I was recently updating passwords on some old accounts and stumbled upon an old blog I wrote in 2011 when I first arrived in Saudi Arabia – at the time it was a private blog only for friends and family as I was unsure how my new host country would feel about a blog.
Having now read it I thought I would re-post here for your entertainment, also it might be useful for anyone thinking about moving to Saudi. Its a couple of weeks worth of posts all rolled into one (unedited from original) so you might want to go get a cuppa before you start. It doesn’t really have a proper ending as my family arrived and I had far too much to do to carry on blogging.
Saudi Arabia – Day 1
People have been requesting loads of info about what it’s really like over here so I have setup this blog here to journal my time in Saudi.
Day 1 – Didn’t take long to get down M1 at all going to Heathrow, but took ages to go just 19 Miles on M25 (glad we set off early) It’s a proper car park! Had the worst breakfast ever on way down at motorway services what a disappointing end to my love affair with Bacon!
I took double my weight allowance, knowing that work would foot most of the bill for it I was gob smacked when the check-in bloke decided not to bother charging me anything at all – what a good start!
I would defiantly recommend Giraffe bar in Heathrow for Smoothies – very nice!
Flight was ok, even though I was tiered I couldn’t get to sleep, 6 1/2 hours and another rubbish meal later I arrived in Riyadh. The plane had to circle the airport to come into land and it was an amazing sight all lit up – The city is huge, much bigger than I imagined.
The airport cool due to air con and was also beautiful with Palm trees inside I joined a queue at passport control. This took ages as everyone going though had photos and fingerprints taken etc, although the guy was very nice and welcoming.
This was the bit I had been dreading, all the stories I had read about customs. I collected my bags and pushed the trolly towards. . . .
To my surprise a local guy took the trolley off me, loaded my bags on the x-ray conveyer belt – then loaded them back on at the other size smiled and said thank you.Once again I was gob smacked all those stories and the agro I went to make sure family photos were not on the laptop and movies taken had no nudity etc. and I went through customs in about 30 seconds.
The first thing I noticed in the airport was that all signs were in Arabic with an English translation underneath – no other languages. I later learned that this is the normal over here most shops and all road signs have both Arabic and English. Lots of people speak some English.
As soon as I got into the airport lobby I was met by the new head teacher, who has only been in Saudi 2 weeks himself, the Business Manager, has been in Saudi over 15 years and the Transport Manager, a lovely Indian fellow. All 3 were very welcoming and seem like extremely nice people.As soon as we stepped out of the Airport the heat hit me although it was only 28 degrees as it was night time. I did wonder what the daytime felt like.
A short car ride took me back to the compound. First impressions of the roads are: THEY ARE MAD! 4 or 5 lanes each way without proper lane markings – cars just dodge in and out of each other overtaking on both sides and without indicating. Lots of horn piping – apparently death on the road is the biggest killer in Saudi by Far!
The compound is really secure with massive high walls and barb wire – and although I’m told they have not had an incident here for a long time they like to be safe rather than sorry, so every car that enters the compound must get though 3 staggered checkpoints (with soldiers and machinegun nests) including a bonnet and boot “bomb” search.
However once inside the compound it was like something else completely – an Oasis with lots of trees , and fountains
I was dropped off a my lovely ground floor apartment – oh my god its bigger than my house back in Barnsley, fully furnished, including a new Sony TV, Panasonic Hoover and a load of Kitchen Kit from Ikea. I must admit that although I was tired I had to open everything and have a nosey. In fact I also ran around the flat jumping up and down like a 4 year old shouting something like “oh my god this is f-in amazing”.
I put the TV on, 60 channels including 24hour Premier League Channel, so I made a cup of tea (they had been kind enough to stock some items into the fridge and cupboards) and watched the Man City Game while browsing though my induction pack including 2000SAR cash (about 350 quid) to start me off.
Then I went to bed in my lovely new massive bedroom. . . Smiling !
I feel very lucky !
The Compound is called the Hamra Oasis, and for good reason. It is beautiful with a surprising amount of green. There is a huge automatic watering system throughout the compound. Yesterday I watched a group of kids stood around looking at their watches before “whoosh” a whole load of sprinklers set off and the Kids were in and loving it. It was so hot I felt like diving in myself but resisted the urge, didn’t think it would go down too well he he.
