Monday, 27 August 2012

Desert Walking (Take 2)

In Saudi, desert walking (otherwise known as hashing) is an excellent pass time if you're looking for a pass time in Saudi.  Unless you're averse to summer heat - then perhaps you should consider Mahjong.

Saudi's themselves love to visit the desert but they rarely go walkabout while out there preferring to picnic and chit chat or dune bash their 4WD's.

Expats, on the other hand, tend to get tired of walking on treadmills looking at gym walls and the great, hot outdoors begins to look very inviting for those eager to walk or jog in a change of scenery.  It is possible to head out  into the desert on your own for some desert walking (though that's not highly recommended) or you can have a go at the Saudi version of the Hash House Harriers.   

As with most activities available in the country notice of desert walks is word of mouth.  Asking around your compound should get you connected with a fellow desert walker or two. 

Our dear friend Alan wasn't familiar with desert walking the day he was invited along.  He thought it was a stroll down the road with a stop off at a cafe.   He went a little unprepared - no hat, no water, dressed in nice pants.  Naturally he sweltered and the experience scared him off joining the Riyadh hash ever again. 

If you go prepared it is possible to enjoy yourself.
Once you reach the desert location you have the option of choosing a long or short walk.  The long walk is usually more difficult and tends to tackle the rougher terrain.   The short walks tend to stick to the flat areas providing more time to enjoy the scenery and is good for the unfit, very young or gammy legged.

Running in the desert is also possible but that is only for special people.

Summer is here and the feint hearted will decline a walk in the desert parched by the scorching day but the die hard Saudi expat who loves desert walking with friends will be out hitting the rocky trails.

Ka Kite,

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Dentist in Riyadh

My grandson told me I should go back to my dentist in Riyadh to get my teeth straight like his Dad did.  Aren't kids brutally honest!

Fortunately we have found a dentist that we're quite comfortable with, here in Riyadh.  How did we find her?  Asking around.  Currently, the internet is a notoriously bad place for expats to try and find services in Saudi Arabia as companies here don't yet fully comprehend how effective it is for drumming up business.

Most expats head to forums to find answers to the question, "Who is the best dentist in Riyadh?" Surprisingly, there is a range of answers which bodes well for the number and quality of dental services in the city.

Even with fellow expat recommendations, choosing a health care practitioner is a personal thing and a number of factors contribute to your choice.  Unfortunately, human nature as it is, dentists do not come in a 'one size fits all' box.  If you are looking for a dentist, then, as a starting point, check out this list of dental clinics as recommended to me by fellow expats, though don't take these names as gospel and undertake your own research to assist your decision making.

Of course, all the research in the world cannot replace experience as a good teacher.

I admit to being a little apprehensive about my first visit to a dentist in Saudi.  My fear centered mainly on how good the dentists are in this country.    Dental surgeries, or Murder Houses as we used to call them in my childhood, are scary places at the best of times.  Anxiety over 'Weet Bix' qualifications that exist throughout the Middle East and Saudi doesn't help the fear.  But the pain in my teeth meant I couldn't put my visit off.

Christine who works out of GAMMA Dental was recommended to Hubster when he required dental services for a broken tooth soon after his arrival in Riyadh.   He told me she was a great operator and a lovely lady.  Taking courage from his words, into the dental den I ventured.

Snoozing in the dental chair is not something I've ever done before but, I was so happy with how Christine works that I fell asleep in the chair, mouth wide open and started snoring.  How is that for a recommendation!

Our hygienist, however, does not work for the same dental company as our dentist.  Admittedly she is a friend and fellow Kiwi but she is also a very good at her job, probably because she's passionate about it.   She was telling us the difference between a good hygienist and one not giving you top notch service.  Based on this information it was obvious the dental hygienists I was seeing previously were a bit of a rip off. 

The hygienists I've come across in Riyadh (and ok that amounts to two people) are reliant on the latest technology.  They give a quick whizz around with the scaling machine and they're done.  My preference, now I'm knowledgeable about the work of dental hygienists, is not to pay for 'a quick whizz around.' 

A good dental hygienist will, so I've been told, perform scaling by hand.  The electric or ultrasound scaler is supposed to assist cleaning for best results.  If your hygienist doesn't manual scale when scaling is what is called for, you're not paying for the best professional clean you can get.
To find out how a real hygienist does her job, visit Louise at SIGAL dental corner of Thalatheen and Dabaab St.   

