Mixed Bag

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Apologies to all.  I have been on the high seas pursuing a sailing odyssey interspersed with shouting at teenagers, building contractors, and so forth for the past couple of months so have neglected my blog.  My children are now in school and I am back in Arabia,  and so the journey continues.

I thought that I would make this a “Supermarket Trolly” column,  hence named after those articles at the front of glossy sunday supplements,  or at least that’s what one of my journo friends would call it and try and update you on what’s been going on since I was last in Riyadh.

Our compound is gaining new inmates all the time,  and at last there are a few more “trailing spouses” (such a derogatory term,  for those not paid to work).  So it is beginning to feel like more of a community rather than a building site.  We have still not moved to our permanent home,  but we hope to move for the end of October, Insh’allah.  I have at last seen the house and it is fantastic,  although still engulfed in the building site,  so am not too hopeful about the moving date.

Talking of building sites, the new financial centre of Riyadh is coming a long a pace. Instead of individuals commissioning their own office blocks, the king decided that Riyadh needed a “state of the art” financial center and has commissioned the whole “down town” area,  which towers out of the desert.  It is an entirely new way to go about creating a city centre rather than allowing it to develop haphazardly and of course Saudi Arabia is one the few countries where this could happen.  It will also be the center for the new metro system.  I am not sure when companies will move in,  but is clear that incentives are being given and all major businesses will have to move there eventually or…? I suspect a touch of carrot and stick. Other building also continues apace,  and I have noticed buildings on the road to the supermarket are now complete,  and more have been started.

DSC_5843Another new development that is virtually complete is the Nofa Resort.  An African themed hotel/ conference center/safari park/ horse riding center/ golf course/ country club.  I was invited with a group of golfers to play there last week.  The resort will be a real addition to sporting facilities in the Riyadh area.

The golf course is situated within and around the King Abdullah race track,  with the grandstand being used as a club house for the course.  The course is unexpected with water coming into play on many holes, and devilish bunkers protecting every green.  We even encountered pygmy hippos on the 9th hole,  a first for me (and tops alligators, I think). Be warned they are to avoided.

It is a well designed course,  getting the most out of the topography  in a relatively small area.  Unfortunately  the course beat me, so I am looking forward to getting my own back and playing it again when it opens for Pay and Play  in January 2014.  The cost will be comparable to Riyadh’s two other 18 hole courses,  Dirab and Riyadh Greens.

Decisions about how the rest of resort will be managed are yet to be confirmed,  but from having seen the accommodation, and surroundings I was stunned by the thought and detail that has been put into the project and hope that we will soon be able to enjoy it for all sorts of events.

I was reminded of an old knock knock joke this week.

“Knock Knock”

“Who’s there?”

“Intense”

“Intense who?”

“In tents you often find snakes”   Ha Ha!!

When the DH and I went in search of the Tent souk.  There are many souks in Riyadh and I heard mention of a tent souk,  but did not know exactly where it was apart from it being part of the huge Batha’a souk.  After wandering around the huge expanse of Batha’a with its crowded alley ways and dark corners we thought we would never find this mythical souk as most people we spoke to did not know of it. Eventually we found a merchant who spoke enough english to direct us,  and we found the Tent Souk.  It does not look much! but don’t let that put you off.  The vendors will make anything in canvas for you, and copy any canvas bag that you may already own.

Engineered suit bagThe DH ordered a very natty suit carrier in garish colours to his own highly (over?)engineered specifications.  But we could have bought an enormous traditional Bedu tent with a beautiful lining made, for as little as a 1000 SAR.   I will definitely be returning.  I leave you with a map link so you can find it yourselves.

An update on girls’ sports.  After I reported on women’s sports in an earlier blog I was pleased to announce girls’ sport in private schools.  According to the Saudi Gazette this is not happening and the ministry is looking to enforce its ruling.  It goes to show that change is tricky here in the Kingdom.

