Tuesday, April 29, 2008

No good bread, no decent paper towels, and hoarding.

We have a couple of grocery stores on our little compound and this makes us women quite lucky in that since we CAN drive inside the perimeter of our walls to go to the store we don't have to put our abeya's on and get in a cab to go downtown. And that's a good thing.

When we got here five years ago there was only one grocery store and a little 24-hour store that stocked the very basics. I was actually fairly impressed that we had such decent selection of items - foodstuff and whatnot - that I was familiar with. There were a lot of items on the shelves that I had no idea what they were and, this being the strictest of Muslim countries we were well aware of the fact that we were not going to find any pork products or alcohol so their absence was not a surprise. But there was a good selection of the items which I had eaten or used in the States and whatever it was that I couldn't find or couldn't get I realized I was just going to have to live without.

There are in this little multi-cultural community of some 15,000 people, many nationalities living together in a walled-off compound. I know I refer to it as "our little compound," but in actuality it isn't that little. The grocery store, which we refer to as "The Commissary" seemingly made efforts to stock items that would be pleasing to everyone. Much has changed at The Commissary over the past five years, and as far as I'm concerned, those changes have not necessarily all been for the better.

The workers have all changed. What was once all imported labor for almost every position in our Commissary was "Saudized" and the workers who once ran the registers were eliminated as those positions became positions that ONLY the "locals" are allowed to fill. At the same time, as more and more Westerner's are replaced by the "locals" on our Compound the Commissary's products have changed to accommodate them - and not us, anymore - along with the changing of the Commissary's employees. In the "olden days" the imported workers knew how to bag groceries - they didn't put bread in the same bag with the soap, they bagged all the frozen food together, and you could count on your produce being bagged together. Not any more. What annoys me more than that, though, is the fact that it takes so much longer to go through the check out because the newer workers aren't really interested in working - they are there to socialize. They are either talking with each other or much more concerned with whether or not they have had a text message come in on their mobile in the last three or four seconds than they are with running your groceries over the scanner. It's annoying. The workers who were imported would NEVER have gotten away with this sort of conduct. And it doesn't just happen once in a while, now, it's ALL THE TIME!

I get more and more disgusted every single time I have to go to grocery store, here. We went for three months without ice. Why? Who knows. Every time I inquired as to when we'd be getting ice the answer was the same, "We are working out the details with a new contractor to supply ice." What was wrong with the contractor who used to supply ice? Was someone not getting the appropriate kickback or something? There was always ice, so the contractor was obviously doing his job - to stock the stores with ice - and now - we have to go three or four months without ice because someone decided that he wasn't getting enough out of the deal so the rest of us - some 15,000 or so of us - have to suffer? And, yes, because I have an incredibly difficult time keeping my mouth shut, I couldn't help but ask if it was due to the kickback percentage but I got no answer.

The larger of the grocery stores, which we refer to as The Commissary, has a bakery department and for a several years I was buying this wonderful bread - a real whole grain, full-bodied bread with a great flavor - that made the best toast in the world and terrific grilled cheese sandwiches. I shared the bread with others who would immediately say, "What kind of bread is this? Where'd you get it?" That was a mistake because word got around and then if you didn't get to the bakery as soon as the bread was delivered and baked [it was brought in in loaves that needed to be cooked and then the bakery would bake them on-site] then you were "SOL" because it would be gone that quickly with everyone buying it. Honestly, they could have raised the price - even doubled it - and the bread still would have been the first to sell out. But, nooooo. Guess what happened, instead? About a nine months ago someone decided that because the bread was so damn good and was a best seller that it shouldn't be carried at all, anymore. Yes. That is exactly what happened. One of the men who works at the bakery - who gets to know all the women and is quite friendly - said to me one day when I was buying my bread, "This is it. We are going to discontinue making this bread." I bought the entire batch - eight loaves - and froze them. Thank you Mr. Bakery Man for the heads up. But why? Why? [Because it was a favorite among Westerner's and therefore we must eliminate even the smallest item which causes them any satisfaction, that's why!] And regular store-bought, sliced bread? What happened to the Delta bread? You were selling out of that on a regular basis and people liked it - or Westerner's, anyway - and so a few weeks ago you decided that you wouldn't carry that anymore, either? Nope. Now, not only is my favorite bakery bread no longer available, but neither is the sliced white bread that I would buy for daily use - because you always have to have some bread on hand...

