Kristine wanders

The musings of a wanderer......

Month: January 2015

Banking. Saudi Style………

Generally speaking banking can be a frustrating endeavor in any country, but I suspect that Saudi has most countries beat. We have a bank on the hospital compound, and several ATMs throughout the hospital. Unfortunately, given the delay of getting my Igama (permanent residence card) I have been bank-accountless the last 3 months. Basically this means that when I get issued my old-school paychecks I have to head over to the bank and cash the entire monthly salary and then bribe or sweet talk someone (thanks Katie!!) to wire my money for me. Sounds simple enough right……well with most things in Saudi this would be a dead wrong assumption. So you head over to the bank and unless you are crazy, or desperate for cash, you avoid going within a couple days of payday. Sadly, I was the latter so I bravely headed over the day after payday. I had heard that the day before things were really out of hand and that the police had almost been called because there were so many people packed in and no one was cuing. This I can definitely believe.

So anyways, I get to the bank and take a ticket from the cuing machine, which seems like a foolproof idea to keep things orderly except that often times men (in particular) act as though it is below them to wait in line, and just walk right up, or cut to the front. Often times said men are wearing a destinguishable white lab coat. So, there are 4 tellers, and its quite rare to see all the tellers open at once. From my astute observations skills this is how things seem to work. The teller signals the teaboy who brings tea, and the teller takes a sip of tea. He then adjusts this head scarf. His mobile phone rings he answers it. Chats. Takes a sip of tea. Calls a customer forward. Helps customer. Sends a text. Sips tea. Adjusts head scarf. Customer. Repeat. Its fascinating. And equally frustrating. Now to be fair, they might be making work related calls. I have no idea. And since I’ve never worn a male head scarf on my head I can’t fairly comment on the degree of skill is takes to keep them properly balanced in place. So finally, finally its my turn. I go up to cash my cheque. The teller informs me that he has just run out of cash. And I’m like “ha ha, very funny” and then I remember that Saudi’s don’t often crack jokes, so to convince me he shows me his empty cash drawer. He calls over to his colleague a couple seats down (who has headphones in) and requests more cash. Headphone guy is not quick to respond (I imagine he did not hear him). Again a request for cash is made. Tick toc. So while I’m standing there the teller asks me if I want a cookie. And well, there’s nothing else to do so, yeah, I’ll eat a cookie. So I do. And it’s tasty. And then the teller says “a sweet for a sweet.” Huh. That’s a new one for me. So by this point the cash guy finally comes over with several stacks of bills. And the teller informs me that the bank is 10947250_10153030021001346_6273440323875642330_nout of 500 riyal notes (the largest bills they have- worth about $125US) and that all they have are 100 riyal notes (worth about $25US.) So literally, my entire monthly pay was given to me in $25US increments. I had 2 thick bricks of bills by the time he was done. Held together by elastics bands, gangster style. I took them home and spent the afternoon resisting laying on my bed and throwing the bills up in the air to make it rain money. The only thing preventing me from doing this is that money is super dirty and the fear that I might lose some behind the bed.

On Saturday I went back to the bank because the bank is open for a couple hours in the morning and seeing as the Saudi weekend is Friday/Saturday I figured it would be quiet and I could open my account without any major incidents. Haha! My optimism about Saudi sometimes is hilarious. It’s almost like I forget what a complete cluster most things are and expect opening a bank account to be a smooth process. So I take a ticket and sit. Its 9:15am and the bank opens at 9am. 9:30 rolls on and the money is still being counted, and none of the female customers have been helped. 9:45 and then I realize that the area designated for opening new accounts is empty- empty of employees. So I stroll over to customer service to make sure that they do actually open accounts on the weekend. And the guys says yes, there are 2 guys scheduled. And I’m like “what time do they start?” And he’s like “9am” and then my brain clues in and I ask “what time do they usually show up, or rather do they actually show up?” And all the nice customer service guy can do is direct me to the managers office. Who calls the guys. And gets no answer. And so I leave. And so this week when I’m feeling an abundance of patience I will try and open a bank account. For now I’ll just count my stacks of cash and pretend that I’m loaded.

