Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Dust or Sandstorm in Saudi?

Photo credit: Kay
Dust is part and parcel of Saudi life an unwelcome aspect of the weather you learn to live with.  Little sand storms, or dust storms (which is the term I prefer because the air tastes like dust), are fairly common in Saudi covering everything in a thin layer of fine sand particles.  Every now and then though, a real doozy of a dust storm passes through changing the surroundings to an eerie color and sending everyone indoors.

Dust storms seem to arrive out of the blue.  One minute blue sky, next minute orange.  If you're out shopping when a dust storm hits you hope you shut all your windows before leaving the house.   If you're home when a storm arrives, put a draft stopper against your external doors and turn off the air con.

Here's a video of a sand storm that blew in two days ago.

If the sand storm is a doozy you can see it coming, as in this picture of the sand storm that rolled into the city in 2009:

Photo credit: Newsbeat BBC
Here's a picture inside the Riyadh airport in the 2010 storm when someone forgot to shut the windows and left the air con going:

Photo credit: wafagirl.com

Here's what the airport is supposed to look like:

 Here is a video of driving into the dust storm that came a couple of days ago.

Video credit: Jez

It rained after the dust storm the other day, though not enough to wash the dust away.   just enough to make the flowers look bedraggled.

The next day the weather was beautiful, and the maintenance guys went round washing the dust off everything, including the trees and the maids got busy sweeping, mopping and dusting homes from top to bottom.

Ka Kite,

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Graffiti Rock - Saudi Arabian Rock Art

Graffiti Rock is about and hour and a half from Riyadh, just off the road to Jeddah.   According to the information I found, it has samples of Saudi Arabian rock carvings from olden days.  Finding ancient rock art sounded like something to interesting to do so Mr Finland, who likes to join us on our escapades, hired a car and off we set in search of Saudi history.

It felt as though we were embarking on our own Indiana Jones adventure.  Visions of Egyptian style tablets six feet tall carved into rock with messages from the old world kept playing in my mind.  Our map to Graffiti Rock, directions printed onto a crinkled piece of paper, only added to the sense of mystery;

To reach graffiti rock take Makkah Road out of the city.  At the check point set your odometer to zero. At 90km (approx) you'll pass through the town of Jelah.  At 105 km there is an exit to Musayqirah. Take this exit and turn right to find the road ends in about 500 meters.  Follow the trodden track on your left for about 4 kms to the Graffiti rock.
Co-ordinates: N24 18' 58.23", E45° 38' 25.84"

The directions served us well - till we got  to the 'follow the trodden track' bit.  You see, on this particular occasion we didn't take a 4WD into the Saudi desert.  We took this car...

And the track, though firm initially, soon gave way to sand which had quite obviously not been trodden for quite some time.  We could see what we presumed to be Graffiti Rock in the distance.

After much discussion, contemplating driving our car through soft sand, looking at the sand in question,  even driving the car down to the sandy edge to assess the possibility of success, looking again at The Rock, testing our phones to see if there was a signal so we could call someone in case we got stuck, (there wasn't), the boys decided  to throw stones and, well, give up. 

Those two will never make it on an Indiana Jones movie!

One of us, fortunately, was not so easily beaten.  I'd come to find pre-historic Arabian drawings and wasn't ready to go home.  My camera zoomed in on what I was certain was Graffiti Rock.  It zoomed in on the surrounds.  Even though the zoom function on my point and shoot camera isn't that stunning, I could make out shapes.  Shapes that looked liked buildings close to our target.  I reasoned, if these shapes are buildings, there must be a road.

The boys were ready to head for coffee, but agreed to indulge me one last time in my efforts to find something to do in Riyadh (or just out of it) so we got back on the highway and continued along for no more than 3 km.  And there, sure enough, was a partially asphalted, partially graded track heading straight for Graffiti Rock.

I was excited and lept from the car to take pictures.

So, what are we looking for? said the boys
Hieroglyphics, I said.
Right, they said. 

They roamed around the rock looking for drawings, gas bagging all the way - honestly Indi would've got rid of these two early in his treasure hunt I'm sure!

Hieroglyphs, I have since discovered, is a system of writing using figures akin to pictures.  That's what I thought we'd find.   Petroglyphs, otherwise know as rock art,  are pictorial carvings etched into rock.
That's what we found.