What happened to the "real" paper towels? What we have now is some sort of imposter that comes on humongous rolls that gets wet and slimy in your hands that doesn't do shit to either dry up spills or clean up messes, that leaves a fibrous residue all over every single thing which it comes into contact with, that cannot handle any cleaning solution whatsoever being applied to it, and furthermore doesn't even have perforations to tear off single sheets!!! Whatever it is - is is NOT paper towels!!! It isn't even an excuse for what should be paper towels. Probably someone complained about the price of Bounty paper towels - they weren't cheap here - so in order to placate that person who must have had a common "local" last name - they eliminated Bounty from the shelves and in Bounty's place put some sort of barely fibrous paper on rolls big enough to circle the globe but are a fraction of the cost. Oh thank you, thank you, thank you for this because just what I needed was another small aggravation to add to my ever-growing list.

If you are not fussy about your laundry soap then you can always find some. I am fussy about laundry soap. It's not enough that we are using salt water to do our laundry - which ruins your clothes - but now, for some reason, good laundry soap is getting more difficult to obtain. Why? Who the hell knows. And dishwasher soap? Every house on this compound comes with a dishwasher, so why is it that there is never any dishwasher soap?!? Who is doing the ordering for The Commissary, now? [Never mind. I know the answer to this.] Can't they see that the dishwasher soap area on that particular aisle is empty?!? [Or is whoever supplies the dishwasher soap not giving a big enough kick back?]

Good butter? Rarely. Some yellow-oily stuff that is labeled butter, but is the farthest thing from butter that I've ever tasted. May as well use pure crude oil on your toast - but since there's no good bread, no need... Crackers? You get one of two kinds. You better get used to putting Ritz crackers out with cheese if you're entertaining and want crackers and cheese. I was told by someone that the reason we can't get decent crackers is because so many of them are made with animal fat and that animal fat is often from a pig - so that's why we can't get crackers. We haven't had a box of regular saltines on the shelves at the Commissary in over a year. Not that I'm a big saltine fan, but they are great in tomato soup and with peanut butter!

So you hoard things. If you see something that you know you like and are going to eat or drink or use - you buy twenty of them - you hoard them. Which means that there won't be any for the next person who wants to buy whatever that item is. But because you can only sometimes get whatever it is you like or want and you know that it's going to be a while before that particular item gets stocked again - IF it gets stocked again - whatever it may be - dishwasher soap, bread, Limeade, butter, paper towels... You just have to hope that you have a freezer and have room to freeze perishable items, and you just have to make room for the rest of it - laundry soap and paper towels can be stored under the bed!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

You gotta be freaking kidding me!

I need some shorts. Shopping, here, is out of the question. I just can't do it. You won't find a pair of shorts here; you can't try clothes on - there are no dressing rooms - it's not an option; going to the mall is a nightmare because it's THE only thing there is to do and entire families go there just to socialize and there are hordes of unruly, unsupervised brats running around creating havoc; and because everything closes you have only a limited time to try to find whatever it is you're looking for. Nope. Won't do it. Can't do it. Victoria's Secret ships internationally - thank goodness. So I click on to Victoria's Secret - which you can do - most of the time. And this screen comes up for me:

Great. All set. Got it up on my screen. Now to shop... I find a couple of pairs of shorts that I want - three - and I add them to my "shopping bag." And, of course, as an avid shoe collector, I need to see what's available and I click through the shoes - nothing jumps out at me that I have to have. I take a look at a couple of summery dresses and decide that I want this one:

And, I want it in two colors. I add it to my "shopping bag." May as well order a few tee-shirts. You can never have to many tee shirts. I find the shirts I want - just your basic crew-neck and v-neck tee-shirts - five of them - different colors - and I add those to my "shopping bag."

All done. Sweet and simple. Now, to go to my shopping bag and place my order. What the heck?!? You gotta be fuckin' kidding me!!! This is w
hat comes up:

I can't get to my "shopping bag?" What the heck is going on here??? I'm blocked now. Oh thank you, thank you, thank you Websense - the program that makes the least fucking sense of any in the entire world - I can still get to this:

and view every single bikini on this site - and I can get to the underwear sites - but you won't let me get to my "shopping bag." Fine. Just fine. It's NOT enough that TPTB [The Powers That Be] here have taken the catalogs from every single shipment but one that I've ever received from Victoria's Secret but now I can't place an order on-line, either? Not a problem. Because I can still get to all the pages - just can't get to my "shopping bag" - I can go back, figure out everything it is I wanted and then call and place my order - except that I can't get to the Customer Service page, because that's BLOCKED TOO!!! Oh for goodness sake, do you have to make my life any more miserable than it already is?!? You block the websites you don't think I should see - and trust me - I'm not surfing for porn - and NOW you're not going to let me shop at Victoria's Secret... Fine. I'll just go to Bahrain this week and go shopping there. At least you can shop in Bahrain in a civilized atmosphere - and at least I can try on clothes, there - AND Seef Mall has a Gap and a Banana Republic, now, so I bet I can find some shorts...

