Friday, June 25, 2010

Western woman in Riyadh? Make the best of it!

This is a playful post for all the ladies currently living in Riyadh. It might be a harsh environment and many things irritate us from time to time..But what can we do? Other than getting frustrated and anxious, try to look at it in a positive way and make your life a bit easier. I say, make the best of it! Don't spend your time complaining and moaning. It will only make you feel worse. Here's a couple suggestions how to make the most out of your time here..

Wearing abaya: Ok this is probably one of the most annoying things for most western women, you gotta wear it, so I say...make the best of it!
-get an abaya made of good quality material, not polyester which will make you a cooked vegetable in no time in the +50 heat. Best quality abayas you will find upstairs in Faisaliah and Hayat malls. They can also make abayas to order.
-abayas come in so many different styles, show your personality with a pretty or individual abaya. Go to Dirah souq and find the Waleed store where you can custom make good quality abayas. Design and personalize it! It's what you wear out all the time anyways. Try also the abaya shops in Royal mall and Hayat mall, most offer custom made abayas and if you can afford it, Kingdom center third floor has some amazing exquisite collection of abayas.
-go shopping in your pyjamas, under the abaya :D

Not being able to drive: Very frustrating sometimes especially for women who enjoy driving and are used to doing it alot.
- while you're being driven around by your driver, make the most of your time! Read a good book, a newspaper, call a friend, or your mother! Do your makeup on the way (ok depends on your driver's skills and how stable your hand is).
- if you have a jeep or husband /friend that can rent one go out to the desert to drive! It's fun but be careful don't venture too far. Bedouin women drive around all the time, once you've passed the checkpoints you will be fine. Check out the book "Desert treks from Riyadh" available in Jarir book stores.
- go to the Reem race track!they have carting and women can drive too!Exit 11.
- rent quadbikes or beach buggies to get rid of the extra "driving withdrawal symptoms". Available at red Sands area Mecca highaway and the Thumamah area.

Extreme heat: When temperatures start topping 45c everyday, it's not very pleasant to be outside anymore.
-make sure your abaya is made from natural materials. Some abayas are so thin you won't even feel like you're wearing one.
-make the best out of the dry heat and dry your laundry outside! In minutes you will have wrinkle free dry laundry.
-take all your bedding and mattresses out, cook well on both sides..and wa'la you have gotten rid of all possible living things such as bedbugs or dustmites!
- to create curls in no time, after showering apply some moisturizing leave in conditioner and/or heat activated styler. Apply hair rolls or tie your hair in couple small braids. Optionally cover your hair with a scarf to protect from sun. Go out for about 15 min to half an hour depending on your hair length and desired result (preferably in yard or pool area, can't recommend venturing out in public). While waiting for hair to dry apply nail polish if you like, it will dry by the time your hair is done. Can also be done in the evenings but needs more time.

Hard water: Many women have noticed that after a while their hair seems to fall out more and it becomes thinner. This is due to the water that is mostly desalinized and therefore lacks some essential minerals.
- buy some zinc and selenium supplements from any pharmacy.
- after rinsing your hair with tap water, follow by small amount bottled water to make hair softer.
-get Sodium Laurel Sulfate free shampoo available at GNC!

Boredom: Very common symptom of living in Riyadh. However treatment options are numerous to begin therapy start here with Riyadh to do guide.
- start a new hobby, keep yourself active. Try golf, salsa dancing, horse polo, or scuba-diving!
- since you have the rare opportunity to live in the Saudi-Arabia and are surrounded by Islam, why not find out a little more about the religion? I guarantee you won't be bored anymore! The WAMY centre opposite Owais souq is a great place to visit to learn more.
-Check out Dar Adh-Dhikr, an Islamic center for women and children (boys up to the age of 6) to learn Arabic and Qur'an in the Ma'athar area

Surrounded by desert: For some its a blessing, others..not. But why not take advantage of the lack of tourism in Saudi-Arabia, you will have most places to yourself and the nature is mostly untouched.
-explore historical sites just outside Riyadh, get the Desert Treks book I mentioned before.
-visit Madain Saleh the other capital city of the ancient nabatean people. You will most likely be the only people there. Although smaller in size than Petra, I enjoyed the atmosphere more here. It seems like stepping into the past.
-Take weekend trips to the seaside, don't miss Jeddah which is a city with quite a different vibe and atmosphere than Riyadh!
-join the Riyadh Hash Harriers who organize desert walks every weekend and camping in cooler months, ask around from westerners for contact details!

