Monday, November 29, 2010

quick thought 1

$5 a night room with wifi....the world has changed.

ahlahn wasalan: off on the wrong hajj

i have emerged from a bad dream to find myself overnighted in manama, breakfast pint, and not sure quite how i got here.

yesterday was the day of rush.  taught a full class load, last checkout from the Taif house, snailed away to jeddah to run last minute errands during which of course i encounter the worst traffic-and bad decisions galore led me to my last ride to the airport with my beloved overseer-rushed.  this guy, as greasy and snake-like as they come, proceeded to step in every conversational poo possible.  i tried to steer to the smallest of talks, avoiding the discrepancies in my final arrangements, just wanting to get to katmandu.  this guy wanted to brag about his generosity, his well to do kids and several other chest-puffing topics.  man was i glad when we arrived at the airport, bitting my tongue the hardest its been, not to say good bye and good riddence you freakin' awkward jagoff.

dropped off, only to find in the disorganized chaos which is jeddah international, that my flight didn't exist.  was told to wait, sat and had a coffee, and luck would have it that a brave, responsible soul looked for me to tell me that my flight left out of the *hajj terminal*.  hajj is the religious pilgrimage that every muslim is required if able to mecca/makkah. 

hajj terminal-not your normal airport drop off.
once i found this out, i quickly grabbed a cab and headed to the terminal.  unlike any terminal i have ever been-possibly the largest in the world-or at least the largest disorganized terminal in the world.  all of the other passengers-to-be were pilgrims on package tours-sans me.  because of this, i was forced to walk from the parking lot-which isn't a big deal-unless you are carrying 60 lbs of baggage.  so i had to tote this across this large expanse of a parking lot, like a national geographic woman-with-baggage-on-her-head-shot looking for any indication that i was in the correct place.  let's be clear here-i was feeling like it was over, that *they* finally succeeded in preventing my departure. the saudi-wide conspiracy to keep me in kingdom has finally succeeded.  i was frantic, thinking that not only would i be missing my flight, but as saudi visa laws are so particular, that i could be in some trouble as well.  somehow i managed to find airport personal that was slightly willing to let me know where i should go, and was directed to one of the largest airport spaces i have ever seen.  i really wish i was able to take pictures, but saudi (especially an airport) is not a very photo-happy place. 

so i finally found the gulf air ticketing area, which was a swarm of equally confused hajjis, looking like they wanted to go as much as i did.

note:  now looking back, it must be said that the spectacle that is the hajj terminal was something to behold.  thousands and thousands of people from all over the world, every nationality, occupying a grand space.  all of them, after completing one of the most important events of their religious life.   the it was awesome to say the least.  i appreciate it now, but toting 60 lbs of luggage (this will have to change as soon as I encounter cheap reliable shipping) on your head.

after some searching and pleading, i discovered that i had entered into a space reserved for muslim/hajjis only, and that i might be stuck in a limbo of difficult departure.  i was told to wait till the agents cleared the queues (massive), and it began to really hit me that i may be stuck in saudi for some undetermined amount of time.  it was like someone didn't want me to leave saudi-or at least they sure weren't making it easy for me to leave.  so after the clearing, an amazingly kind baharani man by the name of Yusef took me under his wing and promised his best to help me get on my flight.  i was a special case-it was a rare occasion to see a hawajed (non-muslim) in the hajj terminal, so he was unsure what to do with me.  damn, for allowing me to buy the freaking hajj ticket (but it was sooo cheap) and not alerting me to the fact that my ticket was a hajji ticket.  he went off to plead my case to saudi immigration, and also enlisted the services of another very kind bahrani, mr. adam.  with both of their help, as well as a super kind guy from medina, i was able to clear immigrations and all the thoughts of me trying to somehow get in touch with someone from work (i surrendered my company phone when i was dropped off-so no contact details for anyone)-i was in-between laughter and tears-that state where the absurdity of your dilemma makes you laugh, but the reality of your situation could make you cry....because, as you know, i wanted to *leave* saudi realreal bad.

worried about being late for a flight and missing it?  take a hajj flight.  100% guaranteed, at least according to the nigerian guy (and yes, he did start up a conversation about making an easy million and how i could get a piece of it-what was my email?) and he was telling me of his four experiences through the terminal.  interesting guy, by the way.  after he realized i would not trade $400 to pay for account fees to earn millions, we had a really great chat.  one of those momentary random travel chats which connect you with someone that you will never see again.  he told me about hajj and the changes he has seen in the four times he has been to mecca/makkah.  all the development that he had seen-as well as the increase in 5 star hajj facilities. things like the dubai-like zam zam hotel, where rooms go for $1000s a night.  what a world-where we have 5 star pilgrimages.

