If you live in a Muslim state there are multiple dietary restrictions. Well, you don’t find ingredients in the grocery that I once took for granted. Soy sauce! The Filipinos don’t use the type I use. Trust me, it’s very different than what I get in NY. There is no bacon or ham – no pork is eaten in Muslim culture. My departure from Jeddah was more rushed than planned. I gave away a lot of groceries to the Filipino nurses who had befriended me. I hope they like bacon. How do you get it into the country. You put it in your luggage and hope the Saudi inspectors don’t squawk. And I got caught! They triumphantly held up my bottle of soy sauce from my bag. Wine?! Alcohol!? Nope, soy sauce, ha ha, the look of abject failure was obvious as I snatched back the bottle from the Saudi cop. He missed the bacon. It doesn’t show up on x-ray. Yes, my home appliances were given to the nurses too. Ok, I take pictures of everything? My pantry? Ha ha, yes. Imagine that, portrait of a package of bacon.
Here’s a shout out to Shutterfly. They took over Kodak a while ago. And my photos have been preserved with them. Of course, I did not load pictures without keeping the originals myself. But where? I could no doubt find them in a little bit. Or, I can be tempted by their solicitous email. They send me memories from years back and I am supposed to respond by getting prints. For some reason the idea works counter-intuitively for me. Nice. They post my pics as a tiny file. I can’t take the file and actually use it. Is that right? Thank you. I can post them. No harm no foul. The issues open for discussion are too numerous to count.
Kids! Mine! They visited Jeddah five years ago. Hence, the abaya. How time flies! It was a special trip, the last I had with both my kids alone. Jules is married now and almost a new mom. Saudi Arabia does not allow tourists. They make their millions from the penitent to Mecca. So, it was unusual that my kids were allowed to visit me, pretty much a one time deal. So, this is a memory on many levels. A few years, only a few.
And street photography. It seems that my camera was a magnet. This group of kids was perfectly happy to ham it up while I took their picture. It was a request. Theirs! Thank you too.
Obviously, I don’t have legs like this. But it was about a year ago I left Jeddah. It seemed prudent. A suicide bomber went off in the parking lot across from the US Embassy. I won’t say that it is less secure now. After all this is fairly random in a city of 3 million or so. But I feel good that I am not part of the news. Not much happens at the beach except the occasional storm. That’s about my speed
This was my view landing in Jeddah. In the 11 o’clock position (in the traffic circle) is the world’s tallest flag pole. Yes! They made the traffic circle just for the flag. Urban planning? Yup! There is a traffic jam going ‘round that circle every single day and night that lasts for hours and hours. No one can complain to the king? When he goes through his motorcade has a path cleared by the police. It’s nice to be king. Oh! No trees either. There are lots of people.
And now, it gets dark at night. My weather changes. And at night it gets really dark! The view is unpolluted. There are lots of trees. I have to look closely to see any lights in the dark. Nice. I can do this for a while. Serenity. Don’t mess with mine.
Not for the faint hearted – Travel with a pet?
Imagine (nightmare) turning your pet loose on the tarmac of the Jeddah airport. At the terminal you are taken by bus and walk the tarmac upstairs to board. I can tell you the process. I know the steps. And at the very last, just before the accept your precious pet, there will be one last paper to file or fill or a stamp you failed to attain. Imagine all of that and trying to get you and your tech out of the country? I was warned and luckily did not try it. Thank goodness!
Here’s what I know. US Customs will accept your pet without quarantine if certain steps are followed. There are forms to be obtained. And there are state forms needed. There is a website and for $15 you can get the forms. Or you can get them direct but you might miss a form. You need a health certificate from a Saudi vet. The pet needs a chip. A rabies vaccine must be administered at least 30 days in advance. The airline requires specific travel crates. The Department of Agriculture must examine and approve the export one week before the flight. You must visit airline cargo one day in advance of travel and be approved. You go to the airport early on the day of the flight and check your pet at the check-in counter. Good luck! There are simply too many moving parts. Anyone, anywhere along the line can foul up the whole process. I’m glad I gave up. I just imagined opening the travel crates on the tarmac and that was enough.
