Author Archives: Laura

Hello there! I'm Laura, the founder of Blue Abaya- the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia, established in 2010.  Travel has always been my passion- so far I've visited 70 countries and I'm always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia!

In response to the negative behaviors seen in line cutting post, I was asked by a Finnish reader to write about an example of a very good behavior or a nice deed I witnessed done by a Saudi.
No problem! It’s very easy to write about positive incidents in Saudi-Arabia because they do happen all the time, we just don’t hear about them often. Or then, people are blind to the positives and can only see the bad and negative in things. This is often the case with many expats here, unfortunately. For outsiders, all they seem to hear about from the media are the bad things which happen in KSA. So here’s a dose of positivity in form of mini-series of  “true stories” from Saudi Arabia.

I’m going to mention a few random things that came to my mind about Saudi-Arabia and GOOD manners, hospitality and friendship.

A very recent really nice deed by a Saudi man happened just last week. My husband and I had left for a long walk with the stroller on a Friday afternoon around Diplomatic Quarters. We had walked so far that we had actually gotten lost! Suddenly out of nowhere a vicious sandstorm hit. We started walking faster but realized it would take at least another half hour until we reached anywhere near home. Suddenly a car stopped and a man asked us to get in his car, insisting on driving us home without even asking where we live! So we gladly took the ride home (he insisted on taking us all the way to our door) and only then realized how far away we had still been. Here’s a pic of the sandstorm rolling in:

Sandstorm front

Once I was flying alone with my then 8 month old daughter along with three large bags in my hands. I had been struggling with all my stuff on the previous flight out of Finland, but no one had helped me. When I was boarding the next flight to Riyadh, there were Saudi men going out of their way to help me.

As I stepped on the airport bus I noticed it was full of Asian men without famlies (very common on flights to Saudi) and a group of Pakistani men were sitting and occupying all the seats but none of them moved their butts, they just ogled at me with no shame. I was standing there with all my things and a squirmy baby in my arms yet none of the men had the decency to give me a seat. A Saudi man had already helped me lift all the stuff on the bus and now another stepped in to clear a seat for me.

The Saudi man (he looked like a muttawa btw) noticed the situation and how uncomfortable those men were making me feel and told those staring men off. It worked, they suddenly remembered to lower or divert their gazes. He made way for me to sit on the benches, he even had to push (nicely, not aggressively) one reluctant guy to the side and asked the men to clear three seats for me. The men very reluctantly moved, but I was thankful the Saudi guy helped me because those men would’ve never listened to a woman.

Later one young Saudi guy insisted on carrying all my things up the plane, then went to search for an empty over head locker for them and when we landed he fetched everything and brought it all to the airport cart for me. He was so polite and respectful and didn’t try to chat me up or anything.
This was not an isolated case, I’ve been helped by Saudis with the baby and things every time I traveled alone with her.

Another incident from the airport, again I was alone with the baby and now had the stroller with me and needed to pass through the security check. I found it extremely difficult to handle everything with all the stuff and as we know usually all around the world the personnel don’t usually assist much. Well this time the Saudi national guards saw my despair and motioned for me to pass the whole queue.

One officer took the baby and started to play with her on the other side. The other one came to fold the stroller and lift it up on the xray machine. At this point the women have to go into a separate female check-up room so I left the baby with the men(they were so fascinated by her cute smiley face that they forgot to “check” her) and went in for the pat down. When I came out they were all gathered around admiring the baby, had re-assembled the stroller and placed all my belongings next to it. None of them were looking at the monitor :) That really warmed my heart and made me smile.

Just last week at Al Owais souq we had first a negative incident but it lead to such a positive response from others I want to mention it. I was walking along the souq alone while my husband was still at the car getting the baby out of her car seat. A car full of young Saudi guys pulled up and they all start trying to chat me up suggesting all sorts of things. I have zero tolerance for this kind of harassment and knowing my husband was nearby I started shouting back at them. I told them to eff off and their jaws DROPPED.

I turned around and followed them now openly flicking them off. They got really angry and shouted insults. I saw my husband approaching and pointed the car to him. When he realized the situation he RAN after the now panicked fleeing boys (with the baby in his arms). When the car reached the intersection they had to slow down and my husband was able to kick the car as hard as he could before they screeched away from the scene.
Immediately other Saudis watching the situation came to our defense asking my husband do we need any help and cursed those men out. One man said he saw how disrespectful and horrible they were and we were right to react. Then another passerby came and asked my husband does he want them to follow that car and catch the guys. People were also suggesting to report them to police and they had taken the license plates.
It felt good that this sort of bad behavior was condemned so strongly and people were openly supportive of us.

A few years ago the family of a long term patient of mine wanted to arrange a wedding party for me, after hearing we had just recently gotten married in Finland but we didn’t have the chance to have a celebration yet. They insisted on hosting a female only party for me. It was so sweet and to this day I keep contact with one of the daughters.

Another family I got to know well through a patient over a course of few years became really close to me. They invited my whole family over for dinner when they were visiting Saudi the first time. They gave me a wedding gift when they heard I got married, and another gift when I converted. I became friends with one of the older women in this family and she is a big fan of my daughter! This family has given me so much warmth and made me feel like I am part of their family. The best moment was when the 90-yr old grandmother wanted to kiss me on the forehead as thank you and high respect she had for me for caring so well for her husband.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked to pass the line to the front by Saudi men. It has happened at grocery stores, airports, all sorts of offices and places where lines have formed consisting mainly of men. As the sole woman they acted like gentlemen and let me cut in front and nobody ever complained, it is taken as granted that women shouldn’t be made to wait that long.

Once we had gone out for a desert camping trip in group of expats of various nationalities. One guy in the group got really badly stuck in the sand, the rest of the group tried to get him out to no avail. We were literally in the middle of nowhere (300km from Riyadh) there was a sandstorm and it wasn’t looking good. Luckily some Bedouins had seen us from far away and came to help us out. They pulled the yellow Hummer out of the sand with a Toyota pick-up truck and then lead the way to a very nice campsite we could never have found without them and then even made us Arabic coffee on the fire!

I had a patient once whose grand daughter has to be one of the most beautiful persons inward and out that I’ve met during my time here. I was new to the Kingdom and she helped me with many things in the beginning. We often had long discussions over Arabic coffee during my breaks on night shift. She confided in me about many problems from her life and I felt a real connection between us. She was my age and the sitter of her grandmother and present in the room most of the time. She was not married which is very uncommon for such a stunning woman of her age.  From her own will she remained single because she simply had not found the right person and had refused all the cousins and other relatives! I was impressed by her strong will.

I was very sad to hear when the patient was moved back to Jeddah where they lived but kept in contact with this woman.
A year later the same patient was back in our hospital and when they arrived the family immediately called me in the room. I was so happy to see them and vice versa. The grand daughter gave me an incense burner like the one they had had in the room which I had so much adored! I couldn’t believe she had remembered and brought it all the way from Jeddah for me.
What saddens me is I don’t know what happened to her after they left the hospital again. Suddenly her phone was cut off and her Facebook page deleted. I often think of her and wonder how she is doing and hope her problems were solved and that she found true love.

There are many many more stories to tell but I will leave you with these which I think are good examples of the considerate and polite nature of Saudi people.

 

Hello there! I’m Laura, the founder of Blue Abaya- the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia, established in 2010.  Travel has always been my passion- so far I’ve visited 70 countries and I’m always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia!

The first part of the Saudi wedding experience post left us foreigners still sitting at the table in amazement of the goings on. Read that post here.

The main event of the Saudi weddings is of course the arrival of the bride. Like I mentioned before the bride actually stays hidden from the guests for most of the wedding party. In a way I feel this is a shame since the wedding hall has been so beautifully decorated and so much time and money spent on it and the bride doesn’t get to fully enjoy it. All her relatives and friends are there too, so the arrangement of the bride only showing up for a good half hour during the entire evening, feels strange and like a sort of a waste for her to stay away from it all so long!

It’s hard to understand why the brides don’t fully participate in their own weddings! Sure she is the star of the show for the time she steps out of her closed room upstairs and slowly makes her grand entrance down the stairs and aisle to the stage for everyone to see. The bride then sits on the throne, sofa or chair whichever she has chosen, and watches women dance for her and come up to greet her. Usually this is the time in most Saudi weddings when the groom and some relatives such as the father of the bride and her brothers will make a short appearance on the women’s side which leads to frantic covering up of the unrelated women.

This wedding was different though. Not even the groom showed up which was really uncommon, I was told. When the bride was ready to come down the lights were dimmed and the music changed into a sort wedding march performed by the same music group. When she showed up in all her glory on top of the stairs the whole room seemed to gasp in amazement of her beauty.

She was indeed stunning. Thank God there was no “clown make-up” and she had kept it low key by Saudi terms. Her waist-long hair had been tied up into a huge bun that reminded me of the 60’s hairstyles and it was decorated with flowers and pearls. On top she wore an exquisitely embroidered long sheer veil secured onto her hair with a small tiara. Her ivory white dress had a simple A-line cute to it, with an embroidered form fitting top and a cute ribbon belt to accentuate her tiny waist. The dress had a beautifully detailed and long trailing hem on it. She was holding a small bouquet of flowers in one hand. She was the perfect bride.