And that is how expats find a dentist, and hygienist  in Riyadh - expat recommendations.  If you have any other recommendations for dentists or hygienists in Riyadh, feel free to let us know.

Ka Kite,

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Hubster Needs Surgery

Hubster needs surgery.
We discovered, while getting ourselves a physical warrant of fitness, that he's not in the best of health.  Hardly surprising given he works constantly and any thoughts of doing all those things one is supposed to do to take care of ones self are just that.  Thoughts.

So he's having his surgery here at home, in NZ.

Two main reasons.  First his issue was diagnosed while back home in NZ for a working holiday, which means I holiday, he works.  His jobs allows him to work remotely for short stints, so instead of being up till the wee small hours in Saudi, he is up till the wee small hours in NZ, tapping away at his computer.  Anyway, he's figured seeing as his health issues were found here, he'll stay and get them sorted.

Second, he just doesn't have enough faith that surgeons in Saudi will do the best possible job. 

This may be unfair, however, one does wonder at the skill level of health operators in Saudi when its leaders obviously have so little faith in the services of their own country they think it best to seek surgery outside the Kingdom.  Of course, said leaders tend to prefer the United States for their health care.
We're happy with the skills in NZ.

Having surgery outside of Riyadh does have it's issues, mainly regarding insurance.  As per the local Saudi employment law Hubsters employer has registered him with their health insurance company of choice.  Though said company has an office in New Zealand they don't process surgery claims so our insurance issues must be dealt with by the Saudi office.

Hubster duly relayed this message to his workplace and one of the secretaries has been attempting to get some action from the Saudi health insurance branch.  The Secretary's efforts have been hampered by two things - Ramadan and Eid.   Basically Saudi has come out of a month of forced slow down (Ramadan) into a holiday (Eid). 

Getting excellent customer service in Saudi can be a stretch at normal times of the year.  Most experienced Saudi expats consider attempting to get anything done during the holidays an exercise in early hairloss.  We were not going to be deterred (Hubsters health status didn't really give us much choice), though that decision did require lots of deep breathing and patience affirmations. 

As the Insurance Office in Saudi were dragging their heels regarding Hubsters health insurance we decided to phone the company HQ in London.  They told us, very nicely I might add after finding out what, if anything, they could do, 'you must deal with this through the Saudi office' though they also said something about 'looking into the problems we were experiencing'.

After more phone calls and emails and, in complete frustration, filling out the complaint form on the Saudi insurance company website with something that could be construed as less than constructive criticism and finally a response arrives with vague wording that leaves us wondering exactly what they mean.

Read one way their response could mean we are in luck and they are prepared to play ball and cover Hubsters surgery upfront.  Read another way and it sounds as though we have to pay for the surgery ourselves and can claim back later.  The only thing they were definite about was to "expect a huge shortfall".  Isn't that comforting.

Fortunately for us the Credit Contral lady at our hospital of choice in NZ has a great deal of experience with overseas insurance and we have worked out a satisfactory arrangement so Hubster will get the surgery he needs.  (He is, in fact, in the recovery room as I type this).

We have learnt numerous lessons from Hubsters Health Saga, first and foremost being look after your health with a balanced work/life ratio.  Not doing so is costly and stressful in the long run and can lead to having bits chopped out that you'd rather not.

And if , like Hubster, you expect your health insurance company in Saudi to be on the ball try your best not to require your urgent surgery over a Saudi holiday.

Ka Kite,

Sunday, 19 August 2012

The Pet Souq in Riyadh

There's a  Pet Souq in Riyadh.
Watching Rosella's winging their way across a blue sky the other day reminded me of it.

Hubster and I went to the Riyadh Pet Souq after much pestering by me.  He wasn't all that keen to go.  Mr Noor had taken him to the Pet Souq three or so years previously to find a talking parrot to keep him company because I wasn't here.  (I'm not sure what that says about me).  The parrot was suggested because Hubster wasn't so keen on the Pakistani taxi fraternity's first idea for easing his loneliness - get a new wife. 

The talking parrots speak Arabic.

Glenn told me stories of baby gorillas in chains at the Pet Souq and powerful animal pee smell rising from the hot animal crap steaming on the ground outside.  I was expecting the worst.

It wasn't that bad.  The Pet Souq has been cleaned up.  Hubster was pleasantly surprised with the effort.

