Thursday, June 29, 2006

Lizard in the Bedroom

The Boy, our Great Dane, is a world champion lizard chaser. He’s only caught one, ever, so he’s not much of a catcher – just a chaser. The lizards are much faster, and probably much smarter. All but for the one he caught – and that lizard lost its little tail – but the lizard didn’t leave. He continued to live out back, to taunt The Boy every chance he could possibly get.

Last night, I was sitting at the computer, and I kept hearing this “whack!” “thwap!” noise. Each time I would get up to go see what it was, I’d see The Boy – just standing on the bed – and I figured, okay, he must have lost a chewy or a ball down in between the mattress and the headboard. Geez, I hope he’s not scratching the headboard and that that is what that noise is. This went on for about ten or fifteen minutes. I’d hear the “whack!” “thwap!” and get up to go check it out. Each time – nothing – just The Boy standing on the bed.

Again, “whack!” “thwap! THUUDDD!” and I go to see – and there he is, The Boy, who must have been standing on the nightstand – no small dog – he’s a Great Dane – is caught with his right front leg and rear leg BEHIND the nightstand, his body in a rather sideways position semi-on top of the nightstand with his head down on the side of the nightstand stuck next to the wall. Oh, my gosh! What in the world are you doing?!? I help him – free him from an almost impossible position and spot – without hurting him – and what does he do? The Boy jumps back up on the bed to try this again! And that’s when I see it. There is a baby lizard on the wall – up high – a teeny, tiny little gecko lizard, all of about two inches long. It is driving The Boy absolutely crazy, and he is bound and determined to get it, no matter what furniture he destroys doing so, or how many broken bones he might end up with. [That he didn’t break something when he fell off / onto / behind the nightstand is nothing short of a miracle! And, the nightstand is still intact as well. Note to self: Write to the furniture company, tell them how strong their stuff really is. Another note to self: Start wearing camera around neck to have readily available at all times, and especially for Kodak moments like this one!]

Great. Now what am I going to do? How do you catch a lizard? And, oh, my, I’m not actually going to touch it! I can’t! I’m close to petrified of creep crawly things, and I realize it’s only a baby lizard, and I don’t think they bite, do they? It’s only nine-thirty. Call the neighbor. I’ll have him come and take care of this. I dial the phone. No answer. Try again. No answer. Okay, leave a message this time… But, now I’ve got to stand here and watch this lizard until he calls me back – what if he’s not home until midnight? I can’t possibly sleep in this room with this lizard in here! What to do, what to do… I grab a newspaper, fold it in an “L” shape, open the sliding door just a couple inches, and am able to nudge the poor little creature outside. Phew. Call the neighbor back, leave another message. No worry. I took care of the lizard.

The Boy is still standing there, just giving me this look that says, “Well, good job. Now you’ve ruined my night.” He was going to get that lizard! “You almost got it. You’re a Good Boy. And, you’re a really, really good Lizard Chaser. Good Boy.”

DSL Hook-Up

We now have DSL. Got it today – the nice man came at 8:45 this morning – and refused to come in until, of course, the “Kids” were “put away.” The Boy – I’ve said before – goes to his crate, happily, when he is told to. The Baby – HA! Runs for her dear, sweet little life if she thinks she is about to be put into her “torture chamber.” No matter. I put The Baby on her leash – got her all excited – she, is, of course, thinking “Walk Time!” This, naturally, makes The Boy go NUTS seeing that The Baby has a leash on and even though he is in his Happy Place that he is NOT going is not going over well with him, at all… Hopefully he was relieved to find out that all I did was walk The Baby upstairs to show the nice computer man where our computer is and where our telephone jack is. The nice computer man, apparently, was unable to concentrate with The Baby [who weighs all of forty pounds – she’s a six month old puppy for goodness sake!] in the same general vicinity. I had to lock The Baby in the kitchen – so now both Kids are barking, crying…

I know I’ve posted already about what a wonderful thing is it that we can dial “202” and have maintenance come and fix about anything, almost immediately. Well – they come – but don’t necessarily fix it whatever it is – and often this requires several visits from lots of different little laborers imported from a variety of countries.

We have a similar number to “IT” and we dial it and they “fix” whatever it is. A couple of months ago, when we got the new computer that I didn’t know we needed, with the big flat screen, the wireless keyboard and wireless mouse, and NO diskette drive, we called to get a DSL hook-up – we’ve been using dial-up. Yesterday I get a call that they have made it down the list of 450-something installations – and it’s our turn, finally – and that the DSL would be installed this morning at nine o’clock. I’ll give the workers in The Sandbox this – they are almost always early – unlike in the States where when they say your cable will be hooked up on whatever date – and they can’t give you a time…

The nice computer man is here for a little less than an hour. He says, “You are finished.” [I had no idea how much he meant this, at the time!] He clicked on the little “Explorer” icon and said, “You put this on – that is all you do.” Okay, maybe the English lacks some – but they are almost always early! And, the nice computer man leaves and I release the Kids from their misery.

About an hour later, I come upstairs, sit down at the computer and “put this on,” or “click” the “Explorer” icon. I get an error message. I can’t even recall exactly what it said, but I couldn’t get on-line, at all. I am not happy. I am no longer calling the computer man the “nice” computer man. I call the IT people. I tell them that my DSL was just hooked up, that the man left an hour ago, and now, I can’t get on my computer. I go through this exact same conversation with about a half dozen people over the course of an hour and a half. It is now almost one o’clock and I feel as though I have done nothing constructive with my day so far but try to explain what my computer is doing – and try – I tried so hard, I really, really did – to do whatever it was the IT people were telling me to do. I ended up, with the last guy, just losing it. It couldn’t be helped. He was telling me to do things much too fast – go here, do this, click on this – no right click – “tools,” no “properties.” What? “Which one was I supposed to click first?” It was useless. His parting words to me were to shut everything down and turn it back on in ten minutes and call back. WTF?!?

Speechless. He left me just speechless. No – I had plenty to say – but I was off in high-gear headed to the point of no return in my rage! Just fuming. Can’t describe it in words. Knew that I had to take a break – couldn’t work on the problem any more at that point. I knew I’d end up saying – or worse – doing something that I would later regret. So, went without a computer for the entire afternoon. Later – around four or so – I called the IT desk back. Explained the problem, explained that I’d spent an hour and a half on the phone earlier and no one seemed to be able to help me, blah, blah, blah. Finally, got “Agent #21’s” supervisor on the phone – he had a name – not a number [they use “Agent #16, #11, #34 when you talk to them – I don’t blame them though – because if people like me could identify them by name and find out where they live…]. So I talk to the supervisor. He promises to call me right back, “In Shallah.”

I know what “In Shallah” means! It means, “God Willing” and the moons all line up, and the day doesn’t end in “Y” and it starts snowing, you will get a call back. That was all it took. I went over the edge. I could barely talk. I ended up muttering through semi-hysterical sobs that this place doesn’t know how to do anything, that it takes eleven people to fix a dryer and a freezer, that it takes five refrigerator deliveries to get a freezer that is not broken or that fits, that the computer guy screwed up my computer and I don’t want to click and do stuff anymore I want someone to come fix it – at my house – right now – that it’s hardly my fault that I have no communication with the outside world and now the only communication I have they have taken away from me. WAAAWWAA!!! The guy tells me I need to calm down – that he will call me back – he promises. Yeah, calm down. Right…

He does call back. He tells me that he has spoken with his supervisor – there are always more supervisors here than workers – it’s the way it is – and that there is nothing they can do until the next business day. WHAT?!? Oh, no. Oh, no, no, no!!! This is a long weekend! I don’t know what Saturday is, here, but it’s a holiday, so you’re telling me that no one is going to be able to help me until Sunday? No. I don’t think so. I’m sure he’s thinking in the ten minutes we’ve been off the phone that I’ve had time to calm down and return to being a “normal, sane” person. He is wrong. He is really, really, really wrong! I almost feel sorry for him – nah, I don’t either – it was his fault for saying it would be Sunday until I could get my problem fixed… Yes, I might have said a few things I regret…

“You are going to leave me with this problem until Sunday, I have no way to go anywhere, I can’t just jump in my car and drive to the nearest ‘internet cafĂ©’ to use a computer, and I wouldn’t be able to use one even if I could drive – or take a cab – because they are for men only! What kind of Country is this, why does everything everyone touches here just make things worse, and how can things possibly get any worse than they are?” I went on… It wasn’t pretty. “Okay. Fine. If Sunday is the best you can do, then I guess I don’t have much of a choice, pretty much like everything else here – my feet are tied together tighter than you ever tied a camel’s feet – women have no choices here – and for God’s sake if there was Vodka available then we’d all be alcoholics because that’s just the way things are here – YOU make us want to drink – and if everything wasn’t such a problem which you create for yourselves then this Country would be a lot further along than it is – and don’t even bother getting someone to fix my DSL on Sunday – just hook my computer back up the way it is and save me the aggravation that is just going to get worse because no one has a fucking clue in this place!” Slam! Conversation over. [That’s pretty much a general description of how the conversation went – I don’t have a recording of it to transcribe, but I know it was probably recorded – and I should care, but don’t at this point. They say on the recording when you call, “This conversation could be recorded for training purposes…” Train this, why don’t you!]

