Friday, 30 March 2012

Be Careful What You Say In KSA

Be careful what you say in KSA.
A slip of the lip can land you in deep, ummmm, kaka (Kiwi word for trouble).

There are some definite no-go areas of discussion that get people from the region all hot and bothered under the collar, particularly if you're being less than complimentary.  So don't dis:
  • the religion  - not even if you think you're being constructive
  • Prophet Muhummed
  • Allah
  • the King or his 2.I.C
  • any one else of lofty lineage
  • Bearded Ones
  • locals in general or the local modus operandi (a.k.a. their own quirky way of doing things)
Those are the most obvious no-go areas for critical discussion.  There are, however, other topics that could have you in hot water.  Topics we westerners wouldn't give a second thought to.  What are those topics? 

It's Story Time

Here's a story:
    One day a western man was called into the bosses office.  He wasn't sure why he was summoned, but wasn't concerned at all.  Perhaps the boss was going to congratulate him on the fine job he'd been doing since his arrival.
    He settles into the chair across the desk and they pass pleasantries.  Then the boss clears his throat. We've had a complaint.  You were heard using inappropriate language. 
     The Western Man is somewhat taken back.  He's a fine upstanding gentlemen who abhors profanity.  A complaint ? For inappropriate language?  Can I ask what it is I am supposed to have said.
    You were heard saying 'Dance'. 
    ' Dance'? repeats the western man. 
     Yes, that's right. 
    After some discussion and a promise not to use such a terrible word again while explaining to students the difference in accents between Kiwi's and Australians, the western gentleman returned to his office shaking his head in disbelief.

Here's another story:
    The teacher waited for her students to settle into class.  Today there was a listening exercise and she wanted to explain the vocabulary and the process.  Once she had dealt with questions and was sure the students were ready, she directed them to begin.  After the class, the teacher was pleased.  The students responded well to the listening exercise.  She went to the staffroom to tell her peers.  On the way she was stopped by the head of the school.
    I need to see you.  Come into my office, says the head.
    Is there a problem? asks the teacher, somewhat nervous given the tone of the request for her attendance.
    There has been a complaint of inappropriate activity in your class. The teacher is shocked. Inappropriate behaviour.  I don't understand.  All my students are very well behaved and you know I teach with attention to the highest standards.  What is the basis of the complaint? asks the teacher. 
     You were playing music in class. 
      Playing music in class?  The teacher is confused. 
      Yes, that's right, replies the head.
    After some discussion the source of the music was confirmed to be the trill in the listening exercises that indicate the beginning of different sections.  The teacher promises never to use listening exercises without such abominable sounds contained within their recordings again!
Westerners, on hearing these stories (which are true stories) wonder if there is a comprehensive list of culturally sensitive things they can and cannot do or say at their places of work.  Such a list is still forthcoming. 

Given words like dance and trilly sounds in listening exercises are off the list of 'acceptable' in Saudi, I do wonder how topics like 'reproductive activity that ideally takes place in marital relationships (for Saudi women, that is) and results in making babies is covered. 

And in case you're thinking that topics covering our fabulous human anatomy and it's response to exciting stimulation will obviously be discussed at university level where use of words and illustrations much more intimate than  'dance' and trilly sounds will be acceptable, think again.  Both the above stories happened in universities!

The moral of this story - definitely be careful what you say in KSA.

Ka Kite,

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Tamr a.k.a Dates

Tamr, a.k.a Dates, was a spit word in my NZ vocabulary. Ewww!, ARrhhhh!, Yuuuuk! were sounds that generally accompanied answers to 'Want some dates?'

Dates cannot be avoided if you intend to socialise with the locals in KSA.  Dates are part and parcel of the meet and greet experience, along with qahwah (Arabic coffee), sweets and tea.

Not to be rude, I did accept a date when offered on my very first visit to a Saudi home (and you can read about that in Visit to a Saudi Home) though I was a little apprehensive.  When I first saw the brown wrinkled mass in the serving dish I had to ask, 'What is that?'  I cringed inwardly at the word 'Dates'.  A nibble was, I convinced myself at sight of the plate on the table loaded with the fruit, all I could handle then I'd have to politely dispose of the remains.

