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.

Posted by at 8:50 AM

October 26, 2005

Saudi part10

From Sandy:

Oct 22 (I think).

Well, I did it – took a dip in the pool. Am now officially on vacation and it was a culture shock. The pools in northern Minnesota and Central Michigan tended to be cold. I always tried to find the “warmist” spot in the pool. Here, the pools are very warm –not a big surprise mentally, but gone is that first bone-chilling dive into the water. It’s like swimming in a bathtub. I’m told that sometimes the water is too hot to swim in. Parboiled, I guess. That is actually the challenge with showers here. Both the hot and cold water taps produce some variety of hot water. I nearly boiled myself alive the first few attempts.

Like I said, we have all these feral cats. A whole bunch were rounded up and “taken to the fish market” a month or so ago. Now we have a new batch – a batch that has been fed more than the others, which means
a) they don’t go after mice and rats – the purpose of the cats in the first place
b) they are major pests – under foot at every turn, always wanting food
c) some of the residents feed them constantly, so they are spoiled, want into your house and it is tricky trying to get in without letting a few of the five cats at your feet in with you.
d) Depressing to know how quickly a cat can become annoying. Sorry, Doreen.
e) The staff says they have to get rid of this bunch because they are not doing their job and generally drive everyone crazy. They are too feral to adopt. One nearly took Heidi’s nose off last night.

I finally found a guitar. I was very excited. Kate, Heidi and I wandered through the mall looking for other goodies and I realized quite a few people looked at the western woman wearing an abaya with a guitar in a nylon case slung over her back… ah, the good old days – thinking of the guitar, anyway.

Lots of people are heading out for Ramadan break. By tomorrow morning more will be gone. I look forward to their return.

Hopefully I will get my work visa and Icama (a country ID) very soon so I can get a bank account. It will make wiring money to the US much easier.

Another successful shopping trip yielded a new mobile phone (they call them moe-biles) so my number is: 0561548728i

I brought home lots of books, have the guitar and plans for reading, preparing the rest of classes and swimming in the pools. (We have two.) On a warm sunny day, sitting the by pool under the forever blue sky, this really is a bit of a resort.

On another note – try to find a sweatshirt in Saudi Arabia. No easy deal. So I was thrilled to find a denim (my favorite material) work shirt in – a super market. Oh, and they have a new kind of supermarket here called a hyper-market. We westerners kid around about being hyper to go into one. You cannot image how big these are and how many items they carry. Minus the pharmacies, a hypermarket is like a super Wal-Mart with more produce, a bakery from heaven, delis carrying food that baffles me still. These stores have bakeries with stone fired ovens.

On another note: Most of the cheese here is white because they do not color the food. That is interesting. The tostido chips for nachos are very hard to find and the bag says “genuine – from America”. The yogurt to me is bitter. I finally had Laban, the stuff that is packaged similarly to milk. I was told it was like buttermilk. Wrong, it is a liquid yogurt and it is bitter tasting. Found that out at one of the Iftars I went to last week.

So, it’s nearly 11:00 at night. The compound is quiet. Wilma is stuck over Cancun and Tom Delay had to appear in court. Giggle on the latter. He claims this is all politically motivated, but boy, when Clinton was in office he sang a different tune.

So, I’ve been trying to get hooked into some of the phone services that are free. Am afraid I’m going to have to buy a second computer – a IBM so that all this will work. Cloquet is off sequence for voynage and don’t know if you folks can get skype.


if you set up an account that with a headset you can call pc to pc at no cost and on this a mac supposedly works – if Saudi Arabia does.

Bella cleaned today and left the front door open because I keep my house to cold for her. The screen door must have been slightly open and I have thus hear the clicking of a you know what. At one point I was gecko free.

Happy Ramadan….

Posted by at 8:23 AM

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

Posted by at 9:27 AM

Saudi part8

From Sandy:

October 14, 2005

I didn’t realize Saudi 7 was two weeks ago. After a few e-mails wondering where the next installment was, here I am. It is the second week of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month. This fact alone brings up more of my Saudi learning curve.

When King Fahd died, his age was estimated. From a “superior” point of view, one could say they don’t keep very good records. Here’s the reality. Until very recently Saudi Arabia and much of the muslim world uses the Islamic calendar which is based on the moon. Because the moon cycles differ within a Gregorian year, the date on which one is born is relative. That specific day would be impossible, if not silly, to try and figure out each year;.; Thus, birthdays are not even celebrated here. Some of the younger people might, if they knew which Gregorian day corresponded to the “day” of their birth – Sept 1 for example. But the concept of birthday and celebrating it, is unknown to the generation of King Abdullah, remote to the next generation and I guess I could ask students about it. I have never heard a student wish another student a happy birthday.

This does not mean that birth is meaningless, They do not have baby showers here. When the baby is born, friends and relatives bring gifts to the mother in the hospital. This weekend a lady in our department had an official baby shower for her newborn. Another lady from out department went and was the only person at the party with a gift. The purpose of a baby shower here is to welcome the new baby into the greater family. So, at the appointed hour, all the children from the greater family – cousins and siblings went upstairs and then proceeded downstairs, each carrying a lit candle. The mother followed, bringing down the baby who is now about six weeks old. Margaret, the American who attended this, said it was quite lovely and very loving.

