Thursday, 17 November 2016

Change is In The Future

"When the oil runs out, Saudi Arabia will be history...everybody will up and leave, including the rich Saudi who have homes and investments all over the world".  That's the common rhetoric you hear around the expat traps.  Even I admit to thinking along those lines every now and then.
Well, the oil hasn't exactly run out but the downturn in prices has meant that the Saudi government has, for the past many months, been thinking about their future.  As Saudi's future affects a number of expats, I started a blog post on what I thought should be part of those changes.  The Husband, bless his worried heart, told me not to post it and every now and then because, lets face it, he pays the bills, I heed his advice but given how things seem to be panning out, here's what I wrote all those months ago.

The Deputy Crown Prince made an announcement the other day that wasn't exactly a surprise given all the debate going on in expat circles - well the ones I move in anyway.  I'm sure there was debate in Saudi circles too, but not so anyone else could hear it because peeps in this part of the world are cautious about exactly what they express and to whom.

And Yes, we all know if Saudi hierarchy had thought about their future years ago when the gravy train was so overloaded with cash that the handful of peeps at the top who had access to it all didn't really know what to do with it so wasted a boatload of it on themselves and their closest relatives, they would be in a much better position now to deal with this little economic hiccup.  But they didn't, so lets move on...

The general consensus is that the government is going to use this little downturn in the oil income to drag this country into the 21st century.  All of it.  All the way.  I'm guessing the young people love this idea. (I have to guess because I haven't actually asked that many young people their opinion, but the ones I know are waiting, expectantly, for things to happen - here's hoping they aren't disappointed).  The old conservative bunch may have to dragged kicking and screaming.

Here's a Bloomberg article on the man charged with guiding and directing the future of Saudi Arabia if you are interested:  The $2Trillion Project to Get Saudi Arabia's Economy Off Oil .

What Saudi don't want, and who can blame them, is a move toward change that will descend into chaos, as has happened with their neighbors.  Personally I don't think young Saudi are at the mass revolution stage.  Restless, yes.  Revolting, no.  The sector that needs to be watched are the old guard and any of their loopy loo friends.  The time is right to make a few adjustments to the way the populace thinks - the modernists will be looking ahead.  The loopy loos will be looking backwards.

Some indications of the changes are already published and if you want to read more about them just google: Future of Saudi Without Oil.

Personally I reckon we'll see:
  • The sponsorship system eradicated.  It's nothing but a slave trading system full of exploitative kafeels and their equally unscrupulous agents.  Naturally there should be some other form of control for monitoring the comings and goings of people into and out of the country...just not that one.
  • True reform of the public education system which most intelligent people recognize needs to change, the question is how.  Naturally I have formed an opinion on this subject even though I have close to nothing to do with the current educational institution.  I see there has to be a two fold approach.  First the curriculum needs a massive upgrade to better prepare youth for the modern world in terms of their ability to ask inquiring questions, to think critically and creatively and not be afraid of expressing an idea or opinion.  (You're thinking I'm barking up a tree with this, aren't you?)

    Perhaps instead of insisting on rote learning of the quran, which I gather through much discussion with people in the system is largely the current set up of public education, Saudi could set its brightest brains to creatively integrating quranic lessons into a more useful school curriculum.  You know, like real life word problems.

    Then of course you have to find someone who can teach such a curriculum and encourage participation and expression without getting their shemarghs tied in a twist.  I have mentioned before that you cannot possibly teach a student to think out of the box if you don't know how to think that way yourself.  Most local teachers in this country have definitely been programmed to live 'in the box'.  And the box sucks. 

    I have been the recipient of Saudi type lessons.  It was quite early in my residence in Saudi and fellow compound dweller and I decided to try and learn Arabic, spoken and written, so hired a woman who said she could teach us.  We thought learning from a local would give us an edge.  We had one lesson.

    There wasn't much structure to the session which wasn't so bad.  The disturbing things were when we struggled.  After teaching us 'Hello, How are you' and the response she asked us to have a conversation with each other - but she wouldn't let us have the conversation.  She would jump in and say the words for us...every time.  We're lucky if we got half a word out.  When we struggled with pronunciation she was less than complementary and, eventually, she gave up teaching us to talk, with a huff and a sigh, and moved on to writing the alphabet.  She shows us a few letters and asks us to write what she has.  While I am trying to do so she snatches the pencil out of my hand exclaiming 'No, this', takes the paper from in front of me and writes the letter herself.

    Suffice to say my friend and I decided to relieve this woman of the language teaching position and then sat about expressing, with absolute astonishment and disbelief, how shit it must be to be a young student in her class with no recourse to removing her for from the role.

    A few years later, after many promises being made by the modernist hierarchy to revamp the national education curriculum not much was improving because, basically, they were being beaten back every step of the way by the conservative crew who didn't want to give away a second of Quranic Time.  (Gosh this reminds me of the American education problems.  If you ever get a chance to watch 'Waiting for Superman' you may see a lot of similarities to  the Saudi situation).

    My neighbor was hired to teach in a supposedly international but actually Saudi school and complained constantly about the ridiculousness of her workload.  Not the teaching workload - the additional stuff, like the marking of homework.   She had to go through every student book and mark every missing dot to the 'i', every crooked cross to the letter 't'.  Such activity is an absolute waste of a teachers time and is also not teaching, but it is a reflection of what the system thinks is important.  Trivialities.  Image.  She would watch my grand-children on the mat outside our door writing imperfectly shaped words and hear me saying well done - not for the imperfection, but for the effort -  and correcting every now and then as required and wondered why that type of teaching wasn't acceptable in her class.

    Here's hoping the new changes include real change to the education system, its' curriculum and delivery.  Those would be a good start.
  • The government can't afford to keep employing their own so all those cushy government jobs need to be fewer and further between.  And seriously, I have heard numerous Saudi say they prefer to be hired by the government because its a cushy, non—demanding place to be.  Watching the reshuffles in those offices will be interesting.
  • More foreign investment makes sense so people can be pushed out of their comfy government employment into real work.  PPP's (Public Private Partnerships) seem to be flavour of the month.  I'm guessing a Saudi influenced arrangement will see more risk put on, and more profit demanded by, the private P in that bunch

    The Private portion of the PPP's also has to be able to have more say on how to deal with unproductive workers because no company wants to come here if they have to pay people whose productivity is negligible, or pay two nationals to do the job of one expat and, whether Saudi likes it or not, that is the reality of the Saudi reputation on work ethic - it is sorely lacking.  If the Private Sector is going to be expected to take on more risk, it would not be impractical of them to push back on Saudization criteria because it will hugely affect their bottom line.

    Too much privatization isn't healthy either.  Often times the profit becomes more important than the people.  Saturating a country with large corporations only leads to the small business owner being pushed out.  With 20+million nationals, there's the potential for a lot of unhappy small folk if privatization by big corporations takes over willy nilly like it has the rest of the world.

