Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Chateau Marrakech

Chateau Marrakech
We dined at Chateau Marrakech the other night.  A Morrocan experience in Riyadh.

The restaurant is on the 3rd Floor of the Al Andalus Center, which is right behind Al Andulus Mall. Signage is on Olaya and also down the side street where the entrance is, which is helpful because the building itself is not much to speak of.   You'd think you were going into an office block without the sign to point you in the right direction.

On exiting the lift, the entry to the restaurant is nicely decorated with traditional Moroccan hand crafts.  The public areas of the restaurant have a surprisingly roomy feel, with lots of carved or decorated wood and lattice lighting creating a lovely ambience.

The cubicle we sat in was cosy, with a little window to see out of and small additions, like the hand crafted condiment holders and woven table linen, adding a quaint touch.  The shape of the seating around the table means there is a bit of space between the diner and their plate - so people who have a tendency to drop food when they eat need extra napkins or have to lean forward to ensure all food on fork makes it to mouth.

The waiters continue the Moroccan theme being dressed in  traditional garb.  The English language skills of the gentleman who served us was limited, but we got by with pointing and the odd Arabic word thrown in.  The rest of the staff, we found out later, had perfectly good English.

We were presented with a basket of bread and some olives to nibble on and our drinks arrived in a very timely manner while waiting for our mains.

There is a good selection of Moroccan food - we over ordered as usual, starting with a salad and moving on to a beautifully moist chicken Tangine (my favourite dish of the night), another chicken dish with the fluffiest couscous I've ever had and a mixed meat grill because someone wanted meat.

Chicken is meat.
No, it's chicken.

Someone surveying the Moroccan meal - Where to start? Hmmm.
Portions are very generous - we ended up taking food home.  Dessert was on the menu but, as we are dieting (yet again) and because we were chock full we decided to end the night with Moroccan tea and head home.

Map to Chateau Marrakech

I will be recommending Chateau Marrakech as a place the ladies must visit - then dessert will definitely be ordered.

Ka Kite,

Monday, 27 June 2011

Saudi Hip Hop

Hip Hop is alive and well in Saudi Arabia.  At least, according to an article I read in Time Mag it is.  Hip Hop might be underground in Saudi, but where there's a will there's a way for musicians to present their art to a listening audience.

The article made me curious.  So a cyber visit to You Tube, a button click away was in order and soon the sounds of Saudi artist Blak-R were soon emanating from the computer speakers.

I was pleasantly surprised with what I heard.  A scroll through other artists featured on the page resulted in a similar response - I liked what I was hearing. 

What was refreshing was the lack of American style foul mouth language that completely turns me off the majority of western rap.  Perhaps that is showing my age, or my lack of understanding of the roots of American Hip Hop.   Whatever the reason, hearing rappers expressing themselves regarding local issues using a broader range of vocabulary, mixed with Arabic, sits well with me.

The article made two things (well, more than two but I'll settle on these for the moment) painfully obvious.

First, I have not given Saudi's local music talent a second thought since I arrived.  Though I was aware the younger generations were struggling to be heard, that's as far as my knowledge went.

To be honest, I think I presumed, quite naively (or maybe ignorantly), that local music would largely consist of tribal drum beating, probably because the popular (and only) image of Saudi music publicized to the masses is the men's sword dance.  And the night we did enjoy local music with Saudi women, hand held drums were the instruments of choice.

Our gym plays a lot of Arabic music via Orbit (NZ's version of Sky).  Apart from the songs being in Arabic, which I can't understand, it all seems very similar in style, presentation and, as I mentioned to a fellow compound dweller who hails from Egypt, the only thing they seem to sing is variations on the word 'Habiibii'.

Listening to local Riyadh radio channels is not something I do on a regular basis.  My desire for music is usually met via the tunes on my iPhone or streaming New Zealand radio stations (usually The Edge, The Rock, ZM or Flava) over the net. The only local radio I hear in Riyadh is in the taxi, and that is usually jiggy Pakistani music.