Ramadan itself is that time when healthy muslims do not take food or water from sun up to sun down. The daily fast is broken with a “break” “fast” Iftra meal after the sun has gone down. The purpose of Ramadan is to experience poverty and hunger, to remember those in the world who have nothing by having nothing. This is the time of year when Muslims donate money to charities – a requirement of Islam. It is also a time for prayer and self examination. A time to heal broken relationships and develop patience.

Ramadan is not a set date. The imams at the Grand Mosque at Mekkah determine if Ramadan has begun, by the shape of the moon in the evening of what will become Ramadan.

The reality of Ramadan in life is rather amazing. First, there was a date on the bus schedule which was marked happy Ramadan. And we are now teaching on a Ramadan schedule whereby classes are shorter because the students and staff are fasting, tired and have focus problems. So, I knew about my new schedule (having finally learned when and where I was supposed to be under the old schedule), and then found out we wouldn’t know if it was really Ramadan until 8:00 or so the night before the proposed date. Depending on the shape of the moon, it would either be the assigned date or the next day. I found this quite amazing and my German sense of order was quite shaken by the thought that I would not know the bus schedule or teaching schedule until maybe 9:30 that night. Auch-du lieber.

So, at 8:00 that night I turned to Saudi television and the broadcast was interrupted to say that Ramadan had begun. Yippee. I thought. Students have been telling me how wonderful Ramadan is and that it is like Christmas for a month….

What happens is that the fast is kept during the day for Muslims into puberty (periods have started in the women). Nursing mothers, menstruating women and anyone who is ill or very elderly or has diabetes, let’s say, do not fast. But, after Iftra (the first meal after sunset) everyone goes to visit friends and family and hit the malls. So everyone parties and eats all night. Even if one stays at home, there is a meal at 3 or 4:00 in the morning to help one fast during sunlight.

Result: students are also tired because they have been up all night frolicking with their families. Make for some very interesting classes.

Next week is the last official week of classes, then we have three weeks off – for the rest of Ramadan. First day back is Nov 12, my sister’s birthday – so an early Happy Birthday to Gretchen.

Anyway, the cafeteria is closed, so those of us who are not fasting get a bite to eat from the backdoor of the kitchen. My new office mate, Nina, is muslim so on the first day of Ramadan, not wanting to eat in front of anyone, I was sitting on the floor, back to the wall with all the picture windows eating a sesame stick. Nina walked in, I palmed the sesame stick. I had been having a very bad day – very close to the melt down day my first week here and Nina knew that, so she assumed I was just that bummed so she ran over and said “Sandy, my God, are you okay…” at which point is showed her the sesame stick and followed it up with a sheepish grin. “oh, for heavens sake, “ she said. “you can eat it in front of me…” I told her I wasn’t raised that way, so I have learned how to eat and drink kind of on the sly.

So, one day this week I was in the kitchen when a hoard of menstruating students came in and ordered all kinds of food. After getting their goodies, they loudly ate them in the little one table dining area set up for non-fasting students and staff. After that, I no longer hide my diet pepsi on the floor by my desk.

Ramadan is very colorful and we can all wear thobes. I’ll send photos of that later, too. These are beautiful, colorful, embroidered floor length dresses (my hippy heart burst with joy the first time I saw a thobe shop here). Everyone can wear these and I now a few and wore one last week. It bore a cross-stitched symmetrical design on the front. I was a walking design question: “What principle of organization does my thobe represent?”

The times for stores change radically during Ramadan. Grocery stores are open all day because the Iftra meals are very special. Malls open from 1-5, then close again until 9:00 at night – when the whole town opens up. So, our compound bus goes out at 9:00 in the evening which has been bedtime for me since I got here.

We have risen to the occasion, however. The stores are mobbed. Last night we went to another souk area: Bawadi. It was huge, more well lit than Balad but along the same line. I finally found a shop with the kind of tops I have wanted, so I snapped up quite a few.

So, Happy Ramadan, to you. (Oh, another side of Ramadan is that nearly everyone who is fasting has a low blood sugar problem so they are quite short tempered, sometimes.

To some other subjects.

Did I tell you that some of the scaffolding used here is not metal, but rather wooden poles with lots of rope?

I had another run of geckos. Nailed one and I think Bella the maid got the one I had chased around the downstairs bathroom with a cup.

Okay, I have spent two+ years in the VDIL and fought with computers since 1986. I learned much over the years and have had relatively good luck with electronics over my lifetime. This all ended when I got here. 9/10 of this is operator error.

I got here Aug 31. Have fried on boombox because I plugged it into a 220 line (it looked just the same as the 110 volt sockets and one of the 110 looking sockets upstairs seemed mis-labelled. This is the same boombox I took back to Extra (like Best Buy) twice becaue I thought it didn’t work. Sigh. So, I toasted it.

Bought a second boombox at a grocery store, got it home and realized it didn’t have a CD player, just a CD line. It did have a tapedeck – which is cool because I brought all the cassette tapes my Dad recorded for me when I commuted from Cloquet to Hibbing three days a week when the kids were little. Thank you, Dad. Purchased a third boombox with a CD player the week after that.

The mobile phone I got as a hand-me down from Kiki died this week and the first attempt at a laser printer was not compatible with my mac. Again, my fault, because I didn’t read the box. I assumed that at this point in time any HP printer would work with both platforms. Wrong.

