Thursday, 27 November 2014

Fingerprinting Females

As per this message currently making regular appearances in my message inbox....

أخي المواطن . . أخي المقيم
تسجيل بصمة المقيمات متطلب لتجديد الإقامة اعتباراً من تاريخ 1/4/1436هـ الموافق 21/1/2015م  .
المديرية العامة للجوازات
Dear citizen..resident ,
fingerprints recording for females residents is a requirement for renewal Iqama service starting from 21/1/2015.
General Directorate Of Passport

...I went to get my fingerprints done today.  

A number of my friends got their biometrics recorded ages ago.  I thought I'd wait till the rush had died down because, from the fingerprinting stories they told, the whole exercise was bedlam and physically dangerous with crowds of women rushing at the single entry door of the fingerprint room.  

As I'm leaving for Christmas and not coming back till after January I figured I would preempt any glitch that may hit the system while I'm away and get my prints on file today. 

Unfortunately the messages I had been getting failed to advise that I should take my passport with me as well as my iqama.  

Yesterday I headed off to Royal Mall where, if there was organization in the fingerprint room, it wasn't immediately obvious and everything was written in Arabic.  

The only reason I got attention was because I was the only lost looking foreigner in the place and one of the ladies assisting must have read my lips as I looked around going "o..m...g" or something similar!

She, after having a little chat with me, advised it might be better to go to the Immigration Office to get my prints done. Given that I was feeling rather overwhelmed by the noise level, bedlam and queues in the place, I decided not to debate the ins and outs of her suggestion and left.  

Most of my friends had got their prints done at Sahara and one had mentioned a location on Dammam road that was not busy at all.  I figured I'd call in to one of those the next day on my way to work.  Hence the reason I'm at Sahara Mall this morning. 

The passport office is upstairs near Entrance 4.  There is a little passageway between Cinnabon and Roti Boy across which there is a divider tape that many women are ignoring and walking straight past and behind which one man is frantically trying to get women out of.  

He, it turns out, is also in charge of giving out numbered tickets.  It would help immensely if he was behind a little boothe that said "Get Your Tickets Here".  After collecting my ticket I sat with the other women, who obviously knew the drill, out in the family food section watching the little screen for my number to come up. 

While waiting I thought 'wouldn't it be nice if the two shops at which women must gaze while awaiting their number were healthy eating food shops'. Instead of eating sticky buns and sugar loaded drinks, eat a delish salad and healthy shake!  With the thousands of women who have to get their biometrics recorded and sit on their fannies while waiting for their number to come up, the potential for subliminal messaging about healthy food is huge. But no...we get to look at junk food!

On my way into the fingerprint room I read the note on the door that mentioned the bringing of passports and iqamas.  Oh crap, I wish I'd known that before!

There were a few women lined up in this little, fairly warm, airless room and two women behind desks.  I couldn't help but think what a terrible place to work.  The conditions could explain why the young woman behind the desk I was directed to was a bit terse.  That and the fact that she was being asked questions by numerous people at once, one of them being the male fingerprint guy who had to call his questions through the rather busy door!

I handed over my iqama, no mention was made of the passport, fingerprints were electronically recorded, photo taken while I'm looking off into space somewhere (I hadn't proprerly posed for the shot) and that was it, I could go.  

I thanked my busy fingerprinter, something no one else, I noted, had done before me.  

So now I am in the system.  Here's hoping there isn't a glitch due to a lack of passport.  I am a fingerprinted female in Saudi Arabia. 

Ka Kite 

Monday, 3 November 2014

Mastodon Bones In Saudi Arabia.

I was talking to a friend the other night about our Mastadon Cave Camping Excursion and it occurred to me that, although we went a year ago (on the last Saudi National Day weekend to be exact), I hadn't published the experience on my blog.  It has been buried among the  innumerable drafts currently clogging my draft box for the past year.  (Yes folks, there is a lot to talk about while living in Saudi!)   So here it is...Mastadon Bones In Saudi Arabia!

Mastodons?  What are Mastodons?
They're prehistoric elephants aren't they?
Aren't they similar to mammoths?
Yeah, something like that...

So went the conversation out by the pool the day we announced we were spending our Saudi National Day weekend searching for a cave supposedly full of mastodon bones.  I was worried our friends' responses to our long weekend holiday plans might put Hubster off the whole idea.  It had taken a long while to talk him into this little caper in the first place, (a good two to three years or so).

'Who told you about this?' he said whenever I brought the topic up (which made me think he never listened in the first place!)
'I heard about it at a coffee morning', I replied (again).
'So, where is this cave? he asked.
'I'm not completely sure', I replied.  'As usual information on the internet is kind of sparse, but it's about a six hour drive somewhere up near the Kuwait border.
'We're in for another one of your random trips are we?', he grumbled.
'You love them', I perked.
He sighed.

And so, three years after first finding out about a cave full of mastodon bones, we hired the trusty GMC Yukon and, with the topper to our bed stuffed in back along with a few other bits and bobs, and directions scribbled out onto paper, we hit the road last Saudi National Day weekend.

We would have hit the road three or four hours earlier in the day but Hubster has this penchant for not listening to much that I say (have I mentioned that already?), so was meandering around the compound (lord only knows what for), while I waited patiently for him to get himself together and out to the vehicle.  About three or so hours after our departure, when I asked why he was driving so slow along the highway, almost like he was out on a Sunday drive, he queried how much further we had to go and discovered we were only half way.  He wasn't impressed.
'Why did we leave so late if we have so far to go,' he said.
'I don't know', I replied.  'You were the one farting around'.
'If I'd known it was so far I'd have left sooner.'
'Well, I've been telling you all week it's about a 6 hour drive.  Perhaps you should spend more time paying attention to things I say.'