Besides food, and the barest basic essentials, I am boycotting shopping here in The Sandbox from this day forward! I'm even going to buy the paint I need for our study in Bahrain - just so that I'm not spending my money, here!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Saudization: A problem easily solved.

We've been here five years. During that period, officials here have been working to effectuate a solution to Saudization. I've blogged on the issue at least once, and have thrown tid-bits about the topic in other posts as well.

I was going to compile a list of articles about it - Saudization - and when I went to the Arab News to do this, was overwhelmed: there are 971 articles dating back from January 4, 2001, on the subject. Granted, not all of those 971 articles specifically relates to Saudization, but the majority of them do. This is not a new concern here, in The Sandbox, that there are so many unemployed Saudis. The Powers that Be ["TPTB"] regularly issue mandates and quotas to assuage
themselves of responsibility for the situation which in turn mollifies the masses. One day it is the jewelry shops that must be Saudized, and another day it is the taxi cab industry [and this endeavor didn't work out well, at all!].

With the number of visas being issued every year to recruit workers increasing, how can TPTB possibly expect to solve the Saudization dilemma? This article states:

In one year the ministry issued nearly 3 million new visas and in the same year it employed 95,000 Saudis.

It means that for every employed Saudi, there are 31 employed expatriates.

Amazing. Simply amazing. A ratio of 1:31 of employed Saudis to employed expatriates. Is there ANY other country in the entire world that issues visas to workers on such a large scale?

As I see it, the whole matter could easily be rectified and TPTB could quit worrying about unemployed Saudis. I'm not going to sit here and type this and think for one single minute that TPTB haven't thought about this as a remedy, either. I just think that no one wants to be the bad guy in this situation and actually say this: Make your unemployed workers DO the jobs currently being done by the all of the laborers that you import!*

There you go. Problem solved. You're welcome!

*It will NEVER happen. We will be long gone from here - in however many years that might be - and the issue of Saudization, along with the issue of whether or not women will ever be allowed to drive in this Country, will continue to be debated by TPTB...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

You just can't get good help, anymore.

Damn. Just send me a worker who 1) speaks English, and 2) will do what I need to have done, when I want it done, and how I want it done. Every houseboy I've had so far - but for one - who doesn't really work for me - and just fills in in a pinch - thinks he knows better than me what needs to be done in my house, when it should be done, and how it should be accomplished.

Houseboy No. 15 [hereinafter he will be referred to as HB15 - no, I'm not going to even call him by his name at this point - he probably isn't going to last] has been here for two weeks. I made it clear to the agency that sent him that he needs to be able to understand English and, more importantly, be able to tolerate my Kids. I should have been more specific, however, in making it clear that the houseboy would be doing what I want, when I want and how I want - and I neglected to do this. My bad. HB15 will get another week to show me that he can perform his duties following the "3W's" or "what/when/want."

Granted, the salary this poor [literally] young man is working for is NOT conducive to wanting to work hard. His MONTHLY salary for the company he has a contract with is 500 Riyals. And I know this because he told me he makes 500 Riyals a month when I told him that if anything happened to my brand new vacuum then he would owe me 3000 Riyals. He is obviously pretty quick with math because he was able to say that he only makes 500 Riyals a month and that 3000 Riyals would be six months salary! Good. Then we understand each other about my new vacuum - you will be treating it like gold. The vacuum didn't cost that much - it's not a super-duper top of the line best vacuum in the entire world - but it cost more to ship it here to The Sandbox from the States than what I actually paid for it - and then I had to pay customs duty on top of that - and spent two days sitting home waiting for DHL to deliver it to me. Since I couldn't find a canister vacuum here, I had no choice but to get one in the States. And believe me, when you live in a Sandbox, and have two four-legged Kids, a vacuum is a necessity.

And that's how I know what HB15's monthly salary is. 500 Riyals! In U.S. Dollars that is $134.04. Unimaginable. Assume he is working eight hours a day, six days a week - all of the imported laborers work six days a week - only ONE day off - Friday - and trust me, he is lucky if he only works eight hours a day - it may be more - but minimally, he is working 48 hours a week. Take his monthly salary, in U.S. Dollars, $134.04 and multiply this by 12 months - you get $1,608.48 as a YEARLY income; divide that by 52 weeks for a weekly salary of $30.93 and divide that by the 48 hours a week he works for the grand sum of .64 cents and hour! Can you even buy anything for SIXTY-FOUR CENTS in the States, anymore? So, that he doesn't bust his ass working for .64 and hour isn't a big surprise. And, honestly, who could blame him. What person in their right mind would bust their butt for such a measly wage?