Took it back the to the store on the first day of Ramadan. After much discussion I ended up buying the next printer up the line, at twice the money. Got it home and the prints are horrible. Loaded the toolbox program on the CD to troubleshoot the printer. Meanwhile Bella came for her weekly cleaning of the house; she threw away the boxes. After loading the new software, the printer wouldn’t even talk to the computer.

Went back to Jarir (the store). They said they sell Hps and that obviously there is something wrong. The printer is covered by a one year warranty – so just take it back to HP at another commercial center near the American embassy in Jeddah. Right. That is easier said than done.

Went home, downloaded all the software updates, uninstalled the toolbox program and bingo, the printer now talks to the computer. The copies or either darker or just fine when compared to the hassle of taking the printer anywhere.

I have also been struggling with getting my computer set with the right java applet so I can join some on line 12 steo meetings. I have found them, but can’t enter. AUGGHHHHH. Why I didn’t think to round up tapes of 12 step speakers before I left the states is beyond me. Haven’t been to one of “those meetings” since August in Minnesota and I find my emotional vulnerability is higher than usual.

Two of the other Americans who have been here for at least a year said that anyone doing this will face every fear they have ever had. I am facing some of these and have learned quite a bit about myself since I got here. No pain, no gain, somebody said. And growth does begin at the end of your comfort zone.

Oh, another topic: (I go for a long time and look what happens) Being gay.
Because the genders are separated here, being gay and even openly gay is easy here. It is not uncommon to see to men holding hands. Just friends hold hands, too, so you don’t know what kind of relationship the two men or women have. Don’t ask, don’t tell is the theme for the whole country. AIDs is here, too. There is a men’s section in restaurants so again, spending great amounts of time with one’s own gender is common. I’ve only seen one or two heterosexual couples holding hands. That is kind of taboo because it is an outward show of affection between the genders.

Well, this has gotten rather long. Sorry.

See you later at Saudi 9. Again, if you don’t want to receive these, please let me know and I can drop you from the list.

S of arabia

Posted by at 9:26 AM

Saudi part7

From Sandy:

October 1, 2005

So, the funny thing is I thought I was going to a remote location…. Dar Al-Hekma in Jeddah. Not exactly the French foreign legion, but at least off the main stream. Wrong.

So, last week classes were cancelled so we could hear Karen Hughes. Karen Hughes, I said. Oh no. Not her… I promised to be nice. Really, I did.

So, at the appointed hour, I accompanied by typography class into the Auditorium. We were all wearing abayas and tarha (the scarves) because there were men present. One guy, a Saudi, dressed in typical garb, (robe and red&white checked scarf) was armed with a machine gun. There were Secret Service people, the press corps and bunch of aids, the aforementioned Hughes and a wonderful undersecretary originally from Egypt. After the usual welcomes, she talks. There were some microphone problems. That surprised me since the army of test 1, test 2 etc had them all going.

At any rate, after talking about her appointment as special diplomat, she said really she was a MOM. Oh no, I thought. So, with our without soccer ball, she started talking about how Americans honored faith, family, and freedom. That we have freedom of religion in America (in Saudi Arabia one can only opening practice Islam….), and women are free and speech is free. She talked about the need for everyone to get along, to understand each other and her job was to spread democracy around the world. Some students behind me groaned. So, did I. The local perception on this is much different than the speaker, as many of you already know. Then she talked about the freedom to drive and that Saudi women needed to be able to drive and then talked about a bird with one wing can’t fly so the Saudi society would be much better off if they allowed participation of women in everything. She then asked if we had the internet…. At least she didn’t ask if we knew what it was…

So, question time. The students were not hand selected to ask questions. Nothing much at Dar Al Hekma is staged; it comes straight from the heart. Sometimes that can seem very schmaltzy. Anyway, one student asked her how she planned on improving America’s image in the Muslim world. Karen Hughes said that Americans knew that only a small percentage of muslims were terrorists and that a muslim lady sat next to her in her Presbyterian church pew after 9/11 and that both Christians and jews accompanied muslim shoppers to stores after 9/11 so they would be protected from the few Americans who might mean them harm. . . Next question.

A student asked if the US was more right wing and if the press was less free. She said no – the press was quite free and that the country wasn’t right wing. There were red states and blue states (this to a Saudi audience….) and that the election was quite close. (Tell Bush that – he thinks he has a huge mandate.

Another student gave her two suggestions. She looked visibly stunned. Another woman who is faculty got up and said Muslim women on the whole are quite happy. She again said howmuch happier people could be if they knew true freedom.

There was often loud applause for student questions and no applause for her answers. One of the suggestions was to have an exchange of educators to enhance middle-eastern studies. Her response was that – yes, many students should come to the US to study the west. After talking about that for a while, she suddenly said – oh, and some of our students could go the Saudi Arabia. (duh)

So, after the event, she, her staff and the American ambassador to Saudi Arabia went to a cafeteria on the first floor of the college. I was allowed to enter this mass of men and women. Some students were holding their own, suggesting a blog chat so she could learn more about muslim or middle-eastern women. She truly looked shell-shocked.

I cornered the US Ambassador (I said I would be nice, I didn’t say I would keep quiet…), introduced myself as new faculty and told him how intelligent, eager and enthusiastic our students are. He said he knew. I told him she should spend more time than one hour. I have learned so much in one month. He nodded again and said that Americans just don’t get it.