I did get a call back a few minutes later. It was the “nice” computer man that was here this morning. He wanted to know what the problem was… I explained, as rationally, as possible, at the time, and said that I needed it fixed, that someone has to come here and fix it. He asked me when? What? When?!? NOW!!! He was here in about thirty minutes, and for the time being, I think the problem is fixed. It’s a temporary fix. I don’t expect it to last long… That’s the way things are here. It took over a week to get a new refrigerator delivered – when all I had was a broken freezer door – they delivered several – it was an unbelievable parade of refrigerators coming in – and going out – and more work than it was worth. It took ten different men to fix my dryer hose. Do you honestly think that I think that my computer is fixed? Yeah, right! In Shallah…

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Vacation IS Work

I am leaving, at the end of next week, and will be gone for almost a month. This will be my fourth trip to the States in less than a year. Apparently, there is something very wrong with me, because everyone around me seems to be much more thrilled about my situation than I am. They are both envious of me – for getting to “go to the States,” and excited for me – that I’ll get to be in the “real world” and experience “normalcy” again, even if for a short time. My reaction to this? Well, not once have I said, “Oh, I can’t wait!” or “It’s going to be so much fun!” No. Instead, I am dreading it.

The travel, alone, is daunting! I will leave here, my house, in the evening, and take a cab to the airport – which is, at a minimum an hour away – if not longer – so I will allow myself two and a half hours, by the time I get through customs on both sides and finally cross the causeway [I’m leaving from Bahrain], where after arriving at the airport almost two hours prior – as is required for International flights – my plane will not leave until almost one in the morning. That’s not such a bad thing – I’ll be able to sleep – I can sleep almost anywhere. The first leg of the flight is almost nine hours and upon arrival in this country, I will spend two hours at the airport waiting to catch a flight for the next leg of my trip. The second leg of the flight is a little over seven and a half hours long, and at this point I will probably have to force myself not to become to “antsy” from sitting, I won’t be tired, and I probably won’t be able to sleep. Estimated travel time, so far: twenty-three hours. I will arrive in the States and have to go through customs, where it is more likely than not, that I will be pulled aside and taken to a little room for approximately an hour to be interrogated and given the third degree for being an American citizen who lives in Saudi Arabia.

The questions are always the same – yes, this happens regularly – I don’t recall the last time I made the trip where this didn’t happen. My answers will not have changed since the last time you asked me [February] what I am doing living in Saudi Arabia, why I am traveling alone, how much cash I have on me [U.S. Dollars – none], who my husband works for, etc., etc., etc. The nice – and sometimes not so nice – Customs people will hand me back my passport and tickets and I will be on my merry way – to locate some semi-comfortable spot where I will need to kill another four hours until I finally board the plane for the last leg of this trip, for a two-hour flight where I will be unable to prevent myself from becoming “antsy” and where the very slightest provocation will set me off [if that is your child, sitting behind me, kicking my seat, I will – not quietly – be sharing my thoughts about your unruly, obnoxious, misbehaving offspring if it doesn’t immediately stop]. The trip, so far, will have now consumed some thirty hours of travel and layover time. There will be the inevitable half-hour or so wait at the airport of my destination to collect my luggage, before finding a cab to take me to the hotel where my husband is and has been since the beginning of this month. The total time elapsed, from the time I leave my house, will be just short of thirty-one or thirty-two hours!

Yes, I am happy that I will get to spend time with my family and friends, but to do so will require more travel – we will fly from Georgia to New York – a week after my arrival – next week – only to fly south, again, three weeks later, to North Carolina, before getting on flights to return to The Sandbox. My husband will have lived out of his suitcases for two months; I will have done so for almost a month, spending time in hotel rooms or family and friend’s guestrooms. And, this will be an “easy” trip. [The first time we returned to the States, a little more than a year after arriving in Saudi Arabia, in a little less than two months we traveled first to Texas, then to California, to Washington [state] to New York and to North Carolina, where we joined friends who left with us to go to Italy where we went to Venice, Rome and Milan – we stayed in thirteen different hotel rooms or family and friend’s guestrooms at various destinations which required traveling on eleven different flights – International and domestic – and a couple of trains. Oh, no, we will NEVER, EVER do this again!]

It’s not just the travel, and living out of suitcases, with no space to call your own… There is the fact that if you are at a hotel, if you want to get up in the middle of the night and have a bowl of cereal – oh, wait – you can’t – sure you could order room service – but it’s not the same as walking into your own kitchen and opening the refrigerator to find something to eat that will satisfy whatever craving it is you are having. And, if you are with friends and family, I think it would be considered slightly bad taste to just get up and leave the bedroom in your nightshirt to grab that first cup of coffee – I, personally, don’t ever want to have a “first thing in the morning while I pour coffee” conversation with my husband’s best friend or my brother-in-law in my tee-shirt [just the tee-shirt!], hair not yet brushed and the tell-tale signs of mascara from the day before lining my eyes. So, unlike what might be something you are comfortable doing in your own home, you really can’t do somewhere else.

Forgoing the actual travel and being away from home, I’ve got numerous “things to do” before I can even leave… For starters, I make all the “Kids” food. Yes, this is something for which I have no one but myself to blame – but the food that is available for purchase here in The Sandbox is lacking in quality, to put it mildly. So, I’ve now spent an entire week in the kitchen preparing pre-measured bags of food, filling a chest freezer, for the Kids. I have cooked sixty pounds of hamburger, twenty pounds of chicken, ten pounds of turkey, and six pounds of salmon. I have hard-boiled, peeled and chopped more than twelve dozen eggs, cut into “stuffing” size cubes ten loaves of cereal bread, grated some ten or fifteen pounds of cheddar cheese and four or five pounds of parmesan cheese, cooked and pureed bags of frozen peas and cans of lima beans, shredded several kilos of carrots and sliced twice as many kilos of zucchini. I’ve cooked and chopped enough broccoli, green beans and beets that my hands have taken on a lovely light yellowish green and lavender hue. I have peeled, cooked and mashed sweet potatoes, and cooked rice and barley in commercial sized batches along with a couple containers of oatmeal. Thankfully, this is task is finally – finally – done.

There is the list of instructions to be left – which up until this trip – has been on the computer and I’ve just changed and updated it to make it applicable to whatever flights, dates, hotels, friend’s and family’s homes we can be reached at. We got a new computer [oh, yes, thank you, Dear, for getting us something we really needed – without a diskette drive so that I could simply put what I need from the old computer on a disk and plug it in to this one!] and so I am going to have to do the “instructions” from scratch. There are forms that must be filled out, here, that are not an option, and then delivered to their respective offices: One for housing that says we are gone and who is responsible for maintenance, one that is for security authorizing our “house assistant” to stay here with the “Kids,” and one for the vet authorizing treatment for the “Kids” should it become necessary allowing payment of same to be withheld from my husband’s pay, and finally one for the mail – that we never get – to be held. My list of “things to do” includes numerous other items – some of which are relatively important [i.e., get The Baby’s stitches removed – she was spayed this week], and others which, if not done at all [i.e., get a pedicure] will probably go unnoticed.

So, no, I’m not entirely thrilled to be “going on vacation” at this point… And, no I’m not excited. But for the fact that my father’s health is failing – he had two heart attacks in March, just before we returned to The Sandbox – so I want to spend some time with him – I would tell my husband who has been in the States for work-related purposes, that I just can’t do this trip, again, right now. We were in California in September of last year; we were in Las Vegas for the Holidays and returned to The Sandbox in January; our “long” vacation was scheduled for March – I left The Sandbox to go to North Carolina in February – to get The Boy’s little sister, The Baby, and was gone for almost two months. We have another “short” vacation – already scheduled – for this fall – we are going to Thailand – and I could happily wait until then to go anywhere… I really rather wish, already, that this trip was over and done with and that we were home again, because traveling like this isn’t a vacation. It is work!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Naked Soccer!

One Sunday afternoon as my husband settled onto the couch to spend an afternoon caressing a “clicker” in one hand and a beer in the other, I casually walked thru the room and snidely remarked that a lot more women would watch football if the men played without their pants on. This drew a bit of a cringe, as my husband briefly and silently imagined how painful this might be, before saying “men wouldn’t watch at all.” I wasn’t referring to having men play in the “full Monty.” What I had in mind is skivvies, akin to a Speedo, and just enough to show off all those “tight ends.”

Saudi Cleric Decries World Cup Soccer Enthusiasm( - Millions of soccer fans around the world are zeroed in on the World Cup tournament, but a Saudi cleric claims that public enthusiasm over sports turns people into fools and encourages nakedness.
The full story is here.

It is really rather unfortunate that soccer would be denounced like this; it is not, however, at all surprising.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Heads Will Roll...

A recent article, “Confessions of an Executioner,” published on June 3, 2006, in The Saudi Gazette, will not show up in ANY search I do so that I can do a “link.” Oddly, I remember seeing a very similar article shortly after we moved to The Sandbox. The Saudi Gazette may well keep this particular article archived and dust it off on a regular basis, lest one forget that certain crimes truly are punished by beheading.

