Sunday, 30 December 2012

Let's Have Stuffed Pigeon For Lunch.


It's not often I get invited to eat stuffed pigeon for lunch. The day the invitation was extended I was slightly hesitant. Exactly which kind of pigeon were we talking about?  In my mind there are only 2 types of pigeons. (I'm sure a pigeon expert could rattle off numerous varieties of pigeons that exist but that doesn't mean My Mind would be any better off for the effort).

Kiwi Wood Pigeon

In New Zealand we have Kereru, the Maori name for our Wood Pigeon, a colorful, berry eating and endangered bird protected under the Wildlife Act. (As a heads up, should your neighbor tell you he has a footless chicken in the freezer he means illegally caught pigeon!).

Pigeons on a local Riyadh farm
The other type of pigeon tends to generate visions of annoying, feral, ledge perching, pooping machines - not an appetizing thought!  

It turns out the latter version is the one on the lunch menu today, though I shouldn't think so negatively about pigeons.  According this website, Deterapigeon, pigeons have been an important part of human existence for centuries, only becoming much maligned in recent times.   Humankind has also been eating pigeons for more than a few years.

Hamam Mahshi, as the dish is locally known, isn't uncommon in these parts. Googling 'Stuffed Pigeon' brings up about 2,440,000 results, in 0.29 seconds, mostly of recipes.  The Apple and Raisin stuffing sounded deliciously sweet while the Roasted Morrocan style filled with couscous made my mouth water.  Apparently, the more traditional method is to stuff the pigeon with Freekah, a cereal used in many dishes throughout the Middle East.

It isn't necessary to chase your pigeon through the park to catch it either.  For the raw materials simply head to the Pet Souq on Riyadh's outskirts and you'll find plenty of caged pigeons for sale, though they are still alive which means someone will have to kill the bird in order for you to stuff it.

If popping off pigeons isn't your thing but you'd still like to tick 'I ate pigeon in Saudi Arabia' off your bucket list, then the Mirage restaurant in Takasussi St is known to have pigeon on the menu.  Our pigeon meal was delivered to our door, wrapped in tin foil.  It was surprisingly nice, though it's easy to see why the bird has to be stuffed.  Without all that extra filling they are rather scrawny!

If you've ever been a pooped on by a pigeon and retribution is in your nature, perhaps this could be payback - put stuffed pigeon on your dinner plate tonight.

Ka Kite,

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

The Great Riyadh Park Search

Having read about the numerous parks and gardens in Riyadh that provide open, green spaces and enjoyment for families, Hubster and I decided to go on 'The Great Riyadh Park Search' to assess the standard of the parks available should an expat want to join the locals as they picnic within the city limits.  A Park List was generated from an internet search and Mr Finland was invited to join us.

Mr Finland was of the opinion that this mission was what expats do in Riyadh when they are desperate for something to do in Riyadh.  Whatever, Mr Finland!!  The trusty Yukon was hired and off we set.

Our first stop, after picking up coffee at Dr Cafe, was Al Maktaba Park.

Al Maktaba Park

Said to be full of waterfalls, gardens, fountains and a clock tower our hopes were high for a park of magnificence and beauty. Cue 'sound of record scratch'.

Al Makataba Park is undergoing reconstruction as is the King Fahad library (maktaba is Arabic for library) behind which it sits.  In fact, the whole block seems to be ear-marked for redevelopment.  The only water found this day was from the irrigation system spraying the newly sown grass.  And, from what I saw, the waterfalls are not rising from the ashes either.

It appears the new park will be aiming for a more academic ambiance, something akin to the hallowed ground of university green spaces; an environment that allows one to consider their reading material surrounded by the serenity of a perfectly manicured lawn with a fountain in the background; a cool green grass escape from the hustle and bustle beyond the park walls.  Given that Maktaba Park sits in the middle of King Fahad Road and Olaya Street creating such an environment could be challenging.  We do look forward to seeing the result of the current make-over.
Al Maktaba Park co-ordinates 24o 41.19’ N; 46o 41.31’ E

Our second stop, after collecting Nachos from Taco Bell - Hubster claimed to be famished, was Olaya Park.