I also thought, before I got here, that “having to wear a black abaya” was a symbol of servitude. It isn’t. It is a required dress code according to Islam here, but also bear in mind that most of the men wear a white robe and the red&white checked scarf or white scarf with the headband. The men cover themselves also. None of these dress codes has anything to do with perceived intelligence.

Women don’t drive, but many families hire drivers, and others take cabs or have other drivers they can call. I am new to this, but it does work and though putzy, I would rather have a safe driver or the compound bus than drive in Jeddah. This sounds like an excuse, but it is the truth. The women move around the city freely. Women can go shopping alone in the malls without a problem (in Jeddah). Riyadh is probably more severe. Saudis don’t like to go to Riyadh because it is so conservative – so even in Saudi Arabia traditions vary by area.

Anyway, Karen Hughes left. Hum. I wonder if it is worth mentioning this in Saudi 7. Before I could even think of an answer, a copy of the New York Times article started circulating on the DAH e-mail circuit. I started getting e-mails from friends in Northern Minnesota saying they had read that article and one in the Duluth News Tribune and was I there? Yea, I was.

All of this has put Dar Al-Hekma on the map because this event, with men and women in the same room was a first for the Kingdom. That sounds like “prejudice”…. But here the separation is like the separate but equal thing that was theoretical in the states and obviously there is room for improvement here, but the Saudi system will change (and it is – daily) within its own guidelines.

On the way out of the auditorium my students asked if I voted for Bush. No, says I. Yea! Said they. Karen Hughes talked down the the crowd and every person on the receiving end knew. As American faculty I was embarrassed (again) at the arrogance and ignorance Karen Hughes displayed. I hope she got some of the message from the students.

Of course they want more independence; it will come.

So much for thinking I had dropped off the end of the earth….

Gotta trot.

OH – saw my first camel a couple days ago in the back of a pickup truck along with a steer. It was laying down and not very happy.

Have another gecko in the house. It is living in the downstairs can. I now have a cup to try to catch it and take it outside. Wildlife. How exciting.


Posted by at 9:24 AM

Saudi part6

From Sandy:

Sept 24, 2005

Last Tuesday I learned quite a bit about Saudi Arabia. I asked the 3D graphics class members were sharing examples of effective and not so effective packaging. One student showed a Saudi wedding invitation. It looked like a stall thin stationary box. She indicated it was overkill, considering that it contained one sheet of paper and looked more like a corporate identity piece than a wedding invitation. It was constructed of heavy boxboard similar to a cigar box. I pointed out that postage for something that heavy would be quite high. They looked at me like I had two heads, possibly three.

Mail? No, wedding invitations as with any invitation are delivered by the drivers by hand. They were stunned that we would use the mail for anything. This explains why we don’t get any mail. There is no junk mail. I asked how we would know if we had mail at the compound. The person I asked said to just buy a postage stamp and put it at the main office here. No, no, says I. Incoming mail. I got the same pitch about the stamp.

My boss confirmed – there really isn’t any mail and if someone sends it, it might never get delivered.

Same class, same students. I asked them to sketch or photograph (without getting caught) some of the apartment buildings with balconies. These are very creative. They were surprised. Why? Well, surface texture, for one, says I. No one uses them, I was told. Not only it is too hot to be outside, but a woman would still have to wear an abaya and head scarf. So, I suggested a balcony design which would allow people to use it during the cooler parts of the year.

Three heads again. No one uses them. The newer apartment buildings don’t even have them. So, I am looking oddly at them. Americans use them? They asked. Sure. The barbeque grill is out there. Chairs, toys, plants. It becomes another room of the house. They were surprised.

We (some faculty) drove to a new restaurant called Senses for dinner Tuesday night. It is a new, rather swanky restaurant and it was stunning. The family area (where women or families must be) was upstairs. The bottom half of the stairway was lit up – orange, with a spiral rail. Upstairs was quite nice. From my vantage point I could look into the men’s eating area – waterfalls cascade down the walls and the guys sit on the floor on pillows and eat amid pools of water that are recirculated the waterfall.

Turns out the king lives in Jeddah. I assumed he lived in Riyahd, but I guess he has palaces all over the kingdom. King Fahd (recently deceased) has a palace which is easily half the size of Cloquet.

There was a party in the compound last night – described by another female here as a drunk and drool party. Lot of the guys in the compound are married, but there families live elsewhere. When that description came of the wires, three of us decided to eat at my place. We watched CNN and Hurricane Rita.

I have started watching a Saudi news program in English. Two men read the news with appropriate news clips. They just read it without editorial comment. Though it tends to be boring, it is just the facts, even when talking about Israel. No sensationalism. This is an interesting contrast to US news.

The print ads here are more graphic than in the US and the foreign ads for US companies or middle-eastern companies are humorous or quite beautiful.

Oh-I finally feel like I’m in Saudi Arabia. We went to a place called Ballad today. It is a huge market by the Red Sea - yes I have finally seen the Red Sea. This market has some very expensive department stores and a couple of air-conditioned buildings with three floors of little stores but OUTSIDE in the heat are the little shops which reminded me of the street markets in Sicily. The further you go into this long alleyway of stores, the cheaper the prices are. I purchased much needed local clothing and some cashews called morning cashews which have been slowly roasted for two days and were warm. Oh, were they good.

