Friday, February 25, 2011

An amazing week....

I can't believe I have been here nearly a week....what an amazing week it has been!!  I have met so many people and everyone one has been so nice.  They all know what it is like to arrive in a strange place with nothing but your clothes!  One person loaned me an alarm clock, another loaned me a vacuum cleaner, yet another loaned me some little things like magazines to read!  They all ask - what do you need, what can we do??  And I have met people from all over the world already!  Scotland, England, Ireland, Australia, Canada, India, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, South Africa.....and that is just the start!!!

This week has been really busy!  I spent 2 days attending a conference on Patient and Family Centered Care- this is a new idea here and everyone is very excited to be part of this.  I will explain a little more about this in a minute....

Wednesday was an all-day orientation to the company - very interesting but not really all that informative.  I have a 5 page checklist of things I need to accomplish over the next 2 weeks:  get my network ID so I can log onto the computer, once I get my ID I have to use the computer to request my home DSL access, sign my housing contract (check), get a mail box (check), get a duplicate key for my apartment, get my temporary ID replaced with another temporary ID until I get my permanent ID (which can't happen until I get my Igama), register with the US Embassy, set up a bank account here, and apply for my multiple entry/exit visa - just to name a few ; )

So, you are probably wonder what is an is like a green card - or permanent residence card.  And basically you need the igama for everything!  You need it to buy a cell phone, to open a bank account, to get an entry/exit visa, to do just about anything you need or want to do.  It takes about 10 days and Aramco does all the leg work.  The beauty of working for this company is they wield a lot of power and they handle all government affairs for you, so you never actually have to interact with the Saudi government yourself.  Another interesting fact - you need a visa to enter or leave the Kingdom.  Most people working in the Kingdom get an entry visa and then must surrender their passport.  If and when they get ready to leave they apply for an exit visa and they get their passport back with that visa.  But Aramco employees don't have to surrender their passport - they get to keep it on their person AND they get to have a multiple entry/exit visa so they can come and go from the country at will.  This is especially important right now because I could leave quickly if necessary.  Also, US citizens that visit here can get multiple entry/exit visas - which makes traveling easier.

Ok, enough of the government affairs....Thursday is like Saturday yesterday I spent the morning at a Harley-Davidson rally : )  Yep, that's right about 150+ Harleys from around the world actually all came here and did a ride around the compound followed by a concert and booths selling all sorts of food and other items.  Also, big inflatable things for the kids to jump was pretty cool.  The only things missing was the B*** and the P**!   lol.

In the afternoon I went into Khobar to shop.  I was very crowded....the King has arrived back in the Kingdom after a lengthy absence due to his health.  So everyone was out celebrating his return....oh and did I mention - we get an extra day off on Saturday!!!  He called a special holiday!!  Anyway, it was the first reality that I am in a very different place.  On the main street it looks sort of like Vegas.  Lots and lots of shopping malls and stores, palm trees, desert plants, parks, fountains…etc.   But once you go behind that it is full of rubble and trash…..not really what I expected.  The shops are full of stuff – everything from household goods to fabric, carpets, and gold.  I bought an electric kettle and a dish drainer – and I was a very happy girl!!!!  We opted to get out of the main area because there were a lot of people gathering and there is definitely tension between some of the Saudis and people from the West.  We went to the mall instead and had dinner at Chilis : )  Yes, just like in the States….the ultimate nachos tasted exactly the same.  But the margaritas are non-alcohol of course.  Very interesting – many tables have a privacy curtain around them to allow the women to eat with their veils off…and since we arrived just as prayer began we could be seated but had to wait until after prayer to put in our order.  Prayer times are very important to know because you will not be served in a restaurant and most likely will have to leave the stores during prayer.  The prayer scheduled is published daily and the prayers are called on a loud speaker system – even in the compound.

