk around in yellow uniforms with little wheelie bins and brooms, whose sole role is picking up rubbish and street sweeping. Their efforts at keeping this city clean are a major feat that must be applauded because, after all picnics are over, there’s plenty of litter left lying around for them to pick up.

The Wheelie Bin Brigade men get paid about 250 SAR per month to keep Riyadh clean. That’s less than $100 NZ dollars - I can't see many of the whanau working for those wages.

Apparently they get their meals and accommodation provided, but you can bet their abode doesn’t come with a star rating attached.  In the evenings you can spot a few Wheelie Bin Brigaders pushing their little wheelies along the main roads in the hope that they will also collect a few cash donations from grateful city dwellers.

I have no idea where all the rubbish gets taken to once collected.  I’m presuming that someone, somewhere digs a big hole and buries it all – there is a big desert out there.  If there is a recycling factory out over the sand dunes, I have doubts that it’s busy – not from household recyclables anyway. Recycling has not yet caught on with the masses here in Riyadh.

Although, it could - quite easily.  In fact, this country has the perfect set up for developing Saudi social conscience for all sorts of things - care of the environment, health promotion, human rights (whoa Gae…don’t get too carried away). Because five times a day, mosques call out messages from almost every corner.

Imagine if somewhere in the Quran there was a passage that could be interpreted to say you get extra gate points to the Hereafter if you pick up your rubbish and put it in a bin.  Imams interested in promoting social issues (there must some, I'm sure of it) have a captive audience.

It can’t be hard to find such a passage, after all scholars are finding passages for all sorts of things –

Women can’t have gyms,

Men can beat their wives.  And here's a scholarly type explaining Beating etiquette

Yep, finding one for correct disposal of litter shouldn’t be too hard at all.

And they should get onto it right away, just in case one day the Wheelie Bin Brigade decide SAR250 per month for cleaning up Riyadh Rubbish is chicken feed and they up and leave the country?

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Expats Should Register at Hospital In Saudi Arabia

One thing that expats should do as soon as possible after arriving in Saudi Arabia is to register at their hospital of choice.  And ensure that your employer has sorted out your medical insurance.  Here’s a story from Arab News:
Payment first, treatment next
Published: Oct 4, 2010 23:47 Updated: Oct 4, 2010 23:47

RIYADH: Bank officials and customers were perplexed when an ambulance with sirens blaring and lights flashing rushed to the parking lot of a local bank.

Nurses then disembarked along with a man in a stretcher; the entire group then entered the bank. Onlookers were left confused and thought paramedics had mistaken the hospital for a bank.

This was, it later transpired, not the case. The man had fallen extremely ill, but the hospital had refused him treatment without advance payment. The man then requested the hospital staff to take him to the bank to withdraw money and pay for his treatment, Shams newspaper reported.
Rumor has it that if you rock up sick to a hospital in Riyadh, and you are not registered at that particular institution, they will not let you see a doctor till the paperwork is done.  This sounds fairly normal really, I mean anytime I visit a doctor for the first time, they ask me to fill in a form while I wait for my appointment.

But this is Riyadh!

The compound ladies told me that the administrative processes in this region are elephants, really big, old elephants, and the ‘care factor’ about your situation is usually non-existent (What, in a hospital they don’t care? Apparently not in admin), so you’re pretty much guaranteed you will be hanging around the waiting room for awhile.

The idea of suffering immeasurable pain or discomfort and being held up at reception while clerks loaf around with the ‘Going slow and loving it’ button on is not really a situation that I’d like to be in.

They recommended that I make an appointment at the hospital for a checkup so that I can get registered before illness strikes.  They also said take a good book and a huge does of patience – the wait can be long.

The other option is that Glenn can go to the hospital and, being my husband, he can register both of us. This means the hospital will have a file in my name, but it’s empty – no BP, Temp, Heart rate or medical history. They’ll have to wait till I arrive, unwell, to fill in that info.  That doesn't really strike me as a good plan either, but apparently that's the one he has opted for, primarily because of all that expat advise.

He is asking a Saudi work colleague to accompany him - one for the language barrier, and two, because things tend to happen slightly faster when a Saudi guy asks for it.

Personally, I think I’d prefer the first option – any excuse for a day out.
(Are you getting bored Gae? Feeling a little cabin fever maybe?...... Noooo!)