Even if I did tune in to the local radio, somehow I doubt that Hip Hop music makes it to mainstream air waves in Riyadh.

I was also faced with the horrible fact that my last 18 months living in Saudi Arabia have been as a closeted expat - and here was me thinking I'm so progressive getting out and about. 

In Saudi it is easy to pretend that the gym routine and the round of coffee mornings that expat women have a tendency to sink into once they've given up fighting against the rules (and resigned to whining about them instead while in their compound closets, compound buses and Saudi versions of Western Malls) is real life.

It's not.
It's time to broaden my horizons some more. 

The article that spurred this blog entry is in Time Mag.
If you're interested in a blog where underground music rises up visit Re-volt Radio

And here is a taste of Saudi Hip Hop...

I hope you enjoyed this Saudi Hip Hop selection.  I did.

Ka Kite,

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Spotlight on driving in Saudi Arabia

It’s a given that any blog about Saudi Arabia will, at some point, spotlight the driving.

Depending on your point of view, driving in Riyadh can be somewhat exciting or totally nerve wracking.  Expats have used the following terms to describe their driving experience in the Magic Kingdom:

dangerous, hell brainless maniacal
traumatic, hectic terrible crazy
a death wish a hazard reckless a nightmare
an activity only undertaken by brave souls, an adrenaline rush and heart stopping…

…and that is just the tip of the adjective iceberg.

Today Noor (who has been back in town for a week or so after getting married) and I were chatting about some ‘New Regulations’ for drivers.

'New Regulations’ has inverted commas because the rules under discussion have actually been around for a couple of years but, as any sensible western license holders can attest, most drivers in Saudi completely ignore them. (Probably because most drivers here have never read them given my previous post on obtaining a Saudi Driver Licence).

Apparently, a couple of years ago, the Powers That Be introduced the rule that mobile phones were not to be used while driving.

Shit!  Really! I cracked up with that one.  

Then I pointed out the next five people talking on phones while driving - and it took all of six cars to reach my goal!

It seems the police were cracking down on this particular reg the other day as one of Noors colleagues received a 500SAR fine for talking on his mobile while driving.

I'd be interested to know how many rule breaking Saudi's drove past Mr Policeman before he decided to book Mr Taxi man. 

Not a very nice thing to say, but you don't have to be in this country long to figure out that the rules must first be forcefully applied to everybody else before the spotlight turns on a Saudi. 

 As my nephew likes to say, “Pick on the black fella first why don’t ya?”

The Nephew
Based on stories I’ve heard (yes, gossip), should a Saudi be involved in any driver regulation infringement where it’s perfectly obvious they are at fault, their reaction is often times one, or a combination, of the following:
  • Have a childish paddy and blame 'the other guy’, even if there is no other guy, but especially if ‘the other guy’ is foreign and/or colored;
  • Assume, absolutely, that he is blameless it was the fault of ‘the other guy’ and expect, without doubt, that ‘the other guy’ will eventually accept (or be accused of) the blame simply because he is foreign and especially if he is colored.
  • Pull out the "Do you know who I am?" tactic with hoity arrogance, presuming to be the center of the universe, with absolute disregard for anyone else at the scene and completely ignore ‘the other guy’ and his plea of innocence, if there is another guy, but especially if ‘the other guy’ is foreign and/or colored, ….
It’s no wonder, after these antics, the police retreat to their vehicles resigned to the fact they can't do a damned thing.  I'd be surprised if they are truly happy in their roles.  Who needs to put up with this arrogant, racist, classist unfairness day after day?  If I had to take bets on who's gonna get points from the almighty for being the most peaceful and patient in these situations, given this is the homeland of Peace and Faith, it would be the guy in the cop uniform. 

