Read Me/Disclaimer

Read Me/Disclaimer: This is a non-political/socio-political blog. It's a running tale of my Saudi Arabian adventure, great, good, bad, and ugly. It is uncensored, and I don't really care what you think of it, read it or don't. I don't care. I did not decide to do this as a means to an end, but rather to document the means with which I occupied my time while waiting for my end... All that being said, I'm an American Expat in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The opportunity to help build this system and the salary that accompanied it were to good to pass up.-Geoff

"The views presented here are just the views of some asshole named Geoff, they are not necessarily the views of my employer, my co-workers, my family or anybody else. First hand knowledge and second hand accounts were used to compile the information. These are not scientific facts and figures. These views are not necessarily supported, endorsed or even appreciated by the KSA the USA or any other country for that matter and the author makes absolutely no claim that they are."**

Saturday, September 29, 2012

I think Arab News hates me...

I wrote this post a long time ago, before vacation even...decided not to post it, I was going through a tough time at work, and just after I wrote it, they DID in fact publish a couple of my comments under my name "G Jeff"However, after reading the paper for the last couple weeks, I think I'm going to publish this anyway and amend the title to I think Arab News hates U.S.  get the pun?  Yeah I hoped so. 

I read Arab News daily.  It covers the Kingdom the "Near East" and the World in English, and does a decent job of showing me some things from a more "Eastern" point of view.  I actually cut out many of their articles and post them in a scrapbook that I'm making for my grandchildren to have one day.  I've been told by more than one Saudi citizen that it's a "shit" newspaper.  That its articles are only those approved by the Kingdom and its nothing more than just "what they want you to think".  I disagree.  The articles are often criticizing of the Status Quo and are not always the most positive side of Saudi society. 

Comments to Arab News however are not always so "balanced".  Many "contributors" take a very extreme viewpoint of the world and post comments such as The West will fall!, Islam will rise!, Stupid Persians, Arabs are better than youFillipino women try and steal Saudi husbands!  Kick out all expats!  They steal from hard working Saudi!  I post comments under the name "G jeff", except that you won't see any, because they are never approved...Really?  A commenter blatantly displays the most vile of racist behavior and their comment is posted, but you won't post mine?

Recently, a few articles have popped up demonizing America and or the West for its seemingly anti-Islamic stance.  I understand this, I have blogged about it myself.  I agree it is a conundrum worth discussing especially considering some of the great people who are very much Muslim that I've met here.  The fact that currently in the West, Islam is equated with Terror in many cases, is unfortunate.  However, when you write a piece about America, you should expect, allow and encourage comments from those of us with intimate knowledge.  This doesn't happen.  I've seen a few obvious Western comments, some are defensive of the west, but more seem to be "apologetic".  Maybe this is my problem, maybe I need to be an "American Apologist" to get a comment published.  Maybe I need to say "oh yes, you are right, we are so bad"!  Well, sorry to disappoint, but its not going to happen.  The "West" as people like to say is actually a myriad of countries, with many different demographics and belief's. America herself contains 50 different States with many different political parties, viewpoints, customs, and cultures.  I'm not going to apologize for them or her; it's not my place and not my prerogative to do so. 

So Arab News, keep writing the good articles, they are insightful and beneficial.  But you may want to revise your comment policy (again).  You continue to have extreme view, poorly written, horribly punctuated comments and yet seem to disallow well written comments that offer a viewpoint other than yours.  That policy implies a bias in your thinking or your "agenda" whatever it may be.

New Stuff:  

Speaking of your agenda...I'd like to point out a few things from the last couple of days papers:

1st of all, the day after you published a cartoon showing the brain of Bashar Assad being injected with poison from the hand of an Israeli, you published an article that contained King Abdullah's comments that all religion should be respected and protected under the law.  HINT:  Israelis are Jews, and Judaism is a religion...and you're being offensive to the point of stupidity about it.

2nd:  You commonly publish articles detailing a persons conversion from Christianity to Islam.   Sometimes, these are well written by well educated folks, other times not so much.  Friday you did exactly this and let me sum up...a woman who since the age of 15 didn't go to church, drank, slept around, did drugs, tried to take her life a whopping 15 times without success, painted her face black, became "emo" or "goth" and was fascinated with death, lived with her 2 kids and seven other people, and met men through her Pakistani Muslim boss...this is not a good story.  Calling this woman a Christian is like calling me Muslim just because I live here.  As far as I'm concerned YOU CAN HAVE HER!  She implies that all American and therefore Christian (which is false) men are rapists, abusive, unfaithful, alcoholics, while also implying that all Muslim men are devout, don't drink, pray 5 times a day and treat women and babies with the utmost respect.  Both of these implications are out and out LIES.  Both cultures and both religions have plenty of both types.  More importantly though, why do you feel the need to print such a thing?  Shouldn't this be a religious issue?  A private story of triumph for her and her friends and fellow mosque goers?  What if the New York Times published articles about people who convert from Islam to Christianity?  Oh wait, those people have to go into hiding...The NYT couldn't publish a story like that or those people would risk being murdered...never mind. 

3rd:  You just plain misrepresent things.  Your stories all week about the Kingdom "re-issuing" Visa's to Filipino maids completely twists the truth which is that the Government of the Philippines refused to allow any more of their people to go to Saudi for Domestic work due to the abuse they suffered physically, emotionally, and sexually. However the way you report it, it looks like things were the other way around and that the dirty little Asians were stealing from the poor hard working Saudi sponsors, and now the government has decided to allow them back in...nice try, but no.

I'm tired, you don't need anymore examples, you get the point.  The truth is, that the US along with all her "Western counterparts" have many issues, but even as much as you say our news is spun, we at least get a few more viewpoints.  I'm surprised the "Arab News" newspaper I bought today will lay flat...that thing should be spinning like a top! 

