Vegetable picking in a knee deep red sand?

Elvis Elvis

My farm picnic and vegetable picking in the desert took place when a Filipino friend invited me to join her friends and their families. It would be my chance to meet the Filipinos living in Riyadh. They resided outside the hospital compound. It was an hour drive from the hospital. We were picked up by a couple and driven to the house where everybody would assemble.

When we got there, I was shocked to see their living quarters. The buildings were dilapidated. A husband and wife had one room which served as the living room, bedroom and the kitchen. Those with children lived in buildings with worn out walls and carpet. What a contrast to our housing accommodation at the hospital compound. Some of them worked at the Philippine Consulate. It was 10:00 A.M. when we finally left for the farm. There were seven cars.

On our way to the farm, we watched for Mutaween cars (the Saudi police who enforced the dress code). All of us women, had our hair covered with black bandanas and our clothing covered by the abaya. Oftentimes, the Filipino men and women were harassed by the Saudi police, stopping them for no apparent reasons. They normally singled out Asian women in enforcing the dress code. All of us were afraid of being stopped at the point of panic. We felt safer driving in groups.

Vegetable picking in a knee deep red sand?

The hall reserved for this occasion had long tables and lots of chairs. The food and drinks were carried inside. There was a house closeby where men who took care of the farm resided. One family carried lived crabs. A lady, who was very fluent in Arabic asked the men if we could use their stove to warm up the food and cooked the crab. They told her to go ahead. After cooking and warming the food, we left some for the men and carried the rest to the hall. Laid on top of the table were varieties of Filipino dishes. Everyone took their places and started eating. I concentrated on the food that I had not eaten for a long time.

Meanwhile, everybody started talking. Most of the men worked for a company on a contractual basis, their wives worked at the hospital. They talked about what was happening in the Philippines at that time. I listened. Finally, my friend told everybody that I came from the states. All of a sudden everyone wanted to know more about life in the states, how come I could still speak the language, others wanted me to meet their relatives when I went back, etc.

After lunch, we cleaned up. The farm caretakers invited us to pick some of their vegetables. We drove to the area. I was amazed at what I saw. The vegetables were growing in a red sand that were knee deep. How could they possibly grow something in the sand? The plants were grown under the shade of cloth. Healthy and huge tomatoes laying on the sand. I picked up the ripe ones.

Then we moved to the beans section, followed by cucumber section filling up our plastic bags. Everywhere we went all the plants were very healthy. I had fun picking up the vegetables and my plastic bags got heavier. Getting back to the car would be a problem. I stopped and just looked around me. The farm was huge. Lots of caretakers assisted us and answered our questions. Everybody had enough. We went back to the hall. We shared the left-over food among us, thanked the men at the house, exchanged words with the group and headed back to the hospital.

On our way, we went through the same routine watching out for mutaween cars. Fortunately, we arrived at the hospital without any incidents. My friend and I were dropped off at our building. I called my American friends at the building to come over and picked up some vegetables. It was a tiresome trip but I had a good time.

Going to this trip gave me a chance to see the impoverished sector of Riyadh, saw the reactions of group of expatriates to the restrictions imposed upon them by the authorities. One group afraid and cautious to avoid confrontations with the authority. Another group, so bold to a point of violating some restrictions and consuming prohibited goods.