Friday, 27 January 2017

A Night Camping At Abu Jifan Fort


Abu Jifan Fort came on to my radar earlier last year, in March to be exact, via a random conversation with a random person - there are a lot of random people in Saudi, so such conversations are not that surprising really.  He mentioned there was a fort down near Al Kharj, though he had no idea where.  So I turned to Google to see if, maybe, it was a known landmark, though not too hopeful of a result as Saudi was still largely under-mapped.  But to my surprise, there it was in the middle of the desert, literally, with no access to it at all.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Please, Signpost The Toilets in Riyadh


This post is a plea.  For women.  And, ok, the continence challenged men of this city too.  Whoever is in charge of the streets in Riyadh, please, erect signage that indicates the existence and location of back street parks with toilets in Riyadh.  Such signposts to be clearly visible, preferably, from the main roads.

I know there are a number of parks with toilets dotted about this city because I've cycled by and utilised a few of them on my morning bike rides.  Most are in OK condition for park toilets - as in, there is no toilet paper but the hoses work, the smell isn't too ripe, and they flush on completion of squat job.  Oh yes, they are all squat toilets, which doesn't bother me at all because when the urge strikes in the middle of the city I don't care what kind of toilet I'm in, just so long as I'm in one!

Lovely park.  Toilet in the back right corner.
Most toilets I've come across in the city center are open for use in the morning, however, let me just clarify that statement a little - the toilet marked "Mens" is usually open, the one marked "Womens" can sometimes be locked which is exasperating to say the least.  In such instances a few seconds can be wasted shaking, and, I admit, on bad days, kicking, at the door (with a curse word possibly hurled that way too) before I dash into the mens side where I release my issues to the drain.  Finding a toilet available is, as you can imagine, a great relief.  It has also proven a bit of a surprse to those wonderful men whose job it is to clean up Riyadh while the residents sleep -  women schreeching their bicycles to a halt outside park toilets is not a typical feature of the city's early morning landscape and they seem to accept it in their stride.

Mr Noor used to clue himself up on parks with toilets because he gets uncomfortable at the discomfort of we women who can often be caught desperately short of bathroom avaialability due to prayer time closing restaurants (the usual place to visit the loo) five times a day and Malls being just a tad too far away due to Riyadh's horrendous traffic.

Mall toilets are the other favoured location for Dunny On The Run occasions in Riyadh but with the traffic often snarled and congested due to the Metro work going on these days, there is always a danger that the taxi will not reach a mall quickly enough - and trust me, that thought is absolutely horrifying .  And even when the taxi does get to a Mall, finding the toilet is another panicky dash through shiny hallways trying to find the convenience, which you can gaurantee is upstairs somewhere and nowhere near the Mall entrance.

Hotels in Riyadh have also proven helpful in providing easy access to a bathroom.  In fact, I have to say, that people in Riyadh seem to be much more understanding of the human need to pee and go number twos than many places in the Western world.  I have run through a closed and darkened Mall on Riyadhs outskirts thanks to security understanding a convenience was required quick smart.  And I do appreciate that in Saudi Arabia you can rock up to a dining establishment just to use the loo, no questions asked.  Such is not the case in other parts of the world where lots of effort is made to not let people near the toilet.  There are the diners and gas stations where you need to get the guy behind the counter to give you a key (and he almost always looks harrassed and tosses the key in the general direction of outstretched hand), hotels where you need a swipe card or button codes to access toilets in the public areas or cafes where you are are simply told No, if you don't eat, sleep or otherwise contribute here, you don't toilet here - obviously all the above are rules made up by people who've never suffered the indignity of being caught short.  So big ups to you for being a lot more understanding Saudi Arabia.



There is always room for improvement though, case in point being that occasionally, when I can get the husband up early enough to join me because he's got to drive me there, I cycle along Wadi Hanifah.  So that said husband doesn't feel completely unhappy about his weekened sleep-in being cut short, we also take along coffee and a snack for a post ride picnic.  Our route generally ends at one of the park areas set up specifically for locals to enjoy their evening picnics.  And there-in lies the problem.  The toilets at these picnic sites don't usually open until 4pm, or so we have been told by the blokes cleaning up the rubbish strewn about the place by the previous nights desert revelers.  These same men also do not have a key to the toilets, so can't open them for morning cyclists on a toilet break.  So we early risers have to wander about till we can find suitable cover for toileting issues before 4pm which is not ideal because, on the weekends especially, other people start turning up to these sites just after midday prayer.  Empty space for defecation purposes gets hard to find once the masses begin to arrive, and you can gaurantee it's a good plan to watch where you're going in case someone else has already been.  If the hierarchy could give the cleaning crew a key or unlock these particlular toilets early, that would be much appreciated.

