Friday, 14 December 2012

Friday Evenings at Al Batha, Riyadh.....

Friday’s in Riyadh is the day that the working population of Riyadh go about their weekly shopping, Al Batha is the area where all the emigrant population of Riyadh come to buy and sell, its full of souks and stalls of all sorts and an incredible atmosphere on a Friday evening, where the place is jammed full of people from all parts, particularly, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sudan and Philippines among many others. 

Markets called Kerala Market and Manila Plaza gives you a hint of the mix of cultures and people in this area of the city, It’s a real cosmopolitan place with a great vibe about it..

You can find traders selling clothes from wheelbarrows, fruit and veg lying on the ground, mobile phones, electronics, you name it……

It’s a great atmosphere and in stark contrast to the modern and flashy Shopping Malls throughout Riyadh favoured by the Saudi’s, this is a very much an area in the city primarily for the emigrant community.

You can get someone to fix your shoes, fiddle with your mobile phone to do all sorts of magic things, get your hair cut, buy socks, fruit and vegetables, basically, whatever you need, you can get it in Batha.

Here are some photos I took this afternoon, which probably don’t do justice to the wonderful chaos and mayhem……..

Monday, 26 November 2012

Expat Blog Awards and other Milestones.......

I have been here in the Kingdom now for six months and have continued with “Long Way to Go for a Sun Tan” and have been really pleased at the positive reaction it continues to receive, a few milestones along the way also, being Shortlisted for “Blog Awards Ireland” was fantastic for a blog that is only 18 months old, and later today, the Blog will hit 10,000 views since it first started back in Uruzgan, Afghanistan in July 2011-
The Blog has now also been listed in the ExPat Blog Directory and will be assessed along with some other great Blogs in Saudi Arabia for awards over the next few weeks, a big part of the process is based on positive reviews from regular readers, so I would really appreciate if you would post a comment by following this link…
Thanks to Patricia Irwin & Ger Loughrey in Limerick , Keisha LaRaine Ingram in Vilnius, Cathal O’Connell in Kandahar, Caitriona Murphy in Cork & Jack Kiely in Gateshead , for the positive Reviews so far, they represent readers from 4 different countries so far….THANK YOU !!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Recovery by Inches......

I was watching a movie that was recommended to me recently by a friend, “Company Men” starring Ben Affleck & Tommy Lee Jones, which deals with the fallout of a company caught in the credit crisis and dwindling orders in a heavy manufacturing company in the Boston Area of the US, It deals with the lives of the various members of the management team in the aftermath of losing their jobs and dealing with having to cut back on their lifestyles and restart their careers again….

It got me to reflect on the parallels in the last four years of my own life and many others like me in Ireland and indeed in many other places caught in this very “global” crisis since 2008.

In my own case, my own business hit a “Wall” in August 2008, and never recovered, we suffered an 80% collapse in revenue in a little more than two months, when I think back now, it’s a frightening thought, we had a number of staff in the business at the time and just like the Movie (in a much smaller scale), we set about making adjustments to the business that ultimately led to us letting all of the staff go until I was back to just myself by late 2010, other adjustments were made such as moving the office back home in early 2010, cutting back on overheads and diversifying as much as possible in an effort to find alternative income streams to stem the tide of sometimes almost overwhelming demands of overdue bills and taxes….

On the personal and family side, the strain becomes even more severe, I recall in 2009, making the decision to give up our Mobile Home in Liscannor on the west coast, as the annual rental fees were now becoming a burdening luxury, it was a place where our sons have fond memories of swimming and wave-jumping in Lahinch and climbing the rocks at Liscannor and visiting the Cliffs of Moher , eating fish and chips and the obligatory ice-cream on the strand, I felt for them as they found it tough to have to give up their weekends there, similarly in time, we found it tougher to keep the heating oil tank filled in winter and our mortgage fell behind as things really started to bite, I can remember clearly the Christmas of 2009, when there were two sustained weeks of snow, bitter cold and losing my foster mother on Christmas Day , not being able to travel the roads to open the grave and relying on some fantastic relatives and friends of hers who stepped-up and made sure things were “looked after”, and also continuing on with the Christmas routines and making sure the boys enjoyed Santa coming, I admire them both as they both understood what was going on and that times were difficult.

