Category Archives: coffeee morning saudi arabia

Excuse Me, Are You One of Us?

Sometimes, when the sun is shining and you are on vacation, you decide to grab your stuff, finally put on that swim suit again and go finish that English reading assignment by the pool. But as it so happens, you end up doing something completely different instead.

I did manage to get my things together and make it down to the pool, but just as I lied down and tried to continue reading Top Girls, I heard Russian being spoken, which happens to be my native language. I hesitated for a bit, but when some of the women got off the table and passed by me, probably on their way somewhere, I looked up and said “Dobry den!” cheerfully, which is Russian for “Good afternoon”.

One of the women stopped, looked at me with surprised eyes and asked, “You speak Russian?!” and then she added something that is a very typical Russian expression which people use when they want to make sure that the person in front of them is their countryman/ woman. She asked: “Are you one of us?”

I nodded happily and she encouraged me to join their table. After a little bit more hesitation, I got up and walked over to the table. The other ladies seemed to be overly happy when they realized that I was “one of them” and within seconds we were already introducing each other. To my surprise I learned that some of them were from Belarus just like me. Apparently I am not as lonely here as I thought.

“You are lucky to live on a compound”, a woman from Ukraine said to me, noticing that I was dressed in my swim suit and not in regular clothes like them, since they came over for the coffee morning sales.

“Why? Don’t you all live on compounds, too?”

“No, we live in houses in town.”

“So…your husbands are Saudi?”, I asked with a tiny trace of disbelief in my voice.

All of them confirmed that, that was the case. I asked them how they find it, I personally never met a westerner, or in this case east European, who is married to a Saudi so I got myself into something interesting indeed.

“It’s great”, one of them said. “They are just like our men after all”. At this point I should note that every time a Russian or Ukrainian person refers to something or someone as theirs or ours, he or she means that it is Russian or Ukrainian or generally east European, or “just like east European” in this case.

Then, all of a sudden, there was one of those moments that are extremely amusing to me, but at the same time they leave me speechless. Kind of.

The Belarusian woman turned to me and asked: “So, what’s your husband’s nationality then? I assume since you live here in Riyadh, he’s Saudi.”

I do have to admit that this is generally a legitimate question to ask a foreign woman in this country. I mean, why else would a woman be here, right? But even though I totally understand that, all I could do was shake my head slowly, with confusion written in capital letters on my forehead, trying very hard not to laugh hysterically.

And here comes the best part:

“How old do you think I am? Honestly. I don’t have any issues with age or anything. Just curious about what you think”, I answered.

The woman looked at me for a little bit (not knowing anything about me, except for my name), and then said: “Hhm I am pretty sure you must be 30 or something”.

That is actually what she said. I kid you not she did. Thirty. I am scared to think how I will look like once I actually turn 30. When I told her my actual age, she swore to me she said that because of the hat I was wearing. Apparently.

Now, I can imagine that some people will wonder why I am actually writing all this down. See, the aim of this blog is to show that life in Saudi Arabia is not as terrifying as most of us believe it is. So there I was, sitting with my country people, listening to their stories and honestly they sounded very happy to me and this time the positive impression does not come from me alone.

They go out together, they travel and some of them even work here. The Ukrainian lady noticed my sceptical tone when I asked how she found it to be married to a local and said it was just fine really. “There’s our Harley standing outside of the compound”, she added. Even in Saudi Arabia women get to sit on motorbikes. They obviously don’t drive them  by themselves but at least they kind of own them.

Some of them wish to live on a compound, where you can walk around uncovered and go to the gym and to the pool and that is all understandable, but honestly, they just seemed to me like any other east European married woman would. We were just sitting there, talking about all kinds of stuff. About Russian food, datchas (this is how we call houses and land that we own on the country side), vegetable gardens and here and there I heard a familiar cuss word. Because in Russian language we just happen to casually use them here and there.

What can I say? It’s a small world. And life can be beautiful anywhere on the planet. Just as a Lebanese lady told me yesterday (who was also convinced that I must be married and surprised to find that I am not), life here can be interesting. You just have to make it interesting.

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Slices of Life

One day in my journalism class back in Junior year, my teacher suggested that we add a “slices of life” section to our school’s news blog but whether we actually did that or not, I can’t remember.

Basically, a slices of life section contains short things that…let’s say just happened. Maybe somebody said something very funny. If so, a journalist can write that funny quote down and here you have your slices of life contribution. Or maybe someone just did something funny or remarkable or whatever and you happen to have it videotaped. Well, you get the idea.

I have not been thinking about this type of thing up until today.

It was again coffee morning time and I made myself get up in the morning because of one of these things I have seen last time but didn’t buy.

