Wednesday, 26 June 2013

This Is The Saudi Desert.


A tragedy occurred a few days ago when a couple died in the Saudi desert.  The wife near their overturned car, the husband out on the dunes after apparently attempting to reach help.

I know that a lot of expats head home for the summer, but for those who are staying and consider the desert a great weekend escape, this sad event is a timely reminder to make sure you are prepared when travelling into the desert.

The fact that this couple were in the Empty Quarter is not a reason to be complacent.  Having taken ourselves into the desert on a number of occasions, and usually to places others don't go because we want to get away from it all, I can tell you, even an hour or so out of Riyadh, the desert is vast, dry, barren and doesn't always have mobile reception.

The ABC's of Desert Survival, by Marjorie Woodruff is a free resource worth reading if you are a desert newbie and want to be prepared for the worst.

As prevention is generally better than cure, a bit of preparation will stand you in good stead and, if you don't wind up in an emergency situation after all the prep, count your blessings.

At the very least do or have the following:

  • First and foremost, tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back.
  • Preferably travel with a group of vehicles so if one breaks down or gets stuck the rest can help you out.
  • Have an emergency kit in the car.
  • And take PLENTY of water.
The last suggestion on the list is very important.  LOTS and LOTS of Water.   Be a good girl guide or boy scout and Be Prepared!  It's a desert out there!






Ka Kite,
Kiwi





Kina.

Saw this pic today.
As a couple of Saudi ladies I know are contemplating business activities I wondered to myself, and my Kiwi In Saudi Facebook page  if Kina would make a good Saudi import.



Then, feeling like I wanted to get closer to home, I surfed through Google looking at Kina pictures all the while remembering how my rellies back home tend to luuuv kina.
In the ocean.

Ready to eat.

Num num.
Used shell for art work.
Me thinks it might be time to visit the ocean.
All Kina pictures courtesy of www.teara.govt.nz except the last one from framenek.co.nz.


Ka Kite,
Kiwi





Sunday, 23 June 2013

Come Dance Ceroc In Riyadh.


One day, out of the blue, a fellow Kiwi sent me a message - 'Come dancing with me!'  I had to bite and called her back for details.  She had been going to Ceroc dance classes for quite some time and, on a whim, asked if I'd like to go.

My first question was, 'What is Ceroc?'
She tried to explain, then gave up and said, 'It's fun, you'll love it'.
So I said 'Sure, why not?  Tell me where and when'.
And so it is that, once a week, I have sashayed forth on to a Ceroc dance floor with a number of other Riyadh expats of varying Ceroc ability.

It is fun.
And a bit of a workout - I sweat like an unmentionable some evenings.
At the moment the lessons are free and you don't need a partner to attend, which is great because Hubster, though I love him dearly, is a dance clutz.   Not that I haven't invited him along.  Of course I have but, as expected, he made a weak excuse for being a non-participator.  I didn't push it.  Our Salsa dancing experience in Riyadh taught me that.


A couple of years back Hubster got dragged along to a Salsa dance class.  The classes had been taking place on our compound for some weeks and, I argued, it seemed a complete waste to have salsa classes on site and not to attend.   One evening Hubster gave in and made his way to the back of the dance floor.

We've been married thirty years, and it was at the Salsa lessons that I was reminded why I fell in love with my man - it was because of his motorbike, not his dance moves.  Suffice to say this was the only Salsa class that we attended together, though I will forever appreciate he did make the effort to show up, at least once.

The other week, at brunch with a few fellow compound dwellers,  I mentioned that my weekly schedule usually included a Ceroc dance class and asked if anyone would like to come.  They asked, as I did that very first time some months back, 'What is Ceroc?'...

Wikipedia says: 
'Ceroc is a partner dance best described as a fusion of Salsa and Jive, but without the complicated footwork. It is derived from many other dances including French Jive, Swing, Lindy Hop, and Rock and Roll, the main change being simplified footwork which makes it more accessible to beginners.'

...What I say is something along those lines.

The other week, we bid Rob, Riyadh's extremely patient Ceroc dance instructor of some years, farewell as his tour of duty in Saudi Arabia was over and he headed home to Oz.  He had spent a lot of time explaining and demonstrating, yet again, the various dance moves he dreamed we, his rag tag bunch of students, may one day perfect.  Moves like The First Move, The Pretzel and The Man Comb.  Snazzy names like that could be wasted on people with two left feet, but not at our Ceroc dance class.  As with Riyadh's desert choir, this dance troupe also loves triers and welcomes all abilities.  It is great watching people improve over the course of the evening or, for some, the next few weeks.

