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!

This is the third and last part of the story of ‘Sinta’ and the friendship which grew between her and myself during the course of about four years. Read the first part of Sinta, the Indonesian Housemaid turned into a prisoner here. In the second part of her story there is a spark of hope for a better future. Unfortunately I cannot say the third part of the story has a happing ending. I wish that one day I would be able to write a happy ending, that is, if I ever find Sinta again.

Please note that this post is copyrighted material under KSA laws and should not be published elsewhere without permission, or legal action will be taken. (looking at you Lifeinsaudiarabia rip-off blog, who stole already the first two parts I wrote). That and more than 20 other articles from Blue Abaya and many other honest hardworking bloggers in KSA. It doesn’t look like they have original content at all, it’s just ripped off from others.

Sinta Part 3

The Saudi family of Sinta would not let go of their bitterness and anger toward the hospital for causing their mother’s paralysis at a routine procedure. This terrible medical error was to be the fate of Sinta too. To know exactly what happened you must read Part One and Two of her story. The family refused to take their mother back home for home-based nursing care, (which would’ve been possible from the medical pov) and instead insisted she be admitted to a ward. It was as if they wanted it to be a sort of “punishment” to the hospital for what they had done to their beloved mother. The hospital could do nothing but accept, perhaps because of strong wasta of this family, or they felt so guilty for the medical error, who knows.

(If you’re not familiar with the term wasta read this post: What is a Wasta

Looking at the patient’s condition from the medical and ethical point of view, having her laying in this small dark hospital room was the worst thing they could actually have done to their mother at that point. 

Sinta, one of the Indonesian housemaids who worked in the house of the spinster daughter and ‘Mama Ameenah*’, was appointed the sitter of the patient. A patient sitter means the person who sits in the room assisting the patient in everyday tasks. Usually these sitters would be family members, and they would rotate their duties and shifts. The duty of a sitter is normally seen as an important and honorable task, but for Mama Ameenah, nobody seemed to care just that much that they’d sit there for just one day. Not even half a day, or few hours, which would have allowed Sinta some free time. It was just too much to ask. (*all names have been changed)

Any pleads (which I directed toward the only people who came to visit the patient, the son and the spinster daughter) to find a substitute maid for Sinta were completely fruitless. Mostly my suggestions were met with the “inshallah attitude”.

Shockingly the family saw nothing wrong in this arrangement.

sinta part 3

In the second part Sinta had just suffered a minor stroke, leaving half of her face paralyzed. She was still able to muster a half smile which was equally heart warming than the full one had been. I became even more concerned for her health and future with the Saudi family she was working for. Their true concern seemed to be losing the caretaker of their paralyzed, brain dead mother, not so much the actual wellbeing of Sinta. Sinta continued to take care of Mama Ameenah with the same selfless devotion she always had. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. With no breaks, no holidays, no getting out of the hospital premises for many years. Her salary was 600 SAR per month. That’s about 120 euros.

Despite her failing health, Sinta would always be in high spirits and greeted me with that big smile whenever I would see her.

Something remarkable about Sinta’s character was that despite her miserable personal situation she was always able to be so upbeat and supportive of others. Being confined to that small dark hospital room for years, treated like dirt by her Saudi family, and not much better by the nursing staff or doctors, yet I can hardly remember her saying a bad thing about anyone.

One example of how this positive attitude manifested itself was in Sinta’s ability to offer me a listening ear and support even in the most difficult of situations. During the course of about four years that I was lucky to know Sinta, she was one of the only people in my life who 100% believed in and stood by my choice to marry a Saudi man. She knew our love story from the beginning, when I met my husband, at the very same ward. Waiting for his family to accept his choice of spouse was one of the most difficult times in my life, but Sinta supported my decision and never criticized or doubted us.

To most people around me at the time, marrying a Saudi guy was viewed as more or less an insane idea. People would tell me horror stories and all sorts of “expert opinions” about being married to a Saudi man. “He will lock you up” “he will marry other women” “his family will take your children”. And the legendary comment of “Haven’t you read ‘Not Without My Daughter’?”

Sinta on the other hand would always be supportive, positive and even encouraging, regardless of her own terrible experiences with Saudis. For that I will be forever grateful.

A good example of Sinta’s character and her unwavering support of her friends was regarding my future in laws. We were facing lots of difficulties in getting the family accepting his decision to marry me, a foreigner. You can read more about these deeply rooted tribal attitudes on marriage in this post: A Saudi Male Perspective on Marriage, Love and Tribes in the Kingdom.

We had waited for over a year for his family to accept the idea, only to be met by a brick wall. My fiancee had pleaded and tried everything he possibly could think of. It felt like all roads were leading to dead ends and doors were slammed in the face. There were threats of disowning him and “over my dead body” talks. Things did not seem good at all. In fact it was a rather shitty situation to be in. People were telling me to stop wasting my time on him and to just move on. No one seemed to think it was going anywhere.

Except Sinta. She would just encourage me to keep trying and hoping. Sinta had noticed my stress levels were off the roof and tried to consolidate me, reassuring everything would be alright, that these things just take more time around here.

Sinta also gave me some practical advice in how to soften the inlaws in their stance. She told me to pray, (she always told me how she prayed everyday for things to get better for me), to bake something special from my country Finland and to buy his mother some jewelry as Eid holiday was approaching.

