German- Saudi Culture Week 2014

Saudi Arabia has made it to Berlin! Wish the fair took place last year, too before I left for Riyadh.

The Berlinish Journal

During my first years in Germany, I have visited all sorts of fairs and so called “culture weeks”. Be it the annual Grüne Woche or ‘Green Week’, an exhibition to get to know the Russian Federation, The Long Night of Science or The Long Night of Religions. Berlin has them all and this week, even Saudi Arabia made it to the area between the Sony Center and various cafés near the Potsdamer Platz.

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I arrived  to the heavy smell of Arabic coffee and henna. Probably more than a hundred people moved slowly among the stands that looked like sand stone buildings typical for Saudi Arabia. People were standing in line, taking pictures, talking to the people who kept the event running for about a week now.

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Even though I expected it to be otherwise, the attending audience was rather different. I heard a mixture of German, Spanish, Russian, Turkish and…

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Saudi Cheat Sheet

Margo Catts

When people learn I live in Saudi Arabia, the first question tends to be, “So what’s it like there?” A big question. But given enough time (say, a meal, rather than a cash-register transaction), the conversations tend to cover the same ground. Here, then, are the basic answers to the basic questions about what it’s like in Saudi Arabia so you don’t have to dig through a dozen cryptically-titled blog posts to find the answers. (I have, however, provided links to blog posts that go further on each topic, in case you’re interested.)

Is it really hot there? Yes, it’s hot, but not all the time. The annual weather cycle is pretty similar to Phoenix, Arizona, with half the rainfall. Summers can get over 50C / 122F. Winters are mild and sunny, with cool nights and light-sweater days.

Do you have to wear…(vague head-to-toe hand gesture)? Women are required to…

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Ma’a Salama Riyadh: Last Post Maybe

By the time I am writing this I have already left Riyadh and maybe even for good.

There were quite a few things happening but not as much that I could have written about up until now. Things like the last exams or prom and in the end, graduation.

I must say that  despite all of the differences between life in Riyadh and life anywhere else, I miss Saudi Arabia. I miss the call to pray in the morning, the sun that shines all day long and I miss the time I spent in school.

The day I got back to Berlin, we had about 35 degrees Celsius. That was a nice start, especially since it was relatively warm but it was still possible to breathe. But two hours later rain came down and the sky turned dark. That is how it has been here up until now and my friends here still have trouble understanding how I feel cold outside while everyone else seems to be sweating.

I feel like my stay in Riyadh has given me a lot. Maybe I can’t exactly name all of those things but I still feel like I have changed for the better and that somehow I managed to grow as an individual and as an intellectual, especially with the help of my friends. But even if I am mistaken about these things, at least I can say that my time there has given me nine more interesting and enlightening  months in my entire life and has shown me that I am not as anti social as people always thought I was.

I don’t know for sure whether I miss Saudi Arabia as a whole or if I just miss my memories of it. That seems to be something very common in us. We don’t really miss a place or a person or whatever else there is. Sometimes we just long for the memories we have of it but sometimes we don’t and sometimes we actually want to be back.

That stay abroad was quite educational, too. I have been back in Germany for a little more than a week now and I have spotted what I think were 4 Saudi women in the streets. Now that I know what an abaya is and can recognize Arabic words as them actually being Arabic and not Turkish as I used to believe, I noticed that there are quite some people from Saudi Arabia here in Germany. However, they still can be from another Arab place. Who knows.

And with me leaving Saudi Arabia, I guess that this may be my last post. But honestly, I hope that it won’t be and that in the next weeks and months and years to come, I will still come up with ideas for potential posts.

If you are new to the subject of Saudi Arabia and have any questions or suggestions for articles, fell free to share them with me!

And for now, Ma’a Salama,Riyadh!

I Packed My Bag- Things That You Should Bring With You to KSA

I remember the night when I was all awake even though it was already 1 in the morning and my flight to Riyadh  was in eight hours. I stood there, my bunker of a  suitcase open and a bunch of my stuff spread all over the room. I had 20 kilograms available, a ton of things and I was traveling to a place where I have never been before. So naturally, I was asking myself: What am I really supposed to bring with me and what to leave behind (aside from the obvious sun glasses and sun screen)?

For those of you who might face the same issue, I have come up with a list of things that I did bring and some things that I wish I would have brought. If any of my local readers think I have forgotten something, please feel free to let me know in the comments! 🙂

 

1. Warm clothes

Yes, I know that Saudi Arabia is as hot as hell and that the country is in the middle of the desert but hey, there is such a thing as winter in this country, too! Starting in October it will become significantly cooler and you will need more than just summer dresses, shorts and t- shirts. I suggest you bring a jacket or two and some warm sweaters. Fifteen degrees celsius in this country are way cooler than anywhere in Europe.