I have actually been to a hospital here already, to do the medical for my Iqama, but being new to Riyadh I was a little nervous. There was no need to be.  It's looked and felt like a hospital, except for a couple of quirky Saudi things.

I do wonder why my details wouldn't already be in the hospital records from that visit, but I guess that would mean the elephant was thinking….not something a Saudi elephant is renowned for.

Hospitals here are largely staffed by expats - a term I’m broadly applying to anyone who is not Saudi – and weirdly, when it comes to Saudi health and clinical staff, the ‘expat’ tag tends to negate the co-mingling rule just a little.

Health professionals (Doctors and the like) are not actually exempt from the 'no interaction' decree, but how both parties (doctor/patient) maintain face is interesting.

According to stories I've heard, all second hand so…. OK, it’s gossip, most Saudi women stay covered in the presence of a male doctor, so he really has no clue who he’s dealing with – perfect time to send in your cousin for that blood test that might show drugs.  And it is not uncommon for doctors to write scripts for patients without actually having done a full assessment, because that might require getting close and touching a member of the opposite sex.

I dread to think how many misdiagnosed people on the wrong kinda drugs are running around Saudi right now!

And on the flip side, I wonder how doctors here can really improve their skills if 8 times out of 10, they can’t perform even the most basic assessments properly?

This may explain why, when I saw the doctor for my Iqama, he lept to his feet to listen to my heart, check my eyes and look in my throat (very basic stuff) once he ascertained I was neither Muslim nor Saudi.  It still makes me wonder why I’m not already on the books though? I mean what info did he record and where did he record it?

In most other countries, the motivation for a doctor’s actions in a consult is his/her professionalism (barring the occasional weirdo) – but I reckon without doubt the greater force influencing the Saudi doctor/patient relationships is fear. Some argue it’s custom, but actually it’s fear.

Fear by the doctor of being accused, should he dare move from behind his desk and look like he's going to wield his stethoscope, as an inappropriate practitioner (chopping block accusations those are); Fear by the patient of being labeled a bad Muslim and, for the ladies especially, a dishonorable woman.

In a country where flashing a bit of ankle skin is sufficient for fallacious labels, showing anything else....well….Hussy!!

It seems the carry on in Saudi hospitals has concerned the present King (it probably concerns a number of people, but I’m giving him the credit) because they are currently building a women only university which will house, among other things, ‘13 colleges, including those for medicine, dentistry, nursing, naturopathy and pharmacy, several laboratories and a 700-bed hospital equipped with state-of-the-art facilities’. (I’m guessing it will be a woman only hospital).

They’ll be churning out female medical practitioners in huge numbers once this University gets up and running.

This article gives a little insight into the Princess Noura University and Saudi women and education

The fact that there will be a college for Naturopathy gives me hope that the medical model of birthing that currently abounds in hospitals in Saudi will give way to a more natural birth philosophy. (I might not be practicing as a midwife right now, but that doesn't mean I don’t care).

And who knows, one day they may fully embrace Homeopathy too.
Heck, if the Saudi health system and hospitals get that progressive, I may never leave.

Ka Kite,

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Female Cashiers and Lust

"There are female cashiers working in a HyperPanda Supermarket in Jeddah".  Woohoo!!
This big news?

Well, to put it simply, women aren't supposed to work. That was actually Glenn’s trump card in getting me here though after 4 months, I’d had enough of this trump card – it’s boring as here with nothing meaningful to do.  It is possible to do lots of non-meaningful things, but that’s like trading myself in for something I’m not…

Anyway, I understand the Quran specifically states that men are the 'providers and maintainers of women' meaning they bring home the bacon – turkey bacon that is because pork bacon is off the menu in this country.

Saudi women in particular are dissuaded from working. I'm presuming that somewhere the Quran specifically states a woman's sole function in life is to marry, reproduce, look after the kids and serve their men.

That being said, there are a number of Saudi women I know of who do work, but largely behind the scenes in business or in female specific areas – like the ladies only section of the bank or girls schools.   The majority of the Saudi ladies I know (not huge numbers by any means) gave up working when they got married.

Women most definitely should not work out in the public where the general population (men) can see them and, OMG!, possibly interact with them.