When I first started my early morning cycles around the city a few years back I relied on Google Maps to highlight the nearest green patch that may, or may not, indicate a park.  Not a highly reliable source I have to say, as Saudi seemed to have this aversion to being geo-located back then, so not all indicators were parks, not all such parks had toilets, and not all toilets were open.

Riyadh is much more on the map these days (thank goodness) but back then lack of a facility resulted in two things - firstly a furiously epic cycle to the next green patch indicated on Google Maps in the hope of better luck.  And two, I started plotting back street toilets on a Riyadh Toilets map on my phone.

Park Toilets in Riyadh Map

My map has proven extremely useful over the years and as I continue to traipse the city it is always being added to.   Oft is the time I've considered turning it into an app.  I'd call it Oh Poop!  What do you think?  A good idea or what?

Toilet locating apps are not a new idea, I know.  Browse through Google Play and you'll find plenty of dunny locating apps.  I've even downloaded a couple - and deleted them soon after.  They have, sadly, fallen short of useful information about the presence of toilets in Riyadh particularly for females.  There is not much point telling me there are toilets at the gas station down the road when it is only for men, or of highlighting all the restauants in the vicinity, because at Salat they are closed.

Seriously.  Riyadh needs its own toilet app, specifically for Riyadhians.  I think all peeps whose muscular control of their nether regions is slightly lacking, for whatever reason, would love it.

Or, alternatively, please, whoever is in charge of signposting Riyadh, sign post the existence of parks with toilets.

Thank you.



Ka Kite,
Kiwi





Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Safe Havens and Semi-Adoptions.


Numerous cats hawk the streets of Riyadh and spill over into compounds.  And in every compound is someone who feeds the cats which is all well and good till That Someone leaves the compound and the cats come to the neighbours, or the cat averse new tenant, looking for their free meal of the day - then they can become annoying.  I have shooed away a cat or three from our doorstep toward the guy in a big villa on the corner who has a reputation for feeding strays because we aren't really cat lovers -  although I say that with a cat currently snoozing on the couch next to me.  I never thought the day would come when I would admit that we have, through cat stealth, semi-adopted one of Riyadh's strays.   This does not mean we have become cat lovers in the plural sense of 'cats', we are simply 'single cat' appreciators.

Every now and then, when cat numbers got a bit large and numerous cat fights or cat couplings, (which I learned from Miss Louise, a woman with a wealth of information, is a noisy affair), disturb residents' sleep, compound management would do a cat cull.   For some obscure reason security used to get tasked with the job of cat catching and could be spotted running around the coffee shop (because cats are naturally drawn to where the food is) with sacks.  They didn't look particularly happy about their job, I'm fairly certain cat scratches were many, but what can you do when the boss says cull time?

Suggestions from tenants that they get a net or a trap to make the job more effective and safe for all critters concerned fell on deaf ears because everybody is well aware that managment wouldn't actually spend a cent on proper equipment for this job!  If you live here just for a short while you quickly figure out that Saudi hierarchy are, by and large, cheapskates. (Actually, let me clarify - the Egyptian guy hired to oversee operations probably has a deal with the Indian bloke in charge of the books and together they figure out ways to skim money off the top, which doesn't really bother the Saudi owner provided lots of cash is still coming his way while all complaints are being curbed at the door by the Lebanese office bloke who is also on the take.  Which pretty much sums up the way the Arab world works, in this country anyways, and still makes the Saudi hierarchy cheapskates but with an added attitude of zero responsibility for anything - after all, it wasn't me, it was them!  Which all results in no left over cash for, or interest in, purchasing proper equipment for trivial things like cat trapping).

Rumour has it the captured critters were taken somewhere else (eg - to the desert) and let go.  Survival is then up to 'The One Who Knows All', you know, that big Kahuna who supposedly created everything.  Apparently the general consensus here in Saudi is that killing cats would make the The One very unhappy with humans but dumping furry creations in the desert where survival is questionable is perfectly OK.  It would be nice if cat culls happened in winter when the lowered desert temps gave the released felines a fighting chance, but in the past that was rarely the case on our compound.  Probably because much like people, cats like to be out and about on a balmy summer evening.

When a cat cull was underway it paid to keep your friendly cats locked up indoors so they weren't mistaken for cat riff raff and caught up in the cat crowd. (I had images of The Boy In The Striped Pajamas as I was typing that sentence - a fantastic, terrible movie!)

I'm speaking in past tense about Cat Culls because they used to happen on our compound before we found out about the Open Paws Trap, Neuter and Release program and informed management, which you can read about on my post Turf Wars - as with anything in Saudi, this was not a straight forward exercise!