On into 2010 and 2011, the trend continued, I remember Christmas 2010 was equally cold and that we ran out of heating oil in the first few days of January 2011 and not having the money to refill it, we did have a great wood burning stove however which we used to great effect until the end of the month when we had some funds available again, just like the movie, we went through the cycle of reviewing the mortgage, cutting back on any extras we had, which ended up being a lot of things including some of the boys’ activities like swimming and music lessons etc. It was a depressing time and I did find it really tough, as I’m sure so many around the country did at the time, you question yourself, your ability, your confidence drains on a daily basis, you don’t sleep well, you don’t relate to your family or friends in the same way, you dread answering the phone as its more likely to be someone looking to be paid than it is someone looking for your services….

Then come’s a turning point, the point at which you decide enough is enough, or you just crumble and give up. Mine was the day before my son’s communion, which is an important time in a child’s life back home, more so socially in these times, when our bank decided to block access to all of our personal accounts on the back of an issue with our business accounts, thus denying us any cash flow for a small gathering we had arranged at home after the ceremony, to add insult to injury, they also hoovered off a further refund we were due from Revenue on overpaid tax. I can’t remember a time feeling more angry, utterly frustrated and completely betrayed by a bank that I had been with since I was seven years old, a bank that I had never refused to answer a call to, have a meeting with, a bank that only a week before I had made an agreement with to re-finance our remaining business loans and secure them against some land I own. They had kicked us hard when we were down and I decided there and then, that was it, it was time to fight back and fight back hard…….

I took the phone and holding back as much emotion as I could, which wasn’t easy, I told them exactly what I thought of their actions and asked them how they felt about reneging on an agreement and effectively forcing me to use my sons’ Communion money to pay for his big day, and went further to tell them that all agreements were now off the table and they could chase me through the courts to get their money, god it felt good to release that and finally express the frustration and angst I had felt for so long and take back my power from these monstrous faceless institutions that have done so much damage to my country and to ordinary honest hard working people…..

It was the start of the process that within two months took me abroad to work, rebuilt my confidence and got me to start enjoying my work again and even led to a point where the bank had to start again down the road of negotiating with us in a proper manner, having had to deal with complaint letters and to answer for clear breaches of their own Code of Conduct.

It hasn’t been an easy time and indeed it will take many years to recover from the past number of years and as I have recorded here many times, It can be very hard to be away from home but for me, it’s a far more palatable option than what we dealt with in the last few years…..

Going back to the movie “Company Men”, the main character Bobby went through a similar journey and in the end found a way to re-start and get moving again, the movie doesn’t leave you with the “happy ever after” ending , just the glimpse of a chance to succeed and make progress and that’s all that’s needed, I feel people are more than happy to work hard as long as they feel they are moving forward even if it is only by inches………


Friday, 9 November 2012

Interview with InterNations - Life and Work in Riyadh...