Regardless, it was his choice - well, kind of - to come here, to The Sandbox, to work. I don't think "choice" had much to do with his situation because if he could have found a job in his "home" country where he could support himself then he wouldn't be here. I know he is 25 years old; I know he is married, and as yet he has no children. I do not know much more than that as even though he does speak English, we do have a bit of a language barrier as his English, although decent, isn't stupendous, and I speak absolutely no Bangla - or Bengali. No, problem. I am willing to train the guys who work here and I don't and won't just toss them a bucket, cleaning solutions and rags and say "Have at it." No. I demonstrate by doing the actual task for them. I explain to them... I'll show them more than once if need be. But the "3W's" are not optional; they are requisites. So, pay attention!

The list of weekly duties is fairly simple and includes cleaning two bathrooms, wiping [cleaning and conditioning] all of the leather furniture, dusting the wood furniture, cleaning the glass in the house - windows and tables, vacuuming, and cleaning the tile floors with a machine. I'll do the rest of the housework - the laundry, the dishes, cleaning the kitchen - the counters, inside the refrigerators and microwave, etc. What I want done can easily be achieved in the three five-hour days that I have scheduled to have HB15 come work for me. Even after all of the above is done, on two of those days, I know there is extra time where some other relatively minor tasks can be accomplished - such as cleaning the patio furniture, taking Clorox Clean-Up to wipe off the outside of the appliances and to the smattering of "slobber" spots which my two adorable "Kids" randomly leave on walls and doors - cute smudgy nose prints and the like.

Honestly, I don't think requiring all of what I want done in three five-hour blocks is asking too much. I know that I can clean both bathrooms in an hour and a half, it takes an hour to clean all the leather furniture, the appliances can be wiped down in a matter of minutes - not asking the guy to clean the insides - just wipe down the outsides... This is a small house. There's nothing to vacuuming the entire thing - maximum time if you're really doing a good job - an hour. The biggest job is cleaning the tile - and I insist that my floor machine be used - I abhor mops! Using a mop is pushing dirty water around and I'd rather scrub the floor on my hands and knees than use a mop - and after the first floor machine got broken by HB2 - I cleaned the floors this way.

With any "new job" that there is a learning curve. It takes a bit of time to get into the swing of things and realize what will be expected of you and how you will be expected to fulfill your responsibilities. I know that I am not a patient person. I also know that I am beyond fussy and particular to the most minute detail. But for goodness sake, when I show you how I want something done - personally demonstrating whatever task - how tough is it to just copy what I do. We're not involved with rocket science or recreating the wheel - we're just cleaning my house! We had a conversation - on your first day - that I would take the time to show you everything, that I would explain everything, that you should ask questions if you have any - because I talk fast - and because the only way this will work out for you is if you do exactly what I tell you to do and exactly how I tell you to do it. You said you understood.

When I demonstrated how I wanted my black dining room buffet polished and specifically told you never to set the can of polish OR anything else on top of the buffet, how in the hell did you interpret that to mean that it would be alright to set the waste basket on top of it?!? Yep. My fault. Apparently my telling you that I didn't want you to EVER set ANYTHING on top of the buffet - but for the two vases that are already there - wasn't quite specific enough and no, I didn't actually say that the waste basket should NOT be set on top of the buffet. Do you set waste baskets on top of furniture in your home country?!? Dumbass. And, when I showed you how to clean the tubs and moved the shower curtain liner to the outside of the tub, and then opened the curtain/liner all of the way, did you see me wad both the curtain and liner up into a ball and put it up over the rod and leave it there so that a few hours later it would be one wrinkled mess? No. You didn't see me do that. I also explained to you that if you move something from the spot it's in - like, for example, the bath mat - it gets replaced to its original position. This seems to be an issue for all of the houseboys who must just drip on the floor when they get out of the shower instead of dripping on a bath mat. None of them has been able to grasp the concept of putting an item back to the position it was in before it was moved.

Here is what really set me off, though. I've patiently been doing the demonstrations of how to use the machinery [vacuum and floor cleaner], showed you that you spray the polish on the CLEAN rag to dust the buffet, picked up the Kids toys from the kitchen floor before you sweep it [prior to using the floor machine], given you clear and specific instructions and/or demonstrations for cleaning my bathrooms, taken you to the garage upteen times to gather the equipment and solutions you are going to need for each task, blah, blah, blah, blah and every five or ten minutes I am working with you we get interrupted because your damn mobile phone is ringing!

