Monday, 30 December 2013
The Saudi women I know with growing children would love to have space to say to the kids, with a hand-on-motherly-hip, 'Go outside and play! You're getting on my wick today!' But in Riyadh, only the rich have homes with land around which a child can run and play. And even then, most of the year, day or night, it's too darned hot to be running around outdoors.
So an energetic six year old boy gets to boot his football in the apartment (most of the women I know live in apartments) until told off for knocking photo's off the wall and vases off the coffee tables or just missing someone's head as the football rebounds around the room, from wall to wall.
His energy is then directed to the area in the house set up with swings or slides in lieu of an outdoor park, (usually one of the bedrooms unless the home is large enough for a games room), where said six year old begins hassling his siblings or attempting to destroy the thick plastic slide, much too young for him now, set up in a corner of a room. The siblings naturally start screaming and crying (hassled siblings the world over do that, after all!). Mother shakes her head, utters words in Arabic that I presume go along the lines of "Wait till your father gets home", picks up the youngest crying child to pacify him and shuts the salon door for a moments peace, and only a moment, as seconds later the door bursts open as Rambunctious One is looking for attention and some way to use that pent up energy! With very little in the way of space available in the home for physical activity, being annoying becomes flavour of the day.
There is hardly an expat who isn't guilty of making negative comments about Saudi parenting skills (or what seems to be the lack thereof), but once you understand the trials, you can more appreciate the situation. What would you do with a six year old boy looking for action in a two or three bedroom apartment, with outdoor temps too hot for after school play almost every day?
Certainly I remember organizing games for my own three kids on those days when they needed adult involvement in their recreation and where playing quietly on their own just wasn't going to happen. But I also had the great outdoors to turf the kids into when they tired of organized games. Most of the middle class Saudi villas I've been into only have a footpath circling the house where the kids can be sent to ride their bikes, which is great until growing boys reach that age when they need more space! And though boys in particular need a way to test their mettle against other boys, young girls also like to run and ride about, and boot a football too, so when the sun is beating down outdoors, quite often the dining room and table turn into an impromptu scooter or roller skating velodrome. Raucous bedlam, of course, prevails.
It's not unusual for cousins to come visit, which simply means more pent up youngsters racing around the house and as the kids get older, the rough and tumble gets more boisterous and nicely selected furniture takes a hammering being used as a trampoline, escape route, wrestling mat or jungle gym - depending on the game in progress!
There are times I feel sorry for the kids in Saudi. I feel even more for their mothers who have no idea how to deal with the rambunctiousness of growing energetic children stuck indoors. If a live-in-maid is present, I feel sorry for her too because, once mum gets fed up with squawking kids, guess who gets the job of quieting them? Of course, ignoring the maid seems to be a common theme in every home I've been in as, just moments after being handed off to a maid, the kids are back!
Taking the children to the green park down the road so they can burn off excess energy is generally not done by Saudi women on their own, I've noted, even when the temps are cool enough. They either wait for Dad to come home so they can go as a family or plan a group visit with their sisters who, I gather, are all having 'Energetic Child Causing Havoc' issues. Football in the street is not as common as one would think in this soccer mad part of the world either, not in Riyadh central anyways, and I can only presume the traffic is blamed for that. Though football fields are dotted about the city, they are generally only for males so, once again, the energetic son must wait for his father to come home and be in the mood to take him off mums hands, while the energetic girl has to hope Dad's in a frame of mind to take them both to a park so she can get some air about her, too.
Venues like Gymbaroo and My Gym are opening up in Riyadh to give very young kids somewhere to expend physical energy, but they cost money to use that not all families have and they require transportation, not something every woman has at her beck and call, either. Localiser Mall has a Kids In Motion Gym providing exer-gaming (a combination of exercise and games) for kids from 6 to 13 years of age. It's an awesome place with a rock climbing wall, ball handling center and separate area for dancer-size type activities. But again cost and transportation can prove an issue.
The Saudi mothers I know look forward to the weekends because often it means the kids will be taken to the family farm where they can run and play about outdoors with all their cousins. If the husband decides to take the kids to his family's farm for the evening, if not the entire weekend, the mothers are over the moon! Peace and quiet reign in their otherwise hectic space. Child free coffee with the girls sounds like bliss!
Friday, 20 December 2013
Do you like Johnny Cash and his song 'I Walk the Line'. Or the movie tribute of the same name. Hubster really enjoyed that movie. He's a Johnny Cash fan. The reason I ask is that, sometimes I feel like I'm walking the line in Saudi. I have to keep a close watch on the things I say on this blog.
Sometimes I'll write a post and pass it by the censor board, (Hubster), who tells me, 'You can't say that!' It's annoying because, though this blog is supposed to be about our life here, about expat life here, about the things we see and do, there is stuff you'll never know, because while we live here, I can't tell you for risk of being told to leave. (I joked with a friend who got Told To Leave, and was feeling somewhat embarrassed, that she shouldn't feel bad. Loads of people have been sacked from Saudi, so many in fact that I'm surprised there's not a T-shirt on the topic - Sacked From Saudi, Told To Leave Saudi, Marching Orders From Saudi, I Moved To Saudi And Didn't Survive....that kind of thing).
Anyway, Hubster doesn't want to leave yet and I actually (usually) quite enjoy the place, only occasionally having 'Get Me Out Of Here', hissy fits.
Unfortunately though, I can't give you all the quirky insights or repeat all the things I see and hear that would make for truly entertaining reading. There are places I go, things I do that and tidbits I hear that, unless you are part of the close group I hang out with, you'll never read about because I'm not married to a Saudi who is going to save my rear end when I blow the lid! I'm married to a bloke who loves his job and wants to stay a few years longer.
So, while I'm walking the line, I suggest you read between them. There's a lot of interesting shyte happens in there!
Tuesday, 17 December 2013
Recently we made a return trip to the Pools of Sha'Hib Luha with Mr UK and Mr Oz. We had initially intended to drive out to The Edge of The World but with the inclement weather that had been affecting the area decided for safety reasons, (we didn't fancy getting stuck out in the recently rain soaked desert), to find somewhere a little closer to home. Plus, I was interested to see what a lot of rain would do to the place.