This week, I had the pleasure of doing an Interview for InterNations which is an International Online Social Network for Ex-pats, to talk about life and work in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia-
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Saudi Arabia, etc.
My name is Noel Scanlon, I work as a Project Manager in Riyadh for an Irish Consultancy here, my background is in Architecture and Business, I come from Ireland, in the west of the country close to the city of Limerick, I first moved abroad to work in July 2011, initially to Afghanistan and then to Saudi Arabia in May 2012. It is well known how the global credit crisis has affected my home country and I am one of many who have moved abroad to work after working for 17 years back home including running my own business for 8 years, my family remain back home in Ireland for the moment.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
In my first Month in Afghanistan, it occurred to me that I really needed to record the experience, primarily for the benefit of my family and friends so they could get a sense of what it was like working in a challenging environment, and also as a very useful tool to stay connected to existing colleagues and indeed make new friends, it got great feedback in my time there and was published a few times also, so when I moved to Riyadh, I was encouraged to continue with the blog and write about the experiences of living here so it developed from there….
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Yes, and the most popular one on the site, Kandahar Airfield….Another world, I wrote this after my first few weeks in Afghanistan, after the culture shock experience of life on a Military Base in Afghanistan and also after taking a helicopter trip from Kandahar Airfield to Tarin Kowt in Uruzgan Province.
Also from the Saudi entries, I really like Road to Riyadh” which was written after my first road trip by car from Riyadh to Al Hofuf in the Eastern Province….
Tell us about the ways your new life in Saudi Arabia differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Obviously Riyadh is a very big change from rural Ireland , everything from the climate to the culture, to social norms, yes it was a culture sock but somewhat lessened by my previous experience in the region, the heat takes some time to get used of, and also adapting to the social and cultural norms here, as that is obviously very different than home, the city is expanding at a fast rate and Saudi Arabia is in a massive growth and development stage both economically but also I feel socially, it’s a very interesting time to be right now, and obviously being away from family is tough also…..
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Saudi Arabia? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
As I said previously, I was better prepared than most given my previous work in the region, and I did research on the cultural aspects of Saudi, though I guess it still doesn’t fully prepare you for it, so I was happy enough with the preparation I had, I also spoke to colleagues of mine who lived and worked in the Kingdom previously which I found very helpful
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
In my first few weeks in Riyadh, I and some of my colleagues were staying in a small Hotel in Riyadh (shall remain nameless), It was, shall we say, basic enough, staff were friendly and it was clean etc. One morning while we were leaving for work, one of my colleagues asked the front desk manager in an audible voice? “Can you please have my room cleaned today?” to which he received a response, “of course not, we cleaned it yesterday”, added to also having to come down to reception to acquire toilet tissue which one ran out….
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Saudi Arabia?
      - Do your research, find out about the culture and social norms as that will help you adapt in the early days and will help you to remember that it’s you that has to adapt to Saudi culture, rather than the other way around….
-     - Be open to new experiences and meeting new people, Saudi’s are friendly people and Riyadh has many different nationalities living here, an open mind will get you places and win you many friends….
      - Learn to be patient, work and life operate at a different pace here and decisions are made in a different way, but patience will really help you….
How is the expat community in Saudi Arabia? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
There is a very active ex-pat community in Riyadh in fact, as there are quite a lot of ex-pats living and working here, in the Health, Education, Finance, Engineering and Construction Sectors. Riyadh also has a Diplomatic quarter where almost many nations have their embassies, you need to connect with people to create a network here but its very open and people are very willing to allow in join their groups and get involved, there are various social and sporting activities organized through ex-pat groups and societies and InterNations and similar networks are developing all the time also, the key is you must seek out these people and don’t be a stranger…
How would you summarize your expat life in Saudi Arabia in a single, catchy sentence?
“It’s a long way to go for a sun tan but it open your mind and you discover a lot about the bigger world out there and even about yourself and what you are capable of”

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Short Video Report of Life on Tarin Kowt Military Base, Afghanistan

A colleague of mine flagged this U-Tube Video today so I decided I would post it to the Blog,

Its an Australian TV Report on some of the facilities on the Military Base in Tarin Kowt, Uruzgan, Afgahnistan, where those of you who read the blog know that I was based last year for a time, It gives a short tour of some of the facilities (they're aren't really that many) and may help you to visualise what life is like on base for a soldier and indeed a contractor, It very much focusses on the socila aspects of the base rather than the Military, but interesting none the less.........

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Dune Bashing.....


Jim & Ralph
On Thursday afternoon last, a group of us headed out to the north of Riyadh past the Airport to join my friend Jim Cooper and some of his colleagues for some Quad Biking in the desert which is hugely popular here with the Saudi’s.
It was a fantastic afternoon to be riding around the sand with the wind in our faces tackling those dunes and it seems we got great respect from our Saudi colleagues when they met us out there in their Hummers and Toyota’s rampaging around the Dunes also, indeed some choose to eve bring their families along and have picnics out there .
The Desert Sun is not as severe right now so makes it an ideal activity of a weekend evening, though the sunset arrives rather early now also, just before 6pm.
Fantastic day out with the crew and certainly will be done again….

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Meeting of Minds.....