The media here often rabbits on about the fear behind interaction - that men may not be able to control their lust towards women .  Additionally, the male Saudi is concerned, probably because he has been wrongly informed by the Powers That Speak For Them Bearded Types, that should a man approach a female for any reason at all, her mental wiring is such that she will interpret that approach as an offer of sex.  And being such a delicate flower and totally socially inept, she is far to weak to be able to deal with such emotions.

Oh pa..lleease!

Advanced civilizations, those that put women on a more equal footing with men, have managed to deal with men’s uncontrollable, constant and all consuming lust.  What does this say about Saudi as an advancing country? (The ‘females are weak’ argument is such nonsense it doesn’t even count, so I’m not even bothering to debate that).

This article from Business Intelligence, Middle East, is a good read on Saudi women’s current and future role in Saudi’s economy.  Looks like they have a way to go, but H'Panda initiatives are heading in the right direction to get women fully participating in and contributing to Saudi economy - other than just shopping at malls.

Hyper Panda got a bit of flack over this little initiative, from the religious conservatives, but they (H’Panda) have the support of the current King, long may he live, and to date, all reports appear to be positive.

I heard that when satellite dishes first came to the Kingdom religious conservatives weren't too keen on them either, so they used to go round shooting at them.  but a glance at rooftops today shows the will of the people has prevailed and satellite dishes are everywhere.  Though I haven't been here long, I sense the will of the people isn't that inclined to sabotage the 'woman at work' experiment in Jeddah either.

There are few rules for the women working at HyperPanda - This Gulf News article gives an overview with some interesting comments.

Basically the women have to be Saudi, over 28 years of age, divorced or widowed and they have to wear the accepted dress code. I wondered why they chose this age but, it seems it's highly possible for Saudi women to have been married and divorced or widowed by the time they are 28. 

Due to Saudi Arabia'a apparently extremely high divorce rate, and the shocking road stats, there shouldn't be any shortage of applicants for the jobs. 

Who knows, one day soon this 'Big News' will be common place because female cashiers will be all over Jeddah - fingers crossed.

Ka Kite,

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Herbs 'n Spices

I cooked tonight, with Herbs 'n Spices.  For the last couple of weeks I've been cooking most nights.  This is 'Major News'.  It has been a while since I have been so domesticated.  Glenn doesn't really complain about my non-domesticity.  He hints.

There was a period of time - a couple of years back - where Glenn supported me wholeheartedly in my slide into wanton abandonment of the kitchen stove.  He would tell everyone that I spent the last 25 years cooking for him and the kids, so I deserve a break.

I guess he didn't figure it would be such a long and almost complete break.
He has high hopes, I believe, that this is a turning point....
No comment.

I didn't do gourmet tonight.  Actually, I never do gourmet - there are plenty of restaurants in Riyadh for that.  I will, however, text my friend the lovely Miss R and tell her the soup she made for me the other day and told me the very simple recipe for, went down a treat.  And we had fried bread on the side.  Yummm.  Sometimes I get a hankering for fried bread and tonight was one of those times.

Our very interesting topic of discussion tonight was initiated by Glenn's enthusiasm for the soup -

Hubster: What have you put in this?  It's great! It's a herb or something.

Wife: It's a spice.

Hubster: It's ginger or.....(slurp)....this is really good.

Wife: It's turmeric and chicken stock.

Then followed a discussion that would totally bore the pants off, and probably disappoint, real cooks or anyone of intelligence.  Is turmeric a spice?  What's it made from?  What's the difference between a herb and a spice anyway?

Riveting stuff.
And all questions I will have to look up the answers for on Google.
There is a lot of stuff stored in my grey matter, but the section on Middle Eastern and Asian food and it's flavorings is extremely limited.

I admit that my use of herbs and spices has broadened since moving to this region.
My cupboard has a decent, though totally disorganized, range - well, for me anyway.
My cupboard - organised culinary chaos
I also admit that, up until recently, the different smells emanating from almost every corner of this Saudi Arabian city used to annoy the heck out of me.  They're fine if you're from Asian and Middle Eastern countries, or there abouts, because well, I'm guessing they'd be familiar.  But for a Kiwi from Kaeo....they made me cringe just a little and pine for home and the smell of fish 'n chips, boil up, pork roast and decent coffee.

I'm proud to say that, not only in my palate acclimatizing to the flavours, but working to broaden my culinary horizons is a deliberate act.