Anyway, one warm summer evening soon after a cat cull we were moon bathing by the pool eating our dinner (we find the heat of a summer day far to hot to be lying by the pool, so wait till the sun has set to get comfy in the sun loungers), when this tiny ginger and white head peeped out from behind a sun lounger nearby.  It looked so forlorn.  And nervous.  And cautious.  Yet hunger was making it sit nearby where it could smell our roast chicken just waiting for a tidbit to drop to the ground. Obviously, we decided, its mother had been 'relocated' because she was nowhere to be seen and this kitten was very young.
It sat there. Silent. Wretched. Watching.
Hubster tossed a tidbit.

The kitten lifted its head.  Sniffed.  Looked at us looking at him.  Looked at the little piece of meat, then raced out grabbed it and scuttled back behind the chair.  It never made a sound but kept on peeking.  He eventually got another morsel which, I have to say, was a surprise.  The Hubster is not renowned in the family for his Cat Love.  But this little thing had struck a chord with his quiet, non-annoying, persistence.

The next night the kitten was back and he did the same thing.  Just lay behind the chair, watched, waited and eventually got rewarded.  The kitten must have followed us home because the next evening he was laying low in the impatiens plants beside our apartment door.  He looked so tiny peeping out from under his attempted camouflage.  "Look at that", I said to Hubster.  And we started putting a little plate out at night by the flower bed to feed the kitten.  We always watched him eat because although this kitten may have gotten under Hubsters tough Cat Armour, we had no intention of leaving food lying around for the rest of the felines hawking about the place.  Plus we didn't want one of the big boys coming along and beating this little guy up.  Once he was done our guard duty was over and the dish was removed.

Just to be clear - we only semi-adopted this kitten who we have called Cat because we aren't very imaginative and (quite frankly, it suits him) because we will not be taking him with us when we go and he has to learn to survive in Riyadh's Cat World without us.  To that end, we never feed cat a lot of food nor, since he has grown up quite a bit, do we put a bowl out for him every day.  "He's a stray" I would say, "and he needs to know how to fend for himself not rely on us because we often go away and one day we will leave".  So when we are in town he gets enough to keep him going but not so much he'll get fat and lazy.

I think it extremely mean of expats to adopt cats while here, to take them in, feed them, love them, keep them in-doors treated like one of the family and then turf the animal into the wilds of the street with their final exit.  Just the other week we found one of those cats, a pure white lady who had recently birthed and she looked like life on the street had put her through the Hard Cat Life wringer.  She was scraggy.  Her long white hair, matted all over her body, was filthy and she was looking malnourished and dejected.  But when a hand was reached out to stroke her she hesitated only for a moment, craving a love she used to know.  A truly wild street cat would definitely not do that.  Our cat loving neighbour has taken her in to get her, and her offspring, back to health.

Our Cat was eventually enticed out from under the flowers to the doorstep if we sat quietly enough next to his dish.  It took a long while before he deigned to let us stoke him out on the doorstep, though he never really looked comfortable with that, so we never pushed it.

One day while Hubster was on the couch and I was in the kitchen and our door was open, the growing kitten ventured inside the apartment, ever so slowly edging his way along the wall, cautiously sniffing here and there.  I still remember him skating on the tiled floor his legs racing on the spot like some cartoon character in his rush to get back out the door when one of us moved and frightened the daylights out of him.

A friend who heard about the kitten very kindly gave us a cat stand.  (Hubster was horrified - that was going too far, but I thought it may prove interesting).  We introduced the kitten to the stand and he loved it.  He would make a game of creeping into the apartment, jumping on the cat stand, then leaping off and racing out the door, skidding and sliding on the floor tiles all the way saving his final vault out onto the welcome mat at front our door to send it careening down the steps with him surfing on top.  The mat would be returned to its place because we used to like watching his antics.

Cat is a bit big for the cat stand now, though will still jump onto it for a scratch or to sleep when he is banished from the furniture - which is often when The Hubster is around.  He is quite at home in the apartment when he comes strolling in these days.  In fact, this is cat as I type...



How he has managed to wheedle his way from his cat stand to the couch with me in situ has been a long and slow process, but wheedle he has.  It has helped his cause that he is quite a bright cat.  He doesn't push his luck while in house.  No pulling rubbish out of the kitchen bin (like his mate The Black Cat who has, on occasion without us knowing until we hear plastic bag fossicking, followed cat indoors), no jumping on the bench in search of food (Black Cat again - varmint!), he tries very hard not to scratch and claw at the furnishings saving that activity for the pole on the cat stand, and should he forget a light tap on his paws stops him in his tracks.  And if he turns up while we are having dinner (we tend to leave our door open when at home in the evenings for the breeze)  he does now what he did when he first arrived on the scene.  He'll sit a little distance off, looking hopeful.  He also understands the word 'Out', and out he'll go.