Friday, September 28, 2012

W. W. W.

Wednesday, Wine and Women

Wednesday I had a bit of a cold *cough*, maybe it was the medicine I took *cough*, either way I laid down on the couch and had the following dream...

My buddy Jim called in the early afternoon and asked if I wanted to hang out for a bit, I said yeah and he swung by the apartment.  We headed out, ran by his office to drop some stuff off, and decided to cruise the Khobar Corniche.  The Corniche on a weekend is always a good time, plenty of American's, Canadians, Irish, Brits, Germans, and other "American friendly" nationalities.  We had lunch at the Steak House on "Pepsi Road", did some little shopping at Tamimi (Safeway) and generally just hung out.   We had a party invite for later in the evening and finally realized it was getting late, so we headed over to my place to grab some good AC and change.  

We hit the party about 7 and found ourselves the first people there, although accidental, it worked out well and we helped our host get everything set up.  Around 7:30 guests started arriving, a slow trickle at first, but with a steadily increasing tempo.  By 10pm, guests were coming in groups of 5 every few minutes and we quickly found ourselves surrounded by nearly a hundred expats from various nationalities and walks of life.  Teachers, engineers, security guys, nurses, administrators, executives wives, husbands, sons and daughters.  Christian, Hindu, Muslim, and no religion at all hanging out in close proximity, sharing a soda or glass of wine or beer. Nobody arguing, nobody killed.  Live music playing in the background, sounds of laughter and jovial conversation floating out into the night, perfect weather for a party to boot. 

The best part about the whole dream though was the opportunity not just to socialize, but to socialize with members of the opposite gender.  If you know me at all, you know that I'm fairly fond of the fairer sex.  And that not only are they often easy on the eyes, but apparently as I discovered in my dreams, they have something between their ears called a brain!  Furthermore, when the brain of the woman is engaged, it seems that in some settings the mouth is compelled to open.  Intelligent thoughts then come out!  This is not something I regularly experience in Saudi, in the few instances in which I've needed to address a woman, her eyes are on the ground and maybe her head nods or a whisper escapes from under the layers of solid black cloth.  Imagine my surprise when I found out that when uncovered, they can not only be pretty porcelain objects of desire, but can also speak!  Intelligently no less!  I know...CRAZY right?

Tied with the women for the best part of the night was the wine.  Again if you know me at all, you know that while I can be quiet contrary at times, wine and I rarely disagree.  We get along beautifully, just like old pals who upon finally meeting again, wonder why we've spent so much time apart.  Wine and I had long talks that lasted into the late hours of the night, and she kept me smiling the entire time.

The dream went on, even spinning at times, laughter, conversation, wine, meeting with old friends and meeting new.  all in all it was a pretty good Wednesday, thanks to the wine and the women.

I woke up in my bed this Friday morning, woke up early around 6 to the sunlight pouring in and realized that I was safe in Saudi Arabia, that I had been at work until late Wednesday afternoon, and had taken some cold medicine and gone to bed yesterday.  Add to that the fact that it had been a W.W.W. thing, it must all have been a dream. No wine on my breath, no lipstick on my collar, just a faint smile gracing my lips and the fleeting memories of a beautiful dream.  I rolled over, pulling the covers back over my head, hoping to catch the tails of the dream, but alas, it was gone.  Time to get up, take a shower and enjoy some morning coffee.  Time to day-dream about the life that eventually awaits me back home.  back on a St. Louis fall day, downtown listening to blues at BB's, watching the cardinals play in October, riding my motorcycle along winding country roads of fallen leaves with a slight chill penetrating my jacket and stinging my uncovered face as I accelerate...One of these days I'm going home.  Sometimes, after a dream as fine as that one, I wish it was today. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Surf's Up!

Couch Surfing (CS) 
has made it to Saudi Arabia  

I don't know exactly when it happened, but its here.  It may have been months ago or years ago, I just learned about the trend last year myself and was considering it as a means to travel on the cheap when on annual vacations or in new places.  When I registered on the site, I though for sure I'd have to use a VPN and or my home address in the states.  I couldn't believe it when I realized that that I could sign up in Saudi, I further couldn't believe it when  saw there were a lot of people in Saudi offering couches.  Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam, Khobar, Dhrahan, but I was absolutely blown way when I discovered that there were women on the site.  Not just Western women either, but Asian, Persian and even Arab. 

For those not familiar, "Couch Surfing" or CS is a fairly recent phenomenon that involves creating a profile, getting verified and offering up a couch to travelers.  Users on the site search places they intend to be traveling and look for hosts that match their needs and personalities.  They then send a "couch request" specifying when and for how long they'd like to stay.  If the host feels that there is a good potential that the two will get along, at least for the weekend, he or she responds.

CS is often defined as a project or a movement.  The idea being that some people want to travel not only on the cheap, but actually get to experience the local culture, cuisine and people.  I wholeheartedly agree.  For examples sake if someone from Saudi was visiting the US for a few weeks, they would learn a great deal more about it from me or some of my countrymen than they would if they were hidden away in a hotel.  At a hotel they would eat steaks and chicken and burgers, maybe taste a glass of wine or three.  With me they would eat real BBQ (beef) courtesy of a friend who owns a BBQ place and does competitions, they would eat fried ravioli St. Louis style and have homemade biscuits and gravy with their eggs in the morning (or they would have until the divorce).  At others houses they might be invited to a Friday night football game, catch a live local concert, have a bonfire on the beach.  Tour a local winery or micro brew and have some alcohol actually WORTH drinking.  Nowhere would they be stuck listening to elevator music and flipping channels on the TV remote unless they wanted to.  This is the idea behind couch surfing, finding some kindred spirits in other travelers out there and really experiencing the world around you.  I love it!