It looks like, many years ago, there could have been a lot of art work here, but the knoll has cracked and chunks of rock have  fallen to the ground burying many of the signs of mankind's presence.  The largest block of art was round the other side from where we parked the car.  Climbing was required to get close for pictures. 

There were animal shapes in abundance, some still clear on the rock, others faded from exposure to the elements.  The rock surface was black - have no idea why - and the scratched out images are contrasted against the lighter background.   We tried to identify the types of animals depicted.
That looks like a boar, perhaps?

Ostrich family

Did these images show a true reflection of life in the past on the Arabian Peninsula?  Were there really so many critters roaming this land and, if so, how did they sustain themselves and where were they now?  So many questions to be pondered as we climbed around Graffiti Rock.

See the people with what looks to be a bow and arrow?

Hubster wondered, out loud, what the story was behind the drawings.  The temptation was too strong, so while pointing and gesturing at the rock I told him:
    There were some young fullas who were left behind to care for all the animals while the rest of the village went to visit whanau over the valley.   While out fooling around, herds of animals came racing through the area, knocking one of the boys over and scaring the living daylights out of the other.  What could have caused the animals to be so frightened?  A never before seen enemy was out destroying everything and had scared the animals causing a stampede.
Really, says Glenn.  Who told you that?
The smile wouldn't stop twitching at my lips....Ummm, I made it up.

After teasing him for believing I knew anything about the pictures, it was time to climb to the top of the rock and see what else we could find.  The view was empty for miles.

Sitting atop the isolated bit of rock we did wonder what the place used to look like full of animals and vegetation. What happened to change the environment so drastically. And why this little piece of rock survived. 

It was time to go.  The boys had had enough.  They were somewhat underwhelmed by what was here.  Some people are hard to please.  They would have come to a deserved end in an Indi move I'm sure. 

Their experience today might have been different if we knew the history of these carvings - their age, who drew them, why, if there was a story attached what was it.  Lots of questions to which I now have to go in search of answers.

Personally, I think it's intriguing knowing that human kind has been around in Saudi Arabia for quite some time and that, even way back then, a medium was sought, through rock art  to record events on Graffiti Rock.

Ka Kite,

Monday, 20 February 2012

We Must Leave Our Abaya's On When Dining

Not so long ago, whilst settling into a dining cubicle to eat, we got told we must leave our abaya's on, even if we shut the cubicle curtains to ensure privacy.

We were ladies three, the gentleman informing us of the rules was not a local Arab. 
He was very apologetic.

The rational presented by this gentleman had little to do with his belief in the culture nor religion.  Apparently the Bearded Ones have been frequenting the place and he was concerned what would happen should they come back while we were so fully clothed, yet bare.

A recent e-mail doing the rounds indicates it is now possible for Bearded Ones to peek behind the drawn curtains at eateies to check on the patrons.  How is this possible when gender mixing is not allowed and eye aversion is encouraged?

It seems The Powers That Be have been chewing over this issue and are apparently going to deploy civilian men and women to support the Hai'a.  

Someone must have figured out it's not good PR for male BO's to be swooping on Family Sections and the women within them they are highly likely not related to.  It smacks of 'do as I say, not as I do', hence the rational to utilise females for the job.

If Saudi does deploy/hire women as religious enforcers I'm going to have to find another name for the BO's because Female Bearded One just isn't nice, though the acronym F-BO has a 'truth and justice' ring to it, don't you think?

Photo credit: www.theparisreview.org;

Women as PVPV assistants is bound to come with its own logistical issues I'm sure, but I have just one query.

There have been instances when young men have dressed in the black garb to infiltrate women only areas or to meet a young lady for coffee and a chat.  Could an F-BO order another veiled being to unveil if she suspects the voice hailing from beneath the niqab sounds a little deep and manly, even if the owner of The Voice argues she has laringitis? 

I'm no expert but, I gather if a woman chooses to stay covered, she can and there's not a darn thing anyone can do about it. 

This article about a man who had never seen his wifes' face, highlights the fact there are women who never remove their veil for anybody, not even their children. 