Traumatic!? You bet. I released Casi and Lulu on Thursday afternoon. My flight was at 6AM Friday. I was not about to chase two cats at 2AM before I left for the airport. I nudged Casi at the door and off she went. I never saw her again. She seemed a bit surprised but more than willing to brave the heat of Jeddah. Lulu left me shaking. She was not going. She did not understand. And she fought me tooth and claw. It was one of the saddest things I ever did. I caught her up in a big towel and got her out the door. That evening she peered at me from the bushes but would not come near. The hardest thing was not being able to explain that I was leaving. At least she’s safe in the compound. I hope.
I recall the famous photo of the last helicopter out of South Vietnam with people hanging from the skid of the Huey. It was not that bad! But it was exciting enough to recall – in only a few words.
I had been living out of suitcases since I arrived in Saudi. But stuff accumulates. Dive gear! In the end there were three suitcases, one carry-on, and a back pack. The third suitcase had to go as extra luggage. A cash payment, no credit card, was required. I had to find the 24 bank at the airport. My one hundred dollar bill was shoved back through the teller’s window. Too old! What! Well, I guess I had hung on to it too long. Still good, just no good in Saudi. The second one was ‘medium’ old. Passed. There are two TSA checkpoints. Yup, two! One is for the Saudis and the other is US style – take out your laptop and belt and shoes and everything etc. First checkpoint, fine, no muss, no fuss. The second only minutes before boarding was – nope! My tech gear – multiple redundant portable hard drives – could not travel in the cabin. The bag had to be checked. I had to go all the way back through to the baggage check-in counter. Trust me, it was hell. You laugh. I worried that the drives would be tossed and turned and toast by the time they arrived in DC. The other drives in my backpack were still good to go. The TSA agents did not seem to think the three in the backpack were over the quota. Fine! I managed to leave my laptop at the second TSA. A guy waving the case passed me and I grabbed it back into my possession. Yeah, I was a bit frazzled. Good news, my baggage was off the plane fast and safe in DC. Customs waved me through even with all my stuff. Home! Yay!
Last Supper – It’s the people you know
Not quite. I’m not religious. Particularly. In Saudi this view does not fly. So, say nothing. I was advised to do so and for this particular time I did so. So there is no upcoming crucifixion. However, there is always a last supper. My last night in Jeddah, well next to the last, I ate out with the people who cared about me and meant most to me. It was “bye.” We had a very nice peaceful subdued dinner in a Korean restaurant. My circle was complete. I taught Khalid how to use chop sticks in about ten seconds. He’s good. I’ll be missed. And I will miss them. A lot of history was shared these past four years. To paraphrase – what happened in Jeddah, stayed in Jeddah. Or, if you have something nice to say do it. No one likes to hear complaints. To which I can only add, “We sure did some interesting shit.” Yes, that’s the operative word.
I love this shot! Every once in a while the shot is good and the story is second place. Isn’t this a great graphical image. Night shot! This was near to impossible before digital. Now it’s easy. High fashion shoes and abayas don’t seem to be congruent. What does one wear out? And what goes with an abaya? Folks mostly wear sneakers or sandals. Sandals are great because it’s so damn hot. Sneakers are hot.
Oh! Another aside. “Oud or agarwood is one of the most popular scents on the market today. Oud is said to be the most expensive wood in the world; oud oil’s value is estimated to be 1.5 times the value of gold, and it is sometimes referred to as ‘liquid gold’.” My nurse told me about this scent. Everyone smells to high heaven. What with the “built in sauna” wearing an abaya, you do need a lot of scent.
