Instead of providing poor excuses of why we’ve been missing from the blogosphere, we’ll just get down to it.

It’s August 8, 2011, which corresponds to Ramadan 8, 1432.  Ramadan holds a lot of meaning – reflection, giving, forgiving, sacrifice, family, and gathering are some words that come up for me.  This is our second Ramadan in Saudi Arabia, so I am not going to use this forum to tell you what Ramadan is about.  If you want some basic information, Time Out Bahrain, Dubai, and Doha all have Ramadan issues that go over the basics, including “Ramadan Do’s and Don’ts”, best places for Iftar and Sohour, and even places that sell food during the daytime for those who aren’t fasting.

A snapshot of what life is like here in Saudi Arabia: all restaurants are closed during the daylight hours.  Eating is not acceptable in public during the day, and all Muslims should fast during this time, with exceptions for children, those who are pregnant, or people with a medical condition (Note: this list is not exhaustive). Work hours are shortened for Muslims.  The streets are less crowded during the daytime, but get jam packed at night, when everything comes back to life.  Malls are open till around 2am and families are visiting one another for the breaking of fast (Iftar) and for the last meal of the day before sunrise (Sohour).

In addition to the spiritual importance of fasting, it also has a cleansing benefit to the body.  Yet, friends and colleagues have reported to me that they tend to gain weight during Ramadan. While this sounded odd to me at first, they explained that they tend to overeat at night – having a hard time saying no to family when another round of dessert comes as well as being overwhelmed by all the food presented after not eating all day! However, as with other types of fasts, if one breaks the fast in a sensible way, you can feel great and energized.  Well, at least I do.

I am writing today because I had a “this is bloggable!” moment in the car today. I was on my way to Iftar at one of my new favorite restaurants, Red Chilli [note: you can not partake in their 10SR iftar until next Ramadan – they are closing for renovations beginning tomorrow and will open after Ramadan]. While in the car, a man was on the street handing out fresh dates to people in their cars! I was amazed by this kind gesture.  My friend told me that in Mecca and Medina, this is a usual sight right before Iftar, but not so much in Riyadh.  We happily took a few dates.

I was actually told by one of the falconers to tell the boy to “drop the bird”. I tried to communicate this to the child, but he did not speak English and I did not speak French. Note to parents: please keep an eye out on your child! And if you think it is OK for your child to play with freshly killed animals around falcons, please be sure that the falcons are hooded during this activity.  Unfortunately, the falcon was not hooded at this time and decided that it wanted fresh meat instead of old kill.

A group of us headed to a secret location for a falcon hunting show.  No, the falcons weren’t being hunted but were the hunters! Bait included a small French child, live pigeons, a live bustard, a bustard lure, and some old pieces of bird (pigeon?).  The lure was tied to a string and swung around in the air to attract the falcons.  The old pieces of bird were tied to an amazing kite contraption that flew in the air for the falcons to chase.  The pigeon wasn’t tied to anything, but the bird didn’t have a chance against the hungry (ok, starving) falcons.

The stars of the show:

The co-stars (aka, the bait):

Hunting:

The aftermath:


Already one year and (almost) one month has passed since arrival.  I never would have thought that revolutions and protests would be sweeping the Middle East during our stay.  Despite the King’s promise to provide extensive benefits to the people [see: http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2011/02/2011223105328424268.html], there is word that protests will occur here in Saudi Arabia on March 11.  Many people are skeptical that anything will happen.  Some are stocking up on supplies “just in case” and social events (a golf tournament and a horse race, to name two) have been canceled as a precautionary measure.

If anyone has difficulties contacting us via telephone or e-mail, please do not be alarmed. There may be a chance that communications will be temporarily halted during the day.

We were really hoping that maintaining a blog would allow us to keep all of our friends and family up-to-date with our adventures in the Kingdom.  Yet, six months have already flown by and our last posting was one month ago! Where has the time gone? And more importantly, what have we been doing lately?

For the past month we have had access to a 4×4.  Our lovely friends have let us baby sit their off-road machine while they have left the country for the summer.  What a difference having a vehicle has made.  We can now get groceries at a moments notice (well, as long as it’s not during prayer times).  AB can get to work without relying on a paid driver and BF no longer gets to sleep in, having to drive AB to work every morning.  We try to explore the city more, including trying out new restaurants.  And every week, we have been going out into the desert for our weekly hikes.  Driving in the desert is like being in a 4×4 commercial and when you watch a commercial over and over, you want to buy what’s being sold. Plus, there is so much to see here in Saudi that’s only accessible with an off road vehicle.

