The last week was long and tiring. I was travelling last week and happened to be in KSA. For most part, travelling in and around the ME is relatively easy. Many people ask me if there are issues with working as a female in the ME, and the answer is no it is fairly easy. However, KSA is a very different cattle of fish.
As a female you are required to wear an abaya and cover your head. As an expat, one can get away with not covering the head. There is a risk that you may get stopped by the religious police but it is a risk a lot of women are willing to take.
The movement is restrictive as one cannot drive (or for that matter hail a cab). There are enough “limousine” services, which are essentially private chauffer car services to get through most of the day. However, as a women you have to plan everything ahead as the chauffer cars are not always available and they need to be ordered well in advance. Therefore, there can be no unplanned trips.
The offices are segregated between men and women, and working with male colleagues is very difficult. Inevitably, people mix but there is a risk that the religious police may descend unannounced (and they frequently do) to do a spot check to ensure segregation of sexes, which can result in fines and other penalties
More awkward are client meetings or lunches/coffees. It is almost impossible to freely have such meetings. Most meetings are held at offices and as such don’t present any issues. However, if the meetings are not in the office then things get awkward. I turned up for a meeting arranged in a hotel and there was a moment of panic. In order to hold meetings where both sexes are present a prior special permission is required. The client had not obtained the relevant permission. Everyone ran around trying to sort it out and continued to apologise to me. After, many phone calls and serious negotiations, it was decided that I could attend the meeting. I am not sure if the relevant permission was obtained or it was decided that we will live on the wild side. I almost don’t want to know.
The other strange experience is staying in a hotel. The hotel amenities “gym, pool, spa, etc” are not available to the female clientele The usage of hotel facilities for females is limited to the hotel room or the breakfast in the restaurant. All the other times it is room services and watching “approved” list of TV channels.
So as a working woman in the KSA, one has to adapt and accept that their norms are different from other counties. I know a lot of people get frustrated by this. However, I look at it as an uncomfortable price of doing business. I have chosen to do business in that country, and therefore, it is for me to adapt to their norms. I do not have to agree with them or find them easy. However, I have to respect and follow them. Trips to KSA always make for a very tiring work week.
So, my week in KSA was difficult in terms of food. I had packed snacks with me (dried cranberries, seeds, protein bars, etc.) so snacks were easy. Breakfast was relatively easy as well as I stuck to fruits mainly. However, meals were difficult. There are very few healthy options on the room service menu. I found myself eating a lot of stir-fries and sushi. I think the stir fries were very high in sodium content but I did not have much choice. I tried to stay within my calorie target for the day but it required lots of difficult choices.
Exercise. Ah Exercise. I discovered hotel room exercise 101. jumping jacks, push-up, sit-ups, etc. It was not the most effective exercise week but I decided something was better then doing nothing.
So the funk: I came back from the trip and next day in the morning I went and stood on the scales. I had gained 23lbs! Yup! This is the most I have weighed in my entire life. I almost went crazy and decided to quit. It was very difficult to stay sane after reading weight gain especially because I made a real effort to stay healthy. I have decided not to look at the scale for the whole next week and keep doing everything right. Hopefully this is just water retention and it will figure itself out in a week.