Then he said, 'At least you've got directions this time'.
'I have directions to the turn-off.' 
'What turn off?' he said.
'The one into the desert where we have to go to find the caves.'
'So how far is the cave from the turn off,' he asked and for some reason was hoha (Maori word for annoyed) when I said, 'I don't know'.
'But you have directions', he said
I bristled.   Then repeated in a very abbreviated form, (because he was starting to annoy me), the directions as I knew them - 'We drive to turn off point.  We turn into the desert and drive west looking for mountains.  I don't know how far into the desert we have to go because Google Maps doesn't navigate through desert.  Google Maps barely navigates to our turn off point!  Obviously you have chosen to ignore anything I've said about getting to these caves this weekend, so don't go getting shitty with me now!
And there began an argument to kick start our weekend.
Don't you love marital bliss!

With the late afternoon quickly passing by, the sun threatening to set as rapidly as it does in Saudi Arabia, and an uncomfortable silence descended on our vehicle because I refused to accept any Olive Branch approaches from He Who Can Be Very Annoying, we came upon a roadside settlement with a gas station in its midst and a hotel nearby.  Just past this, according to my info, was the desert turn off.  Certainly there were tracks that disappeared over the darkening horizon in the general direction of west, but which was the one we wanted given, as per usual, there were tracks all over the darned place into the desert.

Hubster looked at me for guidance.
I shrugged my shoulders.
He said it will be dark soon.
I said do you fancy staying at that hotel.
We turned off into the desert.

Driving into the darkening sunset in the desert along a track that disappears under swathes of sand at regular intervals is not actually a bright idea.  Each time the track got cut off by piles of sand we would look at each other, then I would hold on and he'd hit the pedal and we'd both hold our breath until terra firma was firm again.  We had been, we noted, heading slightly uphill for about thirty minutes before the track flattened out and we decided to pull over and have dinner.  There's nothing like a spot of campfire cooked food to help you decide what to do next, and we decided to stay put.

Dinner was scrummy
The billy boiled tea was hot and comforting.
After dinner we rolled out the topper and climbed in the back of the Yukon.
Ahh, the peace.  The quiet
The bright moon high in a blue black desert sky.
The traffic.

Say what?
Yep.  Traffic.
We discovered the next day that a number of Bedu camps were out along this track and, as it was the weekend, city folks were visiting their camel caring relatives.  Sometime past midnight, on their drive back to civilization, each car (yes all of them) would stop by our camp site to make sure we were OK.

It's great to know that Saudi's are concerned about people out in the desert.  It really is.  We even commented to each other how comforting it is to know that we weren't alone beneath this northern Saudi sky and we appreciated that, should we have required help, it was constantly passing by.  However, as we weren't in need of assistance at that point, we decided to drive our vehicle a little further away from the track so we could get some sleep because we're old and western and still haven't got the hang of really late Saudi activity.

Our Campsite...spectacular isn't it!
The next morning I was up bright and early to the sound of grunting camels at the nearest bedu camp site, and Hubster snoring.  Time to go for a look around before rekindling the fire and getting on some breakfast. Don't you just love a campfire breakfast and hot coffee.  (A spot of bacon would have made the whole event just perfect!)

After assessing our surroundings and checking if my phone could get reception (nope), we decided to drive further along the track in the direction of more mountain-ish looking terrain.  And wouldn't you know it, there, lying face down in the sand on one side of the track, was a fallen down sign.  It actually reminded me of an abandoned OK Coral sign.  We had no idea what the sign said, we couldn't see the writing, but presumed a cave full of mastodon bones must be worth having a sign for way out in the middle of we turned off and drove over the sign.

I don't know exactly how we found the cave.
We drove around the base of the desert hills, in and out of little nooks and cranny's.  We'd get out and walk and explore.  We'd climb to the top of the hills to get a better view and then slip slide our way back down.  Then, as we were driving and scanning the area, a picture came into view.  The picture.  The picture I'd seen on the internet.

'I think that's it', I said.
'Yep.  I'm sure that's it, I said'
So out we got, and sure enough we had arrived!

The cave is more of an overhang, and it's not a large one either.  However, the roof is chock full of bones - or calcified left overs anyway.  It was pretty cool.  Signs of previous human visits were scrawled across the back wall of the cave.  I tried to find the huge tusk shape I'd read about, but came to the conclusion that previous humans had taken it!

The bones are obviously part of a shelf and I'm fairly certain that if someone wanted to do some extra digging, they would find a few more bones in that area.  Whether or not they are truly mastodon bones is a matter for discussion, but its a romantic notion that I don't mind indulging.

We sat there imagining a land full of mastodons and mammoths and wondered what had become of them all.  I took a few photos and then we drove around seeing what else there was to see in the area. There isn't much, although some of the landscape can fool your eyes into thinking you're looking at part of a giant fossilized mastodon leg or a mastodon head.  We did conclude how easy it would be to get stuck out here in this desert - meaning we probably shouldn't have come alone.  And how important it was to have bought plenty of water - meaning we'll definitely remember that for next time!

As we had succeeded in finding the Mastodon Cave, Hubster decided we might has well head out of the desert and find a nice spot for lunch.  I suggested 'How about the beach?  The coast is only 30 or so km's away from the turn off.'  So we headed toward the coast.

We never made it to the beach.
The entire north eastern coast of Saudi is under Aramco control.  Those lovely water spots shown on Google Maps can not be reached by random expat tourists who have no idea how to say to Aramco security guards with limited English to match our equally limited Arabic 'We just want to visit the beach and dip our toes in the water and maybe cook up a spot of lunch.'   One guy actually asked us where we were from and when we said Riyadh he said, 'Go back to Riyadh!'