On arrival it was obvious a tonne of water had been flowing out of the valley. The man made wall that we had driven over on our first visit to the Pools of Sha'Hib Luha had mostly been washed away as had a lot of the dust and sand, exposing the desert rocks beneath. And numerous picnickers, with their pick ups and
four wheel drives littering the track, were out enjoying the cooler weather beneath a beautiful blue desert sky.
We parked our vehicle and walked over terrain strewn with rocks and dotted with greenery toward the first pool, commenting on the small stream of water that was trickling its way through the rockery and down into the wadi. The Lower Pool was looking noticeably larger than when we first came and frogs were resting on slabs at its edge. After posing for a few We Made It shots, we clambered along the shelf that would take up to the next level and on to the Upper Pool.
Even though we had to check our footing, being careful not to fall over loose rocks, making our way to the Upper ShaHib Luha Pool was a piece of cake. The cooler temperatures meant we weren't sweating at all! The grasses around the Upper Pool were completely flattened and the sound of falling water could be heard from a foiliage covered gash in the hillside at its back. One of us suggested we go explore the next level up to see if we could find where the water started. Disappointingly, two others weren't interested at all (and they call themselves adventurers!) They wanted to get back to our mate and lunch - (Mr Oz decided clambering along shelves looking for pools was not becoming of someone of his maturity, so decided to wait for us back at pool number 1).
We met Mr Oz seated on the hillside atop Sha'Hib Luha pool number 1 - he had found an easier route up there - and he led us back the way he had come down into the wadi. While the boys were contemplating the best place for a bar-b I took off my shoes and stuck my feet in the water of the stream, after all, on our next visit it might not be here.
It had been a nice walk and as Hubster said, one thing you can almost guarantee when you return to the Saudi desert is that the landscape is always changing thanks to the weather conditions.
Map for Pools of Sha'Hib Luha Location
View Kiwi In Saudi: Tiki Tour in a larger map
Friday, 13 December 2013
A Saudi man asked me a short while back what I knew about ' The Secret'. He was referring to the book by Rhonda Byrne that explains the key to getting everything we want in life. I admit to being surprised at the question. For some reason I presumed the 'law of attraction' would be considered a bit like HooDoo to Saudi's and they wouldn't go near it. It turns out this gentleman has been looking into the theory and likes what he sees. He just wanted to discuss what he'd learned, given my own beliefs on the subject.
With all the hype around The Secret I did, eventually, buy it, only to discover its secret wasn't new to me at all! Universal energy is a concept I've been familiar with most of my adult life, largely due to my Maori connections. Maori have always believed in spiritual elements. One of the most fundamental beliefs is in our life force, the force that connects us with everything around us. Study of this principle has led me to spend quite a bit of time reading up on Wicca, Homeopathy and various other energy related topics - even quantum physics. And then, twenty odd years later, The Secret is published with its ground breaking 'attitude of gratitude'.
I'm certainly not dissing the book or its theory. It was just unexpected that a Saudi would ask me about it, and a man at that! While discussing the topic I did wonder what Saudi clerics, who are presumably the go-to folks for any Saudi feeling out of sorts with life, would make of 'The Secret'? Would they be open enough to look at its message or not? Would they understand that we humans (and, contrary to the opinion of numerous disgruntled worker bees on social networking sites who like to compare them to Eeyore and his relatives when referring to the locals, Saudi's do belong to the human race) are always searching for ways to make sense of our lives and the world we live in? Would they wonder why anybody would need to read that book when all the answers to any question you might have on life and living is in the Quran?' (a woman I met told me that once...I smiled politely).
As far as I know the 'self-improvement' buzz that has taken the rest of the world by storm lately, largely due to the increase of self-publishing on the topic, hasn't actually hit Saudi Arabia yet. Perhaps the folks at Jariir bookstore would have more of an idea how many Saudi's read Carnegies, 'How to win friends and influence people', Napolean Hills, 'Think and Grow Rich' or James Allens, 'As A Man Thinketh'?
If improving oneself though personal development were to take off here, naturally hot on its heels would come the Professional Life Coach. I'm not sure how many Saudi's would currently pay for such a service and even if they wanted to, where in Saudi would one find a life coach anyhow. (I know there are psychiatrists and psychologists in Riyadh. I've met a couple - both western trained. Apparently the large hospitals have psych doctors attached to them. Maybe they would double as life coaches, too).
Anyway, some weeks later, this same Saudi also wanted to know about meditation. Again, his question was unexpected, though I tried not to look so surprised this time, and gave him my opinion before directing him to a couple of websites that I have found beneficial, and thought he may too, based on our discussion.
I'm sure there are numerous Saudi's out there who want to improve themselves, to grow, broaden their horizons, improve their attitudes and be the best they can be. This gentleman, however, is the only Saudi I know of asking these types of questions. (Hardly surprising as the number of Saudi males I know on a 'Let's Talk Openly About Whatever' level I can count on one finger).
What has been obvious in the few short years I've lived here, is Saudi's tendency to follow western trends, and not all of them have been beneficial either. To date Riyadh has experienced the fast food trend, more recently the muffin shop and cup cake trend, currently it's going through the Burger trend. Wouldn't it be great if a truly substantial trend were to hit the Saudi streets. Like Self-improvement. Now that would be worth seeing, wouldn't it?
Monday, 9 December 2013
I love that term.
It sounds so...oooooo. Like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, body part smugglers and morgue miscreants!
The definition of the term is worded with far less deviant excitement - 'Medical Misadventure', according to insurance blurb, 'is personal injury caused by medical error or mishap'. Lately, there seems to have been a lot of medical misadventure in Saudi Arabia.
A number of stories in the papers over the last few months tend to indicate that the standard of care in Saudi hospitals is a bit questionable. A girl being given HIV tainted blood, a teen dying after simple surgery from an allergy to antibiotics, fake doctors being hired, a child being given chemotherapy by accident and, the latest, surgical tools left in a woman after a cesarean section and a baby with a dummy taped to his mouth. These events, though shocking, are hardly surprising say a few nurses I know, who often comment on how things have been changing in Saudi hospitals over the last couple of years. And not necessarily in a good way.
They feel there has been a push, lately, to get rid of western nursing and practitioner staff from many hospitals largely, presume the ladies I know, for cost cutting and Saudization reasons.