It might actually be fun being a Female Promoter of Things Good and Preventer of Things Bad.  It get's you out of the house and you'll have opportunity to meet loads of people whilst peeking.  Though there has been no mention of remuneration I presume there is, if not a pay scale, some form of reward for participation.  One hopes their training will cover the ability to converse civilly and the concept that a kind, smiling approach tends to get better results.

Regardless of the training these women may receive and their role in the establishment,  it is annoying that, should the cubicle curtains be closed for privacy, my friends and I are not, apparently, allowed to relax behind them any way we choose.

Ka Kite,

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Silent Thinking In Saudi Arabia

A recent event has caused some silent thinking and discussion in hushed tones in Saudi Arabia.
A young man expressed a thought, or three, out loud, or rather in writing, on Twitter.
Thoughts that, at their essence, show a young man who admires his prophet but at the same time is searching for the answers to questions.  The sort of questions that people ask about faith - who am I, why am I, what is the reason behind the things I am to believe.

The result of his thoughts, sent into cyber space in increments of 140 characters?  Bloodlust.

Not love, not compassion, not even an attempt to ask what may be happening in a young mans life that he feels the way he does.  Certainly no-one who responded to his tweets ventured to provide him with the answers he seeks.  No-one offering to guide him back to the correct path.  Not that he's fallen off the path, he's just stopped to say, "Why? I don't understand".

The response from the majority of The Knowledgeable and a large proportion of the masses for honestly, candidly (and in hindsight, perhaps foolishly) expressing his thoughts is that he should be punished with death.

As I sift through the information available, the voices of reason are hard to find. Why are they so quiet? Perhaps they are waiting for the initial uproar to die down before giving a considered response.  One hopes it is not because of fear of expressing an opinion, though quite obviously a warning precedent has been set.

Silently I ponder, 'Is this my concern?'  This is not my country, this is not my religion'.  But I live in this world.  A world that internet, telecommunications, satelite TV and air flight has made extremely small.  So cries of the indignant are coming not just from this Arabian peninsular, but from Muslims resident around the globe.

If The Powers That Be had taken this tweet and responded in reasonable manner, the most obvious being to send an Imam to talk with the young man in question offering something along the lines of pastoral care, the rest of the world would not now be looking, once again, at the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Islam in a negative light. 

And a young man would not now be facing a possible execution which, by all media accounts, is what most Saudi clerics prefer.  They want to make an example of Hamza ensuring he is tried to the fullest extent of Saudi Islamic law for apostasy.

If an example is required, then why not make a positive one.  Islam is love and forgiveness.  We are always being told this.  Google 'MuHammed and forgiveness' and you'll get about 3,110,000 results (0.11 seconds).   Google 'Allah and forgiveness' and over 5 million results are found in 0.25 seconds.

Here is a chance for the clerics responsible for guiding believers, and who themselves use and monitor social forums like Twitter and Facebook, to show their understanding of the concept of forgiveness.  And the idea that only Allah can, and will, judge a man on his judgement day.

But until a decision is made, we within Saudi Arabia, all wait, holding our breath, thinking in silent or hushed contemplation.

Ka Kite,

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Riyadh's Getting Organised.

Riyadh's getting organised.  A little while back I blogged that Riyahd is no longer a mystery because Google has updated its maps of the city and, more importantly, driving directions which should make it easier for residents to navigate Riyadh.

While out walking yesterday I noticed these on the walls that surround the homes in my neighbourhood:

They are address plates.  They have what I presume is the house or building number, the street name and the area name in both English and Arabic. 

It did cross my mind that posties would find this useful and then I remembered there are no posties in Riyadh.  In fact, for most homes there are no letter boxes.  The majority of Saudi's, so my friends tell me, have postal boxes at the post office and I gather that part of a man's daily activities is to clear the post box.

Why can't women clear the post box? Women can and I've spotted a few women collecting the mail on my jaunts to the post office to send postcards to the grandchildren but, as only men can drive, getting to the post office is easier for them, hence mail collection is largely their domain.

Other factors contributing to mail collection being a Man task could be the design of Mail Box lobbies with typicaly narrow aisles and restricted space where Man in close proximity to Woman would be frowned on.

Plus, Woman may ask Man too many questions about the mail if she were to collect it.   Who is it from? What's it about?  In this part of the world where Man is the provider and maintainer of Woman important matters that arrive in the mail are none of her business unless Man determines they should be.