Apparently if we had driven further north to Khafji we would have made it to the beach, but communication issues meant that, after contemplating our options,  Hubster decided it was probably best to head for home.   It was on way home, when we decided to pull off the highway to toilet behind some dunes, that we discovered one should not drive off the road onto questionable topography in the middle of a hot Saudi day.

The Saudi man who stopped to tow us out informed us that the sand is softer when hot and turns into a trap.  Hubster, who was feeling a bit silly for getting stuck just off the highway, was trying to act like he knew how to remedy the situation.  Our rescuer very nicely said, 'This is my country, I know what I'm doing.  Let me do it'.  Hubster shut up and soon we were out of the sand and back on the road.  Mr Rescuer, while rescuing us, told us he and the family were just returning from the beach at Khafji.  He also told us that in the past month three people had perished in the desert.  We both shut up.

After stopping at the nearest gas station to properly inflate our deflated tyres, and waving to our rescuer and his car load of kids who went flying past, I suggested that perhaps we could spend a night in one of the towns we had passed through on our way to the cave, with their interesting sculptures and streets all decked out in green and white and flags, to experience a rural celebration of Saudi National Day.  But Hubster had had enough adventure for one weekend, (he's getting on in years now, so it's hardly surprising), and wanted to get back to his own bed.

Another sunset was almost upon us and we still had a few hours of driving ahead, but our stomachs rumbling so decided to pull up behind a collection of interesting shaped rocks a little distance off the road, (Hubster checked the ground properly before doing so), to light a fire and cook up a rather late, though delicious, lunch.  Then we lay about on our Arabic carpet and fell asleep.  We woke to another carpet of beautiful stars filling up the night sky.  It took me a moment to figure out where I was and what they were, and my gosh the sight was spectacular.  The fire had died down to smoldering ash and it was so peaceful in our little rock enclave that we decided to revive the fire and boil up a cup of tea.  We might have been on our way home, but weren't in any hurry to get there.

We did enjoy our drive to visit the Mastodon cave and hope that future visitors will be responsible and not set about wrecking or tagging in it even more than it has been already.  I'm always amazed at our stupid and brainless we humans can be with the things we discover, and it did cross my mind that perhaps the Mastodon Bones of  Saudi Arabia (if they truly are Mastodon Bones) would be better off remaining buried!

Directions to Mastodon Caves

I used to be able to add my Tiki Tour Map to the blog, but Google in their great wisdom of constant upgrades have removed that ability (or I can't find the instructions for it).  So put these co-ordinates into Google Maps and go forth to discover Mastodon Bones in Saudi Arabia.

Turn off into desert: N 27 13.695 E 48 24.974
Cave location: N 27 12.120 E 48 10.500.

Ka Kite,

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Jeddah Minus Open Abaya

It has taken me four years but finally I made it to Jeddah!  Jeddah, the Saudi city with a reputation of being much more 'free' and 'liberal' than the rest of the country.  (Well, than Riyadh anyways.)  Jeddah, where women roam with open abaya's, where lovers stroll the corniche (married lovers, of course), where life is just so much better, apparently.

I actually don't know how true all that is.
I only went for a weekend.
As part of a tour group.
For sightseeing.

I will tell you that Bandar from Nomad Tours is an excellent tour guide.  And the corniche really is a nice place to spend some time, put your feet in the waves, smell the sea air and have your hair tousled by the sea breeze.

We were at the ocean side within an hour of landing.  It's a great place to meet and chat with Saudi families.  Well, I met and chatted with one Saudi family anyway, though to be honest they didn't look too sure about the crazy lady making a video of herself while jumping about by the seaside.  They were rather entertained when said lady ran down to the ocean shore and started throwing water about, laughing like a six year old on her first visit to the sea.  And then bugger me if that same crazy lady doesn't stop to chat with the whanau in broken, very bad Arabic while the family are trying to enjoy some of their own together time looking at the waves and eating a sandwich.

Yep, that was me, finally in Jeddah!
And I quite liked it.
Mostly, I admit, because of the sea!

On our drive to, and along, the corniche we got to look at some of the contemporary art sculptures that adorn Jeddah's roadsides.  Some of it is pretty random!  We stopped at the Open Museum of sculpted pieces which actually has some rather interesting work in it, all of it designed by foreign artists (I was a bit surprised about that).

Continuing our seaside theme we visited the Fakieh Aquarium and I almost had to be dragged out.  Though it is only small it is quite a well put together place and it wasn't till this visit that I realized how much I missed the sea.  Back home in NZ we take it for granted because it's not that far away.

After a fish lunch at a dining spot that can only be classed as a dodgy looking dinner destination, but where the three different varieties of fried whole fish dished up were rather yummy, we went for a tour of the old city.  In electric cars no less.

The cars are a perfect way to tour the Old City.  On the way we learned about, and gained appreciation for, traditional Hijaz architecture and many a photo was taken of the wooden latticework adorning the facades of every building.  There were some newly restored buildings in the area, but most looked worn and tired, while others looked on the verge of collapse, their wooden beams bowing under the weight of years of neglect.  Although it recently became listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, there is still a lot of work to do and people to convince that the area is worth all the time, money and effort required to do it up.

Bandar is quite passionate about the old city and it's restoration.  In fact, his office is in the old city.    He realizes raising interest in the district is a bit of an uphill battle - mainly I gather due to cost.  He also thinks that bringing life into the area is an important part of the restoration.  To that end he offers tours and engages locals to assist.  As part of our tour he had organised a group of youth to entertain us with demonstration of old style school learning (including discipline methods) and also games the boys used to play.

