First signs of winter.

Living in the north of Saudi and 2000 feet above sea level we experience a few cold months usually from November through til March. This year, the temperature has stayed unseasonably high but now there is a definite chill in the air and signs of the approaching winter months are all around.

The leaves on the pomegranate tree have changed colour.

The leaves on the pomegranate tree have changed colour.


The mandarine oranges are ripening.

The mandarine oranges are ripening.


And in the downtown shops the traditional Arab coats, called Farwa, are on sale.
This year's range include some bright colours.

This year’s range include some bright colours.


I went with the intention of buying 1 to take home and ended up buying 2!
My bright Syrian farwa.

My bright Syrian farwa.


And the back view.image
And also from Syria a more conservative farwa.image
I doubt that I will ever wear them out and about in UK unless it’s to a fancy dress party but for summer evenings in the garden they will be great to keep any slight chills at bay:)
So how cold does it get in Tabuk? Today it was a minimum of 6 and a maximum of 19, but later in the week they’re forecasting 0 degrees! Time to put the sandals away for a few months I think!

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What will I do today?

As a teacher I am blessed with a lovely long 8 week holiday in the summer. Interestingly, that’s usually when others envy my job- at other times of the year they don’t want to know! My husband isn’t a teacher so he gets a lot less holidays which means that very often in the summer we will spend a month in UK and I will spend the other month chilling in the villa. I love the freedom this allows me to begin most days with the luxury of ‘what will I do today?’. One thing that I never get is bored, but I suppose I know that my time is limited and the school year will begin again and I will be once more back to fulfilling the National Curriculum and all the ‘paperwork’ that goes with the job.
So how have I filled my days so far?
I’m still hooked on knitting socks. My latest ‘victim’ is my brother, Billy. So far, all my sock knitting has been using Regia 4 ply and following the free pattern I received when I mass ordered a selection of wool awhile ago. I love looking at the wool I have and thinking about the person I am going to knit for. This is my choice for Billy:-

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I usually knit while I’m watching T.V. which tends to be for about an hour in the evening, but as I’m on holiday I’ve been able to go to the Ladies’ craft morning on Mondays and this has given a boost to the speed in which the socks have grown:) it’s also to great to catch up with some of the other women in the community and meet some ladies who are relatively new and I would probably not have the same opportunity to meet when I’m working.
Normally, I wouldn’t regard myself as much of a baker but today I excelled myself by baking a banana and walnut cake and some Stilton and walnut scones.
The banana cake recipe was in the ‘Landlove’ magazine that I brought back with me from UK. It required 700g bananas and as I was weighing them out I began to think there had been a misprint as this seemed a LOT of banana to me! However, it seemed to turn out fine and tasted good.

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After the sampling it got sliced up and put in the freezer- probably to be used on a couple of desert trips once the weather cools down next month.
I made the scones to use up some Laban (sour milk) that I had bought to make cheese scones at the weekend. I love cheese scones and usually buy some from a friend who makes them to sell in the compound community shop on Thursdays. However, she has gone on holiday so I thought I should give them a go. They turned out a bit thin but tasty and didn’t last long.

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I also had some Stilton in the fridge so googled Stilton scones and found a few recipes. I used one from the UK magazine ‘Delicious’ which also added walnuts. It was interesting as instead of rolling and cutting out circles it said to roll the dough into a fat sausage shape and then slice it to make the individual scones. Again, mine didn’t rise much but as they’re just for my husband and me and they taste good I won’t worry too much about that. Perhaps I should ask my friend for some advice when she gets back, but then again it’s just so much easier to get her to make them!

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So that was today- what will tomorrow bring? I have few ideas but when I wake up in the morning I know it’ll be my choice whatever I end up doing- how wonderful:)

Harris Artisans

Many years ago, when I first visited the Outer Hebrides there was very little in the way of art and craft items for sale. Possibly, there just wasn’t the tourist trade and anything made was very much for personal use and most people made their own knitwear and tweed items. Since then there has been a growing community of art and crafts in the islands and especially on Harris. Many of these talented people have settled there from mainland UK and have very much embraced the local way of life. Visiting in the summer when the days are long and the sun is shining it seems a very desirable option, but knowing how long and dark the winter months can be when the Atlantic gales are battering all in its way I’m not so sure I would last very long.
This summer, I visited a few new (to me) artisans and enjoyed some lovely chats about their work and general life in a remote area of UK. A shed definitely seems to be an essential addition and a great asset for a personal place to work. 3 sheds I fell in love with were-
The Scalpay Linen shed which smelt so good with all the wool that was being worked as well as the linen.

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The weaving loom.

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Hand spun art wool.
The food shed at Northton where you can be tempted by home baked bread, scones, cakes as well as fresh caught shellfish.

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All the purchases here are made on trust- loved the box which asks you to roll pound notes up tight to feed into the hole on the top!

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And thirdly this cheekily called ‘Northton Trading Co’ shed with an eclectic mix of items. Again, trust is an essential part of its success as you are asked to ring the bell if you want to buy anything!