so made the 10pm flight at 3am.  full hajj flight, filled with all kinds of humanity that make up the muslim world (which means every nationality imaginable).  was bumped up to business, which enabled a sleep, and then manama, bahrain and a crappy airline castoff hotel.  yet another step in the comedy of departure was the failed wake up call and almost missing the flight to katmandu.  but luckily they drive in bahrain as they do in saudi, and so i actually had enough time to have my first freedom beer, and a good chuckle about the previous 24 hrs.  oh and another bump to business now has given me cause to say:  whoo-hoo i am free and finally at the beginning of an adventure.  now if only i could get a scotch and water from the stewardess.......
what freedom looks like

a sign?

business class dreaming

first beer: as close to everest as i will get tonight

first night bed

Saturday, November 27, 2010

becoming (a) regular: haircuts 2

Ayden-best barber in Hawiyah
on the continuing tick-list of lasts, a final haircut.

last night was my last trip to 'saloon rawayee'  home to my barber 
of three years, ayden.  i was  greeted with the customary tea 
and exchange of  greetings over the top of the customer he was 
cutting.  this has been a ritual that i have always appreciated.  
i speak very little arabic and almost no turkish, but with a 
turkish-english dictionary and lots of context-based guessing, 
we communicated like every good barber-customer.

Saloon Rawayee
i remember the first time i went to his shop.  i walked in, badly needing a haircut.  a different barber directed me to a seat and i was soon greeted by a shortish fellow with a mullet and a handle bar mustache-and no irony-i knew i was going to like the guy.  it took two more visits to learn his name, and after i was a regular.  we talked about our families, life in saudi and what we wanted for the future.  when he finished my cut, he would always pull me to his computer and would either have me chat with his son in turkey, see pictures of his grandson or show me what was up on his facebook account.  a barber shop is a cathartic place, a place to share, vent and clear ones mind.  this place definitely was that for me.

Friday, November 26, 2010

three days

magic number 3.

wrapping up the last of the last, passing off parcels to others, and as each object leaves this house, i feel lighter.  except of course the bag that shall be my movable storage the next something something months.  hopefully that gets whittled down as i pass through the seasons.

it is funny how the last few days or so my mind has recognized the end is near.  i have been downright joyful the last couple.  random acts of laughter, and a steeled ability to ignore that which would have before  caused grief-this is what my mind has allowed.  it has been awhile since i, out of nowhere, laugh-giddy-like.  forgot the pleasure of an unprovoked laugh.

no self-malocchio, but it must be said, i feel great/relieved/ready.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

à propos


thanksgiving: missing family, friends and stuffing

distracted by my soon-to-be termination of this segment of my life, i realize that it is thanksgiving.

every time i miss a holiday, away from my family, i feel it.  a gap in my year that needs to be made up, at a later time.  i am lucky to have a family that understands that it is not the date that matters, but the gathering of family.  so i look to the forward, and see my stuffing waiting for me in april (or whatever date that i feel the pull of home stronger than that of the cleansing and rejuvenation of the road).

if this day we are to state the things in which we are thankful for i offer up thanks for the luck that has given me the people that are my family and friends, as well as all my life experiences (both gains and losses)-a life that has been most interesting.  and as a nod to the immediate, i also am thankful that this particular segment of my life has passed and that i am transitioning to a different one.

sometimes you need a little bukowski

a couple of my favorites, on day four-left.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


single-digit loveliness.  seven days shy of a new day and the open road; life on the whim of fate soon my reality.

funny, looking back at the time that i have passed through, it feels as though it was both a moment and an eternity.  i can see and feel how it has been a great distance that i covered, concurrently seeing and feeling that it was also a short moment...a case of doublethink?  or better yet, doublememory?

regardless, here i am simultaneously on the cusp of an ending and beginning, and enjoying every minute of it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

memento / oblivisci 2

Things I want to remember, things I need to forget.


my first class 
my last class
the Jeddah 'church'
a good boss 
location appropriate signage

old Jeddah

old Jeddah

old Jeddah

teaching filmmaking 
mosque truckstops
the exhilaration of driving as fast as you like

driving the long stretch of desert to Jeddah

random objets d'art 

                                                    lightning in the desert


Saudi drivers

a bad boss


Thursday, November 11, 2010

the things expats in saudi say 1

When you come to Saudi Arabia, you bring two suitcases with you.
One is labeled bullshit, the other is labeled money.  When either of them gets full, it's time to leave.
(Andrew Reiley/2007)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

exit strategy

Three weeks to go and another nail in the coffin of my time here firmly hammered in place: ticket purchased.