At the center of the compound is a huge “recreational centre” consisting of:
6 Pools inc wave machine, Also a huge Jaqo jeques jecco bubble bath J with a bar in the pool.
2 Outdoor Tennis Courts
Then inside (all air con cooled)
Huge sports hall basket ball / football courts etc
A fully loaded Gym
Sauna & Spa
Restaurant (Also delivers J)
DVD / Game Shop
Dry Cleaners / Taylors
Arts & Crafts Room
Kids Play Room
All this 2 mins walk from my flat and all the facilities are free 🙂
The school is also located 5 mins walk the other direction within the compound, it has its front facing out of the compound as many pupils do not live in Hamra.
At the moment it is Ramadan so during the day all the shops are shut and it’s like a ghost town. But at night it comes alive with people in the pools and the restaurant is buzzing – things stay open until early hours during Ramadan.
The DVD shop made me chuckle – it’s a small shop packed to the roof with films old and new, but something didn’t look right. After speaking with the shop keeper it seems no one worrys about piracy in Saudi so lots of DVD shops sell copies for about 3 quid – all done nice with proper labels etc. all these rules are regs and the one thing UK does seem bothered about Saudi is not. Still I wasn’t complaining, as last night I sat down to watch X Men First Class with a curry from the takeaway – very nice!
I’m going to speak to the head teacher today about photograph rules etc but as I stepped out last night I took a quick snap of the front of my apartment. Im on the ground floor – those doors are into my living room.
Climate & Culture
Its Bloody HOT ! !
It’s hard to describe what the heat is like in the day; there is always a breeze so all I can relate it to is standing in front of a hair dryer on Hot.
In the evening its really nice, about 28 degrees but most days are around 44.
My first experience was Tuesday morning. I had landed at night and then gone into my lovely cool air conditioned flat. So when David came to call for me to have a tour of the compound / school – I wasn’t really prepared when I walked outside, it was only 10:00am and the brightness and heat was overwhelming.
We went for a short walk to the facilities, David had a hat and sun glasses, I was unprepared, squinting in the bright light. We were only outside for 20mins but that night I had some sun stroke I was sick (Those on my leaving do from BULL will remember what that looks like) and went to bed feeling sorry for myself.
I woke the next morning felling fine, taking the advice I had been given about hat, glasses and amount of water I should be drinking I started again. And now I know what to do I am most comfortable. All buildings are fully air conned so I just make short journeys between wearing my kit with a bottle of water in hand.
As it’s so hot in the daytime, most locals sleep and then go out at night.
The first time I went out of the compound was when Basker took me to the Hypermarket. At about 11:00pm it was packed, hundreds of people. The car park was heaving. We then went passed the same mall the next day at around 11:30am there was about 30 cars – it was empty.
The Hypermarket was massive – imagine the Tesco Extra at Stairfoot in Barnsley and times it by 4! It was fantastic. They have loads of brand names you all know but they are more expensive than the local ones. For example a box of Nesttle Shreddies was 24SAR (4 Quid) while local cereal was only 10SAR (1.60). Although overall I think food shopping is cheaper over here.
I must admit I’m enjoying taking in the culture but it was an odd sight looking down a lane in the shopping mall and seeing what I could only describe as an army of Ninjas! There must have been 200 Females all wearing black burkers. You could never say you would meet your wife at the Mall it would take you a year to find her.
I think a lot of what I read on the internet about the culture was over the top, I have seen women talking to male shop assistants and have seen people out in short sleeve shirts during Ramadan. Although I am told the one law I must defiantly not break is eating and drinking in public during Ramadan as this is not just culture – its LAW.
Alarm Clock Madness
Ok let me introduce you to my new best friend . . .
Beef Bacon, and its lovely so all those of you rubbing it in about bacon sandwiches can get stuffed lol.
I found out 2 fantastic things yesterday.
1. Wendy the head of HR came in and we had a chat, she’s lovely and really helpful, one of the things we discussed was annual leave. It turns out that the agency had not got the leave right, I don’t get so many days off. Basically I get paid 12 months a year and its isn’t pro rata or anything like that but unless I have things to do or the school need me, when the school is off, I’m off! ! ! – omg how good is that to get here and discover I get 13 weeks off a year. She said the other great thing about living here is that you can use that time to travel as you are pretty much the center of everything.