Today, I went to church with a new friend and her husband.  They are from Canada and have been here over 10 years.  The husband works in research and development and the wife is a pharmacist.  The church is a non-denominational church and is somewhat like Grace Chapel at home (meeting in the gym of a school).  It was really great!!  The music was a mix of old hymns, praise/worship, and a medley sung by a group of South African nurses in their native language!  Very cool….there were people from US, Europe, UK, South Africa, Philippines, Australia/New Zealand, and all places in between worshiping together!!  We were even greeted by the Saudi security guard.  This is only possible in Aramco because of an agreement made many years ago between the Aramco president and the Saudi King (at that time) and it continues to be honored.  No other compounds have Christian churches that meet. I am looking forward to getting involved and making friends.  After church I had a lovely pancake breakfast at a friend's home – the highlight of which was learning about frankincense, myrrh, and sandalwood as we burned them on the patio.

I also went to the library and the movies – the library is great!  Lots of western books, CDs, and DVDs that can be checked out for free.  Also, every western magazine you can think of.  I have been told they are censored but I didn’t see that in any of the ones I looked through.  I checked out a couple of books and 2 DVDs – but there is nothing to risqué….The movie theatre is the only one in the country….the film was “ You Again” and it was very funny – and not censored at all that I could tell.  The cost was 1.25US and they even have popcorn!!

This is an amazing place – full of things that make absolutely no sense: like the cab driver that just drives the wrong way up the street to take us where we want to go, or the fact there are no traffic laws or speed limits (or so it seems), giving the mobile phone salesman my co-workers Iqama number so I can get a phone (at his suggestion!), following the 3 males in my orientation into the waiting room at the clinic and then being told I have to move to the female waiting area that is fully enclosed so I can’t be seen, taking a abeya to Khobar and putting it on over my crop pants and top  so I comply with the accepted dress code, camel rides in front of the grocery store…I could go on and on…..and I will – later!

For now, I am going to enjoy the King’s holiday of an extra day off tomorrow.  

Monday, February 21, 2011 are not in Kansas anymore!

I arrived safely!  It was a very long flight and with all of the time changes I sort of lost a whole day...Flying business class is really nice but actually it doesn't matter with such a long flight and a bundle of nerves - I couldn't sleep anyway!

The airport in Dammam is just like any other airport.  It is simple but nice on the inside - very clean.  Going through immigration was basically the same as any other country I have visited.  The lines are long and things move slowly.  As luck would have it I was standing behind three other obviously American women that were going to Saudi Aramco for a conference on Patient Centered Care starting on Monday.  The security men went down the lines checking documents - saw we were going to Aramco and pulled us out of the long line and let us go to the front.  It still took a while - fingerprints and photos and a long delay to get our passports back but no hassel really.  Next off to collect my luggage - 3 VERY heavy bags that I was very stressed about getting to the checkpoint.  No worries - a young man with a cart met me immediately to collect my bags - he just wanted a tip : )  Which I gladly gave him!!!  He got all of the bags off and through customs - no problem there either.  I was warned they would open everything and look at every single item....they didn't even open the bag.  Just sent them through x-ray and 10 minutes later I was off. 

My co-worker, Carmel, was waiting to meet me as promised.  It was very crowded with people meeting people as they arrived - very busy!  We went to the Aramco lounge to meet our driver and get my papers and house key.  The Saudi gentleman that helped with my papers and key was very nice.  Very polite and kind.  The driver took my bags and we headed for the camp.  Dammam airport is about 30 minutes or so from Dhahran. 

I had Sunday to explore, unpack and rest.  There is a military base not far from the camp so I awoke to the F-17s flying their maneuvers - kind of scary at first.  My apartment is very nice.  A 1 bedroom town home with a kitchen/living area downstairs and a bedroom/bathroom up.  I have a nice patio downstairs and a large deck off the bedroom.  All of the appliances  - even the garbage disposal  - are brand new. The ceramic tile and carpet are brand new.  I have everything needed to start the day.  I am right on the the golf course - with a 3.5 mile walking trail and about a block from the mini market if I need groceries.  There is a beautiful park about 3 blocks away and right now the weather is PERFECT for walking.  I only brought my clothes so there are a ton of things I need - not the least of which is an alarm clock!!!