But the dates in KSA are a heck of a lot nicer than the product imported into the homelands.  Hardly suprising as dates are considered a staple in the region and numerous varieties of are grown here.     My friends often give me dates,  fresh from the family farm, and if I don't get round to eating them myself, they make excellent gifts for the folks back home who are surprised at how nice they are.

Dates at Janadriyah
I have, in fact, come to quite like dates.  There are three ways I prefer them best.  Sun-ripend soft is much better than the hard woody, not fully ripe date. 

Mamool is also a nice way to have dates.  One of my friends makes her own mamool that I'm happy to scoff when I visit.

My most favourite is date paste softened with a little butter and milk, formed into squares and covered in coconut or cocoa or fine biscuit crumbs.  That is Yumbo!

Tamriin made for me by my friends mother. Yumbo!
Eventually, everyone who moves to Saudi Arabia figures out their favourite way to enjoy Tamr a.k.a Dates.

Ka Kite,

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

We Found Aiin Heet Cave

We found Aiin Heet cave, also known as Dahl Heet according to website searches undertaken many moons ago in my quest for 'something to do in Riyadh'.

Our second attempt at finding the cave, because we had failed in our first search (and you can read all about that in 'Search For a Cave'), was a last minute thing which is why we engaged Mr Noor and his taxi instead of forking out rent money on the trusty Yukon.

Once again we enjoyed the dusty industrial view along the Riyadh - Al Kharj highway toward Heet.  This time, after a bit more time on Google, I had garnered a clearer map of the caves location.
Ain Heet Cave is very easy to find with a map.  Part of the drive requires a little off-roading, but nothing too strenuous - unless you're a taxi driver not wanting to ding your car.

We followed a track in the dust that took us up the rise toward the remains of a building.  At this point, the track heads down toward a massive rock face that looks as though it could, at any moment, collapse into the opening at it's base.  One can imagine driving into an abyss.

The taxi was parked and the Ain Heet hole assessed.  Hubster was doubtful.  Mr Noor was off like a fox, skipping and jumping his way down, every now and then stopping to make owl noises that echoed round the cliff face.  Hubster looked at me thinking, as I was, that any moment a huge boulder from above was going to break loose and bury someone.

Our descent was somewhat slower than that of our ever reliable taxi driver and, every now and then, Hubster would say, 'Are you sure there's water down here?  It's just rocks, there's no cave, there can't be'.  He repeated the same to Mr Noor once he caught up with him for a 'man-time' assessment of our situation.

Man-time assessment of descent into Ain Heet
Mr Noor, however, was willing to believe I might be right.   He encouraged Hubster on regardless of the ever present thought, that Hubster frequently mentioned throughout our visit, of a rock fall and our absolute inability to survive it.

Soon, there was a cry - 'It's flatter down here!'  The boulder clad decline had hidden the cavern that opens up after passing under the lip of the mountain hovering overhead.

Man-time assessment of cavern beneath the mountain.
The men-folk had torches and were exploring the cavern.  Then came the call I was hoping for, 'Hey, there's water down here!  I rattled my dags (Kiwi lingo for got a move on) and sure enough there, in a far-corner of the cavern, was a still and muck covered, mini-lake.

The water.
Hubster was impressed there was water in Ain Heet, though less impressed with the condtion of it.  'This is what we came here for?' he says.

'No, there's another chamber.  We have to find another chamber'.

'Another one,' says Mr Noor.  And off he goes with torch in hand and Hubster in dubious pursuit.  Honestly, that man should learn to be more trusting!

There is muffled conversation from the other end of the cavern.  Having finally captured a reasonable, though not fabulous, photo of the mini-lake, I clamber my way toward the muffle.

Hubster is on hands and knees peering into a man-hole sized gap created by two flat overlapping, plates of rock.  Mr Noor's voice can be heard rising and falling, in obvious prayer, from within.  Say's Hubster, 'Are you praying you can get back out of there Noor?'  There is no response.

'Wait here', Hubster says as I approach, and he spins around and slip, slides down a rope into the hole.  A rope?  Where the heck did that come from?  Anchored into the rock slab and disappearing into the hole currently containing my two companions is a taut, nylon rope.  The anchor point is eyed, just for a second, with doubt about it's strength and stability.

Curiousity, the fact that the rope didn't break when Hubster used it and hearing echoed voices call to each other underneath a mountain of rock meant the instruction to 'Wait There' for no good reason was ignored.  I head into the cavity.