On my latest trip down to Abha this week in South West of Saudi Arabia, It struck me how culturally diverse  this part of the world is, despite its traditions, and how friendly and helpful people are by nature regardless of their nationality or heritage.
On arrival at Abha airport, which for those of you from Ireland resembles Kerry Airport in size, I was warmly greeted by Saleem, who is from Lahore in Pakistan and is the Supervising Engineer on the project we are working on here in Abha, Saleem always greets me with a hug and warm handshake and speaks about work and life with an infectious enthusiasm, he speaks of his three children and his wife who have also recently moved here to Abha to work on this project, he is the kind of guy who you would enjoy having a few pints of plain in in a quiet snug back home, like Casey’s in Sixmilebridge (for those of you that know it !), and of course my friend being a devout muslim may pass on the alcoholic beverage though I imagine, he would indulge in the interests of cultural discourse. He has worked right around the world from Canada to Hawaii and Riyadh as well as his native Pakistan.
Outside the airport, we are picked up by Abduljalil Mohammed, who is the Building Contractor’s Project Manager on site and he is from Cairo and again I am warmly greeted by this tall Egyptian, and asked to sit in the front, through respect, I decline and take my seat at the back and allow Saleem to sit up front and lead the commentary on our short journey to the building project, this man has missed a career as a cultural attaché or indeed Tourism Minister.
Back at the Project Site, I am whisked in to the Site Hut and told that the priority this morning is a good breakfast for the traveler, as I had flown from Riyadh that morning, and before us was spread out a large spread of typical Saudi breakfast pancakes, with cheeses and spinach and all sorts, I asked where the other ten people were that would be required to tackle such a feed, but was laughed off….
We had our Site Inspection and discussed all of the technical and programming aspects of the job as well as the technical queries we needed to address, and then returned to the Site Hut for our formal regular progress meeting and were joined by my colleague Hussain , who I have mentioned in a previous post on Abha, a very friendly and helpful local Saudi who has been hugely helpful to Saleem, Abduljalil & I on resolving “local” issues here with the municipality and permits and the oddities of Saudi beaurcracy.
After our meeting, my three colleagues and I went to lunch before I headed back to the airport and the discussion weaved through many topics, led by the always bubbly Saleem, we discussed the Muslim world, life in Saudi for women and for foreign women who moved here, we discussed the Malala case in the Swat Valley in Saleem’s Pakistan, the new President of Abduljalil’s Egypt, we discussed how Abha and Saudi is changing and how Hussain has seen it develop and we also discussed the upcoming Hajj pilgrimage next week which is a huge event in Saudi. I was asked about the IRA and the peace process back home and told how this was reported in Pakistan when Saleem was young and how they were idolized as Nationalist heroes, I did my best to explain the much changed political landscape in Ireland both north and south and explained the essence of the divisions in the north which I could loosely compare with the current problems between Sunni and Shia in Bahrain.
We also discussed our children and it is here where we found very comfortable and common ground, between us, we had eight sons and three daughters, ranging in age from 3 to 22 (4 Saudi, 2 Irish, 2 Egyptian and 3 Pakistani), we shared the common topics of homework, toys, new mobile phones and remarked on how connected our children are to the larger world outside through social media and how knowledgeable they are of the bigger world and we all agreed that this new generation have a great opportunity to share, connect and understand eachother so much more than those of us who were raised in the 70’s. 80’s and 90’s.
I really enjoyed the friendliness, openness and honesty of my three colleagues and it gives one a great sense of what is possible through sharing stories and finding the things that really enage us all…..
Looking forward to our next Meeting…..

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Saudi Traffic Jam on the Road to Al Hofuf ....

I, with two of my work colleagues began the 350 km road trip from Riyadh to Al Hofuf in the Eastern Province yesterday morning, the driving being shared between Bader, my Saudi colleague and myself, I have become very used to the long road trips accross the vast open empty deserts as you head eaterwards, so we were rather taken when we took the exit to Al Hofuf from the Dammam Road to find ourselves in this Traffic Jam.......... thoughts of Molls Gap and Kerry Sheep came to mind.........

Two seperate groups of Camels were being moved along this highway and as you can see, they were observing a path to the edge of teh roadway, such obviously is their familiarity with this...

Be careful out there......

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Abha in the Mountains.....

