Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Keep your hands and arms inside the carpet, we're outta here!

Early tomorrow morning we are leaving the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, I hope never to return. One year was quite enough for me.
The last three weeks have been a slow, painful process of basically just seeing time through. It honestly feels like time has been getting slower and slower like a music box preparing to stop, an endurance test at its worst. And now, finally it's all over. We made it! 
I've been reflecting on my ten months in this country. Was it a hateful waste of time? Was I completely miserable? Despite my constant complaining, the answer to these questions has got to be no.
There's no point denying it's been great to earn good money- this was after all the main reason we came. The holidays we went on were wonderful and kept us sane. Also, money has allowed us more choice for the future, so thanks Saudi for that.
Having time to work on my stories and blog, learn the ukulele and watch TV has been fun. It's a good job I like indoor individual hobbies, as there certainly wasn't a lot else on offer. 
I've met some great kids and lovely Saudi women. There are a lot of decent people here hidden behind those burkas.

That's about it for the 'what I will miss' portion. So what have I learnt?

I've learnt that there is an intricate web of issues going on in this country, not just the ones everyone knows about. I read the other day that slavery was only abolished in the 60's, which explains to some extent the despicable racism and lack of humanity towards immigrants from poorer countries.
I've learnt that if you allow boys as young as 13 to drive and don't give them anywhere to go, they will inevitably screech, race and drift up and down the streets causing great danger to all who get in their path.
I've learnt that if you don't give women anything to do other than eat and shop, they will most probably become fat and materialistic.  
I've learnt more than ever that I passionately do not condone the death penalty (especially public executions) or the use of lashes or any other torture. I had a dream the other day that I witnessed a beheading- it was so graphic I woke up in a sweat. The continued use of this barbaric act here is Saudi has definitely made a lasting mark on me.  
I've worked hard doing a full time job and eight hours of privates every week. I've learnt how to teach one set of students for an entire year, how to keep their interest and overcome some serious behavioural issues. I've learnt how to work with no support, no systems and no resources. I've survived and come out loving the children I once dreaded, and I think for that I can be proud.

Finally, I've learnt that some of my strongest values and beliefs include equality, respect for other religions and races and compassion as well as, of course, freedom.
I feel that I've gone a long way this year to understanding and appreciating what freedom really is and what it means to have it taken away. And I hope that in the future I will never, ever take it for granted.

 You can't put a price on freedom,
So long suckers!

Sunday, 16 June 2013

I am More Important than You

In the last few weeks I've been thinking a lot (again) about how people from poorer Asian and African countries are treated here in Saudi Arabia. Saudi offers a standard 2 year contract to employees as drivers and cleaners, with one return ticket at the end. Our two Indian drivers went home a week ago to see their wives and children for the first time in two years, and as you can imagine I'd never seen them happier. I just can't imagine how it feels to be away for so long, with very little communication. The companies or families that the people work for withhold the employees passports while they're here, to prevent them from leaving. So they are basically imprisoned. One of the drivers only got his passport back with the necessary visas about an hour before he needed to go to the airport. A Malaysian maid at school who was so excited to be going home to see her baby, came back to work the following week having missed her flight, saying "Passport not ready, maybe one, two weeks." The company didn't even tell her how long it would take to fix, and when she would actually get to go home.
Sometimes the lack of compassion is really amazing. The way anyone with 'dark skin' is treated basically like a slave. But what really gets me is when you see western people doing it too; treating drivers like shit, demanding that the maids make them tea, and generally just being rude and superior. It's like this country gives them the excuse to be who they've always wanted to be and the justification to perceive themselves as above others. It makes me sick, and I don't think anyone with that attitude deserves to return to the UK, or any other place where people have fought hard for equal rights.
I've also noticed how westerners in power here tend to go a bit crazy. The laid back (some would perceive as lazy) attitude of Saudis drives me insane, but it's the Western people they hire- and then let have free reign to do whatever they want- that are really a sight to behold. The Saudi bosses at my job don't like to make decisions, so they delegated this job to a westerner who basically did whatever she wanted, knowing that they wouldn't object. And this was dodgy ground seeing as what she wanted to do was belittle, scare and threaten people into submission, in her quest to be all powerful. The Saudis are annoying because they're not proactive and go out of their way to get out of doing anything that resembles work, but at least they're not vindictive and spiteful.
Some westerners clearly enjoy the power trip that comes along with living 'the life' here, getting paid loads for jobs that they're not necessarily qualified for and being allowed to do pretty much whatever. It's like they get to live out the fantasy they were denied at home, where policies, procedures, professionalism and general decency in the workplace stand in the way. They really are pathetic.