It seems a bit of an oxymoron to say Saudi Arabia has to cut costs. Saudi is generally viewed, out in Average Joe West, as the richest country in the world - all that oil money lining the streets, (and funding questionable activities), is also presumed to provide the best health care (well, top of the line equipment anyways) along with its high paying nursing jobs.
But Saudi is entering a new age.
And cost cutting in the health system appears to be the new buzz.
Though I get the impression that cost cutting here is not out of need, like in good ol' NZ where we aren't rich (even though we had a boat recently competing in an event only three countries in the world can afford to be in!) Cost cutting here is more about making money for the blokes at the top of the 'I Own A Hospital' pie.
Western nurses cost more, so for purely accounting purposes it makes sense to limit their numbers.
However, with the cancelled contracts of western nursing staff is going quality care, and it's being replace by attitude.
According to my friends, life in Saudi hospitals currently goes something like this, generally speaking:
The trend for the new breed of nurses coming out of Saudi medical schools is to be choosy about their working hours, the patients they will care for and the jobs they will, and definitely won't, do!
The trend for the new breed of doctor taking up positions in Saudi is to want hand maidens who will idolize, pander to and generally treat doctors like god's gift to medical science, but never question them. Those doctors who have spent a large amount of time (note: LARGE amount of time) training, interning and working in the West tend to be better doctors say my friends.
The trend for western nurses is to question everything - they were trained that way, and, as you can imagine, they get on the wick of doctors who want nurses meek and mild. Other ethnicity's can't afford to rock the boat, so don't. Plus they become so used to the handmaiden role here in Saudi that critical thinking skills, if they ever had them, are lost in the mists of time in. Truly, I've seen it. My current doctor who worked in the UK for 20 years prior to moving here, was attempting to train the attending nurse (as you do) by discussing my symptoms and asking her basic questions. The shock of having to participate in something more in-depth than taking my blood pressure or handing me a referral slip was too much and she sat motionless on her stool with big round eyes making 'Ahhh, Uh' noises and looking like a stunned mullet! The doc looks at me, puts his hands on the desk, heaves a sigh and, shaking his head, says in the tone of a man watching mold grow on bread, 'She knows nothing!' I got the impression he was finding adjusting to this country's quirky ways a tad difficult.
Anyway, I'm wondering where in this melee of personalities and posturing and politics is concern for the patient?
Here's a story:
The western nurse has prepared the room for a medical procedure. The doctor enters and the nurse steps aside indicating the prepared equipment. The doctor says something along the lines of 'I don't need all that' and begins the procedure without even putting gloves on. (The procedure is a lumbar puncture folks, not putting band aid on scratched knees!) The nurse cajoles the doctor into using standard aseptic technique. The doctor grudgingly does so.
The doctor thinks the nurse is 'too fussy' and likes to say so every time they have to work together.
Says the nurse to me, when wanting to dump her frustrations about the declining standards she's noticed over the last year or so in the hospital, 'These are doctors and I have to treat them like children to get them to do basic things properly. They just don't care!, she says'.
'And do you know what', she added, 'this same doctor had a family member come in for a procedure and insisted that I be the assistant because she knew I'd make sure the attending doctor did things correctly'With the country building new hospitals and medical centers around the country, there is a huge need for medical staff, preferably well trained. But Saudi seems to be taking all comers at the moment and with that comes the risk of getting medical staff whose professionalism in the job is questionable. If things aren't taken into hand soon, say the nurses I know, more lives will be lost or patients injured unnecessarily in Saudi Arabia from very preventable medical misadventure.
Monday, 2 December 2013
Here's a post whose bare bones have been hanging around my draft box for a while...Time to clean it up and chuck it out to the WWW.
The latest protest by Saudi women to be allowed to drive has caused the usual arguments why they shouldn't to resurface, as well as creating some new reasons that are woefully pathetic (for example the "Women sitting on their pelvises causes mentally defective children" nonsense). A group of fellow expats were discussing the Saudi women driving issue in the context of respect for women after comments in local papers and social media sites declared, yet again, that one of the major reasons for Saudi continuing to disallow women from driving is the idea that women would be at risk of harassment and attack by men. Presumably Saudi men. More especially young Saudi men.
Why other expat men aren't considered such a problem might have something to do with the Saudi attitude toward persons of lowly classes. They simply don't exist. If such men were a problem, the solution for them would be relatively easy. Either stop importing them (terrible concept but the sponsorship system does create an 'ownership' mentality), detain, lash and/or behead them (another terrible concept but it does happen).
Of course, Saudi hierarchy could just let married expat men, regardless of their level of work, bring their wives and families to live with them in this country. That way the men would be happier and not just because their primal urges can be more easily dealt with at home. That, to me, seems a more sensible approach than demanding segregation, then filling the place with single blokes whose urges are not being met for years on end (except in ways the Bearded Ones cringe when they think about it - at least they are supposed to cringe), to clean for, repair for, run errands for, drive for, and generally be around, women.
However, I get a sense that the concern is more about the behavior of Saudi men, and given the recent video footage of young men harassing and badgering women at a local mall in Dahran, the potential for Saudi men to pester women while driving is quite real. Which begs the question 'How much respect do Saudi men have for women?' The answer, from a western, point of view, is all around us covered in black from head to toe, separated from society in Family Sections, often behind screens, and Women Only events and screams 'Not Much!'
Is it 'respect' that says women have to be kept separated from unrelated men at all times. Is it 'respect' that keeps women covered and out of sight because men could not possibly control themselves if they saw a real live, unrelated human female. The conservatives in the country would say 'yes, of course that is respect'. I have to argue the point as I don't feel respected when a strange man shouts at me to 'cover my hair' because he's bred to be incapable of civilized interaction nor when a younger man follows me despite the abaya, presumably because he wants to know whats underneath. (Trust me, the poor buggar would be horrified!)
Which begs another question - what does respect mean to the Saudi male?
As it's not possible for me to talk freely with Saudi men discussing the in's and out's of their particular brand of male psyche, I can only guess at the answers to that question. I was reminded, however, of a job I had in New Zealand promoting health and wellness to the folks in our small town with a largely Maori population. We were asked by a local school to deliver a program aimed at Maori youth on the subject of 'Respect'. The school administration were having issues with waywardness, fighting and damage to school property among other things. They decided the students needed to learn the meaning of 'Respect' and, to their credit, had written policies and started implementing strategies in the hope that the kids would 'get it'. Our involvement was one of their strategies.
