Thursday, 29 May 2014

Making A Ladylike Entrance

I don't know how many times Mr Noor has heard me say 'One day I will learn how to make a ladylike entrance into your taxi!'  Usually this comment is made after flopping, in a very unladylike fashion, onto the back seat having thrown my handbag before me, if I swing it right, or dragging it in behind me if I happen to be carrying my laptop as well.  (Where I currently undertake a spot of voluntary work it is often easier to take my own laptop).

Adding to my taxi entrance issues is the fact that I can not stand sitting beside the door of a taxi because I suffer from motion sickness.  Vehicles these days have head rests on the front seats and, though they may protect the driver and a front seat passenger from whiplash should there be an incident, all they do for me sitting in back is limit my vision and make me car sick.  So it is necessary for me to scooch over to the middle of the back seat where I can get an unencumbered view of the road ahead.  Scooching with black abaya, large handbag and laptop could probably be done with grace for graceful people.   Me and Grace don't really got on that well!

Scooching usually results in the blessed black garment being pulled taut under my rather ample rear end.  The tautness is not only uncomfortable but has often pulled me off balance so I'm sitting lopsidedly.  Rearranging myself requires standing, as much as one can in the back of the taxi, and either sweeping the abaya out from beneath me (if I'm hot and bothered) so most of the garment is laying out on the seat beside me or re-organizing it properly for comfort and decorum.  The first method tends to expose my legs because, to date, I still wear shorts beneath my abaya.  My current predisposition to hot flushes, (and I can't decide if the cause of said flashes are menopausal or thyroidal or both), makes the wearing of more acceptable lengthy, modest yet heat creating attire an extremely a bad idea!

My final act of settling into my seat is ensuring the flow of cool air is heading my way from the air conditioner.  Mr Noor's taxi has an aircon vent at the back of the middle console so that beautiful cool air is directed onto my legs right where I'm sitting, and it's bliss!   Newer taxis only have air-con in the front, and if the driver is switched on to 'Woman Looking Hot and Bothered' he will turn the air-con up and re-arrange the vents to be sending air toward the back seat.  I don't find this an ideal situation at all!  Given this place is hot most of the time, taxi companies ought to be more considerate of their clientele and have air-con in back, not be cheapskates with their choice of taxi car with limited cool air options.

Credit:Wiki How
Anyway, there are times when I have to remember I'm supposed to be sitting like a lady, so will recline in the seat with legs covered by re-organised abaya and feet appropriately placed on the floor for ladylike-ness.  (According to Wiki How and their post Sit Like A Lady I'm not supposed to recline into seat.  Ladies hold their backs straight and don't lean back into the chair.  Who knew!)  Most days though I'm more interested in cooling my overheated body down, so lady like posture goes to hell as legs are uncovered and I practically sit on the air-con! (Definitely unladylike)

If I'm in a strange taxi (ie, not with Mr Noor) I will pay more attention to covering of my leg flesh with my abaya for the length of the journey.  For some reason Strange Taxi Drivers find exposed leg flesh has a certain allure and they spend a lot of their time attempting to get a look at it once they realize how badly I wear my abaya and how little is worn beneath it!  Given my legs are akin to tree stumps, sometimes complete with unshaven growth, I can only presume Strange Taxi Men are terribly desperate, uncouth types.  Mr Noor has been driving me around for a rather long time and is used to my carry on in the back seat so ignores it, plus he is too much of a gentleman to act so despicably.

If my efforts getting into the taxi make the well bred cringe, my struggles getting out would make them pack up and go home.  Scooching back towards the door requires fighting with abaya.  Fights with the abaya are not pretty. There was a time when, being young, nimble and lithe, exiting vehicles was quick and effortless.  Those days are long gone.  Now one has to heave oneself out of the back seat, usually after having exposed leg flesh to put ones feet on the ground, while attempting to keep said door open and while trying to get large handbags and any other packages one might have accumulated over the day, to co-operate with my desire to leave the taxi.  Exit strategies are often accompanied by the comment, 'One day I"ll learn how to get out of your taxi in a ladylike fashion, Mr Noor.'  He smiles the kind of smile that says, 'That day is a long ways off!'