Yesterday we went to Deera Square (or the more widely known chop-chop square) where they do the public executions. It was eerily normal, with no marked area for where these atrocities take place. It's still so hard to believe that they actually chop peoples heads off with a massive sword, and that people go to watch. I read in a tiny side column of the Arab News that five Yemeni men were convicted of murder and after their executions in Jazan the bodies were left on display for hours. As if chopping peoples heads off wasn't medieval enough. I think I've mentioned before that a disproportionate number of people losing their heads are immigrants, most likely due to discrimination and the fact that they can't buy their way out of the death penalty. Another thing I read in the paper was that two maids were convicted of practicing black magic and sentenced to 10 years in prison and 2000 lashes. OK, where to start with what's wrong with that sentence? The family they were working for claimed they were using black magic to cause them harm. The police apparently found the women in possession of a 'talisman,' which I'm thinking could be anything at all: a cross, a book, a pencil, a haribo ring, whatever suits the accusation. I also don't understand why supposedly religious people are worried about superstitions and witchcraft. Surely they shouldn't even believe in it?
And I don't even know where to start with the 2000 lashes. Seriously, what century is this?

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Waiting to Live Again

As you've probably gathered if you've been reading my blogs for the past 9 months, my life in Saudi has been pretty uneventful, my social life almost non-existent. The highlight of our weekend was a get together with the people we live with, at the tables outside our front door. Actually it was lovely- the Thai lady we know cooked some amazing food and we had a fair bit of home made wine. I'm just saying that this is as exciting as it gets, which for me is a bit scary. Out of the whole of the rest of the weekend my outings totalled going to the corner shop (in a nasty sand storm) and going to the gym.
The thing that has saved us this year- and this is going to sound really sad- is TV. Lee and I were talking the other day about how many shows we've watched. I thought I'd share it with you, in order to display exactly how dull life has been.
In no particular order, since September we've made our way through:
  • Downton Abbey, Seasons 1, 2 and 3.
  • Dexter, Season 7.
  • True Blood, Season 6.
  • Game of Thrones, Season 2 (waiting for 3 to be finished so we can watch it all in one go!)
  • Homeland, Season 1
  • Heroes, Season 1
  • Walking Dead, Season 1
  • Spartacus, Seasons 1, 2 and 3
  • Sons of Anarchy, Seasons 1, 2, 3, 4, and we're halfway through 5.
This show is the DON!

And on top of that countless episodes of Friends, South Park, Simpsons and Big Bang Theory.

Need a life, much?

I loved watching these shows (except walking dead) but as always too much of a good thing is never good. Seriously, I keep day dreaming about doing simple things like walking into town, sitting on a bench next to the fountain eating a jacket potato, or going to the park. And of course then there's the pub and just talking to people and being allowed to be sociable.
The kids have left school now and our private tutoring has finished too, so I go to work at 7am, do nothing, leave at 12pm, go home, do nothing. Don't get me wrong, it's good to chill, but it gets mighty boring after a while. We went food shopping yesterday and I was almost jumping along the aisles, bursting with energy- and anyone who knows me would say this is not normal (I am generally more a fan of lethargy). There were loads of women alone at the supermarket yesterday- obviously out for their highlight of the week too. It's funny that when you're looking at burkas you really notice people's footwear. There were twinkly toms, cork wedges and even some killer sexy high heels. I found myself asking, 'why would you wear your heels to the supermarket?' Lee made a good point in reply, 'when else are they gonna wear them?'
So that explains why the P.E teacher at school was so often seen in stilettos.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Dubai- the perfect mini break but a bit of a bank breaker