The bright spotlight followed her steps slowly as she made her way down the red carpeted stairs. The bride was very nervous and had trouble smiling for the female photographer, but who wouldn’t be in that situation! Coming down the staircase seemed to take forever. I thought it must have felt like eons for her. Her dress had such a long and heavily embroidered hem it was difficult for her to take steps down. For each step she took down she had to grab the hem with both hands, kick it out of the way, then settle the dress again for the minute long pause she took at each step. I held my breath at every step and hoped and prayed she wouldn’t trip on the hem.

The bride eventually reached the stage and stood in the spotlight facing the crowd. As she stood there, now smiling and seemingly more relaxed, there was an announcement in Arabic and the crowd burst into applause and some women were loudly ululating. The announcements kept coming and the ululating got louder.

Finally she took a seat and her close family all gathered around her. Some were dancing, some were hugging her, some sat next to her. At this point I was clueless (again) what I should do. I was part of the closer family and unsure if I should go on the stage or not. I watched people slowly go up to her and congratulate her. I wanted to go, but then again I really didn’t! I felt really shy and didn’t want the attention.

At this point the first REAL drinks were served, the waitresses came around with trays of fruit juices. In very tiny glasses for my disappointment though. As I was dying of thirst at this point, having only had Arabic gahwa until then, I drank the juice in one gulp and snatched another one before the waitress left our table. I must have been her favorite person of the evening, always bugging her for something to drink! The waitress gave me a long look. I’m thirsty, woman! For God’s sake I could drink them all at once! Don’t look at me like I’m some sort of freak.

So after this refreshment I had decided to make my way to the stage. I grabbed my friend along for emotional back up. I was so nervous and I didn’t know what to do. My master plan was to quickly go congratulate her then quietly step off the stage and leave. It didn’t exactly work out as planned though.

After I had greeted her and some other relatives, I was pointed to stand on the side of the stage where women were cheering on the dancers in the middle, so I joined in. Suddenly one of the women approached me and grabbed me by the hand. I panicked. OMG! Now way I am going to dance in front of 300 women! I wanted to run or to shrink into a tiny little midget so nobody could see my so called dance moves. I know now how deer feel when they see the spotlight from the approaching car and freeze without being able to move, waiting for the smash.

I was at the center of the stage and could feel those curious eyes becoming even more curious now that the Amriki lady had been dragged into the spotlight for a great chance to LMFAO. I surely delivered. I had done this dance before and I do love Arabic dance, and music, even managed to pull it off somehow in familiar company. In this situation though, in fornt of so many strangers  I could not have been able to perform a simple freakin ballet plie. I was as stiff as a rake.

The beautiful woman who dragged me was smiling and encouraging me and she was an excellent dancer, probably the best of them. Which of course made me look even more idiotic up there. I felt like a pecking chicken among beautiful gliding swans. I held my dress with my other hand, tried to smile and look like I was having the time of my life (which in a way I was) and clucked around for the song that seemed to go on for eternity. Were the African women making it go on this long on purpose?

When it finally finished I was taken back to the side of stage next to other women. I clapped along to the songs and prayed no one else would come and ask for this dance, waiting for a chance to escape. Suddenly a young woman started dancing very provocatively facing me. She had one of those make-up masquerades going on on her face and her hair was so stiff from the hairspray it was the only thing not moving on her body.

The vamp was closing in, looking at me like I was the steak on her plate! Yikes! Someone HELP! I had no idea what was going on. I looked to my sides. Everyone acted normal. Is this normal? This woman had possibly been watching to much MTV music videos and thought she was Shakira. Her moves were straight from a provocative dance video. The Arab Shakira was nearly in my face before she abruptly made a 180 degree turn and continued her sexy dance. Phew. Now that was AWKWARD.

The awkward moment when you’re being vamped by a Saudi Shakira dressed in an evening gown in front of all her relatives.

After that I was wishing I could grow wings and fly off the stage. No Red Bull so that didn’t work out. Next one of the fully veiled women came up to the stage and I curiously watched her warmly greeting the bride. I wonder did they even know who she was? As this lady left she turned to me and I had another skipped heart beat-moment. Luckily she just laughed and showed me the thumbs up. That made me feel really good. I also took it as a sign of approval of my chicken dance.

After about half an hour on stage the bride left alone to her room where she would have dinner with her husband. It was now 1 am. The doors were opened to another hall where a sumptuous buffet had been laid out. Everyone started to walk in at the same time creating a crowd at the doors. Strangely the waitresses were smoking bokhoor at the doors. Certainly not the most appetizing experience to be smoked alive before dinner. The women were scrambling around trying to find plates and cut others in line, and I can’t count how many people (including children) took advantage of us suckers and jumped in front of us.

I really hope the animals underneath the table were not the ones in the stews above.

So many delicious dishes to choose from! Some of them I was familiar with, some were new acquaintances. The real enigma was the huge chunk of meat in the middle of the buffet served on a large silver plate and embedded in rice. My friend and I were wondering out loud was it camel meat? The chunk was so large and sort of resembled a camel’s hump. It must be camel right?

We asked a little girl what meat it was and she looked at us as if we had just asked her ‘what is a pizza’? We didn’t get an answer but we did get very long looks and whispers. The meat was surely popular among the guests. Many women were literally digging into it with their bare hands tearing big pieces off. That kind of put me off tasting it so it remained a mystery until I had the chance to ask my husband.

So what was it? Ladies and gentlemen (drum roll..) This is “leeya” aka a lamb’s BUTT. And apparently it’s a delicacy and yes the white stuff is blubber. The best part, I was told. So I will just leave it to that because I know many people really like this :)

After dinner it seemed most of the guests were leaving. There was a large freshening up room with mirrors where some women were re-applying lipstick after dinner. And as if anyone at this wedding needed MORE perfume, there was even a stand with a variety of perfumes to spray on yourself next to small mints and chocolates. About a fourth of the women had returned to the main hall where the music continued and some young women were dancing.

I couldn’t help noticing a gorgeous and statuesque young lady dancing among them. She could have been at the Oscars red carpet and stunned everyone. She wore a golden sleek one shoulder (the only bare shoulder of the night!) gown with minimal jewelry and must have been 6ft tall with a body to die for. Her hair was cut into a shoulder length trendy look and her make-up was perfect. She looked like a combination of Charlize Theron and Penelope Cruz. I thought to myself had this woman been born to a different culture, by now her other-worldly beauty would likely be known worldwide. In Saudi she lived a very sheltered life, most likely only a handful of men ever witnessing her beauty. Two so different worlds!

Back at the abaya cloak room where women were covering up all the glitz and glamour under layers of black veils and abayas. You would never know what what was underneath!
We left the wedding exhausted but happy from the amazing experience. I think I pulled it off OK. At least I managed to keep “calm and collected” on the outside! Inside I was a nervous wreck most of the time. I’m hoping the next wedding I go to will be less of an ordeal!

Do you have a Saudi wedding experience to share?

Hello there! I’m Laura, the founder of Blue Abaya- the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia, established in 2010.  Travel has always been my passion- so far I’ve visited 70 countries and I’m always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia!

Apologies for being away from the blog so long. But I had a good excuse! We were finally able to move into our new place in the Diplomatic Quarters in Riyadh. For the move we were planning to hire a moving company. Last time we moved the company destroyed many precious items I had brought from Finland and some things (like a huge painting) went MISSING.

So this time we searched for a moving firm we could trust not to destroy everything. A company was recommended to us that seemed really professional and even had a good website, but they would’ve charged us over 8000 riyals! For a days work I think that’s ridiculous, considering petrol is almost free and labor for such work is very cheap.

So we tried to find something we could afford and ended up using a company that seemed OK and signed the contract which included price, time frame and most importantly that any destroyed items would be reimbursed. The manager came to our house to evaluate how much stuff we had and how many men were needed.

When the moving day came, the moving crew arrived in the morning and we had hired two maids to help us pack, unpack and clean. I felt like I needed at least ten extra heads and sets of hands to be able to supervise and direct all these people

 The way the “movers” were handling and packing stuff was amazing. I mean we are talking about people who do this for a living right? You would assume they knew what they’re doing huh? Pack clothing nicely in plastic bags and other things in boxes with padding and wrapped in newspaper, labels and so on.

In reality what was going on was about six Afghani men were mercilessly throwing and stuffing random things into plastic bags and boxes as fast as they could while an Indian supervisor was leaning on walls and “managing” them. I didn’t have time to label anything despite my desperate efforts running around after the men from room to room trying to figure out what they were stuffing where.

They mixed everything together with no logic whatsoever. Like toilet bowl brushes, opened laundry detergent box, baby bath toys and uncovered toothbrushes in one bag, for example. Their idea of padding was a single sheet of newspaper placed between items, not around. No plastic wrap, bubble wrap nothing. Just a single sheet of paper. I’ve never seen anything that ridiculous in my life.

