• Tag Archives visa
  • 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.



  • On The Move

    Fall                                           New Autumn Moon

    While we slept, the busy folks at English Gate Academy in Saudi Arabia were solving Mark’s visa snags.  Dr. Ahmed called a person he knew at the Saudi Embassy in DC.  Mark submitted two new forms, a letter certifying that he lived in the U.S. and a copy of his ESL certification, and tomorrow, if all goes as expected, he will have a visa granted by the Royal Government of Saudi Arabia.

    Of course, there will remain the return of the passport with the visa stamps and the purchase of an airline ticket, packing, flying.  At this point though, almost a month after the visa material went to Travisa and almost two months after we started collecting material for it, something happening this week is a cause for joy.

    At the end things change.  Frustrations melt away and the awaited blossoms into reality.  This will be true for Mark when he steps off the plane in Riyadh to 104 degree day and for Kate and me when we walk up the gangway and board the Veendam.  In true Ellis fashion we will set out for parts unknown within a couple of weeks each other.

    Holding a passport is not a common thing; an estimate that made sense to me reckoned the percentage between 20 and 22% of American citizens over the age of 18.  Neither is the next step beyond holding a passport, international travel.  It’s easy to forget these things if you have, as I do, many friends who travel often to foreign shores, but most Americans and many members of Congress don’t see travel, at least outside the homeland, as a important.

    For some, it’s a matter of economics, but ask any college student how cheaply you can travel abroad.  My own 2004 trip to Southeast Asia proved how inexpensive travel is there.  My room in the heart of Bangkok cost $16 a night and my room in Siem Reap, Cambodia, the town closest to the Angkor area, was $32 and included an all teak room, tiled bathroom with high end fixtures, a refrigerator, breakfast and a sign that told me I had to check my explosives at the front desk.  No kidding on that last.  I forgot mine in Bangkok.



  • Lemons and Very Little Lemonade

    Lughnasa                                                   Waning Harvest Moon

    So.  Yesterday I got up, got ready to go into the museum, got in the car and got no engine love.  Click.  Click.  Click.  Of course, I only had adequate time to get there since I never leave early.  What to do?  I put the charger on it and got back…wait for it.  An error message meaning the battery won’t take a charge.

    Anyhow we have that new Rav4.  I hopped in it and made it on time.  Or close enough.

    Got home after a long stint at the museum in time that Kate could go to work in the Rav4.

    What greets me at the kitchen table?  A nice note from the IRS saying they had checked our 2009 return, 2009?, and now feel we owe the government an additional $45,000.  Say what?  The letter of “explanation” did not communicate in any language I understood.  WTF?  OMG.  Well, a good thing we pay that accountant to handle this kind of stuff.  Could ruin a perfectly bad day.

    While I read this cheery note, Mark says, “Rigel’s bleeding.”  Uh, huh.  A small nick on the ear.  Unimportant.

    Earlier, I discover, the Saudi embassy wants Mark to take an HIV test.  Good thing we have a doctor in the house.  Kate circles the HIV results on the lab work already sent.  Oh.

    Also, some power of attorney for somebody for some purpose seems to be needed, requiring yet another communication back to Saudi, which will produce an e-mail to Mark, which he will then sign and Fedex to Travisa which will then hand it to the Saudi Embassy in Washington.  Geez.

    Other than that Mrs. Lincoln…

  • The Visa Quest Nearly Finished

    Lughnasa                                       Waning Harvest Moon

    Today we moved from conjecture to certainty.  The top person at English Gate Academy, Ahmed, e-mailed Mark and said he would write a personal note to the Saudi Embassy asking them to speed Mark’s visa application along.

    His papers cleared the Saudi Cultural Mission today and are at the Embassy so it should be a matter of days now before he has his passport back with his Saudi work visa in place.  At that point English Gate will send him an e-ticket.  He’ll pack and I’ll take him out the same airport where I picked him up in April, just as spring began to try breaking through the long and persistent grip of our long winter.

    It’s been a long and not always straightforward journey for Mark, but he’s got his head and heart in better alignment plus he pulled off the difficult in this US economy; he found a good paying job, better pay than he’s ever made.

    We spent the morning harvesting wild grapes, talking through the vine.  With the freeze tonight we had to get the sensitive crops inside.  Kate picked the tomatoes that will ripen over the next few weeks and a small bucket of raspberries while Mark and I picked a rose cone full of the small purple grapes.

    That means Kate the jelly and jam maker will appear, working with her alchemical apparatus to strain the grapes, add the sugar and pectin and can the result.  Wild grape jelly has a special and tangy taste.  Great for those cold winter breakfasts.

