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Happy New Year

I managed to get home for Christmas and the New Year. It was wonderful to see many of my family and friends, these are the things I really miss most when I am working away. Christmas is special of course, and in Saudi it doesent exist outside of the western compounds where trees and decorations may be put up. Even there, it is really the secular, commercial side of Christmas that is seen, not the religious aspects. For my wife I took home presents of jewellery and perfume. Two thirds of the goods does not make me a Wise Man of course!

And in Biggar, as the rest of Scotland, the New Year is also well celebrated, much more than in the rest of the UK. 25 miles up the road, Edinburgh really milks the tourist industry with its extravagant (and expensive) pageants, concerts and fireworks, and is heavily advertised and sold out every year. New Year in Biggar is a more homely and traditional event, with the lighting of the bonfire late on Hogmanay in order to burn out the old year and welcome in the new. First footing is alive and well too. This year it wasn't too cold and was dry, so a good crowd of the townsfolk gathered around the fire to celebrate. The bonfire was, as always, a monster size, and for the lighting and its initial hours the A702 main Edinburgh to Carlisle trunk road was closed to all traffic. I believe this is unique in the UK, but at least during these hours there is very little traffic.   

I had flown home via a circuitous route, as BA was charging silly prices for Christmas long distance flights, even as far back when I had booked in September. I saved around 400 pounds by booking Saudia from Riyadh to Jeddah then to Paris, and Air France to Edinburgh. Saudia isn't my airline of choice as (in my opinion) they do not have a western approach to customer service, and there is no chance of a nightcap before trying to sleep. But economics won the day. Prior to my return I was surprised and very pleased to get a text from the booking website advising me the flight from EDI to Paris CDG was going to be delayed by 2 hours, and the connection to the Saudia Jeddah flight would be lost. I had been re-booked onto a later direct Air France flight from CDG to Riyadh that actually arrived earlier than the booked route would have. And AF had decent cabin service too. Bonus.  


Biggar bonfire being lit.

Having been away from KSA for the last 10 days or so, I have no new snippets of culture to recount. So, I will be a lazy journalist and let you read a couple of news reports that appeared in the English version of the Saudi Gazette this week.

"Some 20 Saudi women have joined the hospitality sector in four airports in Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam and Madinah to work as lounge supervisors and receptionists. Director of hospitality department of Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia) Talal Al-Tuaimi said the women will work in shifts especially designed for them so that they do not work beyond 9 p.m. He said eight of them are working in Jeddah, five in Riyadh, five in Dammam and two in Madinah. Tuaimi said their selection was based not only on their educational qualifications but also on other skills, etiquette and proficiency in English language. He said the women were rigorously trained. Ibrar Hashim, a receptionist at Al-Fursan lounge for domestic flights at King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah, said she was not facing any problems in dealing with passengers who willingly convey to her their remarks and observations. “Passenger satisfaction is our main objective,” she said, adding that the training courses greatly helped her in discharging her duties. Fatima Al-Arabi, a supervisor, said she joined about six months ago after receiving intensive training in customer service. Meanwhile, another national airline company has employed Saudi women at King Khaled International Airport (KKIA) in Riyadh to issue boarding passes and check-in passengers. Nawal Al-Ahmari, who is working for the company, said she joined about four months ago and was supported by her husband and family. She is a holder of a master’s degree in IT from Australia and was a lecturer at King Saud University and Imam Mohammed Bin Saud Islamic University. “I preferred the airport job because it is more challenging. I was among the first five women to be appointed,” she said. Ghada Al-Qadi, who studied in the US, said she came to know about the hospitality openings from a friend and immediately sent her CV. Qadi said they received training on customer service. “The work environment is extremely healthy and the job is challenging,” she said. CEO of the Saudi Gulf Air Company Samir Al-Majali said that about 15 percent of the company’s jobs will be occupied by women. “We have tried employing women in Jeddah and Dammam, but will soon generalize the experiment to cover all the airports,” he said."


"Atletico-16, the 8th Annual Sports Meet of MISJ Mahd Al-Uloom International School’s Girls’ Section, was magnificently organized on the school premises on Dec. 21-22. The school ground was filled with excitement as the students enthusiastically participated in track and field events displaying high sportsman spirit. The program began with the recitation of Holy Qur›an by Asma Jamal of Class 7. The sports events were distributed over two days giving scope for participation to the entire student population. Chief guest of the occasion Dr. Zeenat Mirza, assistant professor, King Fahd Medical Research Center, hoisted the flag signaling the start of the meet. Head girl Marwa Abdul Razack welcomed the gathering. The chief guest inspected the four houses of Ruby, Emerald, Saphhire and Topaz. A march past and the oath taking ceremony followed. The oath was taken by Mariam Noora Jamal of 10B in Senior Category and Saamiya Suhail Ahmed of 2A in Junior Category. The students solemnly pledged to uphold the spirit of true sportsmanship. The sports meet was declared open by the chief guest. She emphasized the importance of sports and physical activities in today’s digital era. “Apart from health benefits, physical activity increases focus, self-esteem and mental alertness. Participation in school sports improves social skills, provides a sense of belonging, encourages team spirits and instilla values of mutual respect and co-operation,” Mirza said. Delivering the presidential address, Principal Salma Shaikh said, “Gold medals are not really made of gold. They are made of sweat, determination and a hard-to-find alloy called guts.” The students displayed a wide array of colorful and reverberant drill displays such as flag display, fan drill, aerobics, pom-pom, scarf displays, gymnastics, etc. The students enthusiastically participated in various team events like throw ball, kho-kho, treasure hunt, and tug-of-war. There were class wise fun games like sac race, book balancing, skipping, lemon and spoon race and hula-hoop pair race. Each student got an opportunity to participate either in a team event or the fun game. After the students› events, staff members also participated energetically in separate events scheduled for them. The trophy for the leading house was bagged by Emerald house. Master Nawaf of 1E, Ysra Shabuddin of 1B, Waheeb Abdul Rahoof 2 D, Tala Ashraf Abdullah of 2 A, Ysra Mohammed of 3B, Hani Siddique of 7B, and Ameera Hafiza of 9B were adjudged the best athletes in respective categories. The day ended on a cheerful note with a closing march past heralding the year 2017. Principal Salma Shaikh lauded the efforts of students and teachers, especially the sports coordinator Shammy Sajith and her team, for making the entire event a grand success."

I'll stick to the curling, thank you. I managed some ice time at Hamilton and Kinross when I was home.

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