There have however been some negative reports about CS, and some of them potentially pertain to Saudi Arabia more so than other places.  There have been reports that some out there use it simply as a dating site, that they screen the requests not for personality, but rather for looks.  Its easy enough I guess, say on your profile that you've traveled Europe and are now open to hosting Europeans traveling the US.  Host a guy once or twice a month, and get some good reviews and eventually the requests from women will come in.  If that's what you were after, you've succeeded.  You now have dates coming directly to you.  Using CS as a dating website is scummy, but as long as all parties are consenting adults, I don't really see the harm in it.  Its a little slimy, maybe even scummy, but these things happen, as long as you know how not to come on like an asshole, I say no harm, no foul.  We are human animals after all.  This is where things get tricky though...what if you're a little overbearing and you've promised someone a couch, you meet them shake hands, get along well.  Then you take them out for the evening, show them around and have some fun.  Once home, you come on a little too strong and they rebuke you.  Now the uncomfortableness sets in...and its almost really too late for the person whose in a strange place to find somewhere else to go.  Now you've crossed the line from a little slimy to out and out asshole and predator. 

In Saudi there is an additional problem, number one its illegal for single men and single women to be in each others company here.  In fact outside of work (and sometimes at work too) it is illegal to be with someone of the opposite gender unless you're married.  Generally, the CPVPV (Religious Police) will leave Westerners alone, but not always.  They've yelled at me before, never anything serious but sitting too close to a family, waiting for stores to open during prayer, looking at them etc...and there has been more than one occasion of people being dragged off to jail for not being able to prove marriage. 

Secondly though, rape is often times unreported in Saudi because the woman will be in trouble also!  The courts will say that if she were at home with her parents, this wouldn't have happened.  In a prehistoric caveman sense--they're right.  But hiding women under tons of wrappings and leaving them at home to sit on the couch, watch TV and get fat until they get married is borderline abuse of human rights.  I know its a different culture and all, but c'mon people! Getting back to the point though, women, expat or GCC citizens who decide to allow a male traveler to couch surf, risk rape or abuse at the hands of their "guest" and have little recourse in the legal system.  Even a woman who fights an attacker off and throws him out of her house cannot dare to call the police, not here in Saudi.  And yet, they're on there.  Brave souls, trusting in the goodness of their fellow humans.

I plan on couch surfing to Jeddah, I need to do some diving and I'm hoping to go in the next month or two before its cold.  At first I thought I was going to get stuck doing the hotel thing, but we'll see if I can't catch a couch or two.  I'll let you know how it goes. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Happy 82nd Birthday!

This post is a continuation of WooHoo Party!   

Saudi Arabia turned 82 today.  You just don't realize how young a country or Kingdom is sometimes.  Considering this was the first year I happened to be in the Kingdom for National Day, I politely disregarded the advice of others and went out anyway. 

Wednesday night some kids were causing a little trouble and breaking bottles, Friday night they were racing motorcycles down the street adjacent to my apartment, Saturday I got called into work because I was told that "this is a Saudi holiday, not an expat holiday" (so much for my four day weekend!), Sunday my buddy Jim called and we made plans to go drive around and check out the events.  We hit the roads which really weren't that bad, and cruised all around Dammam, Khobar and Dhahran.  Quite a few cars were displaying temporary paint of Saudi color and flags of the Kingdom, but other than that, we didn't see much.

We ended up at the mall of Dhahran and had an early dinner at Tony Roma's, not bad, not good, but for a place famous for a dish it can't serve here, it did OK I guess.  probably would have been better in the family seating, instead of the bastard (Oops, I mean single!) seating.   We shopped around a little, made some pretty funny and crude mannequin jokes (whole 'nother story).  We engaged in eye flirtations with the women who made eye contact and wanted to flirt and laughed at the "fashion show and peacock-ing" of the 20 something Arab men who look like they fell out of a Ralph Lauren ad, or a GQ magazine (clothing wise at least).  I picked up a second Saudi flag, This one the perfect size for the souvenir I want to create and also a 82nd Birthday/National Day sash.
My Saudi National Day sash...I don't read Arabic, so it probably says
"I'm an American asshole, somebody please shoot me"...but lets hope not!

 We checked out Ikea and Saco for looking for cheap stuff to try and make our apartments look like someone actually lives there.
Living Room
Dining Room

Yes I know its a mess, Thank you mother. 
Little luck was had in that department, everything was in heavy frames, expensive and really nothing just "had to be had".  We called it a day and headed back to Dammam.  Traffic was a little heavier than normal, and a much more obvious police presence was out, but really it remained pretty uneventful.

So all in all, a pretty good day, nobody tried to kill us, nobody gave us any mean looks, nobody harassed us at all.  No riots, no rock throwing and it looks like people exaggerated the dangers and crowds for the most part.  As I get my shirts and pants pressed for tomorrow, I can safely say that it was a good weekend, although I wish someone would realize that for an American adult male, hanging out at the mall with another guy is considered pretty lame, but since we aren't allowed to talk to women, or go out with them unless we marry them, and while Citizens can go to Bahrain every weekend but expats can't...God help me, it looks like I've officially become a mid 30's mall rat! 

I really hope the Kingdom takes a few steps in the next ten years to make non-Muslims and non-Saudis feel a little more comfortable! 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

WooHoo! Party!

Um...yeah...not so much

The "Saudi Arabian National day" weekend is upon us.  I knew it was coming but got so caught up with work and trying to teach since we were already 2 weeks behind in lesson plans (school should have started Sep. 1st, but no students appeared in classrooms until Sep. 15th)  that I had forgotten all about it.  I told students that I'd see them Saturday, and they promptly reminded me that Sunday was a holiday and that they wouldn't be in class Saturday either.  King Abdullah made this official Tuesday night and declared it a 4 day weekend.  So classes will start again on Monday...except that they won't because Monday is a come to school, eat and give speeches about National Day, day.  So the only day I'll teach next week is Tuesday...if any students show up...I have my doubts.  

