Friday, 6 September 2013

Our Options

Well this is still day 8.  Continuing on from yesterday I have now been in contact with the person in charge at the university.  I think they are only used to single women who of course live on the university site itself, my situation with my husband also teaching is a new situation and they don’t seem to have a process for that yet.

Firstly, I explain the situation with my husband and that he has to work in Riyadh as Al-Kharj is too far to commute to.  He rang me back and said that there are three options.  1.  We both work and live in Al-Kharj.  2. Martin works and lives in Al-Kharj and I work and live in Princess Noura University and that we spend the weekends together. 3.  Martin takes a position in the Language Centre in Riyadh and we find accommodation in Riyadh.  Sounds good but the problem is the working hours.  My working hours are 8 to 4 and Martin’s work hours are 8 to 12 and then 4 till 9.  This isn’t a happy prospect either for obvious reasons.  We know that one of the teachers is working in Riyadh at STC the communications company with day-time hours so maybe there is an option here if we press it.

We leave it that Martin and I will discuss these options later.

I also find out that I am starting work on Sunday and we agree that it would be a good idea if I can visit the university today to be shown around.  However there is a problem with how I can get to the university.  There are no drivers available at the moment to take me.  I suggest getting a taxi and he seemed thrilled that I would do that! “Really?, Yes! let me get the details for you”.  However, a call back says we can’t do that and he will look into what else they can do.

Back to Candy Crush for me.

A final call.  We will send a driver to take to you to the university at 8.30 on Sunday.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Day 8 in Riyadh

Firstly here are a couple of things I have noticed about TV we have here in our hotel.  We have film channels that are in English with Arabic sub-titles and we have caught a few good films so far.  

Some of the adverts are interesting too.  

Arabs got talent! 
 I took this picture straight off the TV. 
Hallumi McMuffin from Mcdonalds 
This looks scrummy and must try it soon for breakfast.

Well this is day 8.  We are very comfortable in our hotel accommodation and Martin has now spent 4 days in Al Kharj at the University, being transported there every day in a mini-bus with 12 other makes teachers.  I, on the other hand, have been hotel-bound other than a few visits to the mall.

On Sunday, the first day, the driver didn’t turn up, and Martin sat in the foyer with another couple of teachers from 6.30 till 8.30 chatting.  The second day, the driver turned up late and then got lost on his way to the university.  He got lost again trying to find his way back to the university because one teacher had been left behind (only realising 5 minutes after starting) and then got lost on the return home yet again.  This time he had been driving for an hour and a half before he realised he was going in the completely opposite direction and had to turn around once more.  Martin didn’t arrive home until 7.30 in the evening having spent over 8 ½ hours in a mini-van with 13 large men and ineffective air-conditioning.  He was in a bit of a state, he hadn’t eaten and had just a couple of cans of coke all day.  I had to laugh and told him that he should have taken a banana and a bottle of water with him.  He was better after a shower and a cup of tea.

For the rest of the week the driver has still been late but is better about getting lost.

It’s been a bit stressful not knowing what was going on, made worse by the fact that the 12 other teachers also didn’t know what was going on.  Everyone was a bit antsy about when they would get paid and when would the visa money be refunded but others had their own issues as well, particularly around their wives coming over and how and when that was going to happen.  Some were not happy about being placed in Al-Kharj when the agency had told them they were definitely would be placed in the city itself.

Al Kharj isn’t a bad place to live, it’s just that it’s not Riyadh and you have to think about the kind of social life your wife will have if she is coming to live with you, and there would certainly be less of it in Al-Kharj that’s for sure. 

Accommodation has been a bit of an issue and a lot of the time in Al-Kharj has been spent in viewing the range of accommodation that is available, that is the male teachers.  We get an allowance of 2500 sar each month for accommodation.  If you take the SBC accommodation as offered then they don’t give you any allowance as such, you just take it.  However if you want to live in private accommodation, SBC will give you the cash up front, for 6 months in advance, so you can put it towards private accommodation.  If you can find accommodation for less than the 2500 sar then you are in luck otherwise you can top this up for more comfortable or larger accommodation.