So next getting the things into the trucks. To my horror they’d shown up with open trucks that I’ve seen camels and sheep transported in.

The mindless movers had managed to pile the bags, boxes and furniture onto the trucks, in that order. Lamps were hanging out from the sides and an armchair had been placed on the top of everything, kinda like a topping on a cake. No padding or wrapping anywhere, of course. My husband had to show them how to secure the things with ropes so that we wouldn’t leave a trail of things falling out of the trucks behind us.

I took a deep breath, tired to think positive and thought with careful driving everything could still work out well. Careful driving? Who was I kidding? Did anyone ever see anything resembling careful driving in this country?

When we finally got to our destination, we realized the trucks were too tall to drive into the underground parking hall. This meant the load had to be carried from a nearby parking lot to our building and up one set of stairs. In other words the men were now forced to walk an extra 200 meters and instead of having to carry things up two sets of stairs (which would’ve been the case if the truck had been able to drive into the garage) it would now only be one. Just a minor set back, you would think. Actually, less work because of less stairs right?

Nope. This was the END OF THE WORLD. Suddenly the men became so lazy and slow, sloths would look like cheetahs next to these people. They dragged (not carried) one small bag at a time complaining about having to walk. In our apartment they tried to avoid having to take anything upstairs and kept piling the things in the foyer, blocking entrance to any other rooms. We had friends over to help supervise and carry stuff but even that wasn’t enough to make sure things got done. I swear for each one of these movers, a personal assistant was needed to ensure everything doesn’t break and that they do at least something!

The supervisor walked so slowly I could hear him coming from a mile away by the way his sandals dragged on the ground. He sounded like this: “Swoosh swoosh. Sigh. Too much heavy! Swoosh swoosh. Too much work!”

It was around 1 p.m and the supervisor was already giving up. He said “this will never finish!” Oh yeah? Well if you slouch around like a freakin SLUG it will probably not end even by the end of this year! But do your job and it just might! I saw him THROW a box into the laundry room, a good two meters across the room, upside down. He thought no one could see him but I was watching like a hawk. When I confronted him he pretended it was ‘an accident mam.’ How professional. Ugh.

After long talks and persuasion, the mover-snails finally got to moving some of the larger furniture. My husband and his friend were helping them since things were seriously not moving along fast enough. However these movers would not listen to any advice. They completely IGNORED all talk. As if we did not exist.

Our staircase is quite narrow and some larger things are difficult to get upstairs, so my husband tried to tell the men how to turn furniture around to make it fit. Instead, the men kept turning the stuff around like it was the Rubik’s cube, until finally after half an hour of talking, sweating and some shouting they figured out what my husband had told them was in fact the only way to take things up.

So after they had thrown our stuff around and finally emptied the trucks they started refusing to finish the job. WHAT? We have an agreement! We signed a contract! They said it’s too much work. Excuse me, you knew exactly how much stuff we have and said it’s no problem. Plus most of the stuff had already been brought to the new apartment. They had left the heaviest things in the previous apartment to bring for last. We told them if they don’t finish the job today no money will be paid! It was only 5 p.m and there was still plenty of hours in the day, as agreed they were supposed to work until the late hours.

Truth is they were just too darn lazy. The laziest of them all was the boss or some sort of so called supervisor/manager. His job was apparently to finish all the food and drink we provided for his crew and to sweat like hell after carrying a pillow. His job description also consisted of CONSTANT whining and sighing. And the sandal dragging, of course.

So when they got back to the old apartment, they QUIT. Just like that. In the middle of the move. Without getting paid. They QUIT. WTH? How can someone’s laziness be so profound they even forget about money? So they did all those 8h work for free? I wanted to kill them, how can this be possible?

My husband started calling around for another company and finally someone agreed. They came that evening with the promise of finishing off that night, despite it being late already. This all-Pakistani crew seemed more professional in their packing techniques, plastic and padding was actually used. I was hopeful.

Oh and a small setback at this point, my husband’s car broke down.

So when the next truck was all packed up and my husband had managed to get another car they arrived at DQ at the parking lot. And guess what?

They REFUSED to work. So our stuff (including all beds, baby stuff and food!) were in the truck. They were holding our stuff hostage! They asked for more money. My husband initially refused but when it became evident the things were going to be held ransom, he agreed to pay a small amount more because we were getting desperate at this point. No luck. The asses locked up the truck and left. Just like that.

Grrreat! Now what??

Well we all ended up sleeping on a small mattress on the floor, exhausted, in the same dirty clothes with no idea where the baby stuff was. Not the best of nights. Our cats were howling like crazy and jumping all over the place the whole night. The kidnappers were supposed to arrive 8 am the next morning because the truck was parked in the blazing sun and it contained food items. it can get close to 40c at around 10. Surprisingly there was no sign of the men, when my husband called they said “Oh we’re still sleeping, maybe around 11.” MAYBE? 11? I was already sizzling.

The hauler-pirates arrived around noon. Same scenario as with the previous crew happens: After carrying a few boxes and things they start moaning and groaning. “Too much work. Too much heavy. Too much hot“. Well why didn’t you show up in the morning you morons, of course it’s hot in the midday sun!

The boss actually told us he’s going to just drop off the things on the street and leave. No motivation, no respect. Unbelievable.

I thought I had seen it all with the previous crew but these guys were in a whole other league. Reckless is an understatement. I had to watch them every second. Possibly the height of stupidity was when they started to fill the corridor outside the apartment with our things. It looked like the gypsies were moving in. So instead of carrying the said item five more meters into the house, they blocked the corridors and left the things in the blaring sun. Some things were conveniently placed inside the neighbors foyers. Nice first impressions huh?

When we complained to the manager he said it’s better and faster this way. Really? Isn’t that double the work actually? I knew why they were doing it, they wanted to do a half-assed move. Well I was having nothing of it.

I was so annoyed, enraged and embarrassed at this point that I started to carry the things into the house myself, which I normally would without hesitation but I happen to be pregnant so it’s not exactly advisable. My husband had to stay at the truck to make sure they didn’t run away and/or destroy our things.

What really was the last straw for me was whenever one of these useless movers came around they would refuse point blank to listen to me. The men would walk past me as if I were a piece of furniture. You don’t take orders from a woman eh?! I could strangle you from your balls right now because I’m so angry so you better listen to me jerks!

One of them was a total CREEP he would stare at me with no shame even in front of my husband. No use telling him off, the staring would continue. The same guy destroyed the house by dragging our outdoor pool, which was full of mud and dust, up to the rooftop. He went through the house and staircase leaving a trail of mud all over because he was holding it the wrong way. He got a good shouting for that one but it didn’t brighten up his attitude one bit.

I asked one of them to carry a box containing food (left in the +35c sunshine in the corridor) inside to the kitchen before it gets ruined. The guy just looked at me and said with a poker face I don’t carry boxes.

WHAT? Did you just say you don’t carry boxes? Here’s a newsflash for you: You’re a MOVER. You know, the guy that carries boxes for his living? If you don’t carry boxes, what DO you do, stare at women? And then, he just ran away and I didn’t see him for a good two hours.

Many of the men just ignored me when I asked them to do something. The worst was when they just turned around and left me standing there like an idiot, and an idiot I was for even trying to get some sense into these men. They were lucky I didn’t have a rifle.

I saw another moving-hero carry a box labelled Fragile UPSIDE DOWN and then drop it on the floor. I opened it and found a broken expensive glass item inside. Showed it to him and said “you can’t carry stuff like this look what you’ve done, it’s broken.” His reply? “Mafi malom” (I don’t understand) then he laughed and left. He was lucky I did not have a bazooka on me.

The creepy mover peed in all of our bathrooms, on the floors and the rims, so disgusting. Probably on purpose. I was going bananas. Then I went up to the rooftop to check if he’d done what I asked. The a-hole had actually left everything half-way in the staircase, entirely blocking the way up. He obviously thought I wouldn’t go up and check. You’re in no luck CREEP-O, get back here right now to finish! “Mafi malom.” again. He tried to escape but I blocked him from going out of the house and forced him to carry the things in their places. He was not happy. I was furious.

So after thousands of similar scenarios that day all of the things were finally in the house. Most of the stuff was carried inside from the hallway by us. Next the moving geniuses needed to re-assemble the wardrobes and beds. They tried to run away but we took revenge and kept the supervisor hostage upstairs. The rest of the crew vanished into thin air. My husband was left to assemble everything with the supervisor who was completely clueless. That took a good three hours.

When they were leaving the manager of the company came to our house because we had complained. We showed him all the things they destroyed like one chest drawer ruined because of rough handling, the broken glasses and scratched items and guess what he has to say? More money. Oh yes, more money, for this SUPER DUPER professional, swift and personal service. More money.

NO WAY. We won’t pay you another halalah for this crap service. In fact, you should pay US for what your crew destroyed because of lack of respect, unprofessional attitude and by handling everything the wrong way! And apologize for your staff’s totally frivolous working ethics!

