Friday, 27 January 2017

A Night 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.

A closer inspection of Google maps identified a road part way and a run of power lines passing nearby.  Where there are power lines there must be a track, of sorts.  So Hubster was advised to load the hired 4WD and some firewood while I stocked the chilly bin with food and the back seat with our sleeping bags because we intended to camp the night.

We drove down toward Al Kharj and turned eastwards after refuelling with gas. Having earlier identified two possible options for reaching our destination it was time to figure out which route would work best for us.  Waiting till we got closer to the desert to make this decision was done for two reasons.

One, given the amount of development that is taking place in this country, Google cannot always be completely relied on for route planning.  Sometimes you turn up and there's a road where the written instuctions say there shouldn't be.  Other times where there should be a road you actually find yourself at the edge of the desert with car tracks angling off in all directions into the distance.  It can be a bit freaky leaving the saftey of solid tarmac for the unkown desert.  Some days you turn up and find someone has built an apartment block.  Laying eyes is alwasys best when heading off exploring in Saudi, especially when you don't really know where you're going.

And Two, the man I married had, yet again, been paying absolutely no attention to any route suggestions I had been passing on to him previous to leaving home.  This fact was borne out when, as we passed through our compound gate he said, 'Which way?'  I sighed, somewhat exasperated, knowing it was going to be one of those days when he wasn't really looking forward to this trip, he was simply humouring me.  I also knew that if this fort visit turned out to be worthwhile, he'd be singng it's praises for weeks. My fingers were crossed for praise singing and my exasperation was put on the back burner as he was pointed in the right direction, but honestly, there are times when I think that if I didn't need him to drive, I wouldn't take him at all!

We decided sticking to the ashphalt for as long as possible was the best idea so headed off to the road with the power lines.  We followed that till it came to the end, then we were on our own.  The wadi that greeted us was a little rocky, and we set about finding a way through it in the general direction of the Fort.  This was definitely a four wheel drive expedition as the route became rougher the further we went and did not always follow an obviously marked trail - at least we couldn't find it.  Hubster had to get out of the vehicle a couple of times to assess whether we would make it over a rocky incline or two.  I was grateful he came along for some driving, when it comes to navigating through rough terrain he has more balls than me, (figuratively that is...OK, and literally).

We eventually came across a graded track of sorts that seemed to start in the middle of nowhere for no particular reason.  Although it was graded, it was also steep, narrow - the vehicle just fit through - and rock-strewn, so a bit of care was required as we wormed our way up it.

Once through this escarpment the land leveled out and was much easier to drive.  We checked our bearings and set off, once again, in the general direction of the fort.   Finding a relatively well used track we followed it and found ourselves at the base of some low lying hillocks with the depressions of old wells.  The faded track split in two and we decided to take the one that disappeared into a nearby wadi.  As we rounded the bend we were greeted by the sight of the fort sitting solitary above the wadi bed.

As we drove nearer we were quiet with our own thoughts - mostly questions on my part.  Why had the fort been abandoned? Who uses it now?  Who used it then?  What was it like to live here?

The afternoon was late and Hubster was hankering for food so we decided to set up a permanent camp in the wadi  near the wells and get a fire started with tea on the boil.  There was plenty of greenery (I prefer a bit of foliage for toileting purposes - we might be married but there are some things you just don't want to know, right?) and we could fossick for extra firewood.  Tomorrow we would get an early start to explore the fort.

Our camps are very basic setups.  Chairs to sit on, carpets to rest on and, later in the night, to spread our sleeping bags on and a fire to cook our steak over.  What more do you need?  As we don't own a tent, there is not much option for any other kind of set up.  We did try sleeping in the back of a vehicle once, but really, hailing from the 'a bit large' brigade, there is only room for one of us comfortably.

To make the ground more comfortable we also have an extra sleeping blanket that we lay on top of the carpets, under our sleeping bags.  To date we have not been hassled by dust storms, wildlife or rabid dogs, although we did find a scorpion nestled under our sleeping blanket once.  Hubster got such a shock he shooed it off quick smart into nearby desert grasses....I was like, 'What did you do that for? I wanted to take a photo of it'.  He realized that maybe he had over-reacted.  'We could go look for it', he says.  'Yeah right, lets search for a scared critter in long grass, away you go, mug' (Kiwi word for blockhead).  Mr Scorpion did not become photographic famous that day.

Word is that the name Abu Jifan refers to this very wadi, above which the fort sits, and the wells dug into it that have offered travellers a respite from the long days of traversing the desert in both Islamic and pre-Islamic periods.  The wells still have water in them today.

In 1864, foreign explorers wrote about two routes that passed by Abu Jifan -  one that connected Riyadh to Hofuf, a major east-west thoroughfare to the gulf apparently, and one that linked Wadi Dawasir and Sulayal to Hofuf.  It is possible there were more routes from this spot that locals used but were not confirmed by early European visitors, which sounds reasonable given it is thought that the wells date back to the Bronze Age, as judged, so I read, by the masonry lining them - which means the wells are quite old.

