Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Saudi Women's Movement

I'm a spectator in Saudi, and that's as it should be.  Changes in Saudi should be at the direction of Saudi's themselves.  One of the things I'm really enjoying watching though, is the way Saudi women are on the move. And it's fabulous.

Women related happenings of note recently - First, women were appointed to the Shoura Council.  Then, earlier this month the first woman was registered by the Justice Ministry as a legal trainee allowed to practice law, and you can read about it in this post - Saudi First Female Lawyer Faces Huge Obstacles.

Earlier this week  Eman Fahad Al Nafjan, via her blog Saudi Women's Weblog, was letting everyone know about a Saudi Women and Inheritance Seminar.

And today Saudi's first ever domestic violence ad revealed.

Being a spectator watching Saudi women on the move is certainly exciting.

Ka Kite,

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Tiramisu at Bateel

Being a bit of a Tiramisu freak, I tend to order it whenever it's on the dessert menu.  Yes, the Saudi version does lack a drop of liqueur, but I still have difficulty looking at other desserts when Tiramisu is around.

The other day, I enjoyed a deliciously creamy Tiramisu for breakfast at Cafe Bateel.
A great deal of control was exercised not to order another.  Plus Hubster was giving me a 'Don't you dare' stare.

Tiramisu probably isn't the best dietary choice for breakfast, but 'Hey', I said to Hubster, 'we only live once'.  He gave me that 'Chin Down, UnHappy Jowls, Whatever' look.

There is a reason he's less than pleased with my Breakfast Tiramisu.  We have promised ourselves (though it wasn't a 'Pinky Swear' which is why one of us may be having problems committing) that we would trim down after our food and beverage indulgent trip home recently.

It crossed my mind, with Hubster's critical eye frowning at my almost pout, that if I fancied Tiramisu for breakfast at Bateel in the future, I may have to go alone!

My friend K makes a delicious Tiramisu too, and last time I called round to her place she had whipped it up for our breakfast, along with a number of other treats.  She's a great cook K.  We also had cake with strawberry's and cream, cassava, an Asian chicken dish and blueberry muffins.

Hubster's query about my day with K didn't go into detail about the mouth watering, home baked delicacies that came out of her kitchen because I didn't want him to feel bad that he went to work and only had fruit for lunch.  (I'm fairly certain he appreciates me being so concerned about his dietary sensitivities like that).

The other day, when he suggested spoiling ourselves with Bateel for breakfast I didn't hesitate in agreeing it was a brilliant idea.  It had been a while since we spent the morning at Bateel and it was nice to see the place had plenty of patrons at that early mid-morning hour.  Many restaurants in Riyadh start with a whizz and a bang, then fizzle out in popularity because there are a huge number of eateries to choose from in this city when thoughts turn to food.  There are so many, in fact, that I heard talk the Foreign Investment Authority was thinking of cutting back on the number of licences it would dish out for food places.

It's good to see Bateel is still popular - probably owing to the quality of the Tiramisu.

Location of Bateel Cafe

View Dining Out In Riyadh in a larger map

Sent from my Iphone wishing you a fabulous day :)

Ka Kite

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Yibreen Spa And Salon

Last month I went to Yibreen Spa and Salon.

It was my first visit and, I have to say, it's a nice place.
But nice.

A couple of friends have been members at Yibreen for a while and have often invited me along, assuring me I would love the place.  Last month I decided to see what all the buzz was about.

The entry to Yibreen is somewhat unassuming and, once through the gate, you have to wonder if you're in the wrong place.  Unlike other ladies spa's in Riyadh, Yibreen's set up is similar to a compound.  Everything you expect of a spa and salon is available, but the areas are housed in small villas nestled close to each other in a setting that felt surprisingly serene on a cool winter morning in the center of Riyadh.

Hair Salon
The first villa on the right is the reception and hair salon.  The reception, as well as catering to foot traffic for the hair salon, acts as a shop selling products from bed throws to skin care.  The hair salon itself, though small, was clean, light and airy.  I couldn't get over the fact that there was a fairly large window in the hair salon and, not only did it let in loads of light, but you could look out of it.  Most other salons I've been too follow a similar design to Saudi homes - small windows, minimal natural light, zero view.

Across from the hair salon, is a small villa for showering and changing out of your gym gear once you've sweated your way through exercises at the workout studio or gym.  The workout studio, which is next door in it's own building, offers numerous exercise programs and the times are posted at the door.  A quick look through the list showed Yoga, Body Pump and various other forms of aerobics all led by experienced instructors.