I took all her advice and put it into action. A lot of time and effort went into finding the perfect gift. I finally found it, a Tiffany’s charm bracelet with as many charms on it to match the number of her children. I gave the gifts to my fiancee so he could pass them on to his mother. However after hearing the gift was in fact from me, she had rejected it. I remember crying to Sinta about it one night shift, I didn’t even tell anyone else about it because it felt so devastating. Sinta hadn’t given up on us though, she told me to just keep trying and praying, never to lose hope.

Another year went by with the same persistent resistance and rejection from my husbands family. I began to feel like my life was on hold, my happiness was in the hands of others. It was as if my life was just sailing by as I waited on the dock of the bay for something that had become apparent, would never happen anyway.

Again, Sinta was able, despite her own suffering and painful situation, to see the pain caused by the hopeless situation I was in. Instead of telling me to dump my fiancee and forget the whole thing, she suggested I take a long break from work and distance myself from Saudi Arabia for a while. She suggested I travel to visit my family, who were at the time living in Spain. Sinta told me that leaving would have a positive effect and I would be able to see things with new eyes.

After some thinking and soul-searching, that’s exactly what I did. I took my distance from KSA a step further and went on an around-the-world trip, leaving work, my fiancee and my worries behind. I traveled for three months and went to the places I’d always dreamed of. I skydived in Fiji, climbed to Macchu Picchu in Peru and sailed around the Galapagos islands. All with my own hard earned money, which made it somehow feel even sweeter. And truly, Sinta was right. Things became crystal clear. Shortly after my return to KSA and back to work, things between my fiancee and I started to progress at new levels.

All this time poor Sinta was still stuck in her small room at the hospital, dutifully watching over mama Ameenah. Sadly both of their health began to deteriorate. Mama Ameenah, paralyzed, brain dead to an extent we never knew for sure, was in a ward that made her susceptible to all kinds of hospital acquired bacteria. These organisms can cause huge risks for immunocompromized patients like her.

These bacterias such as VRE, MRSA and other dangerous and even deadly “super bacterias” were actually quite commonly seen in other long term chronic patients on the ward. Poor hand hygiene practices and other factors contributed to the spread of these mega bacteria like wildfire on the ward. So it was just a matter of time that one of them would infect mama Ameenah too. Actually, it was a small miracle on its own (and only owed to Sinta’s dedication) that the patient had not gotten infected earlier in the many years she had been in the hospital.

The super-bacteria infection was probably what started the cycle of illness with Mama Ameenah. To make matters worse for Sinta, the room had to be turned into an isolation room, meaning she was not supposed to leave or even walk on the hallway anymore. This took the concept of prisoner to a new, more hardcore level than ever before.

The patient also began to have seizures, which seemed to be random. I didn’t think they were random though. Sinta told me how some of the nurses didn’t make sure all the medicine went through the feeding tube. Bits of crushed medicine, which included her anti-convulsion medicines, were sometimes left in the feeding tube. Some nurses failed to flush this tube properly or at all, or pieces of medicine were left in the bottom of the syringe. Of course nobody believed Sinta when she complained about it to the head nurse. They thought she was just an uneducated woman from Indonesia who knew nothing. But I knew she knew exactly how to administer that medicine herself. However, she didn’t do it, simply because she was just too honest. Sinta had been specifically instructed to leave the medicine administration “to the professionals” and that’s what she did.

One of these seizures was so severe they ended up having to resuscitate the patient. Things went downhill rapidly from there. At this point, I was already pregnant with our first baby and I was about to go on maternity leave. Sinta was devastated that I was leaving the ward. I promised to visit her and that our paths would not part.

She insisted on coming to work for me when the baby was born, but we both knew that was not going to happen. We cried and hugged a lot. I felt terrible for Sinta, I really did and couldn’t figure out how to help her any further.

After I left the ward I visited her a few times but unfortunately some of the staff at the ward had a bad attitude about it. I thought it’s for Sinta’s own good not to make anyone have any reason for envy over financial support given to Sinta so I decided to stop going in person and just called her on the phone. In the second part of Sinta’s story, I explained about the strange behavior of a few Asian nursing staff members, who became envious and began acting spiteful toward Sinta. This was most likely due the support, financial and other, given to Sinta by myself and some other nurses. If you want to know some of the causes for this behavior, read my post about bullying in the Saudi hospitals. and the Saudi Salary Racism.

But little did I know that the day I visited Sinta at the hospital would be the last day I ever saw her.

After a few months I heard the sad news about what had happened to Mama Ameenah. Another severe convulsion and transfer to the ICU. What exactly happened to Sinta at this point is unclear. Personal sitters are not allowed for patients in the ICU, so the family most likely would have sent her back home. The patient passed away in ICU shortly after being admitted there. That was the last I heard of any of them.

I had Sinta’s number of course. It was switched off. I kept sending her messages in hopes she would be able to turn the phone on and read them, but nothing happened. I asked the Malaysian staff who were her friends, nobody knew what had happened to her. I asked Sinta’s friend, a ward housekeeper, who helped transfer extra money through Western Union to Sinta’s family in Indonesia, but she also knew nothing. It was just heartbreaking, all of it.

So after the demise of Mama Ameenah, there was nothing else than radio silence. To this day I’ve kept trying to text and call her phone every once in a while. In fact I just did it again to no avail. A few times her number was actually switched back on but nobody picked up. It could be the number is now in someone else’s use.

