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,

Friday, 20 December 2013

Walking the line in Saudi.

Do you like Johnny Cash and his song 'I Walk the Line'.  Or the movie tribute of the same name.  Hubster really enjoyed that movie.  He's a Johnny Cash fan.   The reason I ask is that, sometimes I feel like I'm walking the line in Saudi.  I have to keep a close watch on the things I say on this blog.

Sometimes I'll write a post and pass it by the censor board, (Hubster), who tells me, 'You can't say that!'  It's annoying because, though this blog is supposed to be about our life here, about expat life here, about the things we see and do, there is stuff you'll never know, because while we live here, I can't tell you for risk of being told to leave.  (I joked with a friend who got Told To Leave, and was feeling somewhat embarrassed, that she shouldn't feel bad.  Loads of people have been sacked from Saudi, so many in fact that I'm surprised there's not a T-shirt on the topic - Sacked From Saudi, Told To Leave Saudi, Marching Orders From Saudi, I Moved To Saudi And Didn't Survive....that kind of thing).

Anyway, Hubster doesn't want to leave yet and I actually (usually) quite enjoy the place, only occasionally having 'Get Me Out Of Here', hissy fits.

Unfortunately though, I can't give you all the quirky insights or repeat all the things I see and hear that would make for truly entertaining reading.  There are places I go, things I do that and tidbits I hear that, unless you are part of the close group I hang out with, you'll never read about because I'm not married to a Saudi who is going to save my rear end when I blow the lid!  I'm married to a bloke who loves his job and wants to stay a few years longer.

So, while I'm walking the line, I suggest you read between them.  There's a lot of interesting shyte happens in there!

Ka Kite,

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Return to the Pools of Sha'Hib Luha

Recently we made a return trip to the Pools of Sha'Hib Luha with Mr UK and Mr Oz.  We had initially intended to drive out to The Edge of The World but with the inclement weather that had been affecting the area decided for safety reasons, (we didn't fancy getting stuck out in the recently rain soaked desert), to find somewhere a little closer to home.  Plus, I was interested to see what a lot of rain would do to the place.

On arrival it was obvious a tonne of water had been flowing out of the valley.  The man made wall that we had driven over on our first visit to the Pools of Sha'Hib Luha  had mostly been washed away as had a lot of the dust and sand, exposing the desert rocks beneath.  And numerous picnickers, with their pick ups and
four wheel drives littering the track, were out enjoying the cooler weather beneath a beautiful blue desert sky.

We parked our vehicle and walked over terrain strewn with rocks and dotted with greenery toward the first pool, commenting on the small stream of water that was trickling its way through the rockery and down into the wadi.  The Lower Pool was looking noticeably larger than when we first came and frogs were resting on slabs at its edge.  After posing for a few We Made It shots, we clambered along the shelf that would take up to the next level and on to the Upper Pool.

There had been a torrent of water through here all right! The place was almost devoid of loose sand, damp silt lined the edge of the new pools that had been created among the slabs and boulders.  Desert grasses that we had trudged through over a year ago had been washed away, while larger plants were looking bent, brown, limp and sorry.  Only the thorny desert trees looked like they had enjoyed the wash of recent water.

Even though we had to check our footing, being careful not to fall over loose rocks, making our way to the Upper ShaHib Luha Pool was a piece of cake.  The cooler temperatures meant we weren't sweating at all!  The grasses around the Upper Pool were completely flattened and the sound of falling water could be heard from a foiliage covered gash in the hillside at its back.  One of us suggested we go explore the next level up to see if we could find where the water started.  Disappointingly, two others weren't interested at all (and they call themselves adventurers!)  They wanted to get back to our mate and lunch - (Mr Oz decided clambering along shelves looking for pools was not becoming of someone of his maturity, so decided to wait for us back at pool number 1).

We met Mr Oz seated on the hillside atop Sha'Hib Luha pool number 1 - he had found an easier route up there -  and he led us back the way he had come down into the wadi.   While the boys were contemplating the best place for a bar-b I took off my shoes and stuck my feet in the water of the stream, after all, on our next visit it might not be here.