Ka Kite,

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Funky Kitchenation

Kitchenation has got to be the funkiest looking cafe in Riyadh.  I can't  believe it has taken me so long to find the place given it is in Tahalia Street.  Granted it is tucked away in the new Mira Hotel, between the more outdoorsy eateries of Zaatar wa Zeit and Elevation Burger.  It has also only been open in the last five months and in the past month I have been back twice - once alone, once with a group.

Walking through the reception area to the cafe you almost think 'this is going to be a boring, same old hotel cofffee shop'.  But then you walk around the corner and the color jumps out at you almost making you to stop and go 'Whoa'.   When I stepped over the threshold into the cafe proper for the first time I couldn't help smiling at the eclectic collection of colored chairs and cushions around wooden tables.  On the walls are shelves with a seemingly random display of knick-knackery, some old and historical looking, some used and pre-loved looking.  In their midst is a scroll of brown paper onto which is written philosophical sayings.  It's all quite eye-catching and well, funky.  Funky is not usually a word used to describe anything in Saudi.

On one side of the cafe is a counter with an array of sweets that you have to look at twice, just to make sure you were seeing things properly as each one is displayed on a colorful set of mis-matched trays and bases, with the sweets only identifiable by their hand written names on chunks of wood.  The pavlova dreams are huge.  As are the macaroons sitting in their crafty container that I still can't decide is a snake or hollowed out turtle!

The menu is just as colorful and has an almost childlike quality with quite an extensive selection for a hotel cafe.  Once seated the place mats are an entertaining game that keeps you occupied and engaged in laughter and conversation until your meals arrive.

As hotel food goes, it's pretty good - tasty and  well presented.  The Crispy Shrimp and the Crispy Shrimp Salad were both quite satisfying as Appetizers and perfectly cooked.  The Chicken Strips are good to share with others.  The pizzas are huge and a Doggy bag was required by our group at the end of our meal.  Being on a bit of a diet the day I went with friends, I opted for Chicken Caesar and liked having the breast of chicken at the side of my plate, juicily waiting for me to add it to the salad myself.

Not being on my diet the day I went alone, dessert was an absolute eye-candy treat.  And wouldn't you know it, that is precisely when my phone ran out of battery, so I didn't get to take a photo of it.  I'd chosen the smaller pavlova dream served with fruit and it came presented on a platter artfully decorated into a chocolate and sauce flower.  I sat admiring at it for a few minutes wondering if I should go and recharge the phone to take a photo - and decided perhaps I could come back another day for this dessert and make sure I bring my camera!

I've enjoyed not only my meals at Kitchenation, but the environment.  It would be great if the funky surrounds also came with relaxed smiling service.  Not that the service didn't come with a smile.  It did.  But it's just that this is Saudi Arabia and the wait staff in most dining spots always look in fear of losing their jobs if they say something wrong or drop a fork.  A bit of jocularity along with the Kitchenation order taking wouldn't go amiss in one of the more distinctive cafe's I have come across in Riyadh.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Sport For Girls In Saudi Arabia

Let's Go Girls

Woohoo, girls can do sports in state schools.  Read this, from Arab News...

For the first time in Saudi Arabia, a government school has introduced sports for girls, after a call for the lifting of a ban on women in sports, press reports said on Sunday.Girls at Amal Institute in Jeddah competed in a volleyball tournament last week after the school built new sports facilities, also for basketball, tennis and hockey, Al-Hayat Arabic daily said. 
In April, the Shoura Council recommended after a heated debate that the longstanding ban, already relaxed in private schools last year, be scrapped.  The council cited a ruling the late Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz, a former mufti, that women were entitled to play sports “within the limits set by Islamic law.” 

Big Up's Shoura Council.
'Nuff said. 
Bring it on!