Yesterday I reached the end of my rope with his "mobile." Turn it off. Now. Or, I will. You may be getting paid next to nothing to come and work for me - and for two weeks now, I've been doing much of the work because I want to make sure you "get it," and obviously, this isn't working quite as well as I thought it would, because you are doing things - like setting the waste basket on the top of my buffet to clean the tile floor in the dining room - that I never, ever, gave you any indication it would be alright to do. Perhaps if you were spending the time that I am working with you to show you how I want things done - or don't want things done, as the case may be - instead of either talking or texting all of your buddies then you would be able to grasp AND retain ALL of what I am doing.

When HB15 gets here next week, before we do anything else, I am going to tell him that he will be all done at my house if he so much as touches his mobile! I will suggest to him, in no uncertain terms, that before he rings my doorbell it would behoove him to turn his mobile OFF - not put it on vibrate so that when he gets a call or text message he can respond at the earliest possible moment that I am not over his shoulder - but OFF! Honestly, I really wouldn't have minded a call or two - who knows - perhaps it was his employer - the agency - calling to see if things were going well for him or calling to determine if he would be done at the set time of one o'clock - oh, and that's another issue - but I highly doubt his agency - who is getting fifty-percent of the 8SR an hour I am paying HB15 is calling every five or ten minutes...

And, by the way, just to be clear, you work for me from eight o'clock in the morning until one o'clock in the afternoon - three days a week. Up until two days ago, you would come to me and tell me that you were finished at 12:40 or 12:45 and then you would go out and sit on the curb and I would see you waiting and playing with your mobile! I had to be specific about this with you, as well, and tell you at at 12:40 or 12:45 that we still had plenty of time to do a couple more things - fifteen minutes is plenty of time to go through my house and wipe "Kid" marks off the walls - and it gives you ample time to take care of all of the equipment and products you have used. Perhaps, HB15, you don't quite comprehend that now you've pissed me off with your excessive mobile usage and that you will be done working for me before you've had time to "text" another message if I see you playing with your phone one more time!

Nope. You just can't get good help, anymore...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Once again, contradictions? No. As usual, contradictions.

Interesting little tidbit from our local paper - which we refer to as "The Green Truth," due to the fact that the front and back pages are printed on pale green newsprint. The article, Our Contradictions, asks why it is that a Saudi man is allowed to marry non-Saudi woman but that a non-Saudi man is NOT allowed to marry a Saudi woman. The answer really isn't given, insofar as a clear reason why this is allowed for Saudi men and not for Saudi women. And, I think, knowing how women in this male-oriented-dominated society are regarded, no answer as to why is going to be given that would make even the remotest bit of sense to any reasonable mind. But that's not why I'm pointing this article out. Here is why I'm pointing the article out, and boy, is this rich:

"Usually, women who marry non-Saudis don’t really have a choice. I mean she didn’t marry the man because he’s good looking or rich, but because her chances of getting married had decreased and her desire to be a mother was the driving force in this decision."

Wow. Really. So this is the reason. Well. Now that we've got our answer...

Damn! You can't be serious, right? This is so far from the truth as I, personally, have observed the situation, and I am of the opinion - and this is MY opinion only - that quite the opposite is in fact true. The couple of American women I know here in our little community that are married to Saudi men "didn't marry the man because he's good looking or rich, but because her chances of getting had decreased." I suppose, if one were to base this assumption purely on physical and mental attributes, of each of these women, you could probably say, "But she has a great personality." You know the type I mean.

Contrarily, the Arab women [which, by the way, are not Saudi but from Egypt or Lebanon or Jordan] that I know that are married to American or Western men are stunningly beautiful. One of them always looks as though she just walked straight off the pages of a fashion magazine - she is absolutely drop-dead gorgeous, and she's got a brain, too! Surely her chances of marrying a man from her country could not possibly have been due to the lack of potential suitors - but instead had to do with choice - she had one, and that certainly is not something that is afforded to many Saudi women and Arab women, alike, whose marriages are arranged for them, often at a very, very young age and frequently to a family or clan member.

I'd be hard-pressed to believe that the only reason Saudi women choose to marry non-Saudi men has to do with the fact that her chances otherwise are nil. I'd be more inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt and say that it has to do with choice - and the choice to someday actually be treated as a woman and not as a mere object or some sort of chattel. And, as for the Saudi men who choose to marry non-Saudi women, and especially American women? Hmmph! The answer to that question is short and simple: green card.

Friday, April 11, 2008

If we could drive ourselves we wouldn't have this problem!