In the end all was OK, since we only ended up paying a very small amount for the “half-assed-move”. Things are just things and at least we are finally here. Forget these slimeballs and unprofessionalism that is flourishing in this country. I’m happy we’re in our new home now.

P.S. Two days after this chaos we managed to pull off my daughter’s 1 year birthday party ;)
P.P.S After we had emptied all the boxes we realized that all the expensive kitchen appliances had gone missing, altogether worth over 3000sar.

P.P.P.S I realized a few months after the move when things settled that the movers had also stolen some cutlery and vases.

P.P.P.P.S NEVER hire a moving company in Saudi Arabia. Ever.

 

 

Hello there! I’m Laura, the founder of Blue Abaya- the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia, established in 2010.  Travel has always been my passion- so far I’ve visited 70 countries and I’m always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia!

I meant to post this on earlier but what stopped me was the Move From Hell which we experienced this week! Believe it or not we were sleeping on the floor in the new house, while our beds and foods were being held hostage overnight in the moving truck by the greedy and totally unprofessional moving firm men. If you want to hear all about this moving experience with not one but two incompetent unprofessional and rude moving companies then go to this post: Move from…

Now after all that stress, a picture of colorful lollipops to change the mood.. :)

lollipops in riyadh

 

And now to the positive things! Sorry men of Riyadh but you’re out of luck this April! Looks like there’s TONS of stuff to do this month but mostly it’s for the ladies in Riyadh. This is the month of exhibitions so be sure to check out at least one of these if you haven’t been to a female only expo in Riyadh yet! Not to be missed!

I cannot stress how much fun it is to go these exhibitions and it’s a great chance for the female expatriates in Riyadh to get to know some Saudi women too. I often hear women complaining it’s impossible to meet and talk to Saudi women here. This is your best chance to see them without any barriers such as the veil and abaya and out of the public eye. You will find Saudi women very friendly, warm, welcoming and curious toward expats at these events.

Here are the Ten Activities  going on in Riyadh this April:

 

2. Wedding Fair at Nayyara Banquet Hall 22nd-25th April: http://www.nayyara.com/

3. Cosmo Beauty Fair 2012 Four Seasons Hotel 21st – 23rd Apr

4. Go Karting at Reem International Circuit 5pm – 12 am. Every Thursday and Friday.

5. Join Riyadh Quilt Guild more info here: http://riyadhquiltguild.blogspot.com/

6. For women in Saudi participate and learn at the Glowork Workshops:
Job search for women in Saudi: http://www.glowork.net/

7. GCON 1st Girls Gaming Convention! April 11th-12th, PSU

8. Write a restaurant review and win an iPad: http://www.riyadheats.com

9. Riyadh Women’s Exhibition 16th to 23rd April: http://rywomexpo.alriyadh.gov.sa/en/

10. Art Expo by Abdulnasser Gharem 10th-12th April, French Embassy, DQ more info: mdfriyadh@yahoo.com

 

Have fun ladies!

 

 

Hello there! I’m Laura, the founder of Blue Abaya- the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia, established in 2010.  Travel has always been my passion- so far I’ve visited 70 countries and I’m always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia!

I’ve noticed myself pretty annoyed lately. Lots of stuff going on last week. Some things in Saudi just tip off my irritation. I’m going to have to rant to let some steam out. If you’re easily offended and don’t have a sense of humor, stop reading now PLEASE.

What really gets to me is the constant DUST. Seems like it’s been here since January. The last sandstorm started Thursday and only cleared up a week later. Saturday came along, the weather was perfect. We headed out to the desert for a nice outing and picnic with friends who haven’t been out in the desert for many years, so I convinced them it was a fantastic idea to go. So after five hours of preparations and driving all the way to Rawdhat Kuraim. BOOM. Sandstorm hits. Fantastic.

This wasn’t the type of somehow barely tolerable-kind of sandstorm. Nope. It had to be the brain-blasting, bloodstream-invading, eye-quenching, hair-raising type of a hell of a sandstorm.

go away sandstorm

After two days of the blasting sand I got my usual sandstorm headache aka BRAIN BLUR and was not able to think, breathe, sleep let alone write anything intelligent.

If you want to have your house clear of this nasty ass stuff, you’d need to clean and wipe all over like every hourly. The dust is so fine it’s more like flour, or powdered sugar.  It’s so sneaky it seeps through the apartment building’s main door, then sneaks in through the hallways, to our front door, then makes its way through the living room door to reach the kitchen door and finally arrives at the cupboard door only to creep inside the freakin sealed (or so I thought) food boxes. Can you believe the nerve of this stuff??
I HATE DUST.

What else.
No one gives a damn about where they live. The environment outside of the villa walls or apartment buildings simply doesn’t seem to matter. Seriously sometimes I think people here just live in pink bubbles floating around, oblivious to the world around them.

Who cares if the street outside your house is full of trash or the empty lot next to your villa has been turned into a dump yard?? Who cares if there’s a river of stinky sewage flowing through your neighborhood from a leaking septic tank and it’s causing multiple health and environmental risks to inhabitants? Who cares if jus outside your window there’s a pile of crap and dangerous looking stuff left there by the construction site next door? Who cares if I park my car sideways and take up three reserved spaces? Who cares if the roads are not lit properly causing accidents and who gives a damn if they build a power plant next to your neighborhood?
Answer: NO ONE CARES.

How about service.
You know like customer service?
Why is it impossible to find good customer service here? You would think with all this money and having hundreds of employees in one store that there would be at LEAST one person who knows something. But no. That’s just too much to ask for. And how about when you want to return something and they give you just a plastic card instead of money back? And then you go all the way to the other shop it works in only to realize they FORGOT to charge it. That is like someone handing you an empty cardboard box when you thought you were in fact purchasing a coffee machine. And then when you go back to show them their mistake you are not allowed to even return the EMPTY BOX.

So you go back to the original store (which btw is H&M in this case) with your empty card and the guy has to do the whole thing over again. Then another customer service killer expert comes in and suddenly tells you in a very rude manner that the items you’ve just successfully returned, cannot suddenly be accepted anymore. Because of policy he says.

The first customer service hero did not know. So now you end up being forced to take the things back as well as your pathetic few riyals on the ridiculous plastic card which at this point you want to shove down the manager’s throat. Off you go after spending three hours with this disservice. At home you realize the dimwit manager stole your receipt and the rest of the stuff on it cannot therefore be exchanged. EVER. What would H&M headquarters in Sweden for example say to this “service”?
Answer: They would fire these incompetent rude idiots.

That reminds me.
I was trying to bake some Finnish cinnamon rolls also known as pulla the other day for a visit. We didn’t have milk. But only in Saudi does this become a huge logistical issue. Obviously I’m not allowed to drive. Not even going to start on that one. Second, there’s no supermarkets nearby I could walk to. Third, people don’t walk anywhere, not even a 30 meters distance can be done without a car so there’s no sidewalks or safe areas to walk on, IF I had somewhere to walk to. Fourth, I don’t have a driver so I need to sit at home like a duck waiting for my husband to bring the milk after work. But he forgot and had to go somewhere else.
SO now what? Pulla needs to be ready in few hours. My husband has genius idea, he orders the milk from the small store and the Indian moped dude brings it over to me. Problem #5. I have no cash. Husband says it’s not an issue.
Ok so dude arrives at door. I open and see the milk on the ground in front of me. I confirm with him that they agreed husband will stop by later to pay for the milk. He had a sudden change of mind. No ma’m BIG problem! I say no problem! This goes on for a while. I start feeling desperate and decide to snatch the milk from the ground. As I reach for it he tries to take it from my hands which should be a huge no-no here, to touch a woman like that.

 

I panic and slam the door closed. OOPS. I just sort of stole milk. Meanwhile the dude goes crazy, bangs on the door, shouts and rings the doorbell for at least half an hour. For SIX riyals. He could be a psychopath killer and I have just set him off. Imagine the headlines: Finnish woman killed In Saudi over milk bottle.
I start baking and realize that just because they don’t allow women to drive I just had to go through this crap. How utterly ridiculous.
Why are we not allowed to drive again? Why are women forced to be nearly killed rather than drive to the supermarket, HUH???

How about professionalism then? Unheard of mostly. Ever heard of Handy Manny? In Saudi they are called Handless Headless Mannies. No skills, no training, no English OR Arabic language skills, no respect for others stuff, no common sense whatsoever.

Take a look at these pics:

Ladies and gentleman this is professional Saudi service at its finest. Words cannot describe my irritation when I saw this in our new apartment.
Did you blast it with dynamite? 
Can someone pass me the rifle?
Have you not painted a freakin wall before? You’re supposed to remove the nails and smooth out the holes, not paint around them! If you’re painting in a room full of furniture at least cover it or better yet take it to the nearby empty room! Don’t use furniture to climb and stand on and don’t scratch it! Don’t you have your own freakin ladder or something? And for the love of God don’t place the dirty items on the sofa when you’re done! Did you think it was placed there for your convenience! I bet you took a nap on it too! When you’re done clean up and air the room!

