Word and Image

Jeddah

Shutterfly

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.


Warning

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


Serenity

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.

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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?

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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.


Getting Out!

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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

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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.


Luxury Shopping

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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

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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.


Dinner

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.


Dinner Out

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.