2. I was looking at Riyadh on Google earth, and then went to find my apartment in the compound, when I figured out where it was I was shocked to see a big bit of blue right behind it, so when I went home I bobbed around the back of the flat and sure enough there was this swimming pool – like 10 yards from my front door and I had missed it. I had always gone straight from the street into my door, I never looked around the back – how good is that having a swimming pool on your doorstep!
Electricity is very strange here, depending on what building you go in, in what part of the city, depends on the plug type and voltage, basically every 4 way socket is multi adapter so you can plug any type of plug in.
Also I found out the electricity is on a different frequency here. Have you ever wondered how your digital alarm clock works – well it counts time by the pulses in the electricity, so sure enough since my alarm clock was from the UK – when plugged in here it gained about 10 minutes and hour due to being a different frequency – how annoying !
So I went into the supermarket and found a nice travel battery alarm clock for 8 quid, however I was in for a huge shock the next morning when it went off at 4:30 with loud Muslim worship voice. I thought oh well at least it woke me up; I must have set it wrong. But when I looked it said it was set for 6:00am – strange. . . anyways at 6:00am sure enough it went off with a beep, beep, beep like a normal clock. Later on it did the worship voice thing again? How odd.
So I bit the bullet and read the instructions: Bloody hell! I had bought a Muslim alarm clock, it goes off for prayer 5 times a day and the only way to stop it is to take the batteries out!
Back to the drawing board with that one!
When its prayer time its broadcast all over the city on loudspeaker and in shops and everything you can’t avoid it. I have learned not to go shopping at prayer time as everything closes, except the supermarkets – they just lock you in and let you browse until the cashiers come back – British health and safety would have a field day with that one.
Shopping & Socks
Oh my god, I have only been here a week and done 2 lots of washing and I have an odd sock already, that’s just not right! Actually im still having fun with the washer dryer – its got about a million settings and I still havint found the one where the clothes come out dry.
Went to the restaurant in the compound today, the food and service was good however there was one minor issue. Saudis are proper smokers and there are no laws about smoking in food places. Although I noticed the smoke, it didn’t bother me but I could see it being a problem for some people.
The restaurant is a jack of all trades, it does Saudi things (veg, lamb and rice) also Indian, Chinese, Italian etc. so it caters for everyone. Today was the first time I really fancied a beer – to have with my food oh well can’t have everything.
I also had a proper look around the closest mall to me. There is a Debenhams, Next, River Island, New Look, and even an Early Learning Centre among the shops. Looking round the ratio of women to men was probably 10 woman to 1 man.
All in full Burka gear, what is strange is there are loads of Abaya shops (that’s the long dress that they all wear) with hundreds of colours and designs and the women were buying them yet every one of them was in plain black – it’s so odd. I went with a friend and we were talking about how wonderful the culture was to see, having a laugh and a joke, there was a gang of about 10 women all walking together talking amongst each other in full Burkas.
he whispered, which one do you fancy?
I found it very hard to keep a straight face, so I just replied, the one in the black. . .
As I walked past the escalators a guy gave me a leaflet, as I looked at it, it was clear it was for dentists. Then I had to take a double take because as I looked up, in a tiny glass booth for all to see between the 2 escalators there was a dentist with a patient in the chair, doing his thing . . . not bad for a modest private society?
Later on I found all the men – there is a 2 story Electronic shop at the end of the mall like currys but much bigger – it was just chocka with blokes – so I had a look – loads of TVs, laptops, gadgets and stuff at good prices but of course no sodding alarm clock!
There is a massive food hall with plenty of choice including a stand called London Fish & Chips! When you get your food there is a separate seating area for single men and a screen which blocks line of sight to the family / female area.
At the side of the food hall there is a massive funfair – with rides, arcades, sideshows and even a decent size rollacoaster. Matthew is going to love it! Speaking of which I have been out here a week now and I’m starting to miss my family, don’t get me wrong I’m not at all home sick – I love it here, I just can’t wait for them to join me and share this lifestyle.
Short One Today
As it’s just been the weekend for me and I decided to have a real lazy one before work starts proper today I haven’t got much to tell you so it’s a short one.
It was my first proper day of work today, with all the Admin staff in school. I had a lovely introduction from the head and then gave a short presentation to staff which seemed to go down well.