High fashion shoes under an abaya? Pearls before swine? Sorry. No pork here. But you get my drift? Which reminds me… one of our nurses was stopped from entering with marzipan. She had brought it in and it contains like .001% alcohol! The Saudi customs officer stopped her triumphantly! She refused to give up her stuff. She argued and cried. Her husband left her. He was standing next to her with a block of Serrano ham in his bag…
So? What shoes do you wear under an abaya? Anything you like I’d guess. Incongruent? It’s not like you are solving a geometry theorem.
Baa – Language
What lamb in Arabic? If you don’t know it will not help you to sat baa. Ogden Nash wrote about the language of dogs. They bark differently in different countries. Woof is not universal. French dogs do not necessarily “bow wow.”
When I arrived in Jeddah I could not speak Arabic. And I still cannot. Thankfully all the Filipino waiters speak English. We tried a Malaysian restaurant the other night. Tried. Failed. The staff looked vaguely oriental which meant to me that they were likely Filipino. Nope. My nurses were embarrassed. They could not speak with or get a translation for the menu. We were stuck in a place with cuisine I was not familiar and with no one to guide us. We went to an Indian place instead. My nurses have never eaten Indian food. Imagine? I ordered us up some good vittles. Mmmm….
This picture? I was in the mall. I saw someone eating. It was a stew that was eaten with fresh made flat bread. I went to order up some too. And the Arabic speaker behind the counter was mystified. We could not speak. At all. I pointed. He shrugged He asked in Arabic. I pointed. I said baa. I said moo. He smiled and shrugged again. I got beef. They don’t serve pork. And I never clucked.
Now? I get on the phone to my assistant. I tell him and he speaks on my behalf. A lot of hospital staff have asked me for help and I use this method to be sure I am understanding the problem. No, I did not learn enough Arabic to be conversant. Yes, I am shameful. I still eat well. And mostly Filipinos wait on me. I am not learning a new language but I have adapted. Bow wow.
There is a style here. Dinner. It’s traditional. Which is to say that after the first several times I attended, it has a recognizable pattern. This typical dinner in my compound was attended by men. Females, even physician colleagues are not invited. A lamb is prepared – grilled – and then served over rice. Picking at the meat with your bare fingers to get to the succulent parts is an accepted norm. Eating with your fingers is common. Forks are provided. No knives. The usual dessert is a sweet semolina cake that has cream or mozzarella cheese in between the layers. In Mexico it’s called arepa. My friend Nasser – we call him Kideida – dressed in traditional formal garb in celebration of the occasion. I wore my golf shirt. Ha! I don’t golf.
I attended a welcome dinner. Two physicians joined our department. I live modestly in hospital housing. This was an opportunity to see how the other half lives. It’s a separation of sexes. No females were in attendance. Someone brought their son. Otherwise it was a banquet of males. Lamb is roasted on a skewer. Standard fare. The sides included lots of rice, salad, and fruit, followed by dessert. Afterward our host played traditional music accompanied by his son. From the outside, the walls are high and drab. Inside, the accommodations are quite the opposite. Elaborate and ornate, it reflected a long life of collecting the trappings of wealth and success. Me? I’m living in two suitcases, ready to go if it’s imperative. The bulk of it will be my dive gear. I’m of the opinion that you can’t take it with you…but…. you can sure store it somewhere else. To be fair, I’ve got a lot of junk sitting around somewhere else… Please don’t laugh too hard.
Sometimes When We Touch
It’s a song title. I’ve been hoping that Lulu and Casi will be friends. Lulu was all fur flying and hissing when Casi walked through the door. Jealousy?! I think so. I was Lulu’s human. And she was not sharing. At this point they coexist. The share space. They have divided me up. One or the other will hang near me. At night one sleeps close by to my right, the other to my left. Yes, they sleep on the bed. It happens after a while… Casi prefers to sleep under the covers. She feels safer.
There are encounters. And even some playful cuffing goes on. I do not think I will ever get a portrait of the two of them together sharing in any gossip. I belong to them. They share. But they are not happy about it. I will therefore stop short of discussing the Muslim belief here that you can have up to four wives. Did you know? They rotate. The first wife goes in order to make room for the fifth. That is how they get around the limit. Cats! I’m still waiting for them to be smiling in the same image together.
