Monday, October 20, 2008

Ticked off

We have heard of the "Mutawa'a" - the religious police who (among other things) make sure the women are all modest and safe.

And today I met my first one. Wish I could've taken a picture!

We were sitting on a bench in a shopping mall, waiting for our bus ride back to the apartment, and I noticed first of all a man in khaki uniform - police, I presume. Then I noticed the man next to him wearing unusual dress - over his thobe he had a black cape trimmed with gold.

He came over to us (W and I) and asked us to cover our heads. My colleague apologised, saying she did not have her scarf with her and would remember next time. I obediently reached into my bag for my scarf, but by the time I got it out he was gone, around the corner having a word to M - another one of our teachers.

Lorry what sucks dirty water out of holes?

At first we thought it was a sucky lorry, but of course it wasn't.

This is the lorry that puts the clean water into the hole. This is how they fill our water tanks on the roof.

We came downstairs to get on the bus to go to work this morning and caught them at it!

And here is Sally, one of our teachers (wearing her abaya) getting onto our college bus.

(You'll notice it has no windows. There is no public transport here - no buses, no trains - because men and women cannot travel together unless related. The University doesn't want everyone to see us travelling together.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Pool Party

We were officially invited to attend a formal dinner party with the Sheikh (DAU owner) and the Minister for Education and various other VIPs.

This being the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, we were picked up at 8.30 pm for the 9:00 pm meal, which actually started around 10:00 pm.

Little did we realise it would be a pool party by the college swimming pool (on the men's side).

Not that anyone actually did any swimming.

As always with a formal event, the first question is: what should I wear? The women asked if we would be required to wear our abayas, and the response was: "Yes, you are allowed to wear abayas." We understood that to mean that yes, we had to! After all, we would be entering the Men's Side of the University. You can't see it, but I put on my nicest skirt, just in case we got an opportunity to uncover. I know one of the other women went in her pyjamas by way of protest ...

But you can't tell which one. And the men all scrubbed up pretty well with their suits and ties.

Young 'Tiger' (the future golfer, according to his doting dad) came along too, firmly strapped into his brand new pusher.

As you can see, he's a delightful little chappy, everyone's darling.

Of course, the other guests were wearing their traditional thobes and ghutra - they dress this way all the time, not just on special occasions.

From Howdi Saudi
The food, of course, was absolutely magnificent, and we all went home to bed with uncomfortably full bellies after attempting to have at least a little taste of everything!

We didn't eat any of it, but we were very impressed with the carved watermelon:

There were a couple of carved pumpkins on display too.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Home Sweet Home

We finally moved out of the Boudl Hotel and into our new apartment. The whole block is taken up by the foreign teachers at Dar Al Uloom University.

Come visit with us in our new apartment!

From Howdi Saudi
Like so much of Riyadh, the whole area is a building site.

This is the building we live in - there is our college bus parked outside. Our apartment is on the second floor - you can see our three windows on the right hand side of the building near the back.

This is the view if you stand at the front door and look left.

And this is what you see if you look to the right.

This part of Riyadh is actually designated as a "bachelor quarter", so no family homes and not a place where us ladies can walk outside at all.

And obviously, lots of construction going on. Come on in, lets go upstairs ...

We will have to use the stairs because the tiny little lift "isn't quite ready" yet.

The apartments are lovely and spacious!
Here is our sitting room,

the dining room,

and the kitchen

This does for a laundry.

That is a washing machine tucked into the second bathroom, which comes with a squat toilet and shower.
And this bedroom is our office

and of course we have a great big bedroom, but I'm not showing you that.

Up on the Roof

There is no garden, or yard, of course, but we have a lovely big open area on the flat roof - we are looking forward to having barbecues and get-togethers as soon the weather gets cooler.

And there are the water tanks which get filled with water delivered by truck. (We haven't seen it happen yet.)

So we went up on the roof, and climbed up higher (up by the tanks) to take a look around.

That tall thing in the distance is the mosque minaret - that's what we wake up to at 4:30 am.

And on the extreme right you can just see the two minarets of the university mosque.

Oh, look down there! Our nearest neighbours have a garden ... well, grass.

If we look out south-ish,

we can just see the Kingdom Tower in the middle of the city (right in the middle, on the horizon).

Although it can sometimes be a little dusty and bleak, it has a certain charm.

From Howdi Saudi

One day you're gonna get caught ...