Should the spotlight beam on a Saudi of imperial lineage, oh my goodness!  The blessed halogen bulb would burst with sparkling and crackling and plumes of white smoke till what was illuminated, completely disappears.  Now is that magic in the Magic Kingdom or what?

Our conversation included speed cameras that began mysteriously popping up at major intersections and along main highways in and around Riyadh a few months back in an effort, they said, to curb the road toll and, as a spin off, to increase the government (do I smell smoke?) coffers.   

Rumour has it that after numerous drivers called the traffic department to complain about the speeding tickets they were suddenly receiving, and no doubt refusing to pay, the Powers That Be decided they ought to put up speed limit signs. 

Until then I don't believe many signs existed.
In fact, until recently, I'm not sure that speed limits actually existed.

If you're getting the impression that I'm totally averse to the driving culture in Saudi, you'd be wrong.

Having come from NZ where life is so regulated it's a wonder there’s no rule about where and when you can fart (oh crap, that's right, there was that Fart Tax wasn't there), I admit to finding the lack of regulation here in Saudi somewhat refreshing.

It's nice to know you can blow the cobwebs from the carburetor on a near empty highway at 190km/hour in a vehicle designed to go fast.  It’s perfectly reasonable to turn right on a red light because there’s no traffic going that way.  It's hilarious watching 4WD's straddle the curbing of central city center pieces in the act of performing a U-turn because....well, because they can.

I am supportive of efforts to make Saudi roads safer. The number of road accidents causing death and disabilities each year is astronomical. 

Sometimes one can get the impression that, when your single aim in life is to reach the hereafter, which I'm led to believe (in this country anyway) is the goal of all Muslims, a car accident at high speeds that sends road users hurtling into the afterlife seems to be considered more of a blessing than an issue.

It can’t be denied that many people here, not just Saudi’s (and yes, now I’m honing in on the Indian sub-continents) are shocking drivers.  

If ‘The Powers That Be’ were serious about road safety, there are a couple of other options they could try, like putting all drivers who receive infringement notices through a compulsory course that emphasizes driver courtesy, thoughtfulness and patience, not to mention how to use indicators and those attachments called mirrors.   And possibly a refresher on the road rules would be a good idea.

This would help in decreasing road rage if not road carnage.  Naturally, the 8 -12 year old drivers will need a coloring book to help them out.

Allowing women to drive, who are globally proven to be safer drivers than men, is a no brainer in  the rest of the world, which begs the questions 'Where are the brains in this country on that issue?'  Oh yeah, that's right men run this place - brains are likely dwelling in that thing I shall politely call An Appendage.

And finally, according to my sources (nurses, doctors, ambulance drivers and others involved in scraping car crash victims off the roads) the majority of high speed vehicular accidents that occur in Saudi are because the driver was under the influence of banned substances.  So someone really ought to have a word to the guy responsible for the thriving underground market in Drugs and Alcohol in this country.  Now, who would that possibly be?....  

Spotlight on driving in Saudi.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Camping Wahba Crater

On approaching the edge of Wahba Crater, the site of our first ever camping trip in Saudi Arabia, our reaction was, quite simply, 'Wow!'

While trawling the internet one day for 'things to do in Riyadh' I stumbled upon a website that mentioned Wahba Crater.  Not a lot of information was given regarding it's location but my interest was piqued enough to store knowledge of  its existence in the 'That sounds interesting' file in my brain.

Then one day, not so long ago, I was sent the name of a tour company, Haya Tours, here in Riyadh and wouldn't you know it they organised weekend camping trips to Wahba Crater.

After a few phone calls, e-mails and reminders to Glenn that he did agree to this trip (He says he didn't agree he was told, which really is the same thing), we met our travelling companions (a lovely British lady and two German gentlemen) in the car park at Granada Mall, were given final instructions on where to go and who to meet and off we set.