Though Rob has gone, the dance classes will continue under Andrew's tutelage.  Riyadh expats are a passionate bunch of movers and shakers and one of the faithful has volunteered to fill Robs shoes.  We are extremely grateful, otherwise we would have to consider going back to Salsa lessons, or ballroom dancing, or Loose Boots Line Dancing, or Belly Dancing or Hip Hop.   If you like dancing, it is possible to fill almost every night of the week with a different style of dance, here in Riyadh.

It's much easier to settle into a strange, new land when you can participate in groups and activities that make life seem, well...normal.   Ceroc dance classes is just one of the activities available in Riyadh to help expats feel at home.


Ka Kite,
Kiwi

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Saudization and The On-going 'Illegal Expat' Saga.


For the last two months (I would say three, but really, by the time a month had past most of the authorities involved hadn't got their act together so I'm sticking with two), the 'Illegal Expat Sweep', a strategy under Saudization, has been taking place.  Here's a little update of how things have been trucking in case you don't read local Saudi papers.

I wrote a post, called Saudization, that touched on the Illegal Expat Sweep.  If you haven't read it, here's things in a nutshell - For what they see as relevant reasons, the government decided to clean up, and out, the number of expats in the country.  The current 'Illegal Expat Sweep' mainly affects those from the Philippines and South East Asian countries.  To be 'illegal' in this sweep you are either not working for the Saudi who sponsored you into the country, or your iqama does not match your job title, or you are a Haj runaway.  I understand the majority of illegal exapts fall into the first two categories.  If I was an investigative journalist I would hunt down the numbers of all groups to verify that last statement, but I'm not so you'll just have to trust me!

'Illegal Expats' once rounded up are given three options to get themselves legalized as far as this sweep is concerned.

  1. Leave the country,
  2. Transfer their sponsorship to the company they are currently working for if it's not their Saudi sponsor, or
  3. Go back to the Saudi who sponsored them.

Let's look at these options more fully.

Option 1: Leave The Country


A lot of expats are opting to leave the country and the government is making it easy for them to get their final exit visa by waiving fees, penalties and fines. The Arab News ran this story...

Labor Ministry issues status correction guidelines

... which is quite good in explaining 'the corrective process'.

Even with the Labor Ministry's process things have not been plain sailing for everybody.  Issues include:
  • the time it takes to get through the process, 
  • the Saudi organisations involved in the process not actually knowing the process, 
  • Saudi and Expat organisations not having enough man power to get though the hundreds of thousands of applications, and 
  • the expats' sponsors not giving back said expats passports.  (In Saudi, though its not legal, it is common practice for the employer to keep the employees passport and you can read about that in my post That Passport Is Mine, Thanks).
No doubt moving the numbers who want to leave Saudi out of the country is a logistical nightmare and, given the issues mentioned above, not everyone is happy with the process, so stories have been filtering back to the expat circles.  Stories of the queues outside embassies and passport centers sweltering in the Saudi heat abound, stories of less than pleasant personnel sending expats from pillar to post and back again have popped up and, more recently, are stories of sponsors extorting cash from expats before they will give their passports back so they can travel.

I have to say, I don't find the extortion stories the least bit surprising.  Those Saudi's who've been cashing in on the sponsorship system, particularly through the 'free visa' loophole, and want to continue to do so by keeping passports or demanding payment from expats are, in my opinion, excretory orifaces (aka arse holes).    Someone high up must think they are ori-fecal too, because in Saudi Gazette the other day was this article:

Sponsors violating workers’ rights
...which basically says that expats can get new passports and residency permits even if they don't have the paperwork from the sponsor because he (or she) won't hand it over.

Option 2: Transfer Sponsorship To Current Employer


Transferring of sponsorship to a current employer also has it's issues because of Saudization rules.  If the company is in the Green Basket for Saudization purposes they're happy to legally accept workers until their green limit is reached.  If the company is not in the GREEN, they don't want to legalize their workers by sponsoring them.  That would be, I imagine, most of the construction, roading, waste management and other labour intensive industries who really relied on 'free' expats or 'runaways' for manpower.  These industries can't seem to attract sufficient Saudi's to the job, not unless they engage them as managers or similar which only serves to make the companies very  top heavy.  Naturally this doesn't make economic sense and you can bet the blokes that will miss out on being paid a decent wage in the long run, will be the laborers.