As one of my projects is located in the town I took a trip to Abha, in the Asir Province of South Western Saudi Arabia yesterday, located not too far from the Yemeni border and standing at 2,500m above sea level, this truly is a very different Saudi Arabia and a world away from the heat and sand of Riyadh.
Abha is located close to Al Sooda which is the highest point in the Kingdom at 2,800m approx.. and on arrival, the very first things you notice is the, airport perched up in the mountains and the dramatic drop in temperature, some 15 degrees lower than Riyadh, Its located in the Mountains and is a very scenic area and very popular with Saudi’s during summer time for holidays.

As this was a work trip and only a day trip, I didn’t get much time to look about but saw enough to entice me back and had the great pleasure of being escorted by my work colleague Hussein Al-Qahtani, a local from Abha and a member of the local chamber of commerce who is clearly very proud of his town and region and went out of his way to bring me around the town and on to the local souk in the short time I was there and invited me back to visit the famous Al Habala hanging village located not far from here, an abandoned village accessed through vertical rock faces where the locals used ropes to get around, a word to thanks to you Hussein for your kindness and hospitality !

Good news is that I will need to fly down here on a monthly basis in the future for work so will have many more opportunities to visit one of Saudi’s most scenic areas.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Bling Motors on Tahlia Street.....

Saudi Arabia has a love affair with the Automobile, out on the long desert motorways resembles what you might see in the American West, long straight stretches of roadway with pitstops at regular intervals with the filling stations, burger joint and the only marjed difference is teh provision of a mosque-
American Motors are also very common here, with many Crown Victoria’s, Mustangs, GMC and indeed Hummer’s  on the roads-
A walk down Tahlia Street (Prince Mohammed bin Abdulaziz St.) in Riyadh, which is essentially the high-end shopping street , we came across this car showroom and we just couldn’t resist having a look, a complete showroom full of Porche, Rolls Royce, Ferrari, Maybach and Lamborghini- all in the same showroom-
Further down Thalia St., we came across this 5 star filling station, take a look at the floor finish and the neon lighting, it’s the ultimate in forecourt luxury, and parked on it were five Hummer Stretch Limos….

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Early Impressions of Riyadh....

Kingdom Tower
I have been in the Kingdom now for three months, primarily in Riyadh and just a few journeys out to other parts such as Al Hofuf and Dharama, I have also taken a trip to the neighboring Kingdom of Bahrain which has been prominent in the news in the past year in the midst of the Arab Spring which has effected many countries in the Muslim World in recent times and very sadly, currently costing many lives in Syria.
Riyadh, the capital city has over 5 million inhabitants and is very much a city under construction at the moment. King Abdullah Financial Centre is being built at a pace and coming from the airport, you pass the very impressive Princess Noura University for Women in the suburbs of the city, which is the world’s largest, facilitating some 40,000 students.
The city itself is very well served by an impressive motorway network, running north-south and east-west, the motor car is the transport of choice here, and given that petrol costs the equivalent of 15 cents a litre is understandable. It is surprising however that the city this large does not possess a public transport system, so a visitor to Riyadh must use Taxi’s to get around as walking any distance is just too difficult in the Saudi heat, I understand that a Metro system is in the pipeline.

Traffic on Ollaya St.

Saudi drivers are well known around the world for their erratic driving habits, and for the first few weeks here, I had to cross Ollaya St. twice a day which is a bit like trying to cross a Formula One racetrack, but I live to tell the tale. Footpaths here are rather odd, they are afterthoughts at best, and regularly just stop or have high kerbs or even have cars parked on them. Riyadh is very noticeably a city not designed for pedestrians, but very much for the automobile.
Of course, Saudi Arabia is very much considered to be at the very heart of the Muslim faith and is the site of the two holy mosques at Mekkah and Medinah. Saudi’s take their faith very seriously and the prayer times are strictly observed five times a day, when shops close and workers pause from their work for prayers, in my own office, I have become used to my Muslim colleagues observing their Dhuhr and Asr prayers together in the office with the Islamic chants of prayer played over the PA.
We are just now coming to the end of the fasting month of Ramadan as I write this and working hours are shortened for those observing the fast and again shops and food outlets are essentially closed until after the evening Isha prayer time which is approx.. 9pm, so in a way, the country operates at half speed during this month. It is also forbidden for a non-muslim to eat or drink in public during this time in daylight hours and given that day time temperatures can regularly hit 50 here, I have spent much of the month indoors and are really looking forward to getting home in two days time outdoors time. Saudi’s essentially live a nocturnal existence during this month, with Iftar buffets at sunset, followed by shopping malls and restaurants opening to 2am and having breakfast before sunrise, they will typically sleep for teh early morning time and go to work for approx. 11am.

