Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Other things to do in Riyadh

Developing a social life and making friends was on my list of things to do next having settled into work and moving to our apartment int he hotel.  However it is not as easy as it first seems  It's not that I am impatient - Good Heavens not me! - but it seemed to me that it wouldn't be difficult to find some people you have something in common with and that you could find and do things together.

There are websites / groups you can join that enables expats from all countries to get together and make friends.  Internations is one such site and there are a range of different activity groups that you can 'attend' such as bowling, eating at restaurants, 4x4 desert events and trips.

In the same way as seeing a woman covered head to toe in black with a scarf over her head doesn't bother me at all now (well only a little) these expat events also took a bit of getting used to.

The thing is that especially in September there are a whole new bunch of teachers arriving who are fresh to the wonders of KSA and trying to find their feet.  I am speaking of women mainly here although there are also quite a few male teachers as well.  Mixed in with this are engineers of various descriptions who are mainly, possibly completely, male.  Some men have their wives with them others are waiting for their wives to come over.  For the most part, people are lonely and vulnerable at the beginning of their adventure because they are adjusting to a new culture and do not have the security of family and friends to lean on.

I didn't quite understand this situation and so I was a bit taken aback by some of the women's behaviour towards the men who were equally confused.  There was a desperate need for alcohol, men and well alcohol and men.  They wanted to go to parties "How do you get invited to parties?"  They all wanted to know and were particular frustrated when the answer was "A friend invited me"  I remember seeing a woman just one small step from shaking a man across the table by his shoulders "Tell me how, I want to know how".  I was talking to one woman and when a man walked past she hungrily followed him with her eyes.  "Thanks very much, I didn't realise I was just a prop for your letching."  I wanted to say.  When I said to a woman I'd met before that she had been speaking to my husband, she looked over at him and said "Ooh heeeeeeeeeeee's handsome"  "Piss off" I didn't say.

So we backed off from that a little but it seems to be calming down as people are settling in.

One of the major issues in Saudi is the segregation of women from single men or married men wandering around without their wives.  Until relatively recently single men were not allowed to go to malls other than at lunch times.  They are separated from 'families' in restaurants and in shops. Even for a coffee they cannot sit in the same area as women.  The married man is esteemed in Saudi culture and single men are not.

Many expats live in what is known as compounds which are walled communities where Saudi nationals are no allowed.  Within these walls you can do as you please.  The religious police do not go in and so you can drink alcohol and walk around as you please. Men and women are free to do as they please.

What is becoming popular is having a day in a compound as an expat activity.  You pay a certain amount which includes a meal, use of the pools, gym and facilities such as bowling and a film at the compound cinema.  You do as you please and sit around and chat or whatever. The first one we went to cost 150 riyals (£20) for the day and we arrange to meet at a certain place and those with cars give lifts to those without.

You can see why this is such an attractive idea when you live in an apartment where there is very little natural light or a balcony to sit out on.

There are just a couple of residents on this compound at the moment.  Wonder what they would think about 50 people turning up and using their facilities?

Martin went bowling and watched Ironman 3 again.  But I just loved swimming and sitting by the pool and reading and chatting.  Just like being on holiday.

The other thing I didn't realise although it is perfectly obvious when you think about it, is that many of the male expats are from Pakistan, Eqypt, Jordan, Syria, India as well as from Europe and many of these are also Muslim and some are married as well.  They use these events as an opportunity to meet Western women in the hopes of having sex.  I don't know how successful they actually are but it is both amusing and embarrassing at the same time having to watch.  I know you are just about to say "Don't watch then"  but we are sometimes used as props to draw in a young woman as she feels safe with a load of old people around.

A day at the Races

There was an opportunity to go to the races - no not camel races - the gee-gees.  It was a small race course but it was quite interesting.  The last time I went horse racing was when I was 8 years old.  My Nan loved horse racing and the Royal Family  and combined her two loves when she took me to an event where the Queen was in attendance.  I have a vivid memory of Liz wearing a yellow dress.

The entrance to the Racecourse
The part of the city where I live is completely devoid of green areas and so when I get to see some trees, grass and flowers I stretch out towards them.  This was a verdant welcome.

Large seating area for spectators that gave a good view of  the area.
The starting point
It was abayas on of course and there were none of the familiar betting points that we would expect to see at the races in the UK and naturally none of the excitement that goes with it.  I understand that there were some surreptitious doings upstairs somewhere but I have no proof. There was a restaurant and a seating area and that was it.

The horses were paraded around and  we oohed and aahed a bit.  The jockeys are really, really tiny.  No really tiny.  Like Tom Thumb.

See?! Tiny!

