Saturday, 30 April 2011

Gone Local




I made Glenn laugh with the phrase,' We've Gone Local'.

He laughed because we were the only westerners in a mall in an outer suburb of Riyadh.  Why? 

We'd decided to go for a 'G & G Tiki Tour' to see the sights - which means we ended up walking around in a part of town we'd never been before.  Salat was approaching and we wanted to find somewhere to sit it out.  Not the easiest thing to do in the suburbs of Riyadh.

My current experience of dining out in the 'burbs of Riyadh is limited to drive by's in a taxi.  I have gleened via this process that there are very few coffee shops in the outer suburbs.

There are eateries like Pita's Wrap or Shwarma-ville (akin to a Kiwi chinese takeaway or fish n chip shop), but quality coffee isn't on the menu.  To be honest, from the look of some of these places, quality food might be in short supply too.  Aren't I a snob!

What I have garnered from my seat by the taxi window, when not taking goony camera shots to pass the time away....





...is that none of the above style eateries in Riyadhs' suburbia have Family Sections.  I'd love to be corrected on that.

Women in the outer suburbs of Riyadh obviously only eat and drink at home, at friends or family homes or at the local mall.  Which is why, when I spotted what looked to be a mall, we made a beeline for the door - we only had 15 minutes and it turns out, we needed all of them.

 My question to the first staff person I saw was 'Do you speak English?'
Yes

Great. Where can I get a cup of coffee?

His gesture indicated I should wait a moment.
He called over a colleague, planted him in front of us and walked away.

(In Arabic) Do you speak English?

Yes.

(In English) Can you tell me where I can get a cup of coffee?

He didn't gesture.  He just turned around, walked away and sent over another colleague.
Third time lucky.  Deep breath.  Here we go....

Do you speak English?

Yes

Where can I go for a cup of coffee?

SUCCESS!!!

He took me to the door, pointed to the escalotor and said (in arabic) 'Go up.'
Shukran jaziilan (thanks lots).

We went up and there it was - the Food Hall. 

It was a bit rough - broken seats, dirty tables, rubbish and three vendors.  Two didn't really appeal to me, one had a picture of cafe latte - that's the one I headed for.

The guy at the food counter could only understand English as it related to how much I owed him (funny that).  That is, of course, after lots of slow talking, bad Arabic and hand signs ended up with me not getting what I wanted and settling for something he understood.

The coffee, once we tried it, was awful and loaded with sugar - Saudi's definitely have a sweet tooth.


And we had a Shadow.

I'd actually spotted The Shadow when we were walking around outside.  A young guy, about 12 years old in thobe and headwear, must have been fascinated by us because he followed us into the mall and up to the Food Hall.  He even stood right at the counter as I was attempting to order, and watched.

It wasn't a disconcerting watching.  Not like the Arab man in Dubai

No, I think he really was just curious.  I wished Glenn was learniing Arabic because he could have tried to engage him in conversation.  The performance which saw me settling for very bad Nescafe had used up my reserves of 'thinking in Arabic' energy.  Plus I wasn't sure he'd talk to a lady anyway.  (In hindsight two very poor excuses for not even trying.)

Salat arrived and all staff headed to the nearest mosque - all looking without trying to be obvious.  Westerners must be a rarity in here.  Either that, or they were hoping we'd still be here after salat to spend up large in their shop.

There were two things we concluded as we drank our coffee and waited for our taxi driver - I really need to get better at my Arabic and we had definitely gone local today.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Wander Through Masmuk Fort.


We went to Masmuk Fort a couple of weekends ago.  Al Masmuk is a historical landmark standing smack dab in the middle of modern day Riyadh.  Some people say the structure is a castle, not a fort.  The words could be used interchangeably, but I think I'll stick with fort.  After all it was built around 1865 by the then ruler Mohammed ibn Abdullah ibn Rasheed after he had battled to win the area over from the rival Al Saud clan. 

I'm guessing he was expecting retaliation, which he got some years later, hence the reason for the four watch towers on each corner and the cannon on display in the water well courtyard.  And my sources (an internet surf) tell me that Masmak means strong, thick and fortified - sounds like a fort description to me!


We went early on a Thursday morning and were greeted at the door by a young Saudi man who showed us directly to the movie viewing room as a short movie on the Fort's history was about to start.

Having read a little of the history already I knew what information to expect.  The Husband, who has been here longer than me, reads very little outside of work and obviously doesn't listen when I impart little gems of information, found the whole movie quite informative.

After the movie we back tracked to the front door so we could wander through more slowly and look at what there was to see.

