It’s odd. I’m in Denver. Don’t ask. I won’t tell you why unless you already know. Dave messaged. He needed advice. He’s in Yosemite. He hiked to the top. El Capitan is in the distance. It’s the back side. My usual picture of the place is from the front. There’s a waterfall – to the right. We ended up in the Denver Art Museum. And wandering through…look! We found the same scene – and it was the reverse side. Neat! I was so struck by the coincidence I told the Chinese tourists passing by me. And they commented they were puzzled because they had visited but not the back side. And I have never visited. I guess I should. It’s on my list. But it probably won’t be too soon.
…yeah, and kids don’t try this at home.
The term high plains comes to mind. It is around here somewhere. Probably not here but it is a term that sounds good. It’s flat. My GPS shows the road stretching straight due west. The sun does not exactly set due west either. I guess that’s another misconception. Grain silos dot the landscape. They are tall majestic structures that interrupt the skyline like trees or mountains if there were any around here. There aren’t. As the sun sets you take what you can get. I shot from my car window on the go way over the speed limit and my spiffy point and shoot did what it was supposed to do. Am I good or am I good?
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.
There’s weather again. Seasons! Rain! Yes! After four years of scorching sun and no rain, I’m back and with someone who obsesses over the weather forecast. It’s refreshing to factor in the weather into my plans. I nearly did not make the flight. The luggage story was the end. That was pretty much the prelude to closing the plane doors. In order to leave there is a list: plane ticket, exit visa, close your bank account, turn off your phone, hand in your work card – iqama. There is a dance. It’s choreographed so that the steps are defined. The exit visa and ticket are last. You get a ticket after you have a visa. You need to hand in your iqama to get your visa. But you need the iqama at the bank to take your money. Read slowly. You mess up and you are not leaving. Before that the hospital has its own list and each item requires a signature and a stamp. Yes! A stamp! Go figure: the mailroom, the library, security, etc., etc. Finally, there is a survey: did you enjoy your stay, and would you come back to work? I guess the wrong answer and you stay longer. Say nothing, do nothing to rock the boat. Of course, it was great. “Frosted flakes!!”
Can I make this story short? Yes, I got out. Stop reading here.
No one tells you the exact sequence. You sort of puzzle things out. There is an end of service pay mandated by the government. Calculations are made. Then the money is transferred to your bank account. The first week was haj – September 9 to 14. Banks and the government are closed. Don’t ask. Shutdown, closed, just stopped for five days plus the weekend on either end. I dove. Nice. I was on paid leave. Ok, but I’d rather have been home.
The new Saudi week starts on Sunday. I have till Friday to complete business and get on the plane. Monday – maybe the money will be in by Wednesday. It’s close but doable. Monday, the travel office tried to give me a ticket for Friday. Nope, no final exit visa. That comes after the bank is closed. Tuesday waiting. I went to stare at the finance lady who said Wednesday maybe Thursday. No! It has to be Wednesday! I received a helpless smile. She said she was trying. Wednesday morning, the ticket office called me in to take a ticket for Friday. They could not wait longer or it would be next week. Is it a joke? Finance says that they need a signature from housing. What! WTF! I already have all my stamps and signatures! Sorry, it won’t take long. Surreal? I need an entry exit visa. Get that and then transfer money from Saudi to NY by internet banking. Nope! I have to take a final exit visa. Rules! Shit. No bending the rules! I went up the line to the Deputy CEO. He mumbled that something would be done. So far, nada, nothing! It’s noon. I had just come from the bank. They were kind enough to volunteer that Thursday was Saudi National Day! That is the equivalent of Fourth of July here. No government or banking – it’s a national holiday! You’re kidding right!? At that moment, my money from the hospital hits the bank and I receive the text message. I cannot get to and from the bank in time for the government office to go and get an exit visa. There’s not enough time. Before a holiday everyone quits early. Does this country function? Not like anywhere normal, for sure! Solution? There’s a bank near the hospital. I rush over, break traffic laws, run red lights, cut off other cars and get there to the sound of the local mosques blaring out “prayer time.” Closed for 40 minutes, I was screwed! Sure enough the doors were locked and I was out of luck. Shit! An old Saudi man came and pounded the door. He was not waiting. I followed him in the back door. Cheated one more time. I had to check off a box for withdrawing so much money. “Which works?” I asked the teller.
“Medical,” he said. I figured, “mental” by way of insanity worked for me. Back to the hospital. Sami, government relations shook his head. Maybe, maybe not. What did he care? He was not staying an extra week. But… after a long pause on the phone several hours later… he reported… success! Visa, bank, ticket – done. Priceless! My phone is still not settled. The never did cut off my internet when they threatened. The bill is unpaid. I’m in the US and receive Arabic texts about my bill. Can’t read ‘em. Don’t need ‘em. Hey! I got weather again!