All I can hope is that the death of their mother somehow miraculously humbled the family to show some mercy on Sinta. I hope they let her go. I hope she’s in Indonesia away from this family and finally united with her own loved ones. I hope gratitude was shown to Sinta for all that she did. Was it in their hearts, to show an ounce of gratitude, I can only wonder. What did they give Sinta, for dedicating all these years of her life to taking care of a brain dead person, who she loved dearly but was not even her relative. I hope this cold family were able to show some warmth and appreciation to Sinta. I can only hope.

And maybe someday, I will meet her again. Until then, I can just close my eyes and remember her smile, and pray she’s doing just alright, wherever she is.

Feel free to share her story, maybe someone somewhere knows about her whereabouts, you never know.

DISCLAIMER: This story is a description of ONE family, not all Saudi families with maids. Don’t for a moment think that this is somehow the norm of how maids are treated by Saudi families in KSA, because it’s just not like that. No doubt abuse happens and the kafala system is what enables the bad people to treat the workers badly. This sponsorship system needs to fly out of the window in order to protect the employees and the employers too. Sinta’s story is here for you to read because it’s inspiring but yes, also very sad and infuriating how the family treated her, but it doesn’t mean that another family somewhere else in the world would not have done just the same. Just because it’s a Saudi family, it doesn’t mean they are all bad and abusive. People are just like that, in general, humans everywhere have always abused the weaker ones and misused their power. Its human nature all around the world. But what an extraordinary woman Sinta is to be able to keep her dignity, her positive outlook and honesty through it all. That’s the reason why Sinta’s story is so special. Never lose hope.

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!

9:15pm. Kids finally asleep. Now my “real work” can begin. But all I can focus on after a VERY long and stressful day are the Fazer chocolate bars sent by my mom from Finland. (Love you mom). I’m homeschooling my kids now that we had to pull them out of their kindergarten. The environment became toxic and some of the teachers behaved more like bullies than actual teachers. But that’s another story for another time.

 These World’s Most Delicious Chocolate bars have just arrived safely to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, home of the infamous Saudi Post Chocolate Monster. 

Now you may think there’s nothing much to it.

Let me just say that this is in fact, monumental.

A day I would normally say “let’s draw a big X on the wall to mark the occasion”, but since my 3-year-old son already drew the walls full of different shapes with watercolors while I stepped out the room to make an important business phone call, I WON’T BE NEEDING TO. Those beautiful scribbles, which he also marked the white sofa with on his way, will now mark the first day we received an intact chocolate-containing package from Finland since the almost 8 years I’ve been in the ‘Magic Kingdom’.

It is indeed remarkable how none of the chocolates have been opened for “inspection”. There were a total of four bars in the package, the same amount as my mom had put in (had to check of course). Nothing has been nibbled on or half-eaten first, then left in the box. Which actually happened once, read about it here: Stuff That Annoys Me

Not even a single bite was taken this time around. Something must have gone seriously wrong.
This raises a few concerns regarding the whereabouts and the proficiency of the Choc Monster to detect any kind of chocolate-y substances or “suspicious” looking candy bars in the packages arriving to Saudi Arabia. What has happened to him?

Was he replaced by technology? Perhaps they now have a machine to detect any traces of alcohol, pork or drugs inside the chocolate. Which in any other country would be called a dog, but I doubt they’d work in such close proximity with one over at the Saudi Post.
What a Historical Day in the grand history of the Saudi postal services. Lets give them a round of applause!

The main reason for my mom sending this package are the Christmas advent calendars she sent for the kids, which curiously have also been left untouched. Wow!

Have you had any encounters with the now elusive Chocolate Monster, or any of his colleagues at the Saudi postal services?

Please share your stories :)

P.S. The “real work” I mentioned about consists of (but is not limited to) running my home based business, managing the online stores for my Arabian Inspired Art & Design, designing and creating all those items, compiling next year’s Saudi Arabia themed Wall calendars using my own photography from around the Magic Kingdom, writing travel articles for Mommy’s Corner ME, designing colorful abayas made of cotton and linen, among few other things such as running the Blue Abaya website :)

P.P.S Sinta The Indonesian Housemaid Part 3 has been ready to be published for quite a while, just haven’t gotten myself to publish the last part of her sad story. Mainly because I don’t want her story to end, I’d rather have a good ending to it which I’ve been hoping to be able to add to her story. Another reason I’ve hesitated on publishing her story is that the thieves at life in saudi arabia blog are taking my (and many other Saudi bloggers) hard work and publishing it on their blog without permission, as their own material. They’ve stolen and plagiarized over 20 of my articles, including the Sinta series. So that has really put me off posting anything here anymore, because they will just rip it off again and make money off my hard work with the ads they infested their site with.

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 Celebrates its 85th National Day on Wednesday 23 rd September 2015. This year the National day happens to coincide with the beginning of Hajj, meaning there will be no official celebrations until later on in the week with the upcoming Eid Al Adha holiday. Fireworks and most larger festivities have been cancelled this year due to the current war in Yemen. To read more about the National Day celebrations and to find out about the events in Riyadh, check out these posts:

National Day celebrations in Riyadh

Happy Birthday Saudi Arabia!

The best place to be in Riyadh for National Day celebration : Bujairy Square festival area in Diriyah Historic District

Ideas on what to do during Eid holidays in Riyadh: Top Ten things to do during Eid holidays in Riyadh

KSA Travel Tips for Eid Al Adha holiday: Saudi Road Trip- Riyadh-Abha & Top Ten Things to Do in Abha

Riyadh Activities with Kids

Day Trip from Riyadh: Visit Ushaiger heritage Village or Red Sand Dunes 

Explore Saudi Arabia’s UNESCO Heritage Sites: Al Balad Historic District in Jeddah and Ad’ Diriyah in Riyadh

Stay tuned with Riyadh events by following us on Instagram,  Facebook and Google+.

