Saturday, June 26, 2004

Its been a month ...

It has been a month since I have moved to Saudi Arabia. Many have asked how the environment and situation is like over here. I'd still have to say that its too early for me to form a real opinion about this city and this country. As it is, I am learning more and more about the local cultures, customs, mannerisms and believes. It has been rather interesting so far I must say, and I am constantly having to make a distinction between religion and custom.

For instance the wearing of abayas for women. Yes women are required to wear the black overcoat in this country. The price range for these abayas are from SAR60 (less than £10) to SAR600 (just a little under £100) and upwards. Although they are mostly black, the abayas are sometimes adorned with some decorations (beading, embroidery, tassels, lace, crystals) while there are others which are very loose and shapeless. I was appalled by the choice of colour (black) at first but I do see why this colour has its advantages in this terrain. Firstly, it is very dusty here and the abaya does get dirty quite quickly. So it does make sense to wear an abaya as it does protects one’s clothes from the dust outside. Secondly, black is after all a slimming colour, so women don’t look so big and flabby here, just a blop of black abaya walking ;)

And the covering of the face. I’d have to say that I am considering covering my face as well. Firstly is the harsh rays of the sun. Barely 2 minutes, as I walked from the car to the Mall and I can feel my cheeks burning, despite me wearing an SPF 30 sunscreen lotion. Secondly, the men here do have a knack of staring! I don’t know why but their stares are so intrusive. Perhaps I am just unaccustomed to it, or perhaps because I have my face uncovered thus increasing their curiosity. In fact I do find that I am beginning to have this bad habit of staring at women’s faces whenever I see one that is uncovered. Its like finding a flower in the dessert and thus you just have to feast your eyes on its beauty while you can.

Women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia and most of the local women here don’t walk alone. Partly because they have a large extended family and partly well its not like she can drive herself out shopping anyways.

Yes this is a new way of living for me. I have been very much of an independent person. I am very comfortable in my own company. I can eat alone, watch a movie at the cinema alone and backpack alone. This dependence on company and the loss of one’s mobility is something very new for me. Having said that however, I don’t really see myself going out in the day in the hot sun alone! Shops are closed for the siesta during midday anyways and reopen at about 4:30 pm. Closed during the respective prayer times. Reopen about 30 mins after prayers and close as late at 10:30 or even midnight during the festive seasons and weekends.

The weather is very hot and very dry. The outside temperature was 47oC yesterday, and one can easily be dehydrated without one realising it. (Especially a fragile woman like me ;)) So having company would help in this situation.

Food here is simply fabulous! Fact that everything is Halal also makes it easier. I find myself eating lots of junk food which I could not have tried before. Hardees, Macdonalds, Burger king, Fudruckers, KFC, Taza etc etc. You just name it and chances are they have it here! And best (or worst) of all they have drive throughs! Which means I walk less and get to eat more. Definitely a disaster for weight gain! And the middle eastern rice, with its delicate flavours and the kebabs and the kabsah! I have gained about 3 kg since I arrived! Will need to hit the gym real soon.

So do I like Riyadh? Aside from the terrorist threats and the current inherent fear that the expatriates are feeling, I feel that I can learn to like this place. I am hoping to be able to learn some Arabic, have a deeper understanding of Islam and be able to visit Makkah and Madinah and perhaps be able to learn and appreciate more of the history of Islam and its people. Whether or not I would be able to achieve all this, only time will tell. Insyallah.

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