Latest news indicates that companies are starting to push back on the Nitiqat system by asking to be allowed to hire expats even though they aren't GREEN, largely because Saudi's either aren't experienced enough to do the job, are slack at the job or simply refuse to do the work on offer.

Option 3: Return To Your Sponsor


Expats returning to the Saudi who initially sponsored them into KSA is causing a weeny headache for the sponsors, especially if they are of the 'Free Visa' ilk.  Basically, many 'Free Visa' sponsors, if not most, have no jobs for the expats they bring into the country because they hadn't intended them to work for their company anyway.  They only intended to make money off the expats by collecting a little stipend from all of them each week for the pleasure of being allowed to live in Saudi Arabia.  Taking back their expats (yes in this country people own each other) risks putting their company (for those who actually had one in the first place) into the RED basket of Saudization.  Being in the RED means the company can't sponsor any more expats and have to rely on their fellow countrymen to do the work and, as previously mentioned, at this point in time that ain't working out so well.

Once all the new grads from the trade training programmes and work training schemes that are rapidly being set up by the government are saturating the market with skilled Saudi's, then things might look brighter for the company owner.  (Unless he owns a business that is highly labour intensive.  Getting blisters and work hardened hands isn't yet considered a great thing for most of the new generation).  But that is going to take some time.

Of course, those Saudi's who never had a company in the first place risk being charged for defrauding the Ministry, as do their friends within the Ministries who helped to push through their fraudulent applications. (I, along with many other expats, seriously doubt any Saudi will be taken to court any time soon.)

One expat wife told me that before the 'Illegal Expat Sweep' her husband, a bloke with a trade, was working for another company and getting paid regularly.  Life was good.  Now, his sponsor has taken him back and gives him menial work to do, but he doesn't get paid.  Life is not looking so rosy.  Apparently his sponsor thinks this expat clean out will all blow over and he can go back to making money off the sponsorship system.  He just has to wait it out and throw his expats a bone now and then.  Rumour has it he's not the only sponsor thinking along those lines.  Wouldn't it put another bee in the sponsors' collective bonnets  if the government scrapped the sponsorship system altogether!



It is a bit unfair that expats who arrived on Free Visa's are being called 'illegal' and are lumped in with the run-aways.  Expats that arrived on 'Free Visas' are not 'illegal' in my book.  The Saudi who brought them over, on the other hand, and the agent he (or she) paid a back hander to is definitely the one acting illegally.  The expats are not illegal because they were sponsored and the Saudi sponsor was quite clear in his (or her) intentions for entering the sponsorship game - the Free Visa expats will work elsewhere and the sponsor will have very little to do with them, except for collecting their cash. Which means, in a round about fashion, the Free Visa expats are doing exactly as their sponsor intended and are, therefore, not 'illegal' or 'runaways'.

Regardless of that little bee in my bonnet on the illegal expat sweep, in order to get the local population up to par with life in the real world a lot of things have to change in Saudi and the hierarchy is well aware of it.  One problem that must be dealt with is the reliance on expats to do almost everything.  I think it's fab the government is setting up trade training programs and clearing the way for Saudi's to get jobs, male and female.  Feedback indicates that the newly employed, the women in particular, are loving working, making money,  learning new things and having  more purpose in life than deciding 'which cafe shall we go to today'.

The illegal expat sweep has been criticized for not being implemented in the best way or with the best time frame, but something had to be done and Saudi hierarchy has this habit of just getting on with whatever it is they need to do.  Not a bad way to live, really.  July 3rd is the last day of the grace period for the illegal expat sweep and I know a lot of people are waiting to see what happens next.



Ka Kite,
Kiwi



Photo credit: http://in.reuters.com/


Friday, 14 June 2013

Novice Golfers at Dirab Golf Club and Range.


One day, Mr Finland suggested we go to Dirab Golf Course to try out the golf range for something to do one gorgeous Riyadh morning.  He admitted he was a novice golfer and the reason for his suggestion was an upcoming visit by his father, an avid golfer, and his wanting to get a bit of practice in before his arrival.  We, being supportive friends and neighbors, thought it was a choice idea.

After discussing the logistics of finding golf clubs to play with, as none of us are golfers so required equipment is non-existent in our apartments, we hired a car and headed in the direction of the golf club in Dirab certain we could hire clubs on arrival.

None of us knew exactly where the golf club was and in 2011, the year of our first golfing expedition, Google Maps wasn't quite up to par with local Saudi hangouts.  However, as Dirab is a smallish place, we figured it would't be hard to find the huge sign saying 'Dirab Golf Course', after all, golf clubs have huge signs don't they?  Lots of driving up and down the Dirab straight would have been avoided if said sign was above the gate and not biffed behind a fence.


