Pages of the Oasis

Thursday, August 15, 2013

More About Getting Around Saudi Arabia

About Bus and Airplane Travel

I didn’t try to buy a ticket from a bus terminal so I can’t give any advice about that.
I heard that you could buy seats on private charter buses going to specific destinations outside of Riyadh by going through a travel agency.

Buying tickets for air travel was as you’d expect, and easy to do. You can also book them through a travel agency.

It wasn’t acceptable for people, especially women, to go walking around by themselves.

You simply didn’t see people doing this.

This is a car culture and so hot outside that everyone drives around.

So there you have it: the transportation scene and getting around Riyadh and Saudi Arabia in general.

About Walking Around Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Walking around is not common. It’s not comfortable since it’s so hot, windy and dusty in Riyadh, and it’s not considered safe or well mannered behaviour.

When I walked to the local grocery store, I got honked at and sometimes men would yell ‘ haram’ (prohibited) when they saw me, even when I was wearing an abaya and hijab, especially if I was walking near sundown, or if a wind blew up and exposed my ankles.

And almost half as often, men would yell that they loved me as they whizzed by.

Some men stalked me (follow you in their cars) as I walked home. They were easy to ditch by changing direction, crossing the street, going back to a well lit major roadway, or going into a store.

For the most part, I think the stalking is motivated by pure curiosity. You just don’t see women outside of vehicles and malls or stores, and hardly ever alone, really so you really stick out as a foreigner if you walk around, even if you are just going a few blocks.

 I was used to overt sexual harassment after living for years in South America, where men of all ages routinely whistle, honk and tell you compliments as a matter of course, where ever you go. It bounces right off me.

But a lot of women I worked with were completely unsettled by any male attention and honking, especially if men yelled  ‘haram’ ( prohibited) at them.

There is an arm of the local police called the ‘mutawah’ whose job it is to ride around looking for people who are not following what they consider acceptable dress practices. They are especially on the lookout for women who don’t cover their hair adequately or have abayas long enough to cover up from neck to ankle and angrily react if they see this. They will approach you and  ask or demand that you to wear a hijab (hair veil) or fix your clothing to be more fully covered.

It’s helpful to know that all they can do legally is ‘advise’. You don’t have to get into their cars or let them cart you off to jail. Personally, I think it’s best to adopt the attitude of  ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’ as a sign of respect and to make it easier. You’re not going to change their culture. After all, it’s no secret that women are expected to wear an abaya and hijab and not attract attention to themselves.  I was surprised by how easy it was to get used to wearing an abaya and hijab in public, to be honest.

Once a man in a very expensive car followed me  as I walked home, right up to the door of my apartment-hotel and then politely but firmly lectured me for 10 minutes. He was very concerned for my safety and had followed me at a safe distance to make sure I got home without incident. He had excellent English and wanted me to know it wasn’t safe to walk alone. He had the best of intentions and I appreciated his genuine concern, although I was very surprised by his reaction and this turn of events. I admit that it made me think twice about doing it again.

So, to wrap up, to be safe and comfortable, always take a taxi. And use your street smarts if you decide to walk anywhere, just to be safe.

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