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.
The hardest thing about leaving anywhere is the friends you leave behind. And there is a certain familiarity to sameness. Folks don’t want to break away from the familiar. Would that be a contributing factor to mid-life crisis… fast car, girlfriend, new wife…? I grew up in a lot of different places. I’ve worked in a lot of places. Some things are constant – my profession and specialty. But otherwise, I have moved among groups and things with relative aplomb. No! I do not like to learn new operations. But learn we must. Or retire. It works that way. Watch. Observe. Shake your head. I watched my senior partner who could no longer operate. He’d failed to learn new tricks. It forces you to depend upon others or… retire. I promised myself never to be so. Fortunately, folks are friendly enough wherever you go. Characters! For sure! They are not family. They are friends. So I made some when I arrived.
Wissam , neurologist, sometimes scuba diver, with a poor sense of direction – in the sea. He once tried to Sudan. I pulled him back, pointed him correctly, and told him it would have been a very long swim…
Rida, ophthalmologist, a man with muscles who could do delicate eye surgery, someone better with 10-0 suture than me – by far!
And Nasser, GS – general surgeon, no – he does not dress like this for the OR. But the man undeniably has style.
Farid, orthopedic surgery – are you seeing a pattern here? Farid is the closest buddy I have here. Curiously, I’m older than all of them. See that? I apologize to him for this picture. Things will tie in eventually… He got me to learn scuba diving. And then we went on a boat trip. He’s very gracious. Shhh.. don’t tell him. He gets sea sick and actually hates boats. To be sure he gave me some pills for sea sickness. Yes, I toss my cookies too. Actually the secret is that when the boat stops, the up and down immediately makes you hurl. Got it? Laughing yet. It’s hard when you are green! What Farid neglected to say, was that he took six pills. We literally had to push him over the side to dive when the time came. He did not remember too much about the diving that day. That would put him high on my friend list – to take me – when he’d rather not. Yes, you make friends. Life is about change. It sometimes feels like jumping from the fire from the frying pan. But on the other side, the experience is exhilarating. One go around, life is one way. I’m thinking I’d like to have been in new situations and recall the stories with fondness.
In the beginning, i moved in with two suitcases and one backpack….
Okay. It’s retrospective time. Since the blog is about photos and stories it’s hard to keep focused sometimes. Is it stories or is it photos? I’m photo first. But certainly there are lots of stories to tell. Which is the source? Does the photo trigger a story? Or is the story the photo? Anyway I’ve fallen into current events to keep posting each day. And my hard drive organization is wanting at the moment. Files are stored on multiple drives and in Lightroom. I bet you don’t care and don’t want to know how hard it all is. Just tell the story, and get on with it. Anyway, I had to find the photos of the recent bombing near the US Embassy. So I’ll use this as a source of perspective. Some observations about my time in Jeddah are in order. Amazingly, in such a short time I have such a different perspective from expectation and reality. I used to go to a meeting in one of the major US cities. I could get a flavor of the local sights and sounds in a few days. How ignorant of me to think that. I realize and have said that every day I look out the window as I go to work and realize there is something different that I never noticed before. Spend enough time and you begin to understand…. Well, for sure, you understand better with some retrospective comparison. There! Got it?
You should look and laugh. Definitely laugh. When I visited in December, someone pointed to this villa and said that is where you will live. They actually already planned for my arrival and the villa was empty for months and months before I arrived. An empty dwelling is nothing. No rent. No revenue. There is no profit. No one cares. It was earmarked for me and that was it. Period. No worry over empty and unoccupied. It’s the long view?
The laugh? It’s clean! They send in a crew to clean the dwelling. I don’t know about paint? But there were crayon marks in the drawers. The cleaning guys are good but only just so. Who cares about the drawers! I was put into a five bedroom villa! Me! Single. But then I guess they thought enough of me and my rare specialty. So it was welcome and pull out all the stops… To be sure there is one bedroom designated as the maid’s room – off the kitchen. And another is more like a den – for TV. That makes two other bedrooms – legitimate – with private bath, and bidet. The maid does not have one. There are 4 ½ baths. And it’s furnished. Yup. TV and all. No microwave! Dammit?! No vacuum. They don’t seem to use them anywhere around here. And iron and ironing board. Chipped non stick pots. I don’t like eating Teflon. So I did not cook for the first six months I was in country. Yup! Really!
