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."**

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Bahrani Break

I spent a couple of days this past weekend in Manama, the capital city of the Kingdom of Bahrain.  Bahrain is only 60 kilometers from my part of Saudi, its home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet and is an Islamic Island Kingdom (actually an "archipelago of more than 30 Islands according to Wikipedia) situated between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the State of Qatar in the Persian or "Arabian" Gulf.  Bahrain, now a Sovereign Kingdom has been ruled by the "Persians", the Portuguese and is a former protectorate of the United Kingdom.  It is one of the oil rich Arab nations and is thus interesting to the rest of the world.**

What seemed so interesting to me was that Bahrain seems to pull off the mix of culture thing fairly well.  It is an Islamic state, but women are not required to be covered or segregated from men.  They can be though, it boils down to personal choice in most cases.  Shorts and skirts are commonly worn, Burkini's are not required to swim.  Alcohol is served in the restaurants and bars that are attached to hotels, and pork is served.  It seems that similar to the UAE and Qatar, Muslims are expected to follow the rules of their faith.  Therefore, only the "Westerners" or non-Muslims should be drinking and dancing with women they aren't married too.  The reality is quite far from that perfect picture of what "should" happen and the bars that we went to seemed to be at least split 50/50 Muslims and Non-Muslims.  And it should be mentioned that I can't tell who is from where in the Arab world, so who am I to say that drinking is "haram" for them or that they're even Muslims.)

The trip across the causeway was a little crowded, but pretty uneventful.  The customs officers seemed a little friendlier than they do at the airport but nothing special.  When we got into Bahrain though everything changed...traffic was much more controlled and traffic laws had to be obeyed.  Police officers in clean cars pulled people over and issued them tickets.  Seatbelts had to be worn and child safety seats had to be used.  Maybe strangest of all for me on the road was that women were driving!  

Leaving Saudi, entering Bahrain

We stayed at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Manama which had received 4 stars from Orbitz reviewers.  The hotel was great and had a few different restaurant choices.  The room was nice, bed comfy as could be-I really, really enjoyed this aspect!  We hit the bar for lunch and a drink, found both to be excellent even if a tiny bit pricey. 
"Back off Brah..I'm on vacation!"
View from our 3rd floor room.

We found an appetizer with sausage and Ribs...Yum!

There are a few big malls (which is nothing odd for us coming from Saudi where the un-official national past-time is shopping) but in Bahrain you can actually find fitting rooms and a few other things not easily found in Saudi.  You can also shop as a couple if you so choose with no fear of the CPVPV (Religious Police) arresting you.  

Very "Sailor Jerry", except that its more Trader Vic's-y
Dinner was at Trader Vic’s which is attached to the Ritz-Carlton…Very Nice!  The hostess told us that without reservations, we’d probably be waiting at least 2 or more hours, however we could have a seat in the bar.  In the bar, we found excellent large tables with a beautiful view of the gardens and ponds at the Ritz.   The ambiance of the place was perfect, dark enough to feel romantic and exotic, light enough not to trip or have to squint at the menu.  The service was excellent, the rum drinks delicious, the Mojito’s were handmade Cuban perfection in a glass.  The four of us decided on the Chateaubriand for 2 (times 2) and while I generally consider myself a master chef when it comes to beef…the tenderness of these cuts blew anything I’ve ever made out of the water.  We washed it all down with another round or two of drinks, good conversation and a nice Cuban cigar.  

Shot from our table towards the enormous restaurant
How can you wrong with this many Rum Drinks?


The next day, I took the opportunity to sleep in and enjoy the room.  I headed downstairs about 10:30 and met up with friends in the coffee shop.  We all decided to indulge ourselves with the hotels enormous brunch…which also happened to be a champagne brunch…can you see where this is going?  I had initially said that all I wanted was a couple of last beers before the weekend ended…but instead ended up drinking Mimosas all day…and then having my last beers.  

The trip home across the causeway was again uneventful, and again the border security was at least professional and capable if not overly friendly.  

It was a great weekend; I made it to my 10th Country and had great travel companions.  I give the entire trip a 4 star rating and I only leave out the last star because I didn’t win a million dollars at a casino, or win a Mercedes in a contest or anything crazy like that).  I highly recommend checking out Bahrain, especially if you're in the Middle East already.

**Bahrain has also been the site of some pretty bloody clashes between the Shi'ite Muslim majority and the ruling Sunni Muslim minority.  Saudi has sent Emergency Forces and some troops to help Bahrain when the riots were at their worst during the "Arab Spring" that began 2 years ago in late 2010.  Along with these clashes, Bahraini authorities have been accused of committing atrocities and violations against prisoners in custody, including medical workers. Some international observers feel that the conflict in Bahrain is far from over and could possibly turn into full revolution if it weren't for the fact that Saudi is here to help the Bahrani Royal Family...and the U.S. helps Saudi and therefore is a de facto supporter of the Bahrani Royal Family and that actually were not de facto at all, that because of our agreements with Bahrain since 1991, we are a full legitimate supporter of the Government and not the majority of the Bahraini people...Ahh, but that's where it turns into the normal mess of foreign policy issues and whose right and whose wrong.  And the fact that the Shi'ite structure is based out of Iran and would therefore pose a potential threat to Saudi and definitely increase Iran's chances of actually blockading the Straight of Hormuz... Unfortunately with these things, a one size or one style fits all approach is impossible.  I'd venture to say that in order to speak intelligently on it and or pick a side, you'd have to be at minimum a middle east expert.  

Sunday, January 27, 2013

You just can't put Saudi's in a box...