Saudi is both an endlessly fascinating and frustrating place. The only real way for a westerner to cope is to see the humour in it. It’s pretty hard to stay angry when you’re laughing about the absurdness of a situation. At least that has proved to be my best coping skill. Also next week I’m heading to Cyprus and Qatar for a lovely week and a half!! Yeah!!

The Death of a King

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RIP. 1924-2015

So yesterday it was announced that King Abdullah died here in Riyadh just shortly after midnight. I woke up Friday morning with several messages from friends back home informing me, and asking if things were ok. The event was not unexpected as earlier this month he was admitted to hospital with reported pneumonia and was placed on a ventilator. He was 90 years old when he passed. King Abdullah was much beloved by the people of Saudi Arabia. He was buried yesterday in Riyadh following a funeral prayer at Asr prayer time (the afternoon). In keeping with religious traditions he was swathed in white cloth and buried in an unmarked grave prior to the next sundown. Only males are allowed to visit the grave. Memorial services have also been planned in Riyadh over the next few days allowing for the public to attend and diplomats from the International community.

King Salman the former Crown Prince was sworn in as the new King yesterday after evening prayers. King Salman is himself in his late 70’s. He takes the throne at a time when Saudi Arabia is surrounded by tensions to the North in Iraq and the growing tensions to its southern border Yemen. Inshallah this transition will be a smooth one….

Igama Drama……

So I’m sure you’ve been asking yourself “I wonder whatever happened with Kristine’s Saudi paperwork nightmare?” Well, let me assure you, it’s been nothing short of exciting. The other day I went to the passport office to inquire as to whether my Igama was ready. In the event that you’re confused or just reading my blog for the first time an Igama is a residency card. You need this card to open a bank account and get an exit/re-entry visa to allow you to leave the country. Seeing as my 90 days of being in the Kingdom have passed and I’m still bank accountless I’m very keen to do both these things. So I’m at the passport office and they tell me that yes, my Igama is processed and the lovely lady goes into the back to get it, and while she’s gone I’m basically high-fiving myself over my amazing luck that this bloody ordeal is now over. In hindsight the mental high-fiving was maybe not such a good idea. Because the lady comes back, and she’s got a card in her hand. And its an Igama. My Igama. And she’s completing the paperwork, and then she says these dreaded words…..”your name wrong on card.” And I’m like, lady don’t joke with me. I can read my name and its spelt right. And she says “Arabic name is wrong.” And I can’t confirm or deny this because, the only Arabic I read are numbers, and last time I checked my last name didn’t have any numbers in it. So I calmly ask her how big of a problem this is, and what can we do about it. And she says “bank will not accept” and that it would take another 7 business days to get the name changed. And because I didn’t know what else to do my eyes welled up, and I tried not to cry out of sheer frustration. And then I asked to speak to the man who originally helped organize my papers. So I was led into a back office where I was handed a magnifying glass (no joke) and was shown where the mistakes were made (even though I still can’t read Arabic). I was then instructed that the mistake was likely not that big of a deal and when I said “but I need to open a bank account” the reply was “just don’t tell them the name is wrong, maybe they won’t notice.” Solid advice.

So I crawled back to the office of a lovely secretary who works for my department and told her my sob story. She made a phone call to someone in charge and walked me back over to the passport department. All the while holding my hand. Hand holding is very common here, not man-woman, but woman-woman, and man-man. Even though it’s common it still feels a little odd, but I knew she was trying to make me feel better about the situation. So we went to a guys office. It was fancy. I told him my sad story. He made a phone call. After he hung up he said the correction would take 24 hours. That was last week. I’m still waiting. Fingers crossed tomorrow. It’s all so frustrating, as per my contract I can’t leave the country for 90 days. Well that 90 days are over and I should be able to leave but I’m trapped until it all gets straightened out. I have vacation coming up the beginning of February as my kiwi sidekick and I are going to Cyprus……if I can get this paperwork all sorted in time. So the saga continues………

Saudi Arabia……one continuous lesson in patience.

The Saudi Social Scene………

If you don’t know much about Saudi you likely know this one fact; that its a dry country. Dry as in alcohol is illegal, the locals don’t often get my humour, and much of the country is covered by desert. So you’re probably thinking if alcohol is illegal what could you possibly do for fun?? I get asked this question a lot…..especially since Saudi is located next to some of the best (Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Beirut) and most dodgy (Bahrain) nightlife in the Middle East. Oddly, your social life in Saudi is mostly what you make of it, and mine is shockingly better than it ever was when I lived in the US and Canada. Yes. I’m dead serious.