This is the best…
…Chinese restaurant the I will never return to eat in again. I’ll start with an aside. I don’t eat sushi. But when David graduated from USC we had dinner where my niece’s boyfriend worked. It was the best sushi ever. Perfect. After that anything else would be downhill. Bonnie made a touching random act of kindness and invited me to dinner. She had told me the food was outstanding. It was. Even the rice was soft and fluffy. I don’t wax on about rice. But the very basic staple of every Chinese meal was done to perfection. The noodles are hand pulled. Or, as her husband, Daniel, said – “homemade.” Big difference. But same. (He’s German – language/translation ww) The noodles start as a ball of dough and then as a lump it is pulled into a single thin long noodle strand. The trick it is to find the two ends before you eat it. That would be “Chinese luck.” Suffice to say the meal was outstanding. Rosewood Hotel – Noodles – Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. No, you can’t go either. Travel visas are hard to get. Which means that most folks will never get to eat there either. I don’t show you any food pics. It was not that kind of meal. The other gal is Jen, my OR nurse. We almost did not eat there. My colleague Farid was invited. He does not like Chinese food so we were almost set to go to a Lebanese place. But as it turns out, he had to go to parent teacher conference and the invitation was aimed at me. So, yay! We ended up in the best place I will never return to eat. No pictures of the food. What you really remember is the company. Now, read between the lines. When I was studying English and literature, we had to parse the meaning out of everything the writer was saying, analyzing what was not on the written page.
It’s gonna hurt! Don’t do it! That’s a rubber band. Lulu has it and like a train crash I was fascinated. No animals were injured in making these images. Pride? Maybe. It didn’t seem to hurt. It would not have helped to say, “NO!” She doesn’t understand. Maybe Arabic? But definitely not English. Actually, she’s smart. She knows things.
She looks at me just before she pounces Casi and then reconsiders. I’d tell her don’t play with rubber bands. And I cringed while she stretched it out. Smart cat. Dumb cat.
Saudi National Day
I only saw this once. Apparently the police are not allowing such a display to occur again. That year there was vandalism to many shops along the avenue. Too bad. There was such enthusiasm and spirit. A woman asked to take a picture! Really! I pointed the camera at her. She put up her hand and rolled her window up. She wanted me to take a picture of her car. Some things remain the same!
Maybe everyone knew to come by social media alerts. But then again, I have never seen a gathering like this. Cars lined the avenue and just sat. No one cared about moving along. They sat – “ Car proud” – banners waving, costumed, enthusiastic.
They waved at me to take pictures as though I were a news journalist. And so I did. I got worried because one guy grabbed the camera from my hand and did a group shot. I’m trusting but wary. You never know about a crowd. But… it was all a happy day.
It rains in Jeddah and the city of 3 million or so people are paralyzed. Kids get sent home from school like a “snow day.” Traffic is snarled for hours. People don’t do weather here. Maybe they have never turned the wind shield wipers on? Whatever! It rains about once a year. It might rain for an hour. There is absolutely no drainage system for water to run off. Why? It only rains once a year! The rest of the time, why worry? Infrastructure! I’m told a prince stole the money earmarked for the drainage system. Ah! One part of the government stealing from the other. How quaint. It seems to be a habit.
I guess there is nothing that beats the pleasure of riding your bike in the rain and raising hell with the puddles. After all isn’t that a basic rite of childhood?