Often times, reading articles in The Saudi Gazette, they refer to what must be a companion / sister paper,
Okaz. I did find this paper, and unfortunately, it is ONLY in Arabic. [Yes, I do believe I am close to being an expert in reading, writing and speaking Arabic – I have taken two sixteen week courses! – but I’m not quite expert enough to be able to do a search, and even if I COULD do the search, if I found the article, it would take me weeks, months, possibly years to translate it from Arabic to English.] I really didn’t want to have to type this, but here goes… From The Saudi Gazette:

Jeddah (SG)

ABDULLAH Sa’id Al-Bishi is an executioner. It’s a role he inherited from his father.

Al-Bishi, who is currently the second oldest executioner working for the Ministry of Interior as he has been practicing since the year 1412 H (1991-92), and took up the job after assisting his father for many years.

“My role was to obey the orders of my father. Sometimes, he would ask me to reposition the subject in preparation for the execution,” he told the Arabic language daily
Al-Hayat. [This paper, with a very limited English version, did not come up with this article in a search, either.]

The job of the executioner is not only to carry out the death sentence, Al-Bishi said. The swordsman is also a kind-of-counselor [yeah, I bet he his!], sometimes approaching relatives of a murder victim and reminding them they can pardon the convicted up until the very last moment. [After that – oops, too late!] Al-Bishi related an incident when his father was an executioner and was preparing to carry out a death sentence on a young expatriate awaiting execution for killing a friend. The mother of the victim repeatedly declined to pardon the killer of her child.

“My father had a hunch that the heart of this bereaved mother could soften up,” Al-Bishi said. “[My father] walked up to her, with his sword in his hand, and told her that the head of the young man awaiting execution would separate from his body in a few seconds’ time, but that she could raise her hand any time before that if she decided to pardon the killer.”

“She was adamant still and as my father lifted the sword for the last time to go through with the execution, the mother of the victim raised her hand to motion to my father that she had pardoned the murderer,” Al-Bishi continued. “The crowd rushed towards her, cheering and saying that God the Almighty is great, and prayed for her to rest in paradise as a reward for her forgiveness.”

Three times, he’s been able to convince families of victims to pardon the murders after everything was ready for the execution.

“I can tell from the expression on the faces of the victims’ family members if they are considering pardon,” Al-Bishi explained.

He used to attend his father’s executions so he could do them himself in the future, Al-Bishi explained, in order to fulfill his father’s wish to prepare him for the job if he wanted it.
[Gives new meaning to “following in your Father’s footsteps!”]

The first time he carried out a death sentence on his own, Al-Bishi says that everything went normally, and that he was able to wield the sword without any problems. [Well, thank goodness, for the poor criminal’s sake!]

Al-Bishi said he usually receives a number of death threats before and after executions. However, he said he does not worry about his personal safety or the safety of his family because he does follows [sic] both the State and Islamic law.

“I find these threat letters in my mail box but they [sic] are so many that I don’t give them any attention. I even turned down the Ministry of Interior’s offer to provide me with security guards,” he said.

There are a number of myths told about Saudi executioners and executions, Al-Bishi said. Some executioners become “deranged” after an execution. A typical Saudi executioner is a fierce person who acts on impulse and emotion. Those scheduled to be beheaded are so sedated they hardly even know where they are.

“All fairy tales,” Al-Bishi said, dismissing those myths. Al-Bishi said the only sedated people he deals with are those who are going to lose hands or feet, and not those scheduled to lose their heads.

“People get the impression that those awaiting execution are sedated because they collapse and become unable to move. However, they can sense and feel everything that goes around [sic] them,” he said.

But years of dealing with those sentenced to death, Al-Bishi said that some break down completely and do not utter a single word until they are actually executed
[huh?] while others appear to hallucinate. Others still recite verses from the Qur’an and loudly repent, admitting publicly that they deserve to be killed as punishment for what they have done.

“The person to be executed is brought up with his or her hands tied behind the back. The person is made to sit down at the spot where the execution is to take place. An official appointed by the court then steps forward and reads out the verdict and all relevant details,” Al-Bishi said when describing a typical execution.
[Lopping of someone’s head, typical? Yeah, okay.]

Following the execution, a physician is summoned to examine the body and ascertain death. The body is then taken away for burial. [And, the head? Where is the head taken?]

In the case of a “disciplinary killing,” a punishment for particularly nasty crimes, the executioner is required to use more than one blow in order to make the punishment for painful. [WTF?!?] “This is only in the cases of heinous crimes,” Al-Bishi said, adding that ordinarily, one blow is enough.

Just like any other professional, the executioner has a number of tools he uses, and not all of them are swords.
[Razor blades? Hedge clippers? A table saw? What else could you possibly use?]

However, the sword is the most important, Al-Bishi explained. He said there are two kinds of swords executioners use: The Al-Jawhar, which is made in India, and the second is made in Egypt. Prices range between SR33,000 and SR 70,000 each.*

Al-Bishi said he picks his own weapons, including a personal pistol.

Those weapons are necessary because sometimes an execution does not go smoothly.

“My sword broke once in the neck of an individual. On that day, there were five people awaiting execution,” Al-Bishi said. [Don’t ‘cha just hate when THIS happens! Yeah, this WOULD make for a bad day...]

Al-Bishi said the human skull is very hard, hard enough to break a fast moving sword. If this happens, Al-Bishi explained that execution cannot be halted and that he has to continue until the sentence is carried out. [Sweet Mother of God!!!]

On of the most cherished belongings passed on by his father is the sword used to execute Al Jehiman, the leader of a group of rebels who occupied the Holy Mosque in Makkah for two weeks in the month of Muharram 1400 H (November 1979) and “terrorized” all peace-seeking worshippers.

Al-Bishi said that Saudi executions are also the focus of a great deal on international attention, based on the concern some in the West for the human rights of the of the people executed [sic].

“A number of Brittish and US nationals came to identify the manner in which religious executions are carried out in Saudi Arabia where the canons of the Shariah are followed,” he said. “They witnessed everything, beginning with intervention by reconciliation panels and the attempts made at pardoning those executed and ending with the execution itself.”

Al-Bishi also trains other executioners, and has trained six who are currently awaiting official appointment and stand prepared to carry out executions, if need be, in several areas of the Kingdom. It also takes time to train a new executioner in how to use the sword properly and ensure that a death sentence is carried out mercifully as possible.

“When we have four or five people on the death row, it becomes necessary to use ‘unofficial’ executioners who have spent six full months of training and were pronounced by the vetting committee as fit to be executioners,” he said.

A trainee must have two essential attributes: being quick witted and far sighted.
[That’s it!?! Nothing about needing to be coordinated? Or, perhaps, good with a kitchen knife? Not to mention a very strong stomach!] During their training period, they assist by carrying out several chores, including carrying the head of the executed person. [Well, this answers my question from above, i.e., burial of the body and what happens to the head.]

Al-Bishi himself does not hesitate before agreeing to go to any place in Saudi Arabia, including remote areas, noting that in case several people are to be executed on the same day and in different areas, a three-day notice must be served to allow him to come early. [But of course…]

He even has a special sword he uses on days when five or more people are to be executed: “Al-Sultan,” a 100-year-old sword. “It is the strongest and can never go lame,” Al-Bishi said. [Yes, we wouldn’t want for another sword to break in the neck of an individual. Best to use, “Al-Sultan, on those really busy days!]

Well, there, now… That wasn’t really too bad. And by typing it in myself, I was able to add just a bit of [my own] commentary where I thought it was necessary. So, it all worked out. Now if I can get the #%*$@ picture to load properly…

*SR33,000 = $8,847.18 U.S. Dollars
SR70,000 = $18,766.75 U.S. Dollars

Wow. That’s an awful lot for a sword, isn’t it? But then, for a profession such as this, I guess you’d want nothing but the “Wusthof” of swords. [Oh, my gosh, really, NO pun intended there! Let’s make that a Henckel...]

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

What IF there was a spider?

The woman who was locked in her house [What IF there was a fire?] – to all who commented – I agree, surely there is more to the story. But, who knows… In the meantime, on the same day, I missed this one in the paper, Arab News, it was just a couple paragraphs, buried on the bottom of a page.

It certainly would give one reason to believe that people just are not taking care of their mother’s here, in The Sandbox. This poor old woman – she’s 90! – has been forced to live in the stairwell of a building – without light, ventilation and a toilet, “because her children do not want to take care of her.” So, instead, she’s been resigned to have to live in what sounds to me like an ultimate spider habitat! Looking at the bright side [ha! there is no light!], her eyesight is deteriorating so if there ARE spiders she probably can’t see them.

The article sheds a little light [ha! there is no light!] on the lack of hygienic facilities, and why the woman is not getting charitable help.

Really, not to make light [ha! there is no light!] of the situation, because it truly is sad that anyone would be forced to live like this – but especially when you’re 90 years old – the woman has two sons and four daughters… Apparently the sons are “financially secure,” and one of the daughters living nearby said that she did not want to help her mother because she was “wicked.”

I have one son. I can assure you that through many years – those terrible teenage ones – he thought I was wicked – probably worse than wicked. I know I won’t end up living in a stairwell. My son wouldn’t do that to me. No, he’ll be putting me in a nursing home, instead. Probably one of those “homes for the aged,” you read horror stories about – abuse, lack of food, care, etc. Just as long as there aren’t any spiders…

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

What IF there was a fire?

I saw this Haunted House headline in yesterday’s Arab News, and glanced at the first sentence or two,
“People living in a residential suburb of Jeddah had no doubt that the empty house in the area was haunted.”
“Strange sounds could be heard coming from the house…”
and I turned the page.