Olaya Park

Olaya Park was described, on our Riyadh Park List, as a 'cool and flowery refuge during the summer months' and an entrance fee would be required to enter.  After parking the vehicle Hubster checked his back pocket for his wallet in preparation for paying our way into the park only to find entry was free.

Off King Fahad Highway, behind the Takasussi Specialist Medical Center, the centerpiece for Olaya Park is a covered fountain that was turned off the day we went.  However, kids were using the space to roller blade and cycle around while others were kicking footballs across. The park provides playgrounds with swings and slides for the youngsters and a small basketball court for the older boys. There was nothing, we noticed, for teenage girls to do except walk around or sit with their elders.

It was early in the afternoon and a number of families were already enjoying sitting on the rather long grass beneath the shade of numerous date palms. We assumed the park doesn't receive regular maintenance, possibly because the expense is no longer covered by the entry fee. The grass was long and fallen dates were squished all over the footpaths along with wads of chewing gum.

This is definitely a local park and the locals were making good use of it with more families arriving as we munched our way through our nachos and finished off our coffee. We noted, though, that most of these did not appear to be Saudi families - not that I'm an expert on identifying Arabic differences, my only indicator is fully covered women or not fully covered women - leading us to assume that this area is a residential hub for Arabs from other countries.  Much as we enjoyed relaxing in Olaya Park we were on a mission, 'The Great Riyadh Park Search, so we continued on to our next destination Prince Fahad Al Faisal Park.

Prince Fahad Al Faisal Park

Buoyed by the relaxed surroundings encountered at our previous stop we were looking forward to what may await us at Prince Fahad Al Faisal Park. It is, apparently, considered one of the oldest parks in the city with plenty of seating beneath shady trees.

Unfortunately, my ability to read anything - instructions, maps or co-ordinates entered into iPhone Apps - completely failed me so we never made it to Prince Fahad Al Faisal Park.  Instead we ended up here...

Of course, not realising for a second that I got everything wrong, we drove off presuming the park we were searching for had been turned into a football ground - and a beautifully kept field it is. Training was in progress when we peeked through the gate from our vehicle. It was only later, when checking the instructions, that I had to admit I butchered that effort. The map below shows how far out our park search was.

Time was ticking and we still had a number of parks left on our Great Riyadh Park Search list. So off we went to find Camel's Eye Park.

Camel's Eye Park

An internet search for 'Things To Do in Riyadh' often brings up Camel’s Eye Park known locally as Jabal Abu Makhrouq. The park has historical significance being known as the hillock from which King Abdul Aziz would survey the land around Riyadh.

According to our information the park is not open to women though men and children are welcome.   We had come in search of the park on a Thursday afternoon, the one day of the week Camels Eye Park is closed.  I guess the men don't actually want to look after the kids on a weekend do they!

Although the park was shut the hillock itself was visible through the fence and one can see why the founder of modern Saudi would stand atop it on the lookout for trouble.  At the time it was probably the highest vantage point for the whole area.

Camel's Eye Park is a lot smaller than I imagined, though it doesn't matter what size it is, mere female that I am, I'll never set foot in it unless men get sick of baby sitting.  All I can do is take photo's from outside using my iPhone because my Point and Shoot camera is in having the dust cleaned out of it.  Co-ordinates to Camel'e Eye Park for those without a map:  24o 40.43’ N; 46o 43.6’ E

The light was beginning to fade so we high-tailed it to our next park - The Chamber Of Commerce Park.

The Chamber of Commerce/Durfa Park.

It took us a little while to figure out that the Chamber of Commerce Park is also Durfa Park.

The Chamber of Commerce Park (in Arabic that's Hadiiqa al-Ghorfat al-tijaaria) is so called because, according to our internet search, the park was set up by the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce.  The information also talks about colored fountains and cycle tracks for the kids.  The fun park we found is closed and has been for some time. However, that didn't stop families  from being out and about enjoying the great outdoors.