The drop down isn't difficult.  At the bottom are the boys and rest of the lake.

The lake
Whoa!  Cool!  Excellent! - just a view exclamations that come to mind about Ain Heet cave.

Mr Noor was balanced atop the tip of two rocks peeking above the murky, and litter strewn, water.  Having heard, numerous times on this tiki tour, my ascertion that people have scuba dived this cave, he was looking for the watery passage underneath the mountain.

Flashes on camera's are wonderful things.  They make it seem the world underneath the mountain is full of light.  Trust me, it's not!

We spent a bit of time contemplating the formation of this place, it's condition, historical water levels (as mentioned on websites about Ain Heet Cave), what might be worth seeing with diving gear and a good light, and how keen (or crazy) you have to be to haul scuba gear all the way down here.  Mid musing I asked Noor - 'Did you turn off your taxi?'  For some reason the quiet that surrounded us while each were engaged in our own thoughts made me think of the still running taxi.

Mr Noor dissappeared quick smart, guided by the graffiti on the wall.

Hubster and I took a more leisurely approach to exiting the cave.  Once we'd scrambled back up the rocky man-hole, we viewed the sky above through the laughing lips of the mountain and realised it's a bloody long way back to the top!

Mr Noor was collapsed in the taxi when Hubster got there, completely exhausted.  He had run back up the hill because the taxi had been left running with the keys in and all doors unlocked.  'Crickey's Noor,' says Hubster, 'someone could've taken our lunch!'

The boot was duly unpacked and a picnic lunch of dates, cheeses, tuna salad and green tea was served helping us all to recover from a tiring, yet exhilirating morning. 

Picnic and relaxing next to Ain Heet

Map and Co-ordinates for Ain Heet Cave

Tomorrow the body would regret the activity, my hamstrings had started complaining on the return climb.   But thoughts of stiff muscles were forgotten on a picnic rug with tea in hand, neath a mountain face at the edge of Ain Heet.

*Update:  We returned to Ain Heet Cave some months later.  Read about the fun we had Swimming in Ain Heet Cave.

Ka Kite,

Friday, 16 March 2012

In Search of a Cave Near Riyadh

One day, we went in search of a cave, just outside Riyadh.

While surfing the net two years ago for 'Things to do in Riyadh' I came across mention of the cave.  What was most enthralling about the piece was the idea of scuba diving in the cave.  That was two years ago.  This winter, it was time to go find the cave.

Talking Hubster into this little adventure wasn't easy, mostly because he was doubtful such a thing could be done.  'Trust me', I said.

The Yukon was hired, a map with sketchy details was printed and off we set.

We discovered, on this jaunt, that the highway through the Industrial Center comes to a rapid and joltingly rough end if you miss the turn off to the Al Kharj Highway - a definite possibility if you don't read the red sign in Arabic that I'm presuming says,  "ROAD ENDS".

At least three vehicles ahead of us didn't, or couldn't, read the sign either, because they found the end of the road before we did.  I did wonder what the "'TAT, TAT, TAT, THAAT, TAT" sound was ahead of us until our Yukon hit the king sized Botts Dots spread out over the road.   Re-positioning in the seat was required because The End had been hit at rather high speeds.  A quick U-turn later and we were back on track keeping an eye out for Al Heet, reputed location of the cave.  It wasn't that far away.

Take the off-ramp and turn left. 

'Where next' says Hubby.
'Weeellll, hmmmm. It looks like we go straight ahead'.
Hubster gave me that, 'you have no idea', look.
I gave him my, 'is that a problem', eyebrow raised over my sunglasses gaze.

He sighed.
We went straight ahead.
We drove around.
We found a village.
We came back out and drove around some more.
We found a rubbish tip.
We found a cricket ground (read about that on this blog Know your cricket in KSA)
We found a railway line and some goats.

We went back to the main turn off and headed south.
We took a road that headed toward the hills because the cave, said my Google search, is located at the foot of the hills.

We didn't find a cave.

We did find a nice tree to sit under while we contemplated the cave location.  Our picnic lunch, Arabic rug, fold up chairs and thermos were unpacked from the vehicle, for what is contemplation without sustainence?

Another vehicle drives up to our tree. 
'Can we join you'? hails the male at the wheel.
'Sure you can', we say.