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The Art of Shopping, with help from Sun Tzu.

ImageA couple of days ago, I was invited by a select group to go to the Thumairi Gold Souk in Riyadh on a shopping expedition.  I have, so far, been wary of shopping in the Souks as I am not very good at haggling so this was an ideal opportunity to go under the protection of a group. I thought that an attacking approach would be the best way forward,  and looked to the “Art of War” by Sun Tzu for helpful hints.

“He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight”

Know your shop keepers.  The Thumairi gold souk is a warren of shops situated by the Al Masmak Fort and part of the larger Deira souk complex.  Tiny shops each selling an array of fine jewels and precious metals.  You need inside information as to which shops are the best to do business with.  The group I joined had their own jewelry expert along with inside intelligence on the best shops to deal with, which the group had been collecting for some years.  Some shops are easier to negotiate with than others depending on how they are owned and managed.

“He will win who knows how to handle both Superior and Inferior forces”  

It is important to know that the quality of merchandise varies between  shops and bargain accordingly.  Our forward troops had already honed in on two shops: one for upmarket high quality jewelry, the other for cheaper, everyday finds.  They established an approach to get the best deal  from each seller.

“He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks”

Whilst I am a new recruit to this shopping group; its aims are laser true.  To discuss each piece of jewelry on its merits and get the best possible price for whoever was buying, by group assault methods well known to experienced shopinistas.

“He will win, who prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared”

I was pre warned not to take any more cash with me than I was prepared to part with as there would be much temptation.  I wanted to buy a pair of earrings to replace some I lost.  So I brought enough cash with me for those.  But I bided my time and allowed my compatriots to enter into a variety permutations, arrangements and joint purchases in order to get the very best deal.  It just goes to show that a single wily shop keeper is no match for a group of determined women.

“He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign”

At one point in our trip I strayed to another shop alone,  and was completely overcome by a shop keeper trying to sell me an indifferent tanzanite ring.  Luckily,  re-enforcements swiftly appeared and said shopkeeper retreated overcome with the amount of ladies now crowding his shop.  Shop in numbers,  Shop without husbands.  The DH would be fine allowed to negotiate on his own,   but undoubtedly things would have been more complicated had there been men involved with this trip.  They are best left out and taken on separate cutting out expeditions at weekends.

 

The morning passed quickly,  and a number of purchases were made.  We only just made it out of the Souk before prayers,  and nearly ended up locked in for an hour,  luckily one of the accommodating shopkeepers showed us to a back door which we managed to get unlocked.  I bought some pretty cockle shell shaped 18ct gold earrings and a ‘Saudi Diamond’ and silver tennis bracelet. ( I should explain that ‘Saudi Diamonds’ are a type of quartz that is picked up in the desert.  There are also chemical ‘Saudi Diamonds’ which I think are cubic zirconia.)  My friends equally came away with good spoils,  including strands of freshwater pearls, rings, bracelets and earrings.  I shall be going back.  I believe that you get to the heart and soul of a nation through its shopkeepers.  Those words will probably inspire fear and OCD credit card checking in the DH!

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Men Only “Women’s Conference”

o-SAUDI-ARABIA-WOMENS-CONFERENCE-570-1This photo has appeared all over the western press in the last few days both in the USA and UK,  it was picked up from social media and then used  to castigate attitudes to women in Saudi Arabia.  On the face of it the photo tells a story that is shocking,  but if you delve a little deeper there are some reasons that explain absurdity of it.

The conference apparently took place at Qassim University last year,  the University has both male and female students.  Most of the mixed universities in The Kingdom teach women and men in separate rooms, relaying classes by video link depending on whether the professor is male or female.   Almost certainly, the reason why there are no women in the photo is that the women were participating simultaneously but in a separate room.  It is likely that much of the conference was being relayed to men rather than vice-versa and that if you put a more positive spin on the photo,  it is rather wonderful that so many arab men should turn up for a Women’s Conference and are getting in touch with their feminine side.