 

Ugh. And then last but not least. Saudi postal services. What freakin SERVICES? Took you two months to send a couple of freakin postcards by EXPRESS mail to Finland. WAY TO GO. Yeah, I know why. You’re too busy sampling all the chocolates and other candies and reading through the women’s magazines on your sugar high. I bet you took those ripped off pages from my health magazine home.

Saudi professional thieves and terminators I would say! Every single time I get a package from Finland you must snatch something or destroy something in it. You think you’re clever huh? You think I don’t notice when you take out something that has an actual packing list to go with it? You bastards.

How dare you open my long awaited special 300g Finnish chocolate bar and munch on it and then PUT IT BACK IN half-eaten?

And btw the last item you STOLE was not real gold you chocolate monster. It’s kids play money. You thought I wouldn’t know my sister sent me three bags instead of two? WRONG.
I hope you almost choked on the Finnish salty licorice when you thought it’s chocolate.

Next time at least get rid of the evidence and throw away the empty wrappers.
And look what you missed from my latest package!

See that there? WINE gum. congratulations. You have just allowed something that says “WINE” into Saudi-Arabia! So much for the censorship! You should have at least blacked out the word WINE, just like you black out the word pork on other products and women’s arms legs cleavages and faces on my magazines.

As we would say in Finland: “Break yourself into small pieces”.

That is all for now folks. Excuse my language. I’m off to bed.

 

Hello there! I’m Laura, the founder of Blue Abaya- the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia, established in 2010.  Travel has always been my passion- so far I’ve visited 70 countries and I’m always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia!

So I attended my first big wedding party (walimah) here in Riyadh! What an amazing experience! The second part of the wedding party celebrations can be read here.

Weddings are the most important social gatherings in Saudi. Often costing hundreds of thousands of riyals, this is the time Saudi families show off their wealth. The wedding party and all related expenses are usually paid by the grooms family but often the bride’s family chips in as well. Weddings are always gender segregated but most of the traditions and customs vary from region to region.

This was a special evening because it was the first time my husband’s entire tribe were going to see his western wife..So this would be the night all eyes would be on me to evaluate his choice of wife and to watch my every move. I felt an immense pressure to give a good first impression and also ease my husband’s life by being accepted into the extended family. I’m the only westerner, mind you even the only non-Saudi married into the entire clan. Needless to say I was HORRIFIED.

In preparation I had tried to “Arabize” my appearance a bit ie had Arabic eyebrows done, colored my eyelashes black and had some extra lashes installed at the spa. I’d found a beautiful evening gown at the “Princess souq” for 15 riyals! However the tailor I took it to for adjusting managed to do the opposite I was asking for so I had to choose another dress last minute. My friend wore the princess souq dress and she looked stunning! Check out the dress here it’s the blue one: http://blueabaya.com/2012/02/princess-souq.html

My husband advised me that his family is so conservative that even in an all female setting bare shoulders would not be a good idea so I had a bolero with my strapless emerald green evening gown. When I saw how the women there were dressed I was so glad I listened to my husband not to be remembered as the the scandalous shoulder -baring western lady!

Most of my jewelry got damaged in a fire we had last year but lucky me a friend borrowed her beautiful gold and diamonds jewelry set. Another friend gave me a gold designer handbag and I had a pair of golden heels. Ended up spending only few hundred riyals for some kohl and purple eye shadow to pop out the green shade of my eyes to match the dress. A wedding hair stylist came to my house to make my hair wavy ( and BIG) as was the trend according to her.

Saudi weddings typically start very late and end in the early hours of the morning. I was told by many not to go too early (before 11p.m!) but this family was different! We came at 9 p.m and hundreds of women were already there. My husband went to the men’s side and later told me was the last to arrive.

Most families will rent out huge wedding halls for the occasion. They are of course separated to men’s and women’s sides. The entrance to male section of the wedding is in the front of the building, open and elaborate and there will be a huge chandelier hanging in the entrance hall. The men’s side is otherwise not very decorative. It’s the women’s hall that is full of flowers and other lavish decorations. Both sides will have expensive bohkoor burning at every corner.

The women’s entrance on the other hand is closed and guarded. Even when the door opens there is no direct view into the actual hall. The door opens into a room with no mirrors so not even a reflection could be accidentally seen to the outside. There is an abaya cloakroom and a beautifying room for women to glam themselves up before making their grand entrance.

I was expecting that purses would be searched for cameras and phones confiscated but to my surprise nothing was said about my phone and the bag was left alone. I was able to snap some pics that night as well! All of the women were removing their ras abaya, (the most conservative over the head version) leaving them at the cloakroom run by African women. This room had mirrors all over and women were putting on lipstick and fluffing up their already HUGE hair. There was hairsprays and perfumes for women to use. I was already getting dizzy from all the sights, smells and sounds.

The women were all eyeing my friend and I probably trying to guess who we were. I saw women and girls pointing at me and whispering. Is that HER? She’s american right? Amriki? The daughter-in-law of so and so?
I could feel the pressure building up and slowly moving up to my throat. Another African woman dressed in a strange white costume covered by a black sheer veil brought an incense burner in my face to puff the smoke around and I felt like choking. I was only at the entrance and I wanted to RUN! Get me out of here! I can’t do this!

Thank God for my friend who came with me. She knows the brother of the bride from school in the U.S. She’s also Arab so I had a translator as well as an emotional support for the evening. I don’t know how I would’ve survived without her. We ended up having so much fun despite my failing nerves.

I was looking around and trying to recognize any familiar faces of the relatives. Honestly speaking the women all wore so much make-up I was having a hard time. Finally I saw one of the sisters. We asked her what we were supposed to do and she advised us to go inside the wedding hall and greet the women on the right side then take a seat anywhere. Sounds pretty easy and simple right? WRONG!

As we approached the wedding hall in all its glory the truth unfolded. There were about 40 women standing or sitting in a line waiting to greet the guests. In the background more women stood or sat watching the entering guests. On the opposite side was a line of another 40 or so women from the grooms side watching on. That’s a total of about 600 eyeballs. I almost panicked but managed not to faint or scream in horror.

I had thought out a theme on what to say. It all sounded so nice and collected in my head. Salaam aleikum, alf mabrouk, kef halek, you look beautiful, mashallah and so on..But my mouth did not listen to my brain. There was some sort of miscommunication and I ended up mumbling whatever came out in random order. More like marhabalek-queisa-dulilah. It’s too painfully humiliating to remember more clearly so I will move on.

It’s custom for Saudi women to kiss one another on the cheeks while holding hands as a greeting. Sounds so simple again, doesn’t it? NOPE. One woman might kiss you once on your right cheek and that’s it. The next will hold your hand and kiss you once then pull you in for three times on the other side. The third one might kiss you back on forth on each cheek. Some women that are not particularly fond of western women marrying their men will not kiss you at all. As a young woman you’re supposed to kiss some of the elderly women on the foreheads as sign of respect. Some of them will reject this, some will accept. Now try figuring out which woman is which type of kisser and do 40 in a row without accidentally landing someone a nose-ear-eyes or LIP kiss in the process. I must have offended 39/40 women in the line.

After the humiliation ceremony we proceeded to find a seat. Most of the tables were already taken so we walked all the way to the back to find an empty table. The hall was full of round tables and in the middle there was an aisle lined with plush arabic style sofas I’m guessing for the more important guests. The aisle had a red carpet sprinkled with rose petals leading to the stage which was elaborately decorated with flowers and vases and in the middle was a white leather sofa where the bride later sat.

Notice the little plastic water cup on the table? That was the only drink that was served during the dancing/waiting/ogling period. I was so thirsty that by midnight I swear I wanted to drink the water from the flowers and those small candle holders! The waitresses were serving chocolates, dates, salty pastries and more chocolates to make guests even thirstier. Arabic coffee, which I don’t count as a thirst quenching drink was being offered every 5 minutes. I asked one the waitresses for more water and she angrily replied there’s only one per guest and that I should have more coffee! Yikes. Ok. Chill. I’m just gonna sip on this 5 mls of coffee at a time and get more dehydrated from it. Did I mention I was also starving?

On the stage there were three African women that started playing drums called “duff” which is the only type of music that the most conservative people approve of. The women started singing Arabic songs and it was LOUD. I have been to rock concerts and stood next to the loudspeakers and been more comfortable. Women were starting to dance all around the hall. Some of the young women went on stage and there seemed to be no shyness whatsoever involved in their dance. Some girls were dancing VERY close together

Guests kept coming in and women kept eyeing us. All the tables were full now except ours. No one wanted to sit with us. We curiously watched how the women were dressed. Like my husband said, the fashion was definitely more conservative than I had heard rumors of. No bare backs, short skirts, bare shoulders or anything too sexy. Cleavage seemed to be ok though. There was however so much glitter, ruffles, lace, sequins, bows, bling bling and colors that it had my head spinning. Ultimate extravagance. The Oscars are nothing compared to this.

