This is the time that the weather makes a distinctive transition in Riyadh going from a comfortable balmy fall to an arid and chilly winter. The cold in Saudi is a piercing cold that is felt all the way to the bone. During this time of wear Saudis modify their style of dress and prepare dishes which help maintain the heat and add warmth to the body.
A lot of villas and apartments in Riyadh may not be equipped with a furnace. Some may have what is called a “split pack” wall unit which will double for either heat or air. Many residents in the Kingdom during the winter time will rely upon portable heaters to extra and needed warmth. The heaters can be a variety of electric, kerosene or propane heaters. And of course some places will have wood burning fireplaces. Even with use of a heater or a warm fire, some homes can remain cold or have a damp feeling. Much is because of poor insulation, high ceilings and marbled floors.
As winter kicks in fast selling items in the souks include fleece sheets and pillow covers, mink blankets and farwa’s. The fleece sheets and pillow covers are wonderful. I’ve yet to see the kind that are sold in Saudi in the States but I’m happy to say that the sizes do conform well to American standard mattress sizes. The mink blankets are the warmest and heaviest blanket and ideal for the Riyadh winter nights.
The farwa happens to be my favorite winter “attire.” The farwa is a heavy and very warm overcoat made from thick sheep wool. The farwa comes in differing colors and a variety of interesting traditional designs. It is worn by both men and women and children too and covers from the shoulders to the ankles. Most farwas are often made with two deep pockets in the sides which is quite convenient. It is open down the front but due to its bulk when it is gathered and held in the front no one can tell that there is an opening. I will substitute my farwa for my abaya during the coldest days. I have never been challenged or questioned about being out while wearing the farwa instead of an abaya.
Ironically most Saudi women will continue to wear their abaya during the winter. However due to the cold, usually an abaya by itself is not sufficient. Therefore a lot of Saudi women will wear a coat….under the abaya. Until my husband surprised me with my farwa I would wear my abaya and coat. Although I would wear my coat outside of the abaya as it just felt more practical and comfortable to me. The past several winters I did start to see more women wear the coat on the outside by they were still a minority.
The Saudi men will change from white thobes to dark colored thobes which are also made of heavier fabric. And depending where they work, many will also add long undershirts and underwear so as not to get chilled during the day. The one thing that Saudi men do not seem to change are the long loose white “sunni” pants. When I asked my own husband why he preferred to keep wearing the long loose white pants with a black thobe and black wool socks instead of getting some long loose black pants which matched, he said the winter season was too short and therefore not practical to have loose white pants made in differing colors to match the thobes. Additionally men will either wear a farwa or a heavy jacket over their thobe when out in the winter time.
Now all of the items I have described – the fleece sheets and pillow covers, mink blankets, heaters, farwas, abayas, thobes – are all widely available at Al Owais (also known as Kuwait Souk off of King Fahad Road), Deira or Batha Souks (located near Clocktower) and Haraj bin Qassim (2nd hand souk). And for each location, be prepared to bargain.
The snuggie is ideal for the North American winters when one is inside a home with central gas or electric heat but nothing beats the chilling cold in Saudi Arabia better than a farwa. Even former President G.W. Bush was the lucky recipient of a farwa from King Abdullah during his last official visit to Saudi Arabia.
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