The organizers and facilitators, soon came to the conclusion that, though the word 'Respect' was bandied about in this predominantly Maori school led by an all star caste of Pakeha, (Maori word for white people), the kids didn't 'get it' at all. They had very little idea what the word 'Respect' meant. Sure they could spiel off rules like, 'Respect is not yelling at the teacher' or 'Respect is being kind', 'Respect is not kicking the door or punching little Johnny'. But when you got right down to it, the kids thought the rote learned rules were piffle. There was no emotional connection. There was no depth of understanding.
However, when we started talking their own maori language, using words and concepts like manaakitanga (caring), whanaungatanga (relationship) and mana (self esteem), to name but a few, then they started to click. They began to comprehend the scope of that word 'Respect'. They also decided that the Pakeha meaning of the word, that list they had been expected to learn by rote, seemed to lack soul, depth or meaning. (Not bad for a bunch of Maori kids from the back blocks nowhere near the countries top brainiac percentile).
It doesn't take long to realize that the worth of a woman in Saudi Arabia is judged by her public image, her ability to keep her abaya closed, her hair covered, her prayers performed on time and her home hospitable, not to mention her potential to bear children. Her public persona brings her family, but more importantly her significant male - father, brother, son or husband, under scrutiny. I've been told that the basic tenet of the male/female relationship in Saudi Arabian culture is, 'I, the Saudi man, am obligated to provide for you. In return you, the Saudi woman, are obligated to honor me'. Where, within that contract, does respect lie?
It could be argued that agreeing to live by that code is respect. But is that respect for the woman? The relationship? Or simply respect for the code because that's the way it's always been.
Quite frankly, when I look at the contract, the woman is immediately made dependent and comes off second best. From where I stand, the rational that a Saudi man is respecting his woman by micro-managing her behaviour so the family name is not brought into disrepute through wayward strands of hair or flashes of the ankle, isn't respect for women at all. No, that is showing respect for (or fear of) conservative interpretations of religious edicts. That is towing the company line and not wanting to rock the boat. It is not appreciation for a living, breathing, feeling, human being capable of great thought and deep emotion. From where I stand, it is obligation towards a set of rote learned rules.
As a foreign woman subjected to Saudi respect (and yes, 'subjected' is the word), I am oft times left feeling under-valued. Trivialized. Is that because I don't understand the Saudi interpretation and manifestation of respect? Certainly I may not have a grasp on the truly quirky aspects of the term from an Arabic point of view, but when a Saudi friend confides to me, 'My potential is lying in the gutter in this country. Every year my essence is ebbing away', I figure my understanding is not too far wrong and I wonder how leaving a woman feeling soulless and empty, even though she is meeting her obligations, is truly respecting her?
The Dahran incident made it obvious to numerous commentators that it's high time Saudi Arabian's started reassessing what it means for them to respect women. What messages are today's young people learning on the subject, how are they being taught, who is teaching it and how are those lessons assisting them to live and thrive in the 21st century because, like it or not, that's where the world is at!
I'm also very aware that this issue of respect, or lack of, is not limited to Saudi Arabia. It's all very well for me to say, 'teach respect in Saudi', yet when I look back at my homeland I see we could do with a few more lessons on the subject ourselves. And as for the rest of the world...I gave up reading newspapers a long time ago because they make you believe that human kindness has gone to hell!
As a guest in Saudi Arabia, I have agreed to abide by all the rules of this country, and I do my best though I'm the first to admit perfection is not my forte`. As far as the woman driving issue is concerned, all I can do is watch, wait and occasionally bleat on my blog. Saudi women who wish to drive, being more au fait with the subtleties of the Arabian psyche, are the ones who know whether Saudi behavior toward women is truly based on a respectful attitude with its associated meaningful, emotional connection, or whether its simply a sense of obligation. But I'd hazard a guess that, until that larger issue of defining and teaching respect has been tackled, women driving here might have to stay in the back seat.
Thursday, 28 November 2013
The King Abdullah Showjumping Festival is currently being held in Saudi Arabia, at the Nofa Equestrian resort, just outside of Riyadh. We had the opportunity to go as Lovely Lady, who is back in Riyadh, was organizing a busload of friends and family to support her husband who was taking time out from work to compete.
Nofa is about 95kms out of the city along the Jeddah Highway hidden behind an unassuming fence and hedgerow. Quite frankly, if you didn't know it was there, you wouldn't know it was there. In order to reach the equestrian arena it is necessary to drive through the resort, past the golf course and race track and numerous stables. The busload of new found friends were impressed with the size and quality of the facilities they could see out the bus windows.
The tents that the public had access to were set up along one side of the arena and afforded an excellent view over the competition area. It was possible to spend the entire evening in the tent, browsing through the buffet on offer, however Lovely Lady is a passionate supporter of her husband and her enthusiasm is infectious, so we took up positions on the cane seats and carpets available in front of the tents to better appreciate the horsemanship on display while waiting for Nassar to jump. It didn't hurt that the evening was beautiful, if not a touch cool. We were all given T-shirts so there was no mistaking who we had come to support (and they also helped to keep the chill factor down). Our rousing cheer after his round, the loudest of the evening, was acknowledged with a smile and a wave.
One of the things I've always been surprised about, but totally appreciated with the show jumping events I've attended, is that access to it is free. Though this year the festival is further out of town (usually the showjumping we attend is held at the center in Malaz), it is still an affordable family affair. If the children got bored watching the competition, then a play area had been set up for them with football, a bouncy castle, a huge slide I would have loved to try and a dedicated team to look after everybody.
For the adults, a temporary Arabian village had been erected, with tents selling traditional foods and handmade goods and a bloke singing traditional songs. And of course there were also camels available to sit on. After the showjumping event the men got together at the village to perform a traditional sword and drum dance, much to the delight of a number of our group who've had limited exposure to such things.
