Since arriving in Riyadh, friends, relatives and acquaintances have been asking me “Do you think Riyadh has changed?” Every single time, their question reflects an anticipation of a positive answer. They eagerly await a “yes” so they’d start listing their own version of how much Riyadh has changed for them despite not having have left it. Riyadh is undergoing such rapid change, even people within are noticing.
My main concern about Riyadh, as I return to it this time with the eye of a settler is population density. It is turning into a city better suited for singles, couples who are bored with each other or foreigners/outsiders.
Singles in Riyadh are not expected to function as separate entities from the “head” of their family, thus are less obligated to respond to social events or initiate ones of their own. Couples who are bored with each other do not have to worry about missing out on each other’s lives while catching up on everybody else’s (men often seperate from women). And foreigners are saved from an existing, prolonged list of extended families and are free to keep a manageable number of acquaintances.
Despite the rise in competition amongst telecommunication providers and the availability of the latest communication devices to the people, physical presence is still required at most social obligations. Phone conversations, text messaging, emailing, etc, are not alternatives. They are ways to facilitate knowing about the “must be there” events.
More people are moving into Riyadh, let alone Riyadh wombs which are actively regenerating traffic. Additionally, marriages between young men and women are doing their share of introducing additional families to the pool of preexisting ones.
Attending to social obligations isn’t all that bad until one leaves their house into the densely populated city. For those who know Riyadh, it is almost impossible to go from one place to another without crowding up on a highway or a heavily used street. Therefore, the minute one digs their car into an iffy road, begins the math of calculating alternative ones (if there are any!) After Maghreb prayer, which is usually when all social activities begin, a single trip across town can take up the entire evening. If one is making several stops, going shopping or is planning to purchase gifts/sweets/flowers before the final destination not only is the evening gone to ashes—but patience and joy!
Riyadh is still pleasant in the generosity it bestows upon entrants to houses and events. There are still all the little delicacies it offers once you sit back with a group of people and engage in friendly conversations, or once you enter some of its beautifully constructed malls. However, up until you reach the point of settling somewhere, you would have undergone a strenuous duration of a human turned into a heavy vehicle running on four wheels and earnestly pushing against many obstacles. Time would have become your worst enemy. And all the little obligations (which could have meant something had they occurred in small portions) turn into an army of ants—no longer pleasant as they colonize a schedule which at some point in history carried your name.