Friday, 26 November 2010

What is there to do in Riyadh? Part 2


Expats to Riyadh often ask ‘What is there to do in Riyadh. Here’s a few things we have done to date:

Visit the Car Junk Yard

Obviously a man’s haven, unless you’re a female car wreck fanatic, the car junk yard is an area to the south of Riyadh where all the beaten up cars go. They’re pulled to pieces and you can buy parts. Given the huge number of accidents in this city, you can bet this place is huge. We found some really old classics – a Studebaker and Thunderbird – that just need someone with TLC, time and know how to do them up.  Hubster was tempted, but common sense (when exactly will you have time for this?) got the better of him, so the classics were left for another day.



The Car Junk Yard is on your right down Al Hair road and is not to be confused with the Car Cemetery which you can spot beneath the Hanging Bridge if you're heading out of town along Jeddah road. 

Go for a picnic

Later in the afternoon or early evening for obvious thermal reasons is best. Where can you go? Outside the city, almost anywhere! Just drive off the side of the road in a spot that looks picnikable. That’s what we’ve done.

There are green areas in the city where you can picnic, places like Salam Park (see below).  I have figured out that my definition of ‘green area’ differs greatly from the local meaning.  I’m talking 'Kiwi forest, lush grass' green. I may be plum out of luck looking for that in Saudi Arabia, but being an optimist, am ever hopeful.

We found a fast flowing stream on our way back from the Car Junk Yard.  It's fast flowing, dirty as, with it’s origins unknown (to Mr Noor our Riyadh encyclopaedia), but full of things that jumped and made plopping sounds on landing - I'm presuming fish of some description.  It’s obviously a popular picnic spot with the locals because Mr Whippy was in situ and it wasn’t even dinner time. (I have since discovered it is called the Riyadh River).

The boys looking for fish
Given up on the fish.  Now throwing stones.

Picnic view
Riyadh's Mr Whippy
Visit Salam Park

If you drive south down King Fahad Road, hang a left into Tariq ibn Ziad and a right into Salam, you'll come to the entrance of Salam Park, a park that does have grass, quite a bit of it.  We sat on the hill overlooking the lake and watched weekenders riding the peddle boats.  There are fun rides, horse rides and train rides for the kids. 

We arrived fairly early in the day, so the park was quiet, but around 4ish, it started to fill.  We left soon after.  I wish we'd stayed because I wanted to see how families behaved at the park.  Did they bring frisbees to throw to each other, or cricket or footballs for whanau games?  That's what we'd do for whanau get-togethers back home.

I'd sensed, from our early day visit, an atmosphere of dampened down control.  Not what I'd expect at a family park.  I'd expect a sense of relaxation, release, fun, letting loose, laughter and friendly tom foolery.  It did cross my mind there may be a few 'secret meetings' at the park.  Or newly married couples getting to know each other.  That would definitely contribute to the subdued mood.  Maybe, with more people the atmosphere would change.  I'll have to go back to find out. 

About the only thing I knew for sure is that the people would have picnics.  That is one of the positives I love about living in Saudi Arabia - the locals enjoy picnics. 

Outside the entrance a number of vendors had set up selling cheap, colorful junk that the kids love and the road was typical Riyadh bedlam.  I must be getting comfortable here because the car pile up outside popular destinations with road blocks, tooting horns and drivers who think the road revovles around them, is starting to feel normal.

There would be photos of Salam Park on my blog, but someone wiped them off the computer.  Suffice to say, he has been warned off coming near my laptop again without good cause.

Wadi Hanifah

Wadi Hanifah is a nice place to visit.  We’ve been a couple of times on the bike and taken the pre-requisite picnic. It’s surprising how much cooler the air temperature is in the Wadi – we noticed it immediately.

Wadi Hanifah, according to our map, is located along the western perimeter of Riyadh city and there are a number of entrances to it.  There are picnic spots all along the Wadi and a walkway. We’ve come across joggers, walkers, fellow picnickers and casual cyclists.  Now that the temperatures are more bearable people are heading outdoors.  To date we have visited the more northern parts of Wadi Hanifah. There is some spectacular housing up on the hill and, near Dariyah, some ruins can be seen from the road.