There was a quality to the whole event that is often missing in Saudi Arabia. It was a relaxed, enjoyable, well organised, stress free evening where one could easily have forgotten they were in Saudi Arabia. All the staff in attendance, from security through stewards to waiters were pleasant yet professional and it was absolutely fabulous to see so many women acting as stewardesses at the event, working happily alongside their male counterparts and engaging with the attendees (women only, of course).
After Nassar had finished his round, Lovely Lady had a word with the stable hands who were happy to have our group head over to the stables to see the horses. A couple of ladies even got to ride Hopes Are High while the youngsters learnt how to feed sugar cubes to the other horses. I never fail to be in awe of anyone, owner or stable hand, who can work so closely with horses because, though I think they are beautiful, I have a healthy respect for their size and strength, an attitude borne out of unfamiliarity, I'm sure.
The championship and festival run for a month, so if you are interested in seeing an excellent equestrian event in quality surroundings that the family can enjoy, visit the Nofa website and register to get your tickets. You only have two weekends left, I suggest you make the most of them.
Monday, 25 November 2013
Although living in Riyadh could be considered a drama in itself, and is full of a number of drama queens, that is not what this post is about. No, this post is about expat amateur drama clubs in Riyadh of which there are two (well, that I know of anyways).
Drama used to be quite popular in Riyadh, according to one bloke I spoke to who has been here for nearly twenty years. There were a number of Community Theater Groups acting their little hearts out, and it was possible to keep yourself quite busy wowing audiences with your talent if you were a budding actor, or keeping the show running as a backstage hand. Then a war started in a neighboring country, expats left in droves and drama of the acting kind stopped. (Hubster told me drama of the war kind was quite scary. Choppers with injured were being flown into Riyadh hospitals constantly during that period).
Over the last year or two, since foreign embassies have decided it is safe enough for families to return to the country, a number of expat run clubs have got themselves kick started again (or are working on expanding) to cater for the expat penchant for socializing over hobbies. That includes the drama clubs.
"Auditions and call for volunteers!!"
Someone asked me if Saudi's were allowed to attend the play when it opens.
Why they thought I might know is beyond me, and I advised that they contact the organizers.
The question did get me wondering, though, about theater for Saudi's and a quick Google brought up some interesting, and not completely dated, reading.
In a nutshell, here's what I found out:
Drama Clubs do exist for Saudi's, usually at universities. I gather Saudi drama involves a lot writing and poetry and other culturally relevant activities as well as plays. Naturally gender mixing at any of the clubs is frowned on. Nor, apparently, is the opposite gender welcome at any of the performances. In fact, according to one article I read, (dated 2008, so not that long ago), the men don't even write female characters into a play because that would require a man acting as a woman which, as far as I could tell, is a No Go Zone. (It's a bit weird pretending women don't exist, don't you think? Mind you, IKEA did it in that infamous 'Photoshop out the females from the Saudi sales magazine' hiccup in judgement late last year, something they'd prefer people forget, so I probably shouldn't dwell on it.)
The women, however, seem perfectly happy acting as male characters in their plays. (Hardly surprising as females do tend to have more of a handle on the real world. I think it comes from knowing that, of the two genders, we're the only ones who will wind up pushing a baby out our nether regions - I've always found that thought rather sobering and real world'ish. Men push things like lawnmowers and broken down cars, and not out their butt either. And, lets not forget, most Saudi men are even excluded from that activity - they flog a Bangladeshi bloke to push their mechanical things, broken or otherwise.)
Anyway, apparently, there is an annual drama festival in Saudi and this years was not without controversy with two countries pulling out due to bans on women and music. (No prizes for guessing who stuck their Fun Wrecking Fingers in that pie!)
While reading these articles it occurred to me that never would an expat drama group put on a production with a Saudi club, (or vice versa), which is kind of sad. If they did decide to combine their talents either the Saudi hierarchy would have to lighten up on, or the expats would have to be happy with, the gender segregation rules. I can't really see it going either way.
Like I said, there's always drama in Riyadh. If you consider yourself an actor/actress of such caliber you know the expat folk of Riyadh just have to see you in action, or if you have a hankering to release your creative genius on props and backstage preparations, I suggest you volunteer for one of Riyadh's theatrical groups. (I can give you the contact details for one of them). And if you just aren't the volunteering type, perhaps you could buy a ticket to a performance instead. Keep your ear to the ground, I'm sure you'll hear the next show being advertised soon.
Monday, 18 November 2013
Do you love London? I've decided, I do. We were there a couple of weeks back. Hubster had a conference and a trip to the UK sounded like an excellent idea. This was my third time in London, but the first where I can say, 'Yep, I really enjoyed that'.
Our first trip to London, in 2007, was for two reasons - the rugby world cup and visiting my sister who lived in Warrington. London was the stopover point. We stayed in budget accommodation overnight and it was gross. Grimey, mouldy, creaky, small and on the third floor. It's the first accommodation where I've ever checked for bed bugs! Anyway, after a quick look around the local area to get an idea of where we were, we returned to the boarding house to find yellow police tape across the door and we were denied entry. Apparently there had been an argument and a man was thrown from the top floor and died. That was our intro to London. Lovely!!
I returned to London again last year. Once as a day trip down from Oxford as my friend and I came to see a show (The show was great. Wicked - if you get a chance, go see it. And if you have Athan on your phone, remember to turn it off before taking your seat. I forgot and part way through, the only segment mind you that was a quiet, reflective monologue, the call to prayer went off. And being aging and hearing challenged, I had the volume on my phone turned right up, didn't I), and, before I returned to Riyadh, I spent a day with my niece who had recently moved to the UK.
So this is my third trip to the UK and London and this time I had time to enjoy it, and I loved it. We had done the main touristy stuff our first time round (Big Ben, a Palace or two, that type of thing) so I wasn't so interested in those activities for this trip. I had people to see, things to do and places to go.
Our hotel was at Canary Wharf, central to Hubsters working needs. My first morning in London I woke early and did something I can't do in Riyadh, freely. I went for a walk. No abaya. No headscarf. No worries about being told to cover up. No concern about being hassled, followed or stared at by randoms. It was a real pleasure even though the wind was blowing a bit of a gale (this was the morning of the day of The Big Storm). One can't help thinking, when one is walking... (Ahhh... Now maybe that's why walking is frowned on for females in KSA - too much time to think!)...that a country that denies the female half of the population such small, simple delights is a weeny bit screwed.
