October 20, 2005

Off to Jeddah

From Sandy:

August 30, 2005

I have made it to the Saudi airlines gate. I am exhausted already. The flight from Mpls to DC was great even though I have never traveled on a smaller plane. Quite smooth.

DC airport is a zoo, though. Feel like I should have worn tennis shoes, but wore moccasins instead because of security checks. Had problems with the tickets all the way through and ended up paying for my flight to Jeddah – oh well.

And my first task, while sitting here with the shakes because I have exercised beyond belief on an empty stomach. It finally settled as we landed in DC. I only had two and a half hours – they are just going to start boarding – more later…. Had to check computer since the baggage which contained my computer fell over in Minneapolis. I was afraid the first casuality of the trip was my computer.


It’s now Thursday – I’m in Jeddah with internet hooked up. I feel more connected with the world and am absolutely shocked at the damaged caused by Hurricane Katrina. The day before I left (and Katrina arrived) I spent the whole day finishing up business and saying “see you later” to all kinds of people, so it was only last night when the dust settled a bit and I could watch CNN worldwide.

The flight on Saudi Airlines was wonderful. The crew was so kind and wow do they feed you. From Mpls to DC, I had a bag of pretzels and 1/2 a glass of diet coke. The mini flight from DC to NY (a surprise to me) we were served a snack – that would be half a sandwich, grapes, water, juice and coffee. From NY to Jeddah we had snacks, two full meals, Saudi style, which means dinner was 4 courses. It started with Arabian coffee (boiled coffee with cardoman added), and fresh dates. Ooooo. Then there was fruit juice, then the main meal – I chose the lamb with flavored rice, salad, a shrimp something appetizer and cheesecake. During the night, the stewards kept asking if we wanted anything. I did say I would like some water. I got that and two pieces of fruit.

A full breakfast was served an hour before we landed. There were only two Americans on the flight in our section. To dispel rumors, you can get up and walk around the plane. I met all kinds of people – a gentleman from Ivory Coast who lives in New Jersey and was going to a certain type of Hajj going on right now. After I learned about the pilgrimage going on now, I was surprised to see how many people at the Jeddah airport were dressed in white towels going to that pilgrimage.

We were on the ground for quite a while in New York. I talked to two of the Saudi stewards for quite some time. One wanted a bit of help with his English. Then met another fellow who has a construction company in Jeddah. I asked quite a few questions about Islam and learned a lot. All of the muslim people I met told me that they are very upset with the terrorism in the world caused by other people claiming to be muslim.

Just before we took off, there was a prayer recited after all the safety instructions. There is a prayer room and the rear of the plane.

People shift all over the place on the plane – visiting and being very friendly. I was initially very nervous in DC – oh my God, what have I done… And the people on the plane totally dispelled my fears. The Saudis I have met are so kind, gentle and generous. I ended up with all kinds of e-mail addresses from those folks. Along with the other American who works and the American school in Jeddah.

Allycatherine and a gentleman from the school met me on the otherside of customs. They brought me here.

Stepping off the plane was like walking into a blast furnace. HOT and HUMID. The airport was not very air conditioned. I don’t see how some of the Saudi women survive who wear the abayas the cover so much of them that only their eyes peek out. Some are completely covered.

So, we drove to the compound. For all of you who worried about security – we stopped at a little guard house where a guy with a detector checked the undercarriage of the car. Then he opened a gate. We drove zig-zag through three salom spaced barricades, then past a machine gun nest, then past another half-track with a machine gun nest and THEN turned onto a narrow street with the benign gate some of you saw. There is another check point just after that. They drove me to my villa, unloaded by suitcases (all of which made it) and then left. So here I was. Exhausted. Five suitcases. My provisions consisted of milk and cereal (but no bowl), bread, Kleenex, plastic plates and some plastic silverware. Decaf coffee and peanut butter.

My doorbell makes a bird chirping noise, though I didn’t know it at the time. So, I laid on the couch. I didn’t even explore my villa right away – I was too tired. It is a townhouse with two bedrooms and three baths. The kitchen also has a washer-dryer. The very large livingroom diningroom is furnished as are the bedrooms. Photos will eventually follow.

So, I was lying the couch, to exhausted to move when I heard a bird chirping just as the airconditioning kicked in. Oh great, says I, a bird stuck in the air conditioner. But for some reason I checked the door and son of a gun, there was a lady out there offering her services as a maid. Try to wrap your brain around going from being a grad student with two kids to raise and suddenly having a maid one day a week. Somehow I have a maid. I told her I had never had a maid before and felt rather uncomfortable with the whole idea. And everyone around here who works for the compound calls me Madam. Or M’am. Another adjustment…

Again, I was too pooped to move. Finally dragged myself upstairs to make my bed and put toilet paper in all three bathrooms. Jen and Jake and I could have used that….