Saudi Women wearing the Abaya
The place of women of course is also unique here in the Kingdom and comes as a bit of a shock when you first arrive here. All women (including those from visiting countries) must wear the Abaya, and it is normal for Saudi women to also wear the Hijab covering their head and also their faces, typically all in black. Saudi men will wear their long white thobes and headwear known as Gutra or Shimaagh, but they unlike females, will also wear t-shirts , trousers and shorts, though there are guidelines regarding wearing shorts. It is also forbidden for women to drive here, therefore they must be driven everywhere.

Additionally, there is a strict segregation culture in place, so for example if you visit McDonald’s here (and they are everywhere !), you will see two entrances to the building, one for “Singles” which means Men essentially and the other for “Families”, which typically will be for women with their children and sometimes their father, husband or brothers. In shopping Malls you will see separate queues (see image) for Ladies and Gents, in some Malls, even particular floors are segregated for “Women only”. In these Malls, you will see the very best of Fashion outlets, from Gucci to Armani, however I am always puzzled as to when exactly they get to wear these impressive garments…..
Seperate Queues at McDonald's
Saudi’s are a friendly people with a laid-back nature, though at times may not possess the same sense of etiquette and social norms that we are accustomed to, however I’m sure they would say the same of our culture……
Saudi Arabia has an enormous  ex-pat population of over 5 million, which makes up almost a third of the total, these are primarily from Pakistan, India, Philipines and other Gulf countries. You will find that almost all jobs involving labour in this country will be done by a worker from one of these countries, there are also over 100,000 westerners like myself here who typically live in the many compounds in the suburbs of Riyadh, however some like us live in the city, typcially those who do not have their families with them. We live just off Jarir St. in the Al Malaz District in the South of the city, here on this street you will find everything from our local small corner shop run by an Indian , our local Laundry run by a Pakistani gentleman to the many restaurants and barber shops ran by Egyptians and Turks, It makes for a very interesting mix of people working and living here.
I head back to Ireland tomorrow night as the Eid-Ul-Fitr holiday begins here this weekend, I can’t wait to see Laura and the boys, Oisin is cycling since I was home last so looking forward to catching up with him and Daithi before they return to school in a few weeks and of course, the long awaited pint of plain…..

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Recording the Moments….

I was really pleased to hear today that this Blog has been nominated for the Irish Blog Awards 2012, A “Long Way to Go for a Sun Tan” was something I started while bunked up in a Containerised Bedroom on the Military Base, FOB Tarin Kowt, Uruzgan, Afghanistan late one evening in July 2011.
It was my attempt to write a “Diary” of sorts of my thoughts and feelings on living and working in a modern war zone many thousand miles from my home in East Clare.
There were so many thoughts in my mind at the time, there was the loneliness of being away from my wife and two wonderful sons and all that that involved, this was very extreme and certainly was never part of the “big plan”, whatever that means.
There was anger, surrounding the economic circumstances that took me abroad to provide for us all, an anger that I harboured towards the Banks and Government back home, who had affected so many of us and who had a direct role in bringing an end to many businesses including our own business which I had worked on for eight years.
There was the adrenaline filled days in the Uruzgan desert, C-130 Hercules Planes, Apache & Chinook Helicopters flying over all day long, dust, noise, fuel shortages, DFAC food, working with the Army every day, and never knowing what was going to happen next…..
The Blog was really a mechanism for recording those days as I knew that it would be just a short period in my life but a very significant one and one that I certainly wanted my family to understand and I felt that writing it down and being able to refer to it would help them, likewise my friends back home..
And , so the story continues, here I am now working in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, another culture shock in entirely different circumstances, though the reasons I am abroad still remain, so with the encouragement of followers and friends, I will continue to blog……….
Thanks to all my Followers for the continued support……

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Powering Ahead in the Arabian Desert.....