If the conference had been an international business type event,  many of the men would have been wearing suits / jacket and tie’s.  The fact that there is only one man in the room who is not wearing  a Thobe and Guttra means that the event is conservative.  The women who were involved in the conference almost certainly did not want men present.  As in the words of a Saudi friend of mine.  All Saudi men are @#$%,  when it comes to behavior in front of Saudi women who are not members of their own family.

In the long run,  for men and women to come together at an event like this will come down to changing  cultural standards. In a society where Pater familias is the keystone of  Islamic law and order, that change will happen slowly.  Today that order is being challenged, with women demanding self-determination within the context of an Islamic society.   It is important to remember that women’s emancipation has been a slow business.  Women in Switzerland only got the federal vote in 1971,  and last canton gave the vote to women in 1990 after being forced by Switzerland’s supreme court.

But please remember, that even if the photo shows no women,  they were almost certainly the movers and shakers behind the conference taking place.

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Thursday is the new “Friday” and Saturday is the new Saturday; Confused?

keep-calm-it-s-almost-the-weekend-2The weekend in Saudi Arabia has officially changed.  So instead of being nearly alone in the world and celebrating the weekend on Thursday and Friday The Kingdom has been bought in line with other Gulf States.  Friday is the Holy Day,  equivalent to a christian Sunday, so it remains “Sunday”  but now Saturday becomes a weekend day.  The King announced the decision yesterday.  So next Saturday 29th June,  will be a Saturday instead of a “Monday”.  I am not sure if that means this Thursday 27th June is still a “Saturday” too.  If it is,  it means we get a 3 day weekend this week,  so hurrah for that, but it may be my misinterpretation.

Some Saudis may not be so happy with the announcement as it has become common place for many to take a 3 day weekend.  Other people will have booked plane tickets for weekend trips months in advance,  but now that Thursday is a working day,  may be worried how things will work out for them,  and indeed mean that a vacation day has to be taken.

The announcement although seemingly sudden,  has actually been in consultation for some time. The Shoura Council recommended the change in April.  However there was some debate as to how long it would take to happen.

Despite the immediate inconvenience this is another positive change for The Kingdom giving it  4 working days in common with most of the world and 5 with the rest of the Middle East.

Getting away on a Thursday night, (instead of Wednesday,) our new  Friday equivalent, may become crazier than it already is and Air lines will be bound to cash in as everyone in the region will want to travel at the same time.   I can imagine that it will be a real headache for those who have planned Thursday events months in advance,  I doubt that hotel, travel, and catering bookings can be rearranged very easily.  Some venues book out months or even years in advance.  Even some of our own air tickets will have to be changed at a cost

Although there will be disruption to begin with this is a great economic decision and yet another wake-up call that Saudi Arabia is open and ready for competitive business with everyone in the world.

But the reason  I am really happy is because when I wake up on a Saturday morning it really will be the weekend instead of  remembering that sinking Monday morning feeling.

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Unexpected Riyadh

3595207-Riyadh_from_Four_Seasons_Room_RiyadhIn some ways this should have been the very first blog entry,  but how can you write about something you know nothing about.  I know that usually doesn’t stop journalists, but I wanted to wait and form opinions rather rehash other people’s.  I had no concept of what Riyadh would be like before I came here.  I had some vague idea that I might be entering a world of harems and regressing to the Middle Ages.   As I speak to friends and family,  it becomes more apparent that many other people share the same misconceptions.

Notwithstanding the first impression of immigration control,  which if I am honest can be terrible in both the USA and UK as well.  Riyadh is a huge, modern, vibrant city.  It is sited in the middle of the Arabian Peninsula rising out of a rocky desert landscape.  It is not an oasis with palm trees, surrounded by huge orange sand dunes,  shrieking Lawrence of Arabia.

