• Tag Archives Saudi Arabia
  • Saudi Arabia

    Imbolc                                                       Valentine Moon

    Saudi Arabia.  Mark has been there for well over a year, almost 2, so the day-to-day scene comes more and more into focus, even for me, 8,000 miles away.  Perhaps the oddest piece of information so far concerns postal service.  Addresses don’t work in Saudi Arabia.  To this northern European mind, used to numbered homes and buildings, named streets and precisely divided zip codes this data fails to process.  So much so that we insisted (I insisted) on sending Mark a package for Christmas to his school.  Well, it hasn’t arrived quite yet.

    Apparently the only solution to this problem is to use Fedex or DHS.  Which begs the question of how they find a place, but they must have some kind of system.  So, next time we send Mark a picture of Gertie and a book on the geo-political affairs of Saudi Arabia, it’ll go out Fedex.

    Banking, too, has its peculiarities.  You can’t get a bank account without an iqama, sort of a work visa, and Mark’s school has not been able to arrange iqamas for their first year employees.  This is Mark’s first year working in Riyadh.  An iqama is roughly equivalent to a green card in the U.S.  Without it Mark has to go on a familiar routine for expats in many countries, a visa run.  On a visa run you leave the country where you live, stay away a few days, then re-enter, starting the visa process again, usually for a period of 90 or 180 days.

    Mark also reports that a few students watch jihadi videos and execution videos in his class. His afternoon classes have to stop for the afternoon prayer, then start up again.  The priorities of other cultures, which seem obvious to them, often seem odd or at least unexpected to outsiders.  Mark seems to have adjusted very well to the differences between his U.S. acculturation and the Saudi’s.



  • A Third of the World Between Sibs

    Winter(?)                                  First Moon of the New Year

    Both sibs have sent photographs recently.  Mary has taken several pictures of elephants in a series placed around Singapore.  They’re part of a fund-raiser to help Southeast Asian elephants.

    Mary lives within short walking distance of the Botanical Gardens of Singapore, a delightful collection of Southeast Asian plants placed on large grounds.  In fact, she used to work there when her university had its campus on the grounds.

    The fund-raiser reminded me of the Charles Schultz cartoon characters St. Paul had up a few years back.

    Singapore is an unusual place, a city-state like days of yore, think Athens, Sparta, Corinth, Rome, Venice.  It refers to itself as the air-conditioned nation.  Mary refers to it as Asia-lite.  I enjoyed my visit there a great deal.

    Mark, on the other hand, is in a much less humid environment, Saudi Arabia.  He is in his fourth month teaching English in Ha’il, a former caravan serai on the pilgrimage route to Mecca.  It sits in the northern third of the Arabian Peninsula, near the center and has some elevation, about 3,000 feet.

    He has settled in there, having taken trips into the desert three times over the last couple of months.  The first time he went dune bashing in motorized vehicles. The second time he  visited a camel breeding operation run by a student, black camels, and in his most recent foray wandered the desert where this photography was taken.

    That puts me in the heart of the North American continent, Mary at the tip end of the Malaysian Peninsula, near Indonesia and Mark in the sands of storied Arabia.  That must be about a third of the way around the world to each sibling.


  • News from Ha’il

    Fall                                                            Full Autumn Moon

    News from Ha’il*.  Mark reports having to leave a restaurant with a friend because it was about to close for prayers.  During prayers many businesses in Saudi Arabia lock customers in so they can continue shopping or eating.  This is at least three times a day, could be more since there are five prayer times.

    He also commented on the number of funeral homes:  0.  Families inter their own dead, then have three days of mourning.

    Likewise:  no cinemas, bars, karaoke places or houses of ill repute.  But, there are Pakistanis, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Bengalis, Philipinos, Brits, Americans, New Zealanders, South Africans.

    The area around Ha’il has very old mountains and looks like Monument Valley or Arizona, he says.

    Interesting to have an embedded informant in the heart of Arabia.  More illuminations to come.