We met one of the instructors in the gym which is housed next door to the exercise studio and is decked out with a small spinning room, an area for weights and a zone full of treadmills, with TV's to prevent you from getting bored, looking out over the pool courtyard.  She gave us some advice on how to do weight lifting exercises properly (we were only using light lady weights, not huge body building dumb-bells) and she was well qualified and quite delightful, from Canada.  If I do decide to join this gym, I know I can expect to start looking toned and fabulous under her guidance.

The beauty villas for your facials, body wraps and so forth extend from the hair salon toward the swimming pool that was looking deep blue and inviting on a winters morning.  The pool is warmed during winter, so even on cold days you can go in for a dip, though my Canadian friend informs me in all the time she's been a member here, she has been the only one in the pool.

To top off our Yibreen experience we took a seat outside the on-site cafe and enjoyed a latte in peace and quiet next to the pool, watching water gently cascading down the sides of the wooden water feature standing as a quiet sentinel at the end of the path.  It is possible, at this spa, to lie back in sun loungers and get a natural sun tan as the place is located in a block of it's own in, what appears to be, a more upper class residential area devoid of any tall buildings with peeping eyes.

As I said, it's very nice.
But you have to pay it.
My friend got her annual membership at the gym for around 6000 SAR for 6 months, which is about average when compared to other ladies centers, but that was on special.  The non-special price is a couple of thousand Riyal more.  

As I got side-tracked by coffee beside the pool, I failed to ascertain the cost of spa treatments, so can't comment on what's available, though rumour has it that you're paying for quality at Yibreen.  For research purposes I just might book myself for a treatment in the future.  

Yibreen Spa and Salon is located at 42 Takhasussi St.  They open at 10am.  Take a virtual tour through their website at www.yibreenspa.com or phone Yibreen on  01 441 1115 for more information.

Ka Kite,

Sunday, 21 April 2013


I've had this article on Saudization in my Draft Box for ages and have played around with it quite a bit because the current scheme for employment of nationals is an ongoing saga with updates required often.  But I've had enough of this post in my draft box so, here it is....

I love the way the Saudi hierarchy sees something needs doing and just does it.
A road needs building, we'll build it.
We need schools and hospitals - let's build them.
We need employment - we present Saudization.
Yes I love how decisive the heirarchy is.
No discussion. 
Just do it!
I wonder if all the hierarchy in KSA wear Nike?

Saudization.  The Kingdom's strategy for increasing employment for locals.  Officially it's called Nitiqat though my preference is the 'Traffic Light System'.

It's been chugging along lately.  While reading articles about Nitiqat today I recalled the stress that it's impending implementation caused a number of expats.  Mostly those with jobs that Saudi's have absolutely no interest in doing.  Which means anything that doesn't come with 'Manager' status.  Status and title tends to mean a lot to Saudi's, more particularly the men.

For those unfamiliar with Saudization here's a brief overview:
To deal with Saudi unemployment the government decided that all except the smallest companies must have a certain percentage of Saudi on the payroll.  The bigger your company the more Saudi you should have.  Each company will fall into a colour category based on whether or not this percentage is met. 
The category your company is in affects your ability to issue visa's for importing new expat workers.
  • Blue - you're special and can do what you want;
  • Green - you meet the percentage and get some visa concessions - go ahead and hire some more expats;
  • Yellow - you do not meet the percentage and cannot issue new visa's to get expats. However, you only have to turf a few expats and replace them with Saudi's to re-colour yourself;
  • Red - you definitely do not meet the percentage and have a real problem on your hands. Replace most of your staff with locals and, until you do, you can only dream of issuing visa's for more expats.
Being able to sponsor expat workers is important for a number of reasons but the main one is, they work.  Companies often baulk at hiring Saudi's because the current local interpretation of the term 'work' and every body else's understanding of the word is vastly different. ( I'm fairly certain this is the fall out from recent oil wealth because making a living out of the desert in days gone by would not have been, and still isn't, easy).

Nitiqat is giving everybody a wake up call.
The youth of Saudi are wanting jobs.
Nitiqat is, apparently, giving them jobs.
Finding out they actually have to work at those jobs is a bit of shock! (for the job hunters).
Figuring out how to make them good at the jobs is causing a few headaches. (for the job providers).

Announcements from Big Wigs that most jobs done by expats aren't suitable for Saudi's because they are 'too menial' only serves to keep a number of Saudi's picky about the jobs they will do.  But get a job they must.  And a real job, too.  Not a fake one.

When Nitiqat first came out, stories abounded of the way company's were getting around the rules.

I understand the most common strategy was for owners to have the names of friends and family on their employee list, although they didn't have to turn up to work at all, unless a Ministry type threatened to visit.  Then it was all hands on deck, looking busy.  The government is not taking kindly to companies who try to continue that little ruse.

Another, quite entrepreneurial, strategy was Saudi's getting paid a little pocket money by putting their name on the employee list of lots of companies.  The governments new rule, that companies must pay GOSI (General Organisation for Social Insurance) for their employees, has served to nip that scheme in the bud.