And trust me folks, being an old hippie, the Ramadan clothing (which I guess are supposed to wear to school) is a dream come true. It is colorful and embroidered with wonderful patterns all over the piece. Photos to follow.

Guess when the king travels they shut down the route for and hour or so and run all kinds of vehicles so you won’t know what he’s riding in – including an ambulance and a fire truck. Ok. The general take on King Abdullah (who has been running the country since King Fahd’s stroke in 1995) is that he is a very nice man. Everyone likes him.

Every cabbie in town is well versed on the number of wives and children each of the sons of Ibn Saud have. Ibn Saud (who united the kingdom) had 60 wives, 100 sons and 80 daughters. I wonder if he had children he had never met…. One cabbie said that Abdullah who had 30 or so wives and over 100 children (I can’t keep it all straight) as 7500 descendants when you figure children, grandchildren, greats and great=greats, but the spouses of all these folks.

I noticed that there are quite a few black African women who pick through the debrie fields where buildings have been torn down and others use these places as dumps. They basically are the recycling crew. I understand they are freed slaves. Gasp. Slavery ended here during the Kennedy Administration, so the pecking order starts with the royal family, then goes to Saudis – then down the ranks to the lowest Indian castes, where the women beg and then the homeless freed slaves.

I don’t know if I endeared or upset my class when we were all talking about recycling. They were stunned to know that some Americans take recycling into consideration when purchasing products – let alone taking that into consideration when designing the product. One student pointed out that recycling was done by the homeless. I suggested that with some help, if they started recycling businesses, they could pull themselves out of poverty and perform something wonderful for the kingdom.

Some of the Americans here consider this abhorrent and put down the local culture. Somehow they don’t look at the similar circumstances in the US. We all have a lot to learn.

Tomorrow classes only meet until 11:00 and then there are National Saudi Day celebrations for the rest of the day. Today was national Saudi Independence Day. When Margaret and I were in the Ballad a museum which she had always wanted to see was open. In it were the hand written, illuminated, illustrated texts of the Koran from hundreds of years ago. They were beautiful. It reminded me of the trip I took as a grad student with Janice Kmetz to the manuscript museum at the Twin Cities campus. I thought of you, Janice.

So, I think I learned more about S.A. last week, but this is what I remember learning. I haven’t gained any weight, which surprises me. I’ve been eating so many carbs.

I sure appreciate any messages that come back… and as always, if you don’t want to be on the mailing list for these, let me know.

S of Arabia

Posted by at 9:23 AM

Saudi part5

From Sandy:

September 18, 2005


For one thing, registration is still going on during the first week of classes. I was nearly hysterical because I had an 8:00 class on Saturday morning (first day of the week) and did not have a class list or a supply of syllabi because the copy center lady was gone all day Wednesday. I finally weaseled a class list from someone in registration who was not very happy about my request.

Well, folks, unlike UMD where everyone shows up the first day so the student doesn’t lose a seat, here, they don’t come to class. So, all my fretting was for not. My 8:00 class contained one student. Better than some other faculty’s classes where no one showed up. So, I had a great class with one student. Learned her name immediately. This is good. I sensed her enthusiasm. This could be fun.

The second class that day also contained one student, I was skunked by the third. The second day of classes were basically cancelled by the Vice-Dean of academic affairs when she announced that classes would begin in earnest on Monday (the equivalent of Wednesday). I had a full house at the 8:00 class – 9 students. We progressed through the syllabus, materials list and books. Overview of Basic Design. The Symbols class h ad 4 students. Not bad.

Then, a convocation with events all day was announced for Tuesday. Classes were cancelled after 10:00. Some frustration here, in an oh-well sort of way (I melted down the week before). The ministry requires very accurate records of what is taught including copies of all handouts, day by day schedules of lesson plans. I decided to create mine as I go (big surprise, eh?)

This decision was well taken because those who had worked out a semester long class plan are already in major revisions because the first week basically didn’t happen. The lag helped because I caught up on syllabi.

Class schedule has changed many times. First I was going to teach symbols, then Angela was, then it was passed back to me. In fact, I taught the first class period. It has since gone to my sidekick Kate and I inherited Typography. So, yes, I am teaching typography. I looked at the course files from previous classes – oh dear. So, this class will be very different. Very.

The students are eager. When I ask a question – get this – they all start talking at once. They are smart and most interested in design and in learning all they can from me. Or anyone who comes to Saudi Arabia.

They are very proud of their country and very sad that most people think Saudis ride camels and shoot people. Saudis are very hospitable people, very kind. They are nicer than Minnesota nice. Or at least the same…

And this school is remarkable. The Dean (equivalent of K. Martin) is dynamic and charismatic. She is also a mystic. She has dreams she shares along with the interpretation of the dream. This is a pioneering institution within Saudi Arabia and breaks new ground for women on a regular basis.

Faculty meetings are even more vocal than classes. Everyone participates. She says we are all one – the large “i” of Dar Al Hekma. That we need to be honest and transparent. Oh, is this my kinda place.

Last week student visas were approved for the first time. Now foreign students can come here. This semester Dar Al Hekma College is offering printmaking classes in the first print making studio for women in any woman’s college in the Kingdom. Kate is teaching animation (Maya). It is the first animation class for women in the kingdom. I’m teaching 3D graphics for the second time and next semester may teach exhibitions for the first time.

