Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Piano Concerts and Enthusiastic Droners; or, Must You Sing Along?

Yesterday evening we went to a concert.

It was Wednesday, which marks the beginning of our weekend. I’m still getting used to a Thursday and Friday weekend – and to a completely different calendar. Dates in Saudi are calculated from the year Mohammed emigrated to Medina, known as the Hijrah. Each numbered year is given either an H for Hijrah or an AH for the Latin anno Hegirae (in the year of the Hijrah).

Forget 2011. Yours truly is in 1432 AH, Islamically speaking.

Musical events are a rarity in Riyadh. Just like art, there is an edict, or fatwah, against music. The nearest thing is the call to prayer. Non-religious music is banned because it may stir emotions, which might then encourage non-Islamic behaviours.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Unpronounceable Names, Fountain 'Toilets', and People-less Artwork: A Visit to the Museum

Last Friday we visited the National Museum.

As with most trips in Riyadh, this was a carefully planned operation.

First we had to check when the museum was open for families (as opposed to just single men).  Then we had to work out where we were going. It’s impossible to rely on either maps or GPS. And there are the street names. Not only do street names have heaps of different spellings, they’re also exceedingly long and complicated. People tend to use simpler, informal names, or explain where places are by reference to landmarks.

Try remembering ‘Prince Saed Ibn Abdullah Al-Rahman Road’ when you want to give a taxi directions.  Or perhaps Prince Mohammed ibn Abdullah Aziz Street? No wonder it’s universally known as Tahlia Street.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Groceries, Rollercoasters and a Cheesecake Mission

Yup, that's a McArabia.

Grocery shopping in Riyadh is completely different from shopping at home. I used to walk down the road to my nearby Countdown, find what I wanted and head back.

For a start, no one walks here.

This has probably got something to do with the very long time it takes to get anywhere. It’s also got a lot to do with the driving. Riyadh drivers go whatever speed they like, wherever they like…including footpaths and median strips. You’d have to have a secret death wish to want to walk.

Today we piled into our four-wheel drive and headed off to Panorama Mall.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Five Go to Deira

Arriving at Diera, walking past Chop Chop Square and towards the souk.

I have always liked the idea of a day’s outing.

Today, along with four other women from our compound, I headed to Deira in the older part of Riyadh. Like Enid Blyton's Five who visited Dorset, none of us had much idea about the area we were visiting - which I suppose is what an adventure is all about...

We knew that somewhere in the area was a gold souk. We also knew that there would be pashminas for sale. There would also be a lot of other stuff that none of us would ever want to darken the doors of our homes with.

We went prepared. As well as the mandatory head-to-toe black, we also wore headscarves. The muttawa (religious police) had headquarters nearby and we were, after all, five western women on our own. In Riyadh it pays to be careful.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Celebrations here, sorrow there

A Mobily iPhone

Late one night a few weeks ago, a rather perplexing text came through on my phone.

On the occasion of the Custodian of the two Mosques’ return to the Kingdom, we would like to share our happiness on Mobily Network with FREE SMS Wednesday and FREE MMS Thursday.”

Turns out ‘The Custodian of the Two Mosques’ is the King, who's just returned after being out of the country for the last few months. This has been a signal for widespread happiness and celebration: free texts and a public holiday tomorrow, making a three day weekend.

A few nights later, at around the same time, I received another text. This one was from my daughter in Wellington. It said simply that Christchurch had been hit by another earthquake and that things looked really bad.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Wake Up Call

Passenger view. Ladies don't drive - though the mad roads would put me off it anyway.
I woke up this morning to the cries from a mosque just outside the walls of our compound calling the faithful to prayer. My compound – surrounded by thick walls and barbed wire – is the network of houses and flats where I live.

I guess I will get accustomed to the fact that every day here is regulated by calls to prayer and that the first is exceedingly early - 5 am. There are mosques everywhere. It's a little like our Kiwi corner dairies - though the comparison only stretches so far...

When they all start up, the volume level is quite something. It is probably only infidels like me who pull the covers over their heads and try to sleep on.

Yesterday I was invited out for lunch in the compound restaurant.