Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Saudi Arabia Lacking Physical-ness

We were talking, a fellow expat and I, just last night about how Saudi Arabia lacks physical-ness.  The general consensus from western sporty types is that Saudi's are, in short, soft.  It reminded me of a blog post I started to write a long while back (over two years ago by my calculations), but never finished, which is sometimes what happens to my posts.  I throw them onto the draft page in a rush of bleh! and then let them lie.  Here's how that post started...

My photo album is full of my grand kids enjoying the outdoors and engaging in healthy physical activity.

 It's great that they love to run and jump and climb trees and walls and swing over jungle gyms with carefree abandon.  They enjoy swimming at the beach, splashing about in waves.  Or kicking a rugby ball, throwing a frisbee or bouncing on the trampoline.  Watching them reminds me of the days and times we spent with our own kids on the front lawn playing cricket or touch rugby.  Heck, we still enjoy getting out on the front lawn to play with the kids.   

Saudi, at least the Saudi I live in, is not that physical.  

In the cooler evenings our park is full of maids doing most of the leg work for the kids - pushing them on the swings, pumping the see-saw for them, lifting them onto trikes and lifting them off again. 

It's disheartening to see a three year old, who is quite capable of being taught to climb the ladder to a plastic slide on their own, waiting with arms raised in the air, oft times accompanied by hollering, for his maid to hoist him up past the four or five rungs he'd have to clamber up so he can sit atop the platform.  And hollering again for the maid to hold his hand on the way down.  

And the parents?  Why, the parents have abandoned their children to maids in favour of sitting in the coffee shop oblivious to what may be happening at the park with their offspring. 

The older kids get tired of the limited space, so start annoying each other till their annoyance winds up at the coffee shop, whining to their parents who shoo them back to the house with a wave to argue over the latest whizz bang battle games!

This post was going to go on about the difference in attitude to physical activity for children and adults in Saudi Arabia (well, my part of Riyadh anyways), and the almost total lack of participation by the parents with their kids games.

I could continue my ramble about the lack of physicality in Saudi (as I had intended to do initially), but I won't.  That would be extremely negative and today is a beautiful day - like most days in Saudi - so instead I'll ply you avid readers with positive situation updates.  (Did I hear some of you say 'Buggar that...I want Gossip! You are Sad People!)

Here's some updates.

Also opened in Riyadh recently are children's activity centers like My Gym and, coming soon, Gymboree.

All these initiatives have my support (not that they need my support, but I'm just saying).  It all sounds very positive and there is hope that these programs will encourage Saudi folks off the couch and out of the shopping malls from a very young age.

The party line handed down to the locals for the implementation of these activity centers is along the lines of 'health and wellness'.  However, I get the feeling the point of the youth clubs, women's sports centers and kiddie gyms isn't just to cater to the issues of bored youth and obesity related health issues plaguing the country at the moment.  The real point is to harden up Saudi Arabia's future generations and nip in the bud the current, generally accepted idea that Saudi's lack the characteristics needed to grow their country in the hard times ahead, because all predictions are harder times are comin!

I'm talking about the stuff pioneers of the past possessed when they left their homes in search of something better.  Things like courage, daring, fortitude, work ethic, dedication, commitment, self-determination, creativity, patience, strength.  The ability to endure hardships and set backs, to persevere.  Never giving up.  Having grit.  Thinking outside the square.  Problem solving.  Taking the bull by the horns.  Knowing how to co-operate with others and truly respecting others as you work towards a common goal.  Knowing how to respond to victory and, just as importantly, how to regroup and start again after a defeat.
That kind of stuff.
Isn't it amazing what sport has the potential to do for a country!

I get the feeling that the joke going around that Saudi has Pakistan in its back pocket to fight its battles because the locals would run away from a fight is like grit in the mouth to some local leaders.  (A number of folks I've spoken to on the ground are perfectly happy with that plan because anything that reduces the number of Pakistani's in the world suits them just fine, thanks!)

