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.

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