Beautiful Horse
We have a winner
Getting a bit bored after a while so me and Martin decide to have a verbal gamble.  I go for the white shirt with the big navy spots.  Martin went for the green and yellow stripes.  We didn't see the end of the race because our lift was ready to go.  I'm sure I won.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The Camel Market

I guess no trip to Saudi Arabia would be complete without a visit to the camel market.  We were doing a trip to the races and on the way we stopped at the camel market for photo opportunities.
One view of the market  but what is most striking is the number of pylons

The first thing you notice is the enormous pylons clustered together.  The guy who gave us a lift is an Electrical Engineer and told us a story about a colleague of his who went up a pylon but it was still live.  They couldn't find a body. He simply vapourised.  So be careful.  Is there a health risk associated with pylons?  Poor camels.

Martin and the camels
It didn't have the feel of a market.  I was expecting an atmosphere of money changing hands and people calling out like in Petticoat lane where they throw dinner services up in the air for two quid.  (Well in the 60's they did)  There was just a lot of tired looking camels in pens.

Scraggy little baby camel

When you look close they are quite cute.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

The Edge of the World

Rather a dramatic name for a place but when you look at the pictures you will see that it deserves it's name.  Since we arrived we have been trying to establish ourselves and get a social life.  It sound easy - all those expats running around but the reality is that it is quite difficult.  Everyone is new, the same as you, and also trying to do the same thing.  But everyone wants and no-one knows how to do it exactly.  We all get a bit paranoid.  The people here last year are keeping it secret from us. It is like starting school - there are elements of one-up-man-ship - "Oh I am going to the party at the French / Italian / American Embassy" It feels like a popularity contest where everyone is trying to get connected. So it can get a little tense, like starting school or when you start going to parties at 13 / 14  .... you get the picture.

So we joined - or rather I did and Martin is a member with no privileges (I paid he didn't) - Internations.  This is a site for expats and helps you link up with other expats.  There are 'groups' and you 'join' the group and they organise activities in your are of interest.  So there are a couple of 'eating at restaurants' groups and a bowling group and new ones come along all the time.  This group is a 4x4 desert group and a friend (you become friends very quickly here) recommended the activity and I am so glad because it was great.

Trevor (the group host) has been around on and off for 27 years in the construction business and he loves the desert and the different places to go and has organised many trips and events.  Basically people turn up at a meeting place and people who need lifts (all the ladies of course and men without cars or 4X4s) get accommodated and we set off for a destination with cool boxes full of food and drink plus bbqs.  This was Trevor's last trip and so was glad to have made it - he is now working in Russia on the pipe lines.  Let's hope someone else takes up the reigns.

We were both pretty excited about this trip and prepared accordingly.  Martin went shopping and bought a pull along cool box with another mini version for drinks.  He went crazy with the food shopping as well with a couple of racks of lamb ribs ("don't take them all" I said) and chicken.  There were going to be a few BBQs and it was suggested that we bring food to share.  Martin also made 4 boxes of salads - coleslaw, potato salad, green salad, and tomato and onions - he really got into it.  It was gonna be good!

Stopping for a break and a catch-up

Trousers and no Abaya!
We met up at the Mercure Hotel which is French and shaped like a ship and we were allocated to cars.  Martin and the cool box went in one car and I went with Trevor and 3 other ladies. The journey was about 3 hours in total, with 90 minutes on roads and the following 90 minutes over the dessert. There were about 10 cars and 50 people and we must have been a sight as we drove at speed through the desert leaving huge clouds of dust.  We passed many camels who were left there to graze?

The funny thing about this dessert is that it isn't sandy.  More gravelly, hilly and shrubby more like the desert in the wild west!  Driving in the desert is an experience as there are of course no roads and the  land isn't flat at all.  In fact there are rivulets - is that the right word? - like when the tide goes out on the beach but bigger and so this created an effect of travelling over continual speed bumps.  For the three of us in the back seat, we were thrown all over the place and I lost count of the number of times I hit my head on the side window!  It really hurt!!

We stopped several times to regroup but on the last stop it was discovered that one car had got a puncture.  This was the point we found out that new cars are no longer given a spare tyre and there was some faffing around as bits from other vehicles were being utilised to assist the car in trouble. This was a saloon car and the puncture wasn't the usual kind but was the result of a large rock that had ripped a bloody great hole.

Five cars led by Trevor continued on and the others were going to follow on as soon as the tyre was fixed.  There was concern that 20 minutes after arriving the other cars still hadn't tuned up.  A couple of phone calls later - reception was bad - we found out that the injured car could not be fixed and was returning to Riyadh slowly and was to be followed by another car and the rest were going to catch us up.

Martin was in the damaged car and so went back with its owner Bruce having handed over the cool-box with its goodies to Bill who had been herding the train of cars from the rear.

Trevor set up the BBQ and off he went to catch up with the other vehicles.

This is the Edge of the world and as you will agree was absolutely stunning and well worth the journey.