The large picnic/car park.
Al Durfa Park is situated next to the Royal Saudi Airbase which is serviced by a huge expansive car park. Apparently the Saudi Airbase used to be the Riyadh International Airport (this tidbit according to a taxi driver who has lived here for 20 odd years).  It is in the parking lot, thoughtfully designed to include lots of planted trees, that families were taking advantage of the cool air and large space to enjoy early evening picnics.  Kids were out and about on bikes for all ages - one was even getting in some motorcycle practice.

The Man Only cricket pitch.
Off to one corner of the car park was an area, which according to Google is called Eid Musalla, being used as a cricket pitch by hundreds of men.

The knoll in front of the Durfa Fun Park itself, was a popular spot.  In fact I would consider this the prime Bar-B-Q location because it provides the only green grass and, if you can ignore the traffic driving by on the road right next to it, affords a bit of a view over the adjoining car park.   At 5pm The Knoll was already crowded with families and their Bar-B-Q's were spilling down the other side of the hillock toward the footpath blackened by Bar-B's of previous summer nights.  The Chamber of Commerce Park and it's happening car park can be found on the extension of Al Ihsa Road, Co-ordinates 24o 41.85’ N; 46o 43.71’ E

The last two parks on our list for the day were Malaz Park and Al Foutah Park.   Time constraints meant we never made it to Al Foutah.

Malaz Park

Malaz Park is described on our Park List as a well matured park consisting of a few slides and activities for the kids.  In the middle of this winter day a number of Worker Bees were enjoying the green tranquility it had to offer and I imagine that in the evening this park is a popular place for families to picnic.  At one end were a couple of basketball courts for the older boys to utilise.  It's sad to think that girls will not be playing basketball there.  That thought was rather depressing so we didn't hang about at Malaz Park.

Our local park

The parks mentioned above were some of the more popular, medium sized parks in the city.  There are a few larger parks that are mentioned on my Out and About in Riyadh page.   Dotted throughout Riyadh are also a number of smaller greens where residents can enjoy the great outdoors without having to head off to the desert.  A number of sports grounds are available around the city as well, for the boys and men to enjoy some physical activity - usually football.

Most parks also have toilet facilities which are usually clean, though don't go picnicking without extra tissues.  Mr Noor has familiarized himself with a number of these spaces as he knows there are times, as he carts me about the city, that I need to relieve myself. It is always surprising to round the corner of Riyadh's dust colored suburbia to find a welcome patch of green among the buildings.

As it's currently winter the parks are getting quite a bit of use with the cooler temps.  The recent rains have also helped the grass to grow and the greenness was doing my soul a world of good on our Great Riyadh Park Search.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Christmas In Riyadh 2012

It's Christmas in Riyadh, 2012.
Most of the expats have already left the city for their home towns or holiday destinations to reconnect with family and friends.  I wish them safe travels and good times.

We are staying in Riyadh for Christmas, as are a number of people we know.

Our remaining in the Middle East requires us to be overseas grandparents and we're getting better at it each year.  Money has been transferred for the grandchildren's Xmas  presents.   And Hubster organised the Christmas ham to be delivered from the famous Pokeno Butchers for the family's Christmas Day feast.   Making a Christmas video for Dad is the only other thing we have left to do.

It's a very quiet lead up to Christmas Day.
We aren't complaining.
Living overseas has its pluses and minuses.
Hubster finds being away from family at Christmas time a huge minus as do most other expats who, for whatever reason, are also spending their Christmas 2012 in KSA.

Christmas Day is business as usual here in Riyadh.
Hubster and I are both working.  Perhaps Hubster will be taking a few hours to enjoy a lunch with friends but then it's nose back into the computer.

The only thing I've found in Riyadh's local shops that acknowledges Christmas might exist is this.....

... and that was a week ago.  When I checked this morning the trees had all gone though the orbs and the sleigh were still in situ.

In the past the NZ Embassy has organised a pre-Christmas get-together for fellow kiwi's resident in Riyadh but this year the NZ Government thought it a good idea to have an Embassy clear out, as a cost cutting measure, so most of the staff were recently sent home and those that are left have enough on their festive plates.

So, instead, a group of friends organised a small get-together singing the Kiwi version of The Twelve Days of Christmas round the piano at The House of Louise.  It was a fun evening with much food (The House of Louise always has loads of food) and NZ merriment.