We drove five hours from Riyadh, on the Jeddah highway, to the meeting point with our tour guide, a wonderful young man named Mohamad.  He led us convoy fashion, accompanied by local security who were with us for the whole weekend, through salt pans, small villages and lava fields till we reached the end of a newly laid road.

You'd expect a hole in the ground that is two kilometers wide would be easy to spot, but it's not till you get out of the car that the crater reveals itself.  And, as I mentioned earlier, the sight is impressive. 

Our cameras came out and numerous shots were taken before Mohamed pointed out our accommodation for the weekend - a white speck in the distance, right on the crater's edge.

A short bumpy ride over the volcanic rock, fortunately we had hired the Yukon for the weekend, had us delivered to our simple lodgings. 

Story has it that a group of Afghanis had set up home at this particular camping spot with a view to developing it for a tourist business and, I have to say, they had done a lot of work on the site. 

They had built paths out of lava stones, started an ablution block and kitchen, built a flat viewing platform, planted trees and fenced the area.  Then the Saudi government said Wahba Crater was a national treasure, put it under the protection of a government agency and instructed the hard working Afghanis' to leave.

The paths are still there, as is the viewing platform and block built kitchen.  The ablution block is unfinished and, I could say falling into disrepair, but actually it looks like some unhappy person has taken to it with a sledge hammer and smashed it to bits, so it's unusable.

Until they implement a few upgrades, camping at this particular spot beside Wahba Crater is not for those who like luxuries.

The only option available for relief was to duck down behind the remains of the toilet block hoping no one else came wandering over the rise and, more importantly, hoping the rock you picked up to cover your own 'squat job' wasn't already being used to cover a previous deposit. 

Washing was of the sponge bath variety in the open shielded by parked cars or wait till you get home.

Our accomodation was a large tent with a dicky pole that required German ingenuity to strengthen it against the wind that was picking up outside, and carpets spread over the rough scoria ground.  If you've started to like the gender segregation in this country you're plum out of luck on this tour - we all share the tent which was just fine by us.

Our tour information said to only bring sleeping bags....if you're the sort that wakes up grumpy without a soft bed I'd suggest you bring a bit more than that.  One of the German gentleman, who was a bit more clued up than us, had a camp bed.  

The Wahba Crater's Edge  Hotel. Absolutely fabulous :)

The Dicky Pole
The facilities may have been minimal, which didn't bother anybody on this particular weekend, but the welcome and subsequent hosting was warm indeed.

That afternoon, after qahwah and dates, we walked up to a higher vantage point to take photos of the area surrounding Wahba Crater.  Then it was back down for kapsa (flavoured rice) dinner, sorting out the sleeping arrangements and chit chat as the sun set and the stars came out above us, while over yonder was a lightening display.

Mohamed and his cousins, who were there to assist, had intended on lighting a fire for us that night, but we were a little concerned that the wind would throw a spark at the tent, so decided to flag that idea.  Besides, it was very pleasant sitting in the glow of a small generator run light enjoying the company and conversation until it was time for bed. 

The weather was nice enough, with the breeze keeping stifling heat at bay, that most of us dragged the carpets outdoors and slept beside the crater, under the stars, safe in the knowledge that security was a stones throw away, hunkered in their Land-cruiser.

Bright and early the next morning, before the day warmed up, we headed down into the basin.  The descent, a little narrow in places and not recommended for those with vertigo issues, was fairly easy via a path cut into the rock face or laid out with stones that led us all the way to the bottom

Track to Wahba Crater

The bottom at last...

Once on the bottom we headed out into the middle.  For some reason we wanted to see how soft it was...sinking mud meant we didn't make it all the way there.  So instead we sat and contemplated various theories on the craters origins (a meteorite versus volcanic activity of some description), how long it would take to walk the entire circumference of the basin (not that we intended to), what else we were going to do that day and the looong walk back up for breakfast.

And, of course, we had to take a few photos....

The Wahba Crater Crew
... and test the white deposit to see if it was salt.  It tasted salty.

