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.

img_7559

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

pray-copy

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?

img_7009

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

IMG_9916

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.)

IMG_9901

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

IMG_8261

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.

IMG_8268

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.

IMG_8269

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

_DSC4430

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.

_DSC4485

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.

_DSC4486

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

_DSC5241

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…”

IMG_3379

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

IMG_2939

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.

IMG_1914

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

_DSC1425

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.

_DSC1459

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…


Field Trip

_DSC1289-2

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!

_DSC1536

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.

_DSC1970

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.


Camels

_DSC4991

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.

_DSC4985

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!


Saudi Jump

_DSC3561 copyOk. 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.

 


Thanksgiving Party

IMG_7443It’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…

IMG_7519A final group shot – everyone had a splendid time. Prizes and games and food and drink and dessert – and this year I kept my pants. No new year’s party was officially planned.


Rained – Two Feet of Snow

IMG_2161

It’s November. It’s Jeddah. It’s raining! First rain for me here this year. Yes! First! It’s panic time. Parents were told to keep their kids home from school. Really? Why? Well, it’s like this.

IMG_2169

There is no provision to deal with rain water run off. Why build a sewer system for rain once a year. It works…until it rains. A leaky roof never leaks in bright sun. Then there is no where for the water to go. Before I got here I was told about water rising and cars floating. Rain equals panic around here.

IMG_2168(1)

It’s like a couple feet of snow in New York. It’s a mess. Cars immediately stop and traffic jams appear everywhere. Water overflowed the curbs. And it came as high as the bumper. I actually considered that getting home might be a challenge.

IMG_2170

France is in the news but the US Embassy sent the weather advisory to my email instead. It was bright blue sky in the morning. An hour later it was raining and by afternoon it was over.

IMG_2171

One day a few hours, no more rain till next year. I don’t think there will be a sewer system either. Rain is for fable and legend. It’s not a lot of water unless it has no where to go.


Supermoon Eclipse

_DSC4486aOk! Live and in color! The supermoon and lunar eclipse. Got it? Have you been under a rock? It occurs rarely. _DSC4361a

I think that I have been involved with the recent ones through sheer luck. This was the last supermoon that occurred recently.I just happened to be home. And where I am in there are no clouds. Lots of haze is about. But there are no clouds mostly.

_DSC4436aThe humidity is so high that my lens fogged immediately. Ah! But the object is not to complain but to adapt and adjust. The sliver of the moon was fast disappearing. _DSC4440aGet a shot. I did! It’s not the best. But it is. What I needed is a tripod. Instead I used a garbage can (it was the nearest available) and propped my camera. It’s far from perfect. But ingenuity. I used a long exposure and high ISO. _DSC4481aThe image is fuzzy. I adjusted my settings and got something. Digital is amazing. I could get something my eye could see but ordinary film would never record. It’s not much but I would not have a backstory with an image, eh?_DSC4494aIt’s always good to get something. It’s better than nothing. Right? Yup!_DSC4418aThe start of it all. I don’t get the ending because the sunrise coincided with my work day. But what do you know? I got shots. Not good but they are better than a blank sky. Sorry you missed this. There won’t be another till 2033.


Blue Moon

_DSC4409There is a such a thing and it is “rare as a blue moon.” I won’t go into more detail than to say that is it a full moon that occurs twice within the same month. I was online chatting this evening, well actually my 5AM, and I noticed. And it occurred to me that it was the second such so soon after the recent. How do they do this? Anyway sure enough the whole world but me knows.

IMG_0001Now to tech. The moon is very small in an iPhone 6 plus. And it is large in a Nikon D610 with 80-400mm lens. And it can be enlarged even more. But the trick is that the moon is very bright. Bet you knew that?! So it means that the exposure is manual and the setting is 1/200 shutter and about 500 ISO and f stop about 7.

Now to the romantic. It is indeed a rare event. And in the time I took the pic and we traded photos across 6000 miles, the moon has set. It’s cloudy and stormy on the other side. And here the grey sky of dawn has obscured the moon. So it is indeed ephemeral as it is rare. That is enough to make you believe in magic. Yes, this is a real time post. Photo were taken minutes apart miles apart only moments before I made this post.

_DSC4413And now for the piece de resistance! The moon came back for me! So I got a dawn shot with a blue grey sky. Same exposure, use 1/200 and F7 and ISO 500. It got me there. It is counter intuitive. But the moon is bright. Manual exposure is the only way to go. For once you have to actually control everything. Imagine that.

And now! It was also a supermoon too! That is when the moon is closest to the earth and appears larger. Not much but it is so. You can’t tell and neither can I. But it is . So the blue moon is rare, the next will be Jan in 2018. So this was an event you missed if you did not see it a few days ago. The last coincidence was in 2012. The great and mighty Oz does not say when the next coincidence will be. No matter, this was a lot of fun. Alas there are only 12 blue moons over the next 28 years.

I guess I just had a very special night. I shared it then. And I share with you now.


Camera Shy

IMG_6514I dove at a place I haven’t visited in a while. This blue fish is hard to photograph. I’m usually in a backlight position so the deep blue black fish has no detail. Though they are very common on the reef they are also very camera shy. I might see a school of them or a few. No matter the exposure is usually poor and the fish swim away so the best I get is tail view. It seems there are often exceptions to all rules. I had this guy challenge me. He knew I was there. IMG_6511I was shooting and he wasn’t going to budge and give up his position. I didn’t see any reason for him to guard this piece of reef. But he would circle and circle. So I got the exposure corrected and then I got the head on shot. Head on is the hardest. Nobody swims toward a larger object blowing bubbles and I can imagine how intimidating I must look to these fish.IMG_6508


Layers

_DSC3666I’ve done this shot whenever there is the opportunity. Usually it’s an early morning shot. In this instance David and I were on a mission to Al Waba. We left early in the morning and began to take a series of shots of the passing countryside. The clouds/mist/fog/smog hung over the mountains (hills) and, voila! You have to do a bit of cropping and you need to pull out the hills layered upon layer. But it works.


For David

_DSC3498It’s an inside story. He’s not a regular reader here. But I had a discussion with him as to whether there was any picture taking in Mecca, spelled Makkah in Saudi Arabia. To be honest I can watch the Mecca channel 24/7. I don’t see any cameras or photos being taken. They always walk counter clockwise. From all the smart phone pictures I see being taken at the Corniche (beach) there are plenty of photos there at the beach. But the number of serious cameras. DSLR or advanced point and shoot, are pretty limited anywhere I have visited. I put this image in for David as an indication that Nikon thinks the visitors use Nikon cameras when they visit Mecca. I still haven’t noticed a DSLR in Mecca. But Dave, I think pictures are ok. Wink! What happens in Mecca stays in Mecca. Non Muslims, that would be us are directed to take the road around Mecca. No Christians allowed…. This image was a throw away that I took in the Balad with him. I didn’t know it would have more meaning to us after he completed his trip.

 


Dhahban

IMG_2303David found this listed on his internet search of places to visit. So off we went and drove north to visit an ancient fishing village. It turns out to be a modern marina and there’s nothing quaint. In fact this is the same marina where I get the dive boat (see way below) and we leave for our ‘boat trips.’ I never associated the name David found with the marina location.IMG_2299

There is a habit, Farid told me, in which it is customary to build the wall before you build the house. And there is some effort underway to be energy conscious, hence the light posts with solar panels. Just when I think I see something I can agree with, I realize that these lights are in the middle of nowhere with nothing significant to light up.

IMG_2329

IMG_2326

We did look and look for that fishing village. It could have been a  good photo op. It was my first realization that everything you see on the internet is not true. Maps are not well marked and what you find may not match expectation. We had that happen a lot in the next few days we wandered in the car. Dhahban was an adventure in non adventure hunting.IMG_2318

IMG_2316


Come On

IMG_2310Is it really so? There are some extremes that I just can’t fathom. At the airport J says there are separate entrances through the gate for men and women. This would be Saudi Arabia because it ain’t so in NYC, JFK.

We were in a marina north of Jeddah and here it is, a sign of the times. Huh? To go out you step through separate gates. I just don’t get it. Families walk together and singles, that would be me, are allowed to walk anywhere public. Imagine a market in which there was a men’s section. Perhaps we should have exclusive hospitals for men and women staffed by same sexes. It just doesn’t make and sense some days. Ha ha, it’s a joke right?

 


The Crater

_DSC5163Online the name is spelled Al Wahbah. At the site it’s spelled Al Waba. I surmise it’s phonetic differences. But no matter how you pronounce it there’s not much chance you’ll get good directions. We kept missing turns and ending up on the wrong roads. There were roads that were not on the map. Google earth can’t save you. There were cell towers in the middle of nowhere. And we had a wireless modem. It couldn’t save us. But we persevered throughout a day of solid rain. It was only dry for the two hours we spent at the crater. We debated about telling J. She had left for home a day earlier. Sorry. Wish you were/had been here._DSC5241

_DSC5199

_DSC5064

If your timing is right it looks like you’re jumping in the crater itself. Well, that’s what David says.

More camels. We passed many places where the camel crossing sign made a lot of sense. They (camels) were just grazing free and could easily be crossing the roads we drove.IMG_1608

It has rained twice in a year and a half since I’ve been here. It rained twice in ten days that David was here. On his last day going to/from the crater, it rained/poured all day. So the storm clouds we saw over the crater are probably not a common sight._DSC5267

We missed not having J with us but we somehow managed to still jump for her._DSC5034

It was still magical when the storm clouds parted long enough to give us a spectacular sunset._DSC5304


Sand Dunes

_DSC4428They speak of impressive sandstorms. I haven’t seen one. It’s all desert and it’s dry out in the country. We did happen to find a sand dune. It was not much of a dune. We did have a great time on it. One of the silly things we do is to jump. Get it?_DSC4449

_DSC4444Somewhere in a movie I once watched a narrator said that special moments in life come and go before you realize it and only in retrospect do you appreciate how special that time was. As I look at the images and remember the moment, this was one in my life. I guess it doesn’t get better when you see your kids jumping, rolling, and playing with innocent abandon. All the other worries of the world are suspended for that moment. Speaking with them while they were here I realize as adults how rare we have these unguarded moments._DSC4251

_DSC4253