Word and Image

Saudi Arabia

Spinning

We have looms and we have spinning wheels. Too numerous to count. Ha! I’m guilty of being acquisitive. I doesn’t help that Colleen is too. But this post is about picking images. And today I spun Lightroom and recall this memory.

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The time is September 2014 in Saudi Arabia. What would you know about living in a totalitarian government in which freedom could be snatched at any moment? How about being reminded that freedom is a gift every day? How about if you have taken simple freedom for granted each and every day of your life? Unrestricted travel? Not here!

My old boss is in a dungeon placed there without stated charges by the prince. A man can be wealthy and then imprisoned the next day. Does it sound like a scene from medieval times? I had to leave my cat behind… another long story. I was blessed to escape. I got out without too much red tape and with too much drama for anyone’s liking. But I’m out! The parting gift was the worst cough/cold of my life given to me by a pair of random fellow travelers on the airplane. Thanks a lot. The relief (of my escape) was palpable then and even today. Living in Saudi was an experience not to be missed. I miss the scuba dives in the Red Sea. I miss some people I met. I do not miss being living in a totalitarian regime.(Happy New Year, Gen)

Are there parallels in American history today? The once and future king… The vast majority of the population live in freedom they take for granted. Never was this so true. I wish you could have walked in my shoes.


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.


Pray Tell

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After I left Jeddah it is amazing how quickly you forget. I don’t pray. There are exceptions. Whenever I am operating and things have gone South, I pray, “Oh lord, get me out of this.” It works.

Ever confusing, the prayer times are five a day. I see seven here. Go figure. I don’t won’t needn’t and will not be….praying.  I left and never again noticed how disruptive it has been. Forgotten. I go and come as I please. It used to be Murphy’s law. You show up and it’s prayer time!

Here’s how it works. The listed times change every day. It’s done according to the sun for which sunrise sunset changes every day. Duh! So, you need a website to tell you. Then, the times are local, which means that Jeddah and Riyadh are off by minutes. Who cares? Someone! The religious police? At a restaurant during Ramadan I sat waiting for evening prayer call and break fast. I watched the Makkah (Mecca) channel; it’s official right. (They march counterclockwise around the Kaaba 24/7) No! Don’t ask.

The local times are often loosely followed by shopkeepers who estimate – plus or minus 10 to 15 minutes or so. So, you show up and wait. Never try to accomplish more than one task between prayers. Traffic and the vagaries of when the next pray time will start, will always burn you. Everyone comes out after the last prayer time of the evening. You have the longest time to get things done, it’s night and the cool part of the day, and it is the unhealthiest time to eat – as in you get fat. The line around the takeout at McD is cars around the block at 5AM. When does, anyone sleep? Well, no one actually works except the Filipinos. So, everyone sleeps the rest of the time. La la land. I’m not missing it.


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.


Jules Visits

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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.)

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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.


Churrascaria

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Eating is sport. Do not underestimate the folks in Jeddah. There are those who know how and where to eat. Churrascaria is Brazilian style. Bring an appetite and expect to eat a lot of meat. It starts with an extensive salad bar. Fill up, but save room. And then there is a disc – red or green side. Red light green light. Go. They bring cuts of meat right from the grill.

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The server slices it off and straight onto your plate. Eat till you are full then red light. They grilled pineapple covered in cinnamon sugar for dessert.

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This night Faisal was the host. Great guy, wonderful sense of humor, He’s part of the morning exercise group. This night – eat! Keep the grill coming. For some reason it’s like a rite – men, meat, caves. There is a family section. But this is more a gathering of men and appetite – guys night out.


Jumping

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Fun, joy, innocence. There aren’t too many unguarded joyful moments. Kids have them all the time. And maturity and life sucks it out of you. (oh, look, Susan, Dave has a Tyler Place t-shirt)

As I write someone from the mobile phone company has called my cellphone to inform me that I just won 200,000SAR. Fantastic. Here’s how to collect….scam me once shame on me….They scammed Jules. She had an offer of winning $800 but had to respond instantly. Her mom got involved and helped. They both contacted the scam artist who sold them on a trip to Florida to see real estate. $800 was theirs. The cost was $200 deposit – refundable when they took the tour. Yeah, gullible, silly, all – and no one ever went to Florida to see real estate.