First off, the other ex-pats you meet are often like minded people. They are often adventurous, out-going, well traveled, and you’ll easily make friends from all over the world. Networking is a big part of having a social life here, but even a shy introverted person here will likely be flooded with invites to many different things. There are embassy and compound parties. These can be casual, or themed (Halloween, Mardi Gas), or they can even be formal events (when was the last time you went to a ball or gala?) There are book clubs, hiking clubs, photography clubs, cooking clubs. You could learn to golf, or take flying lessons, or take a turn in the saddle and take riding lessons. There are loads of activities that take place in the desert- I went ATVing when I first got here, and it was great fun. There are overnight camping trips and in the eastern province you can go digging for desert roses.

Movie theaters don’t exist in Saudi, but there are movie clubs on some of the compounds and the hospital I work at has a movie night ever Thursday…..but only for ladies. I’ve yet to go but if they get 50 shades of Grey when it comes out I’ll be sure to check it out. Oh wait, the entire movie will be censored. Dang it. If you’re a foodie there are many good restaurants here in Riyadh, but to be honest, its hard for me to get super jazzed about a good meal if I don’t have a nice glass of wine to pair it with. There are many fabulous brunch places.

So if you were worried that I was going crazy from boredom, rest assured I’m not. If you’re considering taking a job here in Riyadh you’ll have endless things to do. In fact some days I need another day off to recover from how busy my days off were. Also, to update you about my previous Saudi paperwork nightmare, I have submitted papers to get my Igama (permanent residence card). I am told that inshallah it will come tomorrow. Unfortunately, I was also told the exact some line yesterday. And the day before yesterday. But fingerscrossed it comes this week!! To Be Continued………

2014 in Review…..

2014 was a pretty rad year. I left my heart trailed across India, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Canada, the US and Saudi Arabia. I convinced my dearest pals Jen and Sacha to accompany me on what would prove to be an epic adventure as we drove a 3 wheeled auto-rickshaw across India. In fact, that was how we started January 1, 2014. Leaving the starting point of the race in Jaisalmer, India heading south towards Kerala. It was an amazing journey, and one that taught me the lesson that this one precious life is my own, and I’m going to live it how I see fit. As 3 gals driving on Indian roads we set out to to have a great adventure, but ended up shattering traditional gender role beliefs all over the country. After the race we took some time off to visit the backwaters of Kerala and had the unpleasant experience of being robbed by the houseboat crew. Then the even more unpleasant experience of dealing with the Indian police. Here the only gender beliefs that were shattered were our own as we tried to stand up for ourselves but ended up in a bureaucratic uphill battle. Later that week Jen and I found an article about ourselves in a local paper documenting our “alleged robbing.” Funny but also not so funny.

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At the starting line

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With our guru Dhadhi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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At a roadside stop

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Yes. I drove that thing!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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3000km later at the finish line.

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Our Indian paper debu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After our houseboating fiasco Sacha returned to New Zealand. Jen and I traveled to Bhutan which couldn’t be more jarring after spending nearly a month in India. Bhutan was clean, and quiet, and sparsely populated. Since the only way a person can visit Bhutan is by organized tour we could actually relax as we didn’t have to worry about anything. We literally didn’t even have to carry our own bags. Someone told us when it was time to eat and what time we were to wake up. It was pure luxury. We had a kind driver and guide, both of who I still keep in contact with!

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Hiking to the Tiger’s Nest

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Taktsang monastery. AKA Tiger’s Nest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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At a local pub with Phub and Tashi

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EVEREST!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

After Bhutan we flew to Nepal. On route we flew right near Mt Everest which was pretty dang cool. Kathmandu was bustling and over whelming, but was really cool to explore and we had some of the best food of the trip. We spent a few days relaxing in Pokhara with the Himalayas overlooking the lake there. It was lovely.