This is a private college; the tuition is very high. The Dean goes around Saudi Arabia collecting money from people to provide scholarships for bright students who cannot afford the tuition. So, students can be royal princesses or daughters from proud but underprivledged families. It doesn’t say on the class notes who is who. I’m new and don’t care. They are all my students.

This graphic design program is the first in the kingdom for women. There are design agencies in Jeddah owned by women. Women in these professional interior and graphic design positions are going to change some of the fabric of Saudi culture.

This week classes have been rather full, though there is some question about correct classrooms. The students in my basic design class worked on their in class project with the same diligence that students would in the US. Already there are signs of the proverbial perfectionism and competitive art.

Here the absentee policy is that after 6 absences in a studio art class, the student receives a DN – denial to pass the course, they fail. Medical excuses can undo the absences but I told them that the work must be done.

Moving away from classes for a minute.. there is a stretch of highway which has many car dealerships on it. Lamborgini, Ducati, Maserati, Porche, Infinity, Lexus, Ferrarri… I can’t imagine anyone buying that kind of car to drive on a Jeddah street.

The lizard is still around. I turned down the air conditioning so I have heard lots of clicks.

Internet was down Friday – a bummer because it was my one day of rest. We had a strategic planning meetingn all day Thursday. Imagine DAH in 5, 10, 25 years. SWOT analysis. I was toast when we were done.

So, I gotta trot.

Oh-most art classes are 2 hours long. Basic design is 2.5 hours 2 days a week. I am overload teaching – 5 classes instead of 4. It’s not like I have a lot of other things to do.



Posted by at 9:22 AM

Saudi part4

From Sandy:

Sept 10, 2005

I keep forgetting to tell you all that recycling in unknown here. Conservation of water and electricity is, however. So in my villa, there are separate hot water heaters in the master bath, the second bath and the kitchen. I have the one in the second bath turned off (a switch on the wall) because I don’t need it and it is a waste of both water and electricity to keep it on.

As I’ve said, my room here (master bedroom) is huge. Considering the room I had in my house in Cloquet was 7 x 9 feet, this is enormous. (haven’t measured it yet) and it contains a king size bed. I feel like I would have to use a cell phone to contact someone on the other side of the bed … if there was someone on the other side of the bed. Kinda funny.

Today was the first day of classes. I had one student in the first class, one student in the second class and no one showed up for the third class. Then an announcement was sent out that classes will really start on Monday (the third day of the week.) This means that all my huffing and puffing last Wednesday was ridiculous… (big surprise)

I have been here over 10 days. Seems like I have been here much longer than that. There is still much to get used to. I haven’t found a local TV channel with Jeddah news. The TV is pretty wild. There is a channel in French and quite a few in Arabic. Then there are movie channels with Arabic subtitles. I watched the beginning of a rugby game on one channel and they’re covering “The Ashes” which is a British/Australian cricket match on quite a few channels. Then we have ABC and NBC sometimes, CNN worldwide all the time. No Fox. That’s nice.

There is a big typhoon heading for Taiwan. Just a heads up in case someone is going there.

Oh. Women do drive in the countryside away from the big cities. If caught, the ticket goes to the husband. Wonder if they would go after my ex. But after dark in Jeddah, sometimes women put on the male head gear and drive around town. That’s only fair, because terrorists dress in abayas (the women’s black outer robe) to escape authorities. The last time there was a bombing in Jeddah (a couple years ago), the school moved the women back to the compound in a school bus so the army would know it was really women and not terrorists.

Actually, one of the women in the compound drove to the gate to pick up a friend. It stopped traffic. A woman driving. No one knew what to do. And because this lady is so nice, all the guys, with their jaws on the ground, processed our bus fast to Dr. Houda could get back into the compound quickly. The only people who were insensed were some of the Saudi women who live on one side of the compound.

Am still trying to find a relatively cheap way to call the US. So far, no major luck.

So far the only e-mail I can pick up both at school and at home is my UMD acct:

A professor from Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates spoke to us on Wednesday. He was a very interesting guy. We all had to wear the abayas with scarves because there was a MAN in the college. They brought him in through a special door. Some of the faculty members actually wear full face veils so I didn’t even know who I was sitting next to. I asked who decides about head covering and it is usually the father or husband, but the men are increasingly not wanting their wives to go with the face veil or even the entire covering. One actually can see rather easily through this veil if you remember some of the total cover Halloween masks from a few years ago. Anyway, some of the women just prefer it. It is the ultimate in anonymity.

Gotta trot.

Sept. 14

Well, the typhoon is history with minimal damage. I have received many Bush in New Orleans jokes from people.

Classes started on Monday, but there was a convocation on Tuesday, so classes after 11:00 were cancelled. So basically, the first week of classes was a non-happening. The students I did meet were very sweet, alert and eager to learn.

Saudi 5 will address teaching and the amazing changes in Saudi Arabia that are happening weekly. This is a great time for an old 60s person to be here.

Dar Al Hekma College has the first Graphic Design program in the kingdom for women. The first interior design department, which may add a masters program next year.

Just last week, papers were signed allowing student visas, meaning that foreign students can now apply for acceptance to Saudi schools and come here on student visas. Last week. Wow.

