Thursday, April 26, 2012

Our Top Ten Tips for Non-Compound Dwellers in Saudi Arabia

This is a whole different kind of sandbox.

I know I've written about non-compound dwelling already, but with our move just over a month away it's been on my mind a lot lately. I've gotten a lot of time for self-reflection since moving to the Kingdom; not being able to drive gives you that luxury, I guess. As I've been reflecting on my time in Saudi Arabia, I've realized that the experience the Mister and I have had these two years has been very unique, even among most expats that are living here. Every time we talk to any other expats that we meet, they assume we live on a compound. It's the default housing situation for Western immigrant workers in this country. And the shocked expression we always get when we say we're living out "in the wild" cracks me up. Yes, Virginia, there is a life beyond the walls of Aramco.

...It's tough to come by, but it is possible to have a social life if you work at it.

That said, I should confess that the Mister and I have largely failed at the challenge of finding a vibrant social life for ourselves. So this list is a little ironic, I suppose. I still want to put it out there in case there are any other community-starved expats in the Kingdom that stumble across this blog. So here it is:

Our Top Ten Tips for Surviving Without Living on a Compound in Saudi Arabia:

#10: Books. And movies. And iTunes downloads. Never read War and Peace because you never had the time? Well guess what!? You're in luck! Not living on a compound allows you a lot of time to sit around, especially during the work week. So pick up a book, download some movies, or get an iTunes season pass to the TV show everyone is watching at home. You've got to find your own entertainment, and a lot of times that will involve just you and some form of media.

#9: Don't be afraid to explore your neighborhood. It's Saudi Arabia. There's not going to be a welcome wagon pulling up to your door as soon as the moving vans leave. No one is coming over with pie to tell you all about the neighborhood. You need to get out and explore. Don't go knocking on strangers' doors; that's a good way to get branded as the local creeper. But do explore the shops and restaurants nearby. Get to know the local shop owners. Most of them are also not Saudi and will be thrilled to have an American as a regular customer. They might just pass along helpful tips and possibly invite you over for a truly cultural experience in their own homes.

#8. Be willing to drop some cash for the luxury of having something to do. There are plenty of gatherings for expats in Saudi Arabia, but most of them come with a cover charge. Until you're able to build a base of friends that you'll visit with a lot, be prepared to get invited to parties and pay at the door.

#7. Accept every invitation, or at least the majority of them. This is something the Mister and I did not do. I don't know why we thought we had the freedom to be snobby with our free time, but it is definitely one of our big regrets. We should have been more willing to do things we didn't particularly want to do if only for the sake of being around other people. You don't have the luxury of being picky with your social engagements. And in Saudi Arabia, if you snub the first one or two invitations, they're going to stop coming and you'll be forever alone.
Yeah. Like this guy.

#7. Get a smart phone. This sounds so lame, and if me-from-two-years-ago were reading this, she would totally roll her eyes. But since the Mister created the monster and bought me my first ever smart phone in December, I have felt so much more connected. I've been able to download an app that allows me to SMS with friends and family back home. I downloaded the Skype app for a little while and was able to make phone calls to the States on my phone (the app took up too much space on my phone's tiny internal memory, so I had to delete choose your smart phone wisely). The other day when we were completely lost on a compound trying to meet up with someone, I was able to pull up her email that contained her phone number and the directions to where we were trying to go. There are currency conversion apps, language dictionary apps, so many things that help an expat without a community feel like she can actually belong somewhere: connected to the old home, adjusting to the new home.

I'm sure current smart phoners are saying, "Duh. We know all this," but I just wanted to make sure we were all aware of the wonders of technology.

Warning to iPhoners: If you bought your iPhone from one of the service providers at home (like AT&T), you won't be able to use your phone outside of the US without jail breaking it. I guess the good news is that there is no shortage of people in the Kingdom who have no moral issue with doing just that for you. But if you don't want to jail break (and possibly permanently break) your expensive iPhone, consider trading your current one in for the more expensive, unlocked, bought-it-from-an-independent-shop-or-possibly-from-an-online-dealer iPhone. It'll be worth your investment because you'll be able to put a SIM card into it where ever you go in the world.

#6. Don't be a wet blanket. We're all homesick. We're all jarred by the sudden lack of Western conveniences. We all hate the driving. There is no point in belaboring the fact that Saudi Arabia is not the USA. So stop talking about it. Yes. All expats have that initial catharsis of "Dang, it's really hard to live here" when they first meet. But you should just briefly acknowledge the misery and move on. Talk about what you do for a living (without bitching about how not-like-your-old-job-at-home it is). Discuss travel plans or dreams. Ask for tips on the best shawarma place. Even if the other people around you are stuck in the funk, you'll find that most people are attracted to a ray of sunshine, and that ray should be you. Shine, my friend. Shine.