At the end of our Jeddah Old City visit the older blokes put on a traditional dance display.  One of our guys got to participate and looked completely lost, but it was fun to see the young (and not so young) men enjoying themselves and was a perfect way to end our busy day.

The next day bright and early we headed off for a traditional breakfast, a tour of a mosque (something most of the group thought they would never do here in Saudi Arabia) courtesy of the Jeddah Cultural Exchange Company, a visit to a couple of art galleries (one came complete with famous female Saudi artist in attendance having just arrived back in the country - we were very lucky), and a visit to what can only be classed as a living model museum - meaning the place is a model of the old city architecture but is actually used by school kids and various other peeps.  This was followed by a very relaxing afternoon tea at the home of a Saudi woman who is into media and theater studies - very nice lady.

The trip to Jeddah was quite a hectic one.  I'm glad I went but I have to say, I didn't see one open abaya the whole time I was there!

Ka Kite,

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Hair colorist in Riyadh

Finding an experienced hair colorist in Riyadh took me longer than it should have.  It's not that there wasn't a good colorist out there, (though they are thin on the ground), it's more that, when it comes to getting myself sorted, I suck.

Granted, my first visit to a hair salon in Riyadh to cover the persistent grey that likes to decorate my head didn't exactly fill me with confidence regarding the hair dressing skill set available in the city.  The woman looking at my hair said she couldn't mix dark brown with plum (my usual colors) - she could only give me what is in the book.  I was shocked! What type of hair salon lets a hair colorist loose that can't mix colors!

It turns out the majority of expat Filipino women coloring hair in salons throughout Riyadh (and most are Filipion) aren't colorists at all.  Heck, I'd be surprised if most of them aren't even salon trained. They, like many of their male counterpart Worker Bee expats (and you can read about them in my post on Worker Bees), get sent to workplaces and are told 'Just Do It'.  So that's what they do.

Considering that even Hubster knows how to throw a packet color into my hair (though getting him to commit is like getting blood out of a stone and the end result varies depending on his state of mind at the time), if he can learn to do it, anyone can!  I have been known to throw a box of color at my head myself over the years, usually when going through 'budget restrictions', but no matter how careful I am, the stuff ends up splattered over anything in my heads vicinity.  Preparation for a self dye job requires covering most of the furniture in the room with old towels for protection.

One day, the gray afflicting my hair shafts required some serious attention.  I'd had enough of bad hair jobs, including Hubster's efforts.  (The last straw with Hubster the Hairdresser was when he insisted on having a movie playing while he did my hair.  Suffice to say, his attention wasn't really on the job which was a bit of a disaster!)  So, I called my compound neighbor who had been recommending Malonie, a colorist she had been visiting for some time.  The phrase 'She's not cheap' came with the recommendation and, to be honest, it was the reason I suffered so long with other hair care means for so long.

The cost, in the end, isn't that bad.  In fact, when you consider I get the color I want, she doesn't watch movies while on the job, there's no mess for me to clean up, it's nice to get out of the compound for a salon visit every month, she's a lovely lady and I'm happy with the result - then the cost is very little at all.

Currently Malonie is working a couple of days a week out of Four Nail Spa and Salon on the DQ.  She was working out of their space at King Faisal Hospital too, but the hospital recently started undergoing some serious re-development nearby, so getting to that branch can be a bit tricky.  The contact details, if you're interested are - Diplomatic Quarter (Al Kindi Square) + 966 11 201 4444,  King Faisal Specialist Hospital + 966 50 165 4444.  

Another recommendation is Sue, on The Arab Investment Compound (aka TAIC).  A few friends have been visiting her and are very happy with the results.  As an added bonus, Sue can cut hair too, which is really good to know because finding a hair stylist is yet another exciting adventure you ought to be prepared for if you ever decide to move to KSA.  To date I admit I haven't yet braved the land of the Saudi Stylist (and you can read about that here) - I prefer to get my hair cut at salons overseas (yes, I know, I'm a snob!)

Tomorrow morning I'm heading back to Malonie at Four because my roots need attention and although Madame Lily suggested I grow my hair out, I'm not brave enough to go without color in my hair just yet!

Ka Kite,

Saturday, 11 October 2014

King Khalid International Airport Overhaul

I have just arrived back from my Eid holiday.  In fact I'm waiting to collect our luggage.  And I have to say, the new look at the arrivals customs hall has inspired me to hop online and say 'Well done'.  The changes are looking fabulous.

There are organised lines, welcoming and helpful smiles.  And the new desks look modern and stylish.  And I love the blokes in their thobes instead of uniforms. I've always thought Saudi blokes look dashing in thobes.  

Being the last passengers out of our very full plane I was expecting a long wait as per usual.  Instead I was ooing and ahhing over a rather impressive revamp that has totally changed the personality of the place. And I wasn't alone.  A number of people were commenting too. 
Of course, we shouldn't forget that this is a customs arrivals hall, but it's nice to see the airport hierarchy have gone for a bright and modern feel.  I don't know who exactly is responible but I have to say, high fives all round! 

Ka Kite

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

STC 2 Steps Back

So, the other day Madame Lily tells me she had to sit outside the main STC shop on the corner of Tahalia and King Fahad because she was refused entry. 'Really!  That's unusual', I thought.  I've always gone into STC (the smaller one down the road because it's closer to home) with or without the Hubster, sorted my phone issues and walked home again.

In fact, just before Ramadan we went into STC together to let them know we were going overseas and to please not cut the phone off when they see international call costs flooding our phone bill.  A few months previous to that I went in because the internet had stopped working on my phone and, after handing it to a pleasant, polite, young tech savvy Saudi bloke, walked out with cyber space on my iPhone working again.

