Monday, February 20, 2012

The Second-hand Souk

Last time I talked about shopping, I confessed my intense dislike for the activity. However, I don't mind shopping as much when there is some cultural merit attached-or I'm shopping for fun things like books, scrapbook stuff or paper. (I'm such a nerd!) I had heard a lot about the Second-hand Souk and thought it had the potential to be an interesting activity. At the very least, I thought I could score some traditional Saudi clothing for my boys--just for fun.
At 9 a.m. Bubba and I got on the shopping bus and introduced ourselves to the other ladies. The group was fun and very chatty--which isn't always the case on the shopping buses. One of the ladies on the bus, a Canadian, had lived in Riyadh twice, and had lived in the country for four years at present. She had some good tips and advice about the souk. She had been to the souk several times and advised that we keep in groups and to cover our hair. Apparently, you are more likely to be bothered by men at this souk if you are alone or have uncovered hair.
I wasn't looking for confrontation and thought it would be in my best interest to keep a low profile. So, for the first time since entering Riyadh, I wrapped my scarf around my head, covering most of my hair in the process. I quickly discovered that you need more than just a good wrapping method. The material kept slipping. I plan on buying a hood the next time I am in a mall--they are just more convenient.
One of the women I met at the Valentine's Dance went with me in the souk. I carried Bubba J in a backpack. I know I looked unusual as I have never seen anyone else in the Kindgom carting their children around in a backpack carrier. I just wanted to keep him close to me while keeping my hands free. Bubba J, with his blonde hair, blue eyes, and incredibly charming smile garnered a lot of attention. Everyone wanted to talk to him. He took this in, as if it were his due, and waved to his loyal subjects, like he was a little king.
I had heard the souk contained a variety of things, but we were dropped off at the clothing section. As I looked around at the other groupings of household items, I realized it probably wouldn't be safe for me to venture on my own to those areas. I'll have to go when my husband can come along. My friend was more interested in the clothes anyway.
Picture, if you will, an open building, with canopies made of sheets covering the stall. The stalls are all carpeted with rugs. Sunlight peeks through the canopies, but the canopies still manage to keep the area relatively cool. At times, the building can get quite dusty.
The stalls are filled with clothing hung on racks. Proprieters sit in the aisle ways, watching customers shop, calling out to shoppers, and keeping an eye on everything. If you approach a stall, you are immediately presented with a multitude of the most hideous dresses that make some of the gaudier Las Vegas style gown seem positively conservative. Sequins aren't just appreciated, they are worshipped on gowns. And the color combinations are a visual assault on the senses. The shopkeepers shove these atrocities in my face as I swipe away the offensive things and firmly say "NO"!
My friend and I wonder around until we find a stall with large racks full of thobes, the traditional dress for men. The stall-keeper helps me find robes, pants, and head-dresses. I pay about $8.00 for each ensemble. Then I find a couple of small abayas for my daughter. I hadn't planned to buy one for her, but she asked for one to wear when I wear mine.
My friend, a woman from Singapore, is skilled at haggling, and talks down prices wherever she goes. Women, heavily veiled, walk around the stalls, perusing the merchandise. Stall-keepers lounge on chairs in the aisles, staring and shouting. There are a relatively few people there, on a weekday. I've heard that it gets very busy and hectic on the weekends.
It was a fascinating experience. I am definitely going to head there if I need to buy clothing for the children--or to find an outrageous costume.


  1. Sounds way too chaotic for me. You need to be bold to shop in places like that, I think. And sorry I haven't been commenting. I've been reading, but just not commenting.

  2. It wasn't really all that chaotic because there weren't so many shoppers. I hear it is CRAZY on the weekends. I don't think it you to be bold so much as you need to be firm. You don't have to buy anything you don't want. It's normal for the stall-keepers to act offended-it is all part of the game.
    Later that day, we went to a culture festival which was incredibly chaotic. I definitely needed a day of downtime the next day.

  3. Next time, take photos of the tacky gowns, if possible! I'm dying to see them.