On the other hand, if we'd been paying attention we may have noticed the writing above the gate, but we were looking for a sign, weren't we!


Once the hiding sign was noted after yet another swing down the straight past camels, goats, truck stops, the satellite station...


...and the people who had given us directions to the golf club on a previous wander down the road and were probably wondering why we weren't following them, we were admitted through the gate.

The golf range was easy to find, as was the shop to hire a few clubs.  Then we got down to business as badly as non-golfers can.  Here's a video of Mr Finland and his very first swing with a golf club.


We enjoyed our golf and, as I'd brought a picnic, sat at one of the picnic tables and raved about what fabulous non-golfers we are.  As hiring a couple of clubs was fairly simple, we decided that, every so often,  riding the bikes out to Dirab and having a bash at the golf range wouldn't be such a bad idea.  So, every now and then, we did.


Here's another vid, eight months later.  Note Mr Finland's improvement.


Apparently it is possible to go horse riding at the Dirab Golf Club, though rumour has it that most of the troupe of hearty adventurers I hang out with are even worse on a horse than a golf range - getting Hubster and Mr Finland to step outside that comfort zone is going to take a bit more time.

Having never played a round at the Dirab Golf Club I can't comment on the state of the course.  (We novice golfer types feel the range is better for our level of expertise at the moment).  You expert blokes can find information pertinent to yourselves on the Dirab Golf Club website or contact them as per details below.
  • Telephone Number: (966)1-812 6671
  • Mobile: (966)535001896
  • E-mail Address: info@dirabgolf.com

Map to Dirab Golf and Country Club.

View Kiwi In Saudi: Tiki Tour in a larger map




Ka Kite,
Kiwi





Dining at 11A on the Eleventh Floor




We went to 11A restaurant on the recommendation of a Saudi friend over two years ago.  As I haven't been for a while I can only presume it is still there.

 Eleven A, if it still exists, is on the eleventh floor of Faisaliah Tower.  The veiw was lovely, decor not overstated and middle eastern buffet style food quite nice.  You could even sit outside on the balcony if you fancied, though the day we went was a little windy for outdoor dining.  My shots of the place leave a lot to be desired but give you an idea what to expect.  Those of you with vertigo issues might not want to sit next to the windows.  You can feel as if you'll drop through.


















My only shot of the food. Isn't it terrible!  I must have been wanting to get at it.  Note to self - do not take pictures of food when hungry.






Now that I've dredged these photo's out of the folder on my computer, I may have to make a return trip to 11A  to see if anything has changed.


Ka Kite,
Kiwi



Saturday, 8 June 2013

Tough Love.

Have you heard of Tough Love?  It's a phrase usually associated with parenting, where parents attempt to cope with, and hopefully rein in, the behavior of their wayward children through the application of firm boundaries strengthened by firm resolve and follow through on sticking to their guns.  Basic parenting really.

I get a sense that someone in Saudi hierarchy has heard of the Tough Love concept and has decided to implement it on the local populace.   Expats affected are simply fall out from the process.

The Hierarchy are busy setting up technical training centers so Saudi's can replace expats in  trade jobs such as plumbers, electricians, hospitality and hair dressing.  Youth are being encouraged to participate which, I gather, a lot are happy to do initially - it beats hanging round doing nothing.  The drop off rate though, according to a training bloke I met, is quite high.   However, despite that, feedback from the folks running a plastics center I visited is quite positive for students who stick around.

Hearing news that Saudi's were being trained for trades reminded me of a local radio station I was listening to one evening a couple of years back, where the guest presenter was saying how important it was for Saudi's to learn basic skills, like how to use a screwdriver, so they can do their own repairs around the home.  I do recall laughing when the presenter said that most blokes round here don't even know what a screwdriver looks like.  I'm guessing trade training centers are going to change that!

Women are also going to know how to handle a few tools as factories have been ordered to hire women, feminizing roles that used to be the domain of men, and mostly expat men at that.  This is, apparently, going great guns with local women now on the production line for cars, and vegetables and all manner of other industries and loving it.

Word has it that the unemployed need to start being grateful for the opportunities being given.  Saudization and the recent 'illegal expat sweep' is effectively turfing a few expats to create work space for the high number of unemployed locals, and those who keep turning down jobs, especially if they are collecting Hafiz (the Saudi equivalent of the Dole), will not be looked favorably upon.