So we spent the rest of the afternoon with a lovely family from Palestine.  They had never heard of a cave here. The husband spoke good English.  My Arabic was called into play so his wife, kids and I could communicate in a combination of Pigeon English-Arabic.  After all this time and effort my Arabic language skills are still relatively dismal. 

The kids had brought a bike and were sent in search of firewood, which they towed along behind the bike.  Or carried on the handlebars.


It was nice having lunch in the desert, near a tree, beside a fire with kids laughter ringing out.  The cave, we decided, could wait.  Meeting new friends is a pleasant way to while away the hours.

As the sun was reaching into the late afternoon we had to pack up our picnic and head back to a prior appointment, but the Cave of Ain Heet, I promised Hubster, was not going to beat us.

Hubster was not very interested.  He was feeling a little unwell, he said.  Considering how quickly he went downhill, me thinks he was understating his condition.  He got worse on the drive home.  So bad in fact that he was turning very pale and shaking while gripping the wheel.  Every now and then he'd stop and rest his head on the steering wheel and look like he was about to clap out.

Numerous times I said, 'Let me drive'.
'No, I'll be ok,  I'll get home.  Just tell me which way to go cos I can't read the signs'.
Well, that's comforting to know!

He was also  having difficulty making out the distance between us and the cars in front and had to be told to brake and when to move forward.  Our pace, as you can imagine, was rather slow.

'Let Me Drive!'
'I have my disguise'  (You have a disguise, Gae? Yes, of course!  What expat woman who likes to drive in Saudi doesn't have one?)

In my bag are a range of fake moustaches which are, as yet, untested in a 'meet the police' situation.

Some friends find them hysterical.  One thinks use of such subterfuge tactics will only land me in serious trouble.

If I ever do use them, which to date hasn't been required because with the sunny's, a cap and a T-shirt I look like a Filipino driver anyway, putting the thing on straight would be a good plan.

And not laughing!

Hubster, the stubborn buggar, would not relinquish the wheel.  (It is possible the idea of my using the disguise disturbs him).

It is probably just as well we didn't find the cave this day.  Being stuck in a cave with a stubborn sick husband is not my idea of a good time!  Once home, he headed straight to bed.  Going in search of a cave outside of Riyadh was going to have to wait till another day.

Ka Kite,

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Know Your Cricket in Saudi

It pays to know your cricket in Saudi.  Not because Saudi's play cricket, but because most of the taxi drivers hail from Pakistan.  They know cricket.  The majority (ok, so not having done a survey this statement is pure conjecture) but the majority, I'm sure, stay up with the play on the latest test matches, one dayers and 20/20 games for all cricket teams, not just their local.

Every Pakistani taxi driver I have ever met, because sometimes Mr Noor is not available (especially if he has an aiport run which pays a lot more than my trip across the way and far be it for me to deny him of high paying work.  After all,  we are all here for the money) also knows New Zealand cricket.

They all have their favourite NZ cricket players.  Stephen Fleming and Daniel Vettori take top pegging.
I've learnt more about New Zealand cricket while living  here in Riyadh than I did back home. 

Of course, if you follow accepted advice and don't talk to the taxi drivers then knowing your cricket isn't required, unless you happen to like cricket.  But, contrary to all good advice, I tend to chat to the taxi drivers.   Where are you from? usually gets the conversation going. (I can now ask that in Arabic and am learning it in Pushtu).

If they don't bring up cricket (which many do once they hear the home country is NZ), I do.  Talking cricket stops them from being so nervous about this woman attempting conversation from the back seat.  Nervous taxi drivers drive like crap. 

One day, while out searching for a cave, we came across a cricket ground.  When I mentioned this to Mr Finland, he laughed.  During the weekend it is not unusual to find groups of men from the Asian continent playing cricket on vacant lots throughout the city - no need for a cricket ground at all.  We even visited a Friday cricket game once. 

But this was a real, fair dinkum (what an Ozzy saying that is) Cricket Ground on the outskirts of Riyadh.

There were, from memory, five pitches altogether.

Each with spectator stands.

The day we pulled up to have a nohi (maori for take a look) at why people were converging on a spot in the middle of nowhere next to a dump, there was a school boy match about to start.  Pakistan v India.

Until we came across this ground and Navid, the lovely gentleman who had a chat with us (or Hubster anyway - I was taking photo's) I had no idea there was week-end school-boy cricket in Riyadh.  It seems such a normal activity.  We have wonderful memories of carting our kids to their weekend sporting events.  It's just a pity that in Saudi Arabia, girls can't play.  I have no doubt they would be just as good as the boys at knowing their cricket in KSA.