Most of the dresses were sort of tacky Saudi style you see in the malls, the kind I always wondered who wears this? Well now I know. Simple and sleek are NOT in. The more decorations on the dress the better! Many women had long trails on the dresses and plunging necklines were filled with gigantic jewelry. I mean out of this world in size. There also seems to be no rule of balancing the jewelry such as if you have a huge necklace, then no huge earrings, rings or bracelets. AS IF! Size and quantity does matter!

Despite the tackiness, exaggerated hair, heavy make-up and christmas-treeish outfits most of the women looked stunning. Some, looked umm..interesting. There was one particular lady wearing an extremely form fitting (read like sausage skin) evening gown made with what seemed thousands of small golden sequins. The dress had a long trail and a generous neckline to show off her enormous ahem goods including a solid gold necklace. Her assemble was so shiny I swear it might have done some damage to my eyes as I could not take my eyes off of it. Kind of like looking into solar eclipse.

I had never put this much make-up on but still I had the least stuff on my face from the wedding guests. The post I wrote earlier about the wedding make-up might have been a bit exaggerated but gives some guideline on how some of these women looked like. Some of the younger girls and women had less make-up on though.

The table next to us filled with teenagers all busy on their iPhones. I swear they were taking our pic secretly. I noticed the small children running around in pretty dresses upstairs and maids attending to them. Some of them waived to me and I smiled and waived back. Upstairs is where the bride stays hidden for most of the wedding. There is a room for her to get ready in and the groom and his father will come there for photography from the men’s side. She eats in this room with the groom as well. There is a staircase lined with rose petals and a red carpet coming down from the room to the wedding hall.

Some examples of the dress styles.

At this point some of the bride’s friends came to sit at our table (only seats available lol) and I talked to some of them (or rather shouted in their ears) who knew English well. They were all medical professionals, just graduated. Some of them had elegant and relatively simple dresses with not too much make-up. One of those girls narrated the whole wedding to me.

Next I started wondering how come some women were still wearing their hijab (head coverings). It’s only females, why? Apparently for the older women it’s a sign of status. But most shockingly I noticed there were women in abayas. And wait. Is that a woman wearing niqab? Why on earth would they come to a wedding in niqab? There was at least four such women in attendance who never removed their veils. One had pimped up the niqab with gold crystals. Read my previous post about women who even sleep in their veils here: http://blueabaya.com/2011/06/eternal-veil.html

More chocolates, anyone?

For the majority of the wedding women sit and chat and ogle others dresses. Unmarried women will try to show off by dancing for the potential future mother-in-laws in hopes of being noticed as candidates. The dancing on the stage got more intense as the wedding proceeded in anticipation of the bride’s appearance. Soon a belly dancer started performing on stage. She was actually a wedding guest in an evening gown but they switched the music to Egyptian and she started swaying around the stage while women excitedly cheered her on and started ululating. Kind of odd because I’m not used to women eyeing women like that but hey whatever rocks your boat.

The “Saudi” dance style is hard to describe. It’s nothing like the belly dancing that first comes to mind when imagining Arabic dance but more like the men’s sword dance in rhythm. The women sway their bodies, slowly moving sideways as if they are floating, their hips and upper bodies making rhythmic movements to the beat of the drums. The woman might hold her long skirt with one hand and wave the other hand in the air. Sometimes women will also swish their long hair back and forth. I love this type of dance! The rhythm is also very catchy. I don’t know exactly how to master this dance although i’m pretty good at belly dancing ;) So I thought to myself, thank God I don’t have to dance on the stage in front of everyone! Oh how wrong I was..

Here is the only clip I could find that has similar dancing to what can be seen at weddings and other women’s functions. I could not find out if it has a specific name but this is labelled simply under “khaleeji dance”.

Stay tuned for the second part of the Saudi wedding experience including the taunting bridal walk, my chicken dance and a lamb’s butt surprise!

Part two: http://blueabaya.com/2012/04/saudi-wedding-extravaganza-part-2.html

 

 

Hello there! I’m Laura, the founder of Blue Abaya- the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia, established in 2010.  Travel has always been my passion- so far I’ve visited 70 countries and I’m always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia!

This Tuesday Ten will be a light-hearted post to balance out the recent heavy topics that have been discussed on Blue Abaya :)
I got this meme from a fellow Finnish expat blogger Heli who currently resides in Norway. Thank you Heli! Her Norwegian Diary blog (in Finnish language) can be found here: http://norjalainenpaivakirja.blogspot.com/.

So the idea is to list ten things that get you in a good mood. Pretty easy! And then pass it on to five other bloggers.
Here’s my list:

1. My daughter’s smile. She smiles all the time, even if I need to wake her up in the middle of the night she will smile for me. If I’m dead tired or suffering from a case of morning crankiness she manages to lighten up my mood with her sunshine smile.

2. Travel. Whenever I get the chance I want to travel! If only to a place we haven’t been to in the nearby desert, travelling and exploring new places just makes me happy and elevates my mood.

3. My nieces. I miss them so much! We try to Skype as often as we can and my daughter gets so excited on the Skype she cannot control herself and wants to go kiss and hug her cousins. As much as it cheers me up it does also sometimes make me sad they are so far away though.

4. Pancakes. The Finnish kind. It’s never too late or too early to have pancakes! Pancakes can totally save a crappy day. Last week my husband made me pancakes two times! Once at 5 am when I couldn’t sleep and the other time was for a surprise breakfast in bed.

5. My husband. Nobody makes me laugh like my husband! He always manages to make me in a good mood no matter how bad the day was.

6. Animals. Mainly my own pets but all watching all kind of animals makes me happy as long as they are not being mistreated which is when I get EXTREMELY upset.

7. A walk in the park. Not too many options in Riyadh but my favorite is the Diplomatic Quarter’s astonishing well groomed and private parks.

8. The Ocean. Whether it’s swimming or diving in it or just the fresh ocean breeze, the calming sound of the waves or the salty water splashing on my face when sailing, the ocean will always make me happy and relaxed.

9. Helping someone become happy. It makes me happy to make others happy. Satisfied patients are guaranteed to put me in a good mood.  A happy husband makes a happy wife. I hope I can make my family happy although we are so far away now. I love seeing my friends enjoy their time and I love organizing parties!

10. A good night’s sleep. Which used to mean 12 hours for me but now I will be ecstatic to catch more than 6 hours of undisturbed sleep at any hour of the day!

 

Hello there! I’m Laura, the founder of Blue Abaya- the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia, established in 2010.  Travel has always been my passion- so far I’ve visited 70 countries and I’m always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia!

The Princess Souk in Riyadh! Sounds like a souq for Saudi princesses right? Glamour, glitter and gorgeous gowns?
Not exactly.
This is actually a second hand souk located in Riyadh’s Batha, the infamous “ghetto” of Riyadh.
Princess souk is like a huge open area marketplace, fleamarket, garage sale, whatever you call it, it’s worth a visit!

At first visitors might be taken aback by the set up, looks like a shack village with all the ugly metal sheets, dirty carpets, and general uncleanliness of the area.
But this is a place where women (and why not some adventurous men!) can make incredible bargains and make some surprising finds.

UPDATE 2017: Princess Souk in Riyadh has moved to a new location. A new shaded area has been built for the souk, it’s located right next to the old Princess souk location. It’s now a much more pleasant, clean, organized and safe experience than it was before. Highly recommend to visit in the early mornings. 

princess souk riyadh

Dress from Princess Souk in Riyadh

The name of the souq comes from rumors that the clothing was donated there by royal family princesses. This might be partly true judging on some of the items that can be found there but the majority of the clothing is normal everyday brands (not saying real Princesses wouldn’t wear such but..) also some of the evening gowns are just..so interesting. Take a look at the pics below and you will see what I mean.

princess souk in Riyadh

Dresses at Princess Souk in Riyadh

 Check out the dude in the right lower corner. I will tell you about him later.

Princess souk is open everyday but the best days to go are weekday mornings. Not too much of a crowd and you can actually see the clothes! Sometimes at night the whole area might be out of electricity and even if they do have it, the lamps are ridiculously bad quality! The shops start opening at 6-7-am and close at Dhuhr prayer sharp. Muttawa roam this area frequently so shopkeepers will promptly close their shops in fear of getting arrested. Next the shops open after Asr and then close after Isha’a prayer. On Fridays the souq is closed in the morning.

The Princess souq is also called Haraj bin Gassem and most taxi drivers will know it by this name. If you want to venture out there on your own vehicle, be prepared to get lost a few times as the area can be confusing. Take the exit 22 ask for Haraj or carpet souq which is next to it and you will be pointed to the right direction.

When you get to the souq the amount of clothing will be overwhelming. It’s good to ask the salesmen who are mostly Indian and Pakistani and speak some English to point out the best evening gowns for you, if that’s what you’re looking for. Many of the nicest gowns hang from the ceilings and might be hard to spot. But there are some stunning evening gowns out there! This is also an indication of how many parties Saudi women attend (gown can only be used once then thrown).
The vast styles Saudi ladies wear to weddings and parties is really interesting. There are simple elegant ones and way over the top ones with the motto of “you cannot put too much lace, satin, bows, beading, crystals, ruffles and embroidery on one dress”. It’s amazing what women will actually wear! Reminds me of Christmas somehow..hmm..