    If Saudi is keeping their finger on the pulse of global trends, they will see the the little guy is beginning to re-emerge in various areas, mostly because the consumer, sick of the big guy, is asking for more community focused, user friendly, responsive and local entities.

    Balancing large and small business investment properly will be tricky given that the Regal Clique has a lot of their fingers in the big corporate pies.  That clique just stamp their stroppy feet and say NO to anyone else wanting to enter the market that looks like they might be either too much of a competitor to an existing regal owned entity or unwilling to pay the backhander to the Princely Type holding up the paperwork.  Ask around the traps and many a rumored tale will be told about that! 
  • Training institutions, educational institutions and the workplace has to be able to emphasize reward for effort, not reward for existing which, unfortunately, is how the many Saudi view their place in the world.  At the top, regardless. Take for example a locally based firm that gives its Saudi workers raises and promotions for billing four hours a week.  Four hours.  A week.  And you get a promotion.  The amount you bill over the course of a year doesn't even pay your salary.  Nope, the expat slaving it in the office next door, billing 60 hours a week is covering for everybody else.  And his promotions get over looked.  If the idea is to replace all expats with Saudi's then stuff like that should not be happening.  A good hard look in the mirror and facing some home truth's about exactly what the Saudi employee is or is not producing is required.  
  • Women should be driving.  There are far too many unnecessary foreign men milling about in this country who don't actually need to be here.
  • The government will be expected to assist while the local people get used to less money in pocket due to price rises of consumer goods.  And they will rise some more although I'm guessing expats will be expected to shoulder the brunt of those somehow.
  • To make the locals more accepting of price increases and austerity measures The Regal Ones should start leading by example.  Everyone knows where all the money is.  If peace of the masses is to remain and vocal disapproval by them is to be kept to a minimum, I suggest the peeps up top take some of that cash they have stashed in their bank accounts and back their own country by plugging deficits with money they should have been sharing with their countrymen for years anyway.

    When the household budget gets tight the natives will get restless and risk being outspoken.  If things go that far and Saudi responds with a heavy 'Shut your trap or you will disappear' response, they will have lost the respect of their nation.  After all, only nasty dictators pick on their own.  But if the hierarchy can be seen doing the right thing and curbing that terribly bad habit they've developed of rewarding themselves with and from riches they basically siphoned away from the masses just because they have a certain blood line, then everyone might come out of this downturn relatively happy chappies. 
  • Women should also be doing their own housework and childcare and Dad will have to start helping out more with both.   If families insist on the the 'need' for a maid cumnanny cumcook comeevery flaming thing, an unfortunate side affect of price increases will be abuse of poorly paid maids and drivers (money stress always makes people crack and pick on the weakest link).
  • Free health and education for nationals may be a thing of the past. (Such a shame.  This is the only country that actually does provide for nationals health and education.  We say health and education is free in NZ but we're always having to pay fees, books, uniforms, trips, medications, procedures, all gets very unfree very quickly.)
  • Conservative fruitcakes will get all trigger happy because they prefer the country back in the dark ages.  Everybody, be on your guard.
  • Naturally, such modernization has to be in agreement with the quran because, it just does.  However my take is that, though the contents of the quran can't, and will not, be changed, there may be some adaptations to current interpretation in the wind.
And those are just some of the things I think might be, could be, should be in Saudi's future if they want to come out on top.   Whatever happens, the future here is going to be an interesting ride.  Everybody, hold tight!

Ka Kite,

Friday, 28 October 2016

Stunned Falcons, Layla Lakes and Water.

The picture is beautiful.  A blue water lake fringed with green grasses and a jet boat pulling a water skier.  If that is in Saudi we need to go find it, I said to Hubster. So Google was searched and searched again for the location of Layla Lakes.

We took Mr UK with us on this trip.  He was on a short stint back in Riyadh and loves road tripping with us.  Either that or he didn't have a better offer this particular weekend.

An early departure was set because our first stop was just south of Riyadh to watch a falcon display in the desert.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Saudi Waiting For Change?


There is a Deputy Crown Prince in Saudi Arabia who, according to recent accounts, is wearing himself out because he wants to drag this country into the 21st Century.  There is also a huge youthful population who want to start living in that century in more ways than just buying the latest iPhone release. We were discussing the other day, a few peeps and I, how these same youth don't seem to have jumped on board the 2030 plan and shouted out, loudly and clearly....'Yes! At last!  Finally someone to get us ahead'. Why is that?

The majority of Saudi youth, so I gather, want social modernization more than economic reform.  As a bright, well traveled and well educated young Saudi man told me, he sees that many of the issues considered immoral in Saudi Arabia today are only a problem in this country.  The rest of the world seems to have moved on and he wonders what is it with his own countrymen that they are happy to remain behind in many ways.  His family question his attitude, asking why he is not happy with the norms that have sustained this country for centuries.

There are young women I know with degrees in the business sector who have been told they must stay behind their frosted glass office with no view out at all, ladies (and not all of them young) crowded into a hot, shared, noisy space while their counterpart males get spacious, individual offices with views of the street out in the main business area where all the high flying discussion takes place. And the young women wonder what is so special about them to get such treatment?  The answer from the Saudi man in charge of the office is 'That is the way it is'. Their question behind their glass cage is, 'Why?

The other question young people ask is "What are our people afraid of?"

The answer to that question is easy.  The old guard are afraid of change.   The young people know this already, though not all of them are sure what to do with that knowledge.  On the one hand this could highlight their immaturity or on the other is a reflection of the respect that most Saudi youth hold for their elders who they consider to be wise and worthy - even if on modernization issues they largely disagree with them.

The old guard fear has its own.  Those who have become powerful, whether in the business arena, the Mosque or the home from the entrenched norms aren't about to give up that power without, at the least, a personal internal struggle or, at most, voiced protest.  That voice usually comes in the form of stern words that generally say things along the lines of 'you're being un-Islamic, of not being Saudi, of chasing infidel values, of going to hell. Of do what I say or else... '

In the past such a dressing down may have instilled fear and doubt in the hearts of their intended target.  What the old guard have forgotten is that the youth of today are, for the most part, well educated, globally connected and influenced, large in number and looking for answers that gel with the modern age.  In other words, such tactics don't work so much any more.

What the conservatives of this country also seem to have missed, which isn't so obvious unless you know where to look, is that the youth have quietly gone about advancing their goal of social modernization despite efforts to prevent it.  And they have, either cunningly or unwittingly, used the economic, political and cultural situation of the country to their advantage.  While the focus of the world, media and general Saudi population in recent years has been on the state of the Saudi economy, Saudi politics, Saudi oil, terrorism, Middle East conflict, new kings, Ministerial reshuffles and the Deputy Crown Prince as he pushes ahead with economic reform, the youth have been implementing strategies, presumably developed in youth based digital media circles that the old guard are deliberately kept out of and ably assisted by forward thinkers within the government, to create centers that are, well, modern.