Despite not wanting to be 3 weeks behind, I thought that this might actually be a cool experience.  I imagined Saudi national Day to be something like the American Fourth of July.  You know, food, fireworks, joyous crowds, everybody in a good mood etc...I made a comment or two regarding this and was quickly corrected.  It seems this is a day for Saudi Nationals to celebrate being Saudi, Foreigners need not apply.  In fact 3 years ago in the Eastern Province rocks were thrown through windows of "Western Businesses" like McDonalds (Saudi Owned ), walls were spray painted and cash stolen, all to to punish the "Western" businessmen for remaining open during the celebration.  While not as severe as the incident 3 years ago, large crowds have caused damage, blocked traffic and committed acts of vandalism for the past 2 years as well. Businesses have been advised to close, foreigners advised to stay indoors, and the US State Department has warned that there is always the potential for violence and that while the crowds are normally jubilant, anything can happen when a large group is present and that American's in the Kingdom should minimize their profile and avoid large crowds.  One of my students told me that while it is Saudi National day, the running Joke is that Saudi's like to go to Dubai to really party and celebrate...I can't for the life of me imagine why you would leave your own country, to celebrate your own country...oh yeah I can...booze and prostitutes!  The student didn't say that, nor did he deny it, its just my opinion.  

So here I sit, locked in the apartment, both of my closest Western friends out of the country for the weekend.  One in Bahrain, the other in Qatar.  My Dean actually advised me to take a couple of days and get out of the country, just side step the whole mess.  He suggested I head over to Bahrain, Dubai or Abu Dhabi.  except that he doesn't have the authority to issue an Exit Visa, and the big bosses at the company don't let workers have Visa's.  

I thought about going out anyway, especially before Saturday and Sunday.  But I'm not sure, with current events being what they are, acts of murder and violence aimed at US embassies, freedoms and diplomats, Female suicide bombers in Afghanistan killing 9 people because of a movie.  France increasing the security at and closing embassies around the world...I think I might just stay in.  It seems to me that there are enough people trying to destroy the world and start a War this week, I don't intend to accidentally get killed and become the next catalyst.   

I did however go out to get coffee last night, and in front of the Starbucks here in the Corniche (Dammam) stood about 10 young Saudi teens.  That alone is nothing unusual, the fact that some of them were wearing Guy Fawkes masks and that they were jumping on and laying on peoples cars was a little out of the ordinary.  The fact that they found some glass bottles and while hooting and hollering threw them onto the sidewalk and broke glass everywhere people walk, was a little concerning.  There was also the fact that they kept running into the woman's/family section of seating and doing I don't know what, but making the women yell at them none the less.  

As a young boy, about 15 years old, walked by me in a mask after terrorizing the women and broke a bottle a little after he had passed me, I decided it was time to here I sit, at the computer, on the 4 day, Saudi National Day weekend.  Stuck inside, because it seems that this is not a celebration I'm welcome at.  

If I change my mind and decide to be reckless, I'll let you know.  

Oh, and just a strange little FYI...Guy Fawkes was an English Catholic...funny that angry Muslims around the world would pick his image...

Friday, September 14, 2012

Persona non grata?

Are we becoming Persona non grata?  It sure seems that we are.

Since the 1930's Expats have been in Saudi Arabia.  They were brought for their willingness to work, their knowledge and their unique skills not possessed by the local population at the time.  Doctors, Oil Workers, Teachers, Cartographers and Engineer's were among some of the first brought to the Kingdom.

As the years went on and the oil flowed, the Kingdom became rich beyond imagination.  As it did, all forms of workers were brought in, because of course the rich don't do their own work, such a situation is not unique to Saudi Arabia, but is International.  You will not see the Queen of England putting her laundry on the line, nor will you see an American CEO or Wall Street type mowing his own lawn,  it just doesn't happen.  However, here in the Kingdom, things have changed over the past 80 or so years.  It's no longer good enough to be here and be Saudi.  These two things combined with 15 Riyals will buy you a small cup of coffee.

Which brings us to the problem facing the country today.  The Government isn't giving out free money anymore, Aramco isn't hiring just because you want them too.  Work ethic is waning drastically or in some cases is non existent.  Skills are lacking and for many, the foundations that constitute the basis for higher learning are non existent.  Unemployment is high and the expats are taking the blame.

If were too blame, why do I have students who can't write a multiplication table?  Why do I have students who when taking a pulse must wait the entire 60 seconds because they can't multiply by 4 or even 2.  Now that I've learned my Arabic numbers, I even allow it in Arabic, and yet a good 50% of my students have serious problems with it.  Why did Arab News have to publish an article stating that science has proven that seizures are not related to Jinns?  Why do I have serious problems with students cheating?  Why do students laugh when I tell them they can't cheat?  Why did I receive a threat last year?  Why did a student tell me that he wasn't talking with his neighbor during a test, but rather that they were "praying" and then hatefully dismiss me with a wave of his hand.

And why, with all of this going I get the feeling that the Kingdom and their Saudization plan still wants to get rid of us? Who will take my place?  Part of the original agreement was that I helped and worked with a Saudi instructor to show him some tips and tricks in regards to EMS such instructor has ever been assigned.  The guys I've talked to at the SRCA want nothing to do with the school. 