As there is no postie service I did wonder why the Powers That Be have created address plates.  Perhaps there is going to be a postal service.   Perhaps there's a new dating service that wants to make it easy for fair maidens to give their addresses to eligible bachelors.  

Or perhaps the Ambulance service has decided it's time to implement a more effective way of improving response times instead of relying on people in crisis being able to describe their location accurately. 

Red Crescent, Saudi's Ambulance Service.
To give you an idea of exactly how one should describe their location, here is how the local courier service, until very recently, required addresses on parcels. 

TO: Mr So n So
Ahmed ibn Fahad St
Down The Way District
Directions - 500 metres down Abdul ibn Abdulla ibn Salman road there will be a shoe store, turn right and keep going till the green mosque then take a U-Turn. The house is third past the mini-mart, with the green gate.

You may think this is a joke.  Trust me, and Hubsters secretary, Sir Lord Rizaldo who often sends out courier parcels, it is not.  Hubster was tasked with addressing a parcel once, he refuses to do it again. 

The parcel will highly likely not be accepted by the courier company if the phone number of the receiver is not included with the instructions.  Company's ring the intended recipient prior to loading the parcel in the van to ensure someone will be home to accept delivery.  They ring again when outside the address, or near to it, to ensure they are in the right location because it is highly likely the house is fifth from the corner and the once green gate is brown from dust.

As it is not common practice for delivery men to knock on the front door with a cheery, "Gidday, Here's your parcle Mr So n So, please sign here", the call also requests that whoever is waiting for the parcel comes out and gets it.

We use DHL.
Address plates will undoubtedly make delivery and emergency service roles ever so much easier.  I'm guessing internet shopping will experience a major hike now that people can put real addresses on their purchases.

After realising, on my walk yesterday, that address plates were on the wall outside every home in the streets traversed, I was in two minds whether or not I like the latest developments to get Riyadh organised and, well, just like the rest of the world.

Sure, finding your way around the city can be a little exciting, or frustrating depending on your point of view, particularly if you are not in the habit of navigating via landmarks and counting streets which is how locals find their way around.

Signs with street names have only recently (in the last two years or so) made an appearance in Riyadh so people aren't in the habit of using them.  Hubster had no idea what the board with arabic script was that turned up on our street, so we asked Mr Noor and sure enough our street had a name!  Even so, we still tell people to turn right before the bank. 

That kind of navigation is one of the things that makes Riyadh so quirky, so different and interesting and so... Saudi.  One hopes that 'Saudiness' won't be lost lost while Riyadh's getting organised.

Ka Kite,

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Cafe Bateel

My latest favourite cafe in the city is Cafe Bateel.

For quite some time I have been rueing the fact that, on weekend mornings when Hubster and I would go on the prowl for brunch, it was impossible to find eggs benedict, mushrooms on toast or, my favourite, toasted banana bread.  

Then one day Cafe Bateel opened their doors and on the menu the weekend breakfast we've have been missing.  Well, the eggs benedict anyway.

It's not that I don't appreciate an oriental breakfast of foul, labneh and cheeses.  It's just that our weekend cafe habit kicked in some 15 odd years ago, so changing our eating habits and tastes is going to take longer than the two short years I've been in the Saudi Arabia. 

Cafe Bateel has chocolates and dates and lovely nibbly things in pretty packaging that you can purchase downstairs, though I'm guessing come Feb 14 if the Bearded Ones go on their annual prowl for anything that might resemble Love, Affection or Tenderness those same boxes will be out in the back room, under a dusty tarp.

There is a downstairs eating area that caters to the accepted booth set-up but it hasn't as much natural light, so I head for the upstairs which is open plan and decorated in olive and wood colours. 

Apart from eggs benedict, which is very nice, my other fav dish is the antipasto.  I know only three places in close proximity to my home that do a decent antipasto or roast vegetable salad and Cafe Bateel is one of them.

The desserts are on display by the kitchen.  My goal is to work my way through each one, eventually.


And the staff are very friendly, perfectly happy to pose for photo's.

