Monday, 30 December 2013

Playing Outside in Riyadh

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 sufficient space 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 Saudi 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 saloon 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, lounge - hell any room with a tiled floor - is turned 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, the 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 trying to entertain them them?  Of course, ignoring the maid seems to be a common theme in every Saudi home I've been in with young kids as, just moments after being handed off to a maid, the sprats 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 its arrival often means the kids will be taken by their fathers to the family farm where they can run and play about, either outdoors or in very large tents, with all their cousins.  If the husband decides to take the kids to his family's farm for the entire weekend, not just the evening, the mothers are over the moon!  Peace and quiet reign in their otherwise hectic space.  Child free coffee with the girls sounds like bliss!

Ka Kite,

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