Last night I received an e-mail from a young lady telling me that she had read a story about domestic abuse that neighbors knew of but had done nothing about… I thought, “another maid has been abused,” as if so common it elicits less of a response than a yawn… Ho-hum… Not this time.

Apparently there is a woman in Jeddah who lives in a house, alone, where she has been locked in by her three brothers, because, for whatever reason, “she [can’t] live with them.” After the death of her father, five years ago, the rest of the family – these brothers – moved away. Not before, however, putting a chain on the door and bars on the windows – where this unnamed woman has since remained, as a prisoner. Umm Samar, a neighbor says that when the brothers were still living there she could hear “them beating her almost every day.”

Pardon me? Did you say you could hear this happening almost every day? And it didn't occur to you ever - not even once - to call the police or some other authority to report this?

A few generous souls, the aforementioned Umm Samar, among them, have tried to help her and “slip food to her.” Umm Samar says that last Ramadan she “received a telephone call from the woman asking if she could have some food. The poor girl told me that she was starving and that there was no food in the house, no money and worst of all she had been locked inside deliberately.”

When was Ramadan last year? Didn’t it start in October? It is now going on the end of June! Eight months have passed, and still no one has called an authority to investigate the situation of a woman who you know is locked in a house, with bars on the windows, with no way to escape and no way to communicate with the outside world?

[The phone call the young woman made to Umm Samar was done on the borrowed phone of a passer-by.]

The article says,

“The young woman, who is in her early 30s and has more gray hair than a 60-year-old, refused to talk to Arab News fearing that her brothers might harm her. It seems that she has accepted her life the way it is and is unwilling to share it with the world.”

Certainly there must be some law against imprisoning someone! Does this young woman any idea how fortunate she has been for the past five years that she has been safe and sound and that there has been no fire, or equally tragic emergency, from which she would be unable to escape? And now, now that the world does know about this – can – or will – this situation just continue on, status quo, as reported? Shouldn’t one – if not all three – of the brothers be called upon to respond to the authorities in some way? Brothers!?! What kind of “brother” would let his own sister live like this…

Umm Samar says,
“She is a good girl, we all know her but it seems she has been unlucky.”
Unlucky?!? Yeah. I'd say so...

Monday, June 19, 2006

A Breath of Fresh Air

Sabria S. Jawhar is new – relatively new – to The Saudi Gazette. She writes a weekly column called, “Out of the Box.” Today she addresses an issue that many of us have addressed – I have, The Religious Policman has, Hypnotic Verses and Silly Bahraini Girl have addressed it, and without a doubt, a slew of others that I just am not quite familiar with yet: Abuse of domestic workers.

If someone has had the courage to take some responsibility for the issue in black and white as direct and succinctly as Sabria has, I’ve not yet seen it. I do believe the column she wrote today will cause just a bit of flack.

Sabria, if everyone out there that employs domestic help shared your philosophy, many of us would no longer have an issue to address with regularity, as abuse of domestic workers would be obsolete! And if everyone out there just shared part of Sabria’s philosophy toward mankind in general, what a wonderful world this would be!

The specific situation, Sabria writes of, involves a man who fills an apartment building’s water tank. The man got sick and was unable to fill the tank one night. The next day, a tenant of the building, upset because there is no water, beats the man beyond recognition. When did any of us – not just those of us with domestic help – stop caring about our fellow human beings so much that instead of saying, “I’m sorry you weren’t feeling well,” we respond to the absence of some deed or promise with anger?

Sabria says,
“. . . few expatriates go home with good memories about their stay in the Kingdom.”
“. . . I felt truly ashamed and I was lost for words. I was speechless and could barely utter a word, other than to say “sorry brother,” for the behavior . . .”
“. . . what made the inherent dignity and humanity so cheap to us, that we thought we could enslave and humiliate them? How could we be so mean and cruel to these people, people who had crossed oceans to serve us and raise our children?”
“. . . give them more human working conditions, where they have a proper day off and come and go freely to see their friends and relatives, and even celebrate holidays like we do. They are human beings, who have feelings . . .”
“Why do we dare to impose our values on others? Why do we always think badly of people, who are simply different from us?”
Yes, why, indeed…
“We need to encourage them to address the authorities and complain when their rights are violated, without the fear of reprisal or losing their jobs.”

Sabria, reading your column was truly a breath of fresh air – long overdue – to anyone gasping for breath in an environment of effluence!

Haya, YOU need to – no, no – you MUST read this!

[I do hope this young lady will not mind my addressing her by her first name – it was done out of admiration and not disrespect – S a b r i a. Why, I could almost be her twin!]

Attitude in Shorts

It’s hot outside. It’s summer. I live on a compound with a mix of nationalities. In some respects I wish it wasn’t mixed – as I believe it could and would be more “relaxed.” It would also, no doubt, be a prime target – just paint a huge florescent Bulls eye in the center! So, in that particular respect, a compound of mixed nationalities isn’t a bad thing. Nor is it a bad thing that a compound of mixed nationalities is forced to interact and mingle some… And see how it is that “both sides” live…

I am in a foreign country [yeah, understatement, here!], I am a guest, and as such, I do believe I have a duty –whether I agree or disagree – to be considerate and respectful of the culture around me – and thus keep in mind that a display of too much skin might offend those around me when choosing clothing to wear out of the house. And, more often than not, as my normal “daytime” uniform probably isn’t appropriate, here, in this Country and culture.

My day starts very, very early, and begins with putting on what I refer to as my “leash aerobics” uniform [bike / exercise shorts and a tank top – or a tee shirt when it’s cooler – and “walking” sandals – I used to wear sneakers, but then had a tan line that ended at my ankles which were a stark white]. When the “kids” and I return from our walk, the morning “routine” continues with breakfast, vitamins, etc. Typically once that part of the morning “routine” is complete, I can then get on with my day, showering, donning a clean “daytime” uniform, etc. My “daytime” uniform is the same as my “leash aerobic” uniform, with different sandals. [I also have a “TV watching” uniform – yep – bike / exercise shorts, tee shirt and flip flops.]

All but TWO of a multitude of buildings that house the operations where all the day-to-day functions of a “small community” are administered [i.e., business offices, schools, library, community dining hall, post office] have signs posted at the entrances and in the lobbies regarding “appropriate attire.” The only TWO places where there are no such signs posted are at our commissary and the little 24-hour convenience store. The signs, written in very large English letters and miniscule Arabic script, say this:
Appropriate attire required. Anyone wearing clothing that is to too short, too tight or too revealing will be asked to leave.*
I am of the opinion that a sign that does not specifically say, “No Shorts,” or “No Skirt above the Knees,” is open to interpretation as to what might be considered too short, too tight or too revealing. Yes, an argument could be made that a reasonably intelligent person would understand, regardless of the omitted specifics, what is appropriate. Thus, wearing a pair of Daisy Duke shorts with your butt cheeks partially exposed and a cropped tank top with no bra isn’t - appropriate.

[For the record, I do not own a pair of Daisy Duke’s and, certainly, at this point in my life, would not be caught dead with my butt cheeks partially exposed. I do not believe a cropped tank top is flattering on most women out of their late teens and early twenties – maybe a few, but very few – so, unless you’ve got that flat tummy thing going for you, don’t put that cropped tank top on. And, further, being somewhat naturally endowed, having had a child, and having lost most rounds of an on-going battle with gravity, going braless would just be wrong.]

It would be fair to say that perhaps my attitude of late has been just a wee bit in need of an adjustment, but I just wasn’t in the mood to change clothes. So, about seven-thirty, I leave to do a quick five-minute trip to the commissary to pick up a couple of items in my “daytime” uniform. As I park the truck, I decide at the last minute that before going into the commissary I’m just going to run in to the post office to see if we have any mail [see earlier column; we rarely have mail].

I enter the revolving door into the post office lobby and am just turning the corner to the section where our box is located, and hear a man’s voice,

“Excuse me, Madam.” “Madam.” “Madam, excuse me…”
Assuming this is meant for me – I am the only person in the lobby – I turn to acknowledge the voice – the man – who is dressed in a Security uniform – but continue to our box – and as I am bending to peek into the box I can see this man – wildly gesturing to the “sign,” and calling to me,
“Madam. Do you read this?" "Madam!" "Do you read this!?”
Do I? What is he asking me, “Do I?” Does he mean, “Can I?” or “Did I?” There is, as usual, no mail, and I can continue on to the commissary, and now have to walk directly by this man where he continues to stand, frantically pointing to the sign.

As I walk, purposefully, by him to get to the revolving door we are for just a second but only two feet apart and as I make eye contact with him – oh yes – direct eye contact – with his outstretched arm on the sign – he says, in what he probably thinks is a gruff, authoritarian voice, “Read this!” to which I respond, “Okay” and step into the pie shape of the door to exit and head off to the commissary.

What else could I have said? “Okay, sure. Let me read it right now.” I suppose I could have said, “Not now,” as I was leaving anyway. Instead, I simply said, “Okay.” I think I’ve responded “appropriately” even if I was, by Mr. Security’s interpretation, “inappropriately attired.”

