and welcome back to all of my loyal readers, many of
which have been waiting with interest for the next
instalment of my diary of life in Riyadh. I’m sure
some of you are anticipating that at some point I’m
bound to get arrested, but so far I’ve managed to
dodge the metaphorical bullets!
I am, back in Riyadh for the third time this year,
and this stint is the longest at 7 weeks. Seven
weeks is much longer than I would want to stay out
here in one session, but needs must. On this visit
I’m ably supported by that well known rally driver
called Tan, (remember - strap yourself in tightly!)
who managed to frighten the life out of me on more
than one occasion on our first visit – although at
least we never got stuck in sand! Okay, the
formalities over, let’s get stuck in…..
Wednesday 8th October
We had a
fairly uneventful flight, other than a number of
screaming kids meaning I didn’t get much sleep. As
so often happens, when one child starts crying their
eyes out another one seems to start as well – just
in sympathy if nothing else.
Richard’s final week in Riyadh went well back in
August, and on our final afternoon our host
presented us with a gift each – a copy of The Holy
and some other handbooks explaining the ins and outs
of Islam. So I was wracking my brain during
September as to what I could bring out as a gift. A
copy of the Bible would probably have seen me
suffering 50 lashes so that was a no, no….a
Sheffield United football shirt maybe? Ok, ok; I
can hear already someone back home shouting out that
that’s worth 100 lashes!!
often to my Saudi colleagues about my beloved
Yorkshire and Sheffield (got to get my own back
somehow!), so I settled on bringing out Yorkshire
Tea and bottles of Sheffield Relish. For the non-Sheffielders
amongst you, Henderson’s Relish has been made in
Sheffield for 100+ years (http://www.hendersonsrelish.com/).
Similar in constitution to Worcester Sauce, but
tasting totally different, you use it as a sauce on
meat dishes, in soups, marinating, etc. So I
carefully packaged two bottles in my suitcase along
with two boxes of finest Yorkshire Tea.
Riyadh airport, once you’ve collected your luggage
you have to put it through scanners so that customs
can check if you’re carrying anything illegal – such
as, perish the thought, alcohol. So, as my bag with
two bottles of Relish goes through the scanner, I
sense a delay on the belt and then the customs agent
rises from his seat and calls me over.
have bottles in your bag?”
how do I describe Relish to him??
sauce – a gift’ as I start to open my bag.
that he waved me on. I didn’t have to open my bag
and prove it wasn’t alcohol; he took me at my word.
Remember that the next time you try and smuggle a
bottle of whisky into Saudi Arabia. It’s a cooking
problem, when back at work, was explaining to my
host what Relish is and how to use it. And
convincing them that they can use it, even though it
mentions alcohol on the list of ingredients on the
label. (It’s a chemical alcohol, not a ‘get you
back to work – remember weekends over here are
Thursday and Friday. First day back and were
greeted by devastating news – the tea boy tells us
it’s his last week working here and the contract
isn’t being renewed. I still don’t know what’s
going to happen next week when I want a tea or
coffee – maybe I’ll get a tea girl…..NOT!!
first checked-in at the hotel me and Tan were in
adjoining rooms, but Tan asked to move because of
the noise coming from my room with all the late
night parties I was having with my harem of girls –
well that and the fact he wasn’t invited. So I got
a new neighbour today. About 23:30 he returns to
his room and switches the TV on – full volume.
After a couple of minutes, and with no sign of the
sound reducing, I bang on the interconnecting door
between our two rooms. The TV is then turned down.
lying in bed when at 23:45 he gets on the phone and
is using speakerphone. Everything is so loud I can
clearly hear the conversation of both parties – I’ve
no idea what they’re talking about as it’s all in
Arabic, but it was bloody annoying. Half an hour
later, the phone call ends – with me having a pillow
over my head trying to escape the noise.
00:30, the TV is switched on again – full volume.
That’s it I think, as I’m losing my rag now. I get
a shoe this time and start banging loudly on the
interconnecting door. The response I got was, and
this is true…. “Who is it?”. Who is it, I ask you
– how thick can someone be!! Anyway, my response
was …”turn down the f***ing tv”. Things we’re
then a bit quieter the next few days. Which is a
good job, because I was ready to storm his room the
Wednesday 15th October
final day of week one goes down in the annals of
history! Our lives will never be the same…..
reported much about the lack of female interaction
over here, with us not speaking to a woman from
stepping of the plane and saying goodbye to the
stewardess until we were saying hello to the
stewardess as we got on the plane for the flight
home – 4 weeks in June and 3 weeks in August.
Wednesday afternoon and we have a meeting scheduled
to talk about Service Level Management. As we’re
walking towards the meeting room a woman is walking
about 10-15 paces in front of us. A rare enough
sight as it is, but she enters the room that we’re
supposed to be in. Me and Tan look at each other,
thinking we’ve gone to the wrong meeting room. As
we stand at the doorway we see one of our male Saudi
colleagues already sat in the room and who is
supposed to be in the same meeting as us. We’re
waved into the room, and both of us sit opposite
this woman. She’s dressed all in black, with a head
scarf (Hijab) as well, but with her face uncovered.
What we then understand as her manager comes in and
sits next her.
the next 75 minutes, I'm talking about Service Level
Management and having a conversation with a Saudi
woman for the very first time. Just to put things
into perspective, this is our 40th day
working in this office and our 55th full
day of being in Riyadh this year – and this is the
first time we're having a conversation with a woman.
somewhat disconcerting at times, trying to make sure
that I didn’t say the wrong thing – especially with
Saudi men present. At one stage she said that she
had a number of comments about a document that I had
wrote. I replied that I would be happy to have a
further discussion outside of the meeting, but I
consciously made sure that I looked at both her and
her manager when I said that, as I’m sure that I
won’t be left in a room alone with her. Now, if I
was back in the UK, I’d just sit down with the woman
and we’d have a free discussion/debate about any
issues she’s got – here, I have to think about
culture and politics; and trying not to put my foot
in it! I’ll let you know how the second meeting
and I found one of the most disturbing scenes of
life in Riyadh when we were driving around one of
the older districts that can be found in downtown
Riyadh. We drove down this road and for over half a
mile there were lone women sat on the pavement,
apparently homeless and abandoned. Even worse was
when you saw that some had a child sat next to them
or indeed a baby or very young child in their arms.
Occasionally, two women may be sat together, more
rarely 3 or 4, but for such as rich country this was
a depressing scene of how Saudi men can treat their
women. We never saw this of Saudi men, only women.
asked Tan to drive me down to the district so that I
could take some photos. Conscious that I was
probably getting into serious territory here, the
plan was for Tan to keep driving and I would just
take some pictures whilst the car was still moving.
There was no way after my previous close encounters
that I was going to take any risks with this
think it was the same road, but we did find another
one with women littered along the pavement and again
a number of them had young children with them. We
didn’t stop, but I still can’t get those
out of my head.
some light on some of the female (and other) issues
out here read some of these stories:
in unfair' Saudi beheading
'Justice Square' in the photo is where I got told
off for taking pics!!
cleric favours one-eye veil
women 'kept in childhood'
Read the full HRW report
on the highway to change
Muslim women wear the veil
Bizarrely whilst looking at these links and doing
research on the Human Rights Watch web-site, I lost
my internet connection. Coincidence, conspiracy, is
someone watching me….you decide.
Until the next