Monday, 21 February 2011

Car Parking Riyadh Style

Riyadh, like cities the world over, has some unique car parking quirks.  Why write about parking issues?   Because, the other day, in Auckland, my usually guaranteed parking spot was full.  A lantern festival was on up the road and all available parks in a sizable radius from said festival had been taken.  Exclamations of 'darn' and 'bother' soon became 'bugger' and a combination of other more vehement 4 letter swear words.

Don't you just detest driving in circles trying to find a place to park?  Don't you detest it even more when it's a hot day, the air-con is broken and it's painfully obvious no-one is leaving!!

It occurred to me during this rather frustrating process that if I was in Riyadh 'No Parking' signs would mean absolutely nothing.

There are times, and this was one of them, when I think the Riyadh attitude to driving law and order (a.k.a. - What road rules??) is a jolly good idea.  I mean, why should I heed the yellow 'no parking' lines painted on the corner of streets - perfectly good parking positions those are.  And a bit of car protruding in the way of everybody else is only an issue for everybody else.

The first time Glenn hired a car in Riyadh I asked him to take me to the bookshop.  On our approach to the store there were cars holding up the traffic on Olaya Street because they were jockeying for 'Directly Outside the Door' position three deep out into the road.

For a newby from more organised societies this carry on often produces the typical "What the heck is goin on?" reaction.  The answer is simple....This is Riyadh. 

During popular shopping hours at popular shopping venues the cars are often parked three deep out into the lanes with drivers waiting patiently within and motors running.  It seems that women must be dropped off and picked up almost directly out front of any intended destination. 

Yes it's a little chaotic and I'm guessing that after a long or bad day it could sorely test your patience inching up to the correct Directly Out Front of the Door spot before allowing your passengers to disembark (I don't know that for sure because I'm not allowed to drive and I usually catch a taxi who drops me up the street a little) but it's accepted practice and it's quite interesting to watch. 

I do wonder why they do this?  Is it because it's too hot to walk any further.  Or is it so the men can ensure the women actually enter the building without being harassed.  Poisoned by car exhaust fumes...but not harassed.

Glenn decided, without any regard for "why" that he was going to deliver me to the bookshop Saudi style.  I was instructed to stay in the vehicle while he got his caveman 'caring for my woman' jollies and dropped me off directly outside the doorway to the shop...three cars out from the curb.
He thought he was really clever.  I thought lots of other things.....

....On this particular day in Auckland I had to pay nine bucks for a space in a privately run multi-storey car park.  A flaming rip off when you're only stopping for an hour.  For nine bucks an hour I'd expect the condition of the car park to be similar to Riyadh private car parks. 

And what condition is that Kiwi?
Spit polished, shiny and sparkling.
No way Kiwi.
Yes way!

This is the car park at the building where Hubster works.

The suit and bald head is Glenn.

Love the shine.

Forget about parking the car - I think I could live in this Riyadh car park!

Ka Kite,

Friday, 18 February 2011

Desert Adventure Calls From New Zealand

I'm back in New Zealand right now.  The whanau have a couple of occasions coming up, so instead of following the expat crowd out over Christmas and New Year I hung around Riyadh until a couple of weeks ago when I headed home to Aotearoa.

I'm loving being back.

The green grass, the sandy beaches, wearing shorts everywhere.  Spending days with the whanau, being able to visit my Dad, catching up with friends.  Walking round the neighbourhood of a morning and wishing a friendly 'good morning' or 'kia ora' to other early riser exercisers.  Enjoying the gorgeous evenings outdoors with beer and a Bar-B or Fish 'n' Chips at the park.

Dad and whanau
And vege gardens - they are chocker heavy with summer abundance right now.  Tonight, I ate a cucumber proudly presented by a young guy from his first garden.  It was delish!  Yep - I'm loving being back in NZ right now.

Will I stay?  No.
I'd love to.  I really would, but....

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Riyadh Family Sections Upstairs

It has come to my attention that many café and restaurant Family Sections in Riyadh are up stairs.
Women, after being sent into the bowels of a building because eating outside might send unmarried and unrelated men into raptures of lust just by seeing them, have to hoist up their abayas and traipse up a flight of stairs, sometimes two, to get to their meals.