It had been a nice walk and as Hubster said, one thing you can almost guarantee when you return to the Saudi desert is that the landscape is always changing thanks to the weather conditions.

Map for Pools of Sha'Hib Luha Location

View Kiwi In Saudi: Tiki Tour in a larger map

Ka Kite,

Friday, 13 December 2013

Self-Improvement in Saudi

A Saudi man asked me a short while back what I knew about ' The Secret'.  He was referring to the book by Rhonda Byrne that explains the key to getting everything we want in life.  I admit to being surprised at the question.  For some reason I presumed the 'law of attraction' would be considered a bit like HooDoo to Saudi's and they wouldn't go near it.  It turns out this gentleman has been looking into the theory and likes what he sees.  He just wanted to discuss what he'd learned, given my own beliefs on the subject.

With all the hype around The Secret I did, eventually, buy it, only to discover its secret wasn't new to me at all!  Universal energy is a concept I've been familiar with most of my adult life, largely due to my Maori connections.  Maori have always believed in spiritual elements.  One of the most fundamental beliefs is in our life force, the force that connects us with everything around us.  Study of this principle has led me to spend quite a bit of time reading up on Wicca, Homeopathy and various other energy related topics - even quantum physics.  And then, twenty odd years later, The Secret is published with its ground breaking 'attitude of gratitude'.

I'm certainly not dissing the book or its theory.  It was just unexpected that a Saudi would ask me about it, and a man at that!  While discussing the topic I did wonder what Saudi clerics, who are presumably the go-to folks for any Saudi feeling out of sorts with life, would make of 'The Secret'?  Would they be open enough to look at its message or not?  Would they understand that we humans (and, contrary to the opinion of numerous disgruntled worker bees on social networking sites who like to compare them to Eeyore and his relatives when referring to the locals, Saudi's do belong to the human race) are always searching for ways to make sense of our lives and the world we live in?  Would they wonder why anybody would need to read that book when all the answers to any question you might have on life and living is in the Quran?' (a woman I met told me that once...I smiled politely).

As far as I know the 'self-improvement' buzz that has taken the rest of the world by storm lately, largely due to the increase of self-publishing on the topic, hasn't actually hit Saudi Arabia yet.  Perhaps the folks at Jariir bookstore would have more of an idea how many Saudi's read Carnegies, 'How to win friends and influence people', Napolean Hills, 'Think and Grow Rich' or James Allens, 'As A Man Thinketh'?

If improving oneself though personal development were to take off here, naturally hot on its heels would come the Professional Life Coach.  I'm  not sure how many Saudi's would currently pay for such a service and even if they wanted to, where in Saudi would one find a life coach anyhow.  (I know there are psychiatrists and psychologists in Riyadh.  I've met a couple - both western trained.  Apparently the large hospitals have psych doctors attached to them.  Maybe they would double as life coaches, too).

Anyway, some weeks later, this same Saudi also wanted to know about meditation.  Again, his question was unexpected, though I tried not to look so surprised this time, and gave him my opinion before directing him to a couple of websites that I have found beneficial, and thought he may too, based on our discussion.

Project Meditation - Free Course

I'm sure there are numerous Saudi's out there who want to improve themselves, to grow, broaden their horizons, improve their attitudes and be the best they can be.  This gentleman, however, is the only Saudi I know of asking these types of questions.  (Hardly surprising as the number of Saudi males I know on a 'Let's Talk Openly About Whatever' level I can count on one finger).

What has been obvious in the few short years I've lived here, is Saudi's tendency to follow western trends, and not all of them have been beneficial either.  To date Riyadh has experienced the fast food trend, more recently the muffin shop and cup cake trend, currently it's going through the Burger trend.  Wouldn't it be great if a truly substantial trend were to hit the Saudi streets.  Like Self-improvement.  Now that would be worth seeing, wouldn't it?

Ka Kite,

Monday, 9 December 2013

Medical Misadventure in Saudi Arabia

Medical Misadventure.
I love that term.
It sounds so...oooooo.  Like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, body part smugglers and morgue miscreants!
The definition of the term is worded with far less deviant excitement - 'Medical Misadventure', according to insurance blurb, 'is personal injury caused by medical error or mishap'.  Lately, there seems to have been a lot of medical misadventure in Saudi Arabia.

