24 July 2016

First post from Riyadh

So, we've been in Riyadh for two days.  This will be a very long post because I have plenty of time to write it this afternoon.

Yes, it's hot.  But it's cool inside and I wouldn't be outside in Virginia right now either.  I'd rather go outside in a dry 110 degrees than a humid 90 degrees anyway. August is the hottest month here so we'll check off an August right away which isn't a bad thing.  The time zone here is an hour earlier than it ought to be and gets dark around seven and the sun comes up before six.  I love having darkness start sooner because even though it's still hot, it's mentally much cooler.  The bedrooms all have room-darkening curtains already installed so the early sunrise isn't a problem and I don't hear the dawn prayers. We also have a couple of humidifiers and air purifiers.  The air purifiers are there for the dust in the air.  It's been breezy in the afternoons and quite hazy, although it makes it look cooler which I like. 

No, I can't drive.  We don't have a car right now so the no driving for me thing actually is helpful because the employer provides transportation.  In most places, you're on your own for transportation.  I've been able to get more done in the first couple of days than I usually am when I arrive in a new country.  It is obviously inconvenient to be entirely dependent on someone else transporting me around.  There isn't even anything walkable near me, although when it's cooler my walkable range will expand a lot. Also, I'm planning on doing a lot of biking in my neighborhood because it's the only mode of transportation I'm allowed and I plan to use it.

Yes, I have to wear an abaya whenever I'm not my neighborhood.  I take a scarf with me too but I've never worn it.  I will generally only wear one if I am asked to (and the husband has been instructed not to tell me to put it on if someone tells him to tell me to do that) unless it's in a place where I would have chosen to wear a scarf in another Middle Eastern country (can't say a Muslim country since I never ever wore one in Kyrgyzstan). I have a large collection of scarves from lots of different countries and I like to take one along.  So far I've used one from Kyrgyzstan (with felt trim); a rebozo from Mexico City; and a silk thing from Kuwait that I bought in the US a few weeks ago from an organization that donates the proceeds to refugees resettling in Sweden. The abaya is black and not particularly cool, but it's also lightweight and I don't have to wear much under it if I don't want to.  It's actually not bad although I obviously wouldn't ever choose to wear it if I didn't have to.  The scarves make a huge difference in my attitude about the abaya. I am sure I will have much more to post about this over the next two years (or afterward).

No, it's not illegal to be a Christian here or attend church services.  However, just because it's legal, it doesn't mean it's easy since there are people here with a reasonable amount of authority who don't agree with that particular law.  Getting around that mostly involves not being obvious about what you're doing.

Yes, there are certain food items you can't buy here.  This bothers me a lot less than your typical Western expat because I don't drink alcohol and I don't really care that much about pork products and rarely buy them no matter where I am.  And there is plenty of other good food here.

Yes, the stores close during prayers, but if you're already in a large store, they don't shoo you out.  You can't check out or get your vegetables weighed, but you can keep on shopping.  The prayer closings would be a much bigger problem for people whose schedules are busier than mine, but for people like me?  I still can't figure out why everyone kept warning me about prayer closings, particularly since there is a long chunk of time in the morning between dawn and noon prayers and the stores open around 9 or 10. Also, there are plenty of prayer apps so you can plan ahead.  They seem to start warning you to check out soon about twenty minutes ahead of time.

I think that covers the negative things that people immediately think about for Riyadh.  I am sure that most will get very oppressive at times (to varying degrees), but I don't think any of them are awful right now. I'm sure we'll keep discovering quirks about getting things done here.  My husband was looking for clothes yesterday but couldn't try them on because the religious police had closed the dressing rooms during the sale the store was having.  He had to buy the clothes, go to the bathroom and try them on, and then return the clothes if they didn't fit.  It was quite a process but he did end up with clothes that fit.

I am a lot happier with this house than I thought I'd be. I'm sure it will find ways to annoy me in the future, especially since it's so big, but it just feels so much more livable than the house we had in Mexico.  There are rugs on the floor in most of the house so it will be so much easier to clean.  There's a huge freezer.  There's a clothesline on the roof!  The downstairs is crazy huge but it's laid out so we can entirely close off half of it.  There are wardrobes everywhere.  The garden has lovely flowering bushes. There's a courtyard which will be lovely in the winter.  It's been lived in so the tile in the kitchen is cracked and the door jambs and corners are dinged up. It has room-darkening curtains.  The furniture isn't brand new and we can move the extra parts into the closed-off part of the house.  Some of the bathrooms don't have showers with glass doors so they're much easier to clean.  There are lots and lots of kitchen counters.  It has Middle Eastern stonework on lots of the windows. 

Like I said above, I've been able to get a lot of shopping done so far.  I think I will love grocery shopping here.  I have never seen stores with such a huge variety of ingredients from so many parts of the world at such affordable prices.  There are still things I will need to make myself (mostly Mexican food, but it's really not any worse than DC was) but there are so many options here.  I probably should apologize to my family right now.  Also, I'm going to have to learn to cook some Philippino dishes.

There are lots of different grocery stores here rather than a few large chains like you usually see in the US. I've been to Lulu, Danube, and Euromarch√© so far and will probably go out again tomorrow. Danube had a lot of Saudis shopping there and had an amazing bulk section that I didn't have enough time to explore. It was beautiful. Lulu was bigger and there were so many Philippinos and south Asians there.  Almost no one had their heads covered unlike at Danube where most of the women were wearing niqabs. The rice sections in all of these stores is pretty much the happiest thing ever.  I got to Euromarch√© not long after it opened and it was rather quiet and almost no women were in the entire building.  In Danube all of the cashiers were Saudi women in niqabs and in Lulu they were all Saudi men.

The biggest problem right now is the internet.  It's a long story, apparently, but there is no end in sight for getting it at home.  We are working off hot spots with the cell phones for now.  It also appears that our shipment of stuff that was supposed to get here quickly won't be so quick and we really have very little entertainment in our suitcase because we wanted to have fewer suitcases to drag around.  School doesn't start for a few more weeks so it's entirely possible that everyone will go crazy very soon. But at least we won't starve to deal.

1 comment:

  1. I'm looking forward to reading about your adventures in Riyadh!