Currently a strange green vegetable wrapped in cellophane is residing in my frig.  While out shopping I decided to be adventurous, so bought something I'd never eaten before.  I've looked up a recipe on the net and will cook this vegetable, probably on Friday.  (Can't do it tonight 'cos we're going to the NZ Embassy for a Quizz Night and they have awesome food). 

Green vege, lower shelf, front.
It sounds ridiculous but I haven't had the courage to remove the cellophane to see what lies within.  I can tell you the word on the outside says Mullokhiya. 

According to sources on the net, which I have not referenced....
'Molokheya is also known as Tossa Jute (Corchorus olitorius).  It is an Afro-Arabian variety of Jute and a member of the Mallow Plant family (Tiliacea family). It is quite popular for its leaves that are used as an ingredient in a slimy Arabian potherb soup. It is consumed mainly in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and to some extent in Jordan.
In the sub Indian continent (specially Bangladesh) the stems of Jute (Tossa Jute and white Jute) are used to produce fibres to make ropes and fabrics for different uses'.
It all sounds very interesting.
Maybe I should get R to show me how to cook this too?

Will let you know how the Mulukhiya turns out.  From all accounts, herbs and spices are required.

Ka Kite,

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

M - Magic Maid

Our unit looks lovely today because M, our Magic Maid, was here yesterday. She comes once a fortnight and spends 3 hours making the place shine.  M is a housekeeper (a.k.a. maid) for one of the villas here on our compound. She has a bit of time on her hands during the day when her employer is out, so she provides her cleaning services to a number of other homes in the complex.

S, her employer, is perfectly happy with this arrangement because having a few other homes to clean keeps M busy, otherwise she’d just be hanging around his place. He certainly doesn’t mind her making a few extra Riyals to send home for the kids and she has never been negligent with her chores at his place, so he sees no reason to curb her little enterprise.

We like her because she does a wonderful job.

My own efforts at getting this place to shine have failed miserably.  I’m obviously using the wrong elbow grease.  As my father says, ‘I have the right idea, but the execution lets me down’. Dust gets onto everything in this desert city (no kidding!), especially if you leave the windows open, which we do because we’re country folk who like fresh air.

I tried living with the windows shut for a few weeks. Never again – it was a very claustrophobic, cloying feeling. Yuk! It made me tired and ill. Seriously! I wasn't just making excuses to lie around - I can do that with the windows open.  Regardless of the hint of dust that may be in it, I prefer the open air.

M came with good references (we know her employer) and she lives on site, so we know where to find her should there be ‘issues’. There never have been.  That's because M is not stupid. She knows she’s on a good wicket – much better than a lot of maids here. She’s not about to do anything that might jeopardize her employment and affect her kids and mum back home.

It’s a win-win situation for everybody.

When she comes to clean our apartment, I go out – literally. I organize to be someplace else for 3 hours.

Lots of other expats I know who employ part-time maids stay home to oversee the cleaning operation - that is, they keep an eye on the maid so she doesn't disappear with the silverware (they've obviously heard a few Bad Maid stories), and to make sure she, or he (there are a number of guys who do house cleaning), does the job properly. (What do you call a male maid?)

Our place is too small for me to be here while M’s cleaning, and besides, for reasons already mentioned, I see no need to stick around and hinder her cleaning magic (and ironing – she does The Husbands’s shirts, he loves it) .

My friend Mrs K has loads of stories about maids. She went through a few when in Singapore.  She’s had a maid that stole things – FIRED.  One maid used to smack her kids – definitely FIRED.  One lied about her age by using her cousins ID (she was only 16) – DILEMMA resulted in sorry we can’t keep you.  She’s had a maid who supposedly had training but obviously hadn't – BACK to the agency you go.  And she’s had a lazy maid – definitely NOT a keeper.

There are maids that try to take advantage of you with emotional stories of a hard life back home, stories that usually end in ‘Can I have an advance on my pay? Mrs K got sucked in felt sorry once and gave the advance.  She never saw the maid again.

Finding a good maid in this country is undoubtedly a trial and error process and when you get one, sing Hallelujah! (Quietly though, in case someone hears).

Of course the reverse applies too.
Maids finding good sponsor families is a hit and miss affair.

