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.

We moved again

As you recall we moved into a bedsit into a cheap hotel after we were told to leave our first hotel that was being paid for by our agency SBC. It consisted of a bedroom, kitchen and a bathroom and cost us 3250 riyals which is about £550 a month.  Eating out may be relatively cheap compared with UK prices but accommodation is decidedly not.  It was furnished - just and while we were grateful to find something at such short notice (we were given 2 days including a working day) to find another place; after a week it was horrid to come home to.  Nasty decor, poorly maintained and the essential air-conditioning sounded like a jumbo jet.  Even when you turned it off, you could still hear the other resident's aircon going off.  I could make a long list, but luckily I'm not going to, but fortunately we had only committed and paid up front for a month.

Another problem with this hotel was that although it was just across the road to where Martin works it necessitated crossing a dual carriageway.  Nose to bumper 4 lanes in 2 directions with a wall serving as a crash barrier to climb over in the middle.  Not a nice experience.
There is another island in the middle and it is very early so no traffic

Martin found another hotel across the road last Wednesday but when we both went to look again on the Friday both of the apartments that he had viewed had been let.  They showed us a one bedroom apartment with lounge, kitchen and bathroom which was lovely and cheaper than the ones he had looked at before so we took it there and then and moved out even though we had 9 days left on the other hotel.  This accommodation costs 4300 a month around £720.  It is a far cry from the luxury compounds with pools but this would cost around 100000 a month (£1700) a month.  We were a  bit misled (under-exaggeration) before we came here about a number of things.

Large bedroom

Bathroom with a BATH

Hallway with vegetable rack noe a shoe rack

Lounge with excessively patterned settees

Flat TV was the big seller for Martin

Kitchen large enough to eat in plus a working microwave

Nice big fridge
It was so nice to be able to sit on a sofa and it kind of just feels normal.

Eating out in Riyadh

I know what you are thinking - doesn't she do anything else other than eat and shop?  Not prepared to answer that.

Lots of lovely Indian food here. We went to a restaurant that the locals frequent and of course because when men are in the company of women they are no longer crazed animals but respected individuals deserving of comfortable chairs.

We were recommended to go to Makani restaurant for Indian food by a Saudi and so we did.  There were loads of families there and I kid you not we waited nearly 3 hours for a table.  The single men section next door was empty but the family side was heaving.  It was somewhat reminiscent of the old fashioned doctor's surgeries before receptionists ruled your life and the patients managed to work out who was next in the queue.  We sat in 2 rows facing each other.   I say we, Martin and David had to stand and all the ladies accompanied by the children sat down.  The kids were amazingly well behaved to be able to wait that long without being violently whispered to or shouted at.  They ran up and down of course, babies were passed to each other to be entertained and children wedged themselves between two women and then got up 15 seconds later to repeat this process between another two women.  They were all veiled up but I have become an expert in identification and believe I can identify family members by the eyes and the uppermost part of the bridge of the nose.  Glasses are a big hindrance of course.  But I am confident as ever in my observational abilities and managed to work out that the 3 women opposite were definitely related.

I played finger spiders with beautiful pre-toddlers chasing their feet and hands with my tarantula fingers to ease the boredom of waiting for sooooooooooooo long but they preferred their mother's mobile phones.  Sigh - kids of today.  The Dads were supportive as they took the restless ones away before they got too bad and brought them back again to take the next one out.

Martin and David managed to hold out and not nip off to the men's section for some peace at least.  By UK standards, eating out is relatively cheap.  This cost us £30 including drinks for the 3 of us.
Delicious naan bread

Pilau Rice

Chicken samosas

Chicken tenders
Chicken lollipops

Variety of curries 

Yum yum

Lamb curry on the bone

Really really good

Friday, 11 October 2013

McDonalds and Family Eating

I have said already about how eating areas are divided into 'Family Sections' and 'Single Men' sections. Interestingly Martin is relegated to single man status when not with me but is allowed to sit in the generally much nicer family section when he is with me.  Having said that you also have to put up with a lot of noisy kids too ......

Here we are at one McDonalds where we are free from prying eyes when we draw the curtains.  It felt somewhat like being on a night train - although not the trains you can find in Georgia hehe.  The guy taking our photo is Martin's colleague who has to pretend to be our son if he is going to be allowed to sit with us. 

The big bonus for women when they are curtained off is that they can remove their abaya and more importantly the niqab.  I have been witness to women in open family areas trying to eat burger and chips with their veils on and it is not a pretty sight.

Kingdom Tower and Skybridge

There really isn't much to do here in the way that we would be used to in England.  I hope that as this blog unfolds you will see that I slowly change my mind as to this view and that it is just that I haven't yet discovered the delights of Riyadh life.  Although a check on Tripadvisor shows only 13 places of interest in Riyadh.  We will have to see.

We were told that the Sky Bridge is a sight not to be missed especially if you can get to it as the sun is setting so that that you can see the city in daylight, twilight and night in the same visit.  It is somewhat similar to the London Eye except that it is nothing like it at the same time.  You do get amazing views across the city however.

