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 barriers....now 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,
Kiwi





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