2. An umbrella

Again, I know that we live in the middle of sun and sand but it does actually rain here. The thing is that once it does rain here, it rains PROPERLY. So properly that if you have a pavilion standing in your garden that has a roof made of fabric, chances are that roof will not survive the rainfall, even though the rain here usually last for maybe 15-20 minutes. Sometimes longer though. You may also consider bringing appropriate jackets and water resistant shoes for such a case.

3. Proper shoes

There are not many sidewalks here and if you live in a compound, chances are you will not be outside very much because you let the negative media brain wash you into believing that walking on the streets in this country is extremely dangerous (spoiler alert: it isn’t!). If you are courageous enough though and do go outside to walk you will find that the streets are not in the best condition and there might be the one or the other hurdle to overcome. As you can guess, this point is dedicated especially to the ladies: Fortget about the high heels and bring sneakers or moccasins. That will be much more practical.

4. Conservative clothes

Saudi culture is very different from the western one. Even though you can find western clothes in every shop here in Riyadh, you would not necessarily wear them openly in public. It is advisable for men to wear long pants while women will be obligated to wear an abaya or a long, wide dress when outside. However, you might consider some modest every day life clothes in case you are invited to the house of a local family. It is very likely that they will appreciate if you dress modestly, meaning no shorts or strapless tops or anything of that sort. Just try and look presentable. Presentable the Arab way. All that may certainly depend on the people you are visiting, whether they are conservative or not, but it still might be useful to keep these cultural differences in mind. After all, you never know.

5. Cash

It is not so common here to pay for things using your credit card so I suggest you have actual cash with you. Chances are that in some places cards won’t be accepted or you will be asked to go to the next ATM and get actual cash.  For those who don’t know, the local currency is the Saudi Riyal. One euro is about five Saudi riyals.

6. A cooling vest

Saudi Arabia is a very hot country and especially during the summer months it will be almost impossible to be outside without sweating waterfalls after the first two minutes. I can imagine that men are less likely to wear these outside over regular clothes, which is why I have another reason why the abaya is so practical. You may want to get a cooling vest, that will keep your temperature at a reasonable level and help you survive the heat outside. Just wear it under your abaya and life will be a little easier.

7. Classic gelatine (those of you who are into baking)

Most of you are probably wondering why I am putting this one here. What does gelatine have to do with anything? Well, I have a friend here who makes professional cakes and for most of her creations she uses gelatine to make the outer decorations or coating. However, it seems like you will not find any classic gelatine powder here. They have gelatine in all possible flavours but probably not the one you are looking for and the one they have is not of the best quality either. So, if you are into baking, bring your own gelatine.

8. A socket adapter

You can surely buy these here, which would probably make more sense but let’s say you arrive in Saudi and you have no time to go buy stuff, but you really need to charge that phone or  laptop or else it dies. The sockets here are different from the European ones which I didn’t know before and so I found myself not being able to charge/ use  my phone until I found an adapter. If you want to avoid such a situation, I suggest you try to find this thing at home and bring at least one with you. Just in case. They look something like this.

On Social Segregation: Beware of the Sections!

Yesterday my mother and I went outside (outside as in “outside the actual compound” YES, my dear people, that is actually doable here…SURPRISE!!!) to get something for lunch. Luckily for us, there are some small places near us that sell (fast) food.

However, since my mother has not been outside very much so far, she had some trouble figuring ut which of the two doors she was supposed to use in order to get inside.

Because Saudi society pays so much attention to gender segregation, it has come up with the concept of having two sections. One for singles and one for families.

So, as in our case, if you want to go and eat outside (that is especially for the fast food places) you have to make sure to go through the right door. The singles section is reserved for men (why don’t they just call it men section then?) while the family section is either for women, single or in groups, or for families.

Now, I don’t think that if you are let’s say a woman and you accidentally open the door to the men’s section, you will cause the apocalypse or something horrible will happen. But I think that would be just awkward and may cause some social discomfort since that would go against cultural norms. Besides, I can imagine that some men, especially the conservative ones, will be very confused seeing a woman in a male space all of a sudden. So let’s not upset men’s testosterone levels, ladies, by always entering either through the door that is tinted, or that says family entrance / section above it. 

Dear men, if you want to avoid hysterical screaming of hysterical and confused women, never walk into a place (accidentally or not) that has mostly women in it. They actually do start screaming. I have seen it happen.

Once I had ensured my mother that we had to go through the tinted door, we came to a staircase and went up to the second floor where a man was standing behind a counter in an empty room with some chairs and tables. That was quite a strange sight but I guess here is where the idiom other countries, other customs comes true.

