Saturday, September 6, 2008

What will it be like?

We are not "there" yet - we'll moving next Saturday week, as far as we can tell. So I am trying to find out as much as I can before we go. Photos - especially of people - are really scarce, in fact photo taking where people are included (especially women) is generally forbidden.

Here are some bits from an article I found in The Guardian - you can read the whole article here. Although it was written in 2002, I believe things in Riyadh change very slowly:

The deeply traditional kingdom has tentatively opened to tourists, but in a very controlled and restricted way. So, no independent travellers; no tourist visas for women under 40, unless accompanied by their husband, father or brother; a list of subjects that must not be photographed, including all women; no alcohol, of course, and a compulsory dress code. While male visitors must remember only not to pack their shorts, women can't get away with just loose and modest clothing. So on our first morning in Riyadh we were whisked to the nearest shopping mall to be kitted out in black abayas.

Sajjad, our Pakistani guide, held up larger and larger tent-like garments, explaining that men must not be able to discern the outline of our bodies: for their protection and ours, it is the law. But as foreigners we need only wear a headscarf, not the burqa, the full head covering and veil with only a slit for the eyes that is compulsory for Saudi women outside their homes. For 100 riyals (£20) I bought a wide, all-enveloping wrap-over with poppers at the neck and tasselled cord ties on one side. I also bought a short burqa for £4, which turned out quite useful - dispensing with the need for sun block, less sweaty round the neck than a scarf, and staying firmly in place.

We left the air-conditioned shopping mall and drove to the outskirts of Riyadh, to Direyah, the remains of the mud-brick capital of the first Saudi state founded in 1466. But dizzy with the scorching sun beating down on my black-nylon-covered head and constantly stepping on the hem of my abaya trying to keep up on the rough paths, I am afraid the sophisticated level of architecture and Sajjad's talk about its history passed me by.

The reason we were out in the midday sun on our first day in Saudi Arabia was that the nice cool National Museum where we were going to have our orientation is 'men and school parties only' on Monday mornings, and we had to wait until late afternoon for 'family' time to begin. And so it was that our odd 'family' (it was by being classified as a family that our motley group of seven tourists - two couples, a single man and two single women - were allowed to travel and eat together) embarked on a sightseeing tour where we turned out to be the curiosities in many places we visited.

Saudi Arabian society is so strictly segregated that men and women are forbidden to work together, shake hands, converse or even catch one another's eyes. Women cannot eat in public, travel on buses or drive. The all-powerful matawwa - religious police, recognisable by their fearsome long beards and above-the-ankle hemlines - enforce the law.

That first night in Riyadh I had another taste of the challenges to come. Walking blithely through the door of a recommended restaurant I and my two companions were greeted by a waiter rushing forward to shoo us round to the 'family' entrance down a side alley. In a gloomy windowless room we were shown to a screened-off table where we ate our meal in purdah. Another thing everyone needs to remember when looking for something to eat in Saudi Arabia is that restaurants (and shops) shut for a good half-hour for prayer time around midday, sunset, and again when darkness has completely fallen.
(article by Caroline Hendrie, 2002)

So what does the place look like?
It is hard to find out much, as I said, because pictures are not very plentiful. Here are some pictures I got from the site Trip Advisor - although most of the pictures on that site are of the inside of people's hotel rooms.

This is the Kingdom Tower - iconic Riyadh skyscraper.

There is still a lot of construction work going on near where we will be living, so I guess it will be a bit like this.

The Dar Al Uloom University is brand new and going to open in October. However there is already a boys' high school and a girls' high school there. As we understand it, our apartment block is freshly built and about to be furnished.

No comments: