Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Departing Riyadh

no, no, its not what you think - not for good. What with all the travelling I've been doing lately, I thought I'd post something I wrote waiting for my plane at Riyadh's airport.

It’s a very special place. It’s almost always clogged with men travelling in packs. Abayas are not required at the airport, but given the amount of men around who do not consider staring rude, I tend to keep mine on until I pass through customs.

Security is always interesting because women go through a private section to be searched. Sometimes this can be nice, because on occasion they'll shuttle the women through ahead of the men. Most recently I was greeted by an arab woman who was on her cell phone during the entire search and communicated using gestures and angry noises. Maybe she wasn’t angry, but her eyebrows were certainly drawn that way. This was the first time my bra went off during a search where security wanted to know what was inside (answer: my metallic boobs). Also of note - the men’s prayer area, denoted by a large section of rugs. It’s quite a sight to see people on it in the open. At any given time, about half of them are engaged in the holy act of napping.

There’s a lounge at the airport that people can pay to get into. It costs 100 riyals and is totally not worth it. Firstly, it’s tiny. Secondly, the food sucks. Thirdly it’s always crowded. Fourthly, the bathrooms are never free. Fifthly, four reasons are enough to steer clear, let’s not be greedy.

I confess I am one of those hoverers during boarding. I always bring a big carry-on with me so I like to be among the first to board the plane to get that coveted storage space. I am seasoned in the art of strategic lineupping. Of course, even if you’re first in line you won’t necessarily be boarded in an order that seems logical and fair. Occasionally, depending on the airline and the types of people with tickets on your aircraft, you can have "the dome" formation of line-up, which is not a lineup, it is a bottleneck rush of madness.

Despite its drawbacks, the big crowning glorious prize is that at the end of it, you get to board a plane and go on a trip to visit friends or family, or be a tourist. For that, many expats would agree, the price they would be willing to pay is limitless. I'm no exception!


Stacy said...

I kept my abaya on until I'd well and truly arrived in the UAE. Maybe I'm a bit more of a prude but I felt a bit weird about de-robing in front of 30 leering Saudis, especially since it was only me and another woman (Saudi) on my flight.

Tho I'm sure I would have acted differently if my flight was longer than an hour.

I'd have to say Riyadh airport has to be one of the most ordinary airports I've been to. Its so drab it just sucks all the excitement out of the air.

Orchidthief said...

ha ha, yeah it's a bit dull. Nothing to buy really, and only two food stands in the international terminal. I wonder what the royal terminal is like - apparently they have their own.

After I take my abaya off at the airport, I usually go sit behind the coffee shop at the end near the lounge and find there's always less people and less staring there.

I know a woman who takes it off as soon as she steps into the airport, and a lot of woman get into cars without putting it on. I guess everyone has different comfort levels

Adnan said...

If you think Riyadh Airport is boring.. you haven't seen Jeddah's :D

Orchidthief said...

You know what? Considering that Riyadh's airport was built in the 80's when population estimates for this city were around 1.5 million, I think it's a pretty dang nice airport. If I had been travelling through it back then I would have been impressed. Now that the population is predicted to be 7 million in 2010, it's kind of crazy that it hasn't been redesigned. Actually, I don't think it could really be redesigned, it would need a completely new terminal to adequately handle the flow of bodies coming through it every day. Real estate projects in Saudi tend to adhere to accelerated timelines in comparison to the West. I'm kind of surprised a new terminal hasn't been built yet.