More than once I have tripped on the Blessed Black Garb on my way up to dinner and I don't even have the recommended ‘drag on the ground behind’ floor length variety.

I stood on a Saudi ladies abaya one day. Soooo embarrassing!

It was while wandering through IKEA obviously not paying attention to where I was going. Next thing I knew the head belonging to the woman in front of me was yanked backwards because I was standing on the edge of her abaya as she was walking away (it was one of those full body traditional ones with the built in shayla). It’s a wonder she didn’t get whiplash.

I’d only been in the country a couple of weeks and was cautious about how to behave with the locals. Was I freaked out?  Yes!  I apologized profusely and she was very gracious about my little faux pas (she probably saw the 'Oh Shit what have I done' fear in my eyes). 

Needless to say I departed the scene pronto.  But really, it just goes to show how dangerous abaya's are.

Negotiating the stairs with abaya in hand and a large ‘Stuffed with everything I might need for the day’ hand bag slung over my shoulder is bad enough (mine is not an expensive original Jimmy Choo or Versace. My mate Penny made my hand bag) but try having a child or two in tow as well as the push chair and, to top off the Saudi housewife’s day out, a niqab (also know as a letterbox) limiting your vision.

Talk about work for your supper!

There are seldom elevators for those women with gammy legs or, worse yet, wheelchairs who may feel inclined to dine out.

Come to think of it, I don't think I have ever seen elderly citizens or people in wheelchairs enjoying a night out at any of the eatery Family Sections I’ve been to. Hardly surprising with a bunch of stairs making access difficult for them?

On the occasions where the Black Garb has tangled itself with my shoes I do wonder ‘Why can't the men be sent upstairs to eat - they don't have floor length heavy material to trip over’.

Men eat at ground level (of course). They can even eat out front enjoying the outdoors and the hubbub of the city and watching people walk by, if they want.

The only times I have sat at the “mens” tables on the footpath is during Salah because I didn't quite make it in the doors on time.  I make myself comfortable on the nearest seats which just happen to be those adorning the footpaths.  Any men present have, to date, said nothing.

It occurred to me that I could, just prior to Salah, buy a takeaway coffee and bit of cake and then go sit on the sidewalk pretending life was normal - for at least half an hour anyway, but I’ll likely get told off for eating in public during prayer time.

Hubby did.

He and Alan had bought Maccas just before Salah and decided to eat out front.  Promoters of Virtue came by in an SUV and hollered via loudspeaker at them.  Of course, not understanding Arabic, they had no idea they were the target for the noise being sent forth from the vehicle. I think they thought it was a parade.  It wasn’t till a passer by explained what was going on that the penny dropped.

It’s a little frustrating, at least for this Western woman who enjoys the outdoors, that once you get up the stairs it’s highly unlikely you don't get to enjoy any view. 

Should there be a deck present (woo hoo - open air!) there’s a solid barrier preventing any unrelated male from getting his Christmases coming at once by seeing a load of females, some possibly uncovered, all in one place.  Unfortunately, it also prevents women from looking out at the scenery.

You could actually run puppet shows from behind the there's a thought for Riyadh entertainment.

Some restaurants paint a view on the wall of their family areas. Or they have outdoor designs like jungle settings or mountain streams. The only thing obviously missing from these, as with many Family Sections in Saudi, is any window so you can in fact see out.

There are a few café and restaurant Family Sections that do face out into the street. These windows are double (or possibly triple) tinted so women are shielded from any unwanted male gaze and, on top of that, the lighting is so dim the strain on your eyeballs while attempting to read the menu is sufficient to make your eyes water, or really piss you off.

We have mentioned this lack of sufficient lighting to the staff. They know it’s not an ideal situation but there’s nothing they can do about it. If they turn the lights up people (men) can see in – and that is a no-no.  Which is really stupid because all the waiters are men.  (But they are Filipino men of course, so that must mean they aren't real men.  How f'd up is that!)  The phone is fished out of the handbag and the inventor of the torch function on it is thanked profusely - else other profuse words might escape the lips.

Honestly, all this roaming around in the dark and stair trekking in inappropriate climbing gear cannot be good for women. It would be interesting to know how much of the Riyadh female population has eyesight problems from poor lighting compared to men and how many suffer sprained ankles from falling down Family Section stairs while on their way to eat.

Ka Kite,

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