Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Dreaded Saudi Spread

They say it happens to everyone – well – every woman, that is. You come to this part of the world, you have a whole new lifestyle, and you are going to gain weight. They tell you twenty pounds. I thought I was immune. It didn’t happen the first year, and it didn’t happen the second year. But this past year…

I know how it happens. Wearing an abeyah is not conducive to keeping a “trim” figure. You’ve got a damn tent on – it is free flowing and loose – underneath you can wear whatever you want – bike shorts, sweat pants – comfortable clothes. You never even realize that you’re adding additional pounds and inches to your frame until it is too late and they are both firmly – or not so firmly – as the case may be, affixed to your tummy, butt and thighs…

The lifestyle differences between here and “there” do not work in your favor. If you worked before – and thus expended hundreds of calories running around like a maniac doing the nine to five thing, along with taking care of your house, doing your own errands, cooking, laundry, etc., you probably aren’t doing that any longer. Oh, sure a few of the “wives” work, mostly part-time, what they call “casual” employment. Very, very few married women – who are not local – have a full-time job where I am.

It is more likely than not, that not only are you not working, but you are not cleaning your own house. I do not know anyone that doesn’t have household help – no one! I know I’ve not plugged our vacuum in since August of 2003. I’m not quite sure where our vacuum is kept at this point. I know we have one, we brought it with us, and I hear it every day, I just don’t know where it is. I’ve not even considered cleaning a bathroom, and we have three. This is another one of those “things” I’ll never quite understand here – we’ve got a small townhouse – it is just my husband and me, and of course, the two four legged “kids,” but we have three full bathrooms. Why? [For when you are entertaining twenty people – this way, there’s never a line? I don’t know. Just a guess.] I didn’t have that many full bathrooms in our house in the States and that had four bedrooms! Thank goodness. I mean, really, who wants to be cleaning all those bathrooms. Not me.

Here, you spend a great deal of time entertaining – or if you aren’t entertaining – you are being entertained. And in this regard, everyone tries to “one up” the other by going all out. It’s not like we didn’t entertain in the States, we did, but not nearly to the extent that we do here. I mean, really, what else are you going to do with all your free time? It’s not as if you can go to the movies – there are no movie theaters in The Kingdom. You certainly can’t go out to a nightclub dancing and drinking. There are none of those, here, either. [Any dancing lessons offered, privately, are called “Rhythmic Motion” or “Team Exercise” classes.] And, I mean entertaining to the extent that women get together in large groups for sit-down breakfasts! I haven’t actually hosted one of these, but I know my time is coming. I’ve been invited to far too many to not have one, so I guess, one of these days, soon… I’ve done brunch – doesn’t that count?

The “good dishes” that I used to use, which were perfect in the States for crowds of twelve or less, are now our everyday dishes, because here, I needed service for twenty. Yes, you entertain, and if you’re going to do it, you may as well do a crowd. And, besides, you have your household help to help you prepare, help you serve, and then clean up. Entertaining here in The Kingdom is a breeze! It is never just a “come for burgers on the grill,” type of situation. Oh, sure, you can do the “burgers on the grill,” but along with that you need barbequed chicken, a tray of some pasta – may as well make it stuffed shells or something equally yummy and caloric – salad, yes, and always more than one – an assortment of different vegetables – and desert. What meal is complete without desert? [I only just got off the phone, minutes ago, after deciding that the “entertainment” this coming Thursday evening will take place at our house. I’ll let you know what the menu is as soon as I’ve decided…]

It is truly serious entertaining on a very, very regular basis. Count on being invited somewhere at least once, and usually twice, a week – which means that you must then reciprocate [and I am, on Thursday]. I don’t have a problem with this, really, in that it is social, and it is fun, but geez… It becomes a never-ending cycle, and it really is just another full, sit-down meal of roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, sunshine carrots [umm, really, really good!], and chocolate cake. I may as well just cut slits in my hips and put a slice of lemon pound cake in each!

It’s easier to keep the additional inches from accumulating in the winter. You can be outside. It is most pleasant then, weather-wise. It is over a hundred degrees every day now, and up until this past week, the humidity made it almost unbearable to be outside. Thankfully the humidity has subsided and it is much, much nicer out, but still, it is pushing a hundred degrees by nine o’clock every morning. It will get much warmer, much, much warmer… Hardly weather that makes you want to grab your tennis racquet and head for the courts, or lace up those running shoes. I have a hard enough time dragging myself outside at 5:30 in the morning to walk the “kids” for an hour. And it has to be done then – or it’s just too damn hot for all of us! Today we actually left earlier than that. It is starting to get light outside much earlier, and in the next couple of weeks, the sun will rise around 4:30AM. You may as well get up and take advantage of that short opportunity when you can be outside or it will pass by you and you will be inside, in the air-conditioning either entertaining, or preparing to entertain.