The city is growing at an unprecedented rate,  think Calgary or Denver and then double or triple it.  Today it takes more than hour to drive from one side of the city to the other,   when the traffic is good, but that is changing all the time.  More than 7 million people live here and counting.  The outskirts of city are surrounded by Bedu encampments,  black tents dot the rocky escarpment landscape,  camels and goats graze. Toyota trucks are parked up amongst bales of alfalfa.  There are shanty towns too.  People are attracted to the city.

Riyadh  is in a rush to create; Universities, Foundations, Hospitals,  a Financial Center, a Metro and Bus system.  All the big hotel chains have a footprint here, and some are impressive. There are top quality restaurants serving every kind of food and huge shopping malls with the same stores that you would find in the US and UK are sprouting up all over the place. ( Although I have still found it necessary to bring my own Marmite,  and some things are considerably more expensive despite a lack of sales tax.) Despite the fact there is no public entertainment,  I have heard of a flourishing underground rock music scene.

Everywhere you drive there are building works and bill boards showing happy smiling people proclaim new projects. Gradually the perimeter of the city is expanding.  We are living in the middle of a building site, so I get the benefit of experiencing the expansion of the city first hand,  but that would be same for almost any area of Riyadh.

The original city, of which little remains apart from the Al-Masmak Fort, some of the original walls, gate and a few traditional mud houses, was built around an oasis and was an important strategic position.  But Riyadh today,  an enormous city rising out of the desert, relies upon the same deep water that fed the original Oasis.  Water is at a premium.  And people here worry about when it will run out rather than gasoline.  I look at the lines of fully grown palm trees and bushes planted down the main roads, the new buildings,  and wonder how much water the city needs.  Will it be sustainable in the future? Where will the water come from when the underground water runs out?

I think there is a rush here to create an economy that is not just about oil.  While this is still an oil nation,  there is now a concerted effort to use the the petro-dollars to build infra-structure and a long term sustainable economy.  I think the Government recognises that this is something that has to happen now to secure the future. Change seems to happen every day.

The one thing that is hard though,  is to get a sense of the city from anything other than a car.  There is no public transport to speak of,  to get around you either need to take a taxi, or a taxi bus.  Some companies provide transport for their workers.  Guest construction workers, mainly from the Indian sub continent and Far East live in temporary built accommodation on development sites.  But you can’t walk anywhere, distances between things are too far  and when you consider the heat and Saudi driving tactics cycling is not an option either,  so I think the Mutawa will not have to worry about the modesty of ‘Boris Bikes‘ anytime soon.  There is a Metro system in the pipeline,  and  that will cause a quiet revolution in the city it will enable thousands of women to go to work who otherwise would have been unable to do so.  Women being unable to drive have an even harder time of accessing the city than men.

Foreigners, particularly non-muslims, living here are mostly separate from locals.  Expats live in compounds without being under the gaze of the Religious Police or censure for western dress or inappropriate socializing.  Some are commercially operated and others are owned by companies or other organizations. The Diplomatic Quarter or D.Q. as it is know, is where most of the Embassies are situated. It covers a few square miles,  and here it is like being in a different city,  women drive and do not have to wear the abaya.  Most compounds have some sports facilities and a swimming pool.  There is fairly strict security to get into any compound,  a passport/ ID and an invitation is required.   It does create an us and them like atmosphere.  However I think I would find it difficult to live outside a compound unless we had a substantial private estate which is not going to happen anytime soon.

The thing that strikes me about the city are the Mosques.  There are Mosques on every corner,  of all different shapes and sizes.  They range from majestic buildings bigger than cathedrals, ornately decorated to modest ones with tin roofs and tiny single minarets constructed of steel bars with dented speakers at the top.   Practically every gas/petrol station has one,  as do companies, universities,  and military bases.  When I am driven across town I always manage to see a mosque that I haven’t spotted before.  I certainly haven’t counted them all.  It’s hard to find an accurate total for the city,  but it’s definitely in the thousands.   It makes you realise that first and foremost this is an Islamic city, an Islamic city moving towards the future.