After my walk I bought a day ticket and jumped a train, just to jump a train. Is that sad or what? The train system in London is fabulous. Londoners might complain, but they should try living in New Zealand (our public transport system sucks) or Saudi ( their public transport system currently looks like this...
Appreciate your tube Londoners - it's fabulous! Downloading the free Tube Map app was a very good idea and stood me in good stead for navigating the underground for the rest of the week. While tripping around on the train that day I stopped off to visit St Pauls Cathedral and the Museum of London (just to get my cultural fix).
That evening a young lady from the US, who taught in Riyadh for a couple of years and is currently studying for her masters in London, came around for a most excellent catch up dinner. Much Washington State wine was drunk over the most delicious steaks I've had in a while. I swear, if you want premium steak and excellent wine go dine at Goodman Restaurants at Canary Wharf!
The next day I was off to Brighton to visit another friend and, while there, decided to hire a car. Unfortunately, like a nincompoop, I left my drivers licence in Riyadh, Duh!! It's not much bloody good there is it! (Was kicking myself for that for days...). Friend K, however, decided hiring a car was a great idea and stepped into the void, eventually taking us on a drive over to Beachy Head, infamous as a suicide spot and also as the last sight of the homeland for a lot of young men heading out to a number of battles that were fought off its coast. Though the wind was still up after The Storm, it wasn't enough to keep folks from strolling the grass covered, chalky hillside. (These are not the white cliffs of Dover - they are further around the coast another 73 miles or so). We finished off that visit with a very late pub lunch made later by the fact their service was snail paced.
My last morning in Brighton was wet and rainy and we decided to eat breakfast at a local hotel. While scoffing back bacon and eggs with coffee I was imparting words of parenting wisdom when, really, I should have just shut the heck up! (Occasionally I have running at the mouth issues. This was one of those occasions. Sorry K, will do my utmost to zip it in the future - though don't take that as a promise, I also have promise keeping issues!) Anyway, the trip back to London on the train was so quick that, once again, I marveled at England's wonderfully efficient transport system.
The Husband & Co were picked up from Canary Wharf later in the afternoon, and we all headed in to Leicester Square. We had show tickets to buy. Thanks to advice from the bloke at hotel reception, we discovered that website statuses re:ticket availability for shows isn't entirely accurate. Which means, if the website says 'No more seats', then go to the theater itself, which we did, and picked up four tickets to Book Of Mormon for that night. (My London based niece was joining us).
This is a satirical musical written by the creators of Southpark. If you don't like satire, you don't like Southpark or you are easily offended by sarcasm, crassness and over the top non-pc jokes, then don't go. However, if you love wit, humour, clever lyrics and and taking the piss out of almost every segment of society you can think of (which is pure Southpark, isn't it?) then you'll love this show. We did. It was a great evening. We're recommending it to everybody who cares to listen.
Mr Associate was keen to visit Bicester Village for some brand outlet shopping so, the next morning, that's what we did. He, and I, thought the place was a complete and utter waste of a twenty pound fare. The Husband, however, bought a stack of new shirts and is looking very swish in them as he goes to work these days.
That evening we took in show number 2 - Jersey Boys. This is also a great show. It's a different style to the previous night with numerous scene changes as the story, told through music and narrative, moved about through the years, locations and characters. As I wasn't familiar with the Fankie Valli story I learnt a lot at that show including how many Four Seasons songs I actually know!
Halloween happened to fall on the weekend we were in London, so after the show, before hitting the casino (Mr Associate ended up winning so he bought the after Casino pizza), we did a spot of people watching. With clubs giving away free entry, free drinks and prizes for the 'Best Dressed' there were a lot of young adults proving they hadn't grown up yet (in spirit anyway, in body some of them were very brave wearing what they wore!)
No visit to any country is complete for me until I have sat on a bicycle. What can I say, I love cycling. So early the next morning Hubster was dragged out of bed and onto a Barclay's bike (although I think Londoner's call them something else).
As in Paris, these bikes can be found all around London's inner boundaries and you can hire and return them to various points about the city. They are fabulous. I had no idea you could do so much cycling in London! I downloaded a map off the internet and, despite The Husbands initial protests (he always does that, no idea why!) we spent the morning thoroughly enjoying ourselves. We rode our way over to the Borough Markets (with a couple of tiki tours down a few side streets on the way) to meet my niece and enjoy a pork roll and a pint.
This was our last day in London and we had one more visit out in London's outskirts, to an Aussie friend for dinner. It took frikken ages to get there, we should've left an hour earlier than we did. We had no idea London's outskirts were so far away! We got over it once we caught up with James and his wife. They have a nine month old baby who has just learned to maneuver himself around the floor, a bit like a mop really, and was an absolute cutey drooling and baby chatting his way around. It was good to see them, and the journey back didn't seem nearly as long as the trip out.
That, in a rather long blogging nutshell, was my recent trip to London. And like I said at the start, I loved it and am hoping a return stint isn't too far away. I was reminded (at the end of our trip of course, isn't that always the way) that my cousin's son also lives in London, so will be putting 'getting in touch with whanau' on the return to London itinerary.
Saturday, 16 November 2013
I love my email. It's been with me since the internet exploded on the human race. I've worked hard to keep it safe from fruit cakes, fruit loops and scurvy internet predators who love to send all sorts of nastiness and Spammy, virus ridden messages to my email address in the hope that I'm an idiot and will open them! (OK, so, in the early days, once or twice, I might have been an idiot - but I wised up real fast!)
In fact, for a long while, me and my email were cruising along quite nicely with unsolicited advertising of the seedy, saucy, begging and otherwise unasked for kind, kept to a minimum. It has probably helped immensely that most companies the world over, even the little ones, have learnt the value of protecting consumer info instead of palming it off, for a fee, to third party rabble.
Yes, all was going fine with my email down in Kiwiland. And then I moved to the Middle East.
It seems that companies over here are happy to sell out my information in a heartbeat. And that sucks.
On arrival in KSA it did cross my mind, for a fleeting moment, that perhaps I ought to be xtra wary (as usually I'm always wary) who I hand my email to in this region. But I shrugged the thought off presuming, wrongfully so, (obviously), that companies world wide were hip when it came to protecting client information. The assumption I was dealing with companies with integrity was a bit naive too, I guess. Integrity in business isn't really a catch phrase in this part of the world is it?