Oh! Take note. The curtains are drawn. And since I have been here, they replaced the curtains with blackout drapes. Yes! They keep the curtains drawn day and night. I leave mine open. No one is looking to see me in my underwear. Too funny!
That’s not the laugh. The place has not been properly cleaned since I moved in. Everyone else has arrangements and hired help – a driver for the females and children, and, a maid, cleaning woman, nanny. I am not in need of either. By now, I think I could definitely use a cleaning lady. So there is no after photo – or – a current photo of the state of affairs. As long as I stay out, the other bedrooms have an even layer of dust that, if undisturbed, is hardly a bother. If you are not shaking your head by now… in real life I am fairly particular and meticulous. The A/C is running 24/7/365. The filter is poor enough such that dust settles on every horizontal surface. My cameras accumulate a layer of dust if left on the table for a period of time – weeks. At this point I am beyond help. Any cleaning lady would turn toss her apron and run…
A bomber and his bomb went off in a spot close to where I live and work. In fact, the bomb went off within hours, maybe less, after I passed by the area in the middle of the night. If I say minutes someone will pull my ticket and make me come home…
I have a knack for being close to news happening. Currently based in the Middle East, I have raised lots of concern from people who care about me. And those people know I live life on the edge and am not risk averse. That said, I have been safe. I have never felt in danger. More crime happened near or to me in New York City.
Recent events (last night) – namely a bombing close to me has raised concern from a lot of people. So I suppose it is apropos to post and reassure you. To start you have to know that I am wired a bit differently than most people. I’ve been to lots of places and done lots of things. I’ve been in or close to news stories before. I’ve been mentioned in the New York Times: Once for winning the hurdle event in the Manhattan Borough track championship. (Hey! I digress! It’s my blog.) And the second was more extended coverage of a neurosurgeon who operated on the wrong side of the brain. (No comment) He is the sentinel case that triggered “Time Out” in the operating room. (How’s that for being in history.) Hey! I was on the sports page before I ever knew or read a sports page! The other story is sad, sad and someone died.
I’m gonna make this story long and convoluted. Bear with me, it’s entertaining (or not) for sure. To start, I take pictures of everything. And to be sure, I have more than 200, 000 digital images alone. They are spread across a myriad of devices and on multiply redundant hard drives. So to find anything is a feat of memory and ingenuity. I know I have taken a shot (a picture, silly) of the bomb site. Find it?! It took all of about 30 minutes. I knew that I did it quietly. No one should be seen to appear to case the American Embassy. And after searching, voila! I have actually shown and commented on the security to friends in a slide presentation back in 2014. Who knew these nondescript photos would be handy someday later on.
Back to risk – When I first visited Jeddah to interview for a job, I was taken to a wealthy residence to dive. I don’t dive. I did not have lessons yet. So, I snorkeled. My three companions went diving. I stayed on the surface with a point and shoot camera just playing with the fish. Peaceful. Calm. Tropical. Nice. My snorkel stood up and out like a flag. The passing coast guard patrol boat immediately swung around to investigate and then tried to arrest me. Without a worry in the world and without a shred of guilt in my heart, I was completely nonplussed. What followed was a mess that should have warned me. (But of course not…) The officer actually tried to pull me into the boat. I knew better than to be separated from the group without a translator. And besides there is no way to climb into a patrol boat without a ladder. They asked me to climb up on the outboard and in. Nope, not happening!
They sent me to shore. The adjoining villas are all walled from each other. I was motioned to the end of the wall and facing the ocean I could see around the wall to the neighbors place. I was greeted by the caretaker and his two AK-47 armed guards. Now it was serious. But at least no one was shooting. The other three divers soon emerged. As they swam to the surface you could see their bubble trail left to right from the neighbor’s water to the villa we were diving from. Aha! Trespassing! And not in just anyone’s water, it was the prince of terrorism’s palace we had transgressed. Well, they did it; remember, I was snorkeling (in bounds).
This prince was famous for stamping out terrorism years. It was bad politics and bad for business. So the story goes: he offered $1million dollar bounty on any terrorist. And the story continues, that people turned in their sons and brothers. Peace or relative peace followed.
