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,

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