There is no frosted glass.  There is no gender favoritism of space.  And the world hasn't ended.  More importantly the young people in that space are positive, energetic, happy in their work environment and getting things done.  Prior to discovering these bastions of progress I did wonder why there seemed to be silence from the youth sector regarding the economic reform plans and rather pitied the Deputy Crown Prince as without voiced support from the sector who will most likely, fingers crossed, benefit from his plan because many of his ideas include improvement for youth, his seems an uphill battle.

It was only while out the other day, chatting and laughing with some young women at a cafe while some from the old guard frowned at the fun being had, that I was reminded that cheering in this country, that emotively driven act of shouting for joy or singing praises, has been so completely discouraged in the past that the population is cautious about such expression in the public sphere.  It's ironic how advantageous that forced impassiveness has been for youth who, I sense, prefer to keep their cheering regarding social modification of their spaces to a minimum else it attract unwanted attention.

Here's hoping some part of the 2030 reforms include promotion of the normal human emotion of expressing happiness.

Change is not an easy thing to implement or to face and it has been interesting noting the two different methods for creating change in Saudi - one very public, the other quiet and steady.  Recent reform policies, such as public sector pay cuts and various price increases, have thrown up consequences that the Saudi population had not bargained for and the youth probably had not even considered possible in the bright future they dream of.  Should the reform policies begin to adversely affect their comfortable lives the youth may start viewing the nations makeover more seriously and vocally.  For now, being born into a life of plenty and having not had to face economic downturn before, coupled with that natural youthful optimism we of more mature years remember having but cannot for the life of us figure out where it went, the youth are keeping themselves buoyant, seemingly relatively unperturbed and quite upbeat because their desire for changes in the social arena is bearing fruit.  Long may their happiness last.

Ka Kite,

Monday, 26 September 2016

The Hunt For Vege Seeds in Riyadh

While wandering the street during salah one day a year or two after my arrival in Riyadh, I came across a Sultan Gardens store on Takhasussi St and decided to hang about till it re-opened.  Not because I wanted gardening supplies.  Because I was missing a garden.  A vegetable garden, that is.

Riyadh is the only place we have lived where we have not, almost immediately, put in a vege patch.  Perhaps it's because we were new to apartment living, or perhaps it is because we were living in the Saudi Arabia, renowned for its quirky rules, but I remember looking at all the other apartments in our block the day I arrived and registering the complete lack of anything green or plant like in their windows or on their doorsteps.  Maybe, I recall thinking to myself, other than the beautifully landscaped patches of common grounds with their arty seating and rocky rook waterfalls, gardening isn't allowed here.

It was a fleeting thought, chased away with a shrug of the shoulders as my mind set itself to other things about this new life that needed attention.  Eventually though, this green grass, country girl, while sitting on her front stairs, started wondering what that common ground would look like planted out in spuds with a bean runner at one end.

The Husband and I hail from rural NZ.  We're used to space - the quarter acre section with someones paddock over the back fence.  And within that space has always been a vege patch.  My father dug up a garden whenever the whanau moved homes.  And with nine mouths to feed, Hubsters father found a large garden made economic sense too.  I guess vege gardening is in our genes hence the reason we like them, much more so than the flower gardens that beautify our compound.

Our compound is lovely, it really is, and I often tell people we reside in a pretty compound.  But that's just it.  It's pretty.  And someone else maintains it.  Gardeners turn up regularly to cut grass, trim trees, fix the watering system, tend to the flower beds, weed, take out plants and put in plants. Granted they've planted a couple of herb bushes about the place, specifically Thyme (aka Zataar) which, along with mint, seems to be a Saudi herb staple, and it all works to make the compound pleasant to look at.  But I doubt that taking a spade to our landscaped compound lawn to stick in some rows of silver beet would have been appreciated by fellow tenants or the manager.

One day I noticed tomato plants coming up in the beautifully maintained flower beds and thought 'Wow, tomatoes. Awesome'.  A few weeks went by and the spindly plants had started bending toward the ground due to lack of supports and tiny yellow flowers could be seen, 'Cool', I thought, 'tomatoes soon'.  Shortly after, the garden maintenance crew turned up and ripped out the young tomato plants. and replaced them with pansies (or something similarly flowery).  This vege patch kinda girl spent the day feeling somewhat deflated.

Though I think the pansies (or whatever flower it is that is flowering in our compound right now, because flowered plants are simply not my forfeit), look lovely, having someone else stick them in the ground, then remove them as per the management gardening plan doesn't really soothe the soul like do it yourself vegetable gardening.

It was time, I decided, to start growing vegetables.

Potted veges at our front door, because we don't have a back door, (our compound was built at a time when OSH was a money making twinkle in somebody's eye), I told the Hubster my plan.  He reminded me that the lack of shade at our doorstep at heat battered times of the day (which in summer is pretty much all day), would only result in shriveled plants and be akin to plant abuse!  No matter.  I was on a mission.

Two places were touted as the 'Go To' for gardening supplies in Riyadh as I headed off in search of vegetable seeds to soothe my gardening soul - Sultan Gardens or one of the roadside nurseries that seem to be placed at random spots along the main roads.

Sultan Gardens has lovely garden decor for landscaping purposes - rustic iron seats, huge fountains suitable for family palaces, ceramic pots of all sizes, artistic stone ornaments and, of course, the outdoor flowers and shrubbery to go in them.  But no vege seedlings.

The nurseries had bags of soil, loads of potted trees and flowers, but no veges.  Why, I asked Mr Noor, are there no vegetable seeds in the gardening shops?  We concluded that the home vege patch isn't really a Saudi urban thing.

Chats with Saudi's friends when describing my mission at that time backed up that assumption.  Patches of dirt for vege gardens isn't really factored into the typical modern Saudi urban home design.  That isn't to say they don't eat veges.  They do.  But the growing of vegetables is somebody else's concern or takes place out of the city on the farm.  One Saudi friend noted, with a hint of sarcasm, that if the modern Saudi home design did include a garden it is highly likely the maid or driver would be put in charge of its care!  Okey dokey, I'll wait a year or two while considering how to put that into print - and there it is...

Suggestions that we move to a farm out of town a little, or simply lease a patch of ground someplace  nearby so I can get my vege gardening fix fell then, and fall still, on deaf Hubster ears.  (After much meditation it has dawned on me I am probably grasping at rather large straws with those ideas).

Another option for my vege patch fix was making regular visits to an organic garden owned by a local Prince who, I understand, is an excellent chef that I mentioned in my previous post  Organic Garden in Wadi Hanifah.  Any excess from his garden is sold to expats.  Having never had to travel huge distances to my vege patch before, stubborn, pouty old me didn't want to have to start that kind of nonsense back then.   I have since figured out that living in Saudi requires adjusting your mind set to doing things differently, if you want to do anything at all.

As you can imagine, the day I found packets of vegetable seeds in Lulu's I was totally stoked and bought more than a few. So, though it has taken a while, over the Saudi winter I have a range of vegetable plants at our front door - tomatoes, capsicum, and lettuce with mustard and radish - and I love them.  My eyes search out the green and growing plants each time I return home and evenings are spent sitting on the stairs beside the pots thinking how lucky I am to have them.  Just looking at them brings me peace.