The GD program will graduate its first seniors in the spring. That means we can examine our curriculum and make needed changes. (following graduation of a first class)


Posted by at 9:19 AM

Saudi part3

From Sandy:

Tis Wednesday, Sept 7, 2005. I am nearly finished with my first week at Dar Al-Hekma. Yesterday and today have included all kinds of orientation programs. I’ve been here for a week.

The driving here is absolutely wild. There were two accidents on the way to work the first day. We drive to school in a largish bus. Though there isn’t as much beeping as in Italy, the driving is wilder, though there are very few motorcycles or motorskooters. I bet the riders don’t live very long if they try. The roads are quite wide – sometimes 6 or 8 lanes (sort of) heading in one direction. Most of them do not have lane dividers marked and even if they do, the guys drive in two lanes, sometimes. And the Saudi men wear head garb which interferes with their peripheral vision. I understand some of them starch their head scarves which makes this even worse. The accident I saw was when one car sidewiped another on an entrance ramp. (Or even just driving down the road.

The creation of a driving range on the Dar Al-Hekma College campus grounds was discussed this week. Apparently there are efforts to let women drive. That would double the driving population which is a scary thought and to be honest, I’m just as glad to let Mr. Bin drive since I have no idea where I am going.

The Warming House (next to Gordy’s) in Cloquet has fake electric palm trees. Think that’s weird? Try orange plastic palm trees in front of a restaurant in Jeddah where the real thing is only 50 feet away.

Or, comically, the three barricades which are set like a slolam course between two machine gun nests on the frontage road in front of the compound, have “please come back” written on the reverse side when you leave.

Now that I’ve been here a week, the machine gunners (there are three of them) wave at us on the way by. That must be a hot boring job. Last night one of them was sleeping in his nest (the furthest one away from the entrances.

The college is beautiful. White granite floors with granite in-lay. The school is laying ground for the new Saudi Arabia – it is very exciting. Here the term Dean applies to the head of the school (like the Chancellor at UMD). Vice Deans are like Deans at UMD.

The food is incredible. A wide variety of food from all over the world. Being hospitable is very important in this society. It is very quiet. I have only heard one siren the whole time I’ve been here and this is a huge city.

Construction is all over the place and the huge private dwellings are like palaces. Jeddah has sculptures all over town. I wanted to take pictures of these to share, but I am told there is a book on the sculptures of Jeddah in the art supply store on campus – it hasn’t opened up yet. So, I’ll get the book.

Haven’t seen the Red Sea yet. It’s out there somewhere. I’ve been too tired to go anywhere other than a few shopping centers. The food stores are quite interesting. There are all kinds of fruits I have never seen before. I wouldn’t know how to eat them, but they sure are beautiful. I think I told you that. Beggars hand out in the parking lots of the grocery stores. It is very hard to deal with. I am a soft touch… I must avoid some of this, especially now that I see in one store there is an old man who has a raft of children working for him begging.

The Phillipinos and Bangladeshis here are at the bottom of the food chain. They are paid very little and do all the menial tasks. This is a very clean country. People are constantly sweeping, dusting and hauling out garbage. The cooking and cleaning staff at DAH are all Phillipino. Some of the cooks are Somali, a group, I am told is even further down the pecking order. But everyone is very nice to everyone else. There is no meanest shown the service workers, but obviously they make very little a month. I am told it probably about 7% of what I make. Food is relatively cheap, unless on is looking at the pay of the service people. Service workers at DAH also get two free meals a day, which helps them I am sure.

It took most of the week, but I finally have a computer and a telephone with a dial tone. The extension number was changed to 271, so I had to revise syllabi to reflect that. Put them in the copy center for reproduction. That, however, didn’t happen. Neither did the class list. So I meet my first class Saturday morning without being as prepared as I like to be. You know how that freaks me out. So, by late afternoon I was fit to be tied and madder than I have been in years. Lisa, you would be hosing me down.

But, I am home, ate dinner with another faculty member and am more calmed down… My CD player works, Eva Cassidy is singing.

The ants are mostly dead thanks to this stuff called Pif Paf. Probably as toxic as the water in New Orleans (sick joke…) I heard the click-click-click sound of mating lizards this morning, so I have horny lizards in here somewhere. But they are small. They don’t bite. The gecko for geiko.

The school is going through major growing pains, particularly in the GD department. Enrollment is through the roof, there is a teacher shortage, lab and classroom shortage. Sound familiar?

Tomorrow will be another day. I miss you all, but am still glad I am here. I knew it would be a challenge. And culture shock is not what I thought culture shock is. Big surprise, eh?

I am getting quite good at putting on my scarf and whenever there are men around on the upper floors of the college they announce it on the loud speaker so we have to put on our abayas and the scarves. The Saudi women consider the male presence as an intrusion and we call laugh about it. I was surprised at the reaction of some of the older women… thinking they would be “afraid” of the men. Boy, was I wrong.

There is simply etiquette and men & women are quite separate here. And if you think Saudi women are cowed, you are very wrong. When they want the bus to go, they order it to go, which is probably why they didn’t hold the early bus for me today…..

Today was tough, but considering I’ve spent the last week in a foreign country as a definite foreigner, with lots to learn, I think it has been good.

More later.

Posted by at 9:18 AM

More travelogue

From Sandy:

Saudi part2

Tis Sunday, Sept 4. I am in my office. Day two at Dar Al Hekma College. Yesterday was overwhelming – all the new people and a new place. Actually, Dar Al Hekma college is small compared to UMD, so I can’t imagine how overwhelmed new faculty must be to start there. And here, people are so friendly and helpful.