I know of an incident that took place here in the Eastern Province where a woman from our compound got into a taxi cab in the middle of the night to go to the airport. The woman never made it to the airport but instead, ended up in the emergency room, after fighting off the advances of a "local" cab driver - who, at the time, worked for what most of us consider to be a fairly reputable taxi cab company - after she resisted his advances and he tried to rape her. I do not know the woman, personally, but news such as this travels quite quickly in our small community.

At first, local officials denied that such an incident ever occurred, but when they were confronted by some of the nurses that treated this poor woman they were not able to hide the fact that she'd been severely beaten when she refused to succumb to being sexually molested - I was present when this confrontation took place. I suspect, due to the mere fact that the "local" men are not accustomed to being in the presence of a woman - not related to them - by themselves, that occurrences of this sort probably happen more often here, in The Sandbox, than we are made aware of. And, this article, would seemingly confirm that.

I very much doubt I will be in The Sandbox long enough to see the day that women will be allowed to drive. I think I've said before that even if we women were allowed to drive here, I'd be afraid to - and not because of the "social" reasons associated with women driving - where you hear excuses such as "What if we broke down? Men would stop to assist us." No, I'd be afraid to drive here because of the sheer madness and danger involved due to the fact that "locals" have absolutely zero respect for traffic regulations rules and drive like maniacs.

In the meantime, I know that when I call for a driver I specify that if he is NOT from Pakistan or India, I will NOT be getting in the car.

Child Brides

How young is too young to be married? How 'bout ten and eleven years old? Or perhaps much, much younger, like EIGHT YEARS OLD!?! These aren't marriages. These are crimes. There are people in the States who have their panties all in a wad because of some polygamous sect that allowed the marrying of underage girls to much older men, yet this same group refuses to pull their heads out of their asses and condemn any other blatantly "polygamous sect" which allows the exact same behavior! The behavior of this group has been allowed to go on for several years now, due to the fact that there wasn't enough evidence to constitute a crime [Huh? WTF?!?]. Oh well. All that really matters is that the authorities are going to put a stop - temporarily, anyway - to the followers of Warren Jeffs' lifestyle. Elsewhere in the world, a different sect that routinely practices polygamy and the marrying of children will be given a free pass by the entire mainstream media. Nary a peep will be heard condemning the insane antics of that group.

Big thanks go to my favorite blogger Weasel Zippers who posted this before I did [he's always FIRST!], and to Debbie Schlussel who stays on top of current events happening in the States that you DON'T get to read in any newspaper or see on the nightly news!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Newsy Update on Household "Goings On"

Nothing here is EVER easy. Ever! Thus, absolutely NO REASON WHATSOEVER that today would be an exception to getting something done in an efficient, uncomplicated, streamlined manner.

We moved into our little house from a fairly large townhouse in October after having had pretty much everything being either redone or replaced. It was seven and a half months of a nightmare that I will not make the mistake of repeating, in this part of the world, again. We had a meeting on March 5th with the people in charge of housing, here on our compound, at the house to see what exactly we would like to have done before we moved in. Absolutely everything I asked for received the same answer: "That is not standard. It cannot be done." Okay. Fine. Why are we having this meeting, then? Just go ahead and do whatever is standard and whatever can be done. There were quite a few issues with the house and in the end but for a couple of relatively minor enhancements I had requested, we got what we wanted. For example, the windows in the master bedroom did not fit their casings and on the windowsills, inside, were piles of sand! That someone thought this was acceptable construction when the house was originally built is probably par for the course here in The Sandbox where you can pretty much be assured of getting a substandard result for everything, but I wanted windows that fit and in the end got all new windows in the entire house when all I really wanted was the bedroom windows replaced. There were other things. We originally had a one-piece stove unit that was installed in the late 60's or early 70's that we were going to have to use. It was a hideous piece of crap and in the wrong place - being placed in front of a drawer that wouldn't open more than three inches and a cupboard that you couldn't get open all the way. Ridiculous design. Pathetic that someone actually thought this was acceptable - probably a man, and probably a "local." This is what the kitchen looked like, originally:

I made some concessions with "the powers that be" in housing, here, and was able to get my kitchen to be done the way I wanted it, for the most part, and in the end it all seemed to work out. I wanted a double oven and I wanted it moved so that the drawer to the left of the oven handle could be utilized. Ditto for the cupboard to the left of the oven. We had a double oven at our townhouse with a separate cook top, but company housing didn't want to put a double oven in at this house - a real one that is, not the hideous one-piece unit in the above picture. After some doing I got the authorization for a new double oven, but there were no separate cook tops available. Well, that'd be great if I never planned on using a stove, but not practical. So, we made a deal - no small feat, here - and got authorization to put a separate cook top in, too, provided that we paid for it. Fine. We did. One of the conditions for doing this however was that we would allow the company to keep the cook top in the house when we leave. Sure. Okay. Whatever. This is how the kitchen turned out.