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Handbags for sale.

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An inside view.
How heartening it was to think that there are still areas where people can live in harmony without taking advantage of each other so readily and that they extend this trust to us,the visitors, who come from very different backgrounds.
And how do they survive? I’m not too sure. I know that for some the Internet is a vital link for selling their goods, and perhaps for others, who have partners with regular paid jobs, the financial reward isn’t the ultimate goal. Whatever, I know I met some very happy, contented people living on the Island of Harris this summer and hope when I return next time they will still be there …and their sheds of course!

Abayas, Gahwa and dates.

This morning was craft morning. So I got myself organised quickly, grabbed the new sock on my knitting needles and wandered across to ‘Bunnies’ to see who was there. It was busy!
One of the ladies had completed a beautiful handmade quilt and had brought it to show. It was her first ever quilt and it was certainly a quilt to be proud of. It made me determined to get one of my long term quilt projects out of the cupboard soon and restart the process as I really love this craft.

20130408-231500.jpgGahwa pots and old Gahwa cup.

We were all having a chat and catching up with people who had just come back off holiday when Kate mentioned that an American woman who is married to a local Saudi was coming to join us. She did not come alone but brought some Gahwa (Arabic coffee) and dates to share:) so lovely. I think she finds it a bit lonely at times and although she loves her husband dearly, craves some ordinary chat with other English speaking women. She is pregnant with their first child so will be travelling back to U.S for the birth next month. I certainly didn’t expect that as I would have thought that she would have been obliged to have the baby here.
She also brought 4 abayas with decoration to sell. I got the idea that some of the others had been expressing difficulty in getting ‘nice’ abayas. She certainly came through for 2 of the women as they quickly ‘snapped up’ a couple of the abayas for 300 SR each. I heard a while back that many Saudi women were getting hassle for wearing abayas with adornment on them by the matouaya (religious police) down in Riyadh, so it will be interesting if any of the ladies have any problems here.
All in all, although I came home again without knitting a stitch, I had a very enjoyable couple of hours and a very interesting time meeting another ‘western’ woman who lives in Tabuk under very different circumstances to us other ex-pats.

Enterprising community!

Living on a compound in the north of Saudi Arabia means that I don’t have access to any of the facilities that might be available in bigger cities like Jeddah or Riyadh. Only a few wives have work visas as nursing and teaching tend to be the occupations that women can be employed to do. Other women who have talents that can be utilised by the community set up small private businesses and thank goodness as without them the community would be a poorer place to live.
Yesterday I enjoyed a very relaxing facial from one of the Thai wives, the day before a British woman pampered my feet with a pedicure and next week I will have a neck and back massage from a Philippina woman and my hair cut by a British woman. And then there is the food providers- 2 Thai ladies cook Thai and Chinese type meals, a Lebanese woman offers Arabic food, a Brit cooks chips and burgers at the weekend and many women bake cakes and savouries or make jams and pickles for sale in the compound shop.
Various talented arty women make handmade cards, take commissions for paintings and stained-glass and create stitched and knitted items for sale.
So, yes our community has much to be grateful to these women who make our lives a bit more like living in a small village than a soulless compound with few facilities:)

20130402-235113.jpgyummy spring rolls and delicious Thai curry for sale.

20130402-235400.jpggarden grown oranges that get turned into marmalade!

20130402-235501.jpggreen tomato chutney coming soon in the shop using home grown tomatoes.

Ladies’ Bank

Frustration, inconvenience, panic, bummer! Just a few of my thoughts and feelings when my bank card was rejected at the ATM machine and I couldn’t get any cash. Perhaps it was a fault with the machine? – but no, another machine spat out my card with the helpful suggestion to go to my bank.
Luckily, as I have a husband I was not completely destitute as his card was functioning ok, so we had access to money to go food shopping etc.
However, a trip to the bank was necessary to try to sort the problem of my card. As a woman with a bank account I have the pleasure of using the Ladies’ Branch of the bank- and a pleasure it certainly is. Every time I have had to go to the bank it has been a very civilised experience. Perhaps I have been lucky but unlike the men’s branch, which is always jostling with men, the ladies side has been very quiet and I am asked straight away ‘what do you want?’ (Perhaps it sounds a bit abrupt but I’m sure it is just using an unfamiliar language and no offence is intended). The women working in the bank are usually young, well dressed and made up- I know this because being in a totally female situation there are no abayas, head scarves or face coverings. To ensure no men wander in, there is a guard outside the door to the ladies’ branch.
Within 10 minutes I was on my way back home after the helpful, English speaking, Saudi female bank manager had sorted out the glitch that my new iqama (work visa) details hadn’t been entered back in January as I thought. So far, I haven’t been able to check it is now working as ……it takes 4 days to be activated! Now that’s sexual discrimination as my husband informs me his card works after just 1 day! ……So he will still be paying for the big supermarket shop next time too:)