Friday, August 22, 2008

Chop chop

Destination: Riyadh

Equipment: hair dryer, electrical outlet, dark coloured long sleeved shirt, dark coloured long pants

1) Put on long clothing. May also add scarf either around neck or head for extra authenticity, however head cover is not generally expected of Western expats.

2) Insert plug into wall. Hold hair dryer 1-1.5 feet away from your face. Do not turn it on just yet.

3) Close your eyes. Envision reddish, sandy dirt beneath your feet, date trees scattered around you (aside: date trees look like palm trees with grape-like bunches of yellow, oblong fruit growing from where we are used to seeing coconuts), men in white, long sleeved ground-length robes (“thob”), and women in long black abayas and face veils (“niquab”). The buildings around you are all unique: Complex modern architecture comprised mostly of mirrored glass, bearing both English and Arabic signage. The modern masterpieces like the “Kingdom Tower” (think giant mirrored bottle-opener) are starkly contrasted by a few remaining crumbly-walled traditional clay brick low rises nestled in the back alleyways. Scattered regularly like cacti in a desert landscape, the mosque towers (“minarets” – they look like bishop chess pieces) spike up over the roof-tops . There is a group of young boys laughing and kicking around a soccer ball in a nearby dusty field. The air is slightly hazy, and the sun is steady.
Suddenly, the breeze picks up…you are thankful momentarily, as you wait for the cooling effect to hit your sweat-drenched skin…then you remember that is it 48C, and you are forced to turn your head away from the heinous torch blast that is singeing your eyelashes.

4) turn on hair dryer on highest heat setting (ensuring it is pointed directly into your face) and hold for 15 sec, or until nose hairs burn dry and eyelashes shrivel.

5) don’t you feel like you were right here next to me?

Variation: Find a sauna. Repeat steps 1-5 inside sauna. This promises a much more accurate simulation.

You will all be happy to learn that 2 days ago, I finally bought a new abaya. It is being custom made with long sleeves and long body, but sans “moo-moo” waistline. It has a beautiful dark brown swirly design on the bottom of each sleeve, and on the back. There are a few little amber-coloured stones embedded in the brown swirly bits. This is all being done for 200 SAR (about $50!), and I pick it up Tuesday. Now...let me tell you about where I bought it:
One of the senior nurses took myself and another orientee under her wing, and drove us (well, her driver drove us) out to the “Dhera” Ladies’ souq (aside: a “souq” is kind of like a flea market where there are many different and extremely pushy vendors selling various goods for super cheap, cash only. The buyer generally bargains with the vendor for the best price. I am not very good at this yet.).

Once we were all shopped out (actually, once we were just tired of getting harassed), we left the souq, and sat outside in a huge outdoor plaza where a group of about 15 young boys were hanging out riding bikes, playing soccer, and joking around (remember when North American kids used to do that before computers and video games came along?). We laughed as the boys tried out their English skills on us with impish grins….”Hello!”….”Welcome!”…”I love you!”.

As I looked around the plaza, I turned to our co-worker/tour guide and inquired if there was any particular purpose to this plaza (Mum, you might not want to read this part!). She lifted an eyebrow, and replied in a hushed tone…”it’s ‘Chop-chop’”. In response to the blank look on my face, she offered a blunt elaboration: “ This is where they decapitate people convicted of drug crime, murder, adultery, etc”. All of a sudden the cement blocks in the centre of the plaza upon which we were comfortably perched seemed a whole lot less cozy. My response was a brief comment which Allah would have viewed with deep discountenance…as an afterthought, I asked her incredulously “how long ago did they stop doing THAT?!”. She eyed me in amusement: “They haven’t”.

Here are couple of pictures from the "social gathering" at the Australian Embassy a couple of weeks ago. The picture of us in our abayas is just as we are getting there. I think it goes without saying that the other pictures are later on in the night, following copious sampling of some of Australia's finest wares...

1 comment:

Kerry said...

Wow - that must have been a large chunk of 'culture-shock'!