Anyway... back on track.
It's great that the Powers That Be of Saudi Arabia are doing their bit for Saudi's future through providing youth clubs and sports centers for all, regardless of their actual reasons for it.  Next step is to get the parents involved in their children's activities and tell the maids to back off!

Ka Kite,

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Adjusting To New Weekend in Saudi Arabia.

How are you adjusting to the new Saudi weekend?
Or are you not?

Hubster is not a fan of the changes to the weekend from Thursday/Friday to Friday/Saturday.  He used to head off to work with a bounce in his step when Saturday was the first day of the working week because he knew it would be a quieter day.  The emails from the rest of the planet with "URGENT" in the subject line, for something that wasn't that urgent at all if good client management was being practiced, slowed to a dribble, if not completely stopped, on a Saturday.  It gave him time to catch up on his work.  Now he doesn't have that down time, if that's what it can be called.

I suggested he talk to the boss about his own glide time schedule, so he could go back to working Saturday and choose another day off a week, but that idea was greeted with a grunt.  (Sometimes one should not try to help!)

One of our friends isn't a fan of the changed weekend either.  She works five and a half days a week in a clinic.  She used to work full days Saturday through Wednesday, then a half day Thursday giving her a day and a half uninterrupted weekend.  Now she works Sunday through Thursday, has the day off Friday, is back at work for a half day Saturday and then back into the full time week on Sunday.  It's a piecemeal weekend and doesn't lead to feeling refreshed and recuperated.

Yet another friend works in another clinic and they are still checking, changing and rearranging appointments made months in advance so they can have their weekend off and patients can still be attended to.

And yet another friend who organizes expat events isn't quite sure whether said events should be on the Friday, it being a holy day and all, or wait till the Saturday where turnout and participation may be reduced being the day before returning to work.

I'm not sure that Saudi's have figured out what to do with the weekend yet either, my position postured because Tahalia St seems to rather subdued on the new weekend nights.  Some might argue that has more to do with Ramadan and Eid recently passing, but I don't know.  There has not been the same vibe.

As Friday is a holy day and time for catching up with the family after attending the mosque, families used to use Thursday (generally speaking) as a time to take the women shopping so they could prepare for the weekly whanau event on Friday and the men would hang out till they had to go pick the women up.  During wedding season Wednesdays and Thursdays were pumping with hair salon visits, spa visits, picking up dresses, organizing drivers to cart numerous excited women from the family home to the wedding venue.  Now, the holy day comes straight after the working week.  Shopping and preparation are in disarray!  The women still go to the mall and the men still hang out on Saturday, though it's not quite the same is it, when you have to go to work the next day.

Yes, though the new weekend changed with a snap of the regal finger, adjusting to it is still taking some time for we minions in Saudi Arabia.

Ka Kite,

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Wedding Souq in Riyadh

It hadn't occurred to me that there would be a wedding souq in Riyadh, probably because I've had no reason to go in search of wedding paraphernalia.  As getting married seems to the be major life goal of most young women in Saudi Arabia, I shouldn't have been surprised such a souq existed.  Anyway, a Kiwi friend, Miss M, had a ball coming up and what better place to find a fancy dress for a glamorous occasion than at a wedding souq.  When Miss M asked me to tag along, describing with much enthusiasm the gowns that could be found at reasonable cost, me and my camera weren't about to stay at home.

Jessica's girls

It was obvious on entering the place that the clientele wandering through this souq probably didn't hail from the top notch of Saudi's elite.  This souq catered more to the mid-range crowd.  The wedding gowns are upstairs, but our first stop was looking at a few Jessica brands in a shop downstairs where some not so shy young men were happy to pose for photo's.

Jessica, so Miss M tells me, has designs that cater to the larger figure, which is helpful to know as I've been a member of the big girls gang for quite some time, with occasional forays into skinny land.  With a love of cakes, coffee and lots of cream, 'skinny' isn't how my hips and thighs like to spend a lot of their time!

The gowns weren't as gaudy as I presumed they would be given some of the over-the-top dresses we've come across at the Princess Souq, (and you can read about that in my Princess Souq post).