  • The Weekend

    Lughnasa                                                 Full Harvest Moon

    Kate’s out in Denver visiting the grandkids while Mark and I hold a visa watch, waiting for some word from the mysterious world of Saudi bureaucracy.

    Yesterday I took a trip to Duluth to deliver 3 pounds of honey in payment for use of the image on this year’s Artemis Honey labels.  Kenspeckle Press provided the image through a friend of Mark Odegard, Rick Allen.

    Mark turned this image into a beautiful 2011 label for Artemis Hives.  Thanks, Mark and Rick.

    Today I moved books off a bookshelf, moved the bookshelf and repositioned a weight rack.  Later I broke ground for garlic planting and split the bulbs into cloves for planting tomorrow.

    I also watched the Vikings.  How about those Vikings?  May be a short season for me.  I’m a fair weather fan.

    Latin, groceries, planting garlic.  All await tomorrow.


  • 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.

  • Plans and Further Foolishness

    Lughnasa                                                                Waxing Harvest Moon

    We moved Gertie (the German wire hair, formerly of Denver) and Kona (our oldest dog now, a whippet) downstairs.  Gertie had slept in our bedroom but consistently got Kate up between 6 am and 6:30 am.

    Their crates downstairs, right under the heating ducts, carry sound well, however, and Kate said she heard Gertie cry at 6:30 this morning.  Due to my deaf ear and sound sleeping those noises don’t filter through to me.

    No plan is perfect.

    Further example.  We paid extra to get Mark’s visa on the desks of the Travisa folk by 8:30 am.  At 9:30 Washington, DC, time it was still not there.  Gonna get that extra money back.

    First Sierra Club legislative committee meeting for the 2012 session of the Minnesota legislature starts tonight at 6:30 pm.  We’ll be gone during most of October and November so my participation for the early work has to get done in the next six weeks.

  • All Visas All the Time

    Lughnasa                                                  Waxing Harvest Moon

    Visas.  All visas all the time.  Got a fluttery batch of e-mails and phone messages, all received after Travisa’s office’s had closed.  OMG.  We won’t get the documents to you in time.  OMG. Solved by reminding them that we sail on Oct. 16th, not Sept. 16th.  Oh.  All better now.

    Mark and Saudi Arabia.  A police clearance popped up as a new piece of paper.  How to get it?  Lots of opinions.  FBI background check?  BCI state level clearance.  Will this torpedo the application?  Looked like it for awhile, then a phone, again, to Travisa in D.C.

    A local police clearance?  Plenty good enough.  Mark now has a Good Neighbor certificate from the Anoka County Sheriff stating that he has committed no crime since he got here.  Good to know.

    In in the interim Mark had discovered that the Saudi Embassy closed this week to celebrate Eid, the end of Ramadan.  But. Travisa again.  Nope.  We can get it done in time.  Send us the material by Friday and we’ll get it done.

    A series of this’s and that’s, frustrating, but not impossible.

    International travel, all fun, all the time.

  • 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.

  • Please Let Me In

    Lughnasa                                                              Waxing Honey Extraction Moon

    Mark went to a hospitality industry job fair in St. Louis Park.  I took him, then went on out to Minnetonka Travel in Wayzata.  I picked these folks almost at random to help with the cruise, but I gotta say, they’re pretty damn good.

    Today we set up the processing for our Brazilian visas.  The visa process has taken almost the same effort as booking the entire cruise.  When I first learned that each visa would cost $160, I had sticker shock.  This was what we would have to pay to get off the ship in Rio and then take a taxi directly to the airport.  $320 for passage from one form of transportation to another.  Of course, this is not the intent of the Brazilians.  They just want reciprocity for the way the US treats their citizens coming here.

    Still, for us, whose 37 day cruise ends in Rio, it creates this very expensive transfer with no additional benefit.  So, we changed our minds and added two days in Rio after our cruise.  At least we’ll see a little bit of Brazil for our money.

    Our travel agent has been to Rio and says it’s a beautiful, vibrant city, but also very dangerous.  I’m a bit dubious about how others see foreign cities since I’ve been many places considered dangerous and never had a problem, even so it’s foolish to ignore advice from someone who’s been on the ground there.  She recommends staying in the Ipanema Beach area, a redolent name for this of who grew up in the 60’s.  We’ll go to Sugarloaf and a Mardi Gras themed evening.  Which, Lori, the travel agent, said, “All the men will enjoy.”

    The visa is the last difficult piece of business necessary to make this cruise happen.  The rest, checking out clothes, buying new luggage, deciding what books to take along (on the Kindle) do not require new skills.