There is a genre – street photography. I’m shy. And I dislike encounters. And I don’t want to ask. And I don’t want a pose. And I don’t want to be giving someone money to take a picture. You may not like it, but in America, anyone on the street is fair game. Commercial use is a different story. But for personal use, it’s all good. Here’s what you do. It’s simple. (Somehow people don’t object as much to iPhone. But I use a camera.) Use your camera on wide angle, set the shutter speed to about 1/125. Then do what it says – point and shoot. Don’t look. There is the flavor of an imperfectly composed shot. It works. You hit. You miss. Sometimes you win. If you are unsure shoot more than one. Don’t stop moving. And don’t let anyone catch on that you are taking pictures. Slices of life, unposed, unpretentious, natural…it’s more for me to have a flavor of life to recall. In Jeddah the heat of the day has everyone indoors. Some shops are open. But at night the whole tenor changes and the streets of the old city are teaming with activity. The heat of the day is lowered to simply unbearable as opposed to daytime hell. And digital allows you to take images I could never do with film. There’s a vibrancy to night life in the city.
Push carts abound. Vendors will sell any kind of produce. The big supermarkets – nope – people buy, sell, and bargain – probably illegally. But there is definite supply and demand.
Sugar cane – it’s crushed and the liquid is served up as a drink. It’s bland. Almost yuck! You need to add lime and ginger when you crush it. That’s a drink! Jules and I learned this in Zanzibar. She drank the whole thing and left me a taste. So I know from that small sample how to fix this. But nope, not in Jeddah.
Sticks – there is vendor in this spot, his spot. And now there are a couple of others – competition. They cut them and bundle them. They are to rub your teeth – like a toothbrush. No Crest, Colgate, or Tom’s of Maine. Buy a bundle. Share them or use them yourself.
Sewing – the tailors use a fairly unsophisticated machine to do their magic. If you are native, you wear a thobe and someone has to make them. It looks like he has made lots. And overwhelmingly they are white. And, abayas are black. Who’s the biggest loser?
Life in the city. It all happens at night. There are huge super malls. But what’s new there? Everyone has seen a mall by now? Online shopping! Walmart is scared! Amazon rules? Imagine the next big thing….
Shisha – it’s what they smoke. I know it as a water pipe. Hookah, another name. It connotes smoking through water. I read that the dose of toxic nicotine is equivalent to hundreds of cigarettes in a single session of smoking shisha. Don’t do it! It’s bad for you.
It started when I passed a store that sells water pipes. It was the tip of the iceberg. Around Jeddah there are stores which will sell you custom made thobes. The stores are congregated in a few places. There might be a dozen or more shops side by side competing for business. There is another location for honey and another for olive oil, dates, and so forth. It’s silly economics. All the prices must be comparable.
The water pipe stores are on a narrow street. And then, much to my surprise, an artisan was right there. He was working away in an open shop with horrible fluorescent lighting. I paused, he looked up, and I did something I never do; I asked if he minded if I took his picture. And he was okay with it. And I got a couple. I did not try to overstay my welcome. Yay! It’s street photography and ordinarily I just shoot and look like I’m doing something else. But we were eye to eye. There was no hiding intent. And he was gracious and I said thanks. We had our moment and I moved on. I’d buy one. They sell his product next door. But, I don’t smoke. So, no…
Never ever! Never ever fly through Riyadh. I said it twice. You have been warned!
It’s a beautiful airport. It is a transit hub that funnels passengers to Jeddah/Mecca. Flights leave from multiple airlines continuously. I arrived from the US on a 6PM flight. My connecting flight to Jeddah was at 9PM. Plenty of time. I watched the board for announcements beginning an hour before the flight. Ten minutes after my flight departed, they posted – “Departed” – on the flight status board. No gate. No warning. No last call. Nothing. They never announced the gate number. This was the start to the nightmare. I caught a flight out at 1AM. Flights leave every hour. My plane was half empty. So go figure. I got to Jeddah airport and was met by the hospital driver. We threw my bags into the trunk. The driver turned to me and asked if I had the keys. No! He called another driver – for a spare key? No! For tools to break into the car! At 4AM we are in the parking lot breaking and entering. Really! It was a long flight made longer by a series of errors.
Never ever fly through Riyadh to make a connection. I have heard horror stories from others. If you feel inclined to ignore the warning….