#5. Be prepared to not find your ideal social group. Let's face it. You can't be picky. And expats are a weird bunch of people. Especially if they're weird enough to not live on a compound. You'll find that most of the expats you meet at the typical gatherings that are off-compound are the other weirdos like you who didn't get recruited by one of the big oil or military consultant companies. You got suckered into coming to Saudi Arabia for the "cultural experience" and now you don't have any friends, Saudi or otherwise.

Sure, perhaps at home you wouldn't be particularly interested in befriending a guy who only talks about his RC model planes, but here you are. Maybe video games from the 1970s aren't exactly your bag, but there's not much else on the conversational table, so dig in. You'll be surprised how quickly you discover that you actually do have something in common with these weirdos and they are quite tolerable if not enjoyable. Being a non-compound expat expands your horizons in several ways, so relish the fact that you're meeting all these new people and get over yourself.

#4. Find a Guy. No, I don't mean you need to start dating (most of our single friends will tell you that is EXTREMELY hard for non-compounders). I mean you need to adopt the Arab habit of having a guy for everything. You need to find a social-scene Guy. And fast. A lot of the parties or gatherings I have mentioned are invitation-only. You can't get an invitation unless you know the host or someone who knows the host. Saudi Arabia isn't like college where you can wander around campus and follow the sound of a party and let yourself in. In fact, party crashing is a big no-no here. You need to know a Guy. This is one of the most difficult parts of getting connected to the non-compound expat social scene in Saudi Arabia. But if you have followed our advice in this list, the Guy will find you. Be prepared for this to take a few weeks or even a month or two (longer if you're a wet blanket), but be patient. Enjoy your books, movies and iTunes downloads in the meantime.

#3. Have parties, or gatherings of some sort. Start with your new colleagues, especially the other international recruits. Chances are someone in your office has started his or her own quest for a Guy and will invite their new weirdo expat friends to your invitation-only gathering. Welcome people into your home, cook for them, entertain them, and they'll usually return the favor. This is something the Mister and I should have done a lot more of here. We learned this lesson too late. I've tried to have more gatherings this year, but I missed my chance. Trust me, there is nothing more lonely or disheartening than to get yourself all excited and motivated to jump start your social life with a rousing game night, only to find that everyone else has found more interesting things to do and it's just you and the snacks. ...and your husband. So have parties. And have them early in your Saudi Arabian career.

#2. Develop a hobby. Ultimate frisbee needs to become your new sport of choice. Taking afternoon jogs through the desert should suddenly have a new appeal to you, trust me. You are Saudi Arabia's newest animal activist. All of these new hobbies have groups full of people that like to organize events in Saudi Arabia, and you need to become a part of them. Even if you have the world's worst hand-eye coordination, can't run to save your life, and are slightly allergic to cats, you need to get out there and pick up a hobby of some sort anyway. Again, finding a Guy (#4) and trying things you wouldn't otherwise try at home (#7) will help you to discover these new interests so don't be shy (#1).

If you're more of a loner, pick up an at-home hobby. I've been scrapbooking and it's helped to keep me from going crazy on those failed-game-night nights.

#1. Become extroverted. This is, by far, the most important rule of living off a compound in Saudi Arabia. You're not really the type to just strike up a conversation with strangers, you say? Get over it. Or get used to having yourself as your only company. I recommend you have a series of unique, non-invasive, conversation-starting questions. Full disclosure: the Mister and I have only just discovered this trick (ok, maybe only I have discovered this trick and I'm still a little timid about trying it out), but each time we've tried it, we've had success.

The more you stray from the "So where are you from" question that starts every expat conversation in this country, the more interesting you are. That means people will be more likely to want to hang out with you again. That means you'll find your Guy sooner. That means you'll get introduced to your new hobby sooner.

Hopefully this post will help some overwhelmed new recruit. If it does, give us a shout out in the comments. Otherwise, I hope it was slightly entertaining, even for those of you who have no desire to leave the comforts of the States.

Vicariously yours,

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Social Darwinism is kickin' my butt over here!!

The expat social scene for non-compound dwellers in Saudi Arabia is kind of like a form of Social Darwinism: if you can master the art of the Saudi phone call, you survive.

