Diving is an activity limited to a few fortunate people in Saudi Arabia. Once again it occurs behind closed gated compound walls. It is the Red Sea for goodness sake! Nope. Not allowed! Somewhere else I described my encounter with the police and the order of the blue thumb.
Women are distinctly a minority. They must be covered at all times – unless you are behind closed doors outside of the view of the religious police. Lessons. Our surgical assistants all received lessons compliments of the orthopedic chief surgeon. There is much beauty and wonder beneath the sea. My friend/dive buddy related to me recently that much of the reef has been destroyed. Once again ignorance – lack of common respect for the fragility of nature was in play. His beloved reef was gone.
Myelomenigocele. It is a neurosurgically treated birth disorder that is largely preventable by Folic acid (vitamin) taken during pregnancy. I had not seen a case in decades until I worked in Saudi Arabia. I lived in a walled compound with guards. The poverty rate? The government hides its data but estimates of 30% unemployment are noted.
Needless to say it was shockingly sad to be treating a condition that was preventable by simple measures taken early in pregnancy.
In this land knowledge mixed with ignorance. I lived in a walled compound separated from the very people I treated in so many ways more than the mere presence of a wall. Yes, it came with a pool. My hospital was no clinic. It was an upscale hospital in busy downtown with a well to do patient population. It meant the general population had poor health care knowledge.
Lotta of water under the bridge… After posting my images from my other catalog – 1, 10, 100 …. I thought maybe I would look at… So, it starts with my Canon G3, my first digital camera and hence the first digital images. and, it goes more or less until 2016. Aha! There was madness to the method. My other catalog is titled 2016 images and beyond. My database is far more reliable and logical.
1, 10: Naturally, the first images out of the Canon G3 were of the family at hand, Dave and Lisa. Jules was in college.
100: Easter followed shortly thereafter. I must have shot film and digital together.
1000: Jules and Lila, my favorite daughter and her grandma, naturally, I will say it was Dave’s graduation, or, Thanksgiving. I could look it up…
10,000: Rugby! Jules quit track to captain the college rugby team. The Australians think nothing of pulling hair. (They wear leather helmets to cover their ears.) Lisa screamed at the TV, “But Jules has a long ponytail!!”
100,000: Damarascotta, Colleen’s favorite town in Maine! It was fall during my “Maine days.”
200,000: Saudi. Jeddah. I was making a late-night meal in Subway. (Yeah, they got one there.) Three guys saw me, posed, and I took their pic.
300,000: Wedding day. Still married. Two kids. My favorite son is still footloose.
400,000: It’s Xmas and Colleen is with her favorite daughter. Well… she’s the one she’s with. Talk about ambiguous use of pronouns…
End: And me. Ummm… the more or less end of the catalog. 2003 to 2016. 2016 to 2022 would see my next catalog easily exceed 400k images too. The exact total of all digital images is in doubt. Slides? The count is more or less 117k.
In this time I have used 17 digital cameras at least. There were several versions of iPhone. The workhorse cameras began with Nikon D70 and D200. Canon G7X and Sony RX100 were mainstay point and shoot digital cameras for me. And now, I am on to the Nikon Z5. It’s been a heck of journey… so far.
Saudi is a beautiful country? Hot desert sand, no rain, every day over 100 degrees, strict religious rules… yes, uniquely totalitarian. Good?! Hmmm… let’s say I am happy to be home again. Did I mention everything stops for “prayer time” five times a day?
Dave learned to dive in Saudi. His sister joined us and we adventured together. They did their first night dive together with me. Scared of the dark? Nah, they were just holding hands because…. Yes, Jules had to wear an abaya! It’s a man’s world in Saudi.
No matter what, my kids can say they visited Saudi and experienced the culture for a brief time. I feel fortunate to have given them this opportunity. What memories!
The major benefit during my stay in Saudi – diving! Since there are no tourists, I was afforded nearly exclusive rights to dive with the local folks under the Red Sea. It was magical. The Saudis are not environmentally conscious. This magnificent white coral was eventually destroyed by local divers. It was a treat to photo the moray being cleaned by a wrasse. And, the little box fish neatly escaped my camera each time I saw it. As for brain surgery, it was a curiosity to come across this fish with part of its skull missing – twice! Yes, it was a grand adventure. For a while I published “fish” so often that Carol finally (gently) protested, enough!
Abruptly, it ended – my adventure in Saudi. Colleen was relieved. Very! We reconnected while I was still there. She never got to visit. Saudi law/rules prohibit casual visitors. My daughter was family – ok! Can you say culture shock!? I was lucky. Photo ops! Did I say Colleen was relieved? Can you imagine being trapped there for a couple years during Covid? Colleen worries. She has a vivid imagination! Relief!
I’m a ‘datahead’ a nerd of sorts. It was but a moment ago, Noa was a baby; Colleen and I were in Scotland; my cats doubled in numbers. I have been keeping track of my slides and later digital images from nearly the beginning. First it was index cards and later on a computer. I now use an independent redundant array of external hard drives. It ain’t perfect. About once a year now, I update my yearly database summary. Do you care? … wanna hear?