To this day I have never picked cat up.  A visitor tried one day and is wearing the scratch marks for his effort.  He does, however, after five years, quite like a scratch under the chin and will curl up beside me on the couch on those evenings he just needs someone nearby while he sleeps.

Cat has only spent a few full nights inside our apartment, but those were special occasions - each night, even as that tiny kitten with an obviously well tuned survival instinct, he gets turfed back outside when we go to bed.

Very early on in our relationship Cat went AWOL.  He was gone for almost a week.  I figured he'd found someone else to feed him or come to an untimely end in a fight.  Then one morning we woke to a pounding on the door - 'Bang, bang, bang. Bang bang bang', in quick succession and a desperate crying.  I opened the door and in shot Cat - straight under the couch.  He stayed there all day.  When I finally enticed him out he looked a mess.  Dirty, bedraggled and with two huge patches of bare flesh around his shoulder and neck where fur should have been.  He got to spend that night in the apartment, hidden in the the little dark cubby at the base of the cat stand, with cat biscuits and a warm blanket.

Quite often cat will simply sit on our doorstep without coming in at all.  Our neighbor thought I'd trained him that way.  But no.  I guess he just feels relatively safe there surveying the neighborhood as it does offer quite a good view of the path where he can easily spot any approaching feline that should be avoided like nasty Ginger Tom on his nightly prowl or the mean White Mess looking for an extra meal.

Ginger Tom likes to beat up other cats.  He is afraid of people so tends to sit in the shadows till he thinks the way is clear to come a steal Cats food.  The White Mess also likes to beat up other cats (even Ginger Tom) and is not afraid of humans and will boldly head up the steps, hissing and growling his way to the bowl as Cat backs off.  Anyone who thinks being a stray is fun needs to spend more time watching the cats in their neighborhood.  It's a tough street life.

Cat used to run inside and hide under the couch when the big boys were patrolling the grounds and our door was open, now he tends to stand his ground, just for a bit because he knows nasty cat visits on our doorstep are not tolerated and something with clout is usually thrown out the open door at offenders. Our neighborly cat lover thinks we should just let all the visiting cats eat.  She's crazy.


Cat, after he's sufficiently fed, will curl up next to me when I sit on the front steps strumming on my guitar, just chillin'.  (He obviously doesn't have an ear for good music otherwise he'd find someplace else to sit).  These days Cat feels brave enough to stay beside me when Ginger Tom passes by, taking a wide berth because Ginger and Hubster do not see eye to eye and many a thing has been biffed in Ginger Toms direction to let him know how unwelcome he is.  (As I mentioned earlier, the Husband has this lack of other Cat Love).

When we put Cat out he usually sits about on the door mat for a awhile (I've seen him through the curtains) and then skedaddles to places unknown, occasionally not coming back for days.

A few evenings it is obvious Cat has had a hard time out in Riyadh's Cat World because he will turn up at the apartment early, sometimes looking dirty and ruffled, occasionally carrying an injury,  and he'll jump on the cat stand, sprawl himself out and crash.  I can walk past, lift his paws, twiddle his ears or pull back his lips and he won't flinch.  He is out for the count.  On a couple of those occasions I haven't had the heart to throw him out because, clearly, cat needs a rest, so he has got to spend those nights indoors.  It's nice to know he feels safe enough to completely zonk out in the apartment.  Around 4am he will walk into the bedroom and make a few mewling sounds to wake us so we can put him out.  Cat has never gone to the toilet in the house.  Not even when he was little.

Waving goodbye to Cat when we leave will be a time of mixed emotions, I'm sure.  We have, after all, deliberately only semi-adopted him knowing our life here is temporary (though that 2 years has extended to quite a healthy 7 at last count) and that he needed to be left outdoors to learn street smarts, only coming to us for a safe or quiet haven.  Cat has worked out a Compound Snack Route to keep himself amply fed.  Our place, Ahmed's place, Theresa's place, Euan's place, the security office and, just recently, Nathalie's place.  And of course the Bar-b-cue area when a group meal is on.  Those, as far as I know, are the Free Cat Food zones available in the compound.  I have no idea  if cat ever ventures out of the compound, though there are a few cats who have ventured in and stayed - Nasty Mess was one of those.  And I know Cat can hunt.  I've seen him chase down a bird and run off over the back fence to devour it.  So I shouldn't be worried about his ability to find food.  It's just I know he needs a refuge, a retreat, a safe house now and then to recharge before heading back out to face the many dangers and challenges of the Stray Cat World in Riyadh.  Where is he going to find that if we aren't here?




Ka Kite,
Kiwi





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