The wadi road has speed bumps all the way along which makes it a slow ride but on a nice morning, there’s no need to hurry.
Glenn's pride and joy

Wadi Hanifah

 Visit the Riyadh Zoo

Having visited a few of the pet shops in Riyadh and seen fully grown, porcupines, hyenas and monkeys caged for sale, and knowing how the ‘lower class’ humans are regarded in this country, I admit we were wary about the local zoo. But, we were pleasantly surprised. The Riyadh Zoo is not what I would describe as first class, but the animals seem well cared for, and the enclosures were clean and quite spacious.

The white tigers are huge, so is the rhino.  I don't recall seeing any camels, but then 'duh!' a trip to the desert or Camel Market will find plenty of those. If you go to the zoo take a picnic, there’s sufficient room to spread a blanket and the ‘restaurant’ wasn’t much to speak of when we went.


There's a phenonemon at this zoo that could only happen in Saudi Arabia. We were somewhat annoyed at the children throwing water bottles into the seal pool, but then realized they were trying to get the seals to play with them which, eventually, they did.

We watched as orangutans took empty chip packets, fill them with water and tipped it on the ground for cooling. Where did the chip packs come from? Thrown in by the ape spectators of course!


The chimpanzee was the most entertainment.  He’d sit on the rocks near the mass of peering humans and wait for things to be thrown in, and he wasn’t disappointed. Full water bottles were sent his way, and he’d unscrew the tops, drink them and turf the bottle. Juice boxes landed in his hands, and he took the straw, popped the top and drained it before ripping open the box to lick out the dregs.


Of course, we had to have a go. I had fruit (nectarines and bananas) in my bag for lunch and handed a stone fruit to Glenn who threw it into the enclosure.  The chimp picked it up and munched it. ‘Got any more?’ says Glenn.  I gave him another.  This time he showed it to the chimp first, to tease him a little. Mr Chimp, who by this time had moved closer to the edge of his enclosure and was sitting on his haunches in anticipation, raised his arm and beckoned with his fingers for the fruit to be sent his way.  He caught it in one hand, without moving from his spot and ate it. He did the same with the banana, hence our need to visit the zoo restaurant. I’d run out of snacks – for myself, not the chimp.



At most zoo’s there are ‘Please don’t feed the animals’ signs everywhere. We have no idea if throwing food to the critters is an allowed activity in the Riyadh Zoo or if, this being Saudi, people just do what they please – I’m guessing the latter.





Ka Kite,
Kiwi





Saturday, 20 November 2010

What is there to do in Riyadh?


Here’s a question lots of people ask about the dead boring center of Saudi, ‘What is there to do in Riyadh?’

This past week Riyadh, actually all of Saudi, has been on holiday.  It’s the Hajj season – a thoroughly western phrase I’m sure, which basically means to we Saudi based non-Muslims, ‘holiday time’.
Glenn and I knew Eid, the Hajj holiday, was coming. We knew Riyadh would be empty. Riyadh is rarely touted as a holiday destination. Riyadh is a place most everyone tries to leave as often as possible. That’s how we knew Riyadh would be a virtual ghost town for at least a week. So rose the question, ‘What were we going to do over Eid?’

We had a list of places we could visit – any place in Europe and a few destinations closer by such as Jordan, Lebanon and Syria to name a few.  Glenn’s boss was going to Bahrain. He suggests we go there - definite possibility.

We decided that we’re living in Saudi Arabia to save money, so the urge to fly off to exotic and wonderful destinations should be curbed. Let’s look at a local holiday. There must be things to do in Riyadh’s immediate surrounds - day trips or overnighters and the like.