As Miss M also likes to sew her own clothes (this ball came upon her before she could organise a Do-It-Yourself job), she spent quite a bit of time looking under the more interesting dresses to see how they were put together.

Orange, or variations of, was quite popular the day we went.  I have to say, I'm quite partial to a burnt orange though not too sure about the mirror bodice.

A number of creations weren't really our cup of tea....

...though I did quite fancy this one because, apart from burnt orange, I'm also partial to various depths of purple.

While there was a lot of color among the gowns, there was a lot more white with various amounts of shimmer, ruffles, pearls, beads and lace.

We couldn't get over how Madonna-esque many of the bodices were with sharp pointy bits all over the place.  Not really very welcoming, but then perhaps keeping the groom at bay till the blushing bride is good and ready for him in this arranged marriage is the idea.

This gown was the most interesting.  Miss M had a good rummage under it's skirts.  We're still undecided if we really like it.

The wedding souq I visited with Mis M is in Makkah Mall, which for a long time I thought was called Mocha Mall because for the life of me I can't understand the words emanating from the lips of Miss M's driver!  Suffice to say when I wanted to return to the mall with Mrs B to show her what can be found at Riyadh's out of the way malls, it took some time for Mr Noor, my ever reliable taxi service, to figure out what I was talking about.

Mr Noor:  Mocha Mall? I don't know Mocha Mall.
Kiwi:  Perhaps I'll get you to talk to Miss M's driver, then he can tell you.
Mr Noor:  Are you sure it's Mocha Mall?
Kiwi:  No, Noor, I'm not sure.  I can't understand most of what he says, but that's what it sounds like when he says it.
Mr Noor:  Mocha Mall?  Mocha Mall...(thinking)
Kiwi:  It has a wedding souq in it.  We're going to look at wedding dresses.
Mr Noor: Wedding dress?  What's wedding dress?
Kiwi:  You know, ladies get married in them.  White dresses.  Fancy dresses.  For weddings.
Mr Noor:   Ohhh....I know a mall that ladies go to for nice lady clothes.  
Kiwi:  That's sounds like it Mr Noor.  Let's go there.
Mr Noor:  It's Makkah Mall, ma'am.  Not Mocha Mall (and he laughs).

Location of the Wedding Souq and Makkah Mall

There aren't just gowns at Riyadh's Makkah Mall wedding souq.  You can also order flowers and decorations and all the accessories required to make your special day fantabulous. The day Mrs B and I went a couple of blokes were busy putting together some beautiful floral arrangements. But the dresses take up most of the space upstairs and if you fancy looking at wedding gowns for the not so upper class in Riyadh, this souq is where you'll find them.

Ka Kite,

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Cute Mammals And Tiger Skins

A new, and cute, mammal species has been discovered by scientists in the Andes.  The olinguito is a cross between a cat and a teddy bear, which does sound kinda cute.   You can read more about its discovery on NBC News "Cutest new animal' discovered: It's an olinguito!"

It's nice to know we can still discover things on this planet.  Lets just hope the newly discovered critter survives.  The Andes has issues with illegal poaching.  A new critter is likely to make the human nutcases out there think 'I want me one of those!'

Which reminds me of a trip to Deira Souq one day.  A group of we women decided to go for a spot of shopping and while perusing a tucked away shop that sold antiques we came across a tiger skin hanging up in a wrinkled plastic dry cleaners bag.  'Is it real?', one of the ladies asked.  Yes of course, said the bloke in situ and took the skin out of the bag for her to take a look.  It was real.

It wasn't a professionally tanned hide.  In fact, it reminded me of the possum skin jacket that Hubster made for himself when he was a youngster. (In NZ possums are pests and new ways are constantly devised for getting rid of them.  Visit Ms Possum to see how she designs possum pelts).

My two friends and I walked away from the tiger skin.  Something to do with 'Where did it come from?' and 'Illegal hunting'  came up in our conversation.  But one woman in our group loved the tiger skin.  And although we looked on disapprovingly she said, 'It's already dead, so it doesn't matter'.
Yes, but if you buy that, then another one will die, won't it.
But my husband will love it.  And it's already dead.
We walked further away.
Here's hoping she and her husband don't hear about this cute new mammal discovery else it may be in serious jeopardy!