I’m out. On the plane. The door closed and I got out of Saudi. Happy! Yup! I was surrounded by African pilgrims for the ride home. Maybe I have MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome). They coughed front and back of me all the damn way home. I got it about two days later. Stress lowers your immune system. I have been fighting a vicious cold for two weeks. It’s not fatal. And it’s probably not MERS. These very nice ladies posed for each other during the latter part of the flight. They did not even notice that I stuck my camera up and shot them in their finery. You would have to say it was worth the trip. The ladies would disappear into the tiny restroom for lengthy makeovers. Why dress to return home? Who knows? I will always remember them by this image and the vicious cold they shared with me.
I post according to what catches my eye at the moment. I photograph eclectically. Stuff. I shoot graphics. I shoot current event. I shoot history. I do fish! I used to photograph my kids a lot. My wife never liked her picture. So there were less and less of them. Random shots. Random thoughts. At least it’s not fish today. I have to break up the line up or else I risk changing the blog to a dive blog. Change, it happens. It’s sort of inevitable. To some of you who know me, this is more meaningful. But there is a Chinese saying, “May you be born in interesting times.” Or, “Every journey begins with the first step.” Or, even more trite, “Today is the last day of the rest of your life.”
Interesting times? How about Trump? Who’d ever have thought he’d be nominated and that a very large number of people are supporting him. Sorry, I guess you can guess my politics. But really, I don’t believe in any of them. No one you elect actually does anything for you. They do so they can be re-elected in the next cycle. Cynical? Maybe.
Change? Yup. Kodak? Film? Who were they? Digital rules. Cameras? Nope. Everyone pretty much uses a smartphone now. The game has changed. Brick and mortar stores are going. You even buy shoes online now. Amazon rules. I haven’t set foot in a store to buy Christmas presents in a few years now. Online sales prices lie to me. MSRP is a come on. No one pays retail. Not for a long long time. So the sales price is a come on too. But no one can hide on the internet. So lowest prices are pretty easy to shop and it’s a whole lot easier than walking or driving. Bye Macy’s. Gimbles is gone. So too are so many other stores. The anchor mall stores here in Saudi are grocery stores. Everyone needs food….for the moment.
Park? I’ve been a nomad for a lot of years now. I never intended nor expected to be. It has been an unparalleled adventure. I would not have willingly mapped it out this way. But moving seems to suit me. My family moved on average every two years till I was eighteen. I told my wife and she gut renovated our apartment twice so we stayed thirty years at one address. My kids lived in different countries on different continents. Risk, adventure, wanderlust? My parents left China to journey to America. They gave me opportunity. I’ve been very lucky and blessed. The timing for me was so very fortunate. There has been badness. But on the whole it’s been pretty nice. I opened Lightroom to look for some images today. Random. But thoughtful. Or as Bing Crosby sang in White Christmas – “….I count my blessings instead of sheep…”
A long long time ago… I was in Peru. Recently, I remembered this image. I shot it for the graphics and color. We were visiting a llama farm. Native women were costumed and weaving. I shot the color and not the technique or style, or loom. Sorry. It was not important to me then. I suppose more detail and the hands would have been a nice touch too. But one image must suffice. It illustrates all. A single image is always an incomplete story. I can recall the trip and the place we were in. The image is an anchor. I remember much of the day. David had llama for lunch later. I would tell you it tasted like chicken, but no, it was more lean and stringy like beef. And in the big picture, we were in Peru because we had attended a wedding in Lima. This leg of the trip was to Cusco and on to Machu Picchu. I took a lot of pictures throughout the trip. This was my weaving photo. One image, a lot of memories….
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.
Well, what’s a Lebanese wedding? Christian. And a lot of fun. Traditional. Wedding gown, formal wear. Small church – chapel, really – and so it was crowded. A lot of the folks just stood outside. Video and cameras, and lots of very very bright video lights – in your face and all of that. That was jarring. If you notice they turned off all the lights for the post ceremony pics. Nope! The power consumption was so high that the power went out and could not be restored. I was truly impressed by the media array. Talk about in your face… the priest did not seem to care. So the images were terrible? They only needed to turn 180 degrees and have the backdrop of a beautiful Mediterranean sunset. But I guess if you have a gorgeous sunset every day, it’s not so special. I was gonna say something, honest I was, but then there were so many professional photographers pretending to be amateurs…..
There’s always a signature shot. I got mine. We were late to the ceremony. I was with Farid and on his calculated schedule. He wanted to be late. So we were in the back and I was with my trusty point and shoot. I wasn’t there to upstage the real photographers. Off to the side of the stage under the speaker system over by the muscians – two kids – just passing the time….bored, dutiful – priceless.