 

Happy national day and Eid Mubarak!

saudi leather sandals on wall

Wordless Wednesday. Saudi Arabia’s famous leather sandals.

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 Souk Okaz festival in Taif is the re-birth of an ancient Arabian market dating back to Pre-Islamic times. The modern-day Souk Okaz was re-created on the exact same location in the Saudi Arabian desert where the ancient souk was historically held.

The Souk Okaz Festival was revived in 2006 by Prince Khalid al-Faisal, Emir of Makkah and it’s held every year in accordance to the Hijri calendar. The event goes on for 2 weeks and many tour companies from around the Kingdom arrange tours there but you can also easily visit Souk Okaz on your own. The festival is open to everyone and is free of charge.

The souk is located near the Saudi-Arabian city of Taif in the Western part of Saudi Arabia. The Ancient Souk Okaz was active at during 542-726 CE and it used to be the largest and most important event of its kind back then. Historically it was more than a marketplace, the souk served as a meeting place for tribal leaders and for people interested in poetry and literature.

Many poetry competitions were held at Okaz and this tradition has also been revived in the modern-day Souk. Learn more about the history of Okaz from their official website (Arabic only) and from the Saudi Commission for tourism page, which has this to say of the Souk:

The importance of the Souk lies in its historic symbolism as the original source of Arabic central culture as a destination for ancient Arab intellectuals and poets and people passionate about culture and literature.

 

Souk Okaz Ancient Souk in Modern Arabia

In ancient times, Arab traders and bedouins would bring their goods, including perfumes, spices, rugs and handicrafts to sell at the market. It was an ancient economic and cultural meeting hub for intellectuals and influencers.
People from all parts of the Arabian Peninsula would meet at Souk Okaz to compete and select the best poet.  The ancient Arab poet would deliver words of praise for his tribe and denigrate the other tribes. The poet represented the individual tribe’s prestige and importance. Zajal, a battle of the poets, would often take form of an actual battle. Early Arabic poetry offers the modern Arab a glimpse of life in Pre-Islamic times. Poetry is truly in the soul of the Arab.

Souk Okaz Saudi Arabia_

A Finnish friend of mine here in Riyadh who like myself, is an avid explorer of Saudi Arabia, showed me some images from her trip to the  Okaz festival. The images blew my mind! It’s as if  she visited the scene of an Arabian adventure film. The colorful costumes, the impressive parade and knights showing off their horsemanship skills. Even my half-Finnish half-Saudi kids (3 and 4 year olds) were amazed. They asked upon seeing the pics “mommy is that outer-space? Mom are they aliens, is that a knight?!” I laughed and replied, it’s what your Saudi ancestors and forefathers used to dress like. And the kids were, of course even more flabbergasted.

Both now want to become ‘Arabian knights’ when they grow up. I can totally see why they’d say that though, to me the images reminded me of an ancient Arabian adventure movie and the scenery surrounding the souk is other-worldly.

Funny enough when I asked my friend Raija to describe her experience at the Okaz festival, she said “it was like being in another world, almost like being on another planet!”

To fully grasp this other-worldly feeling you must watch the video clips attached on this post. The kids and I watched the clips over and over, mesmerized. So what is this Souk Okaz festival and where is it happening??

I thought this was all so interesting it should to be shared with a wider audience, so with the permission of my friend here are her Souk Okaz photos. Everyone should know what a glorious past this desert Kingdom has! It deserves to be showcased and the efforts of Prince Khalid bin Faisal to restore it are commendable. Next year I’m definitely going there, and taking my kids aka the mini Arabian Knights too!

Please let us know in the comments what you think. Would you like to visit the festival?

UPDATE: According to the official website, 261,00 people visited the Souk Okaz in 2015. The next festival will be held in August 2016!

**All images and video in this post were taken by © Raija Valimaki**

Souk Okaz Poet

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Souk Okaz Saudi Knight

Watch these clips to get a better idea of the what the performances at the souk are like.

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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 Riyadh date and vegetable market, also known as the date souk or fruit souk, is located off exit 14. It’s THE place to go for some serious date-shopping and to get on a natural sugar high! Even if you’re not a fan of dates, which I guarantee you will become after visiting this place, it’s definitely worth the visit just for the amazing experience. There’s also a large fruit and vegetable marketplace adjacent to the dates souk called souq ar Rabwa. The directions to the souk, GPS location and google map location can be found at the end of this post.

The best time of the year to visit the souk is during the late summer months when the dates have just ripened and there’s plenty of fresh produce.

Best time of the day to visit would be early mornings, the souk opens around 9 am until noon prayer and the fruit market is open even earlier. The souk opens again after Asr prayer.

Dates are extremely healthy in so many ways, they would deserve a post on their own just to explain all their amazing health benefits. The health benefits of dates are mentioned in the Quran and Hadith, and the most sought-after (and expensive) kind are called Ajwa which come from the Madinah area. Ajwa dates, which the Prophet Mohammed mentions by name in a Hadith, are thought to be the most “potent” of all the date fruits in preventing many diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. The fiber rich, soft Ajwa dates also aid in detoxing the body.

date souk riyadh
Most of the dates at the Riyadh market are sold either by the kilo or by the box but you can always request a small portion and the vendors are happy to let you sample all the different varieties available. For a first timer it can all be really confusing, there’s just so much variety. There are dates which are used for pure delicacy purposes, some are used to make juices, paste, flour or syrup. The possibilities are endless! There are dates available here all year round but the fresh dates begin to come into season in the summer around July-August when the dates ripen enough in the trees.
Dates ripen in four stages, which are known throughout the Arab world by their Arabic names kimri (unripe, green), khlal (full-size, crunchy, yellow), rutab (ripe, soft), tamr (ripe, sun-dried, dark).

