Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Day Trip to Ushaiqir Heritage Village

One weekend we took a day trip to Ushaiqir Heritage Village.  Hubby and I have come to the conclusion, (even though his arrival at this conclusion was pre-determined by moi), that if we come across anything touted as 'something to see' we should go see it.   The existence of Ushaiqir was gleaned from an in-flight magazine, so I made the executive decision (because we all know who is really in charge over here) to go have a look.

Our Finnish friend, who was keen for some form of action, provided the vehicle.  He also drove.  The car had a bell that dinged if you went over 100km.  It rarely shut up the entire trip!
The directions explained in the article got us most of the way there before we had to start asking people if we were on the right track.    Not that it is easy to get lost – for most of the trip there was only one main road, until Shaqraa, or there abouts.
The drive is quite boring….about the only thing to look at for a large part of the trip is power pylons.  It occurred to me (lightbulb – ping!) that this might be the appropriately knick named Power Line Road.
As always I had my trusty camera, so here’s some shots of ‘things to see on the way to Ushaiqir’.

Camels in trucks. I think the camels always look so affronted to be transported so unceremoniously.

Camel signs – This was a special request from me…

...how can one live in Saudi Arabia and NOT take a picture of the camel sign. Especially when one has just witnessed camels crossing (apologies for the quality, I had difficulty holding the camera still, but I think you get the picture).

There’s some farmland on the way out…flat, green and gated, though all you can actually see from the road is the gate.  To see the greenery you have to get out of the car and go look.  I love how Saudi's use the desert sands to mark out paddocks.  It's quite effective not only as boundary lines but to prevent people from seeing what's behind the desert wall as they drive by.

Vehicles with heavy loads that looked like they were going to tip over.  We were glad there wasn't a high wind or these trucks would have been struggling to stay upright.  Even so, it didn't pay to get too close.

And trucks loaded with whiteware and other large household items that look rather precariously tied down.

We stopped at a little town because it was one of our ‘hmmmm…which way now' points.  
Although we didn’t actually stop on the first pass through but after our return a half hour or so later.  Even then we didn't stop immediately .   Men are funny creatures....they seem to like figuring things out for themselves when asking a passer-by would get answers a lot faster. 
So, first we drove through this towns derelict mud village, sited on the roads edge, because there seemed to be lots of action there.  Hardly surprising, a newish mosque was right in the middle and it was coming up to salah time, so all the men were heading that way.
My immediate reaction - 'Awesome, people to ask directions'.   Large gatherings of Muslims in Saudi about to pray tend to create nervous tension for some obvious Caucasian western types... male expat wisdom suggested it was probably better to lie low at moments like these so I was outvoted.   I wonder if this could be a Minties ad???

Minties - mint flavoured, sticky sweets popular in Australia and
New Zealand.  The slogan "It's moments like these" is synonymous
with Minties and the idea that life's more testing moments would be
eased by chewing on a Mintie sweet.
So while the towns people prayed, we headed for the hill that was quite prominent just outside of the town.  We mainly stopped because it had interesting structures atop that we had noticed on both recent drive by's,  and we wanted to see what they were.  There was a sign at the bottom of the hill (in Arabic) and a gateway, quite possibly designed to keep people out, but the gates were open. 
Gateway to The Hill
Being hardened Saudi residents we are well aware that open gates mean ‘Enter’ regardless of what any signs might say….so in we went and we were rewarded for our efforts.   The top of the hill is a picnic spot, complete with toilet and shady pergolas, surrounded by green hedging. 
Brilliant.  Time for lunch!  Plus, with such an excellent view of the surrounding area we could see whether the road we thought we might have to take is the road we should take….it wasn’t. 

After a lovely picnic we drove back into town and found a local (finally) and asked directions.
His directions got us to Shaqraa.  Quite a nice looking town – I was impressed.  Yes it’s in the middle of the desert, but someone has done a lot of work there and it looks nice.  I even suggested a return visit to spend the night and do some local sight seeing.  Mr Finland thought I'd been in the desert far too long with that suggestion!

Shaqraa has roundabouts with offshoot roads that require tricky little U-turns and stopping to ask directions (again).  One of the locals at the second “how do you get to Ushaiqir” effort said, (in broken English) he was from Ushaiqir (woohoo) and to follow him - his vehicle was right outside….so being the trusting western tourists that we are, we did. 
At the start of an offshoot road he pulled over, pointed, said 17 km and waved us on our way.  He was right…to the meter!
What's so special about Ushaiqir Heritage Village? 
The old village is being restored - not just a house or two but the whole village.  It’s currently a work in progress.   The village was actually closed for the summer but the visitor center was opened for us once it was discovered we were roaming through the place, thanks to another open gate. 
Ushaiqir Village open gate.
The locals we met were happy to show us around and have some photo's taken with the boys.  Mr Finland got special treatment.  We have no idea why, but he was lapping it up.