I'll have to go back again to retake this photo of the morning crew.  Not that I need that as an excuse to go back to Cafe Bateel.  The quality food, nice surrounds and pleasant people are reason enough.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Camel Beauty Festival in Saudi Arabia

Did you know there is such a thing as a camel beauty festival in Saudi Arabia?  There is and I went...along with two bus loads of other expats.  Haya Tours organised the trip which saw us travel three hours out of Riyadh to Um Ragbah (spelling debatable) to learn all about the beauty of camels.

The Camel Beauty Festival, a huge event in this part of the world, lasts a month and attracts a tent city of 30,000 men - competitors, organisers, camel herders, camel experts, camel carers, camel buyers and sellers and all manner of people required to keep every human (because the camels were already taken care of) fed, watered and warm.

This is the first time tourists of the western expat variety had attended the annual camel festival in Saudi and we were made a bit of a fuss over with TV interviews and the like.  While we were taking pictures of the festival, others were taking pictures of us.

Haya Tours did an excellent job of organising the trip and many thanks to the camel beauty festival organisers for allowing us to be present and for taking such good care of us.  Saudi hospitality is quite fabulous and expats who haven't experienced it ought to get themselves out and about.  If you're a bit nervous about jumping head first into a cross-cultural experience Haya Tours is a good place to start.

On arrival we were heralded into smaller groups and assigned an expert in the field of camel beauty who answered all our wierd and wonderful questions.

Our Q and A man

So, what makes a camel beautiful?   Big head, firm ears, broad cheeks, big whiskers - a good looking complete package which includes, so I was told, juubbly lips.  The juubblier the better.   The neck and body should be long, the hump and the back should be big with the hump tending to lean backwards, not forwards.  Some owners even trim their camels, just a tad to create the illusion of more space between neck and hump.  

Also important are the posture of the camel and the colour.
Camel Beauty Festival...the girls strutting their stuff.

The day we attended white camels were on display in groups of 30, all female barr one male.  Some of those male camels were huge.  It was obvious they were well cared for.  To allow the judges ample time to ponder the groups finer points lead camels often had a tie on their legs to ensure the girls took a more leisurely stroll past the panel of experts.

Other camel groups were paraded in front of the judges led by the 'camel cowboy' usually beating a drum.  Apparently the less drum beats required to control the camels, the better.

Camel Cowboy

The camels were all very well behaved (the thought of a camel stampede did cross my mind the first time they headed our way) so it didn't take us long to get comfortable having ships of the desert passing within close proximity.


Baby camels were driven ahead of some herds, in the back of utes, to keep the parading mothers happy because a mother camel running amuck in search of her young one is not a pleasant prospect.

Camel Mother chasing her babes.

We were told not to worry.  A camels eye magnifies everything it sees which is helpful in the desert when it comes to delicately choosing juicy leaves from among the thorns on the trees.  It also means that we humans look a lot larger than we actually are and it is likely, though not guaranteed, that a camel in a bad mood would think twice about taking us on. 

Although there were seats set up for the judges, they spent most of their time out nearer the action and the passing camels.  

When they did come back to take their seats they were happy to take a little time out to say 'Gidday' and provide we eager tourists with photo opportunities.

Behind the competition area were the waiting competitors and their supporters.  All male, so when a curious femme fatale thought to wander on over to take photo's of the singing and dancing going on back there, she was stopped by the security and redirected back behind the fence. (One has to try, doesn't one.)

The view through the fence
As the morning competitions came to an end we were able to get close up and personal with a camel or two till the camels got tired of the attention and left.

After learning the in outs of a camel beauty contest we were taken to another area for Arabic coffee and sweets.  The men didn't need much encouraging to participate in the men's sword dance, modified this day with what I think were camel canes.


One cannot go to a camel festival without expecting to get a ride on a camel and we were not disappointed.  Fortunately these camels were much better behaved than the critter I rode on when first I came to Saudi.  The Bedouin men in charge of them were not camera shy either, perfectly happy to pose throughout our visit.

Here's a few shots of our lunch break, though for some reason my camera decided to turn itself on to black and white which I didn't notice for quite some time.
The qahwah

The fire out by the tent

The kitchen
The pots
The boys

The tent
The Camel Rides

We had a blast at the Camel Beauty Festival and if you live in Saudi Arabia I suggest you make a point of contacting Salwa at Haya Tours and getting on the next bus trip.
Ka Kite,

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