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Logan's Run

Part10
So, it's now March 2009 and I'm back in Saudi Arabia for more 'punishment'. In fact, I was back in Riyadh for a week in January and also a week in February, but now I'm mid-way through a 4-week stint (and working solo on this occasion). I must say, after the novelty wore off last year, a week is just about as much as I can take nowadays, so I'm currently going cold turkey!

I never got around to posting a final update when I left at the end of last November, but I did write some stuff so here's a recap.....

28th November 2008
I've just arrived home after 7 weeks away, and it's great to be back. Overall the project has gone well, albeit progress has been very slow at times. Not a lot has happened in recent weeks, as there's not much to do outside of work - unless you're part of a family. Being single you feel fairly ostracised from being able to get involved in life out here. For example, museums and other 'entertainment' are usually only open to families at weekends, which is the only time we can go. Even the shopping malls are 'families only' at weekends!

Alan came over from the UK for 10 days to do some training whilst Tan and I concentrated on the consultancy. So on our weekend together we showed Alan some of the sights and highlights in and around Riyadh, although I must say that Alan did a good job of that himself when we weren't around.

So we drove out to the desert to an area that Tan had explored before, and I was amazed at what we saw. The drive from Riyadh to Bahrain is just 300 miles of driving through flat, featureless desert; but as you can see from the photos, there are valleys and canyons that bring back memories of the Grand Canyon, if not on the same scale.

We also got up close and personal with some camels!! This was a bizarre area, just off the main highway and near an immense drop into the valley below, there were carcasses of dead animals everywhere. It just seemed to be some sort dumping ground. And let me tell you, when the wind blows in the right direction the smell is not a pleasant experience!! We passed my favourite bridge, and a very impressive security checkpoint that had this great fort-like structure for an office. Obviously as you can see from this pic, Alan became a bit overcome with the excitement of it all :-)

Now a while back, a few of my readers expressed concern that I was going to get myself into even more trouble(!) with my crusade for Saudi women. Well fear not, my concerns have eased…..

It has been refreshing being able to speak openly to my female acquaintance, the Service Level Manager. Although a Muslim, she was actually born in the USA and went to one of the top American universities. She has openly talked about the issues women face, both inside the workplace and outside. I raised the issue of the apparently homeless women I had seen begging in the street, some of them with young children in their arms.

It transpires that the majority are not Saudi women at all, but are in the country having overstayed their Visas. Many of them are married and it’s the husbands who send them out to beg on the basis that females are likely to garner more sympathy. That is also one of the reasons for them having children with them. This sounds a bit like some of the female beggars in central London that have come from various eastern European countries. Many of those use young kids to enhance their cause. She also said that it is not unknown for it not to be a woman at all, but a man under the abaya and niqāb. So my crusade is on hold for now...

And finally…."mine's bigger than yours" is no doubt what one security guard was saying to the other when I was watching them recently!

So that's about it. Thanks for the feedback, it is much appreciated. I've got to come here for 1-week visits in January, February and March so hopefully I can continue to keep out of trouble. Until the next time, take care, and bye for now.

19th March 2009
Did I really say that I'd be coming back for one week in March? Well, unfortunately(!), I did such a good job that the customer asked me to come back to do phase 2 of the project. So having spent a total of 14 weeks out here in 2008, I've got to do another 14 weeks in 2009.

Before I go any further, I'd just like to say that I'm a great fan of Battlestar Galactica (the 21st century version that is on Sky1). To get around the US TV censors, they invented a new 'F-word' called 'frack' - it means the same as Gordon Ramsay's version of the f-word, but as frack doesn't really exist it also means they can use it liberally. So I've decided to use it as well!

Here I am two weeks into my latest four week 'tour of duty' and life is just the same. I get fracked-off when the air raid siren (oops sorry, I mean the call to prayer!) sounds about 04:30 in a morning. I then get even more fracked-off when it sounds again about 6am. Even with double-glazing in the hotel, I here the sounds from the local mosque more often than not.

The fight goes on in the Arab News for women service staff in lingerie stores - there still aren't any. Last week I happened to walk through the cosmetics department of Harvey Nichols, where (as everywhere) all the customer service assistants were male. Then there were all the female customers who had got veils on. The two situations combined was a bizarre site. By the way, I don't think I've mentioned this before but there are no changing rooms allowed in clothes stores!

The highlight of my stay this month occurred on Tuesday 10th March - the worst sandstorm to hit Riyadh for 32 years. I was sat in my office at lunchtime thinking 'it's going a bit dark in here'. I look outside and see half the sky is blue and half is orange. The next moment the whole sky is awash with sand and outside resembles a scene from Mars.

And finally, one of the things that really fracks me off is reading articles like this. Some of the things I read in the Arab News makes me never want to come back to this country, its barbaric and archaic practices have no place in the modern world. (Although, by the way, hand-holding in public has just been outlawed in Dubai).

Until the next time...... "I'm a consultant, get me the frack out of here!!!!!"

 

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  (C) 2009 Mark Sykes