Ushaiqir Heritage Village is 200 kilometers or so away.  And makes a nice day trip if you're looking for a something to do of a weekend.   Here’s a Google Map that should be of assistance should you choose to undertake a day trip to Ushaiqir HeritageVillage.

Ka Kite,

Monday, 18 July 2011

Visiting An Organic Garden in Riyadh

There's an organic garden in Riyadh.  A vege garden to be more precise, owned by a Prince. I was fortunate enough to have a tour of the garden, with a group of expat ladies, led by the current head gardener, a lovely young woman who I believe hails from Wales and is passionate about organic gardening practices.

Produce from the garden supplies the Prince's household and are utilised for any functions he may hold. 

The gardens are a lovely oasis amid the dust and concrete mix that is Riyadh.  The garden is in a valley, overlooked by mud village ruins and what looks to be an old guard outpost atop a dry hillside that a few of us climbed to get a birds eye view of the place.  There are rows of veges and herbs, some chooks and two green houses on the property providing a cool contrast to the barren surrounds.

As much as possible during our visit we stayed in the shade of various tall trees, all the while listening to our guide explaining the history of the garden, it's development, the plants and the challenges of being organic in Riyadh.  But this is a garden and at some point one must venture into the sun...

At the end of the day we were able to purchase some of the produce.  Many expats have asked about getting organic vegetables delivered to their compounds, but this garden is not quite large enough for such a commercial venture just yet.

There is, however, opportunity to volunteer at the garden (over the cooler months of course) if you are looking for some outdoor activity and are missing your vege patch at home.  

Not all compounds have room for, or allow, vege gardens.  On our compound we were excited to see some wild sown tomato plants.  They even started to produce fruit and I was looking forward to trying the tomatoes once they were ripe, but the garden maintenance guys came through one day and pulled all the plants out and replaced them with flowers.  It made me feel kind of flat.

I admit that initially I was dubious about this visit because 'organic gardens' and 'Riyadh' are not words that go together, but we had an interesting morning and it was a wonderful visit.  To find out more contact the American Community in Riyadh as they organised this tour for us.

Ka Kite,

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Mum in Riyadh

My Mum is in Riyadh. She arrived the other night.  It's her first visit to Saudi Arabia.

She's been doing my dishes and my washing.  She also had a peek in my oven, I'm presuming to see whether or not it works so she can whip up an apple pie at some point in her stay.  I love Mum's apple pie.

We met in Dubai so she could have a look around that city for a couple of days prior to her visit to the Magic Kingdom.  In Dubai we traveled around on the Big Red Bus tour and a took a trip up Burj Khalifa, enjoyed the magic of the dancing Dubai Fountains and visited the Heritage Village.  Basically we did a bunch of touristy type things - a hectic two days after a long flight from NZ.
The bus stop at Wafi Mall
Mum's Saudi experience really began in the departure lounge at Dubai airport as we by-passed the Worker Bee men lined up at the entry to the air bridge and then, because we're frequent flyers, we weaved our way through their waiting lines so we could board the aircraft bound for KSA before them. 

The workers queue early for flights.  It's as if they are afraid they may get turfed from the plane if they are not IN the queue.  Unfortunately, knowing Saudi as I do, theirs is a reasonable fear.

On arrival in Riyadh a stop off at the loo is required so we could don the appropriate mark of womanhood - the Black Garb.  Fortunately Riyadh airport was not very busy the evening we flew in.  The queue for western types was not long at all, so we were through in a jiffy.  Even getting Mums bag was a synch.

And there to meet us was Mr Noor.  He's been saying, 'Kei te pai' in response to her 'Kia ora'  every time she hops in the car.

Mum has been in Riyadh for four days.
She came here to rest.

So far, this is what she has done -
  • First evening catch up chit chat with Glenn at the coffee shop - in bed late cos there was a lot to talk about.
  • Next morning we went to the gym for Afro Dance - tribal dancing type of exercises.  That evening was dinner with some friends - started at 9.30 pm finished around 1am.
  • Thursday was an early morning trip to the fish market, a look at Masmuk Fort and a bit of a walk round Diirah to look at trinkets followed by a visit to Riyadh Gallery Mall to look at modern things.  That evening we took her to an Embassy do - in bed by midnight.

  • Friday she got to sleep in while Glenn and I went bike riding.  A dip in the pool that afternoon and early'ish to bed - after sorting out her farm on Facebook of course.
  • Today it was a trawl of the Gold Souq at Taiba, and a walk home cos I mis-timed Salat so the cafe was shut.  It's so annoying when that happens.  You'd think by now I'd have my timing down.  Fortunately it's not a long walk.  Tonight is dinner with a Saudi family that starts at 9.30pm.
She has found it a little hot...not surprising given the temps are up around 50 degrees during the day.

I'm not sure how much rest Mum is getting in Riyadh, but she has time to knit....

...and her game playing time on Facebook has not suffered at all.