A View of the Plant in the Desert
Saudi Arabia is a country that is currently going through very rapid development, I have been living in Riyadh for two months and have been very taken by the amount of construction under way right across the city, and this is the case right across the Kingdom also, which is in stark contrast to Europe and the USA at the moment……
3 of the Stacks
Dr. Jim Cooper is a person I was introduced within a short time after my arrival here in the Kingdom, through a good friend of mine Paul O’Connor.  Jim has spent the past two years living in the middle of the Arabian desert about 60 mins west of Riyadh building a brand new 1.7 Gw Power Station, Dhurama Power Station....
Jim was kind enough to drive me out there on Friday last for a visit, and it is an impressive sight, after turning off the main highway, you drive along a new access road constructed as part of this project for some 20 km complete with street lighting, drainage etc. and the power plant comes into view rising out of the desert, with its seven imposing stacks.
It is a gas powered station supplied from a pipe line from the north of the country, I spent the following few hours, after some lunch, on a tour of the facility and marveled at the sheer scale of the generators and the speed at which they have mobilized, constructed and commissioned the entire facility to a point where 6 of the 7 generators were on line and fully operational during my visit.
Gas Generators
Saudi Arabia is constructing a number of these at the moment through the help of foreign investment consortia such as this one, as the energy demands in the country are increasing considerably year on year, and they are struggling to keep pace such is the pace of development of Saudi Economy, Population and new Cities.
Control Room
In the course of the afternoon, Jim talked in depth on the need for the Kingdom to look very seriously at the obvious renewable energy potential of solar power in the country, as long as they could tackle the problem of sand damage to mirrors and the many motors required , perhaps a good topic for local university research students.
I was very impressed with my visit and also with Jim’s team working and living in the desert, given the sheer scale of this project, it was a very worthwhile and informative day………..

Ramadan Kareem......

And so the holy month of Ramadan has begun here in the Kingdom, and indeed all across the muslim world, though some are a day later as the start day all depends on the sighting of the crescent moon I understand.
We set off for work this morning by taxi at our normal time of 7:30am, and found that we made it in to work in 7 mins ! as the roads were almost completely empty, we arrived into an empty office as our Saudi colleagues are observing Ramadan Hours, so we shall see them at 11am today and they will finish work at 3pm, we will continue to 6:30pm.
As a guest in the country, we must of course also respect the fast during the holy month as that is what is expected here, though it is allowed for non-muslims to privately eat something away from those fasting.
The Fast is observed from sunrise to sunset, and includes abstinence from food, water and smoking, and bear in mind that temperatures in the Kingdom have been running over 50 in the past week and it is easy to see that this is a massive physical challenge…, which understandably affects work and productivity, locals generally will sleep on later during Ramadan, sometimes on into the day.
At sunset, the fast is broken traditionally with dates, at home with family and afterwards, Iftar dinners and gatherings are held. Shopping Centres are also then open to 2am as it is at this time in the evening that locals will come out and shop, socialise and celebrate in a very Saudi way !
I was in Afghanistan last year for Ramadan in obviously different circumstances but remember my Afghan colleagues struggling to work in extremely hot conditions, and the knock-on effect on productivity, this year, I am much closer to it here in Riyadh, and can see how important this time is for Muslims…..
So four weeks of the Holy Month and I will be heading home to Ireland on the start of the EID celebrations on August 16th………….

Saturday, 23 June 2012

A Hike in the desert…….

Whilst seeking out new contacts and my getting to know more people living here in Riyadh, a South African contact suggested I come along for a desert hike on Friday afternoon last, so I brought along two other co-workers and fellow Irishmen and followed instructions to a meeting point to get a lift to the desert, and off we went, with lots of water, some snacks in anticipation of the afternoon ahead.
After a 40 minute drive out of Riyadh with a group of other ex-pats, we turned off the highway into desert on an old track and into the openness of the Arabian Desert, after some time we came to clearing and met some others who were preparing a bar-b-q for after the hike….
We took off on a 5km hike down into a Canyon into a stunning landscape unlike anything I had experienced before, except maybe from an old cowboy movie or “Star Wars”. It was a fantastic hike and great to get out of the city for a few hours. I have attached some photos here to give an idea of the scene, a bit different from the green fields of home !