I spoke to a couple of live-in maids the other day who have been with their respective families for a few years. They say it’s hard work from dawn to dusk and beyond with few breaks, but their employers are good people who speak to them nicely, who pay on time, every time and always fulfill their contract obligations for holiday time off.

These ladies appreciate they could be some place worse – because just as there are ’Bad Maid’ stories, there are horrible, decidedly worse, ‘Bad Employer of Maids’ stories. Google the internet for treatment of maids in KSA and you’ll find:
Maids are being beaten – the standard attitude here is they obviously deserved it.   
Maids get raped – perpetrators if Saudi go free and the maids probably deserved it.
Maids get locked up – it’s for their own good and what an employer does with his/her property (maid) is no-one’s business.  
Maids can work for months and not get paid – And the problem with that is.....??
In Riyadh, Embassies are the point of contact where maids can take any grievances they may haveabout their conditions of employment (if they're brave enough and can escape) but, being government bodies, the Embassy’s play this delicate balancing act between holding the Saudi 's to account and being expelled from the country for pissing them off over something trivial, like maids.

These political games result in ‘turning a blind eye’ which only contributes to the fact that maid abuse in this country is fairly common.

We went looking at villas outside the compound recently with a view to moving out.  Every home had maid’s quarters up on the roof. I was shocked. I’d heard stories of employers locking their maids at home when they go out. I had visions of chillin’ out in the house – eat some food, read a mag, watch TV.... I hadn’t realized they lock them onto the roof!  These are 3 storey buildings.  Unless you're Rapunzel with the long hair to make a ladder or have a stash of sheets under your mattress to tie together, you're stuck.

The rooms up there are tiny, many were lockable, a couple were windowless and some had no air con.  As far as I’m concerned, anyone who expects a maid to live in those conditions is already guilty of abuse.  And stories of abuse are plenty.  Here's one just recently about a maid from Sri Lanka who had nails hammered into her body by her employers.  How can people treat another human like that?

A couple of things do concern me about this article
  • Saudi Arabian authorities could not be reached for immediate verification (that the perpetrators were apprehended)....
  • No further details were available (about said apprehension, investigation or possible punishment) and...
  • The two suspects have not been named.
It smells of deceit and cover up to me!

Editor's Note Update:

I’ve heard via the grapevine (The Husband and the Gulf News) that Saudi will no longer employ people from Sri Lanka and urge ‘all private recruitment offices in the country to refrain from signing further contracts for the employment of Sri Lankans’. Guess that particular balancing act went pear shaped!

The Husband heard this action was due to an inability of Saudi and Sri Lankan officials to reach agreement on some issue....Gee, I wonder what that could be?  The maimed, and not by magic, maid perhaps?

Ka Kite,

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Watching Movies In Riyadh

I love watching movies.  Preferably in a movie theater – the whole big screen, big sound, searching for your popcorn in the box with your eyes glued to the moving pictures is my kind of thing.  Of course, Riyadh doesn't have movie theaters.

Why not? Well, without having made an in depth study of the reasons, I’m guessing a dark movie theater offers far too much potential for ‘fraternizing’. And I’m guessing that the religious Powers That Be think western movies are only full of sex and sin.

They obviously haven’t watched Shrek 1, 2 and 3. No sex and sin to be found - at least not that I can remember. Crikeys! Maybe I’m so desensitized to sex and sin I don’t recognize it when I see it. How did Donkey mate with that dragon??

This article 'Saudi Arabian film shows theatreless kingdom', provides a little background on the fall of the Saudi movie theater. It seems the rumor bandied about that the muttawa are completely to blame is slightly off beam. Damn! There goes a usual scapegoat for Riyadh’s lack of fun things to do.

Last night, I wasn't feeling like socializing, I have a bit of a temperature, so instead of playing tennis I decided to make myself a TV dinner and watch a DVD. Glenn has built up a bit of a collection since taking up residence here.  I'd like to say it's all latest releases, 

Although we have a TV it is not connected to satellite – a decision I made to save me from myself.  If you read various sections of the Arab News (a.k.a The Green Truth), apparently I live in the perfect place for women to be saved from themselves.  I can plant my butt in front of a TV for considerable lengths of time when I have nothing meaningful to fill my existence, which at this point in time I don’t, so there you go.