The most sought-after and expensive dates come from Medinah, called Ajwa dates. Prophet Mohammed mentions these dates in particular as being especially beneficial for ones health.

Side entrance to Riyadh date souk.

When dates turn yellow from the original green color they are called rutab. That’s when they’re really crunchy and a bit sour. This is the favorite kind of date of many but personally I prefer the sweeter and softer ones called sukari. The darker color, dry and ripe dates are called tamr.

Dates come not only in a rainbow of different colors, but they also vary in size, moistness, texture, ripeness and sweetness.

Visitors at Riyadh’s date souk are welcome to sample the different varieties and some vendors will offer some Arabic coffee to go with it. Don’t forget to haggle!

It’s always a good idea to haggle at the souks. The vendors even expect to haggle a little bit over some Arabic coffee and dates, of course.

These bright red dates look very pretty and inviting, but be warned they also taste extremely sour!

The date season is best during the late summer months when the fruits start to ripen and they get their signature sweetness.

I must admit that before coming to Saudi Arabia, I had no clue how delicious dates could be. In my home country Finland we hardly ever get the chance to taste really good or fresh dates so I never imagined these tiny wrinkly things would turn out to be the most mouth-watering super fruits! Now my freezer is full of date fruits (the rutab kind) all year round.

Here’s some information how to freeze your date fruits:

how to freeze fresh dates infographic

Directions: Heading North on the Eastern ring road, take exit 14 to the your right. Then take a right from the lights and continue on the service road until you get to the main entrance of the marketplace area. There is a huge vegetable and fruit market next to the date souk. The entrance to the date souk is on the left hand side, you can enter from any of the many gates on the side or the main entrance where the guards are sitting. This is where you can stop for some complimentary Arabic gahwa and of course, dates!!

GPS co-ordinates: 24.695271, 46.779406 that is the North entrance to a long building which runs North/South.

Google Maps:

سوق الخضار والفاكهة
Ar Rabwah, Riyadh 14215, Arabia Saudí
http://goo.gl/maps/96KxP

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Interested in finding more Riyadh souks? Check out this post: Bisht Souk 

the date market in Riyadh, Saudi-Arabia

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!

Eid Mubarak to all Blue Abaya readers! We wish you and your loved ones a blessed Eid al Fitr. If you’re in Riyadh and looking to celebrate, this quick guide will help you find the locations, timings, and best events around Riyadh.

Riyadh Municipality is organizing over 200 Eid Al Fitr events for the year 2015 in over 43 locations around Riyadh. There’s plenty of different events for families, singles, women only and children. I have found it difficult as an English speaking expatriate to know where the festivities are located and the exact timings of the fireworks for example. Nevertheless I always went each year to several different locations and very much enjoyed the festivities. Most expatriates don’t seem to be clued in to all the fun they’re missing out on, so I thought I’d share my experiences to benefit others. What a better chance for some bridging some cultural gaps and mingling with Saudis :)

I have gathered some of my favorite activities here for you and your family to enjoy this Eid in Riyadh! Most of the activities listed here are organized every year and the timings are very much the same year to year. To keep up to date with celebration schedules, activities and events, make sure you’ve liked us on Facebook to get updates and subscribed by email with the form at the end of this post.

For Blue Abaya’s Top Ten List of Things To Do During Eid holidays in Riyadh, click here!

Eid al Fitr in Riyadh

My favorite places to go for the celebrations, which include traditional dances, folklore tents, delicious traditional foods, bazaars, poetry and plays, children’s activities and lots more are:

King AbdulAziz Historical Center

National Museum

Deerah (area surrounding Musmak fort)

Historical Diriyah al Bujairy District (new location for this year!)

King Fahad Cultural center

(click on the location to find out more details)

fireworks riyadh eid
Fireworks will go off at the same time every night at 7 different locations around Riyadh. This year the Municipality have changed the timing to very late, 11:15 pm. Unfortunately this does not seem to cater to families with small children who might find this very inconvenient and impossible to enjoy because of it.
Eid Fireworks Locations:
Historical Ad Diriyah
King Fahad Football Stadium
Suspension Bridge
King Abdullah International Gardens Park
Al Nakheel Mall
Prince Sultan Uni
Al Ha’ir King Abdulaziz weather park

 

National Museum gardens are a wonderful area to walk around and enjoy the joyous Eid spirit. The garden landscape and architecture of the Museum make for the perfect place to enjoy a family picnic.

Nearby is the King Abdulaziz Historical Center folklore tent where traditional music, dances, poetry recital are performed. There’s also a small amusement park and water tower nearby.
What would Eid celebrations be without some traditional sword dances? The Eid festival at has traditional Saudi Arabian sword dances called “ardha’. For all the things you can do at Diriyah, check out this post: 10 Things do do in Historic Ad Diriyah
traditional Saudi Arabian sword dances

At the King AbdulaAziz Historical Center, the dance groups come from all over the Saudi Kingdom; Eastern Province, Jizan, Makkah and of course, the Najd Ardha dances! The dance performances are shown at the folklore tent on the first three days of Eid and start up around 5:30 pm continuing until after midnight.

