It’s been four days since I arrived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and it feels like a month. I don’t even know what to say. This is probably a bit of a weird time to post on here considering that I just had the shittest day. Ever. I’m sure I’ve just drifted in and out of tears all day. Let me just say a few things about Saudi Arabia.
Today was technically supposed to be the first day working at Princess Nora University. There being no system in place in Saudi, being told to be at a certain place at a certain time leaves so much room for creativity and interpretation, it’s remarkable. I think we waited for almost five hours, doing absolutely nothing before being told to leave and to come back the next day at the crack of dawn. My soul spewed a bit of blood at that, but I shan’t despair. I’ve learned to just laugh at the general incompetency of how things are run here. You kind of have to otherwise your hairline may recede. On a brighter note, PNU is one of the most beautiful university buildings I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t even say how huge the campus is – there is a train system that travels throughout the building. That should speak thousands. It makes me resent the university buildings that we have in London, melting in the concrete backdrop of the polluted city, tucked away behind grimy stations. PNU, with its ridiculously large campus, is surrounded by beautiful gates with palm trees all around. It looks like something from a picture. Pictures to follow!
Being a university for women, it was amazing seeing the transformations of all the students when entering the building. After they flood inside in large groups, wearing the obligatory abaya and some also wearing the niqab (black veil that covers the face only leaving the eyes), as soon as they pass through the entrance it was abaya’s off and niqabs out, unveiling a swarm of beautiful young women with their long tresses of thick Arabian hair. One thing I really think I should mention of the girls is that their eyebrow game is STRONG AS F**K. God dayum.
Anyway, now I will moan about some stuff.
I’ve learned that the best and most efficient way to get things done around here is to get someone else to do it for you. Yeah. And that’s not even being lazy; it’s generally how things happen in this country. For the most reason, women don’t do anything for themselves, but that’s because they can’t. Women don’t travel alone – you won’t see them walking around outside and you definitely won’t see any women getting a taxi alone. The only places where I’ve seen women actually doing things without their husband or male relative is in the supermarkets and shopping centers. Here they are left to roam as they please, until they have finished and their husband is waiting for them in the car.
This being said, it is virtually impossible to get any things done. Here’s just one example. My colleague and I ventured out in search of purchasing a decent WiFi connection. You see, our concierge has insisted many times that he’s getting a stable connection installed but if I’ve learned anything in these last few days, it’s that “okay” means “whatever”, “wait” means “I don’t know what to do with you so I’m just going to leave you in the corner for a bit” and “soon” means “NEVER”. So we decided to get our own for our apartments. Thinking nothing of it, we walked into the store and instantly we were shot cold looks of hostility. We were the only women in the store and apparently the men were not pleased about it. They muttered underneath their breath in Arabic saying things like “they think this is America” and some variations of the word ‘shameful’. They continued to glare at us as though we were spectacles to be gawked at and prodded.
In that moment, I was more aware of my gender than I had ever been in my entire life. Never had to think about whether I, as a woman would be allowed in to certain places (apart from the male toilets of course), yet here I was, in the middle of this female shaming room wanting the ground to open up and swallow my face up. Actually, that’s not the only thing that I wanted to happen, but whatever. The men settled down after joking amongst themselves that we were unruly until we were seen by one of the male staff and I spoke to him in Arabic. This confused the men as I assume that they were convinced that we couldn’t understand. They did look quite embarrassed, which was good. Rude.
As well as that, we got locked out of a shop again today because of the sunset prayer, which we stupidly forgot about. I really need to start carrying the prayer times with me otherwise I’m going to start having panic attacks. The worse thing about being stuck outside during prayer times when everything closes is the looks you get from the men. I’m not sure if they disapprove because we’re outside in general or that we should be inside praying but it’s so unsettling and it makes my blood boil. One of these days I’d really like to give them a piece of my mind, but of course that can’t happen so I must keep my head down and shut the f**k up.