Last week, I thought it was just my employer, I thought that their shuffling and backsliding position on our future here was just related to money.  This weekend though I spoke with three other Americans at three different companies...two of them have the same feelings.  The three of us together all get the feeling that were getting ready to be pushed out, no notice, no warning, just show up at work one day and be told to go home, "Thanks guys".  It seems to us, that the problems are getting pushed off on the easiest and most obvious scapegoats...US!  Arab News, recently published an article claiming that expats threaten the security of the GCC with our "refusal to integrate"

I had a long talk with my new boss on Wednesday, I explained my concerns, and laid out my position.  Calmly and eloquently I explained that stay or go was fine with me, but that I had a family to look after and I needed to know what the plan was so that I might prepare.  Strangely enough, he agreed and said that seemed more than reasonable.  He has pledged to find out what is going on by the end of next week. 

Tomorrow, I start teaching classes, in 8 weeks I may very well be on an airplane heading home.  Only time will tell.  This day to day uncertainty that gets so old so fast, is Saudi Arabia.  You have to wonder if the Saudi Employers have any respect for us at all, or if by agreeing to come, we reduced ourselves to slave status and are therefore not entitled to the rights that normal humans beings could expect.

"Epilepsy is Curable, not related to Jinns"

"Expat population could threaten GCC security"

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Day of Contradictions

I don't normally write twice in one day, if I do, I don't publish on the same day.  Today though, I'm breaking that rule. I figured that while I was still mad, while the memories were fresh in my mind, I ought to write a different perspective, a little compare and contrast in abstract if you will. 

Less than 24 hours ago, the United States lost four of her sons when her Sovereign soil in Egypt and Libya was assaulted by mobs of "protestors".  Angry as hell about it, I wondered cynically what would be the Saudi reaction to the events.  Joy?  Snickering?  Joking?  Debate?  I decided to venture out and see for myself.  

First I walked up to the grocery store, got some Pepsi, detergent, sugar and fresh fruit.  Nothing different than any other day was noticed.  

Next I headed over to the Pharmacy and picked up some allergy/decongestant medicine (the sand and dust play hell with my sinuses).  Normal stuff, nothing weird.  

Then it was over to Starbucks for a cup of "American Coffee, with cold milk in a mug, Grande, shukran and afwan". Here I entered into an interesting conversation with the young Saudi man behind the counter, it seems he's going to college in Minnesota.  As we were talking, an older Saudi man came up and joined in the converation.  It seems we once lived within miles of each other as he spent seven years in the US at Menlo College and used to live in both San Francisco and Redwood City.  We had a nice talk, said nice to meet you and goodbye and then went our separate ways.  Outside I found a table and accidentally started up a conversation with the 30 something group of Saudi's next to me.  We chatted for a minute, and I went on reading my newspaper.  I spent about 30 min reading, drinking coffee and smoking.  The chatter around me was upbeat and cheerful, young men laughing and taking pictures of each other, ladies walking by giggling, men my age debating all the things that men debate.  

I saw all of these things tonight, what I didn't see was anybody celebrating the death of Americans.  The attacks last night supposedly happened as the result of an affront to Islam right?  I'm sitting in the center of the Islamic world right?  These Saudi men of three Generations that I've spoken to are Muslim right?  Where's the violence then?  Where's the anger?  Why wasn't I "strung up"?  Why wasn't I harassed?  I mean c'mon guys, Saudi's a pretty conservative country, Egypt has Churches and booze and belly dancers...the three are all outlawed here.  What then caused the Muslim Arab population in Egypt to storm the US Embassy in Cairo?  What caused the Arab/African Muslim population in Libya to Murder 4 Americans in Benghazi after firing on and then storming the consulate?  Don't tell me it was an insulting spoof film.  I don't buy it.  No protests in The Sudan, Mogadishu, Djibouti, Pakistan. None in India, none in Indonesia, none in Iraq, none in Iran, none in Yemen, none in Oman, none in Qatar, Kuwait, or the U.A.E.  None in any other countries than Egypt and Libya.  Why?  

The Egyptian thing hurts me.  3 of my closest friends here in Saudi are from Egypt.  They are intelligent, educated, articulate and kind men.  I spoke with two of them today and they were appalled that this happened in their country.  Disgusted might be a better word actually.  

This happened for one reason and one reason only.  Poor and uneducated masses in the hands of evil men.  I'm no political analyst, at best I'm a political spectator.  So I can really only offer speculation.  However I do know that what these two groups did was damage Islam.  They damaged relations between the US and those Countries and they smeared the already dim and dirty view some Westerners had about Islam.  They maybe just affected the US Presidential race.  They did what they do.  They damaged, destroyed, violated and made the world uglier.  

I would ask that if you know any of these people, or any like them, that you turn them in.  They are not heroes, not martyrs, not freedom fighters. They are destroyers of everything good and with every breath they bring this world closer to the brink of death and destruction.  This is NOT the way of Islam, is it?

4 Americans murdered in terrorist attacks...

Was the title too much?  It seems that everybody including my own Government wants to blame all this on a movie..."No it had nothing to do with Al-Qaeda calling for their followers to avenge the death of their second in command"..."No, it had nothing to do with the September 11th anniversary,"  "Oh that was just a plain black flag, it wasn't the one that Al-Qaeda likes to fly... "

According to the Associated Press and Al Jazeera, late Tuesday Sept. 11th 2012, The US consulate in Libya and The US embassy in Cairo were attacked by mobs of extremists numbering as high as 3000.  "Protestors" aka Criminals and or Terrorists...were reportedly well armed in Libya, although they seem to have had no weapons in Egypt.  Reports are that all of this started because the big bad US made a film that mocked or ridiculed the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH).  Except that the US made no such film, an Israeli living in America made the film together with an Egyptian Christian who is an anti-Islam fanatic who also happens to live in America...Bullshit.  Yes folks, I know I'm not allowed to use that word here, but I CALL BULLSHIT! No way all of this was a coincidence, and everybody participating in the attack was too stupid, or too illiterate to notice the date, and its significance while they were Murdering an American Ambassador, Foreign Service Officer and two Marines all while posing for pictures!