Aquarium – Jeddah
Look closely! It’s a fish!
We actually went to the aquarium. It was newly opened and Jules was game. Dolphin show! We don’t see them in the Red Sea too much. And so far I have not had a personal shark encounter in the Red Sea. The aquarium is just fine with me. Sometimes I just take a picture. Ha! I take lots. But usually I have a reason and purpose. This image was colorful. Graphic, bold colors, I shot the image. It was to me a bright colorful coral in the tank. Later, I mean much later, and definitely in retrospect, I realize I took a picture of a frog fish. Yes, that’s what it’s called. But really, I took the image and never realized. And now that I tell you, I think you suddenly see the eye and the mouth. I’m told that this fish is very easily missed in the sea. I wouldn’t know. I’ve never seen one. Ha! But I’d like to…
I like the dolphin show. I think it’s neat to work with them. And I am amazed they are so strong and agile. And now I’m thinking that their freedom has been taken. They are safe and fed regularly. Is it a reasonable trade? No. What about the shark. He swims in a recreated reef environment. Better?
Of all the things we never imagined, Jules visiting Jeddah would be right up there on the list. But she really does love her dad. I posted a nice lead picture. Women hate humor in their photographs. (Just wait.)
She came for a visit. You have to wear an abaya. I borrowed one. She wore it. It’s like your own personal steam bath. She even wore the scarf although that is pretty optional for non Muslims. Sort of… No Jules did not go over the top with heat stroke. She wanted to see camels. And we thought there were some on the other side. Dopey? Yup, I guess the heat did get to her. She let me take this awful pic. One looks very interesting out of context wearing a dive mask on dry land. It’s not awful. It’s just not flattering. Right? She teaches Little kids. Sharing? Nope.
This was a raspberry macaroon. She ate the whole thing and never offered me a taste. That’s revenge! She’s still my favorite daughter.
The experiment lasted until evening. Then I tested the waters and Bidi left. She’s much happier. So much for my theory about being out in 100 degree weather with a fur coat – it hot! Right? I think that she might have come around. But hey!
Meanwhile, I’m back to Lulu and Casi. Suddenly they get along better. Imagine that. Neither cat disliked Bidi. But seemingly the inside cats are closer since Bidi left. Bidi is back outside and lurks by my door to await food. We’re all good around here. You can’t win ’em all. Some days you get the bear and some days the bear gets you.
No Fish…picture… again
It often find myself looking at the background of the photo.In that case you will see my computer screen. I go to Amazon and read the NY Times. And the article is about mean things said by supporters at Trump’s rallies. Cats are curious and like to get in my business. And I tolerate a lot. How else could you get such a photo op?
No diving again. I was almost there and got the word that the waves were too high. Darn! I headed home. What to do? Ah! Cats. I have lots, too many, pictures. Only a few select can be posted. Picture fatigue. Funny, some folks don’t mind my prose. And then David complained the other day about my not giving him sentences. It was messaging. You don’t use sentences? I’m old. The protocol and communication via email and social media are lost to me. Fine! He was asking if Freeport was worth a visit. He never said that. It’s an outlet center. Shopping. LL Bean. That store is open 24/7. Really! Oops, no sentence again. Drat. Darn. He’s on his bike trip to Nova Scotia. There is no margin to carry extra weight. “Don’t go,” I advised. He messaged back later, “It’s a nice town.” Following advice seems to run in my family.
Anyway, I got a lot of cat pics after I brought Bidi in. It’s suddenly quiet. And then only Lulu and Casi appeared when I made noises to draw out any cat’s curiosity. Bidi was hiding. Ah! She’s got Casi’s old spot. And suddenly Casi and Lulu get along. Imagine that! No, no, no, fish not cats, I’m a fish person. I shoot fish. Repeat and repeat again, I shoot fish. Oh my! Those are pinned back ears. Lulu has been admonished enough that she checks with me before she is about to eat Casi. … no cats were harmed in the making of this photo.