I honestly can’t believe the amount of tasks done manually in such a good school. The facilities are top notch, the exam results are high and the atmosphere is lovely but the use of technology is poor, although I like that as it means I can have more of an impact on the school.
I also learned this week that the king himself sends 2 of his sons here and one is around Matthew’s age so could even be in his class. How much of an endorsement is that for the school that the Kings children attend.
How about some facts about Saudi Arabia that you may or may not know.
1. The King is one of the richest people in the world; Saudi generates over 9 Million Barrels of Oil a day and has enough Oil to last about 300 years. At 68 pound a barrel that’s income of 612 Million Pound a day, once costs have come off all the profit goes directly to the King.
2. The king is generous to his people by just giving so much money away, a couple of years ago he gave every Saudi of age enough money to buy their own house. There are no utility bills and no form of tax whatsoever.
3. Believe it or not one of Saudi’s main industries is Dairy Farming, the supermarkets are socked solid with loads of dairy products all produced locally. Although I must say I’m suspicious as I haven’t seen any cows yet.
Starbucks in Mordor
Last night I went to the Hayat Mall, its massive and has all the shops you would normally find and more. I went to get some food and they even have different queues here for singles and families. I was really adventurous which my food and went for a local specialty. . KFC lol, although it was a bit weird I asked for a meal, which was really cheap just 3 quid and got 3 pieces of chicken, large chips, large Pepsi, a tub of coleslaw and a bread bun ?
Its weird how I have to go to the mall at night after 9:00pm because that’s when they open – its quiet at that time but then when leaving at 11:00pm its mental – so busy. I know the world isn’t supposed to be dictated by alcohol but I couldn’t help thinking that in the UK the roads would be quieter because half the population would have had a drink at this time of night!
On the way to the mall we passed the kingdom tower it’s a spectacular sight, now I know you all think I’m obsessed with lord of the rings but surly I can’t be the only one that thinks this is straight from middle earth to the middle east ?
Public toilets are interesting, they are very clean but there is no toilet – in your cubical there is a hole in the floor you squat over, and besides toilet paper there is also a shower head for your to wash . . well you get the idea. Also it was a bit weird as it must have been prayer time soon or something because when I went in the other day there were a load of blokes with their feet in the sinks. How lovely!
Today I spent a good deal of time with the Senior Leadership Team which was very positive, they all seem onboard with the changes I wish to make to drag the school into the technology. The head wishes me to spend a couple of hours giving an overview of SIMS to all staff when they arrive on Saturday, so I went across into the main hall to check it out ready for my presentation and was surprised to find a Starbucks coffee shop inside the school – how good is that! I had to stop for a quite coffee and a muffin it would have been rude not to.
Everyone is so friendly here, not just the British People but the Indian and srilankan guards and drivers they are all so nice and friendly, I could easily spend a lot of time in their company, to be honest it feels a little strange and humbling to think how little they get paid and that there families are back in their own country. One guy goes home to see his family once a year and when he returned this time he saw his 4 month old daughter for the first time. I know how much I am missing my family after just 2 weeks apart so It really of puts things in perspective and you realise how lucky you are.
Anyway as you know I love to try new things so its camel stakes for tea tonight which I picked up in the supermarket.
It Can’t All Be Good!
Ok so I’m sure you have got the impression by now that I’m happy with my new surroundings, and have been saying how fantastic it is. I genuinely feel so lucky to be here, but I thought maybe is should try to even it up and report on anything bad so you get the whole picture.
I have had a number of conversations with people about where to go and where to avoid and one place which keeps coming up again and again is affectionately know as “Chop Chop Square” It would appear that some rumours are true and this is the place in the old town part of Riyadh where public punishment and execution takes place. I have mixed feelings about this part of the culture as it’s a bit on the barbaric side – lashes, having limbs amputated or having your head cut off as a punishment for crime . . . However it does seem to work as the crime rate is very low and you feel very safe, people let their young children play out on their own without fear of what may happen to them, unlike in our country.
Obviously I have no interest in seeing any of this public brutality but have been advised all the same to keep away on Fridays as in days gone by the Mutawwa (Religious Police) would bring westerners to the front to witness the whole thing up close.