And to pretend to be David Attenborough...

The hike back to the top took slightly longer than the trek down (no kidding), but we weren't in any hurry so stopped often and I had plenty of water and an energy drink in my backpack.

We also did our bit for environmental care, collecting empty drink bottles that previous sight see-ers had discarded (a nice way to say biffed, dumped or inconsiderately dropped) on the side of the path.

Back on top, the wind from the day before had died and the boys had a crackling fire heating the kettles for qahwah and tea.  After huffing and puffing our way up the hill, it really was a welcoming sight.

The cook...

...the supervisor!
We sat in the sunshine, soaking in the view and the opportunity to share across cultures and thinking how lucky we were to be here with these wonderful people. 

After the boys had shown us a few games the bedouins like to play to pass the time away (known in NZ as tik tak tow, knucklebones and target practice), it was into the 4WD to bump and bounce our way over the rocky terrain to the oasis located on the verge of the crater with lovely, cool spring water supporting an old date palm plantation.

The Tour Guide Crew
The place really was beautiful except for all the rubbish! 

By the end of our stay Mohamed, a bright young man who loves his part time tour guide role (his full time job is teaching), was fully versed in the importance of being environmentally conscious and he assures us the Powers That Be will be duly advised.

Some people wouldn't enjoy the trip to Wahba Crater that we did because of the lack of facilities, and moves are afoot to add amenities.   A long drop (I wouldn't like to be the guy trying to dig the scoria out for that hole) and a solar shower are said to be on the cards till more permanent facilities can be erected.  But to be honest, the simplicity was a large part of the reason why we loved our camping at Wahba Crater.

Map To Wahba Crater

Ka Kite,

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Al Kharj and the Eyes of Najma

This weekend we hired a car and drove to Al Kharj.

Well, our friend hired the car.  He figured it was his turn because we, or rather Glenn, hired the vehicle last time.  I'm not allowed to hire a car because I'm not supposed to drive one - although, apparently I can register two cars in my name.  How screwed is that!

Probably not as screwed as the Saudi women who have travelled to other parts of the globe, studied, done their flying hours and received a pilot’s license.  So, theoretically, they can fly over home and wave to the whanau but they can't drive past the house.  Weird world huh!

Anyway, how did our combined Kiwi/Finland excursion fly?
Well, we were considering our destination options as we drove out the gate. 

Boys:  Where are we going?

Me: Ummm, well, we could go to Al Kharj or Pools of Shai’ib Luha or Usahyqir….

Boys:  Sounds good.  What are they?

Me:  Ummmm….I don’t really know.

Boys:  What shall we see first?

Me:  Weelll, how far do you want to go?  And do you want a desert walk or a long drive?

Boy Driver: Which way am I heading?

Me:  Ummmm….head down King Fahad and we’ll decide definitely on the way.

We ended up a on a Tiki Tour (kiwi lingo for look around) to Al Kharj because we got on the wrong road to go where we finally decided we would go.  The highway around Riyadh is not that well signposted and you can easily end up going around in circles.  Well, we can.

Travelling with a map in hand is not something we are very good at.  The only boy scout in our group never made it to 'Travel Preparation' badge and the rest of us had just got of bed so we simply never thought about a map.  To be honest, I don't even know if there is an up to date road map of Saudi Arabia in print.  Google maps at this point isn't particularly helpful either - Saudi seems to have this aversion to the rest of the world knowing where it, or anything in it, is.  Anyway, travelling without a map is an excellent reason to drive 100 km south because that’s the way our nose is pointed.

On the way we had to do a little detour looking for a convenience.  Someone visited an Indian restaurant the previous night and the meal was still going through.  We spotted a mosque, which happened to be inside the gates of a Saudi Defense base.  Fortunately, enough Arabic was known to ask the guards for a toilet and they had no issue with helping out.