The revamp of Masmuk isn't finished yet as far as displays are concerned, but what is there is fairly interesting.  There is a photographic display of the area around Masmuk from past till present, which I particularly enjoyed because it compares life then with now.

The Fort is also surprisingly roomy with lots of indoor-outdoorness.  To get around you just follow the arrows. 


I love how Saudi's used to construct their homes so took pictures of the wooden ceilings and doors, ladders up to the second floor and air and light ventilation.  Of course, having undergone a recent upgrade for tourism purposes, there is also electric lighting, air conditioners and even electronic sliding doors.



There's a surprising number or courtyards in the Fort and we took time out to have a seat in one as Hubster contemplated water collection and I contemplated what it must have been like living here.


People who had stopped to read the notice inside the main door (which we didn't read till we were on the way out), were taking pictures of themselves in front of said door and the spear head lodged within it.  I took pictures of the notice - it's got Arabic writing and I can use the picture to practice my translation.

That was my theory anyway.  Have I done it yet? Ummmmmm

We enjoyed our wander through the fort and would recommend a visit if you're looking for something quiet and relaxing to do in Riyadh one morning, just prior to shopping at Diirah, or if you're feeling curious, taking a stroll through Justice Square (otherwise known as Chop Chop though officially called Al Safa Sqaure) both of which are a stones throw away from Masmuk Fort.


Map for Masmak Fort





Ka Kite,
Kiwi

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Noor Got Married


Noor got married recently.
He’s known his lady love since she was nine years old. They are from the same village and before you ask, yes, there is a familial relationship of some description, but I do get a bit lost in exactly which uncle’s daughter she is.

I used to tease Noor about his upcoming nuptials.

Mr Noor, once you are married you’ll have to work extra hours because you have to send even more money back.

Mr Noor, what if this girl was beautiful when she was younger, but has got fat.

Maybe your uncle might switch this girl for another daughter – one not so pretty, Mr Noor.

Glenn used to tell Noor, ‘The woman’s body is a beauuuutiful thing.  You’ll find out when you’re married’.

After driving for Glenn for three years, and me for 12 months, Noor has got used to our antics.  He took all teasing in good humour.  I also used to ask him lots of questions.

Do you have to take your new wife a gift?

What is the ceremony like? Do you have to wear anything special?

How will you know what to do with this woman once you are married to her? (referring to the wedding night, of course).

Noor used to answer all the questions.  Our conversation regarding the last question was funny. It went something like this….

An elder from the village will take me out to the bush and explains what will happen and what I should do. I am going to tell this man, that I don’t need him to tell me what to do because I have the internet.

You have the internet Noor?

Yes. I have Mr Glenn. He is my internet and he tells me what I need to know.

Mr Noor, I think you should ask me first if your internet knows what it’s talking about!

Noor and his internet buying watermelon.
Mr Noor invited us to his wedding. 

Unfortunately his village is 150km from the Afghanistan border. I might have been able to get away with looking like a Pakistani woman, but The Hubster's western, white, bald headed-ness would have stood out like dogs bollocks.


People from this part of the hemisphere tend to think he's American, something that Hubster isn't particularly happy about.  He'd spend more time at the pool catching rays so he looks more native Kiwi-like, but his skin doesn't respond with a dark tan  - he turns into something resembling a golden roasty chicken.  So, after some consideration, we declined the invite. Pity. It would’ve been awesome, I’m sure.

There were a group of men from Noor’s village who had planned to go home at the same time to get married (I understand their weddings were to be on different days).  Unfortunately Noors’ departure was delayed by a few weeks due to passport issues.

Noor was a bit upset, which is understandable.  He’s waited 20 or so years for this wedding. He’s been working his heeny off to prove himself worthy and to have a house built for his new bride (we've seen the photos's).  He was so looking forward to going home and then…Bah Boing!….

Saudi sponsor said, ‘No, there’s too many of you leaving. I need taxi drivers for my cars. You, Noor, must stay’. So his sponsor didn’t hand over his passport - not the sort of passport issues you’d find in the west.

Eventually, weeks later, after asking, pleading and haranguing his sponsor Noor got his passport, bought his ticket and headed out. I saw him at the airport, because he was flying out the same night I flew home. He was so excited and happy. He wasn’t sure of the exact date of his wedding, but he thought it would be a few weeks after his arrival at his village.

I told him to text Glenn once he knew for sure, just in case the universe had an opening for two Kiwis to head to Pakistan for a wedding.

We did get a text from Noor one day. It said, ‘I’m agree with you sir. The woman’s body is a beautiful thing’.

We laughed. Obviously, Noor got married.



