To keep up to date with the story so far, please read all previous posts, including the previous Part 9.
Friday is the Muslim Holy Day, and most restaurants and businesses do not open until late in the afternoon, and definitely not before the noon prayer, which is the most important prayer of the week. Muslims are required to pray 5 times a day, and while not all of them perform each prayer in a mosque, or in fact pray 5 times a day, most will try and do the noon prayer on Friday at the mosque.
I meet Andy downstairs in the lobby at 5 and we head out. He’s telling me all sorts of stories, some of which I believe, others I’m not too sure about. But I’m grateful for the company and if he can show me where to get some good deals, I’ll be delighted. I tell him I need to get 20 passport size photos for all of the forms I need to fill out with work, and he takes me down towards the souk district. Souk is the Arabic word for market. The streets are filled with people – mainly Asians of all descriptions and some locals. We stop for a shawarma, a sandwich of chicken and fries and salad and pickles with garlic sauce wrapped in a pita bread – similar to a doner, but usually the meat is chicken instead of beef. Two shawarmas and a small Coke cost me 10 Riyals, or just over $2 US. This is the area of the city where you can try your hand at bartering for a better price on anything from cheap souvenirs to expensive tapestries and carpets, hand-crafted furniture, dodgy electronics, and clothing of various qualities. And every night of the week it was the same – chaos and life. Brilliant apart from the smell of overflowing dumpsters!
We manage to find a photo store who will give me 20 passport size photos for 20 Riyals. About 27 cents US per colour photo. Not too bad and I miss how cheap some things were about Saudi. It’s amazing what having no taxes on goods does to the actual price of them. He introduces me to his barber, who greets him with an exuberant, “Hello, Mr Andy!!” A haircut from this man will cost me 15 Riyals, less than $5 US. Just over that amount with a tip.
I don’t see many police officers when we are out. The crowds on the street were mixed, men and women, and not all of them were related or married. While there is not a lot of hand holding or other signs of affection going on, non-related men and women are not allowed to go shopping together, even if they are co-workers and have known each other for many years. I am later told, and I find out through visiting various places in Saudi, that the part of Saudi where I live is a lot more tolerant than other parts. Dating is still prohibited, as is having unrelated women alone in my place at any time of day, but out on the streets, you’re less likely to be stopped and asked. In public, not much can happen I guess. Riyadh, the capital, is a lot stricter. I was there for 5 hours once. And only once. Hated it. But others seem to love it. Jeddah, on the Red Sea, is the most tolerant apparently.
Amongst the plethora of Western fast food joints, smaller restaurants stand their ground. Restaurants offering Indian, Pakistani, Lebanese, Yemeni, Filipino, Thai, and others line the streets. Some have sit down sections, others merely a couple of chairs out front of the counter where you can wait for your food to go. The sit down places have two sections – bachelors and family. Single men who come out to eat must eat in the bachelors section, away from any women. Single girls will eat in the family section, safe from the staring eyes of single men. All coffee shops are the same way, and banks and government offices have male and female sections as well. Certain hospitals will cater to women only, and the larger shopping malls have days when no bachelors are allowed, and mall security, with occasional help from the police, will keep most single men out (they usually allow Westerners in as they mainly go to the mall to shop and not just hang out or stare at women).
And the streets are crawling with cats. Big nasty looking cats that no one cares for and no one wants to. Feral cats are a massive problem, even on the compounds, as many people here either leave them behind when they depart the country (and I wish I could punch each and every one of them who do this), or people just don’t want to take care of them anymore and let them go, or the most common ailment, people don’t know how to take care of a pet properly. I know doctors that didn’t realize that cats carry diseases and should be vaccinated to keep both the cats healthy and their own kids healthy. And very few of them would have their pets “fixed” so the amount of feral kittens being born was a worry.
At this time, the Saudi work week started on Saturday so I had to be outside waiting for the bus to the hospital at 7:30 the next morning. Andy and I hopped in a taxi and got back to the hotel on the compound and called it a night.