According to that theory, it's a miracle that I have made any friends at all in this country. I have not been able to outsmart the tricks of making a phone call in Saudi Arabia. I have been able to give other people my phone number, have them plug those exact digits into their phone, and they call me with no issue. But if the process is reversed, I get the "Dear customer, the phone number you entered cannot be completed as dialed" message! WHAT GIVES!?

Here's what I know:

  • cell phones can not call land lines in Saudi Arabia. At least that is what we were told and that has been our experience so far.
  • some land lines cannot call some cell phones in Saudi Arabia. Apparently, it depends on the phone service provider of the mobile phone. This makes no sense to me and I don't care enough to find out for myself.
  • land line phone numbers start with a 3. But sometimes you have to dial it as a 03.
  • mobile phone numbers start with a 5. But sometimes they start with a 05. Sometimes they start with a 55, or a 055, or a 050.
  • The entire system is ridiculously infuriating!
Here's how it usually goes when I try to call a new phone number here.

Step 1: dial the phone number exactly as it appears on the business card or whatever.

Step 2: get the "call cannot be completed as dialed" message.

Step 3: add the 966 country code.

Step 4: repeat step 2

Step 5: add country code followed by a zero and then the phone number exactly as it appears

Step 6: repeat step 2 and plot revenge on the annoyingly perky guy that recorded the message

Step 7: plus sign, country code, 05 and then the phone number

Step 8: repeat step 2 as you begin to understand why it's so freaking impossible for non-compound dwellers to make friends in this country.

Step 9: eliminate country code, add a 0 and then dial number exactly as it appears.

Step 10: repeat step 2 and try not to throw the phone across the room.

Step 11: no country code, add 050 and then phone number

Step 12: repeat step 2 and fight the murderous rage that is quickly growing in your chest

Step 13: no country code, no zeros, just the phone number.

Step 14: repeat step 2 through painfully gritted teeth

Step 15: forget that you completed step 1 and repeat it accidentally

Step 16: inexplicably complete the call as dialed while wondering if it's medically possible for a head to literally explode from simultaneous high levels of frustration, confusion, and cell phone radio waves.

I should mention that every time I try this process, it's a different experience. Kind of like a choose-your-own-adventure novel, but a LOT less fun. Sometimes the Mister and I trade phones, even though we have the same cell service provider. Like maybe the phone number just doesn't like my Android and will prefer his Blackberry instead. We've found the most effective way to avoid giving ourselves a brain aneurysm from the anger of trying to deal with this whole mess is to make the person just plug their own digits into our phones and do the old I'm-calling-you-right-now-tell-me-if-it-works thing. Otherwise, if we forget (or don't want to seem so desperate for new friends that we say, "Hey can you just put your number in my phone... I swear I'm not hitting on you I just can't seem to complete a call as dialed...") we just have to hope we run into that person again at one of the many expat-centered gatherings that pop up from time to time. 

Vicariously yours,

Friday, April 6, 2012

Sri Lankans love them some Google image search

Our visit to Sri Lanka was just so different from any vacation we had ever taken. Neither the Mister nor I had been so far East before, and we'd never experienced a country so obviously split between its tourist culture and its real culture. I don't know if I actually experienced the real Sri Lanka, but I am sure I got a little glimpse into the culture.

One thing I noticed a lot of: pirated images.

I'm used to seeing Google image search results on facebook, in my students' work, and on any number of websites. Readers of this blog know I am not innocent when it comes to the use of the Googs when I need a good picture. I am not throwing stones here; merely sharing an observation. I have never seen so many Google-image-search images in print and on vehicles decals as when I went to Sri Lanka!

I guess I'll give the Sri Lankans some credit: they were sneaky with their Google imaging. At first glance that toy store awning looks like a genuine display of the wares you would find inside...until you look through the storefront window and see creepy, naked, plastic dolls that are fading from exposure to the sun! "Wait a minute, that's not an American doll store!"

My favorite was the wedding planning company that had a doctored version of this image on its storefront:

It was obvious that the company owner had just googled "American wedding," saw a couple of pale faces looking in love, had NO idea of the plot of the movie and said, "That's perfect."

Even more hilarious was the private bus that had this baby on its side:

Literally. This exact image, but with a white background.

What!? The bus company either didn't know or didn't care that there was a comma missing in this "sentence." And it certainly had no knowledge of Harley culture. I can't imagine what phrase they googled to find this gem, but I giggle at the mental image of a a group of Sri Lankan business executives huddled around a computer with a mock-up of the bus decal design and thinking, "Yeah. Our riders will love the idea of riding ON freedom."