Ka Kite,

Metered Taxis in Saudi

According to Arab News, metered taxis are to make an appearance in Riyadh.  I have to say, this news was slightly confusing as I presumed metered taxi's were already here!  Most taxi's I've ever been in have a meter.  Whether or not the driver actually uses it is a different story.

It's well known that you can haggle a fare with a taxi driver in Riyadh. In fact, it's common for most people to sort out the fare details before hopping into the taxi.  And if you don't like the price, find another taxi.  In the early days I used to haggle with street hailed taxi driver's when Mr Noor was on the other side of town and his ETA for pick up was longer than I fancied.

When catching a taxi outside Kingdom, for example, I would go from taxi to taxi looking for a reasonable price because after being driven by Mr Noor, who always uses his meter (for us anyway), I know what the meter fare is from Kingdom to our place.  The drivers waiting at cab ranks always, without fail, cranked up the price.  They were also always, without fail, Arab drivers.  (I gather they hike prices to cover the fact they sit at cabs ranks all day instead of actually going out and finding fares!)

These days I do two things when catching taxi's outside Kingdom.  I completely bypass the cab rank, walk up the road a bit and hail a taxi driven by a non-Arab.  They, I have found, are less likely to rip you off.  They also, usually, have their meter turned on and if they do I don't bother haggling, I simply pay the meter rate.  The drivers are ecstatic when I do that because very few Riyadh passengers pay meter rates. Which makes me wonder if this grand announcement that meters are coming to Riyadh actually means anything.

When I hop in the taxi, the first thing I do is look to see if the meter is turned on.  If it's not visible (which isn't often) I ask 'Where is your meter?' and can guarantee broken English response that goes something like 'New car, no meter'.  Of course I think they are full of crap.

It turns out they aren't actually talking BS at all. I mentioned this situation to Mr Noor and he explained that, when the owner brings over a replacement car he can't make it legal till he gets rid of the old car because two cars cannot share the same company license number or meter.

Only once the old car is history can the meter be fitted to the new vehicle and the car number painted on the back, making it legal.  Until then, though he's not supposed to, the owner allows both cars to work. After all, he usually has a driver who is keen and he's not going to argue with the extra money coming in, is he?  With that explanation I now have no real reason to diss 'no meter' drivers for talking nonsense.  I will however diss them for charging above meter rates!

If the meter is turned off, I ask the taxi driver to turn it on.  Most do so, quite happily, and as I said before, I quite happily pay meter rates.  (I presume it's turned off because so few passengers actually pay it any attention).  Some drivers, however, say something akin to  'Meter, No working' while tapping the meter with their fingers and waving their hand around after doing so, as if for emphasis.  That just gets my back up and I'm determined they ain't getting one halala extra (now that halala are actually going to be in circulation in Saudi) because I don't believe them!

So then I ask 'How much' for the fare and almost without fail 'missing' or 'broken meter' taxi drivers try to rack up the price.  If I can be bothered arguing, I do.  If I can't I simply say 'No, too much', and pay what I know to be the meter rate once I've got out of the car at rides end.

Never pay while still in the car, that would be risking locked doors and entering into pointless, circular discussion.  So I get out, then pay and if they grumble they do so to my back as I walk away usually after saying, 'Fix your meter'  in my best Arabic.  (I realised one day that I was saying 'Air condition your meter', because I got the two words confused, but hei aha, I'm sure they got the point).

If meter use becomes a must in Riyadh taxi's I can see the honest drivers being ripped off because here's something the Powers That Be don't seem to understand - Most passengers don't want to pay meter rates! 

It was quite common when I first arrived in Saudi (and I haven't asked Mr Noor about it for some time) for passengers to hand over their money rolled up and once unraveled, for it to be short most of the fare!  And where, pray tell, do honest taxi drivers go to complain about such unscrupulous passengers?  The same place they've always had.  Nowhere.