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Riyadh Rush Hour

sauditraffic

I have to tell you about rush hour Saudi style. The traffic in Riyadh is like nothing you have seen anywhere in the world. And no not even comparable to Moscow, for my Muscovite friends. I have been driven by the Jason Statham of Russian drivers, his name was Igor, and he would certainly put some of the Saudis through their paces, but even he had limits.


Most Saudi drivers behave as if they believe that the rules of the road are designed for anyone who is not Saudi, and that they are therefore exempt from those laws. Roads are merely optional, and any surface that can be driven on should be driven on.

Recently, on a Wednesday evening, aka Friday to most of the world, i.e. the day before the weekend, the DH and I were returning from mundane grocery shopping, only to come across a snarled traffic disaster near King Saud University. There were approximately four lanes of stationary traffic. ( White lane lines are for guidance only.) In the distance we could see a small dust maelstrom. I then saw that most of SUV’s in the jam were trying to get across the traffic lanes and up a concrete slab on to the sand filled central reservation in order to cut the queue. Their strategy was foiled because in the distance there were flashing lights indicating some form of law enforcement, so in a cloud of dust they U-turned in the Central reservation, and speeded away in the opposite direction.

The DH’s blood was up now, and he gleefully engaged in driving Saudi style, by pushing our SUV into the central reservation, although he quickly did a U turn to the other side of the road. It is completely liberating to be able to free yourself from what seems an unassailable traffic jam.

On the other side of the road I noticed a little white Toyota, which was not big enough to follow the SUV’s. But the determined driver was not going to be foiled. He decided that the best course of action would be to quickly do a U-turn into the breakdown lane, and come back down that the wrong way. Quite brave I thought, but what would he do when he reached the roundabout / rotary on the wrong side of the road. I was flabbergasted to see that his bravery had no end, and after a slight hesitation, in the same way that you or I might pause before jumping into a cold swimming pool, he launched off round it the wrong way. What gumption!

Like any other city, there are traffic police, cameras and radar. I know people both Saudi and Expat who have been given tickets. So there are the same risks to being caught as elsewhere, but this does not seem to stop man and his supposed inalienable right to do what he wants with his vehicle. Driving here is an expression of freedom, to take your car on the road or in the desert, to park if you so wish in the middle of 3 lanes of traffic while you shop. To use your cell phone and steer with your knees. To drive in whatever direction you choose and at a speed that suits you and to show off to your fellow man.

It will be interesting to see, when women drive, whether all this free form driving will have to stop, because women do not care for testosterone laden showboating, preferring to live rather than die on the roads. I think an unanticipated consequence of allowing women to drive will be a better standard of road safety for all.

 

 

 

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Women’s sports: Oxymoron?

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Sarah Attar, 2012 Olympic Competitor for Saudi Arabia

When I first arrived in Saudi Arabia,  I never considered that women’s sports would be an issue.  Even though I was aware of the debate over women competing in the Saudi 2012 Olympic team,  and the fact that only  two  female competitors qualified,  in Judo, Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani and Sarah Attar in the 800 meters.   I thought that women would  be keenly participating in sport behind closed doors.

Expat women who live in compounds have access to gyms, tennis and exercise classes.  I found a golf club outside Riyadh,  at Dirab,  as I love golf I immediately became a member.  The DH did not dare say no,  but I have to say the cost is not unreasonable compared to American or British prices.

I became aware of the potential problem when I went looking to buy a new tennis racquet.  Women’s stuff is relegated to dusty corners,  looks like last seasons,  and nothing comes in any size or colour that you would want to buy.  This was very strange,  could it be that one shop?  but no,  all the sports shops that I have visited so far carry  nothing much for women apart from the odd Burkini, ugly swimsuits and unsuitable leisure wear.