So? We were suspicious assassins swimming in his water. It’s not his water. Certainly the fish do not recognize borders! But here we were. And then we were hauled off to the coast guard station for twelve hours! They knew right away that we were innocent. But the paperwork! took 12! hours. A very nice office wrote out, by hand, in careful perfect Arabic script a report for each of us. Three would be identical copies but he wrote out each separately and painstakingly. After all how long does it take to write? You can’t make this stuff up. Someone from the hospital actually had to come and vouch for my orthopedic surgeon host and me. (Later we found out the CEO’s father and the coast guard’s general were friends and we’d have been free fast. Who knew?) Afterward, like Alice’s Restaurant, we all shook hands, and took the phone number of the lieutenant just in case we were ever in a jam again.
The order of the blue thumb – you don’t sign documents in Jeddah. You leave your thumb print. So each of us had to attest to our guilt – what me?! – by inking our thumb at every statement the officer wrote. That was a lot of thumb prints. Not one – a lot! And then no alcohol to wipe the ink off…. So, you see? I actually came back to work in this crazy place six months later. Don’t ask. The orthopedic surgeon and I are good friends now. He never asked.
So two days ago on July 3rd I was called. Routine. I get calls for emergencies all the time. A recently retired orthopedic surgeon was in the hospital ER with subdural hematomas right and left side. I was going to do the operation the next day but was persuaded to operate in the night because his neurological was not entirely stable. It’s Ramadan. They fast all day. Break fast is at 7:10pm. So everyone did that first. At 10:30pm they called me to come on in to the OR. I had been napping after breakfast. Everything was ready to go. And at 11:23pm I joked to the anesthesiologist, “We’ll be done before midnight. I want to finish the within the same day I start.” Hey! At that hour… His nephew was in the room with us. He’s a house doctor in the orthopedic department. And the son was in the waiting room. He’s a general surgery intern with us. Even with a discerning hovering audience, everything went well.
I left and drove home safely and quietly. There are two ways to go. You pass by the American Embassy on the right of left. Hail Street is the local route. Andalus Road is a highway, of sorts, that passes the American Embassy to the left. Right or left, it depends on time of day and traffic. In the middle of the night, Andalus is faster of course. And I always go the fastest way home. Missed by that much, maybe an hour or so, because my assistant passed this way home too. He was about an hour or so behind me. He found all the streets blocked. Within the hour I was called about another emergency, but, I did not have to return to the hospital. Close! Some poor kid had his motorcycle hit by a car…or he hit the car. Either way, he did not need surgery though he was in a coma. Sadly, they often ride fast without helmets. No one knew of the bombing at the time. (And they close off roads all the time for passing motorcades carrying royalty.)
In 2004, the US Embassy was attacked and nine Filipino’s lost their lives. After that the embassy walls were reinforced. (Curiously the Iranian embassy is only minutes away.) A double wall of concrete with barbed wire was installed right into the street. The two-way street became one-way and traffic always moves slowly past. (They think nothing to just block off a street permanently.) To the right side there is a parking lot where the bomb supposedly detonated. A mosque is there on the corner. A large hospital sits to the right as well. The cousin to my hospital’s CEO owns Fakeeh Hospital and competes with us. Guards from within and without are there. It is the beginning of the entrance to enter the embassy grounds.
Across the street are the Saudi security forces in plain sight with uniforms and weapons at the ready. There is a pick-up truck with a mounted machine gun. My curiosity was raised to see whether the machine gun was ready to go. It appears that the ammo is not loaded up for immediate firing. No one sits in the gun mount anyway. But, this was what prompted me to sneak a pic and scope out the extent of vigilance. You cannot be 100% vigilant if nothing ever happens. You get complacent. I was wondering and gauging complacency. I guess they are pretty vigilant and less complacent. No one was seriously injured. The bomber was seen long before he got close to the embassy.
Bottom line: I know the site. And I passed by within a very short time before it took place. And, I very nearly passed by again for another patient emergency. Close, but no cigar? Close is for horseshoes? Better to be lucky than good. Good means fast and I finished and left before trouble occurred. It was July 4th – was it fireworks gone bad…? Bad jokes, all…. Go figure. The prince of terror may have more work to do again. Yes, my kids and everyone close knows I am ok. Thank you to all of you who noticed. It looks like there were fireworks here and, fortunately, I missed them.
I am stuck. The blog has begun to dictate to me. I take photos underwater and compose snappy posts. Lately I am taking photos or not based on whether they are blog worthy. So, here is my confesstion and a start of a new day.
