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.
The twelve of us were a wide cross-section of nationalities and backgrounds. As the new face on the compound, I was introduced to those around the table, and then for the rest of the lunch tried valiantly to remember, as well as pronounce each person’s name correctly. At one point, the conversation turned to wine and then moved on to how to make your own. This, despite the fact that alcohol is illegal in Saudi.

I was intrigued at the concept of a build-your-own-in-home-distillery but can’t see myself embarking down that road. Not just yet anyway…!

Since women can't easily go anywhere on their own, my social life is completely compound-based. Any outings are always in groups and usually involve being driven to a mall in the compound bus, or with a group of friends, one of whom has a car and a driver at her disposal.

Fortunately, the compound is a little oasis of normality. I don’t have to wear my abaya and I have the convenience of shops, restaurants, gym and pools at my disposal. However, even within this relatively Westernised setting there are some interesting observations to be made.

This morning doing a brisk walk around the compound, I found myself one minute admiring hollyhocks in a front garden, and then minutes later passing the armed guard who sits with his camouflaged machine gun trained on the front gate.

It is times like this that make me realize how very far away from home I have come.

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