The view between the rocks

One of the peaks

Looking back down from the edge
Trevor came back empty handed.  He had found Martin and Bruce slowly making their way back on their own and made a couple of loops and couldn't see the others.  He couldn't even see any dust so couldn't see where they had gone.  But the cool box was with these cars so I had to rely on the generosity of the rest of the group.   They were real professionals!  By the time Trevor had returned they had lined up their vehicles in a row to create shade and laid down thick red rugs to sit on, plus cushions, set up a bbq using stones lying around and had brought enough chicken kebabs to feed an army!  They had kettles on the boil, coffee made, and shishas at the ready!  What a show.

Between the rocks - see how small the people are on the left!
We took turns to get up and introduce ourselves and there were a wide range of expats from many different countries and industries.   A few teachers, nurses and other medical staff, construction guys and computer and business people.  I had mistakenly assumed that the expat community would be from English speaking countries but there are a huge number from Egypt, Pakistan, India and other Arab states such as Syria and Lebanon.  Internations events exclude Saudis because it would attract the attention of the religious police - the Muttawa - because the purpose of these events is that it allows for mixing of unrelated males and females which is of course forbidden in the Kingdom.

The sun sets
Martin, bless him, had a great time, even though he didn't get to see the Edge of the world - this time. He had a lot of fun enjoying the journey there and back and made a friend in Bruce.  What happened to the others?  They had stayed where they were, thinking Trevor would come to the last spot we had all met at - hence no dust.  They left after an hour, believing that Trevor had left them alone in the desert.

And the cool box? It stayed in Bill's car (the contents had spilled everywhere alas) and it was returned to us a week later still with whatever contents were left.  Of course Martin had taken all the ribs!

Friday, 15 November 2013

Things to Do in Riyadh - When Darryl came to Visit

This could be a very short blog entry.  Not to deride another country but there isn’t a great deal to do or see.  Much of Saudi life takes place inside the home I am told and as I am not party to this kind of life, I have to make do with what is visible to me.  That’s not much.  There are a lot of malls and a lot of shopping to be done and there are many restaurants but all of these take money and we are trying to save not spend!  We are starting to have a social life now and getting to know people and so there is more to do now than there was before and this is do with people making their own entertainment and organising events for everyone small or large.  So the following few entries will set out the places we have visited.

 Firstly, a FB friend, Darryl, who had worked in Georgia while we were there came to stay for 3 days in Riyadh.  He is teaching in Saudi near the border of Yemen in a small mountainous village which is a very different kettle of fish to Riyadh which is flat and built in the desert.  The first day he was here it was Eid day which is the equivalent of Christmas Day in terms of what was open but we did find a couple of restaurants open and a mini fun fair in the mall was running catering for family fun.  Fortunately, coming from Al Bahar this was a big thrill for him so our job as big-city hosts was successful!

Night-time up the "West End". Al Faisaliah Tower.

Riyahd "Bond Street"  so they say.

Christmas lights all year round!
We made a visit to the Mashmak Fort.  We couldn't find the opening times for Eid so took a chance and it was closed when we went.  The times change anyway and the times on the web site were too confusing as it says when families / single men / school parties only allowed.  Tripadvisor said that chop-chop square round the corner was the place where floggings and dismemberment take place on Friday mornings and this tends to gather a crowd so avoid it.  We went on the Wednesday.

Hot and empty of all people

The front entrance
A nice lunch in Tony Romas Steak House
Darryl and Carole - one of the people with whom he did his TEFL in Prague

The national Museum in Riyadh is a large and airy building with nice gardens where families can sit and relax.  This is the first bit of greenery I have seen here and it feels good to be walking out in the open among trees and plants.  It was also nice to see families with children picnicking and enjoying themselves and it is a place we plan to come to even just to sit here and chill.

We went into the museum foyer and saw the lovely gardens through the glass walls and I just had to go outside and look around!

A touch of monasteries and cloisters

Light, airy and cool with fountains - very peaceful.

An imaginative playground for the children.

The kids had a lovely time with the fountains

Families just chillin'

Yes it is true that a very small child IS holding a roman candle.
The museum itself wasn't up to much.  Sadly it had a lot of replicas of what we had seen in the British Museum but it was interesting enough with translations in English and imaginative displays.

Martin and colleague David playing the fool in the museum
 We came out of the museum to find more people than ever barbecuing and sitting around in the cooler evening air.  really nice atmosphere.
Evening in the Museum Gardens

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Random Post

Had been looking at these photos to see how I could make a thrilling new entry for the blog but gave up and so here they are.

Locked inside the supermarket when the staff are off for prayer
That's what I call a pepper

I am sure it tastes better

Arabic Coffee

After our dessert night we bought some of the delicious coffee and had a go at making it.  A bit of a palava but hoping it is worth it.

4 tablespoons of coffee into the coffee pan
Simmer for 'several minutes'

Strain and pour into a vacuum flask and serve

Didn't quite taste the same as it did int he desert.  Will have to investigate.