Ka Kite,

Sunday, 11 May 2014

The Great Saudi MERS Coronavirus Malady

The Saudi Gazette ran a story the other day on the death of a health worker in a government hospital to Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) - Coronavirus.  He was the second health care worker to die of the disease in a Saudi Ministry of Health Hospital.  As always with life in the Magic Kingdom, there is an interesting story that can be found in the dusty haze of Saudi's handling of the Coronavirus situation.  Here's my take on 'The Great Saudi MERS Coronavirus Malady'

MERS CoV (an official term for the virus) has been quietly rumbling around Saudi Arabia since being discovered in 2012.  According to figures in the Gazette, since being identified 369 people have been infected with the disease and 111 have died - a fairly high mortality rate, wouldn't you say?

The virus has also been turning up in other parts of the globe - the latest countries to report MERS CoV include Egypt, Malaysia, the Philippines, Greece, Yemen and most recently, America.  Given that Saudi is a mecca for foreign workers from all over the world it is hardly surprising that the virus is being carried offshore to everywhere else.

The health experts had a few questions about the MERS virus (as it's locally known) when it first turned up on the scene - Where did it originate from?  What was the mode of transmission?  How could it be treated?   Two years later, they are still asking the same questions.  They think the virus originated from an animal - possibly camels.  They know that the virus spreads between people who are in close contact, but aren't sure of exact transmission.  There is still no vaccine for prevention or cure for seriously affected cases.

When news of the virus first broke to the public in Saudi Arabia, people were a little concerned given that not much was known about it other than a quarter of the people who caught it died.  The public were understandably a little nervous and wanted answers to questions - mostly, how not to catch it!

By the looks of things, Saudi wasn't quite sure what to do with the growing concern regarding the virus, so settled for their usual ploy of 'The Great Cover Up'  (sounds abaya-ish doesn't it - they must have thought the virus was a woman!), mostly in relation to honestly informing the public of MERS severity, but also, apparently, on advising and updating interested international health organisations assisting research of the new bug.

Educating the public on steps to take to reduce chances of catching this, or any, virus were a non-event.  In fact, recent reports suggest that, under instructions from the previous Health Minister, health care workers were threatened if they raised alarm about the outbreak.  (Said Minister was recently sacked for his mis-handling of the whole affair).  For all the Ministry's attempts to keep information about MERS on the down low, media kept reporting that people were dying from it.

Latest news suggests the virus appears to be 'surging' in Saudi, which is a bit of a concern.  It may indicate that the virus has mutated into a form that can more easily be passed from person to person or it may simply mean more cases are being tested and diagnosed.  Whatever the cause,  I assume this surge and its associated concern, is the reason for the appointment of a new Health Minister a few weeks ago, who has hit the ground running - stepping up public awareness campaigns, creating MERS task forces, setting up designated treatment centers and even Tweeting and Facebooking information and updates, and encouraging everybody to take steps to protect themselves and their families.

It seems the health care workers, if not the country, have heaved a huge sigh of relief that the Cover Up on the MERS Coronavirus is over and now they can focus on taking the actions necessary to keep themselves, and the rest of the community healthy, safe in the knowledge that the government will be aiding them.  On a recent visit to a hospital more than a few hospital staff were wearing masks while on routine work.  And even out in the public the number of face masked expats in crowded public places, like supermarkets, has increased.  (I'm just waiting for the religious fervent to tell all foreign women to start wearing niqabs as MERS protection).

I had the chance to talk to my doctor about viruses the other day.  I've had a bit of a chest infection lately so thought it best to seek out some medical treatment.  It turns out my infection was viral, determined when there was absolutely no response to the antibiotics he prescribed.  Viruses, said the Doctor on my return visit, are going to kill off the human race one day!  What a pleasant thought.