Browsing the souq you will come across the weirdest things. Here some pretty raunchy panties hanging among other underwear. I will leave it to your imagination what else can be found there..

princess souk riyadh

One of my favorite things to search for at Princess souk are children’s clothing and little girls party dresses. They will go for as cheap as 5-10SAR a piece and the more you purchase the more discount you will get! I bring these back home to my nieces who love to dress up as little princesses. In Finland raw silk and handmade gowns like this would cost anywhere form 100 euros up, so getting them for a mere fraction of the price is totally worth the hassle.

^^Saudi Haute Couture anyone?

There he is again! The down side to shopping at Princess souq are the perverts. I also call this place Pervert Central. I would not advise women to go here alone but always in groups or preferably with husbands. If you absolutely must go alone then take a trusted driver to walk around with you. I have been groped here in full daylight by men walking past and just taking a go. Another tactic they use is lurking behind the clothing stands.

One of my friends actually caught a guy masturbating behind the racks. My tactic is to take their picture and shout at them. Sometimes they need serious actions! The above creepy creepers were following us around on different occasions.
The first guy pretended to be purchasing something. I told him to take a hike and he started asking if we were Russians and wouldn’t listen to me telling him to piss off, he just continued his game.I finally shouted at him very loudly and he shouted back F**k you Russians! He left cursing us.

The perv #2 was just staring at us. I tried to take his pic but he kept turning around. So next I told the salesman about his behavior (they know these guys sometimes) and he just picked up and old shoe from the ground and threw it in the perverts direction! The slimeball ran away.

So if you find yourself in these situations it’s best to make a big deal to expose him and do ask the salesmen for help, they are very friendly and polite.

For once the Hai’a who are strongly present in this area would come in handy but guess what? They only concentrate on shouting from their megaphones for women to cover and men to close shops for prayer and go pray. Sometimes they even beat people to go pray. One of my Asian colleagues got shouted at and beaten on her legs for wearing an abaya that had small butterflies on it. She was forced to cover it with a plain black one from the souq.
That’s the priorities of the religious police for you..

Blue dress Riyadh princess souk

Beautiful dress at Riyadh’s Princess souk

So what about the prices? It’s an absolute MUST to haggle here! Prices range according to the color of your face. No joke! Western women might get asked 100 SAR for something Indians or Filipinos might get for 10 SAR. I never paid more than 50SAR for an evening gown and that was only once! Usually they will go for 20-30 a piece, children starting from 10-20 a piece.
Normal clothing is much cheaper, you can get three shirts or skirts for 10 SAR. If you find an expensive brand name don’t mention it to the seller, sometimes they are not even aware. The above blue evening gown cost me 15SAR and it’s flawless and looks stunning! If you are not getting results with your bargaining skills, simply WALK away. 90% of the time the seller will run after you and sell for the price you asked.

You will not want to buy anything with a stain on it, but sometimes some stains have slipped my attention. Some do come off in laundry but the salesmen will try to convince you everything comes off. I always take the evening gowns to the dry cleaners in Saudi because it’s really cheap here and they will iron the gowns for you too. The rest of the clothes I just wash in the washing machine. It’s always a good idea to check that the zippers are working.

You can find the most beautiful wedding gowns here as well. Most of them have been custom made. The above dress came down from 750 to 220 SAR. It has intricate lace and beading detail and is high quality silk, the veil is simply breath taking! Below one of the beautiful gowns more my style that I found for 20SAR:
So is it worth the dust, traffic, perverts, sometimes heat and all the hassle? In my opinion it’s a definite YES! But I like little “adventures” and don’t mind a few setbacks. This place is surely not for everyone. I took my mother and sister there when they were visiting Saudi and they really liked it.
EDIT: Princess Souk has moved to a new location nearby the old one. It’s a much nicer experience now and taxis will know it by the same name, just ask them to take you to Princess Souk in Batha or Harraj Bin Gassem.
princess souk dress

Hello there! I’m Laura, the founder of Blue Abaya- the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia, established in 2010.  Travel has always been my passion- so far I’ve visited 70 countries and I’m always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia!

Dear Riyadh, or ___(insert any city in Saudi Arabia here). We love you but you are so boring! There is nothing to do. No cinemas, no bars. What else is there to do anyways?   Does this sound familiar to anyone? Life in Saudi Arabia is of course different to what most are used to back home, but it’s only going to be boring if you choose to make it so! Staying active and connecting with the local culture will always help with dealing with culture shock and getting settled in the land of the sand better.

There’s so many events going on this February I thought of dedicating a post to it on its own in addition to the Blue Abaya Facebook page which I regularly update for events. Too many things going on this month not to be missed!  For more things to do in Riyadh please check out 10 Things to Do in Riyadh in the Spring and the complete list of Things to do in Riyadh here. To keep up to date with new events and activities in Riyadh and all over KSA, don’t forget to subscribe to Blue Abaya!!

 ***please note these events and exhibitions are all from 2012, however there are many useful tips and ideas for activities in Riyadh in addition to events held yearly such as Janadriyah and Globe Food Summit!

This list of events and activities available in Riyadh to help all the people out there effected by the dreaded “Sandpit Boredom- Syndrome”.

1. The annual Cultural Heritage Festival Janadriyah is the main event and a MUST SEE for all expats at least once! Starting 8th Feb running through 24th Feb 2012. Check more info about timings and dates Janadriyah Guide

janadriyah cultural heritage festival

2. Reem International Circuit “Family Fun Day” on Thursday 9th Feb 2012: 11 – 10pm. Safari animals, BBQ, Kids and adults activities,, campfire lunch and dinner provided. Reem circuit has events almost every weekend, updated on their Facebook page and Twitter!

3. Classical Music Concert at French Ambassador’s Residence Monday 13th February 2012, 8p.m. Check out Maison de France Riyadh website how to become a member!

4. Cosmo Beauty Fair 2012 11th -13th Feb. 2012 at Four Seasons Hotel Ballroom. Women only. Check the hotel website for upcoming events!

5. “Strike Out” Family Bowling Day Thursday 16th Feb 2012 2 – 4pm. Members SR 50. Non-members SR60. Inc. shoe rental and 2 games. Sign up by 13th Feb at http://www.acrsa.com/

 6. Stand-up Comedy Show 16th Feb 2012. Riyadh private compound, tickets available at Wayne’s Coffee – Azizia Panda, Takassussi Branch. Check out Luxury Events KSA on Facebook and Twitter for upcoming comedy shows all around KSA.

 7. Al Faisaliyah Hotel Globe Food Summit 13th -17th February 2012. From educational cooking seminars to outstanding gala dinners, brunches and High Tea with Michelin Star awarded chefs. Reservations essential. Full schedule and timings on hotel website, plus updates on current events.
8. Chocoflora Exhibition 2012 Nayyara Banquet Hall. From 18th-21st Feb 2012. Women only. Go to nayyara.com for the updates on their latest events.

9. “From Sea to Shining Sea” in the US Embassy Formal Gardens Thur 23 Feb 2012: 7pm – Midnight. SR 250. Tickets at USERA Gift Shop sold from Sat Jan 28th to Sun Feb 19th 9.30-3.30 Sat-Wed. Closed Feb 18th. Go to USERA Riyadh website or FB for the latest activities and events organized by US embassy.

10. Barney and Friends come to KSA! Reem International Race Circuit 22-24th Feb 2012 several shows during the day. Barney, Pingu, Thomas The Train, Bob the Builder and others perform for the whole family. Tickets to these events and more can be found here: http://www.tlbcksa.com/

 11.“Carnevale 2012” by OasItalia Cultural Center A cultural festival in the Italian Embassy Thur 1 Mar:  7.30 – midnight Tickets on sale Feb 2nd 10 – 12am (OasItalia members only) and Feb 3rd 4.30 – 7.30pm Nonmembers.

Go out and enjoy the lovely February weather and take a cultural bath this month!

 

Hello there! I’m Laura, the founder of Blue Abaya- the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia, established in 2010.  Travel has always been my passion- so far I’ve visited 70 countries and I’m always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia!

Saudi-Arabia is a country full of beautiful places to visit for those willing to make the journey to get there..While there are regular flights from Riyadh to Abha, we wanted to show my visiting mother as much of the largely unknown countryside as possible, so we decided to go on a road trip around Southern Saudi-Arabia, traveling with an SUV from our hometown Riyadh down to Asir region and the Farasan Islands. The distance between Riyadh and Abha is around 1000km when you drive on the route 10 through Al Kharj. We chose this route because my husband has family in Kharj, but according to the map the road via Muzahmiyah (route 30) the drive would be slightly faster (approx. 8h 30 minutes).