We didn't stay to see who won this match.  Our mission that day (which we failed at and had to do again) was to find a cave. 

There is, however, a schoolboy cricket final coming up in the next week or so that we have been invited to attend.  It's a very popular family event, so, once we have the date, we are planning to be there.   It's good to know that cricket is alive and well in Saudi Arabia.

Ka Kite,

Monday, 12 March 2012

Squat Jobs In Saudi

dawrat miiaa nisaa - Ladies convenience

It's amazing how many expat women I've met in KSA who are totally, absolutely, completely averse to squat jobs.  What's a squat job?

These women desperately search each cubicle in public conveniences looking for the 'proper toilet'.  Screwing up their noses in disgust when directed to the available squat dunny. 

What's the issue with squatting to get the job done?  By all accounts you're doing your body a favour adopting this position for evacuative purposes. 

Squatting makes elimation faster and more complete preventing fecal stagnation, a state that contributes to numerous gut issues.  Lots of other internal bodily bits and pieces (nerves, valves and such like) are protected while squatting, and straining -  a common cause of hernia's and prolapses - is greatly reduced.  Not to mention the thighs get a workout.  Our bodies were actually designed to eliminate most efficiently in squat mode.

Admittedly, when you're not used to squatting it takes a bit of practice.  The idea of having to put your hands on the ground for balance while getting into, and out of, position because your thighs and knees aren't accustomed to such movement makes you hope like heck you've got hand sanitiser in your handbag.  Losing your balance or getting cramp while mid movement could land you in...well, it wouldn't be nice

Personally, sqautting on the job suits me just fine, thanks.

Maybe that's cos I'm a country girl.
No proper dunny out back of the farm when you're cuttin gorse! And there's a river nearby for the post-wash should you have forgotten the dunny paper and can't find a sufficiently large leaf.

Gorse on the farm
My only issue with squat jobs in KSA is the state of the dunny on entry and this is where I can empathise with squat averse expats. 

Wet floors can be quite off putting.  Westerners tend to process water on the floor to mean someone (men mainly cos they're the ones that get drunk and swing things around) missed their mark. 

Lack of hooks on the back of doors to hang abayas and bags and, if you're the sort that completely undresses your lower regions prior to getting down to business, your clothes means that, if you're on your own in wet floor situations, you have to hang on to everything while you squat.  Not an easy ask if you're a new squatter.

Once the job is done, lack of dunny paper is an issue expats aren't comfortable with.  Though this can be overcome by always carrying tissue paper, the notice that says "No paper down the toilet, All paper in the bin please", causes some confusion with expats.  Which paper exactly are they talking about?  Not the one I've just used to...well, you know...not the discoloured one currently held gingerly in my fingertips? 

Unless you're country bred and are familiar with the sensitivity of septic tanks, it is difficult for expat city dwellers to comprehend that squat plumbing does not cope well with toilet paper.

In the event of no dunny paper one must rely on available means - either The Hose or The Water Can and The Left Hand.

Hose Heads left lying on the floor, especially in the midst of a pool of water, are eyed with exteme 'OMG, Do I really want to touch that!-ness'.  

The Water Can for the uninitiated is a complete bloody mystery.  How do I get the water from the The Water Can to Point B?  How effective is that method?  How wet will I get?  How fresh is this water?  Do I have to touch myself? Perhaps I'd be better off going home and taking a shower! 

Which brings us to The Left Hand.  It's bizarre how the west talks about sexual freedoms and exploring your body, but many westerners cringe at the thought of properly cleaning their own rear ends after a visit.  Put off, I'm sure, by the visual of crap on their hands and under the fingernails.

The other disconcerting factor about a squat dunny is  the available hole which, to be fair, isn't large.  What if your deposit misses?  This dilemma isn't such an issue if there's a good flush mechanism or plenty of water in the can.  However, it isn't unknown in KSA to come across dunny's where the flush doesn't work, the can is empty and the hose is a flaming dribble that is not going to move mountains.

For this reason we always travel with extra water!

Yes, there are aspects of squat toilets that we expats take issue with and, until the methods and protocols of a squat dunny are learnt, can make many feel uncomfortable.