A number of stories in the papers over the last few months tend to indicate that the standard of care in Saudi hospitals is a bit questionable.  A girl being given HIV tainted blood, a teen dying after simple surgery from an allergy to antibiotics, fake doctors being hired, a child being given chemotherapy by accident and, the latest, surgical tools left in a woman after a cesarean section and a baby with a dummy taped to his mouth.  These  events, though shocking, are hardly surprising say a few nurses I know, who often comment on how things have been changing in Saudi hospitals over the last couple of years.  And not necessarily in a good way.

They feel there has been a push, lately, to get rid of western nursing and practitioner staff from many hospitals largely, presume the ladies I know, for cost cutting and Saudization reasons.

It seems a bit of an oxymoron to say Saudi Arabia has to cut costs.  Saudi is generally viewed, out in Average Joe West, as the richest country in the world - all that oil money lining the streets, (and funding questionable activities), is also presumed to provide the best health care (well, top of the line equipment anyways) along with its high paying nursing jobs.

But Saudi is entering a new age.
And cost cutting in the health system appears to be the new buzz.
Though I get the impression that cost cutting here is not out of need, like in good ol' NZ where we aren't rich (even though we had a boat recently competing in an event only three countries in the world can afford to be in!)  Cost cutting here is more about making money for the blokes at the top of the 'I Own A Hospital' pie.

Western nurses cost more, so for purely accounting purposes it makes sense to limit their numbers.
However, with the cancelled contracts of western nursing staff is going quality care, and it's being replace by attitude.

According to my friends, life in Saudi hospitals currently goes something like this, generally speaking:
The trend for the new breed of nurses coming out of Saudi medical schools is to be choosy about their working hours, the patients they will care for and the jobs they will, and definitely won't, do!

The trend for the new breed of doctor taking up positions in Saudi is to want hand maidens who will idolize, pander to and generally treat doctors like god's gift to medical science, but never question them.  Those doctors who have spent a large amount of time (note: LARGE amount of time) training, interning and working in the West tend to be better doctors say my friends.

The trend for western nurses is to question everything - they were trained that way, and, as you can imagine, they get on the wick of doctors who want nurses meek and mild.  Other ethnicity's can't afford to rock the boat, so don't.  Plus they become so used to the handmaiden role here in Saudi that critical thinking skills, if they ever had them, are lost in the mists of time in.  Truly, I've seen it.  My current doctor who worked in the UK for 20 years prior to moving here, was attempting to train the attending nurse (as you do) by discussing my symptoms and asking her basic questions.  The shock of having to participate in something more in-depth than taking my blood pressure or handing me a referral slip was too much and she sat motionless on her stool with big round eyes making 'Ahhh, Uh' noises and looking like a stunned mullet!  The doc looks at me, puts his hands on the desk, heaves a sigh and, shaking his head, says in the tone of a man watching mold grow on bread, 'She knows nothing!' I got the impression he was finding adjusting to this country's quirky ways a tad difficult.

Anyway, I'm wondering where in this melee of personalities and posturing and politics is concern for the patient?

Here's a story:
The western nurse has prepared the room for a medical procedure.  The doctor enters and the nurse steps aside indicating the prepared equipment.  The doctor says something along the lines of 'I don't need all that' and begins the procedure without even putting gloves on. (The procedure is a lumbar puncture folks, not putting band aid on scratched knees!)  The nurse cajoles the doctor into using standard aseptic technique.  The doctor grudgingly does so.
The doctor thinks the nurse is 'too fussy' and likes to say so every time they have to work together. 
Says the nurse to me, when wanting to dump her frustrations about the declining standards she's noticed over the last year or so in the hospital, 'These are doctors and I have to treat them like children to get them to do basic things properly.  They just don't care!, she says'.
'And do you know what', she added, 'this same doctor had a family member come in for a procedure and insisted that I be the assistant because she knew I'd make sure the attending doctor did things correctly'
With the country building new hospitals and medical centers around the country, there is a huge need for medical staff, preferably well trained.  But Saudi seems to be taking all comers at the moment and with that comes the risk of getting medical staff whose professionalism in the job is questionable.  If things aren't taken into hand soon, say the nurses I know, more lives will be lost or patients injured unnecessarily in Saudi Arabia from very preventable medical misadventure.

