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.  

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