The Riyadh based Saudi’s I asked about Al Kharj some weeks ago (my two friends) both said ‘It’s very green’. 

That is also all they said about Al Kharj.

I deduced, after our drive down there, that their comment was in reference to the agriculture.  Al Kharj is an agricultural town with date and vege farms; camel, sheep and goat farms; and, somewhere out that way, an Al Marai dairy farm (didn’t find that this trip – obviously a return drive is on the cards).

I’m still coming to terms with the difference between Saudi Green (rows of green plants against a backdrop of desert brown, barrenness) and Kiwi Green (lush forests and grassy lawns that need regular weekly mowing) which has nothing to do with Coromandel Green – a homeopathic remedy made from mari-juana.

Saudi is not a tourist destination, something we tend to forget.  Finding a list of touristy ‘things to see and do’ at the local Tourist Information Center ain’t gonna happen.  Asking someone in the know about sightseeing locations and directions before you go is highly recommended.

Failing that (we failed) driving around and talking to the locals once you arrive is your next best bet for finding out what sights of interest a town or city might hold and directions to the aforementioned.

We found our directions at McDonalds after meandering into the center of town.   

Our directions.
So what is there to see in Al Kharj? 

Well, there is the Water Tower which apparently has a restaurant.  We decided to forego that.  There are also two giant craters, known locally as Ayuun aS Seeh, or Ayuun an Najm (take your pick). Those sounded rather interesting, so with hand sketched map in hand, that's where we went.

The official name for the craters are Tara Boli Ain Samhah and Ain Ad Dhile - not nearly as dramatic sounding as Eyes of The Stars.  Rumour has it that the holes were caused by meteorites (or stars) falling out of the sky - hence the starry name.  The craters were used as wells in days gone by.  The pumping gear and pump house built right next to them is evidence of that.  

Al Kharj is good for agriculture because it has, or rather had, lots of underground water.  Which brings us to the second theory of the holes in the ground – they simply caved into an underground river.  If there was a river. It’s gone now. 

Both the wells were fenced though one, fortunately, had the gates open  so we Kiwi/Finnish explorers took that as an invitation to have a look around.

The other had a hole in the fence – not really an invitation….but it was the middle of a beautiful, yet hot, Saudi summer day so no-one was around to see the Kiwi/Finnish contingent take advantage of that opportunity, too.

There was evidence, however, that others had been here before us.

We enjoyed our little outing to Al Kharj.  The city itself is undergoing development.  The people we met (Ok so there was only the Macca's staff and the cheeky boys who wanted to know where we were from) were nice and now I can say I’ve been there.

Map To Ayuun An Najma

Ka Kite,

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Saudi Drivers License

Hubby phoned me one day with news about his Saudi Drivers License.

Hubby:  I did it.  I got my Saudi Drivers License.

Me: Really!  Excellent.  Well lets go hire a car!

Of course, once he got home I was full of questions....first being "Did you get a car?"

He hadn't.
But, he had started the ball rolling.
His mate over at Innovations was arranging a vehicle and the paperwork.  We had decided our first self-driven outing would be to Bahrain and to get to Bahrain in a rented vehicle you need paperwork.

The next obvious question was "What did you have to do to get this license?"

There is a process for obtaining a Saudi drivers license which, I gather, as an expat you're supposed to get after being here for three months.  The Husband has never bought a car in Saudi which negated his need for a local driver license until I started getting angsty about not going anywhere.

As any husband can attest, an unhappy, irritable, somewhat tetchy wife is not a nice person to be around.  Time to go get the license!

The Process, for those who already have a license from another country, involves obtaining an appropriately stamped (by the Chamber of Commerce) letter of permission from your employer, visiting a hospital for a blood test (for your blood type) and submitting all relevant forms, with all necessary attachments, to the police who have to give approval for you to continue to the next step in The Process.

This all sounds very simple but Saudi has this penchant for doing things the long way, so there is a bit of running around and rigmarole getting your various bits and pieces together. 