D'you remember that old advert for Rio (?) undies?

Well, today I went to work undressed, by mistake ... I was distracted (and a wee bit tired) and I just plain forgot.

Distracted? Half way through my morning shower the water went off, while I was soapy. But at least I had a chance to get soapy, Peter totally missed out. We have since been told that we have a water tank on the roof (of our new apartments) and it has to be filled by a tanker. (Easy to take Mains water for granted!) Now we are hoping that they do it before we get home from work today. We had been vaguely wondering where our water comes from in this incredibly parched place ...

Well, after all that kerfuffle and hassle, we got ready and got on the work bus. I was sitting there chatting, everyone was discussing water and the like, and suddenly I looked down and realised aaaah! I forgot to put on my abaya! Here I am in every day clothes! I felt so naked!

It doesn't really matter, we don't wear them at work. But I had to scurry quickly off the bus and through the women's gate into the college!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Shopping Mall Peek

Taking photos in places like this is generally not allowed. But with my little phone camera, and sitting on a bench with my trolley in front of me, I snapped a couple of pics.

I didn't manage to catch any big groups of people - because the mall was actually quite crowded by local standards.

Can you imagine how hard it is for a man to find his wife if he becomes separated from her?

As least the western woman mostly go about with their heads uncovered, and many have colourful trims on their gowns. But the traditional ones are still totally in black with only the eyes peering through a slit - sometimes with glasses perched on the outside of the clothing (always reminds me of 'Cousin It').

Be careful what you wish for

In the Middle East, you don't expect to find toilet tissues provided - it is expected that you will use the squirty water thing like everyone else.

But, as a Pakistani (Muslim) teacher said to me - after that you need something to dry yourself! On behalf of my staff, I whinged and pleaded to the powers that be ... and finally they gave in.

When I walked in and saw this I had to laugh out loud.

Soft like toilet tissue, but big like kitchen towel. (Or is it just a very tiny toilet?)

Lovely ladies

These two delightful women hang around our offices all day, cleaning what has not yet had a chance to get dirty. They are very proud of the new uniforms the college has supplied. Here they are in my office affixing my new pin-up board to the wall - it is such a kerfuffle if you want to call a man into the women's side to do a job like this. They had quite a struggle with it at first, it seemed to be warped and wouldn't sit flat against the wall. And then we remembered:

that side of the office is not flat or straight! So they had to select a flat wall to stick the board to.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Do the Penguin March

Girls' Day Out

So now there are four female teachers who have arrived in Riyadh already, and only one man (Peter). In attempting to help us all settle in and feel welcome, a delightful local lady on staff at Dar Al Uloom offered to take us ladies out for a bit of a tour and a meal at a nice restaurant.

There are very few places in KSA where men and women can go to together. The zoo, for instance, has days for men and children, and days for women and children, but no days when you can go as a family.

But although Ramadan is finally over for this year, this is now the third day of the Eid holiday, and so

everything - including the National Museum here - was basically closed. These little boys were curious about what we are doing inside the foyer.

We had come in through the self-opening doors at the other side, the door on their side didn't seem to be operating. But they were kinda cute. And to them we just looked like a group of penguins wandering around.

In the end the four of us went to a Lebanese Restaurant and had a wonderful meal.


Long Cold Showers

The complexities of cross-cultural living can sometimes leave the brain just a little befuddled and even the simplest of tasks can appear difficult.

The taps on the shower in our hotel room have no indication as to which side is 'hot' and which is 'cold'. In our safety conscious homeland this would be unthinkable - after all, what if someone got confused and scalded themselves ... and then sued?

We turned the tap to the left, and the water came out freezing cold. We turned it to the right, and it started to get warm, and after a few minutes it became lukewarm, bearable for a shower. We found that our newly-arrived colleagues next door were having the same problem, and we considered complaining to the management.

Although the weather is very warm, stepping from a barely warm shower into the air-conditioning can have quite a chilling effect. So yesterday when the weather was a tad cooler, I had a long, cool shower after waiting in vain for it to reach lukewarm. Peter couldn't face it, and so he brought a bowlful of scalding hot water from the tap in the kitchen to pour over himself. As this water was a bit too hot, he turned the shower to the left ('cold') to top it up with cold water. After a few seconds he found scalding hot water coming out of the 'cold' tap ...


(The water from the cold tap was heated by the sun on the pipes. The hot water came through cold pipes from the hot water system.)