Thursday, August 19, 2010

Things That Will Be Missed: Carrefour at Granada Mall

The sun in shining, and the heat permeates this Riyadh night. As I fast these days of Ramadan, I rarely leave the house during the week; only to pick up a thing or two at the compound's supermarket. There are days when I barely leave my own room, mostly only to break fast with my parents. I have truly become a hermit in the desert! Maybe I should think of changing my blog title...

But here is the real scoop: in less than two weeks, 12 days to be exact, I will be on my way to the United States. I am leaving this physical desert to another place, another time zone, another climate. No more hot suns, no more abayah, no more days indoors. I will be thrust into a new life without my parents and with complete strangers.

I have focused a lot on the craziness of Saudi Arabia, and the troubles in my heart. I want to share with you over the next few days things that I will truly miss about the Kingdom and my time here. Although I spent most of it wasting away, there are certain things I will not get back until I return; if I do return. Who knows what the future has in store for me? So here is what I will give you today: an image-heavy post from yours truly, with much love, about:

Carrefour: the Supermarket of Granada

First, I must show the bread selection to you. As a Mauritian, it is the most important food item EVER. We get fresh bread every morning for breakfast and that makes our day! The US definitely has the worst bread! I wonder how Americans deal, sometimes. Riyadh, however, does not disappoint.

The bakery: A man makes fresh Arabic bread every day. It is still hot as it enters plastic bags for selling.

More of the bakery and breads, seeping into the cakes section, with some view of ice cream.

"Special Bread" basically refers to bread crumbs, and then Filipino and Portuguese bread, both of which have a smaller market here.

I am not really a cake person, and as I have said to several of my American friends, I cannot understand the obsession with cake. However, everything in Carrefour would make my mouth water as I walked past - ESPECIALLY during Ramadan!

Cakes! They look lovely, but are usually sickly sweet.

Frozen cakes from abroad that are more likely to make my mouth water!
The frozen food aisle was probably the best I have ever seen, containing many foods that saved my life here by becoming my lunch!

The samousas that my parents and I microwave for random pangs of hunger. Yes - microwave! Samousas!
While the displays of Carrefour are not usually well thought out...

The industrial aisles of food and cold tiles are reminiscent of those in other countries, but the people are not.
...the area near the spices, nuts and fruits always proved to be more impressive.

These displays are put up usually right before and during Ramadan.

The choice we have of things to drink is on a completely different level to anywhere else. I am guessing it is due to the crazy heat and dryness of the desert.

Remember these?

I will have to admit that the US and its supermarkets (like Target, Walmart, etc.) are much better in terms of clothing than here in Riyadh, but when I get a chance, I love to see what they have for various Engrish findings as well as wacky colours.

But what if I want to name my breasts something else? And uh, fish blouse?

Poor girl. Poor deformed fashion failure.

Most women buy clothes from places other than supermarkets, but I think this is the place for those on a tight budget. I know when my shoes broke, I bought an emergency pair from Carrefor. The pair that broke were ALSO from here. I'm a terrible judge of shoe quality, and I repeat my errors. I must be dense!

And what would women do here without a good scarf or bag?

Abayahs for those not willing to do the whole "boutique" thing.
Abayahs are actually quite expensive in abayah stores. If you are only visiting for a little while, or you do not have much cash, this could possibly be the place you would get one. To be honest, I didn't think they looked bad at all!

Blurred picture of the two best abayahs (in my opinion)

Detail of the abayah on the right
The last picture I took was this one. I am in love with the colours and prints of Arabian kaftans.

Kaftans! The most comfortable item of clothing. Also: Winnie the Pooh?

Whenever I am away from Riyadh, I always think about how much I miss the food. I don't eat as well in the US, with all of its garbage fast food and cheap supermarket garbage. Everything here is seeped in as much, or even more, sugar and fat, but the difference here is that Saudi's imported and local food just tastes better. I avoid American food like the plague and go for European or Arab stuff.

Carrefour makes a lot of foreign food available for shoppers, making it a "posh" supermarket, I guess. Whenever I want things that aren't so snazzy, I just go to the aforementioned compound supermarket. I would show you pictures of it, but that would give too much away about my living situation here. I have a home to protect!

I'm going to miss Carrefour a lot, maybe even the most. I loved going for a coffee right afterwards at the adjacent Cafe La Wien, and then following it with an hour or so of shopping. I can't even do it one last time because it is Ramadan and the mall itself is closed.

My days at Granada Mall are just about over. I will have one more grocery trip before I go. I have to admit, it's gonna be quite a shame to leave it behind.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Mother Nature is a Warrior

Let me tell you a little about how much Mother Nature hates my guts.

One day, I decided that I wanted to make chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. I found a recipe online that was satisfactory, then began the hot trudge through the burning sun to the compound's supermarket. Once there, I found that they did not have the chocolate chips that I needed, but had a very sturdy-looking bar of cooking chocolate that I thought I could cut into pieces. It was hard as a rock, and I thought, "This is going to be insanely hard to cut, isn't it?" I decided to give it a go anyway. I knocked on the bar on chocolate as if it were a small door. It was solid.

