Thursday, 29 August 2013

First Trip to the Mall

Outside our hotel - the roads are virtually deserted
We were picked up at the airport and taken to our hotel and told that someone will contact us tomorrow. We are not sure whether or not these are our permanent digs or just temporary we just don’t know yet. We have a lounge / kitchen, a bathroom and a bedroom which are all very comfortable. We had been travelling from 11:30 the previous day and were pretty tired and so showered and then had a lovely sleep in a lovely soft bed and felt very rested when we woke up. Thought we would go and explore the outside world and find something to eat!

We had passed a Carrefour hypermarket as we arrived at the hotel and aimed for that. The surrounding area is a huge building site and there are lots of empty spaces waiting to be built on – I can imagine that in 5 years it will look very different. It is wide and flat and not many cars and you can see for miles and the buildings that are in progress are ultra-modern. It’s quite eerie in a way, it’s as though they are building a derelict town. In London, there are no empty spaces to build on – another building has to be knocked down to make way for new ones and new construction goes on in the midst of life. But here there are such huge spaces to build on it could be on the moon!

Ultra-modern buildings

The building in front is shaped like a ship

Waiting to be built on

Carrefour is part of an enormous mall the size of a small town. It is more Bluewater style than Lakeside and again quite empty. Maybe because of the time of day but it has a church like feel – like the murmurings in a cathedral and you can see clusters of black clothed figures floating in the distance.

The is a bit like a cathedral

There were many familiar names as we walked around – Next, Mothercare, Marks and Spencers, Debenhams and from what we could see the prices were generally speaking the same as in England, maybe a little more expensive in some cases and a little cheaper in others. There were also many shops that sold beautiful abayas and furniture that reflected the local culture.

Naturally I studied the women I saw, all wore a full length black abaya and most of whom also covered their faces with their eyes uncovered. Quite a few completely covered their faces and the eye area of the cloth was thinner, so in the same way as tinted windows worked, you could see out without anyone else seeing in. I found this the most disconcerting but I guess that I will get used to this in no time at all I remembered in the Sudan that the girls wore a full length pale blue uniform but individualism shone through and their shoes and school bag was their own. The same here as the women walked or were sitting on a bench, their shoes were different as was their clothing under the abaya; some wore trousers, others dresses in a range of colours. I find it very strange. How do they feel, having to be covered in black head to toe when they go outside. There were some younger girls, not wearing scarves but wearing abayas and so it would seem they wanted to wear them even though they were not required to. In England before the war, boys would become men when they were 13 and allowed to wear trousers and not shorts. There was a time for women when you were considered old enough to wear your hair up instead of hanging loose. Is it the same kind of thing we wondered – getting excited about being able to wear an abaya, an external badge to show that you were now a woman, something to be thrilled about?

Before we came here I had read that it was important not to be seen in public holding hands or being physically affectionate and I was surprised to see one young couple holding hands.

I was surprised to see areas that were designated “families only” that excluded single men. These were shops that sold women’s clothes or make-up or really places that women would hang out. Restaurants had different areas too, we checked out the prices of a Steak Restaurant and the door to the left was for families and the door to the right was for men. Even at the takeaway food places, there was a divider to separate men and women customers. I have since read an article that explained that it is a relatively recent thing that single men have been allowed into shopping malls other than at lunch times.

See the signs "MEN" "WOMEN"

Food is about the same price as in the UK - the divider of male and female customers

The Carrefour hypermarket was enormous about 3 times the size of the Tesco extra in Southend. Which is probably nothing for any Americans reading this! We did enjoy our tour round, looking at similarities and what was different to England. There was a policy of not selling US meat according to one sign but they reassured their customers that Australian and New Zealand meat was available and not sure whether the sale of camel meat was a result of the ban or not. Will have to try at some point and report back!

Have never eaten Camel before

While we were there we heard the call to prayer but was surprised to see that customers in the store were generally stationary or sitting down during this time. Was this a bit like the 2 minute silence in the UK in lakeside for example when some people don’t realise they should be standing still and it dawns on them too late that that was going on? Well the answer to that is yes and no. During prayer time, the roll-down doors are pulled down so that the staff can go to pray and this means that the customers can’t leave either. So if you have finished your shopping then why not sit down and wait? Or like us, carry on round. We’d look at something and I’d say to Martin “How much is that then?” and we would both embark on complicated conversion mathematics and get it wrong on the first attempt and we did this about 99 times! I just pretended to do it – Martin is much better at that kind of stuff than me. We bought the following items in our first shop. Cooked chicken, Greek salad, humus, coleslaw, mayonnaise, 6 eggs, 5 pain au raisins, sweetcorn, bottle of fresh milk, pack of rolls and a French stick. It came to 90 sar which is about £15.50. Not bad really.

Our first food shop


  1. This is tremendous, Jennifer. It is so fair-minded and tolerant and well-written (with one needless repetition of excited which you can excise). What will be interesting is your psychic reaction to the evident repression of the feminine archetype in Classical Arab society. Will your Catholic soul survive the inability to find a Mass? Will you be able to have the odd drink? Will you be able to venture out at all into the country? And how on-message-ly, how silently will you be able to give your wondrous message? How TEFL-orthodox will they be?

    1. The second 'excited' has now been excised. Haha. It is very strange to see women dressed like this. In fact when my abaya arrived I wore it for a while in the house and when family arrived the look on their faces were that of shock. Especially as I wore a scarf for the total look. They were very disturbed by it. For me, I felt very quiet and peaceful I have to say. It is very comfortable to wear and I also realised that when wearing my usual clothes I would always be aware of what I was wearing in some way and it was only by wearing this that this nagging voice became stilled. It's probably a woman thing. I hope I get the chance to discuss this openly with the women here. In answer to your other questions - I don't know - but they are very interesting. There is no tolerance for other religions in this country although it is not forbidden to practise in your own home. So we will see - watch this space as they say.

  2. Very interesting, Jennifer! Those signs in the 'Brjr knj" remind me too much of "Whites-Coloreds" signs from 50 years ago here in the US.

  3. Yes it made me think of that too. A lot to think about!