The longer you live in KSA the more likely it is you will, at some point, be forced to utilise one.  I Googled proper process when it became quite obvious, soon after my arrival here, that squat dunnies in KSA are the norm.  My first experiences with such commodes can be found here

We travel a fair bit in the Kingdom and all mosques outside the city (we look for mosques because they are always open, always have a ladies so Glenn doesn't have to stand guard and always have toilets which tend to be cleaner than those at gas stations) are squats.

Here's a link from Wiki How with some handy tips to help make use of more traditional KSA bathrooms a little bit easier How to Use a Squat Toilet.    Or, if you're a visual learner, this Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures site, How to Use a Squat Toilet, has some graphics to assist.

On a positive note, if you're touring with a group of expats and have no issue regarding squat jobs in the available squat dunny, you get to jump to the head of what can sometimes be a very long queue.

Ka Kite,

Saturday, 10 March 2012

What Taxi Drivers Do On Their Day Off In Riyadh?

Ever wondered what the taxi drivers in Riyadh do on their day off?  When they get a day off that is.  Mr Noor used to take Friday's off till he got married.  Now he has a woman at home to support so it's work, work, work.

What did Mr Noor used to do on his days' off.  He'd participate in the most popular sport in Pakistan - cricket.

One day, Mr Inam, who was our taxi driver of choice while Mr Noor was off gettin' married, took us to join the cousy-bro's on their day off.   Here's a sampling of our afternoon.

This is Big Noor with the bat.  We sometimes use him for a taxi, though he spends more time driving one of our friends.  The horn honking is us, showing our support. 

After each innings there's the post-mortem by the team of experts...

Team of Experts
The bald expert was asked if he'd like to bat.  He declined stating he didn't want to interfere in others enjoyment.  Truth be told, he played cricket once.  Contributed one run.  He's better at the theory of the game. 

Once it was determined this was the team of experts the team members, aka 'we're all related one way or another to your taxi driver', came over to say gidday.

An Uncle


More couins.



Mr Whippy made an appearance for the drinks break. The truck looks a little dusty, but the ice-creams are OK.

Self-portrait - I got an ice-cream too.

A lot of people in Saudi Arabia wouldn't give two hoots how taxi drivers entertain themselves on their day off.  Mr Inam had been threatening to invite us for quite some time.  Me thinks he needed to prep the blokes of our participation - even if it was from a distance.   It was a privilege to be invited along and to meet the whanau and we have been invited back but, given that life here is fairly tough on the taxi fraternity, it doesn't feel right to intrude on the little bit of entertainment they enjoy more than is polite. 

Though I didn't get my hands on a cricket bat because I'm a girl (whatever!) and Hubster was concerned we all could have got in trouble for "fraternising" had I showed the blokes I'm much better at this sport than the balding theorician (yeah right), it was quite an entertaining afternoon chin-waggain with taxi drivers on their day off in Riyadh.

Ka Kite,

Friday, 9 March 2012

Candy Creations After School Activities For Riyadh Youngsters.

Looking for something in Riyadh for your youngsters, especially girls, to do after school?  Try Candy Creations, Kitchen Art, Paper Prettiez, Fun Fashionz and more.

Candy Creations and Kitchen Art is an after school adventure for girls aged 11 to 16.  It's a fantastic activity that teaches young ladies kitchen skills as well as encouraging artistic expression.

Everything the girls require is provided for them.  The sessions are run over 4 weeks and there is something new for them to make at each session. Every week the girls will take home what they've created.

The lovely ladies behind Girly Girlz - Candy Creations and Kitchen Art are mums with daughters of their own and were wondering what activities they could get their girls involved in.  In Riyadh there are plenty of activities for boys of all ages and enough play groups for toddlers, but a serious gap in activities for pre-teen, and upwards, girls.

So, these entreprenuerial mums combined interests and came up with Girly Girlz - Candy Creations, Kitchen Art, Paper Prettiez and more

If your daughter is looking for a fun after school activity in a safe environment with wonderful English speaking instructors then give the ladies at Candy Creations and Kitchen Art a call on 0538476616.

Ka Kite,

Monday, 5 March 2012

Biometrics to register expat women

Today in Saudi Gazette......