I have mentioned this before, but until you see for yourself what the roads are like and how dangerous it is I can’t really describe it. There are more fatalities due to road accident than due to smoking or cancer or anything like that – it’s the main killer in Saudi. You see young lads of 13 going 80 mile an hour weaving in and out of all lanes, overtaking on both sides without indicating – it’s quite scary. Although the official diving age is 17 it is not enforced, it seems that as long as you can reach the wheel and the accelerator at the same time you can drive!
I never imagined how big Riyadh is, even though the school is in the city, it’s to the north so when I went into the centre for my photos taking it was a 25 min journey by car. Before I came out here I thought I would go out walking – exploring the city all the time but it’s just not feasible. The main roads are 4 or 5 lanes wide both directions and there are no crossing points. People just do not walk anywhere they drive everywhere. This is also due to the fact that it’s still too hot in the day and really warm in the evening making walking anywhere difficult and also that petrol here is only 8p a litre – it’s cheaper than water!
That’s about all I can complain about really, the place and the people are all so friendly. All being well I think I could stay here a along time.
By the way Camel meat is fantastic, it’s like beef, I would defiantly recommend it to all you carnivores out there.
Working Hard, Playing Harder
Sorry I haven’t blogged for a while I have been so busy! I have pulled a 90 odd hour shift this week in preparation for the new school year. I wanted to make a proper impression so I have moved forward all the plans for next term to this term and got the whole school taking lesson registers on the computers.
All the teaching staff are back now and the place has livened up which is great – I haven’t cooked all week, I have been invited to Pancake Party’s, BBQ’s, Curry nights and all sorts. I was also invited to a meal with the Bursar, the Principal and the Chair of Governors, which meant I was having dinner with my boss, my bosses boss and my bosses bosses boss! so I had to mind my P’s n Q’s actually It was a lovely evening with fantastic food and we had a good laugh. I have also been sampling people’s home brew this week, with versions of Gin, Whisky, Wine and Beer which were not bad actually. One particular “master brewer” gave me a lesson so it will not be long before Drury label is hitting the compound! It’s obvious that smuggling alcohol is a big NO NO! but people do come back from the UK with cases full of pork, as if you get caught all they do is take it off you. It was quite funny to hear about a friend’s suitcase half full of sausages lol. I have also started playing some sport. I’m playing Basketball and touch rugby this week which is great as I need to burn some calories, with all the nice food I’m getting I may be expanding.
On Saturday I was booked in to do a presentation for the whole school (Over 150 people). It was odd usually this sort of thing doesn’t faze me at all but I couldn’t sleep on Friday night. I think it’s because here there’s not much separation between school and home it like a goldfish bowl as you live amongst all your colleagues. Around my pool there are about 10 teacher’s apartments so I think it put more pressure on to make a good first impression.
I felt it went ok and I managed quite a lot of laughs, I even told my shit tortoise getting mugged by 3 snails joke (he couldn’t recognise them because it all happened too fast). It now seems it went more than ok, since the presentation my office has been buzzing with people wanting to see me, I’m being described as “a god send” and “everyone’s best friend” and have even had a few marriage proposals lol
Everyone here really seems like a really good bunch and they do loads of stuff together, I can’t wait for Gill and Matt to get out here we are all going to be social animals. Speaking of which now Eid is over everything is returning to normal, I can actually sort Gills visa and get an internet connection and a mobile phone etc.
Ikea is big here, everyone’s apartment looks like a page out of the catalogue. When in conversation I mentioned that I loved Ikea people thought it was great, until I carried on to say for the hotdogs and meatballs not furniture. I got paid this week for 2 weeks work, you have no idea how good it feels to earn so much and not have anything taken as Tax etc. I can afford a lot of Ikea meatballs!
I’m getting a maid!
I know it sounds silly and lazy, but everyone here does it as they are cheap and do ironing, cleaning and even cooking if you want. And lets be honest wouldn’t you rather not do any housework for the around a tenner a week? – Although I’m under strict instructions from Gill they must not be Swedish, Blonde, with pig tails.
As the fish said when he swam into some concrete . . . . . . . Dam!
Its Been A Blur
Wow the last week has flown by, I thought I better update you although I haven’t really been many places it’s been a blur of work and beer and I have done more than my fair share of both !