What does that even mean!?

Vicariously yours,

Thursday, April 5, 2012

This is Sri Lanka: A list of things that can be seen all over the place in the land of paradise

This is a stray dog.
shh, he's sleeping.
The number one most common thing we saw on our trip to Sri Lanka were pitiful stray dogs. Some of them were cute, scrappy, spunky looking little mixes that trotted their way through the little village streets. So many of them, however, were mange-riddled skin-and-bones that looked like they were scared to be out in daylight.

I asked our tour guide what the deal was and he said that most Sri Lankan families will keep a dog while it's a puppy and cute, but once it starts to get big (and I suspect gets to reproductive rowdiness), they kick them out and make them live on the streets. They don't put stray dogs down because it condradicts Buddhism.

Wonder what Buddhism says about animal abuse?

This is a typical Sri Lankan street.

Umbrellas and tuk tuks. As you can see, it wasn't rainy season yet. I think using the umbrella as sunblock is an Asian thing, and I mean that in the most un-racist way possible. I've noticed that in our travels, it's always the Japanese, Chinese, and Indian tourists that use umbrellas as opposed to caps or sunglasses to keep the sun out of their eyes. I know the umbrella also serves as a method of keeping your skin fair, not just to keep the sun out of your eyes. I just think it's interesting that it is so popular with this particular culture.

For those who have never seen one, the red, Big-Wheels looking thing in the middle of the photo is a tuk tuk. The tuk tuk is the taxi cab of choice in Sri Lanka. It's basically a three-wheeled moped that has a cab built onto it. The tuk tuks are endlessly customizable and they cracked me up! They would dart in and out of traffic, riding on the shoulders, ceaselessly tooting their little horns.

This is Amurrica!

I have no idea why, but we saw the stars and stripes all over Sri Lanka! On buses, on tuk tuks, business logos, taxi cabs. I wondered if it was because these businesses were trying to attract the American tourists and their money?

one time we even saw the stars and bars.

This is an advertisement

Devilled means super spicy.
Thankfully, the energy-sapping LED billboards have not made their way to Sri Lanka. The roads are covered in the traditional kind of billboards, and their advertising methods crack me up! The ad above was all. over. the country! This lady and her photoshoppers had a very busy day! In some ads she was dangling extremely spicy noodles into her mouth. Others featured her cutting to the chase and just eating a straight-up chili pepper. Other photos had her seductively sucking on a ramen noodle dangled from her well manicured fingers.

I'm pretty sure all three variations were selling the same product, and I certainly hope this ad campaign has made this lady a very wealthy woman!

The finger point: another popular Sri Lankan advertising method.
I was told before leaving for our trip that something like 98% of the citizens of Sri Lanka are literate. I found this information to be astounding and slightly unbelievable, but our tour guide confirmed the fact. After seeing how much text is all over the place, I have no doubt.

This is a Sri Lankan wedding party

I apologize for the clandestine nature of the photograph. I didn't want to be THAT person taking photos of a strange couple and their bridal party. However I had to snap evidence of at least one wedding because we probably saw 20 over the course of our trip. At first it was exciting ("Oh look!! A wedding!") and then it became a part of the background. (Oh look. Another wedding.)

It didn't matter what day of the week it was, there was a wedding going on. I asked our tour guide what the deal was with that and he explained that Buddhist couples (at least the ones in Sri Lanka) decide their wedding day based on their horoscopes. They get engaged and then check their signs and wait until a day that their stars are most compatible to say their vows. So if the stars align on a Thursday, guess what! You're getting married on a Thursday!

He also said that when the bride is dressed in white, that is the day her family is hosting the ceremony. The bride's family pays for the first ceremony and reception, then the couple goes on a short honeymoon. After their 2-3 day trip, the groom's family hosts ANOTHER ceremony and reception and the bride wears red.

This is a Sri Lankan roadside market.

These things were all over the sides of the road, even in the middle of the remote jungle highways! What I found to be most interesting was the fact that when you came upon these little stands, they were usually clustered in groups of 5-10 and they were ALL selling exactly the same thing! It was almost like each town had a theme. One town sold cashews, another sold handicrafts, another sold creepy inflatable animals and baby pools. Some even just sold crappy plasticware: laundry baskets, brooms, baby washtubs. The most common stand, however, was the old fall-back: fruit.

The town sold wicker.  ...and toilet brushes.
This is a tractor...thing.