Once approved you're sent to a local driving school for the (hopefully) final phase of the application process, which may or may not involve a driving test.  I understand 'Who You Are' and 'Where You're From' is a large factor in this determination.

Hubby went early in the morning and took an Arabic speaker with him who is familiar with the staff - it speeds up the process.  He had to do the driving test.  There were numerous nationals from the Indian sub-continent and Philippines lined up waiting to do their test.   Hubby didn't have to go to the end of the queue - one of the benefits (or terrible acts of racism, classicism and other ism's I'm sure - depending on your point of view) of being western and taking an Arab who knows the ropes (as per paragraph above) is you get to skip to the head of the line.
He drove forward a few meters, then reversed back again.  That was it.

Apparently while he was there a number of men failed the driving test.  We have a friend who failed the driving test.  A Brit and a professional.  The car used in the tests is a manual.  He hasn't driven a manual for years.  He stalled it.  He failed.  He traipsed passed the waiting queue of watching faces, who were in as much disbelief as he was, out to the waiting taxi....

It is nice to know the 'ism factor didn't let him pass when he so obviously couldn't drive the car.

So, what of those who don't have an existing driving licence?

I'm less au fait with this process though I understand that, as in any other country, there is a manual to be studied and a theory component that must be passed before moving on to the practical driving test. 

Mr Noor told us you have three chances to pass your theory before you can get your hands on the wheel of the test vehicle.  He was, however, a little vague on the time frame between the two.

Failing the theory for the third time requires paying to do the whole process again, not something these men can easily afford - they have tetchy wives back home who need their men on the road raking in the moola! 

Reasons for failing the theory include not knowing the road rules, not knowing how to use a computer (the test is computerised multiple choice) or not being able to read - an issue that is fairly common, I'm discovering, among the Riyadh driving population. 

After fail number two, those who can afford it (which by all accounts is quite a few) opt for fail safe Plan B - they pay for an official, usually the one who is supposed to be supervising the test, to do their theory component.

And then, if they can start the car, move it back and forth a few meters without graunching the gears or stalling, they are now the proud owner of a Saudi Driver License.  Yep.  Just like that men in this country - many of whom are employed to cart women around - can get a driving licence.  And people wonder why the driving here is shit!

Ka Kite,

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Sick Of Dreaming Of Driving

Motokä iti rawa e
Mäku e taraiwa e
Tangi ana te känga
Oooga, ooga, ooga
Küpai e te iwi e
Little motor car
I'll drive you
The horn sounds
 Ooga, ooga, ooga
 Goodbye everybody...
That's a song from NZ.  A fun little ditty for kids, though we adults bring it out in the wee small hours of 'party time'.   If I had the skills I would re-invent the song with witty lyrics about women dreaming of driving in Saudi Arabia....

....but today wit has firmly packed itself into a suitcase and a headache has taken its place.

A car sick headache.

Yep, I'm one of those poorly types afflicted by motion sickness.
Sea sick, air sick, train sick, fun park Pirate Ship ride sick.  Even standing on a wharf just looking at the ocean makes my temples pulse as my belly begins to flip flop.

And since arriving in Riyadh I've been forced (when Mr Noor is unavailable) to occupy the back seat of taxi's under the control of drivers who clearly have no idea what good driving is.  Which means I can add to my list of motion related ailments Saudi taxi 'how the hell did you get a license' and 'what idiot said you can drive better than me' sick!

After last nights trip I'm seriously contemplating becoming a Saudi woman and joining their Women Driving Campaign set for June 17th.

Two evenings a week I attend an Arabic class.  It's on the outskirts of town.  It starts at 7pm.  Hubby can't take me because he's not home from work in time, so I have to use a taxi.

Piece of cake...all cities have taxis....but this is Riyadh!