*If this is not the exact wording, it is pretty damn close – I have not ever written it down, verbatim – and of course, as no cameras are permitted in any of the buildings, I’ve never taken a photo of one of these signs. I will make it a point to get the exact wording and add an addendum at my next opportunity.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The good: A simple phone call to “202” fixes any and all maintenance problems.

The bad: Today I had two minor maintenance situations and no less than eleven [11], yes, ELEVEN men have been here to fix them – two, simple, minor little maintenance problems.

The ugly: Me, at this point. Ugly beyond belief.

I have much to do in the next twenty days before leaving, again, for a short visit to the States – my third trip in six months. My list has six million three thousand and eleven “things to do” on it… So much to do, so little time… Deciding to eliminate two of those “things to do” off my list I called “202” first thing this morning to see about having the freezer door repaired and the dryer vent fixed.

Our refrigerator, supplied by housing, here, is probably going on thirty years old – it is at least twenty years old. It is one of those ‘fridge on the bottom, freezer on the top. Standard, basic model. No ice maker, no water dispenser. Nothing fancy. For three years now, I have lived with opening the freezer door and having whatever is on the bottom “shelf” of the actual door falling out onto the floor. The cheesy little metal bar that holds the items on the shelf was broken at some point before we moved in. Typically, I just pick up the frozen peas, the “kid” ice creams, and the box of Eggo’s that only has one waffle left in it, put the little metal bar back in, and then put the “stuff” back on this shelf. At this point, the metal bar is swimming in the holes where it is supported as the plastic molding has been chipped away little by little each time the bar falls out and is then replaced. When a can of frozen limeade fell out this past weekend and got me on the top of the foot, having this fixed made its way from being lost in the middle to the top of the “list.”

The dryer is another story. The vent hose – connected from the back of the dryer to the “hole” in the floor to blow the “hot air” outside has not stayed in place from the very beginning – from the day it was hooked up. My husband or my “house assistant” has to fix this for me almost every time I use the dryer [daily] as the hose “releases” itself and blows hot air into the kitchen. When it is 110 degrees outside, and your air conditioner is already working overtime, the very last thing you want blowing on you is hot air, especially if you have to be in the kitchen because you are cooking food for the “kids” to stock the freezer in preparation of departing for a short while, which I started working on yesterday and planned to continue working on today. So, having the dryer vent “fixed” became number two on the “list.”

The simple dialing of “202” is really something that can spoil a person. It is a good thing. If your hot water tank breaks at ten o’clock at night – someone from maintenance comes right away – and by eleven o’clock you will have a new hot water tank [if that’s the problem]. If your air conditioning goes, no matter what time it is, someone is dispatched to your abode, pronto! An air conditioning “break” constitutes an “emergency” here in The Sandbox. Pretty much whatever the problem – but for having the phone / computer outlet changed in the bedroom [see earlier column…] is taken care of in short order.

Certainly, but for maybe some sort of assisted living retirement home, or hotel, there is no place you could live in the States that I know of where you can simply dial three numbers and have a problem resolved, in a relatively short amount of time, even if it does require twenty different men to show up. Did I mention that this service is “free?” Well, free in the sense that we don’t pay for it; it is part of “housing” and the “company” takes care of it. Even when The Boy went through the sliding screen door, folded it in half, and completely tore the screen out of the frame, it cost us nothing to repair. Sure it cost something – the help that comes to fix the problem has to [hopefully] be paid, the cost of a new frame for the slider and screening, but we were not personally charged a penny. It is all good.

There was a situation with “big bugs,” really, really “big bugs,” that required several phone calls – somewhere close to twenty different repairmen, engineers, supervisors, metal workers, exterminators, glass fitters, photographers and whoever else, shortly after we first moved in, and took about a week to resolve. So, but for this one exception, calling the simple three digit number for maintenance has been great, and even this was taken care of, it just took longer than the usual customary “right away” timeframe…

I walked downstairs one morning into the kitchen and saw this “shadow” on the wall. I turned to see what it was and it was and screamed! It was a roach the size of a mouse – maybe even bigger! I am not kidding. [I’ve lived in Florida, I’ve seen what they call “palmetto bugs” which are actually roaches on steroids, but this roach was mutant!] I didn’t even want to kill it because of the noise I knew it would make – the little creature screaming in pain and agony, and then the “crunching” of its bones and body – but did end up grabbing one of my husband’s sneakers and attacking it. Yes, of course I felt bad – it was akin to killing a small animal – I probably could have named it and wouldn’t have had the get The Boy a sister this past February – but for the fact that there is not enough room in this townhouse for THAT bug and me.

When my husband finally got up later that morning, he asked what his sneaker was doing in the middle of the floor – he was sure I was going to say, “Hey, you left your shoes out – The Boy didn’t know it wasn’t a chew toy – and that’s why your sneaker is there.” I am incredibly tolerant of this type of thing – and there are no bad “kids” in this regard. My philosophy, with regard to “kids” is that if you want to make absolutely sure something you want or need isn’t going to be chewed, you need to take care of it or you are at fault. Of course, The Boy has never, ever chewed a sneaker – or any shoe – but I wouldn’t have blamed him if the sneakers did end up getting chewed when they weren’t in the closet or on a pair of feet where they belong. I explained to my husband that I put it there – the sneaker – and that he would have to clean up the mess – and he says, after sipping his coffee, “What mess?” To which I respond, “The mess of mangled bug blood and guts underneath your sneaker.” He’s a good man, my husband, and dutifully cleaned it up. [A really, really good man would have gotten out of bed when his wife screamed at the sight of the “critter” on the kitchen floor and come running down to save the “damsel in distress,” properly eliminating the scary little monster!] End of story…

Wrong. A few days later the dead bug’s big brother was in the kitchen, sitting on the floor, just waiting for me… There was no way I was going to be able to kill this one. First of all, my husband’s sneakers were no where in sight – I wasn’t stepping on it with only my flip-flops on – no way! – and there was NOTHING else readily at hand with which to maim this giant mutant cock roach, so he was able to escape to freedom without losing his life. I did, however, immediately call “202” and tell them that I needed an exterminator. The “interior” exterminator appeared a short time later. I told him about the “bug.” He probably didn’t have a clue what I was telling him, but he was able to spray the house and tell me that I needed to call “202” again and tell them that I need “outdoor” pest control, as there was a hole in one of our sliding glass doors that someone must have drilled for some reason and that is where he [the “interior” exterminator] thought the bugs must be coming in from.

Okay, fine. I called “202” and told them that I needed “outdoor pest control.” The next morning the man for “outdoor” pest control appeared and he sprayed outside. Afterward he pointed out the “hole” [it was more like a double-wide garage door for mutant cock roaches!] and patiently explained to me that unless I got the hole in the door fixed that I was not going to solve my problem. So I called “202” again, and after explaining what I had been told by the “interior” exterminator and the “outdoor” pest control men, finally got to speak to a “supervisor” that could help me. The supervisor made an appointment to come and see the problem. It only took him about three seconds to determine that there was in fact a problem, and one he did not have a simple solution for. [I suggested a new sliding door, but that, apparently was a far too simple solution and NOT the way things are done here.] This is when the various departments of men started showing up on a daily basis. First there was the glass guy – he had no suggestions to take care of this – he wanted “construction” to come – they did – then they sent some sort of engineer to look at the door – who, again, readily agreed that I had a problem but offered no solution. Another engineer – or door planner – or glass architect – whoever – came a short while later and took pictures. That afternoon someone else – metal worker of some sort – showed up to take measurements – he had two workers in tow with him. This went on for a week. However, finally a piece was designed to fit over the hole that would block these “visitors” from coming in without an invitation. [It sounds much more simple than it actually was, and but for drawing a diagram of the door – and showing where the “piece” was missing, just go along with a “hole that someone drilled.”] Truly there were no less than about twenty different repairmen, representing the full gamut of building professions – but for plumbing – all coming to simply fix a “hole in the door.” Yes, my “simple” suggestion of taking a sliding glass door off an empty unit for here – putting the door with the hole in it on an empty unit – doesn’t actually “solve” the problem, but it would have easily “solved” my problem.