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A friendly monk

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Kathmandu temple

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We then flew to Bangladesh, which had long been on my list of countries I wanted to visit. We arrived into the chaos of Dhaka and were promptly informed that there were mass protests planned for the following day and that it was inadvisable for westerners to leave their hotel. The day following the protests we emerged and I fell in love with Bangladesh. I found the people of Bangladesh to be so kind and hospitable. The travel was difficult and often frustrating as there isn’t much in the way of tourist infrastructure, but I loved my time here. For me photography is a huge part of travel and I took so many amazing photos here. The Bangladeshi people we met loved to have their photos taken, and in turn take photos of us. Jen and I would often joke that the paparazzi were trailing us all over the country. Such great memories!!

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Paparazzi time…..

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At Paharpur a UNESCO site

 

 

 

 

 

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Bangladeshi buses

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Bangladeshi trains

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Blowing kisses from the train

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The people were so friendly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After Bangladesh we returned to India to volunteer with a NGO in Kolkata that worked with sex workers and their children. This was such an eye opening experience. I witnessed poverty on a scale I had never seen before. It was shocking, and numbing, and difficult to ignore. The children at the charity were malnourished, and many of them unloved. It was heartbreaking. Our time in Kolkata was hard. It left its mark on me. Jen and I would then return to Delhi where she left for home and I flew to Rishikesh for 10 days of yoga and soul searching. I spent time in an Ashram there, and met some very lovely people. People with who I hope to see again this upcoming year.

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Super cure kiddos

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Writing lessons

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ashram living in Rishikesh

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My ashram buddies Beibs and Nikki

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Early march I returned to Canada, to resume work, and even though I had never considered returning to Saudi Arabia, that seed of adventure had been planted, and I started to really consider it. I spend the summer relaxing poolside, visiting my dear friends in Seattle, and road tripping from Denver to Kelowna, BC with Jen.

In the fall I was back in Seattle a couple of times and attended a close friends wedding, spent time with my cousin and her super cute kiddo, and started organizing my life for the upcoming year. The fall was especially hard as my parents decided to take a break to figure out what they each want out of their lives. It was a struggle to plan for my move to Saudi while dealing with the stark reality that the life I was leaving behind would likely be completely different by the time I returned.

So, in October I returned to Saudi, and if you’ve been reading my blog then you’re well aware of how 2014 wrapped up. I rang in the New Year under the Arabian sky at the New Zealand embassy. It was quite the night!! I’m looking forward to the adventures that await in 2015, and to make use of the many lessons I learned in 2014. So I’ll finish this post with one of my favourite lines of Mary Oliver…….. “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

On feeling defeated…..

This is going to be a bit of a vent session. Today was a hard day. Nothing went to plan. Sometimes days are just like that. I’ve been in Saudi for 10 weeks now, and there are many, many rules. One of them is that we’re not allowed to leave the country for 90 days, until we’ve completed the probationary period. Part of the 3 month period is that we apply for our Saudi Health Council (basically like a nursing board back home) except that we continue to practice off our home nursing license. Anything we do here that isn’t legal would in theory affect our nursing license in our home country. So we file a ton of paperwork to get “licensed” here but its mostly just for show, and quite possibly because Saudi loves them some paperwork. My application was delayed as we needed to have a current American Heart Association CPR certificate and it took about a month before there was an opening for me to get in to a class. So 5 weeks ago I submitted all my paperwork. And now I wait……..as literally all my friends have gotten theirs. And in theory you would think mine would be fast as its just a renewal as I’ve previously had this Saudi Health Council thingy. But no. So I wait. And I can’t apply for my permanent residence card (otherwise known as an Igama) until I get this temporary license. And I can’t leave the country without an exit/re-entry visa, which I can’t get until I get an Igama. And I have no bank account here because……you guessed it…..you need an Igama to open a bank account, and you need your Saudi Health Council to get an Igama. And so the loop of bureaucracy continues. And I have leave coming up in a month. And I came here to travel. So I wait. And swear under my breath at the inefficiency of this system.

So then to top it all off I’ve had a headache (I’m sure unrelated to a New Years party last night) and I’m out of Advil, so I headed to the pharmacy on the hospital property and I arrived at prayer time. And it was closed. So I walked home, and then I tripped on my abaya on the stairs. And then I cried, because some days are hard. And its harder when nothing is familiar and you’re in a foreign culture where everything is the way it is even though the way it is isn’t very logical to a foreign mind. But tomorrow is a new day, and today is a new year so as the age old Saudi saying goes…..inshallah I will get my Saudi Health council next week. Inshallah.

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