KSA postscript…

Hello from Belfast, where we’ve been enjoying a mini summer heatwave (but still a good 20 degrees cooler than Riyadh)!

It’s over 4 months now since we made our final exit from Riyadh and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and I have recently been reflecting on our 3+ years there, so I thought I would pop back on to OurBigArabianAdventure.com blog with a little postscript about the things I miss, (and those I don’t), from our life in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

(Photos l-r: 1: At my home workstation where I wrote most of the 2021/22 blogs, 2: our villa in Wadi Quortuba, 3: our driver in his car which took us all over Riyadh and beyond, 4: our moving-out yard sale.)

Things I miss:

(NB I haven’t included friends as they go without saying!)

  • Experiencing a completely different culture
  • Easy travel across the Middle East
  • Learning how another country operates/views the world
  • The ex-pat lifestyle
  • Living in a rapidly evolving society
  • Embassy parties
  • Warm winters
  • Fridays off
  • Having a driver on call
  • The cheap price of petrol (40p per gallon)
  • Choice of swimming pools
  • Living in a compound
  • Access to a clubhouse/gym
  • Home brewed wine/cider
  • Themed parties
  • Butcher home deliveries from ‘Chopped’
  • Fresh mango home deliveries
  • Ordering cupcakes/cakes and taking delivery less than an hour later
  • High level of personal safety
  • Bag packers at supermarkets
  • Having to go outside to warm up because the AC is too cold
  • Awe-inspiring thunder and lightning storms
  • Whatsapp groups
  • Playing Mahjongg
  • The WQ runners group
  • Camping in the desert
  • Camels
  • Visiting stunning scenery with no restriction to access
  • Luxury train service
  • Luxury cinemas serving lobster rolls as snacks
  • Taiba Souq (The gold souq)
  • Operation Falafel (favorite Lebanese takeaway)
  • Malls and supermarkets without constant background music
  • Aerobic classes with Aldrin
  • Early morning outdoor yoga with Michele

(Photos l-r: 1: Local neighborhood outside Wadi Quortuba compound 2: Kingdom Tower, an iconic skyscraper in downtown Riyadh, 3: Flower Garden near The Zone in Riyadh 4: Wadi Quortuba Compound at dawn.)

Things I don’t miss:

  • The stark disparities in society
  • The normalization of modern slavery
  • No freedom of expression
  • Overt racism
  • Fear of a Houthi missile attack at any time
  • A compound attack/raid at any time
  • Crazy driving, including drifting
  • A throw-away, wasteful society
  • Discarded rubbish and piles of rubble everywhere
  • Intensely hot summers
  • Working Sundays
  • Having to call a driver to go anywhere
  • Delivery and Uber drivers who can’t find your location
  • Uber drivers cancelling your ride as they drive past
  • Mosquitoes
  • Ants
  • Dust/Sand storms
  • Ongoing ‘discussions’ with the other half over the AC setting
  • Whatsapp groups
  • Home brewed wine/cider
  • Wearing abayas
  • Limited train service with no on-going public transport links
  • Lack of any meaningful health and safety measures at dangerous visitor sites
  • Constant rumors about when alcohol will be legalized
  • Themed parties
  • The sterile atmosphere of malls and supermarkets
  • The seeming inbuilt dysfunction in every official process
  • The inflated cost of food/clothes
  • No pork
  • No (official) alcohol

And I think that about sums up the complexities of living in Saudi Arabia!

And finally, finally, here is a little additional extra – although there are many other resources available on You Tube etc ;0) :

Red wine recipe:

2 litres Danya red grape juice. Danya is the best brand for home brewing. It is available in Danube and Carrefour supermarkets in handy 12 packs.

3 cups sugar

1 tsp wine yeast

2-3 cloves, jam, elderflower, a teabag for extra tannin flavor, dash of blackcurrant juice etc – all optional depending on taste.

Give a stir and leave for two weeks – preferably in the dark and in an air-conditioned area.

De-gas by giving a gentle stir careful not to let any oxygen in.

Bottle once ready and then burp the bottles every morning for the first week.

Ikea bottles are best and we used large glass juice dispensers purchased in Danube to make the large batch before bottling. Cheers, and happy brewing!!

And that’s all folks, remember stay cool and wear sunscreen!

Thank you for all your support, I have loved writing the blog.

Best wishes,

Anne x


What’s changed in KSA (Part 2)

This was going to be the second of a two-part blog series on changes in KSA over the past 3 years – but then I realized some of the topics were really worthy of a blog in their own right, so this is one is devoted to the traditional, long, loose fitting robe, otherwise known as the abaya.

To wear an abaya or not to wear an abaya? That is the question!

Abaya wearing is a HOT topic in KSA – to wear an abaya or not is one of the big water cooler topics.

Women have always worn abayas as a cultural garment in this part of the world. In the 1960s and 70s some started adopting western dress, but in the late 1970s a new law made it mandatory for women to wear an abaya in public places. From then the black abaya (robe), the niqab (face veil) and the hijab (hair covering), became commonplace and it is still what you will see the majority of Saudi women wearing when they are out and about.

Back in 2019 – see blog post Adventuring!

The first big change that began to impact abaya wearing was a reduction in the powers in 2016 of the Mutawa, or the Saudi Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, also known as the religious police.

Founded in 1976 the Mutawa ensured strict adherence to Islamic Law and had powers to make arrests if they thought morality or public decency were not being adhered to. They could shout at women publicly, or even flick them with their canes, if they thought their hair was not covered completely or their abaya was too short.

Then in 2019 in a landmark TV interview, the Crown Prince said women could choose whether they wore black robes or face coverings. Also in 2019, along with the introduction of tourist visas, a decency law was introduced which said female tourists were no longer required to wear abayas so long as they were dressed modestly.