This is what else he told me, in a nutshell:


Viruses, unlike bacteria, are smart little suckers.  Most bacteria tend to die off outside the body in a matter of seconds if there is no food source or the environment isn't conducive to staying alive.  Many viruses, however, can survive outside the body much longer than bacteria - up to 14 hours he was saying.  Which means, if a bloke with a bacterial infection sneezes on your clean, dry table, the bacteria will likely die soon after and anyone else putting his hand on the table and then rubbing his eye or picking his nose won't get the infection.  However, if that bloke has a viral infection, sneezes on the table and you practice the bad human habits previously mentioned after laying your hand on the table anytime within the survival period of the virus which, as previously stated, is quite a while, you will get the virus.  And if you aren't particularly healthy or are susceptible to viral infection, you will get sick.  Lovely.
Viruses, he said, are also able to mutate very quickly (a matter of hours in some cases, apparently) into some other form and scientists haven't yet figured out how to preempt what form a mutating virus might take.  Added to that, for most viral infections there is no anti-viral medication.  So even if we could guess the change, we probably couldn't do anything about it, anyway.  Once we've caught a viral infection, all we can do is relieve symptoms and support our immune system as it attempts to deal with the problem greebly.
In order to not catch viruses, we have to start paying attention to our human behavior.  Which means a couple of basic things really - washing hands and cleaning stuff.  
The single most important thing you can do to prevent the spread of disease is to wash your hands regularly - before, and especially after, touching anyone else or anything that someone else has touched (or coughed and sneezed on).  ( It's amazing how many things people actually touch in the course of a day - I attempted to take note this morning, till the exercise got boring and I gave up - my stickability issues run deep!)  If you do touch someone else or something touched by others then: 
Don't pick your nose.
Don't rub your eyes.
Don't eat with your fingers...
- not until you've washed your hands! 
Of course, staying out of breathing, coughing or sneezing range of coughing, sneezing, heavy breathing types is also a good idea.  Wearing a mask as a barrier to picking up air-borne coughed a sneezed things wouldn't hurt at all, though people may look at you like you're an over-reacting hypochondriac - that is until they get sick and you are not!  
If you are the coughing and sneezing type, stay home, in bed, away from other people!
If you insist on subjecting friends, family and the general public to your presence, have plenty of tissues, or wear a mask, into which you can cough, sneeze or heavily breathe.   Wash your hands regularly - especially after coughing or sneezing into them because you didn't buy a mask or bring a tissue! 
And stay away from camels! 

Obviously my doctor and I were having a fine old chat and these fairly simple precautions aren't new nor are they rocket science, but they should reduce the risk of catching MERS CoV or any other nasty bug for that matter, said my Doctor.  

It seems the messages he was passing on to me, or something along similar lines, is now going to be spread throughout the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia courtesy of the new Minister of Health.   And I think he will be talking to a population prepared to listen.  One friend told me of weddings that have been down sized due to concern about MERS and my husband sent through this little diagram he had received from his office...

Of course the government is in a bit of a quandary what to do about the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages.  Masses of people gathering in one place is like a viral hoe down.  Though the Chinese say they may have unearthed a discovery that my lead to treatment, my guess is the cure is a ways off yet, so the Great Saudi MERS Coronavirus Malady gets to live on a while longer yet.

Ka Kite,

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Expat Men Should Know Better

Expat men should know better.

That's the conclusion my friend and I reached one day.  But then we forget expat men are only men.   Those basic animal instincts pulse more strongly through a mans veins than a woman's.  At least, that's what they tell you over here.   You know the animal instincts I'm talking about that native men in this country can't possibly control with conscious thought, hence the reason we women have to look like unattractive baggage.

Yes, I'm talking Lust.

My friend told me about a visit she made to another compound to visit a male friend she and her husband know.  As with many compounds in Saudi, especially over holidays when the wives and kids have traveled to home countries for a dose of 'normal life', the tenants were mostly men.  So she met a few of Mr Guy's mates.  It annoyed the heck out of her that she was fawned over and practically pawed at every opportunity.