So, it has been decided. We MUST have a 4×4.  As you may have read, in June AB was looking at a vehicle that in the end was not purchased.  After speaking with many friends and colleagues, it was determined that that particular vehicle was not a good deal.  For the past month the 4×4 hunt has been on – we have been scouring the internet, checking community boards, and asking friends to keep their eyes peeled.  We came this close to getting the 4×4 of our driving in the desert commercial dreams when the deal was canceled at the last-minute.

We will not bore you (yet) with the numerous vehicles that have been test driven by BF.  What we will share with you are some tempting desert photographs of our adventures so you can see why we really need a 4×4. Stay tuned for further adventures…

a case for a 4×4

Our first vacation since arriving in Saudi Arabia was most needed and welcomed. We choose Egypt for a variety of factors: it’s only a two-hour flight, we can get city and snorkeling adventures in one vacation, and the best part of all is that we have family who has been living in Cairo for the past two years.

It was hard not to make comparisons between Cairo and Riyadh – both are Muslim cities in close proximity to each other.  The call to prayer could still be heard loud and clear five times a day.  But the differences far outweighed these cosmetic similarities.  We were so happy to walk on the streets and to see other people doing the same.  Taking the metro was a joy, as was the ability to dine in public without having to eat behind partitions.  AB was particularly happy that the abaya and the covering of hair was not required.  There was a wide range of the way women dressed modestly – pants, skirts (always long), abayas of varying colors and shapes, colored and layered head scarves, and t-shirts and tank tops with long-sleeved shirts underneath them.  There were some women dressed in the familiar black abaya with full niquab and gloves, yet somehow it just felt different seeing them in Cairo than in Riyadh.

Yes, we did see the pyramids and the sphinx. Went to the Cairo Museum and the Coptic Museum. But our favorite part of the Cairo vacation was simply walking around, feeling like we were part of a community, interacting with other people.

The second part of our vacation was spent in Dahab, located on the Sinai Peninsula.  There we snorkeled until our backs turned shades darker, rode camels to remote snorkeling sites, and met the most wonderfully well fed and spoiled cats this side of the red sea.  The weather was always beautiful and we could see Saudi Arabia at all times.  Saudi Arabia looked beautiful from so far away…

Enjoy our photos (and accompanying captions) from our time in Cairo and Dahab.  Sorry you weren’t able to join us. *We purchased underwater housing for our new point-and-shoot camera which allowed us to finally photograph our snorkeling finds.

Egypt 7/2010

Everyone says that you need a car in the Kingdom.  We were really hoping to prove “them” wrong.  In New York, we did have a car, but it was not a necessity and we mostly relied on public transportation.  We were hoping our move would allow us to live simpler lives…

We are in a country that does not allow women to drive, where there are no public transportation options for women, and walking is now out of the question with temperatures now with highs at 115º F and lows at 95º.  It’s only June and it will get hotter.

We found a used 4×4 posted on an expat list.  Great condition, still under warranty, only one owner.  It’s still being paid off by through the car dealership’s finance company and we would assume the loan.  The seller is leaving the country on July 1 and the deal must be completed before then.  After much discussion, we decided to make an offer to the owner, which was accepted.  Now, all we have to do is the paperwork.

Simple, right?

  • Iqama – check.
  • Tariff – check.  [This is a document issued by the employer certifying the salary and date of hire]
  • Passport – in Saudi, the employer holds the passport of all non-nationals and only gives the employee a photocopy of the passport.
  • Housing Contract – my employer provides and pays for my housing, how do I prove where I live when we get no bills?
  • Driver and his driver’s license – no driver.  BF, who would fill the role as driver, is out of the country and doesn’t have a Saudi license yet.
  • Letter of permission from the police – non-Saudis must be on a “family contract” in order to obtain permission to buy a 4×4 from the police.  Single men are not permitted to purchase these types of vehicles.  I must find a police station that provides these letters, as not all of them do.

Well, as long as I can have assistance from one of my Saudi friends, maybe we can work the system and still purchase the vehicle.  Women can own vehicles, they just can’t drive them! Luckily we have a friend who has offered the assistance of her husband several months ago knowing that in time we would need to buy a car.  Ooops, just one problem.  My husband is out of the country.  Saudi men are not permitted to be with a woman who is not their wife or family member.  My friend’s husband cannot take me to the finance office unless his wife is present, and she may not be available.  So now what?  I’m thinking of meeting said friend’s husband at the finance office by getting another friend or a taxi to drive me.  But I’m starting to see that this is unfolding to be one big mushkalah (problem).

The latest news: the transfer department of the finance company has different hours than the finance company at the car dealership.  They are open until 5pm on the weekdays, until 2pm on Thursdays, and are totally closed on Fridays.  I work until 4:30pm and even if I ask for a leave for part of a day, I am unsure if I can get anyone to be able to help me during normal work hours.

Updates to follow.