During the summer months, Hubster is right.  The summer sun glares relentlessly at our front door and, because we tend to leave the country for a week or three heading for cooler climates at that time of year, the plants don't stand a chance of surviving.  I have considered asking security to take up watering duties but, as they already look after Cat on our jaunts away, I don't think it fair to impose any more on their time.  So as the weather warms up, any remaining plants are turned into the soil until August when I can start my vege pot patch all over again.

Summer is drawing to a close now and I am eyeing my empty pots and planning another trip to Lulu's for seeds and the local roadside stalls for bags of soil and, wait for it....vege seedlings.  The roadside nurseries have got themselves up with the play and it is possible to find little pottles of tomatoe seedlings and one or two other vegetables.  I might pop into Sultan Gardens as well, just because.  Hubster has decided that perhaps my mission needs help, so he has managed to find a couple of guttering channels (a bit of a chore in a place that doesn't tack them on to building rooves because it rains so rarely) to put together a hydroponic system at our front door to complement the pot collection.  I knew he wouldn't stay out of the vege garden for too long.

Ka Kite,

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Love London


It's definite.  I love London.  It's got lots of things to love - history for historians, old buildings for old building lovers, cutesy little green spaces all hedgerow and flowers, large green commons for walking the dog or playing team sport, young people dashing about going places dressed in their business suit best and many of those same young people overflowing out of pubs on to pavements at the end of a hectic day, cyclists merging with the rushing noisy traffic, the underground rumbling commuters from place to place, theaters with musicals, plays and orchestras.  It's just a happening place.  And I love it.  Now.

My first visit to London wasn't what I would call inspiring.  But that may be because we were travelling on a budget.  We arrived into Victoria Station all those years ago at rush hour with our overlarge bags (we weren't experienced budget travelers at that point) and were overwhelmed by the numbers of people hurrying down escalators, that we learnt quickly to stand to the side of, crushing onto the trains, that we found ourselves sweltering in, and racing through turnstiles, that we learnt just as quickly couldn't fit large bags.  Knowing I was holding up the hurrying, scurrying masses was an unpleasant feeling.

We stumbled out of the station thinking, 'What the hell was that!'  After catching our breath and regrouping we headed off to find our lodgings.  A boarding house.  A dirty, grimey, yukky place it turned out to be - much worse than what I expected from the word 'budget'.

We had a small room up a number of flights of stairs (not good with big luggage), with two single wire wove beds and flat, well used looking mattresses barely covered by old, thin scratchy looking bedding.  They were the sort of beds that made you lift up the sheets with the tips of two nervous fingers while holding your breathe to look for giant, scuttling bed bugs.

Having just arrived and in need of the loo I got my first look at the bathroom and went 'EEWWwwww'.  It was the size of a closet, smelled of something indescribable coming off the damp floor (having obviously recently been used), with soft, rotting springy floor boards that looked like, at any moment, you could fall through them.  And mold was climbing up the walls and literally hanging down from the ceiling. Peeing was put on hold as we decided the nearest pub would be a better place to find relief and refocus ourselves with a good beer or two.

We had a grand old time at the pub and felt like a bit of a stroll to get familiar with our surrounds before returning to our divey digs for a warm cardi (as the air was beginning to cool) and heading out for dinner.  Yellow police tape surrounded the property.  Fellow lodgers were sitting on neighbouring steps looking slightly shocked and bemused.   Apparently there had been an altercation in one of the rooms in our lodgings (possibly over the crappy state of the place) and one disputant had thrown the other out the window from the top floor.   Yep, we had picked a real doozy budget place to stay!

It was decided by the step dwellers, ably supported by The Husband, that we should head to the pub because no one in authoritative looking uniforms could determine how long we would be kept out of our rooms.  So we spent a good deal more of a grand old time down at the pub with the people we had  just met on the steps who hailed from around the world and who, like us, were on a budget, were only in London for a short while and were somewhat shocked by the state of the lodge and disturbed by recent events.

The next day while out sightseeing a group of men who were, I was told later by someone who was presumably well informed, likely gypsies from Europe, attempted to surround my husband and take his money while we were on a train.  He did not take kindly to that at all and they underestimated his athleticism.  After a push and a shove and a bit of attention attracting noise, they moved off while he kept a hold on our money.

Like I said,  my first trip to London town did not exactly endear this city to me.

But I have come back since that first short visit, a few times and it has grown me.  I think it is much easier to appreciate the vibrancy of this city when you have a little more disposable cash on hand, are prepared for the multitude of bodies you will encounter as they go about their daily lives and you have whanau who don't mind a relative or two crashing at their place for a week or so when you're in town.  Or maybe I just appreciate the place and what it has to offer, warts and all, when I am on a break out of Saudi Arabia.

Ka Kite,

Monday, 29 August 2016

Awesome, thanks.

I got a message today from the MOI and I was impressed.  Not that the Ministry of Interior had sent me a message.  But that is was in Arabic and English.

For a struggling Arabic learner (and given I'm into my seventh year here and still can't string an Arabic sentence together that other Arabs understand entitles me to the label 'struggling', though I don't think it prudent as this point to debate the reasons for the struggle - they could make me look bad), it is fabulous that in a text message I could have a go at deciphering the Arabic text and check it against the English at the same time without having to copy and paste to Google Translate, which is usually what I have to do, when I can be bothered.

Sure, the translated English sentence may not have been perfect, (a better sentence would be - the MOI wish you a pleasant and safe stay), but I don't care.  What matters is that because the message was dual-lingual (is that a word?), the whole experience of receiving a message in Arabic was much less frustrating for me than usual.

The Saudi based telecoms or Banks that send me emails and text messages gave me the option, when I signed up, of receiving their messages in either English or Arabic.  And though I chose English, they send it in Arabic anyway.  All the other spammers don't give me options, they just blithely send me crap in Arabic that I'm fairly certain I didn't ask for and that I can't understand.  

If I do want to read lengthy Arabic messages I have to wait till I get to WiFi to copy and paste the text into Google Translate because accessing internet from my mobile via cellular data is ekky.  (Hang on, is that the mobile company's ploy all along - send me a message I can't read and have me pay extra to figure it out!)

Of course, if I don't get to WiFi till later in the day my motivation for Cut and Paste translation is fairly low, so often  Arabic only text messages are deleted without being understood at all and, depending on my frame of mind, with just a little bit of irritation that I'm receiving the stupid things in the first place.  

So thank you MOI.  I loved your dual language message.

It did make me wonder if English was the only other language you deliver your messages in.  Do you deliver in French, German or Chinese as well?  I'm aware there are a number of expats who hail from those countries living in Saudi right now who might also get a buzz out of receiving your message in their native language. 

Although I'm not going to Haj, I appreciate, along with all those who are going, the Ministry's concern and the fact they let me know in a language I understand and this post is my way of letting everybody know how ridiculously happy that made me feel.  Sharing the love.