The Pet Souq is south along Al Hair road.  My trusty camera had run out of battery so my trusty phone was called to sneak the photo's.  I'd heard the folks at the pet souq weren't keen on photography - that turned out to be a load of cods wallop (aka - not true).

The Pet Souq is basically a number of shops housed under one roof mostly selling various birds, fish, cats, rabbits and puppies.  Though many of the animals for sale are of the 'take home as a pet' variety I'm fairly certain most of the birds purchased from the Riyadh Pet Souq are destined for the crock pot or the chook house.  Quails, ducks, geese and hens can be found indoors.

Out the back in another area with more birds of various sizes and ages.  Some were so young they were being dropper feed some concoction which we were assured was good for the birds...

...and a couple of long legged baby beauty's were proudly displayed for us that we think were ostriches.

There are a few stalls set up outside the main building selling trinkets, one guy with a few monkeys whose happiness looked questionable (the monkeys, not the guy) given they were squashed into a cage and on sale to this western couple for 600SAR each (we declined)...

Most fascinating were the number of sizable desert lizards.  Given that our forays into the Saudi desert are usually at a rapid vehicular pace or with extremely large groups of expats making lots of noise this would be the only time I would see, or touch, a desert lizard.  They were piled over each other in wire cages and, from memory, were on sale for 25SAR each, destined to be somebody's delectable dinner. 

 There is, so I've heard, a tearoom type facility not far away where the bedouin blokes get together to show off their Master Chef lizard cooking skills.  I'd like to send Hubster along with a camera and an empty stomach.  He isn't so keen.
If you're looking for cheap pets this is where you'll find them.  If you're looking for happy animals receiving the highest quality care - well, perhaps the Pet Souq in Riyadh is not the place to go.

Location of Riyadh's Pet Souq
Riyadh Pet Souq Co-ordinates: 24 35.2’ N; 46 44.6’ E

View Kiwi In Saudi: Tiki Tour in a larger map

Ka Kite,

Friday, 10 August 2012

Flu and Olympics

The flu and Olympics are a perfect combination.

It's great watching the Olympics.
Lots of sport on every single day.  And when live coverage has finished, PRIME shows Olympic highlights.

And I love the slow motion replays.

My favourite sports are swimming and gymnastics though the New Zealand Hockey has been exciting to watch and I'm also enjoying the rowing, diving and Show Jumping.  Well done to the Saudi men and the bronze in their event.

The Saudi women competitors got a mention on the NZ coverage.  I have no idea what the response is back in Saudi but well done ladies!  I'm expecting hot on the heels of their achievements there will be announcements allowing sport in schools for girls - or is that hoping too much?

Anyway, I get to watch all of the action curled up on the couch in between bouts of coughing with my grand-daughter monstering me no matter how often I tell her she'll catch my germs if she doesn't keep her distance.   Being two years old she probably doesn't care.

She has, however, learnt to say 'Jump' each time a horse tackles a horsey hurdle.  And she's disgusted with the horsey fart sounds, probably a result of being in Freuds anal stage.  At this point of her development any questionable sound is wind passing.

She has also learnt to shout "Go Black Sticks, Go!!"  "Go Kiwi Go!"  and simply "Goooooo!!"with as much enthusiasm and volume as her Nana.  It's fabulous how quickly she picks up new words.

Yes I'm enjoying the Olympics regardless of my flu.  Possibly because of it, else I would have to be out and about doing meaningful things - like work.

It occurred to me that living in Saudi my participation in sport, even as a spectator, has taken a bit of a dive.  It has taken this event, and a stint watching my grandson playing his Saturday morning rugby for 5 year olds, to make me realize how much I miss a bit of sport.  There is always Football on the big screen in our coffee shop.  But seriously - football?  That doesn't count!

One of my favourite sports.

Perhaps I'd better get more involved in rugby in Saudi once I get back.  I've been on their e-mail list for a while but haven't quite got to a game.  If anyone else is keen on rugby in Riyadh here's a link to the website Riyadh Rugby.  But first I'd better get over the flu - hopefully just in time for the end of the Olympics.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Medicated at Last!

It took a while but I'm medicated at last!
I also had to leave the country to get my meds.  Here's what happened...

After sending forth Hubster and Mr Noor to every pharmacy in Riyadh and every hospital it was determined there was no carbimozole to be found in the city.  Friends going to Bahrain were asked if they could find something there - but no luck.  Hubsters boss even had Dubai on the search.