If this were the case in the UK they would go out of business,  as so many British men I know prefer to exercise in the most shabby clothing imaginable:  “Boil and bake” Rugby shorts,  slightly tight and gray,  are pulled from drawers proclaiming the former glory of the first XV,  Moth-eaten cricket whites held together with old school ties, ubiquitous Dunlop Green Flash tennis shoes,  ( do they still make them?) paired with gray socks and a variety of other unmentionables make their way to the sports field.  I think it must be something in the DNA as I know so many Brits for whom this is true.  Perhaps it is due to not wanting to seem too keen,  don’t be fooled though,  they always want to win.

I digress,  I then discovered that there is no sport in Saudi girls schools here.  Things are about to change,  a week ago the Saudi Press Agency reported that private girls schools would be allowed to offer sport if girls were suitably dressed and supervised by women coaches.  Nothing for the public schools though,  that means the majority of Saudi girls have no access to sport. I think that this small change is indicative of something bigger that is happening.  The powers that be in the Kingdom realize that lack of exercise and obesity are a literally a growing problem here.  All the supermarkets carry vast amounts of soda, candy, chips and crisps.  The nation is beginning to suffer the same related health problems as the USA and UK.  They must be pondering how to encourage healthy lifestyles while still maintaining modesty.

There are a few private women’s gyms in Riyadh, such as Kore, and Nuyu which offer classes and training but they are few and far between.   In the past it has been very difficult for women’s gyms to get licenses to operate here.  After the latest announcement about private schools hopefully more facilities will open.   There is no culture of exercise among women so of course demand is an issue.  Although there are some exceptions;  formidable arabian horsewomen,   the brave women who dared to compete at the Olympics  and some hidden women’s soccer teams.  The Princess Noura Bint Abdulrahman University for women has developed a fantastic sports centre for women.  It includes a stadium, gym, pools and courts.  It remains to be seen when women will win The Kingdom an olympic medal,  potentially 2016?

Our compound has fantastic facilities for both women and men together and apart, there is a philosophy of trying to encourage everyone to be healthy.  But even here it is sometimes tricky for all women.  I was playing tennis with a friend early this morning and a procession of cars and vans drove by the Tennis Courts,  each slowing to a crawl as they neared the courts as men gawked out of the windows.  From this you can understand Saudi women’s concern about uncovering in public, if men want to stare at me playing tennis,  I mean my Kate Moss years are long over, even if they only ever existed in my imagination.

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Not a Pretty Sight

abuseadksa

Okay,  so this is a more serious post than my usual offering.  Many around the world are focused on women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.  Foreigners tend to concentrate on the outward signs, veiling, the ban on women driving and restrictions on male contact outside the home.

But the issues that Saudi women really care about are more basic and crucial to the advancement of the State – Saudi women under 45 years old cannot travel, open a bank account or conduct business, unless they have permission from a male guardian.

Changes that are considered small steps to the outside world are actually a big deal here,  and have taken years to reach fruition. Recent reports in the Saudi Gazette, Washington Post and Daily Telegraph among others,  that Saudi Arabia publicly acknowledges  domestic violence is a problem, may seem trivial. However, it is actually a huge step forward. Domestic violence had previously been swept under the carpet here – the government had actively denied its existence.

This public advertising campaign by the prestigious King Khalid Foundation could only have been launched with government approval. The poster at the top of my post comes with slogans such as “What is hidden is worse” and “Some things can’t be covered.”  The Foundation is proposing a system to tackle abuse.  This has been approved by the Shura Council and has now been sent to the Council of Ministers where it seems likely to gain assent.

The initial aim is to provide protection from abuse to women and children through implementing a system of measures that include: Shelters and aid  for the abused, a safe complaints process,  work permits for expats with experience in the field of protection from abuse,  research and a code of ethics for clinical practitioners in the field of  abused women and children.