Ka Kite,

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Arabic Language, Bedu Poetry and Frozen.

Arabic is quite a poetic language I think.  This epiphany was reached while visiting a Saudi friend one day and she was attempting to teach me Arabic via the phrase 'the sky is blue'.  Only the sky wasn't just blue.  It was shades of blue, depths of blue and sounds of blue depending on which grammatical notes, words or purposes were added to complete the idea of how blue the sky may be.  I might get the basics of this language while I live here, I thought to myself then and there, but it will take a lot longer to learn the poetry of it.

From discussions with my friend and tutor I gathered that poetry elements are mostly found in classical Arabic which is, as my friend described it, proper Arabic.  This comment naturally led to a discussion on the types of Arabic out in Arab world.  She speaks both Saudi and classical Arabic, her situation determining which and when - Saudi at home and with friends, classical for more formal times.

Within Saudi there are numerous differences  in the local language depending on what tribal region you hail from.  And there is also Bedu Arabic, different again.  She said Egyptian Arabic is the most popularly spoken Arabic outside of Saudi while Quranic Arabic is in the Quran.

 Added to that are the other regional differences in dialect - Lebanese, Syrian, North African not to mention the variations in Gulf Arabic and so on all with their own specific vernacular and it becomes clear, very quickly, to a Kiwi attempting to learn, and possibly travel the Middle East with my Arabic For Dummies book, (hailed in the book blurp as the only Arabic Language book you'll need), that the Arabic language is anything but standard.

This morning I Googled Arabic Language and poetry (yes I'm at a lose end today), and came across a fair amount of information on the topic.  What I found basically confirms that Arabic has made use of  metaphor, simile and idiom to create verbal imagery, flowery phrases and even exaggeration - a.k.a. poetry - as a normal part of the language for centuries. There was an understanding, researched aeons ago by Arabic scholars apparently, of the relationship between words spoken or read and the pictures the brain could see if you were descriptive enough. 

It stands to reason that if poetics makes up so much of the Arabic language, that same emotion and sensitivity would spill over into the culture, though we expats tend to label a Saudi beating round the bush as 'avoiding the issue' or an emotionally charged conversation about something quite minor as 'typical Arab crazy'.   Who'd of thought it's all just poetry in motion. Compared to Arabic, English is quite literal and direct. Directness isn't a big thing in Saudi. 

One article I found says that as time marches on and as more western influences arrive and the world modernizes with language apps doing the talking the poetic language of Arabic is at risk of being lost by today's generations.  Language is a moving changing thing and one day if Arab nations aren't careful, much like Latin or even Shakespearean English, Classical Arabic could wind up a thing of the past, studied by the few. 

Another article said that Modern Standard Arabic (another name for classical arabic) is only limited in its ability to express everyday experiences but is perfectly suited to in-depth conversations on politics and philosophy.  I'm not sure how that works, but they are sure it does.  Basically, the feeling in this article was that, instead of linguists treating modern standard and vernacular arabic as two different things, they should look at them as supporting each other.  Modern Standard Arabic can be made more  relevant by incorporating colloquial words and phrases, colloquial language can have more substance and expression using Modern Standard Arabic.  A debate for the linguists that I'll leave right there. 

The other thing I found in my Google search was the song 'Let It Go' from Frozen.  Disney, or somebody, has recorded the song in numerous languages and Arabic is one those.  Elias Muhanna wrote an article in the New Yorker, 'Translating “Frozen” Into Arabic' that was an interesting read on the changing of Arabic in this modern day and age and how translating this movie using classical language instead of the more popular colloquial language somewhat shifted the experience of the film.  I'm presuming that means made it more 'stuffy'.  Sort of like the movie Romeo and Juliet with Leonardo Di Caprio, set in the modern age with automatic weapons as fire power, but spoken with Shakespearean English.  Not a movie I enjoyed very much I have to say.

Although all those years ago (six to be more precise) my friend had made me aware that Arabic oration is akin to poetry, I never thought any more of it till we met Marcel Kupershoek in Ha'il, at a celebration of his work.  He is from the Netherlands and, while posted to Saudi with the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs Office he fell in love with the oral traditions of the Bedu and spent a few years studying their language and poetry.  Then he wrote books on the subject, as you do. According to Amazon's synopsis of his book Arabia of the Bedouins'

...he was posted to Saudi Arabia where, 'he started exploring the country's vast deserts and hunting in the Rub 'al-Khali , the Empty corner. Three years later, having familiarized himself with the Bedouin dialect and poetry, he set out to do five months of fieldwork among the tribes of central Arabia, travelling the Saudi desert in search of the living chronicle of the Bedouins.

He established contacts with tribesmen and Bedouins in this remote corner of the desert and discovered the powerful tribes of Utaybah, Qahtan, Subay and Dawasir, whose poets celebrated bravery and feats of arms. His host, Khalid, a Utaybah Sheikh, told him all he knew of his ancestors' chivalrous feats and daring raids when the tribes were a law unto themselves. He also became the first Westerner to visit ad-Dakhul and Hawmal, two mountains mentioned in Imrul Qais' famous pre-Islamic ode. His encounters are recorded in this part travelogue, part book of poems and study of traditional Saudi society'.
There are actually five volumes of Oral Poetry and Narratives from Central Arabia. And you can find all of them on Amazon. If you want to listen to the poems on which these books were based, you will find the original recordings of the poets and transmitters can be downloaded for free as MP3 files from Brill’s web site at

I admit I haven't yet read the books.  It just seemed a good idea, as we have met the bloke, and this post is about the poetry of Arabic language, to give them a mention here.  I did, however, have a quick listen to the poetry.  I find it helpful, while attempting to learn Arabic, to listen to people speaking to try and pick up on sounds and words or phrases.  It is obvious  I have a long way to go yet to learn Arabic.  

It's late and I'm rambling.

Ka Kite...


Friday, 20 May 2016

The New Improved Princess Souq

The Princess Souq has been moved and with its relocation has come a major upgrade.  Gone are the low ceiling and piece meal materials of wood, plastic corrugated roofing, canvas throw overs and rotting carpet that used to hold the old, dark, dank and dirty princess souq together.  The new location of princess souq, part of what is officially called the New ibn Qasim Market, is held up with high metal frames covered with large white sunshades and underfoot is a lovely patio type tiled floor.  We thought the move might hike the prices, but no, you can still buy garish gowns for next to nothing at the Princess Souq.

The other thing that seems to have been cleaned up at the new location is the D&D's (aka Dirty and Disgusting men).  You can read all about them in my previous Princess Souq post.  We spent a hassle free morning at the new improved souq when I went with a couple of friends.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Radioactive Health and Aged Tortoises

I've been a bit under the weather lately due to a long term thyroid issue that, it was determined by my endocrinologist, needs to be sorted out once and for all because the plan, started almost two years ago, to regain normal function has not panned out.  More drastic measures had to be taken.  My options were surgery or radioactive iodine.  What to do Pounamu?   I chose the latter largely because I have a couple of friends who had surgery here in Saudi, and lets just say the scar they carry around as a momento isn't pretty.  Vanity, it appears, is a bit of a thing with me.