I was exhausted, but still had to do major shopping. I am the proud owner of dishes, silverware, glasses and pots and pans. More food. I might actually be able to fix spaghetti or a chicken stir fry tonight. Use the stove for the second time. Wow. It’s coming together.

Some of you have asked about address & phone number:

For mailing purposes:
Sandy Pederson
Graphic Design
Dar Al-Hekma College
P.O. Box 34801
Jeddah 21478, Saudi Arabia

Mobile phone: 966-5-61548728 (This already includes the country code and mobily code…)
School: 966-2-6303333 ext 172

Compound: Ask for ext 105
Compound address:

Jen and Jake called last night. That was a thrill.

Fred, the gecko, bit the dust. I had to turn in a maintenance request form. A fellow showed up and rather than catch and release, Fred went to the gecko great beyond. An hour later I sent two unnamed cousins to the same place when they went shooting across the room. Stomp.

Had my first major “alone” adventure last night. Went shopping on the compound bus, driven by Mr. Bin. He dropped a bunch of us off at Danube. Prayer time was fast approaching so we were to finish shopping and meet at 6:45 pm. Well, I assumed we would met where he dropped us off, so with my mounds of stuff, I went out the front door, waiting beside a very busy street (5 lanes in one direction, with no lane markers). No bus. Waited for a very long time. The sun set. So, I’m there with my shopping cart and there are bars at regulated intervals trapping me and the cart from exploring more of the outside of the building. Prayers had already started, so I couldn’t get back into the store until prayers were over. One lady on the bus had just returned and had been up 24 hours, so I knew I was delaying her slumber. Taxis kept stopping.

And, it is considered disrespectful here for non-muslim women to cover their heads (except for going into and out of school), so us non-muslims stick out like sore thumbs. Neon thumbs. The abaya (the black robe) is the required outer wear for all women.

Soooo. Now it’s very dark. I’m on the busy street corner with memories of religious police who arrest women for prostitution if alone during the day (another incorrect bit of information)…. So, I pushed the cart back up to the entrance and asked my angels to help me out. I had no idea what to do… I just got my mobile phone and the only number in it is for my department head, Angela.

Then, appearing around the corner laughing was Mr. Bin. I have never been so happy to see a guy in my whole life. Together we forced the cart between the poles, got to the bus where I apologized to everyone. They apologized for not telling me where to meet the bus. Got home and unloaded everything.

No more geckos. Kids called. Am still watching New Orleans. So sad.

I have enjoyed your e-mails immensely. Have not found meetings or members here. Oh well.

Have Colleen Birt e-mail me at SandyPederson28@aol.com so I can recapture her e-mail address. I must have written it down wrong.

Yesterday afternoon I was ready to pack it all in, but like I said in my MFA thesis, Growth begins at the end of your comfort zone.

School: I have been given office supplies, but my office computer is half there. My office mate, who is supposed to be in tonight or tomorrow, has speakers. That’s it. I have been assigned six classes. Two of them meet at exactly the same time. A problem which needs to be resolved. But I’m told it will be fixed and I will know my school e-mail address eventually and have an ID.

More later,

Ps-I was going to take pictures yesterday of the magnificent sculptures and other architectural features around town. And the signage – however, I was told not to take pictures because I could be arrested.

And – did I mention the cats? There are feral cats in the compound, in fact all over Jeddah. They keep down on the rodent and gecko populations. And, Rudy, dogs are not generally allowed in Saudi Arabia. There is something against dogs in the Koran.

On an oh well note, there is a beautiful new city library here which has been finished for years but the authorities are still arguing about which books can be housed there.

Kinda sounds like the freeway extention in Duluth when I first moved there in 1973.

Salaam (peace)


Posted by at 9:14 AM

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.

Posted by at 8:48 AM

October 19, 2005

About "Video Production"

The Viz Lab has been the production house for a number of groups. Bill Payne, Theatre, premiered his documentary "Pathways to Understanding: Raising Children with FASD a seminar with John Hays" on October 12, 2005, in the Weber Music Hall. 1,000 DVDs of this documentary will be distributed nationally.

Posted by at 11:10 AM

About "GeoWall (Virtual Reality)"

Coming up in November. 3D Visualization of Geology and Mineral Deposits with D. Peterson, NRRI for the University for seniors. We have also been playing with stereo video and hope to develop more content for the GeoWall and other VR applications.

Posted by at 11:07 AM

About "Animation"

The maya group is morphing into an animation club. After three years and three productions, we have an entirely new group of curious animators and musicians.

Posted by at 11:06 AM

About "Science and Engineering Chat"

Let other VDIL researchers know what you are doing.

Posted by at 11:05 AM

About "Art/Theatre/Music Talk"

Just about the fine arts (they are so fine!)

Posted by at 11:03 AM

About "Erstwhile Viz Lab-ites"

Researchers and students who have worked at the Viz Lab in the past - let us know what you are up to, where you are living, or whether you can draw a cat :).

Posted by at 11:02 AM

About "Sandy of Arabia"

News from former VDIL RA Sandy Pederson, who is teaching at Dar Al Hakma Women's College in Jeddah.

Posted by at 10:59 AM