I started work today....pretty much information overload.  I met most everyone I will be working with.  I will actually have 8 analysts working for me.  They are mostly from UK and Australia but a couple are from the US.  I have a nice office - about 2xs as big as my old one with a nice big window.  With Joint Commission coming in less than 6 months that is pretty much the focus of everyone's attention.  One of the ladies gave me a tour of the compound tonight.  It is larger than I thought and my house is quite a ways from the hospital so I will definitely be riding the bus.  My rush hour commute today took about 10 minutes going to and from work!!  That was nice : )

The compound is very secure - 2 checkpoints to get in and then once you are in the main gate you have another check point to get through to anything like housing, the hospital, etc.  I visited the ED today  (just for a tour!) and it was very nice - almost like any one of HCA's.  They are a level 1 trauma center and are well equiped for anything that might come along.  The hospital acutally serves 70,000 Aramco employees and their families living in the Kingdom.  It seems to stay quite busy.  I met so many people today including the "CEO".  They all seem very nice - very diverse.  Apparently I got quite the build up becuase they were very excited to meet me and more the willing to help with anything I might need.  As I said, the compound is very quiet and secure - people don't even lock their cars here....

Well, tomorrow is another day.  I have already got the hookup for a church, a dog, a houseboy, a gardner and some used furniture!!!  Oh and someone to take me horse back riding : )  lol.   Anyway, the jet lag is about to get the best of me.  I need to sleep tonight and be awake tomorrow day!!  I have my orientation to the company on Wednesday and 3 days of hospital orientation next week.  Maybe I will go into town over the weekend - I will see how adventursome I am feeling!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

All my bags are packed.....

Yesterday was my last day at work.  I was so busy I hardly noticed that it was my last day!  I was there over the weekend with my husband and sister getting everything packed. WOW!  Can you accumulate some stuff over 15 years??  I had drinks with some friends from work on Friday and my mom had a little gathering for me on Sunday that work friends and others came to - it was nice to see everyone since I am not exactly sure when I will see them again : )

I have everything packed at home now too.  I have just a few last minute things to finish and my brother Marc is coming in for the day to see me.  My younger son will be home Thursday to take me to the airport on Friday.  I am having butterflies!!!

I know we have seen many news reports about unrest in Egypt and other places in the Middle East.  Many of you have expressed concern about my safety.  I have communicated with my coworkers living in Dhahran and they have assured me it is perfectly safe where I will be.  They are not seeing any problems there and the compound I will live on is very secure.  I will certainly appreciate all of your prayers (I will be praying too!) and I would not go if I felt I was truly in any danger.

I will be keeping my personal email address -  I will also have a phone number with a 615 area code - if you would like to have that number please email me.  You can look me up on Skype too...I will give you that info if you email me.....

It will take a few days before I have internet access the next time I post it will be from the Kingdom.

I appreciate prayers for my family remaining stateside too!!


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Almost Ready to Leave

Last week I took my last business trip for HCA.  It was a really productive trip (in Denver) working with my former boss - a really good ending to a long career.  Suzanne was the first person I worked with when I came to Nashville and went to work for a local HCA hospital so it was only fitting to spend my last trip working with her too.  Now comes the real business of wrapping up my projects and handing off the outstanding 'stuff'.  Saying goodbye to everyone and closing up my office.  It has all been a little harder than I anticipated - but in a good way I am really ready for a change!!

Today, my commute home took over 5 hours - because it snowed!!!  I am very much looking forward to not driving a car at all and especially not commuting to work.  I won't miss the snow either.  Even when I am complaining about how hot it is in the sumer - I will NOT miss the snow!!!

I got my visa, temporary ID badge, and other required papers in the mail today.  I am pretty much packed at home.  I visited my dad this weekend - probably the last time for a few months anyway.  I have a couple of going away parties this week.  Sunday will be the last time I attend my church.  I leave for the Kingdom next Friday!!!!  This month has gone by really fast and I am sure it will continue at warp speed until I leave.  I will try to post one more time before I go.  It will most likely take a couple of weeks to get my internet access in the Kingdom - but I hope to have plenty of interesting factoids to post by then : )

For my Nashville friends - my mom is hosting a little gather at the Embassy Suites in Cool Springs on Sunday from 2-4.  Please stop by if you can.  But if I miss you  this time - I will be back in it is really just "so long for now"!