First of all, It's a MOVIE...if you don't like it, don't watch it.  You have absolutely no right to tell other countries what kind of art or crap they can produce.  The world likes to say that America tells other countries what to about this great example?!  "We in Libya and Egypt don't like this movie, so if you try and show it around the world we'll murder people...because were so peaceful and enlightened."  In the pictures captured by the AP, one protestor holds a sign that they claim reads "I would sacrifice my soul for the prophet Mohammed"  Excuse me if I'm wrong, but isn't that a little contradictory?  Your soul?  Your life maybe, but your soul?  If you're doing something holy in the name of God and his messenger, shouldn't that protect your soul?

These attacks happened on American soil...American law says that if there is a death during the commission of a felony, the crime for all participants becomes first degree murder, punishable by death.  So as far as I'm concerned this was either a terrorist attack, an act of war or a crime.  One in which 3000 people who posed for pictures and spray painted walls, burned down buildings, desecrated the flag, raised their own flag of Jihad in its place  and thereby claimed the territory, need to be punished.  They need to be tried for murder.  All of them.  And just to be on the safe side, no more money, no more aid, NO MORE VISAS!  5 year ban on all student and work Visas!

Can you tell I'm just a little miffed?

I'm going to post a few links here to the news articles.  I'm also going to post a few pics that came from the Associated Press, I do not own them.  I will not however post the link to the video on you tube for the spoof that they claim started all this crap.  Nor will I post the pictures of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens dead body being stripped and hoisted through the crowd.
I would also like you to take note that when I used the Prophet's name, I added Peace Be Upon Him.  Because, while I'm not a Muslim, and Mohammed (PBUH) isn't my Prophet, I actually have some respect for the belief's and rights of others, unlike the inbred monkeys who committed these crimes in the name of peace and love.

This is the guy that the AP claims is holding that sign...Check out the "plain" black flag.

"I don't always murder innocent people, but when I do, I like to dress somewhere between Menudo and Michael Jackson with capri skinny jeans Yay Murder!"

"Hey this Red, White and Blue cloth wasn't important to you was it?"  Again, check out the "plain black flag"

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Hmm...9/11 post or not?

Everybody else is doing it, should I?  Do I have some special perspective that nobody else has?  Do I have some additional right because I was working in a hospital that day?  Do I have even more right because I was already a firefighter or because I was an Infantry Marine who up until that day, thought we were doomed to another decade of boredom (at least as Infantry Marines define boredom).  Do I have some extra, super special perspective because I'm sitting in Saudi Arabia, the country where the majority of the worlds funding for terrorism continues to come from, Or because I'm teaching EMS and paramedics here?  Or because there was a recent round up of a couple of Al Qaeda cells in the Kingdom?  Truth be told...yeah, unfortunately I do have a different perspective, maybe even a slightly special one.

Here I sit in the center of the Islamic world on the anniversary of the day a couple of terrorist assholes flew planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in the name of Islam and Jihad on America/The west.  And the weird part is, I don't have any ill will towards my hosts.  No I didn't convert, and no I'm not a sympathizer or American fact I have zero love or respect for either.   And sure, I have plenty of ill will towards my idiot bosses, especially this week.  The guys who brought me here with lies, and have a racial superiority complex on par with Hitler's, but that doesn't and they don't really reflect on the Kingdom, or the Saudi's themselves, most importantly though it doesn't reflect on Islam, at least not as far as I can tell.  Islam from the Qur'an is peace...the only time it gets violent is in the hands of men. 

I guess what makes my view a little different is that sitting here, I can get a better look at over there.   Having just been on vacation at home, I can tell you without a doubt that I had a great time and miss my country and my home so very much.  But this new vision of mine, comes with a little bit of a price.  I appreciated the little things so much while I was home, that it just kills me when people don't.  11 years ago, we all appreciated the little things, even if it was only for a day or two, maybe a week.  Have we forgotten so soon?  While I was home I saw a lot of examples of people who think freedom is a word that soldiers fight for, that Presidents administer or take away, and that terrorists hate.  What they seem to fail to understand is that they themselves are freedom. By choosing how to live their lives, they exercise their freedom every day.  They choose who to love, and what to do for work, they choose to go to college or not, who to marry, who to divorce, to join the Military or not, where and how to live.  We have free presidential elections every four years like clockwork, we have an abundance of food and safe and warm places to stay.  We have electricity 24 hours a day.  We travel between cities and states and regions freely.  We have the ability to succeed or fail, we have the ability to seek that which makes us happy.  We are free.  Do you appreciate it?

Today as you remember the brave souls who died this day 11 years ago, and all the days after in the line of duty,  take some time to remember that "freedom isn't free" isn't a slogan, it isn't a marketing ploy, its the truth.  Freedom isn't doled out by your brother the cop, or your neighbor the veteran or by the President.  Freedom is your God Given, constitutionally protected right, and it comes with responsibilities.  It isn't free, in fact it isn't even cheap.  Its precious, and as such, it's cost can sometimes be ultimate. Terrorists attack buildings, they destroy structures, they do not however have the power to erode our freedoms.  Only we do that.  And we don't erode our freedoms by voting for the wrong candidate, we erode them by not voting.  We erode our freedoms every time we think its the responsibility of someone else to protect them.  We erode them when we forget that "out of many we are one", and start thinking about our individual well being, "how much can I get" etc...We erode them when we say "poor me, poor me, look how much I've given" rather than looking at how much we have.  If being in Saudi has taught me only one thing, its that I have plenty.  More than my fair share.  I hope that today, the average American stops looking at their neighbors house, and starts smiling back at theirs.  If you really want to send a message to the terrorist pricks of the world, smile today, appreciate all that you have, help a neighbor, take pride in what you are and just look up at that beautiful blue, cloud filled sky and appreciate it.  Drive two cities over, wave and smile at someone you don't know.  Fire up the grill and throw some pork steaks on that sucker, grab a beer from the cooler, worship at the church, mosque or temple of your choice...or don't.  You live in a country of deep green, and sparkling blue, blazing gold and reds and pinks that light up the sky at dusk like fire from heaven.  You live in the land of the free, someday I will again too. 

