Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Begging and Shopping

I had to leave the compound yesterday afternoon to go do some shopping. If I’ve not said it before, let me say it now: I hate shopping in this country. Hate. It. Forget purchasing clothing in The Sandbox. There are no dressing rooms so you can’t try anything on and the malls, unless someone will take you to a broom closet, and unless you’re shopping for clothes, there’s really no sense going to the mall because they are filled with mostly clothing stores. But I wasn’t shopping for clothing. I needed a pair of silver shoes to go with this dress which I am wearing to a friend’s wedding on Valentine’s Day. And I was shopping for a wedding gift. I already know what I want and need to get for a gift, and of course, couldn’t find it.

Let’s make things difficult enough that women can’t drive in The Sandbox, so you know you have to have a driver to go anywhere. Occasionally my husband will take me shopping but he would rather crawl across shards of glass on his knees on pavement in 120 degree sun than take me to the mall. So, I had a driver for this particular outing. But to make it more fun, let’s close everything from mid-day prayer, which is at 11:54 in the morning right now, until late afternoon, when everything opens back up around 4 o’clock. So, at 3:45 I got into the car and headed downtown and did find some silver shoes, which I’m not thrilled about, but which will suffice, which I paid too much for, because I doubt I will ever wear them again, unless I wear the dress to some other function, and I guess that is always a possibility.

Not a single “wedding gift” in the entire Dhahran Mall, or that is to say, not what I was looking for. But a gazillion people milling about – hordes of women dressed head-to-toe in black, and throngs of men sitting at the Starbucks and other coffee shops all playing with their mobiles and smoking, and army upon army of little kids – armies of them, I tell ya’. And let me tell you that most of these little armies of kids were all running around, being unruly and unsupervised, and totally oblivious to shoppers trying to walk peacefully and safely through the mall areas. I saw only a few people actually purchase anything, and even then, it was more Westerner’s purchasing than locals. I don’t know how so many malls here are supported, and just like anywhere else, I guess, shops come and go without notice, but going to the malls here are actually a social event for families whereas I go there to shop and socialize elsewhere. It was a royal pain in the ass is what it was and by the time I got in and out it was prayer time again!

So I told my driver to take me to Tamimi and that I would just wait until after prayer so I could go ahead and finish shopping without having to go back out later. I knew it wouldn’t take all that long to do my grocery shopping, and it didn’t. The little guy – an imported worker from another third world country – bagged my groceries and pushed the cart out to my waiting car – I think they look for Westerners – knowing that they are going to get a small tip and I don’t mind giving a little something for this service. These little guys make nothing for monthly wages and we all know that bagging groceries or pushing a cart outside to unload into a waiting car is far beneath the local’s who wouldn’t do it even if they were paid hundreds of Riyals a day.

What really pissed me off though was that we had to wheel around the outside area of the grocery store because there were a half dozen “black figures” and a bunch of little kids all sitting directly in front of the doors as you exit holding out their hands begging. Not a single, “Please Ma’am, I am hungry, could you spare a Riyal or two,” and not any indication that the “black figures” were actually women and not men. Begging is big “business” in The Sandbox and it is common to have little children running to your car at the stoplights holding out their hands –supposedly it’s not allowed and they are “working” to curb the beggars, but whatever officials are supposed to be in charge of stopping this practice don’t seem to take much notice of it and so the begging continues.

So the little guy wheels through the maze of “black figured” obstacles to get to the car, and he’s putting my bags into the trunk and this one “black figure” who looks very, very obviously pregnant keeps thrusting her hand into my face – she won’t get out of the way – my way or the guy who is unloading my groceries – and she’s not saying anything, so for all I know it’s a man with a round beach ball under the black robe. This particular “black figure” has everything covered – the full face covering, and gloves – no skin peeking through anywhere that would maybe give someone a clue as to whether or not it really was a woman or if it was a man. Even as I got into the back seat and shut the door, she’s still right there, and as I lock the door she’s still holding her hand out. And just as the driver gets ready to back out of our parking space the woman lunges toward a toddler – maybe two or three years old – who is just about to run behind the car as we are backing out. The little girl was dressed to the nines – she had a dress on, tights, little buckle shoes, ribbons in her hair and a light pink parka with a hood.