I forced myself back into the heat. I walked my strange, roundabout route past the piles and piles of sand and accompanying trenches to get to my villa. Remember how I complained about those? They have gotten even deeper now, and the piles of rocks and dry, brown dirt are even bigger.

Imagine this everywhere you try to walk.  EVERYWHERE.

It is dry, it is hot, it is insane. It is insane because I am insane to walk in that horrible sun when I could have decided not to use the damn chocolate chips and instead make plain oatmeal cookies. However, I did what I did, and turning my key two times around in my lock (for extra security, I guess) I push the burning metal door and practically leap inside to airconditioned bliss.

I walk to the kitchen, opening my abayah and shedding it at the nearest chair. I bring my bag to the kitchen counter, take it out, Remember how I knocked on the chocolate bar earlier? Well, now it was basically to mushy to rap my knuckles on. It has already started to melt in the intense heat. In order to have it fit for baking, I threw it into the fridge and hoped for the best.

There are two things that I learned that day:

1. Never try to cut baking chocolate into little pieces to make your own chocolate chips. It is DAMN NEAR IMPOSSIBLE.

2. Riyadh is really, really, really, really, really, really hot. Do not let anyone underestimate the heat. It is REALLY hot and even more dry.

Yesterday, something else happened that is very similar to the baking chocolate story - it even involves chocolate! My parents asked me if I wanted anything from the store last night. They were going to take the walk themselves. I did not go with them, but asked them to buy me my favourite Guylian shell chocolates because I have been seriously craving them.

When they got back from the store, the chocolates (which used to melt in your hand when you barely touched them) became...this:

Is that a seahorse? Or...a shell? I cannot tell anymore! Poor, poor chocolatey creatures.
Again, a trip to the freezer was all that could be done. Soon, my misshapen creatures were thrown into my mouth for my oral enjoyment. They still tasted wonderful, but isn't it a shame? And this happened at night, guys.

The weather in Riyadh is not fun to deal with at all. I like the sun when I go to the pool, but that trip to and from the pool is horrible. In the end, it might not even be the sun and the heat that gets to you. It is a combination of those two things plus the dry air that sucks moisture out of every part of you, maybe even your soul. I surely feel like my soul has been sucked out of me when I go out for a short walk.

No amount of vaseline can soften your lips. No cream can stop your arms, legs, or back from itching. Your eyes are dry, your mouth is dry, everything is DRY. And HOT. When I baked those cookies, it felt like the whole house was an oven and no air conditioner could blast enough cold to make it cool. And dont' forget: no skin softener can stop your fingers, toes and heels from becoming peeled. There's not a single way out of it.

You have to be on constant skin patrol here. You have to take precautions every time you go outside, sometimes wearing more clothes than you would like just to ensure you do not dry up like a prune. When I get back inside, and I feel like a shower, I have to scrub my skin with soft body scrubs and foot scrubs in order to get rid of that dry skin. If the scrubs are too harsh, they dry up my skin, too. The battle against the dryness and heat is a tough one!

Every day, the weather chips away at you, little by little. But just when you think that it is getting bearable, and you are actually enjoying yourself despite that weather, Mother Nature's Saudi Arabian division sends out her army in full force.

Yes: I am talking about the sandstorm.

Image by Raya Wolfsun
Damn these things! Once, when I was just about ready to leave the gym after a 2 hour workout, I came face to face with a sandstorm. The people at the sign-in desk told me not to go out. I went out anyway, and I am not even sure I can describe that feeling of hot wind that pounded at my body.

All I could see was a yellow-brown hue. I covered my mouth and wore my sunglasses, but breathing was still difficult. The sand entered my eyes and caused them to itch. My gritted teeth felt small particles between them, like I was crushing tiny bits of glass. My lips, which were already dry, were numb and painful at the same time. I rushed as quickly as I could over sand and rock to get to my villa. No one was outside except me.

When I got inside, I was dizzy and my eyes burned. I drank a lot of water, and took my allergy medication because of the itch. The electricity went off inside the house. I was all alone - no internet, no TV, no air conditioning. I took a shower in the dark and sat reading a book until everything came back to normal.

What a miserable day. I hated it.

Oh, who am I kidding? I loved it. 

It was scary, but exhilarating! The sandstorm brought into light my survival skills and desire for adventure. It has been such a long time since I'd felt like something had actually happened to me in Riyadh. The sandstorm took me out of the monotony of my life and made it exciting again.

How can I really say that it was a miserable day when the sandstorm actually gave me a problem to solve? I had to make the house safe in case of electrical surges, had to shower in complete darkness, had to call my parents with my cell phone, which was dying (I stink at remembering to charge my phone!)...I was woken up; forced awake by the attack Mother Nature had planned in her vendetta against me.

In your FACE, hateful Mother Nature! Your plan totally backfired. Instead, you gave me another experience in my little book of life. Nice try.