Ka Kite,
Kiwi





Thursday, 7 April 2011

Security Guards Day


I decided to make yesterday Security Guards day.  Yep. Yesterday I decided to bake our security guys a cake and was going to present it to them for afternoon tea.  Why? No reason. Well, actually lots of reasons

Who else sits 24/7 outside our compound checking on all those coming and going?  Who else walks the entire perimeter of this establishment in the wee small hours checking on anything that looks suss. Who else recognizes me as I approach the entrance and has the gate unlocked with a cherry ‘Good evening mam’ letting me know that all is well in my compound world after I’ve been for a bit of a shop. Who else says, ‘Mam, come and wait inside’, when my taxi is late and the sun is beating down.

Yep, our ever vigilant security, I decided, deserved some recognition for the fantastic job they do. I wonder if there is a nationally or globally recognized Security Guards day, like Secretary Day or Fathers Day? There should be.

I know their task is sometimes hampered by those who forget why there is security and whine and complain about the rules that are in place. I am not one of those people. In fact, ’Those Kind’ of people remind me of air travelers who bitch and moan about the plane being held up while engineers check whether or not it is safe to fly. Gees Dodo’s, do you want to get to your destination in one unharmed piece or not?

Stop bitching. Start appreciating.
So I baked Security a cake.

A chocolate cake is not a cake without icing.  This is where things went a little pear shaped in my baking day.

Why is this cocoa looking funny and not mixing properly?

I checked the pack. The cocoa, I discovered, wasn’t cocoa.  It looked like cocoa – packaging and color was exactly the same as back home (clear plastic bag, brown colored contents). But the tiny tag on the top said Sweet Pepper.



Crap! I don’t ever remember buying ground sweet pepper. Obviously I did purchase some because here it is. And equally obviously I’ve used it at some point - the twist tie wound around the top keeping it closed as I took it from the cupboard to make the icing (because, I swear, it looks like cocoa) is evidence of that.

What to do Pounamu?

Never mind, I’ll give this ‘Meant to Be Chocolate But Actually Sweet Pepper' cake to The Husband.  He eats anything with a cuppa when he gets home ravenous from a hard day at the office.  And I'll go buy some cocoa. You can bet before I put it in my trolley I will check the label for sure. I’d also better buy some containers and stickers and sort the stuff in my kitchen cupboard.

Security Guards Day, and associated cake, will have to wait till I'm back.







Ka Kite,
Kiwi





Friday, 1 April 2011

Saudi Justice

Today I was thinking about Saudi justice.
Whoa...big topic Kiwi!

Yep.  And quite frankly the following musings, opinions, pictures and bits of info might not appeal to a lot of you.  But here we go...

I was driving to Kaeo, a 4 hour trip, and listening to the radio as I went.  The announcer described an incident that occurred recently that he was rather incensed about.

Apparently a group of young men (teens...not really men then!) deliberately turned their car toward a couple of ladies   The ladies had pushchairs, complete with toddlers safely strapped in, and were out for a bit of fresh air and exercise.  The car load of (lots of nasty words) youth proceeded to throw MacDonalds soft drink, complete with containers, out the window of their car at the toddlers...not the ladies....the toddlers in the push chairs, laughing and gesturing rudely while they were at it, and then drove off.

Hence the radio announcers agitation. He asked listeners to text in what they thought should be done to these (more nasty words) losers if they were caught.

My immediate thought was castration....why allow this type to breed?  Most people however preferred public humiliation.  Tie the perpetrators (that's my husbands word - he's a wordsmith) to a pole and let the public throw drink at them.

I'm Aquarian and visual.
It was very easy to visualize thugs tied to poles.   Actually, having sat through a couple of vasectomy's it's very easy for me to visualize castration as well, but I'll move on....

All these visuals got me to thinking about Saudi justice

If this was Saudi and these were Saudi women, particularly high ranking Saudi women, out with their youngsters, should the brainless morons committing this attack be caught it is highly plausible they would never be seen again. 

It is, so I have heard, fairly common for people to be thrown in jail in Saudi without legal representation and left there.  This is paticularly common for the imported lower working class.  I presume they get fed....though I'm not sure how.  It's hard to picture Saudi prison guards feeding prisoners.   

Mr Noor, our ever wonderful taxi driver may be able to enlighten me on this issue because he has been thrown in to cells on a couple of occasions.  Why?  Because he is a Pakistani taxi driver and Saudi drivers are blameless.  I'll tell you more on those stories another day.

Presumably eventually someone rocks up to prisoners and says "Ummmm, we think you've been here long enough, time to go see a judge" but in Saudi....you never really know. 