So, wait, here’s what looks like a pregnant woman about to pop hanging out in front of the grocery store and following me to my car and not willing to get out of my face with her two or three-year old in tow begging with her and the little kid is dressed up in an impeccable, adorable, little outfit. What kind of scam is this?!? I’m all for helping those truly in need, but being harassed like this is going one step to far as far as I’m concerned. And if you are truly an unfortunate sole and in need, trust me, your child isn’t dressed up like this little girl is! By the way, where’s your husband, if you really are a pregnant woman about to give birth, that he’s not supporting you?!?

Here’s a tip for you, “black figure” holding your hand in my face! Just because you’re about to hatch another urchin, perhaps you should have married someone other than your lazy first cousin who’s decided that bagging groceries and unloading them into a car is work far below his status [in his own mind, that is] and perhaps if you can’t afford to feed that adorably dressed little toddler with you that you should have taken some sort of precaution to make sure you’re not faced with a second mouth to feed.

I’m going to be sure to complain to management next time I’m at the store about the growing number of beggars that are allowed to hover right at the doors as you are coming out making it about impossible for you and the little guy pushing the cart to get to your car. If these beggars are truly hungry and deserving of some sort of assistance there are places where they can go, but it’s not to my car with me!


  1. Next time hubby complains about having to go to the mall, I'm reading this to him! That dress is precious. Silver shoes would be perfect.

  2. I may be wrong I thought women were not allowed out in public in SA unless accompanied by a man, so how do they manage to be out alone begging? do they just go up to women or to men also?

  3. I love how you write, it brings the reader right there with you. Awesome!
    That dress is fabulous I love it.
    I have been thinking a lot about you and wanted to stop by and say hi and check and see how you are doing. I am so glad you have a blog, I just wish your writing could be in our newspapers here in the USA and let people know the first hand experience of what it is like to live there.
    Thanks for all you do.

  4. Coming from a Blogging Goddess as yourself, Wild Thing, what a compliment! Thank you, thank you, thank you! Someday when my feet are firmly planted on U.S. soil I will write about exactly about how it is. And thanks so much for stopping by!!!

  5. Hi there, i just discovered your blog and i'm throughtly enjoying it,as it brings back memories from the year i spent in the UAE, in a city called AL AIN, between Dubai and Abu Dhabi.Among my first curiosities, really, there are no changing rooms in the malls??

  6. Even going to the grocery store is such a nightmare?? I couldn't imagine what it must be like, but your writing paints a really vivid picture. I can't help but imprint the images of "black figured obstacles" blocking the entrance of my Giant grocery (where the girl scouts usually sell their cookies) and how awkward it must be to push through them.

  7. I have read your blog a few times. Don’t get excited. Trust me, there is nothing entertaining about your blog. I just stumbled on it a few times through other blogs. Anyways, being an ex-employee of the company your husband works for, I can picture exactly the way you are from your writings. There were alot of you in aramco camp. Bitter, arrogant, egotistical, materialistic, superficial, hateful, and grumpy old women (and men) who act like they have all the struggles in the world, when in fact everything in that place is being catered to them. You act like you care about the poor Asian expats on one post (which I agree that they go through much more struggle in a month than you will ever be able to bear in a lifetime), then you come around in another post and use racist terms(e.g. houseboy..third world people) to describe those same people you pretended to sympathize with in another post which just shows that your writings are just venting the hatred you have for everything and everybody but you, including your husband.

    If you hate everything that much in there, then why don’t you just leave? This will solve all of your problems. Or is the mighty dollar more important to you than all of your “ideals” and happiness?

  8. The dress was sexy but where would you where it, just at home?

    Just FYI, I linked to your article from my post Running with Scissors in Islam

  9. Thanks for the link, Bernie! Appreciate it.

    Wore the dress to a wedding in Bahrain. Will wear it again to some other function - there's a "ball" coming up - may wear it then - or may decide to just put it in the closet with the rest of 'em.

  10. you sound a tad bit racist.


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