Thursday, October 20, 2005

Fambly Comes to Riyadh

Family Life in KSAFamily Life in KSA
The big day arrives. I drive my little Chevy Sprint to the airport and meet the family. I am completely immersed in Riyadh paranoia by now and am reluctant to return my wife’s extravagant hugs and kisses in public. She is wearing the black nylon abaya that I sent her, but it is not done up, and her belly button is clearly visible between the crop top and jeans she is wearing. I hate Riyadh for making me think this way, but I have to tell her that she should fasten the abaya properly.

We get to the penthouse and BetterArf cannot believe how big it is (small English house paranoia). Later that evening the doorbell rings and it is Bongo come to say hello. I introduce BetterArf and find myself apologising for her lack of abaya and continuing belly button exposure. Bongo quite understands, in fact he seems to be having a good old leer.

During the days when I am at work, BetterArf and Offspring explore Riyadh a bit. She is only able to go out because her honour is protected by our five-year-old son. So that was a relief!

At the weekend we go for a drive into the desert. Well at least as far into the desert as you can get until you reach a police checkpoint and get sent back to town because you have no authorisation to leave. But we did see some sand dunes and some camels.

BetterArf had several culture shock experiences. First of all she was shocked at how Riyadh had changed me, how the formerly easy-going fun-loving bloke she had married had been turned into a totally paranoid freak who saw trouble lurking around every corner. Secondly, she was pissed off that she was not allowed to enter a record shop. If she wanted something she could wait at the door and someone would bring it for her. Finally, in Jarir Bookstore she was allowed to enter, but only up to a point. A large part of the stock is contained in a section marked ‘gentlemen only’. What’s that, the porn section?

BetterArf has been thinking that maybe we will all move to Riyadh at some point in the future, so she’s making enquiries about teaching jobs and housing and stuff. But I think I realised during this visit that this was no place for us to bring up our son. We could not endure the strictures of Saudi society even if we lived on a Western compound, and I absolutely did not want Offspring to grow up thinking that it was normal for women to be confined to the house all the time.

After a few days we moved into Ken and Barbie’s apartment, where there were pleasantly landscaped gardens, a huge swimming pool, and a relaxed atmosphere. Offspring mastered the art of swimming and probably spent all day every day doing it.

And then it was time to escape to Bahrain.