Most of the teachers have sorted out their accommodation and paid their rent, but there are 4 teachers who haven’t.  One thinks he is going to negotiate and haggle on the rent, one has to go back to London to get his visa sorted out again as a mistake was made, then there is Martin, who keeps saying that he cannot stay in Al-Kharj as his wife Is working in Riyadh and it is becoming increasingly evident that he cannot commute and the other guy was not happy with the accommodation available for his wife and 7 month old baby who is due to follow.

They found out yesterday that they are moving in today and have to leave the hotel.  This is an interesting situation for those who have not arranged alternative accommodation.  For the one who has been given his accommodation money already, he will have to get on with his negotiation sharpish. But for the others who have not taken the money, do they stay in the hotel? What about the arrangements for getting to work?  Rumours are running wild, “There’s no work on Thursday anyway” so they can all be moved with their luggage.  “Be in the lobby with your luggage at 6.30” is the other one.  No-one knows.

We were getting a bit concerned as I hadn’t yet been contacted by the Princess Noura University and we realised that Al Kharj was an hour and a half outside Riyadh and going to be a bit difficult to commute to.  The agency, Sudan Business Centre, didn’t seem to be taking into account that we were a married couple and that we needed to be working close to each other.  Calls to the agency we were recruited through in England had not been particularly fruitful but yesterday we were assured that they would sort it out.

So we went shopping.  That's all you can do!

Looking at garden furniture - we need a garden first!

Trying out wearing the scarf as well

I am sinking lower and lower
And watch some TV.

Anyhow, Martin, went to the foyer as usual at 6.30 and he didn’t come back, so I assume he has gone to work.

A Couple of Stories I forgot to Tell you About

There were a couple of stories that I forgot to mention in my previous blog entries. 

The first one was while I was being finger printed at the airport.  It was a lengthy procedure as the custom’s official was having trouble with the equipment and he had to keep rubbing the glass box with class cleaner and then offering me bits of tissue to do the same with my fingers and thumbs.  Anyway he was randomly shouting at other people, standing up and waving his arms when suddenly he unzipped his fly, puts his hand inside and proceeds to have a rummage around.  He was obviously having difficulty getting himself nice and comfortable as he did it again 10 minutes later.  This is in full view of everyone, with Martin standing next to me.  What’s that all about?

An example of the Burkha - veil with mesh so that you cannot see the eyes - freaks me out.

The other story I forgot to mention was in the Granada Mall in the cosmetic department in Debenhams.  Do you remember a while back, in the UK, where there was a newspaper story about a muslim woman who was refused a job as a hairdresser in a salon because she wore a hijab (scarf).  The argument was that hairdressers also model different styles and hair colours themselves.  This story had always stuck in my mind because I wasn’t sure whether I agreed or disagreed with this argument.  Here is the link if you are interested Click here for news story

Anyhow, the reason I bring this up is that it was interesting to see the girls behind the make-up counters were all dressed in Niqab (everything covered other than the eyes).  Now I do think that a lot of ladies behind cosmetic counters in the UK wear an awful lot of make-up but it is very strange indeed to not be able to see the faces of the cosmetic assistants at all.  I am sure that when they go home and show their faces freely, they are probably plastered in the stuff, but it just seems strange to be talking make-up with someone when you can’t see their face and what they have on it.  I realise I am trying to compare 2 different situations. 

What I accept as fact from a western point of view “I want to see that you are practicing what you preach” when being offered make-up advice / products perhaps needs to be questioned.  Do I really need to see their faces covered in make-up?  How does that influence my purchases?  The same argument applies to the hairdresser situation.  

Does the state of my hairdresser’s hair influence my decision as to whether to use their services or not or to dictate the style I would choose?  Well yes it does actually.  I have often said “I want it like her’s.”, pointing to a girl half my age and style and I like it when my hairdresser changes their style or the colour regularly.  Having said that, my hairdressers over the years have mainly been men.  