Companies have expressed frustration at Saudi's who, once they land a job, only stick around getting paid for the training period and then decide to bugger off.  I'm not sure how the Hierarchy have decided to deal with this yet, but something is in the wind.  Workplace training has been implemented at most companies because it has been recognized that Saudi's need the extra, on the job training before they can effectively replace current expats.  However, as one manager told me, no amount of skill training can change the attitude to work that most arrive at the desk with.

Maids are also getting harder to come by unless you're prepared to pay the increased price though, if you ask me, it's a ploy to slowly phase out maids so housewives can be housewives like they are in the rest of the world.

Sometimes it looks as though this Tough Love attitude is directed at the local populace, mainly via employment strategies - a sort of 'we're doing everything we can to make work available for you, now you get off your butt and run with the opportunities'.  But sometimes I wonder if it's the conservative, backward looking bunch that are really behind the changes being driven, the thinking being once people are working and earning and on a roll living productive lives the idea of going backwards will not be palatable, and anyone attempting to force backward steps will be turfed fairly quickly by the power of forward motion. That's my conspiracy theory, anyway.

Of course, one also wonders if all this activity has anything to do with the rumour circulating that the Saudi golden years aren't going to last as long as initially thought.  Time to harden up, as we say in NZ.  Hence my impression someone in Saudi has decided to exercise some Tough Love.



Ka Kite,
Kiwi





Thursday, 6 June 2013

25 Years of Arab Creativity.



So, yesterday I went to Naila Art Gallery on Takhasussi St to view the exhibition '25 Years of Arab Creativity' celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Institut du Monde Arabe, which basically translates as Museum of the Arab World.

It had some nice pieces that stimulated a bit of discussion among my friends.
The question that generated the most debate though was 'How come the sudden turn around with art in Saudi?'  We never settled on a answer.


When I arrived three and half years ago there were no art shops to be found in Riyadh. I was told that 'Only God creates, therefore no-one else can'.  Ok.  If that's what the ruling body thought, I wasn't gonna argue.  Though I found it strange that a Saudi woman I was teaching English too at the time had studied art at university and, when I asked, was more than happy to show me a few of her pieces she had stacked in her spare bedroom.  I wondered how you could teach art in university and yet ban it at the same time?  Then I wondered how many closet artists there were in Saudi Arabia!  Apparently, there were quite a few.

This 2012 article from The Guardian, "Contemporary Saudi Artists Break Down Old 'Safety' Barriers", gives an idea of what Saudi artists have been up against in the recent past.

Then slowly but surely, with the usual lack of announcement by the hierarchy to a change of heart, art started to make a public appearance through some very controlled art exhibitions.   Now there are numerous art shops in Riyadh (admittedly, most of the shops sell imported art, but I'm not gonna quibble about that) and a few art galleries with fairly regular art exhibitions.


It's really nice to see how art is gaining ground in Saudi and that the government, in the form of the Minister of Culture and Information, is actively supporting moves to bring Saudi art and artists out of the back bedroom.  Just yesterday the Arab News had an article 'Saudi Galleries Unite For Progress Of Art' where, it seems, galleries are going to join forces aiding artists and their work.

The other day I came across Saudi Art Guide, a website that is a great place for keeping up to date with exhibitions around the country.  With the current push behind Saudi art and artists one thing is for certain, in another 25 years the Arab Creativity exhibition is going to need a bigger space.



Ka Kite,
Kiwi





Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Pools of Sha'Hib Luha


One fairly warm Saudi summer afternoon, we headed off into the the Riyadh outback to look for the Pools of Sha'Hib LuHa.

Of all the locations we've gone searching for to date, this was actually the easiest to find, largely because it's highlighted on Google Maps.  Utilising the Map App on my iPhone took us straight there - sort of.  There is a little bit of off-roading to do, though not much, and the Yukon dealt with the only man-made obstacle we came across - someone had graded the desert sands into a wall.  Fortunately, someone else had made a track over the wall and we figured where one has gone before others in Yukons can follow.

So it was we found the Pools of Sha'Hib LuHa.
And because we've been in the desert far too long, we made a video of the experience.  Here it is.  (If you expect Oscar winning material, perhaps you've been in the desert too long, too).  Be warned, if you don't like the sight of shirtless blokes it might be best not to watch this vid.  (Don't say you haven't been advised.)



Location of Pools of Sha'Hib Luha.


View Kiwi In Saudi: Tiki Tour in a larger map


Ka Kite,
Kiwi





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