Biometrics system to register all expat women RIYADH – The Directorate General for Passports is to start registering all expatriate women on its biometrics system from Saturday, March 31. Col. Badr Bin Muhammad Al-Malik, Director of the Information Affairs Administration and Spokesman of the Directorate General for Passports, said the system will be implemented across the Kingdom. The first stage will begin when expatriate women submit applications for the first issue of a new residence permit (iqama), when transferring sponsorship, changing their profession or replacing a lost iqama. Al-Malik called on employers to visit the fingerprint centers to register the expatriate female employees. They can visit the directorate’s website to see a list of all the centers. A biometrics system includes, but is not limited to, fingerprints, face recognition, retina or iris recognition, palm prints and DNA, according to Wikipedia. Meanwhile according to a circular issued by the authorities, all expatriates living in Saudi Arabia should have machine-readable passports by Nov. 24, 2012, failing which, they may face problems while commuting in and out of the country, the Saudi government has said. – SG/SPA __

Biometrics, for those of you who don't know,  is an identity management and monitoring system.  It's usage will apparently better protect people and countries from identity fraud and terrorism.  Countries utilise it to strengthen security - which basically means keep an eye on people and their movements. 

Biometric systems use various human characteristics to determine identity which includes fingerprinting and face, iris and voice recognition technology.

Saudi Arabia started introducing the system back in 2010 as part of 'getting the country organised'.  At the airport customs there are eye-scanners and fingerprinting pads - neither of which I've had the pleasure to use over the past two years of coming and going.  Not sure why not.  I'm guessing that gear will disappear once the Kingdom has set up Biometric Centers in various locations around the country for all those global adventurers who want to get out of, and back into, the country.  Presumably, with the introduction of machine readable passports all over the globe, Smartgates will start being installed at Saudi international airports fairly soon.  Perhaps when they start the rumoured airport revamps.

The Biometric system is expected to improve services to visa applicants - presumably that includes both exit and entry visas.  Does this mean we will get our entry and exit visa's any faster?  Will we still need entry and exit visas?  Will employers still take passports off employees, even though they aren't supposed to?

Time will tell.

Though Biometrics for visa's may be new to Saudi Arabia, some firms have already introduced biometric fingerprinting as clock in - clock out systems for their employees.  The first company to do this in Saudi did so to ensure the people they paid to work actually arrived at work and stayed at work.    For employees who still insisted on leaving work for hours at a time the company implemented strategies to penalise them, which was mostly docking their pay.

You can imagine that didn't go down well. 

It is reasonable for a company to expect their employees are getting paid to work, but this is Saudi.  It is also commonly accepted that most of this modern Saudi generation (the ones higher up the hierarchy that is) have no idea what a hard days work actually is.  The locals (male particularly) have a reputation of tiring easily - Hubby, who stays at work till 8 or 9pm most work days, tells the story of a local colleague who stayed till 8 pm one evening out of the two years said colleague had been employed at the company, and couldn't come to work the next day cos he was exhausted by his effort.

Is a biometric system at work going to make locals be any more productive? 
I doubt it.

And what affect does form of timekeeping system have on the Saudi women at home.  Women who can't go anywhere unless their men can take a very long lunch, (I've heard one call it his second job lunch), to cart them around.  Either the women have to stay home all day or the family income takes a hit.  It's a safe bet the effect on women or the fabric of Saudi society wasn't taken into consideration when companies introduced a biometric system at work.

The article above focuses on expat women being the first to be biometircally registered. 
I wonder why.

Picture credit:

Friday, 2 March 2012

The Arab Spring

The Arab Spring

One can forget, whilst ensconsed in the comfort of a compound in the relative safety of KSA (because despite its issues Saudi is, at the moment, probably the safest country in the Middle East) that a few short hours away all hell is breaking loose and they've dubbed the uprisings 'The Arab Spring'.

Some graphic imagery from Syria was posted on a friends Facebook Wall.  I watched it. Then debated with myself whether or not to click the share button.

I didn't.  Perhaps I should have. 

Those visions were disturbing.   But then wars, battles and revolutions are not pretty.  I was told not to believe everything coming out of Syria in the media, that there are forces at work to make the uprising there look worse than it is -  but the image on You Tube of a boy with half a face is one that is hard to forget.

There is all sorts of politics and agendas around the The Arab Spring that you can read about on Google.  I just want to know why it is, that for beings of supposedly high intelligence, we humans can be such unkind animals toward each other?

Ka Kite,

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