I’m not a comic. And it started as a blog to tell the story behind the photos I take and have taken. And to all who read and follow thank you. I have appreciated all of you who follow. I have been lacking in expressing my thanks and only a few of you today will know that. All the followers do not read on any given day. But to you all, thank you for reading and following. I do not believe that this includes my kids or wife at the moment.
Funny. Lots of stories about them and … Suffice to say I was warned about embarrassing my daughter. I will recall to you that she sent a plaintive email telling me her students had stalked her online by searching her first and last name. The great “Google” put her name and mine together and voila! She was there for all her students to see. So now she is referred by a nickname only.
Gmail reads my stuff too. I was asked about forgetting to add an attachment. I had referred to something using the word. And before I sent, they asked! Is the government breathing on the other end of my ‘net connection?
An electric car now drives by computer and sensors without a driver. It’s safe. It had one fatality and everyone has called for the death of the driverless car. Let’s say that human error has resulted in way more death. Shall we remove humans and be safer? Ah! The rub!?
So never in my life, and it has been a long and opinionated one, did I ever imagine being a cat person. Nope, never, don’t like ‘em, don’t want ‘em. They are not affectionate and don’t come when you call. No tricks. No particular entertainment value. And no one says, “What a pretty cat!” when you walk it. I guess it’s ‘cause you don’t have to walk it. Ah! Litterboxes are so much fun!
So to post now and again about Lulu has to the delight a number of people who have known my dog – Reggie – and then – Nellie, two Cavalier King Charles spaniels. Royalty. Dogs of kings and queens. Lulu – pearl in Arabic – a mutt of no known family – feral living in my compound behind closed walls, adopted me. Yes, she came inside one day, escaped once or twice, was set free a couple more times, but has now settled in as the ruler of my villa. She has been in all the bedrooms and has dusted. That is to say she has raised all the dust and moved it into the room. I might have to dust the rooms after studiously ignoring the fine layer of evenly distributed dust since I moved in.
She squeaks, so her middle name is “Squeaky.” Otherwise she never speaks. She alternates swatting and swiping, with purring and sleeping. She has explored up and down. I am not cat proofed – until now! She loves wire and string. She is not allowed to eat my phone charger. She especially loves the end of my iPhone charger wire. You know, the lightning connector. Yeah, now my wires are all tucked away.
Lately she has taken to sleeping in my desk chair. She climbs on my desk (very messy and you don’t get to see…). There is barely an open square inch. She does not step on my keyboard. And she plops down and gazes out the window at the compound below. My window is the only open one in the whole compound. At night all the curtains are drawn shut and not bit of light escapes. Come to think of it, they stay closed during the day too. I am now owned by my cat. She adopted me, she came in, and now she runs the place. Yeah, “What me?” owner and cat.
I hide out in an alcove of the hospital. No office. Nowhere to hide. There was an area on the second floor…but they told me people would hide out and have sex. Damn, why do I always miss out on stuff like that. So I am being harassed by my buddies. They make fun that they see me sleeping when they walk by. I know it’s not true because they have never complained about my snoring. Faisal is on the right. He is from Yemen and is my gym buddy. He calls to wake me when I pass out on the gym mat. Rida is my neighbor in the compound and the chief of eye surgery. The whole body – and all he cares about is 2 square centimeters of eye. Yeah, pretty funny. Obviously I was not sleeping. I took the picture! Right? Yes, it’s not much of a portrait, but then again this was not a beauty contest.
Everyone enjoys a good meal. Around these parts are several restaurants that do a lunch special. This means extra value – usually an appetizer or dessert and a drink. It’s usually available on the weekdays. That means Sunday to Thursday around here. Neat trick the afternoon prayer time is near 4PM so the hours are from around noon to 5PM. I won’t do the addresses. Some places have more than one location. Use your Google map. Unfortunately these are all local Jeddah restaurants. So unless you are in Saudi Arabia, you may look but you can’t have.
Romano’s Macaroni Grill
This place is my current favorite. It hasn’t had its grand opening yet. Nice place. Good food. Hot. Attentive excellent service. 52SAR – appetizer, main course, and drink. Lots of choices. Tastes great. I know I said that already, but, I mean it. Really.
This restaurant closed a year or so ago and reopened in the same area but with a nicer space. Lunch is 49 or 59SAR with entrée, salad, drink, dessert, and coffee. Service is great.