What to do Pounamu? Find that info on expat ‘things to do in Riyadh’ that I’ve created from previous trawls of the internet and make a list.
  • Di'riyah and the Old city
  • The Red Sands and Quad biking
  • Graffiti rock and Hieroglyphics
  • Dirab and Horse treks
  • Anywhere and overnight desert camps.
All of these require The Husband to get his driver’s license, something I’ve been encouraging (a.k.a nagging) him to do for ages. Taxi transportation to our chosen locations was out of the question and I have, for a very long time, been keen to hire a 4Wheel Drive and journey into the desert and setting sun. 

Bless his little heart, by the last day of the work week, that’s what he’d done, along with a permit to enter Bahrain.  I thought he would have been a little more excited regarding this feat, but then he informs me he has to work the first 3 days of the holiday. Deep sigh! Deep, deep sigh!

3 days later we dig out a map of Riyadh and internet extracted directions of expats who’ve gone before us and head off for a morning visit at our first destination - aD Da’riyah (a.k.a Old Da’riyah). The map, we discovered, lacks a variety of necessary details and the road signs outside the city center are mostly only in Arabic.

Hubster: Are we goin the right way?
Wifey: Ummm, all the signs are in Arabic. You’ll have to drive slower so I can read them.

Hubster slows.

Wifey: Slower! ….Ta….ri….q….Shit, missed it.
Hubster: Do we turn off or not? Tell me now, tell me now...
Wifey: I don’t know. I didn’t finish reading it. You’re going to have to drive slower!.

Thence follows a 'discussion' on cars up our butt preventing slow speeds so I can attempt to decipher Arabic script. The result, we pass essential turn offs and have to find our way back.  We learnt something new about Riyadh - U-turns are not always a straight forward matter in this city.

This performance is repeated many times while on the road over the next few days as we drove in circular fashion to all our destinations.  Less harmonious couples could be tested by this situation, but I’ve spent megabucks on meditation so cast off any less than harmonious thoughts with a positive outlook - my Arabic reading will improve a lot after this week.

Day 1 - Di'riyah
A rebuilt structure of old in foreground with rebuilding
going on in the backround.
aD Di’riyah, according to all cyber space sources, is the old stomping ground of the Saud clan. Our visit was not what I had envisaged given internet descriptions. You see, we couldn’t get into any of the old sites in Di'riyah. It’s being rebuilt so is closed to tourists unless you get special permission from someone who couldn’t be named specifically by the informant we met.

There are, however, a few small building remnants to walk through and an information tent about the rebuild, where we were hosted to the most delicious qa’wah and dates. Once finished, Old Di’riyah will be worth a visit. Hopefully that won’t be too far away. For the time being you can drive past a number of the old ruins and see them from the road – they are still quite impressive.  
Glenn behind the wall....the one with the fence that obviously
 meant please stay out
Information tent
Old site from the Wadi Hanifa road
If you ever take advantage of Saudi's expanding tourism, directions to aD Di’riyah are: Take Makkah Road to DQ.  Turn right toward Qassim, you are now on King Khalid Road.  Look for signs for Di’riyah after King Saud Uni, which is on your right. Co-ordinates if you have GPS (which we didn’t) are 24°44′00″N 46°34′32″E.  Be warned the turn off to the town itself is a smallish wooden sign, not the usual green road sign – you could miss it, we did.
 
Views at the Red Sand
Day 2 - The Red Sands, Quad Bikes
Our next destination for ‘What is there to do in Riyadh’ was the Red Sands and quad biking. Somewhat vague directions were garnered from the internet. A map is printed off the internet for general navigation, certainly not its specifics. We’d been advised to go early, we left mid morning. ‘Are we going the right way?’ act was repeated as was driving in circles to get out of the city on to the correct highway.  Fortunately, the major road signs on the highway are written in English.

To get to the Red Sands we took the Makkah/Jeddah Road west out of Riyadh (yay a road we sort of knew how to get to). Travel out through the checkpoint, then a fast drop down the escarpment.  Going down is awesome.  At the bottom (or thereabouts) there's a junction, we kept our eyes peeled for Oosar al Mogbel/Dirab (my spelling may be a little off) and hung a hard right cos Glenn can't read as fast as me and nearly missed it.  Approximately 5 km later is a sign to Nasah.  About 20km up the road with the Nasah signpost we came across the quad bikes at the base of the red dunes.

