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 'OMG...it'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.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Saudi Arabian Sporting Dream

Did you know there was a Saudi Arabian Swimming Federation?  I wasn't aware of that till recently when I met a young Kiwi bloke who was working for them.  Not that it actually matters to me one way or another that such an organisation exists though I admit to being surprised that in 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 national Swimming Federation.

But there you go... now I know 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.

Till very recently, sport for women was practically non-existent in Saudi.  Even going to the gym was put on the 'not a female activity list' thanks to the  General Presidency of Youth Welfare (GPYW), the agency responsible for all sporting, cultural and social activities in KSA.

The first time I saw the 'Sport For All' slogan emblazoned across the offices of the GPYW, I had to laugh.  It was just after they had closed all the women's gyms in Saudi down, their excuse for the closures being they didn't have any female officers to monitor ladies gyms, 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.  (I did wonder, though, who had been sent along to find all the existing women's gyms to shut them down.  Given men can't go into women's gyms they must have found some women somewhere to do that job!)  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 only two places women ought to be directed are the kitchen and the bedroom.

It grates me, as I drive around Riyadh, to see so many Fitness Time gyms going up for all the blokes. Currently women's gyms are few and far between, at risk of being closed again if the Bearded Ones don't like them, and they're not cheap to join.  (In typical Saudi style, after the hoopla of closing them down, women's gyms have kind of, sort of, but not really officially, been reopened if you know where to look.  This was, I presume, because the Ministry of Health, a much bigger official body, pointed out in a newspaper article, just over the page from the closing of gyms headlines, the extremely bad obesity figures for Saudi nationals - especially the women.  Somebody had to do a spot of back tracking me thinks).

Things are improving.

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 - probably because they found out most western private schools were offering sports anyway.  But there is still a long way to go before women participating in sport in any capacity in this country 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.

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,

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Return to Riyadh

I'm back in Riyadh and by crickets its hot!  People ask me if I'm glad to be back and, honestly, I haven't decided yet.  It's nice to be back in my own bed.  And to see the Hubster again (I better add that - not because he reads my blog, but because a couple of his mates do!) Someone made the comment that two months is a fairly decent block of time to be out of Saudi - but that Someone doesn't live in Saudi, he was just visiting. And he's a him!

Most of the ladies I know base how glad they are to return to Saudi on when the next trip out of the country is (even some Saudi ladies!).  And for most of us, that would be Eid al Adha in early October.  I would be lying if I said Hubster and I aren't planning another little trip away at that time.  Because we are.  And yes, we are looking forward to it.  Not just because we get to see another part of the world but also for the little things we get to appreciate.  Like for me not having to wear an abaya.  Like for me being able to bike ride in peace.  Like for being able to have a nice glass of red with dinner.  Like being able to go dancing.  Like being able to attend chamber music recitals or enjoying street entertainers.  Like going to a big screen movie theater.  Like for me being able to rent a car and drive.

Yes, we spend a fortune getting out of here so we can enjoy a few of the simple pleasures life has to offer.  (We could have wine with our dinner in Saudi but that would require paying black market prices for a bottle and then practically having it in secret in case someone on the compound objects to us having contraband in our possession - and yes there are people like that on compounds. - and where is the pleasure in all of that nonsense?)

So, I have returned to Riyadh.
And because I am so used to the place now and it's quirky going's on and because I'm back in my own apartment with all my acquired knick knacks and treasures, and because I will be catching up with my friends as they make their trek back into the country, it does feel like coming home.  Though when one is truly home, one doesn't keep planning to leave it all the time, does one?

Ka Kite,

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