It was our first visit to the Kingdom Tower which has a mall at the base and then offices and business on the floors above.
Kingdom Tower AKA The bottle opener

The Sky bridge is the walkway that connects the 2 towers
The mall is very upmarket and not for the likes of immigrant teachers like ourselves.  Top designer shops and a whole floor dedicated to women.  I had a quick look around and found women huddled together drinking coffee and eating bowls of interesting icecream; not forgetting big fat cream cakes. See guys, this is what we get up to if there are no men and alcohol to keep us occupied. There were lots of boutique shops selling very small ranges of chocolates and stationary, you know all the lady things we like to buy.  No Ann Summers I noticed.  I did find a nail bar though and I took a card in case one day I want to pay £50 for a manicure and pedicure.

Each mall has its own character as I have said before and this one had a great food court.  Had my first Taco Bell which was lovely.  There were several outlets that you don't find elsewhere that looked interesting, such as Iranian food, and some very good looking burger joints.  Several trips are required here I think,  Oh and something like a Krispy creme Donut place.  Yum yum.

There are 100 floors to the Skybridge and the total lift ride is about 90 seconds.  The lift is decorated to look like the night sky with lights shining through boards with holes in.  I am very easily pleased in the thrill factor line as you can see.  The lift is also filled with an air of anticipation as everyone is excited about going up so high to see the city landscape.

Riyadh at night

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Monday, 7 October 2013

Desert Nights

David is a colleague of Martin who also works at the Language Centre.  One of his students is keen to befriend him and had taken him out a couple of times.  There was a knock on the door on Friday and David asked if we wanted to go to the desert with Yousef and him to eat and sit by the fire.  We jumped at the chance to go and met up at 9.30.

The full moon
The desert at night is the equivalent of us nipping out for a day in the country for Saudis.  Except of course they go out at night when it is cool and they can get time in the open air and away from the city with its noise and dusty air. 

Saudis are very generous and hospitable and Yousef set out to make it as good an experience as possible for us.  He had arranged a take-away from a restaurant of Kabbsah which is chicken and rice dish that is traditional to Saudi.  In fact there were three different flavours of chicken in the dish.  We picked it up and then drove into the desert.  Riyadh is built in the middle of a desert so we didn’t have to go too far, about 20km to be outside of the city.

If you are thinking of “Ice Cold in Alex” (I know that’s Egypt not Saudi) when you think of a desert this desert isn’t quite like that.  It is more gravel and shrubby. It was a full moon and so I didn’t get to see it properly but it wasn’t sandy at all.

This is the desert
Yousef set out a padded quilt on the ground with a couple of blankets and a cushion and a low chair for me.   He poured water on our hands to wash them and gave us water to drink. He made a small fire and set out the large communal dish of food on the blanket from which we all ate. 

The coffee is amazing.  It is mixed with spices such as cardamon and cloves and is 'blond' the colour of tea.  We haven't had any alcohol for a month and not much in the way of caffeine either.  Wow! It went straight to my head!  Maybe it was the moon but I was babbling away quite intoxicated.
After 3 cups of coffee

The Malls

The entertainment in Riyadh centres around the Malls.  And by entertainment – I mean shopping and eating. They are huge beasts and seem to have their own character.  I had got used to the Granada Mall where we were first living and this featured a Carrefour supermarket and amongst other top names a Debenhams.  All malls have an extensive range of take-out places in the food court and some exciting entertainment for children.

We have now ventured to the Hayat Mall, the Kingdom Tower and the Riyadh Gallery so far.  They are much the same as I said but have their own character.  I am sure that there are at least another 10, maybe more to go.

The Riyadh Gallery has a lake and fountains on the ground floor and a Hyper Panda supermarket.  Hayat Mall has an ice skating rink (the size they set up in winter in Southend shopping centre) and a Danube supermarket.  Danube is more geared to the American shopper whereas Carrefour is more European I think.  The Kingdom Tower features top designer shops and I was able to have my first Taco Bell there.  But it deserves it own blog entry.

There is no transport infrastructure in Riyadh.  No buses, trains, metro, nothing.  You get taxis everywhere or you have a driver.  The distinction is that taxis drive along roads and get hailed.  Drivers meet you at rearranged times.  I don’t think they are any cheaper but I guess it saves women on their own having to hail down unknown men.

A tankful of petrol costs £2.50 here – water is more expensive.  So everyone drives.  Actually it is a loose term for driving as I don’t think they even have to pass tests.  There are near misses on every trip.  They don’t have roundabouts either or any means of crossing the dual carriageways that dissect the city.  Instead, they little breaks in the barriers and you have to do a U-turn.  Nuts.

No-one knows where they are going either.  Yesterday after a 15 minute drive the taxi driver took us back to the mall he picked us up from.  They charge what they like and if you let them will put it on a meter which is totally rigged.  You have to haggle.  Trouble is we don’t really know how far away anywhere is so it is difficult how far o haggle!