Of course in a country where men have so much power over women, a problem like domestic violence was always likely to go unreported. Whether or not this announcement will lead to more women seeking help to escape from domestic violence is still conjecture,  but it seems to be a step in the right direction.  Currently, Saudi Law does not recognize domestic violence or spousal rape as crimes. Hopefully in the future it will.

The recent appointment of 30 women to the Shura Council in February and the right for women to vote in local elections in 2015 may seem like sops but are, in fact, big steps forward to finding an Islamic solution to promotion of Saudi women’s rights (that those from other countries take for granted).  This new campaign is a further step in that direction. In a country steeped in Islamic heritage it is important to find a way to the future while still respecting the past.

I am reminded of how difficult it was to make a film in the Vatican and how a friend there told me that in the Vatican “a short time” was at least 50 years – that change happens slowly.  The same may be true of Saudi Arabia.  Ironically, in the Vatican, women have no power at all.  So perhaps, after all, there are similarities between these two religious states however superficially different they may seem.

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The Beverage Report.

finnishprohibitionThose who know me well know that I like a glass of wine.  Those who are not British may not get the stupid pun in the title I’ll leave you guessing on that one.  Life in Saudi Arabia is Sans Alcohol, Dry, (desert dry in fact).  Despite having heard tell of mythical stills, back-room brewers and moonshine experts (which all brings an air of Prohibition USA to the acquisition of alcohol), I have yet to be invited to a Saudi “Speak Easy”.

The supermarket aisles are lined with sugary sweet soda and equally sugar filled juices.   Restaurants sell cloying sweet mocktails which must contain a thousand calories apiece.   There are many choices that suit a Saudi palate but few that suit mine, except perrier and tonic water which are dull after a while compared to a silky, smokey sauvignon blanc.  The heat just calls out for Campari and Soda or even just an ice cold Coors.  (I only chose Coors because of the aliteration,  and not because it is my favourite beer. I think here, Sam Adams Summer Ale would be good.)

Obviously, there is not much call for a top manhattan mixologist here,  so I am experimenting with potential non alcoholic cocktails.  There are the ubiquitous choices, of fruit juice and soda water.  But I would like to re-create the oaked cream soda that we had at WD50 in Manhattan last year.  This up-market eatery has created a whole range of non-alcoholic drinks for pregnant, sophisticated wine drinkers who, because of their condition and modern puritanical attitudes on such matters, can’t drink.   They brew all sorts of cordials with which to mix interesting drinks and I may contact them to try and get the recipes.

Could ‘Oryxiana’ become the first dry cocktail bar in the world?  I am still trying to persuade the DH that the new compound really needs to hire a top-rated Mixologist.

Back to reality,  my first attempts at non-alcoholic drinks are included at the bottom of this entry.  Please add your own favourites in the comment section, and if I get a lot of replies I will create a page for drink recipes.  Just remember no alcohol at all,  not even Angostura Bitters.

Non Alcoholic Malt drink,  aka non alcoholic beers,  with ice and lime.

There is a Budweiser and Holsten version as well as Kaliber

Review:  3/10 an approximation of beery shandy,  not too bad with lots of ice.  Under no circumstances buy the fruit flavoured versions of this drink.  They are simply disgusting.

Imaginary Mojito,

Muddle together mint,  a teaspoon of sugar, and juice of one lime then top with ice and soda.

Review 6/10.  Does not have the depth of flavour because its missing the kick from the rum,  but it is a refreshing drink that looks and tastes pretty good.

Tonic with Ice and Lemon

It says it all in the title

Review 4/10.  Not the same without the Gin,  and I have not been able to find any of the Gourmet Tonic’s that they sell in the UK and US,  which taste so much better than the Shh brand.  This is still too sweet for me.

Fruit Juice and Soda with Ice

Use Apple,  Passion Fruit, Cranberry, Lemon or Lime and mix with ice and add either plain water or soda.