    * Ha’il is largely an agricultural centre, specializing in grains, dates and fruits. A large percentage of the kingdom’s wheat production comes from Ha’il Province, where the area to the northeast, 60 km to 100 km away, consists of irrigated gardens.
    Ha’il is well-connected to other urban centres to the south, by road. Buraydah is 300 km southeast, Riyadh is 640 km southeast and Madina 400 km southwest.
    Modern Ha’il is city of a widespread centre, and numerous parks.

    1836: A local dynasty is established with Ha’il as its centre, by Ibn Rashid. Ha’il thrives from controlling the pilgrimage route across the desert, connecting Mecca and Iraq.
    1891: The Rashidi clan make Ha’il the capital of large parts of Arabia, known as Najd.
    1902: Najd loses Riyadh, but is recognized as a kingdom.
    1908: The Hijaz Railway opens, beginning the decline of Ha’il.
    1921: Following an attack by Ibn Saud, the rulers of Ha’il has to surrender.

  • A Year of Two Springs

    Fall                                                  Full Autumn Moon

    A cool rain and a chilly fall evening with wet gold stuck to the bricks and asphalt, a low cloud cover and darkening twilight skies.

    Though ready to travel there is a sadness in missing the rest of fall, the transition from this still part summer, part cooler season time to the bleaker, barren time of November.  It is a favorite season, the continuing turn toward the Winter Solstice.

    We will leave it behind, first for the warmer, much warmer Western Caribbean, then sweaty Panama and hot Ecuador.  As we move south, we move into spring with milder temperatures, then, in southern Chile among the fjords and glaciers and around Cape Horn, the southern equivalent of the far north, where temperatures will be cooler.  So, for us, 2011 will be a year of two springs.

    And, a shortened fall.

    Meanwhile, Mark in Ha’il, Saudi Arabia faces 97 as a typical daytime high.  Gotta wonder what global warming has in store for the desert kingdom.  Sort of the old petrocarbons coming home to roost.

  • Visa, Visa. Where Art Thou?

    Lughnasa                                          Waxing Harvest Moon

    Oh.  Visas.  I think I shall never see a visa lovely as a tree.  Or something like that.  Anyhow, the Saudi visa saga took an unexpected and unpleasant turn this morning.  Turns out there are two steps to the process for teachers, certification of the degree and qualifications, then, the visa process itself.  This introduces more days, perhaps as much as a week more.

    We’ll find out tomorrow how the school takes this news.  I’m not sure why the school didn’t alert us to this fix since the Saudi visa process is the same the world over, but they provided no help at all.  In fact, we’re still down one vital piece of paper, something from the Saudi Foreign Ministry inviting Mark to Saudi, a piece of paper the school was responsible to produce.

    Dispiriting.  Mark and I had a heated conversation about the appropriateness of my way of addressing the school’s administrator in an e-mail.  Mark felt my wording was rude, boorish.  American.  To my ear the e-mail had nothing unpleasant or confrontational in it at all.  Mark says I don’t understand and he can’t explain it to me.

    Well, maybe.  He and Mary both have a keen sensitivity to Asian cultures and their ways are not our ways.  I’ve only visited and studied Asia, not immersed myself in it as they have over the last 20+ years.  Of course, their knowledge is better than mine.

    Even so, I believe Saudi culture different from Southeast Asian and enough so that whatever slight Mark felt I might have delivered will not be felt there.  We’ll see tomorrow.

    He certainly has a broader and more direct experience of world cultures than I do.  If he turns out more right, I’ll have learned yet another lesson from life.  If I turn out more right, he will have learned one.

  • Growing Up

    Lughnasa                                        Waxing Harvest Moon

    Mark’s (my brother) days here will end on September 16th provided the Saudi visa process works and it’s on track, though a track with a terminus very near his flight date.  He flies from Minneapolis to Chicago, Chicago to Amman, Jordan and onto Riyadh.

    He will spend a few days in Riyadh in an orientation program for new teachers at the English Gate Academy after which he reports to his teaching post.  He asked for Hal’in, but his assignment is not yet certain.

    We sat on the couch tonight, after having watched some TV, and did a favorite family thing, trading memories of when we were young, especially memories we did not share.