What Martin did next

We get a text on Wednesday night at 10 o’clock.  “Martin will be working at the SBC language centre.  You have been given 3 months housing allowance and will now have to leave the hotel by Friday” WHAT?!!

Great news that Martin had been placed in Riyadh but because of the split shift we weren't happy about that.  In England, our expectation was that we would both be working in Riyadh universities and not subject to the capricious nature of the learn-English market. In fact, we had said that if he was offered a split shift we would both up sticks and go to Al Kharj which is an hour and a half outside Riyadh. 

Since we made that decision I found out that women have to wear a veil over their face in public and I just couldn't imagine doing that at all!  And Martin said I would hate it there.

So we decided to give it a go with the split shift.

We were both working on the Thursday, so how were we meant to find a place to live the next day?  We had only just found out where Martin was going to be working so couldn't do anything about it before then.

We had a look at a lot of places but we hadn't realised that you needed to pay 6 months rent up front plus a security deposit and we didn't have that.  Although furnished apartments are relatively cheap, you still need a lump sum to buy furniture.  So we are in another hotel 15 minutes walk from where Martin works.  This means that he can come home in between shifts and have a rest without having to take a taxi.  It is costing me 100 sar for a return trip to the University.  Ouch!

It is cheap (3250 a month) but can be compared to a traditional B&B in the 1970s in terms of style.  It has a large bedroom, kitchen and a bathroom.  We get free internet and of course the cleaning is done for us.  We can pay monthly which is why we are here.  In a couple of months we will have enough month to rent elsewhere – maybe a compound – but we may end up deciding to stay where we are because the point of being in Saudi is to save some money and it will be easier to do that if we spend less.

The other advantage is that it is right in the middle of the malls and so quite a lot to do. 

Realised I hadn't taken any pictures of the bedroom, the main room.  I wonder why?

Grotty washing machine and sinks

Loo and shower room

Long corridor leading to the bedroom

Princess Noura University

The university where I am working is an all-women university.  You won’t see a man on the complex but lurking on the levels underground, a colony of men run around furiously mending machines and doing other manly things with electricity, plumbing and security.  It is huge, I mean really huge.  I think you can even see it from outer-space - just kidding.  I can’t help but to be thrilled to be working here.  No tatty run-down buildings for me.  New and sparkling, state of the art, flag-ship university for women. 

There is an outer ring to the university which consists of a complex system of roads that will take you to the specific area you wished to visit.  This is where the fountains and the greenery are as well as the security guards who direct the heavy traffic.  It is the size of a large town.

One of the university buildings

It has its own transport system, a series of mono-rails, linking the different campuses and this is the landmark you aim for.  “Station A5”.  “Station side or pavilion side?”  There are two buildings to each station connected to each other by a bridge so that you can safely cross the busy road in between, 3 lanes of solid traffic going in each direction.  Canny drivers arrange drop-offs and pick-ups from the less busy pavilion side.

Finding our way to the campus
The monorail rail runs through the university

Traffic worsens as we get nearer the stations
The traffic is terrible – everyone is being picked up and dropped off at the same time.

Men are forbidden to enter
Entrance to the actual campus is through the mono rail stations and there is a sign on the door to remind unsuspecting males that this is a women-only building. 

Abayas are in fact banned inside the campus and so as you walk through these doors you are confronted with a couple of hundred young women removing their abayas and niqabs and putting them into their bags.  Some are only now applying their makeup but for many their makeup (which would put an air-hostess to shame) has already been applied.  They are busy chatting and talking on their phones and leisurely walking to through to their lessons.  Leisurely is the operative word here – you never see anyone break into a trot to get to a lesson on time.

I am more used to the layout of the buildings now.  At first I would wander down the corridors unable to find anywhere for literally hours now I just wander for minutes.  The trouble is that all the corridors look the same and all buildings look the same and it really is difficult to know which building and sometimes which floor you are on and even if you can do that it is easy to mistake the direction you are going in and you have to re-trace your route again.  I work across 3 buildings, the management were in the first building, my office and where you sign in and out in the second building and then the third building is where I teach.  My day was spent trailing from one building to the other.  I walked miles each day.  Not forgetting the stations of course which are situated between buildings all important to know where and at what time you are being picked up for your ride home.

My office only 1 door key and no cupboard keys for the 2 of us.
I had a little notebook where I wrote down routes and landmarks.  I still got lost because I would write down how to get to a place from one place but if I was coming from a different direction then my notes were not a lot of help.  So I added extra detail.  Then they changed my office, where we could sign in and out and I changed to teach level 2 which meant I had a different set of managers and a new class room.  Ho hum.

Walkway to the back row of buildings.

The 2nd floor
Walkway to the next building running alongside the mono-rail
The outside walk way
The buildings are very modern but are still being finished.  Naturally the courtyards and gardens are last to be completed so it is a bit barren.  But I will hopefully be here long enough to see the improvements.