If you're found guilty there are a number of punishments the Saudi legal system has in it's arsenal.  Which one you get depends on one or a combination of the following factors: 
  • The type of crime committed,
  • The person committing it (Saudi v non-Saudi or Woman v Man) and
  • The judges mood on the day.
 Punishments include:
  • Fines.  And, if you can't pay the fine it's back to the cells you go and will stay till fine is paid or you have expired (which ever comes first).
  • Deportation - I understand once you're out, you are not coming back.  That seems reasonable really.
  • Lashings - I have no data to state how often these occur though every now and then the Arab News will report a case in the paper.    I presume if I spent more time reading the Arab News I'd be better informed.
  • Stonings - I don't recall hearing of such a punishment since I've been in Saudi, but then I don't spend much time listening to Saudi News Tonight.  Here's what I've gathered about stonings - They have to be  done publicly so anyone and everyone is able to throw stones at the gulty party.  Part of the idea behind a stoning, is that no one person can be labeled as the executioner, after all how can you tell who threw the fatal stone.  This reasoning would probably lose it's effectiveness if stonings were private affairs.
I've been asked 'Do they really chop peoples hands off for stealing?'  Honestly, I have no idea.  If they do then either not many people are stealing or very few have been caught because there are not that many one handed persons roaming about the place.

I have been asked 'Do they really chop peoples heads off in Saudi?'  For serious crime like rape and murder and drug trafficking - Yes.

Glenn said the beheadings are no longer public picnic outings.  He also said this is a fairly recent change.  Beheadings now take place behind closed doors.  He got asked if he'd like to go see a beheading prior to them becoming private affairs.  He declined. 

How often do beheadings happen?
I have no idea, though I get the impression it's not as often as some sources would have you believe.  The fact is, the threat of decapitation does have a tendency to make one think before one commits a silly act.

Where do they do this?
In Riyadh it's at Justice Square, also commonly known as Chop  Chop square.

If you had no idea of it's purpose you'd think it's quite a nice square - Large with a nice fountain area, close to cheap shopping and historical sites and great for picnics with lots of room for the kids to run around.
Justice Square, Riyadh
All I know is this....up until recently it was not a good idea to be an expat lurking around Chop Chop Square on Thursdays or Fridays....chopping days.

You could think the Saudi legal system is a bit harsh, but there are times, just some times, like when utter losers abuse, torture and subsequently murder babies and toddlers, as they tend to do far too often in New Zealand, when the Saudi capital punishment method really does have a strange appeal.
The most recent case in point - Man kills toddler and gets seven years in jail....WTF? If some loser took liberties with any of my grand childrens' lives you can bet they'd regret it for a lot longer than seven short years.

But....isn't there always a but...

The Saudi legal system has a number of flaws that, when you look at the whole picture, make it.....well, not nice and seriously lacking in fairness, law and order.

Inconsistency and variations on rulings and interpretation of laws abounds.
Corruption ($$$) is obvious.
Racism is rampant.

And the major flaw, the thing that really irks me, is the sexism, the almost complete one-sided, male dominant-ness of Saudi law.  If you're a Saudi man you can get away with an awful lot.  If you're a woman in this country and expect equal and fair treatment - think again.

Want examples?  Try these for size....

Men, if sentenced to stoning, are buried to the waste.  Should they escape they have paid their dues, they can go home.  Women are buried to the chest - arms and all.   Escape ain't gonna happen.

A Saudi man can forcefully have his way with a woman, admit it but repent and, if the judge is so inclined that day, that's enough for saudi rapist to walk out an honourable man.

The woman who was the victim of forced activity has to have four male witnesses to the act of rape.  Some sources even claim there must be witnesses to the act of penetration.  (Ummmm.....Not sure how they'd manage that).  I understand those four witnesses must each have character references.  If the victim can't present these people the rape is all her fault, she will be punished for committing adultery (if married) or fornication (if single). 

Actually, according to this article on the Saudi legal system pertaining to rape, even if the men are found guilty, it is still possible for the woman to be punished for being alone with an unrelated man and committing adultery.

As far as I can tell, the only way a Saudi man is found guilty of rape is if he confesses to the act and is prepared to face his punishment. (Ummm.... I wonder how often that ever happens?)  

You could think that Saudi law is screwed but, (there's that balancing 'But' again), there are many cases in Western Law where a loop hole technicality lets a guilty party walk, which for serious crime, can seriously suck.  Or, an innocent party is left in jail for years, sometimes on death row, fighting to clear his/her name.  And western countries with the death penalty might not chop heads off with a big curved sword, but premature death is dead however it happens.

Yep. With a four hour trip I spent quite a bit of time thinking about the comparisons between Western and Saudi justice today and came to the conclusion that we in NZ are too soft on our serious criminal element.  We should send them all to Saudi!




Ka Kite,
Kiwi





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