After that I went to the mini-mart. Met Farouk, who is our general helping hand around here. Bought diet Pepsi which is bottled locally. It costs 1 Riyal or about .26 US. Then I bought my one and only ever box of cheese nips – 18.75 riyal or nearly $4.

Toddled on home. Drank some pepsi and turned on the news. Was blown away by New Orleans – so I really felt like I was on another planet. Tried my phone card, ,which wouldn’t work. Foiled again.

I reviewed my day. I did successfully make my flight I DC, flew to Jeddah, got to the compound and had two bottles of diet pepsi in the fridge. Started to tune into the world again. The sky turned black and the wind came up. I looked outside – it sure looked like a severe thunderstorm to me. I knew there were no tornadoes here, so I looked outside to see the wind howling, debree was flying all over the place. Eventually it rained and thundered a lot. I didn’t think much of it.

Evening prayers started – so I heard my first call to prayer. Decided it would be a good time to crash. Left my watch downstairs. So, I turned in. Was woken up by something – had no idea what time it was. To my horror it was only 11:30 pm. So, I took the sleeping pill I was going to take on the plane.

End day one. (That would be Cloquet to Jeddah)

Day two.

Woke up to morning prayers (4:30 a.m.) finally gave up and got up at 6:00 with the idea that at 8:30 when Farouk opened up, I would buy a new phone card that would hopefully work. Called Jake. I knew it would be the middle of the night, but he said later that he did remember me calling.

Filled out the paperwork for the internet, arranged to have it installed today. Unpacked all the suitcases. Made at least three trips to Farouks. While the internet guys were trying to figure out what to do, the bird chirped again and it was four other faculty members who came in and started talking about Dar Al Hekma, the general cost of things in Jeddah. Two of them have been here for at least a year and after recognizing some cultural differences, said they love it.

Tonight I went out of the compound with two of the ladies. There is a bus driven by Mr. Bin that takes us out twice a day if we so chose. So, like any kid anywhere, we went to a mall (Sultan Mall) where my first purchase was a boombox! Then off to a grocery store where I hauled in some provisions. I bought a knife. Yes, I am the proud owner of a knife. This morning I was trying to spread cheese on a slice of bread with the end of a plastic fork. Have my own broom and one pan and a flipper. Bought a can opener to go with the cans of tuna.

This part is like anyone feathering a nest for the first time. Except some of the packaging is only in Arabic. The fresh fruits are wonderful. The bins of olives remind me of Palermo’s markets and the bakery at this grocery store was more like a pastry shop in Sicily.

I unloaded my groceries, happy to have so many garbage bags which will fit nicely into the wastepaper baskets (when I get those.)

Called Jake again. He told me about the price of gas in Cloquet. Egad. Then I turned on CNN for more on New Orleans. Wow.

For those who wondered – the flight from New York took us south of England. We crossed Europe through southern France, followed the Italien coast south, crossed Egypt, the Red Sea and then landed at Jeddah. How we left NY late and arrived on time is beyond me, but we did it.

We cannot drink the tap water. It is not poisonous, but is salty. Cellphones work differently here. You buy a chip, it goes into the phone, you get a number and an account. From then on you added money to your chip somehow. You do not pay a monthly fee.

The only bummer news is that in order to get a work visa I have to go back to the US in October to DC to get the actual work visa. They think the college does this intentionally so that if they don’t like you, they can just tell you to got home when the visitor visa has expired. Any time spent in DC takes away from time I can take next summer to come home if I sign another contract. On the scale of things, that isn’t bad, but when you have just gotten off a 12 hour flight, getting on another one right away just isn’t my cup of tea – unless I can fly Saudi airlines. It truly is the only way to go.

And there were very few people on that flight in western garb. And moving around here tonight, the women in the mall went into stores to purchase sleeveless things which they can only wear around their houses… I think.

The signage is wonderful and there are some magnificent sculptures around our little area. Again, I’ll take photos next time out.

Saw a starbucks and an applebees. Toys r us.

It is now 9:30 at night here – or 1:30 in Duluth. Probably still 90+ outsides.

OH – did I tell you that the thunderstorm wasn’t a thunderstorm? It was the worst sandstorm they’d had in six months. So, today the grounds crew was busy sweeping and washing all the windows.

Re: bugs. No scorpions or cockroaches. The biggest problem is ants. Hey, I can handle that.

Unloaded all my goodies from the trip out. Tomorrow is Friday, the holy day here so nothing much happens which is great, since I know have all kinds of things to do here.

So, since my umd account is making multiple mailings difficult, I will send this out on my aol account. Feel free to pass it on to anyone else.

Side note: I notice that Saudi men fiddle around with their scarves as much if not more than the Saudi women. The Extra store (where I got my boombox) is patterned after Best Buy…

Am ready to put together some more stuff. More later.

End (more or less) day two.

at October 20, 2005 8:48 AM