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My attorney sent me a plaintiff email that he was stuck in London. He’d lost his ID, passport and all money. He asked me to forward some funds. Indeed, it was so sad. I called him at home to let him know I’d send him money. Hacked!

David tried to scam me. He called me at work. “Dad, I got a low cost trip to Madrid. I have to act immediately.” “What did your mother say?” Right, no permission, this was right after they blew up the Madrid train station some years back. So, off to Jamaica. Three amigos, living on an extreme budget. I fund education not fun. I’m having office hours, and David calls me from Jamaica. “We were in a bar and Ben fell off a stool and cut his neck…” Um, yup, I’m a surgeon. But there’s not much I can do 2000 miles away. Bar fight! Everyone in the office laughed at my being so gullible as to think the kid fell off a stool. Actually, true, the poor kid passed out from dehydration. Budget! They were rationing fluids. Afraid to drink water they were on a Coke a day. While Ben was in the hospital, the other two gave up and posed as registered guest in the hotel next door. They ate the buffet dinners until Ben got out and that scam didn’t work anymore.

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My kids are all grown up now. And here was one of the last times I was together with them. They have husband and girlfriend now. This was the last of innocence together. It comes and goes with hardly a notice. Then, you realize that it happened and will never be repeated. It’s a bittersweet realization. All grown up…


Waba – Mecca

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On the road to Taif (remember the field trip?) you have to go around Mecca. No non Muslims may enter Mecca. (That would be me.) And the road splits and the sign says, “All non Muslims, exit here.” The exit is on the right and I was in the inside lane on the left. I missed the exit. I did not miss the sign. David accused me of deliberately breaking the law. Honest…not me. He hunkered down in the passenger seat and pulled his collar up over his ears. What? “I’m trying to look Muslim dad…”

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This was the second try on the second day of our attempting to visit Waba. It’s a crater somewhere to the north and east of Jeddah. It’s inland. I ddi not have an iPhone and no GPS map. We had a computer with maps. But unfortunately, the roads are extremely poorly marked. There were missing roads and then there were roads where the map showed none. Yes, we spent two days wandering. But! We got there! It’s a nice crater. It’s a nice picture. And then we had to turn right around. David had a plane to catch home. And we were out of time. Yup, arrive, take a picture, walk five minutes, hop back in the car, and speed home. Now I have an iPhone. I’m not saying I’ll go back. I just have an iPhone now. Oh! Yes, I missed the exit on the way back too… it was dark.


Mosque – Sunset

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Did I mention Saudi Arabia is Muslim? And they do not allow any other religious symbols to be displayed. No cross or bible. They are confiscated. And the censors….well I was on Saudi Airlines and a scene was edited with blurred bubbles. What? It was a cemetery. And there were crosses. And all the tombstones were blurred out. Geez. Actually it’s amusing to watch censored movies. You see there is considerable latitude for the particular censor and the movie he blurred. Some will blur a woman’s bare neck. I’m not talking cleavage. Anyway, there is hardly a block where you don’t see a local mosque. My hospital has one built in and available on the ground floor. Hey! Catholic hospitals have chapels. And the minarets are striking and picturesque.

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And sunsets are spectacular. A water treatment plant is nearby spewing lots of pollution. My partner always said sunset in Bayonne was spectacular because of the pollution…  The minarets all have speakers that blare out prayers at prayer time. Five times a day starting at dawn, they pray. Well, not everyone prays each and every time. But there is plenty of call and plenty of opportunity.


I Save The Day

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Visiting Taif. You drive up mountain roads. And it seems the bus was slow. And there is a zoo which was on the list of activities and places to visit. I had a camel encounter. Friendly, I’ve heard they can be temperamental. But the zoo camel was friendly. The elephants sprayed water at you. Fortunately, I watched as a couple nurses were set up and drenched. Those elephants are smart.

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The group but their banner across the front of the bus. Nice touch. About 30 minutes later the bus overheated. The driver stopped, pulled his cellphone, and called the hospital for help. No A/C, it was getting hot on the bus! Light bulb! Yeah, you guessed. That darn banner cut off air flow to the engine. We removed it and were on our way in 10 minutes. Saved! Yes, I did save the day on that one. Did I tell you I know a little bit about lots of things…