Imagine my surprise when, last night, after enjoying a lovely meal at a top restaurant, Hubster, myself and a fellow, newly arrived, Kiwi wandered down to the nearest STC to get a SIM for his iPad, and, as I went to follow Hubster and company indoors, security waved at me in that way you wave at people when trying to catch their attention and said 'Madame, Madame, No'.

Pardon? I said as I wasn't expecting to engage with any male securtiy outside the STC door.
Man only, they said (There were two security and another older guy sitting at a nearby table).
What? I said, somewhat confused.
Man only, they repeated, supported now by the older guy. 
Really! I said, remembering my recent conversation with Madame Lily.  Since when?
No lady, they said with a tone that suggested they had no idea why either, they were just doing their job and waving me to get out of the doorway where I had been standing for the duration of our short exchange.
But I've always gone in here, I said

Two younger, fashionably attired blokes who may or may not have been Saudi, (my ability to differentiate between Arabs and their particular Middle Eastern origins is still terribly poor after all this time), sitting at another nearby table joined the conversation, in a good natured fashion.

This is Saudi, one of them said.  A dumb country with dumb rules, And they laughed.  There ensued a conversation in Arabic between all five blokes, presumably on the rules in Saudi Arabia and the new rules in STC.  While they were talking I considered my options:
  1. Walk into STC and upset security's day;  
  2. Stand around on the street like an idiot; or 
  3. Take a seat at the nearby tables by the blokes as there was nowhere else to sit.
I chose Option Number 3.

So, can I sit here then? I asked the blokes.
Of course!, they said.  
Take a seat, they invited.
And the ridiculousness of the situation made me laugh.

The younger blokes cleared their rubbish from the table, pulled out a chair and stood up to move over to join security and the old bloke at their table.  (They may have invited me to sit outdoors, but local custom dictates they not sit with me - nearby, at the next table, is good enough).  We were just getting into a conversation on my nationality when Hubster came back out.  He hadn't realized I had been stopped at the door and wondered why I was still outside.  He was surprised when told the situation.

Seconds later our friend exited STC and joined us, somewhat baffled by yet another condition recently implemented by STC to help them cater to the huge anticipated iPhone 6 rush...

 ...They are only doing iPhone inquiries tonight, he said
What? we chimed together.
Yes, said the older guy still sitting in the chair near security who I now deduced was an STC employee on an extended coffee break, only iPhone 6 all this week.
All week? Hubster queried.
Yes, he said.
Shall we walk up to the big STC, then?
No, he said, it's the same there, too.

We left STC then and headed back to the car.
This, we told our friend, is typical of Saudi Arabia.  One day is one rule, the next day another.  It's what makes working with regulatory body's (or anybody for that matter) a nightmare for expats like Hubster who cannot get international companies to understand exactly what life is like here.  (He particularly gets annoyed at the Head Honchos in Dubai who blab on about Saudi being no different to anywhere else, but who rarely come here and, when they do, never stay overnight because ''s so different!  I often get the impression that Head Honcho's are Dumb Asses!)

I couldn't help thinking that STC had let the new generation down by closing its retail spaces to women.   Noor tells me a new ladies branch of STC has opened, up the road and around the corner - much further for me to go now.  (I have to catch a taxi with an unrelated male to get there - so if the point was to stop women engaging with unrelated males of questionable origin STC, or whoever is pushing these new rules, has failed terribly - duh!)

Presumably the purpose of opening a women only STC space is to give local women jobs in telecommunication retail, though I can't be sure of that rational without delving into the discussion with someone in the know, and I don't know anyone in the know right now.  (Anyone in the know out there please, feel free to enlighten us).  If that is the case then I'm disappointed in STC who have taken Saudi Arabia two steps backwards because everyone knows that telecom companies make billions of dollars every year - why couldn't they spend a fraction of that money and refurb their current retails sites to cater to female employees.

'Welcome to Saudi Arabia' we told our Kiwi Newcomer - 'a country full of young people who crave, neigh demand, the latest modern technology but are bullied by a bunch of cronies who psychologically live in the stone age'.   Yes, only in Saudi can you insist on flashing around modern accessories and be backwards at the same time.  And STC, and every other telecom company, should be leading the charge forward into the new age, not bending to the old guard, else the rest of the world might start to think you're all a bunch of far too rich wooses.

Ka Kite,

Monday, 22 September 2014

Here's a go getting Saudi woman...

‘Exercise for all’ walking initiative launched in Al-Ahsa by a woman

Go Girl.
Perhaps she should be a candidate for running the General Presidency of Youth Welfare and sorting out the Saudi Swimming Federation.

Ka Kite,

The Acquired Ginger Cat

We have acquired a cat...sort of.  He's a ginger and white cat, currently nameless unless you consider 'Cat' a name.  Surprisingly, Hubster has decided he deserves our love and attention.  Well, some of it anyway.  You see, we aren't really cat lovers.  And yet this feline has managed to weedle himself into our lives - for about an hour or so each night.

One of the cats on this compound breeds like nobody's business, and the little ginger squawker belonged to her.  Obviously he figured out fairly early on in his little kitten life that his survival was up to himself so he began roaming the fringes of people-dom in search of food, and possibly love and affection, at a very young age.

He was a spindly looking, loudly meowing bludging kitten.  Each night it would sidle shakily up beside our chairs as we sat moon bathing out by the pool.  Most nights it would sit, just far enough away not to be annoying, but close enough to be obvious.  I'm guessing it presumed we had food.  Most nights it was sadly mistaken - we only had coffee!  Initially the kitten was ignored or chased away.  But he was a persistent little bugger and one night he scored some of Hubster's left over KFC.  Well, then we couldn't get rid of him, could we!  And he started following us home.