What an awesome way road trips are to explore the Saudi Kingdom! I love the fact that you can stop wherever and whenever you like to check out the surroundings. During our trip it was Eid Al-Adha holiday and my husband had almost two whole weeks off work which we took advantage of. We planned to have the following itinerary: Riyadh-Kharj-Layla-Wadi Al Dawasir-Khamis Mushayt-Abha-Jizan-Farasan…and back. But we ended up improvising and changed plans on the way, (we actually drove to Najran and Empty Quarter too) which makes road trips all the more fun!

In this post you’ll read about the journey from Riyadh through cities of al Kharj, Wadi Al Dawasir, Khamis Mushayt all the way to Abha which is about 1000km total drive. Check out all the amazing things which you can do in and around Abha in this post: Top 10 Things to do in Abha. More about the rest of our road trip in this post: “Saudi Road Trip

Road trips in KSA are fairly easy to make since the highways are mostly in excellent condition and well, gasoline is basically free. Or at least it’s cheaper than water.

There are affordable car rentals everywhere and we had our eye on a nice GMC Suburban but the agency screwed it up last-minute. So we ended up having to take whatever was left so last-minute: a crappy Land Cruiser. Sitting in the back seat of this so-called vehicle reminded me of the times I road on the buses in the Ecuador mountains. Fun times!

Lucky for me I was assigned the back seat and got to experience the constant rocking, bouncing, grinding and swirling motions of the car to its full effect. We left two hours late from schedule because we had to clean the car after the previous users. Apparently that’s not included in the service here. It might be a good idea to check on this before you rent.

roadtrip saudi riyadh abha

My little girl was only 7 months old at the time we took this trip and she was just such a little trooper. Sat in her car seat for hours without any complaints. We read books, played, watched the scenery and slept in the back seat while my mom was the head navigator in the front, My husband being the only one licensed to drive by Saudi terms (the one with male organ) was the designated driver, although I was dying to drive just a little bit in remote areas.. Which I finally did get to do while driving on a beach on Farasan Islands.

Our journey was so long and I took literally over a thousand pictures so I decided to divide the journey into three parts. All in all it was an amazing, surprising and enjoyable experience. The occasional setbacks and all the hours spent in the car were well worth it!

On our way out of Riyadh we saw many trucks carrying full loads of sheep on their way to Saudi dinner tables. During Eid it’s custom that Saudi families slaughter sheep for the special occasion.

saudi truck sheep

In Kharj we stopped to meet my husband’s great grandmother, my daughter’s great great grandmother! Her eyesight and hearing is a bit impaired and she didn’t expect us but nevertheless welcomed us into her house with such warmth and hospitality.
Births were not registered in Saudi back in the day so she did not now her age but estimated it to be near 90. She had 14 children that lived to adulthood and over 100 grandchildren. Imagine how many great great grandchildren that means!

While we were served tea and fruits by this sweet old lady, she told my husband how she had scolded some family members for not accepting his choice of wife because I was not Saudi. She said the most important thing is who she is and told him that she liked me and my mother. It felt so good to hear this. As the eldest family member her opinion will have powerful influence in the extended family.

We were shown all around her house and she would not let us leave, insisting we stay for lunch. She was amazed to hear we were intending to drive all the way to Abha that day. So we thanked her profusely and continued on our journey. This was one of the highlights of our trip.

The area around Kharj is dotted with green farmlands and date palm trees. My husband’s family has a farm in the town of Hotah Bani Tamim and we stopped by to take a look. It was like a small oasis! Huge palm trees, obese lemons and pomegranates. Nearby were some ruins of an old mud village.
In case you wondered, this is what an obese (raw) lemon looks like:
The road between Hotah and Wadi Al Dawasir was (according to the map) supposed to pass by a town called Layla. But we never found it! It remains a mystery. There was supposed to be some amazing caves near Layla, a town named after the tragic love story of Layla and Majnoon, the Arab equivalent to Romeo and Juliet.

This ^ is camel herding for the modern day (or very lazy) Bedouin.
Not much to see for about the next 500km. Read about what happened to us during this part of the trip, the terrifying near-death experience.

We reached Wadi Al-Dawasir and it seemed to be such a charming hillbilly town. The atmosphere was pretty laid back, men were sitting on couches at the gas station. Strangely there were no women in sight on the streets. Then we spotted a child driving a car, which is really not such an uncommon sight in the Kingdom. Women are not allowed to drive so the boy was most likely taking his mother around town for some shopping.

Finally we reached Khamis Mushayt, a small city next to Abha. It was very late so we only stopped at McDonald’s for a quick fix of ice cream. I was standing in line at the family section when a Bedouin man cut me in line(what line?). He started asking for a menu and didn’t understand the stuff was all up on the board. I cracked up when he started asking for “gambaari” He wasn’t asking for a drink but SHRIMPS! He kept repeating gambaari, gambaari, jib gambaari!
Dude haven’t you been to McDonald’s before? Mafi gambaari.

We reached Abha in the middle of the night. I recall it being almost 2 am. My husband went to the reception of the hotel we had booked. We wanted a family room with two bedrooms. They had an issue with this. They questioned him about my mother! Who is this lady and would not believe it’s his MIL despite the same surname. The staff told us to go to the police station and get a clearance that we were related! The nerve!

I was pretty pissed off at this point because a) It’s 2 am for God’s sake! We are checking into a family room with an infant, just let us go to sleep. b) if this isn’t my mother than who the heck is it? c) if she’s an unrelated random female why would she be travelling with us? c) if it were our Indonesian maid you would have no issues with her staying with us and d) are you implying that we are up to something haram in your hotel? Yet another example of customer “service” or should I say disservice in the Kingdom. This was the only hotel that asked for proof during our whole trip.
Needless to say, we changed hotels. But not to the above ‘I’m Hotel’-hotel! Duh we can see that you’re a hotel!

Abha turned out to be a very green and colorful city surrounded by lush mountains. Unfortunately very few traditional houses are left in the city. Most had been torn down. We headed out to the Asir National park, such a beautiful place!

Asir National park is famous for its baboons. Some of them were behaving aggressively toward the baby, showing their teeth and making weird noises. Unfortunately they seemed to be accustomed to tourists giving them food. I saw one man feeding them popcorn in order to get better pics!

We bought some delicious honey from this man. The honey was from Yemen and the man from Tahamah.

Unfortunately it was considered off season because Saudis find it too cold beyond October to visit the mountainous areas of Saudi and many of the tourist destinations were closed. As we wandered around the national park my mother and I surprisingly encountered some odd and even hostile behavior from Saudi men and women. I found this strange because I had heard people of Abha are friendly and welcoming. They shouted at us insults in Arabic, thinking we were Americans. I hate it when some people think you don’t understand when they say right next to you “hadi amriki”. You don’t have to be Einstein to figure that one out.
The three men in this picture were pretty rude and aggressive toward us. Still don’t understand why. My husband was walking further away from us with the baby so he couldn’t do anything. Later a group of young women followed us pointing and giggling. I guess we just look so amusing!
We found a perfect picnic spot! Or so we thought. Funny how Saudis are usually really private and don’t like people intruding on their privacy. Our picnic spot had lots of traffic and many “invaders” walked and talked loudly in their mobiles right next to us. Some Saudi women took their sweet time and the one in this above pic was stumbling around in high heels, peeking from underneath her scarf which she had thrown over her whole face. It was so weird I could only watch in amazement.
Look at this mess! Clean up after yourselves people! Would you throw this garbage on your mother? No? Then why do you throw it on your motherland!?
Mom and the little bear watching the sunset.
What is this? A stranded cruise ship?
Nope. It’s the Green Mountain. On top a restaurant and viewing platforms with magnificent views of the city.
On the green mountain we found what I would call the best souvenir shop in Saudi-Arabia! Loved these miniatures of the traditional houses of the region. They make pretty lanterns too. I bought similar ones from Sana’a a few years back.
When we were leaving Abha we managed to get lost a few times. Actually it was kind of my fault. I was acting as the navigator in the front seat and was reading the map. I opened the window in high speed and whooosh! The map was sucked out of the window before I could even say oops. That is what happens when you’re born blonde people. But hey we accidentally found this village of traditional houses so it didn’t really matter much. Or at least that’s how I like to see it.
Our journey continued to Jizan. The road from Abha to Jizan is very scenic and we stopped many times to take in the scenery or to get some snacks. Here a man selling corn on the cob.
Like I mentioned before in this post “I See Pink, people”  pink houses are very popular in this region! This one’s pretty lonely out there.
The baboons are a menace! They roam in large packs and jump around the roads all the time. Many had ended up as roadkill.

The winding roads in the mountains had occasionally only “suggested” speeds. Actually it doesn’t really matter what they tell you the speed limit is. Speed limit by Saudi terms means the limit is how fast you are physically able to drive under the specific circumstances. In these roads that would be about 140km/h.

The only time you will see a Saudi man driving 40km/h is when he is checking women out. So much for the suggestion. LOL

 

 

Hello there! I’m Laura, the founder of Blue Abaya- the first travel blog in Saudi Arabia, established in 2010.  Travel has always been my passion- so far I’ve visited 70 countries and I’m always on the lookout for new adventures inside and outside of Saudi Arabia!