Thanks a lot to our experienced minders who knew the hike and were fantastic hosts, after we returned to base, the bar-b-q was at full blast and we enjoyed the sunset with a few burgers and an ice-cold Cola !!.....very welcome…
We got back late after dark, and we are looking forward to doing it all again soon, and by the way a fantastic way to meet new friends in Riyadh, including a man from my own “Parish” back home in Clonlara !! It’s a small world ……………..enjoy the photo's............

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Stories from Home on Fathers’ Day……

Father’s Day was during the week just gone, well, what we know as the great “Hallmark” event. 

Such an event doesn’t exist in these parts and actually, I’m not one to get overly excited about such events as I have mixed feelings on the whole idea of “father” but more of that another day…..

I had a lovely message in the Inbox the other day from home, It was a Father’s Day card created by my sons Daithí and Oisín, being told you’re awesome by your kids is pretty cool !!, absolutely made my day !

Also attached to the message were the boys’ School Reports from the end of the year, We have been very conscious due to my absence from home overseas over the past year of the potential impact of it on the boys’ lives, and their education was just one of those concerns.

It was extremely gratifying to receive two glowing school reports from their teachers not only showing them improving year on year but excelling in some areas, in one instance in Maths which was a tricky area for one of the lads and actually a subject I struggled with when I was a child also, I spent some time on it with him when I was home last and he really is making progress , so well done Boys, you’ve made your Mom & Dad very proud this week, enjoy the movies and ‘Roller-Jam’ this week.

Huge credit must go to Laura for her increased effort with the boys when I am away, Its paying off !

Both of the lads excel in English, and love to read, Oisín actually loves to create and write stories from his imagination , I got some stories from him this week which are also illustrated and coloured as that’s one of his passions.

“How Bob got Tiny Legs” and “The adventures of Johnny Joe and Billy Bob featuring Monkey Man” complete with characters from his imagination with all the thrills and spills of a Star Wars adventure…..
Messages from home are so welcome in all forms and obviously creative messages from your loved ones are extra special…….thanks guys !!!

Thursday, 7 June 2012

The Road to Riyadh…..

The Impressive Kingdom Tower
So, I touched down in Riyadh on May 28th last, my first time in the Kingdom, tired and a little emotional after the sad goodbyes to Laura and the boys, we had a really nice time for the 5 weeks I was home.

The first obstacle was overcoming Passport and Visa Control at King Khalid Airport, which took three hours and going to the end of a few queues, it seems my hosts could do with some assistance in customer care and managing  visitors to their country , I’ve been assured since that this experience was the exception rather than the norm.

I am now based in the centre of Riyadh, right beside the impressive Kingdom Tower, and staying in a hotel on Ollaya St. nearby, for a few weeks while we sort out an apartment.

The Contrasts in my new job couldn’t be more different from my work in Afghanistan, I work as a Project Manager supporting a Saudi Company rolling out new Technical Buildings across the Kingdom, I am based at their corporate HQ at the Kingdom Tower Complex, air conditioned offices etc. a very big change from Afghanistan.

I took a trip this week from Riyadh to Al Hofuf in the Eastern Province by car, a journey of some 370 km each way, It was a great experience driving right across the desert, I am very struck by how influenced this country is from the United States, everything from driving Sedans & Chevrolets, to roadside diners and fast food.
Camels on the Road to Al Hofuf in the Eastern Province
I even came across camels on the road…..see photo....

I completed the journey successfully, negotiating the outskirts of Riyadh, including men herding goats along the motorway and the inner city where it seems everyone has learned to drive like Italians !

I also set out to discover the old and original part of Riyadh with two of my colleagues (I am one of a team of nine Irish here), we spent an extremely hot day walking through the wonderful smells and bustle of the Souks of Al Batha and discovering Musmak Castle , Al Safa Square and the impressive Grand Mosque.
Musmak Castle

We have also found ourselves a new Apartment Complex that we hope to move into in the coming days, looking forward to settling in to the area, complete with a little swimming pool, Gym and loads of small local shops…..

And so begins my Saudi Adventure, I look forward to posting more pieces here on Saudi Arabia………