Christmas isn't publicly acknowledged by the masses in Saudi but every year a newby expat tells a story about a Saudi, or two, expecting the office will be closed so they, Saudi's, can have Christmas Day day off.  It makes one wonder if the average Saudi truly understands the rules in his own country.
Church gatherings are practically clandestine.
Activities that celebrate Christian events are code named.
December 25th is not a day off.

But none of that really matters.
Christmas is about blessings, large and small.
Like the taxi driver from Bangladesh I hailed off the street who wished me a nice Christmas.  Yes, he's Muslim but he's human and thinks being kind to each other is what life is about.

Or, like the fabulous technology we have at our fingertips (and we're very grateful for it).
Family and friends send us Christmas messages via e-mail and Facebook.
We'll Skype most of them tomorrow and catch up on family news.
We can't wait to see the grand kids faces.
And hear their 'I got this from Aunty So 'n So' stories.

That's what matters.
That's what makes us smile.

Best of the season to you all.
Kiwi, and her Hubster, in Saudi.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Colours of Saudi Photography Forum

We went to the recent Colors of Saudi Photography Forum.

The Colors of Saudi Forum, held at the Riyadh International Exhibition Center on King Adbullah Road, had three purposes.  It was a chance for Saudi photographers to showcase their talents via a photographic exhibition, professional and amateur photographers could learn about various aspects of photography via workshops held each day and it was a medium for the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) to promote Saudi tourism through photography.

There were numerous photographs to view and enjoy. My only regret is that I didn't take my own camera to get some shots of the show.

The environmental sector had this display. You could take a seat or just wander through with qahwah in hand. I had no idea there were so many animals in the Saudi desert.  One photo in particular caught my attention as it captured the many different aspects of the desert beautifully - capturing the deserts beauty on film is something I find very difficult with my point and shoot camera.  I think it may be time to upgrade to a beginner professional model.

The black and white heritage photographs by Ilo Battigeli revealing Saudi of yesteryear were beautiful. The Arab News wrote a short piece on this Italian photographer and his relationship to Saudi titled Lensman of Arabia when reporting on an exhibition of his work at the National Saudi museum, an exhibition I missed and hope they do again.

The photo that spoke to me most and stirred many emotions was one at the 9orti stand and you can find more of this groups work at So captured was I by the photograph of an old bedu man lying on the cold, hard ground that I didn't take a picture of it. A photo that can stir emotions is an excellent piece of work. Hubster's emotions weren't quite so stirred but beauty is in the eye of the beholder isn't it?

I particularly enjoyed talking to the young Saudi women whose photography was on display.  They are absolutely wonderful ladies who are passionate about their art.  The women undertaking graphic design through Princess Noura University, a course that is relatively new to Saudi women, were very enthusiastic when discussing their work.

Most engaging were the young ladies I met from Light Drawers. This small group provides occasional workshops and other activities to encourage and support women in the art of photography whether they be ardent amateurs or on the path to photography as a profession.

Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of the SCTA, organised the Colurs of Saudi Forum.  He is a keen photographer himself and displayed some of his own photographic handiwork.  With access to air transportation - he is an Air Force pilot and was the first Arab to head off into outer space (you can read more about Sultan ibn Salman Al Saud in Wikipedia)  - his collection includes photo's of sites in Saudi that most of us will not get to see.

Feedback from the expats I encouraged along  to the exhibition (a grand total of 4 if you exclude the Hubster) was generally positive.  Photography is still relatively new to Saudi and expats still wonder if they are allowed to be seen out and about with cameras.  As I mentioned in my post Capture Saudi on Film taking photo's in public places has been allowed in Saudi Arabia since 2006, though taking photo's of Saudi women and military hotspots is still a sensitive issue.

The Colours of Saudi Forum was quite a success and any future event promises to be bigger and better.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Circular Drive to Malaz Show Jumping

Watching horses and their riders at the Show Jumping in Malaz is a fabulous way to spend an afternoon and marvel at the animals and the horsemanship.  Being able to visit the stables is definitely a highlight, too.  This was only our second trip to the Show Jumping ground and, as with most of our adventures, getting there was a bit of a circus.