My doctor agreed the 'atomic cocktail' was the way to go, so I was sent to see the bloke downstairs (quite a young bloke and, if I was looking, cute as well) who talked to me about a thyroid uptake scan to test how functional my thyroid actually was and, therefore, how much radioactive iodine would be required to treat it .  My thyroid meds had to be stopped about five days before the scan.  I also wasn't to eat fish of any description for three days prior, and breakfast was off the cards the day of the scan.  Bugger - I don't know about you, but I think breakfast is the most important meal of the day!

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Truly Amazing Ha'il and a Car Rally

Our first trip to Ha’il is one that will be remembered fondly for many years to come.  Hubsters work colleague suggested that we visit Ha’il, his home town, to watch the annual Ha’il Car Rally.  The idea of watching cars racing in the desert dunes certainly appealed, so we agreed to go.

The flight from Riyadh was very quick and we were picked up by a young man who whisked us off to our hotel and a waiting home cooked traditional meal that was not only delicious but was a perfect introduction to the region.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Bedu Hospitality And Searching For Caves.

For some reason I have been enjoying Riyadh just recently.  Maybe it's the weather.  Or maybe it's the fact that we had a good break with the family over Christmas that I'm still buzzing about.  Or perhaps it s the attention that The Husband has been paying me recently.  Whatever the cause, life has felt rather upbeat just recently.  And in this positive frame of mind The Hubster was more than happy to go in search of some caves out on the Dhana Dunes.

There are a group of cavers (or spelunkers if you'd prefer) in Saudi.  We are not one of them.  But after having read about caves in Saudi, I decided the idea of roaming around caves in the desert sounded kind of cool.  So, for the past few years I've been attempting to find the location of two caves on the Dhana Dunes that don't require spelunking gear.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

10 Positive Thoughts on Living In Saudi Arabia

This post is a complete flip flop from my previous one (Of Holidays, Fragility and Visa Issues).  That was too negative apparently. I don't think people got that part of that post was me recounting in detail a hissy fit melt down.  Hissy fits, by their very nature, are somewhat negative.  And the rest of that post was extremely positive I thought.  Anyway here is some positivity - for you peeps unhappy with my melt down.

Positive thought 1

I'm loving Riyadh weather right now.  It's beautiful and cool.  I enjoy the cool freshness of the air and leave our front door open practically all day when I'm there just basking in the fresh air because I know it won't be long till its too hot to have the door open and the aircon will be blasting all day in an effort to beat the heat from our metal door. (Our front door is made of metal - tin I think. Crazy idea for a hot place like Saudi).

Positive thought 2

We have semi-adopted a cat which is big news because neither the husband or I consider ourselves cat people, mostly because cats let loose in the wild of New Zealand tend to eat our diminishing native bird population.  But cat has grown on us here in Saudi and is quite funny.  He sits rights next to me after he's come wandering into the house like he owns the place.  He never use to.  Being an adopted stray he was always quite aloof, but he's become kind of clingy since our last trip away.  I admit I quite like having cat purring next to me in the evening, though once it's time for bed, he has return to Cat Land for the night.

Positive thought 3

This is the picture of the sunset in Dubai...

Beautiful isn't it.

Hubsters work might be overly demanding but the money takes me places.  I'd probably be more grateful for the travel if there wasn't always a third wheel present (a.k.a his work computer).

Positive thought 4 - 

Gas is cheap as chips in Saudi - even with the recent 50% price hike.  That means when we rent a vehicle to travel around the country we aren't paying through the nose for petrol to get us from point A to point B.

Positive thought 5 -

This is a photo from one of our recent trips into the desert.

We met this Saudi man who could not believe we wanted to spend the night camping in the desert so invited us back to his family home for dinner, to meet the family and to sleep.  The local people we have met in Saudi are very friendly, welcoming and hospitable and some days I'm overwhelmed wondering how we can repay them for their kindness.

Positive thought 6 -

I have a role that allows me to travel and still get paid.
Love that.

Positive thought 7 - 

I have made some very good friends while living in Saudi.  People from all over the globe.  From places that, in the past, I never considered I would travel to, much less know someone from.  That idea is both mind boggling and humbling for a Maori from Aotearoa (...that would be a Native from New Zealand to you non-Kiwi peeps).

Positive thought 8 -

Because we have to rent vehicles, (we don't own a car but we do own three motorbikes and two bicycles), I have had the chance to drive GMC Yukons, Toyota Fortuna's,  a Prado, a Chev Impala,  Kia Sportages, Ford Edge's, a Yarris  (not my favourite), a GMC Sierra truck (less than impressed with that one too),  Renaults, Honda Accords and a Crown Victoria.  I also went for a spin in a Veyron (woohoo), and a Bentley Ghost (classy!!).  Renting is a good way to figure out what vehicle one might like to buy the day on might decide to buy 4 wheel transportation.  To date my fav is the Yukon (I love the pick up whenever you put your foot down and it's so easy to drive) and the Prado (quite roomy, breezy handling and great in the desert).  (Naturally, none of these vehicles was actually driven by myself here in Saudi.  Of course not!  I meant I was driving vicariously, through my husband because I'm a mere female in Saudi, totally incapable of vehicular control... @8@...*Eyes rolling right round the back of my head) 

Positive thought 9 -

They have coffee here.  Granted it can be an adventure wondering what state the coffee will be in once it arrives in my coffee craving hand's because not that many places outside the city (or inside it for that matter) have highly trained baristas.  Many times I've been very pleasantly surprised by the coffee I receive as opposed to other times when a grimace immediately follows a coffee sip.

I have also learned to enjoy qahwa and Turkish coffee especially when made by people who know what they are doing.  (And contorted when offered absolute crap by people who should never be allowed to make Arabic coffee, ever!)

Positive thought 10 -

No hotel I've dropped into has denied me access to the toilet because I'm not staying there.  Same deal with restaurants or cafes if I haven't bought anything there.  (Long may this attitude to female requirements reign).

So there you have it.
My Top 10 Positive Thoughts for tonight on Living in Saudi.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Of Holidays Fragility and Visa Issues

Kia ora people and Welcome to the middle of February 2016.  Hasn't the New Year marched on already.  It's been a while since I posted, largely, I have to admit, because of a slump on my mojo.  That can happen to you here every now and then.  But a lengthy planned holiday home to New Zealand, where the Hubster came to understand my less than optimal, somewhat fragile mental state, and an unplanned stay in Dubai have perked me up somewhat.  So, I guess you can call this a long catch up post.  It's full of arguments, celebrations, family photos and drama!

So, here we go....

On December 16th 2015, I was out of here, and I was looking forward to it.  This was the first holiday that the entire family would be back in NZ at the same time.  The first stop once on home turf was our sons place to catch up with his growing and gorgeous flock....