My last post was about bad stuff (somewhat of a theme since moving here) so I thought I would dedicate this one to writing about our weekend away in Dubai. After the plane trauma was over we had an excellent time. You could argue that in comparison to our lives in the great prison of Saudi Arabia anything would seem wonderful, but Dubai really is very cool. It reminded me of London in lots of ways: sexy and overpriced. The difference is that when I lived in London I would rarely do things full price, instead seeking out deals on meals out and shows etc.
At the airport we wasted no time in buying alcohol in duty free, as did most other people getting off the plane. Being a Muslim country, the U.A.E meets the west half way by limiting alcohol purchasing to the bars and clubs in hotels. Although I suspect there may be more of a financial rather than religious element to only selling it bars, as the drinks are seriously expensive and therefore the tax is high. We got a bottle of Jim Beam at the airport which we drank half of that evening just sitting in our hotel room chatting. I've really missed drink fuelled chats this year.  
As it seems to be with Muslims we meet in other countries, there is a general dislike of Saudis. From the airport we took a taxi with a Palestinian driver, born in the U.A.E. He told us that Saudis are the reason for the 'no eating or drinking' policy in taxis because they are so messy and disrespectful. He was also adamant that the burka is unnecessary and not a requirement of Islam. When we saw a woman thus dressed crossing the road in front of us he said, 'Look, there's one of those black things.' Haha.

On Thursday we went to Wild Wadi Waterpark. It was amazing, but pretty steep at around 35 pounds each.

With the backdrop of Dubai's 7 star hotel
Surfers wave 

The most intense ride at the park was the Jumeirah Sceirah. It's not till you get to the front of the queue at the top of the tower that you realise exactly what this ride involves and by then it's too embarrassing to back out (although a lot of people did, mainly fully grown men). There are two capsules with glass covers which me and Lee got in side by side, instructed to fold our arms over our chests, cross our ankles and put our heads back. The glass tops were closed over us and locked. Then came the count down 3-2-1 and the floor disappeared from under us sending us shooting-at apparently up to 80km/h- down the flume. It was so fast it was hard to scream. My legs were shaking so much afterwards that I had to sit down!
I loved the fake beach with wave machine. It was so relaxing to sit at the 'shore' letting the small waves crash over you. I didn't take any decent photos so here's one I found on the internet:

There was a vast mix of people at the water park, from many different countries. Some women chose to wear wet suit type things to cover their bodies- I understand this, if that's what you want to do. There were, however, at least two women in full blown burkas. One was with her children- I suppose I understand this; she wanted to watch her kids have fun, even if she couldn't have any herself. Another woman was walking around with her husband, not doing anything except looking through the slit of her niqab. In my opinion that's just expensive and pointless. 
She was in stark contrast to the Russian girls who in their teeny bikinis (some thongs) appeared united in their disregard of the notion of respect for other cultures.

In the evening we watched the dancing fountains next to Dubai Mall, which reminded me very much of Vegas. It's kinda embarrassing that water moving in time to Whitney Houston's 'I will always love you' could get me all emotional, but as I contemplated our year anniversary I found myself a little teary. Ahhhhhhh.
We then went up the Burj Kalifa, the worlds tallest tower. It was fun although we felt a tad conned by the slogan 'At the Top' that was printed on our tickets. As you can see from this picture, when we arrived at the viewing platform we found we were nowhere near.

Apparently everything higher is used as office space. Huh.

We went to a couple of bars that night and I have to say they were somewhat of a majorly overpriced disappointment. The 'indie music poolside outdoor bar' sounded promising, but in reality was a load of posers standing around looking cool and not dancing, with cocktails priced at ten pounds a pop. After that we went to 'The Catwalk Nightclub' at our hotel, which to Lee's delight was playing heavy rock music. The evening showed me that whilst I was grateful that Dubai has a nightlife, it would get boring quite quickly. Due to all the clubs and bars being in hotels, there is an atmosphere of the clinical and contrived. There's no potential of a gig at a dingy grimy bar, or of stumbling across a hidden gem of a pub.
Before heading to the airport on Friday we did some shopping in Dubai Mall. In keeping with the style of Dubai, this is no ordinary Mall- it has an aquarium inside. I was impressed because you don't have to pay to get in to enjoy the huge tank that houses sharks, stingray, tons of fish and even scuba diving cleaners.

And that was the end. Back to the airport and back to Riyadh for our final stint of boredom!
I thought Dubai was wonderful and would recommend it to anyone, although you have to be careful of that hole burning in your pocket.