My situation was beginning to look grave.  Without meds my metabolism tends to speed itself up which is fab on one hand - I loose weight real fast.  The affect on my heart, however, is kinda scary.  That rather important organ is fooled into thinking I'm running a marathon at record pace and beats rapidly even though I'm sitting down.  One can get quite tired running marathons.

Every now and then my heart must also imagine itself an Olympic high jumper and attempts to leap out of my chest only to whack with a THUD into my ribs.  Not happy with it's failure it will, just prior to its next thudding leap, falter, for just a second, before galloping once more toward its target with yet another great THUD!  I have to appreciate it's persistance - it does this often.

Lying down and deep breathing at this point is highly recommended.
Either that or beta blocker drugs.

Photo credit:

A visit to hospital was required because I had to find something to get my body back under control.  We made an appointment with the resident endocrinologist of the hospital and that afternoon set off to further my mission of finding meds.

Dr Endocrinologist is told the story of disappearing meds.
He nods his head.
I'm not sure he actually grasps the situation.  I wonder if that has something to do with the language issue.  My attempts to learn Arabic lack consistency so using it is pointless.  He speaks English with an accent that requires me to ask, 'Can you repeat that'. 

He also initially speaks directly to Hubster as if I'm not there.  It's a comical three way conversation and it occurs to me that this is what happens when you aren't supposed to look at women.  He asks Hubster a question about me.  Hubster actually turns and asks me.  I reply wondering what the hell Hubster is doing falling in to this pattern of interview.  He repeats the reply to Dr E.

At some point I figure this dynamic is just a bit silly and being treated as non-existant is just grating so cut out the middle man.  Dr E tries hard to remember to swivel his head in my direction in an attempt to include me in further conversation.  Near the end of our appointment he was getting there.

He wants to do tests to find out my situation.
Fair enough.
He didn't want to give me any medication till the results were in.
Huge deflating sigh.  Another night of heart gymnastics.

The process for undertaking said tests in our Saudi hospital of choice was very smooth and cannot be faulted.  Everything was done in one afternoon.  (Not having been to a hospital in Saudi for some time it was nice to see the number of Saudi women currently employed there).

Next morning, bright and early into Dr Endocrinologist we went.
'You're severely hyperthyrroid', he says.
'Yes', I said.  'I know.  Can I have some drugs now?'

Some discussion is undertaken regarding my condition all of which I sit through patiently.
Then he gets down to business.

He looks through his computer.
Oh look, he says, the pharmacy does have carbimazole.
No it doesn't, we respond.
But it says so on the computer
We've already been there and it doesn't.
But it's on the computer.  Why would it be on the computer if they don't have it.
They usually stock it but they have run out, we say.
I'll write you a script because the computer says they must have it.
(Unfortunately the script does not include a beta blocker).

We look at each other.
'Maybe the pharmacy has it in stock only for patients?', we confer to each other.
Hubster heads off to the pharmacy while I look for the nearest comfortable seat.  Being up as long as I have is wearing me out.

Ten minutes later we are back to Dr Endocrinologist.
He is in disbelief.  The medication is on the computer!
We suggest he rings the pharmacy.
He does.

That discussion results in him understanding a number of things.  There is no carbimazole in the hospital pharmacy.  They suggest we try another hospital.  We tell him we've already been there and done that with no luck.  He decides to use an alternative medication and is told by the man at the end of the phone line that the pharmacy doesn't stock the alternative option either.

Hubster is getting tetchy.
Intervention for his blood pressure is required.

Can you give me the name of the medication and I'll ask around other places for it, I say.
We head off with the name written on a piece of paper.  And a script for a beta blocker because there is no way I was leaving without some form of medication!
A few phone calls later our search is rewarded when a fellow Kiwi and friend calls us back.  She works in one of the  hospitals.  Yes she says, the pharmacy has your alternative meds.  Hubster heads off to claim our prize.  I'm exhausted and go home for a lie down.

It turns out I get enough meds to last two weeks.
Though Dr Endocrinologist had written a script he failed to write how much of the stuff I'd need.
Two weeks suited me fine.  I figured if those at the top of the Saudi heirarchy feel it best to leave their country to receive excellent medical care (and one can see why), so am I.

So I'm back in NZ seeing everyone I need to see to get medicated properly and get my health back on track.

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