Ka Kite,

Monday, 2 December 2013

Respect or Obligation

Here's a post whose bare bones have been hanging around my draft box for a while...Time to clean it up and chuck it out to the WWW.

The latest protest by Saudi women to be allowed to drive has caused the usual arguments why they shouldn't to resurface, as well as creating some new reasons that are woefully pathetic (for example the "Women sitting on their pelvises causes mentally defective children" nonsense).  A group of fellow expats were discussing the Saudi women driving issue in the context of respect for women after comments in local papers and social media sites declared, yet again, that one of the major reasons for Saudi continuing to disallow women from driving is the idea that women would be at risk of harassment and attack by men.  Presumably Saudi men.  More especially young Saudi men.

Why other expat men aren't considered such a problem might have something to do with the Saudi attitude toward persons of lowly classes.  They simply don't exist.  If such men were a problem, the solution for them would be relatively easy.  Either stop importing them (terrible concept but the sponsorship system does create an 'ownership' mentality), detain, lash and/or behead them (another terrible concept but it does happen).

Of course, Saudi hierarchy could just let married expat men, regardless of their level of work, bring their wives and families to live with them in this country.  That way the men would be happier and not just because their primal urges can be more easily dealt with at home.  That, to me, seems a more sensible approach than demanding segregation, then filling the place with single blokes whose urges are not being met for years on end (except in ways the Bearded Ones cringe when they think about it - at least they are supposed to cringe), to clean for, repair for, run errands for, drive for, and generally be around, women.

However, I get a sense that the concern is more about the behavior of Saudi men, and given the recent video footage of young men harassing and badgering women at a local mall in Dahran, the potential for Saudi men to pester women while driving is quite real. Which begs the question 'How much respect do Saudi men have for women?'  The answer, from a western, point of view, is all around us covered in black from head to toe, separated from society in Family Sections, often behind screens, and Women Only events and screams 'Not Much!'

Is it 'respect' that says women have to be kept separated from unrelated men at all times.  Is it 'respect' that keeps women covered and out of sight because men could not possibly control themselves if they saw a real live, unrelated human female. The conservatives in the country would say 'yes, of course that is respect'.  I have to argue the point as I don't feel respected when a strange man shouts at me to 'cover my hair' because he's bred to be incapable of civilized interaction nor when a younger man follows me despite the abaya, presumably because he wants to know whats underneath. (Trust me, the poor buggar would be horrified!)

Which begs another question - what does respect mean to the Saudi male?

As it's not possible for me to talk freely with Saudi men discussing the in's and out's of their particular brand of male psyche, I can only guess at the answers to that question.  I was reminded, however, of a job I had in New Zealand promoting health and wellness to the folks in our small town with a largely Maori population.  We were asked by a local school to deliver a program aimed at Maori youth on the subject of 'Respect'.  The school administration were having issues with waywardness, fighting and damage to school property among other things.  They decided the students needed to learn the meaning of 'Respect' and, to their credit, had written policies and started implementing strategies in the hope that the kids would 'get it'.  Our involvement was one of their strategies.

The organizers and facilitators, soon came to the conclusion that, though the word 'Respect' was bandied about in this predominantly Maori school led by an all star caste of Pakeha, (Maori word for white people), the kids didn't 'get it' at all.  They had very little idea what the word 'Respect' meant.  Sure they could spiel off rules like, 'Respect is not yelling at the teacher' or 'Respect is being kind', 'Respect is not kicking the door or punching little Johnny'.  But when you got right down to it, the kids thought the rote learned rules were piffle.  There was no emotional connection.  There was no depth of understanding.