Segregation does not only take place at restaurants though. You can see it in other places, too. The actual elimination of women from male places and vice versa happens at restaurants mostly. If you go to a bank there is one huge main entrance and somewhere around the building there will be a door which says ladies branch  above it but I have never been inside a bank here, so that is all I can say.

Some shops also have a families only board hanging over the entrance. That is mostly for shops that are for women like lingerie or cosmetics etc. An Uzbek man here told me that he wanted to get cosmetics for his wife but was not allowed inside the shop because he was a single male and had no female with him.  What I find very ironic though is the fact that women are allowed inside shops that are for men. Like shops that sell thobes or the Zara branch that sells male clothes (been inside there today and did not get kicked out). I have a feeling that it is the women who are being protected from men and not the other way around.

Sometimes there are also two waiting lines at fast food stands or grocery stores in malls. However, these are disregarded most of the time.  I have seen it several times that men would be standing in line under a board clearly having “women” written on it.

Those of you ladies who are sick and tired of being surrounded by men all the time, I suggest to visit the women’s sections in malls or a whole “ladies mall” all together. Places like Panorama Mall or the Kingdom Tower have a whole floor with shops where only women are allowed and men can’t see anything from the other floors because of the tinted glass all around it. In these places, the women who sell things walk around without abayas.

THAT must be the reason why some VERY desperate men sometimes put on niqab and abaya just so they can sneak in to the women’s floors to look at women in western clothes. That is what I have been told. I have not seen that transformation happen with my own eyes but based on my personal experiences at mixed gatherings I would not be surprised at all if this was actually true.

 

Advice I’d Give My Daughter- The Post That Has Nohing to Do With Saudi Arabia Itself

This morning I was posting the list below on my other blog, when I thought that it might be a good thing to share it here as well.

It is a list of suggestions that I came up with, that I would give my daughter when I have one, one day. These things are either something I learned from my own, oh so short, life or from those of others.

I know that this has nothing to do with Saudi in particular but some of the things I have listed here come from experiences I have had in this country. So I guess this post more or less qualifies to be here.

Since I can imagine that many of my readers here are women, I thought some may be interested in seeing what a young, “inexperienced” girl like me will have to say about life. I bet that some of you, men or women, will be surprised.

Enjoy, my darlings!

1. Actions speak louder than words.

2. Don’t take everything literally. There is always a hidden meaning to things.

3. Avoid being financially dependent on someone. Especially men.

4. Never let a person alone be responsible for YOUR happiness.

5. You may not be alone but nobody else will do things for you. Learn to stand on your own as soon as you can.

6. Don’t make definite plans for the future and rely on them. Things will turn out more different than you can imagine.

7. Always be open to change. To new places and new people. They are likely to bring out the best in you or teach you a lesson you won’t forget.

8. Being with people is important. But there is nothing wrong with being on your own every now and then either.

9. You’re beautiful the way you are, no matter what others say. Even me.

10. Never pretend to be somebody you aren’t.

11. If somebody wants you to be in his/ her life, they will make room for you and invite you to be part of it. If you have to fight and struggle for a space, they are not worth it.

12. Always be  ready for disappointment in life, but never let it crush you.

13. Travel as much as you can.

14. If it feels wrong, DON’T do it.

15. Even if it feels right, think before doing it.

16. People rarely really change. It’s just the mask that falls off.

17. THAT man is not the last one in your life. Stop weeping and move on. Other mothers have handsome sons, too.

18. Never make big decisions or take actions when you are very angry or overly happy.

19. You can’t plan on  relationships. They happen unexpectedly with the most unexpected people.

20. However, choose the man with brains in his head over a man with only money in his wallet. If he is smart, he’ll know how to be sustainable. If not, all his wealth will be gone before you can say paycheck.

21. The more closed-minded you are, the more likely is it that life will give you a lesson to change your perspective. Be ready to accept that this is a good thing.

22. If you have to argue with me in order to make your point, ARGUE!

23. I’m always there for you.

24. If you feel down and candy can’t fix it, day dreaming will.

25. There’s no harm in knowing one more language.

26. The first impression you get of people is often very misleading. Give it time before you make up your mind!

27. Listen to your parents but always keep your own wishes and ambitions in mind. Parents don’t know everything in this world.

28. Avoid judging people. You don’t know their story and they don’t know yours.

29. Hands off the alcohol.

30. Learn to say no.

31. Hard work always pays off.

32. Being different is awesome.

33. Divorce is inevitable. It can happen to anyone. Don’t let the fear of it ruin your family plans.

34. Everything will turn out well, eventually.

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