I'm happy with it.

Or, as happy as I can be, considering that this isn't really my house - we "rent," and the house belongs to the company my Dear Husband works for. It is quite doable, however, for as long as we remain here. The problem right now is that the right front burner on the cook top is not working. It's the biggest burner - the one I use the most! Couldn't have been one of the small burners that I can live without that broke. Nope. Of course not. I've been putting off calling maintenance hoping that my DH could fix the front burner - he's so good that way - but he said this was probably something out of his realm. I finally made the call a couple of days ago to "202" so that maintenance could come and fix my burner and got an appointment for this morning. Maintenance can be counted on to be at least a half an hour early - and he was - the man that came to fix my cook top. He walked in, took one look at my cook top and said, "I cannot fix this. We do not have the parts." Great. Takes care of that, then. "I will call my Supervisor." Okay. So he does. The guy puts his supervisor on the phone and the supervisor says to me, "That is not our stove. You will have to fix it." To which I responded, "Sure. I'll fix the cook top, but if I'm going to be responsible for maintaining it, then I'm planning on taking it with me and you're going to have a big hole in your counter where MY cook top was." Well, that changed everything. The supervisor said he would have to check with his supervisor - that's how everything goes, here, and no one wants to be responsible for making any decision no matter how minuscule or trivial it might be. So a few minutes later the supervisor's supervisor calls me and says that he will come this afternoon to look at my cook top to see what can be done to resolve the problem. Fine. I tell him that I am about to leave and go for a walk with my Kids but that I will be back in an hour. I put the Kids' leashes on them - they are all excited and dancing around because this is the best part of their day - and as we are walking out the front door a truck pulls up with three men in it to come and check my cook top. What?!? I told you on the phone no more than five minutes ago that I was leaving, that I'd be back in an hour or so, and you said you'd come this afternoon. Whatever. None of the men will come in because the Kids weren't "locked up," so I put the Kids in their rooms [their respective crates in our bedroom] and all three men came in to see the problem burner on the cook top. Yep. Took three of 'em.

I can tell that the supervisor of the group wants to help me - but he tells me the same thing that his worker had told me half an hour earlier - that they don't have the parts for my cook top and that they can't fix it, that I will have to have an outside source come in to fix the burner. And I repeat to the man the same thing I said on the phone, that I'm willing to do this - to take care of maintaining my own cook top, but that I have absolutely no intention of leaving it behind when I leave if that's the way it is going to be. Either the company maintains it and I leave it - or I maintain it and leave a hole in the counter. He says to me, "Yes, yes, yes, okay." Yes, yes, yes, okay, what? Yes you will fix it and I leave it? Or, yes, I will fix it and I will leave a hole? The three men leave. Then, I take the Kids and we leave. It wasn't raining until we were a good half mile from the house - and even once it started raining it's not raining hard enough to get really wet - it's just drops of water here and there falling from the sky... Just enough to dampen all three of us. We get back to the house and the phone is ringing. It's the supervisor's supervisor again who tells me the same thing we've now discussed earlier on the phone and again face-to-face - that they will get the outside source to come repair my burner and they will come in a few days and we set the time and day but still who will be responsible for the burner has not been resolved. I tell the man, for the third or eighth time that if I have to pay to have the cook top repaired I will do so - but that I will NOT be leaving the cook top in this house when we leave. That apparently isn't acceptable - that I might be leaving a hole in the counter where the cook top is. Ahh. Finally you are understanding the problem and he promises that he will get back to me, "In Shallah." In Shallah, nothing. I know what "In Shallah" means. It means if the day doesn't end in a "Y," and if the moon and stars are all in alignment that I'll get an answer. And, since those two components are an impossibility then I'm not going to have an answer or get a resolution without making myself a crazy woman. Be forewarned...

So, if getting a simple burner fixed on a cook top that I'm not supposed to keep isn't going to be enough to make me a crazy woman I did something else today that I've been putting off because I just didn't want to deal with all that is associated with this. I called for a new houseboy. None of them have worked out so far. I've had a long list of them. I know that if I was a houseboy from some other third world country visiting this third world country in order to make a living the very last person in the world I would want to have to work for is probably me. I am beyond fussy. Everything has to be done in a perfect order and in a particular way. Lord help you in this household if it isn't done my way. I guess it's a plus that I'm not abusive - or it will be to the new household help, anyway. There is a new company here that supplies houseboys through a contract they hold. My conversation with the man I spoke to was a bit convoluted to say the least, but hopefully he understood what it is I am looking for. I've decided that I only want a houseboy three days a week for five hours each of those days. I called the number I was given and got no answer - straight to voice-mail for five or six calls. I don't want voice-mail. I want a real person. I finally get a real person at another number and am given someone's "mobile" to call. No wonder he doesn't answer his phone - he's on his mobile. Typical. Just typical. So I reach the man, we'll call him "Mr. Contractor" or "MC" for short. Our conversation went something like this...