She had to tell the blokes to back off.
"I'm married.  I have a child.  Keep your hands to yourself".
And if anyone starts on the 'What does she expect visiting a man at a compound full of men, she must be asking for it" - go drown yourself!

It is annoying enough that Arab men are all over expat women without invitation just because they think we are anybody's property.  It is ultra-annoying when we cannot trust expat men to be a lot more civilized when a women walks through the door - and I don't care how long it's been since you fellas got your rocks off with the real thing or how sick you are of Mrs Palmer and her five attendants!

Expat men, especially western expat men, should know better, plain and simple. That's what we've decided.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Boys To Men In Saudi

While wandering the aisles at an exhibition in Riyadh one day, a kerfuffle broke out just ahead and female security in their stern brown uniforms were surrounding a woman and her children.  As is usual in Saudi whenever something exciting is going down, the commotion drew the attention of attendees in the near vicinity and soon a small crowd had formed, with the sound of a shrill and angry exchange taking place.  It turns out security was objecting to the age of a young boy who had entered the female only section of the event, (he looked about six), and his mother was just as forcefully objecting to her offspring being told to wait outside.
I have no idea why this woman took her child to this event. Maybe she wasn't aware it was Ladies Only.  Maybe she believed that six was still young enough to be an innocent child and, like the other youngsters being allowed access (though admittedly most of those were in push chairs), didn't expect there to be problems.  Perhaps she didn't have anyone to babysit said child, and let's be honest, if a mother were to leave her youngster alone at the door she would probably be labelled a bad mother plus run the risk of losing who child to some abductor (terrible thought, but not unknown to happen!), so it's no wonder she insists that he is coming with her, grabs his hand and attempts to drag him in behind her.

The young boy in question looked a little confused and frightened mid kerfuffle, the mother agitated and the security stone faced and adamant that 'He is not to go one inch further!'

Security coming down on mothers and their youngsters has happened at a couple of events I've been to, though having never stuck around to see the result of these exchanges, I can't say who wins out.  The incidents do make me wonder how old a boy has to be before he's no longer a child in Saudi eyes.  Apparently, looking six is getting on in years.

I presume young male children are excluded from these events because they may see, or be at risk of fraternizing with, uncovered, unrelated women.  What I used to doubt was whether the boys are old enough to compute what they are seeing, or if they even care.

On trying to recall what my brothers were thinking about when they were between the ages of six and nine, all that comes to mind is riding bikes, pretending they were super heroes and asking for food.  I seriously doubt how pretty, or otherwise, the lady next door was even entered their heads at that age.  In fact, the only reason they would have been the least bit interested in the neighbor is if she had freshly baked biscuits for afternoon tea and had brought over a tin full to give away!

But this is Saudi, and boys are raised with different ideas.
I know a seven year old who is well aware that the Arabic teacher (a male) who has just arrived to take him for his after-school lessons is not to be let into the same room as me, so he has asked the teacher to wait in another area until I'm gone.  And yet another young boy who is concerned that my head and face are not covered as I leave his home (I have no idea what his parents tell him on that score).  And at extended family functions young boys learn they are the conduit for communication between the male tent and female section as they are sent back and forth between each.

The first time I witnessed how many of the social and cultural rules that young Saudi boys knew I admit to being stunned, first in an impressive way (as in, Whoa, look at that!), then in a sad way (as in, O my gosh, he's so young to know this already.  What's gonna happen when he meets the big bad west!)

Discussions with fellow expats on these eye opening occurrences usually results in 'brain washing' comments entering the conversation which is a bit unfair.  We laugh watching our grand children mimic their parents when on Skype but forget that they are, in fact, also learning behaviors, rules and attitudes. We forget how quickly children learn from their environment, how much the culture of a place is taught and learnt in the home before a child hits school or the big wide world.

How difficult must it be for Saudi parents to explain we westerners, who quite obviously have slightly different ideas on life, to their children.  (Of course, the lazy parents will take the quick option and simply say we are infidels not getting to paradise.  I guess they aren't interested in raising future generations with rounded attitudes).