Renting a 90cc bike cost us 50SAR for an hour - though one look at western Glenn put the price up to 100SAR from the first guy we spoke to – suffice to say, we moved on.  They have 250cc bikes as well if you’re into those for around 120SAR per hour.

There were loads of people at the dunes, mainly Filipino. There are no rules other than have fun and no helmets. I also discarded my abaya, but was sufficiently covered in T-shirt, jeans and cap. We had a blast. We took a picnic and had that on the other side of the road away from the crowds before heading home.



Day 3 - Bahrain
This afternoon we drove to Bahrain. I’d booked a hotel for a couple of nights with red wine on arrival.  Bahrain is very close, only a short 4 hour drive and I can see why people consider it a great weekend break from KSA.

Being able to shed the abaya and get behind the wheel is a major bonus to the place, but I’ll be telling you all about our visit to Bahrain and more ‘What is there to do in Riyadh’, in future blog posts.




Ka Kite,
Kiwi





Thursday, 11 November 2010

Singing Our Thanks To Saudi Women

After being invited to share an evening with a local family, my daughter and I ended up singing our thanks to  Saudi women.

Singing for your supper Kiwi? Why is that?

Because, I was very aware we had no way of repaying these wonderful Saudi women for their hospitality.  We can’t invite them back to our home - they aren’t permitted on expat compounds unless they uncover, and they aren't about to do that.  What to do Pounamu?

I decided to do what comes naturally for we native folk from New Zealand.  A waiata was in order.  After explaining to my friend what we wanted to do and why, who then got permission from the grandmothers present, we were given the floor and we sang a Maori song.  At the time it didn’t even occur to me that music and singing is religiously banned in Saudi Arabia.

In hindsight, and given recent articles and discussions on music in this country, I do wonder were we insulting these Muslim women by exercising our own traditional custom in this situation.

Music is part of my culture and who I am….I was doing what felt right. By stating categorically that music is banned, does Islam in Saudi Arabia not respect or have room for anyone or anything but their own?  Were we, by raising our voices in native song and singing our thanks for these Saudi women, little more than wicked infidels?

From the response we received, I have my doubts.  The grandmothers and aunties loved the waiata.  I’m guessing, they remember a time when life was a little less repressed in Saudi Arabia, which, I understand, wasn’t that long ago.  They dug out some traditional instruments, drums mainly, and started singing what I gathered were traditional Saudi songs.

They were encouraging the younger women to sing too.  Though I don’t understand Arabic I recognize a chorus when I hear one and the younger generation pitched in for a few of those refrains but, and you don’t have to be a brain surgeon to figure this out, it’s hard for your daughters and grand-daughters to learn songs in their totality if they rarely hear them because of an imposed religious ruling that bans music and, I’m presuming, the nervousness attached with being caught flouting that rule.

On this particular night though, the elder women were letting their hair down, just a bit, and they were having so much fun.  It pays to remember life in Saudi Arabia isn't all bad.

There is a glimmer of hope that constraints on expressing oneself through toe tapping tunes, soulful ballads or gentle lullabies may be lightened, as a former Saudi Imam did something unimaginable recently – he researched the basis for current ‘No Music’ rulings and came to the conclusion they were unfounded.  Follow this link if you’d like to read about him Changing his Tune.

Of course, as is the norm, he was blasted for his stance.  I wonder what upset the critics most - that he dared firstly, to undertake research or that he had the nerve to admit his previous stand may have been wrong based on that research or for going public with what he found.  Most normal people would consider such a man in a positive light, wouldn’t they?  A man of integrity, honesty and good moral character.

How’s this for a suggestion that would allow scholars to reassess and reverse the ‘No Music’ rule without losing face.  There is a stack of scientific evidence that music enhances intelligence and has other positive effects on human health.  Perhaps scholars could, after perusing this evidence and being happy with its validity, (because I’m sure no scholar goes public or supports anything without having fully researched it first) can say something along the lines of ‘Music’s ability to enhance intelligence and, therefore, the capacity for learning will assist a person’s [Muslims] potential for studying, understanding and applying the Quran.  For that reason music of moral high standards, (meaning it must not through its lyrics lead to sinful acts, an opinion espoused by some scholars already) is allowable.’

