Wednesday, 20 March 2013

La Vela


I just finished a meal at La Vela that was a little disappointing. I ordered beef, medium rare, with pepper sauce and veges. The sauce was peppery. The veges crunchy - just how I like them. The baby carrots were lovely and sweet.  The beef - overdone!  I ate it, what good Kiwi wouldn't, but overdone meat just spoils a meal, don't you think?

Fortunately, they have yummy sweets, and I can be turned by yummy sweets and good coffee...

 ---this mousse made me almost forget all about my mains.


Ka Kite,
Kiwi





Women In the Shoura Council


That King Abdullah came through on his promise to have women on the Shoura Council was huge news in Saudi the day it happened (and a couple of weeks after, what with the knee jerk reactions and all).  Big ups to the King and long may he live!

Women appointed to the Shoura Council might be a new thing for the boys to deal with, but women wondering through the Council hallways isn't unknown, which surprises some people I've spoken to who presume that, prior to the historic appointment of women, the council buildings were little more than an all boys clubroom.

The Council provides tours of their offices for various groups and, for the last couple of years, has employed two women in their public relations department to more appropriately cater to questions and tour requests from the female half of Saudi society.

Why women touring through the Shoura buildings should be a surprise is probably due to the 'anti-female' impression that many people from outside of Saudi, has of Saudi.  Granted, some of my posts (written on bad days) do assist the development of a few misperceptions - like the post where I said this is a man-centered society that thinks its god's gift to women... oh no, wait - that's true.  Anyway, every other country provides guided tours of their government buildings, why not Saudi?


For those of you who aren't aware the Shoura Council, or Majlis al-Shura, is a council that advises the king on issues of importance to the country of Saudi Arabia.  Abdul Aziz, the founder of modern Saudi, is credited with setting up the first Shoura Council in 1927 with a membership of less than 25.  It went through a few ups and downs with subsequent kings before becoming what it is today.   The current council has 150 members.  Historically all members were men.  Now, there are 30 women on the council.

Having such a body is not a new concept for Saudi.  It is actually based on an Islamic practice, mentioned many times in the Quran, called Shura (meaning consultation) that basically allows the people access to their leader and learned citizens to discuss, or consult over, issues of concern.

Apparently, when Muhammed was alive, women were part of Shoura process but, since his death, obviously things went a little askew.  Here's hoping the latest decision by the King will get things back on track again.


A year or so ago, Salwa, from Haya Tours, organised the first group of Expat women to tour through the Shoura Council.  The council members were, so I heard, a little apprehensive about this idea.  They weren't sure what to expect. They needn't have worried.  The tour was, and continues to be, a success and, one day, I went along.

There were about twenty women on our tour.  Once we arrived at the doors of the council we all began putting on our headscarves only to be told not to worry, covering our heads wasn't necessary.  We were surprised, but didn't argue.

Our tour started with meeting one of the PR ladies and then being shown a video about the history of the Shoura Council - what they do, how the group functions, who is appointed, how they are chosen, what their responsibilities are, terms of engagement etc, etc. (If you'd like all that info, wikipedia has it).

Then we were shown through the buildings which are impressive, though not overstated. (For some reason I always presume 'oil rich wealth' means 'excessively opulent decor').  The old 'point 'n shoot' camera got a workout. Here's a few pics from our visit.

We got to stand in The Great Hall and pretend to be King, making announcements...
I doubt the King turns up in his worn out runners to the Countil
View into the Great Hall from the door.
We were shown round table committee rooms.  This one was apparently set aside especially for the women as there were groups of young men also touring at the same time as us and accidental mix ups are always better avoided.


All the rooms are very modern and have everything that a well-appointed governement office should have to function properly.

The waiting rooms are very comfortable.


The larger waiting room where everyone gathers before proceeding to the Great Hall is very roomy. The wall hangings are beautifully embroidered and the door panels are just stunning.







One part of the council buildings has articfacts, books and pictures about the councils history.  Here's handwritten minutes from yesteryear.


Picures of the kings and councils adorned the walls.


And we visited the council library with book on laws from all over the world.