Back to today… I get a maintenance “appointment” for 2:30 this afternoon. At 1P, the “appliance” man calls and says he is outside, can he look at my freezer now. Sure, come on in… I have to crate the “kids.” He’s petrified of them. Okay. Everyone is, not a big deal. So I round up the “kids.” The Boy happily trots into his crate – he is soooo good about this – The Baby, on the other hand, is still small enough to be incredibly nimble and limber that crating her requires quite a struggle on her part and my part – to do this – and it all has to be done very quickly – get her in it, get the door closed and get it latched – she HATES her crate – just HATES it! Poor little Girl… The appliance guy opens the freezer, sees the problem and says, “not good – cannot be fixed.” Okay, fine. Not my problem. The refrigerator comes with the house, and obviously I need one – a refrigerator. He calls his supervisor and explains that the freezer door cannot be repaired and that the entire unit needs to be replaced. This is now on order and it will be delivered within the next day or two. Great. List is already looking shorter, with only six million three thousand and ten “things to do” left on it…

At about 2:15 a “construction” crew from the Maintenance Department shows up. Yes, four men and a supervisor – all to fix my dryer vent. I dutifully send The Boy off to his crate, and chase, catch and crate The Baby. The construction “crew” comes in and we all crowd into the laundry closet – which of course is hot, because the hose isn’t connected to the vent properly and is blowing hot air out into the kitchen – so that I can explain the problem and tell the supervisor that no matter what we do – twisty-tie-thingy’s, duct tape, wire, super glue – nothing is keeping the hose connected to the vent that goes outside because the hose is so much bigger than the pipe we’re connecting it to. So with the six of us crowded into this little closet area, the “supervisor” pulls the dryer out and says, “The hose is not tight.” [No shit, Sherlock! Are you sure that’s the problem? Guess this is HOW you became the supervisor!] And, right in front of me, he proceeds to take the giant twisty-tie-thingy off the hose that is connected to the back of the dryer and attaches the hose to the floor vent with it, which NOW means that the hose is going to fall off the dryer! He moves the dryer back into place. I am trying to remain calm and not hurt him – explaining that I could have done that – but that this isn’t fixing the problem that as soon as I turn the dryer on the hose is going to fall off the back of the dryer and won’t be fixed. “Yes, madam. All fixed.” No [YOU IDIOT] it is not fixed! Now you’ve made it worse! “Oh, no, Madam. It is tight. All fixed.” As the supervisor and his entourage trot out, I am still rambling on that this has not taken care of the problem, that I need a new hose – one that FITS – and that I am just going to be calling them back, and what about the back of the dryer… and they have left and the door has shut.

I uncrate the “kids,” The Baby is going nuts, she’s been “locked in her prison cell” for all of five minutes, for the second time today! She is crying, barking, as if to say, “What have I done? Is there ANYTHING I have EVER done that could possibly justify my deserving such cruel and unusual punishment!?! I didn’t mean to chew the fig tree!!!” The Boy is just so mellow he could care less one way or another. I turn the dryer on. Two seconds later it is blowing hot air directly on me. I go to grab my duct tape to fix the back of the dryer myself. Incredibly, the gang that has just left has walked off with MY duct tape! I am starting to feel myself lose it… My temper. It isn’t going to take much… I call “202.” Now, not only do I have to report that the “construction” [yes, I am not kidding – CONSTRUCTION] crew that has just left after supposedly fixing my dryer not only did not fix my dryer, but made it worse, and they took my duct tape. I have a conversation with a man that goes something like this:

Me: Yes, I called to have my dryer fixed. They have come and gone, but now my dryer is worse than it was before they came, and I can’t fix it myself because they took my duct tape.

Man: Yes, you called on freezer. It will be replaced.

Me: Yes, yes, I did call on the freezer. This man has come and gone, I have a “ticket” for another refrigerator to be delivered in the next day or so. But my dryer is not fixed.

Man: Your refrigerator is broken?

Me: NOOOOO! My refrigerator is fine. This is all set. My dryer is broken.

Man: Oh, yes, we will send somebody.

Me: No. You are NOT understanding me. Somebody JUST left – five minutes ago – they fixed my dryer but made it worse and took my duct tape.

Man: Company dryer, Ma’am?

Me: No, my dryer.

Man: Oh, not our problem, Ma’am.

Me: Yes, yes, this IS YOUR PROBLEM! My dryer works fine. The vent is the problem. And I want my duct tape back.

Man: Something is missing, Madam?

Me: Yes, my duct tape is missing.

Man: I will call security.

Me: No! I don’t need you to call security over a missing half-roll of duct tape. I just want my dryer fixed. And if I had my duct tape I could fix it myself.

Man: Oh, yes, Ma’am. You need to call “residential,” this is appliances.

Me: Well, what number do I call for residential?

Man: Call 202, Madam.

Me: I did DIAL 202 – that’s how I got you!

Man: Yes, call 202.

This turned into a “shouting” match. Well one of us was shouting – and it wasn’t the guy on the other end of the phone. Ever notice how when someone doesn’t understand you – and you don’t understand them – raising your voice seems like the appropriate way to make them understand? Regardless, the “Man” won that round. I called “202,” again, and asked to speak to a residential manager. And, just who do you think answered the phone when I called “202?” Yep, the “Man.” And if it wasn’t the “Man,” then whoever it was sounded exactly LIKE him!

Man: Yes, Madam. You will get a call back. He is out of the office until four o’clock.”

Me: No. No, I do NOT want a call back. I want to speak to someone, right now! Someone who I can understand and someone who can understand me.

Man: Yes, you will get a call back. HE HUNG UP THE PHONE ON ME!

I am incensed! About close to beyond controlling, at this point. If I knew where it was, exactly, that “202” was physically located, I would have been on my way.
I called “202” again, and some young lady with a very demure voice – a whisper, almost – answered. I explained – in that ranting, raving way only an incensed lunatic can – that I needed to speak to someone in charge, right now. Fortunately this young woman did understand the urgency of the call – and I found myself speaking to a man who identified himself with an Arabic accent in PERFECT, FLAWLESS English – and I explained the problem. I think he, too, could tell that there was a problem at this point and that probably my dryer vent was not “it,” or the freezer door… He did ask me for my number and house address and said he would be calling me back within five minutes, he just wanted to see who it was that had shown up – not fixed the problem – made it worse – and to top it off, had walked off with my duct tape.

I did get a call back, within about two minutes, and this man asked me if he could come and see the problem. Yes, do, by all means…

Five minutes later, the door bell rings – again – I round up the “kids,” back to those crates… This man – who I now know is the Quality Assurance Manager – wants to fix my problem. He has someone with him. The two of them look at the dryer, and the other man – not the “Manager” – tells me that the hose is too big. [NO! You’ve got to be kidding, right?!?] The Manager makes two quick phone calls – speaking only Arabic [and this is why I am so bound and determined to learn this language so that when someone is talking to someone else – if they are talking ABOUT me – in Arabic – I’ll know whether or not they are saying, “Yeah, Mohammed, here’s the situation – we need a roll of duct tape right away to cover this bitch’s mouth – and someone to fix her dryer – she is about crazy! There is steam coming out of every orifice in her head – and we are afraid she could be a threat to the community if we don’t fix this, right now. Yeah, yeah. Security should probably be on high alert. We’ve got a classic nut case on our hands at 456 Flower Circle.”] Mr. Manager hangs up the phone and explains that someone is on the way to deliver a roll of duct tape to me [although, really, I could care less about the duct tape – which is NOT the issue – but for the fact that now I can’t fix my own damn dryer without it – and no, I don’t think it was “stolen” but merely that one of the members of the five-man construction team who was there earlier probably walked off with it not realizing that it was mine to begin with], and another man is on the way with a new dryer vent hose and the problem will be taken care of today…

So, we have “freezer guy," then “Supervisor and his four-man construction team,” the “Quality Assurance Manager,” and – who knows who it was with him – we were never properly introduced – probably just some “desk jockey” along to be a witness after realizing that there was a volatile situation to defuse over a dryer vent and half a roll of duct tape… That’s eight men visiting, in three separate “door bell rings / time to be crated” instances.

The door bell rang just moments later. There are three men standing there. The Boy takes off around the corner and dutifully goes into his own crate. He is such a good boy… And I think he realizes too that “Mom” is not having a good day, best to get to the crate and be safe. The Baby, well, she’s still young. She doesn’t quite realize that it is not a “good day” here at 456 Flower Circle, regardless of the fact that she’s now been imprisoned three times. Well, this was it for her, too. As I was struggling to get her in her crate – she actually BIT me and drew blood!!! This is a very, very first, ever, and no, it wasn’t a “real” bite, well, she didn’t take a chunk out of my finger, but she didn’t want me to have the chance to “latch” the crate and she bit me! And drew blood – kind of like a pin prick would, but the point… I know she hates the crate, but this behavior is GOING to stop! We’ll work on “crate desensitizing” starting tomorrow – which of course, means that my list once again has one more item to be added to it… Two steps forward, one step back.

These men are here to fix my dryer. All three of them? [Hey, the “construction crew was four and a Supervisor.] No. Only two. One of them is carrying a new roll of duct tape.

I tried last night to do a post on double standards – rape of the maid a week or so ago – and three young men, who shall remain nameless and faceless for taking pictures on their camera phones of women. I wanted the “photos” and scanned them in from the papers, but couldn’t get them to download after about two and a half hours. Then, tried it again this morning – spent another hour or so and still couldn’t get them to go… Decided my list of things to do was much too long to be playing with the computer and posting scanned copies of photos. Instead, wanted to let you know what happened with my “house assistant” this past Wednesday when I sent him to town… I’ll try to fill you in on that tomorrow or Monday. I’ve just had too much, already, today, with the freezer door, the “major” dryer vent fix and the disappearing duct tape. Time for a cup of tea – something stronger, perhaps, and to try to unwind … Ahh, yes, life in The Sandbox will, no doubt, provide plenty of fodder for blogging…

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Has anyone seen a pink shoe?