Once I arrived at the full hall, with all the people already there, ready to spend their money on local stuff, I realized that the stand with the pictures was not build up yet and so I just kept walking around aimlessly.

I bought a lovely looking greeting card and went outside, just so I could escape the masses for a moment. Right there was a stand of a (most likely) Filipino lady, who was selling cupcakes.

“Do you want to try one?”, she asked, “don’t worry it’s healthy”.

The cupcake on the right is made with carrots and lemon. I really suggest to try making that one! Tastes delicious!!!
The cupcake on the right is made with carrots and lemon. I really suggest to try making that one! Tastes delicious!!!

Healthy cupcakes, I thought to myself. How does that work? But then the lady told me that she made them with olive oil, honey and whole wheat flour so that made sense after all.

Those cupcakes turned out to taste very delicious, so I said I would buy two of them.

And here is where I got the surprise of the day!

“Of course”, she replied and handed me the plastic box. “Help yourself”.

Then she looked at me for a moment and just as I grabbed the first one she asked: “Do you have kids??”

Slowly I put the second cupcake in the box and faced her with a smile on my face, trying to hide my confusion as well as I could.

“Kids? Oh…no, no, no. I am a student…”, I said, destroying her hopes of more potential customers from my side.

I mean I have been in a lot of situations where people thought of me as much older. I have been asked to sign petitions for Greenpeace and all that when I was 14. I have been asked if I was married because of the ring I used to wear and still do, on my finger, to keep away (Albanian) men who were very eager to ask me out for a coffee. In my previous schools, some people even thought I was a teacher but never in my life has anybody ever thought of me as a mother of children of cupcake eating appropriate age.

The funny thing is that I didn’t even have make up on today.

I celebrated my 19th birthday last week and my best friend messaged me, saying that now I was getting old. I guess she was right to some extent.

Well, at least I am smiling as I am typing this.

And while you enjoy laughing about my story, or maybe not, enjoy these two pictures I bought at one of the stands today as well.  They are a combination of digital and hand made art.  Feel free check out Arabian Moon for more amazing designs. 🙂

Design by Arabian Moon
Design by Arabian Moon
Design by Arabian Moon
Design by Arabian Moon

Coffee Mornings, Stroller Tanks and Other Stories

What would your first thought be if you got out of the house, walked up to the street of your compound and saw dozens and I mean dozens of buses standing there neatly along the sidewalk? Mass evacuation? That’s probably what you think but no, that just means that a bunch of women from all over the city have assembled on your compound today because it’s coffee morning time.

A coffee morning is pretty much something like a bazaar that takes place on a compound and is mostly for all the expats. Sellers bring all of their stuff and people come in to buy it. You can get pretty much everything from abayas to traditional souvenirs to shawarma.

These coffee morning events can become very full. This is because coffee mornings are a woman’s pretty much only opportunity to leave her compound once a month  and interact with other women from other compounds.

The worst crowds form at the abaya stands. Since the whole thing took place where I live, I got up a little earlier and used the few minutes I had to look for a new abaya without being surrounded by several other women, who were indirectly trying to crush me between them.

I have made the discovery that there also are abayas that don’t button up in front but that you put on over your head. Dear women, if you get your hands on such one, I’d recommend to buy it. With that one you won’t have to bother about the buttons opening when you are outside. You just put it on and basta. No messing around with buttons.  In the end it looks more or less like an oversize dress even and it can also have decorations in other colors than black.  On such gatherings you can also get designer abayas, which look pretty unique and abayas made of more natural material so you don’t boil as much during the summer months.

There are also some remarkable pieces of jewelery and art you can get. The great thing about buying things in this country is that prices are always negotiable. All ou have to do is, once you show interest in an item, put on a sorry face, like you really regret that you don’t have enough money to buy it. That usually works the best and can bring you a nice discount.

As I already mentioned, you can also meet new people or realize that nationalities you were not aware of live in Riyadh as well. I heard people speak Russian several times today. I assume they are either Russian or Uzbek. In fact, the whole event today made me think of that one exhibition building in Minsk where all the bazaars take place. Something like the Middle East bazaar or honey bazaar. It was just like home, except it was not as hot as it was during my last visit in Belarus.

Let me tell you however, that such coffee mornings are not necessarily for everyone. The amount of people there is huge. If you are claustrophobic, you better stay home.

Apparently strollers are multifunctional now. If you show up there with your child, you can use your stroller as a sort of mini tank that will help you to get your way mercilessly  through the crowd. What women do here, is they just push the thing in front of them like it’s a tank going through a forest and the other people around are the trees that have to be gotten out of the way.

It’s funny to see what ” survival of the fittest” has turned out to be about in modern-day consumer society.