October 27, 2005

Saudi part11

From Sandy:

Oct 26, 2005

I forgot to tell you about my bank experience. Since I do not have a bank account and can’t get one until I have a work visa and an Icama (country id), I have to transfer funds to the US through another party. The first pay was wired through the account of one poor soul in accounting who had to transfer funds for 4 Americans.

I did not comprehend her plight until last week, when I had to transfer it through another person – which required going to a bank. It is Ramadan, so stores (including banks) open at 9:00 pm and close between midnight and 2:00 in the morning. Only grocery stores are open all day. Stores in the malls open for a while from 1 – 4… Banks open early but close at noon, until 9 pm , when they open again. It is much more confusing that Sicily.

Anyway, the Dar Al Hekma College bus showed up at the compound to take what turned out to be two of us to “the bank” to meet Rawan (the head of HR) who was going to help us wire the funds through her account. Since it was Dar Al Hekma payday, the bank had quite a few Dar Al Hekma people there also. A nice off – campus visit with a few folks.

We went to the “Ladies Bank”. The windows are frosted so no one can look in. The women who work there wear business suits and do not wear tarha (the scarves). Any banking forms are very long and so was the line. And, get this, they have ONE TELLER. ONE. Everyone was complaining about it. So, in the states you jump in your car, drive to the bank, go through the drive in teller, deposit your money, go home. In Cloquet, if there is no line at State Bank, this operation takes 5 minutes.

Jeddah – bus leaves compound at 8:50, drives across town to the bank (30-40 minutes, heavy traffic). Get to bank at 9:30 pm, stake out a place in line. Finally get to front of line, need to fill out more forms. 10:30, back in line again. Have great compassion for the lady to did this alone for 4 Americans last month. Ooops, need to make adjustments to form. Mission finally accomplished – at – ready for this – 11:45 pm. Took bus back to compound, arriving at 12:20 am. Yup, just a short hop to the bank. Sigh.

I am closer to getting the skype connection up and running. Java applet problem is still a mess. One of the compound managers gave me the number of the only Apple rep in Saudi Arabia. I need to enshrine that puppy quickly.

Yesterday I rescued two more geckos. I’m nearly even on killed to saved lizards. Discovered they change their skin coloration to match surroundings when I let one of them loose yesterday.

Went to Balad (the outdoor souk) again last night. Love that place. Some merchants from Afghanistan were selling strings of real, beautiful pearls for 90SR. The lady I was with knows her pearls but was whittling them down on the price. They were at 70SR which struck me as fine, but she thought it was too much, we would be back. So, off we thundered. Then she said they were very good quality pearls and that string with a clasp would see for $1000 US. Even at 90SR – that’s under $20US. I was quite surprised.

To purchase what she was after in the gold souk (a place you would just not believe) we had to go to an instant teller. There was already a weirdly shaped line. It became apparent that the guys up front could not get any money. The next guy did and then it was our turn. Margaret (not the one in the pictures I sent. This is a super lady from Ireland) started going through the sequence of buttons. The line behind us had gotten longer. After some time, the machine announced the transaction had not gone through. There was a general groan from all the people behind us. We tried again. It seemed to take forever and then suddenly, it worked. Margaret and I cheered. I so did everyone else. We grabbed the money and I told the lady behind us to do it twice. She nodded.

This is all at night – remember Ramadan…

So she bought this very wild star pin with emeralds, diamonds and rubies (the stones where small) for $620 SR, divide by 3.75 for US price. IF that sounds gawdy, that’s why you wouldn’t believe the jewelry stores here. Saudis major sparkly lots of gems and swoops and swirl jewelry. There is no such thing as a simple watch or it is rare to find a simple ring. Next time I go I’ll see if I can take pictures for you.

Then, as we were waiting for the compound bus and Mr. Bin, a fight broke out between it looked like a storekeeper and a kid with other kids tagging in – a major ruckus ensued. Usually there are police all over the place, but even here, where’s a cop when you need one or three. So, a crowd grouped around the fighting people. Eventually it stopped.

Someone suggested that one of the parties had stolen something from a vendor. If caught doing that here, one loses a hand. It gets cut off, and I’ve seen the mosque where the beheadings and hand choppings occur. Theft is a severe thing and thus this is, in many ways, a very low crime country. Only problem is that the very wealthy sometimes steal things for kicks. Since they are wealthy Saudis the laws are not enforced equally on them, just like the US…. Result is that we have to lock our offices at school when we are not there because rich students might steal our computers for kicks. Go figure.

So, that’s the latest. My first week of vacation is nearly done. I have made major progress on completing the typography class. Done some swimming. Won a computer war and lost two others (as of this writing). Not bad for government work.

at October 27, 2005 8:50 AM