Review 7/10. These are refreshing enough,  but have no real bite, or aromatics.  Good as thirst quenchers,  but a long way from a real cocktail.

Virgin Mary

Tomato juice with worcester sauce and tabasco and celery salt, then either shake with ice or add ice.

Review 6/10. This drink really isn’t the same as Bloody Mary,  The alcohol takes away thickness of the drink.  It would be much better if I could cut the tomato juice with Clamato,  but have yet to find Clamato here.

Mint Lemonade

Lemonade,  Mint and Ice.  Blend until mixed.

Review 7/10.  A better sort of drink,  but very dependent on the ratios of the ingredients.  It can be too sugary if the lemonade is very sweet, better with homemade lemonade which is a bit of a sweat.

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First Time Camel Racing

DSC_4711I know nothing about camel racing,  but am very keen to become acquainted with the basics of the sport.   I was invited to a camel race meet at the Janadryiah Festival and excited to have a chance to learn more.

Camels are bred for different purposes,  showing, travel, meat, milk and racing.  The Arabs are  as obsessive about their blood lines as the British are about their horse breeding.  (Although the Arabs are equally keen on horses.)   In a short period of time I have learnt a few basic facts.  Arabian camels are dromedaries,  they have one hump,  and are well adapted for hot desert conditions.  They were domesticated on the Arabian peninsula about 5,000 years ago.   They come in different colours  from Black through Red to beige then white,  which  often denotes their purpose.   Racing Camels are female and almost always pale beige or white.

There were two races on the card for us to watch.  The meeting was sponsored by the Saudi Military,  and so there were some bigwigs in uniform sitting in VIP seats by the winning post.  DSC_4757 The stand is divided into different categories much like a british race course,  with the Royal Box, Club enclosure,  Tattersals and Silver Ring however you can only tell this by the type of seats.  The Club enclosure being plushly upholstered but The Silver ring equivalent is hard plastic.   I missed the colourful umbrellas, shouts and  Tic Tac  of the bookies,  but there is no legal gambling here.  Although I wonder how many private books are kept?  Apparently there is a sweepstake event,  where one person wins a big prize.   We were ushered to the club seats and offered Arabic coffee and dates.  It seems to be a private event.

Unfortunately there was no race card to glean information from about the camels, trainers or jockeys,  I discovered by word of mouth that the first race was 9 km and that around 50 camels were in the race.  The start of the race was in the far distance.  It was impossible to see to the back of the course,  its white rails disappearing into the distance. Binoculars would have been helpful.  After waiting for a short time we saw a dust cloud on the horizon,  snaking through the course.   Camels can go at about 45mph,  but I think some at least consider speed to be optional.  The race lasts much longer than a horse race,   a few camels decide not to finish the race and went purposefully in the opposite direction.  The jockeys are very thin,  most look Somalian,  but they are not children.  They do not wear racing silks and infact a variety of head gear is worn including bob the builder hats and cycle hats, and scarfs none of which seem to fit properly.

There are catchers who are dressed in smart green and white track suits to catch the camels at the end of the race. DSC_4752 Unfortunately the winning camel is too fast for the catchers and heads off into the sunset, but that does not stop its owner from collecting the prize.  Despite the slightly “Point to Point” feel of the event the prizes are really good,  top rated trucks.  Some of the losing camels come past the post 15 minutes later at a steady walk despite the liberal use of voices and sticks.

The second race is for young camels (although I am not sure what age that might be) .  It is obviously a “blue ribbon” event as there are over hundred entries in the race and it is over 11km.   Some of the camels are wearing bra’s to protect them,  and I guess they might have calves.  The bras do look odd though.DSC_4744

I tried to get more information from some elderly arabs who looked as though they knew a thing or two about this game.  It was difficult to find anyone to translate for me and I am still almost as ignorant as I was before the race.   I would like to find out how to spot a winning camel before I leave Saudi Arabia and maybe even ride one.

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