Winter has come to Riyadh.
Whenever I think of Saudi Arabia -- both before I moved here and since -- I think of desert, and sun, and heat. The summer was hard to bear, with temperatures regularly above 50 degrees centigrade, and not falling below 30 degrees at night. The guards at the entrance of the Diplomatic Quarter (DQ) had to have water mist sprayers installed at the checkpoint to keep them cool, but they left it a bit late; the sprinkler poles didn't get turned on until early September, and now, just a few short weeks later, winter has set in and they've been switched off until things start to heat up again.
We're never likely to get snow here, but we do get rain. Boy, do we get rain. It has rained almost daily for the last three weeks now, and the temperature has dropped to around 12 -15 degress during the day -- a little cooler at night. We have turned off the air-conditioning in the house for the first time in months.
Although rain is a fairly regular occurrence here every Winter, it is short-lived and the Saudis are not geared up for it at all. You know what it's like in the UK when there's a decent snowfall? All transport grinds to a halt due to "the wrong kind of snow", etc.? Well it's the same in Riyadh when it rains. Rain causes lots of new things to happen...
The roads have very bad drainage (because it is so seldom needed), so when we get heavy rain the roads tend to flood. You've heard me talk before about how bad Saudi drivers are; well, they don't get any better on wet roads, they just find it harder to steer and stop, so the traffic accident rate spikes when it's wet too. There is even a story going around which I find hard to believe but which locals who have been here a while SWEAR is true, and that is that motorists drown in underpasses during heavy rain, because the underpasses fill with water, and unwitting motorists speed on down them only to submerse their vehicle in several feet of water. I'm still not sure I believe this has happened, but I can testify that you can plainly spot escape ladders leading up from underpasses to the bridge overhead, so maybe there's something in it after all.
We arrived home to the dreaded King Khalid International Airport last week to be picked up by our driver, who had to navigate out of the airport in the dark because the rain had taken out all the streetlights.
Closer to home, our up 'n' over garage door stops working when it rains, because water gets into the control unit. I say it stops working... what I actually mean is that it works even when you don't want it to, because the water triggers the door to open all by itself.
Then there's Dougie the rabbit. If you recall, Dougie lives in one of our two atria; his atrium being about six foot square and open to the sky. It's great when it's dry, because he has an area he can run around safely and we can watch him playing through the patio doors. But because of the heat here we haven't bought him a hutch -- he usually sleeps under a large rubber plant -- so when it rains, Dougie gets wet. The other day I went to the local pet shop, Life and Nature (worthy of a blog posting all of its own!) to buy him an inexpensive hutch, but they didn't have any. All they could offer me were either a plastic dog kennel (too large and expensive), or a pet transporter -- the plastic cage-type thing you'd take your cat to the vets in. Since this was all they had I bought one of the transporters and some wood shavings to line the bottom with.
I thought this would make a nice cosy refuge from the rain for poor little Dougie, but I was sorely mistaken. He took one look at it, sniffed around a bit, hopped in for about ten seconds, and hasn't set foot inside since. I don't know what it is about it he doesn't like, but there's clearly something.
Oh well, I've done my bit. I've bought him a dry place to sleep; if he choosed not to use it, that's his problem.