    I told him of climbing up on a chair to find, to my dismay, a door knob above a shelf I could not see over at age 3 or 4.  It looked like a big eye looking back at me.

    In the basement of the same place, an apartment building where I lived with Mom and Dad, there was a coal chute. (“Coal?” Mark asked, a bit wide eyed at this ancient heat source.) The coal room connected to the big pot-bellied furnace through an augur that would turn on whenever the thermostat called for more heat.  In other words unpredictably.

    When I was down there with Mom while she did the laundry, I would play.  Until the coal augur came to life.  It was loud and came on with surprising swiftness.  The furnace would hiss as the new coal fed the fire.  Made me think of a dragon.

    Mark remembered sleeping in Mom and Dad’s bedroom until he was 5 or so, then moving upstairs in our house on Canal Street.  When I went off to college, he took my corner room, the one with a window facing west and another facing south.  Out that west facing window, at midnight, a Nickle Plate train would rumble down the tracks, and sound its warning signal for the crossing on Monroe Street only two and a half blocks from our house.  Mark remembered the train, too.

    I’m not sure why I recall this and I don’t know if it was true, but I believe the last steam engine in US pulled its train through our town, sounding its steam whistle every midnight.  Right there on Monroe Street.

  • Pulling Hair

    Lughnasa                                                                 Waning Honey Extraction Moon

    Over to Carlson Toyota this morning.  Why?  To have Kate sign over the Tundra to me, as a gift.  The purpose?  Avoid sales tax on the title transfer.  My name alone is on the Rav4, for no particular reason except that’s how we did it that day.  Her’s alone was on the Tundra.  We used the Tundra as a trade-in.  QED.  Right?  Enough to make me pull out my hair and shout.

    I’m a little short of equilibrium as we try to get Mark through the visa process for his job in Saudi Arabia.  A routine physical turned up an abnormality.  That means seeing a specialist.  Seeing a specialist means costs and delays.  The visa itself takes time to process and he needs to be over there by September 14th.  Time is getting short.  A lot of juggling here and there.  Kate’s called in favors to move the process along.

    At this rate and given my starting point I’ll have no hair left by the first week of September.

  • Drawing Blood

    Lughnasa                                                                           Waning Honey Extraction Moon

    Took Mark in for a counseling session at 8 am and then over to Allina for lab work.  He said the phlebotomist kept putting on more tubes to collect blood. “I’m woozy,” he said, as he drank a cup of hot chocolate.  After this, a fasting blood draw, we went to IHOP and had breakfast.

    He’s been here a while and I’ve gotten used to having him around, but this job in Saudi Arabia is a strong next step for him, a chance to reassert himself as both a teacher and a world traveler.  His anxiety about it is normal, new job, new town, new people, new culture, but those are also all the things that make this an exciting opportunity.

    Easy for me to say, of course, I’ll be home here in Andover.  Still.


  • Those New Job Jitters

    Lughnasa                                                               Full Honey Extraction Moon

    Mark has a new job in Ha’il, Saudi Arabia.  He will teach English as a foreign language, as he did so well at AUA in Bangkok for twelve years.  He worked hard over the last five months to recollect himself, to figure out next steps then find a job.  This last he’d focused on hard the last couple of weeks and it got results.

    Kate and I are both happy for him.  He’s “wired” right now, still shifting his mentality from unemployed to suddenly employed and about to undertake a journey from Minnesota, which has begun to slide toward fall and Saudi Arabia, where seasons are much different.

    His word and Mary’s, who’s worked with educational programing in Bahrain, for the culture there is austere, at least from a Western or Southeast Asian perspective.  By austere they mean at least the prohibition on alcohol, unveiled women, internet censorship and the overwhelming presence of Islam and not just any Islam, but an Islam markedly influence by the Wahabi sect, spawn of Islamic extremists like bin Laden.  Also no movies and sharia justice.

    Mark has a German friend who attended a public execution, held on Friday right after prayers.  He found himself shoved to the front of the crowd to experience the scimitar facilitated beheading.

    This will also mean a change for us, a move back into Kate’s retirement, leaning into that more as Mark’s saga here, at least for now, comes to an end.