October 20, 2005

Saudi part9

From Sandy:

October 16, 2005

So much I keep forgetting to tell you. (I think… meaning, I should probably read the old Saudilogues.)

I noticed Saloons in town when I first got here and wondered what saloons were in a dry country (no booze). Then I decided they were pretend bars, because those do exist here and are a bit comical since they have all the trappings and glasses and swizzle sticks and drink makers and none of it contains liquor. Anyway, I finally discovered that they are barbershops or men’s hair salons – saloons.

I do run into problems here we just don’t face in Duluth. Really. Saturday morning Basic Design Class – I ran to my office to get a pencil and when I returned found 2/3 of the students against the back wall of the classroom. “Miss, Miss,,” they screamed – “a lizard” Sure enough, a gecko was on the ceiling. “It’s just a little gecko,” I said. “Miss, we can’t….” the group was now huddled by the far door, hands over their mouths – two looked like they were going to faint. Knowing that I have already murdered 3 geckos in my lifetime, I saw another little gecko coffin in the future. I took off my shoe, thinking if I knocked to the floor I could step on it. “No, No,” they screamed. So, I finally told the class that all students terrified of lizards could leave and that I hoped no one had put it there. I did notice the students who stayed were at the drawing boards as far away from the gecko as they could get.

“They bite,” said one student. “no,” says I. “They have saliva that can make you sick,” another announced. “No,” says I. I think that’s kimono dragons and if one of those puppies came into the classroom, I’d freak out. So, class slowly worked its way to a quiet end, though anytime the gecko moved, the remaining students jumped and howled. The gecko was maybe 3 inches long.

After class I found a housekeeper, told her about the gecko and I’ll be she killed it.

Anyway, thinking this was a fluke, I mentioned it to my next class. Two girls put their feet on their chairs. I was beginning to stop a trend. Mentioned it to Kate, who saw aforementioned gecko before I reported it to housekeeping. She personally can’t stand slugs (really), but cannot see the harm in geckos. In fact, they eat bugs, most particularly spiders.

She mentioned this scenario to her next class who all said they would not stay in the same room with a gecko and were genuinely freaked out. Hearing this, I asked my office mate, Nina about this thinking that she, being an adult, a designer and a professor would find it comical. Wrong. She also doesn’t like lizards and told me one of the reasons.

When the prophet Mohammed was trying to escape some people who wanted to hurt him, he hid in a cave. A spider built a huge web over the front of the cave and a bird quickly built a nest. When the men came looking for Mohammed, they reasoned he could not be in the cave because the huge web and the nest were undisturbed. This, spiders and birds are revered (except for crows which just entered the country) in Islam. THEREFORE, anything that eats spiders is not very nice. THEREFORE geckos are bad guys.

Gecko part III
So, tonight I got home, not feeling well and decided to lay down. Saw movement from the corner of my eye. A gecko (you got it) at the base of the curtains. I am sick of the gecko carnage. So I made a gecko catcher out of a plastic cup and plastic plate, cut to size for the purpose. Armed with my new device (humans are resourceful, right?) I trapped said gecko and after some false starts and stops, successfully captured said gecko. Took the little guy outside and let him go. My soul rests easy.

Last night we were invited to an Iftra ( the break-fast meal) that follows evening call to prayers) held on top of the Nassif house – remember the room where we were all seated barefooted. Well, this time I participated in the fast. I only had a 1/2 cup (if that) of water all day, when I took my pills that morning. I faded in and out of hunger and thirst all day and remembered the meaning of Ramadan – of feeling hunger pains, etc. Blood sugar level dropped, brain became a tad confused and, like first time fasters everywhere, I was a tad grumpy towards the time we went to Balad and the Nassif House.

Got there and had to climb up the six flights of stairs to the little room on the top. The sun was a gorgeous red/orange, slowing sinking behind the skyscrapers. Mr. Sami told us that there were 36 mosques in the area and that the call to prayer from 36 mosques would be an amazing experience. By then I was past hunger, past thirst , past the headache and just loving being in this special place, with a cool breeze blowing around us.

Then the first calls to prayer and the 36 males voices echoed around the area, harmonized and dis-harmonized. It was a very mystical experience. Mr. Sami wanted us to eat dates, to breat the fast. We were too busy listening to the call. After a time we did eat traditional food, which I thought was super. Some kind of bean meal called fuol and a lentil soup I thought was wonderful.

After eating and talking, we hiked down six flights of stairs in the dark. I was carrying an oil lantern which was smoking heavily. At one point, I commented on the choice between falling down the stairs in the dark or setting myself on fire with the lantern… The guy walking behind me offered to carry it which was nice. When one is wearing an abaya which is floor length cloth, going downstairs, trying not to trip AND carrying something with a live flame in it, one questions personal sanity.

Mr. Sami presented a history of Jeddah with maps and photos. It was very interesting. He showed us another room of the house which had wonderful artifacts from the area – some of which were 3000 years old. Turns out this house has 107 rooms in it. I’ve been there three times now and seen more new rooms every time.

I sure do appreciate the e-mails I get from the states. Those connections are very important to me. As my boss says, you face every fear you have ever had and a few you didn’t know about when you come here. She’s right.

I don’t think it is because his is Saudi Arabia – probably because it’s a new place, new job with a few more new twists. I’d have to ask Ida, since she is getting settled in Eastern Kentucky, having already adjusted to the Twin Cities and then Duluth.

One thing is for sure, whether I officially take Arabic or not, I will have been exposed to Arabic, philipino and urdu (Pakistan) on a daily basis. Eventually, I will be able to muddle through some of it.

We have raised money for Pakistani earthquake relief. I see tonight on CNN that King Abdullah donated 113 million dollars to the cause. It is very dire. Pakistani television is covering this tragedy daily. Because the earthquake strunk later in the morning, many children have been killed along with most of the doctors and nurses in the effected areas when the schools and hospitals collapsed.

I see Katrina victims are still homeless. I encourage anyone who hasn’t yet, to contribute something for one or both groups.

I have a new definition of insanity: riding a motorcycle in Jeddah traffic. Apparently they have just been made legal. The drivers don’t stand a chance. One of the guys in the compound just bought one as was heading out the front gate. I waved good bye - possibly for the last time. Hope he survives.

Oh – I did go to one of the drink and drool parties to see what they were. On the up side I have found a place in the compound to recycle my pepsi bottles. And it was fine, until the tipsy stuff started, so I just quietly left. But it was nice to enjoy the outside.

The mosquitos have started appearing and with that the fogging for them. It reminds me of when I was a kid in Midland, Michigan when the city fogged for mosquitos. My Mom would pull me in from outside to avoid some of the fumes. I can smell the stuff inside the house. I think they use diesel fuel here. I wonder what they used in Midland and if that has anything to do with Midland being a cancer hotspot. I hadn’t thought about the fogging for years – until I experienced it here.

Well, am off. While typing this I heard another horny gecko in the house. At least I am feeling more confident in a way to move them outside unharmed.

S of Arabia

at October 20, 2005 9:27 AM