We also got to sit in on a council session - listening from a viewing platform behind tinted glass.  The council had been informed of our presence and, we were told by the Arabic women in our group, the speaker paused mid-discussion (the topic was improving processes for doing business in Saudi) to welcome us to the Council and even made mention of Haya Tours and the great work they were doing with cross-cultural promotion.  The ladies were buzzing that Salwa's company was mentioned by name.  Salwa missed it because she was outside the room organising our next move.


The tour of the Shoura Council was quite interesting and lots of questions were asked, mainly pertaining to the upcoming appointment of women.


Monday, 18 March 2013

Singing In Riyadh's Choir.


People tend to make a song and dance about living in Saudi Arabia but, really, it's not that bad once you get the hang of it.  Finding things to do in Riyadh isn't difficult either if you keep your ear to the ground or ask around.   In fact, you could quite easily collect hobbies while living here.

The thing with living in Saudi is that, because there is so little to do, once you find something to do, even though you may not normally do it back home, you're more likely to be talked into doing it here because the other option, doing nothing, will make you go La La eventually.  I've tried my hand at a couple of things since arriving in Riyadh, just because.

Case in point, one day, late last year, a lady I met at a coffee morning (great places to get info, coffee mornings) told me she sang in a choir.  She said this very nice group of people get together regularly to practice various musical pieces and, every so often, they also put on a performance or two for friends, family and complete strangers who get talked into buying tickets.

That day, I was one of those complete strangers.  So impressed was I with the fact there was a choir in Riyadh that, after attending the show which, that year, was based on movie soundtracks, I decided to join. Contact details were obtained, emails sent and next thing you know, I'm at choir practice.  That my voice was a little rusty didn't matter.  Once upon a time I used to sing in the church choir in Kaeo.  Granted, my Aunty ran the choir and, in all probability, let me in because she knew my mother can sing.  It's unfortunate the gift wasn't passed on in the genes but God loves a trier, right?  And so does the Riyadh Choral Society.

On arrival I was asked if I was a soprano, alto or something I'd never heard of.

Ummmmm..... I don't know.
So do you sing high or low?
Ummmmm....

Talk about having a voice identity crisis!
Aunty never asked me any of these questions back in Kaeo.

Do you like to sing the tune or harmonise?
Oh, I can't harmonise to save myself.
You're on this side with the tune singers then.

It occurred to me, while standing amongst the tune singers, that I actually can't sing!  Or, at least, the lack of practice over the years had seriously choked up the vocal chords.  I wasn't daunted though.  Fortunately, some years back, we fostered a group of siblings and, one of them, we enrolled in The Australian Girls Choir.  The head of the choir told us that one way you can learn how to sing is to sit amongst singers and simply tune in your ears while mouthing the words.  I fell back on that advise when, every now and then, my voice went 'Arrrgh'  not  'Tweet'.

Unfortunately, my time on Riyadh's expat choir was short lived.  Not from lack of singing ability - of course not!   Life events served to interrupt my dreams of participating fully in the Riyadh Choral Society, and I haven't quite managed to get myself back there.  I remain, however, an ardent fan of this dedicated choir and  I am always promoting their existence to other Expats I meet who have reached that point where they are wanting to contemplate more than their navel while living in Riyadh.

If, one day, you meet a stranger selling tickets to a choral show in Riyadh, buy them, go, you may find yourself inspired to bolster the choir numbers.  And if this post has inspired you, click over to  Contact a Kiwi, drop me a line and I'll send you the Riyadh Choral Society addy.



Ka Kite,
Kiwi

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Pauls For Lunch

Enjoying a turkey and Brie sandwich at Pauls on the outdoor verandah.
Awaiting my coffee and planning to order sweets.

As per my first visit to Pauls on Tahalia soon after they opened, the only truly disappointing aspect of my meal this day was the salad. Old brown lettuce leaves make you frown and go 'mmnnnooooo' and the offending leaves are picked up gingerly and flicked aside while a careful search is undertaken of all food on the plate for any other faults. There weren't any. Sandwich was munched while Arabic was studied.

It was interesting to note that, come salah, we diners were not left to our own devices as all staff made a mass exit to sit around outside, a practice we have come to expect at dining places. Instead, a skeleton crew was left behind to clear dishes from our tables and cater to some of our whims.  Its little things like this that indicate the little ways that Saudi is changing.  Having wait staff on hand today made me realize how abandoned we had been in previous years.