Ka Kite,

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Enjoy Friday Weekend Brunch At Faisaliah

Faisaliah Brunch - Tapa's Bar
Every one should go to the Faisaliah Hotel Friday Brunch.  It is O for Orsome!  Four of the best dining restaurants from this Rosewood Hotel come together each week from noon to four and present food that is just Deee-lish!

Here's a few photo's of our visit....
The Tapa's Bar was my favourite...I went back a few times. 

The glass of red is GRAPE JUICE. Bottomless glass, quite tasty beverage.  Poured with a smile....

There are not a lot of places that do sushi in Riyadh.  Hubby thinks the crew at Faisaliah are the best.

OK, so I admit I came back to the sushi station a couple of time as well.

Peking Duck
 I tried to get this guy to smile...maybe next time.  He was busy and the result...very tasty.

Seafood Station
 Seafood is my kind of dish, so this station got repeat visits as well.

Asian Noodles
Glenn says the Asian Noodles were absolutely fantastic.  I'll have to believe him because by the time I rocked up to this station, I was chocker full...and wanted to squeeze in dessert.

A taste of India
On t he way to dessert the range of food continues.

Booking is not essential thought recommended.   But I encourage you, do not go to Faisaliah Friday Brunch if you are not hungry!

Ka Kite,

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Arrested for Driving

According to recent news reports, five women in Jeddah have been arrested for driving.  Once they, and their male guardians, signed documents stating they will never attempt to drive in KSA again they were released.  I wonder what would have happened if they had not signed the documentation?
A fairly long languish in jail for....what? 

The King himself has said women driving is not a religious or legal issue but a social one, so how long can one be kept captive for making a few people unhappy?

And if there is no legal law that says that women can not drive, which there aren't and, I gather there never can be because back in the day women used to 'drive' the available transport (ie camels), how binding is any piece of paper you sign that says you will not drive again if you have broken no law.

There's an arguement that women cannot drive because they do not have a Saudi drivers license, which they are not able to get because Driving Schools can't or won't, accept women.  If there is no law prohibiting women from driving, are these schools acting illegally?

I believe all the women who have been driving in response to the recent Woman Can Drive campaign  hold international driver licences, which a driver is within their right to use in this country for up to three months, after which time they should get a local license.  So, in theory, a woman with a recent International license should be able to drive for three months at least, can't they?

Although the legal age for obtaining a license in Saudi is 16 years, I understand boys under this age often drive here without being detained for no license and they are able to do so partly because that's just the way life is in Saudi, but also (apparently) under the guardianship rules.

Which brings me to my final query...

Saudi's guardian system has a basis in Islamic religion (so I've been told), though Saudi has given it a special Saudi twist.

Basically, all Saudi women (actually all women) must have a male guardian.  These being fathers, husbands, brothers or uncles depending on your situation...ie single, married, divorced, widowed, orphaned etc.

Women require 'permission' from their guardians to do almost anything - open bank accounts, travel, enrol for education courses, work....anthing.  I know ladies who are not to leave their homes unless the whole episode is pre-planned with details such as when, why, to where, with whom and expected time of return - and this to go the mall or coffee with friends.  Then they have to co-ordinate between husbands, fathers or brothers, to see who has an available vehicle and spare time, to run them on their errands at their intended destination and picked up again.  Women getting out of the house in this country is not, in many cases, a spur of the moment thing.

Women are expected to adhere to a guardians directive - after all, he knows best.

What does this have to do with driving? 

When Manal al Sharif was detained for driving some weeks back her brother, an acceptable guardian, was in the passenger seat. 

Here is my query? 
If your guardian has given you permission to drive and he is sitting in the car with you how can the Promoters of All Things Good and Preventers of All Things Bad call for your detention?   You (the woman) have not contravened a legal law and he (the guardian) is within his religious rights to allow, or direct, you to drive.

The Powers That Be said she was detained for driving without a license.

Which has more clout, the legal law or the religious rule?  I have gathered since moving here that religious rule supercedes legal law.  Therefore in Manals situation, the legal requirement for having a licence should have been negated by the religous position that a woman  is expected to act in accordance with a guardians instruction, shouldn't it?

So, if driving with your guardians permission does not contravene religious rule and negates the weak legal licence issue, what right do the police, the PVPV, or in fact anyone, have to intervene.

More importantly, what right does the PVPV have to make the guardian sign documents if he has definitely not broken any laws and is also acting well within the bounds of religious rules.  In fact, in making a guardian who has given a woman permssion to drive (and especially if he is in the car with her) sign documents aren't they (the PvPv) undermining his role as guardian?   Are Saudi men happy knowing their rights can so easily be eroded?

And if the Powers That Be start undermining the guardians role are they not then in effect stating that the whole basis for the guardian system is shaky wrong faulty needs re-thinking?

These are questions I have asked myself over the past few weeks that the driving issue has been at the forefront of newspapers...I still don't have sufficient answers.  Everything keeps going round and round.

Not that I have to have answers, being only a visitor to this country, but I'm sure the ladies who keep getting arrested for driving would like to know exactly why it is they keep getting arrested, don't you think?

Ka Kite,

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