So, one thing led to another and soon he was being fed, once a day only, early in evening, out on the front step.  I refuse to feed the cat in the apartment.  He is going to stay a wild cat because we travel a lot and he still needs to know how to hunt and live rough.  But at least he'll be in slightly better nick than the other wild cats hanging about.  That's my theory anyway.

He was a right Scary Mary initially.  Cautious and jittery.  He had this habit of clawing at the ground, the door mat, the front step, the tiles - anything at all, constantly, with his rather giant paws.  I found it quite unnerving.  It reminded me of fingernails on a chalk board and I half expected to hear a terrible screeching sound coming from the ground upon which he always clawed.

The cat soon got quite comfortable around our front step.  Eventually we could reach out and pat him without him running into nearby shrubbery before skulking his way back to the food.  He gets company at each meal.  Ours.  As I told Hubster, I have no intention of feeding every other cat in the compound - just this one.  So we sit on the front door step with him.  Initially it was to keep the other bludging cats away.  Now we've discovered it's quite nice to just sit and chill on the front step after a day at work.  If we had a beer in hand as well it would make for a near perfect evening ritual!

We told a friend about our semi-adopted cat.  She loves cats and gave us a whole bunch of pet food her newest addition won't eat.  And a cat tower.  Introducing the kitten to the cat tower was a bit of fun.  He'd walk, Scary Mary fashion in the door, following the smell of cat biscuits he was being teased with.  H'e'd investigate the tower, sniffing, cautiously, slowing sticking his head into the bottom house then jerking his body out,  and turning tail, slip sliding on the floor tiles and flying full tilt out the door because something had frightened him.

That was the first week.  By the second week he was entertaining us by flying full tilt in the door when we opened it, and leaping at pace to the top rung to fight with the balls of fluff hanging around up there.  Then he'd leap off, flying back out the door, skidding on the tiles as he went like an out of control ice skater.  Every now and then he'd smack into the couch mid skid.  He'd wander around outside composing himself.  Shaking his head.  Mewling.   Then he'd come flying back in and do it all again.

A few weeks after Cat made us decide that ours was a nice place for him to visit, I had to seek the expertise of a pet center because of the bites I was getting all over my legs.  I thought they were fleas from the cat.  I was wrong.  Apparently there are no fleas in Riyadh - it's the wrong weather for them.  So I came home with cat shampoo for lice and instructions on how to get said kitten into a bucket of water.  He didn't really enjoy that experience and, once he could extricate himself from my grasp, he disappeared under the couch to hide.  We left him there for a while but he's an outdoor cat, so out he goes, just like Fred Flintstone and his cat, and just like Fred's cat, he's not happy with that plan.

One night, about a week after we accepted that Cat had officially been semi-adopted, he didn't turn up.  I presumed he'd been fed by someone else and was hanging around someone else's door getting a better deal.  When he didn't turn up the next night either, the thought that cats are fickle beings did cross my mind.  Come the third night, Hubster thought the kitten may have been beaten up by one of the Toms that like to rule our compound - well in cat world they rule.  Apparently there had been an almighty cat scrap out by the B-B-Q the night of the Italian Cook Up and, being a wild cat looking for food, our Cat had been attracted to the barbecued chicken along with every other feline in the neighborhood  When Cat didn't turn up the next night either Hubster announced that Cat was probably dead.  He's very matter of fact like that.

The following night there was a commotion at our doorstep.  Seriously, it sounded as though some huge animal was literally throwing itself at our door.  Banging and knocking and screeching.  I actually thought it was Big Tom come to demand some attention.  When I opened the door Cat came bolting through and disappeared under the couch.    Hubster and I looked at each other.  I didn't think a kitten that small could make so much noise at our door.  Apparently cat was not happy under the couch and spent the next hour or so restlessly trying to find some other corner to curl up and hide in.  He looked a lot worse for wear, too.  Obviously, he'd had a rough few days and I think he had been taken to by a bigger cat, but we couldn't get close enough for a thorough investigation.  He eventually settled in a nook on top of the couch covered by the heavy drapes.  We left him there for the night and the next morning, he hadn't moved an inch.  To date, that is the only night he has spent indoors.

Being semi-responsible cat adopters we did wonder how we were going to continue care for Cat when we went away over Ramadan.  After all, we are less than complimentary about other cat feeders who abandon cats when holidays send expats fleeing from the country.  We didn't want to be one of those kinds of semi-adoptive expats.  So, we employed security to help out.  With instructions, a key to the apartment and plenty of food, one of our security blokes would visit each night and sit on the steps with the cat.  He loved it.  It was his time out.  Him and Cat bonded quite nicely for a month.  He was surprised how easy it was to look after Cat.  Cat grew a lot in that month!

Our next move is to get Cat fixed.
We don't really want him contributing to the compound cat population.
And I don't intend to feed additional offspring.

Lana, who Hubster has dubbed The Crazy Cat Lady, is happy to come to the compound and talk to the manager about her voluntary role as Riyadh's Cat Ambassador.  Our neighbor, who has also adopted a wild kitten, went to visit Lana and returned with a fountain of information on her activities.  You can find out more here, on Open Paws website.   Lana said she would visit and deal with any cats provided management is happy to have her.  I'm recommending management say yes....but I'm not holding my breath there will be an immediate follow through.  The health and breeding capacity of city cats, or any animals for that matter, isn't really up the 'This Is Important' ladder for peeps in this country.  So I have Lana's number and will be giving her a call.  Getting Cat to co-operate with my plan might prove somewhat interesting.

Ka Kite,

Friday, 19 September 2014

Bagels In Riyadh

Out by Granada Mall, next door to Centerpoint is a small, clean, tidy eatery that you may not give a second glance as you drive by, nestled as it is amongst the older small business shops around it. But if you love dense, chewy, handmade bagels then stop here you should.

