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Hello and goodbye

Firstly, a postscript from Sri Lanka – to answer questions from blog readers. I did look on the internet, and enquired at the tourist information, but there are no ice rinks in the country. Secondly, I brought some fresh tea leaves back to Saudi as a souvenir. Perhaps it is the environment, but they don’t taste anything like they did on the island. I guess that the secret to importing tea is to get the blend right to suit the local water and climate.

Back to Riyadh. The first task on the list was to move compound. I had been living on a small compound on the northern fringes of the city, and Elaine was coming out to join me full time, not just as a visitor. Where I was living was not really suitable for a married couple. Some compounds are focussed on the singles lifestyle, and others cater for couples and others again are very family and children oriented. So last time she was here in March / April we did some serious compound inspections and found one that we liked, and was in the city but in a quiet neighbourhood.

When I say quiet, these things are relative. City noises such as traffic and industry are well muffled by substantial walls, but the auto-muezzins burst into life at all hours of the day and night, so it is important to inspect the prospective compounds as prayer times are kicking off. With loudspeakers on minarets 25m high or even higher, there is no escaping the caterwauling that emits at (today’s examples) 03.52, 05.18, 12.01, 15.26, 18.43 and 20.11. One local cry could be acceptable, but we are treated to a whole range of mosques trying to outdo one another in summoning the faithful. Some mosques just announce the call to prayer, but there are a few which insist in broadcasting the full sermon. By my reckoning, there are more mosques in Riyadh than there are houses in Biggar, so you can imagine the cacophony. Finding a compound without a mosque next door is a tall order, but we can try. A friend told me that his first compound in Riyadh was next door to the Imam University, so he was subjected to the students trying their calling skills all through the day. There isn’t any discernible musical tradition in Arabian lands that we westerners would relate to, certainly no tonic scales to get the pitch nicely tuned. So the calling is (to my ear) very atonal and therefore I do not appreciate it as much as I ought to do, seeing as I am but a guest of this country and should be embracing their culture.

But, as usual, I digress. I packed up all my stuff from compound A, and two car journeys later had moved it all into compound B. These are 40 minutes driving apart, so it took me most of one day to accomplish. I unpacked the essentials for eating and workwear and left the remainder to do jointly with Elaine when she arrived, as I knew that she would want to put stuff in places different to my choices. The big day came and I collected Elaine from the airport. You will recall from previous blogs that we had been trying to get her an iqama, and she was now in possession of a visa-for-iqama for entry. There is still more water to flow under the bridge before we actually get the iqama, and if we ever get there I will keep you posted.

Elaine’s exciting news is that she has secured a job in Riyadh. This will be as a junior school teacher at one of the better private international schools. Another advantage of choosing the new compound is that it operates a direct bus to the school so travel worries are eliminated. The term starts in mid-August so she will have time to acclimatise before then. This is yet another new challenge for Elaine- she has taught in pre-schools, state senior schools and further education colleges, but never in a junior school nor in the private sector. The curriculum is different from her previous experiences, but I have confidence that she will succeed, she always does.

A couple of cultural treats to report on: we bought tickets for the Fawlty Towers Dining Experience that was promoted by the Riyadh Caledonian Society and performed at the UK embassy. This was a 3-course dinner in the embassy hall with 70 or so diners and with professional actors playing Basil, Sybil and Manuel from the 1970s comedy series. It was very funny and interactive, and the diners were subjected to wonderful old-fashioned political incorrectness and downright rudeness from Basil (we had a German and an American sitting at our table and he didn't miss them!), hapless incompetence from Manuel, and long-suffering exasperation from Sybil. The remainder of the embassy’s waiting staff did a grand job actually serving the food amongst the mayhem. The show is on at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, and I thoroughly recommend it. After the meal, the cast reverted to their civvy personae and mingled with the stragglers and committee of the RCS. We ended up chatting to “Sybil” and discovered that she had lived in the same town in Kent (Paddock Wood) at the same time as Elaine and I were when I worked for Eurostar. “Sybil”’s kids were of similar ages to our daughters so there is every likelihood they had all met at the town’s primary school before we moved to Cranbrook. Small world. I can’t show any photos of the Fawlty Towers dinner as we are not allowed to take cameras or phones into the embassy.

Last Saturday we had a posh lunch out. One of our nursing friends had come to the end of her time in Riyadh and a group of her friends treated her to a “masalamah” (farewell) lunch. This was held in Bateel’s, a chain of rather nice restaurant and coffee shops, of which there are two in Riyadh. It was quite strange to be paying western prices for international food. But they do lovely sweet courses. Yum! There are few places outside of the international hotels that charge big prices for food, we usually patronise the better restaurants with more normal prices. Usually 100 SAR (GBP 20) is more than enough to buy a substantial 3-course meal with a soft drink. That said, the cheapest meal that I have in had Riyadh was 14 SAR (2.80), in a local Bangladeshi diner. Enjoy your time back home in Scotland, Sharon!


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* Call Alastair Fyfe directly on 07785 370074 (UK) or +966 503095212