In this city, if one does not have A Driver (or an available husband), one must find a reliable taxi man who can be utilised as a psuedo chauffeur.  We had one.  Mr Noor.  He went home to get married.   We are hanging out for him to come back.

It is possible to hail a taxi off the street, but as a female one has to be cautious about the cars into which one gets in Saudi Arabia.  Paranoia has been fed by the stories of women alone being kidnapped and......well, one dreads to think of the 'And'.

What to do Pounamu?

In Mr Noor's absence we have found two temporary replacements - Driver One is working out better than The Other.  For my trips to Arabic class, I use The Other.

For some insane reason a screw in my brain has repeated the phrase "Come on Kiwi - he's not that bad" and "Give him a chance to prove himself", so twice a week for the last month I have persevered with him driving me across town to class.

The other night, while in the back of his taxi, I was having a private discussion with myself on why he is still my Arabic Class Driver.   Here are the reasons being bandied around:
  • He answers his phone every time I call.  He may not be where he's supposed to be (waiting outside the compound gate) but he does answer the phone, something many drivers 'forget' to do.
  • He has, after each class, been waiting outside the school to take me home.  Being off the main taxi route and a long way from home, this is a very good thing after a night class!
  • There are worse drivers.
  • He speaks sufficient English.
  • Hubster likes him.
  • He is a damn sight better than the third bloke we tried as a driver one week - I nearly puked his driving was so bad!  I still have the text I sent to Glenn, though if you don't cuss I suggest you avert your eyes.  "Crikeys not even half way there n I'm sea sick.  Feijoa's, Let me drive!" (OK, so I didn't really txt the word 'Feijoa's...)

My self discussion finally concluded (while simultaneiously wishing - because I can multi-track- that The Other would put his foot down and knowing he wouldn't because fares are determined by time in the vehicle, not distance) the real reason I have persisted with this driver is the fact that  Mr Noor, it is rumoured by men of the taxi fraternity who hail from his village, is due back next week!

Yay....I can wait till next week! 
Well I thought I could, until last night.
Here is how last evening panned out:

Me:  Mr S, Where are you?  You are supposed to pick me up!

Mr S: Ohhhh, sorry sorry....I call but u no answer phone.  I think u not go.

Me: I was in my other class Mr S, I can't asnwer the phone.

Mr S:  Ohhhh, sorry sorry....I think you no want go no more.   You still want go?  You go class?

Me:  Yes Mr S, I still want to go.  How far away are you?

Mr S:  I only five, maybe ten minutes.  You still want go class?  You no asnwer phone.

Me:  Yes I still want to go

Mr S:  OK, OK....I be there five, maybe 15 minute....

I look at the time, decide that's Ok, so agree.

Twenty five minutes later......

Mr S:  Ohhhh,  sorry sorry, much traffic.

Me:  Deep sigh, resigned to being late, practicing my Zen breathing and forgiveness, ticking myself off for not just getting another taxi.  Ticking myself off again because I know that another taxi driver probably can't speak good English, most likely doesn't know the way and in all probability will try to rip me off cos I'm western.  Wish, yet again, that women could drive in this country!

I am pleased to say that I'm not alone in such wishful thinking.
In fact, there are women much braver than I who move from wishful to actual......

The recent arrest of a Saudi woman for driving has caused a bit of a stir though I'm not sure if the stir is from her driving as much as it is from her encouraging other Saudi women to do the same.   The articles and commentary on SaudiWoman blog and Susies Big Adventure regarding the situation make for interesting reading.

There is, apparently, no written Saudi law banning women from driving.  What stops them is Saudi culture - which really boils down to extremely conservative religious types scared of change and what it may bring, and a country that, if you believe most of the comments I've read on the topic, is full of wild, uncontrollable, over-sexed, disrespectful Saudi Muslim males!

All I know is, if I'm still here the day woman can put the pedal to the metal I will be in which ever 'Motoka iti rawa e' I can find.

Ka Kite,

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