In my mind I had planned taking the kids to parks, playgrounds, movies and maybe a couple of shopping trips to buy them a few 'spoilt by the grandparents' things and had been mentioning such for quite some time before our trip.  Hubby had different ideas.  In his mind we were going to renovate the house and he had been emailing such to builders and painters and our son and not mentioning these plans at all to me.  Needless to say quite early in our holiday we came to loggerheads on our different perceptions of what we would be doing during this trip home.  I'm not very good at loggerheads.  I cry and shout a lot.  I cried and shouted a lot during this 'discussion'.  What came out of it, in a nutshell, was this....I have issues.  Here, briefly, is a summary of my tiny expat wife meltdown early on our holiday.  (Feel free to add extra expletives where you think they fit nicely - lord knows I did!  There were quite a few in the original of this post, but I was asked to remove a few terms - specifically those that related to my view of absolutely anything to do with Hubsters work!)
Hubby thought that my living the past six years in Saudi was a testament to how fabulously I was coping with being away from family while he works constantly, all the time.   
The fact that he is working constantly all the time, even when on supposed holidays, even on this holiday,  means we don't talk much.  In fact, his daily routine in Riyadh of 'go to work, come home, eat, sit on computer working till all hours, go to bed, repeat', has meant that, for quite some time, I've been living with a sense of being, not exactly ignored but, pointless.   
What did you bring me to Saudi for, I wonder?  Am I just the tax break? (If you are a kiwi or ozzie planning to move here, check out how our tax laws will affect you).  Am I here just to make soup that you can eat at your computer?   (He eats at his computer).   
I have asked these questions before when being ignored gets on my goat.  I was asking similar questions again because I could see the holiday routine was going to be 'work at renovations all day, come home, eat, sit on computer working till all hours at night, go to bed, repeat'.   
It is a gripe of mine that all our holidays of late are simply a continuation of the pattern in Saudi and I can't say I particularly approve and tend to let Hubster know because, basically, I'm not very good at keeping quiet.
Of course, he thinks I'm over-reacting and that I'm being silly.  The next day any issues I may have are apparently forgiven and forgotten.  They aren't really.  They're just packed away under a face that says, 'Fine.  Whatever'.   
What I'd really appreciate is if he'd put down the f'n computer so we can talk to each other. We don't, I have concluded, talk much anymore.   
It irks me that he'll put down the computer when his work colleagues, who also live on the compound, drop by.  And they'll typically rabbit on about repetitive stuff like work. work, more work and more crappy work, and less than optimal support from head office, blah, blah blah... 
But he won't talk to me.  Nope . His head goes straight into the computer sending emails and doing whatever it is he does. 
Him grunting in response to my attempts at conversation is, quite frankly, annoying.  But if I push the 'why don't you talk to me' issue or if I suggest 'why don't log off your computer early cos I'm sure your clients don't have to hear from you at midnight' or, should I get really peed off and say something like, 'If you die tomorrow your clients wouldn't give a shit', I get, 'You don't understand my job', 'you don't understand the demands, the stress', you have no idea'...
Really?  Is that what you think?
I might actually have some idea.  I'm not exactly thick. I've got ears...I hear you talking with your mates about the same thing all the bloody time.   And I live in Riyadh too, you know!    
And maybe if you talked to me we could discuss how difficult your work life is.  (Or how difficult you like to make it which, I think, is part of his problem).
And maybe, just maybe, I'd like to tell you how being eye raped while doing something normal like walking to the shop is disturbing, how being dismissed from a major telecom retail shop with the wave of the hand and shouted 'No Woman' is flaming irritating, how getting into a taxi and have the driver lock the doors brought out the nasty in me.  Maybe I'd like to exchange my everyday shitty news with you.  Or maybe I'd like to talk about the photo's I take in the morning when I go out on my bike rides, alone, without you.  Or pass on news from our daughter who called.   
Maybe, no definitely, I'd like you to close the computer because your work gets to have you since 8.30am every morning.... at 10 pm at night, I'd like a little us time.
It is one thing to feel like a second class citizen due to local attitudes, it is another to feel irrelevant to your spouse because that's how his current work demands and his own insistence on being so damn good at what he does, make me feel.  Why can't you be like the locals and chill, relax, cruise, don't give a hoot....?
Although I have met some lovely ladies in Riyadh who have become good friends, they are not the best friend I married but who seems to have wandered off into 'Home But Never Here Land' in the short space of time we have been in Saudi.  And I am extremely upset that on this holiday, this return home holiday, you are going to continue to put me on the back burner because you have decided you have more important things to think about.  I am important!  And I refuse to be brushed off by you any more!
It turns out that he thinks that working all the time while in Saudi is what I expect from him so we can pay off our mortgage and go home.  He also insists that we both agreed to renovating this house ourselves.  
He has this habit of having imaginary conversations with me in his head.  He does it all the time.  It pisses me off because he'll come out with these grand statements of 'we talked about this' when we didn't.  I know we didn't.  That, after all, would require a conversation.  (In fact, one night in Saudi at the coffee shop with friends I asked everybody's orders and duly went to place the order.  When the drinks came he says "Where's my diet coke".  "You didn't order anything, I say."  "Yes I did", he insists.  "I'm sorry habibtii", says our friend who is sitting at the table with us, "you might have imagined ordering, but you didn't actually say anything."  "Thank, thank you, thank you", I said, because that, right there, is what he does all the time.)
And why he thinks I like him working constantly is a joke.  Many is the time I've begged with him to stop working!!!  I actually intensely dislike him working all the time. Totally, intensely, can't stand it!
In fact, I wish that once out of the office, and especially on weekends, he would stuff work and tell his overly demanding clients to go to hell.  It's the weekend.  Rack off!  Your work is not 'Urgent, Urgent', but he answers the emails anyway.
And I couldn't give a rats arse if we sold the bloody house if we had to. (In case you hadn't noticed, as well as crying, I swear a lot in loggerhead type interactions). 
As emotional, potty-mouthed female meltdowns do little more than distract him temporarily from his work,  I do try not to have them all the time (though sometimes they can't be helped) and, while in Saudi I have worked out a strategy for coping with his hours of head down bum up, give everything to the office, work ethic.  I surf the internet.   
It's purely a distraction strategy and not the least bit fulfilling, though I'm sure he tends to think I'm having a blast, mainly, presumably, because I'm quiet and not interrupting him. 
Admittedly internet surfing does provide the opportunity to  learn lots of unnecessary stuff  like 'What are vulture funds?', recipes for Paleo bread or avocado chocolate mousse, 'The complexities of bank lending and Corporate Social Responsibility',' how to take apart your vacuum cleaner, how to cope with a workaholic husband (completely useless strategies I have to say) and who won the latest BGT or X-factor.   What surfing the internet cannot do is take away the feeling of loneliness.  And that, it turns out after all the frustrated crying in the converted shed behind our sons house, is what I really feel. 
And fragile. 
I don't know how much longer I can go on in this unreal life in Saudi with its ridiculous demands on both of us. 
I miss talking with him about life, living, kids, home, family, future plans, sport teams, motorbikes, planning our weekend bike rides, playing cards, playing scrabble, watching movies together, learning Spanish and figuring out how to raise bees and grow vanilla beans.  I'm tired of having to cajole him out of the house to do things together.
I might have coffee mornings I can go to every day of the week, but they do not fill the void of loneliness.  He might be right there in the house with his computer, but I miss my man. 
And he had no idea.
He thought I had simply adjusted fabulously to life in Saudi.  I think he was trying to talk himself into believing that because how can you think such a thing after one of my expat wife meltdowns?
This little discussion did clear the air of a lot of my built up issues.
He has attempted to be more present lately and actually closes his computer.
I agreed we could spend the first week doing up the house.