Truly this mail thing is something that all of us “Westerners” take for granted. In the States, your mail is delivered to you “through rain and shine, or sleet and snow” six days a week – and Sunday delivery is available through the Express service at additional cost. And, but for the RARE exception, it is delivered to you in the very same, exact condition it was when originally placed in the mail by the sender… Living here in Saudi has given me the opportunity to reflect upon, consider the functions of, and become truly appreciative of what I once thought was just another rather excessive, overly-indulgent and over-bloated albeit mostly financially, self-sufficient branch of Government , the United States Postal Service. I miss mail…

It – this whole “mail” thing – is something I really didn’t contemplate a great deal about before we moved from the States to Saudi Arabia. I very, very naively and innocently presumed that “mail” was something that took place all over the world. I should have known better right from the start when I went to our local Post Office branch that fateful day in the summer of 2003 and said, “I’d like to fill out a change of address / mail forwarding card, please. Is there a special form for International change of address / mail forwarding?” “Oh. No?” “No, I didn’t realize that mail could not be forwarded internationally.”

So we move to Saudi Arabia – after making arrangements for our mail to be delivered elsewhere and forwarded to us, privately. It’s no big deal that there is no actual “mail delivery” to your door, and that I have to actually go and get our mail at one of the building’s in the center of our compound. At least I can actually drive myself there, and hey, it gives me a reason to get out of the house every few days – over and above the daily post-dawn walk with the “kids.” And, I’d walk the “kids” there and back every day but for the fact that they would not be welcome inside the building once we got there…

Only just now are the Powers that Be [PTB] starting to experiment with this concept in Riyadh – and have gone so far as to install mailboxes, mailboxes that are being vandalized and stolen. Until such time as the logistical nightmare of delivering mail to “non-existent” mailboxes is worked out… And, of course, until there is some new official Government Department and Commission set up with a relative of someone who is “a pretty high up there official” duly appointed as Director of the Ministry of Lost and Confused – or whatever it is they decide to call this – mail delivery cannot officially begin… Lost and Confused. Hmm… Has just the “right ring” to it, doesn’t it? And, yes, it would be quite apt!

Not that delivery would make much of a difference to us. We rarely get mail. And when we do, it is far from being in its very same, exact condition that it was when it was originally placed in the mail by the sender… It is SOOOOO frustrating. And it makes me SOOOOO angry!!! I want SOOOOO badly to write a very nice, gentle, letter to the Editor of one – or both – of our local papers, here [Arab News and Saudi Gazette], just simply asking why? Why? Why??? But I am not allowed to… Much like this woman* who was recently suppressed by a male force, I, too, am being suppressed by a male force – my husband – who seems to think that if I am even the slightest bit outspoken on this issue – or any other – that he will be instantly relieved from the duties of the position for which he is currently employed and we will be sent back to the States where job prospects in the aviation industry are few and far between.

I recently ordered some things for our two “four-legged kids” from the States – things that cannot be found, readily or easily, by me, anyway, here in Saudi [and let’s not even get me started with the “if I could just drive myself …” that might allow me the freedom to search out seller’s of these products]. The shipment contained two bottles of a special “tacky, sticky” ear powder I need to use so that I can remove the dead hair from the ears of our Poodle [if you own a Poodle or Cocker Spaniel – this has to be done], ear cleaning solution, two new dog toothbrushes, some beef toothpaste, a pound of bone meal, a pound of brewer’s yeast, and a couple of furry, squeaky dog toys. I make the food our two “kids” eat, rather than feed them commercially available food – the selection here being poor to marginal – and need the bone meal and brewer’s yeast as a necessary ingredient for the dogs’ food.

Okay, so I’m not complaining about the fact that the PTB, here, in The Sandbox, seem to think all packages have to be thoroughly, dutifully inspected, lest some sort of item that might be construed as excitable, harmful, or illegal slip through and make it into this Country where mankind would certainly be led on a straight downhill path of instant deterioration and destruction. My complaint is that the method used to inspect all of the packages is so callous and negligent, and that absolutely no regard whatsoever is given to even remotely respecting things and items that belong to the recipient of the package.

I went to our on-camp post office to collect this box of things – the post office here sends an e-mail to my husband’s company e-mail to let you know that a package has arrived for you, as you have to go to the counter to collect it and sign for it. I brought the box home – no need to find a knife or cutter to open the box with – just need a simple pull of the masking tape that Customs uses to reseal the box after their inspection and the box is opened. And when I saw the condition inside the box – I was furious! Customs took a knife to the package of brewer’s yeast – punched a hole right into the center of it and just threw the package back in the box without even bothering to reseal it. Ditto for the bone meal. The foil packages that were originally one-pound each were almost half that, and this box, with some other items in it, along with wadded up newspaper used as packing material, is filled with bone meal and brewer’s yeast that has covered EVERYTHING, but is no longer of any use to me.

Being a reasonably intelligent woman, I do understand that the PTB believed they required inspection of two packages that were in that super-duper, heavy paper-covered foil, with virtually tamperproof seals [obviously machine sealed!], containing “powdery substances” so as to ascertain that they really did NOT contain any other type of “powdery substances” that are so illegal the punishment is being beheaded should one be caught with something of this nature.

The toys are not ruined, thankfully. [And, as you can see from a previous post, a picture of my “kids” at the toy box shows that it is practically empty, and that the poor “kids” are in dire need of some new toys!] I was able to put them in the washer, and but for some matting to the furry toys, they’re fine. This would have happened, the matting, in short order anyway, just from normal wear and tear [read: dog slobber]. The bottles of ear powder and solution I was able to clean up. The toothpaste container has too many little ridges in it to ever be “clean,” but the toothpaste is useable, so I don’t care. Toothbrushes were the only items that were not thoroughly covered in the talc-like dust of bone meal and brewer’s yeast – and this is because they were in sealed cellophane wrapping. I tried to salvage as much of the two packages of bone meal and brewer’s yeast as possible, and used baggies to transfer what I could from the “knifed” packages. I have a little over a half-pound of each. And, yes, I should probably be thankful I have that much. Certainly, the masking tape was readily available so that the PTB could easily have taped up the packages they knifed, after all, the box THEY opened for inspection THEY taped shut!

If this was the only instance of mail or a package I’ve received with some damage, I’d simply just shrug my shoulders, utter an “oh well…” and just write it off. Sadly, it is just par for the course and not a one-time occurrence. My favorites are the ones where the PTB affix a sticker that says [shown, above], in both English and Arabic,

“Dear Customer
Your enclosed item is partially damaged during the handling in our service.
With our awareness of the importance of keeping your mail safe, yet some of this mail is subject to damage during the handling process either due to misuse of the postal devices, or because the packing does not suit the nature of contents of the item or its weight.
Such mishaps are frequently expected to happen especially that we are handling millions of items daily.
With full regret to what has happened to your mail, we repaired the damage, hoping that in future such discrepancies will be minimized if not totally eliminated.
Your cooperation & assistance are highly appreciated.
With the best regards
of the Directorate General
of Posts . K.S.A.”

Yep, I have received a few of these. [I’ve saved one of the stickers. I had to. It’s just one of those “things” that no one would believe you actually received unless you had it as proof.] Just the sticker’s language… “With our awareness … of keeping your mail safe … subject to damage …” That “Such mishaps are frequently expected to happen,” just makes me shake my head in utter amazement, although after being here for almost three years now, you’d think I’d be more immune to this “amazement” by now… But the best part is, “With full regret to what has happened to your mail, we repaired the damage…”

Really? You can’t possibly be serious, because it doesn’t look like that pair of Nine West blue leather, alligator embossed mules that has the knife slice through the toe of the right shoe has been repaired at all, or even look as though an attempt has been made to repair it! It would have been even more laughable if the shoe would have had a piece of masking tape covering the “slice” made in the toe, but it didn’t, and actually, it wasn’t funny at all. [My mistake. They were shoes I’d forgotten at a friend’s house in the States when I was there a couple months ago and asked her to send them to me, here. I should have waited and just packed them in my suitcase when we are there in July.]

And, that carton of plastic storage boxes that my parents sent to me so that I could store “clothes under the bed” in a townhouse that sorely lacks closet space was yet another total loss. An entire end of the box that contained these three special “under bed” plastic cartons with covers was totally crushed. I would have been happier never even receiving this package as the “we repaired the damage” obviously didn’t apply in this instance. It was damage far beyond repair they could possibly have tried. [Perhaps, had workers of the PTB not driven a fork-lift over this box I would have received usable storage containers.] To the credit of the PTB, they did do a really, really good job of wrapping masking tape around and around and around this carton and it’s contents regardless of the fact that it was about unrecognizable by the time it got to me.

I’d probably be a more satisfied “Customer” of the Directorate General of Posts K.S.A. if I had received ALL of my mail over the past few years. I haven’t. It’s been confiscated. Yeah, I know, I know… And, I should know better, but guess sometimes I just try to look for the good of people – or a system – and I just cross my fingers and hope…

Last spring I ordered a half dozen pairs of shoes from Nordstrom’s [yes, shoes are kind of a “thing” for me – you can NEVER have too many pairs!]. Nordstrom’s does not ship internationally so I had the shoes sent to my parents, and asked them to ship them to me here. I’d done this quite a few times in the past, and I thought I was so smart with a clever little system I’d designed, that I originally thought was fool proof so that the PTB or whoever couldn’t and wouldn’t have the opportunity to decide that the pair of gold Michael Kors slides I ordered in a size 8 ½ would look better on their wife [sister, mother, daughter – or hey – maybe they, themselves – after the man that bought the make-up mirror…] than on me. I would have all of the shoes sent to my parents; they would then open the boxes and mix up the shoes so that in each box would be two totally mismatched shoes – but both for the same foot – two left shoes in one box – one from each of two pairs, and two right shoes in another box – the matches to the left shoes, etc., and then, I would have my Mom send them to me one shoebox at a time over a staggered period so that hopefully in no one period of time would a “match” be in the hands of the PTB.