Over the past year there has been a noticeable shift in the number of women, and especially younger women opting to wear colored abayas which they wear in the open style – blue, green and maroon are popular, but white, pink and yellow are also making an appearance. They are also ditching the niqab and sometimes even the hijab.

Modest dress however is still required when not wearing an abaya ie – high necklines and arms, legs (and backside!) should be covered – but it does mean you can wear jeans, a top and a long jacket to go to the mall or a midi dress with long sleeves for dinner.

When I first arrived in Saudi Arabia I mostly wore black abayas, one had some blue embroidery. Then I bought a light blue linen one and a navy one with a pink and white edging for work. Now I sometimes wear an abaya and sometimes I don’t … I recently bought two new ones – a green one with a bright blue lining and a navy one with puffy white sleeves and a patterned back (see photos above). I don’t mind wearing them because I think they look quite stylish and I love the colors – they’re also easy to throw on over basic leggings and a Tee and make me look a bit more put together when I’m running round the supermarket!

It’s not just women who have to follow a dress code, it’s less strict for men but their legs and shoulders should be covered – sometimes men can wear shorts (so long as their knees are covered) but sometimes an over zealous security guard at a mall will refuse entry if they think there is too much knee on show! ;0)

Saudi men can wear western clothes, but most, and certainly always at work they wear the standard thobe (long white shirt) and shamag (red and white headdress).

Street life, farmers market Feb 2020 Riyadh – almost everyone still wearing traditional clothing.
Saudi dress shop called Dublin so I obviously couldn’t resist taking a photo! These are the style of clothes Saudi women wear for family parties.

And that’s a quick summary of my experience of wearing an abaya in Saudi Arabia in 2021! There’s been a definite shift and as a consequence it feels more relaxed when you go out and about.

That’s all for now – another blog will follow soon looking at tourism and the rebirth of movie-going in the Kingdom!

Until then, stay cool!

Anne :0)

Insta: anne.mcgrath248

Goodbye Saudi Arabia (for now)

A repatriation flight home…

King Kahlid International Airport Riyadh

Hello, and greetings from Belfast where it is (unexpectedly) another day of sun!! We are basking in an Indian summer and making the most of the late summer sunshine.

So, as you can probably surmise we have left Riyadh for a while. We recently flew out on a repatriation flight and I thought I would document our experience. There are still repatriation flights going, even though commercial flights are (hopefully!) due to start opening up again soon over Saudi airspace.

For those who don’t know, a repatriation flight is a one way flight out of a country to your home country. Saudi stopped all domestic and international flights on March 22 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, so the only way for people to get home has been on a series of repatriation flights. They are flown by a reduced number of airlines and are announced a couple of weeks in advance. Initially you had to register and book through your embassy, but now there are so many flights going you just book directly with the operator.

We didn’t have to take a Covid-19 test before we travelled, but we did have to fill in an exit form for Saudi and a passenger locator form for track and trace in the UK before flying.

Riyadh International airport was very quiet when we arrived and we were surprised that our temperature wasn’t taken even though every mall, supermarket and restaurant now checks your temperature as a matter of course …

The only flights were repatriation ones:

There were only a couple of flights going so thankfully there was basically no queuing for check-in, and after passing through security we got ourselves a coffee while we waited.

To pass the time I also had a browse around Duty Free – which has dramatically increased its range of goods and which was also having a huge sale – maybe trying to sell leftover stock from when the commercial flights were suspended, before it goes out of date!

Fancy a date??

Camel milk chocolate anyone?

We travelled on a Saudia flight – and there was no shortage of planes to choose from…

Saudia Airline planes parked up…

Boarding was by row. The flight was seven hours to Heathrow and we wore our masks throughout the journey. On arrival on the plane we were each given a comfort pack which included a disposable mask, a pack of tissues and a small bottle of hand sanitizer. There wasn’t the usual on-board meal service, instead we were given a paper bag snack pack with a sandwich, a bottle of OJ and a bottle of water. More water and extra sandwiches were also on offer. (The sandwiches were not the best!! Top tip, bring your own snacks!!)

On arrival at Heathrow we disembarked again by row which was much more organised and dignified than the usual mad scramble! The airport was busy, but not nearly as busy as it usually is. About half the shops and restaurants in Terminal 2 were closed and of course everyone was wearing their masks.

No one asked for our passenger locator form although the website had said we had to show either a printed version or a completed version on our phone to gain entry. Again, we didn’t have our temperatures taken and there were no announcements or information about the need to quarantine. No one even asked us where we had come from…

We grabbed a quick bite to eat in a terminal restaurant. It had socially distanced procedures, the staff were all wearing masks, the menu was online, there was sanitiser available and we were time-limited in our seats. It was our first experience of the impact of Covid-19 in the UK – but it was good to be back!

Then it was time to board the next flight to Belfast:

Hello Aer Lingus!

Again we wore our masks throughout and there was no service. The evening plane was full which was a surprise, but again it was boarding and disembarking by row which helped with social distancing.

And then, before we knew it. we were seeing the lights around Belfast Lough, landing at George Best, Belfast City Airport and off to start our 14 days of quarantine!

The green, green grass of home! George Best, Belfast City Airport.

So, we made it back. It was a very different travel experience from before the outbreak of Covid-19. The new measures offer some reassurance but overall the journey was something to be endured. It was good when it was over.

The lack of checking or advice on entering the UK was surprising, but we’re just glad to be home in Belfast for a while.

So while we’re here the blog will take a little break, but we hope to resume Our Big Arabian Adventure in the New Year and then the blog will resume!

Until then, stay well, stay safe!!

Anne :0)

Instagram: anne.mcgrath248

Goodbye KSA (for a little while!)