Although I'd intended to order sweets the sandwich was filling enough so I decided to do my waistline a favor and go without.  The tasty treats lined up in the display case near the door would have to wait for some other day, and I made do with coffee while contemplating what a good job Pauls had done creating their outdoor area.

The  verandah at Pauls is quite pretty lined with various plants and, though the large white umbrellas hide diners of the tender gender from view, they are still rattled by an occasional breeze to remind us we are enjoying an outdoor experience.


Sent from my iPhone because my computer is refusing to compute today!




Ka Kite,
Kiwi

Thursday, 7 March 2013

View From The Camel Trail


We've been to the Camel Trail Number One a few times since our arrival in Riyadh.  The Camel Trail, as it is commonly known, is a short ride out past the edge of the city.  The ridge overlooking the path that zigzags it's way to the desert floor below affords a spectacular view of the sunset after a gorgeous Riyadh day.

There are two camel trails that I know of cutting tracks through the escarpment.  There are probably a lot more as being able to travel to Mecca was, and still is, an important trip undertaken each year by pilgrims. In the past, if they didn't want to take the longer, easier route through Al Kharj they would utilise the short cuts forged down the steep face of the Tuwaiq escarpment presumably, initially, by roaming camels with humans later making the tracks more user friendly.


The modernisation of Saudi means that a highway now carts people, quiet efficiently I must say, to and from Mecca so the Camel Trails are currently used mainly as sightseeing and picnic locations by expats and locals alike.

The first time we went to Camel Trail No 1 was in a Mitsi driven by a crazy Finnish dude.  The track to our destination was faintly outlined in the dust and parts of it had been washed away by heavy winter rains, so we had to navigate our way through, or around, the numerous gashes that were left behind.  Getting stuck in one of those holes would have required lifting the car out!


The last time we went, a month or so ago, the dusty track had been graded and metaled.  The upgrade means it's now a lot easier to find your way to the Camel Trail, though there are still a few places with king size pot holes where the ground has fallen away, and there's one spot on the rocky plateau where you could belly out a small vehicle if you're not careful.

A lot of work has been undertaken at the site above the Camel Trail with the addition of little picnic tables and a few rubbish bins.  Rumour has it that the Japanese are responsible for this work - it was part of a deal for some other project they were involved in.  Even so, bring your own carpets or chairs for added comfort while enjoying your picnic and waiting for the sun to go down.  If you're going earlier in the day, sun shade of some description is also a good idea as there is no shade at all at the top of the trail.


The trail itself is a very easy walk down a well developed path paved with rock slabs and bordered by retaining walls of more loosely laid rock.  Depending on your pace, getting down doesn't take that long.  Coming back up is a bit of an effort for the slightly unfit.  Fortunately there are a couple of places to take a seat, if required.

For a path that is supposedly hundreds of years old it's surprisingly well kept particularly as there was mention of the path being used to haul cannons when residents of Arabia were at war sometime in their long event filled past.



Each time we've ventured out this way a Bar-B-Q of some description has been put together.  You can bring your own bar-b-q or, if you're a good boy scout (or girl guide), there are plenty of rocks lying around for creating a fireplace.

Group Bar-B

Couples Bar-B

Boy Scout Bar-B
While the bar-b experts are getting fireplaces organised is a good time to scout around and take some pictures of the view and rock formations or walk the trail if you're keen for some exercise.

Crocodile rock

Rock formations overlooking a township.
People walking the track.
Picnics and Bar-B's with sunset views does sound very romantic, however, as with any desert experience there is a practical issue that many have to deal with eventually.  We have nicknamed the drop just passed the last picnic table 'The Dunny Roll' because of all the dunny paper marking  previous deposits.  It is the only spot nearby where you can get out of sight and down to business.  If you don't like heights, or are worried about falling of the side of a cliff, I suggest you go visit the loo before coming to the Camel Trail.

The last table before Dunny Roll Drop.


Location of Camel Trail Number 1

We've enjoyed our visits to the Camel Trail when we've gone - it's a great spot for a sunset ma'salama, a lovely place for a late picnic lunch with friends after a spot of mid-winter quad biking, somewhere to test your fitness if you're fancy a bit of a walk and, as a location to take visitors so they can have a desert experience with lovely views without having to travel too far, it's pretty good.  I hope you get to experience it one day.