About the same time as Nitiqat came along, Hafiz was also introduced.  Hafiz is a dole system with rules.  You're only on it for a year.  In that year you'll be offered work that you are expected to take or you'll lose your cushy income.  There was a rush to sign up for, and cash in on, Hafiz - I know more than a few ladies who were at the front of the crowd.  Now they aren't so happy.  They didn't think the party would end!

Saudi Arabia should be moving ahead due to Saudi effort but, like repairing a broken wall in an old house, when you start fixing one area of rot, you discover another mess that needs attention, and Nitiqat keeps uncovering issues.

Now that the government is pushing for Saudi's to be employed, those same Saudi's have decided they want to be paid more and it is safe to say that the Saudi pay packet, generally speaking, is fairly crap.   The Ministry has come up with a plan to find the money for increased salaries - Penalise workplaces for the expats they have on their books then, use the money from those penalties to increase the Saudi salary.

Some economists said that the fall out from this scheme would be inflation, though others think expats would be forced to pay the extra cost which, I think, is more likely.

Expat levy to add SR60bn economic burden on Saudis

The latest in the Saudization Saga, The Passport Raids, we heard about when we arrived back in Riyadh a few days ago.  Apparently the streets of Saudi's largest cities were very quiet for two weeks as companies rang their workers and told them not to come in.

The Passport Raids was Saudi trying to rid itself of illegal workers, presumably to open up the job market for nationals.  I was told the basic premise for being an illegal worker in these raids was 'you are not working for your sponsor' or 'your iqama does not match your job title'.

Given that many a Shady Saudi over the years has been cashing in on the sponsorship system by offering 'free visa's', there are hundreds of thousands of 'illegal' workers in Saudi.

Here is how 'free visa' works, according to a very chatty taxi driver I know.  A Saudi bloke goes to the government with papers stating he has a company that needs 300 workers.  The government office then issues him with 300 visa's.  The Saudi goes to an agent and says find me 100 workers (for the real business), and here's 200 visa's that you can sell off at, let's say, 10,000SAR a piece, making Mr Saudi a tidy profit.

The reason they are called Free Visa's is because the worker who buys one is "free" to work for other employers. And, though the Saudi remains the sponsor and keeps the workers passport, he declares himself "free" from the obligations of sponsorship (because sponsorship done right does have rules and obligations) and the worker is generally left to fend for himself.  I'm not sure, but I understand that Free Visa Sponsorship was never actually legal, it was more that a blind eye was turned.  That is, till now.

One can only presume that Free Visa Sponsors are being dealt with during these raids as well as Free Visa Purchasers, though knowing Saudi as I do, I doubt it.

There are also thousands of workers on Iqama's that do not equate to the job they do.  In days gone by, when a legit company wanted Iqama's for their workers they stated the kind of work the company did and asked for Iqama's to suit the employees roles.  The Iqama Office however, for whatever reason, didn't send Iqama's to suit everybody.  So secretaries are Iqama Mechanics, accountants are Iqama Engineers etc.  (Last year there was a crack down on engineers because it was discovered that loads of engineers were, in fact, not engineers.  Rumour has it that the Iqama office (or somebody closely related) kept receiving a lot of Engineer Iqamas and needed to get rid of them, so companies were told take them or get nothing).

One must now presume that the Visa/Iqama  process has become more stringent in light of Saudization.

We were away in NZ (our son got married) and missed the excitement of the raids which also closed International Schools  because a large percentage of the teachers are wives of expats.  The Iqama of an expat wife has 'Must Not Work' stamped across it.  Mine does.  When we asked a friendly Saudi about my current work status (because I was contemplating finding more work), he said not to worry, only Indians, Pakistani's and such like were on the hit list.

It crossed my mind, when I heard about the International School closures, that stopping expat wives from working as teachers in International Schools was a bit ridiculous from a Saudization point of view.  I mean, how many Saudi's would really be happy replacing the wives to teach Indian, Pakistani and such like children.   Although newspaper articles often sing the praises of new agreements signed between countries and important men pose for lovely smiley photographs, on the ground in Saudi, racism is rife.

The following articles give another spin on the Passport Raids and Saudization  "Reduce Our Dependence on Expatriates But Don't Scare Them.

And that, in a nutshell, is my overview of how Saudization has been trucking to date.  You can't really say life is ever dull in the Land of Sand.  They are always up to something.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Home For Surgery and A Wedding

We went back to New Zealand recently, for Hubster's surgery and our son's wedding.

Hubster headed home about 8 weeks ago.  His pipes needed reconnecting after his abdominal surgery last August.  That meant I had a few weeks on my own in Riyadh because I had work commitments.