Food is good. The entrée varies. The lower price is for pizza. Entrée can be good or so so. The rest is fun. It’s great to find this restaurant again.
I just noticed the lunch special. The place was packed with people eating lunch special and a la carte. I’m single. And at this hour most places are empty. Ah! That’s why they try to get you to come! There are multiple entrees to choose from. One side dish. Peanuts, Bread. And a drink. You will not be hungry after this. Once again the price is below 100SAR
Business lunch is a good buy. There are multiple entrees to choose from. Side dish, noodles or rice, and drink included. There are small extras brought complementary as well. It is a good meal. I have enjoyed it several times.
Until Romano’s this restaurant was my favorite for business lunch. I was stuck in the Chicken Marinara which came with penne pasta in four cheese sauce. Bread, salad, dessert and drink are included. Great meal, great price, good all around. I would eat there regularly until I discovered Romano.
It’s a lunch buffet. Multiple dishes with appetizer, soup, entrée, rice, noodles, drink, dessert. It’s a very nice value. The waiters are pretty lame. I wish they were more helpful. But then again you don’t require too much help piling up a heaping plate. The menu changes daily so you will find variations when you go. All in all a good meal. And all for 45SAR.
Applebee: Tuesday’s: Paul: Steakhouse: Outback
These other places have listed business lunch specials. I’ve been in all of them. There is a time and place but I do not go there on a regular basis. Steakhouse and Outback surprisingly do poorly in grilling their steak. Paul changes their choice according to a fixed schedule. That doesn’t work for me. Tuesday’s meal was bland. Once only. Applebee is a chain. You have to like chain food. Sometimes I do. Mostly not.
There’s been a clamor in the family for a picture of Lulu. It’s a silly but has Arabic roots because it means pearl. Had I known she would adopt me I would have picked another name. But now I call her Squeaky. It doesn’t matter. She doesn’t respond to either name. Maybe it’s my poor Arabic. Or, she doesn’t speak human. For sure she doesn’t follow commands – simple or complex. But she squeaks. No meow. No howl or whine, it’s squeak. And she does it and it works because I come when she squeaks. Yes, I’m getting my star as a trained human.
When she adopted me I was ok. And I waited to see if she really wanted to stay. This morning she tested me. She went on out the door and sat under the hedge and munched grass. She did not respond to my call or my offer to let her back into the house. Later when I got home from work, no Lulu. I whistle and the other cats in the compound come around to eat for free. No Lulu. Went to lunch… and upon return I found a cat meowing – not Lulu. But after a minute of whistling, along she came. And she squeaked. She’s got a streak of dirt along her nose. I was good. I was going away for a couple weeks. Now I have to engage the care giver to look in on my new found cat. It’s never boring in my house. Did I mention that she chases her tail?
Yes. Diving. And a parrot encounter. One of the guys brought his pet along. It raised quite a stir. This picture is absent the woman holding the bird. She turned her head and folded her hat over her face. Well, WTF. You know, she wore sunglasses and I really didn’t give much care for how she looked. Besides she’s not in the photo. Sorry. But some customs baffle me. Anyway everyone went away happy. The blur is because I have my underwater housing and the lens is wet. No, I’m not opening the housing for a potential water leak. So I take what I get. Sometimes its good and others its for documentation. I wonder why the bird did not fly away. It was docile and let me pet its beak. It’s surely intelligent. I wonder whether it’s right to capture such a fine creature as a pet. But then again we domesticate, we tame, and we eat. No matter. The parrot was docile and did not mind going from shoulder to arm to head. It got a lot of attention and tolerated the strangers very well.
Yes, in the middle of a sandstorm, I’m out feeding the cats. Bidi and Lily are outdoor cats. They hang around the compound but are not adopted. The guys at the gate feed them. And countless other tenants do the same too? Lily was showing up regularly. But on this day, Bidi is the one who appeared. Ok, you show up, you get fed. It would not be a notable event. But in the sandstorm and with a silly expression, well, that merits a pause. With point and shoot cameras, and with animal shots, like fish, you can be surprised by what shows up. Auto focus changed the game long ago. Now, just point and shoot. Yeah, I’m finally in the new century. Amazing, when you suddenly have insight into what everyone has known for years. But I grew up before cellphones. Imagine that! Beam me up Scottie!