The Fast & the Furious: Riyadh Edition
Hi! It’s been a while since I last wrote to you. Now, where were we?
Ah, an unimpressed-looking security guard was approaching me in my Riyadh-forbidden outfit. Men in Riyadh already looked annoyed, and the outfit I was wearing certainly did not help.
If I was about to get arrested, then I definitely needed that cup of tea first. So, one cup of tea later, I was on my way out from the Interrogation Room.
I’m only kidding of course.
Apparently, there’s no rule against wearing what you want if you’ve just landed into the country; so no arrests were made. Yes, I was safe. But the only thing I wasn’t safe from was the men’s eyes gazing at me, or at my legs to be more precise.
That was the first sign that although men here weren’t allowed to touch, they certainly made the most out of the “You can look but you can’t touch” rule instead. Hmm, if only looks could kill… or do something else in this case!
How long is this going to take?
Earlier on, MR. Guard approached me only to kindly ask me to join a much shorter queue to speed-up going through passport control; which of course (it) didn’t.
I didn’t know if it was deliberate or if stamping your passport really took that long. One eye scan, fingerprint and 20 minutes later I was on my way out to discover what the city had waiting in store for me.
Welcome home… literally!
I picked up my luggage and was greeted by someone from the recruitment agency along with the other teachers who flew in with me. As soon as I stepped out into the cool night, something a little more than unexpected was waiting for me. Ironically enough, I was greeted by this:
Yes! A line of London Black cabs parked up one behind the other and a sign which read: “LONDON TAXI.” I flew away from London only to feel like I landed back there 12 hours later. Oh yes, we weren’t booked direct flights to Riyadh, which meant a torturous long trip for us.
Standing in the cool night, we waited; very patiently may I add, for our transportation to arrive. At last, an old small bus pulled up and we were instructed to get in, along with our luggage, which was placed in the narrow area near the driver’s seat.
The ride to our new home had just begun…
Ready, Steady, GO
First of all let me briefly tell you that driving in Saudi = INSANITY! There are no rules on the road. No respect. No patience. Nothing. People are insane. Hey, no one told me that Formula One was being permanently held in Riyadh. So hold onto your abayas ladies, because you’re in for a ride.
Being on the road here is like being in the middle of a Formula One race. And it’s not the fact that the majority of roads are like a long speed bump, but the fact that everyone seems to be under the illusion that they are Schumacher, or that there’s a treasure at the end of the road.
And they say women can’t drive? Clearly whoever made that rumour up hasn’t been to Riyadh. There are no excuses here; so why are drivers incapable of controlling a vehicle and appear to be drunk-driving even though alcohol is banned?
Well, that tells me one thing ladies & gentlemen: Saudi is proof that men can’t drive. A victory to all the women out there.
Lost in translation
I was reliving my England frustrations as I interacted with workers who could hardly speak a word of Arabic or English, or who made up their own Arabic then asked ME if I could actually speak the language. Seriously? This was just as bad as the problem we face in England with businesses trying to save money by hiring out cheap labour that are incapable of speaking proper English.
I’m not prejudiced. I don’t even think this can be considered prejudiced; I was merely frustrated. And you would be too if you were late for an appointment, a dinner reservation, or even if you just simply wanted to get home on time.
London black cabs remain the best ones I’ve ever been in: reliable, punctual and efficient. No wonder they test them on all London routes before officially handing over the keys to that black lifesaver.
Another thing that I never understood about that city is the lack of GPS in their vehicles. TomToms are available to buy everywhere, and Riyadh hires some of the smartest local and foreign minds in the world; so why can’t they easily come up with a GPS system that can get me from A to B without having to go through several phases of translation, frustration, extended frustration, further translation, then finally reaching my destination while shattered mentally and physically.
Only then, I missed England. I missed how organised it is. Saudi made me wonder: How can a country be capable of monitoring the construction of complicatedly-designed buildings, yet incapable of getting organised when it came to every other aspect of their lives?
Back to that bus ride…
We were now pulling over outside our new home: a block of new-build flats lit up by what looked like Christmas lights! My feelings were a mixture of anxiety and excitement. Our team leader dropped the bombshell that she didn’t view the flats beforehand as promised; she only saw them from outside.
As we stepped into the building, a whiff of urine attacked our noses. I almost threw up. “What have I gotten myself into,” I wondered. I took the lift up to the third floor, and as I slowly put the key into my flat’s keyhole, I whispered a prayer.
OMG, what have I just walked into…?
Find out next week!