So, now, I’m faced with either losing twenty pounds in three and a half weeks, before we go on vacation, again, or wearing my abeyah as I traipse through Savannah, Buffalo, Washington and Raleigh... Choices. Life is all about choices. There’s “Atkins,” and there’s liposuction. Hmmm…


  1. Dear Sabra,
    My hubby and I have been forced to adopted an almost totally veggy diet after he had a triple bypass in March 2005. I am French and rich foods are par for the course in my cultural background. My home town is well known for the extravagant number of restaurents and eateries where delicious, mouth-watering foods are daily on offer. I admit it was a huge challenge, but to my surprise quite easily and feasibly met with little efforts!

    Firstly portion-size is crucial!!!

    Secondly avoidance of saturated and trans-fats is essential. To give you an idea, here is a typical menu as I would perpare for guests:

    -Grilled lemongrass/garlic/ginger flavored shrimps. (marinated in virgin olive oil with the herbs 1/2 hr to 1 hr before grilling)Can be served at room temperature once cooked, delish!!
    -Orange & grapefruit slivers (deseeded & connective alveoles removed) with unrippened goat cheese crumbled on a bed of baby spinach (any other slightly bitter green will do!) flavored with a balsamic vinegar/virgin olive oil vinaigrette.
    -Tiny thin toasted black bread pieces with hummus spread and chopped kalamata olives and crushed pine nuts decorated with parsley or any other available fresh herb. (Also caviar on ice with the toasts on a large plate, come and get it!!)

    -Cold Vichisoise (should be a hit in your neck of the woods) instead of using whole milk or cream to thicken use potatoes cooked in the defatted chicken broth base (1 cup of cubed potatoes to 1 litre of broth), and of course liquefied along with sauted leeks(1 chopped leek, green part included per litre) in canola or virgin olive oil - flavor with fresh thymn and fresh parsley; liquefy in a blender and chill.(An ice cube in each bowl will ensure coolness)Granish with tiny toasted bread cubes and parsley.
    -Cold cream of roasted red peppers soup: defatted chicken broth in which you cook chick peas (1/2 cup for each litter of broth with 'bouquet garni') simmering till garbanzos are done. I would suggest you buy Italian roasted red peppers, saving yourself work and time, you will need at the very least 500 mil. jars per liter of broth. Liquefy the whole, season to taste and garnish with fresh parsley and toasted bread cubes.

    Main dish:
    -B.B.Q. is fabulous, everyone enjoys it, so chicken breast deskined & deboned, marinated (2 hrs ahead) in no-fat yogurt with dill, crushed garlic, fresh crushed ginger and seasonings (s & p) to taste.
    -Shark steaks marinated in virgin olive oil flavored with lemon rind and juice, and fresh rosemary (1 hr ahead of cooking) Any firm fleshed ocean fish will do!
    -Large portobello mushrooms rubbed in any vinaigrette you like are meat -like and surprisingly satisfying.
    All this served with steamed rice or pesto/pasta, and stemed veggies.

    -Invest in an ice-cream maker and make varied sorbets: figs, watermelon, apple, strawberry etc...
    to do so: a simple syrup in which you add the fruits chopped-up, then liquefy in blender, cool and voilà!
    This you serve with assorted nuts and fresh fruits, and angel food cake (no fat whatsoever!).
    I have had tremendous success with such menus and my guests never can tell they have been cheated of their fats!!!
    Above all remember PORTION SIZE is key!!!
    Hope this helps you. {;-)

  2. Wow! Excellent ideas, NSW!

    In the meantime Sabra, my advice would be to "pace" yourself.

    AS you have alluded, a big part of socializing in the M.East is EATING.

    If you can socialize and not get into surplus eating, then you are set.

    Of course, easier said than done. But, it works.

  3. I also picked up weight after my time in the Magic Kingdom & I'm battling to keep any additional weight off now that I'm in Abu Dhabi.......I think I've actually resigned my self to the fact that it is my 'middle aged spread' & I can't be arsed any more to get rid of it! I wish you luck!

  4. I have the opposite problem, I gain weight in the U.S. and lose when I am in Saudi. I think it's because I hardly eat any processed foods, and almost everything I eat is fresh and made from scratch. My problem however, is getting enough exercise, as we do not live on a compound. A question, Does Riyadh have a Gap or Old Navy now? Otherwise, I'll have to do all my jeans shopping before I leave.

  5. Kristine - I responded to you on today's comments... Buy your jeans in the States! I cannot speak for Riyahd, but NO Gap or Old Navy in the Eastern Province that I am aware of. If you make it to the Dammam/Dhahran area, do let me know!

  6. i am finally losing the weight that i've gained here. it's easy to do. at first when we moved here, i would sit for hours on end w/ my in-laws. i no longer do this and try to exercise regularly, watch what i eat, etc.

    but.. we do no entertaining. i'm so glad for that. i'm not one for that stuff... i'm too much into my own time, painting and writing. plus, we have a lot more here than saudi. we have theatres, clubs, alcohol, and such. sure makes a difference when you're bored.


Site Meter