Digital for me began in 2003. I number 701, 000 digital images in storage now. (Typing “701k” does not look nearly as impressive.) 2021 saw a high of 102k images shot– for the ‘freakin’ year! This spans (over the years) about 15 or more devices (cameras) including iPhone. As I asked, “Who cares?” Well, I do keep track. So, now you know. I shudder to think of how it might be without some “order” to the madness.
Life’s journey has taken me high and low – figuratively as well as literally – from love (lost to found) and to the depths of the Red Sea. Along the way I even took up basket making (#27) – See! Data! Gee!
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.
We(in the USA) would often joke about the hospital as “Mecca” or a “Taj Mahal.” It was purely derisive as a term of imperfection in our condition as virtual slave labor while employed as interns and residents. Here’s another non sequitur. I received a model of my hospital in Jeddah – a commemoration of what? It was in a case and the elaborate model was laser cut glass?? I don’t know. The object has disappeared. Maybe it will surface once again. Who knows? Who cares? It was a model of ego demonstrating the opulent architecture of the owner, the son of a wealthy jewelery fortune family, who built this hospital as a tribute to their wealth and ego. Unfortunately, he was imprisoned and tortured during the recent turnover of kings. Mecca? Yes, and, no, on many levels. And, my cats, Lulu and Cassie, were feral cats that I befriended and then had to abandon as I left Jeddah. Sad! Leaving? Not sad at all to leave. But, once upon a time I worked in “Mecca.” I wonder what became of the cats?
An aside – I lived in Saudi for a few years. The original intent of this blog was to post pics and the story behind the image. I have been guilty more of doing a daily diary of late. I need to break out of the rut. No cats. No flowers. – at least for today. Ok?! So, how did I find myself aboard a bus chock full of nurses from the hospital? And how did this shot come about? Obviously, they are all friends. Me? – an invited interloper. The bus overheated and nearly broke down. They had sat me (honored guest) in the front of the bus and as I turned to see the back, I was cajoled to take a picture. Later, they flopped onto the grass and posed for a circle shot. So far this is my one and only. But, it’s a great idea and I will try it again this summer. They do things differently – over there. The bus had a banner affixed to announce the group of nurses traveling the far reaches. Aha! And that darn banner was the reason we overheated – cover the grill. Duh!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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…”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
I was fortunate to be a favorite with the nurses. I’m nice to them. They are nice back. It makes life so much easier. I learned to be nice and polite as an intern. Nurses, otherwise, could make life hell. When I rotated onto my pediatric neurosurgery rotation the night nurses were nice enough to have a going away party for me. They didn’t wake me for the party. They wanted to let me sleep. Imagine that!
In Jeddah the nurses invited me on a field trip. A few husbands… and me – they insisted I ride in the front of the bus. So far this is my only field trip though they threaten to organize another. For sure they have a sense of humor. And they like to live large.
One nurse was ecstatic to ride a camel. “It was something I promised myself before the age of thirty.” My kids rode a camel in the Bronx Zoo when they were small. So far I’m waiting for my first ride…not.
One thing I wanted to see upon arrival was camels. It’s the desert! But it’s the city where I am. Three million people – more – it’s a freakin’ city! Camels are not wandering the streets. When I first visited there was a road outside of town where Bedouins camped and offered up fresh camel milk for sale. Passing drivers would get the product off the hoof and drink it straight away. Healthy? Some cautioned me against it. And, I’m not a fan of warm milk… After that, the powers that be shooed them away and I never came across the sellers again. Out in the country, faraway from the city, out in the desert, my kids and I came upon camels on the hoof.
Yes that spot beneath is not welcoming us. And the camels were hobbled. Though they could not wander far, they were free to graze. Mostly camels are a novel sight enough that local city people crowd around to photograph them when someone brought them around the old city. Think, cows wandering down Fifth Avenue in New York City. Nope. There would be a lot of curiosity. No cows. The law says milk comes in a plastic container pasteurized and homogenized. And cold with a sell by date!
Ok. Why not? The kids visited in a whirlwind in 2013 December. It was a visit filled with tension. Too little time and all at the seemingly last minute. The visa to visit was not confirmed until almost the day they traveled. The Saudi government does not grant visitor visas. And the kids were over 18 years old. So it was not so easy to apply and required a visit to the Saudi government office. Then the process started again in the US where additional paperwork required more difficulty.
Old city, al Balud, the area is now designated a heritage area. They are actually preserving history…just in time. (To digress: they still toss glass bottles out their car windows on the highway.) The kids are here just before renovation has begun. We goofed around. I inserted myself in the pic. You can see that I was learning about bending your knees. Remember it. It’s a good tip.
It’s a holiday party. They named it thanksgiving as a matter of thanks. Not Christmas, it would have been religious and not PC. And it was masked – Mardi Gras? Not Halloween. Actually Filipinos do celebrate Thanksgiving. It was all confusing and misleading. There was another great cultural mystery to ponder. George and I were the mainstays of the surgeons who attended last year and this. Another one or two came. The remainder of the staff is mainly Filipino and they like to party. I guess I do too. My OR nurses Jen and C2 (sorry I can’t spell her name) are pictured. The rabbit ears, hmmm, maybe a little Easter? Yes, my day job includes brain surgery…