May the fallen rest easy, knowing they are not forgotten, knowing they died not in vain, knowing that they are loved by a grateful nation.  May they rest easy with their brothers and sisters, knowing we remember them and their sacrifices, knowing that their are no gaps in the line, knowing that men and women with strong arms, proud and brave, stood up to fill the vacated spaces.  May they rest easy knowing that although they can never be replaced, the job they did is still done without fail today.  May God bless them and their families, keep them and hold them close.  -Me 9/11/2012

"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
King James Bible, John 15:13

Oh yeah, its also my 10 month anniversary yesterday...

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Welcome Back...

This post was supposed to take a different approach...I had written a little on the plane and at the airports. Some of it good, some of it great, some of it down right poetic...(I'm sure some of it was crap too).  I had written about the emotions of leaving, the hassle at the airports, some baggage tricks I learned a little too late, and the awesome mix of West and East that I found at Dubai International...However this post will be about none of those things.

"Welcome to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and thank you for flying with us".  Those were the words from the young first officer and the flight attendants as I stepped off Saudia flight 557, service from Dubai International to King Fahad International Airport, Dammam, Saudi Arabia.  I progressed quickly to passport control found the lines reasonable and within 2 minutes, a smartly dressed professional passport officer opened an additional line.  5 minutes after arriving in line, I found myself standing in front of him while he reviewed my passport and Visa.  He thoroughly looked through my documents for about 30 sec and then looked up and in clear, excellent English said: "Did you enjoy your vacation Mr. H.?" taken a little off guard, I replied that I had, he smiled.  "Welcome back to the Kingdom, please proceed."  On to the Baggage claim, I grabbed a cart and a few minutes later the bags started flowing.  I watched as one, then two and then the third bag I was still angry about appeared.  As I grabbed them I noticed that they were in good shape...and had not been tampered with this time.  Amazed I headed over to Customs and the X-ray machine.  Again a young professional officer opened an additional isle to combat the growing lines.  5 minutes later, I was placing my bags on the conveyer.  As I collected them, I couldn't help but tell the young man, how much better this was then the time I came through Riyadh, he smiled and said again in good English, "Really?  Thank You, where are you from?"  I replied that I was from the US, his face lit up, he gave me a thumbs up and said "America Good!".  I smiled and thanked him.  I had just cleared passport control, retrieved my bags and cleared customs in under 15 minutes...Wow!

My apprehension gone, I began making phone calls and text messages, I began hearing joyful voices, both Eastern and Western welcoming me back, As my driver approached, he shook my hand and hugged me, smiling widely while helping me load my bags.  

At this point, I was smiling, grinning actually, all I could think was "I made the right decision, I'm ready to get back to work, I'm wanted here...this is going to be a great year!"

This morning, I went into work early, jet lagged, on no sleep, ready to get started.  I was welcomed with open arms and "Saudi Kisses".  I made my way to my office and found the building workers cleaning it and getting it ready for me, AC repaired and all.  I made my rounds and said hello to everybody.  I found out that the student project I never got to see before I left was finished, posted on You Tube and was excellent!  I found out that instructor reviews from summer session were very positive for me and that I had finally really found "my groove" with the students.  Check out the video below...This was their final project for the summer semester. 

I fired up my computer and got ready for a conference call with the main campus in Riyadh...and that's when everything went to shit.  I discovered my salary will be 8 days late this month, my housing allowance is already 36 days late and may not be paid because they are considering transferring me to Riyadh again, and after traveling for 24 hours on my own ticket plus baggage for a year ($1400+400 USD or SR6750) contract may expire and might not be renewed...nobody's sure yet...To say that I am "sick to death" of this company, is the understatement of the year.  I told the guys in Riyadh today that we need to have a face to face with the BIG bosses, and just lay it out...just say "look, I'm here, I'm ready to work, if you don't want me to, then lets shake hands, you give me a letter of no objection or a final exit, and I'll go somewhere else.  I'm not a slave, I'm a free man, an American Citizen and an expert in my field, you WILL NOT treat me like a child, if this doesn't work then fine, lets shake hands and part ways".  However with this company, I doubt I'll get anything but lies and back peddling.  Just a bunch of BS, until finally one day I get on an airplane and don't come back...maybe that's what I should have done this time!  This is not a problem with the eastern world, it is not a problem with Arabs, nor is it even a problem with Saudi Arabia as my airport experience is a problem with Wasta appointments and this damn company! 

Did I mention that even after all of the late salaries, late housing allowances, all with no good given reason...that I'm being docked 3 days pay for coming back "late" even though we don't have students yet, even though we don't have enough instructors, even though school will most likely really start in 3-4 weeks?  

If I couldn't laugh, and couldn't vent...I'd probably just be forced to cry and scream in frustration!  
Welcome Back!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

24 Hours Redux...

Well folks, I'm sending this the night before, so nothings official, things can always change, but basically tomorrow when the door closes on the plane to Dubai, I'll be back in the sand in 24 hours.  Somehow, its not as exciting going this direction as it was coming the other.  Its not that I hate Saudi, its not even that I don't like Saudi, its that I love my country, and being home for 33 days has made it feel better than ever.  It's been a good trip, all of it.  The nine months in Saudi have made my time in the US that much sweeter.