Lack of satellite means we buy DVD’s. We could buy from a video store, but bets are on that all the juicy stuff has been cut out in this seriously Muslim country and not that artistically either. (I wonder if they cut any parts out of Shrek?).  And bringing large amounts of DVD's into the Magic Kingdom is a bit of a no-no.  There were a couple in my luggage when I first arrived - obviously not sufficient quantity to talk to me about, thankfully.  Anyway, in order for movie buffs to watch a DVD in its entirety, pirating flourishes in Riyadh.

And the quality can absolutely suck.

Not till I moved here have I watched a movie that has been recorded in the theater by one of the audience. The following are what you can expect to find in pirated movies in Riyadh:
  • Sound quality in some is so bad it’s as if someone went swimming with the video recorder.
    Result: Cursing man at the shop for daring to sell this crap.
  • The guy taping one movie we watched fell asleep and all you can hear, getting louder and louder, is his snoring.
    Result: 'What is that?  It's snoring! OMG. The mug taping this has fallen asleep and is snoring'.  We didn't know whether to laugh or be annoyed. 
  • If anyone coughs, titters or farts you hear that too.
    Result: Was that you? Don't lie, yes it was!
  • I love the ones where people in front stand up and walk out and back in again.
    Result: Did you see that?  Astonished look.  What was that? This is when I figured out this movie, which up till then was surprisingly good quality, was a fake.  (Three decades playing the game of life and I'm still so innocent).
Buying these shady DVD’s is an exercise in itself.  One evening we were eating ice-cream and wondering how to spend the rest of the night when The Husband suggested we go buy a DVD as 'the shop' was nearby.  He spoke to the guy at the counter, who nodded to the guy skulking away in the aisle.  Husband obviously understood this communication because he headed toward Skulk.  Skulk glanced around and bought out a paper bag.  In it were the DVD’s.  The Husband instructs me to have a look at those.  I, being so honest and innocent, put the bag on the shelf and started pulling DVD’s out.  Well, Skulk got a scary look on his face and tried to take back the bag.  The Husband crowded in quickly and explained that I was supposed to be looking ‘secretly’.  Oh crap! You’re seriously kidding!  OK. I can be... ‘secret’.

Anyway, last night, I suffered through yet another poor quality movie.  The story itself was OK, I just couldn't hear it unless the sound was turned right up, and everyone in the movie had this white hue surrounding them. So, I got out my trusty computer and started checking e-mails.

Glenn says, ‘You’re not even watching this movie’.

‘Yes I am. That guy just said ‘’He’s got a daughter”.

‘You’re not watching. You’re typing’.

‘I’m a woman. I multi-track’.

Glenn (sigh). ‘The quality is bad isn’t it?’


‘Let’s not buy DVD’s from that place any more’.

‘OK. Good plan’.

So, now if I want to watch a movie I’ll have to borrow one from someone else who can vouch for quality, or drive to Bahrain for the real movie theater deal.

Ka Kite,

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Alan has gone

Alan has gone.He put in his two years, now he’s flown home. Well, actually he flew home a couple of months ago, I’ve been a bit remiss not getting this out sooner, but the point is his tour of duty in the Middle East is ended.  Khallas.

I imagine he spends a bit of time on his balcony, in the company of his lovely wife, enjoying a glass of red, looking back on his Saudi experience and telling all sorts of tales that most likely end in ‘Well thank goodness that’s over’.....

I reckon Glenn started missing Alan a good couple of months before he actually left.  Glenn and Alan arrived in Saudi about the same time, they moved into the same compound and they worked at the same office.  So they kept each other company bouncing thoughts and opinions off each other – good and bad – to try and make sense of this desert city and the very different life and attitudes they found themselves in the middle of.  Two years on they were still spending most evenings together, still trying to understand what makes this place tick.

Now that his best buddy in all of the Middle East has gone west, Glenn is wondering whether or not he’ll stay. Saudi is not the kind of place you should be without good friends. With no one to talk to who understands and sympathizes with the stresses involved in working and living here, you could seriously go balmy. Maybe he should look at making some new friends.

I, of course, am always here for him, though he does doubt my mind is seriously on the job, or any job for that matter, but I think another man, another male brain, another legal beagle, another whose similarly suffering is who The Hubster would be better off-loading to.  That would sure help me out!

Anyway, Alan you are missed.

No longer is Alan waiting on the front lawn at 8.45am on the dot so the boys can share a taxi ride to work. Glenn now walks to the taxi a lone figure.