Last time we were invited to watch Show Jumping in Riyadh we were transported to the show grounds at Malaz in a chauffeur driven Lincoln.  This time we thought we'd get ourselves to the equestrian grounds.  I mean, how hard can it be.  We'd invited along another NZ couple and they offered to take us in their vehicle which is probably just as well because Hubster would not have been as patient as G driving round in circles - literally.

Directions to the center were emailed to me, unfortunately they were handwritten in Arabic.  Not being proficient at handwritten script, a quick search on Google was performed.  With Google map in hand we confidently set off with plenty of time to spare in case things went wrong.  And wrong they went.

The Google Map delivered us to what may have been a show jumping ground once, but was no more.  We drove around this walled destination twice just to be sure it wasn't what we were looking for.

Mr Noor, who I normally ring when we're lost in Riyadh, is in Pakistan visiting the wife so I rang taxi driver number two who, I thought, knew Riyadh as well as Mr Noor.  His directions sent us back the way we had come to the Al Jamiah St intersection.  We turned left at The Intersection as instructed and found....a highway.

I rang Taxi Number 2 again.
He said, sorry Ma'am you should have turned right at The Intersection.
So we drove off to find a U-Turn that delivered us back to the traffic lights in question and we turned right.
We kept our eyes peeled for Riyadh's International Equestrian School in Malaz.
What did we find?
A T-intersection and a park.
Why had he sent us here?
We rang him back.
"Doesn't the park have a merry-go-round, ma'am?"
Wrong horse show!

The T-intersection put us onto the round-about circling King Abdullah Park and Prince Faisal football stadium, so around G drove as I rang R, the lovely lady who had invited us to share the afternoon of show jumping with her.  Hubster, being a rather unhelpful front seat passenger, started making less than complementary comments about driving in circles in Riyadh.  I swear the guy is getting more negative the longer he stays here.

R, who suffers from the 'Driven Like Miss Daisy' syndrome of many local women because they aren't permitted to drive themselves, didn't actually know how to get to the show grounds so she handed the phone to her driver. He didn't speak English.

Once R was put back on the phone and understood G was in charge of our vehicle and we didn't have an Arabic speaking driver, which she was somewhat shocked about, she went in search of her cousin for assistance.  We kept driving round the round-a-bout.

The round about.
The Cousin spoke very rapid English with a very heavy Arabic accent. Asking him to slow down and say that again was required, often. Once my ear was tuned to his accent these are the basic instructions I wrote down.
Go back to The Intersection and head in the direction we had gone originally.
Count 4 traffic lights then turn right.
Count 3 streets then turn right again.  You will find the show grounds.
We duly followed the instructions back down the road and all was going well till, at the crucial moment when we should have turned right at street number three, the Hubsters in the front seats who, in this vehicle on this day were the only people allowed to drive, decided to be gas bagging about something else and kept going straight.

Hubster Heads at Show Jumping
We U-turned.  (Driving in Saudi does make you masters of U-turns)
Back down the road we went as I rang R back.
Where are you? she said.
Passing by a hill, I said.
Yes there is a hill.  The show ground is very near the hill.
OK.  We'll have to U-turn and count 3 streets again.
Wait she said. I'll send my cousin to come and get you.

This message was duly passed to the Hubsters in the front seat who then began an inane discussion on how The Cousin was going to identify us parked on the roadside.  We pulled over and turned on the hazard lights to await The Cousin to arrival.  Eventually, after much discussion about how this Knight of Malaz Show Jumping was going to recognize us, a phone call was received.
'Where is your car?'
'What kind of car are you driving?'
'What colour?'

It's the only grey car on the roadside with the hazard lights flashing, I said.
We see you, the voice on the phone said.
We were found.

And so it was that an hour and a half after leaving home we finally arrived at the International Equestrian Center in Malaz to watch Show Jumping that hadn't started yet, presumably due to the rain that had been falling on and off for most of the morning.  It also turns out that our first stop, as per Google Maps, was a stones throw from our final destination but, fairly recently, someone had decided to build a main thoroughfare splitting the two points.  Not very helpful for people driving in circles in Malaz.