However, when we started talking their own maori language, using words and concepts like manaakitanga (caring), whanaungatanga (relationship) and mana (self esteem), to name but a few, then they started to click.  They began to comprehend the scope of that word 'Respect'.   They also decided that the Pakeha meaning of the word, that list they had been expected to learn by rote, seemed to lack soul, depth or meaning.  (Not bad for a bunch of Maori kids from the back blocks nowhere near the countries top brainiac percentile).

This little walk down memory lane reminded me that, perhaps my understanding of the term 'respect' is at odds with Saudi meaning of the word.  Maybe I should be looking at 'respect' from the point of view of Saudi culture, Saudi traditions and language, Saudi history and, of course, the Islamic religion.  That's a fair enough supposition.  The problem, however, is when Saudi's themselves seem to be in disagreement with the rules, written and unwritten, that they, and we expats, are expected to live by.  This is obvious when Saudi's leave the country and toss many of their oh so important moral codes out the airport door.  And when you get to know a Saudi or two, even they admit that some of the rules are 'strange'.   It's easy to come to the conclusion that what is expected in public is not actually what is completely believed quite so forcefully in private.

It doesn't take long to realize that the worth of a woman in Saudi Arabia is judged by her public image, her ability to keep her abaya closed, her hair covered, her prayers performed on time and her home hospitable, not to mention her potential to bear children.  Her public persona brings her family, but more importantly her significant male - father, brother, son or husband, under scrutiny.   I've been told that the basic tenet of the male/female relationship in Saudi Arabian culture is,  'I, the Saudi man, am obligated to provide for you.  In return you, the Saudi woman, are obligated to honor me'.  Where, within that contract, does respect lie?

It could be argued that agreeing to live by that code is respect.  But is that respect for the woman?  The relationship?  Or simply respect for the code because that's the way it's always been.

Quite frankly, when I look at the contract, the woman is immediately made dependent and comes off second best.  From where I stand, the rational that a Saudi man is respecting his woman by micro-managing her behaviour so the family name is not brought into disrepute through wayward strands of hair or flashes of the ankle, isn't respect for women at all.  No, that is showing respect for (or fear of) conservative interpretations of religious edicts. That is towing the company line and not wanting to rock the boat.  It is not appreciation for a living, breathing, feeling, human being capable of great thought and deep emotion.  From where I stand, it is obligation towards a set of rote learned rules.

As a foreign woman subjected to Saudi respect (and yes, 'subjected' is the word), I am oft times left feeling under-valued.  Trivialized.  Is that because I don't understand the Saudi interpretation and manifestation of respect? Certainly I may not have a grasp on the truly quirky aspects of the term from an Arabic point of view, but when a Saudi friend confides to me, 'My potential is lying in the gutter in this country.  Every year my essence is ebbing away', I figure my understanding is not too far wrong and I wonder how leaving a woman feeling soulless and empty, even though she is meeting her obligations, is truly respecting her?

The Dahran incident made it obvious to numerous commentators that it's high time Saudi Arabian's started reassessing what it means for them to respect women.  What messages are today's young people learning on the subject, how are they being taught, who is teaching it and how are those lessons assisting them to live and thrive in the 21st century because, like it or not, that's where the world is at!

I'm also very aware that this issue of respect, or lack of, is not limited to Saudi Arabia.  It's all very well for me to say, 'teach respect in Saudi', yet when I look back at my homeland I see we could do with a few more lessons on the subject ourselves.  And as for the rest of the world...I gave up reading newspapers a long time ago because they make you believe that human kindness has gone to hell!

As a guest in Saudi Arabia, I have agreed to abide by all the rules of this country, and I do my best though I'm the first to admit perfection is not my forte`. As far as the woman driving issue is concerned, all I can do is watch, wait and occasionally bleat on my blog.  Saudi women who wish to drive, being more au fait with the subtleties of the Arabian psyche, are the ones who know whether Saudi behavior toward women is truly based on a respectful attitude with its associated meaningful, emotional connection, or whether its simply a sense of obligation.  But I'd hazard a guess that, until that larger issue of defining and teaching respect has been tackled, women driving here might have to stay in the back seat.

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