Rumour has it that when the modern Saudi Arabian road network was initially being drawn up there were plans to maintain this historic route as a main highway, so part the cutting we came up was one of the first pieces of road construction in Saudi Arabia.   But a change of plans meant that the road went nowhere near the fort, hence it sitting all alone in the middle of the desert.

From the main entrance the fort looked a little forlorn and worse for wear. The gate was broken, the old trespass sign was almost unreadable, though on the otherside of the driveway was what looked to be a perfectly new sign declaring Abu Jifan to be a palace.

An guard post and in the distance a lookout

View to the fort from a lookout, with a guard post visible in front of the fort.
The fort is not as old as the wells that serve it.  Apparently the official purpose of the fort was to protect the travel route, and remnants of old guard outposts can be found at each end of the track that runs in front of the fort, while further out are what appear to be lookout posts.  Before the discovery of oil, the only money coming in for the country was through charges to pilgrims and traveling caravans and, as this was a main route and watering hole to and from Mecca and the Gulf, it seems reasonable to build a collection point along it, though how long ago, and whether or not this fort was erected specifically for that purpose, I can't say.

I read somewhere that the fort was used in the 1950's by the National Guard, though I can't confirm that either.  About the only thing I do know is that the sign out front claims the fort was protected as an archeological site by which ever King was on the throne in 1972. Abu Jifan became famous in the history of modern Saudi because the original King, Abdulaziz, stopped at the wells on his way to Riyadh in 1902 to claim back his heritage.                                            

Abu Jifan is apparently admininstered by the Ministry of Antiquities and Museums who rebuilt it around 2007, presumably to be used as a tourist spot.  It has subsequently been abandoned for reasons unknown, which I have to say actually makes it look kind of cool for we romantics or highly imaginative types.  You know what I mean, imagine telling camp fire stories around a lonely, hard to reach abandoned fort next to ancient wells - the tales you could tell and the visions you could conjure up in the minds of the impressionable of camels and dust weary travelers, the sounds and the smells of pulling up water and setting up camp and preparing for battle - that kind of thing.

The visions that met us as we walked beneath the entry arch to the fort proper spoke of glorious plans that had come to a halt. Tagging decorated the walls and the doorways were dark, almost pleading to be lit up again with life and love.  We went from room to room wondering what it would have been like to be posted here.  The recent refurbhisment meant that along with the traditional fire hearth in each room, there were also power points.  The central courtyard is dominated by a concrete base that was obviously some unfinished designer vision.

The mosque with it's traditionally built ceiling was lit only by the sunlight as it half heartedly crossed the threshold through the door we had opened, preferring to shine its full brilliance outside.  Other people had obviously found the place quite intriguing and had stayed for a lengthy period judging by the cold ash of a fire in the middle of the mosque.

The silence at the fort was deafening as we looked out between the rooftop parapets to the wadi beyond.  I did wonder who will maintain this fort into the future.  Apart from the fact it doesn't seem to be a tourist stop, the skills required to upkeep an adobe structure are fast disappearing in this country as ongoing construction favours concrete.  Historic adobe buildings deteriorate - that is their nature.  The only blessing Saudi has is that it doesn't rain here much. But even slow decay will eventually lead to collapse for this abandoned palace unless there is a maintainence plan in place.

We left the fort to take a look at the surrounding hills and didn't have to go far to find what looked to be the remnants of an old village forged out of desert rocks.  The stones were piled into squares that could only be dwellings - in some it was easy to identify what appeared to be entry ways and fireplaces (to my non-archeologically trained, possibly imaginative eye).  We spent a bit of time pcituring how harsh it would have been living here.  Makes me glad of my brick and mortared home.  Oh the quandries of balancing the love of modern life with the desire to not forget history.

We spent a bit of time exploring the area and then it was time to figure out how to get home.  It is not necessary to retrace our steps driving out the way we came in.  This took a bit of explaining to The One Wth No Ears for reasons mentioned at the beginning of this post.  We headed toward the row of power lines and simply followed them all the way out to Khurais Road.  It was easy peesy.  I have to say, I'm glad we chose the exciting way in to Abu Jifan and, because it was getting late, I was just as grateful there was an easy way out.  And by the way, praise singing is long and loud when our trip to Abu Jifan is mentioned.

Location of Abu Jifan

For a little more detail:
Red is the way we went in, Blue is the way we came out.

I hope you enjoy your trek to Abu Jifan Fort if you chose to take it.

Ka Kite,

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Please, Signpost The Toilets.

This post is a plea.
Someone, 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.

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.

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 generally 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 lookes harrassed and tosses the key in the general direction of outstretched hand), hotels where you need a swipe card to access toilets in the public areas or cafes, and diners 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, because 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.  My map has proven exremely 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!

Toilet locating apps are not a new idea.  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.  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 other peeps whose muscular control of their nether regions 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,

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,

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