I see this as a win-win action. Why?

You would think any resource that assists youth to take on board the messages in the Quran must be welcomed with open arms by scholars and clergy (is that the right word for Saudi religious leaders?).  Academic success is highly valued amongst Saudi parents and if music is going to enhance their child's educational outcomes I'm sure they will be very keen to have it incorporated into the curriculum.  And I’m certain there are musical artists in Saudi Arabia (singers, songwriters and musicians) just itching for a chance to work on and present their craft.  Not to mention the employment generated for Saudization - someone has to run the recording studios.  Yes, a win-win situation all round.

How successful are scholars or religious types going to be in continuing to try and muzzle music?

Saudi’s,  particularly the young generation, watch music shows via satellite and the majority have iPods or similar audio devices (thank goodness for the all-covering abaya and head scarf to hide those bits and pieces). There’s even a not so underground group of Saudi musicians and bands that 'do their thing' at private parties and over the internet.  Stories abound of the latest musical hits reverberating through function centers while women dance in their expensive finery till the wee small hours at weddings and, being a country that loves weddings, there are plenty to go to.

Yes, the religious rule might be saying one thing, but the will of the new generation is practicing another.

I know, because a large part of the evening prior to singing our thanks to Saudi women was spent dancing to the latest Arabic music downloaded from the internet, and the young ladies knew all the words to those songs.


Sunday, 7 November 2010

Is music allowed in Islam?


Many Saudi experts on Islamic religion are of the opinion that music is evil and promotes, among other things, hypocrisy of the heart.

In the past, musical instruments were viewed so negatively that even being able to name them was taboo.  This article, ‘We see them, we hear them but we can’t’ name them’, written in 2005, sheds some light on that bizarre concept. I believe many restrictions mentioned in this article still stand – though I’m happy to be corrected on that.

Other scholars disagree with their colleagues and believe music and singing can be allowed under certain conditions, mainly if they do not encourage committing sinful acts.
But unfortunately, I think they are in the minority….

The Husband told me that music wasn’t allowed here.

We were shopping and I was singing - a habit that probably resulted from the marketing ploy used in every country, except this one, utilizing background music to create happy shoppers.  Being a typical consumer, I was lulled into buying mode to the sounds of Kenny Rogers and even used to enjoy singing along.

Hubster informed me that singing was Haram (not allowed).  This information was followed with a story about the guy who used to call the prayers at the mosque near our place.  Apparently, he got the sack because his voice was too nice – too musical. How sad is that! It explains why we currently have some loud guttural type, who coughs a lot.

It's understandable why music is not played in Saudi malls.  Shopping is one of the few things that Saudi women are permitted to leave the house for so music isn't required to encourage them.

Recently, I've noticed a couple of restaurants are playing background music - Kenny Rogers again (he's a popular background guy).  I did wonder if there would be a rush to turn down the volume the minute a bearded type walks into the establishment.

What is the result of a Saudi religious imposed ‘no music’ rule?

Well, the young mothers I meet don’t sing to their children. Yet, they buy musical toys that play western nursery rhyme music. They are a little embarrassed to say that they don’t know the words to these ditties, and ask me to sing them. I get the impression they would love to sing to their babies, it feels right for a mother to bond with her child in this way, but being told all your life that singing is evil probably acts as a handbrake.

One day I sang a lullaby to an unsettled babe.  Her young mother was impressed, especially as her daughter drifted off to sleep.  A query regarding Saudi lullabies met with ‘We don’t have any’ which I found astounding.

I’m willing to bet if I asked Saudi grandmothers, they would know lullabies. Music wasn't always banned. It couldn't have been because if you Google history of Saudi music you’ll find information on Saudi folk music and dance.

What, exactly, does the Saudi religious crowd find so evil about singing your child to sleep with words like ’Sleep my little one sleep, fond vigil I’ll keep’? What hypocrisy in the heart could this be creating?