Commentators have said the metered taxi hooha will have a short life in Saudi.  Apparently it was tried once before a few years back  and the people simply didn't pay full fare, so bargaining with the meter turned off came back into vogue.

What was worrying about the report was this paragraph...
"Trip fares are currently determined through bargaining between the customer and the taxi driver, but with the introduction of metered fare, taxi drivers will be required to pay higher amounts to their employers daily when this decision is applied."
Why the heck are the employers going to get more money?
They aren't doing anything new!
And if they spit out some pissy reason like 'to cover the cost of putting meters in the taxi's' - they own a taxi company!  The loan from the bank to start the company already includes the cost of meters for goodness sakes, and if it doesn't it shows what bad management the company has.  Why the hell do the company owners need to fleece any more off hard working drivers, which is what most taxi drivers are!  Of course, there are the few that stuff it up for the rest giving taxi's a bad name.  Or maybe I've just been really fortunate with the taxi's I catch in Saudi.

Ka Kite,

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Little Green Men At Riyadh Airport.

Ok, so tonight I take back anything I may have said about Little Green Men. Tonight I'm at the Riyadh airport and being the first day of Eid, it's bedlam!

The Little Green Men now have a lemony yellow uniform and the price of their service (10SAR) is embroidered on their shirt front. Though don't rely on it. The guy who approached us asked for 50 SAR. Hubster waved him away.

As we inched toward the scanner and viewed the queues squished beyond it in front of the check-in counters another Green Man came by and said 20 Riyal to carry our bag to the Emirates counter. Hubster, surprisingly, said Ok.

And so it was that the little green man in the yellow shirt hoisted our single suitcase off the rack after it had been scanned and held it aloft, over his head, while fighting a track through the crowded, hectic, snaking queues to the shorter, though still busy business class line with us following single file behind. (We don't actually fly business class but we are Silver Skywards members which means we get to stand in the business class queue).

Without him we would have wondered where the business class check-in counter was located - signage isn't obvious. And we would have had to fight our suitcase through people and baggage already hoha, (kiwi word for annoyed), with the wait and not looking too friendly at anyone attempting to cross through their long held spot in the queue, because holding our luggage over our heads isn't something we've ever done before and I would hazard a guess that we aren't very good at it being aging, unfit and not blessed with tall genes!

While waiting patiently in our queue we marveled at how Riyadh airport is always chaos at busy times yet it seems to work.  Sure, it could be better and we are all looking forward to the Riyadh airport upgrade. I wonder if they will still employ Little Green Men.

Written on Kiwi's iPhone while waiting for our plane, though sent some days later as data roaming hadn't kicked in!

Friday, 9 August 2013

Beggars in Riyadh

Beggar: www.blueabaya.com
Have you ever given money to beggars in Riyadh?  I have.  Not often, admittedly.  I tend to agree with all the news reports dissing the existence of beggars and the kindness of Saudi residents.  Sometimes, though, the spirit moves me.

It never moves me to give to kids.  With all the press about kids being used in professional begging gangs, I'm afraid a kid in dirty thobe pleading at my window does not tug on the heart strings. Except for this one time, when I seriously wished I could take the young fella home with me.

He couldn't have been more than eight years old and he was crying, really crying, so distraught at the traffic lights. I thought, 'What A'hole (yes, that's that word I thought because, lets face it, I'm a basic kind a gal) turfs an eight year old child out into Riyadh streets and tells him to beg for money. Seeing him so upset and sad, it wasn't hard to imagine he'd been kidnapped from a loving home in Yemen (because according to every Saudi and taxi driver I've spoken to, all beggars are Yemeni) and found himself shafted into this sorry life in Saudi with a pimp monitoring the money in his take home begging bucket.  Yes, the imagination kicked into overdrive at the sight of the tears streaming down this young, lost face bawling by the roadside.  Sorry as I felt for him, my wallet remained shut.

Beggar woman: Gulf News
When a woman pushing an obviously disabled child is roaming among the traffic I will reach in my purse for some spare cash and hand it over if she happens to pass by my window.  Although Saudi does have charities and hospitals or care units for the disabled, I understand they are only for Saudi nationals.   Though upon reflection, I haven't seen many such women lately.  Perhaps those charities are doing their job for all Saudi residents after all.

