Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
A bi-coastal colleague who has been bouncing back and forth between Arizona and Rhode Island recently asked what I miss (if anything) about Phoenix.
Many of the things I miss about Phoenix are more about things I miss about the Western world: the ability to meet a female friend for coffee in public…or anywhere; the ability to go out on a weekend afternoon and have a beer and a burger; the ability to go out and buy something at a store during regular business hours…and have it not be shut down for mandatory prayer time.
Ironically, a big thing I miss is the weather, or perhaps the “social weather,” to coin a concept. Even though the weather in Riyadh is remarkably close to the Valley’s—nearly the same average temperature, humidity and rainfall—the opportunity to enjoy it with other people of mixed genders doing public activities such as playing tennis, watching a free music performance in a park, going to a street fair, and especially dining outside…is practically nil in the Kingdom, outside the compounds anyway.
I also miss just being able to jump in a car to pick up some household necessity, bring it home, and have it work…like a simple table lamp.
I went on an expedition to find a couple table lamps a month ago. It involved a 25-minute cab ride to a Home Depot-like store, which I had to rush through since it was closing for prayer time, a very limited selection of suitable lamps (all they had were 40-watt lamps, without getting into major appliance territory) and then a 25-minute cab ride home. One of the lamps simply conked out a couple weeks later (a bad switch) but the hassle of going back to the store has kept me from returning it. There are probably stores within a 20-minute walking radius, but it would be a major hassle to haul back two lamps by hand. In the meantime, one of my other lamps—furnished with the apartment—just flickers annoyingly till it conks out. It’s not the bulb; I’ve changed that two or three times just to make sure. It’s not the switch. It’s apparently just bad wiring inside the lamp.
I also miss what might be called lack of a stable, predictable infrastructure, including reliable Internet service, sidewalks, municipal water (most of it is delivered to building water tanks) and public transportation (there is none here, other than the fetid 2-riyal jitney buses), just to name a few items
Now, what I don’t miss are:
1) tipping everyone, everywhere (you arrange a price with the cabbie and hand him the amount: end of transaction)
2) barking dogs (dogs are haraam in the Kingdom . . . “unclean”)
3) the pointless overstocking of identical goods in grocery stores (do you really need 6 or 7 brands of toothpaste in 7 or 8 sizes, with varieties of flavors…all with the same ingredients? More than once I’ve gone into Target to get a phone and was confronted by approximately 100 choices and no discernible way to choose among them)
4) local police with nothing better to do than ticket jaywalkers and chalk the tires of cars in public parking lots. (Couldn’t they be better deployed investigating robberies, stopping inconsiderate homeowners from backwashing their swimming pools into city streets and, you know, preventing real crimes? It’s rare to see a uniformed policeman in Riyadh and I think I’d only need two hands to count the number of police cars I’ve seen, yet I feel completely safe walking the street in any part of town at any time.)
5) loud thumping rap music from adolescent boys’ pimped up cars with subwoofers in the trunk.
6) junk mail with grossly deceptive envelopes stating, for example, that there’s urgent, dated material from my mortgage holder. (There is no mail service to my Saudi apartment)
7) telemarketing calls (though, as noted in one of my blog entries, I did get a telemarketing call on my VoIP phone from a Ryder truck rental entrepreneur in Phoenix)
8) local TV news (but then, I didn’t waste my time in Phoenix watching it. I might have added the word “pointless” to this item, but that would imply that there is some local TV news that isn’t pointless)
And finally, in an über-ironic moment, it occurred to me I don’t miss:
9) women on public streets wearing sleazy, over-revealing outfits that would even be booed out by the living-in-a-trailer-down-by-the-river crowd.
I’m not saying the American ladies need to go so far as to dress like the Desert Penguins (aka MBOs—Moving Black Objects) wearing their Converse All Star high top sneakers underneath black abayas.
I’m just sayin’ a little skin goes a long way.