Now, when I open my junk mail to check for valid messages that I haven't yet identified as worthy of freely accessing my emails inner sanctum of safety, I can't believe how much crap is in there! It's like being back in the 90's! And it's starting to turn dirty. Disgusting scumbags! Getting Horizontal For Free - my adaptation on their words, so you can guess what they were saying - is what I married my husband for, not what I expect to find advertised in my email! (My email has been so clean for so long that I actually forgot how dirty spam can get.)
Over the years I've kept, and dumped, a number of temporary email addresses, purely used to sign up for things I'm interested in and might like to receive more information about. If they are an honorable business, the address won't get spammed and I can, eventually, if I feel the urge, change my sign up details to my proper addy. If they aren't, well, it's easy to see. So I dump the address, and the company, and go find the interesting information someplace else. I'm having to do that again, here in Saudi, as protection of my information from third, fourth and probably fifth parties has proven to be somewhat lax. Oh the lengths one must go to, to get Spam off the radar and feel safe online. I thought all that was behind me, but no. Here we go again!
Wednesday, 13 November 2013
Have you seen Hello Food?
Have you tried it?
If you have, what do you think of it?
I can tell you, I'm impressed!
I'd noticed HelloFood ads popping up on Facebook and, apart from registering the fact that someone was doing a persistent advertising campaign, I didn't pay them much attention. That is until an email landed in my business inbox asking if I'd heard of them. 'Well', I had to say to myself, 'yes I have'.
Then I read they were a food delivery website.
I've always wanted to start a food delivery business, so clicked over to take a look.
They deliver takeaways. (Or Home Delivery as the folks in these parts like to call it!)
Now, it just so happens that, a couple of weeks back, Hubster and I were discussing, yet again, the need for someone in this country to take the current home delivery service by the neck and give it a good shake up. And Hello, what do ya know, it looks like someone had the same idea.
Any non-Arabic speaking expats who have ever ordered home delivery in Riyadh know what I'm talking about. It's a bit of a process. Here's how things usually go for us...
Home Delivery Saudi Style
If we don't have the contact details of the particular restaurant we fancy ordering from saved in our mobile, or their brochure isn't stacked in the kitchen sideboard with the rest of the food menus, then we have to look the place up online. Chances are the home delivery numbers are not apparent on the home page. (What's with that!). So, being persistent types, we dig into the depths of the website and, Hey Presto, there's a phone number. But, Unpresto, it's the number for head office. (Saudi's love advertising Head Office for some reason.)
Obviously, Head Office doesn't answer their phone around dinner time!
Finding the right number is only the beginning of the 'Saudi Home Delivery' saga. Then, we have to hope whoever answers the phone speaks a smidgen of English. Or understands our very badly pronounced Arabic, and speaks slowly.
(Note to Arabic speakers answering phones - when we say 'Arabi shway shway' - that means PLEASE SLOW DOWN. We have no idea what you just said in your rapidly spoken native tongue. Work on the premise we are imbeciles. Go - one - word - at - a - time. Not one sentence at a time. One WORD at a time).
Of course the process isn't helped when Hubster, who knows not to ask for anything outside the square, because communicating it can be excruciating, always does! (I just roll my eyes...)
We have discovered that the English speakers at the other end of the line have usually only learnt the English for the menu they are responsible for. Outside the square requests result in 'One minute', silence, a click and then 'Your order please' - meaning, the operator is starting from number 1 on the 'How To Take An Order' checklist he/she has in front of them.
And that's only for places that utilize dedicated call centers with a script. Many don't. Usually you're just talking to the guy at the counter, busy with other customers and sounding harrassed.
Once you've ordered the food, you then have to explain your location. The larger food franchises have a system in place for identifying repeat callers and their addresses. 'You live The Compound?' 'Yes, we live The Compound'. Fabulous. Issues only arise when we aren't calling from The Compound and instructions for a new delivery address have not only to be given, but understood!
For smaller companies, Caller ID is non-existent and getting our message across is a real art...or extremely frustrating depending on which one of us has the phone! But we are nothing if not persistent, so persist we do. Orders are made, words repeated, and repeated again, and corrected and, when the phone is hung up, we wait to be surprised by, and pay for, what actually arrives. (Yes, we do pay if the order isn't quite right because we have chosen to live in this country, to not become proficient at the language and to order takeaways over the phone - so who's fault is it really, if weeny bits of information are lost in translation!)
When the delivery guy is close he gives us a missed call, we call him back and, if he's at the gate, delivery is achieved, payment is handed over and that is Home Delivery, Saudi style.
Occasionally though, things just don't go to plan.
One night, after two hours, we gave up waiting and calling to see where our food was and walked up the road for a burger. Our ploy to get Arabic speaking neighbors on the phone didn't work this time either as, not only did the guy on the other end not understand English very well, neither was he too hot at Arabic!
The final call was the last straw.
What number? he asked, when I called again. I repeated it, again. 'Where you live? he practically shouted down the phone. I told him, again, with what I believe to be perfectly clear, pigeon English/Arabic instructions. 'Coming' he said. Fifteen minutes later, I get a call on my phone from someone I presume to be the Delivery Guy (woohoo), only to be sweet talked by some Arab bloke who stopped sweet talking and muttered something about 'delivery' the minute I handed the phone to Hubster who, not surprisingly, bellowed down the line. (Companies who give out my phone number to their desperate and dateless mates won't be getting our patronage again!)
So it was, with that checkered history of home delivery in Riyadh on my mind, that I examined the HelloFood website with interest, and was impressed enough, hungry enough and lazy enough, to try it. And OMG! It's simple. It's stress free. And it works!
Basically, with Hello Food you order your takeaways online (or you can use their app), no fuss, no hassle, because they contact the diners and restaurants. Their website is extremely simple to navigate and there's a huge range of restaurants participating, most preferring cash payment once the food arrives. It's a bit of a wait (about an hour they reckon), however, the process is seamless.
Here's how our Hello Food home delivery went, last Tuesday.
At 19.20 I signed up online and placed my order - I know because they sent an email, in English, telling me that's what the time was. (When you sign up you get to choose your language - Arabic or English).