A few of my married friends thought my staying here without the other half was a bad plan.  I think they had visions of me getting myself into all sorts of trouble.  My single lady friends knew, as I did, that everything would be fine.  Apart from the fact people looked at me differently as I wandered up Tahalia Street on my own in the evening, because dining in Tahalia St is one of the perks of living in this place and I like to participate often, my life in Riyadh continued as normal despite Hubster's absence.

I joined Hubster in NZ for three weeks.
Our son was getting married to his lady love of the last ten years.
It meant all the family were together.
What a great time we had.

We dressed up...

And played games with the kids.

We went for walks during the day...

 And dressed up again at night.

We took the kids to a farm to pat animals and collect eggs.

We went for a family picnic and swam in a fountain...

 Flew a kite...

And hired a tandem bike...

The Easter Bunny left an Easter Egg trail early one morning.

We had a six year old birthday with dinosaur decorated cake and watermelon ice-cream.

We played more games with the kids...

We travelled to Paeroa and took goony pictures around a world famous bottle.

We visited Hubster's elderly aunt..

And we went to the beach.

Mum had her birthday....

And Jas and Wiz got married....

An event filled trip home.

Now I'm back in Riyadh grateful for photographic memories.

Ka Kite,

Friday, 12 April 2013

Saudi Is Evolving

Saudi is evolving, rapidly and surely.

Yep rapidly.  When you consider how long it took the west to evolve into western-ism, Saudi's rate of change is on steroids.  Every week I see something that makes me think, 'Wow!  We couldn't do that before'.  And they are not major, history making events either, but the little things that we in the west tend to take for granted as just everyday life.

Like, women sitting out in the open in malls drinking coffee at Mama Rotti's.  Like the male cashier at the supermarket actually saying 'Good Morning' when I rock up to the checkout and stating the price of my goods (in Arabic) instead of eye aversion and hand signalling toward the checkout screen in silence.  Like my female Saudi friends actively seeking employment.  Like a number of Saudi women I know getting secret driving lessons from their significant males in preparation for the day that everyone knows is coming.  Like the Arab News improving the quality of its writing.

Although those fighting change do some weird stuff in their efforts to remain unchanged, Saudi is still evolving rapidly.

Friday, 5 April 2013

On Ya Bikes Ladies.

Big News - Saudi Ladies are allowed on bikes and buggies.
I'm pumped, thrilled, over-joyed - and I'm not Saudi!

It looks like somebody has had to eat their words.  That person being me.  A few weeks back there was a news article about the Bearded Ones not being happy about women riding quad bikes.  And soon after that there was another one about the increase of women involved in quad bike accidents due to abayas getting wrapped up in the wheels.  I was fairly certain, and told Hubster so, that the next announcment would be "Women Forbidden From Riding Quad Bikes Due to Danger".  So this latest bit of news is a real turn up for the books.

I've read the article in the Saudi Gazette very carefully, more than once.  Just double checking it's true!  I love the term 'wearing fully modest dress'.  That does not mean 'abaya'.  That means 'modest'.  You don't need an abaya to dress modestly.  I admit I've never worn an abaya when out on the bikes.  Hat, sunnies, longs and t-shirt are what I wear on quad bikes.  Jeans, jacket, boots and helmet when I'm the motorbike.

Cycling on the DQ I opt for bike shorts and t-shirt.  Though when cycling up the road I wear track pants, one of Hubsters shirts and a hat with my hair tucked up under it.  Road riding usually takes place early morning, when no-one is up, or night time, when they can't really see.  It's been a bit of a bug bear of mine that I can't freely ride out our compound gate - but that day has come.  Hasn't it?  I mean 'Women are free to ride bikes in parks, seafronts, among other areas', means out my front gate down empty morning roads, doesn't it?  I reckon it does! Yip, yahoo!!

Apparently foreign women were never forbidden from riding bikes or buggies which, I gotta say, is news to this foreign bird.  Even the General of the Traffic Police didn't make the point quite that clear when Hubster asked him one day about his wahine being able to ride on the back of his Motoguzzi.  Though the rational may explain why, the couple of times we were pulled over while I was on the Guzzi, the police didn't seem to mind at all.  Once they saw our iqama's they would exclaim to Hubster - "Zawja", meaning wife, shake his hand and send us on our merry way.   According to the General, they know westerners are a bit different so, provided we aren't doing anything that would attract undue attention, they leave us be.

This latest bit of news means two things.  Hubster is getting a bicycle so we can ride through Wadi Hanifah together.  I can't wait!  And next on my list of things to do is buy myself a Harley - an 883 Superlow.  There's an absolute beauty in the Harley Shop now, because I'm fairly certain women licensed to drive is next on the cards.

Ka Kite,

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