Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Random Observations from the Kingdom

  • You don't really have to deal with the daytime heat in Riyadh if you normally leave your house between 6.45 - 7.10 AM and don't leave the embassy until 7 - 8 PM.
  • I love walking to work in the mornings - it's very quiet, with usually only one or two street cleaners or garbage men around; the sun's already been up for an hour or two, so it's very bright; and the sky is a gorgeous shade of pale blue. It's my moment of Zen every day.
  • Yesterday as I was leaving work early (at 6.45!!), I saw the Saudi Arabian National Guard forces stationed outside the embassy gates breaking their fast. Their armored vehicle, with loaded gun racks on top and sandbags surrounding it, was sitting empty while they sat on a cloth on the ground beside the truck. Someone had brought them tea, served traditionally (something like this), dates, olives, cheese, and other munchables.
  • When I meet people on the street, it is very hard for me to break the habit of making eye contact and smiling. If you do that, it tends to lead to strange looks and increased harassment from men. It's depressing... I feel like such a Yankee.
  • There are cats everywhere here. They just roam around on the streets. It's enough to break the heart of any dyed-in-the-wool hippy animal lover (not that I paint myself with this brush, of course). This is pretty common around these parts of the Middle East, at least in my experience. Part of the problem specifically in the DQ is that sometimes diplomats returning to Commonwealth countries will leave their cats here rather than send them to six months' quarantine upon reentry to the UK or wherever. This explains the rather unusual breeding stock here in the DQ; there seem to be a lot more cats that look like they have some traceable ancestry as opposed to mutt and sneaky neighbor cat. This leads to the development at every mission of cat ladies, who try to rescue every single cat. It's a pain in the ass for the people who have to deal with maintaining the housing stock.

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