Because our camera is on its last leg, I was never able to capture a proper photos of these things. But this one helps you to get the idea. We saw these tractor-meets-a-cart things all over the country!! As you can see, it's a cart hooked up to the motor end of a tractor. I kind of looked like one of the soil tillers my dad used in the garden when we were kids, but without the tilling blades.

Here's what it looks like from behind.
They went extremely slow, and were very loud. But I guess they were cheaper than having to pay for a horse? I dunno.

This is a Sri Lankan bus.

Correction: this is a privately owned Sri Lankan bus. Again, because our camera is about to crap out on us, I struggled to get a good photo of the buses in Sri Lanka. Add to that the fact that these things were rarely standing still and were often running people and other vehicles off the road and you'll begin to appreciate the fact that I was able even get THIS shot.

There were two kinds of buses in Sri Lanka: the flamboyantly decorated white ones, and the plain red ones with the insignia of the country on the side. The white ones were privately owned by at least 5 different companies. The red ones were owned by the government. Both buses ran the exact same routes. Usually, unless the white buses were air conditioned, both buses cost exactly the same amount. 

One day we were driving behind a red bus, with a white bus behind. The white bus kept trying to pass us, honking its horn and riding our bumper. Traffic was a heavy and the road was really narrow, so when the driver got the smallest chance to pass us, he took it. He passed so closely, one of the passengers had to pull his elbow in from the window in order to avoid hitting our van! I asked our tour guide what his hurry was and he said, "The driver is trying to get to the next town before the red bus because he wants to get the customers!" Sneaky sneaky!

This is a Sri Lankan police officer.

We saw very few stoplights in Sri Lanka. In fact, I didn't see any outside of Colombo. There are big intersections in the countryside, but no lights to direct traffic. It's just every man for himself and wait your turn. And you know what, in the entire week we only saw one car accident and I think it was because of a car malfunction as opposed to driver error.

Anyway, the point of the photo of the cop is to say that as a result of the lack of traffic lights, Sri Lanka puts police officers out on the streets at busy traffic times to make sure everyone is playing nice. That meant we saw a lot of police officers in the morning rush, around 1:30 when school was letting out, and again around 5.

Sometimes they just wore the white gloves to direct traffic, but other times they had on these detachable white sleeves:

Can you imagine how hot those things were in the summer heat? I asked our tour guide and he said that even in the middle of winter, it doesn't get colder than the high 60s because Sri Lanka is so close to the equator. Woof! That's one job I wouldn't want come July!

This is the view from the back seat of a tuk tuk

Just because I know you were curious.

Vicariously yours,

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

You haven't lived in Saudi Arabia until...

Since moving over here, the Mister and I have become big How I Met Your Mother fans. We have downloaded or purchased all the seasons and have an iTunes season pass for the current one so we can get our weekly fill. Last week, while in Sri Lanka, we re-watched some of season 6 to pass the time. One of the episodes, "Subway Wars" came to mind after we had returned to the Middle East and were trying to get home from the Bahrain airport. Here's a CBS-approved synopsis of the episode:

Anyway, our drive home across the Bahrain bridge and the events that unfurled made me start a mental list of "You haven't lived in Saudi Arabia until..." items. The first item I would like to add to this list, and I think most veteran expats who have lived here longer than me would agree, is "You haven't lived in Saudi Arabia until you've had something irrationally confiscated at the border."

Here's what happened.

The Mister and I pulled up to the Saudi customs stall and we were expecting the typical open-the-trunk-glance-at-the-contents-get-the-needed-stamp-and-be-on-our-way routine that has been the standard operating procedure just about every. single. time. we've gone through the border before.

But this time, the guy made the hubs take our suitcases out of the back seat. No big deal. We weren't smuggling anything. And the few times they've ever actually opened our luggage, they've seen my tampons or my dirty underwear and just waved us on through. I figured such would be the case this time as well.

As I was looking through my email on my phone, I realized that this suitcase "search" was taking a lot longer than it usually does. That's when I looked over and saw the contents of my luggage spilling over, and the customs official rifling though all our stuff as half the population of Saudi Arabia drove past to their own customs inspection.

"Well that's just unnecessary," I thought to myself. We had nothing but laundry and our tchochke souvenirs we'd gotten at the air..port...wait.


We bought little hand made nativity sets as gifts for our parents. I did not even think about the fact that this would be considered religious contraband should our stuff get searched. Crap.

Oh well. They were cute nativities, but they didn't cost all that much (sorry, Moms!), so it wouldn't be a big loss if they got taken.