On the extremely (read ex-treme-ly) odd occasion I've given a few Riyals to old men.  But they have to look reeeaaallly old.  And a bit beaten up and doubled over.  And Hubster has to be there attempting to wrangle my spare cash off me.  Typical that a man in a male dominated society will feel sorry for an old bloke.  I tend to think, 'He's a man - send him to a mosque, he'll be fine!' - heartless, weak female living in Saudi that I am.

I don't really see begging as the kind of career move I would choose, though until one hits rock bottom one never really knows what they will do, do they?  If rumours are true and beggars make a fortune, as in this story "begging women being caught with 70,000Sars", then perhaps heading up a professional begging gang may have more rewards than I thought, though somehow I doubt it.   And I doubt even more that professional gangs have a financial planning scheme that will one day have everyone off the streets.

Being grateful I'm not at the bottom of the pond with the gravel dwellers (Oh aren't I a snot!), I will occasionally donate to beggars provided they fall into my very narrow criteria and I'm feeling generous - and it's a rare occasion when those two moons align for Kiwi generosity to happen.   This sounds like a less than giving attitude but I tend to agree with the Grand Mufti in this Arab News headline the other day...

Grand mufti: Don’t give zakat to beggars

The mufti was encouraging folks to give their money to charities.  I'd like to give my money and/or time to charities in Saudi, unfortunately, just as I'm choosy which beggar gets my money, so am I a little fussy with charities and their ability to do what they claim without pilfering the funds off for themselves. This article earlier in the year from the Saudi Gazette...
...didn't increase my confidence any.  Basically it says charities in Saudi are not that well run at all.

For those who do want to donate time or money to a charity, finding one they're happy with can prove challenging.  There isn't, to my knowledge, a central, comprehensive list of charities available to the public with details about what each does, where they operate or how to contact them, although apparently there are 700 charities registered with the Ministry of Social Affairs.

If someone could whip that up that charity info onto a website that would be fab.  And better still, if you could state whether or not they welcome volunteers, that would be awesome too because I know a number of expat housewives looking for something purposeful to sink their teeth into while living in Saudi.  The best thing I've found so far is this list of Saudi Social Organisations from Araboo, and it's way short of the reputed 700.  Perhaps if all these charities were doing what they claimed, there wouldn't be beggars in Riyadh, would there?  Maybe that's why there isn't a published list.


Sunday, 4 August 2013

Sister's Day From Saudi

The first Sunday in August is Sister's Day, which means today!  So here's a shout out to my sisters...

...both of whom probably have no idea it's Sister's Day because they lead busy lives back in Kiwiland with work, and partners and growing families to worry about and cart here and there.  Whereas I have abandoned my children to fend for themselves (OK, so my baby is 28 this year and the kids were probably happy to see me go!) so I can swan about in Saudi Limbo Land, spending my days surfing the internet and then spilling what I discover into a blog post.  And I discovered today is Sister's Day.

Being so far away from the whanau allows me to think of my sister's fondly in the wee small hours of a Ramadan morning.  I can forget about those times we got on each others nerves, fought, disagreed and threw each other's things out the window in fits of ugly un-sisterlyness!  Ah yes, we laugh about that now.

A few tales of our sisterly love have been passed on to my Saudi friends who, being inquisitive about we foreigners, asked if we spend a lot of time together as a family like they do, shopping and chatting and visiting and gossiping.  I just don't have it in me to fluff up our sisterly growing pains in pretty pink feathers to the strains of The Sound of Music.  My sisters and I are definitely not three peas in a pod.  More like ones a pea, ones a lettuce and ones a frikken pumpkin!

That doesn't mean I don't love my sisters, of course I do, they're my sister's.  We share genes!  In all likelihood we'll wind up sharing the same old folks home getting on each other's wick there, too.  But for now I'll think about the way we support each other in tough times and laugh like completely silly chooks in fun times.  If you have sisters, send them extra love vibes today.

Ka Kite,

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