At 19.23 I received a phone call from a very well spoken, pleasant chap who introduced himself and laughed at my obvious surprise that, one he spoke English very well and two, he'd responded so quickly. He was checking the address, and directions to it, that I'd written on the form. (One gets used to giving directions with ones address when one has lived in Saudi long enough to know that one should).
At 19.29 a text message told me that the company whose food I'd requested was aware of my order, and would be at my door in about an hour.
At 20.53 said company delivery guy gave a missed call.It sounds ridiculous, but tonight when it crossed my mind to order in again, I actually sighed a huge sigh of relief thinking, 'Crikey dicks, I can do this the easy way' - no boning up on my Arabic, no attuning my ear to thick accents, no guess work at all. And over I clicked to the HelloFood page to peruse their Home Delivery options.
I responded and Hey Presto - Dinner! Delivery was a bit longer than the hour stated, and I was about to give them a call to say, 'Hey, what the?, but fortunately the food arrived before such a measure had to be taken. And it was still hot!
If you think I sound like I've become a fan overnight, you'd be right.
Try Hello Food.
See what you think.
Sunday, 10 November 2013
We went back to Ain Heet Cave this weekend as Mr Noor, who went the other weekend with a few mates, said the swimming was spectacular. He was right.
This weekend we took a newcomer to Riyadh (we'll call him Mr UK) who has been staying on our compound for a few weeks. He has the car. (I know, we're bludging!)
We reflected how the situation was a rather good analogy about Saudi's and their attitude to, well, anything requiring effort. Real effort. The dig deep and do whatever it takes, suffer through pain, difficulty and adversity, character building type of effort. You know what I'm talking about. (In case you don't, let me clarify...Saudi's love reward. They do. However, they only want to make minimal effort (if any) to get that reward. [Not that they are the only people in the world with this type of thinking - I know a few relatives back home with a constant hand out...but that's another story]. So, swimming in a cave might sound fabulous, really exciting and fun, but most would prefer that the cave pool be brought to them on a platter. They aren't that interested in climbing down a difficult path to reach the reward, and, sure as sheep, the effort required to climb back up after the reward would seem rather silly. Stereotypical generalizations I know, but not a lot of folks who live and work here would argue the point!). Which is not, I'm fairly certain, the attitude the Saudi of old had else they would not have survived life in the desert. Ahh...the new generation these days. Such a soft touch.
Anyway, on the way to our destination we were regaling the story of our first trip to Ain Heet Cave. On that trip there was only us and Mr Noor and we didn't swim. As we approached the cave this time, we were surprised by the number of people present. Obviously it was Filipino Day Out, and good on them I say! Life here can be sucky for many of the workers, so it's great the folks can get out for some relaxed fun and socializing.
After Mr UK parked the car and he and Hubster commented on being the only white people around, we surveyed the steep descent under the mountain. It was full of folks making their way, like a trail of ants, scrambling up and down through the fallen rock. We also studied the mountain overhead as Hubster, once again, reminded us we'd likely be crushed by any rocks that might decide to detach themselves from the mountainside. (We swept the thought aside...it wasn't very helpful!)
The walk to the bottom wasn't quite as difficult this time, as a path of sorts had been laid among the boulders, plus a rope has been anchored half way down the decline for those needing something to hang on to. In saying that though, it's still necessary to crouch and clamber, so my thighs were starting to sing a little even before I got to the bottom. I knew the body was gonna pay for the effort again the next day (and it is!)
As predicted, once at the bottom, Saudi's were few and far between (I counted 1 and he was a dark skinned bedu which, to some of the Saudi I know, doesn't really count, which probably makes them snobs or racists, or both!).
Everybody else, though, was there in abundance.
And they were having a blast.
We found a spot to set down our bag and shoes and the boys stripped to shorts and jumped in. I had bought shorts to wear for the swim too, and turned to the bloke behind me to let him know I was gonna be doing a quick change if he wanted to look the other way. (Have no idea if he did or not, cos I just got on with it - I was on a swimming mission). Once the knee lengths were off and the shorts on, I clambered in barefeet the short distance from our chosen spot down to the water. It was lovely.
Near the edges you had to be careful of submerged rocks but out in the middle the pool was deep. It's amazing lying on your back, looking up at the roof of the cave and remembering there's a mountain above you. One also has to wonder where the water has come from. Perhaps the inclement weather in other parts of Saudi has filled the underground water table, sending fresh water up the aquifers, one of which feeds this cave. I'm sure a geologist would know. Hubster was surprised the water was warm, he was expecting aquifer cold. And it was a lot clearer than our first visit. (It did concern me, just a little, that the water might be run off from Riyadh Recycled River, but we'll brush that thought aside too, cos it's not very pleasant).
We spent a bit of time swimming about, watching others jumping off rocks or attempting to climb the back wall (which is covered in tagging by the way) and took a few photo's before drying off and starting our ascent. The climb back up didn't seem as difficult this time (maybe I'm a bit fitter) though three quarters of the way up, the thigh muscles were telling me if I didn't do some decent stretching at home, tomorrow was gonna be a stiff day! (Heeding good advice, even my own, is a bit of a challenge for me, hence the legs are still stiff today).
The number of people at the top had thinned considerably by the time we got there. I'd packed a picnic, so we lay our carpet in the shade of the car, (it's winter in Saudi but when the afternoon sun shines it's still warm), and enjoyed turkey salad sandwiches and tea while appreciating the result of our climbing efforts. Hubster reckons the picnic is always the highlight of a desert drive. I don't know - this time I think the swimming eclipsed the food.
It's interesting that, just this morning, Mr UK sent me a message, 'What's the name of the place where the cave pool was?' He'd shown the pictures to folks at his workplace and one of the young Saudi's didn't believe it was in Saudi. On one hand I'm always amazed how little the locals know of their own backyard. On the other I'm kinda glad, otherwise the really cool places would be closed down! Maybe I'm going through a pessimistic phase in these slowly changing times (I was seriously hoping that women would be driving by now, really!), but it would be just like the Bearded Ones mentality to close Ain Heet Cave and the physical and social activity that cave swimming provides, even though none of them could acutally be bothered climbing down to see it.