First of all this topic deserves an ongoing blog of its own and I might just do that.  Second of all, of course you can't!  They're too big and even if you get 'em to fit they can't breathe unless you poke a lot of holes!**  

Seriously though, it seems every time I figure something out about the world, or people in the world, someone comes along and proves me wrong.  This happens constantly here!  For whatever reason, my brain is always trying to establish a baseline for things, including cultures I guess.  It wants to be able to say that "the mean is this and with the exception of a few outliers, the rule holds true".  Except that it doesn't.  Almost never does it work out to be a "safe" and  "general" description. 

To prove that to me today, a writer in Arab News, who I generally don't like, in fact that I generally really don't like wrote an op-ed piece that I like.  Not only do I like it, but I agree wholeheartedly with what she has to say.  Sabria S. Jawhar writes this piece and while it brings Jeddah's new aquarium to the attention of people who didn't know about it (such as myself!) it more directly pokes at the Haia for their ultra-conservatist views on morality and the ways in which they must enforce their world view.  This is the type of behavior that gets bloggers arrested, expats kicked out, and my comments on the online article erased.   And yet, she wrote it, published it and it made the final cut of a state or VERY close to state owned newspaper.

So, back to the box...barring the article disappearing tomorrow and the author suddenly getting fired for incompetence...these things happened.  An author saw a possible problem in Saudi society that she wanted to address.  She then wrote about it and submitted it, her editor let it run, the printer printed it and the distributor distributed it. 

You just can't put Saudi's in a box, no matter how much that joke makes me giggle sometimes, it's true.  Stereotyping and categorizing human beings with free will is impossible. 

**Note to my newer ESL readers, that second part is a joke, it's sarcasm based on a "play on words" and concepts. 

**Also, this was first brought to my attention from another bloggers post,  She can be found at the link listed and writes a great blog from a totally different city, generation, gender, background and angle than I do.  Check her out! 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Just where the hell have YOU been?

Well, that's kind of a long story, but I guess the short of it is, nowhere.  I'm still here at Disney, living the life, breathing in the fine particulate dust, putting money in the accounts (so that it can be voraciously consumed by the debts of a former wife 

To be more specific, or rather more accurate, I guess it's safe to say I started living again.  For those who follow the blog and have done so from the beginning, you've seen me go through these things, read about them, looked at the pictures, and depending on your level of imagination and my writing skill on that particular day, maybe even cried with me through the hard times and smiled with me through the good.  And I've said before that I started living again, but I was just starting back then, I was taking baby steps, I was still a little torn between what was, what happened and what was to come...Now I'm running. 

So lets catch you up, shall we. 
  • I have a "friend" and confidant in my life again.  Can't say much more on this topic, but suffice it to say, no man is an island.  "Friend" is an interesting term, one that I don't use lightly, some of you probably have no friends, I've gone through times when I had none.  Having one or two especially in closer proximity than halfway around the world is a good thing.  I have 2 here, and some really, really good, awesome acquaintances.  Friend: n  Person who would spend personal money and get on a plane in the middle of the night without any questions simply because you asked them to
  • I moved, I think I might have mentioned that before, but the moving itself was a real pain in the ass, getting everything set up was almost as bad.  Getting back and forth for the first couple of weeks was nothing short of wild either.  But the new apartment is cheaper, and in a better location with many more opportunities for socializing...not to mention I can now step outside my door without breaking the rules!
  • I'm Driving!  That's right, I rented a car.  Nothing special, a little 2013 Hyundai Accent, but with the money I was saving by moving, and the money I was spending on Taxi's, it worked out to just a little bit out of my pocket.  Saudi driving has its crazy moments, but its not half as bad as it looks from the passenger side.  It's a lot like driving in most US cities, just without as many rules...And I rented from Avis to make sure that I had good insurance and that the car would be in good mechanical shape. 
  • We finished first semester, tests have been administered, grades have been turned in, reports have been written.  Class load has been determined for second semester, I have my schedules written and am preparing the first two weeks detailed lesson plans.  I have 4 subjects and I'm pulling 15 credit hours and 32 contact hours of Instruction...ugh!  
  • I'm building the level 8 logbook 4 from scratch, It's a long story again, but I don't actually have access to the program the logbooks were built I'm starting from zero, I hope to have a poorly written makeshift copy ready in the next month and the revision completed by the end of the semester.  I kinda plan on using it as a bargaining chip to make sure receive my end of service benefits.  
  • I hit 14 months and didn't bother to take a picture...
  • I started reading and studying again...I'm currently in the middle of 3 novels, and have a few different podcasts that I listen to.  It's amazing that as you live life, you get caught up in things, stop studying and are behind the times almost immediately.  For me, trying to understand US foreign policy and US-Saudi relations as well as understand the gun control debate and fiscal cliff non-sense based on an education from 4-5 years ago was something akin to trying to build a house based on your extensive knowledge of how to build a barn...So I'll write a separate post about some of these maybe, but allow me to recommend the following podcasts and blogs.  Podcasts:  Dan Carlins Hardcore History, Dan Carlin's Common Sense, Back Story, Things you missed in History Class.  Blogs:  Eric Garland  Eric is a "little" out there, oh wait actually, he's not, he's just telling you some stuff in a way that you haven't heard before.  Love this blog.  
So, as you can hopefully see, I haven't been ignoring you!  And I haven't fallen off the edge of the world either!  Just got a little busy, which is a good thing sometimes.  One of these days though, I'm finally going to head home on time, not having any pressing engagements and just fall asleep on the couch!