Just as I suspected, I saw the customs official pull out the first of the 3 nativities and say, "Issa?!" which is Arabic for "Jesus?!"


Now that he had caught on to this very short trail, the customs official was a man on a mission (or should I say jihad?). He found every souvenir we bought, and grilled the Mister on what each one was. We had bought this really, really cute abstract elephant carving for the Mister's sister. The customs official claimed it as a Buddha. We bought these really cute hand carved and hand painted statues of a Sri Lankan man and woman. He claimed the man (who was wearing a sarong, had no shoes, and had a Hindu red dot on his forehead) was Jesus. The woman, apparently, was His accomplice, so she got confiscated, too.

Ironically, he didn't bat an eye at the Ayurvedic spices and tea we bought. For those playing the home game, ayruveda is a traditional type of medicine from India that detoxifies and heals the body through nature. We liked the spice tea, and the curry smelled too good to pass up. These homeopathic remedies are technically part of a Buddhist/Hindu lifestyle (neither of which we adhere to), but they didn't seem to have been covered on the day the this customs official was taught about religious items that should be flagged.  ...Apparently he slept through the "what Jesus and Buddha statues actually look like" lesson that day, too. The Mister said the  guy was insistent that these items were Jesus and the Buddha, despite the fact that they would have absolutely NOTHING in common with any images that would come up in a simple Google search.

Throughout this entire experience, my blood pressure was rising higher and higher. Granted, in the grand scheme of things, losing these souvenirs isn't that big a deal. But I was so angry that this man was being so smug about catching the Christians in the act of trying to convert the masses through the cunning use of THREE hand made nativities and an elephant statue. To add insult to injury, he had completely turned our suitcases upside down, searched through my purse without allowing me to watch him, and dropped our laptop on the concrete without batting an eye.

As my purse was being rifled through, I said, "Aib! [you should be ashamed] You're going through my purse without letting me watch you! I have money in there! You've already thrown my dirty underwear out for all the world to see, now you go through my personal stuff?! Haram!"

He just laughed at me. As he was conducting his "search," the other customs officials were telling Tyler to go into the office (presumably away from his loud wife) and get grilled by their supervisor.

Being that I am the woman in our relationship, I had no choice but to just sit and watch that the smug south end of a northbound mule bossed two migrant workers around, telling them to cram our now completely disheveled belongs into the already-tightly-packed suitcase and "khalass."

"Aib! Shame on you! You've embarrassed me enough! You throw my dirty underwear around for all the world to see, you take my stuff and harass my husband! Now you don't even put back the mess you made?!" I yelled at the man. I was really driving home the fact that he touched my dirty underwear in the hopes of sharing some of my humiliation with him and freaking him out enough that he would just say, "Take your stuff and go."

His snobbish smile and condescending eye roll only served to send my adrenaline even higher. I was so. pissed.

But again, all I could do was just watch and give the man the stink eye.

As Tyler was in the office laughing at the men who were trying to tell him that we were bringing the elephant statue home so we could worship it, I was fuming. I felt so violated, and if I were in the States, I would be demanding the name and number of their management so I could lodge a huffy, strongly worded complaint.

But I'm not in the States. I'm in Saudi Arabia. I knew what I was getting myself into when I moved to this country. I knew that confiscations often happen at the border and there was absolutely nothing we could do to get our possessions back. Any complaints we had would fall on deaf ears. In the Kingdom's defense, we should have known better than to buy a religious souvenir like a nativity and try to bring it across the border.  Any sort of religious item was fair game when it came to this kind of seizure. Our only way of avoiding having to go through this situation again was to leave the country and never come back.

Hey! We're going to just that! 2 months.

I was suddenly struck with many memories of conferences with angry students and parents back home in the public school where I worked in Nashville. It seemed like the most common retort I heard from countless mothers that were upset at the fact that their angels had been caught cheating (or any number of other offences) was, "MY DAUGHER/SON'S NOT GOING TO THIS &%*% SCHOOL NEXT YEAR, SO...NYEAH!"

Oooh. Burn.

My favorite was when a puffed up, red-faced student angrily declared, "OooOH I can't WAIT to get out of this school next year!" as she huffed her way out of the office on her way to detention.

As I stood there huffing and puffing at the Saudi Arabia/Bahrain border, the only insult I could think of to throw at the offensive Saudi jerks was, "I can't wait to get out of your darn country!"

I'm sure they would have been just as hurt by that sentiment as I was by the mothers that threatened to take me to the school board for marking her student tardy every time he showed up late to class.

Vicariously yours,