I spent the first 2 days of vacation here in Missouri, then I headed South on I-55 kicking off what would become a 3000 mile solo road trip.  I made my first pit-stop in Jackson, Mississippi to give the wife what she wanted and make the divorce official.  Don't even was a little rocky.  Next I headed for New Orleans, Louisiana to visit an old friend and his main squeeze.  NOLA as its sometimes referred to is my new favorite city, I have a long history of wanting to go there, but just never found time to get there.  About as Southern as it gets, not as poor or "hicky" as Mississippi**   The people in Louisiana and New Orleans especially, are some of the finest I've ever met.  Considering that I've lived on the West Coast and in the Mid-West and road tripped over a good portion of the country...I think its fair to say that New Orleans kicked the crap out of all of them.  The food is delicious, the people fun and friendly, the woman beautiful and southern, the music upbeat and the city cleaner than I ever would have thought.  I spent longer in Nawlins' than I expected to...I dropped a grand at a strip club, did 9 hours of tattoo work, and got my pool game back up to where it should be playing with John and Megan.  Visited the famous Bourbon street once and fell in love with the Garden District.  I learned the difference between the west bank and the east bank and even saw some of the remaining damage from Katrina and the levee breaking.  I ate boiled shrimp by the pound and chowed down some red beans and rice and crawfish 'etouff'ee  I learned all about the "who dat nation" and just had an overall blast....New Orleans I tip my hat to you for showing me such a great time, allowing me to be a tourist, yet never treating me like one.  In fact, that tip of the hat goes out to ALL of guys are cool in my book.

Then it was back in the truck and I-10 to Ocala, Florida where my mother lives.  I made a little deviation in route and sat my happy ass on the beautiful white sands of Pensacola beach.   For some reason, this was the hardest part of my trip...maybe because the wife and I always used to visit Florida, maybe because for a long time we both had dreams of moving down there, maybe just because I was going to be reporting to my mother that I had actually failed at marriage and was now "Divorced".  Maybe because in New Orleans I'd had John and Megan and lots of beer and a new city to explore...I knew in Florida I was going to have peace and quiet and prayer...I knew I was going to have to learn to live with myself again...even in failure.  As it turned out though, their was nothing to fear in Florida.  Mom and Floyd greeted me with open arms...they knew I was a little bit broken, and a lot bit fragile and seemed to know just how to handle it.  I guess 60+ years of ups and downs, failures and successes, mixed in with the loss and pain that old age can bring makes a little old divorce just seem silly.  They were great.  I ended up staying in Florida a little longer than I intended to as well, I was starting to feel like myself again, I was starting to build myself back up...I ignored the majority of my now ex-wife's "how are you calls" I guess I was starting to get my balls back. When I said goodbye to Florida it was as a stronger man.  Convinced that my mother was in good hands, I left without any fear of her well being while I was gone.

Getting back on the road, I couldn't pass up another couple nights in New Orleans so I headed back the long way.  Leaving New Orleans , I headed back up I-55.  I made sure I got gas, before and after and just cruised through Jackson with my foot on the floor, windows down, music cranked up and a finger out the window.  I was making great time as I went through Memphis and into the boonies known as Arkansas.  I made it up the hills and pulled into Rolla in time to see Dylan before bed and grab a beer from the cooler and plop down on the porch...back at my house, with my kid and my dogs at my feet.

I was home a week, relaxing, sleeping in, staying up until all hours of the night playing video golf on the Wii, or catching up with some old movies or TV shows I don't get in Saudi.

I took off Friday and visited my lovely former step daughter in the St. Louis Missouri area, we had a nice lunch.  I learned a lot about the past 5 years or so, some I probably needed to hear, some I didn't and some that I just plain didn't want to hear. 

I pulled into Champaign, Illinois early evening and was greeted with open arms and cold beer by some Marine Corps brothers.  I was attending the blessed union of Zach and Maya.  We spent the evening catching up, drinking really good Dogfish Head 90 min IPA's, and getting as much work done as we could for the wedding.  Sometime around 8 someone happened to mention that the smooth hoppy goodness I was drinking was also a fairly high alcohol content beer (9.0 ABV)...sometime around 9:30...I found the couch.

The wedding day went off with no major issues and the ceremony itself was beautiful.  I truly believe this is a marriage between two people who know what they're doing.  I think and hope that they'll live and die together, always by each others sides.  The wedding was not large, only the closest family and friends were invited...It was perfect that way.  Sometimes, friends and family feel like their giving someone away at a wedding, there was none of that here though, it was more like a bonding, a true union.  Maya and her family seem to have just inherited a clan of crazy Marines, Infantry or Recon all...God help the person who decides to mess around with them.

Back in Rolla for the final week, a little of the blues started to kick in.  When I had left 9 months ago, this was a house of love, albeit getting ready to be sold, but a house of love all the same...I hated to say it, but for the most part it just felt empty.  I knew that if I wanted to, I could reclaim it when I got back, that there would be fond memories there again, Christmases, Birthdays, Holidays and joy, fun, laughter, love and passion. That last week though, sitting on my back deck at dusk, watching my dogs act as dumb as ever, cold beer in the cooler, aromatic smoke pouring out of the grill, listening to music...alone.  I couldn't help but focus on all that I've lost, and even in my own country, in my own house, in the city I once served, I couldn't help but feel a little tinge of loneliness.

As the final day approaches, and the last night draws to a close...I have a million different feelings about this.  I guess we'll see what happens when I get to the airport.

Road Trip 2012

**I may currently be biased on Mississippi though...