The folklore tents also has poetry recital and it’s a great chance to listen to old Bedouin love songs played with the ‘Desert Violin’, the Rababah.
For a bird’s eye view of the King Abdulaziz Historical center festival area (and the best place to view the Eid fireworks show from), go up the water tower located inside the amusement park next to the National Museum!
king fahad cultural center

The King Fahad Cultural Center is set on a beautiful location on the edge of Wadi Hanifa. The center offers various activities for women and children only. You can have beautiful henna done, taste delicious foods, watch traditional dances other shows.

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 Ramadan giveaway is here! As a token of gratitude to our fans for the continuous support, Blue Abaya together with The Ritz Carlton are giving away 3 sets of iftar for two at Riyadh’s prestigious Ritz-Carlton Ramadan Tent. The iftar buffet will be served at the spectacular Ritz ballrooms, which have been decorated for Ramadan with beautiful design in the immaculate Ritz Carlton style.

The giveaway graphic should appear at the end of this post, it might take some time to load depending on your internet speed, if it doesn’t open, try refreshing your browser. Once the graphic opens you have two options to log in, either with your facebook or your email. Next all you need to do is click on the action(s) you want to participate with, and the program will automatically direct you to the right place and then count your vote. So easy and simple! Feel free to use as many of the options as you like.

A quick rundown on rules of entering the giveaway: Each participant can enter the contest in several different ways, you can use as many of the options as you want to gain more entries. For example, by subscribing to the Ritz Carlton Newsletter, the participant gains five entries. Tweeting about the giveaway equals three more entries and by following @blueabaya on Twitter or Pinterest participants gain one more entry for each action.

Total prize value is 2100 Saudi riyal. Everyone is free to enter the giveaway, as long as you are able to collect your prize in Riyadh in person during Ramadan.  The rafflecopter program automatically counts your entries and draws the three winners at the end of the giveaway which will be Sunday, 5th July midnight.

EDIT: We have extended the giveaway with an additional 24 hours. Ending is 6th July midnight.

The winners will be announced the following day.

Wishing everyone a blessed Ramadan and the best of luck in the giveaway!

ramadan tent giveaway

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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!

We recently enjoyed a wonderful iftar buffet with family and friends at Riyadh’s Prestigious Ritz Carlton. A lavish buffet spread at the Ramadan Tent, set up in one of the hotel’s palatial ballrooms was truly an unforgettable experience. The food was absolutely perfect with a wide variety of options to choose from and to suit many different tastes. I had the honor to meet the Executive chef in charge of this amazing iftar buffet.What makes visiting the Ritz so special is the outstanding service and staff who will always go out of their way to make every guest feel special and looked after. From the very moment you step in, you will be welcomed with genuine smiles, warm gestures and world-class hospitality.

To celebrate Ramadan 2015 and express our gratitude to our readers and customers, Blue Abaya together with the Ritz-Carlton are offering the chance to experience the Ramadan tent in the form of a giveaway–don’t miss out on a chance to win, make sure you’ve subscribed to the Blue Abaya newsletter with the form at the end of this post.  The giveaway with prizes for three winners worth a total of SAR 2100!  

The best thing about the Ritz iftar buffet for my husband and I (after the mouth-watering food of course) was definitely the kids very own play area. The children have their separate space where they can run and play under the supervision of the nannies that are working there. Kids also have their very own buffet!  I’m sure all parents with small children can relate to this. If you’re going to go all out and want to enjoy your evening (and you don’t have a nanny like us) then the chance of having that rare moment of peace to actually enjoy your food, while knowing your kids are also enjoying and safe, is really the best feeling.

The exquisite Chandeliers and ceiling decorations of the Ritz Carlton Riyadh never seize to amaze.

Ritz Carlton Ramadan tent ballroom

Ritz ramadanArabic sweets

RCR Kids Play Area

Ritz pastries

IMG_4101.JPG

Ritz carlton hilal

Here’s the official press release from Ritz Carlton Riyadh, explaining in more detail about this years Ramadan Tent:

“During this Holy month, The Ritz-Carlton, Riyadh ballrooms will feature lavish designs and decorations that present a traditional Arabian ambience. Centered in the middle of the ballroom, the Iftar buffet will be surrounded by a variety of seating options for visitors, as well as a private Majlis located in each of the ballroom’s corners. We were inspired to portray this spirit through the use of symbols of islamic architecture, specifically from the era of Al Andalus. The cozy aura the lanterns provide coupled with mighty wooden entrances and decorative spears will reflect this spirit and provide a great experience to the visitors of The Ritz-Carlton.”

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 following is a guide to the restored Saudi Arabian heritage village of Ushaiger (the town also called “The Little Blonde”) located outside Riyadh. The beautiful town of Ushaiger is the perfect destination for taking a day trip out from Riyadh, just an hour and a half drive away. Visiting this architectural treasure of the Najd region is an ideal way to experience how the everyday life was in Saudi Arabia few hundred years ago and a great chance learn about the Kingdom’s history. 

The Ushaiger mud village offers plenty of sightseeing opportunities and activities for the whole family. There’s a museum, a visitor’s center with opportunity to hire a tourist guide, a marketplace, mosques, and a restaurant. You will find the directions, GPS co-ordinates and location of Ushaiger village added at the end of the article. Check out Blue abaya’s guide to Raghbah mud village located closeby to Ushaiger, it’s possible to visit both these villages on the same trip!

