So, at this exact moment, I’m supposed to be in Egypt, waiting for my flight to Saudi Arabia. What am I doing instead? I’ve just settled in for bed (barely 11pm, I’m out of control), with a giant mug of steaming fennel and star anise tea, about to dive in to an episode of Downton Abbey. One sober evening was definitely necessary this week and I can’t even put into words how happy I feel to only be drinking tea right now, in bed at such a respectable hour. Maturity wins tonight.
But as it so happens, I’ve experienced my first encounter with the much spoken about incompetence that surrounds certain Arab countries, with Saudi Arabia taking the title as Supreme Incompetency. I think I’ll go in detail in my next post, as I really do think that it warrants its own dedicated section – a platform for my complaints.
So anyway, I’m a few short steps from taking the plunge and moving to KSA, and done all of the routine medical tests to ensure that I’m not dying or crumbling in any way (does mentally count?), and almost on my way.
How do I feel about this? I don’t know. I’m well aware that when people hear Saudi Arabia the first things that come to mind are oil, Islam and death for women. The former is irrelevant to me, but I should probably have a think about the other two.
The Middle East isn’t an entirely foreign place to me. My mum was born and raised there and my two sisters were born there (they were safe and sound in London by the time they were two and received their first calling to England). Thankfully my parents came to a great realisation that London was the place to be and on August 4th of 1992, in the land of Chelsea, a child was given unto them and God said it was good.
So I can get by in terms of the language and such, though it is a little bit broken. As long as I can say the phrases “I didn’t mean it”, “Sorry, I’m English”, and “Please don’t arrest me”, I’m thinking I’ll be golden. My initial feelings when I first accepted the offer were a blurry concoction of excitement and utter mortification- I’ve always wanted to live and work abroad for a year alone in some mystical and foreign country. But I also like to enjoy a drink or two. Or a few bottles. Is there some kind of happy medium I can find in the Middle East? The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia? The Islamic Province? The land where public drunkenness is punishable by public flogging?! This is not the kind of whipping that I’m interested in. Joking (Am I really?)
But, yes, you read that correctly. Not sure if this a laughable matter or if I just save myself the trouble and top myself off already. This does not sound like something I would enjoy, and in Saudi Arabia, it usually commences during the last prayer of the day outside one of the mosques. I’m not sure if this is for dramatic effect of if they do genuinely believe that they are doing the work of God. Either way, it means I’m saluting sweet taste of life’s water goodbye. Stumbling home in the early hours, walking into lamp posts and trying to open the neighbours door with my keys are things that I’m actually going to look back on and smile. That is messed up.
There are going to be tremendous culture shocks of all kind – having been born and raised in Chelsea, I’ve not known much else and have obviously been used to a certain way of living. I used to think that of all the culture shocks that I’ll inevitably experience, the one that would hit me hardest would be not being able to drink. I love a detox every now and then but I would at least like to have the chance to cave if I so wish it and wipe out a shops liquor shelves. Let me just tell you that on a bad week, I drink enough to sedate London, and smoke enough to match the city’s pollution problems. Easily. Will my body go into shock? Will I turn delirious and attempt to brew my own special kind of alcohol and create a sad rendition of Bridget Jones singing All By Myself into a hair brush? Will my body shut down? The question I’m really asking is – Am I going to die?
Alright, I’m exaggerating. A year without a drop of the good stuff will probably do me good. I need to relax and feel my organs again (why am I lying?)
But in seriousness, the reason I thought I would document my experiences is to find out whether the oppression of women there is as bad as they say. Aside from it being illegal for women to drive (a ‘religious scholar’ had a revelation that apparently explained that it is forbidden for women to drive, and they all nodded in agreement like the wise men that they are), it’s also illegal for women and men to mingle in public, and illegal for women to be out and about without being accompanied by a male relative. How do they even know if a man is related to a woman? Do they have to carry their marriage certificates? How would they know if a man and woman are siblings? HOW CAN THEY KNOW? This shit be fucked up.
People do tend to say that it probably won’t be as bad as I’m predicting, that as long as I stick to the laws and rules and all the other frowned upons in between, I should be fine. That’s all well and good except for the fact that the other day I read an expat blog written by a lady from the US who told of her experience of being arrested for grabbing some lunch with her male colleague. Lols.
Also, the Arabs don’t do things like we do. For one thing, it’s known that they are massively inefficient and informal, which is just lovely. To the point where I’ll have no idea which university I’ll be working at until I arrive at Riyadh Airport (the capital). Not only that, I’ll have no idea which CITY I’ll be living in until I get there too. I’m all for suprises and spontaneous niceness but the kinds that I like involve unexpected parties, bottles of champagne and other glorious things. Weep for me.
Oh, before I forget. Did I mention that in the summer, Saudi Arabian weather tends to typically rise to about 45 degrees? This humours me more than anything, mostly because I’m not sure who I think I am overlooking this fact when only last week the London heat reduced me tears because whilst straightening my hair, I was sweating like a crack addict on withdrawal and my make up was ruined, as was the dress that was sticking to my sweaty back. Yum. I’m pretty sure that yesterday was only around 20 degrees. So many lols.
Despite all of that, I’m going to focus on the niceness of living in KSA for a year. There are glorious beaches, desert landscapes, and the cost of living is supposedly a hell of a lot cheaper than London. The price of fuel is ridiculously inexpensive, and although I won’t be driving (I don’t have a licence anyway, and I don’t intend to drive, but the fact that I can’t even if I wanted to is bringing out the sass in me), I’m still going to count it as a pro.
The other great thing is that I’ll be meeting my grandmother for the first time ever! She doesn’t speak a word of English though, and my Arabic is pretty broken and I’ll probably forget every word I know due to the severe anxiety that I will inevitably be feeling. Either way, we can look at each other and she can do that thing that I hear grandmothers do where they hold your face in their hands and rejoice at what a beautiful young lady you’ve become. These are my expectations now and I will be thoroughly disappointed if this isn’t how it goes. That, or she knits me some stuff. Are grandmothers the ones that knit?
Anyway, there it is, some of the things that have crossed my mind since being told that my journey in the Kingdom is only a few short steps away. I decided that weekly is a good enough frequency for posting – maybe more, so watch this space! Wish me luck. Yowza.