Seriously, it is a valid point. 

To Abaya or not to Abaya? that is the Question

Well it is day 6 in Saudi Arabia and what has happened so far?  Not a great deal so far.  We weren’t surprised to find that when people say they will call they don’t and then just turn up unexpectedly and so this is how it has been. 

We had a meeting in the hotel foyer with someone from the agency on Saturday and this was the first we had heard from anyone since we arrived and was surprised to find out that there were 3 other male teachers staying in the hotel as well. It was really a quick introduction and to let us know what time and when we would be picked up to go to our respective workplaces.  I was to wait for a call the next day and Martin and the other guys were going to be picked up at 6:50 the next morning.

So let's go shopping.  This was funny to see on the shelf!  For those of you not from England, 'Iceland' is the name of a shop that is known for it's value.  It used to focus on frozen food in the 70's but has added a limited stock of value items to it's range.  So it was a laugh to see this on the shelves.  "Fresh coming by Air Flight"

A taste from home
If only it was that cheap! More like £10
We both had a restless night, general anxiety and excitement, and Martin was dutifully in the foyer on time.  Two hours later he came back having been sitting in the foyer chatting to one of the other male teachers, the bus hadn’t turned up after all, and said he was going to the mall with his new friend.  I was still waiting for my phone call of course but I still had a quick panic “I can’t leave the hotel without you” kind of thing.

I haven’t got the abaya thing sorted in my head yet.  When we had the meeting, the day before, I had to think, “This is an abaya event” and put it on but it felt odd, being with westerners in an abaya and even though the agency guy was a Saudi, I kind of think “Well he works with westerners so he should be ok about it” but in fact he commented that I wasn’t wearing a scarf.  I thought I was ok not wearing a scarf as an obvious foreigner but that isn’t necessarily so.  I had been wearing a scarf when outside more of a fashion accessory to take the edge off so much black, although I did realise that I might be asked to wear it by the “Muttawa” (religious police) if they said so.  I didn’t bother with the scarf going to the hotel foyer but it was remarked on.  I kind of think of the hotel as being ‘international’ rather than ‘Saudi’ but have got this totally wrong.  This made me much more wary of asking at reception for a change of towels or to empty the bin and I ended up leaving Martin to do that.  I am not allowed out in public on my own as a woman – so does the hotel foyer count as in public?  I perhaps considered nipping out to the hotel reception without an abaya on (our suite is next to the reception) as the equivalent of  nipping out in my dressing gown and slippers if it was an English B&B but of course it isn’t.

I had to do a double think when Martin and his new found friend Alex came back into our suite. “What am I meant to do when other men are in our place?”  Obviously, he has been invited by my husband and my husband is here.  But presumably if he had brought back a Saudi colleague I would have had to have warning and then rushed and covered up?  Similarly, a hotel employee came to unblock the toilet and I went into the bedroom to find my trusty black friend.  In the end I couldn’t be bothered and just stayed in there with the door shut until he had finished.

Our Home for the Time Being

I didn’t get the call yesterday but Martin was rung at 10 in the evening and told to be in the foyer at 6.30 in the morning.  I am just sitting and waiting for my call again.

From the discussions yesterday we were told that we could stay in our hotel suite or they will continue to look for a married compound for us.  We had had no idea how long we were meant to be staying in this hotel, as did the other teachers, so we hadn't unpacked very much at all and by now it was getting irritating trying to work out which suitcase was so-and-so to be found.  So we unpacked some stuff and started to think about this as being our home for a few weeks.

Our Lounge / kitchen area is very comfy and quite well equipped

Its a bit on the dark side because there are minimal windows to keep the heat out

Only played Ankh Morpork 3 times so far.  We have FOX films and a few other channels

These are zebra print tiles - they look furry but they are not.

Kitchen has no oven but it does have a microwave

Settee is big enough to sprawl on

Bathroom is a lot better now the toilet is unblocked but a lovely shower and very spacious

Loving the bed - huge and soft and get a really good sleep

Very spacious - still not unpacked yet