Thursday, September 25, 2008

Empty Streets

A couple of times I have looked out of the windows in our hotel suite. Obviously the windows are not there for views - far from being French windows, the sill is chin-height for me, and they are heavily curtained. When I touched the glass it was really hot, and it took a couple of minutes for my pupils to recover from my quick peek outside.

Well, there really isn't much of a view out there!

We are having trouble getting used to the idea that we can't walk anywhere. And not (just) because it is very hot out there. We have been told very definitely that it is "unseemly". That applies to any time of year, but especially now because it is the fasting month of Ramadan.

(This also means we can't carry food or drink with us, nor purchase and consume any when we get there.)

So here we are doing the unthinkable. That is Amani, the only other teacher who has so far arrived and who lives in the hotel suite next to ours. As her husband and kids are still in the UK, and women really can't 'go it alone' here, Peter has to look after the two of us.

The bright green building behind me is right next to our hotel. We are standing by a service road - on the other side of the fence is the 8-lane northern ring-road with vehicles ripping past at much more than 110 kph.

We were trying to walk to the Carrefour shopping centre, only about a 9 minute walk away (in theory). There were a couple of high speed roads for us to nip across to get into the air-conditioned coolth of the shopping centre. Most of the shops (other than Carrefour itself) were of course closed because of Ramadan. They would mostly open around 8 or 9 pm until 3 in the morning.

DAU University

This is the main front gate of the University where we work. There is a lot of green tinted glass, it's all very new and very shiny, and makes an interesting picture when you see it reflecting the surrounding landscape!

Here are Amani and myself outside again - can you imagine how hot that is! We had to go into the women's side of the building, and we walked there from here without anyone noticing. Later in the afternoon when it was time to return home they wouldn't allow us to walk the 10 or 20 metres from the Women's gate to the main gate where the college van was picking us up, someone gave us a ride in a car for those few metres.

The Kingdom Tower

The streets around the hotel are an unsightly mess with road-works, building sites, and rubble, and we figured there must be a more up-market side to Riyadh. So, come the evening, we grabbed a taxi and instructed the driver to take us to the famous Kingdom Tower in the centre of the city.

It was night, and sparkling with lights - making photographs impossible, especially as the taking of photos is generally frowned upon anyway.

The 3 lowest floors of this remarkable structure are a shopping centre. I'm not sure what the rest is (although I'm sure there is a hotel there, among other things). And it was basically your slightly-better -than-average shopping mall, very flash ... but I really wished that I could've taken some photos of the men and women strolling around. The men were almost all in their 'thobe' s (long white robes) with their red and white,or plain white, tea-towel-like cloths ('ghutra') on their heads. And the women were all in black. Although I have heard heard that coloured abayas have started to become popular, I have yet to see any. About half of the women had chosen to have their heads uncovered - as is permitted in these malls - but the rest were totally covered with only their bright eyes showing through the slit in their veils. I used to think the women covered because they were forced to do so; but I have observed from the women I have talked to so far that it is very much of their own choosing. Or so they say.

There were a number of restaurants in the mall. But each one had two separate sections. The main eating area (unmarked) was for men and boys only. Nearby, off to the side, and screened off, was the 'family section'. Even the food serveries, which were no more than an open counter, had a screen halfway along where 'families' could place their orders.

On the third floor is a brand new concept - a Women Only floor! There is a guard on the lift to make sure no men enter. We didn't go up, but we have heard that the attendants are all women (elsewhere all shop assistants are men, even in women's clothing stores) and there are even changing rooms in the clothes shops up there ...


We wandered around the shops, made a few small purchases in 'Marks and Sparks', and then felt drawn to Starbucks for a cuppa before finding a taxi to take us home. Starbucks looked familiar and inviting with it's big comfy chairs and range of coffees and other treats. I noticed a number of white-thobed men relaxing there ... uh oh. The man behind the counter pointed next door to the 'family section' behind some screened glass doors. In here there was the usual counter service but the floor was cracked vinyl which grabs at your shoes when you are trying to carry a try of drinks to the grubby little curtained-off booths, each of which contained a wobbly table and some old wooden chairs. It was not quite the plush homely feeling we are used to in Starbucks!

As it was after 11 pm, things were just hotting up in the shopping centre - it was beginning to be almost crowded. We went outside and thought about walking down the street to do a bit of window shopping. But it was out of the question as the traffic was horrific and there was no one else walking around. I figure this is how these big malls are designed, so people just go to the one mall to shop around, and then get back into the car and drive home. There are no outside community areas, parks or whatever, just malls.

The taxi driver wanted to charge us twice what it cost to come into the centre, so we walked away until he brought the cost down a bit. But when we drove back to the hotel he took us to the wrong ring-road exit and had to go miles around to get back.

These cement barricades are everywhere, blocking off roads and redirecting traffic. If you come down our road on the other side you then come to a T-junction and you have to turn right for about half a kilmetre, do a U-turn and go back the other way for another couple of kilometres, do another U-turn and come back to the T-junction, and then you can turn right into our street and go down the one-way service road next to our hotel. Fortunately petrol is very, very cheap!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It all looks a little bleak and no fun from here. Money or no money I think I would prefer to enjoy my surroundings whilst I was earning.Good luck and mind the enforcers !