You would think it doesn't matter if a parent teaches their own own children a few songs. But the religious zealots here have a history of dishing out violence - they killed a lot of people to garner compliance to the cause. (Much like every other religion I've studied).  Even today, care must be taken at all times regarding who members of the family interact with as, I've been told there are still rewards offered for those who dob in any ‘bad’ Muslims.   Talk about create an environment of trust along with your religion of peace.

After being told to stop singing because music isn't allowed in Islam a little internet research was undertaken, just to check Hubster's information.  Here’s a couple of comments I found on the net about women and singing.  And note, they are only about women and singing.  Obviously, yet again, men can do whatever they want!

"In Islam, the voice of women is ‘awra’, which means it should not be heard by a stranger,"

So, does this mean you can sing for you husband, family and child??  I'm guessing that's news to the mum's I know.


"Muslim women must refrain from adopting a voice 'muzayyana (adorned, soft and melodious) in order not to create' fitna (temptation) and arouse instincts,"

Arouse instincts?  Is it just me, or does it look like sex has reared its head again!  Why are Muslims in this part of the globe so obsessed with sex?

What happens if you come from a culture where music is the norm and valued?  Where singing is seen as an exchange of friendship and good will.  Like New Zealand Maori.  Well, Kiri and I sang for our supper one night in Saudi and we discovered that the general Saudi population has a slight difference of opinion regarding music and Islam.


Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Ice Hockey in Riyadh


We played Ice Hockey in Riyadh.  Something I never thought we would do.  Which begs the question  'Is there ice in Riyadh?

There are a couple ice-skating rinks in Riyadh, one in a mall for children and one in that same mall for women only.  I haven't been to it yet, so there's a goal for the future.  I understand further north, where there are some mountains, it snows.  (Will have to make a point of going there as well).

However, we never played on ice .  We played on a tennis court.  In a dust storm.

I've been intending to put this on the blog for ages, but keep by-passing it for no good reason at all.  In May (yes it was that long ago) the Canadian Embassy hosted an Ice Hockey on a Tennis Court tournament.

Apparently the Embassy has regular games each week and if you're looking for some fun activity that keeps you fit and is very social, this is it.

How did we get involved?  One of the NZ Embassy staff asked if we'd be keen to participate.  The Husband jumped right in with a yes.  I was more cautious.....
'Ummmm Pete, how do you play ice hockey?'  
His reply went something like this, 'Heck, I have no idea, but there's drinks and a bar-b-q afterwards'.
'Right...ummmm, I can go cheerleader'.
'I'm taking that to mean you're on the team.'
'Of course she's on the team', chirps The Husband.
The Husband chirps?.....
He did that day.

I admit I was secretly hoping we'd have so many players they wouldn't need me.  Wrong!

There were six teams in a round robyn challenge with the emphasis on fun. 
  • Canada- they won
  • USA - the came second
  • Combined Fins (or something like that I think, they were quite competitive)
  • Commonwealth - self explanatory
  • New Zealand (we were the only Commonwealth that had enough players for our own team - Go the Kiwi's)
  • The Rest of The World
The New Zealand team before the tournie were looking.....well, a little apprehensive really.  Goalies were provided, which is just as well because none of us had played this game before.  It's a bit of a worry when you first have to learn which way round the stick goes.

The other teams were very experienced.  This is an extremely fast game.  We were advised to sub - frequently.  Bloody good advice.
The Kiwi's on the turf
Note the color of the air....a bit of dust blew in.
This is fun
Julien looking fierce
The Bench
It's a very high energy game - we were buggered.  We didn't win any games either, though our losing margin did decrease with each game.  The bonus with being at the bottom end of the draw meant we were first to retire to the refreshments.
 

 Kiwi team after the tournament, prior to the food.

I believe the Canadian Embassy may make this an annual event.  There was talk we might practice before then....so far, nadda.  But we are very proud to say that New Zealand came 6th in the Inaugural Ice Hockey Tournament in Riyadh. 


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