Ka Kite,
Kiwi

Monday, 4 March 2013

Abaya Collection Saudi Arabia


If you're a women and you live in Saudi Arabia long enough, you end up with an abaya collection.  There are currently eight abaya's in my collection.

Number 1 - Nice design, light material, lovely abaya to wear but not Saudi compliant
Number one is the abaya Hubster bought for me from Dubai and was worn on my very first visit to Riyadh.  Not being au fait with Saudi abaya compliance rules he didn't realize his purchase didn't quite meet the standard expected.   Number One abaya only has three buttons so does not do up to the floor.  Hence this abaya is saved for places when sporting a nice, not quite all covering garment, and flashing my trousers, won't get me in trouble - like dinner at the Four Seasons.  As we rarely dine at Four Seasons it doesn't get much of an outing.

Number 2 - Note the bling and the scallop shape on the sleeve.
Abaya number two was purchased in Akaria Mall soon after moving to Riyadh.  As I arrived mid-winter this  is slightly thicker than the rest which is handy for the surprisingly cool Saudi winter evenings.  The sleeves on this number have a lovely scalloped shape and a few sequins to bling it up.  Snap fasteners attempt to keep this abaya closed but as I tend to walk with a fast stride they regularly unsnap themselves and ankle flashing happens a lot.  Abaya's are not generally designed for strident walking.


Abaya number three I don't wear at all.  We were one our way back to Riyadh one holiday when, while transiting through Dubai, it dawned on me that I would be attempting to pass through Riyadh customs not only abaya-less, but bare legged because my abaya was packed in my suitcase and I was wearing shorts.  The idea sent me into a bit of spin.

Unfortunately, the only style of abaya I could lay my hands on at the Dubai airport that didn't cost an exorbitant price was an 'over-the-head' kind.  'Over-the-head' abaya's and I do not mix largely due to change of life heat flushes.  The fact that I can't rip that sucker off my overheated body in a fraction of a second to cool myself down is scary!  The only time this abaya has made it out of the closet was when my daughter came for a visit and she wore it.

Daughter in abaya number 3.
Abaya number four is my summer abaya.  Of all my abaya's it gets the most use.  It hangs on the hook in my bedroom all year for easy access.  Summer Abaya was also bought in Dubai though I can't for the life of me remember exactly why.   It's a very plain abaya - there is no bling or zing to be found- from that point of view I'm sure the Hai'a are happy.  However, that's about where their happiness would end.

As with abaya number one, my Summer Abaya is made of a thinner, lighter and more breathable, cool material than those usually sold in KSA.  It also only has three clasps gracing the bodice, however because this abaya has a 'cross-over' design  I don't usually have to hold it closed if I walk at the generally accepted normal pace of Saudi women - a pace I call 'very slow' though a Saudi friend calls 'lady like'.

Number 4 - there must have been a breeze this day, or I had the pace on!
Abaya number five is my 'going out' abaya.  It's made of a satin like material, totally un-breathable, with lovely gold trim.  There comes a time in an expat woman's life when going abaya shopping seems normal.  This was the phase I was in when this particular abaya was purchased from my favourite abaya mall, Al Akaria.  It's also my most expensive abaya.

Gold Trim abaya usually only gets worn when I know our destination will allow me to take my abaya off which is why it's my Going Out abaya - I go out to somewhere nice, then take it off!  The un-breathable aspect of the garment translates, for my body, into 'sweats like a hog'.  Not a good look!

Going Out Abaya
Abaya number six is a hooded abaya.  It was bought at the Kingdom Compound Coffee morning because I thought the idea of a hooded abaya was kind of cool.  (I must have been going through some sort of medieval phase).  The bright blue flower embroidered on the back adds a touch of colour to an otherwise drab environment.    It was cheap too.  Only 90 SAR.  It's also a little short but I don't let that worry me too much.  This abaya alternates with my summer abaya so also gets a fair amount of use.

Hooded Abaya, number 6.
Abaya number seven was given to me by a friend.  She bought it when she was here and when she left, gave it away.  I've never worn it.  A lot of expat women give away abaya's when they leave because, as the common joke goes, other than Halloween they can see no other time when they might need to wear one outside of Saudi Arabia.

