The cold hard truth…compound life, weight gain and other “fun” things!

Unfortunately, life in Saudi Arabia is not conducive to a physically fit lifestyle! Especially if you are a woman! It’s next to impossible to get decent exercise on a daily basis, let alone lead an active lifestyle. This has to do with several factors. One, most places are not laid out for people to walk as it’s assumed you will either drive or ride in a car everywhere and two there are cultural and societal factors which weight heavily against women being physically active!

Few women walk more than a few feet outside their homes, they go from house to car to mall/shopping area/corniche and thats about it! It’s pretty much the same scenario for expat women residing on a compound!

Since coming here Ive learned that it’s really just not safe for a woman to walk anywhere other than certain areas designated as areas in which women tend to congregate, such as the malls, corniches and outdoor shopping areas/suqs! A woman walking anywhere else, even walking 1/2mile to the HUGE playground down the block is seriously putting herself at risk of being harassed and bothered and maybe even kidnapped! I am totally not making this up!

As Ive mentioned before, I’ve always lived in urban areas and consider myself rather street smart and used to a pedestrian lifestyle. Frankly, I can’ t even drive (I never needed to learn) because Ive always used public transportation and lived in areas in which it was easy to walk everywhere  for everything and I’d like to add that it was really nothing walking 2-5 miles a day!  I’d walk from our apartment to campus, around campus, back home (several times a day), walk to the grocery store, shops, etc etc. To top it off I regularly  visited the campus gym several early mornings each week!

I was in really good shape, okay maybe not uber skinny but I was quite content with myself and I figured being physically strong and fit was more important than how one looked anyway, right? I could eat almost anything I wanted (within reason of course) and never gain or loose much weight ( think the last time I dieted I was 14!).

Until I came here and then suddenly I found the confining lifestyle a bit of a downer and to top it off, our compound is under construction and is located a bit “further” away from the main drag so it’s us and a LOT of sand and then a Saudi neighborhood like 1/2 mile away. So we have no activity center or fitness facilities (unlike all other compounds) and although we have a nice pool which I swam in almost daily for 2 months it’s now a bit too nippy to swim  in (even during the day)and frankly, it’s a real downer walking laps around the compound! <oh and before someone mentions womens-gyms, it’s difficult to find a womans only gym, they are few and far between, expensive and of course you have to GET there so only wealthier women with drivers can really afford to go!>

It’s next to impossible to walk around outside the compound, whether I’m alone with my son or with my husband. Only good thing to having my husband with me is that dudes in cars dont stop and shout things at me in Arabic and the Indian/Pakistani/Bangla workers dont leer, oh and the cops don’t circle to make sure I’m not “up to no good”.

Really, I find it easy to understand why there are many of health problems from lack of physical activity amongst both Saudi’s and expats and women in particular! Amongst the women on my compound for example, depression is pretty common. A lot of women feel confined and most turn to coffee/tea, ciggies, sweets and nap taking for solace. One of my closest friends was Lebanese from South Lebanon (she’s since returned) and she had rather severe depression because of how isolated she felt, other women I know admit to drinking way to much coffee and eating way to many pastries to pass the time! And of course…everyone gains weight!

Ive gained a nice bit of poundage since arriving, I’m not that bad off, but Ive definitely gained and so has my husband and since Ive started to adjust to life here (culture shock/depression has worn off) I feel like I have more energy and Im trying to force myself to walk a few laps around the compound at least twice a day. Of course, it’s no where near what my body was used to, but hey, beggers can’t be choosers now can they?!? Ive also started to cut down on my sugar consumption (esp sugar in coffee and pastries) and just in general eating less in the hopes I at least don’t gain anything else!

I donno, we’ll see how things go! I really wish this country was more physical activity-friendly (the weather is fantastic in winter and I’d love to take a long walk sometime to enjoy it) and that it was possible for me to actually go out and walk around the area we live in or at least, bare minimum that we had decent fitness facilities (which en’shallah by summer we should have) but, right now Im just trying to watch what I eat and am  looking forward to April and May in the US and a summer in Iran where I intend to walk as MUCH as I humanly can!

6 thoughts on “The cold hard truth…compound life, weight gain and other “fun” things!

  1. I would be so frustrated with not even being able to walk to a store or playground. One suggestion I have is that you replace your table sugar with Stevia. I’m sure you can order it online. We’ve started using it in all our coffee and tea and I think it makes for a lot less calories consumed.
    Let me know if you get a chance to try it!

  2. I echo Stacy’s comment on fustration. I would be very fustrated, but its not just Saudi. Look at South Africa, its even worse where people tend to move from car to house and live in barbed wire compounds, because of the extreme level of crime. Which got me wondering, why is it not safe in Saudi?

  3. i FEEEEEL u so much on this one! I lived in San Francisco since I was 18 and then London after that before coming to work in Afghanistan. Both TOTAL walking cities, and I was in the best shape of my life in london as a result of regular gym hitting and walking all the time,everywhere. As an expat walking is frowned discouraged and pretty much not aloud b/c of security. So now I only walk up and down the steps in my home or office. I HATE IT! I’ve probably gained 15-20 pounds over the last three years living here. 😦 And i’m just like you, i seriously just dream about walking in anticipation of when i go on leave. went to Paris in September, and HONESTLY that’s all I wanted to do was walk and walk and walk…

  4. I live in London; but more on the outskirts and it just seems that here walking is out of the question if you really want to get anywhere. I gained a lot of weight before I moved to London and have never been able to lose it because of this; also here unlike other UK cities there are a surprising lack of women’s only gyms; you do get some with women’s only days but they have male staff and open windows where any joe can look in; I have heard there are some women’s only gyms in west London but I haven’t seen any around here, when I lived in Manchester there were large, local chains of women only gyms because people were a lot more conservative up there; including the non-Muslims also I used to live 2 miles from the centre and it was a long walk but not impossible, so I used to often just walk into the centre as opposed to taking the bus. In London the public transport is not as disabled friendly as it should be either; and this includes pushchair access, only a tiny percentage of tube and train stations have lifts, and although most buses do now have space for pushchairs health and safety regulations mean that only one pushchair is allowed; and that space is more often than not, taken. Sadly a lot of the feelings of isolation you describe; are common here too. Many find the sisterhood here extremely lacking, despite the London Muslim population being around 1million and for those without family; they often end up feeling isolated at home; especially if one has a disability or young children whom they cannot often take out due to the problems with transport. Alhamdulillaah I don’t know anyone who turned to smoking because of this but an awful lot of sisters have major depression, problems with binge eating, and sleeping all day long because they feel they have nothing else to do. I’ve sadly seen some sisters leave Islam because they feel so restricted and because of the lack of sisterhood.

  5. Sis, it sounds like you could use a few work-out DVD. I don’t walk that much because I don’t live in the safest neighborhood, my husband doesn’t want me walking by myself, but he doesn’t mind as much if my oldest 2 sons are with me. But that limits me to weekends only. I do make up for it by driving to parks and walking, but that jusn’t economical or convenient. So what I’ve been doing the past few months is renting exercise videos from the library, rebounding on my mini-trampoline, and doing the work-out videos on Discovery Health channel. Would you have access to any of those options?

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