Ushaiger village is located approximately 180km NW out of Riyadh and is one of the oldest mud villages in the Najd region. What makes Ushaiger special is the fact that some of the local families treasured their heritage so much they decided to renovate some buildings and parts of the town back to its old glory. And all this from their own pockets! Ushaiger, which means “the little blonde”, was named after the red mountain that stands next to it.  The first inhabitants settled here around 1500 years ago and the village served as a common stopping point for pilgrims going for Hajj.

guide ushaiger heritage village riyadh

ushaiger mosque courtyard wm

 Visiting Ushaiger is well worth the approximately one and a half hour drive from Riyadh. The entire day can easily surpass by wandering around the narrow streets and seemingly endless alleyways.  In addition to the myriad of different types of mud houses, the village has two schools, a marketplace, a museum, a heritage house and many picturesque mosques, some of which are still in use. Ushaiger is surrounded by an oasis and ancient farmlands which the inhabitants utilized by creating a complex irrigation and water collection system. The aim was to preserve and distribute the precious water derived from one of the many interconnected wells around the village.
ushaiger water collection gutter
ushaiger old mosque entranceushaiger mosque door detail
ushaiger village city market door

The people of Ushaiger are known to be very friendly and here you can experience the famous Saudi hospitality at its best. The locals can regularly be seen sitting on benches chatting and reading newspapers. The villagers are always willing to help visitors and show them around their much adored little town. Visitors will often be invited into one of the renovated mud houses for Arabic coffee and dates or if you’re lucky and they have time, guests are welcomed to join in on the family dinner.

The interiors of these mud and straw houses are astonishing in detail and architecture; here one truly gets the feel of stepping back in time.  Natural light enters the houses from the open air roofs and the many triangular windows distinctive to the Najdi style. Antique lanterns and traditional fireplaces further create a mysterious atmosphere inside the humble homes of the Ushaiger people.
Take time to browse the museum which the villagers have set up from various artifacts and old relics collected from the inhabitants. The museum keepers will be more than happy to guide you around and explain in detail the history of each item. They have a superb collection of traditional clothing including old abayas which are surprisingly colorful and intricate in detail.
There’s a small outdoor restaurant near the entrance overlooking the palm tree oasis which makes for a nice ending to the day. It’s recommended to drive up the nearby mountain for magnificent views down to the village. Ushaiger village is peaceful, beautiful and serene and makes for a humbling and enlightening experience.
ushaiger wooden gate detail
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Ushaiger Heritage village guide by Blue Abaya
 DIRECTIONS to USHAIGER:
Here are the coordinates 25°20′33″N 45°11′0″E. Enter into Google maps: Ushaiger Heritage Village
From Riyadh, Take Mekkah Road (route 40) out of Riyadh, pass the first checkpoint, go down the escarpment and turn right at the first exit, direction Shaqra (Highway 505). Drive on that highway for a some while, passing by Dhurma, Marat and Tharmda. When you reach the city of Shagra, continue on the route 505 passing by the city until you get to the turn signposted Ushaiger, turn right on this road. At the end of the road turn left and a sign for Ushaiger Heritage village will soon appear on the right side of the road.
You can drive inside the village and park on the roads there, or leave the car outside of the main large gates and walk in. The village is always open to walk around and free to enter.
UPDATE 2018 APRIL:
The main museum is open from daily from 8 am. On Fridays they close for Dhuhr prayer and open again right after at around 1 pm depending on the time of prayer. It closes for the day at Ishaa prayer. Museum ticket 10 sar.
The other heritage house museums are mostly open by request only, call the numbers on the signs you see on the houses and someone should come come to let you in.
The restaurant opens for lunch at 1 pm on Fridays. They offer traditional Saudi foods cooked by local villagers. Everything we tried was very good. You pay by the weight of your plate which can make the end price a bit high.
The village is getting very popular now with visitors and tourists on weekends. From when I first visited in 2012, and before I wrote this guide, the village was a sleepy and quite one, villagers would sit and drink coffee and freely invite people to their houses ( because there was a very rarely a foreign visitor there). I found on my last visit in April 2018 the village to be bustling with visitors and large tour buses were there as well. So it has lost some of that original charm, but still worth a visit.

 

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 historic city of Ad’Diriyah, where the first Saudi State was established in 1745 (1158H) has been undergoing a huge restoration project since 2011. I for one have been anxiously awaiting for it to finish because I simply love all this place has to offer. Every time I go to Diriyah, there’s something new and exciting to discover. A shady alleyway with a colorful door at the end, an old watch tower or a small stream, lined with perfect shaded picnic spots..You never know what you will find!

Follow me on instagram for a look into Saudi Arabia: Viking in Arabia 

So when I heard the news that earlier this month a part of the restoration project had finally been finished and inaugurated by the King, I was thrilled and could not wait to go check it out.  Apparently the newly opened area is called the Al-Bujairi district the gateway to the historic area of Ad-Diriyah. You can find the directions, map and gps location further below. According to the project management of Diriyah restorations:
“The project is a part of the scheme to develop Diriyah and highlight its cultural value by creating facilities at its main entrance.”