Usmania is the name of a local curry house the lads go to every Wednesday night. It looks like a greasy spoon café with plastic chairs and menus under perspex on the table etc. I probably would not have gone there unless I was desperate or had a recommendation. As soon as we sat down the guy came over with a bottle of water and a plate full of fresh veg with dips – like a healthy mans poppadums’ and pickles. We all ordered a curry each and some chicken tika (whole legs in the bbq – really nice), some aloo saag (spinach and potato stuff) and some cans of coke (no beer outside the compound of course) but I was told not to bother with rice as they provide bread. The food was lovely and the guys just keep bringing fresh nan breads out of the oven and dropping them on the table without us asking, no one used a fork – everything was just eaten using the bread, we must have gone through around 4 breads each! I really enjoyed it but the best was yet to come – the whole meal for 6 of us came to 110 SAR which is roughly £17 – that’s like £2.80 each lol, needless to say it is now in my calendar to visit every Wednesday!
Now the teachers have arrived its really buzzing round my apartment area, I’m not sure how much Matt will enjoy his teachers being his neighbours and his parents working in his school though – he won’t be able to get away with anything lol. Everyone is really friendly here, people invite each other round for tea every day and lots of apartments have “open house” policy. 1 particular guy who has been out here over 10 years has actually turned his spare bedroom into a pub . . . . that’s right I said a pub! – the lads all go round – he has a proper bar and they sit there on bar stools drinking homebrew just like it was a pub, and its brill I’ve been there as often as I can.
I have to tell you, you come out here having psyched yourself up to losing your social life and being T-Total but the truth is I have never drunk so much beer in my life. At the weekend I was invited to a friend’s BBQ at the side of the pool near my apartment – it’s a great setting, the pool is lit all night. There were lots of people and everyone brought their homebrew, I got in at 3:00am after taking a swim courtesy of some of the lads. . . to be honest I had an idea it was coming so I left my phone and wallet at home, 2 of the lads were not that prepared and were nursing £400 each worth of iphone turned into wet paperweights J
Anyway I’m off shopping now, then will get some food in the mall and I might call for a swift one at the pub before coming home and watching the footy, I bet all you folk taking the mickey out of me when I was leaving for Saudi never thought you would read my evenings would be like this.
Snooker with Cars
Nothing much to tell you at the moment, I’m purposely not doing anything exciting so I can experience things with Gill and Matt when they arrive, which is taking forever! – Its not even clear why its taking so long. I’m really starting to miss them, although there is plenty to do socially its not the same without them, I am however creating a whole list of things to do when they get here like watching the sun set from the top of the Kingdom tower or taking a flight to the red sea for the weekend etc. I have been to plenty of party’s though. There seems to be something going on nearly every night.
I had an interesting conversation with an ex-policeman working out here, I had amused him with the story about getting caught for speeding on my moped and he continued to tell me that when he used to be on the traffic night shift the coppers would play snooker with cars – so you would always start with a red, as soon as a red car came even just slightly over the limit it would be pulled and he would be on the radio – “I’m on 1” then if another red came along he would let it goes as he was now on colour – he would be looking for a black car for 7 points! Bloody coppers!!! So the moral of the story is buy a white car as no copper want minus 4 for a sour.
When I went shopping the other day we got the timings wrong and the shutters were just coming down for prayer time so we legged it and just got in the shop before being locked in, however it was then we realised the trolleys were outside . . . bugger! so we spent the next 10 mins looking for abandoned trolleys without much in which we could liberate for our own goods, kind of ironic really someone goes off to pray to god, to come back and find their trolley has been swiped perhaps they should go and pray that no one touches their shopping?
My brewing has become an obsession, it’s not that I need a drink I can take it or leave it – it’s more a a social thing – Its crap going to someone’s house and not being able to take a bottle as a thank you. I have been researching recipes and have got some experimental pomegranate wine on the go, I must admit I like the geeky science bit too.
I found my first intruder in the apartment this week. I was doing the pots and out of the corner of my eye I saw a gecko mooching on the kitchen worktop. I went to catch him and I would like to say it was my cat like reflexes and cunning that prevailed but it was the fact the little guy shot off and fell in the sink was the only reason he was caught. I have started to research how to keep them waiting for the inevitable question when Matthew arrives and gets hold of one.
Things are going really well at work, although I’m super busy, now the initial launch has gone I’m finishing work on time rather than still being there at 8 o clock.