Abaya number eight is my maroon colored abaya.  My mum made this abaya for me and I wear it when I'm visiting friends or going to places where conservative types are not likely to be.   It's my rebellious phase abaya.  I felt if I was going to be forced to wear something all covering it should be a colour I like, and the only person who would make me a maroon coloured abaya was my mother (thanks mum).

So ends my abaya collection gathered after three years in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and I do believe it has reached saturation point as I have no intention, whatsoever, of getting another abaya.  Unless they change the colour scheme.  Then, oh my gosh, I might go coloured abaya crazy!





Ka Kite,
Kiwi





Saturday, 2 March 2013

Bike Riding In The Diplomatic Quarter


I went bike riding at the Diplomatic Quarter (aka DQ) on the weekend.  It was a beautiful day.  I'm extremely grateful that this space is available when I feel the urge to get some air about me on a bike.  As one fellow male cyclist said, this is about the only safe space in Riyadh for women to cycle, unless you're into spinning.  Although I don't mind a spot of spinning at the gym, my preference is to cycle in the great outdoors, enjoying the fresh air and sights.

Hubster agreed to my getting a bicycle in Riyadh because he figured it's cheaper than the Harley I've been bugging him for, though the cost of transporting the bike to 'lady safe' areas is building up a bit.  As we don't have a car I have to pack my bike into the back of a taxi to get to the DQ or, for trips further afield, we have to hire a vehicle.  The cost of both tends to build up over time.

It's always a bit of a worry that I may be turned away at the Diplomatic Quater gate but, to date, security has not had any issues with my bicycle tied into the boot of a taxi with yellow nylon rope, the overhang resting on a rather pretty cushion.

There are numerous walking tracks at the DQ and it is around these that I ride, even though in many places they are rough as!  A mountain bike is a must for the walking tracks around the DQ.  Though the tracks have been landscaped and laid with large, flat stones suitable for an evening stroll, they are not a smooth ride and the body can feel a bit beaten up after a while, especially if it is getting on in years, like mine.

When the body has had enough jolting from the path, I take the bike off the beaten track and follow faint trails through the rock covered or sandy ground to see where they lead.   Certainly some of the loose, sharp, shale like rock that covers the ground can still be a little challenging to ride on, but it's all part of the fun.  I am not, you may have gathered, a racing cyclist.  Pure leisure, and any fitness that may come with it, is my thing.


Coming across patches of green foliage that have taken hold around the grounds makes a nice change from the desert brown that greets the eyes everywhere else (this from the point of view of a gal still acclimatizing to the lack of lush green forest).


Or I cycle around the streets, having a nosey at the parks and numerous new homes that are currently being constructed.  The Diplomatic Quarter is becoming popular as a residential area.  Upon asking a local agent the cost of renting one of the new homes it was apparent Hubster and I would not be moving to the DQ any time soon.





The Diplomatic Quarter, though fab for a cycling getaway, is only a drop in the bucket of what there is to see in Riyadh so, each day that I'm driven like miss daisy around the town, I can't help but think how much fun I would have moseying around Riyadh on my bike.

Being able to wheel my bike out the front gate of our compound and meander down the road is only possible in the dead of night or very early mornings and you can bet that has met with some rather surprised looks.

Hubster, on the other hand, can ride out our gate any time he pleases.   In fact, since getting my bike, he has enjoyed taking it for a spin, even riding it to work on the weekend.   I watch him peddling up the road feeling all sorts of emotions - usually a mix of envy and anger for the dumb rules in this place that prevent me from free wheeling around the streets whenever I want.


Riyadh is the only place we have lived that I have taken so long to get a bicycle   Cycling, I find, is the best way to explore a new city or town.  You can find so much more on a bike, down side streets and nooks and crannies, than you can in a car.  And, though I like walking, cycling can take you that much further in a day, much more easily.

But all that information is for nought because I can't ride a bike in public in Riyadh.  One day, that frustration and anger built up to such an extent I had a very bad hair day and got quite Shitty in Saudi.

But I shall not wrap myself in frustrated feelings today.
I have been bike riding at the DQ this week and the sun was shining - Yippee, yahoo!



Ka Kite,
Kiwi

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