At Turaif District palace ruins

This post is a collaborative Top Ten (5+5) list with blogger Margo Catts, whom I had the pleasure of exploring Diriyah with. Margo happens to be quite an amazing woman and super talented writer. I’m so happy to have met her in person, if only for a short time (she has left on final exit now). We had a blast one morning when the two of us went all “touristy” around Diriyah with our cameras and unfortunate driver. You will begin the virtual sightseeing tour of Riyadh’s very own UNESCO World Heritage site from the below five things to do, and then finish off the virtual Diriyah tour through her blog post here: 10 Things to Do at Historic Diriyah

Ten Things to do in Riyadh

The location of historical Ad’Diriyah is 20 km North West of Riyadh (11 km from city center) on the banks of Wadi Hanifa. The historic area of Ad’Diriyah is divided into two parts by the Wadi Hanifa and additionally into a number of different quarters. The most important ones are:

Turaif Quarter: The main quarter of Ad’Diriyah, where the Al Saud house is situated. The area is located on the South Western mountain, surrounded by a wall overlooking all other quarters.

Ghusaiba Quarter: This was the first Saudi capital up to 1683.

Bujairy Quarter: Located on the Eastern bank of Wadi Hanifa. here you’ll find the mosque, a school, home of Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Wahab and the newly opened Diriyah gateway.

GPS coordinates to the roundabout next to the Bujairy plaza: 24.737382 46.575260

Here’s a google earth pic of the area, where you can see the green areas are mostly date farms around Wadi Hanifa and the road which goes down the valley splits the area in two; the Bujairy gateway area and on the opposite side the main historical city area, At´Turaif district. The UNESCO heritage area of Turaif is unfortunately still closed from public due to a massive restoration project going on there. Once ready, Turaif district will become one of the largest open air museums in the world. The entire restoration project is estimated to finish by 2019. In the meanwhile, there’s still plenty of things to see and it’s well worth the visit.historical diriyah map Things to do in Ad ‘Diriyah

1. Explore the new Al Bujairy center.

Enjoy the amazing views to the palace and city ruins, find the old city well, have a picnic by the waterfalls or grab a coffee from one of the cafes. Exploring the Bujairy marketplace and surrounding area feels like stepping back in time, to when this place really was the hub of the city. Lots of shops, cafes, restaurants and businesses are already open and many more will open their doors soon. Most are open after Asr prayers only for the time being. A visitor’s info center, a cultural center and museum will also be opening there in the future.Discover Historical Ad

diriyah salwa palaceHistorical diriyah Turaif city wallAl Bujairy district, Diriyah

diriyah Al Bujairy plazadiriyah marketplace

diriyah museum center

diriyah albujairy gatewaydiriyah old city well2. Door-Gawking and Alley-Wandering.

Ad-Diriyah is a paradise for door enthusiasts like myself. Diriyah is actually one of the places where my inspiration for the ‘Doors of the Magic Kingdom‘ collection began. Margo too, is a self-proclaimed door-addict and we had a lot of fun hunting down new doors and finding the matching door and phone cover! Check out Blue Abaya Designs on Instagram for more door phone covers and other Saudi themed souvenirs and gifts. You can also find more Saudi doors gifts designed by me here: Inspired by Arabia

You will see the tribal patterns of the Najd region repeating themselves in the doors, gates, window shutters and panels scattered around the vast historical area. The geometric patterns, bright colors and the Najdi flower are the most easily recognizable patterns. Watch out for the below pictures huge colorful gate, which is actually a part of an isteraha that can be rented for private occasions.

Wander down one of the shady alleys down on the wadi road for another back in time-travel experience. Walking around the quiet neighborhoods is very therapeutic and makes for a refreshing change from the concrete jungles of Riyadh.

Diriyah Colorful painted gates

Saudi doors phone covers

My designs! The Doors of the Magic Kingdom collection phone covers and the matching door in the background.

diriyah farm gate

diriyah wood door

diriyah alleyway

diriyah giant doors3. Visit and see the mosques.

The old, the new and renovated ones. Probably one of the most famous mosques in all of Saudi Arabia is the Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdulwahab mosque, which is located right at the entrance to the historical area next to the Diriyah city walls.  So far the renovation efforts resulted in restoring the mosque where Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulwahab used to be its imam and deliver sermons. Many other mosques can be found around the newly inaugurated Al-Bujairi plaza area such as the restored Al-Dhwaihrah Mosque and the restoration of the Imam Mohammed bin Saud Mosque which is still under way.

diriyah mosque newdiriyah mosque wudu4. Hunt for antiques, art and souvenirs at the plaza.

Several Saudi gifts and trinkets shops & antique stores, art galleries are already open around the Diriyah marketplace area. Many more to be opened in the near future. The AMA Art venue is already open and there is a small coffee shop at the gallery. Check out the AMA Twitter and Instagram for more info!

 

The AMA Art Gallery in Ad Diriyah

The AMA Art Gallery entrance in Ad Diriyah

Diriyah souk antique shop

5. Eat at the Najd Village restaurant.

This is the third branch of the lovely  Najd Village restaurants which serve traditional Saudi foods. You will be seated on the floor in your own Saudi style majlis or tent, while trying out all the different Najd food specialities at once! Read more about why this restaurant is so amazing here: Al Qarya Najdiya-The Najd Village restaurant.  As an added bonus, the Diriyah branch is overlooking the palace ruins across the wadi, the views are truly incredible. This would be THE place to bring those special Riyadh visitors to. Spend a memorable evening in a one of a kind setting enjoying authentic Saudi food and culture. The restaurant is open daily for both singles and families, 4-10pm
diriyah najd village restaurant door

Now head over to Margo’s post for more pics and a great history lesson of Diriyah!

 

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!