The taxi ride is still 15 SAR each way....a bit expensive without your buddy paying half.   Will have to talk to that Mr Noor about his fares!

The Wednesday night trip to Al Khozarma for a haircut, shoe shine and a chicken burger has come to an end.  Though I believe the haircut and shoe shine were Alan’s treats - Glenn managed to arrive about the time the food was getting served.

The boys used to eat the burger out in the lounge but one night Glenn, who considers himself a Crème Brulee connoisseur, he likes to tap the top testing it for crispiness before diving down into the soft crème custard below, an exercise that Alan always watched with a smile forming on his lips and a "whatever turns you on" shake of his head, discovered they made this dessert in the Al Khozarma restaurant.

Not only do they do, on most occasions, an absolutely excellent job according to ‘Glenn the Creme’, they also make it huge. No weeny little crème dish at the Al Khorzarma. Oh no. You get a dessert plate full of the stuff.  This discovery meant moving their little gathering from the relaxation of the lounge to the ambiance of the restaurant where they could get both their favourite dishes.

It was awfully nice of them to invite me along to their dinners once I arrived. I preferred fish followed by apple tart. Of course, the meals always came with a rundown of the weeks work - pros, cons, good, bad, dickheads and great bloke’s conversation – you get the picture.

Wasabi Prawn
The Noodle House became another of Alan’s favourite eat out options. It’s nicely set up, there are huge windows so you can see outside, a definite advantage for this particular expat woman who still finds the lack of view in most family sections kind of weird, and the food is very nice.  Especially that Wasabi prawn dish. 

The Noodle House, Centra Mall, Cnr Tahalia and Ulaya St, Riyadh.  That is the boys in the background.
Alan really appreciated my accompanying the boys on their visits to the Noodle House.  I'd like to think it was my charm, intelligent conversation and sharp wit that he liked, but apparently the Family Section is much nicer than the Singles Section and he and Glenn couldn't get in without one of them having a related female.  The boys would go early in the evening so the place was not crowded. One time I joined them and the place was empty so I took off my abaya.

I like to remove my abaya when out if at all possible. It makes me feel normal and not just a black thing sitting on the woodwork. It used to freak Alan out just a little. I can’t really blame him; after all, if someone called the authorities, who decided to actually do something, I imagine anyone in the company of rebellious types will get taken along for questioning as well.

Alan could just see the headlines:
“Respected Aussie Lawyer Caught With Uncovered Woman”.

There’d be no headlines about Glenn because he’s not a high flying lawyer in NZ.  Alan is chummy with the Australian Ambassador in Saudi....he’s respected.  Alan got invited to the Royal Princes palace.....he hob nobs with the best.  And he came back and told us all about it - what a good bloke.  Unless you’re a Pakistani or Indian who follows cricket, most of the population here doesn’t even know where NZ is. They think we’re somewhere up near Iceland.

Alan rediscovered tea while in Riyadh. He became such a fan that, as his leave date got closer, we’d often find him with a nice black tea.  He liked his with Diet Pepsi, I prefer mine with Coca Cola.  I may touch on the subject of banned substances (alcohol) in Saudi in another blog.

The Embassy events were a must attend....for sanity sake. It was at one of these that Miss M was mid-chat with Alan when he just walked away.   Alan claimed that he is a little deaf.  Should we believe this?  Pitch this claim against the view the boys have that Miss M talks a lot, which I totally disagree with by the way, and there was much doubt cast on the hearing difficulty defense.

We’re going to have to find someone else to get us onto the Australian Embassy list now, Alan.  And I believe Miss M has forgiven you.

There are numerous stories we could write about Alan and his life here in the desert city, but he often told us he's going to write a book on his experiences.  He even carried round a little notebook to jot down his impressions, so far be it for me to steal his thunder here in a simple blog. ( Glenn reckons he's going to write a book one day too, but he doesn't know what it's about....)(sigh).

A death in the family meant that Alan had to leave Riyadh a little sooner than expected. Being good friends and neighbours we said, “Don’t worry about your place Alan, we’ll sort that out”.  And we did.  Lots of people got super cheap bargains on the white ware you left and we kept the TV, the couch and the wall unit...cheers.

You lasted 2 years Alan.....Gooood Jaaaab.

Ka Kite,

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