Circles & Circles sells bagels. And coffee. But mostly bagels.  Freshly baked, round and chewy - just how I like them. 

I fell in like with bagels over 20 years ago.  Chewy and dense they were a bread with substance.  I've come across a lot of poor imitations since then.  New Zealand and Australia are fabulous places to live, but they don't really do Bagels.  The mass produced product that big business bakeries churn out should not be allowed to  put the word 'Bagel' on the packet!  Thin, weak and lacking any oomph, they are a total disappointment. 

I actually got to the point where I began to doubt the clarity of my memory with that first bagel experience.  Did I dream that big thick doughy bread!.  Today, at last, I found a bagel that I could say, 'Yes, this is how I remember Bagels'.   

They bagels are baked fresh each day in a little oven out the back.  The young bloke serving assured me that if I turned up around 7a.m. I could take photo's of him mixing the dough.  Much as I like taking photo's of my food, I also like sleep so those pics may be a while in coming.

I ordered a bagel with Halloumi and lots of other goodies as well as a couple of plain circles to take home and munch on later in the day.  To top off my morning, I was allowed to sit and eat in the shop, at the tables.  What a bonus.  I felt like a real person!   And the coffee was pretty good too.  Head out to Circles & Circles and see what you think.

Ka Kite,

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Saudi Arabian Swimming Federation Dream

Did you know there was a Saudi Arabian Swimming Federation?  I wasn't aware of that till recently.   Not that it actually matters to me one way or another that such an organisation exists.  I guess I'm just surprised that, being a desert location full of folks who, till recently, haven't been encouraged to participate in a huge variety of sports, some Regal Type would assume there was a need for a Swimming Federation in the country.

But there you go... now I hear that Saudis swim - not paddle about in knee deep water, but actually competitively swim - but only the blokes of course!  (*Rolling Eyes*).  I wasn't aware that the local male liked to compete in a pool, not to the extent they needed a swimming federation anyway.  But apparently, they do.

In fact, since finding out about the Swimming Federation I've also learnt, via Google while researching Saudi's and swimming, about the Saudi Coast Guard and Water Sports.  My first reaction to that Arab News article was 'Saudi has a Coast Guard!?'  My second reaction was a cynical sniff, mumbling something along the lines that 'women probably aren't included in any of the marine sport teams'.  I'd be surprised, though happy to learn, if women are actually in the Coast Guard.

Saudi also has a Saudi Arabian Maritime Sports Federation (SAMSF).   And they aim to provide maritime sport to residents and tourists!  No shizz!  Stuff like kayaking, diving, angling - in fact, if you visit the SAMSF Sports page you'll see all the sports they intend to provide.   It doesn't happen to mention anywhere that women will be offered these activities, but I'm sure that's just an oversight!

Am I being facetious, do I sound cynical?
I really ought to kick my own butt for being this way.  (Really I ought to. Thank goodness I can't!)

While out of Saudi for my very long summer break I've enjoyed watching women play touch rugby, girls playing basketball, loads of people cycling, (including myself), and top teams playing rugby league on the weekends with its mixed crowd of male and female spectators, young and old. It made me start to wonder how the hell I manage my sport fix in Saudi.  And the short answer is...not very well.

(Click to view a video.)
This is my daughters Touch Rugby Team.
They won this years comp in T'ville!

Till very recently, sport for women was practically non-existent, unless you consider going to the gym 'sport'.  (I don't! And it grates me, as I drive around Riyadh, to see so many Fitness Time gyms going up for all the blokes.  Women's gyms are few and far between, at risk of being closed if the Bearded Ones don't like them, and they're not cheap to join).   In early 2013 the first private sports club for females was opened in the eastern region (woop, woop).  And later in the year private schools got the official go ahead to offer sport for girls in schools.  But there is still a long way to go before women participating in sport in any capacity is considered 'normal'.

Women aren't even encouraged to be spectators in sport...I know this from the performance over whether or not we female Kiwi expat supporters were allowed into the King Fahad International Stadium to watch the NZ Football Team playing in Riyadh in September last year.  (We managed to get in for the first game because nobody up the hierarchical chain got around to announcing an actual decision.  However, due to the fuss created we decided to graciously decline attendance at follow up games).

At the game.
The only other group of Kiwi supporters we could find.
The stadium was practically empty - loads of room for more women!
The kerfuffle could make bothering about sport in Saudi for women tiresome except that I've heard the new stadium in Jeddah has a dedicated family spectator section.  This is good news.  What would be awesome news is if this same stadium publicly supported women's football teams in Saudi Arabia.

In April this year everyone got excited with the idea that girls might soon be able to do sport in public schools.  But, according to Human Rights watch, the Ministry of Education must draft and present regulations that have to be approved by various advisory bodies before excited debate becomes a realty.  And given the other issues the Ministry of Education has to deal with (like training quality teachers to provide quality education in quality surrounds), full support of the sport issue might be put on the back burner for a little while yet.

The first time I saw the 'Sport For All' slogan emblazoned across the offices of the General Presidency of Youth Welfare (GPYW), the agency responsible for all sporting, cultural and social activities, I had to laugh.  It was just after all the women's gyms in Saudi had been closed and the GPYW's excuse for supporting the closures was 'they didn't have any female officers, nor did they have an office in which to put them if they did have them'.   (Obviously at that time hiring a few women and finding a new office in which to house them was just too difficult a concept to comprehend, much less implement).  Equally obviously their slogan should have been Sport For All Men.   Back then, (a long three years ago), women were directed to the gentler cultural pursuits of art and poetry and I'm fairly certain there is a segment of the Saudi community that still thinks the only two places women ought to be directed are the kitchen and the bedroom - no doubt it's their solution to the rising concern regarding Saudi's diet and exercise issues.