The system wasn’t fool proof; it failed me. I am still missing ONE pink Carlos Santana Platform braided thong. I have the left one – it came in a box with the left black Rockport – just a plain flat “sandal,” really pretty boring and unlike most of what I order. I got the black Rockport’s solely to walk in the morning so that I wouldn’t have that “awkward” tan line from wearing sneakers when walking three and a half miles every morning with the Great Dane [before he got a “Baby” sister]. Some weeks later, as I anxiously await receipt of another box of these dozen shoes all being sent in split up pairs, I finally received the last box of what clearly said TWO SHOES on the required customs form dutifully filled out by my Mom in the States and affixed to the outside of the box; this box contained ONE shoe. It has now been over a year since the one Pink Carlos Santana thong went missing. The PTB must have caught on to my fool proof system and someone is holding on to that right shoe, hopeful that the next box of shoes will contain its “left” mate. Lesson learned. The hard way. Rather expensively, I might add.

In July of last year I sent to myself here, from the States, thirteen books. Each of the books was mailed individually in one of those padded envelopes. I was hopeful, that by sending the books individually that they would all make it. Figured I had a fifty-fifty shot of them getting through if I sent them all together or if I sent them separately, and I opted for separate. [During our move of household contents, from the States to The Sandbox, the PTB confiscated 122 of my books. We got a form that told us what had been confiscated – it did not list each individual book, but it did specify the “items” that had been removed, i.e., “board games,” “leather covered bottle” – it was a flask, “bullets” – this, no doubt, was the reason for such a thorough inspection with a fine tooth comb of every single item we owned, and they were packed, erroneously – there was no gun – the clip of bullets would have been useless to us by itself, “122 books,” “picture” – it was a Picaso print and I really thought was abstract enough not to be considered “pornography”, etc.. This is another saga, for another day…]

I received ten of the thirteen books I shipped to myself here. The post office, here on our compound, did what they could to try to find the other three. It is, but of course, a mistake on the post office from the State’s end that these three did not make it, as I was repeatedly told, and I was told that I must take it up with the post office I sent the books from. Just not particularly convenient, being on the other side of the world, to do this, and at the time, “Global Express” mail was not an option – there was no way to send anything here through the post office that could be “tracked,” or insured. The books were never sent back to me at the “return” address I used when I sent them to myself – the same address our mail continues to go before being forwarded to us from there to here. I’m more inclined to believe that they are somewhere in the offices of the PTB and I should have known better. [The three that did not make it: American Soldier by Tommy Franks; Blood and Oil by Michael Klare, and Sleeping with the Devil by Robert Baer. Gee… Big surprise that these three didn’t make it through. Yeah. Exactly. What was I thinking!?!]

Somewhere there are half a dozen issues of the National Review out there in censorship land. Okay, so yet another mistake on my part. It is probably just a bit too far to the right for being considered acceptable “printed material” here. I have since cancelled my subscription to the print edition of this magazine and instead subscribe to the on-line version. It is less expensive and includes everything and more than the print edition. It’s just not as convenient to read in bed – with the monitor and keyboard on top of you [no, I don’t read it in bed – and sure a laptop would be the perfect solution – but this is a whole separate issue having to do with how many outlets they can put in and where, etc., and I’ve been around and around and around on this, and quite frankly, I’m just tired making whoever it is here at our compound understand the simplicity of moving an outlet from a room on the other side of our bedroom – close the outlet in that room – no wires have to be messed with – but open it to be an outlet in our bedroom instead – never mind… And, sure, my husband is a “handy” guy that way, he could do it, but – and this too is an issue – if there are ANY changes made to the premises which have not been approved by something like eight or nine different departments – community, housing, communications, electrical, plumbing, air conditioning, waste treatment, you get the idea…].

In January of this year I subscribed to Lucky magazine. It’s a women’s magazine that is covers the art of shopping! I’ve received ONE issue. Just one. No doubt the first issue of this subscription sent to me here in The Kingdom contained an article reviewing the different styles and brands of brassieres and that issue is now in the personal possession of one of the PTB. I’m merely speculating. I don’t know whether there was ever such an article or not – like I said, I’ve only received ONE issue.

And speaking of brassieres… I can, and often do, shop on-line at Victoria’s Secret. Found a way to get there one day, completely by accident, and have to get there with this “special” link that I found, which I immediately saved into my favorite places. I was sure that after this one-time, completely by accident visit to the Victoria’s Secret website that I’d never be able to get to it again, but so far I’ve lucked out. It’s the only way I can get there, however. If I type in Victoria’s Secret, I am blocked. The e-mails that Victoria’s Secret sends me confirming my order, and to confirm shipping are blocked. The “from” line of my e-mail account clearly shows that I’ve received mail from Victoria’s Secret, but I am prevented from opening it – it is blocked. Until this “back door,” as I call it, is discovered, I can “secretly” shop at Victoria’s Secret and they ship internationally! There are small things to be ever so thankful for. I can’t order on-line – that gets blocked – but I have the long-distance telephone number – not the “800” number, that doesn’t work from here – and I can call and order the items I want from my “secret” on-line shopping. [Ooohh, it all just feels so terribly naughty, and I guess I think I’m getting away with something – just one small little thing – but still…]

Everybody knows that when you place an order with Victoria’s Secret that the package will automatically contain copies of their current catalog and copies of their current sale catalog. I have ordered from Victoria’s Secret many times during my few years here. Just once – just one time – I would like to receive one of the Victoria’s Secret catalogs included in the package containing my order prior to its leaving the States. Just once… It’s not happened yet, and I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for it to happen. Whether they know it or not at the time the PTB are pawing through my “personal undergarments,” clothing, shoes and bathing suits, when they remove these catalogs, they also remove all of the shipping information, and the return forms that I need to use to return and/or exchange merchandise. As many times as this has caused more than a few problems when I have wanted or needed to return or exchange items, the ONLY saving grace is that at least the forms don’t show my credit card information! The last time I received one of my Victoria’s Secret orders I made the UPS driver go back to customs to claim the packing slip and return forms and would not accept the box until he had done so. Begrudgingly, the poor little driver left with my merchandise and had to return the next day with it – but he did have the packing slip and the return/exchange forms – and, no, he wasn’t able to get any of the catalogs.

I spent quite a bit of time this morning doing some on-line shopping from Boston Proper. I only just found out they deliver internationally! We’ll see what condition that box arrives in, whether or not I get a catalog in the box, and if I get the shipping information along with the return/exchange forms…

Sure, wouldn’t shopping just be so much easier by going to the mall? Just for a minute consider what is entailed in going to the mall:

1) I have to have a driver, take a bus, or beg and plead with my husband to get him to take me [he would much rather crawl across hot pavement covered with shards of glass on his knees than go shopping with me];

2) Shopping time is very, very limited. Mornings only. From about nine o’clock to eleven-thirty or so. Everything closes then, for Prayer time, and does not reopen until late afternoon. So, I could go late afternoon, but then, everything closes again, for Prayer, and reopens, only to close a short time later for the last Prayer, and then the malls are open until midnight. If you are going to stay at the mall, through Prayer, you have to be in a coffee shop, for restaurant, and BEFORE Prayer starts. The doors get locked and you can’t get in. And, once you’re in, and its Prayer time, you have to stay there, again, the doors are locked. [And, in this regard, why isn’t EVERYONE praying??? Isn’t that what you’re supposed to be doing!?! And, not sitting in a coffee shop or restaurant…]

3) Although I can handle this – the sizes are so different – in most stores they are European sizes, in some stores they are something else – no clue – but I did finally, smarten up and now have a little list I carry in my wallet that shows what sizes I wear depending on the “size” system and even depending on some stores.

4) You are NOT allowed to try clothes on here. There are NO dressing rooms. Nope. It is just not done. There are a couple stores – and they are few and far between – that have a broom closet or something that they will let you use to try on clothes – but this too, has a list of conditions – if there are a lot of locals in the shop – or any men – no, you cannot use their closet; if the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice are anywhere to be seen – no, you definitely will not be trying anything on; or if the “big” boss [a local] happens to be in the shop instead of just the imported sales assistants – nope, you are out of luck… A lot of women buy what it is they want and then find a ladies room to try it on so they can return it right away if it doesn’t fit. [I refuse to do this. And for good reason. I’ll cover the topic of the restroom situation one of these days, and you’ll understand why I refuse.]

5) Many of the shops have incredibly rigid “return” policies. Some you can return to – if something doesn’t fit – and get your riyals [cash] back and at a small handful of shops you will be allowed a week, most are only a few days – like three. Others don’t allow you to return an item and get your money back – you are allowed only an even exchange. Some do not allow returns at all [and I will no longer purchase items in these shops, just on general principles!]. So, if something I buy and it doesn’t fit, then I must repeat these steps again …

Wish me luck with my Boston Proper order!

*If you check out this woman’s website, you’ll notice in the top right hand corner the picture of the feet… This isn’t there for nothing. She is making a statement. Here, in The Sandbox, you “Never show the bottom of your foot to an Arab; this is considered offensive.” See No. 15 of these culture tips.
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