Directions to the International Equestrian Center in Malaz:

View Kiwi In Saudi: Tiki Tour in a larger map
Google Maps co-ordinates to Show Jumping in Malaz: +24° 39' 44.94", +46° 45' 24.61"

Ka Kite,

Friday, 14 December 2012

Plastic Wrap Left On Taxi Seats.

Not in any other country have I ever traveled in a taxi with the plastic wrap left on the seats. I'm not talking about car seat covers.  I mean the manufacturers plastic that wraps the seats of new cars to keep them looking brand spanking new as they head for the car dealers shop floor.

For some reason, taxi drivers and car rental companies in Riyadh like to leave the plastic on the seats for weeks, nay months, after obtaining the car.  Sometimes they even leave the plastic that covers the steering wheel as well.  And, to complete the package, the delivery sticker is still on the windscreen even though it's turning a baked on brown, the writing is fading and the paper is curling up on it's edges.

When I first came across such a vehicle my immediate question, mixed as it was with skepticism given the car looked a bit used, was "oh you have a new car?". 

No ma'am this is last years model.
Oh, right.  So, why haven't you taken  the plastic off your seats?
To keep the car new ma'am.

For just a second I figured the practice does have a modicum of reasonableness - the plastic protects the seats from the bodily grease and grime of the numerous clients who utilize the transportation and it's nice to know the drivers care about the condition of their vehicles. 

However, moments later, major doubts arose about the value of plastic covered seats in taxis because the current client (moi) was slipping all over the back seat.  While attempting to balance myself I wondered whether the slip sliding activity was occurring solely due to the double layered plastic or whether the combination of plastic and synthetic abaya was the issue.  It also occurred to me that any grease left behind by former taxi clients, having worked its way between the folds of plastic, probably wasn't helping matters and added an 'Ewwww' factor to the whole situation.

Maintaining an upright position with a driver who doesn't know how to drive - start, stop, race up behind the car in front that has only moved forward a few meters, swerve to miss the guy racing up beside him, stop, start  (that kind of driver) - is definitely made more difficult with plastic wrap draped over the seat.

It's not unusual, in Riyadh, to come across taxis with plastic on the seats and big dings in their bumpers - not that I'm suggesting there is any correlation between the two, I'm just saying.

Ka Kite,

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

RawDhat Khuraim The Kings Forest.

Rawdhat Khuraim is a nice place to visit if you're looking for somewhere not far out of town for a picnic.  In spring after a decent douse of rain is supposed to be the best time to go.  At least, that's what I've heard.  I'd also heard that Rawdhat Khuraim was a forest in the desert.

'A forest in the desert!' I thought.  'This I gotta see!'  Unfortunately the One Who Is Allowed to Drive didn't hire the Yukon till some weeks after I excitedly informed him about this new KSA adventure.  That's why the timing of our trip to Rawdhat Khuraim was a little bit off - we went toward the end of summer.

While waiting for Hubster to get revved up about the idea of driving off to find a desert forest, a bit of internet research was in order.  According to one website I found, Rawdat Khoraim (which has a number of variations in spelling) is part of a Saudi strategy for biodiversity and a number of similar protected forests and parks have been set up around the country.  Other websites call Rawdat Khoraim the Kings Forest while still others called it a royal resort.   I like the idea of a Kings Forest, so Kings Forest it is!

Finding Rawdat Khoraim wasn't that difficult - it's only about 70km out of Riyadh and the exit off the Dammam highway is very well signposted with brown tourist signs.

On arrival at security, which also happens to be the end of the road, the very nice gentlemen there will direct you toward a parking spot.

I gathered, during this visit, that Rawdat Khoraim refers specifically to the protected part of the forest - the part where access is restricted.   Fringing the periphery of the Kings Forest is a public parkland - a spill over from the real forest - which itself is protected from cars by this pole fence...

You can park where security sends you or you can drive round the perimeter and choose some other spot that takes your fancy though be aware the tracks around the forest can cut up rough.  Once you've chosen you're picnic point you can take a leisurely stroll through the vegetation which is kind of sparse in the middle of a Saudi summer but still nice when compared to other areas outside Saudi that are very harsh and barren.  We found these flowers blooming.