-explore the mostly untouched Saudi side of the Red sea coast. Want to start start scuba-diving? Blue Reef divers 014644134 (in my opinion the best operator in KSA) has courses running all year round. The lectures and pool training are in Riyadh, and open water training will take a weekend in Jeddah. The Red Sea is full of amazing underwater life! If you have a chance, go to the Farasan Islands, one of Jacque Cousteau's favorite places! A wonderland for divers, there is virtually no other humans (except for the odd fisherman). Currently only two hotels on the main island (reachable by ferry from Jizan) The Farasan Hotel: +96673161166

Gender segregation: Most public places will be separate for men and women, it might get frustrating to always find the right place but there can be some advantages to this too!
- you won't have to que in banks when you go to the ladies section it's hardly ever crowded
- shopping at Kingdom center ladies only floor with own entrance. Good place to watch the World Cup from big screen without hoards of men is the Supermodel Cafe.
-shopping at the ladies only shopping mall exit 14 called Bushra ladies Mall
-Panorama mall ladies only section
- as a woman you should be served first if there'so clear mens/ladies que, but of course this is not always the case. A polite smile might get you in front of the line.
-always take advantage of the ladies sections of Saudi airlines offices and get things done in 5 min compared to 5hours on the men's side.
- on Saudi airlines (and most other national airlines) flights you can always change seats if you happen to be sitting next to a man, just request for another seat. They will give you a window seat if available, and if you're lucky an upgrade to business class.
- at the airport pass the men in the baggage security check line, they don't usually mind if you put your bag first, then pass through the ladies security check and you will be done in no time.

It all comes down to attitudes. We can't change these things but we can change our outlook on them. It's mostly up to ourselves how we handle it and a positive open mind will never do you harm!


Hania@desital said...

i totally agree about the abaya thing. i am not a westerner or a non muslim. but i still enjoy the wearing anythuing when goign out part. just do your makeuup, wear nice shoes and your ready to go.hehe. have been here for a long time so i am accustomed with the getting bored part.

TRG said...

Laylah- Excellent post masha'Allah! Can I have permission to re-post it on FHWS?

Layla said...

Salaam tara!
Sure you can repost :)

TRG said...

Laylah- Wa alaikum salam, its done!

Thanks :-)

Dentographer said...

Quick Question,who or where should i go if i wanted to visit Madayin Saleh?
great post!

Anonymous said...

I absolutely loved the abaya advice! Thought all abayas were made of polyester . . . So, what material do you suggest we women look for?

shwaybass said...

I couldn't agree more about making the most of it. Thank you for your sanity! There are so many people who come here (and the Gulf in general) and want every little thing to be the same as home. They hang round in paranoid little groups discussing the latest rumours, based on nonsense, built on wild imagination. Someone told me last night that the more religious of our muslim friends wear the shorter pants in protest at being made to wear western-style clothes. A fashion protest! Ingenious!
A positive mindset does wonders for your outlook; a negative one slowly eats away at your soul. I know - I've been there, I've done that, and I'm never going back again! Amen.

Layla said...

Ask for very fine cotton, cotton-silk blend, have it made for you to be sure you get the right material! They will cost more though..I've paid around 500-1500 for my best quality abayas..but they are totally worth it! A new abaya trend seems to be very fine jersey material, it feels really soft and silky. Have seen it only in exhibitions though..try Faisaliah 3rd floor they might have it,\.

The Burdened Mary said...

This is my first time commenting here because I JUST found your blog, but I love what you have written! I think it is very easy for women in Riyadh to forget that fun is just around the corner if you go looking for it :) I will be certain to give some of your suggestions a try. As for abayahs...I bought a BEAUTIFUL abayah from Twaila in Granada Mall and I feel proud when I walk outside every day! :)

ayah said...

assalamu aleikum!
i love your attitude.. you are absolutely right, it's all about how we see it and this post was very inspiring! there's another good thing about sex segregation - if a woman is taking an elevator, a stranger man will not normally enter with her, thus saving us the uncomfortable feeling of being locked up alone with a stranger, unlike western countries :)
great blog, mashAllah!

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more - it's about attitude. I love having a "chauffer" drive me everywhere, being able to "jump the line" because you are female is brilliant and abayas? I LOVE shopping in my pj's!

My other half and myself are in the desert almost every weekend and are active geocachers - most are hidden in never heard of places :D and we get to meet the local community - who are thrilled to see us exploring their country and are quite embarrassed that we have been to places they didn't know existed - on their own doorstep. 10 years and going strong.

Layla said...

@ The Burdened Mary

Thanks for commenting and welcome to my blog, glad you found it :)

@ Ayah

Thanks for your compliment! yes that's true usually they won't enter the elevator especially if they notice the woman is Muslim. Ive noticed a difference though from when I started wearing hijab! Before it seemed men insisted on cramming themselves into the elevators with me and staring at me..I guess that's just curiosity, rare chance getting to see "uncovered" female and the image many saudi men unfortunately have of western women..

Layla said...

@ Anonymous..

welcome to my blog and thanks for commenting.

That's great you guys are taking advantage of outdoor activities that often! I wish we had more time and chances to go the desert!

If you have some GPS cordinates you'd like to share please email me!
P.S have you guys seen the Iris fields in Thumair?

bigstick1 said...