Whenever I have left a place, it has always been a bittersweet affair.  Excited to head to the next experience, but sad to be leaving friends/family, well earned familiarity and a cache of favorite places.  I hate to think/say/write this, but my departure from here has none of that.  I am leaving a place for which I have no positive feelings.  Looking at that sentence, I feel a bit sad.  And as I have had an exceptionally bad run for the last several months or so (someone purposfully running into me, stones thrown at me from teenagers and many instances of another's selfishness and impatience).

To make the taste of this place even more bitter, I am engaged in a tit-for-tat with my overseers to see who can extract the most capital from whom.   I attempted to avoid this as I followed the letter of the contract, giving as much notice as possible.  Luckily and intuitively I also kept my exact details as close to the chest as possible.  From the beginning I could tell that this was going to be an ordeal. 

First, the initial company that I signed on (guess it is what I get for making a pact with the devil-defense contractor) with did what so many American companies do these days-sold us off to subcontractors.  Then, the Saudi company now holding the contract decided to switch the rules on me (as these days contracts are called memorandums of understanding-so are as malleable as clay)-loss of holidays, lack of departure support and not allowing me to use my remaining holidays to fill out my last months.  So I decided to stay longer, as I had accounted for that money in my budget for travel.  Then they decide to not pay my soft landing package.  Enough being enough, I turned to my conniving side (not proud of it) and I switched my departure date to recoup loss of pay and to a more expensive date (cash in lieu, thank you very much).  Now they say that I owe for overspent vacation, and its my turn to volley back.  Quick with my accounting, I quickly had to show my days.  This possibly sounds petty, but as I have bartered the last three years of my life for a trunk of gold, I want what was agreed upon in full.  Or maybe I see the neck of the golden goose on the chopping block and I am scrounging for any last scrap of shell that I can stuff in me pockets-greedy am I?

I can't wait to clear this place and see which voice has been telling me the truth these last three years and to recalibrate my ego/psyche/soul.  It is very possible that the old me would have disowned me years ago.

Friday, November 5, 2010


Coping mechanisms are grand, aren't they?

The ways in which we deal with stress, although many, can be distilled into the basic four pathways:  chunk-drunk-hunk-monk.  Living abroad, not only do you face the regular everyday stress points, but a whole slew of additional ones.  My sister introduced me to these four general categories, which are related to high stress locations, which I do think Hawiyah (not even Taif), Saudi Arabia is one.


Lately this has been the most difficult coping strategy to avoid.    Legal and little effort, it is so easy to turn to a tub of chocolate ice cream or extra-cheese pizza when one is feeling down.  I have struggled with this one the most, and it seems like just when I have it beat, some difficulty elbows its way into my life and I get overwhelmed and head to the convenience store on compound (which has the sorriest selection of food- all processed-which I guess is what people go to for convenience and comfort).


I have fluctuated in and out of all four, but have successfully dropped drunk (drinking the gawd awful bathtub gins and smoking) about two years ago.  When I first got here, I was invited to several American consulate parties where they had great scotch, but poor company.  I tired of that and then started going to compound parties and bars.  The fuel for these places tended to be sidiki (which is Arabic for 'my friend'), basically home-stilled, impure grain alcohol.  Drinking various concoctions with sid left me feeling terrible the next day (nothing worse than a sid hangover), and so it was easy to stop.


Of course this is the most difficult strategy to maintain.  When I am on and have energy, and as I have so much free time on my hands, I am able to walk eight miles, head to the gym for a workout and the return home to cook a tasty healthy meal.  But I swear, this place just sucks the life out of me.  After returning from teaching, which this semester I have really been enjoying as I have a good group of guys, I am spent. Part of being a teacher is being a performer, mixing it up so that your students don't bore of the content.  This takes preparation and positive energy, which drains you.


Currently, and for the past year or so, I have definitely adopted the strategy of monk.  Life here, working, living and sharing with the same people has increased the appeal.  I see these people at work, live on the same small isolated island-compound and must share cars and the escape villa in Jeddah with them.  So socializing for me, has been easy to shed.  The moment I return from work, I try my best to not encounter anyone.  Nothing personal, but when spending that much time with people without a choice, when I am able to choose, I now always choose to be alone.

Well, as my future holds less than two weeks of teaching, and four weeks total, I have been abiding by the hunk-monk routine.  I can only imagine how long it will take me to leave this place to memory, and recompose the person that I was/am.  I view it as a process of decompression, which I hope the travels that are in my future assist me with, as I become.