Apparently after the spring rains the park is fabulous as all the grasses and flowers burst into life and the forest floor becomes very green and lush.  And if you're a bird watcher you'll find a few birds flitting around.

At some point in your stroll through the park lands you will come across this fence...'s the boundary to the Kings part of Rhawdhat Khuraim.  If you look through it you'll see that it has a lot more vegetation.  Getting behind that fence will require knowing someone with connections.

As always when sight seeing around Saudi pack a picnic.  Rawdat Khuraim is quite a nice place for chilling out in the late afternoon with a thermos of mint tea and watching the sun go down.

And, as per this sign...

...leave the place clean!

This coming spring I'd like to go back to experience the green lushness of the forest which is what I had planned for last spring but The Bald One wasn't being co-operative.  He kept saying he had to work weekends.  His lack of work/home/leisure balance needs adjusting as the current ratio, which leans heavily towards 'constantly at work' is seriously interfering with our ability to see this country.

If you fancy a picnic in one of Saudi's forests then take the Dammam highway till you spot the sign pointing out the RhawDat Khoraim exit, which also happens to be the exit to Rumah.  Follow the signposts and enjoy your afternoon at RhawDhat Khuraim.

Where is RawDhat Khuraim?

View Kiwi In Saudi: Tiki Tour in a larger map

Ka Kite,

Friday, 7 December 2012

Woman in Man Only Cafe!

Where should I wait? is a question I've asked myself on a couple of occasions as the only woman in a man only cafe in Riyadh?

Why am I in a singles (man only) cafe?
Ordering food or coffee usually. 

Why don't I go to a place with a family section?
Because there isn't one nearby.

My activities in Riyadh have required traversing the city in various directions at varying hours of the day and when I first started cruising across town in the back seat of a taxi I noted with just a teensy bit of frustration that Riyadh's suburbia had a serious lack of options catering for a woman's needs, more specifically family sections for those "Crikey's I could do with a coffee and a bite to eat! moments or the more delicate 'I just need to use a loo' activities.

Although Riyadh is going through some serious urban spread right now with popular franchise establishments popping up beside the main highways along with the much demanded housing, many of them are still singles only - with the possible exception of McDonalds.

But when one has the beginnings of a headache from lack of sustenance or requires a feminine convenience more immediately than later, driving off in search of a Golden Arch is not always an option so the man in the driver seat, (who at the moment is not Mr Noor because he's back home visiting the wife), is instructed to slow down at the nearest local establishment featuring food and beverage signs to assess if there may be a family section.

When it's obvious women are meant to stay home to eat and drink the driver happily says, 'Maybe the next place ma'am', and begins to drive off while the women in back gets a touch angsty because Bugger It, she wants coffee!  And who the heck designed this city not to have family sections out where most of the families live!  The driver, registering female angst, stops and does not comment as said female fights her abaya out of the back seat and heads off into the male only domain of the place he was about to leave.

Can women order from places without family sections?
How do you do that?
Saudi women know that entering a male (singles) only cafe or diner on their own is frowned on so generally don't attempt to go into the place.  They will, however, catch the attention of the wait staff, usually by signalling to them through the window or after opening the door enough to wave at them, so the staff come out to take their order.

Being, on occasion, an obnoxious westerner who goes through phases when she can't see any reason why she should hang about outside, I simply walk up to the counter and ask if I can order.
To date, most wait staff have said yes.

Where I wait for my order can differ depending on the shop, the time of day, the number of men present or my steely determination.

Initially I simply wait at the counter till instructed otherwise.
Some wait staff, in response to my presence say, ''I'm sorry ma'am but you have to go outside and we will come and bring your order', which is somewhat irritating mainly because it makes you feel like a second class human.  Granted, this is usually when the store is busy and more than a few Saudi blokes are in situ or the perceived risk of a Muttawa drive by is high.

While loitering outside a cafe because femaleness is obviously far to germy to be inside waiting for takeaway coffee, one can, if they're going through a negative phase, begin to wish men had to wait out in the heat covered in a black garment.  Glaring at men seated indoors has been known to occur.