Hi Laylah:

So is it worth it? In other words is it worth you having to give up on so many things such as running/jogging, riding a bicycle, sky diving, driving, in-line skating, and so many other activities. Of course I am sure I could insert many more items that I would think is not worth it. So again is it worth it?

Layla said...

Bigstick-thanks for your comment, you ask is it worth the sacrifice? Well first of all not all the things you mentioned I have to give up (running,bicycle,skating) they can be done but with certain restrictions..
Second, why concentrate on the negative?
There is so much I can do here that I wouldn't be able to do in other countries :) check my post about good sides to life in Saudi for few examples.
So, I loose some things yes, but I gain others.

I would say yes, it's worth it.

bigstick said...

Just give me a few things you can do there that you cannot do some place else.

So I will ask you doesn't the teachings of Islam and the implementation of Sharia create problems for women as a whole. Such as psychologically as far as worth, self-confidence, independence, autonomy, and value. My understanding is that women according to the hadith are considered half as intelligent and lacking in religion. Doesn't this permeate a woman's view of herself? The fact that she needs permission from her husband, other male relative to do just about anything including going to the doctor. Just wondering.

Oh, I should warn you I can be a bit on the intense side as well.

It is all well and good to focus on the postive side if you happen to be one of the fortune that have a positive side to focus on. If you happen to be a women with out a male guardian then what?

I promise though I will check more of your website out and try to see a bright side and some more positives.

Layla said...

Bigstick-I can give you few examples of what I get from living here vs if I lived in Finland still: awesome weather,sunshine, taxfree income, beautiful and vast desert with so many untouched areas, red sea coastline for diving that hasn't been ruined (compare egypt, travel to places most ppl cant access out of saudi,very affordable living costs, large houses,fancy cars,easy &cheap to hire help for home,meeting and making friends with likeminded adventurous ppl from around the world,I can afford to go horseback riding and golfing,it's very easy for a westerner to get promoted at work and can reach high positions and enjoy excellent salary, loads of travel opportunities around ME (which has always interested me). Ok well there's a few from the top of my head lol :)

Anonymous said...

Being in an elevator with a man...what the heck! If he is a good Muslim or Christian, or maybe just a good man, what is the fear. It's the same argument Saudi men use for not letting women drive: if they get stuck at night on the side of a highway.... well if a good Muslim man pulls over, again what is the problem! Are all men rapists?

Anonymous said...

Heya Layla,

I love your post and had a few questions: do you go in a mixed group to scuba dive? What about the harriers are they a mixed group? Is there any sailing and/or lessons in the coastal towns of Saudi Arabia? Is it leagal for a woman to drive a boat??!!!


Layla said...

Hey there! Yes you can go on mixed group or women only if you request that from the operator, but then the boat crew is always male so there's no way you can have an all female setting that I know of other than all private. Women can drive boats but I haven't seen many :)
Harriers is mixed group. I have not heard of sailing lessons but there might be in Jeddah.

Hahn said...

Hi Leyla,

I just found your blog last night, and I'm glad I did.
Very well written, mind and eye opening, and very informative, absolutely love it!!.
I've been living in Riyadh since 2009, and from the lack of socializing, I don't even know much about Riyadh until I read your blog ( except for Harry Potter Caped Guys ;)....encountered with them many times ).
So I'd like to use this opportunity to thank you for your amazing blog, and now I will continue stalking your posts ... I finished reading June 2010 archives.


Layla said...

Hahn-thanks and welcome to my blog! Glad you found some use from it!

m said...


You have a very well written and entertaining blog here. I am thoroughly enjoying reading it. I'm a man in the U.S.

And it sounds like you have a very nice life there that you're greatly enjoying. Good for you!

I like the chivalry of some of these little customs, like women going to the front of a line at the bank. It's funny, I have never thought of that before, but I think that would be a nice, generous habit to get into right here in the U.S. and elsewhere. Even if I had to wait 20 minutes or more, I would be pleased to see a lady be able to do her banking and be on her way in one or two minutes.

Thanks for your terrific blog. I will keep reading.

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Unknown said...

Hi the burdened marry..
its nice to see a writing from a Saudi girl.. it seems now the Saudian girls are growing up with modern mentality with the Muslim aspect....

Asia said...

Hi Layla, thanks for this great post! Sure do need it esp. on trying times (like recently coming back from a long vacation. the first few weeks can be really very depressing!) And one of the things I hate coming back to here, is the reckless way of driving. It seems like they don't care much for "life". I get nervous everytime my husband and I go for a drive. I know there are reckless drivers all around the world but it seems that they are more concentrated here in Saudi Arabia? One of the reason I dread coming back here. Any advice? My husband's a good driver by the way, we have never been into any accidents (al-hamdoolillah) our vehicle got few scratches just by being parked in the airport parking. There are very few people here who can park right. It can be really very frustrating at times, but as you said always look at the "Positive Side!"