(And what better way to do it than as a family working bee!)

It is safe to say that the rest of our time was spent happily, together, at (or near) a beach surrounded by the whanau.

Over the next few days the rest of the family arrived from distant shores (namely Ozzie and the UK) and it was so nice to have everyone in the same place for Christmas and New Year.  A good reason to be dancing I reckon.  (This is the kids latest cool song - Note the adults quite liked it too)

Naturally, being Christmas, the kids scored big time at each of the whanau gatherings for feasting and present giving.  First up was Christmas Eve morning at home.  I love watching kids reactions to getting long awaited for, hoped for, fingers crossed for, and just glad to get, gifts.

Then we headed down to my brothers place at the beach near the Coromandel for Christmas Day.  The pile of presents placed under the tree grew and grew after the kids went to bed, ready for them to receive the next morning...

There were gifts for the young and the slightly more mature.  There were fun gifts, homemade gifts and special gifts.

Everyone seemed quite happy with the gifts that they got.

The whole morning was a bit much for the old boy who needed a nap midway through proceedings.

And there was the food.  Loads and loads of food.  And laughs.  And general good times.

As all the family were together it seemed a good idea to take a few family group photo's with my parents as the center pieces.

There was the grandchildren photo...

... the great-grandchildren photo...

...and the all in photo.

We even attempted a recreation photo.  From this over twenty years ago...

To this...

Christmas Day was a great day, and so were the days that followed.  The beach was spectacular and we enjoyed it, even on the days it rained.

We eventually left the coast and headed up North, to visit the farm.  The kids got to run around the bush and paddocks, to visit the old homestead where their great-grandfather grew up, (now in need of major TLC), and to swim in the river.

Our next stop was the Manukau Heads, just outside of Auckland, to a beach house with its glorious views over the bay from a deck perfect for a New Years Eve party.

Of course, it wasn't all fun and games at the house.  The gardens needed a trim and the deck needed a spot of paint.  (The husband actually discussed both of these in real time, out loud).

But really, mostly, it was time to chill'ax.
We went to the beach every day.  Hubby took the truck over the hill and we walked around the point. The kids dressed in rubbish bags the day we went over to the coast to go sliding down sand dunes. We basically had a great family time.

Then it was time to say our farewells and head back to Saudi.  We landed in Riyadh and said hello to the nice bloke at the customs counter.  He said hello back and then said to me, 'You can go'.  But to Hubster he said, 'Your visa expired.'

Your visa expired
It can't be.
It expired.
How?  It should be the same as my wife's!
(Shrug). (Tense silence)
What do I do now?, Hubster said.
Go to office.
What do I do now?, I said.
You can go in, [to baggage collection] your husband go to office.
How long will this take?, Hubster said.
Maybe one hour.

So it was decided I would pick up the suitcases and wait in the taxi.  What happens next is how Hubster described it to me later...

...Hubster went to the office where the men were drinking qahwa.  After an introduction and description of the issue, they offered him qahwah and then one of the blokes went to check the visa on the computer.  Expired by 15 days it said which is not what was printed on the piece of paper in Hubsters hand.

Sorry, they said.
The computer says expired.  It's expired.
What now?, says husband.
Where you come from?, they said.
You go back Dubai.
What if I don't want to go back to Dubai?, he asks.
The blokes looked rather perplexed at that statement and said, 'Why not?'
Hubster was thinking he might do a stint in the airport cells.  (When he told me this my first thought was, what awesome blog fodder.  Bad wifey, I know).
You have credit card?, they ask
You go Dubai.

Given that he not only had a credit card but also cash and his computer, all of which he thought may go missing while he was in the cells, he opted for a return trip to Dubai.

So he calls me and says he's being put back on the plane.
OK, I say, how long will this take.
Hopefully a day or so he says.
So I go home.  He goes to Dubai.

Apparently he was considered a deportee so had to be escorted to the plane and handed over to the flight staff.  Once in Dubai he had to wait to alight until someone from Foreign Affairs came to collect him. He wasn't allowed to simply walk out through Dubai customs because there is quite a bit of process and paperwork that goes with being deported.  The Foreign Affairs Ministry (FAM) needs forms filled and the Dubai CID (aka Police) need to give him clearance.  The FAM guy told him it is up to the discretion of the CID whether or not they would let him leave.  Not to mention he had to pay for his return ticket to Dubai.  Once the fare had been paid, the forms filled and the CID were happy his deportation was for fairly innocent reasons, he was escorted to the CID passport area and released.

All quite painless really, though time consuming, and the everyone he dealt with was very pleasant.

This all happened on a Saturday.
On Tuesday we decided that if he didn't have his visa in the next couple of days I would go over to Dubai for the weekend and to take him some clothes - (Remember I had all the suitcases, he had his computer bag.  He needed a change of clothes).

I got to spend 10 days in Dubai before he got his visa extension.
He wasn't particularly happy with this delay as he had to cancel meetings.
Personally, I thought the extra holiday was ace.

In order to get his visa his office had to write a letter to the Saudi Ministry of Interior explaining the situation and asking for a visa.  The MOI, after getting the office to send a few extra bits and pieces to prove they are a properly registered company, then sent a form back to the office that had to go to the Saudi Consulate in Dubai.  Once Hubby had that form he had to engage an agent to liaise with the consulate.  (You can't just rock up at the consulate with your form - something he discovered after he rocked up).  It took a while to get the visa to the consulate because the systems were down, but once the visa extension was issued, it was only valid for seven days.  Given we were told late on a Thursday that it was ready, and the agency is shut on weekends, by the time we got it three days had already expired.

So we had to head back to Riyadh.  However, once back at Riyadh customs we find that a visa extension requires a different type of processing.  So, once again, I was told I could go through while Hubby was directed toward the office to get his visa photocopied.  Then he had to wait for the only guy who could process his visa to come back from lunch.  Once said man was back at his desk I could see he and the Hubster both through the perspex class having a good old laugh.  Obviously now that the whole process was coming to an end Hubster appeared quite relaxed.

And that folks, was my holiday and eventual return to Riyadh.
Stunning stuff, don't you think?

I'm just hoping his new found ability to close his laptop at night doesn't hit a rocky patch.

Ka Kite,

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