...and his girl left behind. Justin Chambers is going to Antarctica as a chef, and leaving behind all that is normal, for a whole year. Together, but apart, we will document our experiences (well, he'll give me the info verbally and I will turn that in to a blog post!!) as we live in two quite different worlds for those 12 months.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Saudi Christmas

Being a Christian ritual, the celebration of Christmas is absolutely forbidden in Saudi which means it is difficult to get anything like Christmas decorations and because they don't eat or sell pork you have to shop elsewhere.  That means Christmas decoration and gift shopping in Dubai and crossing a border to purchase any 'unavailable' consumable goods required for the Christmas table.  That was all done before I got there so when I arrived, the place already looked lovely and welcoming and the menu was planned.  It should be noted that although celebrations are not allowed in Saudi, what happens on the compound is the business of noone outside the compound.

We had done some of the prep the day before and I am happy to report that the cranberry stuffing that I made turned out beautifully although I was having my doubts at the sugar turning to toffee through the cooking process.  As it happens, the juices from the cranberries break this down and you are left with a tart, full flavoured stuffing.  YUM.  Apart from dressing the table and helping Brian to move furniture around that was my only true contribution to the day.  Bronwyn had everything in control in the kitchen and with the help of Josie, her house girl, things went to clock work and we were to enjoy a feast comprising 3 meats (including a handsome turkey), loads of vegetables, the afore mentioned stuffing and sauces.  Bronwyn's Christmas pudding was to die for and after a sliver each of that and pavlova, had had more than my belly really wanted to handle.  Curses for not stopping after the vegetables!  
From the festive table we adjourned outside to the courtyard area, under the warmth of outdoor heaters.  People slowly started to leave until there were just four of us left, making cold turkey sandwiches as we got peckish again later in the evening.
Not being able to get used to how dry it was and constantly being in air conditioning, I was tired so used the opportunity to sneak upstairs for an early-ish night.  And Josie had left almost almost no cleaning up to be done which was amazing... what a gem!

Boxing day started with breakfast and a not-so-early excursion to the Deira Souk where after walking up and down some laneways, looking at textiles, we actually found some Christmas decorations on a stand on the street - but they are not Christmas Decorations until a visitor calls them that.  We were lured in to the store by the vendor where there was soooo much more on display.  I could have looked for hours.  It was a bit like a smaller version of the haberdashery shop at Kuwaiti Souk.  Bronwyn bought some pashminas and I got two Christmas decorations to add to my international collection, and two bedouin masks (burka) heavily adorned with silver, chains and coins - which I just love.  I plan to get them framed and hung as a pair.

'Our' carpet vendor's store
Now, with 5 million people living in Riyadh, it is rare to just bang in to someone you know but it happened to me twice while I was there - well, not someone I knew specifically, but a friend of whoever I was with.  In to this small store we were in, walked the Harris's - the New Zealand Ambassador, his wife and children.  Of all the people, in all the tiny shops, it was a family that we had celebrated Christmas with the day before!  From there we all went to the very popular carpet shop of Mirzah Mohammed, with the finest selection of the most beautiful rugs I have ever seen.  Handpicked by the owners, and only the best brought back to Saudi, you are truly spoilt for choice.  I determined my selection by price.  Once we were looking in about the area of 'affordability' I looked until I found one I really loved. But as it approached prayer time, we left so that they could close up shop with a promise to return.  

The Globe
Leaving the souk, Bronwyn and I were 'Mutawa'ed' - my only time whilst in Riyadh and to be honest, I didn't even know it was happening!  I missed the moment completely.  Oh, I heard the "cover, cover, cover, cover, cover, cover" but didn't register that it was the Mutawa until too late and he had already swept past us.

To end a lovely couple of days, we were invited to have afternoon tea at the Globe, by Eric, friend of Brian and Bronwyn, and also a Christmas day guest.  Eric is GM of a hotel in Riyahd and fairly well connected it would seem.  We were given the royal treatment and had a magnificent afternoon tea, high up overlooking the Riyadh cityscape where I got some great photos.

Riyadh from The Globe

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