As always, being a well balanced Kiwi, one should remember the more positive experiences here in Saudi at men only coffee shops and there are quite a few.

One early weekend morning the establishment I entered was completely empty except for the two service staff going through their store opening routine.  They told me to have a seat and enjoy my coffee indoors because there wouldn't be any Saudi male coming round for hours - they'd all still be in bed.

At another men only diner (and for some reason most shwarma places are men only) in the middle of a hot summers day the waiter asked, 'Where is your car? presuming I would be waiting in it and he could bring my order once it was ready.  When I said I came in a taxi and pointed it out he said, 'Wait inside ma'am' and directed me to a spot near the door, in the shade, out of harms way.  I'm presuming the idea of a lone female sitting in a stationary taxi with unrelated driver is a worse evil than lone woman waiting for her order in a male only shop.  Whatever his reasons, it's nice when you meet service staff who are pleasant and thoughtful.

At another male only eatery I asked if I could use the toilet!  Well, perhaps "Where's the toilet, I need to use the toilet!" could more aptly be described as a desperate demand than a request.  My Kegels efforts went west many moons ago and the thought 'I ought to do something about that' only sporadically crosses my mind.  Usually at moments of full bladder desperation.  The staff must have registered the fact that 'No' wouldn't be a good answer because they said, 'Of course ma'am' as I raced on passed and shut the door.

And during one of Riyadh's blustery winter nights with rain threatening, the stars aligned to leave an acquaintance and I standing outside our locked school with a taxi 'On the way'.  We decided to head for the large coffee cup sign down the street to find this place only catered to men, all of whom were conversing while tucked up nice and warm inside.

The place did, however, have an area of sheltered outdoor seating and it was to one of these tables we headed to wait for the taxi just as the rain started to fall.   The wait staff came out and we explained our plight.  He said, 'No problem'.  He brought us cushions for the hard plastic seats and asked us what hot drink we'd like.  While enjoying our brew another male type arrived and a discussion ensued between him and the waiter, complete with gesticulating in our direction, and the words 'woman, why, and taxi' being bandied about. (Both being Arabic students we utilised this situation to test our Arabic language knowledge).  We deduced the discussion was about us and this was confirmed when the waiter came back to check if we were happy and my friend asked if we should wait elsewhere (though we had no idea where) and he said, No! You are fine. Some men here are crazy!

Though most places will serve a woman, at a few male only diners the bloke in charge will begin hollering at you the moment your hand touches the door and before your foot passes over the threshold, 'Man only, Man only', while waving you away, which is an extremely unwelcoming carry on.   Such performance only serves to get your back up and can bring on a negative phase.

Fortunately such performance hasn't been met often.
The most recent occasion was an extremely warm summer evening and Hubster was with me.  As we don't own a car we had been dropped off by the taxi and were walking, taking in the views of Riyadh at night.  We got a bit peckish but the only eateries we could see nearby were men only.  We stopped at one to order a bite to eat with the intention of catching a taxi home to consume our feast.  There was a space just inside the door and I decided to stand in the cool out of the way because the heat outdoors was getting uncomfortable, while Hubster joined a queue to make our order.

The duty manager began hollering and waving me back out the door.  Hubster had a 'discussion' with him that went something like this:

H - Stop shouting at my wife.
M - She cannot be in here.  Man only. Go to a family section.
H - Where is your family section?
M - We have no family section. This store man only. 
H - So how can she go to the family section if you don't have one?
M - Man only. She must wait outside.
H - She's not waiting outside.  It's hot outside.
M - She cannot be in here with single men.
H - There are single men outside.  You want her waiting outside with all the single men out there?  While I'm in here?  Don't be ridiculous!
M - Sir, women cannot be here. 
H - Then stop shouting and hurry up and get our order.

As we were leaving a young Saudi man ushered his wife through the door and she went and stood in the spot I'd just vacated.  Milliseconds later, the hollering started again.  We had to smile.

Regardless of how you are welcomed (or not) to place an order at a male only diner or cafe the service staff do try to get the order filled immediately.  Women aren't generally left to hang around in such circumstances so where ever you choose, or are directed, to wait it almost certainly won't be for long.

Ka Kite,

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