I have been informed via the expat grapevine (and yes, that makes it rumour) that Saudi women provide all care for the children till the age of seven, then the fathers step in and take over a boys care while the mothers continue to raise the girls.  There may be an element of truth to this, though Ii'm not silly enough think it means seven is the age of transition from boys to men in Saudi Arabia.  It's more a question of logistics because there has to be a point in a young Saudi boys life when the father (and his brothers and uncles) becomes a lot more involved with their sons upbringing, largely due to the segregated environment within which boys must live and try to make sense of life.  Another expat friend believes twelve is the age of no return for a Saudi boy due to approaching puberty - at that point he's completely thrown into the Saudi mans separate world, ready or not.  Here's hoping he's ready!
When boys truly transition to men in Saudi is, no doubt, an individual thing as it is around the world.  And I say 'truly transition' because there is simply no one 'magical moment' when 'boys' become 'men' in the true mental, emotional, responsible sense of the word.  (We had to wait almost 50 years for one of the brothers to grow up!)   And I don't believe for one second that a male child is mature enough, in any sense, of being a capable guardian to his mother and older sisters,  This particular Saudi law or cultural practice or religious edict or whatever it is, that makes women dependent on their male children or young male siblings for all their needs if no other significant adult male is around has be given the heave ho!  (I actually think the whole guardian system needs to go, but that's for another discussion).

Unlike girls in Saudi Arabia, boys do not get lumbered with a sign that announces to security guards (and anyone else who needs to know)  "My developing body has physically transitioned to manhood.  Separate me from the females because now, I'm dangerous!'' - (Perhaps they could put that on a shirt...)

... This means security guarding the inner sanctums of malls and family only places from 'single males' has to take take a wild guess at the age of a child and often times simply being a boy (and an extremely young one at that) seems to be sign enough. for exclusion.   For example, I've seen a boy, he looked nine, having been sent out by his mother to buy drinks for his younger siblings, denied entrance back into the Family Area of a mall food hall and told to go sit in the singles section.  He looked like he was gonna cry and his mother clucked her way over to him, lambasting security all the way.  I couldn't help thinking some of the rules in this country are a bit stuffed.  On the other hand I also thought she was being unfair to security - after all, these are your rules!  (Living in Saudi can seriously mess with your head if you let it.)

The sign for a matured girl is easy to identify and, if the mothers have done a good job, girls look forward to their first blood and the marking of their transition to 'womanhood' with an all covering abaya and niqab with enthusiasm.  Having to give up playing kids games with the male cousins of similar age is simply part and parcel of the process.  (I do wonder how, overnight, you can become too beautiful for male to look at just because you had a period because, let's be honest, most menstrual related activity is a far from glamorous affair!)  One can only imagine that girls who are not prepared for the great cover up that accompanies 'becoming a woman' must be somewhat traumatized by the entire process.

If you think about it, the abaya and niqab ensemble does little more than mark you as a female , and one of reproductive age at that.  Putting newly menstruating girls into them is akin to branding packaging with a tag line 'Need Offspring? - I'm Good To Go!'  (Post-menopausal women don't have to wear the niqab, so I've heard, because they are considered 'past their use by date' but most continue to do so out of habit, and I reckon the old girls still get a thrill out of the young men throwing phone numbers at them because of what they imagine is under the black attire!).

I have heard stories of Saudi mothers not letting on that their daughters have begun menstruating, so they don't have to be marked as 'available' quite so soon and who can blame them, childhood is over so quickly and adulthood lasts for decades in this modern day and age.

Without any outward sign of a boys age, the judgement of whether or not that boy can pass as 'child' or be denied access as 'man' is left to the discretion of the security guards and their assessment that said boy is too large, too old, or too handsome to be allowed in to the inner sanctum of 'Women Only' areas with mum or 'Family' areas without her, much to the chagrin, I've noted, of many a mother.

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