If sport for girls in this country does become a normal reality, I'm going to have to take my cynical self and bury her.  I might also be able to ride my bicycle around the streets without wearing a disguise!  Life in Saudi is changing, maybe slowly, but changing regardless.   The reason for caution is the tightrope and subsequent balancing act that the government has to be mindful of for every change it wants to implement.  This article, 'Pulling the rug: girls’ sports and the erosion of Saudi religious authority', gives a pretty good account of the politicking and power plays going on behind the scenes.

Now that 'Sport for all' is beginning to include the female gender, lets hope soon the news headlines will be 'Saudi Women's Team Wins International Event' or  'Woman Heads Saudi Arabian Swimming Federation' or better yet 'Top Saudi Sports Woman Heads the GPYW'.  Now wouldn't that be something.

Ka Kite,

Friday, 12 September 2014

FW: You'll never see these ads again.

I was deleting a few messages out of my rather full email inbox and came across this one forwarded by a friend.  I cannot believe what advertisers used to say, or that consumers bought stuff based on these ads!

Chubbies!  Seriously!  This must be the 'tell it like it is' advertising strategy.

What happened to the days when 'gay' meant 'joyful, carefree, and full of mirth'.  This article on Today I Found Out (because, let's face it, today while writing this post I did find it out) casts some light on how the meaning of the word 'gay' has changed.

I already take vitamins.  Maybe I should try some housework!

Actually, I'd find a .22 more useful.

Uh huh!

Hoover is actually a good brand, and I met a lady who loves her upright cordless vacuum cleaner.  But I doubt she was this excited when she picked it up from the shop.

Oh, bring these back!

The crying strategy....OK, so once or twice I tried that - but not for a frikken toaster!

OMG! Blow that crap in my face and I just might slap you!

Everyone knows television is great for baby sitting the kids!

I wish they had beer in a can in Saudi!


I bought a maids outfits once...for a saucy night in the boudoir...about 25 years ago when I looked halfway decent in one!

The further through these ads I get the harder it is not to get depressed!

Did they seriously used to sell sanitized tapeworms!  OMG!  Did they work?

I was going to say advertising has changed a lot...but I'm not sure it has. Though you might never see these ads again advertisers are still trying to get in the face of the consumer.   Perhaps they should re-run one of these for shock impact!

Monday, 8 September 2014

Saudi-izing My Lounge.

I'm planning on Saudi-izing my lounge.  Hubster thinks I've been affected by the sun since my return to Riyadh two weeks ago.  Maybe he's right. 40+ temps take a little bit of adapting to.  But seriously, on looking at our little place, I've decided a bit of a refurb is required.  And a Saudi style salon seems apt in Saudi Arabia, don't you think?

Hubster has agreed that one corner of our apartment can be Saudi-ized.  He has issues with reaching the floor comfortably so intends to keep a couch in the house, just for him.  A friend has already laid claim to the other couch - though I've had to reiterate he's only borrowing it temporarily for the day I tire of having a Saudi style salon and want our couch back.  And of course I will tire of the refurb - I'm a woman.  We always refurb!

So the other day off to Dirah souq I went with The Hubster in tow.   Mr Noor dropped us off outside the souq and we strode our way past the igal and ghutra shops with Hubster mumbling about my sense of direction being off because these don't look anything like Saudi salon furnishings.  Of course, once we reached the section with Saudi cushions, carpets and other Saudi Salon necessities he was like 'Oh....I didn't know this was here!'.

If colour is what you are looking for in Riyadh because you're tired of the dusty brown that tends to envelop this city, with the odd black and white shape drifting through it, this part of Dirah souq is a place you should visit.  The colors are bright and the patterns bold and it all jumps out in complete contrast to the rest of the souqs surroundings of white washed cubicles with fawn colored roller doors.  There are cushions, mats and seats, machine made cotton carpets from Turkey with the most amazing designs and hand loomed wool wall hangings reminding one of simpler times.  And the blokes working there are rather friendly - one gave up his seat so I could pose for a photo when I pulled out my camera.

We passed by a couple of stalls just taking every thing in before deciding to accept the beckoning welcome being extended at one shop, mostly because this guy could speak good English.  Over the next hour we learned a lot about Saudi-izing our apartment (or a small slice therein).  First we were shown carpets and told that once we chose one we could turn it into our seat covers, cushions, seat dividers or anything else we wanted.  Discussions then covered the choices of filling - cotton, foam or polyester and any combination there of and the depth of cushions - again any combination we fancied, from 5 centimeters to 15, depending on how soft we wanted our end product to be.  'We can make whatever you want', our friendly adviser said.  There were also wooden seats of various heights, all with hand painted designs and metal decorations, that Hubster tested out.  Given that he finds long periods of ground dwelling rather uncomfortable, these would provide some necessary elevation for our lounge set.

There is a lot more involved, we discovered, in designing a majlis set for our small corner of the apartment than we first thought.  (A majlis set is the proper name for the mats with matching cushions and arm rests that we are planning on purchasing and sounds a lot better than 'Saudi-izing our home, doesn't it?)  And the myriad of designs to choose from is simply mind boggling to a husband who is hoping this phase shall pass and a woman who, let's face it, didn't know what she was getting herself in for.  I did use the day to attempt to learn some Arabic though!

We decided to go home and think on all this information.  A week or so later, I'm still thinking.  Eventually a little corner of our apartment will be styled into a Saudi salon, I just don't intend to rush the idea.  And besides, our friend hasn't come to pick up the couch yet and, given he's rather hopeless at getting himself organised, I'm guessing we still have plenty of time to think about Saudi-izing my lounge.

Ka Kite,

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