Thursday, 5 September 2013

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.

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