Me: Yes, I would like to inquire about getting a houseboy.

MC: You need today? What time?

Me: No. I just want to know how I get a houseboy through your service. I have some questions. How much is it - do you charge by the hour, or per day? Do I get the same houseboy each time or are you going to send someone different? What nationality are they? Do they have experience? Will you be responsible for replacing my new vacuum* if it gets broken? You need to send someone that is not afraid of dogs - I have two big dogs.

MC: I have houseboy. It is 8 Riyals an hour. You want dog walked?

Me: No. I don't want anyone to walk my Kids. I just need for you to send someone who isn't going to be afraid of two large dogs because I will not be keeping them locked up for fifteen hours a week!

MC: Yes. Yes. Okay. Houseboy will not break machine - they experience machine. [They "have" experience with a vacuum? I'm still not sure what he was telling me, here.]

Me: 8 Riyals an hour? That's it? [That's $2.37 an hour in U.S. dollars.] How do these poor guys get paid? Do you split it 50-50?

MC: That is in their contract, Madam. You pay the supervisor.

Me: Do I pay every day, or can I pay weekly or monthly?

MC: As you wish, Madam.

I'm thinking, Good Grief, this is the cheapest rate in the entire world for a houseboy - I've been paying 20 or 25 Riyals an hour [$5.93 or $7.41]! Heck, for that rate, I'll take someone six days a week for ten hours a day! Still less than what I've been paying.

MC called me back a while later to tell me that he has someone for the hours that I want, and he assured me that whoever it is will not be afraid of my Kids, and to tell me what country he is from - which is NOT the Philippines - because I will not have another houseboy in my home that is from there. Call it racist if you want, but the Filipino houseboys have been nothing but problems for me - they are ALL trying to get over on you in some way, shape or form, they are out to beat "the system" here and don't care whether or not you catch them lying to stealing so I've had my issues with them and I have my reasons for NOT wanting them in my house. Either way, I've got a new houseboy starting on Saturday - along with a new gardener - we've got some problems with the one we have not being able to get everything done on his lunch half-hour - and it's not his fault, but I need someone who can really do gardening. Wish them both luck! And, I've got someone from an outside source coming to fix my right front stove burner, too. Oh, Saturday is going to be a great day. I can just tell!

*I purchased a new vacuum from Sears while I was in the States in February. I got a decent vacuum - not a great vacuum - and I got a canister so that I could get rid of the piece of crap upright that I had that the previous 14 houseboys have abused. The shipping - to get the new vacuum here to The Sandbox - cost more than the actual vacuum! If the vacuum gets damaged - no matter how slightly - someone is going to pay and pay dearly - to the tune of 2928 Riyals!!!

It's Raining, It's Pouring, The Old Man is Snoring

Yeah, okay, so maybe it's not pouring and the Old Man isn't snoring, but it IS raining! Raining! Here in The Sandbox in April! Absolutely unheard of. But there it is - the MSN homepage that shows rain. Double-clicking on the picture will enlarge it. Right? Scroll down... It shows Dhahran with rain and 70-something degrees - even though it is actually spot on at 81 degrees. Thankfully not any colder than that, here in The Sandbox, today, or I'd be turning the heat on!

...now written in Arabic

Well that certainly was interesting. How I did it, I will never quite know - one way or another - how I managed to get my blog to come up in Arabic is beyond me. Quite a surprise it was to open my own blog up and find out that everything - not my blog - but Blogger itself - was entirely in Arabic! I started pressing "buttons" up top - and started clicking - both right and left - and somehow managed to get Blogger to show a language screen that offered me a gazillion choices of different languages and I managed to reset everything to English. Yes, I know, I know... I've taken a couple of Arabic classes - well, three, now - two conversational and one to learn my Arabic alphabet and to write very, very BASIC words - but I am not nearly good enough to be able to use Blogger in Arabic. So, all fixed, now! Don't know what keys I must have hit to get it to come up in Arabic and don't know all of the keys I hit to fix it, so if it ever happens again, I'm going to have to just play with each screen to find out what to do to correct it. Oh, well... Just one more thing to try to get me to throw my towel in here, I guess.
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